For the second week on my school's fall break I had the privilege of celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of Oma and Opa on an island called Borkum. As you can see below, Borkum is a tiny East Frisian island about an hour by boat from the coast of the Netherlands.
In order to get to Borkum, we had to drive through Germany to board a ferry in Eemshaven, Holland. Speaking of Holland, it still amazes me how easy it is for Europeans to drive from one country to the next without providing documentation or stopping at borders. In the U.S. you can easily drive from one state to the next, but for instance driving to Canada or Mexico from the U.S. is a lot bigger of a deal than driving from Germany to Holland. Anyways, back to the ferry. Despite the chill of the fall air and the fog, everyone was excited for a break from work and school.
Upon arrival, we were whisked from the ferry to a cute little train that took us to the station, which was only about a five minute bike ride from our hotel.
When I say hotel, I'm using it only for lack of a more fitting English word. Haus Alter Leuchtturm offered breakfast and dinner daily, used actual keys for room entry, and had no 24 hour employees at the front desk. Now you understand why I say that Haus Alter Leuchtturm was similar to an American hotel, but not quite the same.
True to its name, Haus Alter Leuchtturm's neighbor was an old lighthouse.
The first full day of vacation, we headed to the Nordstrand (north beach). Luckily all us kids got to bring our bikes along, which made getting from the hotel to the beach a lot faster. On on our way there, we passed by the Neuer Leuchtturm (new lighthouse). From almost anywhere on the island, you could see it.
My first view of the North Sea was exactly what I needed after a hectic first two months of exchange.
Along the beach promenade there were the unavoidable tourist stores, but also many beach cafes and a circular stage building which showcased different musicians throughout the week.
Part of the beach promenade.
Just across the inlet you could see tons of seals just swimming around and basking in the sun. Rain or shine, the seals were always right across from us.
Borkum's north beach was made up of many different smaller beach sections; some had specific purposes like a dog-friendly beach, a beach where you were allowed to swim, and a beach where everyone could fly their kites. My host mother, my host dad's brother and his girlfriend, and me decided to go on a walk across all of these beaches.
My beach walk scenery.
After dodging downed kites and uncontrollable kite buggies, we reached a beach where you could actually see whitecaps. We didn't stay for long though because it took us almost an hour to get there and the sun was taking its toll on us.
The destination of our walk.
I found some seashells and even a tiny Seestern (starfish). When my host family asked what a Seestern was in English and I told them it was seafish, they thought the name was ill fitting because a starfish is not a fish at all. I'm beginning to understand why people find the English language so confusing!
I was pleasantly surprised when we got back from the walk to see that my host family had rented a Strandkorb (a beach chair). My host mom told me that these beach chairs are unique to German beaches. These beach chairs looked like something straight out of an old-fashioned beach movie.
Sharing some cookies with two of my host sisters in our Strandkorb.
As is beach tradition, my host family had a sand castle competition. Mine was so pitiful that I'm not even going to taint the memory of this vacation by including it in this post. As was expected, I did not win.
After my sand castle defeat, my host family went to catch tiny crabs on the rocks exposed by the low tide. By flipping over these rocks, I found upwards of 50 crabs in just 20 minutes.
While being pinched by crabs the size of a large grape stung a bit, this crab that my host dad found could probably steal a finger.
The biggest crab found that day.
My host grandma gifted me a handful of assorted seashells, feathers, and a tiny starfish. Speaking of seashells, it's not uncommon for U.S. beaches to forbid beachgoers from bringing home seashells or sand. Borkum had no rules like these.
The result of Oma's beach combing.
After a long day at the beach we set out for a night bike ride. Feeling adventurous, we went off the wood path onto a sandy path. Sand and bikes do not mix. We spent 10 minutes walking through the sand because the tires just sunk into it. There was also a beautiful full moon, which I tried unsuccessfully to photograph.
Our bike ride under the full moon.
Because it's a little uncomfortable to swim in the ocean in October, swimsuits are exchanged for kites. On the second coldest and windiest day of the week, we went to the beach to Drachen steigen lassen (fly a kite). Drachen=kite/dragon. How cool is that! After three tragic crash landings of the kite by my hands, I finally succeeded in keeping the kite in the air for about five minutes.
The best day to fly a kite.
With frozen fingers, we walked to the nearest beach cafe for some hot chocolate.
On our second to last full day in Borkum, we visited the "Feuershiff". This was a ship with a lighthouse on it and a museum inside that told us about different species of plants and animals native to Borkum, the history of the ship, and Borkum in general.
The Borkum Riff.
The control room.
After seeing the tiny bunk beds and the narrow hallways, I'm glad that I live on land.
A view of the harbor through a window.
Our last day :( To be completely cliché, the weather matched my mood. It rained off and on as we biked around Borkum trying to soak in everything once more before being ferried back to reality.
The beach on a rainy day.
On our last day I had a first. Mussels. I didn't know what to think when the waitress brought out two pots of mussels and I had no silverware. No worries though, we used the shells instead. The mussels seemed to take on the taste of what they shared the pot with, vegetables. Overall, I enjoyed the experience.
Even though our hotel was right next to the old lighthouse, we waited until the last day to go check it out. The inside was closed for reconstruction, so we just appreciated from the outside.
We waited until 30 minutes before our train to the ferry to take our group photo. With the help of the remote control feature on my camera we were able to take a photo where everyone was included, smiling, and wide-eyed.
Our last minute group photo.
On the ride back to the Netherlands, we took in the view on top of the ferry. Even though I was sad knowing that in a few hours I would have to start doing my homework, I enjoyed taking in the last hour of our fall vacation. Not only has this vacation allowed me to explore an island that I had never heard of before, I also got to bond with my host/extended host family. This was a vacation that I'm sure to remember fondly forever.