I feel like I’m always writing blogs when I’m angry. I guess I need to complain to someone and the internet was pretty much invented for that purpose. The topic today: biking in Freiburg.
I got a bike about a month ago and I tried riding it when it was still death-winter but I haven’t done any real riding until this week. Since it suddenly became spring I’ve been going everywhere by bike. About half of Freiburg has lovely bike lanes and the signs are clear but the other half is just a HOT MESS. Perfect example: I was riding on a wide sidewalk because there weren’t any bike lane in the road and I saw other bikers doing the same thing. Some official looking guy (bike police? I don’t know.) stopped me and started going off about how I couldn’t ride my bike on this particular sidewalk. That would have been only minorly annoying if it hadn’t been for the THREE bikers that biked past me while I was being yelled at. Of course Mr. Official Bike Police didn’t say anything to them obviously. Fuming at the unfairness, I continued on foot until there was a bike lane at a traffic light. Stopped at the top line where you’re supposed to stop, I get passed by TWO bikes that go through a red light (this is a major intersection) and one squeezes around me to stop just above the line. What the heck? I’m just trying to follow the rules! It would be one thing if everyone were lax or everyone were strict, but this wishy-washy law enforcement rubs me the wrong way. And to top it all off, I found out last night as I was biking home in the dark that my bike light stopped working. If I had gotten caught (really surprised I didn’t) I would have had to pay a fine. Or maybe not. I seriously don’t know what’s going on.
If anyone knows how to fix pedal generator lights… Hit me up please…
I’ve done a lot of traveling in the past two weeks! To keep it simple I’ve separated it all out…
I didn’t really know anything about Prague before I started out on the first part of my IES journey. I’d heard that it was a beautiful old Eastern European city and had a lot of charm. I wasn’t wrong really, but here are things I did learn:
1. Never, ever cross the street without a crossing signal. You WILL get run over. The drivers are worse than New York drivers because not only will they kill you, but they will scream at you in Czech while they do it.
2. The Czech language is something else. Most of the words are all consonants or they have a ‘y’ at the end. How do they province that? I found a good example on Wikipedia: a tongue twister that means “stick your finger through your throat” is “Strč prst skrz krk.” See? No vowels.
3. Winter is still coming. (I’ve been reading too much Game of Thrones lately.) But really. It was so cold. Soooo cold. I wrapped my scarf around the top half of my body every day and didn’t even care that I must’ve looked ridiculous. Everyone’s been saying in the news that this is the worst winter Europe has had in forty years or something and I believe that. If Prague really is a magical old Eastern European city, than I guess I was just too cold to see it.
4. So many tourists. I vaguely knew that Prague was one of the most visited cities in Europe, but that fact didn’t stick because I wasn’t prepared for the ridiculous amount of tourists we had to deal with. To be fair, I was a tourist too, but I like to think of myself as a little above the others. I’m not big into taking pictures of everything and I generally shy away from the big touristy sites. I’m also not a loud politically opinionated man so I don’t stand out very much.
5. In spite of all the tourists, as soon as you went onto a street without a centuries old monument, things got real sketchy real fast. Me and a few others were trying to find this restaurant and we naturally consulted Google how to get there. Too bad Google doesn’t have a sketchiness factor on streets because even though we were just a few hundred yards away from the main square, I saw three dubious looking strip clubs and a drug deal (well, I don’t know what I saw really, I tried to keep my head down and stay out of everyone’s way). If any of y’all plan to go to Prague, stay to the main streets as much as possible if you don’t want to wake up with one less kidney and “I <3 Praha" tattooed on your chest.
6. This all being said, it was a lovely three days. I got to hike up to one of the big hills above the city and get some great panoramic views as well as eating tons of delicious Czech food (potatoes and beer, nothing else) in small restaurants found by chance. Overall, it was a positive experience.
I'm sorry to the people who rebuilt Dresden after the bombs and everything, but really, you could have had a plan! This city is just old and new lumped together with no street that runs where it should and the buildings are oddly spaced with sometimes football fields in between each them in the middle of the Altstadt. It was confusing to try to get around which I really didn't do that much of because it was (still) so darn cold! I swear I consulted the weather channel before packing and I packed my warmest clothes but Jesus H. Christ was it cold! I don't know… Maybe if it hadn't been freezing rain/snowing constantly I would have liked it better.
