Ireland part 2: Wicklow County and Galway

Wednesday, December 19: The Irish Pink Eye Experience

Cassy left early Wednesday morning and I was on my own. It was good timing for my pink eye epidemic because I was alone and didn’t have any prior plans. My eye had been bothering me the night before and then I woke up that morning with my right eye so swollen I could barely open it! It was all goopy and crusty and looked awful. I looked like a monster! I went to a walk in clinic and got prescribed eye drops and antibiotics from the doctor. They began to work immediately and I was starting to look better the next day. Thank god! That night I met some people in the lounge of the hostel, including a kid from Alaska who had been traveling around the world for some months. He and I chatted and he let me cook some of his pasta and eat his pesto which was nice. I went to bed early that night even though people from the hostel invited me to go out with them. Traveling alone really isn’t half bad! Like I said before, hostels are a great way to meet people.

I signed up for an all day Wicklow Tour on my own on Thursday. We left on a bus from Dublin in the morning with a classic Irish tour guide who had a very strong Irish accent and sang songs while he drove the bus. Our first stop was a small town called “Enniskerry” where we went into a little family-owned bakery. Next we traveled through the Wicklow mountains and went to Glendalough, the Sally Gap, Lough tay, Guinness Lake, and famous film locations PS I Love You and Braveheart. We went on a tour of Ireland’s oldest mill called “Avoca Mill.”

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On Friday my friend Maggie arrived! I took the bus from Dublin with Maggie and her friend. We went to the Christmas market in Galway and walked around. It was so good to be with Maggie after being solo for two days. We explored the nightlife in Galway and were really impressed by the staff at our hostel, called “Barnacles” hostel.

On Saturday we did a day tour of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Region of Ireland. The Burren region is in County Clare. The hills of the Burren are composed of limestone pavements with criss crossing cracks that the Irish call “grikes.” It’s really unique because instead of pastures, the ground is covered in huge pavements of limestone. The word ‘Burren’ means ‘stoney place.’ We also saw Poulnabrone portal tomb that dates back to the Neolithic period.

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The Cliffs of Moher are magnificent and supposedly one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland. Unfortunately for us, the weather was awful and extremely cloudy so we could barely see a thing. But it also made the whole experience much more dramatic. I had a good time climbing up the cliffs in the fog even though the view wasn’t great.

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I ended my Irish adventure with a nice dinner at a restaurant in Galway that evening. The next morning, I took the bus from Galway to the Dublin airport and sat next to a wonderful elderly Irish gentleman. He told me all about his life and his favorite parts of Ireland. He asked me if I would ever come back some day. I told him I must.

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A very belated IRELAND: Rivers, Roads, and Loads of great “craic”

Part One: Dublin, Mumford and Sons, and Howth

I Left Toledo at 6:30 am on Saturday, December 15 and flew to Dublin on a flight with Claire, Matt, and Rachel! Right when we entered the Dublin airport after landing, there were huge groups of people with welcome home signs for their families as well as group of carolers singing Christmas tunes. It felt like we were in the movie Love Actually. I embraced the moment as I realized this was the first English speaking country I had been to in 3 and a half months.

We checked into a very cute and funky hostel (The Times Hostel) then met up with a girl Claire worked with who lives in Ireland. We met her on Grafton Street, where the movie Once was filmed. We went to the temple bar area (it’s an area, not a bar) and went to a pub with amazing food and live music! I had my first taste of Guinness beer. The live band in the pub covered a Mumford and Sons song which got us excited for the concert the next day.

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We were told that everyone would be dressed up for Christmas that night, so we went on the lookout for Christmas Jumpers (sweaters) because all the young Irish folks wear tacky Christmas sweaters during the holiday season. They were pricey, but we went to a Party Store and bought ribbons, bows, and tinsel and decorated our own sweaters. We went out to a couple pubs and gallivanted in our Christmas gear!

