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

- Jim Rohn

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


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


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

Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off | Video on

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 Gemütlichkeit!

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 maß (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:

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Bruges

Today, I ventured to Brugge, Belgium with two of the CUBC tour guides and fellow students. We all met together at around 8:45 at Brussels' Central Station. After a few late comers, we crammed onto the train en route to Brugge. We luckily made it to the city without any major problem like every other trip, haha. Once we arrived, we split into two groups and attempted to take on the city like we always do.

Our first tour started with a walk around Brugge's Lake of Love, which is known for its scenery and unusual swarm of swans and ducks. It was the post card setting that I saw on the Internet. It is too bad that we had typical European weather, overcasting clouds, rain, and an unexpected cold front due to heavy winds (lovely). Our guide introduced us to the city, making an effort to stress our observation of the architecture. Brugge has by far the best architecture I have seen during my travels. It was very similar to Amsterdam with more gothic hints to it. We then went to Beguinage, which was once a woman-only neighborhood. During many of the wars in Europe, there was a surplus of widows and single women. Brugge established a neighborhood where these women had a secure lifestyle built around supporting each other. The entire time, I was thinking about the similarity this neighborhood had to sororities (not saying they are all widows and single).

Our next set of stops included Godshuis, Old St. John's Hospital, and the Church of our Holy Lady. There was a main theme amongst these three stops, giving. Godshuis was a set of small houses built for poorer individuals. They were gifts given by wealthy individuals as a last stand to prove he/she was worthy of eternal life in heaven. We were shown a set of Godshuis(es) across a canal from Old St. John's Hospital, the last European, church-related hospital. We learned that the hospital was used more for spiritual healing than curing sicknesses. It is remarkable how loyal the people of the city were to their faith. But, the hospital was infected with a multitude of diseases. At the final stop in the area, the Church of our Holy Lady, we learned that a Brugge family purchased one of the few pieces sculpted by Michaelangelo that is outside of Italy today . They bought it as a gift for the Church of our Holy Lady. The sculpture now resides on a side altar. We enjoyed the peaceful bliss of the sanctuary before venturing back into the dismal weather.

We then walked to the back side of the Church of our Holy Lady where we stumbled onto the Gruuthouse. The Gruuthouse was the quarters of the tax collector, Charles V, of a beer spice, called gruut. Let me tell you, this guy was "flossed." This house was about 15,000 square feet, located right on the canal, and it had a widow's watch and a private balcony in the Church of our Holy Lady. He had no excuse to not go to church, because it was in his living room!

After visiting the Gruuthouse we went to the Quai of the Rosary. I don't know much about this spot, except that it was an awesome photo opportunity.

We meandered past typical Brugge-style houses and shops until we made it to the Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The town hall was an amazing art-like structure that looked almost identical to the town hall in Brussels. The Basilica of the Holy Blood was an unusual experience. Supposedly, the church has a relic holding a few drops of Jesus' blood. People waited in line and gave a decent donation to touch this golden vile. I did not expect for Brugge to house one of the most controversially important relics of my faith. But, apparently the Holy Blood was brought to the city after the first Crusade.

We finished our first tour at Brugge's Market Square, the center of the city's activity. Amongst the small shops, sits another amazing monument, the Belfry Tower. We were fortunate enough to "climb" up the mind-boggeling stairs to snap a couple pictures of the city's landscape before we were blown off the top balcony due to the fifty mile/hour wind. No one was hurt in the capturing of these photos.

After enjoying some spectacular Flemish stew and fries, we joined up with our tour guide for a second tour. We meandered past chocolate shops and restaurants, and made it to Jan Van Eyck Square. We saw a lodge of a "freemason-like" society right at the end of a beautiful canal. After nearly being hit by several cars and sneaking into someone's backyard (check the photos), we went to St. Anne's Church. It was a simple church in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood that was built during the Baroque Era. We finished up the day walking back through the park with the Lake of Love, and an enjoyable train ride back to Brussels.

The entire city felt like colonial Williamsburg. It is a must see!

