Wednesday, February 3, 2010
My arrival in Florence was one that was surprisingly eye-opening for me. As soon as I stepped off the train and onto the dark, graffiti-ed stone platform I could tell I was in a different kind of world. One that was drastically unlike the few European cities I had just traversed. If Europe were the U.S. then Austria would be Colorado, Switzerland would be Florida, and Florence would be New York. Honestly, as soon as the train doors opened, it was as if Florence immediately poured through the aperture and flooded the locomotive high and low, making sure to cover every square inch, influencing each individual regardless of race, color, or creed. I was now apart of Florence, whether I [and everyone surrounding me] wanted to be or not.
People herded through the station, scattering in every which direction as they held their designer purses [both fake and real], wore their fashionable shoes, and pulled their trendy coats up to cover their napes from the brisk wind swarming through every void. My head was involuntarily filled with the hundreds of voices of my people back home, finally partially justifying their countless warnings of pick-pocketing and wallet placement [which in case you were wondering, apparently often-times held more priority, to some, than conversing about the hundreds of years of history, culture, art, and architecture that I would be seeing]. We managed to snake our way through the masses of the Santa Maria Novella station and out onto the streets of Florence, Italy. I purposely arrived 2 days prior to when my friends and schoolmates would be landing so that I would be able to show off a little knowledge of the city streets, city life, and my newfound saving grace....gelato. We found our hostel, logged onto the internet to relax, and yet again, catch up with some friends back home. We then decided to take a brief stroll through the city to get a grasp of where exactly we were before heading back for the night to rest up for visiting the infamous Italian Outlet stores the next day, where I would purchase a few things to help blend into the urban make-up of Florence.
Next, the morning finally arrived on which I could earn the keys to my apartment and get re-acquainted with my friends that I had not seen in quite some time. Berta and I met with the Florence and Abroad company, at which point a young Italian woman walked outside with us to show me to my new residence and offer a tour. We climbed stair after stair [about 60 I believe] until we arrived at the summit, winded as if scaling Everest. The keys turned, my anticipation rising after every clank of the lock. The door swung open and I was finally able to explore my new temporary home; opening every single door, drawer, closet, cabinet, appliance, window, hell even a book or 2 [Go here for the tour! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WDsxAJz6nU]. I was so overwhelmed to finally, after living nomadically for the past 2 weeks, have a place of my own to always come back to after a long day. After some confusion and hours of waiting, my other 3 roommates finally arrived, luggage in hand and smiles on face. We had finally all made it to Italy for the best semester of our lives. Nothing would ever be quite the same.
Days passed as everyone allowed their bodies to adjust to the significant time change [6 hrs] and we managed to get settled into the city and affiliated with some of the local bars, clubs and discos [no, old folks, not like the 80's]. Consequently, classes inevitably came around and it was time to begin what I had come here for. I made sure, after getting approved to do so by the school, to pack my schedule full with as many classes as I could [20 credit hrs] so that I would be able to take the utmost advantage of a semester's worth of Italian education. Even after doing so, however, I managed to only have one class on Mondays and Wednesdays and none on Friday. This allowed me, as well as all my friends, to travel every week utilizing the 3 to 4 day weekend! The staff here at the Kent State Florence Campus is simply amazing. Each professor is so passionate about the subject they teach, making learning almost contagious. In addition to the phenomenal staff, the amount of culture, history, architecture, and art that I am surrounded by every step I take is inexplicable. Just walking from my Apartment to School I pass 100's of years of Art and Architecture, including Brunelleschi's infamous Duomo [Santa Maria del Fiore], Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, several Medici Palazzos, the Uffizi Museum, and the Piazza della Signoria [the original site of Michelangelo's David]. Forget about locking myself in my room to study, from now on all I have to do is take a 10 minute walk for some Gelato and I will pass 85% of the material on my Italian Art Exam. My favorite class, though, outside of studio of course, is Forces that Shape Cities. It was one of the additional classes I opted to take outside of the core curriculum, and forced me to have a Monday class unlike most of the rest of my classmates, however, even considering all of this it is still what I am most interested in. It deals with the connection that urban planning and architecture have had in the past eras, as well as the influences of society, politics, and economics on architecture and vice versa. My professor has traveled all around the world, including the U.S., and has one of the most unique outlooks on cities, as well as design and life in general. One of my biggest praises about the courses over here thus far, though, is the manner in which each specific course feeds into the next. All of the material seems to all flow and overlap upon one another and eventually mesh together to help form a basic understanding of absolutely everything Florence has to offer.
As I said before, no classes on Fridays means that we are able to simply pick up and trek to where ever we please every single weekend; and that is exactly what we did one of the first weekends that we were here. We awoke one Saturday morning with nothing on the agenda and ate breakfast. Afterwards we decided that we didn't want to simply just stay in Florence all weekend, so we walked 2 blocks to the train station, bought round trip tickets to Pisa for €11.70, and just like that we were on our way to witness one of the world's most intriguing phenomena. Since I have had time to settle in, however, my friends and I have managed to plan ahead a little more, booking numerous weekend trips all around Europe in advance [all of which you will soon hear about].
Friday, January 15, 2010
My time in Switzerland was a true roller coaster ride, quite literally, as well as figuratively. Riding on the train there, I was glued to the Guide Book reading about all of the extreme sports that were available to do in Interlaken [which is 2nd in the world, only to New Zealand]. Rock climbing, ice climbing, skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, sky diving, hang gliding...the list goes on and on. I had it set in my mind that this place was my Mecca and I would never want to leave. The train slowly rolled through the Interlaken West station as we stayed aboard, waiting to reach Interlaken Ost, which is just on the other side of the town. The railway crept along the shoreline, weaving in and out of trees and tunnels, coasting up and down the mountain sides. It was absolutely stunning. The clouds were set low, creating a dim lit ambience over the panoramic of the vivacious aqua-blue water, which sat in front of the monumental backdrop of the Alpine mountains [that I had seen every day for the past 4 days, yet still seemed to be caught on my heels in awe over the sight]. It was a day or two prior to New Years Eve and Berta and I had decided upon the Balmer's Hostel, not only because she had already stayed there before, but because the price was unbeatable, the staff was incredibly generous, the location was prime, and the fact that it had an underground night club just below the Rooms had absolutely nothing to do with the decision....We separated from the train onto the platform, and immediately I began to grab every single brochure I saw that had some sort of action sport on the cover [which wound up being about 10 pamphlets in approximately 6.43 seconds]. We trekked to what would be our new home for the next few days, and the start of my extraneous emotional roller coaster ride, during which my heart [as well as my hopes and dreams] would be shattered into pieces one moment, and then mended and thrown 280ft the next.
For years I have wanted to Bungee jump, which always contrasted with everyone else's kitsch desire to skydive. Countless times I have bickered back and forth with friends over wanting to bungee jump more so than skydive for several reasons: First and foremost, everyone knows someone, or even 5 to 10 someones, that have skydived before [including my father when he was in the jubilant, young age-range of the mid 40's....no offense Dad!]. Second, I always thought bungee jumping to be far scarier than skydiving, mostly due to the surrealism of standing on the ledge, witnessing the earth below you, and having to immediately face your fear of plummeting to your death. And thirdly, skydiving locales are a dime a dozen, especially in the U.S., whereas bungee jumping is far more complicated to find [trust me, I've tried countless times]. It was for these reasons that I had the highest hopes for Interlaken, and I could not wait to finally fulfill my adrenaline-junkie desire to bungee jump. As soon as we got checked in I asked the man at the hostel for some details on when, where, and how much. My hopes were crushed, right off the bat, when he said that it was too cold to bungee jump [mind you, the name on the brochure was "Glacial Bungee Jumping]. I had traveled all this way, heard so many positive things about Interlaken, only to be disappointed right as we were handed our room keys. After pleading with the man, and him seeing how bummed I was, he chimed in by saying that there was still an option of the 'Canyon Jump/Swing.' I was immediately turned off, though, because I thought it sounded like far less of a rush and not on the same level as bungee jumping; however, as he spoke more about it and I asked a few other workers I came to the conclusion that the Canyon Jump was actually more frightening and more entertaining than the Bungee! So we signed up to meet the next day at 1pm. Yet there was one stipulation. In order for us to go there had to be a group of at least five people going, and after the 2 of us they only had 3 total; but we didn't think much of it because it was close to New Years and they assured us that plenty of people were arriving. From there we continued up to our rooms to unpack, my hopes back to being high as a kite.
We were sharing a room with 2 other travelers, Australian girls around the same age who were trekking around for a 2 month vacation that they had so diligently saved up for. We chatted for a while, mainly because I loved to listen to their outlandish accent, but also to share stories of where we had been, and where we were planning to go. Afterwards Berta and I decided to explore the town's nightlife for some food for a little while, before heading back to chill by the fireplace, enjoy the free WIFI to catch up with friends back home, and meet some more of the hostel's residents.
The next morning I awoke feeling like a child on Christmas morning, overwhelmed with joy from knowing what activity was going to ensue in only a few hours. I ate the free toast offered for breakfast, showered, and tidy-ed up a few things that I had lying around in the room before they came to clean and replace the linens [no I didn't wet the bed, they changed everyone's linens daily]. Since the company wasn't scheduled to pick us up until 1pm, we figured we would, again, keep warm by the fire and relax for a little while. It was as I felt the heat from the fire brush across my face, that I saw the Hostel clerk round the corner and his face turn from a smile to an awkward, half-hearted face as soon as he met my eyes. I knew right then, before he spoke any words, that they did not recruit 2 more people to fulfill the 5 person requirement for us jumping. He apologized over and over agin before departing back to his safe haven, probably because he couldn't help but to see the anger and disappointment in my eyes. I ranted and raved to Berta and the other girl who was scheduled with us, again like a child on Christmas morning, but rather after receiving an ugly sweater from Grandma instead of an X-Box. We discussed our options of what else we could do here in Interlaken, but nothing else pleased me and my stubborn ears. If it wasn't jumping off a platform into a ravine, I wanted nothing to do with it.
We proceeded to relax and debate a few things as the precious time of the day drifted passed. Because we had previously decided to re-sign up for tomorrow at 1pm to jump, Berta and I opted to take a hike up into the mountains to view some of the amazing waterfalls that we had caught wind of from some of our neighbors at the hostel. We waited patiently as the train crept up the hill to the little town of Lauterbrunnen, where we would stop into the Tourist office for a map and begin our hike of the Waterfalls. "Hi, we were wanting to hike around to see the waterfalls that we have been hearing about, do you have a map?" A simple enough question we figured. "Oh I'm sorry," the clerk responded with puzzled eyes, "The trails that lead up to the waterfalls are closed during the winter."............[insert several four letter words here]...........
It was only the afternoon and already my emotions had been twisted and mangled numerous times. We asked her what other options we had and she guided us around the map, taking us on a path that went around the town, by the river that ran through it, and next to some of the waterfalls [and by next to I mean not nearly as close as either of us would prefer to be]. However we handled the map, thanked the lady and made the best of the hike, snapping dozens of pictures every ten minutes because even when we were a little disgruntled the views always seemed to cheer us up.
That night it was New Years Eve, the night where 150 new wild travelers checked into our apparently clown-car-like hostel. Ever since we had arrived we had heard that the New Years party at the club was the only place to be, and would be an absolute blast. We paid our cover in advance, received our 'complimentary' little champagne bottles and then headed out into the beer garden to meet some new faces and start off the new year right. The night went by as expected, and as the clock struck midnight I couldn't help but to think of family and friends back home. The party continued into the wee hours of the night, but I somehow managed to get a few hours of sleep before waking in the morning for the complimentary breakfast yet again; as well as prepare myself for 1:00, AKA the Canyon Jump. Almost as if by habit, we tidy-ed up our room and headed to the fireplace where we would wait in suspense until hearing from the hostel workers. It was about 2 hrs before we were scheduled to leave and as if I was having deja vu, I saw the worker round the corner, although this time he was almost as bummed as I was when delivering the bad news. Despite all efforts, we were still shy of the requirement. I pretty much just skipped the four letter words here and went straight to tears [on the inside of course, I'm still a man with dignity...]. Berta was really the only one who could fully grasp how disappointed I was, for she was the sole person who had been around me constantly for the past week or so, listening to me rant and rave about finally being able to bungee jump. I went from pacing back and forth to sitting, arms crossed, on the couch [or as some say, 'pouting']. I had to have been emitting ire; steaming from the ears like a Looney Tunes cartoon. I was fed up with Switzerland's roller coaster ride and wanted to just flee the country to move on to a new locale with new experiences, preferably ones that followed through. But of course, since Switzerland was apparently cursed, even THAT was a process! Just to get out of the country to the places we had chosen to visit was going to cost us 150 euros! So it was back to the fireplace....time to dream up an evil master plan to get around the Swiss's ridiculous inflation. Noon hits, the pouting continues on my behalf, and the guidebook pages continue to flutter at the speed of sound as Berta tries to get me out of the hostel, as well as the country, before I commit an assorted amount of hate crimes. The hostel clerk rounds the corner yet again. "Meet your new best friends," he says with a confident smirk on his face, as 4 newly arriving Americans [3 girls accompanied with 1 guy] round the corner behind him. It was a miracle! With only an hour to spare, they had managed to finallyyy recruit enough people for the jump to partake! Joy shot through every ounce of my body as I was overwhelmed with emotion. Switzerland was my new favorite country...
I was freezing. Most likely due to my minimal wearing of a long sleeve t-shirt while scaling the ice-cold mountain side to the jump site. I was as giddy as a little school girl once we were atop the canyon crevice, standing on the see-through metal grate. I had never been so excited in my life. I wasn't nervous at all, until I stepped out on the platform to jump, yet even then the thrill of the jump far exceeded and suppressed all other emotions. But enough talking.....just see for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmehOf3Neko
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
We awoke and ate breakfast; orange juice, ham, cheese, toast, and cereal. I went upstairs and suited up, layer after layer after layer. The anticipation built after every article of clothing I slipped on, until I was fully dressed and almost sweating sitting inside our tiny little room. We went back downstairs towards the front desk to grab another map of the enormous mountain and ask which slopes the man thought to be best. We narrowed it down to 2 different regions of the mountain, Axamer Lizum and Kuhtai, which were among the best priced, best runs, and highest elevation. After asking numerous questions, the hostel clerk informed us that there was a free ski-bus that departs from the hostel in 5 to 10 minutes, and would shuttle us around to all the different bases of the mountain, from which we would be able to ascend and purchase the appropriate equipment and, at last, ski. So we headed outside, where we saw numerous other people waiting in the bitter cold, suited up from head to toe in hundreds of dollars [or should I say Euros] of top of the line gear. We sat on a bench as I felt a little jealous in my long-johns and khakis, without any boots or skis to show off; however, I still had my snowboarding jacket and gloves and Camelbak [courtesy of my sister Kelly], so I didn't feel like a complete Rookie. The bus pulled up and we jumped on board, sitting in one of the first few rows. As it became fully saturated with what felt like hundreds of people in winter attire, we realized we were definitely the only ones who spoke English [except for when the driver turned on the radio and everyone persisted to sing Outkasts' "Sorry Ms. Jackson, Oooh. I am fo reeeal"]. It wasn't until we passed the 3rd of 4th "designated" free stops that I began to wonder..."Hmm...maybe my awkward feeling of being out of place isn't simply due to being in a foreign country...perhaps we really were on the wrong bus..." Berta and I shared a few concerned looks at first, but then realized that clearly whatever bus we are on it is going somewhere up a mountain to a lot of fresh snow that is ski-worthy; so what was to worry about? Coincidentally the bus wound up pulling into Axamer Lizum, one of our 2 choices! We stepped down from the bus, shrugging off the worry of how exactly we would be getting back after skiing, and proceeded to purchase our lift tickets and rentals. The time had finally come [once Berta got done taking forever to rent ski-pants because she was a wuss] to ascend the massive ski lifts to the top of the Austrian Alps, where I could prove to all the locals that you didn't necessarily need to look the part to play the part [who said thin casual pants couldn't be worn to ski the Alps??]. The snow was perfect. Fresh powder from top to bottom, both on and off the trails. I couldn't even believe that I had called what I had done in the past, at Indiana's "Perfect North Ski Slopes", skiing. The runs took what seemed like an eternity to descend, instead of the 10 or 15 seconds I was used to. Not only was the skiing phenomenal, but the views. Oh the views. I thought I had asthma, my breath was taken away so many times. The first time my jaw honestly dropped is when I rode the ski lift alone to the summit of the mountain [Berta did not feel she was experienced enough to ski those particular runs]. On the way up there was the stillest, most calm quiet I had, and probably ever will, experienced. I floated over 100 ft ravines, covered in feet of snow with jagged rock points poking out here and there. It was the most peaceful moment I had witnessed; and then I rose over the crest of the hill to the top of the lift and mountain....No words can explain the sensation that came over me. My mouth dropped open and I simply stared in awe for what felt like hours. I was even with the clouds, looking at panoramic views that I had only seen on postcards. After a while I felt as if I had made Berta wait long enough down at the bottom by herself, so I headed down the steep edges of the mountain with my mind still blown. The rest of the day went on like that, and I had the time of my life until, finally, I was forced to come back to reality and head back to the hostel. Although we had to check out of our room earlier that day, we quietly slipped into the hostel to use the kitchen in order to eat dinner. After prolonging that activity as long as we could, we made way to the train station where we would sit from 9pm to 4am [in order to avoid paying another nights fee staying at the hostel] to catch our train to Interlaken, Switzerland. So there we sat, in a tiny heated waiting room for 7 hours surrounded by bums and a runaway 'punk rocking' kid [most likely fleeing home with an 'I'll show them' mentality] waiting for our ride. The clock finally struck 4am and we boarded, only to find that all the sleeper cars were full, as well as the seats, so we had no option but to stand for quite some time, until people left the train and we snagged the last sleeper car there was for the last 2 hours of our travels to Interlaken, where we ready for some extreme sporting...
Friday, January 1, 2010
Ahh, Innsbruck, Austria...where do I start?
On the train ride there, I could immediately gather a feeling for the style and culture of living for Austrians (which is one that I adore). I continually saw smaller clusters of houses placed on large plots of land, nestled into the hillsides of the Alps; a sight that is sure to take even the most experienced traveler's breath away. Even better was the town of Innsbruck. It was the most quaint town, despite its partially larger size, that sat at the foot of some of the most beautiful parts of the Alps. It had one style of architecture throughout 90-95% of the city that emitted the most peaceful, historical, cultural, and 'cozy' ambience that I have ever been surrounded by. We ambled through the little cobble stone alleyways, passing all sorts of stores; old mom and pop toy stores, shoes, snow apparel, modern/chic clothing, pizza shops and many more. We found our hostel, after re-checking the map a few times, and I instantly was awestruck. We checked in at the pastry cafe that the owners also owned at street level and were then led through the old wooden doorway, up several flights of aged, natural stairs and into our room which contained 4 beds and a cozy table that sat by a bay window. The view looked down upon one of the alleys that pierced through the many 5 or 6 story edifices, where we could see tourists and locals alike, walking and holding hands. After we settled in a little bit it was still early enough for us to have time to head out and see what else Innsbruck had to offer at nighttime. As we walked we snapped picture after picture, falling victim to the breath-taking Alpine background that was partially covered by the quaint foreground of antique buildings. It wasn't until we saw the largest pieces of pizza we had ever seen that we realized how hungry we were. Now yes, I was aware that I didn't travel to Austria to have pizza, but we simply just couldn't resist trying these humongous slices. I felt a little complimented as I walked through the doorway into the pizza shop that couldn't have been more than 200 sq ft because the Native owner asked, "Italian??" I responded, "No, no. American," as he chuckled a little to his self and I couldn't help but to join in. I indulged fully into the pizza slices, finishing every last bite and then headed back out after thanking the generous man and wife for the meal. We zig-zagged past more stores and bakeries until we found a bunch of booths, containing food, drinks, toys, and souvenirs. It was pretty brisk out, and we couldn't help but to notice everyone walking by with little steaming ceramic mugs that were painted with the local language. We figured out where they were coming from and bought some "Punsch mit Amaretto" to help warm us up. Then, after looking at some maps and brochures pertaining to tomorrows activities, we went back to our hostel for the night, where we met 2 guys from Maine who were also traveling around Europe.
We decided that it would be better to relax a little for the day after our arrival rather than skiing right away, so we chose to visit Zaha Hadid's design, the 'Bergisel' (courtesy of my wishes). Because Innsbruck housed the Olympics twice, in the 60's and 70's, this was constructed and renovated to serve as the venue for the long jump skiiers, men who were surely out of their minds (if you see some of my pictures you will realize why). Another plus to seeing the design was also the views that it offered when standing atop it. Words cannot describe. And that is precisely why I took almost 200 pictures.
Because the hostel we had for the first night was booked already for the second night we had to return to the city and check into another hostel, one that also had good reviews. As we checked in we flooded the receptionist with questions about skiing for tomorrow. Lucky for us, he spoke very good English and was extremely helpful with all the details we needed. We went back to our room to relax after all the walking of the day and to get things prepared to make dinner in the hostel's kitchen. As we entered the room we met a cute Finnish girl who had all her belongings strewn about, looking for her key. We talked for a little and she headed out as we went down the the crowded kitchen to eat. I was absolutely starving and excited to make and eat the €3,86 meal Berta and I had gotten together at the supermarket...Pasta and Zucchini with Parmesan; however, due to the language barrier I did not exactly get to enjoy it. The sad thing is, I still couldn't tell you what the German words for Cooking Oil and Vinegar are...but I know they're not the same. I realized this as my nostrils flared up in disgust after smelling what Berta had poured into the zucchini's skillet, THINKING that it was oil. Nonetheless, I ate what I could (after we had rinsed it off with water and added a random assortment of whatever else we could find) until I had no appetite anymore, and went to bed..stoked for finally being able to ski in the Alps.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
It was a little rough night's sleep due to the awkward time change from Cincinnati to Munich, but I managed. The hostel served a pretty hearty breakfast for €3,70 and lucky for us offered a 'free' tour of Munich. Technically its a Tour for Tips, meaning that instead of the norm of paying before actually receiving a tour, you go through the tour and then tip the guide according to how good the tour was [which really helps save a lot of money because they expect a little less than the average touristy prices]. Our tour guide, Ozzie, was fantastic; giving us ample amounts of history, fun facts, and money saving tips for Munich. In his words, he was us to 'feel' Munich and not just see it. You could really tell he had a passion for his German heritage and culture [P.S. did I mention he was black? He made sure to crack several jokes at his expense before anyone got to question if he was German or not]. During the walking tour, which was 3 and a half hours, he enlightened us on history, dates, wars, economic struggles, etc [all of which applied to Munich's rich past and flourishing present. I was very enticed when we stopped in front of a couple very old churches and he explained a little bit about each one and its construction and design. All throughout the tour I was snapping pictures like professional photographer, not caring how many extras I took. I was so enthralled in the information being dealt to me and my surroundings that I just couldn't help myself. I also took a few videos, mainly of the infamous Glockenspiel and its surrounding Gothic-style facade. Another great part about the tour was visiting the Hofbrauhaus and learning its history, mainly because Cincinnati is Munich's sister city and is home to one the only other Hofbrauhaus's locations, which we found out is because during the reconstruction of Munich after World War II Cincinnati was the only city willing to finance the re-building of St. Peter's Church there in the middle of town. After the tour we walked back through the city streets on our own, re-admiring some of the buildings. I grabbed another Steak sandwich from the same booth before heading back to the hostel, grabbing our backpacks and going to the train station to approach our next leg of traveling...Innsbruck, Austria.
