Friday, July 29, 2011

"It's Closing Time"

            Well, the Summer 2011 European Adventure for Tyler Bednar is quickly coming to an end.  I must say how sad it is to see it go.  The epitome of bitter-sweetness is soaking the air right now.  As we’ve had plenty of time to wind down and catch up on rest here in Sestriere, we are getting ready to head home to the good ole US of A to see family and friends.  Magen has been ready for a while I think, but it took me just a little longer, just wanted to make sure I saw absolutely everything I could before picking up the sweat towel.  I can’t begin to explain what an amazing experience this has been for me, I think the pictures kind of speak for themselves in most cases, and what’s funny is, they don’t anywhere near do it justice.  The kick start to my adventure, studying abroad for four weeks where I made many friends “CIMBAnzees” from all over the world, was an amazing experience in itself, but being given the opportunity to stay for six weeks and see great parts of Europe with my sister-in-law was the pinnacle of a dream.  I can truly say I’ve fulfilled a childhood wish, marked things off of my Bucket List that I didn’t even know were on it, and have checked off a major feat in my journey towards becoming a man.  The opportunity has been just out of reach for so long, but not allowing myself to give up, it finally happened!  This journey tested my patience, independence, openness, risk averse attitude, communication skills (it’s amazing how far charades will get you), personal efficiency, my definitions of what life should be, and the list goes on and on!  I’ve made new friends, met so many interesting people, and observed just how large and diverse our Planet Earth really is.  I’m with Magen on the idea that a backpacking trip, four weeks minimum, should be required for all college students, especially graduate students.  Somehow it just helps mold you even further on not only growing up, but becoming a respectable American as well. 

            Traveling around another continent, especially one as beautiful as the European one, is what most adventurous people only dream of.  I realize what an opportunity of a lifetime I’ve just completed.  I find myself smiling all the time just thinking about it, and I’m sure the trend will continue for many months even back in the States.  Magen and I shared an amazing experience together and I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy.  The sharing of this amazing experience with someone that appreciated it, as much as I, is so fulfilling.  We’ve made some amazing memories together and become closer friends because of it.

            All in all, I’ve come to some general observations now on the other side of our journey.  Life seems to be a series of experiences, and for most, focuses mainly around the human connections that are made and the works that they produce.  I can only state how appreciative I am to the artists of ancient Europe and the modern minds that had the decency to preserve the masterpieces.  I’ve been pretty impressed by what mankind is capable of this summer, and if you’re still in doubt, just go stand inside Notre Dame and then reassess your opinion.  I’ve learned that humans are pretty much the same wherever you go (limited to America and Europe for the time being), you have your ladies and your gentlemen, your beggars and your homeless, your Samaritans and your thugs, your money hungry and your plainly happy, your young and your old, your rich and poor, your beautiful and your not so blessed, your tall and short, your fat and skinny, your light and dark, your friendly and your smug, your open minded and your closed, your complainers and your improvisers, your stressed and your easy goers, your families and the lost, your faithful and your searchers, your healthy and your addicts, your lovers and your haters, your friends and your enemies, and I’ll stop now since I’m sure you get the point!  We’re all just people trying our best to survive and give credit where it’s due.  We cling to our environments which can be a great thing or a threatening one.  I’m literally in awe at the availability and massive dedications that honor The Higher Power around Europe.  It literally oozes with a holy presence that just makes you tingle inside.

In general, life is beautiful, no matter where you are; sometimes we just have to search a little bit harder to find that special segment.  And in Europe you don’t have to search very far.  It confuses me a bit.  Absolutely no where in Europe did we come across a dry environment where plant life was struggling to survive, but yet back home it’s so dry, and lives are being lost in the horn of Africa due to drought.  I’m not sure why people ever wanted to leave such flourishing environments.

The backpacking lifestyle has taught me some important lessons.  How everything you really need can fit inside a 60 L backpack, the joys of just seeing life as an adventure and going with the flow or taking it as it comes, how to give even the grungiest of looking people a chance to talk, how to notice and appreciate the things that just seem to work out perfectly, the brutality and friendliness of people in general, how home can become mobile if needed, that every day is a gift, to take advantages of opportunities, and to realize that all the beauty the world holds was made, or allowed to be made, by a pretty awesome God.  I’m sure he’s getting a little tired of all my thank-you’s by now but I can’t say it enough.  I’m truly truly blessed, and not ever sure why. 

With the limited amount of time we’re given here on Earth I would have to say my Summer 2011 couldn’t have been spent in many better ways on the personal fulfillment scale anyways.  From making my own pizza, tasting wine from the local hillsides, swimming in the Mediterranean, earning six hours of MBA elective credits in four weeks, making new friends from all over the world, discovering a new love of Italian gelato, to seeing speech stealing houses of worship throughout Italy, probably would have been enough for a ‘successful’ summer.  Then a completely different adventure brought its own greatness:

·        Walking the streets of Caesar and experiencing the holy presence of the Vatican in Rome.

·        Witnessing ‘Sound of Music’ scenes and walking through the oldest fortress in Europe in Salzburg.

·        Feeling like a day in the life of royalty in Vienna.

·        Soaking in the Sczentchsky Thermal Baths, taking cold showers, and crossing over the famous Danube in Budapest.

·        Watching a ballet in the National Theatre, eating amazing raspberry kolaches, seeing where the Bednar name originated, and being treated to an Armed Forces Day Parade in Prague.

·        Taking a run along the Rhine river, eating a true bratwurst dog, falling in love with the German train system, meditating in the busy social park scene in Frankfurt.

·        Drooling over waffles and chocolate in Belgium.

·        The cheery people, the great accents, amazing archives, and the first Street Photography Festival of London.

·        Basking in the beauty, rushing to see it all, and being sung to in Notre Dame in Paris.

·        Shopping the great Ramblas marketplace and seeing the eclectic style of the Spanish in Barcelona.

·        Finding a gem in disguise and walking around the charming Old Town of Southern France’s days gone by, bargain shopping, and a homey restaurant scene in Lyon.

