Locarno

I am finally somewhat catching up on my blog!

Last weekend I was in Switzerland. Locarno, Switzerland, to be exact. At first I was a little iffy about the trip, for a couple of reasons. First, we were all tired from traveling throughout Italy the week before. Second, Stephanie’s dad’s friend, who we were supposed to be staying with, hadn’t contacted us until the day we were set to leave (Friday) at like nine in the morning. But, we decided to head out that afternoon anyway.

Once on the train, we hit an immediate speed bump. Eugene had forgotten his Eurail pass at home! Luckily we were only ten minutes away from Bonn, so he made the decision to jump off the train and go back home to grab it and meet up with us later. So, a man down, we continued traveling until we arrived in Locarno nine long hours later.

We were greeted by Robby, our gracious host for the weekend. We headed to a nearby bar to grab a beer while we waited on Eugene to arrive (in two hours). After the beer we went to a sort of bar/disco place where Robby saw some of his friends. It was crazy and loud and sort of a strange start to a trip that promised to be filled with serene mountains and beautiful nature.

But, my worry was soon to be for naught. We left the loudness soon after, and picked Eugene up from the train station a bit later. After heading back to Robby’s place, we were tired from traveling and called it a night. Boring, I know.

The next morning, Robby prepared a big breakfast with bread, cheese, coffee, ham, pastries, eggs, etc. This guy was seriously a great host.

Before rambling on more, let me show you a picture so you have some sort of visual clue as to where we were and where we were staying.

Nice and pink. Although it was an apartment, it was actually quite spacious. Eric and I shared the master bedroom, while Robby took the couch. I’m telling you, this guy was an amazing host.

After breakfast, Robby took us in his car out to the mountains. We actually had no clue where we were going or what was in Locarno. It’s actually a pretty small town, about 15 minutes from the Italian border. The only reason we were there was because of Robby and the shelter he could provide for us free of charge. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Imagine my surprise, when he brought us to the dam that was used in the beginning of Goldeneye! GOLDENEYE! This movie was a building block of my childhood. I watched it dozens and dozens of times.

So crazy! If you don’t remember what part of the movie I’m talking about or have never seen it (shame on you), watch this clip and ignore the terrible music they put in it:

Pretty cool, eh? It just blew my mind seeing it in real life. It’s totally random that they have such a massive dam in a tiny town in Southern Switzerland. But hey, I’m not complaining.

This is a view from the dam in to the mountains. Upon further thought, I think this blog post will be composed mostly of pictures.

This is Robby. Now you have a face to put to the name, which will undoubtedly be coming up often later on in the post. He has a little dog, Palomita, which he carries everywhere with him. Probably one of the coolest little dogs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Also, Palomita apparently means “popcorn” in Italian, which could be one of the best dog names ever.

Anyway, after the epic Goldeneye dam, we continued into the mountains, where we stopped at this old bridge.

Said bridge. It crossed this really pristine river that was almost crystal clear. The river was also covered with huge rocks, which we immediately started climbing and crossing.

Rocks like this. Nature of this sort was exactly what I wanted to see in Switzerland. I was growing weary of seeing large city after large city. It’s amazing how refreshing the outdoors can be when you’re stuck in a city for months on end.

After the river and bridge, Robby drove us further into the mountains. We passed lots of small mountain villages that looked so picturesque and perfect it was ridiculous. In one village we passed a little outdoor shop/cafe selling cheese and salami, and the guy working there apparently knew Robby (who apparently knows EVERYONE). So, we took a break from driving around and sat at this outdoor cafe, eating two year old goat cheese, salami that was aged in stone huts on the mountain, and sweet onions, all the while drinking delicious wine and admiring the view, which was something like this:

It was all sort of surreal. I never thought I’d ever be doing anything like that. But, like all good things, the moment had to end. Luckily, Robby was taking us even FURTHER into the mountains, on a road that was very seldom used. The result was ever more stunning scenery.

We also found a huge patch of snow, and decided to climb it. Sadly enough, it was only about the fourth encounter I’ve had with snow while in Europe. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

Snow! Despite the initial comfort and playful feeling you get when seeing snow, this particular snow was sort of scary and dangerous. There was a little river flowing underneath that had melted some of the snow, so when you were walking on it the ground would collapse randomly without warning and you could fall into a little icy cavern. Good times.

After the snow adventure, everyone was a little worn out from all of the sight-seeing. So, we headed home, where Robby cooked us all delicious spaghetti. I love that guy…

Well, that about sums up our weekend in Switzerland. Sure, it was a short trip, but it was one where I enjoyed every minute I spent there. I will leave you with this picture:

This is a pregnancy test in a vending machine. The kicker? It’s called “Maybe Baby”.

Until next time, sleep well my darlings.

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hey, Look At All That Water!

Finally, part three out of three. This post is all about our final stop in Italy: Venice. Venice, to put it simply, was different. It was unlike any city I’ve ever been to. The winding streets, endless canals, and hidden treasures were unique, something I’d never come close to experiencing before. More than the other cities I’ve been to in Europe, Venice was about just being there. It’s not the landmarks or touristy sights that make it a great city. It’s the charm. The individuality. The character. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

To give you some sort of frame of reference, we arrived in Venice on Thursday, around 5:30pm. We headed out from the train station armed with (supposedly) accurate walking directions from Google Maps. First, we had to cross a bridge and walk down a main street for ten minutes. Simple enough. Next, we crossed another bridge and turned left. And then we went straight. Or did we? Should we take a left? Go straight again? Was this building on the map? Each new street ushered in a dozen new questions and doubts of where the hell we were. So, we did what any burgeoning explorer would do and just walked in a random direction we thought was correct. It turns out it wasn’t. We walked for an hour and ended up in the same piazza, only entering it from a different direction. The cool thing about the piazza was this:

Hotel Santa! I think another word in the title was broken or something, but Hotel Santa is a better name anyway. But, after two hours of wandering and the help of some locals, we happened upon our hostel. As with most of our hostels in Europe so far, this one turned out to be a sort of apartment. For some reason these pseudo-apartments are often a lot less expensive than the crappiest hostels in the city. Go figure.

The next day was dedicated to seeing what the city had to offer. By this point we were sort of tired of seeing churches and statues and art, so just walking around the city was a nice change. There aren’t too many big sights or monuments in the city. One popular destination, however, was Piazza San Marco. It’s a square that has an old church, a big clock tower, and lots of space. It’s also located next to the sea (bay? lagoon?), which makes just adds to the beautiful scenery. Pictures!

This last one was interesting. There was a statue on a building whose genitals were “conveniently” covered by a tree branch and leaf. I just thought it was incredibly awkward and unnecessary, so a picture was taken.

As you can see, Venice is a nice looking place. The weather was absolutely gorgeous that day too, which was pleasant. It had rained in both Rome and Florence, so the shining sun was a welcome change. I actually walked around in a t-shirt for the first time in Europe without being cold!

After the piazza, we decided to head to this little peninsula place that our hostel/hotel/apartment manager person had recommended. It was opposite the bay from Piazza San Marco, and was said to offer a spectacular view. So, away we went. There was a cool bridge with a cool view on the way.

Cool! I think this bridge was on a key chain or something, so you know it’s a good place to take pictures. We finally arrived at the end of the peninsula, which was also home to a church. You could walk around the church, though, to get to the very tip for the greatest view. But, lo and behold, occupying much of that space was something very strange…

Yeah, I know. I don’t understand it either. A quick Google search reveals that the statue was made by an American artist, Charles Ray, a few years ago. I still don’t understand it’s purpose, but that’s ok. It makes for a good picture.

Random picture from where we were. It was surrounded by water on three sides. Pretty neat. We spent the rest of the day wandering around and getting lost over and over again. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I find it kind of tough to explain what Venice is like. It’s hard to blog about. It’s not one of those places where a few generic pictures can tell the whole story. Nor is it a place where a couple typical paragraphs can define it. Venice is a place full of random discoveries. It’s a place where you never walk the same street twice, even if you try. Instead of endlessly trying to list or categorize what we did for the rest of our time, I’m going to show you some random pictures and tell you some random anecdotes, which I feel will show the character of the city more than a timetable or events.

Like most of Italy, Venice is a place of immense beauty. There were moments like this, though, that took my notion of beautiful and blew it out of the water. Venice has a romance to it that it both subtle and very apparent. There’s a reason why it’s been called “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man.”

And then there were places like this. This sign was hanging outside of what looked like a normal bookshop in an alley. We went inside, and there was a GONDOLA in the middle of the store, full to the brim with books. So crazy. Like the Boy With Frog statue, this bookstore is another thing that exemplifies Venice. Random, quirky, charming sights that you’d never expect to see. The city is full of things like this. For example, we went to a restaurant/pizzeria later that day and they had pizzas such as the Harry Potter, the Flash Gordon, and the Mr. X, a pizza whose ingredients were listed as ???. So awesome.

Of course, Venice is about tradition too. No trip is complete without a visit to the many mask shops. This particular one was lined floor to ceiling with thousands of masks of every shape, color, and price. You could buy a huge, painted mask for 100 euro, or go with a simple, white one for around 12. The cool thing was that the guy who made the masks was actually in the store constructing them as we shopped. You could see the pile of unpainted masks sitting beside him, and when you looked inside some of the cheaper ones one the wall you could see the remnants of paper-mâché. Authentic!

I guess that about sums up my trip. Like I said, it’s definitely a city you need to experience firsthand, more so than any other city I’ve visited. No amount of words can really capture its essence. So, as my Spring Break Chronicles come to a close, I must wish you a good night. Sleep well, my darlings.

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The Jewel of the Renaissance” and Other Stories

This is a continuation of the last post about Rome. It’s all the same trip. Just so you know.

We left Rome on a perfect, sunny Tuesday morning, only to arrive in Florence to overcast, dreary skies. If my life was a novel, I would say this was a metaphor. Luckily, this was not the case. Florence was amazing. It’s widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and for good reason. Where Rome was crowded, noisy, and dirty, Florence was just the opposite. Even with grey skies, everything just seemed a little more…refined.

After arriving at our hostel, the owner suggested several things to do and see in the city. The most appealing seemed to be climbing this big hill overlooking the entire city, so we trekked a couple kilometers to the top. While we were walking, we rarely saw anyone. It was a nice contrast to being in the city center. Sample picture:

When we arrived at the top, however, there were a ton of people there. Apparently there was also a road that led to the top, so all of the lazy American tourists took their cars and buses instead of walking. Not cool, America. Not cool. There was also a copy of Michelangelo’s David up there. It was one of three David‘s in the city, one of them being the actual, original work.

There it is. Neat stuff. Here’s a view of Florence from the top of the hill, rendered more impressive by the quickly disappearing daylight.

The two big landmarks are the Duomo (cathedral) and the Palazzo Signoria, which our hostel was right beside. Later that night we went to eat at an Italian restaurant that our Art History professor had recommended. It was a local place, punctuated by the fact that there was hardly anyone there that spoke English. We did meet a Mormon couple from Utah, though. I had ravioli and the house wine, which was locally produced chianti. Skipped on the liver and fava beans, though.

The next day was a tourist day. We decided to see all the sights in Florence, which meant another day full of churches and art. According to something I read, Italy has about 60% of the world’s major artworks, and about half of those reside in Florence. Pretty crazy, eh?

First things first, we visited the Duomo. It’s an awesome sight. Until the modern era, it was the largest dome in the world, and remains the largest brick dome in the world to this day. What makes it more impressive is that the dome was constructed in 1436. 1436!? Insane. In comparison, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was completed 150 years later, and was still smaller.

That’s the interior and the dome. The dome is all one massive fresco. There were quite a lot of people in there, all of whom were talking. Obviously, it’s a church so you’re supposed to be somewhat quiet while inside. So, to combat the noise, there was this priest (monk? something?) that would randomly come over the loudspeaker and announce, “SILENZIO…SILENCE….SILENZIO PER FAVORE…SILENCE PLEASE.” It was sort of hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

After the cathedral we saw some other cool sights and churches and art, but I won’t bore you with the details. You’re probably as burnt out from looking at that stuff in my blog as I was from seeing it. But, next, comes the best part of Florence: David! You know, the massive, world-renowned sculpture by one of the greatest artists of all time? It was here, in Florence! So cool. There was a long line waiting to get into the actual museum. Evidence of the long line:

Lovely graffiti. We were all thinking it. He just chose to express it. Anyway, when inside, you were faced with a room with a cool sculpture and some big paintings and stuff, none of which was David. I felt sort of bad for these artists. They probably produced their life’s greatest work, only to have it hang in the same museum as something like David. Bummer.

After the first room you turned the corner, and BAM! DAVID! AT THE END OF THE HALL! So cool. You can see pictures and stuff, but it’s much, much better in person. Like the Sistine Chapel, you weren’t allowed to take pictures. I made like a ninja and snapped some anyway:

Man, it’s so much more impressive in person. Go see it someday! You won’t be disappointed.

It turns out that it was some sort of Italian national holiday that day (March 17th…copying the Irish…). So, that night, we attended some of the celebrations. There was a free concert in Piazza della Signoria by the Florence Philharmonic, as well as some interesting performances by a bunch of flag-twirling Italians, who were dressed in traditional Renaissance garb. It was quite a site. There were lots and lots of people, and the buildings were all lit up by lights representing the Italian flag. I didn’t get any pictures in the craziness, so here’s one I found on the internet:

That’s the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. They had a lot of buildings that were lit up like that. Very cool. We stood on another bridge further down the river and watched the “fireworks show” that they had later in the night. The quotations mean that it was probably an intense spectacle of sight and sound to an Italian, but to a Texan it was comparable to my next door neighbor spending a few extra dollars on the 4th of July.

On our last day in Florence we basically just chilled out and walked around. Wandering around the parts of the city that weren’t contaminated by tourists was a cool experience.

We saw some cool graffiti, again. Toast!

That about sums up our trip to Florence. Spoiler alert: it was my favorite city in Italy, and probably my favorite city in Europe so far, at least aesthetically. I’ll post again tomorrow about Venice. Until then, sleep well my darlings.

Published in: on April 2, 2011 at 11:09 am  Comments (1)  

When In Rome, Do As The Tourists Do

ITALY! I went there. Ten days of pure Southern European beauty and madness. It was about as far away from Germany as you can get in Europe, culturally speaking. They’re a very relaxed and lackadaisical people. I went between being genuinely impressed with their take on leisure and life to annoyed and then back again. As my dad would say, that’s the problem with Italy…all of those Italians.

First up: Rome. We arrived in the afternoon, and headed out from the train station to find our hostel. Google Maps gave us some crazy directions, so we ended up walking through what looked like some sort of Turkish ghetto. Despite being surrounded by doners, it was still an unpleasant experience.

Soon, we arrived at our hostel. It was called the Ciak Hostel. At first I read CLAK, which sounded more interesting, so I just called it that for the remainder of the time. It was run by two very nice British ladies who made us feel right at home. They kept calling me darling and it was nice. We had some time before dinner and so we went exploring the streets. Walking randomly is always a great way to experience a city. These are some of the things we found:

A cool statue in front of a palace in front of a sunset.

A Socialist rally? There was lots of red and tents and intellectual people. I wanted a shirt, but couldn’t find one.

After a couple hours of walking, we headed back to the hostel and enjoyed delicious, free pasta. The rest of the gang were talking to this dude that happened to be from Austin, but I was somewhat separated and couldn’t chime in above the din. So, I talked to our roommate, who was this dude from Sweden named Tobias. He was in Rome for the sole purpose of going to the Roma vs. Lazio soccer game, which is apparently a long and bloody rivalry. After dinner we were still hungry, so we headed out with Tobias to get some pizza. Tobias got anchovies on his pizza and I tried them for the first time. They were salty.

The next morning we woke up earlyish, ready for some sightseeing! First up, the Coliseum. It was surprisingly close to our hostel. We were innocently walking down the street and then BOOM! There’s the greatest feat of engineering and architecture that the Romans had to offer. Just sitting there, surrounded by regular ‘ol streets and cars and buildings.

Impressive! On the way inside we were accosted by a half-dozen tour guides. But, being poor and slightly knowledgable about art/architecture, we declined over and over again. Once inside, I took lots of pictures. They can explain better than my rambling.

Found this carved into one of the walls. Whoop for defacing immensely significant ancient structures?

Enough of the Coliseum! On to the Roman Forum! It was across the street, and apparently where the Romans used to go to conduct business and discuss the intricacies of ruling 40% of the world’s population. Or, they just took baths. Either way, it was old. Where the Coliseum had massive crowds of tourists gawking at every cobblestone, the Forum was almost empty. It was a very welcome change. We were free to wander up and down paths, staircases, gardens, and ruins. We even picked an orange from a tree overhead.

Good stuff. Relaxing. After the Forum we headed for the Pantheon. Stumbled across a huge monument first though. Not really sure what it was for:

Anyway, Pantheon! It’s a massive church with a massive hole in the roof. The Emperor Hadrian would sit in the very center of the room on his throne while the light from the sun shone down on him like a god. Intimidating, eh?

That’s the hole! Unfortunately, it was cloudy and overcast and therefore we missed the whole ethereal effect.

The actual church part of the Pantheon was neat too.

After the Pantheon we went to the Trevi Fountain. So many sights, so little time! I’m not sure what the significance of the Trevi Fountain is, but I know that a lot of people like to go there. It was quite beautiful.

Apparently it’s good luck to throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain. Who knows why. The lame thing about throwing a coin into the water is that homeless people come along and take all of the money in the fountain. They use poles with little magnets attached to the end, and just collect all of the loose change from the bottom. To make things worse, they do it while you’re standing there. Dumb.

We headed back to the hotel, and I’m not really sure what we did at night. It was two weeks ago and my memory is poor and failing me at the moment.

I remember what we did the next day, though! VATICAN CITY! It was so so amazing. Makes a man proud to be a Catholic. Check out the awesomeness that is St. Peter’s:

So much better in person. Really awe-inspiring stuff. This is just the outside, too. Once we get inside…

Very nice! It was really strange being inside of the heart of the Catholic Church. It just blew my mind how incredible it all was. It was one of those experiences that helps reaffirm you faith. It’s hard to imagine so many people spending that much time and that many resources on something that they didn’t really believe in. Crazy.

Next, we decided to climb to the top of the dome. We were cheap and decided to save two Euros by not taking the elevator. I was iffy about the 500-odd stairs to the top, but it ended up being a great decision. Finally, we arrived at the top:

You could walk around the entire top of the dome and catch a 360 degree view of Rome. Really cool stuff.

Our last stop in Vatican City was the Vatican Museum. It apparently has seven(!) miles of museum inside of it, all filled with incredible art that ranged from Ancient Greek sculptures to Abstract Expressionism. And, of course, at the end of it all is the Sistine Chapel. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s a couple pictures of some of my favorite pieces:

School of Athens, by Raphael. Considered one of his greatest masterpieces. I learned about it in Art History and liked it, so I was really surprised to see it here.

Massive stone foot next to Stephanie’s childlike foot so you can get a sense of scale. The thing was huge.

Modern sculpture. I don’t remember who it was by, but I liked it a lot. And now, without further ado, the Sistine Chapel:

You weren’t supposed to take pictures in there, so that’s why these are sorta iffy. But WOW. I never thought I’d see the Sistine Chapel in person. It’s one of those places you always hear about, but never really think about as a physical place you can see and visit. Pretty surreal. It made me never want to take up painting as a hobby, as my sad attempts will never come close to something like the Sistine Chapel. Thanks, Michelangelo, for ruining my future as a painter.

Well, that’s pretty much it for Rome. This post ended up being longer than I thought it would be, so I think I’ll leave it at Rome and update about Florence and Venice later this week. I leave you with a picture of Italian Futurama graffiti.

Until next time, sleep well my darlings.

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

KARNEVAL!

Yes, I know that I am a little late in posting about this, but now is better than never.

Karneval, to all you unedumacated folks out there, is a crazy celebration that occurs from the Thursday before Ash Wednesday until the following Monday. It apparently started as a Roman Catholic tradition in Italy, where they would throw a huge costumed festival right before the first day of Lent. Catholics were not supposed to eat meat during Lent, which is why they called the festival Carnevale, which means “to put away the meat.”

Enough about history. Let’s get to the real stuff.

On Thursday morning, there was a big parade in Beuel (part of Bonn, across the Rhine). I sorta kinda accidentally slept in, so I missed it. But not to fear! I actually live in Beuel, and the party happened to be right outside my window, so to speak. An important part of Karneval is the costumes. EVERYBODY dresses up. I thought at first, you know, that maybe some people would dress up all fancy-like and most others would have an “ironic” costume that’s just them wearing normal clothes. Not true. So, I had to get myself a costume. I wondered to myself, “what kind of costume would combine just the right amount of fun, classiness, and party?” The answer:

CLOWN! Of course! Damn, it felt good to be a clown. So, for the rest of the day, I joined the Germans in the streets and celebrated this glorious event. If you’ve never wandered the streets drinking champagne in a clown suit, let me tell you, it’s a blast.

Traditionally, the Germans take a day off between their heavy days of partying and celebrating to recuperate. I thought this was unnecessary at first, but I was wrong. The Germans are a smart people. So, on Friday I didn’t do too much. Just sort of hung out with friends and lazed about.

Saturday. There was supposedly a “ghost parade” in Cologne, which sounded cool. We traveled there and attempted to find it, but instead found nothing but a huge party. South Cologne is where most of the students at the university live, so that was where most of the party was happening. They closed down an entire street. It was neat. There were tons of people and music and costumes and just all-around merriment. Fun times for all!

Sunday was, once again, a day of rest. I did absolutely nothing and didn’t even leave my house until like 6pm. Probably the most chill day I’ve had in Germany so far. Usually there’s some sort of event or class or trip to go on. On a more interesting note, I was woken up by a marching band outside my window. Very nice!

…and then it was MONDAY! THE GRANDEST DAY OF ALL! Monday is traditionally the craziest/most popular day of Karneval. There is a parade in Cologne that over 1.5 million people attend. So, naturally, we had to go. Take a look:

Pretty cool. The parade was a long one, though. We were standing there for over four hours when we decided to leave. We headed over to South Cologne, which I told you about earlier. The party was unsurprisingly even more impressive! So, we spent the rest of the day and night celebrating with the locals and having a great time.

Fun stuff! Karneval is definitely something everyone should experience at some point. I think it’s an important part of German culture, and definitely something that’s lacking in our own. I mean, can you imagine a day in America where all the McDonalds and Wal-Marts close their doors? I can’t either. Everyone needs a break every once in a while, and what better way to have a huge celebration? You still have 51 other weeks in the year to work.

Anyway, that’s my account of Karneval. I’ll update again soon regarding Spring Break in Italy. Until then, sleep well my darlings.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Praha

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, but get ready. This is a gargantuan post, filled with all sorts of grand adventures and hair-raising tales.

Well, not quite, but I did go to Prague. It was the best weekend in Europe so far, and, dare I say, one of my favorite weekends ever. A lot of things went horribly wrong and a lot of things went beautifully right, which turned out to be quite the recipe for a memorable trip.

As with all great stories, ours started with a railroad strike. The workers of Deutsche Bahn decided to go on strike for about four hours on Friday morning. This caused all of the trains to run at least fifteen minutes late. People were scrambling around trying to buy new tickets and getting angry when even their newly reconciled train schedule was disrupted by the lateness. This strike seemed suspiciously like an inside job to me (maybe a ploy for extra ticket money?). Needless to say, our train was as late as the rest of them. This caused us to miss our connecting bus in Nürnberg. So, busless and alone, we were stuck in this city for the next three hours until some more transport arrived to take us to Prague.

