Malmo, Sweden and Rome, Italy

I was in Malmo, Sweden for Oredev, an awesome tech conference, October 31 through November 7.  I then vacationed in Rome for a few days, from November 7 through November 10.  I’m lazy so I have notes to share, but not a polished, fancy blog post.  Having blogged extensively about my time in Europe and China, I thought I should at least make a small post :).  Hello, goodbye, and I hope you enjoy!

Malmo:
* Emil, Tobias, Tara, Eric, Peter going to Tapas in Malmo, being confronted by Rupert, the creepy dude with the arabic ID.
** Made sexist jokes to Tara
** Made strange references to killing
** Told of a story where he rescued a family in Beirut
** Wouldn’t tell us his name or his business
** Wanted our business cards
** Bought us raspberry vodka shots
* Gave a full day workshop, two talks, and ran a panel
* Taxes, including sales tax, are about 75%
** Minimum wage is super high
** Quality of life seems very high
** Healthcare is very attentive, at least form the stories I heard
** Everyone is able to take 18 months maternity and paternity leave. Staggered between husband and wife.
** Most people takes 6 weeks off in the summer time
* Jumped in the Baltic sea, naked, after a sauna
** Ocean was 45 degrees F
** Sauna was 188 degrees F
* Had Swedish cuisine!
** Starter: pickled Herring with mayonnaise, bread, lettuce, tomato, dill, lemon
** Dinner: delicate potatoes with cod, carrots, peas, and mustard sauce
** Desert: vanilla pudding with apple sponge cake
* Enjoyed the beautiful park with Dan
* Wonderful dinner in city hall
** Pig blood soup
** Duck with potatoes, cabbage, prunes, apple sauce, apples. Delicious
** Port for desert, great company
** Michael asked me to moderate the Cloud Computing panel, and give a Cloud Computer talk
* Had another awesome Swedish meal: BBQ deer with potatoes
* Observation: everyone is beautiful here. Guys and girls.
* Dan and I did a day trip in Copenhagen
** We ate and drank on the famous street, Nyhavn. Cool place.
** Girls were unbelievable there
** I was rather sick, so we mostly just hung out and walked around
* Had a good organic dinner with Emil, several CS people, and Dan
** Good food, good wine
* Met Julia and her friend, Matilda, with Dan at TGI Fridays
** TGI Fridays is pretty posh in Europe. They had a DJ, etc.

Rome:
* Ate lunch in Ariaccea (a famous food village)
** Had starters, which were mostly meats, cheeses, vegetables, and other things
** Totally delicious
* Got a coffee, which in Italy is the tiniest amount of liquid, along with an Amaro, which is a digestive that’s good
* Got a beer Saturday night in Trastravere, which is a really cool hip scene
* Ate pizza and delicious fried starters at Pizzeria la Montecarlo in the city center
** Starters: Fritto misto (from Southern Italy)
** Dinner was at 9:30pm or so
* Went to a club Saturday night called Cearcolo degli Artisti — outdoors and indoors; cool place
* Sunday had breakfast at Mateo’s house; cake and coffee
* Sunday lunch was Silvio’s mom’s pasta with meat and salad
** Unbelievable
* Sunday went to Pigneto (street: Via del Pigneto) to get a beer. Really cool area
* Sunday dinner was Silvio’s mom, cooking onions + potatoes along with a fried steak (like wienerschnitzel). Soooo good
* Had desert wine called Passito in the Monti area, which is by the colosseum. Really cool area, and the wine was good
* Monday we relaxed, spent time in Trastravere, and played soccer with Silvio’s friends
** Europeans are totally fine showering naked with each other
** Ate dinner at around 10:00pm at Economica (pizzeria)
*** Had potato and sausage pizza, with bruschetta to start, and two half liters of Nastro Azzurro. Super good
** We then went to San Lorenzo, which is a very Mission-like hood
** Had a beer in Piazzetta, which is a little square in San Lorenzo
* Bought three Italian coffee makers (called a Moka), and Silvio’s mom gave me some coffee

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Part 2

The first attempt at Amsterdam left us with somewhat of a bad taste in our mouth. Short story: we bummed around Amsterdam for a night at the beginning of our trip. The second time around was a lot of fun, though. Three nights was plenty of time to really experience the city and see what it’s all about.

