Friday, November 20, 2015

How to survive in the middle of nowhere northern Germany

"Of all the places in Germany, why are you staying in Schwedeneck for an entire month!?", I was asked many times by numerous Germans. Schwedeneck is a small town (population of 2,815) in northern Germany right on the Baltic Sea. With what seems like more cows than people, it's not exactly the biggest backpacker/tourist destination. In the summer, Scwedeneck attracts some German tourists for the beaches and sea but there's still plenty of Germans that have never even heard of it. So it was natural for people to wonder what the heck a 19-year-old girl from Ohio was doing in this tiny farm town.

Well, as you may remember from my earlier posts, my boyfriend, Mihai, is living in Kiel for 10 months as an exchange student with CBYX (check out his blog here!). So of course, I had to make a stop to visit him! ;) However, he's staying with a host family so it's not like I could just rudely barge in and stay with them for an entire month, after all Mihai had only arrived in Germany in the beginning of September so his host family was still pretty new to him. Instead, I searched for workaways nearby. I found a woman named Silke who needed a house-sitter for her hostel in Schwedeneck, which was only an hour bus ride from Kiel! I messaged her and she agreed to let me help her for a month. Me and Mihai were thrilled we'd get to see each other again after two months apart!

My new home away from home!

Even while I was sitting on my flight from Helsinki to Hamburg, I still couldn't believe that I was about to see Mihai in just a few hours. It just didn't feel real! I was so nervous and anxious waiting for my suitcase to roll around on the baggage claim conveyor belt. I kept fidgeting with my hair and he texted me saying he was about to have a heart attack and I needed to hurry up! Finally, I walked out into arrivals and saw him waiting. He immediately took me to a sushi restaurant in the airport (my favorite!) and it weirdly felt like I was meeting him for the first time all over again. Silke had agreed to let me spend my first two nights in her Kiel hostel (that actually had a lot of guests) before coming to Schwedeneck so that way I could spend time with Mihai. He showed me all around Kiel and of course we drank some German beer; it felt like a dream come true!

The lunar eclipse happened later, early the next morning

I had never stayed in a legit hostel before. Once I stayed in a hostel in Venice but I was with other exchange students and we had so many people in our group that we rented out the entire place so it didn't really feel like a hostel, more like a big sleepover with friends. So what is it like to stay in a real-live hostel? Maybe you've seen the horror film? That's what a lot of my friends mention when I tell them that I was staying in a hostel. Well, I've honestly never seen that movie but by judging from the reviews, I can tell you the real-life version is much different. I arrived at the hostel in Kiel and everyone was pretty quiet and kept to themselves. Some were more friendly and introduced themselves. But they all had their stuff locked up in little lockers except for me because my huge suitcases wouldn't fit... It was a little bit of a weird atmosphere, I thought. Like were people really so distrustful of each other? I suddenly became worried someone was going to steal my crap. Later, I asked Silke how often people actually stole and she said it only happened on two occasions because she has such a small hostel, most robbers don't bother. But I guess in some bigger hostels there's been times when people have pretended to be backpackers and then used a key to unlock all of the lockers and steal everything.

Anyway, after those two fun days reunited with Mihai, Silke picked me up, we did some grocery shopping then drove to Schwedeneck. The hostel was very isolated, literally on the side of the road across from some cornfields and next to a farm. But inside, it was gorgeous. Silke had spent a year remodeling the entire place with her boyfriend and parents. She showed me before and after photos and the transformation was amazing. Every bedroom has a different theme, such as lighthouses, waves, forests. Check out her website to see more pictures! It was a very unique place and you could really tell that she had put her heart and soul into it. At the moment, there was only one guest so my job was to keep the place clean, do the laundry, take out the trash and be there when more guests arrived to check them in. I had no set work hours. I couldn't believe my luck; I had so much free time! But what to do out here in the German countryside with all that free time... ? Mihai was an hour away and in school everyday so we could only see each other in the evenings and on the weekend. Except, that very first weekend, he had an AFS orientation in a different city so I couldn't see him. There was no wifi and only German television at the hostel. I was about to have to learn how to entertain myself real quick.

The cutest little room ever

The common room

Kitchen (with all of my crap everywhere oops)

The view out of my bedroom window!

So how did I escape complete boredom in the middle of nowhere northern Germany?

Well to begin, luckily, Silke had a small, pink bike that actually fit me!! So the first thing I did was go for a bike ride to explore my surroundings. I located the bus stop (so that I knew the closest way to leave) and supermarket (so I didn't starve). It's a good thing that I explored because the grocery store Silke said was "just around the corner" was actually 2 miles away... Besides that, I found a church, some more farm animals and fields.

