Olá do Porto

Porto is a place I never intended on visiting, and one that I will never regret seeing.

It all began in February, when I began looking for music festivals I would be able to attend while in Europe. Primavera Sound is a festival featuring one of the greatest lineups I’ve come across, and if it weren’t for the class trip to Dresden June 2-5, I would have already booked my flight to Barcelona. The following week, the festival arrives in Porto, Portugal, with a similar, but more condensed lineup. Looking at pictures of the city on the festival’s website made me take a closer look at its year-round attractions, such as the Rio Douro (Douro River) and the gorgeous town hall.

My search took me to Skyscanner, where I found roundtrip tickets between Frankfurt-Hahn Airport and Porto International for about $45! Frankfurt-Hahn is a former U.S.-military airport located about 2 and a half hours by shuttle from Frankfurt Main Hauptbahnhof (train station).

My five days in Porto were sweet, spectacular and, most importantly, WARM. I was able to see most of the city in a day, and enjoyed much of the local cuisine. I even spent the last day at the beach, which was a welcome change from the sleet and hail I experienced in Marburg and Berlin the week before. My friend from SDSU, Megha, met up with me for four days, and it was so great to have a piece of home with me in a completely foreign place. Solo traveling is something I’ve gotten accustomed to, and would recommend to almost anyone, but it was also nice to have someone else to feel lost with. One of the many things I’m grateful to Germany for is teaching me to rely on public transportation. We used Uber a couple of times, but for the majority of the trip, we took buses and trams. If I hadn’t spent the last few months learning how to get around on buses and trains, I’m certain I wouldn’t have had the audacity, nor the patience, to try and figure out which line to take around the city, which side of the street to stand on, etc.

The people of Porto were very friendly and eager to help tourists. Although I speak no Portuguese, I could get by speaking Spanish (which is still the language I’m most comfortable speaking after English!) in areas where people couldn’t speak much English. I noticed that many young people were bi- and trilingual, speaking Portuguese, Spanish and English. C’mon America, we’re really slacking…

Although I pretty much stumbled on Porto as a destination by accident, I couldn’t be more grateful. Watching the sunset over the Rio Douro, surrounded by tourists and locals alike, a strange feeling swept over me. Maybe it was the fantastic local wine, or maybe I’m just growing up, but I was almost in tears thinking about how blessed I am for this life; to be able to travel to a foreign country on a whim, to find myself blissfully lost and be able to use other languages to communicate with people, to witness the beauty of another sunset on another perfect day, the list goes on. Most of all, as I was in awe watching the sky fade from shades of marigold, to tangerine, to lavender and roses, I thought of all that my family and I have been through over the past few years; thinking that despite every hardship and bump in the road, they made this happen for me. That’s not limited to Mom, Dad, Kuya & Ate Connie, and Ate, though they certainly deserve the most credit for how my life is unfolding; it’s thanks to everyone who’s ever made a positive impact on my life, big or small, that I am lucky enough to witness another sunset and look forward to what the next day holds.

Each day really is a blessing, no matter how cliché that is. If you’re reading this, thank you! I could spend hours trying to describe that indescribable feeling, but I sincerely hope that you experience it yourself one day.

The next few weeks are busy, in the best way possible:

  • Hamburg, Germany May 5-7
    Class trip to Dresden for the weekend. Meeting up with a German friend who studied abroad at SDSU last semester!
  • Zadar, Croatia May 12-15
    Trip with friends to the gorgeous Dalmatian Coast; 13 college students sharing a 6-bedroom house minutes from a picturesque ocean front. Yup, this one should be interesting.
  • Würzburg, Germany May 26-28
    Visiting a friend at the University of Würzburg who also studied at SDSU last semester!
  • Dresden, Germany June 2-5
    Class trip to Dresden. Really looking forward to seeing what our program has planned for us. The bombing of Dresden during WWII is the first thing that comes to mind, so I’m interested to walk in the historical footsteps of the city.
  • My 21st Birthday! June 7
    I’m so excited to spend this special day with the wonderful friends I’ve made here. This one should be at least as exciting as the 4 days in Croatia.

Until next time,
Julia

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Ode to Marburg

Hello, everyone!

It’s been quite a while since my last update, and I apologize, but I have been busy adjusting, making friends, studying, traveling, all that jazz.

You haven’t missed much – in a nutshell, I am absolutely in love with this country, and specifically, Marburg.

This tiny town is a place I’ve made into my home. I’ve never felt so at ease, even despite knowing limited German (I’m working on it!) I know where everything is, and just when I feel as if I’ve seen all it has to offer, it surprises me again and again.

The first six weeks in Marburg, I took an intensive German language class as well as a German culture, politics and history course. Language acquisition seems to come pretty naturally to me. Spanish was easy to pick up because of its similarities to Tagalog, but I have no real background in German. I expected a huge challenge, and don’t get me wrong, it has been challenging, but that’s been part of the excitement – learning day by day, and being able to understand more and more of the world around me.

This week, I started my regular semester courses. I’m taking a German conversation course, a Shakespeare course and a linguistics course. Since my program runs from February-June, and the German semester runs from April-September, we make up for the lost credit hours in weekly tutorials. My German conversation class meets twice a week for two hours. “Page to Screen: Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Plays” meets for 2 hours in seminar (regular class with German students), and an additional 4 hours of tutorial (meeting with the professor and other students from my program), where we go over the content of the seminar and address any questions. My linguistics class is a block seminar, which means that the regular class (with the German students) is held for 4 hours on only 4 Mondays during the semester. The bulk of the course is taught in tutorial, which meets for 3 hours every week. Weird, I know.

For everyone at home wondering, I’M FINE! I’ve made friends from the midwest, Canada, New England and even San Diego – and that’s just counting the people from my program. I’ve been lucky to meet German students who are more than welcoming to us Yankees and offer help in any way they can.

Now, the juicy stuff: TRAVEL! So far, I’ve been to Wiesbaden, Gießen, Berlin and Porto. My next trips will be to Dresden, Hamburg, Zadar and hopefully one or two more cities before I go home in June! These will each be getting their own blog post, so stay tuned! Thank you for going on this journey with me, and I promise I’ll be more diligent about posting 🙂 Now, enjoy some of my favorite pictures of this wonderful little town!

xoxo,
Julia

Hallo, München!

München, or Munich for you uncultured folk (lol), is located in the southern German state of Bavaria. Everything you think you know about Germany is pretty much isolated to here. The dirndl, lederhosen, pretzels, sausages, Oktoberfest celebrations, braided beer maidens, etc. – all in Bavaria.

My sister and I spent two nights in Munich before our parents joined us so they could escort me to my campus in Marburg, Hessen. Munich was my gateway to the country I’m now calling home for the next few months, and in my opinion, a great place to start. Growing up and living in metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, San Diego) did not prepare me for the small town setting I’ve found myself in now, but more on that later. So, with Munich being one of the larger cities in Germany, I felt more at ease with getting accustomed to the language, food and people.

On our first night in Munich, we found ourselves at a restaurant serving an iconic late night food – currywurst. It’s basically pommes frites served with sausages in a curry sauce. I wish I had photos to show you, but I was really hungry. Use your imagination.

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It wasn’t until later that I found out that this is not a local beer – stupid American.

My first foray into German cuisine was a success. The next night, we went to Hofbräuhaus, a beer hall and landmark in Munich. Our parents hadn’t seen us in weeks, so we went all out on the beers and food. I finally got to try real schnitzel, which in this case was breaded veal fried and served with potato salad and cranberries.

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Veal Schnitzel Viennese style – no sauce, just lemon

At some point in the night, we made friends with a few locals who tried to buy my sister as a wife, had more than enough beer and ended up at our AirBnB absolutely STARVING. Much to my dismay, delivery after midnight isn’t a thing here. It’s probably the fact that Europeans are health-conscious. (Europe really has it all figured it out man.)

Munich was a blast. The German rail systems are flawless and easier to navigate than most other systems in the world (or so I hear.) After a solid 4 days, it was time to head west to Marburg, where I would be living for the next five months. Munich, I’ll most definitely be back. If not for the pretzels, then absolutely for the weissbier.

Thanks for reading & see you next time!

xoxo,
Julia

I Am(sterdam)

Amsterdam is so much more than weed, prostitutes and general debauchery, though I’m sure you would be hard pressed to convince most people of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy two out of three of those as much as the next person (if not more), but it’s actually pretty funny when you speak to locals and realize that many of them don’t partake in any drugs or alcohol. I think the Netherlands might have it figured out. By legalizing and regulating all substances to a certain extent, the population probably experiments with all sorts of stuff for a time and then they grow up, having learned how to use things in moderation, or not at all.

Amsterdam was one city that I could really see myself living in. It’s small enough (to me, at least) that I’m not overwhelmed, but big enough to spend years exploring. People are friendly, most speak English and there’s practically a museum on every block.

Oh, and there’s also the fact that walking around the city is a joy in and of itself. EVERYONE (mostly tourists) is high. No one wants to make eye contact with you, let alone engage in conversation, so if you’re sober and people watching, it’s a hoot. But you could also be one of the blissful stoners, so truly, it’s a win/win. It’s legal to smoke weed everywhere, including most bars we visited. Signs actually say “NO TOBACCO! WEED OK.” I stepped into the first bar and thought, “I’ve found my people.” Joints typically run 6-10€ and a gram can be purchased for about 11€.

As tourists, we also visited the Red Light District. I don’t have any photos for obvious reasons, but I can tell you that it’s a surreal experience. It’s sad to see, but one person we met put it into perspective for us. He explained that a spot in a window in a prime location and at peak hours costs about 4,500€ to rent monthly. He also said that each act performed is priced separately and tacked onto a base fare. Basically, some of the women working in the Red Light District make more money than most of us ever will. Granted, that doesn’t make it all “okay,” but my opinions aren’t relevant to this post, and I won’t go making broad statements without substantiating evidence. However, if you’re interested in debating the ethics of legal prostitution, please drop me a line! I’m actually very curious to hear what my readers think.

After visiting the Red Light District, we woke up wanting to do something cultured. So, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum! I wanted to visit the Banksy and Dalí exhibit at the MoMA, but the not-enough-time curse followed us to Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum was beautiful, if a little tragic. You grow up hearing all these tall tales about the artist (e.g., his slicing off his ear for a lover) but once you take the time to learn about his life from first hand documents, letters and diary entries, you can’t help but feel a certain type of sympathy for his tortured mind.

Starry Night was painted while Van Gogh was in an asylum toward the end of his life, and it is undoubtedly one of the most influential pieces of our time. Yet, he committed suicide thinking he had been a failure. Some of his most famous pieces are on display at the Van Gogh Museum, and it’s almost hard to believe that one person created so many works of art. Photography is not allowed inside the museum to preserve the artwork, but the Museumplein is just as photogenic.

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Me, a local

There you have it. Amsterdam is everything you’ve heard and much, much more. I’d love to go back before the Banksy/Dalí exhibit ends, but with classes, I’m not sure I’ll be able to! Tons of wonderful exhibits are always in rotation, so you can’t really go wrong anyways.

Thank you for reading & until next time!

xoxo,
Julia

Bruxelles, Land of the Waffles and Home of the Pommes Frites

When I think of Belgium, I think of Dr. Evil in Goldmember and his Belgian heritage. So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Brussels with no roller discos or gold tracksuits to be found.

What I did find was much better. In case you haven’t picked up on this, I like food. I also have the taste preferences of a 4-year-old, but I’m improving. Enter Liege waffles and pommes frites. I pretty much struck gold. (Eh? Eh?)

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A tradition Belgian waffle served with mango/orange and strawberry jelly, Earl Grey tea and a Belgian chocolate

I won’t lie to you, I don’t have a photo of the pommes frites because I got too excited to eat them. I’m not that sorry about it.

In the 36 hours we spent in Belgium, I made it my goal to visit the Grand Place, which is an open square in the middle of town surrounded by shops and restaurants.

It’s hard to say whether the square was more beautiful in the evening or at sunset. Either way, I’m grateful to have seen it every light.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

xoxo,
Julia

 

La Vie en rose

Ah Paris – la ciudad de amor.

Lol, I understand why people are so obsessed with this city. I went in thinking it was completely overrated, but I was more than happy to be proven wrong. We spent 3 glorious days in this beautiful city, but as with most places I visited, it wasn’t enough time. If it were up to me, I might still be in Paris, sipping espressos and people watching in the Place de la Nation.

One thing worth noting about Europe, but Paris especially, is that fewer people speak English than you think. I got around by putting my five years of Spanish class to use, but otherwise, English speakers are few and far between, and I don’t speak a lick of French.

However, that could not deter me from having the most incredible and unique experiences each day. I’m confident that some of the things I did were a once in a lifetime opportunity.

So, what was it about Paris that was so magical? First, the bread. Second, the architecture. Third, all the other food groups.

I had a religious experience – not at Notre Dame, but with a Spaghetti Bolognese. I didn’t know that such a common dish could taste like the food of the gods. But here I am, with this dish ruined for me forever. I can’t say I mind because it was incredible.

We didn’t do as much sightseeing as we had planned on account of… the jetlag… but we did manage to spend an entire afternoon at The Louvre (still not enough time.) Mona Lisa is housed here, but the highlight of this day was seeing “The wedding at Cana” by Veronese, a painting I studied in high school. It faces Mona Lisa and receives a fraction of the attention. The irony is that people line up in front of da Vinci’s legendary painting, not necessarily to appreciate it or marvel at its craftsmanship, but rather to take a quick selfie, then leave, never once setting eyes upon it. Whatever, I sound like a snob, but I was entertained by the fact that so much security goes toward protecting this small painting simply because society has made it popular throughout history. Okay I’m dropping it.

Two nights in a row, we ventured to Bastille to check out the nightlife. And two nights in a row, we ended up at Iguana. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. (And if you happen to stop by at any point, don’t listen to them about us, they’re all a bunch of liars.) Lol

Oh, and what would a trip to Paris be without a stop at the Tour Eiffel? My sister’s biggest dream for the past 10 years has been to visit this magnificent structure, and though I’m sure she never expected her little sister to be the one accompanying her, we shared a moment. At the top of every hour, the tower sparkles with brilliant lights for five minutes, unbeknownst to us, of course. We were sitting under the tower, sharing a beignet and an espresso, when we heard church bells in the distance marking 10 p.m., and the tower began to dance. I may or may not have shed a tear; she may or may not have shed several…

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Well, there you have it, folks. Paris is not as great as they say – it’s better. The croissants are fluffier, the wine is fresher and the Bolognese is otherworldly. The landmarks are cool too.

Special shout out to the owner of Niño for letting me play and cuddle with him. If I go too long without petting a dog, I really lose myself.

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Niño, a beagle puppy and my new best friend

Thank you for reading, and until next time!

xoxo,
Julia

Baile Átha Cliath – A.K.A. Dublin (A.K.A. My Favorite City in the World)

Upon landing in Ireland, I can’t say I wasn’t a little surprised that there were no little leprechauns running around and mumbling about pots of gold.

To be completely honest, I didn’t have any intention of visiting Ireland when I was planning this trip, but thanks to my sister, I stumbled upon the world’s greatest city.

Dublin is full of people with nothing but truly good intentions. Every person we met was extremely excited to meet two American girls, and even more curious about our Filipino heritage. We were met with a smile and a pint everywhere we went. Speaking of which, Guinness in Ireland is BEAUTIFUL. Guinness in the States is trash. I can only describe the texture as creamy, soft and reminiscent of the feeling you get inside a warm coffee shop in the winter. In other words, the U.S. needs to get it together.

If you asked me what my favorite part about Ireland was, it would be an absolutely unbreakable three-way tie between its people, its food and, of course, its beer.

All three points of this cultural trifecta intersected at a pub down the street from our AirBnB called Nancy Hands. Its owner Fran was a wonderful man who was willing to entertain two loud/confused American girls with stories about his life and tips for traveling in Ireland. We had a few (several) pints at his pub, as well as some DELICIOUS pub fare before heading to a bar called Pygmalion. Here, cocktails were the center of attention, and for good reason!

Aside from the nightlife, I fell in love with the Trinity College Library. Some of the oldest texts are housed here, which makes sense considering this university is one of the oldest in Europe.

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The Long Room, Trinity College

The Long Room is one of the most picturesque and moving sights I’ve encountered so far, and if I could do anything differently, I would spend more time here, just sitting and basking in the leather bound books. But that’s just me 🙂

Unfortunately, we had a plane to catch, so we had to speed through in less than 30 minutes. Not to worry, though, because I will MOST DEFINITELY be back to Dublin this semester. Keep a look out for the follow up blog!

Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to check out the SDSU Be International Blog. Follow this link to read my very first contribution to the Aztec blog! Until next time.

xoxo,
Julia