Sunday, December 9, 2012

Souvenirs de Strasbourg

"So, what will you miss about Strasbourg?"

As this semester winds down to a close (I have only two short weeks left!), I find myself torn between two lives, that of a hometown American girl and this "voyageuse" that I have become over the last few months. Studying for finals and talking with family and friends makes me feel more ready than ever to go home and enjoy Christmas as it always has been, but at the same time I cannot believe I am leaving this second home for what could be a very long time. Sure, I will come back some day, probably with a husband and tiny blonde children, and just wander around these streets that have become so familiar to me, so second nature. It still amazes me, however, that I have been here for four months on my own, at twenty years old, and its coming to an abrupt end. Never again will I have the opportunity to live in another country and experience its customs as more than just a tourist. I live in Strasbourg: I know its shops, I've met its people, I've studied the language, and I've learned - a lot. I've learned about France, and I've learned about myself. Why did I come here? I came to study, to speak the language I've devoted myself to since I was 14 years old. I came to make friends, and I did (though, they aren't exactly French). I came to travel, and that I have, from all around Alsace, to the south of France, to Italy, Germany and Ireland. I've become independent, having had to navigate my way through an entire city after having lived in a small town my entire life. I've started to learn to cook, and I've developed a keen taste for wine. I've realized the importance of my relationships back home, and how strong they really are despite the distance. This experience has become, for me, a dip into the waters of adulthood, and that speaks volumes for a girl who once refused to call and make appointments for herself and lacked that oh so challenging skill of making pasta. I've certainly had my ups and downs, from standing on what seemed like the top of the world, to breaking down in tears over missing people and not-so-impressive test scores, but that's how you learn. For example, even though my skills in writing and speaking have improved and my comprehension has gotten much better, I still struggle with the oral comprehension, where you listen to a tape and have to answer questions according to what you hear (which usually goes by very quickly). When I received what was probably the worse score of my life, I was devastated, but my good friend Kerri taught me a valuable lesson. She said, "Carolyn, one day, you are going to be a French teacher, and you will probably have a kid in your class who seems like a mess-up and who just doesn't 'get it'. Before you got this grade, you probably wouldn't have understood him, because you've always had perfect grades. But now, now you know how it feels, and you can sympathize with him or her and help them to realize their full potential." And it was that grade that made me work harder so that I could really do my best to succeed this semester. Whether my finals will be a success, one can only hope. But if you ask me when I come back whether my semester abroad was a "success," the only response I will have is "absolument," because, well, I've learned.

Now, I know each and every one of you is going to see me at some point when I get back to the States, and the first thing that you will ask will be something along the lines of, "What was your favorite part? What will you miss the most?" Well, after thinking about it, I can't come up with just one response. So, here are the things I will miss most about Strasbourg, France :

  • Going to Banette, or any boulangerie for that matter, to buy a Chausson aux pommes
  • Walking through the markets at Place Broglie
  • Seeing everyone, and I mean everyone, ride their bikes
  • Strolling along the Île and seeing the swans swim by the Gallia bridge in front of l'Église Saint-Paul
  • Hearing French everywhere I go
  • My phonetics class ("Phonétiques")
  • Fresh French baguettes
  • The Christmas markets, and the lights that have gone up all around the city (It's the Christmas Capital of the World!)
  • Getting a kick out of Herr Otto's chuckle and general demeanor in Beginner German with the other BCA students
  • Girls nights at Irish Pubs! [and one in particular]
  • Eating Tarte Flambée and Moelleux au Chocolat on the tiny street next to the Cathedral
  • Watching French kids run around and play in the leaves or the snow, speaking adorable broken French with better style than some adults in America
  • Frequent visits with friends to the Amorino Gelato shop in front of the Cathedral 
  • The architecture, from the wooden beam work in the old Alsatian houses, to the Gothic style of the Cathedral, to the black wrought iron balconies of French apartments
  • Our "weekly cave" on Tuesdays: Subway for lunch with Kerri, Claire, and Emily
  • Being able to take a train just about anywhere, and within a day or two experience a completely different European culture
  • Independence: Doing what I want, when I want, how I want.
  • Being able to speak French to anyone I so choose 
  • Cobblestone streets and those neat stores you can only find when you explore
  • Writing letters to Justin, and coming back to my apartment with one from him on my desk
  • The relaxed attitude at restaurants: Eat, but then stay and talk for hours, maybe even people watch - None of that "eat and run"
  • The red geraniums in all the windows of La Petite France
  • The old houses that line one block, and how they are each a different color with different colored shutters
  • Being able to go to a book store, and smile knowing every single book around me is in French
  • And finally, all the wonderful friends I have made (Kerri, Emily, Amanda, Pam, Claire, Nicki, Allison, among others)

