Euro Cup 2012 kicked off yesterday. For those of you who do not follow soccer (or are not swamped with it in Europe), it’s the international European tournament that happens every four years. It’s like the World Cup if you take out the rest of the world. I’ve been incredibly excited about it and have been counting down the days for the past month. It’s kind of a big deal. Because I had to do responsible adult things, I really only watched fifteen minutes of one of yesterday’s matches because it was playing at the sandwich shop I was eating lunch at. Now, however, I am currently writing to you while watching the Denmark-Netherlands game and plan to go out and cheer for Germany in a pub downtown.
The European Cup has a special place in my heart. Sure, I was in Italy when they won the 2006 World Cup, but it wasn’t until we were backpacking through Europe in 2008 that I finally got it. I don’t know what clicked. Perhaps there was something in the unspoken camaraderie we felt with a Dutch bartender in a bar in Amsterdam where we were the only other people cheering for Italy when they played Spain. Or, perhaps there was something infectious about being crammed into a packed subway car of ecstatic German fans in Berlin after Germany had beaten Turkey.
It’s not that we ever got particular close to the actual tournament. Astronomical hotel prices meant that the longest period we spent in Austria were the thirty minutes we had to wait to transfer trains between Slovenia and Italy. Our train did briefly stop in Vienna on the day of the final match between Germany and Spain. We were traveling from Munich to Budapest and in that time we watched as hundreds of excited German fans marched their way off the train carrying giant cartons of beer. Mia was a popular member of our party seeing as she developed her intense obsession with the German National Team on this trip.
We arrived in our hostel in Budapest shortly before the final match started. Being on more neutral grounds for the Spain v. Germany match-up meant that while there was a more even split in fan support, the crazy fever of our previous viewing experiences in Germany was sadly absent. Nevertheless, watching it in a park in the middle of Magaret Island with a number of locals and some other travelers made for a fantastic evening.
Which leads me to the other point of this post. One of the most interesting parts about traveling is getting a taste of cultures around the world. There are many ways to do this. For me, one way has been through soccer. Soccer is an international language. It’s a language so many people speak around the world. While I have yet to see a live game in Europe (Chris and I are planning for Russia 2018), watching it in local pubs and parks has colored my travel experiences. I’m not saying to fully embrace soccer when you travel. Don’t ignore it, but find a way to connect to the local culture while you’re there. It could be through food, theater, wine, or anything else. Just find something. Trust me, it’ll lead to a richer travel experience.
And for all you soccer fans out there, enjoy Euro 2012! I’m rooting for Italy and Germany. What about you?
Going to Bulgaria was an interesting experience. The last leg of our trip to Europe last summer was a whirlwind tour of three Balkan countries. It involved a series of three very long nights on trains. The train we took to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, was the worst of them. The moments I thought I could get sleep I spent engaged in 4 am arguments with multiple ticket people who insisted that our passes didn’t work in Serbia. After a night like that, Sofia was not the most welcoming European city to wake up to. It was hot, I felt lost, I was tired, and I just wanted to sleep until our next overnight train to Romania.
After some food and a nap, however, I felt better and we were ready to tackle the city with an evening walking tour of the city. As a result, we got to see more of a city I was so ready to dismiss in my exhausted state and I learned about some of the charms of the city and Bulgaria.In fact, it was really a pity that we only had a week to explore the Balkans. With the exception of perhaps Bucharest, I ended up loving each city that we went to and I knew I was only scratching the surface.
In any case, at some point during our tour, our guide stopped and pointed to a tree full of red strings. He told us about the Bulgarian springtime tradition, where on the first day of March, people exchange pieces of red and white thread/string/dolls/other accessories. The colors are supposed to represent fertility, life, and everything else that spring is meant to symbolize. They wear these martenisti until they either see the first blossoming tree or they see a stork. At that point, you remove the item and tie it onto the nearest tree. The tree we saw was full of the strings tied on from the previous spring. Even though we were there in August, the tour guide had some to pass out. I lost it somewhere in Romania, but it was cool while it lasted. It was a tradition that I wanted to bring back with me, but unfortunately March 1 rolled around at a fairly hectic time. Maybe I’ll do it next year.
So the Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show was this weekend. I didn’t actually know it existed at all, but stumbled upon it through the Rick Steves website. As you can see from the title of this post, I went to see Rick Steves as I have no major travel plans in the foreseeable future (sadface).
The show was at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The last three times I was there was for the July Bar Exam, so naturally I was full of irrational dread as I approached the Convention Center. The theater where all the big speakers were doing their lectures also happened to be near where I was seated for a good eighteen or more hours of my life.
The place was pretty packed, and it’s probably a good thing that Chris and I decided to sit down an hour earlier, because there were no seats when the show started. We also ended up with pretty sweet second row seats, so that was also nice.
He gave two talks yesterday, one about general European travel skills and another about how to make travel a political act, pretty much the lecture version of his book. Prior to both lectures, he spent about 15-20 minutes taking general travel questions from the audience.
Although I’ve seen many of his shows and listen to his weekly podcast, I had not actually expected him to be as good of a speaker as he was. He was very good and very funny. Although I did not buy his Europe Through the Back Door book until yesterday, I wish that I had prior to some of my last big European trips as some of his advice would have been very helpful.
His first talk of European travel skills also made me think a little about how I’ve traveled the last few times that I went to Europe. He advised spending time with the locals watching sports games. Although I have yet to attend a European soccer match, watching live broadcasts of games in parks, pubs, and wherever else we ended up created some of our more fun and interesting experiences in Europe. I can proudly say that I saw the final game of World Cup 2006 in a park in Florence and celebrated the big win with Italians that night.
