Christmas is almost here

Posted on December 23rd, 2010 by

So, I feel like a lot has happened recently (the My Pictures file on my computer would certainly back me up on that) but I guess I just don’t know where to start. I went to Marburg and Nuremberg on some AAA field trips. The AAA (Akademisches Auslandsamt–or Academic Abroad Office) gives these really handy field trip opportunities to places around Germany for reasonable prices and they give you transportation (a bus!) and tours and whatnot as well. The only thing is, the groups are really huge. So the first time, when Sarah, Haleigh and I went to Marburg there were approximately 60 or 70 (however many people fit on a coach bus) other people there to get in your way or talk when you want to listen or be slow right in front of you when it really would be better to get a move on. But then the next weekend I went to Nuremberg with Haleigh and Annika and there were twice as many people! That’s right, two buses full! The Nuremberg trips are really popular because the Christmas market in Nuremberg is super huge and famous. That was the primary reason any of us wanted to go so, since there were so many people, and since we knew what time and where the bus was leaving, we ditched the tour of places we’d already seen in October and went to hang out at the awesome Christmas market. We weren’t the only ones either. There were approximately ten billion people at the Christmas market, so it was kind of hard to move through the jam packed aisles between booths. We started out just trying to find a cafe to sit down and have a warm drink. The tour guide had just taken us to the outside of several buildings and through the snowy streets for a while so our feet were kind of freezing. Luckily, almost every cafe we tried was completely full (apparently our idea was not that original) so we ended up at a cafe in a movie theater, which was actually really nice. I feel like movie theaters are just plain cooler and fancier in Germany. Maybe that’s where they get off charging 9,90 EUR for a ticket to Harry Potter but there are always seating areas and cafes and this cafe was legit! We saw people order pancakes and pizza and it looked gourmet quality, for Heaven’s sake! We just stuck with warm drinks (I’m pretty sure I picked one with Amaretto! :) ) and then went to find Annika’s German friend Veronika and Veronika’s friend Eva. They study at the university in the area and Annika knew “Veroni” from when she went to Bible school in Sweden a few years ago. (Yeah, so apparently now Annika has friends in every country, practically and got to visit a lot of them while she was here. I’m so jealous!) Veronika was really really nice and excited to be there too. We went around the main market and then walked around to the Children’s Christmas section and the Sister-City section. (It appears as though Nuremberg has a lot of sister-cities–there were at least 20 booths there!) Their sister city in America is Atlanta, GA and their stand really represented America, with Butterfingers, Reeses, brownie mixes and cupcakes. It was great. We also got to see this really awesome movie theater called Cine….I don’t remember what it’s called. Cinecitta! Something like that. Anyways, at first you are confused because it is just this little building with glass walls and you wonder where all the movie theaters are. BUT IT TURNS OUT, there are at least SIX FLOORS of movie theaters UNDER THE GROUND!!! It was really fancy and I would have loved to see a movie there but we didn’t really have time anyway. It was very exciting though, as you might be able to guess from my caps lock-happy descriptions back there.

Anyways, so Nuremberg was fun. It was pretty German, I’d say. I took some picture of some booths just to show how intense they are and how much stuff they pack in there. You usually see a lot of craft booths, like ornaments or wooden carvings or candle holders (there was a booth dedicated entirely to scrub brushes at the recently taken down Heidelberg Christmas market) but there are also a lot of scarves to be seen (I get so tempted by them too. I love scarves but I’ve already got 6 here–and I only came with three! There’s actually another scarf I’ve got my eye on in Hauptstrasse that just went on sale and I think I might end up just getting it, just because I think it will make me happy. Not because I am addicted to pretty scarves.) and best of all: food. There’s plenty of your standard wurst stands and glühwein (Glühwein is a delightful warm spiced wine drink that I actually like drinking, especially with Amaretto added. It’s delicious and everyone thinks so and that’s why they sell Glühwein at every stand possible) but also ones with fun pastries and crepes or things covered in chocolate!! I got a chocolate covered apple in Nuremberg and Haleigh got choco-strawberries that were SO good. Annika got a white-chocolate covered apple and left a trail of white chocolate coating everywhere we walked but I managed to keep it together better (I think the dark chocolate is of an awesomer consistency so that helps). I think maybe Haleigh ate all her strawberries before we even started walking but I don’t blame her at all.

In other news, I also went to Mannheim. I’ve been to Mannheim before of course, it’s the bigger town just right over there. I saw Harry Potter there twice and also I had several excessively long field trips there way back in September. This time we had a tour by Herr Dörr who is the awesome German teacher from AJY that taught us for our intensive grammar course in September and has been giving a class that some AJYers have been taking during the semester. He’s basically awesome and we were very excited to go see Mannheim for real. At least I was. We actually got to go inside the castle this time (more windows than Versailles!!…apparently by one? They’re still pysched about it) and we went through the Turkish quarter and drooled in all the windows showing their rows and rows and rows of desserts. Then we got to see a mosque, one of the biggest in the area I guess. It was actually really cool. Our tour guide was a 17-year-old Turkish guy who was really nice and explained to us about the mosque and how they pray and everything. We saw all the rooms and even got to watch their prayer ritual from the balcony above. It was really really interesting and I was really glad to experience that. I’d never been in a mosque before. Just churches. Lots and lots of churches….

Let’s see, what else. Well, most of the AJY students left last weekend. We had a final party at AJY on the Thursday before and had catered food, singing (a lot of the students who were in Frau Said’s class sang some lovely Christmas carols after our meal) Afterward we went out for a drink and celebrated Megan’s 21st a few days early. The next day Megan and I left for Paris for the weekend, so I missed saying good-bye to most people. I said good-bye to Annika that night and it didn’t really feel real. I still can’t really believe they’re all in the US now. And aren’t coming back.

But anyways, Megan and I went to Paris! I know! It was really pretty of course but I mostly remember the wet. It snowed/sleeted/rained while we were there quite often and since the French are apparently rather disinclined to clear any walkway our feet got kind of wet. And by kind of I mean that I could feel the dirty water squishing between my toes as we walked. But eventually we just got used to it and it was only for a weekend anyway. That was part of The Weather though. You might have heard that Europe is flipping out, so to speak, about all this snow and canceling flights and trains and delaying people and canceling things and causing a lot of hubbub. I wouldn’t normally notice (by Minnesota/Wisconsin standards, it’s hardly any snow at all) but since I was traveling and I know other people trying to travel at this time, I realize that all sorts of craziness is occurring right and left about this. The fact that it is basically only a moderate amount of snow is only mildly irritating of course, while I was trying to figure out what to do about getting to and later, getting back from Paris. First, getting to Paris: It was sort of snowing earlier in the day but I didn’t think much of it. I get to Mannheim and my train is delayed, 40 minutes. Then 20 more. Then 25. Finally the train comes, and it isn’t the same number train as it’s supposed to be. Which means my seat reservation doesn’t mean anything so I just need to get on and either find a free seat or just stand. Well, turns out it was quite a trick just getting on board. There was literally no room for everyone to get on. People were crammed in with suitcases and bags right up to the door and I kept running to the next door to see if there was any wiggle room. Finally I found standing space in the last car but we were still waiting around for a while. Turns out, you can’t actually travel with that amount of people on board, so they were telling people to get off. They were offering some deal if you got a later train but Megan was already in Paris and I needed to meet her there so I didn’t get off for nobody. Others did though, unhappily. There was one guy next to me who was quite affronted by the suggestion he get off but after some talk about how it was “impossible” he then did get off and wanted to know the conductor’s name (to …report him?) and grabbed him by the jacket! Almost some excitement there. Anyways, so we get to Saarbrücken and then we wait for the real train to Paris. I get to my seat and the lady about to sit in it says OK, but seat reservations don’t matter anymore. Well, this was one of several (two) differing opinions on the matter and there was some discussion as everyone was boarding about whether seat reservations still held. It took a conductor to come through and telling everyone again and again, Yes, keep your seat. Tell the person they have to move, of course you still keep your seat. And then there was a second hubbub as everyone did just that.

Finally I got to Paris and I was so glad to see Megan waiting for me there! Not only had I had a fairly stressful trip getting there I had just, for some unhelpful reason, been remembering that movie Taken where the two girls going to Paris by themselves get kidnapped and sold as sex slaves and then Liam Neeson comes and saves his daughter. But see, my dad never really worked for the CIA (and as Megan said later her dad is “like three feet tall”) so we would be fairly SOL should that happen to us. But she was there and we were fine. We eventually found our hotel (a bitty little place in a central part of town) and got Turkish for dinner. The next day we started walking around and saw Notre Dame. We were going to see Sainte Chapelle but there was a line and we thought it was 8 EUR (it was too, but there might have been a possibility we could have used our visas to get a cheaper/free rate) so we skipped it for the time being and went to the Louvre. The Louvre is really awesome (I saw the Mona Lisa! It looks just like you’d expect!) but also huge so we didn’t quite see it all. We basically hit the highlights: Mona Lisa, Code of Hammurabi, Venus, Napoleans’ apartments etc. Then we got lunch and went to another museum! We went to the Musee d’Orsay and actually got in for free with our visas! I was so ecstatic about it, I got us both the audio guides so we could be more informed and plus it’s more fun that way. We couldn’t take pictures there (You actually can in the Louvre! So of course I have like 300!) but there was a lot of really awesome Impressionist paintings and I also really liked the art nouveau rooms. We got really sleepy though and I almost fell asleep while staring at some statues. So then we left (after stopping at the gift shop–man, we both wanted everything. Such pretty paintings!) and got something to drink (apparently fresh-squeezed orange juice costs 5, 50 EUR there??) and some escargo. Not terrible at all actually. Mostly tasted of the garlic and oil it was cooked in. But then we saw a concert in Sainte Chapelle so we did get to see the inside, just in the dark. I’ll just imagine how cool the stained glass looked in daylight. We were super wet by then and the chapel was really cold. They gave everyone a blanket though and we got to sit up in the front section because the usher took pity on us for coming late and being left with seats way in the back that didn’t even have blankets! So we were warm for a while, listening to the string quartet and boy soprano, but the dampness eventually got to us. After that we made our way back to the hotel.

On Sunday we got up early enough to go to church at Notre Dame (very cool) and try to see Sainte Chapelle for real but it was closed (??? I know, what??). Oh the night before we used the metro to see the Eiffel Tower at night (man, that thing is big) and that’s when our shoes got really soaked. They dried overnight on the radiator but were quickly restored to previous sopping state within a few blocks of just walking around. We saw the Eiffel Tower again in the daytime and got the same pictures. That thing is so big. I don’t know why it caught me off guard so much, but for real! It’s so big! We didn’t get to go up in anyway (we didn’t really feel like it either–so spendy! And besides the Paris skyline is basically recognizable for the Eiffel Tower so without it…) because it was closed (pshh..) so we ate a nice lunch and then got moving again. We got to go over and see the Arc d’Triumphe and had just enough time to see the front of the opera house before needing to run to the metro so we could get our stuff from the hotel and speed over to the train station. We had a fair few number of difficulties with our one-way tickets, not working as long as we thought they would so we ended up buying about 5 altogether but we did make it in time to make our train…that is, if it had come. It was cancelled and we had to wait another hour and a half anyway to get another train to Stuttgart and of course everyone in the station is staked out in front of the arrival board, just waiting to get a platform number because, helpfully, they don’t post it until about 2 minutes AFTER it claims the train will arrive. Stupid France. In Germany they have the platform numbers set. You can look on a printed sheet of arrivals and see a Gleis number because it’s the same every time it comes. Every time. But whatever, that just added some excitement to our lives. Finally our train came and we had to run way the hell down there (It was so far I felt like we weren’t even in the station anymore. There was a bridge over the track where we clambered on and for some reason I felt that meant we had left the station completely) and did get seats but were eventually (like after 3 hours, so after most of it) kicked out and stood in the doorway for the rest of the trip to Karlsruhe, where we took an ICE to Mannheim and then a train to Heidelberg and then I took a bus home and by then it was 11:15pm. I had expected to get back to HD at about 8:30 but hey, it was quite an experience.

Well, now I guess it’s what you’d call Christmas time. Most of the students have gone home. No more classes until January. The Christmas market closed yesterday (which makes it feel like Christmas just ended even though it hasn’t quite happened yet). So now we are just hanging out with what few of us are left here. Me, Haleigh, Sarah, Brian and recently Sarah’s friend Becca who has been studying in Spain but made the correct and awesome choice to come to Germany for Christmas. Tomorrow we have a gift exchange and then in the afternoon I’ll go with my host family. I’m kind of nervous but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Just speak German. I know some German, right? Well, we’ll see. Merry Christmas everyone! And in case I don’t write for a while (I may be busy traveling to places like Italy, Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam) Happy New Year as well!

 

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