Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Europe's Florida/California/South Carolina

I just got back from Portugal a few days ago, and if I had to describe this place as anything, I would say that it was a mix of California, Florida, and South Carolina, with a bit of European flair. Portugal was absolutely gorgeous and is worth a visit for sure. The first day my friend Jeff and I toured around the city of Lisbon. We went up this contraption called "The elevator" and got a full view of the city. White houses with orange clay roofs led down to the picturesque bay. Some people say that Lisbon reminds them of San Francisco with a slightly different flavor. I guess that's why they built their version of the golden gate bridge across the water.

After the elevator, we walked across a bridge to the Carmo Cathedral, which has no roof on it. It was destroyed during an earthquake in the 1700's. Peering up to the top of that ruined Cathedral seemed surreal. It was like nothing I have ever seen. We walked to the back of the church to the museum, where they had artifacts from 6,000 years ago and three mummies- two of which were on display in a glass case. I was utterly amazed at the history right before my eyes. I think that the artifacts were some of the oldest I've seen in Europe.

After these morning activities, we headed to the castle, where we got another great view of the city. Then we took a train to Cascais, which is a small beach town by Lisbon. That little town reminded me of Charleston South Carolina. All of the buildings were pastel and palm trees lined the streets. Rows of old houses lead up hills that continued past ports with sailboats. It was gorgeous. We laid on the beach for awhile and then headed to a small town called Belem, where we saw the Cathedral and water tower. After all of this, we ate some subway and headed to bed.

The next day we got up early and headed to a small town called Sintra. This is hands down one of the coolest things I have seen all year, without a doubt. This town was very mountainous and scattered with castles every here and there. The castles were some of the most unique castles I have seen while in Europe. They were painted with bright colors, mosaics, and had cone shaped towers on them. We walked through the small town a bit and then took a bus up to two castles on top of the hill. The woods were sort of like a jungle, with tall seqoias and palm trees everywhere. The first castle was not really a castle, but a great wall of china- esque lookout. When we climbed to the top, we got one of the most expansive views ever. We saw Lisbon, the coasrt, Belem, Sintra, Cascais- everything. The wind was blowing so hard that we could hardly stand, but it was so b eautiful. We hiked around that for a bit longer and then took some breaks to admire the fantastic views. After spending a couple of hours here, we took a bus to the second castle, where we only paid to see the gardens. We hiked all around the woods and climbed a narrow set of stairs that led to a stone throne where the queen used to sit and admire the view of the castle. I don't see how the queen got up there though, because that hike was scary, tiring, and steep. We saw some pretty cool things in the woods- small ponds, chapels, and mysterious mini castle looking things. It was like a fairy tale forest- something that you see in a movie or read in a fanstasy book. It kind of reminded me of where they filmed some of Lord of the Rings. I loved Sintra and I would say that anybody visiting Lisbon absolutely has to stop by this charming town in the hills. That's it for now...tons of work to do! I'll blog again in a few weeks...only 1 month left! wow!

My Very Nice Visit to Nice

As soon as I arrived home from Switzerland, I prepared for yet another voyage. I left on Wednesday May 7 for Nice, France to visit my friend Andrea, whom I met at Loyola. During the past two years, we have become really close, so it was nice to see her again! Nice was also beautiful. The first day we laid on the beach, and then the second day we walked up to this hill that overlooked the whole coastline. I have never seen such a beautiful view of the ocean in my life! The water was a light teal color near the beach, and then got much darker as the ocean became deeper. The beach was rocky, which was really unique. Anyways, the top of the hill was inhabited by the Greeks a long time ago, so there were dozens of mosaics and remains there, which were all very interesting to explore. We got a great view of the port of Nice as well, where millionaires park their yachts.

During the rest of the time that I was there, I hung out with Andrea's friends, went out at night, and walked around Nice a bit more. We stopped for gelato on Friday and it was probably the best gelato I've ever had! Andrea said that it's probably because of Nice's proximity to Italy...makes sense I guess. I bought some soap from Marseille while I was there for my family, which smells really good. Apparently the south of France is famous for their scents- the world's best perfume is made there.

Nice was a very short trip for me ( 2 days), but it was definately worth it. I miss Andrea and am counting the days till I see her again!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Switzerland: XTREME!

This blog is coming a little later than intended, but due to extreme business I have just gotten to it. Anyways, from May 1-5 me and 5 of my friends went to Switzerland. We got a youth pass, which granted us umlimited access to trains, boats, and the like for four days. All in all, it was a great deal, because we really got to see a lot in just 5 days. Looking back, I think that Switzerland was by far the most picturesque country that I visited while abroad this year, and I would definately reccommend it to anybody. However, it is one of those places that has so much, that you feel like you cannot do it all in just one visit ( Then again, all places seem that way).

So our first day we headed to Lausanne and just sat by the water for a bit. We had a really early flight that morning, so we just wanted to kind of sit and enjoy the sun. After sunning for a bit in Lausanne, which overlooked a lake, we headed to Bern to sleep. Our train ride to Bern was about an hour, and we got our first glimpse of the beautiful alps. As the train winded through grassy hills, chalets, and snow-capped mountains, I was pretty sure that I was caught in a dream or something. It didn't feel real. The mountains were so grand in size. I have been to Colorado a few times before, and I have always thought that the Rockies are huge, but the Alps put the Rockies to shame. Not to mention, the views from the train are absolutely unparalleled! The train rides were awesome, because we got to just sit back and enjoy the scenery while listening to music or talking. We arrived in Bern and walked through the town a bit, but were so exhausted that we decided to just hit the hay. We checked into our hostel and called it a night. From what little I did of Bern, I loved it. It was a quaint little town that resembled Munich a bit. It had a very Bavarian feel to it.

The next day, Cookie and I got out of bed nice and early to head to Interlaken for snowboarding. We were so pumped, only to be told that the season had just ended! Darn it. We were a little disappointed at first, because we had been talking about it for awhile before the trip, but instead we rented bikes and decided to bike around a lake in Interlaken. Cookie wanted to rent vespas, but I was too scared to ride it on the road since it was my first time. As it turns out, we would have needed a driver's license with us anyways, and we didn;t have it on us. Our biking ended up being a lot of fun though and provided us with amazing views. The lakes in Iterlaken were vast and teal blue from the glacier water. All around us, we saw people doing extreme sports - paragliding, hangliding, sky diving, etc. Iterlaken is really a great place for young people to do outdoorsy stuff, which is part of the reason why I loved it so much. After Cookie and I had enough of trekking up the huge mountains with a 50 lb. backpack on ( I brought a bunch of useless things with us, as usual) we headed back down and got something to eat. That night we took a train to Spiez just as the sun was setting. We passed by one of the enormous lakes on the way, and the train went so low that it seemed to skim the water beside us. It was almost like the train was on the water for a second. We wanted to catch a ferry, so we walked all the way downhill to the dock, but the ferry had just pulled away, so we walked back up the huge hill and then met the other girls for dinner. Even though that was exhausting, it was nice to see the little town of Spiez by the lakes.

The next day we all got up nice and early to go canyoning ( hiking, sliding down waterfalls, jumping in waterfalls, rapelling down cliffs). We were a little bit scared, because it seemed so extreme to us and also foreign, as we had never done anything like that before. However, we geared up in two wetsuits and went for it. I think gettign the wetsuits on was harder than the actual activity itself, haha. We had to help eachother. We got random helmets with silly names on them after we geared up and e verything. Mine was " Shreck". So we rode up a mountain and then started to slide down waterfalls. I was so scared, especially when we approached a app 50-60 dropoff. I had no clue that the crazy guide was going to make us do next. He attached us to a rope and we rapelled down the cliff. I really didnt want to do it, but once I was strapped in, I didn't see any other way to get down than to just suck it up and go. It turned out to be not so scary and fun too. The obstacles kept getting harder. We finally reached a 20 foot rock that dropped off into a tiny pool of swirling water. The guide told us to jump a certain way or else we could break our legs. That pretty much turned me off of the whole thing. I was really proud of myself for going through all of these obstacles, but I felt like I just couldn't do this one. Anyways, after like 5 attempts, I finally jumped and it was extremely thrilling. I didn't break any bones either, which was nice. I think I bruised my tailbone, but that's about it. Thank God, because about 5 years ago, a group drowned in that same canyon from a flash flood. After our canyoning, two girls went canyon jumping, which involved diving off a platform into a narrow canyon that is about 150 feet deep. It gave me the heeby jeebies just looking at those girls conciously jump off of a cliff like that. wow. EXTREME.

So the following day we went to Lucern and Zurich. Lucern was one of my favorite places that we saw during the trip. I loved the wooden bridge that spanned the river next to the train station. I didn't like the busy bridge next to it, but it made for a pretty picture. Lucern was really small, so we were able to walk around it within an hour. We were going to rent paddle boats for the lake, but we wanted to see Zurich and a castle at the top of the hill as well, which we did see.
We read in abook that there was a beach in Zurich, so we changed into our suits and desperately searched for this so called beach. Turns out that there was no beach, so we just sat on a dock and enjoyed watching sailboats on the lake. Zurich was also very bavarian like Bern, probably because it is very far North. After this short stop we headed to Geneva, where we had to figure out how t oget to a small town right okver the border in france. That was where our cheap hotel was located. That ended up being the disaster of the year. It's a long story, but basically we walked around this small French town trying to figure out where our place was, and we all got into a big fight, etc. It was dramatic. We finallly found the hotel, and the next day we had a glorious breakfast that was more than worth the trouble it took to get to that darn hotel. We explored Geneva that day and I think that I liked it better than Zurich or Bern. We played in the park like little kids and then checked out the Cathedral and a few other landmarks too. My favorite part was the small park down by the water with a beautiful array of flowers in the shape of a clock.

