Sunday, July 30, 2006

Memories of Trier

Time is slipping...

These past week has been full of good-byes and more memories... Here are a few pictures of how I spent my last bit of time here:

(Renate and I met up during an afternoon last week to enjoy Trier a bit more...we visited the Kaiserthermen--Roman baths still in tact--, and went to the top of the Porta Nigra--Roman black gate--, and just walked around the city. I also went to an outdoor musical concert near the Kaiserthermen (Todo?) on Saturday evening with Angie and another friend of hers she grew up with...otherwise, I have been mostly saying good byes and soaking up the last bit of time.) Also looking forward to coming home...mixed emotions of course :)

Visiting Angie's home

Angie invited me to her home this past week. She comes from a small town in the Eifel Region (a heavily wooded, hilly area just north of Trier a ways). But, I first took a train to Koblenz where she and her papa and brother met me there. We drove to her sister's home, also in a small town, because she was having a birthday party. I had so much fun with her fun with her family! They were completely down-to-earth and easy to talk to. Wednesday evening we stayed at her sister and brother-in-law's, had breakfast together the next morning and headed on our way.

Angie, Anika (her cousin who also lives in the dorm with us), Angie's sister, and her mama, and I all drove back to Koblenz. They wanted to show me IKEA and go shopping a bit. I have to admit, I have never been to an IKEA in the states, but I can sure say that the Germans in this region sure love it here. It was packed on a Thursday and there was an even a restaurant within the store where we had lunch.

Later that day, we headed to Angie's hometown, Niederstattfeld, a town of about 600. This particular region is probably my favorite in Germany (which I have seen thus far) because the scenery is just beautiful. In fact, that evening, Angie, Anika and I went swimming in a lake near her home that in its place, a volcanoe once stood over 8,000 years ago. It is a complete circle and when you are swimming in the pretty blue-green water, you simply feel like you are swimming in a 'secret place' because the wooded hills just form around you as if you are in a hole.

Since I had to pick up my transcripts the next morning on Friday, I wasn't able to stay much longer. I feel blessed to have met Angie's family and I was sad to leave. They welcomed me into their home with open arms.

Spatzle Abend!

Lauren, Renate, Fumiko, and I met up on Tuesday to make dinner together...a type of German noodle (spatzle) with a special sauce and also veggies! Turned out okay, except Renate got sick from it. But besides was a perfect evening: German food, visiting in German, and being with some great friends I met here in Germany. They would call it, 'Gemutlich' here...which is a German word that really has no English equivalent. (mix between cozy/friendly/just perfect)...

Munster with Juliane--the weekend before my last

I was blessed to see my friend Juliane again. She studies in Paderborn, but is from a smaller town in the area. I met her my senior year in high school when she was an exchange student and we have kept in contact ever since. I actually spent Easter with her this year at her home...

Well, we met in Munster at the train station. We were there until Sunday evening simply enjoying our time together. Mostly we just visited while sitting at a cafe or simply walking around the city. We speak in German together naturally, and it was good for me to see her at both the beginning and end of my time here because she compare my German from the two separate times.

It was too bad that we could not meet more often because of the distance (from Trier to Paderborn is 7 hours with the train)...but, it was nice to see her during both of our memorable visits.

While in the city, we went on a city walking tour, saw the movie "Das Haus am See" (better known as the 'lake house') and really just visited and caught up with one another. I could tell my language skills have improved because we could carry on much deeper conversations as compared to when I first saw here in April.

The city itself is pretty despite the fact that 90 percent of it was destroyed during the war. It is known for its church in the city center and also catherdal. Munster also has a remarkable high number of people who ride bikes. I know that is pretty much a standard for Europe...but, Munster holds the record in my book.

Nice weekend with some wonderful memories with a good friend!

Friday, July 28, 2006

These will be some of my happy thoughts

Photos from biking last Friday along the Mosel and Saar Rivers (From Trier to Saarburg):

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Biking along the Mosel and Saar River--Friday, July 21

Before I went biking last Friday, I went to another part of the city to pick up a package. This other part of the city, Trier Ehrang, is quite far from where I is actually across the Mosel River and around a couple vineyards. I took a bus to the street I thought I needed. (The reason I had to go to this certain Post office to pick up the package instead of one in my neighborhood was because there was an issue with customs...but, it got worked out after I got there.)

Well, I decided to go into an Apotheke (pharmacy) to ask for directions to this post office. The kind lady asked me if I intended to walk there, I said yes, and she gave me a concerned look. I realized then that I might have a problem...just as soon as I got worried about not being able to get to this certain post office, another kind, older lady said simply, that I should could take me with her because she knew where it was. Had it not been for her friendly demeanor and to be quite honest, her age, I might not have gone with her. Well, she introduced me to her husband who was waiting for her in their black, VW golf, by stating matter-of-factly, 'we are taking the young lady with' (in German of course).

It was not that the Post office was really SO far away, but I understand why they insisted on driving me...I would have had to walk along a dark underpass with really no sidewalk and it was in a more industrial area. This couple was so kind, the lady went with me inside the office to make sure it went okay, and her husband waited for us. THEN, they drove me directly to the bus stop I needed. I said I wish there was something I could do for them, but she gave me a hug, and said that it would be a good memory for both of us!

SO...after my nice encounter, I went and rented a bike. Since it was later in the afternoon and I was meeting friends later, I couldn't go for quite as long as I had hoped. I rode along the Mosel to another small town, Konz and then switched to ride my bike along the Saar river south toward Saarburg. I passed quaint towns with white, steeple churches and stone streets. This area is perfect for biking because she literally follow the river under the shade of trees. All together, I rode about 60 kilometers (about 30 miles, I think?) It was a nice, relaxing, mind-clearing day.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Down to a week

Well the time has week left.

I can't believe it. Four months nearly passed...

So, I might be getting a bit sentimental, but who wouldn't be? I am done with all of my tests and now just packing, saying good bye to friends, and soaking up the last week. Like today: I met up with my German friend Alwina for brunch at a cafe and then will be meeting with the group from the university with whom I worked on the new brochure for international students with, and then dinner with friends from the dorm (one of the gals is leaving tomorrow morning.)

I have realized that even though I have come to love the small cultural things about Germany...fresh bakeries, the city center where cars aren't allowed to drive through, simply the language, I will miss the people most of all. And that is the same for Nebraska, sure I missed things (mmmm El bee's mexican food sounds spectactular!), but all in all, it is the people I have missed the most.

So, I am stuck between places right now. Do I feel sad because I am leaving this experience and friends behind or do I feel happy to be seeing loved ones soon? I guess the answer is both.

Can't wait to see everyone. (Will be posting more pics from this past weekend...I visited my other German friend, Juliane in Munster.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Belgium through the eyes of locals--July 15-17

Tanya, me, and Tony at a park: We came to this park on Sunday to walk their dog, dudley (an adorable jack russell) and to enjoy the weather. It was a park that should be in the movies...with the lake complete with swans, tall trees, soft cloverlike grass and chateau as a backdrop

Tanya and Tony, who I got to know through Tom, a great family friend, were one of the nicest couples I have met! They welcomed Angie and me into their home whole-heartedly. Here they are here in Brussels with a street lined with restaurants behind them.

Tanya and Tony actually live just outside Brussels in a quaint, friendly community. Just behind their home, there is a nice place to walk with fields and sheep (which for the record, looked more like pigs from far away.) But, the peacefulness of the area was definitely appealing.

This is the famous city center of Brussels: Tony explained to us the buildings (city hall, a former palace for the king, and Hotel De'Ville...he also mentioned that rich people also lived around the city center during the middle ages) The architecture was nothing like I had seen before, so intricate and almost gawdy without much color. Also, the geographical center of the country is marked by a star in the government building behind us.

The atomium: This atomium model was created for the 1958 World Fair and is something like 150 billion times the original size. It is so famous that it is on the back of 2 dollar euro coins.


Well to put it simply, the weekend was perfect.

My good German friend, Angie and I headed to Brussels on Saturday morning and after missing 2 trains at the Trier train station, an incident with a baguette in Luxemburg, we made it to Brussels in the early afternoon.

(So…the baguette story: maybe it is one of those, ‘guess you had to be there moments’, but it was still pretty hilarious. Angie knows a bit French and I wanted to be polite by trying to speak French when I was ordering a baguette for us for lunch. Surprisingly, the lady understood me when I said, ‘I would like this baguette’ in French, but when she asked me if I wanted to have it to go, I had no idea. It took more than just a few times of her saying it and pointing to the door and holding up the bag for me to realize what she meant. Then, I tried to apologize and explain that I didn't speak any French and I started mixing my German and English. It was just one of those moments where you both just have to laugh it least that is worldwide.)

We met Tanya and Tony at the train station in downtown Brussels. They showed us the sights...famous city center, a typical Belgium cafe, one of the original shopping malls built in the 1800s, the many restaurants (i had no idea that mussels were the country's dish), and just the many streets of the inner city. From there, we headed to the atomium, which is a short drive from the town center.

That evening they had a whole grill-out planned...we ate, visited, and just enjoyed each other's company on their terrace. It was a perfect evening. They also shared some belgium dark chocolate with us. After grilling out, we took Dudley, their cute jack russell, on a walk through the neighborhood and in the nearby countryside.

Sunday, we drove to their favorite bakery (all the bread is baked with a wood stove), which is right by the battlefield where the Battle of Waterloo occured (hugely historical from when Napoleon was defeated there in 1815 and a lion statue stands in the vicinity to represent the fact, the headquarters of Napoleon was just down the road from the bakery.) We had a lovely breakfast on the terrace and then went for a drive through the countryside...which, I fell in love with. There are charming country homes scattered throughout fields and many trees. I was taken aback by how green and lovely the country was. In fact, Angie insisted that Belgium was prettier that Germany (it was her first time in Belgium). Then, we walked through the park that is shown in a picture above...

The rest of the day was devoted to the Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival near the town of Peer. We were there all evening and night and had a blast taking in the music (The Neville Brothers and the Fabulous Thunderbirds namely), people watching, and having the best 'french' fries in the world. (Which makes me question why they are called 'french fries' in English because they were first created and perfected in Belgium...I also questioned how, in a land of fabulous chocolate, fries, and waffles, everyone can stay in such great shape!)

Monday, we made homemade buckwheat pancakes since Angie had never had them before. (Okay, so I made them for her in the dorm, but they were, I admit...from a mix). Then, we just took our time enjoying each other's company. We had a nice dinner before heading back to the train station.

I wouldn't change anything about our time there except actually that...time. The time just flew by...I would have loved to have spent more time with them and to continue sightseeing there because I found Belgium to be such a lovely country. I was blessed for the experience with such wonderful people!

Heidelberg and Cologne--July 7,8

Street in Heidelberg: There is just something charming about the streets here in Europe, especially the ones in which cars are not normally allowed to be driven down. I have to say though, that there were more tourists and english being spoken here in the city center in comparison to any other.

3 gals in Cologne: Me, Renate, and Lauren headed to Cologne to take in the city and visit a few art museums. We simply have a blast traveling together.

Spiderman by the catherdal in Cologne: So, I mainly took this photo for Andy, but I thought I would still post it. In many tourist spots in Europe, you can see 'human statues'...they range from spidermans to people that actually look like statues--painted gray and all--well, once you put a coin in their bucket, they come to life!

The castle in Heidelberg: I visited the city with my German class a couple years ago...since we went up to the castle then and we were limited on time this particular day, my friends and I decided not to go up there. But, it was still neat to see again of course. (In fact, when Mark Twain came to Europe to write, he lived in a house in this particular city square...)

The Cathedral (dom) in Cologne: In an earlier blog, I posted photos of this Dom...but, I wanted to post yet another because the light worked out better. Everytime I see this cathedral, it blows me away. You walk out of the train station and it simply towers above you. Even more remarkable, is behind the altar, the remains of the 3 kings rest.

**To get to Heidelberg, we took a train from Trier through Saarland directly to the city. The train station was some distance from the city center, so we were able to see quite a bit on our way there. Besides walking all around the city center, we visited a museum (which was and many artifacts--it actually had the jawbone of a 600,000 year old man and the remains of romans, creepy, but interesting) We also were able to visit the former student dungeon at the oldest university in Germany...this student dungeon (krazer) was used for unruly students from the 1700s to just before the first world war. Interesting to see all of the graffiti from years gone by. We also did the european thing and sat at a cafe, visited and people watched.

**The next day, I traveled to Cologne with 2 other friends and had a fabulous time. We went inside the cathedral and then had a quick bite to eat at a street vendor. We spent the rest of the afternoon in 2 different art for art from the middle ages up to impressionism (my favorite!) and the other was for modern art. The train ride was also nice because it went directly north through the heavily wooded Eifel region.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A wonderful weekend away

Only a half an hour ago, I got back to my dorm from being in Belgium. It was an amazing time to say the very least...will be posting pics and thoughts later. It is off to bed for me. (My sister lovingly let me know that it is only 2 weeks before I am back in good ol' Nebraska...can't wait to see everyone!)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Off to Brussels...

