Farewell – Coming Home – Looking Back (9 Jan 2010)

My last day on this fantastic trip. It is now 4:35 in the morning on the 9th of January. I have decided not to sleep tonight as I wanted to finish this blog. And I still need to pack for my noon flight. This study abroad semester has been a rewarding experience for me. I learned a lot inside the classroom in the realm of mathematics, and even music through piano lessons. I learned a new language, though I’m not at all fluent in it yet. I learned about the Russian culture and made some good Russian friends. Excursions to other parts of Europe have given me more friends and great experiences in each city I visited. I got to listen to many different languages and often tried to learn a few words here and there. Outside the classroom, I learned a few things about myself: I like languages. I like the way they sound, the way each language compares to another. I learned that I can spend long periods of time only having conversations with myself. I adapt to my living environment and situation pretty well. That said, when the opportunity presents itself to take a shower, I grab that shower. I learned a lot about the world opinion of the United States. I learned that it is common to complain about US foreign policies and its failures, while at the same time blame us for anything that goes wrong in the world, and say that it’s America’s responsibility to fix everything, regardless if whether we caused it or not. Granted there are definitely many people who don’t think this way. However, this idea was still very prominent in my trip. I also learned, that I am honored to be an American. Finally, I learned that even though my writing proficiency greatly improves after midnight (I knew this...

Bern – Capital of Switzerland (8 Jan 2010)

On my last full day in Europe, Désirée was nice enough to drive me to Bern to spend the day. But before we left, we checked out Jamie’s kindergarten. It was really big and super clean with all new looking desks and whatnot. Very cool. Reminded me of being in kindergarten. Unfortunately, because of child protection laws I am not supposed to put any of the photos I took there on this blog. So I can show them in person though sometime later. Anyway, Bern… So Désirée and I decided to just walk around for a bit and check out the tourist attractions. Then we crossed the bridge to look at the bears Bern has in the bear pen. But they were nowhere to be found. Probably, they were inside staying warm like any sane man. It was windy in Bern and I was getting cold. Then we went back to the center and grabbed some lunch from a street vendor. And waffles afterward. I got cinnamon on mine. Delicious! Next we went to see the Einstein Museum. There was a whole exhibit on his life and about events going on at the same time and how they interacted with his life. Exhausted after this museum trip, we headed back to the car to drive home. I got hungry again on the way home so I made a chocolate sandwich. Then I fell asleep a couple of times on the way home in the car. Kind of unfair because I slept on the way there as well. But Désirée wouldn’t let me drive despite my offers. She dropped me off at her house before picking up Jamie and coming back. Désirée, Marcel, and I had dinner (Jamie already ate) and then we watched the very motivating movie “Remember the Titans” in German. It was still motivating. So I decided...

Munich – Beer Capital of the World (5-7 Jan 2010)

I got into Munich late at night and even though the hostel was less than 200m from the train station, I still got lost getting there. But I got to walk past a local Circus in town: Krone Circus. I could tell even before I saw the signs that animals were around. The smell was very powerful. The hostel I stayed at was 4you. It wasn’t too great. The toilets were dirty, the showers terrible (hot water though), and the rooms packed full of beds. By far the worst hostel I’ve stayed in so far. But the people it hosted more than made up for it. In the morning I got up to do the walking tour of Munich, by the same company: SANDEMAN (really advertising it, can you tell). There was even a pickup from our hostel. We met in the lobby and walked to the rathaus or townhall of Munich. There Harriet, from New Zealand, became our tour guide and we waited around learning the history of Munich for the townhall clock to go off, as it does on the hour. Back in the day, there were no bathrooms so people would have to use the drains in this street as toilets. But that posed problems. One could lose his seat while going outside. So the beer hall installed toilets under the table. All one had to do was open his button fly, point, and shoot into the holes underneath the table. This presented another problem: backsplash. So the customers would carry a stick. To warn their neighbors they would wack their legs, then guide the urine down the stick and into the hole to prevent backsplash. Eventually real bathrooms were added away from the seats and women were allowed to enter. But the local loyal customers still have their own tables here and if you sit...

Prague – So much History (2-4 Jan 2010)

I arrived in Prague at 10am after stretching out across 3 seats in the train and sleeping the whole way. I had an hour to drop my stuff at the hostel, check in, and get to the meeting point for the free walking tour. After the Berlin one, I was determined to take one at each city I visited that had them. I made it just in time for the tour and experienced the coldest day of my entire Russia/Europe trip. The temperature was not all that cold, only about -11C. However, I didn’t wear thermals on the train and did not have time to change. Plus, I was wearing shorter socks and my running shoes and not boots. No sweatshirt underneath my jacket, just a long sleeve shirt. I had looked at the weather site and it said it would be warmer than it really was. The wind was particularly painful as well. Anyway, it didn’t stop me from spending 7 hours outside, basically the whole day. We met at Old Town Square. There’s a funny story about the building behind Dvorak. it’s the Opera house of Prague. On top of it stand many statues of composers. One of them was Felix Mendelssohn, a Jew. When the Nazis rolled through here they learned of Mendelssohn’s statue on top of the building. They decided they couldn’t have this. So they had some workers go up and knock his statue off. But none of the statues are labeled. So they searched and searched and couldn’t find Mendelssohn. The SS officers talked together and decided that Mendelssohn should have the biggest nose. They told the workers to throw off the statue with the biggest nose. The workers found a statue with the biggest nose and pushed him off the edge of the building. Only, it wasn’t Mendelssohn. It was Richard Wagner,...

Pergamon & the Living City (1 Jan. 2010)

I woke around 10am to find out that I had more time than I thought left at the apartment before I was kicked out. I decided to make good use of the extra time and go to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island. I got there around noon and the queue was about half a futbol field long. But I met some friendly Irish men in Berlin for the New Year’s parties and we talked about our experiences the night before. It surfaced that all of us were amazed at how many people were down at the Brandenburg. Their names were Connell, Colin, Brian, and alas I forgot the last one’s name. But they were pretty chill. We got into the museum rather fast, less than an hour of waiting. I took the free audio guide as did some of them. As it was an individual thing, we said farewell just in case we didn’t see each other anymore and we each went to explore the museum. But through the market gate was the exhibit I came here to see. Artifacts from Babylon. Babylon, from 2300BC. That’s legit. At this point, I looked at my watch and realized I needed to get back so Susanne didn’t lock the doors on me with my stuff still inside. But when I returned to the apartment, Urs had come back from Switzerland and I was welcome to spend as much time as I wanted. So I stayed the rest of my time in Europe in his apartment. No, not really. But I should have. Urs knows Berlin like the back of his hand. And not the tourist parts that one can familiarize himself/herself with by picking up one of those tourist maps. I’m talking about the real Berlin, the living Berlin. Urs bought this apartment over 10 years ago and has seen...

Silvester 2009/2010 @ Brandenburger Tor

Definition: In Europe, New Year’s is called Silvester. Hence, New Year’s Parties are called Silvester Parties. I went to the biggest Silvester Party in the world on New Year’s Eve 2009. Some skeptics say it was number 2 in size, but those nay sayers are doubters. This party was held from the Brandenburg Gate to the Lady of Victory. A distance of more than 1km separates these two landmarks. And filling every possible spot in between these two famous monuments: people, thousands and thousands of people. We totaled in excess of 1 million people. And where was I? I came straight from the theatre and arrived around 7:30pm with the intention of checking it out, then going out to dinner with Susanne & Bea, and returning afterward. Let’s just say I never made it out for dinner. It took me some time to figure out how to get into the center area inside the fence, but with a little work and some people skills I worked myself up to the fence to ask those around how to get in. Just as I got there, I feel a push from someone behind me. Turning around, I notice a smiling girl holding onto my jacket. She says, “They wouldn’t let me through, but they let you through, so I came along.” I now had a friend, who brought other friends, to enjoy the party with. Her name was Denise and she and her 3 companions were from northern Germany near Hesse. We made it into the center inside the gates, and the dancing began. At first, bands played short sets, and it took longer to set up and clean up than their sets. In between DJ’s would spin some vinyl and we got a mixture of hip hop, techno, rock, oldies. In the beginning of the night they played Killers’ Human,...

