A Gringo’s look into the problems facing Brazil

One of the hardest things for me to grasp about Brazil was the problems that the country faces. Ever since I started working at Billabong, I would hear a lot about how the economy was going downhill and the government wasn’t doing too great. I was starting to learn Portuguese at the time so my conversations with people didn’t venture off from the casual “What brands do you like? You are looking for some shorts for your son. How old is he?” so I didn’t really get to ask or speak about the problems facing the country. As my Portuguese got better, I started becoming more aware firsthand of many issues occurring back in Brazil. It was weird because my first year working at Billabong was pretty much day after day of selling decently expensive goods to an enormous amount of Brazilians. For me it was people just whining about the government, something everyone does regardless of nationality. I didn’t think much of it. It is very difficult to sympathize with someone who is telling you about how bad his government is and how horrible the economic situation is back home when that someone just dropped over a thousand dollars on board shorts and t-shirts without thinking twice, something I haven’t had the pleasure of doing in a better economy than what said someone lives in.

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tell me more about your economic woes

As time progressed I did see a marked difference in the amount of Brazilian tourists we received and the amount of money they would spend. With each oncoming year we would get less and less tourists and the exchange Brazilians that would work at the store would talk more about the economic toll it was costing them to do an exchange. It was becoming a visible phenomenon for an area that highly depends on tourist traffic. The ones that did come from Brazil had either saved up a lot of money or had so much money that the increasing exchange rate didn’t really do much to stop the allure of seeing Mickey Mouse and buying still relatively cheap goods.

(Disclaimer: I’m not an economist. I’m not the most well versed person when it comes to Brazil. I’m just shooting off opinions and writing about my observations. I might get some things wrong and I might upset some people. If so, I will gladly listen to the feedback.)

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the lack of degree should be enough reason to take my word with a pinch of salt

So a little condensed history of Brazil to bring anyone unfamiliar with the situation up to speed. Like any good Latin American country, Brazil had a 21 year military dictatorship. The military dictatorship was backed by the United States as it was very right leaning and pro-capitalist; the United States trying to prevent any Soviet influence from taking over the country. Dictatorships come in many shapes and sizes and Brazil’s wasn’t the best, granted the word dictatorship never carries a positive connotation. The military regime cracked down on political opponents like a good military dictatorship does. Human rights were launched straight out the window and cases of censorship, torture, and kidnapping became all too common. If there was any good about the dictatorship, it was the economic growth that occurred during the military dictatorship. The Brazilian Golden Age was a weird time where the country was doing economically great with a growth rate reaching up to 10% and the national football team winning a World Cup in 1970 but at the same time the current President Dilma Rousseff was being tortured by the military government.

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nothing quite says comforting like the government telling you to “love it or leave it”

This all came down in the 80’s as the economic growth died down and the debt the government had incurred during the golden age started to set in. The next 20 years were a series of off and on attempts to normalize a country that had become used to a dictatorship with a decent economic record but a horrible social record. The New Brazilian Real created in 1994 somewhat helped stabilize the economy. This on and off cycle continued until Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva , also known as Lula, came to power in the early 2000’s. Lula brought in a good era of growth and stability for the Brazilian economy and many social programs that helped decrease the enormous levels of poverty. His success was enough to get him reelected. Lula’s administration was also riddled with cases of corruption but overall he had one of the best approval ratings of any President. His successor Dilma Rousseff has not been so fortunate. Her first term was marked with a declining economy, as seen throughout the rest of the World and less than impressive results in terms of policy. She was reelected for a second term which has been less than optimal.

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contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t actually say “for a Dilma”

Her current approval rating is around 10% and isn’t rising anytime soon with current protests going on aiming to impeach her for ties with various corruption scandals with Petrobras, Brazil’s largest energy company, along with many of her political party the Worker’s Party including former president Lula.

Traveling around Brazil brought me in contact with the country and I got a firsthand account of what goes on in Brazil. I got to travel a lot, talk to a plethora of people, listen in on a variety of opinions from all sorts of walks of life, as well as just experiencing firsthand how the country shakes. One of the main things I did notice was the disenchantment of the people. No one is too happy with the current status of Brazil. The distinction is to be able to separate the common Brazilian moaning about the current state of affairs to the actual problems that the people are facing. What am I talking about? Brazilians live in a weird paradox where they love to hate their country but still actually love their country. It doesn’t make sense but once you talk to a Brazilian, you can start to see it. They will wear a Brazilian National Football Team shirt and talk about how it has the most World Cup Wins, yet the team being in disarray and a national embarrassment but somehow managing to win the next World Cup. Same thing translates to the actual country. The country is doing horrible, the politicians are lying scumbags and as corrupt as possible, but the country itself is beautiful and the people are amazing, yet they are also idiots and elected the current president, but the country will turn around an impeach her and elect a better leader.

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not sure if he is talking about soccer of politics

Once you dig past that layer of confusion, you get to hear the actual complaints: Corruption in many facets of life, the exchange rate being horrible, the price of many goods rising at exorbitant rates, wages stagnating. These were common points of contention regardless of socio economic status and region. Some differences I did notice were based on what party you most affiliated with. Those who aligned with the Worker’s Party or any more left leaning party did agree that corruption was a huge issue but those of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party were also corrupt while trying to maintain an aura of transparency and that they cared more about helping higher class people and caring less about lower socio-economic classes. They also claim that the BSDP tends to overlook many issues like racism, economic and social privilege, and tend to pander to more conservative rightist ideologies that can be deemed detrimental to many key civil and human rights. Those from the BSDP or right leaning parties claim that the Worker’s Party is too corrupt and takes advantage of its role as majority and leading party in government to get many benefits from private enterprises. They also think that the Worker’s Party panders to the poor by giving them handouts which in turn guarantees them votes. They are too busy helping the poor with money from taxes from the middle and higher classes and not busy enough focusing on elements that will improve the economy. Granted there are many more arguments but I can say these are the most common ones.

Are the problems even there though? I would say so. That is the cool thing about being an outsider. I get a fresh unbiased view of things. It was my first time in Brazil so while I may have expectations, I don’t view things through the lenses of someone that endures the problems that Brazil has to offer. The biggest thing I noticed was the exchange rate. For me it was incredible! I was getting 4 Reals for one dollar.

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the face you make when you are only worth 1/4 of your former self

 

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to travel in Brazil and get a bang for my buck. Now on the contrary, Brazilians weren’t clamoring to buy dollars. The rate is horrible for them. What hurts more is that the rate was ridiculously better less than two years ago. This is what probably pisses Brazilians off the most. They saw a huge downturn and are conscious of the downfall of the value of the Real. It isn’t a generation away but rather two summer vacations ago. Now scale this up and you have a huge problem for the economy. Imports become very expensive because of the devaluation of the Real and while this should help with exports, it doesn’t necessarily help with foreign investment which the country became quite accustomed to during Lula’s administration. By traveling around and seeing different prices of different goods around the southern part of Brazil, I can understand the complaints about prices and wages. Gasoline for example is around 3-4 Reals a liter. Doing the math that comes out to about 3-4 dollars a gallon. Way more expensive than here in the United States. Food costs are moderately low but anything material tends to be way more expensive. Now adding to this a minimum wage of 880 Reals a month, I can understand the stress placed on families that must survive on the equivalent of 220 dollars a month.

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the equivalent of $1000 dollars or 5 months of Brazilian minimum wage work

Many of these high prices are because of high taxes. I was told that almost all products in Brazil will pay a bunch of taxes before reaching their final destination. You don’t actually see it when you pay for it but a small google search of what taxes are applicable to what products in Brazil explains why so many Brazilians are so eager to shop elsewhere from Uruguay to Paraguay and even the United States. Like any other tax paying populace, this is where everyone starts getting angered. What priority is being placed on that tax money, considering Brazilians to contribute a decent amount of their hard earned money to the government? Well that is the reason for all the protest, anger, and resentment that most Brazilians have. While the government has put out some programs to help eradicate hunger and poverty like Fome Zero (zero hunger) and Bolsa Familia (Family allowance) they haven’t been as transparent with all of the tax income. It also doesn’t help that Brazil ranks pretty low on transparency on a global scale. Corruption is in most if not all levels of government from local city officials paying too much for certain projects and not receiving the quality that was paid for to heads of state governments giving very nice contracts to private companies that likewise don’t do as well of a job. This is especially noticeable during a time of much construction considering the past 4 years has seen many projects for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

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not that FIFA has ever been known for being in shady dealings

Lastly it all comes down to what is currently going on with the indictment of Lula for being involved with Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal involving the government, Petrobras, and 15 billion Reals (3.75 billion dollars). And the final cherry on the cake being Dilma Rousseff being on the board of directors of Petrobras when the scandal was in full swing.

So what are some solutions? Well you are asking the wrong person! I’m not really sure what an exact solution would be. I can however give an opinion. What I can say is that the biggest problem Brazil is facing is corruption. Not really hard to figure that one out. It really weakens the country. The huge loss in credibility and actual money is probably what is keeping the country the way it is. And it sucks because Brazil is a pretty awesome country with a huge amount of potential. But I’m not sure if Brazil is ready for that. There were demonstrations recently with a huge outpouring of Brazilians hitting the streets asking for Dilma’s impeachment. I can understand the anger and agree with protests in such occasions. But the disheartening thing is watching a good majority of those same protesters push for a new government with many key people from the opposing party who are also involved in corruption scandals.

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and if you want utterly disheartening, you should listen to people talk about bringing back a military government

Seems slightly ironic and hypocritical to want to drive someone out of office for her involvement in such a shady corruption case to then place someone in the same position, albeit of a party one favors, whom also has the same corruption issues. If that is the case, then you aren’t trying to actual solve one of the big problems. You are only trying to advance your ideological agenda for your own cause. That might just be another big problem. The notion that ideology will help the country. Brazil needs pragmatism and people willing to look past their own party lines for solutions rather than scapegoats.

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The Houses of Others: Ranking the cities I traveled to

With every trip come expectations of the places you will see and the things you will do. Brazil was no other. I had certain expectations for Brazil and what I imagined it to be like. The weird thing is I had various different perspectives from which to base my expectations off of. The biggest one was from my American perspective. I have lived in America most of my life and thus have a very American way of living as well as viewing things. Although I maybe American by birth, I am also Colombian thanks to my parents as well as the botched attempt my parents made at moving back to Colombia when I was young.

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on the bright side, that botched attempt got me a cool passport and visa free into Brazil

Being Colombian in the United States also adds you to the diverse cultural group that is being Hispanic. That has not only taught me about my own Hispanic-ness but how to switch so to speak between both cultures which I live in. Learning to live in between these not so mutually exclusive but at the same time inclusive cultures has taught me to be able to switch up how I see things. This comes really in handy when in a completely different culture. This came out really well when I lived in Germany and had a class called Intercultural Communication which helped me understand everything that I was experiencing around me. As if this giant hodgepodge of cultural-ness wasn’t bad enough, I have been working with Brazilians for the past couple of years and have jumped into that culture enough to where I wouldn’t consider myself Brazilian but I can easily jump into the role.

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If a Brazilian can play Pablo Escobar, than I can be Brazilian

So with that foundation being set up I can more easily explain my expectations of the cities I traveled to and the reality I found out once I got there.

 

Florianópolis

American expectation: sounds like a Greek city. Not really one of the biggest cities in Brazil so not much to expect.

Brazilian expectation: That city is loaded! The beaches are awesome and the parties are great! You are going to have a blast there. And it’s a relatively safe place.

Reality: When I was flying to Florianópolis, the plane ride didn’t do it much justice nor did the window seat facing the ocean. When I was landing I only got a view of the mountains and buildings to the south of the airport and I honestly felt like I had arrived ready for the next season of Lost. Once at the airport, it felt strangely familiar to Colombia, with the whole exception of people speaking Portuguese instead of Spanish. From there my friend Amanda took me to her house in Ribeirão da Ilha and I truly realized I was in for the next season of Lost.

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you thought I was kidding

Ribeirão da Ilha is on the south of the island of Florianópolis cradled between the central mountains and the ocean. There is one main road that drives through it with houses on the slope of the mountain and every once in a while on the other side between the road and the bay. It isn’t party central but there are a lot of restaurants and plenty of fishermen hauling in their daily catch. If hippies had to build a home and settle down, it would probably be in Ribeirão da Ilha. From there we left the island and went to Amanda’s apartment in São Jose. So Florianópolis as a city is divided into a huge part that consists of the island of Florianópolis itself followed by a small portion that is on the continent. São Jose is right after Floripa (I can assume you are smart enough to understand the abbreviation) on the continent and for the sake of ease, I will consider it part of Floripa. The continent part of the city is pretty average and slightly more industrial than the island. Lots of tall building none the less. It is very similar to Miami where more of the back scene things occur off of South Beach and Miami Beach and on the mainland. Once you cross the generic bridge onto the island you reach the main center of the city. The irony of it all is that next to the generic bridge exists the Hercilio Luz bridge.

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beauty comes in all shapes and sizes I guess

It is a very beautiful bridge that serves as one of the key symbols for the city. This bridge is also the perfect symbol for Brazil. It was built to be amazing, cost the country too much money, had to be closed for a plethora of issues, restoration talks have been ongoing and fruitless, and people yet view it with the same eyes that an old family dog is viewed where you are proud of it even though it can barely hear and see and quite frankly it isn’t its former self. Past the bridge and next to the bay is the more picturesque part of the city where there is a walking path parallel to the road/highway that runs parallel to the bay. On the other side of the road are all the nice shopping centers, restaurants, and residential buildings. It has a similar feel to downtown Miami without the pretentiousness Miami offers so well. If you continue north you will reach the more mellow yet party crazy part of the city. This is where all the beaches are and Instagram picture are taken. It is pretty much a giant resort and most of the good parties are located in the north. Lastly there is the Lagoa de Conceição.

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bunch of hipsters if you ask me

All around the lagoon are a bunch of small colorful settlements with cool bars, restaurants, and stores. A pretty nice place to come on a Sunday and just chill out. I would go on and explain all the shenanigans that went on in this city but those are drinking stories and I don’t let those out that easy.

Rating: Floripa is a pretty cool city and more than anything I expected. Of all the places I went to, if I had to choose somewhere to live, I would probably live there because it offers so much diversity in terms of lifestyle that it would be difficult not to fit in somehow. Floripa gets my stamp of approval.

 

Balneário Camboriú

American expectation: how do you pronounce that? What does it even mean? Please tell me you can just call it BC.

Brazilian expectation: You better go party hard there. The two best clubs in Brazil are there. If you don’t party until the next day, you didn’t enjoy the city.

Reality: I got the chance to visit BC because Lucas, my brother from a Brazilian mother, lives there and he would probably disown me if I didn’t visit him.

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the man that taught me how to sleep on the floor and forget everything I knew about moderation

The downside was that I only managed to stay in BC for about 36 hours. On the upside, a majority of that time was spent in every which way but sober. So I drove from Florianópolis to Balneário Camboriú. When you are arriving to BC, you are hit with a decently long tunnel followed by tall buildings as far as the eye could see. There were all over the place. I’m assuming they ran out of space to build out so they just started building up. The city itself isn’t really that big so it wasn’t long before I arrived to my friend’s house. The fun is finding a parking spot in a densely packed city. BC is pretty similar to South Beach in that it has a nice strip of walkway between the road and sand where people like to show off. There is a main avenue that runs the span of the city right next to the beach. On the other side of the road are all the buildings, restaurants, and whatever else you could imagine is pertinent to a city. My friend’s apartment happens to be in one of the tall buildings. The cool thing about having an apartment on a high floor is that you get a pretty amazing view.

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albeit sun isn’t always a guarantee

The downside of having an apartment on a high floor in BC is that there are so many tall building everywhere that you really don’t get much of a view, but you still get a view none the less.

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better than watching the actual “View”

We pregamed the party we had yet to decide on from midday. BC offers you a variety of options for partying. My options for the night were David Guetta and Robin Schulz at Green Valley, go to Shed, or go to Valen (supposedly Brazil’s first erotic bar). 8 pm rolled around and we had already finished most of the beer and a bottle of fireball. We were too hammered to go to Green Valley and the tickets were sold out so the girls dragged us to Valen. To make it short, I remember half of the night but I managed to break a chair in the VIP section, almost get in a fight with some randos, and walk 30 minutes in the rain back home. A very successful night in terms of partying.

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the only evidence that remains seeing as how my chair was as weak as i was that night

The following day I met up with my friend Igor in Itajai, which apparently is a separate city even though I didn’t really notice the distinction between the two with the exception of a small hill, and had some pretty good seafood. We hung around, did some slight sightseeing, which in this city involves just looking at different tall buildings and the ocean, and the new had sushi and left back to Floripa. This was the first city I had the pleasure of having sushi in Brazil and all I can say is that I have tasted the chocolate strawberry sushi and I am both very appalled and highly impressed.

Rating: Decent city. Could see myself spending a summer there like the hundreds of thousands of people that turn the city from a 125,000 inhabitant city to a million inhabitant city. Probably wouldn’t spend a whole year there. The city and its chairs will thank me for it.

 

Bom Principio

American expectation: none, I was probably the first American to ever step foot in that town.

Brazilian expectation: Never heard of it. Sounds like a good start. Wait, What? Rio Grande do Sul, oh, ok! Enjoy the accent!

Reality: So I decided to road trip it to Argentina and luckily for me I have friends in Rio Grande do Sul (the last state before Uruguay and Argentina) that invited me to come visit them. I originally assumed they lived in Porto Alegre but that turned out to be false. We drove to Porto Alegre and the GPS told us we weren’t there yet. We then started leaving the city and head to a smaller suburb city north of Porto Alegre. Well that city wasn’t it either. We then continued until the GPS finally took us to the small town that is Bom Principio.

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most Brazilians would not be able to tell you where this is

At first it seemed like your run of the mill small Latin American town but things took a turn for the interesting when the architecture was straight out of Germany. The GPS decided to play along and make me take a bunch of German sounding streets. I knew I hadn’t hit a wormhole because it was still a nice and blistering 95 degrees outside and Germany doesn’t get that too often. We finally arrived at Flavine’s house and we rested from our trip from Floripa. I went out with Fla to get medicine for Amanda because she likes to get sick and the Germaness of this town was intense! Street names were German, a bunch of blonde light skinned people were all over the place, and to my surprise many people in the town speak German. Fla’s parents and other older family members speak German. I was 6000 miles from the Germany yet I was speaking German and staring at bratwurst. The town itself only has 12,000 inhabitants and not much goes on but the area itself is very German with some Italian enclaves. We stayed there an extra day because of sicko and went to Gramado, a very well-known small town that also looks as German, to have fondue.

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straight from the blurry streets of southern Ger…..Brazil

Cool little fact, Brazilians pronounce fondue like funji, which had me wondering what the hell we were gonna go eat until the whole melted cheese and chocolate thing was explained to me. In a crazy twist of fate, we ended up coming back to Bom Principio on our way back from Uruguay and stayed another two nights. Did some more sightseeing, played some soccer (probably the first Colombian to play soccer and set food in this town) and got to enjoy the festival of the patron saint of São Sebastian de Cai, another city lost in the pits of nowhere Brazil.

Rating: Would visit this town easily, more for the people but also because it is so perfectly out of place that it fits in with the rest of the region. I’m also pretty sure there are Nazis hiding in the area. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Buenos Aires

American expectation: That’s the capital of Brazil right? Oh my bad, Argentina! Well they all speak Spanish anyway

Brazilian expectation: The people are interesting but everything is cheap, more so for you going with American dollars. Enjoy all the food and don’t get robbed.

Reality: To be written some day when they actually let me into the country.

Rating: I saw the other side of the bridge into Argentina. Looked cool! I’ll travel that road one day in the future.

 

Montevideo

American expectation: I learned this city in Spanish class with that silly capital cities song. It also has the word video in it. It is in some country that ends in guay right?

Brazilian expectation: eh, it’s a city in Uruguay. Buy X,Y,Z while you are there because it is cheaper than here.

Reality: So I am going to start Montevideo with the fiasco that was trying to get to Buenos Aires. We were originally destined for Buenos Aires from the beginning of our trip. We hit the border with Brazil and Uruguay and crossed countries accidentally multiple times because the immigration offices are hidden in the middle of the city at the most inconvenient locations.

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the border splits one street in half with one direction driving in Uruguay and one direction driving in Brazil

We fought off multilingual beggars and holes with roads around them until we finally reached the border with Uruguay and Argentina around 9 or 10 at night. We were so glad to see the beautiful bridge that connected both countries but that unfortunately we would never cross. We were told by some fat Argentinean lady (I would call her an immigration officer but she doesn’t deserve that respect) who barely had the decency of getting off of her chair at the border crossing that we could not go in because Amanda’s car was registered to her dad and he wasn’t there. This is in spite of the insurance we got to travel to Argentina for the week that obviously proved we hadn’t stolen the car as well as documentation showing that Mr. Antonio is Amanda’s dad. We then traveled from Paysandu to Fray Bentos to try at another border crossing. We were denied access again this time by a very friendlier Argentinean immigration official, who did everything he could short of sneaking us into the country. We called it quits after talking with my friend in Buenos Aires and spent the night in Fray Bentos. Unique is the only word I have for that small town. Luckily the beer was cold and the bed was soft.

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nothing like a cold beer to remind you of the South American hierarchy of amazingess

 

God Bless the people in that town. We then went to Montevideo. The roads in Uruguay suck! The only time the roads are half decent is when you are traveling on a road that takes you directly to Montevideo. If it doesn’t, you will know because there will be many holes, not much road, and no white markings on it. We considered taking the car by boat to Buenos Aires but unfortunately the cost was too much so we decided to become tourist for two days in Montevideo. The city itself is not that big but the city as a whole takes up a decent amount of space. We drove around the peninsula and I was not really impressed by the city. The water in the bay looked brown and dirty, the streets and buildings looked very European but generic and gray, and there really wasn’t much to do other than to walk around and sight see. Luckily for us, Montevideo has an amazing saving grace that stops me from bashing it as bad as I would like to. The food! This country knows how to kill and cook a cow! The beef was amazing and the side dishes were very delicious and different. I personally fell in love with papa Roquefort.

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not even Chipotle can make aluminum foil look this good

They grab a potato, fill it up with Roquefort cheese, put it in aluminum foil, and throw it over an open fire next to the sizzling meat. The way they cook their meat is also different. They make a weird grill with a wall of wood behind a horizontal grill that holds the wood back. They light that wood on fire and as it burns the smaller pieces fall underneath the actual grill where the meat is cooked. A might fine piece of engineering.

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beautiful indeed

My crowning achievement was the moment Amanda fell in love with chimichurri. That was probably my main reason for traveling to Buenos Aires. Sure the city might be cool but chimichurri is amazing. Luckily the Uruguayans make some fire chimichurri and the purpose of my trip was ultimately validated, albeit by different means.

Rating: Nothing special. A cool city to visit once or twice. Definitely worth it if you like amazing food. Also the price of everything was actually very expensive. Not really sure what Brazilians were so happy to buy from that country.

 

Rio de Janeiro

American expectation: cool the capital of Brazil! Go enjoy the beaches and take pictures with Jesus. I heard the girls are beautiful there. Have fun!

Brazilian expectation: Rio is such a diverse city! Prepare to see the rich and poor side by side. Also stay near the beaches and don’t get robbed.

Reality: I took off from Floripa on a nice and sunny day with probably the best weather of the trip. Rio is an hour by plane and just as we were getting ready to descend we were told that due to the weather conditions there would be a half hour delay. So after a half hour of turbulence, the plane landed at the Dumont airport. The cool thing about the airport is that since it is smack dab in the middle of the city, you get a really cool view of the city as you land. My first impressions of the city don’t really do it justice. It was rainy and grey and when my friend Jake picked me up with her roommate. We were stuck in traffic for a good hour. Not really inviting but that’s what you get when you arrive in a big city.

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50 shades of wet

From there we ran some errands and she showed me around the south part of the city near the beach. We then went to some hipster expat bar and somehow ended up taking Jack Daniel honey shots. Pretty much proved to me that if you have money, you can simulate things you would have had back home, even down to the American accent one of the bartenders had. The next couple of days were spent going to the beach and getting to know the different beaches.

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there are like 5 beaches in this picture alone

What looks like one giant strand of beach is actually a bunch of different beaches divided by the lifeguard post most closely located to them. I went to all the famous ones from Copacabana to Ipanema. I even found a girl in Ipanema but the story resembles the English version of the song more than the Portuguese one. From the beaches I got a chance to visit a favela. Everyone makes favelas out to be horrible neighborhoods where Satan himself runs every illegal imaginable underground business. Fortunately that is not the case. I got to visit a Favela right behind one of the nicer beaches and went to the house of a German exchange student who found a cheap apartment in one of the favelas. He had a pretty nice pad with running water, electricity, and even a decent view of the ocean.

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unfortunately no escalator

We then climbed further up the favela to a restaurant voted one of the best in Rio. The owner’s pride and joy was a picture with NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg at that very restaurant. A sign proving that this favela is a safe and secure place. There is a distinction between the favelas that have high crime rates and the favelas that have very little if no crime. Favelas are pretty much an answer to very high land and rent prices, granted rent prices in many favelas is now on the rise even making living in a “slum” an expensive endeavor. The following days I ended up going to a bunch of Carnaval block parties and if you read my previous post, you can only imagine how that went. In between I got to travel to the Tijuca Park where I discovered my inner Tarzan and got to see the natural side of Rio. Less natural but equally as mountainous, I went to meet good ole Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado. The trip to the top was pretty cool with a bunch of small vans leaving the city center and heading to the top. (I see an opportunity for money if any of these companies wants to be names.) Once at the drop off point for the nameless vans, you can either do like Jesus and walk to the top or do like many of his followers and take the elevator. At the top you get a nice view of the city as well as a bunch of tourists squatting and doing all sorts of weird poses.

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it took Bert like 15 tries to get a decent pic

Only the leaning tower of Pisa has more interesting poses. Nonetheless it is pretty cool to be at the top and take a future profile pic as well as just to see the expansiveness of the city.

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This Jesus guy has some really good real estate going on

The rest of my time in Rio was spent hanging out with Jake’s friends. The majority of them aren’t actually from Rio but it’s cool to see how a huge city attracts people from all over the country.

Reality: I really enjoyed Rio a lot and can easily see why so many foreigners would move there. I could easily see myself living in such a multicultural and diverse city but I would probably get very little accomplished with all the partying the locals do.

 

Final Thoughts

If you enjoy traveling, there are never really any bad places you go to but rather interesting and different places. There is always something to be learned from where you go. You can get stuck at some horrible bus stop in the middle of nowhere and still learn from that experience. I definitely enjoyed all of my travels from sambaing somewhere in the middle of downtown Rio to trying to find a hotel in some empty and desolate town in Uruguay. My experiences always exceed my expectations. My expectations weren’t bad but they are a mental tool my mind uses to calm down my anxiousness to be somewhere new. My mind makes quick assumptions of what certain places will be like based off of what I know and what people tell me. That is one of the key reasons I travel. To replace those quick expectations with concrete memories and experiences.

