Category Archives: trips

Slow down you crazy child…

So for my final Euro-trip I headed north to Austria to visit my best friend Kelly (the same one who visited me in Madrid last weekend!) I got in very late on Thursday night after a looooong day of traveling and she greeted me and took me to her dorm. Drastically different from my sitch, she lives in a residence of just foreign students which made for quite the experience! Her floor is really lively and it seems like a great time to live with a big group of kids from all over. Even though I love the experience of living with a host, I think that this way of doing it would be really really fun, and Kelly seems to agree.

Friday we woke up early to catch a three hour train to the land where the hills are alive... Salzburg!

First sight: Sound of Music themed cow

It ended up being really cold and rainy the entire day, making our self-guided walking tour a little less than pleasant. There were plenty of Christmas markets though to warm our spirits through hot wine and fun treats.

All the apples had little hearts on them like this!

True to form, I tried the inescapable Mozartklugel, a truffle that has become a tourist gimmick even though it is the size of an eyeball. Lemme just say I was not a fan (but I also just do not like dark chocolate).We rounded off the wet day at a really cool restaurant recommended by our hostel and I had amazing sausage that definitely made up for my failed attempt at eating Brautwurst in Germany.

Much better than before 🙂

When we returned to the hostel for the night we opted to watch Sound of Music (much to the worker’s dismay who responded “You want to watch Sound of Music now?” trying to conceal her confusion as to why we would not just join the party going on at the hostel bar instead). But feeling like the rain jilted me of my true Sound of Music experience, I was determined to watch the movie (not to mention, one of the girl’s I was traveling with hasnever seen it!)

Thankfully, Saturday brought better weather and we embarked on our day in very much the same manner as before, only this time our feet weren’t soaking wet and heads not turned to shield the rain. Lemme tell you, it was a very different city we saw and it turned out to be very pleasant.

Good work Salzburg, you redeemed yourself

We saw the Mirabell gardens where the Von Trapp kids frolic singing Do-Re-Mi, Mozart’s Residence, and visited more markets! Then, we headed back to Vienna for the night where Kelly and me had a fabulous Italian dinner and took a stroll around the city, taking in the lights and sounds of Vienna.

I love Christmas in Europe!

Although I had been in Austria since Thursday, Sunday was my first actual day in Vienna. It was a bit cold but nothing a headband bought at a metro station can’t fix.

We went to a church mass with wonderful music recommended by none other than my buddy Rick Steves. The man does good but am I am happy to be done with studying his Best of Europe book! After the service we hit up Demel, a famous Vieneese chocolate shop, for the best cup of hot chocolate I have ever had. We then went to the Schonbrunn Palace and, of course, stopped along some Christmas markets along the way (can you tell they are everywhere?!) True to form, I had some wonderful roasted almonds that were heavenly.

Monday was spent at Naschmarkt. Kelly, knowing my affinity for food markets, had a strong inkling I would love this place, and love it I did. Every food market is a little bit different and this one was no exception. Filled with vegetables, fruit, olives, and cheese, it also had Indian spices, flowers, falafel, and sushi galore. I sampled some falafel (one person was offering 20 pieces for 2 Euro!) and picked me up some amazing dried fruit! This one also has a bunch of little cafes and restaurants interspersed among all the stands- we chose a Chinese place that hit the spot and filled us up for a long wait at the…

Opera! After visiting the Albertina Museum (showcasing Impressionist paintings that were so pretty and a good change from the older art I’m studying at the Prado) we headed to the opera to try to get standing room tickets for the premiere of Macbeth. Vienna is known for it’s classical music and I knew that this was something I would love to do. It’s really cool because you can get standing room ticket for 3-4 Euro, so we took our chances and ended up getting seats. I absolutely loved the show. I was unsure of what to expect but this was unlike any opera I have ever seen and it definitely exceeded my expectations.

And now here I am, on my last flight back to Madrid, snacking on this baby I picked up at Naschmarkt. Gosh am I gonna miss pastries…

It tastes a lot better than it looks, I promise

Vienna was so different from Madrid but I really liked it. I am still in awe by how many food stands selling Doner Kebaps and sausages one city can have, but it can definitely come in handy when you need something cheap and on the go! The buildings were so big and beautiful and the city just embodies classiness. While the weather was cold some days, I am thrilled I came during Christmas time for the markets- I think I could just tour those and eat all the different food and drink hot wine all day long!

