Hallo freunde! Currently in Vienna, trying to keep my feet on the ground as I am inevitably swept up in the beauty of Austria and Europe and castles and libraries and everything. My study abroad program technically doesn’t start for another week, but I have now been in Europe for 4 days, and I feel it is very necessary to introduce you to my experiences thus far (my first few days vacationing in Europe will undoubtedly affect how I handle myself when I am trying to study here). Today was our first day in Vienna, and my dad, my sister and I stayed from July 6-8 in Munich, Germany (wow I seriously can’t believe I can say that I have been there.) So this blog is going to primarily address my first couple of days in Europe: in beautiful Bavaria.
Ok, here’s a new post about, among other things:
American rock music
American rock music
I have nothing against rock music. But this favorable view changes when one has been travelling for a straight 14 hours and was just thrown into a gorgeous and overwhelming city where everyone speaks German. And when live rock music is blasting out of the restaurant across the street from your hotel. 3 Doors Down music at 11 PM after full day (maybe 1.5 days? Still don’t entirely understand the time change…) of travelling at first seemed like some cruel joke designed to make me feel even more uncomfortable and foreign in Germany. There is no air conditioning in the hotel so we had to keep the windows open, the toilets are weird, there are no sheets (only comforters to wrap yourself in), and there I was, being kept awake by American rock music. Out of everything that could’ve reminded me of home and kept me awake, it was this ridiculous band across the street, playing “Kryptonite.” Listening to (and trying to block out) rock music, I found some sense of pride in my background and identity, and I became more comfortable in a foreign place. So homesickness and confidence, apparently, can be cured and found through simple reminders of home, and through some American rock music.
Neushwanstein Castle was absolutely incredible (it seemed like it was straight out of a Disney movie). The family crest of “Crazy” King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who built the castle, is basically a swan on a shield. And he was obsessed with swans- like there are swan door handles and motifs in all of the beautiful woodwork and paintings in the interior of his castle. Anyways, we were passing through a gift shop on our way out of the castle tour (quite a strategically placed gift shop, might I add) and I saw this really cute little wooden swan figurine. I had money, but my extremely-cheap subconscious was like “three euros? For a little swan figurine?” So I picked up one of the little swans and found that they were actually pencil sharpeners. And then my subconscious was like: “you use mechanical pencils. This is an irrational purchase.” And I did not buy a swan.
What I didn’t anticipate was the irritation I would feel on the train back to Munich that night. I worked for the first half of the summer so that I would have spending money for my time abroad. And it’s not like 3 euros would break the bank. And it might not have been completely relevant to my everyday life, but maybe it would’ve been nice to have a swan sitting on my desk that reminded me, just a little bit, of Schloss Neuschwanstein. So, while I don’t aim to go crazy and break the bank, I have decided to splurge on little souvenirs that could remind me of my incredible experiences abroad. Because this is a once in a lifetime experience, and it has already been worth every penny.
I don’t suppose I have a good sense of direction. It took me a full year at UF to learn how to navigate campus. But this problem is made nearly insurmountable when all the maps and street names are in German, and each street is as beautiful and identical as the next, and your cell phone doesn’t have an international data plan. My dad, sister and I somehow navigated our way to our hotel and to the sights in München, although many a time we got lost dragging suitcases over narrow cobblestone streets or next to busy highways. And we were so exhausted that we fell asleep in weird places (cafe tables, scenic train rides). At first I was super guilty about being lost and napping. I felt like I was missing out on stuff if I slept, and like I wasn’t enjoying everything enough when I was frustrated about being lost. But what I’ve realized is, it’s all part of the experience (as tacky as that sounds). If I sleep on a train, I might miss out on catching one glimpse of a pretty village. But if I don’t sleep, I could lack the energy to really enjoy the town I am headed to. And I might get lost and not make it to the church I wanted to see, but on the way I may see back roads and alleys that are dominated more by locals and biergartens than by tour groups and cameras. So this far, I’ve learned it’s important to take as many naps, and read as many maps, as you need.
So the Eiger River runs through the Englischer Garten in Munich, and all the German people lay out next to it sunning themselves (kind of like their version of the beach). Anyways, even if you are biking or walking through the beautiful park (which is 1.25 times the size of Central Park in NYC), you see random people taking off their socks and plunging their feet into the water to cool off. There are ducks floating around, and there are shady trees and flower beds and soaking your feet seems like a really nice, quaint, European-like thing to do. So my dad and I hopped off our bikes, took off our shoes, and sat with our feet dangling in the Eiger. We chose a spot that wasn’t too busy, and I was just starting to feel really smug about doing something so authentic when I noticed where I was sitting. On a riverbank covered with duck feces. I looked around noticing that all the locals were sitting on scarves and blankets. Then I started panicking about getting one of the 3 pairs of pants I packed dirty so early on in my trip. But then I took a step back and just let myself enjoy the experience. It was sunny and breezy and the water flowed over my feet while I listed idly to the faint German chatter around me. And when I got up my clothes were fine and I could wash my hands in the river. So I guess the takeaway is, I learned to get over the duck poop and enjoy every moment, even in the face of unpleasant surprises.
One of the things I felt I absolutely must do in Munich was see their famous glockenspiel. It just seems so quintessentially Bavarian and the glockenspiel in Munich is the largest, oldest one in Germany. So we were ready and poised to see it at 11 in the main square (along with every tourist in Munich). And it went off, and it was kind of underwhelming. I mean, pretty and festive, but it was a bunch of figurines wheeling around in a circle. I wouldn’t say it didn’t meet my expectations, but it didn’t define my time in Germany like I thought it would.
On the other hand, while in Füssen to see the Neuschwanstein castle, my dad got us tickets to ride a gondola up into the mountains. I knew the view would be gorgeous, but it didn’t seem like it would be a particularly memorable experience (nothing more than a quick photo opp). But when we got there I had some of the most memorable experiences of the trip so far. We ate pretzels looking out over the alps, and we hiked up into the mountains, pausing often to marvel at the dramatic peaks that surrounded us. The air was brisk and smelled like pine and the cliffs were sprinkled with wildflowers and we just stood listening the wind whistle over the mountains. Probably the most magical time I have had so far. So I guess the takeaway is don’t get too caught up in expectations. They won’t necessarily be destroyed or exceeded, but it’s really important to be present and open to incredible unexpected experiences abroad.
- Flower stand at an outdoor market in Munich.
- Aerial view of Marionplatz from the steeple of St. Peter’s Church.
- View of Schloss Neuschwanstein.
- The confusing (but beautiful) streets of Munich
- My dad and I soaking our feet in the Eiger.
- Wildflowers I picked during our unexpected hike in the Alps.
- View from the top of the gondola ride.