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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

In need of a girl’s weekend, my friend Genevieve and I ventured to Salzburg, Austria for a quick getaway. Surprisingly, neither of us had visited this neighboring city, which is only a two hour train ride away.

We purchased a Bayern train ticket, which costs €29 for up to five people traveling together. And no, that’s not €29 each, that’s €29 for everyone. And it gets better; this ticket is good for anywhere in Bayern and for round trip when used in the same day.

We opted to stay the night – it was St. Patty’s Day after all – which still only cost us roughly €30 round trip. And, we lucked out with our hostel, Jufa Salzburg; only five minutes walking distance from Altstadt (Old Town) at only €22/night with a free breakfast. Anywhere with free food, I’m there.

We arrived on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning, and from the second we stepped off the bus, I was overwhelmed with the city’s charm and beauty.

We weaved in and out of the small streets of Altstadt and stumbled upon an open air market selling traditional chocolates, pastries, meats, cheeses, flowers, and handmade goods [Tip: Be sure to try the Mozartkugel, a traditional Salzburg chocolate with pistachio marzipan and nougat. You’ll notice there are two types, one wrapped in gold and red foil, the other in silver and blue. Opt for the silver and blue, a bit more expensive but it is handmade from the original recipe, while the other is mass produced]. The public square we found ourselves in was busy with activity, much like Munich, but the atmosphere was on a whole other level. It was calm, despite the crowds of wandering tourists and shopping locals. And clean. The air, the streets, the buildings. This definitely wasn’t Berlin. Not a trace of graffiti.

Salzburg, literally meaning “Salt Castle” (Salzburg has a plethora of salt mines), is not only known for its beauty, but for also for being the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the setting of the film The Sound of Music.

The Palace of Leopoldskron

Since we only had 24 hours to spend in this little gem of a city, we just had time for the main sights, including Mirabell Palace Gardens, featuring the unicorn fountain used for the “Do-Re-Mi” song in The Sound of Music; Mozart’s birthplace and residence; the palace of Leopoldskron, also seen in The Sound of Music; the Salzburg Cathedral – Salzburger Dom; and the Hohensalzburg Castle, which rests on the top of a hill situated in Altstadt overlooking the rest of the city.

Hohensalzburg Castle

Although usually brimming with flowers and green trees, the Mirabell Palace Gardens illuminated a feeling of desolation and haunted beauty, with the naked tree limbs and wilted flowers quietly anticipating the sun and warmth of spring but being forced to remain hidden from view for a few weeks longer.


The Hohensalzburg Castle, which casts its gaze on the entire city below and offers a beautiful view, wins for most expensive (for what you’re getting), priced at €7,50 to enter through the front gates. Genevieve and I, determined to stick to our low budgets, opted to skip out on the optimal view and went for the free alternative, which was offered from the highest point before entering the front gates. We may not have gotten the full experience, but its hard to go wrong with this view, from any angle.

While we only managed to scratch the surface of the many delights of Salzburg, I have a feeling I’ll be back before the year is over. Salzburg may be small, but it has so much to offer. Whoever said size matters, was wrong.

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Spring is finally starting to come out of hiding here in beautiful Munich. Goodbye negative temperatures, snow, and frozen hair (deciding to head out into the cold with wet hair wasn’t one of my brightest moments).

As soon as the sun makes even the slightest appearance, the once desolate Munich comes to life. The Englischer Garten is always buzzing with activity with the slightest rise in temperature. Families are out having picnics at the Biergartens, friends are having BBQs, people are out walking their dogs, pushing strollers, jogging, biking, playing sports. My personal favorite pastime on a gorgeous day is to ride my bike to my favorite spot by the lake and read…and dog watch, naturally.

The public squares, especially the prized center of Munich, Marienplatz, are bustling with so much activity it’s often times almost impossible to get anywhere in the midst of the crowds. Especially if you’re caught in front of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel at 11 am or 12 o’clock noon (and 5 pm, except in winter). Good luck trying to get anywhere fast during those 15 minutes of music and little dancing figures.

When in Munich, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel must be experienced for stereotypical tourism’s sake, but trust me, one time is all you need. Remember that when you go to grab your video camera.

When the sun is out, the mood of the city changes, and I can’t help but to think that there couldn’t be a more beautiful city to live in. People walk and ride their bikes everywhere here. And when I say everywhere, I mean, everywhere. I’ve never seen a city’s bike paths structured so well.

And every restaurant, Biergarten or not, is packed with outdoor seating, where locals can soak up the sun and enjoy an afternoon beer. In fact, drinking a beer with lunch, or even breakfast, is very normal in Bavaria and not just saved for college football tailgates.

The Biergarten culture is not only a Bavarian tradition that one must experience, it is the perfect atmosphere in which to spend a sunny afternoon. While traditional Bavarian food is served, such as Brezn (large breaded pretzels), Obazda (cheese cream with onions and paprika powder), and Wurstsalat (thin, cold sausage slices served with onions) – many people bring their own picnic and just purchase beverages at the Garten, which of course is typically Bier.

Now, there are two main types of Bavarian beer: Helles and Weißbier. The first, which literally means “pale”, is the most popular and is brewed from only three ingredients, as controlled by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law): water, barley, and hop. Simple, delicious, and stronger than one would initially anticipate. As this is the only Bier served at Oktoberfest, that should be enough to attest to this beer’s effect on people after one too many Maß.

The second, Weißbier, which literally means “white beer”, is brewed from barley and wheat. To really blend in with the locals, be sure to only be caught drinking Weißbier out of a tall, slender glass. The reason for this is it accentuates the bouquet of the beer, but I just think it looks cooler.

The next step is to purchase a traditional Dirndl or Lederhosen. For the ladies, the Dirndl consists of three main parts: the blouse, the dress, and the apron. However, there is a plethora of different styles, colors, and lengths. If you wish to go for a more traditional route, pick a dirndl that hits at or below the knee. The next step is the apron, which often matches the color or design of the Dirdnl itself. Mine, for instance, is brown with green stitching and embellishments, so I chose a green apron. The last part is the blouse, which comes in an array of fits and styles, from displaying your entire chest for the world to see, to conservative, sleeved, and high cut. Some have collars, some cinch in the middle, and some can go off the shoulder as mine does. Traditionally these blouses are white, but there are now “fashion dirndls” which to me look a bit tacky and more like a halloween costume. They are often shorter, in brighter colors, with a shinier type of fabric, and worn with black blouses.

For the men, Lederhosen are more simple. With the literal translation being “leather pants”, that is exactly what these are. Leather pants, with suspenders. The Lederhosen can vary in length, from to the knee like David is wearing below, to more relaxed and looser fitting shorts. Typically, a checkered button up shirt is worn underneath; I’ve seen them in green, red, and blue. Plain white is also worn and is more traditional. To complete this ensemble, one needs tall, usually cream/white colored socks, and when it’s cold, one can wear a traditional wool embroidered jacket over top. To go all out, sport a traditional hat as well, and you’ll be ready to fit right in here in Munich, Bavaria.

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Last weekend, I went up to Berlin to visit my boyfriend, David. We’ve lived in Germany (he in Berlin, I in Munich) for over seven months now, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit Berlin frequently and have gotten to know the city well enough to feel at home whenever I’m there.

To clarify, Berlin and Munich lie on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Munich is lovely, pristine, and orderly. Berlin is grungy, dirty, and a little weird. David’s host dad described it perfectly: “Munich is beautiful, Berlin is sexy.”

It’s not uncommon to see an entire block of buildings covered from top to bottom in graffiti. Perhaps Münchners consider this to be vandalism, but to Berliners, this is art. And to me, it is beautiful. The art of tagging in Berlin is a culture all its own, consisting of many accomplished artists who display their work for the public to admire. Some have their own trademark, where they leave the same picture in various locations throughout the city. Others are completely random, a little graphic, and at times offensive, but so outrageously creative that I can’t help but to admire these anonymous artists anyway. To me, this “vandalism” is what gives Berlin its character, its personality, and this personality is why I love this place so much.

It is a massive city and is a melting pot of numerous cultures from around the world. This is another reason I adore this city: its diversity. Here, there is no normal. Everything and everyone is so different that being more abnormal is the norm, if that makes sense. Berlin makes weird cool (think Portland, OR, but with more graffiti, more grunge, and less hipster).

One of my favorite areas of Berlin is the Turkish district – it’s by far one of the most eclectic spots, full of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants, including Santa Maria, the best (and only) good Mexican place we’ve found (thanks to a rec from my Berlin-native host mom) in all of Europe. Berlin likes vegetarians, too, so in return I like Berlin even more. I’m surprised by how many vegetarian options are available in such a *stereotypically* meat-loving culture.

Berlin also offers a fantastic range of museums, from renaissance art to Check-Point Charlie. Near Berlin’s Museum Island (it’s exactly what it sounds like) is a flea market that mostly sells leftover junk from estate sales. However, if you’re lucky, you can make an awesome find, such as this vintage 1930s camera I picked up this past weekend. Of course it’s not in working condition anymore, but for 30 euro I couldn’t pass it up. Among these estate sale leftovers are local artists selling their handmade work, ranging from photography, to paintings, to jewelry, to pottery.

So what about the nightlife? Just to name a few, there’s the death metal bar, a place called Cake, or Havana, which is where David and I ended up last Friday night. The draw for us was the Salsa room.  Havana is made up of multiple dance floors – electro, top charts, hip-hop, salsa – so there’s something for everyone.

Berlin may not be the city I decided to call home when I moved to Germany, but over time it has given Munich a run for its money. Berlin has nothing on the Englischer Garten and Bavarian beer, though, and Oktoberfest wins Munich some major brownie points. And where else can you see a man walking down the street wearing Lederhosen in the middle of the day.

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No matter where I am in this world, my heart belongs to Italy. Amidst those narrow, chaotic streets, I find peace.

Over the holidays, my boyfriend, David and I returned to the city where we met – Siena, Italy.

We were lucky enough to catch this spectacular sunset overlooking the Tuscan countryside.

On Christmas Day, we visited Il Duomo di Siena – Siena’s main Cathedral.

We made our way to Florence where we took in this beautiful view of Ponte Vecchio.

It wouldn’t feel right without mounds of bicycles and mopeds littering the streets of Firenze.

I’ve made it a habit to take photos of unique and/or colorful doors in the cities I visit – this one in particular caught my eye with this juxtaposition of a lifeless door and green potted plants (…and cactus?).

I swear that one of Tuscany’s sole purposes is to create opportunities for beautiful photos – it is a living and never-ending canvas where even a simple old car or a shabby bicycle can be considered works of art.

A day trip to San Gimignano – a city known for its many towers, where 14 of the original 72 still stand – offered us this breathtaking view of the Tuscan countryside.

And what would a trip to Italy be without a stay in the country’s capital?

Fontana del Pantheon – located in Piazza della Rotonda, in front of the Pantheon.

New Years is always an eventful holiday, and Rome is a beautifully chaotic, hot mess;  the two combined together make for one unforgettable experience.

The streets were lined with colorful lights to embody the Italian flag, and there were enough fireworks being set off to question if this was the outbreak of WWIII.

Our midnight in Rome, New Year’s Eve.

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In front of the Cathedral of Seville

(August ‘2011)

Don’t get me wrong, spending nearly two weeks relaxing by the pool, reading, and playing with Tristan and Jolina at a beautiful Spanish Villa has been a wonderful experience, but regardless, my body has been itching to get out and do some solo exploring.

Graciously, Sven and Claudia took me along on a day excursion to Seville, a beautiful town about two hours away from Marbella. After lunch, we separated and I was free to wander wherever I wished. Armed with my Canon DSLR and a large bottle of water – it was over 100 degrees F – I set out in search of the famous Cathedral which houses the tomb of Christopher Colombus. Once I arrived, I spent around 1 1/2 hours wandering through, admiring the architecture and embellishments throughout the structure.

Despite the heat, I forced myself to climb to the top of the Cathedral’s tower for a bird’s-eye-view of the city. I slowly wandered, casting my gaze on the buildings below, silently envious of the little ant sized people swimming in the rooftop pools. Anxious for some relief from the heat, I traipsed down the tower to bask in the cool shade provided by the stone structure of the Cathedral.

When I was ready to again brave the sweltering temperatures, I made my way to Alcázar, an exquisite structure that served as residence to many generations of kings and caliphs, and meandered through the beautiful gardens there. I posted up on a shaded bench, relaxing and reading, only to be interrupted by a massive – and brilliant – peacock. I was initially caught off guard, thinking perhaps that the heat had gotten to me and I was hallucinating. Then I took a look around and noticed that there were multiple peacocks, cruising down the walkways, just hanging out. I could have stayed in that garden all day.

Plaza de España

Except for that damn heat. I continued on to Plaza de España, which was built in 1928 for the Ibero-Amercian Exposition of 1929, and rested by a shaded fountain taking in the views until it was time to meet my host parents for dinner before heading home.

We enjoyed authentic paella – I miraculously found veggie paella, which is hard to come by in Spain – and I sipped on fresh Sangria as the day turned to dusk and the heat sank to a comfortable warmth with a mild breeze that cooled and comforted our heat-exhausted bodies.

