From Russia with Love/Hate by Naomi Yudanin

Russians love:
- Opulence. They has it.
- Sushi, on every menu.
- Techno-ambiance music in restaurants.
- BMW 750LI cop cars.
- Frosty nail polish and lipstick.
- English words in Cyrillic.
- Slits and holes (on purpose) in clothing.
- Tracksuits, socks and mandals (man-sandals).
- Making out on escalators.
- Posing sexy for pictures in front of more attractive objects/monuments.

Russians hate:
- Giving change
- Answering questions, especially if it is their job.
- Providing customer service.
- Personal space.
- Deodorant. Seriously! Why??
- Ice in drinks.
- English speakers.
- Fairly priced museum tickets.
- Convenient crosswalks.
- You.

Things people have said to us that inadvertently summarize our entire trip:
But lady, youre in Russia now.
I dont have any change.
What ice?
If the babushka at the entrance likes you, she’ll let you in.

Should-be mottos of the country:
The customer is always wrong.
But it has gotten so much better!

Moscow--City of the Lost by Naomi Yudanin

Need directions? Don’t ask a Muscovite!

It’s not that they’re unfriendly—quite the opposite, actually. They won’t hesitate to help you if you look lost. It’s just that, when you don’t know where to go, usually they won’t either.
In fact, I haven’t yet been to a city whose residents are so utterly clueless about it’s offerings. Today, we had a bit of trouble navigating our way around the “Tretyakovsky” district, which boasts one of the more famous collections of Russian icons. Here are some of the ‘tips’ we got from the locals:

“Oh the gallery? Yeah..let me think for a second..I don’t quite remember.”
“Which gallery is that? I don’t know it. Sorry!”
“Oh yes, that’s to the left after the crosswalk!” (it was to the right, before the crosswalk)

Moscow is huge—11 million people huge. And there is not a single person that knows where they’re going.

by Naomi Yudanin

  After a long, 7 hour workday (with only a 2 hour lunch break), Jean-Marie-Claude-Pierre can’t help but nod off in the Jardin de Luxembourg…

After a long, 7 hour workday (with only a 2 hour lunch break), Jean-Marie-Claude-Pierre can’t help but nod off in the Jardin de Luxembourg…

Le fin by Naomi Yudanin

The end of our trip is quickly approaching, and in such a bittersweet way! It is, for the both of us, a summer of transition. For me, the last real school summer vacation that I will have.

On that note, I have decided to make this post less about the specific city I’m in (Paris) and more about the collection of cities I have visited. This is not to say, of course, that Paris isn’t worth talking about. In fact, I can write an entire blog just on the 5 days we have spent here. But—there have been many a blog written about Paris (and many books as well) that I imagine are both more informative and more eloquent than the words I can deliver, and probably do the city a lot more justice.

We have been to 12 cities in 4 different countries over the course of this month, and if I have learned anything from this trip at all, it is that there is a lot to love about each country, and a lot that makes me anxious to return home.

Let’s stay optimistic, though.

Belgium

I wrote about Belgium and my general distaste for the odors I encountered there. However, there are many things I discovered there that I will sorely miss when I step foot in the Land of the Brave. These include, but are not limited to:

Use-it maps: These maps belied the sense of humor nobody believes Belgians to have. Everything from “Best place to make out” to “Things to piss off a local” entertained us for the entirety of our trip in this little country. We were warned about killer cyclists, and guided to each landmark with a story. The map of Brugge was, by far, our favorite map of the whole trip.

Honor system trains: The Belgians decided that the proper way to arrange their metro system was to make it into an “honor” system. You really should validate your ticket before getting on the train, or you’ll feel really bad about it later. Never, in the course of our stay in Belgium, were our tickets ever checked by a patrolman. Oh, and the trains were impeccable. Despite having no profit from ticket sales. Obviously, these guys aren’t from New York…the city where it’s impossible to cheat the system, yet the MTA is still broke.

Gaufres Ligeoise, Leonidas chocolate, and fries: This one is self explanatory. Who wouldn’t miss delicious, sugar coated confections and fries that are famous for their double dipping (fried in mystery meat fat not once, but twice!)? [Mom, I know that there are two punctuation marks in that sentence. Find it in your heart to forgive me. I wanted to make a point. Yes, perhaps there is a more grammatically correct way of doing it.]

Speculoos cookies: These are small, gingerbread cookies that are served with coffee. I don’t usually like gingerbread, but I quickly became addicted to these. It’s obvious that the rest of Europe caught on because just two days ago in Paris, I found Speculoos-flavored ice cream!

