Bernin’ it Down, Swiss Style

IMG_1630

City of Bern (personal photo).

Let me take you to our time in Switzerland, the most naturally beautiful country of the 9 we visited (albeit with some tough competition). We were lucky enough to experience two cities in the magnificent, and frankly almost unrealistically majestic landscape populated by the Swiss. Our first stop was the capital, Bern. Throughout our trip, we tried to find the “off the beaten path” activities and places, even in the bigger cities. There was nowhere else where we succeeded in that more than Bern. Staying with Airbnb hosts made this considerably easier for us; to experience the city more like locals than tourists.

We stayed about a five minute train ride from the main Bern train station, and considering the relatively small size of the capital, from there it was no further than a fifteen to twenty minute walk to anywhere we wanted to go. We made it there in late June, and even during that time, it reminds you of a picturesque winter wonderland, minus the snow. The buildings are reminiscent of what I would picture the North Pole to be, very robust, stone and brick construction, with elegant features including spires, clock towers, and pillars, and a river snaking through the stunning architecture; the Aare.

IMG_1639

 

Astronomic clock tower, downtown Bern (personal photo)

It took us about a day to get a really good feel of the city, all while trying the infamous chocolate and cheese (highly recommended). It was jacket weather about the whole time we were there, except the second day. And we jumped on that opportunity… To take a step back, on the nicer, hotter days of late summer it is a popular activity for the residents of Bern to swim in the crystal clear, and magnificently colored Aare River (pictured below). Now, considering that it is composed of melt from the Alps, it is easy to imagine the frigid temperature of the water that so appealingly invites you. Of course, on a hot day, this freezing water would be as refreshing as imaginable, but it was not one of those days, and we had no idea how cold it really got, all we could focus on was experience, and all in all, it was absolutely worth every second. There are entrances that line the calmer, swim-worthy stretch, but we decided that was too easy, and found a bridge, and there is no easing your way in off of a bridge… The shock was breathtaking, quite literally. When we re-broke the surface, we were gasping for air, and for a moment fearing we had made a big mistake. Normally, your body adjusts to the surrounding of a cold temperature, but not at this level. We floated until we got to the nearest exit, maybe 100-200 yards from the bridge, laughing in both anguish and joy, the whole way.

IMG_1644IMG_1651

Aare River, from an overlook (personal photo). Bridge from which we jumped.

The rest of our time there was spent walking to the further outskirts of the city, admiring architecture, and hiking a beautiful but long way to a viewpoint from which we could see the entire city, topped off with a rainbow to reward our efforts.

Our final stop in Switzerland was to a mountain town called Gimmelwald, nestled neatly in the Swiss Alps. Not to be confused with the popular Grindelwald resort town, Gimmelwald ended up a hidden gem, and an absolutely gorgeous, isolated two cable car ride from the base city, where we both wish we could have stayed for an entire six-week stretch. With a population of just over 100 people, not much exists in the town outside of its residents, but one hotel, and one hostel. To buy groceries, it takes another five-minute cable car ride to the next town, suspended over a seemingly infinite drop, but an even more beautiful view of the all encompassing cage of the Alps, shielding us from the outside world.

IMG_1687

Via Ferrata trail, Gimmelwald, Switzerland.

Activities there were exclusively hiking; wasting time doing anything else in that area is an inexcusable waste of beauty and time. The highlighted hike of our stopover was a three and a half hour trek of which I could write an entire post. To keep it short and sweet, it was by far the most steep of any hike I have ever experience, and being from Oregon, I have done my fair share of the activity. We began at an elevation of 1,638m from the town of Mürren, to the cable car station of Birg, mapped at 2,677m, and when we narrowly made the car down to the shop from which we rented our boots, both the operator and the shop owner were astounded that we had tackled the high-difficulty trail (much higher than we anticipated) at all based on our lack of experience in the Swiss Alps, let alone the time in which we finished. To say the least we felt quite accomplished, and went on to Italy with an extra load of pride in our packs.

Leprechauns & Guinness

Contrary to popular belief, and my personal hopes for our trip, Ireland did not provide us with gold at the end of the rainbows, excessive potato consumption/ crop space, nor did we see (and believe me, I searched up and down) leprechauns. Despite the disappointment we felt toward the unfortunate lack of mythical creatures, we made the most out of our trip there. With a start in Dublin, we were surprised to find that it was not exactly what we expected from the infamous capital of the land of clovers. And it was our own fault really, with the expectation of Ireland’s stereotypical green rolling hills, we quickly found that our needs would not be met by the city in that regard. On the other hand, our need for bangers and mash, fish and chips, the smoothest Guinness draft that will ever wash over our buds (yes, it gets better than the nice nitro stout you had at McNally’s the other night), and mindblowingly fantastic live music, sufficed for the drastic lack of greenery in the city.

Taste the Rainbow

 

Skittles Milkshake, Looking for the House in Dublin

 

Our visit began with the end of my former post; backpackless and frustrated. Along with a directionally unobserving (big mistake) cab ride to the residence of our Airbnb hosts. A residence located in an area with which our cab driver was quite concerned. The next day, we finally get our bags from the airport after waiting half of the day for their failed delivery. And here is where our lack of observation to direction proved to be quite a hindrance in our trek back home. With backpacks filled of six weeks worth of clothing and various supplies, feeling similar to what I would imagine is the weight of adolescent gorillas, we walked for about an hour trying to find our way back. The walk was well worth it though, if only for the Skittles milkshake we found in a local convenience store. With a container shaped like a juice box, but the look of the candy of the same name, we expected something a little more juicy than milky, and the initial assessment of the unique beverage was quite a shock. Though after accepting it for what it was, we found ourselves enjoying the candy-flavored milk (if you think it sounds atrocious, that is probably what Skittles expected you would conclude, hence the lack of its distribution in the U.S.). Already thoroughly enjoyed with the success of the walk thus far, and the power of Skittles in our system, we trekked on… and on… and on… Until we felt that we had missed the place by a significant margin. We did not have international phone plans, and relied solely on maps for our frequently failed efforts in navigation.

 

Bad Bobs

Bad Bob’s bar sign, Temple Bar, Dublin, Personal photo

It was at this time though, that we required the aid of a local to finally rescue us from breaking backs and grumbling stomachs, which we had neglected to take care of all day with the stress of our loss of everything we needed for the trip. The friendliness of the Irish people was incredible. Our first experience outside of our hosts, the man pulled out his phone and mapped the address for us without a second pause. He then proceeded to warn us about the bridge under which we had just crossed, that we needed to watch our heads because “the pigeons sh**t like rain under there.” So, laughing at his advice the entire time, we cautiously, but quite quickly (as is difficult with the adolescent gorilla partners on our backs) cross back under the bridge. It ended safely but we definitely made note of what he had meant. It was EVERYWHERE… I have no idea how we did not notice it the first time but the pigeons definitely do their thing how and wherever they want. Some of the angles at which it would have had to project in order to cover parts of the bridge were physical anomalies.

Temple Bar

Temple Bar, Dublin. Courtesy of: http://www.tripextras.com/ireland/dublin

 

Eventually, we made it back. The rest of our stay involved many nights at the infamous Temple Bar area, walking the city, and a visit to the Malahide castle just outside of the city; one thing that I wish we did much more on the trip. Malahide was a somewhat smaller castle in comparison to many throughout the country. Experiencing medieval history in real-life context was breathtaking, and is probably my most recommended thing to do for anyone’s trip abroad. There are more stories to come from the rest of the trip in my coming posts, I look forward to telling you all about it.

Malahide

Malahide Castle. Courtesy of: http://www.dublin.ie/gallery-view.aspx?imageId=831

Food: A Trip Around the Globe

Food is the power of the world. It drives the human mind and body, driving and developing the world that we live in today. Observing this universal use of food, we see astounding differences in its custom; whether it’s in the context of taste, consumption, historical or economic context. Though with the globalization of the world’s markets, especially food, why aren’t we all consuming or  accessing the same kinds of food? The affective factor: culture and its encompassing inclusion of the differences in people, and the values they hold. Reasons for these differences are especially clear when we take a closer look at the importance, value, and culture of food in the context of individual countries.

Our first trip is to Asia, taking a look at the cuisine on the other side of the world. A stop at Thailand; Thai cuisine echoes the country’s proximity to the ocean with aquatic animals playing a large role in a wide number of their dishes, and rice is paramount in the region. Beyond these, plants and herbs make a notable appearance in the common cuisine. Many Thais combine the tastes of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy into one meal. Dessert is often made using fruit or rice.

Due to the country’s Buddhist background, large cuts of meat are not typically used in cooking. Instead, meat is often shredded and combined with herbs and spices. Stewing, baking, and grilling were all traditional preparation techniques, but over time, countries including Japan, China, and Portugal have influenced preparation styles and content.

Thailand imports a vast amount of its food. In fact, it’s number 20 on the list of countries to which the U.S. exports food . At the same time, Thailand is one of the world’s leading suppliers of rice, sugar, shrimp, and pineapple.

For many Thais, eating alone is considered to be bad luck. Eating is a social occasion in Thailand, and people share the dishes they buy with the people with whom they’re eating. Thai food isn’t served in different courses as customary in western culture, and instead is served all at once. Thai culture emphasises a harmony of tastes in each dish and throughout the entire meal.

Thai Dish

Traditional Thai dish crispy pork with a fried egg atop the jasmine rice served with chili sauce. Courtesy of: 123rf.com

 

Our next visit will be to the Northeast of Asia. the food culture here is highly connected with religious perspective; both Buddhism and Confucianism, emphasizing nature-friendly cultivation. According to Chinese legend, chopsticks were invented by a Confucian philosopher in 500 B.C. because forks and knives were considered symbols of war. China, Korea, and Japan have similar religious and cultural backgrounds in cuisine, due to their history of trade.

The region’s food focuses on myriad tastes in one dish; fats, oils, and sauces are emphasized in cooking. Stir-fry has been a popular way to cook Chinese food, whereas grilling and boiling are customary in Korean food. Japanese food has been connected with deep-frying or raw foods, but modern daily meals in Northeast Asia have been influenced by globalization and western cultures.

The prices of food ingredients in our Northeast Asian countries are lower than in the U.S. and European countries, but are found to be higher than those in other Asian nations, but vary depending city and region of country. Interestingly, Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo are surprisingly high compared to the prices found in New York City. This is most probably due to the high level in food import, with China leading the world. Though, Korea and Japan both import meats and vegetables from America, China, and other Asian countries.

Japanese Dish

Nigiri shusu photo by Jerry Doughut@flickr

 

On to Europe, where we will first take a taste of German cuisine. Typically, when one thinks of Germany, it’s unlikely that food is the first cultural aspect to come to mind. Contrary to popular thoughts, Germany has a very diverse selection; ranging from the simple pork and potatoes, to a variety of seafood dishes. Cooking styles vary per region, with a particularly vast difference between the East and West.

German cuisine consists of three main foods: meat, “Grundnahrungsmittel” (a staple food typically bread or potatoes), and some vegetable (such as asparagus or cabbage). German meals are generally separated into breakfast, lunch, and dinner like in the U.S. Though, in Germany, lunch is typically the largest meal as compared to dinner in the U.S.

Meals in Germany are usually social events and drinks are served with most. The most common alcoholic beverages are beer, brandy, and schnapps. German beer is widely known as the best in the world, due to the government ruling of Deutsche Reinheitsgebot in the sixteenth century. This “law of purity” required all beers to be made with the same three ingredients: water, hops, and barley.

One of the most prominent differences between German and American food cultures is found in shopping practice. In most cases, Americans will take the one-stop-shop approach and go to large supermarkets to buy everything. In Germany, shopping is a longer process. Though Germans have supermarkets, it is normal for the average citizen to go to two or three different stores (such as bakeries or butchers) in one trip.

German Dish

Traditional German Plate: sausage, potatoes, and vegetables Courtesy of: http://afifaskana.com/

 

A quick hop on the train and we are in France. The French are widely known as the cuisine experts of the world. The culture is strong, and valued highly among its citizens. Known famously for their cheeses, breads, pastries, and wine, they hold “haute” standards for the quality and exclusiveness of their products. For example, carbonated wine is legally only allowed to be called champagne if it is produced and exported from the champagne area in the French countryside. Their ability to produce the only real champagne in the world is a staple of France’s exclusivity when it comes to production.

Their largest food exports solidify their reputation in their renowned areas of production. According to the OEC, France’s 7th largest overall export is wine, making up nearly two percent of its $532 billion in exports, securing them as the number one exporter of wine in the world. At number 13, holding the number five spot in world wheat exportation. Not far behind, at 15th is hard liquor, number two exporter in the world. Finally we land on cheese at number 20. This may be a surprise to some, as France is widely known for their cheese. But the differences in pasteurization laws (although the gap in law is closing drastically) governing French cheese have affected its ability to be exported, especially to the United States.

It is bread though, that has had the greatest affect on French cuisine. The casual veins of the French Revolution run deep into the heart of humanitarianism, but interestingly enough, bread had a provocative effect on the efforts as well. Bread was the staple of the common man’s diet, and royalty was in its control. According to Sylvia Neely’s A Concise History of the French Revolution, the average 18th-century worker spent half of his daily wage on bread. Then wheat crops failed in 1788-89, expenditure rose to 88% of the common worker’s wage. Commoners placed blame on their monarchist government, and the bread crisis served to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, igniting revolution.

To the dismay of the French people and their cuisine, its artistry and presence in the world has been declining vastly since even the ‘60s, according to the New York Times. Globalization has been tough on the classic French cuisine, though the innovation and evolution it has inspired is overshadowed by the fact that France has been McDonald’s second most profitable market. French food culture has impacted cuisines all over the world, and it is far from disappearance.

French Dish

Du vin, du frômage, du pain, Courtesy of: http://thedish.restaurant.com/

 

Flying south, we find ourselves in India, where approximately half of Indian people eat rice as their staple food. Others consume wheat, barley, maize and millet. Some of India’s foods are from thousands of years ago such as  wild grains, herbs and plants. A lot of food that is still popular in Indian culture today are from the Indus time period, including those mentioned above. The Indus valley people cooked with ginger, green peppers, oil, and turmeric root that was grounded down into an orange powder-like substance. Today, most Indian food is cooked using turmeric.

When Arayan speaking people entered India, leafy veggies, lentils, milk products and spices such as cumin and coriander were introduced. Compared to the United States, food in India is much more flavorful because of the variety of spices used. Food in India is usually made with up to twenty-five spices per meal! Their flavors are very elaborate and distinct to their culture.

Depending on their religion, Indian people will consume meat. If they are Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Christians, then they all eat meat. However if they are a lower class Hindu, they will eat any meat but beef. Hindus of the highest class are more often than not vegetarian and rarely even consume eggs.

With most of the population living in rural areas, about 73% of people rely on farming for employment. They sell many crops in urban markets within India and mainly export tea, coffee and a spice called cardamom. However, agriculturally, India is far behind their economic potential due to lack of technology and negative government involvement of labor, land and credit markets. Overall, these impacts are causing India’s potential economic growth to suffer.

Indian Dish

Traditional Indian curry chicken Courtesy of: recipes.sparkpeople.com

 

Finally, a look at world nutrition. Many countries not only utilize and consume products differently depending on the culture, but also control these products with their own rules and regulations. Many rules and regulations typically aim to meet specific sanitation and overall health requirements. In European countries, food safety guidelines seek to use minimal processing and prefer to utilize more traditional methods for growing and preparing food.

In comparing a culture such as the United States to a culture of an Asian or European country, dietary consumption and nutritional sources seem to greatly differ. When taking a closer look at the Mediterranean diet, which is more popular in Greek and Italian culture, it becomes quite obvious how factors such as processed and genetically modified foods serve as part of the problem for obesity in the U.S. Mediterranean dietary practices mostly consist of fresh homegrown vegetables, and also consist of little to no processed foods.

Access to food is another key factor that drives what, when, and how much people in different countries eat. In the U.S. food is located on every corner and in every direction that we turn. The problem is that fast and easily accessible food too often consists of a high caloric intake and very minimal nutritional value. In most other cultures, physical activity plays a major role in transportation for access to food, seemingly fighting off obesity one step at a time.

By: Conner Slater, George Ash, hayden Huff, Thomas Hyun, Lauren Imbierowicz, Mark McCord

The Airports in Hell

 

 

Last summer, I was lucky enough to be able to check off one of my top 5 bucket list items: Backpacking Europe. I took a six week trip along with my girlfriend to 9 countries and 17 cities. The trip ended up better than I could have imagined, with some rocky obstacles to get through, and more than a few good stories. We booked lodging mostly through Airbnb, with a few hostels peppered in where we couldn’t find listings, travelled by train, and lived as frugally as we could without missing out. The following, is the story of how we got there…

Well the adventures began before we had even gotten out of the country, our flight from Springfield, MO to Chicago was a late arrival, like a 10 minute window to make it to our next gate… in O’hare, the second we stepped of the plane, we were olympic track stars (queue starting pistol). It was an all out sprint to the next gate, weaving through families, unpredictable child walking patterns, and our arch nemesis of the event, the elderly (it almost seemed like they wanted us to miss it)… Luckily for us, we were relentless, and those who tried (see above) couldn’t stop us. We made it, with about two minutes to spare before the gate closed on us indefinitely. As we had only known each other just over six months, it came as a surprise to me that my girlfriend seemed to be losing her lung next to me when we sat down. Apparently she had “a mild” (because if you heard this, mild would not have been the first word to come to mind) case of athletically induced asthma, for which she had no inhaler. I felt bad for her trying to suppress the hacking in one of the most awkward places to be coughing like that, eventually it subsided, and we were finally on our way to Dublin, and in the clear…

IMG_1691

Fast forward about 9 hours. We land in London on our way to Dublin (by the end you’ll see the haplessness in that flight path). We surprisingly land on time and make our way through customs, a lengthy process as it is. Apparently there is a second round of security at this airport and we miss our flight to Dublin, with the assurance our bags will be transferred (foreshadowing?).  We eventually get on another flight, only to sit on it for 2 hours before de-boarding for mechanical issues. We are required at this point to grab our checked bags which (surprise) weren’t there.

IMG_1680

So we are sent from one person to another in attempt to retrieve them, at one point we end up in a restricted area and get kicked out. Finally we talk to a manager of the airline Air Lingus, and he tells us that Delta is responsible for our lost bags, but he wants to get us to Dublin that day, but we are worried about our two backpacks with everything we brought for our trip.

Apparently it wasn’t up to us and they said that our bags would be in Dublin before we got there… they weren’t. So at 12am we are talking to the bag attendant who tells us that the area we are staying is not a pleasant one, and that our bags will be delivered by noon the next day. Now we are bag-less and a little frightened with the newfound news.

IMG_1630

The place wasn’t as bad as we imagined, and the people we stayed with were great. The bags didn’t come the next day, and we missed crossing the delivery truck’s path to go to the airport and find them. It takes another 2 hours to finally get back to the carousels again, and I watch the bags drop onto it from the plane they got in on, late of course. It was a rough start, but we made it!

I can only imagine that taking a plane in hell, an experience such as that would be the norm.

(Pictures inserted for calming effect)