May 2010


Uncategorized24 May 2010 12:27 pm

 

The experience on the night train isn’t exactly one I’d care to repeat. I suppose the error there was that we only had a compartment that we were sharing with two other people, which made me feel like I was in Harry Potter, which was fun for like 3 minutes. But really not at all comfortable. But we survived the night. Arriving the in early hours to the train station in Florence, Maura and I sat in the coffee shop for a long bit while we waited for the city to come to life. That was alright though, because we found ourselves surrounded by a large group of Korean tourists who were having a great load of fun filming themselves eating various pastries and coffees. People who film their vacations soon became a high point of travel for Maura and I and I would like to believe that our presence in these various locales throughout Europe has been forever preserved in the many, many home videos that we took it upon ourselves to star in. But back to Florence.

            I found Florence rather difficult to navigate- we spent a while trying to find a hostel that the tourist office recommended to us. That was probably the sketchiest place we stayed, but it worked out ok- I didn’t lose sleep over anything. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we were there on a Friday and people were still on Easter holidays, but Florence was packed. We considered seeing the Statue of David, but the line was ages long and it really didn’t appeal to me. But feeling like we needed some sort of artistic cultural experience, we went to the Uffizi gallery. My appreciation for art, however, is not exactly refined. It was enjoyable for a few minutes, but not worth the build- up. Learning experience nonetheless. There was a really cool church in the center of the city – the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The intent of the architect was to make it so detailed and ornate that there was no way anyone could ever add to it.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

            The Basilica and the Ponte Vecchio were probably my two favorites in Florence. The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge that has all these shops on it, mostly jewelry. Imagine the cost for that storefront! After crossing the bridge into the shop-ier  area, we went to the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. Which was an expensive admission fee (alright, all of Florence was expensive- that was probably the most expensive place we went. No, not probably, definitely. This is where planning would have come in handy a bit. Live and learn, right?) The gardens were nice, mainly because I took a nap in the sunshine. I would have spent several hours there, but unfortunately they closed even before sunset. Maura and I wandered to get some dinner and the sun began to set on Florence. The city was more pleasant after sunset- the massive crowds had backed down and there were some nice street performers. Exhausted, however, we didn’t last too long and it was back to the hostel early.

Ponte Vecchio

            We shared the room in the hostel with two Canadian girls who were backpacking for 5 months. To our slightly travel –weary souls after the day in Florence, these girls really helped turn us around. You can’t have a perfect day every day. Not everything is what you will expect, but you take the good with the bad and enjoy the experience. After a good night’s sleep, we headed out to Venice the next day with chins a little higher.

            Initially, my impression was that I wish we hadn’t even bothered with Florence. It was dirty and expensive and wasn’t ‘pretty’ like I had expected. But I can’t regret it- looking back; it was neat to see once. I’m not headed back, and I’m not recommending it to anyone, but it taught me to give things a proper chance and not to judge first thing. The world traveler has to persevere through good and bad. I am not a world traveler, but I learned a thing or two, and I’m glad I had the experience of Florence.

Uncategorized22 May 2010 08:51 am

 

Our Salzburg hostel the first night was located just outside of the city. It was actually this woman’s house- Haus Christine, so I suppose it was a sort of B &B cross over. Since we would have to get back on the train if we wanted to go eat in the city, Christine herself suggested we walk up the road to the next village, where there was a restaurant. While we were wandering somewhat aimlessly towards the town on the side of a lonely little road in the middle of Austria, the views were absolutely incredible- the sun was just sort of setting and you could just turn around and bam- there were the alps. Salzburg is situated in sort of a valley- Haus Christine was situated on a hill up one side and the Alps provide breathtaking views on the other. It was amazing. We found the Austrian cuisine to be remarkably similar to that of Germany, and, stomachs happily full, we wandered back to the hostel-haus to head to bed.

            The next morning, we ate breakfast in Christine’s glass breakfast room- another beautiful panoramic Alp-en feast for the eyes. The mission for the day was the Sound of Music tour, which I’m pretty sure is the biggest tourist attraction in Salzburg. The guide picked us up in a shuttle and drove us to the main bus, where we joined tourists from all over the globe for four hours of Sound of Music sights, trivia, and so much more! Interestingly enough, the film itself didn’t even last a week in Austria, but, nonetheless Sound of Music and other types of tourism has become the biggest employer for Salzburg-ians. I won’t waste your time attempting to rehash every detail of the 4 hour experience, but we did see several sites where the Von Trapp villa was filmed, the famous gazebo from “I am sixteen, going on seventeen”, the church where Maria and the Baron Von Trapp were married, and of course the Alps that they crossed to escape into Austria (fun trivia fact- they had to use a double for the littlest Von Trapp because Christopher Plummer insisted she was too fat for him to carry for those scenes). And I picked up some fantastic sound of music related jokes, but those are for another day.

(tour guide) Why did the Sound of Music take so long to film? A: You can't get a Plummer to work on Saturdays!

 

Mondsee

  

            After the tour, Maura and I hopped off the bus and set out to find an internet café to book our second night in Salzburg. While standing on a street corner contemplating a map, a very kind Austrian man passed and pointed across the street- “Yoho?” and walked away. No, he was not exchanging whitey pirate jargon with the confused tourists, he was pointing out the Yoho Youth Hostel, which was to become our home for night #2! (Unfortunately this remarkable stroke of luck made us cocky, and our ideals of the simplicity of finding hostels would soon be discounted in both Rome and Florence). After dropping our belongings, we wandered around Salzburg for a while, visiting the Mirabell Gardens, a beer garden, and the AltStadt (Old City) area before calling it a day and heading back to YoHo for the night. (Our first hostel mates: girl who was never awake and angry German lady who yelled at me for not drying my hands.) Nonetheless, I slept like a log.

Guten Nacht Salzburg!

            The next day, we decided to explore outside of the city on bikes! After a bit of confusion and some helpful direction from our Sound of Music tour guide, Peter, from the day before, we found a bike rental and chose our destination- the Hellbrunn palace and gardens. We ate lunch in the park and soaked up the sunshine. Have I mentioned that there was yet again a fantastic view of the Alps? After the return of the bikes, the afternoon played out much like the previous one, a relaxing wander around. Since we had already checked out of the hostel, we had to sneak back into to take illegal showers. It’s lucky that there really was no one around because sitting in a hallway repacking all of your belongings into your newly purchased hot pink suitcase is not a very surreptitious way to make illegal use of hostel facilities. After showering, we indulged in an Austrian McDonald’s and headed to the train station to catch our night train to Florence, Italy. It was Auf Wiedersehn to Austria, and Ciao Italy!

Bike riding in Austria!

Uncategorized19 May 2010 03:00 pm

I think Maura and I caught the slowest train in Germany to Heidelberg. It didn’t help that we initially went about a half an hour in the wrong direction first I suppose. And I’m not complaining- it was fun to spend a long time on a train and nice to see the surrounding area. The villages I saw driving with Karl Heinz and on that train were all very traditional- with the orange terra cotta roofs and the whole nine yards. I loved that- I thought it was one of the neatest parts about Germany- all the small little villages. We did get there eventually, safe and sound. We’d researched the first couple hostels before we left Oma’s, so we were headed to Stefi’s Nature and the City Hostel. Not a bad place to start out considering we got the double room and I had a double bed all to myself. Not exactly the authentic backpacker roughin’ it lifestyle, but I figured it was best to ease oneself into the hostile-er hostel – environment.

View from Heidelberg Castle Heidelberg Castle from the outside

Heidelberg’s is a small city in the west of Germany. Its main tourist-y features include a student prison, a neat old market place, an old university and a really, really cool castle. We spent a good few hours just walking around the castle and grounds. We had this tour guide that looked like Mary Poppins, which I found highly entertaining an informative, because without her I would never have known that Heidelberg Castle is home to the world’s largest barrel, which used to store wine, but now lays empty. Heidelberg was also where Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. I remembered all of the important parts of course, for the benefits of all my readers…and all my friends and family, but, I suppose they are one in the same…

Downtown historic Heidelberg

We had a lovely German dinner on the old market place and had McFlurrys for desert, which start the trend that we would eat at a McDonald’s in every country we visited. I don’t really eat at McDonalds in the US, so I really don’t know why it was that this became such an important highlight to me, but nonetheless, we stuck to our guns and persevered. I think German McDonald’s will remain my favorite… but that could be because someone tried to pickpocket me in Rome, which caused Italy to lose out on the title- but that’s a story for another day. Maura and I had plans to spend the evening playing cards, but were interrupted from doing so by field geologists from Australia who wanted to go out for the evening. Heidelberg on Easter Monday is a pretty tame place, so we just sat and talked. One was Canadian and one was actually Australian and they were going traveling for the year. They made for pretty interesting conversation- it’s sort of strange atmosphere, the whole hostel thing, where you meet people knowing that you will never see them again. We left early the next morning, said farewell to the geologists at breakfast and hopped back on the train. The hills were alive with the Sound of Music and beckoning us to Salzburg, Austria!

