This morning, I hopped on a train to leave my home forever, and didn’t look back. I realized there was no sense in thinking too much about it. I boarded the train from Track 2 in Vallendar station to Koblenz as I had done so many times during the semester that it all felt routine.
I’ve moved around before, but it was almost always back and forth from the places I called home. Whenever I left, I knew I’d come back eventually. This time was different. I never expected to feel such at home in little quaint Vallendar, but I did. The truth of it never hit me so much as it did tonight, after I settled into my lodging for the night in Stuttgart that I’ll probably never see Vallendar again. And even if I do return, it wouldn’t be the same. I’ll just be passing through.
Something I’ve always struggled with is the saying, “Home is where the heart is.” Can it be more than one place? What if I don’t feel anything for anywhere? Germany made me realize I could do something about this, that I made the mistake of merely adapting to my surroundings, thinking it was enough, and never trying to belong. There is a difference. Feeling you belong makes the place home, wherever you are. Otherwise it is just an address, simply where you live. All my life, I’ve been trying to balance out the cultural differences, trying to awkwardly fit in to both. At some point, I knew as hard as I tried, I would always be a mixture of at least two worlds, but I always saw the glass as half-empty and not half-full.
Germany taught me many things, but the most powerful and simplest of one was the great difference a small change of mind can be. I wanted to be European. I wanted to thrive in this new surrounding. I came here with an open heart and mind, freed myself all my emotional baggage upon arrival — and it made all the difference. Germany became home for me because I WANTED it to be.
Part of the reasons to study abroad is the demonstration and experience that one is a global citizen. One must be empathetic towards different cultures and find strength and harmony through those differences, rather than dissonance.
I know I am blessed beyond measure to have three places in the world that I can call Home. Slowly, but surely, I’m emerging from my self-induced dissonance, and truly making an effort to make music out of my eclectic identity.
P.S. I’m coming home (back to Hawaii) on May 20, at which point I will have time to really process my life over the past few months and (hopefully) give a intelligible account.
Another thing I learned/saw in action: All things do happen in some sort of weird, great design; one just needs time to make the connections.
Of all the places I’ve been to so far, Portugal was definitely the hardest to leave. I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal, so when I got to Europe, this was one of the first trips I planned and was really excited for. There are many reasons why, but I can guess it’s probably because I spent part of my childhood in a place with a very prominent Eurasian culture—I was born in Macau, so it was Chinese and Portuguese to be exact. My favorite pastry of all time has always been the Portuguese cream tart, fresh out of the oven. And I’ve always preferred wine to beer (though German beer is pretty good.)
I don’t get nostalgic very often because I left my childhood home when I was very young for Hawaii, which was a very different place that doesn’t remind me of home much. But those feelings came flooding in as I walked on the roads paved with the smooth black and ivory tiles that are so typical of Portuguese urban planning. Our destination was Porto, which produces probably the best wines and dessert wines in the world.
In all respects, we got very unlucky with the weather. The sun rarely shone (but when it did, it was warm and very beautiful), and most of the time, the sky was quite gloomy and one night, we even had to brave hurricane-like weather to get back to our hostel.
But in all honesty, I loved Porto and Portugal in spite of the poor weather. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a place so quickly, so completely—especially in such unfavorable conditions. Which says a lot about Portugal, I think.
Our stroke of good weather occurred when we took a day trip to Lisbon by bus for 32 Euros, round trip (three and a half hours, each way). It didn’t hold up by the time we got back to Porto around midnight, which was when we had to fight the typhoon to get back home. So if you’re planning to go to Portugal, might I give fair warning that compact umbrellas are pretty much defenseless. They might survive the rain, but the wind is an entirely different story.
Here are my highlights of Portugal (Porto and Lisbon), in no particular order:
– Visiting Livaria Lello, one of the most famous and beautiful bookstores in the world, about five times. Legend has it that J.K. Rowling got inspiration from this bookstore to create the Hogwarts Library.
And for you serious Potter fans, this cafe is where (again, the legend goes) JK Rowling began writing the first Harry Potter book (HP and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone).
– Amazing, cheap food. My wonderful meal of delicious pork chops and half a bottle (maybe a third) of red wine was only 5.50 Euros. My huge portion of the typical Portuguese Francesinha was only 6 Euros in a restaurant.
– The people. I am still in amazement at how helpful, kind, and content with life the Portuguese are.
– Our hostel. We stayed at Pilot Hostel, which had great facilities that were clean and modern, free tea and coffee 24/7, a kitchen, and wonderful staff. It’s not perfect, but for the quality of our stay, you would not believe it was only 8 Euros per night.
– Going up on the famous elevator in Lisbon and getting a wonderful aerial view of the city.
– Exploring the medieval St. Jorge castle and seeing picture perfect weather in Lisbon.
– Seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on the other side.
– Making footprints in the sand.
*Germany is centrally located, which means it’s obviously landlocked. It’s the farthest from the ocean I’ve ever been. I’ve moved around a bit, but never very far from the coast…*
– Our free wine tasting. Even if you aren’t a wine drinker, I promise you: YOU WILL LOVE PORT WINE.
– Being told I have a good accent when I spoke Portuguese. Which I can’t, by the way. But I made it a point to learn it one day!
Even now, I still wonder what it is about Portugal that makes me want to go back. Like right now. Maybe even live or retire there. I don’t know. I suppose it’s the combination of really little things. Sure, I enjoyed the touristy things, but I think it was something more intrinsic and intangible that makes me so content with life when I am there. Till next time, Portugal!
**Disclaimer: I was not too impressed by the cream tarts in Portugal, to be honest.
I suppose I have been immensely spoiled by the freshly baked and piping hot tarts that I can only get from the little bakery on the island of Coloane in Macau. If you ever get a chance to go to Hong Kong, spend at least a day in Macau. I can blog for ages about that city, but for now, just try the cream tarts.
One of the (many) expectations I had and others had for me when I decided on doing my semester abroad in Europe was that I would be traveling and seeing EVERYTHING. I’ve had a couple of countries checked off my list by now, and I am definitely in a position to say that every country is absolutely amazing in its own right, and there is no way possible that I will be seeing all the things worth seeing. But you know what? That’s okay. Because this opportunity to be here, living a dream, is more than enough in itself.
My first trip out of Germany involved a 5:48 train from the Vallendar station, bound for Bruges, Belgium.
5:48. In the morning.
As you can imagine, I barely had sleep that night. Not that I stayed up packing (well, to a certain degree I did), but I was so paranoid I wasn’t going to wake up in time that I just couldn’t fall asleep. We all made it to the station on time, though we did have a few scary moments when we were missing two of our party—even as we saw the train approaching. Just as the train was slowing down to a stop, we heard them running to the platform. Talk about getting there in the nick of time!
Bruges was a very quaint town—old, small, cozy. We stayed at a hostel about 15 minutes by foot from the old city center, which made a really nice walk as the weather was pretty nice. My heart was stolen by the beautiful and old architecture, and of course, the chocolatiers. They call Bruges the “Venice of Belgium,” and we could see that for ourselves. The canals were pretty prominent and visible from almost every main street. I think my pictures can speak more about Bruges than I can, but I was absolutely charmed by this city.
The only damper about the trip was when we went looking for a restaurant for dinner. Many of the sit-down restaurants in Bruges were quite sophisticated and very nice—which also means they were very expensive. The town got very quiet as we continued to search for a place, and many small diners were closed already, so we settled on the cheapest place we can find before long, which was an Italian eatery that was still open. The cheapest thing on the menu was a margherita pizza, for 9 Euros. It was…decent. What we also had to deal with was that our server would not let us NOT order anything to drink, otherwise we couldn’t sit down and dine in the restaurant. I forced myself to get a tiny bottle of Coke (or cola, as the Europeans call it) for 3 Euro because I did not want to pay 2.50 Euros for a glass of tap water.
Thinking back, even though I almost regretted eating at a restaurant that night, since it was the night of Chinese New Year, I suppose it turned out to be a good thing. It was an okay meal, but I shared it with great people, in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are so many things that can be improved, but I wouldn’t have it another way. 🙂
It’s hard to say which I prefer: the whimsical charm of Bruges, or the historical glamour of Brussels. But holistically speaking, if I had to pick a place to return to, it would be Brussels.
My highlights of our trip to Brussels were pretty much all of the below, in no particular order:
– The majestic and beautiful Grand Place (or Grand Square)
– Becky burgers – A Brussels specialty with one of the best sauces I’ve had. Even more amazing on a cold day. But great anytime.
– Being serenaded by a wonderful cellist in an old, nearly empty stone courtyard.
– The Rene Magritte Museum. Surrealism is the closest thing I’ll ever get to modern art, and it was a wonderful museum. One of the best 2 Euros I have spent. Probably ever will.
*Pictures are probably not allowed. I say probably because we were allowed to bring cameras with us. And I told quite a few pictures by the time one of us got told to not take any.*
But here are some of my favorites:
– Seeing a HUGE chocolate Mannekin Pis, directly across the narrow street from the actual Mannekin Pis.
– The best pralines, tiramisu truffle, and salted caramel chocolate I have ever tasted. Ever.
– BELGIUM FRIES. Oh my goodness, we lived on that stuff. 3.90 Euros for the best combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, special cocktail sauce, perfectly caramelized onions and the best golden fries you will ever see.
– Seeing the European Union Parliament. It’s a beautiful building with recreational open spaces surrounding it. There’s even a basketball court, where we saw children shooting hoops. It must be quite a life, just to say, “Let’s go shoot some hoops today at the EU.” Yep.
– My Liege waffle with Speculoos—this amazing cookie butter spread that I never knew I would like. Yay for trying new things!
– Finding out that our hostel was actually a hotel, and a hotel chain at that.
– Getting to the beautiful Museum of Military History at the perfect time. We took great pictures with the columns illuminated by the setting sun.
– And more fries.
– Our Brussels excursion that turned into a karaoke jam sesh when we joined with the other Tauschies staying at the same hotel.
– Seeing the bright sun for the first time in days! It was beautiful!
My first trip out of Germany was quite a success. Including my gifts and food and chocolates, I spent about 35 Euros for the whole trip, thanks to the amazing (and filling) Belgium Fries. I couldn’t wait till my next trip!
At one of the first socials we had at WHU where we got to meet the German students, we asked them, “Which city do you think is the most beautiful in Germany?”
Yes, it’s an unfair question, but we figured we’d get a nice variety of recommendations for future travel plans. We did get a quite a few answers (Munich, Cologne, Berlin, etc), but one city kept cropping up.
Which I was planning on going to anyway.
So when one of the 2nd semester Tauschies casually announced that she was planning on going to Heidelberg for a day the following Friday, I jumped at the opportunity.
We all met in the morning at the Vallendar Mitte bus stop to go to the Koblenz main train station. From there, we worked the logistics of splitting up into groups of 5 in order to get the Deutsche Bahn group discount. (*TIP for traveling via DB) We got a day pass ticket that involved a lot of transfers, but it only cost us 15 Euro each.
When we got to Heidelberg, we got off at what looked like the city center, but it looked nothing like the Heidelberg postcard pictures we saw when doing research online. (*ahem* research on traveling) Nevertheless, we took a light rail to see the Heidelberger Schloss – the iconic Heidelberg Castle. As most castles are, it was on the top of a hill, so it was quite a steep trek to the top. Especially since my boots were a bit big, and I was so not prepared for a hike. But when we reached the castle, it was absolutely beautiful, and this is what we saw:
And THIS is probably one of the most postcard-esque pictures I have taken.
Unfortunately, we had to pay to actually go in and see the ruins of the castle. I think it was 4 Euros, but I know it is 6 Euros to take the tram (round trip) and for entry into the Schloss. That way you don’t have to hike up that hill. But it’s a very scenic way to burn some calories!
At that point, I didn’t have much to burn because I was getting hungry. Some of us stayed back at the castle, but a dozen of us decided to head to the historic city center to find the university and get food. And that was when we saw the sun.
After being in Hawaii for so long and being so used to diving into shade under the trees, the sun had never looked better, shining over the quaint architecture and medieval ruins.
Oh, and did I mention the glorious pastries?
Of course, I succumbed and split a chocolate snowball (the little brown spheres at the top left corner of the picture) with two others. Chocolate on the outside surrounding some sort of angel food cake, with a chocolate-hazelnut creme center. It was divine.
We continued walking till we reached the river and the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, there was a hill where there are remnants of World War II history, a coliseum, and a monastery. The hill looked pretty steep, but the website promised us there would be “strategically placed benches along the trail.”
The story goes that we decided to go up the first part of the hill and see how we felt then whether or not we wanted to grab lunch after. More specifically after the first couple of benches or so. Fair enough.
Three minutes later of trekking up on a 50-degree incline of uneven cobblestone, I regretted it. So much. All we could think about was, “WHERE are those benches?!” Haha.
But when we reached the first bench (like a million years later), the view was amazing.
After climbing some more and asking some passerby who knew the hill better than we did, we surmised that the monastery and coliseum weren’t too far from where we were. So we decided to press on and find them before getting lunch.
The cobblestones disappeared and soon we were literally hiking through a forest on a dirt path. We were high enough to see the river wrapping around the hill and the sun beaming down on the little houses on the other side. It was perfect. The weather was warm, but cool enough to make the walk refreshing. In good time we saw a biker, who told us that both paths in the upcoming fork in the road would lead us to the monastery, which was close to the coliseum. We took the high way, the one that branched off and escalated above the path on the right. This hike was beautiful, scenic, and relatively easy considering this was completely spontaneous and unplanned and the fact none of us were in hiking attire.
“Relatively easy.” Or so we thought.
30 minutes later, when the trail started getting soft and muddy, and the trees were getting thicker, we realized we must have taken a wrong turn. The website said it would be 45 minutes from the bottom of the hill to the monastery, but even at the quick rate we were walking, we saw nothing, and it had been almost an hour since we crossed the bridge. Should we turn back? Keep going? Are we committed to finding this? When should we get lunch? But being the adventurers we are, we kept going.
At this point, I was EXTREMELY grateful for my previous decision of getting that snowball. Because that was the only thing keeping me moving.
Back in Vallendar, we knew the sun would start to set at around 4:30pm, so by 5:00, the sky would be nearly dark. None of us wanted to be stuck here at nightfall, so we decided to keep walking until a quarter before 3:00 to make sure we would be out of there by 4:00. We eventually turned back, and on our way downhill, we found the path we should have taken.
Which reminded me of: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”
(credit, of course, goes to Robert Frost)
Even though we were tired, hungry, and unsuccessful in finding what we were looking for, it was one of the best hikes I’ve done, and it was totally worth it. Our little group bonded through our excursion, and we got lots of great views of Heidelberg we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. If I ever have the time (and proper hiking attire), I’m definitely coming back to find what we first set out to see. But that’s another story 🙂
I’ll conclude this post with one of my favorite pictures of all time (taken by yours truly)
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.
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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,
From the Home of the Brave, to the Fatherland, and back to the Motherland