Life is Beautiful

Hello my loved ones! I am writing about this weekend on Sunday, so I’ll actually get this post up in a timely manner! Yay!

This weekend was a wonderful, low key, relaxing one and it was much needed. I am heading into my eighth week tomorrow of my internship and of being in Germany. After this week, I’ll be halfway done with this experience. Time is flying by!

First and foremost, we slept in on Saturday. Except the first weekend after arriving, I think this is one of the few times I’ve actually gotten to do that. We didn’t have a strict agenda for the weekend, which perhaps made it even better.

We traveled a short two hours to a quaint town called Rothenburg (the ‘h’ is silent in pronunciation). My fellow interns who have lived in Germany before have been raving about this town, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. Let me just say, I can completely understand why they would praise the town, and I am now one of them. A beautiful, quaint city that is as picturesque as it gets if you were to imagine an ideal German town. A unique trait about this town is that there is an area that is the most photographed/photogenic area in all of Germany. It wasn’t hard to find that spot, as tourists came in swarms to take photos and selfies of that area.

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We spent the majority of our afternoon walking the streets and wandering in and out of shops. Many shops were still closed, as tourist season doesn’t start for another month and a half or so. I’m fortunate to have had people recommend this town, because I feel like it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. If one didn’t know how adorable this town was, they wouldn’t feel the need to visit it. So here’s my recommendation: if you go to Germany, GO TO ROTHENBURG. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

We went into a teddy bear shop and it was the cutest thing. They had every time of stuffed animal from lions, to bears, to rabbits. They all had adorable outfits on and you could choose from your basic teddy bear, to a collector’s item. I wanted to be a kid again so I had a legitimate excuse to buy one. Sigh.

Not only are there shops and winding roads leading to nowhere and everywhere at the same time, but also there is a wall that surrounds the city. You can climb stairs and walk around the wall to see spectacular views of the valley and the outside of the city. This town would appease young and old.

After we left Rothenburg, we headed to a nearby city called Ansbach. There is an American military base in this city and our boss is the supervisor for this site as well. She showed us around the town a bit, we got what she claimed were the best dönners ever, and made our way to the shopping area.

Side note: dönners are amazing and if you need another reason to come to Germany, there it is. It is comparable to a cheeseburger back home (minus the cheese because who likes that stuff anyway) except it tastes 100x better and is authentic German food. It is delicious bread with meat in it (usually pork, sometimes chicken or beef) with a creamy yogurt sauce, choice vegetables, and either hot sauce or sprinkles of spice. It doesn’t sound like much, and it’s definitely not a fancy meal by any means, but they are quick, cheap, and there’s never a time where a dönner doesn’t sound good. I think I can consider myself a ‘dönner snob’ now after eating them, because I’m very judgmental about them when I try new places. I’ve even found my favorite place to get a dönner.

After wandering in Ansbach for a couple hours, we made our way to Illesheim, where we were going to stay the night. It’s a town of about 500, you blink and you miss it. What brought us here was a family that my friend, Karina, has become very close with. When she was placed in Illesheim at the Army base there, she lived with this German family and the other Camp Adventure interns in their guesthouse. She has been back to visit numerous times, and they always welcome other guests. The hosts, Simon and Gisela, own a restaurant that is in the downstairs of the guesthouse. They were hosting a gathering for the town’s firefighters when we arrived. Karina half-joked, was half-serious when she commented that every male who lived in Illesheim was at the gathering. LOL.

Simon and Gisela were the perfect hosts, sweet as can be and they welcomed us with open arms. We did what we could to help, mostly sticking to pouring beers, washing dishes, and drinking wine. Simon brought out the memory books he’s kept over the years of all the Camp Adventure interns he’s housed. It was amazing to see how much they meant to him and his family, and vice versa. Just another neat thing about Camp Adventure, it leads you to so many people who remain prominent in your life forever. He has people he’s housed who continue to write him and e-mail him and visit him, like Karina does. I have to say I’m a little jealous of all the interns who have gotten to live there and create all those memories with such a sweet family

The night came to a close, but not before many memories were made and much laughter shared. It was the most perfect way to detox and relax, while also feeling like we were a part of something. It was a home away from home and we can’t stop raving about Illesheim. We already have plans to return on our last weekend here.

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We slept in again this morning and leisurely got ready to head out. We packed up the car and chatted with Simon and Gisela a bit before heading off to Würzburg. They saw us off and it was hard to leave such a wonderful place. Knowing we would be back made it a little easier. I can see why Karina continues to revisit and consider it a home here in Germany.

With nothing urgent on our agenda in Würzburg, we parked the car and started walking to the palace on the hill. It was quite a walk, I must say. The best part? Uphill switchbacks and taking the wrong path that lead us 80% around the entire palace before finding the entrance. When we finally reached the entrance, we realized we could have just driven. I can’t complain, though, because the sun was shining, it was WARM, and, like I said, we didn’t have a schedule. We walked around the palace, did some dancing (yes, we were stared at), and lounged in the sun for a while.

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When we walked back down to the town, we strolled through the streets. Almost all the shops were closed, but it was nice to walk around with nowhere to be. We eventually made it back to our car and headed home.

To top off a wonderful weekend, we witnessed the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen on the way home

What an incredible weekend in the most unexpected ways. Life has a way of showing you what really matters if you choose to appreciate the little things and life and live to cherish the moments that aren’t planned.

My dear friend Erika shared this quote with me before we both left for our adventures. I think this weekend it really applies to me, and I hope someday you can all relate it to yourselves:

“Travel brings love and power back to your life.” –Rumi

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Stay happy and keep your eyes open.

-K

Berlin: The Beautifully Tragic

If I can just say one thing first, Berlin was amazing and I cannot wait to go back. I feel like I have said that about a lot of places, but this is one place that I don’t think I could ever get enough of.

We left Friday evening and got into Berlin about 12:30am. We took a short train ride and what should have been a short walk to our hostel. We got a little turned around when we left the train station and walked in a giant circle until we found our hostel. It was late, we were exhausted, and no we did not take the scenic route on purpose. Fortunately, it was only three blocks from the train station so it was a much shorter commute the rest of the weekend.

We had six of us and took up an entire room, which was a relief. For those of you who have never stayed in hostels, they are like hotels, but the rooms are not private. If your party didn’t occupy the entire room, there would be other people staying in your room with you. A little unnerving and uncomfortable I would imagine, as I have never been in that situation. This was my first experience staying in a hostel. It was mostly fine, however German drainage systems must be different considering the shower failed to drain and ended up in a large puddle in the middle of the room. I guess they wanted us to have our own personal pool. And the bathroom was the size of a shoebox. It didn’t mix well with six girls, but we managed. Luckily it was just a crash pad.

We hit the ground running on Saturday morning with a walking tour of the city. We met tour groups at the Brandenburg Gate, where we were separated into an English-speaking group and began our tour. It was a very historical tour, unsurprising given the city and its past. I learned some very interesting facts about the city; one being that America is actually older than Germany. After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Germany was reunified in 1990 and has been ever since. It is also the most liberal city in Europe. Something you can definitely realize when you observe the city and its inhabitants.

Perhaps the most interesting things I heard on the tour was the set up of the government buildings. The Reikstag building is the tallest in the government district and is a tall, glass building with a dome at the top. Our tour guide shared with us that the design of the building was very intentional. The top of the building is for tourists and offers a spectacular view of the city. Below the tourist area are governmental offices. Another government building stands next to the Reikstag, much shorter where more governmental offices are held. The design of these buildings reflects their government and how they look ‘up’ to the people of the city, literally. It is in this design and attitude that Berlin hopes will remain strong, as to avoid another dictatorship. They really are for the people.

After learning about the government a little bit, we made our way a few blocks to what looked like a lot with a bunch of concrete blocks. When we all gathered with our guide, she shared with us that it was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The fact that we hadn’t known we had come upon the memorial was intentional in the creation of it. The reason for the memorial is obviously horrendous and does not need extra attention brought to it. The memorial just so happens to be on the corner of a block, in plain sight of the government buildings I described above. This, too, was intentional. A reminder of what the past holds, and a symbol of what they hope to always instill in themselves and their people in the future: tolerance.

The memorial is perhaps one of the most profound memorials I’ve ever witnessed. As you walked around, you became very disoriented. The concrete blocks were various heights so you couldn’t see out. I kept wandering around, realizing that there were small hills in the rows of blocks. When we all had reconvened, we talked about some of the interpretations people had come up with upon their experience. Personal interpretation was the architect’s main goal. He had few intentional designs, the rest was to be created by the wanderer’s mind.

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Some interpretations saw the different sizes of concrete blocks as a bar graph, representing statistics of death by race during the Holocaust. Another interpretation was that the different sizes represent different ages of those murdered during the Holocaust. Perhaps the most grave one was that the hills in the walkways, which then created different heights when you stood at one end and looked at the other, represented the train cars that hauled millions of people to their deaths in concentration camps. No one could be wrong, which I think is a reflection of both the architect and the city. If no one can be wrong, no one can disagree, leading to a stronger unity of the city, its government, and its people.

