Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Friends in Deutschland Tour Pt. 2 // Darmstadt, Köln & Marburg

It came time to visit with Danielle again, the Winnipegger German turned Darmstadt(er?) German. She was kind enough to let me stay a full week with her, and I tried to repay her with dishwashing talents and a willingness to help out wherever. The opportunities presented themselves and suddenly I was a hired hand to help her two sets of friends move to their new places. I was excited; I got to meet cool Germans and also gained free trips to Köln and Marburg in process during the two weekends I was with Danielle (more on this in a bit). During the week I explored the neighbourhood, enjoyed döner kebabs, caught up on TV shows, and tried to determine my European life plan all while Danielle was at work (I'll also mention her stellar cooking skills, Jamie Oliver would be proud).

Back to the weekends however, for those held our fun, assisting adventures. The first weekend we joined Flo and Laura pack up a Europcar moving truck with all of their belongings and headed up to Köln. It is somewhat customary in Germany to paint whichever walls you don't like before you officially move in and unpack all of your things. Smart. So we painted the living room, then began to bring all of the boxes and furniture into the flat. All the while being the lone person who didn't speak German, I again tried to learn a little. The words for three types of rooms is what stuck: Arbeitzimmer, Schlafzimmer, und Küche. Auf Englisch: Workroom, bedroom and kitchen! Ah, I'm a pitiful linguist. Anyway, we celebrated the move with pizza (pronounced pit-za when around Germans), went for a special beer (I'll reveal the specialness in the next paragraph), then hit the hay after a long day.

After all we could do with unpacking the next day, we ventured out into the beautiful city of Köln. Lunch was particularly a treat. Besides the wonderful brotwurst covered with sauerkraut I devoured, Kölsch, Köln's prized pride and joy of beers, was featured. The legend has it that Kölsch is only allowed to be named Kölsch if it's brewed within a 50km radius of Cologne, and you ought to be in view of the cathedral to drink it. Therefore it is a product with protected geographical indication according to EU law! Neato. On our way home from lunch we walked past the massive cathedral, staring at its larger than life presence, thinking of the smooth beer we just savoured (and Catholicism of course).

The second weekend, it was Max's and Vero's turn to gladly accept our services. We hit the autobahn to Marburg, five in a VW van: Max, Vero, their friend Jan (who LARPs!), Danielle, and I. We were to paint and replace Vero's walls and carpet of her new flat's bedroom. Marburg was a lovely town in the hills. Apparently known for its blind citizens, this is too unfortunate considering the sheer eye-capturing beauty of the town's location. I mean, a castle nestled in the centre on a high hill peak, surrounded by unbelievable homes! It was my birthday weekend and I'm thankful I got to be in a wonderful scenic place with hilarious people. The crew even sung Happy Birthday to me in German on the climb up to the castle. For dinner, we went to a cafe that served auflauf, or casserole as we know it—another specialty of Marburg. Straight out of the oven, it was a burning, mouth-watering overload of fantastic. As a present, Danielle gave me a Milka OREO bar and a package of Hanuta, hazelnut chocolate filled delicious wafers. Finally, they surprised me the next day with a small chocolate cake Danielle baked with sparklers! It is German tradition to celebrate someone's 25th birthday the day after, just to make sure the person survives the night... JOKES, but that's what they told me because they hadn't found a time on my actual birthday to do it. Everything we did after that was met with a proclamation of, "GERMAN TRADITION!"

To top off my time with Danielle, we attended her friend Ina's Gothic party... Yes, a German Gothic party. My suspicions were confirmed, we would be in a cellar, drinking German beer, and listening to older hard rock, especially System of a Down. Eyeliner, black nail polish, and black fishnet gloves... I consumed the role. In sum, my visit to Darmstadt and the adventures that came out of it, encapsulated my quarter-of-a-century's-existence celebration quite well.

Here are some pictures of this leg!

Cologne Cathedral 
View from Marburg's Castle
The Marburg Crew—Max, Jan, Danielle, and Vero
'Pt. 3 // Berlin' will hopefully be up this week as well!

Ciao for now

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friends in Deutschland Tour Pt. 1 // Stuttgart

The time had come for Willie and I to part ways. My five days were up, and his experience at Bodenseehof [Bode] was well underway. Solo travel mode was thus kick-started. (I'm ecstatic that I got to travel with my brother creating memories that we'll cherish for a long, long time. It already feels like it was quite some time ago!). From September 24th to this very day I began a bottom-to-top tour of Germany, visiting friends along the way. Here is a (hopefully) short and efficient summary of the past three weeks from my adventures; starting with the first leg of the tour...

Nächste Halt: Stuttgart. I planned to stay a couple nights with a friend, Gaby, who went to the Bode with me, however she surprised me with another Bode friend, Mirji, who joined us as well! Over the next couple days, we caught up on good memories, cooked up some Schwäbisch staples (spätzle, maultaschen and schnitzel of course—more on those here). Gaby had to be at university the next day, however Mirji was free and kind enough to show me around the city, taking me with her to various errands for her day. I experienced a day in the life of a German. First, was a meeting with a local bakery's owners. They discussed bread types and prices (in Deutsch of course) for a fair trade event at a high school Mirji volunteers at. I sat there with my mouth open the entire time, trying to pick up at least a few words (like Nutella... HA just kidding). Second, we dropped by the high school itself and as she made a few announcements to three Grade 9 classes, I was the show-and-tell in the background. Lastly, it was time to visit the Mercedes-Benz museum. It was massive. From the top floor down it took us on a historical whirlwind of the Daimler-Benz automobile dynasty. The ramps leading to each level/gallery gave corresponding dates and subsequent events of world history parallel with the legendary company. The facts were fascinating but the automobiles themselves were obviously the stars of the museum, and shone gallantly in the bright lights.

My final night there we reminisced, watching Bode home videos of performances from concerts, open mics, and special events throughout the '07/'08 year. It was a short and sweet visit in Stuttgart, but it was a blast catching-up with old friends, especially German old friends.

Here are some pictures from this leg of my journey:
Museum #mannytravelpose

Aesthetic Classics

Old School Benz

Mercedes-Benz Racing

Mirji on the left and Gaby on the right

Pt. 2 will be written and up within the next couple of days.

Ciao for now, and I hope those of you in Canada had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

From Normandy to the Bodensee

It's been some time folks. These past two weeks have flown by and therefore we have much to catch you up on. Willie and I last wrote to you on the ferry crossing over from Portsmouth to Ouistreham/Caen, Normandy, France. For our stay in Normandy we used the incredibly useful—now extremely popular—Airbnb website/app. Using it as a means to find accommodations only a couple of days before, we found an amazing family to stay with, five minutes from the ferry port. On our arrival, we were treated to a drink and talked with our hosts late into the evening. As we discussed our plans for the next day, they generously offered us their vehicle in order to get to all the places we wanted to visit! Surprisingly subjected to gracious hospitality, we couldn't refuse the offer. Promising to fill the tank and pay the small fee they requested, we set off the next day to experience Canadian WWII history. It was fitting that outside our bedroom window hung a string of alternating France and Canada flags from lamp post to lamp post.

Figuring out the reverse gear of a Renault 1990's Clio and adhering to the road signs of France was no easy task. Though the adjustment was fortunately quick and it was smooth sailing from there on in as we headed west from town to town, along the beautiful coast of Normandy. Our first stop was the Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer. The museum and the beach itself were definitely top highlights during our travels. Spending about five hours in the immediate area, we took a tour of the underground German bunkers, read everything in the elaborately informative museum, walked on the beach, and admired our surroundings; all the while remembering and trying to grasp what had happened there 70 years ago. It was a humbling experience, but also made us extremely proud to be Canadian. Standing on the ground where our countrymen majorly influenced a crucial step toward ending the war was very special.

From the beach we drove to the Canadian War Cemetery about 7km away. A massive Canadian flag mural made up the centre of the parking lot. What awaited us in the cemetery was a beautifully kept resting place for hundreds of Canadian war heroes. I cannot describe how picturesque this place was (my pictures below may not convey this either). To see fallen young men our age was emotionally heavy, reminding us of how blessed we are today.

(If you watched the Normandy episode from this past season of Amazing Race Canada, where they went to Juno Beach and the Canadian War Cemetery, you'll see exactly where we stood and what we saw!)

After two nights in Normandy, we made our way inland to Paris. What a change of scenery: The big bustling city life. I'd much rather live in one of the small coastal towns of Normandy. I've been to Paris before, but I still wanted to show my brother the essential touristy spots of (and obviously being) Le Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Overwhelmed by hours of countless artifacts and masterful paintings, we couldn't drag our legs any further. We tiredly ventured over to the Eiffel Tower... A word of advice, do not eat near or around the admirable landmark. Our dinners were reasonably priced, but what we weren't prepared for was the price of our Cokes. We forked over the additional €16 for two Cokes and walked a block over to the tower. The tower itself was epic. We looked out across the city landscape from the summit, witnessing the whole city brightly lit, acting as a massive vice pressed against the Seine river.

The following morning we boarded an early train to get to the Bodensee region of Germany via Zurich. It was time for us to make our way back to Bodenseehof Bible School in Fischbach, where our journey came full circle to a halt. I joined the welcome team staff and was happy to help out with meal set-up, serving, dishes and various daily activities around town, which showed the new students the surrounding area. It was great to see old familiar faces from my time there and meet new ones as well. It was a great five day stay, and I'll have to visit again before my time in Europe is through.

Here are a bunch of pictures from our previous two weeks of travel:

Juno Beach
Juno Beach Centre
Safety glasses and free Stubhub glasses
Dug up bunker
A French memorial
Canada House--Most likely the first liberated building on the beach
Canadian War Cemetery parking
Centre Cross Monument
Row upon row

Le Louvre
Love Lock Bridge in Paris
8pm Lightshow
Willie can't look down
No escape
Back to the Alps and the Bodensee
Now I am touring through Germany solo, visiting friends along the way. Of course another blog is to come from these current adventures.

Ciao for now!

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