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Bucharest, Brasov and Bears – oh my.

With my degree done and proper adult life on the horizon, I went in search of adventure. And like all good adventurers I needed a companion. Enter Maddie stage right. Long time readers will recognise Maddie as my frequent partner in crime from posts such as Prague, Berlin and London. This time we were off to Romania. Land of Dracula and… Well, that’s pretty much all I knew before I went.

On Wednesday night, we flew into Bucharest and went straight to the hostel we were staying at. Before we went out we’d been warned by various sources from our guidebooks to the hostel not to get ripped off by the taxi driver. Guess what. We got ripped off by the taxi driver. A journey that should have cost us between 30 and 40 lei (£5-6) cost us 190 lei (£30). Which for a half hour journey in a capital city still doesn’t feel ridiculously priced. But, I can’t lie, it wasn’t the best introduction to Romania.

Still, the hostel was great. The Umbrella Hostel  was pretty awesome, from the staff who were always excellent help to the rooms, which were not only clean and comfortable but also had air conditioning. My only slight quibble is that the spiral staircase upstairs isn’t exactly the easiest to traverse, but I mean, that is the only thing I would change.

Our first day in Bucharest, we headed out into the city with a map and a vague sense of purpose. Our first stop was the National Museum of Art of Romania. In the former royal palace, located on Revolution Square, it’s seen a good deal of history. Now the palace houses a collection of medieval, modern and European art. We went into the medieval collection first, which was very impressive and then wandered round the European collection which was less impressive. Some of the medieval pieces were incredible, including fragments of a church that was once considered a place of huge historical importance. Not that that stopped the communist leader tearing it down.

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The entrance was all metal work and cool.

From the art museum, we wandered on to the Old Town. I always forget that Old Towns are essentially there for you to wander round and go, ooh how pretty. I always expect there to be something else there. Thankfully, Bucharest Old Town is quite pretty in a crumbly sort of way. It also has Caru’ Cu Bere, which our guidebooks and the staff at the hostel recommended. Our waiter was excellent, and kept making Dad jokes. The best one was definitely when we asked for the bill and he went ‘Oh I’m sorry. Bill’s not working today. You’ll have to make do with me.’

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Traditional meat platter that included sausages with cheese in them.

Afterwards we walked down to the Palace of Parliament. Built by Ceaușescu (that communist leader I mentioned), it’s a sprawling testament to an attempt to impose dominance on a landscape via architecture. Aside from the Pentagon, it’s the largest administrative building in the world and only half of it is in use today simply because it is so big. It also now houses an art museum as well as being where the Romanian parliament sits. We did not go round it, mostly because something that huge is definitely going to kill your feet. So instead we took photos from a distance and then headed back up to explore the rest of the Old Town.

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That’s up a hill. I don’t think photos can really show just how imposing and impressive a building it is.

The rest of Old Town was mostly bars and clubs. You could go around the world in 80 bars, with the ubiquitous Irish pubs, Finnish cocktail bars and even a German bar called Oktoberfest. We didn’t end up sampling the delights of Old Town, because we went back to the hostel exhausted by the heat and how much we’d walked. There was a nautical-esque restaurant called The Harbour which did great food and had the added benefit of being five minutes from our hostel. And again, the waiters did a great line in Dad jokes.

The second day we had learnt our lesson about trying to walk everywhere and we used the metro instead. You can buy a 10 ride ticket which we did, which ended up being super useful later in the week as we ended up using the metro a few more times. We went to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, which turned out to be super interesting despite the lack of English signage. Filled with objects from peasant’s everyday life, it had everything from crosses to clothing to a fully built house.

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A full house. In a museum room. What. 

Behind the peasant museum was a market that I think was aimed at tourists considering how many souvenirs they sold. Particularly peasant blouses. Peasant blouses are definitely one of the traditional souvenirs to buy, and we even saw actual Romanians wearing them, rather than just tourists. After we’d perused the market fully, we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags and head to the railway station. After paying way too much for a taxi on our first night, we were wiser and paid the right amount this time.

