Monday, November 29, 2010

The Beginning of Christmas, Starting with Frankfurt

When it is only 16 Euros round trip from Pisa, Italy to Frankfurt, Germany, it is impossible to say no. So what else could I do but book the trip and have another adventure with my travel buddy, Cat! Prior to traveling to Frankfurt, I had no idea what the city had to offer. I knew it was a metropolitan city and was the financial district of Germany. Knowing us, Cat and I would explore and discover things to do like we always have. I am so lucky to have a travel buddy like Cat, we have yet to get in an argument (and I can’t imagine us ever arguing) and we’re always smiling and living life to the fullest at that exact moment.
On the train to the airport
The night before I left for Frankfurt, I looked up the weather and read it would be snowing… SNOWING!!!!! Seriously? I was extremely elated with the idea I was going to see snow! But then the next thought that entered my mind was, IT’S GOING TO BE COLD! I thought I was prepared with all the many layers I bought, but when I arrived, I was no match for the weather. I had to purchase four extra pairs of wool socks and another pair of gloves. In all, I was wearing two layers of socks with boots, leggings under my jeans, four layers of shirts (two of them being sweaters) a pea coat, a scarf, a pair of gloves and a pair of mittens over the gloves, and finally a hat! With all of that on, I felt like I gained ten extra pounds (and I’m sure I looked it as well). However, despite my layers I was still cold, but the weather wasn’t going to hinder my experience.
I wish I could afford to stay at that hotel
My new Christmas dress!
So much happened in such little time. While the plane was descending for landing, I saw the villages below covered in snow. It was beyond stunning and then the realization kicked in, IT’S GOING TO BE REALLY, REALLY REALLY, COLD!
From the airport, we had to take the bus to Frankfurt. RyanAir may be cheap, but that’s because it doesn’t fly into major airports. Some people are turned off because they have to travel an additional hour and a half to the city, but I took it as an opportunity to see the countryside. Which I might add was beautiful!  The first night, Cat and I were determined to explore. We only had a weekend, and we were going to use every second to our advantage.
On the bus ride to Frankfurt
First was first and that was getting a hot chocolate and a pastry. The bakery shop was located in the train station of where we had been dropped off by the bus. As I entered the bakery shop, I was overwhelmed with the amount of pastries. I was in heaven, and it tasted as good as it looked. Lucky for me! The hot chocolate was good, but didn’t compare to the one I had in Barcelona.
If you give me hot chocolate...
I'm going to want a pastry to go with it!
Walking around in the train station, it was very prevalent it was the Christmas season! Everything was decked out in ornaments and decorations and there was a massive tree!
That night we found a German restaurant. Cat and I were strong minded to eat at a place that served local dishes. We figured, if we could read what the restaurant was, then we weren’t going to eat at it. Our other criteria was if the place played American music, then we wouldn’t eat there either. Soon enough though we found a place to eat, Culux. We were getting hungry and tired, so this place was the best we could find.  Dinner was delicious and the peanut sauce for the sausage was even better.  Plus the apple juice was probably the best apple juice I’ve had in a while. What amazed me the most is when I paid for my dinner, I gave the waitress my money and right then and there they give you the change out of a little purse. Whereas in the states, I give the server the money, the waiter goes back to use a register to calculate how much change to be given back. On top of that, when Cat and I requested to pay separately, our waitress recalculated the bill in her head within seconds and told us the amount due. Maybe I’m impressed because I never excelled in math. The simple fact was, this just shows how much American’s rely on technology to complete simple tasks.  This wasn’t the only restaurant that did this; all of the places we ate at did the same.
The next day Cat and I had a mission. We had places to visit and things to see! First on the list, was the Christmas Market. When we arrived in Romerberg, it was 9:30 and the places wouldn’t open until ten. That was okay because we walked over the bridge and on the other side was the largest flea market in Frankfurt.
We saw a vendor who was selling hats, and so it was completely necessary to buy one! (Not to mention the hat I originally had did not keep me warm) In a sense I felt like I was playing dress up with the new hat I had. Back in the states I don’t wear hats, maybe a ball cap at a baseball game, if that. So the idea of wearing a hat other than a baseball cap seemed unnatural, but I realized most people around me were wearing stylish hats as well. It wasn’t until a lady complemented Cat and I on our hats did I feel comfortable. I realized then, wear it like you mean it, and then it doesn’t feel weird.

After exploring the Saturday flea market, we ventured back to the Christmas Market. Let me tell you this, German’s know how to prepare for Christmas! If I thought Christmas back in the states was amazing, then I had to think twice because the Christmas season in Germany was overwhelming with joy and festivities. The market had everything from food, hot wine, desserts, to purchasing Christmas presents and ornaments. They had EVERYTHING and more! Of course I tried everything possible, mostly sweets. Cat was on a mission to get a pretzel, and a pretzel is what she got! I never knew so many choices existed when ordering a pretzel.
You better believe I had some of these
Even kids get to have fun!
I went twice that day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  I was really glad I went in the morning first because in the evening it was mobbed. I don’t know how people navigate their way around when it’s over crowded.
During the day
At night
The next stop was lunch! The signature drink of Frankfurt is “Apfelwin” which is a light alcoholic apple cider that is produced in regions in Frankfurt. So with that in mind, I researched a few places and found the best cider taverns were in Sachsenhausen. This was literally a ten-minute walk from the Christmas Market. The one thing I did learn is, it isn’t worth buying a metro pass because everything is so close!
We ate at Schwizer Strabe and I highly recommend it to anyone. In English terms I ordered the “Traditional German Meatloaf.” It was delicious! It was something different from what I’ve been eating for the past few months. It seems that meat is the main dish of most dinners and lunches. I’m assuming it would be hard to be on a vegetarian diet if I lived in Germany.
With each adventure Cat and I go on, we always try and incorporate a museum visit. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was one of the most important German writers. He was also considered to be the most important thinkers in Western culture. Goethe works included poetry, literature, philosophy, and science. There is the Goethe House that was turned into a museum. However, the original Goethe’s house was destroyed in World War II, it was fully restored with the original furniture, books, and paintings that the family owned. The house is three stories high with multiple rooms. Lucky for me it was only 2.50 Euros with a student ID card. (Once again it pays to be a student.)
Entrance way to the garden
With walking all around Frankfurt, I needed a snack, and if I had the choice it would be something sweet. Seeing how it was cold, it had to HOT CHOCOLATE! This time though I found a store that specialized in chocolate. If you’re ever in Frankfurt go to Schoko Ladchen. They had chocolate EVERYTHING! So Cat and I ordered hot chocolate and it took five minutes to prepare. You better believe if it takes five minutes to make, it’s going to taste good! It did! (Still not the better than Barcelona, but sure beat the hot chocolate in Paris) I couldn’t get enough and so I had to get a tiny coconut truffle just to finish off the experience!
One of my major goals, while in Frankfurt, was going to the Main Tower. The Main Tower is the only high- rise building that is open to the public and its 650 feet tall. Let’s just say that pictures says it all when it comes to the view. Cat and I have traveled many places, and I was happy to share the experience with her. Not to mention I was thankful I had my new hat because it was extremely cold on top.
Made it to the top!
Although we only spent a weekend in Frankfurt, I had to have some kind of meal that wasn’t German. German food was wonderful, but it also makes me feel extremely heavy long after I have digested it. Seeing how Frankfurt is a metropolitan city, I thought why not try sushi! I haven’t had it since I left home. Every time I wanted have sushi in Italy, it didn’t look nor smell like it. We found a Japanese restaurant and after looking at the menu, more specifically the pricing, we decided the Thai restaurant right next door was a better decision. It wasn’t until then, I realized how much I miss the easy access  to food options when I am at home.
So many choices 
My dinner
A short story after we left the restaurant. I was trying to exit the place and there were a bunch of people blocking the exit door. I didn’t know the word for excuse me so I tried saying “excuse me” but nothing happened, so then I tried “permisso” which in Italian means, the same as excuse me. But I didn’t get results with that word either. Finally a person realized I was trying to get through and moved aside. After which I asked Cat if she knew the word excuse me in German and she said, “I’m pretty sure the universal word is shoving.” That made me laugh so hard I could barely breath.  I would never shove a person, but its funny to think if all words fail, actions speaker louder. When traveling there are always language barriers, it’s just a matter of finding a way to communicate with the other person effectively. Now that I’ve looked it up, “Endschuldigen Sie Bitte!” is excuse me in German.

