November 14, 2010
Spain is fantastic. Barcelona probably wins as my favorite big city so far, and we had a great time wandering down La Rambla, the major walking street, and looking at the various sites around the city. We spent one afternoon at the beach relaxing in the sun, followed by a long walk up to the Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is the still÷in÷progress masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s famous architect. Gaudi had quite the imaginative style, echoed in the tree like pillars of the church. To describe it is impossible…so I have included an image here. We also enjoyed the Park Guell, the park designed by Gaudi himself, and spent an entire afternoon on Montjuic, a hilly area overlooking the city, which is the home to the 1992 summer olympic stadium. The grounds are quite impressive, and we watched the sunset over the city and behind the massive olympic torch bearer (photo also included). While we had just three days in Barcelona, we managed to pack in all of the major sites and still get a feel for the city.After Barcelona, we enjoyed a really nice change from the exhausting pace of our trip. We arrived in Santander, in the Northern part of Spain in Cantabria, to see Leah and Brynna, who are teaching English there. When we arrived, we did exactly what we had hoped: we relaxed! We watched movies (which we had greatly missed doing) and even drank chai, which I had also greatly missed (kudos to Leah’s parents for sending it for her birthday). When you are used to exhausting days spent walking around major cities looking at tourist attractions, there is nothing like seeing familiar faces and spending time just chatting and hanging out with friends. While the weather was not the best, we did get a chance to walk along the water in Santander, which is beautiful and reminds me some of the Oregon coast. Brynna rented a car for Monday, and we spent the day in the Cantabrian countryside, first in a small, old Spanish town called Santillana del Mar and then in the mountain town of Potes. It was great to get out of the city and see some small towns in Spain. We even managed to get ourselves wrapped up in a hurricane! The wind, lightening, rain and thunder in Santander was the perfect excuse to lay around and be lazy. After Santander we headed to Madrid. With only two days we managed to walk around pretty much the entire central part of the city. Our first day there we spent time in the Botanical Garden, one of the best we have been to, and a huge city park (Retiro) with expansive woods, greenspace, a lake, monuments and even a couple of really interesting buildings. Our second day we did a lot of walking, first down the Gran Via (major walking street), then to the massive palace and down and around to the Reina Sofia, the national art museum. While niether of us found Madrid to be the most exciting city we have been in, we enjoyed the atmosphere nonetheless. We will actually be in Madrid two more times, on Tuesday for 24 hours before flying down to Cadiz and then in the airport ALL NIGHT before flying back to London next Sunday. We are now in Lisbon, Portugal. The weather is dreary and we are trying to muster up the energy to go out.
In other news, we have encountered the world’s loudest snorer. In fact, he is in our room here in Lisbon. I cannot even describe the sounds this person makes. It sounds as if he is an elephant, protecting his young from a lion. His snores could move mountains, and I am interested to see how well we sleep the next two nights. It was bound to happen eventually…I also found out that I have been called to duty, jury duty that is, when I arrive home. With nine or so more days to go, I am trying to enjoy the last few places we visit. I am tired, tired of traveling and my morale is a bit low…while I just want to go home, I also realize that I need to enjoy the last of this adventure. We head down to Cadiz, in Southern Spain, on Wednesday to see my dear friend Erin, and once again I am excited to spend time with friends.
November 3, 2010
I cannot remember if I talked about our time in Rome in the previous post, so I will start there! I believe I did mention that we were hobbling around and feeeling the wear and tear of our trip. Rome is quite an amazing city. What I found to be so interesting was the contrast of new, cosmopolitan energy, like that you would find in London or Paris, and the ancient ruins of the Colosseum and Forum. You cannot help but feel that you are in a worm hole, with two eras – now and the golden ages of the Roman empire – connected in this city. We saw all of the major sites – Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon (of course, covered with scaffolding, which has been the bane of our existence this trip), Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Vatican. The Vatican was quite stunning, and while most people might call the Sistine Chapel the highlight, to me it was not as impressive as a hallway lined with tapestries and maps, and with an amazing ceiling, packed with gold figures and three dimensional scenes. Now, I found myself feeling a bit different than I had expected being in the Vatican. I hope I do not offend any of my readers here, but I think that my reaction to the Vatican was interesting, and worth sharing. I thought that visiting the Vatican would be somewhat of a spiritual experience (although I am not religious), but I couldn’t help but feel a distatse when I was there. Walking among all of these beautiful rooms, decorated with scenes from the bible, I could not help but think of hypocrisy. The catholic church, of which the Vatican is the heart (or, at least used to be…maybe not so much anymore depending on who you ask), preaches the love, respect and kindness of the bible. And yet, the church has been one of the main causes and contributors to such a widespread amount of horror and devestation throughout history. While this may be an obvious thought that many have had, it seemed much more profound as I stood inside the Vatican.
