Sunday, June 23, 2013

Being a Busy Travel Bee!

It has yet again been a busy time for me here in Germany. Actually, I should say it has been a busy time everywhere else besides in Germany as I have spent the past three weekends in June traveling to three very different and amazing countries! The month began with a trip organized by the school to Milan and the country of Italy. Then, a few friends and I decided that we needed to escape the cool weather of Germany for a while and we headed to Barcelona, Spain. Finally, last weekend was spent in Scotland seeing Edinburgh as well as taking a day tour of the countryside. Now, I happen to be exhausted from so much traveling, but each of these trips offered great memories as well as so much insight into the many different cultures of Europa. To begin: Italy!

The trip began with a night ride on a bus through lower Germany and then Switzerland into Italy. After eight hours on the bus, we all were ready to get out and explore the city of Milan! Our day began with a quick walk through an Italian castle situated right in the middle of the city. It was beautiful and very interesting to see because it had a different look to it than many of the castles that Germany has to offer. And, another fun thing about this castle was that many of the stray kitties of Milan find their home in the moat of this castle and everyone loves moat kitties! Next, we made our way through the city marveling at little shops as well as impressive monuments along the way until finally, we reached the city center. Little did we know, the city center was holding a grand surprise for us and, as we peered around the corner into the square, we were amazed by the Duomo di Milano. This beautiful cathedral is unlike any that I have ever seen and might possibly be my favorite so far. It is made entirely of white marble and is simply a spectacular sight to behold. After marveling at the cathedral for some time we made our way back through town until we met up with our bus once again which would bring us to our hostel for the night. After we checked in, the group went together to find a pizza restaurant where I enjoyed, by far, the best pizza I have ever had. I didn't know that plain cheese pizza could ever taste so good, but then, I also didn't expect anything less from Italy itself! Later on, myself and a few friends made our way back into the city center via the metro for some more sightseeing and of course, some shopping! As we didn't have much time, this part of the trip was a bit rushed, but still, we managed to find some good deals as well as enjoy the culture of Milan. Our night ended with enjoying some wine and spaghetti followed by tiramisu in the light, summer air. The next morning began early once again as we left Milan and drove to the near by town of Bergamo. We could only spend a few short hours here as we needed to leave in time to make the long drive back to Germany, but still our time was well spent. This little medieval town is situated partly on a mountain with the newer parts down below. As a group we took cable cars up to the middle part of town and walked around. This experience was truly what I expected from Italy. Very tall and skinny apartments, old, Romanesque buildings and beautiful churches were the sight for the afternoon until we took another cable car up to the very top of town where some spectacular views awaited us. After we took as many pictures as we could and soaked up the beauty around us, we headed back down the mountain and back to our bus. We then began the long drive back to Germany; however, along the way we did get to drive through many beautiful towns. At one point, we were in a three hour traffic jam in Switzerland and, though this was not ideal, we did have an amazing view the entire time as we sat at the foot of the sun-touched Alps. The group finally made it back to Germany and Karlsruhe around one in the morning and so concluded my trip to Italy!  

The castle in Milan 

The cathedral in the city center

Best pizza ever!

In Bergamo, Italy

View from the top of the city of Bergamo

Beautiful little city right on the boarder between Switzerland and Italy 

After many months of rainy, cool weather in Germany, a few friends and myself decided that we needed to get away and see the sun and so, the second weekend in June was spent in Barcelona, Spain. Our trip began with yet another early morning and a train ride to the airport. By the time we arrived in Spain, many hours later, we all were ready for the beach. After we checked into our apartment that we rented for our four day vacation, we went directly to the beach. The beach was wonderful and the nice weather livened our moods instantly! We found ourselves on the beach for the majority of our time in Spain. We enjoyed cocktails as well as each others company. Also, I had plenty of time to catch up on my reading for both class and pleasure. Nothing beats a good book in the sunshine! When we weren't at the beach, we spent our time walking around the city, sightseeing and trying new foods. We were able to see the interesting Sagrada Familia Church that is in the heart of the city as well as enjoy some fresh seafood along the beach one night for dinner. On our last day in Barcelona, the weather was absolutely perfect and we spent the entire day at the beach before heading straight to the airport with sand still on our toes and sunburns in full-swing. And, a topper to a great day was the Subway restaurant we found in the airport which offered not only free refills on our drinks, but unlimited ice as well!!! You can only imagine our excitement as both of these things are unheard of in Germany. After another long trip, we arrived back in Germany- still in our swimsuits of course!