After the intense reflection in the memorial, we walked a couple blocks to what seemed like a plain parking lot that housed cars of the tenants in nearby apartment complexes. Not so fast, for what lied beneath where we were standing was far more significant than the dirt we were standing on. We stood directly above where Hitler’s bunker was. Surrounding the parking lot we were standing in used to be the governmental building of Hitler’s Reich. The bunker is where he hid out during the final days of his life, and, our tour guide joked, where he did the best possible thing Hitler could have ever done for this world: killed himself.

During the final days of Hitler’s life, he accomplished many things from this bunker. One of them was marrying his wife, in a dark bunker, underground, in secret. How romantic. A few days later they kept their suicide pact and his wife ate cyanide and Hitler, who was so nervous he was going to mess up killing himself and end up paralyzed and taken by the Soviets, ate cyanide and shot himself in the head. He was not doing this in secret, and it was no surprise to the people around him. His trusted advisors then took their bodies and burned them in a square. Just another way that no one could take his body and torture it for his crimes committed. A few hours after their bodies began to burn, the Soviets stormed the city. They eventually discovered the identity of the bodies, but they kept it their little secret as other countries, such as the US, frantically searched for Hitler.

We then made our way to a portion of the Berlin Wall. I’m not going to lie; the portion I saw was a bit underwhelming. It was a simple concrete wall. It was not until I heard more of the history that I gained even an ounce of what it must have been like for the separation of this city.

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The Soviets, who owned the eastern portion of the city, did not like the freedom that the Brits, the Americans, and the French were giving to their western portions. People were pouring into the eastern part of the city looking for jobs, for family, and for opportunity. The wall literally went up overnight. It began as a barbed wire fence, but by the completion of the wall, it was layers upon layers of concrete, linked together with boobie traps such as quick sand, vicious dogs, and metal spikes.

The wall meant that you were now separated from the entire other half of the city. If your family lived on one side and you lived on the other, you were now separated. If you went to school on the East side but lived on the West side, you no longer had an education. If you worked on the opposite side, you were now unemployed. Times were very trying as people fought for their families, their jobs, and their lives.

A lighthearted story was told to lighten up the mood about a family who escaped. They waited until nightfall and dressed all in black, carrying black cable wire. They had contacted their friend who lived on the other side of the wall, telling him to just be there, waiting. They scaled the side of their apartment building and somehow managed to get the rope to their friend on the other side—they’d just made a zip line. They then proceeded to zip across the wall and over all the traps. How did they not get caught, you ask? The security guard watching the tapes thought that the plan was so well thought out and performed, that it couldn’t have been anyone trying to escape, but a special group intentionally testing them and their security. Ha! A funny story to make us forget the horrors the wall caused for the citizens of Berlin.

After seeing a small section of the Berlin Wall, we headed to Checkpoint Charlie. A historical landmark, Checkpoint Charlie was the only neutral zone in the city where leaders from the US and Germany and the USSR met to discuss and make decisions. This has become such a tourist center that there wasn’t much to see besides the sign and an old US Army shed.

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We cut out of the tour after Checkpoint Charlie and wandered around the city for a while. Side note: the walk/don’t walk symbols in Berlin are little men with hats and they are adorable.

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Karina and I made our way back to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and went to the museum that is located underneath the memorial. The first section was mostly informational, basic facts about World War II and Hitler’s reign. The next room was very emotional; it housed large screens with fragments from journals of victims of the Holocaust. Many of the posts reflected confusion, distress, and pure fright. They had no way of knowing their horrible fate. One journal entry that really hit me read:

“You didn’t have to be a revolutionary to put yourself in deadly peril. It was enough simply to be oneself. It was sufficient to take one single step and one ran into the traps maliciously set for Jews.”

The rest of the museum included profiles of families with their history and their fate, and more information about the different concentration camps they were sent to. One of the most impactful things in the museum was the silence. I remember looking up after reading a board and forgetting where I was for a moment. I looked around and people surrounded me, but I didn’t hear a thing. There were kids in the museum, but it was like somehow they knew that it was a quiet zone, that sound was not to be made. The silence allowed for introspection and a remarkable view of the museum and the people it is dedicated to. They were innocent. They met a horrible fate when their heartless leader he had no use for Jews, among many other groups of people.

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After the museum we went back to the Brandenburg Gate and snapped a few photos as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, the square was just another historical area that has become a tourist trap. For example, Hotel Adlon resides in this square. Some of you may recognize the name; it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the side of the balcony. You can even go into the room and stand on the balcony. What’s even more atrocious is that this hotel costs 15,000 euros PER NIGHT. Yeah.

