Monday, May 9, 2011

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

It probably goes without saying that I think everyone should visit Germany sometime in their life. I haven't really been up to much lately but I still wanted to write a blog post this week. 
I thought I would write a blog post about all the stuff to do in Germany for a vacation. 

If you are planning to travel around Germany; there are two options. Germany's public transportation system makes it easy to travel from one end of the country to the other in less than a day. The trains are a little expensive for a long trip but still affordable. If you plan on staying in one part of Germany, you could also rent a car to use. 

Along with most of Europe, Germany has both resorts and hostels. A resort is basically the same thing it is in the USA. A hostel is kind of like a motel. They cost very little but you get what you pay for. Sometimes there is only one bathroom for the entire floor or the rooms are the size of a broom closet. They are ideal for the people who are just looking for a cheap place to stay. 

Most tourist attractions offer different prices for different "groups". Seniors pay one price, kids pay another, students (people between like 10 and 19) pay a reduced fare and regular adults pay the normal price. Make sure to distinguish the different types of tickets you want to buy so you don't pat more than you need to.  

Germans will be happy to use their (near flawless) English with tourists but it's always better to learn some German before you arrive. They don't expect you to speak German and are usually more than happy to switch over to English but it usually makes them really happy if you say a few words in German. Basically everyone under the age of 65 in the former West Germany will speak some amount of English. I have heard that the older generations in the former East Germany don't speak as much English. The students in East Germany had to learn Russian instead of English so people over the age of 35 or so might be a little harder to communicate with. I think that you will still be able to find people who speak English in the former East.

Shopping is usually pretty important when someone takes a vacation. There are certain places to buy things and certain places to avoid. Things are usually pretty expensive in Germany but you can usually find a good deal. I think this might be common sense but don't buy things in the gift shop of the tourist attraction. Look around in the town and there will be probably be a way better deal. There are street markets a couple times a week and usually they have pretty good deals. 

Germany has a lot of things to see and I thought I would write about which ones are the best. 

Make sure to go and see Munich while you are here. It is the city to go to if you are looking for that traditional German feel. You will probably see a couple of people wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls but that's all part of the atmosphere. You can see the old City Hall and listen to the famous Glockenspiel, see a Bayern München soccer game, check out the Olympic Park and even see the Dachau Concentration Camp. It doesn't matter what you do in Munich but make sure to have a beer at the Hofbräuhaus. The restaurant is like the size of a castle and they serve beer by the litre. It's also a good place to get that traditional German atmosphere. 

The German Alps are another thing to see here. A good place to see them is in the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I went to the Alps in Austria so I don't know much about Garmisch-Partenkirchen or the region but the Alps in general are something to see. 

I think everyone knows about Neuschwanstein Castle or better known as the big castle in southern Germany that looks like the big castle in Disney World. It is quite possibly the biggest tourist destination in Germany. I have never been there but everyone I talk to says you can skip it. They all say that it is flooded with tourists. Of course its nice to see but driving by and taking pictures is plenty. 

Moving onto my personal favorite area in Germany; the southwest corner. Stuttgart is also a good place to see while in Germany. The area around Stuttgart is full of rolling hills, vineyards and the best food in Germany. The region is also home to the Black Forest. It's hard to explain the Black Forest because nobody gets excited when you say its a large forest but once you see it, then you know why it's one of the best places in Germany. You can stand on up of a hill and see just forests and nature as far as the eye can see. The Black Forest is full of little villages and amazing scenery. If you are looking for a traditional, quiet and scenic vacation then make sure to see the Black Forest.

If you are going near Stuttgart, make sure to go to Tübingen. It is kind of like the Venice of Germany. You can take a ride on a gondola-type-boat along the river. You can see the city and see the old architecture. Its a really nice city and definitely worth seeing.

If you are looking for a busy vacation with a good night life, then go to either Berlin, Cologne or Frankfurt. 

Cologne is a cool city. It's a pretty normal big city but there are definitely things to see there. The most popular thing in Cologne is by far the cathedral. You can't go to Cologne and not climb to the top of the church. It would be like going to NYC and not seeing Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. The cathedral is said to house the bones of the Three Kings who came to visit Jesus. The church was started in about 1300 and is still original because it was one of the only parts of Cologne not to be bombed in the war. Another thing to do in Cologne is to visit the Chocolate Museum.

The Cathedral of Ulm is like the one in Cologne but a little bigger. The cathedral in Ulm is bigger and has a better view (in my opinion) but you still have to climb the Kölner Dom if you have the chance. It's just one of those things you have to do if you visit Germany. We made my grandma walk all the way up to the top of the one in Ulm so there really is no excuse not to make the climb. 

Frankfurt is really different from the rest of Germany. Frankfurt is the banking capital of Europe so it is full of skyscrapers and big modern buildings. Besides Berlin, it's the one of the few places in Germany with skyscrapers. It's like a miniature NYC. Chances are, you will see Frankfurt on your visit. Most flights into Germany fly to Frankfurt. The airport is the size of a whole other city. If you have a long enough stop, you will either want to take a short cruise on the river or go to the Main Tower and get a view of the city. 

I haven't been to Berlin yet but I will talk about Berlin once I have been there. 

Nuremberg is the place to go if your trip falls around Christmas. The Christmas market is famous and definitely something not to miss. The whole city is decorated for the season. There is also an old castle in Nuremberg and that was also nice to see. We went to Nuremberg for the Christmas market so that's all I know about the city but it was a nice city.

Bonn was the former capital of West Germany so all the old government buildings and things like that are located in Bonn. If you are into politics or history then make sure to go to Bonn. 

One of my favorite places in Germany is Lake Constance. You definitely have to see it if you ever take a vacation to Germany. You can stand on the German side and see the German countryside or turn around and see the lake with the Swiss and Austrian Alps in the background. Its a popular place to go in the summer. You can take the ferry across to Switzerland but you can also drive the lake and see the scenery in the 3 countries. There are a lot of people who take a couple days and bike around the lake. Lake Constance isn't one of those extra touristy areas but it is definitely somewhere to see. 

The places in Germany that I haven't talked about are Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Leipzig, Dresden and Magdeburg. Those are all popular cities in Germany that I haven't seen yet. Hamburg is supposed to be a city on the water with that type of scenery. I don't know much about Bremen, Magdeburg or Leipzig but Dresden is supposed to be a really nice city. It had to all be rebuilt after the war and it is apparently a very nice and active city. Berlin is kind of a no-brainer. There is a lot to do in Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate is something you have to see if you are in Berlin along with Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie and remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall. 

That's all I got as far as traveling through Germany and that basically wraps up this post.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“When I was young, I used to have this thing where I wanted to see everything. I used to think, ‘How can I die without seeing every inch of this world?”

Sorry I haven't updated this thing in a while but I have been really busy lately. Hopefully I will go back to updating more often. 

Last week was Easter Vacation here. I had vacation from the Wednesday before Easter up until the Monday after Easter Monday. I like having the two weeks at Easter again. Normally back home, I have one week of break in February and one more at Easter but two weeks at Easter is way better. 

What did I do with my almost two weeks of Ferien? I spent it the best way possible. After 8 months without my family, they came to visit me for the break. My parents, brother, grandma and aunt all came to visit. We rented a big van and basically toured across southern Germany and central Europe. They stayed at my host family's house so needless to say, every couch, air mattress and pillow was taken for the week.

I am so glad that my family came to visit. Eight months is a long time to go without seeing your family, friends or even speaking your own language. Not that I am complaining about any of that though (still glad to be here). Having my family come to visit was kind of like having a reset button on the "days since I have seen my family" countdown. I think normally, family visits make the student more homesick but it did the exact opposite to me. I hope you guys get what I mean here.

They got here on Friday and we just kind of hung out. We just took a walk and then hung out at home. It's kind of hard to plan anything big for the day after a 10 hour plane ride. We picked up my family from the airport and to make the event more memorable, I wore my lederhosen to the airport. I'd say that I got two different reactions from almost everyone in the terminal. The actual Germans just kind of looked at me like I was crazy but the tourists all gave me thumbs up. 

On Saturday, we went to the Ritter Sport chocolate factory. My brother and I did some kind of tour and then made some chocolate. It was us and then about 8 little kids there for some 7 year old's birthday. The only thing worse than being stuck with a group of 7 year olds in a room full of sugar/candy were the dirty looks that the birthday girl was giving us for crashing her birthday party. 

After that my family about 25 pounds of chocolate from the store and then we went into Stuttgart. We went up to the top of the TV tower. My family was amazed by how many people in Germany drive BMW's, Porsche's and Mercedes'. Of course, we had to take pictures with the random Porsche in the parking lot. Then we just went home and hung out.

We got up extra early on Easter Sunday. My family insisted on going to the church service in Altdorf. The service started at 5:30 and we got up at about 4:30. It was a really different kind of service. I don't know if it was an Easter thing but the church was lit by candles and then they prayed and sung hymns. They didn't really do all the regular parts of a normal mass. Then we walked home and had breakfast. 

After breakfast, we piled back into the van and drove to the Black Forest. If you are ever going to be anywhere near Baden-Württemberg, then going to see the Black Forest is something you have to do. We stopped a couple of times but mostly, we just drove through it on our way to France. We went to see Strasbourg, France for Easter. We spent the day walking through the city. Strasbourg has a really nice Cathedral. The inside of the Cathedral was by far the coolest and nicest of all the Cathedrals I have seen. Then we bought some souvenirs and sat at a little cafe for lunch. Most of us ate Flammkuchen. It's kind of like pizza but the dough is like a tortilla and it's topped with sour cream, bacon and onions. After that, we walked around the city more and then went home.

Easter Monday was spent in Ulm, Germany. The world's highest church is there. They let you climb up to the very top of the steeple. There are 768 spiral stone steps to the top. We all climbed up to the top (including my grandma) to see the view of the city. 

On Tuesday, we all went to Lichtenstein Castle. That's the castle I talked about a little while ago (it's the one right on the edge of a cliff on shutterfly). We also all did a ropes/adventure course nearby. It was like an obstacle course but way up in the trees. You had to get from end to the other. That's another thing you should do if you ever visit this region.

Wednesday was the day we drove into Munich. We started the day off with a typical weißwurstfrühstück. Weißwurstfrühstück is a special type of breakfast that consists of the traditional white sausage, pretzel and mustard. After that we walked around the city, saw the major sights, listened to the Glockenspiel and did some shopping. Then we went to the famous Hofbräuhaus in Munich. That might be the biggest restaurant I have ever seen. The cool thing about the Hofbräuhaus is that they serve beer by the litre. They serve big glass litres of beer for each person. There are two things that everyone who wants to see Germany has to do. Drink a litre of beer at the Hofbräuhaus is definitely one of them. I will get to the other in a minute. Even the atmosphere there is great. All the food, music and clothes are traditional and the building itself is even something to see. 

We drove into Esslingen on Thursday. Esslingen is a town about 20 minutes from here. The first thing we did was climb the castle. The castle is located on top of a hill. We toured around the castle and then went to a little Swabian restaurant for dinner. After dinner we went to the Frühlingsfest in Stuttgart. I'm pretty sure that everyone knows what Oktoberfest is. Frühlingsfest is basically a smaller Oktoberfest but held in the spring. There are rides, food and of course; beer halls. We hung out there for a while then went home.

On Friday, we drove to Tübingen and toured the city for the day. The river runs ride through the middle of the city so we took a gondola-type boat ride down the river. After that, we went to go get more ice cream and then went home. 

Saturday was one of my favorite days. We drove down to Lake Constance and Switzerland. We started out at the Rheinfalls in Switzerland. It is the biggest waterfall in Europe. We took some pictures and walked around before driving to Stein am Rhein, Switzerland. Switzerland is really nice. Everything is clean and it has that European feel to it. Unfortunately, it was ridiculously expensive. Everything in Switzerland is expensive so be prepared for that. Then we went to Romanshorn and took the ferry across the lake to Friedrichshafen, Germany. I said that there were two things that everyone who visits Germany must do and taking the ferry across the Bodensee is the other one. Make sure you go on a clear/sunny day so you can see the Swiss Alps. It really is something to see in the summer. 

The last day was spent getting ready and relaxing. We didn't go anywhere special. They just packed up and got ready to leave. That night was a big festival in one of the nearby villages. They all celebrated the beginning of May/Spring. There was a band, food and beer. Then people came over to our house afterward.  

I haven't really been up to much else so I don't really have much more to blog about. 

I will post again next week.