Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vienna, Austria: My version of "Before Sunrise"

It's a sunny day in Zurich and my workday is coming to a close. Just one last conference call at 7:00pm and I can finally call it a night. Last evening, I didn't click "end" on my cell phone until 8:05pm. After which my boss, who I'd been on the phone with, promptly stated, "You need to sign off and go stare at a wall for 30 min or something." I laughed. My boss is totally awesome.

It's my last workweek here in Zurich. This Saturday, Chris and I will be heading off for a week-long adventure through Italy. First destination is Milan, then Venice, with a short stop to Verona (and yes, just to visit Juliet's balcony, cus I'm a girl like that), then Florence, and finally a couple days in Rome.

When that concludes, I'll have officially visited 12 countries in my short 25 years of life: Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, UK, Greece, Philippines, Canada, The Bahamas, & Italy. I should include the U.S. Which thanks to my job, I'm flying everywhere all the time. My job description literally states that travel is required approximately 6 months out of the year. Gulp.

I remember almost perfectly, the moment I realized how possible traveling was. Like a seed that was planted just when it needed to be--just when I could do something about it.

I'd just graduated from college, started as an intern for a global software company in Palo Alto. My manager was a role-model for for bravery. From her, I learned about the possibility of traveling alone and at a young age. It certainly left an impression. She told me, "At 22-23, I didn't have it all figured out. I spent months in Ireland with family. And that was only the beginning." She's a world traveler in a class all on her own.

I learned from others on the team that they too had had the chance to explore the world: France, UK, India, Egypt, you name it. I was intrigued to the point that I'd begun to get fixated on the idea. That I needed to travel. And then it happened. I saw "Mamma Mia" with Meryl Streep (that's right, you heard me). And I said to myself, "That's where I'm going first. Greece!" I started watching all sorts of movies that were filmed in various locations within Greece, including "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants". In no time, I was officially obsessed. I Googled, top places to visit in Greece, and viola, I had top two: Athens and Mykonos. But that was as far as I got. I didn't know where to go after that. So I let it sink in for a while. And then it hits me--I could get a travel agent.

After experiencing Greece, and crying over the hole it left in my wallet, I got to become a savvy traveler. I wanted more. I wasn't done. And next thing you know, I quit my job and backpacked Europe alone; heading to London and all across Spain for a month with nothing but myself to keep me company and whoever I came across at various hostels.

But even when that concluded, the itch wasn't gone. Not yet. After nearly two months here in Zurich, I'm happy to say...I think I'm done. At least for a while. I'm aching for the comforts of home, the friends, the family, and the predictable days. I miss BBQ's, Panda Express, and Chipotle. I miss my cat and my house. It feels like life sort of went on "pause", waiting for me to return back to the real world.

But most of all, I'd like to hurry and finish the manuscript, Violet Storm. The goal is still alive: sell by the end of summer. I hope I can accomplish this. But I guess I don't spend much time hoping as I do the actual "doing". So I'm doing it. Working on it with a ravenous hunger; allowing the looming deadline to invigorate me, to scare the hell out of me.

This past weekend, after returning from Cork, Ireland for business, Chris and I flew over to Vienna, Austria. It was magical, even though it rained for most of the trip. There was so much to see. I guess the one thing that stood out the most and is probably more significant to me (being Catholic and all) was that I got to see the Holy Lance. The spear that is said to have been the one that pierced Jesus' ribs. There was even a piece of wood, also reputedly to have been from the actual Crucifix. Everything else kind of disappeared in relevance, when I saw this. I'm not exactly sure why, but maybe it's similar to the reasons why people go back to their home country, to track their ancestry, to go to someplace meaningful or to just seek answers. Odd, I know. But I guess Catholicism is more a part of me--of who I am--than I thought.

Anyhow, I don't want to end on a dreary, serious note. On the steps of the Stephensdom we were accosted by a man wearing a classical costume. He holds a binder and flips through it, starting his sales pitch, that we'd already heard at least 3 times before.

"Young man, where you from?" He asks.
"California," says Chris.
"California?" The man glances down at me. "You, young lady, have you ever been to a concert?"
I laugh, anticipating the rest of the conversation to follow. "Yes," I say.
"To hear Classical music?"
"No," Chris and I answer.
"Oooh," he says with his big salesman smile.

That was the start of a 2o minute conversation where the guy gets Chris "not" to admit that the ballerina in the proposed show was beautiful. To which the salesman says, "This guy, he's good! But if you don't take this beautiful lady, I will take her."

I don't know if I've ever admitted this to anyone, but I'm scared of salespeople. Why? Well, I've fully accepted that I can probably be talked into anything. Terrifying right? So I usually steer clear of em'. I mean literally go-out-of-my-way to get away. So halfway through, I'm getting talked into paying whatever he's asking to go see this Concert. Thank goodness for Chris. This is why we make a good team. He can have these conversations and walk away, shrug, and ask, "What do you want for dinner?" While me on the other hand will spend the next 30 min talking myself into and/or out of whatever I'd been talked into. Confusing I know. Okay, so we don't do the concert thing. It would've been cool, I admit. Hearing great pieces that were borne from Vienna. Classical pieces from Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Shubert--you name it. On top of that, there would've been some Opera and ballet mixed in. But we didn't have any formal wear and looking tacky isn't exactly on my list of favorite things to do.

The salesman was hilarious.

A friend and an old co-worker suggested to watch "Before Sunrise". A movie starring Ethan Hawke and a French woman who meet on a train and fall in love. I watched with enthusiasm, but I guess I was eeked out by the creepy way Ethan looked. So it made it hard to fall in love with him in the movie.

Here's me multi-tasking. Paused mid-way through the blog, jumped on a call, and now I'm back wrapping up this blog.

Thanks for the support. For the well wishes, and for the prayers. Even from across the ocean, across the continent, I can still feel it. Thank you.

Above: Salzburg, Austria for a PhD Conference for work. I couldn't finish my beer, but I did partake in the wine...

Above: The National Library -- Vienna, Austria

Above: Enjoying Vienna's favorite pastime--Midday coffee and cake

Above: Vienna's version of a carnival/boardwalk. This place was HUGE.

Me chatting with Pinnochio

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Berlin, Germany: Berlin & I

It's been tough to stay on top of this blog. I often lay awake at night thinking about it in bed, imagining what I'd write the next day. I think "this is going to be brilliant", "it's going to sound like eloquent thought; like I'm a born writer". Then of course, the next day comes. It's morning, I've downed my second cup of coffee, my work email is open, FB is up, my manuscript is hanging over my head, and the weariness of the weekend's travels clouds my thoughts. The memory of the previous night's ideas come out choppy, the sentences sloppy and unfocused. Usually, this is what causes me to discontinue the blog entry and move on to something more productive, thinking that I'll get to it on another day.

Writing does NOT come easy for me. If you think so, then I'm doing a better job than I thought. I've read over and over again that the best writing is often the most difficult, and that writer's who appear to seamlessly string together a storyline have in fact poured hundreds of hours, with the help of a whole team of editors to get it to the perfection your eyes and mind are unknowingly deeply appreciating.

But I'm determined to write today, mainly because of this past weekend's experience. The previous weekend was spent in Paris, which although would've been an interesting story, considering that I got pick-pocketed (right under my nose, 2 seconds after stepping into a Paris train), shoved into a closet sized hotel, with loud Italians for neighbors, and breathed in both Romance and cigarette filled air of sweet Paris, I didn't find enough motivation to write about it. If you ever find yourself traveling to the beautiful City of Light, feel free to give me a call for travel tid-bits. Otherwise, read on to discover the experience I had in Berlin.

There's a lot of disturbing history in Berlin, the capital of Germany. Chris and I made an effort to experience and learn as much of the history as possible, and visit the key historical sites. To name a few: we walked the Berlin Wall--that had completely cut off West Berlin from East Berlin; the Jewish Museum; the Holocaust Memorial; Check-point Charlie; the Olympic Stadium; and Museum Island. There was so much more, but these were the sites that stood out above the rest. The nearest concentration camp was 45 minutes away by car, which didn't leave us much time for the rest of the sites we wanted to visit--so we decided to forgo it.

To be honest, a part of me was thankful. In Paris, that had it's share of WWII and the Nazi reign, we'd gone to the Historical Museum and in a hallway, photographs were lined up all along the wall, blown up to enormous sizes--and I swear they're burned into the back of my eyelids. Images of men, women, children, wasting away in starvation, naked, and stacked up in heaps after being gassed to death. They were incredibly disturbing and I feared stepping foot on a concentration camp and feeling the presence of so much death, murder, torture, and...ultimately, evil. It's incredible to think that millions, literally 11 to 17 million people, were victims of the Holocaust.

We purposefully picked out a documentary on Auschwitz, located in Poland, that shouldn't be noted as a concentration camp but rather an extermination camp. Because that's exactly what it was. It's available for instant play on Netflix; watch it if you're interested in learning more. But what I wanted to note was the discussion after the first episode. A Professor spoke about how the act (the Holocaust) was so horrible, that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to learn from it. He explains that by trying to find an explanation for why it happened, we bring ourselves one step closer to justifying it, and that "is very dangerous", he says. I guess I agree. But it's human nature to try and understand the "why" of things.

Anyhow, I'm thankful to have gotten this opportunity to get an up-close lesson on history. All of these things weren't so long ago, you know? The Berlin Wall only came down in 1990, and the Holocaust--well, there are survivors still living among us. We learn of these things in school of course, but it's so much more impactful being able to see the history of it, walk on it, and learn from the source. We even got to experience May day (1st of May) which is a big day for labor rallies (I mean REALLY big). Lots of shops close down, cover their windows, lots of police presence, etc. There are of course lots of other, less somber parts of the trip. The culture is incredible. We went to see the most breath-taking works of art, sculptures so detailed, they were life-like.

This was an absolutely memorable trip.

Getting our passports stamped at Potsdamn. This are what you'd have needed in order to get through Checkpoint-Charlie.
Berlin Dom--basillica

Palace, Schloss Charlottenburg

Berlin, Olympic Stadium

One example of the magnificent sculptures in Berlin's museums

In memory of the victims of the Berlin Wall

May Day Labor Rally