Thursday, 21 November 2013

Bonn Voyage

So, a couple of weeks ago, Year Abroad Fever (of the travelling variety) struck again, and saw me and my friend Isobel planning a ganz spontan trip to Luxembourg. We were so smug at the thought of our own year-abroad-inspired spontaneity and living-on-the-edge-itude that we completely neglected to book any trains or accommodation until last Thursday night, by which time it was too late and everywhere was fully booked or much too expensive. This slight spanner in the works did not deter us for long, however, and we chose Bonn as our back-up destination for the weekend, the home of Beethoven and haribo. A great combo if ever there was one. Bring it Bonn!
Bonn is nice :)
I have to confess, this change of plans suited me nicely, not least because it gave me an excuse to think of a punny post title (let's face it, Luxembourg just doesn't lend itself well to this type of humour), as well as that hideous (but brilliant, admit it) atrocity above (Bring it Bonn!? Really Rachel?). Not to mention the fact that we would be able to get up at I-am-a-well-rested-and-functional-adult o'clock, as opposed to it's-so-early-the-Germans-probably-haven't-even-headed-to-clubs-yet o'clock. Good times all round.

Feeling slightly smug with our Semestertickets in hand, Isobel and I boarded a double-decker train (why don't these exist in England?) and sat back as Deutsche Bahn conveyed us effortlessly to our destination (well, there's a first time for everything). A bewildering search for the tourist information and a successful U-Bahn trip later, we arrived at BaseCamp Bonn. This was no ordinary youth hostel. Quite apart from the school-bus-restaurant and unexplained bull statue in the front yard, the accommodation itself was no standard dorms-with-bunkbeds arrangement. It consisted instead of several extravagantly decorated caravans and a sleeper-train carriage (!!!) all crammed into a warehouse.
Isobel and I opted for the more economical train carriage, but regretted it on arrival when we saw what the rest of the accommodation was like. All the caravans were so brilliantly decorated and much more comfortable-looking than our tiny room. One of them even had a statue of Beethoven outside! (You can use the picture above to play 'Where's Beethoven?'. Hint: It's not very hard.)

The rest of the day's adventures included a trip to Vapiano (the most bewildering restaurant ever), a lovely but unintentional stroll through a graveyard (we were trying to find the haribo factory!), and a look round the gift shop of the Beethoven's House museum (we got there just as it closed... Attempt-at-being-cultured fail!). We did successfully manage to go to Starbucks and find this beauteous and wonderful place:
Bonn's other cultural attraction (the haribo shop, not Isobel)
We enjoyed a leisurely moonlit stroll along the Rhine, then through some gardens back to the city. Then it was back to our hostel for our sleeping-in-a-train-carriage-in-a-warehouse adventure. This is one of those things that sounds cooler after the event than it actually was at the time. Our room was approximately the size of a small tin of sardines, and once the ladder to the top bunk was in place there was not enough room for both of us to stand in there at the same time. But I think we can both tick it off our lists as an 'interesting experience.'
Definitely no room to swing a cat. Probably not even a hamster.
The following day, after the heavenly treat of a breakfast buffet (breakfast + buffet = two of the best words ever put together), we made a second attempt to find the haribo Fabrikverkauf (factory outlet), this time with a map! It took forever to get to, but I think the strenuous exercise of walking there definitely justified our buying our weight in gummy goodness.
It's a whole supermarket, but just filled with haribo... Bonn appetite everyone!
This bag may have weighed more than my suitcase. Oops.
Let's just say that certain people's Christmas presents may be a little heavy on the haribo! 

So that was our spontaneous (s-Bonn-taneous...???) trip to Bonn, and though we probably missed out on some of the cultural and architectural experiences of this beautiful city in favour of its culinary delights, it was, as the French might say, a Bonn expérience. I would say sorry for all the terrible puns, but I will never apologise for art.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Herbstferien Part 2 - "Just one cornetto-o-o-o..." (I went to Venice)

So, the after the Farmers left, it was time for another bout of Year-Abroad-Fever, in the form of a 14-hour stint on the German (and Austrian, and Italian) public transport network. No, I wasn't just riding around for the fun of it. I went to VENICE!

Just one cornetto-o-o-o!
After said-14-hour trip, which involved sprinting through Munich Central Station in an enormous rucksack (never again), 2 delayed trains and an ill-advised cheeseburger (just thinking about it makes me shudder), I alighted in the beautiful (and considerably warmer) city of Venezia, and was greeted by my lovely friend Esther who I would be staying with. After a brief stroll along picturesque canals and through winding alleys, we arrived at Esther's flat, which is in the main student square.

The next couple of days involved much walking around taking in the sights, eating delicious Italian ice cream, meeting Esther's friends from Venice uni, shopping, watching films, and generally relaxing and enjoying ourselves. We also stopped to peruse an incredible bookshop, which was absolutely crammed with books of loads of different genres and languages, as well as being able to boast its own book-staircase and indoor gondola. Fancy.

It's a gondola filled with books!!! You might even say someone had *booked* a ride in it... (sorry)
Having been to Venice before, I knew what to expect, but was still impressed all over again by the unique beauty and strangeness of its atmosphere. But, although the city is beautiful, I hear its quirks do eventually begin to grate if you live there long enough. This became evident on the Sunday, when we took a trip to neighbouring Treviso, and Esther was revelling in the fact that there were green spaces and trees, which were showing real signs of autumn. There were even real roads! (Shocking!) Perhaps there's only so much one can take of floating buses...

On Monday, we set off bright and early to watch the Venice Marathon, having hauled ourselves out of bed at stupidly-early-for-when-you're-on-holiday o'clock, and headed to St Mark's Square to witness this exciting event. However, when we got there, it was evident that there was no marathon and we presumably got the date wrong. Embarrassing. But being the enterprising young women that we are, we decided not to let the morning go to waste, and spontaneously headed up the Campanile (bell tower). The unusual lack of queue coupled with the very welcome lift (instead of having to climb hundreds of steps to the top - I'm looking at you, Florence Campanile) made the visit very enjoyable. Oh, and the views were quite nice too...

It's preeeeetty... preeeeetty...
Then, still flushed from the surprising success of our morning, we decided to go the whole hog and make Monday a day to remember by heading out to see some of the islands. Murano, famous for its beautiful glasswork, and Burano, famous for its lace, were beautiful and peaceful, a welcome change from the noise and bustle of the mainland. Totally worth the slightly nauseating boat-trip.

On the last day, we experienced yet more failure, this time in finding the exhibition from the Biennale (some sort of art festival), which was of the work of some Irish photographer. We wandered around in the rain for a while, occasionally dashing into cafés and another photography exhibition when the downpour got too much. The poster I bought while sheltering in the latter even made it all the way home on the train with me, somewhat surprisingly considering my knack for leaving important items on public transport. Eventually, we gave up on the exhibition, but we did end up going to a lovely but rather confusing café called the Reading Room. It was a sort of shop/living room containing a piano and an enormous collection of P.G. Wodehouse books, but did not seem to want to charge any money for anything. The staff there even gave us free tea and cakes, and when we offered to pay, just said 'no, we're not capitalists.' Confusing... But an interesting find nonetheless!
They had books and a piano and gave us free tea and cake! What more could you ask for?
Meanwhile I gradually discovered that all the Italian I learnt at A-Level has been seeping out of my ears these last three years. This, coupled with my having spent the last 2 months trying to convince my brain to think in German, has resulted in the unfortunate demise of any Italian language skills I may once have possessed, and led to many a confused look from café staff and shopkeepers.

I also learnt a couple more things during my stay. Firstly, October is graduation season for Italian universities, and, as a consequence, we were treated to several hundred thousand raucous choruses a day of their graduation song, which sounds like a cross between the seesaw song and 'Oom pah pah' from Oliver! Wonderful. Search 'dottore dottore' on youtube and you'll see what I mean... Another graduation tradition, or so I'm told, is putting up a poster of the graduate with all the embarrassing things they've done during their degree, and making them read it out loud, before throwing foodstuffs on them and forcing them to down a bottle of wine. Those classy Italians.

Another thing I learnt is that, when an Italian menu says Roast beef all'inglese, it will not be English-style roast beef, no matter how much it claims to be. It will actually be wafer-thin slices of nearly-raw beef with grilled aubergines and potato wedges. Nice try Italy.

One last thing: Never trust technology not to all break at the same time.

So the second part of my Autumn Holiday was a success, and I left Venice with almost all that I came with (but sadly, minus one camera memory card. *sob*). Until next time. Ciao!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Herbstferien Part 1 - When The Farmers came to town

Update: This blog post now has pictures! That's right, real photographs that I took with my own two hands. My camera memory card has now made its way safely back from Venice where it had decided to stay a little longer and enjoy a nice holiday :)

So, you may have noticed that this blog has been unusually quiet the last few days (make that weeks... sorry!). The reasons for this are as follows:
  1. Not a lot of stuff happened
  2. A lot of stuff happened
The week before the Herbstferien (This is the 2-week school holiday most German states have in October. Don't mind if I do!) was extremely normal, so I won't bore you with that. Instead, I will begin this post two weeks ago with a very exciting event (drum-roll please): The Farmers came to Lemgo! (No, it isn't some bizarre German farmer festival, though I wouldn't put it past them... The Farmers are my awesome family!)

After a brief stint lost in Lage (apparently there's no way to drive through it and a very helpful lack of signposts), the Farmers finished their impressive (nearly) two-day's drive from Winchester to Lemgo. Their arrival was celebrated by much hugging and tea-drinking and general excitement, followed by a thrilling trip to the supermarket, where I was able to show off the wonders of German pizza-hybrids (pizza-burger or pizza-pasta anyone?).

The next day, our proper tour of Lemgo began, with an exciting trip to the Junkerhaus. This is just the house of an *ahem* eccentric outsider artist in Lemgo called Karl Junker, who decided to build himself a slightly creepy but extremely beautiful house/work of art out of ornately carved wood. It really was quite amazing - I don't think the photos quite did it justice.

Junkerhaus! My camera memory card finally made it home to me :)
Fun as it was to look around, I can't imagine it would be much fun to actually live there. There were far too many bizarrely staring paintings and hideously uncomfortable-looking chairs for my liking.

For lunch, we headed into town, where there was a market on with loads of stalls selling toasted mandeln (almonds), bratwurst, and all sorts of other German goodies. We sampled some of said bratwurst, before deciding to try the regional speciality pickert, which is a tasty but extremely filling type of potato scone. We had ours with plum jam, but they were also serving it with leberwurst (liver sausage). Some people even had theirs with half and half (though I'm not sure I would try that myself).

That afternoon came the event that one must experience/endure in order to gain a true induction into German way of life: one's first handball game. Following our small misunderstanding, in which I had to ensure the Farmers that they would not actually be required to play handball, I'm sure the others were relieved to just sit on the sidelines and observe the German craziness from afar. Though I'm not what anyone would call a sporty person, and my understanding of football really only extends to kicking a ball in a net (what, there's more to it than that?), I actually found handball really enjoyable. It's kind of like football and basketball's hyperactive love child, with lots of supporters playing drums. Only a few minutes in, we worked out what colour team we were supporting, and were able to make appreciative/derogatory noises at appropriate moments. We lost (as an official resident of Lemgo, I feel it's acceptable to refer to the Lemgo team as 'we', and I'm sure they found my support indispensable), but the opposing team was Berlin, so I don't think we really did that badly.

They throw a ball with their hands (I think).
In the evening we were invited to the home of one of the teachers from my school, and my sister, Esther, was able to chat to a fellow bird-watching enthusiast, while I got my first experience of hearing a German say 'squirrel' first-hand. (Search on youtube for 'Germans saying squirrel' and you won't be disappointed. I feel it's acceptable for me to laugh, because I'm sure my attempts to say Eichhörnchen are just as amusing to them!)

Highlights of the rest of the all-too-short visit included going to see the Hermann statue, or Hermannsdenkmal, (Hermann the German was supposed to have led the Germanic tribes to victory against three Roman legions, but the giant statue of him was actually built much later, apparently as a sort of two-fingered salute to the French!), walking in the woods, having a lovely lunch in nearby Detmold, more walking in the woods, looking round the Brake castle, and some more walking in the woods.

Hermann the German in all his glory
All in all, a really lovely visit! I'm only sorry it was so short.