Don't Wish for Less Problems, Wish for More Skills.

- Jim Rohn

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A New Post?

Once again I am on the road!

I am taking my junior spring break, and squeezing in as much Italian culture into it. I left on March 17th and will be in Italy until March 27th. I have already been to Venice, and am wrapping up a tour of Cinque Terre. I will finish my trip with a visit to Florence!

Stay tuned for posts and pictures!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Will I Ever Get Home?



For those safely enjoying the comforts of home, I envy your position. I am continually checking news reports, blog posts, and video-casts for the current condition of the volcano in Iceland that I will not even try to spell.

My roommates originally planned on going to Dublin for the weekend, but they were faced with a cancelled flight because of the unsafe flying conditions. Some of the other people in my group were able to make it to their weekend travel location, but are not able to make it back to Brussels.

Now, reports are saying that if the volcano erupts another time, most airplanes will be grounded for at least three weeks. That means that my mom and dad will not be able to meet up with me in Europe, not to mention my inability to leave this continent to get back home.

It has been really funny seeing all of the Facebook statuses blaming a volcano eruption for terrible weekends. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would blame a volcano for anything.

If the volcano is to erupt, my roommates and I have a few options: take a train far enough away from Iceland to fly the other way around the world, stay in Europe, go to Africa, board a cargo ship, or ride mules into the middle-east to fly on some huge military airplane. All of which will lead to some great blog posts.

Hopefully I can blame the volcano for my expired visa, oops...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rome!!!!




When I think back on all of my easters, I remember the same thing, sun, bright colors, church, but most importantly family. Off the top of my head the most memorable Easters I have celebrated are going to Clemson with my Dad in high school, and listening to the peep sermon at Harbert Covenant Church with most of my extended family.

This past Easter I had no elaborate plans to find my family, but rather an elaborate plan to celebrate Easter in one of the most unique, Christian locations, the Vatican City. It was a lucky break that I was able to do all that I did. I owe my trip to Rome to the experiences of hanging out with some of my Clemson friends, all of which are brothers in my fraternity. It is funny that the first Easter I can recall where I wasn't with family, I hung with Brothers of a different sort.

So I made my arrangements and flew to Rome early in the morning on Friday. The airport was unusually packed for five in the morning, but Easter has got to be the busiest travel weekend for Europeans. We landed in Rome just a little before 8:30 in the morning. I then had to take a shuttle to the main train station in Rome. Afterwards, without any information on how to find my hostel, I started looking for my hostel. Shortly after an hour and a half of sifting the streets of Rome, I finally found my hostel. There was no sign or billboard that had the hostel's name on it. They had a simple name tag on the door bell for all visitors to easily walk right past. I checked in and was not able to put my stuff in my room because they were still cleaning.

I was a bit cranky but I took the opportunity to check out some of the main sight before I met up with my friends. The city is very spread out, but most of the touristy stuff is central in a district called Old Rome. I included the Colisseum, piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, and so much more. It was an interesting experience. I felt like I was reliving a memory from my trip to Ephesus in Turkey. Everything was so old and most of it was falling apart, but that gave it this memorable condition of a past society that I will never be able to experience.

Back to Rome ... I spent about four or five hours walking around looking at monuments, then decided I deserved a much needed nap. I walked back to my hostel (this time I was able to find it, thank you), and found out it would be another ten minutes until my room would be ready (this story has an interesting twist to it later on). I sat there patiently and finally the room was ready. I barely made my bed before I past out. I woke up to the unsettling ring of my phone. It was from my friend Gwen Fraker, who studies in Rome.

I met up with Gwen at her apartment. She and I had a great time catching up while walking around her part of town. We then decided to check out some of the other free sights like the Spanish steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and a few other places. It was great to see all of the sights, but it was much better seeing an old face that reminded me of home. She had great stories about the city and all that she has done while studying abroad. Along the way we grabbed a gelato, which was delicious, and eventually met up a few other friends from Clemson, Chris, Matt, and Shane.

At this time, we were all ready for some food. Gwen and company took us to a restaurant called Pepy's for something Italians call an apertivo (similar to Spanish Tapas). We had to purchase a drink and then we got an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was the best meal I had while in Rome.

After dinner, we split directions with Matt and Shane. Chris, Gwen, and I decided to drink some wine in front of the Trevi Fountain. This is one of those things that I probably will never forget. The Trevi Fountain at night with some wine can make anyone happy. We sat and joked about funny stories from the past, as well as hassle some of the local merchants for fun. After a while, I have an unsettling feeling of a hand on my shoulder, I turn around to see who it was...And wouldn't you know it? It was Michelle, another Deltasig from Clemson! Finally, some of the abroad Deltasigs reunited. It was so great that it happened on Easter, a weekend I spend with family. This was a different kind of family.

I had to wake up very early the next day because Gwen was kind enough to find tickets to Easter mass for us. We were able to sit down not further than one hundred and fifty feet away from the altar. The service was held outside in the piazza, which was both amazing and dreadful. It was amazing because there was such a large crowd, but it was dreadful because God decided to cry all day. I was literally soaked to my bones. The service was very interesting. First off, this was my first mass ever in my life. I guess I chose the right spot for a first. Secondly, the service was in multiple languages. Most of it was in Italian, but scriptures were read in different languages.

I walked back to my hostel to find a warm bed to lay down in, as well as some dry clothes (I literally had to dry my clothes with the hostel's hairdryer before leaving). I woke up in the late afternoon and walked over to Gwen's apartment just as some of the other guys were coming back from touring the city. We sat around for a while and even skyped with some other Deltasigs before going out to Pepy's again. Unfortunately, we came too late for the apertivo deal. We settled for lasagna. At the end of the meal, everyone was very out of it. There wasn't a lot of conversation until the table next to us started to get a bit more rowdy. There was this family from the Midwest (we couldn't decide if they were Illini or what). Anyways, this family needed a television show (Mind you this was Easter night). All of them was drunk except for the fifteen year old son, but I assure you he contributed a lot to the equation. They were all yelling and cursing to the point where people downstairs had to come up to see who's party it was. It was an interesting sight.

The following day, I spent my time touring the inside of the Colisseum, as well as the inside of St. Peter's Basilica. Both of which were enormous and picturesque. St. Peter's was by far the most amazing sight I saw while in Rome. And luckily it was free (Perfect for a college student). I went through the sanctuary, down into the crypt, and I even made it to the top of the cupola. It was a long day with too much detail to include in anyway except photos.


I said my goodbyes with my fraternity brothers and went to bed. I woke up early for the fourth day in a row because of commitments. The city was not good to me as far as sleeping goes, but it sure showed me one of the greatest times in my study abroad time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Berlin...


I know it has been awhile…I apologize, but this post is about an event that I particularly did not like. I guess I was trying to push it off as much as possible. But, then I discovered that I wanted to let you all know the information I wish I knew before going to Berlin.

Last weekend, I traveled to Berlin on my own. To be honest with you all, it was one of the worst decisions of my life. I did not like Berlin very much at all.

My first day in Berlin, I walked to the East Side Gallery, which is the recreation of many of the murals left on the wall. It was a conglomerate of self expression and anguish. I enjoyed looking at the contrasting styles that expressed the same message.

I stayed in a nice hostel right next to Alexanderplatz, which is only a short walk to all of the main tourist attractions, so far so good right? I don’t know if it was the communist-esque architecture, the rain, or traveling on my own that really bogged me down…


There was something in the air of the town that put me down in the dumps. There was trash everywhere, it rained the entire time I was there, the hostel staff gave me recommendations for dining that were terrible. I hated all the concrete and lack of trees in the city.

On Saturday, I tried to leave early from Berlin, but was unsuccessful because of the train schedule, just my luck.

Aside from all of the misery that I put myself through, I did have the joy of driving a seg-way, which is more fun than it looks (even though it looks like a lot of fun). I rode the seg-way on a tour of the city, hosted by Fat Tire Bike Rentals. The seg-way added another variable into my tour experience. My tour guide was an English girl, named Mariette. She was very nice and about the only smiling soul that I met during my trip…I’m kidding. Nonetheless, it was a good tour. She escorted us to the TV Tower, a communist memorial, the Berlin Wall, and a few parliament buildings including the Reichstag, along with many other sights you can see in my pictures. There are definitely a lot of tourist sites to be seen. And, seeing them on a seg-way made it even more enjoyable. It was really funny seeing some of the other people in the tour struggle with the machine. We had a practice session before leaving for the tour, and many of the other people struggled greatly with mastering the balance act. One lady from Alaska had this awesome burnout and ran right into our tour guide. Everyone was worried, but we all laughed off the situation once we found out that the two of them were okay.


It is really simple in its design. There are two ways to move it, shifting your weight forward or back, as well as shifting the handlebar to turn. But, just like a controller for a video game system, you balance the two and you can go in any direction. The tourists took more pictures of me on my seg-way than of the Reichstag or Berlin Wall.

Berlin is very unusual. It is billions of Euros in debt, yet they provide unemployment benefits equivalent to working at a middle management job. Everything is very cheap as well. Real estate in the city is basically pennies to the dollar comparative to some of the other major metropolitans in Europe. I am actually amazed that it was such an important territory.

I learned a lot about Nazi Berlin, as well as the effects the Cold War had on the city. There is a lot of history to be learned, but I think that the only way I’ll see the city again is through the pages of a book.

Sorry to those who like the city.

Pictures from my trip

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And So It Starts...


"Every End is a New Beginning" - Proverb

For the past seven weeks, I have ventured to the corners of Europe - by train, bus, and plane - with and without friends. I have walked through countless cathedrals, spoken to locals from six different countries, slipped down icy roads, bronzed on sahara sand, and so much more.

There has been one thing missing throughout these seven weeks...classes. I had managed to sign up for 12 hours of class and not have to go to class until this past week. There were no weeks skipped, or angry professors. I had created a legitimate schedule where I gave myself a seven week break to reach as many places as possible. I think that I did alright for myself. But, unfortunately, that chapter has just ended. I have to slip back into the schedule of classes; Monday through Thursday from 1:00 to 4:00. I am hopeful that I can kickstart my academic self back up and throttle through this chapter of life with ease.

I am taking Law and Corporate Finance, both of which are pretty daunting subjects. I knew looking at my curriculum as an Econ major/Finance minor that I would have to take these classes, but it never really settled in that I would have to learn two pretty complex subjects until now. I am optimistic though.

Law is taught by a Clemson professor, named Megan Mowery. Coming into to the class knowing simply what was going to be taught, I had considered that the class was going to be a total drag. But Prof. Mowery has somehow graced the world with an uncanny ability to keep 30 study abroad college students to show up and enjoy a subject devoted to justice and law! Pleasant surprise... I am really looking forward to going to class and having a professor that is engaging and enjoyable.

Corporate Finance is a team taught class setting. It is taught by two Belgians, which might be a cause for alarm. Many of the other CUBC students said that Finance might be a very tough class because of the language barrier. Luckily, I found myself well-prepared for the professors. Thank you Cranbrook and Kent Gardens for forcing me to take a language. Taking french for 10 years of my life has proven to be a priceless asset. Finance is going to be a valuable skill to have in later years, so I am very focused on doing well in that class. So far so good, but apparently we have a test on Tuesday...

Even though I lose out on the experiences I could have if I didn't have class for another seven weeks, I guess I have to pay for the luxury I had for the past seven weeks. It might be hard for me to get back into the swing of things, but I think I'll be fine. Luckily, I have a great professor for Law, and Finance is a subject I am particularly interested in.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off | Video on TED.com

Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off | Video on TED.com

Here is a video that my brother told me to watch. It really goes well with one of the central ideas that I try to stress with my blog, the necessity to travel - or as Sagmeister put it, "take time off." If any of you have ever read "The Four Hour Work-Week" by Timothy Ferriss, you would remember he called this idea a "mini retirement." It is an interesting concept that I have grown very infatuated with (which explains why my brother and I talked about it today for about twenty minutes). To learn exactly what the "mini retirement" is, click on the link above.

Erik and I talked a little bit about the American view of "retirement" during our phone call. We were both disheartened with the idea of stressing over work for 50 years only to retire and have two things happen - the need to return to work because it is all that one knows after 50 years, or be too old to really appreciate retirement. In either case, the dream of retirement is almost wasted!

I could be wrong, but I know I don't really want one or the other to happen to me. Reading about sabbaticals and watching someone talk about it has opened my mind to the wonderful idea of taking pieces of retirement and spreading them across one's life. I do foresee it being hard to drop what you are doing (be it your job) and flying somewhere foreign like India...It's risky...You can lose your job, you could cause stress on your family and relationships...

Maybe I'm being irrational or dreaming too much.

I would consider that my study abroad trip as my first life sabbatical. I have found myself improving my life. This trip has been nothing less than blissful. I have been able to relax, and take my time and do with it exactly what I want to do. I have been able to pack my bags and go off to places like Munich and Amsterdam for a weekend, I've been able to read or workout,etc., etc. I have finally felt in control of my situation instead of dealing with my situation. I am not fixing wrongs; I am creating rights.

I have read many books while studying abroad (which is why I started the book reviews). And, every book has provided another outlook on the logistics of life. It does depend on the books I read though, which includes "The Four Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferriss and "The Logic of Life" by Tim Hartford. I owe this development to breaking away from my life back at home (not to say it wasn't amazing, I love my life back at home), not to the books.

Even though Sagmeister took one year sabbatical and I'm only taking 4 months, there is still ample time to really mature, find myself, and create ideas that will benefit for years to come. Sagmeister focused on his business and the innovations that he produced while in Bali, while I have really found myself becoming much more knowledgeable in what life is really about. I cannot forecast what another's "mini retirement" will bring to them, but I assure that nothing bad will come from it.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Munich! My Own Oktoberfest!

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Der Gem├╝tlichkeit!

The night of my arrival

Imagine being in the beer capital of the world, on a Saturday night right after a football match. Now imagine sitting in an old Bavarian beer hall enjoying a big mass (one liter glass of beer) with a few groups of football fans belting their favorite team chants. I sat down near the front of Augustiner Bierhalle in Munich, Germany last Saturday night and did just that. It was the perfect introduction to the beer capital of the world.

This weekend, I am venturing off by myself to Bavaria’s capital city, Munich, for some R & R from the R & R lifestyle. I decided to come mainly because everyone back in Brussels was cramming for their finals (that I don’t have). I wanted to go somewhere that I couldn’t necessarily be able to go with a group, and I wanted to go to Germany specifically. The two options were Munich and Berlin. Berlin is a little closer to Brussels, so I am anticipating going there with friends later in my travels. So far, I am glad with my decision. The city was full of energy. The buildings were lit up showing off their old Bavarian architecture. The people were happily walking down the main street (probably to go to another beer hall or something).

Day 1

Waking up on Sunday came with two surprises. My roommates had all left, and my hangover was nonexistent…I found out later that there is something in Bavarian beer that makes consumers less likely to have hangovers…Point Bavaria. Leave it to the beer capital of the world to fid the right ingredients so they can enjoy the day after drinking. But, I still don’t understand how all of my roommates had left the room before 8:00 in the morning. It must have been something else in the beer…

On Sunday morning, I woke up and enjoyed an all-you-can-eat breakfast along with a few Hamburger SV fans visiting for the match that was played later that day against the hated rival, FC Bayern Munich. Streets were littered with a mix of red/white (Munich) and blue/black (Hamburg). This apparently was bigger than the World Series of Baseball back in the States. I felt more loyal toward the Hamburg fans. They were all very draped in their team’s colors and singing they fight song. The Munich fans were all dressed in posh suits and designer jeans. I felt like I was in the middle in a rivalry of classes. Anyways, I managed to jump on the New Munich walking tour at around 10:45. I met a few girls from Chicago along the way. We mildly chatted about our specific study abroad experiences as we walked to the meeting point of the tour. I had expected that they were going to join me on the walking tour. I was surprised to see the split off and go to the Dachau Concentration Camp. I must have smelled bad, or something… The tour started at Marienplatz, the main square in Munich. I met up with my tour guide, a Canadian expat, named Stacey. She started the tour talking about the New and Old Town Hall, which are adjacent to each other. The funny thing about the New Town Hall is that it is actually older than the Old Town Hall. It sounds funny, but the Old Town Hall was destroyed during the Second World War. So, the reconstructed Old Town Hall is only 50 years old. We were fortunate enough to see the Glockenspiel ring at 11:00. It was an interesting testament to part of the history of the city of Munich. Like Prague’s Astronomical Clock, there are sculptures that come to life as the clocks rings. The figures portrayed two stories, the wedding of Duke Ludwig I, and the end of the plague in Bavaria. Crowds surrounded as the hyped up show brought utter disappointment to a few locals and me. We then learned more about two churches, Frauenkirche and St. Peter’s church. Frauenkirche is better known for its “devil footprint” in the floor. The story goes that the church was built so quickly due to help from the devil with the exception that there could not be any more windows installed. When the Devil inspected the church at the end of the construction, he slammed his foot down in a fit of rage, causing an imprint of his foot in the ground. If you don’t believe the myth, take a tour of Munich with New Munich to learn the truth.

Stacey then escorted us through a section of the city known for its history with the Third Reich and WWII…Any guesses to what type of neighborhood it was?...If you couldn’t guess it was the Jewish Quarter. It was fascinating to see the first neighborhood ransacked by the Nazi regime (which was started in Munich if you didn’t know). The devastation was overwhelming to even hear. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live through that era…We talked more about the Third Reich and Hitler, but that was not until the latter half of the walking tour.

After a brief break at Starbucks, the tour focused more on the beer industry in Munich. The city has beer gardens, beer halls, beer restaurants, cafes, regular restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, and many more venues to sample the golden liquid that made the city famous. Stacey told the group funny stories about how Munichers used beer to put out a fire, accidentally build one part of a church higher than the other, and some other ridiculous stories that no one would actually believe, but apparently happened. Essentially, Munich is known for beer and the unusual spectacles that happened after a couple masses.

The rest of the tour focused on the terrible years in between 1933 and 1945. Stacey shared with us sights where Nazis made significant advances in becoming the leading party of Germany. We passed the beer hall where Adolf Hitler captured three major political figures and held them at gunpoint, threatening them to join his campaign. We also walked down secret alleys that citizens of Munich used to avoid SS officers, as well as a square where Hitler gave many of his first speeches proclaiming Nazi legislation to citizens.

Munich’s history is a puzzle of Bavarian culture, the horrible emergence of the Nazi Party, and the drink known around the world as beer. It is a fragile culture, which can be really enjoyed as a tourist. Even though the city has been stereotyped for an unlucky 12 years, there is much more to the city than that. For example, Bavarian culture was perfected over hundreds of years. I only got a glimpse of what the city has to offer on Sunday, I cannot imagine what one could learn if they lived there for a few months or years.

The people are all very friendly and enjoy sharing beers while singing songs. After my tour, I had lunch at the Hofbrauhaus. I shared a table with a father/son tandem awaiting the Hamburg v. Munich football match. I talked with them about the States for a while, until a homeless Bavarian joined us. The two of them tightened up, and quickly left. I decided to hold my ground, mainly because I had not finished my pretzel and beer. It was a difficult half hour trying to deal with this man. But, experiences like that only make my experience more real. I don’t remember the man’s name, but I will always remember how big a struggle it was to deal with a smelly drunk, especially when there is a language barrier. All in all, Munich has many faces. I enjoyed them all for different reasons. There is a lot of history mixed into the party town. If I had to choose one place to visit again, Munich would be that place.

That night, I attended the New Munich “Beer Challenge.” The guided tour lasted about four hours sampling some of the local brew in the best habitat for drinking, beer halls. We went to the Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner Braumunchen beer hall, and the Luwenbrau beer hall. Along the way, we learned the history of the beer halls, as well as a Bavarian drinking song (The first line of the blog). It was a very friendly group of people. I spent my time talking with an ER doctor from Chicago, a girl from Nebraska, and a video game designing couple who live in Dundee, Scotland.

