Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fall Break Part 2: Amsterdam

we left Interlaken on Monday morning and flew into Amsterdam Schiphol from Geneva! I thoroughly enjoyed exercising my admittedly limited French in the Geneva airport. from Amsterdam, we drove into Den Haag (The Hague), which is the administrative capital of The Netherlands and is a really pretty city. we stayed in Hotel Des Indes, which was absolutely beautiful. we were exhausted from traveling, so we explored the neighborhood a little for a nice place to eat. we settled on Oker and had a wonderful meal. I had a Thai coconut lime soup with tiger prawns and momofuku buns with crispy pork. so delicious!!

Tuesday morning we got up bright and early and headed into Amsterdam, which was about a 45 minute train ride. our first stop was the Anne Frank house. seeing the house was an incredible experience. although the story of Anne Frank and the Holocaust is horrifically tragic, the museum experience leaves you with hope for the future and does a wonderful job focusing on the life of a young girl growing up. though the house was refurbished for recreations and photographs, it was again emptied out by order of Otto Frank, Anne's father, to remind visitors of how much the war stripped away from the people that lived through it. the video interviews with the Frank's helpers and Anne's former classmates were my favorite part, because they brought the Anne I knew from her diary into a 3-dimensional, living breathing context. they describe her as bossy, lively, spirited and even mean; as human as any of us. I highly recommend seeing the Anne Frank house at some point! 

after Anne Frank house, we were starving for lunch and wandered around looking for a place to eat when we stumbled upon LUST. behind the double doors with a seductive pair of lips and the blood-red velvet curtains was a... diner? I had a great chicken club sandwich that had avocados (!!!!). it looked to be a trendy spot for 20-something girls to get lunch, so it was perfect for us.

next up on the agenda was the Van Gogh museum, which was across town from where we were for lunch. on the way, we passed various "coffeeshops," all clearly marked with Rastafarian flags and marijuana paraphernalia. it should also be noted that a "koffiehuis" means an actual coffee house that sells hot caffeinated beverages and light snacks and pastries. it's an interesting system that the Netherlands has going on and as a foreigner it was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that you could go up to a counter and purchase the drug as casually as you might buy flowers at the florist. then again, I live in California so maybe I should have been a little less culture-shocked.

anyway, we arrived at the Van Gogh museum only to find... no museum? turns out the Van Gogh Museum had been moved temporarily to the Hermitage while the VGM underwent some construction. but it wasn't all a loss! the famous i amsterdam sculpture park was right nearby and we went and spent a good portion of time doing a photoshoot on the letters.

naturally, me in the m

it's so hard to get all the letters in one frame! so close...

in any case, we hiked all the way over to the Hermitage to see the Van Gogh exhibit. it was great!! we saw his famous Sunflowers, The bedroom, Almond blossom, and The yellow house among a lot of his other works. it was a great exhibit too, arranged logically and clearly by theme. I wish I'd been more aggressive about taking pictures of his works, but the security guards were strolling through the exhibit so I was a little nervous. 

in addition to hosting the Van Gogh works, the Hermitage also hosted an exhibition of Impressionist painting, which I LOVE! so I was really excited by this unexpected boon. I saw some really beautiful Pissarro, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Manet, and Degas, amongst others. art and art history lover's dream!! 

I left the Hermitage a very happy girl, but little did I know I was only about to become even HAPPIER because we encountered a holiday carnival!! there were lots of rides and games, but my favorite part of any carnival is the food. we made a beeline for the first stand we saw: a poffertjes stand! poffertjes are a Dutch pancake-like treat (a little puffier and airier) that are traditionally served with a big pat of butter and plenty of powdered sugar, which is what I got. and we got them made fresh! words cannot describe how addictive and delicious they were, I wanted about five plates more. but alas I still had to fit into these jeans that I was going to wear for the rest of break... you could also get chocolate sauce, whipped cream and fruit jams on them, but I'm a sucker for powdered sugar on anything. 

magical poffertjes

we also briefly debated doing some gravity-defying rides, but even the bravest of us decided against it after seeing a large vomit bin next to some of the rides. pass. 

the carnival!

the thing I regret most about this day is not also trying some of their special French fries, called Vlaamse Frieten, which are basically just the perfect French fry with a big dollop of mayonnaise. I sort of hate mayo, but trust me you see enough people walking around eating it and you start to want it to. Dutch French fries are seriously yummy, I think I had French fries every single day of fall break... typical. in my defense I never do in Rome! 

tired, full, and filled with festive cheer we got back on the train and headed back to Den Haag. for dinner, we had a Dutch dish called rijsttafel which is essentially rice with a ton of different toppings like vegetables and meat on a big plate. its origins are colonial, from the time that the Dutch traded in Indonesia. it's actually probably more appropriate to call it an Indonesian dish. it was so good!! 

the next, day, we started off another day in Amsterdam with a canal tour! we didn't see much that was new since we'd walked EVERYWHERE the day before, but it was beautiful and so cool to see Amsterdam's sights from the water. I also didn't realize they had such an extensive canal system. the coolest part was the house boats! Amsterdam has house boats along the canals and you could see right up to their front doors, they were beautifully decorated. it made me want to live in a house boat on the canal... one day.

a Dutch East Indies trading ship!!!! I felt like I was in the 1700s!

hello blue skies

take me back?

after the canal tour we headed to the Rijkes Museum by way of the Red Light district, otherwise known as the street called De Wallen. I knew what to expect, but I was still shocked by what I saw. the exploitation and objectification of the women in the windows was pretty eye-opening. I stared in morbid curiosity, wanting but not able to look away. anyhow, onwards to the Rijkes. 

the museum had a lot of works by Northern European 17th century artists, and I saw some great Vermeer and of course Rembrandt's Night Watch, which is so big! it's a lot larger than I thought it would be, and very beautiful. 

Vermeer "The Milkmaid"

after a walk through the Rijkes Museum, we went to the famed Pancake Bakery. it's incredible!!! they had so many sweet and savory pancakes and I spent the longest time deciding if I wanted chocolate and powdered sugar or if I wanted bacon cheese and mushroom. I went with savory, such a good decision. the pancake was light and a little sweet and I ate the whole darn thing. 

the Mona Lisa of pancakes: mysterious, soft, a masterpiece

we headed back to Den Haag for the night. we were so tired that we decided to use the spa amenities and order a big room service dinner, and we watched a lot of reality TV. it was a perfect, relaxing conclusion to our really busy and fun time in Amsterdam! 

Amsterdam was a surprising city for me. I was surprised by how beautiful it was, how it combined modernity with a charming quaintness, how walkable it is, and actually how relatively small it is compared to really large cities like Rome or London. I was also surprised by how much I completely fell in love with it. The people were so nice and friendly, the city is simultaneously full of history and yet a modern cosmopolis, and the art!! oh, the art. 

side note: stroopwaffels are my new favorite cookie ever, they're thin waffle cookies with a caramel syrup center. so good!

coming up next: London!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall Break Part 1: Interlaken, Switzerland

this blog took a brief hiatus because I had midterms (easier than Oxy's, but still not fun) and then as soon as I was done we headed off for our fall break trips! we had 10 days to do whatever we wanted, and my group and I had amazing travel plans. the first part of our trip was in Interlaken, Switzerland, a small resort town in the mountains known for their outdoor activities.

we took an overnight train to Milan, then connected to Geneva and then to Interlaken. the overnight train was... interesting. you could pay extra for a bunk bed in the sleeping cars, but we just had big comfy chairs to sleep in. I took some Nyquil PM and passed out promptly.