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The next day was great. We walked around the city in the morning, explored the campus of Trinity College and Saint Stephen’s Green Park, went into George’s St. Arcade, and walked around a cute Christmas market/festival with live music. The weather was lovely so we were lucky! We also visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After the Christmas market, we got ready for the Mumford and Sons concert and headed to the Guinness Factory!! It’s Irelands number 1 visitor attraction with TONS of info about how they brew their beer, advertising, and the history of Guinness. On the top floor you can learn how to pour your own pint of Guinness and then you can drink it. Even though I don’t love beer, it was a good time and very interesting to learn about the history. After the tour, we took a carriage ride to a famous fish and chips place called “Leo Burdock.” They have a plaque on their wall with the list of numerous celebrities who have eaten there! With our fish in chips wrapped up in brown paper bags, we wandered around the city looking for a way to get to the O2 Theater where the Mumford and Sons Concert was.

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We ended up just taking a cab, and got to the concert with PLEANTY of time. It was a great venue. The concert was amazing (of course,  I wasn’t surprised) and I loved their ending number, a cover of the Beatles “A Little Help From My Friends” sung with Dawes, the band who opened for them. Great show, and it made it 1000 times better that it was in Dublin! After the concert I bought a 5 euro shirt (it’s huge, a medium was the only size they had). But a good memento!

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FISH N’ CHIPS!

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Monday the group left to go to Galway and I stayed in Dublin. I went souvenir shopping in the morning, then I came back and took a nap which felt great. After I napped I went on a free walking tour of the city that was really informative and had a great tour guide. We saw some of the major sites of the city including the Dublin Castle and City Hall.

I was alone the whole day but it was fine. There was free ice cream/cookies in the hostel at 8 so I went down there and started talking to some people. Hostels are cool because you can interact with people from ALL over the world. So I was talking to people from France, Brazil, and two men who work in the hostel, one from Spain and one from Italy. Everyone is really friendly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012: Howth!

I’m so lucky that Cassy was able to meet up with me in Dublin. Even though we didn’t spend a lot of time together in Toledo, I had such a good time with her and it was awesome to have some company. We walked around Dublin on Tuesday morning, saw a few things that I hadn’t yet like the Jameson Whiskey Distillery and the oldest pub in Ireland called the Brazen Head.

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Then we took the train to Howth. Howth was beautiful! It is a little peninsula off Ireland with seafood restaurants and a nice bay. We walked out to a lighthouse while the sun was shining, then stopped for lunch at an adorable cozy home-style restaurant called The House. We got broccoli blue cheese almond soup that totally hit the spot. After lunch we took a hike up around the peninsula and climbed up to see a great view of Dublin bay. That night we went out again to a few pubs in Dublin and heard more live music. The live music is something I could really get used to.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Greta, Lindsay and I had a fantastic time in Lisbon, Portugal the last weekend of November. It was great having a girl’s weekend and just traveling with two other people. The three of us always have so much fun together and I hadn’t taken a trip with them yet! Plus I prefer traveling in smaller groups.

We arrived on Friday evening and checked into our hostel. Now, let me mention that Yes! Hostel in Lisbon is one of the BEST I have ever stayed at. It’s clean, friendly, and just plain FUN. There is a cozy common room attached to the lobby with tons of space and comfy couches. I was so impressed with the décor and layout! The staff was great also. Even the bathrooms and showers were decent and super nice for hostel standards. The hostel offers dinner and a pub crawl every night for 20 euros. We signed up for both and all of us were really impressed with the delicious dinner that the amazing cook, Isabel, made for us. We started off with delish apps of fresh bread, cheese, and sausage. Then she served us an amazing and very flavorful pumpkin soup. For the entry we had a Portuguese dish called Bacalhau, which is cod fish and very popular in Lisbon, along with salad. It was the best meal I’ve eaten in a while! Dessert was the highlight: a chocolate brownie with melted chocolate inside and vanilla ice cream! I ate so much and could barely walk after. I guess I could have counted this meal as a belated Thanksgiving dinner.

The next day was grey and rainy, but we asked the man at the desk and he gave us a few suggestions of things to see around Lisbon. We walked over to Castelo de S. Jorge and saw some great views of the city. We looked at the really cool elevator called Elevador St. Justa which takes you up to give you a good view. We stopped into a wine tasting shop to taste some of the famous Port Wine. It was a little too sweet for me, but Portugal is famous for it.

