Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Break Part 2

On Friday the 29th, Erick and I caught an overnight train to Florence and by coincidence 3 of my groupmates were on the same train as us. The two of us grabbed two seats in a compartment because, frankly, all the sleeping cars were booked and they were too expensive anyway. The other 3 were in other compartments, I went to visit them once or twice, but the corridors were a little full and I was quite sleepy.

I slept on and off for some of the ride and I, with the help of the Italian man sitting across from me (who spoke little English and no German), had to schoo off many people trying to grab a seat in our full compartment. I was able to see some of the Alps when we got to the Italian side of the border, but at that point it was around 1, so I mostly just saw shapes. Really big, majestic shapes.

We arrive in Florence at 6:30 in the morning. My group mates were spending the week in Florence, so they went to their hostel to store their bags and catch a nap before going out exploring. Since Erick and I were only there for half a day at most, we decided to go out exploring and then meet back up with them for lunch before catching a bus to Siena.

Erick, who has been to Florence several times, showed me around the town. We saw the Duomo and the Sante Croche churches and walked around the old streets. It was quite nice being up so early. The air was cool, but not cold, there weren't many tourists, and we watched all the shops and street vendors setting up for the day. We also were able to see the sunrise over the Arno River, which is one of the few sunrises I've ever seen and was awesome.

The famous cathedral and dome in Florence
Around 10:30 we started getting tired of lugging our duffel bags around with us (there were no lockers to be found in the train station), so Florence was starting to lose its appeal. Before we made out way back to our meeting place, however, we stopped in a small cafe to grab an espresso and it was probably the worst espresso I've ever had. And I'm including Starbucks and McDonald's in that. We watched her prep the shot, by which I mean she didn't bother wiping down the dispenser after the last shot she pulled. Being baristas it was thoroughly horrifying for us. Go figure I would have the worst espresso of my life in Italy.

There was some pretty interesting street art and graffiti throughout the city. I'm going to attach a link to my online photo album of this trip and I took a few photos of the things we saw. You should be able to navigate from there to the other albums of this trip.

I called the others around 11 and they were still in bed, so Erick and I hopped on the next bus to Siena, which took about and hour and a half (and through which I slept after thinking I could stay up to see the Tuscan countryside, haha). I checked into my hotel right outside the city wall, settled in, and then met up with Erick again to get my bearings in the city.

We did a general walk around and I learned the basics of what to look for to find myself again (il campo, the duomo, the main street). The rest of the trip (of 3 days) was spent walking around in the rain seeing the sites around the city and thoroughly enjoying being in a place completely different from Munich. I love Munich but it was so refreshing to be in a city like Siena. Its small with small, winding streets, interesting churches, stucco walls, and tiny, fascinating niches all throughout. Munich is definitely a big, modern city in comparison. There was an outcropping on one of the taller hills of the city (JEEZ that place is hilly!), which looked out into Tuscany and offered a great view of a garden/farm at the base of the city. I could have stayed up there for hours.

Among the high/low-lights of the trip was eating the worst Italian food of my life. It was a 4 course meal which cost 15 Euro. This perhaps would have been a tip off, had two of the courses not been meat and cheese and salad. The two bigger courses in the meal were a debacle. The meat in the meat sauce on my pasta was so dry it could crumble and the chicken in the chicken cacciatore was also incredibly dry and was more bones than meat. Also, the wait staff was being pretty sketchy. So, after some fuming we deemed the meal "poison cacciatore" and moved on.

Erick's roommate, Douglass, came back from his adventures in Barcelona and Amsterdam on my second night in the city. The three of us went to a tea house in the city which served each of us a big, individually steeped, pot of tea. Each pot of tea was a different shape, color, size, or design and the tea inside was Delicious. Douglass kept forgetting to strain his tea, understandable considering he had been up/travelling for about 30 hours but still amusing.
San Francesco near my hotel

So the three of us hung out the next day, which was All Saints Day, not conducive to them showing me their favorite church in the city. Later that day I boarded a bus back to Florence and, eventually, a train back to Munich. The 3ish hours between the bus and the train were spent in a wonderful pub near the train station, eating delicious gnocchetti and drinking one of their specialty brew beers.

Oh. And when I say the three days were spent walking around in the rain, I really mean it. There were very few moments in Italy when it Wasn't raining. It wasn't so bad though, Italians have a habit of throwing out perfectly good, if not a little beat up, umbrellas, so we partook in those to stay at least a little dry.

Click here for all the photos!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I think I should bypass my last few weeks, unfortunately, because now I’m on Fall Break and so far it has been quite exciting. My Fall Break experience started last week, actually. My friend Erick, who is studying in Siena, Italy for a semester, came up to Munich to visit and explore the city. 

