Thursday, May 3, 2012

Extravelganza Week 1

Notre Dame- Paris, France

Hey Friends!
So as promised, here is my update about Spring Break. Let me start by saying that Spring break in Europe is a thousand times more awesome than it is in America. For starters, it was 2 weeks long. Then, traveling from place to place can actually be done some somewhat cheaply. I flew almost everywhere and some of my flights were only about $70, way too awesome. That being said, going to 6 cities adds up. I truly feel like the stereotypical broke college kid now! Whatever, money doesn't matter when all is said and done. This experience isn't something that can be assigned a monetary value. All of it is so worth it to me.
So I acknowledge there is no way to make this a short post, so I will try to limit what I say about each place that I visited, and give you lots of pretty pictures to look at, sound good? Okay cool, let's get started then. [As a brief disclaimer, I believe you can click on the smaller sized pictures and they should come up larger. If this is not the case please let me know and I will make the images larger.]

Stop #1- Vienna Austria

Me, Liz, and Stefano departing from Linz!
The morning of March 31st I took a train to Vienna with my American friend Elizabeth and my Italian friend Stefano. My first train ride, how exciting! Luckily Linz is only about 1 1/2 hours from Vienna by high speed train, and you can get tickets relatively cheaply. When we arrived in Vienna, Elizabeth and I split off from Stefano so that we could go check into our hostel and grab some lunch. Afterwards we met back up to walk down the main street towards their city center of sorts. There were lots of interesting street artists and performers. Our favorite was an older Asian man in a silver metallic sweat suit. He had a sweatband on his forehead with an MP3 player tucked underneath it. Then he proceeded to dance to the music playing from his forehead. However, he chose to dance in just a way that it looked a good deal like Tai Chi; additionally, his dancing prop was a tennis racket. Such an old man... We also got Sachertorte from the hotel where it was originally created! Afterwards Stefano took us to what has become my favorite place in Vienna: Stephansdom (St. Stephan.'s Cathedral). It was gorgeous! That was the only day that Liz and I spent with Stefano, but it was delightful.

Inside of Stephansdom

 The following day Liz and I attended a mass where the Vienna boys choir sang. We had to pay to get in, which felt really odd (paying to go to church) but when you think that the Vienna Boys choir sang, it is probably the cheapest concert ticket I could ever buy for them. After church, we visited Schönbrunn Palace, former home of Prince Franz and his wife Sisi (she is kind of a big deal in this region of Europe, basically everyone idolized her). We took a self-guided Audio tour that ended up being far more interesting and informative than I had expected it to be. Needless to say, I'm a fan of Vienna.
Awesome Panorama of Schönbrunn (not taken my me)

Stop #2- Paris, France

The "backyard" of Versailles. What a view.
Mona Lisa
I flew from Vienna to Paris Monday night. It took a while to get to Paris though, as there was an air controller strike that delayed our plan a few hours. Luckily, I ran into a girl named Natalie that lives in a town right next to Hendersonville; what a small world, huh? She and I stuck together for the evening, and were actually seated across from one another on the plane; she was a God send. On the actual plane ride I sat next to this cute little kid names Paul. He is 11 years old and had just started learning English. for a good deal of the flight I practiced my German with him and he practiced his English with me, I would say it worked out well for the both of us. I was so glad that I chose to fly in at night. Having my first view of the city be one of it all lit up was definitely a great way to go. I have always loved city lights almost as much as country skys, so that sight made me feel so happy and excited to be in Paris. My friend Stephanie has been studying abroad in Paris this semester, so she came and picked me up (after midnight, what a good friend!!!) from the airport. I was really eager to get to Paris, because Stephanie is the only close friend from back home that is also over here in Europe this semester.
Stephanie and Me in front of Notre Dame
       Stephanie was an excellent host. She took me to the standard Paris places: The Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triumph, Notre Dame, a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the Louvre, Versailles, all that typical Paris stuff. I totally knicked some flowers from Versailles, too; We spent a full day there, it was really pleasant. I decided I wanted to try and bring back and press flowers from each city that I visited over break. With the exception of the day at Versailles the weather was kind of crappy, it was mostly overcast and cold with a bit of a breeze. It also rained about 50% of the time.  I loved seeing all of the sights but something else stole my heart in Paris: THE FOOD! Oh my gosh... crepes, macaroons, quiche, baguettes, pan chocolat... so much delicious food. I'm still missing all of that delicious food ): On the bright side, it has encouraged me to actually cook a little bit more here at home rather than eating instant pasta packets or grilled cheese all of the time. I would love to go back to Paris again when I have some more time to really explore and appreciate everything a little bit more.

Stop #3- Madrid, Spain

In the Botanical Gardens next to the Prado Museum
Next Stephanie traveled with me to Madrid. Madrid can be summed up in 3 words; Gardens, Sangria, & Rain. Our time in Madrid was short lived, but I enjoyed it. We easily made it from the airport to our Hostel by hopping on 3 different underground lines.

Sangria from La Tosta
When we checked into our hostel we were given tons of great information to help us get around: a map, suggestions of places to eat, activities planned by the hostel, all kinds of lovely information. We decided to briefly visit the Prado museum as well as the botanical gardens located right next to the museum. My favorite part of the gardens was full of tulips, it was beautiful. After the museum closed we decided to grab some dinner at a restaurant called La Tosta. It was highly recommended by our hostel, and we also had a coupon for a free glass of Sangria...there was no way we were going to pass up that opportunity!  The dinner was lovely and all, but that Sangria can't be topped.

A lovely Tapas dinner from La Tosta, notice how all of the sangria was consumed before we even got our dinner...

     The following day we decided to explore a set of gardens beyond the Prado. We roamed through there for a bit and found our way to a place called "Palacio de Cristal." It isn't really blinged out, but it was a beautiful glass house. We continued through the gardens to a monument that reminded my of the one located in Hero's square of Budapest [see earlier blog entry]. Then we exited the gardens and walked down the main road to see the shops there, as well as work our way to various city squares and churches.

 We were actually there on Good Friday which was pretty cool. The churches were closed to tourists so that citizens could come and pray/attend mass/etc., but we did encounter 2 Good Friday processionals. Apparently there were 9 scheduled for that evening all around town. Basically, a lot of important men in the church dressed up like KKK members and marched around. I know it is more sacred and serious than that, but it just looked so odd! We decided to try a different restaurant for dinner, but went back to La Tosta for more Sangria. It was just too tasty to not have again before we left Spain.
We somehow picked a really great hostel without even knowing it. it was a great price, and had a really great location. It was pretty much directly in the middle of all of the things we wanted to see. We walked everywhere, it was rather pleasant (if you pretend it wasn't raining 75% of the time)
Ultimately I really enjoyed Madrid. We were only there for 2 days but the food and sangria were delicious, there was so much beautiful green space, and I found it to be really accessible on foot.

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