Friday, May 29, 2009

To the Island!

Well I've made it through Berlin and now I'm back in England! I had a fantastic time in Berlin with Amy, and it was really great to see Evan again!!! The weather was fabulous and hot while we were in Germany, which was a welcome change from the last time I was there! On Monday we got up at some awful hour to make it for our 7:15 flight to England. We were met at the airport by Amy's friend Caroline and spent a wonderful couple of days exploring Canterbury with her son, Nick, and London itself. We were spoiled rotten -- and loved it! Typically, it rained most of the time I was there -- England's welcoming me back....

On Thursday Amy went home to Seattle, and I moved on to see my aunt and uncle near Bristol! I've had a fantastic time with them so far and it's been lovely and sunny!!! In fact, I think I'm sunburned again. :) Today was my great-granddad Marshall's 91st birthday and I got to be his birthday present!!!

It was so great to see him again and to see him so well!! He is doing fantastically, walking around, even singing! We took him down to the seaside in his chair, and sat outside in the sun for a little bit to celebrate. :)

Tomorrow I get to meet my other second cousins Sarah, and Ben (with their respective husband and wife) for the first time that I can remember, and on Sunday my Grandma and Granddad are coming down along with my aunt Rachael, uncle Simon and their two daughters! It should be a busy couple of days!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

PARIS!!!! Budapest and Prague. :)

I can't believe i forgot to write about Paris!!!!! Paris was definitely one of my favorite cities so far, absolutely beautiful and so much to explore!!! We caught a really late train into Paris on Friday, and were met at the station by family friends. They drove us home past Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower which were all lit up! What a welcome to Paris!!!

On the Saturday we decided to take the train from St. Nom, where we were staying, to the end of its line in St. Lazare and then walk from there bast St. Marie Madeleine to Place de Concorde. From there we went off in search of a snack, and then walked through the Jardin des Tuleries up to the Louvre -- which is MASSIVE. I'd forgotten that it used to be the Palace! Then we walked over Pont Neuf to the island and into Notre Dame! I think we probably spent about two hours just gazing...It started raining so we decided to join a free tour, and got to go into the Choir!!! After the tour was finished we grabbed a sandwich and sat by the river to eat. Since it was still drizzling we decided to call it a day and walk back to the station. Two hours later we finally made it! We got slightly sidetracked and rain into the Pompidou Center, and spent some time watching street artists, finding a chocolate shop, got lost, asked a policeman for directions [always an adventure...] and finally made it back to St. Nom's where Carol was waiting to take us home. Phew!

Sunday we decided to head to Versailles! Versailles was gorgeous!!! We got into the Palace around 11, free tickets!!! Amy picked up her free headset and we wandered around taking in all the amazing ceilings and furnishings. We saw the Chapel and the Hall of Mirrors, and all the royal bedrooms before deciding we were starving and going out into the grounds to eat our brie and ham butties. :) It was a day in Versailles where they put on music and started up all the fountains so we were eating surrounded by fabulous classical music!!! We wandered around the grounds some, before making our way to the Petit Trianon [Marie Antoinette's House] and the grand trianon. By then it was time for all the fountains to be going in all their glory, so we walked back to the main drag to watch them for a while and rest, and then walked BACK to the Queen's Farm -- which was really pretty!! Too bad it was fake....It was really cute, with cottages, flowers, and ponds -- complete with farm animals, peacock, and swan!!!

On Monday we decided to navigate the bus system, the train system, AND the metro system to get to the Louvre!!! Why yes we are amazing world travelers...After only slight problems with machines eating metro tickets, we made it to the Louvre --- and again got in for free!!! I saw my favorite statue - the Winged Nike, and saw the statue of Pluto and psyche, the Venus, some mummies, and of course of the Mona Lisa among lots, lots more!!! We spent about 5 hours there and then walked to the Eiffel tower to take pictures. It was too cloudy to go up, but decided to try it again tomorrow. Then we walked to the Arc du Triumph to see that and then went back to the Youngs!

Tuesday in Paris was the busiest day of all!! We started out by taking the train in to Saint Lazare, and then the metro to the Scare Coeur Basilica. There were tons of steps, and even more persistent Nigerians wanting nothing more than to harass us into buying something, but once we made it up, the Basilica was beautiful! Once we finished it was still drizzling but we decided to walk to the Moulin Rouge anyway. Rather disappointing really -- but at least I've seen it! Then we took the metro down to near the Pantheon, where we stopped and had lunch. We toured around the Pantheon and went down into the crypt where we saw a lot of famous french dead people...We walked up through the Latin District to see the Institut du Monde Arabe. The facade of the building is all made of shutters!!! Camera type shutters, not blinds. :p Since we were close we walked over to Ste. Chapelle on the island by Notre Dame to see the stained glass, but the lines were HUGE, so I'll just go and see that next time. :) We decided to walk to the Eiffel tower and the sun came out!!! It was a long walk, but the weather was perfect for us to climb all 700 stairs to the second platform, and once we took the elevator up to the top we could see really far!!! The view were amazing, and I'm so glad we got the chance to do it! From there we walked to Place De la Concorde to catch the metro home. Along the way we picked up a couple of these strange French cookie things we'd been seeing everywhere. They were expensive but delicious! I had a chocolate and a strawberry one. :) We also picked up some flowers for the Youngs, and then headed back their place.

THEN we went to Vienna [see previous post!] and THEN we went to Budapest! It took just 3 hours to get to Budapest and our first impressions were NOT very nice. The hostel was nice though, even if it was up about a thousand stairs, and we decided to give Budapest a chance and went out to explore. We found a cute gelateria that made ice creams in the shape of roses by St. Stephens Basilica and walked over the chain bridge and along the river a ways. We ate at an Italian restaurant by the Parliament building and it was fabulous! Thank you again Liz, Terry, Diane, and Eddie for our spending money!!!!

On Sunday we decided to join a free walking tour led by a native Hungarian, Agnes. She was really sweet and took us on a 3 hour tour across the city! We saw St. Stephens Basilica, and a park with a really cool nightclub in it -- the pool is the club's ceiling so at night you can look into the water and see people dancing down below!!! Apparently this is also where the lock-your-love things started....We walked across the river, and across the chain bridge [beware the crazy bikers!!!!] up the huge hill to the amazing multi-colored church [unfortunately under a mass of scaffolding] and fishermans bastion. This is where the tour ended and Amy and I went in search of ice cream! It was absolutely gorgeous weather the whole time we were there!!! We walked back down the hill to the synagogue, which is apparently the largest in all of Europe, but we weren't too impressed with the entrance fees! We saw the memorial tree though, which was cool. It's a huge metal tree in the shape of a willow, with names of the families that were killed in the holocaust written on each leaf. There are a LOT of leaves....Amy and I weren't feeling 100% at this point so we decided to head back to the hostel via the supermarket for tea. :) We watched Bride Wars at the hostel, and just vegged out a bit for the rest of the night.

Monday we had a lazy morning and then headed to the Park! We thought it was where the sculpture park was located but apparently not...Then we headed back to the center of tower and sat in a park reading for a little while. We crossed the white bridge and headed up to the Liberty Statue for a view of the city and chilled for a few hours enjoying the weather and the view. We then headed back down into town, and saw the shoe memorial. Along the river front was a row of lots of bronze shoes. When the Nazi's came through Budapest they lined up the people along the water, made them take off their shoes [because they had some worth to them] and then shot them into the Danube. We walked along the river and found a place for dinner, and then went to the store on the way home to use up the last of our Hungarian money -- got some chocolate for the 7 hour ride to Prague!

Tuesday we left for Prague! It took 7 hours on the train to get there, but it passed pretty quickly. We managed to find our hostel, Hostel Elf, pretty easily. It's an interesting place - decorated with varying degrees of spray paint and graffiti, but it was clean, and everyone was really friendly. We headed to bed early that night after deciding to take a walking tour the next day around the city. :)

Wednesday we met up with a free tour by Neweurope. Anyone who comes here, or to any city they do tours -- I highly recommend it!!! We started off in Old Town Square learning a little about the history of both the Czech Republic and Prague itself. We learned about the giant cathedral: church of our lady before tyn, and the statue of Jan Hus that is in the square. We watched the Astronomical clock go off [I'm sure it was very cool back in the 1600's...] and then walked past the estates theatre, to wenceslas square where some crazy kid lit themselves on fire in protest of something or other...From there we went to the powder tower - the only remaining part of the old city wall that still serves as a gate into the city center. Prague has such a mix of architectural styles!! I loved it!!! We had a short break at Bohemia Bagels [ soooo good] and went to the Jewish district! we saw the old-new synagogue [don't ask] and walked down to see the Jewish cemetery where they literally stack people on top of each other...We stopped at the Rudolfinum where the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra plays, and then walked across the river getting a great view of the Charles Bridge and Prague castle. then we went up a ways to a bridge covered in locks and the Lennon wall, before ending in a park and listening to the story of Prague's liberation from the Nazi's and subsequent 're-liberation' by the Soviets two days later...favorite new vocabulary word from this tour? Defenestration -- throwing people out of windows. :D The tour lasted about 4 hours and we saw TONS. At this point Amy and I were rather hungry so we walked back to Bohemia Bagels for lunch where i had a hummus salad -- yum! Afterward we walked back to the Rudolfinum to inquire about tickets but was out of our price range so we went to take pictures of locks and the Lennon wall before walking across the charles bridge into the city to see the opera house and then up to old towns square again where we read for a while before having a fantastic dinner! Quite the day...

Yesterday, Thursday, we had a slow morning which quickly turned rather frustrating when we tried to find a post office. Once we had accomplished that, however, we headed up to the castle and watched the changing of the guard before wandering around the complex, and down to the Charles Bridge to have lunch at Bohemia Bagels again. :) After we headed to the park where i read while Amy went around the Kampa Museum. It started to rain so we walked to Gehry's Dancing House and then back to the hostel!

Right now we're en route to Berlin on the train. It should take about 5 hours and then we'll be meeting up Evan!!!!

***I'm updating from my favorite place in Berlin: The Sony Center!!! Which also has free wifi! Fantastic I love it!!! Amy and I managed to both find our hostel, and meet up with Evan and crew without too much trouble yesterday. Tonight we're hoping to catch Angels and Demons [in English!!!] here at the Sony center. :) We'll see how that works out! The weather has perked up from yesterday, and is actually quite nice at the moment. It's been fantastic to see Evan again. In some ways the 4 or 5 months I've spent here have flown by, but it seems just ages since I last saw him!!! While I'm really excited to see everyone in England, I'm also realizing just how ready I am going to be to go home come June 12th!!!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Our time in Vienna has just about come to an end...It was rather gray and drizzly for the first full day we had here, but today was much nicer! We were met at the airport on Wednesday by Amy's friend Susi, who she had met traveling in SE Asia. Susi was amazing, and we had a lot of fun exploring with her! Needless to say she was a pro at navigating the various metro systems and we would have literally been lost without her!

We saw the Mozart museum, in one of the many apartments that Mozart occupied here in Vienna as well as wandering around the Market, and going to the Belvedere to see "The Kiss" by Gustav Klint. We even got to see a little Monet! For lunch we had a typical Viennese dish of Wiener schnitzel [breaded pork] and a HUGE mug of beer mixed with lemonade? Strange -- but good. :) Not something I need to make a daily habit, though!

Today we went out to the summer palace and had an audio-guide tour around the rooms, and the gardens. They had a fun maze with games inside, and everything was really pretty. We came back into town and then Susi took us out to a really cool museum called the Kunst Wien Haus. It's really fun, and all the floors were crooked and warped, and the fountains flowed backwards!!!!

Tomorrow we're off on a train to Budapest for a couple days! I wonder what will happen to us there....

Check out Amy's blog for picture and more details!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monaco, Monte Carlo, and Nice!

We moved on from Venice and Verona on the 5th to meet up with Elizabeth, Peter, and their new chocolate Labrador puppy Diamont. We were met at the station after a full day's travel including a grand total of three different trains, and taken around the city in style! To be in a car after so long was quite strange, but a much loved luxury.

On Wednesday they took us around Fontvieille, Monaco, and Monte Carlo were we got to visit the palace, and THE Monte Carlo! I felt like quite the movie star sitting at the cafe outside, sipping my lemonade, watching all the rich go by with their fancy black cars....The Grand Prix is in a couple of weeks so we also had fun watching human monkeys scrambling up the scaffolding that is going to make up the bleachers. I can now say that I have walked most of the race course of the Grand Prix!!! Next time it will be in a Ferrari. :)

On Thursday we went into Nice and walked around the old part of town, and the markets. We had a nice lunch, before being treated to a little train ride up to the top of town, where we had a magnificent view of all of Nice! I got sunburned (oh surprise....) waiting for the train to come back, and then we headed into VilleFranche-sur-mer where Peter showed us a Chapel dedicated to Saint Peter done by Jean Cocteau which was beautiful, and unlike anything i'd seen before!!! I'll have to look up more of his work when I go home. Villefranche was gorgeous – very picturesque, and had a fun tunnel system under the town left over from the days of seiges....

Friday we had fun wandering around Antibes, looking at monster boats and picking out our favorites. The boat I decided on came equipped with a helicopter! What a life!!! As I'm writing this we are on a train en route to Paris. It's a really nice train, and Amy and I are having a great time checking out all the castles along the way...
Elizabeth and Peter was so sweet, and we had so much fun with them!!! I ate more there than I think I did all semester in Florence, and all of it was FABULOUS! I'm going to leave France the size of a small house, and I shan't regret a second of it. :)

We will be in Paris until the 13th, and then hopefully be on our way to Vienna! Evan should be in the country by now, up in Amsterdam. Hopefully he got here alright! Amy and I are planning on meeting up with him in Berlin nearer the end of the month.