What I Recommend You Do In Bruges:

1. Only go to Brugge for a day or two.

2. Stay in a small hotel near Minnewater Park (Lake of Love).

3. Find Dumon, the chocolate shop that Rick Steeves made famous.

4. Take a guided walking tour of the city.

5. Eat at the restaurants off from the market square (get something Flemish).

6. Go during April, supposedly the flowers are awesome.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book in Review: Superfreakonomics

I have decided to branch away from talking about travels for a part of this blog as a way to share more about what I'm doing in between adventures. This is the first of many book reviews. I know, it sounds boring. But, my goal is to create a library of books perfect for the traveler. If there is one thing that is true about travels, one of the most important assets is a good book. Some of these books in review will not be too relevant to going abroad, but rather they are can be relevant to making changes in your life.

Book In Review

Book: SuperFreakonomics

Author: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Genre: Business - Economics

Review: Have you ever picked up a book, read it, and then felt like your life has found meaning or a new path? When I read Levitt and Dubner’s first book, Freakonomics, I decided to follow in Levitt’s footsteps and become an econ major. The second book in the series, SuperFreakonomics, has the same effect. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner created a page turning miracle to the science of economics.

Levitt and Dubner use the art of Behavioral Economics to explain, legitimize, and/or compare things in our world in ways that few people ever think. The two authors investigate the business of prostitution and relate it to your department-store Santa Claus, why suicide bombers need life insurance, apathy and altruism, global warming, as well as countless other examples. It is supposed to be controversial. Levitt and Dubner explode through writing barriers by talking about such unethical things as a means to explain how economic practices occur all around the world everday. The greatest facet of this book is its ability to shine a new light on the so-called “boring” science. Superfreakonomics will change the way you think of the world as well as economics. It is a must read.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Trip to ... Brussels? Locals and Aussies

I did not have any grand adventure through some historical part of Europe, nor did I ski the Alps. I had a pretty slow weekend (compared to past trips). Nonetheless, I had a few events worth publishing on my blog.

I had decided to take the weekend off from adventure so that I could unwind a little and become more grounded in the city I apparently am studying in (who knew?). Up until this weekend, I had spent more time in other cities than I had in Brussels. Hence, the title of the blog post, a trip to Brussels.

That being said, this weekend was by far the most relaxing weekend I have had in a long time. I enjoyed working out, reading, watching movies, as well as going out with friends. I got to do at least one P90X workout a day, as well as a six mile run on Sunday. I finished reading "The 4-Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferriss, and have started reading "Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson. But, that was not the highlight of my weekend...

There were two occasions that happened that were extra-ordinary. First, I hung out with some local university students along with a few other CUBC students. We met up with a guy named Lionel, and went to his apartment to hang out with him and his close friends. We enjoyed learning more about each other's cultures, as well as learning more about ourselves.

The second occasion was the arrival of two Australians to our apartment. We met two girls, Tiffany and Candace, in Prague. We got to know them pretty well while there. Charlie kept in contact with the girls as they travelled to Amsterdam after we left Prague. After a few Facebook messages, Tiffany and Candace decided to swing through Brussels for a night before going to Paris. We picked them up from Central Station and brought them back to our apartment. Along the way, we joked about Prague, and the ridiculous sports they play in Australia (Netball and Australian Football). A few other CUBC students meandered over to hang out with us and the two Aussies. We spent most of the night at our apartment, but at around midnight everyone except me went to a club. After some needed sleep, the six of us (the four in the house and the two Australians) went downtown to enjoy some lunch and the sights. We took the girls to our favorite kebab restaurant close to La Grand Place. We then showed them around the city until the Aussies had to board their train to Paris.

All in all, I think that the joys of traveling is finding a niche and enjoying it. This weekend proved to be special not because of the sights or sounds of a new city, but rather spending quality time with interesting people. Staying in one city for a while and discovering the nooks and crannies is what makes life enjoyable.

To Everyone, do not settle for what you have if you think it is subpar at best. Find something you really enjoy and live it! I am happy to have this experience abroad. I don't want to ever leave.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Visit with an Old Friend

Last night, I ran into an old friend from high school, Molly Leebove. She is currently studying in Prague for the spring semester. She and I originally planned on meeting up while I was in Prague, but with two very different schedules and a malfunctioning cellphone, we were unable to see each other. Luckily, she facebooked me and asked if we could possibly see each other on her way to Amsterdam.

I met up with her and her friend, Liza, in Grand Place and took them to my favorite gyro joint. We talked a little about the past and a lot about Europe. It is sometimes an unsettling feeling meeting up with someone you haven't seen in awhile, but Molly and I started talking like we were close friends. I wish for the best for the two of them as they conquer Amsterdam.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prague! Day 4 + Leaving Prague

The last full day we had in Prague, we spent walking through a park. The sun was out, which was an uncommon sight for us. We aimed our adventure towards the Prague metronome, but diverged by about two hours by walking in a park as we joked and conversed. We were a little childish at the playground, but I guess it was us reliving old ways we haven’t seen in years. We got to the metronome and felt like it was an upset. We hung out at the top and took a few awesome pictures of the scenery and of ourselves. We then walked down towards Old Town Square again. Along the way we conquered some intense steps that were more like a ski slope than steps (I have videos, don’t worry). It reminded me of one of my goals that I want to accomplish while I am over here, go skiing. We enjoyed some peasant potatoes and kielbasa sausage in Old Town Square, and then a piping hot latte. Overall, it was a great day. To end our last day, we ate at Spirit Bar, and then went out to the five-story club.

We ended our journey, and were forced to go back to expensive Brussels. We all wanted to stay a few more days, but we do have other fish to fry. The trip back went smoother than the trip to Prague. We got to the airport with two hours to spare. I walked around looking for deals in all of the duty-free shops. In the end, I bought 400 grams of Twix for 5 US dollars. I made it home safely, even though I could not take the train due to the crash.

Prague is a definite “go to” city in Europe. It isn’t too touristy, but there is so much to see. Everything was intricate and lavish. And the greatest part, it was cheap.

PragueDay4 (pictures)

Prague! Day 3

With a sense of grief from missing out on the castle the day before, we tackled the castle first thing. Many people were probably mad as we jolted past them on the icy sidewalks, forcing them to slip and fall or grab onto their loved ones for support. Nonetheless, we made it to Prague Castle and ventured into its depths. Our first stop was the cathedral, St. Vitus cathedral, inside the castle’s walls. My pictures try to give it justice, but most of us in the group could agree that it was better than Notre Dame. Afterwards, we walked through three separate buildings that included the royal palace, and a shopping district. At the end of our investigation of the castle we found the torture chamber. I will not go into detail about it (And you will not find pictures of it). After a few snowballs thrown at each other inside the castle, we left the castle and walked down to the Jewish Quarter. We did not really venture too far into the museums and temples. We were all pretty tired and decided to walk back. Later on, we met back up with the Fighting Illinini, and went to a bar called Beer Factory. From a business point of view, it was an awesome idea. Everyone had to reserve a table like a restaurant, and there was a beer tap for each table. We ended our night with a long, cold walk back to our hostel. One thing that I definitely recommend to all future travelers, stay in a hotel or hostel that is close to the downtown area. As much as I like to workout, walking thirty minutes to the downtown area is a hindrance.

PragueDay3 (pictures)

Prague! Day 2

The second day we left around eleven from our hostel to take on the biggest site in Prague, its castle. After a few distractions including food, starbucks, watching the astronomical clock as the hour struck three, and stopping at a few of the shops. We stopped off at the Tyn church adjacent to the astronomical clock. The décor and architecture was by far the best I have seen in Europe. We finally made it to the castle (Which was two and a half miles away from our hostel) with little time to spare. But, like some other tourists we watched the changing of the guards instead of getting into the castle before it closed (As my mom would say “ohh well”). With our tails in between our legs we dragged our feet back through the Old Town Square to our hostel. Feeling slightly defeated we decided to eat at a pizzeria called Einstein’s right next to our hostel. Apparently, the restaurant knew we were all tired and could not fight them scamming us over a few extra crowns on our bill (They charged us for every piece of bread we ate without telling us beforehand that if we eat the bread they bring out we will get charged). All of us called it an early night (by Prague’s standards).

PragueDay2 (pictures)

In Transit! + Prague! Day 1

With high hopes and smiling faces, myself along with seven others met at Grand Central Station in Brussels to start our voyage to Prague. It was a little snowy outside and temperatures were typical for February. The first part of the trip was a train ride from Brussels to Charleroi. Unfortunately, this was the start for our misfortune. Our train showed up thirty minutes past its schedule departure. Tensions were high, and a few of us had already accepted the fact that we would miss our flight. But, that was only the start. After arriving at Charleroi, we missed our bus to the airport by about thirty seconds (It is an awful feeling watching your bus drive off without you). We looked at the bus times and saw another was scheduled to arrive in fifteen minutes. Tensions grew more, and more of us had accepted that we would miss the flight. After about forty minutes and hair pulling, a bus finally showed up. We got on with speed, but apparently everyone else wanted to crawl onto the bus. Fortunately, we made it to the airport and checked in with nine minutes left until the flight was closed. We ran to our gate and immediately got in line (We were ninth in line). Ahhh, we all felt relieved and our spirits were recharged. Our journey felt like hell, but it did not matter what came next made up for the whole misadventure.

After checking into our hostel, we went a restaurant called the Spirit Bar. If you have never ate in Eastern Europe, you are missing out. I got 500 grams of meat (chicken, steak, pork, smoked ham, and sausage) for 185 Czech crowns. Which comes out to about nine US dollars. It was the happiest meal of my entire life. We were all in a unique euphoria for the rest of the night. After eating, we watched Arsenal beat Liverpool on the big screen, and then went back to our hostel for free drinks. It was the perfect night.

The next day, batteries recharged and adventure kicking at the door, we left our hostel to visit some of the sights of the city. We landed upon an interesting breakfast place called Pavlac Café. I had coffee and cottage cheese crepes with berries and cream on top (for about 4 US dollars). We then aimlessly walked past shops, taking pictures of interesting buildings until we found ourselves in the middle of Old Town Square. If you look at my pictures, you will agree that this square is nothing but special. There were local merchants selling local cuisines such as peasant potatoes and smoked ham. We sampled candied almonds and cinnamon sugar pretzels. We took some more pictures until we decided to climb to the top of the astronomical clock tower. It was a simple fee of 5 US dollars to go on an unguided tour of the grounds, which included some of the best views of the city. We walked around the top of the tower, looking in every direction. After getting our fill of history and tourism, we decided to go to the mall (which had five floors, holding over 200 stores). The boys and the girls split up for obvious reasons, but met back up after an hour (we had to set a time limit, and it wasn’t just because of the girls). Once we were all together, we convoyed up to the food court to have a mid-afternoon snack. We decided after a good meal that we had had our fill of the city for the day. We marched back to the hostel to get ready for the night. We, once again, ate at the Spirit Bar, but with less than perfect food. Feeling a bit annoyed we decided to boycott the restaurant for a while. We then ran into some fellow Americans from University of Illinois. The group, now over 15 strong, went downtown to a FIVE-story club. We explored the depths of the place and deemed it suitable for an American takeover. We stormed the place and turned it into a truly great night for everyone.

PragueDay1 (pictures)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'm Fine! Belgium Train Wreck

To All,

If you have not heard yet, there was a severe train wreck right outside of Brussels yesterday morning. 18 people were killed and several others were hurt. Fortunately, I was not on the train. I flew back from Prague yesterday afternoon into Charleroi-Sud Airport. I had scheduled to take the train back into Brussels. But, I was supposed to take the same line that crashed. I gladly jumped on a bus knowing I made it one more day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Amsterdam, the Netherlands!

Amsterdam, Netherlands (pictures)

When people think of Amsterdam, a few things come to mind. To some, the first things to come to mind are windmills, fog, clogs, and really tall people. To others, the relaxed law system and outrageous nightlife might come to mind. No matter what comes to mind, I want you to do like the people of Amsterdam do, be tolerant, especially when reading my blog. I want to share what I found to be the real story of the city. Enjoy!