The sun sets on the Germany!

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Uncategorized18 May 2010 02:55 pm

The Hohe-wart Haus: Ihr Ausflugslokal mitten im Spessart

Hohe wart Haus : Ihr Ausflugslokal mitten im Spessart

(Our local excursion in the middle of the Spessart [woods])

My mom and me outside of the Hohewart-haus

Now, my whole life, I’ve been hearing about the Hohewart Haus. The Hohewart Haus is my mom’s ‘adopted’ family’s restaurant in the middle of the woods. Ok, that is an exaggeration, I have not been hearing about it my whole life, but my parents do speak of it on a fairly regular basis. At any rate, I was excited to go. When we got back to Oberbessenbach with Rosi and Richard, it was decided that that was our destination. Even Oma came with us, which was a very big deal. Oh, and she may be in her upper 80’s, but even Oma had one of the home brewed Hohewart Haus beers. The restaurant is a Gasthaus, which is sort of a tavern, restaurant, and lodging rolled into one. It’s owned by Herbert, the third and final of Oma’s children and he gave Maura and me the official tour, with Richard serving as translator. By the end of the European trip, Maura and I estimate that we’ve been to about 5 or 6 breweries. Although I should have the beer-making process memorized at this point, I can’t quite remember how it goes. I can, however, remember Herbert/Richard’s translated description of the chemical process- “The yeast eats the sugar and shits the alcohol”. Yep, yep- I’d say I learned quite a bit in Germany. In addition to beer, which I gazed/sipped upon with a completely new perspective after Herbert’s chemistry lesson, there was delicious, gastronomically twisting heavy, homemade, authentic German food. I recommend fasting for a day or two before attempting consumption. People will go on long walks through the woods to get the Hohewart Haus (Spessart woods, to be specific)- and I think I’ve discovered why. You need some serious exercise after attempting one of those meals.

Hohewart Haus all decorated for Easter festivities!

Other uniqueness of the German dining atmosphere at the Hohewart Haus? Well, for one there is a tree growing in the middle of the restaurant. For another, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your dog along to dine with you. That and everyone seemed to know each other. The waitress was like a member of the family, and the grandkids (9 and 11) helped to shuttle dishes from the kitchen to the table. However heavy the food, I loved the German dining atmosphere. It just seemed so communal and relaxed. I wish I could convey it a little better, but I suppose there are limits to the sensational experiences I can express through my furious laptop-key pounding.

Herbert, the Gasthaus owner and grandson Manuel searching for Easter eggs!

Easter Sunday followed in much of the same fashion as the previous night. Of course, my mother couldn’t let tradition slip and Maura and I still got Easter baskets. I suppose beer steins aren’t exactly the typical Easter chocolate vessels, but somehow Maura and I survived. It’s just too bad I’m only 19 and those beer steins will just have to collect dust for another year and a half… We drove back out to the Hohewart Haus and there was an Easter egg hunt for Herbert’s grandchildren. Grandpa (Opa) sent them on a rather entertaining 10 minute hunt on the wrong side of the road, which the bystanders/photographers (Maura and myself) found rather entertaining. Don’t worry, the kids got their chocolate eventually. The restaurant was packed for Easter Sunday – apparently the Easter walk through the woods to the midday meal is a big deal. Maura and I played with the youngest grandchildren and I attempted to talk to the slightly older ones in my very limited German. Luckily the little ones couldn’t speak much more German than Maura or I (meaning that they couldn’t really speak at all), so that worked out very well. We ate another massive German meal and said goodbye to everyone, then Karl Heinz took us on driving tour #2.

Couldn’t tell you where we went, but we passed through this massive vineyard, saw some cool regenbogen (rainbows) and quite a lot more over the course of the three hours. I think I’ve seen quite a lot of Germany with all this driving…

3 hour tour of the Deustche countryside

The next morning, we drove to Frankfurt with my Mom and hopped on a train to the first destination on our own travels- Heidelberg!

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Uncategorized17 May 2010 10:04 am

Eau de Cologne

Next up was Cologne, Germany. After an hour or two spent trying to figure out the rail system (for the record, it was Good Friday – the timetables get all switched around, a secret unbeknownst even to many of the employees, apparently, in particular, all of the employees we attempted to ask). So we got to the Bahnhof, (German for train station) in Cologne slightly behind schedule. We were supposed to meet my Mom’s friend Rosi. One little problem- I’ve never met Rosi and had no clue what she looked like. Cologne’s a pretty big city, too, so the chances of us meeting up by chance in the massive train station seemed pretty slim. After a minor panic attack, I finally figured out how to call her and she designated a meeting point, to which Maura and I stayed glued to for a half an hour until this small little German woman called out, “Lindsay?” and I turned around to have said small German woman throw her arms around me. These Germans, I tell you, were just the nicest people!

Die Dom in Cologne!

With Rosi, we got the express tour of Cologne. I can’t tell you half of what Rosi told us because she moved at light speed and I had to practically jog to catch up with her. She showed us the Dom, the famous cathedral; the Rathaus where JFK spoke years ago;  told us about Karneval, the massive Lenten celebration that the city is famous for; and took us up a huge tower with a panoramic view of the city. Cologne was different from all the other cities we visited- alright, all of the cities we visited were different, but I’m trying to make a point, so go with it- anyway, it was different in its since of pride. The people have such passion and loyalty for the place they live- there is a Kolsch beer and a special Kolsch way of drinking it, and so much Cologne paraphernalia it blew my mind. The city was still, to me, incredibly overwhelming and I don’t think I would ever consider living there, but it was fascinating to visit. Oh and the street culture- all the performers and musicians and artists, was more prolific than I have seen in any other city. It seemed that everywhere you turned, there was someone dressed up in costume, or recreating the work of a Renaissance artist in chalk, or playing an instrument. Such a lively atmosphere! That, in combination with the Rosi Schute express tour, wore me out, so I was rather grateful when we got to head back to her house for dinner!

Street performers

  

It was there that I met Richard, her husband. Three things to know about Richard: 1) He likes his motorcycles- a lot. He has two. 2) He likes red wine- a lot. He has a ‘hobby room’ in his basement, which is a temperature regulated cellar that is solely responsible for housing red wines from around the world. 3) He won Rosi’s heart by his ability to eat a brotchen (a hard, fist sized breakfast roll) in one bit. Unfortunately, he did not perform this talent for Maura and me, but, nonetheless, I still believe the legend. We also met her daughters, Lisa and Maria, and Maria’s boyfriend, Daniel. They all speak incredibly good English, thank goodness, and we talked for hours. I think to say that was the funnest night in Germany would be both grammatically incorrect, and would undervalue the rest of my time spent in Germany, but it was definitely up there on my list of favorites.

The next morning, after a breakfast of brotchen and MilchKaffee (in which we all ate our brotchen in multiple bites), Rosi and Richard drove back to Oma’s with us for the Easter Saturday and Sunday celebrations.

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Uncategorized15 May 2010 03:27 pm

First Lessons of European Travels

First Lessons of European Travels

 1. Research you are going [Better]:

2. Don’t take number one lightly

3. Buy appropriate luggage

*** A Northface backpack a piece plus the black bonus bag is not sufficient. This may cause you to have to purchase a hot pink suitcase because you get tired of lugging the stupid bulky black bag that you only have in the first case because your suitcases were 16 lbs. over the limit when you came to Ireland.

4. Establish a budget. The parents who will bail you out and fund your gallivanting through Europe will especially appreciate this.

5. Book hostels ahead of time. Failure to do so may result in you finding a lodging in which past residents warn of the mold that you can smell in your sleep

6. You can’t do it all. Best to make the most of what you can do.

7. You will get tired and the bad days are inevitable. Maintaining a positive perspective is important.

8. Your parents once told you not to talk to strangers. However, if you don’t talk to strangers, you will get bored fairly quickly and miss out on enlightening conversations. Nonetheless exercise your judgment and do not talk to sketchy looking individuals

9. Capitalize on as many free things as possible: i.e. free hostel breakfast, free chocolate samples, free attractions, free lodgings from your mother’s wonderful German family, etc.

10.  Be aware of your surroundings and have fun!

We left Dublin on March 29th. It was snowing. Snow follows me everywhere. Not only does it Never snow in Ireland, but it also never snows in March. Luckily it did not hinder travel plans and we made it to the Frankfurt airport safely. My parents were on a different flight, and the German airports have these really great “Treffpunkt” (meeting point) that we had planned to meet up at. Two hours after the intended meeting time, however, both parties- my parents as well as Maura and I, were rather concerned. I believe that my mom actually had us paged on the airport intercom system. Eventually, we somehow figured out that there were two terminals and the whole debacle was sorted out and we went to go get lunch.

Castle where we ate lunch in Aschaffenburg

            After a German meal in SchlossJohannisberg (Johannisberg Castle in Aschaffenburg, we drove to Oberbessenbach, where my mother lived for several years and where my adopted German Oma lives. This was my first opportunity to encounter a language barrier. Oma speaks no English. I speak a little, my Dad speaks even less, and my Mom has enough of a vocabulary to get by, but never bothered with grammar, so she sounds like she’s about 5. Maura speaks absolutely no German. But somehow, we all managed to get by. Mainly because Oma would just sit there and babble away in German- regardless of whether you understood her or not. The essential topics of conversation were, for all you non-German speakers out there:

–           “Kuchen?” (Do you want cake?)

–          Gute Schlafen? (Did you sleep well?)

–          Guten Morgen/nacht/tag! (good morning/night/day)

And that’s how things went for a while. Oma’s son, Karl Heinz, took it upon himself to play host to us, since Oma is very old, and we saw the greater Oberbessenbach area on our first 2 hour tour, which included a presentation at the town hall  (Rathaus) of the area on Googlemaps and a tour of Karl Heinz’s house.

Me, Maura, and Karl Heinz at gastthaus dinner! Oberbessenbach - picturesque German village!

 

            Day 2 of Germany with my parents began with a drive to Nurnberg, a medieval walled city that was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in the 1960s. It had a wonderful market place, where, my mother, Maura and I found things to buy and my Dad found things to complain about. After a German lunch of bratwurst and desert of Spaghetti Eis (vanilla ice cream in the shape of spaghetti with strawberry spaghetti sauce and white chocolate “cheese” topping- I have no idea why this is such a big thing in Germany, but it was delicious :), we drove on in attempt to find the church where my parents had been married. (This is how that went: “David that’s it!” “No Gayle, that house wasn’t there when we got married” “Oh, I guess you’re right, let’s keep looking” [drive on for 20 minutes] “David, I think that must have been it” “Yeah, I suppose they could have built that house in the last 27 years, must have been it”[turn around and go take pictures]). Then we went to Rothenburg, another medieval walled city, where we were staying for a night.

My parents and I in Nurnberg

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

            We met up with my mom’s best friend and spent the following day in the city, wandering in and out of shops, visiting a slightly boring medieval crime museum, and partaking in the consumption of Schneeballin, which are these pie crust fried balls covered in chocolate or sugar or whatever you chose. After that adventure, we drove back to Oma’s for a little longer. It didn’t take too much time to realize that another 4 days at Oma’s were probably not ideal for Maura and myself, so my Mom and I formulated another plan. The next day we decided that Maura and I were going to go to Rosi’s, another one of Oma’s children, for a night in Cologne, Germany! And this was where the train adventures began!

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Uncategorized11 May 2010 10:51 am

Back from Backpacking!

I’ve managed to put off writing this blog entry for as long as possible now. I got back to Cork on May 1 after my month of travels, then hit the books hard for two exams I had last week. Now, however, the next exam is not until the end of the month, and I am suddenly finding myself with a surplus of time on my hands and I should put off blogging no longer.
It’s not me being lazy, I promise. I think this blog has been the most enjoyable school credit I have ever done, really it has, but I just don’t know where to start. I kept a journal for my month in Europe, to serve as a cross-reference for this blog, and so I can have “The Notebook”-style moments with myself in my old age. The journal is over 75 pages long, and it is accompanied by about 1,100 photos. But the more I think about it, the more I’m coming to realize that I could spend hours typing out word for word what I did, where I went and what I recommend, and do this blog up Rick Steves’ style, but I think in doing so I might overlook the most crucial parts. On the way home, and on our last couple days traveling around, Maura and I talked and I thought a lot about all the things we’d done. There really are no words to describe how truly amazing it is to have an experience like this. I have learned what it’s like to see the world from another perspective, to see my own country from another perspective. I’ve learned about the Coliseum, the Sound of Music, refined my German and learned that it needs a hell of a lot more refining, learned how to negotiate train travels through France, how to make Belgian beer and chocolate, and how to get through UK border patrol with a slightly illegitimate train pass. I learned that the best lessons are the ones away from the chalkboard, and that at the end of the day, it’s not really up to a school or an institution to educate you (no offense, Mary Wash or UCC). It’s up to yourself to decide how much you really want to learn from your teachers, from your parents and from your friends, and from the everyday world around you.
The most important lesson I think I did learn has been just how much is still out there to learn. That, and that I should appreciate minute of it. Thanks Mom and Dad for everything. I’ll never be able to tell you just how much all of this has meant.
But I’m done being a sap for now. So, without further ado, let me present the German, Austrian, Italian, French, Belgian, and English travels!

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