Getting train tickets was a bit of a mission, given that every rail company has its own ticket office and we didn’t know which rail company we needed. We eventually found the right booth and made our train, with only the most minor of hoo-has. The train was fine, and seeing as I was sat next to a group of British boys fresh from their first year of university, it could have been much worse. By which I mean, they weren’t lads and banter was kept to a minimum.

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Hollywood letters were not what I was expecting from Transylvania. 

Our final destination was Brasov – a medieval fortified town that is relatively near quite a lot of places of interest in Transylvania. Getting a taxi to our hostel was super easy and did not involve us getting ripped off. Yay! It might seem like we got a lot of taxis. That’s because a) we did, and b) when you’re paying proper prices for them, they’re really cheap in pounds. And it’s so much easier than trying to figure out public transport in a foreign language.

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The Black Church is right next to the main square and was therefore right next to a our hostel.

We stayed at the Boemia Hostel in Brasov, and it was nice. Really close to the centre of town – it was a three minute walk to the town square. And Alex, the guy who worked there, was really helpful when it came to figuring out how to use the public transport. Though pretty much everyone else there was doing a round the world trip and thought we were very odd for just coming to Romania. And for having emergency biscuits. But everyone needs emergency biscuits right?

Our first night in Brasov had us walking the ramparts and wall that still remain in parts around the town and wandering through the main square. Brasov is very pretty. Very medieval. We had tea at Gustari where I tried polenta for the first time. It wasn’t awful. But I’m not sure I can say it was good either.

The next day we were up at 6am because we were going to Bran Castle. Or more famously, the castle that Bram Stoker based Dracula’s castle on. Yes, we were going on a search for vampires. We took two buses to get there, but we made it before the castle even opened. It was a misty morning and it definitely felt like Dracula was a possibility. Because we were so early and it was so cold, we went for a drink and in the twenty minutes that took, two coach tours went up to the castle. So we thought we’d better get our skates on before it was completely overrun.

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DRACULA’S CASTLE

Bran is nothing like what I’d expected from Dracula’s castle. It’s quite a small castle, not overly high in the mountains and inside it’s very plain. Not gothic in the slightest. The inner courtyard and loggia that surrounds it is beautiful, especially when the sun comes out. It is also full of tourists. When we came out, we had to fight our way through a mob of people waiting to be allowed in. If you’re going to go, you’re going to have to get up early.

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Look how pretty.

Surrounding the foot of the hill that the castle is set on, is a huge souvenir market, filled with peasant blouses and tacky t-shirts as far as the eye can see. Of course, we went all round it. When Maddie had bought an excellent peasant blouse, we headed back to Brasov to get lunch, before we then went on to Sinaia.

We were headed for Peles Castle, the castle of the first monarchs of Romania. A castle which no less than two people had told me I should go and see rather than Bran. Because it was a little late in the day when our train arrived in Sinaia, we jumped in a taxi (yes, another one) and he sped us far into the hills to the castle. Thankfully we made the last tour.

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This is one small section of the outside.

You can only go round Peles on guided tour, and I’m not a guided tour fan. But this one was definitely worth it. Completely over the top, Peles is a joy to discover and I only wish I was allowed to show you my photos of it, because from Murano glass chandeliers to a ceiling made of 24 carat gold to a cinema decorated by Gustav Klimt, it’s incredible. Unfortunately, you have to have permission to put photos of Peles on the internet, and I don’t…

Peles was beautiful and next door is another castle called Pelisor. There was also a classic car exhibition the day we went and the weather was glorious. I can see why I was told to go to Peles not Bran. I am glad I went to Bran though. You can’t go to Transylvania and not go to Dracula’s castle. Even if it looks nothing like what you expected.

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Pelisor was rather smaller than Peles.

We probably could have spent more time in Sinaia, especially considering they have a monastery that is simply gorgeous. But with everything closing, we headed back to the railway station and back to Brasov, for a relatively reasonable night. Because in the morning we were going bear hunting.

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The monastery was gorgeous but we didn’t go in.