Day 2

After tackling most of Munich on Sunday, I decided to use Monday to go on an excursion. I initially wanted to go to Eagle’s Nest just over in Austria. Unfortunately, Eagle’s Nest is closed for the winter. So, with few options I felt like I would probably end up staying in Munich and waste the day away. I found out that Neuschwanstein was going to be open, so I hopped on the first train to Fussen.

Neuschwanstein is a Bavarian castle, known by many Americans as the Disney castle. Now, Disney did not make his castle first. Ludwig II of Bavaria built Neuschwanstein before Disney built Disney castle. I digress. On the train ride I met a Philippino guy who is a nurse in San Francisco. He took a five-week vacation to go to Madrid to learn Spanish. He was a nice guy, curious to hear my life story. The two of us spent most of the day touring the grounds of the castle, including hopping over a number of do not enter signs to get the best view of the castle. To my surprise, Neuschwanstein has a really bad history involving the king that built it. Ludwig II was the fourth king of Bavaria, who was given the throne at the rightful age of eighteen. He was raised in the Fussen area by hired hands, and barely knew his parents. Ludwig II had a hard life. He never had a social life, and hid himself in his castle near the Bavarian Alps throughout his rule of Bavaria. He never got married and died at 40 years young. Neuschwanstein was Ludwig’s fantasy escape, where the king would bury himself away from the harsh reality he lived in. The only comparison I could think of is Michael Jackson and his Neverland ranch. Aside from the mysterious past, the castle itself is a spectacle perched above the quintessential Bavarian town. It is one of the most captivating buildings placed directly into a post card setting.

Last Day

With only a few hours to spare before leaving Bavaria and Munich to return to Brussels, I decided to travel north to Olympia Park and the BMW museum. It had started to rain when I was on the U-bahn, so I was unpleasantly surprised to see that my morning was not going to be picturesque. Nonetheless, I managed to climb up to the top of the highest hill and capture a few pictures. The BMW museum is right across the street from the park, so it seemed like a no brainer to go inside and check out some amazing cars. I can’t really put to words what it was like to be in the museum. The only way I can describe how I felt inside the museum is like being at the Detroit auto show, but being in the good car company windows staring a feats of engineering and design for three hours. As you would expect I read every little sign and note there was in the museum. But, for those who still don’t understand how amazing the museum was, look at my pictures.

Pictures from Munich

What I recommend for the traveling student:

Stay at one of the hostels off of Munich Central Station, like Wombats, Euro Youth Hostel, or Jaeger’s Hostel. I would recommend Euro Youth Hostel.

Talk with the receptionist about free tours provided by the hostel. Some of the hostels provide their own tours.

Walk everywhere! The city has some hidden gems nestled into small alleys and side streets. Plus, it is good exercise.

Eat at Augustiner Braumunchen. It is off the beaten path, but serves some amazing Bavarian dishes for a lot cheaper than Hofbrauhaus and the other tourist traps.

You have to get jager schnitzel, curry wurst, goulash, Bavarian roast pork, or just experiment with some of the other Bavarian dishes. They are a mix of meat and a lot of potatoes…very filling.

Go to Hofbrauhaus for a ma├č (mass). There are all a lot of beer halls, but the right experience is at the Hofbrauhaus. The prices are the same, but Hofbrauhaus has a better history. Visit it to learn about it!

Meet some locals. Bavarians are the nicest locals I have met so far, even the homeless people are nicer. You might get lucky to see them in typical Bavarian wear.

Do not try to be funny with your friends and do any gestures or hand signals from the Nazi Party. It is illegal and they take it very seriously. I saw a man get arrested because a waiter saw him flash a Nazi hand gesture. I learned later that the law states you either receive 5 years in jail and a 5,000 euro fine or deportation and banishment from the country for 8 years.

See Neuschwanstein, especially from Mary’s Bridge. You will have to jump over a couple of fences if you go during the winter months, but what is life without a few thrills?

To learn more about beer in munich visit this site: http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/munipubs.htm

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