Sitting down in our brown leather chairs, we make ourselves comfortable. We're in no hurry to start the conversation, but know that it will come in due time. Perhaps we sit a moment in silence, just enjoying one another's company. I get lost staring at the bookshelf when you bring me back to attention, "So how are things Luke?" I grin a little, knowing that this is so much more than the typical 'how you doing?' at the start of most converstations. I settle in my chair, cross my legs, and take a sip of some dark, german beer (not swiss, swiss beer is horrible).
"We don't talk about that enough, do we?" I begin. "Because even when we do it's through so many filters and restrictions. Half the time I don't even really know how I'm actually doing, beyond just how I feel at that moment."
You smile, setting down your pint. "You're trying to dodge the question. Youself. Just now."
"Well...perhaps I am," I say, though I'm not smiling. Instead I've covered my mouth with my hand, and I'm looking down. "But if we weren't in this den it wouldn't matter. That's how things are. We accept what other people tell us about themselves. Why shouldn't we?"
"Sometimes," you say. You're looking right at me, not shifting your eyes like I am. "But is that all you want to say to me?"
"Of course not. That's just the problem."
I write this, wanting to leave it to speak for itself. But I'm afraid it might fail to do that. Maybe some of you have been reading my blog, or perhaps even emailing with me occationally. You can see that I'm having a great time here, getting to travel and expereince so much. But I wanted to let you all know that I am missing you, my friends and family. I really value experiences, and to have some experiences you have to give up some things. In this case I'm giving up being around all of you for some time. It is worth it, though I value you so much. What I wanted this whole post to convey is that as much as I value these cool experiences, I value you all more. I get to have this here now because it's a short experience. I can enjoy these experiences, but most of the time I can't help but wish that so and so was with me here at this place, because they would just love it. I think that is a big way that I love people, is by sharing things with them.
So to me obviously it is important to share with you my experiences through this blog and through email with some of you. I'm glad I can do that. But I wish we could have that talk in the den. You get to see my pictures and hear me talk about the travels, but there is so much lost and left out in the exchange. I feel like I get to paint you all a picture of this, but I only have a couple different colors of paint. I wish you could experience this with me. But I guess that is part of growing up, you have to leave people behind and such as they do the same. Still I've appreciated your engagement and involvement in my life while I've been here. And I thank you all so much for your emails and comments--they mean the world to me. So hopefully what I wrote just then makes a little more sense now. I think by writing that, hopefully it can overcome the sappy sentimentality of these explanatory paragraphs. I miss you all. Keep in touch (in the true sense of that phrase).
The Scintillating Scoop on Switzerland!!!
So I don't know really where that came from. Perhaps it gives you a comical glimpse into my life, but probably not very emblematic. I did however just enjoy a nice quiet dinner like that, though it was at all like the rest of my weekend. I just returned home this evening from the beautiful Cinque Terra in Italy. I guess I'll start actually describing that trip, since it is probably far more interesting than my dinner at home (why did I even type that???)
Cinque Terra is an Italian National park of five coastal villages located right around the kneecap of Italy's boot. Cinque Terra actually means "five lands" in Italian. It is a more hidden version of the French Riviera, and one of GlobeTravel's 50 places you must see before you die. It really is incredibly beautiful, but maybe not quite as hidden as one might hope. Even in September there were a lot of tourists. Photos here.
A five hour train ride and a shorter planned weekend necessitated a 6 a.m. start Saturday morning. Now those of you that know me know that I'm not exactly what you'd call a "morning person." There's just about two things I'll get up before the sun for--that's to play golf, or now to travel. It's always worth it. After the train ride we ended up in Levanto, a small connecting town to the Cinque Terra. We had a little time before the next train, so we wandered into town for a little lunch. It was here we found this excellent little Italian Restaurant. I had the best Swordfish (the town is right on the coast) and some very good wine. It was delightful! The best meal I've had here.
Then we made our way to Monterosso, the northern most of the five towns. After walking between a few booked hotels, we were directed to a little hotel that had rooms. We dropped our stuff off and went for a quick swim in the Mediterranean, moreso to say that we'd swam in the Mediterranean than for anything else. Though it was quite refreshing. Next we changed and took a train to the second town. After looking around and a little gelato, we began our hike to the next town, Vernazza. We heard that it was hard but picturesque. Well we didn't hear wrong. A tiring but beautiful hike. It was about sunset, so that made it even more stunning.
We watched the sun go down from a terrace at the third town, Corniglia. Then took a train to Manarola, ate dinner, and then to Riomaggiore. Somewhere in there were two more gelato cones...I don't know! Dinner wasn't fabulous, but we had some excellent Cinque Terra wine and some of the famous Pesto pasta. Cinque Terra is famous for pesto, foccacia, and anchovies. Let's just say I ate my fair share of two of those. You decide. Afterwards we went back to Monterosso and walked around checking out the night life. There was a packed American bar, but elected instead to buy a bottle of wine and take it down to the Mediterranean beach. It was peaceful and sophisticated, don't you think? The picture below on the left is actually the boulder we climbed and sat on top of for awhile.
The next day we went back to Vernazza and bought some souvenirs, some foccacia pizza, and took the boat back to Monterosso. It was a beautiful morning. Then followed the five hour train ride back. It was a delightful trip, and once again nice to be just the guys. If you ever make it to Italy, don't miss this less known jewel known as Cinque Terra. Don't I sound appealing? I think I should write for one of those guidebooks. That wouldn't be a bad job, traveling all over and writing about it. Maybe I'll do that...
Hello Hello my friends and family. I hope that you have been well. As you can see I'm becoming a little less regular on this, but that just means that when they come they are extra special and extra good! Riiight. Well I'm thinking that the standard is going to be about 2-3 times a week, one after traveling on the weekend and then various random updates on other things that are going on in my life. Like for instance yesterday....
So yesterday I went to Bellinzona. Photos here. I had stopped by there on the way back from Bern a couple of weekends ago and really loved it, and wanted to go back and spend some more time in the castles. Well this last week was pretty hard for me for a lot of various reasons that I won't get into now, but I really realized and saw the need for some solitude in my life. That is hard to find in Lugano, especially if you want silence as well. So I hopped on a train and headed out to Bellinzona. It was great, only about a 20 minute ride that only costs like 12 francs (10 bucks). The castle is raised up above so there is no street noise, and it was a wednesday afternoon so it wasn't busy at all. It's nice to have wednesdays off to take day trips if i need them. It was really peaceful and a well needed time to journal and pray through some things. I was thinking that I should put up what I wrote about the castle at Bellinzona for my fiction writing class from the first time I went there. It's a setting description, and it's a little long--so read it if you want to. Tomorrow I am going to a wine festival in Mendrisio not far off, and then to The Cinque Terra on saturday. More about that on sunday. So here's my storish thing:
I stepped through squares of light and shadow cast upon the grass by the rows of turrets that extended along the top of the wall. I paused before the wall started climbing up at an angle. The view off to the side beckoned me. Between the turrets I could see out across the small town over which this castle ruled. Houses made their way up to the base of the hill, and then the slopes were lined with vineyards. Rows of small trees ran across until they reached the base of the wall. The rock base formed into the stones and ascended to where I stood. Looking across to the other wall I could see more turrets along the wall and the tower above. This was exactly what I thought of when I though of a castle.
I started climbing up the slope that brought this exterior wall into the center of the castle. The shadows of the turrets turned upward and elongated with the slant. I shifted over to walk along the turrets so that I could climb the stone steps instead of the grass. There were small openings between the steps and the outer stones of the wall, filled with only two bars. I had to not look down into them to keep from getting vertigo, but it was surprising how high up this wall was. Finally I reached the top and looked out over the atrium of the castle. It was a plain field of mowed grass very well kept. The green stood out against the stone just as it did atop the wall. The wall I was on top of extended around the area and back behind the center building. There were tourists wandering about along the walls and throughout the courtyard. I set my pack down and took a seat along the edge of the wall, letting my legs dangle over the edge. I leaned back against the hard stone and took a closer look around.
The castle was a magnificent sight. The walls protruded massively conveying a strong sense of security. The tower raised high above, providing sight to all of the surrounding area. I thought of the lords and nobles that must have walked around in this courtyard long ago. I could almost breathe in the honor, if my nose wasn't so stuffy that day.
