11 July 2015


Erfurt is capital of, and largest city in Thuringen, Germany. Founded in the year 742, Erfurt grew because it was at the intersection of two major European trade routes. Erfurt lies along the Gera river. The town was named after the river, which was originally called the Erfluss. Despite being along a major river, the last time the city of Erfurt flooded was in the late 1800’s. 

Erfurt was successful during the Middle Ages, for example, at one point there were more than 580 breweries in town. In fact, with so many breweries, not all were allowed to brew daily. As a result, it could be hard to keep track of which brewery would have fresh beer, so all breweries had two circular holes above the door, which were filled with straw when fresh beer was available. Today, there are no large breweries remaining in Erfurt.

Erfurt was also successful in Middle Age trade. During the Middle Ages, the only point in the town where Kram could be sold was on the Krämerbrücke. While today, Kram is considered junk, back in the middle ages it was valuable. The Krämerbrücke, or bridge is a unique structure that still continues to foster trade in Erfurt. The bridge itself is the longest bridge in Europe to have buildings on both sides of the bridge. There are 64 buildings on the bridge, which is only 125m long and 46m wide. When one is on the bridge, one does not realize it is actually a bridge, as it just appears to be a street. However from below or beside the bridge, one can see the water flowing underneath. 

Erfurt was also known in the Middle Ages as a university town. During this time, all students were required to speak only in Latin. The part of town which housed these students is still known as the Latin Quarter. Originally one could study only 4 subjects at the university in Erfurt: Theology, Law, Medicine or Philosophy. Both Erfurt and Heidelberg claim to be home to the oldest German university. During the 1300’s, to officially open a university, permission from the Pope was required. At the point that Erfurt wished to open it’s university, there were two Popes. They were unsure which Pope to request permission from, so they requested from both. In 1379, the received permission from one, but to be sure, they waited on the second one. It arrived ten years later in 1389. During the interim, Heidelberg University opened. Martin Luther studied in Erfurt and completed his Masters degree. According to legend, Luther came to Erfurt because he promised God he would be a Monk if he survived a particularly harrowing thunderstorm. He studied in Erfurt between 1501 and 1505. 

Martin Luther called Erfurt the Rome of the North. During the Middle Ages, Erfurt was home to over 40 churches, today it is still home to 24. Two of these include the St. Mary’s Cathedral and the St. Severi’s church which are located 5 meters distance from each other. These two in particular kept trying to outshine each other. Today approximately 80% of the cathedral’s windows are original, dating back to the 1400’s. 

Erfurt was also home to a large Jewish community in the 1000’s. The old synagogue, which was built by the end of the 1000’s has gothic windows. During the 1300’s the Jews were run out of town and the synagogue was sold. When some returned later, they had to build a new one. During construction in the 1990’s, some treasures from the original Jewish community were found, including coins and a wedding band dating back to the 1300’s.

Overlooking the town of Erfurt is the Petersburg fort. This fortress was built to protect the city from unrest within. These issues stemmed from religion and the fact that most of Erfurt became Protestant after Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. 

Today the town of Erfurt is trying to make itself known as a child- and media friendly city. The German children’s channel, KIKA has it’s main office here. Walking throughout town, one encounters many life-sized models of childrens’ cartoon characters. 

Moray Firth Dolphins

There are many legends in Scotland that are unbelievable, such as that of the Loch Ness Monster, but some stories are absolutely true. You may find it hard to believe, but the largest population of bottle-nosed dolphins in Europe are found near Inverness, Scotland. 

The dolphins are said to come into the Moray Firth with the tide, but many locals will tell you that they can be seen at just about any time of the day. They are best viewed at the narrowest part of the Firth, Chanonry Point. 

It was my last day in Scotland, Frances and I only had a few morning hours before we had to catch our train back to Edinburgh. Thus we decided to go hunting for dolphins. (To shoot photos with our cameras - nothing more!). We took the local bus over to the town of Fortrose, about 30 minutes from Inverness. Once in Fortrose, we briskly walked about 30 minutes out of town to the Point.

