Wednesday, September 30, 2009

O'zapft is!--Not For Much Longer

"It's Tapped!" was screamed enthusiastically by the mayor of Munich on September 19th, and the drinking began. Now in it's final week, Oktoberfest is as popular today as it was when it first began.

The first official Oktoberfest was actually a celebration to commemorate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen back in 1810. Since then, the festival has grown each year and become a national tradition for Germany, as well as other countries around the world who have created their own Oktoberfests. Now millions flock to Munich every year, dressed head to toe in Sennerhut, Lederhosen, and Dirndl. They crowd the beer halls and stuff their faces with Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (knuckle of pork), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Wurstel (sauseges), Brezeln (pretzel), Sauerkraut, and various other Bavarian delicacies.

But the most popular aspect of Oktoberfest is--of course--the steins of beer clinking together over the long,wooden tables. These steins have been a tradition at Oktoberfest since before the 1900s, and I think they will remain a staple for many more years to come.

While Oktoberfest is known for being a wild drunkfest, it is about much more than drinking. It is a time when people from all over Germany and the world can come together for one big party. Differences are put aside, problems are washed down with each sip of beer, laughter and music can be heard throughout the streets. It is truly a chance to broaden your horizons and step outside your comfort zone.
I have never had the opportunity to visit Munich, but if I ever do, I hope it is during Oktoberfest. I would love to sit at those long tables with a stein in one hand and a large Brezeln in the other enjoying the company of strangers. Next year marks the 200 year anniversary of the festival--who knows, maybe I'll gete the chance to stop on by for the big event.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little older, maybe a little wiser...

So, yesterday was my 23rd birthday. Since it was on a Monday, I celebrated over the weekend. And despite being in graduate school and being out of the college scene for over a year, I still managed to party a little too hard for my liking and spent most of the day Sunday recovering. However, it was a good time--and a good learning experience--and I'm glad I went out with my friends.

While going out to the bars and drinking on Saturday night was entertaining and enjoyable, I really appreciated my Friday night plans. My boyfriend took me to a nice dinner, where we enjoyed a four course Italian meal and a bottle of wine. It truly was a contrast to the following nights festivities, but it definitely showed how much I have matured in the past year. I prefer a nice quiet dinner over a crazy night of partying. And while I acknowledged my younger side this year, I also embraced my age.
Most people would argue that 23 is not old, and I agree with that. However, it isn't 18 either. I do not have the ability anymore to stay up until the wee hours of the morning or drink shot after shot of hard alcohol. My idea of a good time, now, is a low key evening with friends. And after our dinner on Friday, I realized that I desperatly want to return to Italy. I see it even more now, with an extra year under my belt, that traveling is my passion and the true thing that I hope to do with my life. I would have taken a trip for my birthday if I could have, but unfortunately I do have school and work to attend to. But maybe next year for my 24th--depending on the job situation--I can plan a weekend trip with friends somewhere. A place we can relax, eat well, enjoy a drink or two, and just live in the moment.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's FALL!!!

It is officially autumn, my favorite season of the year!!

Some people may think I'm crazy for looking forward to the time of year that technically marks the transition from warm summer weather to the frigid winter months. But I don't care! How could anyone not enjoy the beautiful colors of the changing leaves, the crisp feel of the air just getting a little cooler, the smell of delicious harvest foods--pumpkin pie anyone? Of course there are also the holidays: Halloween, which everyone enjoys because for one day--or a week depending on how long one chooses to celebrate--we can be anyone or anything we want; and Thanksgiving, where family and friends gather together and eat pounds of fabulous food.

Chicago, so far, is living up to my expectations for the fall season. The leaves have begun to change into their bright yellows, oranges, and reds, and I can smell the new season. My school's campus is picturesque with the falling foliage, and I love with every rush of wind I am suddenly in a movie-like state with the trees sprinkling me with leaves. Now all I need is a cute autumn outfit, and I'll be all set.

But as nice as Chicago is, I do miss Colorado in fall. Especially the mountains. Although this week Denver is about forty degrees cooler than Chi-town, I would still love to be there, with a warm mug of hot chocolate or cider and a blanket around my shoulders, watching the cool weather settle in. I mean, who can say that the Rocky Mountains in autumn are not gorgeous?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Any Travel Trends or News?

Ok, so one of the courses I am taking this quarter is Magazine Writing, and I know I am in for quite a lot of work. Basically, I have two articles to write, and while that might not seem like much it is actually going to be difficult. The stories have to be locally based, meaning happening in Chicago mainly, and they need to be timely and prominent in the news. I also have to have face-to-face interviews with 3-4 sources for each one.

The first task is to find story ideas. Right now I am really struggling finding anything that has not been done already. I mean, I read the news so of course I know about stuff going on, but already I'm behind the journalists who wrote it. How am I suppose to come up with fresh ideas if they're taking all of them?

My professor told us to think of areas that interest us and focus on news stories there because those are the things that we really care about. Well, I love travel. But with my luck, Chicago does not have much going on in that area. The only thing I can think of is the Olympic bid, but we don't know if we have it yet...not until Oct. 2 And, let's be honest, that has pretty much been written to death.

So if anyone has any thoughts about some current events relating to travel and Chicago, I would really appreciate the help.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Packing Prompts Inspiration

Graduate school classes have resumed. Back to the grind of reading 300-page books in two days, writing paper after paper, and sitting through three hour lectures and workshops. Luckily, this is what I want to do with my life, so I find most of it pretty enjoyable--with the exception of speeding through books without getting the chance to really enjoy them. But what I really like is when I get a good writing idea compliments of my professors or something I heard in class or read in one of our various assignments.

This time it came from my memoir writing class. One of the writers we are studying is Abigail Thomas, and in one of her books she talks about how to write a personal story. In one chapter she provides prompts for writers who may be struggling with getting their story started. I was reading through some of these prompts--write 2 pages about a time you were dressed inappropriately, 2 pages that take place in water--and I came across one that I thought was really interesting, something I had never thought about before: Write 2 pages about what goes through your mind when you're packing for a trip.

Personally, the process of packing can be stressful. First, I make out a list of everything I think I'm going to need, writing down numbers next to each to indicate how many I plan on taking. 4 t-shirts. 3 long-sleeve shirts. 5 pairs of pants. 1 dress. It appears anal, borders on obsession. But I like to have a plan, and with a list at least I can check things off and make sure that I have them in my suitcase.

Then it comes time to actually grab that bag and put everything inside. I lay out everything I am going to need, grabbing one thing and putting something else back. When everything is laid out on my bed, I scan it to make sure I have everything, plus extra just in case. Then I think, "what's the weather going to be like where I'm going?" I lunge for my laptop and enter the weather channel website. I look at the weekend forcast, the 10 day forecast, the chance of rain, etc. And since I'm on the internet, why not check some of the places I might want to visit, restaurants, bars, monuments. So I need to make sure I have outfits appropriate for those outings, as well as any necessary accessories or toiletries. Sunscreen for a long day at the beach, hats and boots for a day of hiking, jewelry and makeup for nice parties and dinners.

Somehow I get lost in the excitment of everything, and I'll start thinking about how much fun I'm going to have on my trip. And while packing is my priority at this point, I take a moment to appreciate that I can pack a bag and jet off to somewhere unknown. When I place that dress in the suitcase, I wonder what memories it will collect as I wear it. Will that sunscreen protect me, or is a burn in my future? Will my camera even be able to capture the moments of my trip, the experience I will ultimately come away with? Packing no longer becomes a quest to assure I have everything and how to pack it practically. It turns into a game, guessing where an outfit will take me, or better yet, where I'll take it.

What do you think about when you pack for a trip?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Croatian Style

If you haven't noticed already, there is a list to the left of my blog posts that has all the places I want to travel to someday. Croatia happens to be one of them. Where in Croatia? I'm not exactly sure. But I was reading the travel section of the New York Time--as usual--and I saw an article about the country's Capital City, Zagreb.

Croatia is part of the Balkan Peninsula--an area I have never ventured to--and boasts some of the most exotic views--courtesy of the Dalmation Coast--and dynamic cities. Dubrovnik anyone? In the mood for some good food, head north to the coastal city of Istria, quickly becoming the next Tuscany. And a wonderful way to enjoy the city and the trip up there is by bicycle, speeding along the same paths the Romans, Hapsburgs, and Napoleon took on the cone-shaped Peninsula. But for someone who wants to experience a truly unique and inspirational city, Zagreb seems to be a good start.

The city began as two townships, known today as Upper Town. Kaptol was a largely clerical area, while Gradec was home to artisans and merchants. They joined together in 1850, despite constant feuding, but still hold their individual personalities today. Kaptol holds the symbol of the city, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Gradec, just a 10 minute walk from the cathedral, has the Zagreb City Museum, which showcases the city's political, architectural, and artistic history. Both are certainly worth a visit.

I am definitely one to see the sites of a city: the museums, churches, ruins, etc. But something that truly gives a city its vibe is the food. I was fascinated when I read about the pedestrian-only street Tkalciceva, once a stream that separated the two cities. It is now loaded with cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and ateliers. Not only does this street allow for some prime people watching--which I love to do--but it gives visitors a chance to sample some of the local cuisine, clothes, and art. Caffe Bar Cica uses recycled washing machines as tables. How cool does that sound? Also, it is a good place to sip some local Velebitsko beer.

While I was living abroad in Italy, one thing I could not get enough of was the local markets. There is, of course, one in Zagreb as well that I am dying to attend. Dolac is the main fresh market with stalls full of nuts, honey, cheese, spices, and flowers. This is what the locals call food, we call it organic. And after enjoying the market, there are lovely parks in Lower Town where one can just relax and take in the gorgeous architecture.

But a park is not outdoorsy enough for me. So I would probably make my way to Medvednica National Park, a 56,000 acre area of mountain trails towering over Zagreb. A hike does the body good. Plus, I could then have an excuse to stuff my face with the delectable delicacies of the region. How about frog and eel stew? Perhaps not, but how about the roasted lamb, grilled sea bass, or a cone of schwarzwald — a mixture of cream, Cognac, chocolate and cherries? Having the sweet tooth that I have, what do you think I'd pick?

If I wanted to go to Croatia before, imagine how my desire has doubled after reading about Zagreb.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sometimes You Just Need Some Girl Time

I have a tendency to be better friends with guys, mostly because there is less drama, I feel comfortable, and I can just chill with them and watch some sports. But when I went up to Milwaukee this past weekend to visit my Marquette friends, it my good girlfriend Ashley who I spent the most time with. It felt nice to just catch up on girl talk, gossip, and bad reality television.

We spent all day Saturday shopping, watching movies, talking, eating delicious chips and guacamole, and going out for martinis. Every once and a while, you need a girls day. I just need to schedule in little day trips with my girlfriends. I have such a busy schedule, and so do my friends, plus the fact that I do not have many girlfriends works against me. But I know that I need a break from the guys here and there.

So I am now researching fun girl trips to take with my friends. Whether the trips are just small treks around the city or drives to other states or journeys to distant countries, traveling can really help girls connect with each other. Also, I read an article in Women's Health Magazine that talked about friendships between women and how we need to work hard to maintain them sometimes. We tend to put a lot into our friendships and if we do not work at them, there is a potential for them to end.

So grab some girlfriends, or just one, and take a trip to Paris or Mexico or New York or maybe just the mall.