My Trip to Mainz: The One Where Everything Went Wrong

Sometimes when traveling things go wrong. Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s little. And sometimes it’s a series of things that just cause you to go mad.

The latter fits my trip to Mainz.

It started with confusing alerts about my trains being cancelled or me being unable to make my connection via the Deutschbahn app. This lead me to be super nervous about making my connection in Frankfurt. Mainz is relatively close to Frankfurt so I assumed that it would simply be a matter of catching another local train.

My train left super early and with the confusing alerts, I decided to arrive well ahead of the scheduled time. Fortunately other travelers had decided to do the same. While I was waiting for the train, a man came up to me and asked me a question in broken English about his ticket, which he held out to me. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand his question, the ticket wasn’t for the same train as mine, and I found the German train system a little convoluted. I said, I’m sorry I don’t know. Apparently this response was NOT what they wanted to hear. He started to yell, but again, I couldn’t understand him. Thankfully, a man who was there with his family moved closer to me and stood behind me, gradually shying off the yelling man. This was the third uncomfortable/aggressive interaction I had had with a strange man since being in Germany (Portuguese man on the ferry, then one while I was at the Memorial to the Murder Jews of Europe, then this train guy).

Next, I ended up sitting in the wrong compartment on the train. The cars, instead of being labeled at the beginning of the car, are labeled at the end. I thought I was in car 12, but I was in car 14 (there was no car 13). After a few minutes I went to go get some food for breakfast, and when I came back there was someone in my seat. I said politely that I think there’s a mistake that I think that’s my seat, not in German of course. The lady of course spoke perfect English but her response was nearly hostile. Eventually, we figured out that I was wrong (it took too long b/c instead of just being like see this is car 14 she wanted to argue and refused to engage). When I finally said, okay but why doesn’t it have it labeled at the beginning of the car and it’s only labelled at the end after you’ve passed through the car, she softened a bit and chuckled and said that, yes, it was confusing.

The rest of the train ride was uneventful. My train arrived in Frankfurt and I was expelled into a mad mess of people. I feel as if I have to explain that I’ve traveled a lot by train. I love train travel. Most of my travel has been in Italy and France–both systems are easily navigable. Germany…I had my ticket, but I couldn’t figure out which number on the ticket my train to Mainz was the one on the departure board. I eventually figured it out and caught my train with no fuss.

I arrived in Mainz, excited to be outside of Berlin and in a different region of Germany. I was only staying in Mainz for one night and I chose a hotel right by the train station, or so I thought. Turns out, no, I kind of did, but it was up an incredibly steep incline that seemed ridiculous with my suitcase and backpack. I took a taxi because I really didn’t want to walk up the mountain and find out I had gone the wrong way.

After checking in at my hotel I rushed down the mountain to the museum I was there to visit and it was SLAMMED with people. I was so surprised to see it was full of people, but there was some exhibition that had a draw to kids. I wandered around the museum and kept expecting to see the stuff I was there for, but it wasn’t there. I was super confused and so I asked. It turns out, the stuff I wanted to see had been moved to another museum, several years ago. The collections still technically belonged to the museum I was visiting, and thus that’s how they were listed in the sources I found it in and nothing on the website indicated they were at another museum. The museum they were currently in, was closed the day I was in Mainz, and it opened after my train left the next day.

I was really mad at myself. I hadn’t considered the possibility that they’d be at a different museum than the one they were cited in. I had gone back and forth about keeping my trip to Mainz so short, and clearly I made the wrong decision. If I just stayed an extra day, there would have been no problem! But alas! This is the difficulty with planing a trip that moves so fast. Shit happens, literally.

So, I said to myself, “that’s okay! There are things OUTSIDE that I want to see. I will go see them.” I took a gander at google maps, assured myself of the coordinates, then walked in the direction of the first monument, and I began to see glimpses of the pretty part of Mainz. Just when I began to arrive near where the first monument, and most important,  was there was a swirl of activity…barricades blocked the road, fences were blocking the park, and about 150 military vans and vehicles with their accompanying personnel. In the distance I saw the monument that I wanted to see, but between me and it, were the barricades, the humvees, the machine guns, and the personnel.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was exhausted and about a week into my trip (usually when the first round of tired hits) and I had been going non-stop. Things had not gone my way that day and I had a choice, Mainz wasn’t going to work research wise and all of my things to do in Mainz were for research. I had no plan for other things to do. The tired wore out. I decided to have an off afternoon, a thing I hadn’t had since arriving in Europe.

Before hiking up to my hotel, I grabbed some doner kebab. The people in this small doner cafe were the warmest I had met in Germany thus far. A few families with small children were there and their antics cheered me. The prospect of doner also didn’t hurt. I ate my doner and headed up the mountain, and took a much-needed nap. I took the gift of a free afternoon, and I needed it sorely.

Fittingly, I only took 2 pictures from my day in Mainz, one in the train station before I got yelled at and then my doner before I ate it. The before and after of the worst day of my trip.

Two Months Late…Berlin!

I have decided that I am not an “in the moment” blogger. I need some reflection and some time to process. My Eurotrip 2018 was FAST, a whirlwind, and I moved fast. Six countries in six weeks. I wrote my blog on Copenhagen while in Berlin, but then stopped…unsurprisingly. This works out well for you, because now you, dear reader, get fond remembrances instead of in-the-moment whining.*(see above note about six countries in six weeks. I was TIRED.)

Anyway! Back to your regularly scheduled blogging!

Berlin, Day 1 I didn’t know what to expect from my first city of my German tour. Somehow, I think got my preconceived notions concerning Munich and Berlin confused. I expected Munich to be cold and sterile and Berlin to be vibrant and lively. And they are both those things in some parts, but Berlin was far more cold and sterile that I was expecting. I have a feeling that doing it again someday with someone that knows and loves it, could change my opinion…and I WILL go back. I need to see the Pergamon Altar. Doing these things solo definitely have an impact on how I experience a place, not always for the better, and sometimes, probably not for the worst.

Getting to Berlin was nothing what I expected. I thought I had booked a train, but I in fact booked a bus. The bus departed Copenhagen bright and early, and it took the ferry from Denmark to Rostock, Germany. The ferry was actually pretty neat…It was nice having lunch and getting to see the water. The only downside of the ferry is that there was nowhere to go when an itinerant Portuguese man struck up a conversation in the hopes that I would take him back to America as “your man.” After the ferry, the bus drove to Berlin and dropped everyone off at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, where I taxied over to my hostel, which was unfortunately a little far afield.

I was immediately stunned by how modern Berlin felt. This should have been a no brainer that Berlin would feel different than any place I had been in Europe. My visions of Germany were decidedly Alpine, so the reality of a pretty typical American-looking city as my first stop in Germany felt disjointed.

I arrived at my hostel, which was not nearly as swanky as my hostel in Berlin, and the welcome desk person chastised me for writing my nationality as “American”* and also said, “well, America is kind of a shit country now isn’t it?” I’m not really sure anyone in Western Europe gets to point fingers. 😛 Tired me did NOT want to deal.

Now, I only basically had a day and a half in Berlin. I needed to set out immediately to do my non-museum exploring. I wanted to do the Brandenburg Tor, the memorial to the Murdered Jews, and just get the feel for Berlin, and grab FOOD. I also wanted to get a new bag, because the bag I had brought, from Eurotrip 2017, had NOT held up well and was falling apart. I ubered to Alexanderplatz, quickly found a TK Maxx and bought a new bag. I walked slowly towards Museuminsel, continually struck by the newness of it all. Marienkirche was a weird juxtaposition of old with the industrial newness around it.

Museuminsel was the only bit where I clearly felt like I was in Europe. Berliner Dom and the Altes Museum, though both from the 19th century, provided much of the “ambience” I had expected. Now, I was getting hungry. I wanted food. Preferably German food. I walked to Brandenburg Tor from Museuminsel and there was literally nothing between the two (oh, besides the Porsche cafe by the Porsche store, and Starbucks, but, no). I took my time at Brandenburg Tor, then headed toward the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. No food. Kept walking. Finally some food, but it was all curry. Now, I like curry, but I had had curry for lunch, so I didn’t want more curry. I kept walking, trying to swing back in the way I had come, hoping to find something. Anything. Finally, shops! A mall, but alas, no restaurants serving food that I wanted to eat or could afford!

I FINALLY found a place, which was a total tourist trap. It was a Bavarian restaurant called Maximilians, never mind I was not in Bavaria. I realized there, that my idea of German food was also quite stereotypical. Sausages. Pretzels. Beer! Sauerkraut! It was probably good I stumbled onto a touristy place to eat, because I learned the next day that most Berlin restaurants don’t take cards. What I ate was delicious, including the pickle, which was delightful. I had a berlinerweisser with lambic, a pretzel, and far too much food. It felt like a good hello to Germany, even if I was super cranky by the time I found it. I ubered back to my hostel, and slept SO hard that night. I had a LOT of museum-ing to do the next day.

Berlin, Day 2

I woke up early enough to be at the Altes Museum when it opened. I bought a ticket for the entire Museuminsel and planned on doing as much as possible–I wanted to spend as much time with Altes and the Neues Museums as humanly possible. I also wanted to do the Pergamonmuseum, and the Bode. IF I had time, I wanted to see the Altes Nationalgallerie (painting!). (Hint: I did not have time). I had planned on seeing if there was a place to grab coffee and breakfast nearby, but alas, this is where I learned that they did not take cards, and I was fairly low on euro after the previous night’s dinner, AND unlike the US, there were not ATMS or “geldautomatiks” located in the establishments) I decided to wait until lunch. It was a very hungry day of museuming.

It is really hard to sum up Museuminsel. The Altes was where I spent the most time, and every step I took it seemed like I was confronted with a canonical artwork from antiquity. The Altes was without a doubt my favorite museum of the day. The Neues was also very cool–but much busier. Like at the Altes, I saw many, many things I had only read about before. I went to the Pergamonmuseum just to see the Market Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar gates, but it was the most packed of all the museums I visited and I was starting to get worn out, both of museuming and the crowds. At this point, it was about 3:30 in the afternoon so I didn’t have much time left to do the last museum, the Bode, until stuff closed down at 5. The Bode was so quiet. I had most of the entire place to myself. Focusing on the medieval and Renaissance periods, it was a museum with a vast scope, one on I only partially appreciated (see earlier note about being tired).

After finishing up at the Bode I sat in front of the museum for a bit, listening to a super talented musician play his guitar. I was tired and VERY hungry…all I had had that day to eat was a coffee, water, and piece of pastry from the coffeeshop in between the Altes and Neues, but the music, plus the beautiful afternoon calmed me. I walked in the opposite direction than I had the night before, and discovered I had made an error (not really, I wanted to see the Brandenburg Tor), there were about 1001 super cool restaurants to the east of Museuminsel. I found an ATM, got some dinner and ate some food. I headed back to my hostel, pleased with what I had accomplished that day. Just like that, my time in Berlin was DONE!

 

*The rationale is that other folks from the Americas could also call themselves American. I’ve heard this before in my time abroad, and I see the point. I wouldn’t get upset if someone from the Americas called themselves that. However, “American” as the adjectival nationality of an individual from the United States is universally known/understood. United Statesian isn’t a thing. We’ve got plenty of faults, why don’t we stick to those?

Ready…Set…..Go?

The past few weeks have been weird. There’s a time before you leave for a big trip where you have lots of stuff to do both trip and non-trip related, but it’s just a little too early to do it, and you’ve got to just follow up on all of the regular day-to-day rigamarole. You’ve got to stick to business as usual, even though your mind has already boarded the plane.

And trips of this scale are anything but business as usual. I’ll be on the go. My longest stay in any place will be 5 days (Rome). There will be 13 sleeping-stop cities, with several day trips to places outside of the city I’m staying in. Six countries (not including pass-throughs), four of which I’ve never been to before. There will be a lot of new.

There will also be a good dose of the familiar. Returning to France and Italy (sappily) feels like coming home. I get to see two of my favorite people as they live and conduct their own research abroad, and my sister will be [maybe] joining me for the last leg of the trip.

I’ve strategically, and hopefully shrewdly, built people into this trip in ways I definitely did not last year. Airbnbs will be used less regularly, and swapped in for hostels, what look to be nice hostels.  And dang that price point is sweet. Even if I don’t really want to socialize, it will be nice to have people around to talk if I want to do so. And maybe I’ll even make a new friend or two. Plus, hostels seem to be superbly located, and have tons of convenient things built in otherwise (like laundry, cafes, bars, and lounges).

My 2016/2017 trip felt super disruptive. I feel like that’s kind of normal for travel, and makes a lot of sense given what happened in 2016; my life was disrupted fundamentally. In general, I feel like all of my planning and thinking ahead was focused on that trip, and not what lay beyond–the trip, even after I completed in 2017, had a weird aura about it.

That’s not the case with this one. I’ve got stuff to do while I’m away and immediately when I get back. I’m trying to think in small increments, and so far, that’s been working okay mentally. Leaving for six weeks, doesn’t feel as big as it did in 2017, 2016, and 2015. Planning this trip so fast meant not as much time to get myself too hyped up for it.

BUT. I’m ready for it, I think the right kind of ready. Seven plane rides. One bus journey. Incalculable train trips. INCALCULABLE. Annoying tourists. Metros. Trams. Museums. Churches. Walking. Sunburn(s). Breaking out my silly tourist hat. Adding 4 new stamps to my passport! Noms. Beverages (Beer and COFFEE!) Pastries. Gelato. (Okay just FOOD). I’m ready.

My only hesitation, per usual, is leaving behind my darlings. Look at how cute they are.

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Pittsburgh – Spring Break 2018

Spring Break 2018, my friend E and I left B-town for Pittsburgh to hang out with our dear friend, K! Our goals were few– hang out, catch up, and enjoy what Pittsburgh has to offer. We were so excited to see her because we miss her dearly. Our main cultural excursions were to explore the Carnegie Museums — the Art and the Natural History. It was such a fun space, and I definitely could have spent a lot more time there. I guess I just have to go back 😉

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Me super digging the plaster casts of architectural features from major buildings from the Western canon. The above photo includes a cast from the portals of the Abbey of Saint Gilles in France and is but one fantastic thing to be found in the Hall of Architecture. IMG_8430

The architecture wasn’t just amazing in copy, but the museum itself was fantastic. IMG_8465

AND not only was the architecture fantastic, there were dinosaurs.

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Bon Voyage, EuroTrip 2017 (Paris in Springtime)

 

Paris. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again. This is my favorite place on earth. My trip ended where it began in this place that I love. My last few days comprised a trip to the Louvre, delicious noms, making sure I had everything I needed, and a reunion with my high school French teacher and color guard coach. During this time, I also day-tripped to Reims with my buddy, L. I walked along the Seine; ate chaussons aux pommes, confit de canard (a few times), steak frites; and purchased about 10 bags of carambars fruits to bring home (that disappeared way too quickly). IMG_2230

My first time in Paris was in January–it was cold, grey, and wet, but I loved it nonetheless. My second time in Paris was my study abroad from August to December. I enjoyed Paris in the summer and fall, and a brief hint of winter again. In 2017, it was my first time visiting Paris (and Europe in general) in the spring. And boy…She did not disappoint. My favorite place in the world put on a glorious spring show for my last days in Europe.

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I was glad to have this time in Paris. After my mom died the first few hours I was there in Fall 2016, I thought that the feelings I felt then would be my association with the city forever. And in some ways, it will. I will never be able to think of Paris without thinking of my mom–but if I hadn’t been on my way to Paris in 2016, I wouldn’t have seen my mom the day before she (suddenly) died. I thought about my mom a lot those last few days. Everywhere I looked were things that reminded me of her: the beautiful flowers, the advent of spring, meeting up with my high school teacher. All things that reminded me how complex grief can be. I think I love Paris more now because it will always remind me of my momma, two of my favorites that I love the most in the world.

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And with my last few days in Paris, EuroTrip 2017 came to a close. It was *such* a good trip. Though there were some negatives– rain, lack of internet, loneliness, sunburns, and sore feet–those have faded with time, I remember those less than the positives — the art! the cities! the sights! the weather! the flowers! the reunions! the food! Plus, I think I have a good handle on how to tackle some of those problems for future trips (read: in a few short weeks!). Ciao and au revoir to Eurotrip 2017!

Reims 2017

After my sejour in the South of France, I headed back up north to Paris to conclude my trip. I was ready, more than ready to go home, and regain some kind of routine. That’s the hardest part of travel for me, the lack of routine. My last major stop was Reims to see the incredible and grand Porte de Mars. I had previously been to Reims in 2004 when I first came to France, back when I had absolutely zero knowledge about art history. I was glad to return, especially because I got to do so with my art history BFF L (who has her own art historical allegiance to Reims.)

BUT FIRST! We followed the orders of one of our professors who told us to check out the Musée de la Reddition — the Museum of the Surrender where World War II officially ended on May 7, 1945 (though, May 8 is generally seen as the end of the war, as the Soviets gained control of Berlin). It was a small museum, with an engaging video intro (in which we hear Eisenhower attempt to speak French, poor fellow), lots of period artifacts, and the room itself preserved as it was in 1945. L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

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L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

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The Porte de Mars should have been right around the corner. Should have been. It was, but, perhaps owing to the presence of a large carnival (the likes of which I never considered existing in Europe), it took us a minute to realize that the giant grey, scaffolded thing was in fact the object of my fancy. Completely, entirely covered. I stuck my head as far as I could into the small gap only just visible in the photo. I couldn’t see much. Thus, the wind was out of my sails, and we had a much more open and free day in Reims.

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We made do! L was very patient with me; I only brought one pair of walking shoes with me, so my feet were like, DONE with Europe and all of the walking and our day in Reims was nearly 10 miles of walking. We ate, walked, and explored the city and what it had to offer (that was open!)

 

Arles

Though there are no extant arches in Arles, in antiquity there were several, and now it is home to one of the region’s largest archaeological museums. I took the train on a beautiful day, and walked to the museum, blissfully unaware that there was a free bus service that led from the train station to the museum. It was a longer yet beautiful walk alone the Rhône, unfortunately, my already sun sore skin was exposed even further and I could feel it get crispier and crispier. I felt like the dead little guy there in that waffenstücken.

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The Arles museum was one of the biggest of its type that I have seen in France. I could have spend much longer there. One of the most remarkable things they had in their collection was a riverboat that had been pulled from the Rhône in the past 20 years. Preserved using a process that replaced the water that had infused the wood with a preservative resin, the boat was HUGE. The picture here does not do it justice. Beyond the boat, the Arles museum had some canonical sculptures, sarcophagi, and mosaics.

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After my time at the museum was done, I was not looking forward to long walk back to the train station, when I happily learned that there was a shuttle. I got off the shuttle when my google maps told me I was getting close to the Arles amphitheatre, so I could do some walking around and exploring about the part of Arles I cared about, which was right next to the train station. I found a small bistro in which to eat where the motherly proprietor clucked over my ever-reddening sunburn and brought me a small cut of aloe to rub. I ate a giant omelet with some of the most delicious frites I’ve ever had.

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Arles was, in short, completely charming. It was sleepy in late March, perhaps a little too sleepy, but it like Avignon, pulled at my emotions and made me never want to leave. #Retirement goals.

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