Sitting and Eating and Speaking German

I did want to post about my trip to Dortmund, but time has been running away from me! As of now I’m fully packed (err, take that as you will) for Paris, and I will be on the bus in 6 hours. Crazy crazy. I just I’ll just do a highlights reel of Western Germany!

First I stayed with Friederike, a German and French teacher that my mom hosted when I was in college. I’d never met her before, but she was kind and welcoming and really spent her weekend showing me around! We went to Christmas markets in Dortmund (home of the biggest Christmas tree in Europe!), Bochum, and in Cologne. She and her boyfriend (also a teacher, also named Freddie) showed me the Cologne Cathedral, took me out for some meals, and spent some time with some cool teacher buddies.

Europe’s biggest Christmas tree from above (you can see the stands at the market below)

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This Cathedral only took 500 years to build!
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Modern stained glass

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Former Graftonians united in Essen!

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One night, we went to dinner in Essen (which means eating, coincidentally) to the apartment of Florian, another teacher my mom hosted, at the same time as Friedi. He and his wife made us some delicious Chinese food and we ate cheese and chocolate and did a lot of talking. It was a really fun, jam-packed weekend. Maybe that’s how I’ve been able to write about it so fast, by just cramming in the action words like we filled our days with activities.

On Monday, I switched houses, going to spend time with the parents of the girls I hosted in high school, Lara and Lena. I hosted them different years, so I’d never seen them together, even though they’re twins! They also have both moved out, living in apartments with their respective boyfriends, so I got a lot of time with the parents, though luckily I did get to see them here and there.

While in Dortmund, I got to experience the magic of a German Christmas (lasting 4 days!), a lot of eating (mostly cake and potatoes for me!), a lot of reading (finished The Night Circus and Twilight in just a few days), and of course, some sightseeing. Lara and her boyfriend Michael took me to a giant hill made of coal waste to see all over Bochum, a neighboring city. We also went to the Essen Christmas market, Christmas Eve service at their church, and to a lovely show at the planetarium! Of course, there has been a lot of sitting and eating and speaking German (and a little English too, thankfully). There was even an evening where Lara brought over her bunnies! Tonight’s party is eating leftovers and singing songs– I’m pretty excited, even though I have to leave in the middle of it to catch my bus. It has been a really nice Christmas, and I can totally imagine coming back here for it in a few years. So many people I know, and all so warm and welcoming.

From left: Lara, Lena, Oma, me, Helga at Christmas Eve dinner

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Me and Daisy and Sam! So precious.

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With that speedy blog, I leave you to your relaxing and recovering and say have a happy new year! When you hear from me next, I’ll have been to Paris and likely be back in the good ol’ US of A!

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Christmas Markets and Kebabs: Berlin

So after I fled Denmark, I went to Berlin! Here’s how it went.

My last view of Denmark.

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Sunday I had a beautiful breakfast with the host fam, said my goodbyes, and went to the airport, where I said my goodbyes again, and boarded a short, spacious flight headed for Tegel Airport. From there I took a bus and the metro into Berlin, where I found my hostel, checked in, and went to a cute Christmas market nearby at Alexanderplatz. After the Christmas market, I went back to the hostel, which has a sports bar in the downstairs and met some cool people– 3 Swiss boys and 2 Australian girls. We sat and talked and played foosball and then walked to a club. Mind you, this was 1:30am on a Sunday night, so it was totally dead. The boys and one of the girls ended up just chain-smoking in the lounge at the club, so I got home smelling like smoke, but they were fun, so I forgave them for smelling like an ashtray.

Monday, I managed to pull myself out of bed pretty early and set out to discover Berlin. I wandered into the Topography of Terror Museum, which is on the site where the SS and Gestapo headquarters were before they were destroyed in 1945. It was kind of a hard, emotional start to the trip, but it was still really a great museum. Then I wandered over to Potsdammer Platz and had a chai latte and a sandwich while I read my book for an hour. I’m reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and it’s wonderful. Then I went on a free tour, which was long but relatively fun and very informative and I got some good pics and learned stuff about Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate on a clear day.

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Memorial of 1933 book burnings at Babelplatz. (It’s an empty library you look down into, which shelf space to hold the 20,000ish books burned that day)

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Christmas market at Gendarmenplatz

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Then I went back to the hostel, and met a Canadian girl studying in Glasgow, Hanna, and we got some baked apples at Alexanderplatz. Later, I hung out with the same group– staying in and playing card games. One of the Swiss guys was really good at card tricks, and told us that he was a dancer and entertainer, somewhat like a cruise ship staff member, which was funny for me. He was quite the character.

Tuesday, I got up early for an appointment at the US Embassy to get a document notarized, which was an experience, and I was yelled at in German more than once before I got in. German is possibly the ugliest language to be yelled at in. Horribly angry language. Because of Tobey (the Swiss guy) doing card tricks the night before, I was really tired because I went to bed so late watching the tricks. So after I got some lunch and took a walk, I took a nap back at the hostel. After the nap, I met up with Hanna, who introduced me to three guys she’d met, one Taiwanese and two Aussie, and we hung out at the hostel bar for a long time.

Wednesday, after a terrible night of sleep, possibly the worst in my entire life, I finally got up and walked over to the Brandenburg Gate with Hannah for our “Alternative Berlin” tour, which was looking at street art in the Mitte and Kreuzberg neighborhoods of Berlin. We got to go to the East Side Gallery, which was something I’d been wanting to see.

In both the realms of street art and memorial, these are “stumbling stones” and they’re all over the city. They are slightly raised cobblestones (so you trip) with the names and a little information about the people killed in the Holocaust who lived or worked at the building the stones are placed in front of.

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A piece of the wall near Checkpoint Charlie.

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Hanna and I met two other fun  women on the trip, one an Australian woman, Renee, the other a Brit, Monica. Monica is a professional travel blogger, which was so cool! She’s living the dream– her blog is http://thetravelhack.com/. The group of us had some dinner, and then I sat down for some chill me-time starting this post, writing in my journal, and reading my book. I never realized how important taking chill time is on a vacation. Since I’m traveling alone, I should be able to do whatever I want, but not pressuring myself to go all out all the time is not easy.

Thursday, I was back up to my regular self, for the most part, as it seems as I’d acquired a cold somewhere along the way. Hanna and Renee and I had breakfast at the hostel, and then went to the Jewish Museum, which I had learned a lot about in my divided cities class of last spring. It’s an architectural wonder, truly, and a quite good museum too.

The museum from above.

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I expected it to be a Holocaust Museum, but in fact it paid tribute to Jews through the history of Germany, which of course included World War II.  There was a room in the building called the Holocaust Tower (I think that’s what it’s called) which is a door at the end of a hallway, and you walk in, and you’re in a tall, dark, metal room with only a small light in the corner of an upper wall– it’s just a crack of light from a window. And the door slams shut with the most horrible sound, and it’s cold– the room is not heated. And you can hear the street noise and the museum noise but you’re cold and it’s so dark. And if you look around, you realize that there’s a ladder, going from about midway up the wall to the ceiling, but there’s no way to get to the ladder, and it doesn’t really go anywhere anyway. Obviously a really powerful and unique room.

The Holocaust tower from the inside.

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This is a ground-up view of the Garden of Exile, another part of the museum.

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After the museum, we went for some doner kabab, (which was invented in Berlin) and I got some falafel, but the bread was actually the best part (oh, Germany). Then we pulled a total tourist move and went to the Reichstag building, but we didn’t have tickets to go in, so we just were completely obnoxious in the front part (totally sober, I promise).

Nothing screams “I’m American!” like this move in this place.

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Then, we went over to Charlottenburg Schloss (palace– so similar to Danish) for a Christmas market, as recommended by Patrick, a friend from AU who spent the semester in Berlin and told me about what I should see. It was a great call, and even though it wasn’t as good as Alexanderplatz market for shopping, the ambiance was much better. But then we went back to Alexanderplatz so I could fulfill my dream of buying paper stars and we had some dessert.

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On Friday morning, the triumphant trio (not sure if that’s going to catch on, but whatever) parted ways– me for Dortmund, Hanna to Cologne, and Renee to Prague. It is entirely possible that our paths will meet again. Why not?

Anyway, that was my week in Berlin! I’m writing this from Dortmund, where I’ve spent the weekend, and will be having Christmas. You’ll hear about it soon, I’m sure.

Vi ses, Danmark

It’s Friday, my second to last day in Denmark. It’s unbelievable how much time has flown. Right now I’m checking things off of my pre-departure to-do list before meeting up with some friends to complete some things on our Copenhagen bucket lists. I’m not going to post this until Sunday, though, because I want it to be my goodbye post to Fredensborg, Copenhagen, and the Svendsen and Lippert family.

Does anyone else ever really feel the fight or flight response in action when they’re about to go somewhere? Like, I start to feel super-nauseous, like my body just wants to get rid of the food in my system and bolt. I’m trying to calm my nerves at every second of the day. It’s not that I’m actually that nervous, it’s just a lot of nervous energy shooting around my body. I can’t sit still and everything smells like ramen (that’s not a normal response?)

I’m listening to the song “Home” by Philip Philips, and even watching the music video (shot like a road trip) is making me carsick. I feel like this place has been a real home for me. And it’s okay that I don’t idealize it, and I don’t want to live here for the rest of my life, because that’s also how I feel about small town Massachusetts and about the city of Boston. It’ll always be a home and a home city for me, filled with memories, good times and bad, even if I don’t want to stay forever.

I guess I’ve really been coming to terms with that this semester. I’ve had the problem where I really want to want to stay, and it has made my trip hard. The pressure has always been there, whether it’s just in my head or if my classmates are gushing about how much they’ve found a place here. That pressure has made it harder to just live in the moment and take things as they come. Maybe I’ve been pulling a total American tourist move and expecting too much.

I do want to express my eternal gratitude to my AMAZING host family. Some people have found families that they’ve felt like a daughter, which I can’t say that I totally have because my upbringing was so different from the way they treat their kids and me in my family. It has been so peaceful here. I can always count on a smile, a chat, some jokes, some amazing food, and just general support. I’ve never been in a situation before where I was sure that I was never going to disagree with people. They’ve treated me better than I ever could have hoped for or imagined, better than I treated my hosted sisters certainly, when I hosted in high school. They have encouraged me but never pushed me into anything. They have offered me everything but never asked anything in return. And in that way I idealize Denmark in immense ways. This family dynamic is so unreal in its trust, happiness, and hands-off approach to hosting and parenting. Thank you so so much to Jytte and Ole, if you ever read this. I love you guys so much. I also want to thank Maria and Linea, for always being kind to me and being able to share YouTube videos and complaining about school and making fun of Jytte and Ole. You are both inspirational in how smart and driven you are, and I know you’ll both be able to do whatever you want to do and have the best support while you do it. Thank you to Gitte and Lasse, and your families, your sisters are so blessed to have such positive, loving role models. Though I only met you a few times, you were always kind and friendly to me. Gitte, you were the first Dane to hug me, and it really made an impact.

After writing this, instead of feeling sick I’m crying all over my keyboard. The sad music isn’t helping much.

So, I’m not sure if it’s grammatically correct, but I do want to say Vi ses Danmark, meaning see you later, Denmark. I know I’ll be back, if only to make you another Tuesday night dinner and chill in the sitting room and watch movies with Linea.

Best Peanut Butter Cookies Ever

Oh hey dere world. It’s finals week, also my final week in Denmark! Where has the time gone? I seriously am going to be so sad when I write my goodbye post, so I’m going to save it. Today, a happier topic.

It’s a recipe I like to call the K-C Family Peanut Butter Cookies (I would normally just write the names out, but I actually haven’t run it by them, so I thought maybe better not to.) It’s fine, because I also refer to them as

The Best Peanut Butter Cookies Ever.

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See how the cookie almost has a halo? That’s no coincidence.

And in Denmark, cookies are really not a thing. My host family doesn’t even have a baking sheet. I kid you not. They eat cake and pastries and stuff but you don’t often see cookies besides small, dry ones. (tasty in their own ways). But they those aren’t the cookies I actually wrote home about, these are. These cookies are moist, and for my  friend Allie of the K-C family, chocolate free. And they’re perfect. Luckily it’s not a family secret and I have been privy to the recipe. Which now you also are. HOORAY for me and for you!

Best. Peanut Butter. Cookies. Ever.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup = 1 American stick = 113 grams butter, softened

1/2 cup = 100 grams white sugar

1/2 cup = 100 grams brown sugar

1/2 cup = 127 grams peanut butter (usually smooth, today I used crunchy)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 cups =156 grams flour

chocolate chips optional (wholy unnecessary if you ask me, but if it floats your boat)

Cream butter, add white sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter. Mix thoroughly between additions. Mix for 5 minutes even if you have a hand mixer and your hand gets tired. The batter should lighten in color. If you think it is impossible (as I did) to overcome the darkness of the peanut butter AND the brown sugar, you are wrong. It is possible. Maybe get someone else to hold the mixer for a few minutes.

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Add the egg. Yup, mix it really well.

Add flour and baking soda, this time mixing with a spatula or spoon, not the electric mixer.

Spoon out (big) cookies onto cookie sheet, flatten/crosshatch with a fork.

Bake at 375 F (190.5 C) for 10 minutes. NOT MORE. Do not over bake. They should be slightly browned, it’s okay if they’re soft. Cool on baking sheet. Cookies will deflate and be chewy and tender. If you over bake so that they puff back up when you poke them they will be crunchy/dry when they cool.

Eat with a glass of milk and seal leftovers in an airtight container. If you know any Danes, try to insist that this is not cake, instead tell them that in English we give sweet baked goods several different names (cake, cookies, bread, pie). They think everything is cake.

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And Then My Stomach Burst

God I just want to tell everyone everything but not actually write a post. That may be a bad sign.

Things. All of the things. I guess I’ll number them. The things I remember since my last post. You may be able to tell I’m rather tired.

1) I went to Tivoli with Amanda and Gabrielle last Wednesday, to see the Christmas markets and the amazing decorations. As with any time you go to Tivoli, we were not disappointed. We saw reindeer, drank some gløgg (hot spiced red wine) and ate some æbleskiver (think spherical pancake) with strawberry jam and confectioner’s sugar. It was a good time, and I bought some small souvenirs for some people back home.

The entrance to Tivoli

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Hotel and giant white peacock. There were live, real peacocks just strolling the park, too.

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Carousel in the Russian-themed area

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THE WORST PRIZE EVER (or maybe the best one?)

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Gløgg og æbleskiver

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More holiday cuteness

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the most magical place on Earth

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2) Thursday was Thanksgiving, but since my core course final was from 4:30-6:30pm, there was no chance of even making anything special for dinner. But I did skype with my Dad, Harry, and Nicole (Harry’s gf) from my Dad’s house in Mass. It was really nice to see them, hear about their Thanksgivings and talk about stuff a little. Harry’s moving (has moved, now) to the Boston area, which he’s really pumped about. And I taught my dad how to say “gløgg is good” which is very easy “gløgg er godt.”

3) On Saturday, we did Thanksgiving at my house. I got up and started to cook– cranberry sauce, cranberry relish, apple sauce, and apple crisp. Then I cleaned my room and waited for Becky and Bonnie to arrive from the city. They did, and we had a hyggeligt time making mashed potatoes, roasted green beans, and butternut squash latkes (for me, baby’s first latke cooking experience, for them, baby’s first latke eating experience). Becky also brought a brussels sprouts and apples dish, which was nommy. We even had a lot of extra time and oranges, so we made what I’ll call a bittersweet orange compote, and chocolate cake with chocolate ganache. Gabrielle came and we made some incredible stuffing, before sitting down to  dinner at 6:35. It was a perfectly planned and executed meal if I do say so myself. I love Thanksgiving a lot and it made me feel so happy to have that holiday. I was seriously beaming all night and then my stomach burst from food and wine and like 4 hours of talking. The group of the four of us also went for a very dark walk in the Slotspark, which was a little creepy (bats abound and Becky told me that 90% of bats carry rabies. Ha! Now that fact is on you to struggle with). And then I got them on the train, came back, ran the dishwasher, wiped down the counters, and went to bed. It seems that the cleanup impressed the host fam even more than the food did. What can I say? My parents raised me right. (But the food was pretty damn good).

Latkes and Cranberry relish

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Green beans, brussels sprouts, and stuffing

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Round 1: My plateIMG_4539

An unfortunate light fixture (seriously, one step to the right would have solved this problem) but over all a cute pic of my and my short friends

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I realize I have NEVER BEFORE posted a pic with the host fam. That’s because this is the first one I’ve taken.

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Dessert (tastier than it looks)

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4) This movie happened with my class, designing communication campaigns. The process of making it was much too embarrassing for those involved to write about here, but we had a good time. I did next to nothing but am still really proud of how it came out. I’m the featured disembodied hand writing at the end. Wait. I actually can’t post it here until it’s on YouTube. Check in next week for the updated version!

While we were not working on the project, we played a lot of games with this whiteboard, including one where you stand against it and the two others write speech bubbles. Then you make a face having never read the bubbles. Then you take a picture. This one is incredibly me. (besides the incorrect grammar)

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5) Uhhh… I bought a bunch of souvenirs after a trip to the fabric store for my mama turned into a trip to the fabric store for me. That’s right, my mom sent me into a fabric store and expected me not to fall in love with yarn and beautiful, beautiful fabric. Not likely. Unfortunately, out of my relatively small reader-base, and there is an even smaller gifting-base. Stuff is pricey pricey pricey here, and I still need to finance another month!

6) Speaking of which, my ticker on the right tells me my time left in Europe is no longer at months, we’re at days!! It would actually make more sense to do weeks next, but whatever. On December 15th, I’m headed to Berlin for 5 days, then on the 20th, I’ll go west to Dortmund for Christmas, to spend with former host-sisters Lara and Lena, and their parents, as well as a teacher my mom hosted, Friederike! I’m really excited for that part of the trip. Then I’ll go on the 27th to my FINAL DESTINATION: PARIS and spend New Year’s there, hopefully living it up by myself, with my friend Nancy from DIS, and with new buddies from the hostel (just speculating). At the very least I’ll see the Louvre and walk by the Seine (swooning as we speak). Then home on January 2nd– Paris to London, London to Boston, Boston to Grafton. This trip is what’s keeping me going right now through an emotional finals season, the horrors of packing (haven’t happened yet), and a lot of homesickness. As much as I have love love loved seeing things and experiencing and living it up, there are few things I look forward to more than hugging my parents, seeing my cats, and baking cookies.

This post feels like it needs this:

Love, Eleanor

P.S. I wrote this post in about 20 minutes. If that’s not something to be proud of, I don’t know what is.