Exploring England

Hey again,

Hope all your midterms and essays have gone well!

I myself have finally gotten out of London for a weekend, to visit the countryside. I’m not sick of the city at all, but I would also like to travel around England, so when my friend suggested we come home with him for the weekend, I was more than happy to oblige. He’s from a small town called Warrington, near Manchester. The train ride there featured plains, sheep, and cows.

Now Warrington is nice, but there’s really not much to see, so we ended up going to Manchester for the day. Not going to lie – it was a bit of a disappointment. We probably should have planned our day in advance, but because we didn’t, we ended up walking around aimlessly. Got a few cute shots along the way:

Tudor pub

Tudor pub

P1010087It was refreshing to get out of the city for a few days, but we were all happy to come back.

In London, I took the rare opportunity of a sunny day to explore South Kensington, one of the nicest areas of the city. It’s full of posh boutiques, shops, museums, and cafes.

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Can I live here?

Can I live here?

A flat here would cost upwards of a million pounds

A flat here would cost upwards of a million pounds… so no, I can’t live here.

It’s definitely one of my favourite areas in London. If any of you have any suggestions of where to go in London (or England!) leave them in the comments below.

On an unrelated note, the leaves here are finally changing colour… and they are huge!

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Until next time…

Happy Hallows’ Eve!

– Veronika

Bureaucracy, Lights and Cell Phones

Not in Munich this time, but once again home in Berlin. I will get you all updated from the last two weeks here with some of my experiences at the Humboldt University.

First of all, all the international students who study must go through the Immatrikulation process. This basically means enrolment into the university. It is quite extensive and it took a lot of preparation to get it all done. Of course I needed to provide a photocopy of my passport- the king of all identification. I then had to show my Anmeldebescheinigung (the proof of residence documentation, which I discussed in a previous blog). They also wanted proof of sufficient health insurance during my studies.

I needed to pay a semester fee, which amounted to about 240 Euros. This covers costs like running the student international office and my semester-long public transit ticket. This ticket is the most valuable thing I walked away with from this whole process- I get to travel on ALL modes of transportation (S-Bahn trains, the regional long-distance trains, street cars, subways and buses) for the whole semester. And the semester lasts 5 months. The 240 Euros pretty much pays for itself. This is something I would like to see the TTC provide university students.

And the best part of the Immatrikulation? I received 50 Euros for nothing. Yes that’s right: free money! The city of Berlin gives all students who live in Berlin something called Begrüßungsgeld, which means “welcome money.”

My student ID: includes my student number, study information and most importantly, the transit ticket

My student ID: includes my student number to use the libraries for example, study/faculty information and most importantly, the transit ticket

So that’s enough with the university for now. An event that I attended last week was the Festival of Lights. Once per year, famous parts of the entire city are lit up in beautiful colourful displays. The light shows last all night and some of them even have music to play along with the changing colours. Some areas of illumination are the Berlin Cathedral, the East Side Gallery, the shopping mall at Alexanderplatz, the tall radio tower and some of the larger train stations. In total there are over 100 buildings which put on a show.

I would like to let you know as well about the phone plans in Germany. Back in Canada, we are all being ripped off (I guess you readers know that anyways already). I got the simplest and cheapest of all plans, and it is way more than I need. I am doing pay-as-you-go, so first off, that means I do not have any contract that I will have to worry about for when I leave to come home again. I pay only 10 Euros per month and I get all the internet I need. Well, it’s only supposed to be up to 500 MB, but even when I go over, the speed is still incredible. Last month for instance I used about 4 GB of data, and I had no slow loading times or problems surfing the net. I even use it back at my residence in conjunction with my laptop (what I will use in fact to upload this blog shortly :) ).

Out-going phone calls are only 9 cents per minute, which is very reasonable. And out-going texts are also 9 cents. But hardly anyone texts in Europe! Because the internet costs are so low, everyone uses an application called “WhatsApp” (this was completely new to me when I arrived). It is simply an app where you can text all of your contacts. Pictures, videos, recordings, group chats and so much more can be shared via “WhatsApp.” This is the main method through which I keep in contact with all my friends in Berlin. So, a piece of advice if you will ever be in Europe long enough to need a cell phone: download the “WhatsApp” application as everyone here uses it.

I know midterm season is still going on back home right now. For me, I am starting my third week of the semester. Kind of weird to think how different the schedules and university systems are. I am starting to feel the stress of classes as things are starting to pick up pace now. Good luck to those of you who still have midterms and I wish you all a good week!

