Whoa more new photos up! Just a few, taken from my walk around Paris today before meeting my friend Mathilde to say goodbye (sniff, sniff... but she'll be in New York next year so I shall go visit her) but they are fun anyway. No organization, because Flickr seems to take pleasure in uploading them in a completely random order; I'm beginning to think that they do that on purpose to get you addicted to sets, then turn around and say "oh, you have to upgrade to a Pro account and pay to have more than three sets... Sorry 'bout that." Evil, evil Flickr. But go see the pictures because they are pretty, and also I'm very proud of the Eiffel Tower one.
Okay, still working on the whole getting-caught-up idea - maybe, just maybe, I'll have written about all my trips before leaving France (in a week! eek!) and maybe not. We'll see. So, onto Colmar and Strasbourg, where I went with Kelly the week after Freiburg. After a 5-hour train ride (man, I am jealous of all those people traveling after June 10th) we arrived in the teeth-achingly quaint city of Colmar. Seriously, I kept expecting the houses to turn out to be gingerbread, or something. So we wandered around, taking pictures of all the picturesque-ness like good little tourists, bought some ravioli to take back to the auberge to cook (our favorite money-saving strategy, and also a guilty pleasure, because the French rarely serve pasta as a main dish, and we both love it) and made our way to the youth hostel (which, as always, was pretty far out of town).
We woke up relatively early the next morning, eager to see the streets of Colmar without lugging heavy backpacks. More picturesqueness (we especially enjoyed Petite Venise and its canals) and a woman giving out free cookie samples, which naturally prompted us to buy some from her vast selection. I really wanted to say "One of everything, please!" but prudence won over impulsiveness and I settled for a little gingerbready thing, a pistachio macaroon, and a couple chocolately things. They were delicious. We also had pretzels, an Alsatian specialty. Then it was off to the Musée Unterlinden, which was a lot more fun than we were expecting. The audioguide was free, so we figured why not? and took the French one. It was hilarious in its melodramaticness - when describing all the Medieval paintings of Jesus crucified, there were actually angry-mob sounds in the background, and dramatic Carmina-Burana-esque music. My personal favorite, though, was the description of a painting that was retelling some religious story involving a chicken and a saint (Ooh! Blog contest! If you know this story I'll bring you back a Kinder Bueno (or Duplo, whichever you prefer) from France! But you have to tell me before Saturday.) and there were genuine chicken clucks and wing ruffles in the background. But I shouldn't make too much fun of it, because it was interesting to get a little more background on the paintings. The prize possession of the museum is the Retable d'Issenheim (French explanation, but the pictures are pretty anyway), which is one of those folding altar decoration thingies that depict a bunch of Bible scenes. This one is gigantic, and has lots and lots of panels that had to be separated out to be put on display, so now it takes up a whole high-ceilinged room. It was wonderful to have the audioguide, since I have no Bible background, and pictures are way more interesting when you know the stories behind them. Then there were rooms and rooms and rooms of interesting Alsatian stuff, including suits of armor and chain mail and a knitted tapestry (picture on Flickr) and just before closing, we got to this room that had toys! Tiny little dollhouses and kitchens and dolls with wardrobes to die for... I was interrupted mid-drool by the museum staff herding us out 20 minutes before closing. Grrr. But it was a lovely museum, anyway.
For dinner, we tracked down some traditional Alsatian food: flammekuchen and spätzle. Flammekuchen is a thin-crusted rectangular tart with cheese and crème fraiche and onions and deliciousness, and I described spätzle in my last entry and am too lazy to do it again. But it was all really, really good - how can you go wrong with cheese, bread, onions, noodles, cream, or any combination of the above? You can't, is the answer. So then we rolled back to the hostel and went to bed early, in preparation for our trip to a small town on the "Route des vins" for a wine tasting.
We woke up at the crack of dawn and were eating breakfast when we realized that we'd misread the bus schedule and needed to be at the bus stop in 5 minutes, not 20. Slight panic ensued, but we made it to the bus stop in time for the local bus that would take us to the bus station in Colmar proper to catch the bigger bus for the small town. We then made a heroic dash to the bus station. Of course, we didn't know where our bus stopped, so we went around checking all the buses that looked likely, but it was getting past time for the bus to leave, and we didn't see it. Finally, we asked the driver of a different bus, and he said "Oh, it was that red bus over there, the one that left a few minutes ago." Cue slapping of foreheads, because we hadn't checked said red bus because it looked like a private tour bus. Lesson learned - in France, they use luxury buses as public transportation. So we went, disappointedly, back into Colmar, visited the vineyards of the city of Colmar, and caught our train to Strasbourg.
