Friday, December 23, 2011

Reflections on my Semester Abroad: Part 1

Returning home has brought a realization of reality. Being gone an entire semester seems like it went by in a heartbeat. So many things happened over the course the semester it is hard to reminisce and recall everything that happened! Encountering new places, cultures, people, languages, food, and traces of history has left a lasting impression on me. I have attained a new world view from my trip abroad and look at the world through an entirely different lens than I did 4 months ago.

Being home has allowed me to reflect on my trip abroad with family and friends. I believe I should sum up every location I went to in a few short paragraphs and highlight the best things I experienced in each place that everyone should try and do if they have the opportunity to visit these locations!

Location 1: Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is Austria’s third biggest city located in western Austria at the base of the Alp’s. It is a very historic city dating back almost 1000 years. The birthplace of Mozart and the Sound of Music makes it quite a destination. It is a very picturesque city because at the center of town there is a large castle built on top of big hill. Originally this castle was what Salzburg originally was. As a visitor of Salzburg you must go up to this castle and venture around the castle grounds. You will be rewarded with some of the most beautiful views of a city you’ll see in Europe!

What you should do in Salzburg:
1.       Visit Salzburg Castle
2.       Visit  the cities two large cathedrals, art museums, and the birthplace of Mozart
3.       Visit the world’s largest ice cave. (30 minutes from Salzburg)
4.       Visit the Eagles Nest (Hitler’s Austrian hideout). I never went here and regret I never went. Therefore, if you go, you need to go here!

Location 2: Rome, Italy

Rome has to be one of my favorite locations in all of Europe. It is one of the most historical cities in all of Europe. Along with the historical sites at every corner and the busyness of a modern city makes it quite a destination to visit. Walking down the busy streets in the hot humid month of September I experienced one of the greatest cultural and historical experiences of my life. Learning about what all Rome encapsulated throughout history all culminated when I visited and experienced it for myself. Seeing the Colosseum, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, St. Peters, and Sistine Chapel made the trip to Rome one of the memorable trips I’ve been on. Everyone needs to go to this city at least once in your life!

What you should do in Rome:

1.       Visit the main historical sites of the Colosseum, the Forum, Pantheon, St. Peters, and Trevi fountain. Take a tour or walk around the sites yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
2.       Visit Vatican City and go to the Sistine Chapel museum. You will see a variety of different religious artwork ranging from early Christianity to modern Christianity. It is an awe inspiring experience. Oh and by the way, in the Sistine Chapel you will see God ;)
3.       Eat Gelato at Trevi Fountain. There are a variety of different Gelato places next to the Trevi Fountain. I suggest you relax and try a few flavors of Gelato and people watch around Trevi Fountain for a few hours. (Get the Gelato flavors Cookies or Nutella)
4.       Eat a pizza in Rome. There a pizza places everywhere. However, go off the beaten track off the busy streets and find a pizza place. You will be rewarded with an awesome pizza you will never forget.

Location 3: Florence, Italy

Florence in a nutshell is the prototypical Renaissance city. Most of the structures consist of the Renaissance inspired architecture. It is also characterized by narrow streets, a beautiful river, castles, a city wall, and a big cathedral in the center of town. We ventured to the main sites and off the beaten path several times in this city. We were able to see the touristy side of the city as well as the Italian districts of the city. Thanks to meeting some friends who go to our school, they were able to give us the grand tour of the city. This allowed us to see both sides of the city and eat at some really good places. You definitely need to go to this city. You will feel like you went back in time over 500 years!

What you should do in Florence:

1.       Visit the Florence Cathedral. It is one of the largest Renisassance inspired cathedrals in the world. Also, visit Santa Croce where another church is located. The famous Baptistery is also close by.
2.       Visit the Galleria de Academia museum where you will see the famous David statue by Michelangelo. Along with this main statue there are thousands of paintings dating from 1000 AD to 1800 AD displaying various art styles throughout the ages.
3.       Eat gelato from a variety of different places throughout the city. Try and get it off the beaten path because it will likely be cheaper and have better quality.
4.       Walk around the city walls as well as go to the large overlook of the city. This view along with Salzburg’s view has to be one of the picturesque in all of Europe. It will not disappoint!

Location 4: Venice

Venice, Venice, Venice…. What a cool experience. Being in Venice I have never experienced such a unique city. Walking around a 1200 year old artificial island is something I will never forget! All of the canals big and small made walking around such an experience. Also, getting lost in this city was also an added experience. I suggest to everyone you never arrive in this city at night. If you do, it might be awhile before finding your hotel because of the curvature of the city and its discombobulated design. Like I've suggested before, for the best experience I suggest going off the beaten path in this city. Get lost and see the non-crowded areas of the city. It will not disappoint you! I suggest you bring a date to this city, I’m sure there is an added romantic affect because there are more couples than single people in this city. Next time I go to Venice I will definitely bring  a date!

What you should do in Venice:

1.       Visit St. Marks square. See the church, bands, and pigeons. A really cool experience.
2.       Venture the city, get lost! You will not be disappointed. Everywhere you go is beautiful.
3.       Go off the beaten path for food. Do not eat in the touristy section of town!

There will be 2 other reflection posts coming soon. Each destination I went to will be summed up!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Final Days in Vienna

Over the course of the last few days I have been trying to see everything in the city one more time before I leave.  While it may be hard to do, I was able to go do a few fun things and experience a few new things. Anticipation is building up, but let me tell you what I've been doing these past few days.

On Monday we went on our last group excursion to the Hundretwasser House here in Vienna. This is a large expressionist art inspired apartment house. It has quite a quirky design with no straight lines visible on the structure. When observing it you feel like you've been put into a story book where everything seems to be a fantasy. It is nothing like any of the other buildings in Vienna. Even on the ground, the ground was not flat, rather, artificial small hills and dips were created to make it not have any straight lines.

After we went and saw the Hunretwasser House we went and saw an art exhibit based off the expressionist artist Friedenreich Hundertwasser. Many of his paintings had a common theme of bright colors, organic forms, humans in nature, strong individualism, and the rejection of straight lines. I wasn't able to take pictures within the exhibit but you should definitely look him up if you are into expressionist art.

Once we finished up with the art gallery we had our final group dinner at Martins Biergartdle. Most of us order their famous house beer along with Cordon Blue and french fries (One of Austria's most famous dishes). We definitely had a traditional Austrain dinner that night, we stayed from 6:45pm to almost midnight. Traditional Austrian dinners can/usually last 3-6 hours and we were able to experience it on our final group dinner.

On Tuesday I decided to go to Schonbrunn palace and go to the Christmas Markets there to finish up my Christmas shopping for my family. This market is situated right outside the palace. From what I've seen, this Christmas market has the most food choices in Vienna. Before I started shopping I went around to a variety of different stands to get traditional Austrian food. The first stand I went to I bought a special seasoned chicken with vegetables topped with freshly cooked potatoes(Called Bandle-Pfandel.. something like that..). Apparently it was from the Danube Valley but the taste was great! It was quite different than the traditional fried Austrian food! Alongside my lunch I bought their famous Christmas Punch. This Punch was raisin and ginger flavored. Also, each bit of punch has a small additive of rum or some other type of alcohol. (Of course they must, I am are in Austria!)

The next food stand I went to had special waffles I needed to try! I bought a waffle with sugar and strawberry jam spread on top of it. It was quite delicious! I really enjoyed it. Once I finished the waffle I did a little bit of Christmas shopping for my family and then decided to walk through the gardens of the palace to the highest point to oversee the city one last time. During my time on top of the overlook I thought about how fast my entire semester went this fall. Also, I thought about the all the places I went throughout the semester. It was a time of reflection.

For dinner that night I went to my favorite Japanese Restaurant in the city. I know the owner very well since I went there around 10 times during the semester. He treated me and my guests to a great dinner. If anyone goes to Vienna I suggest going to the Japanese restaurant called "Yume". Best Asian food and service in Vienna!

Today I went around the city one last time. I began in the center of the city and saw Stephanzplatz one last time and walked around the Ring Strass (ring around the main city) and saw the main monuments. I saw the Parliament, Winter Palace, Karleschurche, Volkstheater, and Rathaus. I will definitely miss the architecture of the city. No where in the US can compare architecturally.