Once we were in Frankfurt the realization of traveling abroad hit me as if it were my older brother after hearing me say, "I quit!." We wandered through the airport to what seemed to be the utmost back corner until finally the signs of the Man and Woman representing the bathrooms ceased and we laid eyes on the restroom doors. Next we made our way back through the labyrinthine hallways and got to the Customs Check-In line. I couldn't help but to be a little nervous, for several reasons: 1) having been my first time in a foreign country [no Canada does not count], I felt as if I stuck out more than a woman's stomach in the 3rd trimester, 2) courtesy of Berta, "we" opted to go the the 2 120% German guards in full uniform to Check-In with Customs rather than the quaint, ever-so friendly looking American Customs Clerks. So there I am approaching "Adolf" and "Larz" feeling like I have a butcher's sign sticking out of me saying, "FRESH MEAT!." and just assuming I am going to be 'putting on a free strip show' [yes, I just quoted myself from the first Blog entry] for all my new German friends at the Frankfurt airport, and 3) I don't speak a lick of German [besides the few curse words my Grandfather taught me prior to leaving...which, contrary to popular belief, I do not think would aid in this situation]. Again, I felt as if I was lucky and got through without any hiccups. Afterwards, we went directly underground to the train station to purchase a ticket to Munich, where we would officially start our travels and sight-seeing. Scanning over the train schedule several times [which is totally and 100% in German by the way] we couldn't seem to find Mϋnchen [or Munich] so we were forced to act as typical Tourists [which I can't stand to be, mind you] and head to the Information Center. Because we were unaware of exactly what time it was, due to my foreign cell phone battery being completely dead, we asked if the Clerk spoke English and then if we could get tickets to the next train to Munich. It was at this point in my life that I got fully taken advantage of, like an All You Can Eat buffet outside a Sumo ring. I do not wish to share exactly how much my first purchase in Germany was, nor do I want to remember, but what really mattered was that the train was very comfortable, very fast, and got us where we needed to be [yes I'm fully aware that that was load of bull, but it's what I tell myself to help make me feel better about the whole situation]. While on the train, Berta and I looked through several Guide Books to find which Hostel would be best to check in with and stay for the night. We decided on Wombats, an awkward name yes, but the cheapest as well as holder of the best overall reviews. Since I was unaware of how checking into a hostel worked, I let Berta take the lead. We paid a very fair price, got our keys, and headed up to our room, in which we were 2 of 6. It was still pretty early in the evening and we didn't have much planned until the next morning so we decided to walk around Munich for a while under the light and see what it had to offer. I brought my camera along and admired the several different styles of unique architecture, as well as the very intriguing urban design/layout which focused around a main plaza and large, long walkable alleyway which housed a myriad of stores [ranging from shoes and clothes to electronics and Munich's infamous 'bierhalles']. After walking for a little my stomach began to growl in complaint and so we decided to grab a bite to eat from the city center. My first taste of REAL German food! I approached an open food booth that had several items listed on the menu. Now my brain may not have been able to translate the words, but my nose did a damn good job at translating the delicious German smell of the grill. I saw the word 'Steak' following several other large German words and decided I would opt for that. After I stammered through ordering and paying the very amicable lady, Berta and I went to a table just outside the ice skating rink to feast. We took the typical picture of one another taking our first bite, and as I sunk my teeth into the piece of mystery meat covered in onions, and nestled into a toasted bun my eyes got large and my taste buds got a long needed shock to the system. It was delicious! I inhaled the rest of the sandwich and sighed in relief, as my stomach was full and my taste buds fully pleased. As much as I wanted to wash it down with an ice cold German beer, I decided against it and we made our way back towards the Hostel for the night. Because we had not yet met any of the other travelers that we were staying with in our room, I was a little nervous when unlocking the door to see who I would find. Turns out it was a guy around the same age who was from Canada and coincidentally had just finished studying abroad for agriculture. It was around this time that I realized just how many interesting people I would soon be sure to meet by traveling all around Europe and staying in hostels. It is a concept that I think America could benefit greatly from [hostels, that is]. I think it is one of the major differences, culturally, that I have noticed thus far, and was so unaware of the affect that it could have. In the States, or at least from general experience, some things simply seem far too structured and the sense of freedom to travel around and experience what other places have to offer is severely overlooked [please don't misinterpret this. I love where/ how I grew up and was raised and would not trade it for the world. This is simply some positive criticism/observation of the US]. We didn't chat long, the Canadian and I, however it was entertaining. Afterwards Berta and I headed down to the very cozy lounge area and bar for our free drink, courtesy of our first night's stay, and to relax and play some cards before heading to bed in order to be well rested for the next day's excitement.
It's been two days since I have left the United States and I have already been 'WOWed' in so many ways. The first ' wow,' though, came when I was still in the U.S. Leaving Cincinnati, the plan was to meet Berta in Chicago for a layover, after which we would be sitting next to each other on the plane to Frankfurt, Germany. Upon arriving at Cincinnati's airport around 3:15p and checking in for my 5:45p flight to Chicago, the American Airline Worker mentioned that there was an earlier flight heading to Chicago and that it would be boarding soon. At first I was a little weary, not wanting to stray away from the scheduled norm right off the bat; however, after some convincing from my Dad, I opted for a ticket on the earlier plane [which was boarding in 10 mins]. I bid farewell to Mom and Dad, safely and quickly made it through the security check [luckily not having to strip down and put on a free show for the rest of Terminal 2], and walked right to my gate and directly onto the plane without pause. The flight to Chicago was a quick and painless one, yet also uneventful [other than the several times the blonde 2 rows ahead and to the left "discretely" glanced back over her shoulder at me [not exactly what I'd call 'my type' though]. Upon landing in Chicago I wanted to first find the Gate that Berta and I would be leaving to Frankfurt from, therefore I scrambled around the airport until I found several 'Departure' and 'Arrival' screens listing the numerous flights coming to and from Chicago. I found Berta's coming from San Franciso..."[On Time]" it read, flashing in yellow font. "Good," I thought to myself, knowing that I would not have to worry about meeting up with her in time. Now that I was a little more relieved, I took a second to pause and glance, again, back up at the 'Arrivals' screen. It read, "Cincinnati: Scheduled 5:45p [Now Delayed]." It was then that I almost chuckled aloud when my eyes fell upon the large, red blinking [7:28p] new scheduled arrival time. I was so lucky! It had to have been God's Christmas present to me. My flight to Frankfurt started boarding at 6:50p and departed at 7:30p! Had I not been convinced by my Dad to jump on the earlier flight, I would've missed my connecting flight overseas to Germany! Thus leaving Berta stranded by herself [though, I'm not so sure she would have minded too much]. It was at that point that I knew my trip abroad was off to a great start; with a little bit of luck, help from the big guy upstairs, and of course, my stunning good looks [I'm assuming that the Airline Attendant wouldn't have offered that earlier flight free of charge to just anyone].