Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"A 20-something Spin" = Travel

While there are a variety of factors that differentiate a 20-something's view of the world from someone of previous generations, travel plays a major role. Many of my peers participated in study abroad programs or travelled independently during their collegiate or graduate years; this makes us very unique. Let me not discount the travel that I am sure many of our parents did, but with our globalizing world, traveling is much easier.

I always laugh when my parents are stressing about whether or not I have a physical plane ticket before I go to the airport, and remind them that I definitely DON'T have it because all I need is my passport and/or credit card.

A lot of what I believe and what I write about is shaped by the traveling that I have done--you can probably see that based on the "Where I was" segment that I just did publishing my journal that I kept while backpacking for all the world to see.

Traveling is an awesome opportunity to explore your habits, skills, weaknesses, preferences, dislikes...etc. Some people like mayhem and some people like order when they travel. The same people might learn that they prefer the opposite in real life. But for those that like order when they travel, hints from fellow travelers make the journey a little bit easier.

So, because I believe that traveling is an important part of developing "A 20-something Spin," I am going to begin a new segment to follow the end of the "Where I was" entries called "Tips for Trips."

Enjoy!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Where I was: Berlin

May 24, 2007

The train to Berlin was a really beautiful ride. Germany is like a never ending forest, and is really green. We met two funny Scottish boys on the train. They thought we were hilarious with our backpacks and American lingo. We got to the first Berlin train station and hopped off, but it was not the main station. This was when we realized that Berlin is HUGE.

I can not even begin emphasizing how massive Berlin is. We went to information to figure out where we were, book our next train and try to find a hostel. The man at the information booth was super helpful and gave us exact directions to our hostel on the subway. The subway system in Berlin is also massive considering it has to cover such a big city--makes sense.

We made it to the hostel, but they only had room for the first night. Out of tiredness we took it. We were starving by this point so we walked to Unter Den Linden--the "parade" street, which was further than we thought. Either way, we made it there and got a traditional German meal. I ate sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes and drank a syrup flavored beer which is apparently one of Berlin's specialties--I found that out later.

After dinner we got ice cream from this place Bandy Brooks where we met these American boys who were in the Glee Club at Rutgers.

After ice cream we went to a street filled with cocktail bars and lots of prostitutes--awkward. Lisa and I each got a cocktail. We would have liked to experience Berlin's famous nightlife, but we were super exhausted and had to wake up early to do the tourist stuff in Berlin since we only had one full day there. In he morning we left our bags at he hostel until we found a new one and met time who brought us to Brandenburg Gate for a tour of Berlin.

The tour was 3.5 hours long, but our tour guide Maria was super enthusiastic and a great storyteller so it was actually a really great and really informative experience.

One of the first things on the tour was the Hotel Adlon, which happens to be the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony. I was highly entertained by this. We did the Holocaust Memorial which consists of concrete slabs laid out in a field with little explanation. Walking through them was chilling, I can't even imagine what visiting a concentration camp would be like. We also saw the spot where Hitler committed suicide--but almost none of the Nazi buildings exist anymore. The spot is impossible to know unless someone points it out to you. Berlin is essentially rid of all of that history, but the tour helped to understand it all.

It was also interesting seeing the Berlin Wall. Our tour guide pointed out the irony that there is now a fence around the remains of the wall, but this is to keep away people who hack at the wall to get pieces and then sell them as souvenirs.

After the tour we went to a museum that our tour guide suggested--the Pergamon. It had the gate of Babylon, one of the seven wonders, and a temple from Pergamon which is a town in Turkey. Basically, these structures were torn down, brought to Germany and rebuilt in a museum. I love how Europeans used to think it was ok to go around pillaging places and then displaying the acquisitions in local museums.

After the museum, we got some ice cream and then started to look for a hostel. It turned into a never-ending search. We took a break from the search at an internet cafe where I realized I have .78 cents left. I also found out that I got offered an interview at the United Nations Association o Greater Boston. I am excited about the interview.

After not finding a hostel in Berlin's massive downtown we headed back to one near our original hostel. It was called Three Little Pigs and the guy said he had beds in an overflow room. We were fine with that until we got there and learned that we'd be sharing a room with a 45-year-old German man. We left and equally sketched out, we tried to find another place. Everything was booked because it was a German holiday.

Near the Three Little Pigs hostel was a strip of budget hotels and one had a room for 58 euro, which was only 11 euro more each than the sketchy man room. After an awkward situation with with the receptionist at the first hostel, we got our money back and booked the hotel. We knew it was wise to avoid that situation even if the man seemed harmless.

We were exhausted, but we carried on and went to the Reichstag, the German parliament. We went to the glass dome on top where you can look down on the government. Our guide told us that this is to remind the government that the people are always in charge so another Hitler never happens. Lisa also told me that Germany is very liberal for this reason.

At the dome we were being fools saying the few German phrases we knew--danke, bitte, enchuligan and the police up there thought it was hilarious and joined in. It was a good laugh.

After Reichstag we went to checkpoint Charlie--a re-enactment of the American army checkpoint during the Berlin wall years and we ate an unhealthy dinner consisting of pizza and fries at a little restaurant there. It was super cheap, which is important since I basically have run out of money. Dead tired we went back home and went to bed.

We woke up this morning for our train, which ended up being late making us miss our two connectors (to visit Lisa's family). We are still on the train and Lisa's relative Horst will be picking us up. We thought Germany would be smooth sailing, but even with the clean and seemingly organized train system, we have run into mayhem.

Volunteering for the UN Online

Any of you who know me know that I am a huge UN advocate. If there is one thing I care about, it's UN reform, policy and current affairs.

My dream job hands down is to work at the UN even if it means going to some remote country to get my hands dirty and do my part.

Studying international relations at BU gave me the wonderful opportunity to meet a lot of people who have worked at the UN, and all of them suggested that volunteering is a good way to get your foot in the door with the organization. I checked it out, and actually a lot of the opportunities require certain skills that I may not possess (yet)--like medical, etc. Additionally it's hard when you're still in school.

However, I found that people can volunteer online through UN Online Volunteering. I was SO excited, and so I signed up. I just applied to a position, and I am really looking forward to hearing back.

You would be surprised though to find out all the different things that you could do as an online volunteer--all types of people are needed from all fields and areas of study. Check it out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where I was: Budapest, Prague

May 22, 2007

I was definitely not feeling good on the train to Prague, and I am still experiencing some cold symptoms--stuffy nose coughing and sore throat. Either way, I have a lot to write about. So after we got attacked by the hostel proprietors in Keleti station, we headed over to one that we got an ad for and after the usual obnoxious search with our bags on our backs we found it. We got a really good deal, only 11 euro a night a.k.a. 2700 forints (the Hungarian monetary system).

Budapest is a huge city split into two areas, Buda and Pest--which are divided by the Danube river. We were really tired after the night in the train and kind of intimidated by the city and not having a destination so we were cranky. We solved the problem with some gyros and then headed towards some sights.

There wasn't really a tourist center in Budapest because it is kind of a new tourist spot. We realized this especially in Prague because in comparison, Prague has a far more laid out tourist center. Anyway, we wandered towards Heroes' Square. One the way, we saw this water monument which was intended to display freedom because unlike other monuments, this one could move since it was liquid and not solid--I thought this was really innovative.

After that we saw St. Stephen's Basilica, which was massive. I was so amazed at how massive it was. Then we wandered up Andrassy, which was essentially La Rambla of Budapest. Andrassy had trees, stores, and at the end, really pretty houses that we decided were probably embassies. At the very end was Heroes' Square which had statues of Hungary's heroes.

There was also a park which had a market and I bought my dad some fat Hungarian slipper socks. I later found out that they were a really good gift because my dad's feet get cold.

After the market, we happened across a pond with row boats and we did them. It was rather entertaining because Lisa could kind of row, and I was just really bad. We put on a little show for the people in the park, but eventually we got the hang of it. It was a feel good moment for me because it reminded me of Retiro in Madrid (before the backpacking trop) with Lisa (my bf from home), Luisa (my cuz) and Joe (my roommate from Dublin). I had so much fun that day.

Then we headed back to the hostel and ended up running into Lisa's friend Jake from London, which was completely random. He recommended a place where Lisa and I ordered a world of meat and gouged. It was delicious, but the amount we ate was kind of disgusting.

After dinner we went home and changed into our newly acquired euroshorts to go out. We tried to meet up with Jake, but we couldn't find him and then we couldn't find the other place we wanted to go. I was really frustrated. We eventually broke down and took a cab to a club recommended by our hostel. Unfortunately, we got seriously ripped off by the cab driver.

The Club Rio was interesting...We couldn't communicate with anyone because of blaring music, and broken English/Magyar are hard to understand.

We met this American there--and hilariously enough, he was our roommate on the train the next night. This was comforting--no sketchballs.

The next day we wandered across the bridge to Buda and climbed Castle Hill to get a really beautiful view of the city. The castle at the top was not really impressive, but the view of the city was worth the climb.

After Castle Hill we went to the baths, which were so awesome. There were indoor and outdoor pools and thermal baths. The outdoor pool had a wave pool. Lisa and I were flying around like fools in the wave pool, but the Europeans just smile and enjoy--no surfing USA I guess.

The indoor thermal baths had all little black things in them, but we decided to just believe that they were minerals and relaxed. We were tired after bathing so we napped.

We ate dinner and then went to catch our train to Prague.

We got to Prague at 6 a.m., so waking up at 5:30 a.m. was not nice. The hostel I stayed at last time was full. We went to one on the map that I had heard of in Wenceslas Square, and it was really nice. We couldn't check in until two so we went and had our first McDonald's experience for breakfast. Egg McMuffins were just as good as I remembered.

Then Lisa and I went to H and M and bought clothes--ridiculous considering the size of our bags.

We shopped on the souvenir street and I bought a silver and garnet ring. Last year when I was in Prague, I had bought my mom a garnet charm and she told me that was my grandma's birth stone. I thought it would be special to buy one. Then Lisa bought one too, so they are like our backpacking friendship rings--a really nice token for both of us for surviving the mayhem thus far.

We did some sightseeing--a lot of repeat stuff for me since I had been last year.

We went to this place Bombay--my favorite bar in the world (behind Porterhouse Central in Dublin). It was awesome, and a really fun night out. I managed to wash my hands with my camera around my wrist, which led to its demise. :(

We slept in! Then we woke up and got some KFC, which was awesome. Then in the sweltering heat, we went to the castle. It was not fun climbing up the top, but it was beautiful so we had a good time doing it.

Later we had dinner, I had roast beef. And then we went back to Bombay for some drinks together.

The way home was fine--but then we got approached by a man asking for money--which we didn't have because Prague has a different currency and we spent all of it since we were leaving the next morning. He started to reach for something (a knife?) I was ready to bolt, but then the reception at our hostel let us in just in time and a cop car drove by us. Once again, I can thank St. Anthony for protecting me in a potentially awful situation.

Before the mugger there was this limo with photographers outside of a store, but no one was getting out so we decided they were filming an add--cool, but not as cool a celebrity sighting.

Prague was still good, even the second time around. It was nice to do it in the warm weather (last time I was there was February and it was FREEZING).

Now we are on the train to Berlin and we have a week in Germany. I skyped my family before I left Prague--which was great--I am excited to see everyone in a week.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Where I was: Padova, Athens, Budapest

May 19, 2007

After Greece we made a pit stop in Padova to see my host family (from when I studied abroad there), which was so far one of my favorite parts of the trip. We got in late from Ancona and walked down Corso Garibaldi to the pizzeria that my host family owns. It was so nostalgic being back in Padova.

Before getting to the pizzeria we stopped at Pinguino Blu for ice cream, which was double the size and had a different name than when I lived there. This was my favorite place for gelato. After ice cream we went to Gianni's. It was so good to see everyone at the restaurant again. I miss eating there so much.

Although we had just eaten ice cream, Gianni had us get strawberry tiramisu--the house special. Then Lisa and I headed home.

My host mom Laura waited up for me and gave me the biggest hug ever. They got a cat who had four little kittes. Lisa loved the kitties. We stayed in the room next to my old room because a Romanian girl now rents my room out.

In the morning Lisa and I said hi to Laura and Gianni, and then headed downtown. We stopped by the BU center and it was nice to see everyone there. Then we ran some errands while we were in a country where one of us had a pretty good handle of the language.

After we did some sightseeing. I took Lisa to see Prato della Valle and San Antonio.

We headed over to the pizzeria and had pizza with Gianni. It was just as good as I remembered. After lunch we went to the market and each bought shorts, which was a fun and random buy.

We went back to the house and I got to hang out with the family. I saw all of my host sisters, which was great. I said bye and then we walked to the train station. I also stopped to say goodbye to Gianni again.

Lisa was amazed by having to say goodbye again, but I guess Italians have serious detachment problems. We got to the train in Venice where we had to get our bags that we stored there for piece of mind.

We were off to Budapest on a rickety old train. We went through non-Schengen countries (Slovakia and Croatia) so we got passport stamps. At one stop an officer said "no timbri, solo baci," which means no stamps, only kisses. Real nice.

We got to Budapest Keleti station, and after arriving, we got attacked by a million people about hostels and where to stay. More later because I don't feel so hot and want to get sleep for Prague tomorrow.

May 16, 2007

The ferry ride to Greece was pure torture. We stuck it out, but this meant we had to sleep on the decks outside. In natural European style there was a sketchy man. He spoke Italian, and thought we were friends. We befriended two boys our age, which in the end helped us stay safe from the sketchballs.

Jamie and David were from Colombia and were also backpacking. We went to the "disco" on the ship, which ended up being all old Greeks dancing. We fell asleep there. At 2 a.m., however, the music switched from traditional Greek to techno. It was so loud. I woke up and was like--Lisa, this is the soundtrack to my death.

We also got woken up when Jamie informed us that sketchball was staring at us sleeping. All in all it was an awful night. We went upstairs in the morning and took in the sun. We arrived in Patras to the most willy nilly scene. Lisa and I exited the ferry with a million trucks and when we went out there were just cars and trucks going every which way.

We went into the port and asked for stamps which confused the Greeks, but they understood the fascination of Americans with passport stamps. We went towards to the train station.

We got feta cheese pie on the way. The most rickety metal box rolled up at the train station--our train.

I felt like I was in Calabria (where my family is from in Italy). The ride, though bumpy, was beautiful. We traveled across the Peloponesian coast, which dons rocky blue shores all sun-kissed and naturally perfect. This is what I expected Greece to be.

Lisa really wanted to see blue and white houses, but they are more common in the Islands so we didn't see any.

We switched trains in Corinth and got on another train to Athens, which was much nicer. We arrived in Athens and headed straight for our hostel. Since it was 9:30 p.m., Lisa and I were lucky to get the last two beds in the place, but in separate rooms.

We headed to get some food and had stuffed vine leaves and Greek salad. This was also what you expected from Greece.

Then we went back to the hostel and both showered--first time in three days. That night I had the best sleep of the whole trip--especially after that gross night on the ferry.

Lisa and I got up and went to breakfast where we met David who did some sightseeing with us.

We went to the Acropolis where we saw Dionyisis Theatre, the Odeon and the Parthenon. It was all so incredible. Our hostel had a view of the Parthenon and we had seen it the night before from the roof. I was in awe. It's just something that you don't get over, especially when you begin to think about what it is.

We also saw the Temple of Zeus, the original Olympic theatre, Hadrian's Arc, the Greek botanical gardens. We even had time, and went to see the present-day Greek parliament.

Then we tried to find Socrates' prison cell and it turned into a crazy search up a mountain, which I did not enjoy. Our tag-along David kept going up. I was annoyed and just wanted to leave, but Lisa was trying to be nice and patient with him. After a while of the chase, I split off. I felt bad for being a brat, but it was hot and flip-flops are not the greatest for climbing up mountains. Here is where I realized how deprived my city-girl self is of nature--I just can't do it sometimes because I never experience it. When Lisa asked me if I had ever been camping--I said, "yeah, inside the Hall of Science."

Later I apologized to David who ended up finding the cell while Lisa and I shopped. I got my mom a greek moo-moo and my brother discus shirt. After, I bought myself and Athena ring, the goddess of wisdom.

We watched the sunset over the acropolis from the roof of our hostel. We went out that night, which made me miss Dublin because of the all of the music.

We woke up in the morning and did some last minute shopping. The trains were on strike--although we just thought the metro was on strike. So our non-English speaking cab driver who couldn't tell us what was going on dropped us off at the bus station. Getting a cab was really difficult--and the hot Greek sun made this even worse.

The bus station was willy nilly with arrows every where. We got some food in Patras and then went to the ferry. This time Lisa and I booked beds, which ended up being half the price were were originally quoted. We decided to treat ourselves to Greek salads on the boat since the beds were cheap.

Then we relaxed in our room--luckily the other two beds did not get filled. We even went to the ferry disco, which was better than the last.

