Points of Interest: Neues Rathaus, Frauenkirche, Viktualienmarkt
This would be my final big trip here in Europe, and I get to reunite with my awesome former travel buddy timTIM Ketenjian. Also, his (and now my) friend Courtney from his EAP program would be joining us. Three really is a great number of people to travel with. This trip would also take me to the easternmost European city I’ve visited in my life, Budapest. But before we get there, I land in Munich, Germany.
I took a train from Bordeaux to Roissy CGD Airport in Paris., I was flying back to Germany for a second time (Berlin was #1), but this time one of the alcohol capitals of the world. As we were landing, coming under the clouds revealed something I’ve never seen before: white all over the ground. It was snow. EVERYWHERE. As many Californians who do not live near the mountain areas, I have never seen actual snowfall, and I knew that there was going to be a pretty good chance for that to happen on this trip.
I boarded the S-bahn and headed toward the city, snow falling outside my window. Once leaving the train, I realized exactly what temperature it needed to be for it to snow. IT WAS FREEZING. And my converse and ankle-high socks did not help. I actually constantly tripped the entire trip because my shoes were not made for snow (Ask Tim and Courtney).
I met up with Tim and Courtney at our Hostel which was pretty nice, and we were all DEAD. Planes, trains, and buses make you extremely tired, and that’s exactly what we were that night. We asked our hostel front desk to recommend some restaurants, and the guy gave us some streets to try out near the hotel. The only problem was, these places were freaking expensive. And to top it off, later on we realized that the fairgrounds where Oktoberfest is held was just down the corner, WITH A HUGE CHRISTMAS MARKET!
But not knowing this, we wandered around and found an Italian Place. Not very German but we’ll make up for it, don’t you worry. And then it happened: SNOWFALL. It was really awesome, and I felt like a kid in awe of this white powder falling from the sky. Again, we were so far removed from what we were used to, and it was great. We got hot Chocolate (which we did every night, both because it’s good and because we were freezing), then we returned for a really nice sleep.
The next day, we were off on a Sandeman’s NewEurope tour! This are always great. We met at Marienplatz, one of the main squares, and the tour got started. Our tour guide was a Canadian from Quebec named Kristin. She was a quirky, cheetah-print-converse-wearing type of girl, and was a great tour guide. She started by describing the New Town hall above, Neues Rathaus, and the Glockenspiel, the green area in the middle of the middle tower, has a little show that happens around 10:00AM that shows the defeat of the Austrian Empire. It is also not very exciting, though the Jouster does fall off his horse which is…something. Other than that, the figures just spin around…forever.
Our next stop is one of Munich’s symbols, the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche). Something I learned is that Munich is a very Catholic city. The Pope was in Munich just a few years ago. They have so many churches in the area, and the one above is simple on the outside with Brick….
and a little bit more ornate on the inside.
We then went to the Viktualenmarkt, one of the largest outdoor market in Munich. It had everything you needed, and also was the start of our Christmas Market Experience. People go to Munich in October for Oktoberfest, but going in Late November and December gives you an equally festive, equally alcohol-filled, yet more magically Christmas-like environment.
To keep our numb toes from falling off, we had our first taste of Gluhwein, which is hot, mulled wine. It was weet, and definitely warmed me up, though just for a few seconds. I really could not feel my toes. It was around -2 degrees Celsius during the day, only to get colder at night.
We then went to the Hofbrauhaus, probably Munich’s most famous beer hall. Whenever our tour guide asked us a question, the answer was always most likely beer. Beer really is a part of this city’s culture, though there are definitely other things besides the alcohol that make it great.
Next, we walked down Maximilianstrasse, the most expensive shopping street in Munich. There definitely was a different group of people hanging out on this street than in Marienplatz, dressed in fur coats, and wearing really expensive-looking accessories, and of course, the expensive BMW’s lining the parking spaces. Thsi street also led us to the NationTheater, which is the beautiful main National Bavarian Opera House.
The tour ended here, one of the places where Hitler gave one of his many persuasive, yet lie-filled speeches. It was in Munich that the Nazi Party had their headquarters, and it would also be in this area where the first Concentration Camp, Dachau, would be established. After the tour, we decided to go there next.
…but before that, SAUSAGE!!!
Dachau was the first concentration camp created by the National Socialist Party. Dachau itself is a small town outside of Munich, and once I stepped onto the grounds, you felt something in the air. The building above was the main entrance and SS Office Building.
The vast camp, with a landscape gray and severe, definitely made you feel what it might have been like as a prisoner, especially during the cold winters like this. I complain about my feet being cold and my face hands freezing, but the prisoners had to work under these conditions, and probably didn’t have the coat or hat that I had on.
We entered the bunker where “Special” prisoners were held in cells, and once again, the severity of the long hallway shown above gave me goosebumps.
On the other side, an equally long hallway, though locked and pitch dark. It was pretty creepy.
This was a place of torture, inhumanity, and death. And what I love about Germany is that they know how to recognize their very strong, violent past in a way that does not undermine it at all, but instead has the desire to share this part of their country’s past in order to make sure that it does not happen again in the future. Both here in Munich and in Berlin have been true testaments to that.
We stayed until closing time, and I was really glad I got to experience a concentration camp while I was here. Places like these are powerful testaments to how inhumane and thoughtless mankind can become. Afterward, we then waited in the freezing cold for our bus back to the S-bahn station, after we were kicked out of the warm cafeteria area.
And to lighten up the mood, it was Christmastime back in Marienplatz! Germany goes all out for it’s Christmas markets. It’s KNOWN for them. And Munich is one of the best in all of Europe.
And to make life even happier, MORE SAUSAGE!! mmmm… Now I’m not going to lie, I had so much more food that night. But I’ll stop tempting you. Just get your butt over to Germany already!
So as our night drew to a close, there was one very important element that was constantly mentioned throughout our day: beer. And tonight was going to be the night we tried an Augustiner, one of the names thrown out by our tour guide. And so we went to a beerhall, which is a noisy, rowdy, absolutely brilliant place to be. We even met a fellow Southern Californian who lived just minuted away from Tim’s hometown! We sat down on one of the free picnic style benches, and enjoyed our beverages.
I gotta say, this beer was freaking delicious. And you see that barrel in the background? Yep, Someone from downstairs brings it up, they use that mallet to poke a hole in the top, then pour the beer from another hole poked near the bottom of the barrel. And direct from the source comes this wonderful brew pictured above.
And there you have it. The first part of our two-country journey! The next day, there would be a lot of singing (especially riffing), more snow and Christmas joy, and a woman named Trudy who would like to see “Sean Connery in anything…or nothing.” Salzburg, Austria, setting for the classic musical film “The Sound of Music” and Tim’s Birthday made for an extremely entertaining last day. Blog post soon to follow!
For now, back to studying. I cannot wait until Wednesday when I’m free to enjoy my last few days left in Europe!
I just took my first oral final exam today for my international marketing class, and it was horrible. I sounded stupid, because I didn’t study enough. I should’ve studied more, and because there was so much material, I tried to get a general knowledge vs. focusing on the most obvious material. And of course, she tests me on the most simple thing of which I had a general knowledge for.
When I asked how I did, she said “CA VA.” What exactly does Ca Va translate to? We will see in a month or so. But all I know is, my GPA is going to take a bit of a dive this quarter. Just in time to show recruiters.
It’s finally coming to an end. In some ways, it went by quickly. But globally (globalement, lol.), I think that this time was just right.
I kept trying to think about things I wished I would’ve done, things I need to do before I leave, and things that I wished never happened. I think about what I needed to do to make the most of my experience abroad. But, I think that at this very moment, I accomplished everything I wanted to do. Sure I don’t have an entire French posse following me around Bordeaux everyday like I’d imagined, but I’ve met so many awesome French and international students. Sure I hang out with Californians which doesn’t really count as being completely immersed, but they too were people that I’m so glad I’ve met.
Everyone has that image of what they want their lives abroad to be. And sometimes, even though that image doesn’t come true, you can still be satisfied with what you have, and look back at your time and be amazed. And so although I didn’t get to travel to Prague (which was near the top of my list), what does that one city matter, compared to the dozens of Beautiful other cities I got to see.
My study abroad adventure definitely turned out to be something amazing. And through all the difficulties of administrative/bureaucratic processes that can be annoying, I looked to so many of the the other positive, beautiful things that far outweigh the negative aspects. And each day I was here, I understood just how fortunate I was to even have the opportunity to be doing this, and had no reason to complain.
I think my time here in Europe was just right. It was enough time to really get a sense of the culture and immerse myself (as well as travel), but I’m excited to get back home and continue pursuing what I want to do in life. It was a really nice pause away from my crazy life back home.
But right now, the only thing that is on my mind when I think about home: Carne Asada Burrito.
Points of Interest: Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge, Murano Island
One of the most beautiful and unique cities I’ve ever seen, Venice definitely lives up to it’s name. When you think Venice, you think boats, canals, and especially gondolas. And although Venice is EXTREMELY touristy (if it was this crowded during November, I don’t even want to know how crowded it is in the Summer), it’s still able to break through that and amaze you (a little bit of a pun, since the city really is a giant maze!).
This would also be my first solo voyage since Biarritz, and in a city I did not know the language of (but because of the heavy amount of tourists, everyone basically spoke English, which is a shame in my opinion). The day I got to Venice, I had done A LOT of traveling. I flew from Morocco to France, bussed around France waiting for my flight, bussed to the airport, flew to Treviso (an hour away from Venice), bussed to Venice, took a Vaporetto (the big water bus pictured above in the first picture) from the main islands to Lido, then walked 10 minutes to my place, which happened to be another residence/apartment.
Arriving at 11:30PM, I was super tired, but I was greeted by this amazingly nice Italian woman. She didn’t speak English. BUT! She did speak French! And that’s something I always believe about learning new languages: it allows you to communicate with people you couldn’t have otherwise. I got to talk to her a little bit, and she was super nice to wait for me this late.
And the icing on the cake, she upgraded my single room to a three-person room since she didn’t have other bookings. It was great. I would be staying here three nights, so it was so nice to have the space. I rested up, because I knew the next day would require LOTS of walking.
The island I was staying on is called Lido, mainly a residential community. It’s the largest of the Islands in Venice, and can be traveled around by car. Venice, on the other hand, is an extremely Pedestrian city. There is a car park and bus terminal at the edge of the city, across the bridge which connects it to the mainland, but no where else on the island. People travel by boat. Tourists can take expensive and luxurious water taxis around (costing around 100€ a trip), or the Vaporetto water bus, which has several different lines that run all around the lagoon. It was a little bit more expensive than regular transport (6,50€ a trip, 33€ for a 3-day pass), but the experience was definitely worth it.
My first stop for the day was the Rialto Bridge, probably the most important, and most recognized bridge of the city. I got of at Rialto, and began my journey through the maze of Venice here.When standing on the bridge, you look out onto the Grand Canal (the first picture of the post), and it really is mesmerizing. Seeing all of the boats really allows you to say to yourself, “I’m in Venice.”
Leaving the Rialto bridge, you can either turn left or right. Each side, however, looked like this, packed with people, shops selling masks, glass, and other symbols of Venice.
I literally just kept walking. I knew there were a couple stops I wanted to get to, but I just wanted to explore. And you never really know where you are, because all of a sudden, you turn the corner and find a huge church or a beautiful canal. It was craziness.
You can’t go to Italy and not get Gelato. You crazy? The one pictured above is Coconut.
Venice even had a beautiful park, though it was small.
There are a ton of shops with masks in the window. Some were beautifully handcrafted and you could see the detail and work put into them. Others were made in China. These particular ones were really nice.
As large Italian cities usually have, they had beautiful churches scattered ALL OVER. I forgot the name of the one above, but it was right on the edge of the water.
My second stop was the Piazza San Marco, with its towering…um, tower and Saint Mark’s Basilica right next to it. The sad thing was that I couldn’t find the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica, so I didn’t enter. :(
I really just kept walking. I don’t really think I stopped. I had another full day the next day, but I wanted to take everything in and make the most of my time. So, I ended up back at the Rialto Bridge area to take a picture of the Grand Canal. If you read my Paris, blog, you know the best people to ask are Asian tourists with large cameras, because you know they won’t steal your measly 8.1 megapixel Canon Powershot. So I got a picture, but the lighting kind of made it weird, but it was still nice.
It was getting late, and I was getting hungry. Extremely touristy places like Venice make it hard to get a genuine meal. So, I tried to vigilantly find a place that had good Italian food. Venice is teeming with tourist traps with mediocre food at high prices. I didn’t want to fall victim to that.
Problem was that it was getting late, and I couldn’t find a place that look appetizing enough. So I kind of just picked the next restaurant I saw. It looked like there were a bunch of Italians in this one place, so I always say, go where the locals go. I sat down and ordered Spaghetti with clams and Deep fried Calamari with Shrimp. Unfortunately, when I tasted my food, it tasted like a tourist trap. I could’ve made better spaghetti, and the seafood tasted funny. Sad times.
I hopped back on the Vaporetto to get back to my hotel on Lido. I WAS POOPED. Walking around is so tiring, but Venice was definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen so far. And riding on a boat all the time, made it even better. I knew it was going to rain the next day, and so I bought an umbrella from a store before heading back to my hostel and to bed for some much needed rest. I wanted to make my way to the island of Murano where they’re famous for their glass-making, eat some pizza since I didn’t get to do that, then find the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica (lol). I had a long itinerary ahead of me, and couldn’t have been more excited to have another full day the next day.
Unfortunately, the only sights I saw the next day, were the ones in my room. I had woken up during the night, feeling achy, with a huge headache, and being extremely cold. I didn’t know what I had, but I knew I was sick. I went out to the breakfast room to eat breakfast normally, thinking I had felt better. Then, after returning to my bed, I decided to rest a little, and never got up after that. I stayed in bed THE ENTIRE DAY, my entire body aching, my head throbbing, hugging my now 3 blankets because of how cold I felt. It was probably one of the most horrible feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. And being all alone, made it that much worse. I then realized that the seafood I ate last night, probably had something to do with this. I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t even get up to go get food out int he town. I just stayed in bed, without medicine, and without anything to help me.
And I can continue on with this story, but that, unfortunately, is how my Venice trip ended. After that entire day of being sick, I had no choice but to muster the strength to walk to the Vaporetto station in the heavy rain and ride the Vaporetto once more to Marco Polo Airport. I then flew to Lyon, where I had a 4 hour stopover and where my ailing body had to wait in the cold hangar until my flight to Bordeaux. You have no idea how happy I was to return to Bordeaux that day. I had four days to see the beautiful city of Venice, and only got to do it 2 out of those 4 days. Let this be a lesson to everyone: be careful what you eat when you travel. I hope to go back to Venice in the future to start off from where I left, but you know for sure that I will not be ordering seafood.
Population : 700,000
Languages : Arabic, French, Spanish
Points of Interest: The Kasbah Museum, The Medina, Hercules’ Caves
Currency: Moroccan Durham
Morocco: known as a land of mystery and adventure, rich with history and culture. French influence is prominent with street signs in Arabic and French and cafes lining the streets. Spanish influence abounds with its architecture and small branch of Catholicism within this predominantly Muslim country.
And with all of this rich history and culture, comes a rich difference from any place I’ve ever been. Never has my origin been as prominently magnified as it did on this trip. I wasn’t even thinking about sticking out of the crowd, alongside my two other Asian friends, before we departed. But when we arrived, it was a different story. I will never, ever forget my experience in Morocco, as it really was something that I have never experienced before.
The first day we got off the plane, it was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a welcomed change from the windy, raining, cold Bordeaux, fluctuating from 40-50. It was my first time on the African continent, which was pretty exciting. Our first order of business was to get my passport stamped from customs (FINALLY!!!). Because the European Union doesn’t require any sort of customs check when you enter, your Passport can no longer be decorated with cool stamps, like it used to be back in the day. So, it was very exciting to actually have to show my passport at all.
Morocco was also a very nice change in affordability from Europe. 1 Euro = 11 Durhams. We were also able to take a taxi since it was only around 150 Dhurams (less than 15 Euros). Most taxis in Europe can be much, much more expensive. So we casually got into a taxi and told the driver to take us to our hostel (which was actually an opulent Moroccan apartment). And so we were on our way.
The city was unlike any place I’ve been before. EVERYONE looked the same. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a homogeneous people in my life. It was really cool to see. French is the administrative language of Morocco, and thus, almost all the signs were in French and Arabic. This, unfortunately was a downfall of our initial time in Morocco.
Our driver dropped us off at the wrong place. It was the regular tourist hub, the Medina, a maze of all of these different shops and restaurants. I had no idea where we were, so I figured we were in the right place. We continued along a path when a man came up to us and told us he could take us to our hotel.
********************WARNING: STUPID TRAVELER ALERT #1 (yes, unfortunately, there are several)******************
And so we followed him, and continued to follow him until the alleyway (the dark entryway behind the man in the picture) became a little too dark. I thought to myself, this is odd, where is he taking us? And that’s when my stupid, naïve tourist mind finally had the light bulb switch on. I asked him if we were going to Drissia, the new town of Tangier for our Residence. He told me: “European Hotel, yeah, yeah.” And then it clicked to me, and I felt like the most stupid person ever. We tried to leave him, but at that point, he still wanted to be our “guide”. And so he followed us as we went back to where our taxi dropped us off, finally trying to do what he was going to do all along: offer me drugs. I rejected and we continued walking, just before getting our first racist comment of the trip.
We finally got back to the taxi hub to find our taxi driver had already left. Fortunately, our luck turned around and we met an awesome taxi driver, whose name I forgot. He quickly told us that our last taxi driver probably didn’t speak French at all. This one spoke it perfectly. He proceeded to tell us about the city, and the types of people to avoid. He even yelled out to locals on the street, trying to find the exact location of our apartment. He brought us right there, and was a huge relief to our first local that we met. We then asked for his number in order to call him up to be assured that we at least had a reliable source in Tangier. Definitely a blessing.
We got to our Apartment Residence, and I wished you were there to see how happy we were. It was lavish. It had two different rooms, and this huge living area pictured above. It literally was just someone’s residence they were renting out. We had a kitchen, dining area, and television. We felt like Moroccan Royalty.
We decided to go exploring and finally taste some Moroccan cuisine! We found a place that was selling plates of food for 25 Durhams!! (a little over 2€!!) I got the shrimp plate, while the two ladies got the chicken plate. It was pretty good, and definitely one of the cheapest meals I’ve had in a while.
We continued walking on the streets, and then it began. Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE stared at us. When people in France stare at you, they at least look away once you notice them staring at you. In Morocco, Asians are nowhere to be found, and the stares continue anywhere you go. Alongside that, the words “Ni Hao”, “Konichiwa”, and “Ching Chong” all seem to be the words of welcome from some citizens as we walked down the streets. Definitely not something that would ever happen in the United States. However, the thing that I had to keep in the back of my mind was that we were EXTREMELY foreign to them, and this was no longer the melting pot of America. This was a homogeneous people who are used to the white-skinned European or Dark-skinned African, but not anywhere in the middle. It really opened my eyes as to how the world really isn’t as integrated as the United States.
Before returning to our apartment, we decided to do a little grocery shopping. We wanted to make the most of our place, and so we decided to enter several Patisserie. In the first one, I met a really nice man who I talked to a little bit in French. He was visiting his family who owned the shop. I knew coming into the country that French probably wasn’t going to be the language of choice, and the other members of their family couldn’t really speak French. Alongside meeting this man, the younger guy proceeded to hit on Sarah and Madeleine, even giving us free chocolate to lure them in. It was hilarious.
The second Patisserie, we went crazy in. Looking at the prices of everything, we realized how crazy cheap everything was. Living in France, we weren’t used to “cheap”. And to show you how affordable it really was, we got about 6 different pastries pictured above for 21 Durhams! (less than 2€!). It was funny because we just kept ordering like it was nothing, and had it all wrapped up and ready to go. They were nice as well, and it felt good to help a family bakery.
The next morning, we decided to call up our new Moroccan friend, who came right on time to take us into the city’s Kasbah, basically the historic old town. He dropped us off where the taxis could no longer go, and we bid him farewell. We wanted to find the tourist office, and once we got out, annoying tout #2 comes along to try to “guide us” to there.
********************WARNING: STUPID TRAVELER ALERT #2**************************
And so we followed him into the Kasbah. We didn’t think anything of it. I have no idea what where my mind was on this trip, but it wasn’t thinking correctly. He proceeded to tell us about the local bakery and gave significance to the most insignificant buildings, going so far as to say Michael Jackson stayed in one of these buildings. And at that point, we knew what was going on. We got to the museum, and tried to devise a plan to get rid of him. Fortunately for us, we found these really nice French travelers, who also had an annoying “guide” waiting outside the museum for them. They told us how to get to the tourist office, and were just overall really friendly.
Our second stroke of luck: American cruise ship tourists. Though they were all older and none of them were Asian, our plan was to try and exit with them and hide from our guide waiting outside.
We continued to explore the museum which had some pretty cool Moroccan artifacts. However, we still continued to strategize our plan of escape.
We followed the Americans outside. That didn’t work. We told the guide we were done with him, but he was still insistent, and then asked for money from us. Nothing he said warranted us paying him. With a crowd of Americans looking on, we had the difficult task of getting him off our tails, and arguing with him in front of everyone. With the power in numbers, and America on her side, Sarah stood up to our guide and started telling him to go away. The best part occurred when someone in the background said “Is she speaking French?”. It was the best part of the whole thing.
And so we went with the Americans, though he was still behind the group, following us. His friend even tried to scoop us up, but we weren’t budging. That was the point where our naivety ended, and no longer would we be following anyone who told us to follow them.We eventually lost him, and continued to explore the city, ignoring anyone trying to get our attention.
We exited the Kasbah area to find the tourist office, where we got some much needed guidance and a much needed map as well. It seemed like smooth sailing from here.
Speaking of sailing, the office had this amazing view of the pier!
We explored the colorful markets, which were filled with spices, olives, figs, and plenty of live animals.
We then decided to go back to the Medina to do a healthy dose of shopping. The Medina was the first place we got dropped off, and so you know we were not going to let the same thing happen to us twice. We ate two very important things to eat while in Morocco: Kebab, and Mint Tea. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing Mint tea is. We had is several times, and the naturally sweet, yet subtle flavor is delicious and refreshing. I feel like a spokeperson for Mint tea, but it really was good. Not like the Lipton tea bags you get at the store, this had large pieces of mint in the teapot. It’s just good. If you’re in Morocco, don’t forget this.
The stores in the Medina are truly extravagant, and bargaining is expected. Too bad I STINK at bargaining. Sarah and Madeleine already made fun of me for it, but I’m really just TOO nice of a person. Note to self: try and be more mean. But not too mean…
We then decided to walk near the port of Tangier. However, there wasn’t really anything there. So we continued to walk in the area and found some hotels. I forgot to tell you that we were going ot sleep in the airport this night, since our flight was so early. We then learned that they close down the airport completely, because it’s really not that busy. So we, found several hotels ranging from 300-450 durhams. We decided on the 450 one because it seemed the nicest, and they even escorted us to look at the room. I guess they had a large amount of vacancies.
We decided to walk along the boardwalk area, and found a guy with a camel.
We decided to search out our final meal in Tangier, and wanted to make it a good one. Something with a lot of spices. We found a place that served lamb that FELL OFF THE BONE. And of course, we had ourselves some more mint tea. In addition, we also got calamari. It was a great last meal.
Our trip to Morocco was coming to a close, but before that, we needed to eat two very important things: Belgian chocolate and Ice Cream. Of Course. We got A LOT of chocolate, and ended with some good ice cream out on the streets. By this time, our skin was thick enough to handle the stares that continued, and the couple of remarks that were said.
Going to Morocco was a great experience. It was the most culture shocked I’d been in a while (probably since I first stepped foot in the Philippines). This is what traveling is all about: learning about how different other cultures really are and to experience firsthand their different social norms. It was an interesting experience to say the least, and it makes me even more interested in exploring other places where I know nothing about.
Landing in Beauvais, France was both a huge change and relief. And what was the first thing I ate when I got back? Kebab! What’s crazy is that in just a couple of hours, I would be off to yet ANOTHER country. Three different countries in one day = evtremely tiring, yet awesome. Venice, here I come!
Points of Interest: Fourviere Basilica, Vieux Lyon, Parc de la Tete d’Or
Lyon is known as the Gastronomical center of France, and is one of the largest and most important cities in the country.
We arrived by train at Lyon Part-Dieu Station, arriving a couple hours earlier after making that train at Annecy. Lyon was my other city that I could have studied abroad in, so I was definitely making comparisons with Bordeaux the entire time.
The train station was PACKED. I don’t remember if it was because of the strikes, but almost all of the trains seemed to have been delayed. The entire station had people resting on their luggage, impatiently staring at the schedule wall for the platform of their train to appear.
We arrived just a few minutes before we could use the “Pass Soiree” for unlimited use of all transportation for the the rest of the night. We first headed to Yvonne’s French family’s house, and her “mom” was so nice to invite us for dinner AND stay at their place.
They were extremely welcoming and nice indeed. During dinner, we got to talk and get to know each other. Her family consists of her “mere”, “Charles”, and her “soeur”, along with two cats named “Yellow”, and “Charlie”, names which I loved. We had a traditional 5-course meal (Entree, Plat Principal, Fromage, etc.), and she even made a delicious Lyonais specialty with saucisse and cabbage which was delicious. We ended the meal with a Praline tarte (which we devoured and continued to devour the next morning), and continued talking.
Of course, when Tim and a Piano are in the same room, you know what that combination brings. Timothy stole the hearts of the entire family by playing the his regular favorites: Celine, Hilary, even Christina. This was one of the highlights of the trip because it really showed just how universal music is, and how it can touch anyone, no matter what cultural differences stand between you.
After dinner, Tim was able to reunite with his high school friend, Lindsay! (Reunited and it feels so good!). We hung out outside, went into a pub, decided the metro would stop running if we hung out there for too long, then went back to Yvonne’s house for some well-needed rest. The epic Crickhollow weekend was coming to a close :( but not before we got a chance to actually explore the city before we left the next night.
The next morning we were luck to have our very lovely tour guide, none other than Yvonne! This was her city, and she new exactly where to take us. We began at the Parc de la Tete d’Or (Parc of the Head of Gold), basically the Central Park of Lyon. It was enormous! We couldn’t even see all of it. We walked by the lake, saw the monkeys at the zoo, and played with some leaves. Again, Europe in the fall = incredible (though I have to say, Europe in the wintertime is probably even more incredible. Blog posts soon to follow :])
Our first monument stop was one of the most well-known images of the city, the Fouvriere Basilica. We rode the funicular up to the top of the hill, and were greeted by this massive structure as we exited.
It was extremely beautiful inside, and the stained glass was also noteworthy. I’m always amazed still with the churches in Europe. Not only does it have such a rich religious significance, but it’s history as well dates back to centuries ago. It’s always amazing to take that first step inside and see what they built without the machinery we have today.
And because we were on top of the hill,
The view was priceless. (Both because it was awesome, and it didn’t cost us anything!)
We then headed over to the Roman Amphitheatre. There are Roman ruins in Lyon! Lyon is an extremely old city. To give you a little background on Lyon, it was founded by the Romans, in 43 BC, thus having such awesome historical landmarks left behind.
I was DYING to try some of Lyon’s world-renowned food. And so we did. We met up once more with Tim’s high school friend Lindsay, and found a small, quaint little restaurant that served very traditional Lyonaise cuisine.
I decided to go for the most traditional thing on the menu to me, the Saucisson Lyonaise (Lyon Sausage). Lindsay warned me not to get it, but I did anyway. It tasted delicious, but inside the sausage were parts of the pig I’m glad I didn’t recognize. As an ensemble though, it was delicious. Everyone else got crepes, traditionally French!
The day was almost coming to a close, and the clouds started signaling the start of rainfall, but we went with Lindsay to her place, near Place Bellcour. This is the largest open square in all of Europe, with a statue in the middle of none other than Louis XIV.
The view outside Lindsay’s place is pretty awesome as well.
The last stop on our tour of Lyon was the reason we all “study” abroad, Yvonne’s University! L’université Lumière Lyon 2. By now, it started raining pretty hard, so we started to make our way back to Yvonne’s place for one last cup of delicious hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is the go to drink anywhere I travel in Europe).
I’ve got to say, that we were awesome travel companions together. I think three is the magic number for traveling buddies (as we will see in future posts as well). As I left Yvonne’s place all by myself (since Tim’s flight was a couple hours later), I realized that Crickhollow, Middle Earth, and UCI in general really did introduce me to some awesome people, two of whom are pictured above. It’s really crazy to think that just two years ago, I hadn’t even met these crazies.
In any case, I got back to Bordeaux later that night, unpacked, and threw all of my dirty clothes in the washing machine. The craziness just started, because in two days, I’d be off again, this time to another continent.
Like most Americans, I love Peanut Butter. And one of my favorite chocolate in the entire universe, is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Peanut Butter lines the aisles of grocery stores in the U.S., but here, that sections is replaced by another related sweet condiment that is slowly working its way into America’s taste buds as well: Nutella.
Nutella is Europe’s Peanut Butter, and many French don’t even know what Peanut Butter is. This in turn creates a void of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, which are nowhere to be found in France. And Peanut Butter is EXTREMELY expensive comparatively.
However, I bit my tongue, and bought this extremely small jar for about 4€. 4€ for this small thing! That’s about $5.40 btw. But it will be well worth it. :) I also bought this awesome Milka chocolate with “Milk from the Alp Countries”. It too tasted really good.
I haven’t had peanut butter in a while, and so once I opened it and smelled this smell I haven’t smelled in so long, it was heavenly.
I combined my chocolate with the peanut butter, and voila, instant reminder of the delicious creation that is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It’s the most expensive Reese’s peanut butter cup I’ve eaten, but it was so worth it.
As we speak, I’m still scooping out the peanut butter from the jar. Oh peanut butter, how I’ve missed you so much. We’re reunited now, so all is good. Even though you freaking cost 4€, I forgive you.
Points of Interest: Palais de l’Isle, Chateau d’Annecy, Pont des Amours
As we continued our journey for the weekend, we left Geneva at about 10AM in order to arrive in Annecy for the afternoon. Annecy is nicknamed the “Venice of Savoie”, which is well-deserved with its canals running through the city (though it really doesn’t compare to Venice, which shall be covered in another post).
When you travel by train, you really get to be immersed by what’s surround the cities you visit. For example, from Bordeaux to Paris, we are surrounded by boring (yet still beautiful) countryside. When you train from Geneva to Annecy, the scenery is breathtaking, which appropriately introduced the city itself.
I thought the seats folded out into a bed or something. They didn’t. We left it like this.
When we got to Annecy, it was time to eat. Unfortunately, it was raining which always puts a damper (badum bum) on the day. Fortunately, we found this great Italian place where I had a deliciously gooey salmon lasagna. It was great. And guess what the region is known for? CHEESE! There were TONS of fondue places all around, and though we didn’t get to try this delicious delicacy, keep it noted that the Rhone-Alps region of France is known for CHEESE (basically the best thing in the world).
It stopped raining just a little bit, and that was good because we were making our way up the steep hill to the top of the city at the Chateau d’Annecy. The main area just had a Museum which wasn’t free (boo to not free things), but the view that we got at the top was incredible.
This has got to be one of my favorite panoramic views of any place I’ve been. A picture once again doesn’t do it justice, but the colorful houses, along with the dramatic landscape of the freshly snow-capped mountains, and the massive lake all in one background. Incroyable.
The other view. From the top of this hill, we decided to find our way to the boardwalk area next to the lake and get a better view of the mountain. So we descended back down the hill.
From there, we discovered this place: The Palais de l’Isle. It’s kind of become the symbol of Annecy and is probably in the first picture you saw when you googled where Annecy was.
Strolling along the edge of the river, you just realize what a great little city Annecy is. It’s charm doesn’t leave you. EVER.
We continued our stroll.
And to the left, more of Europe in Autumn.
And after more walking, we finally came across the Pont des Amours (Lover’s Bridge). It was so romatic when the three of us crossed (no, not really). Actually nothing special happened, but I’m sure if a couple stumbled upon it, it would be cute.
Now starts the exciting part of our trip. We decided to visit this beautiful church in the middle of the city, and spend quite some time inside (reflecting and just staying warm). We decide we want to return to Lyon in a timely manner an hour or so before our scheduled train. We looked up the times, and the train was going to leave in about 15 minutes, which was ample enough time to walk back.
However, Timtim’s gloves mysteriously got left behind while we were walking back to the train station. There was only about 6 minutes left before the train left. So what did we do? Tim and I started sprinting back throughout the main centre of Annecy back to the church. We needed to make this train. We got the gloves, and ran back to Yvonne, seeing that there were only about 4 minutes left before our train was leaving. All three of us began to sprint like madmen (and madwoman) back to the train station. And what happened when we got to the train station?…
Yvonne told me not to validate our tickets and just get on because it was still there! But the law-abiding citizen that I am told her we had to! So we spent a couple seconds validating and got on the train, just seconds before which it began moving and on its way to Lyon. It definitely was a stressful last few moments in the peaceful town, but it was memorable nonetheless. Off to Lyon we go!
Currency: Swiss Franc
Points of Interest: Jet d’Eau, Cathedrale St. Pierre, Palais des Nations
After almost three months, I was finally leaving France, something that was pretty exciting. Sure France is cool, but it was nice to get out for a change. And of course it was the francophone part of Switzerland, they had cafes everywhere, and the entire city is surrounded by French territory. However, Geneva stands on its own as a traditional Swiss city of Romandie (the French-speaking region of Switzerland).
It was also a reunion between three anteaters who met each other in Crickhollow in Middle Earth during their first year of college. I met up with TimTim at the Geneva airport and it was very crazy. It was really surreal (and we kept telling each other this the entire trip, all the way up to the end of our trip in Lyon). We then hopped on a random train to the city centre, where we met up with Yvonne! Again, we kept saying how crazy this was because really, it was.
My brain was telling me to eat something, and so we decided to have lunch along the river, overlooking the rest of the city. Sure there was a tree in front of the beautiful Jet d’Eau, but it was still picture perfect and relaxing. Geneva and all of Europe really is beautiful during the autumn time. We got our to-go pizzas and fococcia bread and found a place to sit.
We then went exploring, and luckily, the office of tourism was right next to where we were sitting. We decided to travel by boat to the beautiful botanical gardens across town first, then go to the old town and explore what was there, then meet up with this couchsurfing guy who couldn’t host us because of two Canadians that got to them first (dang you Canadians). So off we were across Lake Geneva!
Clear view of the Jet D’eau and Mont Saleve on the boat! (With Mont Blanc really tiny behind the spray of water).
Once we started walking to the Botanical Gardens, we passed along several park. We kept saying “Oh, that’s beautiful” right before passing even more beautiful houses and landscapes. Geneva will always be known to me as a place that has such great natural beauty for a city of its size. It really is surrounded by nature.
“Wow, That’s beautiful.”
“Oh! That’s beautiful!”
We finally got to the gardens and walked around a bit. It too was great.
Deeper into the gardens, they even had a couple friends that were just hanging out!
Finally, we stumbled upon this:
This huge log! And kids who were small enough were playing inside it! We decided to take a picture on top of the log, and it really did become the symbol for Geneva for me haha. It was also a great picture.
As the sun started setting, we made our way to the old town, with the clock tower dominating the other buildings. The streets were dark, shops were still closed since it was too early for dinner, and the hill was a little steep. But we did enter into the huge church pictured above. It was beautiful both on the inside and the outside, and it closed right after we got a chance to look in.
Another cool street had greetings and other phrases in various languages. No Tagalog though. :(
Ice Cream always makes a day better, especially with Swiss Chocolate and…I forgot what my flavor was! It was still really good though. (I think it was like Maple Praline or something like that).
We then met up with the couchsurfing guy, along with a dozen or so other people. He was a bit at his own table with some other people and we couldn’t get through so we just stayed at another table, talked a bit with the other Americans next to us (and an English guy). They were going off to another bar, and it looked like they were going to party the night away, which meant spending tons of money at a city that was already expensive! We had to be frugal, as the discount student travelers we were, so we decided to just continue sightseeing around Geneva. It was our one and only day in the city, so we decided to make the most of it.
First up, photo shoot with creepy statues of people spread around the city.
Next up, the Horloge des Fleurs! A Clock made entirely out of flowers, and which changes all throughout the year.
We ended our day overlooking Lake Geneva at night, and looked back on such a successful first day. And it was awesome to think that there was more to come! In the morning, we would make our way to the mountain town of Annecy back in France, then off to Lyon to meet Yvonne’s parents! Let the adventure continue!
(The bed that I spent basically 24 hours in during my trip to Venice…one of the worst feelings in my life)
It’s been a long journey that I’ve taken so far here in Europe, and I’m starting to get drained, and daydreaming about the holidays in the U.S., my family, and my friends. It’s starting to get a little bit harder to fight the homesickness, but when I was in Venice all by myself, food-poisoned and all, that’s when the homesickness hit hard. I’m just recently getting almost back to 100% which I’m so thankful for, because being sick (especially when on vacation) sucks. And now that I’m better, I’m fighting the homesickness a little bit better also. I do miss my family a lot, and I’m ready for the delicious feast that will take place when I return back for Christmas!
This all made me think even more about my friends back home. I’ve learned a lot about myself here, and also about different cultures. But something I got to reflect on a lot are the type of people I surround myself with both back home, and here. Are they two similar groups? Are they totally different? Do I surround myself with crazy people?
The answer to the last question is obvious, but reflecting on my really good friends, there are a certain number who I know I can always count on. You’ve helped fight the homesickness through skype calls and AIM chats, and it’s been great. Friendship is funny, because there’s no certain magical number of years for you to become “good friends”. And sometimes in my case, several of your “good friends” end up not being there for you when you need them to be or just leaving you all together without good reason.
But, also thinking about my friends back home, it made me realize that I’m going to have to leave the new ones I’ve made here, especially the people I’m only now starting to get to know, and would like to know better. These could potentially develop into great friends, best friends, people that you’d invite to your wedding. It looks like I just won’t know. I’m going to miss being in such close proximity to everyone where we can all just meet up wherever and hang out, but to my fellow Californians in Bordeaux, just know I’m enjoying my time with you guys, and let’s make these next 5 weeks the BEST they can be.