The next day, we had to take a bus back to the airport and once again we traveled through the winter wonderland countryside of Germany. It was beautiful and I will miss it, but not the cold!  
As I returned to Florence, I felt a little out of place. As much as I love Florence, I feel like I’m in a bubble from the rest of the world. I don’t know why or how to explain it. Florence has a charm to the town, whereas Frankfurt is more modern. In Frankfurt I felt like I was in the real world and when I came back to Florence everything stopped. I guess just another culture shock when traveling.

This weekend I will be spending in Florence… or rather Italy, I can’t promise I’ll be in Florence for the entire weekend. I’m going to try and get some day trips in. The next weekend I’ll be going to Brussels and then the program is over. After which I’ll be returning to Roma to spend Christmas with my “Roman Family” and my sister will be joining me as well. Then it is off to more traveling around Europe for a few weeks. Life couldn’t have been treating me any better.

Merry Christmas,
Roamin’ Roman

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roamin' Roman Travels to Paris!

Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to go to Paris. I had an old jam jar that I would collect money in—usually consisting of only coins for the possibility of one day going to Paris. Every Sunday I would wake up and run to the end of the driveway to retrieve the morning paper and immediately scan the travel section. I was constantly checking flight prices to Paris. (This was before the Internet was popular; I had to rely on the newspaper and travel agencies for information. And no, I’m not that old if that’s what you’re thinking) Each week I would compare prices and then calculate how much more I needed for a plane ticket. Unfortunately, years later, I never reached my goal for my Paris vacation. 

It wasn’t until Florence; I realized I should finally fulfill my Paris dream. I had made a promise to my traveling buddy Garrett, that if he came to Barcelona I would go to Paris AND London with him. I was hoping to weasel out of my promise but in the end I booked a flight to Paris… I still owed him for not going to London and instead negotiated on a hot chocolate in Paris. 
The flight to Paris was inexpensive, thanks to RyanAir. From what I gather many people use RyanAir and love the prices but don’t like the airline. I don’t blame them either, the seats and leg room are uncomfortable for tall people like myself. But for 15 Euros for a ticket to Paris, the price is right. I arrived in Paris at 9pm and it wasn’t until 1:30am did I arrive at the hostel. As you might know RyanAir does not fly directly into Paris, it lands in Beauvais airport, which is a 75-minute bus ride. The bus ride is 15 Euros and dropped us at the bus depot. From there we had to figure out the metro. I guess we were both a little tired because the metro seemed impossible to navigate. I let Garrett try and figure it out while I waited in line to buy the tickets. At least I was useful for something. The nice thing about traveling with someone is that they always have something to offer. Garrett was never afraid to ask for directions, or ask as many questions possible in order to reach our destination. I guess it’s a good thing because at times I would have given up, Garrett always got us there.

Problems soon surfaced when we were on the metro, within 20 minutes the line closed down for the day. So once again, we were stuck looking at a map trying to figure out where the heck to go. (Our hostel was not in the center of Paris, so it took a while to get to.) By the time we got off of the metro that was supposedly “close” to our hostel, we realized the directions provided SUCKED! Without Internet, we had to rely on asking people at 11pm where to go. The fascinating thing is every time we asked someone directions they would always give us different answers, and so we were on a wild goose chase trying to navigate. Finally we found the Hostel, “Peace and Love” (Don’t judge it by the name; it was the cheapest and cleanest place available.) I was totally shocked that downstairs was a bar and the night we arrived there where a handful of drunken people, not to mention a few couples drunkenly madly making out. This was my first impression and I instantly wanted to leave. The bartender pulled out a laptop from beneath the bar and signed us in. HOWEVER, between him serving drinks, the computer not working, and trying to help us, it took a over 30 minutes for the process.
View from my room at the hostel
We finally got to our room and went to bed. Little did I know that a few hours later the other person staying in our room entered drunker than a skunk. He began to make a lot of noise in addition to bringing a girl that didn’t belong in our room. I am going to skip and spare all readers what happened next. All I can say is that I was so thankful for my earplugs and pulled the covers and pillow over my head and prayed that what was happening below me was just a dream.  So far I was not in love with Paris.

I woke up early and told myself that it was a new day and to have an open mind. I know sometimes when I am disappointed with my first impression; it tends to damper the rest of my vacation. BUT this is why I am traveling and learning as I go. Only I have the power to make or break my vacation. First thing was breakfast! I was really hungry and soon we found a cheap bakery and got a pastry.  From there we discovered a metro closer to our hostel than what we found the previous night.

 The Louvre was our first exhibition. We had to tackle the biggest and the best first. Did you know if you are 24 and under (thank gosh I made the cut) in addition to living/studying in Europe the Louvre is free! The Louvre is huge! It cannot be tackled in one day. I recommend all those traveling students, if you don’t pay the entrance free, invest in guided audio tour. It’s only six Euros and you have all the information at the click of a button. We spent three and a half hours there before calling it quits. After three hours it just got overwhelming and needed a break. I saw what I wanted, the Mona Lisa and some sculptures, and with that I was satisfied.
After the Louvre it was the afternoon and Garrett had a recommendation from a friend of an amazing falafel restaurant. However, he didn’t know how to get there and once again relying on people for directions. I wish people would just say they didn’t know instead of telling us where they “think it is” or telling us false information. Garrett was extremely persistent. I swear he probably asked over ten people, and each time I became frustrated with the new direction we had to go. When you travel with other people, it’s important to do what they want as well even if it’s something you aren’t too keen on, and Garrett wanted a falafel sandwich from this specific place.  We probably spent another hour trying to find the restaurant, and if you ask me where it was I could only tell you it was in a Jewish enclave in Paris. The place was called King Falafel Palace for anyone who is looking for good falafel sandwiches. Good thing the service was excellent and speedy because by the time I arrived, I was beyond famished. I have had many falafels before, but this one really hit the spot. Delicious!!! Plus we got this special kind of lemonade that was really good; however it was a bit pricey, 3.50 Eros, almost half the cost of our sandwich. But when you’re traveling take every opportunity as it comes because you never know when you’ll be back.
 After lunch we retraced our steps to the Louvre area and walked in Tuileries Garden. My interest sparked while on the way to the falafel restaurant because I saw an opportunity to take photos. In Europe I am trying to improve my photo skills. 
From Tuileries Garden we walked all the way to Arc de Triomphe. Arc de Triomphe is located at the end of Elysees Boulavard and is an islanded in the middle of a road. A lesson learned for all you, there is an underground pedestrian passage to get to the Arc. You don’t have to run across the street like chickens with their head cut off. Garrett and some other Americans ran across the street dodging cars as they came inches away from putting them in the hospital. I could barely watch them. But in the end they made it and caused people around them to laugh. On the other hand I was safely on the other side and now faced with the dilemma of how to get to Garrett. I wasn’t going to do the same thing they did. Garrett tried to convince me through hand motions to run over.  Finally, all the time spent trying to figure out how to get across, there was a pedestrian tunnel right behind me. Patience paid off this time when seeking the answer.
Logically after going to the Arc de Triomphe it was time to visit the ultimate landmark in Paris—the Eiffel Tower. I am not going to say much, the photos below do more justice than me talking.  Three words though, BEYOND MY EXPECTATIONS!
I was happy to learn when I came back to the hostel the guy from the previous night had check out and we got a new roommate who was from France and knew respectful hostel etiquette.

