Sunday, April 24, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I have finally come back to finish the rest of my Freiburg adventure! Sorry, but I got preoccupied with school work, John coming to visit me in Montpellier, and a virus-yeah the last one so much fun.  I have the time now because I’m on a Thalys train just passing through Brussels at the moment on my way to Amsterdam to meet up with John.  It’s Easter break for us, but more on that later because I can’t start talking about another trip.

Even though Europe is very scrunched together, planning even a weekend voyage can be tricky. Take my case of getting back from Germany, which in the end worked out fine, but was just a lot of coordinating and taking many forms of transportation in one day-hence the title of this post. You all know that I already took a night train to Strasburg and then a train to Freiburg, That was fine for the way there, but on the way back I couldn’t really find any tickets that pleased me. Either they were too long of a voyage or I would have to leave super early and/or they were too expensive. That’s when I looked into some of the discount airlines where you can find some pretty great deals; most often people use or I found out that ryanair does flights between Frankfurt and Montpellier, and that weekend I found one left at 5:15pm on Sunday for about 27.99€ after tax. Perfect I thought, knowing that John flew to Frankfurt from the U.S. and then took an hour train ride to Freiburg.
Then about two weeks before the trip I started looking at the German train website to order all the other train tickets I would need for the trip. I bought my tickets to get from Strasbourg, but was confused on the ones from Freiburg to Frankfurt because there were a few different Frankfurt options. This is when we realized that ryanair flies out of Frankfurt-Hahn, a lowly airport out in the middle of nowhere, and not Frankfurt-Main!!! John did some research for me and found out the way to get there was to take a train to Frankfurt Mannheim and then a bus that only comes every 2 or 3 hours to Frankfurt-Hahn. I needed to get to the airport about 2 hours ahead of time at 3:15pm. Luckily there was a bus that gets you there just in time, but it leaves Mannheim at 1 or something. So then I had to get a train ticket to Mannheim, about an hour and a half train ride. This meant that I had to leave Freiburg at 10 or 11am (don’t remember now). It sucked because I basically had to get up, make sure everything was packed and together, and then go.
We got up and planned to leave at a certain time to catch the tram in Vauban (1st mode of transport). Turns out Sunday the tram runs infrequently and we had to start walking to the station because it would take so long. John even considered grabbing some bikes. Then we saw that the time board must have been wrong at our stop because at the next one it came within a few minutes. Phew I wasn’t going to miss my train, my bus, and my plane!
After a non-eventful train ride (2nd mode of transport) I got to Mannheim with time to walk around looking confused, mainly because I couldn’t find the bathrooms or the buses for awhile. The coach bus ride was 20€ and you just pay the driver cash when you board and yet another uneventful long haul before reaching the airport (3rd mode of transport). 

Freiburg Hauptbahnhof the morning I left. 

The Frankfurt-Hahn airport is tiny and check-in and security took under an hour to do, so I was left with sitting around some more. Thank goodness for my IPod Nano that has an everlasting battery!  At this airport you get to walk on the tarmac and then up the plane stairs to board the plane. I had never done that before.  Once in the plane you choose where you want to sit, only rows of 3 on each side of the plane.  This was the least painful of all the rides, since we left at 5:15pm and landed at 6:45 (4th mode of transport).  When we landed though I had to be on my toes again so that I could make my bus in the city center back to the suburbs, last one on Sunday comes at around 7:30 or 8. So this left taking the airport shuttle out of the picture because the times didn’t coordinate. So, I took a quick, but not cheap taxi ride to the city center (5th mode of transport). My phone died, so taking a taxi to catch my bus or going around the city knocking on friends doors were my only options. I ended up catching my city bus (6th mode of transport) right when I got to the stop and making it home by 7:30.  Longest traveling day I’ve had to do so far, and unfortunately for me at the end of this week I have a date with Frankfurt-Hahn yet again!

What else is new?
Last week was may last week of classes already, and of course I get sick right in the middle of the week and had to miss some class. I had really bad headaches/muscle aches, fevers, and a sore throat, the doctor said it was just a virus and told me what to take to ease the symptoms.  

Uki, my host dog, has become obsessed with chilling in my room with me. Every morning he gets up with the parents, does his business and then opens 2 sets of doors, so he can come sleep with me. Before the parents were locking him up in the veranda before they left, so that he wouldn’t be barking outside or be in my room. He is a genius though and can push away 3 or 4 dining chair blocking the sliding glass door then proceed to unlock and open the door to outside. He would just bark out there, and I don’t mind him in my room, so I told the parents to keep him inside.
Uki literally sleeping on his back by my bed.

John came to visit me in Montpellier last weekend! He really enjoyed seeing the Mediterranean world that I live in. Pictures and more on what we did to come.
John at the beach.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Freiburg im Breisgau

Hello! Sorry I have been neglecting my blog. I’ve wanted to post about my weekend trip to Freiburg for quite some time, but got busy and lazy all at once when I got back. But I better do it now, seeing that is reaching 70 degrees here and I have other stuff I want to share.

March 18th through the 20th I spent a long weekend visiting my boyfriend, John, in Freiburg, Germany where he is currently studying abroad. Freiburg is located very close to the French border and the French cities Colmar and Strasbourg. Even though it is close by, taking the train still takes about 8 hours to reach Strasbourg and then from there you take a German train to Freiburg’s Hauptbonhof (train station). Since, this was just going to be a weekend trip I wanted to make sure I got enough time to see the city. My solution was to take an overnight train leaving Thursday night and arriving early the next morning. I’ve become a pro at navigating the French train website…and buying train tickets, so finding a ticket was no problem and with my youth discount card the tickets were reasonably priced. If you can read French the train website is great and easy to use, and they mail the tickets to your residence (in France) for free practically the next day. My train ended in Strasbourg so then I had to take a try at navigating the German train website. You can switch the site in English that’s nice, but to get the tickets mailed to you it’s about a 4-euro charge. There is an option to print the ticket out yourself but I couldn’t figure it out until I bought my ticket for the route back home (which was quite the route and will be explained later). Anyhow, after my afternoon class and little St Patrick’s Day celebrating with some Irish friends I left Montpellier at around 9pm and was on my way!

Merrill et moi wearing our St. Patrick’s Day hats in the streets of Montpellier. Got some funny looks and smiles from the french since they don't really celebrate the holiday.

After an hour and a half change in Arles, France I boarded the night train and just went to bed, since it was already 11pm and everyone else was already sleeping in my cabin! After this experience I have some advice for anyone doing the same. When ordering your ticket see if the train has an all female cabin option and try to get the lowest bed in the cabin if it’s a six sleeper. Also, wear comfortable clothes that you will want to sleep in to the train station because the cabins aren’t very private and the bathrooms are small. Lastly, make sure you sleep with your valuables right next to you or on you. You can get a cheaper train ticket if you choose to sleep in the reclining chairs, and while the beds aren’t that comfortable the chairs looked awful and it is worth it to get the cabin.

Getting from Strasbourg to Freiburg was a little confusing at first because that’s when I had to rely on my German train ticket that was in German and practically had no directions whatsoever on them. The French tickets tell you the number of the train, your changes, etc. For the German one you have to make sure you read your itinerary that they send you right when you buy the ticket online. Luckily, I did that and wrote down the train numbers because I had a change. I finally got to Freiburg at about 11am, and was going to have to wait for John to come pick me up after his class, but he decided to skip class (due to a late night out for his birthday) and surprise me at the train station! Thank God because I was feeling gross from the train ride, was hungry, and had came to the realization that I know a very limited amount of German! The only practical words I could remember were “please” and “thank you”. John had told me how to say, “Excuse me” but it was a weird word that I couldn’t ever remember how to pronounce. Pardon is just so much easier. So it’s definitely very weird going from a country where you can communicate decently with the locals to one where you have no idea what is going on. After years of tuning my ears to French, German was ridiculous and slightly entraining to listen to.

Freiburg is only a little smaller than Montpellier population wise, so it to has that larger city feel and tons of people wrapped up into a cute German town. The architecture and people looked much different than in the Mediterranean. And of course there is no palm trees… on the contrary the region do have a lot of vineyards like Montpellier. Freiburg is also a lot cleaner than Montpellier because it is one of the most ecological cities in Germany. Practically everything gets recycled some how. They even have machines in the grocery store for your glass bottles and you get money back right then and there. I recently discovered this Wikipedia application that reads the Wikipedia article as it shows pictures. Here is a link to the one about Freiburg so that I don’t have to do all of the explaining!!/Freiburg_im_Breisgau

John lives in Vauban, which is a neighborhood, just a short tram ride away from the city center, in the University of Freiburg student housing. The building he lives, and the surrounding ones, is actually old French military barracks. I’ll let Qwiki do the explaining again…hope you don’t mind the narrators horrible pronunciation.!/Vauban,_Freiburg

John's Building

Map of the student housing

Vauban is a great little neighborhood to live in. Along with students living in the area there are also families...and hippies! Walking to John’s from the tram you have to pass through a small strip of land that is basically a hippie commune with shacks and old, painted vans. They’re called Kommando Rhino, no Qwiki for them unfortunately, but here is a YouTube video The government has been trying to remove them for a while.

One of the many hippie vans.

Peeking into Kommando Rhino.

The first day John took me for a tour of the city and here are some cool tidbits from that!

View from the city center of the Martinstor, one of the old city gates. Note the McDonalds.

The Freiburg Mintser is a huge romantic/gothic church. It was under construction at the time and is big so I didn't get a good picture.!/Freiburg_Minster

The Minster's spire from aways away.

Right outside one of the city gates is the beginning of Schlossberg.!/Schlossberg_(Freiburg) Basically a really big hill/forest with hiking and a tower on top. I was too tired to hike up the hill then climb the observation tower, but I still got some great views.

 Here's looking down at some houses. Note the vines!!/Württemberg_(wine_region)

The tram.

The sidewalks are filled with these charming mosaics that are usually in front of a store or a monument. The are supposed to depict what the store sells or say what the monument is. This obviously for a jewelry store.

Beer, of course.

Not all of the same stores still remain like this one for example. Honey store?

Ahh in Montpellier you have to watch out for dog crap all over the Freiburg you have to watch out for the Bächle! It is an old gutter system that runs throughout the center and was used to fight fires and what not. If you accidentally fall into the Bächle you will marry a Freiburger! 

After touring the city we went out with some of John’s friends to their favorite restaurant/bar called Schlappen. We got some “potato snacks” that came with yummy garlic dipping sauce and flammkucken. Flammkucken is kind of like a pizza but is creamy with ham, onions, and cheese topping. I think it is called flambé in France and Strasbourg is supposed to have a really good. My host mom actually makes what she calls a quiche, although it’s flat, that tastes a lot like the flammkucken. I recommend this place!

Later that night we stopped and got a currywurst and fries with ketchup and mayo. Yum!

The next day John wanted to take me to the Saturday morning market that goes on around the Freiburg Minster. It reminded me a little of the Minneapolis farmer’s market, since it had a variety of produce, flowers, food, and crafts you could buy. Then we walked around the city some more and stopped at H&M etc. On Saturdays the city is super busy!

My wurst from the market. Yum.

The whole week before I left it had been raining in Montpellier non-stop and I mean NON-STOP Saturday to Thursday, while Freiburg was nice and sunny. Then of course when I leave, Montpellier gets sunny (Irish said it was because it was for Patty’s day) and Freiburg got cloudy and a little rainy. Saturday actually turned out decent and once the sun started to appear we decided to do an outdoor activity. We went to shauinsland, which is a hilly area for hiking that has a lookout where you are supposed to see the whole valley Freiburg is in and even France! The Gondola ride costs about 12 euros round trip and takes about 10 minutes.

As we went higher up we began to see a little surprise we did not really expect. We knew it was probably going to be cloudy and cold, but we didn’t imagine we would start to see snow. Makes sense though, since it’s high up and they had been getting precipitation.

It was actually kind of fun trudging in the snow, like it was the first snowfall in MN, and it made for some pretty pictures, like freshly fallen snow always does.

Green and White

Not the view you're supposed to see from the observation tower!

An awesome wooden sculture! It turn 360 degrees to see all of the surrounding views.

Later that night John and I went out to dinner again, this time at a German restaurant in Vauban called Süden (south in German I believe). I got a typical German dish of pork and spaeztle with a brown mushroom sauce. The whole dish was really tasty, especially the spaeztle. I just learned too that it is an extremely easy dish to make. Look here Can’t wait to make my own.

John lives with all international students who study at Freiburg. I think it is cool that his program doesn’t room all of the Americans together. John’s roommates are from all over the place; 1 German girl, 1 French guy and girl, and 1 Chinese guy. Through them he has met a lot of other non-American students and actually hangs out with a lot of French people. Unfortunately, the normal classes at the university are on break. So, I missed out on meeting his French roommates and other international friends that weekend. When I go back in May I will get to meet them and speak French! His French flat mate (one of his favorites because he loves the goofy Frenchmen) named Côme actually came to Montpellier to see a concert the next week. So of course I had to met up with him and show him Montpellier sans John.

Sunday, I had to get up early and commence my day of traveling. I’m now too tired to even start remembering that, so I’ll save it for next time.