Saturday, June 30, 2012

And the semester comes to an end...

Hello all!

Me, Aunt Nancy, Jennifer, Uncle Alan, and Roger
I thought I would just give you one last, quick update from Linz. I did not update you all on one trip I took about 3 weeks ago; Switzerland. I was there for about 5 days, and got to meet and visit with some family who lived there. I was able to visit Lausanne, Geneva, and Zürich in that short time. It was a really relaxed and easy-going visit that involved cooking, watching the French Open, and the start of the Euro Cup.

Me and Charlie
Additionally, I got to tour the United Nations, check out the city of Lausanne from the top of their cathedral, and taste traditional swiss fondue. I apologize for not giving you all a more comprehensive recap of the trip, but I figured there wouldn't be too much interest the the vegetarian shepherds pie that I cooked while there or the naps I took. I enjoyed my week there, but that doesn't mean that everyone cares to read about it. I think the part I liked the most about the trip is that I got to have family time for the first time in four months. It helped prompt eagerness to get back home (which, by the way, happens in 16 days).
A sailboat on lake Geneva




Me and Jovan at the entry to JKU

As I mentioned above, this will be my last update from Linz. I will be checking out from my student dorm here in about an hour, and then heading on to the train station to begin my post semester travels. I will be visiting 1) Berlin, Germany, 2) Gdynia, Poland, 3) Hamburg, Germany, 4) Dublin & Belfast, Ireland, 5) Woodstock, England, and finally 6)Munich, Germany.
Tori, Tara, and Jovan

     When all is said and done, I will have traveled to 12 countries this semester.... I am kind of astounded with myself and the fact that I was able to go so many places. I will come back dirt poor, but so rich in experiences and memories. Really, you just can't place a monetary value on the effect this semester has had on me.  I will truly miss so many people, and I hope we can meet again somewhere in the world one day.
Matteo and myself.

Dinner with my mentor group (+ a few)
       My last week here has been more than incredible: lighting lanterns and sending them off into the night sky, a dinner with my mentor group, stargazing, playing on playgrounds, making up new games (ask me about "Limeball" in two weeks...) buying pizza just because it is from a vending machine and that is cool, times at the lake, etc. Really, the only things I disliked about this week were the fact that I had class every day, had two finals, and I especially disliked the fact that I have had to say goodbye to so many people. Some I know I will never see again, but there are so many where I truly hope we reconnect in the future.

All in all, I am incredibly thankful to have had this experience. Thank you so much to everyone who played a part in it; whether you were physically here with me going through it or just a support system before and during this journey I truly appreciate everything you have done.

Here is to two more weeks of traveling!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do

Salzburg, Österreich

Date of Trip: May 27
Traveling Companions: Tara, Jovan, Emilia, Asha, Michael, Vito (Canada)
Nina, Dane, Mark (Australia)
Charlie (Spain), Daniel (Croatia)
Means of Transportation: Train
(L to R) Vito, Daniel, Me, Emilia, Tara, Mark, Nina, Jovan, Asha, Charlie, Michael, & Dane

Let me just say that Salzburg was absolutely beautiful. I think it may be my favorite Austrian city so far. It is difficult to say that though, as they are each so different and have their own unique aspects.I think it is definitely important to note that we had practically perfect weather. Seriously, it was incredible how nice it felt outside.

12 of us from 5 different countries went on this trip, and it made for a really enjoyable day. Three of the Canadians had a friend from Croatia (Daniel) who studied abroad at their University who happens to live in Salzburg now. We really lucked out because he was essentially our free tour guide for the day.We did not do too many things during the day, but it was a good time regardless. We visited the house where Mozart was born (Mozart's Geburtshaus), grabbed some lunch, and then headed towards the main attraction: the fortress.

Before we actually went to the fortress we had to make our way through this really big and well kept garden that just so happened to be featuring a full ensemble band (I will add that they played some Queen and we all sang along merrily). After a few photo ops in the garden we walked up to the hill to go tour the fortress.

Because we were a slightly large group, we of course got a bit split up. I spent a decent amount of time trying to find the others in our group and therfore I did not get to see all of the fortress. However, my favorite part was the view of the city from the top...absolutely gorgeous. The Salzach River looked so incredible running through the city, the slightly green color of it actually looked really nice next to the rooftops of many of the buildings.
 
