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Great European adventure: Part Három & Vier – Budapest and Brussels

At the end of the last post about the Great European Adventure, me and Beth were still in Poland. To get Budapest, which is in Hungary for you geography scholars, we had to get to the airport. There’s a train to the airport, so we packed up our stuff and made it to the railway station in plenty of time. And that’s when the fun started.

When we got to the railway station, we had no idea what train we needed to get other than the fact it went to the airport. So we duly went to the ticket office to ask for tickets to the airport. Turned out the woman working the desk was the first person we talked to in Warsaw who didn’t speak any English. She directed us, or so we thought, to a taxi help centre across the main concourse of the station. We hurry over, and ask the lovely people there if they could help us. They did speak English, and told us to go to the newsagents in the middle of the railway station. At this point, me and Beth were pretty sure something had got lost in translation, but we went across and lo and behold, to buy tickets to get to the airport you have to go to the newsagents. Perfect sense when there’s at least a dozen ticket desks… But the woman behind the counter was very lovely and helpful, even when I confused her. So yes, we eventually managed to get tickets and get on to the train and get to the airport and yes. The Polish section of the Great European Adventure had been successfully completed – onto Budapest!

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The Hungarian parliament, side on.

When we got to Budapest, we picked up our Budapest cards. The Budapest card, for a mere 30 ish  euros, let us use all public transport free for 72 hours, as well as get us into some of the museums and Baths for free/reduced rate. Basically, it was great. Definitely worth it. After we’d picked up our magic cards, we headed towards our hostel. We were staying at the Bebop Apartments and after thoroughly confusing the guy who checked us in because he couldn’t decide if me and Beth were a couple, we were in Budapest, in a beautiful hostel, which had the most ridiculous bunk beds.

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Beth proving she could stand up on the top of the upper bunkbed and not hit her head.

With the rest of our day, we decided to head into the city centre, because any time you’re not exploring the new city you’re in is just wasted, right? And we were in Budapest centre for about, ooh, twenty minutes and decided we didn’t ever want to leave.

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St Stephens, looking beautiful in the setting sun

We spent a long while wandering round the outside of St Stephens Basilica, which was beautiful and then we ended up at the Danube, listening to a band, which included a washboard, play jazz. As the sun started to set. It was just…pure magic. I swear there were sparkles in the air.

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Music in the streets is the best.

We had a wander along the chain bridge, marvelled at the parliament building, and just generally soaked up the city. We ended up at a place called Lizt Square for food, which is an area that has roughly a bazillion and one restaurants. It’s right next to a hexagonal traffic light system. I know this, because we walked all round it until we found where we were looking for.

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Me on the chain bridge. We did not cross it as many times as me and Maddie crossed the Charles Bridge in Prague.

The second day, the first thing we did was head for the Baths. Budapest is famous for its baths. My last experience of public baths was in Japan and that was segregated by gender and involved a lot of nudity. Budapest baths, on the other hand, are non segregated and swimming costumes are required.  We went to the Lukacs Baths which we got into free thanks to our Budapest cards. Once inside, we headed straight for the thermal baths. If there’s a special order to which pools you go in, we didn’t crack it. It was really chill, just hanging out. There were a lot of OAPs there, but we weren’t the only young people. It was awesome.

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Anywhere that signposts wifi is my kind of place.

Leaving was a wrench, but when you’ve basically become a prune, what’re you going to do? We headed back to the hostel to dump our stuff, before combing the streets to find somewhere to buy food. It took us longer than you would have thought, but we managed it, then headed to the Buda side of Budapest (we were staying in Pest). We hit up a park for a picnic and finally, when Beth persuaded me to move, we walked up to the castle.

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Look at the pretties.

I am not the fittest of people. And I hate stairs. And I’m sure Beth will happily tell you just how long it took me to get up to the castle (Answer: far too long). But, it was worth it. Despite there being tons of roadworks going on within the castle complex, it was amazing. It looked like Hogwarts. And they had an icecream shop. And did I mention how beautiful it was?

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See? Hogwarts.

That evening we ended up back at Lizt Square for food, because as I mentioned it has a billion restaurants. And after that we went to one of the coolest pubs I’ve ever been to.

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Fairy lights, glitterballs and washing lines. An weirdly good mix.

Szimpla Kert is one of many ruin bars in Budapest. Essentially, it’s a pub in an abandoned warehouse. But it’s a warehouse strung with fairy lights, decorated with random furniture and junk. I mean, one of the seats was a bath.  It was a lot of fun hanging out there.

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And I thought trees were meant to grow upwards.

On the third day we decided we were gonna get up at a time that allowed us to outside while it was relatively cool, because with the temperature pushing 40 degrees, we were finding it a little difficult to function by the time midday hit. That’s 40 Celsius for anyone who’s think 40F doesn’t sound warm at all. So we headed to Heroes Square, a place that had been described to us as the most beautiful place in Budapest.

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Heroes Square is perfectly fine.

No offense to whoever thinks that but I disagree. I mean, it’s not ugly, but if I wanted monuments and pillars I’d go to Trafalgar Square. And when the rest of Budapest is so beautiful, why pick Heroes Square as the best?

We had a wander, but our main purpose for being there was the art museum at the side. But when we got there, all exhibitions were closed except for the one you had to pay for. So we turned tail and headed to the other side of the city in search of the contemporary art gallery.

I have to take a moment here, and if Beth’s reading this, she knows what I’m about to rant about. The guide to the city we had was in Hungarian and English. Which was super useful as we don’t speak Hungarian. And it labelled this Gallery as being in the “Whale” shopping centre. Which we couldn’t find. Wandering in the midday heat had been exactly what we’d been hoping to avoid. And there we were. Searching for this gallery. It turns out that the Shopping centre is the “Balna” shopping centre. Which was prominently displayed on the outside. Balna means whale. Whatever translator thought translating the name of a shopping centre was a good idea, was wrong. So very wrong. Grrr.

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Two very happy, slightly sunburnt, friends.

But we had a lovely time in the air conditioned gallery and then we headed to the Kiraly Baths, which were exponentially fancier than the Lukacs baths the day before. Of course, they weren’t free, but it was definitely worth the whole five ish pounds. There were the standard different heated pools, including the main one that was under a dome with holes in the ceiling so that through the steam (and my steamed up glasses) it looked like stars. Beth made me go in the cold pool. Word to the wise: don’t go from a 40 ish degree pool to a 15/25 isg degree pool. Don’t do it. There was also a hot tub and a Jacuzzi and at least two saunas. It was so good.

After lounging at the Baths for hours, we went back to the hostel, ‘cause thanks to the temperature pushing 40 degrees, we both felt a bit weird. So we hung out at the hostel till I got cooler and Beth learnt to juggle. And then we headed out for food. We ended up eating right next to St Stephans basilica and it was a lovely way to end our time in Budapest.

Budapest was amazing. Beth described it as “A city men would go to war for”, and I feel like that’s fairly accurate. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s been and didn’t love it. It was amazing, and I’d really recommend going if you get the chance. Because it’s just…magical. And you’re basically obliged to lounge in warm water for long amounts of time – what could be better?

The next day we were meant to be undertaking a 13 hour train journey from Budapest to Ilmenau, via Dresden and Erfurt. Unfortunately, while we were on a train for over 13 hours, it was massively delayed and the first train that should have taken us 9 hours to get to Dresden, in fact took 13+. We managed to get on a train to Leipzig but that was where we had to stop because there were no more trains until the morning.

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By the time we’d been on the train for 8 hours, we put all of the seats down to make a giant bed.

It wasn’t so bad. We had a compartment to ourselves, and even though for this train journey it was a second class compartment, it was actually a first class, so it was super comfortable. Staying in Leipzig wasn’t exactly my idea of ideal, but we found a hotel and the lady on the front desk complimented my German and we had a chat about Ilmenau because her best friend lives there.

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Always time for one last Spaghetti Eis.

The next day we made it back to Ilmenau and had a wander. Then my Dad turned up to drive us back to the UK. Have I mentioned that my Dad’s lovely? And we didn’t go straight back to England though. We had a day in Brussels.

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On my last night there, I made it to the Robot Bar in Ilmenau.

One thing I would say about Brussels is that their tourist attractions all have mascots. Who insist you have photos taken with them. It was a little unnerving. We went to the Atominum which was pretty cool, even if me and Beth can’t say it’s name. At all. If you’re at school in Brussels, or I assume anywhere, you can have a sleepover in one of the balls. Me and Beth were pretty sad to find out we weren’t eligible.

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The Atominuimiumium.

We also went to Mini Europe, which has mini representations of important landmarks of the members of the EU. That was pretty cool, especially when I got to see landmarks from the countries I’d been in the previous two weeks.

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Mini Berlin! Complete with Berlin Wall…

The next day we walked to see the EU building, which is quite shiny. Unfortunately, we were a day early for the opening of the visitor’s centre, so we got in the car and finished the drive home. Which marked not only the end of the Great European Adventure but my Year Abroad as well. At the time I was too tired for that to really sink in. But now, writing this six months later, it seems so surreal to think that I lived in Germany for 9 months. It seems so long ago now! But that is a post for another time. Hope you enjoyed the Great European Adventure. I know I did.

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We’re the coolest.

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Great European Adventure: Part Dwa – Warsaw

So last time, I left it as I was headed to the railway station to go to Poland to meet Beth. And just so you know, this is Beth. She’s featured on this blog before, specifically in this post.

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She gets excited about flamingos.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a huge railway station with at least four levels, so leaving Maddie to go and catch a train meant I left super early to make sure I didn’t miss my train. It meant I ended up being an hour and half earlier. Course, the aforementioned hugeness of Berlin Hauptbahnhof meant there were plenty of places to sit.

When I finally got on my train, the only people in my compartment were me and nice old polish man, who trusted me enough to keep an eye on his suitcase while he went down to the dining car to get breakfast. Yeah, this train was early enough that people hadn’t had breakfast before getting onto it. When we crossed the Polish border, our compartment filled up, and a mere six ish hours after getting on the train I was getting off a train onto Polish soil.

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Starbucks was getting in on the welcome committee.

 The first challenge was to try and find Beth when neither of us had phone signal, but we managed and had quite a squealy reunion in quite a busy railway station in Warsaw. Our second challenge was figuring out how to use the metro system. After asking one of the “we’re here to help” people, we managed it, but it is all down to the woman who helped us, despite her limited English.

Getting out of the tube station the first thing we saw was  Marks & Spencers. Not so impressive. But then the second thing we saw was the Palac Kultury I Nauki or in English, Palace of Culture and Science.

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It kind of looks like a rocket, don’t you think?

After nearly getting hit by a tram as we tried to cross a dual carriage way and a tram line at the same time, and discovering that I can’t use google maps, we ended up at the hostel, which was up too many stairs. We stayed at the Mish Mash Hostel and it was really nice, and the wifi there is the best wifi I have ever experienced. I have the best priorities.

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All the cool graffiti. 

So we spent our first afternoon wandering around Warsaw, and it’s a really attractive city. I mean, they have spires and domed churches and Copernicus Square is super cool. So Copernicus was a scientist, who suggested that the sun was in the centre of the solar system, which is, as I’m sure you’re aware, the actual state of things. He’s a very important astronomer and mathematician, and so he has a whole square named after him with a statue of him in the middle and the solar system on the floor. It’s really cool.

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That’s Copernicus in the background. The statue not the people going about their lives, obviously.