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights

Brandenburg Gate- Festival of Lights

Brandenburg Gate- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hydrothermal Vent Systems & Deep Sea Gigantism

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Hej hej!

With the final week of Aquatic Ecology on the horizon, things are beginning to wind down for me here in Lund, for the moment anyway. This past week had everyone in class working in pairs to create PowerPoint presentations regarding a specified aquatic topic. My partner and I were given the topic of deep sea hydrothermal vent systems. Although I could happily write my entire post regarding this topic, for your sake, I will restrain myself. Instead, I would like to recommend the James Cameron documentary Aliens of the Deep, which discusses in detail why hydrothermal vent systems are so unique, as well as how our understanding of these systems is providing great insight into the search for extraterrestrial life. I’ll be the first to admit that the beginning, and end, of this documentary is slightly on the cheesy side, but the actual footage and information is brilliant!

Other topics presented during the past week were regarding mangrove forests, seagrass beds, fisheries, aquaculture, marine mammals, seabirds, and climate change. Overall, the presentations were incredibly impressive and insightful, as well as a great opportunity to practice public speaking.

During this final week, I will be completing my individual project, a 15 minute presentation on an aquatic topic of my choice. I decided to look into the theories and mechanisms behind deep sea gigantism. As many of you may have heard, during this month there have been two publicized findings of deceased giant oarfish surfacing on the southern coast of California. Since these fish truly represent a gigantic life form, I decided to include them into my presentation as somewhat of a case study. However, there is a vast amount of unknowns about this species, mainly because of all the issues that come along with studying in the deep sea, i.e., a lot of habitat to cover, expensive research vessels, largely time consuming, etc. What can be especially tricky in studying such mesopelagic organisms (organisms that live in the middle bit of the water column verses living at the water surface or the ocean floor) is that they migrate vertically as well as horizontally in the water column.

copyright AP Photo/Mark Bussey

Copyright AP Photo/Mark Bussey. Photo showing one of the two fish that washed ashore in Southern California during the month of October, 2013.

However, despite all the challenges presented by the deep sea, researchers have slowly been collecting scraps of evidence to support the hypothesis behind how this giant creature ekes out a living in the depths of the sea. Possibly one of the most interesting facts I have learned is that the giant oarfish positions itself vertically in the water column, instead of horizontally like many common fish species. It has been hypothesized by some that this vertical orientation is an adaptation to avoid predation because it decreases the oarfish’s visibility in the water. However, more research on live specimens is required before any conclusions can be drawn.

Photo credit: Benfield et al. 2013. Stills taken from video footage of the giant oarfish swimming off the coast of Mexico.

Photo credit: Benfield et al. 2013. Stills taken from video footage of the giant oarfish swimming off the coast of Mexico.

For me, what I find to be the most interesting question is the purpose of the occipital crest (the enlarged fin rays at the head of the oarfish). Is it the result of sexual selection? Are there differences between males and females? Is it a sensory organ? Hopefully with time some of these questions will be answered!

Photo credit: Tubil. Artist rendition of the giant oarfish

Photo credit: Tubil. Artist rendition of the giant oarfish

Not much new to report beyond class. Still trying to get outside as much as possible to enjoy the fall colours… as well as the daylight hours, which are rapidly getting shorter and shorter. On Friday I caved and bought myself a proper pair of running shoes. I see so many runners when I’m out and about in Lund that I think some kind of weird subliminal message penetrated my inner psyche initiating this need to run, well perhaps more accurately, this need to jog ever so slowly… running will hopefully come later. Luckily, I’ve been told by many of the Swedish students that Lund is pretty good for being able to run/jog slowly all year round. It seems that the common weather trend here is that even if it does snow, the snow never sticks around for long. Cool. This ought to be quite different from the slushy, sloppy, and wet Toronto winters I have grown accustomed to.

I believe this is where I will end my post for this week. I’ll be looking forward to writing my next post, which will happen after my first week of Fisheries Ecology. Before I depart however, I would like to share with you a poem I recently read in Mark Kurlansky’s book ‘Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World’.

The codfish lays a thousand eggs
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done.
And so we scorn the codfish
While the humble hen we prize
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise

– Anonymous American rhyme

Take care,

Abby

The Perks of Living in England

Hi again!

