Friday, March 22, 2013


First of all I must apologize, this post is LONG and isn’t always cheerful. But these things need to be said.

I found this quote by Kurt Vonnegut a while ago,  and I think it is very true: “That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.”

I did make a perfectly horrible mistake in Germany. I missed my train home. I have no one to blame except my self and stupid Europe not using a 12 hour clock system. So basically, I can only blame my self. 

My trip to Munich was slightly last minute, and outside of the journey home, wholly wonderful. Last week I found out my Uncle Pat would be in Munich. I didn’t have much going on, so I booked a ticket and went. 

The very first full day I was there, I went to Dachau Concentration Camp. As my uncle says, “It’s not one of those places you want to go, but you need to go there. It makes you a more well-rounded person.” I have read many, many holocaust books, and been to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., so nothing I learned or saw there was a surprise. All of my previous experiences showed me the human side of the immense suffering, but Dachau showed me the tyrannical inhumanity and coldness.

Many of the places, like the barracks and the entry gate, have been rebuilt because they were destroyed either by the Nazis or the United States Troops. Those places are a little bit easier to visit because you know that these were not the actual bunks people slept in, though they are identical. But the cremation area and gas chamber are authentic. And they are horrifying. I didn’t even want to go in them because I was on the verge of breaking down, but I made myself go. It was truly the worst place I’d ever been. Looking at the grates on the floor, knowing how many people had stood here, watching the gas seep in was just too much. The room was still, after all these years, heavy with the weight of lives cut shorts and families destroyed.

Dachau is a cold place, not simply because it was at freezing and they are stingy with the heat inside. Those things make you cold on the outside. It has a soul-chilling cold born of evil perpetrated there. The horrific acts done have left more than a physical mark upon the place. All around you, you see the barracks, the showers, the gas chambers, the physical instruments of suffering. But you feel even worse. The agony, the fear hits you in that place inside you, one we often ignore, that tells you we are all connected. Everything that happened there was done by people like you and happened to people like you. It’s a blackness upon all our pasts that can never be erased, ignored or fully healed but can be eased with love and kindness. This kind of place stays with you forever.

All of the prisoners had to wear a colored patched that showed why there were there

Another Memorial.

Fortunately, I can say the rest of my trip was much more mild and genuinely enjoyable. On the train from Dachau, I met some friends from Idaho (by “met,” I mean I eavesdropped on their conversation for a few minutes and then inserted myself into it. It’s kinda what you have to do if you want to meet people while traveling alone. Walking the “not being creepy” line here is very important!), and after an authentic German dinner with my Uncle Pat and his coworkers, I met them at Hofbräuhaus, conveniently located directly across the street from my hotel, for a beer.

I think that’s my favorite part about traveling by myself, talking to random people. Usually the conversation only lasts for a few minutes or a few hours, but I always gain a little perspective.

I spent the second day just walking around to the various sites in Munich that I will summarize in pictures:

Views from inside the New Town Hall Tower where the Glockenspiel is.

The third and final day I went to Neuschwanstein Castle. It is the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. It was really interesting to see, and the inside is about as lavishly decorated as Versailles. The bridge where the iconic shots of it are from was closed because of snow, but I did get some other pictures.  

The whole area is beautiful

This isn't my picture but this is the "iconic" shot of it. And the perspective you see in Disney! 

That night I had dinner with my uncle and his coworkers in Hofbrauhaus. I knew my train didn’t leave until 11, so we had a long dinner. After dinner, I packed up the last of my things and went to the train station. Upon arriving, I immediately looked at the departures board. And the times I see are all 22:00 through 00:24.

I think:

Oh that’s weird, my train much be the last one leaving during the 21:00 hour. Because I know it’s leaving at 21:50.

But it’s not there. Hmm. I must be reading this incorrectly (<<< that thought happens to me more than I can even express with words.)

This is so weird. Because 21:00 is 9 p.m. and I know my train was leaving at 11. Except there’s nothing leaving for all of Italy during that hour. I should check my ticket.

Please read the following in slow motion because that’s how I experienced it.

Ooooohhhhhhh my.

Dear Lord Jesus, please tell me I am not this stupid. Please. Please. Pwease.

I spent about a minute just looking back and forth between the board and ticket waiting for something to magically change. And nothing did. I missed the train.

So I went to the information center, and I told the guy I missed my train.
He said, “Oh, that was a bad idea…”

But he told me my ticket would work on the next train leaving in an hour but would need to pay for a new reservation. My only defense is that I think I saw the “1” in “21” and my brain just automatically processed it as “11.” This is a legitimate way your brain handles information. If you don’t believe me, watch this video. It’s still a terrible excuse though. Don’t think too poorly of me please.

So I ended up stuck in a compartment with two Canadian girls, an Italian woman, a Brazilian guy and a Turkish guy. I thought maybe my adventure was over until people started getting racists on this train, starting with the customs/police people. It was a really sad thing for me to witness, especially so shortly after seeing Dachau.

The customs guy knocked on the door and asked for our passports. I handed mine to him first. He looked at the cover, saw “United States,” and said “OH American! Great!” and didn’t really even look at my passport and gave it back to me. He examined the Canadian girls' and Italian woman's passport and ticket without comment.

However the Turkish and Brazilian guy did not get such nice treatment. Instead of smiles and small talk, their documents were thoroughly scrutinized and the customs officials asked them leading questions, trying to get them to admit that had illegal substances. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing wrong with any thing in their luggage. And as if that wasn't bad enough the Italian woman woke up in the middle of the night and started yelling things I had no chance of understanding. The Brazilian guy looked at her really weirdly and turned to us and the other girls and said, I am not trying to steal from anyone. I was looking for a tissue in my pocket. So then, the Italian woman kept semi yelling (keep in mind it’s about 3 a.m. at this point) and miming that the Brazilian guy had been rifling through his own pocket. At which point, I summoned the very meanest, stop talking right now teacher look I could muster for this crazy, rude lady. If she had spoken English, I would have had more than a few choice words for her. And went back to sleep. But apparently this was too much for the Canadian girls and they got up and left. I was fine with this because they had been two of the most annoying people I had met in a long time.

This whole ordeal was really troublesome, and none of the problems were even directed at me. And I know that is truly is only a mild form of discrimination. Nothing really came of their bags being searched. But it shows a bigger problem. And I felt so helpless to stop it or make anything better.

All things considered, I really enjoyed my time in Germany and look forward to going back. I definitely saw a lot more of the world, not just physically, but about the state of the world. I met some really cool people from all over, but I saw how much progress we still need to make to say that we truly live in a better world.

Pictures are up on Google + and will be on Facebook shortly!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to explain America

America is a wonderful and sometimes weird place.

And our culture seems to be something the rest of the world has a love/doesn't understand/hate relationship with. Like every country, really awesome things come from America. Not so awesome things start there too. The way the world works seems to push a lot of American culture onto the rest of the world. This something about blah blah blah global economy and technology. Whatever. I don't really care. Except that sometimes I have to explain things about America to my family when it comes up on TV or somewhere on the internet.

Some things are really easy to explain, but some of the more contextual cultural bits are hard. Occasionally these cultural gems stump me. I could explain gerunds, split infinitives and passive voice easier than I can explain "college freshman" memes. I've complied a list of things that I've found the most difficult to explain: 

  • What Ranch Dressing tastes like. Or really even the concept that dressings exist besides oil and vinegar exist. They only use oil and vinegar. 
  • Will Farrell movies. "They're really really funny. But they're equally stupid...?"
  • What a "redneck" is. I did okay on that one but it threw me for a loop. 
  • Why anyone would make a "Harlem Shake" video. 
  • Taking pictures of your food to put on the internet.
  • Cockney Rhyming Slang. This is largely because I had a very basic understand of what it was in the first places. 
  • Drinking boxed wine. They only cook with it. And I didn't even bother with slap the bag...
  • Organic Milk. 
  • A shot book for your 21st birthday. 
  • Anything specific involving temperatures or distances. I can provide rough estimates of miles to kilos, dollars to euro and Celsius to Fahrenheit, but specifics are too much for me.  
  • A Paleo Diet. No carbs? No way. 
  • Why any average citizen would feel it was necessary to own an automatic weapon. (Not trying to start any gun control debates. I just don't come from a gun-heavy background, and I've never fired one, so I don't understand the appeal.)
  • America hasn't been in a declared war since WWII if you get all technical about it. (Turned into a mini US Gov't lesson on checks and balances.)
  • Why Americans make fun of Canadians. (See the picture below.)
  • Not all Americans think the solution to tension with another country is to "just invade them."
  • The revolting nature of Peeps. 
  • The joy of roasting a perfect marshmallow over the campfire. S'mores aren't things here.
  • Pumpkin/Banana/Zucchini Bread. I just made some for them because they couldn't envision what that would taste like.
  • The Jersey Shore. Probably speaks for itself.
I also found this gem a while back. You kinda just have to laugh at it because in some ways it's true.
That moment when you realize Africa just isn't on the map. Haha
Also Canada= Uninhabited. Bahaha

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Hiking" in Como

Guess what?? This post is mostly pictures! Yay!!