But alas, all good things must come to an end. I cannot believe that when I get back I will have ten days left in Madrid before heading home. Where does the time go? Needless to say, I have a long to-do-before-I-leave-Madrid list waiting for me upon my arrival!

P.S. Does anyone recognize where my title comes from? Lemme just say it was the very first song I listened to when I got off the plane after landing in Vienna. One of my absolute favorites and it just felt appropriate…

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Tis the Season!

So I think it can be said that Christmas is officially upon us. Being in Madrid, it was hard once the Christmas decorations started to be put up because I felt like something was missing… That something was Thanksgiving! Since they do not have the holiday to mark what I consider to be the official beginning of the Christmas season, they kind of haphazardly start decorating window fronts, changing shopping bag designs, and selling Christmas treats. But I knew that I had to hold off on jamming out to Christmas carols until the end of Thanksgiving.

The day started out just like any other normal Thanksgiving… With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! Sure it does not rival watching it on the big screen and we did not get to actually begin watching it until 4PM, but I got to see Dora and Snoopy in all their glory and that is all that matters!

After “slaving” away in the kitchen we ended up with this spread. In the mix is roasted chicken, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, bread, olives, corn, and gravy! We had some friends come over to hang out before they had a dinner at 9PM hosted by the university but it was me, Kelly, and Taylor who took to conquering all this food… and conquering it we did!

The meal was followed by a cookie dough and ice cream dessert combo and many hours of Glee! What a wonderful day…

As I mentioned earlier, my best friend Kelly came and visited from Vienna for the weekend and we had a wonderful time and I loved being able to show her around! After she tagged along for a field trip with my school at a local TV station, we paraded around the city with our other friend Colin who came up to Toledo for the day! We immersed ourselves in Spanish culture with calamari sandwiches, sangria, Retiro, and then Christmas lights!

Kelly and me in front of the big tree in Sol!

Now they first put up this tree about three weeks ago and finally on Friday night lit it up (talk about anticipation!) After, me and all my friends walked around the city to see all the other lights that were finally turned on! In one plaza, they put up another big tree, ice skating rink, store, and there were carolers!

The Madrid group taking in the X-mas spirit!

I am so happy the Christmas season has finally kicked off and cannot wait to go to Vienna next weekend and see all the markets (and Kelly, of course!) They put up a really big Christmas market in Plaza Mayor that I am eager to go check out… Two papers stand in between me and it though and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up motivation!

Hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings!

 

 

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The City of Gaudi

I finally made it to Barcelona this past weekend to see what it has to offer. We left really late on Friday night so did not sightsee until we woke up on Saturday morning.

Lesson learned: Read between the lines. For starters, we flew on Ryanair into the Girona airport. When booking the flight, we did not realize that this airport was 90 minutes away from the actual city of Barcelona and that once we landed we had to take a bus (tacking on an extra 21 Euro) to get to the city and then take the metro to get to our hostel. Once you add in that extra fee, you find that it is probably the same price to take another airline to the actual airport in Barcelona, making the trip a lot shorter and a lot more convenient. This similar theme came up again when checking into our hostel. Although it was a great location and cheaper than the other hostels in the area, they don’t let you in on the fact that there is an extra charge if you want a sheet/blanket/towel. So again, once you add in that charge, the other hostels that most likely included these already would probably be nicer and the same price! No matter now, we made it through, but now I know to be more vigilant when booking such items!

But moving on to the actual weekend. We woke up on Saturday and started off walking down the main avenue of the city, Las Ramblas. As you walk down, they have stands selling lots of flowers and souvenirs, but also birds, reptiles, hamsters and the cutest bunnies!

It took all I had to resist.

 

My favorite thing we visited was definitely La Boqueria, a food market that is open everyday and absolute heaven. Christine and me could not resist the fresh squeezed juice that each stand offered, it was soooo good!

I got Mango Pineapple Orange!

These food markets are definitely going to be something I miss when I am stuck going into Publix where everything is already processed. It is just crazy seeing so much fresh fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, and cheese all under one roof. And the amount of people there is insane. My friends enjoyed crepes and I picked up some amazing dried mango and strawberries that were to die for. We went in the morning as it was an easy stop off Las Ramblas, but ended up going back for lunch and it too was amazing.

I want to go back.

