And all of this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the fact I had four months in a very centrally located country with an amazing (though quite expensive and ein bisschen monopolistic) train system and the existence of Ryanair. And also my travel buddies who are extremely talented at travel planning (and actually enjoy it!) as well as discount brands at grocery stores, especially in Germany.
Of all the places I’ve been to so far, Portugal was definitely the hardest to leave. I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal, so when I got to Europe, this was one of the first trips I planned and was really excited for. There are many reasons why, but I can guess it’s probably because I spent part of my childhood in a place with a very prominent Eurasian culture—I was born in Macau, so it was Chinese and Portuguese to be exact. My favorite pastry of all time has always been the Portuguese cream tart, fresh out of the oven. And I’ve always preferred wine to beer (though German beer is pretty good.)
I don’t get nostalgic very often because I left my childhood home when I was very young for Hawaii, which was a very different place that doesn’t remind me of home much. But those feelings came flooding in as I walked on the roads paved with the smooth black and ivory tiles that are so typical of Portuguese urban planning. Our destination was Porto, which produces probably the best wines and dessert wines in the world.
In all respects, we got very unlucky with the weather. The sun rarely shone (but when it did, it was warm and very beautiful), and most of the time, the sky was quite gloomy and one night, we even had to brave hurricane-like weather to get back to our hostel.
But in all honesty, I loved Porto and Portugal in spite of the poor weather. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a place so quickly, so completely—especially in such unfavorable conditions. Which says a lot about Portugal, I think.
Our stroke of good weather occurred when we took a day trip to Lisbon by bus for 32 Euros, round trip (three and a half hours, each way). It didn’t hold up by the time we got back to Porto around midnight, which was when we had to fight the typhoon to get back home. So if you’re planning to go to Portugal, might I give fair warning that compact umbrellas are pretty much defenseless. They might survive the rain, but the wind is an entirely different story.
Here are my highlights of Portugal (Porto and Lisbon), in no particular order:
– Visiting Livaria Lello, one of the most famous and beautiful bookstores in the world, about five times. Legend has it that J.K. Rowling got inspiration from this bookstore to create the Hogwarts Library.
And for you serious Potter fans, this cafe is where (again, the legend goes) JK Rowling began writing the first Harry Potter book (HP and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone).
– Amazing, cheap food. My wonderful meal of delicious pork chops and half a bottle (maybe a third) of red wine was only 5.50 Euros. My huge portion of the typical Portuguese Francesinha was only 6 Euros in a restaurant.
– The people. I am still in amazement at how helpful, kind, and content with life the Portuguese are.
– Our hostel. We stayed at Pilot Hostel, which had great facilities that were clean and modern, free tea and coffee 24/7, a kitchen, and wonderful staff. It’s not perfect, but for the quality of our stay, you would not believe it was only 8 Euros per night.
– Going up on the famous elevator in Lisbon and getting a wonderful aerial view of the city.
– Exploring the medieval St. Jorge castle and seeing picture perfect weather in Lisbon.
– Seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on the other side.
– Making footprints in the sand.
*Germany is centrally located, which means it’s obviously landlocked. It’s the farthest from the ocean I’ve ever been. I’ve moved around a bit, but never very far from the coast…*
– Our free wine tasting. Even if you aren’t a wine drinker, I promise you: YOU WILL LOVE PORT WINE.
– Being told I have a good accent when I spoke Portuguese. Which I can’t, by the way. But I made it a point to learn it one day!
Even now, I still wonder what it is about Portugal that makes me want to go back. Like right now. Maybe even live or retire there. I don’t know. I suppose it’s the combination of really little things. Sure, I enjoyed the touristy things, but I think it was something more intrinsic and intangible that makes me so content with life when I am there. Till next time, Portugal!
**Disclaimer: I was not too impressed by the cream tarts in Portugal, to be honest.
I suppose I have been immensely spoiled by the freshly baked and piping hot tarts that I can only get from the little bakery on the island of Coloane in Macau. If you ever get a chance to go to Hong Kong, spend at least a day in Macau. I can blog for ages about that city, but for now, just try the cream tarts.
One of the (many) expectations I had and others had for me when I decided on doing my semester abroad in Europe was that I would be traveling and seeing EVERYTHING. I’ve had a couple of countries checked off my list by now, and I am definitely in a position to say that every country is absolutely amazing in its own right, and there is no way possible that I will be seeing all the things worth seeing. But you know what? That’s okay. Because this opportunity to be here, living a dream, is more than enough in itself.
My first trip out of Germany involved a 5:48 train from the Vallendar station, bound for Bruges, Belgium.
5:48. In the morning.
As you can imagine, I barely had sleep that night. Not that I stayed up packing (well, to a certain degree I did), but I was so paranoid I wasn’t going to wake up in time that I just couldn’t fall asleep. We all made it to the station on time, though we did have a few scary moments when we were missing two of our party—even as we saw the train approaching. Just as the train was slowing down to a stop, we heard them running to the platform. Talk about getting there in the nick of time!
Bruges was a very quaint town—old, small, cozy. We stayed at a hostel about 15 minutes by foot from the old city center, which made a really nice walk as the weather was pretty nice. My heart was stolen by the beautiful and old architecture, and of course, the chocolatiers. They call Bruges the “Venice of Belgium,” and we could see that for ourselves. The canals were pretty prominent and visible from almost every main street. I think my pictures can speak more about Bruges than I can, but I was absolutely charmed by this city.
