My 2015 80 Days Around the World are already over half-way completed. As I look back at the titles and featured photos of this blog, I can’t help but be amazed at all the incredible sights and sounds of each unique environment. It does restore my faith in humanity when I think about all the efforts and decisions that have taken place to advance mankind in the world. And it goes without saying that meeting friends and making new ones are the highlight of any city.
So why I am traveling so much and so far? For a few newcomers, I thought I should take a minute to explain the purpose of my travels. It’s the same rationale behind the trip I took around the world this time last year, only in the opposite direction.
The fundamental reason for my traveling each year is to get to and from Germany to study German. I studied German in high school, and like an instrument that hadn’t been touched for a long time, I decided to dust off the creaky machine and make use of it. Having taken a couple of non-contiguous courses in San Francisco at the Goethe Institute got me jump-started. And a growing new interest in German writers, opera, and music motivates me to read Thomas Mann, librettos for the Zauberflote by Mozart and books about musicians like Schumann and Beethoven.
The means of getting to and from Germany form my itinerary. Last year, I went to Dresden for a month. This time, I am spending two weeks in Schwäbisch Hall in a language and cultural program.
This year, I traveled on the Tran-Mongolian Express from Beijing to Moscow with my husband, Gee Kin, visited Russia (also with Gee Kin), and tapped into German-speaking countries for a couple of weeks on my own. At the end of my course, I’ll fly to New York, spend some time in New England with my college friend Karen, then take the train cross-country back home with her. We’ll stop in a few cities across the US along the way.
Last year, I rolled in my curiosity about the old Silk Road and Central Asian cities with carpets named after them, like Samarkand, Bokhara, and Kiva. I traveled in a one-way direction eastwards instead of a round-trip to and from Germany. You can read more about these in the summaries for 2014 and 2015.
Of course, having the pure and intrepid lust for travel doesn’t hurt. It makes travel planning fun and challenging. Along with a fully supportive and understanding husband and family, I am free to go as far as I can, wherever I want. I try really hard to keep things affordable, interesting, but varied to match my interests.
So, back to what I have been doing for the past few days.
On arrival at Schwãbisch Hall, I was happy to finally unload EVERYTHING from my bags for two weeks. Despite traveling light, I still accumulated more brochures, historical materials, and a few CD’s than I had planned on collecting. I’ll have to make some hard decisions at the end of this stay as to whether I will continue to tow these in my bags. I slogged my carry-on, nearing the 14.6 kilo limit for the German Wings flight we took from Moscow to Berlin, and my backpack off three trains and a remote bus link to the Goethe Institute guest house where I am staying.
As it was overcast, threatening to rain and nearing the end of the day, I beat it over to the main guest house to retrieve my keys and card. It was exhilarating to get in the door after nearly two hours of juggling all my paraphernalia. The room was perfectly adequate, with a half-size refrigerator, plenty of storage, and a private bath. There were other students milling around, but everyone seemed pretty mellow and ready to start class.
The first day of class is always exciting. Direktor Herr Schmidt of the GI gave us an introduction about the city, its history and economic activities. We were split into classes after a written exam to determine our level and ability. I was not disappointed to be placed in the middle of the pack, along with 11 other students.
Our teacher has been teaching at the GI for ten years. After introductions and playing some getting-to-know-you games, we all felt comfortable. The nationalities in my class included students from the UK, US, Denmark, and Japan. Each person had an interesting background, but we also had similar interests in art, music, and history.
The GI is located in a former hospital that has been renovated completely. A “kirche”, or church, was part of the original building and where we were greeted in the beautiful, large meeting hall. Other modern facilities included a media library, cafeteria, and classrooms.
Schwabisch Hall is situated in South Central Germany between Frankfurt and Munich, near Stuttgart. It is a lovely, small city of about 40,000 people and a welcoming environment for its visitors. The Goethe Institute serves as an anchor for the city’s activities and Schwabisch Hall offers a wealth of celebrations, cultural events, and historical architecture. Within the Market Plaza are examples of medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and modern architecture! You can get an overview of history just by turning 360 degrees!
The town is peppered with a network of pedestrian passages, stairs, and cobbled streets that make this a delightful environment for visitors and residents alike. The town planners showed how modern architecture, open landscaping, and transportation can work together to form a compatible, balanced machine for living.