 

 

We continued our walk down until we got to the port and beach. It was stunning and made me wonder what it would be like to live here in the summer. I definitely think I could do it.

The group on the beach!

 

We then went to Park Guell a large park full of Gaudi architecture and sculptures.

Christine and me at the entrance of the park!

After, we went to La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral started by Gaudi that I have studied since middle school, and it was breathtaking to see it in real life. What makes it so special is that fact that it is still not complete, even though they have been working on it since 1883 it is still not expected to be done for another quarter-century.

So amazing

 

Later, we went to the Magic Fountains for a show. It was absolutely stunning and unlike anything that I have ever seen before. For about 20 minutes, these fountains change colors and shapes to recognizable classical music. I felt like I was on a Disney ride the entire time.

After we grabbed dinner and managed to make it out for a very little bit. One of the places we went to was called Dow Jones. They had screens around the bar with the prices of the drinks. As the popularity of a drink went up or down, so did the price. It was unique and made for a fun game but what was most exciting was when the stock market crashed, and people rushed to the bar to get the lowest prices.

The screen showing the prices

 

To say that we fit in well more than a days worth of sightseeing is an understatement and probably a mistake seeing that by the end of the day we were exhausted. Not to mention, the next day we woke up and were unsure of what to do.

We went and saw two of Gaudi’s famous houses- Casa Batillo and Casa Mira and then went to Barcelona’s Cathedral.

Casa Batillo at night because it looked cooler then

We walked in on a mass that was interesting to see since I have not yet experienced a Spanish mass. Some churches close to the public during mass but this did not which I think made for a bit of distraction. Instead of it being quiet, you have tourists wandering around and snapping pictures. To me, it seems like it would ruin the ambiance, but so it goes.

 

After the mass starting around noon, people gathered in the plaza in front of the church for a dance. This happens every Sunday and Saturday evening and it was quite a sight!

Nothing like a good dance after mass...

The dance is called sardana and can go on for up to two hours! They say that they let tourists participate, but after watching one Asian lady try to break in, I can attest that they are a little picky about who can join in their festivities. I felt bad for the woman but will admit it was a bit funny watching her go around the circle and trying to join hands with the Catalonians.

 

The prevalence of Catalan was not as severe as I thought it might be, and I found that I could get along just fine speaking Castellano and English. In fact, I think most people talked to me in English even when I would try to speak Castellano because they are so accustomed to tourists. My friend who is currently studying in Barcelona said this too, as she is frustrated with not being able to improve her Spanish. So overall, while I did like Barcelona, I am happy to be living in Madrid!

After a long trip home, I am back in the city and cannot believe that it is the last week of November. While the thought of not being home for Thanksgiving truly saddens me, I am lucky that Kelly is coming to visit for the weekend and so I will get a little taste of home!

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Falling for France.

Parlez vous francais? I don’t but now I sure wish that I did.

I just got back from a life changing vacation in Paris. Now I know what you are thinking, how can 48 hours in one city really change your life? But when you go on a trip just because it seems like the right thing to do and come back reconfiguring the direction you’re taking just to live in that city someday, I’d say that that’s pretty life altering.

Such is the case with Paris, France. I know the story goes that most people go for a visit and fall in love, but I just did not buy into it. The truth is, I was only there for two days and thus so may have been blinded to the downfalls of the city, but for now, that is ok by me.

We got there on Thursday night and had hopes of sitting on the lawn of the gardens in front of the Eiffel Tower whilst sipping wine and watching the light show. That is until the train we were on to get to the city from the airport stopped at one station a few stops away from our destination, and then started to head in a direct path back to the airport (after we had already been on the train for about 45 minutes). In the end, our traveling time from Madrid to Paris ended up spanning 6 hours instead of 3 and we had to make a change of plans.

After we checked in to our two star hotel (livin’ in the lap of luxury), we took to the streets of Rue Cler to find any sort of food. That’s when we realized we weren’t in Spain anymore where meals are taken at 10, and so at 11:30, most places had already been shut down for the night. We managed to find one place that seemed happy to take our money despite the fact most of the chairs were already placed on the table and there was no one else looking to get a meal at that time. Since it was almost midnight at this point, breakfast sounded wonderful (but let’s be serious, when does breakfast not sound wonderful) and I got a cheese omelet that was accompanied with a salad and French fries. We decided to try the Apple Tartin which is a French pastry but I can’t say that I was the biggest fan. That we save for the crepes…

We then went back to our hotel which was actually in a really nice area, only about a fifteen minute walk to the Eiffel Tower, and really quiet. The only problem was that we were paying for a room with two twin beds for two people… And there were five of us. However, we busted out some James Bond stealthiness and managed to get by both nights without suspicion.

