Unpause.

I’m back! I know, it’s about time…

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Hey, friends. It’s been a while. Quite a while in fact. The last substantial post I wrote was a recap of my 16th month in Germany. You probably don’t even remember that. It was January. Crazy, right?

Before you ask, yes, I am still living in Germany. Yes, I am still working towards my Master’s degree. No, nothing bad happened to me. The reason for my silence in this space was simply an entanglement in life. I’ve had to work through some personal things over the past few months. I’m still working through them, but I’m back in this space despite that.

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So, what brought me back? Well, over the past months while I have been very busy and needing to focus on my studies, personal well-being, and upcoming post-study life, I kept thinking about this space. I had every intention to come back when things were “stable.”

Turns out that “stable” is a complex state and I’m not sure when or if I’ll be getting there any time soon. On top of that, the entire time that I’ve been away I’ve been missing writing, missing sharing with friends and family, missing my primary outlet for stress-relief.

Finally, I’ve come to the point where I’m tired of telling myself to stop thinking about the blog and get back to work. In a way, this little blog is my safe haven, a place to restore my sanity when I feel like life is overwhelming. So, here I am again. And now that I’m back, I guess I owe you all a brief recap of months 17-20.

Month 17: February

February was a cold and snowy month here in Germany. I spent most of it indoors preparing for exams in my last semester of intensive coursework. Generally, my days consisted of bundling up before quickly running to the warmth of the university or my home, and then studying away.

At the end of the month, when my first round of exams were complete, A and I went down to Austria for a short over-night trip. In the village there were snow in drifts along the side of the road, but it wasn’t so plentiful and was even somewhat warm for the season.

Austria Ski Lift

Our reason in going there was a trip up the mountains. We took the ski lift up, and when I thought we were there, we queued up for another ski lift. On this second one, the trees started to disappear and thick layers of snow coated the ground. It was much colder at the top, but was a lovely place to walk around. From up there we could even see the Bodensee, although it was the opposite end from where Konstanz is located.

Month 18: March

March brought some warmer weather, and I mistakenly thought that winter was over. I took some walks through the woods surrounding the university and started cycling in unexplored areas a lot more.

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Taken in the forest near my flat. Those are Swiss Alps over the border in case you were wondering…

Approximately a month after my trip up the Austrian Alps, I was cycling to Switzerland on a warm, sunny day. Nothing special was happening, but it was interesting to explore a nearby area where I almost never go.

Month 19: April

Finally, spring was in full swing. The first thunderstorm, complete with lightning, arrived early in the month. I journaled about it like a poor girl from Tornado Alley deprived of proper storms (because that’s exactly what I am).

I studied more and took one exam in the second round. Then, I waited patiently for the last result (which was good!).

A few days after the exam, I fed some members of a closely-related species: some monkeys! And not just any monkeys; I was chilling with cute little fuzzy ones. I could rant to you all about my deep discomfort with keeping wild animals in captivity… but I won’t today!

What I will tell you is that I went to Affenberg Salem which is home to about 200 Barbary macaques. They’re hanging out in the German forest just north of the Bodensee for research purposes and to be reintroduced into their natural habitats in groups (since their wild populations have dwindled quite a bit because of us humans). Visitors can walk through a small area of their forest home and even feed them small snacks of popcorn, which does not harm the monkeys in case you were wondering.

Salem MonkeyFeeding Salem Monkey

Also at Affenberg Salem were quite a few storks and their nests. Naturally, I was bumping around like a giddy schoolgirl. I’d never seen an actual stork, and here were real life storks that bring babies like in the stories! They were really big, so now I understand how they were able to carry Dumbo to his mama. All jokes aside, their populations have sadly dwindled, but it’s good that there are places trying to keep the species going.

Not long after that, classes started. Then, right at the end of the month, I went down to the German Alps and took a walk near a small village with A. We managed to get some quite nice photos in while we were at it. Oh, and it snowed again. What is with the German weather this year?

Tiefenberg

Month 20: May

May was more stressful as classes were going and my thesis work time officially started. To take the edge off, I did some more cycling along the lake. That’s becoming regular exercise for me these days, and I think I know my route quite intimately by now.

Also in the month of May, I went to Milan for a weekend. I won’t expand much on it here since I’d like to write a longer post on it. Let’s just say that it had some interesting bits, but in general I wasn’t the biggest fan. It was also fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot, and I managed to soak up enough sun for a nasty lobster-colored sunburn.

June is coming…

My plan is to resume my monthly recap posts starting with June. In the meantime, I’m going to cycle to the lake in order to cool off from this heatwave that we’ve been experiencing the past few days. I guess I better mention that I also will be going with two of my wonderful study mates who seem a bit miffed that I haven’t mentioned them more frequently in this space. You guys, consider the debt paid!

So that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you?

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 11 Months

My eleventh month in Germany has come and gone… while I was in France. Oops! While I’ll get to France later, I still wanted to backtrack and write a little bit about August in Germany.

Studies

I finished up my exams in July, and August was the first month of the semester break. I spent a lot more time playing than reading, and I will just leave my study update at that.