Strasbourg is bee-yoo-ti-ful. We bought a 24-hour unlimited-rides tram and bus ticket, which was the best purchase of the weekend - the tram system is a wonderful hybrid of subway and bus, because it's faster than a bus but you can actually see things, instead of being stuck underground. This time, we managed to find a bus that went all the way to the youth hostel, which was lovely. We went back into town and explored, finding amazing ice cream (I got Speculoos, which is a kind of cookie often served with ice cream, and it's spicy and delicious) and cute little stores and the cathedral: Purtypurtypurty. We then went back to the auberge to cook dinner again, being the frugal daughters of Scotsmen that we are, where the water took, without exaggeration, 45 minutes to boil. It wasn't the greatest kitchen ever, let's put it that way. Anyway, after that fiasco, we decided to go back into town to experience Strasbourg by night. The cathedral was, of course, ridiculously beautiful, and it was warm, so there were lots of people outside enjoying the weather. We got our fair share of catcalls, mostly from sketchy, sketchy men but some from cute Italians (all of Italy, apparently, goes to Alsace the third week in April). Then we caught the last tram back to our beds.
The next day, our last, we happened upon an open-air market of everything from cheap trendy clothes (sadly, mostly one-size-fits-all-badly, so we didn't buy anything) to traditional Alsatian food, so we bought a garlic sausage (we almost got the wild boar, but chickened out) from a lovely man who kept giving us samples, some cheese, and some straightened-out pretzels and made little sandwiches to eat on the steps of the cathedral. They were delicious, but since we had no knife we had to gnaw on the sausage, which made us look slightly barbaric. Then we discovered a cute little shop that had very original clothing for reasonable prices, so we had to try everything on, and I found a beautiful black lacy skirt with a petticoat that swishes when I walk and makes me very very happy.
I managed to convince Kelly that climbing the cathedral spire would be fun, so we paid our 2 euros and started up the 350 steps. It turned out to be an amazing way to see the cathedral close up, since the spiral staircase we were winding our way up had windows on three sides, so we got to see all these cute little carvings of random animals climbing up various columns and things. There were frogs and cows and goats and gorillas and mixtures thereof - medieval stonecarvers had fertile imaginations. Then we finally got to the top, but we couldn't go up the spire (nor would we have wanted to, given how much we were panting). There was a beautiful view, though, (unfortunately, my camera had died the day before, so no pictures) and we could see the spire close-up, too.
After all that exertion, we decided we deserved a restaurant with a terrace where we could order a cool drink and people-watch for a while. Luckily, there was one right by the cathedral, so we could look at the Gothic beauty too. We got Oranginas mixed with grenadine, the inventor of which I want to kiss, and nursed them for as long as possible so as to be able to stay on the terrace.
Finally, we found the Musée Alsacien, which was celebrating an anniversary by giving everyone free entry. It's a neat museum, built into some old houses overlooking a central courtyard, so you can see the real rooms and how people lived. There was another toy room, so I spent a while in there, drooling over tiny little pintucks and buttonholes...
Then, alas, it was time to catch our train back to Paris to return to classes and real life. It was a lovely trip, though.
Okay, photos of Freiburg are up! However, Flickr has this obnoxious thing where you can't have more than three sets unless you are a Pro member, and that requires payment, and you know me and paying for things. So I'll just delete the old sets (not the photos, just the organization, but since I can' t control the order in which the photos load, the sets are really essential for the photos to make sense... grrrr Flickr) and replace them with my new photos, and that way everyone will be happy!
Continuing with the catching up, I now present the chronicles of my absolutely fantastic trip to Freiburg to visit Halley, back during the first week of April break (the 9th through the 14th).
I arrived in Freiburg in the early afternoon, after a 7-hour train ride (the horribly ironic thing about all of this is that the TGV, or Trains à Grande Vitesse (really fast trains) are starting to run to eastern Europe in June, a few months too late for me - it will only take 2 1/2 hours then. Grrr.) in which I passed through Switzerland for about 3 minutes to change trains. I love the European Union - by the end of the week, I had crossed borders between France, Switzerland and Germany 6 times, and I never had to show any sort of papers whatsoever. Anyway, the lovely and talented Halley met me at the train station and took me back to her apartment in the student village outside town, where I met her awesome housemates (the American ones, at least - she claims to have German ones as well, but I never saw them) and gossiped about Tufts people for a while. Then we went out to dinner and I had spätzle, which as far as I'm concerned is enough reason to move to Germany. It's delicious oddly-shaped noodles (made by pushing the dough through a strainer of some sort) with buttery sauce and mushrooms and bacon and onions. I also tried to drink my first beer-containing drink: I couldn't even go for a pure beer, I had to get this half-beer, half-Sprite concoction that would have tasted delicious except for that horrible sour aftertaste. I couldn't even finish the whole thing, diluted as it was, because I am a wimp. Not entirely my fault, though. Ask my parents about their drinking habits sometime and you'll see that genetics had it in for my alcohol tolerance from the beginning.
On Tuesday, my wonderful host had classes all day, so I was on my own with only a guidebook and a German phrasebook to help me. I headed into the city on the lovely tram system to explore the Bächle, which are small streams running through the old part of the city, between the sidewalk and the roadway. They're not covered or guard-railed or anything, leading to the legend that if you fall into one you are sure to marry a Freiburger. I escaped this fate, which is a good thing because I speak not a word of German and Lord knows that could cause some awkwardness in a marriage. I did see a guy get one leg drenched to the knee, but he just went on about his business. Anyway, the Bächle are gorgeous, as are the sidewalks: See all those itty-bitty teeny-weeny stones? All of the sidewalks in the old pedestrian section of Freiburg are like that. [Insert joke about German precision and patience here.] But it makes for some beautiful streets, especially when you see the emblems mosaicked (haha new word!) into the sidewalks to indicate the type of business found there: (Sorry that you have to tilt your head, but if I rotate the picture the perspective gets all screwed up and that messes with your head even more.) I never really got over the sidewalks, and had to ooh and ahh over every new emblem I discovered.
Then I found the cathedral, or Münster. Unfortunately, the lattice spire was covered with scaffolding, so I bought postcards of that. Here's a photo of the rest of it, though: Purty, huh? Inside are stained-glass windows depicting normal churchy stuff, but at the bottom there are symbols of the tradespeople who funded the window: pretzels, shoes, etc., which are amusing. I climbed up into the spire as far as I could, and saw the bells, which had weird symbols on them: And the city, with its market in the Münsterplatz: Then I met Halley for kebaps, a transplanted regional specialty. They were delicious, and made more so by the large bottle of apfelschorle in my other hand. Apfelschorle is a slightly fizzy apple cider that I think I might like more than Orangina... It's not too sweet, but very refreshing. We ate by the river with another friend from Halley's program, Adam, then had a lovely nap in the sun.
On Wednesday, I decided to take advantage of the fact that things are much, much cheaper in Freiburg than they are in Paris to buy some clothes. H & M came through, providing me with a cute green and black striped T-shirt (which I then saw a girl on the Paris métro wearing not a week later... le sigh.), a black knit skirt, and a gauzy black empire-waist tank top. I also got a navy blue shirt with white polka dots and an open back. Don't know how all this is going to fit back into my suitcases, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Halley and I also got bratwurst at the Münsterplatz market. It was awesome to wander through the rows of vendors selling wooden toys, honey, dried fruit (I bought candied kumquats, which have got to be the best idea ever), raw meat, and pretzels. Halley ordered my bratwurst for me (yay for friends who speak the language of the country you're in!) and we perched on a railing to enjoy: It was delicious.
Halley made chicken paprikash for dinner, so I got to meet more of her friends, who are awesome. As was the dinner. No pictures of that, as it got eaten too quickly.
On either Wednesday or Thursday morning (I forget which) I got to sing with Halley and Adam, which was great. Adam even played Hallelujah (the one by Leonard Cohen, not Handel), so that made my day.
On Thursday, Halley had class again, and I couldn't convince her to skip it, so I went hiking up to the Schlossbergturm, a gigantic tower perched on a hill near town. It was gorgeous, though hot, and the tower itself was almost as pretty as the view: For dinner, I bought a packet of tomato soup and a 30-centime loaf of garlic bread, meaning that my delicious dinner cost approximately €1,10, or $1.50. The soup was good, too - you only add water, but it got all creamy and yummy. And I managed to figure out the German instructions, too. I took some soup packets back to France with me, too, for more cheap dinners. (Sorry for all the emphasis on cheapness - it was quite a shock for me, after living with Paris prices for so long. I knew I should have taken German...)
On Friday, Halley's program was going on a field trip to France, to see a fort built for WWI near Strasbourg, then a little fortified village called Neuf-Brisach. They allowed me to come along, so I had the privilege of being shown around an underground fort for 2 hours, where it was very very cold, instead of sitting outside in the sun... The tour was interesting, but it's awfully hard to concentrate when your teeth are chattering. We then had to forage in a supermarket for lunch, where Halley and I made out the best. Everybody was looking longingly at our Black Forest ham from the deli and baguettes and cookies and gourmet yogurt, the ill-gotten gains of a French speaker who knows which French brands to buy. We did share, though.
Then it was back to Freiburg for grocery shopping for Adam's birthday party that night. We - well, okay, Halley - made pizza, then everybody came over with copious amounts of (completely legal - we're all over 18!) alcohol. Natalie (another of Halley's housemates) and I bought some Bailey's, then added it to tiramisu tea and put whipped cream on top. That may have been the best drink I've ever had in my life. After lots of singing along to the little iPod speakers and people forcing me to drink more (story of my life) we headed into the city to go to a club. After some slightly nerve-wracking moments for the 2 people who'd forgotten their IDs, we all got in and danced the night away. Lots of American music, but there was some German stuff as well, which cracked me up. Then we walked home (no more trams at 2 in the morning...) and fell into bed.
Saturday was quite low-key, for obvious reasons. We cleaned up the kitchen, then headed out to eat ice cream and walk along the river. It was a lovely, sunny day, there were children playing among the rocks in the river, and I had ice cream. Life does not get any better than that. I seriously considered dropping out of the Tufts program and staying in Freiburg, but that would probably have caused a great deal of trouble, so I got back on the train like a good little girl. Germany was amazing, and it was nice to not be held to the fashion standards of Parisian streets for a few days, but I never thought I could miss French that much. It is incredibly fatiguing to not be able to understand anything you read or hear. It was a relief to cross back into France and understand billboards again.
Halley, thanks again for hosting me, and for putting up with my conversation topics for a whole week... Deep down, though, you know you like it.