·        Experiencing the high fashion world and transportation hiccups in Milan.

·        And hiking the Italian Alps in Sestriere.

Let’s not forget the train systems that are wonderful at times and spiteful at others.  Sleeping in a train station, overnight sleeper car trains, sacrificing hostel stays to make a connection, moody metro systems, and common improvisation at all times. 
Establishing a great friendship with my sister-in-law, enjoying every surreal second, meeting a huge variety of people, and just growing up and changing (hopefully for the better)!  I would say I’ve had some experiences that are once in a lifetime!  And in my limited blogging I’m sure I’m missing some, it’s been a busy summer, but such a rewarding one as well.

I can only hope that I’ve in some way shape or form inspired each of you readers to see what beauty lies in the world around you, to test your limits, to open your mind, and to push your habits, emotions, and comforts to their limits.  And if not, then I hope it was at least a fun read for you.  Sometimes my humor was more available at the end of the day than others.  Thanks for sticking with me through my journey and please forgive the many proofreading errors that I’m sure were spotted.  I often just had enough time to spit out an update and post it on the challenging internet systems of the Eastern world before passing out in hopes of re-energizing for the next day. 

If you take out on a journey of your own someday, please let me know so I can follow your adventures.  If planning on Europe I would definitely suggest starting early May and being finished by early July, it gets so crowded.  Make use of, (get his guide on every place you plan to go, seriously a travel guru),,,, and any forums you can find for helpful tips.  Budget at a 1.5 exchange rate and you will over budget probably, like us.  If planning on indulging in cuisine maybe budget a bit more.  Hopefully my future will bring other parts of the world, South America, Asia, Africa, maybe even the Middle East.  I most definitely plan on returning to the finer parts of Europe also.  For now, I’m more than satisfied though and have literally no complaints, because in the end, it’s all part of the adventure!

All in all, “It’s Closing Time,” tomorrow Magen and I head back to Turin to spend a night before catching our early flights to the land of the FREE and the home of the BRAVE!  Europe has a lot of appealing principles in its operations, but I’m still proud to be an American for so many reasons.  I’m currently sipping probably my close to last morning cappuccino, where the saucer, the cup, the sugar, and the coffee are all made by the same company.  I’m still interested to see how I will handle not being able to satisfy my new addiction.  I’m so ready to see family and friends and edit pictures on my big screen laptop.  I can only hope my memory holds up throughout my life to never forget the truly amazing and goose-bump giving summer that I just had.  I’m looking forward to familiar smiles and hugs, home cooking, the Texas heat and sky, the quiet of the country, the growing cotton (drip anyways), the fast internet, driving Old Blue, coke floats, a big bed, Taco Villa burritos, my money being worth what it displays (if they figure out the debt crisis anyways), the ease of communication, and really just the comforts of what I’ve always known.  I have one more MBA semester left and I will be doing lots of interviews to hopefully find that perfect petroleum engineering job (any prayers would be appreciated), and preparing for the ‘real world’; should be a busy semester as usual. 

It’s not a goodbye Europe, it’s an I’ll see you later!  Till next time . . . Grazie, Ciao, Arrivederci, Buon Voyage friends, may our paths cross soon, and we’ll see you soon, very soon!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sestriere, The Italian Alps!

So a brief recap of my amazing summer in Google Map form:

CIMBA Weekend Trips:  (,11.140137&spn=5.582484,14.128418&z=6)

European Adventure w/ Magen:  (,7.426758&spn=10.83054,28.256836&z=5)

            We’re currently taking it easy with some of the mountain people of the Italian Alps.  We’re in full R&R mode sleeping in, light venturing into nearby cities, and trying our best to stay warm.  We’re staying in Sestriere, Italy at the Palace Residence II, where the majority of the 2006 Winter Olympics were held even though it was hosted by Turin.  The highs during the day usually stay in the low 60’s with a nippy wind, some misty showers, and necessary pants weather. 

            This definitely is a winter hotspot for Italian skiers and is operating at a much slower and quieter pace during the summer, which I’m completely loving.  After all of our blowing and going it’s nice to just take a few breaths.  It’s a nice opportunity to slow down and reminisce on the amazing summer that God blessed us with, to think about our favorites, and to appreciate life for what it’s brought us this summer and what awaits in the future. 

I ventured into Oulx today by bus hoping to find some last minute souvenir shopping but no such luck. I’m hoping to find a nice hiking trail tomorrow if the weather allows.  The food experience is also nice here, we’re able to spend a little more due to the lack of necessary hostel stays.  I’m going to miss the pizzas here for sure.  I’ve also had an amazing chicken dish in white wine sauce with potatoes, and yes, green beans mother.  Last night brought an amazing gnocchi dish with a thick cheese sauce that has me almost drooling right now haha.  The mountain people are extremely friendly, seems to be the norm for their type, but difficult to communicate with as English is definitely not common in the area, thank goodness our front desk help speaks it.  Really we’re just enjoying the cool weather, the slower pace, and anxiously awaiting our return home to see family and friends!  I must say what a blessing it is to know that you are loved and missed, makes a guy feel a little special. 

Till next time, I posted a few pics on Facebook of the area:

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Only LYON"

       Lyon is simply a place where business men casually smoke their pipes filled with a fresh and hearty squeeze of tobacco while waiting on the bus, the older gentlemen sit at local cafes and have perfected the art of talking with half smoked cigars clinging to their lips and never slipping, each store is specialized to one particular product ranging from miniature tractors to men’s shoes, the restaurants make you feel like you’re dining at home, and around every corner there seems to be another part of 1940’s France waiting to be discovered. 

         When planning our itinerary just a few weeks ago Magen and I didn’t really know how we were going to cut the train routes down between Paris and Florence so I reached to an article I had cut out of National Geographic’s Traveler magazine titled “109 Places to See Before You Die.”  “#14: long famous for cuisine, Lyon, ‘one of the most impressive places in France,’ earns lavish compliments for its ‘authenticity, recreational amenities, sustainable development, and impressive archaeological remains.’ The old town’s alleyways and courtyards are a pleasure to wander, although modern Lyon is fast encroaching.”  Boy did this city live up to its reputation.  I can’t tell you how excited I am that Lyon made it on our itinerary and the surprises it held. 

            We were so impressed with the excellent transportation system they had set up including buses, metros, and trams.  Every system had its own form of informational advertisements that we have lacked everywhere else in Europe but wanted badly.  You would have to be a bit challenged to not find your way around Lyon.  From tickets that worked on all systems, to color coded mapping, to countdowns at every stop on when to expect the next train, it was fantastic, kudos Lyon. 

I must say my favorite part of Lyon was its Old Town.  As backpackers you come to discover the best way to get to know a new city is to simply push yourself to get lost in its backstreets!  In Lyon it’s funny though, you stay so busy with the varying atmosphere around every corner that you don’t happen to think ‘where am I’.  With cobbled streets, impressive churches that seem to glow with a holy presence, Frenchmen with hearty laughs, and French women of a classy caliber with dark hair and light eyes (  ; ) !  ) Lyon was a sight to see.  It’s one of those places I could see myself returning again for sure, it provides a special privacy if desired but also the busy shopping streets covered with bargain seeking spenders.  As our travels come closer to an end we realize the over-budgeting we’ve done so we decided to find a few bargains for ourselves before leaving.  Shopping in Europe is an interesting experience, it’s funny the styles that work here that would never seem to fly back in the states, it was kind of fun.  We also enjoyed the friendly restaurant atmosphere where there’s just a certain comfort to walking in a place, grabbing a small table, exchanging smiles with the elderly eating their ice cream sundaes, getting lost in the aroma of coffee beans, and scrolling through the menu by gazing through the pictures only.  I can’t help but stop and deliberately remind myself that “Tyler . . . you are in the south of France sipping a cappuccino next to a building that was built over 200 years ago, do you realize how lucky you are?”  And the answer is yes I do (sorry to brag a little)!

We ventured to a park/garden area on the northern side of town and were greatly impressed by not only its beauty but its accessibility as well.  Runners were everywhere mid morning, and oh how I wish I could just uproot that park and bring it back with me to Lubbock.  From the rose gardens, to the floating swans, to the children having field trip day, it was perfect.  Along the outer rim of the pond we found our way to a surprisingly free mini zoo.  With a small selection of big cats, elephants, birds, monkeys, giraffes, and a little more I enjoyed it and I’m sure the animals thought they were in heaven in the low 70’s weather.  There was this one leopard that looked a little threatening though as it seemed to be licking its chops with a death stare on one of the babies nearby, the parents didn’t seem to get the hint, let’s hope the child is not traumatized now haha. 

            We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Lyon, a city of secret passageways, hidden alleys and courtyards tucked away behind modernizing fronts, I would say it’s a diamond in the rough, but the south of France is anything but rough.  Maybe a gem in disguise is more fitting.  The locals seem to know they’ve found a hidden secret while the tourists don’t realize they’re in for such a treat upon arrival.  The churches, the bridges, the shops, the cuisine, the nice French people (definitely disproved their common reputation), the slick transportation, the picturesque hillsides, the single person alleyways soaked in the smell of tomatoes and chocolate, the specialized shops where every need can be met, and the list goes on . . . ‘ONLY LYON’ has it all!

            As we prepared for another train trip using the French train system we knew it would probably be a stressful one.  Waiting in line and finally getting to the counter we discovered we couldn’t get all the way to Florence as hoped so we settled for Milan.  I’m sad Magen will not get to see the magnificent David, but Milan’s Duomo is pretty impressive and I have a feeling it will suit us well, and it’s much closer to our final stop.  What I’m going to miss most about a second stop in Florence is all of the street vendors actually.  I just love the areas lined with all sorts of different knick-knacks you can bring home from Italy and the desperation in the vendors voices just trying to make a buck, it’s exciting. 

            Our train ride actually consisted of half bus ride, thanks to Magen’s discovery through tinkering with the information offices, that turned out to be one of the prettiest rides I’ve ever witnessed.  I’ve heard about the beauty that awaits in the south of France, bordering Switzerland, but man was it breathtaking.  Ranging from steep mountains, thriving agriculture mega centers, to hillside villas that I’m pretty sure I would sacrifice most of my life if I could just live in one of those mountain villas.  After a stop in Chambery, France, we stay entertained by watching various people running to catch their trains and observing how the locals handle the confusing systems by reading only their facial expressions!  I couldn’t help but add to the serendipity of the situation and turned on Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, who sang me all the way into Italy’s borders.  I find myself randomly smiling all the time throughout our trips, it’s hard not to be happy when you’re backpacking through Europe, even if the train systems can be a bit un-agreeable.  I’m sure I’m that guy that most of the locals look at in question and wonder what my problem is, but it doesn’t bother me.  They could use a lesson in the benefits of smiling as opposed to frowning all the time. 


Now we’re in Milan and I would encourage you to see my first blog on the area, the quick weekend trip we took while I was still in the study abroad part of my adventure.  This time we actually got to go in the Duomo though which was pretty impressive.  We’ve seen greater churches in every area except the design under the arched ceilings and the shear height of the church.  No photos could be taken which as good backpackers we respected, but many tourists missed the memo obviously.  Magen did a little shopping, I found some more souvenirs for friends, and there’s really a limited amount of things to do here.  We missed seeing the Last Supper by Da Vinci due to a lack of pre-planning to book reservations ahead of time but oh well, we’ve seen so many other fantastic things we’re okay with it.  After an unexpected metro shutdown this morning we put our broken in soles to work and walked through the busier parts of Milan this morning.  We were very glad to see the stations back open just in time for us to return to the hotel.  It’s warmer here now but it’s a welcomed heat.  We’re now debating a take away pizza from a nearby street restaurant and taking it easy for a bit.  As our trip has now made a full circle around Europe I’ve literally loved every second, even the dragging around of my red luggage that should have been in a storage locker this whole time, but we are slowly winding down and missing those back home.  If only we could bring everyone we know and love over here we would be perfectly fine staying another few years haha.  We venture to Siestere, Italy for almost a week stay in Palace Residence II, a winter ski resort open during the summer, thanks to my parents who used some RCI points and were going to come spend it with us but backed out when they discovered their definition of ‘adventurous’ has a few limitations, so we will have it to ourselves.  We are interested to see what exactly the area holds besides the beauty of the Italian Alps, but plan on doing some resting and relaxing.  Thanks mom and dad, wish you and the rest of them could have made it!  We hope to maybe do a day trip into Switzerland, pretty much for the scenic train ride, but getting back to the train station might be more of a hassle than we think, so we will see! 

