Being with Myself

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

-Margaret Atwood

We had quite a winter here in Munich. It was the snowiest and coldest winter I’ve experienced since moving to Germany, even if you don’t consider the three weeks I spent back in the States over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were bundling up and trudging through the dirty snow on the city sidewalks. Suddenly, the heat came with its full force, reaching what would normally be considered summer temperatures for this region.

Spring came quickly this year. The warm weather and later sunsets have given me the energy and the time to take walks after work before the sun sets. In the area of Munich where I live, there are three parks, each with a small lake. One of which, Fasaneriesee, is only a five-minute walk from my building. I’ve gone there many evenings either with A. or just to take some time on my own.

I value time with myself so highly these days. The rhythm of my life is interacting with people at work, interacting with A. at home, interacting with people at the grocery shop, interacting with people over the internet and through my phone. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk with people and spend time with them. The problem is that I spend so much of my time with other people that I rarely have the time and head space to just reflect and be with myself.

In Missouri, I would take walks on my own at the local state park or just around my grandparents’ lakefront property. Downtown and around-town walks by myself were the norm for me when I was studying in Staunton, Virginia. The most alone time I ever had was during my time in Konstanz while studying for my Master’s. I would even take cycling rides by myself along the lake which lasted several hours per round-trip.

And now, now I live in Munich. It’s a city of 1.5 million, the most populous place I’ve ever lived. It is nearly impossible to be alone in this city. You want to take a walk? So does everyone else. You want to grill out by the Isar? Half the city will be there with you. You want to hide alone in this little grove of trees? At least five other people had the same idea.

No matter where I go, I am surrounded by people. Mastering the art of being with yourself while surrounded by others is no easy feat. But it is easier when you take your walks in the twilight and the majority of people have gone home for dinner.

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I take my walks when there is less light, fewer people, but still much beauty. I’ve seen the tiny buds of the leaves and watched them grow into full-fledged summer leaves. Some of the trees started to blossom, and I could take in the smell and rejoice at the sight of bees returned from their winter slumbers. The ducks have built their nests and laid their eggs, more of which I seem to find every walk I take around the lake’s grassy shores.

All the while during my walks I quiet my mind against the noise of the city and reflect on the day. I let nature smooth over the frustrations I have with myself, my work, and my relationships. Every little why-did-I-do-that moment is washed away when I see the miracle of spring bringing the world back to life, glowing in sunset hues.

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Time with myself in nature is my own personal self-therapy. It heals my anxiety, or at least it quiets it. It lightens my mood and helps me to feel more awake when the city puts me into a trance.

At the end of the workday, I take in the sights, sounds, smell of the outdoors. That’s exactly how spring should be.

Cheers!

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Munich Now

On Saturday, I went for a walk. The sun was shining although winter still has it’s grip on this city. I took the public transport to Olympia Park, then I walked up Olympiaberg, an artificial hill made up of debris from World War II.

As I walked, I breathed in the cool, fresh winter air. It seemed almost as if every inhalation woke me up a bit more, and with each exhalation I removed a bit more of the cobwebs from inside my chest.

As a child, I grew up with the sounds of waves crashing against the shore and the birds singing in the trees. Summers were bare feet, fireflies, and cricket song. Nature is where I’m happiest, and it’s what gives me life. Although my dreams were always bigger than a small town, I know I’m not made for the big city.

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I thought about this when I was standing still at the top of the hill, soaking in the sun and letting the cool breeze wash over me. In that moment I realized that there are two versions of myself.

There is a version of myself which is relaxed, funny, adventurous, and ambitious. This version is outdoors in nature as much as humanly possible, yearns to travel near and far, and writes introspectively and honestly.

Sadly, this isn’t who I’ve been for most of these last months. The self that I have been is anxious about the smallest things, uses books and movies as escapism, and often goes about her days in a fog. Since the last month of finalizing my thesis, I have become this person.

Being outdoors in the park helped to clear the fog and cobwebs. I have spent so much time indoors and in the city that my sense of self has been suffocated as well as my creativity.

These are not the original words. I had written another post, but it wasn’t right. Spending some time alone in nature today reminded me that I have two different writing styles which seem to reflect those two versions of myself. The original post was written in a style which a reader can understand and perhaps find interesting. I’ve put out plenty of this writing and received praise for it, but this is not the version of my writing which I like to express. My preferred writing is that which a reader can feel.