Yesterday, I set out to explore the Como area more. So far I have been in Como, and it's beautiful. It's very Colorado/Alaska-y but with a decidedly Italian twist. This time, I went up to Brunate.

I live where the blue dot is and Brunate/Como are where the red "a" is. 

I took the train into Como, and then, took the Funicular up to Brunate.

The funicular is basically the world's least exciting roller coaster, but it was still fun to ride up and down. They actually have two cars running in opposite directions, but only a single track. So there are several minutes where you are staring down the face of another car with no where to go until the last second when the track splits into two parts, so you can cross. It's all very anticlimactic when you are expecting to crash and tumble down the side of the mountain.

View on the way up!

There were some really cool houses in
the town!

This is the view from the first "level" of the town. I was impressed
until I got all the way up!

I walked around the lowest tier of the town for a while and enjoyed the sights. That's when I decided seeing the lighthouse would be cool. Little did I realize that it was a 45 minute hike straight up hill. That really completed the Colorado feeling because I felt like I was making the long, steep hikes up to the rock climbing I did last summer.

Okay, "hike" is a bit of a strong word because it was paved, or semi-paved, the entire way, and I did the whole thing in my boots, the fashionable kind, not the practical kind. But that doesn't reduce what a good cardio work out it was!

This part was more paved than the rest of it. 
Along the way, I saw some cool sites around the town:

I jumped a fence to get up close to this tower. There were stairs leading up top but
I think it was actually on private property, so I didn't go up.

This was a cool house that seemed to belong somewhere in Germany.

Views like this made me think "Colorado."

There are little shrines and statues like this all over Italy. They're very cute. 
After quite a trek up the hills, I made it to the top. The views were incredible and the lighthouse was cool.

This is a kinda cheesy sun-emerging-from-the-clouds-behind-a cross picture. But it's just legitimately what was happening while I was taking the picture. 

Sometimes, I just really like to use the "hipster" setting on my iPhone camera...

This is the lighthouse. 
                 And here's the view:

If you click on the pictures, they get bigger!

Friday, March 8, 2013

How to not eat Italian food in Italy

I know the title and general content of this post maybe be highly offensive to some of you. I apologize. But if you know me well, it shouldn't actually surprise you.

A number of people who care about my general well being were concerned about what I would eat during my time in Italy because I don't like Italian food.

That's right. I said it.

I've recently come to realize that this stems from more than a "I don't like the way it tastes" reason. Although that is a big part of it.

I think (I haven't paid money to confirm this, but everything indicates that it is true) I am allergic to garlic. Not in a "I get hives way" but in a "my stomach is really really upset way." This is sad for me because I really like garlic in foods, but the way it smells when someone cooks with it instantly gives me a headache and makes me feel so sick. After eating it my stomach is really acidic. I've also noticed a similar, but less drastic, thing happens when I eat tomatoes. This doesn't mean I don't eat these two things; I just try not to eat them often.

Before I came, I marked on my application to live here that I was allergic to garlic, so I hoped my family would be slightly prepared. I was worried that I wouldn't like any of the food anyone cooked and would both really offend my family and be really hungry.

That, however, is not the case. When I was first talking to my family about what I eat, the dad told me he didn't like garlic, so they never cook with it. Hallelujah.

We also eat a very moderate amount of pasta. I have eaten noodle dishes only a few times so far. A few times with olive oil, salt and tuna. Easy and good. Once was with a buttery, cheesy sauce with ham. Once was pesto (didn't like it) and once was with just tomatoes and salt.

We don't eat much Americanized Italian food. We do eat actual Italian food.

So you see what a typical diet is like, I'll provide you an outline of a normal day. This could be very different from other Italian families, but this is what's normal with mine.

Breakfast (Colazione):

Tea and Breakfast Cookies and/or crackers with jam.

There is a little silver tin that has chocolate chip and shortbread breakfast cookies. I call them breakfast cookies to make myself feel better when I eat them. Like somehow the word "breakfast" adds nutritional value.

They also have cracker things with jam and Nutella. Yum!
It just sits there. Right at eye level. Taunting me. 

Mid cookie binge. Yuuummm
Italians manage to eat this way for breakfast every day and not get fat. It's impressive. But they really only have a few every day. This is probably healthier than my cookie benders. (I don't eat the cookies for several days because, sugar and carbs and what not. But then, I have a break down and eat more than several in a day. Don't judge me.)

Lunch (Pranzo):

For lunch I eat whatever meats and cheeses are around. Maybe throw in a salad, omelet, fruit or whatever I can find.

The two kids come home around two and eat lunch then (because in high school, YOU DON'T GET A LUNCH BREAK. I cannot imagine teaching students who hadn't eaten lunch nor teaching without eating lunch!!)

They usually make some simple pasta dish.


I drink tea with breakfast and then usually when the kids get home from school and then at night before bed with the family. Basically I am English.

The tea/mug cabinet. This isn't even all the tea they have!

Dinner (Cena):

Dinner, much to my stomach's chagrin, starts at the earliest 7:30 but usually around 8 or 8:30. And for someone who usually eats dinner at 5, it's a long stretch.

My Italian mom Vanda does almost all the cooking. She also works a full time job, so her life is full. She keeps cooking simple but very good. She can usually put together a great dinner in 30 minutes. It's pretty impressive.

Bread. Lots of bread. Regardless of what else is being served, slices of bread get thrown on the table along with rice crackers. I try not to eat the bread because I eat enough carbs during the rest of dinner. But it's hard when the bread just stares at you, with it's delicious looking..... bread eyes?? Okay that personification got weird. But the point is, it's difficult to resist.

Some sort of meat: This is pretty "normal" fish, chicken or beef. Cooked with a few basic seasonings or lightly fried or whatever.

Veggies: I have noticed a lot more artichokes used in Italy. I like them, but I only really ever ate them in spinach and artichoke dip, so it's a bit of a new flavor for me. Sometimes the veggies are green beans, olives, or zucchini, often there's a salad (always with balsamic vinegar and oil).

Leftovers: Leftovers from previous meals are almost always on the table and usually pawned onto Nico. 19 year old boys in every country seem to have bottomless stomachs.

They have fruit in a giant bowl in the kitchen that's up for grabs whenever.

Meats and Cheese: Usually at some point after the main meats and veggies have been eaten, meats and/or cheeses are brought out.
They always have a healthy stock of different types of ham and Italian sausage on hand. Not the spicy sausage you can get on pizza, but it's more akin to summer sausage. It's delicious, and it takes all my self control not to eat all of it in a day.

They also have quite a bit of different types of cheese. I've found I like nearly all the cheese they have, including blue cheese in limited quantities, but brie is my favorite. I also like goat cheese quite a bit.

The meats and cheeses are use to polish off what's left of the bread or crackers on the table.

This is an illustration of the top 3/4 of the fridge, so you can see what it looks like.

The asterisk marks the spot where the sausage would be if I didn't eat the rest of it yesterday...
At any given time I would guess we have at least 5 to 6 types of cheeses.

Beverages: The parents and I usually have a glass of wine with dinner and then move to water. They all drink "acqua frizzante" (sparkling water) while I drink tap water. They have a delivery service that brings them crates of sparkling water and "milk" (I use the quotes because this milk doesn't have to be refrigerated and I think has a lot of sugar added because it's very sweet. The lack of normal milk is my greatest lamentation.)

The thing on the right is full of wine. The orange-topped white bottles are "milk," and the boxes next to them are the boxed wine use for cooking.

They get this much water delivered every week. The two stacks on the far left are full and the two on the right are empty. 

Another typically main course is rice. Each region in Italy is apparently known for their specific rice dish. Though they usually appear varying shades of unappealing gray and brown, they are quite good.

What I've noticed most about eating is that it's very balanced. All the main food groups are presented in reasonable moderation. Maybe once or twice a week pudding or a pie appears. It seems to be very much about "a bit of everything in moderation."

Here is a sample dinner: Last night we had Polenta with some kind of beef. Polenta is basically what tortilla chips are before it's dried. If you've ever been to Jose Peppers, it's exactly what Masa is without the sugar.

Polenta was eaten a lot by poor people because it fills you up. We ate it the same way my family might eat mashed potatoes. There was stewed beef on top and broth.


I should have been an art major.

You have paint to thank for my masterpieces. 

So you can see that I do eat. I even eat Italian food. It's just not probably what you think of when you think of Italian food.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Heart Belongs to Venice

I am in love. Head over heels (this expression has never made sense to me. Isn't my head always over my feet??) with my new favorite city (except, of course, Manhattan. But my love for them is in every way different)


It was love at first site. Like a girl always dreams about... well okay. Girls usually imagine the object of their love being person... that's just a small detail. Even as I was making my way to the hostel (with only my small suitcase), I knew a love affair was brewing. This post probably reads like a person utterly captivated with its subject. I know there is no way I can properly describe everything that I love about this city, but bear with me as I try. I am no expert on Venice; I was only there for a few days. But this has been my honest experience there.

I went to Venice with no expectations. I read a lot about exploring Venice "off the beaten path," which is definitely something you need to do, but I'll get to that in a minute. What I read about Venice seemed to scorn the tourist area from the train station through San Marco and Rialto, but this area, to me, was just as splendid and beautiful as anything off the main tourist track.

The touristy main throughfare is Venice performing, and she performs as well as the best and biggest of cities. To fully experience a city you have to see her perform and see behind the scenes. The "big" streets have spent centuries becoming the attractions they are today, refining their crafts and enticements specifically for you. Venice is waiting to court you. All you have to do is let her; wander the streets to take in the beautifully choreographed display of sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

Walking through the main track is an onslaught to the sense in the most spectacular way. Many city exist to, and have their appeal due to what is inside the buildings. Venice is wholly enticing inside and out. The buildings are a stunning mix of weather-beaten, crumbing stucco revealing the brick beneath and newly, brightly painted façades. All the while, the glitz and glitter reflecting off the millions of carnival masks, key chains and shiny nick-knacks give the streets sides a glowing, carousing ambiance. The sticky, sweet gelato and dessert beg unceasingly until you give in or it fades to the subtle leather wafting off the hand bags or best of all, transforms into the smell of the salty sea that permeates most of the streets while the gentle lapping of the water soothes you amid the hustle of the city.  Until the gondola driver interrupts, calling to you, "Gondola, gondola, gondola" or, if you're lucky enough, singing as they pass through the canal underneath the bridge.

Even the most touristy of areas have a way of making you feel that you have discovered something special. The cramped, quaint streets, especially the covered, dimly lit ones, make everything feel intensely personal. I felt, from the moment I stepped onto the pavement, that I was not merely a visitor, but an integral part of a dazzling community. A show isn't complete without its audience. You are, at all times, in the heart of Venice.

If you don't walk through Venice during the middle of the day in the busiest areas, you are doing her a disservice. You must allow her to flash her colors and show off fully for you, so you can appreciate the performance and contrast it with the times when she isn't performing.

The true Venice, underneath the mask is equally incredible. I have never been to a city where I could take two turns off the main road and be faced with the unparalleled  beauty of complete and utter silence. There are no cars in Venice, so one or two rows of tightly packed building are enough to block out any other sound. It's exquisite. It is Venice laid bare before you. Open and unreserved.

It's this part of the city that will show you a dad and his son in Elmo boots walking to school beneath some strangers' underwear and socks dangling from the line above and window boxes decorated with flowers, Murano glass and broken bottles. This part of the city shows you that there's more here than a carnival. It has its functionality; its soccer moms and business men racing through their busy days. In its streets, children race on their scooters and mark their growth on the fragmented bricks and stucco. It also has an abundance of old Italian women who will not hesitate to shove you out of their way with impressive strength.

What struck me most about Venice was that the part of the city that wasn't showing off for tourists was just as pretty. Or perhaps it was alluring. It left me hungry for more. I wanted to see what was just around the corner, or where that alley lead. In Chicago or even Paris, I saw a shady alley and hopped I would never have the misfortune of going down it. Venice sparked my curiosity to explore every nook and cranny. Too see everything the city had to offer.

The number one thing you need to have in Venice is patience. If you spend your time rushing to and fro, making sure you're following the right course on your map (which you won't be any way, just accept it) you will miss so much of the city. Walking from place to place is what most of Venice is about. It's the fulfillment of the adage "its about the journey, not the destination." Walk through the city slowly, absorb every detail. Stop often and drink wine, eat ice cream and eat dessert (calories don't count on vacation. especially in desserts and never ever in liquids). If you don't meander slowly down the alleys, getting lost while eating or drinking something, you're doing Venice wrong.

I was almost equally enthralled by the islands to the north of Venice, particularly Murano and Burano. Murano has the exact same feel as Venice with beautiful hand-made glass taking the place of the carnival masks. Murano so effectively capture my interest that I bought a ring and more than a few bracelets and gifts. And also some earrings. All of the glass work is stunning; the colors and glitter melted together form exception jewelry, plates, silverware, sculptures.

Burano has a different feel. While Venice and Murano feel more like cities that happen to be inundated with water, Burano feels like an island and a tropical one at that. The buildings are all freshly painted with fantastic colors like lime green, pink, lavender, yellow. Burano is historically famous for its lace making, and though I really wanted one, the impracticality of a lace umbrella stopped me from buying anything.

I could go on and on forever if I tried. Venice has been such an incredible four days. In some ways, the time has gone slowly, but in many ways it has flown by. My heart is aching at the prospect of leaving, but my bank account can't leave quickly enough. I have a feeling this will be far from my last trip to this incredible place.

 The rest of my pictures are already uploaded photos to two separate site, Facebook and Google +. If you are on Facebook, look there. If you are not, click here to Google +.