Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Switzerland

On the day Shannon departed I headed on a bus to Como (the town) en route to Interlaken, Switzerland. All I can think about is my flight from Zurich to Kuala Lumpur in 2 weeks. I'm so excited to go back. I decide to head north towards my flight in search for some short term employment. I'm thinking a hostel where I can work for accommodation or something of the sort. Some nice American travelers tell me about the Jungfrau region of the Alps and I head there to the jumping off point - the town of Interlaken. I meet all kinds of backpackers on the train, find some friends and head to a hostel. The hostel, well and the whole town, was full of frat boys looking for the next rush from skydiving, canyoning, paragliding, etc. - this place is sort of the Queenstown of Switzerland. And, well I've been to Queenstown and I jumped out of a plane -- and there's a Hooters in this town and I've gotta get out. But I had a good night where I chatted up the locals to find out where a good hostel for me to stay and work (in the more remote areas in the mountains) would be. A nice Kiwi guy, Dean, tells me the perfect place, the Mountain House in, what sounds like to me at the time, Grindlewald. Great, I know where to go in the morning. So I go back to the hostel and tell skydiving stories to some kid who was waking up at 6 AM to do it. It was fun and time to leave.







So, as you might imagine if you say it in your head right now, Grindlewald sounds a lot like Grimmelwald. Right?!? And who knew, but there's a hostel called the Mountain House in BOTH towns. Riiiight. Sooooo, cut to me with my big huge backpack (which at this point I think of chucking over bridges often) are in the WRONG place. But that's ok, the nice woman at Mountain House "2" agrees to let me store my pack while I figure out a plan. I spend alomst the day scouring the village for work. What I quickly realize is that it's off season and no one needs any help. About mid day I made friends with the local bike shop guy and we sat outside his shop while he actually introduced me to a few business owners who rode by. Even with a reference it was no luck. I did have one offer, but I would have to commit to 3 months. So no deal there.


Finally I get my pack and go to another hostel (Mountain House "2" is out of price range) where I settle in for some amazing local cheese, bread and for dinner. I know this doesn't sound like the dinner of champions, but this cheese is really really good. Plus I think everyone knows about cheese for dinner. After this I meet Micheal and George, my new roommates. At this point, little do I know they are going to shape the experience of my next 10 days on the planet. Or planet Switzerland that is. We go out that night to Esspresso Bar which is more of a pub than a coffee shop. At some point in the night locals marvel at the fact that I literally know the majority of the people there and I'm chatting with everyone. But if you go to a town with 4,000 people and spend the day talking to everyone, it's pretty easy to know most of the town in a day.

Micheal, George and I head out for a long hike in the AM. We take the gondola up and go on a 5 hour hike with a fantastic picnic lunch--complete with wine and the obligatory cheese. It's a spectacular hike. I'm invited to come to Geneva (where they both live while completing summer law internships) for the week before my flight. I abandoned the idea of working and decide Geneva is the way to go. At about 6:30 PM, we get to our end point and realize that we've missed the last train down the mountain. Although feeling like this was some sort of conspiracy against us, we found refuge at a mountain resort complete with a 5 course dinner. Not bad. The photo you see with the Swiss flag is the view from our room. But we had planned to go to the real Grimmelwald that night and stay. . also I still had a small glimmer of hope for work. When George cancelled our reservation with Petra she said she already had help--Geneva here I come.

It was so crazy as our train passed by Lake Geneva and the amazing wine country leading up. I was excited and just couldn't believe I was here! That night we went to a bar in the artist courter where Michael dj'd (see fist flyer above). The rest of the week was fabulous as it was filled with good times with good friends. Again the opportunity to see a city through the eyes of those who are actually living there is priceless. Also there was tons of activity (and fun rides) along the waterfront for the a huge annual festival giving the city a great vibe.


I also felt like being in Geneva, where it is so international with people speaking different languages on every corner, was the perfect culmination to my planned travels thus far. And I just loved having so much time there to explore the city at my new, turtle-slow pace. I spent my days visiting amazing museums, strolling through lovely parks, having picnics, drinking coffee, people watching and writing in my journal. I really enjoyed the United Nations tour and learning about the international relations process. Also just being on the grounds and chatting with a few of the employees, all so friendly there at the UN. Across the street at the International Red Cross Museum I walked through a heart wrenching gallery of photos on war time aid throughout history. Seeing photos from places that I've visited was moving to say the least.


