Saturday, June 11, 2011

Italy and Great Friends

After relaxing and recovering from the busy travel and last 12 weeks, I prepared for my next journey. Earlier in my trip I had organized with some of my friends to meet them during their travels in Europe. Melissa and Sed were doing a tour of Italy so it worked out well for me to meet them in Bologna then hop over to Pisa to meet Natalie and her parents. I ended up flying Ryanair from Brussels to Bologna and the trip couldn't have been easier. Free for all seating, an on time flight and easy transportation to and from the airports made it an experience I will certainly repeat.

I got to Bologna pretty early in the morning, the flight was actually 20 minutes ahead of time. I was awake for most of and got to check out the snow covered swiss alps and some of the amazing little towns that littered the mountains. It was an amazing sight! After landing in Bologna I made it to my little hotel, dropped some stuff off and headed out exploring. The porticoes which line virtually every street in the city center were amazing. It was a very active, yet relaxed atmosphere. The weather was extremely good (20-25C the whole time) and the people were very nice.

These are some of the porticoes which are the heart and soul of the walking culture in Bologna. I finally felt relaxed and was on vacation! As I was walking around I noticed a small "home brew/wine making" store which was unfortunately closed but great to see that it is part of the culture in Italy.

As I was touring the main square in the city, I ran into some kind of Police demonstration which I stopped and watched for a bit. It was kinda bizarre but I did get a good chuckle from the Police segways and this old lady who walked through the middle of the ceremony without a care in the world. Classic Italian!

I met Sed and Melissa outside their hotel after some pretty interesting attempts at getting in contact with them. It all worked out in the end! We sat around drinking some Hellerbock for hours.

The next day we decided to explore the Emelio Reggianno region. Off to Parma we went, using the amazingly easy intercity train system. Instead of having a strict plan on sites to see, we took the "walk around and figure it out" approach, an approach which I am growing more fond of every time I travel.

Mel and Sed in Parma! We walked around a bit and found a local hole in the wall to stop and eat at. We went with some Lambrusco, hams, and cheese. A delicious mid day snack!

The cheese was melted and peppered and served with the most delicious orange slices I have ever had.

It didn't take us long to find a small little bar with some Italian craft beer and it was delicious! The Sally Brown was a traditional brown ale with some coffee in it.

After wandering around the city some more we headed back to catch the train to Modena. We weren't there long until I spotted another car closely tied to my family history.

The Toyota Land Cruiser. Soak that up dad! The strategy for Modena was the same as Parma and we found ourselves walking around a magnificent little Italian city.

We hung out in this little park for a few minutes, just enjoying a relaxed afternoon. Perfect weather!

We stopped in an incredibly busy gelateria, full of what seemed to be Italian high schoolers who had just graduated. The streets were littered with people hanging out for this "graduation".

We stopped in this open air market and got some cheese and fruit for a little snack. The produce and cheese at this market was mouth watering. I would love to be able to walk down to this kind of market and get my produce every week.

After searching for a restaurant Melissa had read about and had since closed, we ended up sitting outside another "hole in the wall" place and drinking lambrusco and chatting till late at night. Theme of the day, relaxing.

We caught the later train back to Bologna, had a few more drinks and said our goodbyes. I was heading to Pisa the next day to meet Natalie and her parents and they were headed to Florence. I am really thankful for having such great friends and can't wait to see them again when I return to the states!

Location:Bologna, Cinque Terre, and Venice

Castles, Beer, Bad weather

After graduation, I had a handful of days to spend in Munich. We had one last grand hurrah with the boys on Friday night then saw them off on Saturday morning. The next few days were full of exactly what I needed, some rest. I also had to wait for my Eurail pass to get to the hostel so I had some time to kill.

Most of my time I spent reading Brewing Up a Business, the story of how Dogfish Head started and grew into one of America's best craft breweries. A lot of what I learned from Mel at Wachovia comes up in this book. It made me even more thankful for having the opportunity to learn from her.

On May 3rd I hopped on the ICE and made the 7 hour trip to Brussels to meet up with Alexandra. If I could transplant one cultural aspect from Europe, it would be their public transportation. The ICE left at exactly the time it said it was going to, was extremely smooth and enjoyable, and arrived EXACTLY when it was scheduled to. The ease of transportation was incredible. This is obviously, not a new concept. Whenever people visit Europe, most of them come back with stories of train rides. Why we do not have this in the United States is just disappointing.

The first weekend in Brussels, I attended my very first "Castle Party". We attended the Spring Promenade at Schloss Merode which is in Northern Germany near the border with Belgium. Castles, cars, wine, and some Kolsch from nearby Cologne were all activities of the weekend.

The car pictured above is a Bug Eyed Sprite, which is the "automatic win" car in the "car game" which we used to play on road trips with the family. The only one we ever saw in the U.S. was on the way to Lake Lure and dad misidentified it at first as a Miata (granted he does wear glasses and was driving at the time). Well dad, I found a sexy green one outside a castle. Looks like I win that round.

Andres and I standing in front of the castle.

The bridge to the main building. It wasn't the biggest castle in the world but it has a pretty awesome mote around it which people would take boat rides in.

We got a private tour of the lower part of the spiral which they are going to turn into a little party room. I think you could convince me to go to a party inside the spire of a castle. It was remarkably cool and well vented. They have a disco ball, colored lights, and a pretty nice sound system.

So the "Spring Promenade" is a fundraising event held to help raise money for the restoration of the castle. A portion of the castle burned and the proceeds go to helping restore it to its original beauty. The hosts of the party were amazingly nice people and one of the guys used to be involved with the European Brewing Convention and we sat around, drank Orval and talked beer for awhile. Great afternoon!

Back in Brussels, I finally get my hands on some of the world's most delicious beers. Orval is one of my favorites.

From left to right is Westvleteren 12, L'achouffe Double Hopfen Triple, Cantillion Grand Cru, Cantillon St. Lamnivus, and a special triple hopped Duvel which I am taking back to Munich for my brewing buddies. Westvleteren 12 is regarded as one of the world's best beers. I think that it lives up to the hype. It is a quadruple and tastes of strong dark fruit. It is also one of the most sought after beers in the world as production is limited and distribution is even more limited. You are allowed to order 1 case per month per car. You have to go pick it up yourself, and there is some limited distribution throughout Brussels and even some of it makes it to the states but the markup has to be insane. I paid 10 euro for that bottle and it was probably worth it though I don't see myself getting one for every pizza night.

Spending time in Brussels was really enjoyable as it allowed me time to relax, sleep in, do some cooking and catching up with friends and family. I also spent a significant portion of time refining the resume and starting the job search. I also spent time planning out my trip to Italy via Ryanair. More on that with the next update!

Location:Brussels, Belgium