For lunch I went to one of my favorite restaurants called "Centimeter". They serve large portions here in Vienna! I decided to get the staple Viennese dish of Schnitzel (fried veal) with french fries. It was really good, I'm glad I was able to get something Viennese for one of my last meals. I definitely will be ready to detox my diet when I get back home.

Tonight we are going to our favorite Pizza place called "San Marino's" for one last hoorah. Then we are going to get some drinks at Martins before we have to go to bed. Our cabs are at 5am and we fly out at 715am. While I am not looking forward to the flight, I am ready to go home and am excited to see my family and friends!

Throughout the next few weeks I will be writing a few reflection blogs on my entire trip in here in Europe. I will outline all the best things I did and what I think about them! I will see everyone stateside!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nuremberg Germany

Last Thursday I hopped on a train to Nuremberg Germany from Vienna. This trip was the second time I went to Germany during my time here in Europe. Unlike last time, during this trip I was able to experience and see more German historical sites as well as learn more about its history.  Here's a bit of the history background of Nuremberg before I go into the details of my trip there. Nuremberg was founded in the 11th century and was known for being the unofficial center of the Holy Roman Empire that encompassed Germany. It  has remained one of the largest cultural centers in Bavarian Germany. Also, it was the place where the Nazi Party originated from and was used as one of the major areas of Nazi power in the Third Reich. During the war most of the city was destroyed due to the bombings, however, some of the old city walls remained and were rebuilt. It is currently one of the only German cities to have its old city walls intact (some of them rebuilt) from Medieval times.

After a 5 hour train ride we arrived at night and went straight to the Christmas markets in Nuremberg. The Christmas markets (known as Christkindlmarkts in German) in Nuremberg are known to be one of the largest in the Germanic world. It encompassed a large square. I would have to say it was at least double the size of Vienna's main Christmas market. (I will write a blog about Vienna's Christmas market later this week) We first encounter a stand selling sandwich called the "Nuremberger bratwurst." This sandwich was made up of four freshly grilled small sausage links all on an nice crunchy bun. The sausages on the sandwich reminded me of our breakfast sausages back in the states. After a few rounds of the original Nurembergers I tried another one with sour kraut which intensified the flavor. It was a great mix between the sausages, kraut, and bun. Once we finished our street food we walked around the Christmas markets to see what they were like before we went to a beer tent. Inside the beer tent we bought the special Christmas Brewed beer. It was pretty good. No matter where you are in Germany you will receive high quality beers.( I learned this during my trip to Munich earlier in the semester) After an hour or so at the beer tent we went back the hostel to rest before the busy day we had ahead of us on Friday.

On Friday we had a large day in store for us. For most of the day we toured the Nazi Rally grounds and Nazi headquarters during the era of Third Reich. The background on the Nazi sites have to do with the rallies that took place there. They were held annually from 1927 to 1938. After Hitlers rise to power in 1933 the Nuremberg rallies became huge Nazi propoganda events. Nurember was the center of Nazi ideology for the most part. Most of us that have seen the rallies on the history channel come from the propaganda film called Triumph des Willen. In 1935 the Nuremberg laws were passed  at the sites under construction in Nuremberg. These laws revoked German citizenship from all Jews which began the slippery slope to the Holocaust in 1940.

The main sites we saw at this large compound were the large rally grounds, the large unfinished general assembly (which looks like the Roman Colosseum), and a very large granite roadway where the large Nazi military marches took place. Throughout my entire time walking around the compound I felt a bit of a creepy vibe from the place. It was hard to imagine that only 80 years ago this place was an active site for the Nazi Party. At one point of the tour, I was able to stand at the same platform Hitler stood where he gave several speeches during his rule of Germany. It was a weird feeling standing in those place, I could only visualize what the place would look with over 100,000 people partaking in the rallies.

After we finished walking around the main sites we went back to the General Assembly building and went and saw their main museum exhibit that gave a great in depth analysis of the Nazi Parties rise to power, Hitlers rise to power, the purpose of the Nuremberg rally sites, the fall of Nazism, and the Nuremberg trials. The entire experience through the museum gave me a better understanding and a good review of my Nazi Germany history. It was interesting to see historical pictures, artifacts, and signatures of Nazi officials. Overall, it was a good comprehensive trip around the Nuremberg Nazi grounds.