On a lighter note, I discovered that I can understand a very small amount of French. But as I already knew, I'm not really willing/able to speak it. Only one time was a really compelled, when I found a little 5 year old girl who had wandered away from her mother along the waterfront. She was just about to realize that she was all alone and start to cry when I said hello to her, she mumbled back something in French, so cute. Maybe it was, "I'm lost." Anyways, she reached for my hand and I led us towards the merry-go-round where the other children played--it only took about five minutes to spot frantic mom. Oh the look of relief on her face as she held her daughter in her arms!


It was very sad to say good bye to Geneva and the friends that I made there, it was a really special time for me and one I won't forget it. But I headed off to Zurich to spend the last three days leading up to my flight. There I stayed with my new friend Matthias from http://www.couchsurfing.com/people/brausepeter - of yeah I did it. So many travelers were telling me to try this and I just hadn't had the opportunity with all the friends I'd been with along the way. Anyways, it was a GREAT experience. I read the profiles of several people and e-mailed a few, very last minute--and told each person I was looking for a place in Zurich. Matthias graciously accepted me. He's a chemist finishing his PhD and lives with 5 roommates from all around the world. If you click on the link you can see how he and I have given each other references. I would definitely do this again and I look forward to having the opportunity to host in the future. Anyways it was so fun because the first night we went to see The Simpson's Movie with his friends. Yes! English with French and German subtitles. Double yes! We laughed and laughed and then we all went to this great park along the water where tons of young people were hanging out. It was so European.


In Zurich I thoroughly enjoyed the Kunsthaus (Museum of Fine Arts) collection and the excellent audio guide they provided. I could have spent 8 hours there I swear. So many of my favorite artists were represented, from Rothko and Pollock to Dali to Van Gough and Cezanne--all there! Heaven. But I have to admit while I spent time touring the city, the weather was gloomy and I used the opportunity to update photos and blog entries--big thanks to Matthius for his laptop! P.S. This is the view from his kitchen window.


The 9th quickly arrived and after a mess at the airport (I found out that airlines don't like you flying into foreign countries without an onward flight somewhere) I made it on the plane. But if it wasn't for the hour delay I wouldn't have. Some things just work out. Off to Malaysia!!!!

Italy

As soon as we arrived at the train station in Milan I was reminded of how grand the architecture of Italy is - and even though Milan pales compared to Venice, Florence and Rome in these terms, it was still a sight to see. The Italians have such a way about them in every aspect of their culture and I really enjoyed watching it. Although on the other hand I didn't so much enjoy the being watched part. It's interesting, but I was more comfortable with the eyes
of dozens of Indian men than one creepy Italian guy on the street. Go figure. But the pizza can make up for any of that - really. I still dream about the pizza. Oh and also, Milan was "on sale" which I think only happens once a year. And although there isn't room for any Versace in my backpack, I did make a few small purchases off of Via Montenapoleone to spice up my "wardrobe." But the window shopping was great to see and the interior design was much more cutting edge than what I expected or have see in the states. So Shannon and I spent a few days enjoying the sites and doing some great people watching. It's interesting see a woman with both an H&M bag and a Prada bag, but I guess that's Europe for you.

Next we were off to Lake Como to stay in the little town of Menaggio where we stayed in a nice youth hostel run by the charming Alberto. The views from our dorm room and the patio below were so picturesque. We spent one day exploring the nearby villages of Bellagio, Varenna and Cadenabbia. We climbed up hills to castles, poked our heads into villa gardens, enjoyed ferry
rides, had a lakeside picnic followed by a nap. Another day we did the hard work of swimming in
the lake and working on our tans. Rough life. But the whole time I'm ever aware of my desire to continue my travels and not run down my budget, so I have to say thank you to Shannon for her patience and generosity to the now, thrifty gal I've become.


At our farewell we gave each other a long hug good bye and I waved as her ferry left the shore. I know that I will see Shannon again before long. Mainly because she said that she would visit me no matter where I choose to live and secondly because she is a loyal, loving, life-long friend. The next day I took a long hike into the hills above Menaggio. It was warm, sunny and delightful and I fully enjoyed it just as I have all the great nature I've taken in on my travels. My thoughts drifted to what is really important in life and I realize that while I earn some independence and learn about the world. The most special part of the journey (travel and life) is time spent with people you care for.

Ireland

I had four days in Dublin prior to Shannon arriving. Alone again after saying farewell to Rob and Katy, I was a little down so decided to entertain myself with local theater in Dublin. Rob and I had gone to see a play in London and this had kinda gotten me into the idea. First I went to see a play at Trinity College and then another at a small independent playhouse. The second, called "The Maids" was different to say the least. Outside the theater I met Anthony, who asked me, "do you know much else about the play?", which was HILARIOUS. I guess you had to see this strange play to understand why this question/comment was so funny, it kinda left you wondering what you just witnessed. Anyways, I busted into laughter which led us into a few drinks, which turned into me making friends with him, Hanna and Andrew. Later that night I met Ciaran who the next day was touring me around the RTE studios, which led to me being an extra in Fair City the biggest Irish soap. http://www.rte.ie/tv/faircity/bs.html Everyone's grandma watched this I guess. Ciaran promises to send me a clip of my daytime TV debut. I'll be sure to send this out! Ha!

That night Andrew and Anthony took me to see a local Dublin band. We went to this really cool venue, Crawdaddy, to see Dark Room Notes. Here are some pictures from the show: http://siobhanquigley.blogspot.com/2007/07/dark-room-notes-at-crawdaddy-110707.html and if you want to listen: http://drn.vox.com/library/audio/6a00d4142d35d83c7f00e3989da50a0002.html
It was a great show and a great night.

By the time Shannon arrived in Dublin I was feeling good about the circle of friends I'd made. It was nice spending time in Dublin with locals rather than travellers. Even despite the continues down pouring of rain that seemed to follow me from London. But now, Shannon, my close friend of 15 years, was here for 2 weeks of vacation, making me SO SO happy. Shannon and I haven't lived in the same town since high school back in West Virginia but have always both made a successful effort to travel to see each other. We reminisced about times we spent together in West Virginia, New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angelos and San Francisco. It was exciting to add some of Europe to the list. We spent one more fun night in Dublin before heading out on a tour of the south of Ireland.

Oh the Paddywagon. Here's the link to the backpacker tour company with the itinerary of what we did: http://www.paddywagontours.com/viewtour.php?id=2&&day=16&&month=08&&year=2007 It was a great six days, seeing the spectacular scenery, learning about the history and current political/social climate of Ireland and acquiring a true appreciation for Guinness as well as Irish whiskey. One small town we visited had a population of 900 residents and 9 pubs. We laughed that at any given time everyone in town could be in a pub. Shannon learned where all her favorite New York City pubs were named after.

I also had a few really spectacular runs in Ireland. Getting totally lost in Dublin, passing the deer and Ross Castle in the Killarney National Park and jogging along cows and sheep on the Dingle Peninsula - all great highlights of Ireland for me.

I also have to mention that we had the best tour guides, who were so well informed, it made the entire experience. It was also great to discover some great Irish bands, thanks Evonne. :-) And thanks to Tara for the Australian tips as well. All long roads trips deserve good tunes.

One last day in Dublin and then we were off on the evil Ryan Air to Italy. But I won't forget my last day in Dublin because of the long heart to heart Shannon and I shared that day. This and all the memories that she and I created in Ireland will never be forgotten.

England

The title of this post should actually be London. That would be more accurate as I spent 10 days in London without seeing any other parts of England. But I could spend a lifetime there so 10 days was just a taste for me. Arriving at the airport I was met by the most horrible, uptight, ridiculous customs agent on the history of the planet. I won't relive the experience, but lets just say at the end of a 25 minute interrogation, I had answered questions about how I was funding my travels and what nationality Lorraine's sister Katy was. Totally nonsensical to me at the time, until I learned about the security crisis going. Nonetheless.

I met Katy at the Covent Gardens tube stop where she and her other fashion designer friends promptly took me to the newest Ted Baker store. They tried on clothes to purchase with their allowances while I was just a dorky traveller in my hiking shoes. But that didn't last for long, I was quickly knee deep in Katy's closet and make up bag. I love Katy!!! We had a blast together. She totally took me in and made me part of her life. After spending so much time with Lorraine I knew we would get along well,
but no idea how well. The first night we went to a dinner party at her friend Jules house and it was so fabulous. Everyone was so nice, funny and well, so British. Lovely. The entire weekend was full of great times. . . a great weekend market, the gay pride festival, nightclubs and just hanging out with Katy and her friends. A highlight was certainly The Hawley Arms http://www.thehawleyarms.com/index.php?table=gallery, where we rubbed shoulders with stars like Amy Winehouse and Katy's favorite Noal Fielding. We also managed to have our VERY OWN polaroid on the wall. Katy and Kase rocking the Hawley Arms. :-)
Then the much anticipated arrival of none other than ROB-O. Yiiiippppeee. When we saw each other in the Marriott lobby it seemed like it had been forever. It was a sweet reunion. We stayed in Kennsigton and by the end of the week I think we both felt like it was our little neighborhood.

We really enjoyed the parks for running, picnics, bottles of wine and even a glimpse of the Tour de France opening. But by far the most park fun we had was the few hours we spent watching rollerblading practice in Hyde Park. Oh Raj. Poor Raj, the incredibly uncoordinated Indian man who couldn't take one step without falling down. Anyways, rollerblading practice was entertaining to say the least. Is that mean?

Another big part of the trip was EATING. Rob came to England to find a shell of the girl he once knew--I had been on somewhat of a poverty diet (thank you to Jen Strand for coining this phrase). So Rob took us out to all kinds of marvelous restaurants, which quickly put the meat back on my bones. :-) Of course we visited a few of the usual tourist destinations but probably the least amount ever accomplished by those staying in London for an entire week. We went to a HILARIOUS comedy Boeing-Boeing, where a Paris bachelor dates three flight attendants with alternate schedules. He has a German, an Italian and an American girlfriend who he unsuccessfully juggles. After traveling I really appreciated the stereotypes, absolutely entertaining.

We spent a lot of time strolling around the neighborhoods and just appreciating London at a slow pace. It was so good to reunite with Rob, who is certainly my best friend and my anchor. Without him, my travels wouldn't be possible. After a week of catching up, we said another tearful good bye. And again we don't when we'll see each other again, which is the hardest part of being away.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Germany

So, before you start reading this, I'll just let you know that I don't reveal until the bottom of the post why I'm in the outfit. :-)

So, I was a little unsure of what my next move was going to be now that Dad's plans to travel with me were foiled by airline madness. I was meeting Rob and Lorraine's sister, Katie, in London in 2 weeks, so I really took it day by day deciding where to go next before heading for England.
If the ontological shock I experienced by traveling from Dubai to Delhi wasn't enough, I was now having a type of shock that I think could be equally as astounding--economical shock. Being in a wealthy country with the evil, evil, EURO/US $ exchange was not good for the old budget. While excited to be in Europe, I was acutely aware of my newest mission not to spend every last penny that I had. You could call this mission impossible.

Frankfurt
I spent one night in Frankfurt which was, like all of Germany, incredibly clean, organized and well marked. There is no such thing as a bad neighborhood here. The Germans may have an area some of them think is dodgy, but in reality its as shady as Main Street in the magic kingdom. I laughed out loud on the street when I saw the area near the train station that I was warned by a local not to stay in. It was so nice. So, I stayed there. This was the view from my window at the hostel. Looks pretty good, eh? Not sketchy in the least bit. I loved this hostel because it led me to meet Alexander, by far one of the most interesting people I've met in my life. He worked in the hostel and also gives a free group tours of the city (which he loves so much) to the backpackers who stay. We were chatting away and I found out that he was going to Hamburg the next morning to visit his five year old son as he does every two weeks. Maybe you see where this is heading. . .I asked him if I could hitch a ride up north with him. It turns out that he was hoping to have some people to share the ride anyways, so, the next day we left for the six hour journey! This was one of the most interesting car trips ever! Cruising along the autobahn with Alexander, whom at this point I'm convinced is my own personal tour guide. He tells me about German history, political climate, economy and details on every little town we pass by. And if this wasn't enough he gives me directions to two hostels he knows are good in Hamburg. Cheers Alexander!

Hamburg
It rained a lot of the time I was in Hamburg. This really slowed me down, plus I was feeling lethargic, maybe I was still adjusting to my new surroundings or maybe the last bits of the malaria drugs were leaving my system, whatever it was I was particularly tired. I decided that it was time to start jogging again. I couldn't run in India because people would think that you'd lost your head or that you were in a big hurry maybe. So, it was time--and Germany was the perfect place with so many beautiful parks. I enjoyed my renewed routine, visiting the extraordinary modern art museum, strolls around the city and over the top nightlife in the Reeperbahn. Now it was time to develop an exit plan from Hamburg and investigate the ride share web site Alexander told me about. Basically people who are driving from one city to another register on the site saying when and where they are heading out. You contact them--and for lets say 10 Euro (share of petrol) you can ride with them. Every ride share I did was the driver and four passengers, which was really cool because it was the ideal situation to get to talk to the locals. I mean they were trapped in the car with you for a given period of time. :) So I find the website, but, like everything in Germany, it's all in German. Go figure. The lovely girl from the hostel helps me navigate the website. Then actually says she will make a few phone calls for me. Long story short she actually organizes the ride for me! I love her because this has saved me about 100 Euro not getting on the train. Yes!!!!!!

Berlin
Berlin rocked. What a fabulous city. I stayed just outside the center in a great hostel near a delightful part that I took full advantage of. Everyday after touring I would come back "home" to my neighborhood. I'd spend an hour or two in the Internet cafe on the corner where the Turkish owner (who spoke no English) seemed to really like me and come over to give me little bottles of shots and we'd cheers in Turkish, but I can't remember how that goes now, but I remember feeling welcomed nonetheless. Also he played great music.

The city was alive with events, including an annual music festival. I watched a fun reggae band (in the rain) and made friends with a big group of locals who took me to a house party where everyone danced to salsa late into the evening. I poked my head into hip art galleries and received a much needed hair cut from German hairdresser, Tobias, who used to live in SF. Anyone know him? I should remind everyone that while I'm certainly enjoying the comforts of the west, at this point I'm still a bit frightened by returning to a material girl in a material world (these lines are plagiarized not only from Madonna but a book I just read). BUT I do feel pretty strongly that a fabulous haircut is just one of those things you always NEED. Hmmmm. Maybe I am jumping right back in.

But its also in Berlin that I purchase my ticket to fly back to Southeast Asia on August 9th, to Kuala Lampur. For those of you who don't know, my return ticket to the states was cancelled by the airline and I received a full refund. I thought this was a stroke of good luck as I'm not ready to return! So, I will reunite with Lorraine on the 10th and we'll spend a week in Kuala Lampur where searching for an island where I can practice yoga and she can teach dive lessons with her new dive master certification. But plans always change, so I'll keep everyone updated. ;-)

Dresden
Quaint, peaceful with more splendid parks, I enjoyed my time in Dresden. I even splurged on a yoga class here, reminding me of the east.

Allmendingen
What, you've never heard of this place? Well, in all of Germany this was by far my favorite place and best experience and it's all because of Stephanie! She and I met in New Zealand a few months prior and she, with the help of her family and friends, showed me a fantastic time. Staying in Stephanie's apartment was, of course, relaxing after two weeks of hostel life. While she worked I was SO happy to catch up on email, photos and laundry. Also, her father (who has a hotel next door) and her brothers (one who has a restaurant next door and the other an insurance office down the street) were gracious as could be, having me over for coffee and baked goods then later dinner while Steph worked! I'll never forget how lovely it felt to be taken in by the entire family. Also communicating with the language barrier, without Steph around to translate, everyone was so sweet and probably spoke more English than they had in awhile. I should have learned some German, but it's hard! We also spent a great day with Steph's best friend and boyfriend, this is where they dressed me up in the traditional outfit you see in the picture. We were all LAUGHING, so I hope it brought smiles to the rest of you as well! Later that evening we made Kase SpƤtzle (cheese with dumplings) and I was in heaven. The next day I left for England feeling full of cheese and love, which are my two favorite things. Thank you Stephanie, because of you I'll never forget Germany.

Monday, June 11, 2007

United Arab Emirates

I don't think I knew the real meaning of the term "culture shock" until I went from Delhi to Dubai. Coming from the third world to a place with an indoor ski slope in the desert is enough to make you cry. My time in
Southeast Asia and India has certainly changed my perspective and I have to say it was hard readjusting, especially in a place as over the top as Dubai. Construction is non-stop and they will have the worlds tallest building quite soon. For those of you that aren't familiar, check it out on the web http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubai . It's insane. So I flew from India over Pakistan and there I was in DUBAI. It's an interesting place to say the least with a population of expats, westerners, Indians, Philippinoes and residents from neighboring Pakistan. This leaves only 10% of the population being truly "local." Nevertheless you know your in the Middle East with the traditional Muslim clothes, men in their dish dashes and some woman fully covered.

Big, huge, massive hugs to Karen and Micheal (and Toni for hooking me up with them!) for taking me in and opening up their lovely home to me for four days. It was great to see Dubai with all of their insight--and being at their house was exactly what I needed! After spending two hours scrubbing the dirt off myself and my belongings, I resurfaced to find a wonderful salad, wine and cheese. Karen handled it quite well when I cried in her living room because this was all so amazing to me. It's funny how quickly you forget about the comforts you used to take for granted. In some ways Dubai was like a mini San Francisco to me me just plopped down in the center of the middle east.

But of course there were the elements that reminded me of my position on the globe. The desert sun and extreme heat being two of the most memorable. But I did have great fun on a "desert safari" with camels, the shisha (hookah) and SUV's bouncing around the sand dunes.

A huge highlight was seeing Katie during her reunion holiday with Brian. For those of you that don't know, Katie is a good friend I made at the AHA and Brian is her husband whose in the Navy and currently in the gulf. They were staying at the amazing Grovsner House Hotel. And so by default I was able to enjoy some of the amenities. :)

Sad news the day before I left was that my father, due to a string of unfortunate events, was not going to be able to meet me in Germany the next day. So, I left the comforts of Karen and Micheal's house for Frankfurt, Germany. . .