I’m actually fairly late in posting this. I first visited Konstanz in late February. It’s a city of roughly 80,000 people on the beautiful lake of Konstanz. One of the really cool things about the city is that it is located right near the boarder of Germany and Switzerland.

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From the shores of the city you can look across the lake and see 3 countries in one panorama: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

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Insa’s dad lives and works in Switzerland, relatively close to Konstanz and her sister and her sister’s fiance also live in the same area, but on the German side. We went down there in February and again over Easter to spend time with them and to get away to a slower pace of life for a bit.

To get down there, we had to take a plane from Berlin to Zurich, Switzerland and then a train from Zurich to Kreuzlingen. The whole trip door to door usually takes about 6 hours, but a lot of that is getting to the airport and waiting to take off.

The Zurich airport is fairly large compared to Berlin, though Insa’s made this trip enough times that she can do it in her sleep. While passing through the airport I found a mythical creation from my childhood! My first trip out of the US was when I was 12 years old. During that trip we had a transfer in the airport of Amsterdam. While there I saw the largest Toblerone chocolate bar I had ever seen! It would come up to my knee if I stood it on end, and each triangle could be used as a small birthday cake. I was 12 and didn’t have my camera ready in the airport and so I never got a picture of it.

15 years later and I found a similar bar in the Zurich airport!IMG_20150408_203315It was roughly 130 Euros, and I’m trying to lose weight, so no, I didn’t get it…sadly. Though one of the more humorous things you could by in the airport *after* you passed the security check was…yep…Swiss army knives.IMG_20150408_200508

(Remember next time you’re waiting an hour in line to take off your shoes and belt and get a naked x-ray photo of yourself taken, it’s all theater.)

The Zurich airport had other cool stuff, like this toll gate arm that changed colors as it moved:

Underneath the airport is the hub for the regional trains. I still can’t get over how mammoth these things are:

During our first trip to Konstanz in February, the weather was really shitty and so we arrived there while the city was under a dense fog:

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Eventually it burned off and you could see. One of the most prominent statues in Konstanz is that of Imperia:

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The statue is of a prostitute holding up Pope Martin V in one hand and Emperor Sigismund in the other.It was built in 1993 to commemorate the Council of Constance, which took place in this very city between 1414 and 1418. The Council of Constance ended the Western Schism inside the Catholic church with the election of Pope Martin V. The ceremony took place in the Konzilgebäude, this large structure built in 1388 that is still standing today:

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Insa actually had her high school prom in this building, which I think is just insane. You don’t have that kinda of history in the US and here’s it’s no big deal. A lot of old Konstanz remains intact because during WWII they were so close to the boarder of Switzerland, they just left the lights on at night and the allied bombers thought they were a Swiss town and flew right by! The Council is also famous for luring one of the first protestant leaders there, Jan Hus, under a letter of safe conduct and then later turning him over to the local authorities to be burned alive at the stake for heresy.

On our first day there Insa had a bike for me to borrow and we went riding in to town, crossing the border of Germany and Switzerland on our bikes.

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The checkpoint here is a nightmare for traffic. Sometimes they don’t stop anyone, but when they do start checks, it can back traffic up for an hour. Mostly they’re checking that you’re not bringing large amounts of goods into Switzerland.

There’s also a really cool point along the lake of Konstanz where you can see the boarder between Germany and Switzerland. You can stand on it with one foot in each country!

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Here’s Insa kicking me out of Germany.IMG_3678

Here’s me crossing the border more times in one day than I have ever before:

There’s a bike tunnel near the house that’s fun to go down. Sorry for the shitty quality. I was trying to not crash while filming:

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Around the time we were in Konstanz, the festival of Fasnacht had just taken place, so you could see the decorations around the city. Fasnacht is kinda like Mardi-Gras.

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Oh yeah, and while in Konstanz I found this horse…

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While at Insa’s dad’s place we took it easy and played a lot of board games, mainly Settlers of Catan

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And Ticket to Ride (or Zug am Zug as it’s called in German)IMG_20150406_222328

Of which I lost *every* game. Eventually I got a little better and one game I tried really hard and really paid attention to strategy…only to have Insa beat me by 1 point.IMG_20150406_222802

The view outside the house:IMG_20150401_123823One of my favorite parts of going down to Konstanz was getting the chance to play with Insa’s friend’s dog. I really miss mine, and so I love the chance to play with dogs whenever I can. Insa’s friend had a yellow lab named Nana (“seven” in Japanese) who was really sweet and works as a therapy dog.

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Later we also walked around a local zoo and fed the animals.

Bellinzona

One of the days during my first trip to Konstanz, Insa’s dad got us train tickets to take us to Bellinzona, which is the southern, Italian speaking part of Switzerland full of castles. It took about 3 hours to get down there on train and the plan was to walk around and see the old castles. It had recently snowed, which was nice in that it added to the beauty of the landscape, but also soaked our shoes through and made it difficult to walk around the walls of the old castles. Nonetheless, the place was beautiful. I kept having to remind myself that I was in Switzerland. Everything is in Italian in Bellinzona, but you’re still in the same country!

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At one point you had to walk through this really cool tunnel to pass through a hill:

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I need sunglasses…IMG_0469

Insa and I made a snow-woman…IMG_5418

Rhine Gorge (Swiss Grand Canyon)

On our second trip to Konstanz we made another day trip, but this time to the Rhine Gorge, up in the mountains of Switzerland where you can walk along the start of the Rhine river. The weather in Konstanz was rainy and shitty so we were hoping for better weather after a few hours train ride.

Initial results were a little worrying.

As we sped along the train farther and farther into Switzerland, I noticed we were traveling in the center of very flat valleys. These valleys were carved out by massive glaciers, thousands of years ago. On the side of these valleys, medieval towers and castles dotted the landscape.

When we hopped off the train we were delighted that the weather was reasonable.IMG_20150405_103143

The plan was to walk back along the river to the last train station we had just passed, 13 kilometers away.IMG_20150405_103025

Walking down to the water, I was amazed at how clear it was. This was my favorite type of environment in the world: Lush forest with stone pebble beaches along a crisp clean river.

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Hiking along the path, I had a huge grin on my face the whole time at just how beautiful this place was. I really wish I could have a small cabin here in the woods…but you know, still with internet and pizza delivery.

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As we continued on, our path took us away from the river and up into the mountains a bit.IMG_20150405_135228

These little houses dotted the landscape. They’re for livestock to protect them in the winter.IMG_20150405_140941

When we got to the top of our path there was a little resting site. While sitting there I noticed some stones someone had painted as lady bugs. This really touched me as lady bugs were something I always associated with my grandmother who passed away the week before this trip.

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Insa and I took a moment to rest and stretch out on this large rock slab. Here’s our view of the canyon:

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I had another one of those “Holy shit, I’m actually here!” moments. They hit me every so often when I’m abruptly reminded of how far I’ve come from where my life was in South Carolina.IMG_20150405_144524 IMG_20150405_151806

The water was so nice that I really wanted to go swimming in it, though I didn’t have a towel or swim trunks, and the weather was a bit too cold. Insa informed me that I couldn’t go swimming because I didn’t have my Seeferdchen!

My what? “You don’t have your Seahorse certificate. Swimming is verboten!” What the hell is a seahorse certificate? I thought Insa was just trolling me, as she’s apt to do with cultural differences I’m not aware of. Turns out she wasn’t. (Well kinda, but more not then yes.) German bureaucracy has found it’s way into the activity of swimming. As a child you are required to get your Seeferdchen, or Frühschwimmer certification before you are allowed to go swimming. This certificate signifies that you’ve undergone some basic swimming lessons and have proven capable of being able to swim at a level where you should be reasonably safe from drowning. There are even swimming pool meisters who will check if you have your little seahorse pin and expell you from the pool if you don’t. I mean, yeah, it’s a good idea I guess, but the small/no government side of me can’t help but roll the eyes. Oh, I should point out that Insa mentioned that as an adult nobody would ask me if I had it, since they assumed I did the test as a child.

Meersburg

On one of our last days in Konstanz on our second trip, Insa took me to see a castle across the lake. To get there we had to bike for half an hour to the waterfront and take a ferry. (Turn the volume down, the wind is kinda loud)

The town under the castle is quite nice.

IMG_20150407_122820  Getting off the boat we saw a zeppelin! (Ok, well not technically a true Zeppelin, but Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin is from Konstanz)

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The castle was built in the 12th century (though some think the 7th) and is one of the oldest still inhabited castles in Germany. Most of it is a self-guided museum tour, but there are some portions of the castle that are still used by the owners. Insa told me that the guides you do run into from time to time are dressed up and try to talk in medieval German. I would be totally clueless as to what they were trying to say…IMG_20150407_123533

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I loved checking out the armor at the castle. Makes me miss the suit I built. (But it’s too heavy to reasonably ship over to Berlin) Most of the armor here is later 1500’s, early 1600’s.

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The view outside the castle was great!IMG_20150407_132928 I’m still always hit with culture shock whenever I see boobs in public. IMG_20150407_133354 IMG_20150407_134246

Boy with apple…

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After touring the castle, Insa and I walked down the hill and had some ice cream by the lake. It was a beautiful day and a great end to our 2nd trip.