So, to wrap this enormously long blog up, I enjoyed Switzerland a lot. The train rides through the alps made the trip for me. I enjoyed being in the outdoors in Interlaken the most as well, but I especially loved all of the views from the trains. Switzerland is everything that you see on the postcards and in the movies, except much more grand and powerful once you're actually there. YOU HAVE TO GO HERE SOMETIME IN YOUR LIFE!

blogs on Nice and Portugal to come soon....

Uncles and Dad Visit

I recently heard that Uncle Ron was upset about a lack of blogging about their visit to the Belg. So, I am going to answer that complaint.

It was awesome to see my Uncle Ron, Uncle John, and of course, Karl, about a month ago ( wow was it a month ago already??!) I was really glad that they could come over, because I knew that they would show me a good time, and sure enough, they did. We went to all kinds of pubs within the 5 days that they were here. My favorite was probably the small brewery in a town called Beersel. I never even knew that the town existed until Uncle John pointed it out and took us there. The beer we had was very delicious. I think we tried lambic and kriek, which is a beer made from cherries here in Belgium. Prior to this experience, I had only tried the reallygeneric fruity krieks, but this kriek was unique ( I'm a poet and I didn't even know it!) It had more of a strong, bitter taste. We had some cheese, bread, meat, and other tasty appetizers to go along with the great beer. Having this kind of food with beer is typically Belgian....yum

During their visit, we also went to Brussels and Brugges. While in Brugges, we rented bikes and rode around the outer rims of the town, which was a lot of fun. We also tasted a lot of beer and shopped around for souviners. I got to see a few more things in Brugges that I have not seen before, so it was definately worth the trip back (besides the fact that I also got to hang out with my awesome uncles and father)

The last night we went out to dinner in Leuven to a Belgian restaurant and said our goodbyes. I twas sad to see them leave, but it was a fun trip! Sorry this blog cant be longer...I'm tired and need to get some sleep!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Scotland and Stuff

Sorry, no semi-creative title for this blog. I am drained. Right now I am in the process of trying to complete a paper for my Flemish art class, which, oddly enough, is about Andy Warhol. Our teacher told us that we could write the paper on either a Flemish artist, or artist from our home country, which just happens to be America. The first person I thought of when she said that, was Andy Warhol, because he's from Pittsburgh, and as any sane person knows, Pittsburgh is the best city in America. Anyways, I am trying to finish the rough draft for that paper today, so that I can focus on my paper for culture class this weekend, which is going to be a pain. It seems as though I have fallen out of the habit of doing real schoolwork on a consistent basis ever since I have been abroad, which is sad, but true. It's just so hard to motivate myself when I get back from traveling, because my mind is not focused, and I am so tired from coming and going constantly. These days, it's as if I'm running from nothing, but I've never been happier. Time has flown by, and even though 10 months is a bit long to be abroad, I am so glad that I have these last few months to enjoy being over here in Europe. Some of us have become a bit homesick, but honestly, I think it's just because this is all winding down, and that finals are approaching. Also, it's difficult to stay focused here when all of our friends are going home soon. Oh well! I'm not complaining. I'm still in Europe, and that's no cause for complaint.

So on to Scotland. Cookie and I went to St. Andrew's, Edinburgh, and the Highlands this past weekend, which was quite a memorable experience. I think we're both pretty drained from all the traveling, but we were so blown away by the beauty of Scotland, which kept our energy high. We stayed with a friend at St. Andrew's, and she's situated literally 2 seconds from the 18th hole of the Old Course. Talk about prime living location. We strolled along the beach and saw the Old Course, which is where the rules for golf were originated. The wind was howling, and we were very cold, but the scenery was impressive. Chariots of fire was filmed on the beach,a nd our friend said that she runs there everyday, which sounds awesome to me. On the way home from our walk, we passed by an American store, where I bought a Dr. Pepper. I miss it so much, so I was jumping for joy when I saw it. Sweet purchase. After this, I stopped by a golf store, where I met an interesting character. The store owner was from the west of Scotland, and clearly had a chip on his shoulder as a result. He rambled on about how he has been to all 50 states, and that out of those, Chicago, North Carolina, Oregon, and Arizona are his favorite places- all for various reasons. He proceeded to say that people from California are just like a bowl of granola: they're either flakes, nuts, or fruits. I thought that was a hilarious politically incorrect joke, especially coming from a Scottish man. Anyways, he kept on rambling nonsense and ripping on innocent people, so I eventually had to invent some excuse to leave.

After our visit to St. Andrew's we headed to Edinburgh, which was a really cold city, but interesting, nevertheless. I thought that the coolest part about it was that castles were situated above the other buildings, so as to make them the primary focus. Also, it had a flavor of England, as it belongs to the Uk, which was another reason that I loved it. However, there is a spirit of rebellion amongst the people of Scotland, which was generated from their fight for independence, similiar to Ireland. On one of our days in Edinburgh, we went on a day tour of the Highlands, which was absolutely breathtaking. Our tourguide was quite the nut. He never hesitated to make politcally incorrect jokes, while flailing around a plastic sword, and almost hitting random wildlife on the road. I really feared for my life at certain points of the trip. He was funny, but really bitter too. He kept telling us how he wanted to hit pheasants and whatnot. He took us to the William Wallace monument, told us about that whole story, the castle from Monty Pithon, a Whiskey Distillery, and around to other small towns and beautiful bits of the countryside. I have always heard that Scotland is very beautiful, but it surpassed my expectations. The rolling green and brown hills, complemented with green spruce trees and vast lakes, made Scotland so memorable for me. My favorite part of our Highlands tour was when we stopped at one of the many lochs for a few minutes. It seemed like a perfect place to just escape the busy world- a place where nobody could discover you. I would love to go back to Scotland someday and take a longer tour that includes the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, and Inverness. There's just so much to cover there, but I feel like we did a lot in such a short amount of time.

Cheers! ( Back to work for me!)

ps.- this is a shoutout to uncle ron...thanks for all the comments!
also, I had a great time with my uncles and dad on their visit to Belgium :-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

When The Moon Hits the Sky Like a Big Pizza Pie..

I just got back from a Loyola sponsored tour of Italy, and even though I was sick for most of the trip, it was absolutely wonderful. After a flight cancellation and a connecting flight, we made it to Florence on March 25th. We stayed there for three days and four nights, which was definately a good amount of time to be there. On the first day, we went to the Uffizi Gallery, The Academia, and the Duomo. I have been to Florence before, so I had seen all of these things, but this time I feel like I soaked it all in a bit more. My favorite thing was probably seeing the David again, because I still think that it is one of the best sculptures in the world, as well as one of the most beautiful. We also got gelato and hiked up to some gardens, where we got a great view of the city. It was about 65 degrees, the sun was out, and we just sat on a ledge and gazed over Tuscany and the city for a while. It was really relaxing after doing a lot of touring. The next day, Loyola took us on a tour of two wineries in the countryside of Tuscany. Our tourguide's name was Todd, and he owns a company called "Tuscan Trails". He met his wife in California, and she convinced him to move to Tuscany, where she is from, so he eventually agreed, and then decided to become a Sommolier ( I probably got the spelling wrong on that) in Tuscany. Anyways, the first winery was in the Pazzi Palace. This palace belonged to the second most powerful family is Tuscany next to the Medicis, so it was really cool to actually be inside of it. Todd explained the history of the castle to us and then took us into a room across the street, where we tasted some wine and olive oil. He taught us how to taste wine, which initially perplexed me, but then eventually made some sense. I guess I have never really appreciated the fine qualities of wine until his lesson. After this tour, we had a delicious lunch, complete with even more wine. Then, we headed to a second winery, where we tasted...you guessed it...more wine. It was all so delicious, but I have to be honest and say that I was about to fall off of my chair by the second winery! I started making ridiculous conversation with Todd. I asked him if he knew how to surf and some other funny things. Everybody in the group was laughing hysterically at me, which isn't uncommon, but was still amusing for me anyways haha. We all passed out on the bus home. I did, however, catch some beautiful scenery on the way home, and all throughout the day. The cyprus trees were so beautiful with the background of the rustic hills. The sparse landscape was dotted with a tan brick villa with an orange roof every here and there. Todd told us that they rent out these villas to vacationers. I would love to rent one of those some day!
During the res tof our time in Florence, I was sick. I developed a really bad cough and then I got pink eye in both of my eyes, which was no walk in the park. We had a tour of San Lorenzo during our last day, which was really awesome, considering that Michaelangelo's grave was inside, in addition to several memorials. I was coughing so hard that I had to go back to bed and lay there all day. I was miserable. Luckily, during the last day, we didn't do too much, so I guess I didn't miss much.