Once we were finished with the museum we went back into the old walled city where we had our group dinner. However, before dinner, I stopped by one of Nurembergs major gothic cathedrals. The cathedral had a vaulted rib ceiling with beautiful stained glass windows surrounding the entableture of the altar. It reminded me of Vienna's Stephanplatz cathedral but on a smaller scale. Once I finished my walk through of the cathedral it was time for a traditional German dinner! For dinner we decided to have a dish that had duck, pork knuckles, a variety of sausages, ham, sourkraut, potatoes, dumplings, and vegetables. It was an amazing dish, it had all the assortment of meats you'd expect to have in Germany. It was awesome, I was really happy with the meal. By the way, it was massive, it took 3 of us to finish it!

Since we didn't get to see the Christmas markets at night we went after our group dinner. We were able to see all the lights, ornaments, toys, candies, hot wine, and much more. At night it had a special feeling. It felt very unique and something that you do not see often. We walked around and saw all the stands/shops. I bought chocolate dipped strawberries on a stick. It was absolutely delicious! I loved it, I will have try and find it again at the Vienna Christmas markets (hopefully). Once we finished our way around the Christmas market we found our way to an Irish pub and had a night filled of conversation over a few drinks. Friday was a very busy day, I got to see most of city and got a great feel for the culture and history of Nuremberg.

Nuremberg was my last trip before I fly back home to the US. I enjoyed my trip to Germany once again, I will be returning again sometime in the future! I will write one or two more blogs about Vienna before I write my reflection blogs on my way home and when I get home from Europe. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Istanbul: Day 2

The following morning I was awakened with chants of the Quran from a mosque up the street. Every day I was in Istanbul I was awakened in the morning by Quran chants summoning followers to early morning prayers. It is quite a distinguishing factor Istanbul brings to the table. Throughout the day each mosques Imam uses the sound speakers within each minaret (towers surrounding mosque) to summon Muslims five times a day to pray. As an outsider I have not experienced such a difference in culture and I feel quite blessed to have experienced it. There hasn’t been a place in the world I’ve been to so far that has this occur which makes it quite a scene to experience. Although, I did not like it waking me up at 6am in the morning each day though!

We began Saturday going to the underground Basillica Cicern. This is an underground water storage facility that was built in 500’s by Emperor Justinian. It was a massive room with large Roman columns holding the ceiling up. They had lights on the columns lighting up the water creating a mirroring effect on the water. It was quite the experience! I have never seen anything like this before. You will be captivated by the pictures below.

 Once we finished with the Cicern we walked over the Galeta bridge to the European district of Istanbul. This district can also be considered Old Town Istanbul but has its own European element. This is because throughout history Italians, Spaniards, and European merchants have always occupied the district.  The architecture of the Galeta district reminds me of being in Eastern Europe. The major site in Galeta is the Galeta tower. This tower was built in 526 AD and remained one of the tallest towers in the world until 17th century. We ascended the tower and at the top got an amazing view of much of the city. Like I said in my earlier blog, the magnitude of Istanbul’s size needs to be described. It has a total population of 13 million. 8.8 million people live within its metro area making it extremely crowded, however, urban sprawl extends the city for miles and miles. From what we saw at the top of the tower we saw multiple large sky lines of skyscrapers in each direction alongside the compacted smaller buildings. Here are the pictures I took of the tower and the skyline around the tower:

Once we finished seeing Galeta tower we walked through the European district and eventually found ourselves on the coast. We decided to go to a restaurant where we enjoyed our first Turkish omelet. This omelet was very unlike because of the cheese and meat used. The cheese reminded me of Gouda while the ham used was very fresh and tasty. This combination of cheese, ham, and eggs created an awesome omelet. It tasted amazing but quite different than omelets I eat back home. I can’t really explain why this the case but it does! It definitely is an dish I could recommend getting if you come to Turkey.

Our next destination was Dolmabahce Palace. This palace was built in the 18th century by the ruling Sultan. During this time the Ottoman Empire was modernizing and westernizing. The palace reminded me of a typical European palace but seemed to be much bigger. Compared to the palaces I’ve seen in Vienna, this palace is the size of both of them combined.  The architecture style of the palace embodied Baroque,  Rococco, Neoclassical, and traditional Ottoman styles. It was a unique blend of the west and east when analyzing the architecture, furniture, and paintings inside the palace. We were able to go on two walking tours of the palace. One tour was through the living quarters of the Sultan and his family and the other tour had to do with the state/ceremonial section of the palace. We were not able to take pictures inside the palace so I cannot show you the inside. However, from what I saw within the state section of the palace it beats much of what I’ve seen in Europe. I will hopefully find a link for you to see what I am talking about! It took about 2 hours to see much of the palace. We saw around half of the rooms the palace had to offer. It was a cool experience to see such a grand palace. I never would have expected to see such a grand Europeanized palace located in Istanbul.

After finishing the tour of the palace we walked back up near the Galeta tower since we saw earlier in the day a few restaurants that may look good for dinner. We settled on one a few blocks away from the tower and were treated to a superb meal! I ordered lamb chops for dinner. When I first tasted them I knew they had to be some of the best I’ve had in my life. They were super tender literally falling off the bone. Alongside the lamb chops I had some of the best coos coos  I’ve ever tasted. Overall dinner was great! However, right after dinner we spotted a street food stand that smelled so good I had to try it. I ordered cut up seasoned intestine with spices all on a toasted bun with peppers. It melted in my mouth and had to be put there with the best food I’ve had so far in Europe.  I cannot explain how good this sequence of meals was. During a trip to Istanbul, if you’re a willing eater, you will never eat something that doesn’t taste good here!

On our last day in Istanbul we decided to head over to the Asian side of the city. Istanbul lies on the European plate and Asian plate. Therefore, I was able to step foot in Asia yesterday for the first time! We took a ferry over in the morning and saw a bunch of jellyfish in the water along the way. We were amazed at how many we saw.  Once we got over the Asian side we took yet another boat to a lighthouse on an island very close to the Asian side. The lighthouse dates back to ancient times and was still in use up until the 19th century. It now has turned into two restaurants as well as a coffee shop. We just walked up the top and got some good views of the harbor before coming back done. Even though it wasn’t the best weather we enjoyed the views of the harbor and the bosopherus (the natural canal linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea).

 Once we finished our lighthouse tour we went to a few street food vendors for lunch. I had a Donor Kebab sandwich. I have had some of these in Vienna but the one I had here destroys the one’s I’ve had in Vienna. Also, I bought a French fry sandwich which also tasted good as well. When we were eating our food we took a walk up the Asian side until we got very close the bridge that links the European and Asian side of the city together. We walked through several suburbs and towns lining the coast. It did not feel like I was in the same city on the Asian side. One of the nestled towns reminded me of Santa Barbara for some reason. It gave me a flashback of the experience I had in Santa Barbara a few years ago. After we looked around a bit we walked back to the ferry and rode back to our side of the city.

After we got off the ferry we decided to do some shopping before it was too late. I bought several of my family member’s gifts at the spice market. I will not clarify what I bought here but I bought some pretty cool things. Hopefully they will like them. Once we finished shopping we went to dinner for our last main meal here in Istanbul. We went to a place where they served us a traditional Kurkish meal. This meal involved eggplant, onions, cheese, and peppers surrounding beef. It was accompanied by rice and roasted potatoes.  It tasted amazing, I loved it! I’m glad I had this as one of my last meals here in Turkey.

I am really glad I went to Istanbul. I loved the city and enjoyed my time here. The food was amazing and the cultural experience is second to none. I think everyone who has a chance to come here should come! You will not be let down on the experience you have here. I am truly blessed to have this opportunity to come here and experience this place. I hope you enjoyed reading about my travels to Istanbul. Hopefully my narration and pictures give you a great insight of what this place is like!

Side story: I had some problems getting out of Istanbul. The stupid hostel/pick shuttle company really screwed John and I. We got picked up late from our hostel by the shuttle company resulting in us missing our flight and having to spend 9 hours in the airport before being able to catch the next flight out Vienna. Also, we had to pay a large fare for our flight. Really frustrating and we were both outraged! However, I am not going to let this experience ruin my past four days here in Istanbul. It’s just sad we were guaranteed by the hostel and shuttle company we would make it to the airport in well before our flight left to check in. If we weren’t given this guarantee we would have gotten a cab much earlier. Oh well, shit happens I guess :/