SUISSE. SWITZERLAND. SCHWEIZ. Swiss Alps.

Friday, October 12 to Monday, October 15, was a magnificent weekend. They say pictures are worth a thousand words, so perhaps I should begin with a photo. Or two. Is three pushing it?

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Our flight left for Geneva at 8:30 pm Friday night. I sat next to an adorable elderly couple from Valencia who were headed to a concert in Geneva. We spoke in Spanish about our families, my career goals, etc, and at the end of the flight I was touched as the woman told me I would make a great teacher some day. Aer Lingus is luxary compared to the cheap Vueling and Ryanair flights I’m used to taking. The flight was less than two hours, but they served us a pizza-type pastry, drinks, and SWISS CHOCOLATE. What a great start to a beautiful adventure.

We were originally planning on taking an overnight train from Geneva to Grindelwald and sleeping on the train. However, once arriving at the train station in Geneva around 11:00 on Friday night, we realized the next available train didn’t leave until the morning. Which meant the five of us had the lucky opportunity to snuggle up and spend the night on the cold linoleum airport floor. What fun.

I got maybe an hour of sleep. In the morning, we were exhausted but anxious to get on with our journey. We waited two hours for the customer service desk to open, bought our train tickets, boarded the train, and arrived in Grindelwald by 1:30pm. The views of the Swiss countryside on the train were incredible. We looked out onto the green rolling hills, providing a beautiful contrast with the deep blue sky.

We arrived in Grindelwald around 1:30. It’s a quaint little ski town, with a few tourist shops and adorable houses that on green hills. We found a great CO-OP where we loaded up on snacks (nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, bread). After locating a map, we headed up the 5250 feet of ascent, 14 miles long. The first part was the hardest because it was straight up hill. I was having a hard time, but we were determined to make it up to the Berghotel Faulhorn, our destination at the top of the mountain.

We climbed and climbed, stopping frequently to capture pictures of the beautiful scenery. Although the mountains were right in front of me, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was right there, yet it didn’t seem real. The higher up we got, the colder it became. Eventually I wearing almost every article of clothing I had brought, and wrapped my scarf around my head like a Babushka. The last stretch was tough. It was dark, freezing cold, and we had no idea how much longer we needed to go. We were so high up we had reached snow, and I could see clouds BELOW me. When we saw the lights of the lodge, my adrenaline kicked in and I hurried up the mountain, desperate to get inside.

We made it to the tip-top of the mountain and walked through the door of the lodge into a cozy dining room. People gave us weird looks. Who is crazy enough to arrive at the top of a mountain in the dark? We sat down at a table they had reserved for us, and enjoyed hot soup and delicious bread. After dinner we put on multiple pairs of socks and climbed into bed under wool blankets. I slept well and it was cozy next to Rachel and Denise. In the morning, we woke up before 8:00 to watch the sunrise. It was magical.

After we ate breakfast and packed up, we headed down the mountain. We took a different route on the hike down, which was much shorter and included paths in the woods. My whole body was sore from the day before, and walking down was hard on our knees. But I was satisfied and proud. Not to mention I was still trying to take in the incredible scenery, and process it all. We came across a pretty waterfall and took pictures. We also stopped for hot chocolate at a cute restaurant near the bottom. Overall, it was a weekend I’ll remember forever. Not just a crazy adventure, but a pure, inspirational experience spent with great people.

Munich: Oktobermess

Lebkuchenherz! Heart shaped cookies made of ginger bread.

Mara and I flew to Munich together a couple weekends ago, after I spent the night in Barcelona with her. We didn’t realize that our flight was landing in the “Memmingan” airport instead of the “Munich” airport, which meant we were a long ways away from the city center of Munich. There were tons of American students on our flight who were headed to Oktoberfest as well. We took a bus that was about that took about an hour to get to Munich, and once in Munich came across a coffee shop where we attempted to connect with our friends by using the available the wifi. No one has european sim cards for their phones, which means it is EXTREMELY expensive to call and text. Connecting with each other the whole weekend was very difficult.

We got in touch with Kiersten and Lauren, who were at the fairgrounds already and had been there all day. Neither Mara nor I had realized people were arriving the night before (Thursday night), because we thought everyone was getting there Friday. Anyways, we took a taxi to the Oktoberfest fairgrounds to meet up with our friends, and on the way had a nice discussion with the cab driver who was of course dressed in lederhosen (leather breeches, traditional German attire). It was a beautiful day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. However, right as Mara and I encountered all our Denison friends and reunited with them at the entrance to the fairgrounds, they were all done for the day and ready to go back to the hotel. Sort of a bummer considering Mara and I had just gotten there!

I was okay with going back, because I was tired from traveling and figured we would have all day Saturday. However, it turns out our hotel was about a 30 minute cab drive away. Very inconvenient and expensive. In order to save money, we attempted to cheat the system and “sneak” five people into one holiday inn hotel room that was officially for two people. Typical college students, right? It was a bit stressful.

  The next day we woke up at 5:30am in order to get in line for the tents at      the Oktoberfest. We arrived at 6:00am and stood there until 9:30. It was cold and rainy, and there were mobs of people everyone shoving each other and fighting to get inside. The festival is huge, with tons of food stands, rides, and tents. It’s like a theme park. At 9:30, one of the giant German security guards (they were so scary and kept blowing whistles!) led us into the tent, but only to the upstairs part. It was packed, and we weren’t allowed to stay there because the tables were reserved for other groups! So we stood in a frustrated mob of people, mostly American college students, who were all trying to get downstairs. The security guard let groups of about 5 people go down at a time, but eventually it got too full and they couldn’t let anyone else in. Myself and about 5 others were kicked out of the tent, after standing in line for almost 5 hours. It was awful. So, back outside we were, standing in the cold rain, trying to figure out what to do when all of our friends were inside the tent.

The rest of the day consisted of us simply trying to get in the tent, or any tent. Unfortunately, we never got in. We went to a pub outside of the festival with a few other Denison people and hung out there, which was pretty fun. Mara and I met some young people from Holland and convinced them we were from Barcelona. Pretty hilarious. Especially when they said “we could tell from looking at you that you were Spanish!”

Mara and I at Oktoberfest. Not sure who the guy in the background is…

Overall, it was an interesting experience, and I’m glad I got to “see the scene” and somewhat get a taste of Munich’s Oktoberfest. But most of my day was spent standing in line outside in the cold. I would describe it as waiting in line at a theme park all day and only being able to ride one roller coaster. At least I got to reunite with a few friends from Denison.

Barcelona!

Well, it has certainly been a while…

Last weekend was interesting. Nothing really ended up working out according to plan. But it was definitely an adventure.

The plan was to arrive in Barcelona on Thursday and spend some time with Mara, then leave for Munich on Friday to meet up with all our friends at Oktoberfest. While we have some good stories, the weekend wasn’t really what we expected it would be.

I think I’ll separate the weekend into two posts: Barcelona and Munich. Here we go with the Barcelona section (best part of the weekend by far).

I took the 7:25 am train from Toledo to Madrid on Thursday morning after missing the 6:50 train. Whoops! I took the Metro from the Madrid train station and “followed the guy with the suitcase” because I assumed he was going to the airport also. I was right, so I got off at the same stop as he did and followed him! Creepy or practical? I’m not sure. The metro ride was a lot longer than I had anticipated, so I almost missed my flight to Barcelona. I boarded the plane at the last minute. Thank God!

Once in Barcelona, I took a bus into the city center, called Placa de Catalunya. I spent the morning exploring this area. I walked towards the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic), which is the center of the old city. I came across the Barcelona Cathedral, which is absolutely gorgeous. I peeked inside because there was no entrance fee. I was also lucky to see the antique market held in the Gothic Quarter every Thursday!

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Placa de Catalunya

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Barcelona Cathedral

I wandered in the other direction towards the city center, and started walking up Passeig Gracia. This is known as one of the most expensive streets in Barcelona and Spain, with very important shopping and business areas. It includes notable architecture by Gaudí, including Casa Mila and Casa Batiló. These incredible houses are abstract and eye-catching, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before!

I had a couple hours left until I would meet up with Mara, and I NEEDED to make sure I saw the Sagrada Familia, one of Barcelona’s most famous attractions. I took the Metro from Placa Catalunya, and right as I reached the top of the steps from the metro station, I turned around and Gaudí’s famous masterpiece loomed over me. Although I had seen pictures, seeing it in person was a thousand times better.

I ended my “sola en barcelona” experience walking up Las Ramblas, which is a beautiufl tree-lined pedestrian mall. Off of Las Ramblas is the famous “Boqueria,” which is a large public market (the largest in Europe!) with a diverse selection of goods. Chorizo, mango, chocolate…you name it. There is everything and for all tastes. Fresh fruit juice is sold for less than 1 €. I was in heaven.

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Fresh fruit. Tropical paradise!

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Candyland

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Chocoholic…my mouth was watering.

Mara met me at the market because she was done with all her classes, and it was great to see her! I went back to her house and met her 70 year old host mom who was very sweet. Her host mom had her friend come over to take a picture of the three of us! I met Mara’s friends that night and we went out to a delicious Mexican restaurant. It was a lot of fun. Mara and I went back to her house that night, got a good sleep, and woke up the next morning to catch our plane to Munich.