Sunday, March 29, 2015


 Wow. Sorry it's been so long. The past two weeks have been totally hectic with catching up with school work. Whoever said study abroad was no work lied.
Anyway, all my work is finished for now and I'm taking a well deserved vacation! My first ever planned and executed by myself (ok, my travel buddy, Alana, helped too). I have to say that so far it's worked out brilliantly! At the moment I'm taking the free time on this bus ride to Bergamo airport to draft this blog post. After spending two sun-filled days in Milan I'm totally exhausted but so excited for the coming cities. It was so gorgeous here and I can't even grasp how well this part of the trip went.
We got into Milan past midnight on Thursday night (yes, we did skip Friday classes but the flight was so much cheaper. And really, is it actually a competition for classes vs Italy?).
 The next morning we woke up to go on a free walking tour. Our tour guide never showed up which was disappointing BUT we met two girls from France and the Netherlands who had met each other studying in Aarhus, Denmark! Crazy how small the world can be sometimes. We bonded over our shared annoyance and made plans to meet up for drinks that night. Alana and I spent the rest of the day basically following the tour route sans guide. We climbed to the top of the Duomo and saw the most incredible view of Milan's rooftops and the snow capped mountains in the distance.
We walked to Sforzesco castle and sat in the park there after a quick lunch/gelato break.
Honestly, if we had done nothing else but sit in the park and soak in the sun I would have been perfectly happy. Copenhagen has been particularly dreary these past weeks so the fact that we didn't have to wear any sort of coat was good enough for us.
We met up with the two girls in the Brera district after a very traditional Italian meal of what I like to call "a lot of pasta". At first we went to a crappy cocktail/cafe thing and talked to some German guys who were entirely uninteresting. After, we went to an area with a lot of clubby bars and throngs of people which we promptly left to go to a wine bar. We didn't get home until 3 am.
The next day, Saturday, we woke up late and went to the southern part of Milan and got ourselves utterly lost, but we found some really cool old churches and basilicas, and another park (we couldn't get enough of the sun, despite our ultra pale skin. Sunburns are definitely being experienced now).
We had a late lunch of pizza right outside of Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore and sat in the park with gelato. After wandering aimlessly to find a train station we made a quick trip to the hostel (formerly a monastery) and left again for dinner on the Navigli canals with aperitivos and met our new international friends again for a drink and more late-night gelato.
And now, finally, we're currently on our flight to Budapest.
Ciao for now!
P.S. Pictures to come once I get to a real computer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Germany Part I

I forgot to mention some things about the DIS study tours in my last post: they absolutely spoil you.  These trips to Sweden and Germany weren’t just full of lectures and tours on sustainable development projects, but they also have a great deal of cultural activities as well. 
Normal Sustainability Meal
In Sweden, we had nearly three hours in Lund to explore the Cathedral and get a feel of the town.  In Malmo, we went to the most bizarre modern art exhibit I have ever seen (which is probably saying something, seeing that the intrinsic nature of modern art is bizarre in general).  Just to give you a taste of how weird it was, the exhibit was entitled “Action Painting Baby Splash!” So yeah.  Google it.  Or don’t.  Either way, it’s at your own risk. 
We were also treated to one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had at the Malmo “Chocolate Museum”.  I put that in quotes because it was literally just a chocolate shop with a video on cacao beans playing on the back wall.  I’m certainly not complaining though because free chocolate. 
Lastly, we were given curling lessons.  I am absolutely abysmal at curling.  It was one of those things that I thought, with absolutely no evidence backing me up, that I would be a pro.  These are the same misguided feelings I had about archery (which I’m also terrible at), so I don’t really know what I was expecting.   
On top of the Reichstag.
Also seen: back of friend's heads.
Also, another thing to mention is the food.  Since we’re on a sustainability trip, most of the restaurants we ate at were organic, some were strictly vegetarian (yay sustainability!), and, maybe it’s because I have been cooking for myself with food from Netto (one of the crappiest grocery stores I’ve ever been to), all were the most incredible things I had ever tasted.  Also, free wine.  So that was pretty cool of them. 
Ishtar Gate
In Germany, our days were jam packed with cultural events.  Honestly, it was more of a cultural visit than a sustainability tour. The food was delicious, if not more so, and we got to eat in the coolest places.  In Hamburg, we ate at the most German place I could possibly imagine.  It was in a long cellar and we all sat at these old wooden tables, the meat (because it’s not uber German unless the meal is strictly meat, potatoes, and sour kraut) was served on wooden planks and the beer was served in barrels.  In Berlin, we ate lunch in the dome on top of the Reichstag and had a view overlooking the park. 
Sign at Checkpoint Charlie
We were also taken on a fat tire bike tour of Berlin, got free entrance into the DDR museum, toured a modern art gallery that was located in a former Nazi bunker and that was just on our scheduled time.  We were given hours of free time each day to explore the city (made super convenient by the metro pass, also courtesy of DIS) and the nights were our own as well.  With friends in my class I saw the gates of Ishtar at the Pergamon Museum (inwardly crying with art love), went to the East Side Gallery which is a large section of the Berlin Wall still in its original placement and decorated by artists (this was probably my favorite of all the things we saw)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
East  Side Gallery
I feel like there’s so much to talk about from Germany, and I feel like I’m rushing through it all.  It’s so hard to choose one thing to focus on, since all of them were incredible.  Needless to say, Berlin is a really amazing city with so much culture and diversity.  I think I’ll probably post another blog soon to talk about some of the sustainability tours I went on and a little bit more about my experience in Germany.  

Looking Back

Feelin' right at home in Malmo
It’s been kind of a crazy past week.  I barely had time to recover from my Germany trip before being thrown back into school work.  And now, as I’m writing this I don’t think I ever properly talked about Sweden, so I’ll try to tackle both trips in this one blog post.  We’ll see how this goes.
The great part about DIS, as my eccentric Environmental History professor put it is that “DIS is essentially a travel agency”.  This means that instead of following a traditional college schedule of 15 weeks plus a week of spring break, I have 4 weeks off where I can potentially travel plus any weekends (like this next weekend coming up: Farvel Kobenhavn, Bonjour Paris!).  Two of these weeks are reserved for going on study tours with my class and the other two are mine to do with what I want. 

Lund Cathedral
I went to Sweden nearly a month (!!) ago with my Sustainable Development class.  We spent one day in Lund, a small college-type town, and Malmo as well as another night in a tiny little town of 800 before going on a hike in Söderåsen National Park.  It was a really incredible trip where we ate some really great food, and toured around to a few organizations, companies, and neighborhoods in Malmo that were addressing sustainability in different ways. 

Despite the absolutely miserable weather (It was Sweden in February, what would you expect?), I had so much fun and learned so much.  We visited an afterschool program in Lund that taught kids about permaculture and how to care for animals and they even had a smithy that the kids could use! A frickin’ smithy! I didn’t even know they existed any more.  Even though the program was really cool, I think everyone was more interested in the animals that wandered around the property.  No one ever tells you that when you go to college, there is a distinct lack of furry creatures.  But I digress.
This is a green roof!
We also toured around two different neighborhoods in Malmo, the Western Harbor was a wealthier neighborhood where architects were invited to build these incredibly interesting and sometimes downright beautiful buildings that were creating sustainable solutions for living.  They had an electric car-sharing program that was run by PV cells and these chutes that took organic waste (I think it was then sent to a biofuel plant, but I can’t remember exactly).  The other neighborhood was in close association with the Green Roof Institute.  The neighborhood had become a bit of a slum a few decades back and now has become a model for the city of Malmo in sustainable communities.  At least, I think it has.

Maybe it was because the tour guide was really engaging, or maybe because the concept of trash incineration has interested me for the past two years, or maybe it was simply because our tour was conducted on a bus, instead of out in the elements but my favorite place on the tour was Sysav.  It was such an incredible company with a really interesting business model—they rely on trash to keep them running, but their advertisements are all about decreasing personal waste.  It was astonishing seeing the amount of trash that was collected and sorted.  The sheer magnitude of the trash piles everywhere really forced me to take a step back.  But although the trash was depressingly immense, the way that the company seems to approach it was not all doom and gloom (like most environmental issues).  But I think the best part of the entire tour was that they had the largest sanctuary in Sweden for sand martins that was started completely by accident.

Söderåsen National Park
Finally, the part I was looking forward to the most was the hike in Söderåsen.  It had been such a long time since I had been out in nature, and the park was so beautiful despite there being no leaves on the trees.  It was the perfect end to the trip, and reminded me of what exactly it is I want to work towards.  A lot of times when studying environmental issues, you can get bogged down by all of the problems and depressing statistics, but being out in nature really helps to clarify and put things into perspective.  It allows you to take a step back from the numbers and put a real, visceral connection to what it is exactly that makes it worth it.
View from the Top

Something to look forward to in the next post
And I think I’ll end on that inspirational note.  A little bit more on Sweden and Germany next time.

**I apologize for any and all spelling errors, I didn't read through this very carefully before posting**