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 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 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 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 :-)