Thursday, June 18, 2009

Well, I'm back

As surely all of you are aware, I am back in the United States. And have been for a couple weeks now. It's perhaps not my finest blogging hour, but I wanted to give you all a run-down of the last few weeks in Europe nonetheless, on the off chance any of you who are still interested haven't already asked me about it in person. I'll try to keep it brief since there's obviously a lot to cover.

We had finals, but the end of our semester was really the Model EU. This was pretty much exactly what it sounds like, in which all of the students in our program took a role to play in a two-day EU Summit. The vast majority of people were Heads of State, Foreign Ministers, or Finance Ministers. Because I was "resourceful," I was a Secretariat, which doesn't serve any official function beyond facilitating the meeting and trying to broker deals between people. I worked with the foreign ministers, and our topics were resolved successfully in our two day summit. Or at least as successfully as acting out and drawing fictitious conclusions can be.

The completely logical thing after this was to use my study days wisely. In doing so, I went to Croatia for a few days, notably Zagreb, Split, and the island of Brač. Croatia, especially the latter two places in it, is hopelessly beautiful. Really, all of the Balkans seem to be. Split is centered around a Roman Palace from 300 AD that has since been completely integrated into the town, which is pretty interesting. The beach on Brač we went to is one of the most famous in Europe, part of a regional park, and is not enhanced by man at all. Which made it all the more impressive.

The Beach in Brač

The tower of Diocletian's Palace in the center of Split

Split overall

Anyway, came back, had finals. You don't particularly care about that. Subsequently, I did not return to the United States. Instead, I jetted off to Italy for some sightseeing in Florence to visit a friend there, with day trips to Bologna and Venice. Italy as always is physically beautiful while making me culturally uncomfortable. It is difficult to explain what exactly about Italy does, but I get a perpetual sketchy vibe. Perhaps most importantly, though, I did successfully visit Venice before it inevitably collapses into the ocean in a few years due to global warming. So that mission was accomplished.

The Grand Canal in Venice

The Duomo in Florence

From Italy, I flew to Madrid, where I met six friends from Tulsa flying to Europe after graduation there. We subsequently embarked on an eight day train trip from Madrid to Paris, with stops in San Sebastián and Bordeaux. The weather was not entirely cooperative (especially with the upper echelons of the temperature range), but it was an enjoyable last hurrah through Europe nonetheless. I enjoyed both of the Spanish cities immensely and for very different reasons. Madrid is grandiose and spectacular, completely imbued with the history and power of the Spanish state. San Sebastián is a much more intimate city, completely avoiding the monumentalism of Madrid and having a much slower paced atmosphere. Also, as the cultural center of the Basque movement, San Sebastián (known as Donostia in Euskera, the Basque language) provided a cultural experience completely unique to the Basque territories. It so happened that on the day of our arrival, the Basque populace was instituting a general strike. Businesses were closed, almost all restaurants were closed, bars and clubs were closed, the entire city was just shut down. Fliers were scattered everywhere. There were sporadic vocal protesters milling through the streets as well. I never once feared for my safety in anything (which I surely would have if I had been in Italy, for whatever reason), but it was really interesting to see the general belief for the Basque cause among the general populace. However, it was very difficult to see if this passion was only the passion of a select few who intimidated the rest into going along with the strike or if the tenets of the Basque movement were truly held dear to all.

Madrid bullfighting ring

Madrid's national bank

San Sebastián

Bordeaux, along the Atlantic coast of the France, marked our next stopover. It was largely enjoyable except for a train snafu that ended up costing us a substantial amount of money. Bordeaux, unlike many of the cities in the latter parts of my journey, allowed me an opportunity to see the real parts of a city, rather than just the tourist parts. I usually find this far more enjoyable than merely hopping from tourist point to tourist point, so I appreciated some insight into how local people actually manage to live, especially in a city as expensive as Bordeaux. As the Euros were beginning to run low by this point, I really really wanted to know how they did this.


