London’s Gems

June 1, 2009

London from Greenwich

I decided to finish off my London blog on a good note with all the “gems” of the city. Everyone knows about Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, etc., but what are the real treats in London that most people pass by without even realizing? After my 5 month journey here, I have a few places that I really like, and will miss a little when I leave. Most places are either good spots to eat or drink, but that pretty much covers anything anyways, right?

Ben’s Cookies

Ben's Cookies

O man will I miss this place. Ben’s cookies has the best cookies ever. My two favorite are chocolate chunk and white chocolate macadamia nut, but there really isn’t a bad cookie you can find there. I’m planning a road trip to Salt Lake City later on in the summer to visit the only Ben’s Cookies in the U.S. if anyone wants to tag along.

Hummus Bros

Hummus Bros

Even though it’s not in the middle east, I think Hummus Bros can hold it’s own with some of the best. They should really consider opening these up on college campuses in the U.S. Great place for lunch/dinner, or even just to pick up a snack.

Met-Su-Yan

Met-Su-Yan

For all the good Kosher keeping Jews out there, Met-Su-Yan is just as it sounds, Metsuyan (hebrew word for my non-jewish readers). London is probably one of the best places you could be in Europe if you keep kosher, but unfortunately all of the jews live really far up north. If you make the trek though, Met-Su-Yan is this great kosher chinese place. Servers are chinese, but don’t worry, the bar tender wears a kippah and tzitzit.

Greenwich

Greenwich

Greenich is just on the outskirts of London, and is just a great little area to walk around. Many of you may have heard about it from Greenwich Meantime (GMT). It’s where the prime meridian is located, as well as the place where the official time is set. They have a beautiful park, great museum, and cheap places to eat. You can even take a fun picture standing on each half of the world!

Prime Meridian

Borough Market

Borough Market

There are many great markets in London, and this one just happens to be my favorite. Unlike the other markets, this one is all food. The other amazing part is that you can basically eat a full meal off of all the samples they hand out there. It’s basically like fridays at Byerly’s on steroids.

Shoreditch

Shoreditch

Shoreditch is a really fun, “alternative” area to go out in London on the weekends. The crowd is much younger than the usual 30+ group you will see at most bars around the city on saturday nights, so it’s a nice change of pace. One bar there had this light up dance floor in the basement, and the night I was there, they played 50’s music the entire night, so we all had an amazing time.

Brick Lane

Brick Lane

Brick Lane is where all the best Indian restaurants are located in the town. I’ve never been disappointed in any of my food there, which can probably be explained by the fact that they share kitchens and have tunnels running between each place. Hey if it brings the price down, they can do anything they want. Besides the great food, it’s an experience eating out there. As you walk down the street you can’t miss hearing “I give you 30% off and 2 rounds of drinks” at least 20 times.

Gordon’s Wine Bar

Gordon's Wine Bar

Gordon’s is a true gem. They claim to be the oldest wine bar in England, which you soon realize as you duck your head to find a table in the old wine cellar. This place is constantly busy, no matter the day of the week or what time of the day. You’ll only find locals in here, as I will admit, it does look a little sketchy from the outside. Don’t worry, I didn’t actually drink there. Please… just went to hang out.

Princess of Wales

Princess of Wales

Not really a gem like Gordon’s, but it was the only close pub still open when Gordon’s closed at 11 pm.

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour

jack-the-ripper

Don’t worry, this isn’t a real picture, he’s not alive anymore. I probably have a slight bias towards this one, but I thought it was a solid walking tour, with some really fascinating information. There isn’t that much to see anymore, but the “famous” tour guide keeps its interesting.

I saved the best for last. If you’re going to see anything in London, you HAVE to go here. It should be a MUST on everyone’s list. I’m writing an email to Foder’s and Let’s Go to have them add it to their travel books. I don’t know how anyone could have really missed it in the first place…

127 Stamford Street, Apartment 83A

My bedroom

As much as I want to write I’ll miss my room when I’m gone, I just can’t pull myself together to say it. I’ll miss the location I lived and everything else about London, but not my room. I’m thinking about burning it down before I leave so nobody else has to experience it for 5 months again.

Well, my time is just about up in London, and I’m all ready to come home. I know it’s sad there won’t be any more blogs in the foreseeable future, but you never know. Abroad is just an amazing experience that everyone who has a chance to should take advantage of. London wasn’t my top choice in the beginning of my search, but I am soooooo happy I came here in the end. No regrets. Only amazing experiences, memories, and an empty bank account. I’ll be back one day…

Cheers London

Advertisements

Expectations vs. Realities

May 25, 2009

London raining

So my time abroad is slowly coming to a sad end, so it’s only fitting to sit back and reflect. I’m hoping to post at least once more with a final abroad blog post for my most loyal fans, but I am in the middle of finals (yes, I sadly realized they are actually real finals) so we’ll see how much time I have. In the meantime, let’s start with expectations vs. realities. Before I left for London, I talked to many people who had visited here, studied here, etc. and thought I had a pretty good grasp of what to expect and what the city had to offer. As you will soon see, there is definitely some evidence to back up these “warnings” I received, but they aren’t all 100% true…

Weather:Weather forecast

Expectation: As the picture at the top shows, it is only fitting to start with the dreaded London weather. If you play that word association game with someone and say “London,” I can guarantee you that 95% of the people would respond with, “rain.” “It’s always overcast.” “It rains constantly.” “The weather sucks!” I heard it all before I left, so I was expecting the worst.

Reality: Yes, the weather sucks here, but only for half the year. My first few month in England were pleasantly warm, without much rain at all, and a fairly clear sky. It wasn’t 70 degrees and sunny, but for a winter, it hovered in the mid 40’s, and every once in a while reach 50. Coming from Minnesota, I thought the winter was great, and looking at other forecasts, it was for sure much better than most of Europe. Then the summer came. The weather must never have received the memo, because it more or less stayed the same. The averages are typically in the high 50’s to low 60’s, with the extremely rare 70 degrees. More clouds, more rain, and WIND. I didn’t care about the weather until it was supposed to be sunny and nice, but instead was windy and cloudy. So, the weather does suck, but only when it is supposed to be nice.

Driving: drive on left

Expectation: “They drive on the wrong side of the road there!” Coming to England, I was absolutely convinced I was going to be killed looking the wrong way when crossing the streets. I heard more horror stories from people who forgot they drive on the wrong side of the road.

Reality: I’m still alive, and yes, they do in fact drive on the “wrong side” of the road. However, the reality is that it isn’t the actual wrong side of the road. On a tour with my parents around Stonehenge, we learned that everyone else actually drives on the wrong side. Apparently, everyone used to drive on the left, until Napolian came around and wanted to leave a legacy, so flipped everything around, including which side you drive on. He had a little trouble conquering England, so they, along with the entire commonwealth, still drive on the “right side of the road.” Luckily the English government is looking out for ignorant foreigners like me, because they have all of these handy instructions painted on the pavement at every intersection:

london-sign2

English People: austin powers

Expectation: I only heard great things about English people prior to living here. Unlike the rest of Europe, people were supposed to be the nicest here, and willing to help out with pretty much anything.

Reality: It’s true…for the most part. For all but one scenario, British people are unbelievably nice. I heard that they just hate confrontation, so they aren’t actually that nice, but just pretend to be. Hey, it works for me. Usually when you are trying to take a picture, people get very annoyed to have to break their stride to take it for you, but British people actually get excited to take the picture. After taking a few different angles you always hear, “check to see if it’s okay, or else I can take a new one!” However, when it comes to getting on a tube, the English are out for blood. Trying to get off a tube when it’s crowded is nearly impossible, as huge crowds of people push and shove their way on, somehow failing to realize that they can’t board until they actually let you off first. They will walk 10 minutes out of their way to show you how to get somewhere, but if you’re in their way of getting that last seat on the tube, you’re dead meat.

crowded tube

Food: Fish and Chips

Expectation: Here is another one I heard over and over: “The food is England is awful!”

Reality: Although England doesn’t really have an amazing specialty, the idea that the food sucks here just isn’t true. No, it’s not like Italy or France, but it’s really not that bad. It’s pretty much just like America, with smaller portions. You can find a good Italian restaurant pretty much anywhere just like home. Not only that, but they have some of the best Indian food here outside of India itself, so I was very happy the entire time. The ONLY awful thing about the food is that there is no Chipotle.

“English”: letters

Expectation: I always knew they spoke English hear, but I came in wondering if I would actually be able to understand them! They have all those funny sayings and words, and I would for sure be lost in class, right?

Reality: I thought the English was difficult at times here, that is until I visited Scotland. All hope of understanding what someone is saying to you is lost when you go up north. Don’t even try. It’s a lost cause. They do have a couple funny phrases in England though. Instead of saying “how are you?” they say “are you alright?” The first time I heard this, I didn’t really know what to do: “Are you alright?” “[long pause with confused look]….. yes?”

British TV: tv

Expectation: NONE

Reality: No words can explain how bad british tv shows are. Unfortunately, nobody warned me about british tv, and it is painful. I can’t just protest and not watch it either. That would be going against my American values. The only good shows are the few that they stole from America. Usually these are just straight up the actual American show but with a British narrator instead. The best shows I usually find are ones on selling your house, or buying antiques. You can come up with any combination or twist to those two topics and they will have a show for it. After 5 months of torture, I am very excited to come home and watch real television, while eating my Chipotle burrito of course.

