Italy 2.0: Venice

Venice is exactly as I imagined it. The canals are really a sight to see. Honestly, I would have been happy to stay there forever.

We arrived Friday morning and immediately had a city tour. Honestly, the tour was awful. The day was extremely hot and sunny, we were all stir-crazy from the bus ride, nobody had eaten lunch, and the tour was three hours of nonstop walking. It was hard to appreciate the beauty around us when we were so miserable. We did get to go into the Cathedral of Saint Mark (Saint Mark of Gospel fame), which was gorgeous. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.

After that we had free time. A couple of my friends and I sat outside an Italian cafe and ate fried zucchini blossoms and mozzarella balls and I don’t think I have ever been more content in my life than in that moment. I was surrounded by good friends and eating good food in the most beautiful place I have ever been. Honestly, I could have sat there forever.

At dinner, I had hoped to try the risotto that is traditional in Venice, but for some reason all of the restaurants only offered risotto for two and I was never able to get anyone to share with me. I did get some great shrimp pasta, though, so I got the Venetian seafood.

Saturday was entirely free time, so most of the girls went to the island of Murano, which is known for its glass. I bought a beautiful wine bottle stopper. I learned that there are 47 true Venetian glass families and all others, while legitimate, are not the traditional Murano glass.

When we returned to the main island, my friend Emma and I split off from the group. We ended up walking from the northern coast nearly all the way to the southern coast. We walked through a residential neighborhood and the tourist shopping district. Although, really everywhere in Venice is a tourist area. I definitely heard more English than Italian and a significant amount of German as well.

Eventually, we met up with the entire IES group for dinner. I had high expectations for Italian food, but honestly it is a million times better than I could have imagined. I could really live in Italy, I could.

On Sunday, we mainly just had the bus trip home. We did make a two hour stop in Verona, though, but instead of seeing Juliet’s tower, I made friends with Kylo Ren at the Disney store.

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Italy 1.0: Padua

I don’t know what the deal with this was, but I thought it was pretty funny.

Last Wednesday I went to Italy. This was a trip with my program and almost all of us went, which made it a truly great experience. We had a 10 hour bus ride and that was a fun bonding experience.

First, we went to Padua and right off the bat, we had free time to do some shopping and eating. Italian pizza is as delicious as you would expect.

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On Thursday, we had a city tour, which included a visit to the Scrovegni Chapel and the first anatomy theater at the University of Padua, where medical students would watch bodies be dissected to learn. It was eerie standing on the exact spot where countless corpses have been.

Here I am at the botanical gardens (notice my new Italian pants, which I had bought at the market that morning)

Afterwards, we had more free time, so my friends and I went to Saint Anthony’s Basilica, which is absolutely enormous. And the tourist there were terrible (not us, of course). I saw a woman fill up her water bottle with the holy water, and Ally said she saw a girl splash the water down her shirt. Everyone was taking pictures, even with flash, despite all of the signs telling them to respect the historical monument and art. I was pretty angry at how obnoxious these tourists were being.

We basically had a photo shoot at this spot. All the pictures turned out great!

We also went to the botanical gardens, which was so pretty. Since the area was so beautiful, we more or less just relaxed and took photos.

For a while, we sat by the river in a park full of statues, but then a guy started talking to us. His greeting was “hakuna matata” and so we pretended not to speak English, only German. Some people (not naming names) kept responding to what he was saying, though. It didn’t really work to speak in German when they were clearly understanding what he was saying.

Frühlingsfest

This weekend a few friends and I went to Frühlingsfest in Munich. Frühlingsfest is basically the springtime (and slightly smaller) version of Oktoberfest, and it was an amazing experience.

I know I already talked about my Dirndl last post, but here are some better pictures of my and the other girls wearing them. Plus one of the guys wearing their Lederhosen. We were super proud of how great we looked, especially since we could tell that a lot of women were wearing the same handful of Dirndls that were clearly from tourist shops or department stores.

Frühlingsfest was more more like a carnival than I expected. There were a lot of rides and games, and there were children everywhere. We ended up finding a huge tent called the Hippodrom, where we could buy beers for 9.50. They were each a full liter. At first, we sat and drank and hung out, but at about 5:00, the staff kicked everyone out of the tent to make room for the VIPs who had reserved tables for the night. Luckily, we met some nice Germans, who hide in a corner so that we could stay.

Once all the reserved tables were filled up, we managed to find one that was empty, where we stayed for the rest of the night, hanging out with some Germans, Americans, and various other people we had met. It was so much fun, and we got to dance a lot to some great German music.

I had expected Frühlingsfest to be more of a beer festival than a carnival, so it was a pleasant surprise how relaxed and family-friendly it was. Everybody was very nice and open, so we got to meet some new friends.

Also, the event was very touristy (although not as much as Oktoberfest from what I hear), so we impressed everyone by speaking German. Shouting in German was a great way to make our way through crowds of American tourists, who moved right out of our way. I even heard a few call us Germans, which made me feel very proud of my language abilities.

Poland Adventures

Enjoying Poland! Our Airbnb host set us up with a driver today who took us to Auschwitz and the Wieliczka salt mines.

Auschwitz was the third concentration camp that I have been to, but it is hard to compare. Auschwitz is a death camp. 80% of the prisoners were executed upon arrival and so the environment was even more somber than Dachau, which never even used its gas chambers.

The salt mine, on the other hand, was a lot of fun. We went as deep as 135 meters underground (but we were somehow still above sea level). There were tons of cool sculptures and chapels. Most importantly, it was not outside, which is great because it is freezing here. Yesterday, it was snowing the largest snowflakes I have ever seen.

Hungary and More

Currently I’m in Poland, but I’m not going to talk about that yet. I’ve got to catch you up on the first half of my Easter break.

Four friends and I left Freiburg on Friday, and we were off to a terrible start when John got on a train to Frankfurt without the rest of us. I freaked out, but it was really fine since we all met up at the airport.

We flew into Budapest, which is an amazing city that I love. I’m already looking forward to going back. Apparently, free walking tours are very popular in Europe, so we did that and learned a ton about the city and its history and culture. Also, Hungarian money is hilarious. 1 Euro = 1 dollar = 312 Florints. We felt so fancy waving around thousand dollar bills.

On Easter Sunday, we went to mass at St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is a beautiful place. Mass was in Hungarian except for a brief summary of the homily in English, but I actually think most of the people in attendance were tourists. And there were a lot of annoying tourists in the back, who kept talking and taking photos.

Unfortunately, after that I got sick. I think it’s just the same bug that went around most of our group about a week ago, but it meant I missed out on going to the Turkish baths.

Also, and this is very important: Hungarian food is wonderful. It’s all meat and bread and fried everything. Lángos is one of my new favorite foods; it is fried dough with garlic sauce, sour cream, and cheese on top and pure deliciousness. Other than that, we really enjoyed a food truck festival and the Easter market, both of which had great selections of food.

I’ve actually been to 6 countries in the past few days: Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Poland. Belgium and Austria were pretty much just layovers, but we had about six hours in Bratislava. Nobody spoke English there. Luckily our waitress knew enough to explain what was vegetarian for my friend Emma, but other than that there was no English. I had to buy cough medicine from a Slovakian pharmacy while speaking German (and I forgot the word for cough, so it was an adventure).

Sorry for the long post, and I’ll update about my time in Poland soon!

English Immersion

This weekend (last night, today, and tomorrow), I am working at an English immersion camp in Switzerland. It is wonderful, and the kids are great. They’re supposed to speak English, and we are not supposed to even let them know that we can understand any German. So here are a few of the highlights so far:

  1. One kid said “Scheiße”, but then corrected herself by saying “oh no, I meant shit.”
  2. Another boy asked me “kennen Sie Steve Jobs?” (do you know Steve Jobs). First of all, it was cool that he referred to me with the formal version. And second, I pretended not to understand, so he explained that he had been trying to trick me into speaking German. Now he’s convinced I don’t understand it at all, so he keeps trying to get away with saying cuss words and insults to the other kids.
  3. There were burritos for dinner, which were great, but the salsa was incredibly bland.
  4. I have free time. As a camp counselor, it’s fine if I leave the kids unsupervised, and I don’t have to break up every fight. They just do their own thing. I’m just here to lead activities.

 

Berlin Week

Last week, I went with IES to Berlin. I didn’t have a chance to upload my pictures from my camera, so I never wrote any posts. But here are the highlights of the trip:

We took a tour of the Bundeskanzleramt, where Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel works. I was in the same building as the leader of the free world. It was a pretty cool building, too. The floor plan was very open and modern, and there was art everywhere.

We also got to go across the street to the Reichstag, where we went up to the roof. The dome was closed for cleaning, but we got to look down on the Berlin skyline. the city is really beautiful.

Another thing I really enjoyed was seeing Checkpoint Charlie, the gate between the American and Russian sectors of Berlin. It was very cool to see the “you are now leaving the American sector” sign in person. And I found out that it says something different on the back.

The DDR Museum was definitely one of the coolest museums I’ve ever seen. It had a whole collection of rooms that were set up like an East German apartment with information on everything. I do think that the museum seemed biased, though; it was very clear that the museum curators looked down on the DDR.