Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

Cinque Terre (aka my dream trip)

Cinque Terre is someplace I’ve wanted to go ever since before I left to study abroad in the spring of 2009. When I said I’d be traveling around, more than one person highly recommended Cinque Terre in Italy, a cluster of five small towns along the west coast between Genova and Pisa. After doing a bit of research I immediately wanted to go and vowed I would get there at some point. It worked out perfectly that Amanda had scheduled her spring break to end there and I was more than happy to accompany her and her friends.

I’m really not going to talk too much about it since the pictures speak for themselves (and more). We had four days there, did the hike through the five towns on our second day, relaxed on the beach the third, and left the fourth. It was absolutely perfect, the weather couldn’t have been better, it’s right before the tourist season so it wasn’t too crowded, the pizza and gelato were delicious, and it exceeded all of my expectations. I would recommend this place to absolutely anyone and if you’re ever planning a trip to Europe, you have to stop here. Enjoy the pictures! (and yes, you can click on individual ones to make them bigger in a new window)

The first town, Monterosso, and the beach we were at

Lookout from the first town

Amanda and I with Vernazza in the back

Vernazza, town #2

BC pride in front of Corniglia (town #3)

Corniglia

Riomaggiore, home sweet home

view from right outside the hostel

Perfect ending to vacation

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May 6, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Easter Break- part 1

Okay well on a much lighter note… I had the last two weeks free for Easter break!! I could really get used to the German school system here, about 6 or 7 weeks of school then a 1 or 2 week break. I’ve got another 2 week break coming up in June, travel suggestions welcome. So the first week of break was relatively uneventful, just stayed in Würzburg and caught up on some rest, tv, made carrot cake (!! my cooking skills are steadily improving) then jetted off for the second week. Landed in Malta late Friday night and after ten very anxious minutes of me not being able to get into my hostel, all was well.  How did I end up deciding to go to Malta you ask? I decided to join up with Amanda, a family friend who is studying abroad in France, and a group of her friends- all Notre Dame students by the way- and despite my BC status we got along well. Explored Valletta, the capital city, by myself the first few days since the girls weren’t getting in until Sunday/Monday. Went to a disappointingly small and not very ornate Easter mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, enjoyed the sun at an outdoor cafe, went to a few museums (National Museum of Fine Art- good exhibit on Mucha, the Czech father of Art Nouveau and National Museum of Archeology, which was basically like Guns Germs and Steel -Malta style-in museum form. Sidenote- I recommend that book for anyone interested in human geography/sociology/in general) The island is beautiful and although not very large, still has a lot to offer.

street in Valletta

Monday I did a day trip to the center of the island (I was staying on the East coast) to the towns Mdina and Rabat. I use the term “day trip” loosely because it took about 30 mins by bus to get there, but is still considered a trip on the island. Mdina is a tiny city, completely walled, no cars allowed. Took me about 20 minutes to walk the entire thing- went in the cathedral (of course) and the museum where I actually found myself liking Dürer’s wood-carving prints (never thought I’d say that after my Art in Munich course). Walked over to Rabat and went down into St. Paul’s catacombs- the thing’s pretty big! (obviously can’t be compared to the catacombs in Paris, but still) Almost all “attractions” in Rabat are named after St. Paul since he was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta and supposedly spent time in Rabat.

Malta reminded me of a mixture between Egypt and Portugal. Which, after my visit to the Archaeology Museum, proved not to be too bad of a theory (Malta was invaded/taken over by various groups from both Europe and Northern Africa). The driving is much safer than in Cairo (no fend-for-your-life defensive driving) but they still don’t follow road signs/lane lines. The city was mostly a tan/brown color (also like Cairo) but really hilly (Lisbon). The port/seaside was beautiful (Lisbon, also Alexandria), but given the fact I was there on a holiday weekend, it was hard to get a feel for the city life since not a lot was open.

Harbor in Sliema

Tuesday I met up with the Notre Dame girls and it rained, therefore ruining our beach plans.So we just hung out for the day, read, chatted, and made our own dinner (great fajitas and guacamole). Wednesday we were up and ready to go for our day trip to Gozo, an island off the northwest coast of mainland Malta. We weren’t deterred by the clouds in the morning (which again made the SPF 50 I had put on completely irrelevant). Yes, I had SPF 50 due to the following conversation at the CVS-equivalent in Germany before I left:

Me (to salesperson): Hi I was just wondering if this suntan lotion protects against UVA and UVB because it only says UVA (this is SPF 30, just fyi)

Saleswoman: Oh yes it protects against both. *looks me and my pale Irish skin up and down*… Where exactly are you traveling?

Me: I’ll be in Malta for 6 days then going to Italy!

Saleswoman: Yeah… you’re going to want to buy SPF 50 to use at least for the first few days then you can shift down to SPF 30.

We underestimated the time it would take for us to get up to the north coast on the bus, take a ferry, take a bus to the center of Gozo, and another bus/walk to the beach we wanted to go to. Our destination was Ramla Bay, and eight of us started off the day together. We left two in Victoria, the main town in Gozo, and left 3 more after we reached this point:

Ramla Bay, in the distance

See that cove all the way in the back? Yes, we trekked there. And I mean trekked. The bus only runs during the high tourist months (June-September). The road was long and winding and would have taken much too long so we found a footpath through the land which looked promising.

Improvisation

Well the footpath ended about halfway down, forcing us to.. improvise. 20 minutes later, covered in mud, sweaty, a bit scraped, and providing entertainment to those who watch CC-TV in Malta, we arrived at Ramla Bay! It was definitely well worth the trek. Pictures are really the only thing that will do it justice. The guidebook had said how red the sand was and blue the water would be, but it’s hard to imagine unless you see it yourself. And, after coming all that way, we had to go for a quick swim in the Mediterranean (even though it was freezing) followed by a great cheap meal at the cafe. We made it back on time for the ferry and we all celebrated the end of Malta together over dinner at a restaurant. I’d say Malta was a successful trip and I really liked it despite knowing nearly nothing beforehand (I feel that’s a theme of mine…) and I was ready to head off to Italy! But that definitely deserves its own post (and pictures)

Ramla Bay

Success!

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reaction… or lack thereof

Obviously the item dominating the news for the past week has been the death of Osama Bin Laden. Every time I go online, the BBC, CNN, and New York Times (among other websites) flood the screen with new headlines “Pictures to soon be released” “Pictures too gruesome to be released” “Was Pakistan aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts?” “How will this affect US/Pakistan relations?” and so on. I understand there’s much more to know surrounding his death and we’re going to have to wait and see how this all plays out, but I’m just hoping for the most peaceful solution. Anyways, the point of this entry is just to discuss the reaction I’ve received over here in Germany, or what I more aptly call the “non-reaction”.

September 11, 2001 is a day that will always stand out in my memory. We all have stories of what we were doing, and we recount them just about every year. I was in the 8th grade, in Mr. Townsend’s science class. There were suddenly whispers floating around of an attack on New York City, and we had the tv on in time to see the second plane hit the towers. The feelings surrounding that day are something extremely difficult to explain to a non-American, as I’ve learned. You can tell your friends and your students how speechless, shocked, scared, and vulnerable you felt. You can try to explain how you believed your country was impenetrable and impervious to attack and how this all came crashing down in a matter of minutes. How the next things to go through your mind was wondering who was responsible, who could ever want to do such a thing and destroy families, cause so much hurt and grief, then wonder if we were at war. As an 8th grader (and history not being my favorite subject) talk of war immediately conjured up images of World War II- atomic bombs, men being deployed by the thousands, hundreds of thousands of deaths; was your world going to change so drastically?

But, even after you’ve exhausted yourself attempting to explain all of this and more, no matter how much sympathy a person is capable of giving, they will never understand exactly how we as Americans felt on that day and the following weeks, months, even years. The oldest of my students were 8 years old in 2001 (how old does that make you feel?!) and additionally, they’re not American. Maybe the news of the attacks didn’t even reach them until much later. So, after reading the news of Bin Laden’s death Monday morning, I felt a conflicting wave of emotions- relief, pride, patriotism, trepidation, nervousness, and lots of questions. More than anything, I wanted somebody to talk to this about but upon arriving at school Monday morning; it was mentioned once, once, in passing in the teacher’s lounge. Normally I’m the go-to for all things concerning the US, seeing as I’m the only American at the school, and the only American a lot of the students have ever met. So I was pretty surprised to see it being almost brushed off, or very quickly digested, and everyone moved right on. Okay, I thought, maybe not everyone knows about it yet, since we just got back from Easter Holidays, or is just waiting for a better time. Nope, nothin the entire week, nada, zero, zilch.

While, from what I’ve seen and heard from friends back at home, the reaction stateside was quite the spectacle. I’ve watched countless youtube videos of the celebration (and the one in Bapst was particularly emotional, I’ve gotta say) and I understand completely where the emotions are coming from and why the reaction is how it is. But being over here, removed a little from the situation, ever in “ambassador mode” representing my country, it’s been interesting to see how people have reacted not just to Bin Laden’s death, but to our reaction. They’re shocked at how Americans have been so jubilant about a death. They want to know why he was killed and not tried in court. They’re keeping the bigger picture in mind- the possible retaliation from Al Qaeda, the fact that one man does not represent terrorism, and that this is far from over. They’re worried this may only incite more fighting and killing, and they may be right. As more information is being released, the questions are being answered.

It’s been an interesting week, to say the least, and by Wednesday morning the headline on the homepage of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Southern Germany’s major newspaper, had nothing to do with Bin Laden but rather nuclear power plants. This is not to say the Germans are disinterested or apathetic; it’s actually the opposite as they’re quite invested with thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan. They just seem to have accepted the recent information and realized we’ve still got quite a fight ahead of us, with this and the recent battles in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria, it shows how much the world is changing. Just want to end with a big Thank You to all of our soldiers and troops fighting for the US, our values, and keeping us safe. We can never be grateful enough for all you do.

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Germany, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment