Monday, March 31, 2008


I have become a traveling MACHINE the last few weeks. Between Frankfurt, Munich, Prague, Plzn, and Valencia, I have received my fair share of sites!

Every new city in Europe is so vastly different and I feel so lucky to be able to experience them all. I'm also so incredibly grateful that I've had people I love come to visit me while I've been here.

Our first guest, Alex, whom I have known since middle school, came to visit and we had a chance to see Buck 65, one of Joe's favorite musicians, the day before Alex's birthday. The night ended up being more than we bargained for and we had to put off our trip to Prague for the day.

We had a great extra traveler with us on the way to Prague as well. My friend Liam, with whom I took classes at Schiller, has a brother in the Peace Corps teaching English in Ukraine. He decided to backpack his way there and we drove him a little closer to his destination before he hopped on a train for a day of travel in Eastern Europe.

In Prague, we got to see some of the most magnificent sites in all of Europe. The apartments were all beautiful and I felt like I couldn't find a direction to look in where I wouldn't see an elaborate sculpture or historic site. Aside from tour guide specials like the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, which were almost completely overtaken with souvenir vendors, we also had a chance to get an inside look on the city.

We stayed with a German Erasmus student in Prague named Jane. She was so hospitable and her roommates were incredibly nice too. Our car disappeared from outside her flat after a day of site-seeing and her American roommate, Charlie, quickly arrranged for a Czech friend of theirs to come over and help us call the police since none of us could speak any Czech. Thankfully it only took a few minutes for their friend to rush to our rescue and while we were deciding whether it could have been stereotypically jacked in Prague or impounded, their friend called and told us, much to our relief that it was parked illegally and had been impounded just down the street!

Their entire group of friends and us, about 10 people, all walked together to get the car. I was so impressed that they all were so interested in making sure that we got it back and were there to support us. I love Couchsurfing!

We found a safe place to park the car and went out for great Czech beer night both nights we were there. We tried the original Budweiser Budvar, Grombius, and Pilsner Urquell. Our host knew some really great Czech bars and restaurants outside of the city center, so it was absolutely great to be around locals!

On our way back to Heidelberg, we stopped at Plzen, the city where the Pilsner style of beer came to be. We visited the Pilsner Urquell brewery and tried the beer straight from the wooden barrels that it is stored in, without preservatives or artificial refrigeration. It tasted like magic!!!

We arrived back in Heidelberg safely and without incident and then went to Burg Eltz to see the absolutely beautiful castle and take a tour inside. We had great luck finding the place down a steep and twisting road and then had great luck again with
finding our way back via flat terrain.

The next day my sister, Haley, and her friend, Rob, came to visit us. They arrived early in the morning, so we decided that Alex and I would pick them up from the airport and drive directly to Munich from Frankfurt! It was a big game day for the Bavarian footballers and the city was packed! It was a great day to be there. We went to the Hofbrauhaus and had beer in Oktoberfest-style, one-liter glass mugs (Masses) along with gigantic Bavarian soft pretzels.

Our trip home was a bit more adventurous than we would have liked due to inherited direction deficiencies and we ended up very close to Salzburg, Austria. It was a long day/night to say the least.

We celebrated Easter together the next day and Joe cooked a ham, pierogis, green beans, mashed potatoes, and even baked an apple pie! It was a great dinner and we even had more for lunch the next day.

On Tuesday, we exchanged one Alex for one John at the airport, and went on a phenomenal tour of the Heidelberg Castle with help from our landlord's wife, the tourism director of the castle. It was great having John, Joe's older brother, and my sister here at the same time.

John was here only two days when we all parted ways for the brother trip to Poland to see where their grandma grew up near the Prussian border, and for the sister (and Rob) trip to Valencia to enjoy some sunshine and Spanish culture. I loved it! I took Spanish all through high school and was actually able to communicate rather effectively. More about Valencia in the next post!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The baths at Baden-Baden

Initially I was emphatically against a trip to Baden-Baden and made all kinds of excuses as to why I would not like a trip to the most well-known spa in all the world. All the tour guides we had read raved about Baden-Baden being laden with historical reviews from royalty, writers, philosophers, and movie stars. The part that I was hesitant about was the fact that the most famous of all these spas, Friedrichsbad , has a "no clothes" policy. Germans are notoriously liberal when it comes to nudity and have a philosophy of FKK (Freikörperkultur) which literally translates to "free body culture."