we arrived early in the morning in Switzerland!! we were on the side closer to Germany, so German was the primary language there. in Geneva, which is on the French side, the primary language is French. pretty cool. my first impression of Switzerland was that it is absolutely beautiful. the mountains are rolling and green, and as they extend further out towards the horizon they become more jagged and snowy. the trees were changing colors and the river and lakes were the prettiest color of blue-green.

river aarn

the first day, we did all of our souvenir shopping and familiarized ourselves with the town. we did a lot of walking this trip!! my boots have some serious mileage. Interlaken's shops are all about chocolate, cuckoo clocks, Swiss army knives, and outdoor gear. for dinner, we did fondue!! cheese fondue might be the best thing ever invented. we also had some pretty good local beer, a lager with lemonade in it. 


we got coffee at one point and I asked for an iced coffee. after a lot of questions and discussion this is what the waiter brought me... not what I was expecting

the second day, we started off with a bike tour. umm, I was terrified. and these were not normal bikes, they were electric bikes, which means they essentially are motorized and give you a push when you need it. I had a hard time placing all my faith into a rickety narrow thing with an engine that seemed to move autonomously, so I went slow and trailed behind the rest of my bike group. the views we saw were beautiful though, and we biked 15 miles! not bad for a girl who can barely bike in a straight line, even though I did bike right into a wall and scrape up my right arm, 5th grade style. we saw both lakes, Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, and I wanted to jump in. they were freezing cold, but I would have if I hadn't been wearing clothes that I'd have to be in all day.

me looking significantly happier off the motorized vehicle of death

the mountains. no photo editing involved!

this picture was taken 20 minutes after the one above it. so, so beautiful!

this is lake briens. I felt at home :-)

later that day was CANYON JUMPING! I'm the first person to admit to being a homebody, but something about extreme sports really gets me going. switzerland really makes a junkie out of a person. canyon jumping is exactly what it sounds like. you stand on a small platform 255 feet in the air and free fall until a rope catches you, then you swing through the canyon. Interlaken is one of three places in the world you can do canyon jumping; the other two are Nepal and New Zealand. 

straight drop down

the length of the canyon you sail through

so ready to go

free fall. note the pigtail action happening here

casually flying over an angry river

the experience was awesome!!! I didn't feel nervous when we were heading up and kept expecting to feel the pit in my stomach develop, but it never did. I was excited, of course, but I was actually pretty calm until I was standing on the platform looking down, then I got REALLY excited. it was an easy step off the platform, then I was totally free falling. I wish I'd thought to do a silly pose for the photographer as I was falling, but honestly I was too busy feeling the feeling of free fall. it's unlike anything I'd felt before! so cool, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. 

thoroughly beat from our day of extreme sports, we called it a day. we spent our last day in Interlaken doing some more touristy things, like the St. Beatus cave tour!

the caves are all the way at the top of this mountain

as the story goes, St Beatus was a pious man who heard rumors of a dragon hiding up in a cave. he went up there, invoked the Holy Trinity, and the dragon fell into a rage and threw himself into a lake and died. convenient!

anyhow, the caves were discovered in the 19th century (18th?) and they are really spectacular. the stalagmites and stalactites were so cool, and some were over 40,000 years old. there are mirror grottos, where the water is so still it really does look like a perfect mirror, and there are rushing waterfalls and rivers that are a little scary! the view from the restaurant at the top is really pretty too. our guide was nice enough to let us take pictures. this was the only good picture I got, and it doesn't do the cave's natural beauty nearly enough justice, but there it is.

the eerily beautiful st beatus cave grottos

that was about it for Interlaken! in summary: ate a lot of cheese fondue and chocolate, drank a fair amount of Swiss beer, saw amazing caves, jumped off a cliff wall, resisted the urge to buy anything and everything with the Swiss cross on it, biked for hopefully the last time in my life.

some reflections on this part of the trip:

1. Switzerland is expensive! the currency is cool though, really sparkly silver coins. and unlike in Italy, restaurant staff are more than delighted to split up checks and give change. average food costs in Switzerland were a little mind-blowing, to be honest, even with the exchange rate. still in sticker shock.

2. Switzerland is also really beautiful. the great part is that people have figured this out, and so there are many ways of accessing and seeing all of the natural beauty. 

3. I must learn German.

4. canyon jumping was thrilling and a total rush, but I want more!! next up: sky diving. or maybe breaking the sound barrier by falling from 24 miles above the Earth's surface.

5. I want to come back one day and do the Top of Europe train ride. it's expensive but I've heard great things about it. 

part 2 and 3 on Amsterdam and London are coming soon!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

my drawings

if you've ever sat next to me in a class you know I'm a compulsive doodler. I like drawing, so I decided to take a drawing class this semester. you gotta make time for your hobbies! some of my drawing experiments have gone better than others. here, for your viewing pleasure, is my work so far. 

geometric forms

the two sides of my window

a postcard... note the rocks. magnum opus.

a horse. not my best...

ladies and gentlemen: a trash can. you can't see the seal of the city of rome, sadly. done with ink.

a shed in a garden

view of the colosseum. I actually really like how this one turned out

a lamp post

a copy of a sketch by michael graves

a sleeping girl. aka I'm too lazy to draw eyes

trapped cat

the pantheon. harder than it looks to draw...

I'm currently in the midst of midterms hell. as soon as they're over I'm off to fall break! we're heading to Interlaken, Switzerland; Amsterdam/The Hague, Netherlands; then London, UK. so excited!! see y'all in two weeks!

Monday, October 8, 2012

the no iPhone life + sick, again

it's been pretty weird not having my iPhone. all things considered, it's probably lucky I lost it here and not in the States because I don't use it for anything really vital here and I can only text when I'm on wifi, which is never. still, not having a smart phone for the first time since freshman year of high school has been an experience.

the first thing I noticed right away was I didn't have an alarm clock. I realized this when I slept through my first class of the day.

the second thing I noticed was that I couldn't check the weather really easily. this bugged more than it should, probably because I'm a control freak.

I feel very out of the Twitter/Instagram loop, which is sad because previously I was totally addicted. Twitter was really my only way of checking the news and keeping up with current events, so we'll see in the coming weeks if I make the switch to using Twitter on my laptop or if not having a smart phone means living under a rock.

I also am having a difficult time keeping up with my e-mails. I have three separate accounts, so iPhone's feature of combining all my inboxes was so helpful. now I have to manually check each one. y'all can expect a much slower e-mail response time from me from now on.

finally, I'm already pretty out of the loop because I live in a separate building from all of my friends. no iPhone = no iMessage = more out of the loop than I was before. this will probably contribute to me becoming a hermit, which is my natural instinct and pretty hard to resist.

on a separate note, the inside of my throat is so swelled up I can't talk and I am pretty congested. I guess my lifestyle was bound to catch up to me eventually, but did it have to happen now?? at least it doesn't seem to be the vomit-filled illness I came down with last week, just a yucky cold.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Anirem a Barcelona!

this weekend was also up there in the top best most awesome weekends of my life, because we went to Barcelona!! Barcelona has always been a top-priority city that I've always wanted to see, and finally all of my dreams were realized. the city is as beautiful and modern and happening as they say. here's what I did over the weekend.

we arrived in the late afternoon, just as most people were in siesta time. we didn't have the time to do much sightseeing because museums were closing, but we walked around our neighborhood in search of food and stumbled across two of Gaudi's building exteriors. it's amazing that you can be walking through a neighborhood and then all of a sudden monuments of architectural genius just show up. the picture doesn't do it nearly enough justice.

Casa Battlo

we walked down Passeig de Gracia and realized pretty quickly that all the street signs were in Catalan, which is a totally different language from Spanish and actually has a lot in common with Italian and French. It's comprehensible if you've learned one or more of the Romance languages, but it's definitely different. although we wanted to explore some, we were starving and interested in trying tapas.

a bread tapas sampler. the toppings were tuna, crab, shrimp, ham, and a potato and cheese quiche. yum.


Then it was time for a siesta. Siesta time is from about 4 to 8, so we headed back to the hostel to take power naps and do a little research about where to go and what to do in Barcelona. the waiter at our tapas bar told us that Barceloneta was the place to be on a Friday night, so we decided we'd head there for the night. we left our hostel at around 10. 

we settled on a place to eat at around 11:30, which is SO late for dinner but totally normal for Spaniards. once again, we had tapas. the great thing about tapas is you can order 4-5 dishes and share, and that way you can try some of everything!!

fried artichokes - so salty and crispy

from the top: the best clams, literally small whole fried fish, patatas bravas

we also had this really good white wine called k-naia 2011 that was sweet and semi-dry. we finished a bottle very quickly. we finished dinner around 12:30AM and headed out to the clubs. not really sure which one to pick, we decided to go to the one that promised us free champagne inside. it was fairly horrible champagne, but they were good on their word! we danced the night away then headed home fairly late at night. 

this is a good time to discuss our hostel. we stayed at Casa Gracia, which was a really positive experience. the hostel was helpful and accommodating and the staff were so nice! our room was spacious and clean and the beds were really comfy. breakfast was provided, which was awesome. I can't speak for any of the activities and programs they put on since we didn't take part in any of them, but I liked that they created a communal space for hostel-stayers. the bathroom was clean and the shower was way nicer than the one at my room in Rome! although the hostel itself was nice, we were in a 6-person room that already had one occupant living in it. he was a pretty strange guy from Switzerland that was traveling by himself, and the weirdest thing was that he had a huge gaping wound going around the circumference of his wrist. anyway, we mostly avoided him. 

Las Ramblas street. a busy shopping and sightseeing street, but watch out for pickpocketers. FC Barca had a huge rival game against Madrid on Sunday, hence all the jerseys and spirit

I really loved Barcelona. The city was clean and modern, the streets were also clean and not full of dangerous cobblestones, their public transportation was easy, and their people were nice (and the boys so cute). I found myself wishing I'd studied abroad there, instead of Rome, but that was before my iPhone was stolen. I'm getting there, though. 

After breakfast, we headed down to Las Ramblas street to get to the Picasso museum. Las Ramblas is a main road that empties out into the main plaza, Plaza Catalunya, and the area is notorious for rampant pickpocketing. Pickpocketing and theft is a real issue in Barcelona. When I was going to Rome, I was told over and over to watch out for theft, but I've found that as long as I'm not an idiot (aka not putting my wallet down on a counter and turning around, or not sticking a passport in my back pocket on a bus) I've been just fine and I have always felt safe. Barcelona is a whole 'nother story. It's the wild wild wild west out there! I think I clutched my bag and had it zipped constantly. On Las Ramblas we did a little souvenir shopping for FC Barcelona gear and postcards, then wound our way through side streets until we found the Picasso museum. On our way there we stopped into a fantastic candy and confectionary shop that I wish I could have stayed in forever. They had really yummy fruit-flavored lollipops. 

The Picasso museum was amazing! It mostly showcased his earlier works. It was pretty cool to see that he was had total technical mastery of his subjects, which is why his later Cubism and Modernist works are still cohesive and aesthetically pleasing. I had also never seen his sculpture and pottery before. Very cool.

After the museum we headed back down Las Ramblas to the Boqueria market. The market was packed with people and had stalls selling all sorts of food! There were fresh fruit stalls, candy stalls, spices and condiments, fish stalls, and the weirdest was the creepy meats. There were lots of stalls selling tripe (umm... it looked fuzzy?) and brains and tongues and livers and whole heads of sheep and chicken with the eyeballs still in. I took pictures, but since I look at this blog a lot I didn't want to continue to torture myself with the gruesome pictures. My favorite stall was the fresh fruit stalls that sold fruit juices and fruit ice pops. 

more packed than some of the clubs we were in

so much fresh fruit!!!

I may have died and gone to heaven

strawberry ice pop. I could have eaten a hundred of these, there wasn't any sugar added and they were delicious!!!

After La Boqueria, we decided to hit one more site before siesta time. I was determined to see La Sagrada Familia, and it was not disappointing. It's massively intimidating from the outside, and as an art history student who has seen a lot of medieval and Renaissance churches it was jarring to see post-modern furnishings on the exterior of a church (like colored fruits atop spires and iguanas crawling out of sides of windows) but it was so cohesive and beautiful. I was in awe, and that was before I saw the inside. 

my first impression was that the building was melting

I got goosebumps over and over again. its beauty is beyond words.

La Sagrada Familia is the one place I know for sure I would go back to again. It's incredible. 

After the church, we were quite tired and we came back to the hostel where I almost immediately passed out. Once I came to, I showered and we headed out the door again for dinner at around 10. The first place we wanted to go to was packed and there was no way we'd be able to sit down, so we wandered around the nearby area trying to find something to eat but none of the places we saw really appealed to us. Desperate and starving, we stumbled into a tapas bar/restaurant called LOFT212, and it was one of my best dining experiences! The waitstaff were so friendly and nice and helpful, the drinks were stiff and plentiful, and the food was different and more importantly, delicious. We were one of three parties inside at that time, and we had such attentive service and way too much fun. We asked our waiter for what he thought was the best, and the following pictures are of what we were given. 

blood sausage. no actual blood involved, SO delicious.

this was one of the best things I've ever eaten in my entire life. crispy fried potatoes, some sort of spicy sauce and creamy mayo. oh my gosh. I'll dream about this one for a long, long time.

sushi!!!!! the tuna was fresh and melted in my mouth. yum. 

our really charming waiter. he liked us because we told him Spanish men were better looking than Italian men! 

in short, we had a very very good dining experience. there was also a fried cheese that we tried. for drinks we had a pitcher of sangria, plus a dessert cocktail that had Bailey's in it. then as a treat for us he brought out Irish coffee which I think was about half whiskey. whew. everything was so delicious and it was 10x better because the service was so good!

after LOFT212 we headed to Espit Chupitos, which is a bar that specializes in crazy shots. there's a wall menu with over 200 kinds of shots and there's a gimmick to each one. for example, the Boy Scout shot entails roasting marshmallows over the flaming shot before you drink it. other shots involve lighting things on fire, including your fingers (!!). I did a few special ones that unfortunately can never go public. let me just say my dignity remains somewhere on the floor in Espit Chupitos. 

shots on fire at Espit Chupitos

After Espit Chupitos, we went to Razzmatazz, a big club in Barcelona. we had tickets to see Little Boots, but we never quite made it to the show because not twenty minutes inside the club my iPhone got stolen. ugh. I didn't really hold it together and called my parents really upset, so that effectively ended our night. getting back was a major adventure that I don't want to forget but also don't want to extensively describe on this very public blog, so I am going to make a series of bullet points that will make sense to only a few people. sorry to the rest of you, if you ask I'll tell you the story. 
  • Mackenzie taking all my things out of my bag
  • The first cab ride - tissues and 50 Euro
  • The second cab ride - the driver was my new BFF and he dropped us off really, really far
  • The third cab ride
  • Mackenzie taking all of Maggie's things out of her bag
  • "I do it all the time, literally, it's so easy you just clean it right up"
we got back at 4:30AM and slept until 9:55, when we realized checkout was at 10:00 and made a mad dash to collect our stuff and get outta there. the plane ride home was mostly comatose. 

in short, Barcelona was awesome. we ate a ton of really good food, we danced a lot, and made friends with some foreign boys. I saw some beautiful architecture, enjoyed fresh fruit and yummy candies, and got to explore the city on foot. we came, we saw, we were totally conquered by Barcelona.