We left Rome and headed to Palermo for a couple of days of R&R before heading to France. It was about half way through our trip, and we needed to recharge our batteries to gear up for the next half. When we got to Palermo, I will admit I was not in the best mood. Tired of traveling with tired knees and legs and muscles, I was homesick and grumpy. Palermo is the capital city of Sicily, which is very different from Northern Italy. There is still widespread corruption, and we found ourselves staying in not such a nice part of the city. Originally we had booked a B&B for some relaxation, but found out by reading newly posted reviews since we had booked that this B&B was infested with bed bugs. Yuck! Too late to cancel the resevation sans fee, we decided to eat the penalty (about $50) and booked a hostel instead. Palermo was very dirty and very noisy, with ridiculous and terrifying traffic (voted the worst in Europe), and while at another time I might have enjoyed the loud, grungy and very alive atmosphere, during my stay there I did not. So, I slept. For two days. I would wake up in the morning, eat something, and go back to sleep. Maybe walk around for half an hour, until I could not handle Palermo any longer, eat some lunch and go back to sleep. After a little bit of dinner, I would go to sleep, again, for the night. I have never slept so much in my life. We left Palermo and headed to Paris.
We only spent one night in Paris before heading to Brugge (or Bruges) Belgium for a two day trip. Our trip to Bruges was sort of a fluke. We had wanted to spend some time in France outside of Paris, but the cost of doing so just could not compare to the cheap flight from Paris to Barcelona, our next destination. We decided to just allocate an entire week to Paris, and do a day trip or two in the middle. When I was researching places to go, I stumbled upon Brugge. It looked beautiful, with quaint streets and canals, and it looked like just my kind of place. And I am glad we went! Brugge was a little piece of heaven after Palermo and the business of Rome, and was certainly my favorite place so far. For those of you not familiar with it, type Brugge in to Google Image to get an idea of why I loved it. It is this walled in, perfectly picturesque midieval city. Because it was niether industrialized in the 19th century nor bombed during WWII, it is perfectly preserved. The buildings all look like they are out of a fairytale storybook, with lazy canals and bridges, cobblestone streets and squares. Brugge is known for lace, and so every street is lined with lace and chocolate (of course, Belgian chocolates!!) shops. It is an interesting place, as it is in the very Northwest corner of Belgium. The capital of the Flemish region, everyone speaks French, English and Flemish, which seemed to us to be very similar to Dutch. For those of you who have been to Amsterdam, Brugge was like a calmer, smaller and more picturesque version of Amsterdam. We spent our days there wandering down the streets, lusting after chocolate, and eating Belgian waffel! And yes, the waffels (mine with strawberries and cream, Eamon’s with bananas and chocolate) were heavenly!!! I am including some photos of Brugge (from Google) in this post. We had beautiful sunny weather, and Eamon even surprised me by taking me to a strip of park lined with four perfect windmills (also pictured). We tried Flemish beef stew, perfect for the chilly October air, but did not eat Moules and Frites (muscles and fries), another Belgian specialty. We also took a canal tour and learned a little bit about the history of the city. Brugge is very sleepy, and while some might complain that there is nothing to do, for me it was wonderful to wander the streets, look at the beautiful buildings and canals, and be transported back in time. I could see myself living in Brugge, or a place like it, and I hope I get the opportunity to visit again.
After Brugge, we headed back to Paris. We were CouchSurfing for the first time in Paris. CouchSurfing is a community of individuals who ¨host¨ travelers and those that travel, or ¨surf.¨Basically it is a network that allows you to find a place to stay (for free) in different places. What is cool about CS is that it is more than just a free place to stay. It is about meeting a local person and learning about their country or city, and even seeing it through their eyes. Our first CS experience was fantastic! Our host loved to cook, and we spent every evening in Paris eating delicious three or four course meals, all paired with French wines from different regions of France. There were other CSers there during the various nights we stayed…one from LA, one from Estonia, and one from France. It was amazing to sit around the living room for hours every evening discussing the world, our countries, eating great food and enjoying eachother´s company. Because our host lived outside of the city center, we took a 15 minute train ride into the city each day. This would have cost us money each time, but because of the strike, no one was checking tickets, and thus payment was not required on the trains. The weather was beautiful, and our first day we saw most of the major sites. We did a huge loop from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, along the river to Notre Dame and back. The Eiffel Tower looked incredible among all of the yellow, orange and red trees. It really is quite stunning in person! I wanted to go up, but the line was ridiculously long. So, C’est la Vie! Our second day there, our couchsurfing host took us two a couple of places not in the tourist books. There is a huge department store in the middle of Paris. This store has a rooftop terrace with 360 degree views of the city. The day was clear and sunny, and we were able to see all of the major buildings and monuments! I recommend this to anyone that goes to Paris (the store is Printemps). We spent our second afternoon at the Louvre, which I am ashamed to say was rather dissapointing. I am a big art fan, but a couple of wings were closed and we were able to see mostly only sculptures and artifacts. After Rome we had had our fill of sculptures (although it was a thrill to see the Venus de Milo). And artifacts are not of great interest to us either. The paintings we did see were all mostly biblical paintings from the same era. I wish we would have had more time to go to the museum d’orsay, which has a rich collection of impressionist paintings. Next time! These cities are far too big to see everything in one two or three day period, so it is rather fun to collect of list of ¨things to do next time.¨Our last day in Paris we went up to the Montmarte area on a hill, crowned by the Sacre Cour (Sacred Heart), an absolutely breathtaking church overlooking all of Paris. We had a three course French meal, at a reasonably priced restaurant recommended to us by our CS host, with our host and another Couchsurfer before heading to the train station to go to the airport. We arrived in Barcelona last night and are enjoying 70 degree weather and sun! We have already walked much of the city, and are excited to take a free walking tour of the old town tomorrow, as well as try and go to the beach.
October 22, 2010
Once again, I apologize for not updating the blog in awhile! Internet and computer access seems to be harder and harder to find. We left Budapest and headed for Vienna. Getting there was quite the adventure! We had to buy train tickets because the flight we had booked (on a kind of sketchy Hungarian airline) had fallen through. While we arrived early to the train station, the ticket line – DMV pull-a-number style – took forever, and we found ourselves buying tickets five minutes before the train left. We ran to the platforms, but could not manage to find the right one. We finally saw a train with the same name as was stamped on our tickets, so we jumped on. We made it about fifteen minutes before someone working on the train saw our tickets and told us that indeed that train was NOT headed for Vienna. We were able to jump off and get back on a train headed to the station. We waited two hours before catching the correct train to Vienna. We are still curious as to where that train was headed…
We arrived in Vienna rather late at night, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the hostel was more like an apartment, with a couple of dorm rooms, bathroom and kitchen. Vienna gave us lovely weather, and we saw all of the major sites – the Prater Amusement park, opera house, museum quarter, Karls Church, the Belvedere estate and botanical garden etc. We saw a mueum exhibit of work by Picasso and Cezanne (as well as many other great artists permanently housed in the museum, named the Leopold), which was great. We even went to the opera! Well, to be fair we went to the first half of Pique Dame. Standing room tickets were cheap, but the room was very hot and crowded, so we only made it for an hour and a half. Overall I enjoyed Vienna; it was modern and reminded me a bit of Berlin. We left Vienna and went to Prague, which is a great city! Our good luck with the weather continued. We took a free walking tour and saw the major sites of the city, and the second day we were there we ventured over the river to see Prague castle, which was spectacular. I am having trouble remembering all of the details of our time there, but I do remember that we both enjoyed it very much. Prague has very interesting city, and has been at the center of so many important – glorious and