We arrived at the point, on the rocky beach. Our luck with the weather had been holding and we’d experienced very little rain. It began to spit as we arrived, but that let up after a few minutes. The Firth, like most of the water I’d seen in the Inverness area, was a dark color due to high quantities of peat in the soil. We walked out on the rocky beach, taking care to avoid slipping on seaweed, and commenced watching for dolphins. After about 10 minutes, I saw a head poke out of the water. I had not imagined this, Frances saw it as well. However neither of us could confirm what animal it was. In addition to dolphins, many seals are in the area. 

We watched this creature move across the water until it got close enough to identify. While we never saw more than just it’s nose and eyes, it was definitely a seal. Unfortunately our time at the point was short, and we had to return to Inverness for our train. We didn’t see any dolphins, but the point was well worth the visit. 

Hunting Nessie

Loch Ness, mysterious, dark waters, hiding a monster or an overhyped lake in the Scottish Highlands? Perhaps a bit of both.

Loch Ness is a huge loch {Side note: Don’t call it a lake, you will offend the locals!} just outside of Inverness. The loch is full of cold, dark water. The water is dark because of the peat in the soil and the water temperature never rises above 7 degrees C. While the loch varies in depth, at it’s deepest, 66 double-decker busses could be stacked, nose to nose and only then would one reach from the bottom to the top of the loch. It’s deep. Legend has it that Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster lives in the lake.

Frances and I headed out to see if we could catch a glimpse of Nessie, or just see the loch in all it’s beauty. We certainly succeeded at the latter. To get to Loch Ness we took the Jacobite Temptation tour. Our tour began with a bus ride to the ferry. During the 35 minute ride, our tour guide, Sue, told us history of the town, river and loch. Then we had a 30 minute ferry ride across the loch. Earlier in the day it had been rainy, but during the ferry ride the rain mostly held off, although it did spit on us some. Clouds hung low in the sky, the water looked dark and foreboding; it was eerily beautiful. 

Our ferry docked at Urquhart Castle and we got off to explore. The current ruins of the castle date back to the 1500’s, but history shows that there has been some sort of a fortress at this site since the 300’s. We had nearly an hour to explore the ruins and appreciate the beauty of the stones against the water. 

After an hour, we boarded our bus back to town. On the way back, we were able to spot the shaggy highland cows that the locals call Heighlen Kuhe.

In the end we didn’t see Nessie, of course that means I’ll need to return and try again!


After a three week seminar in Leipzig, I headed across the North Sea up to Scotland. I was joined by my friend Frances in Edinburgh and we headed further north to Inverness. 

Inverness, best known for Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, is a small city (it’s official - they’ve reached city status with 58,000 inhabitants!) with lots of offer. Flowing through the city is the River Ness. In fact, Inverness’ name comes from old Gaelic, meaning at the mouth of the river Ness.

Inverness is a very walkable city and walk we did. Our first full day we set out to explore. We headed first down the river away from the city center to the Ness Island. This island in the middle of the river is accessible from both sides by bridges. The island is lined with walking trails, fairy lights and full of natural beauty. A bit of rain didn’t keep us from enjoying the island.

Speaking of bridges, Inverness has a number of them criss crossing the river. The most favorite bridge is the bouncy bridge. While it has an official name, it’s locally known as the bouncy bridge. As our Loch Ness tour guide would later tell us, this bridge allows one to feel the effects of whiskey for free! It’s fun to walk across. Luckily for us, it was the bridge we had to take to reach our B&B.

Inverness has a castle on a hill overlooking the river. In order to enter the castle, one must be quite naughty and sent to trial. Today it is a working courthouse. We were not naughty enough to enter and thus only spent time walking the grounds.

Inverness is truly a 9 - 5 town. After 5pm most establishments close and the town seems vacant. However the truth is that nearly all of the 58,000 people have packed themselves into Hootenannys Pub. (Okay perhaps that number is exaggerated, but it is quite packed!). Known for it’s live Scottish music, it is the place to be. In the center of the pub is a large oval table, reserved for any musicians who wish to play. The only caveat is that they must play traditional Scottish music. Our first night there, we heard a guitarist and a violinist. The second night included an accordian player, flutist and guitarist. The atmosphere was great as was my shandy!