Sunday, May 6, 2012

Going out in Style....Fruhlingsfest in Munich, Germany!

The last big trip I had planned before finals and heading back to America was Munich, for an annual spring festival held, called Fruhlingsfest. It is considered to be the little sister of Oktoberfest and it certainly did not disappoint. Our trip was planned months ago, which only aided in everyone's anticipation. In total, about 25 or 30 of us made the trip to Germany. We flew in and landed around 8am and traveled to our hostel, which was a little bit of a commute outside of the main city center, but easy enough. The Munich underground system is very easy, and pretty lenient, so it wasn't difficult for us to get to wherever we needed to go. There were nine of us in the room, and the hostel itself was more like an apartment than a typical hostel, with two stories, three bedrooms and a private bath; very nice for being fairly inexpensive. 

The first day, we met up with quite of few people (everyone ended up staying at different hostels around Munich) at the Hofbrauhaus, a world famous brewery that has locations all over the world, but the Munich location is the original. It is known as being the place where Hitler gave his speech in 1920 prior to his imprisonment and Mein Kampf, and later became a popular Nazi location while Hitler was in power. The venue itself is beautiful, it's main purpose being a restaurant and brewery. We drank our first German beers out of the massive beer steins, and then headed on our way to Fruhlingfest. 

Katie and I enjoying our first liters of German beer!

The festival itself from the outside looks like any carnival or fair. Lots of rides, food stands, and booth after booth of games to play. But needless to say, the reason we were there was not for the carnival atmosphere, but rather the massive beer tents. You simply enter the tent and it is row after row of large picnic-like tables and benches, and at the very front, a large stage and band. We met up with everyone from our London program and grabbed a couple of tables for the group. Men and women walk through the rows of tables carrying steins full of beer, or if asked Raddler, which is a combination of beer and lemonade. Each was about 8 euro, which originally seemed like a lot, until you realize you are drinking the same as about three normal beers. The day started out come and relaxed, but by nightfall the entire tent was standing on benches, cheers-ing and singing at the top of our lungs to all the covers of popular American music being played by the band. The festival ended at 11pm, but Gracie, Katie and I headed out probably around 9:30 to catch some sleep for the next day. 

View of the Tent!

Eating a giant pretzel! Delicious!

The next day, to put it lightly, consisted of nothing but drinking. We had reservations for the other tent at the festival which went from 12:30 to 5:30pm. We ate some classic German food, which was absolutely delicious, and drank a lot of beer. The set up was the same, except there was not a lot of standing on benches that early in the afternoon. It was just a good time to hang out, drink, meet some Germans and overall enjoy the day. After 5:30 we headed back to the other tent to continue the drinking and festivities. I grabbed a brat to eat on our way there, which was FANTASTIC! Couldn't leave Germany without a traditional bratwurst. The night continued the same as the previous day, and once again, we had an incredible time. It is definitely a tourist attraction, and I was lucky enough to run into Thomas, who is my best friend and roommate, Emma's boyfriend. He has been studying in Rome and had come for the weekend as well; it was great to see a face from back home! 

Enjoying our time at the tents for a full day! (Katie, myself, Gracie, Renata, and Paige)

Part of the gang
On Sunday we took a little break from the beer and traveled around Munich for the day. We headed into the city center and walked around for quite sometime. The architecture and colors in Munich are beautiful, and it was not colder than about 75 degrees the entire time we were there, so perfect conditions for tourists. We spent most of our time in the English Gardens, which is a massive park in the heart of Munich. It was extremely beautiful, and filled with people walking dogs and playing with their children, just an overall nice atmosphere to spend a good amount of time in. There is a river that runs through the park, and by far the coolest thing we saw were surfers who are able to surf at one particular spot on the river. I really have no idea how or why it works, but bottom line it was amazing. We spent quite a good amount of time watching them, then made the decision to grab some food and head back to our hostel for a little break. Again, we headed to the festival for a while, and then later met up with about ten other people at the Hofbrauhaus just to hang out after a long day of touring. 

