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!!