Wanderlust 2017: Work That Lederhosen, Baby

After a long stint in Italy and short stop in Austria, we ended up in Munich, Germany! When looking at the initial itinerary, I never would have thought that Munich would be my favorite location to date (minus the Greek Islands, which all of us agree felt as if the islands were a totally different vacation because we started with them).

Munich lies in the Bavarian part of Germany and is filled with a ton of World War II history.

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When you first get to Munich, you hear about Marienplatz, which is the main square where you can access any and all parts of the city via mass transit – but I didn’t really see much of a reason to leave the area. Anything and everything you could want or need can be found there. There’s also King’s Place, where there are a lot of political buildings and a lot of corporate offices have set up shop there over the recent years (I found my old employer’s Munich office during a tour and had a moment of excitement because it reminded me that though were were far from home, it’s never too far).

When you start to explore, you soon find how beautiful and large Munich really is. And it’s full of rich history and some fun stories – like the one where if you rub the three lion heads, you will have good luck (once again, I had to do this to ensure I was covered).

Not to mention, the architecture is gorgeous. We strolled all around Munich and saw castles, monuments to past kings, and World War II historical landmarks. I loved every second of it.

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On our first full day, the entire group went to the famous Haufbrauhaus. For the record, this is a beer I more often than not order when I find it on tap in the States, so I was stoked to see where the beer originated.

When you walk in, all you see are rows of huge wooden tables spanning a huge space and people walking around in lederhosens. We sat down, ordered pretzels (a must), and started our beer tour of Munich. Beer is such an important part of German history and was a way for so many politicians to come together with the people when making decisions that affected all the lives of those who lived in Bavaria.

Needless to say, we had a great time, drank to our hearts content, played with Snapchat filters, and loved our lives.

English Garden

With each city we visited, we had a guided tour that not only showed us the area but provided us with a lot of the city’s and country’s history. When we were done with our tour, our guide left us near the English Garden, which turned out to be a great way to spend our day.

We walked through these huge gardens where a river flowed through the middle. Surfers were shredding waves near one of the bridges, children ran around naked playing in the quay, and people laid along the river side enjoying their day off.

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Then, we made it to the Chinese Gardens. I know it may seem weird that in Munich there are English gardens and Chinese gardens, but it really adds to why I love Munich so much – there’s a good amount of diversity and acceptance.

We sat down and housed a ton of food. And we’re not talking Chinese food; this was authentic German food that beer halls across America strive to replicate. The food and drink were a bit on the pricier side, but we were there for the experience and it was worth every penny.

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This was one of the first days in a very long time when we had time to enjoy the outdoors in a wooded setting. The gardens were gorgeous, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and I felt at home.

Viktualienmarkt

One thing that I struggled with on this trip was the lack of exercise – don’t get me wrong, we walked close to eight miles a day, but it wasn’t the intense workouts I like to put  myself through. On the day of our tour, I genuinely intended to head to a spin class afterwards, get some laundry done, and just hang out. This did not happen.

We found ourselves drinking at 10AM through 7PM in Viktualienmarkt, which is the city’s gourmet food market. It’s quite a sight; wooden benches everywhere, people drinking early in the AM, people selling gourmet food, knicknacks, beverages, and anything else you could think of.

We drank, played cards, and really started to bond at this point. We were into our second week together – and when I say together, I mean we were ALWAYS together – and we had all figured out, for the most part, that we liked each other and wanted to spend time together. Thisis one of the main reasons why I suggest someone sign up for a group trip as a solo traveler. Munich is where I fell in love with my “fam”.

 

Munich is on the top of my list of cities to which I want to return. I was at my happiest there – the weather was just right, the beer was perfectly chilled, and the people were the people I wanted to be around. I could see myself living there too because the people were so warm and unlike how German’s are portrayed on television. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll learn how to speak German, move to Munich, and Oktoberfest all year long.

Wanderlust 2017: Castle On The Hill

Leaving Austria, we took a few hours to explore the Neuschwanstein Castle in Hohenschwagau, Germany. The castle was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, however he died only a couple years after it was finished, so he never had the opportunity to get comfy in the home he funded completely.

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This is the castle that inspired the design for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was extremely breathtaking and so much fun to experience since I grew up watching Disney as often as possible (and still do to this day).