Germany

Perhaps you get the same feeling from Germans as I do: eery calmness. Germans are serious and hardworking, so much so that Germany recently was caught telling the EU that, if Greeks want to remain in the Union, they have to start working on the German work ethic—not the Greek one. These determined people are the inventors of some of my favorite things from this trip:

Fast, timely trains: I didn’t think it was an issue in New York when the subway was a few minutes late. I also didn’t mind too much when the busses in Pittsburgh would stray off their schedule by 30 minutes or so. That is, until now. In Germany, they don’t know the word “stray”—but they do know the word “schedule” very, very well. As soon as I got into France, I began to really appreciate this German mentality. Seriously, France, take a hint.

German bread: We were told by a few German kids that Americans usually hate German bread. It’s too hard and contains too many seeds for us, apparently. Let me tell you something about this bread—it’s not bread. It’s a collection of different seeds loosely held together by butter. Oh, and it’s even more delicious than it sounds. We ate this, in loaves, every day that we spent in Germany.

Rittersport Karamellnuss Chocolate: This is sold in the States, luckily. Basically, it’s a milk- chocolate bar wrapped around a caramel-hazelnut center. Also, it’s the cheapest chocolate in the chocolate aisle (which, in Germany, is very well stocked) and thus, my favorite.

Brezln: Germans don’t eat soft pretzels like we do. They like them cold, and served with a side of beer. I like mine hot, no beer, thanks. Nevertheless, the brezln in Germany made for a tasty, inexpensive midday snack, and for that I appreciate it tremendously. Finding something inexpensive in Europe to soothe our hungry stomach was, in fact, one of our biggest challenges (next to getting somewhere in France).

Airwaves gum: I told someone I had met on the trip that he should try the “best gum in the world”. I wasn’t kidding. Seconds later, he described is as aggressive. That’s exactly the essence of Airwaves. It’s a blend of mint and eucalyptus that doesn’t freshen your bad breath—it destroys it.

France

Coming to France after going to Germany is a big mistake. Really, people should do it the other way around. That way, you’ll be so relieved to go from a dysfunctional country to a functional one that you won’t notice the uglier architecture. On that note, the architecture in France is second to none. Besides that, there are even a few things I’ve managed to come to love during my time here:

Milk-chocolate caramels and chocolate crepes: again, self explanatory. I’ve loved French crepes since the dawn of time (more like since I was 8) and milk-chocolate caramels here come in 1 kg bags for just over 1 euro. There’s really not much else to say.

Real onion soup: Throughout Germany, every restaurant tried to convince us that adding parsley to and removing the bread and cheese from onion soup was OK. It’s not. French people make onion soup the way onion soup should be made—unhealthy, filled with nothing but bread, cheese, and loads upon loads of oniony goodness. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. God knows France has very few unbroken things to spare.

French language: There are many languages that I don’t know in this world, and only two that I do. French falls in between those categories. For this reason, I’m fascinated by it. On one hand, I have no desire to understand just in which cases the imparfait (imperfect tense) should be applied. On the other hand, I’m deeply grateful to the French for not combining their words like the Germans did. Also, there’s something totally charming about a little kid mumbling around in French that just doesn’t translate to German.

Lunch breaks: The French work like the Germans laugh. They don’t. Lunch breaks come after a maximum of 3 hours in the office/store, and last for approximately 2.5. Often, between the hours of 12 and 1:30, the entire city shuts down for some much needed rest. Like their cigarette breaks, the French treat lunch hour (and a half) as a time for socializing with the rest of their hardworking friends. I love this approach to life—why work hard for that new plasma TV when you can just relax, sip a coffee, and chat with a friend? The French don’t believe in plasma TVs, which is why they remain happy while their economy slides down, down, down…

No killer cyclists: There are many bikers in France—but there are no killer cyclists. We’ve been conditioned, like Pavlov’s dog, to frantically run in the opposite direction of a seemingly innocent bike bell ring. In fact, it has gotten to the point where both of us experience racing hearts and sweaty palms if we hear anything remotely resembling the ring. Thank you, France, for telling your cyclists that the appropriate place to speed down the asphalt is, well, on the asphalt. Not the sidewalk.

This list is just the icing on the cake of the many many things we have experienced and loved during our time abroad. Our journey through Europe has helped us learn about the different ways in which people are brought up and live their lives, and more importantly, it has taught us to really appreciate everything that we are offered in our own home country.

And so, the end of the post, and thus the blog, has come—just as bittersweet as the end of our journey.

Hope you enjoyed living vicariously, and hope to see you soon!

Ludwig, Maserati, and other anecdotes from Munich by Naomi Yudanin

The Germans are serious about three things: beer, cars, and rules. Crossing the street on a red light earns you a disapproving glance; ordering a Czech beer at a German brew house—well, let’s just say its much more serious of an offense. Rules are rules: there are many, and they should all be followed. If not, a burly German will make it known to everyone that you are the Great Offender.

Herein lies the first anecdote: the line at the Deutsches Museum

We’ve visited three museums during our stay in Munich, including both Pinakotheks. The most unique of the three, however, was the Deutsches Museum which (according to Wikipedia, the Source of all sources) is the world’s largest technology and science museum. Judging by the line to get in, the museum is well worth a visit.

We stood in line for a long time.

Others stood in line for a long time.

Then came along a German man who decided to cut in front, in order to avoid standing in line for a long time.

Well—the Great Offender didn’t last long. A hoard of angry Germans (a scary sight in itself) started yelling at him to get out and join the back of the line (approximately a 1 hr. wait). They yelled, and yelled, and blew the house down!

No, just kidding—but the Great Offender tucked his tail between his legs and retreated, defeated and worn.

Most likely, the Great Offender realized he was no longer welcome in the Deutsches Museum—not until the Angry German Hoard was gone, anyway. Perhaps, he retreated to his car, probably a Maserati. Only people who are Great Offenders drive Maseratis in Germany, I think.

This brings us to our next anecdote: in the Land of BMW, who drives a Maserati?

The number of cars on the streets of Munich is barely matched by the number of killer cyclists speeding down the sidewalks. I would have imagined Bavaria, the Land of BMW, to be filled with the cars its own people produce. After all, in the words of my father whose dream in life is to spend a while in the Land of BMW, regardless of nation, “this car is perfected perfection!”

This is not so. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of BMWs on the streets here (the new X5 is wildly popular: in WHITE). The thing is, these BMWs belong to Munich’s working class. Here, they’re not luxury cars.

Walking along Maximillianstrasse (Munich’s most posh boulevard) you’re much more likely to see strings of Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and any other car that evokes images of slicked back Italians. In fact, I’ve never seen so many cars that, if traded in, would easily be the equivalent of a small villa in worth.

I bet the Great Offenders that own these cars also order Czech beer in the Brauhaus.

Among Great Offenders of this Catholic state, there is a ringleader. With him, I’ll start the last anectode and end this post:

Ludwig II shows Catholic Germany the first flourishes of rebellion—with an emphasis on flourishes.

Germans love following the rules. They’ve loved following the rules for centuries—likely before anyone else even thought of the concept of rules. Ludwig was no exception. We learned a lot about him during our stay in Munich, as he undoubtedly left the most colorful mark on Bavaria: Neuschwanstein.

The tour inside Neuschwanstein is curt, and the tour guides are prohibited from mentioning the cause of Ludwig’s death (still unknown) as well as any potential theories as to why he was never married (or for that matter, around women).

We were warned against the English speaking tour, as the tour guides were said to be robotic and monotonous in their descriptions of a castle that was anything but. So, I opted for a Russian audio guide.

My guide, in a heavy St. Petersburg accent, began explaining with little subtlety just what made Ludwig, the devout Catholic, so incredibly un-Catholic.

"Most kings build statues of lions, indicating their triumph in war. Ludwig preferred swans. This should tell you something about his preferences."

"Ludwig spent much of his time with his close friend Richard Wagner. Though he had many friends, none were female. He always preferred male company."

So there you have it.

The greatest mark on Bavaria (or at least the one that brings in the most money to the Bavarian government)was left by him- the King of the Great Offenders, the flamboyant, eccentric King Ludwig II, who built castles from fairy tales and loved swans, all while living in the land dominated by Catholicism, beer, and burly German rule followers.

Brr.. it's cold in here! by Naomi Yudanin

We thought we were traveling South. For some reason, in our heads, Brugge was the northernmost point we would reach in our journey, and for that we were grateful. Having only packed clothes fit for 80-something weather, we were caught short by Europe’s sudden anti-global warming campaign that manifested itself in weather that more resembled the end of October than any summer month.

We were wrong, as usual.

Our plan was to go to Hanover from Koln, but that changed as soon as we heard that the city was rather war-torn and grim. We had heard great things about Bremen from some other hostelers that we met, and one of them even offered a good hostel in which we could stay as well as a map. We were sold.

Off to Bremen we went!

The only thing I knew about the city prior to hopping on the train for a 3 hour journey far, far north, was that my favorite childhood cartoon was named after its famous musicians, the Bremen Musicians.

We wanted a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Belgium before we destroyed our livers and morals in Berlin, and Bremen seemed like the perfect place for this little vacation.

We arrived in Bremen yesterday, and spent most of the day chilled because it was drizzling just enough to dampen your clothes and neither one of us had thought to bring an umbrella.

Luckily, today was much nicer (albeit not warmer) weather, so we went exploring. Following our usual map-provided walking tours, we saw the Dom St. Petri, the City Hall, and of course, the ever-elusive Bremen Musicians statue. Also, we walked down the winding streets of Schnoor, the oldest part of this old city.

Like any good scientist, I always compare my hypothesis with my results to see if they corroborate it. As I mentioned previously, the only “research” I had done on Bremen was watching (almost obsessively) the Soviet cartoon “Bremenskiye Muzikanti”. Watch it below to get a sense of what the story is about.

Here’s what I learned after a day spent in the city itself:

1. Not everyone is blond or blue-eyed…but most are.

2. Donkeys don’t try to run you over with their carriages…bicyclists do.

3. The original story, written by the Brothers Grimm, is about a donkey who gets kicked out by his master (a miller) and travels to Bremen in pursuit of his musical dream. The Soviet cartoon makes no mention of a miller, and brings along a blond who resembles Elvis. There is also a princess involved. In fact, besides the name of the musicians and the journey to Bremen, there is little in common with the Grimm fairytale and the Soviet cartoon.

Tiny little towns like these are what make Eurotrips such as ours so worthwhile. Having said that, I can’t wait until we arrive in Berlin!

So, what time does Brugge close? by Naomi Yudanin

Brugge is everything Brussels is not: pretty, expensive, and a tourist trap. However, of all the tourist traps I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to plenty, this is one of the most pleasant.

In the past two days, we discovered what makes Brugge sweet. Literally sweet. Brugge has hundreds of candy and chocolate shops (all of which we made sure to visit) as well as an entire museum dedicated to—you guessed it—chocolate making. They even have a statue of a chocolate Obama (we haven’t figured out if this is supposed to be offensive or adulatory).

In fact, there were so many places in Brugge that drew our eyes (and noses) away from our true goals that we were often sidetracked in our pursuits of viewing the town’s many churches and museums. It took us upwards of 5 hours a day to actually get to the 2-3 places we had on our list of things to view in Brugge. Today, for example, we were going to head to a church that (supposedly) contains Jesus’s blood, and on our way, were distracted by a candy shop in which you can watch the candy makers pull the sugar syrup into beautiful little confections. Of course, the free samples at every shop didn’t exactly discourage us from coming in.

Aside from ruining our figures, Brugge has impressed us with its sense of humor. There’s a map here that we picked up at our hostel that’s made for tourists by “the locals” that want us to frequent their tourist-trap shops. As useless as this may seem, the map is actually a true testament to the Brugge sense of humor. This same company made maps in Brussels that were very serious in their descriptions of the various sights and scenes you may want to visit. Conversely, the Brugge map took a very self-deprecating view. There are parks marked with the “goods” they offer (such as cute asses, good football field, great place to have a picnic), directions on how to anger a local (ask what time Brugge closes—apparently, Japanese tourists believe Brugge to be an amusement park), and even the most romantic places to kiss (Europe is all about PDA)!

I’m not sure how the locals feel about us tourists. Well, I’m sure of how they feel about French tourists…

On one hand, they are very helpful in directing you to their aunt’s restaurant when you need a place to eat. On the other, the locals riding bikes definitely seem to be trying to run you down. There’s really just no way a bicycle can swerve “accidentally” to so precisely match your trajectory. 

Brugge was, all in all, an excellent way to end our stay in Belgium. After the capitol eyesore, it was really refreshing to see such a picturesque village. And, really, the abundance of chocolate wasn’t too bad either.

Up, up and away! by Naomi Yudanin

So, it’s July 21st and we’re off to Brussels, which will be the first of our many stops in Europe. Follow our adventures on this blog, which hopefully I will update and not get lazy about. If I do get lazy and anyone actually reads this thing, feel free to nudge me about it.