An insanely liberal core and a beautiful, laid back shell best explain the geography of Amsterdam. Pot smokers, general drug users, and prostitute purchasers flock to the middle of the city to pick their poison, but there is more to the city than meets the eye. The canal network is less exotic than Venice but still impressive and beautiful. The buildings and houses are all stacked next to each other like bricks in a wall, making for a wonderful city block. Each building has a hook at the top of its facade, which is used to pulley furniture up; most houses’ staircases are too narrow for furniture.

Sites we saw include the Van Gogh museum, Rijksmuseum, and Anne Frank’s house. Dutch pancakes and French fries (frites) are MONEY, and we managed to find some unbelievable North African food, which was mostly meat, rice, and a few vegetables.

One of my favorite pieces of Amsterdam is its bike community. Bikes outnumber cars at least ten-to-one; it truly seems like everyone has a bike. It’s awesome! We rented three bikes for a day and managed to ride around with six people. It was totally fun and totally sketchy :).

At the end of the day, Amsterdam wasn’t really my scene. I don’t smoke or do drugs and I don’t buy prostitutes, but I definitely enjoyed everything else the city had to offer. We managed to meet some really fun people as well.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin was without a doubt my favorite city. So much has happened to the city in the 20th century, which makes playing tourist totally relateable and lots of fun. What’s even more amazing is how cheap everything is. My favorite museum ever, the Jewish Museum, had a 2.50 euro entrance fee. Beers cost 2.00 euro at the club. HUGE Doner Kebabs (I drool just thinking about them) cost 2.70 euro and could cure any hangover imaginable.

The list of sights goes on forever, but I’ll just list them anyway:

  • Holocaust Memorial: cannot explain, must see to understand
  • Rechstag: place where Hitler took over, then where communists took over
  • Brandenburger Gate: place of many famous political speaches
  • Unter den Linden: downtown of East Berlin pre-wall-falling
  • Berlin Wall: self explanatory
  • Peace Churches: awesome pair of churches
  • Book-burning Memorial: really neat
  • Dali exhibit: he’s crazy
  • Clubs: Berlin is the clubbing capital of Europe
  • Tacheles: the only remaining Eastern pre-wall-falling building, covered in graffiti, and awesome
  • Hackesher Market: foooood
  • Pergamon Museum: Babylonian museum with Pergamon Altar and Ishtar Gate
  • Checkpoint Charlie: American checkpoint when the wall was up
  • Jewish Museum: best museum EVER. Worth an entire blog post (see below)
  • East Side Gallery: long section of the wall that’s still standing
  • Karl Marx Alley: Berlin’s landmark
  • C-Base: computer nerd convention center / hang-out zone. I felt right at home :)

We spent six nights in Berlin, and I wish we spent an entire month. Seriously. This place was AWESOME. There is a huge selection of unbelievable food, ranging from Turkish to Italian to German to French, etc etc. The public transportation is also the best I’ve ever seen, so you can go anywhere at almost any time. I also really enjoyed the Berlin locals; most were very friendly and outgoing. We met a hole bunch of really fun people.

War story: during the week, the metro (subway) stops running at 12:30am and starts again at 4:00am. This means that if you go clubbing, you pretty much have to come back after 4:00am. We went to a local club and danced the night away to the totally radical DJ absolutely shredding all night long. The drinks were cheap, and the company was awesome. We stayed out until about 4:30am and heard later that some of our friends were out until 9:00am. RIDICULOUS! One dude clubbed until 8:00am, stayed awake and went to a beer festival, drank all day at the beer festival, clubbed again that night, and finally slept at 6:00am after being awake for 43 hours. People club hard in Berlin.

Berlin is a must-stop city on a Europe trip. I absolutely loved it. GO!

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague was a blast, and the beer was CHEAP. Most beers were around $1.50 for a 1/2 liter at the bar, and store bought beer was even cheaper. I bring up beer because it was the highlight for us, though Prague has tons more to offer than just beer.

Prague is host to the largest castle in all of Europe, along with plenty of very old churches, buildings, and streets. It’s an utterly beautiful city, and it was one of my favorite stops, though I think I make that claim for most cities :).

My favorite sight in Prague was the Letna Park beer garden. Located on top of a large hill right on the edge of the city, the garden has an unbelievable view of the entire city, and the beer is flowing. It was so wonderful that we went at least twice, once to picnic and the other times just to drink. Karlovy Lazne, the 5-story night club, was also tons of fun. We dominated the 80s floor, shredding on top of the ever changing blocks of light — yellow, red, green, white, yellow. We also ate some good food in the Jewish quarter. Mmmmmm.

War story: There’s a bar in Prague that has a tap on each table. The amount of beer each table drinks is recorded on a leader board, and Dustin and I went to play. The two of us managed to get our table in first place, despite us only being two and others being four. It was awesome, but our reign of terror only lasted for a short moment, at which point the four-person tables began to dominate.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Munich, Germany

Munich was the largest party for us, because it was the first place where beer was actually affordable. We stayed in a hostel dorm room with 40 people and usually started off our evenings with a few drinks at the hostel bar (by the way, we stayed at Jaeger’s Hostel). The hostel was uncomfortable at times for obvious reasons, but it was an incredible place to meet fun, outgoing people. I covered our first and most epic night in an earlier post, and most other nights had the same theme – meet fun people, eat a lot of meat, and drink more beer than ever before.

Going out in the evening in Munich works a little different than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Being the capital of Bavaria, a beer-centered culture whose infrastructure seems built for the efficient consumption of beautiful bubbly beer, beer gardens (or beer halls) are everywhere. A beer garden is basically a very large building that people go to first to drink beer and second and third to eat and socialize, respectively. These places are centered around beer, and each garden only serves beer made at that particular garden: the beers of Munich. Working men walk around in lederhosen and the women waitresses wear traditional Bavarian dresses. We fell in love with this culture and went to a number of different beer gardens: Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner Keller, Augustiner Braustuberl, and Viktualienmarkt. Hofbrauhaus is the most mainstream garden of them all, and it’s easily the most touristy. We liked Hofbrauhaus the least, but I suppose it’s one of those landmarks that everyone has to visit. On the contrary, the Augustiner Braustuberl was hands down the best beer hall.

Apart from going out at night, we managed to do a lot during the day as well that wasn’t as beer-centric. We took a trip to Dachau, the first ever internment camp. The experience was indescribable, so refer to the photos instead. We also visited Neuschwanstein Castle, which is the castle that influenced the Walt Disney castle.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg was the first city we visited that I could actually see myself living in. Nestled in the mountains and centered around an ancient, epic castle, the city, with a population of just 140,000, has tons of character to latch on to. It lacks mainstream sights, which creates an atmosphere that never made me feel like a tourist, though the friendly locals helped as well.

We greatly enjoyed the meat-and-bear-centered diet, though I admit I wasn’t able to enjoy it to its fullest due to a bad sickness I caught while in Salzburg. During the day we found beautiful places to sit and think and drink and eat, and it was wonderful. Salzburg is one of those places that, when described to friends, doesn’t sound that appealing. But when visited, Salzburg doesn’t cease to amaze. Salzburg was my second favorite city that we visited, and I’ve heard many people refer to it as their favorite European city.

Totally worth mentioning is the train between Venice and Salzburg. The train weaved through valleys and under mountains of the Italian and Austrian Alps, where every so often little towns with numerous ski chair lifts would be visible through the thick, green trees surrounding the train tracks. The trip was magnificent and really made me want to return in the winter with my snowboard gear at the ready.

If you travel to Europe, then Salzburg should definitely be a priority. I absolutely loved it.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Venice, Italy

Venice was a must see, at least according to Eric, but I didn’t enjoy it that much. The canals were fabulous, but I felt like the entire city was a tourist trap. Only a romantic getaway would motivate me to visit Venice again, and I’m confident that traveling with a significant other and more money to spend would make Venice much more enjoyable.

We also took a short trip to Murano, one of the islands close to Venice city. Murano is known for its glass making, where all sorts of objects are created – vases, chandeliers, trinkets, etc. We walked through a free tour of one of the factories and were amazed at the skill of the glass masters.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Florence, Italy

Florence was my favorite city in Italy, mostly because it’s small, clean, and authentic. Unfortunately we only spent two nights here, so we were really only able to see some sights and eat some food.

The Duomo, located in the center of Florence, is a really neat church with a beautiful facade and a colorful interior. The second church of Florence, also beautiful, houses the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Bernini. The Piazza del Michelangelo was also stunning, with its panoramic view of the entire city.

For me, though, the highlight of Florence was one particular meal we had. We ate at the highly recommended restaurant called Mario’s, which is right next to the main market. Mario’s is a family-run joint that is only open 12:30-3:30pm, Monday-Saturday. They’re only open for lunch because they buy all of their ingredients fresh that day in the morning and can’t buy enough to stay open for dinner. Every employee inside was of the same family – cousins, parents, sisters, and brothers. Parties share tables with other parties and order from a menu that changes so often, it’s only communicated vocally.

Dustin and I started off by ordering a meat pasta. We also ate Morgan’s soup because she found out after ordering it that she was allergic. Other Americans sitting close to us let us know that we really needed to get a Florentino, which is the staple Florentine food. We asked our waiter to give us the smallest steaks they had, and a few minutes later he came out with a monster. He was carrying a large plate with both hands that housed the largest slab of meat I had ever seen. He said in his thick Italian accent, “Ehhh this all we have. It is 1.2 kilos. It’s OK?” Dustin and I looked at each other and said with utter confidence, “Yes.” We were so amazed by the steak that we asked the waiter to take a picture of it for us. He insisted that we come into the kitchen with him, so we did. It was awesome to feel so at home in such a foreign place.

The steak was easily the best steak I’ve ever had, and I’ve never been so full in my entire life. We were so full that we didn’t eat dinner that night nor breakfast the next day. It was awesome.

Florence was wonderful :).

Girl advice: Dustin wore a Schweinstaggerjersey around a lot, and he got lots of compliments. If you are looking to attract girls in Europe, then where the jerseys of popular European soccer players.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Rome, Italy

Rome was the first city we visited in Italy, and it was quite a city. Capital of the Roman Empire, the city is riddled with historical sights and insanely stunning architecture. The food was fantastic, and the locals were friendly.

We visited the Vatican City, Vatican Museum, Coliseum, Ancient Roman City, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, and Piazza del Popolo. Each of these places deserves its own post entirely, but I have too much else to write about :). Of these sights my favorites were the Ancient Roman City and Piazza Navona.

Italy is stereotyped as having great food, so we thought it best to splurge. The stereotype is correct. The best meal I had was a bacon-mozzarella pasta followed by sliced filet served with tomatoes and basil. It was unbelievable, and I ate so much that I didn’t eat breakfast the next day.

I loved the feel of Rome, with its ancient infrastructure and cobblestone streets. I was also reading “Angels and Daemons” at the time, which made the city come alive, despite the story being fictional.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was absolutely awesome. The trip started with the most fun train-ride ever. We had three three-hour trains between Nice and Barcelona; the first two were standard, boring trips, but the third was legendary. We were happy to be out of expensive Nice, so we treated ourselves to a few beers at the train station bar. At first the train seemed pretty normal, but at the first stop, just a few minutes after we got on, a slew of kids with camping backpacks boarded the train. These kids had just finished some sort of summer camping trip, and they were ready to rock. The camp counselor started singing camp songs, the kids followed suit. Having taken two years of Spanish in high school, I was feeling confident in my Spanish singing abilities, so I tried my best to sign along with all of the kids. They were laughing at me, not with me.

After a few Spanish songs, our group decided to try and whip out some English songs that they would know. We sang the “Macarena,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “We Are the Champions.” Only shortly after our on-key (not) harmony, a passenger on our train complained that the noise level was irritating, so we stopped singing. The rest of the train ride was spent speaking broken Spanish to 11-year-old Spanish kids. It was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had.

Barcelona was tons and tons of fun. During the day we swapped between sight-seeing and beach sitting. My favorite visits were those architected by Gaudi: Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. Let’s just say he can make some ridiculously insane cathedrals, buildings, and landscape. Sagrada Familia was easily the most impressive building I’ve ever seen. Las Ramblas, the famous, busy promenade, was also a sight to see. It’s a huge street with lots of walking traffic and the best statue performers I’ve ever seen.

The food in Barcelona was also unbelievable. I ordered tapas as often as possible. Tapas are little finger-food dishes that are shared between the table to make up a complete meal. My favorite tapas were Spanish Omelets, spicy potatoes, salamis, ham, tomato-bread, and olives.

At night we wouldn’t even go to a bar or club, which I somewhat regret now. The bars and clubs are known as some of the best in Europe, but we were too cheap to pay expensive covers. Instead we just hung out in public places such as squares, Las Ramblas, and playgrouns, bought one-euro beers from the beer-men (guys that just walk around selling beer), and had a grand old time with miscellaneous people we would meet. Bargaining with the beer-men was also a lot of fun. The best I did was 10 beers for five euro.

War story: our flight left Barcelona airport, a 45-minute train from downtown Barcelona, at 8:30am. We discovered that we would be unable to get to the airport in the morning, so we were forced to spend the night in the airport in order to catch out flight. We stayed up as late as we could, drinking Port and playing Hearts, settling into “bed” for only a few hours of “rest.” It was miserable and also kinda fun.

Learn more about my Europe trip here.