Ciao for now friends, gracie for reading (it’s nice being back in the land of the Italians where I learned at least a little lingo), and for the public Facebook pictures link click below (Only Lyon through this link, I have a previous album covering Milan already):


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hola Spain!

Barcelona seems to have been our ‘catch your breath’ stop after Paris, and greatly welcomed indeed.  I’m told you don’t experience the true Spanish flavor of the culture unless you venture to the likes of Madrid, but Barcelona has proven to be quite the happening place.  We didn’t have Rick Steves on this leg so we did a little Google and did some of the top suggested sites including the Cathedral, Marketplace, Park Guell, and Las Ramblas street.  The Cathedral was a bit disappointing after the mastery seen in Paris, now they know how to build those churches.  It was also under construction, which has actually been several sites we’ve seen throughout Europe this summer.  I would hope they could do that during the winter time but that may prove too daunting of a task, and chilly to say the least.  The marketplace was a thriving metropolis of meat butchers, fruit juice squeezers, jewelry peddlers, and rank smelling fresh seafood wranglers.  It’s interesting to see how the locals shop.  After giving Magen’s week stomach a turning, buying some fresh squeezed coconut/strawberry juice, and pinching our noses through the aisle of fresh squid, we eventually escaped back out to the street. 

Las Ramblas is the major street running through the city from a busy plaza down to the Barcelona Coastal Port.  We found several of the souvenirs we needed to purchase and enjoyed seeing the different street vendor displays; they always have some interesting characters hanging around.  On our way to Park Guell, we met two really nice teachers from Atlanta Georgia, one had studied at Baylor for a while and recognized the Double T (Go Raiders!) pin on my backpack, and it was really nice to have a chit-chat with some friendly faces.  They are currently watching the finals of the USA soccer team at a sports place in town, we wanted to go meet them but the hostel seemed to be just too far out, our metro cardets were running low, and our energy levels quickly depleting.  Park Guell was an interesting experience with everything from cactus to hibiscus lining the steep walkways, where we also got to see some designs by the unique artist Gaudi, some small houses and his pavilion designs which were neat. 

            Overall, Barcelona was our ‘let’s sleep in’ stop where our money seems to go a little further, our stay out of town at Vila Universitaria Barcelona has proven a very comfortable one in their on campus A/C capable apartments/dorms, and a nice place to catch our breath.  With a little coastal air, humidity that makes us sweat, and locals coming from all walks of life, it almost has a welcoming tropical feel to it which we’ve enjoyed.  After dealing with train troubles in Paris we decided to get our tickets to Lyon, France as soon as possible.  The day we arrived the long distance offices were on strike, and after returning the next day, waiting 2.5 hours, and only getting 2/3 of our trip booked we will head for Lyon, France and once again be at the mercy of the French train systems . . . great.  All fingers crossed we will arrive in Lyon tomorrow afternoon, which is a stop I found listed in Lifetime Magazine’s 109 Places to Visit Before You Die.  Excited, but not sure what it holds, should be interesting.   

Update:  Our train series was a success and we made it to Lyon, an amazing little city in the south of France.

Will probably wait to post Barcelona pictures together with Lyon’s, sorry for the delay, but check back soon!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Paris . . . Mon Amour!

            We ended up staying in a nice little Hostel run by a group of Korean ladies that cooked breakfast and dinner for us.  The place had such a character and some of the nicest people we’ve come across.  Even had to take our shoes off in the living areas.  We tried our luck at a mixed dorm for the first time, the cheapest option in Paris hostels, and were really glad we did.  Met two Iranian fellows who were super nice and provided some informative cultural insight into their unknown world.  They were both pursuing studies in the medical field and one had even taught himself the English language (completely different alphabet mind you).  They definitely seem to have a drive that the majority of Americans lack, respectable and honorable gentlemen to say the least. 

            Day 1 brought with it some exciting parts of “Par-ee” including the Orsay Museum, Chateau Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower.  The Orsay Museum was our first arrival and we quickly learned that Paris is a hotspot where lines await you everywhere.  We also had our first battle with the rain while standing in line to get in.  After splitting a 5 euro umbrella and Magen running to get us cappuccinos from the corner café we survived and finally made it inside where we purchased the Museum Pass, which allowed us to skip lines at most other places and provided ‘free’ entrance, super worth it, paid for it after the first three stops.  Inside awaited great preservation of past art, modern mostly.  I was treated, for the first time, to works by Van Gogh and Monet both.  I never realized Van Gogh painted in the late 1800’s but I really did like his unique style of artistry.  Monet was a nice presentation too, but not quite eclectic enough for my style.  Next we ventured to Chateau Versailles which was a palace set up by King Louis XIV (I think) to bask in his personal greatness and admire himself.  The arrogance was fuming from every corner of every room, but an impressive self admiration I must say.  I really enjoyed the hall of mirrors which seemed to go on forever.  Our pass didn’t cover the extravagant gardens, but you could see them from the palace anyways.  The typical high painted ceiling rooms, sculptures, chandeliers, self portraits, and expensive decorations were all there.  The place was huge and over the top, but when you’re going to cross a line you might as well jump over it I guess (Louis’ mentality I guess anyways).  Then, we were impressed with the time we were making touring around so we went to the Eiffel Tower also!  I knew I would like the tower, but didn’t know I would be quite so impressed by its magnitude.  True architectural greatness if I do say so myself.  I couldn’t stop gawking at the thousands of pieces making up just the base.  Loved being in the presence of such a great work.  Then we took a little walk down by the river after Magen fell in love with her banana and chocolate crepe, saw a homeless person’s bed and drug utensils, then called it a day.

            Day 2 was filled with Notre Dame, Crypte Archeologique, meeting Magen’s friend Kelly and her boyfriend Patrick, and the Louvre Museum.  Notre Dame was truly a humbling experience in a holy atmosphere just oozing with beauty.  We had an unexpected treat where the church choir came out and sang several different hymns (some in English other Latin we think) that truly gave me goose-bumps and got me a little emotional.  One of the highlights of my trip by far.  To be in such a masterful place and have your viewing tour accompanied by such great voices, now that’s an experience of a lifetime.  The stained glass windows could have kept me staring all day had we not wanted to see even more of Paris.  We wanted to climb the towers also but learned you could go only halfway up until 1 pm (which is when we were meeting Kelly), and we wanted to go all the way to the top so we stopped by the Crypte Archeologique instead.  Not near as impressive, just showing some findings proving how Paris has been built on top of its old days.  Then we met up with Kelly and Patrick which was a welcomed treat to have someone to hang out with that we could relate to back in the states, almost forgot how I missed the company of friends.  Magen and Kelly are friends from their college/internship days in DFW.  She has been studying in Paris for the summer so she took us to St. Chapelle, St. Sevren, Luxembourg Gardens, Shakespeare’s Bookstore, and a Religious Battle Fountain.  The windows in the other churches were amazing as well.  I’ll give a brief covering or else you would be reading all day.  St. Chapelle reminded me of Beauty and the Beast for some reason, St. Sevren’s windows looked hand painted and the detail was on the micro level, Luxembourg Gardens brought fantastic landscaping, great statues, and the original Lady Liberty, Shakespeare’s bookstore was where Magen fell in love and supposedly where he would come when he had writer’s block, and the fountain showing the battle between the Catholic faith and Protestant faith was pretty impressive.  After splitting from our friends we stopped by the Louvre museum and really focused on the art wing, because I’m told the entire museum would take a week + to see.  We had also seen quite a lot of the offerings in the British Museum which would have been really hard to beat.  We saw in particular the famous Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Captive, and Napoleon’s Apts.  Each was amazing, the place was huge, and we left feeling overloaded and liking the layout of the British Museum much better.  After grabbing some pictures of the pyramids we returned to the bookstore that Magen fell in love with so she could spend a little more time there.  Happened upon a NYU presentation discussing publishing companies, she stayed and I went venturing around the streets which often brings the most inspiring pictures.  Another great, busy, and long day completed.

            Day 3 was actually Bastille Day (France’s Independence), and we saw some of the parade left-overs at the Arc di Triumph.  With various streets blocked off we decided to walk along the river and eventually meet up with Kelly & Patrick who picked up another friend Michela for the rest of the day.  Went to Alexander’s Bridge and enjoyed the American company.  After dealing with the French train system, we had to forfeit watching the fireworks around the city, in particular the Eiffel Tower show, and also our last night at the hostel to catch a night train to Barcelona.  The fact that the French train system is extremely frustrating and provides tight limitations on the availability of seats for Eurrail Pass holders has given Magen and I our fair share of adventures (not happy).  We had already made too many commitments with scheduling to improvise on a later departure and ended up having to purchase our seats to get out of France because no more pass seats were available and then use our pass once in Spain to reach Barcelona.  Quite annoying, but as always, just part of the adventure! 

            Overall, Paris is a city I HIGHLY recommend and we will definitely be returning someday in the future.  A day where our budgets aren’t so tight, we can stay inside the city, eat the amazing looking/smelling cuisine, and maybe even dress up like the Parisians!  We both loved Paris which easily proved its greatness, and were sad to see it go earlier than expected.  Paris, my love, we will meet again someday!

As always, thanks for reading friends, my European adventure is quickly flying by and hope it’s at least a little inspiring.  Next stop is Barcelona, Spain, and just maybe we will know some of the language! 

For the public Facebook album follow the following link:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Mind the Gap" - LONDON

            First introduction to London was a bit overwhelming, with several different large cities making up the well known “London” area, we were overwhelmed by the 13 “Tube” (metro) lines, 7.5 million people, and the transportation categorization into 4+ zones.  We were definitely anticipating the return to English speaking nationals and have enjoyed it so!  It’s so nice not having to think about ‘the how’ before every form of communication.  It took us a bit to realize we could actually carry on a conversation with those around us but once we attempted we met two interesting individuals at our hostel, ‘Daisy from Sri Lanka’ the operator, and a fellow traveler ‘Parker from Australia’ who was looking for some retirement real estate. 

Day 1 brought everything one would hope to encounter during a stop in London: flickering lights on “The Tube”, a day full of a what I call “rainy sunshine” where one second it’s pouring and the next holds a sunglasses worthy glare, eating fish ‘n chips (fries) in a local pub, almost getting hit due to a failure to look right before crossing, and accents gleaming with a formality and cheer.  An unexpected surprise was the insane amount of wedgies that I noticed being picked all over the place, guess you have to get comfortable.  Along with a new currency of pounds, pints, and quids, that's kicking the American dollar even worse than the Euro.
The sightseeing: Trafalgar Square, Changing of the Horse Guards where they honor all fallen horses in past wars (so cool), Parliament Buildings beside Westminster Bridge, Westminster Abbey (which housed the Coronation Chair that has always and continues to be used in the crowning of new royalty, impressive monument tombs of several saints royalties and even Darwin (not sure why exactly) and Isaac Newton, not to mention the place that the newly-wed Royal couple was married.  To say the least an extremely impressive preservation of England’s past monarchy with a great audio guide.  After standing in line for close to an hour, approaching the front and realizing we were in the CARD ONLY line and deciding to take on the extra bank fee to prevent another long cash line, it was definitely worth it.  Along with England’s main goal to “maintain a past rich in history and royalty while still welcoming change”.  We also stopped by Buckingham Palace Courtyard hoping to see the famous guards with stern faces, but no such luck.  The palace was actually quite modest from the outside surprisingly.  We also stopped by to take pictures of the Tower of London.  I consider the street strolling to be a sight in itself, pretty sure I was smiling all day.  The Brits like to do things a little differently and in their own way (sound familiar) but it works for them.

