Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bye-bye, Berlin

"Time flies when you’re having fun" is, perhaps, the most accurate idiom ever. Another month has passed, my program has ended, sad goodbyes have been exchanged, and I’m sitting here with my bags packed wondering where the time has gone.

On numerous occasions throughout April, I have made mental notes about things I would have liked to share with you all. Like, for example, going with my friend to get her first tattoo. I'm slightly envious of her very daring and memorable way of commemorating our time here but I've never been able to make up my mind about what I'd tattoo on myself if I were to do it. So it was really fun just living vicariously through her. 

Also, something that has truly been lost in our culture is good ol' fashion bookstores. So stumbling upon St. George's, a used English bookstore in Prenzaluer Berg was really a treat. With the walls and walls of used books and those handy ladder things to climb on, I felt a bit like I was in Flourish and Blotts.

Easter in Europe is quite a big deal and brought sooo many tourists to Berlin. It reminded me a bit of the National Holiday in China, which I spent mostly in my apartment in an attempt to avoid the hordes and hordes of people that flooded Shanghai. But Easter weekend in Berlin was just too beautiful to stay indoors…after the coldest winter I’ve ever experienced (although it was a record-breakingly warm winter by Berlin standards), it was definitely an occasion to indulge in beer gardens and flea markets.



Mauer Park was another highlight this month. Although it’s a huge tourist attraction and by no means a secret, I have decided that it is my favorite discovery in Berlin. I don’t think anything captures the essence of Berlin life like Mauer Park on a Sunday afternoon does. Hippy groups and families sit together in grassy hills, entertained by the many street performers scattered throughout the pathways. And if you know me well, you could easily guess that my all-time favorite thing here is, naturally, the public karaoke forum. I enjoyed an excellent rendition of “Grease Lighting” by my fellow FU-Besters.  But as always, the hidden talents that reveal themselves in these public events are the real gems. Like this guy rockin’ out to “Highway to Hell”:

video

Since I only had finals on the Friday of finals week, I had so much time to explore Berlin’s famous Museum Island (bucket list item!). Like I said in my very first post, there is basically a museum for everything here. I went to the Bode Museum and saw some cool architectural exhibits, the Pergamon for its famous reconstruction of the Pergamon Temple, both the Old and New National Galleries, the Jewish Museum…I feel more sophisticated and cultured just for being able to list these exhibitions. But the best museum that I’ve been to so far is, hands down, the Hamburger Train Station. Check out these super cool displays!








Beyond all the fun and hoopla, I have to say I have some mixed feelings about it all. I’m slowly realizing that the end of this program means an end to my days as an undergrad (Say whaaat?). During the post-final picnic celebration of my German class, it dawned on me that I will probably never take a language class like this again, which made me really sad because language classes have always been one of my favorite parts of college. Language is one of the biggest perks of study abroad and whether it’s Chinese or German, you’re in an intimate class setting where you’re pretty much forced to interact with your teachers and peers. It’s kind of like a high school class, where deeper relationships inevitably develop. So I’m just gonna take this opportunity to give a shout out to my German teacher, Antje (who will never read this). But she is one of the coolest, most patient, and down-to-earth people I’ve ever met and I’m so glad I was in her class.



But as always, when one door shuts, another one opens (I’m all about the idioms today). Tomorrow I am officially a nomad, traveling through Europe (and life since I won’t have any responsibilities or job security…how’s that for deep thought?). Sometimes, I still can’t believe this is actually happening. Whether it's a dream or reality (why do these things have to be mutually exclusive?), it’s time for me to hit the road. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Lowdown on MIA March

Guten Tag, everybody! Sorry I've been MIA this past month. You'll be glad to know that I am alive and well! Truth is, things have died down a bit after my return from Italy…everything seems slower and duller after a week of intense traveling. And the schoolwork’s gotta get done some time…am I right?

Proof that I do work sometimes
Anyway, I think I felt silly reporting on mundane things that I was doing in Berlin because I’m not off sightseeing everyday anymore. I now spend my days rolling around my apartment with pre-loaded TV episodes, cooking, cleaning, and airing out smokey clothing from my weekend rendezvous. (By the way, for all you club rats: I got into Berghain. TEHE. Good thing people that go there probably don’t read blogs cause if anyone saw this, they’d probably never let me in again.)
Snuck a pic at Berghain at the risk of getting kicked out
because I NEEDED PROOF. 
On a more eventful note, my program took us on a weeklong excursion to Munich and Vienna a few weeks back. Munich was fun but filled with wealthy people and tourists. Berlin will always be my favorite city in Germany. Vienna, on the other hand was absolutely beautiful and had sooo much to offer. There were tons of cafes, pretty buildings, lovely parks, and secret alleyways. It's definitely a city I'd return to someday. During this week, I

…consumed an absurd amount of meat.

Munich: That one night I ate multiple animals in one sitting 

Vienna: That one day I had a schnitzel
that was bigger than my face.
And also some AMAZING potato salad.
…drank an even more absurd amount of beer (but fear not. The beer in Bavaria is supposed to be extremely pure and actually good for you. Did you know monks drank beer when they fasted to get the necessary nutrients? I’d say that’s proof enough.)

Half liter
Graduated to a full liter
And then there was this guy
…went to a lot of museums.


On the Bellevedere Museum Terrace.
Beautiful, isn't it?
That's because it was a palace once. 
…went to even more palaces (FOUR to be exact). I have to say…I’ve never felt more like a peasant in my life. No wonder the people in King’s Landing are so freaking pissed off right now…but if they knew the kind of luxury the royal families actually had, shit would definitely hit the fan. (Sorry for the nerd-out. Season 4 just started…GAHHH!)
Dancing in the great hall
You'd be this happy too if you lived in a palace
….and took illegal pictures in traditional German-wear J



I also did one of those things where I decided to hop on a train last minute and ended up in the capital of Bratislava, Slovakia! And being the ignorant tourists that we are, we walked around pretty aimlessly for a while because we assumed no one could speak English. But here’s a tip for you: EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH. When we finally figured that out, was pretty much smooth sailing from there. And by smooth sailing, I mean we were able to find tons of places to take pictures...because there really isn’t much else in Bratislava.



In a castle courtyard
On a castle well
Us being children
Accepting a hat from a fake man
The Blue Church that looks like fondant
So I’m pretty much wrapping up my last month in Berlin L The last two weeks have been completely swamped with papers and presentations because…well, I am and always have been a big fat procrastinator...so it’s my own fault really. But the four sleepless nights I spent playing catch-up is a pretty fair trade for all the other days I spend frolicking around the city country continent.


Speaking of which: as soon as the program ends, I have quite an itinerary [Brussels-Paris-Barcelona-London-Dublin-Budapest J J J] I'm already starting to feel sad that my time in Berlin is ending but it'smokay because that's when you’re really gonna get to travel Europa with me! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mission Italia


My spring break expedition to Italy was awesome and exhilarating but not without casualty. Seven cities, five trains, and three flights in the short span of nine days is a recipe for aching muscles, blistered feet, and lost items (RIP Korean scarf and Nordstrom top). But, of course, the physical pain and material losses suffered are definitely overridden by the memories (and possibly weight) gained. So without further ado, I eagerly debrief to you the happenings on Mission Italia.

Milano

I would not say that Milan is the best introduction to Italy, mainly because it was nothing close to how I've always pictured Italy in my mind. It was a hustling, bustling city with boxy buildings and too much traffic. Furthermore, it was Fashion Week and, let me tell you, I've never felt more underdressed in my life. I felt like a sad, poor hobo the entire time I was there. It was also alarmingly hard to find food the first day we were there (which was SO not okay because I had been dreaming of pasta and gelato all midterms week). But thankfully, we found a pretty decent restaurant the second night.

Main attractions in Milan included the Duomo Milano, Castello Sforzesco. It was in these places that we fell prey to swindlers offering bird seeds (to feed pigeons) and friendship bracelets and then demanding money afterwards...so uncomfortable.

Missions Completed in Milan:
"Eat pasta until you can't fit any more in your belly. Have a friend take a video of you tasting your first bite -- it will be the best moment you have in the country by far."
video

(Note: it wasn't the best moment I had in the country, but it's up there!)

Pisa

Pisa was a completely spontaneous trip inspired by Carol Parsons, who sent me on a mission to see the Leaning Tower while I was literally on a train to Florence. Part of the beauty of living in Europe is this ability to hop on a train at a whim and be in a new place within a couple hours. It's a type of freedom that I've never been able to appreciate until now and I'll definitely, definitely, miss it when I'm back in the States.

The Leaning Tower was fantastic...it really is leaning at an absurd angle. We basically spent the day in Pisa taking wacky photos and rolling around in the grass, which we realized was wet a little too late. Whoops.



We also met this very nice lady who was born in Brazil but grew up in Scotland and had literally just moved to Pisa. She made us shout "sexy" before taking the picture...lol. Embarassing tourists. Tsk tsk.


Firenze
If I had to live in Italy, I would without a doubt, one hundred percent pick Florence. The city is beautiful, clean, and so picturesque. Interestingly enough, I think I saw more Americans than Italians on the streets of Florence, so I guess we all have the same idea. Haha. My best memory here was sitting on the bridge at Ponte Vecchio eating gelato and sandwiches. Nothing could have been more perfect.

Attractions included the leather market (note to self: must return after acquiring a steady income), Duomo Firenze, Ponte Vecchio, and the lucky pig at the flea market.

Unfortunately, the one full day we were in Florence was Monday, which is the only day all the museums are closed. So we did not see the real Statue of David or other cool things.



Missions Completed in Florence:
"Rub the nose of the lucky pig at the Mercato Nuovo to ensure your return to Florence."
Hopefully the pig's magic works soon! 
"Say 'hi' to David for Carol Parsons"
The real David was unavailable so I had to
settle for this knockoff.
Roma
Planking at the Colosseum. Yes I did :) 
It's absolutely impossible to do Rome in two days, so I have to have to return someday (good thing I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain!). Yes, the Colosseum is every bit as amazing as you've heard it to be. We failed to get into the Forum though (twice!) because they close rather early. I also went to Vatican City and saw the Pope...kind of. I actually got really excited because this tour salesman told us we'd get to meet him and I was all stoked to take a selfie with the Pope, only to have my dreams crushed.

Missions Completed in Rome:
"Go see the Sistine Chapel" -- which I did. But no pictures allowed! So did I really do it? 
"Grab a bottle of wine and have an evening cocktail on the Spanish Steps"
Italian wine is great.

"Go to the Pantheon"
Met some colorful people here too!
"Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain" (would have done this whether or not I was sent on a mission here.)
Searching for a coin to throw.
"Find the statue of Romulus and Remus at the Musei Capitolini."
Found it!
Napoli
Okay, I'm very sad to report that Naples was my least favorite city in Italy. It was quite dirty, the men were sleazy, and it kind of stank. But, in all fairness, my views could be very skewed due to the fact that within the first 30 minutes of stepping off the train, my friend was pick-pocketed. So that happened.
The only redeeming quality in Naples was the amazing, amazing pizza (apparently it was invented there!). You'd never guess that seafood belonged on a piece of dough slathered with marinara sauce but it does! It really does.
Oh, the shopping was pretty great too. It was the cheapest city on our list of destinations. So I guess in the end, Naples wasn't all bad. But this is one city I'm not dying to go back to. Which is okay...you're not supposed to love every city you go to.


Pompei
Ay, ay-oh, ay-oh! Ay, ay-oh, ay-oh!
You best believe we were singing "Pompeii" by Bastille the entire time we were here. Pompeii was amazing and excavation site was so surreal. The town (or what we saw of it) was super small. So small, in fact, that Google didn't know how their public transportation worked. So when we arrived, we walked aimlessly with our ten pound backpacks for about an hour. Fortunately, the hostel was beautiful, cozy, and friendly. If you ever go to Pompeii, I highly reccommened Easy Bed Hostel. It was a family-run business and they offered delicious homemade Italian dinners for really cheap and free breakfast! Bam. It was literally the perfect way to end our trip, even if it was raining cats and dogs. I heard there was an insane storm in SoCal too...strange how we can still experience the same things in different parts of the world.

Missions Completed in Pompeii:
Take a Lady and the Tramp spaghetti picture
This is actually uncomfortably close.
Anyway, thanks for tuning in. I'm back at school now and actually appreciating a bit of stability and routine. It's funny because everyone looks like zombies because no one actually took a break on their spring break. Traveling is hard work! Oh, before I forget...my favorite mission in Italy:

The Gelato Challenge - "Try at least ten different flavors of gelato. Don't be cheap! You can only get this experience in Italy."
1. Kaffee & Crema 2. Pistachio & Straciatella 3. Limone & Fragola
4. Pear & Passion Fruit 5. Mint & Hazelnut 6. Melone & Pineapple
7. Kaffee & Straciatella 8. Magala (rum raisin) & Kaffee 9. Cappucino & Straciatella


MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

That One Time I...

...ALMOST got pickpocketed
I always imagined that the moment someone tried to pickpocket me, I would straight up curse them out or maybe even throw a few punches to teach them a lesson. But when it actually happened to me, I was like a deer in headlights. I had no idea what was going on and all I could think was Shiza!!! Did she take anything? What did she take? OMG my wallet was in there. And my camera! OMG I’m dead. I’m alive but I’m dead.

Anyway, if you’re curious to know; it happened at Potsdamer Platz on my way to Berlinale. She skillfully trapped me in the revolving door and unzipped my backpack. I mean, what a freakin’ ninja she was! I didn't even know she was behind me even though we were in such close quarters. Luckily, I heard my backpack unzip and reacted quickly. But I wasn't even sure if she actually unzipped my backpack at that point because when I turned around, she was just standing there, poker-faced and dead-eyed…

Thankfully, she wasn't able to take anything but if this ever happens to me again, I’m gonna dropkick whoever it is in the face. You best believe.


…attended Berlinale          
Berlinale was an excursion with my film class so we were, therefore, unable to choose the films we were watching. We actually had to sit through two consecutive films from 7pm to 12am and that was kind of rough on our brains and our behinds. But even so, Berlinale was a total blast for me...probably because I have a long suppressed inclination towards the film industry and being able to have a Q&A with the directors after was sehr interessant.
Director Q&A
We watched two foreign films: a Greek film, Sto Spiti, and a Turkish film, Kumun Tadi. I’ll admit I enjoyed Sto Spiti much more than I did Kumun Tadi; but overall, I’m developing a very deep appreciation for foreign films. We don’t have access to very many in the States so it’s nice to be exposed to them while I’m here. And through my film class, I’m learning that European cinema is very different from Hollywood movies. For one, European films require much more mental engagement and reflection. Hollywood movies are almost purely for entertainment. So all in all, it’s been quite the cultural edification.
Of all the things I saw at the zoo, I'd like to share with you: zebra butts. 
…went to the zoo
There’s no interesting story here. I just wanted to tell you about the cool things I’m doing. Also, Christie Margaris sent me on an unofficial mission to the zoo because she wanted me to see the polar bears. But, honestly, the polar bear exhibition was kind of depressing. All the animals, actually, looked like they were going out of their minds because they’re literally trapped in a box. I hate to admit that the zoo was fun because the animals were so obviously suffering. But the zoo was fun.

video

Sorry if you get motion sickness...
I was trying to clap and record. 

Fuβball pride wooo!
…clapped my frozen hands red at my first Fuβball game
Coming from a school where soccer is a huge deal, I mean it when I say that the German soccer fans are way, way intense. I think I enjoyed watching the fans cheer and sing and chant almost more than I liked watching super fit men kick a ball around a huge field. Haha. I was clueless half the time I was in the stadium because everything was happening in German but we all cheered in unison, and that's what counts. I had way more emotional investment in the game than I realized by the end so it was quite devastating when Berlin lost to Wolfsburg. But yeah, if you come to Berlin, please try to drop in on a soccer football game because it’s a completely unique experience.

…spent a week in Italy
Just kidding. That’s next week! Because it’s Spring Break, y’all, and I’m going to eat pizza and pasta and gelato until I want to dieeeeeeeee. Make sure you send me on missions. I will gladly add them to my list!  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fried Chicken and Friends

It started with a bucket of KFC. That’s what solidified my friendship with Jon and Emma, the Norwegian exchange students who lived next door to me last year. Never in my life have I been happier to have purchased an excessively large amount of fried chicken because that delicious meal of classic American fast food eventually led me to the fairytale city of Trondheim, where the alcohol is more expensive than a plane ticket but the breathtaking views are absolutely priceless.



Before this year, the country of Norway was a complete mystery to me. I actually Wikipedia-ed its history and watched a (pretty amusing) YouTube video as a crash course for Norwegian culture before I left for Trondheim. But it’s strange how I can be in a place so foreign to me yet feel so completely at home. Because there was no itinerary or pressure to catch all the sights (Trondheim is a pretty small town), I didn’t really feel like I was traveling. I was just chillin’ with my neighbors. There were moments when we’d be sitting on the couch eating frozen pizzas and watching Friends or playing Gauchoball amidst a crowd of shouting Norwegians where I swear I could have been in Santa Barbara again. 
Us watching Friends
Introducing Gauchoball
I did, of course, do some uniquely Norwegian things. For example, I ate reindeer meatballs (“try something new” mission COMPLETE)! If Emma and Jon hadn’t told me it was reindeer meat, I probably would never have known…they taste pretty normal. But as I dipped the meatball in cranberry jam (yet another unique Norwegian combination), I could not help but think of Rudolph and his red nose. 

If I think reindeer tastes good,
does that mean I'm getting coal for Christmas? 
We also did semi-touristy things like play at the Science Museum, which was basically a building dedicated to interactive science experiments, and see the gorgeous Nidaros Cathedral, which according to Jon and Emma was the Notre Dame-equivalent of Trondheim.

We made a tornado! Do you see it?

Nidaros Cathedral is big.
When I told Jon and Emma I’d see them in Norway someday, I don’t think they believed me. Heck, I didn’t believe me…Norway is 5000 miles away from California! But as I sit here thinking about my whirlwind weekend spent in Norway, I’m really glad that by some fantastical fate, I was able to keep my word. Because it was definitely worth all the effort. 

Thank you, Jon and Emma for showing me an unforgettable time. And to bring things full circle, thank you Colonel Sanders, for offering family-size meals large enough for me to share with my neighbors that one day.