Well, I have yet to update a bit about last weekend...I headed to Heidelberg last Friday and Cologne on Saturday. Both were great day trips, but I will have to explain maybe in another blog, BECAUSE, I need to get my rest for Belgium! I leave in a couple hours (yikes!) with my friend Angie to catch a train to Brussels where Tanya and Tony (both of whom I met--or shall I say, will meet--through our good family friend, Tom) will pick us up. We will tour around around Brussels Saturday and go to a Music Festival on Sunday where we can sample all of the traditional Belgium delicacies...waffles, chocolate, frits--sounds too be good to be true, right?

I also had my first test today for a media studies course, which went, I believe, pretty well. I was able to work with two of my Danish buddies on it because the professor said we could answer the 8 essay questions together. It took us longer than expected (nearly 6 hours to be exact) because not only were we formulating all of our answers, but of course, making sure the grammar was correct. Good practice, but glad it is behind me. I have two other tests next week....

And the following is an essay I wrote about this experience in general...most of I what I wrote, I have already written here on the blog, but I thought I would still post it.

Down to about 2 and a half weeks...crazy.


I know I am a lucky girl because of what I have done, seen, and simply, lived. Going to Germany during my college career had been a dream of mine since I began taking German classes in high school. I yearned for independence and a better understanding of the world. But, most of all, I wanted to learn the language and get to know the people of Germany through what I knew would be an unforgettable experience.

Getting off the train in Trier and walking into the new world of mine, I had no idea what to expect. Sure, I did my research of the area and reviewed my German grammar, but ultimately, I went into it knowing nothing. My world was turned upside down and all for the better.

Without the magical wonder of a foreign language, I would never have gotten to know people who I now consider some of my closet friends. Rather, I see the world through the eyes of not only Germans, but also those from Denmark, Japan, Syria, and Cameroon among other formerly foreign places to me. My friend Renate from Latvia put it best when she said how amazing it is that when we think of a foreign country now, we won’t just think of the stereotypes or politicians, rather we will think of our friends who call those places home.

The range of emotions I have experienced while being here has taken me into many directions and I believe I have grown because of it. I called my mom crying the first day and asked myself, “What am I doing here?” However, the jet lag faded and I was on cloud nine. To think, ‘I, a small-town Nebraska gal, was living and studying in Germany’. The thought even now, as I prepare to pack up my things to head back home, thrills me. Other than my homesickness mainly caused by my exhaustion from the long journey, I have had no sadness. Yes, I miss my loved ones, but my happiness of simply being here overwhelms me.

The most exciting part is the education in the experience. The most precious of those experiences have most certainly not been behind book covers or speaking in my native English tongue. Rather the most valuable knowledge I have acquired has been in the traveling, the meeting of people, and using my German for the day-to-day stuff like buying fresh bread from my local bakery.

I have also been blessed to see parts of the world that I might not have seen otherwise. My eyes have wandered along the Baltic Sea coastline in northern Germany, the Alps in Innsbruck, the lush gardens of Luxembourg, the tantalizing chocolate of Belgium and the architecture of France. These memories along with my day-to-day life in my ‘German home’, Trier, have made my experience incredibly rewarding.

Stereotypes I previously had embedded in my mind have thankfully been confronted and replaced with the reality of the German culture. Like any culture, however, it mostly depends on the individual. But, from the many Germans I have gotten to know, I have learned just how sincere, helpful and fun they can be. Before I came, many told me that Germans were a bit standoffish and although this can be true, I have met many to go actually go against this stereotype. One German friend of mine, in fact, I happened to simply strike up a conversation with her on the train and we met up later to visit and watch a World-cup game.

In fact, the times I threw myself out there by striking up conversations with strangers have been some of the most memorable and some of which I have made my most dearest friends. My best German friend I have met here actually helped me carry my luggage on the first day and then invited me to lunch. I was nervous, jet-lagged, and my German was rusty, but that first encounter has blossomed into a lifetime friendship.

It is in the simple things that I will look back on with the most fondness. A barbecue will never be a barbecue to me again, instead it will forever be a‘grillfest’ to me; my knowledge of the German language will now be wrapped around the dialect and slang I have learned to use each and everyday; and lastly, Germany will not be a place on the map rather a place that I can say I once called home.

What makes studying abroad special is that each experience bears possibilities unique to each individual. Two people may travel to same city and yet come out with two completely different views of themselves and their time abroad. I can look back on my time abroad and know that I have changed for the better. There will never be an ounce of regret wrapped up in this semester abroad, but a regret that the time went too fast.

My time here is coming to an end and there is not a moment I would change. I have learned the significance in not only seizing the moment; but most importantly, not being so rushed in life that the opportunities pass you by. This dream of mine has come true and I know I can live my life better because of it.