Change of Scenery

I drove up from Arizona to Washington these past few days. Along the way I met up with old friends, stayed in some fun cities, and slowly watched the scenery outside the car change.

It’s old hat at this point to draw the parallels between slowly changing scenery and the changes in ones life but I did find it very interesting how different and startling that change was. The trip began in the hot, hot, hot deserts of Arizona – a place that I find very beautiful – and slowly changed as we approached the Inland Empire of California and the cities that came with it. Eventually, lush farmland pasted by and was replaced with more cities – San Jose and San Francisco – before reaching to the jagged mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon, a very foreign sight to a flat-lander like myself. Then the stunning green of Central Oregon and Washington – another odd image for my desert rat eyes – which I will be calling home for a short time.

The vastly different landscapes are so odd to think back on. How can one roll into the next in such a short time without there being a break for the scenery to be rearranged for the next environment? How do all these starkly different but stunningly beautiful worlds exist within a 25 hour drive of each other?

If I wasn’t a college educated lass I would have half a mind to believe small gnomes and woodland creatures are hard at work behind the scenes re-arranging things to suit their whims. As it is, even with the college education it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe it could be real… maybe.

Knowing that there is a world that exists between the desert and sprawling cities intrigues me, as does the idea the somewhere there is a land between farmland and mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously been aware of this in-between land, just the knowledge of it makes me wonder what it’s like to live between two distinct environments inhabiting certain traits of both. What does this gray area look like? Who lives there? Do they consider themselves city-folk or mountain dweller?

I know that there isn’t a conscious realization of this change and that the technical definition of the in-between land I imagine doesn’t exist in reality but I would love to see the city-dwelling mountain man (though, I feel like he/she might look like a flannel loving-hipster and I can’t decide if I’m a fan yet or not). The people that thrive in the margin.

Now the world has stopped spinning and I’m off the road for more than a night. Sitting still is sometimes the hardest speed to travel by. Still, if nothing else, it means that I can study the environment around me and know that it’s not going to change too much any time soon.

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“I Don’t Have Time to Read”

so-many-books-so-little-timeI meet so many people that, once they find out I love reading, say something like “oh, that’s cool – I don’t have time to read.”  The implication is that I have tons of free time, sit around reading all day and have no life.  I’ll be the first to admit, I have no social life but that doesn’t mean that I have copious amounts of time to read.

I’m a college student and for a lot of people that means oodles of free time to frolic about at parties or what-have you.  And I do have quite a bit of free-time but it’s only a precious extra hours between attending class, doing homework, studying (exams and group projects are the bane of my existence), doing the out-of-class readings (yes I am that random student who does the readings in the textbook that the professor never checks), attending clubs, sitting on association and planning boards, and working jobs. Between that all there are still time for things like sleeping, making food (another favorite pastime of mine), family, friends, and the like.

My life, like the lives of many others, gets hectic quickly and I have to purposely make time to read. Throughout my day I find time where ever it might be: between classes, on the bus, on my lunch break, or when I need a 20 minute stop from studying or looking at schoolwork. Because I never really know when I will have time to read, I always carry a book with me.

Once, my roommates, fed up with me bringing books on my dates, stole the book I was reading at the time before I went to the movies. Turns out there was 15 minutes before the movie I could have read but, without a book, I was forced to sit there and slowly get more and more frustrated with my dear roommates for their well-intended actions.

Sometimes this means forcing myself to read even though all I want to do after a busy day is sleep or zone out. I know that like mediation, sitting down to read just 15 minutes can calm me and refocus me. One big help for me is my apartment doesn’t have a TV – yes I still can watch shows online with my computer but that’s allowed me to limit the number of shows I watch.  It helps me better track where my time is actually going and how I’m using it.

Another thing I’ve begun: if a book is boring and I have no interest in it by the 30th page I’ll leave (put the book down and throw it into the give away pile).  This is new for me and I know if might cause some waves with book purists but hear me out: I have a limited amount of time any given week to read and why should I waste that on a book that if painful to read?  For me the choice was clear, if it’s putting me to sleep then it goes. I need a book that captures my attention and makes me want to read it.

So how do I make time to read? Simply by finding the time between other things and being a little picky about what I read. Yep, that’s honestly it.

6 Days in Southern Germany – Part 2

Day 3:

Saturday. I woke up to a rush of messages on my phone… it was the morning after the attack in Paris. My friends in Prague and around Europe were all in shock trying to find out what happened and making sure that those we knew in the city were safe.

My heart goes out to all those affected both my this attack in Paris and the other attacks that happened around the world the days leading up to this. Fortunately, everyone I knew was safe and accounted for.

I didn’t have much time to process everything – which was probably a blessing at the time – since I had a train to catch Munich bound.

Unfortunately, I missed my first train and had to wait in a coffee shop until the next train. Sipping on filter coffee (huzzah! I rarely find plain, American coffee in Europe) I caught up to speed on the situation in Paris and prayed for those affected. It was amazing how quickly social media sites responded and stories of bravery surfaced. I remember one of Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore sheltering guests and it hit me that just a few weeks ago I had wandered through those very shelves that protected people now.

My train arrived and I was able to relax and refocus. I arrived in Munich just in time for my free walking tour.

I’m a big fan of these free walking tours, they’re such a great way to get a brief overview of the city and understand a bit about the city. After the tour I wandered around the Residenz a bit and the garden outside.

Late that night I was finally able to check in to my room, drop my backpack, and eat some much needed food.

Day 4:

Sunday! After wandering around for most of yesterday with my backpack I needed a little extra time to sleep in before heading back out to the city.

Once I was finally moving I headed to Dachau Concentration Camp. Seeing it in light of the recent attacks it was interesting to see how far we’ve come in some respects and how much we still have to go.

I reflected some on Dachau on the train ride back to Munich.. there was a lot to process. I’m glad I got an audio guide. Moving at my own speed is really important to me and I wouldn’t want a tour or travel companion causing me to rush in areas I wanted more time.

Back in Munich I got an early dinner and did a little more walking around the city. I chose to briefly visit the University area and check on a second-hand, English bookstore! I love finding bookstores in every city I visit and collecting books or bookmarks if my suitcase is already full.

Day 5:

Off to another day trip, this time – Neuschwanstein Castle! Getting to Fussen (the city closest to the castle), walking up to the castle, taking the tour, walking back, and taking the train back to Munich is a full day. It probably took 8 or 9 hours but I did enjoy seeing the castle and going on a little walk through the alps.

I realized that I preferred to view the castle from the outside on a walk instead of from the tour on the inside. Regardless, I would still recommend going on the tour through some of the rooms in the castle and having the history and symbolism explained.

Tired, I went to a grocery store in Munich and picked up food for dinner and snacks.

Day 6:

Last day in Munich and on this short trip. I was down to just 5€ left and I was determined not to withdraw any more money since I was leaving later that day. I ended up getting a cappuccino and bagel for breakfast and hoped that, and the granola bar I got the previous night, would be enough to keep me full until I got back to Prague around 4pm.

Somehow I made it back to Prague without dying of hunger, though the first thing I did after getting back to my dorms was buy groceries.

Overall, Southern Germany is beautiful, the people are so welcoming, and I loved my time there! I’m glad that I went alone because there were several days that I moved way slower than usual and I wouldn’t want someone waiting on me. Conversely, there were several times that I moved incredibly quickly or skipped things that I didn’t feel like seeing and I wouldn’t have done that if I was traveling with someone.

All in all, a very successful and fun trip!

6 Days in Southern Germany – Part 1

Day 1:

After finishing my afternoon classes on Thursday I hopped on a bus headed for Germany! Only a few hours later I got off in the town of Regensburg – a small town along the Danube river where I planned on spending a day.

I checked in with were I would be staying and headed back out to wander the city a little and find some dinner. Sadly, most of the good restaurants were filled with other diners so I settled for a kabob. Each kabob I’ve had varies by country to country so, in a way, I think kabobs are a decent way to understand the flavor of a town or region.

After a long day of classes, travel, and wandering I fell asleep as soon as I returned to my room.

Day 2:

I hit the town bright and early Friday morning. There are 2 reasons I wanted to visit Regensburg: the town and the river.

First, the town. Due to being right along the Danube river and essential for trade routes, Regensburg became a significant economic powerhouse in the Medieval Ages and at one time being a free imperial city minting their own currency. Later it was the capital of the Bavarian region due to being the cultural and economic center of what is now southern Germany. Recently, the town center was marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The river… the Danube river is one of my all time favorite rivers! During much of the Roman Empire it was the de-facto border between Roman troops and the Germanic and Slavic tribes. Later it also became the main highway for trade connecting major settlements together. By many it’s considered to be the heart of Europe and runs through 10 countries and 4 capital cities (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade). It formed empires and connected lands and people that would normally never have such a direct link otherwise.

I’ve technically seen it in Vienna and again in Budapest but I never felt like I really was able to experience the river. Modern Regensburg is sprawled across both banks of the river and along three islands making is an ideal place to sit and appreciate the water.

Spurned onward by that bit of history and my nerdy love of this river I was excited to start the morning by taking a long walk along both river banks and along the islands. The morning was a little cold and foggy but I was not deterred and appreciated every minute of it.

I finished by long walk – more of an excavation – around lunch time so I stopped at a relatively touristy restaurant that’s credited as the first fast-food restaurant… ever. Their specialty? A roll with two brat, the best mustard you’ve ever had, and sauerkraut. I had 2.

Re-energized, I headed over the St. Peter’s cathedral and appreciated the mostly original stain glass and arched ceilings.

I spent the rest of the day walking through the Medieval part of the city exploring little shops and odd alleyways so narrow I could barely walk through with my bag!

I closed the day with a typical Bavarian meal and a beer sampler which taught me that I’m not a huge fan of wheat beers.

 

 

Berlin Bound

Berlin… for a city with such a complicated history Berlin and Berliner seem to have struck a balance between remembering the past and moving forward. For example, while in Berlin I visited the Berlin Wall memorial twice, the first time was somber in remembrance for a hard bit of history but the second time I saw families playing in the park adjacent to the park. Moving forward but not forgetting.

This mood seems to surround Berlin – at least from my limited experience with the city. A mix of new and old from the buildings, culture, history, and people.

I was only able to spend about 48 hours in the city but it was a packed 48 hours! My travel companions for this short trip was my friend Donna and my roommate Anastasia. We hopped on a train Berlin-bound Saturday morning and arrived mid-afternoon. After checking in to our flat we headed out to see the city.

Turns out, this past weekend was the Berlin Marathon so we tried to navigate the city and the network of the marathon path with mixed success. That first day we found the Volkswagen show room and ooh’ed and aah’ed at the latest and greatest in cars, motorcycles, and bikes. We tried not to let our knowledge of the companies’ emissions test scandal taint our appreciation of the sleek new cars and modern bikes.

After Volkswagen we headed to the Brandenburg Gates… turns out the gates are near the end of the raceway so we paused to cheer on in-line skating competitors rushing through the gates towards the finish line.

We visited the Berlin Wall Memorial located just north of the city center. Personally, the Berlin Wall is a bit of history that I’m not very familiar with and something that was skimmed over in high school history classes. To see the remains of the wall and learn a little about the history was interesting but it raised many more questions than it answered.

For dinner we stopped at a relatively touristy restaurant and ended up sitting outside wrapped in blankets, freezing as we waited for our meal. It was not a pleasant experience.

Sunday was our first full day in Berlin and we saw and did so much! First we reserved a spot to visit the Reichstag Building dome – since there was a marathon fewer people were visiting the dome and we were able to find a spot for later that afternoon.

Then we went on a walking tour of the city and I finally got many (sadly not all) of my questions about the Berlin Wall answered. I always love walking tours of a city because you get both a bit of history and a bit of culture that you wouldn’t normally get if you were just to walk around on your own. We visited the Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial (a site that many words and pictures fail to describe and should be experienced in person), Check Point Charlie (a very popular destination for people visiting surrounded by very modern buildings topped with glass and steel), the German and French Churches, and many more. Our guide was amazing at providing us with a brief history and trying to explain both sides of historical events.

In addition to the buildings and culturally relevant sites we ran in the Berlin Marathon! Yes, you did read the correctly – I ran in the Berlin Marathon!

Sort of… I kinda ran in the Berlin Marathon… I ran across the Berlin Marathon to get to the interesting and culturally relevant building on the other side. Regardless, I ran in the Berlin Marathon and that is the story I will tell my children!

After our tour ended we navigated around the race to re-visit the memorials. There is a trail of memorials throughout the city dedicated to the victims of World War II – the Jewish memorial is the largest but there are also ones to the homosexuals, political prisoners, mentally and physically disabled, and the Soviet soldiers that died in the Battle for Berlin. This city seems to have a space to remember for every group of people affected by World War II.

We were able to wander through the marathon finish line as we tried to track down each memorial and it seemed like a great party, too bad we had to run off and visit the Reichstag Building.

The Reichstag Building is the seat of power for Germany and the fact that they allow people to wander the roof still baffles me. It’s a beautiful building with a historic facade and a very modern interior. The dome sits on top of the building and offers beautiful views of the city with a commentary providing information about specific important buildings or facts about the German government as you climb the dome.

Our guide from the tour mentioned a great flea market near the Berlin Wall Memorial so we headed back to the place we’d seen last night and walked until we found it. It was a hoarder’s paradise – so much stuff! We got some beer and walked: chatted with vendors, admired artist’s sketches, ogled beautiful craftsmanship, and dug through true flea market finds. I limited myself to a sweater (much needed, Berlin is COLD!) and Anastasia found a very unique silver ring.

Truly exhausted from a long day of wandering we headed back to our flat and crashed for half and hour. In true millennial form when we got to the flat and our devices connected to the wifi everyone whipped out their phones.

After a little bit of time we ventured out (bundled in as many layers as we could find) and headed to a burger place that apparently had amazing onion rings. Rebel Room was everything we dreamed of minus in-door seating. We grabbed our burger to-go and dined in the warmth of our flat… the burgers were good but the onion rings were the clear highlight of the meal for me!

Monday was the last day in Berlin and we spent a good chunk of the morning in the warmth of our beds. It was +4 outside and I wasn’t prepared to face the grueling weather. When we finally were packed and ready to go we headed to find a bite to eat and a little bit of coffee. We were successful in both counts and much happier we headed to the train shiny train station.

Our train feels way too full and for the first 15 minutes I couldn’t find an open, non-reserved seat! The isles were packed with barely moving two-way traffic as we moved large suitcases over our heads for other passengers trying to get around. If I was ever on the fence about the importance of traveling with a backpack the first 15 minutes of this train ride would have convinced me – traveling with a backpack is the way to go!

I finally found a seat and was able to switch with someone else to get a different seat in the same cabin as my friends. That worked well until we hit Dresden when a group of high schoolers took our cabin since they reserved it and we were left seat-less for half an hour standing in the front of the car.

The strong and resilient people that we are, we somehow survived and found seats in the isle and eventually worked our way into a 1st class wagon! It was a long train ride and felt quite a bit like musical chairs but we made it and arrived safely in Prague.

Berlin is a city I really like and could love with time – it’s an interesting mix of old and new and half the buildings seem to be decked in glass, steel, and concrete. It feels new and edgy but still livable with little bits of charm here and there. In this city so much has happened and a vast majority of it within the past 100 years. The sheer fact that after everything Berlin has been through it’s still a strong, thriving city is amazing!

Prague and Cafes

I’ve been walking around this city for only a week now but it seems like there’s a cafe on every corner. Contrary to popular belief, there’s only so much coffee a girl can have in a week so I haven’t gotten around to every shop but I have been able to stop in at a few places and sample their espresso and tea drinks. What follows is list of the places I’ve been to so far:

  • I Need Coffee! – this is a little cafe in New Town with a very appropriate name. It’s OK: decent coffee, fairly friendly folks, and yummy desserts. The only big down side for me is they don’t have wifi so it’s hard to do school work from but a nice place to read books.
  • La Boheme Cafe – good coffee and a comfortable space! They have a wide selection of teas and coffee drinks that are really good (from what I’ve tried) and plenty of places to sit. It’s a nice place to get work done or to meet up and talk with people – the only major draw back is your wifi is limited to an hour.
  • TriCafe – I’ve actually returned to this cafe twice now and love it! It’s comfortable and cozy with chairs and tables topped with flowers and the occasional basil (yes, basil) plant and free wifi. Their coffee is good – a little on the higher end but nothing that will break the bank.
  • Costa Coffee – this is an international British coffee chain but they make a pretty decent Americano and are fairly affordable.

World’s Smallest Bookstore

WP-Pushcart-Bpookstore-Bill-081315_detailI have a strange affinity for places toted as “the biggest”, or “the oldest” so when I heard rumblings about “the smallest” bookstore I naturally knew that I would love it. This little bookstore will have to go on my list of places to see before I die.

At 9×12 Pushcart Bookstore is the size of some tool sheds and the claim to being the smallest bookstore is easy to believe. Open 10 am – 6 pm daily owner, operator, and author Bill Henderson keeps the store running with his dog outside of Sedgwick village, in Maine.

I would love to stop in and peruse the carefully selected titles and gently used but well-loved covers – in a tiny bookstore space is limited and I can only imagine how carefully Henderson curates the titles and books chosen to be features in this little store.