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!
01/03/2014 - We’re off to the Carnival
London and Dublin are booked!
- Any suggestions as to other places to see while I'm in the area?
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!).
What Happens When You Live Abroad
MAY. 21, 2012 By CHELSEA FAGAN
A very dependable feature of people who live abroad is finding them huddled together in bars and restaurants, talking not just about their homelands, but about the experience of leaving. And strangely enough, these groups of ex-pats aren’t necessarily all from the same home countries, often the mere experience of trading lands and cultures is enough to link them together and build the foundations of a friendship. I knew a decent amount of ex pats — of varying lengths of stay — back in America, and it’s reassuring to see that here in Europe, the “foreigner” bars are just as prevalent and filled with the same warm, nostalgic chatter.
But one thing that undoubtedly exists between all of us, something that lingers unspoken at all of our gatherings, is fear. There is a palpable fear to living in a new country, and though it is more acute in the first months, even year, of your stay, it never completely evaporates as time goes on. It simply changes. The anxiousness that was once concentrated on how you’re going to make new friends, adjust, and master the nuances of the language has become the repeated question “What am I missing?” As you settle into your new life and country, as time passes and becomes less a question of how long you’ve been here and more one of how long you’ve been gone, you realize that life back home has gone on without you. People have grown up, they’ve moved, they’ve married, they’ve become completely different people — and so have you.
It’s hard to deny that the act of living in another country, in another language, fundamentally changes you. Different parts of your personality sort of float to the top, and you take on qualities, mannerisms, and opinions that define the new people around you. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s often part of the reason you left in the first place. You wanted to evolve, to change something, to put yourself in an uncomfortable new situation that would force you to into a new phase of your life.
So many of us, when we leave our home countries, want to escape ourselves. We build up enormous webs of people, of bars and coffee shops, of arguments and exes and the same five places over and over again, from which we feel we can’t break free. There are just too many bridges that have been burned, or love that has turned sour and ugly, or restaurants at which you’ve eaten everything on the menu at least ten times — the only way to escape and to wipe your slate clean is to go somewhere where no one knows who you were, and no one is going to ask. And while it’s enormously refreshing and exhilarating to feel like you can be anyone you want to be and come without the baggage of your past, you realize just how much of “you” was based more on geographic location than anything else.
Walking streets alone and eating dinner at tables for one — maybe with a book, maybe not — you’re left alone for hours, days on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You start talking to yourself, asking yourself questions and answering them, and taking in the day’s activities with a slowness and an appreciation that you’ve never before even attempted. Even just going to the grocery store — when in an exciting new place, when all by yourself, when in a new language — is a thrilling activity. And having to start from zero and rebuild everything, having to re-learn how to live and carry out every day activities like a child, fundamentally alters you. Yes, the country and its people will have their own effect on who you are and what you think, but few things are more profound than just starting over with the basics and relying on yourself to build a life again. I have yet to meet a person who I didn’t find calmed by the experience. There is a certain amount of comfort and confidence that you gain with yourself when you go to this new place and start all over again, and a knowledge that — come what may in the rest of your life — you were capable of taking that leap and landing softly at least once.
But there are the fears. And yes, life has gone on without you. And the longer you stay in your new home, the more profound those changes will become. Holidays, birthdays, weddings — every event that you miss suddenly becomes a tick mark on an endless ream of paper. One day, you simply look back and realize that so much has happened in your absence, that so much has changed. You find it harder and harder to start conversations with people who used to be some of your best friends, and in-jokes become increasingly foreign — you have become an outsider. There are those who stay so long that they can never go back. We all meet the ex-pat who has been in his new home for 30 years and who seems to have almost replaced the missed years spent back in his homeland with full, passionate immersion into his new country. Yes, technically they are immigrants. Technically their birth certificate would place them in a different part of the world. But it’s undeniable that whatever life they left back home, they could never pick up all the pieces to. That old person is gone, and you realize that every day, you come a tiny bit closer to becoming that person yourself — even if you don’t want to.
So you look at your life, and the two countries that hold it, and realize that you are now two distinct people. As much as your countries represent and fulfill different parts of you and what you enjoy about life, as much as you have formed unbreakable bonds with people you love in both places, as much as you feel truly at home in either one, so you are divided in two. For the rest of your life, or at least it feels this way, you will spend your time in one naggingly longing for the other, and waiting until you can get back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there. It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones. The people that took you into their country and became your new family, they aren’t going to mean any less to you when you’re far away.
When you live abroad, you realize that, no matter where you are, you will always be an ex-pat. There will always be a part of you that is far away from its home and is lying dormant until it can breathe and live in full color back in the country where it belongs. To live in a new place is a beautiful, thrilling thing, and it can show you that you can be whoever you want — on your own terms. It can give you the gift of freedom, of new beginnings, of curiosity and excitement. But to start over, to get on that plane, doesn’t come without a price. You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home
16/10/2013 - Thanksgiving in Zurich