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When you arrive to the little town below the castle, you have these amazing views  of the surrounding mountains and great hiking grounds. We did decide to hike up rather than take transportation up, since at this point in the trip a lot of us felt as if we were a bit stressed with the amount of travel we had experienced during the first leg of our trip. It was a great way to clear our heads, break a little sweat, and get some fresh air.

When you get up to the top, you are stunned by the beauty of your surroundings. The castle was gorgeous and the weather was perfect.

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Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the interior of the castle, but you can check out the website to see the nineteenth century Romanesque Revival art and architecture. Our guide explained to us that Neuschwanstein Castle translates to Swanstone Castle, which made sense since King Ludwig II was known as the Swan King.

The interior had a ton of gorgeous woodwork – including swan designs and structures everywhere, but the part that stood out was the King’s throne room. The ceilings, floors, and walls were all decorated with biblical figures and stories. I remember standing in the throne room and realizing how much of an impact religion had been to the leaders of Europe’s past – something I find to be very different from what we experience in the United States.

After our tour, we hiked back down the hill, grabbed some schnitzel, and had a couple steins of beer. All in all, it was a great day trip on our way to Munich!

Wanderlust 2017: Romeo, Take Me Somewhere We Can Be Alone

While leaving Venice, we took a two hour break in the beautiful city of Verona, Italy. Verona is exactly the type of city I would want to live in. It’s small, there’s a good amount of shade and sunshine, it’s not too busy, but at the same time, it has everything you could ever need.

We took a quick walking tour past the Arena di Verona, which was a Roman amphitheater built in the first century. Soon, we arrived at the Piazza Bra Square herbs water fountain park and the shops of Verona. When I saw how quiet and quaint this little town was, I fell in love.

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We then ended up at Juliet’s Home. Stories say that if you touch her right breast, you will be lucky with love. I won’t lie, I totally felt her up with no shame. There’s no harm in looking out for yourself.

After visiting Juliet’s home, I strolled through the streets of Verona and saw some beautiful architecture. The trip was very short, but I loved the energy, literary history, and scenery. In hindsight, I should have grabbed a glass of Pinot Noir while sitting at Piazza Bra Square – then again, it was 10AM. I think that would’ve made Verona perfect.

I wish we could have stayed for at least 24 hours to see more of the area – possibly even longer. I have found that Northern Italy is more my speed and I plan on coming back to spend some time in the Alps region.

Wanderlust 2017: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Venice

After leaving Florence and Cinque Terre, we knew that we were going to one of the most iconic locations in Italy: Venice! Our time in Venice was short and jammed packed with things to do.

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The City

To get to the city of Venice, you must take a water taxi, which if you ask me was a lot of fun. Any time I get a chance to be out on the water, I genuinely enjoy myself. When you dock, you see this beautiful city highlighted by bodies of water.

 

We walked through Piazza San Marco to the gorgeous Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco.

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The cathedral is one of the most famous examples of Italo-Byzanine architecture, and I can honestly say, has some of the most beautiful architecture on the exterior and gorgeous paintings in the interior. We did a quick tour of the church, where unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos, walked around the piazza, stared at the clock tower, and still couldn’t believe that this little island in Northern Italy existed – it was something out of a fairy tale.

The Canals

The canals are everywhere and there is not getting away from them – not that you want to. Every street has a bridge or has a dead end where the canals flow.

We had the opportunity to take a gondola ride around the Venetian canals. Getting on the Gondola, you feel as if you’re going to eat it and fall into the gross water (yes, I said it, the canal water is totally disgusting). Luckily, the drivers know how to distribute weight properly when everyone gets on the boat.

The ride was fun, but mildly underwhelming. It took about 20 minutes, they didn’t sing to us, and it kind of felt as if we were going in circles. Going under the bridges next to the tight-knit neighborhoods was interesting, but not exactly how I imagined it would be.

Would I do this again? Probably not, but I recommend doing it once to say you did it.

The Vineyard

This was hands down my favorite part of our trip to Venice. We drove out to the middle of the country to Vignaluna Vineyards. This is a family-owned vineyard that produces delicious wine manually. What does that mean? No big machines – no mass production – no unnecessarily added chemicals.

We took a quick tour of the vineyard, then we headed inside for wine tasting and dinner.

We tested five wines: a Prosecco, Moscato, Rosato, Chardonnay, and Raboso, all of which were amazing. My favorite was definitely the Prosecco, but that’s not much of a surprise.

Food was constantly being shoved down our throats as we tested the wine; everything was made fresh in the kitchen by one of the family members. You can see here, once again, my love for pasta:

Well, that’s it folks. The second to last stop in Italy has been documented (Verona will be last) and soon I will tell the tales of when we moved north through Germany, the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, France, and Spain! Ciao!

Wanderlust 2017: Tuscan Leather Smelling Like a Brick

Yes, once again, more Drake lyrics. I can’t be tamed…

After leaving Rome, I was ready for a smaller city, and Florence, Italy was the perfect solution. We had three days slated to be in Florence and I was going to take full advantage of this city. I had heard a lot about Florence because a lot of people I studied with at Marist College spent a semester abroad there, but I had no idea it would a place where I wish I had done the same.

THE CITY

Busy, busy, busy, but beautiful. When I say busy, I in no way am comparing it to Rome. It felt busy because there was always something going on. There were always people looking around at the beautiful architecture, statues, painting, small streets, and shops. The city buzzed at all hours.

And it was hot. Luckily, there are enough shaded areas, but when in the direct sunlight, you start to feel the burn.

My favorite part of the city was definitely Piazza della Signoria. There, you can find the Loggia dei Lanzi where a replica of Michaelangelo’s David, a statue of Perseus and the Head of Medusa, and many other mythical and historical figures are displayed. When you walk down the Uffizi Gallery towards the river, there are statues of the most important philosophical, mathematical, social, and governmental figures to have made an impact on Italy.

And the river! Oh my. Talk about a beautiful view. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which was the only bridge to not be destroyed during World War II. When you look down upon the Arno River and the quay, you see a couple restaurants that have been built in to the hills along the river, with outdoor areas where people were enjoying life.

This city is where you start to see the true relaxed European culture that’s mentioned when people return from a trip abroad. It’s quite inspiring, if I do say so. We as American are constantly on the go, driven by money and status, and we so often forget that life is so much more than climbing the financial ladder. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip – people don’t take themselves too seriously (for the most part).

THE FOOD

As previously mentioned in my post about Rome, I went hard in the paint eating pasta, pasta, pasta! I tried a carbonara that was perfectly al dente and out of this world – I’m day dreaming about it now.

My favorite place to get my grub on was the Mercato Centrale food and goods market. On my “Treat Yo’ Self” night, I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a big ole steak, and a tiramisu that was out of this world. I’m a huge Delmonico’s tiramisu fan and it put it to shame (so much so that I texted my mother about how we had been living a lie).

Finally, the pizza was delicious. Their personal pizzas were basically the size of the average eight-cut from the US, sans NYC. I tried a few different kinds, but mainly with proscuitto as a topper. Cured meat is EVERYWHERE in Italy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

THE HOSTEL

We stayed at the Plus Florence CB Hostel. The place had a pool, bar, rooftop, restaurant, laundry, and good sized rooms. Since the inception of our trip, this was the best place we had stayed. This place was so great that I plan on using Plus hostels on my future European Adventures.

After three days in Florence, I was sad to leave, but also extremely excited to continue our trek to Northern Italy. If you have a chance to see Florence, go for it; splurge! The city is wonderful and you’ll love the culture. Caio!

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Wanderlust 2017: She Dreamed of Paros, Paros, Paro-dise

Yes, that is a play on Coldplay’s “Paradise“.  I know it’s weird that it’s not a Drake song, but y’all will get over it. Fun fact: I was listening to “Paradise” when I decided to make some moves with my life, so it’s only fair that I give it a shout out. Anyway…

The Cyclades Islands were a dream. We took a four and a half hour beautiful ferry ride across the Mediterranean Sea from Athens to the island of Paros (don’t worry, my post on Athens is coming soon!). Paros was exactly what I imagined Greece to be…but even more stunning. No picture could truly portray its beautiful.

We quickly dropped our bags off at the hotel, then went straight to the beach for lunch and drinks. I have never seen water so crystal clear; so perfect – not to mention, it was nice and warm.

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We first ate freshly caught fish with feta, tzatziki, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pork. I was in heaven. We then grabbed drinks and enjoyed the sun and the sea.

Over the next two days, we toured all of Paros, including Naxos. The people were extremely friendly, the shops were beautiful, the food was fresh, and the bars were fun – what else could you possibly need?

On our last day in the Greek Islands, we went on a booze and BBQ boat ride around the islands. This was hands down the most amazing thing I have experienced. We started with climbing a huge rock/cliff in the middle of the sea where an abandoned church had been built. I was terrified but so proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone.