The only damper about the trip was when we went looking for a restaurant for dinner. Many of the sit-down restaurants in Bruges were quite sophisticated and very nice—which also means they were very expensive. The town got very quiet as we continued to search for a place, and many small diners were closed already, so we settled on the cheapest place we can find before long, which was an Italian eatery that was still open. The cheapest thing on the menu was a margherita pizza, for 9 Euros. It was…decent. What we also had to deal with was that our server would not let us NOT order anything to drink, otherwise we couldn’t sit down and dine in the restaurant. I forced myself to get a tiny bottle of Coke (or cola, as the Europeans call it) for 3 Euro because I did not want to pay 2.50 Euros for a glass of tap water.
Thinking back, even though I almost regretted eating at a restaurant that night, since it was the night of Chinese New Year, I suppose it turned out to be a good thing. It was an okay meal, but I shared it with great people, in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are so many things that can be improved, but I wouldn’t have it another way. 🙂
It’s hard to say which I prefer: the whimsical charm of Bruges, or the historical glamour of Brussels. But holistically speaking, if I had to pick a place to return to, it would be Brussels.
My highlights of our trip to Brussels were pretty much all of the below, in no particular order:
– The majestic and beautiful Grand Place (or Grand Square)
– Becky burgers – A Brussels specialty with one of the best sauces I’ve had. Even more amazing on a cold day. But great anytime.
– Being serenaded by a wonderful cellist in an old, nearly empty stone courtyard.
– The Rene Magritte Museum. Surrealism is the closest thing I’ll ever get to modern art, and it was a wonderful museum. One of the best 2 Euros I have spent. Probably ever will.
*Pictures are probably not allowed. I say probably because we were allowed to bring cameras with us. And I told quite a few pictures by the time one of us got told to not take any.*
But here are some of my favorites:
– Seeing a HUGE chocolate Mannekin Pis, directly across the narrow street from the actual Mannekin Pis.
– The best pralines, tiramisu truffle, and salted caramel chocolate I have ever tasted. Ever.
– BELGIUM FRIES. Oh my goodness, we lived on that stuff. 3.90 Euros for the best combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, special cocktail sauce, perfectly caramelized onions and the best golden fries you will ever see.
– Seeing the European Union Parliament. It’s a beautiful building with recreational open spaces surrounding it. There’s even a basketball court, where we saw children shooting hoops. It must be quite a life, just to say, “Let’s go shoot some hoops today at the EU.” Yep.
– My Liege waffle with Speculoos—this amazing cookie butter spread that I never knew I would like. Yay for trying new things!
– Finding out that our hostel was actually a hotel, and a hotel chain at that.
– Getting to the beautiful Museum of Military History at the perfect time. We took great pictures with the columns illuminated by the setting sun.
– And more fries.
– Our Brussels excursion that turned into a karaoke jam sesh when we joined with the other Tauschies staying at the same hotel.
– Seeing the bright sun for the first time in days! It was beautiful!
My first trip out of Germany was quite a success. Including my gifts and food and chocolates, I spent about 35 Euros for the whole trip, thanks to the amazing (and filling) Belgium Fries. I couldn’t wait till my next trip!
Bigger and better things (posts) are on their way, but for now, please enjoy these pictures!
On Our Mini-Rhine-Cruise
As part of the Welcome Week for Tauschies (WHU exchange students), the Vallendar Integration Program organized a Winter version of the Koblenz Ralley. Normally, at least from what I heard, guys would have to strip down to swim shorts, wade in the water, and wear trash bags while running around shamelessly (or not) around Koblenz trying to fulfill a designated set of tasks.
Thankfully, we did not have to do that. Here are some gorgeous views of the Rhine at sunset (which was like, 4:30 in the afternoon) When we got to Koblenz, it was darkening fast. All pumped and excited, we got off the boat to await our scavenger hunt assignments. Our first tasks was to make costumes out of plastic trash bags and random stuff like streamers, balloons, and string. Unfortunately I have no pictures of our group, but we were soooo attractive as Minion (from Despicable Me) wannabes. This was our first sight after disembarking the boat. Deutsches Eck was only a couple minutes away from where we were.
Exactly what it says it is, for those (like me) who did not originally know what this meant. We were given a list of pubs to visit and a list of drinks to choose from. The goal of the night was to win as many points as possible, which involved getting a drink at every stop (number of points increased with the intensity of the drink) and sometimes doing some other crazier things. Like taking a shot out of a syringe. (Albeit a plastic one, but still)
And this is me, making a house of cards to prove my soberness even though my head felt otherwise. Haha.
We went to Palais afterwards, which is a classy restaurant and bar upstairs and nightclub downstairs. Being a minor from the States, I never went out (really went out) before, and I had a really great time. With the coat check and entrance fee though, I spent 10 Euros. Drinks are not included. Of course there were lots of people, and the music was pretty good. I was sorry to learn that Palais would be closing for the rest of the semester, or at least for a couple of months.
As all of my friends know, I’m not one for parties. But for those who are into the nightlife and such, I do recommend Palais if you are ever in Koblenz.
One of the Best Breakfasts I’ve Ever Had
If you stay at the Hotel Alexander von Humboldt in Vallendar, check out this gem: the breakfast parlour.
Sorry the pictures aren’t that great, but isn’t the room beautiful? They only use and open this room for very special and formal functions, so chances are very good that I will never see it from the inside again.
That in the middle is a painting of JW v. Goethe himself.
Finally… (for now)
The campus, as it looked last night. Every so often, WHU invites corporate leaders from various industries as it holds conferences each with a specific focus. Last week was Campus for Finance, and these past couple of days was Campus for Supply Chain Management (logistics and operations). I didn’t know enough about these to attend, thinking I was not eligible. However, I will take advantage of the opportunities at upcoming conferences. I mean, who would I be if I didn’t try?
TBC… : )
From the Home of the Brave, to the Fatherland, and back to the Motherland