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In the afternoon we went to Belém, and visited the Torre de Belém, Padrio dos Descobrimientos (monument of discoveries) and a really flamboyant monastery called Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. It was terrible weather and raining cats and dogs so everything was a little rushed but after seeing the three sites we went into Belém’s famous pastry shop (Pasteis de Belem) which is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. They served them to us warm with cinnamon sugar on top. There is a really interesting history about the origin of these specific pastries: (http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/en.html)

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Me and Lindsay in front of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Belem

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Pasteis de Belem, egg tart pastry

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We indulged in great Indian food that night at a restaurant nearby. The next afternoon we went to Sintra, a town that was classified as a World Heritage site. It has royal retreats, estates, and castles from the 8th-9th century.

The city was absolutely amazing and I wish we had spent more time there. All the castles and palaces made it feel like a romantic fairytale land! In the main square we went to a pastry shop and tried the famous Sintra ‘queijadas’ (cheese pastries) and ‘travesseiros’ (egg and almond pastries). We also went into a little wine shop with homemade cheeses, jams, and chocolate and tried lots of samples.

Next we visited Quinta da Regaleira, an enormous royal estate with many owners through time. It includes all types of architectural styles (Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Manueline). I can’t even begin to describe the estate. Trickling streams and fountains, underground caves and tunnels, lush vegetation and gardens, towers, a chapel, and a giant palace with five floors! I felt like a princess just being there.

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After we finished exploring the magical estate, our guide Louis (who works at the hostel and who is basically the coolest guy ever) drove us to the most western part of Europe called Cape Roca or Cabo da Roca on the Westernmost coast of mainland Portugal!

The 16th century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cabo da Roca as the place “where the land ends and the sea begins” In Portuguese: Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa.

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Milan, Italy

Thanksgiving weekend I flew to Milan, Italy to meet up with the fabulous Noa Rose Gutterman! I was alone in the hostel Thursday night, which was a little depressing and lonely considering it was Thanksgiving. This was the first Thanksgiving I had spent away from home! I ate an orange for my Thanksgiving feast and went to bed early. The next morning I woke up with just a little time before Noa arrived. I walked around near our hostel and tried to find somewhere to get breakfast…I ended up going to a bar behind our hostel but I had trouble communicating what I wanted! I got a pastry and cappuccino. It was uncomfortable not knowing ANY of the Italian language.

It was so great to see Noa. She came around 2:00 and we went to a good restaurant where I got my fill of delicious Italian pasta. Once I was with her I immediately felt more comfortable. She knew what she was doing since she’s studying in Florence and speaks Italian, so I felt less insecure. After lunch we called Dan and met up with him. Although I had been out of touch, there was something so awesome about meeting up in a foreign country with two high school friends! Dan was a great guide and I think he was really happy to see us and to show us around. We went to a cute café that Dan goes to often. Dan is really close with the workers and owner there.

Dan showed us the Duomo, the Galleria (a beautiful building with fancy upscale shops) and around the main touristy square. We saw his apartment and met his roommates. They were really friendly. Milan definitely isn’t a “beautiful” city (except the Duomo which is spectacular-we only saw it from the outside) but I had fun and it was cool seeing so many classy/fashionable people! A lot of Milan is very industrial. It’s huge too.

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On Saturday Noa and I went to get haircuts at this very upscale and trendy salon! It was a really unique experience and I had so much fun. I didn’t get mine cut because it was too pricy (almost 80 euro!) so I just had the stylist wash it and blow it out. All the stylists were so fashionable and I had this super cute guy named Antonio. He didn’t speak a word of English so I tried to communicate using Spanish minus the ending vowels. The whole interaction between us was quite funny and he definitely didn’t understand me…but I got my point across and he did a FABULOUS job with my hair. He styled my hair with a round brush and blow drier into long beautiful waves…I had wished I had somewhere to go that night!

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Noa and I went across the street to a little gourmet market/restaurant and ate delicious Paninis with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and tomato. Super yummy and fresh! We met up with Dan and his friends and walked around with them, going to the fancy upscale fashion district. Then we went back to Dan’s place, and turned on the MI-OSU game while he cooked dinner for us. It was fun to be with Dan and his friends, especially in a student apartment. Dinner was delicious; Dan whipped up some type of veggie/pasta/cheese sauce thing. After dinner we just hung out and went to bed early because I had to catch a 7am plane in the morning!

Overall it was a good weekend. GREAT to see Dan and Noa. Very comforting to be with high school friends again and to see a bit of Italy.Image

 

Granada and Segovia

The weekend of November 9-11 a couple friends and I took a bus down to Granada in Andalucia, Spain. I had visited Granada a couple years ago when I was in Spain during my BBYO trip. Because of my previous visit, I didn’t feel as much of a need to see all the major sites. This made it more of a relaxing trip instead of a rushed, touristy, need-to-see-everything trip.

Despite all that we still had a great time and stayed in an awesome location, right near Las Calderias which is the area with tons of Arabic influence and Moroccan street-life. Pretty ironic since I had been in Morocco the weekend before! We were very close to the center of the city, Plaza Nueva, where there is a nice fountain and lots of cute cafes.

Granada has a great tapas culture, so we spent all day Saturday tapas-bar hopping around the city. On Sunday a group of people went to see La Alhambra, but since I had already been I skipped it and explored a little on my own. I checked out the cathedral, bought a couple souvenirs, and hiked up to the Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albayzin and saw a fantastic view of the Alhambra.

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View of Alhambra Palace

The weekend after Granada, of November 16, the Fundación sponsored a day trip to Segovia. Segovia is a city in the region of Castille y León, Spain. We visited the famous Alcázar of Segovia, which was originally built as a fortress but served as a royal palace as well. It is absolutely beautiful and was one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. It also reminded me of the Playmobil castle we used to play with as kids! Check it out:

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The inside of the castle was a little less fantastic, but there was a great view at the top. After spending some time exploring the winding staircases and towers (and humming along to Disney princess tunes), we left the Alcazar and went to see Segovia’s famous Aqueduct. It’s pretty impressive and extremely well preserved. Apparently it transports water from the Fuente Fría river situated nearby.

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We spent time taking pictures and climbing up and around the Aqueduct. Although we were only there for about half a day, Segovia is a great Medieval city and actually reminds me a lot of Toledo!

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Moroccan Adventures

At last! The moment you all have been waiting for…

On November 1-4, I traveled to Morocco through a program called “Morocco Exchange.” Even though we were only there for four days, I learned so much and enjoyed every second of it, even the squat toilets and lack of hot water. I had missed those. They brought back memories of the good times this summer in Uganda…

We left Wednesday night (Halloween) and returned Sunday. It was nice to go with an organized group, because everything was planned and transportation/hostels/restaurants were all set up for us. This was a nice bonus! The particular organization I traveled with is great because instead of being a typical tourist trip, the purpose of the Morocco Exchange program is to encourage an exchange between Moroccans and Americans in order to share perspectives and learn about what we have in common as well as what can learn from each other. I was very impressed with the four day trip and HIGHLY recommend this organization to anyone looking for a short-time meaningful and educational experience in Morocco. More info on this website: http://moroccoexchange.org/

Day one began with a boat journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. In Tangier we visited the women’s center, DARNA, which is a community center that serves as a career training center and adult education school. We ate lunch at the center and the food was amazing. They served us Chicken Tagine, green tea, and pastries. In Morocco, green tea with mint leaves isn’t just a drink. It’s a sign of hospitality, friendship, and tradition. It is not only served at meals but all through the day, which I’m a fan of! Shout out to my Moroccan friend Simo who has lived in Morocco his whole life and says “tea is like a hug in a cup.” I couldn’t agree more.
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After lunch at Darna we rode camels on the beach on the way to Asilah! I tried to kiss the camel and he licked my face.
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ImageWe drove to Asilah, a town on the northwest tip of the Atlantic coast of Morocco. We walked through the Medina (old town) of Asilah, saw a great view of the ocean, and then drove to Rabat.
In Rabat we met with our home stay families and walked through the Medina of Rabat in small groups. The host family I stayed with was great. There was a young girl, about my age, who hung out with us and showed us around. She lived with her parents and brother. Their house was AMAZING and so well decorated. It looked like a palace. The girl’s sister was visiting for the weekend with her adorable kids, about 2 and 5 years old. We ate dinner with our home stay families and settled in. They were very hospitable.
The next day we visited an NGO in Salé, across the river from Rabat. On the way to the NGO we drove through a Shanty Town (a slum settlement of impoverished people). It was pretty disturbing, but important for us to see and open our eyes to the way some people live. The Shanty Towns don’t have proper sanitation or electricity, and there is a large amount of crime.
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The NGO we visited is called “Hope For Salé” and was began by five men who wanted to do something for their community. The organization provides classes and tutoring for people living in poverty-stricken areas of the city, and it has been extremely successful. We had open conversations with these men about current events, social issues, and the relationship between Morocco and the US.
We visited the Roman Ruins (Chellah) on the outskirts of Rabat. It is the most ancient human settlement in the area and dates back to 2 BC! The gardens were very beautiful and we even visited a sacred eel pond. At the pond women sell hard boiled eggs to throw into the water which is meant to lure eels out as a good luck sign of fertility for women.
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The rest of the weekend was filled with more delicious meals (fresh couscous!), trying on traditional dresses with my Moroccan host sister, exploring the markets of Rabat, bathing in a Hammam (public bath), eating lunch and engaging in a conversation with a family in a rural village, and visiting the tourist city of Chefchaouen where my hands were decorated in beautiful henna!
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Overall, it was an incredible weekend. I engaged in SO many fascinating conversations with young Moroccans about politics, religion, the palestinian-israeli conflict, pre-marital sex (it’s forbidden there), homosexuals (they are also technically “forbidden” there), and life in general. I am dying to go back and spend more time in these cities. Morocco is such a beautiful country with an incredibly rich culture and amazing people. I only saw a glimpse!

Pais Vasco

 

I apologize for not updating in a while but things have been so busy!

My fabulous parents came to visit me at the end of October for my fall break. It was SO absolutely great to see them. I showed them around “my city” and they met my host family. We spent over three hours in the famous Cathedral of Toledo which I hadn’t seen yet.

On Friday we left in a rented car and drove up towards the Basque Country in northern Spain. On the way we stopped in Burgos, the historic capital of Castille. We saw the very elaborate Burgos Cathedral, a Gothic-style Roman Catholic Cathedral.

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Burgos Cathedral

After a quick lunch of Paella in Burgos, we continued towards San Sebastian (Donostia). We arrived and checked into our hotel, then walked around the Parte Vieja (Old Quarter) of the city. San Sebastian is famous for “Pinxtos” which are basically tapas. There are tons of lively Pinxtos Bars in the old quarter. Mom, Dad, and I hopped around from pinxto bar to pinxto bar, indulging in the delicious Basque cuisine! It was fun to hang around all the locals because tons of people were out.

The next day we drove up to Mt. Igueldo, where we saw a breathtaking view of San Sebastian’s conch shell-shaped beach!

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In the afternoon we drove to Bilabo, and visited the Guggenheim museum of modern art. We probably spent over an hour just admiring the incredible architecture of the building! It is apparently one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, designed by Frank Gehry.

Guggenheim, Bilbao

On Sunday, we treated ourselves to a fabulous four-course meal in San Sebastian for lunch. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in Spain! We even went all out and ordered a few desserts to share. After lunch we walked around the old quarter a little bit more, then hiked up to a lookout point with a nice view of the city.

On Monday, we drove across the border to a town in the South of France, called St Jean de Luz. It is still considered part of Basque Country. The sun finally peeked out for us and we walked around the town, popping into tons of cute pastry shops, including one where we tried DELIGHTFUL macaroons! The town is on the coast and there is a nice beach. It was my first time in France which was exciting, even though I felt like such a foreigner without knowing any bit of French.

St Jean de Luz

I had such a great time traveling with Mom and Dad. It was stress-free, filled with great food and awesome sites. We saw so many things in so few days. I miss them already!

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.