Back to Uncle Sam after a rendezvous with Aunt Dilma

So it has been almost two weeks since I arrived from a month long vacation from Brazil. It has been a difficult to assimilate back to my chaotically normal life but it is coming along. My English is returning, my Spanish is unfortunately littered with Portuguese (sorry to those who have heard me say “mucho legal” and “ainda” instead of “todavia”), and I’m limiting myself to yelling “porra” twice a day. Not a bad start for someone who tried to emerge himself deeply in the culture he was in for a month. Sadly, my mind still drifts back to Brazil more often than I would like, and who am I to blame it? It was an amazing trip. Jumping into a new culture gives you plenty of opportunities to evaluate your own culture and there are so many things that you end up liking about others because you got a chance to experience them and view them from a different perspective. That is probably what I feel the most “saudades” (fancy Portuguese word for nostalgia but without the negative connotations) about Brazil. It’s the things that I had over there but that I don’t have here in the United States.

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The American Dream is to buy a television and use it as furniture

 

Food

 

It would be wrong for me to start at any other point. I miss the food like crazy. Not just the home cooked meals but restaurants. There are so many different types of restaurants but the main establishments I mainly miss are the Kilo buffets where you serve yourself food then weigh it at the end. These places are gold mines. I went to Uruguay for 3 days and the first place I ate at when I got back to Brazil was one of those buffets. The love I have for these restaurants runs through my veins like the cholesterol laced meat they serve. Any self-respecting establishment of the sort has churrasco.

churrasco

not all heroes wear capes

Brazilians love cooking meat over an open fire. This is where whatever disagreements I had with Brazilians ends. You go through the line, grab whatever carbs you consider essential for that day, (potatoes soak up alcohol pretty damn well) and then you come to the glorious attendant who runs the fire pit with all sorts of skewers filled with meat. I’m not gonna go through all the cuts because they are different from American cuts but I will say I choose picanha and alcatra, with garlic if possible, make sure that it is medium well, and then add something bacon covered (chicken, sausage, more beef, whatever). As if that wasn’t enough, you get to “have it your way” (Burger King doesn’t fulfill the mantra as well as the fire pit attendant does) and choose where you want the cut of meat from off of the skewer. You then add some farofa (Brazil’s answer to cocaine) and you are set. Weigh your food, get your ticket, and go feast. This is the common lunch process for most of the country on most days and quite frankly I am ridiculously jealous of this everyday once lunch time comes around here in the states.

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I miss you too boo

 

Beer

I have a love/hate relationship with beer in Brazil. I love beer in general and the amount of beer they drink in Brazil is something I can easily condone. The hate part comes down to one key factor that Brazilians have when drinking beer. It has to be colder than your ex-girlfriend’s heart (you know where you are #!%&$). Giving a Brazilian a cold beer, but not frosty beer, might as well be an insult to everything they know. You are better off telling them that Dilma is a great president. The repercussions are less severe. The cold beer part leads to the whole beer drinking process become slightly more complicated, albeit still manageable enough for me to get drunk. You order a liter beer for the table, (unless you order a long neck a.k.a. a regular bottled beer which in that case you should really reconsider the establishment where you are at). They bring it in a giant plastic cover that looks like a beer coozie gone wrong.

Budweiser beer coozie

even Budweiser gets in on the weird coozie action

They hand you a bunch of small cups, unless you are somewhere fancy enough to where they freeze their glasses. You then pour yourself a beer into those small plastic cups you give 5 year olds for their birthdays. You then drink beer in small quantities as to make sure the beer doesn’t get warm. It isn’t a complicated process, but a very different one from the United States where you order a beer, they bring you said beer, and you drink the beer out of the container which they gave it to you. Maybe I don’t like it because the small cup makes me question my masculinity, or my age since I feel like a 5 year old drinking beer. At least it is good beer, and I stop complaining after the first two beers because beer is meant to help you forget about your problems. This process gets trickier when you decide to drink on the streets. Luckily I have great stories from every drinking occasion so I can’t complain and only look back at all my drinking with saudades.

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with great stories come great responsibilities

 

Holidays

So I was lucky enough to go to Brazil during a very festive time of the year. I got to spend New Year’s, whatever other random holidays came after, and then part of Carnaval. In the span of 30 some odd days, I got to enjoy random festivities all the time. We have that here in the United States too but we are too busy toiling away to enjoy the finer things in life. The USA gets very busy trying to come out with whatever specials will attract zombies into the store. No one drinks on MLK day, rightfully so but I feel like Brazil was probably running some random Saint Day to drink to around the same time. New Year’s luckily enough is a great reason to drink anywhere in the world but they up the ante by wearing all white on that day.

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either Brazilians are colorblind or off white is also acceptable

It probably has something to do with some tradition to bring in the New Year clean or in good fortune. I have my own theory that involves a syndicate of white clothing makers and their agenda to sell white clothes because anyone that remains with white clothing for the rest of the night probably didn’t celebrate to the extent that they should have. My white shirt is now champagne colored so I guess the syndicate got me this year. Following the white frenzy that is New Year’s comes a bunch of random holidays that many people get off, normally patron saints of towns, and the alcohol consumption continues to gradually increase until the beginning of Carnaval where your liver and sense of self-dignity take a nose dive. I have never fully understood Carnaval in terms of reasoning and common sense but I can fully endorse the message and I will summarize it as best as I can for those who don’t know much about it.

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honestly its just another excuse to drink cold cheap beer

 

Jesus died for your sins. Christians remember that date as Easter Sunday. Before that date, you should probably prepare to commemorate that special occasion by being better than you are most of the year. This applies more so if you are Catholic because Catholics love traditions and following antiquated rules. About six weeks before Easter, begins said period of preparation with Ash Sunday. If you have ever wanted to put ashes on your forehead for a day, definitely check it out but one normally doesn’t party on that day so be forewarned. The weeks before Ash Wednesday are the weeks where people start to realize that they will need to be on their best behavior for 40 days. For many of us sinning folk, that is a long time and something must be done before to ensure we get our dose of debauchery before that period (said period of non-debauchery is known as lent). The period of debauchery is known as Carnaval with all of it culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as to ensure that you are hungover and regretful of all of your sins when you get ashes placed on your forehead.

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Jesus would be proud, or making wine and multiplying fish and bread

Many big cities in Brazil celebrate Carnaval with bands, music, alcohol, block parties, costumes, and any other things that you would deem appropriate for partying. I was lucky enough to experience some of Rio’s Carnaval celebration and I have to say that Cariocas (the denizens of Rio de Janeiro) know how to throw a good party. Every neighborhood, at least good and self-respecting neighborhood, throws a block party and invites everyone to come, be festive, and just have a good time. You normally have a band playing popular music in the middle followed by a crowd of crazy revelers dancing around the band. Then on the outskirts are those tired of partying hard as well as many vendors selling items ranging from chicken on a stick, to all sorts of beer, to alcohol in little bags, to pot brownies (obviously not legal but highly unenforced). Music rings throughout the streets, alcohol flows through millions of those annoying small cups, and lots of people start doing things that ironically enough are probably on the list of things that Jesus came to save them from. I feel that the Christ statue above Rio looks down on the city with great disdain at seeing what the city does but at the same time is slightly impressed with the crazy antics and good party they throw.

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“I really died for you lightweights?”

 

The People

How could I forget the people of Brazil? They are what make the country great. I’ve been encountering these interesting creatures for the past couple of years here in Orlando but seeing them here doesn’t do them justice. They are out of their comfort zone, many don’t speak great English, and some are just pissed off that they can’t get a frozen beer and decent cut of meat in this country.

Disney's Human Element - Brazilian Tour Groups.... "Here We Come

hard to believe that something so scary can be so cool

You really have to go back to their natural habitat to understand them. So I did and it all made sense. Brazilians are some of the most welcoming, open, and straight out nice people I have ever met. I don’t say that cause I’m catering to the crowd but because I legitimately felt welcomed in by almost everyone I met. It would be the first time I would show up to someone’s house and they were already offering me food, drink, and their most beautiful daughter. Five minutes into knowing them and we were discussing whatever random topic they found of interest as if we had left off the conversation a week before. It is probably that openness to other people that attracted me the most to Brazilians. It was always easy to talk to people. Even at bars, parties, restaurants, etc…, people were easy to approach and to talk to. That is a huge sticking point since here in the states; I feel like many people go to public places and create a wall around themselves which for me doesn’t make much sense if you are in a public place. The whole reason you are out and about is to do just that, get to meet new people. I definitely miss that and realized it on one of my outings here after coming back. I guess the warm weather makes people warmer.

The exchange rate

If there is a time to travel to Brazil, it is now! The exchange rate is currently hovering around 1 dollar to 4 reals. This is twice what it was less than 2 years ago.

exchange rate

it could be 7 to 1 (too soon?)

Brazil is currently facing an economic crisis and a possible recession which isn’t great for the country, but if you have to find a silver lining, it makes Brazil very affordable for those of us who have dollars. So how expensive is Brazil. On average, I was spending between 15-30 reals (4-8 dollars) at the buffet restaurants I so highly covet. I spent 45 reals (about 11 dollars) at a fancy all you can eat pizza place (the place where I discovered my love for Nutella, chocolate, banana, and strawberry pizza).

nutella pizza

a small price to pay for such sweet love

I then spent about 100 reals (25 dollars) at a nice restaurant for two. And I don’t think I ever spent more than 10 ($2.50) on any domestic beer. This is way cheaper than the United States. A bargain indeed for anyone who wants to splurge and feel like a king without actually having King-like money, at least in the United States anyway.

 

Just like there are things I do miss, there is a short list of things that I really don’t miss about Brazil.

 

Toilets!

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not posting any toilet pics so here is a cool pano of the beach where we spent New Year’s

 

You can’t flush toilet paper down toilets in Brazil. I’m going to be straight up about that. No sugarcoating this one. I find that really awkward. I can understand the reasons behind it so I am not going to stick to this point for long, but I can easily say that if I ever end up in Brazil for a more permanent stay, it will not be easy to get accustomed to using a trash bin rather than just flushing it all away. (P.S. to all of my friends in Brazil, I didn’t flush toilet paper down your toilets so you can remain calm about any repercussions that could have occurred from that social/cultural faux pas.)

 

The situation with air conditioning

air conditioning

way better than any television

I say situation because there isn’t necessarily a lack of air conditioning. Rather there is a lack of mutual consensus on how to use air conditioning. For the most part, everywhere I stayed had an air conditioning unit inside each room. This is done to save energy. While this is intelligent in that sense, it isn’t convenient. There is always that temperature shock when you leave one air conditioned room and walk into another room that is being air conditioned at the same time. I understand I come from a spoiled country like the United States where we air condition the front porch, but I find it difficult to understand how people live in such a hot place without such a commodity. There are plenty of supermarkets, buses and other modes of public transportation, and even residential buildings that lack air conditioning.

bus fire

probably the same temperature

I find it difficult, more so cause I would always be the one who started sweating first, and that really wasn’t the look I was trying to go for while in Brazil. The random, sweaty, foreigner doesn’t sound like the person I wanted to be nor does he fit in enough to pass off in Brazil. I am going to assume that my body has not grown accustomed to living in Florida, another one of Satan’s hot boxes on this earth, and that it probably never will.

 

Weak cars

I might sound like I am complaining, I am grateful for everything on this trip, but these things are hard to get accustomed to. Brazil has cars and luckily I had access to one most of my time there but if there is one thing that makes it tough it’s the engine size. My car, Smokey the VW GTI, is knocking around 210 hp.

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I sure did miss all 210 horsepower

The main car I drove in Brazil had about 80 hp.

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80 horsepower + 1 Cow

 

The fastest speed I hit in the mighty stallion that is the Fiat Uno was 140 kph (86 mph). My car hits 86 mph without me noticing. I’m not trying to brag, but when you are trying to drive cross country in Uruguay and southern Brazil and make it back to the city you are staying at, you wish you could accidently hit 86 mph rather than having your foot on the floor and only reaching that speed. While not all cars are like that, it is still very common for cars to not have big engines since the bigger the car and engine is, the more expensive the vehicle is not only to maintain but to register with the government. With that being said, anything over 200 hp is a luxury in Brazil while anything over 200 hp here means you just have to fuel up a little bit more.

 

Pineapple Caipirinhas and Bohemia Beer

They are bad. Try them once, experience their badness, go back to drinking regular caipirinhas and any other type of beer.

pineapple caipirinha

looks can be very deceiving

 

So with that being said, I miss Brazil like crazy. I definitely plan on going back to that crazy country and taking another turn at uncovering all its mysteries. If not I’ll go back for the meat, beer, and pretty girls. Life isn’t that complicated or at least it shouldn’t be. If you have those three combinations you really shouldn’t be complaining.

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or just anyone to down a beer with

P.S.

I know this blog was originally intended for studying abroad but I will probably write a couple more posts as the saudades wears down and I’ll probably get into the gritty details that I didn’t feel like writing today. I really learned a lot from this trip and I like to write about my findings because it gives me a chance to analyze them as well as look back in the future at what my former self thought.

Where does it end?

It has been a while since I have written anything on this blog. I kind of reached the end of my trip in terms of all the articles I had written and although I did have some fodder to continue writing, life and all of its wonderful inconveniences got in the way of me writing some more. So to all of you who were so anxiously waiting for my next blog post since my last one, sorry to keep you waiting. If you legitimately were waiting, hit me up and I’ll buy you a beer or do something to make it up because patience like that must be rewarded. So to continue on my final leg of my journey, the question is “where exactly does it end?”

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At a gaunt kid coming back from an 8 month diet of beer and döner

Well the shocking truth is that it never really ends. Sure my trip was over and I was faced with the harsh reality that life was “back to normal,” but normal is honestly a bullshit concept we create to have our own little comfort zone where we feel ok and sheltered from all the externals we don’t want to believe affect us. I thought I was back at home doing the same old stuff but I was changed for good. Being abroad and all the experiences changed how I saw the world. I had a different perspective on just about everything. Weltanschaung (literally “world outlook”) is a cool little German word that describes it well, and mine had changed.

I clearly lost track of what was considered fashionable back home

I clearly lost track of what was considered fashionable back home

My political viewpoint changed dramatically, the way I interacted with people of other cultures changed, even the way I viewed my own native languages changed. All those experiences add up into changing who you are. Whether it is better or worse is completely defined by how you take it in, process it, and express it back out. For me, I feel pretty damn great. I feel like a better person. Not that I was pretty bad to begin with but I feel like my foundations are better set. Having seen so many different cultures made me realize that there isn’t one exact way for things to be accomplished. I can better communicate with people of different cultures and when differences do arise, I can better empathize with them since I have at one point or another probably been in that predicament. That is one of the key distinctions I learned. We sometimes fail to differentiate sympathy and empathy, and having to be placed outside of my comfort zone in lands unknown made me be better at empathizing. Anyone can feel genuine sympathy, but being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand where they are coming from requires a deeper train of thought. Not only that but it also requires you to know yourself better because you will need to be able to differentiate you from the other you are empathizing with.

as for those who don't eat pork, still working on that empathy

as for those who don’t eat pork, still working on that empathy

But probably one of the best things I learned to deal with was change. That is why it technically doesn’t end. When I came back from Beerlandia, it was tough for me to get back into the swing of things. And while much of it was because of reverse culture shock (I’m glad I brought the name of the blog into the final article), much of it had to do with learning to cope with extreme change. Small change we learn to handle well since it is a daily constant but big change takes some knocks and bumps. Speaking wrong languages to people, making social faux pas, and overall just having to adjust or readjust to something is all part of that change. It sure wasn’t easy and it was one of the main reasons this blog exists. It was to record what I had done so I could self-evaluate myself at the time and then look back and reevaluate once again. I feel way better at adapting to change. Much of it is just being able to understand that change is inevitable and to not hold yourself to such rigid expectations to make the transition smoother. It isn’t easy at first but one of the first big things that helped me out was to appreciate everything at that moment and for its worth.

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I’ll probably never shoot a gun on the Bosphorus again

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I also probably won’t ever visit that small Italian town with a scenic view

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nor will I get drunkenly lost in some small Dutch town and almost miss the train back to Germany

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and I highly doubt I will ever go back to that random town in southern Spain where my uncle used to live

It is one of the saddest feelings to know that you will never see someplace, something, or some people ever again but I find great comfort in knowing that I made the most out of those moments. I’ll try to keep these pictures for as long as possible, but I can guarantee that I will always carry those memories and stories with me. Whether it be riding motorcycles in southern Spain, bar hopping in Enschede, or island hopping in Turkey, I cherish those moments and that motivates me to keep going to random yet fun places. Likewise I cherish those moments you normally wouldn’t consider cherish-able. Those boring moments at work, those friends you thought you would keep for a while, the small routines and habits that keep you daily life boring but would make your day feel weird without them. I’ve learned to not be as harsh on them because we never really know when they will end.

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What I would do to be able to walk to school in 15 degree weather all over again.

But I have come to terms with change being the inevitable. It is the constant by which nature prepares the future. As long as I am able to enjoy the current moment, I can be better prepared for the future because I know I won’t look at the past with regret but rather good memories and a cool Portuguese word called Saudades.

So what now?

I was probably a bit winding with that explanation but it all comes down to this. How does it end and what did I get out of it? Well life is pretty damn great and I am realizing this more and more every day. I do have my days where I start questioning everything but I take that as a sign of a healthy mind and thought process trying to figure out what is going on and how to best prepare for tomorrow. I am graduating on Sunday May 10th and I will have a Bachelors in International Relations! Not really sure what exactly I am going to do with it but I will have it and will feel confident in saying I know how to use it. I have a bunch of great friends right now scattered all over the world. I am hopefully traveling to Brazil in December. I might be getting a new job soon in a field I like. Life is pretty damn good, and while I honestly am scared to imagine what life will be outside of the student realm I have been in for the past 18 years of my life, I feel good. All the travel, the weird foods I tried in the Netherlands, the silly dances I have learned in small villages in Bavaria, the conversations I had in broken Italian with some restaurant owners outside of Rome, getting lost in the weirdest places, the friends I made, the friends I lost, getting so drunk that I don’t remember how I got home and hide my keys in the freezer, all of it comes down to this. Being able to wake up everyday, and just being able to seize the day better than yesterday. Its not that complicated. I am just chasing happiness and so far so good, I feel like I am on my way. It isn’t a destination, its the journey and the checkpoints in between. As cliche as that is, it has worked for me so far. Reverse Kultur Shock just made me realize that through all the intricacies of my experiences, the main thing was feeling accomplished in something. What the accomplishment is, it would change daily, but at the end of the day, if I had done something new, it was enough for me. That is why it never ends, well until I die, because I will always have something to accomplish, and if I truly accomplish something great, it probably will outlast my death if I am lucky. Time will tell.

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I’ll keep chasing sunsets and drinking beer until that day comes

P.S. – I feel like I didn’t finish this well, and there are huge holes all over this article, but it is probably better this way. The journey will probably fill them up anyway.

Land of my unknown ancestors

All good things in life must come to an end and my time in Germany had finally come up.

except all you can eat Asian buffets

except all you can eat Asian buffets, you stop but they don’t

But seeing as how I like my adventures and leaving Germany directly to Florida would be too easy, I decided to step things up a notch. I bought my flight for Germany a couple of weeks before I actually was supposed to start school. The problem was that either in a first ever lapse of German efficiency, the German love of the Iberian peninsula and its warm climate, or some expedia.com screw up, it was cheaper for me to fly from Madrid to Frankfurt and then to Orlando on the way back than it was for me to fly Frankfurt to Orlando on the same airline and flight. About 200-300 dollars cheaper. So I decided that a little excursion to the land of my probable ancestors, not a hard conclusion with my last names being Aguirre and Aguilar, would be in order and I did have a couple of family friends in southern and central Spain that would gladly host me. So with my final days in Munich spent and tears rolling down my face knowing that the best semester of my life was over I flew off to Barcelona with my friend Andreas Fessler.

the empty room that is filled to the brim with countless Munich memories

an empty room packed with countless memories

We had no idea where we were going and we had some shady instructions on how to get to the hostel but somehow after deciphering the Catalan on the subway lines and crisscrossing the streets of La Barceloneta we made it to our hostel. While no pictures exist of the interior of the hostel because it was quite grimy and we would be doing the place a huge service, we did manage to get a ton of pictures of the outside because right at our door step was the beach!

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for 20 euros a night I will take that cramped room with this view any day

Having realized that we were in the land of Flamengo and the teams that didn’t win the Champions League that season, we went scouring for food like the hungry and semi drunk tourists that we were. After going from place to place and realizing that Barcelona is expensive and that La Barceloneta is where tourist come to eat and good food comes to die in a sea of endless shitty restaurants we decided to give a place that only had Spanish Menus a try.

the German was quite impressed with the Paella

the German was quite impressed with the Paella

There is a great lesson to learn from this paella outing. While the paella wasn’t bad, there is only so much expectation you can have when in the tourist district. None the less we grabbed some beers to quench our failed expectations and drank by the beach and called it in early knowing that the next day we would take Barcelona by storm. The following day we went off and wandered around the city to take pictures of all the sightseeing places that one must see when in Barcelona. Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia!

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They are actually pouring hot wax from the top and letting it melt down

La Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous landmarks and unfortunately also cost about 20 euros to go in. That is 20 euros that could be spent on food or alcohol and at a good wait of a couple of hours, we decided that we will wait until we are rich and famous to get an all exclusive pass inside. From there we headed off to Park Güell.

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equally as packed but bigger and free

Park Güell was designed by Antoni Gaudi, the same guy who designed the melting church, and he decided to go all out when it came to being different and push the boundaries of Modernism. Luckily for us he also had his park built on one of the bigger hills in Barcelona which allowed me to take a stunning shot of myself with a good background for a future profile picture.

you might recognize this picture from Tinder

you might recognize this picture from my Tinder page

Continuing on our journey of things you must see, we went down the famous avenue of La Rambla to La Boqueria. La Boqueria is a 800 year old market that is well known for having the freshest of the fresh when it comes to seafood.

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it’s like the entrance to the world’s greatest finger food eating contest

And boy has it done a well job at keeping its isles packed. The market is divided into different quarters with some having a cornucopia of different fruits while the other sections having the day’s plentiful catch in fish. Luckily for the average tourist, you can also eat here as well and there are many little restaurants littered with Tapas and all the fresh fish you walked by.

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You can hear Aquaman crying in the far distance

Lastly after a long day of acting like a tourist and not getting pick pocketed, we decide to go to eat Tapas. Tapas are Spain’s gift to mankind, seeing as how bringing chicken pox to the New World and taking back much of the precious metals is not seen as a gift.

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you are now free in Christ! Now get back to growing corn!

For some strange reason, Spanish people aren’t big fans of having dinner at a moderately decent time. They save dinner for late at night. Don’t be surprised if you are having dinner past 10 at a Spanish household. Fortunately for them, they carry on throughout the day eating tapas or little plates of different food items. You normally just order a bunch of different plates between friends and snack on those and drink wine. Eating tapas is a very communal event and I would not be one to ruin any event that involves copious amounts of wine! We went to a restaurant called La Bombeta located near our hostel. This place was fire! Let’s begin with the fact that the very decor screams we discriminate and we don’t care!

“we don’t speak English but we make some ballsy tapas”

After waiting a good 20 minutes and being convinced by a drunk French couple that this place was awesome and they had been coming here for decades we decided to crawl in and start with a jar of Sangria. We then hit the first round with Spanish meatballs with peppers, some “angry potatoes” and shrimp cooked in white wine with garlic.

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I couldn’t stop myself from having a potato before taking the picture

I am normally one to never take pictures of food or at least post it on something more permanent than Snapchat but this food was up there on my list of top 5 meals I have had in my life! After devouring the food, and some of the plate, we went in to round 2 and became a little bit riskier.

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don’t be fooled, this is probably our third pitcher of sangria

We finished off the night with some octopus and Spanish Chorizo cooked in red wine and more angry potatoes. It wouldn’t be the last time this place saw us.The rest of the night ended up in a fiasco of taking shots with some Slovenians at some sketchy bar to going to a club on the beach side and learning that at 15 euros a drink, pre-gaming is a more serious affair in Barcelona. We continued onto my last day in Barcelona by waking up late from the Slovenian induced hangover and visiting the Castle of Montjuic.

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a beautiful garden arrangement but a shitty moat

This castle was built to help the Catalans show off against those silly royals in Madrid, seeing as how lifted pickup trucks would have been too much of an anachronism, but did a very horrible job at defending against Napoleon and his baguette eating friends. During Franco’s regime it was turned into a military armor museum and it now currently belongs to the city of Barcelona and is used for many cultural and civic events.

it is

taking good landscape pictures is also a very cultural event

With all the big spots off the list, we decided to just wander around the city and try some more tapas. We went back to La Rambla and tried a restaurant that was offering 3 euro tapa plates. Being the good cheap college students that we are, we decided that it was a good idea.

a beautiful street doesn't translate to delicious food

a beautiful street doesn’t translate to delicious food

The problem is that La Rambla is one of the most popular streets in Barcelona with the hustle and bustle of thousands of daily tourists. While touristy places are not bad, it does make it easy for businesses to pop up who could care less about good quality because when your clientele is in town as a tourist for maybe once or twice in their life, they might complain about the food but have very little influence in what can be done to change it. After one round of microwaved tapas and lukewarm beer we decided that this place was a blackhole of flavor and quality and we decided that our last night in Barcelona deserved a more meritorious send off. La Bombeta it was!

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the potatoes are literally called bombs in Spanish

La Bombeta did not let us down and after downing a giant caserole of snails and another couple of jars of Sangria, we went back to the hostel and realized that the inevitable last hours were in front of us. With that we bought some beers from some sketchy Indian guy, as there are still dry laws in Barcelona for some reason and the best way to fight it is by placing Indian men with a vocabulary of 25 Spanish words on every street corner with 6 packs of somewhat cold beer, and drink our final brews on the beach before going to sleep. Or so we thought. As we drank our final beers, some American kids who were studying abroad in Spain walked by and asked us if we could take some pictures of them. We started talking to them and one thing led to another and we were on our way to the beach side club we had gone to the previous day.

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which with a line-up like this I might have well just stayed in Barcelona for the month

After trying to figure out what the bouncers wanted, overpaying for a couple of drinks, and weaving around Spanish guys like Messi, 4 in the morning came around and the club closed down. But in all honesty, watching the sunset from one of the piers on the beach with a random group of Americans we had known for less than 6 hours was probably the best way for this trip to culminate.

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some views are worth the lack of sleep

With my flight to Madrid approaching at 9, we said our goodbyes to our new American friends and left for our hostel. I grabbed my bags, left Fessler to sleep and somehow navigated the Barcelona subway and light rail system on no sleep and made it to the airport barely on time only to have my flight delayed until 1 in the afternoon. The next couple of days consisted of traveling from Madrid to Puertollano where my uncle lived and passed away the previous year but had left some friends behind who turned into really good friends of my family as well. I didn’t really take many pictures with the exception of

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some pretty cool landscape shots

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and some awesome shots of the city of Puertollano.

And quite frankly it was quite depressing. The city was nice but the attitude and emotional state with which you travel deeply influences what memories you create out of a place. I got to travel around central Spain by motorcycle! I know so many people who would die to have that opportunity but unfortunately my heart was set on all the memories and people I left in Munich. I was probably one of the few people to have traveled to Barcelona and Madrid and be sad about it, although don’t get me wrong my Spanish friends because your country is awesome! It is just weird because I am looking through all of my pictures of Spain and my heart goes back to the same emotion I had when I was there. I will probably travel back again to Spain to redeem the country from my previously less than stable emotional state but for now it will hold and interesting place in my heart. So after staying a couple of days in south central Spain, I left back for Madrid to fly back to America but not without reminding Madrid of one key thing that year.

Bayern Munich won the Champions League!!!!

Bayern Munich won the Champions League!!!!

So that was all she wrote and I flew to Frankfurt to only make my yearning for Germany even worse as I was in the airport and could see Germany outside but could not do anything to connect with it one last time. I remember just feeling void and ready to cry during my 3 hour layover but at the same time being so thankful for having such an opportunity to live and study in such a place and meet such amazing people. Plus I loaded up on 20 more Milka Chocolates from the duty-free store so the Kummerspeck could ravage me for the months to come. And as I browsed the internet with the last bit of data I had on my German SIM card, Frankfurt airport this is for you and a nice reminder that the wifi near gate 67 is faulty at best, I found the perfect cheesy facebook picture to capture my mood.

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A year and some odd days

A year and a couple of weeks ago I was recently arrived in Munich and getting accustomed to life in the good ole south

devoid of Confederate flags, slavery, and horribly lifted pick-up trucks

devoid of Confederate flags, slavery, and horribly lifted pick-up trucks

of Germany. I hadn’t even started school yet. And here I am a year later and couple of weeks away from finishing my junior year spring semester. It’s weird how time flies. I actually haven’t had much time to focus on writing my blog because I have had so much school work, which I should probably be doing, but I just had an itch to write about my trip to the homeland that never was. Even after a year I still reminisce on what it was like being in Germany. It is different from the tone I had at the beginning when I first started writing this blog. Back then I had a heavy weight in me that wanted to drag me back to the village of a million inhabitants. I don’t really have that anymore. I still want to go back but the reality of my situation has set in well. The emotional part that wants me back has quietly settled in its cage although it claws every once in a while when I see pictures of friends in Munich on my Facebook feed or someone decides to throw a throw back Thursday picture on instagram or even just a glance at my lederhosen in my closet or my Hofbrau maß krug in my kitchen but it knows that it is powerless to the forces of time and my priorities here at home.

although a bit of nostalgia is often good

although a bit of nostalgia is often good

But it isn’t all that bad. Sure I don’t know when I will return but I know the connection is strong enough that it is a matter of when rather than if. While sometimes I may feel more down about it knowing that it was just a small experience on the timeline that is my life, I am sometimes motivated knowing that it isn’t far from reality to believe that I may go back and maybe live there or work there, or at minimum just relive some memories. What I am trying to say is that I have moved on enough to not have deep emotional moments of longing but at the same time I will probably never move on from knowing that a possibility always exists. It’s kind of like that girlfriend, or boyfriend, that we thought we had a great connection with but things just didn’t work out, but you would still like to believe that it could.

I do miss your amazing tan and luscious curves, and you always were so intoxicating

I do miss your amazing tan and luscious curves, and you always were so intoxicating

I guess I will just have to trudge along until I am probably done with school and the opportunity for an escape presents itself. Until then, I can always look back at pictures of my day trips, and talk with my friends about the silly escapades. I will also continue writing my blog because there is still material to write and chronologically I am still not done with my time in the motherland.

p.s. If anyone out there reading this has any hook ups for a job in Germany, I will do anything short of slave labor.

 

Where east meets west, my trip to the Golden Horn

I was looking to travel all of Europe during my time in Munich. I would consider Munich to be so centrally located that traveling would be easy, and it was, but one of the many factors I didn’t really consider was time and money, especially since I was a full time student. This really shortened my list of places I wanted to travel to. I had already seen the Netherlands and Italy during my trip, and had previously been to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria, and my final trip was going to Spain so I needed to find somewhere exotic to travel to. I wanted to go somewhere that was filled with culture and that I would feel uncomfortably comfortable in. I had managed to travel through Italy with my knowledge of Spanish and ability to make Spanish words sound Italian and the Netherlands was pretty much reading funny German and listening to the Dutch speak better English than I probably can. I had never been to a country where I did not understand the language and had felt lost and helpless and if anything isn’t that why people travel to foreign lands to begin with?

Technically we are not in Kansas anymore but I still don't understand why no one speaks Russian

Technically we are not in Kansas anymore but I still don’t understand why no one speaks Russian

Luckily one of our friends we met during our first weeks in Munich offered us a place to stay at back in his home country if we ever decided to go. We had all talked about going and were stoked but we would have to wait until the summer to go because it would be the only time we would be able to travel with him. As the semester progressed, the situation in the country started deteriorating and the number of interested Americans dwindled. I did not really understand what was going on in the country but with images like this

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at least they have running water!

being plastered over every form of media conceivable, you could easily imagine that not many would be wanting to travel to such a place. It all dwindled down to the point where I was the only one interested in going and it seemed to be another solo trip until I convinced another friend to come. Sure my parents were ridiculously worried and my friends told me to reconsider and to go some other time but that creates a problem. When would I have another opportunity to travel to Turkey for so cheaply, stay with someone from there, have someone be our personal guide, and be able to enjoy the culture up close with actual Turkish people!?! With such well wishes we booked our trips for a long weekend and had prepared ourselves for the adventure that would be Istanbul.

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I could smell the Baklava already

before jumping into all the good stuff

My expectations of Turkey were a little different than what I would imagine most other’s expectations would be. In America the common stereotypes of Turkey and its people are men wearing Fezs and thick mustaches while smoking Camel cigarettes on a camel somewhere in a desert. The women also wear hijabs and the people of Turkey might as well be Arabs because Turks and Arabs are easy to stereotype together when you are 7000 miles away. I never really had that stereotype of Turkey but learning German and German culture didn’t help to much either. Turks are an interesting minority in Germany and to explain the whole Turko-German relationship in the span of a couple of sentences would not do it justice but I will try my best. Turks started arriving in Europe, especially in Germany, in huge quantities in the 1950’s and 60’s to help with the post-war construction and job boom. They settled down and contrary to what many of the Germans thought, they decided that their living standard was better in Germany than it was in Turkey and that staying was a better option.

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which I can’t blame them one bit

Today the Turkish population, including descendants of Turkish immigrants, is quite high and some statistics place them at 5 percent of the German population. Even though they form a decent portion of the German population, there has always been the question of integration and assimilation. While some have fully integrated to the point of not even speaking Turkish, many maintain ties with both cultures and do very well of bridging the gap between both nations, while others have managed to not integrate what so ever and keep to their Turkish roots. This creates an interesting scenario when learning about Germany because of so many divided opinions. Some view Turks as a well integrated community while others view them as separate as seen by certain city sections housing Turkish stores and restaurants. I personally don’t have any negative feelings or biases towards Turks, one of my first German teachers in Germany was actually Turkish and I had many great friends who are Turkish, but learning about Turks through the predominately German lens kinda creates a certain aura about the Turks in Germany that is hard to shake off.

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we can all at least agree on one thing

5 things I learned about Istanbul 

1. Istanbul is big!

There is actually not enough sun to light up the city

There is actually not enough sun to light up the city

Istanbul is massive! I had always imagined Istanbul to be a pretty big city but not as expansive as it turned out to be. When we landed at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport, one of the two airports in Istanbul, we were pretty centrally located to the center of Istanbul, or at least the Golden Horn if you want to call that the center. From there we hopped on a bus to Taksim Square to meet up with our friend Alp. Taksim Square is also centrally located and is where any type of meeting, parade, demonstration, and or riot will take place because of both its significance and location. It took the bus an hour to get there from the airport. That is just inside the city. The following day we went from the middle of Istanbul on the Bosporus to the prince Islands on the outskirts of town. It took us over an hour by boat and about an hour and a half the following day to get back home. The Istanbul city proper area covers over 2,000 square miles. To put that into perspective New York City covers slightly less than one fifth of that. Istanbul is the 3rd biggest metropolitan area in the World housing over 13 million inhabitants. This can only mean there is way more to Istanbul to discover than one could possibly imagine.

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I was technically there for the U-20 World Cup so one more thing off of the list

2. The food and drink is beyond delicious

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I wouldn’t mind getting conquered by the Ottomans for this food

So Turkish food is pretty well known among food circles for being delicious but one thing is having kebab at the Bosporus Straights on Park Avenue, having 3 a.m. drunk döner kebab at the east train station in Munich, and having the actual thing in Istanbul. The actual thing was amazing. We went with Alp, our Turkish friend from Munich, and some of his friends and wandered the streets of Istanbul until we finally found the particular restaurant we were looking for. What could be so special about this particular restaurant?

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showing up in a newspaper 7,000 miles away is a good start

A restaurant that makes it onto the New York Times gets my vote of confidence. And if there is one thing to add to any meal, which I  also dearly miss here in America, is Chai.

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I don’t not drink beer, but when I don’t, I prefer a hot glass of tea leaves, water, and sugar

Sure other cultures drink tea but there was something about Turkish Chai that got me hooked. It goes well with pretty much anything. I could have tea with tea and it would probably be followed by another tea. Another interesting thing that we ate was Iskander Kebab. I wouldn’t consider the food interesting per se but the fact that we went to a food court at a local mall to get some of the best did irk me a little.

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Can we kick out Sarku Japans and Panda Expresses and just add this instead?

But it was amazing, not just for mall food, but overall it was tasty. Its pretty much meat on meat with some tomato sauce on top and yogurt. If that wasn’t enough there is a man that walks around pouring melted butter on top at your liking. And if we didn’t have enough yogurt, we drank all of this down with Ayran. Ayran is what happens when you get plain yogurt, add water and salt, and decide that the combination is drinkable. I personally got used to it after two days and had no problem drinking it. My Turkish friends told me it was always a refreshing drink. My traveling partner had a taste and asked me for help finishing them whenever she got one. Refreshing might be a relative word. Lastly I would like to dedicate a small section to the drink known as Raki.

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probably Turkish for death

Turkey being known as a Muslim majority country, although the government itself claims to be secular, I would have thought that alcohol wasn’t really big in Turkey and that they would get their fix of holy spirits from praying. I was wrong. Raki is quite popular and there wasn’t a day or afternoon meal that wasn’t accompanied with some Raki. It is poured into a glass about half way before ice cold water is mixed. It is originally clear but the cold water makes it cloud, similar to absinthe. It also packs a punch. It is also known as lion’s milk, and milk for the strong. The founder of the Republic of Turkey Atatürk himself was a fond Raki drinker and he would regularly drink this with his close friends and advisers. I guess you can’t go wrong with drinking what the founder of the nation you are in drank.

3. The sights are amazing

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I can eat dinner in Europe while looking across at Asia

Every city has its own beautiful and unique sights but I am going to go out on a limb and say that Istanbul is one of the most picturesque cities I have ever traveled to. There was just so many different things to see and it was all scenic. One of the things that caught me off guard was how clean the city was. Not that I was expecting a dirty city but you can tell that the Turks put a good amount of time and effort into maintaining their city beautiful.

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you are better off finding Waldo than finding litter

There are also a ridiculous amount of mosques scattered around Istanbul. I understand that at one point or another a high percentage of Istanbul 13 million inhabitants will have to connect with Mr. Almighty up above but its just staggering to see the amount and how they create the Istanbul skyline. Maybe I am just not used to it and I could imagine that a Turkish transplant in America would have a similar feeling about the countless amount of first denominational church of this particular driveway that we have here in the states.

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There are between 4 and 6 mosques in this picture, and I’m not even sure

And just sightseeing in general and the amount of things there are to do. You can go walk in one of many parks.

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I happened to encounter former President Atatürk and we had a nice chat

or you can go shopping in the world’s largest and oldest covered bazaar

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now if Costco could get their stores looking this cultured

or you can decide that you have had enough of this mainland nonsense and that maybe island hopping is more of your cup of tea.

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Greeks island hop out of necessity, Turks do it out of pleasure

and just in case you needed to visit something cultural and scholarly, the Golden Horn just so happens to be home to the Hagia Sophia, which originally was a Greek Orthodox Church but was later converted into a mosque but is now a museum.

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give it a couple more years and it will convert into a restaurant or a Walmart

or you can go walk around the edge of the Bosporus and look at the white houses contrast the green hills in the background and maybe even take out the yacht for a quick excursion

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American girls not included, although I’m pretty sure Liam Neeson is looking for her

and if you have finally had enough of just aimlessly wandering the streets of Constantinople, you should probably go find the Galata Tower

because every great city needs to have one phallic looking object jutting out of the ground

because every great city needs to have one phallic looking object jutting out of the ground

climb it and once you are at the top you can rest easy knowing that you will have one of the best views 12 Turkish Liras, or 6 Turkish Liras if you can pass of being Turkish like I did, can buy.

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I’m a sucker for blue eyes and beautiful panoramas

I am pretty sure that last picture is all the proof needed for Istanbul’s beauty and expansiveness.

4. Turkish people are pretty awesome

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Couldn’t ask for a better crew to get stuck on an Island overnight

So most of the Turkish people I had met in Germany were pretty cool but I really wasn’t sure what to expect in Turkey. Maybe the ones in Germany had been made more liberal by the copious amounts of German beer, dirty German porn, and overall lax European social attitudes and maybe the ones in Turkey were ultra conservative and religious hardliners who would be about as fun as watching grass grow. I’m glad I was completely wrong. Our friend, and impromptu Istanbul guide, Alp introduced us to two of his really good friends Denizcan and Burak at Denizcan’s office. After we were invited to eat dinner along with some other friends on the rooftop which resulted in a good amount of drinking, dancing, and just an overall amazing time until the wee hours of the morning.

It could be sunrise or sunset by all I care

It could be sunrise or sunset, although the 3/4 full bottle is saying sunset

The following day we met up again to delve deeper into the spicy world that is Turkish cuisine and to wander around Istanbul before we were surprised to find out that we would be going to the island of Heybeliada. Throughout the day we got to know them better and although they might not speak English with native fluency, they spoke better than I ever expected anyone who had not lived in America to speak English. They told us about their jobs, what they did, where they had traveled and what they wanted to do. Burak was more of the funny one and his good humor kept the good vibes going on for the whole trip. Denizcan was more informative and really helped me understand what was going on and really got me into the loop. Kaner was a Turkish friend who lives and was raised in Munich and just happened to be in Istanbul during the same time. He really served as a bridge between the cultures.

we could probably take over the world

we could probably take over the world

The trip there would have not been as enjoyable without them and it really made it comfortable knowing such cool people there and realizing how similar we are even though we live in different cultures separated by countless miles.

5. Expectations are meant to be broken

Granted I really didn’t have many expectations of Istanbul and I was going more for the learning experience I did imagine some things that did turn out being pretty incorrect. For one all the riots and dangers people warned me about were not really there

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about as dangerous as a day old puppy

and while I do understand that riots had taken place there previously, we were told that regardless it had been safe for tourist because just like any other place where tourists visit, they will avoid the particular places where things might not be completely safe. While it might not be the most satisfying answer I really can’t explain how I got lucky enough to arrive there after the riots but I will admit I never really felt threatened nor did I feel any unbearable tension in the people, granted my knowledge of Turkish is enough to get me a beer at a bar and probably just that. So I will strike that one off of my first expectations. I then imagined the country to be ultra religious and conservative and to see some women walking around in Burqas and many more signs that I was in a Muslim majority country. Wrong again. If anything Turkey, or at least Istanbul is way more secular than I ever expected. While the landscape may look like some Sheikh sitting on a faucet of oil decided to drop Mosques all over the place like Drake making it rain at the club, the city itself was pretty secular and the only Burqas I saw aside from a couple of older Turkish women were those of tourist from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states who mainly come to Istanbul to visit the Sultan Ahmed or the Blue Mosque and any other Mosque of religious significance.

and just like white privilege, male privilege gets you to the front of the Mosque

and just like white privilege, male privilege gets you to the front of the Mosque

Kinda of how Catholicism is more of a tradition than a lifestyle in southern Europe and Latin America, just look at the lifestyle and tell me how much of the book is actually being followed, I felt that Islam is more traditional in Istanbul than it is a lifestyle and religion. Many celebrate Ramadan similar to how many celebrate Christmas but it is mainly a social norm that comes along with gluttonous food and good friends at the end. One of the final things that really caught me off guard was the gay parade I happened to have stumbled on the last day. I really wouldn’t have expected a full on display of homosexual support in Istanbul, a city in a country where gay rights have not really been taken to kindly. While there is long and tough struggle for the homosexual community of Turkey, it was actually pretty pleasant to see a full on parade occurring through the main street without any real counter protest or signs of violence.

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did you ever think that maybe they just like rainbow colored flags?

And while countless other things did break my perceptions of Turkey, I will sum it up on those because I feel like they were the ones that changed Turkey from a rigid religious country to a diverse and opening country who just like any other country in the world is trying to figure out its true identity and place in the world in the 21st century.

and a last note

Istanbul has been probably one of my favorite cities to have visited if not my favorite city to have visited. I did love all the cities I visited during my time in Europe but Istanbul broke all of my expectations and really left me wanting to stay some more and just delve in deeper. This is probably why this blog post has probably been the longest one of them all, even after cutting out a ton of stuff out. I feel like I still haven’t done Istanbul justice. Well if you guys do read this, I have probably thanked you all enough but I’ll send one last thanks to Denizcan for hosting us on your amazing rooftop and showing us what Turkish BBQ is all about, Burak for keeping me laughing the whole time, Kaner for the German-Turkish insight, Kayla for joining me last minute on the trip and being my travel buddy, Ekin for motivating me to go in spite of all the news reports stating how dangerous and hectic it was, and Alp especially for inviting me to Istanbul, letting me crash at your place, and showing me the best of your city. You have no idea how thankful I am for being able to say that I have visited Istanbul.

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Do it again next year?