I may not be upset as I head home two weekends from now, because I really am beyond excited to see Justin, my family and all my friends back at Susquehanna, but I will without a doubt hit a point where I start thinking of all these things, and what I would give to experience them one more time. For now, I will enjoy what's left of my time here, and realize that all good things come to an end, maybe not forever, but for now. I appreciate everyone who has helped me through this experience, whether it be through supportive words, a smile over the computer, some money to help me make my traveling dreams come to life, a card to wish me Happy Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, or simply a kind thought my way. I feel so blessed to have each and every one of you by my side through it all, and will feel the same once I'm home continuing my college experience and realizing new dreams for myself. Because of you, in twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty years from now, I can say that I once lived and studied in the beautiful country of France, and had the experience of a lifetime. 

La vie est belle.

Merci et bisous,

Friday, December 7, 2012

Baile Atha Cliath: Dublin in December


30 Novembre 2012

This morning, Amanda and Emily and I left for Ireland - my last real trip of this wonderful semester abroad. I had really been looking forward to this weekend excursion, and so I was very excited to get on the plane to experience some pubs, Irish accents, and the green countryside. Our destination was Dublin, Ireland's capital (in Gaelic, the capital city is called "Baile Atha Cliath"). When one thinks of Ireland, it usually consists of one or more of the following: potatoes, red hair, pots of gold, four-leaf clovers, bagpipes and fiddles, lots of beer, sheep grazing in the hills, and James Joyce's "The Dubliners." While I only saw a few "gingers," I did get to try my first Guinness, listen to traditional music in just about every store we went into, eat some delicious potatoes, see some sheep on our day trip into the countryside, and hear those charming accents that every girl has a soft spot for. 

It took hours of traveling, and because it's essentially winter, the sun sets around 4:30pm. So, when we arrived, we had to find our way to the hotel in the dark. Luckily, Irish people are very nice and pointed us in the right direction. We stayed at the Croke Park hotel, which is adjacent to a stadium and so much nicer inside than any of the hotels that we stayed in previously (aka Italy...). We got a good flight/hotel deal on Expedia, and we were thrilled to walk in a warm hotel decorated for Christmas, where they spoke English and offered you complimentary hot apple cider when you checked in! I felt like a queen! Our room was also very nice and comfortable. Because we were only there for the weekend, we took advantage of the night and walked into town around 7pm to see the city center and get some dinner at a traditional pub. The city was an interesting mix of old and modern, and I found that I liked it a lot. Theres a very tall steel monument that shoots up towards the sky into a point, and it symbolizes Dublin's modern place in the world. However, there are also very old buildings and monuments to commemorate famous Irishmen. We walked the length of O'Connell street, crossed the bridge, and found a gift shop to get some fun Christmas presents for friends and family, and then went next door to a pub called Fitzgerald's that looked really reasonable and traditional. There, I tried my first Guinness, upon Bethany and Jeff's request, and I actually liked it (surprise). The dinner was good too, but I got full so quickly that I couldn't eat everything and decided I'd get something more typically Irish the next night. The atmosphere was what we were really going for anyway that first night, and we got it: dark green walls, old Guinness signs everywhere, "football" on the television, and even nice Christmas decorations around a mantle and fireplace. It was cozy, and almost like being at Siamsa back home. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, relaxed and watched "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (Jim Carrey version), to get into the Holiday spirit and ring in the month of December!

1 Décembre 2012

Today was our only full day in Ireland, and we certainly made the most of it! At 6:45, we met on O'Connell street to catch our tour bus for the day that would take us all around the south west coast! It was a very small, 15-person bus, and we were happy that it seemed like it was going to be very relaxing and intimate. I was exhausted and freezing, but so excited to see the country. Our tour guide was a really friendly Irish school-teacher who just gives tours every other weekend with the "Paddywagon" company. He wasn't overly informative, but we all really enjoyed getting on and off the bus whenever there was something interesting to see, taking pictures, and getting right back on our way. For once, we didn't have to do all the planning and worry about everything - it was all taken care of for us! 

We stopped at several places along the way, including Dunguaire Castle, Corcomroe Abbey, the baby cliffs on the southwest coast, and finally the Cliffs of Moher - one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life. I truly hope to come back someday and share it with someone, because it's one of those natural things that proves how beautiful this earth really is. Along our way, we got "lucky" and got into an "Irish traffic jam," which is when sheep and cows are blocking the roadway and you have to wait for them to pass! Driving along the coast and looking out over Galway Bay was also breathtaking. We learned about some history, including the English take over, the famine, and why there are stone walls everywhere you look (The Irishmen worked for the Englishmen, separating their different properties. At that time, if you could life a stone, you got fed. If you couldn't - and this includes being a child - you died of hunger. Many people fled elsewhere, including the United States). Today, the Irish still very much dislike the English. After all of that, it's no wonder that only 10-15% of the Irish population can speak their native language of Gaelic fluently (English was essentially forced upon them). However, it's slowly coming back now as older generations realize its importance in their culture and try to teach their children. Even schools are starting to teach Gaelic to its students as a collective effort to rebuild Ireland's unique culture. Ireland is also rather divided in terms of religion: Traditionally, Ireland is a catholic country, but as a result of the English takeover, Protestantism is fairly common (especially in Northern Ireland, but that's a whole different level that I can barely even begin to discuss). To put this all into perspective, Ireland only became an independent republic in 1920! And I thought the United States were young...
Dunguaire Castle
Corcomroe Abbey

Irish Traffic Jam!
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher (other side)

For lunch, we stopped in the little town of Doolin, where there was another "Fitzgerald's Pub." I wasn't very hungry, but still wanted something Irish, so I got a side of mashed potatoes. Best part = they only charged me 1 euro! That's about as cheap as it gets in Europe, and I was a happy, American college student. It was really good, and..well..the famine's why not indulge!? Our last quick stop was Bunratty castle. which was beautiful, but you couldn't go inside for some reason. There was a really neat restaurant next door, though, and I would've liked to just stay there for dinner. By the time we got back, it was actually time to eat something, so we decided to find a place. We were told by one guy on our tour (and also my brother, Jeff's, boss at Siamsa who is straight from Ireland), to go to the Temple Bar area for the real Dublin experience. We followed their advice, and they were right: we were met with all kinds of bars, people playing music on the street, and people having a great time together. For dinner, I got a traditionally Irish meal as promised: braised beef in a dark Guinness gravy, with mashed potatoes and a little puff pastry on top! [That's more like it!]

2 Décembre 2012

Back in Dublin for our last few hours in beautiful Ireland. Fortunately for us, it didn't rain until now, and we could care less at this point, seeing as we would be on a plane for most of it. We decided to get to know the city a little better today by visiting three of the main attractions: St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and Trinity College. After having gone to Starbucks for a much needed breakfast, we went to the furthest point first (the cathedral). On our way, we walked past all kinds of shops and restaurants, and admired how each apartment had a different colored door, from bright green to vibrant red. We thought we found the church, but it turned out to be a different cathedral, which was pretty stunning itself. It was pretty obvious, though, when we finally found St. Patrick's. It had its own court yard, and the stone architecture was absolutely beautiful. We didn't get to go inside, because visiting hours were over and there was a mass going on, but I imagine I will visit again someday. 

St. Patrick's Cathedral

We headed back in the direction of town to hit Dublin Castle, which was originally a defensive fortification for the city, and built by King John of England in 1204. Today, it houses government buildings, as it is now a Republic. We only saw the outside, but what we saw was pretty impressive. Only some of the original buildings seemed to be there, though, and the rest was added on much later. We didn't stay long, but it's always cool to get to see any kind of castle, in my opinion! We continued to walk around the city and get lost, looking around at little shops we would never have come across otherwise. Someone else might be intimidated by that, but we found it fun and refreshing. "Not all those who wander are lost."

