When in France…

6/26/2016

Another goal of mine has always been to learn French, but, even more than that, to visit the country. My family traces its roots back all over Europe, but I identify myself most closely with the French side of things. This was a milestone I needed to clear while I was here, and especially since I was already so close to the French border…

Mannheim’s really not that far away!

Mannheim’s really not that far away!

Today, I made it happen. Together with four of my fellow students at Goethe, all of whom were willing to face a pretty early start-time, we passed some pleasant morning hours on two trains that brought us across the border.

Into. FRANCE!!!

Into. FRANCE!!!

From the tiny, charming, historic town of Wissembourg, we hopped onto a bus that took us up into the mountains, past rolling valleys, pastures of sleepy cattle, and purple vineyards. Our real goal was not just to say that we’d made it to France, but to actually see something there—namely, a beautiful and ruined castle called Fleckenstein.

From the minute I saw the trailer, I HAD to make this trip happen! (Video courtesy of Fleckenstein’s website!)

The castle featured lots of stairs, stone with curves where the water had worn it away, and railed platforms where we could climb up and stare out at mountains, mountains, MOUNTAINS.

Everywhere I looked, I found something beautiful.

Everywhere I looked, I found something beautiful.

 

This must have once been a tower!

This must have once been a tower!

And these MOUNTAINS…

And these MOUNTAINS…

Once we’d seen all there was to see there, we grabbed a bite in the castle’s café and spent a little time exploring the nearby hiking trails, which also featured plenty of climbing rocks—and intrepid climbers! Upon arriving back in Wissembourg, we wandered downtown, just to see what we could find.

The answer? One of the most picturesque places I've ever gotten to explore.

The answer? One of the most picturesque places I’ve ever gotten to explore.

The town square was full of activity…

The town square was full of activity…

The church was quiet and cool and beautiful…

The church was quiet and cool and beautiful…

There were flowers everywhere we looked...

There were flowers everywhere we looked…

I had the best cheese of my LIFE, for FREE!

I had the best cheese of my LIFE, for FREE!

And of course we ate some CAKE!!

And of course we ate some CAKE!!

We could easily have passed the whole afternoon in Wissembourg, and then some, but due to the timing of the trains, we had head back after only an hour or two. Still, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. It was just a brief glimpse across the border, but it was enough! (And by that, I mean, enough to make me want to come back.)

Ciao, FRANCE!

Next time…I’ll speak FRENCH!

Xoxo,

Susan

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Across the Bridge

6/18/2016

I’d originally planned to go to Cologne and Berlin this weekend, to visit some friends I met during high school, when they were studying in the U.S. Due to scheduling difficulties and expensive tickets, though, I opted to stay home. Instead of venturing clear across the country, I hopped on a tram across the river. It was time to explore our neighboring town of [Ludwigshafen]!

The annual ,,Fesitval des deutschen Films” takes place here—this year’s runs from June 15-July 3, and my teacher had recommended it highly to us. After meeting up with a classmate and her friend, and doing a little window-shopping and browsing in a TK-Maxx (a brand that you can only find in Europe!!), we stopped for lunch!

It was my first time eating Chinese in Europe, and it was DELICIOUS! Thanks to my amazing classmate, Kleina Sun, for the photo <3

It was my first time eating Chinese in Europe, and it was DELICIOUS!
Thanks to my amazing classmate, Kleina Sun, for the photo ❤

Then, on to the film fest, of course!

Then on to the film fest, of course!

We watched a complicated romance about a couple who shrug off their married lives to be together, before later leaving one another. It was a little hard to follow and not quite what we’d had in mind, but the neat thing was that most of the film had been shot in Mannheim! I recognized just a couple of landmarks—otherwise, it really showed me a different side of the city. So cool!

Upon getting home, what should I look out my window to other than…

another rainbow?!?

Another rainbow?!?

Two in three days—can’t say that’s ever happened before!

All in all, a great weekend!

Xoxo,

Susan

Out of the Schwarzwald again

6/12/2016

Well, after an exciting and drama-filled reunion at the youth hostel where we’d arranged to stay the night, my travel companions and I started off the day with a delicious—and complementary—breakfast. Our goal food-wise was to eat some Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Torte cake) by the end of the day, but before that, our goal travel-wise was to pay a visit to the namesake of that most-delicious of treats…

That’s right—we were headed for the Schwarzwald itself!

That’s right—we were headed for the Schwarzwald itself!

My phone/camera was, unfortunately, very out of battery today—guess I used it up listening to music in the library yesterday—but it was honestly a bit refreshing, being cut off from the need to constantly take photos.

Despite that, I did get a couple of nice shots from our cable car on the way up!

Despite that, I did get a couple of nice shots from our cable car on the way up!

Hello, The Schwarzwald! Hello, mountains! Hello…France?!

Hello, The Schwarzwald! Hello, mountains! Hello…France?!

After a bit of hiking, we arrived at a beautiful observatory tower, where we braved the climb to the top despite one girl’s fear of heights. From there, we found ourselves looking down over blowing banks of fog, driven by rushing wind through beautiful, dense thickets of pines. Even though the day wasn’t clear—what a view!

Although we hadn’t hiked for very long at that point, we were all more than ready to call it quits and head back down the mountain. I’m not sure why, but everyone was extremely exhausted all day—myself included! Lucky for us, we had a recommendation for a spot where we could find the ultimate cure-all: CAKE. And not just any cake…

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte! (Photo credit europeantravelista.com)

Eaten right here in the region of the Schwarzwald!!! (Photo credit to www.cafeschmidt.de)

Despite all the ups and downs, the getting lost and putting my fellow travelers through a lot of unnecessary worrying, it was a pretty satisfying trip! And most important of all—I can now say that I’ve eaten Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte in Germany. I mean, clearly that’s been right at the top of the bucket list all along!

I’m always happy to come back to Mannheim, though.

There’s nothing quite like having a home-base.

There’s nothing quite like having a home-base.

Xoxo,

Susan

Into the Schwarzwald

6/11/2016

You know that moment when you’re traveling with a group, and then you turn around and find your group isn’t there anymore? Well, that happened to me on Saturday afternoon. My newfound friends (mainly other German students from U of M, and one girl’s hallmate) had spent the morning on an ICE train from Mannheim, and the lunch hour doing—what else?—eating lunch.

Anytime there’s pesto, you can believe that’s what I’m going to order… :)

Anytime there’s pesto, you can believe that’s what I’m going to order… 🙂

After that, we strolled through the Augustinermuseum, where we saw some absolutely beautiful works by a Dutch painter who worked in the 1800s.

They. Were. AMAZING.

They. Were. AMAZING.

A little later, while I was busy and distracted with reading a sign in some really tough German…

A little later, while I was busy and distracted with reading a sign in some really tough German…

My friends ditched me! Can you believe it?

To be honest, though, I wasn’t too disappointed to suddenly find myself alone. There’s something quite nice about traveling by yourself—in a big city, in a small town, whatever.

You get to take your time,

You get to take your time…

...to stroll...

…to stroll…

...and you see things you might not have found otherwise.

…and you see things you might not have found otherwise.

Not sure what my friends got up to all afternoon—quite possibly, they spent the time looking for me—but I passed the afternoon in the lovely University library, right next door to the city’s theater and, like, ice cream. Don’t worry, I restrained myself…

The library was rewarding enough!

The library was rewarding enough!

Xoxo,

Susan

PADOVA + LEAVING

6/5/2016

My last day in Italy! What to do?

Well, spend it in Padova, of course! (Thanks to Sophia for the lovely photo! <3)

Well, spend it in Padova, of course! (Thanks to Sophia for another lovely photo! <3)

The most amazing part of the city—St. Anthony’s church—unfortunately didn’t allow photography, which was a bit disappointing, as there was some amazing art in there. Shrines large and small lined the walls, painted in all sorts of bright colors and decorated with statues and mosaics. The most beautiful, though, was the Tomb of St. Anthony—it’s a three-walled room built of white marble, with angels carved from black stone at the four corners of the coffin, holding up sparkling red candlesticks. What a beautiful juxtaposition of colors! Honestly, I found the whole church on par with the Kölner Dom.

That’s something to aspire to!

That’s something to aspire to!

We window-shopped, we ate some lunch…

Captionpz

I’m sad they are no Montaditos branches in the U.S.!

…and then headed home so I could pack, and say my good-byes.

I had such a lovely weekend with Sophia’s family—it was not only good to get out of my dorm room, but also so important to see another part of the world, to do a short homestay, and to experience some true language-immersion. Everything I ate in Italy was Amazing; everything I saw was Beautiful. The cities are so old—so storied, yet so maintained. The history is respected, even when crumbling structures need to be repaired. The stonework, the Alpini, the umpteen bachelorette parties…and let’s not forget the elegant language! OR THE FOOD.

I’m sad to be leaving, but these memories will stay with me.

I’m sad to be leaving, but these memories will stay with me.

New life goal: learn Italian? (The current extent of my vocabulary is: Ciao, Italia!)

Xoxo,

Susan

PIZZAs

6/4/2016

Sometimes you just have to take a day off, you know? Take it easy, sleep in, and make plans to eat pizza later that evening. Today, for example, I slept until almost 11:30—something that’s happened maybe two other times in my life! Despite another amazing and very filling lunch (potatoes and cuttlefish in tomato sauce!), Sophia and I were ready to meet up with her friends for some pizza that evening. Thing is, this wasn’t just any pizza…

Before that, though, we had something else on the agenda: a visit to Camposampiero! It’s Sophia’s hometown, and a really lovely little town with a lot of history.

For example, who knew St. Anthony actually lived here most of his life? Who knew this city hall was almost a thousand years old?! (Photo Credits!)

We saw some historic buildings, ate some ice cream, and sat in the sun. It was a lovely afternoon.

After getting ready, we were off to meet Sophia’s friends in the nearby town of Bassano, where I enjoyed Spritz, an Italian early-evening, lightly alcoholic, fruity beverage.

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Pre-Spritz fun times! (Photo credit Sophia Marostica. <3)

It was delicious, and, aside from that, the view from the big town bridge was SO AMAZING.

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There are NO mountains anywhere near this beautiful back home! (No mountains at all, for that matter…)

I know what you’re thinking: pizza, pizza. Where is the pizza? That was my question, too, and made more pressing by the fact that I don’t speak any Italian, so it was basically impossible to follow people’s conversations and to understand the evening’s plans. After a leisurely stroll, some time spent chatting, and an early-evening drive through the countryside with those amazing mountains in the distance, we arrived at the pizza place, waited in line, and spent about an hour figuring out what we wanted.

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I got a two-person pizza and shared it three ways…the other six or so people in our group ate a pizza meant for SEVEN! My pizza featured fried zucchini blossoms, burrata and another amazing cheese, olives, tomatoes, more cheese, and SWORDFISH!

And of course, we couldn’t forget dessert—especially not with it being my first chance to try some sorbetto!

And of course, we couldn’t forget dessert—especially not with it being my first chance to try some sorbetto! I got lemon 😀

We stayed late into the night, chatting and laughing, and drinking after-dinner liquor (strong, tiny shots—I had lemon!) in a beautiful garden out back of the restaurant.

What did I do to deserve such a PERFECT weekend? To be surrounded by such beautiful things?

What did I do to deserve such a PERFECT weekend?

However, I don’t think I can ever eat American pizza again…or ice cream, for that matter! LE SIGH. (It was WORTH it!)

Xoxo,

Susan

Going Castling

5/21/2016

One of the things everyone should really do while in Germany is spend a little time exploring castles. I got a small taste of that at Heidelberg, but even though we spent all day there, we really only saw one castle in the end. Going around with a big tour group also made for a somewhat different experience than if I’d been there on my own, or with only a couple of friends. So, today, that’s just what we decided to do—my friends and I packed some lunch and got on a bus heading south!

Destination: Dilsberg!

Destination: Dilsberg!

After a few transfers and some slow morning conversation, we were dropped off in Dilsberg, a tiny “Dorf” or village up in the Odenwald mountains. It’s about 15 Kilometers from Heidelberg, and was founded by Romans, like, before the 1200s.

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We spent the morning in the castle ruins, staring out over green country and red roofs under the blue skies.

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After a short hike, we also got to explore a tunnel leading through the mountain to the well under the castle, which was once a cistern, but was expanded when Dilsberg came under siege. According to a tour guide, Mark Twain was inspired by the well, and the story he told then inspired someone in his audience to come hide treasure in a gap in the wall. Not sure I caught every word, though, so don’t quote me on it.

Anyway, the well was definitely loved by Mark Twain!

Anyway, the well was definitely loved by Mark Twain!

A little further down the mountain, we found a door leading back the way we'd came...

A little further down the mountain, we found a door leading back the way we’d come…

And we got to stand INSIDE the well!!

And we got to stand INSIDE the well!!

In the town across the Rhine, we ate a lot of pizza and then resumed our hike.

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All in all, the day was gorgeous, and it was nice getting out to explore. We were all wiped out by the time we got home…

But everyone was really glad we went!!

But everyone was really glad we went!!

Xoxo,

Susan