So here’s the part two of my 10 day break. Just as a little recap, I had decided to go to Germany to visit the Guth’s and made a world-view changing visit to Berlin with Ann-Kathrin. I hadn’t seen the rest of the family yet, but as we drove back to Willich (a small town just outside of Dusseldorf) I couldn’t help but get excited.
Friday, October 28, Anna-Kat and I got up pretty early to go to Cologne (or Koln if you live in Germany). The uneventful train ride showed me more of the German countryside and landed us directly outside the Cathedral of Cologne. I walked out of the train station and was immediately greeted by a giant Gothic cathedral towering over me. Because entrance was free to view the cathedral, we immediately went in (would have been worth paying for though).
I know that it seems like I have seen every possible church in Italy and that by now, I must be bored with them. Believe me, I would have thought the same thing and if it wasn’t for the classes I am in, that might have been the case. However, after learning about the differences between Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance, how to see the differences and how to know exactly I’m looking at, each church has become a new work of art. I am not an art nor architecture scholar by any means, but I have learned to appreciate and recognize work done by brilliant people whether it is the façade of a church or the frescos painted inside. This church was no exception and I found it difficult to tear myself away from any one section.
The stained glass windows were different from anything I had seen before; in some places the three paneled window was then divided up, tops and bottoms. Each section was of different patterns and different colors. In other parts of the church, the windows depicted scenes from the Bible. The sun was hitting the right side of the church perfectly to cast a light show upon the rest of the cathedral, more specifically the direct center where the nave and the transept met. There was more about this church that I liked though, in addition to the architecture and detail in ever square meter. It felt like a church. Yes, there were people in there just to look around and sight see, the classic tourists but there were also people there praying, talking to God, and lighting candles for their loved ones. This beautiful cathedral felt more real than touristy and it was interesting to see.
After the church, Anna-Kat and I walked along the river, enjoying the sun and watching families play along the water and in the small grassy park that followed it. We were headed to place I had been looking forward to all morning, the chocolate museum. J The moment you get inside, the smell of chocolate instantly hits you and you know you won’t want to leave (I’m a girl, this feeling is allowed). Just for going in, they give you a little piece of Lindt chocolate, a bite of heaven that melts in your mouth and makes you want more. An excellent marketing strategy if you ask me considering the chocolate shop located at the end of the tour.
Anna-Kat and I explored each room, some telling us where the cocoa bean comes from and who discovered it, as well as the history of chocolate around the world. One thing I did not know is that 75% of the world’s cocoa bean producers have never actually had a piece of finished chocolate! These countries are generally poorer, and although the farmers can sell their beans, they cannot afford to buy the chocolate. It is a terribly sad thing to think of people who have never tasted chocolate! New efforts have been made however to increase benefits given to these producers, so hopefully in the future they will be much better off.
As we entered each room, the smell of chocolate got stronger and stronger until we got to the room that contained the equipment, a display of how chocolates are made. The whole process seems quite interesting and it was cool to see, but learning about the journey of the cocoa beans before entering the final stage was much more interesting to me.
By the end of the museum, their tricks had worked and I was ready to buy some chocolates. Anna-Kat and I had some hard decisions to make but we decided on a few great presents to give to our friends and family back home, and left.
Once again we were on the train ride, back to Willich to see her family who had gotten home just hours before. My friend Emily, who is an AHA student, was meeting us soon and I was excited to see her as well. As we arrived at Anna-Kat’s house, her whole family was outside, ready to greet us. It was such a good feeling to back in the presence of family; our hugs lasted forever. I was re-thrilled at the idea of being in Germany with a family that I love so much. We all piled into the car, picked Em up from the train station, and headed to Dusseldorf.
Dusseldorf is what a classic Germany city has always been in my mind. Pubs and shops lined the streets as people filled them, laughing and talking with their friends. The Guths showed us around their city, hitting the highlights. Emily and I bought way too many gummies as well as two crazy different kinds of mustard: Apple and “Christmas” flavors. We walked along the river, tried to tell the time on the TV tower, and just enjoyed each others’ company. I know how cheesy I sound, but being with them felt like family and it was a feeling that I know I miss. We went to dinner at an amazing restaurant and I ordered my big German meal with my authentic Dusseldorf beer. Everything was incredible and it was a welcomed change from the Italian cuisine I have become so accustomed to.
We all ate more than we could handle, so with our pants barely fitting, and smiles on our faces, we walked around the city a bit more. We stopped at a microbrewery, tried some of their beer, and laughed at a drink menu that only contained three options: beer, water, apple juice. We people watched for awhile, walked around some more, seeing all of the shops, and piled in the car to head home.
For the rest of the night, us girls just hung out downstairs, laughing and talking, as I helped Anna-Kat with some of her homework. We all fell asleep that night, more than exhausted but very content, with our full stomachs, wonderful company, and the comfort of being among family.
The next morning was a bit of a stressful one, although it started out beautifully. Mrs. Guth had prepared a full German breakfast, complete with breads, pastries, meats, cheeses, spreads, and even American peanut-butter in case we were homesick. It was delicious and it was a wonderful meal to spend with my family.
After stuffing our faces, Em and I packed up our stuff and got ready for the train station, as we were headed to the Netherlands that afternoon. We called the hostel ahead to let them know we would be a little late and were met with an unhappy surprise. Apparently, we had made our reservations for the wrong days and instead of having a couple of beds for Saturday and Sunday, we had reserved them for Friday and Saturday. That would have been fine except that when we did not show up Friday, they cancelled our whole reservation. Panic immediately set it as we discovered that we were, at that point, homeless. Right away we began researching hostels, hotels, anything we could find that was open for the night.
