It never ceases to amaze me how quickly (and easily) you can cross borders in Europe. Coming from Texas where it took 8 hours to go from Central to West Texas just to visit my grandma, I was surprised to go to school in Massachusetts and discover that state borders can be crossed in just 3 hours. But entering a new country in under 2 hours still baffles me.
I was fortunate enough to spend a lovely Easter weekend in the quaint city of Freiburg in Germany- a destination with quite a reputation to live up to as my friends had not stopped talking about it since our arrival in France.
Apart from the obscene amounts of rabbit decorations and chocolates abound, there wasn’t much Easter to the weekend. It hardly felt like spring as we did not see the sun until the morning we left and the Black Forest was in fact a white forest- covered in snow and thick fog. In spite of that, Freiburg managed to make it to the ranks of cutest European cities (according to Anna’s mental tally). It lived up to it’s reputation.
Though Germany’s warmest city was unusually cold, we managed to get in a good day of exploring the medieval buildings and traversing through the small, winding, cobblestone streets. It reminded me of Bruges with it’s quaint charm. Now if a medieval town doesn’t seem that unique, throw in a vibrant university crowd, cobblestone crests, unusual canals and a black forest to peak your interest.
Running through the tiny streets is a unique system of gutters called Bächle. Contrary to what one might assume, these canals were not used for waste, but rather to put out fires and feed livestock. Hearing the sound of bubbling water coursing through the streets was a wonderful addition to the experience. Apparently the water helps cool the summer streets and rumor has it that you will marry a Freiburger if you accidentally fall or step into one. A long time luster of the Germans, it was difficult for my friend to not feign falling into one of the many Bächles.
Being the lover of art and visual person that I am, I was particularly charmed by the cobblestone crests. Placed in front of shops as a means of identifying the store, these stone images were varied and plentiful. It was like an exciting Easter egg hunt to see what image we would discover next.
The most bizarre experience of the weekend was the inability to use English. Three of us separated from our German speaking friend which resulted in eating our breakfast like hobos on the street. We could barely order our food, nonetheless understand what they were saying or how to ask for a table in the back. So feeling flustered and confused we took our food to go. It was strange not having my basic language tools. In my experience people have taken pity on the foreigner and fallen back on English. Or at least I come prepared with a few basic expressions. I barely even knew how to say please, thank you or I don’t understand. Travelling 101: Know the basics, bring a travel book, or stay with your friend who speaks the language.
Crossing countries in 2 hours can be misleading. You forget you’ve entered a new region with a completely different language. The nice thing is that when you dive in, you have to sink or swim and I’m happy to report that my German language base has increased.
But I still need to conquer the French front first.