Nürnberg: Day 5, 2009

It was a slow day–I slept until 9am and stuffed myself with bread and Nutella. This was back in the days before Nutella saw widespread popularity in U.S. supermarkets, so I wanted to get my fill of it–or maybe I had just never noticed it before? I asked my Gastmutter where Neuschwanstein, the castle built by Konig Ludwig that was the source of inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle, was. Apparently quite far from Nürnberg! So disappointing. It’s definitely one of the things on my Germany bucket list of things to see.

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Strawberry cream pie…?

My Gastfamilie took me to a Gemeindefest: a potluck for the church community. There were 10 different kinds of Kartoffelsalat (potato salad), each a grandmother’s secret recipe. They looked so delicious! Alas, none of them were vegetarian-friendly. I’d stick with my Gastmutter’s potato salad anyway ;) hers is still the best I’ve had to this day. What’s your favorite Kartoffelsalat Rezept (recipe)?

Inside the church was essentially a dessert buffet of cakes, tarts, and other baked goods. While I desperately wanted to try them all, I didn’t want to be that person who eats everything in sight.

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City hall (I think)

When we were back home, I had to force myself to read Grapes of Wrath for my AP Literature class. So glad those days are over now! After about an hour or two, I went out for a small walk around Roßtal.

It was gorgeous and sunny, crystal clear skies stretched endlessly. Definitely got a few stares, but I guess it’s because you don’t see a small Asian girl walking around town every day. I walked all the way out to city hall and found that it overlooked another little town lying in the valley.

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Here have a butterfly instead.

I continued to roam around and found some solace in a patch of lavender–or some kind of pretty purple flower.  Then I spotted the strangest animal I’d ever seen. Was it a bee? A hummingbird? A butterfly? A moth?

It was amazingly hard to catch a picture of, and once I was back in the States, the first thing I did was Google “hummingbird bee moth thing”. What I saw was a hummingbird hawk-moth. It’s typically found only in the warmer climates of southern Europe, North Africa, and the East. Who knew such a thing existed?!

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cherries from our backyard

After 15 minutes of stalking it, I gave up and turned to corner to find a local band practicing swing and jazz. It was wonderful. Boy did I miss swing dancing–I had even dreamt about it that night. I think I was having too much fun in my dream, though, since I ended up hitting my head against the wall.

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Weimar: Day 4, 2009

Quick aside: I learned at breakfast that Germans slice their rolls through the middle (hamburger-style), rather than straight down it (hot dog style). Then they take like an 1/8” thick slice of butter and sandwich it as filling. But maybe it’s just my host family…? Anyone else notice this?

My Gastfamilie (host family) took me to Weimar my 4th day in Germany: the birthplace of famed writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. It was a long drive from Nürnberg–about 4 hours. I kept falling asleep in the car. But for the moments I was awake, I saw some of the most beautifully delicate scenery. We drove past fields of wildflowers and dense forests, as well as this wonderfully tranquil lake. There was an island of pines, fog resting gently on the surface of the water, and a lonely swan gliding across. It was so peaceful.

weimarWe first stopped at the Anna Amalia Bibliothek, which is the library of Duchess Anna Amalia. It houses over 1 million books, 10,000 volumes of Shakespeare, and even an expansive 13,000 volume music collection. The library is in a beautiful Rococo-style. Unfortunately, only 200 tickets are sold per day, so by the time we arrived, it was sold out. Have any of you managed to snag a ticket to the library?

We went instead to Goethe’s birth house. It was surprisingly large, with statues everywhere. It was definitely the house of a relatively wealthy man. No pictures were allowed inside the house, but I did snap some of the garden.

weimar2Before this trip to Weimar, I had never seen horse-drawn carriages and flipped out when I did see one. I felt like I was living a fairytale until I noticed the giant poop sack hanging between horse in carriage. Such a smart idea; keeps the poop off the streets!

weimar3We first lunched at this random cafe, where I ordered some warm vegetable soup and Clara ordered Apfelstrudel with vanilla ice cream. There was this really neat art exhibit upstairs called “Fehlerkunst/Kunstfehler”, which essentially means “Failed Art”. Most of it was strange contemporary art. The art painted onto the walls on the stairwell were really cool though.

After lunch, we proceeded to Goethe’s summer house, where he basically wrote all his poems and literary works. The river Im runs through the land and makes for very pretty scenery with the fields, small hills and what not. Because Goethe loved flowers, his summer house had a wonderful garden. Original manuscripts were on displace in glass cases. It was particularly exciting to see “Der Erlkönig”: a rather depressing piece we read in German class and the only piece of Goethe’s that I’m thoroughly familiar with.

His summer house wasn’t nearly as luxurious as his actual house even though he spent more time in the summer home. But I guess you don’t need many luxuries when you have creative thoughts to entertain you. :)

weimar4My Gastmutter (host mother) and Gastvater (host father) wanted to take me to Schiller’s house, but they were closed! Sad. My Gastvater told me this random fact about Schiller: he could only write when there was a rotten apple in his desk. Genius is strange. We ended up going to a Bauhaus store. And what is Bauhaus exactly? Some style of art and music that started in Weimar. That’s the extent of my understanding. There was an animated time line of Germany in the 1900’s up to the 1990’s. There were also comic-styled illustrations satirizing the Nazi era and stuff.

When we finally arrived back home, it was past 10pm; yet somehow, it was barely twilight. The stars could barely sparkle with how bright the sky was.

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台南 Tainan, 2009

tainanTainan literally means “southern Taiwan”; it was established by the Dutch East India Company as a ruling and trading base. As a result, you can still see traces of Dutch influence on the architecture, culture, and even some of the food in Taiwan. Tainan is also the oldest city in Taiwan, and with its complex history, has received the nickname “the Phoenix City”.

For our day trip in Tainan, we first went to Chikan Lou ‘赤崁樓’ or Fort Provintia. Chikan Lou is one of the most important historic sites in Tainan. It was a Dutch outpost built in 1653 during their colonization of Taiwan. The fort houses a library of dictionaries and business transactions documenting the Siraya language spoken by indigenous people of Formosa during Dutch rule.

tainan2Chikan Lou was surrendered to Zheng Chengong 国姓爷 when he and his army landed to take Taiwan from the Dutch. Since that point in history, Chikan Lou has been the residence of the governor, an army hospital during Japanese rule, and now a bookmark in Taiwanese history. There are two towers, Haishen Temple, and Wenchang Pavilion ‘文昌閣’. Both now serve as small museums. In Haishan Temple hangs small wooden plaques upon which students have written their wishes and prayers for good grades. Since I was just about to enter college at the time, my mom insisted that I write a plaque too.

We didn’t spend more than half an hour exploring Chikan Lou because of the blistering heat. What we decided to to afterwards was to get some 雪花冰 [xue hua bing], or more commonly known as “mian mian bing”.

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In short: shaved ice. Mango and blackberry shaved ice, with some green tea and mango panna cotta to boot.  The panna cotta is one of those foods from my travels that I still reminiscence about from time to time. So silky and smooth and cool–it just slithers down your throat. Nothing more gratifying in muggy, 96-degree weather.

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We visited a couple more temples, and spent some time sitting in a large park with this incredible banyan tree. It could have been almost a thousand years old for all I knew; looked like something you’d find in My Neighbor Totoro. Uncle Chen, mom, and I just relaxed on a park bench until the sun set. And then it was time for dinner!

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Perhaps I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: if there’s one thing you never should miss out on when you’re in Taiwan, its the fresh bamboo shoot that you dip in sweet mayonnaise. It is a godsend food. Crisp and sweet, almost like some buttery Gala apple. That was a pretty strange characterization, but it is so good.

We also ordered a large plate of 山蘇 [shan su], which is one of my favorite vegetables to eat in Taiwan. “Bird’s Nest Fern” is native to tropical areas; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the US.

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The large leaves curl outward, giving it the appearance of a nest. It’s delicate, crunchy, and (dare-I-say-it) kinda slimy. Like the tasty okra kind of slimy, unless you don’t like slimy vegetables.

There was also 絲瓜 [si gua], or loofah, steamed in a pumpkin sauce. Loofah is one of my favorite vegetables, hands down–it basically looks like a giant cucumber. And it is indeed the same loofah we use in scrubbing sponges! What a practical plant. One of my favorite things was the sticky rice balls stuffed with delicious things.

 

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sunset by the park!

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溪頭 Xi Tou, 2009

lemidiAfter our trip through Sichuan, China, my mom and I decided to venture outside of Taipei for a change: to 溪頭 [xi tou], a city south of Taichung. We stayed at the  [mi ti da fan dian] or Chitou Lemidi Hotel.  A surprisingly luxurious resort, styled in French architecture, in the midst of dense bamboo forest and mountainous Xi Tou.

An expansive continental breakfast is included, so I definitely recommend staying there if you ever head down to Xi Tou–since finding food in the mountains is inevitably difficult without a car. There’s also a small arcade with ping pong tables, as well as a tea tasting room. :)

My mom took me to visit the 溪頭自然教育園區, which I guess could be translated as “Xi Tou Natural Park” (?). It’s essentially a park where you can find tons of trails, see several hundred-year old trees, walk through bamboo forests, flower fields…etc. Basically requires a full day to explore! It was a pretty cloudy and misty day, but the sun came out to play when we hit the gardens. There is a beautiful arch bridge at “University Pond”, which is definitely worth the stop. It’s constructed entirely from bamboo, and considering how many tourists it’s manage to carry, it’s quite the engineering feat.

xitouMom and I also stopped by the ever-popular 竹廬 [zhu lu], or “Bamboo Cottage”. This place was previously the Chiang Kai-shek line shop; we couldn’t go in though, since the cottage isn’t open to the public. The cottage was completed in 1977 and is made of 100% bamboo. Each stalk is cut and fitted perfectly with the others.  Another popular attraction is the trail up to Shen Mu ‘神木’ giant tree. My fear of heights noted the trailhead’s marking as a “challenging uphill climb” of about at least 1.5 hours, so my mom and I ended up on not seeing the tree. Next time! I think I’m a lot less afraid of heights now than I was before. The 神木 spans several meters in diameter and remains standing after over 700 years, even though lightning split it in two years ago. 

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One of my mom’s best friends from college, Uncle Chen 陳叔叔, took us to what I believe was the Neihu Elementary School 內湖國小. Totally just basing it off of my memories matched with the pictures provided in the link. What I do remember is that there are a lot of butterfly plants and tress at the school, so hundreds of butterflies flock there in the summer. It was a kaleidoscope of fluttering wings and glimmering colors. I’m not the best photographer, but believe me when I say there were swarms of them flitting around!

nantouAfterwards, we walked down this huge street market in Nantou County ‘南投縣 ‘. I wish I remembered the name so I could recommend it, because there was so much to see! Street food everywhere, bands and dance groups performing, games and caricatures. The grilled corn came in about 8 different flavors, and the stinky tofu was delicious. Mmm. 

I got to see the 愛玉 [ai yu] fruit from the first time, which is what the super popular Aiyu jelly  is made from. Aiyu dessert is made from the seeds of a type of fig found mostly in just Taiwan and Singapore. (It’s the strange-looking prickly ball in the bottom left picture).  Aiyu seeds are steeped in cold water and rubbed until a slimy gel can be extracted from it. The dessert is usually eaten cold with a squeeze of lime on hot summer days. Perfectly refreshing!

We happened to run into a couple of my mom’s old friends as well–what a coinkidink! They took us all out to a vegetarian restaurant nearby that was simply delicious. Light but wonderfully filling food, all local and fresh.nantou2 There was a beautiful lily pond nearby, and some camellia bushes. There could not have been a more relaxing place to dine and chat with your friends on a breezy, summer’s day. You could even walk outside to the garden from which they harvest all their ingredients. 聖荷 [sheng he] is what I think is the name of the restaurant, but don’t take my word for it.

We ordered some pretty simple dishes, nothing complicated or fancy. It was just like mom’s cooking. A couple stir-fried vegetables, multigrain rice, some light tempura and bean curd skin rolls. Fresh fruit for dessert. Hot soup in a porcelain bowl with a melange of fungi and daikon. If you can find any place called 聖荷 in the area, you should definitely go!

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Nürnberg: Day 3, 2009

nurntour5I woke up at 2:30am with the songs from the choir concert and German voices running through my head. Swear I was about to go insane at one point. My group and I met at the Box at 7:45am to go on a tour of Nürnberg with Herr Birkelbach. Herr Reynolds, our American chaperone, was nowhere to be seen. Since neither chaperone had shown up by 8am, we decided to explore the city on our own. A small group of us headed back after 15-20 minutes of exploring–after all, we didn’t know the city at all and wouldn’t be able to get back if we got lost. Everyone was present at 9:15am and we were finally able to start our tour!

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg was the first part of our tour. I think it’s wonderful how college tuition in Germany is free. All you have to pay for is room & board, but even that’s not too expensive. We also passed by the House of Tucher. The Tuchers were one of the richest families in Germany because of all the breweries they owned. They bought up all the land outside of the Nürnberger Wall (Nuremberg City wall) at insanely low prices through insider trading. Apparently quite the scandal at the time. 

nurntourHerr Birkelbach also explained to us how German license plates work: basically the bigger the city, the shorter the abbreviation. For example, Nürnberg’s is just “N” but Roßtal’s would be “Roß”. The blue part of the license plate tells you which country the car is from, so D = Deutschland, S = Spanien, F = Frankenreich (France)…usw (“und so weiter”, the equivalent of etc.). There’s also a little clock sticker that tells you when you have to take the car back to be checked.

We also went to the Kaiserburg, an ancient castle where all the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation lived between 1050 and 1571. The climb up the cobblestones was steeper than I wanted it to be. On the way up, we stopped by the dried moat and Herr Birkelbach told us the story of a man who was sentenced to death but given one last wish. His last wish was to ride his horse one more time. Once he was on the horse, the two of them jumped over the moat and city wall; his horse left hoof print on the wall. We all rubbed it for luck! Up in the towers of the castle are shafts where soldiers could shoot arrows from any angle when the castle was under siege. It’s presently used by the people who work at the castle to shoot spit balls at tourists (HAHA).

nurntour3Our tour led us across the Pegnitz River, which runs through the city. We then went into the St. Lorenzkirche, a medieval church dedicated to Saint Lawrence. No pictures were allowed, unfortunately! Also short stops on our tour were the Frauenkirche (Our Lady’s Church) and Bauermarkt (farmer’s market). The Bauermarkt was enormous! Took up the entire square in front of the Frauenkirche; a sea of red-and-white-striped tents. Fresh fruit everywhere~.

nurntour2The last official stop on the tour was the Schönbrünn (Beautiful Fountain). Welded through the gaps in the fencing around the fountain is a bronze ring–legend says if you spin it twice, you’ll find success in love! The backstory of the ring began with a young blacksmith’s apprentice who fell in love with the mayor’s daughter. The mayor exiled the apprentice because he thought his daughter was too good for him. Yet the apprentice returned in the shade of night and welded the ring to prove his worthiness as blacksmith. The lovers eloped soon after. There are currently two rings on the fountain, but only one is real.

We had free time after seeing the Schönbrünn to visit the area nearby and were given an allowance. Game changer. Each of us were given €25 to spend on anything we wanted to. I didn’t have time to buy any souvenirs or visit the Frauenkirche in the time given. Something more important was to happen: we were to meet the mayor of Nürnberg at the Rathaus (city hall, literally means “Advice House”). It was such a nice reception! There were drinks and large plates of Belegtebrot (slices of bread with meat & cheese on it). The mayor welcomed us to Nürnberg, and someone from each of the American groups (there were 5) had to go up to talk a bit to show our appreciation for the sponsorship provided.

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When my Gastmutter picked me up afterwards, we went home for some delicious tomato/bell pepper ragout she had made for lunch. Happy belly. Then we went to Charlotte’s graduation ceremony. German graduation ceremonies all start with church service, or Gottesdienst. It was held at the Frauenkirche; there was a short sermon, and some worship and prayer. nurnday3The reception was back at the Rathaus, where I tried some Sekt (Champagne). Didn’t like it too much, so I stuck with apple cider.

Also met Clara’s grandparents, who were sweet. I fell asleep during the ceremony because there were way too many speeches, and the 5 hour walking tour had wiped me out…It was a cute scene when all the students gave presents to their teachers and finally received their Abitur. Charlotte got a €1,000 Stipendium (scholarship money) because she received one of the top grades in her class. Yay!

My Gastfamilie (host family) and I then went to the Schießhaus, a restaurant where there was a huge buffet and party for all the graduating students and their families. There wasn’t any vegetarian food :( other than dessert and fruit. Really delicious though. And I finally got to meet Konrad, my Gastbruder (host brother)! He’s about 3-4 years older than Charlotte (I think?).

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Nürnberg: Day 2, 2009

gym2Summer nights in Germany are cold, at least in my room. I was unfortunately awake at 3:30am by jetlag. My first day of German high school! Frühstück (breakfast) in Germany consists mainly of toast with marmalade or nutella, and butter, paired with a cup of coffee or tea. Pretty simple. My Gastvater (host father) packed me and Clara snacks for school: freshly-baked brownies…mmmm. We rode the 6:40am train and arrived in Nürnberg around 7:10am. The Gymnasium was about a 5 minute walk away.

I spent the morning with the group of American students I flew with, and met my German chaperone, Herr Birkelbach. Clara and Charlotte swooned every time he spoke because it was like melted dark chocolate: so deep and velvety. Haha. Our group met at “der schwarze Box” (the black box), a flat-faced 3-story building painted all black. Inside der schwarze Box was a foosball table, a ping pong table, a computer lab, a super sweet sound system…list goes on. My favorite place in dem Box was the “chill-Eck” (chill corner), a rest area with bean bags, books, and games.

libI then went to Chemistry with Clara–thankfully it was only an hour of confusion in trying to understand orbitals in German. We had a “Pause” (break) for 15-minutes after Chemistry. Since Clara needed to go to choir rehearsal, I went to her friend Sarah’s German class. Man what a raucous class! Students walked in and out as they pleased; if we did that at my high school, we’d get penalties. Got to read Oedipus in German, which was a surprisingly easy read.

My group and I were treated to a tour of the school when we were done shadowing our host sisters/brothers. Melanchthon is about 500 years old, with a “secret” vault in the library that held valuable books. They had everything from first edition copies of Shakespeare’s plays and early editions of Dante and Voltaire.

German school days end around 12:30–so short! We got home around 1:30pm, just in time for lunch. My Gastmutter made this tasty fettucine alfredo with fresh zucchini:alfredo

I later helped Charlotte bake a cake for her graduation ceremony and dry the dishes. With about an hour or two before Clara’s concert, my Gasteltern (host parents) took me on a small excursion through Nürnberg. It was adorable how much my Gastvater loves chocolate and tea; we went through every shop selling either (or both) as we explored. To quote my Gastmutter, “he’s in his element”.

We passed the Ehekarussell (Marriage Carousel) when we were walking around. My Gastvater explained to me that the Ehekarussell was created in the spirit of the poem “Bitter-Sweet Married Life” by Hans Sachs. The poem basically follows marriage through the first stages of passionate love to disputes and struggles, all the way until death. The work starts with beautiful and youthful figures and gradually deteriorates into old, weary souls.

nurnbergThe concert was wonderful! Great orchestra, the kids’ choir was sweet, and Clara sounded wonderful. Lots of wonderful solos too. To be honest, I struggled to stay awake for much of the concert because of how early I had woken up…

 

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Nürnberg: Day 1, 2009

My host family greeted me with bear hugs and a beautiful bouquet of flowers at the airport. The shock–from landing in an entirely different country, speaking a language I didn’t grow up with, and living with a family I had never met–finally hit me and left me awkwardly speechless for most of the car ride. Beyond being absolutely wonderful and warm people, my host family was so…tall. I believe the shortest person, my host sister Charlotte, was 5’8″. Verrückt (Crazy)! 

