I am so sorry that I post so infrequently. School has been brutal lately and given we only have 3 more weeks here in Austria, all of us have been trying to balance school papers, tests, and the upcoming ÖSD proficiency test, along with traveling to all of the various places we still want to go to while we have time!
These past weekends have been crazy! I have traveled to Schwangau, Munich, Berlin, and Istanbul in the past three weekends! Schwangau is where the Neuschwanstein Castle that inspired Walt Disney’s famous Sleeping Beauty Castle is located! It’s incredibly beautiful and surprisingly new! It does have the word “neu” in it though, which means “new” in German. It was built in the 1800s and is only about 150 years old. It’s beautiful no matter the season and I recommend going to it. We hiked up to a bridge that was technically off limits, but oh well– adventures have no rules, right? We quickly figured it out though because the pathway was covered in snow! We slipped and slid everywhere but it was entirely worth it! On our way to Schwangau, our train stopped in Munich so on our way back we stopped at Hofbrauhaus to grab a beer and relive Oktoberfest. As fate would have it, we met some people staying in Munich while we were in Schwangau and quickly made friends with them. They happened to be staying in Munich that week and invited us to stay the night so we turned a day trip to a beautiful castle into a weekend trip. Some of the joys of traveling is a change of plans and continuously meeting people from across the globe: exploring with them, traveling with them, and discovering new cultural differences and similarities.
The next weekend my friend Andy and I went to Berlin and had an amazing time! We took a night train on Thursday night and arrived early Friday morning. The morning time was spent exploring. Once noon hit, we took a street art and graffiti tour around Berlin. This tour was simply amazing! We learned the differences between street art and graffiti: tagging, bombing, the mission and goals of street artists, rules and codes of conduct, unspoken respect for other people’s art, etc. We got to see some of the oldest graffiti work in Berlin! It was amazing to hear all of the unspoken truths that no one would know unless talking to a graffiti/street artist himself. We learned all of the risks and how much fines would be if someone were to be caught. We learned the time it takes to quickly spray paint a name or how much time one has if he/she pulls the emergency brake on the metro train to tag their name before the police show up. We learned the different techniques people use whether it has to do with hand-sprayed graffiti, graffiti from a fire hydrant, the use of stencils, or scaling a building with a rope to get a vertical piece. At the end, the tour guide took us to an old factory and showed us exactly how different techniques are used with stencils and spray paint– how people achieve the shadowy look, create galaxies, silhouettes, and so much more! It was amazing to see an artist at work. Then we were taught how to make stencils and given an hour to create a masterpiece of our own! If any of you know the Japanese film “My Neighbor Totoro” then you’ll understand my piece. If not, no, it is not an owl. Throughout the rest of the weekend, we visited all of the big sites: Brandenburg Gate, Bunte Schokowelt, Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, Memorial to the Murdered Jews, Reichstag, etc. They were all so amazing and so informative. We had curry wurst from one of the original curry wurst food stands in Berlin. Staying in a hostel near the TV Tower, we, naturally, made friends with some people from the states studying abroad in Spain. We went on a very interesting “anti” pub crawl. It took us to some really unique pubs and bars in the city. This included a 60s/70s/80s hippie bar, a goth-rock bar, a ping-pong game club, a cabaret club, and an old, underground abandoned furniture factory club. Needless to say it was an unforgettable night.
This past Easter weekend I traveled to Istanbul with a couple friends. I was a bit nervous, given the blackouts and some of the news going on in Istanbul, but Istanbul is such a safe city so despite everything media says and what people tell you, it is very safe and there wasn’t a time that I truly felt unsafe. As long as you travel smart and are respectful, you shouldn’t have any problems! It was amazing weekend though. Starting out a little rough, we eventually made it to Turkey! Our flight was initially cancelled due to thunder storms and weather issues in Salzburg, but we were rebooked for the noon flight the next day. The first day we went to the Grand Bazaar and checked out what the oldest, original “shopping mall” looked like. It was incredible: similar to the souks in Morocco, and yet not at all the same. Bargaining is a must so don’t be afraid to get in there and haggle, but make sure that you’re not offensive at the same time. We scored some great deals with hand-made jewelry, leather goods, hand-made/embroidered fabrics and clothing, and hand-made ceramics. I kind of went crazy on the shopping, but it’s okay– when in Turkey, right? After going to the Grand Bazaar we decided to check out this restaurant some people recommended to us. It’s this Turkish Restaurant near the Gülhane train stop that has delicious, well-priced traditional Turkish meals that are made downstairs. It’s such a cute, homey, quaint restaurant with the best homemade meals. They offered us Turkish tea for free and we got, kind of by accident-turned funny situation, free dessert as well. The dessert was kind of a double deep-fried churro/Baklava mix with honey. They plop a dollop of whipped cream/icing on the top of it and the honey, deep-fried goodness makes you want a hundred more, and maybe another cup of tea. They call the black tea there “çay tea” which is pronounced like “chai tea.” We did a little shopping on the street before heading back to our hostel.
The next day we got up bright and early to make up for lost time. First, we went to the Spice Bazaar and got loads of spices, tea, and Turkish delight! Yum! The Turkish delight we got came in so many flavors: rose, pistachio, chocolate covered, pomegranate, orange, strawberry, etc. We made friends with some local spice shop owners and they invited us into their shop for breakfast! So we sat down and had a traditional Turkish breakfast with these men and it was so kind and wonderful to be invited in and experience what it’s like to dine with the locals. We then went to the Hagia Sophia (made in 537 AD, the birthplace of Christianity, & the church of Constantine the Great and Constantinople), the Sultanahmed Mosque aka the Blue Mosque, and a mosaic museum. Then we took a bus up to Eyüp and saw the Golden Horn at sunset, prayed in the Eyüp Sultan Camii during the call to prayer, went back to the hostel and had a home-made Turkish kebab meal made by the hostel owner! It was a fully-packed, fun day full of cultural experiences, aggressive bus driving, amazing food, and new friends.
The next day we took a Bosphorus cruise to the bottom of the Black Sea. Yup, we went to Asia. The Bosphorus cruise lasted about 6 hours and it stopped to many places, bouncing back and forth between Europe and Asia. We finally landed at
Anadolu Kavaği and hiked to the fortress that has an amazing view of the Black Sea. We had a delicious, fresh seafood lunch at this cafe at the top of the hill and lunch by the sea. After the cruise we went the Cağaloğlu Hamam which is in Patricia Schultz’s famous book “1000’s Places to See Before You Die.” It was beautiful. An open, marbled round room with a large octagon marble block in the center of the room in which people lie on as someone washes, scrubs, and massages away their stress, toxins, and dead skin. It’s an incredibly cleansing, cultural experience that I think everyone should do, no matter where or which hamam it is! Be prepared though: it’s completely nude. Not everyone can handle this I think, but it’s a cultural experience and it’s not scandalous at all. It’s completely in the experience of cleansing your body and ridding yourself of evil and dirt. After this we walked over the to Galata Bridge and went to the fish market. We then went to the food stands near the Bosphorus River and had the traditional fish sandwich. It’s a simple fish sandwich with tomato, lettuce, lemon, and salt. It’s ridiculously delicious! Then we went back to our hostel, smoked hookah, drank tea, and took in the last moments of Istanbul before going to bed and departing back to Salzburg in the morning.
This past weekend was quick, but so much fun. It’s funny because since Turkey is a predominately Muslim country, it hardly felt like Easter. My friends and I had to remind ourselves of that. It was an incredible experience despite the bumpy parts and I wish I had much more time to explore Istanbul and Turkey! Despite events going on in Turkey and ISIS movement, Istanbul is very safe and I think as long as you travel safely and be smart, traveling throughout certain parts of Turkey is safe as well. Anything can happen at any time no matter where you are so you can’t let certain things keep you from traveling. Don’t be afraid of being afraid. Life happens and it’s all about making the most of it!
Sorry that I haven’t posted about Morocco yet, I have so much to say about it that I want to make sure I give it enough time to give it justice! My experience was so amazing I just want to share it all properly, so hopefully I will have some time soon so that I may post some photos and write some things 😉 PS. Marrakech was voted #1 place to visit in 2015! Soon, I promise, soon! I hope you all enjoy this post and I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend!