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Last Stop: Zurich

Our last stop in Europe was Zurich. The reason we went to Zurich was all about money. When I bought my ticket to Europe, I search trips leaving from different locations. The ticket I bought arriving in Munich and leaving from Zurich was a good price. I bought my husband’s ticket later, and to save money, I bought each way separately (LA to Prague and Zurich to LA). I wasn’t able to get him on my flight because it was too much money, but we left the same day and could go the airport together.

We arrived in Zurich by train and the first thing I noticed was the German was harder to understand. It was a good language experience to hear a difference in dialects. Also, I noticed by this leg of the trip I was getting worn out. Being a constant world traveler is not the life for me. I missed a consistent bed to sleep in. The European weather was warming up and a/c in our Airbnbs was nonexistent (it’s all about saving $$$). I’ll admit, I was a little cranky and feeling broke in a the most expensive city in Europe. But I did look up some ways to save money.

We took the short ferry trip on Lake Zurich, which was 90 minutes, for about 12 Swiss francs (CF). We ate at a buffet at the top of a department store for 12.50 CF (about the same in USD) for all you can put on your plate. Meals typically cost 25 CF, so that adds up fast over 2 days. I found an article of places with cheaper food. We people watched around the edge of the lake and got ice cream. 

It’s a hard transition at the end of a month in Europe. Your tired (and broke) and you want to go home, but you also don’t want it to be over. But you also need to make some money (because you spent it all). And you have to start thinking about regular life again.

The day before we flew out, My husband’s flight was changed and he had to leave early in the morning, while my flight was still at 1pm.  Which meant I sat the airport four hours after he left. So I bought a book. And read the whole thing before my flight boarded.


Home

Back in Munich, on the last day of my German class, my teacher asked what I would do to continue practicing. I fully intended to work on my work book when I got home. But I only have twice. Real life comes back fast. But I really do want to get back to practicing my German some more. And I really did like so many things about European living. I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate them into my American living.

Next stop: a job?

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Do you have any grey poupon?

I’ve been going out of order here so let me recap. When my husband met up with me in Prague, we stayed there for four days, and then headed to Nürnberg, followed by Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, we only stayed one night in a hotel. We decided on breaking up the long trip from Nürnberg to Paris with a stop in Frankfurt am Main. We thought 6 or 7 hours on a train would not be fun. Frankfurt is a big city with skyscrapers and crowds of people. It’s the financial center of Germany. 


We spent our short time there along the river (am Main) and went to see art at the Städl museum. The next day, we headed to Paris on the train. We didn’t realize it was going to be a fußball day. The train was packed at 10 am with fußball fans drinking and singing and pounding on tables. Bottles and cans littered the aisles of the train. Luckily we had reserved seats. And we thought, maybe we should have just done it all in one day.


We made it to Paris eventually and after Paris, we went to Dijon. My friend asked me, “Dijon? Like the mustard?” Yes, like the moutarde (that’s how the French say it). They have mustard on tap at the famous Maille shop. The best flavor I tried was truffle, it was so good. Dijon is known for mustard, gingerbread, and the region is known for Burgandy wine. But the gingerbread isn’t like gingerbread we are familiar with, it has a different flavor. It’s called Pain d’Epices. You can even get Pain d’Epices moutarde .


We ate some of the best food on our whole trip in Dijon. Classic Burgandy food includes Coq au vin and Beuf Bourguignon. The weather was perfect, the city was lovely. Quieter and smaller than Paris, but it has a lot things to love. So many cafés to sit at, wine trips, good food, museums and history to see. It was warm and sunny. 

I am pretty sure every salad should have a poached egg. And I like the spritzer on ice everyone was having.   We did a wine tasting tour and learned that they only grow Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes in the region. One day we even did nothing.  Find nothing, I mean we followed the Owl Trail to a historic site, sat on a bench and picnicked. I played Music on my phone and I even made a daisy chain bracelet. I’m not sure why I came home. Oh, right. Money.

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In Search of Jägerschnitzel

The thing about the German language, is that they love their consonants. All of them. And they don’t mind words with 4 or 5 in a row, and they do want you to use all of them. Occasionally in my German class, I would come across a word with somany sounds that I could only say the word very slowly. Too fast and I got tongue tied. It’s like the opposite of the Hawaiian language, all vowels. Have you noticed that certain consonants don’t exist? That why you get a fish named Humuhumunukunukuapua`a. After a while, I guess you get the hang of saying words with the back to back hard sounds like tscht.

When Will I and I left Prague, we actually went back to Germany. We went to Nürnberg and Frankfurt am Main. One thing we were excited about was staying in a hotel. We used my points to stay at a Hampton Inn, and even though Airbnbs are good for certain reasons, sometimes it’s nice to sleep on big hotel beds and have the few breakfast is in the morning. 

