Alicante is without a doubt a typical tourist town. The bus terminal is nicely laid out and has cubbies for locking away your things for the day, the local bus system is easy to navigate, suitcases were a common sight and I heard almost as much German and British English as I did Spanish. But there is usually tourism for a reason, namely beautiful beaches, and Alicante did not disappoint. Particularly so after an especially challenging 24 hours up the coast in Valencia, a city who’s street map could easily be converted into a book of mazes, placed next to the Sudoku puzzles in the bookstore. Gorgeous, clean, easy to navigate, but a little touristy? I was happy for the trade off.
I didn’t do much more than relax and walk the beaches, either, and I’m sure my photographs show that. Enjoy a little look into the tourist town that helped me reclaim my sanity, something I desperately need to complete the next four or so months living out of a carry on suitcase.
Have you ever really enjoyed a place that wasn’t especially authentic? What do you think of Alicante, Spain? How’d you like that fancy vocabulary word in the title?
As “well traveled” as my relatives like to say I am, let’s be clear that I didn’t know very much about Spain before arriving in Barcelona. I didn’t even realize until about two weeks ago that Barcelona doesn’t speak Spanish as much as it does Catalan, a Spanish-y French-y language of its own. Thankfully most people are bilingual (if not trilingual) and can communicate in Spanish quite easily, but my “remember and practice Spanish in Spain” plan got off to a rocky, this-isn’t-Spanish-is-it start. So I’m not exaggerating when I say I didn’t know anything about Spain before arriving. During my five days in the city, Barcelona (and my Italian Couchsurfing hosts) taught me quite a few lessons.
Lesson 1: Spain is really, really old.
Germany was impressive with its 15th century towers, but Barcelona blew those timelines out of the water. They have sections of an old Roman wall dating back to the 4th century, for example. Just try to even imagine life in the 4th century… because I can’t. That’s so old, it’s abstract. And there’s even remains of a temple dating from the first century BC, which is even more difficult to imagine. All I know about BC is… togas, right?
Lesson 2: What is a “Tapa”?
You might be like me in the sense that you understand that Spain has something you eat called Tapas and they are famous, but you have no clue what the hell that even means. Well, folks, the truth is a little anticlimactic. Tapas can literally be anything. It just means a small portion of food to be eaten with your beer (or other alcoholic drink of choice), like cheese, olives or ham.
Lesson 3: Tomatoes are for spreading.
Tomatoes are not to be cut and consumed in slices, tomatoes are not to be squished into a paste and become part of a pizza (at least not all the time). No, tomatoes are to be cut in half and then the insides are to be dragged across pieces of toasted bread until it’s pink and delicious. Olive oil and salt as desired. (If you get the chance, try this. Simple genius.)
Lesson 4: Dancing is for everyone.
I don’t really do nightlife. I definitely don’t do strobe lights, and I prefer my beers with laughter and for the grocery store price. Still, I took it upon myself to do research into Barcelona’s nightclub scene for the blog. Or maybe my Italian friend just invited me out and I said “Sure, why not!” When in Barcelona. In any case, first, the club we went to lacked strobe lights, which was a huge plus. Second, I was astonished by the variety of people in the place. Not just young high school and college-aged folks, but older twenties. And also some people in their forties, some married people, some single people, some dating people, some guy in a wheelchair, also a giant group of 50+ year old lesbians. Everyone came to the club, bought their overpriced drinks and then got down to the business of dancing, laughing, and generally just having a great time.
Lesson 5: It’s impossible to sleep early (unless you know magic).
This was the case in Argentina as well, but people in Spain don’t eat dinner until it’s late; most restaurants are open and ready at 8 and people will eat as late as 11 at night. This means that even if you don’t go out on the town until 3am (see above), it’s still pretty tough to get back home, stop talking to whomever you’re with and catch some shut-eye before the next day rolls in. I love sleeping early and I adore waking up with the sun to enjoy the quiet morning hours, but in Barcelona, it just wasn’t possible.
I’ve only been in Spain for about a week now, so if I say anymore, it’ll become borderline presumptuous and pretentious, two things I’d really prefer not to be. I really enjoyed Barcelona, the balconies all over the city were breathtaking and I found the streets surprisingly easy to navigate, despite the insanity of several large roundabouts with ~8 streets coming out of it, all at different angles. I’m really curious to see whether I’ll like Barcelona more or less so be after seeing several Spanish cities; it’s hard to pick your favorite cereal when you’ve never tasted more than one kind. But regardless of what opinions I form later, I left Barcelona behind with quite a few fond memories, and not only of the tapas.
At the end of the day, Barcelona was the perfect introduction. Spain, it’s very nice to meet you.
Germany holds a very special place in my heart. Not only can I understand what’s going on for once, thanks to years of German instruction and a semester in Austria, but the things that are going on usually make sense. There’s masterful public transportation. I have more than a few friends scattered all of the country. To top it all off, there’s little to no crime, so arriving in Germany is not just exciting (dark beer! curry wurst!) but, sigh, comfortable.
And now, my parents are moving there.
Yes, my expat-ness has officially rubbed off onto my poor, unsuspecting parents and my dad has accepted a job transfer to a plant in Germany. And he’s dragged his suitcases across the ocean and is squatting in a hotel at the moment in the small little town of Halle and der Saale, a short drive away from Leipzig, where I had a happy reunion with my Finnish friend Pinja less than a year ago. He’s begun work, my mom is wrapping up life in Pittsburgh, and then in April, she’ll complete her own leg of the journey to Halle an der Saale and they’ll set up house in a house. Coincidentally, I’ll also be headed to Germany at the same time… oh wait. That’s not a coincidence. It’s just my excellent planning, muahaha.
Anyhow, I am running away from the point of this post. I visited Halle for a few days before my flight to Barcelona, Spain, and was surprisingly quite… impressed. Not only was the city small, quaint and full of history, but it had done an excellent job of not just preserving that history, but giving it a new usefulness and function in the modern world. Now, I’ve not been to many small towns in Germany (maybe Lübeck counts?) so I can’t speak for all, though I wouldn’t be surprised in Halle an der Saale wasn’t the only little city to do such a phenomenal job of balancing history with today’s world. But I can only talk about what I know. These are my favorite ways Halle an der Saale brings its past into the present (and who knows what else I’ll discover, come April!).
Moritzburg Castle & Saxony-Anhalt’s Art Museum
If you’ve ever been to Halle an der Saale, this is probably the building you knew I was going to bring up. Because it’s great. This castle was built in the fifteenth century and as most castle stories go, people were fighting over dumb things and actually important things got burned. Like beautiful, giant castles. Anyways, after years of deteriorating, finally the city of Halle was given rights to the property and after that whole DDR situation was dealt with, a gorgeous and modern art museum was created. Now, instead of recreating the castle walls, though, Halle an der Salle decided to stabilize what ruins there were, preserve them, and then built a sleek metal/glass building within the walls. It looks like this museum literally rises from the ashes, if you will.
Dramatic effect, indeed. Well played, Halle.
Market Church of Saint Mary (Marienkirche)
This church sits right in the main plaza of the city and is pretty iconic, for good reason. Not only does Halle an der Saale incorporate their history into today, but they’ve even got a history of incorporating history, as seen with Marienkirche. Why do you think this church has 4 towers? Nope, it’s not because the architects were weird. (Though maybe they were, who can say?) It’s because some important Catholic Germans wanted to build a giant church to impress all of the townspeople and make sure they didn’t join the Reformation. But instead of tearing the two existing churches completely down, they left the towers in place and connected them with the new nave (fancy speak for the middle part of a church).
(Also, a bit of historical irony, it was within this partially-built church that some important German dude gave a speech and converted the congregation to Protestantism, the exact thing the construction of the fancy church was supposed to ward off. Ouch. See Wikipedia for more drama.)
But that’s not the only way the Market Church of Saint Mary has fought off being dated. These days, instead of closing off the tower stairs and declaring them unfit for traversing, the city of Halle installed new, metal, spiral staircases in both front towers, maintains the top bridge/platforms and leads tours up, across and back down, twice a day. How do I know that, you ask? Because out of sheer luck, I found myself in the right place at the right time and joined the tour group, stepped up those steep metal stairs, visited the indoor platforms and walked across the hanging bridge, hundreds of feet above ground. How often do you get to do that in towers dating from the 1500s? (On second thought, maybe that’s not on your to-do list…)
The Francke Foundation Homes
In 1695, a German guy (Can you guess his last name?) decided to set up an orphanage and religious school for poor kids and anyone else who wanted to attend classes or live there. It was a huge success and expanded into an entire complex (teacher training, a pharmacy, library, etc.), all with matching white buildings in a row. Until the dumb WWII bombings and later DDR situation, things were going well and the place was huge. Nowadays, they’ve rebuilt and repaired the damage and started up all of the social programs again. Big-whoopty-do, right? But that’s not the entire reason I was so impressed with this old complex
No, the real kicker is that the library holds books that are hundreds of years old, in a building built completely out of the original materials: nails, floorboards, bookshelves and all. It’s fully functional, beautifully done and you’re allowed to walk into the first section of the room and touch a couple books. And then, they’ve digitally scanned a ton of the super old books so that you can look at the books online. Not only is that modern, but it contributes to the book’s preservation in the long run and it’s just super cool.
The Main Square
Alright, so this one isn’t really so unique, but I still love how Halle’s modern transportation, street cars, go right through the historical center square. Berlin also has a trolley hub right in one of its historical centers, and I’m sure there are plenty of other cities that qualify on the same account. But there’s just something about seeing that bright red street car pull up in front of a 15th century clock tower (or in this picture’s case, a 16th century church) and let off a bunch of Germans, some of whom have their face in an iPhone. I adore it.
There are a couple more honorable mentions, here:
The Handel Museum is built inside of the house George Handel (a famous composer) was born in.
A square of apartments are being put into renovated 15th-18th century buildings with a courtyard.
The Giebichenstein Castle also houses a museum and University, though I’ve never seen it myself (parts of it are closed in winter so I didn’t make it up there).
I only had a few days in Halle an der Saale, but it was quite a lovely time. If you’re ever in the area, it would certainly not be a waste of time! And say hello to my parents, too, while you’re there.
What do you think of Halle an der Salle, Germany? Which modern/medieval mash up was your favorite?
Planning next year has been a long and drawn out affair. I’ve cycled through probably a hundred different ideas. I’ve researched and contacted people in areas where I wanted to go, asked about opportunities galore and looked up flight costs and cost-per-day averages and border crossings and visa restrictions in what feels like half the world. And then I’d fink out on my plans or stumble onto something else amazing, and change my mind. And then I did it all over again.
It’s now less than a week until Christmas and less than two weeks away from the new year, but finally, FINALLY, I’ve figured it out. And booked the flight. And I feel so relieved and happy and excited, because this time, my plans fit like a glove and I don’t have a gut feeling holding me back on a single thing.
Before I reveal anything, let’s take a moment to mourn my discarded travel plans that weren’t able to come to life, at least not yet.
Backpack & Volunteer Around Mexico
This was plan numero uno, and after plenty of research, I came up with very little to actually do in Mexico. Well, there was one place on the West coast where I could work at an orphanage, and there were about a million opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, but the in-between was dark and unpromising, volunteer-project-wise. I’m sure more opportunities would have opened up once I got on the ground, but then idea numero dos popped up.
Backpack & Volunteer From Costa Rica to Mexico
I was alerted that an old family friend worked for an NGO in Nicaragua. Perfect, an in with a reputable place to volunteer. I also thought about the weather and that it would be a good idea to follow the warmth, so to say, and start South, instead, ending in Mexico during the summer months. My biggest dilemma in planning this was just how much I wanted to see in merely 8 weeks. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize AND Mexico? That’s only one week, per country. Impossible. And for some reason, I just had a weird feeling that kept stopping me from booking my flights.
Volunteer in Tanzania
Then I found a really cool volunteer project that was both local, cheap-ish and had a wide range of really inspiring projects I could work in. This plan died when I looked up how much all the vaccinations and visa costs were, though. I’d still love to volunteer and spend some time in Africa, but I need more than a month to get my ducks in a row, first. This is on my radar for the distant future. I’m 100% sure that at some point, Sally in Africa will happen.
Backpack The Balkans
I’ve always wanted to head through Eastern Europe, and with my parents relocating to an area near Berlin, the timing seemed perfect. The only thing about that same timing, though, is that I only have 10-11 weeks to do this and almost twice as many countries I want to visit. And if you know me, then you know that I can’t stand rushing from one place to the next. But deadlines are deadlines, and I need to be in Germany in April and the USA in July for some non-negotiable events; that’s just how the cookie/my Balkan-backpacking plans crumble into little tiny dead pieces.
So… what have I decided?
Did you catch what I just mentioned about Germany in April? (Now you did!) My parents are relocating to Germany for my dad’s work. So to figure out my plans once and for all, I went back to basics. I want to practice my Spanish. I don’t want to spend a million dollars on flights; I want to be closer to where I need to be for those big fixed events. Which led me to the conclusion that at the beginning of February, I should get on a plane headed for:
Only long enough to settle my junk into my dad’s nice new place (he’ll arrive before me, my mom will arrive later), because booking round trip tickets is a lot less of a headache than two one-way. As soon as any jet lag has passed and I’ve had a dark beer and some bretzel, then I’ll be taking a train to:
I’m sure you figured that out, right? Where else in Europe can I practice my Spanish? I have about two months before my mom arrives in Germany and I want to be there to help her settle in. So I’ll be… around Spain. I haven’t made those plans very well yet. But I’d like to spend the majority of my time outside of the city, as living in rural Korea has turned me into a little bit of a country girl. On my way back to Germany at the end of my two months, I want to make a stop in:
[February 2014 edit: These plans have already changed again! I’ll be spending only one month in Spain and then heading outside of the Schengen Visa Zone to Ireland and the UK for another month.]
How could I not? If I had another two months on my Schengen visa then I’d spend it exploring France, as well. Unfortunately I have to choose, so I’ll just spend a few days in the big city, take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and get even fatter than I already will be from eating tapas all day. Solid plan, I know.
Back in Germany…
I get to watch the shock on my mother’s face as she discovers all of these things about Germans are actually true. And pressure her into eating deli meat before 10am. I’ll probably just be doing a lot of boring things like visiting the post office and mapping the way to the local train station, but because it’ll be with my mom, in Germany, it’ll be kind of fun. I’ll also get a taste rural German life, because my parents will be living out in the countryside, thanks to my dad’s work.
Oh, and I’ll say hi to some friends along the way (Vienna, anyone?), but before long I need to head out to my next destination:
Somewhere in Eastern Europe
So vague, I know. Basically I want to be outside of the Schengen zone and not moving around too much, but still in a good place to take some two- or three-day trips. Bosnia, Serbia or Romania are all good contenders at the moment. We shall see! My trip will come to a close at the end of June, I’ll fly back to the USA for a wedding the second week of July, and from there, it looks like a return to Korea is in my future. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, planning until July is good enough for me!)
Wait, so… what will I be doing exactly?
Other than eating everything I can stuff in my face? Brushing up on that Spanish that I’ve let deteriorate a little too much. I’d also like to volunteer and maybe also work for accommodation, so I won’t say a WWOOF is out of the question. I would love to make some new friends, using Couchsurfing. And perhaps even run into an old friend or two, reunion-style. Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to be living with my face in a Lonely Planet book. Sightseeing is great, visiting new cities is great, but I’m interested in a more culturally involved experience. Where will that take me? Well, who knows.
If I could know, maybe I wouldn’t want to find out. It’s the journey, right?
How You Can Help
Seeing as I haven’t planned out my time in Spain or Eastern Europe yet, any knowledgeable input would be really appreciated. I can use all the info you can throw at me!
What do you suggest I see while I’m in Spain? Do you know of any volunteering opportunities that I could be a part of?
What’s a good base in Eastern Europe that you would recommend? What was your favorite country, there? How about volunteer projects in the area?
Trip insurance suggestions?
If you can’t tell, folks, I’m excited! And so glad that this plan is complete and set in plane-ticket stone; it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this settled so I can sit back and relax this holiday season.
So with that, I wish you guys a wonderful end of the year full of cookies, happy memories, things with bright lights all over them and as many laughs as your diaphragm can stand. I know I’ll be doing the same.
Hamburg was a pretty city, partially thanks to all of the waterways and ports throughout the city. In the Innenalster, or inner port, buildings are built directly next to the waterway, so close that people on top of boats could have climbed right onto a sidewalk if they had wanted to. This building’s bright white facade impressed me, especially placed next to the dark port water. You know how I love a good contrast, right?
Germany is one of those countries with its ducks all in a row when it comes to transportation. Public transportation is everywhere, convenient and cheap. Cars are small, sometimes battery powered and gas is expensive, which prohibits people from driving for dumb reasons. Scooters and motorcycles are more common than uncommon. Walking for long stretches is considered usual, and when you can’t walk, then the answer is to bike.
Biking is everywhere. Bikers have their own lanes, either part of the road or the sidewalk, and if you’re walking in the bike lane someone will yell at you and possibly just fly past you at high speeds, scaring you poopless. Most people have mastered one handed biking, biking with heavy bags, biking around sharp corners without wiping out. It’s amazing.
So, yeah, I took a lot of pictures of bicycles while I was in Germany. Why not?
Last January, 2013, my mom and I headed to Istanbul from our respective corners of the globe. We had planned a short, joint vacation of only 11 days. When I came back, I was overwhelmed with all that I’d seen and done and managed to publish very little about our time there. The city was beautiful, fascinating, busy with quiet corners and full of surprises. I didn’t do it justice. This is my attempt to remedy that situation.
Because it’s been more than 10 months since that trip, my memories are a little… unfresh, shall we say? But that’s what pictures are for. Instead of piecing together fragments of memories and filling the holes with untruths, I’ve put together a series of pictures that best captures what the vacation was like for us. Below the photographs, I’ve written little descriptions and context. While it’s not a linear story per say, hopefully these snapshots of our vacation can still paint a picture, sporadic as it may be.
What better way to begin than with the famous Blue Mosque? One of the more spectacular mosques in Istanbul, it’s also on the top of every visitor’s list, day 1, first thing. But it’s only one of many; mosques are everywhere and many of them are unbelievably beautiful, even the buildings meant simply for the neighborhood. The call to prayer rings out several times a day, throughout the city, and became more of a lullaby for me than anything else.
Anytime I visit a country, I make it top priority to find an outdoor market, if possible. Markets are busy and loud, so it’s difficult to speak to whoever you’re with and you find yourself in a strange, singular bubble of quiet inside the chaos. The things they sell are endlessly fascinating and are a real snapshot into the soul of the country. Olives are a big deal in Turkey, the climate is ideal for variety and quality. (Yes, I was coerced into tasting an olive, because maybe I just don’t like “bad” olives, but it turns out that I’m just not a fan. Sad day.) Fishing is also a predictable staple, considering the heart of Istanbul are the rivers that surround the three distinct “continents”.
The outdoor food markets are wonderful, but the outdoor goods markets, or bazaars are even more wonderful. If I was much of a “shopper”, I would have emptied my wallet right about here. The little avenues with lines of shops are all over the main parts of the city; I’m not sure about more residential areas, time was unfortunately short.
You also can’t talk about Istanbul or bazaars without talking about THE Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar her royal self. ‘Nuff said. Also, my iPhone photos from this particular visit were total crap, apologies.
I love stepping outside of the big city and flashing lights to see what everyday life is all about in a country. (Or “off the beaten path”, SEO BOOST!) Our tour guide, Salih, took us to these winding roads in a neighborhood several miles outside of the city center, Eyüp. It was one of the best parts of the trip, because the neighborhood is especially rife with contrasts, one of my favorite things. Crumbling homes stood directly next to recently remodeled places, painted bright colors and returned to glory. The neighborhood was originally home to wealthy Jewish families who were punished by a population exchange with Greece in the 1920s and had to abandon their homes. Hence, the Greek people who moved in created this all-in-Greek-curriculum school, which holds elementary, middle and high school students in one building. As one would expect, after so many years, enrollment has dwindled.
I also need to say sorry for never taking a decent picture of the classic Turkish tea. I have a picture of my mom drinking tea, but I’m pretty sure I would be murdered if it made its way onto this blog. Tea is everywhere, delicious, and you can’t eat baklava without it or you are breaking rules and the higher order will punish you in due time.
Last but not least, here’s a crooked photograph of me giving my mom a noogie in front of a historical monument, the Hippodrome of Constantinople built in AD 203 by the Emperor Septimius Severus.
My vacation in Germany lasted 13 days total, and I expected it to rain at least once. No one can hope for clear, blue skies for two straight weeks, right? Well, I was treated to day after day of exactly the opposite of dreary weather. Occasional clouds framed by a bright, clear, beautiful blue sky rolled above me. Every day was dry and gorgeous, until finally at 9pm, the night before my flight back to Korea, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. And it was one of those rare, strong but beautiful thunderstorms.
So while practicing the deceptively difficult field of architectural photography, I kept finding myself taking the same photograph, just different. And they were all gorgeous, because of those bright blue skies behind the subject at hand. Looking through my pictures, I was blown away by how many gorgeous skies made their way into my documentation. So if you’re having a rough, rainy day, maybe you can use these photographs to take you back to sunnier times. They definitely do that for me.
I think people are fascinating. Anytime I have a chance to stare, unhindered and undiscovered for more than a minute, I rejoice in it. I don’t like to judge people for what they’re doing necessarily, and I don’t only stare at weirdos (though that’s always interesting). I just find humans, in general, to be so fascinating. The way someone drinks their coffee, carries their bag, avoids or hops over a big crack in the sidewalk.
So obviously, if you give me a camera, I’m gonna take some creepy photographs of people around me. It’s just inevitable. I had a great time photographing people in Germany during my last vacation, of course often without their knowledge. Occasionally I got caught. It was cool, no one paid mind really. And at the end of the day, I’m happy with my creeping (creepy?) results. What do you think?