Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

“spring break”

okay not even going to bother with apologies here but I will attempt to catch up (and post lots of pictures to compensate). So, my orientation program was about a month long, and afterwards we had 10 days off for Easter and a ‘spring break’ of sorts, as if a break from mid December to the end of April wasn’t long enough. But hey, I’m not complaining. So, my roommate Kat from BC (studying in Ireland, was visiting me here) headed off to Prague with Becky and I for Steph’s 21st. It’s a beautiful city and I was surprised how much I didn’t know about it. We stayed with Steph, got to sightsee Prague castle, the Old Town which had a cute Easter Market with great food, live music, and lots of arts/crafts booths, the Jewish quarter, went paddleboating on the river on Easter, and saw the Lennon wall, which is this huge wall people graffiti on and it’s beautiful.

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Prague Castle at night

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Me, Kat, Steph, and Becky at the Lennon Wall

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one of our many pictures from paddleboating.

So after Prague and Steph’s wonderful 21st, Becky and I headed back to Munich for a few days, then left again for Athens. Our hostel was in a kind of sketchy area of town but we didn’t really go out at night so it wasn’t a problem. Also, we realized we were going to Greece. And we realized it was the week after Easter. However, not until the flight attendant on the flight there made an announcement did we put the two together: we would be in Athens for Greek Orthodox Easter. Oh man.

We get in on a Wednesday, walk around a little to get a feel for the area but don’t do too much. Thursday was a HUGE sightseeing day. We spent most of the day at the Acropolis seeing the Parthenon, Theater of Dionysus, and various other ancient ruins. We also made our way over the the Olympic Stadium from 1892, and ran into ruins all over town.

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Parthenon from below

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Olympian ruins with Temple of Zeus in the background- I never knew before seeing this collapsed column that the colums weren’t one huge solid piece but instead actually smaller cylinders stacked on top of each other.

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Making my way up Lykavittos Hill which is the highest point in the city.

Friday we found ourselves walking around Monastiraki which had lots of markets and outdoor shops (obviously Becky and I both bought greek dresses- when else could we??) We convienently ran into Teresa, a girl from BC studying in Athens who I had no idea was there. She was a huge help giving us recommendations of where to go, what to see, where to eat, and the rest of the day was a huge success. We at dinner and I decided to veer from my normal course of gyros and try the moussaka (what’s in it, I don’t know, some sort of meat and potato casserole like dish) only after I return back to Munich does my dad decide to tell me to avoid all meat in Greece because they don’t refrigerate it. Apparently lamb is usually okay since it gets cooked pretty well. And that explains the food poisoning I have the next day. But anyways, still Friday night… It was obviously Good Friday there and since European dinners last for hours, Becky and I had watched it go from light to dark and people had been walking in all directions carrying candles, some lit some not. When we finally decide to make our way back to the metro, everyone’s walking really slowly and as we’re weaving, Becky just stops and goes “Colleen, I think we’re in a procession”. I don’t believe her then look ahead to see a huge mass of flowers being held in the air as well as a cross and a casket-like box being supported by men. Apparently the whole town was reenacting mourning the death of Christ and having a procession. We slow down and then turn out of the procession at the nearest opportunity. Only later do we find out that not only had we taken part in a holy procession, it was also being televised throught Greece. Awesome.

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View from the Acropolis. Really tall hill in the right? Lykavittos, which we climbed.

Saturday we had decided to go to Aeginas, an island about a 2 hour ferry ride from Athens. Well, food poisoning had snuck up on me but I was determined not to let it keep me from a Greek island. So we made our way onto the boat, enjoyed the fresh air, and had a nice day walking around the island.

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View from Aeginas.

We finally made our way back to Munich where we’ve been (for the most part) since. I have a 4 day weekend this weekend since today (thursday) is a holiday and I don’t have Friday classes. Also convienently my dorm area (studentenstadt) is throwing a huge festival/party from last night to Sunday so that gives me plenty of time to drink do homework or write some updates

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May 21, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 1 Comment

Amsterdam and catching up

Needless to say I’ve quickly become the worst blogger in terms of updating. New goal: update once every 3-4 days. (at least). So.. after leaving Paris, Becky and I ventured to Amsterdam for a few days. We did the touristy things, including a tour of the Heineken brewery (ice cold fresh beer there- SO good), went to the Van Gogh museum which I really appreciated since he’s one of my favorite painters- and as a bonus, there was the ‘starry night’ exhibit there at the time so we got to see Starry Night (Becky’s favorite) and Starry Night over the Rhone (one of my favorites)- and went on a tour of the Anne Frank house. At the advice, well more like insistance, of our friend Mariel (who we stayed with- another BC friend abroad, great hostess) we rented bikes for one of the days we were there and our friend Jake joined us for the brewery tour and Van Gogh museum. Earlier in the day, Mariel gave us a great guided tour of the red light district which is exactly as it seems. There are just women in the windows waiting for men to come up to them. And it’s very apparent what section of town you’re in based on the windows- the better looking women are closer to the center of the red light district since those windows are more expensive. But, we didn’t dwell there for too long. If you stare at the women, they apparently do pretty rude things, like throw cups of urine at you (according to Mariel).  So after dinner Jake took us to this GREAT little jazz place which was amazing. And I got to meet up with my roomate Steph!! She’s studying in Prague but was in Amsterdam for the weekend. It was so great to see her.

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So, Amsterdam was a great place to end our month of traveling. Despite only being known for the sex and legalized drugs, it’s a very cute city on the water and Becky and I liked it a lot.  We took a night train to Munich and arrived groggy the next morning. Over the past few weeks we’ve made our apartments more home-y. My program is JYM (junior year in Munich) through Wayne State University. Right now we’re in orientation for JYM- classes don’t start until April 20th. All of the JYM kids live in the same dorm complex, and we all have single-person apartments. It has a small bathroom, stovetop, mini-fridge, sink, bedroom, desk, and balcony. I think it’s pretty nice and actually perfect for living here. I’m not in my room that often anyways, but it does have enough space for the air mattress when guests come. Speaking of which…

Our first weekend here we already began reciprocating the favor of mooching off free lodging while traveling. Our friends Laura and Lauren from Paris came and stayed with myself and Becky (respectively). We went to a beerhaus, the Viktualienmarkt which is this great outdoor farmers market on Saturdays, and enjoyed walking around Munich. During the week we have orientation which consists of various modules. The first week was more of getting to know the city, how to do certain things like register where we live, fill out forms, etc. This past week we learned about the German political system, and this coming week will be about things to know when living in Munich.

Last weekend our friend Claire from London came and stayed with Becky. We bought dirndls! (the German bar maid-like costume) and went to starkbierfest. It’s the only time of year (lent) you can get these certain beers. We went to the Paulaner brewhaus and proceeded to drink out of mass steins (1L) and join the Germans in singing and dancing on the long bench tables.

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Prior to Starkbierfest, however, our JYM group (which consists of about 25 kids) took a day trip to Murnau, a southern German town in the Alps. We walked around outside for a few hours (it was beautiful) and went to a museum with a lot of works from the “Blaue Reiter”- a group of artists who used to live in the town. Here’s a quick glimpse of the scenery:

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Okay so now I have yet another visitor and must go pick him up! More updates hopefully much sooner.

April 5, 2009 Posted by | Travel | Leave a comment

Paris, J’aime

Since I am behind on my journaling (YET AGAIN) I stole Becky’s updates from Paris. I know it’s a little dull without pictures, but I’ll add in some more when I’ve got time!