My husband had been to Germany before. He was stationed there, in the army. One of his main goals was to find himself a plate of jägerschnitzel. Schnitzel is pork that is pounded flat, breaded and fried. Jägerschitzel is that pork with mushroom gravy on it. It turned out to be very hard to find in cities farther from where he was stationed. The only mushroom gravy we found was a rahm or cream based gravy. But we tried. And we ate all of the pork. So much that when we left Nürnberg I was like, only salads for the next two days please. Ugh.


We also saw a lot of “old” buildings. I put old in quotes because what I learned in these Bavarian German cities is that most of the old building were partially or mostly destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII. So they were rebuilt it. Churches, houses, and even parts of castles.

Ex. View from the tower window of Nürnberg castle.

Picture of that view after WWII bombing.

So next time you day dream about old picturesque Bavaria, you might be day dreaming about something built in the 20th century.

We had fun in Germany. As usual, my favorite parts are times when I did almost nothing. Like when we found this sloped cobblestone covered corner of Nürnberg where everyone sat with their beer and dinner and picnicked. I sat with my coke and we people watched as the sun started to sink in the sky. 

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Paris is Always a Good Idea

3 days in Paris not enough for me. When planning this trip, my husband questioned if we really needed to go to Paris again. But I convinced my husband (who loves taking a different street or eating at a different cafe each day) that even though we had been to Paris before, we had to go back. This time we stayed in another great neighborhood, the Butte aux Cailles. It’s full of cafes and street art and locals. We saw a lot English speaking tourists around town, but not on the streets near our Airbnb. 
But the two best things about stoping in Paris was splurging for the dinner cruise on the Seine for my birthday. I compared Viator, which always appears on search engines, and the actual companies, and I can’t see any reason to go with Viator. We booked a dinner at 2115, so we were cruising at sunset. We didn’t book a window seat but we ended up by the window anyways. It was a perfect way to celebrate over three courses, with the sunset, and with the beataux (boat) in from of the Eiffel Tower the light show began. The staff were super friendly and fun and played music and danced with guests.

The other thing I was so glad to do was to see our exchange student from, wow, five years ago. Thomas is 21 now and we got to spend a good chunk of time walking through the Jardin des plantes and hanging at a bar near the Seine. The bar , L’Avant  Comptoir, was one recommended to my husband by a coworker and it was fun. You order small French plates on menu tags hanging from the ceiling and friendly service. 

We really enjoyed Paris, including picnicking on the bank of the Seine. We also saw somethings we hadn’t seen last time, like the Panthéon and the Petit Palais (free!). The Panthéon was church at first, but religious portions were removed and it was dedicated to celebrate the French nation and her heroes. I don’t know if it’s the ridiculousness of politics in our country or listening to Hamilton a million times, but I was feeling a bit romantic about our partners in revolution and liked seeing the art in those places that reflected ideas of liberté, egalité, and fraternité. Thomas and I had a conversation about people in cities living with diversity versus people in rural areas fearing it. In no way am I romanticizing revolution or wishing for one, but I was nostalgic for an idea of freedom that we grew up with. A complicated nostalgia that may be just rosy glasses.

I tried to find Lafayette’s tomb in Paris, which I read is visited by the DAR and has an American flag over it. But the construction around it confused me, and later I read there is a specific door with a doorbell you have to ring to find it. 

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Beautiful Prague 

I met up with my husband in Prague. I was so excited to see him because I missed him after two weeks. But two weeks in Munich on my own reminded me that I am pretty independent and capable. I spent the two weeks alternating between Can you believe I am doing this?! to What hell am I doing? Like swinging from having a fun adventure to what am I doing with my life.? But I had a few conclusions about some things that had been nagging me. I was able to resolve some inner conflicts I had. And I improved my German skills. 

(This image is the line that separates western countries from other countries. It was at a gallery with the theme Universal Hospitality)

Once we got together in Prague, the pace I had every day rapidly changed. My husband on vacation is all go go go. He doesn’t want to mis anything. So we went.

We walked like 9.7 miles a day seeing castles, churches, historical sites from communism, art, and ate a lot. Prague wore me out from traipsing around on its cobblestone sidewalks and up & down its hills. 

(the river views were amazing)

By time we got to the end of our time in Prague, I was ready to slow down. Especially after spending two weeks on my own, moving at my own pace without meeting anyone’s needs but my own. I got used to getting up at 5 or 6 and doing some German homework, making breakfast and coffee. Then I would get dressed and go to class, and after that I would do whatever random thing I thought of or heard about. 

But when you’re with someone who showed up with an itinerary, your lazy days are over. It was fun though. We saw a lot of things. I really enjoyed the art we saw at the Meet factory far from the center of town. I especially like the little French wine bar we found near our Airbandb, Na Brehu Rhony.

The one downside to Prague is the lack of friendly customer service. We did our best to learn a few Czech things, but it did not make us endearing to waiters or waitresses (except at the French place, the owner was soooo nice).

(The dancing house)

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Bye Bye Munich

Last night was my last night in Munich. I celebrated that by sneaking out of the 7th floor window onto the roof of the guest house and watched a lightning storm. One of the students here, from Zimbabwe, sat with me and we discussed literature, what makes a genius, marriage, death, and a million other things. He is studying philosophy and writing a dissertation here in Germany. He wears a beaded string bracelet that is wrapped 5 times around his wrist.  We compared cultural differences between the US and Zimbabwe. 

In my last class yesterday, my classmate from Japan gave me a bracelet she had made as a parting gift. We posed for photos and I thought, I have only been here 2 weeks! It’s strange how two weeks in a foreign country, despite not sharing a common language or culture, we make an impact on each other. 

A few people at the school have asked me if I liked Munich. I found it an easy place to navigate, a place with an interesting history, and a place with good diversity. There are 3 Persian restaurants I could walk to from the guest house. Also, there is a bakery on every corner it seems. The night I stayed out for Die Lange Nacht der Musik, Germans were packed into a tiny restaurant excited for jazz. The public transportation is easy to use. The English Garden is bigger than Central Park and there are plenty of green spaces. Plenty of people speak English, I even found an English used bookstore. Munich is really livable. 

I can’t say I love this city yet though. It’s strange jumble of old churches and modern buildings and remanants of Nazi architecture make a weird amalgam of something that isn’t quite aesthetically pleasing. There is a missing vibrancy on the streets. Germans in Munich seem purposeful and are getting it done, with the it being the business of Its a strange place where they do their duty of accepting refugees, but as one Syrian student said, in some towns the refugees are not free to come and go as they please. They can’t go out. And in Munich, I saw 2 different Pediga (Patriots against the islamitization of the west) events, where they set up signs with their 10 thieseses against refugees and speak on a loud speaker. Of course who am I to criticize when my own country is also divided. 

They do NOT cross in the crosswalk on red and they stick to the rules.  They walk faster than anyone I know and I, despite my long legs or 5 miles of walking a day, could not keep up with any German on the street. They ride bikes super fast, ringing their bells, deftly weaving around people, who clearly don’t understand they are walking in the bike lane of the side walk (must be foreigners like me). People say Grüß Got here as a greeting and have excellent manners. But they just don’t feel warm and inviting. It’s hard to imagine what romance is like in this city.

I know someone else can read these opinions and say I got it all wrong. The internet is full of that these days. And after all it’s only been 2 weeks. I did meet friendly people. I had a great time. I ate a lot of bread. 

Now onto Prague. 

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I Quit My Job and Ran Away

Isn’t that what every blog is telling you to do right now? It sounds fun right? Take off, leave responsibility behind. Live in Rome and be a digital nomad! 

So I did. Sort of.

I quit my job people. I was kind of planning this career change. It’s not actually a romantic fairytale. It’s a difficult decision mulled over 20 million times with lost sleep and just over 2 months of money saved up. Plus I am a nurse (jobs can be found). 

And I am in Europe. Alone for 2 weeks. I’m pretty sure this time last year I said to myself 1 week is about how long I want to be away from my husband. It’s been 10 days. I definitely miss him. We’ll meet up here in a few days.

In the Guest House

I’m staying in a guest house apartment. The building has 7 floors of rooms. Well, the seventh floor has just one apartment and a door to the roof. I am in that apartment. It’s nothing fancy, unless of course you compare it to the other rooms. The other floors share kitchens and bathrooms. 

I’ve been friendly with the other people here. They are all international students from Japan, Korea, Ghana, Iran, and more. We are all taking German classes. Some people are taking German and studying at a university. I met a few people who are getting their PhD. They need the German to teach. 

Today I went with three girls from Japan to eat Indian food and buy stamps. I don’t know Japanese and they don’t know English, so we talked in our ein bisshion German. We ordered all of our food in German. And I even asked for it to be scharf (spicy). The girls showed me where the Euro store was (like the dollar store). I bought a souvenir mug for my kid for €1 and razors, because I forgot to bring those. 

During our break from class, there is a guy who pulls up in a car and sells sandwiches to the students for €1,50 and up. It is pretty cheap. In the morning, I have coffee and a small breakfast and do my hausaufgabe (homework).

 It’s not quite like vacation. I have class until 1. I have to make food, do laundry, and buy groceries. But it’s an adventure because I can’t read all of the words. I don’t know the difference between rahmjogurt and fruchquark at the store, so I buy one of each and try it. I find new streets to walk down. New places to visit. 

I really like meeting new people. And I like practicing my German. Yesterday the German ticket sales person thought I was Italian. So I guess I don’t have an American accent. But I am really starting to miss my husband. I don’t think I could stay away from him longer than 2 weeks.

Tchuss!

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Eurorail pass or not

This May, I am taking a long, European adventure. And it includes quite a few train rides. I looked up train travel using one of my favorite websites, RometoRio, and added up the costs of all the train rides. Yikes. Like 500 Euros for me and my husband. Then I thought, maybe that’s why people get the Eurorail pass!

In Europe, we are going to 4 countries over a two week period. We are visiting 6 different places. The Eurorail pass is purchased by number of countries you will visit and and number of days of train travel. Also, the countries have to share borders. You can’t do some train travel, fly to another country and then get on a train, or you will be charged a fee.

For example, you can buy a three country pass, choosing Germany, France, and Italy. After that, you have to choose how many days of travel you will have on your trip. You can choose 5 days or 6 days, meaning more than one stop in a country. But when I looked at the Eurorail pass, it was above 800 euros. So it was still cheaper to buy each ticket individually. 


This is second time I considered a Eurorail pass. But each time it costs more than buying individually. So when would you use a Eurorail pass? When you want the price to be set without being tied to a particular time. I bought my individual tickets at set times and paid attention to higher costs at certain times of the day. But if you don’t want to be tied to a time of day and travel outside of a set schedule, a Eurorail pass would be better. Additionally, the pass can be used on some ferries and some public transportation in addition to trains. In Italy the pass includes 4 ferry lines. 

Eurorail passes are only for non Europeans and are purchased ahead of your trip. Sometimes you can get discounts from travel professionals. 

But for me, I’m still too thrifty. I am buying all of my train tickets on my own and saving €300 for food.

http://www.eurail.com/

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Cheap Travel Meets Vienna

Our next stop was Vienna, another city along the Danube. Basically our trip was organized around capitals along the river and connected by train travel. Because we had such cheap flights, used airbandb stays and used points, our travel expenses stayed pretty low up to this point. 

But Vienna is a little more expensive. We did stay in a hotel, the Hilton, using points to cover most of the costs. Airbandb stays were too expensive in Vienna. It worked out best because by then, we were ready for comforts found in hotel rooms. Like lounging in the whirlpool. We used uber to get around the city, along with the U, Vienna’s metro. We did a sparkling wine tour with tasting that was in line with our budget, €9 a person. But most things cost us more on this leg.

We splurged for a very touristy concert at the Schönnbrun palace, a palace where 6 year old Mozart once performed. And we are some more. 

One thing we noticed in Vienna was how much it appeared that everyone was in a hurry. There seemed to be an expectation everywhere we went to know what we want immediately. Waiters would hurry over and ask, “Yes?” Even in rooms half empty, they seemed to be in a hurry. In the hotel bar, the waitress apologized for not helping us right away, and we had just gotten there. 

I like how in Europe, no one brings your check until you ask for it. But feeling rushed to order did end with some disappointing choices. I had to consciously focus on not feeling rushed so I could order what I wanted. I often think I am more like Germans and that timeliness is important to me, but on this trip I realized the Austrians have me beat! 

I honestly feel like I didn’t get to see enough of Vienna. My favorite moments included lounging at the hotel spa, ordering würst from a stand using my German, and talking to an Uber driver who moved to Vienna from Romania. Which is exactly like me, I like meeting people and I like quiet time. 

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Eating all the bread

Our trip to Europe landed us in Belgrade, which caused most people to ask, why would you go to Belgrade? Our answer was $149 round trip tickets to Europe. But since Belgrade wasn’t our dream destination, we made plans to take the train to Budapest and Vienna. For the last two days, we’ve been in Budapest. And we have eaten so much. But we have also walked 5-7 miles a day, so I am pretty sure it evens out.


And Budapest? We love it. The place we are staying is in the Buda side of the Danube, right off the famous Andrassy street. It wasn’t too hard to walk to the Schezeny baths and St Stephen’s Basilica, or most big tourist sites. We stayed at an Air BnB on the first floor (American 3rd floor, because the the second floor is the 0.5 floor). The elevator only fit two people and our suitcases, but most of the time we took the stairs. All of the buildings in the inner city look like Parisian style buildings built in the 18th century. Food was cheaper in Budapest than LA, but not as cheap as Belgrade. In Belgrade, We only spent $40 each the 48 hours we were there. That includes our taxi rides from the airport and to the train station and all of our food. 

We ate all the pastries in Budapest. Croissants with schokolade and pastries with blueberry. I even bought a donut. But they were different from what we expected. The donut, was not a cake donut and was not fried. It looked like a donut but was less sweet and more bready. Croissants were made with pastry dough, so they were flakier. 

Next stop Vienna.