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After we returned to our hotel, we got ready to celebrate our friend, Sarah’s, 21st birthday. It was fairly easy to start our night, as there was a bar and club at the bottom of our hostel—easy enough. We then made our way to a couple bars that appeared to be where both locals and tourists alike joined together. We ended our night at a club called Matrix. This club was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. More rooms than I could keep track of because they all ran together, each room had a different theme. We walked from one dance floor playing rap music, to another playing Spanish music; to another playing more hip hop music. It was unbelievably great. What a great way to spend your 21st birthday!

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We sadly left Berlin Sunday morning. Never fear, I have plans to go back in late May. Who knows, maybe I’ll be spending my 21st birthday there!

-K

On the road again…literally

Hi friends! Sorry for the delayed post, but it’s been a hectic week and I did not have my Sunday binge of wifi like I usually do.

This past weekend, we took a road trip with our boss across Germany and slightly over the border of the Czech Republic. Why would five of us cram into a tiny (and I mean tiny) car and drive four and a half hours? What better reason that to shop…

Cheb is where the market is. I don’t mean fish and meat and cheese, I mean all things from scarves to watches to purses. I have already experienced the Souks in Marrakech, Morocco, (BTW if you ever get the chance, GO TO MOROCCO!) so I was prepared for the type of bargaining and behavior that would occur at the market. It was pretty similar, but let’s just say it was a little bit more sketchy here.

We would be walking along the center aisle and in their broken English, people would ask what we were looking for. They would whisper ideas or suggestions, and if we showed interest, they became very secretive. They would turn their heads left and right, then say, “come come,” and hurry us down a narrow hallway behind a blue tarp to a door unseen by the public. They would then let us into a tiny, cramped room where all the real goodies are. The longer we spent in each room, the more the price would go down. It was slightly awesome. Once we completed purchases, they told us to “keep quiet” and ask “how much you pay?” to suggest that we not advertise what little we spent on [insert item here].

After we were plenty frozen (the market is outdoors) and ready for our next adventure, we hopped back in the car and shortly after, stopped for gas. Now I normally wouldn’t include this portion in my story, but an important member of the family was added at this gas stop. His name is Roary (hehe) and he is a (stuffed) lion. He is dressed in an adorable German outfit and he’s even wearing a hat. I was reluctant at first, but he’s now my godson and you will see him featured in future adventures. Roary goes everywhere now.

After driving for about four hours until we got to our destination: Füssen. It is a quaint town that just happens to have two enormous castles up above the town. No big deal. After we checked into our hotel, we walked around the town to find something to eat. The shops and little streets were picturesque, holding character and beautiful architecture in every direction. We finally settled on a warm and inviting authentic German restaurant.

Exhausted from a long day of mostly driving, we headed back to our hotel to soak up the limited amount of time where we had wifi at the touch of a button. Most of us caught up on communicating with friends and family back home before crashing for the night. We needed our beauty sleep if we were going to wake up as royalty.

Well, we didn’t wake up as royalty, but we did wake up to 3 inches of snow with no signs of stopping. I shouldn’t complain, because I’m from Iowa and I’m used to waking up to flash ‘floods’ of snow, 10+ inches. But I’ve gotten used to hardly any snow and more mild temperatures. I’m being spoiled, I know. (Sorry Iowans, I don’t miss the weather!)

We ate breakfast in our hotel before heading up the hill to the castle. It snowed most of the day, but it was worth it. The castle we visited is called Neuschwanstein and it was where the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, reined from. Next to Neuschwanstein is another castle, just as immense and grandiose, but it was his childhood home. Because every child needs a childhood castle, and a castle for adulthood. Duh.

Given the occasion, we treated ourselves like royalty and took a horse carriage ride up the mountain. It was peaceful and we didn’t have to climb the giant, slippery hills in the snow.

King Ludwig II was very involved with the planning and architecture of the castle, which is impressive considering he could have just said what he wanted and thy will be done. He worked first hand with designers to create his perfect sanctuary. Unfortunately, only 1/3 of the castle was completed before his death in 1886. When he died, so did the work on the castle.

Perhaps the most unfortunate room that had not been completed was the throne room. We toured this immaculate room, complete with a 2,000 pound chandelier and 2 million tiles on the floor, and beautiful tapestries and artwork consuming every angle of every wall. The theme of his throne room was religion, evident with a large portrait of Jesus Christ himself above where the throne would have been. The only thing missing from the throne room? The throne. The guide stated that, because there was no royalty after King Ludwig, there was no reason to continue building a throne.

We then toured his bed chamber, complete with a beautiful reading chair, as he loved to read, and his own vestibule to pray in. The theme of this room was Tristan and Isolde, an interesting choice as the story is quite tragic.

Due to the weather, the bridge behind the castle was closed unfortunately. This bridge is a small hike from the castle itself, but offers picturesque photo opportunities and a beautiful view of the castle. Just another reason why I need to get back there again someday real soon.

We met up with our group and took a horse carriage ride back down the mountain. We browsed some of the shops and continued on our way, leaving the adorable town of Füssen and Neuschwanstein behind. It was about 4 hours back home, so we settled into Hugo (the nickname for our boss’s car) and ventured home.

I always say that it can’t be considered a road trip if you don’t get lost at least once. Good thing Hugo made sure of that. We ran into a traffic jam on the way back, and the GPS system decided to take us to another traffic jam. After programming Hugo yet again, he led us in a circle right back to the original traffic jam. Thanks a lot Hugo.

We made it home safe and sound and utterly exhausted. Being cramped in a very small European car for 4+ hours is not ideal, but the weekend and those it was shared with made it worth it. Road trips are the epitome for making memories.

Stay tuned for my post about Empanada-making night with my co-workers! Yum!

-K

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Mexican Food and Breakup Juice

Coming to you midweek is a new feeling for me, but I had to share some laughs and memories I won’t soon forget from our co-worker gathering on Tuesday.

Us interns all work at separate centers, but we all came together with teachers from my and Karina’s center to learn how to make empanadas. I’m not usually a fan of Mexican food, but homemade Mexican food that you helped make tastes a whole lot better.

Empanadas are basically tortillas wrapped around seasoned meat and fried. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. There’s a method to the madness, and it took me a couple tries to ‘perfect’ the empanada-making. Those of us who helped make them loved them, but my co-worker who specializes in them said she wouldn’t even take them home to her husband…her polite way of saying they weren’t good but she admired our effort. To each their own, because they were damn good. I might be biased though…

Perhaps the best part of the night was when our coworker shared her recipe for what she called “Breakup Juice.” I’m sure you can all guess what kind of juice this is, but that’s not the best part. It’s all in how you make it.

She shared with us that it got its name because of a douche bag ex-boyfriend. When they broke up, she was obviously sad and angry, but she used it to her own advantage. Atta girl. The recipe basically calls for:

-whatever alcohol you have in your house

-whatever fruit you have in your house

-a few choice wines

-a large pitcher

-an even larger knife

-your best girlfriends

I’m sure you can pull it all together now, but she talked about how she took the biggest knife she had and all the fruit in her house and just started hacking at it until it was in small enough pieces (taking out the anger in a productive way). She then soaked the fruit in whatever alcohol she had in her house, letting it soak for a couple hours while she went out and bought red wine (getting out of the house and focusing on something other than your current situation). When she came back, she mixed all the ingredients together to form sangria, aka Breakup Juice (creating something delicious out of a bad situation). By the time you and your girlfriends got halfway through that pitcher, douchy ex-boyfriends didn’t matter, right? (aka having all your girlfriends tell you that they secretly hated him but they love you anyway and you’re SO much better without him) RIGHT. Preach it girl.

She then shared with us that now that she is happily married, the name has been changed to hold a more positive connotation. I’m all about versatility. I can definitely tell you that if all I bring home from Germany are memories and photos, I will definitely be bringing home the recipe for Breakup Juice. Bonus? You don’t have to go through a breakup to enjoy the juice…it’s just a win-win situation all around.

The night was filled with laughs and jokes, and it was a very comfortable atmosphere. I originally thought that being with co-workers outside of work would be a little awkward and uncomfortable, but it was enjoyable and something to look forward to in the middle of the week.

Now we’re all looking forward to BERLIN. We head out tonight right after work. We will be celebrating one of our fellow interns, Sarah’s, 21st birthday on Saturday. Like we needed an additional reason to go to Berlin…

Another place, another treasure, another star on the map of where I’ve been. Another reason to be so grateful for this experience.

Stay tuned to hear about Berlin!

Happy Friday!

-K

Helau from Fasching!

My weekend didn’t end after Venice. Fortunately, we had Monday off due to President’s Day, so it allowed us to fit in a day trip to Mainz, Germany, where we dressed up crazily (or at least attempted to) and tried to fit in at a glorified carnival/Halloween celebration. It is Germany’s version of “Carnival.”

What I loved about this experience was that people young and old celebrated with equally as much gusto. Locals had it easy–they had these things stored in their closets for months in preparation. Most had on full-body suits to keep them warm, but Sarah and I just had to work with what we had. Like I said, we tried.

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We got on the train about 9 am to find people were already highly intoxicated. Let me reiterate that it was people of all ages, making the ride enjoyable because we had our own personal entertainment. Everyone, and I mean everyone, on the bus was going to the same place and they all were dressed up. It reminded me of Halloween, but more glorified, more conservative, and more received by people of all ages.

Each train stop added 50+ people and there was no extra room. Standing room only, it was hard to even make it in the door. Luckily we only had one train transfer, leaving minimal times to squeeze our way past drunken ladybugs and women who failed at attempting to be a mermaid, but somehow their alcohol made it easier to accept.

We missed a connecting train due to the delay of the previous train, but no fear, just follow the crowd looking like they were part of a movie cast or a carnival. This was also the case when we got there. Sarah and I didn’t look at a single map or ask for directions at all, we followed the crowd and listened for the parade noise and got to where we needed to be.

We arrived in Mainz about 11 am or so, and the parade was in full swing at this point. The parade was still in full swing when we left town around 4 pm. It was an ongoing loop, perhaps for fear of missing a single float, or a single yell of “helau.” “Helau” is basically pronounced as “hello,” so Sarah and I assumed they were just really obnoxious about saying hi to everyone in the crowd. It turns out that “helau” is a greeting, but it is used to greet fools and jesters at a carnival. Perfect.

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Fasching or other Carnival events are celebrated from January 7 until Ash Wednesday. It is a pre-Lenten celebration whose duration depends on when Easter falls each year. Because it is celebrated predominantly in Catholic religions, I found it interesting when I read that Carnival or Fasching is celebrated so long to drive away evil and winter (they’re one in the same, aren’t they?) spirits who arrived at the opening of hell on earth. The people of this time made fun of the spirits by dressing up in costume, and it resides today as “Fasching.” I’m sure that’s why everyone still celebrates it today…

Like any great parade, they threw out candy and numerous other items. Haribo gummies are the staple here, so the streets were lined with empty packages and packages of customized “Karneval” gummies for the holiday. One thing was a little odd about the German parade, though–the adults were grabbing for the candy just as much as the kids. It was a funny sight seeing middle-aged men trying to hold steady a beer in one hand while reaching for candy in the air with the other.

It was freezing cold that day, so it was less than ideal to spend the entire day outside. Since Sarah and I didn’t have fur body tiger suits to keep us warm, we called it a day fairly early. We didn’t feel like we were missing out on much, considering the parade was STILL going when we left and marchers were still hollering “helau.” We were also still exhausted from our Venice trip that we elected to get a good night’s sleep before the work week.

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I loved the long weekend, but I equally loved the shorter work week. Tomorrow is already Friday! This weekend will be a bit more relaxed and laid back. We are gearing up for two solid months of heavy travel after next weekend.

Bring it on, Europe, I can sleep when I’m dead!

-K

The Most Beautiful City in the World: Carnivale in Venice

So this weekend has been pretty big as far as my bucket list goes. I visited Venice, Italy, on Saturday and it was nothing short of beautiful and amazing. The picturesque views are just like what you see on TV. It was breathtaking. As a city built on water, rumors say it doesn’t have much of a lifespan left, so I’m glad I could witness its beauty before it is unable to be seen.

I was a little skeptical about the timing. My friends and family know how much I hate the “holiday” of Valentine’s Day. So going to one of the most romantic cities in the world on Valentine’s Day didn’t sound all that appealing, but it didn’t stop me. It helped that their annual Carnivale festival was going on during this time. Carnivale is like Mardis Gras in the United States and is specific to Venice. People dress up in intricate costumes and masks, many spend weeks or months preparing their costumes for this event. Coupled with outrageous dress are entertainment venues in St. Marco Square on a big stage. Needless to say, it was so awesome to see that and be a part of it while we were there.

We took the bus to Venice and arrived just outside the city around 9:30. Considering Venice is an island city, we took a ferry to get to the actual city. The drive was long and uncomfortable, but the views upon arriving in the city were more than worth it. The water was surprisingly blue, considering the city’s sewage system is dumped right into the water.

What was nice about this trip is that my friends and I didn’t really have a travel agenda. We didn’t have a whole lot of things that we NEEDED to see, but rather just to experience as much of the city as possible in the short 10 hours that we had there. We spent our morning wandering St. Marco Square, which is the iconic square in Venice. This is where most of the people who were dressed up for Carnivale were wandering, and there was also a stage set up for the many entertainment acts that would occur throughout the day.

Eventually we wandered through the narrow, winding streets and came upon a hole in the wall restaurant with authentic Italian food. We had pizza and caprese salad and it was so amazing! After lunch, we made a sort of game plan for the rest of the day that included making it to Rialto Bridge and taking a gondola ride.