He was supposed to get into Munich at 1AM Monday morning and stay at a hostel in the center of Munich. I was a bit confused as to how he booked a train getting in at Fröttmaning station, which only has a subway line and buses on it, but I just gave him directions to the main train station, not a problem. When I hadn’t heard from him at 11AM Monday I was a little worried, but figured he was just sleeping off a bad train ride. By 5PM, when I still hadn’t heard from him I was pretty darn worried.

I called his hostel and asked if he had checked in. The woman said, “No, actually. He was supposed to arrive last night and never showed up. We’ve charged him for the night and given his bed away. Can you tell him that for us if you hear from him?” 

Uh oh.

I then went upstairs and asked Frau Volz what I should do. She said, let’s wait a little while and then go ask our policeman neighbor.


In the meantime I called Betty, our trip leader and asked her if she can find the numbers for Roy and Terry, the faculty leaders in Siena. We ended up contacting the heads of the Study Abroad program at Guilford and sending e-mails to people, asking if they knew know where he was or what his cell phone number is. No responses.

Oh jeez.

So I’m sitting in the kitchen thinking “Crap, he’s probably dead or sleeping in some random train station with no idea where he is and now idea where to go.” Bree’ went out to the main train station to look for him. Frau Volz went over to her neighbor's house to ask him what we should do. She came back and got some general info that he could look up tomorrow to check if he was in jail or the hospital.

Around 7:30 I get a facebook message for him “Finally in Munich, my bus broke down for 18 hours, I’m at an internet café in the center of town and don’t have much time left on my service. Can you meet me there?” Turns out he doesn’t have a cell phone in Europe.

I didn’t know where that café was, so I told him to meet me at Burger King in the main train station, where our group usually meets. I then quickly e-mailed all 7 people who I had contacted trying to find this kid, saying that I found him, everything’s okay. I met up with Bree at the train station, he wasn't in BK so we walked around the streets outside the train station trying to find the place he was. Absolutely no one had heard of the place, which did not bode well, but eventually things worked out. 

We got food in the train station and I heard all about getting stuck in the Italian Alps with Italians and Poles, none of whom new English. All he could get from their broken Italian was "Police...broken bus." It soon became apparent why his "train" was getting in at a random stop. Even though his ticket specifically said "train" it was most certainly a bus. Its pick up station in Florence was also in a random corner of the city and no one knew anything about it. The bus passengers ended up having to sleep on the bus and watching a horribly gory movie until things could be sorted out, it ended up being a 30 hour journey.

Since his hotel reservation had been cancelled Frau Volz offered him the couch to sleep on, which I assumed was until he booked another hotel room. But no, the next morning she came downstairs and told me that I should give him a different blanket the next night. When Bree, Erick, and I came home that afternoon she had made up a makeshift bed on the couch. This was a bit of a surprise since we had been told very explicitly that no one was allowed to stay the night. But, since Frau Volz is the head of the host families in Munich (as in she organizes them and sorts out any problems) I figure she wouldn't have offered if she wasn't really okay with it.

So Erick ended up sleeping on the couch for the rest of his stay. It was cheaper and reduced the hassle of trying to find a hotel instead of actually seeing Munich. So he got a place to stay for free, some free food, Frau Volz and he tried to talk to each other despite the limited amount of language shared between them, and we even rode bikes a little

We spent a lot of time at the Alte Pinakotheke, where I had two art history classes, and the Pinakotheke der Modern, where we went one afternoon after my classes. We went to a bunch of beer halls, ate traditional Bavarian food, and went to Kartoffelhaus, our Guilford German professor’s favorite restaurant, with most of the people on my trip. Heck, Erick even started figuring out a bit of the transit system on his own. In the process I had an awesome slab of schnitzel perched atop a mountain of french fries, a beer called the "Triumphator des Starkbiers," and climbed up to the top of St. Peter's tower, which has a great view of the city.
 Poster in the Kartoffelhaus

Friday afternoon was warm and sunny so Ben Heide and I took our guests (his was Patrick, who is also studying in Siena) to some historic sites. Erick watched the Glockenspiel in the morning then the four of us met up and ate lunch at the Augustiner restaurant in Marienplatz with Tyler and his parents. We then walked to Odeonsplatz, showed them where the Hitler Putsch of 1923 happened, went into the church on the square, then sat in the Residence garden listening to music and sipping beer. 

So despite the debacle that was Monday it still turned out pretty darn well. 

Part Two coming soon: Florence and Siena