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28 Sep | Kara Rutkin | No Comments

Oktoberfest Recap | Florence, Italy

Oktoberfest….how do I even begin a blog entry about the world’s biggest party? Do I start by saying that it was the 200th Anniversary of the event? Or that the Stein’s are as big as your head, and contain the alcohol content of 5 American beers? Or that I am now obsessed with schnitzel? Well, let’s start at the beginning…

We left Florence at 11:30p.m., and arrived in Munich around 9:30 the next morning. I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m not really the outdoorsy-type. It’s not that I’m spoiled, I just don’t “rough it” that much. Well, we decided to CAMP for the weekend, with an Australian-run company called Stoked. The minute we stepped onto the campsite, we were handed toilet paper and a beer. And hence the tone was set for the rest of the weekend.

The weather was perfect as we headed to Oktoberfest. The festival itself is the most colorful and elaborate event I had ever been too. The architecture of all the beer halls, rides, and food stands were nothing like I expected, and was positively gorgeous. Just the sight of the festival alone was an indication that this was going to be an awesome weekend.

We spent the first day on the quest for a good beer hall, and started downing Steins the minute we found one. German beer goes down so smooth, and I am NOT a beer person at all. And the Steins are ENORMOUS. And expensive. Hence why I came home broke that weekend. Oh, and my new favorite beer is called a Radler, which is half beer half lemonade. AKA Heaven.

People from all over the world come to enjoy Oktoberfest’s festivities. We met people who came from Germany (duh), Italy, Siberia, France, Spain…and by people, I mean older men who wanted to take pictures with American girls. But hey…I got 2 free beers from some Siberian guys, so you gotta do what you gotta do.

We headed back to the campsite where it immediately started HAILING. Yes, hailing. And I hear California is in the middle of a heat wave? Please send some of that over here. The camp turned into a muddy mess, and wrecked my newish boots. Awesome. Not to mention that sleeping at night was FREEZING. But that’s all I’m going to complain about the campsite.

The next morning, we woke up to rain, rain, and more rain. Yet we proceeded to Oktoberfest where we got into the most happening tent of all: Hofrbau. We found a table right in the center, right next to some crazy French dudes.

We immediately bonded with the people standing around us. It’s amazing how beer unifies people! I guess. The band would loudly play songs. Among these songs were “Sweet Caroline” and Heeeeeeeeeeeey hey baby! OOO! AAAAH! It was such a crazy atmosphere, and I’m pretty sure it can’t be matched by any other “party scene” in the world.

This marks one of the most glorious moments of my 22 years on this planet. I already miss the people, the halls, the colors, the French guys, and the food. If I could go back to Oktoberfest every day, I would. It was just so…joyful and carefree. Except I would have a beer gut the size of 15 steins, and I would overdose on brautwurst. Either way, Oktoberfest was pure MAGIC. But next time…I’m getting a hotel.

The next day we went to explore more of Munich and see the Dachau Concentration Camp. It was quite the 360 from the day before, but I feel it was something I needed to see. In fact, if you are ever in Germany, you need to visit one of these camps. I’ve been to both Holocaust museums in LA and Washington DC, but being at the real thing? Out of this world.

It was a total out-of-body experience to be walking on the grounds where so many people died for no valid reason other than the hatred of another group of people. While Dachau wasn’t necessarily a death camp, thousands of people died in it due the horrifying living conditions. The most shocking part was walking through the Krematorium, where they would burn all of the corpses. We actually walked into a shower where they would gas people who were too weak to work in the camp anymore (even though Dachau never claimed to doing mass murders.)

It was really hard to stand there and visualize what happened. While tourists flocked the sight, the idea that this place was anything but a tourist attraction in 1941 gave me chills. It’s something I don’t like to think about, but if I was alive during this time and living in Europe, my family and I would have been put in one of these camps. If I’m not mistaken (correct me if I’m wrong, Dad) we might potentially have descendants who were affected by the Holocaust. It was a very humbling and sad experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Sorry that this entry was so long…but I don’t think either thing I participated in while I in Munich could be brought to justice without some explanation. I would love to return some day, and see more of what Germany has to offer. And to go back to Oktoberfest. Duh.

Up next: The Amalfi Coast. Please pray we have good weather!!! I want to see this Blue Grotto everyone keeps talking about.

Love you and miss you all….

Kara

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24 Sep | Nina Schoofs | No Comments

Friday, September 24, 2010 | Paros Island, Greece



Fun with friends!

It’s fascinating how different some of the Cycladic Islands are from one another. Sunday we went to Delos and Mykonos. Delos is an extremely sacred place to Greeks, being the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.

They myth goes that Artemis and Apollo were born on Delos because their mother, Leta, was the victim of Hera’s jealousy. Hera’s husband, Zeus, became obsessed with Leta and convinced her to have sex with him. When Hera found out Leta was pregnant with Zeus’ children she kidnapped the goddess of childbirth and threatened anyone who offered Leta any help giving birth.

One myth claims that Poseidon felt sorry for Leta and stuck his sword into a rock he fetched from the bottom the ocean forming Delos Island for Leta to give birth on. Artemis, knowing that her mother could not give birth without help emerged from her as a grown woman, proceeding to help her mother give birth to her brother, Apollo. In the 5th century all of the graves were dug up in one of the steps taken to purify the island for the proper worship of the gods. To this day it is illegal to be born or to die on the island.

Delos is an island of ruins, with a spectacular view of the surrounding islands from the top of Mount Kynthos where it is believes that Homer went to to write. On the top of the mount there are numerous small rock sculptures, of course I had to get in on it too and left my mark.

Mykonos was another bustling town with even narrower winding streets than Paros. Supposedly there are pelicans there that can get over 200 pounds, but none that I saw. There was, however a spectacular line of old windmills on a bluff. We walked the winding streets exploring the little shops before boarding the ferry back to Paros.


Mykonos

Delos
 

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24 Sep | Hannah Carloni | No Comments

Friday, September 24, 2010 | Florence, Italy


My roommates about to enter the Blue Caves in Capri

A word of advice to anyone thinking of studying abroad: STUDY ABROAD. I am having the time of my life here. Multiple times a day I stop and think…how did I ever get THIS lucky?!

Two weekends ago, I went on LdM’s trip to Pompeii and Capri. Pompeii was incredibly interesting. It was mind blowing to think about how old everything was. The next day, we took a boat to Capri, a picturesque little island off the coast of Italy. The first thing we did was enter The Blue Caves through a tiny opening in the side of the island. Inside, the sun from outside the cave reflects off the white stone of the ocean floor, invading the cave with an effervescent blue glow. SO PRETTY. After the boat tour was over, we went into the town of Capri, and I had the best gelato I have had thus far—in a cone that was so fresh it was still warm. This, again, was another time I asked myself, HOW did I get this lucky? The rest of the day my friends and I just walked around the town and swam at the beach.

During the next week, my friends and I bought a Friends of the Uffizi pass—for 40 euro, students can get unlimited access to all of Florence’s museums! It’s a great deal, since some of the museums can be up to 9 euro just for one visit. This past weekend, my four friends and I made the trek up to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest. On the first day, we took a bike tour of downtown Munich, and since our tour guide liked us it lasted five hours instead of two! It was great to see the city—Munich is so beautiful and full of history.

The next day we went to Oktoberfest. It was opening day, so we got to see the parade and “the tapping of the keg”. All I can say is, Oktoberfest was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. The next day, we went to Dachau, one of the first concentration camps in Germany. It was truly chilling to think that a very short time ago, people thought that the systematic extermination of a group of people was okay. Freaky. Coming back to reality (aka school) was tough after such an amazing and eye-opening weekend.


A cheery sight on a rainy Florence day

She could carry five 1 liter beer mugs in each hand! 
Impressive!

 

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22 Sep | Kara Rutkin | No Comments

Fine Settimana | Florence, Italy

The last weekend was one of the few where I had no multi-day trips booked. Instead, I explored various different cities and aspects of Italy.

After a very ~*interesting*~ night on the town, we woke up late the next morning. My roommate Katie and our friend Nancy decided to check out the historic city of Pisa. Pisa isn’t a city you need to spend more than a day in, so we made goals to see the famous Leaning Tower and to eat pizza in Pisa.

Our morning was off to a rough start when I forgot how to convert military time (They use that system in Italy. It is currently 13:54, if you were wondering), and hence we missed our train. However, the man at the information booth told us we could catch another train if we RAN. So like out of a scene from a movie, we raced to the train and managed to make it on just before the last door closed.

The ride to Pisa was about an hour. However, we hit another MAJOR roadblock right before we hit the Pisa station. We were unaware that train tickets had to be validated before you boarded, and a b-word ticket checker lady FINED US 40 EURO FOR IT. Needless to say, our moods started to match the gloomy weather outside.

We arrived in Pisa to be greeted by HOARDS of gypsies. Awesome welcome wagon, Pisa. A lot of the city was under construction, and we found out that we were going to have to walk to the complete opposite end of the city to see the stinking tower. Great. So after a long walk, we decided we just wanted our freaking pizza. Luckily, we found a place, and had the BEST pizza I’ve had since I’ve been in Italy.

Finally, we found the tower. And I have to admit, it was pretty awesome to see it in real life. We were a little disappointed to see that our photos couldn’t really capture the “lean” of the it, but it’s still a cool sight to see. It was hilarious to see people do the famous “push-the-tower” poses. We did some of our own as well:

Overall, the tower was cool, but I’m pretty sure the only time I will EVER return to Pisa is to use the airport.

The next day, we went to our first Fiorentina soccer game! They played Lazio, which is a team from Rome. The game was fun to watch, but the fans were ever better. They are so loyal to their team! The stadium was a sea of purple, and the Fiorentina fans seemed to have a song for everything. I even learned an Italian swear word or two! Sadly, Fiorentina lost, but it was still a really neat experience. I plan on going to another game in November.

On Sunday, we hopped on a bus to Cinque Terre. We were nervous about the weather, because there had been thunderstorms in Florence the night before. Thankfully, God was smiling on us, cause the weather was absolutley beautiful. We took part in an extrememly strenous and tiring hike, but the views were so worth it.

Dear future husband: we are traveling here for one of our anniversaries. Love, Me.

After the death hike, we decided to go swimming. The water was perfect, and so salty that you could just lay back and float in it. After sunbathing on a rock for a wee bit, we had dinner. While the service was terrible, I had a delicious pesto pasta. The city we ate in was Vernazza, which is actually the home of pesto!

Overall, it was a lovely “fine settimana.” However, the real trouble (and I mean that in the best way possible) commences tomorrow night, when we head off to Oktoberfest. Oh, and did I mention we are going to be CAMPING? Hopefully, this won’t be the last time I blog to you all. Otherwise, I’ll see you Sunday night 😉 Love, Kara

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21 Sep | Kara Rutkin | No Comments

Frustration | Florence, Italy

Okay, don’t get the title of this blog entry wrong…I am having the time of my life over here. I went to Pisa last Friday, a soccer game on Saturday, and Cinque Terre on Sunday. My next blog entry will cover all those various trips 🙂

My current frustration derives from one thing: ME. Kara Rutkin.

And why am I frustrated with this person, you ask? Well, let me put it this way: I have been living in Florence for almost 3 weeks now. Yet I’ve felt as though I’m on vacation here. It’s like this is a nice trip away from home and reality and I’ll be going back in a day or two. Well, now with all of my homework piling up and my plane ticket reads December 18, it’s sinking in that I am not going anywhere for the next three months. But this isn’t a bad place to be, right? I’ve made friends, traveled a bit, and have exciting plans made for the semester. Life is good.

However, I feel so….American. It’s as though I’ve been wanting Florence to accommodate me, when it actuality, I should be accommodating Florence. I hunt in the grocery stores for foods I would eat at home, speak English 99% of the time, and have made friends with mostly Americans (Each of whom I am growing quite fond of, by the way. This is mostly because Florence has tons of American students in it.) I often find myself whining about stuff I miss from the states, like Chipolte, my soft bed, and full wardrobe. I get pissed over losing money in the currency exchange at ATMs, nearly get run over about 15 times a day, and the wait to get the check at a table makes me want to pull my hair out.

But as I was dozing off in my art history class today, it hit me: This is NOT how my Florence experience should be. It should not be about me wanting to bring my American life over here. I want this experience to change me, but I’m not allowing it to. I’d rather be content in the lifestyle I left back home, instead of taking part in all the magical, unique, and awe-inspiring things this city has to offer.

So I made a promise to myself in class: I want to be “at one” with Florence. I do not want to stand out as an ignorant American anymore (even though most Italians think I’m Italian…until I open my mouth.) I want to indulge in all this city has. From its restaurants, to its museums, to its marketplaces….I. Want. It. All.

From here on out, I plan on practicing my Italian everyday with ACTUAL Italians, not just in the classroom. I am going to use the Mercato Centrale as much as I can, and buy fresh produce instead of food from the grocery store. I am going to go on wild goose chases for the best restaurants in Florence, no matter how far I have to walk. I am going to see every museum and gaze at the city from the top of the Duomo.

My travel book is open, as well as my mind. My real Florence experience starts NOW.

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17 Sep | Nina Schoofs | No Comments

Friday, September 17, 2010 | Paros Island, Greece


Never did I think that my life could be so affected in 10 days. I arrived in Athens on the 6th after an 11-hour flight from Atlanta, running on about 5 hours of sleep over the past few days. I got my passport stamped, got rid of my American dollars and my adventure began. I opted for the metro to get to the Dioskouros Hostel, wanting to be engulfed by the city and the people.

I got off at the right stop and eventually found the hostel after wondering the wrong way for a while. I was ready to get away from my bags but eager to get back out to explore Athens. I recognized some girls I thought were a part of Athena Abroad introduced myself and had lunch with them. That night we went out to a fancy restaurant for appetizers and wine before we went out for dinner. The charming Greek waiter gave us each a glass of free wine.

The most gratifying part was seeing people’s faces as they ate food they had never had. Many felt as if they had never really tasted before. The restaurant brought all of their small dishes for you to choose and share at the table, foreign to some, but felt like home to me.


The Acropolis

Only having a few days in Athens, I made the most of every minute I had. My first day started at the Acropolis. I was a little disappointed by the herds of tourists at first, but forgot all about them as I gazed in amazement at the monument I had learned about but only ever saw in pictures. The view from the lookout is a breathtaking panoramic of all of Athens.

Our next stop was the few remaining pillars of the temple of Zeus. Then we managed to live crossing a few streets to get the original Olympic stadium. We kept our clothes on, but kicked off our shoes and ran on the track of champions. After lunch and a short rest we ventured out again. We made our way through the national gardens to the Parliament building to see the changing off the guards.


Racing at Olympic Stadium

Guarding the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an honor and it showed in the guards as they stood completely still in the hot sun as crowds of tourists gawked at them and took their picture. That night we went back to the same restaurant for dinner with 16 people. Two of the professors arrived as well as more students.

Pulled my Chaco straps tight and set out for day two of taking in as much of Athens as I could. First stop was the acropolis museum, just as breathtaking as The Acropolis itself. The top floor is set up in the same way and with the original dimensions of the Parthenon freeze on the wall, and the freeze with the metopes and triglyphs above. They even have the pediments set up with some original pieces and some reconstruction. Seeing the set up only added to my amazement of the immense scale and detailed craftsmanship of the temples and sculptures.

A short hike from the museum is the Ancient Angora, resembling more of a rocky tree scattered field than a once bustling market, and the birthplace of Greek democracy. Similar to the other ruins I visited, there was beauty in the mystery of what could have been and the attempt to preserve what little is left. Venturing further from the Acropolis we visited the ancient cemetery. The cemetery, however, was quite alive… with turtles.

After fulfilling the art historical dork in me, I got to see more of contemporary Athens cultures I watched a street performer blow enormous bubbles for gleeful children, scavenged for treasures at the flea market, and walked through winding back streets as the sun started to set on my last day in Athens. That night over 20 people from the abroad program had dinner together. Then a few of us ventured back into the winding back streets to a little restaurant where there was live music and people dancing.

Once the music was done we found a bar down the street with a sprawling outdoor space in the back. After meeting some locals and talking to them for a while we decided we should head back. 4am, back at the hostel with enough time for a one-hour power nap before getting up to catch the ferry to Paros.

The ferry to Paros was 4 hours of perfectly clear turquoise water, brilliant sunshine, sleeping travelers, and smoking Greeks. A 10-minute walk from the port and we arrived at Jimmy’s apartments, our home for the next three months. I couldn’t be happier. I have a little kitchenette, a bathroom, a bed and wardrobe, and a patio with a lemon tree. What more could I want? After a quick look around I rummaged through my suitcase for my swimsuit, walked the 2 blocks back to the beach with a few other girls, and purified myself in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea.

Showered, unpacked, and in an untouchable state of bliss I met up with the HISA group for a walking tour of the city. They showed us the art studios and the classroom at the school before treating us to dinner.

I decided to have some time on my own with the island in the morning, and found a bakery and vegetable stand that I will likely visit quite frequently. The bread was fresh and aromatic, and the vegetables were full and colorful. As much fun as it has been eating so much, I was looking forward to cooking for myself too.


Paros Island

Sunday we took a tour of Paros Island. Kolibithres beach had magnificent smooth rocks. Then we visited the next big town, Naussa, where we saw a 17th century Venetian fort. Next, we went to the old capital of Paros, Lefkes, which now has more people in the cemetery than living. Finally we rounded out our tour at Piso Lavadi beach.

Classes finally started this week. It feels good to look forward to going to my classes. I had a hard time deciding, I want to take them all but know I need to limit myself in order to get everything I can out of each class as well as enjoy all that the island has to offer. I decided on black and white photography, painting, goddesses, and historical sights. Photography was a given, but I decided to try painting even though it intimidates me.

This trip is all about learning about myself and having new experience, so decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something new. Sara, the professor, is one of the most passionate people about her craft I have encountered and seems to have a lot to give.

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