Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tack sa mycket, Sweden

I can't believe my time here is at an end! I know I say it just about every post, but honestly the time really did go by so incredibly fast. It actually scares me since I only have a few quarters left at UCLA. How can life do this to me?! Why does it fast forward all of the best years?! Although its not fair, I am in no position to complain. I've truly been blessed to add these five months in Sweden to my book of experiences. I cannot thank my parents enough for all of their support both tangible and emotional. And really all of my family and friends back home for the early morning Skypes and late night catch-ups. And of course I thank God everyday for the opportunities he has granted me.

Its hard to recap my experiences abroad. There's so much! So many people, places, culture and foods eaten! Numerous forms of public transportation taken; countless time spent lost; leaves turned, fell, and snow frosted; new friends, old friends, hostels, B&B's, apartments, homes, dorms. Over 70 miles jogged, 2,165 pictures taken, 150 cups of coffee consumed. I've worn through two pairs of shoes and I even used a notebook, Dad ;) Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, France, Austria, Germany... Lund, Malmo, Lomma, Copenhagen, Malaga, Cordoba, Granada, Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, Paris, Vienna, Erlangen, Nuremberg, Wurzburg.

I will always have a soft-spot for Sweden! I've discovered a ton of things here, about myself, about others, about...biking in pouring windy rain.. (I learned NOT to do that; take the bus for Christ's sake). A lot of things revealed are trivial, some deep, most cliche. Studying abroad in fall of junior year is a perfect point in college to take a break from the routines you may take advantage of, the challenging classes, the same circle friends (that I can't wait to return to!!), and if you go to UCLA the 50 billion clubs/associations/activities you're surely involved in. It gave me a reality check in many ways and certainly gave me time to think.

On a not so serious note I did discover I LOVE mangos. Also I now like olives and some mushrooms. Plot twist. I've also decided I'm retired at heart. Molly and I lost count of the number of times we took part in activities that are really only ok for grandparents to do; you know go on long liesurely morning walks, spend more than 20 minutes in a greeting card store, or in a candle store, go to bed before 10 PM... I'm really concerned what will happen when I actually get old if I already enjoy these activities HA. I'm now aware I can live without peanut butter (kinda). And on that note I can now (kinda) cook/bake but only using the metric system so the US better switch stat. As you probably know I'm now obsessed with gluhwein, kanelbullar, scarves, Christmas and black Swedish coffee. Traveling only made me want to learn more history and languages (lets be real if I could just learn one language that would be an accomplishment).

More importantly, I can survive! YAY! This is basically a successful experience if I live to the end, right? First time completely independent of my family (I swear I'm not spoiled, I'm just a baby ha) and I will make it back home in one piece. But, despite your undeniable awesomeness Europe, I know I probably couldn't live outside of the great USA for an extended period of time. Some other things discovered were merely reminders such as the importance of family and friends (you know the true ones) and the fact that I personally thrive off of challenging routines. I just don't get things done when my schedule isn't full! I have to be doing something, anything, always. Don't get me wrong five months of life abroad was bliss, but I'm ready to get back to real life.

UCLA. I swear to savor every last second of you! Five quarters is not enough but I will do everything UCLA related as I can. Because one quarter away from it brought be to realize I might have a breakdown at graduation... It will be tears of sadness, pain, and longing NOT happiness in those cap and gown pictures on that ominous June afternoon. But, for as great as UCLA is being away reminded me that life is not like college; groups, activities, etc are not just thrown in your face in the real life. If you want something you're going to have to speak up and go out and get it, for as cliche as that sounds. On that note, being abroad has definitely asserted the fact that graduate school and NOT real life is in my near future haha

No matter what, I know I'm going to miss life in Sweden a ton. I can already feel it! All of the beautiful seasons, people, cobblestoned streets and bike craziness. I'm going to miss taking an hour to sip my coffee while watching Grey's reruns, corridor parties, countryside runs, mouthwatering chocolate, and playing the "what's the English word for..." game with all my favorite Swedes! I will definitely be back in this lovely country again, but for now I'm ready for my sunny, homey, Bruin-ized, car driving, bright and lively southern California.

Home for the holidays never meant so much! See you in a few hours, Riverside!

Is this a non-smoking flight?

OMGGG, guys...I'm pretty sure all commercial flights are non-smoking! Or, at least the 10 European aircrafts I've been on in the past 5 months definitely have a smoke detector in the lavatory (who even uses that word??) While I won't miss that redundancy, I will miss that mind boggling feeling of waking up in one country and ending the day at some other point on the map. Europe, you've blessed me with new experiences, friends, foods, and appreciation for hotels (amongst much more!) There was no better way to end my travels than by spending time with close friends revisiting a city close to my heart and discovering new ones. Here's to my last traveling post!

Classes officially ended on December 10th for me, so naturally I found myself at the Copenhagen airport for the next sunrise! This time "Vienna Waits for Me" (haaa haaa I'm too funny). Anyway, I arrived early afternoon which worked perfectly for one who still baffles at public transportation, second guessing every train/plane/bus I get on (did that say platform 2? This is platform 2, right? What if its not?!). Don't worry Angela, I've got busses down... Anyway, I spent the afternoon on a 5 mile jog through the beautiful, grand, bustling city of Vienna. I made sure to hit a few key points of interest...the Marriott Hotel, Stadtpark, and Pizzeria Ristorante, DUH. I left part of my heart in Vienna when I last visited with the fam in 2008. Spending 3 weeks here made the city feel like a second home and coming back was honestly the greatest! I can't believe I considered skipping this trip; there's a reason some places are "touristy" and I've learned some things are worth visiting again. Although, Vienna is definitely not the same without ma fam. Xo

Molly joined me in the evening and we took a night stroll to St. Stephens Cathedral (still under construction, of course). More importantly, I visited my first of MANY Christmas Markets. Muahaha Molly and I stopped at Divina Art Christmas Market on Karlsplatz, where Vienna introduced me to another life-long love: Gluhwein. Technically translated as "glow wine" its the German-speaking countries' gift to the world; it's Christmas in adorable mugs; and the only thing I will stand multiple hours in below freezing weather for. Basically, its just true love in the form of mulled wine ;)

I could be a morning person for this view..

A run in Stadtpark; Hello Mr. Strauss nice to see you again

St. Stephans
Family's frequented restaurant hehe  
Karlsplatz at night  

The next morning Molly and I woke up just in time for our hostels 3 euro buffet breakfast, at which we stole our lunch hehe. We spent the early afternoon touring the Schonbrunn Palace. To our surprise, one of the dozen Viennese Christmas Markets also happened to be in front. So of course, ample time was spent admiring all of the handcrafted candles, ornaments, and glass work. This afternoon trip also marks the beginning of my Christmas mug obsession. If it weren't for Molly and Annemarie, I'd be adding to my apartment's already overflowing supply of mugs... We tried to spend some time in the palace gardens, except, 1. We were freezing. This was actually the coldest I'd been my entire time in Europe so we spent a lot of time taking trips in doors to thaw out. 2. UH, its winter...which means nothing for socal, but it definitely means there are NO pretty colorful flowers blooming in the gardens. oops But, the trip was definitely worth it!!
This is not just a map; this is a TREASURE MAP; a treasure map of Christmas indicating all of the Christmas markets in Vienna.
Schonbrunn Palace

Gluhwein!!! and hat hair

The dementors are coming...
Next, we wandered through the Museum District. And of course we discovered more holiday spirit at Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz. Here we ate this giant baked potato that we thought for sure would cause a heart attack. Basically, this entire day was the consumption of delicious food and drink placed sporadically between different christmas markets. Like, we actually had to remind each other when was a reasonable time to eat again. Have we done enough walking? Did we do ANY type of activity between this pastry and the last? 

Either way, after admiring the grandeur of the museums as well as the Hofsburg Palace, we moved on the Vienna's most famous Christmas market simply known as the Viennese Christmas Market. Its centered in front of the City Hall. One of the largest markets I'd encounter this trip, the entire area glimmered with christmas lights and decorations. Customers crowded every single stall; half of the stalls were dedicated to food (desserts, that huge potato thing, and roasted nuts) and drink (gluhwein and non-alcoholic gluhwein for the kids) and the rest crafts, toys, decorations. After taking a million pictures, Molly and I came to the consensus that 28 degrees does not feel good to the body, especially when those bodies belong to worn travelers whose shoes and leggings were officially shreds (no exaggeration). 

Ah yes, krapfens are gigantic 
Hofburg Palace

Dinner in the Wild Wild West.  A balanced meal of chocolate, cookies, and gummies!
Day three in Vienna started with the farmers market just outside our hostel, known as Naschmarkt. Then a stroll by the Butterfly House just because I recently learned they creep Molly out haha. Last time I was in Vienna, my family frequented this tiny hole in the wall bakery with the most delicious apple strudel. So this morning, we were on a mission to find it! Without a name or address, we were left with my family's clues... located near a yellow church, the bakery is "small, yellow, and has windows"... Ah! well since we know it has windows, that narrows it down... However, it did make for a nice morning adventure which showed us some new streets, the Albertina, and yes, eventually a yellow church. We enjoyed apple strudel over coffee at a nearby cafe (toes thawing out), before we ventured around to more churches and the Manner wafer store.

Inside St. Stephens Cathedral 
Molly in the obnoxiously pink Manner store
This church doesnt even make it on the list of things to see in Vienna. Its remarkable inside. 
Obviously had lunch at Pizzeria Ristorante 
Around three-ish we headed to the Vienna State Opera House to wait in line for the left over standing-only tickets. Best part, they were only 3 euros!! Granted we had to stay sitting in line until the show began at 5 but who better to do this with than Molly and the elderly (yessss, finally with our people!). Once we finally got inside, it was pretty surreal. The interior of the building is just as remarkable as its exterior. And once the "real" audience (i.e. not those dressed in jeans taking pictures, guilty...) arrived it was almost as if we were spying on this high class society haha. Dressed in heels and pearls (literally) they were all drinking champagne and doing other fancy stuff like checking in their luxurious fur coats. Molly and I decided right then that we would start a bucket list and returning to the Vienna Opera in proper attire would be number one! We stayed for two acts of the opera (Tristan and Isolde) before our feet gave out and we headed back to the hostel. 
Molly with her people

Thanks Grammy for my blanket scarf heeeheee
Ugh, dont you hate when your dinner gets stuck?? hahah
Saturday was travel day, but not until we visited our last Christmas market at Spittleburg. After Molly left, I had a few hours to myself, so I took a final jog around Ringstrasse, which is basically a bunch of streets encircling the center of town (one of the many feats of Emperor Fanz Joseph, whose personal saying was "One must work until one drops from exhaustion!", which really disturbed Molly and I; it did not sit well with our current life motto of "tourism, mid-morning espresso and desserts followed by careless walks to various christmas markets", which unbelievable as it sounds, had become our life. Good god I will DIE after Week 1 of Winter Quarter hahaah). Anyway, the run was fantastic. It's such an easy way to see the city and the best way to say good-bye with one last wrap up. I got to see the Votive Church, Hofburg Palace, the State Opera House, the Museum District, City Hall, Karlskirche, the Congress building, the Danube River, Stadtpark, the Marriott, and Naschtmarkt all in 50 minutes! Not to mention the fog finally rolled away leaving behind the bluest of skies I'd seen in weeks. 

Museum quarter and Christmasmarkt
Congress building
City Hall with the Christmasmarkt in front
I mean, my love for Powell is infinite...but this is Vienna University's library...
Votive Church

The second leg of my trip began with a 5 hour train from Vienna to Nuremberg where family friends picked me up. Annemarie, a former teammate of Alyssa's at Temple, recently moved back to her quaint hometown Erlangen, just outside of Nurmeberg and her family graciously opened their house to me for the next few days! I cannot even begin to tell you how great it was to be in a home after so long! After some gluhwein with the family I curled up in their spare bedroom and hibernated until practically noon the next day hehehe

On Sunday, we had a delicious breakfast of toast with an assortment of jams, spreads, cheeses and meats. It so beats boring cereal from back home. Actually, besides the obvious IN-N-OUT, I really have gotten over my US food cravings. In fact, I already know that the food I eat here is going to be sorely missed when I get home. Also, the number of cups of coffee I now consume has spiraled out of control. So fika breaks are definitely something I will be continuing in LA. 

After breakfast Annemarie took me to the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds Museum. The tour through the museum was incredibly eye opening and reminded me of the bias often overlooked in history. We really only learn of Hitler and the Nazi party in reference to WWII post 1942, because, well, that was the year US entered the war. But you have no idea what led to the rise of the party, Hitler, or the turmoil that bred oppression. Germany's account of its own history up to WWII goes deeper than the US' surface scratching retelling. I also had no idea that Nuremberg played such a huge role in the formation of the Nazi party. With Hitler coming form Austria, it makes sense that his first stationing point would be somewhere in southern Germany. The Documentation Center, which is where the museum is located, is the semi completed Congress Hall designed by the Nazis for nearly 50, 000 people. The exhibition focuses on the 19 chronologically organized areas: the history of the party rallies, the buildings of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, the "Nuremberg Laws" of 1935, the "Nuremberg trial" against the main leaders of the Nazi crimes 1945/46, and his twelve subsequent trials and the difficult handling of the Nazi architectural heritage after 1945. Furthermore, the grounds surrounding the building were used for various forms of propaganda and rallies. A lot of the remaining footage we have prior to WWII is actually filmed (or photographed) in Nuremberg. After the museum, we headed over to the Zeppelin Field. Only the grand stands remain while the middle area was actually converted to a soccer field. However, there's open access to the main stand, which means I literally got to stand where Hitler stood. I don't even have the words to describe what that was like...seriously so unreal. 

We went into town to hike up to the Nuremberg Castle which overlooks the city. The castle, and the connected city wall, is massive and impressively withstood the bombing of the war. Heading down the hill, we landed right at the entrance to the WORLDS GREATEST CHRISTMAS MARKET. Actually though, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is considered Europe's most popular market during the holidays. And with good reason! It's located in the central square of Nuremberg's old town. Hundreds of stalls (actually over 180) fill the plaza and its surrounding streets. The market is infamous for its soft gingerbreads and bratwursts (known as "Nuremberger Bratwurst" AKA 3 im Weckla, which translates to "three within bread" since the sausages are small and come in threes), both unique to Nuremberg. Of course there is mulled wine and rum punch (collected another mug, sorrynotsorry...) as well as Feuerzangenbowle (please try to pronounce that again!). Annemarie and I translated this as "fire pliers punch" which we assumed to be a reference to the way the sugared-rum wine is prepared. The market also includes the Children's Christmas Market, the Sternenhaus, the Market of the twin towns. Nuremberg is paired with 13 different cities and each has a represented stall selling typical products from its perspective country. Atlanta, Georgia is twinned with Nuremberg, and fun fact, Riverside is paired with Erlangen!! How crazy is that?! Anywho, I'm not sure how I will ever celebrate the Christmas season again without these markets!! Annemarie suggested I just come back every year. Good plan. But really, it is the coziest and warmest gathering on such chilly evenings. There isn't even a need to buy anything, just the atmosphere is infectious. Sipping on warm drinks, chatting, and people watching all admist some Christmas cheer is really all I need. I let Annemarie know this was one of the best days EVER! Hello, she packed it with my four favorite things:
1. Sleeping in 
2. History 
3. Amazing foreign food 
4. Christmas
Does life get better? 
Nuremberg Castle at night


Oh, also, non-Christmas related I saw Albrecht Durer's house. I think my art history teacher would be proud I even remembered his name. 

The next morning, we took a day trip (via car, saaaay whaaat?!) to the nearby city of Wurzburg. The city is as old as the bronze age and filled with churches, castles and buildings whose origins date nearly as far back. However, in WWII 92% of the entire city was destroyed in a single air raid. A lot of the dark spots on the exterior church walls is actually the result of the fires. We toured the Baroque styled Wurzburg Residence which is basically a massive imperial palace. Most remarkable, is its Mirror Cabinet room consisting entirely of glass panels, which were prepared on the back using a special technique: either paintings were produced on the partially recessed mirror ground, or drawings were engraved into a gold ground that was applied on the back of the mirror and then underlaid with dark gloss paint. During WWII, one single fragmented piece of the mirrored wall was detached, and good thing, because the bombing destroyed everything else. What can currently be seen is the hand-painted reconstruction of the original based off the fragment and colored photos. We then just toured the rest of town, including churches, Christmas markets, and the famous bridge (similar to the Charles Bridge in Prague) which was built in the 1400s and gave a breathtaking view of the vineyards surrounding the city. 

The Mirror Cabinet!

Annemarie and I :)
Ugh, couldnt fit anymore Christmas mugs in my bag...
We ended the night at Erlangen's Christmasmarkt which turns out to be one of my favorites. Its so small compared to the others but still full of people. The ground is covered in wood chips and everywhere you turned you saw fir trees. Even the stalls were lined with garland! Too cute. 

My final day in Germany consisted of Christmas shopping! And ended back at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, where else? I am so so very fortunate to the Bohm's for their hospitality, chauffeuring, and tour guiding. Mrs. Bohm even packed me a lunch and sent me off with some gluhwein spices! I proceeded to take the train, to the Vienna underground, to the tram, to the airport, to the Copenhagen train, to the Lund bus... It took me all day!! Lots of reading and sleeping got done that's for sure. I made it back to my place in time to see some of my corridor mates off and pack for my last flight!! 

So excited to see you all so soon,