Sunday, December 6, 2009

Adventure's End

Well, it's all over. I landed at Philadelphia International at 4:30 PM Thursday. Sorry it took so long to get this up (this has been something of a theme, hasn't it?), I've been pretty jet-lagged. It's still kind of hard to believe that the adventure's over. It still feels a little bit like I just landed in Salzburg yesterday.

Before I left, everyone who I told about the program said it would be the experience of a lifetime. I mostly just laughed and thought, "yeah, right." Well, to all those whom I gave that reaction to, I give you the satisfaction of knowing that you were right; it really was the experience of a lifetime. I am so glad I went on this program. It really was a unique opportunity, a real once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I am so happy that I jumped on it. If given the chance, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I was able to travel to places, see things that I'd only been able to read about or watch videos about. I was immersed in a culture (cultures, really), that were surprisingly similar to my own but at the same time so profoundly different. And best of all, I got to enjoy three months of really, really good food!

I learned so much, not only about other countries and cultures, but about myself as well. This was the longest I'd ever been away from home by far, and I learned that I can survive (quite well, as it turns out) away from my friends and family. Speaking of friends; I met people on this trip who will be friends for life. Sure, we got on each others nerves from time to time (okay, a lot), but we still forged friendships that we will hopefully take to the grave.

I'm still amazed at just how great our program was; we encountered more than a few American students who were on similar programs, only theirs were nowhere near as nice as ours; they had to stay in obscure towns and cities no one had ever heard of, live with host families who they sometimes didn't get along with, attend classes taught all in German at schools far away from their host homes, and if they were issued EuRail passes, their passes were only good for a week or ten days. Our classes were taught in English by American professors (or at least English-speaking; Dr. Guntzel is a German national) at the same place we were all staying, which was a famous city literally right smack-dab in the center of Europe, and our EuRails were good for a whole two months. I'm not bragging when I say that our program was the best option out there.

To everyone who was involved with this program, thank you. Thank you so very much. I had the time of my life, and I'm going to recommend this program to anyone who has even the slightest interest of going to Europe.



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ten Days in Italy, Part 3: Pompeii, Sorrento, and Venice

We left early for Naples, arriving in the city around 10:00 AM or so. Good thing we did; it was a really long hike to our hostel. Took us about a half-hour to get there. Not fun, walking all the way across the city with 35 pounds of crap strapped to your body. But I digress.

After we got settled in, which took a while (I booked the hostel separately from the rest of the group, so my bed wasn't ready), we hopped a bus to the ruins at Pompeii. It really is quite something; it is the only complete example we have of an ancient Roman City, owing to the speed and violence of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD which completely buried the city. It was sort of surreal, walking through it.

Here are some pictures:

We spent a good 3-4 hours wandering around Pompeii but only saw between 1/2 and 2/3 of what there was to see, but by that time the sun was going down and we were all pretty tired, so we headed back to the hostel. We took a light-rail train back to the city and walked back to the hostel (which was much easier without 35 pounds of crap strapped to me). Along the way, we found this little pizza place, where I had, I kid you not, the best pizza I've ever eaten (and that's saying something!). I just wish I could remember the name of the place!

Friday, our train for Venice didn't leave until 3:15 in the afternoon, so we took a light-rail train out to this little town called Sorrento, which is on the Mediterranean coast. Now, here I have to make a confession. Before I left for this program, my family made a big deal about my going to Italy; they thought it would be the coolest, most beautiful place ever. Now, for a week, I really couldn't figure out what it was about Italy that appealed to them so much. After only two hours in Sorentto, I knew.

Beautiful doesn't quite seem to cut it.

Anyway, we got into Venice around 9:30 at night. Had to take a bus to the Bed & Breakfast we booked, since it was actually a couple miles away from Venice itself (or at least the island). It was really expensive, I paid about 95 Euros for the two nights we were staying there. Let me tell you, it was worth every penny.

