Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prague

When I got off the train in Prague yesterday I was a little underwhelmed by the city. The train station was difficult to navigate. I had to search rather hard to find an ATM, there were no maps available, and finding my tram was not the easiest thing I've ever done. I did however make it to my hostel and managed to check-in without too much trouble. I was able to get a map at my hostel and do a little research to figure out my plan for today.

This morning I let myself sleep in a bit and then went to a free walking tour in the center of the old town. I really enjoyed the walking tour. They gave me a lot of information, as always, and I learned quite a bit about this city and the Czech Republic. I met a girl named Zoe from Australia and after the tour we went to the Jewish Museum together. I saw quite a bit of town and took a few pictures.

One thing that has been a bit frustrating for me is that you are not allowed to take pictures inside many of the buildings here - which is a change from the places I have been in Germany and Denmark. So many of the churches and buildings are intricate and beautiful inside but all I have are my memories, sadly no pictures. I spent a bit of time walking around town and feel like I know my way around a bit. After today I am a bit more impressed with Prague and the Czech people in general, especially after learning about a bit of their history.

I found a grocery store and was able to buy a bit of food for pretty cheap. I am a fan of that.

I'm now back in my hostel and while last night I had the room to myself, tonight I am sharing it with with 5 guys. Two are from Australia, one from England, and two from Spain. They are all friends and are having a great time with each other. They're all very friendly and I don't feel unsafe or anything - it kind of feels like having 5 brothers in the same room with me. It's pretty funny. The next few nights should be interesting as they are going to be here the entire time as well.

I'm off to bed in a few minutes now and then up early in the morning to visit the Prague castle and church at the top of the hill. Should be a good day. I can't believe tomorrow is October already! Rabbit rabbit to my family. :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dresden

I have been a bad blogger recently. Sorry about that! I don’t feel like I have been that busy, but I guess I have. My last update was about Erfurt and then my train troubles on Friday getting to Dresden. I forgot to mention in that blog that there was also another incident on the bus on my way to my first couch surfing host. I was standing because I had my large pack on and to sit usually requires two seats or at least more space in general. Anyway, I stood so that I would not take up extra space due to my large pack. Well, I was looking at my map to make sure I knew where to get off when the bus lurched to a halt and I lost my balance. I was holding on to the rail with one hand, but because I had a map in the other it took me a minute to be able to grab something with it. I ended up falling backwards into a woman who was sitting behind me. I didn’t fall into her hard, and everyone on the bus was caught off guard by the bus’ abrupt stop so I wasn’t the only one falling over. Oh well, what can you do? I apologized of course but she moved seats at the next stop none the less.


Friday night I enjoyed my time at the couch surfing home I was at. My hosts’ name was Anna and she did not know the password to get my computer online but was kind enough to allow me to use her computer. I spent the evening researching and making my plan for my time in Dresden. It was a good night to just rest a bit and gather my thoughts together for the coming days.


On Saturday I brought my bag to the hostel I was to stay at for the evening and then boarded a train for Leipzig. Saturday was a beautiful day and there was a festival of some kind taking place so everywhere I the main platz’s there were food booths and souvenir stands set-up. There were quite a few fun things to take pictures of. Bach conducted a boys choir in this town and is actually buried in one of the churches. The choir he led is still to this day one of the premier choirs in the world. I did not make it inside the church since the choir was rehearsing or performing each time I tried, but I did hear their singing from outside. In Leipzig I also visited the Stasi museum and learned about “Big Brother” and the peaceful revolution in the DDR.


Saturday evening I checked into my hostel, The Kangaroo-Stop and was able to get online a bit. I visited a grocery store and bought some bell peppers, a treat from my usual bread and cheese. :) Bell peppers and brie is quite tasty by the way. I also bought a Dresden beer to try. It was a Pills, which I don’t always like, but this one I did. The nice thing about Germany is that when you return your plastic or glass bottles you get money back to spend at the store. So, my 0.65 Euro bottle of beer cost me 0.25 Euro less because I got 25 cents back when I returned the bottle. I am a fan.


Sunday I was able to leave my bag at the hostel even though I had checked out already, and spent the day in Dresden. I walked around to the major sites, taking pictures, etc. The one museum I visited was in the wall of the old Dresden Fortress which still surrounds the city a bit. It was cool to be near the original stones and see how the fortress wall would have been occupied by guards, etc. Even though much of Dresden was destroyed in the war and rebuilt after, this wall was preserved because the majority of it was underground, so it is original and intact. Very cool in my opinion.


Sunday evening I met with my second couch surfing host in Dresden, Ana. We met up with two of her other friends, Cornelius and Nadiia and went to a pub nearby that was Russian themed. I had a Russian drink, Kwas Lemonade. I decided that even though I was in Germany that I could have something Russian because I was not going to be able to make it to Russia. The lemonade was alright, not my most favorite thing – I think it tasted a bit too much like tea to me and I am not really a fan of tea. Sunday night she left me alone at her flat as she had to get up early in the morning and went to stay with a friend who would also be getting up early.


Monday I made my way to Gohrisch. I barely caught the S-Bahn (as I ran up the stairs to the station the train was arriving) to Koningstein and then took a local bus to Gohrisch. It is a tiny little town that has three bus stops – but each stop is maybe two or three blocks apart. I arrived into town around 12:45 and hand walked the span of the town, wandered down a few side streets, stopped at the little tourist office and asked if there was any way to look up information (to which I received a blank stare from the woman who did not speak English), and taken several pictures by the time the bus returned at 1:15 to go back to Koningstein. I did not catch that bus back however as I had discovered on a map of town where a graveyard was located. So, I walked to the graveyard and looked around a bit. I did not find anyone with a familiar name but it was interesting none the less. I was back in town at the bus stop at about 1:45. I had my lunch and wrote a few post cards and took some more pictures until the bus came by again at 2:30. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, but I am glad that I went.


Back in Dresden I had time to kill since Ana was not due to be back at her flat until 4, so I meandered around a garden near her house and took some pictures. I also found a grocery store and bought 1.5 liters or orange-nectarine juice for 0.52 Euro among a few other things. When I arrived back at Ana’s flat she made me a snack that is native to the area of Germany she comes from. It was basically a substance that is similar to sour cream (but not sour cream as it was lower in fat, slightly different texture, and a type of cheese) mixed with some herbs and milk (or yogurt if you have it) and some grain oil drizzled on top. She said it is often eaten with potatoes, but we had it with cucumbers. It was pretty good, but it made me want a baked potato with sour cream and bacon bits. Yum.


After we had our snack we went off to meet her friend in the old part of Dresden for a coffee. Well, they had coffee, I had a chai latte, which was delicious. I am a fan for sure. We then helped another friend of hers move some things into storage. I have moved many times and helped many people move, but this was my first international move. Hehe … I guess my “skills” translate well. After the move (which didn’t take long) we went for a Donor – which is a Turkish meal that is very popular. I have seen quite a few stands for them all over Germany and saw a number in Denmark as well. I don’t know if it’s a European thing or what. It’s kind of like a gyro, but not quite the same. I had mine made with fried goat cheese. It was quite tasty. It also was not a “German” meal but it is a common thing for Germans to eat I guess, so I am ok with it.


I am now on the train my way to Prague – after only a 40 minute delay. Auf wiedersehen Deutschland!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Train Trouble

Written on the train this morning ...


Yesterday I planned to arrive in Dresden around noon. I was going to catch the 9:38 train out of Erfurt, lock my bag in a locker at the Dresden train station and spend the remainder of the day exploring before I met up with my couch surfing host, Anna, for the night. Of course, my day did not unfold as such and everything took far longer than I had anticipated.


First, I got out of bed a half an hour after I had planned. Not a huge crisis, I had given myself extra time to begin with. I was in the kitchen eating breakfast and online by 8am. I had planned to be online until 8:30, would finish packing my things and then leave by 9, easily making it to the train on time. Well, I lost track of the time talking to Eddie online so I missed the 9:38 train. Again, not a huge deal as there was one at 10:38. I arrived at the station 15 minutes early, found my platform and waited for the train. Yesterday was my 9th day using the rail pass so I kind of feel like a pro now.


The train arrived and because Erfurt is a small stop along the way, there were already a lot of people on the train. This made finding a seat difficult. As in America, I have discovered that most Europeans prefer to sit by themselves unless they know the person they are sitting next to. Seats can be assigned on trains, but often are not, so when you board you have to look at the reader board next to the seat number to figure out if it is reserved or not. Most of the seats on this train were reserved and the unreserved seats were mostly occupied, or at least one seat was and the seat next to the person was filled by his or her bag or purse or whatever.


I thought I was going to have to stand in the aisles or force someone to let me sit next to them when a lady offered her seat to me. She was getting off at the next stop and didn’t mind standing for a few minutes (at least this is what I gathered from our hand gestures since we could not communicate with each other by speaking). So, I had a seat, wonderful! Now, I just had to settle in for the next 2 ½ hours. I managed to fall asleep and when I woke up we were in Leipzig. I found it a bit ironic since I had planned to go there on a day trip. I was half tempted to get off the train and just stay the night and go to Dresden in the morning, but did not want to change my plans with my couch surfing host one more time.


The train seemed to be sitting at the platform much longer than the trains usually stop at each station. I was seated on the opposite side of the train from the platform so I could not see the reader board and what time the train was supposed to depart, but I just figured it was a big stop for the train and perhaps the layover was simply longer. Well, 20 or more minutes passed and someone came on over the loudspeaker and announced something in German. I, not speaking German, assumed they were telling us we would depart soon. No, that was not it. 10 minutes later they came on again and announced what sounded like the same thing to me. Hmm… People started to become anxious and get on and off the train. There was a police officer onboard – due to the heightened state of alert that Germany is in due to a terrorist threat – and he began to poke his head around outside to see what was happening.


I decided that the best way for me to wait the situation out was to eat my lunch. Just as I pulled out my knife and bread and cheese the power turned off on the train. I decided not to unpack all of my food just yet. I didn’t want a mess on my hands in case I had to get off the train quickly. So, there I sat, in the dark, with the rest of the passengers, waiting and wondering. The power finally came back on and then over the intercom they announced something – once again in German. I did not understand what they said, but everyone on the train began to pick up their bags and get off the train. I decided I should follow suit.


Once off the train I found that the next few connections were leaving in about 20 minutes. I didn’t particularly want to get on any of those trains since I knew that everyone from my full train was going to be dispersed among them. Instead I found an internet terminal and paid 2 euro for an hour of time to check my e-mail and make sure things were still on for couch surfing that evening. If by chance they were not, I figured I could stay in Leipzig and make the most of that day, since it was only noon still. I had received a message saying that I had I place to stay for the night in Dresden so back to the train terminal I went. I found a train (leaving at 1:51) that was due to arrive in Dresden a bit after 3. I made it on that train and was able to locate a seat – although I had to share the row with another woman.


On board there was a group of 5 or 6 older couples who were on their way to Dresden. I imagine that they were celebrating some sort of occasion because they were drinking champagne, taking shots, and singing drinking songs the whole way. It was quite entertaining to watch since the youngest person had to be 60. The Germans and their drinking make me laugh. You’re never too old for a party I guess.


When I finally arrived in Dresden it was after 3 and I was tired. I was supposed to meet my couch surfing host between 5 and 6, so I decided to try and find a map of town and figure out the transportation system. It’s a good thing that was my first priority because I had to walk halfway through town to find the tourist center where the maps were which took me about an hour. I got on the tram to go to Anna’s house and figured it would take 15-20 minutes.


There was an old man on the train (in his late 70’s I’d say) who kept watching me study my map. About halfway to my destination he got up to get off the tram and motioned for me to follow him. I tried to explain that this was not my stop. He said, “bus” to me and I looked at him puzzled, again he motioned for me to follow. At this point I noticed that EVERYONE else on the tram was getting off as well. I decided that this was a good idea and followed the old man off the bus.


I pointed to the stop on the map that I needed to get off at and he tried to tell me something. I found a girl next to me who could translate and basically she told me that because of construction the trams did not go further than this stop. I would need to wait for a bus to come and pick me up – well me and everyone else who had gotten off of the tram. I was thankful the old man got me off the tram, as strange as the whole interaction was.


When the bus came and we all boarded, we acquired a somewhat “crazy” person as well. For the next three or four stops this guy stood in the middle of the bus yelling and swearing (in German). I think he had gotten on the wrong bus or missed his stop or something. He wanted the driver to stop the bus but he wouldn’t until he was at an actual stop. Everyone on the bus was rolling their eyes at him and when he got off the bus finally there was a wave of relief that swept over everyone. It was quite the experience for sure.


I made it to my stop by 4:45 – which took longer than I had anticipated, but I didn’t want to be too early to my couch surfing hosts’ home, so it was fine. I found a grocery store and bought some food for the evening and for today and then found her house. Anna was very nice and showed me around the upstairs part of her grandparents’ home where she lived. I had my own little room to sleep in, which was great, but I could not get online with my computer. Fortunately she allowed me to use hers and I was able to get some research and planning taken care of for the next few days. She was out most of the evening, so I didn’t get to know her much, but I was thankful for a place to sleep and time to plan my next few days of travel.


I am currently on my way back to Leipzig, once again on a later train than I had planned, but hopefully my traveling trouble from yesterday will not follow me into today. I am staying in a hostel tonight, The Kangaroo Stop, so hopefully I can get some rest tonight. Tomorrow I will spend the day in Dresden around town and I have another couch surfing host tomorrow and Monday night with a girl named Ana. Ironic eh? Monday I will travel to the small town of Gohrisch and see if there is anything to see from my family’s namesake town. My guess is there is not so much, but I am still hopeful that I will discover that I am to inherit some big castle or something. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Are You Sick of This Yet?

I think I am going to change my plans once again. It is cheaper to fly from Greece to Paris than it is from Budapest to Athens. So, if I flip my trip around a bit I will save money. This means some changes are in the works. We'll have to see how this pans out, but it's looking like the following:

Czech Republic
Hungary
Austria
Switzerland
Italy
Greece
Turkey - Istanbul
Greece (again)
Paris
England
Scottland
N. Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Home :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dresden, Day 1

I arrived in Dresden after some random trouble with the German transportation system (I'll update with that story tomorrow) and am settling into my couch surfing home for the night. I just thought I'd drop a quick note to say that I'm alive and well and stories and pictures are to come. Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Erfurt

Written last night …


Well I arrived in Erfurt around 1:30 this afternoon and checked in at my hostel. It’s a pretty nice place – I think the website said it used to be an old prison, but that could be me confusing it with another location. I have too many places in my head.


The town is beautiful and has lots of old buildings to look at. I visited the Mariendom, the big church in town. It is very intricate inside and very cool to see. I will try to post pictures at my next stop since I have to pay to be online at this hostel and I would rather update blogs than post pictures! I also went to the Kramerbrucke which is a bridge that is covered in shopping areas. It is an attraction for the town. I also climbed a tower – surprise, surprise, and made my way to the Augustinerkirche and kloster – a church and monastery. This was the monastery where Martin Luther spent his early years as a monk before he moved to Wittenberg.


There is also a fortress in the town that I visited and walked around a bit. It is called Zitadelle Petersberg and was quite lovely as well. I really enjoy the old buildings and seeing the cities and towns from a distance and above.


After all my walking today and climbing, my legs are a bit sore, so I am looking forward to a shower and maybe going to bed a little early and sleeping in! I am currently making some tortellini that I got at the grocery store for 1 euro. Hopefully it will be tasty and satisfying. I also have a new beer from the store to try. I bought yogurt at the store as well for breakfast tomorrow and I found some cocoa in the kitchen here at the hostel and I think I may make some hot chocolate tonight or maybe in the morning for breakfast. It just sounds delicious at the moment.


I will update from Dresden once I arrive tomorrow evening.

Another Change of Plans ...

My plans have changed again, big surprise huh?


I was scheduled to go to Trier yesterday which was going to be a big trip since it takes about 2 ½ hours from Cologne each way. I got a late start to my day and missed the early 9:15 train – so I opted to just have another low key day in Cologne. I slept a bit longer (which was great), took a shower (in the kitchen, as that is where the shower is located at the couch surfing flat I was staying in), and got to use a hairdryer for the first time in a month! What a treat! J I then worked on making new plans and spent time wandering around a different area of Cologne that I had not explored so far.


Trier is a medieval town with an old dom, gate, church, etc. Since I did not make it there, I have replaced it with another medieval town, the town of Erfurt. I am on the train on my way to this location as I type and will be there by the time I am able to post this blog update. My couch surfing hosts, Sue and Bastien, recommended it to me. They stopped and visited the town several years ago on their way to Dresden and said it was quite lovely. I am sure that it will be wonderful. I was able to look up some information online last night and have a bit of a plan. I have a hostel there that has a kitchen for use, so I am excited to cook a little bit tonight perhaps.


Tomorrow I will head into Dresden. I am couch surfing for my first night, staying in a hostel the second, and then couch surfing with a different host for the remaining two nights. I will have two day trips in Dresden, one to Gohrisch and one to Leipzig. On Tuesday I will head to Prague from Dresden. I am excited to be moving on to my next country in less than a week, although it is strange to think that I am already done with Germany (well almost). The Czech Republic and Hungary are short stays – each about 5-10 days – and then I head to Greece for a few weeks. I’m very excited about that phase of the trip!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A REALLY Long Update from Cologne

Sorry I haven’t written in a few days. It feels like I haven’t had a lot to say so it’s been hard to find the motivation to write something down. I was walking around today and realized that I needed to update you all and so I found a nice little place to sit next to a statue that overlooks the Rhine and gives me a view of the Dom. It’s beautiful and so weird to me that I am here in Germany just sitting around writing this update like it’s no big deal and THIS is in front of me. It’s incredible.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kindness of people. I stayed for three nights in a small little town (I’m actually still not quite sure which town I was in since there were many small towns clustered together that I jumped between) with some friends of my cousin Cassie. They were such gracious hosts and treated me like family. Not only did they provide me with a place to stay but they helped me do some laundry, shared their food with me, and took me to a light festival in a neighboring town. After I left their company I traveled to Heidelberg for one night where I met two girls at the hostel I was staying at. We joined forces and hung out all of Sunday evening and most of Monday. It was so fun to meet some English speakers that I got a long with and could go out and enjoy myself with.


I don’t like to rely on the kindness of strangers – I like to be in control and have a plan – but I am realizing that it isn’t a terrible thing. My couch surfing experiences have been great so far. I have a host in Cologne for two nights, starting tonight, and I’m sure it will go well too. I’m almost four weeks (it’ll be official tomorrow) into my trip and I haven’t really had a bad experience yet – just a few strange ones. People are so kind and generous and willing to help and I am so appreciative!


I mailed my first package back home today. I bought a few gifts and they were too heavy to carry around, so off to the post office I went. I’ll just say that it’s expensive to mail things home. I had anticipated that it would be, but was still surprised when the total came to 36 Euros (about $50). Yikes! It’s almost as much as I paid for everything that I mailed home. I’m saying a prayer that nothing gets broken or the package doesn’t get lost, that’d sure be a waste of money and a lot of mementos lost.


My spending spree continued today since I had to find a new towel and buy some silverware. I left my special fast drying towel at my hostel in Munich. Fortunately between now and then I’ve been able to either borrow a towel from the people I was staying with or use my little hand/face towel. At the tourist office they pointed me in the direction of a store called Globetrotters – which I discovered is basically the German REI. I found my towel, which cost twice as much as the one I bought at REI, and found some camping silverware (a fork, knife, spoon, and bottle opener) and left before I got lost in the magnitude of the store. So, now I can dry off after my showers and I can buy foods which require a utensil to eat them. It’s a good day – just an expensive one.


As I mentioned before, I am not going to be able to go to Russia next month. Unfortunately I was unable to find anywhere that would give me a visa without having to keep my passport for an extended period of time – not something I’m comfortable doing. So, instead I am changing up my plan just a little bit. The only things that I have scheduled that my dates are not flexible for are Paris, since Eddie is flying in to see me, and my flight home from Dublin, I kind of need to be there for that. I now have 7 extra nights to play with between now and November 27 when I need to be in Paris. I’ve already added a night to my stay in the German countryside and today I decided to add an extra day to my stay in Dresden.


My German rail pass is good for 10 days. I really only need 9, apparently I miscalculated when I did my planning, so I am going to add a night to my stay in Dresden and do a day trip to Leipzig in addition to my day trip to Gohrisch. Then from Dresden I’ll head to Prague and move on to country number three, the Czech Republic. I am still left with 5 days to play with because of Russia not working out, and I think I will add a few days in Switzerland in. I have heard a bit about it and had originally planned to go but did not have enough time. I am excited to be able to fit it in now, but sad that Russia is not working out as planned.


So here is the schedule for the next week or so – unless things change again:

Today: Cologne

Tomorrow: Trier (day trip from Cologne)

Thursday: Train to Dresden

Friday: Gohrisch (day trip from Dresden)

Saturday: Leipzig (day trip from Dresden)

Sunday: Dresden

Monday: Train to Prague

Tuesday/Wednesday: Prague

Thursday: Train to Cesky Krumlov

Friday: Train to Brno


As I mentioned, tomorrow is day 30 of my trip, which means I’m one quarter of the way done. That’s so weird to me. In many ways the time has gone by quickly, but in many other ways it feels as though I have been here much longer. I have less than a week left in Germany. I remember leaving Denmark and thinking that Germany was going to be exhausting and probably feel like forever since I was moving around so much. Yes, I am tired – especially from moving from one place to the next all the time – but I think that moving around so much has helped the time move faster. I’m not in any place long enough to get bored.


