My year abroad in Germany

"I don’t understand how people can be happy with their lives if they never travel. The world is spectacular. It is filled with so many different cultures and languages and artworks, and I want to experience every part of it. I don’t need a big house or nice car, all I need is a well enough salary to support my wanderlust. The world is a book. If you stay in one place your whole life, it’s like reading only one page."

21/06/2014

I promise you, that there is no better feeling in the world than returning to a destination a second (or third, fourth, fifth…) time and realizing why you fell in love with it the first time. Interlaken, Switzerland was one of those places for me and I was blessed enough to make my second trip two weekends ago with a group of lovely people. I’m not sure exactly why I keep coming back to this place but there is something about it that I find humbling - being among the vast landscape filled with mountains really gives you a new appreciation for simple beauty which could only be created by nature.

There was also another reason why I was so determined to come back to this place. Interlaken was one of the very first cities I had traveled to upon arriving in Europe; my parents had rented a car and we spent a week tediously driving along the winding mountainside highways. My eyes were glued to the backseat window the whole time and I remember being absolutely awestruck at what I saw. I was obsessed. I thought, “if our car falls off the side of the cliff, at least I will die happy knowing that I was able to see the Swiss Alps”.

At the time I had never really traveled by myself; I wouldn’t have considered myself an “experienced” traveler and in hindsight I relied on my parents quite a bit during the trip rather than being self-sufficient. I had never known what it was like to plan a trip, try to communicate in a different language, get lost in a foreign city, figure out train schedules, travel across multiple time zones, ask for help, learn from huge mistakes, and fend for myself.

Coming back to a place which had marked the start of my year abroad made me realize how much I’ve truly grown and matured as an individual over the past year of having no one to rely on but myself. I learned to become much more accountable for my actions; if I fucked up I had no choice but to be pro-active and just keep going on my way. So many times I had wanted to call my parents in the early hours of the morning and pour my heart out to them or go to the nearest airport and book the next flight to Toronto, but I’m glad I toughed it out during the difficult times so that I could have the invaluable experiences that come with living abroad. 

Planning this trip thus proved to be easier for me as I had already learned the ropes and knew what I was getting myself into. I had also gained a new sense of self-confidence which allowed me to take on leadership roles I would have never even considered a year ago. Needless to say, although the trip was fun and relaxing, it also proved to be a time of personal reflection for me and I’m glad that I was able to visit a second time, but with a new attitude and overall perspective.

Widerluege Interlaken, until next time…

Porto: Beaches, wine, and fine dining. Oh, and more wine.

Last week I was lucky enough to get away for a few days to make a weekend trip to Porto, Portugal with two Canadian friends in my exchange program (shown here) and a friend from Wyoming who studies in Konstanz with me. 

When I first arrived in Porto, it seemed like such a surreal place. I remember the first impression I got of the city when we climbed to the top of our hostel’s terrace - overlooking a sea of red and orange clay-tile roofs perched atop miniature white houses. From that point onward, I could not wait to see what other hidden treasures the city had to offer us. 

We spent the night out on the town, as it was a Saturday and we were told that Porto was the place to be if you wanted to have a good time. We checked out these two main streets near the city centre which are filled with a variety of bars and clubs. Basically everyone here goes into the bar, orders a drink, and then brings it outside to socialize with others and essentially have this sort of drunken street party in which everyone is laughing, hugging each other, and yelling in Portuguese. Needless to say, good times were had by all. 

Subsequent days were spent lounging on the beach, going on a walking tour of the city, and sampling various Portuguese delicacies. My favourite food was probably “Francesinha”: a sandwich filled with various types of meat (usually sausage or salami), smothered in cheese, doused with gravy, and served with fries. Not quite poutine, but delicious nonetheless. 

Finally, our last day was spent getting drunk cultured on a wine tour of two of Porto’s well-known wineries. In the evening, we had a nice dinner by the water before we had to say our last farewells. 

Portugal marks the 14th country I’ve traveled to since arriving in Germany last August - I only have roughly two more months here and still want to see more of Nothern Germany (Berlin and Hamburg) and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Croatia, Greece) plus so much more! I will keep you guys updated on my travel plans and where life brings me next!
Tschuss!


 

Some candid moments from this weekend

07/05/2014 - 10/05/2014: “Here and There”

Hey guys! I’ve been super busy the past few days with school, etc. but I wanted to take a few minutes to share my weekend with you all: 

On Wednesday, I went out with a friend to a club in Konstanz that we had (surprisingly) never been to before. Although the DJ kind of sucked, I still had a great time being silly and dancing, and we even ran into another international student who was also a native English speaker. On Thursday, the international office rented out Orange X (a party room/club in town) and hosted a Welcome party for all the students who had just arrived in Konstanz. This of course was amazing, as is any party which combines international students with copious amounts of drinking. Then, on Friday my flatmate hosted a Mexican themed international party with the works; spicy food, sombreros, and lots of Mexican drinks. We didn’t stay long but it was great to see some familiar faces from last semester, as well as meet new students. 

On Saturday was the Holi Gaudy Festival in Kreuzlingen and so we walked over to the Swiss side of the border for the afternoon to partake in the festivities. With your admission fee, you were given a handful of bags containing colourful chalk and at every hour there was a countdown which resulted in everyone throwing the chalk into the air. It looked really cool until the chalk invaded your nostrils, eyes, mouth, and every other body part imaginable. This aside, I still had a great time hanging out with the other students and drinking beer. 

Sunday marked the last day of the Fruhlingsfest in Stuttgart, and because I had missed the Stuttgarter Volksfest (Oktoberfest), attending a beer festival before I left Germany was mandatory. We took the Deutsche Bahn and arrived at the grounds around 10 am in order to be guaranteed a seat. Naturally, there was already a line to get into the beer tents when we arrived; proving that the Germans are in fact very punctual, and take beer drinking very seriously. We managed to snag a table in the largest tent and got right down to business by ordering a round of beer. Most of our time was spent dancing on the tables, singing, socializing with some of the locals, and gawking at the German guys in lederhosen. By late afternoon we stumbled out of the tent and attempted to drunkenly navigate our way back to the station to catch our train but we were hopeless. We ended up missing our train, which wasn’t too bad because we made some friends while waiting for the next connection.

This upcoming weekend I’ll be going to Europapark (the largest theme-park in Germany) and playing rugby in a 7’s tournament against some teams from Northern Switzerland. I’m also really hoping I can make it to Bavaria or Austria some time over the next few days to do some sightseeing. Anyways, thanks for reading and I’ll hopefully update this again within the coming weeks!

- Rach



Amsterdam

Panoramic view from the top of Guell Park - a must see if you are in Barcelona!

01/05/2014 - Semester Break Part II

Prior to beginning my second semester here in Konstanz last week, I had a semester break consisting of about two months. Naturally, I took full advantage of this time to cram as much travelling in as I could. The first few weeks I managed to see London, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Edinburgh, Inverness, and the Highlands (see previous posts). After this I was able to take some needed time off to relax in Konstanz before leaving again to Barcelona for a week’s vacation, and then Amsterdam for the weekend. 

Barcelona definitely exceeded my expectations as it was chalk full of Spanish culture and history. Our first day consisted of taking a 3 hour walking tour through some of the major attractions, most of them being churches who’s names I have yet to remember. From there on we spent most of our time soaking up the rays and walking along the endless shoreline as our hostel was only about a 5-10 minute walk from the beach. It was a bit difficult to travel within the city by foot, so we opted for renting bikes for one of the days and cycling up and down the waterfront area, which was really nice. The food was amazing, and we tried a number of traditional Spanish delicacies such as salted ham, tapas (small appetizers meant to share in a group), paella (fried rice with seafood), and of course Sangria. (side note: It tastes MUCH better than the boxed stuff you get in the supermarket).

Although there seemed to be a lot of tourists, the locals that I did get the opportunity to speak with were extremely friendly and laid back - something that I seldom experience in Germany. Overall I would say that Spain definitely stood out for me compared to all of the other countries that I’ve traveled to in terms of general feel and culture. It didn’t quite feel like I was still in Europe as the buildings were different and the landscape within the countryside seemed unique to Spain. I really hope that I get the opportunity to go back to Barcelona, of course, but also see other cities such as Valencia, Madrid, and Ibiza before I leave in August. 

After returning from Barcelona, I was out the door again the very next morning to catch my 9 hour bus ride to the Netherlands. We had rented a cozy flat situated about 20 minutes outside of the heart of Amsterdam. Because it was Easter weekend, unfortunately a lot of tourist attractions were closed or had limited hours, but we were still able to make the most out of our stay. I had the opportunity to see the Anne Frank house, where she hid from the Nazis and had written most of her diary that is so well known today. We also made a day trip to Utrecht and spent the day aimlessly walking throughout the winding canals. The Netherlands didn’t impress me as much as Barcelona but I think this was due to the fact that the Dutch language and culture is so similar to that of Germany so the “wow” factor just wasn’t there. Nonetheless, I still had a great time in Amsterdam and would also consider returning. 

Since my return back to Konstanz, my life has consisted of a craziness that could only signify the beginning of a new semester. I’m really looking forward to what the next three and a half months have to offer me and cannot wait to share my experiences with all of you!

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.

Carson McCullers 

(Source: excursionboutique)

Spring Break 2014: Scotland (Edinburgh, The Highlands, Inverness, Loch Ness)
The best for last - possibly the most beautiful place I have traveled to since moving to Europe. From first to last:
1) Church we saw on our walking tour
2) Cemetery near our hostel
3) & 4) Edinburgh castle after the storm
5) View from the town square - where old city meets new city
6) Edinburgh castle at sunset
7) On our way to the Highlands
8) Loch Ness before the boat trip across the lake 
 

St. Paddy’s weekend in Ireland (Dublin, Limerick, and Galway). From top to bottom:
1) Cliffs of Moher
2) Clare, Ireland
3) Guinness Storehouse Tour
4) Temple bar area the night before St. Paddy’s day