Barcelona

The semester is finally coming to an end here in Germany. In fact, as I write this, I only have two more days of class! (Although, I have term papers to write.) Anyhow, as the semester is almost over, I reckoned that I deserved a little gift. So, I booked a flight to Barcelona…and back ­čÖé

I flew out on Wednesday afternoon, arriving late in the day. The next day, I began my first of two intense days. I started my day with Sagrada Familia. All I have to say is wow. The way the sun’s light floods through the stained glass panels is surreal. I have only seen two other churches that come close to that beauty, those two being Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France, and St. Stephen’s, in Mainz, Germany.

After this, I proceeded to see some of Gaudi’s other buildings, walk around Pla├ža de Catalunya, meander down La Rambla, gaze up at the state of Columbus, and stop at the seafront. Taking a breather, I contemplated my next move. Since I was by the water, I surmised that a visit to the Maritime Museum was in order. I was not disappointed, learning loads of new information.

That night, I went to a Barcelona FC match. They were playing against Valencia in the Copa del Rey. (The major domestic tournament.) Barcelona won 1-0, thanks to a Luis Suárez goal. Not only was it exciting to see a match at the Camp Nou, but being able to see Lionel Messi at his home pitch was an experience I will not be forgetting soon.

The following day, I went back to the Camp Nou to do the Barcelona Football Experience. (The museum/stadium tour.) Definitely worth doing to anybody moderately interested in football. I also went to Park G├╝ell to see more of Gaudi’s work. The sights from the park are stunning. (A note, the part with Gaudi’s works costs money, although part of the park is free.)

To avoid continuing what could be a boring summary, I spent a lot of time in the Gothic Quarter, and ventured out to Barcelonetta Beach as well… going through Parc de la Ciutadella as well.

Barcelona is an amazing city. Beautiful, interesting, fun, and with generally decent weather. Barcelona is not like the rest of Spain, as one can feel the Catalan pride pulmonating through the city’s veins. Catalan flags fly high in the sky, are hung from patios, and even make their way onto Barcelona’s football emblem. This makes for a very different feeling than one would get from Madrid.

Lastly, tapas. I could not get used to them. I understand that the point of them is to be small, so one can order a variety of different food. However, I prefer one big meal. While the food was tasty, tapas were not my favourite. But, seeing as this is the only culture clash during my entire trip, I would call it an overwhelmingly successful trip.

German Football

This past month, I decided that it was time for me to start to go to some football, (soccer) matches in Germany. I mean, when one thinks about Germany, football is one of the first things that comes to mind. Although the national team was not playing during January, the Bundesliga was… which meant that I could see my favourite club play.

Before I could see my favourite club play, I figured that I had to see the club from around Heidelberg play. So, I went to TSG Hoffenheim’s website, bought a ticket for the weekend’s match, and got ready to watch an exciting game of football.

The match didn’t go well, as Hoffenheim would lose 1-4 against Bayer Leverkusen. However, the atmosphere was impressively good for a stadium of 30,000 and a team being throttled. Songs were sung, and the fans kept their heads up even in a loss. I plan on going back to see another Hoffenheim game…

After getting my first taste of Bundesliga football, I decided it was time to see my favourite club play at their home. I was going to Dortmund.

I pocketed my bus/match tickets, brought other things I could fit in my coat pockets… as bags and whatnot are never allowed in the stadium. The first bus ride was seven and a half hours. I arrived in Dortmund, and quickly rushed to Signal Iduna Park. I made it an hour before kickoff, and enjoyed aimlessly wandering around the grounds. The game was an exciting one, despite it ending 2-2. The atmosphere was the best I have ever experienced, including Manchester United, Barcelona, and other large clubs’ stadiums.

After waiting for two and a half hours to get on my bus, and a five and a half hour bus ride later, (I know! An express bus!) I was back home in Heidelberg. I have no regrets over doing such an intense day, and if I could, I would go to every Dortmund game. But, I can’t… I guess I’ll just have to wait until the last game of the season, when they pay a visit to Hoffenheim.

Some Family Time

First of all, happy holidays, and best wishes for the upcoming year. Over my holiday break, I was visited by my parents. After four months of not seeing them, it was a very exciting time.

Even though we all understood that the weather would not be a friend, we intended to explore what we could. First, I had to show off Heidelberg. I am happy to say that both my mother and father found Heidelberg to be both a pretty and an interesting city. We walked down the main streets, saw the various famous sights dotted around the old town, toured the castle, and ate lots of good food. (At places that I had never eaten at!)

In addition to seeing Heidelberg, my parents rented a car so we were able to visit other places in the area. Mainz, R├╝desheim, Schwetzingen, Stuttgart, T├╝bingen, and Baden-Baden. I am very happy that we went to a few of these places. Particularly Mainz, T├╝bingen, and Baden-Baden. Mainz is a major city, but is not within the limit of my semester ticket, (which allows my to take specific public transportation for free) so it was unlikely that I would’ve gone there. And R├╝desheim/T├╝bingen are difficult to get to. Neither are in the area of the semester ticket, and neither are possible for me to get to without having to change trains. (I haven’t been able to find a bus company that goes from Heidelberg to T├╝bingen. If someone reading this can find one, please comment details below.)

My parents flew home yesterday. But, we saw a lot, were able to spend time together, and had lots of fun. And, I don’t have to wait another four months to see them next. I fly home during my two month break between terms. I’ll be in Norman, Oklahoma in about five weeks… with so many experiences under my belt. (And another semester to look forward to after the break!)

Christmas Markets

Over the past month, I have visited the Christmas markets of Germany. (And one in France.) As it is New Years Eve, most of the markets have ended and packed up until next year. However, through these markets, I have visited places that I had originally not intended to see, and that makes me very thankful for them.

I like to collect little trinkets from places that I visit. Usually I buy a postcard and put it in an album when I return to the United States… but at the markets, I was able to buy gl├╝hwein. (Mulled wine.) It came in special mugs/glasses that showcased where I had purchased them.

In the markets, there were trinkets from all over Germany! In fact, there were things from all over the world. In Nuremberg, I bought a couple of little pins from a Ukrainian woman. Despite the copious amount of things available for purchase in each city, most of the stuff was not practical for me to purchase. Large beer steins, beautiful hand crafted woodwork, and other impressive creations were too large, (and sometimes too expensive) for me.

Regardless of what I bought/didn’t buy, I think Christmas markets are great. People of all ages, religions, and races came to walk around, socialize, and be happy. I always smiled when I saw grandparents ice skating with their grandchildren… These markets took me all over Germany. (And to Strasbourg, France.) Not only fun, but capable of showcasing the culture of the city/region. I know that I will be back to Europe to experience these again.

Prague

The major trip of the month. Kelsey and I randomly decided to go to Prague. So, we booked our tickets, (Only 55 Euros for a direct, and roundtrip bus fare.) Early note on Prague, do not take a taxi. They are outrageously expensive, and will attempt to rip you off. For example, they tried to charge Kelsey and I twenty Euros for a fare that was only half a mile. We walked.

I’m not going to go into too much of what we did, but we walked the famous bridge, visited the castle, walked in the main square, toured the Jewish quarter, and saw the Lennon Wall.

The main sites in Prague are relatively simple to get to. As the city is condensed, everything is within a short walk of one another. Charles Bridge links the castle with the rest of the old town. Side note, I am not sure about the reasoning for this, but I can assume that the monarch, clergy, and wealthy people lived on the one side, with the other end of the population on the other.

One of the main reasons that people go to Prague is the low cost of everything. For example, on the first night, I got a beer, burger, goulash, bread, french fries, and a dessert for around 460 Czech Korunas… that is around 18 Euros. For the most expensive 500 milliliter beer, (that I saw) one would pay about $1.2 USD.

Prague is beautiful, fun, and cheap. I would recommend it as a “budget” European trip… although nothing in Europe is actually cheap.

Hirschhorn

This past month has been a blur. I actually didn’t travel extensively, ┬á but with my classes really turning up the pace, and the travel that I did do, days disappeared.

One of the best places that I visited this month was Hirschhorn. Nicknamed “The Pearl of the Neckar Valley,” this small city within a Geo-Naturpark, is stunning. With Hirschhorn being only 30 minutes away from Heidelberg, I was happy to be able to take one train and be done. (S-Bahn)

I arrived in Hirschhorn at around midday, knowing that I would be able to see the parts that I wanted to see within a small amount of time. I began with a walk to the castle.