Getting to Amsterdam

One of the most traumatic travel experiences happened to me on my way to Amsterdam this past weekend. The story starts off like this: I bought a train ticket to Amsterdam for right around 19 Euros (both ways). The travel center employee has specific that I could get on any train I wanted to take on a certain day. I thought, “Great!” But, I never would have guessed what happened to me next. I jumped on a Thalys train right around seven thirty to Amsterdam. I sat down and waited for the ticket lady to come around, hoping that she wouldn’t so I could save a day on my eurail pass. Unfortunately, she came around and looked very hard at my ticket. She informed me that the ticket I had would not allow me to ride on the desired train. When the train stopped at the next stop, I was kicked off. Fortunately for me, the train stopped at Central Station. I hoped back on the metro and got back to Bruxelles- midi station. In a fit of rage, I ran up to the travel center desk again and asked why I was just kicked off the train. To the attendant’s surprise, the train company had given me the wrong ticket (which is why I had to pay the extra 19 Euros each way). The silver lining in this story is that I was refunded for the ticket since it was the company’s fault. I was directed to the right platform, and hoped on another train, which left exactly an hour after I had wanted to leave. The train ride went smoothly. I read while a few locals told stories to each other a few rows in front of me. I enjoyed my ride, and was very happy to have arrived in Amsterdam.

Day 1

The first morning, the group (Andrew, Brittany, Charlie, Thomas, and myself) had the energy and enthusiasm to take on the vibrant city. We got out of our hostel early without any real plan set in stone. Along the way, we decided to take the free walking tour. We met at the meeting point along with a sea of people and a few charismatic guides. The small city of people were split up into roughly four groups, all around 30 people. This was the start of a great day.

The first thing we did as a group was get a chance to meet our tour guide, Ryan King. Ryan is an Aussie who found his way to Amsterdam just recently. Nonetheless, Ryan spewed out detailed information about the city that locals probably did not even know. The best part about the entire tour was Ryan’s presence as a speaker. He spoke with great confidence, as well as having the craziest body language I have ever seen. For the first part of the tour, Ryan escorted us through the red light district, passed old churches, through Dutch music videos (I know it was a weird), as well as past the V.O.C. headquarters. Along the way, he told us stories about the legalization of some scandalous practices including prostitution and marijuana. He also talked a lot about the city, including the architecture, the canals, and the people. One of my favorite parts of the tour was the description of the architecture of the city. As many of you probably know. Most of Amsterdam sits below sea level. The ground that the city is built on was actually the sea floor, until the city was dammed up and channeled. The unfortunate circumstance to doing this is that the foundations of the buildings move around a lot. Almost all of the houses in the red light district are tilting forwards, backwards, or to one side. Another interesting point is that all of the houses have stairwells that look more like rock climbing walls. I couldn’t get a picture of them, but you can use your imagination. So, Even though the city is well known for its immoral practices, I would stress that there is much more to the city.

After an hour and a half of walking, talking, and shivering in the rain, the tour stopped at a place for some warm coffee. We all warmed ourselves up inside and enjoyed our coffee. We then set off for the other half of the tour. Ryan took us through small streets, over wide bridges, and past some unique landmarks. He stopped us at the Anne Frank house, squat houses, the smallest house in Amsterdam, the coffee shop where Matt Damon and George Clooney go to in the movie “Ocean’s Twelve”, and then finally a restaurant for a late lunch. The tour was a great experience. Ryan told us some funny stories about the wacky laws in Amsterdam. In one story, Ryan told us how bike theft is one of the most common felonies in Amsterdam. The law (as stated by Ryan) is that if you are caught stealing a bike, you can go to jail. BUT, if the thief throws the bike in the water, there is no penalty…Ryan also told a story about his friends throwing a car into the canal, but that is neither here nor there, haha. All in all, the walking tour was an experience that I will never forget. We liked it so much we actually took another tour with Ryan after dinner, strictly on the red light district.

The night tour was much more scandalous, yet I still would advise everyone to take it. There is a lot to be learned about the city and its questionable practices. For one, there is a lot of interesting history behind the city. One thing that I found to be true about the city is that it felt like the safest city I have been to in Europe (except from the biking tourist…They will hit you if you do not move!). Everyone seems to mind their own business, and is very patient when you ask them for help.

I got the chance to meet a very interesting individual during my stay in Amsterdam; his name was Christopher Sturman. He attended both of the tours with his enthusiastic wife. The two of them gave me incredible insight on Europe, business, and life in general. I appreciated all of the wisdom they passed onto me, and I hope that I get the chance to see them again.

Day 2

The following day, the group went to the Heineken Experience, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Ann Frank House. The Heineken Experience was the one thing we did that stood out the most in our minds. The entire tour lasted about two hours, but felt like fifteen minutes. We enjoyed reading the rise of the company due to the cunning entrepreneurs of the Heineken family, as well as an interactive video on how beer is produced. We were able to watch old commercials from Heineken, as well as learn how to pour the perfect glass of beer. After the Heineken Experience, we went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was really interesting to see many of the legend’s works of art. It was also interesting how the museum used his art as points of interest in Van Gogh’s life. His paintings are more like chapters in his autobiography. You could tell a change in his style, as he got older. I believe that I would not appreciate his work as much as I do today if I did not go to the museum. And finally, we went to the Anne Frank House. The house was both an adventure but also a nightmare. It was so interesting to see where the author of the book I learned to love in the sixth grade lived while she was writing. But, it was also a tragic recall of how terrible the Holocaust really was. The apartment that the Frank’s hid in was surprisingly big. There were at least three levels, with plenty of space for all of them to have their own privacy. Yet, it must have been awful living there because they were not able to enjoy the luxuries of light, windows, and most of all freedom. In the end, we all came out feeling a little down, but we were all very moved by the experience.

As I close, I want everyone to know that Amsterdam is a unique place for its culture. It has seen a lot of troubles as well as a lot of exciting things. I felt like the city had more to offer, but I did not have enough time. This is the second city in my trip to Europe that I would definitely visit again.

Thanks for all the comments and emails from you all! They inspire me to do more, and to learn more!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hamburg, Germany!

Hey Everyone,

Sorry for the delay, but I recently got back from Hamburg Germany. I visited an old friend who lives there. His name is Benedikt Greiwe. He spent a semester at my high school FOUR years ago! This was my first time seeing him since then. Enjoy!

Day 1:

On Thursday I hoped on the ICE (high speed train) en-route to Koln, Germany. This was my first European train experience. I spent my time watching small towns and farms scream past me. There were a few stops along the way, but I got to Koln in about two hours. I had an hour layover so I took the time to check out the city. When you walk out of the train station in Koln there are two things that you see: an old cathedral and a super modern building. It was an interesting contrast, but I think it is a true testament of the architecture in Europe. I enjoyed food from a German restaurant called "Ditsch." I hopped onto my train to Hamburg excited, but also a little anxious. As I said earlier, this was my first time seeing Ben in four years, so I was nervous if we would be able to connect as well as we did in high school.

When I arrived at Hamburg HBF it took me about five minutes to find that familiar face. All anxiety was gone. I was very happy to see an old friend who was essentially a brother. Ben took me immediately to his school. There was a Haiti Relief Function going on. We stopped in and found a few of Ben's friends. I particularly enjoyed the conversation I had with Ben and his friend, Jonas. The three of us talked for about an hour about the school, Hamburg, and Germany. They also had a few questions about me including how I liked Brussels, and college in the states. Afterwards, Ben and I had steak at a downtown restaurant called the Block House. I quickly collapsed after a long day of traveling and excitement.

Day 2:

The next morning Benedikt woke up at 7:30...I chose to ignore the wake up call and slept in until 9:30. I got ready and met Ben at his school, Bucerius Law School. I hopped on a computer and did a few things I needed to do for school, as well as getting in contact with friends back in Clemson. While I was doing that I was watching alpine skiing, as well as talking with a native of Zimbabwe. It was my first time talking with a member of Zimbabwe. I was very interested in how he made it to Hamburg and the Law school. Obviously I did not go to in depth with him about his situation in Zimbabwe because I was scared that Mugabe himself would come after me (He might still since I'm writing about it). After Benedikt got out of class, he and I joined a few of his friends for lunch. I had a German pork dish that was rather delicious, like all German cuisine. Afterwards, Ben and I enjoyed a conversation about the city and law over coffee and tea. Ben told me that the lawyers in Germany are all very serious about foosball (the table game). He told me that one of the first things that the student body does every year is to determine the budget for the "kicker room." He showed me the room, and were met with a group of law students playing an intense game of foosball. Benedikt and I played against a few older guys and were absolutely slaughtered. We lost 10-0, uhhhh. I shrunk about five inches.

After a few games we gathered our things and left with Benedikt's entire group of friends to go play some soccer. We all jammed into three cars and travelled on the autobahn to an indoor soccer field. There we split up into three teams and played a round robin style tournament. I sat out the first game, but watched intently to make sure not to make a fool of myself. Soon enough, it was my team's turn to go out and play. Literally, five minutes into the game I had hurt someone, haha. I guess it is the American in me, not courteous (or maybe too intense). I felt bad nonetheless and helped him off the field. I was surprised because I was able to play with the Germans. After an hour and a half, the group and I left. Ben and I drove back with a friend of Ben's, named Kari. She and her sister Nina have lived in Hamburg for a couple of years now, so they were able to tell me more about the city and actually showed me a lot of the town via car.

Benedikt and I then went to a corner restaurant where we enjoyed a few currywursts, fries, and "Fritz Cola." I particularly enjoyed being able to experience the regular life of a German, I could have just down the typical tourist thing and see the monuments and go to touristy restaurants, but Benedikt showed me hidden gems of the city.

Day 3:

The next day, Benedikt and I were welcomed by a visit from Ben's parents and friends from Hannover, Germany. We spent the day walking around the city seeing more of the sites, as well as going to a couple of cool stores. We enjoyed our lunch at a restaurant called "Alex." The restaurant had a 180-degree view of the city and the bay. I enjoyed Jager Schnitzel and a coke.

We ventured to the old part of town including the old ship storage facilities and the modellbahn, the world's largest train set museum in the world. Afterwards, we walked back to Benedikt's apartment and packed up his place, because he had to switch apartments that weekend. We moved him in then enjoyed dinner at an italian restaurant. It was really great to have the time to see Benedikt's family and friends again.

My favorite part of the whole trip was being able to learn a lot about the culture in Germany. Benedikt's father's friend, Rolf, talked with me for an extensive amount of time about law in Germany as well as the economy. It was interesting to hear things that were similar and different from the economy in the States. Both sides have very distinct and different forms of law and business, yet both are very successful. I'm glad that I made the effort to go see Benedikt so early in my trip.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Paris! Day 3

The final day of Paris was not as momentous as the other two, mainly because we all felt extremely drained from the past two days. We ventured to Sacre Coeur, which was built of top of a hill overlooking the entire city. The weather was not on our side, though. We were not able to see much passed the end of Montmartre. We passed by musicians and merchants enjoying the European feel of the district of Montmartre. The area is known for its past appeal for arts like music and literature, but has recently become less and less clustered with artists. Sacre Coeur was an interesting trip. We walked through the cathedral passing by small chapels and amazing sculptures.

We then walked along a busy street which led us directly passed Moulin Rouge and the like. We only quickly snapped pictures of the red windmill before leaving to go back to the catacombs. We were able to enter the catacombs this time. It was more spooky than anything else. I was very puzzled and amazed by the detail that the French put into the catacombs.

We enjoyed a great lunch/dinner afterwards at a cafe called Indiana near the catacombs. We enjoyed burgers while a french magician put on a show for us. We all felt rested and set for another round of sightseeing, but were unfortunately too tight on time. We got on our bus and made it back to Brussels. Along the way I got to know a little bit more about one of my roommates, Thomas, as well as a man from the Turkish side of Cyprus. It was one of those small world experiences to talk to an American on one side and a Turk on the other in three different languages French, English, and Turkish. I got to learn more about the island of Cyprus, and we shared our views on recent politics.

