Nürnberg: Gemeindefest (II)

Day 12, 07.05.2009: More potlucks!

good company at the festival

I love how frequently these Gemeindefest [“community festivals”] pop-up in Germany! Such a happy place to live. If the opportunity arises to join one, you definitely should! Lovely people, fun activities, and best of all, delicious Kartoffelsalat–potato salad. This time around, there was more Kartoffelsalat that was vegetarian than last time. So I really indulged myself and probably disgusted my host family and all their neighborhood friends with how many helpings I had…

tasty cherry crumbleNot to say that stopped me from additional servings of some Nachtisch [“dessert”]. There was an open bar of cakes, custards, cookies, crumbles, crisps, and all other forms of captivating culinary sweets. After about 15 minutes of indecisively hovering over the desserts table and making others uncomfortable, I finally settled on a cherry crumble and raspberry yellow cake.

deliciously soft raspberry yellow cakeOne of the most unexpected and most interesting activities was the option to operate a tractor(?!?). There was a plot of land that everyone who wanted to learn how to use a tractor could continuously dig into and backfill. Totally fun and definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of games at a festival. I undeniable struggled with operating the claw and am grateful no one was hurt in the process.

me driving a tractor

That’s me!

Clara introduced me to a fellow exchange student from London. Both of us were rather shy, and after making some small talk, simply sat next to each other awkwardly and ate our food in mostly silence. My young, girlish dreams of meeting a charming Englishman and escaping to the English countryside were kind of dashed at that point. Chemistry can be so disappointing. I ran into another exchange student while we were there. They’re everywhere! He was also from California, which was a good starting point for a much less awkward conversation.

The musical and dance performances provided a clean segue for us to turn our attention to other activities. We were treated to traditional Bavarian folk dance and music by dancers bravely dressed in Dirndl dresses (for women) and Trachten (for men) in searing heat. The dance is called Mühlradl [“Miller’s Dance”], where people dance in a sort of ring-around-the-rosy fashion and bounce off from partner to partner.bavarianfolk

The rest of the day was spent at home packing for Berlin–the highlight of our month in Germany. I was oozing excitement out of every pore and hardly slept a wink that night. Either thankfully or unfortunately–I can’t decide–my enthusiasm was tempered by some sober reading of Grapes of Wrath for my AP English class.

Also, this seems like such a silly thing to note, but I had a fried egg for the first time in two weeks. Do Germans eat a lot of fried eggs? I feel like I should know that answer having lived there for a month, but perhaps it was just my host family that wasn’t big on fried eggs. In any case, if you ever get a hankering for some fried eggs, the magical term is “Spiegelei” or “mirror egg”. Spiegel = mirror and Ei = egg. 🙂

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 2009

Day 11, 07.04.2009: Rothenburg

My Gastfamilie [host family] took me to Rothenburg: a quaint, medieval town along the Romantic Road. Or, as it arguably is better known as, the town that sells Christmas souvenirs 365 days a year. Since it was only an hour away from Roßtal, we took the train there instead of driving.

IMG_2242We had a 15 minute layover in Ansbach, which was enough time to check out the Hofgarten [court garden] there. There was a rather long building built by the prince so he could house his fruit trees, which I thought was awesome because I want my own orchard someday. My Gastmutter [host mum], who loves art, brought us to an art exhibit nearby and struck up a conversation with the artist herself. It was kind of mind-blowing how everyone in Germany is so amicable.

IMG_2230I feel like in America, it’s far and few in between that you meet, say, a cashier at the supermarket who’d be willing to make eye contact, let alone small talk. And everyone is so busy getting somewhere. My host mum, however, strikes up hearty conversations with any clerk or cashier she meets, all the time. Not a grumpy face since I left the U.S.  It’s actually pretty heart-warming to see people take the time to slow down and have a chat.

rothenburg-copyright-melody-linStepping into Rothenburg was like a walking into a pop-up fairytale book set in the Middle Ages. The city wall, if I remember correctly, is the only city wall in Germany that’s still standing and complete. And you get to climb the wall! Going up the stairs was slightly terrifying because the steps were so small and so steep. But I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I muscled my way through.

We strolled along the skirts of Rothenburg before getting off the wall. The stairs down were even worse! They were slanted downwards at a 15-degree angle. How did people climb this in the winter?!

As our tummies started grumbling, we stumbled into this random cafe. The only thing vegetarian option was Spätzle…literally just the cooked noodles. Because meat gravy. Not going to lie, it was pretty damn bland. I probably had 3 days’ worth of salt just to bring out an inkling of flavor. After downing most of the salted noodles, Clara offered to finish it for me. She said it was good with the gravy. Welp.

rothenburg-apfel

Thankfully, we ordered dessert and I got ApfelStrudel mit Vanilla Eis [apple strudel with vanilla ice cream). Like wow. I don’t know if it was because my entree was so unsatisfying, but 6 years later, and I still salivate at the thought of that Apfelstrudel with ice cream–you can’t not have the ice cream. The strudel was warm and the apples still crispy but coated in ooey-gooey cinnamon and sugar. The vanilla ice cream was like eating a vanilla bean. So pure and creamy: slowly melting and flooding the nooks and crannies of my strudel.

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My host mother also convinced me to try a Schneeball [literally, “snowball”], which kind of looks like a yarn ball. Layers of flour, deep fried, and dipped in chocolate or sprinkled with powdered sugar, nuts…etc. It was pretty good but difficult to eat because I got one dipped in chocolate and the chocolate was melting as I ate it. Messy eater problems.

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No photos allowed, so I could only get the truck outside!

As my host mum went off to visit bookstores, Clara took me to the infamous, all-year round Christmas stores in Rothenburg. They have such tiny storefronts, but as you go deeper into the store it unfolds into a 2-3 story building! It’s bigger on the inside! (Doctor Who, anyone?)

Delicate and intricately handcrafted wooden ornaments. I wanted all the pretty things. And there was a huge, fully-decorated and lit Christmas tree in the middle of the store that reached all the way up to the ceiling. I wanted to take a picture so badly but it was prohibited and there were people watching.

There were also snowflakes made just from wood shavings (?!) and carved windmills that run on rising hot air from candles that you light from within it. Sooo cool. I bought this really cute ornament with a snowman, reindeer, and Christmas tree on it. It cost around €9, which was like USD $12 at the time, but who cares? I was in Germany!

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平溪 Pingxi, Taipei, 2012

sky lanternsThe famous host village of the Sky Lantern Festival–Pingxi 平溪. Another quaint village that developed during the Japanese Colonial Era. A typical recommendation is to stop and sightsee at all the towns along the Pingxi Railway as a day trip (such as Shifen 十分), but my mom and I unfortunately didn’t have time.

on the way to pingxiDaylight is short in the mountains, even in the summertime, so after spending some time at Houtong and taking the train, we had only an hour or two before dark to return to Taipei. Also, the weather was just not picking up. I would definitely advise going to any of these small towns in better weather and even maybe on the weekend–despite the fact that you would have to elbow your way through a thick forest of people. Most of the shops are closed on the weekday, and as soothing as the calm and quiet is, there’s not much to see.

Pingxi old streetWe did do our part as tourists and walk down 平溪老街 [ping xi lao jie], or Pingxi Old Street, though. Sparse sustenance for our rumbling bellies in these parts.

sky lantern shopAnd while our regrettably short visit left me feeling unfulfilled and with a lot of 遺憾 [yi han], or “regrets”, we did find a lonely sky lantern 天燈 [tian deng] shop! My mom wasn’t up for decorating a big one, so we bought a couple of souvenir sky lanterns to take home with good wishes on them. She was particularly interested in the one with 學業進步 [xue ye jing bu], or “may your studies improve”. Chinese parents, go figure.

Til next time, Pingxi!

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village, 2012

sleeping cat

If you’re not a cat person or are even slightly allergic to cats, this place is not for you. This is cat heaven and your worst nightmare.

Houtong train station greetingsBut I like cats. They’re derpy, sometimes jerks, and maybe even adorable. And there really is no better place to see them in their natural habitat than at Houtong  猴硐貓村 [hou dong mao cun]. 貓村 literally means “cat village”. Houtong is a tiny village in the Ruifang 瑞芳 District of Taipei nestled between the numerous mountain ranges of Taiwan; you can get there by the Mountain Line and it’s about an hour’s train ride from Taipei Main Station.

Houtong 猴硐 actually means “monkey cave” in Chinese. It was named so because there used to be a cave inhabited by monkeys. Houtong was a rich, small mining town during Japanese rule, and I’m guessing that it’s because of all the development in the area that there are no longer any monkeys left.

mountain line train

The mountain line

When the mining industry died out, a cat lover organized volunteers to provide abandoned cats in the village with a better life. The response from cat lovers all over Taiwan was so overwhelmingly positive, that Houtong has now developed into a cat haven and popular tourist destination.

No dogs signThe first sign you encounter stepping off the train is a map of the village, and cute cartoons of cats holding signs. A particularly prominent one is: “不建議帶狗來訪 [bu jian yi dai gou lai fang”, or “bringing dogs (狗 [gou] ) is not recommended”.

Houtong villageIt was a rainy weekday, so a lot of shops were shuttered close and the typically bustling place was rather deserted.

Did you say dog? Shhh....just go back to sleep.

Did you say dog? Shhh….just go back to sleep.

The entrance to the rest of the village was lazily guarded by security cats as well.

cat housesWe wandered onto a small platform overlooking the river, and found the local cat condo community. Cozy, wooden cat houses with aprons for doors, built on a brick platform. Luxury. They even had a great view of the railway bridge! The rain started to pour at this point, so we squatted in the center of the community, getting acquainted with our new hairy friends.

houtong_7But people live here too! We stopped at a food stall on wheels to browse through their wares.

Village lifeI was still battling a rather persistent stomach bug from our trip through China’s Silk Road, where we were a few days prior, but you only live once. So I shakily hiked up several flights of stairs in cold sweat with my mom to reach an overlook of the village and catch a glimpse of village life.

every town should have this

every town should have this

We probably didn’t spend any more than an hour at Houtong, unfortunately, since we had to hit the road and I needed to find some facilities to purge the bug (TMI? maybe). But I’d definitely visit again on a sunnier and busier day and spend more time exploring, just not with a  stomach bug.