This is the part of the trip that I began falling apart… almost. I was frustrated and slightly concerned, and ready to wave the white flag in defeat. Lucky for me, the Guths were slightly more determined than I, calling every hostel and hotel they could that would possibly have an opening. All I can say is that I realized how blessed I was at that moment. I was literally helpless, no knowledge of the language and no computer to do any research, and yet they went so far out of their way to help Emily and me. I could not be more grateful. We found a hostel downtown finally, made our second set of reservations, and took off for the train station.
The Guths went out of their way once again and drove us across into the Netherlands and to a small station where we could catch a train to Amsterdam. Even more chaos followed our arrival there as none of the ticket stations were working and our train was leaving within seconds. Mrs. Guth quickly figured it out, handed us our tickets, and ushered us toward the train. I began saying my goodbyes, thanking them for an incredible week and the wonderful visit. Almost immediately the tears came, an unexpected reaction that I should have seen coming. I am not the kind of person who cries during Nicolas Sparks movies like many girls (and guys for that matter) do, but goodbyes have quickly become a weakness for me. Of course Mrs. Guth responded with “No. No crying. We did not cry when we left you. No tears.” So I did my best to suck it up, get it together, and got on the train.
Emily and our bags of gummy bears were a good cure and we were soon catching up on our last week of traveling and chatting about who knows what else. Amsterdam was easy enough to find and as we walked out of the train station a couple hours later, we were overwhelmed with the crazy busyness of it all. Despite the chaotic beginning of this weekend trip, from the point we arrived on, things went smoothly.
I have always believed that things can be blessings in disguise and I think that us losing our original hostel was one of these cases. Lucky for us, HostelWorld was absolutely correct about our second hostel. It was located only a couple blocks from a main piazza and a block from one of the beautiful canals that wound through the city. Of course, being in Amsterdam came with the usual expected scenes. Coffee shops were seen as often as any Starbucks in Chicago and because it is such a tourist spot, restaurants featuring every ethnicity littered the streets. We arrived on Saturday night and the amount of people running around rivaled tailgating at a homecoming football game. We settled into our hostel and went out to find something to eat. After exploring for awhile we found a restaurant with outdoor seating, ordered some fish and chips, and sat back to people watch.
Because it was almost Halloween, there were plenty of people dressed up although most were just dressed up to go out that night. For the rest of the night, we mostly just wandered. We made a few friends, found a DJ we loved, and mostly had a fun night, laughing and being goofballs, Emily in devil horns and me in cat ears. The thing about Emily is that she is always up for fun and once she gets going, her energy level can last quite awhile.
The next morning we got up, wandered around and found the Hard Rock café. Emily has tried to go to a Hard Rock in every city so who am I to stop her? We waited quite awhile, colored a Halloween picture for the host, and dreamt about what we were going to order. Finally we sat down and ordered right away, so hungry from skipping breakfast. We stuffed our faces with American food complete with nachos, BBQ pork sandwiches, and a free ice-cream sundae.
We left content and looked for some trinkets and postcards to send home. We found some beautiful gardens, the I AMSTERDAM sign, and bought tickets for a hop-on, hop-off boat tour. We weren’t sure if we wanted to spend the money but it was worth it. It is the easiest and best way to see the city as a whole. There are canals that wind throughout the city and although the architecture is very different from Venice, the general layout seems to be similar.
Amsterdam was created and the canals were built after, forming a gridded system in the city. Three times a week the canals are flushed to bring in clean water. This leaves the city, as well as the canals, beautiful and clean. Because it is fall, the trees were all stunning shades of red, gold, yellow, and lime green. The smell of fall floated through the air and everywhere the boat went, we were surrounded by beauty.
That night we did a little shopping and then settled into a bar we found that was showing real American football! We could not believe they had so many different games on, but we were both thrilled (I am so happy Em is a football fan). We met a couple other Americans, students that are now in Manchester studying for the semester. We hung out with them for the rest night, wandering and exploring. They introduced us to an amazing fry place where all they serve is fries with about ten different kinds of sauces to put on top. We all got fries, sat by the canal, chatted, and enjoyed the night, dangling our feet over the edge, watching the ducks. We finally went back to our hostel and got some sleep, exhausted from the long day.
Monday, Halloween day, we woke up, packed up our stuff and left. We had most of the morning to wander more so we rode the canal boat around, saw the Anne Frank house, and explored the parts the canal didn’t touch. Amsterdam as a whole is absolutely beautiful. I know there are so many preconceptions of what it is like and it is known around the world as a certain place, but I was happily surprised at the reality of the city. It was beautiful, especially in the fall, and everyone was more than friendly. There is so much history in this city and I do want to go back and learn more about it. The countryside in the Netherlands is supposed to be stunning, especially in the spring when all of the tulip cover the fields. The phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” could not be truer than with this city. Of course, you get what you look for but I looked for beauty and saw it everywhere.
The plane ride home was once again uneventful although it was delayed for a couple of hours. We stayed a short night in Rome at a cheap hostel and got the morning train back to Macerata, to the safety of our homes, and comfort of my own bed.
My ten day break was one that I will remember as long as I live. I cannot believe how blessed I am to be able to see and experience the things I have been. I know I do not deserve any of this, I just have an incredibly supportive family, uncountable blessings, and a love of traveling. One of the other AHA students put it perfectly when she told me that traveling is like getting a tattoo. Once you start, they just become addicting. I cannot wait to see where the rest of the semester takes me! The gears in my mind are already turning so we’ll see what happens!