In the afternoon we mosied from bed to the deck to get some sun. We took some funny "model" pictures and got more salad since we've been craving veggies. They are harder to get when you are on the go. We took showers since we had the luxury of a shower in our ferry room. We joked that the ferry was the most luxurious place we staying all trip. This ferry ride was much more pleasurable than the last.

After the ferry we stopped for some pizza, and now we are on the train to Padova. I am so excited to go back. Sitting on the train looking out the window makes me realize how very much I miss Italy.

I've also been listening to the radio in all of the countries, which has become a fun little cultural experiment for me. I love Italian radio--it is so upbeat.

Greece was worth the 60 some odd hours or so of travel--it was everything I imagined--any anyone who hates Athens is crazy. It's definitely in my top 3 of all of Europe.

Graduation, moving, new job...higher gas prices

I just got home from Boston after four amazing years in undergrad at BU. I can't believe I am a college graduate.

Anyhow, I am living at home this summer in Long Beach, NYwith my mom and commuting to the city where I work at a PR firm. My family just moved to Long Beach and the house is in shambles--I will blame my lack of writing on that situation.

Long Beach is everything you want: beach town, good night life, young people...

But it is further from other places on the island making me realize the higher gas prices even more. Luckily, I commute to work every day, but for those times I drive, I certainly feel it.

Looking at this more globally, however, it has such a significant impact.

I read this article in the New York Times today about American Airlines cutting back. Gas prices probably have something to do with this.

This move by American Airlines made me think about overall global trends, specifically the trend known as globalization. It's general opinion that the world will become more and more globalized. But if gas prices are too high, will it still be so easy to transport goods? Will high prices counteract the progress that has been made towards being more interconnected?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where I was: Barcelona, Zurich, Vienna

May 12, 2007

We're en route to Greece--on the train from Venice to Ancona where we will catch the ferry. We just got into Italy from Vienna. Last time I wrote, Lisa and I were on a night train from Zurich to Vienna, for which we were too cheap to actually book beds. For a while it was just us and so we closed the door (to our cabin), pushed the seats together and went to sleep. There were no curtains, which put us in a fish bowl setting.

Around 4 a.m. a dude came in. He moved our stuff from our seats a.k.a. food and trash. I was awake and watched him because I had heard him. Then he unsuperbedded (took the two seats apart) the aisle seats and sat down. Because he did this I assumed he was just getting into his right seat. Then I felt Lisa wriggling around again. I just assumed she did this because she was still sleeping, but sensed his presence. Then she sat up really abruptly, ripped her eye mask off and screamed at the sight of the man.

I tried to calm her down saying he was o.k., but then she told me that she woke up because his hand was on her thigh. He spoke Italian so I yelled at him. Of course he denied, but I asked him to leave. He sat right outside, and basically stared at us. He got up, but then came back and actually had the audacity to ask to come in again. I got him to go away, but we were too scared to go back to sleep until some commuters got into our car a little after Salzburg.

Eventually we got to Vienna and we were staying with a friend of Lisa's friend from London who is abroad in Vienna. By ourselves we used a map and guided ourselves to his house. He was so shocked to see us show up at 9 a.m. without any help. I guess we're just getting good at getting oriented and moving from place to place. After not being able to shower for five days we each took a shower, which was awesome. And while Lisa was showering Mike gave us suggestions for what to do in Vienna.

First we went to the famous church in the town centre called Stephensplatz. It was very beautiful. I was most impressed by the really brilliantly colored stained glass windows at the rear by the alter. After the church Lisa and I were dead tired, especially since we barely slept--all fault of the molester. We got some full-sized pigs in a blanket and some coffee in the square near Stephensplatz in an attempt to revive ourselves. Then we headed to some open air markets where I was just in awe by the markets. We met a "Rock" (as in DO YOU SMELL WHAT THE ROCK IS COOKIN') impersonator who sold wasabi buts. He was trying to pick us up--we've kind of become immune to this being in Europe.

Then we got sucked into an internet cafe.

After an hour there we headed to Schonbrunn, the summer home of the Hapsburgs, and explored the gardens and the imperial zoo.

The next day we went to Belvedere, another Hapsburg palace. It was full of art!

Lisa and I went shopping. We bought ridiculous amounts of food at the supermarket for our travels. Mike made us dinner and then we went to the train station.

We had a really comfortable night because we booked beds and had all of our food. In the morning they brought us breakfast in bed, which was a really nice treat.

We got into Venice a little before 9 and our train to Ancona didn't leave until 11 so we got to walk around a little. Now we are en route to Ancona where we will catch the ferry.

My dad called and I spoke to him. He was freaking out because my phone didn't work in Austria. My mom sent me a panic e-mail--they were basically ready to book a flight. They freak out really easy. I also spoke to my host mom in Italy and we are staying with them the night after we get back from Greece.

May 9, 2007

Barcelona was exactly as we had hoped--as Lisa liked to say, "a little piece of paradise." We got in and of course it was mayhem carrying around out bags, which we have nicknamed Cartman and Kenny from their resemblance to South Park characters.

We decided that it is good practice to book our reservations immediately upon arrival--for our next destination. The line in Barcelona was so long , and after waiting with our backpacks we were given the news that there is only a train that is also a hotel going to our next stop (Zurich), and, it COST us. We were fairly annoyed since we paid so much money for the pass. At this point we did not know it was a hotel on wheels so we were even more annoyed.

Barcelona was warm and beautiful and we were so excited to get out into the sun. Of course our first mission was finding a place to stay. We took the subway to Las Ramblas. We proceeded to walk into every hostel in sight to find sketchiness or not good deals. We got hotter and hotter and more tired as this ordeal continued. We followed a flier for a pension that we got at the train station and that ended up being full. The lady at the pension recommended this place on the corner.

This is where we met Carmen at Hostal Miramar. This hostel might not have been the most beautiful looking place, but you could tell Carmen busted her butt cleaning it.

We had our own room, which was nice so we could let our backpacks spread out and get our stuff together at night. We got organized and then went roaming around Las Ramblas. We feasted on delicious Menu del Dia and each treated ourselves to a bracelet since we survived our first overnight train. All of this went on Las Ramblas.

We looked for a beach, which we eventually found and it was beautiful. After walking around we got some tapas, which were a huge disappointment compared to the ones I got while I was in Madrid during the semester.

After dinner we headed to a club that we got free passes to earlier in the day. This was the first night out really, but since we had some time in Barcelona it was totally worth it, and we were able to sleep in a little bit in the morning.

The next day we woke up after a long night of listening to our neighbors throwing up and decided to go directly to the beach. It was great and both of us got a lot of color. After beach we did the sky ride over the water, which although pricey, was really fun.

After the ride we men some friendly Americans and chatted atop the hill letting our backs soak up the sun. We then mosied to Sagrada Familia--the famous Gaudi church. I was impressed by my abilities to understand Spanish all weekend, but mostly on this walk when asking for directions and actually knowing what to do.

We walked all over looking for some authentic dinner and ended up with seafood paella on the beach, which was so delicious. (I STILL REMEMBER THE TASTE ONE YEAR LATER--this is a reflection from RIGHT NOW 2008).

We called it a night. Lisa and I laughed when we got back because more often than not, we shared a bed than having our own beds.

The next morning we rented bikes and rose all over the city. We happened across such beauty. The same happened on our way to the church--running into beauty on accident.

We returned our bikes, ate some sandwiches and headed to the train.

We got to Zurich, and the first thing we did was take a boat tour of Lake Zurich. We honestly spent a lot of the day just taking in the purity of Zurich. The mountains, lake and cottages made for such a serene setting.

We spent a lot of the day looking for food places that took visa since Zurich is not on the Euro. It was very annoying to deal with another currency.

After only a day, we got on another train. On to Vienna, Austria!!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

We had allies in the Middle East?

You heard me. And what's amazing is that it was actually during most of our lifetimes.

You've also heard people crack political jokes about the fact that groups in Afghanistan are using weapons we supplied them with to fight us in the War on Terror. And it's true, but in defense of the US at the time--the USSR was a huge threat, and by supporting Afghanistan in their war against the USSR we were doing something in our interests. The stark reality of it all is frightening now, but could we have ever known. "Freedom fighters" like Osama Bin Laden were not the threat they are now to us back then, after all, they were fighting our enemy, right? Ok, so, you probably think I've lost my sanity--I actually believe that we shouldn't be giving weapons to anyone. Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy. But isn't it interesting how things worked out.

Ok so, Iran. We were close, close allies with Iran for a long, long time. We supported Shah Reza Pahlavi. We had this nice little relationship based on oil. And then, revolution. The Ayatollah comes to power. Our relationship with Iran is basically over. The Shah gets cancer, and President Jimmy Carter lets him in for treatment. The Ayatollah is extremely angry. One thing leads to another and we have the hostage crisis. End of our relationship with Iran.

I'm going to go there (not literally, though I would consider it.) Iraq. We SUPPORTED Iraq against Iran during the 1980s. Especially since "our guy" wasn't in power anymore in Iran. But then Iraq annexes Kuwait--which has--OIL. Daddy Bush brings it to the Security Council and a coalition of states gets Iraq out of Kuwait in four days. End of our relationship with Iraq.

And throughout most of this--we supported Israel. Now Israel is our only friend in the region. Too bad Israel doesn't have too many friends in the region either.

My "History of IR from 1945 to Present" class stimulated my thoughts on this, and I had to share it with everyone for the good of humanity. I am truly amazed at how history has progressed and where it has brought us.

Maybe there is hope? Maybe we can be friends again? I'll give you my lunch if you'll be my friend?? Why can't international relations be that easy?

Let's talk about it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Where I was: Brussels, Paris


May 6, 2007

A lot has happened in the past few hours I guess you can say because it hasn't really been days.

On day 3 we headed to Brussels. The train ride was very pleasant, but it was followed by an unpleasant roam around Brussels searching for a hostel. We essentially walked the whole city. Finally we found the one we had researched about and all they had left was a single room. Luckily, we were able to split the price of it and Lisa and I just shared the bed. Even though it was a little tight, it was nice to have a private room with our own bathroom.

We thought it was funny because our room was in the cocoon section of the hostel, which was all the up top and up a special flight of stairs.

On the train to Brussels we decided to go to Paris and Barcelona instead of the south of France. This was really exciting and gave us both a lot to look forward to. That night in Brussels we saw the Grand Place and then went for dinner. Dinner was really amazing. I ate fish soup and paella. Yay for moules in Belgium. After we went to see the Mannekin Pis, which is a statue of a peeing boy. I thought it was hilarious.

Then Lisa and I treated ourselves to Belgian beer. I had strawberry and she had cherry. So great.

We called it a night early and went back to the hostel to organize our lives and backpacks. We made a realistic plan of our trip and realized we have a week leeway so we are probably going to stop in Padova (where I studied abroad last year), and then go to GREECE.

I am looking forward to that in ways I can not describe on paper.

THe next day we woke up early and went to the European Union. There was a fair celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community. It was really exciting to be there for such a historical event. After the EU we got on the metro and saw the Atominium, which is a monument in Brussels that was in the World's Fair. They call it the Eiffel Tower of Brussels.

We got some Belgian waffles, which were delightful, but then we had to haul over to our hostel in order to make our train to Paris. After running--blood, sweat and tears--we got to the train station only to find out that we were at the wrong one. We quickly got on a train there and got to the right station. Our train was late. We made the train, but they wouldn't let us on without reservations. This was really frustrating since we paid $700 each for our rail passes. We ended up waiting for two hours, which meant enough time for another Belgian beer. We finally got on our train to Paris and slept the whole time.

Once we arrived we met Lisa's cousin Katie. She was so sweet and took us to see the Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triumph and the Bastille Monument. We also managed to feed ourselves two crepes during the time. Paris was a fun little interlude. However, we got back to the train station for our overnight train to Barcelona.

We are on the train now, and it is gorgeous. We are so excited for going to the beach and relaxing.

Photo: Check me out at the European Union!

(More regular blog entries to come, it's hectic trying to learn about the History of IR from 1945 to present for finals and keep up with these segments so they are in proper date order. <3)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Where I was: Amsterdam

May 4, 2007

Yesterday Lisa and I did Amsterdam. We arrived at 6 a.m. after our long night on the bus. This city was still not fully awake and the sun was not fully risen. I was a little disillusioned because I expected the city to be bright and colorful.

We went to our hostel, the flying pig and Lisa and I deemed this time purgatory because we could not check in until 10 and we had arrived by 7. Our bags were so annoying and nothing was open so basically we were stuck on the pillow covered area.

After an hour or so Lisa and I decided to shower and then we headed over to the Anne Frank house. It was truly an incredible experience to see in real life where she lived and hid. I was really taken aback by the museum. How can you be forced to live like that? The floors were so creaky--I couldn't imagine not being able to make noise.

After Anne Frank, Lisa and I just cruised around and got a feel for Amsterdam.

We did some wandering and then we went back to the hostel and then right after went for lunch--we ate cheese covered hot dogs, which were so amazing. The food is all such junk but so good. Later Lisa and I indulged in waffles and cream puffs as well as cheese fries . Wonderful.

Back at the hostel we made a friend named Amir. We hung around and had some light Dutch beer which I actually liked.

Lisa and I also took a few adventures out to the Red Light District, which was really interesting. We were really curious about how these transactions occur. Basically, red lights, women behind windowed door--dude makes a selection and walks in. Weird.

Coming back to the hostel and trying to go to bed was quite the task since we stayed in a 32-person room and the lights had been shut since people were already sleeping. Lisa and I, of course, caused a mini raucous.

At the end of the day, I must say, Amsterdam ended up as bright as I expected after the son rose. We had such fun enjoying the sun. I loved that we saw windmills from the bus on the way in. I woke up at 4 a.m. to scream: "LISA, A WINDMILL!"

Today we over slept because I set my alarm for Irish time. Whoops! But we still got out. I bought my mom a dutch shoe charm for her bracelet and then we wandered to the Heineken brewery, which was so much cooler than Guinness. There were rides and it was interactive.

At both Heineken and Anne Frank, Lisa and I made video messages, which you can e-mail to people. We had way too much fun making these videos. Hopefully they have them in a lot of cities we go to.

A bunch of Canadians from our hostel were also at Heineken and it was great to hang out with them. Part of backpacking is meeting people and I really hope we do that.

Now we are en route to Brussels where we plan to stay for the night. I feel so lucky to be on this trip and get to experience all these cities, but also the countryside, which we can see from the trains.

We have no idea where we are staying in Brussels tonight. Fabulous.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Where I was: London

May 2, 2007

After meeting with Lisa she took me down to the area where the Museum of Natural History is located. Instead of going to the museum I went for dinner because I was starving. I ate at Big China. I have been craving chinese food so bad. This was the first time I ate at a restaurant by myself. Lisa suggested going to Ben's cookies but it had closed so I got other cookies.

Today Lisa woke me up bright and early and we went to mail her package of stuff to my house (she obviously couldn't backpack with it. She was moving to NY so it was easier to ship to my house than her house all the way in Dallas.) She went to her presentation and I went to relax and pack. Then I went to the Embankment walk along the Thames. From the walk I got to see the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, Tower Bridge, Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, St. Paul's and other prettiness along the way. I'm glad I was able to see a bunch of London, but hope I can come back at some point in my life.

After my sightseeing, Lisa and I met up with her friend luke over to catch our bus to Amsterdam. Our backpacks are so HEAVY. The bus is crazy long. We just got off the ferry across the English Channel and now we are in France. The ferry was huge. It had a duty free, restaurant and arcade. Eight more hours until Amsterdam. So far the trip has been fun. We shall see what other mayhem comes our way.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where I was: most of my thoughts from a nearly unedited version of my backpacking journal

May 1, 2007

I left Dublin this afternoon and it already feels like ages ago.

Dublin was such a relaxing and fun experience. I loved it. Most of my roommates moved out earlier last week and that was really hard for me. having four months there made it seem as though time would last forever.

After everyone left, Sarah, Lindsey and Kelly were still around. Linds left for Berlin and then Kelly to Italy. Sarah and I were the last to go. The four of us spent a lot of time just vegging. We also did a lot of cleaning since our darling roommates left all of their stuff all over.

Cleaning was very frustrating but we tried to think about all the good times in Dublin that went into making the mess as we cleaned.

Sarah is also going backpacking so once it was just us we helped each other get ready for our trips. It was definitely nice to have someone else around who could make me less nervous about this adventure.

I left my apartment at Dublin City University at 1:33 p.m. I love Dublin airport. It is just the right size and by now I knew it inside and out. I'm trying to be healthy this trip so I ate sushi. I slept on the plan and was in London before I knew it.

Lisa F. met me in Victoria station. I am really glad that I get to see her before I go. We hung out a little. I got to see her dorm which is really nice. It is in a really nice area called Kensington. She took me to meet Lisa Z. I was really excited to see her.

For a few days I was anxious and kind of questioning this whole trip, but once I saw Lisa (who is Lisa Z. and the lovely companion on the rest of this journey) I became really excited. Craziness ensued because Lisa informed me we'd be leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow when I thought we were going on May 4th. This trip is going to be willy nilly, plain and simple.