I was really worried about the wifi thing... I needed wifi if I was going to be alone for two days straight (the guest had gone home to Hamburg for the weekend). I bought a wifi USB stick but for some reason it just would not work. The guest even called the company for me and spoke to them in German but we just couldn't figure it out... So eventually I settled for my 2G speed hotspot from my phone. It was slow as a snail but, eh, it was better than nothing.

Next, I took advantage of the free time to pursue my hobbies and do all the things I normally never have time to do. I read a few books and made a list of more books I want to read. I drank a lot of tea. I brainstormed ideas for my blog and wrote some more posts (but didn't get up-to-date at all...). I went running in the morning and realized that the countryside is really calming. I went on bike rides to nearby small towns like Krusendorf and Surendorf and to the beach. I also realized that I really enjoy cooking. I listened to a lot of music and made myself some delicious meals. I felt like my life had become a low-budget version of the movie Eat, Pray, Love. Here I was, alone in the German countryside "finding myself" (whatever that means).

Where I spent some time reading in the hammock on warm days :)

Bundled up, drinking some tea and reading outside :)

Picked fresh from Silke's garden!

5 star restaurant ;)

Smoked salmon!

Trying to copy Danish smorrebrod!

Oh yeah and I relaxed. After 2 months of craziness in Italy, Denmark and Finland, I finally caught up on my sleep. I'm not lying when I say I slept 10+ hours every day. It was amazing. Hey, don't judge, I'm sure next year I'll be up all night cramming in college! I got to hibernate now while I got the chance!

Then one day, Silke and I picked some elderberries and made homemade jam! :)

The forest we picked the berries from

Reach for those elderberries!!

Elderberries, buckeyes and hazelnuts

Cleaning the elderberries (we found a lot of bugs yum!)

Boiling them

Blending the berries with an old-fashioned grinder (I told Silke I need to buy her a juicer; so much easier!)

Boiling them with gelatin sugar

Finished! Pouring the final, delicious product into jars

The worst part wasn't boredom at all but sleeping alone in a completely empty, big house. Maybe it sounds childish but I was so irrationally scared of kidnappers, thieves, murderers and ghosts; you name it, I was probably afraid of it in Schwedeneck. The roof of the hostel was made of wood so it creaked a lot, especially when it was windy (which was very frequently). It also rained a lot. The faintest sounds freaked me out and one time I seriously almost think I had a heart attack when the fire alarm went off (because it was out of batteries). I even had some nightmares. I called Mihai and my parents whenever I was scared and they assured me that I had nothing to worry about. I was probably in one of the safest locations ever. Compared to a big city, the German countryside had zero crime. I think it's just psychologically normal to worry more when you're alone. As more time passed though I got over my fears and came to appreciate the quiet nights. Riding my bike home from the bus stop in the pitch black had scared me in the beginning but I came to weirdly like the darkness. Not to mention, the stars were spectacular without the pollution and bright lights of a big city.

Being alone so much really wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. However, I was still kinda lonely sometimes. But that's okay because the loneliness definitely made me appreciate company so much more. I looked forward to spending time with Mihai and Silke and hoped to somehow make new friends as well.

Crossing the Kiel canal

So next question was how do you make friends when you're alone in a foreign country?

Well, I think it's just by being outgoing and having a little bit of luck. Silke was nice enough to let me spend some nights at her hostel in Kiel when I wanted to visit Mihai so I didn't have to take the last bus ride back to Schwedeneck. There was always different people staying in the Kiel hostel; normally they were there for internships or college lectures. Sometimes they didn't speak to me and other times they were super friendly. One time, when I was drinking tea in the common room, a girl was eating her breakfast and started talking to me. Her name was Leila and she had just left her home in Kenya yesterday and was now getting her masters in marine biology from a university in Kiel! She was staying in the hostel for a week before she moved into her apartment. She said she didn't have any classes for the next week either. I immediately told her my story, added her on Facebook and said we should hangout soon! I was so happy to have found a friend!

A different day I came back to the Kiel hostel and saw Leila there again, this time talking to another guy I hadn't met yet. She introduced me to him; his name was Ajay and he was there for a week visiting his daughter. They were both super nice and we all quickly became friends and hungout a few times before I left. Ta da! You really can make friends with strangers in hostels because chances are they're probably alone and looking for friends too.

Well, I think that's all for now. I'm sorry if this post was a little bit boring but look forward to my next post about how to handle bad luck while traveling! For some reason, Mihai and I had a lot of unlucky moments in Germany that weren't too funny at the time but now I can look back on them and laugh :)

Oh yeah and check out Sanni, my Finnish friend's, new blog about flea markets and vegan cooking!

The Baltic Sea is just SO crowded in Schwe

Actually wish I would've gone swimming this day; it was so warm and nice!

One of the nature trails I found while exploring wow

Old German home with thatched roof!