Finally, we ended up with my return trip to Paris. I attempted to find some different things to do in Paris this time around. I still went to many of the main tourist points, as some of my friends had never been to Paris, but I managed to get to Versailles, the Père Lechaise cemetery, and the Pompidou Center, where I had not successfully navigated last time in Paris. It was good to get a little further down the seemingly endless list of worthwhile destinations in Paris, since it's hard to say when I will make it back.


Finally, I left my friends in Paris, hopped on a train to return to Germany, where I remained overnight in my apartment's kitchen pulling my second all nighter in as many weeks (the first being my night of constant travel [10 pm train to 3 am bus to 6 am flight] to reach Italy), had one last train snafu, and then departed Frankfurt for home on the 27th.

Anyway, now that I've been in the United States, I've been trying to reflect on things a bit. It's hard. It's impossible for a trip like this to not affect my outlook on life and things. Things about the United States that already annoyed me - like urban sprawl and poor recycling - will only annoy me more. Being able to get international perspectives on issues is always enlightening, and I certainly wish more of our leaders would do the same. In the United States we have a tendency to get self-righteous tunnel vision, sort of the logical extension of manifest destiny and the Puritanical self-importance that the country was founded on. Just because it's a long standing tradition doesn't mean it's right, and it's something that the country needs to get better about. Different historical experiences lead to new insights that can help solve some of the problems we've developed. Hopefully we can do that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean ( is the only real common thread between my last two trips. The first weekend in April, I headed to Barcelona (, which is my favorite city that I've been to yet. The next weekend I headed to Nice (, Cannes (, and Monaco (, which was an entirely different experience.

First, though, Barcelona. I hardly had enough time to fully appreciate Barcelona, but I surely did my best. Soon after arriving, we headed to the Montjuïc area( to see the Font Mágica, which is an impressive fountain/light/music show. The next day we got up early to go on a Gaudí tour ( I always have appreciated architecture, so this was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. It didn't disappoint at all - I was able to have time to see his four most famous buildings: Casa Battló (, Casa Milà (, Parc Güell ( and La Sagrada Família (, the still-under-construction cathedral in the Eixample ( district. Sagrada Família is unlike any building I have ever been in before nor will ever be in again. The intricacy of the architecture is impossible to adequately describe, and I could have easily spent an entire day just in that church. Construction is currently projected to be complete in 2026, at which point, it will have several more towers added to its already imposing façade.

A couple other quick notes about Barcelona that don't fit easily into the paragraphs. My favorite part of the trip ended up stumbling across a graffiti-encrusted Spanish Civil War ( bunker at the top of a hill in one of the parks in Barcelona's hill district - I believe it was Parc Guinardó, but I'm not sure. It was amazing, a piece of history abandoned except for its location in the center of a park, but abandoned in such a place that it maintained complete panoramic views of the city. Completely unexpected, but completely wonderful. Unrelatedly, Hospital de Sant Pau ( fits in well with the capricious architecture of the city and is the most absurd hospital I've ever seen. Finally, we ended up staying in a quaint apartment right off Las Ramblas (, which proved to be the perfect base to be located.

One of the most interesting things about Barcelona is the amazing singularity of the city's districts. Each district has a completely different personality from one another. Eixample is perhaps the most obviously unique, being that you feel as though you are walking around a landscape from a Dr. Seuss ( book with its whimsical turn-of-the-century architecture. But it was apparent wherever we walked when we were entering a new area. It's a fascinating feeling. The feeling exists in other cities as well (Berlin, New York, for starters) but I have never felt it quite so singularly.

Font Mágica

Me, jumping between the broken parts of the Spanish Civil War bunker atop the hill.

The Barcelona harbor from Montjuïc.

Parc Güell, Gaudí's architectural park.

The Olympic Stadium ( and communications tower.

Sagrada Família.

The French Rivera (aka the Côte d'Azur) ( is a coastline of constant traffic and ostentatious wealth. One thing was apparent to me the entire trip: I did not have enough money to be there. And no one was afraid about letting me know that, either. It was the first place on my entire European journey - Paris included, mind you - where I was treated at all rudely by anyone in a service sector. I didn't belong, so they didn't care.

That said, the French Riveria is indeed beautiful, and it's quite apparent why the rich would want to flock there. The cities have plenty to do, but are not completely overdeveloped, and the natural terrain is incredibly picturesque. But it still felt with all of the beauty around completely devoid of any real humanity, or any personality. Monaco's character solely comes from its association with Monte Carlo (, the most famous casino in the world. Gambling in it was an unparalleled experience to say the least. I broke even and would have been significantly ahead if I hadn't misinterpreted my divine sign. Monaco at least was classy. Cannes, devoid of its film festival (, felt like any generic beach front town, filled with all the expected American beach front tourist traps. Nice has a bit more substance and culture to it, but it still feels as though it is missing any real personality of its own. Rather than emphasizing many of the cultural attractions there, the city subordinates them to focus on - just as the rest of the Riveria - the beach and shopping. I'm very glad I went there, but unlike most places I went in Europe, I feel no compelling urge to ever go back.

Monte Carlo Casino

Nice, its beach, and its sea.

The harbor in Monaco, complete with yachts worth tens of millions.

The beach in Cannes.

I'm entering my last few weeks in the program now. From May 3 to May 6, I will be visiting Croatia, otherwise, I will be staying in Germany until my final departure from Freiburg on May 15, a bitter sweet day indeed. After the program ends, I'll be doing a little bit more traveling, which will take me to Pisa, Florence, and Venice in Italy, Madrid and San Sebastian in Spain, and Bordeaux and Paris in France. I'll be back in Minneapolis, presumably safe and sound, the evening of May 27. So if you're planning on greeting me in any form of an excited fashion, that should be the day you shoot for.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Eastern Europe Part II

Following Prague, we departed for Bratislava, where we would only spend a long afternoon. Slovakia recently succeeded in joining the Eurozone (, which has left the Slovak economy in far better shape than any of its neighbors that we visited. It also meant that on this single day, we needed to use three different currencies, which was an interesting experience.

I had very little free time in Slovakia, actually, given that we had two extended meetings in our seven hours in the country. I had to skip two meals to really see much of anything at all. Bratislava is an incredibly small city for a European capital though, so that made it a little easier to browse the sights. Bratislava is dominated by its castle (, which is unsurprisingly on the highest hill above the city overlooking the Danube ( It also gave me the opportunity to feel really nationalist, which is essentially at the core of the European experience. Despite all their unity and lack of patriotism, nationalism is still the huge driving force behind Europe.

The most interesting thing about Slovakia I was able to notice in my limited time there was the incredibly rigidity of its districting. The commercial area and old town are united on one side of the Danube. Opposite it directly is the residential district. Further down the river, but on the same side as the residential zone, is the industrial zone. There seems to be no overlap between these areas of any note. It's perhaps the most telling legacy of the Soviet era.

Slovenský rozhlas (, the main radio broadcaster in Slovakia. Soviet architecture might have not done everything well, but consistently the Eastern Bloc produced fascinating communications towers.

Nový Most (, the most important Slovak bridge over the Danube.

The main square in Bratislava.

Bratislava's castle, once again, complete with scaffolding.

Budapest is a quite different city entirely. Bratislava is small and compact - Budapest is incredibly populous and quite sprawling. It is divided into main areas that reflect the old towns that merged to form the Hungarian capital. Unsurprisingly perhaps, these two areas are Buda ( and Pest (, each on opposite sides of the Danube. In my free time, I attempted to see them each one at a time, if nothing else for ease of transport. I failed, really, but regardless got to see large swaths of the city. We also took a Danube River cruise, which really split the middle. Literally even.

Budapest has some amazing architecture for certain, and was well preserved just as all the other cities were. It was pleasant to be in cities that had avoided significant World War II damage. That said, it also felt the most foreign. Part of it has to do with the simple absurdity of Magyar (, as it is not in the Indoeuropean family of languages. Other parts simply had to do with the cultural differences and norms. Certain behaviors for hire that would not be considered acceptable for public knowledge (and indeed ruin political careers) in the United States were carried out in parks in Budapest with little caring about the potential awareness of passersby. Public behaviors were generally just a little bit different.