The next day we woke up, put our best walking shoes on, and embarked for the day, ready to see as much of the city as possible. We first took a cruise down the Seine River that was a perfect way to get us situated and show us the major sights. I remember taking this exact cruise when I came in the 8th grade but I know I appreciated it much more this time around.

 

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Jessie, Alessandro, Taylor and me on the cruise!

 

Then, we walked to the Notre Dame, with a stop along the way for some refreshing glace at a famous Parisian ice cream shop.

 

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Taylor and Jessie taking it all in...

 

In the 8th grade I also elected to go shopping over the Lourve (priorities, people!) so thought that I better go this time around. It is also free after 6 on Fridays which is nice, but it also makes for a madhouse. The Lourve itself can be a landmark, less alone all the artistic masterpieces that reside inside. There is no way you could ever cover everything (and still be in a good mood by the end of it) and since it was late already, we decided to see what we wanted to see and peace. We first went to Napoleon’s Compartments, then to the Mona Lisa and Venus statue.

When I first walked up to the Mona Lisa, I laughed. Now, I do feel bad for laughing at one of the most famous paintings in the world, but really, it’s underwhelming.

 

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Presenting... The Mona LIsa.

 

After the museum, we walked up the Champs d’Elysses to the Arc du Triomphe, grabbing some crepes along the way. The city really lights up after dark (I guess that’s why they call it the City of Lights?) and I loved the feeling you get with everyone hustling and bustling about.

Alessandro, Me, and Jessie in front of the Arc du Triomphe!

Then, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower for one of the light shows they do every hour on the hour. To say that we were exhausted after that is an understatement, and we all squeezed into our twin beds and went to bed!

 

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One of the hundreds of pictures I now have of the Eiffel Tower.

 

The next day, Taylor and Jessie had an early flight, and Alessandro was leaving on a train back to Switzerland, leaving me and Pat in France until our 7am flight on Sunday. Not going to lie, I was antsy with excitement and could not wait to spend another day in France. I woke up to a text message from my Dad telling me to go to Versailles if I can and it was nice outside. I looked out the window, and with blue skies aplenty, hopped on the metro for Versailles with my good friend Rick Steves in my bag to tell me what exactly to do in this city.

It seemed as if the palace was the most important sight so I went there with intentions to spend the three hours he deems necessary to take in it’s majesticness. But when I arrived, not only was it crowded, it cost 13.50 too much for my liking and instead of waiting in line to try to play the “18 and under card,” I took some pictures of the outside, and explored the gardens later on. I do not feel like I missed out on a thing.

 

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I just love this picture of the gates to Versailles

 

Instead, I took to the sidestreets and explored numerous shops, pastserries, and food stands to really soak up the feeling of the city. I absolutely loved everything about the feeling of Versailles and had the most wonderful meal at a small café near the main plaza. It was a salmon crepe and cidre that was made in France. Such a relaxing time to say the least.

 

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My favorite meal from France!

 

I headed back to Paris with hopes of making it to the Monmarttan which is the museum with all the Monet paintings (I LOVE Monet) but realized I would be rushing through by the time I got there, so instead, headed to the close Rodin Museum to see the Thinker and some of his other sculptures on display in a garden. Because it was windy outside, some of the gardens were closed, but that meant free entry, and after all, I really only had legitimate interest in seeing the Thinker, but the other sculptures were definitely interesting too.

 

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The Thinker

 

After, I wanted to go to the Sacre-Coeur church which apparently has beautiful views of the city but after exiting the metro, I realized that I was in a really cool neighborhood. It had a Soho-bohemian vibe with lots of cool boutiques, restaurants, and vintage stores that kept me entertained until I had to go meet up with Pat and his friend from home, Emily, for dinner!

She took us to this hole-in-the wall café where we had the BIGGEST salads that had lettuce, egg (they eat eggs with EVERYTHING), ham, potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, and I want to say that is it? It comes in a huge metal bowl that seems never ending, until you start to see the bottom of the bowl, and wonder how in the world that happened… We also had some sangria which was just as good as some that I have had in Spain. After, we could not resist dessert and I got the chocolate mousse that tasted just like brownie batter in mousse form. I was pretty sure there was no way I was going to make it out of the restaurant afterwards though due to a food coma. However, we rallied and headed for Emily’s friend’s apartment in another neighborhood. Eventually, Pat and me returned to the hotel to pick up our bags (which we just barely managed to claim due to the hotel closing up reception for the night) and caught a taxi to the airport. There, we “slept” from about 3:30-5:30 and were off in the air by 7am and I was back in my bed by 10am. Needless to say the time from about 3am-10am is a pretty big blur consisting of intermittent points of sleeping and being awake in the taxi, on the airport floor, on a chair at the check-in gate, on the plane, and on the metro home.

Funny schedule and not necessarily something I will ever want to repeat, but I am glad that I am safely typing this from my bed and not completely exhausted.

If you cannot tell, I am completely enamored by Paris and am dying to go back as soon as possible. I talked to my parents earlier today, telling them I want to switch out one of my classes next semester for French, they laughed, but I am not quite sure if they realize how serious I really am…

If anything, it will undoubtedly be added to my ever-expanding Bucket List that keeps growing by the day. For now, I shall finish my final imported French pastry and go to bed, dreaming of chocolate crepes and sidewalk cafes.

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I know my sausages!

Another day has flown by in Germany and I cannot believe I am heading home in the morning. Today we drove up and down both sides of the Rhine River from Ingelheim to Koblenz. The original plan was to take a ferry on the actual river but since it was so cold, we decided to stick to a tour by car. As you drive along, you go through many villages that each have their own special castles and cathedrals. We got out to look at certain sights but there is so much to see, there is no way to stop at every one before nighttime. That is another thing about this area during November, it gets very dark by five o’clock so we had a lot to fit in before it got too hard to see!

I have never seen castles like these before and I find it so interesting how there are so many in such a short span. First, they were heavily used though the Middle Ages but most were destroyed since and then restored during other regimes.

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One of the castles (you can get married here!)

One of my favorite towns we went through was Bacharach. It was had such cute buildings and shops.

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In love.

Our final destination was Koblenz, a big city like Mainz, at the end of the river. In Germany all shops are closed on Sundays except for a few special days. Luckily for us, there was a festival in Koblenz today so people were walking the streets and some shops were open. The main sight in the city is the Deutshe Eck, a HUGE monument that was one of the biggest statues I have ever seen.

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Look how small we are in comparison to the statue!

We then went up a hill to an old fort that gave us a view of the entire city.

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The Rhine River and Koblenz

On the other side of the river, we stopped in Rudesheimer for dinner. Earlier I saw a sausage cart that smelt wonderful and got me to thinking about Brautwurst and other sausages that I had eaten yet in Germany. Although I think Jennifer and Jana wanted pizza, I spoke my mind when asked and said I would like to have sausage (and sauerkraut) before I returned back to patatas bravas and tortilla overload in Spain. We ended up choosing one of the only two restaurants open in Rudesheimer that happened to have Brautwurst and pizza to please all involved.

When my food arrived, I was a bit put off by the puny size and unappetizing appearance of the two sausages on my plate but starting to eat without a complaint. For those who know me, I will eat pretty much anything but am very critical when it comes to good and bad food. I took a bite and although it tasted just about as good as it looked, I decided to continue eating it because it was still edible. After all, I am just an American girl, who I am to tell the German’s they served me a bad sausage?

But then, I gave Brigitte some of my sausage to try and that is when the tables turned. She started muttering in German with a disgusted look on her face and told me to stop eating (as a piece of sausage with sauerkraut was heading right for my mouth). Quicker than you can say “Gesundheit,” the waiter was at our table taking my plate away and I resorted to eating slices of Jana’s ham and mushroom pizza…

After our subpar meal we needed to cross back to the other side of the river and so took an auto-ferry to the other side. It was such a strange feeling going across a river on a boat while in a car that is turned off. Read that sentence again and try to imagine it. Really weird but I can now say that I was on the Rhine!

We then headed up a windy road that took us to a top of a hill overlooking Ingelsheim where Nicolai works at a restaurant. There we had cheese pretzels, homemade juice, and something new- hot wine that tasted like a hot cherry cider. It was made with cherry wine from cherries the restaurant owner grew himself, cinnamon, and something else that was untranslatable in English. It did just the job to warm me up and tasted so yummy too.

I leave tomorrow successfully addicted to water with gas, German gummy bears and homemade raspberry jam. This weekend has seriously flown by and I really hope that I can come back again with my family soon. Although my relatives here were so hospitable and welcoming, I think it would be an even better vacation with my grandma and grandpa along for the ride to make it that much more special.

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Ich bin satt. I am full.

My first full day in Germany has come and gone and I am completely exhausted. We began this morning with breakfast where I was thrilled to find out Germans value this first meal of the day just as much as I do! I ate my first sunny-side up egg (one of my favorite breakfast foods) since my arrival in Europe, followed by rolls with your choice (ok not your choice, my choice) of homemade jams, cheese, butter, honey, and, of course, nutella. We also had fruit, orange juice, coffee, and I am sure Brigitte would have jumped to comply with any other desire because she is just that nice. This was definitely a welcome break from the Spanish equivalent of “the most important meal of the day”- coffee and a croissant.

We then went to pick up her daughter, Jennifer, and then to meet her other daughter, Nicolai, who is also Jana and Laura’s mom, and son-in-law, Klaus, at the train station to head to the city of Mainz.

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Nicolai, Laura, Me and Jana on the way to Mainz

 

Once we got there, they showed me three different churches around the city, each possessing different Baroque, Gothic, and Romantic qualities. The churches in Germany are so different from any of the other European ones that I have visited. It is also nice because, unlike in Spain, here you do not have to pay to go into every single church. The first one we went to, St. Stephens, was my favorite because of the stained glass window art.

 

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Some of the stained glass near the altar

 

While walking to lunch, we ran into this food market, which I loved looking at. In Madrid, we have markets but not really outdoor food ones that remind me of the farmer’s markets at home!

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Makes me excited for Christmas markets!

 

We had a wonderful lunch in Mainz at a German restaurant. I had the goulash (which I later found out was made with male deer) that was delicious and accompanied with red cabbage, which is one of my favorite German foods! The rest of the day was mostly spent walking around and shopping. Although I did not come out with anything besides a bag of gummy bears, they are the best gummy bears I have ever had.

I also saw so many advent calendars! The problem with traveling on the budget airlines though is that they are really cheap about carry-ons and strictly restrict you to one bag. Unfortunately, I have ZERO space in my backpack so for better or for worse, do not think I can bring anything more than a candy bar with me back to Spain. The saying, “Take only memories, leave only footprints,” has never rang so true.

The best advent calendar I saw though? This baby:

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KINDER!

 

 

For each day you get something from Kinder- some days it would even be a Kinder egg, me and my brother’s favorite European chocolate delight from when we were young. They also have calendars with gourmet gummies in them and one with really big pieces of expensive chocolate! It was amazing to me how many Christmas decorations are already up and it is only the beginning of November.

We went to Nicolai’s for dinner and had my absolute favorite German food, spaetzle! It was homemade by her and hit the spot. We also had pumpkin soup, which I have been craving since autumn arrived. I asked what else they make with pumpkin, assuming they at least had pumpkin pie or bread, but they said just soup! I think we have something new to introduce them to the next time they come to the states.

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The fam at the start of dinner!

 

We also had a kind of pork that is made specially in one of the close small villages. It was all absolutely delicious and finished off by a homemade tiramisu! If you have not noticed already, the Germans love to eat. Looking back on their visit to the United States, I am starting to think that there is no way they were not starving the entire time because we did not feed them nearly this much food in a day!

Some other things that I noted:

a)     My mom said this when she was visiting Spain, but I noticed it here in Germany to a larger extent: the lack of cell phones. Although everyone owns them, you do not see anyone walking around and talking on one, getting up from a meal to take a phone call, or even text messaging while sitting on a bench. I really think it illustrates to an even larger degree the importance of togetherness that the Europeans stress. I think it is something that Americans should definitely work on and something I am going to try to carry with me when I return, but who knows what will happen when the Blackberry returns.

b)    Whatever happened to having pictures in wallets? Laura opened her wallet today and had at least fifteen of her friend’s school pictures in it. It brought me back to the old days of wallet photos. Now, we just associate them with senior pictures, but I remember when my dad’s wallet was filled with our portraits to display to all of his friends. I always loved looking at them and showing them to my friends. My favorite was the picture of his entire family because I loved showing off the fact that I could name all my aunts and uncles (shouldn’t be quite an accomplish, but it took time!) Anyways, I think this is something we need to bring back.

c)     In Germany, you can order a beer or wine at a restaurant and buy cigarettes at 16. Get your driver’s permit at 17. License, entrance into clubs, and free reign of all types of alcohol at 18. In a way maybe it makes sense. You can start “experimenting” with the effects of alcohol early so that by the time you can drive, you know what’s good for you? Something interesting to think about.

Nicolai and Klaus were nice enough to buy me an English book about the area from Mainz to Koblenz of the Rhine River so I finally know where I am and what I am seeing. Tomorrow we are taking a tour of all the villages surrounding the river that are full of Medieval castles and unlike anything I have ever seen before. I better get to bed now so that I can enjoy a tasty breakfast even sooner!

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I don’t know you but I think you will be just fine.

I am finally in Germany and feel like it’s time to start blogging because it is going to be a very enlightening vacation. Stepping of the plane, I realized that a) I had no idea what my relative who I was meeting looked like b) I had no phone number and c) I was in a new foreign country where I knew none of the language. Luckily, after standing at the arrival door for what seemed like ages unsure of my next move, I heard my name and was greeted by a lovely woman who said, “I don’t know you but I think you will be just fine.” Maybe not the most comforting combination of words, but said while hugging, I was put at ease.

We got in the car and headed straight for the small village of Weiler where she lives. Before I left, people kept asking me “Where in Germany are you going?” and I always had to reply, “Honestly, I do not know.” What I did know was that I was landing in Frankfurt-Hahn and was to go from there. After talking more about Germany on the way over, I semi-grasped my whereabouts and can at least show you on the map the general locale of my journey:

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I stayed very close to the village of Bingen, labeled on the map!

We drove through the countryside and, although it was dark and a bit rainy, I felt at ease being out of the hustle and bustle of the city and, instead, in a peaceful and hilly atmosphere with windmill farms and changing leaves falling from maple trees. I am staying with my grandpa’s sister-in-law and she is absolutely wonderful. Although she says that her English is not very good, it really is not too bad at all and we were able to get along just fine for the evening.

When we got to her house, she showed me my room and bathroom (which is the nicest bathroom I have ever occupied) and the bed is the biggest I have slept in since I have been in Europe! It is a lot colder here than it is in Madrid but, thankfully, my new Northface is doing the trick and keeping me nice and toasty! While I unpacked, she made coffee and we sat down to homemade apple pie (with apples from her own garden!) at her dining table before going to pick up her granddaughters to spend the night.

Thankfully, I have met the girls before when they stayed at our house in Colorado two summers ago. They both play handball, which is one of the biggest sports here in Germany. I had watched videos of it being played before over the summer but was excited to see it in action when we picked them up from practice. It is like a combination of basketball and soccer with the usual point tally being in the 30s for one game.

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Jana, and team, playing some handball.

The girls were staying with us tonight since we are all touring together tomorrow and their parents were out for the evening. We all ate a nice chicken and vegetable dish that was scrumptious and a good break from the Spanish food I have been gorging myself on since my parent’s visit. I also had a glass of white wine from the region (where I am it’s wine country Germany and not the beerladen Oktoberfest Germany we have come to know and idolize). Hopefully there is more of that in store!

I feel like all of my most recent conversations have been centered around languages and today was no different. Jana is in 11th grade and studying German, English, Spanish AND French. It is crazy to me how someone can not only keep track of all of those languages at once, but that is just the way it is here since all of the languages are spoken in countries that are so close to one another! Thankfully, English is her second best language and so we were able to talk the whole night about school, holidays, Europe, and she even filled me on some current events happening in the United States that I was unaware of. She also told me that swine flu is starting to come to Germany and they are trying to assess whether or not it is really something to worry about. I told her she’d be fine and that my brother had it twice and is still standing, that seemed to put her kind of at ease?

Tomorrow we have lots of sightseeing to do so I am going to hit the sack but although I was really nervous coming here before, I am already sure that it is going to be a wonderful weekend and I am most excited to talk to my grandpa when I get home about all that I have seen and learned about his homeland!

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Filed under food, museums, trips