This turned out to be a great experience. Nürnberg was a fantastic. Look and see:

It was a surprisingly beautiful place. There was a river running through the center of town, with plenty of old and picturesque buildings surrounding. It probably helped that the weather was sunny and perfect.

We saw this crazy gypsy/Turkish street band. They were an energetic bunch. There were two guys playing clarinet, an accordion player, and two drummers. The drummers played on this sort of conga drum, but instead of just playing with their hands they had little drumsticks attached to two fingers on each hand. It was impressive.

German architecture at its absolute finest.

We enjoyed a glass of the local beer at this cafe in the town center. Sitting outside and sipping a beer in a foreign city is quickly becoming one of my favorite pastimes. Germany is allowing me to finally gain an appreciation for beer. It’s an art form, I promise.

Anyway, after wandering the streets for three hours, it came time to jump on our bus to Prague. It wasn’t the most traditional way to travel, but it sure was interesting.

That’s the bus. It was mostly filled with quiet, older Germans. Our end of the bus was the only one making any noise. We met a guy that goes to Texas State, which was pretty random. There were also two Germans sitting beside us that were really drunk and loud. They kept trying to speak English at us, but communicating with them was difficult. Apparently the woman worked at a company that sold Texan themed products, so that was a crazy coincidence too.

Well, after three hours on the bus, we arrived in Prague. This is what I saw after leaving the train station and walking a couple minutes down the street:

Impressive, right? The architecture in this city was breathtaking. But, after a few minutes of admiration, we were damn cold. We had no clue how to get to our hostel from the train station, so we ended up sort of wandering around until we found it. The best thing about the hostel? Its name. It was called the Czech Inn. So punny! It was actually a nice place. The rooms were clean, the staff was helpful, and there was a happy hour at the bar.

It was about 11pm when we got to the hostel, so we dropped off our stuff and went to explore Prague’s nightlife. Luckily enough, our hostel happened to be located away from the touristy side of town, and therefore everything was cheaper and there were more interesting people. We went to a random bar where Eric met a creepy French pornographer. This guy was nice, though, and directed us to a cool club where all the locals hung out. So, we went. He was right. It was a pretty sweet place.

The next day we decided to try out one of the “authentic” Mexican food places in the area. Everyone was skeptical, but this place brought all of our dreams to life. It was real AND delicious Mexican food! The employees even spoke Spanish. Food!

Pretty classy stuff. It was a good choice. Apparently Mexican food is actually pretty popular in Prague. Who knew?

We decided to dedicate Saturday to walking around and seeing some of the typical touristy sites. Cue pictures of pretty buildings:

Remember that huge building earlier? It’s called the National Museum, and this is the view from it down the street. It was pretty incredible. And yes, that is a giant horse statue you see. For a tourist trap, things were surprisingly accessible and cheap. That’s one of the things I liked most about Prague. It was tourist-friendly without being TOO touristy. Sure, there were places where you could buy cheap plastic souvenirs and $9 beers, but I felt like the city kept its charm and soul while also catering to others who wanted to experience it.

This is the astronomical clock. I’m not really sure what it is or how it works, but people liked to take pictures of it. It seemed cool, so I took a picture as well. It’s located in the town square, which was really amazing.

Me in front of some massive and impressive building.

I saw this cemetery on top of a building in the Jewish Quarter. I’m not exactly sure how that works or who would want to be buried on top of a building, but it was a strange sight worth capturing.

We walked around all day and finally headed back to the hostel around five. The rest of the evening was interesting. I’ll leave it at that.

Sunday we saw some more touristy things, namely Prague Castle. It’s the Czech equivalent of Buckingham Palace.

The castle from a distance. It’s on top of this huge hill overlooking Prague. We made our way to the castle by way of random side streets. I don’t think it was the normal way to get there, but it was a lot more interesting.

These are what all of the streets leading up to the castle were like. I felt like I was in some sort of spy novel or something. We were just wandering through mostly empty streets and alleyways, with all of these historic buildings around us.