Beach time in Barcelona!

Some swimming and sunshine!

Fun times!

Quackers getting his suntan on!

Good friends and awesome memories!

After only a few days recovery from my travels, I was on the road again and I headed out for Scotland for my third and final weekend trip of June. After another long day of traveling, myself and a few friends finally made it into Edinburgh and to our hostel. After checking in, we decided to go for a walk around the city and have dinner. On this first night in Scotland we enjoyed some American cuisine at the Hard Rock Cafe and then headed out to do some window shopping around town. The next morning we woke early and went out on a Hop on, Hop off Bus Tour around Edinburgh. The tour took us to many amazing sights including Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. We spent about two hours at the castle seeing all of the medieval dungeons and  fortresses. We also were able to see the crown jewels of Scotland as well as some amazing views of the city of Edinburgh. After our time at the castle, we continued on the bus tour until we reached Holyrood Palace. This palace is the official residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. We spent a few hours here taking a tour of the palace and learning about its many years of history and turmoil. Afterwards, we took a walk in the beautiful royal gardens and also got to enjoy some Scottish shortbread. After we finished out our bus tour of the city, we found a lively, Scottish pub called 'The World's End,' as it is situated right on the corner of where the medieval walls of Edinburgh used to mark the so-thought 'end of the world,' and enjoyed some typical, Scottish dishes for dinner and dessert. The next day was our last full day in Scotland and so we took a day-long bus tour of the country and saw many amazing sights along the way including Loch Ness, Glen Coe and the tallest mountains in the UK, Ben Nevis, as well as the spectacular countryside of Scotland itself. While at Loch Ness, we took a boat ride around the lake and heard stories of the famous Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie as the locals refer to her as. The weather was spectacular for the entirety of our stay in Scotland, but especially on this day; the lake was simply breathtaking! We also drove through the forest that was used as the forbidden forest in the Harry Potter films! And, for the entire day of our tour, our tour bus driver told us many stories and interesting facts about the country that were quite entertaining and I will share a few of my favorites here. For instance, she explained how one can tell if a whiskey is from Scotland or from Ireland. It's quite simple actually, if it is from Scotland, it is spelled Whisky whereas if it is from Ireland it will be spelled Whiskey. The tour guide also told us many interesting historical stories. For example, there is a very important stone in Scotland called The Stone of Destiny which was in danger during an attack of Edward I of England in 1296. The people of Scotland were afraid that he would end up conquering and stealing the sacred stone and so, they replaced it with another and hid the original. However, the only stone that they had on hand at the time and that was large enough to be a convincing Stone of Destiny, was the stone that was used as part of the toilet seat in the castle. They used this stone as a "sacred substitution" and later on when Edward I of England did eventually succeed in conquering the castle, we went directly to the so-called 'Stone of Destiny' and sat upon it, claiming his title to the throne of Scotland. Supposedly, the Scottish found this absolutely hilarious and this is where the phrase "going to sit on the throne" comes from when referring to one going to the bathroom. Another similar story and example of the Scottish sense of humor is the story of  Simon Fraser who was a knight who fought in the Scottish Wars of Independence and was finally captured by the English and sentenced to death in 1747. As he was about to be beheaded, he was cursing all those in the crowd who had come to watch his death, when suddenly the stands collapsed and everyone in the crowd fell over backwards. This included all of the ladies in the crowd and when this happened, all of their undergarments were exposed. Now, Sir Simon found this hilariously funny and began to laugh very hard and the story goes that he was still laughing when the axe came down and he, therefore, died "laughing his head off." All of these stories made for a very interesting day driving through the Scottish countryside. When we finally made it back to Edinburgh, we were all very tired and we settled in for our last night in Scotland. The next day we were off early once again and headed back to Germany.  

View of Edinburgh from the castle

Another part of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle from below

On top of Edinburgh castle 

Eating at 'The World's End'

At Glen Coe

Enjoying a boat ride at Loch Ness

All of these trips were a great experience and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to so many new places this month; however, I am completely burnt out on traveling now and I don't plan on traveling much more until I am recovered and I finish my classes here in Germany. The time has really been flying by and at this point, I only have one month left of school and then, hopefully, I will be able to do some traveling around Germany. Though I miss home and am very excited to return and see all of my friends and family, I am still looking forward to the many more amazing experiences I will get to have abroad before returning. And, so concludes my many marvelous travels around Europe in the month of June! Whew!!!