I looked with my eyes this time. The tourists wandered around bringing down another brick with every picture. The courtyard grass withered underneath the pair of young couples lying on top of each other making out. The tower alone stood above it all, untouched by the presence of voyeurism. But any watchman up in it would very see any advancing armies--only the chariots of tour buses, armed with 35mm rounds. I leaned forward and looked down through my dangling feet. My New Balance shoes bounced against the rock. There was no solid sound of boot or armor striking against the wall. I jumped down and landed on the freshly cut grass. The smell of grass clippings delighted my senses.
I made my way across to the exit. The base of the wall here was a type of pit filled with water weaved around large boulders that seemed like really solid lily pads. Attacking this portion of the wall would have been entirely impossible. There was a mother and her daughter posing on one of the rocks for a picture the husband was taking. "How cute," I thought. I wondered if long ago the kids at this castle played around in this water pit, or if the young adults made out on the castle lawn for that matter. I took a step back myself and snapped a photo of the castle. "It will be nice to have one of those stones at home." And I wondered how many countries this castle was in now.
Oktoberfest. The world's largest fair. Nearly 200 years old. 6 million people a year, over 100 thousand a day. And I was there for opening day. Sounds like a blast right? Or then again maybe it sounds like absolute hell to some of you out there. What is the experience of Oktoberfest? Well read on to find out at least one, and check out the Photos.
We rented cars to make our way up there. It was quite an interesting journey. I got to drive an Audi. Yeah I know. It's tight. Driving in Europe was quite an adventure though I'll tell you. The following occurred at least once while I was leading our little 2 car procession: drove down street car tracks, got lost on curvy alps' roads, clipped a road sign (10 points!), parked illegally, ran over a stroller. Ok I admit it, the last one didn't actually happen, thank goodness! But I did go an unmentionable speed on the Autobaun. It's unmentionable because certain familial members will most likely read this. To give you a hint, and you can figure this out if you want to--if not plead ignorance (mom)--there are 3 numbers in this paragraph, just put them together in some order. And we stayed in tents in some horse training facility with several hundred other sojourners. That was interesting. Obviously you could hear everything in the other tents: snoring, laughing, singing, sex. You know, your common sleeping arrangements. I've also never slept in the same tent as girls before. Not a big deal, though it just makes me even more glad that I'm a guy!
We woke up at 7a.m. to head out to Oktoberfest to try and get in line early enough to get into one of the good tents and get a table. It wasn't early enough. However we were able to get a table outside at which we sat for 7 hours. If we got up our seats were gone, and when in fact we did because we thought we could get into one of the tents, our table was gone. That was the lull during which we wandered and some of the less than sober people rested a little. The more sober people went to ride a few rollercoasters while we left the others on a lawn to sleep. Now, whoever came up with the brilliant idea of putting together a lot of drinking and rollercoasters--I'd just like to shake his hand. I saw way too many people throw up. Then later that night we got inside one of the tents and it was a pretty rocking party. The band was going nuts, playing German folk songs which everyone sang along to, as well as random American songs, which everyone tried to sing along to. After a while there we made our way back to the tents.
Our table was pretty interesting though. Sitting across from us were a couple of German ladies, dressed in the traditional Bavarian Lederhosen (pretty attractive if you ask me). Well one of them, Suzy, was a professional German figure skater. She represented German in the world championships and met the likes of Michele Kwan and Sasha Cohen. Crazy! Just for records sake, I did try to get her to participate in the game, but stupid old australians kept doting over her. Oh well. She's the one on the left:
It may not sound like the most wild of days, and perhaps it wasn't. I did leave out a lot of the details, and I think comparably our day was a lot more tame than others had--even others in our group that went up there. They spent some time with a bunch of Australians and got split up all over the city. One girl came to (she blacked out) and she was in a taxi with a bunch of people she didn't know. This is Oktoberfest.
The tents at Oktoberfest have a wooden facade in the front that looks all nice, and then the rest of it is just a tent--though ornately decorated and packed from wall to wall. It all looks nice from up front, and perhaps if you're not sober you rarely get the opportunity to see beyond this facade. And this is just a bit. I can't imagine being the paramedics there. I wonder how many people die from over drinking there. My small experience of all that went on saw two fights and at least 5 people people taken off on stretchers from passing out. And I'm just 2 eyes out of 200,000 in one day. The big beers and the food and the facade are appealing. It's pretty cool on the outset if you look at it. At least if you don't look past and see the consequences of having a place like this.
But don't get me wrong, it was a fun weekend for me. We went to an art gallery the next day and the drive was definitely cool. I got to have some good conversations with people on them. My experience personally at Oktoberfest was pretty good actually. I stayed sober and enjoyed the food and appreciated the beer. It was fun and I'm glad I went. It is just hard to be around all that and to see it for what it is, when I think so many fail to identify it as such. 6 million people, living in this like it's the greatest thing ever. If alcohol was ever to be thought not a god, just look at the beer mugs there. It's In case you hadn't already figured out, my blog is called "myneutrality" because it's ironic.
To not end on a depressing note though, I do have to say the food is some of the best I've ever had. The brauts were quite good, and the half chickens were the most incredible chicken I've ever had. German Roasted Almonds filled the air with an amazing scent, and they tasted just as good. The giant pretzels too. And of course the gelato is always available. I think it was worth it for the food alone.
Ah yes, and one more thing. We went to a museum the next day that was pretty great. There was one Rembrandt that hit me super hard though. Just look at the pictures, and marvel at the character in the face of Abraham--surprise, relief, etc. It gives such life to the story:
The week days might be far less interesting from an experiential standpoint, as well especially in what I get to relate to you through this blog. But I love just the days of classes and the days of just being here in Lugano. Deep down I really am a big homebody, even though I love to travel. So being here and just hanging out and being low key is a lot of fun for me. Unfortunately those give me few pictures or crazy stories to give to you all though.
This week was one of those weeks, and I loved it. I am getting to know my study abroad friends a lot better and that is just fun. The last two nights we've played cards in my room then some other random things. Tonight we went to a restaurant for some late night pizza. We sat around there for probably like an hour and a half just talking and laughing. It's always fun to get to know someone new, but here I am getting to know like 8 people pretty well and all at once. It has really been a pleasure, especially since the people are from all over the states and are in general pretty different from all of you guys. I miss you guys a lot though still for sure.
Tomorrow we all leave for Munich to go to Oktoberfest. It's the opening weekend. And some of you may be asking the question, "How is Oktoberfest in September?" I don't know. Take it up with the Germans. Actually it's three weekends long as a sort of lead up celebration to October, the harvest, etc. Oktoberfest is probably the most famous druken party on the face of the planet. There are thousands of people there, and maybe I'll be the only one not drunk. I can't promise anything but that is the hope. And Todd, I'll look out for a sweet beer stein for you. I am very excited to get some German beer though. Surprising (or not) the Swiss beer isn't that good. If nothing else this weekend will definitely be an experience.
So this is what I've learned in the first 3 weeks here...there could be more to follow, but here are the incredibility of this illustrious institution's history:
1. Two of the dorms used to be brothels
2. One girl that goes here is literally named, "Talent"
3. Osama Bin Laden's nephew went to school here
4. There are still mirrors on the ceilings in some of the rooms of those dorms
5. There is a girl here who wears a tail all the time--I kid you not, a tail like Cat in the Hat
6. We have royalty from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and several other countries
7. A prostitute was stabbed to death in one of the rooms of those dorms
8. It was in my friend John's room
Thank you for tuning into this first installment of Fun Facts about Franklin!!! I hope you found it interesting and intriguing. Perhaps this presents not the most accurate picture as a whole, but they are all true and are very interesting, at least to me. I hope you enjoyed it. Farewell and good evening.
So I ended up going to Bern because my buddy John had an ultimate frisbee tournament that he got connected to through some local players. He is big into that and it's a good way to meet some Swiss people. The girls spent a ton of money to go to Budapest, so Bill and I decided to join John on his travels across Switzerland. Guys weekend out!!!
The travel started with the train ride through the Swiss Alps. Pictures out the window are hardly worth it but a few captured some of the immense beauty that accompanied up on this train ride (the one above being an example). It was a cold day on the other side of the mountain and we didn't have the clothes, but that's ok. We arrived in Bern and looked at a few maps, ultimately choosing the direction of our hostel based on the direction the sun was setting. It worked quite well actually. After a chat with some other travelers also looking for a meal (a canadian and american), we stopped in at a pizzeria. It was expensive but everything is in Switzerland. It was the best pizza I've had yet here. Then we made our way to all of our first hostel which was surprisingly nice.
Well that's us eating at the pizza place, and the hostel on the right. After dropping our stuff off we ventured out to find a place to have some fun. The guide book mentioned this place called the "Reitschule," which later we found out means "writing school." An old writing school turned into a bar, the outside is covered in graffiti and it is located under the train tracks. After asking 8--we counted--people where this place was and receiving funny looks and laughs in addition to misguided directions, two Russian women walked us there because it was on there way home. It was a pretty sketchy place. There was a parking lot in front of it filled with very interesting people. We saw people rolling right outside there and after a brief walk around and a couple of offers to smoke or buy something, we decided to call it a night. We had already walked about 4 miles in searching for the place.
The next day we got up and saw the city sites. The bears in a pit--Bern is famous for Bears; it's on the flag and all. That was actually a little sad, them just there in their pits. Then onto the Cathedral. It was a nice one. We climbed to the top and saw the city from above. Some cool pictures there. Then we walked through this market with all sorts of cool samples of swiss cheese (seen pictured above) and meats and such. It was pretty cool. Then we saw the parliament building, which was unfortunately covered almost 3/4 of the way around. The picture above was all we could see from below--this building is the equivalent of our White House. Did you know Bern is the capitol of Switzerland? Two points if you did. But could you imagine covering the White House for over a year? It would never do. Then we saw Einstein's apartment in Bern--where he came up with the theory of relativity. That was pretty cool too.
After the tourist stuff we went to John's ultimate frisbee tournament and watched them play. Then we watched a little rugby that was going on nearby. After that we went downtown and found an English Pub for dinner, where we watched Man. U beat Tottenham. And afterwards we went and saw a movie. I felt very English then American then Mexican--because the movie we saw was called "Banditas." Selma Hayek, Penelope Cruz--who if you know is one of my favorites. I don't think it came out in the states, if it did shame on you for seeing it because it was horrible. Actually it got progessively better, but still was pretty bad. Bern is actually also known as a Cinema town--lots of movies shown in English. This one just happened to be a bad choice. Who knew going in? I mean, maybe we did, but hey, whadda ya do?
At that we made our way to our sleeping arrangements. Oh wait, we didn't have any. We abandoned the hostel in hopes that we would stay with one of the frisbee guys, but they all brought sleeping bags and tents. Failure-us. We had no such things. We heard there were people staying in the basement of the facility of the tournament for 18 francs, but we had failed to secure this beforehand. We walked down--quite sketchy, see pictures below, and jumped on some beds. It was free, though we didn't have sheets or pillows. And it was warm. Living the dream! (see pictures below)
Today was spent on the train and in Bellinzona. We tried to catch the end of a wine festival that was there this weekend. Unfortunately we just missed that, but we did see some amazing castles. You definitely need to go look at those, but I've put up enough for this post.
If you made it through I must say I'm impressed. I think I bored myself writing it at times. It's late and I'm tired. It was a good enough excuse for Gary Larson once, so I'll go with it. Forgive the boy in the beehive. Enough obscure references. Enough tired description. Enough words that begin with B. Enough for now. A great weekend, but tiring. I think we walked about 8 miles in all this weekend, with our backpacks. Whew. Alright. Ciao.
So it's been a good couple days. Not terribly exciting but hey, that's life sometimes right? A few things of note though. The game count is now officially at: 1. I was making up that 3 number before. Don't worry though, I may start slow but I finish strong. Also, I made the basketball team--no small feat. Actually it was really easy. We're horrible. I'm one of the better players and I am really not that good at all. But it's a lot of fun and it's a good way to work out. Our coach played college ball at Georgetown and has been playing in Argentina, Latvia, Finland, Switzerland since then. Crazy. He's just started coaching so the program is on the rise! I'm gonna carry it on my shoulders guys. Swiss national championship--I may not be able to come back until I've reached that goal. Sorry, but I'm on a mission.
One other thing. I was walking down the down the steps and a thought came to my head that was really weird. I've been in Switzerland for two weeks now, and it's so strange how already I've adapted to this life like it's second nature almost. It took the realization that I was climbing down a marble staircase that came from my room that is perched on top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps overlooking a beautiful lake. That's so wild, but already it was seeming not so different. And my friends. I've known them all for two weeks at the most but we all hang out like it's always been that way--you just don't think about it. It's really strange. I wonder what else we naturally adapt to that we don't even realize. Like things that aren't so obvious. There's your food for thought for the day. Hmm, food for thought for the day--that could be like a regular category. What do you think? should i do that? or would that just bore you? silence is an answer too!
Sorry no pictures today. I'm still working on getting those postcards out. And I'm also still waiting for my first snail mail. I might have to promise some Swiss chocolate for the winner of that contest. Not like the punks wanting prizes for my other silly little contest. I mean really! You know who you are! (everyone else, just read the last post comments to embarrass him). Like I said, I need pictures to put up on my wall. You all could get creative with that--especially you in manhattan. Ok, ciao.
oh yes, and by the way i'm still lying about the game. you believed me, didn't you?
So I decided to take a nice relaxing weekend--it might be the only one of the semester. And why is it especially relaxing? Because I have 4 day weekends. Day 3 is coming to a close and it feels like summer. Zach how did you ever do this? It's amazing!
I had some time yesterday that I spent in solitude, and since it was saturday and no one was on campus, I decided I would take the opportunity to snap a few more pictures for your viewing pleasure.
That was the view from where I had solitude--it's called the presidential lawn. I don't think we're allowed on it, but like I said it was Saturday and no one was there!
This is a similar picture to one I put up already, but I realized I was an idiot for not putting the gate and archway in there.
Well like I said I spent the days relaxing and doing homework. I thought I would tell you a little about school, because those of you that are in it only want more and those of you done get to laugh at me for having to take classes still. Or something like that. Right. So one of my teachers, actually teaches two of my classes and is leading my academic travel, is really cool. His name is Robert McCormick, Irish to the hilt, so my name already put me on good ground. He taught at Harvard for 8 years so he really knows his stuff. And he is teaching probably my two favorite things that have to do with English: fiction writing and Russian Literature. How cool is that?
Yes and I mentioned he leads the academic travel. For those of you that don't know, Franklin takes two weeks in October and every student goes off to some country to travel. It's a one credit class, requiring a journal of some sort and perhaps a paper or two. For my travel, I am going to Greece. I've heard that it is the best travel and that I am very fortunate to have gotten on it. WooHoo! Pictures forthcoming in several months.
Speaking of pictures, for those of you that like the visuals, here's a view of my living situation:
So this is my building, the admissions building, the villa, the loft, whatever you want to call it. My room is on the top floor, those tiny little windows you see on each side of the protruding corner.
The view of my room from outside the door. My bed on the right unmade, the desk that i rarely use, and two of the tiny four windows I have (the others are on the right side of my bed). The walls are bare, but I'm planning on putting up some pictures or something. I don't know.
The view from the corner with my bed. The desk I actually use and the bed that I don't use. But just think, if you come and visit.... Oh and I know it looks really crooked, but it's just the angular ceiling...or is it??? I don't know what that means.
Well I hope you've all had your fill of pictures for the time being. So all of you have a good labor day, enjoy it since we don't get the day off. Ah yes, I almost forgot.
I decided that I needed to make this a bit more interactive. So, there will be a contest approximately once a week (depending on if I remember or not). This weeks contest: do something distinctly American for me since I cannot. The best, most creative, most to my liking will win. Post your activities that you do as a comment on here. Sound good? Capisce?
So the picture above has most of my friends, most of the study abroads--except for the two girls in the front on the left, I don't really know them. But next to them is donna, and then further right from her only half in the picture is britta. They both go to Tulane. Then moving left is Danielle, goes to Rice. Me. Then Bill from CU Boulder, he lives next door to me and I probably hang out with him and John the most. John is just to the left of him--he is hilarious. He goes to Luther college in Iowa, but he's from South Dakota. Below him is Megan on the left and Sarah on the right. There's a few of my friends not in this picture, but that's most of them.
My crazy buddy John. And no, he's not drunk--he's funny like that all the time.
I was supposed to go white water rafting tomorrow in Interlaken, but apparently there isn't enough water so the river is too low. I guess they say that you need water to go white water rafting. Who knew? So that sucks. I suppose I'll maybe go to Blues to Bop tomorrow also. I think I'll take some time in the afternoon for solitude though--that would be nice. Any suggestions on how I should spend my suddenly free weekend?