Final Thoughts on Europe

If Australia was about finding acceptance of myself, then Europe was about furthering that self. It's only been one month but man do I feel as though I have grown—not so much as a better person—but with my mind. With the close of my second extended stay abroad, I feel as though I'm starting to get a more global mindset. I have another experience to compare this one to and I learned all new things in a continent that is much older than Australia.

 

The history and culture are what have done it for me. The history has been mind-boggling to say the least. From walking the ruins of Pompeii to hanging out in a 400 year old pub to staring at the Roman ruins face to face, I've had to continually open my mind to understand the age of all the things around me—and they are everywhere. It's not just the famous sites, it's the building you walk by in the street, it's the block of ruins next to a new building, it's the cobblestone street I suddenly notice beneath my feet.

 

Take all of this history and add to it art. I've gazed upon masterpieces as old as the ruins in Pompeii. I've seen paintings dating back to the 14th century. I've even walked in the same places many of the most famous artists of all times have walked. Again, this has all been really hard to wrap my mind around.

 

Fast forward a few hundred years and I found myself surrounded by meaningful history from WWII. I walked both where Hitler and his victims walked. I saw the sites that make up the black and white pages of history and not only did all I see all of this but I understood it. I read about it, I heard about it and I experienced—in a very small way—some of it for myself. These are things I cannot do in America.

 

Aside from all of the museums and sites and exhibits, I've also found many fascinating characters along my journey. Even more so than in Australia, I've met young people who think and act like me. They are traveling the world in between working for the man and we're all opening our minds in huge ways to dozens of cultures and ideas that we previously knew nothing about. It's a crash course in history and humanities and the knowledge gained can never be lost because it's been experienced first hand.

 

I've debated politics (thankfully in a much calmer way after the 2016 election), I've learned about other countries' ways of providing healthcare and education. I've listened to what other peoples think of our president and our nation and our thoughts and our attitudes and quite frankly, they aren't as impressed as they used to be, and quite frankly, neither am I. It seems as though a lot of the peeves I've written and ranted about for years are actually very rational when perceived through the eyes of other countries. How could I have know there were already better systems in place beyond my home turf? I didn't, but I have since learned that there are.

 

My mind has dove into a deeper creative process after seeing new things and hearing new ideas. It's all happened so fast I can do nothing more but take notes and make lists of things I want to study when life slows down and I return to a stationary location.

 

Thanks, Europe. You have been the catalyst of a very intimate and mind-altering experience. Until we meet again...

Brussels

My original plan was to explore Brussels on day one and journey to nearby Ghent or Bruges on day two. Instead, my body insisted that I sleep all afternoon on day one and Pinterest research convinced me to stay in Brussels on day two. I don't regret either of these decisions.

 

With only a very light agenda for the day I left my hostel in search of the Rene Magritte Museum. While I found the museum where the painter lived and created many masterpieces, I wasn't allowed any further than the door because the museum did not accept credit cards. I was still pretty happy about seeing the front of the house and the lady was nice enough to give me a free pamphlet of information on the artist I knew nothing about.

 Brussels wins the award for most amazing street art, especially the comic book strip!! 

Brussels wins the award for most amazing street art, especially the comic book strip!! 

 

On the metro heading towards the Fine Arts Museum featuring Rene Magritte, I read that Magritte was a surrealist painter from Brussels who heavily influenced both art and philosophy in the early 20th century. I knew I was headed in the right direction.

 

The museum captivated me for several leisurely hours and quickly turned me into a big fan of the artist. Not only did he create dozens of masterpieces, but he challenged the level of philosophical thinking at the time and influenced many other painters such as Salvador Dali.

 

After emerging myself in WWII history I was equally interested to learn how the war influenced his work, especially while he lived in Brussels with his wife, Georgette. Several of his paintings during this time contained symbols of freedom and hope. He even changed his style to that mimicking an impressionist style with bright colors and lighter themes. Though his desire was to encourage a hurting globe, he was vastly criticized for this work and later returned to his unique surrealism style which gave him his fame.

 

I thought it was very interesting that he never titled any of his own works. Instead he would invite his friends over for Sunday afternoon sessions where they would inspect his work and create the titles for them. Often the titles do not even match the theme in the composition. Even more intriguing is the fact that Magritte refused to have his paintings interpreted or psychoanalyzed. He said he was searching for the interconnectedness of things; between objects and their meaning and the feelings associated with such. He also said he didn't know the reason for why he painted. I concluded that the artists entire life was a humorous contradiction which he lived boldly.

 

 One of the beautiful open gardens in Brussels.

One of the beautiful open gardens in Brussels.

 

After gaining a healthy desire to study more on Magritte back at home, I walked out the doors of the museum and strolled around Belgium, gazing at lots of great things until I found myself at the doors of a Chocolate Museum. Here I met a school teacher from Colorado who was watching a free demonstration by a local Choclatier. Together we learned how cocoa beans were harvested, fermented, dried and turned into powder for chocolate. We sampled the raw beans but they were intensely bitter.

 

The Choclatier explained how chocolate was made—raw cocoa combined with sugar and butter. The more sugar and butter the less healthy but the more sweet, white chocolate being the worst in that it is sugar and butter in the complete absence of cocoa.

 The choclatier at the Chocolate Museum was amazing!

The choclatier at the Chocolate Museum was amazing!

 

Later I walked through the rest of the museum and learned the history of chocolate, which comes from the Mayans and Aztecs who used cocoa beans as currency, medicine and offerings to the gods. They also drank it with chili powder and pepper—a drink that symbolized human blood. Chocolate was also used for a variety of things that it is still used for today such as antioxidant, stimulant, antidepressant and yes, even nutrition.

 

After eating a Belgium waffle I was completely full and exhausted. I roamed the streets leading back to the hostel and delightfully enjoyed parts of Brussels's Comic Book Strip, which is a trail leading through the city with massive street murals in comic form. This signifies Brussels' history with comic books and comic creators. There was an entire museum for this that I looked upon, but my brain was full of art and chocolate and I simply needed a nap to end a day full of bliss.

 Hands down.  The best waffle I have ever ate. 

Hands down.  The best waffle I have ever ate. 

 

Brussels was another location I thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't too crowded or touristy yet there were thousands of things to occupy my time. I would have loved a few extra days and even a few more to explore the surrounding areas but quickly my trip was coming to an end. I had one more stop, Bonn, and then I would board the great white bird headed west.

Proactive Brussels

As I go about my Europe trip, it seems as though more and more events tie back to my time in Australia. My trip to Brussels is no exception. If you read along with my travels in Oz, you may remember Matthew and I's first night in Straya. We stayed in Surfer's Paradise in a real hostel—a first experience for the both of us. It was here that we met several interesting characters, one of which being a solo female traveler from Belgium that profoundly influenced me with her bravery. (You can read the original story here.)

 

When I realized I was going to Germany and flying out of Bonn, which is near Cologne, I also realized how close Brussels was, so I took a shot in the dark and messaged this girl from Belgium. I asked if she lived close to Brussels, what she recommended I do in Belgium and if possible I might stay a night or two at her place.

 

Nirina immediately messaged me back with full enthusiasm, I was welcome to stay whenever I wanted and she lived an hour north of Brussels in Antwerp. We then made arrangements to tentatively meet up, depending on when my travels led me there. Over the next few weeks we kept in touch and in the end it worked out that I would join her and her coworkers in Brussels for a free event on economic sustainability. Little did Nirina know that this event was right up my alley and right in line with the work I would soon be engaged in back home.

 Nirina's two co-workers, me and Nirina at the conference.

Nirina's two co-workers, me and Nirina at the conference.

 

When I found Nirina in the crowd I was so excited to see my acquaintance-friend from over a year earlier. Like all of us—she was beautiful when not backpacking! I mean that in the most flattering of ways. It's just that, well, as backpackers we're all quite stinky and quite messy. When I met Nirina we were both san make-up, jewelry, hair-product and nice clothes. Today I meet her in full business dress, bright red lips and beautifully straightened hair. She hugged me enthusiastically and I could smell her perfume and immediately I hoped she couldn't smell my lack of pleasant scent.

 

One of her coworkers was also from Belgium. She was very friendly and spoke with only a slight French accent. Her other coworker was actually straight off the plane from Georgia. She was interning with Nirina's company for the summer. We exchanged a quick American dialogue about the struggles of public transport and heavy suitcases before the four of us entered the building where the event would take place.

 

In cue I asked Nirina and her colleagues a dozen questions about what they did and what exactly was going to happen at this event. Nirina was very good to dive into extended explanation of everything I was curious about.

 

Nirina and her colleagues worked for something called CIFAL which can be translated as an acronym for the International Center for Training Authorities and Leaders. CIFAL is recognized by the United Nations and therefore is quite influential. The organization's current focus is project 2030, which is a total of 17 goals set by the UN to help make the world a better place. They plan on doing so through projects that deal with world poverty, gender rights, accessible education, clean water and many other things.

 

The original 17 goals were created in the year 2000 but were not completed. In 2015 the UN met to reassess the goals for another 15 years of work towards the goals—hence the name, 'Project 2033.' I was further surprised and impressed to hear that Nirina was actually in the same field of work as I would soon be. She was the Communications Director for the Flanders region of CIFAL. No wonder we got along so well!

 

I was impressed when the first item of the night included welcoming the Queen of Belgium. She gave a short, uplifting speech and then we heard from several other speakers in various UN positions.

 

I thought it was interesting when the Director of Earth Institute from Columbia University in the United States was questioned about Trump's recent decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement involving climate change. Maggie and I had talked extensively on the subject and as an American in Europe I felt the vastness of the issue much more strongly than I would have back at home. The speaker handled the question well, though he was very honest in his answer. He verified that the decision was the product of a corrupt system; a political system supported by private investors. I had been preaching this same message throughout my entire trip.

 

I also enjoyed a short speech from the Prime Minister of Norway. She encouraged the young leaders to use their voices to keep the government accountable. She talked of how today's youth understand interconnectiveness and globalization in ways that former generations never could. We have the internet and it is easier than ever to project our voices and make demands from our government and piers.

 

This point was brought home when two UN youth ambassadors presented one of the speakers with a framed mirror. They explained that the government has to do their best to create a frame for change, and all of us—politicians and civilians—must consistently look in the mirror to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help create a more sustainable planet.

 

At the end of the night I felt like I had experienced something unique. Here I had experienced a global effort to create positive change. This was the furthest thing from a typical tourist event and so I caught a glimpse of an authentic European mindset. Who could have guessed that a random roommate in Surfer's Paradise would lead to this?

Liverpool

It was da Vinci that said everything is connected. Such is true in my Liverpool experience. During my last few weeks in Australia I began reading biographies on some of my favorite rock and roll bands such as the BeeGees and The Rolling Stones. What I realized from reading these biographies is that they all had one thing in common: they all compared themselves to the Beatles. Thus, I realized the Beatles were the ultimate tool of measurement for this time period of music. I like the Beatles but I've never been a true die hard fan, but because I am engrossed in the music from this era as a whole, I decided I must read a biography on the Beatles. I ordered a book online and to my surprise it was as thick as the Holy Bible. It was The Beatles Bible. I spent the several weeks learning far more about the Beatles than I ever intended on learning. Still, I ended the book with a new-found appreciation and an extensive knowledge on the band.

 

I suppose then that it is no surprise when I began planning my Europe excursion I desperately wanted to go to Liverpool to see all the wonderful sites I had read about. Unfortunately, this didn't fit into my original itinerary.

 

Fast forward three weeks to a night when Maggie and I were trying to nail out the remaining seven days of my time in Europe. I had arranged to meet a friend in Brussels, Belgium but I hadn't realized how expensive and time consuming the trains from Nuremberg were. With a little touch of Maggie's magic I found a cheaper and quicker solution—a flight to Brussels via 20 hour layover in Manchester. It was then Maggie who suggested I could enjoy the layover in Liverpool, thus receiving my Beatle's tour.

 

Sure enough I booked the flight and one seat on the Magical Mystery Tour Bus so I would be sure and see every site that related to the story of the Beatles. It worked out even more perfectly because two days before this trip I was in Prague, visiting the John Lennon Wall—the perfect event of foreshadowing.

 The John Lennon Wall in Prague

The John Lennon Wall in Prague

 

When I arrived in Liverpool I was fully loaded with my backpack and travel gear. There was no time to drop my stuff off at a hostel so I had to enjoy the tour as a complete tourist. I had just enough time before the tour to make a quick walk through the Beatles Story Museum.

 

The museum was a great refresher of everything I had read in my Beatles Bible. The boys met when they were young, formed a small band, eventually they found gigs in Hamburg, Germany and many years later they met Ringo and ultimately became one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history.

 

One of the things that makes the Beatle's story so interesting is the fact that many pieces had to fall into place before success took over. The background characters were some of the most important pieces to making the band work. In fact, if it weren't for these pieces, I doubt if the Beatles would have made it big.

 The gate to Strawberry Fields in Liverpool

The gate to Strawberry Fields in Liverpool

 

First you have Stuart Sutcliffe, sometimes referred to as “The Fifth Beatle”, he was John Lennon's best friend. It was he who brought the style to the band. Before they were quite a mismatched group of guys. It was also Stuart who designed the renown logo and changed the name from “The Silver Beatles” to “The Beatles.”

 

Stuart also had a huge indirect impact on the band. In Germany he met a girl named Astrid, who created the famous haircut that further synchronized the band. She also held the first photoshoot of the band, thus solidifying a rock and roll image with her black and white prints. It was also Astrid who invited all of her German friends to pack the bar where the band was playing.

 

As a former student of Public Relations, I find that perhaps the most influential character of the Beatle's success is the man who shaped them into the superstars they were meant to be. Brian Epstein.

 

 The former home of Paul McCartney and his family.

The former home of Paul McCartney and his family.

Brian discovered the Beatles at a live show at the Cavern. The boys were sloppy—eating on stage, swearing and drinking, still a mismatched mess—yet they still had an electrical connection with the crowd. It was Brian who recognized the potential and therefore decided to take on the band in a manger position. Brian groomed and disciplined the boys. He got them their first record deal and promoted them on to superstardom.

 

All of these elements were the perfect stage set for the tour I later embarked on. Naturally, it was cool and rainy in Liverpool, so I was glad to know the tour took place on a rainbow colored Magical Mystery Bus.

 

 The Magical Mystery Tour Bus

The Magical Mystery Tour Bus

Our guide was a charming older gentleman who had been giving Beatles tours for over 25 years. He filled our brains with all sorts of fun facts as we drove around Liverpool seeing the birth homes of each band member, the places where they met and played and even the inspiration for several songs such as Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.

 

The tour ended at the famous club where the Beatles got there start, The Cavern Club. Here I got chills as I entered the underground club I had read so much about. To my satisfaction there was live music on stage and the place was full of locals enjoying the show. When the man on stage played Penny Lane, I couldn't help but melt a little. Here I was drinking a beer at the very place where The Beatles got started and I was listening to a Beatles' song that was inspired by a place I had seen just a few minutes earlier.

 Live Music at the Cavern Club in Liverpool!

Live Music at the Cavern Club in Liverpool!

 

I was enjoying myself so much I wished I could have stayed all night but it was getting dark, my back was aching and I still had an hour train ride back to Manchester, where I was staying the night. Unfortunately, I had to leave but Liverpool looked like the coolest of towns. I would have loved to have spent a week wandering in and out of the pubs and museums...maybe someday.

Last Reflections in Nuremberg

When Maggie and I arrived back in Nuremberg we were exhausted but it was my last night and we had no other choice but to spend it wisely. Maggie's friend Kathrine from Switzerland was in town visiting her parents so we joined her for drinks at a New Orleans Festival in downtown Furth.

 

Kathrine and Maggie had been friends for a very long time. They studied textile design together in university and had lots of stories of the fun memories they made along the way. Kathrine also met her boyfriend in university. He works on textile machines and when he received a job in Switzerland, she followed and has been there ever since.

 

I was interested to hear that her boyfriend was currently doing work in Charlotte, North Carolina for two weeks. One of the most ridiculous things he had seen was the plastic breakfast dishes at the hotel. He could not believe that the hotel laid out plastic dishes for a self-serve breakfast. I laughed and shrugged my shoulders upon hearing this. I knew he was talking about the standard continental breakfast I had seen hundreds of times before. I told her the opposing viewpoint was that I couldn't believe Germans served festival beer in real glass mugs. Maggie and Kathrine both laughed at this.

 

The whole evening seemed to consist of such light-hearted comparisons between our two countries. Maggie laughed about all the funny things I had said during my stay and I laughed at all the funny things Katharine's boyfriend told her about the states.

 

One of the funniest stories Maggie shared was that of how differently we look at parking. From previous trips together Maggie already knew that Americans were huge on cars. We frown upon public transport and puff up with pride at the fact that we all own a car and rightful drive it wherever we darn well please. With this mindset it is easy to understand that we feel very strongly about the fact that we deserve to park as close to our destination as possible, sometimes to the extent that we will willingly drive in circles for ten minutes until we find said parking spot. In contrast, the Europeans almost never drive their own vehicles. They rely heavily on public transport and almost always walk 10-20 minutes to reach their final destination.

 

Just to drive the point home, I showed Kathrine the pedometer on my phone. I told her before I left I was bartending so my steps were extremely high by American standards. I was easily walking 3-4 miles a day just at work. I thought this was impressive until I began my journey, upon which my walking average climbed to 6 miles a day. Maggie said that was the European standard.

 

Once Kathrine asked me what was the most surprising thing I had encountered on my trip in Europe. I thought about it for a moment before I replied.

 

“You can't understand this because you were born here, but coming from America I have been consistently amazed with how much history Europe is submerged in. It's really hard to fathom how old everything here is when the entirety of it existed well before my home country was founded. In America we're taught about the medieval times, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia and such but we those things exist only in abstract form. We read about it in history books growing up and we see it occasionally in a Disney movie or a fairytale or something but it all seems rather fictional until you come to Europe and see just what it is that you've studied. You guys walk around every day in cities, streets and churches that are hundreds and hundreds of years old and think nothing of it. I live in a homestead farm house that's been in my family for one hundred years and that's a novelty in America, but to Europeans that's a new structure with a lack of depth.”

 

I went on to explain that I totally understand why Americans are so surface level and dumb in the eyes of foreigners—because we are. We aren't as sophisticated because our country isn't as sophisticated. We're infants in terms of history and culture. We're still discovering what makes our country work and yet Europe has changed societies, cultures and kingdoms and countries dozens of times already.

 

In Italy an American girl asked me what I thought of Rome. I told her the best American comparison for it is the Disney movie “Hercules.” She laughed and said she thought of the Disney movie “Hunchback of Noterdam” when she saw England.

 

Any outsider would surely roll their eyes at such juvenile suggestions. Some could even find it rather offensive. Yet as Americans that is the closest thing we have to relate to this mind-boggling history we are experiencing in Europe.

 

On a similar note, I received a text from the Houston guy I met in Venice to wish me luck in Brussels. He had just arrived back in Houston and said he was unimaginably grateful for the traffic and for American fast-food. Though it is completely ironic and irrational to crave such things, I totally understood. Europe was classy and sophisticated and full of deliciously fresh food and easily accessible public transport. The beer was local, the wine was affordable and historical art and architecture surrounded it all. Yet somehow the familiarities of home which I often complain so much about were just the things I missed. I wanted to jump in my car and go exactly where I wanted to go. I wanted to park at the front of every building I entered and I wanted to do so while cramming a stale five dollar burger down my throat. Such things are disgustingly barbaric but they are also home and nothing beats home, even after a life-changing experience.

Experiencing Prague

Frustrated and thirsty, Maggie and I decided Prague was much better enjoyed by strolling along the ornate streets with no particular destination. We found ourselves at the Prague Beer Museum which was mostly a pub with thirty types of local beer on tap.

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Exploring Prague

The short story is that Prague has been a major player in global power for many centuries. In mideval times it was the third most important city, twice it was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire today it is one of the top-five most visited European cities. The country of Czech has been in and out of communism. I was engrossed to hear that Czech's freedom from communism

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Dachau

Almost exactly a year ago, I sat in a small living room in a hostel on Kangaroo Island with a fellow American, a German girl, a Chinese girl and a French guy. Together over sushi and wine we discussed the second world war and its effects on each of our countries. I hadn't previously given much thought to the topic other than the fact that I knew it was in the history books. Something switched on however, upon realizing that such an event profoundly effected the entire globe. It wasn't just a problem for Germany or for America but it was a world-wide event that all people of all nations can relate to in some form or another.