My timing so far has been pretty good and I’ve been able to accomplish just about everything I set out to do, and even more sometimes. My museum visits have slowed down a bit and I’m focusing more on sights. You can really only see so many statues and paintings before they all start to blur together. The sights and the churches are good to visit because those are much more unique to each city and not something you can get the same experience seeing from a picture – although I would say that is true for some pieces of artwork.


The other big marker for today is that it is Eddie’s and my 3 month anniversary today – well three months since we made it “official.” Yes, we’re basically in middle school and picked an official date instead of using the date of our first date, which was two weeks earlier. It’s strange to know that a third of our relationship so far has been long distance, and by the time I get home it’ll be two thirds of our relationship that have been long distance. The good thing is that we’ve been able to talk just about every day and so it doesn’t really feel like we’re that far apart, although we are quite aware that that it is there. Once he starts working again it’s going to make things tougher to connect with the time difference, but I’m sure we’ll make it work.


Well, I think that’s all of the updates for now. I am definitely surviving and am enjoying myself for the most part. I’ve been teased about my “R and R” update because travel is supposed to be R and R, isn’t it? Well, I guess I have to say that no, it is not. Travel is hard work – especially when you’re not on vacation, but are on a trip. Then consider the length of my trip and understand that the planning is ongoing – it won’t really stop until I get on my plane and head home. My feet are sore from walking; I have calluses, blisters, bruises, and some weird rash/infection from my money belt. I haven’t slept well the majority of the nights I’ve been here because of loud hostel situations. My food consumption is delicious but rather boring unless I’m staying with someone or am deciding to treat myself. My back aches, and my feet smell – no matter how much I wash them. Oh, and one of my socks just got a hole so I need to buy a new pair. Since I am traveling alone, I am constantly checking my belongings and cannot let my guard down for a second, plus I have no one to run ideas or thoughts past, so sometimes I guess wrong on a translation and end up walking in a circle. I know it sounds like I’m complaining – trust me, I am NOT by any means. The pros outweigh the cons considerably, but yes, some rest is needed every once in awhile for my body and my mind. Doing absolutely nothing is a luxury and it’s one that I thoroughly enjoy.


Well, I guess I should head off to my next sight – the pigeons are beginning to get a little close for comfort. Facebook pictures will be up soon. I’m going to have to start album number four soon. I guess it’s a good thing there isn’t a limit to how many albums you can have on facebook!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Heidelberg

I'm in Heidelberg, I made it safe and sound. I'm settling into my hostel and there is a bar where I am drinking my free beer. It is wonderful. I love German Bier. :)

I have met two nice girls who are also staying in the hostel, Paula and Amanda. We're probably going to walk around town a bit together this evening once we finish our beers and whatnot. They seem like very nice girls and I am excited to meet some new people.

I will post more later, but thought I'd give a brief update and check in!

Happy Sunday!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Little R and R

Today has been wonderful and just what I needed! I was able to sleep in this morning until 9:30. I could have slept longer, but knew that I had promised to be up by 10. I had a late breakfast of bread, jam, nutella, some meats, juice, and milk. Yum. I was then able to start a load of laundry and get online for a bit. I was introduced to my host’s mother and other nephew and then I was on my own. I was able to get online and sort out my plans for the next few days, rotate my laundry to the dryer, and then take a nap! My body must be in need of the rest because I am sure I will not have a problem sleeping again tonight.


Sleep I have discovered is a hard thing to come by when you are traveling economically. My last night in my hostel in Munich was challenging. At 2:30 in the morning two guys returned to the room with a few girls they had met. They were all a bit drunk and were talking very loudly. No one said much but it was obvious that they were disturbing the other guests in the room as people began to stir and passively indicate that they longed for peace and quiet. Finally at 3:30 someone called out and asked if they would please quiet down. The response that was called back was a simple, “No.” About 15 minutes later someone got up and walked over to the area where they were sleeping and asked again. The response was a bit better this time and by 4 o’clock they had finally fallen asleep. The little disruption did not make my 6am wake up any easier though.


Often when I ride the trains I am able to get some more sleep. Yesterday I had about 6 hours total on trains and busses to get to the small little town of Oberrotweil where I am staying with my cousin’s friends. I was on my second train going from Stuttgart to Freiburg with my headphones in about to settle down for a little nap when the announcer came on over the loudspeakers to say that there had been a technical error with the time schedule and the train would be stopping in the next city and would not be continuing on. There was a connecting train to Freiburg leaving at another platform in 10 minutes. Ok, not a problem. I arrived at the station and made my way to the other train area and checked the schedule. This train was due to arrive in Freiburg one minute after my connecting train was supposed to leave Freiburg!


So, I missed my connection, but luckily there was another one a half hour later which I was able to get on. Then because of my delay I missed the connecting bus as well and had to wait 45 minutes for the next one to arrive. It was a day of flexibility to be sure! I was able to call Jochen, who was to pick me up at the bus stop, and let him know I would be late. All ended up well. I made it to where I was to be safe and sound, just a little late.


Jochen introduced me to his wife and infant son before taking me to his brother Christian’s home where I am staying in a basement room by myself. It is great to have privacy and the freedom of my own key to get in and out of the house. Jochen’s girlfriend, Vanessa, is also here and she and I were able to chat a bit this morning over breakfast. They are wonderfully nice people. Last night I had dinner with Jochen’s in-laws and had what they called “onion cake.” It was delicious and I have a feeling I may be attempting it at home some day. They shared some of the wine that Jochen makes with me and also some very strong schnapps. The kind that I tried was herb flavored and very good, but very strong. It was a whole family affair and it reminded me of big family dinners at home with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and more!


After dinner Jochen, Christian, and I went to the town bar called Up, that is downstairs, and had a few drinks. They each had something (I can’t remember what it is called) that is traditional in this area which is half mineral water (water with bubbles) and half white wine. I had some local beer that was pretty good and it was fun to just enjoy the atmosphere of a local place. Jochen explained to me that this was the only bar in town even though the town does have tourists. The draw of the town though is wine and its location and so the tourists are often older couples. The town is situated an hour from France, and hour from Switzerland, and an hour from the Black Forrest. It’s quite central for people who want to do a bit of traveling in the countryside.


I have been able to see a little bit of the town and it is very quaint and cute. There are big homes, small homes, and in between homes, gardens, alleyways, grape vines, beautiful trees, and everything that you would expect of a small little town. I plan to go out and take some pictures tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will be good. My plans have changed a little bit and I am going to be staying here until Sunday now. At that point I will head to Heidelberg. I had planned to couch surf in Heidelberg but have not received any acceptances to my request, so I looked for a hostel only to find that they were all booked up on Saturday night. So, Sunday I will make my way into town, stay for a night and then move on to Cologne. It is nice to have the flexibility of my rail pass and be able to adjust and change as I need.


Also, now with the change that I am not going to Russia I have a few extra days that I can work with here and there in case there are more changes ahead. I am thinking that I may add some days in Switzerland to my trip and fly into Zurich from Vienna instead of directly on to Paris. We shall see though – that is still a few months away and many things could change between now and then.


I hope all is well with everyone at home! In one week I will have been gone for a whole month! I cannot believe it! My trip is nearing the ¼ mark and I have very mixed emotions about it. I’ll write more about that later as this blog is long enough at the moment. So, until next time, auf wiedersehen!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dachau

Yesterday I went to Dachau. Dachau was the first concentration camp to be opened during the Third Reich and was the only camp to be open during the entire 12 year period of that Reich (1933-1945). It was originally a munitions facility that had been used during WWI and was closed down at the end of the war. Before I go into more details about Dachau, I’m going to share the brief history lesson that I have learned on my various tours.


WWI was started by Prussia and Austria (if I remember correctly) when someone shot the crowned prince. Because Germany was allied with one of them (I can’t remember which one now) they were brought into the war. Germany went into the war thinking that it would be over in 4 months since they had just fought France and defeated them in 4 months time. Well, the war lasted much longer and Germany’s economy was devastated. By signing the treaty of Versailles Germany accepted all responsibility for the war (even though it wasn’t really their fault) and had to pay back all of the damages to each country. Germany was a very young nation (and still is – as I mentioned in an earlier blog) and so they did not have the money to repay all the debt. I think it took them until 1990 or something like that to pay everyone back.


Unemployment was ridiculously high (more people were unemployed than employed) and people were starving. The people no longer trusted the government because they had misled them during the war, so in 1931 when Hitler showed up and started to campaign people trusted him. He said that he would rip up the treaty of Versailles and be tough on Germany’s enemies. He was going to turn Germany around and get people jobs and feed the people. He was legally elected as chancellor in 1933 (I think that’s the right year) – although there was some foul play on his part. In order to be elected he had to receive 66% of the vote in the parliament and he had something like 35% or 40%. A few days before the election a fire “mysteriously” broke out in the Reichstag in Berlin and it was blamed on one communist man, who was certifiably insane. The truth is that the fire was started in six different rooms, so there is no way this man acted alone, AND he had a history of being in and out of mental institutions for claiming to commit crimes he had not committed, specifically arson.


Anyway, all that to say, because Germany had been hit by a “terrorist” attack, Hitler, who was second in command at the time, was given special authority. With this authority he could detain anyone he liked pretty much. Overnight many of his communist opponents in Parliament were taken and placed in concentration camps – specifically Dachau – or many of them went into hiding. On the day of the vote, Hitler had the percentage he needed since he had removed his opposition. He was elected “legally” into his position and his promises of change and hope had the people of Germany excited. One of his posters was at Dachau (there is a picture up on Facebook) and it reads “Our Last Hope, Hitler.”


I think learning so much of this history has helped me to understand a bit more about why Hitler was able to come to power. What I remember of my WWII history was just the terror and the horror of it all, but no one ever explained to me why or how he got to power in the first place. I can understand how people were desperate for something different and how they didn’t fully investigate the man they were electing simply because they were so excited about his promises. Obviously this is a lesson we should learn from.


So Dachau, was the first camp opened and people knew that it was opened and existed. It was a work camp where prisoners were to be “re-educated” about their political thinking. For the most part everyone in the camp was a political opponent. To be released they would have to work hard and then sign a statement saying that they were a part of the Nazi party and also sign another document that said they would not tell anyone about what they endured at the camp. One point that the tour guide made was about the definition of a concentration camp. I appreciated his pointing it out. Many times I think that our perception of a concentration camp is that it is a place of torture, fear, cruelty, malnutrition, and death. Those are all true, but those things exist in many prisons around the world today, but they would not be considered a concentration camp. A concentration camp is a prison that you are placed in for no legal reason, your rights are removed completely, you are dehumanized, and you have no hope of leaving, or if you do have hope, you have no set amount of time to when that is to happen. There is no way to appeal anything and you are completely helpless.


Dachau was also the camp where all of the SS guards were trained. It was said in other camps that if a guard was especially cruel that he had learned the “Dachau Spirit.” With that said, Dachau was a work camp, not a death camp. People did die there and the atrocities of the camps are horrifying on their own, but it was not a camp like Auschwitz where people were essentially sent to be exterminated. My guide at Dachau, Kevin, told us that on one of the other tours a guest, upon learning that, raised her hand and asked, “Is this not the real thing then?” I can’t believe the insensitivity and ignorance of people sometimes.


On the tour I learned a lot about what the camp was used for and some interesting facts about it. For example, Dachau was the model camp that the rest of the camps were based off of. So, the layout and the rules and regulations of camp life were all created at Dachau. There was a gas chamber built at Dachau but there is no evidence or records that it was used as such, but it is possible. It was however used for medical experiments that I’m sure were just as horrific.


Being at the camp and walking through the gate that read “Abbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Will Set You Free” (even though it’s a replica not the original) was chilling. I knew going into it that it would be – how could it not. It is a memorial site, considered a graveyard by the German government, and there was an eerie stillness and quiet to the place. It was vast and huge. A former inmate described the main area of the camp, where inmates would have to line up 2-3 times each day to be counted, as a desolate wasteland. I would agree with that statement. It is vast, empty, grey, and dead. The only green is the grass surrounding the camp that was known as the “death strip.” If a prisoner walked into the strip they were immediately shot at.


Sometimes guards would throw a prisoner’s hat into the area and tell them to go get it. Whether the prisoner retrieved the hat or not they were dead. If they went into the strip they were shot and if they disobeyed a direct order they were shot. I can’t imagine living through something like that. There are also trees that grow down the middle of the road where the barracks used to stand. Some of them are original, but some have been replaced since they only live for 50-50 years. The trees were added in the late 1930’s when the Red Cross came to investigate the camp and make sure prisoners weren’t being deprived of their human rights. The Nazi’s knew the investigation was going to happen, so they did everything they could to make the camp pass the test – it was all an illusion though.


I saw the Old Crematorium where they burned the bodies of the dead for the first many years of the camp with one oven. They had to build a second one however, the New Crematorium, because they couldn’t keep up with all the dead bodies. We walked through the New Crematorium, through the room where the inmates would have had to strip naked, into the shower room, into the room where the dead bodies would have been kept until they were cremated, and into the room where the three ovens were held. There are memorials set-up around the parameter of the crematorium area that are in honor of the unknown number of dead. As the war went on many records were not kept and so the actual number of people killed will never be known.


I don’t know exactly what my final thoughts are on my visit to Dachau. I don’t know if there is a way to sum it up. There is no way to explain why these sorts of cruel things happen in the world. I can say “Never Again” as one of the memorials states, but as much as I hate to say it, can we really stop it? There have been wars of genocide more recent than 1945 and people have been warring and trying to wipe each other out all throughout history. Can we really say, “Never again?” I don’t know. I hope so. I pray for peace, as cheesy as it may sound, and I hope that we as the inhabitants of this planet stand up for those who do not have a voice and refuse to turn a blind eye to the wrongs of this world.


We must examine and question our leaders. We must not let them do things behind our back. We must not give them too much power because they promise change and hope. We all need to be held accountable to our words and actions. We cannot blame just the leaders when they fail. We cannot just point fingers and point to the problem. We must help with the solution. This is our world and we are all responsible.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Last Night in Munich

What can I say about Munich? It hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been terrible.


Monday I tried to get my Russian visa (as I mentioned) and found out that I can’t do it here. It takes two weeks and they have to keep my passport. I’m not ok with that. I’m still trying to find out if there is anywhere else that might be able to do it with a day’s turn around so I’m not without my passport, but I don’t know if it’s going to be possible, quite unfortunate. My experience going to the consulate was quite interesting though. I planned to arrive first thing in the morning in case it took a long time, so I got there about half an hour after they opened. There was a mass of people standing outside the door and all of them were trying to talk to one official looking guy who was standing by the door with a clipboard. Since I don’t speak Russian or German I had no clue what anyone was saying and I felt like I was in the most unorganized chaos.


I had to push my way to the front of the crowd – only then to realize that there was a metal barrier separating the crowd from the official. It was weird. Anyway, I stood there awhile waiting to get the guys attention to ask him where I needed to go to apply for the visa but he kind of kept ignoring me. Finally he left and gave the clipboard to another guy who I was able to talk to. He sent me right into the office to window #3. I waited in line inside for about 20 minutes only to find out that it wouldn’t work. The guy looked at me like I was crazy for even thinking about it. He gave me paperwork to fill out in case I changed my mind and I left.


I hadn’t gotten much sleep on Sunday night, so after I got this news I was pretty upset and the lack of sleep wasn’t helping. I went to the grocery store to buy some food for lunch and then came back to the hostel and took a nap. I couldn’t think straight and I thought it might help. It did. I woke up feeling like I had a few next steps in place.


Monday afternoon Lisa (the girl I met at church) and I met up and went on a free walking tour of the city. It was very informative and stuff. I think my Berlin guide was a bit better, but even so, it was a good tour. We went by lots of buildings, statues, and monuments that I had seen, but didn’t know any history about. We also went to the Hofbrauhaus and saw the famous beer hall. After the tour, Lisa and I decided to get dinner at an Augustiner Braustuberl. It was pretty fun. The beer hall felt quite a bit more authentic and not so touristy (although I’m sure it was full of tourists) and we got a good deal on our dinner. She ended up coming back to my hostel for a few more beers and we chatted late into the night. It was fun and I enjoyed my time with her. I’m sure we’ll continue to be e-mail buddies.


Yesterday I got up (after limited sleep) and headed (via train) out to the town of Fussen where I bussed to the other side of the valley to visit the castles of King Ludwig II. I got back to Munich around 8pm and really just settled in for the night. The castles were fun to see. I didn’t bother to go in either of them, but enjoyed being outdoors in the Alps and just being outside on a gorgeous day! I definitely got my exercise! I also bought some apple strudel from a cafĂ©/bakery in town that I ate on the train, without a fork. I’m that talented.


Today I went on a paid tour of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site as well as climbed the tower and visited St. Peter’s Church in town. It was another gorgeous day so I can’t complain too much. I’ll write more about Dachau in another blog. I think I have a lot to say about that one so I need a bit more time to process. After I got back from the site visit I went to St. Peter’s church in the center of town and climbed the tower. I also went into the church. It’s a beautiful church, but it didn’t have quite the same impact that several of the other churches have had on me. I’m not quite sure why.


I’m now back at the hostel gathering information and making plans for the next phases of my trip. Tomorrow I head to Vogtsburg where I will stay with my cousin’s friend for two nights. I am looking forward to some time out of the city and away from large crowds. It’ll be nice to just have some down time. Hopefully I’ll be able to do some laundry and sleep in a little and continue with my plan making. :)


I think that’s it for now. I’m excited for tomorrow; I have a Skype date with my friend Ashley. If you’d like to have a Skype date with me just let me know and we’ll set one up! :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Quick Update

The internet is being really dumb tonight, so I'll just give a real quick update and then expand in the morning (assuming the internet is working)!

Russia is at a bit of a stand still at the moment. I found out that I can't get my visa here in Munich because I have to submit an application that takes two weeks to process AND they have to keep my passport the whole time - no good. I am trying to find out if there is anywhere that I can go to get it processed in a day. I am trying to be hopeful, but the realist in me isn't.

Yesterday I did a walking tour of Munich and went to dinner at a bier haus with my new friend Lisa. Today I went a town about two hours away and visited two of the royal castles. I'm uploading pictures on facebook and for those of you who don't have access, the link to the third album is below. I update my albums each day pretty much so always check my links to see if there is anything new!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Exploring Munich

Today was a full day. I got up at 7, and was in the lobby ready to eat my toast and jam at 7:45. The internet was working (finally!) and I got to talk to Eddie for awhile, which was such a good thing. I left the hostel around 9:30 and headed to the museums I had planned for the day. The nice thing about Europe so far is that in general things don't really open until around 10 so my mornings are super relaxed and laid back.


I visited three museums today, the National Gallery (German, Bavarian, and European art from all periods), the Alte Pinakthek (Medieval and Rococo style paintings), and the Glyptothec (Greek and Roman statues). Each museum was only 1 Euro because it was Sunday. I did have to check my bag at two places, but only spent 4.40 Euro total - which I think is pretty good for three museums. I walked by the English Garden which is the biggest metropolitan park in Europe. There is a part where the river funnels into it and people ride surf boards on the small wake that is created. It was kind of fun to watch for awhile.


I visited a few churches as well and took lots of pictures! At 4pm I went to an English speaking church service in the south part of the city. I met a girl there named Lisa who just finished military duty and is now beginning a school program here in the city. She is from New York and we chatted for quite awhile. After church we walked through the Oktoberfest grounds (the festival doesn't start until Thursday or Friday, but they were setting up things) and out to the Bavaria statue.


First of all, I didn't realize that Oktoberfest was a fair with rides and stuff. It's like an amusement park with giant beer tents. Second - I felt like I was walking around on the Puyallup Fairgrounds. I'm pretty sure that if I showed up at the Puyallup Fair, had a beer, and everyone around me started speaking German, it'd be Oktoberfest. Also - the Bavarian statue is HUGE! Seriously gigantic.


On my way back to the hostel I was going to stop at the grocery store and pick up some items for dinner since I hadn't eaten much all day. I quickly discovered that they are not open on Sundays. So, I found a fun little restaurant and had a Bavarian meal and a native beer. The restaurant had free wifi so I got to get some stuff taken care of regarding my plans for tomorrow as well. The waitress was friendly but I think she was a little annoyed with dealing with English speaking tourists. I won her over with my charm though. :)


Once I got back to the hostel I took a shower and have been making plans for tomorrow. I am headed to the consulate first thing in the morning to apply for the Russian Visa. My fingers are crossed that everything goes smoothly. I have to get passport photos taken in the morning and then I'm hoping that they have applications available there to fill out, otherwise I need to find a printer to print it out. It's going to be a busy morning! Good thing that only real plan I have for the day is to do a free walking tour at 3. Lisa (my new friend from church) is going to meet me there. It should be a fun afternoon and hopefully not too stressful of a day!


I'm kind of indifferent to Munich. I feel like it's just another city - nothing too special about it. We'll see how I feel at the end of my stay here. Maybe it'll grow on me a little more.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Internetless in Munich

Please note that this was written last night. This morning the internet is working (God does answer prayer)! I slept fairly well (well enough as I could sleep in a dorm room with 40 people in it) and am eating my free breakfast of toast, butter, and jam. It's a bit overcast outside (or perhaps smoggy? Munich isn't the most glorious city so far) so we'll se what the day brings!


I’m sitting here in Munich and I’m a little bored. The internet won’t work (although the receptionist seems to be able to be on facebook, so I’m not sure how that is happening – maybe the wired connection is better). Supposedly they’re working on it. I would go out and explore a bit but it’s getting dark and I don’t know my way around enough to be comfortable doing such a thing - maybe tomorrow night after I don’t need street signs to navigate. Unfortunately my train arrived an hour later than I thought it was going to so I didn’t have as much time this evening to explore like I usually do when I arrive in a new city.

The lockers at this hostel have a wider clasp area so my little locks don’t work in the lockers which means I have to rent one from the hostel for 1 Euro/night. Wonderful. I’m going to try and find one to buy tomorrow. I figure by the time I am here five nights (which is what it’s looking like will happen since no one from couch surfing has gotten back to me about staying with them) I might as well have bought a lock and then I can keep it in case I run across this problem again. That is if I can find a store that sells locks. It’s not like they have a Fred Meyer or Home Depot down the road. I should have brought one from home since I have like three. Oh well …

I bought a 0.5 liter bottle of beer at the grocery store. It’s called Grafensteiner and it’s a Radler erfrishend. I like it quite a bit. It kind of has a sweet fruity flavor – almost like champagne, but a beer. Oh, as I am reading the label more closely now, it looks like it is 50% “bier” and 50% “zitronenlimonade” haha … I guess it’s not much of a real beer then is it? Oh well!

I need to do laundry soon too, but it is 5 euro to do a load here at the hostel. That seems like a lot of money. I may try to find a Laundromat or just buy some detergent at the market and wash the necessary things in the sink. We’ll see how desperate I get. J

The plan for tomorrow is to hit the various museums that are only 1 Euro on Sundays. There are quite a few but I am going to try and do 3 I think, maybe 4 if I have time. At 4pm (or 1600) I am going to try to make it to an English speaking church service. In the evening I might try to visit a few hold churches and go to the viewpoint to overlook the park/field where Oktoberfest happens each year. Monday morning I will do the free walking tour and the churches that I was not able to get to tomorrow. The rest of the day will be spent exploring. I will probably go to the famous Hofbrauhaus for a beer (although it’s quite expensive – but I’m in Munich right? I have to!) and then do some planning the next few stops for myself in Germany.

Tuesday I am going to go to Dachau. I am considering doing a tour so that I can get all the information, but can’t decide if it’s worth the extra 7 Euro or not. Wednesday I am going to go to the two famous castles in the area (one that the Disney castle was based off of and the other that was used as the castle in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Wow, I’m such an American tourist. I can pay for a tour for that for 25 Euro which I am also considering. Otherwise I think I’ll get there and be like, cool. Now what?

Thursday I will leave Munich and head into the south western border area and hopefully stay with a family friend for two nights. If those housing options don’t work out I’ll head to another random city and set-up camp for a night or two before I head into Cologne. I am enjoying the flexibility of my rail pass. I feel like I am saving myself a bit of money now that my plans have changed and the distances I need to travel are further apart. It’s kind of a nice feeling.

Well, I guess I can’t just continue to sit and talk to myself. Perhaps I should go set-up my bed for the night and settle in a bit more. I plan to get up at 7 like usual. There is a free breakfast here in the lobby so I will partake in that and then be on my way for the day. The museums don’t open until 10, so I have some time to get ready, eat, try to get online (or at least find a place to pay to get online) and then head out to get my day started right away! Wish me luck!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wittenberg

My day trip to Wittenberg was a good one. It's a quaint little town but the weather was nice and I am (finally) starting to get the hang of the train system here!

I got into Wittenberg around 11:45 and asked the lady at the info desk for a map. She said to me in perfect English, but extremely loudly, "Not in German! You have to go to the town," and pointed toward the town. Ok I said and smiled. Then she yelled "Please" at me as I walked out the door. (The Germans use the word "bitte," which means please, for various things so it makes sense and is not completely random, but it was funny.) I wandered into town and after making it to the complete other end I finally found the information office. I bought my map for 0.50 Euro and quickly discovered that a map wasn't really necessary. Oh well!

The Castle Church, where Luther nailed his 95 Theses, was across the street. The church was rebuilt in 1770 after a fire or two, so nothing is original anymore. The doors that they have up are bronze ones that were donated to the church (by a king I think?) when they rebuilt it. Luther is burried inside as well as a Queen who died in the 1300's or something. Anyway, I didn't take any pictures of the church interior becasue they charged you to do so, and it wasn't original so eh, whatever. :) I did climb the tower though and got some good pictures of the town from above.

After I visited the church I wandered through the market square and the church where Luther was pastor after the Reformation. I took lots of pictures there and it was a pretty cool building. It's still the town church that is used today and they meet every Sunday at 10am.

Last, but not least, on my Wittenberg path was Luther's House. It was originally the monestary where he was stationed in Wittenberg. Then after the Reformation and the Catholic Church pulled the monestary out of the town, it was given to Luther and his with Kathe and they rented out rooms to students. It was pretty interesting to walk through the place. Some of the rooms are restored and one room has been kept as it was when Luther and Kathe lived there. The museum has a ton of original artifacts - like a copy of the 95 Theses and Luther's Latin Bible that he used when he was a monk. They also have an original copy of his German Bible that he translated. So much stuff to see!

On my way back to Berlin I was thinking to myself about me being here, alone, and traveling solo. I'm kind of proud of myself for doing it actually. It's been hard and I get lonely, but I am thankful that I had people in my life who pushed me into action instead of just talking about taking this trip "someday." I met a girl on my walking tour the other day from Italy. She had been working in Berlin all summer selling ice cream at a little Italian restaurant. She was doing the walking tour on one of her last days in town - she hadn't been able to see much of the city because she'd been working so much. As we were walking around she kept talking about how she wanted to go to several of the museums but didn't want to go alone. I asked her why and she said she just would feel silly.

Her comment and candidness about her self-consciousness made me think. I'm so glad that I don't have this fear (in general). I go to movies alone frequently and am comfortable doing stuff on my own. Yes, it is a little strange sometimes, but why sit around and wait for someone to join you when the world is passing you by! Of course there are some things that are very difficult to do solo, but there are so many things that you can do, why focus on the negative? I don't mean to judge this girl or say that I'm better or anything, because we all know how much talk there was in my life about this trip before I finally got the nerve to do something about it. It just made me realize how far I've come and how thankful I am to be in the place that I am - to be on this adventure as challenging and difficult as it is sometimes.

Thanks for being a part of that journey with me. It helps to know that friends back at home are reading my blog and in a way are on the trip with me. It's a technological comfort that I wouldn't survive without!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What A Day

My day had a "slow" start to it. I got a lot done actually and feel like I have a handle on my "plan," but I didn't leave my hostel until 2pm, which means I got into town around 3pm. The museum I was going to did not turn into a "free museum" until 6pm, so I had three hours to kill. I planned to spend them aimlessly meandering about Oktoberfest, but when I arrived I discovered that it was really just one big tent - not quite the street fair we have in Fremont, or what I imagine it's like in Munich.