I hope you’re all enjoying the beautiful fall weather in Canada as it’s not stopped raining here for a week and the trees are still green. Though I missed Thanksgiving at home, I managed to make a makeshift meal with my flatmates.

Fall activities aside, I’ve been busy with school work, but I can’t say I mind too much. All of my courses are proving to be challenging and interesting.

One of the differences between U of T and KCL is that my professors here actually lead the seminars and tutorials, as opposed to graduate students. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, having authors and academics listen intently to what you have to say, but ultimately worth it.

For one of my favourite courses, Shakespeare’s London, I occasionally have my some of my lectures at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Just another perk of studying English Literature in England.

Just another day of class

But even when I don’t have theatre workshops with Globe actors, I feel lucky enough to be at King’s College London – just look at the campus!

Strand campus in central London

Strand campus in central London

Howarts? Nope, just the library.

Hogwarts? Nope, just the library.

As if the architecture wasn’t enough, it turned out that the location for the Inside Out Project in London was right behind my campus. I managed to pop by on my break and take part with my one of my flatmates.

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You can spot us in the middle!

With school work and planning trips, these past two weeks have felt like a blur. I would say I hope life slows down a bit, but then it wouldn’t be London.

Until next time,

Veronika

What friends are for :)

Hello hello hello dear reader!

Have I got a tale for you! All of it, by the way, 100% true.

I live in Founders Hall at Royal Holloway, a building set up to house the originally all-female students of Thomas Holloway’s boarding school, which was constructed in 1886 in memory of his beloved wife.

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The building is teeming with ghosts; in one room on the 5th floor a girl murdered herself and the blood spilled so violently that it leaked into the rooms below, the stain has been painted over many times over the years, but the blood continues to seep through. During an exam held in the art gallery here at the school a boy attempted to take his own life by stabbing himself in the eye with a pencil. The whole time he was screaming, “The eyes! The eyes!”.

This was apparently due to possession by a painting with very fierce looking polar bears on it. To this very day whenever exams are held in the room the university mandates that the painting be covered by a Union Jack.

Not all the ghosts are so malevolent though; the ghost of Tom Holloway himself is said to wander Founder’s at night, watching over his students and looking for his wife. And the ghost of his wife, a miss Jane Holloway, can be seen in the form of a black cat which will implore you to follow but never allow you close enough to touch.

The university as a whole has grown quite a bit; adding pubs and residences and class rooms and labs and a few obvious changes have been made such as the addition of Wifi, a Starbucks and running water. But, all that aside, the building remains a Victorian vision of Hogwartsian beauty.

And it comes with all the Victorian problems.

The building is insulated with Hay and Paraffin. This makes it the second most flammable building in all of England and the 7th in all of the UK. The whole thing would go up in 6 minutes and is built in such a way that it will collapse in on itself. (Don’t panic mum I am right by the emergency exit.)

Due to this insulation issue the building often runs out of hot water for weeks at a time. Now, not bathing every week might have been acceptable in the good old days but a few nights ago I couldn’t stand myself any longer. I had to brave the frigid water before the grease in my hair started frying under the harsh fluorescents of the in-lecture lamps.

I got my friend Yasmin, who in a display of true bravery has agreed to let me use her real name in the tale of extreme hilarity that is to follow. She is indeed a friend that I know will last lifetimes.

So, after hopping corridors (each corridor has a bathroom, so a few toilets and one shower per every 10 -11 girls) because we were told that some corridors still had hot water (a lie) Yasmin and I each get into a shower stall.

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The water is freezing.

And when I say freezing I don’t mean lukewarm. I mean it is holy-f**k-polar-bears-couldn’t-even-handle-this-sh*t-if-they-were-wearing-a-self-insulating-snuggie-it-is-so-cold-that-it-feels-like-it-burns! freezing.

I managed to get my hair wet. After standing there for a good 5 minutes psyching myself up about my Canadianess I stood under that water cursing a blue streak. I managed to get shampoo rubbed in, a whole 3 minutes under that freaking water, but I was not able to wash the shampoo out.

So I am half clean.

In the stall next to me Yasmin is unable to stand under the water, not because she isn’t tough, but because she has a joint disorder that gets incredibly painful when she is cold. Think arteritis but with ice and a jack-hammer.

At this point I can no longer stand the cold. So I jump out of the shower and start running the tap. This produces lukewarm water. I stand at the sink attempting to wash the shampoo out of my hair by bending over and trying to soak my whole head. My head is of course too large for this sink and this presents several interesting feats of flexibility on my part.

