Mountains to Milan

Heya, friends! Today I’m digging back into my travel journal to tell you about my first trip to Italy.

This long weekend back in May of 2017 was… not what I expected. But hey, travel isn’t always perfect 100% of the time, and I have committed to sharing my honest experiences with you all.

I guess the best place to start is, obviously, the beginning. A and I had decided to take a road trip passing through Switzerland. We got up early on a slightly chilly morning in Konstanz, drove through a deserted Altstadt, and then over the border into Switzerland.

The weather was perfect for a roadtrip and the drive was actually pretty enjoyable. We even had gorgeous scenery.

Swiss roadtrip

Driving into Italy, we decided to go up over the mountains instead through the mountain tunnel. At that point, I seriously had never seen so much snow in my life. (I have seen quite a bit more since then!)

After getting over the mountain pass, we arrived in Italy, where it was indeed much warmer than it had been up in the mountains.

We parked outside the city, rode the subway in, and dropped our things at the hostel before heading out to explore.

Oh, Milan. I so wanted to love you. I wanted to bask in your sunshine, listen to the song of the Italian language, devour every morsel of legendary Italian cuisine… But, this didn’t happen.

I’m sure that Milan, like most places, can feel like home for some people. But, Milan is a city where I just wasn’t able to get that this-is-my-kind-of-city feeling in the time we spent there.

I enjoyed walking the streets and trying to imagine the history. I marveled at Sforza Castle, remembering tidbits of history related to the Sforzas.

Milan

I sauntered along in the heat, checking out some marble statues but not feeling any real connection to the art. How can that even be in this country which is so significant to the history of Western art ?

There were a few highlights though. One afternoon we spent well over an hour in a botanical garden, examining each specimen as if my life depended on it… until I would see a butterfly that is.

Milan Botanical Garden

And for anyone who knows me, they could probably guess that my other love in Milan was a cemetery. The Monumental Cemetery. Those Italians know how to make a beautiful cemetery, with sculptures, plants, and such a serene atmosphere.

I may not have fallen in love with Italy on my first visit, but I guess that’s a good enough reason to need to go back and try out some of Italy’s other destinations.

Cheers!

I Didn’t Think I’d Like You, Frankfurt

Back into the travel journal we go! This time we’re heading to Frankfurt in January. Cold, right? It actually snowed while we were there. Maybe that’s a factor in me liking it even more!

Speaking of snow, it’s snowing as I write this, as it has been doing off and on the last months. Anyway, Frankfurt….

Most of the weekend was spent socializing with friends, as one does when visiting friends in other cities. It was also my first time there, and we spent a good part of Saturday running around to take in the nearby sights.

We walked along and crossed over the Main (the river that runs through the city). From there we had a view of the city center which houses all of the tall financial towers.

Coincidentally, on this same weekend not too far from where we were, a bomb from WWII had been found in the river. Finding these old bombs is actually not that uncommon in Germany. They usually just evacuate the area and either defuse the bomb or, in some cases, safely detonate the bomb. The same thing happened not that long ago here in Munich.

We continued on to the Old Town where we passed by the old city hall. As it was quite cold, we didn’t linger. Arriving at the Frankfurt Cathedral, our group made the decision to walk up to the top despite how chilly and windy we suspected it would be.

Indeed, it was freezing up on top of the cathedral, but it also gave great views of the city.

After escaping from the wind, we headed to an indoor market called Kleinmarkthalle (Small Market Hall). You can buy everything from flowers and fresh produce to regional specialties and ready-to-eat snacks. We munched a bit and explored what the vendors had to offer before touring some of the shopping in the city center.

In the evenings we explored the night life a bit. We visited an Irish pub, and the next night a very fancy bar before heading to two ritzy clubs.

Initially, I thought Frankfurt was pretty much just the financial capital of Germany, full of high-minded Germans with advanced degrees in finance and related fields. It is a little bit that, but it’s also something more. Here I found a city that didn’t feel as busy as some I’ve been been in (ehem, Munich…), had great night life, and an excellent mix of walking and shops to keep one occupied for a weekend.

Cheers!

Lost and Found No. 1

Welcome to my new “Lost and Found” series. In an effort to be more mindful of myself, the space around me, and the world at large, I want to share some tidbits of note for me that were either lost or found. Simple, right? Let’s get to it

Found: My Blogging Mojo

Blogging is hard. I don’t mean the thing itself really, but I mean keeping up with it. I have so many ideas of what I want to write, but sometimes I just run out of energy. During the final part of my studies, I even managed to lose interest in making time for blogging all together. I wasn’t sure if I would ever fully come back to the space, or just pump out a post every once in a while when I felt inspired to do so.

As of right now, I’m feeling more excited about this space than I have since I arrived in Germany. I sure hope I can keep the ball rolling, because it’s doing wonders for my motivation and emotional energy.

Lost: Snow

We had quite a bit of snow in Munich this winter. Thankfully, the warm weather lately has pretty much melted away all of the snow. I’m hopeful that this means spring will come soon and the bitterly cold weather will stay away. Looking at the chilly gales and rain outside, I’m not so sure when we will get properly warm weather, but at least it’s above freezing.

What I have seen still hanging out are piles of dirty snow next to the parking garages of the shopping mall. I’m still waiting for those to finally melt.

Found: Snow Drops

I have seen the first snow drops of the year! If you don’t know what they are, they’re the small white flowers that pop up as winter transitions into spring, sometimes coming straight up through late snow and blooming before trees even start to wake up after winter. I unfortunately don’t have a photo because the lighting was so bad, but it’s a pleasure to see these little guys in Munich after having watched for them in Virginia as well.


That’s all for now. I hope to be back in this space more often going forwards.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 3 Years, Can It Be True?

It was shortly before my three-year anniversary of living in Germany when I realized it was coming up. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but the calendar says that it is true!

So in the past year, what are the most significant things I’ve done?

1. Got a Job in Munich

Since I handed in my Master’s thesis in early September last year, I also had to get a job. I started applying in July of last year and was very lucky with timing, as I then started working in October.

The challenges of transitioning from academic life to work life are enough to begin with. Add in that I somehow did it in another country, succeeded in changing over my residence permit, and moved to the city (I’m not a city gal), well… That’s pretty impressive for me personally.

Do I love working more than I loved studying and doing research? Nope. But hey, I guess that’s part of your first few years working; you learn what you like and what you don’t.

2.Visited the Family

It was September 2015 when I moved to Germany, and throughout my entire Master’s program I could not afford to make the trip back home. Therefore, going home last December was the first time in over two years that I saw my family in person. It was also the first time in two years that I used US dollars, that everyone I spoke with had a Midwestern accent, and that I was surrounded by American flags everywhere I went. Yes, I suffered from reverse-culture shock.

LOZ

It was a nice little adventure to go back home, although it was the dead of winter. At least my Grandma can’t be upset that I always miss the holidays since I finally made it for Christmas!

3. Distortion in Copenhagen

After several years of A telling me about Copenhagen and how great it is, I finally went. The first few days were filled with bike rides around the city to do all the touristy things. The second half of the week was all about the electronic music festival.

While it’s true that Copenhagen is quite expensive, the city has a great vibe, amazing architecture, and delicious food. I even had my first bagel in several years (my life without bagels is very sad, indeed). Copenhagen is pretty spectacular, one of the few cities in which I can see myself living happily, albeit probably broke.

4. Another Trip to the US

So the trip that I was not planning to make was to head back home in the middle of summer. Living away from home when someone in your family is in poor health is pretty tough. I eventually got to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep stressing in Germany when I have a regular paycheck that can get me over the ocean to check in with my family in person.

Although it’s not what I planned, I now remember how flaming hot and humid Missouri gets in the summer, and why Missourians actually need air conditioning. A more pleasant part of the weather was walking barefoot through a summer storm to pick up my aunt’s car.

Family’s all okay now, too, in case you’re wondering.

5. Isle of Skye

The first trips I made to Scotland were back in 2014, and I documented them on the blog. (Read about them here and here.) Those two trips led me to falling as much in love with Scotland as I already was in with Ireland. One thing that A and I have wanted to do for several years now is to make it to the Isle of Skye. This year was the year to do it.

We rented a car and attempted Ben Nevis before going on to the Isle of Skye. That trip was an absolute dream, and the cool weather was dearly cherished after a brutally hot summer in Munich. I’ll eventually write about it here, but for now, I’ll just say that I can’t wait to go back to Scotland again.

Learnings

So those are the big things, but my international adventures are not the entire takeaway. Here’s a short list of some things I learned this year.

