Unpause.

I’m back! I know, it’s about time…

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!

The Majestic Beauty of… My Uni?

I spend a lot of time at the uni. A lot. I guess that’s just how being a grad student is. Since I spend so much time there, I thought I’d offer you all some insight into what it looks like.

I, fortunately, live quite close to the uni. Every day I walk along a path through this little protected park. The path conveniently goes straight from my flat to the part of the uni where I have most of my classes.

Walking to the Uni

It’s a quite nice walk, though on cold mornings I walk as fast as possible, just wanting to be back indoors where it is warm. A lot of locals come to this field with their dogs, so I almost always have a daily moment of, “Aww, puppy!” to partition my non-stop study mindset.

As I continue to walk, I end up at the south end of the university. There is a set of stairs outdoors that I take to end up on the roof of the uni. Because it’s built on a hill, you end up on ground level again by time you walk to the center of the university.

Now there’s something I noticed about the University of Konstanz from the very first time I walked myself up there: the “art.” These people like to decorate the campus with lot of strange things, some of which I like, and some of which I don’t.

Uni Decor

This is one I’m okay with. Interesting metal design, just chilling in the middle of the fountain. There’s actually a little man-made stream that flows across the top of the lower parts of the uni. It’s not running anymore for the winter months, but it’s quite nice when it is.

The design here goes beyond streams and sculptures. Some areas of the university were built with eye-catching materials. There also seems to be a recurring theme of orange and blue in the design. The orange is even in my apartments. As I write this, I’m looking out the window past my orange curtain at the orange doors of the apartment building across from me.

In the main area of the campus, the colors become more varied and bold.

Konstanz Windows

I do enjoy these skylight windows. When you’re down one floor beneath them, it’s quite enjoyable to see the different colors painted on the ground by the sunlight. These windows are in the main block of the campus. They’re actually the ones that I first saw on the informational website when I was considering applying.

To wrap it all up, I present to you a lovely view. This is actually taken from the Mensa, or the cafeteria. It gives a lovely view of the Bodensee, and I can even see Meersburg across the lake with the ferry going to and fro. On a clear day, you can see the Alps on the horizon to the right.

Uni Pano

I wonder if I could have picked a university with a more gorgeous setting…

Cheers!

Among the Clouds

About a week and a half ago, before Old Man Winter officially descended upon Germany, there was a gorgeous weekend. That meant hiking!

I went hiking in the Bavarian Alps, near the Austrian border. From the closest town, it was about a half-hour walk to the beginning of the trail.

We started walking up a steep hill into the woods. Half-way up was a lake, full of freezing cold snowmelt water. We kept going and then finally the ground flattened out a bit. The trees were starting to thin out and I could see the massive stone wall that I was supposed to be going up.

When I was told that there was even more mountain above that to hike up, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” These Germans aren’t kidding about their hiking.

As ascent number two began up the rockier, steeper part of the mountain, the sun creeped behind the clouds growing just below the top of the rock wall… Wait, clouds? Below the top?

Once you get that high up, clouds become fog. Cold fog. Not only that, but the air thins out a lot. Needless to say, I was getting a bit demotivated, especially because I could not breathe well, nor could I see very far ahead of me.

We got to the top of the rock wall and sat down for a rest. We started to walk a bit further, and suddenly, the fog began to clear. Looking back, I could see the town far, far away in the valley. I also realized that we were above the tree-line, meaning that the air was so thin that the trees would not even grow up there.

First Hike View
Looking back towards the town. Yeah, I hiked a hell of a long way…

In leiu of trees, there were mountain goats running around. I immeadiately thought of Twin, and her obsession with the “horny goats” at Slieve League last year.

Where we ended up in the end is called Kirchdach Sattel or Kirchdach Saddle. The elevation (which I read from the trail marker thing) is 1,919 meters (6,296 feet) above sea level. The elevation at Hinterstein (where we parked) is about 880 meters (2,887 feet). According to my calculations, I climed about 1,039 meters (3,409 feet) in one day. Oh, did I hurt the next morning.

Lake at the Top

Apart from the weather clearing up providing sweeping views, I had another surprise at the top: the border. The highest point that we went to actually had a marker for the border with Austria! It was pretty neat to face one side and see only Germany but turn around to see just Austria.

Austria in Background
You can see Austria in the background as I perch literally on top of the border. Two places at once, anyone?

That’s my tale about the first time I hiked above the tree line, also known as, “my first real hike.”

Cheers!

Welcome to Konstanz

Konstanz is my new home for two years. You’ll probably be seeing a lot about it for quite a while. I thought I’d give you a little idea about what this city is all about.

Usually when I take the bus to Altstadt, or Old Town, one of the first landmarks I see is the minster, formally known as Münster Unserer Lieben Frau.

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Then I usually wander through a host of winding pedestrian streets, lined with shops of everything from eyeglasses to fair trade products. There’s also a variety of restaurants, bars, and cafes to visit.

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I have a habit of making my way towards the harbour. There, the most interesting building is the Council Building completed in 1391. Why is it important?

