Germany is a truly wonderful place to be this May. The weather is perfect, vibrant flowers are lining window boxes and peeking out behind garden gates all through town, and the sky is a lovely shade of pale blue almost every day. My home state of Missouri has been less fortunate this May, but I'm incredibly blessed to report that all of my relatives in Joplin are okay, even if their homes are not.
Last week, the long-anticipated "Jeremy in Germany" (say that five times fast . . .) adventure finally happened! The first half of his visit was spent in Munich on business with BMW, but I caught up with him at the end of that and we set off on a whirlwind tour of Southern Germany.
Our first stop was my beloved town of Regensburg, where I studied and lived for more than half of 2009. We spent Friday night running around with my best friends there, Johannes and Julia, plus a lot of other friends that I hadn't seen in a while.
The next morning, after a lot of breakfast and very little sleep, we hopped on a train to Friedrichshafen to visit my aunt and uncle on the Bodensee. Their hospitality is truly unmatched! I always have the best time visiting them, so I wanted to make sure that Jeremy got to experience that too. Saturday afternoon we explored a pottery market in their town and were treated to a lovely homemade meal of white asparagus and the most delicious potatoes either of us had ever tasted (of course they were from the farm just down the road, which might have had something to do with that). Sunday morning we went to Meersburg and took a tour of the oldest fortress in Germany. There were people in period costumes wandering the halls, doing various chores, and even cooking in the castle kitchen, which really added to the experience. In the afternoon, we went to Affenberg or "Monkey Mountain," a place I had very fond memories of from childhood but hadn't seen since I was six years old. I was worried that I might have built it up in my mind too much, but it was everything I had remembered and more! Basically it is a small mountain that has Barbary monkeys running around it. You get to feed them popcorn and observe them as they interact with one another. I even got involved in a quick game of monkey tag before one of the park workers shooed the trouble-making monkey away.
Sunday evening, my uncle made his famous Käsespätzle for us and then we took a long "Verdauungsspaziergang" (ridiculously long German word meaning "walk to aid digestion" or "after-dinner walk") along the lake.
The next day, my aunt and uncle drove us back to Tübingen, which was incredibly nice of them. On our way back, we stopped at Bebenhausen and did the audio tour of the monastery. We had lunch at the Tübingen brewery (Neckarmüller) and then said our goodbyes to Dieter and Bea. I thought the time we spent with them was one of the best parts of Jeremy's visit, and he probably agrees. Monday afternoon was spent showing Jeremy around Tübingen and then hanging out in the park with Dan and Lauren. The next morning, we got up pretty early and took the train to Ulm to visit my aunt, uncle, and grandmother, who had just arrived there from London. For the fifth time in my life, I climbed the tallest steeple in the world (768 steps). Jeremy was pretty impressed by the Ulmer Münster, and now I've got him reading Pillars of the Earth
, which is a fascinating novel by Ken Follett about cathedral-building in the 12th century. If you haven't read it, go do it! Now! After a nice lunch with the relatives, another Verdauungsspaziergang, and some coffee, we headed back to Tübingen for some grilling in the park with Dan, Lauren, and some German friends. We stayed at the park well after the sun had set talking about everything from neuroscience to unemployment, and then made plans for a farewell breakfast the next morning. Jeremy made it back to China safely, and I've spent the last few days getting caught up on my project before my grandma comes to Tübingen next week to help. Last night though, Dan and I rode our bikes to Bebenhausen (I know, it seems like I go there all the time, which is kind of true . . .) for a choir concert. It was absolutely the most beautiful choir concert I have ever attended. Ever.
The monastery was lit up with tiny tea candles, the sun was setting, and the music literally brought me to tears. The concert began with a lighthearted song
that I have actually sung in choir before, "Now is the Month of Maying" (hence the title of this post). The choir last night wasn't quite like this, but so you have an idea of what it sounded like:
The guy third from the left is by far my favorite.
The concert moved from the courtyard to the monastery's chapel, where they sang two of the best choir pieces I have ever heard in my life. There were tears streaming down my cheeks as I listened to this song and read the text, which I've copied for you below:
When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time
I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want your ears to still hear the wind,
I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,
and to continue walking on the sand we walked on.
I want all that I love to keep on living,
and you whom I loved and sang above all things
To keep flowering into full bloom.
so that you can touch all that my love provides you,
so that my shadow may pass over your hair,
so that all may know the reason for my song.
Soneto de la Noche, Pablo Neruda (Translation by Nicholas Lauridsen)
I don't know whether it was being in that beautiful chapel, listening to the haunting music, reading those lyrics, the fact that I have been going through the last and saddest of the letters between my great-grandparents, or a combination of everything, but there were tears streaming down my face as I heard this song. I am not an overly sensitive person, but that was a very moving experience and I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. So a big thank you is due to Florian's mom, Heide, (who was singing in the choir) for giving us the tickets!
In keeping with my recent habit of not staying in the same location for more than 3.2 seconds, I flew to London last Thursday morning to visit my brother. Conveniently, my roommate from college and one of my best friends in the whole world, Liberty, also lives in London, as does one of my oldest friends, Kaelan, whom I've known since the sixth grade. It was a weekend full of some of the best company I can imagine!
Will had to study for finals most of the weekend, but he managed to find time to show us around Borough Market. Borough is the most incredible food market I've ever seen. And I have seen a lot of food markets in my day. There's no way to try everything (though Liberty and I made a good effort!) so luckily Will could point out the best that the local vendors had to offer. And the winner (in all of our opinions) was the chorizo burger.
I've been to London before, so I was able to use the few days I had there to spend time with friends, instead of feeling rushed to see everything. I did go back to the British Museum, which has an amazing exhibit right now on "Living and Dying Around the World." It sounds a little morbid, but it was fascinating! I learned about so many things I had never even considered, like the types of complicated burial rituals in Ghana and the traditional method of trading on the Solomon Islands. I could spend months wandering around the British Museum and never get bored.
A few other highlights of the weekend were having dinner on Brick Lane (known for Indian food . . . score) and taking a trip to Queen Mary's Forest with Liberty for a little fresh air and exercise on Sunday morning. It was a great trip, and I'm so glad to have friends like Kaelan and Liberty, not to mention an awesome brother who brings antibiotics for his sister all the way from the States and takes time out from studying to have high tea with her!
I jumped right back into life in Germany, which was confusing after having reacquainted myself with the English language for a few days. I am also still suffering from mild panic attacks when I have to figure out which way to look when I cross the street.
My re-immersion into Germany was made easier by the fact that right now is the spring (and Swabian) version of Oktoberfest in Stuttgart. So I did what any girl looking for an authentic German experience would do . . . I suited up and headed to the Wasen! My German friends (in Lederhosen, pictured below) plus a new Chinese friend were pretty impressed by my pseudo-German look.
Also, beer tents are indeed real.
Now, onto my next subject. Mother's Day. I blame my excursion to London for this shout-out post being three days late, but better late than never, right? Maybe my mom thought she was getting off easy after I embarrassed my dad on his birthday in the last post, or maybe she felt left out. I don't know. Either way, I'd like to take a few moments to talk about my mom.
Shwew! Can you believe how beautiful she is?! As I was going through my iPhoto library, trying to choose which pictures to include in this post, I kept thinking that over and over again.
This beautiful woman has taught me pretty much every important thing I will ever need to know about life, love, and family. We've been best friends since I was old enough to realize how ridiculously cool she is (at approximately age two). Also, she is a culinary goddess. Seriously. There's nowhere in the world I would rather eat than at her table. You think I'm kidding.
She challenges me to be my best every day, and encourages me to try new things. Here's me after trying one of those new things that I really didn't want to do, hot yoga. Turns out that I love it!
She even loves me when my hair looks like "seaweed" (her words, not mine). As we've grown up, she's been strict when she needed to be, but also knew when it was okay to just look away when we weren't being too bad.
A prime example of this would be the McAllister children playing late-night poker in our hotel room in Wyoming last summer. We were betting with rock candy, and only Will drank the beer. Mom's in the background with the covers over her face.
My mom and I have also done some cool things together, like digging for dinosaur bones in Montana . . .
. . . and exploring Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
I'd also like to wish a (slightly belated) Happy Mother's Day to my grandmothers, Nana and Oma. They are amazing women that I look up to, and I'm looking forward to seeing both of them soon! Oma will be coming to Germany in a few weeks and helping me with my project here in Tübingen. And the first thing I do when I get home in July will be to unpack, repack, and jet off to Alaska with Nana and the rest of the Joplin crew for a family vacation!
Life is good.
I'm back in Germany. And let me preface this next thought by saying that it's always nice to be back in Germany. I understand the language, it's my home away from home, and life here has become second nature to me. But lying here on my Ikea bed on a Sunday evening with a pounding sinus infection-induced headache and a dinner of scrambled eggs awaiting me, I feel as though my hard-earned tan is seeping out of my skin and into the dry German air, punishing me for having such a good time last week. It's not that Sardinia was perfect--we had our fair share of issues, such as bad weather, costly internet, and snails in the shower. But I've already begun to idolize the experience and recall how the breeze on the beach felt in my hair or the salty taste of mussels on my tongue.
Alghero is beautiful. I didn't believe that to necessarily be the case on the day of our arrival, because it poured down rain all day. The rain was exacerbated by the fact that our lodging did not sell umbrellas in their otherwise well-stocked store, and the walk into town was 30 minutes. So we got wet. Worse things have happened.
Alghero on the second day, in much better weather:
As promised, I spent a good deal of time in our villini translating and reading. But Lauren and I still managed to fit in some sightseeing in our seven days on the island. One afternoon, we hiked 6 kilometers along the beach to the neighboring village of Fertilia.
Along the way:
We also met some awesome people (three sisters from upstate New York, all doing very cool things in Europe) and they convinced us to go swimming in the ocean on the coldest and rainiest of all the days we were there! It was invigorating during, but chilly afterward!
One day we went to Neptune's Grotto, which is the main tourist attraction near Alghero. It's an incredible cave formation just inside of enormous cliffs hovering over the ocean. When it was discovered by fishermen in the 18th century, they thought it must have been the dwelling place of the sea god Poseidon. I understand why . . .
The highlight of the whole week for me, though, was on the boat ride to the cave. As we were surveying the gorgeous scenery and taking in the wide expanse of crystal clear blue water, the guide calmly announced in a heavy Italian accent that there were dolphins to the right of the boat. Thankfully, I was not the only person aboard who reacted to this statement like a five-year-old, jumping up out of my seat, squealing with excitement, and crowding to the side to get a closer look. I took about a thousand pictures, hoping to get one good one. And my efforts were rewarded!
I still get giddy thinking about that.
We spent another afternoon touring a local winery with a group of elderly Germans. The winery, Sella & Mosca, looked like a paradise itself, with miles of grapevines spanning as far as the eye could see. The free tour included a glass of white wine (and a bonus one of red, because the guide was feeling quite generous) and was overall a great experience.
You might be wondering when I was going to get around to describing the things we ATE while in Italy. I thought you'd never ask. The answer is: pasta, seafood, and gelato! We actually cooked most of our meals in an effort to save money, and let me tell you that I made some restaurant-quality gnocchi one night for a fraction of what it would have cost us in town. But of course we treated ourselves to a few meals on the town, and this post wouldn't be complete if I didn't leave you with some photos to make your mouth water . . .
Caramel & stracciatella gelato:
Ravioli with Sardinian ricotta:
Linguine with mussels:
And one final Sardinian picture of a misguided poster, just to make you laugh:
Before I sign off, I'd like to give my dad a shout-out for his birthday. Without his guidance, love, and support, I could never have done any of the incredible things I've written about here over the past two years. He truly is the best father anyone could ask for, and I'm so lucky to call him mine!
He always knows when to flip the rice . . .
He’s taught me the finest table manners . . .
And together, we've been some pretty cool places!
Happy birthday, Dad! I love you!