Suddenly I hear Yasmin’s water stop running. Her own series of shrieks had stopped as well. My hearing is muffled from the tap water running over my head but I am still able to make out Yasmin very distinctly pounding on my door.

She demands:

“Let me in!”

I respond, laughing:

“What? Why? I’m naked.”

She continues. In a manner more desperate than before:

“I don’t care! I’m so cold!”

I take a moment to consider. I look down at my naked body; I feel the shampoo still trickling down my back, the weak, lukewarm tap water only partially able to remove it. Then I decide that at this point; screw it, might as well let her in.

The poor girl sits wrapped in a towel, shivering violently. I feel terrible but I am determined to get clean. Standing at the sink I rise, lather, shave, scrub and rinse again. Until, finally. I achieve an acceptable level of cleanliness.

Yasmin has not been so lucky. She reached the same level as me in the showering process but was unable to wash off in the sink. We made our way back to our hall, and I was in absolute stiches, what a predicament!

Here is a girl who I have known for maybe 2 weeks who has now seen me stark raving naked. And I was (am) perfectly ok with that. This girl was also sopping wet, freezing cold, and still not clean.

Said girl, is also brilliant.

As determined as she was to have her own shower, Yasmin came up with a brilliant plan. She filled a large and clean coke-o-cola bottle with half boiling water from the kettle in our pantry (kitchen) and half cool tap water.

Viola!

The perfect temperature.

My job then became filling the bottle to the appropriate temperature and returning to the shower stall where she would let me in, lather, have my pour the water over top of her so she could clean off. I was in my pajamas by this point and trying desperately not to soak myself.

Yasmin and I had now both seen each other in all our naked glory, impressive specimens that we are, and I know for certain that we have forged a bond that cannot by any means be broken.

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This is really what university is about; getting into and out of bizarre circumstances, making friends who share stories that make you laugh and cry and leaning more about yourself and others than you ever wanted to know.

I sincerely hope these are the kinds of experiences everyone will get to have in life because they call for ingenuity and humor and collaboration. 3 of humanities best traits if I do say so myself.

Ta ta for now!

Playing Tourist in my Backyard!

At some point on exchange, you have to get out of the student village and explore the country you’ve traveled thousands of miles to study in. Lucky for me, Glasgow is perfectly situated to get pretty much anywhere in Scotland in about a day, making it perfect for weekend jaunts around the country.

Since I got here I’ve made it my goal to knock down all 10 of my guidebook’s “Scottish Top 10”. Touristy I know… but really, I don’t care! So far I’ve gotten to six (Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, National Gallery of Scotland, Isle of Skye, Loch Ness and the Great Glen, Glencoe and Culzean Castle), only four more to go! [Side note, I’ve gotten many snide comments from other students/friends/etc about my intense desire to go to Loch Ness… All I gotta say is anyone who’s too cool to visit Loch Ness while in Scotland clearly doesn’t have their priorities in order! You’re here, it’s famous, you might as well see it!].

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last four weekends exploring the country and it has been a blast! My parents were here to explore with me for the last two weeks. It was so nice to have a taste of home right before thanksgiving, thanks for visiting Mom and Dad!

Here are some photos of my travels:

Edinburgh – Edinburgh is BEAUTIFUL! I don’t say this lightly. It’s so beautiful I had to go twice! The first time I went, I got off the bus and it felt like I was in a storybook.

Being the rather independent person that I am, I spent my first weekend in Edinburgh alone at an amazing hostel called the Caledonian Backpackers. Hostels and I get along pretty well. I can sleep through pretty much anything and it’s always a great place to meet new friends. It was fun getting acquitted with the city on my own, the next time I came I was able to be a tour guide to my parents!

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Isle of Skye – I fell in love, most gorgeous place on earth. I need to go back. The hiking was amazing! (As was the fish and chips, best I’ve tasted so far!)

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Loch Ness and Glencoe – Look at the sun we had that day, amazing! [Note: it is very sunny in most of these photos, that is NOT the norm in Scotland. I had to wring out my clothes yesterday after my evening run.] Nessie came out to say hello… It was frightening.

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Celtic Game – Okay, so this isn’t in my guide book’s top 10, but it should be! If you go to the UK, you need to go to a football game. The Celtic (not Celtics, I was corrected…) are one of Glasgow’s two home teams. It was such an exciting game (almost as good as hockey…) even though we lost!
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This weekend I’m venturing onto the continent with my cousin Stephanie who’s come to visit for the week. We’ll be hitting Paris, Ghent, Bruges and Amsterdam… where I will be celebrating my 26th birthday! Expect many photos of our epic adventure as soon as I get back.

Bye for now!

How to survive in France (without knowing a lick of French)

Before starting my semester in Denmark, I got the chance to travel the beautiful and ultra-iconic country of France. I visited three areas overall: Nice, in Southern France, Lyon, and of course, Paris. While all three of these places were unquestionably “French” in every way, they all offered undeniably different experiences.

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The beautiful Mediterranean coastline of France

 

France is, without question, a one-of-a-kind country. The landscape, the architecture, the climate (in late August, the weather was perfect), and of course, the food! – it was all everything I could have hoped for.

It was also, interestingly, the first place in my travels where I encountered people who didn’t speak English. Having to rely on my memory of high school French (which I hadn’t taken since grade 10, and, admittedly, never really had a great grasp on) wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.

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Duck – a delicious introduction to French cuisine

My first stop was Nice, a small coastal city in Southern France. I went with a friend I had met in Amsterdam, who had a pretty good grasp of the language… So with him taking the wheel on communicating with anyone we encountered, Southern France was a breeze. And “breeze” is the perfect way to begin a description of this area: a small and beautiful town bordering the gorgeous Mediterranean coast, the area was quaint but very chic, with stunning architecture and absolutely breathtaking views. Relaxing by the beach, working on my tan, and checking out the small shops and cafés was a wonderful way to pass my time there.

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Nighttime in Nice, France

Next stop was the city of Lyon, where I met up with a few friends I knew from Toronto. It was great to see some familiar, friendly faces (not to mention sleep in a non-hostel bed!).

I also got the chance to check out a few French house parties while I was there. It was cool to see how young people in another culture get together and unwind. The parties were so much fun, and surprisingly very similar to house parties in Canada. Good times with good people, and absolutely crazy – albeit craziness in a different language. The most shocking aspect of these get-togethers (to me at least) was that everyone really did greet each other by doing the generic kiss-kiss to each cheek that I’ve seen so many times on TV and always associated with France.

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Lyon, France – the country’s third largest city

Lastly, I spent a few days in the one-and-only City of Lights: Par-ee. Paris was everything I expected, and more – a busy and fast-paced city, but in a way totally different from North American cities that I can’t quite put my finger on. Glamorous and chic to some people, murky and vulgar to others, I had learned long ago from close friends’ and relatives’ attitudes that people either love the city or hate it.

I would say I fall into the former category: to me, the city was absolutely gorgeous. So cultured, so much history, and absolutely beautiful architecture (much of which I had been introduced to years ago via TV and film)… But so different to experience with my own eyes!

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The one-and-only “Tour Eiffel”!

It was honestly a great city to explore on my own. Although not being able to really communicate effectively with anyone I met, I did somehow manage to survive and find my way around – with a lot of hand gestures, pointing, and choppy, disconnected phrases (which didn’t exactly gain me that much respect from anyone I encountered!).

But with or without a grasp on the French language, France was a beautiful country. It was exciting to see so many things I had grown up seeing in books, on TV, and in the movies with my own eyes. An experience I’ll never forget, I can’t wait to go back – I guess this gives me an excuse to brush up on these lacking French skills!

 

Take care, and safe travels!

Patrick

A little side trip to Fontainbleau

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Cour d’Honneur – Château de Fontainbleau

Paris is great, but so is its surrounding area. Château de Versailles is a top destination for most people visiting Paris. Located just a 45 minute train ride away, the awe-inspiring palace and the beautiful gardens instill a sort of nostalgic satisfaction in witnessing a period of France’s glory. But about 60km south of Paris is a small town by the name of Fontainbleau that has a lot to offer away from most tourists’ radar.

Reception Hall – Château de Fontainbleau. Probably the most Versailles room in the palace.

The town is fairly quiet with a French locale catering to mostly French-speaking visitors. Fontainbleau is surrounded by lush forests that used to be the royal hunting ground. Needless to say, the air is a reprieve from the smoke-filled streets of Paris.

While Versailles bedazzles with fierce gold (that becomes a bit repetitious after the tenth stately magnificent room), Fontainbleau seduces with a softer myriad of colours.

