Chocolates, Currywurst, and Some Really Good Beer

I was originally going to combine the tales of our journeys through these two cities in Germany, but I love them so much that I think each of them deserves its own blog post.

COLOGNE

(For more pictures, please enjoy my full album here.)

This is probably one of the first big, rather spontaneously planned Tauschie trip of the semester. All of us just want to go EVERYWHERE! And together. We announced that we’d be meeting at the Vallendar train station at 7:45AM to catch the 7:59 train, and pretty much thirty people showed up. It was cold, a little breezy, but the part that got me was how dark it was. The sky only started getting a tinge of blue 10 minutes before the train came (on time, of course).

I'm REALLY not a morning person, but I'm ecstatic to go to Cologne!
I’m REALLY not a morning person, but I’m ecstatic to go to Cologne!

For the train to Cologne, we were able to save money by buying our tickets in groups of 5 for the group discount that Deutsche Bahn (DB) offers. Another tip: we saw two Cologne stations on our way there. Don’t get off at the first one. The one you need to get off at is the Cologne Cathedral Main Station, or Köln Dom Hauptbahnhof. (Köln is the German name for Cologne. For a rough pronunciation guide, you can say it as KERN, as in “Kernel”)

We alighted in a massive steel web station, and once we got out, we saw this beholding sight.

The High Cathedral

This is the Cologne Cathedral, or the Köln Dom. Officially it’s called the High Cathedral of St. Peter, which gives it away that it’s Catholic. The Gothic architecture and rich history behind it makes it all the more imposing. Inside, it’s absolutely beautiful and so vast.

Construction began in 1248 (I know, crazy right?) but discontinued in 1475. It was finally completed according to the original design in 1880.
Our Cologne Tauschie group!
Our Cologne Tauschie group!

We paid a couple more Euros for the chance to climb the tower. I believe it was something like 500 steps. Felt like more, actually. I concede that I wasn’t able to make it up to the very top, but I got close! I seriously need to get into shape, haha.

The never-ending, winding staircase. Oh man.
The never-ending, winding staircase. Oh man.
Pretty high up.
Pretty high up.
Really high up.
Really high up.

In all seriousness though, this is a must-do for anyone in Cologne. Even if you can’t make it to the top, just visit the Cathedral. Who knows? You might even be treated with a special performance from these fellas. (They’re really quite good.)

And then there's this guy.
And then there’s this guy.

Our next stop was the Lindt Chocolate Museum and Factory. Pretty much the next best thing after Willy Wonka. Lindt is probably one of my absolute favorite chocolate brand, so I was pretty excited to say the least. After an entertaining 20 minutes or so, walking around, looking for the river as a landmark, and asking for directions, we finally got there and got free samples upon entering! It was definitely interesting to see how the chocolates were made on such a grand level. As we toured the levels, we saw not only Lindt Chocolates, but essentially aspects of chocolate history around the world. For 4.50 Euro (or thereabouts) you can get your own custom made Lindt chocolate bar! If you go further in the tour, there’s an old-fashioned chocolate dispenser that gives you chocolate bar (milk chocolate) for 1 Euro.

The Chocolate Factory
The Chocolate Factory
Making the chocolates
Making the chocolates
All you have to do is fill out a request form, pay, and wait about an hour for your very own custom made chocolate bar!
All you have to do is fill out a request form, pay, and wait about an hour for your very own custom made chocolate bar!
Found an old friend on the way :)
Found an old friend on the way 🙂

At this point, we were starving, so our group of 15 (everyone kinda dispersed after the initial photo) went searching for food. The lady at the Lindt information desk gave us suggestions to go to a restaurant where they served authentic German food for decent prices. It also didn’t seem too far from Rudolfplatz, which was supposed to be very historical. Half an hour later, we finally got to the Früh am Veedel. The food took SUPER long to get to the table, but when it did, it was pretty amazing.

Breakfast of champions. Fleishkaese, perfectly caramelized onions, salted potatoes, perfect sunny-side up egg. Salad on the side. All for less than 10 Euros.
Breakfast of champions. Fleishkaese, perfectly caramelized onions, salted potatoes, perfect sunny-side up egg. Salad on the side. All for less than 10 Euros.
THIS PLACE
THIS PLACE
Starving Tauschies (when the food finally came) Oh, and mine was last. Figures.
Starving Tauschies (when the food finally came)
Oh, and mine was last. Figures.

Oh, if you’re ever in Cologne, make sure you try the local beer, Kölsch. It’s kind of a big deal. It’s pricier than your average beer, but so worth it. (Sorry I don’t have a picture this time)

And then it rained. And then it poured. We passed by several medieval buildings that may or may not still be in commission. By the time we got to or what we thought was Rudolfplatz, it was so wet and dreary that we just decided to go back because we couldn’t find the Roman ruins we were looking for.

But the day wasn’t over just yet. We HAD to find the birthplace of eau de cologne. After getting disappointed from accidentally walking into a chain store/gift shop, we found the original 4711.

Robby and the Fountain of eau de cologne.
Robby and the Fountain of eau de cologne.

Our little group split up some more once we got back near the train station to do some shopping. So Cindy, May, and I ended the day with a Cologne specialty: piping-hot currywurst from a street vendor. It was a marvelous 3.50 Euro spent.

Not an original picture, but this is what it looks like. Curry powder, ketchup, and good ol' sausages.
Not an original picture, but this is what it looks like. Curry powder, ketchup, and good ol’ sausages.

I will definitely be back in Cologne, if not on a personal planned trip, then definitely for the Köln Karneval. We’ll be going there on March 3rd, so stay posted! It’s going to be a good one!

PART TWO: HEIDELBERG (TBC)

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Bits and Pieces (Weeks 1 & 2)

Bigger and better things (posts) are on their way, but for now, please enjoy these pictures!

On Our Mini-Rhine-Cruise 

As part of the Welcome Week for Tauschies (WHU exchange students), the Vallendar Integration Program organized a Winter version of the Koblenz Ralley. Normally, at least from what I heard, guys would have to strip down to swim shorts, wade in the water, and wear trash bags while running around shamelessly (or not) around Koblenz trying to fulfill a designated set of tasks.

Thankfully, we did not have to do that. Here are some gorgeous views of the Rhine at sunset (which was like, 4:30 in the afternoon)
When we got to Koblenz, it was darkening fast. All pumped and excited, we got off the boat to await our scavenger hunt assignments. Our first tasks was to make costumes out of plastic trash bags and random stuff like streamers, balloons, and string. Unfortunately I have no pictures of our group, but we were soooo attractive as Minion (from Despicable Me) wannabes.
This was our first sight after disembarking the boat. Deutsches Eck was only a couple minutes away from where we were.

Pubcrawl

Exactly what it  says it is, for those (like me) who did not originally know what this meant. We were given a list of pubs to visit and a list of drinks to choose from. The goal of the night was to win as many points as possible, which involved getting a drink at every stop (number of points increased with the intensity of the drink) and sometimes doing some other crazier things. Like taking a shot out of a syringe. (Albeit a plastic one, but still)

And this is me, making a house of cards to prove my soberness even though my head felt otherwise. Haha.

We went to Palais afterwards, which is a classy restaurant and bar upstairs and nightclub downstairs. Being a minor from the States, I never went out (really went out) before, and I had a really great time. With the coat check and entrance fee though, I spent 10 Euros. Drinks are not included. Of course there were lots of people, and the music was pretty good. I was sorry to learn that Palais would be closing for the rest of the semester, or at least for a couple of months.
As all of my friends know, I’m not one for parties. But for those who are into the nightlife and such, I do recommend Palais if you are ever in Koblenz.

One of the Best Breakfasts I’ve Ever Had

If you stay at the Hotel Alexander von Humboldt in Vallendar, check out this gem: the breakfast parlour.

Comfy setting, great home-y service, all-you-can-eat (yes, that is smoked salmon) breakfast for 6 Euro.
Oh, even fruit juice is served differently here:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202805462402439&set=a.3426326141717.2162370.1377198545&type=1&theater

Inside Goethe’s Home

Sorry the pictures aren’t that great, but isn’t the room beautiful? They only use and open this room for very special and formal functions, so chances are very good that I will never see it from the inside again.

That in the middle is a painting of JW v. Goethe himself.

Finally… (for now)

The campus, as it looked last night. Every so often, WHU invites corporate leaders from  various industries as it holds conferences each with a specific focus. Last week was Campus for Finance, and these past couple of days was Campus for Supply Chain Management (logistics and operations). I didn’t know enough about these to attend, thinking I was not eligible. However, I will  take advantage of the opportunities at upcoming conferences. I mean, who would I be if I didn’t try?

TBC… : )

From the Desk: Week 1

Dear Friend,

I hope you are doing well. It’s been so long since I have written, but even longer since I have heard back. I know we’re all busy with other things, but I should have made this a higher priority. And I shall do my best, I promise.

It is currently quite early in the morning here in Germany. As you know, I’m not a morning person. I’ve never been used to waking up before sunrise – though I have seen the sun rise because I barely slept. But right now in Germany, daybreak is so late. The sky only begins to lighten up at 8AM. By 4PM, the sun has already approached the horizon. Small things that I certainly do miss about the island. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to see the sun rise and set beautifully everyday. I have never taken it for granted, and I will miss these things until I experience them again, but I realized that even if I never do–among other things–I will be fine. Life just rolls on, and you do too. A very wise person taught me that, and while I live with it every moment, I know I will never be able thank him enough.

I am going to have such a difficult time leaving this place. At least as far as this welcome week goes, it reminds me of the United States Senate Youth Program, where in one week, I met some of the best, most brilliant young people I ever had (probably will have) the pleasure to. To this day, and I’m sure for long beyond, I will continued to be inspired by these people. Even here in Germany, though the program is not as competitive simply because of its nature, the people here are pretty awesome. Of course, the club, beers, and dance floors brings out our other natures, but hey – I’m finally learning to live a little.
By the way, don’t get jelly, but many people before I came (mostly females, not surprisingly) have made sure I did not forget how lucky I am to be in Germany. By popular demand, I feel obligated to disclose – yes, there are indeed more males at the school, and yes, they are indeed on the whole very good-looking. But I digress.

I was able to successfully register for all the classes I need, thankfully. This was the less stress I’ve ever had to experience when signing up for classes. I think I should study abroad more often, haha. I’m not used to a block schedule, but mainly, I just think I’m not used to spending so little time at school, or in actual classes. The exam schedule is pretty confusing, and the worst thing is all my classes have grades that are 100% based on the exam. Some exams aren’t announced, and even the professor is unsure. That is because WHU (or Germany for that matter) does not believe in the American style of testing immediate after the content is learned. They think delaying the exam and giving students time after the class is over will give them the opportunity to really internalize what was learned. I’m not sure how much I agree with this. We shall see. But I gotta say, having no textbooks beats all of this. I’ll probably spend maybe 50 Euro tops for all the class material, which I simply print out from the copy shop just beyond campus.

 

We spent quite some time exploring the campus and surrounding cities and meeting people. So far we have made traditional German food on our own, tried to re-create a German Christmas market (hot red wine included), went on a mini Rhine boat ride, spent a couple (or even more for some people) nights in house parties and some legit German clubbing, and was forced to walk around and do a scavenger hunt in creatively-designed trash bags across the main parts of Koblenz. (Although, the looks on the passerby faces: priceless.)

In case if you were interested, here is an ongoing album of the pictures in Vallendar, the little town where WHU is located in, so I will be spending most of my time there.

https://www.facebook.com/waisamlao/media_set?set=a.10202868338494302.1073741826.1377198545&type=3

And the time (on January 8) when a group of exchange students all went to Koblenz. You would love that city as well. I think Germany in general, in fact. You should go one day. I know you of all people will truly appreciate the historical significance of many of the regions we’ve been and things we saw. I bet you’ll pick up German in no time!

https://www.facebook.com/waisamlao/media_set?set=a.10202868744984464.1377198545&type=3

I’ve been extremely fortunate. There are many individuals who went out of their way and made my time here so great. The International Relations Office is so helpful and efficient, which is essential in reducing stress. Unlike most people, I was lucky enough to be able to meet my pre-assigned “Tauschie” WHU buddy even before I came to Germany since he actually did his mandatory exchange semester at UH Manoa. He is one of the most polite and friendly people I know, and he gave me such great advice and tips. I felt so bad when he finished his exams at UH so early that I did not expect to meet him yet, so we ended missing each other for like half an hour. But even then, after we met up, he was so very nice. It was great, and I introduced him to my co-workers (who also happen to be great friends of mine) at school, Honestly, I owe him a lot – including a beer for tonight…or last night? this morning? haha.

