Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Photo Collection

January in Berlin:






Portugal Part 1: Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra

Portugal Part 2: Porto, Foz


Barcelona 2008: Parte Uno

Barcelona 2008: Parte Dos

Barcelona 2008: Parte Tres

The "When in Rome" Weekend

After an action packed 48 hours in the eternal city, I can now officially say that Rome is somewhere not to be missed. Seriously, DON'T MISS IT. Upon arriving at 8pm in the airport, we hopped on a bus to the city center where our hostel was located. Also, when in Rome you walk into your hostel room to two Korean kids in whitey-tighties playing cards on the bed. When in Rome your Brazilian friend Thiago also convinces them to come out with you to the club that night.

Remi, Tenzin, and I met up with Thiago and Oliver from Stanford in Madrid, and Ali and Raechel from Stanford in Florence. It was definitely a solid group to spend the weekend with - a big shout out to all you guys for making the weekend one I will never forget. Friday night we all went to a supermarket and bought wine, beer, etc., found a sidewalk cafe where we hung out and then later went out dancing until late in the night. Thank god for the two American girls with us because one major social difference with European girls is that you cannot get them to dance with you. Apparently, in Europe dancing with a guy usually means you are also going to go home with them later that night, so you can imagine our excitement that we had two American girls there for the nightlife. (Side note: I still can't figure this one out because the level of PDA in Europe is absurd: make-out sessions, hands down peoples pants, basically anything goes in public yet girls will not dance with you in the club. Strange place this Europe is.)

Saturday: A lot of people decided to sleep in from an exausting night out, but when in Rome and you only have 48 hours, you have to make the most of your time. Remi and I got up at 9 and went to the Coliseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. It's incredible to be standing in a 2000+ year old building where gladiators used to fight to the death. It's just as incredible to walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum where markets, commerce, and trade used to take place. And while the Coliseum was incredible (everything in Rome is), it was actually one of my least favorite things I saw. After the tour, we had an incredible lunch - the best bruschetta possible and the best gnocchi I've yet to have. Phenomenal food, just a shame that the best meal we had was also the 1st meal of the weekend. Later that night, after it finally stopped raining as it did all day Saturday, we went to the Vatican for sunset (see picture below) for one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Vatican City (St. Peter's Square) was by far my favorite spot in Rome for the weekend - whether religious or not, it's incredible to stand in the modern day heart of Christianity which dictates so much of our way of life and culture.

Saturday continued: Saturday night we all went out to the Spanish Steps pub crawl, where we (thought we) were celebrating Tenzin's 21st birthday. At the first bar, you could drink all the wine and beer you wanted for the first hour. Next followed 2 other bars in the city where you were given shots upon entering, wrapping up the tour with entry into a club to end the night. The bars were a ton of fun and I think we all had way too much to drink. The club was pretty fun, fairly strange though. They had 4 or 5 platforms for dancers to preform, 1 preformer who was an older guy who came out every few minutes in different costumes such as Popeye, Elton John, and then made an appearance as Hitler. I know...strange. Nevertheless, we all had a phenomenal time and Tenzin had a great 1st 21st birthday night.

Sunday: Woke up and went back to the Vatican. We split half and half - I went with Raechel and Oliver to the Vatican museum and saw the Sistine Chapel while others went to Vatican City to hear the Pope speak. The Vatican Museum is incredible - there's honestly entirely too much artwork to even be able to process it all. Upon leaving the museum, other sites I saw in Rome were St. Peter's Basilica, some castle, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and other random ruins, rivers, and roads. By the way, as one could naturally assume, the gelato in Rome should not be missed. It is very cheap and very delicious. Hilarious moment Sunday: after thinking for the past month that Sunday was his 21st birthday, Tenzin finally looks at a calendar and realizes that his birthday is actually on Monday. Worked out well though cuz we went to a sweet Tapas bar last night to celebrate once more.

Overall, Rome was an epic weekend that I'll remember for the rest of my life. A big thanks to our whole group who really made the trip, and my boy Thiago - always good to see you bud; get ready for Paris. Also, I'll be posting links to pictures from Rome and Berlin, so hopefully I will be able to make it fairly accessible so you all can access them.

When in Rome...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The City that Never Sleeps

Wow - writing a blog write now is the ABSOLUTE last thing I should be doing, but then again I guess I can afford myself a small break from studying. Tuesday we have our first test for German and "ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch und muss die Worten und Sprache lernen!" You should know I didn't have to look up any of those words - a small sign of progress for 7 days of German class.

Recapping the last few days, Friday night was great. Remi and I met up with our sprachpartners, a couple of German girls around our age and went out for dinner and drinks and then to a club afterwards. It was a great time and is extremely nice to hang out with locals that know the area and can show you the spots worth going to. After 4 hours of sleep, I miraculously woke up Saturday morning and travelled to Potsdam for my field trip class. Potsdam is only about an hour by train outside of Berlin so it's easily accessible. We had a guided tour of Schloss Sanssouci - the iconic Potsdam castle built by Frederick the Great. The inside of the castle was incredible - not very many rooms but an unbelievable amount of detail paid to each. In particular the designs in the marble floors and ceiling artworks were the most remarkable. Unfortunately cameras are strickly forbidden inside so I can't share with you any of the pictures I wish I could have taken. Outside Sanssouci, we had a great time sledding without sleds down the iced-over ramps leading up to the castle. It's pretty remarkable what you can do with a pair of flat bottomed shoes and a smooth coat. After touring the grounds of the castle, a group of us trekked to the downtown Potsdam Dutch quarter and had a great meal. Note to anyone considering travelling to Germany: do not assume you will pay more for beer or wine. At least half of the resteraunts I have eaten at served wine and beer cheaper than water or soda. For a group of college students, you can imagine why most of us seem to love Berlin. Today (Sunday), I went to a vegetarian cafe in East Berlin for a phenomenal brunch. Afterwards, I met up with some friends at another cafe in Charlottenburg to study German and then went to a great Thai resteraunt for dinner. Another note: food is cheap, even eating out. I can easily eat lunch and dinner every day for max 3 euros total (groceries) and can eat a fairly nice meal out for only 5-8 euros.

Other: Life here is not necessarily hectic, but is incredibly busy. I've decided that apparently the city that never sleeps also exists in Europe, and unfortunately for me I'm suffering from its wrath. However, you should not think that I'm complaining. When you have a great night dancing in the club until 7 in the morning and then get up the next day to go and tour 18th century castles, you would have to say life is pretty good. That being said, I'm going to bed. Ahhh...8 hours of sleep and then off for another entirely full day. Wouldn't have it any other way.

Take care back in the states.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Rundown

Sorry for immediately falling behind on posting updates - I have never had a more hectic/action-filled week in my life! Even better...I see no sign of it letting up anytime soon. That being said, I may try to post smaller, more frequent posts giving insights into whatever happened that week.

Berlin: The city is abosulutely massive. That's probably the best word I can think of to describe it. I could also throw out diverse, young, bohemian, fast-paced, and edgy, but massive is my first impression. It's incredibly nice to be able to hop on the U-bahn or S-bahn and get within a few blocks of anywhere in the city. We had a couple very cold days, -20 C (-4 F) but today was 30F and it felt warm! It's also very interesting because you can immediately see the divide between East and West Berlin when traveling to different parts of the city.

Homestay/School: I'm living with a single lady (Elizabeth) on the 4th floor of a residential complex in Friedenau. Friedenau is a more affluent, wealthy area of Berlin that has many nice cafes and is situated in between the city center in Mitte and school in Dahlem - about 30 minutes each way. The Stanford Center is literally a mansion with 2 kitchens, 3 main classrooms, a student lounge, 2 computer clusters, an extensive library, a work out room, and plenty of offices and space used for other various activities.

Nightlife: Again, massive and diverse. Last night I had a great time (best night yet in Berlin on a Wednesday - who would have thought). After having a sort of speed-dating thing to pick our sprachpartners at the center, I went out with my sprachpartner (Livia) to the bar along with a few other German and Stanford students. By far the funniest night of the trip plus it was cool to make some German friends. Will definitely go out with Livia again this weekend, although coming in at 6 in the morning is killing my sleep. No worries though - you only live once!

Food: Great food so far. We're on our own for all meals but my host mom cooks breakfast for me every morning. I ate at a great place in East Berlin last Saturday night called Weinerei where you pay 1 euro for a glass upon entering and then can eat all the food (whatever they cook - this night happened to be very good pasta and soup) and drink all the wine you want. When you leave you pay what you think is right. Really cool hippy and trendy feel to the place.

I'll try and keep this updated a little more regularly in the future. Speaking of future, this weekend: Saturday trip to Potsdam, next weekend: trip to Rome with Thiago and a few other students from Berlin. Uh oh...when in Rome...who knows what will happen. Tsch├╝ss from Berlin.