tragic – events in history. It is interesting how the weather can make such a difference in how you feel about a place. Prague and Budapest seem very simililar, now looking back, but I think we both have more positive memories of Prague simply because of the sunshine. After Prague we went to Salzburg, Austria. The birthplace of Mozart and the location of the Sound of Music, this small city in Austria was not on my radar when we started planning the trip. My cousin studied abroad in Austria, and told me that if we went to Austria, we had to go to Salzburg. And I am glad she convinced me, because it is definitely one of my favorite places so far! After being in huge cities, Salzburg was a nice change of pace. Smaller (about 150,000) and very quaint, Salzburg was perfect. We hiked up to the castle overlooking the city, which had spectacular views miles and miles around. We watched a chess game on an abnormally large chess board in a main square, drank lattes in a little cafe in the heart of the town, and wandered the quaint streets packed with shops. This is definitely the kind of city I could see myself living in. After Salzburg we took a train – and then a bus – to Venice. The train and bus took us through the Austrian Alps, which were gigantic and beautiful. I had been looking forward to Italy most of all the places of the trip, so I was excited to finally get there. We spent the evening in Venice, which did not dissapoint. With narrow streets, canals and brightly colored historic buildings, Venice – and everything in it – looked like a postcard. I had planned to splurge on a Gondola ride, but splurged on a really nice Venetian mask instead. Venice, like Salzburg, definitely topped my list of places. While I loved Venice, there was definitely one thing I had a problem with: the bus system. All I will say is that we got lost for a couple of hours. After Venice we headed west to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a group of five small villages built into the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cinque Terre is simply amazing. What is so amazing about it, besides the natural beauty, is the fact that generations of farmers took unusable, rocky cliffs and created usable land, in the form of terraced gardens, to grow grapes for wine. We had booked a ten bed hostel dorm, but were somehow given our own apartment, with a kitchen and a view of the sea. There are hiking trails connecting the five villages, but one of the trails was closed due to a landslide. We walked the first leg, then hopped on a train to the last village to hike back. Although it was raining, the views were spectacular. The sea was brilliantly blue, and the villages were bright spots of color in the cliffs. It is hard to describe how beautiful Cinque Terre is; Google image it and see for yourself! The hikes were definitely a work out, and we were exhausted after walking miles up and down muddy paths and stairs. After walking in cities, it was so great to be in a rural area walking along the cliffs over the sea.
We left Cinque Terre and headed to Florence. We saw the Duomo and the main part of the city the first night, which left our full day for other things. Our day in Florence was Eamon’s birthday. We went and saw Michelangelo’s David, which was quite impressive. We also went over to the Boboli gardens, an expansive estate on the other side of the river. We wanted to walk up to the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset over the city, which turned out to be the highlight (for me) of our trip to Florence. We sat on steps, watched the sunset, drank a beer, and listened to someone play the guitar while watching the city. The best things, like this, are often free.
The next day, we stopped in Siena for the day on our way to Rome. Eamon studied abroad in Siena, so it was fun for him to be back there. He showed me the sites and where he spent time, and then we took a train through Tuscany on the way to Rome. Tuscany is beautiful, and I want to go back in the summer so I can see all of the sunflower fields. We arrived in Rome and have already seen the Vatican, Forum, Coliseum etc.
With a month to go, I am definitely getting tired of traveling. Eamon has a busted knee and I think I pulled a muscle in my leg. Today we hobbled around Rome, and we both felt about as ancient as the city. We used to be able to walk around for six or eight hours before getting tired, but after Cinque Terre our legs give out after a few hours of walking around. No matter how much sleep we get, our bodies are always tired. I am excited about the rest of the trip, but am looking forward to getting home for Thanksgiving and getting back to the comfort of home – my own bed, shower, different clothes etc. In two days we go down to Palermo, on the ocean in Sicily at the tip of Italy. We plan on relaxing for three days at the beach while we recharge our batteries and regain some energy for the rest of the trip.
October 7, 2010
My apologies to those following my blog…I know I have not done well lately with keeping it up! Internet/computer access is hard to come by, and most hostels charge to use the computers. Checking bank accounts, emails and booking hostels has taken priority to blogging when we do manage to get online! I am going to try and recount the last few places we have been, although the days seem to blur together – even after only a week or so. And a word of forewarning – we are in Austria, and for some reason the z and y are switched on the keyboard, so if you see a y where there should be a z or vice versa, just know it is not my fault.
After Amsterdam we departed for Copenhagen, Denmark. Although cold, the brilliant sunshine was a nice change from rainy Amsterdam. We only had two dazs in Copenhagen, but we managed to make the most of them. The first day we explored the city and the major architectural attractions. My dear friend Kristina’s mother is originally from Denmark, and was kind enough to send me a walking tour and ideas of things to see and do. We strolled along the main pedestrian walking street and ended up at a beautiful botanic garden. The humid glass greenhouses with all of the tropical plants where a nice break from the cold air. It certainly felt like fall, and the trees in the garden were starting to change to oranges and yellows. I have really discovered my love for gardens and parks on this trip. I have always enjoyed stepping out of the city and into a park, but this trip I have found myself finding a certain peace when stepping out of these huge metropolitan cities and taking a stroll through a park or just relaxing on a bench. Eamon even noticed it, and told me how relaxed and at ease and happy I looked when we wandered into this garden. After the garden we strolled to the Rosenborg Castle and the accompanying grounds, before indulging in a Copenhagen specialty: hot chocolate! Because it gets so chilly there, all of the cafes have blankets in their outdoor seating. It was great to sit on the main square, people watch and sip hot chocolate. One major surprise about Copenhagen: the prices! I was told it would be expensive, but we were still in shock. Our hot chocolate cost us about $9 a cup! Needless to say, we had bread for dinner (with some wine of course). The only other person in our room was a man from France, so we spent some time discussing politics and other things with him.
As I said before, my dear friend Kristina’s mother is from Denmark. She was kind enough to put me in contact with some family friends that live in Copenhagen, who offered to show us the city and invite us to their home for dinner. We had a lovely – and brilliant sunny – afternoon with Mikkel on his boat, and it was amazing how much more of Copenhagen we saw from the canals. Learning about a city from a local is so much more interesting and informative than just navigating it and trying to figure it out for yourself. We ended the day with a wonderful home cooked meal at Mikkel’s home, where we met his wife Helle. What I enjoyed most was discussing the politics and state of affairs in Denmark. Denmark is, by US standards, a very socialist county, with very high taxes and many government subsidies and welfare programs. I have always felt that I aligned more with a socialist-leaning type of economic system, but listening to a local’s perspective on why that system is esssentially failing in Denmark was very eye opening to me. These are the conversations – ones that stretch me and challenge what I think I am sure of – that I enjoy most, and what I certainly enjoy most about traveling. Overall, we had a really lovely time in Copenhagen.
We left for Berlin very early, and about the time we arrived, Eamon was coming down with a cold. The weather was similar to Copenhagen – sunny and cold. We found our hostel and were so tired from the early flight and our various colds and illnesses that we didn’t even venture out into the city the first day. Our hostel was huge, and the dorm rooms were filled with beds and were all connected. I was really worried that it would be super noisy, but it turned out to be ok. We explored East Berlin the second day, and saw the Alexanderplatz (platz = square) as well as this beautiful church. We walked down a famous street lined with lime trees and museums, and wandered into the biggest park in the city. What looked like a music festival was being set up, so we trolled the various craft and artisan booths. We spent some time in the park and found a cafe to escape from the cold…I even managed to get myself mz first cup of really good chai this trip! Win! Our second evening in Berlin was most entertaining. After dinner and a bottle of cheap wine (pretty standard night for us), we went back to our dorm room. It was about 10:00 (yes, I know we are senior citizens) and our various roomates were getting ready for a night out. This interesting assortment consisted of three Canadian girls (hairdressers I might add) in Berlin for a hair show, as well as two – shall I say gothic? – Finnish guys. The hairdresser trio spent about an hour changing clothes, switching clothes, critiquing each other, trying to find outfits with as little clothes as possible while still wearning clothes etc…let us just say they were not the brightest crayons in the box. Meanwhile, the Finnish guys were putting on as much black, leather and metal as they could find. They even told our Canadian friends that they had managed to get (please imagine a thick accent for this) “on the VIP list at Kit Kat, one of the hottest underground clubs in Berlin.” We basically spent the entire time silentlz cracking up and laughing at the ridiculousness of these people. Who knew going to bed at ten on a Saturday night could be so entertaining. Our last day in Berlin, we were determined to find the Berlin wall! We found Checkpoint Charlie and read quite a bit of history about the wall. It was amaying standing there and seeing East Berlin on one side and West Berlin on the other. Even today, the buildings look different. Although they have added modern glass facades to the cement buildings of East Berlin, you can still tell the difference between the worn cement buildings of the East and the more architecturally and better kept buildings of the West. Reading about the wall, those killed trying to escape to West Berlin and just the historz of communism in German was really moving, and was the highlight of Berlin for me. We finished the day off by going back to the festival, which we discovered was the 21st anniversary celebration for German reunification.
We took an afternoon flight to Budapest, and managed to find our hostel, a few floors up behind a few gates in an old building in the middle of the city. By the time we arrived it was evening, so we took advantage of a kitchen (which we had not had yet) and I cooked mushroom risotto. There is something really satisfying about being able to cook your own meal after being forced to eat out all of the time. Our first full day there we explored the Pest side of Budapest, and found the Varosliget (city park). It had such an old world feel, with this beautiful old church complex (modeled and named after one in Transylvania) and other buildings we could not figure out. We wandered over to what we thought was a beautiful government building, only to find once we got inside it was one of the famous Budapest bath centers. We strolled down a major street from Heroe’s square on one end to the beautiful St. Stephen’s Church on the other. We decided to save the Buda side (with the castle amongst other things) for the next day. Unfortunately, we were given horrible rain – torrential downpour – our second day in Budapest. We made it to a great two story indoor market before walking to the Buda side to find this park that Eamon really wanted to see. Memento Park has huge statues of past communist leaders, and it lookd like a rather bizarre and interesting place. We walked for awhile – with soaking, cold feet – and became very confused when the park certainly did not exist where it was located on the map. After many minutes of confusion, he finally realized that the map had deceived us. The spot on the map was not for the park, but merely for the tram stop necessary to get to the stop. We got on a tram and basically ended up in the Budapest boonies….long story short, we never made it to the park. We had not spent any money on touristy stuff, like musem or castle admintance, so we decided to splurge on something we were both really interested in: a classical music concert. We got tickets for a concert at the beautiful church, St. Stephens, and attended that night. We thought it would be an orchestra, but it was a group of four soloists (Voilin, Trumpet, Tenor and Soprano) accompanied by an organist. While the organ was a little loud and it was not what we expected, I thought the music was beautiful. We decided to catch a later train the next day to Vienna in order to see the Buda castle and the major sites we still had not seen. We were blessed with beautiful weather and were able to see the castle and the Buda hills before leaving for Vienna. The last interesting thing about Budapest came in the train station. We arrived an hour before the train, thinking we had plenty of time to get tickets. The ticket system was like the DMV – pull a number and wait. And wait we did…until our number was called fifteen minutes before the train. By some miracle we got the tickets and ran to the platforms. We couldn’t figure out what train it was, and two minutes before the departure time, we saw a train with the same name that was stamped on our ticket. We ran, got on, breathed sighs of relief, and departed for Vienna. About five minutes after the train departed, a train worker saw our tickets, gave us a funny look, and told us that the train was definitely not headed for Vienna. He told us to get off at the stop and catch the next train going back to the station. Luckily, we stopped not a minute later and we were back at the station after ten more minutes. We finally caught the right train two hours later. Our only regret, however, is not asking where that train was headed. Oh, and the name on the ticket we thought matched the train? That was definitely just the name of the train station we were at. Sigh. It could have been worse! Now we are in Vienna, and I will wrap up this blog post as I realize it is very, very long. Consider yourself updated!
September 25, 2010
After meeting up with Eamon in London and saying goodbye to Bethany (sniff), we hopped on a plane to Amsterdam. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the city definitely has a different feel than any other city I have been in so far. I think we both agree that it is a little bit dirtier and grungier than we thought. Maybe it is the red light district…maybe it is all the sex shops…maybe all the “coffee” shops. Unfortunately, I came down with a cold the day we arrived, so I have not been operating at 100%. The weather has been pretty inconsistent. We will be walking in the brilliant sunshine and then without warning the rain starts hammering down. So far we have walked around pretty much the entire city…a few times over. The highlights, for me, so far have been the Vondelpark – a huge park in Amsterdam that is really a lovely place to find a bench and relax – and the Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market. The leaves are starting to turn here and I can already tell fall in Amsterdam is beautiful. The canals are cool and it is fun to walk over them at night, as many of the canal bridges have Christmas lights. The market consists of shop after shop with hundreds and hundreds of tulip bulbs and flowers. We wanted to go to some museums, but the two we are interested in (Van Gogh and another museum with dutch artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer) both cost quite a bit of money, and we haven’t decided whether or not to go. It really is a city for people watching. We have enjoyed just walking around for hours – day and night – taking in the scene. Right now we are at the Amsterdam public library. The library is great, with free internet access and hundreds of computers. The weather is horrible, so we are just going to camp out at the library for the day before catching the train to the airport for our night flight to Copenhagen. We will be in Copenhagen for two days before leaving for Berlin Thursday morning.
September 20, 2010
Well, we are coming to the end of our UK (plus Ireland) adventure. After Wales we flew to Dublin for four days. While I had a great time, I must say that Dublin is probably my least favorite place so far. It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, and by the end of the first day we had already walked around pretty much the entire city, been to several museums and had seen the sites. We did a traditional Irish music pub crawl, which was a lot of fun. The highlight of our trip to Dublin was a daytrip that we took (via a tour company) up in the Wicklow Mountains. I am used to the lush mountains of the Northwest, and so I was surprised at how barren the mountains were there. We saw where a famous scene in Braveheart was filmed, as well as some bridge from the movie P.S. I Love You. We stopped at Glendaloch, which is an ancient monastic site founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century. Seeing this site was really powerful. The best part of the day was when we stopped at Glendaloch National Park. We were given a half an hour to wander around, and as we got down to this beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains, the sun came out. I just sat there with the waves lapping up the beach, in awe of the beauty. This picture is of the lake. Our tour guide Tommy was quite the character, and we drove through the mountains learning songs by the Dubliners. Our last night in Dublin we went to the oldest pub in the city (right around the corner from our hostel) and some middle aged Irishman bought us Guinness and talked to us about Ireland. I am, however, dissapointed, because the bartender let us in on the little secret that had we been in Dublin today (Monday) and gone to the pub, we would have gotten a chance to see Ben Affleck, who was going to be at the pub tonight after a movie premier in Dublin. Overall, we had a great time, but I learned that the best way to see Ireland is not Dublin (four days was really too long there) but to see the Western coast where the natural beauty is.
From Dublin we flew to Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a stunning city and I must say is definitely my favorite place so far. I’ve included a picture here. Our hostel looks up at the castle you can see at the top. It really is a stunning city and I’ve really enjoyed wandering around and seeing the sites. There sure is a lot of plaid around here! Yesterday we took a day trip up to the Highlands and to Loch Ness. It was a 12 hour trip and we covered 300 miles, so although it was mostly sitting in the bus, the views were incredible. I must say that the Scottish Highlands are the most beautiful sites I have ever seen in my entire life. The weather was perfect- and by perfect, I mean misty and foggy, with low clouds drifting amoung the mountains. When we got to Loch Ness, we took a boat out on the lake. We learned all about Nessie (the Loch Ness monster) and saw the sonar equipment. After the boat trip, I must say I am a true believer. There is so much evidence that this monster exists (our guide actually believes there are about 18 in the lake and has had seven sitings in his 28 years there). They figure there should be a growth rate of about two tons of fish every day, and yet there is little growth at all. What is eating all of the fish? Not to mention the sonar readings…you can certainly tell the difference between one large animal and schools of fish. Our tour guide Leo was quite a character (talked a little too much for my taste, and after 12 hours of him I think we were ready to be done). I’m including a photo of Glencoe, which is an absolutely beautiful area of the Highlands we drove through. I had big plans to do this hike today, called Arthur’s seat hike. I was told the weather was supposed to be horrible, but I was awakened to brilliant sunshine. This hike was incredible. It is an 800 ft climb in these hills that overlook the entire city of Edinburgh and the bays and Oceans beyond. It was quite a climb, with many many difficult stairs. The views and experience once we got up there was completely worth it. I’m including a picture of the hill. Anyway, we were so lucky to have such incredible weather for this hike and for our last day in Scotland. I’m not sure what we will do for the rest of the day, but we catch a train to London tomorrow morning. I’m sure the countryside from Edinburgh to London will be beautiful. Eamon flies in tomorrow, Bethany leaves for home Wednesday morning, and we depart for Amsterdam Thursday! I have so many more thoughts to include, but my time is about up. I hope this gives you all an idea of our time in Ireland and Scotland!
September 15, 2010
After an amazing few days in London we ventured down to Oxford (which, indeed, deepened my desire for graduate school)for a night and then took a train to Wales. Wales is beautiful and reminded me a lot of Oregon. We climbed up to an old castle (this is the photo I have included) with absolutely stunning views of the Welsh countryside. The weather was pretty horrible the entire time we were there, but we had one beautiful day. It worked out perfectly as that was the day we explored different bays and beaches at the ocean. We spent the last day exploring the Museum of Welsh History before staying in Cardiff for the night. We arrived in Dublin yesterday. It is a fun city, but I was a bit surprised at the size. It is smaller and less impressive than I imagined. We already saw most of the major sites by foot yesterday and today we went to the Kilmainham Gaol (old famous jail/prison in Dublin). Tomorrow we are taking a day tour of the Wicklow mountains and Glendalough. I’m so excited to see the beautiful countryside (where Braveheart was filmed) and mountains. Where we are going is considered “the garden of Ireland.” We will then have one more day in Dublin before heading to Edinburgh on Saturday morning. Tonight we are off to a traditional Irish music pub crawl, which should be great!
September 8, 2010
After a long day of traveling, we arrived in London early Monday morning. Since then we have done a lot of walking and have pretty much seen all of the major sites – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace (the changing of the guard was not that exciting), Westminster, the London Tower etc. This afternoon we went to the theater to see the Lion King and it was AMAZING. London is a wonderful city and I love that you can walk pretty much anywhere! With my map in hand, I have felt really comfortable navigating my way around all of the major parts of the city.
Last night I had myself an interesting adventure on the tube. The underground workers were on strike yesterday and many lines were either closed, disrupted or limited. Bethany had gone to a play with her uncle that evening, so after my friend Erin (from Corvallis and just happened to be in London yesterday) and I parted ways, I was all set to take the tube back to our hostel area of Kensington (a couple of blocks from the Natural History Museum for those of you who are familiar with London). I knew that the particular tube line I needed to take was operating, so at about 10:30 last night I set off for the station in the middle of London (around Leicester Square), where Erin and I had been. Although the tube line was operating, the gaps in the line during the day had created so much demand for the tube that the platforms were filling up. They stopped letting people on the platforms to allow the platforms to clear, and when they finally started slowly letting people on about 20 minutes later, the anxiety of the crowded, hot tube station started to take its toll. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and after a couple of fights broke out, the tube security guards threatened to shut down the entire station. I realized that it would probably take quite awhile to get on, and not wanting to find myself in the middle of a brawl, I started figuring out a better plan. I had to transfer to a different line three stations down anyway, so I decided to just walk to that station and hope that I could get on the final line I needed to our area. I had spent most of the day in that area of central London, and after of several anxious minutes on the train not knowing if my stop was even going to be open, we left and I made it back to the hostel at about midnight. It certainly doesn’t sound too complicated, but in a foreign city in the middle of the night when you are tired and not sure what you are doing, it seemed like quite the challenge. And, at the end of it all, I was very proud of myself for doing it.
When I first arrived in London, I must admit I was very overwhelmed. Be it the jet lag or the drunk people keeping me awake all night in our room the first night, I was very emotional, nervous and unsure if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this two and a half month adventure. The thought of moving every few days, sleeping in the same room with strangers, awkward showers and constant tiredness seemed like an unaccomplishable task after day one. But when I was walking back from the tube last night, I realized that if I can navigate the London Underground by myself, in the middle of the night, and in the middle of strikes and fights, I can certainly handle the smaller things that were making me nervous. I am feeling much better and ready to conquer anything. Or, at least the next thing.
Tomorrow we will leave for Oxford in the morning, where we will stay with Bethany’s friend for the night before heading to Wales Friday morning. We’ll be in Wales through Monday and then leave for Dublin Tuesday morning.
September 3, 2010
After taking a much needed post-graduation hiatus from blogging, I am taking my blog in a slightly new – but only temporary – direction. While possibly less riveting, travel updates will replace my normal musings on communications in politics. On Sunday I embark on a backpacking adventure across Europe! Never having studied abroad and finding myself in a transitional period between school and career, I thought that this was a window of opportunity I could not pass up. And, luckily, I have two very good friends to travel with and other friends to see along the way! I’m not sure how often I will be able to get to a computer, but I hope to update somewhat frequently so that those at home can follow my adventure. So, to begin, here is a list of the cities/countries (in order) I will be visiting between the beginning of September and Thanksgiving:
- Malmo (Sweden)
- Salzburg (Austria)
- Cinque Terre (Italy)
- Florence and Siena
- Palermo (Italy)
- Bruges (Belgium)
- Lisbon (Portugal)
- Cadiz (Spain)
Yes…I do realize that this is a very long list for two and a half months. And for those who know me, you will also not be surprised to know that organizing and planning (two important staples of my life) this trip did indeed provide some anxiety for me. But, as a planner extraordinaire, I am excited for some much needed spontaneity. In addition to seeing and experiencing some of the most beautiful and historically profound places in the world, I am looking forward to seeing how travel changes the way I see the world and the way I see myself in the world.