The English Gardens

Surfers on the river
On Monday we took a train and bus into Dachau to take a tour of the concentration camp that is located there. I'll do a separate post for that trip, because needless to say, it deserves its own. We were there for a good amount of time, then headed back to the city center, grabbed some souvenirs and food for the road, and headed back to the hostel to pack up our things. We took the underground back to the airport, and headed home to London. Overall, it was an incredible trip in a beautiful city, which I got to share with some of the most incredible people. It was definitely bittersweet flying out of Munich, knowing that this would be the last big trip with all of us together, but I couldn't think of a better way to end such an amazing semester with some of the best people I have ever met.

Monday, April 16, 2012

We Will Prevail. We Are Virginia Tech.

Today is April 16, 2012, five years to the day when the massacre at the place I now call my home occurred. 32 lives lost, the worst tragedy of its kind. And as I sit here writing this entry, there is no place in the world that I would rather travel to right now than Blacksburg, Virginia. For the first time this semester, it pains me to be in London. I would give anything to be home.

It was certainly a complicated chain of events that led me home to Tech, and I thank God that it did. Had it not been for my hatred of all things sorority and fraternity as a senior in high school, I would most likely now find myself a Demon Deacon (anyone who knows me now may see the irony in that). Or the near loss of a high school friend, which showed me that being over 2000 miles away in California or Washington, far from my family and friends, wasn’t right for me at that point in my life. Or that gut feeling I was given the moment I stepped onto Villanova’s campus, telling me that I would not be attending. Or my mother’s suggestion to stop by Virginia Tech as we drove by Blacksburg on our way to visit other schools, even though I knew it would be much too big for my liking. Or my acceptance into the Honors College at Tech, which solidified my acceptance, and lasted all of a semester. All of these events led me to my home, to the greatest place I have ever lived, to the greatest people I have ever known.

Whenever I tell someone outside the Hokie Nation that I go to Virginia Tech, they always respond with a saddened expression and something to the tune of “oh my goodness it’s so sad what happened there” or “isn’t that the place where all those people got shot?” or even “wow, why would you have chosen to go there?”.  And yes, these replies certainly irritate me and it often takes great effort for me to control my tongue, but even more they sadden me for those who say them. Certainly because of the ignorance words like those represent, but more so because the people who say them will never know what I know; they will never feel what I feel; they will never experience what I have been so blessed to experience for these past three years; they are not Hokies.

Certainly for an outsider, for those who only see us on CNN in light of heartache, a tragedy like April 16th may be exactly what we are defined by. And what a pity for those people. They will never know the chills I get when I drive past Lane Stadium. They will never know the pure exhilaration I feel whenever “Enter Sandman” is played by a cover band here in London. They will never know the peace I feel when I sit atop War Memorial Chapel and overlook the Drillfield. They will never know the laughter I share with Emma, Colleen, Mina, Ellee and Alia at clubhouse lunches in ABP. They will never have the unbreakable friendship that Melinda, Emily and I have. They will never know what Virginia Tech is, what and who it is made of. Virginia Tech is more than Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more than Beamer Ball, the Corp of Cadets, Greek Life, and Ut Prosim, more than everything even its students sometimes attempt to define it by. Virginia Tech cannot be described.
Today is not a day to defend my Hokies, to attempt to convince those ignorant many that in fact my university is probably the safest of any, that April 16th could have happened anywhere. Because today I do not care about those people, those opinions. Today I care about my home, the place I love, the place that has honored me when I have shined most brightly and has held me when I have reached darker places than I thought I could. April 16th happened to Virginia Tech because only the Hokies could survive. That indescribable something gave my school its ability to rise from the ashes, from the deepest of trenches, and become something even greater. We will never forget the 32 for as long as there is a sun in the sky. And we will live everyday knowing what those 32 knew before their lives were so tragically taken. Virginia Tech is more than anything words can describe, and I thank God each and every day that I am one of the lucky few to know exactly what that means. 


Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Boat Race

Yesterday was the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race on the Thames in London. Apparently it is a huge British tradition, known most commonly as "The Boat Race', and has been going on since 1829. It was only a few stops away from us on the tube, so I went with Katie, Paige, Renata, Shea, Lindsey, Joe and Alex, to get to experience some real British culture. The tube was literally jam packed, with people heading both to the race and to a Chelsea game, both in the same general direction, aka all on the same tube line. Our stop wasn't too far away however, so it wasn't an awful ride. When we got off we simply followed to mass of people all heading to the river, and ended up being led where we had wanted to go. 

The best way I can describe the atmosphere was like a classier version of a college gameday tailgate. Most guys were dressed in Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, or their Oxford or Cambridge jackets and polos, and girls were on the same level, all very put together. Pubs line the river, and each has tents set up outside to get beer, cider or Pimms (an "English style" lemonade that is gin based), which is all served on tap. Although it isn't legal to drink on the streets in London like it once was, that rule clearly isn't followed on the day of The Boat Race, and of course we followed suit, splitting a jug of Pimms and then sending Joe to a convenience store to buy inexpensive flavored cider and beer. Apparently everyone else had similar plans because it took him about half an hour to buy it since the line was wrapped around the building. 

Katie, Renata, myself, Paige and Shea looking over the Thames before the race!
We were right at the start of the race and got to see about a total of 2 seconds of the race ourselves, while the rest was displayed on a huge screen on the other side of the river. Apparently this years race was fairly controversial. It had to be stopped when a protestor swam in river and disrupted Oxford's boat. It's the first time that the race was ever stopped and restarted for a swimmer. Then at the end, there was apparently a clash of oars and Oxford ending up losing one of their oars all together, basically given Cambridge an extra rower. Clearly Cambridge ended up winning, and although there was a protest, it apparently was ignored, and Cambridge officially won. 

After the race was over (which lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to because of the swimmer) we headed to the street, grabbed some lunch and went to a pub nearby. Overall, it was a very successful day of boat racing, day drinking, and spending time with well dressed people from Oxford and Cambridge.


Last weekend, Gracie and I took a trip by ourselves to Stockholm, Sweden. Our flight left London Stansted at around 6am Friday morning and we landed in Sweden around 9am. The airport we flew in to is about an hour outside the city of Stockholm, so we took a bus the rest of the way. I learned that Stockholm is made up of 14 islands (and Sweden as a whole is basically just a mass of islands), which I had no idea prior to visiting. Our hostel was in Gamla Stan, or "Old Town", which was in between two of the major islands of Stockholm. The city is what I imagine when I think of a European city; the architecture and colors with the combination of old and new. 

Walking to Gamla Stan, or Old Town

On Friday, we mostly just walked around the city. Nothing is too far, so walking was the easiest way to get around, especially since we had no plans of going outside the city. It was definitely cold however, snowing all three days we were there. We had been teased by 70 degree weather the entire week prior in London, so stepping back in to the cold was a little difficult. But the snow was beautiful and definitely added to the atmosphere. Friday night we found a cute restaurant near the Royal Palace in Old Town that was very good and fairly inexpensive (which is very hard to find), and spent a few hours there, then called it a night. 

Snow in the streets of Stockholm

Dessert at our dinner on Friday night

Saturday, we had a list of things we wanted to get through, such as walking around the Royal Palace, and heading to the National Library of Sweden. We walked down the main road for shopping, which was filled with all kinds of stores, as well as quite a few department stores, all very nice with some beautiful (and expensive) clothes. It was definitely a good thing that it was just Gracie and me, because we spent quite a lot of time on that street. That night we grabbed dinner, then stopped at a bar near our hostel for a drink and then headed to one of Stockholm's clubs to experience some nightlife in the city. 

The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan

The National Library of Sweden

On Sunday we spent most of our time, again walking around and seeing some islands we hadn't seen. We ended up meeting up with a couple of people we met at the club the night before and they showed us around the city, which was definitely an interesting perspective to have, from people who have lived in and around Stockholm their whole life. Overall, the trip was a huge success, even if it was a little cold and very expensive. Sweden is by far my favorite place I've been to so far. The people were without a doubt the nicest of any we have met while in Europe. If I ever plan to visit Europe in the future, I will definitely be going back to Stockholm (maybe in the Summer though...). 

Views from the water

Museum on Swedish Culture

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mina and Kelly Come to London!!

I was so lucky this week to have my friends Mina and Kelly come to visit me!! Both are studying in Italy (Mina is in Florence and Kelly is in Siena), and each stopped by for a few days. Their paths didn't cross, so they didn't get to see each other, but I got to see both of them so I was lovin life! Mina came with Allie, an Alpha Phi at Virginia Tech, and a friend they met through their program, Josephine. I met up with them and walked around Buckingham Palace and Westminster, and then we went to a good Indian Restaurant. The next day I got to meet up with Mins, just the two of us, and catch up. It was sooo much fun, but definitely not enough time with her :(
Mina and I outside Westminster Abbey

Kelly came in Thursday night from Siena, and we headed out with a bunch of my friends in the program. She stayed with me for the weekend, and it was so nice to have her with me. I've definitely been missing Blacksburg lately, so it was nice to have a piece of it here with me in London! On Friday we (Kelly, Katie, Gracie, Joe, Ben, Bo and I) headed out by the Thames, around Waterloo, at some good classic pub food, had some happy hour specials at a great bar on the water, and walked around St. Paul's Cathedral. That night we went to an 80's club we'd never been to before. Definitely a nice change in scenery from where we usually go. On Saturday Kelly, Gracie, Bo, Ben and I went to Borrough Market, where we had some of the best grilled cheese I've ever tasted, and cheesecake! Gracie and I took Kelly to see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and headed back so Kelly could see Singing in the Rain with some of her friends from Siena. 
Me with Bo, Kelly, Joe, Katie, Gracie and Ben on the Millenium Bridge across the River Thames

Overall, such a great weekend, jam packed with friends from home, sightseeing and phenomenal weather (at least 60 degrees each day). Couldn't have had a more beautiful weekend in London!
Kelly and I showing a little Alpha Delta Pi love next to Parliament

Ooooh! And if my hair looks shorter, it's because I got a haircut :)

Portugal: Lisbon and Lagos

Due to some errors in planning on the part of Gracie and myself, which were fortunately caught before they became an issue, we made the plan to fly from Barcelona to Lisbon, Portugal, and then take a four hour bus ride from Lisbon to Lagos, saving us A LOT of money (you're welcome Mom), rather than flying into the nearest airport to Lagos, in Faro. That meant that we had about 6 hours to kill in the city of Lisbon. We had no idea what to expect, and looked like major tourists for the day with all our luggage, but it was fun nonetheless. 
No idea what these buildings are, but they're in Lisbon!
Gracie and I at the park!
Gracie and the boys relaxing, waiting for the bus
Favorite picture I've taken in Europe thus far

Surprisingly, I ended up really liking Lisbon. It definitely had a more dirty, run-down feel to it, like it was in somewhat of a decline (whether or not that's true, I don't really know), but for some reason it was completely captivating and beautiful. The buildings were all different colors, and a lot of them were not painted, but covered with decorative tile, which I am now completely obsessed with. We decided to take a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city, so that we could see the most possible in the shortest amount of time. We rode around and got to see a ton of different sites. The one stop we made was at a gorgeous park (don't know the name of it), but we looked around and then just laid in the grass for about half an hour until we got picked up by another bus. The weather was completely gorgeous, perfect for sitting on an open topped bus. Overall, just a nice relaxing view of a pretty cool city that I had never intended to see, so it was a nice surprise. There was a little hiccup when Bo and I were in our cab headed for the bus station and our cab driver (who spoke zero English) casually clipped another car and tore it's side mirror off, but otherwise, it was wonderful (don't worry Mom, I'm alive, completely intact)!
More of Lisbon (still no idea what)

Loved the colors and architecture of the city

There was a little mix up with everyone's bus tickets when we got to the station, but it got figured out quickly, and we headed on a bus from Lisbon to Lagos. I fell asleep for most of the time, but for the part I was awake, Portugal was so beautiful. Just a lot of empty space, fields and rolling hills, completely gorgeous. When we got to Lagos we had a cab take us to the house we were renting for the week. The cab driver spoke only Portuguese and got pretty lost, but we eventually found it, and he didn't make us pay (not like it would have mattered because taxis cost almost nothing there) while he drove around somewhat aimlessly. Nonetheless, we eventually made it to the house, and the wait was well worth it!
A few pictures of the views from our house! Only about a two minute walk to the beach!!

Such a beautiful family dinner from Paige and myself! Sharing mom duties for the week :)

 The only words I can say to describe it are gorgeous. Beautiful house, beautiful view, beautiful pool, just beautiful. We met the five others at the house (Katie, Paige, Nicole, Josh and Alec), and pretty much had one of the best weeks ever. The weather was perfect, we got to cook every meal, drink as much wine as we could think of, and all for practically no money (again, in comparison to London). I did absolutely nothing for the 6ish days I was there and it was amazing. I was not ready to leave when it was time to fly back to London. Such a great spot for a vacation, and a phenomenal time with some of my favorite people!


Sorry, it's been forever since I've posted something! But here is my trip to Barcelona!!! By far my favorite city that I have visited thus far. I went with Gracie, Ben, Bo and Joe. It was an easy group to travel with which made it that much better. We landed in Barcelona early on Thursday morning and headed to our hostel. The metro system was easy to figure out and cheap so that was nice! We made a brief stop in our hostel, which was extremely nice, and then went to wander around. The first place we visited was La Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi's buildings. The architecture is like nothing I've ever seen, both inside and out, just absolutely incredible. We took the lift up to the top and got gorgeous views of the city and ocean. 

La Sagrada Familia
Inside the Cathedral
The view of the city from the top of La Sagrada Familia

From there we ate some gelato (typical) and then continued to walk around, our goal being to get to the ocean. We walked by the Arc de Triomf and around that area in general, which is beautiful, and eventually made our way to the beach. The five of us just hung out there for a while and then grabbed a cab home (cabs are beyond cheap, in comparison to London at least). That night we grabbed dinner at a random, but really good restaurant. I'm sure for Barcelona it wasn't on the cheapest end of the spectrum, but for us and being in London, it was a steal! Later that night we headed to a club called Opium that I had been told about by a few people. By far the coolest club I've ever seen, right on the beach and just completely crazy. It couldn't even compare to where we go in London! It was a late night and consequently a bit of a late morning, but completely worth it.
Arc de Triomf, right by our hostel
Our walk to the beach
BEACH! Preparing us for Portugal

The next day we walked around Las Ramblas, then ate lunch in the Old Town area. We then went to Parque Guell, another one of Gaudi's works. From there, we took the metro to Montijuic and got to take a cable car up to some sort of military fort (not really sure what it was?), and then got a good view of the port, which we hadn't seen while being there. We explored around there for a while, then headed home and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at a place that my friend Sam from home had suggested, La Luna, and it was soooo great! We stayed for over three hours and just hung out, ate and drank. Overall, it was a great weekend. The city is gorgeous, the people were cool and there was so much to do! It's the first city that I could have seen myself studying in other than London, and I would definitely love to go back some time!
In Parque Guell
Me looking at the city from Parque Guell (photo credits given to Gracie Gerlach)
Joe, Bo and me on the cable car ride up to Montijuic
Overlooking the Port from Montijuic