Walking to the castle was a fun experience. I walked up a steep hill, full of little shacks made of logs, with the scent of wood fire in the air. Walking at a slower pace than usual, I made sure to enjoy the moment. When I finally got to the top of the hill, (where the castle is) I proceeded to climb the castle… All the way to the top of the tallest tower. The climb was worth it, as I was immediately greeted with some beautiful views of Hirschhorn and the surrounding area. After getting my fill of the views, I climbed down and headed toward the old town.

The old town is very small, but makes up for it in beauty. It is a traditional southern German town. (And, despite being very small, the town is proud of its history. There are little plaques dotted on the outside of houses providing a brief summary of the historical significance.) Perhaps of the most interesting thing was the flood marker. Dating from 1491, it precedes even Columbus’ voyage. I thought it was very cool to see a little mark on a wall representing a time in history. (As opposed to the copious landmarks, buildings, and plazas that every European city has.)

While Hirschhorn may not be the most famous place, it is another place in the region of Heidelberg that I would recommend to everyone.

*Disclaimer* Although I have plenty of places along the Neckar that I have yet to see, the majority of the cities require hiking and the ability to do a fair amount of stairs.

SchoolÔÇŽ and a Little About Oktoberfest

School is finally underway here in Germany. While my fellow students back in Oklahoma began their midterms, I readied myself for my first class.

University studies in Germany are a weird concept for me to comprehend. For most classes, there is only one meeting per week, of about one and a half hours. Some go more, some less, but I would say that 1 1/2 is the median. So, with such little instructional time, it is imperative that the student spends a substantial amount of time learning outside of the classroom. The suggested course bibliographies are pages long, and “only brush the surface” of possible texts that we can find in the library. So, I have been visiting the library on most days just to see what I can find. So far, I have found a couple of books that should help me on my term paper.

Riding off of the ending of the previous paragraph, some classes only have one grade. A term paper. This paper is a far more stressful way of grade giving than in the US. Without tests, quizzes, short essays, and participation grades, there is no room for error.

Now, the lighter part of this post. In my previous post, I mentioned that I had a layover on my way to Italy. Well, that layover was in Munich. I found my favourite beerhall, as the last time I was in Munich I enjoyed Hofbr├Ąuhaus’ beer. (Also, it is the quintessential German beer brand… in my opinion. Not the Paulaner, Warsteiner, or the innumerable regional beers aren’t amazing.) I ordered a ma├č and joined the crowd singing the traditional German beer songs. In addition to the already fantastic atmosphere, Chancellor, Angela Merkel decided to have a beer in the tent as well. So, upon her entrance, cheers, chants, and the sound of hands slamming the wooden tables rung out across the hall.

(I did venture outside of the Oktoberfest grounds to explore Munich, but I won’t go into that. Munich is pretty, large, and exciting city, but manages to keep the charm of a smaller city. I know that sounds strange, but I suppose you’ll just have to go to Munich to see if you agree with me!

 

Viel Gl├╝ck

Italian Adventure

As today is the first of November, October has come and gone, and I have another month of living abroad under my belt. Over the first week and a half of October I journeyed down to Italy.

To start off my journey, I went to Rome. As they say, all roads lead there (: Despite Europe being generally being called “small” or “condensed” by people from the US, I can vouch that the train ride from southern Germany to central Italy is not the shortest undertaking. (Though, this is largely due to my inability to sleep on trains…) Anyhow, about 15 hours, and one layover later, I arrived in Rome.

Despite allotting three days in Rome, I feel that I covered the city very well. Walking 12+ miles every day allowed me to see the city better than any bus, train, or car will ever do. Museums, the Vatican, the major ancient sites, the piazzas, additional touristy places, and even the nice area of Trastevere were covered in my Roman romp. (The Roma Pass that I bought was nice, but would be better utilized by people who intend to use public transport. I only took the bus once, and that was to the Vatican.)

Next on the list was Florence. I bought the Florence Card, which, while daily expensive, would allow me to skip the queues at most museums. If you don’t remember to book your tickets to the Uffizi and/or Academia Galleries, then this is the cop-out, as both of the museums are included within the card. Covering lots of ground in Florence as well, I saw the art I wanted, went to Dante’s house, walked in the footsteps of the Medici, visited the Galileo Museum, payed my respects to the famous Italians at Santa Croce, climbed the bell tower, walked the bridge, and saw the classic scenic overview at Piazzale Michelangelo.

I also opted to take a day trip around Tuscany. Seeing Pisa, San Gimignano, and Sienna. San Gimignano was my favourite, and also included a lunch at a winery. I was able to sample three wines, one of which was a relatively rare product from the surrounding area.

Lastly, I went to Venice. Venice didn’t blow me away in the same way the Rome and Florence did. In fact, I didn’t find it overly fantastic at all. St. Mark’s Square and the things do see inside of it were ornate, but left more to be desired. Venice ended up feeling like a city to check off the list, rather than one that I want to come back to as soon as possible.

After Venice, I boarded the train (s) back to Heidelberg, and reflected on my amazing trip.

PS. I tossed a coin into both the Trevi Fountain, in Rome and the Boar, in Florence, so should be guaranteed a return to both of the cities some day in the future.

Local myths aside, I definitely plan on going back. Italy is amazing. Just watch out for the traffic in Rome.

600 Years of Wine

A few weeks ago, Germany played host to the D├╝rkheimer Wurstmarkt festival… for the 600th time. Held in the small city of Bad-D├╝rkheim, it is the largest wine festival in the world. Getting to the festival isn’t as simple as one would think, and definitely not for those of us not familiar with the train system. Anyhow, after three switches/2 hours later, (for what is supposedly a 45 minute car ride) I arrived at the train station.

The walk to the festival was simple, and not overly crowed. After another fifteen minutes, I stepped foot into the festival grounds. A note on the security, there was not much. Although I’m not one to let this ruin my outing, I can say that there was a lingering worry in the back of my head.

At the festival, there were amusement rides, little store selling all sorts of various trinkets, tons of food, and, of course, a seemingly endless assortment of places where one could buy alcohol. For the first hour, we (Kelsey and a girl named Rebecca) walked around. Taking in the sights, we were amused by how many rides had US flags on them. As if it was the only country that contained rollercoasters and thrill rides, haha! Eventually, after witnessing so many people eating and drinking, we succumbed to hunger.

First, we ordered food. I got a 1/2 metre-long wurst, and Kelsey and I both ordered a small wine, which was still substantial! (25 ml)  We sat ourselves down on a long bench inside a tent, and talked about nonsense while taking in the atmosphere. People were singing, glasses were clinking, and alcohol was flowing.

Finally, we got up and started to walk back to where we would catch the train home. But, before we did that, Kelsey and I wanted to ride the giant ferris wheel. And we did, for five Euros, the views payed for themselves. We could see the world’s biggest wine fest, the world’s largest wine container, and the surrounding area. It was spectacular.

After that, we went home, only having to make two stops this time. For those of you still reading, if you ever have the time/opportunity to go to this festival, I recommend it.

 

Getting Started in Heidelberg

Ok. So, I’ve now been in Heidelberg, Germany for three weeks. Getting used to everything/finding the things necessary to make me feel comfortable has been an interesting experience. First of all, the shopping in Heidelberg was difficult. The prices for basic things, such as pillows, sheets, were exorbitant, but necessary. ┬áAnd having to pay thirty Euros for a small pillow was painful, but not as painful as sleeping without one.

The next big shock was, the split personality of Heidelberg. While in the Altstadt. (Old City) the buildings are beautiful and old, but, when I head home, the buildings become modern, and the skyline goes up. (Although, truth be told, Heidelberg is not a city of high-rises.) Every morning I drag myself out of bed, and attempt to prep myself for the four/five hours of German that I will be learning today. I get ready, leave my apartment, board the bus that takes me through the modern centre of Heidelberg, and then hop off when I arrive in the old town. From there, I walk across the beautiful bridge to my class, which is held in the Max Weber Haus. (Overlooking the Neckar River and the Heidelberg Castle.)

The final major acclimation to my life in Heidelberg, was the set-up of the university. I can be on one side of town for a history course, but then have to take thirty minute bus to my German class. Honestly, I don’t know if I will get used to that. At OU, all the classes are easily accessible. I can walk to each class, and not have to worry about bus schedules and distances.

All-in-all, Heidelberg has taken some time to get used to, but I can tell that I will enjoy my time here (: