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.

Marienplatz

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.

Hofbräuhaus am Platzl

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: The Mountains Are Calling, So I Must Go

We had officially left Italy and were on our way to Germany! But first, we were going to spend an entire day traveling and stopping around the Tyrol Region in southwest Austria. This was the most exhausting day we had had since the inception the trip, but once we got to the area, it was worth lack of sleep.

Once we parked, half of the group went white water rafting – I normally would’ve been tempted, but I imagined my Austrian experience as one where I sit on top of a mountain in the Alps and drank an iced cold beer. AND I DID JUST THAT. We took a gondola up the mountain, and it was the steepest incline I had ever been on. Normally, I would’ve been freaking out about the angle and altitude, but there was something very relaxing about the experience.

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Once we got to the top, we found cows, goats, and a restaurant overlooking the Alps. Naturally, I spent a good amount of time with them since I prefer animals to people. At the top, we took in every angle, every which way the sun hit the mountains, the breeze, and the serenity that are the Alps. It was nothing short of immaculate.

Our next step was Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol Region, which populates around 120,000 people. The town was out of a fairy tale. Cobblestone streets, quaint restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops, and once again, a sense of calmness. There were other tourists, but it was unlike the bigger cities we had visited – it seemed we had all been taken aback by it’s beauty.

We didn’t have much time in Innsbruck, so we sat down, had a beer, then ran over to Cafe Saucher Wein to get their world famous original recipe chocolate cake – it was DELICIOUS! The original cake was made in Vienna, but each morning, cakes are sent over to the Innsbruck location.

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We got back on the bus and started to drive up a mountain, at a very steep angle too might I add, and we arrived at our motel. It was nestled into the mountains in a little town with three restaurants, two of which were closed by the time we got there. I was pooped, so I made a couple phone calls, enjoyed some wine, chatted with the roomies, then hit they hay. I knew we had a short time in this beautiful area, but I also knew I needed to listen to my body and get some rest.

I recommend visiting the Tyrol Region if you are a skier or a lover of the outdoors. The Alps in Austria put the Adirondacks in New York to shame. The mountains are great for hikes and camping, the rivers are great for rafting and fishing, and the fresh air is great for your inner peace.

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: 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: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!