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There was this thing called the Council of Konstanz, which is a pretty big deal as far as Catholic history goes I guess. Basically what happened was that in the late 1300’s, there were two guys who claimed to be the pope. They held a council at Pisa; didn’t work. After that, from 1409 there were three guys all claiming they were the rightful pope.

So, someone had the brilliant idea to haul these church arguments all the way up to Germany to the little town of Konstanz. There were a lot of deliberations about the pope, an execution of reformer Jan Hus (burned at the stake, poor man), and a lot of… well… prostitutes.

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Speaking of prostitutes, you know what else is really cool to check out at the harbour? This statue called Imperia! Imperia is, so the story goes, a prostitute from that time. She was “popular” with the king and the pope, as well as other men of power at the Council of Konstanz.

If you look at the two little men she holds in her hands, you’ll see one with a crown and one with a papal tiara. She was so good at seducing all these men in powerful places that she had some power over them herself. But alas, this is just a story!

A side note is that on clear days from certain parts of Konstanz, including the harbour, you can see the Swiss Alps!

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So that’s Altstadt in Konstanz. Soon, I’ll tell you all about the other place where I spend a lot of time in Konstanz: my university.

Cheers!

My First Hike in Germany!

I’ve been so busy lately getting into the routine of graduate school. At this point, I really need a mental break, so here is my first (catch-up) post from the last few weeks. Two weeks ago I traveled to Kempten to watch my friends that I met in Northern Ireland graduate.

The next day we luckily had wonderful weather, so I went down to the Austrian border for a hike by the Alps. We parked in Jungholz, Austria, which is just over the border. Then we hiked up a big hill, which I’m pretty sure most people back home in the Ozarks would classify as a mountain. In comparison to the actual mountains, this was nothing.

The view looking north, towards Kempten.
The view looking north, towards Kempten.

The place we were heading is called Reuter Wanne. It’s just north of the German-Austrian border there. According to its Wikipedia article, Reuter Wanne is 1,541 meters (5,056 feet) high. The elevation of Jungholz is 1,054 meters (3,458 feet), which makes up a difference of 487 meters (1,598 feet).

Although this hike is not difficult by any means in comparison to the ones you might face hiking up the Alps, I, as a Midwesterner who can’t even fully comprehend the size of the Alps, found myself huffing and puffing to the top.

Snow!
Snow!

A really exciting side note about this hike: It was only the 24 of October, but it already snowed up on Reuter Wanne! So yes, I played in the snow a bit. I also enjoyed its coolness as I was very hot by time we got up to that part.

Looking south, towards Austria.
Looking south, towards Austria.

Despite the huffing and puffing, the view from the top was completely worth it! Looking north you could see the land flatten out as towns and cities, like Kempten, popped out against the landscape. When you turned south, it was a full-on Alps view.

Hands Up!

So that’s my first adventure in the Alpine region! Since I got good feedback about using Google maps in the last post to provide context, I’ll try to do that when possible.

In this map you can see Jungholz, where we parked, and Reuter Wanne, the hiking destination. I’d recommend it as a nice beginning trail if you’ve also never really hiked up mountains. And yes, you’d technically be walking across national borders!

Cheers!

Finally, I’m in Deutschland

Hallo! So… I’m in Germany. It’s weird to say it. I don’t know how to explain how it feels, but I can explain what I’ve been up to! Here are the highlights…

Sunday, September 27: Arrival in Munich. After dealing with the fact that my luggage was left behind in Chicago, I went straight away to see some friends that I haven’t seen since I left Northern Ireland last year!

This first day was very relaxing and just what I needed after three flights originating in St. Louis. I was beat.

Tuesday, September 29: I visited the city of Ulm! The Ulmer Münster (Ulm Minster) is the world’s tallest church at 161 meters (530 feet). I climbed up the church steeple to the very top. From there, I could see the whole city, and even the Alps in the distance.

Ulmer Münster
The front of the Ulmer Münster. It’s a bit dizzying even from the ground.
Up Ulm Minster
Almost to the top. It was very windy up there!
The blue blur on the horizon is actually the Alps!
View from the top. The blue blur on the horizon is actually the Alps!

If you’re not good with heights or tight spaces (narrow spiral staircases), I would not recommend climbing up to the top of this steeple. It was also very windy the day I went, so the top had incredible wind, which clearly made it difficult for me to control my hair as you can see in the photo.

Surrounding the church is a nice little shopping area with some shops and good eats. I definitely must go back, as I didn’t have quite enough time nor energy to explore everything.

Thursday, October 1: I spent some time staying at a friend’s apartment, which was good because I needed to sleep off jet lag and get adjusted. On Thursday, it was finally time for me to take the first half of my luggage, which arrived a few days after me, and head to Konstanz (Constance) where I will be studying.

I took the train to Friedrichshafen, which is on the Bodensee (Lake of Constance, but I will call it Bodensee from now on). This little town is just so cute. I really must visit it properly one day. From here, I took the ferry to Konstanz.

After I arrived on campus, I collected my keys, checked the flat for damage and then started to unpack the first bit of stuff. I will talk more about the uni and the city of Konstanz in other posts.

Sunday, October 4: On Sunday I made my second trip to Konstanz with my other suitcase. When I got to Friedrichshafen, it was clear at last, so I was able to properly see the Alps for the first time. THEY ARE HUGE.

First Alps

I can’t explain how big they really are in just words and photos. You would have to see them yourself, if you haven’t already. I have never seen such massive pieces of earth sticking out against the horizon. I’d also like to point out that these are the Swiss Alps on the other side of the lake.

Monday, October 5-Now: This past Monday I began orientation at Konstanz Universität (University of Constance). Right away they started explaining German bureaucracy. In the first day already I filled out all my forms to apply for my visa, also called a residence permit, and for other bureaucratic things.

Another feature of the orientation is being placed in a German-as-a-foreign-language course. I took a written test on the first day, then today I took another written test and oral test. I know that a few people who spoke zero German were told that they would have to sign up for the most basic German course at another language institute. I was very nervous and figured I would suffer the same fate. Fortunately, they gave me a class! I guess I have basic / can-understand-a-few-words-and-maybe-answer-in-crappy-sentences German. Yay! Now, I just have to figure out if this class conflicts with my Master’s courses.

The last major feature of orientation starts tomorrow for me. It’s the here’s-how-to-survive-in-the-university section of the orientation. I will also get to check out the library tomorrow, which is super exciting since the uni just opened a new library! If you know me, you may understand how much I like libraries.

Well anyway, I will be off. More details on my life in Germany coming soon.

Cheers!

Hierve el Agua

This post is a part of looking back at my trip to Oaxaca.

My last excursion in Mexico was at the end of two very full weeks. We put on our swim suits and packed into a van that took us to Hierve el Agua. I read about the natural destination before we got there. It is basically a spring on the side of the mountain. The minerals in the water coming out of the spring have taken years to create petrified waterfalls on the mountains. This information is interesting to know, but doesn’t prepare you for the view.

I remember listening to “Bleed American” by Jimmy Eat World as we headed out. I was quite sleepy by time we arrived, but still awake thanks to both my musical distraction and actively trying not to give in to motion sickness.

We hopped out of the van, our guide gave us some information about the site, and we were off. The view from the side of the mountain was stunning. There are actually two petrified waterfalls on the side of the mountain: the one on which we stood and another nearby that can be seen in my photos.

Hierve el Agua

The water bubbled up and over the smooth stone, creating small pools, and bigger ones, that seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie. The two biggest pools were even large enough to swim in, which I did after taking quite a few photos.

Standing at HeA

People who know me might know that (even though I live on the lake) I’m not a huge fan of water and swimming. I like to look, but getting in is something else all together. But this time, I did get in the water. It was freezing, but perfect for the Mexican heat.

I can honestly say that being in the water and looking to the end of the pool and seeing only mountains and sky beyond the natural edge of the water is one of the most amazing views in the world.

HeA View

Hierve el Agua is an impressive natural wonder, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a nice relaxing swim in the mountains of Mexico.

Cheers!

When a Tree Was a Cactus

This post is a part of looking back at my time in Oaxaca.

On our second weekend of excursions we visited Yagul. Well… Not all of Yagul. It was a city, and the archaeological site we visited was basically just the city centre, though I suppose there is always more to see if you have the time.

A few things about this day really caught my attention. First of all, it wasn’t quite so hot. It was warm, but only just so with clouds and a light breeze. Second, for the first time in my life I thought, “This desert is gorgeous.” Not that I’ve had a lot of experience with deserts. I just never really got the beauty of this version of Mexico until I took in the flora and mountain background. Third, cactuses grow into trees.

Okay, that last point sounds somewhat outlandish, but it’s true! Cactuses can grow into trees with trunks that have the appearance of rough, brown bark. Their leaves look like giant, thorny paddles. And there were a lot of them at Yagul which, to me, just felt weird.

Cactus Trees

Anyway… The city center in Yagul was made out of these stone walls, which reminded me a lot of the stones that we have in the Ozarks. The paths even made me feel like I was walking some familiar paths back in Missouri.

Yagul

Just like Monte Albán, there was a ball court. Also like both Monte Albán and Mitla, there were tunnels that went under the city, although we didn’t get to go in these.

However, perhaps one of my favorite parts of this day was going up the hill by this city. We climbed it partially. There were fragments of broken pottery still littering the ground, exposed years later by the storms that visited the area basically every afternoon (seriously, we were learning the art of avoiding them, although we were soaked more than once).

When our group got up halfway, we stopped at a lookout point. Below us was the valley, with Yagul city centre to the right, and farms all around. Mountains under a cloudy but quieting sky completed the look for me. It may sound weird, but I love it when the clouds are gray and moody like that.

Yagul Pano

So that was my grand visit to Yagul. It may not seem that exciting, but it was the most relaxed of the excursions we took. (Yes, “relaxed” and “excursion” just appeared together in the same sentence.)

Cheers!