But by Jove, Europe! You have to go! We went to Cologne today as a MASSIVE group of Tauschies and of course later split up into much smaller groups. It’s a beautiful, colorful, extremely historic city.

Oh, and I figured out how to do postal, so I will be sending out actual letters and postcards soon!

Friend, it’s such a wonderful feeling to really know you’re doing something right, that you’re finally somewhere you thrive in and are meant to be. I’m learning so much about people, my field, Europe, life, and myself everyday.

Thinking of you, and take care!

Always, sincerely, truly,

Wai Sam

Orientation & Orienting (Tips Inside)

Hello there, I am a Tauschie.

Pronounced TOW-SHE (as in “towel” and the female pronoun)

That’s the WHU nickname for exchange students. I daresay I rather like it.

Most of my friends in Hawaii are wondering why in the world (haha, get it?) I had to leave home so early for Germany. That’s because our mandatory exchange student orientation was on January 3rd, which is practically the day after New Year’s for Hawaii.

So the night of the 2nd, a few of us Tauschies got seated at what we thought was a restaurant. Since we were a larger group, we had to bring an extra chair and moved around things a bit. But when we realized that it did not serve dinner food, we couldn’t stay and (rather unceremoniously) departed the place…right in the line of sight of the store owner. Oh dear.

Yeah. So the next morning, Cynthia and I walked down from Wildburg together and decided to redeem ourselves by purchasing our breakfast from that same bakery store. I had a chocolate croissant (chocolate inside). Warm and dee-lish. I like Starbucks, but it got nothin’ on this. Success.

The day was a pretty full one. We started at 9:00AM and it was one information session and documentation preparation after another. We all lined up to submit our information disclosure agreements and health insurance documents to get our student cards that double as access keys to school facilities and IDs. As for residential permits, we had until Friday, January 10th (a week from that day) to register at the town hall a few steps away from campus. The town hall is a blocky, orange (peach?) colored building right behind the restaurant Die Traube [see photo gallery] on Hellenstrasse. It’s big, orange, and labeled “Rathaus.” You can’t miss it.

(If anyone is interested in knowing, the 5-month permit costs 50 Euro, and the 8-month permit [also requires an electronic application] is 100 Euro).

After figuring out the initial nuts and bolts and how to legally stay in Germany for the duration of the semester, we were schooled on how to register for classes. Unlike other exchange programs I’ve heard about, WHU students don’t register until the weekend before the first Monday of the semester. Some classes don’t open up until a few days, or even weeks later. Until the classes open up, we can “pre-book” the desired course, which places it on our personal calendar so we can check the class times in relation to other classes. This was extremely helpful because I found three classes that overlapped with each other before I officially registered for them. So so so so much less stressful than registering at UH Manoa. Here, most classes don’t have a cap, so students pretty much get all the classes they need and want.

Then came the German placement tests. There was an info session where the German teachers gave an overview of the program and encouraged everyone to take German. It’s all for free, and it won’t be held against you even if you fail the final exam (and therefore the course). For those interested, students can take the exam and be certified for a specific proficient level. There are four levels offered to exchange students: A1 (Beginning), A2 (Intermediate), B1 (Advanced), B2/C1 (Very Advanced). The teachers (all female, so “Lehrerinnen” or “Professorinnen”) stressed that the subsequent class/level assignment after the exams were only recommendations; we were free to choose any level we felt comfortable with.

Since I technically took three years of German, I decided to try out the placement exam and interview. I had little hopes for myself because my three years were discontinuous and I repeated first-year German when I entered college. On top of that, I never spoke it other than the few opportunities in class. As for my placement, I expected to be in A2 at best, but somehow I got B1! I know it’ll be a stretch, but I decided to go for it anyway, since I do intend on becoming literate and partially fluent in German. Fingers crossed that I’ll survive.

