I Left My Heart in the Alps

I made a stop in Munich to visit Tracy— she tempted me by promising to take me on my first mountain biking experience and it turned out to be the best day of my trip, even as I write this sitting in my favorite cafe in Athens, a week and two destinations later. I think the only thing that will triumph this will be climbing Mont Ventoux in three weeks (my god, is it that close?!). Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying all the places I get to visit and am living in the moment but those two things (and visiting Versaille) were the top three things to do on my trip!

Karwendal Alps

Tracy and Stephan has surpassed any hospitality I’ve ever experienced and had the entire day planned for me from letting me sleep in to preparing breakfast and lunch of fresh bread, pretzels, delicious spreads, meats and cheese to eat on the way, to dropping by her sister’s house in the mountains to pick up her bike for me to use. Her sister’s cottage was almost surreal to me— what a location it had and how amazing it must be to live in the mountains surrounded by green meadows and endless views. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood movies, Heidi, and her grandfather’s alpine cottage in the Swiss alps— a lot more grandeur of course. That is how I always envisioned my home will look like when I retire.

We drove the two hours south of Munich to the alps and I was enamored by the landscape— the tranquil green rolling meadows, the burst of colors from wild flowers dotting the landscape, the alps brimming in the distance… it was peaceful and relaxing and everything I imagined an European countryside to be (well some parts or Europe anyway), in which I eventually dozed off to my dismay. Hey, I was up from 3am – 1am the day I arrived in Munich. I woke up 40 minutes later and we were in Austria.

As we got closer, I started getting nervous about riding a mountain bike. I haven’t ridden one since I was a little and it was unfamiliar territory… I’ve been on skinny roadbike tires and that was what I was used to!! But this was reminisce of the feeling I got when I switched from a hybrid to road. I guess anything foreign will cause discomfort to arise but it went away a few seconds after I got on the bike. When I got on, it bounced due to the suspension and I screamed then I got use to the bounciness and it became fun. The gearing was also A LOT better than my road bike, which made climbing virtually painless. Of course we only cycled about 40k in a slower pace (a.k.a. not-road-pace) so I better keep my mouth shut for anything longer.

I took a ton of photos on the flats but really wished I bought that GoPro! I had the time of my life cruising up and down on the fat tires! Mountain biking is fun, yet requires a lot of concentration and coordination. The uphills are bomb but not so much the downhills… I was hugging my brakes the entire time and every large bump gave me a minor heart attack. I’m too much of a sissy for these things but that doesn’t mean I won’t go again! I’ll write more about my new love for this sport in a separate post.

Afterwards, we had coffee and ice cream and then they took me to dinner at a rustic country cottage outside of Munich in the Bavarian countryside. It was well deserved after that mountain we just climbed! I love Bavarian food because it consists of a lot of meat and sauce… paired with good German beer. But since I’ve never been a beer drinker, I had a glass of Austrian wine to wash down my meal with. Simply delish!!

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    Vibrant Berlin

    I know, I am a terrible blogger. I’m sitting on the balcony of my room, situated right on the edge of the caldera in Santorini writing this as the sun is beginning to set in front of me. It’s been hard to find downtime to do anything other than sleep but here I am, forcing myself to blog because I said I would. I haven’t been on social media much because it feels good to be disconnected from technology …although I AM trying to post as many pictures as I can on Instagram so my friends and family knows I haven’t been taken yet. Harharhar.

    I am two weeks into my trip and it’s been hectic and a little exhausting although I can’t complain because I’m having the time of my life! But has it only been two weeks? I feel like I’ve been away for much longer! After my little foray in London, I was off to Germany and my travel goals were to see concentration camps memorialspalaces (such a stark contrast) and cycle.

    Berlin

    The first stop was Berlin, and my first impression was that it is not a beautiful city but I later discovered that is replaced by an abundance of culture, style and history, making the city remarkably vibrant. And to the likes of the rest of Europe, it’s filled with cafes, outdoor patios and delicious bakeries. The only things I weren’t ecstatic about is not being able to use my Starbucks card anywhere in Germany because I am currently fueled by Americano’s (gold stars!) in my epic journey across Europe, and the fact that it was harder to find healthy foods that weren’t all super carby. After having so many sandwiches, croissants, pastries and cake, I was craving for some fibrous carbs! Oh and also the lack of free WIFI. I planned my day every morning and had to screenshot all Google map directions although their train systems are quite easy to use.. I did get confused at times finding the correct platform for the trains. My metro map was all torn up and abused by the time I left.

    During my sojourn in this lively city, I didn’t do a lot of the recommended touristy things such as the Berlin Wall and Museum Island (although I stayed close to Alexanderplatz) since I am sure I will return, but I did do a lot of walking around aimlessly to discover different neighbourhoods, soaking in the culture, a ton of shopping (oops), drinking (incredible night life) and I ended up only visiting one palace… although it was in a complex with many other palaces and beautiful buildings:

    Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam

    Potsdam, Germany

    Sanssouci is in Potsdam, a city about 40 minute outside of Berlin. It took me 2 trains and a bus to get there but the enormous gardens and magnificent palaces are a must-visit if you have quite a bit of time in Berlin… and if you are into those kinds of things like me. ;) It’s the largest heritage site in the world! Construction of the complex began 300 years ago by Prussian Kings and are extremely well-preserved. The sight is huge so there wasn’t much crowding although most of the palace rooms were closed off and you could only access a few. You also had to pay 3€ for a photo permit, which is valid in all the palaces and they are quite strict about that, but I guess they have to do something to get more funding for the upkeep of the palaces. Admission fees are for the palaces and wash rooms (yes, you have to pay to use it and apparently that’s common throughout Europe) but the park is free.

    Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a LOT of walking in the gardens or you can throw on fitness gear and running shoes like I did and run/walk the gardens! Unfortunately I discovered the bike rental place too late so I just sucked it up and travelled by foot. Much slower but just as serene! A runner’s paradise.

    Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

    The other highlight of my Berlin trip was visiting Sachsenhausen. I read and watch a lot of books, articles and documentaries about the Holocaust and this was my first time visiting a concentration camp/memorial. I opted for the audio tour (3€) and listened to every word and read the descriptions on almost every exhibit, thus spending my entire day there. I think I almost ‘bonked’ because I forgot to eat and drink– the scale of the atrocities are truly paralyzing. I was overwhelmed from the beginning— walking down the same road as the prisoners when they got off the death trains, through the camp gates, in the barracks and infirmaries, the execution pits… I left feeling tired and drained. Again, be prepared to spend a good amount of time there if you are a history enthusiast and although there is a small cafe, I would recommend bringing a lunch and water.

    During my last day in Berlin, I wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum & Memorial and the Topography of Terror but I got sick (from a side  unexpected rainfall at Sachsenhausen) and only forced myself to get up by noon to feed myself and do some more neighbourhood exploring near by. Now I only have more reasons to come back because I’m in love with Berlin.

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      London Adventures

      I’m sitting in a cute little bed and breakfast in London right now struggling to write when I should be working. It’s so hard to focus on work when you are supposed to be on vacation so I guess I have no choice but to procrastinate tonight. I’ve been in London for 3 days now and I’ve been telling myself to document my trip every night but I come back to the hotel and pass out right away because I’m so exhausted from all the walking. Isn’t it ironic that vacations are so draining because you want to see and do as much as you can?

      London

      Rainy London.

      My flight to London went by quickly because of the late flight (zzzzzz) and my seat buddy (hi Kelly!), although frustrating because of my damn backpack. First day into my 7-week trip and I already faced the biggest fail: my decision to bring a backpack. A backpack is convenient and I was able to carry it on the plane with me, but it is horribly uncomfortable and gets really heavy overtime, especially when you have to pack all these electronics and extra fitness gear. I didn’t want to check in bags either and heaving it around the airport felt like my demise. The backpack was properly fitted and I swear, I packed light with my clothing because I was planning to buy things along the way! My shoulders were also sore from a workout before I left so I guess I didn’t give the backpack a fair chance but I’m going to listen to my gut. I cannot imagine using one when the weather gets hotter as I head further down south— I don’t mind sweating in workout gear but not walking around town in everyday clothing.

      I went out to buy a high quality suitcase yesterday and I’m much happier… plus I can fit way more in it! I’m sending the backpack to France to use as check-in luggage for shopping splurges at the end of my trip. Does that make me a good problem solver? Harhar.

      On the first day, I arrived later than planned while struggling to stay awake at the airport and on the tube, but finally at 5pm, I headed out to explore the neighbourhood. I wandered onto Oxford Street, quite surprised because I did not know it was a couple blocks away. How dangerous. I lack willpower. I took some random turns and got lost but I loved how there are maps and random wifi all over the place.

      London: Victoria & Albert Museum

      I need an entrance like this to my home.

      The next day, I was up at 5am, ready to wing my day: Buckingham Palace where I took a picture and left since it was not opened to the public… just to say I did it. You don’t need much time gazing at the exterior of a building. I was trying to make it the Museum of Natural History but saw the line and went next door to the Victoria & Albert Museum instead. Headed back up to Camden Town to explore and have lunch. Some woman tried to distract me, hoping I wouldn’t notice her not giving me my change back after I bargained and bought some spa products from her. Sneaky! Went back to Oxford Street for more shopping (no sneaky salespeople). Then spent a couple hours at the British Museum after dropping my bags off at the hotel. My legs began to scream in pain so I sadly did not make it through the exhibits. Grabbed take out on the way home and passed out cold thinking: must work… must blog.. must work…

      London: Hampton Court Palace

      Hampton Court Palace.

      Today I achieved my London goal of visiting Hampton Court Palace (so amazing), then I explored Piccadilly Circle, Leicester SquareChinatown + area, napped and then had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant (which cost way too much for what it was worth).

      London: Hampton Court Palace

      The haunted hallway where Katherine Howard once ran down screaming to plead with Henry VIII before she was caught and dragged back to her room. She was later beheaded.

      Tomorrow is my last day in London and I plan to relax and either go running along the Thames or gym-hunting. Most likely the lather because I hate running (damn you, Tough Mudder) and I feel like my muscles are deteriorating with all this walking. Must. Lift. I may try to hit up the Tate Modern before it closes but I don’t mind saving it for my next trip to London.

      This sums up my trip so far: winging everything and hoping I don’t get lost (thank god for wifi and Google maps), running on too many Americano’s and expending excessive amounts of energy to resist shopping. I’m only on day 4 of 49…

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