Next day brought the British Museum which was huge and free!  Favorite exhibits included the Egyptian wing which housed everything from sphinx statues and pyramid treasures, to real mummies and the Rosetta Stone.  Other impressive wings included the Greek, Syrian, and European cultures of old.  There was also a history of clocks room that I really liked.  The Enlightenment room was a pretty impressive tribute to the great minds of the past.  A history of Money room had me seeing dollar signs.  The Living & Dying exhibit seeking to encompass the human response to all things living and the thereafter was interesting as well.
             While Magen went to the musical Wicked (I didn’t want to spend for the ticket in British Pounds this time) I went to see some of the exhibits set up around town for the first, but future annual, London Street Photography Festival!  Stopping by the Orange Dot Gallery and the Exmouth Market Gallery I was treated to a casual presentation of some of the best student photographers capturing real life as it happens everyday, free from editing.  I really enjoyed viewing their work and would love to see more from each artist, my hobbyist liking for photography was pretty impressed!  There was one taken on October 10, 2001 that really struck close to home, titled "Five More Found," showing a night scene of Ground Zero with a huddle of firemen and a light beaming up from the rubble, pretty powerful and sad stuff.  Between the exhibits I decided to walk the streets as opposed to the Tube and really saw what local London is like.  I was in more of a college generation neighborhood which made for great photo opps with a realism I definitely appreciated.  I also decided to stop by the backside of Westminster Bridge to get some pictures of the impressive Parliament buildings.

            Day 3 brought the British Library housing ancient manuscripts from the likes of William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci.  It was Britians way of showing off the prized possessions they’ve come across over the years, and I was impressed.  Pretty sure Magen shed a tear or two, words seem to impress her on a level that I just don’t reach, and I’m quite confident she will find a place to work someday that inspires her on that level again.  There were also more of the street photography photo exhibits though not as impressive as the other two galleries, they showed life from 1940s London.  It’s pretty amazing the preservation techniques of the Brits and it definitely deserves some kudos, and the majority of the cities museum and gallery sights are free to the public (encouraged donations of course).  We also stopped by St. Paul’s Cathedral which definitely had our jaws hitting the floor, but was too expensive to go inside, so we walked across Millennium Bridge to see the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe.  And in good Tyler and Magen fashion decided to venture over to Hyde Park for a relaxing break in some green grass with the locals and tourists alike.  I must say, today was the first day I can truly say I was tired, not really sure why, but it was just one of those days.  My patience was short and the infinite number of people were starting to annoy me, but I’m sure I’ve gotten it out of my system and will be ready for the next venture.
            Speaking of . . . we are currently spending the night in the Train Station awaiting our 6:20 am departure to Lille, France where we will get a connection to Paris.  With our Global Passes Britain isn’t covered so all we get is a discounted fare into nearby Europe.  We came two days early (which we’ve never needed to do before) and all other train times were sold out for the discounted fares so we got stuck with the earliest train out.  All part of the adventure though!!  Staying in Zone 3 quite far from the train station, we decided that we couldn’t make it here in time to check in through customs and all if we chanced the first train out of our Upton Park stop.  So here we are : ) , two well traveled friends, a couple of backpacks + , basking in the greatness of our London adventure . . . life is good!  With a smiling nod we bid fellow backpackers great travels as they pass our bench-post, (which hopefully will turn into a sleeping space before too long)!  So far we've fought off one beggar with a pound, some random girls yelling something about hamburgers, and the night is young. 
I was thinking today about the idea of normalcy.  It has quickly become the stop and go adventure I currently find myself in.  It’s funny how quickly we can forget the likes of our daily Lubbock Grad Student Routine.  Hopefully the re-transition won’t be as difficult as I’m thinking it might be, this carefree lifestyle is sure tempting though, not to mention a bit addicting.   
            I must say I will probably miss this culturally rich city, the repeated “Mind The Gap” announcements from the Tube operators, the interesting eclectic-vintage style of many of the locals, their cheery attitudes, and the unique spirit of the streets.  Farewell London, good day for now, and tomorrow . . . bonjour Paris!

Thanks for reading friends, hope I’m not boring you too bad, and follow the link below for the Public Facebook Album:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Frankfurt Shenanigans & The Belgian Way


Leaving Prague was a bittersweet experience and yet another thriving part of the adventure.  We originally were planned to have a three train day, after two different connections, totaling a little over 7 hours.  After some unexpected delays on our first leg, being told to move up 5 cars because the back of the train was stopping soon while the rest continued, then being notified shortly that the entire train was having problems we were finally informed of a mandatory bus trip connecting us to our next leg.  Thank goodness our two stops were in places where trains ran multiple times an hour, because the bus trip was definitely a curvy, bumpy, scenic, and time consuming route.  Though delayed, and despite Magen getting stuck in the train doors at one point (confusion hilarity!) we still found our way to the interesting place of Frankfurt, Germany.  Magen cleverly termed our day of travels “Trains, Translations, & Tight Spaces” which is completely appropriate.  Arriving on a Saturday evening really only left time for a quick bite of Thai food down the road and a nice introduction to our hostel.  We quickly became the favorites with our hostel land-lady who let us take extra showers and gave us extra creamer for our morning coffee, nice to make a friend!

            Ready to venture out on Sunday we were treated to a city slow in process and nothing but a few tourists.  The locals had obviously had a long week and were resting up for the one ahead.  Our hostel room delivered breakfast every morning with everything from hard boiled eggs to some of the best coffee we’ve had yet.  We ventured down on the empty Metro system to the Old Town cultural part of the city.  Frankfurt has managed to maintain a heritage rich in German culture but also established itself as the financial capital of the EU.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see in Frankfurt, most of it focused around the old center, and there were multitudes of museums but we decided to save our money for the good ones in London and Paris.  I also treated myself to a good run down along the Rhine river, along with many of the fitness enthused locals.  With the good internet connection we were able to catch up on our Skyping with the family which was such a nice and refreshing treat. 

Monday brought a new mob of movement, with men in tailored business suits and women fidgeting with their metro blown hair-dos.  Frankfurt had come alive.  So far, the Germans have reminded me the most of Americans, with their great appreciation for space and their slightly over-indulgent diets.  We also ventured through a botanical garden with lots of floral, all of Europe seems to be much more blessed with moisture and plant environments than home is, not fair.  Later in the day we checked on train tickets and made our way to a park.  For our journey to the park we bought an authentic bratwurst hot dog setup and I added fries.  The woman asked me if I wanted ketchup on them, I said please, and she ended up squirting mayonnaise on them instead.  Magen’s face was priceless.  She had recently read that is the norm for the Belgiums, but she was not expecting it in the Frankfurt train station.  To say the least it was actually not too bad, just different.  I try to be open to new experiences and sometimes it pays off.  After finally finding the entrance into the park, after walking its borders for quite a while and eating our food intended for a picnic it was worth it.  The park was huge and thriving with locals participating in everything from running, biking, and badminton, to soccer, reading, and hackysack.  Seeing the locals interact in such an open setting was nice.  I snapped a few pictures while Magen wrote in her journal.  The park was close to a university so the park was a popular past-time it seemed like.  We almost felt a part of the group for a minute, which was somewhat comforting.  We missed the Fourth of July celebrations back home but sounds like there weren’t a lot of fireworks anyways.  We were there in spirit though.  I find myself missing bits and pieces of the West Texas summer, probably just harnessing the comforts of norm, but the European summer is beautiful in itself. 

Overall, Frankfurt really wasn’t anything special, a nice peek into yet another culture; a place where the little conveniences of a close supermarket and efficient metro system welcomed our traveling spirits, and an impressive business mecca has managed to preserve a rich ancestral part of the city.
On to Brussles, Belgium on Tuesday was a much more sophisticated train trip.  The trains seem to be getting nicer with every trip we take and the further away from Italy we get, pretty impressive.  The US definitely needs to invest in a rail network much larger than the Amtrak.  With a more confusing metro system than we’ve met yet we gradually made our way to our hostel, actually a Hotel Sabina advertised through the hostel-world website.  It’s nice and we have our own bathroom, and it’s also convenient to many of the sights nearby.  We quickly dropped our things off and ventured out into the unkown world of the Belgiums.  Quite an ethnic integration seems to be going on here.  Brussels is actually the capital of the entire EU so I would guess that just comes with the territory across the globe.  An extremely big city with lots to see, though we didn’t have Rick Steves backing us on this stop so it’s been a bit difficult discovering where things are, so we ventured out on a walk of discovery.  Not paying attention to geographical positions or directions we made our way around several of the sites.  Ranging from the Grand Market (where they have the annual flower festival and build an original pattern every year) to the Mannekin Pis (literally a little statue peeing into a fountain).  At the statue we indulged in the well acclaimed Belgian waffles, being sold on the nearby corner, I had a square dipped in white chocolate, and Magen had a waffle on a stick with dark chocolate.  I must say they live up to their reputations, a close second only to Poppie and Dad’s recipe! 
Magen and I find ourselves getting lost in the extremely eclectic, welcoming, and tempting streets of the city.  Similar to Budapest, each building is different from the next but they all seem to fit into a grand masterpiece.  Each door and brick seems to tell a different story.  With several places to turn we ended up getting a bit lost and once we arrived back to the hotel saw one of the major sites we had stopped by.  We were within 400m from out hotel at one point and didn’t even know it haha, oh the adventure!  Today we did a little more venturing out and made it to the Atomium on the way north end of the city, with more park territory, and a scenic tram ride.  Afterwards, we stopped by the Central Train Station to purchase our tickets to London (which is not covered by our global pass, ended up getting a “discount” for 89 euros, yikes, but should be worth it).  We’re interested to see if we travel on top of the sea or through a tunnel under it, aaahhh!  Then we found our way back to the Grand Market area where I had to indulge in yet another Belgian waffle, this time on a stick, and we also purchased a small assortment of treats from a small shop choclatier (melts in your mouth is putting it lightly)!  Fighting a few rain storms, but wallowing in its greatness, we came to the city library which I’m quite sure had Magen screaming for joy.  The viewing room of the Librarium was free and documented the history of books a bit (though not in English), and we also had some foggy views of the city from the top floor cafeteria through rain soaked windows.  Pretty sure Magen would have stayed there forever had it been possible.  I hope she finds a place to work someday in the states that excites her on that level. 
The Belgian way is definitely attractive.  We find locals gathering at nearby cafes early in the evening to share a beer with one another and seem to go well into the night.  They truly share a city as gorgeous as it is big, with a few very helpful and friendly locals, and manage to maintain an inviting environment to foreigners.  It’s nice to hear the French language for the first time spoken on a regular basis.  At the moment, we find ourselves sitting at the corner café close to our hostel sipping cappuccinos (that came with whip cream and chocolate sprinkles), next to a birthday celebration, lovers holding hands, a clearing sky, locals enjoying the company of friends with cigarettes and beer in hand, Magen reading, I typing away, and not a worry in the world but to enjoy the presence of life!  Life is good, today and everyday, that’s about as simple as it gets.  We are trying to enjoy the last few moments in the Belgium atmosphere before heading off to meet the Brits in the morning.  We are both super excited about what London has waiting for us.  We can’t believe we’re approaching the halfway point in our journeys, which have already brought loads of fun, exciting experiences, one full memory card of pictures, and insight into a far away but yet so similar world! 
Until next time friends, thanks for reading, hope I’m inspiring your future possible journeys, and may the day find you enjoying the presence of life and appreciating the many blessing the Lord has brought our way!  Ciao for now . . .
For pictures of Frankfurt and Brussels, see the following public Facebook album link:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Praha Experience!

Ahoj friends . . . after a pretty long train ride from Budapest via Wien, we arrived in Prague, a short metro stop and a quick check in later, we were upgraded in hostel room size to a four bed room for just us two.  The extra space has been super nice.  Once again, our Bednar name rang a bell with the Czechs at the front desk, with perfect pronunciation I might add.  My genes seem to be telling me I’m home haha.  We have a nice long extended stay in Prague with four full days before we’re off to Frankfurt.  We’ve come to love cities with Metros and spacious hostel rooms with hot water that lasts longer than a few minutes!  Other than the fact that we might be staying by a private dancer’s club, we are liking our street view stay.

Magen and I quickly decided that, so far, Prague has the best food (trying my luck at beef goulash and other pork dishes has resulted in a palette screaming woo-hoo!), Rome had the best wine, Salzburg had the friendliest people, Vienna had the best weather, Budapest had the best coffee (cappuccinos seem to be our café break of choice), they all have their fair share of good looking women, and the rest is yet to be determined!  The desserts are what really tempt our sweet tooth’s here in Praha.  With apple strudel, raspberry kolaches, and various cakes of awesome-ness, these sugar addicted Americans are finding bliss.  Our appetites are surprising both of us, but rightly so as active as we are throughout the day walking around, losing a few pounds but not because I’m not eating believe me!  I feel like Poppie, the most Czech in the family, would love it here and I wish he could visit someday, I have a feeling he would pick up the language again in no time.  My lingo is limited too “poo-peck” (sp?) meaning bellybutton.

We’ve ventured out into the beautiful city starting with the Jewish Quarter where limited pictures could be taken (Maisel – Spanish – Pinkas – Klaus Synagogue, Jewish Cemetery, and the Ceremonial Hall).  An interesting series to see, based on beliefs that unfortunately are pretty foreign to me, but overall a very sad story of prejudice and ultimate survival.  My favorite part was a collection of abstract art on display created by young Jewish children that were forced to live in the first ghetto of Praha, expressing their daily strife and where they seemed to find hope, pretty powerful stuff for 8 year olds, most of whom did not survive.  A humbling experience to say the least.

King Charles’ Bridge was another highlight of the day where we made sure to stop and make a wish at the 5 star relic on the north end.  Across the bridge we found some sort of amazing pink strawberry slushy that managed to get our return business again the next day, along with their form of a hot dog.

            We’ve also seen the Astronomical Clock in action which has a pretty neat design created by ancient philosophers, telling three different time scales all at once, and scrolls through the 12 Apostles at every hour along with a live trumpet serenade. 

Prague Castle held an exciting experience for us, it turned out to be Armed Forces day and we were treated to a parade with live bands, a motorcycle show, and the original 1960’s BMW cycle that was first used in the local forces.  Then the president of the Czech Republic came riding out on a horse!  Seemed to be a pretty big deal, even with the locals, and a nice treat of an unexpected show.  The castle, like all of them, was an entire city in itself back in the day.  The Czechs have experienced a great deal of harsh and unwelcome authority throughout the ages, and survival along with a commitment to freedom is a huge theme here (Go Czechs!). 

St. Vitcus Cathedral, within the castle, held an amazing surprise of some of the most gorgeous stained glass windows that I’ve ever seen in my life.  Each one was bursting with colors and so detailed.  With limited access, without having to pay, we were treated to the majority of them and shot some rewarding pictures, even though there’s no way that pictures could do them justice.  There was also one of the better managed gardens that we’ve seen that was a nice little stroll.

Walking through the rest of old town we found Lennon’s wall.  A fantastic collection of graffiti along a 30 meter stretch of wall dedicated to the ideals of John Lennon (peace, love, imagination, believing, etc.).  Definitely an abstract representation of the open minded that I’m quite sure sends a variety of different messages to its many viewers and artists every year.  We really liked the wall and hopefully captured some great background pictures.  The wall lies close to a university, where students back in the day stayed committed to capturing their messages on the wall, and eventually won the battle with the authorities who eventually gave up, now it’s a popular tourist attraction, especially to our generation. 

Magen and I decided to give the local arts a try also.  I, in particular, wanted to see an opera that was advertised online, but after being corrected by the ticket salesman that opera is out of season and it was actually a ballet that night, we quickly decided to invest anyways.  We bought the cheapest tickets which placed us on the back top row center for 100 CZK’s (about $5), but ended up loving our seats with a full stage view.  The ballet was titled Onegin, and was performed at the National Theatre @ 19:00.  Just being in the National Theatre was an experience in itself, the design and history radiated from its multiple curved levels, dimly lit atmosphere, and felt covered seating.  Onegin was an impressively danced ballet focusing around a lost love due to foolish pride.  I can now see why many experts label ballet as a sport of masculine demands, balancing the power with such grace was extremely impressive to watch. 

We’ve also done our fair share of street strolling, and I’ve decided that our breakfasts @ the Paneria is probably my favorite thing to do!  A cappuccino and a raspberry pastry is all it takes to put a smile on my face.

The Dancing House Buildings, inspired by a witty American architect, was a nice little outside of the box viewing also.

Today we’ve spent a lot of time in the nearby park, where we ate a take away lunch (their term for To Go) and decided to return to write this blog, let Magen indulge in her reading hobby, people watch, and quickly review snapped pictures.  All I can do is feel sorry for the friends and family back home dealing with the scorching hot weather and parched countryside.  I’m truly loving every minute of the literally carefree backpacker’s lifestyle, living with limited amenities helps you realize how little we truly need, and the average temperature of 70 degrees isn’t bad either!  I’m trying my best to make the absolute most of it. 

Oh, and I finally found some peanut butter, it’s Skippy instead of Peter Pan, but it will definitely do!  Magen had a good laugh at my happy dance.

The adventure isn’t over but is flying fast.  I’m sure I’m missing parts of the story but it’s hard to capture every great moment we incur along the way. 

Thanks for reading friends and until next time I’ll be missing you and truly hope that someday, you too, can have the Praha experience!  Ciao for now.