Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

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

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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.

2017-04-02 15.51.22

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.

2017-05-11 16.51.37
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.

P1640777

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.

Danube River
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.

Photo Feb 27, 12 35 55
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!

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!

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!

The View One Year Ago

I remember standing alone of the edge of a cliff and thinking, “Wow… I’m really in Northern Ireland.” The realization crashed into me like the waves crashed into the rocks below me.

One year ago today, I stood with the other international students from Ulster University-Jordanstown. We lined up to take in our first view at Giant’s Causeway.

It was sunny, fairly warm despite the sea’s cool breeze. We walked down the path, poured off of it, and began exploring a bit. I remember standing alone of the edge of a cliff and thinking, “Wow… I’m really in Northern Ireland.” The realization crashed into me like the waves crashed into the rocks below me.

It’s always a shock to actively realize where I am. I first got that feeling on Cannon Hill in Staunton one night after watching a sunset. I felt so at home, but also startled, realizing I was in one of the most unique and charming little towns in the country.

The second time I got it was in Oaxaca, when I was in my host mom’s house listening to the musical language of Spanish, that I could suddenly not speak a word of, and feeling like I left my stomach on the plane. There, it was more of a terrifying realization. Thankfully, once I overcame that first night, I settled in well.

And the third time was Giant’s Causeway, a year ago today. That feeling continued through the day, and it recurred throughout the several months that I studied at Ulster Uni. Something about consciously thinking about my place in the world during those three months was incredibly powerful.

Two Weeks on the Emerald Isle

Thinking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about that gorgeous day in Northern Ireland. So here’s to another year of (mis)adventures, getting lost, and falling down on my rear end (which I did at Giant’s Causeway and most outdoor excursions, because I’m talented)!

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!