One of the redeeming parts was the Dresden Castle Museum. It was really a few museums in one so it was pretty big. My favorite part was the Turkish section. Again, too much Game of Thrones, but it reminded my of Daenerys Targaryen and the Dothraki (the Dothraki were probably based a little on Turks). You could sit under these huge tents that they used and look at all their swords and armor for men and horses. It was a good change from pretty little necklaces and porcelain spoons. The rooms were dark and intense and you could really imagine yourself among a Turkish battle with European soldiers. Props to the curator or designer of that part of the museum.
After we got back from the IES Prague/Dresden trip, I headed out on my own to Munich. I had a friend there thanks to a brief homestay on a People to People trip a few years ago and I stayed with her for a night and then at a hostel for three more. My time with my friend Simone was really lovely and a really good break from my previous touristy adventures. We shopped, went to the movies, and partied with her friends. I have some great stories from a German house party but that would take all day to talk about. It suffices to say that everyone was really nice and we spoke both English and German and I learned that for the most part, teenage parties are the same around the world. The movie that we saw, Rubinrot, was very good even if I couldn't pronounce the name. The German 'R' is a difficult sound to make, especially twice in one word! I understood most of what happened and I was hooked so I got the English version of the book and read it in about a day. I had almost forgotten how much I like reading with everything that I've been doing lately.
After I said goodbye to Simone, I did lots of touristy stuff (and some more shopping). I went to three different museums, my favorite being the Neue Pinkaothek. It had art from the 1700's to the 1800's and I liked it mostly because I could recognize a good number of the paintings. I will leave you with one of my favorite things I saw while in Munich, a slightly photoshopped picture of a painting from the Alte Pinkaothek…
We went to Elsaß, France last weekend for the day which was pretty cool. The city was similar to Freiburg in that all the buildings were super old and the city surrounded a big church. Since I felt like I had a tapeworm last week and ate anything that wasn’t moving, of course my first order of business was to find food. We finally settled on the Markthalle – basically an indoor, slightly fancier, farmers market. At one of the places that was selling food, they had a glass case with all the different food we could eat. There was the obvious pasta, salad, and quiche, but then I saw a magnificent food that I didn’t think would have been socially acceptable to eat anywhere but America. A LATKE SANDWICH. Yes. Cheese and meat in between two latkes. For those of you that are not familiar with the gloriousness that is the latke, its basically a hashbrown. Do you think I even looked at any of the other food stalls? Nope. I ate that latke sandwich like there was no tomorrow and enjoyed every single bite.
There was a bit of a problem with getting food though. I don’t speak French. See, I kinda thought that my German wasn’t very good and when we were in restaurants I was just embarrassing myself because I didn’t know what to say. Now I know that I have pretty good German after literally no being able to say anything to the waitress at this stall. I had to point to what I wanted and when we had to pay, she gave us a questioning look and said what we owed in English. It’s so debilitating not being able to speak at all to the general populace. I don’t think I’ll complain about how bad my German is anymore.
So I realized that I somehow forgot to write about when we went to Switzerland! It was the weekend before Elsaß and we drove somewhere between two and three hours to Engelberg to take a cable car up to the Alps. It was about negative a million degrees at the bottom, but oh my god, it was like seventy once we got above the clouds! The mountains were stunning (obviously) and we walked sliding up and down a cross country skiing path wearing tank tops and throwing snowballs at each other. We got to meet the full-year students which was cool and because my shoes didn’t really have traction, I ended up holding my friend Fiona’s hand doing snow-ballet down the hills. All in all, it was a pretty amazing field trip.
I bought “Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen” last week. I figured that I should improve my reading comprehension because it’s probably my weakest area of German and HP would be a good place to start. I wasn’t really expecting much. I have a copy of it in Latin too but that was really tiring to read; it felt like work not fun. In German, on the other hand, it’s so easy! I really didn’t think I would get past the first chapter but within the first three days, I’m 200 pages in! I’m ridiculously proud of myself and I think my might get a library card so I can read the rest…
I’m off to Prague tomorrow, then Dresden, then Munich for a few days. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report after that!
So I wasn’t planning to go on the IES Prague/Dresden trip. I’m not really a fan of being in a group and going places. I had a bad experience in high school where every single minute of a trip was planned and it was just horrible. Therefore, I assumed that IES would probably like that too. Surprisingly, our little day trips have been very lax and really fun and I’m warming up to group trips. So ERGO – I’m going on the Prague/Dresden trip! Also, I know this is a little shallow, but all of my friends are going and I was feeling left out and it’s actually super cheap and the Koruna has a good exchange rate! I’m really excited now because I didn’t know what I was going to do during the huge break. It was overwhelming.
I feel like I’ve been eating constantly because I’ve been either walking or biking everywhere and exercising sooo much more than I would have at home. I’ve had breakfast and two lunches already today and every other meal is a hunk of meat or pasta. I’ve been eating these pasta boxes that cost basically nothing and come with surprisingly delicious sauce. I’m even cooking pasta for my tandem partner for dinner. A tandem partner is someone who you can speak two different languages with so both people can improve. We basically go back and forth speaking German and English. She’s a Psychology grad student here in Freiburg and ridiculously smart. We get along well.
I know I’m getting comfortable in my room here. It’s getting a little messy. Even though I only brought like 4 shirts, they’re all on the floor or the chairs or the desk. Oh well. My dresser has two posters that I found and stole to put up. I say “stole” but once the event they’re advertising ends people just take them. My cacti that I got in IKEA are still alive somehow. I watered them for the first time yesterday and they’re no worse for wear. My friend Fiona (who lives down the hall) got a plant at IKEA also but hers already died so I’m proud that mine are chugging along. I’m going ice skating with her and my other friend Katrina later tonight! Ganz toll! (ganz toll = pretty cool).
I went to a student bar/club last night. The mix drinks were a little expensive but the tequila shots were only €,50! Needless to say they did some people in (obviously, we all know the stereotypes that tequila has). I decided I wanted to go to class today so I didn’t go crazy, but it was still suuuuper fun.
We’re heading off to Elsaß, France on Saturday which should be awesome. There’s a wine tasting involved soooooo yeah. I’m looking forward to having an excuse for not knowing the native language. That’ll make me feel a little less like a failure.
As I wrote this I took out some leftover pasta and started eating all of it. I know I’m having dinner in like a half an hour but I’M JUST SO HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. I will leave you with a picture of bockwurst.
Well, I arrived.
It took a while (car, plane, train, bus, taxi, taxi) but I did in fact arrive. Here is a run down of everything that’s happened to me so far:
1. I talk in German and Germans respond in English. I didn’t think my German is that bad but whatever. I’m trying not to be offended by it, but it’s a little off-putting.
2. My Mitbewohneren (roommates) are pretty nice but I don’t really understand their German and they don’t really understand my English. We’re getting by though. The first guy that I met didn’t want to talk to me so I was sad but then I met the two girls and they’re friendly so it’s all good. We have a thing called a “Putzplan” which is basically a cleaning schedule but I don’t really know how it works. Apparently I’m on kitchen duty this week but I have no clue what this entails. I put a note out for my Mitbewohneren asking them if they could explain it to me so we’ll see how that goes.
3. Don’t bother asking for directions. A group of us kept trying to ask where different stores were but the Freiburgers refused to understand us both in German and in English. I didn’t think that “Wo ist H&M?” (Where is H&M) is a complicated sentence to understand but I guess people aren’t used to giving directions or something…
4. I finally learned how to use the shower!!! Pro tip: when turing on the water, left is hot and right is cold. This confused me for much longer than it should have. The bathroom is tinyyyyy and one corner of it has a shower curtain and that’s the shower. No doors or anything. The water kinda gets everywhere. Since I’ve been here I keep forgetting and stepping into the bathroom and getting my socks wet. I guess there isn’t anything that I’m doing wrong because my Mitbewohneren get the water everywhere too. Oh well. European culture right?
5. The tram is really easy to use once you know your tram number and stop. My dorm group tried to get back home for about a half an hour on two different trams before finding the right one. To be fair, one of the wrong trams was the right tram in the wrong direction so that was only a minor detail. An IES person showed us how to get TO the dorm but it didn’t cross his mind to tell us how to get back… I guess I get to check off “Get lost on public transportation” off my study abroad bucket list.
6. Pizza is different. Very different. Instead of the thin crust, tomato sauce, cheese, and maybe a vegetable or a bit of meat it’s a huge chunk of bread, tomato sauce, an odd assortment of vegetables, way too much cheese, and a solid layer of meat. It’s especially odd because the vegetables are under the cheese instead of being on top. Most of them just slipped out while I was eating anyways. This version of pizza is pretty messy (which kinda defeats the purpose right?).
7. I think I’m going to have PTSD from trying to buy a cell phone. It was a nightmare. I have no clue what happened but I must have done something wrong because all the people who worked in the store started yelling at each other and I had no clue what it was about. I just don’t even want to talk about it. It was too stressful.
8. No one seems to care if you don’t understand what they tell you. We’ve been having IES orientation presentations and tours etc. and I think I only understood about 1/4 of it but nothing is repeated and they click through the slides so quickly that I can’t read and listen at the same time and it just makes it worse. I know it’s supposed to be immersion but it seems a little too ‘cold-turkey’ for me. I know it will get better so I’m just going to have to be patient.
9. Everything is fizzy and water is never free. I like fizzy juice, but not all the time. It tends to make my stomach hurt if I drink too much of it. On the bright side, I don’t have to mix my own seltzer and juice!
We’re going to IKEA tomorrow (my first time!) so that should be fun and then on Sunday half of the group is going snowshoeing and half is going to an indoor waterpark/spa thing. I decided against the snowshoeing because 1 – I’m a skier and skiers don’t approve of snowshoers and 2 – I’m still pretty jetlagged so more exercise just sounds like a bad idea. I’m excited for the weekend and to become more comfortable here. More to come soon!
So yesterday passed the one-week-until-I-leave milestone. I’m officially starting to get a little sad I’m leaving home. Now everything is “Oh this’ll be the last Wednesday that I do this, and “Aw this’ll be the last time I shovel my car out from three feet of snow.” But really. You couldn’t see my car in the driveway. But I digress: I’ve been checking my flight everyday to make sure they haven’t changed anything on me and yesterday I bought a bus ticket to Freiburg and today I picked up Euros with a slightly disappointing exchange rate aaaand clothes are making their way into my suitcase. Because of my packing woes, I created a packing list Google doc that I constantly updated for about three weeks before I actually put any of it into a suitcase. After I put a good amount of my clothes in my big suitcase, I decided I really didn’t need another smaller one so now I have only the big one (not stuffed I might add, I didn’t have to sit on it to get it closed) and a large backpack that will be my overhead carryon. I’m also posting some pictures of my uberorganized Google doc, and my obscenely unorganized suitcase in the throes of packing…
I’ve always gotten really excited for trips. When I was little and my family used to go on vacation to Cape Cod every year, I would always pack a week early and pack EVERYTHING. I brought all the clothes that I could ever possibly need, at least five stuffed animals, and all the toys and books I could fit next to me in the backseat of the family sedan. I like to think I’ve gotten better. Moving in and out of college wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I say that, but as I drove all my belongings back home after fall semester, the car looked like I was a severe hoarder. Still, I didn’t have to hire a moving truck or ship my clothes home in boxes. I’m hoping this time around I can really nail it and only pack what’s needed and pack it efficiently. (I sometimes get exasperated and just shove clothes and shoes into bags. I know this doesn’t work from all the surface area problems I’ve done in math class but for some reason, shoving them in just seems like it would work better.)
I had a dream last night that I forgot to pack socks. I know it sounds silly, but in the moment it was really scary. In the dream, I finally found one pair of old black socks to take, but as soon as I opened up my suitcase to put them in, everything fell out. My plane was about to leave and all my clothes and belongings were strewn about the room and I still only had one pair of socks to take. Talk about a nightmare.
This is what I’m trying to prevent. I’m going to make a good, long packing list and meticulously abide by it. I’m making a promise to myself not to shove anything into bags. I will fold neatly. I will only take the shoes that are absolutely necessary and I’ll limit myself to two stuffed animals. As much as I love my shampoo, I don’t need to take it with me. I can get a new hairdryer (but my straightener comes with me, that’s non-negotiable). No clothes will have to be sent in boxes to me. I am going to squash my pre-departure fears! I will be a packing goddess!