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Has it really been over a month since I stepped on that plane and waved auf wiedersehen

The View from My Favorite Patio at the Marbella House

to my life in Eugene? As I stare off into the distance, admiring the breathtaking view of palm trees, tropical flowers, and the Mediterranean here in Spain, I ponder everything that’s changed these past four weeks. I’ve said goodbye to my friends and family, immersed myself in a new culture, embraced a new language, and started a new job. I have been adapting to a long distance relationship, and to calling an entirely new and different place home.

I remember the weeks leading up to this transition – not wanting to admit it, but I began to question my decision to move. I allowed my fear to tell me I was making the wrong decision, that I wasn’t ready to leave everything that was familiar, behind.

But I’m so incredibly grateful that I didn’t let that fear get in the way of one of the most

The Harbor at Night - Marbella, Spain

incredible experiences I have ever had the opportunity to pursue. In these past four short weeks, not only have I settled into Munich, I have visited Memmingen with my host family, Berlin to see David, and currently, Marbella, Spain to stay at Claudia’s parent’s beautiful vacation home.

The Marbella Vacation Home

The Marbella Vacation Home

one of the outdoor patios

And “beautiful” is an understatement when describing this home. I mean, I have never seen a house so gorgeous, let alone been able to stay there as a guest. Colorful flowers and graceful palm trees border a view that extends deep into the Mediterranean Sea, revealing glimpses of Africa in the distance on a sparkling, clear day. But if one is too lazy to make his or her way down to the beach, why not take a swim in the home’s large pool that hangs over the Mediterranean, offering a view that leads you to believe you are in the crystal waters of the Sea. If the sun is too hot, hang out in the relaxing shade of one of the outdoor patios or courtyards (my favorite one overlooks the pool and the Mediterranean). Don’t even get me started on the interior, what with the gorgeous entry way offering a balcony that surrounds the room, allowing those on the second floor to peer below, or my large bedroom that encompasses

Entryway

Entryway

an area larger than my living room back home, not including my private balcony and bathroom. Our time here in Spain has allowed for all of us to relax together: for the kids to play and to feel more comfortable with me around, and for me to continue to get to know Claudia and Sven, as well as Claudia’s parents who are also here for part of our stay. A day

Through the streets of Old Town, Marbella

trip to Seville is coming up on the agenda, as well as lovely dinners down by the harbor and strolls through Old Town and along the beach. While I do love Germany, Spain has been a refreshing and welcome change, what with the sunshine and warm breeze that surrounds my body as I relax with a favorite book in hand.

Upon our return to Munich, I begin

A Spanish Sunset

language school and assume my duties as an Au Pair. Up to this point, I have been treated more as part of the family than as an employee, which has allowed me to adjust and feel comfortable with my surroundings before beginning my new job. Thus, I am mindfully enjoying this last week of relaxation, warmth, and sunshine – but I am equally excited to finally begin the routine that I came here to do. Also, Oktoberfest begins the week after our return, which I must admit isn’t too shabby of a welcome home and an introduction back into the real world…

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An Excursion

Have you ever heard of the small German town of Memmingen? Yeah, I hadn’t either, until yesterday when my host family and I took a day trip there to visit family friends. The small city is only an hour drive from Munich, yet upon our arrival I felt as if we had traveled back in time. Munich is beautiful, yes, and the architecture is a style that presents itself in an old fashioned way, but in actuality it is fairly new. Although Munich dates back to the 12th century, it was almost completely destroyed during WWII, leaving behind only four original structures. Thus, the city was almost entirely rebuilt to reflect its previous existence.

But Memmingen dates back to the 5th century, developing over the course of centuries, and finally becoming part of Bavaria in 1802. Strolling through the narrow, cobblestone streets, the sights surrounding me awoke memories of my time spent in Siena, Italy last year. Although Italy and Germany are two entirely different countries, the small, quaint medieval town surrounded by ancient city walls brought about a familiarity of something I had come to know so well last year. While I love Munich, these little hidden gems of cities always capture me in a way that no large city can.

Unfortunately, there is not much to do in Memmingen other than to explore the streets and snap photos of the old churches and other buildings. There is an H&M, where I used every once of self control not to go into, and some other shops, but that’s it. The nightlife seems non-existant at best, but Memmingen is a charming stop for a quick day trip.

The evening commenced with a beautiful lightening storm in the distance, illuminating the night sky as we looked on in enchantment.

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