As evidenced by their winding walking paths, mountain hikes, pedestrian-only zones, and sensible footwear, Germans love nature and part of their philosophy is enjoying nature and its perfection in all aspects. In order to fully enjoy a day at the spa, a German feels that nudity is the answer, whereas a bathing suit or other accoutrements will not allow them to fully experience the health benefits.

So we went to Baden-Baden, and enjoyed the 17 stages of shower, warmth, heat, shower, scrubbing, shower, steam, hot steam, water, bubbles, floating, shower, cold, rubbing, moisturizing, and relaxing in under three hours. I was definitely surprised by how relaxing the experience was, especially sans clothes.

I have to recommend the baths to everyone who visits Germany but it was nice going there, at least for the first time, being sure I wouldn't see anyone that I knew. The overall experience was wonderfully relaxing and Baden-Baden is a beautiful town full of Roman ruins, beautiful architecture, winding cobblestone streets, and a lively atmosphere.

On our trip, we also took a hike up a hill near the baths to enjoy a picnic lunch. The trees were enormous and fragrant. We also had a chance to take part in a wine tasting after the baths and tried German Riesling and Spaetburger, which is a German Pinot Noir as well as sweet red wines too.

Enjoy the photos we took while in B-B:
Joe in B-B
Joe in front of the baths

Me in front of cute little wild flowers

View from our picnic perch
The view from our picnicking location

Memorial for WWII soldiers from the area
Joe in front of a memorial to fallen WWII soldiers from Baden-Baden

Joe as he embraces nature

Frolicking in B-B
Here I am, embracing nature

In front of the baths
In front of the grand entrance to Friedrichsbad

Just wandering around B-B
Baden-Baden is full of gorgeous architecture since it attracts royalty from around the world.

The small enclave has a tap for the hot spring water
The arch is home to a tap of water straight from the hot water springs below.

Friedrichsbad: these stairs lead to the lockers
I took this photo from the corner of the main entrance of the baths. The staircase splits and takes men into the men's lockers and the women into their own. The entire building is full of marble and dramatic architecture.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Rowdy Night in Heidelberg

I hadn't seen my Schiller friends for weeks, so I decided that we needed to get together for some fun on the Untererstrasse, where the good bars and clubs are.

Thamar, Anna, and I started at Extrablatt for dinner on the Hauptstrasse. I had an awesome Caprese pizza and we had a perfect table by the window so that we could see all the action going on outside. After dinner, Liam and Joe joined us and we headed to the bar. Joe and I taught everyone how to do our signature move:


After our pitcher, we hit the streets and ran into Anna's gangstas, Alex and Martin the Crazy Slovak.

It was great having all my favorite Heidelbergers together:

These two are always up to something.

After the guys went off on their own, we hit the Dubliner and met an American from Philly who works for SAP and was on a business trip. We had so much fun talking to her (and drinking) that we felt we needed to take her to the castle since she was leaving in the morning.

She was staying in a hotel by the river with a beautiful view of the bridge and the water. She also had a mini bar which we made use of by bringing champagne and wine up to the castle, just in case!

It was dark and raining/hailing heavily during our trek, but Anna managed to take this awesome shot of the castle. Sometimes I think it's even more beautiful at night, all lit up, than it is during the day.

I'm the shadowy figure in the lookout area with a view of the entire city!

Making the castle look good:

The three of us, totally drenched but having fun!

We saw that there was a party going on in one of the rooms and we decided we needed to investigate, just to make sure everyone was okay. We ended up crashing a German lawyer's going away party and snuck into one of the rooms they weren't using so that we could see the inside of the castle and get out of the rain! Anna and Kim threw caution to the wind and decided to sing in the rain inside of the castle:

We ended the night by harassing a local fraternity and being chased down Schlossberg! German frat boys take their parties very seriously.

All in all, a totally fabulous night to remember!