I followed Clara, my other Gastschwester (host sister), to  her high school, Melanchthon Gymnasium. A Gymnasium is a type of high school that runs from 5th to 13th grade (if I remember correctly, but correct me if I’m wrong). Final year students such as Charlotte have to take the Abitur (final exam) before moving onto university. The Abitur, or “Abi”, contains all the grades of the student and essentially dictates what major students are allowed to study in university. 1 is the highest grade possible for a Gymansium graduate, which means you can become a doctor. Anything below a 1,3 or 1,4 on your Abitur and you can basically forget about every becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Rough.

gymThe celebration at the end of testing probably parallels the intensity and competitiveness of Gymnasium: this was probably the craziest party I had been to at that point. Water guns filled with beer, fights with balloons filled with beer or water, streamers, DJs blasting electronica/house music, live bands jamming to Tokio Hotel, drunk soon-to-be-graduates dancing and singing sloppily on stage, and a smokin’ BBQ. In short: college.

My favorite part of their Gymnasium was an abandoned streetcar that the students had refurbished and turned into a cafe serving drinks and snacks during recess. Genius. The outside was decorated in graffiti and paintings, while the inside retained the rusty, antique quality of the old streetcar. After spending a good hour or so meeting all of Charlotte and Clara’s friends, I followed Clara to choir practice. They sounded so good! Their set list was West Side Story. :)

rosstalThe sun was barely setting at 6pm, which was when we took the U-Bahn (subway) to the Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof (main train station). From there we took the classic and ever-romantic choo-choo-train all the way home: Roßtal-Wegbrücke. Roßtal-Wegbrücke is about 25 minutes from the heart of Nürnberg. Basically in the countryside. Bayern (Bavaria) is breathtakingly idyllic: green pastures and wheat fields, small ponds lined by trees and a quaint bench at the edge, rolled up bales of hay with cows roaming about. We chugged past tiny, brick houses, with potted flowers on the balcony or fresh laundry breezily dancing on a line hanging by the window. Cobblestone streets paved the way to houses several hundred years old, with bakeries sprinkled in between. They even had their own history museum! 

haus2I can’t lie about feeling slightly uncomfortable about our house being next to a cemetery. But if I was to spend a month here, I couldn’t let superstition get the best of me! They had a huge backyard blooming with flowers and fruit trees (peach, apple, cherry, lemon…etc.). They even had blueberry and blackberry bushes! Clara showed me to my room, which was the only room downstairs in the house. Everyone else lived upstairs, where the kitchen and bathroom are located. My room was so adorable and quaint! A fully-stocked bookshelf, a small table with a silver teapot, cup, and silver tray. Soft pastel colors–lilac and mint green–decorated the room. There were no curtains shading the window, but the rose bushes outside hopefully saved me from giving outsiders a peepshow…

hausFor dinner, my Gastmutter (host mother) made Pfannkuchen. They’re the German equivalent of crepes and delicious! I smothered mine in Nutella and homemade jam that Clara’s grandmother made from the berries picked from their garden. What a huge selection, too! Raspberry, strawberry, peach…something to dream about. And then my Gastmutter brought in something I–to this day–have not been able to forget and doubt I ever will: freshly-picked strawberries. Nothing like the lipstick red ones in the US; these were half the size and very pink. More like raspberries than strawberries. But boy were they the absolute sweetest and most delicious strawberries I’ve had in memory. You could pop them in your mouth like M&M’s. Paired with the strawberries was Schlagsahne, German whipped cream. Schlagsahne is more liquid than the one familiar to Americans, and much lighter. What a perfect meal.

My first day ended with watching Friends and Grey’s Anatomy with Clara  and my Gastmutter, while we all sipped on one of the 30 varieties of tea my Gastvater (host father) has in the kitchen cabinet. I feel like I should also add that their kitchen is essentially my dream kitchen:  knotty, wooden shelves and tables, cookbooks stacked high, sugars and spices of all kinds hanging around, home-grown vegetables on the window sill…

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