 

From that moment on I began growing more and more curious in the stories that took place during WWII. Naturally, I began to study the topic more and more as my trip to Germany grew near. I wanted to see the soil where these events took place. Now that I have been in Germany for two weeks I feel like I have a more concrete idea of what happened during that time. I've walked in a stadium where Hitler gave speeches. I've touched the wall that separated east and west Berlin after Germany was denazified and I've walked through a three-hour exhibit of German History. Today I topped all of these humbling experiences with a visit to the concentration camp upon which all others were modeled—Dachau.

 

Dachau lies just north of the city of Munich. It was here that an estimated 41,500 people lost their lives during the war. Casualties ranged from hunger, disease, exhaustion, hypothermia, suicide and even experimental medicinal treatments. The entire camp is 1.5 square kilometers and originated as a political prisoner's camp at the beginning of the war, however as the amount of prisoners escalated, so did the size of the camp. By the end of the war there were over 60,000 prisoners living in this one small camp.

 

 The cringe-worthy original gate at Dachau.  

The cringe-worthy original gate at Dachau.  

I will say that it is a very powerful thing to walk among the actual ground where so much horrific history took place. I was humbled in shock and reverence as I walked through the barracks where so many men were crammed together and forced to sleep on planks. I couldn't speak when I walked through the crematory and saw the gas chamber disguised as a shower for exterminating the sick.

 

My experience at Dachau was made even more relevant by the fact that the day before I read the first half of Viktor Frankl's book, “Man's Search for Meaning.” The first half of the book is Frankl's personal account of surviving four concentration camps during the war. At one point he was stationed at a nearby satellite station of Dachau and I found his described experiences matched the exhibits in the museum perfectly. As I walked throughout the grounds of the camp I couldn't help but see the images I had read about the day before. I pictured Frankl grasping desperately to his last bite of bread for the day. I heard his footsteps marching in the gravel towards another dreadful day of work in the plantation field. I even felt his sadness as his manuscript for a scientific book was stripped from his hands upon arrival at the camp.

 

 A view of the sleeping area. 

A view of the sleeping area. 

What is more, I completed my experience by reading the latter half of Frankl's book on my journey home from the camp. The last portion of the book is devoted to Frankl's theory of logotherapy, which is to say that people only need meaning to make life worth living. Several times he uses his experiences of living and working in such a terrible state as means for proving his theory. When many of the prisoners were at the brink of giving up or committing suicide, he and the other prisoners would remind that person why their life had meaning—wether it was a loved one, a work project or a spiritual calling—whenever the person was presented with the why they could undoubtedly persevere through the suffering just a while longer. Their life had meaning.

 

The combination of reading Frankl's book and visiting Dachau made for a very impressionable experience. I feel much more connected to the events of WWII and my reverence for the victims who underwent such traumatic experiences has grown four-fold.

 The crematory at Dachau. 

The crematory at Dachau. 

 

The message of the Dachau Memorial was made clear by writing on a wall near the main exhibit. There in five languages read the phrase: “NEVER AGAIN.” I don't see how anyone could study such horrible events without praying the same phrase.

 

Berlin Experienced

Berlin is actually one of the only major European cities without a structured city-center. With all the past years of war and destruction, it's easy to see why they are still building and rebuilding their culture and economy. The current construction projects were meant to shape a city center. There would be a five-museum complex and even a huge beautiful building that was completely open to suggestions for its use.

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Berlin in History

My trip to Berlin was all too short. Before arriving I had presumed this major city would be crowded and touristy and somewhat vexing with all of the largeness of it. You can then imagine my surprise when I arrived to a casual and cool, artsy urban atmosphere.

 

My first taste of Berlin was encountered on my stroll from the hostel to the German History Museum. Lots of street art occupied my eyes while the sounds of children playing outside filled my ears. No one seemed to be in a hurry and all throughout the neighborhood I noticed scents of fresh pretzels, warm bratwurst and Napoli-style pizza.

 

The German History Museum was massive, to say the least. A thousand years of German history cannot be taken lightly. I wandered in and out of hundreds of exhibits; beginning with the medieval times and working my way through the kingdom of Prussia, several religious wars and eventually coming to the modern day wars such as World War I and finally--the fascinating WWII and the shaping of the Germany we know and love today.

 Actual uniforms worn by the Nazis. 

Actual uniforms worn by the Nazis. 

 

I learned a lot about the entirety of the country I was visiting. Close-up exhibits of Hitler's propaganda, Nazi uniforms and some of the first Volkswagens were all strikingly intriguing. The ending of the museum presented the denazification of post-war Germany. This including things like enjoying the American cinema and the culture it brought plus evolving into the economical power that Germany is thanks to many of the players in the automobile, fashion and manufacturing industries.

 

Being based in Berlin, there was a special section dealing with the Berlin Wall. I learned that Berlin was a pocket city of all of Germany at the time. Not only was the entire country divided into sectioned overseen by each of the allied powers, but the city of Berlin was also divided between the allies as well. What eventually happened is that all of west Germany merged together to form the Federal Republic of Germany while the east side (under the control of Russia) called itself the German Democratic Republic and remained under the control of the Soviet communist party.

 

Berlin was the city where the East and West met one another, so when the tension got thick and many east-Germans wanted to flee to west-Germany, the Soviets built a wall around Berlin that would keep the eastern Germans inside their borders. The infamous wall was 155 kilometers long and actually consisted of two walls which held a death trench in between. The death trench was full of electrical fences, police with guns and plenty of other contraptions designed to end the life of anyone trying to escape.

 

Eventually in 1990 the the east gave in and all of Germany was reunited This was when the wall came down and a new chapter was begun for the now free east-Germans. The era of music and movies and a lighter disposition swept over the entire nation and youth and old alike celebrated the peace that atlas was Germany's.

 


 

After three hours of soaking up the history of Germany, I was exhausted and returned to my hostel for dinner and an evening of relaxing. As I ate my dinner in the courtyard at the hostel, I quickly found myself engaged in conversation with two nice American girls. We were all traveling alone and fate had brought us to the same table for a great discussion. I never caught the name of the first girl, but I'll say she was the epitome of the typical Californian hippie. I noticed the unshaved hair on her legs as she began describing her studies of peaceful cultures, wholistic healing and the appreciation of the environment. Once she even scolded me for having a negative comment. I appreciated her mindset and though I agreed with most everything she said, I still found her a little bit overwhelming. She was very pleasant though and gave me a free diagnosis of the digestive problems I had been struggling with.

 

The other girl was from Maryland and her name was Sam. Sam was actually a member of the Peace Corps and had been living in Senegal, Africa for three years. Her degree was in environmental studies and her role in Africa was to live as a local with a host family and work in the fields with the common people. Eventually, overtime she would slowly give recommendations to the community for making a more sustainable culture. I liked that the community had to invite the Peace Corps in and that the volunteers actually had to spend time understanding the culture before they were allowed to offer advice or suggestions.

 

Sam received one month of vacation each year. After two and a half years she used her month to visit home. I asked if she minded being away from her family that long and she said Facetime and modern technology made it extremely bearable. Her month of vacation this year had given her the chance to explore Europe. Berlin was her first stop and it was her first night in town as well. Together we made plans to do a walking tour of the city the next day. The tour was at a reduced fair because of our stay at the hostel and it promised to hit all the historical and meaningful sites of Berlin in only three hours. After exchanging Facebook as a means of communication, we retired to our rooms as we were both exhausted.

Schloss Neuschwanstein Castle

My first weekend in Germany rounded off with a road trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein castle, a very famous medieval structure that is said to have inspired another famous castle—Walt Disney's.

 

While the countryside leading to Rothenburg was fascinating, I don't think it came close to that over the German-Swiss border in the south. Great big mountain peaks, green grass, tiny farming plots and bright blue skies were all we saw throughout the drive.

 

When we were close enough to see the castle we had to pull over and take a few pictures in a nearby field. This was the calm before the storm.

 Right outside the tourist areas of Schloss Castle.  You can see it in the background! 

Right outside the tourist areas of Schloss Castle.  You can see it in the background! 

 

The actual area around the castle is swarming with tourists and traps as well. While the original plan was to tour inside the castle, I decided a five our wait and thirteen euro wasn't worth it for me. Besides, it was only a thirty minute tour and I was much more excited about hiking the base of the beautiful Alps I was staring at.

 

So we skipped the line and the wait and hiked straight up to the castle ourselves. It turned out to be a great decision. Not only did I still see all of the castle I could soak in, but I also enjoyed avoiding a lot of the pushing and shoving and waiting.

 The view around the castle is almost better than the castle itself!

The view around the castle is almost better than the castle itself!

 

The castle was beautiful but I honestly think it was the scenery around it that made it stand out. A building is just a building until it is set with an artist's backdrop. Such was the intent of the King Ludwig II when he chose the site for his castle.

 There she is..Schloss Castle! 

There she is..Schloss Castle! 

 

After a few hours of soaking up the view and dreaming of knights in shining armor, Maggie and I found a trail leading around a nearby lake and showing off the step-brother castle, which was still gorgeous, but again, nothing compared to the natural beauty we were surrounded by.

 

The trail we chose took us over one hour and covered the entire circumference of the lake. There were relatively no other tourists and the views of the water and the mountains refreshed my soul in a way that even fairytale castles cannot.

Munich

On Saturday Maggie and I woke up early and caught the train to Munich. Munich is the home of the famous Octoberfest and is also the largest city in the Bavaria region. Like Nuremberg, Munich was full of brilliant historic churches and buildings. We wandered in and out of many of these before climbing to the top of St. Peter's Church for a bird's eye view.

 View from on top of St. Peter's Church. 

View from on top of St. Peter's Church. 

 

We walked through the Victorian Markets and there I had an authentic Munich beer in a one-liter glass mug, just as you see at Oktoberfest. Maggie and I split a huge pretzel and sat down at one of the long picnic tables. As it turns out, the two fellows sitting next to us happened to be an American visiting his German friend. The four of us exchanged our travel stories and how we met our international friends. We also had a great chat about America and Germany relations.

 

 Maggie and I enjoying the Oktoberfest table!

Maggie and I enjoying the Oktoberfest table!

Later, Maggie and I caught the tram to the English Gardens which is a beautiful park full of locals and tourists alike. We walked barefoot through the green grass before having a beer at the famous beer garden inside the park.

 

After finishing our beer we had just enough time to catch a ride back into town so we could visit Maggie's friend at a local restaurant where she worked. I tried spaetzel for my meal and had zero complaints.

 

 A local grub pub! 

A local grub pub! 

We hung out at this place for quite a while. I lost myself in the guitar pickers' music while Maggie and Suzie spoke rapid German.

 

Overall I enjoyed my visit to Munich, though it was much more touristy than Nuremberg. Still, it would be a great place to spend a few days strolling around.

Rothenburg

My first full day in Germany was just that; a full one! Maggie and I were out the door early so we could enjoy a quick treat at a German bakery before hitting the road to Rothenburg, a community reserved from the medieval ages.

 

The drive from here to there was beautiful. The German countryside was rich and green, full of curves and mountains and historical charm. Each small village we drove through was like a drive-through museum of German architecture. The streets were lined with multicolored houses and shops all close together in a picturesque fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed every part of this forty minute drive!

 

When we arrived in Rothenburg the enjoyment continued. Here in front of me stood an entire town complete with two barricade walls and a mote, just like every fairytale I'd ever read growing up. I told Maggie it was fun to actually see something from the medieval times because there is nothing similar in the states. I went on to explain that the only connection we have to the middle ages is through fairytales and reenactments and even those are scarce.

 

First we climbed the watchtower and got an excellent view of the entire city.

 A bird's eye view of Rothenburg.

A bird's eye view of Rothenburg.

 

Next we walked a great length of the barricade wall. I loved the lookout holes and the view of the community below us.

 

Even the houses were grand and preserved. Maggie said they had very strict rules for remodeling these houses as they wanted to keep things as close to the original as possible. I could tell by looking that many of them were extremely fragile.

 

There were two old churches inside the community and a torture chamber as well, though we didn't pay the money to go in.

 

Next we found the shops all along the cobblestone streets. Christmas toys, traditional German dress, jewelry and food were all around us. Perhaps it was then that Maggie suggested I try a snowball.

 

 

I soon found out that a snowball is a German treat of deep-fried cookie dough covered in an icing and topping of your choice. I opted for the nougat filled variety and was pleasantly surprised with out delicious it was!

 Traditional German Snowballs

Traditional German Snowballs

 

Soon after trying a snowball, we stumbled in to a shop that had a demonstration of how the treat was made. I loved watching a local make dozens of snowballs. He was quick and friendly and seemed to me very talented.

 

When we had our fill of strolling through the Middle Ages, we returned to the car and drove onward through more beautiful countryside to Maggie's parents' house. As we drove I couldn't help but notice the agriculture around me. I asked why the fields were so small and Maggie said it was to account for the quick change in terrain. Curves and hills made it difficult to design a huge flat field of one crop.

 

When Maggie pointed to a bright yellow crop and asked me what it was in English I said it was “Canola.” I had recently learned much about this crop as it was planted right up the road from my house this season. I previously knew little to nothing about it but the one thing I had learned was that other countries called this plant “Rapeseed.” I asked Maggie what they called it and she said “Raps” which gave me the connection to the alternative English form of the word.

 

When we arrived at Maggie's Parents' I was immediately greeted by a big wooly dog named Mia. Mia was very friendly and so was Maggie's mother, even though she couldn't speak a word of English.

 

 The countryside in Bavaria is gorgeous.

The countryside in Bavaria is gorgeous.

Maggie, her mother and I enjoyed tea and cake and a great conversation via Maggie's translation skills. It was very interesting to listen to someone speak to me in a language I didn't understand. I immediately realized how much we rely on social cues and body language to fill our gaps. More times than once I knew what she was saying before Maggie translated, just out of the natural flow of conversation and demeanor.

 

The real surprise was when Maggie temporarily excused herself from the table. There sat her mother and I in complete isolation. She said something in German with hand motions that gave me the clue that she was very frustrated that she couldn't speak to me on her own. I nodded in agreement and said the same. Somehow, through verbal cues and hand motions, she asked me if I knew Spanish and if that helped me in Italy. I said it had because Italian and Spanish were similar but German seemed to be in it's own category. She explained that German and Polish were very much different from Spanish, Italian and French, which were often lumped together. Even Maggie was surprised when she walked in to us communicating without language!

 

Next we took a short walk around the property to keep Mia entertained. The view from the hilltop was gorgeous and the walk was excellent! I even got an up-close look at the wheat I had studied from the window all day.

 

When we returned to the house Maggie's mother showed me her artwork. I was in love! Her work was bright and bold with watercolor splashes but detailed and intricate with sketchings inside the color marks. I can't tell you how excited I was when she told me I could take one home with me and just as paintings often do, one spoke directly to me and I had to have it. She said it was one she didn't even care for. Oh, the irony!

 

When Maggie's father joined us downstairs I could instantly tell that she was an equal portion of both her mother and her father. Her social side most naturally came from her mother and her disciplined work-ethic seemed to descend from her father. Today was Father's Day or “Fatta's Tag” in Germany so we were all taking her father out to dinner in the village nearby.

 

Dinner was a divine experience all in its own. More translation exercises kept Maggie busy while her parents and I discussed the difference in American bread and German bread, my thoughts on Rothenberg and why I shouldn't go to the WWII museums in Berlin--(her father said it was a dark spot in German history.)

 

Again the menu was all German so Maggie took pleasure in ordering my meal for me. I had creamy asparagus soup for an appetizer and pork shoulder with dumplings for the main course, complete with a shandy beer to drink. The meal was so delectable I didn't want to stop eating even though I was way past full. Something told me I might be gaining lots of weight over my next two weeks in Deutschland.

Nuremberg

On my second full day in Germany, I began my tour of Nuremberg by visiting the Documentary Museum. Being highly interested in WWII, I found this to be the highlight of the day for me. For just a five euro entry fee, I spent three hours learning about the significance of Nuremberg in Nazi Germany.

 

Apparently Nuremberg was the headquarters for Nazi Germany. Hitler once called it, “The Most German of German Cities”, and it was here that the annual Nazi Party Rallies were held. I learned a lot about the rallies. These were big week-long festivals devoted to the Socialist Party. Each day held a different theme. Youth Day, Military Day, Community Day and even a sports day. There were huge parades and the entire city of Nuremberg came together to make the event happen. Thousands of visitors traveled from all over the region to participate in the annual rally.

 The Congress Hall in Nuremberg, Germany.

The Congress Hall in Nuremberg, Germany.

 

It's sad to think that Hitler did such a great job brainwashing everyone that they were so excited about the rally. What's worse is that those who weren't excited were eliminated. The museum gave plenty of video footage of eye-witnesses from the events; those who had spent the majority of their childhood in Hitler's youth programs. They talked about seeing their friends and family dissapear; though they knew it wasn't normal, they didn't ask questions and they assumed the worst.

 

Perhaps one of the most fascinating factions of the museum was that of the architecture designed around the Nazi Party. Even the buildings were designed to glorify Hitler himself. He created buildings with stern, powerful looks, often times using an elevated platform for where he would stand and deliver speeches. Some gathering places used lighting and flags to set a sovereign or religious mood during certain events. Specific buildings around Nuremberg were designed while Hitler stayed richly involved in the process. These buildings fascinated me and as it turns out, the end of the museum led to the entrance of one of the more famous gathering places. Yes, it still stands today.

 

The Congress hall was a massive empty stadium with a platform at the front where Hitler stood and gave charismatic speeches to his followers. To stand in the presence of such a structure was mind-altering to say the least. A wash of humility covered me as I stood there for several minutes, thinking...contemplating.

 

Aside from the Nazi Party Rallies, Nuremberg was also the chosen location of the Nuremberg Trials, which was a massive post-war trial held by the Allies to try 22 Natzi Leaders against the crimes they committed during the war. This was something I had only recently heard about and so to watch video footage and see preserved artifacts from that event was very self-effacing.

 

When I finished the tour I found I had an increased hunger for more history, more artifacts, more knowledge on the subject. Unfortunately it was time for me to walk across town and meet Maggie. As I walked towards the city center I came across two other buildings I had just read about in the museum. One was now a immigration headquarters and the other still served as a courtroom.

 

When I caught up with Maggie she led me downtown and led me through a local tour of this wonderful German city. First, I had a Currywurst at Wurst Durst, which basically translates to “a thirst for sausages.” My currywurst came with guacamole mayonnaise and french fries. It was delicious to say the least!

 

After a quick bite we walked on towards the city center where I saw lots of famous sites.

 

One of my favorite sites were the Schoner Brunnen fountain. Local folklore has it that a man who worked with metal wanted to marry a young girl from the village. Her father wouldn't give his approval so the man devoted himself to a labor of love. He created a fountain 19 meters high with a gold ring in the center for his would-be bride. The superstition is that if you rotate the ring three times and make a wish, it will come true!

 Schoner Brunner

Schoner Brunner

 

Another neat site was “The Meat Bridge.” This is one of the main bridges downtown. It has a sculpture of a bull at one end. That is because in medieval times, the townspeople would chop their meat on this bridge so they could easily throw the remains into the river.

 

There were lots of buildings dating back to the 1300 and 1400's. This was mind-blowing to me. We even toured the inside of several churches that are still being used today.

 One of the famous sites in Nuremberg!

One of the famous sites in Nuremberg!

 

We even toured a castle and enjoyed a nice summer shandy in the shade beneath it. THAT was cool!

 Nuremberg, Germany. 

Nuremberg, Germany. 

We ended the night at an avante-guard art show inside what looked like a car park. I loved seeing all the amateur art and couldn't wait to get started a few new ideas of my own.

 

Nuremberg is quite the charming little town. I will say I loved that it wasn't touristy or over-crowded and the inside scoop from Maggie gave it just the personal touch I desired. Such a historic city shouldn't be overlooked.

Arriving in Germany

Just when I thought my Italian was picking up speed—I had actually had an entire conversation at a bus stop with a delightful elderly man using only three Italian words—it was time to pick up my backpack and switch countries.

 

I flew from Venice to Dusseldorf where I then connected to Nuremberg, where I met Maggie. The airport in Dusseldorf gave me only a thirty minute layover, but it was my first taste of being a complete foreigner.

 

I was a foreigner in Italy but Italian is similar enough to Spanish that I never felt too far out of place. There were also tons of tourists so the odds of English popping up either in signage or in conversation were actually pretty high. Germany, on the other hand was not this way. Dusseldorf and Nuremberg are not huge touristy areas so German is the main language spoken and written here. While it's true that many locals know at least some English, they don't speak it unless prompted.

 

This is where my brain started ticking, when I was sitting in the airport in Dusseldorf. I looked around me and everyone looked like I did. They were pale complected, friendly middle-class Europeans who dressed in the same fashion as me. It was weird then, to be amongst what felt like my people, only to hear a bunch of gibberish come out of their mouths. If it looks like an American and smells like an American...oh wait, it's a German!

 

As I sat and soaked in the flavors around me I couldn't help but wonder, do I look German? No one was staring at me or alluding to the fact that I was out of place. In fact everyone smiled and made small talk with me in their native tongue. I'd smile and shrug my shoulders as if I totally knew what they meant, and the kicker was, they usually believed me!

 

My roots are actually German on both sides if you go back a few generations. I have light brown hair and blue eyes and I was raised eating Grandma's recipes like potatoes and meatballs and beef stroganoff. I've always had a slight connection to the German culture, even from my little bubble in Oklahoma. Still, I had no idea how alien I was going to feel by not being able to speak the language.

 

I had studied German weeks before when I thought I wasn't traveling to Europe until September, but when my trip was moved forward by several months I switched my focus to Italian since Italy was my first stop. Now, in Dusseldorf, I was frustrated that I couldn't instantly pick up the language spoken and I was equally irritated that I hadn't studied harder sooner. On top of not being able to eavesdrop, I couldn't read any of the signs. Very few things were translated into English and that just wasn't the world I grew up in.

 

Fortunately, I wasn't in this great country alone. I had my great pal Maggie to show me around Deutschland and that was the first familiar face I saw after leaving the airport!

 

Maggie wasted no time acclimating me to the culture. Our first stop was a local restaurant off the beaten path. The menu was all in German and so was the staff. I had to smile at this new experience and graciously I asked Maggie to order me whatever she saw fit.

 

My first taste of Germany was a huge plate of Chicken Schnitzel, and Potato Salad, complete with a local German brew. The food was fantastic but the company was even better. Maggie and I hadn't seen each other since August the year before when we said goodbye in Darwin, Australia. She was headed for the west coast and Matthew and I were embarking on the east coast.

 My first German meal!

My first German meal!

 

Seeing my good friend in a different country was giving us all sorts of fits. Where was the beach? Where was her white station wagon we had made so many memories in? Unfortunately, all of those things were left in the land down under, but our mile-a-minute conversations picked up right where we left them.

 

After dinner we explored Maggie's city of Furt. She took me to a very historical part of town where we enjoyed drinks at the most adorable of pubs. The ceiling was made up of thick wooden beams, straight out of the middle ages, the space was tiny as if it had been a long kept secret and the walls were rich with elegant wallpaper and fun black and white photos of the modern day customers.

 

 A charming bar in Furth, Germany. 

A charming bar in Furth, Germany. 

All around us I saw more people who looked like me. There were university students around my age who all seemed to be laughing and having a great time—I'm sure they were saying so in their German dialogue!

 

The evening was a full and memorable one but both Maggie and myself were ready to turn in by midnight. I had been traveling since early that morning and Maggie had been hard at work all week, trying to get ahead before I came to visit. The morning hours would come quickly and we'd be off on our first full day of German exploration.

Italy on a Dime: Backpacker Notes

Italy; the most beautiful, romantic overcrowded and over-touristic country there is. Italy has so much to offer it's no wonder the whole world aims to see it. The historic churches, the delightful food and the gorgeous countryside are just a few reasons why this country is great for backpacking.

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Exploring Venice

The next morning I rode the shuttle into Venice and began my tour of the city. Rather than leather and jasmine, this city smelt like motor oil and the sea. It was hot and humid and the narrow streets weren't quite large enough to hold all the visitors pleasantly. But oh, how beautiful the city was. I would have loved to just sit and stare at it like a piece of artwork, had it been ten degrees cooler and a third as crowded. Still, I walked the entire length of the Grand Canal. I took lots of pictures and even bought a few souvenirs. In fact, Venice is known for its excellent shopping. Where Florence was high-end designer brands, Venice seemed to be unique boutiques of every kind. I definitely enjoyed the storefronts of Venice much more.

 

Unfortunately, being a backpacker means you run very short on space and even shorter on cash, so I looked and looked and looked but soon decided Venice would be much more enjoyable should I have loved ones with me and money to spend with them on delicious eats, drinks and gifts.

 One of the beautiful sites of Venice.

One of the beautiful sites of Venice.

 

Another fact about Venice, is that it is incredibly easy to get lost in. The streets are all would up around rivers and canals and just when you find a good path going north, you have to walk west, south and east a few blocks before you can continue going north because the road will just stop and turn into wall without warning.

 

After an hour of walking, I found my art gallery. As it turns out it was closed on Tuesdays and that particular day was a Tuesday. I was a bit disapointed because other than the gallery, every other form of site-seeing or entertainment cost money. I was covered in sweat and my skin was burning from the harsh Venician sun. My water bottle was running low and I didn't know what else to do besides continue to wander and wonder at the things I couldn't afford. Around this time I decided to walk an hour back to the bus stop so I could return to camp and rest up, out of the sun.

 

Sure enough I ran into Jessica at the bus stop. She too was overheated and under-watered. We talked about all the things we had seen that morning. She went to the beach before riding into town and I had spent my morning enjoying the pool at our campsite. We agreed that Venice wasn't ideal for backpackers, thought it was terribly beautiful.

 

After naps and rehydration, we met at the on-site restaurant and enjoyed a feast of all feasts complete with excellent conversation. Jessica was easy to talk to and I felt as though her and I were highly compatible. If only we weren't heading in opposite cities within 24-hours--such, is backpacking.

 

 The Grand Canal, Venice 2017.

The Grand Canal, Venice 2017.

After dinner Jessica retired to her room and Charles joined me for an evening sit. We were just jumping in to a wonderful conversation on dating and traveling when a bird from up above blessed me with droppings in my clean hair, all over my shirt and on my shoulder. We paused the conversation for a 15-minute shower break.

 

When I returned Charles had a whole new army of friends around him. Marla, from Mexico, Rory from England and two guys from Sweden who were very tall. I introduced myself and told them what had happened. Marla and Rory smiled simultaneously and told me that getting pooped on by a bird was good luck in both of their countries. I laughed when Marla asked me where the poop got me. She said the more places it hit, the luckier I'd be. I said it sounded alright with me!

 

Marla was a enthralling character all her own. For one, I had never met a Mexican backpacker and the others agreed, it seemed unique even though she assured us there were plenty of Mexican explorers. Marla had been living in England for two years now. She was doing an internship and traveling around during her free time. She had been to Germany, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and several other places and was in route to the Scandinavian countries.

 

Soon we listened as she explained how Spaniards hated Mexicans, especially those traveling through their country. She had been treated very poorly while in Spain and said the Mexicans call the Spaniards “Sangre Gruesa” or “Thick Blood” because of how hard it was to digest their attitude towards them.

 

Rory had a great story too, he was a butler on a famous train that went from Venice to Paris. He said it was great money and he got to travel as well. Throughout the evening we all sipped our wine and swapped our stories. We had great conversations and ended the night with sweet but sorrowful, “nice to meet you's.” Such is backpacking.

Arriving in Venice

It's interesting what different people find attractive as far as tourism destinations go. What one person finds remarkable, another might merely shrug at. Sometimes the place isn't the remarkable fact at all, rather the people you shared it with. Such is the case with my experience in Venice.

 

To be quite honest, by this time in my trip I was exhausted from having hiked the Cinque Terre and also from hopping on and off trains all day the following day. I saw Venice as a spot to casually explore, rest and regroup before flying off to Germany and that's exactly what it was. I was over the touristy bits, sick of the big cities and tired of fighting crowds so via recommendation from a friend I made in Rome, I booked a two-nights stay in a tent at a camp grounds outside of Venice. I paid $10 a night while everything near the city central orbited around $100 per night.

 

Apparently all the backpackers thought just as I did. I hadn't quite made it off the first bus when a man looked at me and said “Jolly” and pointed me in a certain direction. I looked down to study my map right when a girl my height with dark brown, curly hair approached me. “Are you going to Camp Jolly, by any chance?”

 One of the markets in Venice

One of the markets in Venice

 

I smiled broadly first because she spoke English and second because I was, in fact, going to Camp Jolly. She explained that she was terrible at directions and figured we could find the camp together. I laughed as I told her my way of navigating involved roaming around until something “felt right.” She said she did the exact same thing. I couldn't believe it!

 

Jessica was a grad student from North Carolina. She was 27 and studying the immune system, which I thought was fascinating. We walked and talked for a good hour before finally arriving at our destination. She had already stayed here a night but I had to check-in. By the way, this camp ground was amazing! Not only did it have a market and a restaurant but it also had a huge pool and spas too! I was so looking forward to relaxing in this space.

 

After getting my tent assignment, I put my stuff down and Jessica and I went to the market together. I bought some prosciutto, crackers, garlic-soaked olives and a bottle of wine, all for less than $10. That was my delightful dinner I snacked on while getting to know Jessica better. Soon we met an elderly man from the Netherlands. He was very kind yet very blunt with his opinions. He told us all about his regular journeys to Greece and how he stays at this campground every time because he loves the people he meets here.

 

 I'd love to sit and stare at this city if it were framed on my wall.

I'd love to sit and stare at this city if it were framed on my wall.

After a few hours we were surprised when a man about our age popped his head in our conversation and said, “English!” We laughed and invited him to sit down. He was 28 and from Houston, here traveling through Europe and ending his trip in Spain, where his sister was teaching at a college.

 

It was so interesting to here everyone's travel plans. I started at the bottom of Italy and was working my way up to Germany and the surrounds. Jessica began in Budapest, then hopped over to Prague and now was in Venice. Charles, as we learned his name was, had spent time in Munich, Prague and now Venice. The three of us got on so well that we made plans for dinner the following day.

 

I admitted that I had studied Venice but it had been a few days and I couldn't even remember what sites I had come to see. A quick review of my book and I realized there was just one art gallery I starred as a must-see, the rest would be left to casual wandering, which was often the best plan.

Cinque Terre

I arrived in Cinque Terre from Florence around 10am. That gave me just enough time to lather on sunscreen, drop my baggage off at the hostel and grab a map of the trails. I only previously learned about the existence of Cinque Terre (which means Five Lands in Italian) while I was on my flight to Italy. It was a small paragraph in my travel book and I thought it sounded interesting, though I hadn't the foggiest idea as to what it was.

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Florence

Florence: Leather capital of Italy, birthplace of gelato, former center of European trade. Everything I read about Florence leading up to my visit oozed with art and culture. I was pleased to see that the city exceeded my expectations. Even the gelato and the street art were elegant and cool and as an added bonus, the entire city smells like cigars and leather.

 Gelato in Florence!! 

Gelato in Florence!! 

 

My main goal for Florence was once again an art gallery, this time one with the best collection of Italian Renaissance art in the world, the Uffizi Gallery. The Gallery is also one of the oldest in the world, it's been around since the masters themselves were alive.

 Outside of the Uffizi Museum

Outside of the Uffizi Museum

 

My leisurely stroll through the gallery took up most of my morning. I saw all the great works from Michelangelo, Botticelli and Francesco. Perhaps the most impressive was a special exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci and his unfinished piece, “The Adoration of the Magi.” Leonardo was commissioned this piece by the Augustinian Canons Regular but unfortunately he left for Milan before it was finished and the commission was given to Filippino Lippi, who finished the piece but not without changing some of Leonardo's original ideas.

 Unfinished work by da Vinci

Unfinished work by da Vinci

 

The piece on display at the Uffizi was the half-finished work of da Vinci, full of pencil marks, watercolor strokes and even a bit of oil paint on some of the more finished parts. The work itself was fascinating as it showed the process of da Vinci's creative procedures. It was also very interesting to compare the unfinished work of da Vinci to the finished work of Lippi, which hung inside the church.

 

 Adoration of the Magi, Lippi. 

Adoration of the Magi, Lippi. 

After leaving the Uffizi, I had a nice stroll around all of Florence. Quickly and easily I hit all the highlights recommended in my travel guide, including the Piazza della Signoria, Palazza Vecchio and the famous Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza del Pitti.

 Across from Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.  Haley Hoover 2017.

Across from Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.  Haley Hoover 2017.

 

Perhaps the most breathtaking was the Piazza del Duomo, which was so fantastic, I had to stop and have lunch in front of it.

 

 Del Duomo, Florence, Italy. 2017.  Haley Hoover

Del Duomo, Florence, Italy. 2017.  Haley Hoover

Where Rome was historical, Florence was sophisticated. It was the upscale-chic city that I wanted to bring my mother to for a shopping weekend. Designer stores, world-class art and a culture for all things high end; I felt safe strolling along and if nothing else I felt underdressed and too-touristy. People walked around this city as if they belonged here.