  1. Skiing is not for me. Tried that in Austria on a company ski trip, and the conclusion is that I will just skip straight to sledding and hot cocoa.
  2. I need to put the plant down, and walk away. I now have… seven plants? I think it’s seven, maybe there are more… Having a green thumb doesn’t go away just because one moves abroad!
  3. My German has gotten better. In fact, a few weeks ago I made a trip to the foreigners’ office and spoke in German during the entire appointment with the Munich bureaucrats.
  4. I need to plan a lot of hiking trips. Since I didn’t painstakingly plan out any options, I didn’t end up going on any. I tried to be a bit more relaxed, but it seems that being a planning freak does lead to more adventures into nature.
  5. Legal residence doesn’t get easier with time. In fact, the bureaucracy is so large that it even lost my file, resulting in multiple temporary permits and a long wait until they find my file before they’ll process the application that I already submitted. Never-ending story, this residency thing.
  6. December is too short, and there are too many Christmas markets to visit. Last year, I tried very hard to experience some new markets because I have had a love affair with them since my personal discovery of Christmas markets back in 2014. This year I will have to map out every one that I want to visit and be a bit more calculated in my excursions (and my Glühwein fund).
  7. Forcing myself to live in a city does not mean that I will learn to like it. Nine months into living here, and 12 months into working here, Munich still isn’t my favorite place. If anything, it’s more of a headache. If only I could find Munich-style jobs in the mountains….

Seven seems like a perfectly arbitrary number at which to pause here. So I guess that’s a wrap on year number three in Germany. I don’t really have a lot of plans for the next year yet (apart from Christmas markets), so let’s see where life takes me!

Cheers!

Guys, I Ate a Snail

Welcome back to my dive into my travel journal. This post is a continuation of the last three posts about my trip to the southern part of France. You can read the first post here.


I hope the title doesn’t scare you. Maybe you’ve done it, too. Either way, today’s post is about my final destination during a summer trip to France: the city of Lyon.

We arrived at our rental apartment located on the Saône River in Lyon, right in the midst of some historical buildings. We set out to do some late-day exploring in the nearby streets. All of the streets apart from the one right next to the river were largely free of cars, and instead filled with both locals and annoying tourists like ourselves.

We checked out Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, otherwise known as the Lyon Cathedral.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon

What was most exciting for me about this cathedral is that there is an astronomical clock there. People who know me are familiar with my excitement about the astronomical clock in Prague, so you all can guess how enchanted I was by this one. It is located inside the cathedral, but was not working at the time that I visited (big letdown, I know…).

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon Astronomical ClockCathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon Astronomical Clock

When we had sufficiently explored the nearby streets, we picked a restaurant for dinner. We wanted to try Bouchon (if you don’t know what it is, try Googling it to get a sense), so our wonderful French friend figured out which restaurant we should go to. She picked well, and we enjoyed our fill at Le Comptoir de Boeuf.

Although the name suggests this is a restaurant big on beef, everyone was able to find a meal that made them happy, including our vegetarian friend and myself with my food allergies. Even better than the meal though was the dessert. I don’t remember the details of anything else I ate that night apart from the stolen spoonfuls of a pear cooked in red wine that A had ordered. Yum. I’m totally not salivating at the memory of this.

The next morning we headed across the river and into the city. We did a lot of walking on this day, and quite a bit of it uphill early on. We took a look at Saint-Nizier Church which was not so visually stunning, but happens to have quite a turbulent history if you check into it (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with history today).

In the Streets of Lyon

We checked out a number of shops as we headed towards the Croix-Rousse Quarter. There, we visited a really spectacular mural, Mur des Canut. The mural is so vivid that you aren’t sure what is part of the building or what is just a painting. It looks so three-dimensional until you reach out and touch it. If you’re ever in Lyon, check it out for yourself.

Eventually, we headed back in the direction of our apartment. While on the way to our home-base area, our little group decided that we should try some snails. We stopped by a restaurant where we only ordered a single dish of snails to share like a bunch of crazy tourists.

My honest opinion? Snails are not for me. The texture is just too much, and I also didn’t really find them to be so flavorful that I’d actually choose to order or cook them of my own volition. Sorry if I’m offending anyone out there; snails simply aren’t for this gal.

So, finally, we can discuss the grand finale of our short stay in Lyon. Up the hill from where we were staying is a basilica which is stunning and filled with gold accents everywhere. It’s like someone was given unlimited gold paint and went a little overboard with decorating La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

Outside, you can take in a view of the city since the basilica is at the top of the hill. When you’re ready to head indoors, just remember to look up.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

The main hall is a feast for the eyes, but there’s even more! Head downstairs to the basement of the basilica to discover another chamber of wonder. From there, you can walk out of the back of the basilica to the outlook again, or you can do like we did and frolic happily down the garden on the hillside just in time to return for dinner.

And that was pretty much our trip to Lyon. Short, sweet, and to the point. After one additional night, we rose in the morning and made the long drive back to Germany. I have to say, I was very happy to be back to a land where I halfway understood the language. All the same, thanks for the good time, France!

Cheers!