Paris! Day 2


On the second day, we as a group had a late start. Don't get me wrong, I still woke up early, but some of the others were hibernating. Thomas McGuire and myself walked along the canal trying to find a place to have breakfast. It took us awhile, but we found a patisserie that we liked. We enjoyed a few French wonders. He had a chocolate croissant and a lemon tart, and I had a chocolate croissant along with an almond pie of some sort. We ate along the canal watching locals row up and down the canal. It didn't fill our American needs, but satisfied us enough.

We eventually woke everyone up and had more to eat. We went to a middle eastern restaurant that served us chicken in a variety of different ways. Afterwards, we took the metro to Notre Dame. When we first arrived we stopped to take some pictures from the outside. We apparently showed up at the wrong time. A huge crowd of gypsy women started yelling and fighting each other. We, as tourists, really did not expect to see such an event. We walked into the cathedral with little worry about the attacks that were happening outside. It was quite an amazing experience. I sat down before doing anything "touristy", and enjoyed some peaceful prayer. Notre Dame is an enormous cathedral, detailed with ornate carvings, frescoes, and gold leaf. It was a marvel to think that humans so long ago had such mastered skills to create Notre Dame. I walked around the entire cathedral with my jaw basically dragging because I was so amazed.

The group then walked down small back streets of Paris to get to the Pantheon. The main level is draped with paintings or frescoes that stood about fifty feet tall. We then went into the crypt and saw the burial grounds of Rousseau, Voltaire, and many other important figures in France's history.

The day quickly went by, and led to some unfortunate events of luck. We walked about forty minutes to the catacombs, but arrived twenty minutes past when it closed. We then took the metro to the Eiffel Tower, and try to climb up the monument. We were met with another closed sign because the stairs close earlier than the elevator. We then stood in line for the elevator for an hour only to find out the top of the tower is not open for a couple more months, go figure?

I ended my day at that point, while the rest of the crew tried to enjoy the nightlife. When I woke up the next morning I found out that they had run into more bad luck trying to get in to a club. I guess Saturday was not our day in Paris...

Paris! Day 1


This past weekend, I was able to visit the city of light, Paris. It was an amazing experience. I journeyed to Paris by bus with seven others (my roommates and four other friends). We made it to our hostel at around midnight after a confusing debacle with the euroline attendant and the metro ticket machine. I was feeling a little under the weather, but relieved to have been able to make it to Paris. The eight of us were the only users of our room, which was nice because of our unusual sleeping pattern, our sicknesses, and our American ways. The hostel itself was awesome. It was called St. Christopher's Paris Hostel. St. Christopher's was my first hostel experience, and I feel like it set the bar pretty high. The people there were very nice. I met three Brazilians as well as one Argentinian.

The next morning, I woke up early in excitement. I got everyone else up, and we all enjoyed a free breakfast at our hostel. We had made plans to go on a walking tour through the hostel, but did not make it to the meeting spot in time. We decided to go to L'Arc de Triumphe, which is on the west side of the north bank of the Seine. I climbed to the top only to be met with the best views of the city I had the entire trip. After that the group walked down aux Champs Elysees, sampling the local fare (crepes), as well as stopping at a couple shops. We found ourselves meandering towards the Louvre. After a stop in one of Paris's famous gardens, we decided to venture the great expanses of the Louvre. We marched strong through the first few exhibits, but grew increasingly tired as we progressed through more. My favorite exhibits were the Egyptian relics, as well as the Greek sculptures. I got a chance to see the Mona Lisa, as well as many other insane paintings.

We left the Louvre right around six o'clock feeling drained and hungry. We walked across the Seine onto the south bank of the river. We zigzagged our way towards the Eiffel Tower. We took many photos from the base, but didn't venture to the top. The craziest thing about the monument wasn't the size, or the lights, but rather how irritating the African merchants trying to sell cheap figurines of the Eiffel Tower. We brushed through the crowds and found an empty cafe not far from the tower to enjoy pasta and pizza. I had made it the entire day without complaint, until we got to dinner. I had been taking an extremely large amount of medicine the entire day, and I started to feel it at dinner. We ate and enjoyed people watching from our warm seats for awhile before heading back to our hostel. I decided I needed to go to bed because I was sick, while the rest of the crew went out to enjoy the nightlife.