We are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.
01/03/2014 - We’re off to the Carnival
On Thursday I went to not only my first Carnival in Germany, but my first Carnival ever.
I set out for the Altstadt that afternoon with a stomach full of beer and a heart full of eagerness, as I couldn’t wait to see what this new and exciting holiday would have to offer. After crawling through a crowd filled with clowns, pirates, and princesses, I was able to meet up with some friends and we began to make our way down to Markstaete.
What truly amazed me the most was how passionate these people were about the Carnival. Some had on the most elegant costumes and make-up I had ever seen and their attention to detail was astounding. You could tell by their beaming faces and upbeat character that they were proud of the countless hours and large sums of money spent on their attire. After aimlessly wandering around and gawking at the costumes, my friends and I decided to head back to the Muenster to watch the parade.
In between shrill cheers and drunken giggles, we watched as people marched through the old city wearing white bed sheets and pajamas, a tradition which is commonly known here as “Dirty Thursday”. The shouting and clanging pots kept everyone’s spirit up as we joined in the tradition of scaring the grim winter spirits and welcome the spring.
By the time the parade ended, we had managed to crawl back through the crowd to the local bar for more beer and of course good company. Thank you Konstanz, for an amazing first Carnival and here’s to hoping that there will be many many more to come!
I just realized that I haven’t written anything on here in a long time and so I thought I would update you on my Christmas travels (if anyone actually still reads these…). A friend from back home who is studying in Birmingham flew to Konstanz to visit me and travel for a few weeks while we had time off of school. Here are some of the places we traveled to and the main highlights of our trip:
We started our adventure just 3 hours East of where I am living in Germany. On December 19th we took the morning bus to Munich, where we spent 3 days touring sightseeing and getting acquainted with city. Although this was my third time in Munich, it was nice to travel during Christmas time as I needed to get away from the small-town mentality of Konstanz and appreciate the true Bavarian culture that is the heart of Munich. Our hostel was really nice (although expensive) and perfectly located amongst the hustle and bustle of the main city center.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was seeing the beautiful Christmas market all lit up with lights and decorations - a sad reminder that I wouldn’t get to spend the holidays with my family this year, but also a reminder that being able to travel was a once in a lifetime opportunity. On our second last day in Munich we decided to take a day trip to Fuessen see the Neuschwanstein Castle - notorious for inspiring the castle in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”. That was really beautiful of course and I would love to go back and see it again in the summer with warmer weather and less snow.
Although I was expecting Vienna to be my favorite place on this trip, I have to say it didn’t live up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, Vienna had a lot to offer in terms of arts and music culture and was overall a beautiful city due to the old style architecture. However, it wasn’t very student-oriented and the whole city was dispersed, making it difficult to travel around and see things. The hostel was okay - we met some interesting people over the few days we were there and I definitely laugh looking back on some of the times we had. This aside, my favorite part of Vienna would definitely have had to of been seeing “The Nutcracker Ballet” at the Vienna state opera house on Christmas Eve. We had bought the (expensive) tickets last minute and figured we would treat ourselves because after all, it was Christmas. That night we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet where the sushi comes out to you on a conveyor belt (right??!) before the show. The show itself was really amazing and I would definitely recommend seeing live ballet or theater at least once if you plan on travelling to Vienna.
After this, we traveled an hour to Bratislava by bus to spend two days there. Again, I wasn’t super impressed with Bratislava - travelling from richer countries like Germany and Austria definitely made me notice the poverty that defines many areas within Slovakia’s capital city. As we were travelling during Christmas, many things were not open as well so it was difficult to see and do as much as I would of liked to. Most of our time was spent wondering around the city center, and seeing some interesting attractions like the famous “Church of St. Elisabeth”; a church that painted entirely blue from top to bottom. After two days in Bratislava, we took an overnight train to Poland where our next adventure began.
I must say I was really impressed with Krakow and I definitely left a piece of my heart there during my travels. After arriving at 7 am with no sleep, no idea where our hostel was, and many encounters with rude locals, I was a little skeptical as to how I felt about the city. I also noticed that the crime rate here was definitely higher than the other places we had traveled to (this was most apparent when a drunk man tried to follow us into our hostel on the first day). However, after checking in and seeing the city a bit more, I definitely decided that I was going to like it here. I found that there was always something to do - whether it be sightseeing tours, or even just walking around the beautiful old city and taking in some of the local culture. We ended up taking a tour to the Krakow salt mines which was pretty interesting and then ending the day with some traditional Polish food - cheese and potato perogies with friend onions and sour cream.
Another part of our trip that stood out for me was our day trip to Auschwitz to see the Holocaust work camp and memorial as well as Birkenau, the largest mass extermination camp in the Holocaust. This was definitely an eye opening experience for myself as I had learned about the Holocaust many years back in high school and seeing the camps in person made everything seem more real. The memorials themselves were really well done and sparked many emotions among our tour group. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and respectful, and even shared some personal stories. I wasn’t sure how I would feel visiting these sites prior but reflecting back on my time in Auschwitz, I’m definitely glad I decided to go - not only to gain personal knowledge, but also to pay respect to those who had lost their lives.
The last stop on our trip was in Prague for New Years. Arriving on the evening of the 31st, we made it just in time to ring in 2014. We started our night at an open bar in the Old City, and moved our way onto a boat party that made it’s way under the fireworks, and then onto an after party at a 5-story club. Overall, it was a great night without doubt one of the most memorable (or not memorable?) New Years so far.
Originally we had planned on only staying for three days in Prague, but we soon booked another night at the hostel after seeing the beautiful city and what it had to offer. Like Krakow, Prague appeared to be very “touristy” and so we kept busy during our time there. We did a city tour which included the Charles bridge, Prague castle, Jewish cemetery and ghettos, and astronomical clock, among other things. We ate traditional Czech food and drank Czech beer which was all surprisingly super cheap (we’re talking 10 Canadian dollars for a decent warm meal and a beer). Our last night was spent going on a pub crawl, where we met again met many interesting people. We ended up missing our bus the next day so we ended up just travelling back to Munich and staying another night in a hotel there before we packed up and went back to Konstanz.
After a month of rushing around to catch buses and trains, sharing a hostel room with strangers, and living out of a suitcase, it definitely feels great to be back at “home” where I can have a somewhat normal sleep schedule and slowly regain sanity. This trip was a great first step in terms of travelling independently, and I can’t wait to see what other amazing places I can visit during the semester break in February.
Oh and as per my New Years resolution, I’m going to try to blog more on here so I can keep everyone updated (I promise!).