February 28, 2012

Waking up in Oktoberfest!

The last stop on me and Smitty’s 2 week European adventure (her first trip to Europe!) was an 18-hour stint at Oktoberfest. We boarded the overnight train from Venice to Munich and woke up right in the thick of one of the biggest beer festivals in the world! A friend of Smitty’s decided to fly out and meet us so after finding each other at the train station, we stashed our stuff into a luggage locker and off we were! To be honest, I only remember Oktoberfest as a hazy, beer-infused festival of rides, rollercoasters, bumper cars and a crazy wander around a fun house resulting in a chipped tooth, someone laughing hysterically and basically peeing her pants (cough-cough::Smitty::cough-cough!) and whirling around a rotating tube with the inability to escape it. Ofcourse there were endless liters of beer, beer tents, polka music, bratwurst, bretzels (German pretzels!) and Smitty’s friend tearing apart a grilled chicken with his hands--Oktoberfest brings out the heathens in people! All-in-all we survived and after enjoying one last hazy beer outside the Paulaner tent we caught our overnight train from Munich to Amsterdam…aaaah home I thought. We were so glad we got to experience Oktoberfest (it’s THE Oktoberfest afterall!). A word to the wise, the crowds and commercial aspect of it all can be pretty overwhelming to some visitors—expensive, lots of security and over 1 million visitors every year will put a damper on any beermaids mood and patience! Despite those things though, the mentality of 'here's your beer, no go crazy and have fun!' basically summed up the atmosphere of the entire experience. I’ve heard the small local Oktoberfest parties in and around Germany are quite a sight to see too—less people, more originality and also way too much fun to be had.

If you’re looking to celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich this year…now is a great time to start planning! Ein bier bitte might be the only phrase you’ll need to know :)…oh and work on those arm muscles, those liters of beer are heavy!!

Tonight is the very last night of Smitty’s 3rd trip to Amsterdam and I don’t want her to go! :( We just spent a weekend wandering around the cobblestoned streets of Prague, partying until the wee morning hours in Amsterdam and doing much of the same thing we did back home…only now along the canals of Amsterdam—enjoying 3-hour lunches, drinking at odd hours of the day (it’s 5 o’clock somewhere right?) and laughing at everything and nothing. As soon as I bid adieu to Smithers (we've still got one more night of fun though!), dry my lil teary eyes and catch up on some sleep, I’ll be back with some pics of Smitty does Europe Part 3! Now just counting down until Part 4 ;)…muahaha! 


February 24, 2012

Top 5 Travel Experiences...so far!

Today I'm doing a link-up with fellow blogger and Amsterdam expat Ellen from Company of Clever. I have been BLESSED to be able to live in the beautiful city of Amsterdam and to participate in some pretty amazing adventures along the way. I can't wait to explore the rest of this amazing world and see what other crazy things we can get our hands on! For now though, here's a round-up of my most memorable travel experiences to date! Disclaimer: It was extremely difficult to narrow down to 5 and ofcourse these are in no particular order. I guarantee if you do one or all of these, you're really in store for some unforgettable moments...

Company of Clever

...so here goes! My Top 5 Favorite Travel Experiences... 

1.) Navigating through MOROCCO’s ancient cities and riding camels and sandboarding in the Sahara…followed by sleeping under the stars :)
One of the best holidays Christian and I had was when we spent a week exploring Fez and Marrakech, Morocco! The souks, riads and hospitality of Moroccan people made us fall in love with the country. The best part was when we rode camels into the Sahara, went sandboarding and slept on the dunes under a bazillion twinkly stars!  

2.) Throwing tomatoes at SPAIN’s most famous food fight: LA TOMATINA!
On the last Wednesday of August, thrill-seekers venture from near and far to Bunol, Spain, to take part in a crazy tomato fight that I know we will never forget! We started off the morning at 5AM drinking sangria, laughed our butts off during the hour long tomato-flinging and finished the day drinking Spanish beer and dancing to DJs (tapas were involved too ofcourse!)…unimaginable fun!!! 

3.) Dogsledding and snowmobiling in FINLAND’s Arctic Circle
I’d never even put thought into what snowmobiling and dogsledding was like until I was actually doing it on a trip up to the Arctic Circle with Christian during our semester abroad in Finland. I blogged a bit about it here and can say without a doubt that it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life…check out the video below!
Finland 393
Finland 418

4.) Island hopping in GREECE
Oooooh Greece!! I would return to Greece in an absolute second! Christian, my best friend Smitty, Denis (a French friend Christian and I studied in Finland with) and Emma (an awesome Finn, new friend of ours AND Denis' girlfriend) spent 1 week visiting Santorini and Naxos. Cruising between the Greek isles was just as breathtaking as it sounds…and it was too easy to convert each ferry to a party boat! We’re counting down the minutes until we reunite with Denis and Emma again this summer to cruise around Croatia’s Dalmatian coast :).

5.) Being a part of full-fledged World Cup madness in HOLLAND!
It’s not soccer fever, it’s FOOTBALL FEVER! It sucked me in so much that even I was nearly in tears watching the Dutch team lose to the Spanish in the World Cup Final in 2010 (I joined 250,000 other fans and 5 gigantic live TV screens in Museumplein...you could feel the energy of the crowd deep in your bones!). It was definitely a summer to remember and I can’t wait to dress from head to toe in orange (the color of the Dutch team!) this summer when they compete in the European Cup 2012…ORANJE! ORANJE! ORANJE!

Any AHHH-MAZING experiences that you've had? I'd love to hear them and add them to my list!!! :)

February 23, 2012

Happy Hour in Venice

At this stage of our trip, one of my best friends and partner-in-crime, Smithers, and I were on the road for nearly 2 weeks. We picnicked underneath the Eiffel Tower, took a midnight swim off the shores of Cinque Terre, met a new friend while enjoying fresh wine overlooking the rooftops in Florence, ate the best spaghetti we’ve ever had in Palermo, found paradise lost in the Sicilian town of Cefalu and now, after a long night meeting locals in Catania in a parking lot full of stray cats (yaaa that’s a long story) we were finally en route to Venice, our last stop in Italy! Lugging our bags through ancient towns, staying up all night and laughing up a storm day and night was amazing but we were also exhausted. As soon as we got to our hostel in Venice (at a bright and early 8AM!), the owner let us check in early and we hit the sack…and managed to peel ourselves outta bed several hours later just in time to pay a visit to a trattoria around the corner. Still exhausted. Ok ok, we’ll give Venice a shot tomorrow, we thought. 

We woke up refreshed and ready to hit the town! But we realized we only had 20 hours until we caught our overnight train to Munich for Oktoberfest. We escaped into a little bar (so ironically called Crazy Bar) and decided what to do. A few bloody mary’s and glasses of wine later, we clearly weren’t in the right state to navigate Venice by map so we just got lost! We strolled through tiny piazzas, made turns down alleyways with dead-ends right on the canals and picked up a gelato whenever we wished! The best part of our day was when we escaped into a tiny restaurant and feasted our eyes on a smorgasbord of Italian snacks—balls of marinated goat’s cheese, artichokes, slices of mortadella, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato-basil-mozzarella concoctions and a basket of crusty bread for accompaniment. One of each, another one of those please, ok another one, ok two more of these and one, no two, of whatever that is. We enjoyed every single second of this Italian Happy Hour of ours...GASTRONOMICAL HEAVEN are the words that come to mind. And oh that marinated cheese ball! Like the Americans that we are, we hoped to bring some of these snacks in a nifty to-go box but newsflash! We weren’t in America. With full bellies, we made our way to the train station and said ‘ciao!’ to Italia and thought ‘are we ready for Oktoberfest'?’…or ‘is Oktoberfest ready for us?'.

February 20, 2012

Sicily Pt II: Left Our Hearts in Cefalu!

By some divine power, I stumbled upon this gorgeous seaside town of Cefalu on Sicily’s northern coast during a Google search—yeeaaaa I need to go there I thought. I knew that while I was planning mine and Smitty’s 2 week escapades around Europe, we had to hit Paris, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Venice, and well it just so happened to be the end of September so we squeezed in Oktoberfest in Munich as well :). Sicily was Smitty’s idea. After we picked up our new friend Zach the World Traveler in Florence and had the most amazing pasta of our lives in Palermo, we hopped on the 45 minute train heading eastward towards the coast. As we approached, we saw it around the bend—a medieval Italian oasis right on the Tyrrhenian Sea and sitting under a rocky fortress and lighthouse jutting out from the rocks—Cefalu! We were already in love. Our B&B was right on the water’s edge and a stone’s throw from several candle-lit restaurants with a view of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We had no plans, no expectations and no worries, only smiles and curiosities. We dropped off our bags and wandered into a cozy restaurant next to the sea—2 bottles of wine and several dishes of Italian delicacies later, we raved about how much we were enjoying our time in Sicily! Wandering through the streets at night at the tail-end of tourist season meant the only noise we could hear were the crashing waves against the rocks…and a random vespa engine somewhere off in the distance (and our own giggles!). 

The next morning, after enjoying a cuppa joe on the balcony overlooking the ocean, we set out to discover the place by daylight. Our explorations didn’t take us far because we were sure we found the best spot in town—a bench on a jetty with a view over the bay to the entire town. It felt like we spent hours here! Laughing, observing, sunbathing, me getting creamed by a wave, and reveling in the fact that we were in a small Sicilian town far, far away and no one in the planet could be enjoying this moment as much as we were at that very second. We somehow managed to peel ourselves away from that bench and into the town’s main square. Old Sicilian (oh no, they are NOT Italians, they are Sicilians!) men were gathered on chairs playing cards, smoking cigarettes and watching the world go by. We thought that was a great idea so we grabbed a table on an outdoor terrace and well 18 beers later (and several hours!) we strolled down the street to indulge on a meal of seafood spaghetti, ham & cheese tortellini and mista salads. Oh and we made a quick stop on that bench :)…aaaaand we may have watched the sunset from there too. The entire 3 days we spent in Cefalu felt like one long dream. Smitty and I felt blessed to be best friends experiencing Europe together, felt so humbled to have met a new friend and felt totally completely in love with this place we were sure that no one in the universe had discovered. The time came to leave this magical place as Smithers and I continued in one direction and Zach the World Traveler continued in the other. It was a sad day, we felt like we were saying goodbye to not only 1 new friend, but 2 new friends—to Zach and Cefalu, we hope to see you again :)…
{Bye Zach!}
{…and bye Cefalu! Our nearly perfect view from the train}