Before you leave an angry comment and vow never to read my blog again, we weren’t actually hunting bears. We were metaphorically hunting. Figure of speech hunting. We were headed to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary near Zarnesti to see bears without harming them in any fashion. We actually started the day in Rasnov, because that was as close as we could get by public transport and then we had to take a taxi. Bless that taxi driver for taking us up a very bumpy farm type road.

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BEARS

The bear sanctuary was incredible. They take in mistreated bears and look after them. They’re still wild animals and I wouldn’t like to end up on the wrong side of the enclosure fences but the bears are also happy to come up to the fence to say hello. You can only go round by guided tour which they do in English and Romanian, and our guide was so lovely.

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BEARS

It was a really great experience. Our only problem was then getting back to Rasnov or Brasnov. The sanctuary didn’t have a taxi number and neither did we. Thankfully, a helpful gentleman there with his family rang a taxi for us, haggled on our behalf and then waited to make sure the taxi turned up. He was outstanding, and we were very grateful for his help.

Once we’d got back to Brasnov, we went to pick up our bags as we were headed back to Bucharest for one final night. We stayed at the Umbrella Hostel again, this time in their super duper private room. It was nice and had a private bathroom. Luxury. We headed out to try and go to the Dimitrie Gustie National Village Museum, but alas, when we reached it, it was closed. But we had a lovely wander through a park and got ice cream. What could be better?

We went back to Ceru’ cu Bere for our final meal in Bucharest, and it was delicious. Although the service wasn’t as good, but that could maybe because it was now the weekend and the evening. Who knows. I’d still recommend it. And that was the end of the Romanian adventure.

We packed an awful lot into four days and it was great. I don’t know if I’d hurry back to Bucharest. It’s lovely but I much preferred Brasov and the surrounding area, even if Transylvania doesn’t feel very Transylvania-y in brilliant sunshine. There’s still a lot of Romania left to explore, but that’s an adventure for another time.

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Great hair, cool bears, don’t care. 

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Whistle Stop Tour of Brum

The bank holiday was beautiful here in the midlands. Blue skies, sun out, heart.fm playing in every garden. And the day after I got to hang out with one of my grown up friends. I say grown up. I just mean he has a job. Matt’s also based in London nowadays, so our catch-ups aren’t exactly regular. But on Tuesday 7th April, he made the journey up to Birmingham, so I repaid him by giving him a whistlestop of the glorious second city.

And yes, you read that right. I called Birmingham glorious. It’s a great city – it just has a bad rep. (Well actually it has two great Reps – the old Rep and the new Rep. Some local humour for you there.) So I figured I’d share our one day tour of Birmingham with you lovely people. Because it was really great day and more people should go to Birmingham.

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New Street at Christmas.*

Starting at New Street station, which is so close to being finished and is all shiny and new, we headed up towards Victoria Square. Victoria Square has a statue of Queen Victoria, an Antony Gormley statue called The Iron Man (which I though was called the Drunken Man for years because that’s what my Mom called it) and a giant fountain called The River. Or as it’s usually known – The Floozy in the Jacuzzi.

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Floozy in the snow.

Victoria Square leads on to Chamberlain Square and both are really pretty areas thanks to the buildings with twiddly bits that the Victorians so adored. They’ve also got the town hall and the Birmingham Art Gallery. Me and Matt didn’t go in to the Art Gallery because it was such a lovely day it was a shame to be inside, but if you’re ever around you should go. It’s got the largest collection of Pre Raphelite paintings in the world, a Jacob Epstein in the lobby and the Staffordshire hoard. Basically, it’s a great art gallery and I’ve spent so many hours in there that at this point I might as well live there.

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(Part of) Centenary Square at Christmas

Ducking through Paradise Forum (which I will admit is less than a paradise), you end up in Centenary Square, which is now home to the Library of Birmingham. And I defy you to not like the library. Beautiful from the outside, gorgeous on the inside with not one but two gardens, it makes me want to write a letter of appreciation to the architect.  It’s such a great building and it has egg chairs and a lift that looks like Willy Wonka’s elevator and table tennis. I could write an entire blog post dedicated to the Birmingham library – it’s that good.