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Since September, I’ve finished my Master’s degree, moved out of my student flat in Konstanz, started a new job, visited my family in Missouri for Christmas, and moved into a new flat in Munich. The winter has been bitterly cold and snowy. On top of the weather, my work hours have made it very difficult for me to spend much time outdoors. Everything has been a whirlwind of activity, and all of it occurred between the walls of various buildings.

So… I’m in Munich now. I’ve been working here for almost six months, although settling into a flat was a more recent occurrence. I’ll not write much about the transition of the past six months, as it was cumbersome and quite boring to be honest.

What I will tell you, dear reader, is that I will be making an effort to get outdoors, be the truer version of myself, and write with a little more feeling (although I promise you’ll still get the travel tales and recommendations!). This is definitely going to be a greater challenge than in the past since I’m more “in the city” than I’ve ever been in my life, albeit a worthwhile one.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

June and July updates are here. Fireworks, moonrise, and a waterfall included!

Since things have been quite busy in terms of my study load, I decided to lump two months together when I realized that there was no way I’d write about June on time. To be clear, those two months are June and July. Oh wow, that’s most of the summer gone already…

Around Konstanz & Southern Germany

In the first part of June, I did quite a bit of cycling. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but still nice enough weather to summon you outdoors. On one Saturday, I went cycling along the coast of the Bodensee with A before we went for a swim in the cool lake water. After swimming, we realized it was getting closer to 8, so we cooked dinner and then took some wine and glasses back to the beach.

Bodensee Sunset

We had intended to just drink some of the wine while enjoying the sunset. It was certainly a surprise when, across the lake near Meersburg, a firework show started up.

Fireworks vor Moonrise

This went on for about five to ten minutes. Near the end, I glanced to the right and noticed a light above the horizon. At first, I thought it was the sun for some reason, but then I realized that the sun had set to the left and had been below the horizon for some time already. It only took me a few seconds more to realize that it was the moon rising up from behind the Alps and scattered clouds there. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the moonrise before finally deciding to cycle back home at a quarter to 11.

Moonrise

Several weeks later A and I went hiking at a place called Eistobel. The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, and there are several opportunities for taking a swim along the path (although the water is freezing!). However, what Eistobel is most known for is its waterfalls. I understand that the waterfalls are especially beautiful in winter when they freeze, so I may need to return during a colder part of the year to get the full experience.

Eistobel

Also that weekend, I saw my first ever hedgehogs during an evening cookout. A pair of the adorable little guys just decided to join us in the yard, probably drawn by the warmth of the fire and the abundance of slugs (a meal for them) in the nearby bushes.

At the end of the month, I spent some time at the annual Konstanz Flohmarkt (flea market). According to the local news, there were about a thousand stands at this market. It’s every year in June for a full twenty-four hours, along both sides of the Rhine and across the Swiss border into Kreutzlingen. I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up some antiques for one of my little sisters.

July has been much less exciting. The heat waves have ended with cold spells before igniting a new heat wave. As I write this, the past several days have been cold, rainy, and gray. I even had to get a pair of fuzzy socks out to keep my feet warm. Now the thing with these drastic weather changes, as any good Midwesterner would know, is that they bring strong storms. It’s been quite a month for a storm lover (meaning me!), and there were even multiple instances of small hail!

Hail Kz

The few exciting things this month, apart from the weather, have been dinners. The first dinner was at the house of my professor, who is also my advisor and now former-employer. In case you didn’t know, I quit my student job to focus my last few months on my thesis and job search. The dinner was a relaxing break, and I got to put my experience of making fruit bowls to good use.

The second dinner was to say goodbye to a good friend and fellow student in the program. He moved to Mannheim this week to pursue a PhD. I wish him all the best in his continuing studies, and I know he will see us all again.

That dinner was the first time I really thought about my friend group here splitting up. I realized that he and I are the two who will be leaving Konstanz at the end of this semester. And for me, that means having to once again search for a new friend group in the city where I will live next. Or being a hermit, which is entirely possible although not the plan!

In the Books

On the study side of things, there is good news. Lectures have ended, and I only have one exam next week. Luckily, this exam isn’t required coursework, so the pressure isn’t so high. I also finished my colloquium presentations on my thesis, which is a huge load off of my shoulders.

What is left is to get moving on my thesis, write everything up, and hand in the final document at the beginning of September.

I also officially started my job search in this past month, which has meant writing lots of cover letters and getting frustrated with myself for not speaking better German. The jobs in my field usually prefer people with excellent German skills. The ones which don’t require German are often either too senior for me, or I am overqualified for the position. I’m trying to apply for all of the jobs that I can which are in my Goldilocks zone (and interesting to me), but that means that I may not end up going to the city which I am most hoping to live in. Let’s see.

Speaking Denglish

I’ve been trying to push myself a bit more with German. I do have to say though, that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering learning improving my German has taken a backseat due to my thesis. Annoyingly, I keep stumbling across confusing things such as the strange forms of Junge which are part of an entire class of nouns previously unknown to me and the fact that Fladenbrot (flatbread) is not at all what I think of as flatbread. Sure makes it difficult to try cooking something new. But hey, finding ingredients has been a challenge since I arrived for many of my favorite dishes, ehem, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Before the Storm at Bodensee

So that’s my June and July here at the Bodensee. Hope you all have been enjoying summer! Oh, and by the way, happy Game of Thrones return!

Cheers!

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: 16 Months

It’s 2017, and I’m walking on water.

Ah, January. The month started off snowy and relaxed, with a post-holiday cheer in the air. I spent the New Year holiday with friends, and then had a weekend in Frankfurt (I’ll tell you more when I remember to get the pictures). Before long, it was back to Konstanz.

Around Konstanz

Snow greeted me in Konstanz, which is not entirely usual, because it stays relatively warm here due to the lake. I figured the snow would melt in a few days and the fog would return, but it didn’t! Instead, we had fairly decent weather of sun or clouds for a while, quite a bit more snow, and temperatures low enough that nothing melted.

In fact, the temperatures were so low that parts of the Bodensee (the local lake) froze thick enough for people to walk on. This never happens where I’m from at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri since the water is always moving through to the dam.

Walk on Water

So, I guess I got to walk on water for the first time in my life. And I became a beaver. Don’t ask.

Bodensee Beaver

In the Books

I’ve been prepping for exams and seminar papers. A lot more work to come in February. Thesis ideas are slow to come. January was too relaxed, and now it’s time for a furious study dash to the end of February and exams.

Speaking Denglish

This month’s Denglish report is… sad. I haven’t actually been able to practice and learn much German, because basically all of my German sessions were cancelled by the professor. I guess we have a new replacement professor though who will be taking over tomorrow. I’m glad for this, because I really need to learn everything I can as soon as I can.

Keep your fingers crossed that I can still make it up to the B2 level in the summer semester. Less English and Denglish, more Deutsch is needed for a job in … eight (!) months. That’s a frightening thought, so I’ll end this segment here.

Cheers!

A Walk in the Rain

A little over a month ago I went for a hike. We started out in the center of Beuron, a village in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Basically, we hiked in a big loop around the area to the east of the town. If you want to know more about the trail, we hiked parts of Eichfelsen Panorama described here.

As always, nothing can just go completely as planned. On the morning of the hike, I woke to the sound of rain. Despite the weather, we packed our sandwiches and headed out to Beuron.

We hiked south, out of town and up a hill. After hiking out of the valley, we came to our first outlook. Going further to the east, we found even more outlooks. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I could see Beuron in the distance.

Beuron Overlook

We kept going through the forest. The rain held steady the entire day. You can see that there’s a slight lack of visibility in the photos. With plenty of layers to protect from the cold, I kept pretty dry apart from my hair. Thankfully, my hat kept me from getting too wet.

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After a while we came to a little river down in the valley. It was the Danube River. If you don’t know it, the Danube runs through Ulm (where I was my first week here), Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, and ends at the Black Sea.

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The tiny beginnings of the Danube River.

Not too long after crossing that little bridge, it started to rain harder and the wind picked up. Then, starting to soak through, we headed back to town to get in the car and go someplace nice and warm.

While rainy, the day made me think back to an equally damp day at the Cliffs of Moher. Rainy times outdoors aren’t always bad.

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.

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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!