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We wandered for a bit longer and got some great photos on a bridge. Let me tell you that everywhere you look is a view that belongs on a postcard. I’ve never been to a city that is so beautiful in every direction, in every corner, like Venice was.

We were much luckier with water canals in Venice than we were in Amsterdam. Because Venice is an island city, there are no cars at all. Everything is transported by boat; the trash is removed from the island by boat, deliveries are delivered by boat, and to get from place to place, you guessed it, you go by boat. It was peaceful to be able to walk wherever we wanted without having to worry about car traffic. I also didn’t know that Venice is made up on different islands. The main island is where we were a majority of the day, but there are four other islands that compile Venice as a whole.

After snapping some photos, we got on the water taxi and just kind of rode it until we decided we wanted to get off. Stopping in the cutest greenhouse turned cafe, we took a quick break before wandering again. We suddenly realized that we were off the beaten path and had somehow ended up in a more residential area of Venice. It was very quiet, almost eerie. There were very few people out wandering, most in the square for Carnivale festivities or their siesta. Though they don’t have formal siestas like Spain, I found that many businesses closed around one or two in the afternoon and reopened in the evening.

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The thing about Venice is that you have to be prepared to get lost. The streets are winding and the maps are hard to follow. We definitely got lost in this residential area and more or less couldn’t find our way ‘out.’ But we wandered upon a beautiful church and another picturesque area where we snapped some photos. This whole getting lost was peaceful and allowed us to really open our eyes and experience Venice more as a city and less as a tourist attraction.

After a while, we made our way back to the water taxi. Unfortunately, we got on the wrong line and ended up taking the long way to the Rialto Bridge. But when you’re ‘lost’ in Venice and taxiing from island to island, you can’t really complain because it’s beautiful to see all aspects. After seeing Rialto Bridge and also encountering many more people who had outdone themselves for Carnivale, we made our way back to St. Marco square for a gondola ride.

This is what we had been waiting for all day. It was right around sunset when we set out and it was relaxing and beautiful. We went in some side canals, but also on the Grand Canal (the main canal). It was about a 40 minute ride and our driver was very entertaining. After the gondola ride, we didn’t have much time left in the city. We checked out the event stage and watched a few performances. After the performances, there was a random countdown from 10-0. It reminded me of New Years Eve in the States and the couples around us started kissing. Except for this moment, I had (thankfully) forgotten it was Valentine’s Day in the city.

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We arrived home about 8 am and all slept for about four hours. Spending 24 hours on a bus round trip is very uncomfortable, but, like I said, so worth it. What’s nice about this weekend is that we have Monday off due to the President’s Day holiday. It is our only three-day weekend while we’re here so we’re taking advantage of it by going to a small German town early Monday morning.

Like Carnivale in Venice or Mardis Gras in New Orleans, many places in Germany and nearby countries celebrate with Fasching. Tomorrow is Rose Monday, which is the main day and when all the parades take place. This festival also includes dressing up in absurd outfits; the crazier the better. So we are going to Cologne to experience this. I will be sure to share those experiences with you all as well.

Ciao, bella!

-K

Laughs, Lights, and being Livid in London

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‘ello! (In my best British accent)

Before I start to recount the more than wonderful events I encountered in London, you all should know that we accomplished what you’re about to read in about 15 hours. Yes, we attempted to tackle London in 15 hours and I must say, we did a hell of a job succeeding at it. No, it did not go smoothly, but that’s half the fun. It’s also funny NOW as opposed to in the moment…I’m just glad we’re all still alive and breathing.

We left Germany at 11 pm Friday night and drove to Calais, France, where we got on the Chunnel. Everyone I’d talked to said they took a boat ferry from France across the water to England, but that was not the case for us. The Chunnel is an underground train that goes under the English Channel. One would think we would get off the charter bus and get onto the train, but much to our surprise this was not the case. Our bus driver simply drove the bus onto the Chunnel and we rode the 45 minutes in our bus in a subway that went underwater. Let that sink in. The experience was a little unnerving, but perhaps even more because we couldn’t see anything. We were sitting on our bus in a compartment with about two feet to spare on either side. Needless to say, there was no room for claustrophobia.

After we got across the water, we drove about two more hours to London. I slept most of the way and was more than ready to be done traveling when we got off the bus at 8:30 am on Saturday. I was with three other girls and we got right to it. Luckily, we had planned out what we wanted to see and planned our sightseeing based on proximity. We saw the furthest things first, then worked our way around the city.

We got our bearings together and purchased tickets. We purchased an all-day hop on/hop off bus pass. You know the big double-decker red buses you see in the movies? Yep, that was us. And even though it was cold, we sat on the top and it was awesome. This is the best idea we could have ever had and if you plan on going to London or any major city, I highly recommend you utilize this as your transportation. Not only did the bus provide us transportation to each place we wanted to go, but it also had either a tour guide or a recording telling about the history of different things as we were driving.

Our first stop was Baker Street. We snapped some quick photos of Sherlock Holmes’ house and proceeded to King’s Cross. What’s at King’s Cross, you ask? Every Harry Potter fan’s dream: Platform 9 3/4. We took the infamous photo pushing our carts into the invisible wall heading off to Hogwarts. If only it were true….

Next, we hopped back on the bus in hopes that we would make it to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guards. Unfortunately, the bus was late and we did not make it. Gotta love public transportation, but it has its downfalls. However, because we missed the ceremony I’m using it as an excuse to go back to London (as if I needed one).

We did end up at Buckingham Palace next. On our way there, we saw the high-end district where people like J.K. Rowling and Sean Connery have houses. As you can imagine, Buckingham Palace is enormous. I cannot even begin to imagine what the space is used for, but when you’re the Queen of an empire, who cares? The flag was proudly displayed symbolizing the Queen was in, but I think she must have forgot about our afternoon tea appointment. Damn.

We hopped back on the bus and headed toward Westminster where we saw the Parliament houses, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben. We snapped some typical touristy photos and then found a cute little pub where we ate lunch. I’m not a fan of fish, but one of the girls we were with ordered Fish and Chips. No lie, it was an entire fish–enough to feed a small army.

After warming up a bit and figuring out the rest of our game plan, we got on the bus and headed to the Tower of London. The scenic route provided some spectacular views of the Westminster district and the city of London while crossing the River Thames on the beautiful Tower Bridge. Not to be confused with ‘London Bridge’, Tower Bridge is immaculate and painted a beautiful teal and navy blue in honor of the Queen. London Bridge is just a plain old bridge that could be found anywhere.

We toured Tower of London and saw where many were beheaded for their wrongdoings, such s Ann Boleyn. We also saw the Crown Jewels. If seeing those beautiful crowns and jewels didn’t make you want to be a King or Queen, you’re lying to yourself.

After the Tower of London, we warmed up with some coffee drinks and headed to the London Eye. Because it was a gloomy, cloudy day, we waited until night time so that we could see more of the city in it’s night time glamour.

We were waiting at the bus stop and were talking about how our day went so smoothly with no real issues and blah blah blah. Naturally, our luck changed for the worse. About 20 minutes after waiting, a bus came. There are different ‘lines’ identified by color and they run different routes. We didn’t get on this bus because we were waiting for a different line. After another 30 minutes of waiting, we were curious as to where the bus was because it was scheduled to have been there at least twice in the time we were waiting. We were freezing and our feet hurt and we were all getting a little hungry. Remember how I said we bought an all-day bus pass? Well, it turns out that the buses DON’T run 24 hours like our brochure said, but they stop around 8 pm. But it was only 7 when we wanted to get on the bus so someone had to have been playing tricks on us right? Nah, the buses decided to just stop running apparently. Also, we had been given a SUMMER 2014 pamphlet…it’s WINTER 2015. You can imagine our frustration.

We broke down and paid for a taxi. We had seen a Chipotle earlier on in our trip and thought we remembered where it was. So we directed the driver in the general direction because he (and NO ONE ELSE) knew where or what Chipotle even was….what a tragedy for them. Once we got close to where we thought it was, we got out of the cab and wandered for a while. Still unable to find it, we walked into a couple shops and asked for directions. I’ll cut to the chase–I’ve never been more excited to find something. It wasn’t about finding Chipotle necessarily at the end, but about condemning ourselves NOT crazy because we DID see that Chipotle and we were all too stubborn to just forget about it and get something else to eat. (By this time, maybe we were all a little crazy…)

We ate and attempted to get on another bus, a line that ran later at night. We were told we could pay by credit card, but that was not the case. So after talking to the driver and being so close to getting back to our destination and going home, we got off the bus and took the subway. The bus system hates us, clearly. Well ya know what, the feeling was mutual by the end of the day.

Our aching feet and exhausted bodies were so happy when we reached the bus. Instead of having time to kill, like we had planned, we had but 12 minutes to spare. All the time we thought we’d have was wasted on waiting and walking to buses that seemingly turned invisible without our knowing.

London was an experience I will never forget, and even the less than perfect moments I can now look back on with so many laughs.

Stay tuned for pictures!

-K