We did some more exploring and checking out facilities during our free time between the orientation and the evening activity. On our expedition to find the campus gym (in Building D), we got locked inside one of the glass buildings because the inside access key scan pad wouldn’t work, even though we were able to get in. We got out the back door, and it turns out the Gym building was pretty much right there, so it was a happy mistake!

We gathered at the main Burgplatz (which is like the main Quad, center of campus) at 7:00PM under the dark sky for our campus tour. Strange, I know. But most of the things to see were indoors, so it didn’t make much of a difference. The facilities are really quite excellent. Very much so, in fact. There is a chapel, Harry Potter-esque staircase, multi-story library, a large 24/7 gym, lots of study rooms, and modern lecture halls with seats that might be too comfortable!

At 8:00PM that evening, the welcoming student committee (called the Vallendar Integration Program, aka VIP) gave a rundown of Welcome Week. It sounds better and busier than anything I expected. I don’t know if I should go too in-depth, but let’s just say these kids really do know how to party. And they do it all the time. *winky-wink*

And the fun already began that night. After a late dinner of pizza, about 60 Tauschies went with the local kids to a club in Koblenz. I didn’t go, but I heard they had a good time.

CLUBBING TIP: Apparently there’s a coat charge (about 1 Euro) and an entrance overhead fee that you have to pay WHEN YOU LEAVE, not at the door, so you don’t realize you need to get charged. I heard it’s 7 Euro, but it might vary from club to club.

*Note of caution: While Vallendar is a safe town, it gets very dark very early, and it is super quiet. I almost got lost trying to find my way back to my dormitory from another location other than campus my first night because it was so dark and there were hardly any street lights. But it’s very small, so even if you’re not sure where you are, it won’t take you long to find your way. And you’ll know the place well soon enough.

(There is a duplicate post in my personal -other- blog. Still trying to get the hang of this. Sorry for the confusion!)

So I went exploring…

…on my second day, or rather first full day in Germany. And took quite a bit of pictures. One thing to note, the days are quite short here, and there will never be a midday sun during Winter. The afternoon heat that plagues all of us in Hawaii is non-existent. But so far, I’m loving the weather here.

Not much happened, so most of the exciting stuff can be better shown through the pictures in the gallery. The best thing I saw was Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe’s old home. Yeah, I had absolutely no idea he lived in Vallendar! Very rustic, pretty awesome. I’m definitely planning on going back sometime soon.

The following day (today), I checked out of the Hotel Alexander after having an amazing breakfast (which, along with the dinner I had there, deserves its own post) and took a taxi to Haus Wildburg, my home for the next four months. It’s a quaint stone building with more “modern” facilities just behind it on the same property. The nuns reside in the front, the stony-ivy covered, idyllic facade, while we the students dorm in the living quarters on the other side. A garden lies between the two developments. (Pictures to come)

I first met a really nice girl from Philadelphia who goes to the Marshall School of Business at USC. We grabbed lunch at a small cafe close by that also serves ice cream and pastries. I ordered a French onion soup that was very well done. She went for the more German-like pork sausage schnitzel, which we were pretty excited to try but weren’t exceptionally impressed. But I’m guessing it was decent.

On our way back, we ran into two guys with luggage bags, and yes, they were exchange students to WHU as well. Jim from the University of Illnois was also assigned to Haus Wildburg, so he went with Cynthia and me while we parted ways with Jake from Toronto who continued on looking for the dormitory on Lohrstrasse.

Shortly after we got back to Wildburg, we decided to go grocery shopping and get some dinner. By that time, a few other guys had arrived (all American) and we all went down to the new supermarket Lidl on Rheinstrasse, about 5-10 minutes away depending on how fast you walk. Another supermarket was on the way, Rewe, also pretty new, so we stopped by there as well.

It was only 5:30PM when we left Lidl, but the sky was already dark with a hint of blue and light on the horizon. We tried looking for a place to eat, but that was easier said than done. The first couple of place we looked at only served pastries, cakes, and drinks. The rest were either closed or were bars.

We later came across Ristorante Verona that served Italian. Classy place, but there seemed to only be one worker, who was waiter, server, greeter all in one. We think he might even be the chef too. Another group of people got there before us – English speaking. Exchange students certainly aren’t hard to spot! We didn’t get to speak to them much, but I’m sure we’ll see them tomorrow and get to know them better as time passes.

Glückliches neues Jahr! (Happy New Year!)

I missed the Christmas markets in Germany because I was still taking final exams and packing in Hawaii.

I heard but did not get to see the fireworks at the stroke of midnight because I went to bed early after being awake and semi-awake for 40-something hours.

But it’s been great so far, and after 22 hours of hovering above geographic and political boundaries, I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany with all my luggage accounted for at 6:45 AM on December 31, 2013 (7:45 PM Hawaii Standard Time [HST] December 30, 2013).

After making–more like feeling–my way out of the plane, I was greeted with quite a wake-up call, not at all pleasant. Two flights of steep granite stairs stood between me and the rest of the Frankfurt airport. Thank Heavens for kind traveling souls, especially the gentleman who helped me carry my suitcase most of the way after I struggled (unsuccessfully) halfway up the first flight.

The next part of the journey is to get on a train to Koblenz, which is approximately 125 kilometers or 78 miles away from Frankfurt. I put my limited German to use asking the Reisezentrum (Travel Center) on the ground floor. The Deutsche Bahn (DB) representative directed me to ‘Fern 7,’ which is on the second floor and means ” Long Distance Train, Track 7.”

I bought a later time, which meant I had 2 hours to find the platform and look around.

Lovely holiday decor. Oh, look. There's Starbucks!
Lovely holiday decor. Oh, look. There’s Starbucks!
First breakfast
First breakfast: croissant, large cappuccino (roughly the size of a Starbucks Grande), and fresh orange juice
Right above the train platform and where I was eating. Reminds me of the Hong Kong airport, somehow.
Right above the train platform and where I was eating. Reminds me of the Hong Kong airport, somehow.

And Starbucks-lovers from America, if I may, I would HIGHLY suggest stocking up on USA Starbucks before coming over. I haven’t tried SB here for a very good reason. Let’s just say the prices in Euros would be quite pricey even if it were in Dollars. Not to mention you might as well enjoy legitimate European coffee while you’re in the vicinity.

I rode on the ICE (Inter-City Express) to Koblenz, and my goodness, the view was pretty wonderful. Growing up in the midst of flashing city lights and the sway of palm trees and oceanic sunsets, I’ve seen some pretty nice things, but the ICE went alongside the Rhine River and I couldn’t take my eyes off the window.

The train station platform and Inter-City Express (ICE)
The train station platform and Inter-City Express (ICE)
View from the train window. I couldn't get many pictures taken because the train was moving so quickly and I was too busy looking. I promise there will be more!
View from the train window. I couldn’t get many pictures taken because the train was moving so quickly and I was too busy looking. I promise there will be more!

Upon arrival to the Koblenz Station, I took the elevator down to the first (ground) floor and it leads you to the main roads. I needed a taxi and sure enough, there were at least half a dozen of them all lined up and ready to go. The route there was pretty scenic, with a very small town-steeped-in-history-feel.

We arrived to the hotel where I will be staying until I move in to the dormitory on January 2nd.

Hotel Alexander von Humboldt. Small, bit old, but comfortable.
Hotel Alexander von Humboldt. Small, bit old, but comfortable.

Then I spent sometime exploring nearby, going into the grocery stores, getting a phone card, looking at the small intriguing shops that are all closed, and even got to check out the campus of the school I’ll be spending the next semester at. I thought it is pretty cool how my pictures look almost the same as those on Google. But I took these myself, I promise.

WHU, front entrance, I presume.
WHU, front entrance, I presume.

I love these little cars.
I love these little cars.

My neighbors from over the hill started firing up fireworks at 12:00:00 AM January 1, 2014 and were at it non-stop for over 40 minutes. They had REAL FIREWORKS! It was great! Sorry, Hawaii.

As I am finishing this, there is a little more than two hours left of 2013 in Hawaii. I wish everyone there a warm and beautiful start of 2014, and I’ll be counting down the final 120 minutes with you. Best wishes! As the Germans say, “Glückliches neues Jahr!” 🙂