Berlin – Pre New Year (29-31 Dec)

I arrived in Berlin in the morning after having to rig a bed sleeping on the seats in the train. After meeting Susanne, my second au pair, at the corner near her brother’s apartment in East Berlin, I took a shower and we went out with Bea, her friend, to do some low-key exploring of Berlin. Susanne’s brother Urs lives in East Berlin and so she and her friend were spending New Year’s there. I luckily got to tag along. We walked to Alexander Platz where one Berlin Wall Exhibit was displayed. The exhibit was powerful and had some very moving photos of the events that eventually culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall. The guards had no idea what was going on, and the higher ups were watching opera at the time and could not be contacted so the guards called the only person they could get a hold of who told them first to wait around a bit and the crowd would disperse, which it did not. Next he told them to allow anyone through who had papers, and there were 2 tourists over for the day who had papers so the guards let them through. With the gate open, the guard in the middle of the street looked back at the crowd, shrugged his shoulders, and stepped aside as millions of people rushed through to start one of the largest parties ever. At the end of the long weekend, they returned home but the wall was down. The East German government had lost its mandate and its control over the people quickly disappeared. But it was super cold out so we decided to get some lunch inside but not before snapping this shot: Then we jumped on a city bus to check out the city from the warmth inside. We stopped at the center to...

Vienna – Another City I Cheated for a Day (28 Dec)

I woke attempting to repeat the same success I had with Salzburg the day before. I should have known that today would be different from the 3 snoozes it took me to finally get out of bed. I had mapped out a few things the night before so I decided to take the metro out to Schönbrunn Palace where the Hapsburg’s ruled. One famous emperor that ruled here was Franz Josef I of Austria. I’ll talk a little about him later. After taking the audio guide I’ve come to admire him. I took the audio guide tour which was very fascinating. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photos but it resembled other palaces I’ve taken photos of before. I learned a lot about each of the emperor’s and by far Franz Josef is my favorite. He believed that the position of Emperor was a civil servant position which required diligent work by him, which meant he spent most of his days behind a desk in his office, often seeing more than 100 people a day. He was known for his incredible memory as he supposedly never forgot a face and remembered everyone’s names, even though he might only see them for a few minutes. I don’t know what kind of policies he enacted but this is a good start for an emperor, gives that style of government a good name. He also was completely devoted to his wife, and on the day she died, he was said to have remarked to one of persons close to him in status, “You do not know how much I loved that woman.” A little bit sad as his wife did not feel the same at all. It was an arranged marriage and she felt the institution of marriage was a (paraphrase) commitment which women were forced to make at 16 years of age not...

Salzburg in a Day – The Wrong Way (27 Dec)

I got into Salzburg the night of the 26th and hoped to find a place to stay. Unfortunately, the first hostel I tried was fullup and 2 out of the 3 they recommended were either non existent or also full. But the third one was a quaint hotel in a remote part of town conveniently next to the train station which turned out to be quite nice on my way out. And the lady who ran it with her brother was very nice. Breakfast was included as well. I picked up a free map on the way to my room and checked it over, seeing which things I was going to hit. I decided to go big: So I took an early night to rest up for the marathon the next day. I made it eventually to the entrance and took the audio tourguide. I got to see the evolution of the castle starting in the early 15th century and on as each archbishop added more defenses and built it up higher and stronger. One of the first rooms we visited was the torture chamber. I skipped the Austrian WWI museum they had on display as I wasn’t really interested in that at the moment. I had an ancient castle to explore. I made it to the edge of the hill and walked down on the old town side to explore the town and the blue dots on the map. I was heading to the cemetery where Mozart’s family was buried, all except for him. The cemetery had some pretty cool tombstones and crypts. Next, I walked about part of another steep hill along the blue tour route. Unfortunately, my light was fading so I made an executive decision to skip number 8 on the tour map, which would require a walk all around a hill this side of...