German

I thought my German was getting better. Then, I went to Switzerland and understood absolutely nothing (though, that is more because of the Swiss accent than it is because of my German). The Germans still tell me that my German is getting much better. I suppose that is to be determined at the end of the break after several months without a German class…

Travel

Here is the real substance of this blog post! August was a whirlwind of a month in terms of getting out and about. I started August by heading to Switzerland to see an international couple, a Swiss and an American who met while we were all studying abroad in Northern Ireland, get married. I was so happy to have been able to share that day with two very special friends. I hope that I get to see them in Edinburgh, their new home, in the future.

The next big event was the Konstanz Seenachtsfest (night festival at the lake). The city center was closed to traffic and flooded with people. A village of food and beverage stands had popped up by the lake. People merrily drank their beer while listening to music and waiting for the fireworks. Finally, they started. I was really impressed by the fireworks over the water and the accompanying music that was perfectly aligned with the bursts of light.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

When the Konstanz fireworks ended, another round of fireworks started on the Swiss side. They weren’t as good. After the Swiss fireworks ended, people started to get up to join the party or grab another beer. Suddenly, the Konstanz side shot off some more fireworks and dramatically triumphant music burst from the speakers. I think they made it clear who won that showdown.

About a week later, I grabbed my hiking boots and went to the mountains. It was a bit warm, but at least it was cloudy. A small mountain by Immenstadt was selected for the day. It did not take long before I found myself surrounded by cows. I have seen cow bells at Flohmärkte (flea markets), but this was the first time I saw a lot of cows wearing them. For the entire hike I could hear the sounds of cow bells, as they were in fields all the way up the mountain.

Cows in the Mountains

When we were about ready to head back down the mountain, we saw a sign for a Käserei (cheese maker). With all the cows, we figured why not get a bit of Bergkäse (mountain cheese). I knew that they made the cheese in the form of a cheese wheel. I was surprised to see the size of the giant boards on which cheesemakers set the cheese wheels.

Finally, as I stated above, I closed out the month with a trip to France to visit some friends (also who I met while in Northern Ireland), which I will write more about all in good time. We spent about half of the time on the countryside of southern France. On the first day we visited Avignon. Near the end of the trip, we spent two days each in Marseille and Lyon.

Lynnae in Avignon

So this is how I spent my eleventh month in Europe. Not too shabby.

Cheers!

Everything I Thought I Knew About Sledding Was Wrong

Depending on where you grow up, your childhood winters may have had a lot of snow or no snow. Even if you did grow up with snow as I did, you might not have had the best sledding conditions.

I remember very few exceptional sledding adventures from my childhood. When I went to Mary Baldwin in Virginia, I discovered the amazing soccer field. The soccer field is a bit like half of a bowl carved out in the land. The steep hill that curves along half of the soccer field’s perimeter has no trees. Sledding paradise… Or so I thought!

After I finished my exams, I went to the Alps at the very end of February. My German friends informed me that this is “real sledding.” Indeed it was.

Schlitten fahren (sledding) is much more serious than sledding I’ve done in the States. First, you must bundle up against not only the cold, but in case of an accident. This means wearing a helmet.

Bewildered, I asked, “Am I going to die or something today?” My sledding buddies told me, “Well if you think you’re going to go off the side of the mountain, then jump off. In the really dangerous places they have nets, so you should be okay.”

Nets? To keep me from flying off the mountain? Yep. Sledding is way more intense.

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Around the bend and on down the sledding path I go.

The next difference: the sled. My grandma has told me that back in the day they had wooden sleds with metal runners. In my childhood and undergraduate college days, we all had plastic sleds. The Germans scoffed at that remark. “Your little plastic sled would break, and then you’d have to walk all the way back down the mountain.”

After the Germans had me seated on a wooden sled, I was given driving instructions. Basically, you put your heel down in the snow on the side of the sled that is in the direction you want to go. Seems simple, but takes practice.

Oh, and about those brakes… Just stick both of your heels in hard and hope you stop. If you’re going too fast, then you should probably just bail.

Finally, do not pass another sledder until you are sure you can safely do so with enough space. Sleds don’t have rear-view mirrors after all, so other people can’t see you coming up behind them.

Snowy trees
Snow-covered trees on the way down the mountain.

Sledding basics aside, the experience itself was also different. To start, we took a lift up the mountain. I’ve never been skiing or done any other winter sports on a mountain before, so this was my first time in a lift. Up we went. Then, down we went.

I think it took us about an hour to get down the mountain. In warmer months, the sledding path was a road. For us, it was a treeless path to race down. At many points it was a race. I lost as an inexperienced American, but it was still fun. At least I have the advantage of being a light weight. Whenever there was a hump in the road that sent me airborne, my landing wasn’t quite so rough thankfully!

Sledding View Mountain
The view at the base of the mountain, heading back to the lift for round two!

All in all, I’d say the day was another successful venture into local culture and recreation. I’d definitely recommend “real sledding” to other international students and expats near the Alps.

Cheers!