I sat on a park bench near the tent and wrote in my journal while I watched people take pictures with the fountain. There was a girl walking around with a "free hugs" sign and getting on my nerves. She would run up to people and just stand there with her arms wide open waiting for them to hug her. Or she'd run up behind someone talking a picture of other people posing with the fountain and give the picture taker bunny ears or something like that. A couple of times the person taking the picture (who had no idea she was behind him/her) would step back and step on the girl. They'd got surprised and apologize and she'd just stand there laughing and shove the sign in their face waiting like an idiot with her arms wide open for a hug, which most of the time she did not get.

Anyway, I wrote for awhile and then at 4:30 went into the tent. I sat and ordered a liter or beer (in a very large solid glass) and a typical bratwurst with sauerkraut. My beer was good, but the meal was not quite what I had expected. It was still pretty tasty, but each item was 7.50 Euro, so i spent 15 Euro (about $23) on dinner. Yikes! I think that's about as much as I've spent on food for the last week. I guess it was all for the experience though right? It was pretty entertaining to watch the people, but a little lame sitting there by myself with just Cliff to keep me company.

It was the first time I've felt a little out of place being alone. I haven't really felt it so far, but I did tonight. I'm pretty good about being on my own. In Seattle, I often go to movies alone, walk around downtown, or whatever, but I think a drinking festival is rather difficult to be comfortable at solo. Oh well. I did get to see a lady yodel and play Amazing Grace with cowbells, yes the cure of the Bavarian Fever is more cowbell! :) I took some video, but I'll have to wait to upload it when the internet functions for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Around 6 o'clock I'd had enough of Oktoberfest and so I headed to the Altes Museum (just a few blocks away). That museum, and all the others in the area, was supposed to be free on Thursdays from 6pm to 10pm. Well, apparently that isn't the case at the moment becasue they have a "special exhibit. Fortunately, I got a student discount, but still had to pay 4 Euro to walk around a bunch of Greek pottery and some Roman sculptures. I'm not downplaying the importance or value of those things, but considering the fact that I will be in Greece and can see those sorts of things there, it just seems silly to see them in Germany. The only reason I really paid the fee for the museum was to see the bust of Queen Nefertiti. Basically I got my picture and then left. I was in the museum about 20 minutes total I think.

After that I went back to the U-Bah and to my hostel, and here I am now, updating you all. I'll probably head to bed soon so that I can get up early for my train ride to Wittenberg in the morning. I'm excited to see the sights there but have a feeling I'll be a little frustrated with how touristy it is. I also need to do a little bit of laundry tonight so that I have clean clothes to wear. That's probably important right? Well, until tomorrow folks. Enjoy your afternoons and evenings!

Famous Sites and Funny Stories

I feel much better this morning after a decent nights rest. I slept much better. I’m not sure if I was more tired or if people were more considerate – perhaps both? No one turned the light on which was nice, but there was some rustling in the night. Also, the snoring either was more minimal or I was able to tune it out better – who knows!


Yesterday my day was very full. I began with an adventure to a different part of the city near the Berlin Zoo in order to find the post office where my visa letter for Russia was supposed to have been sent. I had read online that the post office was no longer there but someone in person told me that it was. I decided just to go down there and see if I could find it. Luckily there was a post office there AND they had my letter! Yea!


After I had that all figured out I got back on the train and headed out to a palace and museum further to the west of Berlin. I went to the Berggmen Museum which has several Picasso, Matisse, and Klee works. I got in as a student (a savings of 3 euro) and enjoyed the museum immensely! I’ve always loved Picasso’s work and am learning that I rather enjoy Matisse’s work as well. After I finished there I walked across the street to Schloss Charlottenburg and ate lunch in the palace courtyard. I walked around a bit in the gardens and took several pictures.


I found my way back to the S-Bahn and U-Bahn and headed to the Brandenburg Gate. I explored that area and the Holocaust memorial for a bit before I went in search of a reasonably priced charm for my bracelet. I was successful in finding a bracelet that had a charm on it (I’ll just take the charm off the bracelet to put it on mine when I get home). I then had about 45 minutes to kill before my free walking tour of the city began, so I sat on the side of the street and began to journal.


A funny thing happened.


I’m sitting there writing away and I notice that someone is standing next to me. I look up at an older gentleman (probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s) and discover he is reading my journal! I looked at him puzzled for a moment and then said, “hello?” to which he replied by reading the first line of my journal! He then laughed, said something in German and then said, “I was wondering if you were writing in English” and then walked away. His friend (also an older guy) was standing on the sidewalk near us and laughed, said something to me in German, shook his head, and walked away. I didn’t really know what to do other than just sit there confused. Very funny though.


The walking tour I went on was fantastic. They have them in other cities, so I’m going to do my best to go to others whenever I can. They were super informative and they’re free! Yes, you tip according to what you think it was worth/can afford, so I gave the guild 5 Euros, which I’m sure everyone else gave him at least that and there were over 20 people there. So for 3 hours of his time he’s making decent money. I learned all about the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s bunker where he shot himself, the Berlin Wall, Check-Point Charlie, the government of Germany (past and present), and all kinds of other tidbits! I even discovered that Germany as a whole is a younger nation than America. It was not Germany until the early 1800’s, before that it was part of Prussia. (Shera, I know you are shocked to discover that I did not know this – kind of like my revelation about the Soviet Union back in college).


After I finished my tour I headed back to the Brandenburg Gate and over to the Reichstag to climb to the top of the glass dome and see the Parliament form above – granted it was after working hours, but the empty seats would be there at least. On the bus on my way to the gate a Georgian (the country not the state) sat next to me and proceeded to hit on me. As I told Eddie later in the evening, either he was hitting on me or he was trying to “take” me. Don’t worry – I dodged his inquisitive questions and declined to give him my phone number, meet up with him later, or tell him where I was staying. I’m a savvy solo traveler.


At t Reichstag I waited in line for almost 45 minutes before I made it inside (tight security measures and whatnot only allow so many people in at a time). I got to take some fun pictures of the city at night and then headed back to my hostel for the evening. I didn’t get back until after 9 and it was quite dark. Fortunately Eddie called right as I was getting off the train so he “walked” me home in the dark. I was so tired last night from all of my adventures that I didn’t stay up too late.


I had planned to work on my “re-working” of my German schedule last night, but instead decided to put it off until this morning. I think that was a good decision as I was able to focus a bit more on what I was doing and not be distracted by my fatigue. I’ve been working on that all morning, uploading pictures to facebook, and now updating the blog.


I’m going to head out to the Berlin Oktoberfest in a few minutes and then am going to tour the Altes Museum this evening after 6 (many of the museums in Berlin are free on Thursday evenings from 6-10). This museum has the bust of Queen Nefertiti (I was mistaken before when I said it was in Copenhagen somewhere – I must have flipped to the wrong page in my notes while I was reading them in Copenhagen). Tomorrow I am going to Wittenburg for the day to see where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church and I’m sure there will be many “touristy” things to do there.


Saturday the plan is to head to Munich. I’m still waiting to hear back about housing options and what not, but I have several requests out to Couch Surfing hosts and I’m sure by this evening that I’ll have some responses. If not, there are several hostels in Munich that have availability – just not very inexpensive options, so we’ll see. I’ll post an update tonight or tomorrow with information about my updated schedule of events so that you can all properly stalk me, don’t worry.

 
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