We also found an open air concert and chilled there for a bit, and basically all was well in Warsaw. It didn’t feel super touristy and in fact, it’s not. Krakow tends to be where people head and I hear it’s beautiful. Warsaw felt like a place real people live. Ugh, that sounds so pretentious. What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t like London in that in the centre there’s a hundred and one things to do and see, and shops on every corner hitting you over the head with the fact that you’re in London, London, did you know? Warsaw felt more like Birmingham in that, yeah there’s stuff to do, but if you just want to wander round, maybe do a few things, that’s fine.

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The University Library is super ivy covered.

On our second day, it absolutely tipped it down. We hit up a bakery because the secret to good travelling is to buy cake for breakfast, and then, in an absolute downpour, we made our way to the Copernicus Science Museum.[HYPERLINK] Of course when we got there, it was chock-a-block of school students and we were told that there were no more tickets left at all. For the whole of the day. So we shrugged, walked round to the planetarium, bought tickets for the evening.

When I say we bought tickets, I should probably explain what happened when we tried to buy tickets. Firstly, we had to wait for the screen to flick back to the English screen time because neither of us speak Polish. Not an issue in and of itself except for the fact that they appeared to work on the basis that no-one spoke English so the English menu flashed up for less than five seconds at a time. Then, when we’d finally picked something, the helpful cashier told us it was for kids. Normally this would not stop us, but he was attractive and I got flustered because I wanted to look cool, and I’d already had to go “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish. Do you speak English?” So I picked something else at random. To which he replied, “that’s for kids as well.” And in the end he picked for us. Because it was the only way it was gonna work.

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Outside science exhibits are the best. Even when it’s raining.

 Outside of the science museum there are interactive exhibits and we spent about an hour jumping on pavement xylophones and trying to figure out how various displays worked. Then, because we are nothing if not children, we went to the zoo. In the rain. We saw so many animals, but I think the highlight was the bison. Well, for me it was the highlight. I think the elephants were the highlight for Beth. Either way, despite being sodden, we had fun.

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The laziest lion I have ever seen.

Afterwards we ended up in a café slash pub slash something for food. And then, after Polish beer and interesting goulash, we headed all the way back to the Science Museum for the planetarium show, which was a show of stars without explanation but with live musical accompaniment. I cannot lie, I fell asleep. Which you may or may not remember is somewhat of a theme for me, as I fell asleep in the planetarium in Jena. Beth was very amused by my uselessness, and says that the planetarium was awesome.

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Goulash is one my favourite things discovered while travelling.

Our third and final day we headed back to the science museum and we actually got in this time! Yay! The museum was amazing. Seriously seriously amazing. There’s a robot that writes poetry and a comparison of different methods of drawing waters and various logic puzzles.

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It wrote poetry! Bad poetry, but poetry nonetheless.

And then we ended up in the fourteens and over section, which was super cool. There was a ton of computer based experiments, and they were really interesting. There was one about how to tell if someone is lying, and one about how much you react to gross images. There were ones about how you say something is more important what you actually say. We spent so much time in that section, because it was amazing. By the time we came out of the section, we had the energy to pit ourselves against animals – My grip is not as strong as a boa constrictor and Beth can’t hang from a tree as long as an orang-utan. Then a lovely polish guy explained to us the experiment in the main atrium which is about proving that the earth spins. And we ended on that high note.

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This proves the earth spins. #factz

After a long day at the science museum we headed back to the hostel to summon up energy before heading out for beer and pierogi. Pierogi are essentially pastry dumplings with stuff inside them. They are also tasty, though I feel like they need gravy. But most things taste better with gravy, so yeah…

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Om nom nom

After food, we headed to the Palace of Science and Culture. Remember I mentioned it at the beginning? Because you can go up it and look across the city. And on some days, you can go up it at night. Which is what we did. There was a rock concert going on below it and we whiled away at least a good hour, marvelling at the beauty of Warsaw in the dark.

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Purple spaceships are the best kind of spaceships.

Warsaw was really great, not least because I was there with one of my best friends. It’s an attractive town, has really great food and there’s stuff to see. As a linguist (yes, I did just write that), I felt embarrassed every time I had to say “I’m sorry. I don’t speak any Polish, do you speak English?” and was always relieved when invariably the person went “Yes, but not much.” Happily everyone spoke enough English to help us out, except for one lady who I’ll get to in my next post (It’ll be about Budapest guys. Tell your friends). But we did get talked at in Polish a lot. Thankfully everyone was really quick to pick up on our blank faces and was really lovely about helping us. So yeah, don’t expect everyone to speak English if you ever go. We tried to at least learn thankyou, but we mangled the pronunciation so much, we really confused the locals. As a language-y person, I felt really bad about not speaking any Polish, but a year abroad has made me much more confident to go ‘look, I’m sorry that I don’t understand.’

So yeah, Warsaw. Good place. Handsome place. Enjoy.

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Great European Adventure: Part Eins – Berlin

Fair warning: this blog post has many pictures and few words. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, so…

 If you can cast your minds back to four months ago, I was leaving Ilmenau. And can you remember why? Don’t stress if you can’t. Seems harsh to spring a quiz on you when I went AWOL. And some of you are new. So to recap, I was leaving Ilmenau because my contract with the school (I was doing a teaching assistantship on my year abroad – check out these posts for details) was up and I was doing some travelling before headed back to Blighty.

So Berlin. I left Ilmenau super excited because in Berlin Maddie awaited me. You remember Maddie, right? She came over to see me way back in the autumn and we hit up Prague  and I haven’t shut up about Prague since. Also, you know. Berlin’s one of my favourite places.

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Maddie’s the fabulous blonde. 

With Berlin and one of my best friends awaiting, is it any wonder I was excited? So excited in fact that when I got to Berlin and had to use the S-bahn, it took me two stops before I realised I’d managed to use the ticket machine in German without any issues. Result. Year abroad really works, guys.

In Alexander Platz I met Maddie and she guided me to the hostel we were staying in, whose name totally escapes me at the moment. (Maddie has informed it was called One80). It was a decent hostel, the guys on reception were super lovely and it wasn’t a *ridiculous* distance from an s-bahn stop. What more could you want?

20140602_165104The global clock in Alexanderplatz. You can play guess where the tourist is from by which section they take a photo of.

The first afternoon I made Maddie do a huge walking tour of the places I’ve been in Berlin, for which I’m not sure she’s forgiven me. We went down Unter den Linden, to the Reichstag, past the Holocaust memorial, through Potsdamer Platz, past part of the Berlin wall, via a Fotomat to Checkpoint Charlie. Seriously, I made her walk so far. I am a terrible person. I mean, we were both shattered anyway from travelling and then I made us exercise. A truly terrible person.

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And we walked past Trabi World.

The second day we headed over to Kreuzberg for brunch. Now Kreuzberg was described to me at various points and by various sources as ‘the place to be’, ‘the root of all hipsters’ and ‘up and coming but not quite there yet’. It was only about 10am when we got there but it was dead. Last time I was in a place so empty I was in the business district of London on Palm Sunday.

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All found in Kreuzberg.

After walking down several heavily graffitied streets, we ended up at Nest, a place that The Guardian recommended for brunch in Kreuzberg. Yes, we’re super cool.

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Brunch of champions.

Brunch at Nest was delicious. Seriously, it was so good. You should go. Afterwards, in somewhat of a food coma, we wandered through Kreuzberg, taking photos of the graffiti and wondering how anyone can afford to buy things in the hipster shops.  We then crossed the river and walked up the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall that acts an art gallery. Many of the paintings are reproductions of graffiti that was on the Berlin Wall while it still divided the city. It’s really interesting, though I need to say, it is long. It was way longer than we expected.


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Yay Graffitii

After finding a S-bahn stop because we were exhausted from walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we ended up at a huge arts and crafts shop, whose name I have completely forgotten. We spent a good couple of hours walking round it, looking at all the expensive paper and fabric that we wanted but could neither afford nor fit in our suitcases.  And then at some point we must have headed out for dinner, and I can say with 90% certainty that we had beer, because we had beer with almost every meal.

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My favourite piece of graffitti we saw. Represents reunification of Berlin.

The next day we went to Kreuzberg for brunch again, because we are the coolest people you’ll ever read about in a blog. This time it was at a place called Salon Schmück and although good, it wasn’t as good as Nest.

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I like eggy bread. I like bacon. I kinda like maple syrup. All three together is a bit much though.

Afterwards we headed up to the Natural History Museum because I’d been wanting to see dinosaur bones since January. Like I said, I’m a cool kid. The Berlin Natural History Museum is currently undergoing massive renovations. However, they still have dinosaurs, they still have moon rock and the biggest wet collection of specimens in the world. That mean stuff kept in jars of ammonia, not in, like, a swimming pool or anything. Just so you know.

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DINOSAURS!

In the dinosaur exhibit they had binoculars that, when you focused on the dinosaur skeletons, filled in the organs, the skin and then what their habitat would have looked like. And then the dinosaurs moved. And it was one of the best things ever.  Then we wandered into an audio visual description of how the universe came into being and how it’ll probably end. And that sounds lame, but you got to lie back on a round sofa and watch it above you and that was awesome.

When you carried on round, there was a massive exhibition on birds, including what a T-rex would look like with feathers. Which is still one of my favourite things. And then in the shop I bought a stuffed toy bison. Because as I have previously mentioned bison are my new favourite animals. And Heinrich is the cuddliest stuffed toy bison to ever exist.

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It looks like a colourful chicken. Jurassic Park would be very different. 

We headed out for tea at some point, again with the beer, and then I, tipsily, decided we needed a selfie with the Brandenburg Gate. This lead to me getting very confused about the Berlin public transport system and selfies of this calibre:

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That’s the symbol of victory sticking out the op of my head. 

Which was a pretty great end to part one of my Great European Adventure. Because the day after I got up at an early time to brave the S-bahn alone, heading to the main station to get on a train to Warsaw alone.

I do love Berlin.  And getting to go with Maddie was awesome, even if she wasn’t so keen on the city. But I have to say the best part was Heinrich. Because cuddly bison are the best.

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Heinrich giving his best duck face.

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Easter Holidays, part two

As I’m sure anyone who’s talked to me since Christmas can tell you, my Dad was coming to see me for my birthday. And my birthday happened to fall during the Easter holidays. So this was an excellent plan. Dad was going to pick me up on the morning of my birthday, so I could go have breakfast with him at the hotel. Solid plan.

Dad picks me up, takes me to the hotel, I walk into the breakfast room. And bam. Surprise family. My grandparents and aunts had made the two day trip as well. Huge surprise. Think I’m still a little in shock over it, a whole week later. But yes. Huge surprise. Good surprise. Huge good surprise.

The first thing we did, after breakfast and presents and me trying to stop being surprised, was head to the Kickelhahn. It’s a tower on a hill that looks over Ilmenau and it’s important for reasons, and there’s a vague thing that if you’re at the university here, you have to go to the Kickelhahn once a year (or maybe once semester) otherwise you’ll fail. I had not yet been to the Kickelhahn, because walking all the way up sounded a lot like D of E, and I’m not doing that again. So we drove towards it, only to find that you can’t get all the way up there by car. Walking up took a lot of energy, but I think the view was worth it.

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Behold the Kickelhahn.

Afterwards, we headed into Ilmenau so I could show my family around the town that’s been home for the past few months. Then in the evening we went out for tea, which was lots of fun, and an excellent end to my birthday.

Thursday we went to Erfurt, where the weather was all kinds of bleh. But the cathedral was beautiful as always.  It was, however, May Day so most shops and things were shut which made wandering a little aimless, but with good company it didn’t really matter.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Erfurt cathedral looks like something from Lothlorien or Rivendell.

Friday we went to die Wartburg, a castle in Thüringen important for many reasons, not least among them that Martin Luther translated the New Testament there. It was my third time there and by this point I know the English tour of the castle pretty well. However, it’s always interesting, and I got to show off my epic knowledge about St Elizabeth of Thüringen, which, shockingly, I don’t get to do often.

Saturday was the final day with my family, and it involved ice cream in Ilmenau and then lunch at a restaurant in Schmiedefeld am Rennsteig, which was possibly the best food I’ve ever had.

Having my family around for my 21st was a massive surprise and super good. Even if I did end up speaking so much German in cafes and restaurants. Though that is the point of a year abroad. 

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Easter Holidays, part one.

I spent the first week of the Easter holidays in Dresden, visiting Manda, who you may remember from several posts before Christmas. As always, it was epic, especially as when one has a whole week to play with, one can do so much more stuff.

So I got there on the Monday and after chilling in Manda’s new flat for a while, we went back to her old flat, because she’d been invited for tea and her old flatmates very kindly invited me as well. It was lots of fun, especially with a German language only rule imposed, that one of the German guys flagrantly disregarded. The highlight of the evening was definitely me and Manda letting England down, when neither of us knew that you’re meant to leave the tops of asparagus on. Seriously, who knows these kinds of things?

Tuesday was a very chilled out kind of day. After first going via an English foodstuffs shop and a bakery, we sat in the park for ages, soaking up the sunshine. Then we went to the military museum, which had lots of swords and armour and interesting things. In the evening we went out, having fantastic cocktails in various bars, before going to student night at Katy’s Garage. Totally didn’t end up on the dance floor because of Call Me Maybe. No. Never.

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A fabulous helmet

On Wednesday, we shopped.

And then in the evening we went to the cinema. So one of the Dresden cinema’s does a “sneak peak” showing of a film soon to come out, which is what we were at. We saw Legend of Hercules. Don’t bother. Seriously, seriously, don’t bother. It’s terrible and not even in a good way.

Thursday was a day of adventure. We went to the Kulturinsel Einsiedel, which describes itself as a theme park without the rides. What it actually is, is awesome. There’s a wizard’s word and an enchanter’s castle, treehouses at every corner and tunnels running underneath the site. I’m not sure pictures really do it justice.

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The wizard’s wood.

 

We had a lot of fun exploring and moaning about how many kids were there. There’s a festival there in summer, which looks like insane amounts of fun, and you can even stay there in treehouses. It was crazy good fun and just…yes. Though I don’t think Manda’s ever going to forgive me for suggesting we climb the windmill and go through the connecting tunnels. They perhaps weren’t built with twenty one year olds in mind.

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Crawling through a wire tunnel several feet above the ground was actually scarier than i expected.

On Friday we went and sat by the Elbe for a couple of hours, which I think was something we managed to do almost every day. Friday was special in that I fell asleep for a good hour. Did I mention the weather was beautiful the whole week? When I’d actually woken up, we headed to Zwinger, which is a palace in the old town. Nowadays it houses an art museum, that we did not go into, but we did look at the postcards, so same thing, right?

Following our cultural excursion, we made apple crumble and then we went to a restaurant whose name I have totally blanked on. It began with a V. And it was like Subway for pasta. Delicious, cheapish and they make it in front of you. Though that last one is a little awkward, especially when the chef is cute and bored.

Saturday we chilled, sat by the Elbe and then I headed back to Ilmenau. Where the weather was most definitely not beautiful. But Dresden was so much fun, though as ever, it was down to the company.

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An Abundance of Easter

(Note: My internet is still down, hence this being super late. Apologies if anyone is desperate to find out how my week was.) 

So as I spent Monday travelling back form Bruges, my week begins on Tuesday. This week it was reading week at school, so there were lots of things going on, like book sales. And kids reading, everywhere. In my first class I talked about Easter, which included giving the kids a cadburys mini egg each. They thought that was fantastic, but what kids don’t like free chocolate. In my second and third class, we were doing about Easter as well. It basically boiled down to ‘do you have easter egg hunts?’, to which my reply of ‘well, I’m twenty so no’ went down fairly well.

I didn’t go to the BC Café meeting, because I super needed to catch on sleep from the weekend. Travelling’s tiring, yo!

Wednesday my first class had maths instead of English, because of the reading week (no, I don’t understand how that works either), but it meant I was helping in a class that already had a teacher and two teaching assistants. My second and third class was cancelled, because again, reading week, so I had a couple of hours of finishing off tutoring prep for that week. My final class were again doing about Easter. The easter rhyme they’re learning is ‘Easter eggs are yellow. Easter eggs are blue. Easter eggs are red and green. Here is one for you.’ It does not rhyme in German, as every class thus far has told me when they’ve translated it.

At tutoring we read a heavily edited version of Fantastic Mr Fox. I made them stop halfway through to do a wordsearch and both of them moaned so much, because they wanted to know what happened. That’s the first time they’ve ever wanted to do actual work over fun stuff. At the end of the lesson, Luka asked if he could borrow the book, so I let him. Whether or not he’ll get all the way through it, I’m not sure.

Thursday I got to help judge the reading competition. It kind of felt like being back in a listening exam, but at least for once, it wasn’t me being marked.

On Friday, all of my classes were doing Easter again, so there was much talk of easter eggs and chocolate, and not much else. Friday evening was the start of the BC Café’s birthday week, which began with an electroswing night. It was all kinds of fun, even if I didn’t do any dancing.

Saturday evening, I was out again, at a flat party. Again, lots of fun, but this time round, I did all of the dancing.

Then on Sunday I went to brunch at the BC Café, before leaving to spend the majority of the day bemoaning my lack of internet, especially as I was meant to be skyping England. Then in the evening I helped Therese translate something from German to English, which really hurt my brain. You would have thought I’d be better at this by now. 

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In Bruges

Apologies for how long this post has been in coming. There’s a case of the mysteriously missing internet in Ilmenau at the moment, so if you see Sherlock Holmes, send him this way. 

I’d like to start this post by saying, that like most places, I only wanted to go to Bruges because of a work of fiction – namely the 2008 film In Bruges. I only know where Bruges even is because of the film (It’s in Belgium). However, last weekend Bruges suddenly had a much bigger draw, namely that two of my best friends were going to be there. 

 
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They wanted code names in this blog, so say hi to Destiny and Pablo. 
 
Going to Bruges by train from Ilmenau was a trek and half, involving four trains and nine hours. What I learnt was that Germany is really big. Roughly seven hours of the trip was in Germany. Living in the Midlands in England means normally the longest I’m going to travel with in my own country is about four hours, unless I’m trying to take the train to Cornwall or something. It’s really hard to comprehend how big Germany must be. Anyway, after being asked if I spoke French a few times (Answer: no, not at all), I finally made it to Bruges. After Destiny and Pablo met me and took me to the hostel, we spent a couple of hours catching up till we realised it was going on one am and they’d been up since three. 
 
Saturday we had a wander round Bruges, did some shopping, generally caught up on each others lives. Bruges is very beautiful. The buildings all have crenellations and there’s flowers by the canals and it’s all a bit olde wordly, despite the fact that it has all of the shops you could ever want. Also a pasta place that was the best. Takeaway pasta for less than 5 euros that was really really good. Also free cheese. Free cheese will always makes things good. 
 
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Happy Destiny and Pablo at the pasta place.
 
We were going to queue for the Belfry, but the queue was huge, so we went on a jaunt to the Königin Astrid Park, better known to fans of the film as the place with the alcoves. Or nooks and crannies, perhaps that’s a better word. We found no such places. Bang went our assassination plans. Then we went to Raamstraat (another place mentioned in the film) because we’re massive dorks, and it turns out it doesn’t look like it does in the film. But it is very pretty. 
 
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There was a reason for them looking grumpy, but I don’t remember it…
 
Sunday we intended to get to the Belfrey when it opened. Instead the Tour of Flanders began from outside the Belfrey so we ended up at the Church of the Holy Blood first instead. It was beautiful. I think it’s possibly the prettiest church I’ve ever been in. We did not kiss the vial of Jesus’ blood, but we did kiss the frog statue outside in the square. A long standing tradition dating back all the way to 2012. We got some weird looks, especially when Pablo and Destiny made me kiss it again so they could get a picture. 
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It did not turn into a prince.
 
After that we went to Belfrey and queued for what felt like forever, but was probably like half an hour. In that time we made friends with some English people, including two OAPs who then managed to walk up the Belfrey without dying at the top, like we did. The Belfrey gets very narrow and low at the top. I mean, seriously. I know in the film it’s played for laughs, but they’re not kidding around. Those tourists never would have got to the top. While we were up there, the bells started going, and played La Bamba. I kid you not. 
 
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I have about ten billion photos of the Belfrey.
 
Post Belfrey we went on a wander, which took us through a market where we got very distracted by shiny things. We eventually ended up at a museum, that we thought was the museum we were looking for. After paying six euros for entry to a museum that was full of mostly dull things and one amusing picture, we realised it was not the museum we were looking for and went on our way. To the cathedral next door. Well, it could have been a church. What’s the difference between a cathedral and a church? Is it like a town and a city and you need a special charter from the queen to be a cathedral? Anyway, musings aside, this cathedral/church/whatever has the only Michelangelo work outside of Italy. It’s a statue of the Madonna and child. It’s alright. Looks like a Renaissance statue of Madonna and child. 
 
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Pretty standard.
 
After Pablo and Destiny berated me for being a philistine and generally unappreciative of art, we got lunch where we made friends with the guy behind the counter, who informed us that the flag we’d liberated that morning from a fence at the start of the Tour of Flanders, was not the flag of Flanders, but in actuality was the flag of a right wing group who one could equate with the BNP. The flag was very hurriedly thrown in the bin. 
 
We walked to where we thought the chocolate museum was then realised it was actually on the other side of town. So then we walked to where it actually was. Free chocolate is always a plus and it was interesting, but I feel like no chocolate musuem is ever going to live up to Cadbury’s World. Sorry. 
 
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The chocolate fairy – the tooth fairy’s arch enemy.
 
Post this, we went back to the hostel, fell asleep because we are pathetic, and then headed out in search of alcohol. We ended up at an Irish pub, and I have never been so aware of my accent. Well, except for when anyone points out that I’ve said “tuth-brush” not “tooth-brush”. 
 
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Bruges at night
 
Monday we visited vintage shops and had ice cream. Pablo and Destiny had spaghetti ice cream, because Bruges has that. Four for you Bruges. You go, Bruges. And then we left. Headed out on a train to Brussels, where in a mix of German and English I was informed we were sat in first class and we had not paid for first class. And then I did the world’s longest journey* in reverse. 
 
So yes, Bruges. Is very pretty. Take friends (and maybe alcohol.) 
 
*Alright, that might be a slight exaggeration. 
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Of Wild Animals and Elephant Songs

As ever, Monday was spent preparing for tutoring, which mainly involved making lists of animals and creating worksheets, including one about what sounds different animals make.

Tuesday, of course, I was at work. In my first class, I taught the kids the elephant song that I translated last week. This meant singing. Alone. In front of people. That’s not a thing that I do. But the kids applauded, so I think that’s a good sign. Then they continued with the endless worksheets about house and home.

In my second lesson, the kids were learning about the seasons still, and to be honest, there’s not a fat lot for me to do when they’re mainly colouring in. And then in my third lesson, I brought out my pictures of wild animals again, and got into an argument about whether the snake was a rattlesnake. (Answer: No, it was a boa constrictor.)

On Wednesday my first two lessons were about wild animals. The first was with 1/2b who wanted to know what my favourite animal is and I panicked, so my official favourite animal in Germany is the lion. (I’ve been talking to too many Gryffindors, obvs.) For reference, my current favourite animal is actually the bison. Or baby sloths. In the second with 4d/e, they just wanted to know if I’d taken the photos. Which I had. Apparently having gone to a zoo with a camera makes me cool.

My fourth class had been split up because there were so many teachers ill, so I ended up helping out with maths in 1/2b. Maths with the 1/2 classes is so much easier than maths with the 3/4 classes. I wonder why… And my final class was cancelled because the English teacher was ill, so I got to go home early.

At tutoring we were doing about animals, which was lots of fun, especially as Luka has a stack of animal books. And as some of them were in Serbian I got to attempt to speak Serbian. Eastern European languages, man. They look and sound so pretty. The kids also got very jealous when they discovered I go to McDonalds on a Wednesday after tutoring and wanted me to take them with me. Which seeing as one of the servers now always speaks to me in English could, technically, be classed as part of English tutoring…

Thursday I had German on the computers with 3/4c. I had to explain what vowels were about eight times. And one of them got all giggly because a word they had to find in the wordsearch was ‘doof’ (stupid). And I told the teacher I’m not having one the kids in the computer room again, because she never does any work.

My first class on Friday was dealing with wild animals again and how to describe them. It turns out I know nothing about where animals live. Did you know ostriches aren’t Australian? I was genuinely shocked.

My second class involved singing the elephant song a record six times, telling one of the boys that yes, they could draw a secret lab in their dream house but only if they labelled it in English, and admitting to one of the girls that I had no idea how to spell latte macchiato. She was unconvinced by my reasoning that it was probably the same in German and English because it’s a loan word.

My third class was cancelled because, again, the teacher was ill, so early weekend for me. Because I am a true party animal, I went home and marathoned season three of True Blood.

On Saturday I was up at 7.30 because I was being picked up at 8.30 for a trip to Jena with one of my colleagues and her husband. 7.30 is not a time I often see on a Saturday. But we went to Jena and to the planetarium, which was pretty cool, except for the part where I fell asleep and missed a few minutes of the presentation… But, it was all fine. We then went to a shopping centre that I want to go back to. My colleague asked if we had such big shopping centres in England, and I was like, the Bullring is so much bigger than this.

Then we met up with one of her cousins, who gave us a short tour of Jena and a crash course in the Romantics and philosophers of Jena, which was really interesting though a little confusing. Basics, Goethe and Schiller are important people. Despite them never ever ever being mentioned in any lectures I’ve ever been in ever. I kinds feel like this is the equivalent of doing an English Lit degree and Shakespeare never being mentioned. Which is possible.

We were invited back to her cousins house, where he thoroughly he embarrassed his son by trying to get him to talk to me in English. Adults of the world: don’t do this to your kids. Just don’t. If we’re confident enough in our other language to attempt it, we will. And if we’re not, then you telling us to speak it will just make us blush.

After so much German and such an early start, I ended up going to bed at like half nine. Which worried my colleague and her husband a little (I was staying over at theirs), despite the fact that I’d explained several time that nonstop German was super tiring. Ah well.

Next day we went swimming and to a Chinese restaurant, which was all kinds of good. Never actually been to a Chinese restaurant before. New experiences, yay. Then they took me home, and I spent the rest of the day mentally making a list of all the things I should be doing and actually finishing of season three of True Blood. I’m so good at this being an adult thing.

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Suhl’s Cool

In my last post, I mentioned that Suhl (a town in Thüringen) has a weapons museum. This is because Suhl was initially a base for metal processing, which led naturally into gunsmithing, armoury and cannon making. It was very important for the German weapon industry, which is a covert way of saying it was one of the centres of weapon production during World War Two. Nowadays, it has Germany’s only school for armourers and, I believe, still produces rifles etc for sport and hunting.

I’m a huge weapon fangirl. Not so much for the damage that they can cause, but the mechanics and intricacies of them. Swords, guns, crossbows. You name it, I’ve probably fangirled over it at some point. I think my parents took me to too many historical re-enactments as a kid. The main reason I want to go to New York is the Arms and Armour exhibit at The Met. (All contributions to my ‘Kat goes to New York’ fund are gratefully received.) So yes, me plus a weaponry museum equals kid in a sweet shop.

So to the weaponry museum. It cost me €5 for entry and the privilege of taking photos. The bottom floor is a display about the geology and history of Suhl, which basically explains how it makes perfect sense for Suhl to have been an industrial town based around metal working. I did not read most of it.

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A pistol and knuckledusters. What more could you want?

The first floor is much more interesting. It’s a display of many different kinds of guns, from teeny tiny pistols to ones taller than me. They’re arranged by use, so there’s a section for hunting, a section for sporting activities including a subsection on the Olympics, and a section on war. There were a couple of other sections as well, but they weren’t as interesting.

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Actual swords hidden in canes.

I spent most of my time skipping (not literally) from display to display case, getting weird looks from middle ages men and taking all of the photos. I also got to shoot an electronic rifle. There’s a tiny shooting range. You have the choice of two rifles and I naturally picked the biggest. It was super heavy, but I still managed to score fairly highly. The woman in charge thought I’d shot before. Which thinking about it, yes I have. But I sucked at clay pigeon shooting and that was…oooh, 7 years ago. So yeah. She also asked where I came from and said my German was good. I like people who tell me my German is good.

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Guns from WW2. I have no wisecracks.

 After hitting up the weapons museum gift shop – no, I did not buy a gun, yes, I did by alcohol billed as weaponry oil – I met up with one of my colleagues and her husband, whose name I believe is Dettcliff. He’s a blacksmith in Suhl, and works at a forge, naturally enough. The forge has been there for at least 150 years, and the main part of it is now a museum. But I got to see the actual workshop as well. It was all kinds of cool, though trying to follow an explanation of the smithing process in German was super difficult.

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My hosts – Maidlin and Dettcliff

Once we’d had the full tour, we headed to their house, for coffee and cake. Well, tea and cake in my case. I met their middle daughter who was all kinds of lovely, and we generally chatted and it was really nice.Then me, Maidlin and Dettcliff went on a walk up a frankly gigantic hill, to the ruin of celtic settlement. The sun was setting and the light was phenomenal. It was definitely worth the effort, though I haven’t climbed a hill that big since I finished Duke of Edinburgh.

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Dat panorama.

To round off the day in a truly German fashion, we had bratwurst, beer and potato salad. Basically, it was a fantastic day. I can’t sum it up better than that. Yay for lovely people and decent places.

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School kids and other animals.

The weather was beautiful on Monday. So I went on a wander round the outskirts of town, which resulted in me wandering along a road in the woods, getting odd looks from passing Germans because I wasn’t dressed for hiking.

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In my defence, I didn’t intend to end up walking as far as I did.

When I finally wound up back in town, I had found a bookshop I’d never noticed before and had ice cream, because yes, it was that warm. I then spent the evening watching the entirety of Sherlock series 3, because the lovely Manda lent me the DVDs. So I now understand everyone’s references. Two months later.

Tuesday I was back at work. My timetable has changed, which means instead of starting at 12 on Tuesdays, I now start at 10. It’s a hard life. My first lesson was spent talking about animals. Many of the kids didn’t believe me when I said Panda was panda in English, and then I confused myself between ostrich and Österreich (Austria). I also had to explain that a polar bear was called a polar bear and not an ice bear.

In my second class, we headed to the library to watch a video, but the DVD player was mysteriously missing. This led to one of the girls squaring up to me and yelling at me when I said we had to go back to class. I honestly think the kids think they’re scary. I’m sure I would have been much more scared if I could have understood any of what she was saying… Ah well.

In my third and final class of the day, I did nothing. They were learning about directions, and I sat and observed. But after school, I headed to Subway. If you remember in this blog post, my last visit to Subway didn’t go so well. But this time I was prepared for them to think I was weird and I like to think it went pretty well despite a conversation that went:

Me: I only want cucumber

Subway person: So no tomatoes?

Me: No, I only want cucumber

SP: Should I put the lettuce on first?

Me: No, I only want cucumber

SP: You don’t want any other salad?

Me: No, I just want cucumber

SP: …

Me: …

SP: Sorry, that’s really unusual.

As I said, my timetable’s changed, so first on Wednesday I had English with 1/2a, where I did conversation practice about clothes with the kids. Most notable event was me saying ‘jumper’ and one of the boys thought I said ‘Schlampe’ (whore) which are slightly different words…

Then I had a lesson with 4d/e where I watched them do a play about Snow White for the fifty millionth time. They’re quite good at it now, though they do care more about the acting than saying the English properly.

I then thought I was meant to be with 1/2a during third period and duly went. We did English and the kids fought over who got to sit next to me. Then it turned out that they normally have music in third period and English in fourth, so from next week I’ll have fourth period with them and third period free. Ah confusion, my old friend.

Finally I was with 1/2c where they were drawing pictures of Fasching costumes. As far as I can make out, Fasching is essentially German Halloween, but every adult I ask about it appears to hate Fasching, so my understanding of it is a little patchy.

At tutoring, the kids were super excited that I brought Guess Who with me again. They were less excited about learning about nationalities, and I can’t say I blame them. In English sometimes the same word is used for languages and nationalities but sometimes not. In German there are almost always separate words, and the kids found it very confusing trying to get to grips with the English.

Thursday I still only have two lessons, but they’re now with the infamous 3/4c. That would be the class of terrors I used to be with on Wednesdays, if you’ve forgotten. I was supervising them in the computer room, doing exercises on the Subjekt and Prädikat, which would have been far easier if I knew what the Prädikat was. I also almost got into an argument with the teacher about a maths question. That was odd.

Friday first period I did conversation practice with five kids, four of which are the worst behaved in the school. That was…interesting. They decided they were going to swear and my immediate response was to correct their pronunciation. Don’t worry, I didn’t. Just fixed them with a death glare and moved on.

In the fourth period, I was teaching a class about the different types of houses e.g. detached, bungalow, terraced etc. I also showed them pictures of my living room in England and was asked where the Schrankwand (cupboard wall) was. Apparently, it’s fairly standard to have a huge cupboard in one’s living room with books and ornaments and stuff on it. The most difficult room for them to get their tongues round was ‘dining room’, as it’s typical to eat in the kitchen in Germany, and ‘wardrobe’ was the most difficult piece of furniture for them to remember what it meant.

All hell broke loose in my last class of the day. Well, I say all hell. It wasn’t the worst class I’ve ever been in, but any class where I’m left alone to supervise the kids who then decide they’re not going to do their work isn’t great…

Saturday, I went on a jaunt to the Thuringer Zoopark. I got very over excited because there were a ton of baby animals. I got an owl’s attention by saying Hedwig, quoted the Lion King at hyenas, and ate ice cream while watching the lions being fed, so it was feeding time for all the cats. (Cats? Kats? Yes, terrible pun. Sorry.) I also got many disapproving/disbelieving looks, because I braved the sunshine with bare legs. There was me, in a dress and a leather jacket and there was everyone else, in massive coats and knitwear. Is obviously my northern blood. Although Germans are Vikings so why they thought it was cold I will never know.

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Bison are my new favourite animals.

On Sunday I helped tidy up after a brunch at the BC Café and spent a lot of it wishing I spoke Spanish. The three guys I was working with all spoke Spanish. I had no idea what was being said. At all.

A highlight of my Sunday was skyping my grandparents, though they were most disappointed that I hadn’t blogged. So here is my blog of the week. Thank my grandparents. Otherwise I might have forgotten… (Joking, I would never. Mainly because how else would my friends know all about my life while I’m so far away?)