The front of the castle. They had ceremonial guards with big hats and everything, just like in London! These ones would actually smile, though. All of the sculptures around the castle were really old and antique, except for one fact. They all had random gold accessories. For example, there would be a statue of a lion, all worn looking except for a little shining crown on its head. Weird.

I think the palace/castle was built around this cathedral. It looked older than everything else, and is right in the very center of the walls. It also stood on the highest point of the hill, which would make sense. Needless to say, it was very impressive.

After leaving the castle we slowly made our way back to the center of Prague (the castle is located across the river). We ended up eating at a traditional Czech restaurant. We found a place with a fairly cheap special, which consisted of potato soup, goulash, and a beer. Delicious. The restaurant was quiet and cosy, for the most part. There was a couple in the corner who were getting a little handsy and a large group of obnoxious Spaniards who came in later, but all in all it was a good meal.

Sadly, we were nearing the end of our trip to Prague. Our train left at 11:40pm and was supposed to arrive at 1pm, including a three hour stop-over in Pilsen, a smaller city in the Czech Republic (where Pilsner beer was born). What the travel people forgot to tell us, however, was that the train station in Pilsen would be closed the entire time we were there. Which means, as we arrived in Pilsen, we were booted out and had to wander the lonely streets from 1-4am. It was sort of surreal. The city was pretty big, but we saw maybe a dozen people and cars in the hour we were wandering the streets. Found a cool poster though:

They had these V for Vendetta Anticapitalism images all over the city, both in poster and graffiti form. It was pretty neat.

Despite some interesting sights, the wait in Pilsen was pretty god-awful and miserable, though. It was freezing cold and there were dangerous looking bums loitering around the train station with us. But, after waiting for three long hours, we hopped on a train headed to our next connection. The train was warm and cosy and soon we all drifted off to sleep.

Suddenly, we were woken up by the train attendant lady screaming in Czech! She kept yelling the same thing at us, and looking around, I realized the train was stopped. The lady forced us out of the train onto this icy platform. It was bone-chillingly cold and there was nothing, and I mean NOTHING, around. Just a snowy platform in the middle of nowhere. To make things worse, we were the only passengers on the train. We had absolutely no idea what to do or where to go. So, we just followed the train lady. She ended up jumping on a random bus, so we just followed suit, not knowing where it was headed. Warmth was our biggest priority at the time. The bus stopped at a tiny train station somewhere in the Czech Republic, and after several connections and tiring train rides we arrived back in Nürnberg to take our train back to Bonn. It was a terrible and thrilling end to our weekend.

So, to sum up: go to Prague. You won’t regret it. It was my favorite city so far in Europe. I feel like it’s a place that’s underrated and often forgotten when plans to travel Europe are made. I will leave you with this picture of laughable Chinese tourists:

So, until next time, sleep well my darlings.

Published in: on March 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Secret Hatred

So today the group took a trip to Cologne to visit a visualization company called HH-Vision. They are an architectural visualization company who do detailed 3D versions of buildings, including interiors. It’s visually very impressive, but overall a bit boring. They’re architects, so go figure. Here’s there website if you want to check out what they do:

HH-Vision

It’s in German, but just look at the pretty pictures and don’t freak out. If you followed the link, you may have seen that they did the visualizations for the stadiums for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid. Here’s a video of that:

I knew this before going to visit the company. As you may or may not know, Qatar beat out USA as a host for that same World Cup. Obviously a terrible choice, but oil money can sway quite a few votes towards you. Anyway, when I learned that HH-Vision helped boost Qatar’s chances by doing these animations (and quite nice ones at that), I couldn’t help but secretly hate them. I know they’re neutral and German and all, but my patriotic instincts kicked in and I loathed them from the start.

We also went on a tour of this mosque they’re constructing in Cologne. It’s not done yet, but when it’s done it’s supposedly going to be the biggest mosque in Germany, and possibly of all Western Europe. We got to walk through the unfinished building and had to wear hard hats and everything. Exciting! Here is said mosque:

That’s the actual mosque part. Underneath is a shopping mall or something crazy like that. It was an impressive structure.

Well, that’s all for now. Sleep well, my darlings.

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment