Vienna Waits For You (S/o Billy Joel)

Dear Reader,

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Vienna by myself during the second-to-last week of my study abroad adventure. I kept a travel journal, which I have transcribed and edited into a blog below. The only thing I really knew about Vienna before visiting was that Billy Joel has a song about it, simply called “Vienna”. If you’re not familiar, I strongly recommend. This song was the sole inspiration for my solo travel to the city, and I absolutely loved it.

I hope you enjoy my writing; Thank you!

— Ben

ALSO – check out the mini-vlog!!


To Vienna – Day 1

After painfully setting my alarm for 4:40AM (a fact made more excruciating by a 1AM bedtime), I finished packing and had a quick sleep/nap before catching a flight to Vienna. Why Vienna? I don’t really know, I mostly chose this destination because of the Elton John song; aptly named “Vienna”. Ironically, I didn’t meet a single Austrian who knew the jam. ✈️

I arrived in Vienna after a tired but relatively benign flight from Amsterdam. The airport train took me to the Vienna central station (Wein Mitte). I rambled about for two hours with intentions to explore a bit before checking into my hostel. I occupied myself with eating premade sandwiches and enjoying a Viennese pastry until I stumbled upon the tourist center. Here I obtained a map and info about the city – and the opera. Hansel and Gretel was to be performed at 11 o’clock – in 30 minutes! I asked for directions, or rather I asked where I was on the map, and set a quick pace towards the theatre. I arrived in the nick of time – 11 o’clock – only to learn that I had busted my ass to the wrong theater. I was tired and annoyed but also enjoying the absurdity of it all. I turned around and hopped on the metro back to the center in search of the “Stadopera”, or the state opera house. I never found it! Giving up, I happened upon Kline‘s Café, a small café that I had read about on the train into the city. This historic cafe was great – picture newspapers hanging on racks, old men smoking their cigarettes and a fresh New York Times crossword puzzle. My phone wouldn’t load directions so I decided to chill out, order a bier, and relax.


It was good that I did so. I ended up meeting and befriending two fellow 20-somethings at my table in the crowded café. The girl Hannah was Canadian, and her friend Marten was a local from Vienna. We chatted for an hour or so, our conversation culminating into an invitation for me to join them on an impromptu a city tour. Being from Vienna, Marten made for a great local tour guide. He showed us an old church and took us to the butterfly gardens next to an old palace. After grabbing a coffee at the garden cafe, I excused myself to go find the hostel and take a load off – I’d been up and moving since 4 AM.

 

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Hey look a centuries-old building – lets put an ad on it!
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Vienna

 

My phone was dead and besides, my data doesn’t work here – both of which made me a happy. I didn’t even know what my hostel is called – just that started with an “R”. I ended up having to us my kindle to pull up a city map to navigate my way. With the help of LOTS of friendly locals,  I arrived at the hostel at 6 PM. I checked in and took a greatly appreciated hot shower.


After a brief interlude of laying in bed, I paid a visit to the Klatzplatz Christmas market (like a good jew), finding myself some hot mulled wine and freshly roasted chestnuts. I searched for family presents and bought a candle for my friend Selma back in Amsterdam. After the market, I went back to the hostel and sat on a couple beers with an Aussie bloke named Matt – getting to know each other and deciding to attend the opera the next evening. standing tickets are only 3 to 4 euro! We decided to call it an early night around 11PM.

 

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Klatzplatz Christmas Market – I should have stolen the cup
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Klatzplatz Christmas Market

 

Day 2

I took the liberty of sleeping in until 10 today in order to recover from yesterday’s early flight. I worked on some 59 North Sailing stuff for a couple hours, editing for our podcast ‘On the Wind’ – the #1 most listened to sailing podcast in the world! 

Around 3:00PM, I walked out to the Schulenburg palace for a short expedition. 

I wandered the majestic Palace grounds and vast gardens for the better part of three hours; the place was special. The Palace itself popped with an eggshell yellow highlighted further by the leafless trees swaying in the garden beyond. The gardens stretched for almost a mile behind the palace, littered with memorial statues, intricate fountains and Roman ruins. The garden ends on the top of a hill under a large “Gloriette” or arch. I hiked up to the arch and ate my cliff bar in the sunshine whilst overlooking the entirety of Vienna. It was a happy moment.

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Schulenburg Palace in Vienna, Austria

 

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The Gloriette – The sun was not with me on this one

 

We left for the opera house around 5PM, joined by a new friend (another Aussie of course). The show that night was called “die Wieden”, and was being shown at the Viennese State Opera House. The Opera was in German – something about a Jewish girl from New York City ho leaves to travel, and magic fish? I don’t really know, I’ll look up the whole story later. We left about an hour and a half in (pretty good for standing seats I think) and went out for some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Finally, the Aussies and I settled at this neat bar called Monami where we swapped life stories and culture, returning home around 2 AM. The next day, we grabbed hangover-curing pie and coffee at some historic cafe; I left for Prague at 2:10 PM. 

 

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Bonus Klatzplatz market photo 🙂

 

(Vlog!) Ben and Zach go to Italy: P.1

Just here for the video? Click here.

It’s corny and poorly edited, but you should probably still watch it. Noice!

Not represented in this video: Zach ate somewhere between 10-15 pizzas throughout the week-long trip; we also had some pretty good Gelato. Read on for some pictures and some practical travel journal prose!

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To Italy:


Zach and I decided to travel to Italy about one week before we left. No itinerary was planned except that we wanted to end up in Rome before returning to Amsterdam. We figured Milan would be a nice place to start.

We had a fitful start, leaving later than anticipated. Zach had an afternoon class he couldn’t get out of and we ended up getting to Amsterdam’s central station around 7PM. We quickly stuffed our faces with burrito bowls, activated Zach’s EUrail ticket, and hopped on a train to the Dutch city of Utrecht at 7:55PM.

On the Train:


Everything was going well and according to our planned literary until we reached Venlo, a city situated on the German-Dutch border. Here we were instructed to take a bus – not part of the original itinerary. We played along, sitting on the train for a couple hours with little clues as to where or when we’ll get off. We chuckled, our spirits were high. It’s all about the journey!

My next journal entry says that we boarded a train to Cologne, Germany from wherever the bus dropped us off. “should be about an hour ride, then we find a way to Basel/Bern, Switzerland. Thankfully, the German trains had power outlets.

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The outlets didn’t work. The train took one hour to get to Cologne and we were lucky enough to jump directly onto a train to Basel. Not sure how long this will take, but I’m looking forward to some sleep. I noted in my journal that the train’s bar was closed (it was 01:00)

We made great headway on this particular train before getting booted off for lacking reservation. Zach and I were able to spend a nice half-hour in Stresa, a beautiful vacation town in the Italian Alps. We were back underway at 10:35AM, finally headed to Milan.

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Milan:


We arrived in Milan at 1:00 PM – tired, hungry and dehydrated. We hadn’t thought to pack any snack, so the last thing we had eaten was those burrito bowls back in Amsterdam the night before.

Upon arriving in Milan, I made us go straight to the Duomo. We were a little too tired and hangry to appreciate it, so we went to grab some pizza nearby. Thus began Zach’s affair with Italian pies – I’ve never seen someone eat so much pizza. Zach ate approximately 10-15 pizzas during our one-week tour of Italy.

We walked around a bit, exploring mean and crowded streets full of tourists and expensive designer shops. We finally found a park, where we scouted for beer and outlets in order to book a last minute hostel stay. We rallied in order to check out a couple hip Milanese neighborhoods and to enjoy a beer on Milan’s one and only canal (We missed canals I guess)?

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After, Zach and I made our way to the student hostel and tried to get dinner at a local Italian place. Google showed the restaurant an easy (but tired) fifteen-minute walk away. despite our best efforts we got lost, blocked, and turned around until we settled for an Egyptian kebap place. Zach and I called it an early night, unimpressed with Milan and ready to get to the Cinque Terre!

Milano to La Spezia:


We woke up at 6AM for the journey to the Cinque Terre, reporting to Milan’s central station at 7AM and promptly missing our train. We saved ourselves by spending three euro to make a reservation on the next train, which turned out to be direct, comfortable, and fast. My journal says that “I’m excited and in good spirits!”. Zach purchased some cookies at the train station that turned out to be the original “Milanos” cookies that we get back in the states. Lekker!

 

Check out this video to see what Zach and I got up to in the CinqueTerre! If you don’t have the time/effort, you can check out the passages below, taken directly from my travel log. Also pictures!

Ben’s Travel Log (Cinque Terre):


Day One:

We arrived in La Spetsia around midday after departing from Milano Central at 7-8AM. Zach and I walked through the city center, along winding the main street with stores and restaurants. La Spetsia is one of Italy’s largest and most strategic ports, home to a huge commercial and luxury marine industry. We walked the huge marina, admiring yachts and polishing off the bottle of cheap (but good) vino I had picked up in Milan. Also, Gelato:

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Went swimming, drank another bottle, got more food and drink. Went back to la Spetsia and checked into our hostel. No dinner tonight because the pizza from our late lunch in La Spetsia was thiccc.

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Day Two:

Woke up at 8AM, enjoyed a hostel brekkie and then jumped a train to Levanto, a city just above Monterossa, the north-most town in the Cinque Terre. We hit the beach upon our arrival in Levanto followed by a delicious lunch of various kinds of pasta.

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At 2:30PM we began a hike from Levanto down to Monterosso. The map read 1.5 KM, which is nothing right? Thanks to elevation and our affliction for Pizza & Wine, we arrived in Monterosso two hours later, hot and dehydrated. Just go watch the video!

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Thanks for your time,

Ben

Happy Birthday, Marv

It was a humid summer day in Washington, a Monday on the 20th of July. Marv finished his cigarette, flicking the smoldering butt of his Marlboro onto the street. He sighed as he mentally prepared himself to go back inside, back to his work as a janitor for McQueen janitorial services. It was a Monday, and on Mondays, Marv fulfilled his janitorial duties at JL Easting, a small bank on the corner of 21st and Massachusetts Avenue. Rolling his mop bucket across the smooth limestone floor, Marv watched the sudsy mop water slosh around the foot-high container, wondering if it would splash out. It wouldn’t matter even if it did – Marv still had to mop. Marv parked the bucket on the far-left corner of the teller’s floor, setting up his “caution – floor wet’ sign in anticipation. Marv took up the mop handle and swiftly stuck the mop head into the mop press and pushed the black lever forward, condensing the mops ratty blue cords and forcing any excess water back into the bucket below. He mopped a solid ten-foot section of smooth limestone flooring. This pattern continued – roll, dip, drip, wring, mop – for another fifty feet; Marv had to move his sign.

‘Happy Birthday, Marv’ said Sally, a 50-something bank teller.

Marv glanced up from his mop, to look at Sally in her teller window. Sally and Marv don’t really go back. They’ve grown acquainted with one another ever since Marv picked up this job last October.

‘How old are we now?’

‘Fifty-five’ answered Marv. ‘Thanks, Sally’.

Sally went back to doing whatever Sally was doing, doing whatever it is bank tellers do, and Marv back to his – roll, dip, drip, wring, mop.

The Bank had a luxe motif, but lacked the true feel of boundless expense and ______. The aesthetic was marred by a feeling of fake, faux, phony. Fake flowers in the vase, flake gold emboss on the window sills, fake fountain pens and fake smiles on the teller’s faces, who wore cheap make-up. The lighting was okay. Large windows streamed sunlight onto the main teller’s floor, and fake-nice lamps painted the foyer full of faux-leather chairs and sofa with their tungsten glow.

Marv’s focus however, said with the greenish limestone underfoot. Or was it marble? Either way, you cleaned it with a mop.

‘Dang’ thought Marv, ‘fifty-five’.

‘I wonder what my paw thought about when he turned fifty-five’ Marv peacefully reflected. ‘I wonder how Donna handled turning fifty-five’. Marv thought about his studio apartment in Tellytown, where he lives alone. Well not quite alone – Marv’s dog, Patches, was even older than Marv. In dog years. ‘by now I really thought I’d own a boat, or at least live somewhere on the beach’. Marv smiled as his mop bucket splashed and splashed. ‘but really, mopping isn’t half-bad’. Roll, dip, drip, wring, mop.

With only twenty more feet to go, Marv suddenly heard a commotion from behind. He turned to the teller’s windows, soaked in a golden afternoon light. A person in a brown jacket and green cargo pants was making a row at Sally’s window, yelling and waving a gun in her face. The bank was empty.

‘Hey’ yelled Marv, in a halting shout.

Marv took a step forward and picked up his mop, holding it from the mop head and bringing the shaft across his body. He slowly approached the person, who he now saw to be a man. The man was of medium build, with a scraggly beard and haggard features. In addition to his brown jacket and green pants, Marv observed a pair of black boots and a mottled scarf. The man turned to see Marv advancing, mop held high.

‘Fuck off or I’ll fucking waste you’

Marv stopped. Adrenaline kicked in and for a split second, time was frozen. Marv’s brain worked quickly. ‘What’s happening? What am I doing? What do I do? Oh.’ Gears clicked. Marv straightened and continued his advance. The man turned from the window to face an approaching Marv, now only six feet away.

‘I’ll fucking kill you, you know’ the man said more reserved voice.

Marv took a quick half-step forward and swung the blunt end of his mop around, on a direct flight path for the man’s face. At the same moment, the man slipped forward and to the left, whipping Marv in the head with the barrel of his gun.

Marv blinked. He was on the floor, on his ass, propped up by an elbow with blood flowing down his blue janitor’s jersey. The man was glowering above him, gun in hand.

‘I told you I’d fucking kill you’ said the man, stretching out his arm to bring the end of his barrel to Marv.

“It’s his birthday’ gasped Sally, cowering behind her window, frozen in terror.

The man looked at her; looked down at Marv.

 

‘What’s your name?’ inquired the man, holding the gun level to Marv’s face.

‘It’s Marv’

The man blinked. ‘Happy Birthday, Marv’ said the man

 

A loud report sounded, and Marv fell back with a bullet in his head.
To be continued

A Weekend in Paris

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TL,DR:

I had a wonderful time exploring Paris for the first time with my Dad and Parisian cousins that I haven’t seen in a loooong time. I ate great food (Thanks, Dad) and imbibed in awesome culture.

Friday – Departure

So, since I was going to be away in Paris all weekend, I figured I should go out with the Amsterdam gang Thursday night. This resulted in me waking up disheveled and dehydrated at 11:30 Friday morning, which means I missed my 9AM and 11AM classes. C’est la vie…

Continuing the theme, I misinterpreted the train schedule and arrived at Amsterdam Centraal an hour earlier than needed (better early than late though). I bought some honey-stroopwafel as future gifts for the family in Paris and settled down to wait for my train.

I took the Thalys train to Paris: a high-speed train (200+Km/h) with more creature comforts than a normal, regional train. Thalys cars boast charging outlets for every large red-cushioned seat and a bar-car. I transcribed a story I wrote called “Happy Birthday, Marv” and passed out for the rest of the three-hour ride. High-speed trains like the Thalys are usually expensive – the list price for a round trip from Amsterdam to Paris was over 200 Euro. Fortunately, I had already invested in a Eurail pass, which allowed me to purchase a simple 30 Euro reservation instead.

I met up with my Dad, Robert Soofer, at 6:30 in the Paris Nord station. Dad doesn’t seem to enjoy iMessage or Whatsapp, so we found each after exchanging a half-dozen emails. It turns out we had been on the same train the whole time – he had hopped on during the stop in Brussels. We greeted each other with a hug and walked over to the taxi line, where we proceeded to wait two hours for a taxi.

Two Hours,

For a Taxi.

I’m not going to say that I pointed out the 20-minute public transport option, or taking Uber… but standing in line for two hours gave us plenty of time to catch up before heading to the hotel. We ate about 3-4 stroopwafel while waiting in this absurd line.

Finally,

Dad and I arrived at our hotel around 9:00PM; I was surprised to see that we were staying less than a football field away from the foot of the Eiffel tower! It was a total trip to see the tower for the first time – I’d seen it so many times in photos and movies, but this kind of representations rarely live up to seeing something in person. The tower performs a wide squat, supported by four legs of crisscrossed metal and wire. The metal is harsher than you realize, and there’s a ton of it. Lofty spotlight eyes play off the very top of the monument, searching for nothing in particular. The tower bursts into a  beautiful sparkling light show every hour, on the hour.

We enjoyed dinner at the ‘Steakhouse’ brassiere – I had the Duck Breast and asparagus with foie gras sauce, plus escargot to start. It was a fun and really delicious meal.

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Around 11:00PM we took a stroll to walk off dinner, summiting the nearby Trocadero and taking in the view of a glowing nighttime Eiffel-Tower. We turned in early, anticipating a reasonable start the following morning.

Saturday

An 8:30 reveille and a surprisingly awesome brekkie at the hotel; comprising of croissants, eggs, sausage, cheeses, and coffee. After, we went to Pari’s. Pari is my Dad’s stepmother of sorts (My grand-stepmother?) – It’s a long and complicated affair. That being said, Pari welcomed us into her home with open arms and it was here that I reunited with family I haven’t seen since I was six.

My little cousins, Kiara (16) and Camille (13) took me to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and to the top of the Arc De Triumph, from where you can see the entirety of Paris. Lunch was at an Italian restaurant, apparently frequented by actual locals such as Kiara and Camille themselves. I had pancake-thin slices of fried veal, with a side of pasta napoleon and the inevitable breadbasket.

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Arc de Triumph

After lunch, we left Kiara to do her school-work and stopped by Pari’s to pick up their mother, my Aunt Telly. Telly is loving, funny, awesome and loves to walk.

Telly, Camille and I walked about 10 miles that afternoon, exploring some of the most inspiring historical landmarks Paris has to offer. I saw a wholeeee bunch, so here’s a bullet list:

  • The Notre Dame
  • The Louvre
  • Place de la Concorde
  • Seine Riverwalk
  • Paris Town Hall
  • St. Germane and St. Michel (not landmarks but still)

After stopping off at last for a beer, we took the metro to meet my Dad, my Aunt Nazly and Kiara at my father’s all-time favorite restaurant, L’ Entrecôte.

The shtick:

L’entrecôte has been seating guests for over fifty years. They have two main “servings”, one at 7PM, and one at 10-10:30PM. If you’re not qued up at least thirty minutes before the doors open at these two times, expect to wait for over an hour or so for the chance to snag a departing guests table.

The thing is, L’entrecôte only serves one dish, and they serve it well. Steak Frites with a special sauce. Even more special than the sauce is the fact that they come around after you finish your meal to deliver an entire second portion – kept hot over teacup candles.

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I had a great meal and Dad’s was fantastic. For dessert, the table shared some kind of puff pastry filled with ice cream and covered in fudge.

Dad and I walked off dinner again and unsuccessfully looked for a place to sit down and have a beer – Even at Ten, the brasseries were only for eating customers.

Sunday

Woke up at nine and enjoyed another hotel brekkie, this time majority cheese, bread, and hard-boiled eggs. Convinced Dad to take the metro on our way to his favorite museum, the Museum d’Orsay. The museum d’Orsay is renowned for its awesome, semi-permanent collection of impressionist masterpieces – Which happens to be my favorite epoch of classic art. I learned from Dad that the Museum d’Orsay used to house the d’Orsay metro station and that impressionism is his favorite too 🙂

It’s been a year or two since I studied art history at Montgomery County Community College (Raptor gang for life), but I surprised myself – I could still remember a lot of the fun facts behind my favorite pieces. I also grabbed the audioguide, which is a big museum power move no matter where you are – Gotta do it. Check out the gallery below for some of my favs, Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir among them.

The d’Orsay was also housing some epic sculptures and an exhibit on interior decorating as art in the 19th century. We easily spent three hours here.

Dad and I left the Museum d’Orsay after about three hours of browsing and headed to the Luxembourg Palace [Palais du Luxembourg], easily one of my favorite spots.

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Luxembourg Palace [Palais du Luxembourg]
Later, we trekked to St. Michel for lunch. It was nice and hot, about 80 degrees. Dad went home to rest and I explored on my own for a couple hours – hunting (unsuccessfully) for oysters, going to a couple recommended destinations and wandering the beautiful maze of curling alleys that make up St. Michel / St. Germane.

Since it was fashion week, I went and got a pair of black Levi’s from Kiloshop, a thrift shop that charges you based on the weight of your purchase (14 Euro!). I met back up with Dad at six in order to grab a couple drinks with Telly up near the Trocadero. Afterward, we paid a visit to a local market for a couple of bottles of wine, and Telly treated me to a large jar of spicy dijon. The dijon mustard found on the tables of the French brasseries and cafes packs a crazy awesome PUNCH – delicious with almost wasabi-like heat.

We ended the weekend with a wholesome dinner of Lebanese take-out at Pari’s beautiful apartment, with the whole family in attendance. Nazly’s husband, Florian, and their two-year-old son, Eli, arrived back from a trip to Lebanon just in time to join us. For dessert, Pari treated us to three different kinds of French cheese, each one better (and more potent) than the last.

It was wonderful being able to reconnect with these somewhat-lost cousins and even more awesome to do it with my Dad. I look forward to revisiting Paris soon!

Thanks for reading; Au Revoir!

— Ben

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I know I said that I would be vlogging – and I’ve been shooting footage! Keep your eyes open for some fresh video stuff as soon as I stop being lazy and make an edit.

 

 

Oktoberfest in Munich, GER

Oktoberfest was: Tight

Amsterdam, NL — Originally, I never planned to attend Oktoberfest during my time here in Amsterdam. The idea of the famous Beer-fest seemed a little touristy, too cliché, and expensive. I had asked my Dad what he thought about it a couple months ago, and he had no idea why I would attend. In retrospect, Dad probably wasn’t the best person to ask for advice on this, seeing as he rarely drinks. My co-workers and friends all told me that I had to go, that it was an awesome experience. Ultimately, it came down to my German Friend Annika and a fellow American named Sofi (Seen Above). While Annika confirmed that Oktoberfest was a little touristy, she also pointed out the obvious – its Oktoberfest! When’s the next time I’ll be twenty-one, in Europe, with little responsibilities and disposable income? Probably never. This was most of the convincing I needed, but I didn’t pull the proverbial trigger until Sofi told me she was going. On a sunny afternoon in the Pijp, Sofi told me about this $130 ticket to go to Oktoberfest’s opening weekend with a group called “Yes-trips”. She had already gotten her ticket and told me to come, so I decided to send it and bought the ticket on my phone right there.

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Me and Sofi

The ‘Yes-trip’ included:

  • Transportation (by bus) to and fro’ Munich. We hopped on the first bus at 5:00 PM and arrived in Munich around 7:00 AM – just in time to change into our traditional Lederhosen and Dirndl and roll straight to the festival gates.
  • ‘Accommodation’ (Glamping) – Sofi and I shared a new, good sized tent. Everything was already set-up for us when we arrived, including an inflated air-mattress pad and sleeping bag. No complaints here. Camping was a great way to mix with other people on the trip and you don’t really need anything fancy when you’ve spent that past 6-8 hours drinking brew by the liter.
  • Two ‘Breakfasts’ – The first a shittyyyy sandwich an hour before we arrived in Munich, and second a more decent yet uninspired cheese-and-salami roll at 6:45 AM Sunday morning. Always good to get a nice layer of bready carbs down before day-drinking commences. Fortunately, I was able to eat the rest of my meals at the festival, which played host to some awesome bites.
  • Guides – Having fellow student guides with us at Oktoberfest was actually really nice – The guides I met were all really cool, casual and fun people who had all attended Oktoberfest before. They knew where to line up, which tents to visit, tips and tricks, etc.
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What eight hours on a bus looks & feels like

Proper Attire

I paid a visit to the Market in Waterlooplien with Sofi later that week to find my Lederhosen, the traditional suspender-shorts worn by the Bavarians of yore. We managed to find a perfect pair, which I copped, along with this epic sweater. The Lederhosen are actually super comfortable and are made to-be beer-spill resistant. They have two pockets and are a nice leather-suede. The traditional female attire is the Dirndl, a dress + blouse combo that can unsurprisingly get pretty expensive. Looks nice though!

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Starting Sunday off with a proper breakfast

Arrival

Munich, GER — We waited in line for 1-2 hours (as is a tradition), waiting for the doors to open. If one wants to get served at Oktoberfest, one must be seated at a table. This ends up being a very competitive process and is the reason that festival-goers get to the gate at 7:00 AM, in preparation to race thousands of fellow revelers to a table. Since Saturday was opening day, we sat thirsty at our table until 12PM – The festival doesn’t officially start until the first keg is tapped by the mayor of Munich. As soon as that keg is tapped, all hell breaks loose and all drinkers rejoice. The pretzel vendors are quickly upstaged by the tent servers, who carry out what must be 75+ pounds of beer at a time to the tables. Every ‘beer’ at Oktoberfest is served in a liter-sized mug, called a ‘Mas’. The Beer is German and is usually pretty good, and comes in with an alcohol content of around 6.0-8.0%. One ‘Mas’ is around 11-13 Euro depending on which tent you’re at. Chugging is an Oktoberfest staple: Stand up on your bench and let it rip! Make sure you finish your drink, otherwise, you’ll receive pieces of trash and pretzel instead of applause and cheers. See Helen for a proper example.

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Example of an Oktoberfest “Tent”

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Sofi and I, day one?

By the Numbers

Both days at the festival (Sat and Sun) were spent in a similar fashion: Drinking, eating, meeting new friends from across the world. In the spirit of brevity, I’ve provided some metrics below.

Eight (8) or Nine (9) Liters of Bier – honestly who keeps track

Three (3) huge ass pretzels – maintaining that bready foundation as discussed earlier

One (1) half a chicken – damn delicious

Two (2) or Three (3) servings of patat frites – again who can keep track

Five (5) carnival rides – including a giant swing, another giant pendulum thing, a carpet slide, and this crazy-ass spinning wheel ride where you just try to stay on as long as possible.

This spinning wheel thing was wild – We paid four Euro to enter the tent, finding a packed set of bleachers surrounding a spinning wheel. The wheel was on the ground, black, and about 12×12. Atop the wheel were two younger boys, probably around the ages of 12-14. Both the kids were wearing boxing gloves, which they used to hammer on each other as the wheel spun around faster and faster. It was amazing. Soon the boys were dismissed and the announcer started to call age groups to come to sit on the wheel and try to stay put for as long as they could. Check out the video of Sofi (In the pink) making it to the final three below!

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Even the cops had a go!

Prost!

Oktoberfest is not overrated. This celebration of beer – or ‘Bier’ is one of the purest events I have ever attended. Nowhere else do you find people from all over the globe come together in such a positive, happy and fun way. Everyone I met – from Brazil, Germany, Australia, the U.S. – had a full mug of beer and a big smile splashed across their face. Contrary to what you might think, Oktoberfest isn’t just about the beer. It’s a whole festival, complete with Farris wheel, roller-coasters, carnival games and more! For food, I enjoyed Oktoberfest staples such as thick goulash soup, huge and doughy Bavarian pretzels, and just a straight up half-chicken (roasted). While I may have slept less than eight hours over three days, I had a freakin’ TIME – Oktoberfest Munich is all that and more.

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Prooooooost!

Thanks for reading; until next time!!

— Ben

First Impressions (a recap)

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A chair in Amsterdam Nord

Haaallo from the VU (Vrije Universiteit) Amsterdam campus! As of today, I have officially been in Amsterdam for a full month. The following is a briefish recap of my first week or so in Amsterdam. My memory is pretty meh so this recounting has been supplemented with journal entries provided by my good friend Mr. Zach McQueen.

Enjoy and Thanks, Zach!

The First Week


August 16th: Flight from Washington, D.C. to Amsterdam

I left home around 2:00 PM for Washington Dulles airport. I got through security relatively quick and shot some footage of me walking around the airport and working on my computer. The flight itself took around eight hours, but the time difference was pretty brutal. Amsterdam sits in the ‘Central European’ time zone – a full six hours ahead of Washington DC and a nice eight hours ahead of Denver, CO, where I study at the University of Denver. I didn’t sleep a wink on the flight but who cares, Amsterdam!


August 17th: Arrival in Amsterdam

I arrived at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport at 7:00AM – or around 1:00AM according to my biological clock. I quickly hopped on the wrong bus and found myself at the VU Campus waiting for a shuttle to my student hotel, Hotel Jansen. I sat in the campus cafe for three hours and enjoyed an early-morning/late-night screwdriver until the program staff finally realized that they didn’t have a shuttle heading to Hotel Jansen! Not knowing what to do with me, I was thrown onto my very own charter bus which then taxied me to the student hotel.


August 18th:

I spent the next day with a couple of new friends from Hotel Jansen; four or so Americans, a German and Swede. We wandered the city for the first time and enjoyed coffee in the Vondelpark with two Danish girls and a couple of Germans. They told us about a ‘Canal Festival’ happening that night.

The Canal Festival

The Canal Festival is one of Amsterdam’s largest annual events and is well known throughout Holland. Seeing the hype surrounding the event and all the buzz throughout the city, I was expecting to find merry-goers indulging in food, drink, and music along the scenic canals of Amsterdam.

What my friends and I found was slightly different. On two streets lining one section of the canal stood 1000’s of Dutch people – completely silent and still. They watched as three classical musicians (two pianists and one singer) performed on a floating stage. As we pushed further into the packed crowd, we slowly started to realize that no one was going anywhere and that this was the festival. Our whispers to each other were met by loud SHUSH noises from the festival-goers. Eventually, we found our way out of the forest-like crowd (the Dutch are as tall as trees) and went for a beer.


August 19th:

On the 19th, we returned to the city with the sole intention of just getting lost and exploring. I trashed Helen in a game of garden chess outside of the Rijksmuseum (Three moves, I kid not). Great day overall!

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From Zach going clock-wise; Zach, Annika, Kate, Matilda, Helen, Mahalia

August 20th:

Ventured back into the city center to go to our first museum in Amsterdam! The MOMA museum is located in Amsterdam’s museum-district, along with the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh, and many more. My friends and I enjoyed a Banksy exhibit, which was cool but kind of unauthentic. If all of your art is anti-capitalistic and anti-media, what are you doing charging people to look at it? But yeah pretty cool, pretty cool.

Later that night we went to ‘Gent ann de Schinckle’ – a bar and eatery that has become one of my favorite local dining establishments. Here we sampled our first Dutch beers – excluding Heineken – and tried Bitterballen (Fried balls of pork and potato reduction) for the first time! The mustard is KEY for those bad boys.


August 21st:

First official day of school “orientation”, during which I toured the VU campus and registered with the municipality. Really can’t remember much from this one but assuming it was positive!


August 22nd & 23rd:

A Welcome speech from the VU faculty and the trip to Makkum.

Makkum

As part of our orientation, The Semester in Amsterdam program spent two days in the beach-side town of Makkum. Makkum is significant due to its close proximity to the ‘Afsluitdijk’ – a huge and historic land bridge protecting the Netherlands from coastal flooding.

The trip was great. We stayed in a nice hotel, the beach was sunny and I met three new friends: Elena, Sofi, and Hailey. The trip providers gave us three free drink tokens, so we decided to waltz on down to the grocery store and find a couple additional bottles of vino. In the interest of brevity, here are some bullet points:

  • The water at the beach only went up to my knees, but hey its still water
  • Broke a bottle of wine, Dutch server called it “alcohol abuse”
  • Got to see a bunch of cool yachts and classic boats
  • I had my first interaction in the Dutch language, in which I successfully ordered a cookie at a bakery and thanked the owner

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August 24th

What followed the trip to Makkum was a weekend of debauchery, new friends and good times. We partied with ESN, or the Erasmus student network. It was RAINING in Amsterdam and I spent the whole weekend in my rain jacket, wet, or both. Home @ 5AM


August 25th

More of the same, but this time on a boat and then with fries afterward. Made my first Dutch friend, a native Amsterdamer named Rob! Girls continually grabbed my ass this weekend, I was perplexed but not complaining. Home @ 3AM


August 26th

In an awesome turn of events, my water polo teammate and Zach’s fraternity brother, John Duery, came to visit. We were treated to two different live music acts that night, which went well with our excellent company. I also found my favorite bar so far: Bloemanbar. It’s this cozy lounge with funky beats, a giant disco ball and painted portraits of flowers covering the far wall. More on Bloemanbar later. Home @ 4AM


Conclusion

Thank you for allowing me to catch you up on my life happenings. I have also:

  • Re-pierced my ear(s)
  • Joined a kickboxing gym
  • Gone thrifting
  • Gotten sick for a week
  • Eaten raw herring, pretty good, big thing here
  • Simultaneously loved and loathed myself

There may be more recaps in the future, but with a much narrower focus: the Bloemanbar, my first impressions at school, joining a kickboxing gym, etc. If you have anything you’d like to hear about in particular or think that I should cover a certain topic, tell me! I can be reached on Instagram @bsoof. Thanks for reading!

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Aoli? Mayo? Mayo.

 

First Post – Blogging from Amsterdam!

So – better late than never!

Sorry folks, sorry. I really had this grandiose vision of me coming to Amsterdam, NL, riding on the coattails of confidence and positive energy that I built up over this past year in Denver – Going to the University of Denver, interning at Matter Communications and working with 59 North Sailing (https://www.59-north.com/). This summer I really hit my stride, an all-time high for personal productivity and adventure. I was going to use all of this pure unstoppable energy to quick-start my blogging/vlogging career.

I tried to start my vlogging career early in the trip. I filmed a serious amount of B-roll, and later tired to film myself speaking. I learned that airport bars aren’t the best setting to pick up great audio on my GoPro’s microscopic mic – and my footage was pretty crap as result. I also decided to start my travel journal while waiting for my flight to board. I had collected four or five different journals – all contenders to become my travel journal for Ben’s epic euro-trip. In practice, I ended up sampling the pages of each journal. This wasn’t super conducive to the overall flow of my journaling and as a result, I didn’t establish a journaling habit until a little later.

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Five potential candidates

Packing – an interlude

Leaving for Amsterdam wasn’t difficult. I spent a calendar year in Denver, the most time I’ve spent anywhere since High School. I was antsy to pull my stakes up and jump back into the unknown. My summer friends in Denver slowly trickled back home, abroad, or elsewhere and I had a peaceful time leaving. I was soon faced by the whole packing aspect, and five whole days at home (Maryland) to do it!

Packing is easy when you don’t really think about it. I grabbed a couple bags – my black Eddie Bauer bag that I got for $8 at a thrift store and a really nice Gregory backpacking pack stolen from my father. I had no idea what to wear in Europe, and I had left the majority of my wardrobe back in a storage unit in Denver. I ended up packing a random assortment of foundational shirts, shoes, sweaters, and pants. I threw a few books and all my electronics stuff into my school backpack, and I was set.

Journaling, Blogging, Vlogging

So, I haven’t been journaling, blogging, or vlogging. Many things contributed to this – blowing off steam from busting my ass this spring and summer, the culture shock of moving to a new country, laziness, the lack of school or pretty much any scheduled life programming – a whole bunch of stuff!

Fortunately, I got sick last week and spent a couple of days alone, sober, exploring the city and finding a favorite water-side bench that welcomed me and allowed me to kick off my journal with sincerity. Since then I’ve been able to take a lot more time to reflect, which has ultimately led to me launching this blog.

Please enjoy a rough edit of my ‘first-day-of-school’ vlog by hitting the hyperlink! It’s nothing special, but it’s a start! Stay tuned for new updates and a nice outline of what I’ve been up to so far. Thank you for reading!

Doui!!! (Bye!!!)

— Ben