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Featured Lifestyle Travel

Munich, Germany

September 20, 2016

When in Germany you must go to Oktoberfest in Munich. My cousin Jamelia’s co-worker, Constanze from the worldwide company SAP and her son Vince, were gracious enough to open up their home to me. I spent 5 days in beautiful Munich exploring the city, museums, architecture, and of course Oktoberfest.

img_0282     img_0284I went to the city center, Marienplatz, where I was immediately greeted by a sworm of couchsurfers. We walked around city center where there actually were many American stores, Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, TJMaxx, ect. However, I was a mission find a Dirndl for Oktoberfest kick off, which started the following day. After I found my perfect outfit, we spent the rest of the night pre-paring for Oktoberfest which meant drinking a lot of beer. 🙂 We walked around to several different Augustines (very popular beer in Munich) which I actually fancy. It has the perfect amount of hops in it, not to hard and not weak! Now these bar are not your typical American bar. This is more like 2-3 mall food court size bars with full course meals, including whole and half chickens, with potatoes and gravy, ducks, lamb, and so much more.

img_0299 Getting ready for Oktoberfest and to my surprise, my new friend AJ from Paris came to visit me in Munich in Oktoberfest. He lives In Stuttgart, Germany which is only a 2hour drive. So I convinced him to come down for the weekend and he did. He’s my new travel ace! So I walked up to him at the train station in this Dirndl and he just bust out laughing. I thought I was cute lol We head to the festival by train when we get off on our stop we have no idea where to go. So we just follow all the other 1,000 people walking in one direction. And Wha-la we made it.img_0321

Just a quick reminder, it rained the entire week, but from the amount of people outside or in the tents, nobody really cared.

A couple of people that I met the previous day were in a tent and had saved us seats so we headed in that direction. However, they got kicked out of their seats because that table was actually reserved. A quick tip: If you don’t buy reservations for a table, its a good idea to get to the tent early. However, I was not going to a tent at 7am, when drink don’t start until 12pm. It just wasnt that serious for me. So me being me, I asked a waiter if we she brought us a beer outside and we gave her a tip, if she could get us in. OF COURSE, she said yes!!!

Another tip: I have learned that people do not really tip in Europe. So when you offer a tip, its not expected, but appreciated.

So she got us in a tent with about 200,000 other people. Our next mission was to find a table. So we just walked around until we found some people our age and Wha-la they say “heyyyyyyyy come sit with us!”  We probably ended up sitting with the best group of people. Everyone is so welcoming young and old. So eager to hear why your In Munich, or at Oktoberfest or traveling….because obviously I look like a local. haha!! I don’t think I have ever drank such big beers in my life! Oh, and AJ made me drink 2 before we could move. We ordered chicken, which in Germany means a WHOLE chicken, not a leg, or thigh or maybe a leg and a thigh, NO!! When I say a whole chicken, I mean an entire chicken, everything except the head. And ohms god, it was seasoned so well and so juicy!! I could eat it plane. We also had ( pulled apart pancakes and apple sauce), pretty much taste like funnel cake and strawberries, it was delicious!

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After this I was stuffed with beer and food! We went outside at about 10pm. Our tent closed at 10:30pm on this night, and we wanted to beat the crowd, which I’m glad we did. Outside are carnival games and rides for what seemed liked miles and miles. We hung out outside watching people play the craziest games in the rain might I add.

Later that night we went to a club called Jack Rabbit. It was pretty lame to us, although it was super packed. After a few drinks there we headed to Babylon II Shisha, the hookah bar next door which was more our speed. They were playing all the new or current music. We would later learn that this would be our late night spot for the weekend. The bartender kept the drinks flowing and our shisha fresh! Perfect!!

The next day we figured we would get a little culture and knowledge, so we took an incognito city tour with my host Constanze. She drove us around past some of the libraries, historic buildings, buildings built by Hitler, The City Wall of Munich and finally to the BMW Museum.

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This museum was on the top of my list for Munich, of course because I own a BMW and I love my car to death. I learned so much about BMW that I had NO idea of before. Such as BMW started as an airplane engine manufacture not a car maker.

We went back to our new favorite shisha bar that night and then I wished AJ farewells as he was off to Hawaii the next day! 🙁

I would have to say my time in Germany was great!!! Prost!!! 🙂

Time to get out of this rain and back to ….Chasing The Sun!!

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Paris, France

September 15, 2016

The city of love…where do I begin…

Well when I arrived in Paris I was feeling a little sad and somber. The feeling of being in Paris was a dream, but I never dreamt of being here alone, without any friends or family. As I walked into my hotel room, I got a little sad, a lot of things just really started to sink in. I had been so busy with the hassle and bustle of Amsterdam and so relaxed in Belgium that I hadn’t really had the chance to just sit back and (think). So I think naturally, it all started to sink in and although knowing how proud my mom would be of my for embarking on this adventure alone, and although I know she is with me in spirit in the air, and footsteps next to me on the ground, the thought of not being able to physically share this experience with her is very heavy.

Eventually and once again, I got my life together and decided to go look for some food. It seems that all these random happy experiences keep coming to me when Im going to look for food. By the time I actually get settled in my room and showered its about 11pm. I went upstairs to the rooftop where there is a bar, however, no food. To my surprise, fireworks start and last for literally 1.5 hours. I walk around on the rooftop and at last. The Eiffel Tower is smack in front of me, lighting up the nights sky. My somber mood turned bright as I thought to myself “ Dreams really do come true, I am in Paris!”

So I gather my thoughts and decide to go on an adventure to find some food. I asked the front desk where should I go at this hour and she points me in the direction of a restauarant down the street. I head in that direction for a couple of blocks but I don’t see it. At the same time I was thinking “I don’t really want to sit in a restaurant”. As I hit the corner, I spot a pizza place so I walk towards it. At the same time this guy is walking from the pizza place towards me. He doesn’t speak we just walk past each other. I walk into the pizza place and think “did I really come to Paris to eat pizza!?” So I walk out and head towards the restaurant I was directed to. I get to the corner and the guy is standing there. I asked him “Are you from here?” and he replies “No!” Then I asked “Do you speak English?” and he laughs and says “I just answered you in English” We laughed and I said “no” doesn’t count, everybody knows what that means. Anyway, he tells me he was going to go to the same restaurant but didn’t want to eat alone so he ordered pizza. Great minds think alike. So I went back and ordered a pizza. He waited with me and coincidently he was staying at the same hotel. We continue with small talk and AJ, from the states, but lives in Hawaii, in the Air Force and currently working in Germany, turned out to be my new best friend in Paris. We took our pizza to the rooftop and ordered some beers and chat till about midnight. We planned to go to the club that night but after a whole day of traveling I was tired and passed out.

The following day, AJ and I explored Paris. We went to and up The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc De Triomphe de l’Étoile, and back to The Eiffel Tower at night. All of these iconic sights were unbelievable to see in person, really a dream. After another day of crazy touring I was exhausted yet again. Sadly, AJ had to leave for Germany to go back to work. He probably doesn’t know it, but he really helped put me in a better head space and appreciate being in Paris and continuing on my journey. I had an amazing day!

The Eiffel Tower

Est. 1887, is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. It was constructed from 1887-89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.

 

    

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The Louvre

is the world’s largest museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s1st arrondissement. With nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet. The Louvre is the world’s second most visited museum after the Palace Museum in China, receiving more than 9.26 million visitors in 2014. 

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What most may not know, is that the museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to the urban expansion of the city, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1578, was converted by Francis I of France into the main residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years.[4] During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

The museum opened on August 10, 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed from 1796 – 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum renamed the Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight very very large curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings. It is more than worth the 12euro visit. However, if you plan to visit take your time, I would give at least 8 hours minimal.

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               The Arc De Triomphe de l’Étoile

 Est. 1806, is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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The next day I was back to being somber again but it was followed by another amazing two days exploring this beautiful city. The first of which was on a Tuesday. In Paris, on Tuesdays several mueseums have free entry and I’ve found that every city usually has a free walking tours at some point in the day. However, Paris has 7 free walking tours which cover 99% of the must see sights and history in Paris and then some. I spent Monday night planning out the next 2 days of tours and museums and I was determined to make the absolute best of the rest of my days in Paris, and I did.

On Tuesday I woke up bright and early and headed to the Musée de la Préfecture de Police, a museum of police history in the 5th arrondissement, very interesting I have to say. Next I went to the Musée du Parfum-Fragonard, a French private museum of perfume, which was absoluetly amazing.  

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Then I took the train and met the walking tour for Montmarte district .I knew I wouldn’t make it in time to met at the meeting point, so I just went straight to their first destination and I was right on time. The tour consisted of Moulin Rouge – Chat noir – Cabaret of the Assasins – Sacre coeur church – Artists’ square – French pop culture – Haunts of Renoir – Picasso – Amélie and so many little secrets about the district and its history.

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After the tour, I met a fellow couchsurfer, Leilani, back at Moulin Rouge and we took the train to Musée Cernuschi, an Asian art museum, specialising in works from China, Japan, and Korea, followed by another train to Notre Dame Cathedral. She actually lived in Paris so I had the pleasure of a personal private tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. She taught me about the meaning of the architecture and the history. She was amazing as well. After dinner, I roamed around to do all my souvenir shopping and explored more of the city at night.

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On my last day in Paris, I went inside The Louvre museum. Some people just take pictures of the pyramid and walk around the outside but I really wanted to see the Museum and I had been waiting for years to see The Mona Lisa. Little did I know the Louvre is over 600,000 square feet and holds over 37,000 paintings, sculptures and works of art. I spent 8 hours in the Louvre and didn’t even cover the entire museum. I could easily go back and spend another 8-10 hours there.

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The one thing I did not do was go to the lock bridge…I’m saving that for my love!

My love affair with Paris concluded with walking to my room in the Paris night rain….bitter sweet!

Goodbye Paris…Hello Munich!…Chasing The Sun!

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel

Ghent, Belgium

September 10, 2016

In Belgium, I had the luxury of staying with an amazing host family. Bieke (pronounced Be-Ka), Frank and their very sweet 3 year old Aurora. As soon as I walked in the door she ran up to me and gave me a hug.img_9577I immediately knew I was in the right place. They were also hosting img_9710another workawayer, Lynn, from Germany, at the same time. I say the luxury because Frank and Bieke’s home was amazing. I particiapted in a workaway during this stay. Which means you work and in return the host allow you to stay in their home and provide your food. Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better workaway experience. Frank & Bieke have a beautiful home where they have started a Wellness Retreat. The Wellness Retreat consisted of a pool, jacuzzi, wet sauna, dry sauna, and infra red. Other than some very minimal house cleaning, because of my background in healthcare, anatomy & physiology, massage, yoga and mediation, I had the luxury of giving meditation and massage as my “work”!

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When I wasn’t “working”, I was able to utilize the pool, sauna, jacuzzi and spa for my own use. Lynn spent her time working in the garden on most days and during our free time we laid out by the pool reading or blogging, or in the pool swimming. I have to say I have not watched 1 minute of television since I started my travels. I have taken in so much useful information, history and knowledge in the last 3 weeks than I ever would from months of television. 

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Frank & Bieke are both really great cooks. I indulged on some very Dutch and delicious meals during my stay.

 

On our off day we took the train to Ghent or Gent (in Dutch) and went on a walking tour. In medieval times Ghent was one of the largest cities in Europe, second only to Paris. Today it is a city of culture, a place with an abundance of museums, galleries and assorted architectural gems. The tour consisted of:

img_9701Graslei and Korenlei (the medieval harbor of img_9703Ghent), this medieval port with its unique row of historical buildings, reflected in the long river, is the meeting place, for the young and old,  everyone meets in one of the many café patios or by the water. This is the thriving heart of the inner city. Every house on the Graslei has its own history. Together they form the story of the incredible blossoming of Ghent’s economy during the Middle Ages. On the other side of the water is the Korenlei. All that remains of some of the original buildings is the outer walls.

 The three towers of Ghent: St. Nicholas Church, The Belfry, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral, define the famous medieval skyline of the city center. St. Nicholas Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium. Begun in the early 13th century as a replacement for an earlier Romanesque church.img_9708 The Belfry is the tallest Belfry in Ghent. It’s construction began in 1313. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges,assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells. St. Bavo’s Cathedral is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt. The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt.

Graffiti Street, this street/alleyway is definitely not something you expect to find in Ghent, especially when the rest of the city is so traditional, with castles, cathedrals, churches and all the usual stuff in between. Although graffiti is banned in Gent and will land you some serious jail time and fines, on this street street artist are free to decorate as they please without any hassle or worries. Authorities allow artist to free lance here as an aid to keep them from destroying the traditional medieval history of the streets of Gent and overtime it has become a very popular tourist attraction.

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 Vrijdagsmarkt square, In previous centuries, this square was where the greater part of public political and social life took place. It was here that rulers were solemnly received, feasts celebrated and feuds settled. Apart from the 15th-century Toreken, all the buildings on the Vrijdagmarkt date from the 18th century and the monumental socialist house of the people and even dates from the beginning of the 20th century. The statue that lies in the middle of the square is of Jacob van Artevelde, a man who managed to undo the boycott of English wool imports during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 14th century. He is also known as ” The Wise Man” and “The Brewer of Ghent”. The textiles industry in Ghent was revived and Artevelde was hailed a hero because he was able to save Gent of the boycott and the loss of much income and money. In 1345 he was murdered during a riot. Since 1863 his statue at Vrijdagmarkt has been pointing to England.

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 Dulle Griet, is a medieval supergun from Ghent, Belgium. The wrought-iron bombard was constructed in the first half of the 15th century from 32 longitudinal bars enclosed by 61 rings. In 1452, the bombard was employed by the city of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, but fell into the hands of the defenders on the retreat and was only returned to Ghent in 1578. The supergun now covered on both ends, used to be open, however, too many college students were sleeping in the supergun as part of dares or hazing, which caused them to endure hypothermia in the winter time. 

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 The Castle Gravensteen, is a castle in Ghent originating from the Middle Ages. The name means “castle of the counts” in Dutch. The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders castles that Philip of Alsace encountered while he participated in the second crusade. Before its construction, there stood a wooden castle on the same location, presumably built in the ninth century. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished. However, in 1885 the city of Ghent bought the castle and started a renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and keep were restored to their original condition. The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It is still partly surrounded by the moat. Inside is a museum with various torture devices and a guillotine, that were historically used in Ghent.

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After the tour we walked around to find the best delicacies to eat. Of course, that consisted of Waffles and Chocolate. If you really know me, you know that I love chocolate and oh my god!!! Belgium has thee absolute best chocolate I’ve ever had in my entire life and trust me I’ve had a lot of chocolate.

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Thus far, my trip has been absolutely perfect Chasing The Sun!!!

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized

Vlaamse Frites

September 7, 2016

The French fries in Amsterdam and the most common condiment served with them is mayonnaise. Not only is that true, but French fries are an obsession in the Netherlands and it’s difficult to find a restaurant in Amsterdam that doesn’t serve them. When deciding what you want to eat in Amsterdam is hard to avoid these things, and you really wouldn’t want to anyway.

As you walk through the city you’ll notice many little take-away shops whose primary decorations are oversized cartoon depictions of a bag of fries. Some of them also serve falafels and other Middle Eastern food, but many of them do their primary business selling these salty high-carb treats. You’ll never have to walk more than a couple of blocks to get your fix, even late at night.

But before we go on, let’s get oriented. A couple hundred years ago, in what is now Belgium, some genius decided to slice up some potatoes and then deep fry the slivers. The Brits call them “chips,” the French call them “pommes frites,” and for some reason the Americans call them “French fries.” But in the Netherlands and Belgium they call them “Vlaamse frites” and they eat them like there is no tomorrow, or at least no such thing as high cholesterol. Vlaamse frites literally means “Flemish fries,” correctly attributing them to the northern Belgium region of Flanders.

They are served in a paper cone in Amsterdam, and that’s handy because they are always about a million degrees inside when they are handed to you. Biting right into one is a great way to sear your taste buds shut for the next few days. You’ll also get a small plastic fork, which becomes important nearer the bottom of the cone.

Most places serve 3 or 4 different sizes of Vlaamse Frites. The smallest size is still larger than a “small” at a McDonalds, and they are usually around €2.00. The largest is literally a meal-size cone and can be all yours for around €3.50, but you are not done yet. Just as crooked car salesmen try to sell you undercoating and other mysterious add-ons, the Vlaamse Frites also have options.

The majority of places will have about 5 different sauces available, and some will have as many as 10. Yes, the delicious and very rich-mayonnaise is definitely the most popular and the one you should try for sure, but they also offer things like curry sauce, garlic sauce, tartar sauce, chili sauce, ranch dressing, feta cheese, gravy, and yes, even ketchup for those whose tastes haven’t progressed since they turned 8. The sauces are usually 25 to 50 cents each (some 75 cents though) and most people just choose one, although drunken thrill-seekers sometimes do pile them on.

Most locals claim that they have the best Vlaamse Frites in Amsterdam, but to be honest they are all pretty close. Avoid the Vlaamse frites served at the FEBO automats, and obviously don’t try to get them at McDonalds or Burger King. I’ve found the Maoz chain to be reliable, and their falafels with the “free salad bar” are pretty good too.

As with nearly any other restaurant choice, it’s good to pick a place that’s busy over one that is dead. High turnover equals freshness, but that can be a bit deceiving in the world of Vlaamse frites. All the shops in Amsterdam use the same two-step cooking method. The thick potato wedges are initially deep fried at a low temperature for a while to cook the inside to a pleasant doneness. Then the guy will unceremoniously toss these half-cooked frites onto a steel grill under a heating lamp until somebody orders them. You’d be forgiven for thinking you are getting old Vlaamse frites as you watch the guy toss your desired amount into the oil again before giving them to you, but this Phase Two is a vital part of the process. The second dip is in very hot oil, and in only a minute or so the outsides become crisp and delicious while the inside stays tender and somehow gets as hot as the core of the sun in the process.

Bon appétit, but give ‘em a couple minutes to cool first. And you’ll figure out why that little plastic fork is handy when you get past the halfway point.