This is after several weeks of opening my mailbox and only receiving advertisements and coupons.
This is after several weeks of opening my mailbox and only receiving advertisements and coupons.
This is the first breakfast in ~3 weeks that did not consist of oatmeal (not including last weekend where I went home to visit family). I do really enjoy having oatmeal and will probably go back to the trend tomorrow morning.
Late into the night, as the shops and restaurants were closing in downtown Munich, a band called “White,” set up shop and started performing. The band was very small, being only composed of a guitarist, percussionist, and a stand-up bass player. They sang several songs in English, including a cover of Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles, ironically as the sun was setting. After a while, one of the band members called out to the audience for requests. Any song, any genre, except for 3 that the band explained that they refused to play; none of which I knew. As I was standing in the front row I saw the opportunity, briefly hesitated, and then asked them to play a song by Taylor Swift.
In response, some members of the audience laughed, a few shouted an encouraging “yes!” and the band members looked a little confused. The guitarist then looked at the audience for a while and said “no more requests” and then proceeded to play Clocks by Coldplay. It was such a good cover that I’m not even disappointed that they didn’t take my request.
This band played into the night, with several other covers including Hotel California and Wonderwall. As they continued to sing the more people past by. Some people just walked past, but many stayed, or danced, or took pictures, or videotaped the band. And as the evening progressed, more and more people gathered and stayed and laughed.
As I was standing there in the crowd, I thought there was something almost magical about this scene; where 3 individuals could do something to make at least a hundred people from different cultures and walks of life come together to sing and clap and cheer in unison.
Ernest Hemingway once said “If I am stuck, I think of one true sentence and begin with that.” As I am clearly stuck and don’t know how else to start this entry, I’m going to begin with that quote. I am also pretty sure that I have misquoted that particular line from Hemingway.
As a tourist, the city of Saltzburg seems to stress two major things: Mozart and The Sound of Music. Yes there are many other things to see in Saltzburg, such as the mountains, the gorgeous countryside, the salt mines, and the famous bridge where lovers attach locks to, but most of the souvenirs and advertisements seemed to be based around those two things. Being tourists in Saltzburg, my family and I went to see the sites focused on Mozart and The Sound of Music.
I saw a collection of portraits fully devoted to portraying Mozart. It was an interesting art collection to view because the creators of this exhibit stressed that nobody knew exactly what Mozart looked like. Back then, without the aid of photographs, how a person is portrayed relied heavily on the painter. Each painting was subjected to the artist’s personal bias, limitations, and artistic style. The collection consisted of beautiful pieces of artwork, but none of them could accurately portray Mozart as Mozart. All drawings were different. Some featured him as a relatively thin gentleman, and some as a slightly chubby aristocrat. Despite so many pictures being commissioned for him, the facial features were never consistent, nor agreeable. On top of that, Mozart was heavily idolized as a musician, and all artistic renditions were most likely air-brushed so-to-speak. It was said that in reality, he was a relatively disagreeable looking person. Thus, as painters and artists, most of the time they didn’t draw Mozart as he was in reality.
As my family and I were in Saltzburg, we attended The Sound of Music Tour. I was a fan of The Sound of Music, so this was both a fulfilling a heartbreaking experience. It was fulfilling because I got to see many of the major sites that the movie was filmed at: such as the gazebo where 16 Going on 17 was sung. But it was heartbreaking, because the tour guide told us many movie facts that took away from the magic, such as that much of the movie was actually filmed in Hollywood instead of Saltzburg. For example, the part of 16 Going on 17 that took inside the gazebo was filmed in a larger reconstructed set back in LA. Furthermore, I’ve also learnt that most of the story was based on the Von Trapp family’s experience, but Hollywood, being Hollywood, made some dramatic changes. For example, the family never escaped over the mountains, because going over the Alps would have lead them directly into Germany.
While on the tour I visited the church that the Captain and Maria’s wedding was filmed at (unfortunately this was at a different church than the actual wedding between the real captain and Maria). They had an art exhibit by Hans Frank. According to the description I got, he painted many pictures, but mostly of Austria’s countryside “not as it was naturally, but as it should be.” He painted fields and lakes and mountains, but removed much of the railroads, or towns, or other human buildings.
All of this made me think about reality; about the ones we create and the ones we distort. With art we can transfigure reality or imagine alternative scenarios. And I don’t think that distorting reality through art is a bad thing. I think art is a creative process, where we can make something new or even impossible happen. We realize whether we are viewing drawings or movies or artwork or even when we are reading literature that reality is being distorted. And through these forms of medium, we can express ourselves even better. I think we are all like Hans Frank in a way when we create something. We are all trying to find and paint realities that are not necessarily always real, but as how we think they must be. And through that we paradoxically reflect some truth.
When Vienna State Opera House was built, many Austrians disliked the building. The Emperor, Franz Joseph I, even commented that the architects had no taste when designing it. I disagree with Franz Joseph, and personally thought that any building containing my own elaborately decorated private room would be just fine.
The emperor’s room, shown in the picture on the left, was my favourite place in the opera house because upon seeing it I realized that I was physically seeing the actual room that the actual emperor had actually been in (most of the opera house was destroyed due to World War II, and this was one of the few original rooms that remained).
One thing I never realized before visiting Vienna was how massive the opera industry was. For example, the Vienna State Opera literally have thousands upon thousands of costumes stored in private warehouses because it won’t fit into the building. And that’s only the costumes, not to mention the countless singers, directors, accountants, make-up artists, technicians, advertising staff, maintenance crew, and musicians.
After seeing the opera house I went to the museum complex. This is where I met a variety of other tourists who shared in my enthusiasm of climbing this puppy-sized elephant statue in front of the natural history museum. I named the puppy-sized elephant Frederich von Wilhelm, although in retrospect I’m not sure how it feels about having a name based on Prussian monarchs.
Naturally being in the museum complex I went to see a museum. There was a museum that collected medieval weaponry as well as musical instruments, and being a massive nerd and a former band geek I went in. Walking around made me think about this strange juxtaposition, where hundreds of years worth of human progress devoted to the fine arts was placed right beside hundreds of years worth of objects designed for war and battles. Ok, I’ll be honest; I spent far more time looking at the collection of swords and jousting equipment than the musical instruments, because…well…swords and jousting equipment.
As I left the museum complex I saw these street performers. Interestingly the two never met prior to this day. The person tossing the toy was just taking a walk with his wife and child at the time, and the two of them improvised the performance together. We talked for a bit, and I asked them a few questions such as what life in the Austrian countryside was like for them and how they felt about being new parents.
That evening my family and I went to see a performance. It was a combination of a concert featuring Mozart, as well as a few ballet and opera pieces. At the risk of losing my “man card,” I have to admit that I enjoyed the performance that evening, even the ballet section of it.
All the while, during the concert, I kept thinking about music. How it is passed along in a variety of forms; from concerts, to iPods, to radios, to street performers, to vain attempts of relieving people from those annoying “please hold” messages. It is something that is often so ignored yet also so engrained within our lives.
A family friend once told me that he went to Venice, but didn’t go on a gondola ride. “But how could you go to Venice and not go on a gondola?” I blurted out. I thought it was absurd, a crime against humanity. One does not simply go to Venice without riding a gondola anymore than they should venture to Mordor alone. And then I went to Venice and realized that I could take one gondola ride or purchase 10 full-sized pizzas. I was the type of person who would be much happier with the 10 pizzas.
In truth, I have spent very little time in central Venice. In fact, I probably spent only 7 or 8 hours there. Most of my time there was spent instead at Lido, which is a small island just on the outskirts of Venice. It is often the end of the line for several water buses there (Venice is the place where public transport predominantly consists of boats that travel along the canals).
When I toured around central Venice, it was full of grandeur and mystery. Canals and people were everywhere, and I often felt that I could get lost and just explore the city forever. Lido was almost the opposite.
Lido was like a mellowed down version of Venice. There wasn’t as many shops to go to or fancy sites on this island. But it was a great place to go to relax. I had a chance to bike around the island, enjoy the scenery, and stop and sit at cafés. This is where I typed a few other blog entries, and had the most productive afternoon so far on this trip. Lido had a beachside, some charming architecture, friendly people, and some absolutely magnificent parks and scenery. Lido was definitely not the same as Venice, but every inch of it was just as beautiful.
I wanted to go to Venice for several years. During my stay there, I realized that I wasn’t going to have the trip to Venice that I’ve initially wanted. I went to St. Mark’s Square, but wasn’t able to go to St. Mark’s Cathedral (in my defence, the line was enormous and it would have probably taken several hours). I didn’t see much of the canals or historical sites. I didn’t even step on a gondola. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to finish 10 pizzas on this trip. But, I am still glad to have been blessed to spend my time at Lido. Amidst all the busy travelling and trying to see all the sites, it is nice to be able to sit down for a few afternoons and just relax.
While I was in taking the train in Geneva I met a really nice student who was working at CERN during the summer. We talked about summer studentships very briefly, but as she studied physics and engineer, and I knew virtually nothing about theoretical physics or engineering, I’ve decided it was best to shy away from those particular topics. So instead we talked about our travels. She told me about her experiences in Montreal, in which she said the citizens were very nice and friendly to her there. Upon learning that my brother and I were going to Nice in a few days, she told me that she was actually from Nice and suggested that I go check out Cimiez.
So a few day later, heeding her advice, I went to Cimiez. Cimiez is an extremely gorgeous neighbourhood that stood on top of a hill in Nice. It contains several elaborate houses, that were all well decorated. Tourist maps probably highlight it because it has a park, a monastery, Roman Ruins and an archeological museum; all within close proximity of each other.
Attached to the monastery was a graveyard. It wasn’t a graveyard like those witnessed in zombie movies. It was an elaborate graveyard, full of marble tombs, stone statues, delicate paintings, and clear pathways. Some graves had flowers placed upon them, and one of them somebody even left a cactus. If one could be buried with style, it was here.
Yet, amidst all the glamour, the graveyard had a very solemn atmosphere to it. Hardly anybody was around, and nobody was talking. I could hear the sounds of my own shoes scratching on the pebbles as I walked around. As I walked around, none of the names seemed familiar to me, although I’m sure many of them have accomplished great things, or at very least, must have achieved great wealth.
The monastery itself was also very quiet. It was decorated in artwork, but contained very few people. You could hear a pin drop from the other side. The park however, was the exact opposite. The park consisted of a vast space, full of children laughing, adults strolling around and chatting, while friends and families were playing games and sports of various sorts. Some teenagers even tied a garbage bag between two posts and were spray painting it, occasionally pausing to examine their artwork.
The Roman ruins were just right beside the park. On one hand, they were completely abandoned and literally fenced off from the rest of the world. On the other, there was a tremendous amount of vegetation that was growing between the cracks of these ruins. It reminded me of an episode of Community my friend made me watch a long time ago, in which a Biology teacher was telling the students how he was inspired about life growing where it normally shouldn’t (it should be season 3 episode 1 if I remember correctly).
As I walked around I thought about this juxtaposition, how people were being so lively around the dead. But I won’t talk about that much, as there was already a video on YouTube that did a wonderful job of this already (click link here). Instead, I would finish off this entry saying that I was glad to have taken the suggestion from the girl I met on the bus in Geneva. I’m sure there are many more intelligent questions to ask somebody who studies at CERN, but I am still happy with this encounter because otherwise I would never have taken the chance to explore Cimiez.
On my first day at Geneva, I wanted to see the Madeleine Church. As a typical tourist, I got lost quite quickly. As a typical man, I absolutely refused to ask for directions. So I spent several hours wandering around old town trying to navigate my way around.
One nice thing about traveling is that it is very easy to spot out many things that are slightly different; and anything that is mildly interesting becomes utterly fascinating. So as I wandered about Old Town in Geneva, I began noticing things. I found a merry-go-round with fairy tales where the little mermaid was blonde instead of ginger. I saw this tiny cannon in a side window and wondered what it did to deserve to be locked away (my bet is on high treason). I’ve noticed a row of lamps in a side alleyway, where one was different and it reminded me of the Doctor Seuss quote “why blend in when you’re born to stand out.” I walked down a side road, despite initially thinking it would lead to a dead end, but ended up finding a surprisingly beautifully tranquil pond placed right in front of a protestant reformation museum. Although, had I read the signs along the way, I would’ve known that the road was directing me to the protestant reformation museum.
I also found a book shop, which I spent way too much time in. This is where I found a book on Marx placed right beside one on economics. I can’t read French, but I wondered if the economics book might have been slightly prejudiced against capitalism. I’ve taken time to look at book covers. I found it interesting that some book covers were different from the North American editions, like And the Mountains Echoed, and the Casual Vacancy, but many weren’t, including: The Great Gatsby, Dan Brown’s Inferno, the Fault in Our Stars, and George R.R. Martin’s books. I also thought that it must look weird walking around a book store taking pictures on an ipad. Although, in retrospect, this was probably less strange and definitely much less creepy than the time when I was watching the carousel full of young children go around.
However, being lost could only be fun for so long. Eventually, when I finally did ask somebody for directions, it ended up I was right beside Madeleine Church. It was also closed for whatever reason, with giant signs telling me entry was not possible. He suggested that I visit the cathedral instead, which was also quite an interesting sight.
Yet, as I walked around Old Town in Geneva, I’ve noticed that I didn’t really care about when or if I got to Madeleine Church. Normally when I travel I like to seek out the major tourist attractions first and try only to go directly to them. For me, somebody who likes to plan everything down to the dot, being lost and simply observing what was around me was a nice thing to try out. Typically I would walk past book shops or shop windows because I would assume that I would be able to see these things at home. Yet, after looking around, I don’t regret spending time looking around and finding new things.
And isn’t that part of the reason why we travel? To explore something that we haven’t before; and in the midst of our journey, we hopefully realize something new about ourselves.
I’ve realized that it is important to ask for directions.
Hello fellow reader,
My name is Samuel. I am a 22-year-old university student who enjoys watching TED talks, listening to Taylor Swift, and going to parties asking other students there to teach me about economics. I’m leaving my hometown of Calgary for a three week journey to Europe, and this is my travel blog.
During the weeks leading up to my trip several people, with the best of intentions, have approached me and asked me something along the lines of “Aren’t you excited? Europe would be so fantastic! It would be a nice break to finally get to relax and be away from school for a while!” And I fully agree with them. I do think that this trip would be a nice break, and it is certainly a fantastic opportunity for me (and I realize that not everybody has a chance to visit somewhere they dream of for 3 weeks). And yes, I am quite excited for Europe. But if I had to be fully honest, I’m more terrified of this trip than anything.
For me the idea of traveling comes with several decisions, and possibly regrets. What if I forgot to pack something important? What if I miss out on something amazing? How do I avoid looking like a typical tourist? Should I get the chocolate gelato or vanilla? And this is what terrifies me; the decisions. Europe is so full of options and opportunities that I don’t know how to deal with it at once. I am worried about making wrong choices, of letting others down, and of regretting the little imperfections I’ve made along the way. I know what you are thinking, “Sam, how could you possibly screw this up?” Believe me, when I get asked this, I somehow let my actions find some unexpected and very satisfying answer to this particular question.
Another confession: the idea of writing a blog terrifies me too. I’m not that worried if nobody reads my blog. If that happens, I will be a little disappointed, but not terrified. If I had to be honest, I very rarely even read my friends’ travel blogs…apologies sent to those of my friends who write travel blogs. I’m sure many people do read them, I just don’t happen to be one of them. Anyways, I diverge from the topic. No, I’m more worried if people do actually read it. Would I regret writing the things that I wrote later on? Would my friends and family think I’m insane? What if my children find this and use it to blackmail me in the future? It might sound crazy, but I genuinely did worry about how others might view my blog a long time before I decided to start it.
Why would I be doing something that I’m terrified in? I wanted to start a blog partly because of a professor I had in university who encouraged me to keep a journal of my travels on this particular trip. I was also partly inspired by the “Thoughts from Places” videos on the VlogBrothers’ YouTube channel, which shown me that there is value to sharing our insights. Others also encouraged me to try new things on this trip, and this is certainly a new experience for me. And finally, I decided to share my ideas openly because I am terrified of sharing my ideas openly. It would certainly be an interesting experiment, and allow me to face some of my fears directly.
So with that, I begin my journey. Both throughout Europe and through journaling or blogging. Both actions scare me, but it’s always nice to know at least I’m challenging myself by jumping in head first fearless.
What every computer fan starts with.