Sunday, December 21, 2014

Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin!

Well, my time abroad has officially come to an end. I'm no longer spending my nights in Berlin, taking the weekends to travel the world. I can't take a half-hour subway ride to the Berlin Wall anymore, or order croissants at local bakeries in the morning. I won't spend my free time with the girls I've become super close with this semester, or take class field trips to a brewery. As of this weekend, I'm back in America with my loving family, sweet boyfriend, and abundance of Chipotle and Starbucks shops.

Coming back to America has been bittersweet for sure. Studying abroad definitely exceeded all of my expectations. Berlin proved to be the perfect place for me to spend my time in Europe. I know that not everybody in my study abroad program fell in love with Berlin as hard as I did, but I simply couldn't get enough of Berlin's incredible history, beautiful buildings, unique culture, delicious food. I was amazed every time I passed fragments of the Berlin Wall or Hitler's old bunker. I could stare at the Berlin Cathedral and Reichstag (parliament building) for hours. I fell hard for Berlin, and distance is really making me miss my temporary home.

Not everybody has a great study abroad experience, so I'm extremely lucky to have had a memorable and incredible four months abroad. I travelled Europe and visited England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as many cities in Germany. I witnessed the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, toured several Christmas markets, drank two liters of beer at Oktoberfest, went clubbing in a thermal bath in Budapest, and ate snails in France. I never expected to visit half of my destinations, but I wouldn't change my itinerary if I could. I also never expected to meet such incredible and friendly people who made my experience a million times better.

I will miss Germany and everything Europe has to offer, like cheap travel and incomparable bread. But I'm also relieved to be home. I missed my family, friends, and boyfriend every day. The pangs of homesickness eased a bit with time but never fully went away when I was abroad. I can't even describe my joy at seeing my family at the airport when I got home, accompanied by my boyfriend holding a bouquet of beautiful red roses. Talking to my loved ones in person beats Skype conversations every day. Plus, now I won't take free water at restaurants for granted, and I have a newfound appreciation for free bathrooms in America. I cringed every time I had to dish out 50 cents for a public bathroom in Germany.

Berlin will forever hold a special place in my heart and I know I'll be back someday. For now, though, I'm enjoying my time at home, in my own bed.  Oh, and I'm still recovering from jet lag. Five days later and I still get tired by nine p.m.

Thanks for reading, as always!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Photo Diary: Dresden, Germany

During my very last week abroad, only one city remained on my "places to visit" list: Dresden, Germany. Dresden is supposedly one of the prettiest cities in Northern Germany, and since the bus ride from Berlin to Dresden is only a few hours, I knew I'd regret not visiting.

My final exams were scheduled before those of my friends, so I travelled to Dresden alone after completing my finals. Of course I wish some of my friends could've gone with me, but I actually don't mind traveling alone. I lived by myself in New York City this summer, and I find that exploring a new place on your own is a great way to gain confidence and independence. Plus, I'm able to do the things that I actually want to do, on my own time and without having to compromise.

Dresden was just as beautiful as I expected, full of old churches and rustic buildings. I kept thinking that Dresden was like a larger, more modern version of Nuremberg. Much of the city was actually destroyed in World War II, meaning that nearly all of the infrastructure is reconstructed. The most famous reconstruction is the famously beautiful Frauenkirche in the city center.
Dresden is home to the oldest Christmas market in Germany, so its no coincidence that my visit was in December. The market, called the "Striezelmarkt," was founded in 1434 and is located in front of the Frauenkirche in the city center. The vendors sell traditional, stereotypically German things like wooden decorations, hand-painted ornaments, lace cutouts. Of course, food carts were stocked full of bratwurst, Lebkuchen, candied nuts, Gluhwein, and bread.

A few other smaller markets were also popped up around the city. My favorite was the market in front of the Dresden castle, where vendors dressed up like they were from the 1400s and made their goods in front of the crowds. If you want to see more pictures of the markets, check out my Christmas market post by clicking here.

One day is definitely enough time to see all of Dresden's major sights. I recommend taking a day trip, if you like beautiful architecture and quaint European cities.

One of Dresden's Christmas markets
A sign inviting lovers to kiss under the mistletoe

Every Christmas market has a pyramid, and the one at Dresden's Striezelmarkt is the tallest in the world. Figurines twist and turn, rotating around the pyramid.

Dresden's city center

The beautiful Semperoper opera house

The Zwinger Palace

German Christmas Markets

Christmas time in Europe is really magical. All across the continent, Christmas markets pop up in big and small cities alike. Cheery vendors bundled in winter gear stand under tents selling food and gifts. Germany is especially known for their beautiful markets, which sell everything from candied nuts to traditional wooden toys. 

Smaller German cities like Dresden and Nuremberg usually host more traditional and popular markets, but Berlin still has its share of vendors and stands. Naturally I spent my last few weeks abroad visiting as many markets as possible and getting in the Christmas spirit! I also got a good chunk of my Christmas shopping done... who wouldn't love a handmade scarf or a chunk of German chocolate for the holidays?!  I've ended up stopping by about seven markets, and I found that each had its own charm and unique scenery. Although the markets are open practically all day, going at night gives a much better atmosphere, in my opinion. 
A specialty sold at every Christmas market is Gluhwein, a hot and spiced wine that comes in cute mugs that can be kept as souvenirs. Gluhwein tastes like a less bitter and warm version of normal wine. I've found a few recipes online that call for red wine, black tea, cherry schnapps, orange juice, cinnamon, and cloves heated together on the stove (Click on this Jagertee recipe, if you're interested in making the traditional German drink yourself.) I loved drinking a nice warm cup of Gluhwein in the chilly nights while gazing at the Christmas lights.

Other food specialties at German markets are bratwurst, Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies with love messages written on them with icing), Flammkuchen (thin bread topped with melted cheese, onion, and sometimes ham), crepes, and candied nuts. Typical items sold at the stands include nutcrackers, ornaments, wooden carvings, scarfs, purses, wallets, tea, jarred sauces, and candle holders. Perfect Christmas presents!

Christmas markets are better shown through pictures than described in words, so here are a few photos of my favorite stands and markets both in Berlin and in Dresden: