Monday, January 3, 2011

The Semester Comes to a Close

I have been home for about a week now and looking back, I cannot believe how lucky I was to experience everything that I did! I am so happy to be home with friends and family, especially during the holiday season.  But, I am going to miss Florence and I want to take a couple paragraphs to reflect on my last few weeks abroad.

After my parents left, I only had a few weeks more to enjoy Italy, so I began operation super-tourist!  I wanted to try and see more of Italy and more of Florence.  I visited a small town called Orvieto with two friends one weekend.  It was a cute little town about 2 hours south of Florence by train.  Emily, Megan and I left early on a Saturday morning to spend the day there.  The town is known for its white wine, beautiful view of the countryside and its large ancient well called Saint Patrick's well.  The coolest thing was the cable car that we had to take up the hillside to get to the actual town from the train station.  Unfortunately, we were not able to tour the famous well because we found it a little too late in the afternoon, but apparently it used to be the main source of water for the town.  The people of Orvieto would hike down hundreds of stairs to fill buckets of water that they would use for everything from cooking to bathing.
View from Orvieto
 The following weekend I traveled to two other cities in Italy, Pisa and Assisi.  I got to admire the famous leaning tower in Pisa and the incredible church of Saint Frances in Assisi.  Florence's central location allowed me to do day trips for both of these cities.  To me Pisa seemed like a mini Florence, it lies on the same river that Florence does and is home to similar architecture.  Pisa differed, in that it lacked the beautiful Duomo and city charm that I found in Florence.  The leaning tower definitely seemed to be the greatest attraction of the city.  Of course, I followed the trend of millions of tourists before me and took the stereotypical pictures of me holding the tower up and kicking it down.   Assisi was another hill town Similar to Orvieto but it was the home of the Saint of Italy, Saint Frances.  His church was one of the most spectacular churches that I have ever seen; it contained two levels and a basement and all the ceilings and walls intricately painted in bright colors and gold!  The town itself was typical of an small Italian town with narrow winding streets, confusing street signs and very friendly people.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Assisi, Italy
Megan and Me in front of the church of Saint Frances
 Classes at my school wrapped up on Thursday December 16th.  I had a few final and a couple papers to write but all in all my semester was very light and I will miss the relaxed classroom atmosphere of Lorenzo de Medici.  On Thursday I had a final dinner with my roommates at a small restaurant called Ce Ce.  It was delicious pasta (of course) and at the end of the meal the owner, Mario came out and thanked us personally!  If there is one thing Italians do best, it is good food and hospitality. 

On Friday two good friends from my home university of UW-La Crosse came to visit.  Sarah and Evelyn had both been studying in Granada, Spain for the semester and made the trip to Florence after there classes had ended on Thursday.  So after what would be my last cappuccino in Italy, I met them by the Duomo and gave them the complete tour of Florence.  It was a wonderful way to spend my last two days in Italy and gave me an excuse to visit all the sights I liked best before I left.  I think they enjoyed there time an got a kick out of Florence's first snowfall of the year and the ridiculous reactions that people had to it.  That Friday night Florence must have gotten about 5 inches but it was crazy how many snow men were built in the short time before the snow became brown slush.  I saw hundreds of people wearing moon boots, which they seemed to have with them so that they were on as soon as the first flake was falling.  The city seemed to have no plows and the airport was closed for days after. 
The big Christmas tree by the Duomo in Florence
Me, Evelyn and Sarah in front of the Pitti Palace in Florence
I left for Rome on Sunday where I would catch my flight home early Monday morning.  After spending the night in a Rome hostel, hauling around some of the heaviest suitcases in the world and traveling for 24 hours I was finally home! Luckily I had few delays and no major problems getting back to Minneapolis.

Train to Rome, Goodbye Florence!
 Thank you to everyone who followed my blog to the end! I am happy to be back in Minnesota!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The McCauleys in Italy

Last week my parents and younger sister made the trip to Italy to visit me and, of course see the country for themselves.  They arrived on Monday the 15th of November after a long day of travel.  While they were here, we packed in as much sightseeing as we could visiting Siena, Rome and Venice (they also went to Cinque Terre and Pisa without me).

The Tuesday after I they got here we headed to Siena for the Day.  It was a beautiful little town and I am guessing a lot less crowed then it normally is, since it is off season for tourism in Italy.  Despite the fact that it took us close to 40 mins to find the bus station in Florence, I would say the trip was a success.  We of course saw the Duomo - the main cathedral (there seems to be one in every Italian city).  The Siena Duomo was one of my favorites so far.  It was extremely elaborate inside even though the outside looked very similar to the one in Florence.  Il Campo is the town center of Siena where a horse race takes place every year in July or August ( I can't remember).  Anyway it is a huge open area with a fountain on one side, the Fountain of Joy.  After taking a few pictures we wandered on finding the St. Dominica church which is currently the home to St. Cathrine's remains.  Seriously, the church had both her head and her thumb on display inside the church.  Yes, it was very creepy, but apparently a very common practice in cathedrals throughout Italy and Europe for that matter.  After the church we continued to wander through the winding streets then catching the bus back to Florence.
Harper and me in Siena

On Wednesday I showed my parents Florence! They did some bargain shopping at the outdoor market and went with me to the Piazza Santa Croce and the Santa Croce church.  An interesting fact that I learned was that many famous people are buried in that church including Michelangelo and Galileo.  Anyway, after taking some pictures in front of it we continued on to my personal favorite gelato place, Vivoli. We walked across the river to the Pizzale Michelangelo (which has a beautiful overlook of the city and yet another copy of Michelangelo's David statue).  Luckily we did all the major sightseeing on a sunny day so that the overlook was more then just fog and rain.  Our last stop was the Uffizi museum; my parents and sister, like me, were not terribly into the early renaissance and religious art.  So after about the third room we began mainly looking at the paintings that were behind glass because we took that to mean they were "probably" famous ones.
Mom and Dad at Piazza Santa Croce

Thursday morning we headed to Rome for the weekend! I loved Rome! I have heard mixed reviews from people who had been there, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone traveling to Italy (and Florence of course).  My brother-in-law the chef would have truly been ashamed to know how little we ate during our Rome visit, but everything that we did eat was very delicious.  Pizza the first night at a place called da Baffeto (little mustache) was award worthy and the little pastry shop next to our apartment was great! The first day we visited the Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, the National Museum, Spanish Steps and made a wish in the Trevi Fountain.  It was a packed day.  I really liked the Roman Forum, it was so cool to walk along ruins that were thousands of years old! Good old Rick Steeves (the author of our guide book) was there with us the whole day, we actually downloaded podcasts off of i tunes so that he could literally walk us through the famous attractions.  Day two in Rome was dedicated to Vatican City.  After waiting in line (in the pouring rain) for about an hour and a half, we got to walk through the Vatican museum that led us to the Sistine Chapel.  The museum was good it had some famous statues and oddly, a whole section devoted to Egyptian artifacts.  The Sistine Chapel was amazing of course but the whole building was incredible itself.  All the long hallways that led to the chapel were intricately decorated and I found myself looking at them almost more then I was looking at the art on display.  We saw St Peter's Basillica at the end of the day.  Because I have been in so many churches since arriving in Europe, its almost as if I expect every church that I walk into to be magnificent; St. Peter's was Grand even by my now, extremely high standards.
The Colosseum

The Tuesday after returning to Florence my parents, sister and I took the train to Venice.  I was a big fan of the city. It was very quaint, and although on a normal basis the tourists out number the locals, it did not seem to "disney-worldish" if that makes any sense.  We took a boat bus down to Saint Mark's Cathedral.  It was huge, and not only sticks out in my mind because the ceiling was coated in gold, but also because the entire entry way was flooded.  While we were in Venice the water seemed unusually high, in fact, the bottom floors of most of the buildings on the main waterway were flooded by at least four feet of water.  You would have serious problems if you got the bottom floor of an apartment there!  We spent most of the day wandering though the city, finding a really cool used book store and the main shopping area.  We had no intentions of buying much, but we stopped into a lot of stores to warm up (it was cold and windy!)
Venice!

Thursday was my last day with Mom, Dad and Harper.  I went to a great coffee shop in the morning before my class with Dad.  We left plenty early only to realize that you really do not have to do that in Italy because everyone stands up to drink their coffee and slurps it down so you are done in about 5 mins.  We shopped and walked around for most of the day and went out to a restaurant called l'Brincello for Thanksgiving dinner.  Mom and I had wild boar and pasta, Dad had veal and I think Harper had gnocchi.  It was pretty nontraditional, but really if we were home there is no guarantees that we would have had turkey...we may have just made a family trip to the Shoreview Community Center.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

FALL BREAK!

My fall break adventure started in Paris then on to Barcelona and ending in London.  It was an exhausting week of traveling but well worth every second!  I traveled with four friends from school, but we lost a person in each city so it ended with only three of us (this was planned...we did not actually lose anyone).
The Group!
 Paris
We arrived in Paris at about 9pm and after a bus and taxi ride we made it to our hostel around 11pm.  I had only stayed in a hostel once previous to this trip, and that one was in Switzerland and was very nice, we even had a private room.  So walking into this hostel came as a slight shock.  The 3 Ducks Hostel was also a bar and partially outside.  I would compare the sleeping situation closer to camping than anything else because both the bathrooms and the shower were outside and the whole place seemed to be open to whoever happened to be at the bar that night.  I do not want to make it seem like we were too high maintenance, but we did thoroughly the beds for bed bugs before going to bed with sheets that had holes the size of my head.

Anyway, after after a surprisingly restful sleep at The 3 Ducks we started our day at the Louvre where we got in free because we are students! Wonderful surprise and saved us about 9 euro! Saw tons of art like the Mona Lisa (much smaller then I expected) and the Venus to Milo statue.  I am not a huge art person, actually I realize now that I know very little about famous artists and the work that they did, so I am sure we saw some other famous artworks that I can't remember.  Next we headed to the Notre Dame.  It was huge!  We got to walk through it (oddly while a service was going on) and see the beautiful stained glass and intricately decorated inside.  All my previous knowledge of the Notre Dame comes from a Disney movie so now I feel like I better understand the importance of the church as more then just the home of Quasimodo.  We walked along the Seine river and ate at a little restaurant just off of the main street, it was a delicious sandwich but we definitely paid for the location!  Next we headed to the Catacombs, which were basically streets under the city piled with bones of the dead (many from the plague I think).  It was cool in a grotesque kind of way...personally I thought it was really weird, especially the way the bones were arranged in perfect piles with the skulls placed on top.  I was shocked by how many young children were down there...a ten-year-old British girl could tell how nervous I was about being down there, and made it her personal mission to comfort me through most of the tour and tell me what she thought the arrangements of bones meant!  After a quick run through of the Luxemburg Gardens and a stop for crapes, we ended our day at the Eiffel Tower.  It was all lit up and we took an elevator to the top to see Paris at night.  It was super windy at the top, but we got some good pictures!

Kiley and Me at the Are de Triomph
 Day two in Paris was a little less intense.  We saw what we had missed the day before and met up with my friend from home Kiley! She is studying in Paris for the semester and was willing to show us around for the day.  First we went to the Arc de Triomph and saw another view of the city...this time during the day.  Then we walked to the house of Nicolas Flamel the guy from the first Harry Potter book (I know, I am a geek).  It was nothing terribly exciting, but there was a plaque on the wall and fortunately we had Kiley to translate for us.  The house was supposedly the oldest one in Paris, of course now it is a restaurant - haha.  We had some Quiche and a beignet (pretty much a donut) for lunch.  Kiley walked us to the Centre Pompidou museum and left us shortly after.  The museum was slightly ugly on the outside...it was supposed to be modern, but it just looked like a lot of pipes on the outside of it.  The art inside was very modern and I was not a huge fan but still worth seeing.  Our last stop of the day was to Moulin Rouge a little north of central Paris.  We took pictures of it from the outside (Harper...you should be jealous) but did not go in since you had to have a ticket, instead we enjoyed the rest of the "red light" district (haha) and had Japanese for dinner.


Barcelona
We left Paris early Tuesday morning and headed to Barcelona, Spain.  It was a long day of travel and once we got there the first thing we did was shower! (we had been too nervous to at the 3 Ducks)  We walked down Las Ramblas (the famous street in Barcelona) that night and to a couple of the buildings built by Antoni Gaudi.  They were very cool and supposedly built with no straight lines, so they were designed very curvy...for lack of a better descriptive word.  We also went to the Temple de la Sagrada Familia which is the cathedral that was also built by Guadi.  I learned that he was not able to finish it before he died so architects are still in the process of finishing it today.  It was huge and looked more like a castle then a church.  I heard that the inside is very cool but we did not actually go in.  Ate dinner at a restaurant on Las Ramblas that had Sangria and Tapas (which are basically little appetizers) Yum, they were delicious!

For day two in Barcelona, we wanted to start early so we were up and sightseeing by 9:30am only to realize that Barcelona is on a slightly different time schedule then most places.  Most, if not all of the stores did not open until 10 or 10:30 and then many took a siesta (a midday break) from about 1-3pm.  Personally, I thought it sounded like an excellent workday...but it was not so good for sightseeing and finding a place to eat lunch.  We had heard from a friend about this juice bar called Juicy Jones.  Turns out it was a vegetarian juice bar/Indian food restaurant...sounds like an odd combination but the smoothies were wonderful.  So after we opened the place up (keep in mind it was noon already!) I had a mango, strawberry and soymilk milkshake.  Afterward we walked along the Mediterranean Sea...man did I feel spoiled it was beautiful (I actually felt like I was in Paradise!)  That afternoon we took a rail car up to Montjuic, which is a hill near Barcelona that has the Montjuic castle, gardens and an amazing view of the city.  We explored the castle and then walked down the hill to meet up with two of my other roommates from Florence and go to Park Güell.  Again, the park was designed and made by Guadi.  It was very pretty but packed with tourists! 
Park Guell

Beautiful Barcelona
By our third day in Barcelona we were tired! Emily left that day to join her parents in Rome, so there were only three of us left.  We visited the big outdoor market on Las Ramblas called Marcado De San Josep.  It was all food, which I did not realize and by now I am slightly bais toward our big market in Florence.  We visited the Pablo Piccasso museum that afternoon.  I learned that he actually was a very good artist before he started doing his odd (in my opinion) cubism stuff.  Towards the end of the museum they did this cool comparison between his work and the work of Degas...it was kind of funny the way that Piccasso almost seemed like he was making fun of Degas work by imitating it! Our last stop was to Park of the Ciutadella which was this huge public park near Barcelona's Arc de Triomf.  I am starting to wonder if every city has an Arc, and if so where is the one in St. Paul, Minnesota?  Anyway, the park was very tropical looking and was right next to the zoo that I was told was/is the home of MGM lion that roars at the beginning of movies.  I am not sure if that is true or if the lion is in fact still alive, so we skipped paying 15 euros to enter a zoo that might not even have a famous lion in it! That night we packed up our stuff and left for London by about 11pm.


London
We got into London early Friday morning after what I can confidently say was the weirdest flight of my life.  The plane was delayed, so instead of leaving at 10pm we did not leave until 12am...not really a big deal.  But, what you have to understand about Ryanair is that it is a cheap airline and not only does nobody check a bag, but nobody is given an assigned seat.  They base everything on a first come first serve basis.  So everyone was lined up by 9pm at the gate and when the gate number was switched at about 11pm everyone grabbed their things and started running to the next gate so they could be the first in line.  It was nuts! Adults were pushing and shoving to get to the gate first...I could not believe how crazy people were about getting a seat on an airplane that had only second class seats anyway! haha.


Okay, so that story was maybe a little off topic, but I thought it was important to share as it was our first encounter with English people (and a few Spanish).  Luckily all the people we actually met in London were very civil and nothing like the ones on the plane with us.  On day one in London we went to St. Paul's Cathedral, had fish and chips for lunch, and walked through Regent park.  We also visited the house of Sherlock Holmes and Bakers Street and took a walk down Abbey road (which was actually very close to the hostel we stayed at).  A cool thing about London is that all the Museums are free of charge! So after a stop at Shakespeare's Globe theater we went to the Tate Modern, a newer modern art museum right across the London bridge.  Since by now we had been to two modern art museums on the trip...Veronika and I decided to pick out the weirdest works on display.  My choice was the hexagon shaped piece of white paper glued to the wall.  That night we walked through Harrods the ritzy department store in London.  Of course we went strait to the designer section because I have such a good sense of style all the things were right in my price range. (haha)  We took the metro to see the London Eye (the new ferris wheel) and Big Ben at night.
The changing of the guards
 Day two of London was dedicated to all the classic tourist sights.  We saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, walked through Green Park, Hyde Park and the Wellington Arch.  We went to Parliament Square and saw the House of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.  That afternoon we went to the National Gallery and oddly saw an NFL rally going out right outside.  I looked it up and I guess San Francisco and Denver were playing in London.  Kinda weird...I even saw a Favre jersey in the crowd! The last night we went to King's Cross to find platform 9 3/4.  Sadly, we could not find it after a lot of searching...the station is huge! Our flight back to Rome was early the next morning so we packed up and spent what I want to say was my last night sleeping at an airport/train station.
Buckingham Palace




Friday, October 22, 2010

French Riviera

I have been slacking on my blog updates recently! This week we had midterm tests in all my classes, so I have been studying more than I have all semester! Haha!  They are done now and I think they went pretty well, they did not seem nearly as hard as ones that I have taken back at La Crosse.

I realize that I have not posted about my trip to the French Riviera last week, so here goes! It was a great weekend and even though the trip was only for 2 days, we packed a lot in! This trip was one put on by the school so we took a private bus there and back, which was pretty nice because we did not have to worry about figuring out train and bus schedules.  I went with 2 friends from school, but everyone on the trip was a student at our school. 

We left early Saturday morning (4am!) So that we got to the Independent country of Monaco by 10:30am.  From there we had a small tour of some of the main attractions and had some time to roam around on our own.  The country itself was very strange to me, it was only about 5km wide, right on the sea within the country of France.  It was very ritzy and today still has its own Prince.  The people who live there do not pay taxes (that is of course unless you are an American citizen or a French citizen living there for less then five years) but almost all live a very lavish lifestyle in a place where the unemployment rate is 0%!  While we were there we got to see the place where Grace Kelly was buried along with all the other past princes and princesses of Monaco.  We also saw the changing of the guards in front of the Palace...not as exciting as you may think...but a huge crowed was there to see them literally switch positions.  My favorite part was when we got some time to explore on our own and Megan, Laura and I walked down to see the old city walls and the gardens right on the edge of the cliff!
Country Monaco - literally the whole cournty

Our next stop was Nice, France where we would stay the night.  The city of nice was active, there were so many people around! I surprised by how much Italian influence was there, we saw pizzerias and gelato places everywhere.  "Old Nice" was right in the middle of the city and was very identifiable because the streets got really narrow (cars could not even drive through) and they were lined with shops...made me think of a real live Diagon Alley (I have been reading too much Harry Potter!) Had some Sacco at one of the stands, which apparently Nice is known for.  It was pretty good...tasted like a salty crape and was made with chickpeas.  Dinner was scheduled by the school at a restaurant near the hotel.  I forgot the name of the resturant but dinner was pretty good we had this salad with tuna fish and chicken.  Spent the night wandering around Nice, still very active, even at night.
Beach in Nice

Sunday started early with breakfast in the hotel and then to St. Paul de Vence by 9:30am.  St. Paul de Vence was a artist town where the famous Marc Chagall is buried.  I actually did not know who he was until I saw his grave and looked him up:)  Because we got there so early, it felt like we had the town to ourselves.  We went into some art galleries and went into some shops, it seemed like a very relaxing place to live.  Our second stop was Cannes; another city on the coast that is known for its film festival.  Even though we could not actually go into the building, we got to walk around the outside and see all the hand prints of the famous stars that had been there.  My favorite was this French boy who yelled frantically across the park to his friend in order to show him the hand print of Chuck Norris and take numerous pictures next to it! Our last stop was the village of Eze.  It was built right on a the edge of the water up on a mountain/cliff.  Looked pretty cool, but unfortunately we did not get to explore inside it.  We went on a tour of the Fragonard perfume factory right at the bottom of the city.  I did not realize how many different smells there are...came out with a slight headache...still neat to see.  Anyway after the tour we did not have time to get up to the city because we had to head back to Florence.
St. Paul de Vance (thats me in the background...little camera shy since I aged 50 years)

All in all it was a good trip! Tomorrow me and 3 of my roommates are off on our fall break adventure where we will see Paris, Barcelona and London in one week.  It will be great! I will take tons of pictures and update my blog when I return!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

 Looking back at my blog I realize that I have not spent a lot of time talking about my experiences during the week in Florence.  In Italy I am taking five classes: Italian, War and Media, Sociology of Consumption, Beginner Drawing and Wine Tasting.  The classes are starting to pick up now as we approach midterms next week, especially Italian.  I am finally starting to understand what people are saying to me and how I should respond (in very simple words of course).  I use a lot of the word "good" and "yes."

Last week Wednesday I was fortuate enough to meet up with my Uncle Scott and Aunt Amy in Florence.  They are on a European cruise and stopped for the day in Italy.  We met at the Duomo and had a wonderful lunch at a resturant very close to my apartment called Gilli.  They told me some good stories from their trip and I met the other couple that were on the trip with them.  After lunch I went my separate way in order to meet up with my wine tasting class which was meeting at 3pm to go on a tour of a winery.

The winery we went to was in Chianti and was privately owned by our guide Marco and his family who has lived there since the 1700s.  Marco was very sweet and was very excited to show us around his property and all the areas where he makes his wine.  We got to see where the grapes were de-stemed and the skins were removed, where the fermentation process took place, and where there wine was stored to age it.  I learned there are three ways to store wine; in concrete tanks (for the lower quality wines), in steel tanks (for the white wines and some red), and wooden barrels (for the good red wines).  After the tour, he and his wife had set aside some wines and homemade jams for us to taste.  We tried a white wine, a rose wine, a Chianti Classico wine, and his famous Capro Rosso wine (which was my favorite).  He had us drink the Capro Rosso wine with dark chocolate and it was amazing! Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera so I have no pictures to document this trip:(

On Friday of last week, 2 of my roommates (Mara and Veronika) and i decided to go horseback riding in Tuscany.  We left early Friday morning and did a tour where we were first taken to see a castle in Tuscany that was built in the 13th century.  It was really cool it had an entire town within it with shops and even a church.  I found out that 50 people still live in the castle today.  I think that is where I will live someday so that when someone asks where I live I can say "Oh, you know in a castle in Tuscany."
Inside the Castle

 We headed next to where we would meet the horses and go riding.  The ride was beautiful, but I forgot how scary horses were.  They are so big and mine kept kicking the ones behind it when they got too close! We got to see some beautiful country side along the way and when we returned we got to feed the horses and see the baby horse.  I also got to try riding a Vespa at the farm, not as hard as you think they are actually a lot like riding a motorized scooter!
Mara and Veronika on the horses

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Hello all! I am so excited to fill you all in on my experience in the beautiful city of Munich.  First off, I have this to say about Oktoberfest...it was nuts! I would compare it to the Minnesota state fair with a million more gallons of beer, enough brats to feed all of Germany, and too many people to count in lederhosens! I actually read a statistic somewhere that said, last year alone 1.7 million gallons of beer were consumed at Oktoberfest.

The adventure started late last Thursday evening.  We (me, three of my roommates, and about 30 other students who had booked through the same program) departed by bus at about 12am, the plan being to drive though the night and arrive in Munich by morning.  After a quick stop for breakfast, we got into Munich at about 9:30am Friday morning, where the bus dropped us right off at the Oktoberfest grounds.  So by 10am we were already in a tent enjoying our first beer of the day!  Oktoberfest has six main beer houses which all make a special brew that is only served for Oktoberfest.  I learned quickly that if you were not to the tents by 10am sharp (when they opened) it was near impossible to get in one because they were so crowded.  So the only house my roommates and I made it into was the one we went to on the first day the Hofbrauhaus.  The beer was great and only served in liter glasses, which is equivalent to about 3 1/3 beers.  Friday was pretty much dedicated to drinking, eating brats and walking around Oktoberfest (which besides rides is pretty much all you can do).
First beer of Oktoberfest!

 We stayed both Friday and Saturday night in a hotel right outside of the city, which was very nice and had a great complimentary breakfast for us in the morning.  Saturday morning I did a bike tour of Munich which turned out to be very informative.  The tour took us to all the main monuments in Munich like the Marienplatz which has the Glockenspiel (the town hall which has little show associated with clock which tells a story of a knights tournament on the hour).  The tour also took us to the National Theater, Englischer Garten (which has a nude section!..very odd thing for a park in my opinion), and a couple WWII sites (including one of the few remaining Nazi headquarter buildings).  The tour ended with lunch at the Chinese Tower Beergarden, where, of course I had another bratwurst and potatoes.
Chinese Tower Beergarden

Afterwards me and a couple other girls from the tour (Cory, Sarah and Kelsey) doubled back to some of the sights the guide had pointed out as places we should go in or explore further.  We climbed the tower at St. Peterskirche (the oldest church in Munich dating back to 1180) and got to see a great view of the city.  We also ventured into the Frauekirche church which is said to have the devils footprint stamped into it, in reality the print looks like a tennis shoe, so is not quite as impressive as I had thought.
The Famous Glockenspiel viewed from the top of the St. Peterskirche tower

Sunday was our short day because the bus was scheduled to leave by 3pm.  My roommates and I decided against another day in Oktoberfest and instead took a train to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial.  It was extreamly sad, but the audio tour that we did gave us some good information that we may not have gotten if we had tried to walk through on our own.

All in all the trip was a success and I am glad I got the opportunity to go.  I will say it again, Munich was beautiful and is definitely a place that I would visit again if I have the chance!
Munich!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Interlaken, Switzerland

Last weekend was my big Switzerland adventure.  It started on Thursday afternoon and did not end until Sunday night.  It involved many trains, little sleep, lots of chocolate, and more rain then I could have imagined!

On Thursday night three friends (Megan, Emily and Laura) and I headed to the train station in Florence to begin what would be almost a 24 hour trip to Interlaken, Switzerland.  Unfortunately our first train heading to Pisa was late and led to one of the most anxious train rides of my life.  Due to the delay we would be getting into the Pisa at the same time that our next train to Milan was supposed to be leaving.  I can confidently say that we looked like we were nuts running through the Pisa station searching for our next train which may or may not have already left.  Fortunately the next train was about five minuets delayed as well so we were able to catch it!  The rest of the train rides went rather smoothly in comparison.  We did have a couple of scary moments during our seven hour layover in the Milan train station (from 12am-7am).  Spending the night in train station is not something that I would do again that is for sure.  Needless to say we did not get much sleep that night, and rolled into Interlaken around 11am on Friday.

Our first stop in Interlaken was to taste some Swiss chocolate and check into our hostel the River Lodge which was actually very nice and in a good location (right on the river).  Back at the train station we caught a bus to where we would be leaving to go canyoning.  Canyoning is a cross between white river rafting and cliff jumping, except you don't use any rafts and you are jumping into a river.  We wore wetsuits, helmets, life jackets and harnesses, in fact we were had so many layers on, we could barely feel how incredibly cold the water was.  It was a blast! We jumped off rocks that were about 5 meters above the water and slid down natural water slides in the river.  After a warm shower and dry clothes we had Rugen Brau beer with our guides and scouted out a good place for dinner.  We ended up at a place called Des Alps, which was okay, not the best food, but we all had a Swiss dish called Röusti.  Röusti is a pan of potatoes with eggs and swiss cheese on top.  After not sleeping for more than 24 hours we headed back to the hostel and were all sleeping by 7pm!

Interlaken, Switzerland - view from our Hostel
Saturday in Interlaken was dedicated to exploring the town and checking out the caves at Saint Beatus Höhlen.  It rained the entire day, so we made sure to make lots of stops in shops in the little downtown area to warm up and dry off as often as we could.  I of course bought some swiss chocolate and a post card as souvenirs.  Unfortunately the caves that we planned on exploring were closed because all the rain had caused flooding, so instead we toured the little museum attached and hiked the trails that led up to the cave.  Saturday night we went to a restaurant that one of the workers at the River Lodge had recommended.  It served swiss cheese fondue and it was delicious!

We started our Sunday by going out for Cappuccino and muffins (not very Swiss I know, but still good) We walked around for a bit taking more pictures since finally it had stopped raining for a bit.  Caught our train at at about 2pm and got back to Florence by 8pm (thankfully a much shorter trip then the way there).

Just for you Mom! This is where you should do your next marathon!


Local beer after canyoning