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Look how pretty.

But reluctantly moving on, if you head through the ICC you end up by the canals. There’s a lot of canals in Birmingham; more miles than in Venice. How else were we going to get all our coal around during the industrial revolution? Carriages and wagons? Don’t be ridiculous. We wandered along the canal towards the NIA (just one of the gazillion venues for concerts and stuff in Brum) and then headed back towards Brindley Place, past the Sea Life Centre, in search of food. There’s a ton of restaurants in Brindley Place so the hardest part about finding food is deciding what you want.

Afterwards, we went back down canalside and wandered through Gas Street Basin, which can be lovely, and then we headed through the Mailbox. Home to high-end stores and a section of the BBC, the Mailbox is bright red. It’s currently undergoing some work, but it’s still a great looking building.

After me and Matt had been distracted by the TARDIS the BBC has out front, we made our way out of the Mailbox and down towards the Bullring. Because what’s a trip to Birmingham without going to the Bullring? For those who’ve not yet had the pleasure of visiting the Bullring, let me explain. The shiny, mirrored bit is just Selfridges. That’s just a portion of the Bullring. With over 160 shops, it’s huge. And great. Good shopping, good eating – what more could you want?

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The Bullring has a bull. Who gets dressed up on special occasions. 

Well, what we wanted was somewhere to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, so we ended up in the Chinese quarter for a couple of hours. And then I walked Matt back to the station, because our time had come to part ways. On the way we walked past the Back to backs, which are an interesting few hours if you’ve got time to spare.

It was a really fun day and I think I persuaded Bond of some of the reasons why Birmingham’s great. And hopefully I’ve adequately explained them to you. Even if my pictures are all from Christmases gone by.

* Many of these photos are, surprisingly, not from mine and Matt’s excursion. Didn’t actually take any photos that day…

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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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All Christmassed out.

So this weekend I was in Dresden. Me and Manda spent quite a while trying to figure out how many times I’ve been to Dresden and it turns out only three, and one of those times was for one night on my way to Prague. So although it feels like I’ve been there a billion and one times, the real number is actually considerably less.
Friday was a school free day so I was on a train at 12 and arrived in Dresden at 4pm. Had a wander round what I thought was the Christmas Market and then headed to Neustadt to meet Manda, who callously had work so couldn’t meet me as soon as I got off the train.
Friday night was originally designated as Game of Thrones and pizza night. That didn’t happen, but only because Manda’s mentor teacher was lovely enough to invite us both to her boyfriend’s work do. Yes, she invited the random English girl she’d never met (that’s me) to her boyfriend’s work’s Christmas party. It was at a Mongolian bar and the way it worked was interesting. You went up to the serving area and picked out what vegetables and meat/fish/tofu you wanted and then you handed it over to the chefs. About a kazillion years later, it was served to your table having now being cooked. The food was really good, don’t get me wrong, it just took them so long to cook it.
In terms of what I ate, first there was a red curry soup which burned the back of my throat and made steam come out of my ears. And then I tried crocodile – tastes an awful lot like chicken but springier – and shark which just tastes like cod. There were other interesting meats like kanagroo and rabbit, and even more that I didn’t have a clue what they were. But I grossed Manda out enough with the crocodile and shark so I figured I should stop. Also, we were then offered ice cream and there’s no way I’m going to turn down ice cream in favour of kanagroo. All in all it was a really fun excursion, and Manda’s mentor teacher was super nice. And then we watched Game of Thrones when we got home.
Saturday was a day of Christmas markets. You know I said I thought I’d wandered round the  Christmas market? Yeah, no. That was one of many Christmas markets in Dresden. On Saturday we visited four. Four. The Augustusmarkt, the Mittelalter Weihnachstmarkt, the Striezelmarkt and one by the Frauenkirche. The Augustusamarkt is in the Neustadt and is one of the smaller ones. Small doesn’t mean bad though. There was glühwein and toffee apples and stalls from Latvia and a hut that told you how many miles it was to Coventry. And so many fairylights. There was a supercool tree in the middle of it.

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The super cool tree and a ginger girl who I seem to have a few photos of.

The Mittelaltermarkt was my favourite. We had to pay to get in because it was the weekend, but when the door is guarded by a guy in armour I feel like it’s worth it. The Mittelalter Weihnachtsmarkt included stalls selling drinking horns and weaponry and rings with intiials on so you can wax seal your letters. I did not buy any of these things despite being this close to buying a cross bow. I did how ever appropriate the beaker we got served hot chocolate it in, because it’s fantastic.

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It has a unicorn on it. A unicorn!

The Striezelmarkt aka the actual main Weihnachtsmarkt in Dresden was heaving. So much so that when we headed into the McDonalds nearby, I queued for half an hour/45 minutes to use their toilets. I’m pretty sure that’s the longest queue I have ever had the misfortune to be in. Also, a word to the men of the world: If the queue for the female toilets is out of the door, do not boast about the fact that there’s no queue for the male toilets. The only thing stopping every woman in that queue from pummeling you to death is the fact that to do that they’d have to step out of the queue and all their waiting would have been in vain.

But the Striezelmarkt was awesome. We met up with a couple of other FSA (Fremdsprachassistenten)  who are also based near Dresden. It was dark by the time we got to it, and so all the fairy lights were on and there were people everywhere and then a nearby church’s bells started pealing and it was all kinds of awesome. Once more there was Glühwein galore and it was fantastic. When we headed to the market by the Frauenkirche, the theme of the decorations suddenly became stars, which was super cool. We didn’t spend too much time at that market mainly because by this time we were cold and starting to be a little bit christmassed out. Or at least I was, I can’t really speak for the others.  We ended up at a pub where I managed to order the manliest rink. Dark beer – it’s better than light beer.

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So many lights. I totally didn’t get over excited. Nope.

On Sunday, me and Manda went to Dresden zoo. I haven’t been to a zoo in close on a decade, so that was pretty cool. Flamingos are way pinker than I ever expected. And red pandas (or small pandas as the Germans call them) are the cutest things in the world. They’re a fantastic colour, and the one in Dresden was kinda chubby and was all sorts of adorable. After stopping at a photo booth to take dorky photos, we headed home to finish off Season 3 of Game of Thrones before going out for an Indian for tea. How I miss Indian food.

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I feel like giraffes understand me. They’re ginger and tall too.

On Monday, I made my weary way home safe in the knowledge that I am now officially caught up with Game of Thrones (the TV series at least) and that even if I don’t make it to any other Christmas Markets, I’ve done more Christmas than I ever normally do. Though that isn’t stopping me planning on going to at least another two Weihnachtsmärkte. What? When in Rome and all that.

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Tag der deutschen Einheit

So what with today being Unification day and all, I kinda had the urge to put on my browncoat, go looking for a quiet drink at an alliance friendly bar, but instead of living out a Firefly reference (sorry for alienating a good 80% of you in the first sentence), I went to a Herbstfest.

As Tag der deutschen Einheit is a national holiday, buses don’t really run and nor do all the trains. Happily, there were trains laid on especially to get to the Herbstfest. I wandered down to Ilmenau Hauptbahnhof, asked a lovely old couple if I needed to buy a ticket on the platform or on the train, and was assured that I needed to buy a ticket on the train. Half an hour and a few stops later, it turns out I may have been meant to buy a ticket before I got on the train. Ah well. Then at a place called Stützerbach it was all change. We got onto another train, which everyone else seemed to be very excited about being on, but I didn’t really understand why. Turns out it was a steam train. I didn’t know! I mean, it didn’t look like the Hogwarts Express or anything. See for yourself.

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I mean, it’s red, but not particularly magical.

So having made it to Bahnhof Rennsteig, it turns out that it’s the highest train station above sea level in Germany, possibly even Europe if you believe the guy who was talking on the PA. This was where the Herbstfest was taking place. First lot of stalls I saw were all selling food, which is always a welcome sight.

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As the guy on the P.A. kept saying, it was beautiful weather on this, the 3rd October 2013.

The stall I actually managed to get to first was, somehow, the alcohol stall. Got given free samples of walnut liquor, strawberry liquor and sour cherry liquor. All of them were delicious, and I’ve got to say, all craft fairs/autumn festivals ought to start with alcohol. Then I had a wander looking at the wood carving stalls and the glass blowing stalls and the fur stalls. I did buy things, but most of them were Christmas presents for people who read this blog, so sorry, no details for you. I did, however, buy a bottle of the strawberry liquor. And lunch. How can I forget lunch? Cheese and ham on rye bread which apparently is an Ilmenau dish. It was so tasty – I even managed not to drop any of it down me.

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I’ve become one of those people who takes pictures of their food. Help me. 

The trains back to Ilmenau were at 12.15, 2.15 and 4.15, and I’d managed to miss the 12.15 one by getting distracted by lunch. So with two hours to kill, I went on a wander in the woods, which are omnipresent in Thüringen. I ended up at the Hotel/Restaurant that I’d gone to with my grandparents and Dad on their last day in Germany. One strudel later it was time to head back to Bahnhof Rennsteig to catch the train.

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Once you start taking pictures of your food, it’s really hard to stop…

Armed with a ticket this time, I managed to successfully get on the train home. This time I ended up on the other steam train, which still didn’t look like the Hogwarts Express. Seeing everyone else so excited about being on the train made me excited too, especially when it actually smelt like a steam engine, despite the lack of prettiness.

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See? It’s no Hogwarts Express.

As days go, it was pretty good. Surrounded by grandparents, young couples and small children in the countryside kinda felt like being at a National Trust house, which is an environment I’m very used to. The weather was beautiful, and it’s reminding me why I like autumn. And on the way home, I saw uni students playing cricket, which was awesome because who doesn’t like reminders of England, though surprising because I thought Germans didn’t play cricket. But excellent day. Really excellent day.

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An Englanderin abroad

I did somewhat let the British down today. I forgot my waterproof and it was raining. I mean, it’s fine, I can rock the drowned rat look, but I did feel like I’d let my compatriots down a little. I went a bought an umbrella in the end, because there does come a point when drowned rat moves from a look to a state of being. However, I was suitably shocked when I was reintroduced to the idea that German don’t queue, so I can’t have let the side down too much.

Also, today I used the bus. Twice. And I gotta tell you, I never thought I’d be this proud of using the bus. Not since my year 7 days when I first used the bus by myself has public transport inspired such pride. I have found my route to work and I know how much it’s gonna cost (€1.10 if you were wondering).

Another thing I did today was send postcards to England. 75c for a stamp. S’not so bad, I guess. And I understood everything the cashier said, and I’m pretty sure my German was spot on for once. Thankfully everyone’s been pretty good about waiting while I try and get my brain in gear in order to actually make any sense auf deutsch. Although today an old lady started talking to me at the bus stop and I just had to smile and nod, because I hadn’t a clue what she was trying to say.

I also found a tea shop. Tee-Ecke it’s called. Firstly, they only sell loose leaf tea. Secondly, they have a blend called Yorkshire tea that’s €5 for 100g. Think I shall be sticking to the PG Tips I brought with me.

Oh, and the final thing I wanted to say, was that one of the shops in town is selling dirdnls (Is that the plural? Dirdnli? Dirndlopodes?) for €50. For those who don’t know what that is, a dirndl is traditional Bavarian women’s wear. Think of any pictures you’ve ever seen of Oktoberfest, and you know those dresses the girls wear with the peasant type blouses? That’s a dirndl. And I kinda feel like when in Rome… But then again, I’m not in Bavaria, and if I do buy one, I’m never gonna wear it out of the house. Maybe to fancy dress party in England. Though, on the other hand, it would be cool to come home with a dirndl. I don’t know. I’ll think about it. I’ll keep you informed.