The End of an Era

By the time I post this I’ll probably be at London Heathrow, preparing to leave England. I left Southampton on Saturday, made my way to the Holiday Inn at Heathrow and enjoyed not having to rush to the gate and board my plane. The staff here has been wonderful and even gave me a free drink voucher because my room needed 5 more minutes to be ready. Not going to complain about that!

But what’s really going through my head is this emotional tug of war battle. On the one hand, I am overly excited to head back to the US. I have never appreciated what we have more than after living here and learning about what my friends from other countries have. In the least cliche way possible, I am very proud to be an American. I’m also over the moon excited to see my family and friends…and dog. It’s been almost 9 months since I was last home, and a whole year since I started this journey, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with those who supported my decision to pursue a master’s degree.

On the other hand, my heart is breaking. This past year has been one of the most amazing years of my life. Full stop. Period. I have met some of the most interesting, courageous, caring people that will always hold a special place in my heart. They have taught me so many things, both in and out of the classroom and library settings! I can not imagine that this past year would have been as impactful as it was had those people not been a part of it.

While I try to figure out if I’m really happy or not about leaving, I’ve reflected a bit on myself. This year has brought many firsts into my life, including:
-Living in a foreign country for an entire year
-Traveling alone, to places where I don’t speak the language, eating alone, and making myself talk to others in the hostels
-Opening my mind to the world
-Giving football (soccer) a chance, and actually enjoying it
-Not being afraid to put myself out there and live a little

It has also taught me many things, such as:
-Understanding how hard English is for those who do not to speak it as their first language
-Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. You have to give people a chance no matter who they are or where they come from

And these are just some of the initials things I thought of over my wine and pizza last night. As the days pass, I find a job and move on with my life, I know this past year will play a huge role into my personal and professional development.

So, to my new friends, I love you and miss you already. To my friends and family in the USA, see you all very, very soon!

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Sandmans New Europe Tour – Berlin

On Wednesday, I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to step out into Berlin and see more of this amazing city. Before arriving, some of my American friends recommended the Sandmans New Europe tours. I’ve been on a few free tours in other European cities with great experiences so I figured I’d try this one too.

On this morning I met my tourguide Rob, an Englishman with a sad love-story-gone-wrong, bringing him to Berlin a few years ago. I met him in the middle of Pariser Platz, or Paris Square, which looks upon the Brandenburger Tor. This square was named after the French capital in honour of the anti-Napoleon Allies’ occupation of Paris in 1814. Basically, Napoleon took the arch, put in near the Louvre, Germany took it back, renamed their square to mean the Victory (which sits on top the Brandenburg Gate) is always watching over Paris (or, the French). Pretty cheeky!

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We then learned a little history such as – did you know the word Berlin is Slovak? Or that Germany was once part of the Prussian empire? At one point, Prussia was “enormous” but eventually become part of Germany and Poland. In 1871, Germany unified and, under Prussian leadership, became the German Empire.

Next we came across the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial was opened 9 years ago on the 60th Anniversary of WWII. It is centrally located, forcing people every day to confront the memorial and what it stands for. This memorial is specifically for 6 million Jewish people murdered during WWII; every other group of people were murdered during this time have their own memorial somewhere in Berlin. Peter Eisenam, the designer of the memorial, has left the meaning behind it up to interpretation for each individual. One interpretation we heard from Rob, was that it represents the rise of anti-Semitism. As you move in towards the middle of the memorial, it becomes deeper, making the stones taller. The memorial looks like a bell-shaped curve – lower on the edges and increase/peaks in the middle. The middle represent Hitler’s rein. This is not just a memorial, but also a warning for what we need to protect. Under the memorial is the Holocaust museum, which I plan to visit before leaving Berlin.

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From there we came across a car park. How is this interesting, you might ask? This car park is where Hitler’s Bunker used to be. It is now blank as to not glorify what was once there. It is also the site where Hitler and his wife, Ave, committed suicide in 1945, one day after their marriage.  Didn’t stay here long, as I’m sure you understand why!IMG_2401

Walking down the street in the rain, we came across Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus, which was once a Nazi building. In 1952, this mural was painted on it to “depict” what life in East Germany was like. More than likely, this was not a realistic representation, but more for show to the American and Soviet governments.

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Behind Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus is what the Berlin wall looked like in 1961. Its rounded top made it impossible for people to grab hold/climb over. Life in West Berlin was better than the east, and the wall separated many loved ones unexpectedly. In its 28 ½ years existence, only 121 people successfully made it from East Berlin to West Berlin.   This wall is the 7th version as it’s been torn down/rebuilt since its destruction in 1989.

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A quick walk from here brought us to Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point during the Cold War and where the United States and Soviet Union met during this time period. Sargent Harper the American soldier pictured, looks towards East Berlin while the other side pictures a Soviet Union soldier, tasked to watch West Berlin.   Again, this is just a replicate, and according to Rob, not a completely accurate one.

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The rest of the tour took us through Tolerance Square, past the Dasconcert Haus, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the site of the 1933 Nazi Book Burning, TV Tower and ended on Museumsinsel. We also learner about the Ampelmännchen. This is the symbol shown on the cross walk sign. As one of the few features still in existence from communist East Germany, he has become a popular tourist symbol.

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Let’s be honest, I think I learned more about Berlin and Germany during this tour than I ever did in history class. Big shoutout to Rob for being an awesome tour guide, and for providing an educational, entertaining and enjoyable afternoon. Though it rained off and on, I am so glad I decided to go. I already have my Munich reservation so hopefully it’s as good as the Berlin tour!

Berlin the Beautiful

First day and I made it through alive!  Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but let’s just say I navigated the city and made it back to the hostel in one piece.  But, it has definitely been a long day!

Waking up at 2:45am is never easy, and grabbing a 4:30am coach to the airport is that much harder.   But, it beats paying for a night at a Heathrow hotel, which isn’t cheap.  I flew Germanwings from London to Berlin and was pleasantly surprised with the experience.  The flight was a little delayed, but only by 5 minutes.  The flight attendants were friendly and served water, cheese/ham sandwiches and chocolates to everyone onboard.  Better than a pack of peanuts if you ask me!

We touched down at Berlin Tegal and, of course, it began to rain.  It’s like I attract the rain wherever I go these days!  But, not bother.  Passport control was the best I’ve ever experienced.  Literally, walked off the plane, had my passport checked and stamped, and was on my way to baggage.  There were 4 passport checkers right at the end of the tunnel, which was unbelievable.  The bags arrived within 5 minutes of getting of the plane as well.  Kudos Berlin for making my airport experience an A+!

Once out of luggage claim, I easily found the Tourist Information desk to purchase my Berlin Welcome Card.  This card gives me access to all the public transportation as well as discounts at restaurants and museums.  Since I’ll be here 4 nights, it just made sense.  It’s also predicted to rain every day so now I won’t have to worry about getting stuck in it.

Next step…figure out how to get to my hostel, The Wombat.  Now, of course I did all the research I could before leaving home regarding directions, and the hostel provided very helpful directions on my confirmation email.  I took the TXL bus to Alexanderpratz, then the U2 (underground) from Alexanderprats to Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz.  From there, a few quick lefts and I was at my doorstop.

The Wombat staff was super friendly when I arrived and I only had to wait 20 minutes before checking into my room.  During that wait, I was handed a wifi password that’s good for 7 days.  Not bad since most hostels nowadays charge an arm and a leg for wifi.

Now, when I originally booked my room, I could only book two nights in a 6 mixed dorm and two nights in a 6 female dorm.  This meant I would have to check out after two nights and recheck-in.  Fortunately, The Wombat was able to put me into a 6 female dorm for all 4 nights, making my life a whole lot easier!

When I finally got into my room I met Vivian, an exchange student from Hong Kong studying for a semester in Liverpool.   Super friendly and also travelling on her own.

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With the sun peaking out from behind the clouds for a bit, I knew I needed to suck up the exhaustion and get out there.  I took the U2 to Potsdamer Platz and found some original pieces of the Berlin Wall on display.  From there I took a quick walk to fine Tiergarten.  Since I’ll probably be dodging rain for the next few days. I took a stroll through the park, taking in its greenness and spring-like smells.

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Then, I made a quick peak at the Reichstag building to see its beautiful glass dome and stone sculptures.

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On the way there I found the Memorial To The Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under National Socialism.

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Next, I went from one side to the other of the Brandenburger Tor.  This city gate was built in the 18th century and was a symbol of divided Berlin and the Cold War.

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With the weather still on my side I walked up Unterden Linden to Schloβplatz for a quick look at Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and St. Marienkirche.

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Then, the wind started picking up and I realised all I ate today was a peanut butter sandwich and a few bites of my cheese sandwich on the airplane.  So I jumped back on the U2 from Alexanderplats (yep, ended up back there) towards the hostel.  Knowing I didn’t want to be too far from my hostel, I grabbed a quick Italian dinner at La Cucina next door.  Tortellini alla panna did the trick and I was back on my feet…and heading for the hostel.

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When I first checked in I received a drink coupon, but I don’t think I’ll be using that tonight! Better save it for tomorrow when I can enjoy it. Might even check-out the Photo Booth that’s outside my window then as well.  But for real, there’s a Photo Booth outside.

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For not, I think it’s time to head to my room, put on a movie and get ready for my New Europe Tour tomorrow morning!

There’s a First Time for Everything!

Well folks, today’s the day I step WAY out of my comfort and take my first solo trip. That’s right, solo, as in alone, by myself, no one accompanying me…you get the idea.

Now, if you know me or have read through my blog posts, you’re probably thinking: “Wait, didn’t you go to ASU for your undergrad not knowing anyone? Didn’t you move to Rome, Italy for 6 months? Don’t you currently live in England?” Yes, yes and yes. But, I wasn’t completely on my own in any of those places as they were all for academic purposes and I knew I’d meet people pretty quickly.

This is different. Today, I’m sitting in London Heathrow T1, enjoying a coffee and muffin from Pret and awaiting my flight to Berlin, Germany.

Germany has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Some of my ancestors are German or Prussian. Also, when it comes to history, one of my favourite time periods to study was, and is WWII, which includes the concentration camps and Holocaust.  There are so many memorials and museums dedicated to this time period that it only makes sense that I visit.  Aside from history, I do enjoy a glass, pint or litre of beer from time to time and what better place to experience a proper Beer Hall than in Munich?!

So, over the next 9 days, I’ll travel to Berlin and Munich to experience a brand new culture and way of life. I’m excited, a little nervous, but ready to see what this country throws my way. Stay tuned for updates from my German adventures!

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Dreaming of a Beach Day

Having been in England since the end of September, 2013, I’ve noticed a trend in the weather.  Most days, it looks something like this:

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If you couldn’t tell, I was definitely inside drying off when this picture was taken.  Cold, rainy, windy and miserable.  These are just a few of the words I’d use to describe the past few months.  I spent the last 6 years in the desert state of Arizona, so this much rain is completely out of my comfort zone!

So, when I’m feel “meh”, I think back to a few weekends ago when I went to California.  We spent the day hiking the beach, eating delicious food and celebrating my sister-in-law’s birthday.

We started the day off on Zuma Beach, just a hop, skip and a drive over the mountains from my aunt and uncle’s house.  It was cloudy and a bit cool when we started but nothing compared to the weather I had come from.

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After a quick 2 mile walk/hike, we arrived at Paradise Cove, a cute little joint tucked away on the beach in Malibu.  Now, when in America, eat like an American!  While I should have gone for some eggs, I splurged on some apple pie pancakes and a mimosa.

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And what’s a birthday breakfast without an enormous cake to feed everyone?!  I think she was a bit surprised, but Happy Birthday Lindsay!

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After breakfast, the sun came out and we started our journey back up the beach.

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So if you’re experiencing the winter blues in rainy England, snowy Chicago or wherever else has crummy weather, I hope there is a sunny day in your near future.

 

Learning to Make Baklava

Now, let me start with…I don’t have a hint of Greek in me.  I’m born and raised American with Polish, Prussian, German, French-Canadian and Native American ancestors.  Quite a mix, but no Greek to be found.

Nevertheless, yesterday I learned to make a very traditional Greek treat, Baklava.

My mom’s friend Trudy comes from a Greek background and has been making Baklava for years.  As a child, she learned from her Yaya and has kept the tradition alive since.  She came to our house on Monday morning with a bag of materials and the recipe stored safely in her head.  This baffled me, as I almost never bake without a set recipe in front of me.  Trudy, on the other hand, goes off of what feels right and the motto, “this is how Yaya made it!”

To start, we needed: walnuts, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, butter (LOTS of butter!), lemon peel and honey.

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We started by grinding the walnuts with a nut grind.  I’d never seen one of these before but apparently you can buy them at any home goods store.  By using a hand-powered nut grinder, you get just the right ratio of walnut pieces to walnut powder as well as more consistently sized walnut chunks.

IMG_1398 Sugar, cinnamon and ground cloves were then added to the walnut mixture and set aside.

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Next, a pound, yes, a POUND of butter was melted in a microwave-safe bowl.

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From there, the layering began!  To save time, we used premade Phyllo, or Filo, dough that was cut and ready to go.  We buttered the pan and added 6-8 layers of Phyllo dough with, of course, butter between each layer.

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Then, sprinkled the nut mixture evenly and added two more layers of dough.  Nuts, Phyllo, butter, nuts Phyllo, butter…repeated until the nut mixture ran out.  Then it was on to alternating Phyllo and butter until the Phyllo was gone.

IMG_1413 IMG_1414 Baklava must be evenly cut before it’s baked.  We used a flexible ruler to cut diamond-shaped pieces.  Why diamonds?  As Trudy told us, “that’s just how you cut baklava.”

IMG_1417 IMG_1419 We baked the baklava, “until it looks right.”  This meant a golden brown top with the dough baking away from the sides of the pan.

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As the baklava baked we created the simple syrup for the top and between the layers.  While water, 4 cups of sugar and cinnamon sticks boiled on the stove, we took whole cloves and stuck them into lemon peels.  This eliminated the problem of fishing the cloves from the mixture later.

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After the syrup came to a boil, it had to reach 220°F before adding in the honey.

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Once the baklava came out of the oven, we poured the honey mixture on top to fill in all the crevices.  Unfortunately, this sweet treat has to sit overnight so the pastry could thoroughly absorb the honey mixture.

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So, we had baklava for breakfast today, which was totally worth the wait!  The sweetness of the honey mixture with the spiced nuts and flaky dough was the perfect way to start this cold, December day.

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Thank you Trudy, for sharing your family recipe with us during this holiday season!

An American/British/Faroese Thanksgiving

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, but it will be one I’ll always remember.

As we sat at lunch on 28 November before a 4 hour lecture, one of my friends asked me, “will this be your first Thanksgiving without family?” At that point, I truly realised how far away I was from my family. Boom, just like that, total shut down. Let’s just say sitting through that lecture was not a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, I had something to look forward to after class. Thanks to the hospitality of some amazing friends, we feasted like…Americans! There was turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and the best homemade gravy I’ve ever had.

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Great food, Call of Duty, and some amazing friends made this year’s Thanksgiving in England a memorable one.