Cheers

Mark and Debbie complete Glotter London cycle

May 19, 2009

Stonehenge

After 2 surprise visits from Rachel and David, the only Glotters left to visit me in London were my mom and the sugardaddy himelf (although we all know who is really the one made of money). Well, they finally made it across the pond, and caught me at a perfect time with no classes and no need to study (but then again, that’s 90% of the time here). It was great having them here and we did a lot of fun and expensive things, so I had a blast. Here is a nice summary of my dad’s trip all wrapped up in one photo:

Dad sleeping

My mom’s trip can’t be summed up that easily, so we’ll start from the beginning. After an amazing nights sleep in their 5 star hotel, we jumped on the train to go and see the famous stonehenge. I thought we would just walk up and see the rocks and move along, but to my surprise, we had this amazing tour guide who made everything so much more interesting. Stonehenge is only 1 of the many stone circles in the area, as well as thousands of burial mounds and tombs. We first went to this other stone circle called Avebury, the largest of all the circles, where you can walk up and touch the stones. Each stone has meaning to it, and many even had these natural shapes that looked like faces. Here is one of a skull:

Avebury

Anyways, what he explained was that everything was connected by these energy lines in the earth, giving everything, including stonehenge, more meaning. With all the context, finishing the day in stonehenge was so much more powerful and neat. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and in my opinion, the day’s events were some of my favorite things in England so far. We rushed back to London to see Oliver, which was great and worth seeing if you have the chance.

Edinburgh

Apparently my mom and dad wanted to minimize their time in London, so we headed off to Edinburgh the next day for a quick 2 day trip. As you can see in the picture above, Edinburgh has a big castle perched up on a hill, but really, the entire city looks like a castle. It’s a small little place, but is beautiful, even though the weather isn’t the greatest. We took a day trip up to the highlands on this bus tour, where my dad continued to catch up on all the sleep he has missed in the last 15 years of his life. The tour was about 12 hours long, and I think he was sleeping for at least 7 of them. It was pretty impressive. He can’t sleep in the most comfortable bed in the world, but put him on a moving vehicle, and he’ll sleep like a champion. So dad, here are a couple highlights of everything you missed:

They have really funny cows in the highlands. Grandma and Grandpa, you can never again yell at me for not combing my hair.

Highland Cow

Here is a nice view in front of some mountains. As you can see, my dad is standing, but don’t let it fool you. If you look close, his eyes are closed.

some mountain

Now for the “pride and glory” of the highlands. They could probably care less about the lake but it brings in too much money. Look! I found the Lock Ness monster!!!!!

The lock ness monster!

Enough of Scotland. We did actually spend a few days in London, so we might as well throw in a couple pictures of the time there. On saturday morning, we went to the Bevis Marks synagogue, the oldest sephardic synagogue in England. Because it’s sephardic, they all wear these cool top hats, and even have a little choir that harmonized beautifully. I was waiting for them to pull out songs from the original Adath Jeshurun cast of Rosh Hashanah The Musical, but it never came. My dad tried to get in on the action when they asked him to bless the synagogue with other cohen there. Unfortunately, the other cohen had the most amazing voice you have ever heard, and although my dad can hold his own with some of the best, he didn’t make the cut. They gave the aliyah to the other guy, and I flashed my dad a big L on my forehead.

The last day they were here, we tried to go to watch changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, but the London marathon was going on, so instead we watched that for a little. They had a number of olympic athletes which was really cool. It inspired me to run one myself, so I signed up. You don’t believe me, but I actually did. I’m a little scared. Here’s me and mom outside the famous Big Ben:

me and mom by Big Ben

Because it was such a nice day (and because it’s so expensive), we finished it off with a cycle around the London Eye (pun intended: see blog post title). We got amazing views of the city, and were even able to see my street. If you follow the street right behind the big circle thing (the Imax), my apartment is the like half way down the block on the right.

My Street

We had a great time, and I was so glad they came. Thanks mom and dad for everything! Unfortunately, right when they left I had to start studying for a test, but I guess you can’t with ’em all… unless you’re the Minnesota Twins of course. Twins Win!

Cheers

Spring Break Trip: Take Two

May 12, 2009

Smoking, fat spiderman

Well I updated on the first half of my spring break trip in Italy, and now we’re moving on to Spain and France. Again, there is too much to write about, so I’m going to try to make it short so I can start writing about more interesting things that are more recent.

So the picture you see above was taken in Madrid, and seeing as that was the first place we went in Spain, I thought it was a good place to start. Before I begin discussing the picture and making fun of Madrid, I think it is only fair to first give the city its justice. I hadn’t heard anything about Madrid prior to going there, so I wasn’t expecting much of anything. It turns out that Madrid ended up being one of my favorite cities on the whole trip. There were definately more beautiful and fun places, but Madrid was far less touristy, and most importantly had some of the best thimbles to add to my collection (yes, I have a thimble collection, and yes, I’ll give you a tour when you come over). I think one day I bought like 4 thimbles because they were all so cool. It was a little out of hand. Spain in general though has one of the best cultures out there, and not starting dinner until 11 or 12 is just flat out better. The entire city though was packed with all of these nice gardens and buildings that just put a smile on your face. Here is a pic outside the palace:

palace in madrid

Now back to the picture of the fat man, smoking, dressed up in a spiderman costume. One thing I’ve noticed in Europe, especially in Spain, is that people try to make money doing nothing. Instead of street performers doing fun and exciting tricks that makes your jaw drop, these people just dress up in a costume my mom and dad would have sold at their Halloween store, and ask for money. No juggling, break dancing, card tricks. Just standing. Madrid took it one step further. The spiderman guy was not only doing nothing, but he was overweight and barely fit into his costume, AND would take smoking breaks every 10 minutes. I guess it’s stressful standing there when all those people watching you… Here is the whole line up of Halloween characters doing nothing:

Madrid costume people

If you ever have a chance to go to Barcelona, do it. Although much more touristy, there is nothing like Barcelona. Besides what most people think of Barcelona with a big beach and everything, the highlight of the city is the architecture. Most of it was done by Gaudi, who designed a church, park, many houses, street lamps, etc. There is really no was to describe it, so you are just going to have to see it yourself. One of the houses we visited didn’t have one straight line in it, so you can just imagine the creativity in every room. Here is a quick picture of a few of his houses at the edge of his famous park, Park Guell:

Gaudi houses

A couple of my friends who were studying in Barcelona and others who had just visited, kept talking about this go cart tour, so I had to try it. It’s this new company that rents you this tiny go cart, equipped with a GPS and talking guide. You basically just drive it around the city, like any other car, and hear interesting facts along the way. It was a little expensive, but definitely worth every penny.

go cart tour

Enough of Spain, let’s go to France. Before heading off to Paris, we went to the southern coast for a couple days. We stayed in Nice, but took a day trip to Monaco as it was only 1 Euro and a 45 minute bus ride away. I only saw Nice at night, but it was still beautiful. The beaches aren’t gorgeous like Barcelona or Florida, but the city itself is just really nice (no pun intended) and relaxing. I had heard how fancy Monaco is, but I didn’t expect what I saw. Nearly every car on the road is either a Bentley, Mercedes, Porche, or any other car you can think of that’s more than $100,000. A BMW was one of the crappy cars, most likely driven by the servants and housemaids. While we were there, one of the big tennis tournaments was going on with Federer and Nadal and all the other guys, but tickets cost 200 Euros, and my mom and dad don’t love me that much. Anyways, we brought our nice clothes with so we could check out the Monte Carlo casino, and after paying 10 Euros just to get in, decided to donate a little more on a game of roulette. Here we are in front of the casino:

Monte Carlo casino

Finally, the trip ended in Paris. Everyone has heard of and seen a million picture of the place, so I’ll try to keep it short. Unfortunately it was really rainy and cold when we were there, but I can see all the potential it has on a nice day. The city is really beautiful, and there are so many fun shops at every corner. We basically just did all of the touristy things as you can only pack so much of Paris into 3 days. My favorite part was Luxembourg gardens. The entire park was filled with all of these great activities for kids, and 20 year old if they would allow it. In the middle, they have a little fountain where you can rent boats and push them across to the other side with sticks. It sounds really stupid, but all the kids there were having the best time, and I was too watching them.

Luxembourg gardens

I took the chunnel back to London, and had about a whole 12 hours until the parents arrived. But I don’t want to spoil all the fun in one post, so you’ll just have to keep checking beck to read all about Mark and Debbie’s London adventures…

Cheers

A long needed update

May 3, 2009

The Colosseum

After being AWOL for a little more than a month now, I am back and ready to update. I’ve been to a lot of different places lately (don’t worry, I’m not skipping school, I just had a month break), and have been trying to decide the best way to blog about them. There is no way I can go over every detail of my trip, nor do you want to read about it either, so I’m just going to try to give you one or two pictures of the places I’ve been, with a little story or description. I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining…

As you can see by the picture at the top, my trip started in Italy. No, Rome was not my favorite city there, but the picture of the colosseum was too iconic that I had no other choice but to use it to start my post.

Venice

The trip started in Venice, and just as you have heard from everyone else, it was beautiful. I’m not going to go into too much detail because everyone has been there or at least heard about everything there is to do there before. My favorite part about Venice was how quiet the city was. You walk through and instead of hearing cars roaring and people yelling, it is silent, with of course the occasional boat passing. One thing that I take some pride in is my ability to navigate a city with a map. I am not very good at finding a place I have been before, but give me a map and I’ll figure it out. Venice took all my navigation confidence, threw it out the window, then closed that window for good measure. Every time I thought I was figuring it out, I would turn the corner only to find another canal, and be forced to turn around. I applaud anyone who has been to Venice and been able to get from point A to point B with no trouble.

Cinque Terre

Although it looks like my next stop was to the toy shop or someone’s really nice train set, it was actually to a real set of cities called Cinque Terre. I heard Rachel and others talking about it so much, so we added to the tour of Italy. Cinque Terre is a group of 5 fishing cities built on the coast of Italy, and as you can see, is all very picturesque. With beautiful hikes linking all of the cities, it really feels like you are walking through a movie set. As everything there is essentially cliffside, even the dogs have to be careful…

dog on cliff

From Cinque Terre, we headed off the Florence. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you ask Neili), the train to Florence stopped in a little city called Pisa. I’ll admit, I am a sucker for those tourist attractions that aren’t really that cool, so I pretty much had to see this leaning tower. There wasn’t much of an option. We only had about 1.5 hours there until the last train to Florence was leaving, and after missing a few trains already, we couldn’t cut it close on this one. Right as the train stops, we jump off and start schlepping our stuff to see the tower. Well, to make a long story short, it was a little further than expected. The tower is literally the only thing to see in Pisa, so why they put the train station on the exact opposite side of the city, I will never understand. We walked half way, realized we weren’t going to make it in time, and turned around. We got back to the train station with 45 minutes before our train left, and a little disappointed. I was determined to see this thing. I don’t do this often (or ever for that matter), but I parted with my money, and jumped in a cab. The cab driver literally brought us there, we ran out to take a picture, and ran back into the cab. I got my picture, and we made it back to the train station with 25 minutes to spare. Unfortunately he brought us to the side where the tower leans towards you, but what can you do. (And yes, I know it looks like I just photoshopped myself in, but you can ask Neili, it’s a real picture)

leaning tower of Pisa

So we made it to Florence, and met up with some friends. Florence was a lot smaller than I had expected, but also a lot prettier. Saw the David, went up to the top of the Duomo, did all the main things that Florence had to offer. My big complaint about the city is that it is way too touristy. Besides the massive amount of American’s studying there, the fact that Florence is such a small city means that all of the tourists are concentrated at its few sites. The lines seemed to go on forever, and it was hard to find an authentic Italian experience. Luckily we had a friend (Andy Stein) studying abroad there, so he was able to show us around. Here is a picture of all of us at the top of Piazza le Michelangelo. From left to right, Andy, Me, Neili, Ross, Zander and Kaplan:

Friends in Florence

Next stop was Rome. I loved going to see everything there, but left with mixed feelings about the city. On the one hand, the buildings and ruins there are unbelievable. It seems like every corner you turn you bump into another awesome structure of some importance. On the other hand, the city is a little dirty and not nearly as pretty as it could, and should be. It is really a shame, because I just feel like if they would make a true effort to keep it nice and clean, the city would be that much more impressive. Regardless, Rome is an amazing place that everyone should see at one point or another. I know it’s cliche, but the colosseum and Sistine Chapel were my favorite thing there.

Me at the Colossum

Moving along to the southern coast, and finally, finishing off Italy. The southern coast was just as beautiful as I had imagined and heard from people who have been there, but at the same time a little different than expected. Seeing as most of the nice, beautiful places I have been are more of the Florida or Mexico beach setting, I was expecting something similar in Italy. Instead, the beaches were filled with rocks, and the scenery was the real highlight. You can’t really describe what it was like, so I’ll just leave you with a picture of the view from our place in Sorrento.

Sorrento

After Sorrento, we made our way to Naples. Naples isn’t the nicest city and is completely run by the Italian Mafia (no joke), so we decided to spend our 1 day there on the beautiful island of Capri. Capri is essentially just a really nice place that rich people go to spend a lot of their money and feel good about themselves. I would do the same if I could afford it. The coolest part about Capri was this place called the Blue Grotto. Some of you may have heard about it before, but on one side of the island there is a little cove that has neon blue water (I’ll spare you all the science behind why it looks neon), and is truly breathtaking. Like everything else on the island, it was an expensive 2 minutes, but definitely worth it.

The Blue Grotto

I’m getting a little tired, and I am sure you are too, so I’ll save the rest of the trip for the next post. But don’t worry, we’re only about 1/2 way done…

Cheers

Classes are over and I’m ready to travel

March 29, 2009

Schools Out

As sad as it sounds, yes, classes are over. They had a nice little run going, but like every other good thing in life, they had to come to an end at some point. So, after 10 weeks of sitting in a desk, I receive my 4 week break. You may be thinking to yourself that classes must have met 5 times a week if they get everything done in 2.5 months. Well, two of my classes only met once a week, and when you miss a couple of those here and there, you’re really only looking at 7 or 8 classes. Not that I missed any, but hypothetically speaking, it’s just not a lot of time to learn. The crazy thing is that after my month break, exam time begins, but I don’t really have anything (except a make up midterm) until May 27! Then I have my second exam May 29, and a paper due a couple weeks later. I may know the material now, but ask me again in 2 months when I need to sit my exam. I get just as much time to “prepare” for my exams as the length of the classes were themselves. I don’t get it. Just another crazy British thing I guess.

Well I’m off to Italy, Spain, and France. I probably won’t be able to post for another 3 weeks, so everyone gets a little break. Hopefully I’ll have some exciting stories for you…

Cheers

Nazis + Communists= One Interesting City

March 29, 2009

Brandenburg Gate

Berlin, to say the least, is one of the most interesting cities I have ever been to. There is essentially no history more than 70 years old (because everything was destroyed in the war), but it probably holds more modern history than any other place in the world. Between the Nazis and the communists with the Berlin Wall, they really cover a lot of their bases over there in terms of big events in modern history.

If you don’t know by now, I went to Berlin last weekend on a solo trip, all by myself. I was a little nervous going into it, but I think in the end it was an awesome experience, and I am very glad I did it. I think I gained a little self confidence from it too, and realized I can figure a lot out on my own. The picture above is at the Brandenburg Gate, and as I was by myself, is one of the few pictures I have with a person in it. It’s basically just their big gated official entrance to the city. I’m going to try to give you an idea of what Berlin is like, and what I thought of the city in the three days I was there, but there were so many things to see, so it may be a little hard. Let’s see how we can do:

Holocaust Memorial

We’ll start with some of the Jewish history and monuments there, because that was one of the main things I found myself seeing all the time. If I had to come away with one thing from Berlin, it would be that the German government has really made a true effort to attempt to make up for some of their past mistakes, and basically shed light on how horrible their track record is. It seems like every block there is a new monument for this or that, many of which were dedicated to the Jews. The most interesting one by far was the Holocaust memorial (above). The picture doesn’t do justice. It is basically a big maze of grave-shaped blocks, that slowly get bigger as you make your way to the middle. Walking though is very powerful, as you feel like you get lost in the graves, as they tower over you. The only disheartening thing is this one small detail I learned on a walking tour. The entire monument was covered in this special paint to make it graffiti proof. Unfortunately, the company that makes the paint was the same company that supplied the Nazis with Zyklon B in the Holocaust.

Besides a couple old cemeteries and synagogues that were completely destroyed in the war, the other really neat Jewish related thing was the Jewish Museum. In the beginning of the Museum, I found myself walking through this entire exhibit comprised of just blank white walls (see picture below). Some of the walls looked like there was something there before that had been ripped off, but I basically thought they had just taken down an exhibit and hadn’t replaced it yet. After walking through these blank rooms for about 3 or 4 minutes, I got to a small sign that explained the rooms and the theme of the museum. The walls were not white for no reason, it was representing the “absence of Jews from German society” for 15 years in the 30’s and 40’s. The entire museum had different things like this, and was a very powerful experience.

Jewish Museum

Sticking with the uplifting WWII theme, another place I went to was Bebelplatz, the location of the famous Nazi book burnings. A plaque lies on the ground that reads (my German is a little rusty but this was the idea): The place you burn books, is the place you later burn people.

Bebelplatz

The creepy thing about this quote is the story behind the guy you wrote it. I should probably look up his name, but he wrote many of the books that were burned by the Nazis in Bebelplatz, and I guess he had changed his mind, as he was there right alongside that night, throwing his own books into the fire. He wrote the quote about 15 years earlier, and was one of the few people standing at this next site in our tour on one particular day in 1945:

Hitler's Grave

This tree and car park area today, was the location of Hitler’s bunker, and the location that his body was burned after he committed suicide. They referred to it as “Hitler’s grave” and is really just a creepy place to be. One of the tour guides (not mine unfortunately) refuses to leave until someone pees on the tree…

East Side Gallery

Alright, enough of the depressing stuff, let’s move on to the communists. Above is a picture of the East Side Gallery, the longest stretch of the Berlin wall that still exists today. The whole thing is covered in these amazing murals, but is now unfortunately filled with graffiti. The interesting part wasn’t as much the Berlin Wall itself, but all of the stories that goes behind it, especially of those trying to escape.

TV Tower

Above is the TV Tower, built by the East Berliners to try to show their technological dominance to the west side. They hired Swedish engineers, who thought it would be funny to design it in a special way so when the sun hits the tower, a cross appears. The west of course thought this was the funniest thing ever…

8th Wonder of the World

What looks like an ordinary gigantic bowl, used to be the “8th wonder of the world.” This bowl used to be the biggest solid piece of granite known to man. It stands in front of one of the big museums where Hitler used to give a lot of his speeches. So naturally the Nazis decided to move it to give more space for people to stand, and when the communists took over, they wanted to move it back. To make a long story short, they only used one crane, dropped it, it cracked in half, and the 8th wonder in the world is now just 2 pieces of granite super glued together.

Don’t worry, I’m almost done. Here are a couple goofy things that the Germans do, that I thought were pretty funny.

Tree #1

That’s right. The Germans number their trees. In all of their organized crazy ways, someone along the lines thought it would be worth it to number all of their trees. Here is tree #1. If you don’t believe me, you can see the official count, along with other interesting Berlin facts, on this website.

Hotel Adlon

If you don’t remember it from the news, this is the famous hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony.

Now, because this post is a little too mature for me, here is another “Shmuck” bank, and “Exclusive Uhren”:

Shmuck Bank

Exclusive Uhren

Cheers

Studying in between my travels…

March 18, 2009

london-360

I was talking to my dad last week, and he told me that instead of studying abroad with some traveling in my free time, I’m traveling abroad, and studying in my free time. I didn’t argue, but instead thought this would be an appropriate title my next blog. All my latest blogs have been about this place and that place, so I’m bringing it back to London, as it is where I am allegedly “studying abroad.” The picture above is a 360 degree picture I took at the top of a tall tower called Monument, remembering the great fire of London in 1666 that burned down half of the city. The funny part (well I guess not that funny) about Monument, is that nobody died in the fire, but 6 people died by jumping off Monument from 1788 to 1842 before they put nets up. Maybe they should have thought twice before building a huge tower commemorating a “horrible” event that nobody died in…

Ripper corner

“But Michael, I thought you were writing about London? Why do you have a picture of a scary looking corner?” Well, I am glad you asked. Let me start out answering your question with a little background. In 10th grade, my friend Abram and I spent the entire school year (literally the entire year, we didn’t have many friends…) working on a project for a competition called History Day. We made a movie on Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer that murdered east end London prostitutes in 1888. (I’m trying to get a copy of the video so I can post in on the blog, so stay tuned) Anyways, my brother and I went on the official Jack the Ripper walking tour led by none other but the leading researcher in the area today, Donald Rumbelow. The funniest part was that Donald (we’re on a first name basis now) wrote a book on Jack the Ripper that we actually used for the project. So, to answer your previous question, the picture above is of one of the famous places in the case. In London, they refer to it as “Ripper’s Corner,” located in Mitre’s Square, where one of the victims body was found, just minutes after she was killed. I won’t go into any more details because I don’t want to spoil the movie, but the tour was one of the more interesting things I have done in London yet, but then again, I am a little biased.

subway_logo_large

There really isn’t any good way to transition from Jack the Ripper to Subway, so I thought the logo would do the trick. I guess not. Just go with the flow here. I’ve been trying my hardest not to get all the American food here (McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway, etc.), but I was so hungry, and cracked under pressure. The sweet onion sauce is just so good, I couldn’t resist. After waiting in line for like 15 minutes, I finally got up to the counter and ordered my usual tuna sub. Cheese, lettuce, green peppers… everything was going fine until I hit the counter:

“That will be 5.50”
(I am out of cash so I hand her a card)
“Sorry, we don’t take cards. Only cash.”

Seriously? I thought she was joking at first, but she actually wouldn’t take my card. It’s Subway. Not a little corner store run by foreigners who just moved in and don’t understand credit cards yet. Subway. I couldn’t just leave either, they already made my sub. I asked where the nearest ATM was, and because it wasn’t my normal bank, it cost me $5 extra to pull out cash to pay for my what used to be 5.50 sub, but is now basically 10.50. I had been walking for a while, so when I go back in, I figure I might as well try to get something positive out of this experience, and ask for a cup of water to quench my thirst.

“Can I have a glass for water too?”
“Small or Large?” (she shows me the sizes)
“Small.”
“7 pounds please.”

I didn’t really know what was going on, but later realized she charged me 1.50 extra for the small cup. I just wanted to get out of there at that point. I turn around to fill up my water, only to find that they don’t have water. Coke, Sprite, Fanta, and one other. Couldn’t she have just told me they don’t have water instead of charging me for a cup I didn’t even want? Let’s just say English Subways aren’t getting my business anymore…

Skittles and Starburst

Skittles and Starburst are kosher here! This may not be a big deal to you, but it’s really depressing having to give away all of your skittles and starburst every Halloween because you can’t eat them. I don’t know why they are kosher here and not in the United States, but I’m not complaining. I now know though that I wasn’t really missing out on much. Nothing special. I’d rather have M&M’s.

So I know people dress nice in London, but I experienced something I never have before the other night/morning. At 6 a.m. (night for me, I hear it’s morning for some though) the fire alarm went off and everyone had to wait wake up from their deep sleep to go outside and wait until everything was cleared. I’ve gone through a couple of these at Michigan, and each time it has happened, everyone shuffles out in some combination of sweatpants, sweatshirt, robe, slippers, etc. Apparently, sweatpants aren’t even accepted at 6 a.m. during a fire drill here. Half of the people must have had jeans on. Not only could I probably not even find my jeans or manage to put them on straight at 6 a.m., how do you even train yourself to think about putting on a more stylish outerwear at that hour? I guess I still have a lot to learn. I’m just going to stick with the sweatpants for now.

Penny Lane

I want to keep this post about London, so I’m only going to give you a couple pictures, and one short paragraph. A couple days ago I went to Liverpool to see all of the Beatles stuff. The picture above is at the famous Penny Lane. Liverpool is much nicer than I thought it would be, and all of the Beatles spots like Strawberry Fields and The Cavern Club were really neat. There was one funny sign in Liverpool that I have to include. I can’t take credit for it though, Neili and her posse spotted it:

Humped Zebra Crossing

As promised, here are a couple picture from the skiing part of Switzerland:

The Michael's

Me and Danny

Finally here is the view from most of the runs of the day:

The View

Cheers

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

March 10, 2009

Interlaken

I know it sounds a little corny, but after my weekend in Switzerland, I am convinced that it is true: Switzerland is the most beautiful place on Earth. The country has it all: beautiful winters, beautiful summers, amazing chocolate, swiss army knives, watches, banks, etc. The list can go on for ever. Unfortunately, it all comes at a price, but is worth every penny.

So we were supposed to get in thursday afternoon, but due to a signal failure on the train to the airport, we missed our flight and were stuck all day in the lovely Gatwick airport. So, by the time we got to Interlaken, it was already midnight, and our trip was starting off on the wrong foot. Things took a turn for the better very quickly though when I woke up at 8:30 to meet my friends coming in from Prague, and learned we were going to go skiing that day. None of us had gone skiing for like 10 years, but it’s just like riding a bike, right? The first run that we did was a beginners trail, and was probably the best one we did all day. The scenery was like nothing you have ever seen before, and with fresh powder coming down all day long, the skiing was perfect. On a run that should have taken 30 minutes, took us about 1.5 hours, because we had to stop and take pictures every 100 feet. I loved skiing in Colorado, but it just doesn’t compare to the Swiss Alps. We ate lunch on the mountain, took a 30 minute gondola ride, and continued to ski until the sun went down. I don’t have any pictures on my computer yet, but hopefully I’ll get some soon and I can put them up on the blog. I jinxed myself earlier in the day when I was talking about altitude sickness, and of course, it hit me pretty hard just after lunch, so we had to stop often to take breaks. In the end though, it was an amazing day, and I am now considering dropping out of school to go skiing all winter in the alps.

Me and Danny

In the interest of not spending my entire life savings on two days of activities, the next day was spent walking around Interlaken, just taking it all in. The city of Interlaken is surrounding by mountains on all sides, so it provides for nonstop oooooo’s and ahhhhhhh’s every direction you turn. ChocolateThe picture above is one of the many fabulous views of Interlaken with myself and my friend Danny Kanter. As Switzerland is famous for their chocolate, we ended up stopping about every 3 stores to buy as much chocolate as our stomach could handle. The picture to the right is one of the many layouts we saw. And yes, it is amazing chocolate. While we were walking around, Michael Kaplan (my roomie from Michigan) and Neili went paragliding off the mountain. I got a really nice picture of Michael below, and hopefully you can get more of an idea of the scenery that surrounded us. They had so many cool activities to do in Interlaken that all looked amazing (like sky diving), but it was all just too expensive in the end.

Michael paragliding

That night we went night sledding. So when I heard about night sledding, I thought it was just a small hill you go up and down just like in Minnesota. I was wrong. Instead of a hill, replace a mountain, instead of a tow rope, insert a train, and finally take 10 mph and turn it into 20-30 mph. As you may have guessed, it was amazing. They make their own sledding run down the mountain, and you go down on your sled, using your feet to break and steer. The only problem is that all the snow flies into your face when you try to turn, so let’s just say it’s a little scary not being able to see going 20 mph down a mountain in a sled. Once you get to the bottom, you hop on the train, and it takes you back to the top.

I know this blog probably isn’t as entertaining, so I’ll try to wrap it up with a couple funny pictures. First, the owner of the hostel we stayed at had the biggest dog you have ever seen. I don’t know if any of you have seen The Sandlot, but this dog had to have been the one in the movie named The Beast. The picture doesn’t do justice. The owner said she weighed 170 pounds, but you know how girls lie about their weight.

Me and the Beast

Finally, one of the best names of a company I have ever seen. I don’t know if I could put 3 words together to name a bank better than this one did:

Great sign

Cheers

My trip to Hogwarts

March 3, 2009

Platform 9 3/4

Just like any other trip to Hogwarts, I ran through platform 9 3/4 just in time to catch the 11 a.m. Hogwarts express. I was a little nervous running through the wall, but I managed and boarded my train just in time.

Seeing as I’m an engineer major and am no good at creative stories, I’ll stop there. As many of you may have guessed by now, I took a trip to Oxford, real life Hogwarts, this past weekend. We stopped at the famous platform 9 3/4 on the way home (it’s in King’s Cross station where they taped that part of the movie), but I thought it was more fitting for put it at the beginning of the blog.

Let’s just say Oxford is the most amazing campus you will ever seen (I haven’t been to Cambridge yet, so just ignore it for now). It really feels like you are Harry Potter walking through Hogwarts on the way to class. There are about 30 different colleges in the University, all with their own courtyards and fields. Unfortunately, seeing as there are actually a lucky few (probably future presidents) studying there, a lot of the University of closed off to the public. I guess it would be kind of annoying to have to fight your way through tourists on the way to class. There really isn’t too much to report on the day, so I’ll just give you some pictures.

Here is the first college we walked through. They had about 7 of these quadrangle as they called them, which all had perfect grass of course:

Bryan and Neili

This next school is one of the oldest ones there. We weren’t allowed to go inside the walls, but you can get an idea of what it’s like:

Old school

If you just replace that big building with a house, this is what our backyard would look like if Bilbo didn’t pee in it and ruin the grass. Right Dad?

Nice grass

You know what, I think I see some similarities between their library and the University of Minnesota’s library…

Oxford library:
Oxford library

Minnesota library:
Minnesota library

Yeah, I guess you’re right, the Minnesota one is nicer.

One of the colleges had a huge park with a beautiful path going all the way around (about 1/2 long). Besides one area that has had deer living there for like 150 years, what would any nice park be without a river? You can rent row boats to go down the river, and one of them happened to have an interesting name:

Boat Debbie

As beautiful as Oxford was, I didn’t leave with too many interesting stories to blog about. But don’t you worry. I’m going skiing in Switzerland this weekend, so stay tuned…

Cheers