After Florence, we headed to a small town called Orvieto, which is located on a mountain in between Florence and Rome. It was such a cute little town with a great view. We took a tour of the church, but because it was so dark and cold, I had to leave. Afterwards, Dr. Burger, our director, offered to pay for a scavi tour of the city, but I decided that this would be a bad idea for my health and walked around town instead, which ended up being pretty pleasant. Fortunately, the sun came out, so I was able to absorb some vitamin d and warm up a bit in general. I stopped into some nice shops, and then sat in the sun for awhile, then rejoined with the group at the end. After this, we continued onto Rome. After we loaded our stuff into the hotel, we took a night walk tour, which was one of my favorite things that we did in Rome. All cities are so different at night than they are during the day, so its always nice to get a good glimpse of them during the evening. We walked up Palatine Hill, saw the Forum, walked to The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and got some Gelato at the "best" gelateria in all of Rome. St this point, I did not have a sense of taste, so I really couldn't tell you if it was the best gelato in Rome. During the next few days, we took tours of St. Peter's Scavi, the Vatican Museum, The Borghese Gallery, Coliseum, Forum, Spanish Steps, Piazza Nevona, and walked around the other major sites again during the day. My favorite tour was probably the Scavi tour. Underneath the vatican lies a city that was built by the pagans to bury their dead. Originally, Vatican Square was used by emperor Nero to torture christians, which is why St. Peter's body was found in that area. Anyways, this necropolis was excavated, and basically there is a bunch of burial chambers to be explored underneath the Vatican. I was in utter amazement as we walked through 1,500 year old chambers with lavish mosaics and inscriptions. These burial chambers had two floors, one being the burial floor, and the other being the party room, where there would be wakes. Our tourguide pointed out which graves were those of the extremely wealthy, and those that were taken over by the poor christians after Constantine came into power. The christians would scrape off the face of the pagan grave and just re-use the casket. It is interesting to remember how the Christians used to be poor and persecuted. It puts everything in perspective.
I also really enjoyed the Borghese Gallery tour a lot. My favorite statue inside was Apollo and Daphne. I was so amazed at how beautiful it was, and how life-like it was as well. Bernini is probably my favorite sculptor. I did not realize how talented he is until I saw this museum. It blew me away.
During my free day in Rome, I went with my cousin Emma on a tour with her college of some churchs in Trastevere. I really enjoyed the church os St. Cecilia. We got to go underneath the church and see where she actually lived years and years ago. I think the most fascinating thing about Rome is all of the layers that are there and the ruins that are exposed at each and every turn. I haven't been to a single other city in all of Europe that has the history and romance of Rome. It may be my favorite city yet.
On our last night, we had dinner with the Loyola Rome kids and the food was amazing! We got a free pizza, tiramisu, cappucino, and limoncello. Every piece of pizza that I ate in italy was the best pizza in the whole world, so I really can't say which was better. I liked it all. The morning after, we took a tour of the two Jesuit churchs in Rome, which was a great end to the trip. We saw the actual chambers where St. Ignatius Loyola used to live. There was a short, elderly priest there that led us around and only spoke Italian. He just started telling us all about the chambers, even though we had a tour previous to meeting him. I don't think he realized what was going on, but he just kept talking. At the end, he gave us some pamplets and kept telling us to come back. You could tell that he was a little bit lonely. I wish I could have brought him back to the states with me haha. One thing that I love about Loyola is the jesuit priests there. They are all so nice and well rounded too. I haven't met a single one yet that I have disliked. Most of the times it is hard to relate to priests a bit for me, but I have made some really awesome connections with priests at Loyola over the years. It was nice to be able to meet one overseas as well.

My six days in Rome were some of the best this year, even though I was sick, and it took all of my effort to get myself from place to place. Ther eis just something about Rome...I don't know if it's the people, the food, the sights, or the general aura about it, but it has something unique that rivals every other city in europe. There is a reason why they call it " the eternal city".

After Rome, we headed down to Positano for our last three days of Easter Break. We had to get to Naples and then Sorrento in order to finally arrive in Positano, but ti was worth it. I was swept away by the view. Our hostel was on top of the mountain and we could see a great portion of the Mediterranean from there. It was a small coastal town with palm trees and small multi-colored houses reaching high up into the sky. At the bottom was a mosaic church with beautiful beachy colors. Apparently it is a lot like Greece. The weather was pretty crappy while we were, but it was altogether really relaxing. We talked a lot and spent some time drinking wine on the beach, which was fun. We swam in the ocean, but it was absolutely freezing cold. On the last night there, we went to a restaurant that Rick Steve's recommended, and it was awesome. I had Gnocchi and it was the best I've ever had. They brought out limoncello and cake too because it was my friend Ruth's birthday. At the end, we were ready to head back home to relax and get our lives back together, but we were sad to leave such a pretty place at the same time. It is nice to be back in leuven now, but I have so many papers to do and I am trying to arrange my schedule for next fall at Loyola. I am going to be really busy during April with schoolwork, but I know that it will be worth it, because May is going to involve the last of my trips and some of th ebest as well. Also, my dad and two of my uncles are coming to Belgium tomorrow, so that's going to be a ridiculous blast. There's so many things to look forward to here...it's hard to get bored or anxious.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Loving London

Last weekend Steph and I stayed with my friend Andre in London, which was an extremely good time. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and say that this was the best trip I have been on so far this year. Not only am I completely in love with London and England itself, but I just had a really great time there in general.
On Thursday night, we got in around 6 and decided to get some fish and chips and a drink at a nearby pub. We dropped our stuff off at Andre's apartment, which happened to be a very convenient location for us throughout the trip. We walked to a pub in Covent Garden and got some fish and chips/ strongbow. It was probably the best meal I've had yet, no lie. Steph and I really felt like we were experiencing genuine English culture. One of my favorite things about English culture is how they head to the pubs after work to drink and socialize casually. The thing that is cool about the pubs is that they are so old and have so much character to them, unlike many of the bars in America. Hearing the English accent in the background never hurts either :-) . So after this, we went to a bar near Andre's campus, which is called the London School of Economics and Political Science. This bar was full of students and was pretty laid back, so we just sat on some couches and talked. He made us try this thing called a snakebite, which is Strongbow mixed with liquor. It's pink and has an "s" drawn on the top of the foam...pretty nifty. After staying here for a short while, we decided that we were exhausted and wanted to get to sleep so that we could do a ton of sightseeing the next day.
On Friday morning, we woke up early and headed out to see the city. We started in Notting Hill, walked through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, went to Harrod's, then we headed to The parliament buildings, big ben, buckingham, st. james' park, then we headed to southwark ( the tate, the globe, the millenium bridge, etc.). We also walked by St. Pauls. It was just so intense! We were absolutely exhausted out of our minds. I got to see the Tate this time. This museum is the only modern art museum that I have visited whileover here, and it was definately a welcome change. I have never been one to appreciate modern art, but this time it just really struck meas fascinating for some reason. Sometimes I still don't get it, b ut at any rate, I appreciate it and admire it. After all of this, we walked around Soho and got dinner at a cheap Indian restaurant, because Andre pretty much lives off of nothing and we felt that we should treat him for being so hospitable to us. I'm sure he enjoyed it. Soho was really a unique part of town. Honestly, I can't really describe it, but it was full of cute little bars, boutiques, and other shops...all very antique looking. Covent Garden was sort of the same type of thing. They are both mainly pedestrian districts, so it just has less of the busy urban feel, which I liked. That night, we went to a club sort of thing at King's College, which was a lot of fun. They played 90's music, so it was fun to reminisce on the old times ( N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, etc. haha).
On Saturday, we decided to head to Oxford, because I have always wanted to see it and also I wanted to see what was outside of th ebusy city. Unfortunately, the weather was horrible and we were constantly ducking into buildings to avoid the wind and rain, but overall it was a great experience, because it's just such a beautiful old campus. We went into Christ Church, which is this really old college located in the town of Oxford. Parts of Harry Potter were filmed here. We saw the dining hall that is used for the films, and walking around the campus just reminded me of the movie...pretty awesome. After that we just walked around town and then stopped into an antique bookstore. I finally got an antique book! I could not decide, but I finally purchased Great Expectations/ oliver Twist. It was one of the cheapest ones, so it isn't a really old edition, but nevertheless, I can say that I got an antique book in Oxford, England, which is an exciting claim for an English major to make! haha
Saturday night we met up with my friend Ruth and her friend who is studying in Leeds. We went to Picadilly Circus, which was absolutely out of control. I felt like I was in New York city or something. All the girls were dressed to the nines, and everybody was looking for the best nightclub, so they had promoters outside selling VIP passes, etc. I seriously felt like a ragamuffin amongst all of this A-listers. The rain was coming down like crazy too, so this added to the craziness. We kept searching for the cheapest place for like an hour, until we finally decided on this one club called Oxygen. It was full of weirdos and it made me feel really uncomfortable. I have never felt so intimated/awkward in my life. I expected it to be this way though, I guess. I kind of just stood there until we all mutually agreed that it was absolutely no fun at all. So we left and trudged home in the rain. Hey, it was an experience! haha
On Sunday,we went to the British Museum and the British Library, both of which were amazing. The British Museum has the biggest collection of Egyptian relics that I have everseen in my life. There were tons of old tombs from mummies and collections of burialtreasures.I usedto be obsessed with mummieswhen I was little, so I was in heaven, haha. They also had tons of gold from as far back as 2,000 B.C., which is some o fthe oldest stuff I have ever seen. That was cool,but way too much to see in an hour.
The british library had original manuscripts of some of the best books ever written..including Beowulf and Shakespeare's First Folio. I was literally drooling.I could not believe that I was actually seeing these things! After this, we headed to southwark againa nd had a drink at the George Inn, which is where Charles Dickens and Shakespeare used to drink!Talk about an English major's heaven! I literally was in heaven there. That was hands down the coolest pub I've been in and probably ever will. I was so sad to leave. If I could, I would move to London or England in general...no questions asked. I am in love.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Munich, Neuschwanstein, and Salzburg

This weekend Ruth, Steph, and I jetted off to Munich, Germany to experience Bavaria at its finest. We started out our visit by taking a free 3 hour walking tour provided by our hostel, Wombats, which is amazing. We stayed at the Vienna branch while there and we loved that one as well! I would highly recommend staying at Wombats if you're traveling to Vienna, Munich, or Berlin. So anyways, our tourguide was named Aussie, and he was very politically incorrect, which I actually loved, because I feel that I am the same way most of the time, haha. At the beginning of our "history lesson" ( he recapped the entire history of germany in like 20 minutes) he told us that if he could get away with shouting hitler as a black man in the streets of Munich, that we would be alright to say it as well. He was really open about himself and about Munich's history, which was awesome and definately entertaining. His attire was traditional German; he was decked out in Leiderhosen, which was quite ridiculous because his legs were so skinny. It was hilarious. At the end of the tour we gave him a tip, because he seriously showed us everything. My favorite parts of the tour were the victualmarket, where we got a pretzel and beer, and then the hofbrauhas (sp?), which was where Hitler led the beer hall pudge, which eventually led to his leadership in Germany. Walking inside of it was surreal. There were beer steins on lockdown for regulars, and the waitresses were wearing traditional german clothing while serving beer and schnitzel. There was also a band playing that added to the whole atmosphere. Later on the day, we took a metro to the Olympic Park, where the Israeli team was assassinated. We just sat near the lake and talked for awhile...it was pretty relaxing.
After our tour and other stuff, we were exhausted, so we walked around a bit more, and then headed to bed. The next morning, we woke up early ( Friday) and took a two hour train ride to a town called Fussen, which is in Bavaria. As we approached the town, we saw the Alps for the first time, which was truly breathtaking. I think we actually overreacted and made fools of ourselves, as we stuck our cameras out of the window to take videos, etc. We just couldn't help it though; it was so beautiful! The weather was less than satisfactory, but that didn't stop us from trekking up to Neuschwanstein for a tour. The tour was such a waste, because only a few rooms were finished by King Ludwig II, who was insane and requested the castle to be built, which was interrupted by his premature death. Apparently they found him and his doctor dead in a river by the castle. Weird. When I saw the castle, I knew it was too beautiful to be built by a sane person. It seems like any masterpeice in this world has to be created by pure insanity, right? So anyways, after our tour, we crossed a rickety metal bridge that scared the heck out of us, and then climbed up higher to get a better view of the castle. There was a cross at the edge of the mountain, and I wouldn't doubt if it was there because somebody had tumbled off the side. It was windy and I wasn't about to take any chances, so I kept my distance. I forced Ruth and Steph to keep on trekking up the mountain, but after discovering that there was a fence, we turned around. The scenery there was just so picturesque...the misty snowcapped mountains and lush forest made it seem like we were in some fairy tale. We really just tried to soak it all up before we left due to the cold and wind. On the way down, we had a bratwurst, which was pretty much our lunch everyday. I think I actually had one for breakfast one day. German food is sooo good. I think my grandma makes better German food though, honestly.
That night, we traveled back to the hostel, picked up our stuff, and headed to Salzburg by train ( 2 hours). We bought this Bayern pass, which allows you to travel anywhere in Bavaria for one day, and is good for up to 5 people. It is only 27 euros, so if you find 5 people, you can split it up and it is super cheap. We had 3 people, but still, it was so inexpensive for how much traveling we did. The ticket got us to Salzburg as well as the castle. We got that same pass for the ride home. We went to bed early that night, due to exhaustion, and then got up early on Saturday to see Salzburg. We were going to do the Sound of Music tour, but it was 30 euros, so we decided to take our own sound of music tour...haha. Right as we stepped off the public transit bus, it began to hail, lightening, and thunder. We stopped in a cafe to ask how to get to Leopoldskrun Palace, and after a lot of navigating, we finally found it. We took pictures quickly and then ran back. We were seriously being blasted in the face with rain the entire time. I kept walking backwards in order to avoid the hail. It was just miserable. We kept hopping buses, but each time we got off, we would get hailed on and then we would just jump on another one. Somehow we managed to see Nonnburg Abbey, where Maria is a nun in the s.o.m, and the Mirabell Gardens, where another part of the movie was filmed. The view from Nonnburg Abbey was my favorite part of this trip, because it was so quiet and beautiful. On the way up to the Abbey, we saw a bunch of little houses on the side of the stone wall that led up the mountain. They were the cutest little houses! At the top, we just stood there and breathed in the fresh mountain air...lovely. We had a great view of the Alps and the entire city from up there as well.
Eventually, we gave up trying to see more, after we ran across a metal bridge in alightening storm. That was when I decided to call it quits. I was starting to worry for my life, haha. So we got our stuff at the hostel, and then headed to the train station, where we headed back to Munich. We met some interesting characters on our train rides, including this guy from Minnesota who talked our ears off. He sat down and immediately asked us, "So, where ya from??". He literally did not give us one minute to sit down and get settled. It was pretty hiliarious. He told us to come visit him in Ingolstadt, but I doubt I'll be taking him up on that hahaha. It is always nice to meet random strangers while traveling though. Part of the train track was flooded on our way back, so we had to take an hour long bus ride to Munich, and we would not have known where we were going if we had not met these two friendly German guys. We also met twoAustrian guys on our train to Salzburg. They had just finished backpacking for a month in Thailand! Crazy. They were really nice. When I told them I was into soccer, they asked me what my favorite team was, but I honestly do not follow soccer that much, so I told them that I just sort of play, haha.
We went to the starkbierfest during our last day, because we heard that the only things that are open on Sundays are churchs and beerhalls, haha. The strong beer was so good, but too strong for a Sunday morning! They brought out a huge stein, and even between the three of us, it was too much. It was bigger than my head. It was so worth it though...best beer ever. The beer hall was decorated as it is for Oktoberfest...I can only imagine how much crazier it is during that time. There were only a few Germans there at the time, but I bet that it gets so much more packed in October. I just loved the people, the atmosphere, the beer--everything. I miss Bavaria! I'm glad I have roots there :-)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This is a shoutout to Uncle Kurt Kimmich, because he is the best.

February Trip

Hello Everybody,
I'm finally back to my blog ( I know that you've all been missing it a lot). Apparently Loyola students that are considering this program have been given the link to this, so I better make it good! haha.
Well, I just got back from a 10 day trip to Prague,Budapest, and Vienna ( hard life, I know). It was by far the best trip I have taken this year. I went with my friend Cookie from Loyola and two of my spanish friends, Luisa and Andrea. The Spanish girls were a day behind us on each city, so most of the time it was just Cookie and I. We were really organized and made sure that we planned everything out each night before bed. It was nice traveling with only two people, because it allowed us to see the maximum amount of things in a short amount of time. I think from now on I am going to stick to really small groups.
Each country was different than the other, and each had a unique quality about it. What I loved about this trip is that Cookie and I got to experience the things that each country is most known for: hockey game in Prague ( good, but no fights!), baths in Budapest, and opera in Vienna, among many other things. We really felt like we were soaking up the culture and mingling with the locals. We tried authentic food in each city as well, which was really delicious, although really really hearty. Eating duck, pork, saurkraut, goulash, and schnitzel a lot didn't have such a great effect on us, to say the least, haha, but it was worth it. We have this "Let's Go: Europe on a Budget" book that is really helpful in finding cheap but good food. In each city we went out one night and then cooked in the hostel the other nights. That was a good balance and saved us money in the end.
My favorite city that we visited was Vienna. People have been asking me why this is, and I can't really define it I guess. It was just the most beautiful in my opinion. Our hostel was also really really nice ( Wombat's...stay there...12 euro a night!), so that made the trip great as well. The coffee shops in Vienna were also really nice, especially the chain called Aida. Their pastries and coffee were the best I have ever had. We didn't get a chance to experience some of the more unique coffee houses that Vienna is known for, but these ones were more than satisfactory.
Even though Vienna was my favorite city, Prague and Budapest were still amazing, and I would return if given the chance someday. Our tour of the Prague castle was my favorite part of that trip. We walked up about 25 flights of stairs to the top of this mountain, where we had a great view of the city. The castle was really awesome, but the view was what made it for me. My favorite part of Budapest was our walk down by the Danube at night. Cookie and I crossed the chain bridge and then took a ride up an incline, where we had a view of both the Buda side and the Pest side ( Budapest is divided into two parts...Pest being the more urban side). All of the buildings were lit up on top of big hills, and the river was really blue. Most cities are flat, but Budapest was on a hill, which made it easier to see everything. The only thing I did not like abouyt Budapest is that the bath we went to was really disgusting and dirty. Everybody told us that we had to do the baths, but we chose the old and cheapest one, which ended up being a mistake. The inside pools were full of +80 people and they smelled like sulfur, which was absolutely repulsive. Cookie and I felt really uncomfortable, but we kept walking through to the outside, where we stayed in the thermal pool for about 30 minutes. It is definately hiliarious to think about this experience, but I wouldn't go back to that particular place, haha.

I could go on forever about this trip, but I have to get to classes...they just started yesterday. Some new people have moved into the house, which is exciting, but I miss my old neighbors a lot. Ondrej and Federico were my favorite guys in this house. Now we have these two girls next to us that talk really loud and aren't very nice. I'm just looking forward to Federico and Ondrej visiting us again, because they were the best.

Here are pictures from the trip!: