Thursday, 5 April 2012

Willkommen: My Journey in a Foreign Country

At the beginning of the semester, England was a foreign country. Now, it's the place to which I return after traveling somewhere else for the weekend. About two weeks ago, I ventured for the first time in my life to a non-English-speaking country.

Oh, and I went by myself, too.

I never thought I would travel by myself, but upon learning that I had family that lived in Germany, I emailed them, and before I knew it, I had bought plane and train tickets to get myself to Freiburg, Germany. Then, during the last weekend of March, it began to sink in that I was really traveling alone. I started to panic a little bit, but Wednesday morning (when I was supposed to be in British Studies), I headed to the Grantham train station and began my venture. And I loved every minute of it.

I finally made it to Basel airport, where my dad's (some kind of) cousin picked me up. I went to bed pretty early because I had ridden 2 trains, waited in Gatwick for about 5 hours, and then finally flew 2 hours to Germany, losing an hour in the time-change process. I thought I was going to get up and do my own thing. I was so wrong. Marie and Gabriel (Marie is my family's cousin and Gabriel is her husband) had planned my entire trip and had taken off work to do so. So Thursday morning, Gabriel loaded up the car and the two of us headed off to France. Freiburg is an extremely southern city in Germany, and it happens to sit right on the border of both France and Switzerland, so we explored all three!

Early in the morning, we headed to Murbach, France, which hosted an old Roman cathedral and sat along the edge of the Black forest. We then made our way to Riquewihn, another city. This was a lovely town in which we explored shops and even stopped for the best pastry I've ever eaten!

Then for the rest of the afternoon, we spent our time in Strasbourg, a relatively large French city that hosted a lovely cathedral complete with a really famous astronomical clock. It also had a canal running down the middle of the city, and we had lunch outside at a restaurant that sat on the canal. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

After some gelato and shopping in the markets, we went to a small museum on the history of Strasbourg, which turned out to be way more interesting than I ever thought. Turns out, Mr. Gutenburg lived and worked in Strasbourg before moving elsewhere to invent his printing press, and he left a bunch of his original designs and works in Strasbourg, so they had a lot of really old and really wonderful books and printing mechanisms.

For day two of the trip, Marie took over, and we spent the day exploring Freiburg. We went to the Munster early in the morning, which is their gorgeous cathedral, and we even climbed up the highest tower that looked out over the city.

After that, we strolled around and learned a lot about the history of the city. We went to a Freiburg museum, which had a lot of the old statues and gargoyles from the Munster that had become too delicate to keep on the cathedral. It's made of sandstone, so they had to take some of them inside. Some of the artwork in the museum was gorgeous, too.

We met Marie's youngest daughter, Laura, after she got out of school, and we all went and had lunch at the most wonderful Mexican place I've ever been. It was fabulous.

After I bought about 20 pounds of gummy bears, we headed back to their house for a quick break, then headed back out to a small town near their neighborhood to see another church (they found out I really enjoy cathedrals). On the way, we stopped at a place called Caffe Decker, which was a traditional German patisserie. They were all out of black forest cake (what they're famous for), but I had some kind of almond schnapps cake, which was SO STRONG, it was ridiculous. I also had Orangina, which I fell in love with. It's a carbonated orange drink, but not like Fanta or something. It's more juicy with a little bit of fizz.

Then we went to the church. This one was baroque-style, and absolutely gorgeous, but my favorite part was taking a walk around the outside of it. The sun had just begun to set, and the church sat in the hills of the black forest. It was cool and lovely outside.

Day Three was a Saturday, so both of their daughters, Anne and Laura, had off school, so we all went to Luxern, Switzerland. This was my favorite place of the three, and I was legitimately ready to move to Switzerland by the end of the day.

My first sight was this:

I cannot even describe how beautiful this place was. Everything was so clean, like the whole town was waiting for royalty to come, or someone was taking pictures for postcards. It was all so wonderful. And there's nothing I can say to describe the feeling of standing at the foot of the Alps in Switzerland.

After walking along the lake for a while, we went to a traffic museum. I was a little worried, but it turns out, this was my favorite museum I've been in EVER. It was a big circle, and in the center was a courtyard where you could do space bungee-jumping or riding a little train around the museum. We spent 5 hours in the airplane part, and didn't even make it to 7/8 of the museum. There was so much to do, and even though it was all in French and German, I still had fun doing the different activities.

I took so many pictures of Switzerland because I was just in love with Luxern, so below are a few more. Traveling by myself, though scary, was the best thing I've done all semester. And I realized I could do it. The hardest part was actually not being able to understand the language — fortunately my family spoke about 6 different languages, so they always translated for me, but it was still extremely difficult not being able to communicate. But for all future study-abroaders, I would highly recommend traveling by yourself somewhere at least once during your stay — it was so much fun!

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