Earlier this week we went took a “field trip” on a hike and then to our German teacher’s house to make Gluhwein and eat cookies. It was a chilly morning but we all warmed up quickly once we started hiking! Then, on Thursday night we got to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner provided by the Reutlingen International Office for Americans and some German students interested in studying in the U.S. We ate turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and apple strudel and chocolate mousse for dessert, it was delicious!
Reid trying out the swing.
We managed to fit all 16 of us on the seesaw!
Adam preparing the Gluhwein (spiced and flavored hot wine)
During Thanksgiving weekend, my group and I was able to visit Shanghai. A city I had not seen since 2010, when I first came to China, Shanghai was a place that I was excited to see. Like a long awaited reunion, when our train from HangZhou arrived in the ShangHai terminal, I was anxious to see what had changed and what had remained the same.
Rest assured, everything was exactly how I had remembered, if not better. A city on a scale of that comparable to New York, Shanghai is a place that never fails to amaze me. With so much history that surrounds the city, it is easy to get lost and find yourself in the English concession, walk into the financial center or even find yourself at the top of the Bund, one of the largest skyscrapers in the world.
Our time in Shang Hai was extremely short but in those three days we were able to do and see so much. What I loved about Shanghai is how unique everyone and everything is. It is a city full of young motivated people trying to make a name for themselves with westerners there doing all types of work from working in industries to teaching children English. Shang Hai is a big city that has anything and everything a person could ever want or need regardless of why they are there and it was assuring to know that as long as you had a subway card and $.50 you could go anywhere and everywhere in the city and trust me, we did.
Thanksgiving was definitely different this year. Usually around this time, I would be on my way back to Valpo after spending the holiday with my family and quickly preparing for finals and more importantly winter break. This year, however was completely different. Mostly due to the fact that I was 3,000+ miles away from everything that I was used to. This year I could not help prepare Thanksgiving dinner with my grandmother nor was I able to eat sweet potato pie or watch the annual Thanksgiving day parade and football game.
It was bittersweet to be able to spend Thanksgiving in China because although I am blessed to have the opportunity to spend my Thanksgiving in here, at the same time, during this season one starts to miss their family. But I guess you can say I still had the chance to spend Thanksgiving with my family, well my new one.
My group members and I have been together for over 3 months now and during that time we have definitely formed a bond. We all had our good days and our bad days, but it is safe to say that we have not only survived China but can call it home at least until next week, when we go back to the states. Along with this holiday I am grateful to have spent it this year with: Ryan, Sadie, Logan, Nick, Simon and Prof Xia. Thank You all for being with me during this journey it is almost over but I am glad to have spent it with you all.
Two words. LiJiang. Who knew a city I had never heard of prior to coming to China, would leave one of the biggest impressions on me during my stay here. This city is encased by a natural beauty that one cannot see while living in the city. 4hrs away by plane, LiJiang was a city that surpassed my imagination. It was a place where the NaXi people (an ethnic Chinese minority) thrived. I was essentially taken to another world where I questioned, whether or not what I was seeing with my eyes was actually real. So wait how did I get here?
In amidst of finding a place to travel to for a short trip, LiJiang was a city that kept coming up, whenever I would ask my Chinese friends of a good destination to go to. My first reaction was, why? What made LiJiang such a special place that I MUST travel to during my stay in China? Well, for one, it has Jade-snow dragon mountain and two, it has Old Town, a place that was older than the discovery of America itself.
Although my trip to LiJiang was extremely short, I was able to travel to a place that took me out of the city bustle. I was able to see some of the bluest waters in the world and visit a well that people had been using since the early 12th century. During my get-away I was able to reflect and realize that we as humans are just a small part of the every growing and diversifying universe. The beauty I saw in Lijiang was something that I am not able to experience in the states and is something I will never forget.
This past week was a busy one, with Monday starting out with making Spätzle at Professor Springer’s house. He lives a short train ride and then walk from Reutlingen, so he invited us over for lunch and then to go up in the tower of the cathedral in Tübingen. Wednesday night Professor Hanson organized the group to go bowling in Reutlingen and then to the pancake house. I personally had a delicious tiramisu pancake but some of the other flavors included tomato and mozzarella and tuna.
Then on the weekend I went with Jon Cisneros to Galway, Ireland to stay with one of my friends from high school who is studying abroad there this semester. The best thing there by far was going to see the Cliffs of Moher, they were breathtaking because of more than just being cold and windy!
Reid helping Professor Springer make Spätzle at his house.
Eating Spätzle at Professor Springer’s house this past week, it was very good!
Looking at a statue in Tübingen.
Group bowling in Reutlingen.
The Valpo Pin at the Cliffs of Moher.
Jon peeking over the edge at the Cliffs of Moher.
Great picture (that my mom may also be using for our family Christmas card)
I’m not going to lie, there are only a limited number of things that one can write about from abroad. Things are different here – well, duh. Doing stuff is fun – this should go without saying. And then I happened to be in Paris during the terrorist attacks last Friday.
Instead of sharing writings, I recorded a few videos to express my thoughts on the matter. While these may also be found on my YouTube Channel, they are embedded below in the order in which they should be viewed.
How Friday unfolded for the four of us Valpo students:
In-the-moment thoughts from Saturday, brought to you from under the Eiffel Tower:
These thoughts about Saturday and Sunday were compiled on Monday and Tuesday:
Extra footage from Paris:
Finally, to help lift your spirits after this rather depressing subject, a video of my cat from last year. Just in case it’s needed.
This is not an experience anybody should have to go through. Even so, I never experienced firsthand stress or danger, and was fortunate enough to be able to inform my family of my safety and of the attacks before they heard about them on their own. The four of us, along with all of our friends, families, and communities, are truly blessed in far more ways than we can count. May we not forget those ways, and not take the gifts of life and experience for granted. Amen.
This past weekend, my parents came to visit me in Costa Rica. It was a great experience, but also a strange one. It was like my two worlds collided, but luckily they got along well.
First, I showed them around San Jose and Heredia, the cities where I have spent most of my time here. They enjoyed getting to see my university and meeting my host parents and coworkers.
Over the weekend, we went to La Fortuna, a place known for its cataratas (waterfalls) and aguas termales (hot springs). The waterfall was absolutely beautiful!
Just to show the size of the waterfall, here is a photo of my mom and I enjoying the mist. My dad didn’t want to get wet, so he took the picture from a safe distance. Can you find us?
The hike to the falls wasn’t that far, but we had to go over bridges and climb up 502 steps on the way back. Talk about a good workout! And there’s my dad representing the Crusaders!
While we were in La Fortuna, we visited an ecological center to learn more about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica. The butterfly in the photo above is a master of camouflage. On the inside, this giant insect is purple and yellow, but from the outside, all you can see is brown. Can you find the owl and the snake head?
One of my personal favorite sights was this red-eyed tree frog. We were lucky to see this one; they are nocturnal so normally they are up in the tops of the trees during the day.
I know I already posted a photo of cacao, but here’s another one in honor of my mom, who loves chocolate. I still find it hard to believe that it grows like this!
The variety of plant and animal life in the rainforest is simply astounding. Above is a gorgeous photo of an orchid, and below is a beautiful bird who posed nicely as he stopped for a snack.
Of course, we also took some time to relax in the hot springs. Below, Sarah and I are in a hot tub the size of a pool; it had a water slide and everything!
My parents’ trip to Costa Rica was brief, but I think they enjoyed it. Maybe when I come back to visit my host family we can get a photo of all four of my parents together!
This week started out as pretty low-key compared to the two when I was on vacation. On Tuesday we went on a class trip to the Mercedes Benz factory in Sindelfingen. I like cars quite a bit so enjoyed it a lot! They have 35,000 employees at the complex that has its own fire department, five restaurants, and a daycare. They assemble the S-Class, E-Class, Maybach, and GT sports coupe, as well as some bullet-proof cars. On Friday Reid and I went to Strasbourg, France for the day. Luckily we got back to Reutlingen before the attacks in Paris, and it was also lucky that other Valpo students who were in Paris were safe during that time. Yesterday a few of us went to the Hohenzollern Castle for a few hours. It’s only a half hour train ride away from Reutlingen!
A racing game they had setup at the Mercedes tour.
Talking about cars with Professor Veit and a few others. (Notice Professor Hanson getting fingerprints all over the car!)
Reid and I stopped for a few minutes to hear this band in Strasbourg.
Hiking on the trails around the Hohenzollern Castle.
The Reutlingen Opera House was lit up like this Saturday night after the Paris Attacks.
Reid, Ryan, and I attended a small student-led vigil for the Paris attacks on Saturday night.
If you’re living in a foreign country for any extended period of time, you’re bound to run into things that just happen differently than what you’re used to. It is unrealistic to expect things to be the same, but with just a little flexibility on your part, you can find yourself adapting pretty well to these things.
In case this post is too long for you to want to read the whole thing, some of the big points are covered in this video:
Electrical outlets are different. This will not affect your life in any way whatsoever, as long as you’ve made sure you have dual voltage plugs.
“Input: 100-240V~ 50/60Hz 0.15A” This is a magical symbol. If it’s on your charger, then it will work (with a plug adapter) in Europe.
Light switches are different too. Many tend to be reversed from the US, with a [down] = [ON] scheme. However, they’re huge, so you really just have to hit the thing somewhere and you’re good to go.
At one time, I judged Germans for their obsession with mineral water. I had tried it before, but didn’t particularly enjoy it. It’s carbonated, and has a distinct taste from the ions dissolved in it. My opinion of Mineralwasser did a sharp about-face in the past few weeks, and I now quite enjoy the stuff. However, beverages is one of those areas over which one should (rightly) have complete control. If you don’t like Mineralwasser, have a Hefeweizen.
Speaking of Hefeweizen, the beer in Germany is decidedly better here than similarly-priced beer in the US. This is a very easy adjustment to make upon your arrival, but I have a feeling that the adjustment will be far more difficult when I come home. That’ll be fun. I can’t remember who first remarked to me that American beer is essentially rental beer. Beer goes in, you have fun with it for a few hours, and then you excrete an eerily similar product once your lease expires. Not the most pleasant analogy, but people who are still sober enough to follow the logic really enjoy it.
I’ve taken quite a few showers here, and I have yet to find one that is not sufficiently tall. As a taller-than-average person, I’ve grown accustomed to stooping in the shower – even in my own home! As far as I can tell, this problem does not exist in Germany. Unfortunately, the same is not true for doorways. Older buildings (several centuries old) might have shorter doorways, but people weren’t as tall, so that’s excusable. You know that you’re in an old place, so it’s your duty to watch your own head. However, I’ve also bonked my head walking out the front door of the dorm, which is never a good way to begin one’s day.
FOOD AND SHOPPING
Maultaschen (kind of like ravioli, but BETTER!) and Hefeweizen from Barfüsser in Reutlingen.
Everything that I’ve purchased has tax included in the price tag. This makes calculation so much easier, and helps somewhat with budgeting. I can go to the grocery store and pay with exact change (assuming that I have exact change). The calculation isn’t a bunch of adding, then multiplying (or multiplying multiple times for different tax rates – alcohol for example) – it’s straight adding. If you were super curious, the receipt gives a rundown of the taxes applied for your different items, but I can’t think of any reason why I would need to look at this.
Tipping is also considerably different. Not leaving a tip is generally not seen as rude. Usually, I round up to whatever is easiest to make change. Far easier in the calculations than I’m used to. Sure, mentally calculating a tip is never a problem, but it’s so very nice not to have to!
BACK TO OTHER STUFF
Half of the time, showers don’t have curtains. My friend Dominic posited that this was due to the German appreciation for things that look good. Why block a well-designed shower by covering it with a curtain or a door? This argument may have been true for the shower in his apartment, but I’m not convinced that it applies everywhere (see video). Not having the curtain means more careful planning when you’re bathing. Don’t set your clothes somewhere that will become or already is wet.
Light switches are sometimes located outside of the room in which the lights are located. This isn’t a problem necessarily, but if you forget about it, you may find yourself looking around in a room for a switch that isn’t there. This has some potential for asinine pranks, particularly with showers. Fortunately, this has yet to occur.
One very nice difference: Donald Trump (or insert the name of whatever presidential hopeful you want) can say the stupidest, most racist thing ever, and it still wouldn’t show up in the evening news here. Instead, we have substantive, worthwhile stories. There’s a refugee crisis going on, and the response from the US has been disappointing at best. This is a global problem – people are dying because of the inaction of countries that should be helping. I only wish that my politicians answered to their constituents.
As you probably noticed, most of these differences are superficial. You’ll notice them, but likely would not be annoyed by anything here. I’ll talk about the especially gear-grindy stuff in a later post. For now, dinner time. Tchuss!
1. Visit El Pilar, the biggest and most famous Basilica in Zaragoza. El Pilar and its plaza are one of the best spots in the city and I try to visit the Basilica and look at its beauty often (it’s free so why not). Cost: Entrance –Free
To go up the tower to get a great view of the city, 3€
2. No matter where you are in Spain, getting tapas and cerveza is a must. Tapas are basically appetizers that can either be just a snack or your whole meal. Spaniards usually accompany tapas with beer (cerveza). It’s fairly easy to find tapas for under 5 euros. Prices vary, but for reference, I recently went to a place where they have 5 tapas for 3€ total. Food in Spain is generally pretty cheap. Cost: Prices vary, but no more than 5€.
3. Visit La Aljafería. This gorgeous Palace has a lot of history and sights to offer and is a definite must when visiting Zaragoza. Cost: General- 5€. Student discount- 1€. Sundays- free.
4. Visit La Catedral de San Salvador (La Seo). This cathedral is significantly smaller than El Pilar but it rivals El Pilar’s beauty. Personally, I think La Seo is more beautiful on the inside than El Pilar. There is also a tapestry museum upstairs which is really beautiful. Cost: 4€
5. Have a picnic at Parque Grande. This park is definitely one of my most favorite spots in the city. There are fountains everywhere and it’s so huge! It has a great overlook area where you can see the city and the mountains. If you come at night, you can watch the colored lights make the fountains even more mesmerizing than in the daytime. For a picnic, it’s easy to buy some freshly baked bread, ham (Spain’s ham has a reputation for being fantastic and it surely lives up to that reputation), and fruit for well under 5 euros. This is what a typical picnic would consist of here in Spain, and it’s really all you need. Cost: No more than 5 € for the picnic
6. Visit the rastro. The rastro is a huge flea market in Zaragoza (as well as many other Spanish cities). In Zaragoza, the rastro is on Sunday and Wednesday mornings and vendors sell loads of stuff including clothing, flowers, shoes, coats, and much more. Anyone could find a treasure here for under 5€. And if anything, walking through the rastro is an experience in itself and that’s free! Cost: No more than 5€
El Rastro is pretty popular on Sunday and Wednesday mornings!
7. Visit El Foro. This museum is part of a set of museums called Ruta de Caesaraugusta which explores the ancient Roman city named after Caesar Augustus with ruins and tunnels underground. El Foro is right next to La Seo. It’s a really interesting place to visit and to see a glimpse of life from so long ago. Cost: General- 3€. Student discount- 2€.
8. Taste the heavenliness that is Churros and Chocolate. Seriously, it doesn’t get better than enjoying some churros con chocolate on the streets of Zaragoza. You can either get your chocolate cold (great for the summer) which is like pudding, or you can get your chocolate hot (great for the winter) which is like very very very thick hot chocolate. This chocolate is so sweet and rich and oh so good. Cost: 2-4€
Churros con Chocolate
9. Walk along the Rio Ebro, visit the Expo, and see the bridges. There is a really cool area of the city that was built up for the World Expo in 2008 which is pretty neat to explore. Additionally, the bridges that cross the river are all unique. While you’re there, you can get a stunning view of El Pilar with the water’s reflection. Cost: Free
Pedestrian Bridge over the Ebro River
10. Visit el Mercado Central. This market has any food you want including fresh fruit for cheap, meats, cheeses, fish, nuts, and so much more.
Cost: Free to walk around, 0-5€ depending on what you want to buy