Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

Hi everyone! Happy New Year! I hope you had a very merry holiday season (“Frohe Weihnachten” - “Merry Christmas” in German). I have been here in Germany for the holidays, but have also been a bit all over the place over the last month.


The Christkind und ich!


I haven’t written a blog post in awhile, mainly because I’ve been exploring different parts of Europe, and that I haven’t had consistent wifi over the last week. (It’s amazing how reliant I have become on wifi!). Expect some blog posts in the near future, as I’ll be in a stable place in a few days! But to recap over the last few weeks...


I was in London for a few weeks, which was absolutely amazing. I visited a few schools, worked with a few different organizations that are tangentially related to school lunches, and guzzled liters of delicious tea. I’ll write about this in a future blog post, but the UK has been wonderful for my research experience - I believe it is the most similar to the US program out of all of the European programs I’ve studied. I met some amazing Vanderbilt alumni, got back into soccer, and really just enjoyed being. Just being.


My best friend, Emily, came to visit me less than two weeks before Christmas, and we spent the majority of our time in the Balkans. I’ll also be posting a short blog post about my time in the Balkans, as it has been my favorite region of all Europe to be in.  It’s a historically-rich and tumultuous place. Emily and I specifically went to Podgorica, Kotor and Budva in Montenegro; Skopje, Macedonia; and (on accident), Belgrade, Serbia.


Downtown Skopje, Macedonia

When I say, “on accident” … we really were not supposed to be in Belgrade! A word to the wise if anyone is considering traveling in the Balkans: if the bus website says there is an overnight bus online, don’t believe it until you have the ticket in your hand!

The bus website said that there was a bus going from Budva to Skopje. However, when we arrived to purchase our tickets, the receptionists shot us a “... really?” look and told us there was no bus until three days later. Woof. The only way out of Budva for the next few days was to go to Belgrade.


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On a bus! I would wager that we spent about 5 hours flying on this trip, and 25 hours on bus rides.


I wasn’t too upset with going to Belgrade, though, it is my favorite European city! Once we made it down to Skopje, we were in the land of the statues. I kid you not, there are statues all over Skopje. We saw at least two hundred statues in our 2.5 day visit. While on a walking tour of the city, the tour guide said that the Macedonian government has “a very serious condition: copy/paste syndrome.” The mayor of Skopje and other governmental officials copied monuments (such as the Spanish Steps, bull statues from other European capitals, etc.) and pasted them in Skopje. It was both amusing and eery to see monuments “resurface” in Macedonia.


We flew back to London, Emily left, and I then went to Germany. I landed in Köln (Cologne) and visited the beautiful Christmas markets!


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The entrance to the Christmas Market!

Köln’s character is incredibly fun and funny. The tour guide said that the goal is get by in life while doing the least to do so! Call it laziness, call it being clever, but this concept manifests itself around the city! The government discovered ancient Roman ruins while installing a parking garage, and wanted to build a museum to highlight the ruins. Rather than build a building and move the ruins into the building, they just took away a few parking spaces in the parking garage and put on the “exhibit” there. Bahaha it was really fun listening to the Colognese culture - and have you heard of Carnival?


Next, I ended up in Straubing, Germany, a village in Bavaria. For those who do not know much about Bavaria, it was a separate country up until 1871. Even though it’s been merged with Germany for hundreds of years, it is incredibly patriotic to its Bavarian roots.

Bayrisches Familienfoto mit Dirndl & Lederhosen
Oktoberfest, dirndls, lederhosen, are all Bavarian!


Though I didn’t buy one, I did get the opportunity to try on a dirndl or two!



The Bavarian accent is also quite difficult to understand, which made for equally amusing and confusing conversations. I stayed with my American friend Monika, and her Bavarian boyfriend’s family in Straubing. It was so amazing. The food was delicious, Deutschmama and Deutschpapa (“German mom” and “German dad”) were so kind and fun to talk to, and being with loved ones during the holidays was really meaningful for me.


 Homemade Plaetzchen ("Christmas cookies")

"Downtown" Straubing


And then came the post-Christmas shopping. :) The temperature in Munich, Germany is pretty cold right now, about 20 F throughout the day. On January 3rd, I’ll be in Windhoek, Namibia, which is experiencing summer temperatures of 80+ F. I basically purchased a new wardrobe, which isn’t that many clothes to begin with! ;) A few shirts, a pair of pants, some new socks. Traveling light is helpful.


Tonight, I’m leaving Munich, where I’ve been at for the last few days, to go to Windhoek, Namibia. Everything about traveling to southern Africa feels like starting a new chapter. It’s a new year, a new continent, and I’m halfway done with my fellowship. It’s a bit strange, I feel like I’ve been gone from the United States for a really long time, but it also feels like things are moving more quickly. Though I still have half of my Fellowship to complete, I sense that the latter half will fly by.


Since I am halfway done, I want to take this time to thank you for following my blog. Even though I don’t know personally who is reading my blog, it is encouraging to know that you care about my journey. Traveling without a consistent community is difficult, so the small things - such as seeing that people are reading my posts - quite helpful for feeling like y’all are with me.


Gratefully,
Erin


I got to use a squatty potty for the first time!

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