After we spent most of our time in the Fortress, we left and got tasty Gelato that was (surprisingly) cheaper than the super cheap prices here in Linz. We were all very excited about the Gelato, and even happier about the fact that we got to eat it while we roamed through a market along the river. I absolutely adore markets, and this was no exception. A large number of vendors set up tents selling clothing, bath supplies, children's toys, teas and herbs, jewelry, chairs, and much more. I will mention that I picked up a few things for family back home (particularly Laura and my Mom... so you two better get excited!!) and refrained from buying out the whole place...barely.
The hills are alive?
We tried to find our way up to a church that we thought looked pretty, only to find that the gates to it were locked. All was not lost, though, as there was a playground immediately next to it! I did get a picture of me running through the hills (kind of)... after all, a trip to Salzburg would not be complete without some type of Sound of Music reference; I figured a picture was more acceptable than singing loudly in public all day. After a good hardy play on the play ground, we got a delicious meal of Subway (first time eating subway since last semester, oh my!) and headed home. We were all rather tired when we arrived home, but it was definitely a day well spent.



Saturday, June 2, 2012

Life is Wonderful

So I realize I still haven't posted about my day trip to Salzburg, but that will have to wait. I wanted to take a second just to look at how wonderful life is, and say thanks to everyone that has been a part of it (especially the friends I have made.)

One of our friends Katarina (the girl I went to Copenhagen with) only has two weeks left here in Linz; I believe she will be the first member of our friend group to leave. Two or three evenings ago Vito sent out a message to about 15 people, asking if he thought it would be a good idea to surprise her and take her out to dinner to show her how much we will miss her and have appreciated her cordiality. We all thought it was a wonderful idea and jumped on board immediately. The plan was to meet in the lobby of our dorm, and then sneak up to her room and surprise her. Little did we know that the surprise was on us. When we went to her room, we found that she was actually in the kitchen with a fully cooked dinner for all of us.

It was without a doubt one of the best evenings that I have had here in Linz simply because we all just got together, laughed, and enjoyed delicious food. It sounds cheesy, but it was a really lovely evening. Between the delicious chicken, potato and salad entrée, nutella crepes for desert, and unplanned fireworks over Pöstlingberg, the evening just can't be beat. I have been overwhelmed with kind and genuine people during my brief stay here in Austria, and I will miss everyone so much. Home is always home, and nothing will be able to fill that spot in my life like Tennessee will. That being said, Austria and all of my friends on exchange here have absolutely stolen a piece of my heart.



 I only have 4 weeks left in Austria, then 2 weeks of travel. It is hard to think that I have such a small amount of time left here. As time continues to progress I keep thinking one thing, It's not goodbye... it's see you later. The closer I get to going home, the more convinced I am that I will come back one day. I have made some of the best memories here, and honestly some of the best friends. I have become so close with some people in such a short time and it is painfully surprising. It already hurts to think about leaving friends here, but I know that I will keep in touch with the people that count. That is how things work.
I am so grateful for all of the wonderful times that I have had here, and for all of the memories we are sure to make in the coming 4 weeks. Words cannot express how blessed I am to have this experience. Well maybe there are words, but I can't find them right now.  So instead of trying, I will just say thank you to everyone who has played a part in this study abroad. You  mean more than you may realize.

Life is wonderful. Y'all are wonderful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

København, Danmark

København, Danmark

Dates of Trip: May 10-14
Traveling Companions: Katarína (Slovakia)
Means of Transportation: Train & Plane

The View from the Round Tower

My trip to Copenhagen started out early evening of Thursday May the 10th. My friend Katarína and I caught a train to Vienna, and then a plane into CPH. You may be thinking, "Copenhagen? That is random... why did you go there?" It is a little bit random, but I went because the opportunity presented itself. Katarína had a friend from home studying there and she offered me the opportunity to go with her. It is this very friend who came and picked us up from the airport. His name is Martin, and he was accompanied with his friend Gabo, who was also from Slovakia. It was really nice of them to pick us up, especially considering we did not arrive until midnight. Throughout the whole weekend I saw just how hospitable and polite Slovakians are... they were all so nice to me! Once they drove us back to the dorm we were staying in all 4 of us split a bottle of wine just to wind down and enjoy the fact that we were all in Denmark together.

On Friday Gabo drove us into town so that he and Martin could show us around the city part of Copenhagen a bit (We were technically staying in a suburb called Kongens Lyngby). Three words can adequetly describe that day: SO MUCH WALKING. We saw the ever popular and over-rated "Little Mermaid' statue. (Hans Christian Anderson is a pretty big deal there... they even have a Hans Christian Anderson Museum attached to their Ripley's museum.) We also visited a section of Denmark called Christiana.
Outside of Christiana
Katarina and I before entering Christiana
Apparently the deal with Christiana is that it used to be some form of military base. It was evacuated in the 70's and some hippie/gypsy weed smoking folk decided to move in without permission. The thing is, they didn't move out when the government realized they were there and told them to scat. They have put up enough of a fight that everyone just kind of treats them as their own entity, not really under Danish rule. As I am sure you expected, Marijuana is legal there. No, we did not buy or smoke any as we aren't that type of crowd. It was really cool visiting it though. There was a lot of really bright, intricate graffiti there, which I loved because it wasn't just trashy street rat type stuff. Sadly I could not take any pictures of it... it was against one of Christiana's 3 rules: 1) no pictures 2) no running 3) have fun. Not kidding. Those are the rules. On the way out there is a sign that says "You are now entering the European Union." (on the back side of the entrance sign I have a picture with above) From that point on you are subject to Danish laws. 
Also on Friday, I tried my first Guinness, we ate cheap Chinese food, and I bought American Peanut butter! We happened to stroll past a candy shop that had an entire wall devoted to American delicacies; cheetos, kool-aid mix, pop corn salt, jello mix... quality stuff. It was a great day.

 

At the Beach
The whole gang (Gabo, Katerina,
Martin, Me, & Katarina) in
front of Kronborg (from Hamlet)
Frederiksborg

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) was holding it's world championship tournament, and Slovakia had a game on Saturday morning so we stayed in and watched that; they won and advanced to the next round! Afterwards we headed towards town again, but got in a fender bender. It is just my luck to be involved in an accident in a different country. Everyone was okay, but there was the unavoidable wait for the exchange of information, authorities, etc. Since we couldn't do much to help out, we left the boys to deal with all of that man stuff. Kateřina (Czech), Katarína (Slovak) [I know... it's confusing] and I all walked to a market to use up some time. We ended up buying this really delicious almond bread. I love markets. We had originally wanted to go into town to take part in some type of "electric-fest" or something like that. You could test drive electric cars and Segways, which I was super keen on. The car things took so long that it all ended before we could get there, so we had to restructure our day a bit. We had a lovely afternoon of driving where we visited the beach, the castle from Shakespeare's "Hamlet", and the former royal palace, Frederiksborg. We stopped at the store on the way home and got ingredients to make a very delicious dinner of Chicken and potatoes cooked in wine...YUM! I still need to get that recipe from Katarína...
Frederiksborg

Martin and Katarina at Tivoli
Canal Tour
After our canal tour
Gabo had to go out of town on Sunday so we were car-less. We decided to get something called the 24 hours cOPENhagen card; it would give us free entrance to a lot of tourist sites, as well as unlimited public transportation. I would say we definitely got our money's worth. We took an hour long tour of the Canals, visited a Jewish history museum, checked out the new parliament building (which has been rebuilt twice due to fires), as well as the ruins that were discovered beneath it during the second reconstruction. We visited one of the oldest functioning conservatories called "The Round Tower" which had arguably the best view of the city. We tried to check out the royal jewels, but got there 5 minutes after closing time...typical. We also went to an amusement park called Tivoli. All of this was included in our cOPENhagen card, it was a great investment. To finish off the night, I had a nice skype date with my parents while Martin and Katarína watched another IIHF game; Slovakia won again (They went on to win 2nd in the world, next to Russia). Finally we ate crepes for dinner... I feel no shame.

Martin was nice enough to escort us all the way to the airport via public transportation. We had to leave the apartment at 3:30 AM, which was just was too early. I caught a few hours of sleep, but everyone else stayed awake the whole night. There is no way I could have managed that. Due to a few delays we got back to Linz later than expected, around lunchtime on Monday. Luckily, this caused me to miss my German course and gave me an excuse to drop it, so YAY for being done with that waste of time class.

Until my next journey... Auf Wiedersehen!




Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Innsbruck, Austria

Pardon my tardiness with this post. As usual, school has  kept me rather busy... apparently it is universal for May to be a really busy month for students everywhere, not just those taking finals. Enough with boring school things though, this is a travel blog after all (:

Dates of Trip: May 4-6
Traveling Companions: Ashley (USA), Patty (USA), & Miro(Croatia)
Means of Transportation: Train

The view on our hike up to the old Olympic ski jump


So there you have the basics, now for the details. We left early Friday morning so that we could arrive around lunch time and still have the whole afternoon and evening to explore the city. We met a lovely (I think Irish) lady who told us the proper bus lines to take to get us to our hostel. Our hostel was undergoing a face lift and we had to crawl under scaffolding to reach the door. It was a little bit ridiculous, but mostly we all just laughed every time we had to go in or out of the hostel because of how silly we all looked. We dropped off all of our bags and set off on foot to explore the city. We eventually roamed our way to an old Olympic ski jump (the Winter Olympics were held there in 1964 & 1976) from up near the jump there was an absolutely spectacular view of the city. We decided to call it a night and we walked back to the hostel, not before getting kebaps though. I do love kebaps....

Ashley (L) and Patty (R)
Neuschwanstein

On Saturday our plan was to go to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. For those of you who haven't heard of Neuschwanstein, it is also know as "Cinderella's Castle." It is the castle that Disney's Cinderellas Castle is modeled after. The woman who owned our hostel told us that there was a train that left early Saturday morning that would take us there. We left the hostel rather early so that we could catch a bus to the train station. Given my travel luck, it was only natural that we just barely missed our bus that only comes by 2 times an hour. Rather than waiting for the next bus, we decided just to walk to the train station. Bad idea. We got lost, and didn't arrive to the station until 5 minutes after the scheduled departure time. We figured that more than one train may go, since it was a Saturday during tourist season. We began asking around and apparently no such train exists. After a few hours of failure and disappointment we called it quits and took a nap.
The crew
 It was a little gross and drizzly, but we decided to take a tram up onto the mountains and grab some lunch. While we were purchasing our tickets I met a couple from Gallatin,Tennessee. The world really is a small place (: Up on top of the mountain was only okay at first; it was too rainy to really have a good view. Miraculously though, it cleared up a lot just in the short time we ate lunch. It was gorgeous afterwards! After we descended from the mountain we took a horse drawn carriage ride around the city. It was very touristy, but it was the first time I had ever done that so I loved it! We capped of the evening with dinner at the hostel and some wine. Although the day was nothing at all like we had planned I really enjoyed it.
Innsbruck, the city where you can see the Alps no matter where you are

Spinat Pide mit Salat

Still feeling the need to see a castle, we tried to find the small one that was in Innsbruck. That also was a fail. Everyone was grumpy and hungry so we just ate some lunch (I had a Spinach Pide, yum!) and headed to the train station. We accidentally jumped on the wrong train though. While it still went to Linz, it made an excessively large number of stops and it took us an additional 2 hours to get home.

The Girls (:
All in all it was a great trip. It rained on and off and we had some transportation issues. It was great getting to travel with people though. Most of my traveling has been solo or with just one person, I enjoyed having Ashley, Patty and Miro there with me; it was a nice change. Plus it was hard to beat the scenery. Beautiful mountains everywhere, it was just gorgeous.

Left to Right: Me, Patty, Miro, and Ashley

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Extravelganza- Sevilla & Milan




... the Deathly Hallows?
One of the Doors on the Cathedral

SEVILLA


Getting to Sevilla was a little tricky. My plane was late, I lost my boarding pass, then found my boarding pass, my host home woman had to leave her house before I got there, and I was lost in Sevilla for over 3.5 hours before I actually got in the apartment I was set to stay in (around 10:30pm). If it hadn't been for really nice employees of a particular hotel I roamed into to beg for help I probably would have never made it to the apartment. While it required almost an obnoxious amount of effort to get there and get settled in, I really enjoyed the next day in Sevilla.

A courtyard at Real Alcatraz
Walkway on the back of RA
I had one full day there. I spent almost the entire morning at an old palace call Real Alcatraz (RA). I spent most of my time at RA in the massive garden behind the actual house. I was too cheap to purchase an audio guide, so I mostly just roamed around with my camera. I don't really know the History of the palace other than it used to be home to powerful Arabs until some Spaniards took it over. That or the Arab inhabitants left...I'm not entirely sure. The architecture was really similar to the palace I toured in Marrakech. Right across from Real Alcatraz is a really pretty Cathedral. I tried to see the inside of the Cathedral, but I walked all the way around it and did not see any tourist entries marked. Perhaps it just wasn't open when I was there at about 9:30. I ate lunch near RA and the Cathedral and saw people up in the bell tower. I am a little sad I never figured out how to get up there, I bet it would have been beautiful.
A view of the Gardens from an elevated walkway

RA Gardens
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
During the afternoon I walked over to Plaza de España. It was gorgeous, but a little lonely. It was mostly being visited by couples and families. Regardless, it was nice to sit on the stairs, write some postcards, and soak up the sun. Afterwards I walked down along the river and back to my apartment to shower and do some final shopping. I also picked up some ice cream, which was absolutely a good decision. I don't regret it for one single second


Dessert (:
Because I had an early start the next morning, I decided to grab an early dinner at Catalina, the bar underneath the apartment. While I know I am not a very experienced tapas eater, I can easily say that the tapas I ordered here were the best I've ever had. One was some type of delicious broiled hamburger, bacon, cheese, and mashed potato type thing. The other was curry chicken with rice. I also got sangria since I loved the sangria in Madrid so much. I was not as big of a fan of this sangria, probably because it was stronger than the last batch I had in Madrid. I really like sweets so the Madrid Sangria wins for me. After dinner I went to a pastry shop to get dessert, I ordered entirely in Spanish too! While I did not remember as much Spanish as I was hoping to, I was able to do a large amount of small things in Spanish (such as ordering and shopping for souvenirs)I took my pastry and sat happily on the roots of a really huge tree. It was a really laid back and enjoyable day overall.

