Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bus Episode

When it comes to taking public transportation, it can be really crazy. Most of time, we don't know which train or bus to take and then... it's hard to tell if it's time to get off. Sometimes, we don't even know where or how to purchase the tickets. Usually when we ask those questions, we get "$%^&@%^&)(*" depends on whichever country we are in.

So...about two weeks ago on a trip to Maulbronn visiting the monastery.... we managed to find the right bus to take but couldn't figure out when to get off. Finally, I asked the bus driver "Maulbronn? Monastery?" He of course replied,"&*()_)(*^%$" I looked at him and looked at the only other passenger left beside Josh and I... and repeated again "Monastery?" The driver kept on driving and ignoring us. Minutes later, both the driver and the other passenger signaled us to get off the bus. After we got off, we realized that the bus driver had to turn around the bus and dropped us off at the Monastery. We should have gotten off the bus a long ago...

Bus schedule can only be suggestions in Italy... If we were in the main station, it's always on time. If we were somewhere else, we could never count on it. And we leaned "why" on the trip of Bari. We found the right bus from the airport to the main train station and another bus to the B&B. We had purchased two ticket from the first bus which we took on a second bus to the B&B. Josh asked the second bus driver if we needed to purchase another two tickets but the bus driver said we were okay (in Italian of course...we just guessed we were okay). We didn't understand why...but we believed the driver. Just when the bus took off from the main station, five or six big guys stood up and said something really loud in Italian and signaled to check tickets. Josh hanged over our tickets and I had my fingers crossed (because in the first bus I saw a Italian poster with 100Euro sign ... I guessed it's a fine if we didn't have valid tickets). My guess was right...and for whatever reason our tickets were valid. Whew!!! We saved two hundred Euro. But the guys behind us were not as lucky as we were. All we heard were very loud conversation and argument in Italian and lots of commotion. One appeared to get a 100 Euro fine. The other seemed to have trouble providing any legal ID document. One of the ticket checkers even asked the driver to stop the bus and got two policewomen (who happened to be walking on the side walk) in the bus to arrest the undocumented guy. Josh and I were like....we got to buy bus tickets every time we take bus. Later, we found the bus ticket was valid for as many buses as you needed in 75 minutes from being punched.

Bari Italy

Flat, lots of olive trees, and unusual houses were the scene from the Bari airport to city center. It was not much too see and I started wondering what we were going to do here.

Next day, we took a super slow and old train (we are spoiled by the German fancy train system) to Alberobello 56 Km southeast of Bari. We were not sure what to expect or to see besides a little description from tourist information office. After a little walk later, we found the so called Trulli*. It was very interesting to see. When we walked around the trulli village, Josh kept wondering if these trullis would have leakage problems since they were built by piling up limestone. It didn't appear that any dirt or clay was used from the outside until we went into the gift shops... he saw that the inside of trulli was nicely constructed with no holes on the roof. It was too bad that the museum was closed. They had weird open hour (generally, people in the south close business between 1-3 in the afternoon) except for the gift shops... luckily... we got some unique souvenir for my roof collection.

*According to World Heritage, "the trulli, limestone dwellings found in the southern region of Puglia, are remarkable examples of drywall (mortarless) construction, a prehistoric building technique still in use in this region. The trulli are made of roughly worked limestone boulders collected from neighbouring fields. Characteristically, they feature pyramidal, domed or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs."

We spent another day exploring Bari's old town which was a fish market way back when. Streets were narrow; buildings were crowded; people's laundry stuck outside of their balconies (I happened to pick a street without the laundry for the photo's really everywhere.) We also found anther roof tile that was originally from the Cattedrale San Sabino and the price was ONLY a thousand Euro. We both decided to pass. It was a raining day and windier by the coast. Our umbrella was totally destroyed at the end of our trip. We ended up spending our time in various neighborhood coffee/bar to avoid the bad weather. Fun and interesting, but not the sun filled Italy we had hoped for!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The wonder land - Netherland

I love Holland. People speak at least 4 languages: Dutch, French, German, and English. For that reason, it's easy to understand why Dutch people's tolerance and acceptance are so high. Not only are they the friendliest people beside Irish, they are the nicest, most helpful, and liberal. If you know what I am talking about...same sex marriage, prostitution (red light district), and marijuana (coffee shop) are legal in Netherlands. We did some window shopping at the red light district and checked out the coffee shop the first night we arrived in Amsterdam. I was like WOW...that was so right in front of my face.

Amsterdam is also spoken to Venice of the North because of its canals. A boat ride with a glass of wine and a bar of chocolate was a great way to see Amsterdam city. Alone the canals, I saw old style compacted Dutch apartment, modern boat houses, tons of bicycle on the streets (We almost got ran over by bicycle several times. Bicycles have right of the way in Holland.) and a lot of bridges. Wondering around the city was also easy too... there were so many shopping areas and markets from most expensive and luxurious brands to cheapest things. Albert Cuypmarket was like a traditional Chinese market (expect for much bigger and longer than what I was used to) that sold everything and everything was cheap from anything you needed in the house to fresh sea food. And the flower market... beautiful tulips. I got to tell you that Albert Cuymarket and the flower market were a housewife's heaven...I wished I live in Amsterdam. I felt in love with Amsterdam right there.

Whichever city we visited, we usually picked a couple of museums to see. Here in Amsterdam, I went to Van Gogh Museum. The more I got to know him...the more I thought what a depressing guy lived such a bitter life. However, that's probably why his paintings were so great. Too bad that he didn't live to see his own success. Then, I went to Heineken Experience to cheer myself up. The entrance ticket included three bottles of Heineken beers and a gift. I didn't realize that Heineken was a Netherlands' beer. I learned more about the beer processes and Heineken history and culture. They even got rides for visitors. One of the rides was called something like - bottle experience. Basically, I got to experience what it was like to be a beer bottle! From been washed, filled up with beer, packed, shipped, and straight to the party animal's hands. It was FUN!

We also visited a couple of small towns Harrlem and Utrecht after Josh's conference. We visited the Frans Hals Museum in Harriem where we learned about the Harriem city and tulip high price market history over Frans' paintings. There was also Grote Markt, a quare where St. Bavokerk and Stadhuis (city hall) were at...and a farmers' market on Saturday.

There were so much to see with so little time. I only got to see a fraction of Amsterdam and Netherlands. I hope to visit the country again in the near future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Maulbronn Monastery (Kloster)

We were in Maulbronn, a little town in the middle of no where Germany. The public transportation to Maulbronn was not every convenient. We had to take a train and a bus to get there. The bus didn't come very often either... it took us more then 2 hours to get home although it's not far from Stuttgart.

Maulbroon Monastery was a significant historical architecture site. It was designated a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Herrtage Site in 1993. It is just like the Pyramids of Gizeh, the Great Wall of China, or the Spanish Escorial.

Look at the color of trees in the picture. Don't you love fall. It's so beautiful.

Oktoberfest (Volkfest) in Stuttgart

It was like a big fair with "six flags" size of rides, many games for stuff animals, and traditional German junk food. Beer tents were as big as a football field with a live band on the stage in each tent. We got there early Saturday afternoon...not many people...empty tables were everywhere. We met up with Josh's work friends in the mid-afternoon. By evening, there were more friends showed up and the beer tent was entirely packed. Live music never stopped and cheers songs was sang in every other song. Whenever the song ("cheers" - Prost in German) was sang, people lifted up their beers and drank. The atmosphere was high and super happy. We cheered with friends and strangers whoever happened to be at the next table. Everyone was standing on the bench... SUPER FUN!! We took a lot of pictures of us and friends...most of them were blurry and goofy... who wouldn't be after our brains and bodies' been soaked and marinated with beer for so many hours. It was super funny the next day when we looked at the pictures. Very good experience and somehow blurred memory.