Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Arriving in Frankfurt und der erste Tag

Friday, March 21st, 2014

I arrived in Frankfurt ahead of schedule around 11:10. The flight fed us dinner and a small breakfast, just enough for me to be on my merry way. That gave me enough time to freshen up, grab my bag, and find the Deutsch Bahn station in the airport. Now that I was in Frankfurt, I heard German everywhere! It definitely surprised me, since it’s just not something you tend to hear on the streets in Williamsburg. I also realized how much German I’m able to understand depending on the person and the subject. The weather was on the chilly side, but nothing my coat and sweater couldn’t handle. Plus, compared to the weather Virginia had been having, it was a drop in the bucket. 

I found my way around and bought a Deutsch Bahn student card (so I get discounts on travelling for my stay here) and a ticket to Erfut. I was a little nervous at the time because my tutor, Lukas, and I had talked about him meeting me at the Erfurt station, but it wasn’t clarified and I had no way of contacting him with no internet and I didn’t have his phone number yet. I decided not to think about that for a little while and find my train. 

The tracks with my suitcase and a man.

My 1:02 train on the Leipzig track.

Once I got on the train, I had a couple of hours to relax. The ICE (the train I rode) was very different from any trains I’ve ridden in the US. It was very clean and there were several people on it: some with large suitcases like me, and others with just a briefcase or small backpack. It was also very quite. Except for a few hushed business conversations here and there, no one talked at all. I didn’t mind though, for I liked just looking out the window and taking in the scenery. 

I noticed that all the towns and cities had a very distinct German look to them. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I didn’t expect them to look just like they do in TV shows or movies. While the cities were big, there were luscious green fields right near by with people and dogs always walking through them. The cars were either the usual, nice BMW, Volkswagen, or Audi or they were the European Citroen, Peugeot, and the like. The trucks all had flat fronts, which is very different from most of the US trucks. It was comforting to see familiar companies though, like UPS or DHL. 

I eventually got to Erfurt and decided to wait for Lukas (my tutor) in the main part of the station for a little while. We walked past each other a couple of times, but eventually figured it out. I took the tram with him to the university where we checked in and I got my key. The tram fascinated me. It runs all through the streets where people walk and drive cars. In the downtown area, there are people everywhere walking just before the tram passes or even right next to it! 

Anyway, we found my room where I met one of my suite-mates. Lukas and I exchanged numbers to avoid more confusion, and we parted ways as I began unpacking. 

That evening, my suitemates showed me the closest grocery store. We fixed dinner, and I went to bed fairly early.

Shanghai and Nanjing

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’ve been traveling for about the last week! It’s amazing how coming back to my neighborhood feels like coming home. While traveling with just a backpack feels pretty incredible, it’s also great to be back in Beijing.

Annie, Phil and I took the fast train to Shanghai on Thursday. Phil had a friend he had met while traveling in Kashgar earlier in the semester, so we met up with him. Turns out, he owns a factory that makes “rapid prototypes” for companies like Ford and GE. Who knew… so he picks us up from our hostel, drives us to this bar that overlooks the Shanghai skyline, bought us drinks, and we all hung out on the rooftop. There was a hottub up there. The view was insane:

The next day, we drove to Xintiandi, which is an upscale outdoor shopping area. I was amazed how Western it felt. It kind of felt like walking around Old Town in Alexandria…. such a strange feeling. There were upscale Western restaurants and Starbucks. It was especially strange because this is the place where the first congress of the Communist Party of China was held. There’s a crazy little museum. Apparently the first meeting was busted by the police, so it was continued later on a boat. Interesting history, very intense museum. Here’s a picture that will prevent me from ever being elected as president of the United States:

Next, we headed to Tianzifang, which is an area with a lot of small shops and galleries. The area was built around the 1930s. The district was artsy and fun to walk around on a rainy afternoon.

After that, we headed to our friend’s factory. Now I feel like I have a much better idea of what it means when something is “made in China.” The factory was small, only about twenty employees. They can make almost anything though… from a car to a soymilk machine. Basically, the companies send a design, the programer codes instructions to the machines, the prototype is produced. If the parts are complex enough, they are assembled elsewhere. It was so interesting to hear Xiaoyi talk about how he grew his business. When he first bought it, it was failing.  He started procuring business through cold calls, cultivating relationships, and gradually built a network through positive relationships with different companies.

Here are my Shanghai pictures.

The next day we took a bus out to Hangzhou. IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL! There were moments during the day that I was just in awe. We went to West Lake and then to Longjing tea fields. It made me really happy that green tea actually comes from such a gorgeous place. Earlier in the semester, I asked my Chinese friends where I should buy good tea, and they told me “Hangzhou.” I kind of meant more like which store in Beijing, and not a city five hours away, but now I get it! We got some dinner (and drank tea of course) and inadvertently ordered an entire chicken (head, feet, and all). Yum.

More Hangzhou pictures here.

The next day, we did Zhouzhuang, otherwise know as “the Venice of the East,” which at first made me a little skeptical…don’t get me wrong, it was gorgeous, but not particularly anything like Venice! (How insane is it that I’ve been to both places within 6 months?) We took a gondola ride and wandered around the alleys all day.

Then we got on another 高铁 (fast train) to Nanjing. After missing our first train by a few minutes (oops) and doing the classic running through the train station, we wandered until we found our hostel.

We went to the Presidential Palace that afternoon, which has a ton of history from Sun Yat-sen to Chiang Kai-shek. The next morning we went to the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which was incredibly sobering. 30,000 people were killed in about a two week period when Japan invaded in 1937. I felt like I have a little bit of a better sense of the complicated relationship between Japan and China, and the impact of the invasion on the city.

Next, we headed to Purple Mountain to hike up to Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum (we had kind of a morbid day). Sun Yat-sen is considered to be the father of China, similar to how we view George Washington. The view was stunning.

Before we left, we headed to Xuanwu lake to see even more beautiful scenery (if that’s possible).

Here are all my pictures from Nanjing.

Such a great trip.

Next up is Taipei! I’ll be leaving on Monday to see Debby.

San Antonio de Areco

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

This past weekend my program took a trip 2 hours outside the city into the countryside to San Antonio de Areco. The day we went was a national holiday, their version of Labor Day. We took a bus the two hour trip and then walked about 30 minutes threw a quaint little town to a park where we could hear an announcer in the distance and saw LOTS of cars parked. As we entered we saw a huge riding ring for horses and a herd of 300-400 horses running in the ring. All around the ring people had set up their areas with traditional grills, chairs, and food- it was clear this was an all day activity. The people were all dressed in traditional gaucho or countryside attire- tall riding boot, big leather belts, button up shirts, berets or for the women boots with ponchos or the same outfit as the men except with a skirt. It became blatantly obvious that this was not a tourist event, but a traditional and authentic Argentine activity. We were close to the only non-gaucho people there. People not only stared- which is now normal to us- but they would stop walking to gawk or just slow down. We always say we feel like zoo animals but this took it to a new level. Despite not fitting in at all we still walked around the market and found a place to watch some of the events.

The first event had 10 gauchos (cowboys) on horseback, they were holding the reigns of a second horse which had a bell around its neck. There were 10 other horses which had been trained to follow the sound of that particular bell that followed along behind. So for the competition all the horses were mixed up and the gauchos had to be the first one to round up all ten of their horses. As the gauchos were announced the announcer also stated where they were from and it became clear this was a HUGE deal for people of the countryside as gauchos had come for all over Argentina just to compete. The winners also received cash prices and I think there may have been betting on the winners on the side.

The second event was like a traditional rodeo. They had three poles in the ring which they tied a wild horse to and then a gaucho tried to ride it for a certain time period- until the bell. This reminded me of home, haha. These horses were absolutely crazy and could jump ridiculously high. Unfortunately this was not a safe sport and we saw two people get hurt. The first was kicked in the knee and taken away in an ambulance and the second was riding a crazy horse when it flipped and essentially landed on top of him- miraculously he got up and walked away. I was glad they had several ambulances there on stand-by.

Besides watching the events we ate some traditional Argentina asado- DELICIOUS. I had a sandwich of chorizo (sausage) and then Alfredo got a huge plate of other cooked meat. They just gave you the meat on a big platter still on the bone. Luckily Alfredo asked and for a price they cut it up into pieces that we could pick up and eat. They don’t even marinade the meat- maybe a little salt and cook it over an open fire or coals and it turns out SO GOOD. I’m not a big meat eater, especially beef, but here I could eat it all the time. We also had licuados, which are kind of like fruit smoothies. These were perfect for the heat of the day and delightfully refreshing and for only 5 pesos (US$1.25).

It was definitely an experience that most tourists or people who visit this country do not get to see. A legit traditional Argentine activity. A great experience with great friends.

Bariloche, Patagonia!

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Where to begin… So myself and 5 of my girl friends here set off on an adventure to Patagonia over Easter weekend. It began with a 22 hour bus ride- bad but not horrible. We arrived at 11am and began an action packed weekend. We took a ski lift to the top of a Mt. and got to see neighboring Chile and the Andes. It was FREEZING on the top of the mountain but it was worth it. We then hiked to a nearby lake and then took the bus back to Bariloche. The second day I spent the entire day on the water kayaking in a lake outside Bariloche. The best possible way to spend a day! By far my favorite activity of the trip. It was a nice change of pace from the city and it was absolutely gorgeous.  Day 3 was horseback riding up a mountain to a Buddhist shrine and taking more beautiful pictures. Then exploring the city and packing up for another 22 hour bus ride. All in all a great trip.

It was interesting to get out of the city into the Provinces to see the vast differences. On the bus it seemed like we weren’t moving lots of times because the land is so flat and never-ending as we crossed the Pampas. On the bus you would fall asleep to one kind of scenery and when you woke up hours later it looked like you were on another planet because the scenery was so different. Every now and then there would be a random house, concrete or with a corrugated roof, very reminiscent of Guatemala. Overall, the countryside seemed more like an undeveloped country whereas the city is just about comparable to any other city in the world. In our hostel there  were signs saying not to flush toilet paper, just like Guatemala. It was just striking the difference within the one country.

Happy Easter

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Easter! I am currently in Bariloche, Patagonia and loving every minute of it. So far I have been hiking, seen the Andes, kayaking all day in a super clear lake, and today I am going horseback riding and souvenir shopping. This trip has been all that I hoped it would be and I am so glad it all came together and my friends and I were able to go. More thoughts and photos to come later. First I have to survive a 22 hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires…

Photo Links

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

So I have photos uploaded onto my facebook page but here are the links for those of you not on facebook.

This is my Buenos Aires album (so far):…

This is my Mar Del Plata album:…

Let me know if the links don’t work. You may be able to just click them or else copy and paste it into your web browser.  I’ve never used an external link before but facebook says it should work…

Mar Del Plata

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

This past weekend my program took a trip to Mar Del Plata, Argentina. It is a beach town 6 hours south of Buenos Aires. We took a bus for the journey. The bus terminal in Buenos Aires has probably at least a hundred “gates” for double decker, charter style buses. The buses can take you virtually anywhere in Argentina and South America. The buses look like charter buses from the outside but inside they are much nicer. Instead of being 4 seats across, they are 3 across because the seats are very wide. The seats also have a fold down leg rest and they recline way back. Think of a small la-z-boy on a bus. They are very comfortable and I slept virtually the whole way there and back. You also receive a snack packet when you board the bus with various snacks inside and there are water cooler with hot water for tea and cold water. I have heard that on longer trips they will feed you meals and possibly show movies. It seems these buses are the primary means of transportation for most everyone here because they are cheaper than flying.

Mar Del Plata appeared to be similar to a beach town in any other major resort area. Lots of hotels and tourist stores, pretty views and a nice beach.  It has the largest casino in South America- we never made it there. One of the beaches has a unique rock formation that is natural and only found in one other place in the world: South Africa.

We went to the beach once during our stay. Since we traveled south it was a little cooler than Buenos Aires but we were determined to go to the beach anyway. Some of my friends and I went with beach towels with the goal of a nap on the beach. However, when we arrived we spread out our towels and were accosted by a pack of 5 stray dogs. One of my friends was feeding them and they kicked sand all over our towels and just wrecked havoc on our tranquil setup. We wound up packing up because these dogs were crazy. They even followed us off the beach and almost back to our hotel. Craziness.

We spent one day an hour away from the beach on an “estancia” (large farm) and had a traditional Argentine asado (cookout, roast). The scenery was beautiful, we got to enjoy a nice sunny day, and we rode horses in an open field. It was the perfect diversion from living in the city. The beef we ate for lunch was DELICIOUS! They had two types of sausage as well as various pieces of beef- all very very good.

My travels will continue this weekend as I leave Thursday with 5 of my friends for Bariloche, Patagonia. It will be a 20 hour bus ride each way and we will spend 3 nights there and return to Buenos Aires on Tuesday. We have a break from school for Semana Santa (Easter/Holy week) this week so we are trying to go as far away as possible since this our only chance to do so. Then 2 weeks later we will travel to the most popular beach resort in South America- Punta del Este, Uruguay. These next couple of weeks are a little crazy but I’m excited to be seeing more than just the city.