Finally, we reached Trinity College. We had actually passed it several times before, and had no idea it was the entrance to the college. Now that we were aware, though, we passed through the gates and wandered around the courtyard for a few minutes and watched as the choir processed out of the church.

Our weekend in Dublin had come to an end, and we had thoroughly enjoyed every minute! I am rather in love with this country and all that it represents, from the people's warm and light-hearted nature to the breathtaking views of castles and cliffs. As I stood out on the edge of a cliff, I looked out over three thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean that separated me and Pennsylvania. It made me sad for a moment, knowing I was so far, but then I realized something: At home, I had dreamt about that very moment - standing right there one day amidst all the green and wonders of Ireland..of all the wonders of Europe. And there I was, living out yet another dream. 



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bon appétit from the Old World: Thanksgiving en Alsace

Thanksgiving is all about family, a delicious, home-made meal, and being grateful for what you have. This holiday season, while completely different than any other I have had or will have in my lifetime, has helped me realize just how much I have to be thankful for. For one, my mom and Gary came to visit me from November 16th to November 25th. I have never been more home-sick than I was just before their visit, and really needed some familiarity in my life! Of course, we didn't spend every waking moment together: I still had classes, and they wanted to explore and make it a vacation of their own in some ways. I acted as a tour guide most of the time, though, and did my best to explain some history and show them around the city. It was wonderful to see them, and to finally eat a real meal nearly every day for lunch and dinner. They stayed right near La Petite France, so my mom was right in her element, with little shops and beautiful old Germans-style buildings in every direction. I can't honestly say that I was an angel the entire time, and I did get frustrated here and there ; since I am now acclimated to this environment, I have without a doubt obtained higher standards, and let's just say I got a tad embarrassed when they couldn't pronounce anything in French and immediately resorted to English. Nonetheless, I tried to give them both the French experience by teaching them some of the customs as well as by suggesting traditional French foods to try, from the Alsatian speciality tarte flambée to real, flaky French croissants. Because Strasbourg has a long German history, they also had their fair share of German cuisine, including sausage and sauerkraut (which apparently has a much sweeter taste compared to the sauerkraut in the US, according to ma mère). When they first arrived, I met them right in front of the cathedral, and as soon as my mom saw me, she quickly came towards me and gave me a big hug and kiss. We walked through the Cathedral and admired the newly placed Christmas decorations. Luckily, they were just in time to see decorations being put up all around the city! It is, in fact, the Christmas capital of the world, and so it would've been a shame if they missed it!

For two days in the middle of the week, they went to Paris together to see all the major sights. It was their first time there, and seeing as I had already been there three times, including once with Justin this semester, I didn't feel like I needed to go and let them go off and enjoy themselves. They survived without my language help, and ended up having a wonderful time! Gary wasn't overly crazy about it, but my mom found Paris very "majestic." The three of us went to Colmar that first Sunday, one of the most picturesque towns in all of Alsace. Even though everything was closed (it's a law in France that shops must be closed on Sundays), we still got to walk around and look at all the decorations, and eat lunch at an old German-style restaurant. There was even an accordion player on the side of the road, and Gary gave him some money because it really did add to the whole French experience. Back in Strasbourg one night, we met up at Maison Kammerzell, the oldest house in Strasbourg that is now a restaurant, right next to the cathedral. It was very fancy, and we all ate very well: bread, wine, meat, and dessert galore! It was a true celebration - of their visit, of our German heritage, of our ability to eat well and enjoy each other's company. I felt, in the very least, like I had finally earned a spot at the "adult table."

