Monthly Archives: April 2015

Stereotypes

My friend in Switzerland said something to me that stuck after I commented on the Swiss Alps, telling him that it was “the Switzerland I came to see.” He replied, “you’re not here to confirm stereotypes; you’re here to discover new things.”

He was right. After a bit of travel fatigue, it was the reminder I needed to renew my sense of wonder and avoid going through the motions of just “seeing the sights.”

With that in mind, I present…

Five things that have left me awestruck in my travels:

1) The Austrian Alps. I had no idea there was such beauty in the country — especially given how small Austria is.

2) Northern Italy. Taking the train from Switzerland to Venice, it was incredible to witness the snowy mountains give way to endless vineyards backed by towering cliffs and tree-covered hills.

3) Budapest’s beauty. Before visiting the city, I think I carried preconceived notions of Eastern Europe that it would be a little derelict. I was wrong.

4) Belgium’s Gothic grandeur. I barely gave the country any priority during my trip planning — only two days split between Brussels and Bruges — but I left amazed by its architecture.

5) The good conversation provided by total strangers. I’m not usually one to strike up a conversation with someone I’ve never met before, but I’ve met some fascinating people by doing so.

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Germany and Switzerland

Munich reminds me a lot of Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest, except it’s the real deal. I was there during Frühlingsfest, which is about as close to Oktoberfest as you can get outside of the fall months. The weather was beautiful when I was there, and it was great just to walk around Englischer Garten and enjoy the sunshine after a couple of rainy days in Salzburg.

While I was in Munich, I took the advice of my middle-aged German hostel roommate and, rather than going to Starnbergersee as I had planned, went to see Kochel am See and Walchensee. Both offered a nice break from city surroundings: crisp, clean air, crystal clear lakes, and snow-covered mountains all around. I took a rowboat out onto Walchensee for an hour and got in a good workout too.

I went to see the famous Neuschwanstein Castle on my last day in Munich. The whole area is really nice — the Alpensee is right there, and Hohenschwangau Castle is within sight too.

After all of the walking in Kochel am See, Walchensee, and Hohenshwangau, I was ready to take it easy in Lindau. It’s a charming summer town: the island sits right on the edge of the Bodensee, and you have a view of the Alps all around the lake. It was the perfect place to just unwind.

I only spent two and a half days in Switzerland while visiting a friend, but we packed a lot into the the time we had. All in all, we split our time between St. Gallen, the Appenzeller mountain region, Zurich, and Lucerne.

St. Gallen’s famed Abbey is spectacular. The church’s domed ceilings are covered with intricate paintings that must have taken countless hours to complete.

Our time in the Appenzeller region was spent hiking from Wasserauen to Seealpsee. Emerging from the forested hills to see a striking panorama of mountains stretch in front of you is quite the experience.

Zurich surprised me right from the start. We stepped off the train, and there was a national beach volleyball tournament happening inside the train station. Walking along the river to Lake Zurich and back, it was cool to get a glimpse of the city’s architecture before heading on to Lucerne.

Lucerne was packed with tourists, but the crowdedness was even more amplified by a citywide run that was going on that day. Still, it’s a beautiful city. Aside from the wooden covered bridge that it’s known for, Lucerne boasts a good view of the mountains and a nice lake too.

Things I’ve seen:

Chinesischer Turm, Munich.

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Walchensee, Germany.

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Neuschwanstein.

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Sunset on the Bodensee.

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Seealpsee, Switzerland.

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What I’m listening to:

Shad & DJ T.Lo – Boarding Pass
Chance the Rapper – “Everything’s Good”
Kanye West feat. Mos Def – “Goodnight”
Rapsody – “The Drums”

Best local food I’ve eaten:

Fried pork knuckle with potatoes and sauerkraut in Munich. The meal itself was delicious, but the most memorable bit was the company I shared it with. I went to a German restaurant and asked for a spot for one, and to my surprise, the waiter sat me at a table with two elderly Müncheners who hardly spoke a word of English between the two of them. It was the perfect baptism by fire for practising my German.

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Austria

Vienna was a nice surprise. I knew there would be plenty to marvel at architecturally, but I wasn’t sure how lively the city would be. As I soon learned, the answer is very lively. Of course, the Baroque buildings are spectacular, but I most enjoyed walking along the Danube and seeing all of the street art along the canal walls. It makes for a nice splash of colour in the middle of the city.

I went to Melk on my last day in Vienna. The town is famous for its Stift Melk abbey, and it straddles the Danube as part of the Wachau region. Oddly, the whole town square smelled like Mr. Noodles curry stock. Right across the river, there’s a little strip of beach by Emmersdorf. It was a great place to sit down and relax for a little while.

Salzburg is simply stunning: rolling hills, green grass, and snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. I hardly spent any time in the city itself; instead, I happily lost myself in the hillside forest trails and enjoyed the view.

As great as everything else was, the highlight of my time in Austria, without question, was going to Hallstatt. I spent the day there on my last day in Salzburg, and the view was just incredible. It’s the kind of place where the rest of the world’s problems don’t exist: the town sits on the edge of a lake, surrounded by mountains in all directions. I could spend a month there and not get tired.

Things I’ve seen:

Schloss Belvedere, Vienna.

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Melk, Austria.

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Austrian Alps near Salzburg.

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Not a bad way to spend the day.

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What I’m listening to:

http://canadalandshow.com/podcast/shad

Sam Roberts – We Were Born in a Flame
The Extremities feat. Kaleb Simmonds – “Look My Way”
K-OS feat. Saukrates – “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman”

What I wish I was watching:

Raptors playoff basketball.

Best food I’ve eaten:

I’m scrapping the “local” qualifier this time around, because the food I had at Der Wiener Deewan was too good to ignore. It’s an all-you-can-eat, pay-as-you-wish (in other words, my dream) style restaurant in Vienna that serves Pakistani cuisine. As you might’ve guessed, I was a repeat customer. The world needs more places like this.

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Czech Republic and Hungary

Prague is spectacularly beautiful — and even more so by night. Its Old Town Square is filled with the intoxicating aromas of wood fires and baked goods, and Prague’s castle and St. Vitus Cathedral stand strikingly above the city below. The weather was perfect on my second day there, and I was able to relax by the riverside and soak in the city’s atmosphere. I hiked up to Petrin Hill as well — the view is incredible.

On my last day in the Czech Republic, I took a trip to Kutná Hora (73km east of Prague). Among the town’s charms (and oddities) are a centuries-old cathedral overlooking the town, a central square with a public piano, and an ancient ossuary where thousands of old bones have been arranged into different displays. (That last bit may sound weird, but it was actually pretty cool to see.)

Budapest completely surprised me. I had no idea what to expect, and it blew me away: the architecture along the Danube is breathtaking, from the Hungarian Parliament Building in Pest right across to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church in Buda. It was Budapest Spring Festival when I was there too, so there were free concerts going on in the city square.

Things I’ve seen:

Old Town Square, Prague.

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Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

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Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest.

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Lights of Budapest Spring Festival.

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What I’m reading:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/pragues-famous-john-lennon-wall-it-over-or-just-reborn-180953415/

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/33-pictures-graffiti-cardiff-prove-8960629

What I’m listening to:

Slakadeliqs feat. Justin Nozuka – “Love Controls the Sun”
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”

Best local food I’ve eaten:

Svíčková in Prague. The Czech specialty is made up of some of the tenderest roast beef I’ve ever had, and it’s served in a hearty vegetable sauce alongside dumplings, a dollop of cream, and cranberries.

Goulash in Budapest. This is home-cooked comfort food at its best. After a long day of walking, the hearty meat and vegetable-filled soup is just the right cure — served alongside two thick slices of bread to mop up the leftover broth.

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Germany

I had a great time in Cologne. I only spent two nights there, but I’ll remember them for a long time to come. The city’s cathedral is stunning, and the view from the top is excellent.

During my time in Cologne, I took a mini-trip to Bonn, where I saw Beethoven’s birthplace. I’ll remember the city most for its riverfront, though. Looking down the Rhine Valley, you see mountains on either side and picturesque houses along the hills.

Berlin is a street art Mecca. Everywhere you turn, the walls are plastered with colourful paint. The most impressive bits of all are in Kreuzberg and the East Side Gallery (the latter of which is found on the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall).

I also made a short trip to Potsdam while I was in Berlin. The city is recognized as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Potsdam itself is full of majestic buildings, but I was most impressed by Ruinenberg, a striking collection of hilltop ruins looking down on Schloss Sanssouci.

Things I’ve seen:

Cologne on the Rhine.

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Münsterplatz, Bonn.

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"World's People" by Schamil Gimajew. As seen on the Berlin Wall.

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Ruinenberg, Potsdam.

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What I’m listening to:

Ouici – She Dreams in Sound
Fashawn – “Samsonite Man”
Arkells – “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez”
Shuko feat. Blu – “Be Yourself”

Best local food I’ve eaten:

Chicken döners in Berlin. Kebabs came to Germany along with the influx of Turkish immigrants, but the döner served in a sandwich is a style that was birthed in Berlin.

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France and Belgium

Paris was absolutely incredible. The city has an unmistakable charm to it that sets it apart from other cities in the world. It’s a gathering place for people from all over the globe, and the atmosphere is refreshingly vibrant and full of life. Side note: I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in baguettes while I was there.

I only spent a day in Brussels, but it managed to surprise me. The city looks pretty nondescript from the outer boroughs heading into town, but that all changes the minute you set foot into Grote Markt. The square’s centuries-old Gothic buildings are stunning. I also learned very quickly that eating Belgian waffles with a beard is virtually impossible to do without making a mess.

Bruges might be the most picturesque city I’ve ever seen. Every corner you turn, there’s something beautiful and unexpected. The chocolate and beer are fantastic too.

Things I’ve seen:

Nighttime in Paris.

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Grote Markt, Brussels.

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Bruges, Belgium.

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What I’m listening to:

Blu & Exile – Below The Heavens

What I’m reading:

http://www.golf.com/tour-and-news/rory-mcilroy-wrote-letter-tiger-woods-when-he-was-nine

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