Categoryfood

A Week in Oahu

Just spent a week on the island of Oahu in Hawaii with a high school friend who used to go to school here, so I had a pretty good tour guide!  Along the way, we met up with some friends and just hung out with them.

Fun fact: Hawaii is not part of North America, but rather Oceania.  Already on the flight in, Hawaii already looks beautiful.

On the North Shore of the island, sea turtles sometimes just chill out on shore.  They are endangered because people wanted to eat them and use their shells for superstitious medicine.  It is illegal to touch them and there is a fine for it if caught.

Here’s a picture of our nice rental car – a BMW 535i.  Notice how there isn’t a front license plate (not legal)

Parts of Oahu’s coastline has lots of these oddly shaped rocks (possibly some volcanic rock?)

There’s also cool rock formations like this one at Laie Point.  We saw people here fishing, and jumping into the water from the cliff side – looks dangerous, but super fun.

For hikes, not many people know about the Puu O Mahuka State Monument, where there is a semi-hidden path that leads to a really good view of Waimea.

There’s also the Pillbox Hike near Lanikai beach, which is a bit more touristy, but the view up there is really nice too.

Another well-known hike is the Diamond Head hike, which starts at the base of a crater all the way up to the top edge of it.  From there, there is a good view of Waikiki and the surrounding area.

Another hike, called the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail is another hike to see Oahu’s natural beauty.  At some parts of the hike, the mountain blocks the wind completely, so on a hot day, there is no breeze for cooling down, which makes this hike a little less enjoyable.

For a night view of Honolulu, we headed up to Roundtop Drive

This is the best food in Hawaii.  It’s called Poke.  It’s essentially raw fish with spices on it – absolutely delicious when it is fresh.  The ones here are from a place called Fresh Catch.

Of course, there is also Pearl Harbor, the site where the Japanese attacked the United States in 1942.

The USS Arizona Memorial is built on a sunken battleship, the USS Arizona.  Even now, pockets of oil still bubble to the surface.

At the Polynesian Cultural Center, people can learn about the Polynesians and experience their culture through stuff like dance performances.  Too bad I couldn’t get a picture of their actual theater performance, where they did crazy tricks with sticks lit on fire.

There is the stereotypical Luau, which is a buffet with a dinner performance (with more fire involved).  There’s good food like kalua pig, poke, salmon, chicken, etc.

One thing that really surprised me about Hawaii is the amount of wild chickens everywhere.  I even got woken up in the morning by a rooster’s call in the morning.

Other things to do in Hawaii that I recommend:

  • Trying garlic shrimp from a food truck (like Fumi’s)
  • Drinking out of a coconut (really stereotypical, but I’ve always wanted to try this!)
  • Drinking an Otai (coconut and mango drink)

Things that I do not recommend:

  • Driving too fast.  Police are EVERYWHERE and it is impossible to get away with breaking traffic rules.  I learned this the hard way.

Link to photo album: here

Chiemsee (The Bavarian Sea)

The day after the bike tour, Tobias drove me and his two friends to Chiemsee, the Bavarian Sea.  It’s called a sea, but it’s really just a lake.

Herrenchiemsee

We took a ferry to some of the islands in the lake. One of them is called the Herreninsel, and on that island there is an unfinished castle, built by King Ludwig II. The castle is called the “Neues Schloss Herrenchiemsee”, which translates to the “New Palace of Herrenchiemsee”.

Ludwig II was inspired by the construction of the French palace of Versailles and so he wanted to build a palace just like it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have quite as much money as Louis XIV, so he couldn’t finish his castle.

I would have liked to take more pictures of the castle, but we were forbidden to take any. From what I can recall, a lot of rooms were modeled after rooms in the Palace of Versailles, except they were unfinished.

Fraueninsel

Another island is the Fraueninsel. On this island, there is a monastery.

Some people also live on this island, but there aren’t many. The houses here are probably vacation homes for rich people.

Leberkäse

For lunch, I had Leberkäse, which is a traditional Bavarian dish. Directly translated, it means liver cheese, but I’m not sure how much liver was in it though. The meat actually consists of corned beef, pork, bacon and onions baked into a shape like a slice of bread. I guess it is Bavarian meatloaf.  The fried egg on top was also a nice touch.  The roast potatoes on the side was also really good.  It’s probably the best way to cook potatoes.

Chiemsee

The weather was really good that day despite the 38°C heat wave weather and the visibility was really good.

The nice thing about Chiemsee is that it isn’t as famous of a travel destination for North Americans and so it makes it a lot less touristy.

Link to photo album here

Back to Munich

As Edward flew back to Vancouver, I flew to Munich to meet with a friend of mine, Tobias, who lives in Munich.  I had met him during my robotics course at UBC.  We worked together on all the lab work for that course and in most of our e-mail correspondence, we wrote German to one another.  It gave me quite good practice in the language.  Now I’m visiting him in his home city.  It’s not the first time I’ve been to Munich, but I liked the city enough to go back another time.

On the day I landed, Tobias picked me up from a train station near his house and I dropped off my stuff at his house.  Afterward, I went on my own to visit the Deutsches Museum.  He mentioned that the next day, we would be meeting up with two of his other friends that he met while on exchange at UBC and by sheer coincidence, they all happened to be in Munich at the same time.

A Very Stereotypical Bavarian Breakfast

In the morning, we rode bicycles to the English Garden to meet up with two of his UBC exchange friends. One of them was also from Munich and the other came all the way from Australia.

For breakfast, we had Bavarian white sausage (Weisswurst, or Weißwurst) with sweet mustard, giant pretzel (or Brezel), and of course, beer. There is a German phrase “Kein Bier vor vier”, which means “no beer before four”, but that does not apply on weekends. As good as that breakfast was, I saw a guy roasting an entire pig and that looked really good.

The English Garden

We biked around the English Garden enjoying the scenery for a little bit. While I’ve been there before (so I didn’t take many pictures), it was nice and relaxing to ride around with a bike in the scorching 38°C weather.

We passed by an area, known as the Eisbach (or ice brook), which is an area in the English Garden where people surf on standing waves. The difference between standing waves and the regular waves that people surf on is that standing waves pretty much stay in one spot and surfers try to surf on for as long as possible.

Friedensengel

Friedensengel can be translated as “Angle of Peace” and it is a reminder of the years of peace after the Franco-Prussian War. The German victory in the war united the German people and formed the German Empire.

Munich’s Birthday

It just so happened that when we were in Munich, the people were celebrating the city’s birthday, so there were quite a lot of people in the streets. People were dressed up in really traditional clothes and just dancing in the street!

Marienplatz

This is where the city hall is located. It’s probably one of Munich’s most recognizable buildings.

St. Peter’s Church Church Tower

Germany doesn’t really have a lot of skycrapers, so the tallest observation points that tourists can find are typically in church towers. It usually costs a few euros to go up, and there are no elevators since the architecture is so old. Going up is a pain too as the only way up is usually a very very long spiral staircase with a width that only fits one person going up and one person going down. But at the top, there is a really clear view of the city.

Lunch at the Hofbräuhaus

Every single time I’ve been to Munich, I’ve eaten at probably the most touristy restaurant in Munich. This time was no different. This makes it the third time I’ve been to this place. And of course, I order a pork knuckle with a liter of beer.

After a very filling lunch, we went back to the English Garden to just relax for a little bit before going home. For dinner, I had dinner with Tobia’s family. I met his parents and his brother and sister. His whole family was super nice. They totally did not have the typical German stereotypes that German parents were super strict. They joked around with their kids so much and even went as far as to making Nazi jokes, which I thought was completely taboo. In their family, it wasn’t.

During my stay, I got to practice my German with them and I was surprised that I could even say as much as I did, even if I talked slow. It definitely increased my confidence and ability with the language. All the time I spent learning German was paying off!

Link to photo album here

London

Day 232

Getting There

Just like the time I went to Barcelona, I had to wake up at a ridiculous hour to catch my flight.  Even though the flight was at 10, we had to take a few regional trains to get to the airport in Karlsruhe-Baden.  It was so early that when we got to Karlsruhe, we could see the sunrise.

