Wednesday, August 10, 2016

First Few Days in Germany

We don't have wifi in our rooms, just an ethernet cord, so I can connect to the internet through my laptop but not through my phone. The wifi is at the student center not too far away, but it's rather nice to not have to walk over there and to just relax in the quiet, so here's a long first post about our arrival and orientation days here in Marburg!

Our trip over to Germany was relatively uneventful. We discovered when we got to the airport that we'd been given the wrong weight limit for our bags, so that was stressful, moving everything around. I've never had this happen before, but they also weighed our carryon bags. They had to be under 8kg, which I think is around 15lbs. Our carryons had mostly books and things we weren't comfortable having under the plane (my camera), so getting that weight down was tricky!

The flight out of Atlanta left on time: 10:45pm. We took Tylenol PM to help us sleep during the 11 hour flight but I didn't do more than doze. Carson snored a little bit, so I think he got more sleep. I've always been cold on flights, but on this one we were all pretty warm, so I think that interfered with the sleep. We arrived in Istanbul surprisingly not groggy. It was almost 5pm their time, and about 10am in our heads, so maybe that's why it didn't feel so awful. We weren't sure if they would have us get our bags and go through customs, but they just had people checking passports at passport control as we came off the plane and that was it. 

Our layover wasn't long, but we did have a bathroom at our gate and I was able to wash my face and change and put makeup on to look a little more human. The flight to Frankfurt was around three hours, I think. Customs was really easy. We just went through passport control and they asked us why we were there and when we were going to register and we told them and then they let us through. We didn't have to go through a second checkpoint with our bags, which has not been my experience. It was easy, and I appreciated that. 

We arrived on Saturday evening in Frankfurt! We found a taxi with a little struggle and then headed for our hotel. I think there is a bus that could have taken us there, but with so many bags, it was worth it to not have to walk blocks and blocks with all our stuff and possibly incorrect directions. Our driver was from Turkey and was really excited that we flew through his country. 

Our hotel room was TINY! There was a shower in the middle of the room, sort of, and no door on the toilet area. A bed was squished next to the shower, and there was barely enough space for our bags. It was very bare bones and honestly we just needed a place to stay so it was perfect. 

The next morning (actually, just a few hours later, since we didn't get settled in until after midnight), we got up and walked around for a little bit, leaving our stuff in our room. We found the train station and mapped out our route there for later. We walked down a little street and saw a lovely old church in the quietest neighborhood ever. It was off a busy street but was eerily silent. I'm not sure why that was, but I guess it would be a great place to live. 

We had breakfast in the cafe next to the hotel before getting our bags and becoming a spectacle on the street. We felt very silly walking with so much stuff, but the train station was only two blocks away. Carson figured out how to buy tickets while I watched the bags, and we got on the 10:30am bus to Marburg. It passed through several towns and cities as well as agricultural areas. We saw a few castles and passed lots of tiny homes with very impressive gardens. The ride was about an hour and a half, and I believe that there are actually faster routes as well. 

When we arrived in Marburg, we found the German representitives for the Fulbright program waiting in the train station. They took us to the dorms in little groups, and we got settled. Everyone else is in a little dorm room, but we got an apartment in the basement of one of the dorms! We have a big room with a single bed and a desk and a smaller room with a single bed and a desk, so we moved the two beds in the bigger room, and then we have a bathroom with a sink and shower (toilet is down the hall!) and a kitchen with a plug in stovetop. We don't have dishes or pots or pans so we haven't tried it out yet. 

Our building, Lomonosov Haus. We are in the basement!

 I think that we were going to go out for dinner somewhere, but was glad to see that they decided to just order pizza for us so we didn't have to travel anywhere else. After dinner, Carson and I went to walk around with a few of the girls here for the program. 

I should mention here that there are 21 girls and 9 guys that are in Marburg for the Fulbright language course. There are a total of 79 grantees coming to Germany which may include more men, but I'm not sure. Found that interesting though. Also interesting to me is that most of the students have recently graduated college, which means that they are roughly 22 years old. I know it's not that much younger, but I definitely feel much older in that my energy levels are far lower than theirs.

After our walk, we went back to the dorm student center for a little bit just to use the wifi, and then went to bed. Both Carson and I expected to fall asleep immediately, but we did not. We tossed and turned and finally got up and read. I got more sleep than Carson did (odd, because he falls asleep easily/first a majority of the time) and I believe he fell asleep at 3 or 4 in the morning. This was not great because we had to meet everyone at 8:10. 

We had breakfast Monday morning at the Mensa, which I think is what they call their student centers in Germany? They have a big cafeteria where they allowed us to get anything we wanted. There was a large variety of food (most of it easy to recognize) and we left full. There was a huge assortment of pastries available that didn't really tempt me, but Carson had a bearclaw-like thing. 

After breakfast, we walked to the conference center where we will have language classes for the next six weeks. We had a little meeting there for a couple hours and got information and then all walked to an electronic store. They seriously had every single thing that can possibly plug in that I can think of. Even hair dryers and irons (both of which you could plug in and test out!). We discussed getting SIM cards so we can use our phones here but Carson and I opted to explore our options a little bit and do a little internet research. 

 This big church is called Elizabethkirshe, and it's next to the conference center we will meet in daily for language and culture classes. I think at some point, we will try to take a tour of it or go inside, but we haven't yet!

 Next, we walked to lunch in the old town Marburg, which looks like a fairy tale village.

Over lunch, we decided to go with others to get some things for the rest of our stay. We picked up laundry detergent and shampoo at a CVS-like place, and then took the bus back to the dorms (Studentendorf). We dropped our purchases off in our rooms and then headed down the hill to the grocery store. It wasn't a long walk and although we had no idea what we wanted to buy, we were in and out relatively quickly. I was surprised at how cheap many things were. We didn't buy any meat because we don't have pots or pans, but most things were really reasonable. 

We had to be back by 4:45, and we were surprisingly a little early. We met at the conference center and walked through a little park and over a river and arrived at a very pretty stone building where we would have our opening ceremonies for the Fulbright. The director gave a talk about the Fulbright history (it's in its 70th year!) and had everyone go around the room and introduce themselves and talk about why they wanted to come to Germany. After that, we ate. They had a huge spread of really delicious looking food. My favorite was a bread that tasted just like a pretzel. 

Everyone socialized after dinner, and we were supposed to be there only until 8pm, but at 9:30, a few of us got sleepy and found the bus back to the Studentendorf. Carson had to grade some papers and so he went to use the wifi, but I just read for a little bit in our room and called it a night. 

On Tuesday, we woke up and headed down the hill to the bus. We were on our own for breakfast, and I didn't have much, but for some reason I wasn't that hungry. We met again at the conference center for more orientation things, this time led by the head of the Fulbright. We discussed health insurance and other really exciting matters. We had a break for lunch and walked upstairs to a meal of carrot soup (and I hate carrots but enjoyed this - I've discovered it's only raw ones that I really despise) and open-face sandwiches. Mine looked like turkey but I'm not really that sure what it was. We had a little time left before we had to head back, so Carson and I walked around past Elizabethkirsche and explored a bit. 

After lunch, we returned for more orientation paperwork. We were released at 4 and had to meet up at 6 at the castle at the top of the hill for dinner that evening. Carson and I walked back to the Studentendorf to change because I'd put on shorts that morning not realizing that it was 65 degrees for a high. I wasn't that cold, but we could see clouds coming and I was pretty sure it was going to get a lot colder. We also got our ethernet cable set up so we could have internet on my computer in our room. I began typing this post!

We walked up the hill to the bus (there is one bus up hill and one downhill. We usually try to walk down to the one in the morning and then down from the other in the afternoon so that we don't have to do too much uphill.) with a few others. From the place the bus dropped us off, we took an elevator up to the old city (it's suuuuper hilly here and there are stairs, but we were already going to be walking up to the castle so we decided to save our calves). 

The trip from the old town area to the castle wasn't far at all, but my calves were screaming from so much walking already that day. It was BEAUTIFUL up there, and I'm really excited to go back and get a really good look at the structure and the view. 

Dinner was at a nice restaurant at the castle. We started with beer or wine and this truffle celery soup. I was scared of it but it was actually quiet good. Lots of cream and butter here.

Speaking of that, this was the butter! I'm not sure if this is normal or fancy but I loved it.

We had chicken and pasta in a tasty mushroomy sauce. It was reminiscent of Marsala sauce and I love that stuff, so this was up my alley. 

We finished off with this dessert. I was stuffed and didn't even finish my dinner, but managed a few bites anyway.

Restaurant patio overlooking Marburg.

One of the girls didn't want her dessert, so Carson asked for it to go. They didn't have boxes, so they improvised with a tinfoil purse!

Can you tell how steep this hill is? It looks underwhelming here but it wasn't!

I'm not sure what this is about, but I've heard there's a lot of stuff here that has something to do with fairy tales because the Brothers Grimm lived here at some point, so perhaps that's why?

This is the train station (Hauptebahnhof) at night

So we walked close to a mile to the bus stop and then discovered that the bus wouldn't arrive until 9:50 (it was 9:09pm), so the group of us walking down mutually decided to just walk instead to the dorms. We got there at 9:41, which is good, but didn't come without a price. We had to walk up the big hill to the dorms and had already walked up to the castle that day, and had just eaten a big meal. Everyone was regretting eating their dinner, but we all made it. When we turned around, our distance was so impressive. This picture is from earlier in the week, but for reference that's the castle on the hill on the left, and this was taken close to the gate of the dorm (a little downhill [of course] and our dorm is up another hill [of course]). It was quite the walk. I feel like we deserved every last bit of that dinner after all. 

That covers our travel days and orientation days in Marburg. We'll be back with more later!

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