Château de Fontainbleau is constructed in stages that started from Louis VII all the way to Napoleon III (and according to its official website, the Château has also been inhabited continuously for over 700 years). Depending on which building and which room you visit, the architectural and decorative style will range from Medieval to the style of the Second Empire. (Napoleon I did have a large hand in modifying the interior of the palace, especially the former royal apartments. And interestingly, you get to visit the table on which Napoleon signed his abdication in 1814).

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Horse-drawn carriage through the gardens of Château de Fontainbleau

Though the interior of the Château is certainly beautiful, it’s the gardens that sets the castle apart from the countless ones doted across the French countryside. With 4 distinctly different gardens, Château de Fontainbleau feels endlessly immense, and at certain parts, remote from civilization.

These small day-trips are necessary escapes from the mid-term mania at Sciences Po, which I may blog about once things become less hectic. As an exchange student, it is extremely difficult to settle down and focus on studying when there are so many things to explore and so many distractions. I have no advice on how to stay focused, as I am seeking that myself (and I would welcome any and all suggestions). But these trips are a welcomed reprieve from the sheer madness of back-to-back exposés, and often helps me focus upon return.

Until next time,

Grace

Oktoberfest!

The moment I found out I had been accepted for an exchange semester in Germany, I began looking forward to Oktoberfest! I just couldn’t wait. The name Oktoberfest, in English, is a bit misleading, as this festival begins in September, lasts three weeks, and actually finishes in early October. In German, it’s known as the Wiesn, which originates from the name of the fairgrounds (Theresienwiese, or the meadow of Therese, a queen of Bavaria).

My friends and I went for the final weekend, but we suffered a little from uncertainties, last-minute planning and coordination issues. For example, there was little left in terms of available accommodation — Oktoberfest attracts thousands of tourists — and renting a car the day before the drive down to Munich was not an ideal situation. But, there was really nothing that could stop me from going! And I was fortunate to have friends who took care of most of the logistics for the weekend.

That being said… Oktoberfest was AMAZING!!! I cannot think of another festival I have been to whose very design, down to the detail, is so conducive to fun! Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people jam-packed into the many tents, dressed in lederhosen and dirndl (the traditional dress for men and women, respectively), drinking beer, singing along to the live music, meeting people, and really just having the best time ever!

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The Schottenhamel tent in the afternoon of Day 2.

The tents, which are actually big halls that I learned take about 3-4 months to set up every year, are situated on the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. The significance of this festival to the people of Munich and Bavarians is reflected in the fact that there is even a subway station named Theresienwiese that takes you directly to the fairgrounds: you literally walk out of the station and you’re among the tents. And there are so many of them to choose from! Some have reputations for their excellent beer, others are known for being party tents, and still others are famous for their unique atmosphere or food. Some are big, others are smaller. On several recommendations, we went to one called Augustiner on our first day. Their beer, Augustiner Bräu, is the best beer I’ve ever had.

Our table in the Augustiner tent loving life!

Our table in the Augustiner tent (we were joined by three Germans) loving life!

Oktoberfest works like this: if you want to be served food or drinks, you have to be seated at a table (as the day progresses, it turns into standing on the table benches). There is no bar where you can order it. Even though some of the tents are huge, there is obviously still only so much seating, so if you want to be absolutely sure you get a table, you have to go early. We got to Augustiner at around 8 a.m. on a Friday and had our choice of table when the tent opened at about 10. I’m so glad we went early because our spot was perfect, in the middle and close to the music, and we were able to get our Oktoberfest on nice and early!

The music starts in the early afternoon and the bands play traditional German music, with some tents playing more popular, contemporary music later in the evening. I think we danced to Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” at least three times on our second day in the Schottenhamel tent (one of the best party tents). By 2 p.m. everyone is already standing on benches, singing along to the music and dancing. And by singing, I mean actual singing! At one point a group of Germans from Hamburg were translating the words of one of the traditional German love songs to me.

Dorna and Rodrigo enjoying a Mas.

Hertie students enjoying a Mas (or two).

Everyone orders what’s called a “Mas,” which is a liter of beer. It comes in a huge mug. Oktoberfest beer is stronger than regular beer. Try not to forget that while you are there, because it’s tasty and easy to drink! A Mas costs around 10-12 euro, and if you tip well (especially at the beginning), you get served faster.

 

If you want to be 100% guaranteed entrance into a tent, you have to make a reservation and you get a place in the “Reserved” sections within the tents. But this is difficult to do and it’s also expensive. Most people do what we did, which is to try to get there early and wait in line at the tent of choice. If you don’t, especially on a weekend, your odds of getting in are slim, and your odds of getting your own table are zero (which isn’t to say that you can’t eventually find and ask to join a partially occupied table that has lost some of its people to another table)! To get in later in the day without a reservation, you either have to know the bouncer or you have to buy your way in. I speak from our experience on Day 2…

If you don’t get in at all, not to worry: Oktoberfest is a fair! Outside the tents are all kinds of rides, including a pretty ferris wheel. Little booths sell souvenirs, games, food, and much more. People, young and old, are everywhere, and it’s especially cute seeing young children dressed in lederhosen. The rumbling and near-shaking of the singing coming from the tents can be heard from outside. This was really a cool thing to hear, and I will not forget the sound.

Oktoberfest grounds (Theresienwiese).

The Oktoberfest grounds, in German known as Theresienwiese.

I was able to see an old German friend living in Munich from my undergraduate exchange in Budapest five years ago! It was great to actually be able to meet up — in his words, “It’s not so easy to do that at the Wiesn!”

Philipp and I at Schottenhamel!

An old friend from Munich and I at Schottenhamel.

We had SO much fun, and I have every intention of going back next year! This time appropriately dressed in dirndl and a little more prepared for the scale and intensity of this incredible festival! Munich — see you in 2014!

Mari

OKTOBERFEST!

The leaves are changing colour, the weather is getting cooler, the month is October, and that can mean only one thing….. This blog will take you all to Bavaria in the south of Germany to a large city called Munich. It will take you to a legendary German festival; one that some can argue is the main stereotype of Germany: Oktoberfest.

Only in Germany

Only in Germany

Before I jump into my experiences, I must first explain a little bit about myself and a reason for going down there (and actually learning the German language). My grandparents are German immigrants and moved to Canada in the late 50’s. My Opa (grandpa) comes from Bavaria and there is still much family who live there. I visited them, all who live in different towns, but all of which are in the vicinity of Munich.

So Oktoberfest. How can I possibly describe this “bucket-list” event? Think of it as Toronto’s Exhibition at the CNE, but rather with traditional Bavarian clothing, bigger, more excitement, and of course beer. There are tens of thousands of people, live music, amusement rides, shows, food stands, carnival games, souvenir shops, and then there are the beer tents. These tents are MASSIVE. I would guess that a couple thousand people could easily fit within them at any one time. I was in the Paulaner München tent, one of the biggest. They only serve 1 litre beers, which is refreshing and cold from the tap. The food is very appetizing as well. Just a few traditional Bavarian examples are Schweinshaxe (tender pig leg), Weißwurst (white sausages), Knödel (dumplings) and gravy, Brezel (pretzels), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and Apfelstrudel (an apple pastry).

The Paulaner München beer tent. Amazing atmosphere

The Paulaner München beer tent. Amazing atmosphere

The 1 litre beers (don't worry, they are served to the rim- I just had to take the first big gulp before the picture, couldn't wait)

The 1 litre beers (don’t worry, they are served to the rim- I just had to take the first big gulp before the picture, couldn’t wait)

When I flew to Germany in August, I visited my relatives first and I wanted to buy a pair of Lederhosen (the traditional Bavarian clothing for men. A woman wears a dress called a Dirndl). I have some Bavarian blood in me, so it only made sense to feel a part of the customs. Oktoberfest is very touristic, but it still seemed like almost everyone wore one. The songs they sing during the festivities are great. The songs are very jolly, loud and when everyone knows the lyrics and sings them proudly, it can send shivers down your spine. When the partying is at its peak, no one ever sits down. Everyone is standing on the benches, arms slung around each other swinging back and forth, big beers in hand and singing along.

Me and my Lederhosen. On my way to Munich

Me and my Lederhosen. On my way to Munich

To conclude, whoever wants to visit Germany one day, try to make it for the end of September or the beginning of October just to experience this event in Munich. And book everything early- I heard that hotels and hostels get booked super early only because of the mass amounts of visitors at this time of year.

I just hope that whatever my future job is, they will let me take time off in October because I want to go back Munich and visit the Oktoberfest often!

Prost! (cheers)

As far as the eye can see

As far as the eye can see

Just a fraction of the rides

Just a fraction of the rides

One attraction after the other

One attraction after the other