Saturday was the day we decided to explore Venice. A word of advice; if you ever plan to visit Venice, dedicate an entire day to your stay there. Not because there is a whole lot to see and do in the city (there isn't), but because you will spend at least half the time trying to figure out where the heck you are! No lie, we met a woman who has lived in Venice her entire life, she's 40 years old, and she says she still gets lost at least twice a week!

Anyway, here's the pics:

Just to give you an idea of how hard it is to navigate the city, The islands of Venice(the area with all canals) cover an area about the size of a medium-sized town. St. Mark's Square (top picture) is on the other side of town from the train & Bus terminal. We arrived at the bus terminal at about 11:00 in the morning. It took us, I kid you not, until 3:30 in the afternoon to find St. Mark's Square.

Sunday was interesting. We caught a double-decker bus from Venice to the town of Villach, right on the Austrian side of the Italian border. It was about 3 hours, and we were on the upper deck. Never done anything like that before; it was kinda fun. From Villach, it was another three-hour train ride back to Salzburg. We got in around 7:00 or so at night (the train was late. surprised?), and by that time we were all exhausted.

So, that was my ten day trip to Italy. I have to say, I had a really good time. Sadly, this might be my last blog post; this weekend is the last one our Eurail passes are valid for, and I (obviously) didn't go anywhere. There's still a few things going on in Salzburg, though, so maybe I'll take some pictures around town and post them up. Well, whatever I do, I will write one final post when I get back to the US, which is less than two weeks away. Man, where has the semester gone?

So, until next time, peace.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ten Days in Italy, Part 2: Rome and the Vatican

OOPS! I just realized I made a pretty big error in my last post: by the time we got back from Pisa on Saturday, it was pretty late and still pouring, so we just went back to the hotel. Those pics atop the hill were taken on Sunday, not Saturday, and we left for Rome on Monday, not Sunday. *headdesk* Sorry about that. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog...

We arrived in Rome around noon on Monday (the 9th). Once we got settled, a group of us set out to find the Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous fountains in Rome. I got several pictures, but unfortunately the fountain is so big (and the area around it so bloddy crowded) that it was impossible for me to get a picture of the whole thing. So, courtesy of Wikipedia, here you are:

According to legend, if you toss a pair of coins over your left shoulder with your right hand into the fountain, then you will fall in love with the next single Italian woman (or, if you're a woman, the next single Italian man)you meet, and she (he) will also fall in love with you. It doesn't work; I tossed in said coins using the proscribed method, met plenty of single Italian women, and none of them fell for me. Which was just as well, because I didn't fall for any of them either.

Anyway, the rain we thought we'd left behind in Florence caught up with us, so we went back to the hotel.

Tuesday, we went to the Archaeological Zone. Got to see the Colosseum, as well as ruins of the Roman Forum, Domus Aurea, Domus Flavia, as well as what's left of the Circus Maximus (which sadly isn't much).

Wednesday, the whole group spent Wednesday in Vatican City, which as many of you know is the home of the Pope. In fact, we all had invitations to a Papal Audience that day, which was pretty cool.

Here's some pictures of St. Peter's Square:

The Papal Audience was... interesting. First, we had to get through security, which took about an hour and a half (thank God we got there so early), and consisted mainly of us being jam-packed in a crowd like sardines in a can that slowly pushed its way towards a row of metal detectors and x-ray machines. I swear I will never, ever complain about airport security after that again. Anyway, then we were jam-packed into a giant auditorium with a couple thousand other people. When the Pope entered the room, the place went nuts. I tried to get some pictures of him, but we were seated way towards the back of the room, and my camera has a crappy zoom, so they didn't really turn out that good, but even so... (the Pope's the guy dressed all in white, btw)

Anyway, the Audience itself consisted of about a half-dozen archbishops reading a passage from the book of Psalms (each archbishop spoke a different language; I picked up English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German, but there were others), and then pointing out various groups of pilgrims and visitors who spoke their same language. When a group was called, they would all stand up, cheer, and wave signs, flags, and banners while the Pope acknowledged them by waving at them. Honestly, it felt a little like I was at some kind of sporting event.

After the Audience ended, we walked around to the other side of the Vatican and checked out the Vatican Museum, which includes the legendary Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, photos were once again absolutely forbidden. Sorry.

Thursday, we left for Naples. That'll be tomorrow's post, but just as a preview, we didn't spend much time in the city itself; we toured the ruins of Pompeii and saw a small coastal town called Sorrento.

So, until tomorrow, peace.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Ten Days in Italy, Part 1: Florence & Pisa

I'm so sorry it's taken me this long to star getting the Italy pics up. Don't even have that big paper to use as an excuse anymore, it was due this past Tuesday.

Anyway, we we spent most of Thursday (November 5), on trains from Salzburg to Florence, which was our first stop. The Alps are supposed to looks spectacular, but I honestly wouldn't know; most of the trip through the mountains was spent going through tunnels, and the few views that I could have gotten were all obscured by clouds.

So, Friday we visited the two big art museums in Florence, the Uffizi and the Accademica. Uffizi was put together by the Medici Family, who ruled the Florentine region for centuries. It houses several famous works, including Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Likewise, the Accademica is home to Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Unfortunately, neither museum will let you take pictures inside (they're really strict about that). I was able to take some pics of the city itself, though. Here's a few of those.

Saturday, the 6th, we took the train out to Pisa. I'm pretty sure everyone reading this already knows about that little town's claim to fame, but just in case you've forgotten, here it is:

We all took gag shots of ourselves in front of the Tower. Here's mine:

Unfortunately, it soon began raining pretty hard, so we took the train back to Florence. Sadly, the rain didn't let up at all on Sunday, so we didn't do that much. One thing we did do, bizarrely, was hike to the top of a hill that was completely on the opposite side of the city, getting ourselves thoroughly drenched in the process. On the plus side, I was able to get some really awesome shots of the city.

Sunday, the rain stopped, but unfortunately for us, by the time it did, we were already on the train to Rome. That part of my adventure will go up tomorrow. Until then, peace.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

I'm back from Italia! Four days in Florence, Three days in Rome, A day and a half in Naples, and a day in Venice. Had a great time. Unfortunately, I probably won't have time to post pictures for another day or so, as I have a big paper for my Contemporary Issues in Europe Class due tomorrow (can you believe they gave us homework over our vacation?) For now, I just wanted y'all to know I'm back safe and sound.

Until then, peace.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Hallstatt... Finally!

Sorry it's taken me so long to get pics of Hallstatt up. Between a BIG German test and being sick as heck with I'm not sure what, It's been a crazy few days.

Anyway, as you know, I spent most of last Thursday in Hallstatt, Austria. It's a beautiful little down midway between Salzburg and Vienna, in the heart of Austria's Lake District.

The town's actually so small that it's train station isn't even in the town; it's on the other side of the lake and you need to take a ferry across (which is where I took that picture).

The town is also built literally right on the side of a mountain, which is why the buildings are stacked one on top of another like that.

For centuries, Hallstatt was central to Austria's economy because it was located next to a massive deposit of salt, which was the lifeblood of Austria's economy up until the 1800s. The salt mine, which is located in the mountain above Hallstatt, is still operational. However, enough of the salt has been removed that the mine - or at least the already-cleared parts of it - are open for tours. There's a hiking trail that takes you from the town up to the mine. Even though I was pretty sure the mine was closed, I decided to hike up anyway. Here are some pictures from the trail.

It took about an hour for me to hike up, and maybe another hour to hike back down. Unfortunately, that left me with another hour before the train I needed to catch arrived, so I wandered around the town and the lakeside for a while.

Little history lesson; Austria's Empress Elizabeth, better known as Sisi, loved swans. Since Hallstatt was among her favorite places to visit, the locals always made sure there were plenty of swans on the lake. Unfortunately, that was a long time ago, so I only saw a grand total of two swans on the entire lake.

Just before the ferry arrived to take me back to the train station, it stated to rain, so I put away the camera. It didn't really matter, though; I'd seen the town and had a great time, even if I was drop-dead exhausted from hiking up a bloody mountain! So I got back to Salzburg without incident, and went to Mauthausen the next day.

Anyhow, I'm leaving for Italy on Thursday morning. Four days in Florence, three days in Rome, and I'm going to try and do a day or two in Venice (if I can get anyone else to come with me; that's our free weekend). I'll try and get some pics of Mauthausen put up before I leave. If not, then at some point in the future; again, I'm not sure if, when, or where I'll have Internet access.

Until next time, peace.


Friday, October 30, 2009


I decided to hike from the train station to the camp. Took about an hour, uphill most of the way. The area around the camp looks a lot like Lancaster County, only with mountains.

The first think you see when you enter the camp proper are about a dozen memorials. One from every country whose citizens were murdered in the camp. Pretty much every country in Europe lost people there, even British and, get this, Americans.

Anyway, they've rebuilt most of the barracks, and you could go inside one of them. They had it set up almost exactly like how it was set up back in the 1940s. The bunks, they're barely big enough for one kid, and two adults had to sleep in each one.

There was a museum set up in the basement in one of the buildings. Photos of the prisoners, reproductions of actual orders issued by the Germans and the SS, actual uniforms that the prisoners wore. To see those... my God. There's reading about it, but to see it for real... And then there was the gas chamber. I didn't see the sign saying what it was at first, but I knew right away as soon as I stepped inside. Walked out fast, then went around the corner, and found myself in the "Dissection Room." I got out of that building fast; I thought I was going to be sick.

Mauthausen actually wasn't a death camp; it was actually a labor camp. Prisoners were required to work at a quarry just outside camp. There's a staircase down into the quarry. 182 incredibly steep steps. And the prisoners had to go up and down them carrying heavy tools while living on starvation diets. They stumbled or tripped, and they were shot. If the fall didn't kill them first. When I was down there, and this is going to sound crazy, but I swear I could hear them. The screams and cries of the prisoners, the clank of tools on rock, the blast of dynamite blowing clear another section of the cliff, the shots of the German weapons executing helpless prisoners, the shouts and laughter of the SS guards. I was all alone down there, but I swear I heard all of that.

This is going to sound really crazy, and I swear I am not making this up, but when I climbed back up out of the quarry, I saw ghosts. A prisoner and an SS guard. The prisoner, I don't know if it was a man or woman (it looked like a walking skeleton), hand fallen down and was struggling to get back up. The Nazi drew his pistol, thumbed the hammer back, and shot the prisoner point-blank in the face. He put the pistol away, then he turned to look at me. My God, I don't know if he was even my age! He was so young! And he was smiling! Not that evil, predatory smile you see the bad-guys wearing in the movies, but a happy smile, like he'd just scored a goal in soccer or something. He'd just shot a human being, murdered him in cold blood, and he was happy about it. I'm glad I'd decided to save the quarry for last; I booked out of there fast after seeing that.

Honestly, I think that Mauthausen or Dachau or Auschwitz are places that everyone needs to see. It's horrifying, I know, but only by seeing it firsthand can one truly appreciate what happened there. Simply reading about it or watching a video isn't enough.

I'll post pics tomorrow; right now I don't want to think about it anymore. I'm gonna go and watch something on iTunes or work on my novle or something; I don't think I'll sleep much tonight. Pics and write-up of Hallstatt will go up tomorrow, pics of Mauthausen... eventually.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finally Got My Weekend Figured Out

We've got Thusday off, so I'll be spending that day in Hallstatt, which is in the Lake District outside Salzburg. Then Friday will be spent in Mauthausen, visiting the Concentration Camp there. That's gonna be a sobering experience, I can already feel it.

Both trips are going to be day-trips only, so I'll be back in Salzburg at night. Which means I'll hopefully have pictures and descriptions up rather quickly. If not (If I get lazy again), then Saturday or Sunday at the latest.

Until then, peace.


Oh, and VisitNormandy people, it's not that my price expectations were unreasonable; the study abroad program only provides us with a per-diem of 28 Euros for lodging. So even the 42 Euro place was far more expensive than I could afford.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Normandy Is Out

So I just checked a few websites for hotels in the Normandy area. Holy crap. Cheapest place I found was 42 Euros a night, and that one had a bunch of absolutely horrible reviews written about it. Mean price for hotels in that region seems to be between 60-80 Euros per night per person. And, having learned the hard way that day-trips to Normandy from Paris are an impossibility, it looks like a trip to Normandy is out of the question.

Stupid Socialist Frenchies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Week's Travels, Part 3: Amsterdam & Home

Well, this is getting old. I've got wireless again, though for how long is anyone's guess, so I'm going to try and get pics of Amsterdam up while I've got a chance.

Wendesday afternoon was pretty quiet. We got lost on the way to the hostel (why they keep giving me the map I honestly can't figure out!) and wound up walking for a few blocks through the red-light district. It was... interesting. Let's just put it that way. No pictures; my camera was still in my backpack, and either way, the girls apparently really don't like it when people take their pictures. Walked around the city a bit, just to get our bearings, but that was about it.

Thursday we took the walking tour. Interesting, but there really wasn't much to see. Not many pictures, either; the streets are so narrow that it's nigh impossible to get a decent shot. I'll post what I have, though.

After the tour, we went to the Anne Frank Museum (top picture). It was an incredibly moving, incredibly sobering experience. The museum is located in the same building that Anne Frank and her family hid in, and part of the tour includes the famous Secret Annex. Honestly, words fail me in describing the place. If you are ever in Amsterdam, this is one place you must go.

Later that night, Sam and Dreama did the Red-Light District Tour. I passed. Honestly, I saw enough of it in the daylight.

Friday was an adventure in and of itself. Our original schedule was to take an ICE high-speed train from Amsterdam to Frankfurt Airport, another ICE from Frankfurt Airport to Munich Central Station, and then a standard EuroCity train from Munich Central to Salzburg. Well, our first ICE developed a technical problem about 2/3 of the way for Frankfurt Airport and dumped us off in a city we weren't even scheduled to stop in. There was a half-hour wait for the next train, which turned out to be the same ICE we were scheduled to pick up in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, the train was filled to begin with, and another half a trainload of people got on along with us. So I go to ride in the aisle for 40 minutes until we got to Frankfurt and our reservations became effective and we got seats. Trust me, standing up in an aisle jam-packed with luggage at 300 kph (186 mph) is an experience.

So, anyway, even after we got to Frankfurt, the train still was overbooked, so we had people riding in the aisle all the way to Munich. Thank God we had seats; it was a four-hour train ride. Then, we get to Munich Central, only to find out that our EuroCity doesn't start in Munich Central, it starts in Munich West, and we had to take a local train to get there. So we take the local train, which dumps us out onto a platform where another train is waiting for us. Only the displays indicate that this train doesn't go to Salzburg. We stand there puzzled for a few minutes until I notice that the display lists the mystery train's number as the same train number we're scheduled to be on. No sooner do I notice this than the train's doors close and it starts to pull away. We chase after it, but to no avail. We ask a woman in a uniform on the platform if that train was going to Salzburg, she looks at us like we're crazy and says "of course." Fortunately, she tells us that there's another train leaving for Salzburg, and it was leaving in 15 minutes from the same platform.

The train was late. And it was about 35 degrees out. And it was raining. Hard. And when the train finally arrived, it had to wait another 20 minutes before it could leave. And it wasn't an intercity train; it was a regional, which meant it stopped in every single town between Munich West and Salzburg.

Long story short, we were scheduled to get into Salzburg at just after 8:00 PM, and we got in just before 10:30. We were so exhausted, we sprung for a cab back to Haus Wartenberg.

So, that's the end of my adventures from last week. I'm still pretty beat, so I'm taking this weekend off. So no new updates for a while. No idea what I'm gonna do next weekend. It's an extended weekend, no class on Thursday., so I've got an extra full day. I guess I'll try to organize a trip to Normandy or something. I'll be sure to plan and book everything in advance this time. Well, whatever I plan, I'll be sure to keep you all posted.

Until then, peace.


PS. Feel free to leave comments when you read. I like to know who's visiting the blog.