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The Long Road Home August 4, 2013

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I think this is how Bilbo Baggins must have felt.

Staring at the long road home ahead of him, he felt relieved. I miss my hobbit hole- I miss air conditioning, free refills, and window screens- and I miss my friends and family; I am so relieved to be heading back. To sleep at night without being eaten alive- (I decided to cover up my whole body in the sheet to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes; they just bit my face instead,) to come home to a warm bed and normal-looking crows.

But Bilbo was also rather sad. He loved the adventure, and the Tookish side of him really did not want that to end. He would miss his dwarf friends, and would longingly remember the heroic and comical feats he was able to accomplish. I suppose I feel the same: I’m going to miss living here in France. I’m going to miss traveling via train to a new city every weekend, and I’m really going to miss being surrounded by history and freshly baked pastries. 

But as I look at the long road home, this mixture is kind of pleasant. Like Bilbo, I am bringing home treasures with immeasurable wealth, albeit stored in technology he would only dream of. I have pictures, and movies, and souvenirs of my journey to remind me how far I came, and to remember the adventure. Although I cannot turn invisible, I can ride the subway like a champ, and can survive even the most crowded train.

Here’s to one heck of an adventure, and here’s to the next one- Fall semester 2013, chasing down a Co-op, and whatever else may be in store!

Prague and Berlin!! July 17, 2013

Posted by karayogi in Travel Log.
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First up, Prague!

After some exhausting 14 hours of trains, we arrived in Prague, Czech Republic!  What a beautiful city!  The architecture is incredibly Gothic, and because the city just compounded on itself decade after decade, there’s plentiful styles of architecture to admire!  There was a Neoclassical building right by an old Roman gate, both of which are very close to contemporary buildings and cubist architecture.  It was absolutely incredible to see!

Perhaps the most I got out of Prague I got from a walking tour (free, by the way), given by Keith- an American living in Prague with his wife.  Here’s some awesome things I learned:

–        If you have a child in the Czech Republic, you must either pick a name from the dial on the Name Wheel (located below the Astronomical Clock) or get the name approved by the government.  You are not allowed, for instance, to name your child Apple, Blanket, North- they must be named a real name.

–        On your birthday, you give other people gifts.  You celebrate what we know as a Birthday on your Name Day- the day corresponding to where your name is on the Name Wheel.  Each entry on the Name Wheel corresponds with a day, and that is the Name Day.  Likewise, every day is someone’s Name Day.

–        The spookiest place in Prague- The Church of St. Nicholas- has within it a shrunken, disembodied arm.  Legend has it that a thief attempted to steal the gold from the Church, and as he was taking the medallion from the statue of St. Anne, the statue grabbed his arm and did not let go, until the priests arrived and cut off the man’s arm to free him.  They hung the arm in the Church for all to see.

Also, the food in Prague is AMAZING.  It’s delicious dishes with dumplings and potatoes and savory sauces- bohemian cuisine.  Extremely delicious- I had some berry dumplings in cream sauce, and they were absolutely fantastic!

I really wish I could have spent longer in Prague- the city was absolutely incredible.

But then we headed to Berlin, on an extremely crowded train!  (We did not have seats for the first 3 hours, so we claimed a space between some cars.)  Berlin, though, was really cool.  Among our travels we saw the Brandenburg Gate, the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, and parts of the Berlin wall.  We also went to a museum chronicling Hitler’s rise to power and the terror he imposed on the city.  It was startling, saddening, and heavy to read and see what actually happened.  Berlin is full of history.

Besides wandering, seeing the sights, and having a blast at the Berlin Zoo, we did not wind up experiencing a lot of the city, as we were there on a Monday- and everything is closed on a Monday in Berlin.  But still- the city is awesome, the food is great, and walking around, experiencing the history was awesome.

Tuesday morning we rushed out to the technology museum, where we saw the world’s first computer, as well as an in-depth look at the history of trains—with actual trains parked in the museum!  I definitely recommend a visit there- and I wish I could have spent more time in the museum, but, ironically, we had another train to catch home!

Paris and Bastille Day fun soon to come!

Things I’ve Learned Living Abroad: Part III July 5, 2013

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1. They have peanut butter in Amsterdam
2. They have PEANUT BUTTER in Amsterdam
3. It’s really hard to get to Amsterdam
4. Buses are fantastic
5. Moving into houses in European cities really does require moving furniture through the windows
6. Vincent Van Gogh used the grid technique
7. It’s cold at 3:30 AM in the Netherlands
8. Burger King is open ’till 4 AM, but they’ll serve you until 4:30
9. There are parks on boats
10. It’s impossible not to be inspired in Europe
11. Art museums never get old
12. Stained glass never gets old
13. Maps are essential for traveling
14. Take & Leave book libraries are a great idea
15. Rick Steve gets serious props
16. If you can dodge a tram, you can dodge a ball
17. Jaywalking is an art form
18. Converse are really, really popular in Europe
19. 150 bikes fall into the canals in Amsterdam every week
20. Bikers don’t stop for ‘nobody
21. People use boats like backyards
22. Trams can flatten pennies
23. It’s fun to be a tourist
24. The best breakfast is a pastry
25. Grocery store dinners are the best
26. The Gummy Bear song is popular in France
27. Leather jackets are the thing
28. Bumble bees aren’t very smart
29. Conditioner is not really a thing over here
30. It’s always nice to come home to familiar surroundings.
31. Chocolate is pretty much the same in every langauge

Things I’ve learned living Abroad: Part II July 5, 2013

Posted by karayogi in Travel Log.
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1. Scaring pigeons never gets old.
2. Chupa Chups and Kinder Eggs don’t either.
3. Nothing beats relaxing on the beach all day
4. Knowing the language where you’re staying is VERY VERY NICE
5. Knowing the language is taken for granted.
6. Hostels are pretty wonderful
7. Traveling introduces you to the hundreds of types of toilets, sinks, showers…
8. Mass transit is a godsend.
9. European mass transit makes Marta look useless.
10. Meeting up with friends in other countries is amazing
11. Wandering a city lets you stumble into great things
12. I have a knack for finding open markets
13. Never take sunshine for granted
14. Sunblock is expensive
15. Planes are very relaxing
16. Areal views cannot be beat
17. Palm trees indicate that you’re in the right place
18. Prune jam is yummy
19. The Roman empire was HUGE
20. Art transcends any language barrier.
21. If you’re looking for inspiration, go to the Picasso Museum.
22. Street performers are often super talented.
23. Cheap ice cream is the best way to end the day.
24. Trains are more fun than cars
25. I am very, very pale.
26. The smallest places have the most charm

Things I’ve learned living abroad July 5, 2013

Posted by karayogi in Travel Log.
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-Toilet paper can be bought in technicolor.
-Google translate is amazing for reading cooking instructions in other languages.
-Radiators are infinitely confusing.
-I really like chocolate. In anything.
-I’m a foodie.
-We are incredibly spoiled with fast internet
-Pandora isn’t available outside the US and Australia
-Skype is great
-Microwaves can do anything
-Pasta is the easiest thing to make
-Cooking isn’t terrifying
-Americans are strange
-Nutella is a worldwide phenomenon
-Mini bagels and Mac and Cheese don’t exist in France
-I miss peanut butter
-McDonald’s meat is actually healthier abroad (or seems that way)
-Europe is beautiful
-Waffle truck > ice cream truck
-Never leave home without your umbrella
-Supermarket-brand food tastes better than nice brands for most things
-Deli meats aren’t sold cooked
-Milk is sold at room temperature
-Condensed milk comes in a toothpaste tube
-Neopets is blocked at GTL
-Floor indexing starts at 0
-European elevators are made for really REALLY skinny people
-Asking for a pitcher of water is futile
-There’s orange pulp in soda
-Beef tongues are available as TV dinners
-Laundry is expensive
-Bikes are amazing
-Open markets. Why don’t we have those in America!?
-Snails have pretty shells
-Rainboots are a godsend
-Moms make the best food
-“Home” is where you feel the most comfortable

Brugge- The city of Chocolate! July 5, 2013

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Last weekend we decided to do something calmer- going to Luxembourg for the day and then heading over to Brugge, Belgium for the night and the next day.

Our reason for going to Luxembourg was quite super- we saw Superman in the VO (original version) movie theater, Utopolis.  It was fantastic– a must-see, honestly.  It was kind of strange, though, seeing such a quintessential American film abroad– the theater was empty, too.  It’s interesting to note differences from even the movie cities and customs between those where I’m living now.

On a stranger note, I only have another month abroad… Scary.  It feels like I’ve only been here for a few weeks.  I mean, I only just figured out which lunch meat to buy and what kind of cereal to buy.  It takes a good while to get accustomed to new surroundings, and it’s a shame I’ve only just begun to really fit in over here.  Someone actually mistook me for a French student the other day, which I suppose is an accomplishment at not sticking out like a sore thumb.

Ahh, Brugge!  It was fantastic!  Very relaxing- the “Venice of the North” and the birthplace of Gotye, the town was full of history.  We spent most of our time there just exploring- checking out the windmills and chocolate shops and watching the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists around the city.  It was nice to sit back, and just soak up the Belgium.  The local Brugge dialect of German was really cool- it was kind of like the American Southern dialect compared to the Northern dialect- the Brugge German involved the dropping and shortening of phrases and syllables.  Everyone was super friendly, too!

And on a much nicer note, I finally have internet again!  Now I can post pictures!

But tonight, it’s off to Prague and Berlin– I’m getting ready for a very long night!

The Time of my Life June 24, 2013

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Munich and a whirlwind tour of Italy- gosh, it’s hard to put these experiences into words!

First, Munich.

Let me just say that Munich is one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever been to.  It’s so refreshing to be able to ask someone passing by for directions and have them help you get where you’re going.  Everyone is smiley, friendly, and just all around happy (for the most part of course.)  Also, the food is amazing—I have never enjoyed sausage so much as in Munich.  We went to an amazing restaurant Jack Altman (a travel writer), suggested for their amazing sausage.  Oh my goodness.  It was delicious.  I even ate it with a little bit of sauerkraut and some really nice honey mustard sauce- the flavors were so perfect.  I never thought I would ever like ‘kraut.  But I do.  Strange what you learn living abroad!

We also went to the Deutches Museum, (which is a museum showing the evolution of and the expanses of technology), and that was incredible.  We probably made it through only a sixteenth of the whole museum in 4 hours—rooms and rooms of huge ships and planes and different engines and water wheels and machine shop tools and pharmaceuticals and musical instruments and genetics and all sorts of things to make an engineer giddy.  To say it was amazing would be an understatement.  We also wandered around Munich a bit and found a festival that was going on, complete with lederhosen and live German music.  Farmers markets lined the streets and people were everywhere.  The town square was packed tight with people enjoying themselves.  We also got to head to the BMW Museum and the Olympia Park- both of which were pretty awesome.  Seeing a whole bunch of amazing vehicles was pretty neat- especially when you can sit on the motorcycles!  Unfortunately, my feet don’t reach the ground on a motorcycle, so it doesn’t look like I will be driving one of those.

 

Now, onto the best trip I’ve been on so far—Italy.  We went to Pisa, Rome, Florence (Firenze), and Venice.

Flying into Pisa, we were able to explore the city for a few hours- just long enough to take that “I’m pushing over the leaning tower!” picture.  (Which we did!)  And to get our first taste of amazing Italian cuisine.  It is very very hard to not eat well in Italy, even on a student’s budget.  The best tortellini I’ve ever had in my life was cheaper than McDonald’s.  It was also from Pisa!  I had never thought I would ever see the leaning tower in person.  It was a dream-come-true moment; to look up and see a tower looming over you and know that it was the site of many a scientific discovery, and the fact that it’s famous for being crooked.  Although, there are many crooked buildings in Italy- but that’s really the only famous one.

Rome was next- and boy was it amazing!  On our first night there we chose to go exploring a little bit- we headed over to the Spanish Steps as well as to the Trevy Fountain, and saw many a Roman ruin along the way.  The Spanish Steps were gorgeous- overlooking a beautiful little side street and alleyway,  and along a fountain, it was the perfect place to relax and sit!  Sitting there, we soaked up the Italy and then headed to one of our many gelato stops.

Gelato.

Oh boy do I have a lot to say about that.  It is the most amazing, addicting substance on the planet, and one that I will sorely miss.  Our first taste was at a small, family owned shop the first night in Rome- I had lemon.  It was amazing- smooth, but not as milky as ice cream, and much lighter.  The perfect summer treat.  After some gelato, we decided to walk around for a bit, and eventually made our way to dinner- another family owned restaurant, where we had some amazing pizza—(best I’ve ever had.  And it was only cheese pizza!) And at the end of the dinner, the owner of the restaurant came out and talked to us and gave all of the ladies a rose!  It was so sweet!  Perfect timing, too, because then we made our way to the Trevy fountain.  It was so gorgeous lit up at night—incredibly impressive and filled with beautiful marble sculptures, it was a great place to admire the beauty of the city.  Rome is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

After a night of exploring, we woke early the next day to head to the Vatican as well as to see the Coliseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill, as well as to get the best gelato/desert/sweet something on the planet.   The Vatican was gorgeous.  It was incredibly wonderful to see the art, history, and majesty of the place.  Apparently, the public has only recently been allowed to go inside.  I understand why- the collection of art by the old masters is simply phenomenal.  I could write pages about how amazing the Caravaggio painting was or how beautiful the frescoes on every ceiling were, but I will save some reading and add some pictures.  My neck hurt after the visit from looking everywhere, trying to absorb all of the details.  We did get to see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo.  Wow.  It was, just, wow.  No art has ever made a greater impression on me.  The detail in each panel of the ceiling tells the story of the Old Testament, with the especially famous scene of God extending is finger to Adam in the center of the room.  It was amazing.  I don’t think I have words to describe how beautiful the whole room was.  Among the amazingly beautiful artworks that we saw, we also got to see some of the Papal vehicles- from beautiful coaches to incredibly impressive Ferraris.  The coaches were incredible to see, with all of the gold detailing and even the detail of the horses’ harnesses.  Incredible!

We then headed over to the Pantheon and to the most amazing gelato in the world, from Giolitti’s.  Three big giant paddle-fulls of gelato (I got raspberry, grapefruit, and cantaloupe,) and a hearty dollop of sweet whipped cream were all it took to win my heart.  I love gelato.  No desert could ever beat Giolitti’s gelato.  Each of the flavors tasted exactly like the fruit (with the exception of grapefruit—that one was much sweeter!) and had fresh fruit bits in it.  Amazing.  Also, the Pantheon was really really neat.  It was kind of interesting to see the changes the Christians made to the traditional Roman art and architecture of the city—the adding of olive leaves on sculptures as well as the conversion of buildings like the Pantheon into churches.  It was very interesting to see how Christianity changed the traditional art- literally- through the addition of crucifixes and other items.

Then—the most incredible moments of the day—seeing Palatine Hill, the Forum, and the Coliseum.  Excuse the cap lock for the moment, but IT WAS AMAZING.  Palatine Hill and the Forum were just gorgeous. I had never understood the magnitude of, or the impressiveness of the Roman empire until I saw these places.  The whole thing was intricate and beautiful—you could still see evidence where entire plazas were covered in marble, and the beautiful Arcs commemorating military leaders still stood.  The magnitude of the area is just amazing—to think the Romans were able to build such truly amazing structures—Pantheon included—is simply amazing.  Their mastery of combining the arts with engineering is still apparent to this day.  And the Coliseum.  SO AMAZING.  It was HUGE!  I had no idea the Coliseum was that, well, colossal!  In person, it certainly is much more impressive than any post card or picture.  Just to think that thousands of people once stood there, cheering on their protagonists and watching violent punishments was very surreal.  Looking around, the whole place was surreal; as though I was standing in the spirit of another empire- another era.  I never wanted to leave.  This was one place I never thought I’d see, and seeing it for the first time was one of the most incredible moments of my life.  You simply walk out of the subway station, (named Colisseo,) and there it is.  Also, on a more interesting note, the numbers on the entry gates are still visible- and the numbering is off!  Instead of writing a 4 as IV, all fours were IIII, 9 was VIIII, and so on.  This was pretty neat.  Such an amazing structure breaking “the rules”.  That was neat.

After a little siesta, we headed out again for another amazing dinner—this time, lasagna.  I have never been a huge fan… Until I had it in Italy.  It was so rich and cheesy and delicious, oh my goodness.  But moving on, we went and explored some more, and saw the Piazza del Populo, as well as some of the obelisks the Romans took from Egypt.  They actually saved the obelisks from destruction by basically looting them.  Funny how that works.  Anyways, we saw the city at night, and enjoyed a lovely stroll back to the hotel, enjoying the last bits of Roma.

In the morning we headed to Florence- the city of art.  In the morning we strolled around, and saw the Duomo and the Leonardo da Vinci museum, which held models of his designs that you could move and play with and some of his manuscripts.  That was pretty neat.  We also went to the Monastery where St. Beato Angelico painted frescos.  At confirmation, the saint I chose was St. Beato Angelico, the patron saint of the arts.  It was amazing to see some of his work.  He was phenomenal—the whole edifice glowed with beautiful frescoes.  We then went and wandered the market and tasted all different dried fruits- kiwi, star fruit, pineapple, coconut, banana, peach, and melon.  They were all so good- so amazingly fresh that they were basically candy.  The kiwi was a definite favorite.  Afterwards, we went and saw Michelangelo’s David- in person.  That was pretty much the most incredible  sculpture on the Earth.  So flawless; like he could come alive any minute.  We also got to see some unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo, which were pretty awesome- you could see the figure just seeing to burst through the marble.  Amazing, incredible, and just awesome.  Continuing to explore, we stumbled on a jousting tournament, a marathon, and many, many other amazing statues and beautiful things.  Firenze was alive.  We went to the Berdini gardens and walked through the most beautiful park on Earth- with glowing fountains and lush shrubbery and beautiful views of the city, it was awe-inspiring.  Then, dinner.  The best Italian dinner I’ve ever had- gnocci in asparagus and crème sauce with zucchini flowers.  It was simply the best.  (I’m getting hungry just writing about it!!)  Walking back to the hotel, we watched the race end, and the winners announced, and enjoyed the festive place.

In the morning, we took a quick train to Venice, which is now, easily, my favorite city in the world.  There are no cars- all transportation is by boat, even the “bus” system is a boat-bus. The garbage is collected on a garbage boat, and goods are delivered on huge drink or food boats.  Everywhere in Venice looked like it came out of a postcard.  Getting ourselves lost all day, every inch of Venice was amazing.  Even when it was ugly, it was actually beautiful.  But the most breathtaking part about Venice is the nighttime.  We went to the Piazza Saint Marco around 10 at night, and watched the square slowly flood as four of the most amazing quintets played “What a Wonderful World” and “My Heart Will Go On” and other amazing songs.  It was easily the most beautiful and amazing night of my life, listening to the bands and just enjoying the beauty of the city.  No place on earth is more peaceful or wonderful.  The square slowly filled with water, and the lights reflected in the pools.  This is because Venice is basically on stilts- the sluice gates aren’t finished, so the low parts flood in high tide.  While only temporary, being there to see the beauty was out of this world.

I am so happy to have gone to those cities- this is the trip of a lifetime.

 

Pictures to follow a bit later- once I get internet back.

9 Trains, 3 Buses, 10 Trams, a Taxi, and a Boat June 10, 2013

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Barcelona and Amsterdam– how do I begin?

For our four day weekend (I know– a weekend longer than the week itself- one of the many perks of GTL), we went to beautiful, sunny Barcelona, Catalonia.  Having studied Spanish all through middle and high school, I was more than excited to go to the place I had heard so much about.  The weather was gorgeous, and the whole city was lively.  Stepping off the plain, we took a train into the heart of the city- to Las Ramblas.  It is a long street stretching from a beautiful park to the harbor, running directly into the statue of Christopher Columbus.  That day, there was a Barcelona soccer game, and even Columbus was in the spirit, dressed up in his very own Barcelona jersey!

We wandered around downtown a little more, taking in the palm trees (SO nice after being in rainy Metz all week), and explored the winding roads filled with vendors and stores.  The vendors were especially awesome- selling everything from ice cream to futbol jerseys.  Also, the ice cream.  I think we had that nearly every night- it was cheap, and delicious.  I fell in love with the Kit-Kat and Nutella flavors- chocolate ice cream with thick ribbons of dark chocolate and nutella, respectively, running through them.  SO delicious.

After exploring for a little while, we met up with our friend, another Techie who happens to be roving internationally- Michael!  We went and got lunch with him at a kebab stop, and had some really really yummy kebabs.  (Also, my first kebab!  Yay!)  We then continued to explore Barcelona, and really just enjoy the lively atmosphere- perusing open markets and exploring beautiful cathedrals and harbors, eventually watching the sunset from the marina.  It was beautiful.

The next day, we traveled to the Picasso museum and La Sagrada Familia- the famous Barcelona cathedral designed by Gaudi.  The Picasso museum was nothing short of amazing and inspirational- following Picasso’s transition from academic art (traditional) to cubism, we were amazed by his use of color and his brush strokes.  This was probably one of my favorite stops in Barcelona– in between beautiful Catalonian buildings, we found a hole-in-the-wall (literally) restaurant, serving fresh, delicious foods.  The tables and chairs were made of multicolored metal in swirling, floral patterns, and we were serenaded by a street accordionist.  It was amazing, to say the least.  La Sagrada Familia, too, was beautiful– the architecture was so ornate, and, in some instances, just wild, that the church seemed almost ethereal.  It was beautiful.

The next day, I went and explored the Arc de Triomf and this beautiful fountain behind it.  Just wandering near the Arc, Dylan and I wandered into a music festival- there were several performers and stands for kids to do arts and crafts and make music.  At the heart of the festivities was the most incredible fountain I’ve ever seen– with gold horses on top and several levels of staggered greenery and fountains, it was absolutely breathtaking.  Following this adventure, we headed over to Terragona- a beach town on the Mediterranean built on top of Roman ruins.  There was even an amphitheater on the beach! On the train over, I met a Spanish artist by the name of E. Yago- he showed us many of his works, and explained their meanings.  Although there was a language barrier, the meanings of and the love he had for his paintings were strong.  Art is universal, and transcends language,  Talk about inspiration– that man was it.

After spending a day at the beach with more Techies, we were happy and content. Although I was sad to leave Barcelona, it was a wonderful break from classes, and I really hope I can go back there sometime.

Next up was Amsterdam!

Talk about being expert travelers, getting to Amsterdam was more or less a hassle.  We wound up taking 6 trains and 2 buses to get into the city.  Deciding to travel through the night, we got into Amsterdam at ~4 AM.  We found the closest Burger King, and headed over to the I AMsterdam sign at sunrise.  We were the only people there and got GREAT pictures!  We then headed over to the Anne Frank house (still around 7 AM), and were some of the first in line.

The Anne Frank house is a museum dedicated to Anne Frank, whose diary has been published in many languages and recounts her time in hiding during the German occupation of Amsterdam. The museum was incredibly powerful.  We got to the walk through the hidden doorway to the annex where she stayed with her family.  It was nothing less than powerful, and I don’t know if I have the words to describe it.  On display were some of her writings, and the diary itself. Anne had aspired to be a journalist, and for that reason her father, Otto, published her diary.  Anne, her sister, and her mother all lost their lives in concentration camps- only Otto survived.

We then wandered the canals and the rest of Amsterdam, eventually finding a park on a boat- swingset, monkeybars, you name it– it was on this boat.  I have never had so much fun– on a boat in the canals of Amsterdam swinging with friends.  A once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We eventually made our way to a park, where we took a quick siesta (we were all extremely tired after traveling all night… We hadn’t slept much at all.)  And then headed to our hostel for a bit longer of a nap.  That evening, we took a boat tour of the canals, and learned a little more about this beautiful city.  Apparently, the stairs and hallways are so narrow, that when you move in and out, all of the furniture has to go through the windows!  This is why all of the houses had furniture hooks on their gables- for moving furniture up!

The next day, we made our way to the Van Gogh museum.  This was my favorite part about the trip, excluding finding peanut butter in the grocery store.  He was remarkable- we saw much of his artwork from when he was attending an art academy, as well as his later works, paired side-by-side with works from artists who inspired him.  He used a lot of the techniques that I do, actually- using a reference frame transcribed onto paper and the grid technique of transferring images.  This was amazing– I felt so many parallels between his work and my own, that it only inspired my further.  I loved this museum, and learning more about Van Gogh and seeing an impressive collection of his works was definitely a highlight.

That said, the entire trip to Amsterdam took 9 trains, 3 buses, ~10 trams, a taxi, and a boat.

Luxembourg, Brussels, and Trier- Oh my! May 26, 2013

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Where do I begin!?

The first of my adventures was spent traveling to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, and Brussels, Belgium.  We decided to hop over there (it’s a free train ride with a Eurail pass), for Pentecost weekend.  Because both cities have large Catholic populations, (as denoted by their GORGEOUS cathedrals), both cities were especially festive.  Arriving in Luxembourg, we were met with gorgeous weather and a stunning view of the city.  Split into two levels, one part of the city lies in a valley and the other, larger part on top of a hill.  We found our way to a pastry shop, and wound up stumbling into a farmer’s market.  Tens of vendors were lined up in the town square selling all kinds of meats and cheeses and fresh produce.  The smell was like no other; ripe fruits and vegetables made the cool air even crisper- in a good way.  The best part was that most of the vendors had samples!  I have never tasted a more delicious cantaloupe nor a more interesting pistachio flavored cheese. Farmer’s market aside, we continued to explore the city, and found the royal palace of Luxembourg.  It was pretty cool to see a royal palace, guarded by a stoic royal guard whose focus never wavers.  Next we found ourselves in the Natural History museum.  It was filled with beautiful Roman artifacts, and beautiful dioramas of ancient life.  It was pretty cool to see Roman jewelry and carvings, and even Roman games!  Following our venture into the museum, we found ourselves in the middle of another town square, this time filled with a sort of flea market, except much, much cooler.  There were musicians playing all sorts of music- from popular hits (I seem to remember the Macarena), to more traditional music (Greensleeves), it was incredible.  We ate lunch there, and wandered the market some, and my goodness was it a lively atmosphere.  Just being in that square made me smile.   I really don’t think words could do the atmosphere justice.  So I’ll post pictures!

Luxembourg Farmer’s Market

Delicious fruits in Luxembourg!

After an awesome lunch in the square, we headed to our hostel and then out that night to a small, family-owned cafe.  This was super cool; the family that owned the cafe was incredibly friendly, and the food was delicious; (I had a mixed vegetable soup– it was fantastic).  My favorite part was the DJ- a friend of the family’s, he was playing classic hits and streaming a Pearl Jam concert from Sao Paolo.  His name was Oscar, and above him hung a framed picture of Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street, because when he’s DJ-ing, the owner of the restaurant thought he smiled a lot like the puppet.  Needless to say, it was really fun discussing music, and a love of Pearl Jam, with him.

 

 

Next on the list was Brussels- the famous site of the statue of the peeing little boy… And boy are they proud of him!  Many sites, souvenirs, and even the shuttle bear him as the logo (it’s incredibly amusing.  Google “Brussels city shuttle logo” if you get a chance.).  It was an Awesome city!  Once again, we ran into another open market here; and it was incredibly busy and huge- walking through the area was intimidating due to the sheer number of people.  We made our way over to our hotel to drop off our backpacks before continuing into the heart of the city.  Our hotel made the graphic designer inside of me incredibly happy– we stayed at the Pantone hotel! (Pantone as in the international color chip system).  Each floor was themed after a different color, and each room had placards indicating the exact pantone color codes of each color used in the decorating scheme.  Even the toilet paper was pantone matched!!!  The lobby was done beautifully in a Pantone scheme, and bore a huge “painting” (more like a large color chip), of the color of the year- emerald.  According to the Pantone color horoscope, my “color” is Grapeade- PANTONE 18-3211. That was fun.

Color astrology aside, exploring Brussels was wonderful.  The two biggest things we noticed were Chocolate and Waffles, and Chocolate Waffles.  Waffle vendors drove around in waffle trucks, and would stop to prepare you a fresh Belgian waffle. (yum!!)  The waffle truck definitely trumps the ice cream truck.  Also, walking around, there were numerous squares filled with chocolate boutiques, each selling Belgian chocolate.  For breakfast we had Belgian waffles– mine was topped with ice cream and Belgian chocolate.  Best breakfast ever.

Belgian Waffle Breakfast!

The waffle truck appears!

Also, while traversing the craft market, I met a woman whose husband makes ceramic flutes and whistles.  They live in the mountains, and he built his own kiln to fire his wares, and even mixes his own glazes for the ceramics,  The coolest thing he made were bird calling whistles– they are made using centuries-old techniques, and produce very very accurate bird calls.  You fill the whistle with water, and then blow into it, creating the call.  Having done ceramics back home, I was incredibly impressed– making and tuning ceramic whistles, let alone specific bird calling whistles- is incredibly difficult.  Talking to his wife was absolutely incredible.  She taught me how to make a bird call using the whistle- something I will be proud to test out once I get back home!

 

And finally, Trier!  The oldest city in Germany, Trier is covered in history- most notably, in Roman runes.  Once again we traveled on the perfect weekend- a giant farmer’s market and flea market was going on, as well as a celebration of the local police.  On the night we arrived, we went to an amazing German restaurant whose specialty was potatoes. I was in heaven.  The potatoes were delicious, and the traditional German-prepared meats were incredible to say the least- pork stuffed with sausage and a blend of spices.  It was incredible.  Also, the caramelized onions were amazing- which, coming from me, is a big statement.  I usually don’t eat onions, but these ones were just too good to resist.

We then headed to the hotel, where we checked in and were met with a cocktail reception and a stunningly gorgeous hotel.   Owned by a woman from Atlanta (go figure!) and her husband, the hotel is absolutely stunning, and the service was amazing.  I highly recommend that anyone traveling to Trier stay there- the Hotel Astoria.  The owners were fantastic, and the eclectic decorations were amazing- pink, sparkly, and elegant.  They served a beautiful breakfast every morning, and our table was even labeled as the Gebara Family, after Christine, who made the reservation.  While we were eating breakfast each morning, the owners of the hotel placed a huge tray of chopped bread in their garden for the birds, who, upon hearing the bell, swarmed in for the bread.  It was adorable and quaint and fantastic.  The hotel was a total treat compared to staying in Hostels.

Exploring Trier, we spent a lot of time exploring the Roman runes, and learning the history of Karl Marx.  Marx was born in Trier, and there were smallish, red and orange Marx statues all over town, and hundreds of them surrounding the Porta Nigra- the entrance to Roman Trier.  We actually got to go up into the gate, and the runes were remarkably well preserved; with beautiful and elaborate wall carvings throughout the entire building.  It was absolutely phenomenal.  We also explored a Roman amphitheater in Trier, as well as the Imperial and normal Baths.  They were all amazing, but the heating systems present in the Baths as well as the amphitheater took the cake.  The amphitheater was stunning, due to its use when Trier was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.  You could explore the holding cells where they stored the animals and prisoners who were to compete in the arena, as well as visiting the hold underneath the arena, which was equally fascinating.  The wood there was from 300 AD, and still held up the weight of the amphitheater.   The whole arena was marvelous in its ability to magnify sound; anything said within the arena was amplified due to the mountains surrounding it, and reverberated throughout the whole complex.  Standing inside the cells to take shelter from the rain, it became apparent that we were standing where hundreds may have stood throughout the course of centuries.  That was a cool feeling.

Next on the list is Barcelona, and I can’t wait.

 

Au revoir!

Bonjour, Metz! May 17, 2013

Posted by karayogi in Travel Log.
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I’ve never had the opportunity to go abroad, really.  This trip- even the four days I’ve been in Metz, France, really, has been amazing.

Imagine walking into a supermarket and browsing the items on the shelf, not being able to read any of the labels on the packages.  It’s an odd feeling, for sure.  Although it is really fun; browsing the isles trying to guess at what some things are, and trying to interpret the French on a few things.  Grocery shopping is much more interesting abroad.  The toilet paper, for example, is available in many colors- pink, blue, and purple, to name a few.  Sliced ham is available only raw (which we only discovered before checking out), and apple juice is sold in giant juiceboxes, sans straws of course.  I have never had more fun shopping before.  Not even shopping for shoes.

Less than 24 hours after arriving in Metz, France, we were given the opportunity to explore the city- and it was gorgeous!  The buildings were ornate, with intricate carvings; beautiful buildings I’ve only ever seen in magazines.  The cathedrals in the city- notably, the Cathedral Saint-Etienne de Metz, are beautiful buildings with ornate flying buttresses and numerous spires, and most importantly (for me, at least)- the stained glass windows!  They are phenomenal; each window covered in millions of beautiful panes of glass.  Interestingly, the stained glass windows in Europe differ in that each pane in the window is a single color.  Most American stained glass windows features multi-colored panes of glass.  The exception to this were the stained glass windows created by famous artist Marc Chagall.  These windows look very different from all of the others in the Metz cathedral; the colors are more vivid, the panes larger, and the lead lining the panes spread on top of them to define the forms he creates. The windows themselves have immense history surrounding them; from the reasons why Chagall, a Jewish artist, agreed to make the windows for a Catholic Cathedral, to the imagery he depicts.  The windows within the Metz Cathedral represent the largest surface area of stained glass in a Cathedral in the world.  And they are breathtaking!

Chagall Windows

Marc Chagall stained glass windows

Aside from its beautiful Cathedrals, Metz is an amazing city.  Filled with beautiful buildings and streets and parks, the whole city is just amazing.  I don’t think the pictures I’ve posted here can begin to describe it, but I’ve included some- the outside of the Metz Cathedral, the Chagall windows, and some beautiful scenery.

Cathedral Saint-Etienne; the Metz Cathedral

With so much amazing architecture to describe, I nearly forgot about the food!  There are what seems like HUNDREDS of little bakeries in Metz, and oh my goodness, are the pastries delicious!  Each one is hand made, and many are fruit or coffee flavored.  Today I had a coffee-flavored macaroon shaped into a little mouse, and it was probably the best dessert I have ever had.  It had ears made out of chocolate-covered coffee beans, and little chocolate eyes, a nose, and a tail.  I almost felt bad for eating such a cute pastry! (On a side note, one of the first French words I’ve learned on this trip is chocolat.)

mouse chocolate

My little mouse dessert!

Living abroad is amazing.  Certainly different than life in the US, but a very pleasant different.  It’s amazing how fast you begin to pick up the phrases you need; just the other day I bought bus tickets by myself, after speaking to the woman in the convenience store about what I wanted to buy.  While my French is a bit broken and my grammar is far from perfect, I’ve learned enough to get my point across for a few things.  Bus tickets, finding things, and names of groceries.

Tomorrow, though, is the real test. Hopping on a train  to Luxembourg, and navigating the train station.  But for now, au revoir!