Archive - August, 2009

Week 49: Vienna: A History Lesson and Wiener Schnitzel

I arrived at my couchsurfing host Guenter’s home after mid-night.  He welcomed me with a smile and food.  He got the bo-jazz with which to make a sandwich and I started constructing.  He asked if I wanted tomatoes (one of my least favorite vegetables) to which I said, “No” and he proceeded to watch me ungracefully try to spread some unusual form of cheese on my bread.  We both laughed and he decided I needed to experience some Austrian tomatoes.  So, we sat and I ate my sandwich and tomatoes (which were really good) as we talked about our different cultures and religion.

Guenter is an open air museum curator and has a vast knowledge of history.  The next morning he took me around Vienna and explained all of the major sites to me.  We went by where Beethoven lived, where Mozart lived (Wolfgang is a great first name), and several beautiful churches and government buildings which without him would have not made much sense.  I was fascinated with the rich history of Vienna and what a central city it has been in the world for so many more years than the States has existed.

Me with frankfurt in Austria:

St. Steven’s Cathedral:

Dinner in front of Sigmund Freud’s apartment:

Wiener Schnitzel:

Austrian dessert and Me:

For dinner, Guenter took me to a place with traditional Austrian food that was located across the street from Sigmund Freud‘s apartment where he lived most of his life.  I had Wiener Schnitzel, which is a cutlet of veal that is pounded flat, coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and fried in clarified butter.  Dinner was very nice as I sat and pondered how bizarre it was to be sitting across the street from where Sigmund Freud lived.

Austrian host, Guenter, and Me:

Week 48: Venice: Lost, Jewish Ghetto, and Padova

Venice is one of the most beautifully unique cities in the world.  I spent three days strolling around taking in a city with boats and streams instead of vehicles and roads.  All of the guidebooks said that one must get lost in Venice, which is not hard to do after you take a few turns while not paying much attention.  The guidebooks should specify a recommended number of times to get lost…



I stayed with an amazing host, Alfredo, in Padova which is a 40 minute train ride from Venice.  Each day, I would take the train into Venice and then back to Padova.  It is very simple to get to Venice because they have built a large land bridge between Venice and the main land for trains and cars.  This makes it easier and inexpensive for people to travel, but changes the entire makeup of Venice.  It is very touristy obviously, but you can still find a place if you walk far enough where you are all alone.  However, I could not help but think what it would be like to visit Venice before the bridge?  Furthermore, what would it have been like to visit Venice before cell phones and the internet?  I’m not knocking the new bo-jazz, but it is helpful to imagine what it would have been like before these things.  I had similar thoughts all the time while in Kenya.  How much different would my experience have been if I was unable to blog and communicate so easily with my friends and family back in the States?  There would have been major disadvantages, but there would have been some advantages too.  The what if game…

Venice and Me:

Venice and Me again:

Jewish Ghetto – one of five Synagogues – Note the five windows representing the five books of the Torah:

Jewish Ghetto – another one of five Synagogues – Note the five windows representing the five books of the Torah:

Alfredo was kind enough to take me to Venice the first day and show me all of the churches.  They were gorgeous and extremely peaceful.  We also went to the Jewish Ghetto.  As the amount of Jewish people fleeing to Venice increased, the Venetian government decided that the Jewish people must all live in one part of Venice.  At one point, there were 3,000 Jewish people living in the Jewish Ghetto in Venice.  “The word “ghetto” actually comes from the word “getto” or “gheto”, which means slag in Venetian, and was used in this sense in a reference to a foundry where slag was stored located on the same island as the area of Jewish confinement.”  The five synagogues from that time still remain, each synagogue representing a different ethnic group that had settled in Venice (ex. Italian, Spanish, etc.).  I was happily surprised to go on a tour of three of the five synagogues and learn about the Jewish history of Venice.

My host, Alfredo, and Me (prize winning shot of me):

I must say that my host Alfredo was fantastic during my visit in Padova.  It was great to experience a typical Italian home with amazing Italian food.  On my last night, Alfredo took me on a bicycle ride around Padova to show me some of the larger Cathedrals in the world.  I thoroughly enjoyed cruising through Italy with a good guide and a bicycle.

Me leaving Venice:

Week 48: Rome: First Hostel, Colosseum and Such, and the Vatican

I took three years of Latin which included quite a bit of Roman history and I have always wanted to visit Rome.  The train ride from Paris was beautiful with the Swiss Alps outside my train window.  Long train rides are a good form of therapy I’ve found.  Rome was the only place where I was not able to find a couchsurfer host.  I had a couch possibility, but when I arrived in Rome and checked my e-mail there was no couch.  Therefore, I did not have a place to stay in Rome.  Then I decided to eat at the Rome train station because I’ve found food in the stomach is always a good idea when you’re not quite sure what’s going on momentarily.  I struck up a few conversations with people at the restaurant and was told where a few hostels were.  I went to the hostel and discovered they were full.  As I was speaking into the intercom about where other hostels were, a man walked out and told me he had a bed and breakfast I could stay in.  I told him, “I don’t want breakfast” and after a few minutes of talking and walking away he stopped me and I had a big room to myself for less than I would have paid for a night in the hostel with six people to a room.  Cool.  The next morning I packed up, checked out, got online, and found the highest rated reasonably priced hostel in Rome and set off to my first hostel experience.  The Ciak hostel was an excellent place to stay and I got to become good friends with Brits, Hollanders, Greeks, and Spaniards.


I was lucky to find a Rick Steves‘ Rome guide book in the hostel which made my Rome experience exponentially better than it would have been otherwise.  I highly recommend his guidebooks, after using many other books I found his to be the most helpful.  My favorite part was how he would tell you, “Find a nice place to sit in front of… ” and I would sit.  When Rick tells me to do something I do it and it turns out that he usually knows when I’m tired before I do.  So, thanks Rick (second time I’ve thanked Rick on rtqblog).

The Colosseum was surreal for me for several reasons.  It is believed that over half a million people were killed in the Colosseum as well as over a million animals.  Wow.  That gives the place a sickening feeling.  However, it is such an incredible architectural achievement.  It could seat 50,000 people and was so logically built to get people in and out as quickly as possible.  It must have been an amazing sight to see in it’s glory days.

Ground Floor of the Colosseum:

Top Story of the Colosseum:

Colosseum and Me by night:

Another surreal aspect of the Colosseum which brought my year full circle is who built the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (the arch pictured below in front of the Colosseum).  The Arch of Titus was built to commemorate the capture and victory over Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The Romans destroyed the Second Temple, which was the center of Jewish worship and the remains are now the Wailing Wall, and took the Jewish people back to Rome to help build the Colosseum and an arch to commemorate the destruction of their most holy place and the deaths of their loved ones.  Since I was in Jerusalem in January learning about this history it was much more real for me.

Roman Forum from Palatine Hill:

The Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and the now unrecognizable Circus Maximus were amazing to see as well.  Walking on the same stones that Cesar walked on in the Roman Forum was a pretty crazy feeling.  My hostel was down the road from all of this so I would walk down every night and read my book about the Roman Emperor Julian.  Life is not tough, currently.

Sistine Chapel and Me:

The Sistine Chapel was another surreal experience for me.  Michelangelo is not just the best Ninja Turtle, but he was an amazing artist.  I probably sat there for an hour and a half inspecting everything.  I loved the nine center paintings from Genesis, especially God creating day and night.  My good friend Gabe always tells people how God moons people in the Sistine Chapel and it’s true.  Check out the bottom (hehe) left of the center panels in the picture above.

St. Peter’s Basilica – Peter’s Tomb

St. Peter’s Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.  My pictures of the church didn’t turn out well, but I have plenty of video I will post later.  I had heard about St. Peter’s before, but I had no idea what I was walking into in terms of size and beauty.  The materials taken to build St. Peter’s were taken from many historical places in Rome like the Colosseum which is frustrating.  Traditionally, Peter, the apostle upon whom Christ said he would build His Church, was buried here after being crucified upside down near the obelisk of Nero’s Circus (which is out in the courtyard in front of St. Peter’s).

The Pope is out of Rome during the summer and they did not have Mass while I was there.  I would love to experience Mass led by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica one day.

Week 47: Paris: Movies, Bakeries, Sites, and Chartres

Before going to Kenya, I planned to visit two places on my way home from Kenya if I had a layover in London, my dad’s only cousin lives in Paris and one of my best friends, Brian, and his wife, Kellie, live in Edinburgh currently.  Things worked out and it didn’t cost anything extra to extend my layover in London, yay.  I have learned that when an opportunity like this presents itself, you better take it!  So, I did.

I was privileged to visit my dad’s only cousin, Rick, in Paris for one week recently.  In 2006, I visited him for two weeks and had a very good time meeting his friends and getting to know him better.  He has lived in Paris my entire life.  Rick is a movie buff and so we watch movies I haven’t seen when we’re together which I love.  We’ll be on the subway and he’ll ask me if I’ve seen a movie and I’ll give him a very blank look and then three hours later I have seen it.  This trip Rick introduced me to Gay Purr-ee, 3 Women and What Ever Happened to Sweet Baby Jane to introduce me to director Robert Altman, Diary of a Country Priest, and The Straight Story (amazing, if you haven’t see it) and Mulholland Drive (rated R for good reason) to introduce me to director David Lynch.  I really enjoyed all of the movies and look forward to seeing more oldies that I’ve never seen.  Rick also introduced me to Gore Vidal and bought me one of his historical novels, Julian, to read and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  I really enjoy trips where I learn about new ideas and gain valuable knowledge (instead of just site seeing) and my time with Rick has always been that way.

We did do some sight seeing because Rick works at several places that are right by the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe.
Cousin Rick and me:

I had forgotten how amazing the bakeries are in France.  Rick helped remind me with breakfast every morning looking like this.

Breakfast from the bakery:

Rick is an English teacher at different schools around Paris so I was able to see a lot just by accompanying him to class.  I’ll let pictures do most of the talking.

Saint Jacques Tower
(Check out those gargoyles)

Notre Dame:

Rick and Oscar Wilde’s Tomb:

Jim Morrison’s Grave:

Outside Louvre:

On Sunday, Rick took me to a town 50 miles north of Paris called Chartres.  Chartres is famous for it’s cathedral, Chartres Cathedral.  The stained glass from Chartres is used on many Christmas album covers and is breath taking.  We were lucky to catch an organ concert on one of the most impressive organs in one of the most impressive churches I have ever seen while we were there.  Rick also took me for a long walk in Chartres without telling me where we were going.  It turned out we were going to a gravedigger’s house who had decorated his entire house (and eventually the next lot) with pieces of shattered plates, glasses, and pots.  It was incredible and I will post a video of it in the next week or so.  It is impressive, you’ll agree.

Chartres Cathedral (check out how different the spires are):

Chartres Cathedral:

Chartres Cathedral Stained Glass Windows:

Eiffel Tower and me:

Eiffel Tower and trees:

Arc de Triomphe

Amazing Park by Rick’s house:

So, after a very good visit in France I was off for my first visit to Italy.

My Luggage and me:

If I am ever President of the World…

If I am ever President of the World, I am installing pillows on the back of all plane, train, and bus seats.

Example of where pillow should be and why:

Page 1 of 212»