04 May 2009

Aprilfest in Bavaria

Now I've never been to Oktoberfest, but I bet it is in close competition with Aprilfest . Okay, I made that up, but Munich in April is amazing. The city smelled of sweet blossoms and beer. Easter weekend was another great reason for locals to squeeze into the ol' Lederhosen or Dirndl and wear a feather in their Alpine hat. The Biergartens were packed with families and friends socializing with mass (or masses) in hand. Our Bavarian couchsurfing hosts took Jon and I to the "local" Biergarten (opposed to the touristy ones) in Munich and helped us order the typical Bavarian snack of Obazda and a fresh pretzel bigger than my head. Obazda consists of everything bad for you- butter, brie, and camembert cheese in a spreadable consistency. This is to be eaten along side a liter mass of tasty German beer. But don't be fooled: you cannot eat and drink simultaneously because the mass glass requires two hands to hoist it to the lips (at least for the ladies). One biergarten was followed by another. I don't know how the Germans do this on a normal basis. I was biergarten-ed out in just one weekend! The Englischer Garten was a neat place, though, because while the German men drink, there is a giant park for the children to play in. When night falls, the Chinesischer Turm lights up and casts a cozy ambiance over the garten. Don't worry mom and dad, I didn't just drink German beer the whole time in Munich, I also tried the German food, like the wiener schnitzel and döner kabab (a Turkish/German specialty). Not to be cliché, but the Hofbräuhaus was a great place for German music, food, and fun. It does uphold a very touristy reputation but maybe that's because it's so good!

After our reservation with our couchsurfing hosts expired, we checked into the Wombat Hostel, which I mention here because it's the best hostel I've stayed at in all of Europe. The people, guests, atmosphere, and accommodations were superb and we made a lot of friends. 5 of my Mizzou friends were already checked in there for the weekend. But when I hopped into my bunk in a room of 10, I noticed a MIZZOU shirt on the girl across the room. We began talking. Thinking about it now, I still find it a weird coincidence that out of all the people in the world, I was randomly put in a room with a Mizzou girl who knows most of the people I do. She was studying abroad spring semester in London with another one of my friends. It's proof of this small world we live in.
So the holiday weekend in Munich was full of culture and was a great beginning for the rest of my trip as I headed up into Northwestern Germany for the rest of spring break.

03 May 2009


Right before boarding the night train from Lyon to Venice I was feeling a bit stressed about my quick vacation to Italy. Venice is a big city and I had slacked on researching where to go and what to see. When I arrived at Santa Lucia train station in Venice the next morning, all my nerves disappeared. There was something about this beautiful city that made me feel very relaxed. I didn't even worry when I took out the directions to my hostel which gave no street names or building numbers. I soon realized that Venice is very unique. You do not use an address to find something, but a number of canals to cross and direction or a campo (square) for orientation. I bid farewell to my map, I knew it was useless here. I was welcomed at my hostel by a friendly Italian man who flattered my beauty and displayed typical Italian hospitality. I met numerous other solo travelers who were friendly and always suggesting one thing or another to do in Venice. I ended up spending the whole day with my new friend Maria from Vienna, Austria who shared my love of photography and travel. We walked from one end of the island to the other and loved every moment of it. The next day, when Jon arrived, we ate a lovely homemade pasta dish at the hostel, complements of Pepe, the buff Italian cook. Exploring the city with Jon the next day was magical. It happened to be April 25, a national holiday for San Marco, the patron saint of Venice. Gondola races began early and the colorful teams raced passed us as strolled over the canals toward the big campo. We took advantage of free Venetian wine samples and tried to maintain our composure while dodging the famous pigeons of San Marco Square. We marveled at the sea and the intricate gondolas then scoped out a restaurant for our first Italian pizza. Pizza and gelato was the combination of the weekend. We tried to taste a new combinations of the creamy delight each time we passed a shop. We would often sit there in silence for about 5 to 10 minutes as we indulged in amazing flavors that words could not describe. In short, the food is even better than they say it is in Italy. Take my word for it.

We headed to the small secluded island of San Erasmo for a less touristy experience of Venice. We arrived just in time for a breathtaking sunset over Venice. The hostel was beautiful and, as it's happened in other hostels, we ended up there with a bunch of Germans! It always is fun for Jon so he can show off his German skills. The island is mostly vineyards and old farm homes. The hostel owner offered us bikes that we rode around the entire island on the the one gravel road. There was an old fort along the way that was recently renovated into an art gallery. It was a treat to see the island in pastels and watercolors with adoration from a local brush.

We explored more of the San Erasmo, Venice and Merano Islands in awe for the rest of the weekend until catching a train through the rolling hills of Tuscany to Florence....

le dimanche sur le Quai du Rhône

Sundays are my favorite day of the week in Lyon. Here, Sunday is still the traditional 'day of rest', but more in the sense of resting from work. It's just what everyone needs before starting another busy week at work. Whenever it frustrates me that everything is closed on Sundays, I have to remind myself that all the grateful employees are out relaxing and spending time with their loved ones. I only assume this because in observing over the past months, French people really do have great family time on Sundays.

On this beautiful spring day in Lyon, I took a nice jog along the Quai (the river banks). The quai on the River Rhône is part of the beautification efforts in Lyon over the past 10 years. The quai on a Sunday is a great place to people-watch and see lots of things that are very French. First, as I descended the stairs down to the river, I passed numerous couples young and old making out on the steps. Public displays of affection are just an ordinary thing in France. So is smoking, which the French do beautifully. Then, down on the path, a mother raced her son on her stylish razor scooters. Bikers, runners, and rollerbladers crowded the thin 2-way lane. Sprawled next to the path were families and couples sitting, lounging, and picnicking in the grassy patch. Groups of people still in their fancy church clothes piled onto the boats for a sunny place to order delicious red wine and eat baguette sandwiches. I watched all the action around me thinking: if I was a young child in Lyon, I'd be begging my maman and papa to bring me to the quai every Sunday afternoon.

01 May 2009

Dachau -an experience I'll never forget.

I have had many opportunities to visit historical and memorial sites of WWII while traveling in Europe. Being at these sites, the whole reality of war has become more vivid in my mind. Today I find it very appropriate to write about my experience at Dachau because it manifested my nightmare last night.

The first concentration camp of WWII, founded in 1933, is in Dachau, Germany. On Easter Sunday, I made a pilgrimage there with Jon and two Jewish friends, one of whom was visiting from Israel. At the gate entrance, the sinister Nazi saying, "Arbeit Macht Frei", received us. Inside, tall brick walls, trenches, and barbed wire surrounded us. It was a very surreal experience to walk through the buildings and standing on the ground that was labored by innocent prisoners of the camp. The museum on the grounds was very educational and sobering. Observing the site of something so grave will never leave my mind, as I realized last night. The gas chamber and oven room have made an imprint in my brain that will continue to remind me of what I've seen. Despite the occurrence of my disturbing dream, I think that it is an important part of life to learn as much about the history of the past as a reminder of how not to shape the future.