Along the journey, a friend of mine forgot this iPod on the train and by the time he remembered, the train started leaving the station.  He watched the train leave with his iPod and could do nothing about it.  He immediately went to the Deutsche Bahn office for help.  The helpful staff there immediately called the next station that it would reach so that another employee could get on the train and retrieve it.  Lucky for him, they found it.  He would end up picking up his iPod after we came back from London.

I ended up sleeping for the whole flight and once we arrived we had to go through customs because the United Kingdom was not part of the “Schengen Area”, which is made up of a group of countries that allow travel within the group without going through customs, as in they have no internal border controls.

It was really easy talking to the customs agent because there was no longer any language barrier like in the rest of Europe.  It felt so nice speaking English again.  I no longer felt bad about not being able to speak a particular country’s language.  Speaking English felt so nice in fact, that I ended up having a brief chat with the customs agent about things like how I was liking Germany and what not.  Unlike the customs agents I see at the border between USA and Canada, the one in London was really nice.  I had initially thought that Londoners would give a really snobby vibe like the Parisians, but it didn’t seem like it so far.

After going through customs, we went to buy tickets for a bus to the city center.  Unfortunately for us, the lady selling tickets refused to accept our euros (good reason for that I suppose), so we had to exchange some money at a ridiculous rate.  We bought both our return ticket at the time too and for some reason the ticket lady wrote down 3:50 am for our return bus reservation (our flight was for 7 am).  We looked at it and we were just so sad to see we had to wake up at a ridiculous hour yet again to make our flight.  But then, we decided to stay up on our last night in London and not pay money for another night’s stay at the hostel.

The bus took us to Liverpool Street and from the looks of it, the districted seemed like an economic center.  People wearing business suits going about their business filled the streets.  From there, we bought our Oyster cards (kind of like the 八達通 in Hong Kong).  It is a prepaid card for taking the London public transit system.  One simply has to place the card on the scanner when entering and leaving the station.

We took the metro to King’s Cross and proceeded to find the hostel we booked.  It turns out that the hostel used to be a courthouse, which is kind of cool.  The interiors still have some of the furnishings of a courthouse and even has courtrooms that have been redecorated into hangout areas for guests.  Unfortunately for us though, when we actually saw our rooms, we were less than satisfied.  We got a super small room for eight people with beds arranged in two rows of four.  The only way we could get in and out of our beds was to crawl from the end instead of getting on from the side.  Solid walls surrounded the other sides and gave a really cramped feeling.  The showers there weren’t that clean either.  Regardless, that was the place that we had to stay at for the next two nights.

Imperial War Museum

Our first destination was the Imperial War Museum.  The museum chronicled the British Empire’s involvement in wars since the First World War up to the present.  In addition to exhibits from the two world wars, it even had exhibits on terrorism and the Iraq War.  Like many museums in London, this one was financially supported by the government so entry was free.  Upon seeing the building, one could already notice the 15 inch battleship cannons placed in the front – one from the HMS Ramillies and the other from HMS Roberts.

When we entered the museum, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of all the military vehicles in the museum’s atrium.  They had everything – tanks, fighter planes, rockets, artillery cannons, submarines, etc.  There was even a piece of rubble from the World Trade Center.


In addition to the exhibits about the wars that Britain fought, there were exhibits for the Holocaust as well as genocide in the modern era.  In the World War I section, there was even a reconstruction of a trench.  When I walked through it, I saw statues of soldiers going about their daily life at the time, like a soldier manning a machine gun or a soldier writing a letter to his parents.  In the World War II section, the museum managed to get a hold on the actual bronze eagle that was once on the Reichstag in Berlin.

We stayed at the museum until its closing time at 6 and afterward, we looked for a place to eat.  Just like in Rome, we looked at the Rick Steves’ European travel guide book for a recommendation.

Trafalgar Square

The guide book led us to a pub in Trafalgar square.  Before going to the pub, we decided to check out the place first.  We didn’t spend a lot of time here because we were in a hurry to eat.

The Lord Moon of the Mall

Following the guide book, it led us here to try out London’s “pub grub”.  The way the pub worked was that people had to find a table, take note of their table number and then go up to the counter to order food.  The servers would then bring the food over according to the table number.  I ordered sausages and mash (aka bangers and mash).

The pub itself seemed really British to me.  I don’t really know how, but it just gave me that vibe.  After our meal, we walked around the city for a little bit.  Since Trafalgar Square was really close to the tourist parts of London, we decided to go there.

Westminster

Westminster, one of the districts in London, is what people know London for.  This is where the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Palace of Westminster are all situated in.

We didn’t stay here very long since we knew we’d be back here the next day when we took the walking tour.  We were all really tired too so we were all very eager to go back to the hostel to sleep.

Wellington Arch

At the beginning of the tour, everybody gathered by the Wellington Arch, a triumphal arch dedicated to Britain’s victories over Napoleon.  It is also the site of London’s second smallest police station up until 1992.

Part of the arch is also used for the ventilation from the London Underground (subway) and the heat coming out from the vents sometimes causes people to believe there is a fire.  Every now and then, somebody ends up calling the London Fire Brigade about it.

War Memorials

Throughout much of the city, war memorials can be seen almost everywhere.  Some are dedicated to certain people such as Churchill or Monty, while some are dedicated to Britain’s former colonies or even to the war effort on the home front.

Buckingham Palace – Changing of the Guard

Pretty much everyday at Buckingham Palace, tourists can see the guard change at Buckingham Palace.  We didn’t intend to go see this so when we arrived at Buckingham Palace, we saw a large concentration of tourists watching it.  There were so many people that I couldn’t even see what was going on.


To see the guards up close, we went elsewhere where there weren’t that many tourists.  In the past, people were allowed to go up to the guards and annoy them, but ever since one of the guards flipped out at a tourist, tourists are no longer allowed to go up to the guards anymore.

We tried to annoy the guards anyway though.  The tour guide got everyone to shout out “penis” really loud to see if it would make the guard laugh.  According to the guide, it works about 1 in 4 times.  This guard didn’t laugh though.

Trafalgar Square (again)

The first time we came here, we didn’t really know the significance of the statue in the city square, but the tour guide explained it to us.  The statue was of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, a British war hero involved in the Battle of Trafalgar against the French and Spanish navies.  His fleet won the battle so decisively that his fleet took no losses in ships despite having a smaller fleet than his enemies.  Unfortunately for him, he died during the battle.  It is said that his crew put his body in a wine barrel to preserve his body so that he could have a proper burial in England.  However, since his men had won such a huge victory, they ended up drinking the wine from the barrel that the admiral’s body was in, hence producing the phrase, “tapping the admiral”.

Horse Guards Parade

The next destination was the Horse Guards Parade, basically an area with an open field for horses.  It wasn’t that special I suppose.

Westminster Abbey

According to Rick Steves’, Westminster Abbey is one of the most magnificent churches in the English speaking world.  When I read that, I figured that it might not be as good as the churches that I saw in Rome.  Nonetheless, I still wanted to check out this place.  It would have been nice to see the inside, but it would cost a hefty 13 pounds to enter.  With such an expensive admission fee (compared to churches everywhere else which have free entry), I couldn’t bring myself to pay that.  The churches in Rome are probably way nicer anyways.

Palace of Westminster and the Big Ben

Pretty much right beside the abbey was the house of parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster.  Attached to this building was the Big Ben.  I didn’t really get a good picture of the palace during the day though.

More Pub Grub

At the end of the tour, we went to a pub that had connections with the tour guide so we all got discounts on our meal.  I ordered fish and chips, one of Britain’s specialties I suppose.

Churchill War Rooms

After eating, I went to the Churchill War Rooms Museum, while my friends went to the National Gallery.  The war rooms was a museum set up such that it displayed the underground complex that the British government used during WWII.  Many of the rooms had been untouched since the end of the war.  In some instances, once the war ended, the staff went home and never returned to the command center.

The meeting room, map room, and many of the dormitories in the complex still had the old 40’s vibe.  Paraphernalia was left untouched.  Even maps showed the old names for different British colonies and still had the pin holes leftover from mapping out troop movements.


A large slab of concrete covered most of the complex to protect its occupants from bombs.  Nobody knew how well the slab would protect people, but luckily, the complex was never hit.  While walking around the complex, there are areas where a speaker will play the air raid siren sound.  I guess that was for authenticity, which was really cool.

Buckingham Palace

Now that the wave of tourists had subsided, I finally got the chance to get a good look at Buckingham Palace.  It was one of those places that didn’t look amazing in architecture and was a place where one would have to go while on a trip to London.  Maybe the next time I come to London, I will buy tickets to visit the inside of the palace.

The Cafe in the Crypt

For dinner, we looked at the guide book yet again to find a place.  This time we were recommended a place called “The Cafe in the Crypt”.  It was under a crypt of a church in Trafalgar Square.  When I ordered my food, the server for some reason was really delighted by the fact that I could speak English.

Platform 9 3/4

I hadn’t known before that in the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter went to Hogwarts from King’s Cross Station, which happened to be the station that our hostel was close to.  On our way back to the hostel that night, we came across the famous Platform 9 3/4.  There was even a cart halfway through the wall – just like in the books.

English Breakfast

Because the breakfast at our hostel sucked so much, we all decided to go have an English style breakfast on our last day.  The breakfast came with eggs, mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes and sausages.  It was really oily, but delicious.

The British Museum

According to Rick Steves, the British Museum “is the best chronicle of human civilization…ever”.  With a recommendation like that, we had to go to it.  After seeing it, I agree with Rick Steves.  The museum had information on pretty much every continent in the world.  Its most well known artifact, the Rosetta Stone was also on display.  Apparently, it was the stone tablet that allowed modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.


In the exhibit on ancient Greece, the museum showcased a lot of sculptures from the Parthenon.  I guess that would explain why I didn’t see any of those things when I went to Greece.  Another really nice exhibit was the one on mechanical clocks.  It displayed a lot of the different mechanisms that clocks were built out of.  Being part mechanical engineer, this was of a lot of interest to me.  I ended up analyzing the entire mechanism and figuring out exactly how clocks work.

The Millennium Bridge

Our next destination was the Tate Modern Art Gallery.  Before going inside, I went to see the nearby attractions first.  I learned of the Millennium Bridge during my engineering courses because it was an example of a badly designed bridge since it was affect by resonance.  Simply put, the bridge physically wobbled as people walked on it.

Shakespeare’s Globe

Based on the original Globe Theatre, this theatre is a modern reconstruction of the old one that burned down.  I didn’t know before that the original one had burned down.  I thought I was seeing the original.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

During the Blitz, St Paul’s Cathedral became a national symbol of resistance.  During the sustained strategic bombing of Britain during WWII, this cathedral somehow still stood.  Many of Britain’s heroes are buried here, namely Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, the Duke of Wellington, and Charles Cornwallis.

Normally, it costs money to go inside as a tourist, but since it was Sunday, the church was open for church services.  This allowed tourists to go in for free, but they weren’t allowed to take any pictures.  As usual, I disobeyed that and took pictures anyway.

I probably could have done something similar at Westminster Abbey also, but that was on the other side of town so I didn’t bother.

Tate Modern Art Gallery

Like many museums in London, this one was also free.  Looking at the different works of art here, I understood pretty much none of them without reading the description.  Interpreting art just isn’t my thing I guess.  Although, there was an exhibit about anti-Nazi works of art that was really interesting.  One photo in particular portrayed Nazi Germany as a house of cards, while another showed a bunch of skeletons depicting what Germany will be like in the future.  Another photo, although not anti-Nazi, it depicted the Japanese waking up the “sleeping giant” known as China when they invaded.

Chutneys Euston

For dinner, we went to a vegetarian Indian buffet.  For 7 pounds, we could eat as much as we wanted.  What a good deal.  That was my first time ever eating Indian food and it was really delicious.  I ate about three plates before I was full.  I didn’t get hungry until 3 in the morning.

Tower Bridge

At night, we went to see the Tower Bridge and the London Tower.  I originally thought the London Tower was just a tower, but it turned out the tower was actually part of a giant castle.

We walked across the bridge and saw the HMS Belfast, a British cruiser docked on the side of the river.  Apparently, the ship had been converted into a museum and was part of the Imperial War Museum.  If I had known about it earlier, I probably would have visited this too.

Going Home

Since our bus time was 3:50 am from Liverpool Street Station, we took a taxi to there to wait.  We went to a nearby restaurant and stayed there for a few hours playing cards.  When the bus came, we got on it and just slept.  We slept some more on the plane and on the train until we got home.  My original plan was to nap when I got home, but after so many naps earlier, it didn’t feel necessary anymore.  It probably would have ruined my sleeping schedule too.  I still felt the effects of the sleep deprivation the day after too.  Either way, it was a good trip.  I think I want to come back some time in the future.

Restaurant Amani–A Japanese-Chinese-Korean Dinner

Day 217

A while back I bought Groupons for a sushi platter at this restaurant and so today my friends and I went here for dinner to use them.  When we walked in, I went up to the counter and told the lady in German that I made a reservation for four people yesterday.  I then overheard her speaking Mandarin to her colleague.  It threw me off since I expected the staff there to be Japanese (even though a lot of Chinese people run sushi restaurants in Vancouver).  Knowing that the lady spoke Mandarin, I started speaking that instead and I told her that we wanted to use Groupons.  She seemed really surprised at how I started speaking Chinese and asked where I was from.  I told her I was from Hong Kong and she told me she was from Korea.  That totally took me aback.  For a Korean, she spoke Mandarin as well as someone natively Chinese.  She said that I spoke pretty good Mandarin for someone that came from Hong Kong (but maybe that’s just her being polite).  After that brief chat, she then invited us to sit anywhere we wanted and gave us our food menus.

Looking through the menu, I realized the restaurant had more than just Japanese food.  It had Korean and Chinese food.  The last few pages of my menu had some items written only in Chinese and my friend didn’t have those pages in their menus (likely because they knew that I knew Chinese).  It turns out they served the Cantonese style chicken feet (鳳爪)!  I definitely had to order that one.  I also ordered a bowl of Kimchi as I hadn’t eaten that in a while.  I had both of those along with the sushi platter that the Groupon got me.  My friends ordered Gyoza, spicy fried squid (I think it was 椒鹽鮮魷), miso soup, and Inarizushi (fried tofu filled with sushi rice).

My friends didn’t know what it was so I explained it as a Korean version of German sauerkraut except spicy.  I don’t eat Kimchi much, but this one tasted really good.  It had the perfect amount of spiciness.  I guess that is kind of subjective since everyone can handle a different amount of that.

The chicken feet that I ordered didn’t taste as good as I thought it would.  I can’t help but compare the taste with the kind I’ve had in Vancouver.  Some people do say that Vancouver has the best Chinese food in the world and now I’ve begun to see that.  Compared to Vancouver, the meat (pretty much skin I suppose) on the  chicken feet I got here seemed to be a lot “tougher”.  I was really expecting it to be really soft.

Although I didn’t try the miso soup, it looked really delicious.  It looked a lot different that the usual kind that I’ve seen in Vancouver.  I wouldn’t know which one is more legit or better tasting though.  Everything else looked really good and super legit too – especially the fried squid; that looked really good.

After eating our appetizers, we chowed down on the sushi platter.  Almost immediately, the mediocre seafood quality of Stuttgart revealed itself.  The taste was a lot more bland and had less of the natural flavour of the animal itself.  Again, I compared it to Vancouver and it’s really no contest there.  Vancouver has such good access to the ocean for fishing, while Stuttgart is landlocked and relies on frozen fish being delivered. 

Despite that though, I thought that this place had good sushi for a landlocked city. Although, the biggest drawback in eating sushi in Stuttgart is that it’s really expensive. The only reason we went was because of the Groupon that gave us 50% off the sushi platter.  I don’t think I would have gone otherwise.  Seeing that I’m going to be back in Vancouver really soon (16 days by my count), I can have all the amazing Japanese, Chinese and Korean food I want!

On our way out, I had another brief chat with the lady there and it was really difficult for me to understand Mandarin.  It wasn’t the way she spoke, but more so the way I really had to focus my attention to her talking because my Mandarin ability wasn’t that good.  My mind literally zoned out of everything and focussed purely on understanding what she said.  I ended up saying something back in like a mix of Chinese, German and English.  It was kind of strange, but she understood what I wanted to say.  It was kind of random yet really fascinating to have a trilingual language conversation and tri-culture meal going on.

Barcelona

Day 215

Flight to Barcelona

I woke up at around 3:30am to get ready for the flight to Barcelona.  I had slept at around 10:30pm the night before in order to not feel absolutely terrible in the morning.  We took the first train out to the airport at 4:40am and got there about an hour before our departure at 6:45am.  While going through security, I forgot to take of my belt and because of that, the security personnel checked me with the metal detector wand all over the place.  For some reason, he seemed to also have a huge suspicion that I was hiding something in my pants.  Once he let me go, we were on our way.  On the plane ride there, I tried by my best to take a nap, but this little kid cried for the whole duration.

Sagrada Familia

After dropping off our stuff at the hostel, w went to the Sagrada Familia, an unfinished church that began construction in 1882.  When I saw it, I thought it was really weird that the construction crew used modern cranes to build architecture of the old style.  We tried to go inside, but there was a huge line up.

After wandering around town a little bit, we came across this market that sold all sorts of things.  Apart from pretty normal items like clothing, vendors there sold N64’s, used power tools and even military regalia.  A lot of that stuff was probably stolen.  We walked around some more and then headed down to the beach.

Barceloneta

The area we were in, the Barceloneta, was a stretch of beach coastline looking into the Mediterranean Sea.  It had the nicest beach water and sand – even better than what I saw in Volos.  Looking around the beach, I learned that it was legal for women to sunbathe topless. It was actually quite prominent.  The weather was really hot too – perfect beach weather I suppose. 

I lay down under an umbrella on a beach towel while the others went for a swim.  I ended up falling asleep.  I suppose that made up for not having a good sleep on the plane.  After spending about an hour and a half at the beach, we went on a walking tour.

The Walking Tour

The first destination in the tour was in the Gothic Quarter.  We reached the memorial for Eulalia of Barcelona, a 13 year old girl that was brutally subjected to torture from the Romans for refusing to give up Christianity.  She died from the 13th and final torture that involved her being put inside a barrel with blades shoved inside it and then having that barrel rolled down in incline.  It is said that a dove flew out of her dead body as she ascended to Heaven.

The next destination was the oldest synagogue in Europe (as opposed to the one in Prague, which is the oldest active synagogue).  From the outside, it doesn’t look anything like a synagogue.  It just blends in perfectly with the buildings around it and the building itself doesn’t have any valuable looking ornaments or decorations either.  The only things that separate it from the other buildings is sign in Hebrew on the doorway and some signs for tourists to know that it’s there.  In this Jewish district, the tour guide mentioned the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.  I thought it was kind of amusing when I was caught by surprise at the mention of it – kind of like that quote from Monty Python.

Afterward, we went to Plaza de Sant Felip Neri.  The significance of this place was that the plaza was the site of a air attack from Italian bombers during the Spanish Civil War.  Shrapnel damage from the bombs still scar the walls of the plaza.  On another side of the plaza, the bomb damaged was repaired but one can still see the slight difference in colour between the bricks which shows how much of the wall had been destroyed.

One thing about the streets in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona is that a lot of them are really narrow – probably only about 10 feet wide.  We walked through these streets for most of the tour.  In one of those streets, we came across a mosaic of Space Invaders.  Apparently, there is an artist who goes all over the world putting them up.

The next destination was the Placa Nova, which used to be the location of the city gates back when the Romans lived in Barcelona.  The remnants of the gate and the aqueduct still exists.  Across from the gate is the City Architecture School, which has a joke drawing by Picasso splattered over it.

After walking some more we saw the Barcelona Cathedral which housed the tomb of Eulalia of Barcelona and also the Placa del Rei, the historical location where Christopher Columbus reported his discovery of the Americas to the Spanish royalty.  We also saw some Roman ruins after climbing a mountain with a height of 16.9 meters (that’s what a plaque actually said) as well as the Placa de San Jaume, the political center of Cataluña (the area of Spain that Barcelona belongs to).

The tour guide also talked about the origins of the flag of Catalonia (Cataluña is the name in Catalan).  It is said that a great warrior Wilfred the Hairy, after being wounded in battle, drew stripes along a copper shield with his blood-stained fingers, hence the four prominent red stripes on the Catalan flag.


We also walked along La Rambla, a popular tourist street in the city.  The tour guide also showed us a city square that featured some of buildings designed by an architect named Gaudi.  Apparently, his designs are all over the city.

Next was the Placa George Orwell.  As a memorial to him (he was involved during the Spanish Civil War), the city named a city square after him.  Ironically enough, this plaza used to be under 24 hour surveillance kind of like Big Brother in his book “1984”.

We finished the tour at a bar and socialized with other people in the tour group for a little bit and drank Sangria.  I got to talk to these people who used to work at the same hostel we stayed at in Hamburg.  It was such a coincidence.

Barcelona’s Skateboarding Fame

After that, we walked around the city to look for the skateboarding spots that Barcelona was so famous for among skateboarders.  I’m not a fan, so I could not recognize the place from skateboarding videos, but it was cool to see a lot of skateboarders in one place showing off their tricks.

Tapas

For dinner, we tried Tapas, a Spanish delicacy.  Tapas are basically a small appetizer dish, but patrons generally order a few of them for a full meal.  Along with Tapas, Paellas are another Spanish delicacy that’s also really delicious.



Sangria is Evil

That night, we spent a little bit of time at the hostel bar.  We all drank Sangria and the thing about that drink is that it tastes a lot like juice, which means it is really easy to drink too much.  And that’s what I did.  I puked a bunch and got a pretty bad hangover the next morning.  I never intended to drink that much in the first place.

While we were drinking, we talked with this black dude and he always had racist jokes to say.  He went on about how white people could never get away with saying racist comments, which was so true.  He didn’t even get angry when I jokingly used the “n” word on him.

Park Güell

I spent the next morning puking too which sucked a lot.  We went to the beach again that morning, but I felt so bad at that time that I decided to go back to the hostel to rest up a bit before doing anything.  I felt a lot better in the evening and so we all continued sightseeing and went to Park Güell.

Park Güell was basically a park that featured a lot of Gaudi’s architectural exploits.  Since he hated the use of right angles in his work, much of the design had curvy edges.  Spanish architecture here was so different from the architecture I’d seen everywhere else.  It was really distinct and unique.

A Less Intense Night (at Least for Me)

After visiting the park, we went to the hostel bar like the night before.  Except this time, I didn’t do any crazy drinking.  We met the same black dude from the night before again and this time he went on about how much he loved eating fried chicken, which just made me crack up so hard.  He perpetuated that stereotype.  Once the hostel bar quieted down, my friends went out for clubbing while I stayed at the hostel and went to sleep.

Mini-Sandwiches

I found out later that they returned at around 6 am.  Two of them were really high on weed apparently when they came back too (weed is legal in Barcelona so long as one possesses less than 50g).  They missed the hostel breakfast that morning and slept in until 12pm.  Once we all got ready, we went out for lunch at a mini-sandwich restaurant. 


The place had so many varieties of mini sandwiches and they all looked and tasted delicious.  I wanted to try all of them, but I was pretty certain that I couldn’t eat that much since I wasn’t hungry for lunch yet.

Montjuïc

After eating, we went up to Montjuïc.  The mountain had a lot of really nice architecture, just like a lot of places in the city.  Also on the mountain was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.  We walked around the Olympic stadium and got a really good view of the city.


We walked further up the mountain and reached the fortress at the top.  At the time, we didn’t know there was a gondola that took us up there, so we walked the whole way, which was super tiring in the intense heat that day.  Fortunately, seeing the fortress was worth it.  From there, we got a really good view of the entire city, all the way around. 



After walking around so much, we all got really hungry and took the gondola back down and looked for a place to eat.

Paellas

After trying Tapas on the first day, we decided to try Paellas this time around.  Paellas are basically a rice dish and consists of either vegetables, seafood, or different varieties of meat depending on the type.  We ordered one with seafood and chicken in it. 

Being able to pick meat off bones and peeling the shell off of shrimp was so satisfying.  It was totally unlike the German dishes that involve none of that peeling whatsoever.

Writing at the Beach

We spent the rest of the night at the beach to get one last look at it before leaving the next morning.  When we got there, the sun was already setting so it was quite comfortable at the beach without the sun constantly cooking us. 

As the sun set, it actually got really cold.  While sitting at the beach, I started writing bits of this blog entry in my notebook.  Writing on the beach was really satisfying.

My Joint-Rolling Experience

When we got back to the hostel, two of the people I went with wanted to use up the rest of the weed that they bought.  I refused to do any weed when they offered it to me – even if it was legal here, but I did want to try rolling a joint.  They passed me some of the weed and rolling paper and then taught me how to do it.  In the end, I rolled a better joint than both of them and it was only my first try too.  They called me a “stoner prodigy” and said how I’d be a really good stoner if I ever did weed.  No way I’m going to smoke it for real though even if rolling a joint was an interesting experience.  When the others started smoking the rest of the weed, I returned to the hostel and went to bed.

Flying Back

The next morning we all woke up at 6 am to get to the airport for our flight back to Stuttgart.  For pretty much the entire trip home, our whole group barely talked.  We all had this zombie look on our faces from waking up way too early and not sleeping enough.  It took a few hours for us to return back to our normal state.  We all felt it was a good trip – except for the part where I had too much Sangria.

Vatican City and Rome (Day 3 and 4)

Day 209

See the post for Day 1 and 2 here

We woke up in the morning to find that the hostel staff restored the hot water again.  So after a nice long shower, we resumed our sightseeing.  We would have liked to have breakfast at the hostel too, but we took too long (or woke up too late).  Instead, we had to find a supermarket to buy food.  We carried the bread, ham and cheese to the Coliseum and ate it there.

The Coliseum

We sat outside under the shade of the massive structure and just took out all the food.  While we ate though, bees kept annoying us and went after the package of ham.  It made no sense to me.  I thought bees only wanted nectar.  After spending a bit of time killing the bees, we resumed eating.  After finishing up, we walked around the Coliseum until we found the entrance.

From the outside, we could already see the massive structure.  It was clear that much of the structure had fallen apart since it was built.  Entire layers of the coliseum had collapsed over time.  What remained didn’t look that sturdy either.  A lot of preservation work must have been done to it to prevent the whole structure from collapsing.  Even on the walls, one could see many holes in it that used to hold up ornaments and other decorations when the structure was still in use.  The structure is certainly a great feat of Roman engineering.

Now that the structure is used purely for tourism, a lot of street vendors naturally set up shop here (it’s kind of weird sometimes because every single one of these street vendors I’ve seen are black).  It’s quite funny to see them all pack their stuff up really fast (it’s like they’re used to it) when cops showed up.  It really reminded me of those food vendors on the street in Hong Kong except without the carts.  Even better were the people dressed up as Roman Legions that got their pictures taken with people.

Because we purchased the Roma Pass (thanks to my friends European travel book) when we arrived at the airport, we were able to get free direct entry into any two museums in Rome (as well as unlimited travel on the metro system) for 3 consecutive days.  We used our pass at the coliseum and walked straight inside.  We didn’t even have to wait in line.  As we walked, everyone seemed to look at us wondering why we didn’t have to wait.  It was like being a VIP.

Walking into the main arena area of the coliseum really reminded me of the movie Gladiator.  The floor of the arena had long since collapsed so looking into the center only reveals the hidden rooms and passageways that used to serve as the barracks for the other gladiators.  To show what the area would have been like, there was a reconstructed portion of the arena floor.

The seating areas of the coliseum seems to have collapsed as well.  At first I wondered where people actually sat when watching shows.  We pretty much walked around the entire circumference of the coliseum and did not find any.  They must have all collapsed, which could explain why some areas had concrete poured over it to preserve the structural integrity.  At least that’s what I think based on the slabs of concrete that covered a lot of the area.

Some parts of the coliseum featured exhibits of its history too and that was quite interesting to see.  After going through the exhibits, we tried to go up to the third floor, but it had been closed off for some reason.  Somehow, a few people managed to get up there anyways.  Since we didn’t know how to get passed the locked metal gate, we saw whatever else we could and then afterward, we went to the Roman Forum.

Forum Romanum

Again, we used our Roma Pass to bypass the line and it felt so good being able to do that.  The Roman Forum was a large excavation site and so there was a lot of Roman ruins in the area.  It was basically the ruins of an entire city.  Looking on the map, we saw that there was so much to see there.  In the few hours that we were there for, we didn’t even go through it all.

We hadn’t completely recovered from all the walking we did the day before and the walking at the coliseum so we took it easy.  It would be interesting to see just how many kilometers we had all walked since the start of the trip.

Memorial to Vittorio Emanuele II

We ended up staying at the forum until the attraction closed and then afterward, we went to the memorial to Vittorio Emanuele II.  This memorial was the largest memory I’d ever seen.  It seems that this person was so important to the Italian people that they gave him a giant memorial with ceremonial guards. Seems kind of pompous to me actually. I looked up this person on Wiki and apparently, he was the first king of a unified Italy.

When we looked at the whole memorial, we wondered how long the ceremonial guards stayed out there for and how the guards would change shifts.  As we were discussing it, we saw three guards march out from the memorial to relieve the current ones.  The new guards switched places with the old ones by marching into their previous standing spot.  The relieved guards would then march away.

Trattoria Der Pallaro

By now, we were really hungry and after looking at my friend’s guide book for restaurant recommendations, we decided on going to a place called Trattoria Der Pallaro.  The cool thing about that restaurant was that it had no menu for people to pick food from.  Guests were served what the restaurant chose to serve.  For 25 euros, people got served a multicourse meal and didn’t get to choose what food they got.  It seemed like a really cool idea.

When we sat down, the waiter asked us whether we wanted red or white wine (probably the only choice for the entire meal).  After we answered, he returned with jugs of wine that amounted to about half a liter per person.  We all thought that was a little too much wine.  Next up was some bread and side orders of olives, ham/smoked meat, lentils, tomatoes and these fried fish balls (I don’t know what they are called).  That amount of food would have been enough for most people.  But knowing that was only the first course, we knew that there’d be more food to come.

For the next course, we were served a penne carbonara.  Half of it had this really delicious cheese sauce while the other half had a less delicious tomato sauce (but still super good compared to other pasta I’ve eaten).  I think that was the best pasta I’ve ever had, but then again, I don’t eat much pasta.

While we ate, I observed how the restaurant functioned since I reasoned that the place would be really efficient at cooking since everyone got the same dishes.  Indeed it was true.  The chef cooked batches and batches of the same thing and the waiters just scooped out the proper proportions for serving.  All they needed to do was keep track of which part of the meal each table was at.

In the third course, we got another serving of bread, but this time with veal, mozzarella balls, zucchini, and potato chips (I guess that random food thing can be a hit or miss on some dishes).  During all this eating, we kept drinking the wine, and I’m sure we would have gotten really drunk (or at least really buzzed) from it if not for all the food we ate.

In the fourth and final course, we were served this lemon cheesecake (at least I think it was cheesecake) with a small glass of peach juice (probably the size of a shot).  Best juice I’ve ever had.  The cheesecake was super good too.  We ended up finishing all the food and the wine.  Despite how expensive that restaurant was, it was totally worth it.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart

The next day, we tried to go to the National Museum of Rome, but we didn’t know that it closed on Mondays.  Instead, we went to the nearby Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  When we went in, this old man who was part of the church greeted us and started talking with us.  He asked us the usual questions like where we were from and what not.  He also talked about the history of the church.  It really surprised me how good his English was.  I didn’t even expect an old Italian man to know it.  He seemed like a really nice guy. He showed us around and insisted that we take some free postcards of the church.

We stayed at the church until it was time to take the bus back to the airport.  We bought our bus tickets from a fellow that I thought looked kind of shady and for some reason he insisted that I put my backpack in the baggage compartment of the bus.  I did as I was told, but I worried so much for my stuff.  I really hoped that no one would steal anything while the door was open when the bus waited for people to board.  From where I was, I wouldn’t have seen anything if someone stole my bag.  I asked my friend sitting close to the window to spot my bag for me just in case.  When we got to the airport, I got my bag and made sure everything was still there.  My friend then told me how he saw the man that we bought the tickets from rummage through someone’s stuff and it looked like he could have stolen something too.  If my bag had been stolen, I would have lost everything.  I guess that taught me to keep all my important documents on my person.

Going Home

On the way back, my friends and I had a nice and long conversation about our views on certain things in life.  It was a super random conversation, but it was fun to talk about this like our childhood and how we were raised.

When we got off the plane and walked towards our bus, we got stopped by these two police officers.  We showed them our passports when they asked for them, but then they walked away with them for a little bit.  When they came back, they asked us if we were in the military.  We all thought it was an odd question and just told them no.  Then they said, “ok”, gave our passports back and we were on our way.  It was really weird and random.  Did we stand out that much in Germany?

During the two hour train ride, we talked about more random stuff.  During the conversations, I realized a lot of things in my childhood, the way I was raised, and my culture that really affected who I am today.  The whole conversation just seemed really profound.

We got home at around 7 pm and after cooking and eating dinner, I sat down to blog and upload my pictures as I always did after each trip.

Vatican City and Rome (Day 1 and 2)

Day 208

On Thursday, the day before we went to Rome, I learned from a colleague at work that the organization that ran the U-Bahn would go on strike on Friday. Knowing that we had to go to the train station the next day, we had to figure out an alternative route.  It just so happened that the nearby town of Ditzingen was only about 3 km away and from there we could take the S-Bahn (these ones weren’t on strike) to the main train station.  It took about 40 minutes to walk there, but it was necessary.  Along the way, we walked past a bunch of farmland that connected the two towns.  It seemed like we didn’t have to walk very far to reach the rural area.

We arrived at the main train station about an hour earlier than we needed to be so we just sat down for beer before beginning our trip.  Our train to the airport in Baden-Baden took about 2 hours and flying to Rome from there took about an hour and a half.  We arrived at the hostel pretty late in the evening, so we didn’t do much sightseeing except go to the nearby Piazza della Repubblica.  Since Rome was so hot, we were sweaty all over and it made good sense to take a shower when we got back to the hostel.  The worst part about it was that the water was freezing.  For some reason, the hot water didn’t work.  We talked to the reception about it and they said we’d have hot water by morning.

We didn’t get hot water in the morning either.  I followed my friend’s strategy for taking cold showers that he used during this stay in Uganda.  It pretty much worked by standing in the cold shower for as long as possible and then getting out.  It was really uncomfortable.  I didn’t really feel clean, but that had to do.  When we got ready, we took the metro to Vatican City and that’s where the real sightseeing started.

When we got on the metro at Termini Station, we couldn’t help but notice these people standing against the wall of the metro tunnel in the area where people got on the train.  It seemed as if these people were scoping potential victims for pickpocketing.  My friend let me borrow a pouch that I could tie around my body and was hidden under my shirt, so I wasn’t worried about getting pickpocketed.  I noticed that these people kept staring at other people as they walked by.  It seemed super suspicious to me.  In order to avoid these people even more, we boarded the metro at the end of the train, where there’d be the least concentration of people.

Vatican City

When we walked out of the metro and walked toward St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, we could see into it a little bit, and it kind of prepared us for getting our minds blown when we saw the whole thing.  From the plaza, we could see the Apostolic Palace and St. Peter’s Basilica.  As I expected, my mind was totally blown away by how awesome the place looked.  We proceeded to the line up to see the inside of the basilica.  At that time, I thought the line up we were at was for the Vatican Museums, but apparently that was somewhere else.  It was only after we waited in line that I realized that we were in the wrong place.  We had an online reservation for 11 and we only figured out where we needed to be at about 10:50, so in those 10 minutes, we walked about a kilometer around the outside of the Vatican in the burning heat just to make that deadline.  We got in though.

We had bought tickets for the Vatican the day before so we didn’t have to wait in line for tickets when we were there.  Even if it cost us an extra 4 euros each, it was totally worth it.  The line up looked like it was going to take hours.

Inside the Vatican Museums, it looked like people just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and the other exhibits didn’t really interest them.  I can understand since a lot of the statues and busts that they showed there are of people that are of no particular significance to most people.  Most people probably don’t even understand the paintings everywhere.  I know I don’t.  To me, these exhibits just look really cool and that is about it.  I don’t know the history behind them at all.  Maybe the only painting there that I sort of knew was the one of Euclid.  The painting of him showing off geometry in the street is in pretty much every single math textbook.

The museum was set up such that there was a linear path for everyone to follow and near the end of the path would be the Sistine Chapel, the highlight of the visit.  In this part of the museum, guests were not allowed to take any photos and also had to be silent in the area of worship.  Most tourists obeyed these rules except for a select few who insisted on taking photos (myself included).  Every now and then the guards would call out for everyone to be silent and many guards patrolled around the crowd telling people to put their cameras away.  I too got caught by one of the guards when I tried to take a photo, but all he did was tell me to put my camera away.  Some tourists though, kept using the flash and made it so obvious that they’re taking photos.  Little do they know that they were slowly destroying the paintings.  At least I know how to take photos without the flash.

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, was the famous painting of the Creation of Adam where God can be seen giving the spark of life to Adam.  I was surprised that this painting blended in so well with the others.  I had originally thought that this painting would be much more prominent.  It seemed that way because the painting was so famous.

After finishing up the Vatican Museums, we went back to St Peter’s Square to see the basilica.  By now, all the tourists were out and about and as a result it took us about an hour of waiting in line to reach the security checkpoint for the basilica.  It sucked because it only took us about 15 minutes when we were there earlier.  We had pretty much already waited, but were forced to wait again.  We found that the church required a certain attire to get in.  People wearing shorts, tank tops, and short skirts weren’t allowed in.  Luckily, I had jeans on and that was allowed (although it was awful wearing them in 30+ Celsius weather).

The wait was worth it though because St. Peter’s Basilica was the best church I had ever seen.  When we got inside, we immediately noticed how beautiful everything was decorated.  To make it all better, the position of the sun was just right so that the light shone into the church as glory rays.

It seemed like every single part of the church had some sort of decoration.  There was hardly any section of white space.  There was always a statue or some sort of engraving.  I was totally blown away by this sight.  I tried my best to capture the beauty of the glory rays.  In the ray of light, I could see small particles of dust floating around that I never managed to capture with my camera.

The sight of this church instantly made me believe that the look of all the churches I’d seen to simply be inferior.  It’s almost as if I no longer see a point in visiting any other church when I know that this one is just going to be the nicest looking one.

Walking through the Town in the Evening

After leaving the Vatican, we went to the Spanish Steps to meet the walking tour that we learned about from our hostel.  The tour wasn’t very good for me since I had so much trouble understanding the tour guide’s English.  He didn’t speak very loudly either.

From the Spanish Steps, we walked to Piazza Navona. Along the way, we saw some Roman ruins and also the most beautiful fountain ever – the Trevi Fountain.

The Roman ruins we saw were of the Pantheon and the Temple of Hadrian.  Over the years, much of the Temple of Hadrian had collapsed and the only remaining parts were just the pillars. 

Next was the Pantheon.  We couldn’t go in at the time because there was a service going on, but we went back later once it ended. 

 

Our next stop was the Piazza Navona, the location of a very beautiful city square.  It was surrounded by very traditional Italian architecture and a very beautiful church with an Egyptian obelisk in front of it.

Once the tour ended, we went back to the Pantheon to wait for the service to finish.  We knew when it ended and timed it so that we only had to wait a few minutes.  Many other tourists knew this too, so the crowd of tourists just waited outside and just stormed in when it was time.  When we went in, the smell of incense was still in the air and it gave the Pantheon a good smell.

After all the walking around we got really hungry and ate at a restaurant in the nearby city square of Campo de Fiori.  At that restaurant, we got to try some delicious Italian pasta and beer.  That beer tasted so good at relaxing.  Definitely needed after walking in the baking heat all day.


After eating, we revisited some of the sights along the walking tour at night before heading back to the hostel.  The next day, we would visit the Coliseum and the surrounding Forum Romanum.

Okonomiyaki

Day 204

One of my friends, who had spent 10 months in Hiroshima, had the idea of cooking Okonomiyaki.  It consists of a batter cooked like a crepe, but with soba noodles, cabbage and eggs plus whatever people feel like adding (cheese, bacon, etc.) with Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, green onions, and katsuobushi (the dried fish flakes) on top.  My friend bought all of this stuff at this Japanese grocery store in his home town.  To make it, we followed this recipe.

To begin, we started off by chopping up the cabbage, green onions and making the batter.  Since my flat did not have a large enough bowl, we ended up making the batter in a cooking pot.  It was quite difficult stirring the batter while adding in the flour without everything spilling.  Chunks of flour would always get stuck on the side of the pot too.  Once we finished the batter and cut up the veggies, we took out the teppanyaki grill.


At first, we didn’t oil up the surface before we started using the batter for the crepe layer, so it ended up sticking.  We couldn’t separate it to flip it either.  When we tried, we tore up the entire layer so bad that we didn’t try to proceed with that one.  We poured on some more batter and tried again, and the second time around, it worked slightly better – at least not so bad as the one before.

We added the cabbage on a vacant part of the grill and let the cabbage and crepe cook for a while before flipping the crepe over the cabbage.  We learned later that it was better to throw the cabbage directly onto the crepe and let both parts cook together.  Afterward, we started frying the Soba noodles.  We took the entire slab of noodles and spread it out as best we could on the grill.

Once the cabbage was sufficiently cooked, we moved the whole slab of cabbage and crepe and stacked it on top of the noodles and let that cook for a while.  Next came frying the egg.  We cracked the egg over the grill, popped the yolk, and swirled it around for a little bit to spread out the leaking yolk.  In the end, the egg just looked like a badly scrambled egg.  Then, we scooped up the stack of noodles, cabbage, and crepe and placed it on top of the egg.  After letting the egg cook until it was done, we took the entire stack off the pan.  We added okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi, and green onions.  As we added the katsuobushi on to the okonomiyaki, we could see the individual flakes shrivelling up due to the heat.

Between the layer of egg and crepe was soba noodles and cabbage.  We made others with different ingredients like cheese and bacon.  It was probably super fattening, but it tasted so good.  The sauce made it taste 10 times better.  I don’t know how Japanese mayonnaise is different from regular mayonnaise, but it’s definitely better.  We had enough ingredients to make 10 of them, so that each person could have two each.  As we kept cooking them, we got better and better at lifting the stack and flipping it.  The end product tasted so delicious and eating two of these filled me up real good.  I’m totally going to try and find a restaurant that makes these in Vancouver or if I’m feeling up for it, I can make it myself!

Hamburg

Day 194

As one of the largest port cities in Europe, we got a chance to go to Hamburg to see its beauty.  We went there by car and saw much of the historical part of the city as well as took a ferry ride along the coast of the Elbe River and walked along the city’s canals.  The weather was pretty much raining for the whole time we were there.  As my friend put it, “when you go to Hamburg, plan for rain”.

The Drive

We left work at around noon to pick up our rental car.  It took us a bit longer than we expected because we had to go grocery shopping so we could have lunch and dinner in the car on the way there for our 6 hour drive (or so we thought).  The drive ended up taking 8 hours because of a stau (traffic jam).

The car we got from the rental company was a Mercedes-Benz C220.  When we got into the car, it smelled like new and being in such a new car for a road trip was undoubtedly awesome. We only got this car because it was the cheapest car with automatic transmission available.  I guess the Renault that we got last time was booked for today.  I wish that I got the chance to drive it though.

On the way there, we got to see a lot of the German countryside (as anyone typically does when going from one major city to another).  On the grass plains and knolls, we saw countless villages, farms, vineyards, and the like.  We even saw farms of wind turbines and solar panels.

After a few hours of driving, we stopped a few times.  We stopped at a rest area and at this middle-of-nowhere village.  The GPS guided us off the highway and into this village just to avoid the traffic jam.  For the first third of the trip, I sat in the front while three of my friends had to squish together in the back.  When it was my turn to sit in the back, I didn’t really feel the discomfort while I was reading on my friend’s Kindle.  I ended up going through about 90 pages of Band of Brothers.  Maybe the book was so interesting that I just completely zoned out of the real world for a little bit.

We reached our hostel at around 9 at night and parked the car.  After moving our stuff into our room, we began our sightseeing tour of Hamburg.

Reeperbahn

Our first destination was the Reeperbahn street.  Similar to Amsterdam, this area is one of the most famous red light districts in the world.  The whole area was full of sex shops, strip clubs, and brothels.  On the street corner, many women wearing fanny packs kept trying to approach tourists and we figured that these women were all prostitutes (that stuff is legal in Germany).

One of the more peculiar things was that there was a church that stood pretty much in the core of the whole area.  Really convenient for people to go to confess their sins I guess.

We meant to find a bar here for a drink, but pretty much all of the places reeked with pungent cigarette smoke or was way too loud.  Two of my biggest pet peeves in one place.  We ended up just going back to the hostel instead.

In order to keep up my “try-as-much-kinds-of-beer-as-possible mentality”, I tried a type of beer called Astra Urtyp.  It tasted horrible – too much of hops flavour.  Some of the others drank a few more beers and got tequila shots before heading out again.  As usual, I went to sleep.  The next morning, I found that they returned at around 5:30 in the morning.

The Rathaus

At around 11, on a cloudy day with a large and persistent ocean breeze (it was super cold even with my jacket on), we showed up at the meeting point for the walking tour – a Starbucks.  This tour company receives some sort of sponsorship from them.  Our tour guide, didn’t look like a German, and when he spoke, a clear Northern USA accent came about – apparently, he had been living in Germany for some time.  He led us to the first destination of the tour – the Rathaus (city hall).

Located by the Alster River, this rathaus replaced the old one that was destroyed in the fire of 1842.  This building looked quite similar in form to other city halls, like the one in Munich and Vienna, with a clock tower-like structure that extended directly above the main entrance.  Right above the gate of the main entrance, the Hamburgers proudly displayed their coat of arms that depicted the old fortress of Hammaburg (where the city got its name) that used to exist in the area before its destruction by the Vikings.  Once more this coat of arms was displayed on the clock tower of the rathaus, just beneath a large antiquated mechanical clock.  Statues of German Kaisers decorated the side of the building as each one stood in a line just beneath the rooftop.

In front of the building was a giant courtyard and during World War II, a bomb landed here, but didn’t explode.  If it had, the rathaus would have been badly damaged.  The bomb was defused and the timing mechanism removed from the bomb is now on display in the rathaus.  In the courtyard, the Hamburgers held the Stuttgart Wine Festival, which apparently coincided with the Hamburg Fish Market in Stuttgart.  Here, people set up tents selling South German cuisine – the kind of German food that I’m always used to eating. 

Along the Alster River stood a giant stone plaque engraved with a message saying that 40000 sons of the city gave their life for us all.  Everyday, people going to the rathaus are reminded of the tragedy that befell the country.  Beside it, swans, ducks and other birds frolicked about and went on with their day to day lives.


Buildings on the other side of the river formed a canal much like in Amsterdam.  Canals could be seen throughout much of the city and in fact, the city holds the world record for having the most amount of bridges.  At first I thought Amsterdam’s 900 bridges was a lot, but apparently Hamburg has around 2300.

St. Peter’s Church

Although, not so significant as a work of architecture, many believe this place to be the site of where the old Hammaburg fortress once existed.  When we stood at the entrance of this church, the tour guide said, “welcome to the highest point of Hamburg!”  I looked around and just saw a gentle slope and nothing more.  I guess Hamburg must not have any mountains! 


Besides being a church, this building once served as a stables for Napoleon’s forces.  Not long after the Napoleonic Wars, the church was destroyed in the fire of 1842.  Despite the fire, much of the art in the building was saved including the lion shaped door knocker – the oldest artifact in the city.  At the back of the church, vegetation grew along the brick walls over the years and not far beside it, a wooden sign stood with directions to various places for pilgrimages.

Expressionist Architecture

During the height of Hamburg’s power in sea trade, many firms set up offices in the city.  Many of these firms had buildings resembling the architecture style of the expressionists – elements of the building’s exterior would reflect the purpose of the building.  For example, in one of the accounting houses for sea trade, one could see elements of the building protruding from its side in the shape of a caravel or an anchor.

In another building, known as the Chilehaus, held the shape of a ship and above the front entrance, there were various objects representing the country of Chile.  Similarly, in the Afrikahaus, there was a giant statue of a tribesman wielding a spear and behind the statue on the gate, was a sculpture of a plant indigenous to Africa.

We also visited the Patriotische Gesellschaft (no idea what that is in English), but this building too had examples of the expressionist art.  Statues of caravels and Poseidon stood on the roof.

World War II Stuff

While on the tour, the guide pointed out a plaque on the side of a building and on it was information saying that the building was once the location of the firm that manufactured the Zyklon B gas that killed millions of people in the death camps.  This plaque used to be located at the main entrance of the building, but the building owners and people working there did not want a daily reminder of those atrocities.  To counteract this, they used a different entrance as the main one instead.


Another destination, the Church of Saint Nicholas was one of the many buildings destroyed during the instead bombing raids on Hamburg.  The church did not get a complete repair after the war, but instead it now stands as a memorial – another reminder of the devastation of World War II.

Deichstrasse

Located near a large network of canals, this area of the city is the oldest part of Hamburg.  Undoubtedly, this area was filled with old architecture and complete with the cobblestone roads that are so prevalent in Europe.  The building style also resembled a lot of 18th and 19th century architecture. 


There would have been more buildings in this area, but through several fires and bombings, much of it was destroyed.  In fact, one of the buildings here was where the fire of 1842 started.  It must have been reconstructed since then.

Speicherstadt

Literally translated, the title means a “city of warehouses”, which indeed is what the area was for – storing cargo.  Back in the day, this area used to be where the Hamburgers traded without having to deal with customs tariffs.

As the size of cargo ships got larger, these buildings began to be obsoleted as many of these cargo ships could not fit in the narrow city canals.

HafenCity

Probably the most modern part of the city, this district serves as a playground for architects.  Much of the buildings here don’t follow any sort of mainstream design ideas – lots of buildings here looked really bizarre.

One building to note though, is the concert house under construction.  It has the shape of ocean waves to represent the city’s rich history of sea trade.  Originally budgeted for 100 million euros, due to construction delays and other unfortunate events, the cost of the building is now nearing 500 million euros.

Before this area became popular, the city had trouble getting people to move here, so they rented out flats here for as low as 500 euros a month, but now people can’t rent a flat here for anything less than 3000 euros a month.

Shopping and Food

After our tour, some of my friends couldn’t stand the freezing ocean wind anymore and decided they had to go buy a hoodie.  The wind was so strong that the clouds weren’t just floating across anymore.  There was like a wind speed of about 20 km/h.  We walked around the old town and found an H&M.  I looked around inside and to my surprise, I found that the prices at this H&M seemed to be a lot higher than Stuttgart.  Otherwise, I most probably would have bought something there.

Later on, we went back to the old part of Hamburg for traditional Hamburg cuisine.  We entered a restaurant that had a theme of sailing.  The wall had on display some schematics and black and white photos of various types of ships.  The color scheme of the place even coincided with the stereotypical blue and white colour combination of sailors. We went to eat at around 3, so it was kind of empty at the time.

The food I tried here was Labskaus – a dish typically served in Northern Germany and according to Wiki, “the main ingredients are salted meat or corned beef, potatoes, and onion. Some – non-traditional – recipes put beetroot, pickled gherkin, or even herring into it.”  Mine was served with beetroot and pickled herring, which was typical of the Hamburg style.

Hamburg Hafen

After our meal, we went to the harbour for a ferry ride along the Elbe River.  The ferry drove along the coastline and gave us a really good view of the city.  We rode the ferry from HafenCity all the way to the beach near the Elbtunnel.  In addition to the city scape, we even saw a docked submarine and a cruise ship about to begin its journey.  The travellers on the ship happened to be doing their lifeboat safety drill as we passed by so the people on the two ships happily waved to each other.


The ocean wind we felt on the ship was so strong that I probably needed a winter coat to keep warm.  The wind even caused the waves to be strong enough such that water splashed onto the deck of the boat and onto everyone standing on it.

On the other side of the river, miles of cranes lined up the shore, ready to unload any cargo on ships that docked.  What we were seeing was the second largest port in Europe, the largest being the one in Rotterdam.

Bar District

Supposedly, this area is known as the bar district (at least that’s what we called it).  Despite its name though, there was a really tight concentration of bars here, but the cost of beer was even more than Stuttgart.

At the bar/restaurant, I ordered an apple strudel to help combat my hunger from walking around all day instead of going for beer like everyone else did (although I did have a little bit).  The apple strudel I got wasn’t that expensive and it looked and tasted amazing.

Fish Market

The next morning, we went to the fish market – Hamburg is famous for it.  However, we got there a little late, so by the time we got there, a lot of the places were closing down.  As a last ditch attempt to sell more stuff, a lot of shops there started giving people really good deals on food like selling a whole box of fruit for only 1 euro.  I would have bought it if I could eat all of that.  A pile of garbage behind all these people went to show how much food they sold that day.

Although the market by named says “fish”, people sold all sorts of things in addition to fish.  Many sold bread, cheese, and various types of meat.  I wondered if I’d see something similar to the wurst man I saw a while back, but I didn’t.

The market even had an indoor beer garden with a live band playing.  It was quite a nice place.  If only we were there early enough.

Driving Home

As I probably should have known, I could not resist the urge to drive.  I ended up taking the wheel for about half an hour and managed to get the Benz up to 200 km/h.  While driving at that speed though, the steering wheel was really shaky.  I felt that if the car ran over a pebble or something like that, the car would just plunge into the side of the road.  If it wasn’t for that, I would have reached the car’s top speed.

Before I started driving though, we stopped at a rest area.  When we took a good look at the back seat of the car and noticed a giant mess of crumbs from all our snacking during the trip.  I don’t think I had any to do with that since I never considered myself to be a messy eater.  Just as we finished commenting about the messiness of the car, one of my friends had apparently stepped on dog poop and got it in the car.  It smelled horrible.  He even got it onto another friend’s pants.  He cleaned it up right away, but a faint smell of the poop lingered in the car for the rest of the journey.  It’s a shame that the car rental company gave us a car smelling like new just so we’d give it back with a bad smell.

In another rest area near Frankfurt, we stopped for a bite to eat and went up to the observation tower there to look at the Frankfurt skyline.  That was a nice sight except for the giant high voltage line that blocked part of the view.  By then we were already pretty much 3/4 of the way home.  I continued reading Band of Brothers on the Kindle and managed to get through about 65% of the book in total.  We got back into Stuttgart at around 7:30 in the evening, returned the car, and went home.

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