The next stop, we swam through caverns. The second we entered into the first cavern, all I could think about was the scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, where Dumbledore and Harry go into a cavern to find one of the horcruxes. Naturally, my mind went a little wild and I scared myself a bit – imagine if one of those zombie-esq creatures that crawled out of the water dragged me under!! Obviously, I was being dramatic and went back to enjoying the beautifully clear turquoise water. It was incredible and at the same time, this is when I felt as if our group of 30 people started to really bond.

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This was taken in Paros, but, you know, we cute 😉

After that, we went to a small beach on Antiparos and the boat crew barbecued chicken and pork kebabs, made fresh Greek salad, and gave us lots of wine. It was the definition of paradise. I wanted to be left there forever.

We had to eventually head back to Paros. We were all sad, but exhausted from the perfect weather, swimming, wine, and overall excitement. It was very clear, the Greek Islands were the best part of Greece. We are all talking about going back already, but trust me when I tell you, I WILL BE BACK SOONER THAN YOU THINK!

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P.S., this is my hysterically entertaining roomie on my trip, Lynn. She’s pretty rad. Y’all should follow her on Instagram: @lynni_cha

My First Euro Trip (Part 1: Warsaw, Poland)

Growing up, I had always dreamed of visiting Europe. Specifically in the late spring/early summer, probably the south of France, wind in my hair, having an enlightening moment while looking off into the sunset. So, when I booked my first trip to Europe for the end of November, I knew my initial vision of Europe was a bit off.
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The idea of spending over eight hours traveling to a destination for one week kind of blew my mind. I’m not the best with flights because I am unable to fall asleep on any moving vehicle without drugging myself; especially a plane seated next to some rando who is a bit pushy about the middle arm rest. Nonetheless, in order to get to Europe, I had to suck it up, buttercup and ZzzQuil it up.
I had decided to visit my dear friend, Margaux in Warsaw over the week of Thanksgiving.  I had decided that during the eleven day trip, three of those days would be spent in Prague, Czech Republic because Margaux would be working and I wanted to experience as much as possible.

THE ARRIVAL

When I got to Warsaw, I noticed the smog, fog, rain, and clouds. But, it felt very familiar. It was cold. The kind of cold that chills your bones. The kind of cold where your toes, fingers, and nose are completely numb to the touch. It didn’t matter. I was in Europe, solo, visiting a friend, traveling the world, and living out one of my dreams.
I became a complete tourist the second I got there. I hadn’t looked up how to say anything in Polish (or Czech for that matter), I had no idea where I was, I wasn’t sure what to start with, and once I saw the city, I wasn’t sure if there was enough for me to see in five days. Thank the stars for Margaux. She spoke an alarming amount of Polish, she took control of my schedule for the five days – even when she was at work, and I had plenty to see… I’m forever grateful.
Naturally, the first night we did was go out to a nightclub and celebrate my arrival. Clubs in Poland are different. There aren’t bars like in the states, so the nightclub is king. Very techno-y, very slicked back hair, button down shiny shirt, tight jeans-esq., if you’re picking up what I’m throwing down… not necessarily my scene but a ton of fun. We danced all night, then in true American fashion, housed some McDonald’s at 4am.
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THE HISTORY

In the midst of the hangovers and rush of excitement, I was able to experience so much of what Warsaw represents. Let me first say, the people are lovely (and extremely patient!). The architecture is straight out of a history book. The environment, despite the cold climate, is very warm and welcoming. I see why Margaux has chosen to live there.
Margaux made sure to bring me to Warsaw’s Old Town and The Warsaw Rising Museum.
Warsaw’s Old Town is absolutely adorable, but at the same time, scary with the history of what Warsaw has gone through since WWII. We walked around Old Town Market, but because of the weather, there weren’t many vendors up and running. We did see the Mermaid of Warsaw fountain in the middle of the square, which is when I started to realize that the mermaid was the coat of arms for Warsaw (to be honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me. Warsaw has a few rivers, but they aren’t on a large body of water. Poland, to the north lies against the Baltic Sea. MAYBE if it was the Polish Mermaid, I’d be on board. Who knows, I’m probably over thinking this). We also took a stop over to see the Presidential Palace which was probably the most well kept and pampered piece of property in Warsaw.
Then there was The Warsaw Rising Museum. Growing up in the United States, you obviously learn about WWII. But, what we don’t really learn is how it affected other countries and to what extent. We don’t realize that some countries, like Poland, were destroyed to a point where you wonder if it’s even worth rebuilding. What this museum shows is that it is worth rebuilding and fighting for your independence. The museum guides you through the stages of the Rising and holds Germany and their allies accountable for the damage that has been done to Poland. Still to this day, when you walk around Warsaw, on one side of the street, there are brand new buildings, across the way, it looks like a war took place – because it had. This place is a must see and a reality check on what actually happens in the world.
Another prevalent driver throughout Poland is religion. 87.2% of Polish people are Roman Catholic, and you can tell by the architecture and vast number of churches throughout the city (and I’m assuming country). Though I am not a religious person, you cannot help but admire these churches. I think the statues, paintings, and overall environment of these structures could convert some people to believers because it feels real for everyone who lives there. Religion runs the majority of their lives and a lot of their government. I had the pleasure of peeping into a few of the churches, and trust me when I tell you, you will see some of the most beautiful works of art hidden among the pews.

THE FOOD

When I say Margaux and I threw down in the restaurants, do not take this lightly.  I didn’t think it was possible to eat as many perogies as I had during that week. There are so many flavor options! Potato, cabbage, cheese, pork and cheese, potato and spinach, duck and cranberry, cheese and olives – I could go on for days. Basically take any two delicious items and shove it into a pasta shell and you can get it in Warsaw. You can imagine how happy I was with every meal. We also ate a good amount of Bigos and my new favorite, kopytka!
I did make one huge mistake with food in Poland. APPARENTLY, a coffee in Poland means an espresso. I ordered a large coffee, and after I drank half of it, I had realized what I had done. NO ONE WARNED ME (I don’t want to hear a word about how I should’ve researched more before going on this trip) and I was up for many many hours, I wouldn’t shut up – worse than usual – and I thought Margaux was going to murder me. We got through it, but mixing that at the wrong hour with jet lag – I will never make a mistake like that again.
I also found that for breakfast, the Polish eat what I consider a lunchtime sandwich. I didn’t hate it. There are bakeries everywhere and they put turkey or ham in the breakfast roll (without egg – maybe that’s why I found it to be odd). The breads were delicious. We also at one point grabbed some fresh made soy milk ice cream which was very delicious and COLD! Yes, we had ice cream in November in Poland – I have no idea what we were thinking other than the fact that every time we hang out, we must have ice cream!
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My favorite part of the trip was the day I got back from Prague: Thanksgiving. We went to an “Americans Living in Warsaw” dinner at a local hotel and it was exactly what I needed for my first Thanksgiving away from home. The people, all from different parts of the United States, had their own interesting stories of what brought them to Warsaw, and of course, what keeps them there. Some found love, mostly others found money, and a few found their dream. It was such an eye opening experience. To see so many different people have one place in common, and a thousand different stories that brought them there.
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The moral of the story, Warsaw is pretty amazing. I really want to go back, but most likely in the warmer months. If you’re looking for an affordable Eastern European trip, I highly recommend Warsaw. And it’s only an hour flight to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Berlin.
Plan your trip to take on Warsaw – you won’t regret it!

RAWRRR!!! American Museum of Natural History

Last weekend, I went to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for the first time. Yes, I will be 23 in a few weeks, and I enjoyed it just as much as an eight year old. But, I will say, it looked nothing like it did in Night at the Museum but I’m already over it.

My only complaint about this amazing place: lots dirty, drooling, snot faced LOUD brats everywhere. I saw an IMAX film called Tornado Alley (open until January 8, 2012) which was amazing and I really got into it (PS I will never live in an area that has tornadoes on the regular). Unfortunately, I was distracted because a mother decided to bring her one-year-old into this 45-minute film. I don’t know someone would think that their child can be quiet for that long, but I made sure she knew I was not a happy camper when the child started screaming and crying.

Also, the museum is holding an exhibit called The World’s Largest Dinosaurs (open until January 2, 2012), so obviously I was jumping out of my skin in excitement. One of my favorite movie series EVER is Jurassic Park (FYI, they have agreed to make a fourth one. How do I know? Because I’m a total dinosaur nerd) so seeing these fossils was one of the highlights of my life.

Enjoy the pictures, and try to make it down to the museum before the dinosaur exhibit ends.

 

Like this post? Check out Kennedy Space Center, Central Park, I Love You, South Street Seaport or New Hampshire or Bust.