On Security, Safety and Trust

As promised, I am taking a moment to discuss the issue of safety, security, trust and race/socio-economic class. I think this is sort of an intersection of sorts for a lot of things, and thus, it is very complex and I won’t really be able to address a lot. But the confluence of visiting a foreign “developing” country by myself as a women who is white and able-bodied and the Newtown/Sandy Hook shooting, with follow-up writings about white masculinity, definitely got me thinking. I was upset that I didn’t get to plan this trip as being by myself, but once it was, I knew that as long as I trusted my gut and listened, asked questions, etc, I’d be as safe as I normally am. Which is, to say, none of us is ever truly “safe.” Safety is an illusion. What does that mean? What does it mean to be safe? It means you have control over your circumstances. At its core, it means people do not violate you, physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, right? The reality is, we are more vulnerable than we’d like to be. But our awareness of this is particularly heightened when we are in an unusual circumstance, because we look for patterns, and if everything looks “normal,” we don’t worry. Even though something could happen in my everyday life. Someone I trust could violate that trust, and any of those levels. But in a place where we’re not familiar, we don’t have those patterns to fall back on. I was a bit surprised by some of my family/friends’ reactions to my going to DR by myself–they were more worried than I necessarily expected. And I can’t say for certain that it’s because Dominican Republic is a developing country, with a different culture, etc, but I’m sure that plays into it, because we all are more comfortable with what we’re familiar with. The thing is, I am familiar with Dominican culture (some of my best friends are Dominican….jk, but really). I lived in a neighborhood in NYC that was primarily Dominican and I guarantee you far more dangerous than any place I was in DR based on my statistical chance of getting caught in the middle of some kind of drug-related violence, because the area is a massive area for drug trafficking. And yet, while I’m sure some people were somewhat concerned when I lived in that area, they didn’t necessarily know that. Where I live now, I could get hit by a car. Or fall down the stairs, or on the subway tracks. There is no end to the random things that could happen.

A lot of my thought on this subject actually I think comes from my learning about statistics and reading things like The Black Swan–recognizing that our brains and emotions were optimized to look for danger in ways that are hardly useful today, because the most dangerous things are things we can’t possibly even be aware of, and therefore things we can’t possibly prevent, no matter what we do. I made a decision while in college that I just wouldn’t live in fear. That it wasn’t worth it. I try to implement that in my daily life, not being anxious, etc, which is in some ways much more difficult, but I think it’s important to take calculated risks, realizing that everything we do has some risk associated with it, and that, as I say, much of that risk is something that we don’t even know about. When Eve Carson was murdered in March, 2008, I realized that you can ask why, but sometimes that doesn’t help, and often there isn’t really an answer. Life if not fair, and horrific things happen all the time. My being paranoid about them, and in a sense, trying to take responsibility for preventing them, will not, in fact, prevent them from happening. And so while I was moving to NYC, I became much more aware of this idea, and recognized how much I didn’t want fear to inform my decisions. For a long time I’ve qualified that by saying, “that doesn’t mean I’m going to be stupid,” but I’ve realized over the years through thinking about, reading about, etc, rape culture and victim-shaming that is often involved in that that I think maintaining that way of thinking is, in a sense, accepting and okaying that. And that for me, doing what the fuck I want is a way to be subversive, both personally and in my culture and society, and that I want to do that, that that is a part of my intent. I will pay attention to my gut in the moment. But I will trust that I can handle any situation I’m in, and that I will create the world I want to live in because I want a world where we can trust each other. I absolutely refuse to fit into the world’s idea of what a woman is. And if someone chooses to violate me? Well, they have chosen to violate me. And no matter what I’m doing, if someone else violates me, whatever that looks like, then I am not at fault. I’m done with shouldn’t this or shouldn’t that because it would put me at risk of being violated in some way. Their choice to commit that violation is their own, I refuse to own it, or take any sort of responsibility for it.

I am not saying that I will do things I have some sort of belief are “dangerous”–precisely not that. I am working to get rid of my sense of danger as anything other than an in-the-moment part of my decision-making process. Because if I feel uncomfortable, then something is affecting me and it makes sense to consider another choice. But when considering the future, or what kind of “risk” I’m putting myself in when I do something that I want to do, I will intend to remove the risk framework about that situation in my decision-making thought process because it is false. It is created, and not real, because in the end, we could be dragged out of our apartment randomly and murdered. There is no safety. And that can be freeing.

Learn from every single being, experience and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.
–Eve Carson

A Visit Home and Another Wedding

I am now waiting at the airport for my flight back to NYC, after an eventful weekend of my best childhood friend’a wedding, Rachel. It was lovely–cupcakes and a candy table, and I am looking forward to seeing the photos. I also got to see my friend Elana, which was really nice.

Outside the wedding, I got to see my famillas friend Jon (who I hadn’t seen in 4 years at least) and Matt. AND I convinced my dad to go register people vote (Obama!!). All-in-all a really excellent weekend. I’m ready to get back to my NYC life and play some improv tonight with my favorite improv-playing ladies at the PIT. Yay! Then back to real life tomorrow. It’ll be a bit of a long haul for wok, but I’m pretty excited to get back to work an get some things done. It is going to be an awesome fall. Heck, yes. More to come soon (DNC convention, perhaps some religion stuff).

Love, Shannon.

February Celebration

I am not fond of change.  Sometimes it’s exciting, sure.  But mostly for me, it is uncomfortable and scary.

Hence, January is NOT my most favored month.  It’s a new year.  So I have to deal with the frustration of changing the year I write at the end of dates.  I know, ridiculous, right? But really.  It’s kind of annoying.  And then in New York, it’s all winter-y, this year especially so, and there’s no vacation to look forward to, since Christmas and holiday hoopla is as far away as it will ever be.  In recent years, I have found that I already miss my family/parents, which just sucks since I know that it will be a while until I’ll be able to see them again.  Just like the sun.

This year has heaped on an ended relationship (hey, there, change!) as well as a tough work schedule, which has been a blessing as well as a frustration, since I’ve been distracted and had something to focus on.

On the flip side, we got a new roommate who I’ve gotten along with swimmingly (Sam), and I’ve gotten to feel somewhat comfortable with the Tisch alums, a group of which my roommates are a part, and that has been refreshing, as it’s one of the few times in years that I have felt a part of a social group.  So that’s been nice.  Kanye West has kept me upbeat about shit, which is kind of ironic since his lyrics are in some ways so depressing.  But I have appreciated it–some upbeat, fun music for me to work to, and it’s really helped me focus on work.  I. Love. Music.  Sometimes I forget that.

I’ve been making some fun (for me) plans financially, saving money and figuring out how to use that effectively.  Strangely exciting to me.

I’ve decided against the dog sitch, especially considering that a roommate (Jason) will be bringing his dog, Benny Bruce, to live with us in February (one more reason to be excited about this fantastic upcoming month!).  I have no doubt that February will be cold.  And as I say, January has certainly had some benefits, February can only get better.  And I’m planning on going to the Dominican Republic at the end of the month, which just makes everything look sunnier!  I am just psyched to get to February, and through this slush of a month.  Also, the NY weather has just been so unforgiving.  I’m sick of snow, and integrated testing (little work joke, there).  It’s actually been a pretty productive month, and that’s awesome.  I’m ready to move forward.

I am so grateful for all my friends all over the world though.  One thing I’ve realized this month is how many awesome people I have in my life in some capacity.  I’ve had some really wonderful conversations with my parents, despite their being far away, as well as with several other friends who are near and far.  It is amazing how close I can feel to friends so far away.

Much love to you all!

Snowpocalypse Travel

The holidays in Chapel Hill were lovely. But the trip back left something to be desired. I want to try something out, though, in telling this story. I’m doing to tell it from an optimistic point of view in an attempt to remember it more positively, instead of as an awful experience, one that is full of challenges I met and plenty of dumb luck.

My flight was originally scheduled to leave Monday the 27th in the afternoon, around 5:30, and arrive at LGA at 7:15. My holiday with the family in Chapel Hill was lovely and I enjoyed seeing everyone, especially Ellie, the little sister. I got some real quality time with both my parents, which was really wonderful. And then the weather chose the most interesting time to snow a lot. It snowed first in Chapel Hill, where we got a fantastic 3-6 inches of snow–perfect because it coated everything in white but also didn’t disturb too much because it was cleared easily from streets and melted quickly.

And then the storm moved north, dumping massive amounts of snow on New York City and the LaGuardia Airport. Stir in winds of over 60mph and you have the perfect storm for planes not being able to land. So my flight was cancelled. Which meant I got to spend some more time with Ellie! I called the airline to reschedule the flight, and the soonest they would be able to get me to New York would have been Thursday, the 30th. I was a bit shocked, but agreed to a flight that would get in then at 12am (so I guess technically the 31st). I was excited about getting to spend some more time with the family and just to relax, though it meant using 3 more days of vacation than planned. But I emailed work and everything was going to be fine.

I still was open to other means of transportation to get home a bit sooner. A couple of people suggested looking at trains, which I did. They were sold out. And then my mother mentioned that her cousin was driving to Baltimore the next morning and that perhaps I could take a bus from DC. I looked at the site for cheap bus tickets and found one trip that was not totally booked. I requested a seat after my mom’s cousin said it was totally fine for me to come with her.

The next morning, mom’s cousin came by to pick me up and we arrived in DC an hour late, but still an hour before my bus was scheduled to leave. I got some food and headed to the massive line of people waiting for buses. It was just before 4:30, bus scheduled to leave at 5pm, which I thought was pretty perfect. Then I heard this one young woman mention she was supposed to be on the 3pm bus. I braced for a tough wait.

I made some friends in the bus line and hunkered down, relieved I had picked up some food for myself. We waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, around 6:45pm, our bus arrived. I pushed to the front of the line by the bus, which had become a jumbled mess despite the fact that I’d been at the front of the line waiting, and therefore had been waiting the longest. I managed to get the 3rd last seat on the bus, and we were of. The driver got us home in just over 4 hours–pretty good, especially considering we stopped at one point. And we arrived in snowy New York City around 11pm. I felt (somehow, magically) up for taking the subway (and a bit avoidant of the cabs since there was lots of ice on the roads), so I managed to get home for free (or for what I’d already payed).

After a 14-hour travel day, and about 27 hours later than planned, I arrived home. Thank goodness for multiple forms of transportation. And not getting stuck on a plane, in an airport or in a subway car on an elevated track overnight (with no bathroom, food, or heat). It could be so much worse.

The Trip Home (or at least back to Chapel Hill)

So, I am finally safe & sound, stateside, with internet. My huuuge apologies for not getting all of the past 3 posts up sooner–life’s been a little crazy.

The plane ride to Frankfurt went without a hitch, but after that, it was like God was telling me not to go back to America. I had to leave the security area in Frankfurt and switch airlines, but because I had to switch airlines, I didn’t have a boarding pass for my Frankfurt->Philadelphia flight. So I had to go to the check-in desk, which, conveniently, was being sniffed by drug/bomb dogs in a police-taped off area. So I had to wait for that. And then in a long line that was confusing. And then FINALLY I had my boarding pass, made it through security and got on the plane. Of course the guy sitting next to me had to smell bad. So that already put me in a GREAT mood, and then the flight was about 9 hours which I survived pretty well, and then we were about to land in Philadelphia when our pilot came on the intercom and told us that due to bad weather, we had to land in Syracuse and refuel, then go back to Philly. Not so bad, I thought. Incorrectly. We sat in Syracuse for 3.5 hours waiting to get checked by customs and re-fueled, so that by the time we arrived in Philadelphia (around 6pm), my connection flight to RDU was already IN RDU, and I was most certainly not on it. So, I was stuck in Philly. And by that time, I was really really hungry, had a headache, and had been awake for 20 hours. Most of them in a plane.

On the bright side, I DID get my luggage back for the night. And the not-so-bright side, they couldn’t fly me out until Monday night at 9pm–over 29 hours after I was supposed to fly out. The other bright side was that Ali, my roommate for the past two years, is currently in Philadelphia doing Institute, the training for Teach for America. And I’d been in contact with her so that by the time I knew I’d be in Philly for a day, I knew I could stay with her. So I got my boarding pass for the flight the next day, took my stuff and hopped on a train to around where Ali was staying in the dorms at Temple University. After a little bit of confusion, we found each other, and it was icing on the cake of my Europe trip to be able to see The Ali.

I got home, went to sleep, and woke up at 4am to pack for living in Charlotte for two weeks, then got in the car my job rented for me at 6:30am and drove to Charlotte for work. Yesterday was EXTREMELY slow at the clinic (10 people the whole day), but I liked the office-workers, the environment, the people. Everyone has been really nice (surprisingly to me) in Charlotte. After work I succeeded in obtaining my key and finding the apartment complex I am living in for the two weeks I’m here. It’s okay…I suppose a nice apartment. But I have to share a room…which I’m never a fan of. It is, however, about 5 minutes from the clinic I’m working at–that is something I’m a HUGE fan of. It’s a really weird area–driving to work, the entire last 3/4 of the mile or 2 is doctor’s offices of every kind–plastic surgery, foot doctors, OB-GYN–you name it, they’ve got it. I was looking at all the different clinic names today driving to work and thinking about what a joke it is–who needs so many different kinds of doctors all with their own private practices that I could just walk in and ask for something from?? Maybe that’s stupid–maybe we really need it. I just thought it seemed strange, I guess with so many in all the same place.

After work yesterday, I went out to dinner with David, my big bro, who’s birthday it was. It was quite nice and his roommate and another friend came with us–we had a lively conversation and it was a good time.

Today was a bit better at the clinic–still slow. But I don’t have to be at work until 9am, which is so so so so awesome (5 minutes away AND 9am???!). After work today I managed a trip to the grocery store without tooo much trouble and then talked to my friend Daniel in Germany (yay Skype!!). Really, I love Skype. It is one of the best inventions ever. It doesn’t save any lives (probably), but to be able to talk with someone half-way around the world for free for as long as you want–awesome.

Being still somewhat on European time, and with all the waiting I did today, I’m pretty beat. But…hopefully I’ll be updating regularly. I’ve maybe found an apartment in the City, we’ll see. My love to all–

Jönköping, Sweden

I cannot believe my trip is already over. I am definitely not ready to go back home—I have had so much fun getting to just spend time with my friends and not worry about my usual life. I don’t think I could have asked for things to go better as far as traveling and the time spent with my dear friends. Apologies for the lack of updates on time in the past week—it has been difficult to find internet, even less internet that works with my computer. So I’ve written things along the way and am posting them when I get home. Anyway, the rest of Sweden.

Friday night, Hans’ mother made a wonderful meal, though I disagree that it counts a barbeque…there’s just that NC part of me that can’t think of it as anything but pulled pork…But it was delicious none-the-less and his parents were quite hilarious. His whole family I just really like. They are nice and very light-hearted. After dinner, we went out to Bongo, a bar Hans went to when he was in high school, and a couple others. The night was uneventful—a few drinks, some blackjack—nice but not incredibly exciting. We came home sort of early (12am) because Hans’ brother could give us a ride…and that was much preferred over the bus ride, which I was warned was hideous. Again, I got a cool 10 hours of sleep, which was wonderful.

Yesterday, we went into Jönköping and just kind of explored—we went down to the pier to get some ice cream (we had to start early so that we could make up for today not being able to get any…you know…) and sat out by the lake looking over the beautiful Swedish crystal-clear water. We walked by the beach (which was SO crowded, especially with brown Swedes), and I stopped and made a flower crown, with clovers, which I hadn’t done since high school I don’t think. We stopped over at an H&M and then went up to a peak above the town, from where you could see miles (kilometers…) of nothing but evergreens. It was incredible. We had fica and ice cream (again) and took pictures. Then we headed back home and had dinner (moose meat and potatoes with linginberries), and dessert (strawberries with ICE CREAM….3rd time). After dinner, Hans took a nap while up uploaded FIVE albums of pictures on facebook, then we went to a party of friends’ of Hans. So I got to meet some Swedes my age, which was cool. They were all very nice and (as Hans & I had discussed earlier) asked me what I thought about Sweden, which we decided was quite a difficult question to answer.

It’s so hard to put into words what is different about a place—Sweden, Europe, the United States. It just IS different. And not, at the same time. After being friends with these people for a semester, I was not really surprised by anything. There is sort of a different style in clothing, in architecture/building design and decoration, but in the end, all of the differences seem really minor. Plus you can never tell what parts of the differences you feel are simply because you’re on vacation, or a year that doesn’t really matter academically. I mean, I’ve felt really relaxed here, but that might just be because I don’t really have anything to worry about. I hope I can take at least a little of that home with me, though, because it has been really really nice. I have proven to myself that I can travel not very conventionally or securely and not feel very nervous. I was a bit nervous on my past two trips (the Germany-Spain and Spain-Sweden legs) because they were so difficult to get to the airports and everything, but it all worked out, and a have so much more confidence in my ability to deal with whatever comes up. Being able to go on this trip with as little planning as I had was really priceless, and it was so nice to have my friends be the guides—they were able to show me things that they’d seen in their childhoods, where people who live in the places go, that they hadn’t seen in years. So they were excited about it too. I felt like I got to share a really cool adventure with them all, and, as anyone who knows me will attest, the most important thing to me on this trip was the people I was visiting. So while I got to see some interesting places, they were made so much more interesting in how they connected to these wonderful people I’ve befriended.

I’ve talked to everyone about visiting me in New York City next year, which, conveniently, is the cheapest place (ticket-wise) to go in the States from here. So hopefully people will come visit me :-D.

As for now, I’m heading home. I’m not really ready, but I have things to do and New York to prepare for, so, life goes on even when you don’t want it to. When I get home, I’ll be quickly unpacking and re-packing to be in Charlotte for 2 weeks, where I’ll be working in an all-Hispanic clinic (with Mexican/Central American Spanish, thank goodness). My job has very nicely rented me a car so that I will not be swimming on my drive there—neither from water leaking into my car nor from sweat. The place I’m staying is supposedly really nice (pool, work-out room, etc), so that is promising. As I’ll presumably have internet, I’ll try and keep you updated.

Much love to all,
Shannon

Lorca, España

Now in Sweden, Jönköping (which is pronounced youn-shou-ping), the town we have to thank for Hans. I haven’t had time to write in quite a while because in Spain, we had no internet.

Patricia picked me up at the Alicante airport on Monday with her cousin after a completely uneventful flight (which is always a good thing), and we spoke some Spanish, then English, on the 2-3 hour drive back to her house in Lorca. We had to wait to pick her mother up from the train station (she was coming in from Madrid after working in the morning), so we got some ice cream (and I realized at this point that I’d had at LEAST one ice cream per day…), and then moved Patricia’s car so that she didn’t get a ticket (though later she explained several times that no-parking zones are sort of optional, so I’m not exactly sure why we had to move the car…) to her family’s house in Lorca. She explained it was in a really nice part of town, but that her house was built before all the others, so it wasn’t as nice (the other houses were basically mansions). So we finished our ice creams and headed over to the train station on foot to pick up her mom. With her mother in tow, we headed up to the country house.

At the country house (maybe 5-10 minutes outside of Lorca), I got to meet Patricia’s grandmother, who was wonderful (as was her mother). The geography reminded me a lot of Mexico—basically desert and mountains—and the country house is on the side of a big mountain, with high ceilings to keep it cool and a pool and outdoor kitchen. I put my things down, changed into my bathing suit and went for a swim in the very refreshing pool. We all ate some dinner together—salad, chicken, quiche & cherries for dessert—and talked into the night about politics and history. Finally I went to sleep and slept very very well, which was not surprising in the least considering my previous few nights of sleep were severely lacking length.

We woke up on Tuesday morning and headed for a town called Mojacar that probably would have been half an hour away if Patricia hadn’t gone around a mountain, but it’s ok. I got to see more of Spain, and we drove past the beach on our way up the hill to the town. It overlooks the Mediterranean and is almost identical to pictures I’ve seen of Santorini in the whitewash and shapes of the houses and other buildings, as well as the bright flowers and cobblestone streets. After walking through the streets of the beautiful town, we made our way down the mountain and onto the beach where we ate some lunch (and I got my daily ice cream fix), then laid out in the Spanish sun and I got to swim in the Mediterranean a bit. It was quite glorious. On our way home, we stopped by another beach that Patricia told me was more for Spaniards, which it was full of. There was an awesome little cave in the side of the rocks by the side of the beach there, which I thought was just so incredible.

We came home and napped for a while, then went to dinner at a place Patricia had grown up eating at, where one family owned the restaurant, raised the pigs, killed them, cleaned them and prepared them (or at least had staff that did it…). So we had chorrizo and some sausage, excellent and incredibly greasy all of it. Plus some Sangria. Delicious!

The next day we visited Real Castle #2, basically in the middle of Lorca on a mountain. This one was from the 13th century and was the frontier castle for the Christians while the Moors still had control of the more Southern part of Spain for hundreds of years. So the area has influences from Christian and Muslim cultures, which I think is pretty cool. It was a beautiful castle and they had people dressed up as if they were from the 13th century, playing characters—sweet. I understood probably 75% of what they said…maybe a little less…but I tried!! I did learn a lot about the castle and area.

After the castle and a nice dinner, we headed to Murcia with Patricia’s mother, where we walked around and I got to see Murcia, then they took me to the train station and I took the last train to Terrellanos, the station closest to the airport. From there, I called a taxi and slept in the airport. Thursday at 6am, I flew out of Alicante with a bunch of Swedes to the land of Narnia (just kidding—Sweden).

Hans picked me up from the Gothenburg airport and we went into town to a park and ate the wonderful picnic of fruit and champagne (from Chapel Hill, Hungary!) Hans had brought. We walked around Gothenburg a bit and got some ice cream (obviously), then headed back to his house. There, we met up with his brother, Peter (his parents were on vacation in Germany, got back today), and got Lebanese food, candy and some beer and sat out on the beach of the lake in Jönköping, eating and watching the sun set—very pleasant. We went home and to sleep early.

Today, we got up and went to an island on the lake by Jönköping across from a town called Gränna, but I can’t remember the island’s name. It was a 40-ish minute drive, and then we took a ferry across the water to the island, which is where the first kings of Sweden lived (and the very first king of Sweden was murdered…). Once we got there, we tried to rent bikes, but there were none left by the rental place at the dock, so we had to walk further inland. First, we explored the herb garden and old castle that were right by the dock. We finally found the place with bikes, though, after a bit of wandering. There, we had fica (I’m not sure if I’m spelling that correctly…actually, I’m pretty sure I’m not…but oh well…), which is basically a snack—it can be anything from a small sandwich to cake and coffee or a coke. So we had meatball sandwiches (appropriate) and Coca Cola light (European diet coke). Then we got bikes and took a very nice ride down to the end of the island (about 25 minutes) where there were some castle ruins—the place where the first Swedish king was killed, and that was destroyed in the 14th century.

The island was so beautiful—the water was the clearest I’ve ever seen and the sky was perfect, with, as Hans put it, “Simpson’s clouds.” The temperature was just right—warm enough to not be cold, even biking, but not so warm that you were sweating profusely. We headed back to the dock on our bikes, caught a ferry back over to the main land, had some ice cream and drove back to Hans’ house where his parents were back from their vacation. A great start to the Sweden trip.

Stuttgart, Germany

On the train to Munich from Stuttgart to catch my flight at 11:50am to Alicante. Finding the train and buying the ticket this morning was quite an adventure, but I managed to find the train and get my ticket at least to the main train station in Munich.

Stuttgart was definitely so awesome. It was great to see Daniel and it was very much a student experience. I got to meet his roommates and some of his friends…and had a lot of fun even if I didn’t get much sleep.

Daniel picked me up from the airport in Stuttgart and we went back to his apartment, then to the bakery across the street to get bread and croissants, went back to the apartment where he put out plates and breakfast stuff for all 3 of his roommates and us. They filtered into the kitchen and we ate breakfast (my second, since I also ate at Gabi’s in the morning). It was quite lovely, and his roommates are all nice, goofy…nothing surprising.

We took the metro into the main center of town and walked around, went to a biergarten, where we got beer with sprite, called radler. We walked around the area around the biergarten, which was a beautiful garden and just green grassy-ness.

We got back on the metro and went to a “castle” and clarified that, while in German there is just one word for castle that is also used for what I’d call a mansion, in English it’s probably not exactly correct to say we saw a castle. But a huge house that was beautiful with lots of flowers and beauty.

We got hungry, so we found a cute little restaurant nearby and ended up sitting and eating, talking, drinking coffee, etc for about 2-3 hours. Very pleasant. We headed back to his apartment where we drank some wine and one of his friends came over; we sat around for a while, talking (mostly about America-Europe), then headed over to a club to meet some more of Daniel’s friends. We had tons of fun, and of course a very long day (since I woke up at 5am to get on the plane…).

Sunday we woke up (with some difficulty…) and drove to Tübingen, which is an adorable little town on a river that Daniel calls the Chapel Hill of Germany. It was really adorable and nice, we got some ice cream and it rained a bit, but we kept pretty much dry…The weather the rest of the time completely made up for it.

We got back in the car and headed to a REAL castle, making a stop by Daniel’s mom’s house on the way so I got to meet his mother (sweet & adorable) and brother. Then we drove to the castle, or at least to a parking lot at the base of the mountain the castle was on. So we hiked up to the castle and decided it was worth the extra 2 euros to actually take a tour of the interior of the castle, which was wwwwaaay one of the best decisions about ticket-buying I’ve made on the trip. Even though it was in German, it was soooo cool to get to see the inside of a castle. And this was a REAL castle—with towers and a ballroom and treasure room. Very awesome.

We ate a snack at the castle and then went back to Daniel’s hometown to get schnitzel and another radler—both good—then drove back to Stuttgart and crashed, since we had to wake up this morning at 4:15am (for me to get on the train, Daniel to go to work). So…now I’m on the train. Still a little worried about getting to the airport, but I have plenty of time and I think Munich will be even more English-friendly. I am super-excited about finally being in a country where I speak the language. I think it will be a total relief to see signs and hear conversations that I understand, at least more or less. And hopefully I’ll get to go to Granada. Hasta pronto!

Vienna!

So…In Vienna. Today was quite a nice day. I got up and went shoe shopping with Gabi and found (pretty immediately) two pairs of shoes that I felt made me look less American, which was the goal. One pair is for walking, the other is more dressy.

We came back to Gabi’s house to pick up Jonas and went into Vienna, the city part, driving in and then taking the metro from the edge of the city. We walked around the main part of the city, looking at the Cathedral in the middle of the city (St. Steven’s Cathedral) and the Hofburg, which is where the “winter residence” of the Emperors was and the current President’s office is. We also saw the National Library (which was beautiful) and the town hall, which I thought was a castle…There were lots of statues everywhere, and all of the buildings were just gorgeous. The city was more spread out than Prague though.

Jonas and I were hungry, so we stopped by this summer festival in front of the town hall where there was food from all different countries. I got some sweet dumplings—filled with nougat and AMAZING. Very yum. We also had this sparkling wine and fruit drink, one with strawberries, another with raspberries.

After looking around the city, Gabi took me to see the “Great Wheel” (that would be a ferris wheel). There was an amusement park, or at least between a fair and an amusement park. We went on one of the rides, which was fun and frightening because the way the seat or contraption to be in was made, it felt like you were free to just fall. But I didn’t and it was fun.

After the ride, we headed back to Gabi’s car and got some ice cream at this place that she had been talking about…dumpling ice cream. They had a bunch of other stuff too, and I decided to just try Jonas’ dumpling ice cream and get my own different kind of dessert…I got this praline and something sundae type things….basically ice cream with a huge thick layer of truffle chocolate sauce or something. It tasted like pudding and was amazing, especially with the hazelnut ice cream. It was also huge, so I definitely did not eat all of it. But it was delicious.

We went and looked at the summer house of the Empress, which was pretty, but I was exhausted. It was also on land with the oldest zoo in the world and I saw an adorable red squirrel that I was really excited about, and took a picture of.

We went home after the castle/summer house and I took a nice, well-needed nap. I woke up a while ago and ate some soup (broccoli?) and dumplings with mushroom sauce that Gabi’s mom made yesterday. It was really good…I had no idea I liked dumplings, but they’re quite delicious.

It was a good day, an excellent food day. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Jonas & Gabi, as well as Vienna (and Gabi’s adorable and sweet parents). As in Rome, Prague, and I’m sure everywhere else, I will leave feeling like I’ve only done a small portion of the things I could do, or want to do. Which is just how this trip goes. A whirlwind. Until Stuttgart–!