Where I Have Been Map

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Hunt

Cindy and I laid flat on our stomachs in the dark, two streams of light came from the flashlights we held, and the stream was shaking as it reached the bottom of the bookshelf.

“Is it dead?” Cindy whispered.

I would have said yes, if it was not staring right at me.

Before I explain that terrifying night, I’ll take you back to the beginning of our visit to Austria. Our stay was bound to be relaxing since we were staying with my cousin's friend, Barbara. In the past countries we had visited, we stayed in Hostels, which had its advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage was definitely meeting new people from all over the world. In Berlin, we shared a room with Australians. Not only were we submerged in the German culture, but we also got a taste of Australian culture as well.

One night the Australians told us a myth about The Moth Man. The story goes that if you research anything about The Moth Man, he will come and kill you. The only things you see right before you die are two glaring red eyes.

Cindy thought this story was humorous, so that night she researched The Moth Man on Google. We all had a laugh when she discovered that the only recorded death happened to a 54 year old woman who was probably already close to dying from old age.

Learning about Australian myths was just part of the experience, however. Many things were put into a different perspective. You cannot completely understand something until you see it through the eyes of someone else, and this proved to be the case when we began discussing the American culture.

The Australians said Americans had a bad reputation for being loud and inconsiderate while visiting other countries. They thought this was due to the fact that some Americans travel purely for vacation and partying rather than the culture experiences.

Cindy and I were surprised at hearing of this bad reputation, and we did not really comprehend it until we stayed in our next hostel. We roomed with mainly Americans, who we did not even see until 4 a.m. when they busted into our room yelling and dropping things. The next morning we heard them complain to the management about the lack of breakfast in a way that made them sound extremely spoiled. They also expected everyone in Germany to speak English and became frustrated when they did not.

Cindy and I know that most Americans are not inconsiderate like the ones we came across, but the fact is that other people who don’t come in contact with Americans often don’t know that. Bad impressions like our roommates are what tend to stick in people’s minds. This, above all, should be reason enough for more American students to travel and meet people from different countries. Maybe then, if people from all over the world could see our real culture, our image will become more positive.

Opening our eyes to the different perspectives and ways of life of other students in our Hostel was well worth staying in them. It was a nice change, however, to stay with Barbara’s family and have our own rooms as well as warm meals prepared for us daily.

They lived in a beautiful wooden house in the country side of Austria. In the backyard of their house had a garden full of bright, colorful flowers and delicious fruit that we ate during meals. When I walked outside and looked past the garden, I was suddenly taken aback by the breathtaking view. The seemingly endless rolling green hills resembled waves of the ocean that had been frozen in motion. At the farthest point, the rolling hills met blue tinted mountains that could almost disappear against the truest blue color of sky imaginable. I stood in the middle of the wide open meadow and despite the warmth of the sun, I took a deep breath and could feel the icy air that came off the mountains. It took all I had to restrain myself from running down the hills and bursting out in a song from The Sound of Music, which would have been unpleasant for everyone.

Barbara's dad and the family dog walking in the meadow in the backyard

The view, that looked more like a serene painting rather than reality, only became more amazing when Barbara took us on a hike to the top of the mountains.

By the time we reached the peak, I had rolled up my pants and sleeves despite the fact I could see my breath in the chilly mountain air. Throughout the hike, we saw babbling mountain springs that were so clear, I could sit and count each pebble that lay on the bottom. We also came across herds of cattle that crossed our path. Their united cowbells sounded more like wind chimes as we hiked passed them. My favorite part was when we passed two wild horses. Tired from galloping along the inclines, the horses were grazing in a meadow. They were so calm, that they actually let us walk up to them and pat their manes.

One the left is one of the wild horses on the mountain! They were so tame they eventually let me ride them!! haha

I could not fathom feeling anything but awe and comfort while staying in this gorgeous country town.

That is until Cindy and I woke up in the middle of the night after hearing a noise that 
sent a chill down both our spines. It started out as a small buzzing, but quickly began to grow louder and angrier. We both stood up in our beds and tried to focus our eyes in the darkness. The buzzing grew so loud that it began to resemble a chainsaw on the loose. I caught a glimpse of a shadow and hurled myself at the lamp next to my bed. Light suddenly filled the room, and the monster came into clear view.

A disturbingly huge moth, one that looked like it had been on steroids for years, was flying psychotically around our heads towards the light.

Cindy reacted first, grabbing a towel and whip lashing the moth into the wall. I turned the light off, scared it might fly toward it again, and Cindy and I got out our flashlights and pointed them where the moths still body lay.

I knew we were both thinking the same thing as we saw the moth’s red eyes stare back and forth between the two of us. Not daring to take my eyes off the moth, I angrily whispered to Cindy that she never should have researched the stupid Moth Man. Cindy didn’t answer, but her terrified eyes showed she was thinking the same.

Slowly, the moth’s eyes closed and we decided it was dead. Cindy pulled the covers over her head and I stared into the darkness, too alert to sleep.

Before either of us had time to slow our heartbeats, the buzzing began again. It was then I realized Cindy was just as awake as I was, and we reacted simultaneously to the immortal moth. I switched the light on as she grabbed a cup. She swiftly pinned the moth in between the cup and floor and I slammed multiple books over the top of the cup so the monster had no way of escaping.

It felt like it took years, but the sun finally began to peek through the curtains and morning came. The cup still stood in the middle of the room. We ran and got Barnaby to take care of the situation.

He picked up the cup and tossed what was inside out the open window. As Cindy and I saw the moth fly away, we suddenly laughed from embarrassment.

The moth was not the steroid monster we had thought we’d seen the night before, and it actually looked quite harmless in the daylight. Nevertheless, we both decided not to research the Moth Man anymore, just in case.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rome Away From Home

I never in my life thought I would stow away on a train. However, soon after we left Germany, I found myself crouched in the cramped space that connected two coaches, feeling every bump and losing the battle against balance, all the while looking out for ticket collectors walking randomly from coach to coach.
A couple hours earlier, we had packed and headed for the train station to leave for Rome. We went to the platform printed on our ticket and got on the train without thinking twice. The intercom on the train kept saying something in Italian, and it took four hours later until we finally tranlslated what was being said.

"We will be arriving at our final destination, Rimini, in five hours."

Rimini was not Rome, and we were in trouble.

We got off at the next stop and found a train that was destined for Rome. However, it wasn't until we were on the train that we realized all seats had to be prevously reserved. Struggling to get through multiple coaches, and hitting many angry passangers with our oversized backpacks along the way, we finally found a small and slightly dangerous coach connecting space. The space would move with every turn the train would take, and it was terrifying to look through the cracks on the floor of where we were sitting and see the ground flying under us at 60 mph. Somehow, we luckily did not get discovered by any of the ticket collectors during our uncomfortable ride.

This little space was where the four of us crammed into for the train ride! Not very comfortable

Although the journey to Rome was unconventional, it was well worth it when we finally reached Rome, and ventured out into the city the following day. Walking outside we hit a wave of sudden heat that we had not been use to. Wearing long pants and sleeved shirt did not make us any cooler, but our first destination that day was visiting the Vatican, and such apperal was necessary.
Even though by the end of the day we were drenched with sweat and overcome with exhaustion, Vatican City was the expereince of a lifetime.

Inside the Vatican, we walked into the Sistine Chapel and saw the vast collection of painting by one of the most talented artists of that era. It was hard to image how one person could picture this masterpice in his head. The whole time I was wondering if Michelangelo had to dangle upside down to complete it, when I have a hard enough time drawing a stick figure right-side-up.

The artwork of Michelangelo was undeniably beautiful, but the next place we visited containted a very different type of beauty. This beauty was something you had to feel and respect, but once you did the vastness of this beautiful cathedral left you breathless. This place was St. Peter's Basilica.

My sister and I made up a Pope remix while waitng to enter the Cathedral

We stepped into the Cathedral ironically right as a grand choir began to sing. Rays of sun began to beam in from the ceiling causing the stained glass windows to sparkle with luminescent colors. Everything came together at once and made the Cathedral come to life.

In one wing of the Church, there was a shimmering golden mosaic wall with Apostle Peter's picture on it. Under the portrait sat a statue of St. Peter himself. It is said that if you rub St. Peter's right foot, you will have good luck. My cousin Felicity misunderstood and thought she was supposed to rub her foot on the statue. Luckily, before she could strech her foot up to touch the statue, she looked around and realized the trend.

St. Peter Statue

Underneath the church lay the tombs of all the previous Popes. The tomb was nothing like I had expected. It was much smaller than the insde of the Cathedral, but just as beautiful. This room had a pure feeling because everything from the floor to the ceiling was made of white marble. However, past all the white, I could see glimpses of pure gold where each tomb lay, and every Pope's tomb had a different intricate design made especially for him. Pope John Paul II's tomb had one of the greatest impacts on me. The room was made out of white marble and in the center laid a marble stone with his name written in gold. Candles surrounded the stone and roses made of gold were placed along the floor. Many people came to kneal by his tomb and some even placed letters of prayer on the floor.

Another tomb that impacted many people was the tomb of St. Peter himself. When I looked into the tomb, I felt as if I was looking right into the past, because it's traditional gold design looked exactly like it might have looked thousands of years ago. It was separated from the rest of the room by golden stairs leading down into the candle lit room. The separation made you realize the importance of this tomb, belonging to the first Pope and only preserved resting place of all the apostles.

Looking down into St. Peter's Tomb

You do not have to be Catholic to feel the importance of this room. It is simply the feeling of being surrounded by so many people who had dedicated their lives to helping others and accomplished great things that really impacts people who step into the tomb.
After leaving St. Peter's Basilica, I did not think anything could match its size. That was until we set foot inside the Coliseum. The grand Coliseum and the entire old city was run down and covered with a dusty haze. But despite this, we could still imagine what it once looked like, and it felt as if we were walking right into the Roman era.

It was around the time we walked past the place Cesear died when we discoverd the greatest thing of our trip, at least to us.
Hanging high was a colorful flag that said PACE. Pace means peace in Italian, and this flag was the perfect souvenir for our Pace family backpacking trip. We took a picturte with the flag in front of the Coliseum. My cousin Barnaby reminded us how ironic it was to be holding a peace flag in front of a building that was meant for spectators to be entertained by death, but despite that grim not the picture turn out great.

We would have more luck with peaceful settings in the next country we visited. Afterall, Austria is said to be one of the most beautiful and serence places on the continent, and "The Sound of Music" is proof enough for that statement!

Our atempts at getting a good Pace family picture!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The "Hoff's" Hometown

After the extremely long and uncomfortable plane ride, we were finally ready to explore Europe. We started our adventure in the home country of David Hasselhoff... Germany. Of course, David Hasselhoff is not at all the most important thing about Germany, however Germans seem to love bragging to tourists about him. In fact, one of the first nights, my sister and I found a huge portrait of him inside the most popular hostel in Berlin. Under the picture was a brass plate that simply stated "The Hoff".

We stayed in Berlin for most of our time in Germany, and Munich for only one day. Germany has such a unique culture, landscape, climate, and especially history. Walking on the streets of Berlin, one of the most well known cities in the world, is nothing like I would have expected. This large city had no deafening noise of traffic, no mobs of people crowding the sidewalks, and no real fear of danger from pickpocketers. Berlin was in face the calmest big city I have ever visited. The atmosphere was relaxing, and the unique warm climate only added to the relaxtation.

The first day we were there we went on a free 3-hour walking tour. The history of Berlin and how it was torn apart by the Berlin Wall, only to unite itself once again was truly inspirational. It also impressed me how Germany remembers the Holocaust. In the center of Berlin, there is a huge monument dedicated to the Jewish poeple who lost their lives. The place where Hitler died became an abaondoned parking lot. Although they could have made a significant amount of money by opening the spot where he died and his underground embassy as a tourist attraction, they decided that doing so would attract the wrong kind of attention from tourists.

This is the Jewish Memorial in the heart of the Berlin. The artist never explained his work, so people intrprete these hundreds of rows on an uneven floor that hold unlevel blocks as many different things. One artist interpreteted this memorial as a problem that strated out like waves that start out small, but eventually the waves grow larger and overcome the people as you walk to the center of the memorial.

Another place well worth visitng in Berlin is the Charlottenbour sloss Palace, which only costs 9 Euros. At first site, the palace does not look extremely impressive, but once inside i became amazed by the grand rooms filled with intricate gold designs that covered and brightened teh walls. On the ceilings of the rooms were breathtaking paintings of gods and the heavens, as well as delicate life size statues of goddesses that bring the paintings and statues together, really bringing the room to life. However, if that does not sound impressive enough, the gardens make up for any doubt of this palace's charm. Stepping into the gardens made me feel as if I was in the middle of a Disney Princess movie. The bright colors of the various flowers planted in artistic patters, the clear ponds which were complete with elegant swams, and the castle towering in the background cannot be explained by anything but fairy tale like. At one point while we were walking in the gardens, a bird actually flew into my open hand! If that's not something straight from Cinderella I don't know what is.

It didn't take more than one day to realize that Munich was quite the opposite of Berlin. There was much more traffic in the streets, many more crowds, and extemely touristy. All this together, however, made Munich a traditional city where the Old German culture was very apparent.

When we got into town, we were immediately greeted by towering cathedrals and clocktowers. The shops on the side of the streets sold lederhosens and enormous beer mugs. On the hour, all the clocktowers would go off simultaneously and we would be greeted with the sounds of the glockenspiel as statues came out of the clock and danced around.

Here is a typical clothing shop, Lederhosens are the big sale this week! And every week!

The city displayed the carefree and lively cutlure of Germany, and I was sad to have to leave so soon. However, the next stop in the PEE '08 adventure was Rome, and it was quite the city of adventure.

Clocktower in Munich

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quick "Pace" Preparation

Traveling overseas is something that people dream of doing, but put aside for later in life. The problem comes when "later" turns into "never". At the age of 18 years old, I had saved up as much money as I could, working with 60-year-old women in a mall customer service, for a European backpacking trip with my sister.

We decided to call our summer adventure PEE '08, not only because it is fun to say, but also because it stands for Pace European Extravaganza 2008! Two of my cousins who live in London backpacked with us, and since all our last names were conveniently Pace, the name stuck.

Deciding where to visit was the first thing we did. On the website Student Travel we found a 5-stop package for Eurail tickets. The Eurail is the most common form of travel in Europe. This train system travels to almost every country in Europe, and reminds me the train Harry Potter takes to Hogwarts. This picture was taken on the Eurail, my cousin Barnaby can play the part of Harry Potter.

The route we decided to take began in London and stopped at Germany, Italy, Poland, Austria, and Czech Republic. With the student discount, the cost for both airfare and the Eurail pass was around $1,800.

After we got the tickets, the next step was researching the countries we were going to visit. We came across a book that came to be known to us as our "Backpacking Bible". This book told us everything we needed to know about sights, cheap food, and safe Hostels. Hostels are cheaper hotels just for young people traveling. The age limit makes staying at these places really interesting, because you get to meet people your age from all over the world who are also traveling. We figured out which hostels we would be staying at before we left on the trip and based it by safety first, then overall rating. The last hostel, however, I got to pick... and I chose it purely by it's name... Tutti Frutti Hostel in Krakow, Poland.

The week before we left as intense. We got together our passports, notified our banks for overseas spending in the next month, and began packing. We found a student discount for backpacks at our University Rec Center. Packing was very light considering we would have to carry what we packed on our backs for the entire trip.

They day of the flight went as smoothly as planned. I did not sleep much during the flight because I was fearful of my sister, Cindy, repeating her all too well known motion sickness episodes. The last time she flew, she did not make it to the bathroom in time. Let's just say neither the first class nor the air flight attendants were her best friends that day. However, thanks to Cindy's new best friend, Dramamine, she was sound asleep during the entire trip.

After what felt like an eternity, the plane started to descent. I looked out the window and could make out a tiny Big Ben rising above the houses and buildings. The turbulence started to build as we got closer to the runway, a loud rumble let us know the wheels had touched ground, and we were finally in Europe.