Los Padres in the Park Guell
I thought I'd concoct another post after many requests to update the blog. Well here you are:
I just returned this past Sunday from a three week vacation around Europe. I know what you're thinking- and yes I am incredibly lucky for the opportunity I had. The vacation started when my parents came to meet me here in jolly little Caceres. We had a very elegant "tea-time" (I guess you'd call it) with my Spanish host-mom. I then showed my parents around the old city of Caceres, and they reveled in the rich heritage (as everyone does when they arrive in Caceres) that this modest-appearing city possesses. After this we moved on to Cordoba, then Granada, and ultimately Barcelona where we parted ways. They for Madrid; me for Rome. During our stay together I think my favorite moment was when we sat on the doorstep in front of a busy sidewalk in Cordoba as we ate a little pizza for dinner. In that moment I felt like my parents and I were interacting without any sort of inhibitors as if we were college students on the same level.
Upon arriving in Rome by myself I scrambled around looking for
Starting the day in Rome
a place to stay for the night because my friend Joe was to arrive the following morning so we could begin our "Napoleonic Conquest of Europe" as we called it (it bore no resemblance to the manner in which Napoleon conquered various lands-we started in Italy and ended up in France). After being hounded by an Italian man at the train station who said he could put me up at his brother's place where he assured me "an attractive Brazilian girl" was staying, and being offered a 30 euro taxi ride from the train station to a spot I later found out was less than 6 blocks away, I decided to pull out my trusty "Western Europe" Lonely planet guide that I received as a Christmas gift so I could find a place to lay my head. I lucked out and found a cheap hostel that was very nice and strangely enough fully staffed by British folk. They signaled me to a pizza place on the corner when I asked for a spot to get some chow, and it was a nice little spot. The lady there spoke Spanish with me, and recommended a tasty Italian beer for me to
try. It was nice to meet someone so amiable after having been by myself all day. It was so amazing the warmth I found in this one 20 minute interaction with a stranger, and the way it allowed me to unwind and feel more comfortable on my own.
Waking up the next day, I hustled to meet Joe at the airport, and we began our whirlwind one-day tour of Rome. We spent the whole day sightseeing, and carried our backpacks (that we were to live out of for the rest of our two week vacation) with us as we saw the Colosseum and Roman Forum, as well as the Pantheon, and St. Peter's Basilica. It was probably the briefest stay of any tourist in Rome. After a delicious and cheap Italian two course meal around 7:30 or 8:00, we headed to the train station to board an overnight train to Venice. Little did we know we'd be put in a sleeper with an old Italian man who wouldn't stop snoring-dare I say it-like a freight-train all night. We arrived in Venice at 5:30 in the morning by no means well-rested.
What can I say about Venice? Well, it’s
Venetian Glass on the island Murano where the best glass in the world is blown.
definitely a city for couples, it is most certainly the most absurdly over-priced city I have ever visited, and well—it’s sinking. Upon our arrival in Venice it was frigid and dark, and we had no idea where our hostel was (this occurred in almost every town we visited) so we could drop our packs. After finding a McDonald’s (the only Mickey D’s on the island they’ll have you know) to use the internet we finally located our hostel….which was on a different island. So we took a boat. Now this was most interesting for me, because in Venice they call the boats “water buses” and it would be a real drag to traverse Venice without them. They also provide an excellent view of Venice just as a one-hour gondola ride would, but those cost oh I don’t know around 80€! Anyways, upon finally locating our hostel we found it to be closed for construction. Hmm…what to do now we thought. We ask an Italian man nearby (who’s drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette at 10:00AM) what he thinks the deal is. He takes a crack at English, and fails pretty miserably. We did understand his excessive shrugging however, and
The beauty that is the city of Vienna.
realized this was to be the nature of Italy over the holidays. Luckily we found some fellow backpackers, and asked them where they stayed, which led to a great stay at a friendly little hotel. Problem solved. What struck me most about Venice was the quantity of tourists there. On that note, Joe and I met our fellow tourist friends Parker and Rosie on the island before heading to Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection of contemporary art. It was just out-of-this-world to see them in Venice after being used to seeing them in and around Kzoo. After sharing some laughter with them and catching up, we moved on to the Guggenheim Villa…which was beautiful of course. I’ve now seen two Guggenheim branches, and have made it a goal to see all of them. Feeling satisfied with Venice, we got on a bus to take us to a German train station, and ultimately Vienna.
Now I’ve heard stories where I think to myself “wow, that’s really cutting it close” but I believe this one takes the cake. You be the judge. We arrive in Vienna New Year’s Eve around 11:40PM in search of our friends who would take us from the
Park by the city hall.
train station to the city center. After yelling out their names “TODD” “GRACE” at the top of our lungs (and them doing the same) we eventually find each other. At this time it’s probably around 11:45 or so. Todd, our fearless leader tells us to run (again in our packs) to the subway station, and proceeds to navigate us through a series of transfers and subway stations until we arrive at the right stop. We walk up the stairs, and in front of us there are people partying everywhere and we make it the city center full of people where they’re counting down at “funf, vier, drei, zwei, eins” as we scramble to remember how to count in German. And from there on the night couldn’t have been more hectic. Fireworks everywhere—one almost blew our faces off—and a general atmosphere of carefree-ness and brotherhood. Later on in the night we crashed a top floor flat party that was way too posh for the way we were all dressed (no we didn’t still have the packs on). But above all my favorite part of the night was meeting an Austrian lawyer who was with his girlfriend, and had studied at U
Vienna street at night
of M law some 10 years back or so. When he found out we were from Michigan he flipped out, and told us he had to take us out for a drink. This is at 5:00 in the morning mind you. So we (really just he) scoured Vienna for an open bar. We found one, and proceeded to reminisce about everything Michigan until 7:30 in the morning when the sun rose. This was one of my most enjoyable experiences of the vacation. It still astonishes me the way Europeans will drop everything and offer to go out for a drink or a coffee when you have something so fundamental in common like that. My whole Vienna experience could be described as surreal, including the next day when we took a walking tour of Vienna and saw the grandiosity and pristine avenues that make up this capital of the Habsburg monarchy. But alas, we had to move on. This time to Munich, and with one more in tow; our good buddy Todd.
Munich was everything I wanted it to be, and then some. There we met up with our German friend Jasmin who studies with us in Spain, and it
The BMW four-cylinder building with the museum in the foreground
was nice to have a native around whilst we visited the city. The first night we had an excellent meal and a round of beers at the Augustiner Bierhaus. At this bierhaus the bartender was hand-winching, and then hand tapping with a wooden mallet, delicious wooden barrels of the golden bubbly stuff. You can find their website here: http://www.augustiner-braeu.de/augustiners/html/en/index.html
While in Munich we went on a wonderful free three-hour tour given by a nice Austrian lady named Claudia. It was brutally cold and snowy, but Claudia’s extensive knowledge of Munich and witty demeanor kept us on our toes. The next day we visited the BMW museum, which was of course my favorite part of the time we spent in Munich. I saw the legendary four-cylinder building, and while inside of the museum I was giddy like a little kid as Todd and Joe can attest to. But again it was time to leave, this time by car.
Our friend Jasmin put an ad up on a German carpool site requesting a ride from Munich to Berlin, and fortunately a kind lady Katrin responded saying that she had four seats in her VW. When the three of us went to
Inside the museum with an M3 GTR
meet her in the train station parking lot, there was a German man there who was to travel to Berlin with us. I didn’t catch his name, but he was invaluable to the three of us. During the car-ride he signaled to us the two times we passed through regions where the division between East and West used to reside. Being an East German himself, he recounted to us the first time he and his family left East Germany to go on vacation in 1989 after the wall fell. He said he would always remember that first trip above all others. When we arrived in Berlin, he took us to our hostel on the metro and wrote out a list of places to visit and things to do. This was another one of those points in my travels where I really felt the brotherhood of humanity in a single moment.
Berlin was most likely my favorite city. In Berlin there’s something to do in every nook and cranny of the city. There’s street art everywhere, people everywhere, and so many sights to see it can at times be a little overwhelming. I did not discover the significance of the
The East Side Gallery
parallel between my birthday and the day the Berlin wall fell however. But I did enjoy immensely the East side gallery where the government has left a mile or so of the wall standing and allowed prominent artists to cover it in murals. In Berlin, our band of 3 students grew once again as our good friend Colin made the trip down from Copenhagen to spend a few days in Berlin with us. It was unbelievable to share stories from the past few months with each other, and to live out new stories together while chatting and laughing together into the wee hours of the morning. The four of us stayed in a hostel on the former east side of Berlin that was cozy and had the best family-like atmosphere of any place I stayed during my travels. There was a mix of all sorts of people there, predominantly students who were on vacation, and we were all very open with each other. We would constantly offer each other advice on things to do or extend invitations to go out to a bar to each other. The place and the people had a very down-home feel to it, and it
Yay Fast Food!
was always very lively. The hostel was called the East-Seven Berlin, and I would recommend it to anyone travelling to Berlin. One of my favorite food experiences in Berlin (besides cooking the majority of our meals, and therefore eating well and on the cheap) was visiting the “White Trash Fast Food” restaurant our first morning in Berlin. It was inside of what appeared to be an old Chinese restaurant, and the food there was delicious. They served hearty burgers and fries, and despite its name the food was neither delivered fast nor was it trashy. I would liken it to a burger you’d get at a pretty high-quality pub in the US. After visiting the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag the first day we were there, we headed back to the hostel for a delicious dinner, and then headed to a bar called “Doctor Pong.” This bar was pretty barren. From the outside there was no sign that anything was going on inside, and when you entered it looked like a garage with a ping-pong table situated right in the center. But there was also a bar and a DJ who played excellent music. The central idea of the bar
Inside Doctor Pong (Credit to Todd Richter)
was to play an enormous elimination round of ping-pong with everyone in the bar going in a circle around the table hitting back and forth until only two players remained. It was quite a cool concept for a bar, and there was a surprising amount of people inside. After having our flight cancelled our last night in town at the mercy of a cold snap that had hit all of Europe and shut down most airports in London, we re-booked for the following morning to fly out to Paris.
After a tiring morning travelling we arrived in Paris (again un-rested) and headed for our hostel where we were to meet our friend Claire who was flying in from Colorado (and eventually back to Dublin where she studies). After realizing how cranky and irritated we were from lack of sleep, Joe and I decided to cook up a big lunch (as we are accustomed to doing in Spain). As we were cooking three members of our program in Spain (K students as well) walked in to the hostel. They had been there for a few days already, and gave us some tips on sightseeing (as we would only have one
Le Champs Elysees
full day to sightsee), and we of course shared stories from our respective previous travels. After eating plenty of pasta and cheese and baguette, we went down for a nap to recharge our batteries. Lucky for us later that night Claire finally showed up at the hostel after a fiasco of a trip from the states that took about 48 hours (she was incommunicado all day, and we had presumed at that point that she wouldn’t show up). We had tons to share about our experiences as we walked around Paris at night. The next day we toured all of the major points we could possibly fit into one day. We started the day at the Eiffel Tower, but it was closed because of worries about ice, so after getting all the photos we wanted we headed down to the subway to take refuge from the cold. We than went to L’Arc de Triomphe which was also closed due to the weather (we could go under it, but not on top). This was especially fun for me because I got to look down Le Champs Elysees which I have seen on TV every year during Le Tour de France, but
Le Musee D'Orsay
never in person. Again realizing we were getting cold again, we stopped for a brief moment at Mickey D’s for a bite to eat, and then headed to Notre Dame. There we listened to a free tour at first in English, but upon realizing how poor the English tour guide was (she was French and appeared to have memorized a formed paragraph about everything) we moved over to the Spanish tour group. The Spanish tour guide was excellent. She was very knowledgeable, told jokes, and even kept the little kids interested with counting games and little quizzes. It was really satisfying for me to be able to follow completely this tour and to know that I was privileged to be able to attend the Spanish tour rather than the English one. I’d never had the freedom to choose like that before. After spending a couple of hours there, the three of us headed off to Le Musee D’Orsay because we figured the Louvre would be too much of a challenge to see all that much of anything in a couple of hours. We did pass Le Louvre, and damn is that museum long! In the D’Orsay we got to see
Snowy Orange tree in my backyard
all sorts of impressionist and post-impressionist works…for free! Apparently saying we were Spanish students (in English) to the lady at the desk was enough to convince her we were EU citizens. I think my favorite artists in the museum were Van Gogh and Gauguin, but my favorite painting was one of a pilgrimage to Mecca painted by Leon Belly called “Pilgrims going to Mecca” that was hanging in a temporary Orientalism exhibit. After that day I was pooped, and knowing I’d have to wake up before 4:00AM to get to the airport to head back to Spain, I tried to get a little shut eye.
Luckily for me, upon my return to Caceres, it was snowing! I was told by a professor of mine that it hasn’t snowed in Caceres since 1983, so everybody was out taking pictures and playing in the snow. But tired as I was that Sunday night, I snapped a few shots and then hit the hay, knowing full well I had to wake up for class the next morning and return to reality….somewhat.
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