Monday, November 24, 2008


Apparently some people have been waiting for my Amsterdam post, so here it is haha. Given that a lot of my family reads this blog, I'm going to write about what kind of festivities are available in Amsterdam rather than reflect on my personal experience. If you don't want to hear about a city full of drugs and hookers, don't read on, I've warned you.

Amsterdam is probably the weirdest city that I've ever been in. The hostel that I stayed in was about a 10 minute walk from the Red Light District, probably what Amsterdam is currently most famous for (sorry Anne Frank). The Red Light District is full of "coffee shops" that are seriously about every third or fourth store, where you can go in and buy marijuana. This could come in several forms of course, you could order straight up pot, a pre-rolled joint, or even a space cake, which is a muffin or brownie with pot baked into it. Also in the Red Light District are "smartshops", or pretty much what would be a head shop in the US where you can buy pipes and bongs and all sorts of smoking accessories. What differentiates these from a head shop in the US is that they sell magic mushrooms, in several different intensity levels. The reason you can buy marijuana and shrooms openly in Amsterdam is because "soft drugs" are legal, whereas "hard drugs" like coke, heroin, and extacy are illegal. This doesn't mean that they aren't readily available though. If you walk around the Red Light District at night, every 15 feet a black person will whisper to you "Coke? Extacy?" It kind of catches you off guard at first, but you get used to it in a weird kind of way after the first couple times. The last thing that I have to comment on about the Red Light District are the hookers. Yes, prostituition is legal as well. Some of the streets in Amsterdam are lined on both sides with hookers in windows waiting to do whatever you want for the right price. Some are actually pretty hot, others are hideous. Apparently if you're going to partake in these activities, you should be pretty careful what street your on because some streets are lined with hookers that may look like females, but when the bottoms come off you'll be in for a surprise.

Outside of drugs and whores, Amsterdam does have some good clean fun! One of the primary modes of transportation there is the bicycle. They're seriously everywhere, they even have the right of way on the street rather than cars or pedestrians. We rented bikes for 3 hours and rode around, which was a lot of fun. We also went to the Anne Frank house, which was also fascinating. One thing that struck me about their hiding space was how big it was. I pictured them to be living in small, cramped, terrible conditions, but they actually had a lot of room. What made it terrible was just that they pretty much could not move at all due to the fear of being found. At the end of the tour of the house they had the original diary on display! The main Heineken brewery is located in Amsterdam as well, which we took a tour of. While it was still a lot of fun, the Guinness tour in Dublin was a lot better in my opinion.

Amsterdam itself was a very beautiful city; it almost seemed like a cleaner version of Venice. Scattered around the city are really cool windmills which also add to it's aesthetic value. I said at the beginning of the post that Amsterdam was the weirdest city I've ever been in, and I guess this helps to contribute to it as well. Here you have this city where you can pretty much do anything that you want to, things that everywhere else in the world deem immoral or wrong, yet it works for the city. Amsterdam is not out of control, it is a generally safe city, and it is beautiful as well. If somewhere like this were in the US, left wing hippies would go crazy on drugs, right wing religious nut jobs would be up in arms and condemn everyone to hell, and the city would eventually burn to the ground. It's just interesting to think about how a city got to be this way and make it work in today's world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Rome was one of the coolest cities that I have been to so far. It's hard to compare to some of my other favorites like Dublin and Cinque Terre because those were just beautiful and fun cities, whereas Rome was more of constant sight seeing.

The first day I was there we took a tour of the Colosseum. It was crazy just standing there and thinking about a stadium packed full of people watching prisoners and animals fight to the death. I learned a lot of cool stuff, such as how sometimes they would flood the fighting arena and bring in small boats and re-create famous sea battles. After this we kind of hung out outside of the Colosseum to watch the sun set, which was beautiful to watch over the Colosseum. We went out to dinner and got to bed early, as I was exhausted from waking up at 4:30 am for my flight.

The next day we woke up really early to catch a 3.5 hour tour of the Vatican. The Vatican museum was pretty amazing, they had a lot of cool paintings from artists such as Raphael, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. The tour ended in the Sistine Chapel, which was a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be. The ceiling was pretty awe inspiring, as was the Last Judgement, but I found it a pretty unpleasant place to be in. People were constantly trying to take pictures and talk, both of which were unallowed, resulting in security to literally yell "NO PICTURES" or "SHHHHHHH" every 10 or 15 seconds. It would be even more unpleasant if there were constantly talking and setting off flash photography, which kind of made me wonder why people can't just respect the rules and admire the artwork for a couple of minutes. Here you have a beautiful room covered in some of the most well known artwork in the world, and the whole aura of the room is ruined by yelling security guards. After the tour we walked briefly through St. Peter's Basilica, also amazing.

The next day we took a free tour of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. It was really interesting because I was talking to my dad afterwards and he was saying that he didn't find them that interesting when he was there, and that all it looked like was a bunch of ruins. It made me realize that you pretty much need a tour guide for these kinds of places to get the full effect. Because we had a tour guide, we got to see places such as where Julius Caesar was killed and where he was cremated. People to this day still but flowers over the spot where he was cremated!

That night was our last night in Rome, which turned out to be an excellent ending to our weekend because Andrea Bocelli was playing a free concert! I'm not much of an opera person, but hearing such a world renown singer perform live was incredible. He sang for almost two hours! I guess that we came on a good weekend, as apparantly he rarely does live performances let alone free ones!

All in all, Rome was one of my favorite places that I've been so far. It's just awesome how you can walk through a city and be surrounded by ruins of one of the most important civilizations in history. If you get a chance to go to Rome, take advantage of all of the tours that you can, it will make your experience there much more memorable!


We started out London on the morning of Tuesday November 4 with a free walking tour of the city ("free" means that you tip them at the end, but it's still a great deal"). The tour was a lot of fun, we went by Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and a lot of other typical London tourist spots. The tour guide was pretty funny and catered the tour to our younger group, leaving out boring facts and dates and replacing them with more interesting stuff. For example, in 1982 a drunk guy climbed the gates of Buckingham Palace (where the Queen resides) and made his way into the palace. He strolled the halls of Buckinham Palace, setting off every single alarm in the building, but the security guards thought it had to be a malfunction so they dismissed it. The guy found his way into the kitchen, where he consumed a royal bottle of wine, and finally made his way upstairs into the Queen's room. He had a drunken conversation with the Queen for about 30 minutes until police showed up to arrest him (yes, it took them 30 minutes to get there). The best part about it is that at the time there were no laws against trespassing on royal property, so he spent one night in jail and the only thing he was charged for was the bottle of wine that he stole.

That night was election night, so we went out to the bars for a little bit to try and catch some coverage. Sadly, all of the bars closed at like 11 (I thought the English could drink?!), so we headed back to the hostel to watch election coverage there. I ended up going to bed around 2:00 am, which kind of sucked because the results for Ohio ended up being announced at like 2:30. Needless to say, I woke up in the morning and Barack Obama was our next president, hooray!

The next day we went to the British Museum, which houses the Rosetta Stone and a lot of other cool artifacts. The Rosetta Stone is huge in real life! Next we made our way to the Globe Theater, which was interesting as well. After that, we were supposed to go on a free tour of older London, that included the London Bridge, Tower of London, and several other sights, but we couldn't find the tour guide so we just decided to go see them on our own without any cool commentary. That night there was a huge soccer match between Manchester United and Celtic, so we headed to a pub near our hostel to get some fish and chips and a couple beers. Katie Taisey from Water Works is studying in London right now, so she met us there to hang out. It was really cool seeing someone from home overseas!

The next morning we didn't have much time before we had to leave for the airport, so while the others went to Hyde Park, I met up with Katie again to go to King's Cross Station to see Platform 9 3/4 (the platform to Hogwarts, of course). It was really funny because there is a sign and everything for the platform with a cart stuck in the wall beneath it, but there is absolutely nothing around it that says anything at all about Harry Potter. After Platform 9 3/4 I went for "tea time" with Katie, even though it wasn't officially tea time. I'm kind of bad at the whole English tea thing. That afternoon I met up with everyone again caught a flight back home to Milan, where I did a load of laundry and slept for 4 hours before having to leave again for Rome. I'll update on Rome tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Dublin was probably my favorite place that I've been so far. It was awesome, not so much in a sight seeing way, but it was simply more of a fun town with beautiful countryside outside of the city.

We arrived there late on Thursday and checked into our hostel (worst hostel ever) a little bit after midnight. We weren't really ready to go to bed yet so we asked the front desk at our hostel where we could find a bar to get a quick drink, to which we were given an odd look and told that no bars with open this late. Seeing as how we were in Dublin, Ireland this didn't make much sense to us, so we ventured off on our own to find a bar. The front desk guy turned out to be an idiot, because a 10 minute walk rewarded us with finding The Temple Bar open and crowded with pints of Guinness flowing. We enjoyed our first pint of Guinness in Dublin and headed home to rest.

The next morning we woke up early for an all day tour for the countryside outside of Dublin. This was probably the highlight of my trip so far, the views were absolutely incredible. The tour went into green hills that were surrounded by mountains and secluded lakes with cliffs overlooking them. I know I said that Cinque Terre was the most beautiful place that I've ever been, but this was beautiful in a different way. Cinque Terre was beautiful land that was commercial and developed land, whereas this was more great views of land that was generally uninhabited. The area that we visited was very close by to where Braveheart was filmed, to give you an idea. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures because I'm an idiot and had brought my camera but left the battery on the charger.

The next couple of days we just did some random sight seeing and pub hopping around Ireland. Another one of the highlights was visiting Trinity College, which was my second choice school to study abroad at, and I totally regret not going there. Not only would Dublin be an awesome city to live in, but the college campus was simply incredible. Everything there was neat and clean and perfect, the buildings were awesome, and it is a great school as well. Bocconi on the other hand is ugly, dirty, and the facilities suck. The entire 2 week trip in general sort of makes me regret going to Milan.

On a lighter note, the last day that we were there we visited the Guinness Storehouse, which was a lot of fun. I had expected it to be a tour of the factory, but it was more of an explanation on how the beer is made, the history of Guinness, and a Guinness museum. Interesting fact: St. James' Gate, where Guinness is brewed, was leased in 1759 by Arthur Guinness for 9000 years at a rate of £45 per year. They've still got a lot of time to brew Guinness. It's also pretty interesting that you can make a complex beer like Guinness from only four ingredients: barley, water, hops, and yeast. The storehouse ended by going up to the gravity bar, a huge bar surrounded by glass that over looks the city of Dublin as well as the Guinness factory.

Not much else to say about Dublin, just that we drank lots and lots of Guinness. That's what you're supposed to do in Dublin though, so mission accomplished. It's funny because before I went to Dublin, I didn't really like Guinness that much. I hadn't really had one since my freshman year of college, so it had been awhile, but once I started drinking it again in Dublin I really enjoyed it. I'll update again tomorrow with London!

Monday, November 10, 2008


So I'm finally back from my two and a half week excursion, and I had a blast. I got to see more in that short period of time than most people will see in their entire life. It's definitely good to be back in Milan though, moving across Europe every couple of days starts to take its toll on you after awhile. Rather than put out a barrage of blog posts, I'm going to try and post a new one everyday for the next couple of days so be on the lookout.

Before I got to Barcelona, everyone told me how much I was going to love it there. Unfortunately for me, it rained two out of the three days that I was there. I'm still fairly confident that if I was there during the summer, I would have loved it. The night life there is supposed to be amazing and the city just had a fun feel to it. For example, the main street outside of our hostel was La Rambla. For a couple hundred meters on La Rambla were these really random pet shops on the street that sold everything from roosters, to turtles, to lizards, to porcupines, and so on. Also on La Rambla was this awesome open air market that was filled mostly with fruit stands (selling amazing fresh fruit juice!) and butchers. The butchers sold crazy meat that you would never find in the US, such as entire pig brains, whole skinned rabbits, and other stuff that would gross out a normal person.

Sadly, due to the rain, our sightseeing was minimal in Barcelona. We went to go see Familia Sagrada, which was one of the most unique looking churches I have ever seen. It almost looked like one of those dripping sand castles that you build at the beach. It cost money to go inside, so while some of our group went in, the rest of us relaxed in Starbucks for over an hour. Sounds boring, but it made our day because there are no Starbucks in Milan!

The last night we were there we all went to the coolest bar I've ever been to. It was a bar that ONLY sold shots (there were hundreds of them), each of which was presented in a different way. For example, for the boy scout shot you were given a marshmallow on a stick. Then, they lit the counter on fire, you roasted your marshmallow over it, dunked it in your shot and ate it, and then took the shot. Another shot did this crazy thing involving fire that created a vacuum that sucked the shot from a saucer into a shot glass. Another one, the "Rambo", involved me putting on a helmet and holding a fake assault rifle while the bartender put on a drill sergeant's fatigue and yelling at me, after which she shoved a shot down my throat that included spices and tabasco sauce. The shots weren't strong at all though, probably less than half the strength of a normal shot.

Probably the coolest part about Barcelona was just hanging out in the hostel. The hostel was my favorite that I've been to so far, but not because it was the nicest. The people staying there and the staff there were a lot of fun, and the hostel itself was just a cozy place to be. All of the furniture was wood and gave the lounge a really rustic look. The people staying there were awesome; one kid had come to Europe in the summer planning to stay for three weeks but he lost his passport. That was three months ago, he decided to just call off fall quarter of school and hang out until he was read to go home. Another guy I met had graduated from college already and worked as a bus boy on a small Greek island all summer. He wanted to make a career out of shaping acoustic guitars. Everyone there was just really free spirited and fun to be around. All of this was topped off by an excellent happy hour that was held at the hostel every night. If anyone is ever going to Barcelona, I highly recommend staying at "Kabul", you won't regret it.

That's about all I have for now, hopefully I'm productive enough tomorrow to write about what a great time I had in Dublin!