Among the most interesting things in Budapest was the House of Terror (, a museum about the oppression of the Hungarian people by the Nazi-affiliated and Soviet-sponsored ( secret police. The Nazi cell in Hungary was known as the Arrow Cross ( The museum could hardly be called unbiased in its coverage, and seems to be very much designed from the political right designed to simultaneously discredit leftist opposition and give the impression that Hungary itself was not complicit in these crimes. It was interesting to compare it to the Stasimuseum in Berlin, though, which was - like the House of Terror - housed in the same facility once used to torture and interrogate victims. The Stasimuseum was quite stodgy and traditional. The House of Terror was incredibly modern, relying on extensive media incorporation, a constant industrial techno soundtrack, and the most amazing carpet I have ever seen, an extensive map of the Eastern Bloc. I would pay approximately $14,000.00 to have this map replicated somewhere in my house in the future.

The Hungarian Parliament building, (, perhaps the most ornate national parliament in the world.

Buda Castle (

The Chain Bridge ( with Buda Castle.

The view of Budapest and the Danube from Gellért Hill (

As a whole, Budapest and the trip entirely was a positive experience. Certainly not destinations that I would have immediately thought to travel to on my own, but entirely worthwhile ones as well.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eastern Europe Part I

Apologies for the long durée, coming back from the Eastern Europe trip has been a bit chaotic. Lots of homework to catch up on. In fact, you are only getting this update right now because I was unexpectedly informed right now that a paper got delayed a week.

Our Eastern Europe trip - the final major field study trip for our program - took us to four cities over nine days: Kraków, Poland (, Prague, Czech Republic (, Bratislava, Slovakia (, and Budapest, Hungary ( By the way, any politicians in these countries would probably have stabbed me through the heart by now for calling these places Eastern Europe. They believe they are in Central Europe ( As far as I'm aware, Central Europe as a (tourist) concept did not exist before 1990, so I'm not buying it. As far as they would have you believe, only Belarus and Armenia really count as Eastern Europe.

Anyway, as should not surprise you at all, I'm going to have to split this up into a couple posts. We'll start with Krakow and Prague and finish with Bratislava and Budapest.

Kraków was somewhat surprisingly my favorite city of the three. It's at a different pace than the others: it's not a capital, so it doesn't have the same political emphasis as the other cities. Also, the food was amazing. Potatoes and sausages and bacon as the staples of a diet can hardly go wrong. It was also considerably smaller than the other cities (well, not Bratislava, but that was a special case, as you'll see in the next entry) and fairly compact, so it was very easy to get around solely by walking. Perhaps most importantly, I found a pierogi ( fast food restaurant.

Absurdly, Kraków is named after a guy who supposedly slew a seven headed dragon. Let's just think about that for a second. It is also very cheap, another huge plus. All together, a lovely, laid back city. It avoided World War Two bombings rather successfully, so the old town is remarkably still intact. By the same token, the Soviets didn't get to rebuild all of Kraków, so it's not bland everywhere either. Good luck for a major Polish city.

I feel like there was some more interesting stuff to talk about, but it's been quite some time and I've been quite a few other places since then, so I can't remember the specifics. The weather was chilly, but sunny for the most part with one evening of snow, which one cannot complain about at that latitude in March.

We on the way between Kraków and Prague had a short visit to Auschwitz ( Nothing I can say can adequately describe it. So honestly, I'm not even going to try. That is an experience that every person must have on their own. It will not be a pleasant one.

The Vistula (, as seen from Wawel (

Town Hall Tower (,_Krak%C3%B3w) in the Main Market Square ( during a snow storm.

Roofs of the city of Kraków taken from Wawel Castle (

Wawel Cathedral (, where Polish royals were crowned and Pope John Paul II ( wanted to be buried for a time.

Prague was another matter entirely. It's big and a little less concentrated than Krakow, with one of the most impressive castles in the world, Pražský hrad ( The views from the hills above the city are amazing as well, amply demonstrating why one of its nicknames is the town of one hundred spires. The weather was also incredibly dysfunctional - over the course of one day, and really in about a seven hour span, the weather went from rain to snow to sunny to hail to sunny to rain to freezing rain to snow. Impossible to adequately prepare for.

Prague felt much more active and harried than Krakow. Mainly, this is because Prague has fashioned itself as the Paris of the 1920s - ie, all the self-important, self-styled Bohemian expatriate Americans go to live there and feel superior about themselves. There were times, especially in main areas like Wenceslas Square ( when I would only hear English spoken. With occasional interludes of Japanese when flashmobs of tourists would go by.

Also contributing to this development was that the Czech government collapsed while we were in there. Honestly, there was no real tangible result from this: no protests, no demonstrations, no excitement, no real nervous energy throughout the capital like one might expect. I think the people who were the most excited was our group. Because we took credit for it. We were hoping to take out Hungary's government when we got to Budapest too, but they held on for a couple weeks. We had a couple days in Prague to explore the city as best we could, and then we headed still further south.

The skyline of Prague, with several of the one hundred spires visible, as taken from the Prague Metronome (

The bridges of the Vltava (

The Pražský hrad from the opposite banks.

The Charles Bridge (

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Catching up to now

The past couple weeks have been especially busy with school work. I have spent most of the time in and around Freiburg, with a couple of small trips within an hour or so of the city.

This past Thursday, we had our class trip to Strasbourg (, home of the European Parliament. It was actually one of the more worthless trips we have been on, as we only saw about ten minutes of Parliament in session, and then were spoken to by a drunk staffer and one of our professors, who also doubles as a Parliamentary Deputy Chief of Staff. The outskirts of Strasbourg strongly remind me of East St. Louis ( That isn't to say that the trip was a total waste. The center of town is quite nice, and the cathedral ( is especially impressive. Also, we got all you can eat flammkuchen (

The Ill River in Strasbourg (

The Cathedral.

The European Parliament

In other immediate travel news, besides a return visit to Schliengen (see a previous post), I went hiking with two of my flatmates - one French and one German - in the Kaiserstuhl (, a hilly area of vinyards on the French border. Usually I go hiking in the Black Forest (, so this was a new direction - slightly north and significantly west instead of Freiburg, rather than the southeast direction I usually explore. It was a nice area, and it definitely felt significantly different than the Black Forest done - almost as though I was walking on the moors sometimes. The weather has been finally warming up some, which has been quite pleasant. I hope it's a trend that continues.

Two pictures from the Kaiserstuhl.

Starting Friday, I am off on our last main trip for the semester - to Krakow, Prague, and Budapest, with a slight afternoon stopover in Bratislava. I'll be gone for a little over a week on that trip, but it should definitely give me some time to see places I haven't otherwise seen. It will definitely be a downgrade weather wise, and I've been told the cities have the potential to run together if one is not careful, but I am quite excited for the trip altogether. I have finalized another trip to eastern Europe as well - to Croatia (specifically Zagreb and Split) for my study days in early May. So between those two trips and the earlier trek to Estonia, I will have seen much of the former Eastern Bloc.

Lastly, just to let everyone know who might not otherwise know, I have decided on my plan for next year. I will be returning to Minnesota and going to the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota for a Masters in Public Policy. After that, the future is unknown once more, but the next two years are set.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Western European Trip

This entry could easily be a novel length, but I will do my best to not allow that to happen.

From February 23 to March 1, I went on my program's Western European field study trip. This trip basically included a whole bunch of meetings in Brussels at all of the important EU and NATO institutions, and then a couple meetings in Paris, notably the French Foreign Ministry, and Luxembourg, with the European Court of Justice. The majority of our "productive" time was in Brussels, which thankfully gave me time to roam Paris.

On the way to Luxembourg, our first stop, we took a detour to visit St. Avold ( St. Avold is home to the largest US military cemetery in Europe. It was a very impressive memorial, and it is interesting to see the amount of American patriotism that can be safely expressed in a situation like this, even in France - a country normally considered to be anti-American.

After St. Avold, we arrived in Luxembourg City (, which is easily the most pro-EU city I've ever seen. Luxembourg City gains all its international power from the presence of EU institutions, so interestingly, by promoting the EU it is actually acting in an exceptionally nationalist fashion. European political juxtapositions are always fun.

The city of Luxembourg is rather picturesque, and the town is built on a series of hills and valleys. In the middle of the valleys, one can still see all of the old fortifications that had been built up to protect the city, many as recently as World War I. The other interesting thing I found about Luxembourg was how open everything seemed. The Grand Duke's palace (,_Luxembourg) was squarely in the center of town. One could simply walk up to the doors of government ministries. It's a very strange notion in the modern political world, such physical representations of government transparency.

Following Luxembourg, we had several days in Brussels. I will spare you the details of our meetings, but we met with (lower level people) at almost every institution that the EU could throw at us. We also made a trip to SHAPE (, NATO's military headquarters in Europe. The European Union institutions love to play the blame game with one another, which always provides comedy.

The city of Brussels was not my favorite of all of those we visited so far. Restaurants have wranglers standing outside their doors to harass passersby into dining there, which is a very disconcerting experience. Much of the city is not terribly aesthetically pleasing, either. It also ended up being the least safe of any cities that we have been to, as several students were followed extensively and some were even subject to attempted muggings. The picture above, however, is over one area that is incredibly beautiful, the Grand Place ( The picture itself is of the town hall of Brussels.

After Brussels, we arrived in Paris for a few days. I have no complaints whatsoever about Paris. It is completely amazing - like no other city I've been to in the sheer volume of things to see. In Berlin (and New York, for that matter), there are tons of things to do, but there are still large areas of the city that simply aren't worth seeing. In Paris, such a place doesn't seem to exist in the city limits. In the Banlieue (, sure, but not in Paris itself.

Also, in a rampant attempt to defy stereotypes, I found the people to be incredibly gracious. It surely didn't hurt that I at least spoke some French with them, but no one had any problem reverting to English when it was necessary for me, and never once was I subject to any anti-American statements from anyone out in the city. Our hotel concierge was interesting, but that wasn't so much out of anti-Americanism as a need for attention and a desire to goad us into talking with him extensively so he could practice English.

As I was only really in Paris for two and a half days, I only had time to see the most basic of sites, so most of my comments really need no introduction. That said, I did make the effort to go to one area of the city that often is ignored by visitors: La Défense (

La Défense is the modern downtown of Paris, on the very edge of the city. Being in it is a surreal experience. There is no connection to Paris at all, except that one can very faintly see the Arc de Triomphe ( down the main boulevard. Otherwise, you are in this district, feeling like you are surrounded by the future. The majority of the skyscrapers are all done in exceptionally modernist style, and the entire area is centerpieced by the Grande Arche (, a modern representation of the Arc de Triomphe across the city.

Immediately outside the Arc de Triomphe, one enters one of the Banlieue, which is another complete culture shock. I explored for a while and stumbled across an impresive older cemetery, as is obvious from the picture. There was an obvious shift in the methods of construction - rather than beautiful old buildings or striking modern skyscrapers, one hit buildings that were obviously dated from the 1970s and 1980s, but still attempted to maintain some style. Several looked like they were inspired by Miami. Others were painted in camo. It was a thoroughly interesting experience to see the sides of Paris that many don't bother to see.

Beyond that, I did see all of the things that people decide to see. And they are entirely worth seeing. So I'll leave you with a couple quick pictures of Notre Dame (, the Louvre (, and the Eiffel Tower (

Friday, March 6, 2009


I apologize for the long delay in updating again. I've been terribly busy with traveling, mainly. This entry will probably be broken up into three over the next couple of days. I'll send out an initial e-mail for this and then an e-mail when everything is complete.

Going back in time awhile...

The weekend of February 20 to 22, I, along with two friends, took a recreational trip to Italy. We traveled by train to Milan ( and subsequently to Turin ( Milan is obviously one of the conventional main Italian destinations. Turin may not be, but it was a necessity - actually first on my list of places to go on Europe. Two reasons, really. First, it was the most recent site of the Winter Olympics ( Second, it is the locale of one of my five favorite movies of all-time ( This was actually the first trip of my own accord I've been on in Europe - everything else has been done through the program, and will continue to be that way until April. One day for a city of these sizes is hardly sufficient, but one must do the best they can with limited time and money.

The first thing that we learned is that once you are outside of Germany, trains rapidly become less reliable. We missed our connection in Zurich, which necessitated ad libbing trains across Switzerland to reach Lugano ( Lugano is the starting point in Switzerland for the Italian train system, though it is still on Swiss soil, so we would be able to more easily catch another train to Milan.

I did not actually mind the extra delay, because it gave me a small opportunity to explore Lugano for a few minutes. It's actually a beautiful city. Had I been blindfolded and dropped off there, I would never guess I was in Switzerland. It looked and felt completely different, if the palm trees were not obvious evidence enough.

Ultimately, we reached Milan two hours late. Given museum scheduling and our travel schedule, this meant we would be unable to see the Last Supper, but that was the only real casualty of our delay. Strange hostel prices for the beginning of fashion week resulted in hotels being cheaper than hostels, so we ended up with a four star hotel in Milan. The hotel itself was, naturally enough, quite nice, but in a much less nice neighborhood. In fact, despite our posh accommodations, was not terribly keen on the city of Milan. That is, until we made it to the very central part of the old city.

I know this picture is small. I think it's too detailed to be at full size, so the blog site reduced it. Sorry about that, you can find it either on Facebook or when I return at normal resolution. Anyway, that is the Piazza del Duomo. Il Duomo ( is the massive church on the right, which we could not go inside because it was hosting a fashion week event. On the left is one of the most famous shopping areas in the world, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ( After spending some time in this Piazza, we moved through the Galleria to the area around La Scala ( Here, in la Piazza della Scala, we unexpectedly encountered a large-scale performance art demonstration with bungee cords on the neo-classical facade of the building opposite the opera house.

It was a little absurd, but it was a pleasant surprise. Then to make a long story short, subway line shifts necessitated a slightly longer walk home through the sketchier part of town to our hotel. I got to watch the theft of a late-model Fiat - I have never actually watched a car theft happen, so that was a new experience. The next morning, we saw a couple more major sights in Milan, the San Siro ( - one of the most important soccer stadia in the world - and Castello Sforzesco ( before catching a mid-day train to Turin.

The central areas of Milan were beautiful, but they covered a very small part of the city - the same cannot be said about Turin. The preserved old city in Turin covers a huge area of the city a seemingly endless stream of things to take pictures of, all the while completely surrounded by the Alps and other mountains.

The first night we were there, however, we had a different project: the Olympic Stadium (

The Olympic legacy in Turin is actually surprisingly subdued. There is no indication that the stadium was used for the Olympics aside from the name. Well, and the giant torch. But the purpose of the torch is never stated, and an unknowing passerby might consider it merely modern art, as the flame doesn't burn once the Olympics have left the location. The only rings that remain are on the building next store, which hosted the main skating venues.

There is not much to say about the old city, except that it is amazing and to show you a couple pictures:

The Mole Antonelliana ( is the primary structure that dominates the old city.

The Po (, historically one of the most important rivers in Italy. If you look carefully, you can see an Alp (is that the singular of the Alps?) in the background.

A typical Turin piazza.

I enjoyed both cities, but Turin rates, along with Paris, as one of the most consistently visually impressive cities to be in. I will say that I felt considerably less safe in Italy than most of the rest of Europe, including both Paris and Berlin. Interestingly, the only other city in which I felt equally at risk to Italy was Brussels, the Capital of Europe. But more on Brussels later, for I returned to Freiburg at 12:30, Sunday evening. At 7:30, Monday morning, I would be boarding a bus to Brussels...