In the morning our task was Notre-Dame Cathedral. The more we used the metro the easier it became to navigate the city. The only thing I wish Paris had more of was street signs directing people once they exit the metro to where the major monuments are. (Or maybe I need to improve my map reading skills) We got to Notre-Dame in perfect time before all the other tourists came. We didn’t have to wait in line for entry. There isn’t an entrance fee, however donations are greatly appreciated.
All I can say is I did a lot of walking throughout Paris. Sometimes it is the best way to see the surroundings. After the Cathedral we went to Champs-Elysees Boulevard. Lining the boulevard there are many tiny shacks with vendors selling all kinds of things. To cut costs of what a restaurant would charge we ate lunch there and explored. Most importantly, you all know I have a sweet tooth, so I got a couple of treats for myself and of course hot chocolate was a must, my fingers were freezing!
Pure Heaven
Must be close to Christmas!
From there Garrett and I explored more, mostly trying to find a jazz club to go to at night. That was another adventure of asking tons of people where to go after getting lost numerous times. Paris has decreased my confidence in my navigation ability. Later in the afternoon, we went back to the hostel for a nap and shower before going out. At the last minute we decided not to go to the jazz club we found earlier and try another one. Big mistake! I should always stick to the game plan, because once again we had a hard time finding the place and in short, once we did, it was too expensive. So we started to walk around and realized we were by the Notre-Dame Cathedral. At night there are many street performances and we stumbled across a man and his guitar playing classical hits. He instantly grabbed my attention when he sang “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. For your information, the song is about San Francisco and written when Otis lived in Sausalito. Otis Redding died in a plane crash at the age of 26 before his song was released and became popular. So being miles away from home and hearing this street singer sing the song, I couldn’t help but stay for another hour listening to him play, even though, I almost froze my face and fingers off. I had a little bit of home with me in Paris. I guess it all works out; I got my music performance after all.
Garrett had an early flight home and I was tired. What I love about traveling are the people you meet unexpectedly. I was making my way up the stairs to my room when this Swedish guy told me I had to join him for a drink down at the bar. I politely refused, but he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. While in the bar, I met a whole bunch of people, and a girl who graduated from the same high school as me only a few years below me—small world. But the most important part of the night was meeting an Aussie. Something about the Irish or Australian accent always seems to grab my attention. The next thing I knew, I was on my way to the Eiffel Tower with him. (Of course I talked to him and got the vibe, he wasn’t a creepy murderer. One could only hope.) I love social interaction with other travelers, they always have a story to tell and like I say, you get to experience their world for a short amount of time.

It started to rain once we got to the tower and, of course, I had left my umbrella at the hostel, but it didn’t really faze me. I swear he was a charmer because we walked through the park in order to get to the Eiffel Tower, which was beautiful. I don’t know if he intentionally timed it, but right as we arrived the light show started. That is when I fell in love with Paris, finally on the last night I was there. (And no I wasn’t in love with the Aussie.) It wasn’t just the company of an Aussie, but for the simple fact I could walk around at 1am in the morning and see the Eiffel Tower all lit up and not to mention the illumination of the tower caused from the fog—very mystical.

From there we got a late 2am dinner, can you image that there are restaurants that are still open? After dinner we faced a dilemma—taxis are impossible to get at that time. It was so bad that we had to walk all the way home and it wasn’t until 6am that we finally got back. We got lost many times and I’m not going to lie but I regretted bringing my purse because I felt like a target. Three nights previous to meeting me, the Aussie has been mugged. I was very relieved once we had safely arrived at the hostel, I still have my purse.

Sunday was my last day there and it was spent sleeping in and relaxing. I had a 2:55pm bus to catch, and I didn’t want to get lost on the metro. So I allowed more time than needed just in case I would get lost. I am happy to report, I made my flight and finally conquered the Paris metro.

As much as I enjoy traveling, it is a lot of work. It wasn’t until I went to Pairs; I realized how much work traveling entails when navigating becomes hard. But that’s part of the traveling experience. Live, learn and grow from it all! In the short amount of time I was there, I saw a lot, but never enough to be fully satisfied. This just means it will be totally justified when I return. - Whenever that will be, I look forward to it.

Yours truly,
Romin’ Roman