Finally, Thursday arrived, and it was a beautiful, sunny Thanksgiving day in France! Unfortunately, instead of going to the Stroudsburg vs. East Stroudsburg rival Turkey Day football game, I was stuck in French classes all day from 9:15am to 7:00pm. Afterwards, I met up with my mom and Gary at the Homme de Fer tram stop and we walked towards La Maison des Tanneurs, the famous restaurant from the 1500s in La Petite France. They made reservations, so we were all set when we arrived, and we had a pretty little table in the corner looking out over the Ile (tiny canal in Strasbourg). To celebrate, we all ordered a glass of Pinot Gris (white wine), and for dinner, we ordered whatever we wanted. I felt like I had to order the closest thing to turkey and gravy, and so I ordered Le coq au Riesling (Chicken in a white wine sauce), with a side of Alsatian noodles. The service was unbelievably slow, but it encouraged us to talk for a long time, and we ended up having some great laughs. Maybe all it takes to have a fun conversation with family is good food and a glass of wine? Disfunctional family get-togethers solved: You're welcome.

The following day, we planned to go to the tiny town of Rique-wihr. I had seen pictures of this town when my French professor, Dr. Lynn Palermo, showed us photos from her trip a few summers back to this area. I was in the process of figuring out where I wanted to study abroad, and so I asked her where they were taken. When she told me it was near Strasbourg, my decision to come here was greatly swayed. It's a town right along the wine route, and completely quaint with the tiny stores and the church steeple in the background. To get there, we had to take the train to Colmar, and then take a bus to Rique-wihr. We got to Colmar without a problem in just 30 minutes, but then when we got to the bus stop, we waited for a while and then realized that this bus wasn't coming at all. When we looked closer at the schedule, which was beyond confusing, we saw that we would've had to wait another 2 hours just to catch the bus. As it was already mid-day, it seemed impossible to get to Rique-whir, walk around and get back to Colmar in time for our train to Strasbourg. So, as disappointed as we were that our plans had failed, we decided to stay in Colmar. We had already seen it, but I don't regret staying at all. It was a Friday, and so all the little shops were open and the Christmas markets had already started! We already knew our way around, so we went into the old part of town, went in stores we wished we could have the other day, ate some pizza for lunch, looked around at all the ornaments and other things on display at the Christmas markets, and even got some new boots for me! It was much more enjoyable than our first day there, and I was happy to hear some Christmas music playing, even if it was just after Thanksgiving. Christmas music playing = Carolyn gets to go home and wrap presents soon by the fireplace and Christmas tree!

Saturday, the 24th of November, we had a Thanksgiving dinner at the BCA director's house for all of the students. They made the turkey and stuffing, and we all each contributed one thing to make it a complete feast! I made Grandma Lantzer's famous apple pie, and we all headed over to his house mid-day so that we could start eating at 1pm. Since we couldn't be at home for a real Thanksgiving dinner, it was so thoughtful of Alex and his family to have something like this for us so that we could be together - a new family, in a sense - and recreate some of those American traditions we hold so dear! The meal was pretty good, especially for being mostly student-made, and we sat at a very long make-shift table and enjoyed each other's company. I think as a whole we are all very thankful for this experience to study abroad in such a beautiful country full of history, and we definitely realized it that day as we realized how few days we had left. However, on Thanksgiving day, we made sure we took time to appreciate our own history, and celebrated with turkey, watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Charlie Brown: The Mayflower, played touch football in a nearby field, and even took a "Turkey Quiz" that Alex's sons corrected. Claire got the highest score, and as a reward she got a copy of Alex's dissertation, signed and all! It was honestly hilarious, and we all got to learn plenty of fun facts relating to turkeys and Thanksgiving.

That night, the Christmas markets opened in Strasbourg, and the "grand sapin" (big Christmas tree) in Place Kléber lit up for the whole city to see! A couple of the girls stayed together after our Thanksgiving festivities, and headed to Place Broglie to walk through the markets a bit, and admire all the little ornaments and delicious foods. There are apparently 12 different markets throughout the city, and people come from all over the world to this region to see them! We then went over to Place Kléber to get a good spot in front of the tree before the lighting ceremony. I had no idea it was going to be such a show! To the left of the tree, there's an old German building that stretches all the way across the square, and there was a light show displayed on the building. It was so impressive, I can barely describe it! There was classical singer, a jazz saxophonist, and a dancer, and each did a little performance from the three balcony windows of the building. A little girl spoke in a way that guided us through a story, and then, all of a sudden, all the lights of the tree glowed, and the whole crowed awed in excitement! It was so beautiful, and I still love to walk past and see it standing there in all its "sappy" glory. Now that Thanksgiving is officially over, it's time to go shopping and get in the Christmas spirit! 

Joyeuses Fêtes et Joyeux Noël!


To "wrap up" my post on Thanksgiving, I figure it's only appropriate to update you all on my cooking skills. In my opinion, I have greatly improved, and I'm sincerely proud of myself that I've been able to step it up, go to the store whenever I need to, plan out my meals for the week, and, for the most part, succeed. Perhaps someday I will be able to make a full Thanksgiving dinner for my family, in the comfort of my own little home, and all in knowing that it all began in my little kitchen in France.

Bon appétit!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Münichen und Neuschwantein

10 Novembre 2012

Considering I don't have Friday classes this semester, I have the liberty of traveling around Europe as I, and my wallet, find it suitable. I haven't traveled every single weekend, because I do think it's important to stay in Strasbourg and really get to know my city well before I leave, but I have made some plans to see other places. November 10th, I went with Emily and Allison to Munich, Germany! Munich was never a place I dreamed of seeing, but my family came over from Germany, and why wouldn't I take advantage of the opportunity to experience yet another culture while I'm in Europe? Our plan was to visit Neuschwanstein castle, and Munich was a convenient stop along our way. We used our Eurail passes again, and it was pretty simple just hopping on the train towards Stuttgart and then taking another towards Munich. On our way, the man checking tickets looked at my pass, and therefore my name Wert, and asked if I had German roots. I, of course, replied yes, and he just nodded his head in approval. As he passed, I told Emily and Allison that I would love to find  something in Germany that explained the origin and meaning of my name. Emily asked what it meant, and the man, overhearing, turned around and said "werth," which translates to "worth" in English. I thought that was pretty cool to have it confirmed by an actual German native. From then on, I was officially excited to see my fatherland!

  When we got to Munich, we ate in a mall that was right next door, and then tried to find our way around. We ended up asking for directions, and we were told that we have to take the train into the city center. Apparently, Munich was bigger than we thought, because there are multiple train stops, and we were in the completely wrong area. Finally, we figured out that it's free to get from stop to stop within the city, and we found our hotel then without a problem (Getting a hotel next to the train station is so much more practical, especially if you're not looking for luxury on a quick weekend trip). We stayed at a student hostel, but it wasn't sketchy at all. We dropped our stuff off quick (we only packed backpacks! We're getting better at this whole packing light thing), and walked towards city center. We really didn't have a great idea of what there would be to see, so we just explored. It was quite grey outside, but we were content. Once we found the main shopping road, we were happy to see some Christmas lights up and cute decorations in the windows for kids! As we kept going, we found an old Beer Hall from 1328 that looked really authentic, and decided to go there for dinner later. There was some kind of protest going on, and a lot of German police were involved. We had no idea what it was about, but we did know that there was a man yelling from a megaphone rather loudly in German, and we decided we felt uncomfortable and got out of there pretty quickly! Soon, we reached the main square, called Marionplatz, which is the heart of the city. Here, we saw both the new and old town hall, the clock tower which has a show every day at 1pm (we missed it, unfortunately), many shops and street performers. 

After watching a few different interesting performances, we walked towards a market, where they sold all kinds of meats, pretzels, breads, etc. I'm not big on sausage, but it's just so German, I couldn't help but take a picture. We looked around a two different churches. We had read about great views of Munich from the dome of one of them, but one was closed due to construction (of course), and the other was pretty expensive. So, there went that idea. The churches were very pretty, though and worth seeing. It's funny how the architecture is so different from country to country.
We weren't exactly starving, but it was already getting dark, and we honestly couldn't think of anything else to do! So, we went back to the "bier hall" and got a place to sit. The workers were dressed in traditional garb for the most part, and there were "bretzels" on the table, just as there would be bread on the table at other restaurants. Unfortunately, if you ate one of them, you got charged for it, so they weren't exactly fresh and had been sitting there for a while. We decided that since we're in Germany, we had to order one beer each. It wasn't Emily's favorite thing - in fact, she hardly drank it - but Allison and I thought it was pretty good. It was their light house beer that they make right there. While are waitress was German, and spoke the language, she had a chinese look to her, and it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I think I would've fit that particular role a bit better as far as German looks go. For dinner, I ordered a potato soup, which was absolutely delicious, and then traditional apple streudel for dessert. Sehr gut! 

It was kind of fun being able to recognize at least a few words as we made our way through Germany, because I'm taking an introductory German course while I am in Strasbourg. I'm by no means proficient, but I take a little bit of pride in the fact that I'm starting to learn a 4th language (after English, French, and a little bit of Italian). I did feel more lost though than ever, because unless you can communicate well or you have a tour guide, you're pretty much on your own and out of luck. Of course, many people speak English, but you always want to be courteous and at least try to use as much of the language as you can. 

After dinner, we went to the train station to figure out our train for the next day to Neuschwanstein, and then headed back to the hotel to get to bed early (we had to wake up at 4:30/5:00am!). 


11 Novembre 2012

We woke up very early, got ready, and went to the train station, getting on the train at 6 in the morning for Neuschwanstein castle. These trains were pretty local, and didn't need reservation. Because of how late it was, our fellow passengers were pretty much all hung-over guys in their 20s, either asleep or being completely obnoxious. I just wanted to sleep! It wasn't the mostly comfortable train in the world, but we switched trains after a while and then got there without a problem. When we first reached the town of Füssen, we paid a few euros to put our bags in a locker at the train station. We then had to take a bus up the hill to the ticket center. Of course, I left my umbrella in my bag at the station, and it starts raining...and not very lightly. The castle was in sight, and it was beautiful to be sure, but I started becoming miserable, not knowing what to do about the rain. Emily and I had to buy blue ponchos, and we looked ridiculous! We walked around and took pictures by the lake while it was still decent out, but then we had to take cover until our tour time. When it came the time, we paid 6 euros each to take the horse carriage up to the castle. There was still a little ways to walk once we got to that point, and I was not a happy camper! One of my boots - the same boots I bought in the beginning of the semester in Strasbourg and that were pretty expensive - cracked, and any water that was on the ground went right into my boot. I had a puddle in my shoe, and my sock was absolutely soaked! What was more, I had a cold, and was sniffing my way up the hill to the castle that was surrounded with fog. Years ago, my mom, Bethany, Jeff, and Gary went to Germany and Austria and saw this castle in all its beauty. It was finally my turn, and I couldn't see a thing around the castle! That's not an exaggeration - it was a cloud of white, and I couldn't see the beautiful lake or the all the fall-colored leaves from the mountains. At this point, I was so disappointed. This was what I came for! I couldn't be selfish, though - Not everyone gets to see castles in Germany, so I tried to stay positive.

Our tour was around 11am, and we had a Germany woman lead us through the interior of the castle - the parts that were completed, anyway, - and we learned a bit of the history behind the castle and for whom it was built. Neuschwanstein is a 19th century castle built in southwest Bavaria, Germany. It was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria. Unfortunately, he never actually had a chance to live in it, as he died in 1886. Some parts of the castle were not even finished, including the 2nd level. We were able to see the King's bedroom and chapel, the throne room (that never actually had the throne because he died before it could be placed there), and other salons with beautiful paintings of different German stories (including Tristan & Isolde). Today, it is open to the public, and due to its *magnificent beauty,* is visited by over 1.3 million people per year, and nearly 6,000 per day in the summer. Some day, I hope to come back and see it in all its potential, but for now, I will simply be grateful for having learned some history. The horses brought us back down on our way back, and then it was time to get some lunch before catching our train to Strasbourg.

One of the best parts of the day was lunch, in all honesty. If Germany is good at one thing, it's making a a hearty meal ! It was Sunday, so not much was open, but there were a few touristy places open, and we chose a place that didn't look to overbearing in price. I couldn't leave without ordering meat and potatoes, so that's just what I did. Emily ordered the same, and we agreed it might be one of the best meals we've had since we've been in Europe. Yum!

Well, it wasn't the most beautiful or inspiring trip I have ever made in my life, but I can't say I didn't try to see all I could see in Europe, and I am very grateful that I have the opportunities that I do. I won't look back and completely regret visiting at all - it only gives me a reason to go back some day, and hopefully in a more forgiving season!

Auf Wiedersehen!