He also advised talking to people. Admittedly, I’m not good at this. Then again, I’m not good at talking to people at home either. Traveling in hostels made things more interesting. Not only were we able to share stories with our fellow travelers, but also with the hostel staff. Being able to talk and relate to people is something I need to work on in general, but I wish I could be better able to engage with locals as I’m traveling.
And of course, he encouraged people to try out Eastern Europe. In 2008, his shows pushed me to experience countries like Slovenia and this past year, his podcasts inspired me to try out Romania and Bulgaria. We even tacked on Serbia. Traveling through Eastern Europe has made for some great experiences and some fun stories. Both times, it took a lot to convince the parents that it was a safe place to travel, and both times it was well worth the time.
Of course, both talks were followed by signings, where I got my Travel as a Political Act and, later, my brand-new copy of Europe Through the Back Door signed.
Although the crowds had largely dissipated by the time his second lecture rolled around, it was equally engaging and interesting. I read Travel as a Political Act this past summer while we were in Europe. Coincidentally, we were traveling through The Netherlands and later Scandanavia as I was reading this book, so his chapters on those countries and Europe in general helped me frame how I saw things during my travels. Perhaps most notable was our trip to the anarchist nation of Christiania while we were in Copenhagen. This trip has been a source of debate in our family as we not only really only saw the infamous Pusher Street, but we were there on an especially dismal day. Although the lifestyle there is not for me, reading the parts of the book on it made me think back about what we saw and also wish that we had ventured deeper into the area than we had.
The talk itself was fascinating even though he could not go into details in the hour that he had to give the talk. It made me want to travel more to understand more of the world. It would even be fun to revisit some of the places that I have visited and see it through more critical eyes.he
I know that Chris was not thrilled to go to this event with me, but I think he ultimately may have enjoyed the lectures. He even shook Rick’s hand during the second signing and was reading through Europe Through the Back Door when he probably thought I wasn’t looking. I know it probably wasn’t his ideal way to spend the one Saturday he’s gotten off in a while, but I’m glad he seemed to enjoy it a little more than he probably thought he would.
Besides watching Rick Steves talk for almost three hours, we also explored the rest of the event. The zip lining booth that I had been excited about wasn’t quite as interesting as I had imagined, so we opted out. They had wine tasting at a booth on Oregon and I tried to win tickets to various countries and what not. I did win a San Luis Obispo shirt, though. While the event made me want to travel more (when do I not want to travel), it wasn’t as useful for someone with no travel plans as it may have been for someone who was in the process of planning a trip. It did make for a fun day, though.
Once over dinner, we discussed our favorite foods in the world. With so much good food around the world, it’s hard to find a place to start answering the question or which foods I would put at the top of my list. So, instead of listing them all out, I thought I’d make it a feature on this aimless blog to write about my favorite foods from around the world.
We’ll start this adventure in Italy. Florence, to be specific. In the heart of the historic center of town on Via Tavolini is Perche No!, the best gelateria that you will ever visit. In some respects, I should hate this place. It killed gelato for me. Ever since I spent my summer in Florence, every bite of gelato I’ve had has been compared to the gelato I had at Perche No!. It doesn’t compare. It never does. Few have come close, but nothing ever reaches the absolute perfection of this gelato.
Perche No! came as a recommendation to us from our Italian professor. I had not expected to fall in love with the place, but it became a daily trip for us that summer. He had later recommended other gelaterie, most notably the more well-known Vivoli, but the damage had already been done by then. Since the summer of 2006, I often wondered whether I imagined Perche No!’s greatness. We’ve all experienced things that we later hyped up in our minds. But when we returned to Florence in 2008, the gelato was just as good as I had imagined it. We actually ended up going twice that day to get in as much gelato as we could. Sometimes we surprise ourselves.
My flavor combination of choice was fragloa (strawberry) and pesce (peach), but frutte di bosche was also amazing. Actually, their flavors never disappointed.
Oh Perche No!, how I miss thee.
I’ve been playing around with this website that I discovered called Gogobot. It’s kind of like Yelp, but for traveling. Let’s just say I haven’t been very productive since I discovered it. In any case, this website made me nostalgic about the summer of 2006, when I traveled abroad to Italy.
Looking back, at those pictures, I noticed a lot of things. I saw how much thinner I was back then and now have been motivated to kick start the 2012 diet thing (barring for birthday celebrations). Second, I noticed how many pictures I didn’t take that trip. The number of pictures that I took in the two days I was in Russia this summer was probably higher than the number of pictures I brought back from that entire summer in Florence. It’s kind of a pity, but it’s too late now. Finally, it’s embarrassing how much of my Italian I’ve lost. I used to be able to speak pretty conversationally and read fairly well. I guess I had to give up a lot of that brain space for law school. Still, I miss it.
Anyway, it made me stumble upon this picture again, which, out of the almost eight years I’ve been with Chris, is still my absolute favorite picture of us. It’s a silly picture, probably worthy of a spot on one of those awkward photo blogs, but I still love it.
Here’s the story:
Our Florence program did a weekend trip to Venice and for whatever reason, the last few days before the trip were incredibly hectic. As a result, we ended up botching the laundry. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice this until we were actually in Venice and both of us walked around the city smelling like rotten water. At some point, neither of us could take it anymore, so we both ended up investing in silly touristy Venice shirts. Seeing that we were already going to look ridiculous, we decided to amp it up a notch and buy matching gondolier hats. We looked really silly, but it made for a fun photo. The best part was that Chris was wandering around speaking Italian and pretending to be an actual gondolier when our Italian professor walked by. His ruse, though silly, must have worked because she rushed by with a “No grazie” and almost completely passed us by before we called her back. Though silly, that outfit also hasn’t gone to waste. I notably used it again when I needed a last minute Halloween costume.