Monday, March 9, 2009

We arrived at night after our last ryanair flight (at least for a while)!! Made our way (with a little drama on Becky’s part, long story dealing with friends she was supposed to stay with) to our friend Laura’s apartment. She is from BC and has been in Paris for the year studying at SciencesPo.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Colleen and I woke up rather late and went to an area called Chatelet that was supposed to have great shopping. I needed to get a new pair of shoes, and surprise surprise, almost the first stop we see as we got off the metro was H&M. I bought a very cute pair of new shoes, and was no longer mourning the loss of the others. Colleen and I walked around the Latin Quarter a bit and did some light sight seeing. We met back up with Laura at her apartment and got ready to go out. We met up with some kids from BC who have been there the whole year and got some drinks at an Irish bar called Corcoran’s. We then walked down the street and came upon the Moulin Rouge! We were in the arrondisement (neighborhood) called Montmarte that is the city’s red light district. We saw many a sex shop, and witnessed some seedy characters. We met up with a few friends- Sam and Lauren, both from BC and in Paris for the year for drinks since Colleen wouldn’t be able to see Sam again (she went to Belgium for the weekend- rough life). We ate at this little hole in the wall restaurant that served all types of fondue. The best part about it however is that the only two tables in the restaurant were the big long ones with benches (so that everyone was sitting at the same table) and the wine is served in baby bottles. There is this rule in France, that says that wine is only taxed if served in glasses and so this restaurant serves their wine in baby bottles in order to avoid the tax. Really really fun.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Today, Laura did not have class so she accompanied us on our adventures. We went to a grocery store and picked up some cold cuts, cheeses and nectarines and a very cheap bottle of wine. Our next stop was a patisserie and we bought two baguettes. We walked along the edge of the Seine and crossed the most famous of bridges, the Pont Neuf. The Notre Dame cathedral is actually on an island in the Seine and on the edge of this island is a beautiful little garden area surrounded by water. We had a beautiful picnic with our legs hanging over the edge and just sat and ate and drank wine. It was fantastic! Later that night we went to a pub called O’Sullivan’s (all of us completely decked out in soccer attire) to watch the Manchester United vs. International Milano match. At the same time, Barcelona was playing Lyon. Now, I really know nothing about soccer AT ALL but watching two major games at the exact same time (the screens were literally right next to each other and the sound was broadcasting all one of the games) was quite stressful. Laura’s favorite is Man United, so she was thrilled when they won! We had an earlier night tonight because Laura had a class the next morning.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It would only make sense that the one day we set aside for crazy sightseeing would be the day that I wake up feeling SOO sick. I have (and still do) an awful cold, and was NOT excited when I woke up. However, I sucked it up and Colleen and I took the metro to the Place de la Concorde on the edge of the Champs Elysees. We were walking around the edge of the square and saw the American embassy. I proceeded to take a picture of the embassy, but was met with angry screams from several security officers. A French policeman approached me and yelled at me asking what I was doing. All I said was, “I am American and wanted to take a picture of the consulate,” after which he screamed at me saying, “ERASE THE PHOTO.” So apparently you are not allowed to take pictures of the American embassy. Oops, so sorry. So, Coll and I walked up the Champs Elysees which is amazingly beautiful towards the Arc de Triumph and stopped to get baguette sandwiches on the way. At one point, Colleen was just like, “Becky, we are eating baguettes and walking on the Champs Elysees.” It really was unreal. So cool. We got to the Arc which is HUGE and walked around a little bit. We then walked to the Eiffel Tower, and walked the 670 steps to the top. It is incredible. Truly. I felt like shit and probably should have taken the elevator, but it was an experience! After taking about 150 pictures, Colleen and I took the metro back to Laura’s. We then went to a Basque restaurant and met up with some more BC friends. After dinner (and two pitchers of sangria), we took the metro to one of the BC girls’ house. The coordinator in France for the Paris-BC exchange program was hosting a crepe party, and so we all were invited to drink more wine and eat crepes. It was really fun, but truncated because we then all headed out to a Sciences Po (the Paris university that Laura goes to) party at this club called Red Light. It was ridiculously crowded and the quintessential European club. I was so overwhelmed because it was so hot and crowded and the music (all techno obviously) was soo loud we could not hear each other screaming. After struggling to not lose my party, we danced and at one point we packed in so tight together I do not think my feet were touching the floor. Now, we must also remember that I have been very sick all day. I probably should not have had anything to drink, really, but when in Paris, right? I had to sit down at one point because I was just feeling so ill, not nauseous or excessively drunk, just generally fatigued. And before I know it, I am being accosted by some French security guard who is screaming at me and gesturing towards the door. He must have thought I was going to get sick or something. Needless to say, we left and gladly spent 5 euros on a cab back to Laura’s at 3:30.

Friday, March 14, 2009

Today, Colleen and I woke up and met Laura outside of a metro stop. We then all went to go see the catacombs (the underground Parisian ossuary that replaced the above ground cemeteries that were exhumed in an effort to destroy disease). Very eerie. So cool, and we estimated that there must have been at least 500,000 people down there. Piles and piles and piles of bones. Accompanying these bones were lines from poems, and ominous sayings about death and the unlived life. It was really cool. We then went back above ground and met up with our friend Lauren. Now, I had informed Laura early on in the trip how much of a dessert freak that I am. I also told her how I only had one real dessert a month, and had being saving said dessert for my trip to Paris. Lauren from BC is the self-proclaimed pastry connoisseur and took us to this place called Gerard Moreau. It is considered one of the best pastry shops in the world, and so I naturally ordered two things because I could not decide which looked more delicious. They were incredible and indescribable. SO good. Untouchable. The French know how to do their chocolate. Colleen and I then went to the Louvre (which is free for students on Friday nights after 6?)! So huge and overwhelming, but absolutely beautiful. Earlier in the week Laura had told us that there was an article published about the size of the Louvre and it said that if someone spent 30 seconds in front of every piece of art in the museum and did not stop to eat or drink or use the bathroom or sleep, it would take approximately 3 weeks! IT IS HUGE. We saw the Italian and Spanish painting exhibits, and the ancient Egyptian and Roman art, as well as the crown jewels. The Mona Lisa was beautiful; very crowded and surprisingly small, but so cool. Just to have been in its presence was a feat. We then went to the gift shops and walked around the grounds a little bit, taking many pictures on the way. Colleen and I stopped at a restaurant called the Pizza Grill that had a huge sign that said “We speak English.” SOLD. We then met up with Laura and walked to the Pont Neuf. We boarded one of the boat tours, and got a tour of Paris by sea at night. Beautiful. Every hour on the hour at night, the Eiffel tour sparkles for ten minutes. It’s lit up yellow right now, but last year it was lit up blue since Sarcozay (the French President) was head of the European Union. So cool, and we brought our own wine on board. We then met up with some friends at their apartment and just drank a little and hung out. Very relaxing and nice. Good day.

Saturday, March 14th

We woke up with plenty of time to catch our 12:25 train to Amsterdam only to find out our train was at 10:25. Now, all of our confirmation info we had been checking said the train was at 12:25, and we figured out after we had had problems with RailEurope while we were still in the States, things got mixed up. So, after about an hour of stressing, we found out how to get tickets for the next train to Amsterdam (at 3:30) and only had to pay 55 Euros for them. Guess that $7 rail protection plan would have come in handy now… But we made it to Amsterdam successfully!

Last- sidenote from Colleen- I honestly expected to dislike Paris and was unhappy with how much time we had planned to spend there. But Paris was hands down the best surprise of the trip as I loved it. True, the French people do fit most of their stereotypes, but being with people who speak fluent French definitely helped and the city is beautiful.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 1 Comment

Taking over the UK

After leaving Madrid, we moved onto London. We successfully navigated the tube to meet our friend Claire from BC who is studying at King’s College this semester. We stayed with her in her small but very cute room (hey we’re college students, we can sleep anywhere). Claire had class the next day so Becky and I did some sightseeing around London. Becky’s been there before, so not very much was new to her, but I really enjoyed seeing Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The “Eye” (huge ferris wheel they have), the Thames, Buckingham Palace (no sighting of the queen though), Trafalgar Square, and of course, the signature red phone booths (which we actually had to call Claire from since we don’t have a phone and got stared at multiple times).

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We met up with Claire after lunch and she showed us around her school which is actually really nice. And they had a nice boastful wall of people who have attended the school (including Desmond Tutu, which we thought was really cool). We made dinner in her dorm/apartment then set out for the night. We met up with some other friends of ours from BC studying at Kings/visiting for spring break (yes, BCs spring break is this early). The club we went to was called “Cheapskates” and aptly named as drinks were 80 pence. But they didn’t seem to know what lemonade or sprite were so we drank a few vodka and waters (not recommended). After a night of dancing and drinking, we unsuccessfully tried to find the night bus and ended up taking a cab back.

Becky left for Ireland early-ish the next day while I stayed around since my flight wasn’t until later that night. I walked with Claire to class which is a very scenic route along the Thames, and I got to have a nice view of the city as well as see the Globe theater.

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While Claire went to class, I made my way to Covent Gardens, which is a cute outdoor shopping/food area, and then onto Leicester Square and around the area. All without getting lost! Met up with Claire after class, headed back to her place to pack up my things and go on to Scotland…

… where Sal (another BC friend) was excitedly waiting for me at 1 am as I got off the bus from the Prestwick airport (about 45 mins-1 hour away from Glasgow). Needless to say, I passed out almost immediately upon arriving at his dorm at the University of Glasgow. I got a great Sal-guided tour of the school and the city the next day, even venturing to the far east side to see the Celtic football (soccer) team’s stadium. At least I got a scarf out of it. We also went into the Cathedral, walked around the mecropolis (complete with graves), saw indoor gardens, the biggest terracotta fountain in the world, and went in the museum of modern art, all throughout scattered rain. Later that night (since it’s Friday now) we went out to dinner with a few of Sal’s friends from school including Charlie, another friend from BC. We made our way to “Cheesy Pop” afterwords- a club in their student union that plays ridiculously cheesy music from the 80s and 90s. It was great.

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(university of Glasgow)

The next day, Sal and I ventured to Edinburgh, only about a 1 hour bus ride. We met up with yet another BC friend (they’re all over the place), Brian, who’s studying there. He led us around for the day, starting with Edinburgh castle which I was told I could not miss under any circumstances. The 10 pounds was well worth it (for a cultural experience, Dad) to see a cool exhibit about the military and the crown jewels! which are in the castle there. Afterwords it started to rain (surprise, surprise) but I’ve learned to not let that ‘dampen my spirit’ as Sal said, no pun intended (apparently). So we continued to walk around and see the Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book (and their coffee was great!), the Queen’s summer residence (Hollyrood Palace), the Scott monument, and of course a statue of Livingstone (the Scots love him almost as much as they love their poet, Robert Burns). As I told Sal, and no offense to Glasgow, I really really liked Edinburgh. All the hype was definitely worth it.

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(Edinburgh castle)

Becky came in late that night, we actually ran into her at the bus station when we got back. We all went to an Australian restaurant for dinner (weird, I know) then to a bar which had formerly been a church but converted, complete with a club downstairs. Sunday, we went to a football (soccer) game! It was cold, overcast, and rainy- yet another surprise in the weather. We watched the Glasgow Rangers play the Hamilton Academical, and the Rangers won 5-1. (Slight aside, Glasgow has 2 football teams- Rangers and Celtics. Celtics fans tend to be Irish and Catholic (surprise) and Rangers fans locate more on the Western side of the city. They have an intense rivalry)

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Oh, and our seats were GREAT. 6 rows back, centerfield. (Rangers wore blue). After warming up after the game, we went out for dinner with yet some more kids from BC, some of whom had just returned from weekend travels. After, we met up with some more students from University of Glasgow to celebrate one of the girl’s 21st birthdays! Everyone we met was so nice and we had another great night of dancing- the D.J. at this club “kushion” was great. Some of the students we met were Germans, so Becky and I took advantage of the situation to practice our German which we were told is great!! So we feel much better about heading to Germany being pretty conversational in German. But first we’ve got Paris and Amsterdam to go!

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 1 Comment

Espana- ft. Becky

So, I am quite behind on my journaling/updating. Becky, however, has been doing a great job updating her parents and keeping her ‘travel journal’ electronically. All that said, this entry about the end of Rome/all of Spain will be in Becky’s direct words aka her as a ‘guest blogger’. Enjoy!

So Colleen and I met up with Kari (our friend from BC) at the Pantheon and walked around for a while just chatting about life and obviously DE drama. We kept checking menus and nothing jumped out at us so Kari just decided that she wanted to take us to the neighborhood she lives in because she knew of some great places around there. I’m so happy we did (she lives on the opposite side of the river in a neighborhood called Travestere), because it was obvious that Kari was very excited to show off her “new home” to us. We had the quintessential “How I’ve changed since I’ve been abroad conversation,” and she really has grown so much. She is so relaxed and carefree (which is a HUGE change for her), and it made me really excited to see how different she was after only a month and a half. Kari paid for our dinner which was so nice of her; we consumed A LOT of wine that night. Then she took us to the best gelato in Rome place, and it literally was. All locals, which means that its good. I was a little tipsy, and figured when in Rome right!!! IT WAS SO AMAZING I CANNOT EVEN BEGIN TO DESCRIBE. Picture dark chocolate gelato with fresh whipped cream in a cone. I am just salivating thinking about it. So we had to check out of our hostel this morning (thank God I hate hostels), and walked down to this market that Kari had told us about. There was a man there with buckets and buckets of every kind of dried fruit imaginable. Incredible. So, we took a bus to the airport and got on our flight no problems. We arrived rather late in Barcelona but had good directions to our hostel, and got by on Colleen’s two years of Spanish from middle school. This hostel was SO nice and such an upgrade. We had a bathroom in our room, but we did share our 8 person room with 6 other people. ALL OF WHOM WERE FRENCH MEN. Just a tad bit awkward I must admit. Colleen and I were extremely happy to do our first European load of laundry also. So nice. We had an early night, because we were exhausted and had to wake up early for our day of sightseeing in Barcelona.

Sunday, February 28, 2009

So today we woke up, enjoyed our free breakfast at the hostel and went on a free walking tour of Barcelona that our hotel sponsored. Our tour guide was so adorable and took us all around the Gothic quarter, and the huge boulevard that Barcelona is known for called “Las Ramblas.” It was so cool because lining this boulevard were street performers; about every 10 feet our so there was another person dressed as something ridiculous trying to make a few euros. So after our tour Colleen and I were walking around trying to get to the harbor to see the Christopher Columbus statue, and ran into a STARBUCKS. Again, Starbucks plays a huge role in this trip. Bliss, pure unadulterated. We stopped. Then we took the metro up to the top of the hill called Montjuic, and saw the 1992 Olympic stadium (soccer field and swimming arena). It was enormous, and so cool to see. One of the men responsible for most of the architecture in Barcelona is Antonio Gaudi (not sure if you knew that). He started the Art Nouveau movement in the early 20th century, and made his mark on Barcelona. His work is absolutely amazing, and has a tremendous influence on the city. He designed a public park to rival Central Park in NY and Hyde Park in London. It is called Park Guell and is on a disgustingly large hill. Seriously almost a 1 mile hike completely uphill. But once you get to the park you can see all of Barcelona, and the park itself is super cool. I told Colleen it reminded me of the Who Village, and looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. After that, we went to the Sagrada Familia, which is a church that Gaudi designed. It has come to be known as one of the symbols of Barcelona and has 4 huge towers; it was Gaudi’s piece de resistance and remains unfinished. Our tour guide said that the projected finish date is 2040, but most people doubt that will even happen. We were considering going out that night but we were so tired and had to wake up the next day to catch a plane to Madrid so we bought a 4 euro bottle of wine and played gin rummy while drinking some wine. Great decision.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Today we left for Madrid. After our plane landed we boarded the metro and again got our hostel unscathed and without ever getting lost!!!! But once we arrived at the street address of our hostel, it appeared as if there was none. Colleen, however, noticed a tiny (like diminutive) sign on the door with a bell to ring for the hostel. Once we were let in the building (the lobby smelled like rotten fish because of the market next door TRULY disgusting), we again could not find the hostel. We had to ask somebody who lived in the building and he pointed at a blank door. This door apparently opened to our hostel which was very sketchy and in the middle of an apartment building. It would have absolutely sucked except that Colleen and I had our own room and bathroom and shower. The shower however was smack dab in the middle of the room completely separate from the bathroom, very strange. After we settled in a little bit and relaxed, we went down the street to a used bookstore owned by a British couple. I finished all of my books except for the MLK one which I will get to eventually so I wanted to buy a new one. I was feeling VERY frugal (ahem CHEAP ahem), and went straight for the bargain bin. I bought a Maeve Binchy book called The Copper Beech. We then walked to the metro station and met up with Line (note from Colleen: Caroline, or Line, is a friend of Becky’s from home in Miami. They’ve known each other since second grade)! It was really good to see her, and we talked about everything. We went to this tapas restaurant (p.s. I would not be able to survive in Spain because I don’t eat red meat or cheese), and alas I discovered that tapas is NOT my thing. And then, guess who showed up to eat dinner with us. Lissy Vidal, Lali, Annalis Garrido, and Alysa Romano (sidenote: all girls from Miami who went to high school with Becky). They are all staying on spring break and staying with Lissy who is studying in Madrid. It was fun to catch up with them too; we ended up chatting until 1 am. Colleen and I walked back to our hostel and went to bed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Today, we woke up and took showers (IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM). We had a little bit of a mishap and misplaced the keys, and were therefore locked inside of our room. After about literally 20 minutes of searching, I remembered putting them in my sweater kangaroo pouch the night before. AWESOME, great job Rebecca. Anyway, we took the metro to Puerto del Sol to go on another free walking tour, but this time in Madrid. However, we get off the metro and see a lot of commotion. Apparently the tour guide bureau of Madrid (about 50 licensed Spanish tour guides) were protesting the tour that we were about to go on. The protesters were touting all of these signs that read: “Tourist Trap,” “Illegal Tours,” “Fake Guides.” There were policemen and camera crews everywhere it was crazy. We spoke to one of the protesters who spoke English. She told us they were demonstrating against this tour company for the following reasons: they were unlicensed students leading the tours with no formal training whatsoever, the money they made was purely cash tips therefore making them tax exempt, they were stealing business from the licensed tour guides. They felt genuinely concerned that this company was ripping off the tourists from a genuine Madrid tour given by someone who really knows their shit. Alas, we decided not to go on this tour. Instead, we walked around (rather aimlessly as both of us had nothing but a map as a guide) and saw the Plaza Royal and many other buildings that I do not remember the names of. Anytime we saw a cool looking building we would stop. Unfortunately we walked straight through the prostitution row in our wanderings and I was quite disturbed. At another point in our walk we were both approached by several children holding petitions that asked for money for handicapped and deaf children. These children were wanting us to give them money and acting as if they were deaf. However, a Spanish woman who spoke English literally took us aside and said, Do not give them anything, they are trying to get you to take out your wallet so that they can then proceed to pick pocket you. Those little kids were pretending to be deaf and trying to rob us. I was soo pissed but extremely thankful that this woman had gone out of her way to help us. Brief aside: in general, the Spaniards are incredibly friendly. They were SO nice and patient to us despite the fact that we spoke barely any Spanish, and appreciated the fact that we tried to assimilate. Spaniards are MUCH nicer than Italians. I loved Spain for that reason. We tried to go to the national library but were stopped because it was a government building; we had to go through security just to see the lobby (the only area where outsiders were permitted). We then walked to the Museo del Prado which is the biggest art museum in Madrid, and on the way witnessed ANOTHER road block. This time however we saw the President of Spain drive by. Colleen and I decided that we must inspire all of these incredibly important people to drive by; we have a gift. We were quite pissed to find out that the museum was closed on Mondays. After kind of an interesting and eventful afternoon, Colleen and I decided to just go back to our hostel and take a nap, so we did and it was glorious. We then went to the Retiro park which is Madrid’s version of Central Park/Hyde Park. There is a huge man-made lake in the middle and it was really cool because it was 7 pm at this point and there were rowers on the lake. We then went to a homemade bread restaurant close to our hostel; the entire menu was in Spanish and I had absolutely no idea what I ordered. Apparently it was a salad with chicken, bleu cheese, bacon bits, and avocado. I was NOT pleased, but did pick at it not wanting to be rude. Then we went back to our hostel and got ready to GO OUT!!! This was our first time really going out since we have been traveling just because it is usually VERY expensive and a little dangerous in a foreign city and not possible if you are tired. We all know how exhausting traveling is. But we met up with Line, and like 12 other BC kids and went to this bar that was having a 1 euro shot night. It was really really fun to see so many BC kids. Literally it was this huge reunion of Americans, and Colleen got to see one of her roommates who was studying in Madrid and our friend James who was visiting (he is abroad in Geneva Switzerland). He was especially excited to see us because he just started the Rosetta Stone in German and wanted to practice some. We convinced him to come visit us in Germany. It was actually hilarious because Line obviously speaks German too so we all listened and laughed as James proceeded to tell us, in German of course, the following things: The horse runs. The boy is eating an egg. The girl is not driving. The men are swimming. HILARIOUS. I had such a great time with Line and was so excited to spend some time with her. We also convinced her to come to Germany. GREAT NIGHT.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Today is not a good day. We both drank a little too much last night and have to check out of our hostel. We do and then go to Starbucks (YIPPPPEEEEEEEEEEE) and sit making a last ditch effort to sober up. UNSUCCESSFUL. Colleen and I think, at this point, that our flight is at 2:30. FALSE. We checked our itinerary as we were getting on to the metro and saw that our flight does not in fact depart until 5:10. We got stopped by the metro police; they don’t speak English. Apparently, Colleen bought the supplement for the airport and I bought a metro ticket- you need both to go to the airport. So, we got fined 20 Euro. Awesome, well, now we are sitting in the airport cafeteria, hungover with loads of time to kill, which is why I was able to write this latest detailed account of my European adventures, which truly have been adventures. We are flying to London today and staying with my roommate Claire. I am very excited to see her and especially thrilled because at this point in the trip, NO MORE HOSTELS.

Think that catches us up for a bit- more soon!

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 1 Comment

When in Rome…

I’m starting this tendency to update after I’ve left the city I’m describing, but it works. (For curious minds, Becky and I are now in Barcelona.) Rome was absolutely amazing. I feel I’ve said this about every city, but each place is different and amazing in its own way. Florence was much more a cultural and artistic city. Rome was definitely a modern city, judging by all the government buildings we passed lined with Alfa Romeos, but it has remnants of strong culture all throughout it. I cannot even begin to list what we saw; I think we actually saw everything. Rome wasn’t built in a day but we came pretty darn close to seeing the entire thing in one day.

We arrived Tuesday to rainy weather (our first bad weather day!) but actually welcomed it with open arms since we were actually exhausted from traveling and hadn’t really rested. Wednesday we were ready to go. Our hostel was by the train station, on the very east side of the city. We walked north, got lost a lot, but saw tons of interesting things in the process. Fountains, government buildings, and piazzas were everywhere. Yet again proving my inadvertent taste for expensive things, my favorite part of the city was the Villa de Medici. It is at the top of the Spanish steps, near the Trevi Fountain, with an incredible view of the entire city and absolutely gorgeous, complete with gardens to walk through. Directly below it is the Piazza del Popolo which was another one of my favorite places. We made our way over the river to the Vatican and stayed for Ash Wednesday mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Countless cardinals, bishops, and priests were there for a packed audience. We also walked through the graves of the Popes, and it caught me off guard that Pope John Paul II was down there. That was definitely a surprisingly emotional moment. On our way out of the Vatican, walking along the river, Becky and I (along with four other girls) were held up at a crosswalk for no less than twelve minutes. Our frustration was building as to why we couldn’t cross the street since he was ushering in all the traffic from across the bridge. We soon heard police sirens and it dawned on me that the Pope was coming back from the service he had conducted in Rome for Ash Wednesday. Seconds later, police cars fly by along with a black car sporting yellow flags with a red symbol and Pope Benedict himself was in the backseat!!! Becky and I stood there, jaws to the ground, then squealing with excitement. I know I’ll definitely never forget that Ash Wednesday.

We continued to walk around and see more of history including the Colosseum at night, which was astounding. Thursday, we backtracked to a few places we had missed and couldn’t afford to- specifically St. Ignatius of Loyola’s church (being Jesuit students, we’d never get away with that) and the Church of the Gesu (Jesuits) where Ignatius and Pedro Arrupe are buried. We also returned all the way to the Vatican to walk through the museum- where everything is super detailed- and see the Sistine Chapel. I cannot even begin to describe Rafael’s frescos or Michelangelo’s seemingly impossible work inside there- it’s something everyone should see for themselves. You would think it was painted no less than ten years ago, based on how bright the colors are. We met up with our friend Kari, from BC (and Barrington, IL!) in front of the Pantheon for dinner and gelato after (still unbelievable). Finally, today after checking out of our hostel, going to a market, and buying delicious dried fruit, we flew to Barcelona. Our hostel here is really nice and we can even do laundry! Nightlife doesn’t start until after midnight here and goes until 6 or 7 am. We’re actually staying in tonight in order to get an early start tomorrow since that’s our only full day here. It’s much bigger than Rome, where we walked literally everywhere, so we’re hoping to get a one-day Metro pass and see as much as possible.

Sorry for the lack of pictures now, I definitely have lots to share. But the wireless costs money and is pretty slow in terms of uploading so I’ll post them later!

Oh and I’ve also put a link to my friend Chris Izant’s blog. He’s studying in Jordan this semester so if you’re bored or interested in that at all, see the right hand side and read away!

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 5 Comments

Florence

Well, technically I’m no longer in Florence. Becky and I actually arrived in Rome today. Unfortunately it’s been raining pretty much since we got here so we’ve been stuck inside. But, Florence was a wonderful experience.

We took the train in Saturday and walked to our friends’ apartment building which is literally, down the street from the duomo and the David. It’s less than a five minute walk to either one. Talk about location. Our friend Amy was more than wonderful in letting us crash on her couches, showing us around, and being an unbelievable host given she came back from Venice late Saturday night. Sunday Becky and I spent walking around Florence since Amy had to do an assignment for school. We walked along the Arno river, across the Ponte Vecchio (painted bridge- the only one to survive after  WWII), past Dante’s grave, by the Santa Maria Novella basilica, and through various markets. Naturally we found ourselves unable to resist buying absolutely gorgeous scarves so I ended up with 3 pashminas for a total of 11 euros. But my favorite part, next to the Ponte Vecchio, was the Piazza della Republica. It has the old gates to the city and now also has a carousel and shops lining the edge.

piazza della republica at night

(piazza della republica at night)

ponte-vecchio2

(ponte vecchio)

Florence is just amazing to walk around and everything really can be covered in a few days by foot. Amy joined us for dinner at this cute little restaurant called El Gatto e la Volpe (the cat and the wolf) where they make their own raspberry balsamic that they serve with olive oil and warm foccacia bread. Needless to say, Italian food is magnificent. And, Dad will be proud to know I’m warming up quite a bit to red wine- we got the house chianti which is better than any house wine back in the states. It showed on all the train rides throughout the country that almost every spare inch of land in Northern Italy is used for growing grapes. Vineyards just spill over the land.

The next day, Amy had class. Becky and I had heard so much about their campus that we decided to accompany her there and look around. She’s attending NYU in Florence; so it’s not an Italian university but rather an American one stuck in their country. It was a nice 40 minute walk to campus, with the second half of it being uphill so we definitely got our workout for the day. Their campus is absolutely indescribable.

NYU campus

It’s on the grounds of former villas on rolling Tuscan hills with rows of olive trees in the middle. Becky and I just walked around and admired it while Amy went to class. On our walk back home, we stopped to take pictures along the way of various piazzas and just the beauty of the city. We walked around for the rest of the day, seeing the sights, and then went out to dinner again later. This time we were joined by my friend Sarah, who is also studying abroad in Florence but through a different program, and she actually goes to school at Northeastern (in Boston). Since the weather has been so nice for us this trip (probably in the 40s every day), Becky, Amy, and I decided to walk around after dinner and stopped at a gelato shop Becky and I had found earlier. The gelato is, in a word, amazing.

gelato

I got two flavors- chocolate (of course) and a vanilla/cream with wafers. It is unbelievable. We also sat by a fountain that apparently, if you touch, means you will come back to Florence. Well, guess I’m destined then. On the note of food though (which is great here, if you haven’t figured it out), I’ve been getting hot chocolate pretty often since Becky loves the coffee shops. Italian hot chocolate is literally melted chocolate. Like they melted a candy bar and put it in the cup. Chocolate pudding, but hot. It’s glorious. Well all that talk of food reminds me we haven’t eaten dinner yet. Hopefully the rain’s let up a bit and we’ll find a good place.

me and becky at the fountain

February 24, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 3 Comments

Venice

I’m just sitting here enjoying some Italian pizza and red wine here in Venice. It’s wonderful. But let me backtrack…. Becky and I stayed in Munich the night we got in and our hostel was very nice. It was called Wombats and we’d definitely recommend it to anyone who ever stops in Munich. We got up early the next morning and got to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) with plenty of time to catch our train to Venice. I’m usually one for falling asleep within 5 minutes on a moving vehicle, but I am so glad I stayed awake for this ride. The scenery through the Alps of Southern Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy was beautiful. Austria

Apologies for my reflection off the glass. I took this one while we were going through Austria. We arrived safely at the train station in Venice and made it to our hostel around 9 pm. It’s definitely not like the last one; we’re pretty much in trailers. But hey, we’re young and trying to save money and it is clean. So today we ventured into Venice. Our hostel is on the main land and it’s about a 15 minute ferry ride over to the island (we can walk to the ferry from our hostel). Venice is absolutely amazing. It’s carnivale here, their mardi gras celebration, and the costumes were intricate and beautiful. I’ll just post a few but they’re unbelievable.

carnival

masked man

Venice as a city is amazing, and we walked around for the entire day never tiring of the sights. We ate lunch at a cute little cafe and they have the best coffee here. People were walking around everywhere in costume or just with masks, and we were lucky enough to have been there on a day of costume judging which consisted of people walking a runway in costumes for an hour. The Plaza San Marco was gorgeous as was the basilica. I could go on and on but just leave you a few pictures instead as time’s running out (I had to pay for an hour of internet here; it’s not free like the last one). We’re onto Florence tomorrow. Ciao!

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February 20, 2009 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment