Famous for its iconic pink elephant, The Casarosso is undoubtedly the most famous sex show in Amsterdam. I didn’t get to go and see the show, but my friends who did say that it was quite the experience! Because I don’t want to reveal too much (you should be as fascinated as my friends were when you watch the show yourself!), all I can say is that you’ll probably be surprised with what these women can do with their nether regions. With that said, tickets cost around 30-50euros and give you as long as you want inside the theater area. Unlike most shows, sex shows don’t have an actual start and end. Couples have assigned “routines” and they repeatedly perform this routine from the time The Casarosso opens its doors until it closes. If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, I suggest going! It’s a once in a lifetime cultural experience, and who knows, you might even get the chance to be called on stage as a volunteer!
2. Amsterdam Sex Museum (Damrak 18 1012 LH Amsterdam, Netherlands)
This one, I actually got to go to. It isn’t much, but if you’re up for a laugh, entrance to the museum only costs 4euros. If you do decide to visit this odd museum, you’re in for tons of pornographic photographs, paintings, life-sized dolls, and models of various sexual icons: Marilyn Monroe with her fluttering skirt above the subway vent, a pimp, and even a flasher who shocks unsuspecting guests every few seconds. If you think you’re brave enough, there’s even a porn-and-fetish room that apparently leaves some visitors slightly offended. Other crowd favorites are the mannequin of a Dutch girl giving a handjob in a public urinal (this one you can see AND hear), and the giant model penises that tourists (including me, admittedly) insist on taking photos with.
One of my favorite stops on one of the walking tours we took, the Condomerie boasts a wide array of (you guessed it) condoms. The Condomerie has condoms that are ribbed, spiked, and in the shape of carrots, bananas, mushrooms, ducks, foxes, horses, giraffes, elephants, and even the Statue of Liberty and Big Ben! If the Condomerie isn’t enough for you, walk the length of the street you’re on (Warmoesstraat) and I’m pretty sure you’ll find just what you’re looking for. On this one street, you’ll find stores that sell everything from vibrators to toys, to props, to costumes, and to various unimaginable devices. The street is also home to dozens of (in)famous coffee shops, a fantastic cheese store, and one of my favorite dessert places in Europe… but that’s another story!
A year ago, I was scrambling around my house for last minute preparations. I was leaving. Everything I had done for the past year and a half - all the sleepless nights salvaging my grades, all the stress for extra-curricular activities, all the hoping for the slot in the one school in my dream city - had led up to this moment. I was leaving. FOR PARIS!
Photo by Gisella Velasco
My favorite quote about Paris is by singer/dancer/starlet of the Jazz Age Josephine Baker: “Paris is the dance, and I am the dancer.” I don’t just connect to the quote because I’m a dancer, but because I have spent 5 months of my life dancing Paris, and I don’t think I will ever forget the steps. When I arrived, in our car ride going into the city, I pressed my nose against the window and couldn’t contain my disbelief. I was in Paris. It sounds ridiculous, but it was the beginning of a love affair, that I’m pretty sure will last a lifetime.
Paris from L’Opera Garnier, photo by Victoria Velasco
Like a lover, Paris draws you in with her beauty. Where else can you find a place that beautiful? Every street was beautiful. Every tree was beautiful. Gosh, everyone was beautiful. Though I had gone to the tourist spots of the city countless times, I would always feel like I was seeing those areas, and the city itself for the first time. For real, I’d sit and sigh and wonder where Earth ended and Paris began. However, like any real lover, Paris is not always kind. There were days when I missed home, when I missed my friends, when I wanted to go away. The Parisians are not mean, but they are reserved. They are not like our American friends, so eager to ask you about your day or if you need any help. They are very much like their city - they keep to themselves and wait for you to be so drawn to them by your own curiousity that you just initiate the conversation yourself. They do not like speaking English. I don’t blame them, after hearing French everyday for 5 months, English just isn’t as beautiful to hear.
Locks of love, photo by Victoria Velasco
But I loved Paris anyway. There would be difficult days. But there would also be days when my roommates would say, “Let’s dress up, eat good food, take pictures, and be Parisian.” And on those days, I would sit in front of the fountains in the Jardin des Tuileries and sigh. Those days reminded me how blessed I was to experience such a city, such a world all it’s own. No matter how wonderful discovering new places felt, I always loved coming home to Paris.
Place de la Concorde, photo by Victoria Velasco
My favorite spot in Paris is Place de la Concorde. Not just because it’s so beautiful, but because when you step out of the Metro station, and you see on one end Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, and on the other end the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre (and on a clear day, the Eiffel Tower) and you just know. You know you’re not anywhere else in the world and you know that there can’t be a place like this anywhere else in the world. You’re in Paris.
To whoever reads this, I hope you go to Paris. Or at the very least, I hope you love a city the way that I have loved, and continue to love Paris. I hope you love your city and long for it with every fiber in you. I hope your city stays with you wherever you are. I hope you are lucky enough that even when you return to it the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time, you will always see it for the first time.
Living abroad for half a year gives you the perks of spending your major holidays in cities famous for those holidays. Already being in Germany, of course we had to spend our New Year’s Eve in none other than Berlin.
We booked a room a bit far from our main destination which was Brandenburger Tor. It was our fault for not booking earlier. Rooms run out fast considering that thousands of people really do flock to Berlin to party. We were aiming for the largest one in the area that came alongside a countdown for the fireworks. But more on that later.
Before 11pm, however, barely anything is open save for a few restaurants. Most of them ask for reservations but we were lucky enough to find an Italian restaurants willing to accommodate us. It was a bit scary walking down the somewhat empty streets with small groups of people every now and then setting off fireworks. There was a group that set some off by the U-bahn station near our hotel. We and a few of the other passengers shot them a few glares. Not sure if they got the hint. When I say that the streets leading to the street party could be compared to a warzone, I don’t say that metaphorically. You really have to watch yourself. There are fireworks everywhere, broken bottles on the street, swarms of people trying to make their way to the gate— chaos, but of course, all in solidarity with celebrating the new year, so it wasn’t uncommon for a random stranger to come up to you and greet you. They’d offer you drinks, and some would even pick up half finished bottles of alcohol from the streets. We didn’t get desperate enough to do that though.
We didn’t exactly watch the fireworks from Brandenburger Tor. There was a barricade that shut us off from the main area. Apparently, you couldn’t go past the metal railings after 10:30pm for safety reasons. That left a huge crowd of restless people by the barricades right until the clock struck midnight. Fireworks went off everywhere, people cheered, toasted, high-fived each other. Then that’s where the party began. A few folks decided to bypass the barricades through a small opening at the sides close to my group. A few of us followed suit but security stopped the rest of us once they noticed what was happening. With all the security concentrated on one side, the opposite end of the barricade then pushed open and the crowd went absolutely wild. After being stuck by those metal barricades for an hour and a half just waiting to party, everyone just ran towards the gate. Before I knew it, we were right before Brandenburger Tor which was lit up with a grand stage playing songs that ranged from traditional German hits to Psy’s “Gangnam Style”.
Don’t ask me how many foreigners went up to our group every time that song played. I honestly lost count. We bought some champagne and drank it as we walked along the streets. A word of caution though. Be ready to have an extremely difficult time finding a restroom. We had to wait in line for almost 30 minutes just to relieve ourselves.
A German friend of ours told us about a club that we had to go to on New Year’s called Matrix (pronounced as “Mah-trix”, not “May-trix”). What sold us was that the club serves breakfast come the first morning of the year for all the remaining people in the club. It’s located right underneath a train station and looks a little bit sketch at first glance but once you enter, you’ll find yourself in a club with literally five separate rooms dedicated to five different styles of music. There were rooms dedicated to Latin, Rock, the Oldies, and two sections dedicated to EDM. One of the rooms that played dubstep far too often even had a few cages and a stage full of dancers.
What I loved most about the club was that there were dozens of different kinds of characters that found it so amusing to see a bunch of Asian kids partying together. One conversation I had with a random guy who danced with me went somewhat like this:
Dude: Where are you from?
(This goes on with him naming several other Asian countries. For some strange reason, the Philippines never came up.)
Dude: I give up! Tell me!
I didn’t. Heh.
We ended up going back to our hotel at around 6am with the sky still dark and smoke still heavy in the air. There were still a lot of people out on the streets, drunkenly happy and singing in the company of friends. Berlin was definitely an experience, and if I could, I’d definitely go back to spend my New Year’s Eve there.
Here’s a final photo of who I spend the first few hours of 2013 with. From left to right: Rap, Dana, Gisella and Faye.
Like all of the cities we’ve written about so far, Berlin is another one of those culture-packed cities. Berlin is a melting pot of ancient and modern history. At your fingertips, you can explore areas that take you back (way way back), such as the Museumsinsel - the Museum Island. You can also explore areas that don’t take you as far back, but bring you to a time not so long ago, like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, and Checkpoint Charlie, among others. Berlin is an urban environment, perfect for the city-dweller, but chill and laidback enough that those who prefer the quieter lifestyle can still find a home for themselves. Berlin’s rich history is complemented perfectly by its art culture - not just fine art, but some of the best and coolest street art in the world. Be prepared for a different side of Germany - but don’t worry too much, there’s still beer.
Tuscany Travel Tip #2: Take a Day Trip to Pisa, Siena & San Gimigniano
One of the many wonderful things about Florence is that you can take a day trip to Pisa, Siena, & San Gimignano. While you can access the three cities from Florence by train, I took a day trip using Walkabout Tours. The tour included transportation via coach, tour guides in each city, and a wonderful lunch in a Chianti vineyard. Plus, I got to see the famous rolling hills of Tuscany!
The first stop of the tour is Siena. Yes, that’s what the color is named after. It’s a small city packed with history: it has the world’s oldest bank, and is famous for hosting the Palio horserace in the Piazza dell Campo. Tickets for balcony seats to the race (a.k.a. you buy a seat on a balcony in one of the apartment buildings surrounding the piazza) can cost thousands of euros.
Piazza della Campo (literally: Plaza of the Shell)
At the heart of most Italian cities is the Duomo - a large, looming figure of a Church that stands tall and proud over most of the structures, usually Byzantine in design (look out for blue and white stripes). The Duomo di Siena is hands down, the most beautiful church I have ever been to. It is similar in appearance to the Duomo in Florence (see: blue and white stripes) but smaller. Our tour guide told us that each of the statues sculpted on the facade of the church represented a different religious story.
Duomo di Siena
Like any good book, the best part of the Duomo was the interior. Let me tell you now, I have a thing for beautiful ceilings. I’m still yearning for the day when I get to go to the Sistine chapel and marvel at the world’s most famous ceiling. I. Love. Ceilings. And the Duomo has a heck of ceiling. And walls. And a floor, too.
The thing about the floor of the Duomo di Siena (well the entire church in general…but ESPECIALLY THE FLOOR) is that it’s really really old. It was built in 1215 and opened to the public in 1263. That’s almost 750 years of existence. Whoa. A structure that old has to be kept in tip-top shape, right? Well, the floor has seen better days (and feet) and let me tell you, this is no ordinary floor. It’s covered in numerous works of mosaic art done by 40 artists over a 200-year period. Because of the eroding quality of human footsteps, the floor is covered for most of the year by a gigantic carpet. Seriously, you can only see it for a few weeks during the year. Usually the church is super crowded when the floor is uncovered but what do you know, the day I went to Siena was the day before they opened the floor to the public. Yup, I got to see the floor.
Workers taking off the carpet
After Siena, I took my lunch in a beautiful Chianti vineyard. I got to pretend to be classy and taste wines. Big surprise: the one I liked the most had the most alcohol content. Afterwards, we boarded the bus to make the short trip to San Gimignano.
San Gimignano is one of the smallest cities I’ve been to. I think my tour guide said you could walk it in a day, but in the Italian summer heat? No. Way. My sister and I barely made it into the main square! But that was fine, considering that that was where San Gimignano’s main attraction is: the gelato.
San Gimignano is famous for having world-champion gelato. You heard that right. SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD, there are gelato championships. And this one is the winner. It has some pretty weird flavors: saffron, rice, lavender. I tried pineapple, mango, and rosemary raspberry. You can read more about weird gelato flavors in our next entry (Yes, we eventually get to talking about the food). A word to the wise: there is a nearby store that boasts world-champion ice cream, but Dondoli is the legit stuff. You can’t cop that anywhere else.
After trying (and failing) to climb San Gimignano’s highest bell tower, and seeking refuge from the heat, we boarded our coach yet again to head to our last destination: Pisa. Don’t be fooled: there is literally nothing else to do in Pisa than to look at the Field of Miracles. You can go to any of the buildings in the Field of Miracles, but really that’s all there is to do. Not kidding.
Piazze dei Miracoli
The Field of Miracles is made up of 4 buildings: the Duomo (cathedral), the Baptistry, the Camposanto, and the Campanile, which many know as the leaning tower of Pisa.
From where I stand
It’s about 10 extra euros (on top of our original tour charge) to climb the tower. You can only go with a certain amount of people and are only allowed to carry your camera with you. No bags, or it might tip it over. Jk. No, but really, any extra weight might cause the tower to sink further into the ground, which gives it it’s leaning appearance. While the tower isn’t very high (8 storeys), the fact that it leans and you can feel the lean makes it pretty scary. The marble steps are already smooth and slippery from centuries of use. The view of the Field of Miracles is pretty awesome though. BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE VIEW, let’s get to what you really want to do: take pictures with the tower. There’s a certain angle to it, and you will find many people looking strange trying to angle their hands perfectly to “pushing” the tower. That’s the job of the person holding the camera. If you’re the model, stick your hand out and wait for them to adjust. It’ll be simpler that way!
(My attempt was failure, and will therefore…BE POSTED!! Have fun laughing at me; I was going for “tower is falling on me.”)
Public transportation in Florence is comprised of mostly buses, trams, and taxis. Though, like most Italian cities, the public transportation is pretty chaotic. But Florence is too beautiful a city to experience from behind the windows of an automobile. You can pretty much walk everywhere, and what’s even better…you should! While my feet suffered considerably in my one week vacation (at one point, I almost cried…maybe), it was good training for the rest of my stay in Europe. Plus, it helped keep off the pounds of pasta and gelato.
Walking through Florence, walking through any citymakes you appreciate it more. You see the small nooks and crannies, the secret corners and alleyways, the blood that flows through the city’s veins. Walking through the city made me feel like I wasn’t a tourist anymore, minus how I’d have to check my map every two feet, but it felt cool to be able to go wherever my feet would take me.
On a fine, sunny (see also: SWELTERING) day, I took a walk down to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous and oldest bridge. You can find a lot of Italian jewelry shops on this bridge, as well as some cool, authentic Italian leather goods.
I didn’t take a walk just to go on the bridge though, and there was no way I could afford any of the jewelry being sold (almost 900 euros for a pair of earrings…yikes!). I was on my way to see Palazzo Pitti, one of the many palaces in Italy owned by the famous and notoriously wealthy Medici family. At one point in the 18th century, the palazzo was used as a military base for Napoleon. Today, it houses one of the richest collections of Renaissance paintings. And the rooms and ceilings (I have a thing for frescoes) are breathtaking. You can learn more about the interior of the palazzo here.
For 23 euros, you score a ticket to the palazzo, and the famed Boboli Gardens.While you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the palazzo, you can take pictures outside in the gardens, which are breathtaking all on their own.
The Ampitheater facing the gardens
Take some time to explore the gardens; take a picture with the cypress trees! Make sure to bring lots of water with you, and a pair of sunglasses! The air in Italy is really dry, so it’s pretty easy to get dehydrated. The sunglasses are for looking cool. Optional: scarf.
Let’s take a break from our German adventures, and take a stroll through the rolling hills of Tuscany. Located in central Italy, Tuscany is a region composed of several cities, including the famous Florence, Siena, Pisa, and San Gimigniano. I was lucky to spend a week in Florence before my school term in Paris began and let me tell you, what a city. Though smaller than it’s more famous brother Rome, Florence is a city overflowing with culture. From navigating its crooked streets, to climbing to the top of the Duomo (and the leaning tower of Pisa), my vacation in Tuscany proved to be an extremely memorable one. Watch out for more entries out this week on fun under the Tuscan sun.
What is the main reason people visit Munich? Ask anyone, especially during the months of August, September, and October, and the answer you’re most likely going to get is “Oktoberfest!” Admittedly, the event may have been the reason why a few of us even considered Munich to begin with.
The famous (or infamous?) Bavarian beer festival isn’t actually held in October, but during the last few weeks of September. Besides that, everything you think you know about Oktoberfest is probably true. Enormous beer tents? Check. Beer that comes in 1-liter mugs? Check. Intimidating German waitresses dressed in traditional Bavarian drindls (yes, that’s really how it’s spelled) carrying up to 10 mugs at a time? Check.
With such a big event with hundreds of people (and not to mention tons of alcohol), it’s also important that you know how to keep your wits about you. Therefore, here’s a list of things to keep in mind once you arrive at the Theresienwiese grounds:
You’re most likely going to want to have a maß of beer once you get there. You’re most likely going to want to sneak your way into a beer tent. You’re most likely going to get yourself drunk. Therefore the number one rule when you go to Oktoberfest is: Never go alone! Always be around people you trust just in case someone tries to steal something from you, or some sleazy old guy tries to take you outside to “talk”. Your friends know how to keep you safe, as you know how to keep them safe, so help each other out! Besides, the friends you trust could also be excellent wingmen.
Expect a lot of drunk and “friendly” Italian (or just plain sleazy) men. And a lot of marriage proposals. Especially if you’re Asian. If you’re alright with getting groped, you have nothing to worry about. If you do mind, be wary of your surroundings. If you’re a girl walking through extremely crowded areas, make sure that you keep your lady parts well protected.
Just because we told you to be wary of people doesn’t mean that you have to avoid everyone. Don’t be afraid to make new friends! Share in the camaraderie of beer and cheer!
It’s pretty easy to sneak your way into a beer tent. (You didn’t hear it from us!) Once night falls, just make your way towards the back of the tent and enter through the back doors where the smokers usually hang out. Trust me, the inside of the tents are worth the sneaking around.
Learn some German! A few of the popular tunes you’ll hear around the place will be in very simple German, and they’re very fun to sing along to. Also, Germans are much more friendly if they see you singing along with them in their native tongue. Who knows? They might even treat you and your friends to a round of maßes.
There are a dozen food stalls you can choose from where a variety of traditional Bavarian dishes and snacks are just waiting to be tasted! Our personal favorites were: mandeln (hot, candied nuts that they sell by the 100 grams), the fries, steak sandwiches (literally a slab of steak between two pieces of bread), the roasted half chickens, and the foot long bratwurst. Trust us when we say that you’re going to gain twice your weight by the time Oktoberfest is over. Not to mention the beer belly you’ve dreamed of having will finally be yours.
Have you ever ridden on those rides with swings? If you have, picture riding that exact same thing except 20 storeys high. (Maybe we’re exaggerating a bit, but it’s more or less 20 storeys high.) Oktoberfest is full of rides that will take you high up into the air, spinning around and upside down, scare the hell out of you, and much more! The Theresienwiese grounds literally becomes an adult version of Disney World with the wildest rides from Six Flags. You cannot not ride a single ride. Look out for the roller coaster with hoops in the shape of the Olympics logo, and this large ride with a fountain where you could splash your seatmates while you hang upside down!
Of course, these are just some of the things we experienced during our Oktoberfest adventure. But remember, whatever is written about Oktoberfest will never compare to the actual event. You have to go experience the fun for yourself. Therefore the last thing you have to keep in mind when you visit Oktoberfest is: party hard (yet responsibly) and enjoy! Carpe diem! Etcetera! Whatever happens in Oktoberfest stays in Oktoberfest anyway, so don’t be afraid to let loose!
GENERAL TIP #1:As with any restaurant, they tend to be full on weekends and holidays. Try to call and reserve if you’re planning to come in during a busy time. Also, some restaurants have odd operating hours, so be sure to do your research before you make plans!
GENERAL TIP #2: These are just seven restaurants that we enjoyed when we were there. We suggest walking around the city and finding favorites of your own as well!