I think one of my favorite things about Sevilla was the fact that it sounds like 75% of everyone had a lisp when they said "gracias" by the end of the trip I just said it with a lisp too so I would fit in a bit more. Grathias por leer!

MILAN



A smaller church on the way to Duomo
The city was full of so much weird and
intriguing graffiti.
Getting to Milan took forever. First off, I had to leave my apartment at 4:45. Because public transportation doesn't run that early I had to take a taxi. The only issue is that none of the taxi services I called spoke English. When I tried to use my limited Spanish skills they were completely unhelpful because they would not slow down their rate of speaking, even though they knew I was a non native speaker.  I hit the road and started walking, just hoping to encounter a taxi at 5 AM; luckily I did. My flight to Milan went really smoothly though. However, My flight was not actually to Milan, it was to Bergamo, a neighboring city. This meant that I had to take a bus. and then the metro, and then a tram. All just to get to my host home. However, my host home experience in Milan was much better than my experience in Sevilla. I stayed with a married couple who actually came and picked me up at my stop because it was raining and they didn't want me to have to walk from their stop to their apartment. They were really sweet. Since it was raining I decided to stay in that evening. I took a much needed nap and took the opportunity to use their wi-fi to catch up on e-mails and get in touch with a few family members and friends who were curious about my travel status. I did leave the apartment briefly to grab what turned out to be a disappointing "genuine" Italian meal.

On the roof of the Duomo
The square in front of Duomo from atop the roof

Straciatella y Cafe.
Luckily, the weather cleared up the next day. Milan has never been known as a tourist town; fashion is its big thing. I walked to the Duomo di Milano, a really beautiful Cathedral. It took almost 600 years to complete, with construction starting in 1386. I went inside and stayed a while and prayed, and then I climbed the stairs to get onto the roof. The previous day's rain made the view incredible, there was no city smog! After spending a while at the church I got lunch at a pizza chain, it was really surprisingly tasty. I would have expected for a chain to have rather generic pizzas with the prime eating choices being at independently owned shops; I was pleased to see that this was not the case. However, the lady at the cash register was rude to me while I ordered, and she charged me for two slices of pizza instead of one. I didn't want to cause a scene so I just paid the extra money. She was a real jerk though. Afterwards I treated myself to real Italian gelato. In my opinion it wasn't very different from the gelato I can get here in Linz for half of the price. It was still delicious though. Very rarely will I say no to ice cream.
A view of the city,the mountains, and some statue-clad
spires from the roof of the Duomo
Duomo di Milano

I didn't feel like going back to the apartment quite yet, so I walked back over to the Duomo to snap a few more pictures. For those of you who have been anywhere even slightly touristy, you will know that there are people everywhere trying to sell you bracelets or flowers or other miscellaneous things like that. At Duomo there were guys selling bracelets, but also people that would try to give you corn to feed the pigeons. I really wanted a picture with the pigeons, so I figured I'd just go ahead and try it. The guy put corn in my hand and it was an instantaneous feeding frenzy. If I didn't know better I would say that the pigeons were MMA fighting on my arm. Then one landed on my head. He didn't fight with the others or anything, he just sat on my head. The whole time one of these corn/bracelet guys was snapping a ton of pictures on my camera. I got sick of the pigeons and eventually shook them all off and went to get my camera back. I flipped through the pictures and the guy asked me if I liked how they turned out. When I said I did he said "Good, now give me 10 Euro." I knew that was coming. I got out my wallet, pulled out 1 Euro, placed it in his hand, said thanks, and walked away. I never asked him to take my picture, he offered to do it (volunteer work, as far as I am considered), and I feel that 1 Euro is more than generous for the amount of corn I was given. I would say I feel bad about it, but I don't. After that I promptly smeared hand sanitizer all over my arms and went back to the apartment to take a shower. It was awesome, but I imagine those birds are absolutely filthy.

The next day I flew from Malpensa airport to Vienna, and then took a train home to Linz. I loved all of my travels, and I feel so blessed to have been able to see all of those places. It was really nice being home though.