Friday, June 19, 2009

Things I Learned Abroad

And finally my "cultural" video. It's my favorite by far.

video

I appologize as it is a bit grainy I had to cut its file size in half to get it onto blog spot (meaning I had to loose some quality). I plan to blog one last time when some Strathclyde students arrive in Clemson next semester, otherwise thank you so much for reading and keeping up with me I really appreciate all of you.

A side note* This is my 50th post, I just wanted everyone to know because it was my unspoken goal to write to you 50 times.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The "Professional Video"

I had to produce something concerning my career choices and I also needed an interview. This is the result of those requirements and yes, in true American fashion, my second movie has not outdone my first (just wait for the third one though, it has potential).
video

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Video

Here is the first video I've created for CLAM Class...Two more will soon follow. I hope you enjoy it, but it probably is going to be more enjoyable to me than anyone else.

video

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Goodbye Scotland, now in the US of A

I'm back...actually I've been back for almost two weeks now. I got the internship/job with enterprise rent-a-car for the summer. I like to think that this is a somewhat impressive feat considering the state of the economy and that I did most of the interviewing via phone in Scotland (a shout out of thanks to Amy who recruited me) . So far I've been learning a lot on the job and I'm so thankful that its hands on and never dull.
The day I left Scott and Janelle helped me drag all 100 something pounds of luggage to the Buchanan bus stop where we caught a bus to Edinburgh. Then I somehow managed to get it all onto another bus and single handedly dragged all the luggage from where that bus ended into the airport.
I really only experienced a little culture shock on the way back into the USA, the most notable symptoms were a sudden realization of how fat we are as a nation and I felt a strange slight intimidation, but that might just have been because I flew through New York (JFK). Although I still scored an entire row for myself on the flight over the Atlantic it was not nearly as fun as the trip there...I guess I was one of the first college students done in the UK so the plane consisted mostly of families. I'll also admit that on the plane I watched 'Marley and Me' and nearly teared up, mostly because I was leaving Scotland and lots of awesome people behind, but also because the movie was pretty sad.
Friday I took my value theories final in Clemson (shout out to Sallie for being awesome, letting me take the exam here, and helping make the whole Scotland adventure happen. While I'm thanking people I also need to thank my parents and Grandmom for assisting in funding this adventure.) Anyway, the exam went alright but I still won't know any grades till July which has potential to destroy me scholarship wise.
One of the things that I missed most about the states was driving and I'm so glad to have the freedom of going anywhere I want back. This weekend for example I drove down to the beach Saturday morning and came back Sunday night (I made a huge sand octopus that I was very proud of). It is also ironic and I seem to have overcompensated because my new job has me driving all kinds of vehicles all over the place.
Another weird feeling is that it seems nothing has changed, maybe it is due to keeping up with friends on facebook and skype, but it seemed strangely easy to step right back into my life, which makes me wonder if the whole experience has changed me at all.

The classes required Videos are being compiled and will be coming soon...stay tuned

Also Julien made an excellent video for those who hung out with people from or lived in 13c

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Well ...This Stinks

So...in order to explore summer job opportunities at home I've been forced to move my flight up to...tomorrow morning (insert sad face here). Strathclyde University has been good enough to let me take one final (on the 29th of May) at Clemson (shout out to Sallie for administering it). I almost had a job here for the summer, but then came to realize that I had gone the cheap route and not paid to get the official student visa (for students to the UK from the States you can just slide in for 6 months with a stamp in the passport, but you can't work) there is apparently no changing of the visa unless you step foot back into the States. Thus in order to be able to continue my enjoyable college lifestyle I've been rather forced to return home early.
On the bright side almost every good friend I've made here is a foreign exchange student, so they will all have to go their separate ways within in two weeks. Still being the person who leaves the party early isn't fun. I did not realize what an amazing time I've had until the prospect of having to leave became a reality. Every day here has been adventurous because everything is different and therefore life over the last 4 1/2 months has rarely been boring. There are still things that I either forgot to do, didn't have time to do or didn't put the effort into doing here in the UK. I never got to see the Isle of Skye, I did not stand with one foot on both sides of the line that divides the hemispheres, I never enjoyed the Eagle and Child pub (where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet), and I still want to ride a horse in Scotland. Then again considering how long my list was of things I wanted to accomplish was, having it down to only four is pretty impressive.
My bags are mostly packed, tonight almost all of my Scotland friends sent me off well, by starting in the pub where several of us first got to know each other. The Aussies have been exceptionally kind and I'm thankful that I'll be able to see some of my new American friends again in the near future. One of the best ideas I stole from a student who was leaving as I arrived was to buy a flag and get everyone to sign it (I guess I've encouraged the defacing of a rampart lion), It will be nice to bring it home with me. I got my interview yesterday...it was kind of awkward but at least I believe I have all the footage I need to deliver on the needed projects for CLAM.
I believe that this is my last Blog from my Bonnie Scotland, thus I bid farewell to all those I've met in Scotland...know I'm going to miss all of you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Exam

We met outside, for that is the normal place to meet when the doors are locked. Many students littering the sides of the intersecting roads that surround the ancient red sandstone building. It was probably once a church and maybe still is, but on this morning it was to be used for a very different purpose. There we huddled like cows before a branding, knowing that what lay before us would bring no joy, yet left choice less by the powers that be. 925 a.m. the doors open and we are led into a room, it is just more than dimly lit by the stain glass windows that embellish its ceiling. We take our seats in the tiny desks which form long rows that nearly disappear into the distance. We are surprised to see our professor a tiny spec in the front of the room, she seemed so harmless before today. I'm sitting near the back of the room yet we can hear her cackle, such a small thin lady with dark wispy hair, most of us didn't even see it coming. We should have known she would be harsher than her friendly presence tricked us into thinking, it wasn't like she hadn't warned us. She had with her a large clock on a stick that was left standing at the front of the room, much like an extra watchful eye over her students. The room looked very much like that of the Hogwarts dining hall it just lacked floating candles and ghost...or so I thought.
The so called exam papers were there in front of us, on our desks looking innocent. I looked up from my desk to find Scott sitting to my right. "oh no" I thought "they got him too". There was nothing either of us could do, we watched in horror as a kid in front of us opened his exam before being allowed to do so, his paper came to life and tried to bite him, he narrowly avoided the paper, but it tried again, bit his shoulder then with strength much greater than any paper should ever be allowed to have it hurled him screaming up into the air and swallowed him whole as he came back down. we heard a muffled belch as the paper came to rest on the now human less desk. A young girl came in late and moments later took her seat where he had been. Scott and I stared at each other in disbelief.
Somewhere behind us huge doors closed with an ominous thud. a light breeze traveled through the room, "probably from the pressure of the door closing" I thought. Then our professor stood up in the front of the room and said something in a commandingly squeaky voice. No one heard her back where we were sitting, but suddenly exam papers were being opened all around me. One kid to my left had an exam spit something on him and his skin started to disappear, a girl in front of me was attacked by a swarm of bees, I saw two exams become whirlwinds and start torturing their student's. One kid behind us started sprouting mushrooms in all kinds of awkward places.
I looked at my exam, it was so innocently laying there before me looking harmless. I pulled out my mechanical pencil clicked it a few times for good measure, then ripped open my exam paper and dropped my pencil to stab its life out.
What happened over the next two hours is much to graphic for me to let the readers hear about. What is important is that Scott and I limped away in the end, which is more than can be said about some of the other students. Scott barely made it...at one point during the battle I glanced at him and he was being held in a hypnotic trance by his exam. I never got the chance to drag him out but somehow he recovered on his own. One secret we learned is that exams do not like pencils, they say to always use pen, but I think they lie to us to make the students easier to handle.
More exams soon, this isn't what we signed up for.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May

Today I went to Stirling for a job interview. I finally saw the inside of the Wallace monument and his sword...unfortunately the only proof is on Kelsey's camera (she came along to see Stirling) as I forgot my camera. This week I have tried to study...ended up organizing everything and then totally lost motivation. However, today Scott showed me his study tactics (note cards) and I'm copying his strategy and planning on spending all day tomorrow in the library. ...hopefully actually being productive.
Yesterday was Cinco day Mayo...no one here celebrates, the restaurant we went to that evening was almost totally empty and Colleen had to explain to the Mexican restaurant workers that it was a holiday.
In other news I have not yet (to my knowledge) contracted swine flu, my fake stock portfolio is doing rather well (up 30% since December) I'm not ready to pay high taxes or suffer high inflation and I'm still looking for a summer job...(I guess that kind of negates my taxes statement).
Speaking of swing flu...Jim (study abroad coordinator) told this joke tonight (pub night)...he was on at least his 2nd beer at the time ...which made it much funnier. "a pig was running down the streets of Glasgow being chased by a hunter...the pig turns the corner of high street then stands up...the hunter turns the corner...points the gun around and asks the pig if it has seen a pig come running by" ......(end of joke) Sorry ...It might only be funny to a Glaswegian ...and that's probably because they spend a good chunk of their time drinking...it has been witnessed on more than one occasion that a Scottish man will order a beer with breakfast.
That is all for now, I'm going to bed so goodnight all, I hope your days are blessed!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sigh

So there is a world of stress coming into the home stretch here at Strathclyde. Every class grade comes down to my last exam in the class. Which means playtime is slowing disappearing into study time. This is my last week of class then I get pummeled by exams on the 11th 13th 14th and unfortunaly the 29th of May. Recently (we don't remember where or who) Scott and I picked up on the best phrase yet for saying "I need to go to the bathroom". The phrase is "I need to go drain the tatties" (as in potatoes) and it has been a point of laughter this week. I think this ranks right up there with "drown some ants" and "see a man about a horse". Anyway, I don't have to much else to share at the moment (been spending most of my time working on a project with Scott for Treasure Managment, looking for a summer job, or just lollygaging around the internet playing games)...I'm sorry, but hopefully there will be more engaging stories to share as this week continues.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rome, tax police,and the downside

Wow, Rome has been amazing so far. Many days ago, (sorry for not blogging in a while) Scott and I went to the coliseum. We got a tour with an English speaking guide (as recommended by some other American and Canadian hostel dwellers). The tour was fantastic and it even included a little tour at the end where we were told all about a large section of pagan ruins that is located next to the coliseum (temples, churches built on temples…ect). Scott and I toured Rome on our own during the afternoon. We saw all kinds of things that were built around the time of Christ if not before (crazy!). One of the hardest things to get used to in Rome are the rules of the road. Cars here have to stop for pedestrians…this is very confusing to my well trained “look both ways before you cross the street” mentality which has been well reinforced by Glasgow. Apparently in Rome people just cross the street when they feel like it and the traffic waits for them, I’m really glad I don’t drive here as this would be very frustrating to me. My strategy for crossing roads in foreign countries is based on the padding theory. The theory goes something like this, So long as there is someone between you and the on (or potentially on) coming traffic you have padding and should therefore cross the street. Your chances are better with locals as chances of actually having to use the padding are greatly reduced.
The day before yesterday, Scott and I got on the metro and rode it to the other side of Rome. We joined the same tour guide we had the day before, but this time for a tour of the Vatican. We did this for two good reasons. First there is over 9 miles of different walking paths through the Vatican. Secondly it is estimated that if you spent one minute looking at every piece of art in the Vatican you would be there for some 12 years (We just wanted to hit the important stuff). Thus we greatly enjoyed the three hour tour (although our feet didn’t). We got to see everything I wanted to…which was mostly the Sistine Chapel (we took a few illegal photos inside). That evening Scott and I were out and about seeing other historical parts of the city. We paused on the Spanish steps…the significance of which is still questioned by us. On the steps we were hailed by Amber and Jessica (I met Amber on the flight over the Atlantic, she’s studying in Edinburgh). We found it odd to run into each other again somewhere so very far away. We decided to get back together that evening, in the meantime Scott and I went and found a fantastic Italian dinner. The dinner was so great (slow) that we were very late for our evening meeting. We tried to make up for it by buying them drinks at a local pub.
The next day, Scott and I tried to find a local vineyard to go tour, but we failed. So we settled for a trip to the Mediterranean coast. The weather was beautiful although a little chilly and the coast was different than we expected. It was much rockier and less sandy than we were used too. This offered less water playing, but some fantastic pictures and experiences with waves crashing on the rocks (mmmm sea air). The weather in Italy has been much more like home. It’s been warm most days, often with a breeze. The evenings have been cold, and there was even a huge rainstorm that hit us one night.
Last night we had a female roommate who was from New York. I’m pretty sure she stayed in the room the whole day…and she sure could snore (on the bright side she left us a little note saying it was nice to meet us and good luck on the rest of our journey). The next day Scott and I got on a train heading to Venice. We had to carry our luggage all about the canals because we were mostly out of euro’s and the baggage holders didn’t take card. I decided to buy something in Venice from an outdoor vender, but I only had 2.80 Euros left and the item I wanted was more. The very nice old gentleman who owned the place let me buy said object with some American dollars as well. As Scott and I are walking away (out of sight of the dealer) we get hailed by this guy. He flashes a badge and says he is French tax police. He asks me how much I spent on the item…I was a little taken aback and didn’t really want to answer in case the really nice guy who sold me said object was going to be in trouble, so I stalled. He didn’t like me stalling so he made sure we understood that he was the police and dragged his buddy over (both were in civilian clothing). I finally divulged what I had paid and had to explain that I had paid with two currencies. They said thank you and that we were not in trouble at all, so Scott and I went on our way. We snapped a few photos and ate a delicious lunch/dinner. Then we had to hop on the bus out to the airport (Ryanair never lands people conveniently in the middle of any city, their airports are always on the outskirts).
Our flight into London got delayed so we missed our hostel. Thus Scott and I slept …or attempted to sleep in the airport. This helped make the whole day in London seem boring. Maybe we were just sick of looking at old stuff. Anyway, we did London pretty well for a day. We saw Buckingham palace, Big Ben, the London Bridge and more. The only thing we really missed out on was the changing of the guard. Scott and I were so sleep deprived that we decided to find a local theater and just watch a movie. We watched Duplicity which was really good. Then we walked by Buckingham palace on our way to the bus station where we caught the midnight bus back here to Glasgow. We arrived yesterday morning at 7am. I got about 3 hours of sleep on the bus.
Just to kick me in the pants, my 11am class teacher didn’t show up to class (I could have been sleeping). I made the final housing payment before looking at my bank account, thus my bank account, for the first time ever, was almost overdrawn (thank you mom for saving me). Add to this the fact that I don’t have a summer job lined up. Oh, and we found out while on spring break that our group project for TICF got a 38 (all 4 group members put in at least 32 hours a piece on that thing)…ick. So it looks like I could easily fail classes this semester, which would mean that I won’t have enough credit hours to hang on to scholarships...the worst part of which is that I supposedly won’t know whether I passed till it is too late to take summer school classes. Yarrgh!

I guess you could say that the party is over and it is time to sober up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Day of the Elderly...and some

Ok so Nice was interesting. We arrived in the train station and were met by a lone rose growing in the middle of the platform. Then we saw one elderly lady on the ground having fallen down the stairs (she had lots of people looking after her). Again, on our way up an escalator we watched another elderly woman take a dive. Someone managed to stop the escalator and a herd of people rushed in to attend to her as well (we were on the stairs next to the escalator with heavy packs on so there was nothing we could do). Our hostel in Nice will go down as one of the not so great hostels we have stayed at. We had to find “the pink lady (another elderly woman)” in a restaurant. She led us to our room saying “wee” a lot but speaking very little English. Our room was basically a college kid’s dormitory. The Pink lady had to kick some kid out of the room (this involved lots of yelling in French…rather entertaining), apparently (we learned later from two Canadian girls who were also sharing the room) he kept trying to find empty beds at night and not pay for them. One of the guys was staying there while he studied at some local university so the whole place had random magazine photos and posters all over the wall (he said they were to make it feel more like home). Scott and I left the Canadian girls who were watching the first season of scrubs and went out to enjoy an excellent dinner and afterwards we experienced the Mediterranean Sea shore which was very rocky.
In the morning Scott and I made our way to the train station for a long day of hopping trains trying to get to Florence. We arrived at the platform about 30 minutes early. There was a train in the station, but all the doors were closed. So when there was about fifteen minutes till the train was supposed to leave I opened one of the doors, looked inside at the empty car then stepped back to reconsider getting on. I was hoping someone more confident than I would be like, “this is the right train” and would lead the rest of us followers like sheep on board. So as I stepped back to reconsider the train started to move. I know that my train (the first train scheduled to leave from that station that morning) is not supposed to leave for another 15 minutes so I make sure Scott doesn’t jump on and we stand there as this scene unfolds. As we watch, an amazingly in shape yet aged couple runs down the platform, the wife jumps in the door of the train car, then the man chasing after her makes a flying leap into the train (this involved grabbing car handrails and pulling himself on against the accelerating train). A moment later we see his head as he leans out of the doorway looking back at the small crowd of us standing on the platform. He had this big grin on his face that seemed to represent a combination of a relieved “I made it” and a happy “I feel like a kid again”. Mind you this all occurs because of and through the only open door on the train…the one I opened. I’m pretty sure that the train the couple jumped onto was a bunch of cars used by railway workers for storage because as it passed I noticed that it was filled with hard hats and yellow vests, it also had a random small engine pushing it down the track out of the way for the train that came shortly thereafter to take us to Ventimiglia. I’m pretty sure that I have just caused a chain of events that might change history forever (For example: They missed the right train which means someone who was supposed to pick them up misses some important meeting. At said meeting he or she would have stopped some corporation from making a huge error. Said error causes the corporation to lose billions, thus it has to file bankruptcy. Thiscauses thousands of people lose jobs. The now jobless employees get desperate and cause political hysteria. Hitler the 2nd rises to power on promises of prosperity for all, thus we go into WW3…and it’s all my fault).
Anyway, our train experiences in Italy suggest that Italian trains have no need to move anywhere let alone on time. We made several needless stops in the middle of the tracks with no train station next to us. One of our train rides we had to stand because the thing was very full and second class EU rail pass holders are not guaranteed seats (I think Scott is still bitter about this). The train ride kind of felt like how I imagine a train ride through India feels (crowded, don’t know the language). On the bright side it forced us to watch the country side which was very pretty, Scott also got into a conversation with an older Italian guy. It is always a pleasure to talk with people of the areas who want to talk. On a weather related note, I had to ditch my jacket as the train was stifling; shorts will be worn for the rest of the trip as it’s nice and warm in Italy. Scott and I made a slight change in plans and did Pisa that day. We nailed it and got in with the second to last group to go up the tower (we caught the view just after sunset with the red lining still in the clouds which came with a cool and gentle evening breeze…neither of which we had to pay extra for). I also bought my first pair of aviator sunglasses (something I’ve always wanted, even though they are kind of ugly) from a street vender. He approached me and I decided that the lowest price I would pay for the glasses was 10 euro…unfortunately I told him this right away (this was due to not being ready to bargain and him starting off at the stunning price of 30 euro). I then forced him to make change for a 20 as he begged me to raise my offer and I threatened to walk away…I probably enjoyed this event a little too much (no they are not polarized mom, and yes I know he probably only paid .50 cents for them). From Pisa we caught a train ride to Florence where we ran into a gaggle of New York girls who knew the street our hostel was located on (a blessing because for the first time this trip we didn’t have walking directions to our hostel). We had a private room and bathroom which is really nice after some of the hostel situations we have experienced. Still no internet, but my internet addiction cravings are waning as I’ve been deprived for so long. Side note* Internet is one thing that I think should be everywhere, If everyone has the ability to get online and learn anything they want and communicate with anyone they want to then everyone has a chance to better themselves. (Yes I know that means everyone needs access to computers ect…but it’s a thought/start).
So today we did Florence. Scott and I got up around 7:15 and Scott went out to start our laundry while I took care of our ticket reservations for tonight (I write you this section as I am on the train from Florence to Rome). We kicked things off with a typically European breakfast consisting of assorted breads and spreads and coffee. Then we got in line to see Brunelleschi’s dome. As we finally reached the entrance Scott pointed out a sign the had wife beaters and shorts with a x over them. I was wearing shorts but I had just stood in line for quite a while and was not heading back to the hostel to change, so Scott did a good job standing in front of me as we bought tickets and I made it all the way through the Dome without anyone noticing or caring enough to say anything. There are supposedly (according to Scott who had to do a research paper on the Dome) 463 stairs to the top. The top of the dome was excellent, a beautiful view of Florence, but I got a little intimidated by the height inside the Dome. Some ancient person built an overhang at the base of the Dome which is already a good ten stories high. My trust of ancient architects is probably not what it should be. After the Dome Scott and I toured a famous bridge and an outlook dedicated to Michael Angelo. We enjoyed some genuine Italian food for lunch (Lasagna for me, Pizza for Scott). Then we wandered around Florence enjoying statues and pretty views of vineyards and Italian mountains. For dinner Scott and I decided to try a pizza place that had a sign outside claiming to have the best pizza in the world. The pizza was good (stove cooked), but I think I’ve had better in Chicago. Florence was definitely an excellent stop and I would go back again in a heartbeat. With any luck I’ll find free internet in Rome so I can post this before I have to add any more to it.





Internet in Rome has been found...it's very puney but just enough to get this blog out there and update my facebook status. Update on the evening...We got off a hot stuffy train walked some sketchy streets to a huge door that had graffetti all over it. We rang, got let inside ...the huge door slammed shut behind us ominously. But so far the hostel is very pleasant there are some Americans and Canadians about and the bathrooms and beds are clean...I still can't beleive Im in Rome!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Geneva

So Geneva has been a disappointment. Everyone here speaks French, and very few speak English (yet American pop music is still playing everywhere). It took us several tries before we found a place we felt comfortable ordering food. Everything seems to cost more in Switzerland in general. There is wifi (internet) in the hostel…if you pay for it.
Scott and I reserved a high speed train ride yesterday for today. We have to go through French customs. This is very unfortunate because I already have a French stamp in my passport. I will return to Scotland with only the Ireland, UK, and France stamps in my passport (and I’ll have visited 7 different countries by then).
One interesting event from today came out of a recommendation (by our lunch server) for a chocolate shop. We entered what was a big grocery store with a huge mob of people filing it (picture taken in the sotre...some lady wagged her finger at me for it). The store had marked down all its chocolate. We witnessed one lady filling two shopping carts to the brim with chocolate bunnies. We figured it must be a deal so I grabbed a milk chocolate one and Scott grabbed two dark chocolates before the lady had cleared the shelves entirely of them. We got to the cash register to find that the 9 inch tall 6 inch wide bunnies were only 1.60 Swiss Francs each (that’s like $1.30). I’m down to the torso on mine, and like the Chocolate Show guy said yesterday after squeezing apart a chocolate bunny …”it’s ok to eat, look!, no bones”.
I think Scott and I would have been much happier if the hostel had free internet. We got here to Geneva with no real plans and although some of the walking around was very beautiful we’ve found (like on local said) most of the people to be very introverted (maybe it’s a rich thing).
So this morning is Easter Sunday. Scott and I had found (online) a local church that spoke English and we were off to find it. Unfortunately, it was 6 kilometers away and when we got to the bus stop (we needed the F bus) their website recommended taking we found that the next F bus didn’t come for 51 minutes and that it was going the wrong direction. We searched around for another bus stop in case there was another F bus going the right direction. We found nothing and thus have resorted to sitting in Starbucks were we finally found internet. Hopefully we can stream some home church services tonight when we reach Nice (this of course depends on the hostel having internet).

It’s Easter, He is Risen!

Side note* Two days ago Mark(Nebrasca) called me from Norway. He was alone in the woods and couldn't find Mike(LSU) whom he had been hiking with. He had been alone in the woods at that point for two hours. He was obviously concerned. I got a text a few hours later from him saying to call him and that it was an emergancy. I couldn't get through. Yesterday we found out that mike and fallen down the side of a hill, then fallen some 40 feet but that it was broken by a tree so he was alright, except he was on the edge of a cliff, he couldn't climb up and the only other way out was to fall even more from an even more perilous height. So Mike called the emergancy number from the side of the cliff (always a good thing to know in a foriegn country as its not always 911). He then used his camera flash to alert the Mountain rescue to his location and was airlifted off the side of the cliff face by a man dangeling from a helicopter. That is the story as I understand it and I can't wait to get back and hear the intricate details and see pictures. *End side note.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Swiss for the moment

Scott and I went to bed around 1 am last night the floors here are very squeaky and I think we woke up our Chinese roommate. He got us back this morning around 7 when he woke up, packed and left. We got back up around 9, when we opened the curtains a wonderful view awaited us. We got ready and went out to the tourist office . They were very unhelpful when it came to good hikes in the area (girly females). But they did give us a map which gave us a good idea. We hiked up a ridge on the edge of Interlaken. The Swiss Alps are everything pictured and some. The scenery was breathtaking and so was the strenuous hike way above sea level. On the way up Scott and I noticed a girl hiking alone behind us with a full backpack on. We did our best to stay in front of her and thought we had succeeded when we turned a corner and there she was chilling at a lookout point (we think she passed us at a point where we paused to take photos). Anyway, it would be nice if the tourist office here hired people like that, but o-well.
Scott and I made it to a wonderful lookout up top and we were hoping for water because we had been stupid and not taken any with us. We were unlucky because they don’t officially open up for another two weeks (there is a steep mountain train that takes people to the top that opens up then as well). Scott and I took to melting mountain snow in our hands and drinking it (three cheers for potential parasite infections later). The funny thing is that even though there was some snow on top of the mountain it was almost 80 outside and we were sweating a lot. I also got a light sun burn today. Anyway, we hiked the ridgeline a short distance…this involved trying to step in the footsteps of others because the snow was pretty thick. We came across a really steep but open meadow and just sat there and enjoyed the mountain breeze, light smell of pine trees and the beautiful view of Interlaken and the lake next to it. Around 2:30 we headed back into town and grabbed some ice cream in a nice little outdoor café that let us enjoy the mountain views from the town. Then following a brochure’s advice we went to a chocolate show.
Ever since the chocolate show I’ve been pondering what I enjoy most. The guy who showed us everything was amazing, he spoke lots of languages and was doing all the pieces of the presentation in French, English, and German (all the languages his customers spoke). Scott said he looks a lot like Harvey Dent (from Batman) and I agree. The man is genuinely passionate about chocolate and very much loves his job (He didn’t say this it was just absolutely visible). The milk chocolate he had there won 1st place at some world Italian Chocolate event two years ago. He shared with us two 70% dark chocolate’s he had created, both were very good. We also learned a lot about making chocolate and good truffle dipping techniques. His Apprentaces have made some amazing chocolate sculptures, my favorite was a goat that only got second place. I ate way more chocolate than I should have and overall the whole event was very worthwhile. Scott and I spent the rest of the day relaxing here in the hostel (The Alpine Backpack’s Hostel in Interlaken) with the exception going out and finding dinner. We’ve noticed that prices here are very high, it’s probably because the rich tourists come here and go skiing. Tomorrow we are heading off to Geneve where we will enjoy an Easter service somewhere then continue on to Nice (France…again).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More Spring Break

Once again I’m typing up this blog from another train. I’ve decided I really like train travel and the EU rail pass was the way to go for getting around Europe as a college student. Last time I left you we were on our way to Munich. We arrived safely and on time and Brian came and picked us up in his BMW (He works for BMW). He and his wife Destene were more than accommodating and let Scott and I sleep in their little girl’s room. I decided that pink and frilly and loaded with stuffed animals was welcome relief after the Amsterdam bed and breakfast…which ironically didn’t have breakfast. That night Scott was informed that his cousin (whom I don’t know) was killed in a car wreck, I’m not the most sensitive person in the world so he hasn’t talked much about it, but I know that your thoughts and prayers will be greatly appreciated. He has decided that there is nothing he can do about it so we are pressing on and doing what we planned for the rest of spring break.
Anyway, the next morning we got up very early ate some delicious pancakes that Destene made and rode with Brian to the train station (he dropped us off on his way to work). There Emily Scott and I hopped on a train to Fussen then grabbed a bus up to a small village called Hohenschwangau located at the beginning of the German Alps. It was from here that we hiked up to one of the prettiest castles I’ve seen (from the outside…Versailles takes it for interior décor). Castle Neuschwanstein was not actually completed because its owner (who was a lover of swans) was found dead in a lake. His psychiatrist was also found dead floating alongside him. People in power had apparently declared him unfit to rule based on his psychological condition…and then about a week later the two of them turned up dead in a lake, end of story, no one knows what really happened.
This Castle, however, is rumored to be the one Walt Disney designed a castle after…so far we don’t know which one…my vote is sleeping beauty, Emily leaned towards Cinderella and Scott mediated and just said the Disney castle. After seeing the amazing view from the outside of the castle, and some paraglider’s gaining height out over a nearby peak, we got a tour. Honestly, it was one of the worst tours castle tours I’ve been on (just because of length). We saw about five rooms, a few hallways and climbed two staircases. There is so much more to that castle, but they claim it is unfinished we so didn’t tour it. After the tour we hiked up a short path to a bridge and got a few good photos…then not being totally satisfied we climbed up a nearby peak and got some wonderful views from the top. The view was breathtaking and probably one that photos just can’t capture. The temperature was perfect with a light Alps breeze and I was surprised how at home it felt. It wasn’t quite Appalachian, but close. Just before we decided to go back down we discovered a bag in a tree. We got it down to find that it was a Geocache. Geocaching is almost a sport. Basically there are GPS coordinates that GPS owners use to locate Geocaches. Geocaches have inside them (or at least this one did) a journal, a tracking coin, and a knickknack from just about everyone who has found it. We signed the journal and dated it then tossed in a US penny because no one had put one in it yet. There was everything in it already from a bouncy ball to a UK penny to a pencil sharpener. I might take up Geocacheing especially if people have put them in such incredibly pretty places.
Anyway, after the castle and mini hike we caught the bus and train back to downtown Munich and found a beer garden in an area that Brian had recommended. We enjoyed a German beer and German food while the sounds of a street band consisting of a guitar and clarinet came drifting our way. We actually (for the first time) had good service and tipped accordingly (you don’t generally tip in Europe because they build it into the food price and the service is generally lacking because there is no incentive for them to be extra pleasant or quick). The food, was good in an interesting sort of way. After dinner we got on the subway and got a ride back to Brian’s house.
When we got back last night I finally got some internet connection. So far no internet except that in the UK has been on the fast side of the word slow. It took me an hour to upload just a few photos, but it was nice just to be able to use the internet again.
Apparently I slept very well last night because Scott said I was snoring (he roomed with me freshman year and said he hasn’t heard me snore before this trip). We got up this morning to a traditional German breakfast consisting of all sorts of rolls, meats and spreads, a fruit salad was even included. Destene took us to the train station where we said goodbye to Emily and sent her on her way. Then we got dropped off in Dachau where Scott and I toured the concentration camp. The world is so different today that I find it very hard to mentally put myself in the shoes of people who lived and died here during that time. It seems that there has been a huge swing from life being cheap to life being very highly valued (proof = people who have a hard time allowing the death sentence for mass murders or torture of known terrorist organization members). On the way back from Dachau, Scott and I were looking lost in the Dachau train station and this very pleasant old lady named Bridget asked us if we needed help. We said we were trying to get back to Munich and she said that was where she was going and when she realized we were from the states and from South Carolina she got very excited. Apparently, she has a grandson who is living in South Carolina and she was asking us questions about Clemson and Greenville Tech because he’s 19 and figuring out what college to attend and she wants to help. She also told us a great deal about herself and how she had lived in California for a period of time. She was informing us about all of this in her wonderful German accent which sounds very much like my grandma’s (Who has a German background as well and currently lives in Wisconsin). She told us about how she was ten at the end of WW2 and saw horrible things, then she made a statement …something like “in war nobody wins because even the victor looses many young men”. It’s a thought I’ll be taking with me.
She was the first person to really talk about how bad the health care was here in Europe. Apparently she had tooth work done in the USA and when the dentists here (Germany) looked in her mouth they were in awe and had a conference all staring in her mouth. She said a similar thing happened with her granddaughter who couldn’t find anyone to tighten her braces for her so she went to a German University of dentistry where a professor had a herd of his colleagues come stare at her mouth work before figuring out how to tighten it. Bridget was so excited to talk with us that she even got off at our stop and showed us where the information desk was and asked us about the names of Carolina Colleges again before saying goodbye.
Scott and I are currently bound for Interlocken Switzerland. We kind of picked the wrong train…at least we picked the wrong stop to get off of a certain train. We are still on time and the semi mistake actually led to us being able to see some more of Germany. We found time at a station (Stuttgart) to find chocolate, a beautiful German park and a good Bratwurst. Of all of our Spring Break plans I’ve been looking forward to Interlocken the most. If tomorrow’s weather cooperates we will hopefully be able to find a decent hike in the Swiss Alps. So far Scott is (rightfully) scared of hiking with me. I assume this because he’s made comments about not trying to find the biggest, hardest, or most deadly climb Interlocked has to offer (not that I’ve been looking for it, but he knows me pretty well).

I Thought I'd finish this blog while I'm here tonight in the Hostel in Interlaken. So far the area has been very pleasant. Our hostel bar has good wifi and is blaring some excellent 80's rock so it quite enjoyable. Plus the bartender/hostel owner (I think) has been very friendly giving us peanuts and just being all around very service oriented.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Break Days 2-4

I’m writing this on a high speed train on my way to Munich (I’ll post it to my blog later) We’ll have to stop in Frankfurt and switch trains. It will be an 8 hour train ride and we are relived to finally be off our feet for most of a day. But first things first, the second day in Paris was just as fun as the first. We kicked off with a free hostel breakfast of baguettes with butter and jam (baguettes are a true French stereotype…along with small dogs and bicycles). We met James again and he took us to the triumphal arch and the Louvre. The Louvre was fantastic, although we kind of had to rush through it. I got to see the Mono Lisa along with so many masterpiece art and statue works it was overwhelming. We finished at the Louvre with a walk around its medieval foundation which was actually found relatively recently when they went to dig a foundation for the pyramid (I really regretted not having recently watched the “Da Vinci Code” a movie which features lots of things in the Louvre and was therefore referred to many times by James). My favorite story from the Louvre occurred during an excavation of a well in which they found a crown and have very little idea as to how it got there (My imagination suspects a person of royalty getting frustrated and chunking their crown down the well in front of everybody in a fit of rage.
On the way to the Triumphal Arch We decided to be nice and wait for Emily to “shop” along the street “Champs Elysees” which is apparently very famous for extremely high end clothing and purses…I am not one to really care. James walked us to the train station where we thanked him profusely for taking us around Paris. Paris would have definitely not been very fun without a fluent French speaker…they have attitude problems there, it’s definitely an accurate stereotype (note that all stereotypes have exceptions like Julian a funny and very awesome French guy who lives a flat above mine…although he is from Nice not Paris). Anyway we completed everything we desired to do in Paris a few hours ahead of schedule so we picked up our bags from our sketchy hostel’s baggage room and walked to the train station to catch a ride to Brussels.
Brussels Belgium was fantastic. In case you didn’t know “French Fries” were actually created in Belgium. Our hostel was just about perfect for a Youth Hostel. Unlike the very sketchy Paris hostel we stayed in this one had everything conveniently laid out and clean. Brussels is considered the Capitol of the European Union. This became apparent as there were many different languages that we ran into and most of the signs had at least three languages on them. We set out that evening and found a famous pub (Greenwich) where people play chess. Scott and I won a game each as we tasted some wonderful Belgium beers. (Emily just came along for the ride since her attendance at North Greenville University doesn’t allow her to drink and she wasn’t that interested in a chess game).
*Currently* We’ve just made it through our Frankfurt train switch. We met some very interesting people on the train. One lady was an artist who showed us some of her work. She is currently renovating a small opera in some small town in Minnesota. Her life goal is to get the building self sustaining and live in it teaching art. The man she was with explained the physics of why our ears hurt as we went through the tunnel going 277 kilometers per hour(it has to do with the air pressure created on the outside of the train causing pressure on the inside). We also realized we were sitting across from a man who probably had recovered from a stroke because it took him a while to find his bag (we thought a guy from Iraq had stolen it for a moment) and he was very slow. *End Currently*
In Brussels that night we also visited the stock market building, went to a small market and visited Grand Platz(sp?) which is a beautiful plaza in Brussels. Our night in the hostel was excellent and they even served a very nice breakfast the next morning which included all kinds of cereals, fruits, OJ, ham, bread and jam (mocha/hot chocolate machine included). That morning we met fellow CLAM student Helena at the Mannekuin Pis which is a famous statue of a child peeing. She showed us to the triumphal arch and found us some real (and amazing) Belgium waffles on the way. I got one smothered with real fresh strawberries and white chocolate. Helena had to leave us at the Arch which I liked more than the one in Paris. We hopped on the metro, grabbed our bags from the hostel and on our way back to the train station we bought some fantastic chocolate. We had spent the day before hunting for some good chocolate. Of the Brussels chocolate shops Scott said “Chocolate shops in Brussels are just like Sam’s for lunch you can go in and get your fill of samples” and he’s right. We had went to Chocopolis and got several good pieces of chocolate each (which we have just finished eating on this train…we figure we’ll find more in Germany and Switzerland so we made room for it). After Chocopolis we booked it to the station where we caught the 5:10 train to Amsterdam.
We got into Amsterdam around 8:30 and went to find our hostel. So we find the address and ring the bell for the hostel. We are greeted by an Arab sounding black man who looks like someone who should be playing in the NBA. We had to climb one of the steepest staircases I’ve ever been on to get up to the check in desk and then we climbed another to get to our room. Please picture this scene. It’s me Scott and Emily standing in our room’s (Scotts and mine) doorway we are still holding up our very heavy backpacks and luggage staring foolishly into the room (Scott and I are both very strait). In the room (Scott booked all the hostels so I blame him) is a double bed. On each side are pillow cases, they have big dark red hearts on them, the comforter on the bed is half passionate dark red with another huge heart on it. In a large and well scripted font the words “Rose of Love” is sprawling out before us on both the pillows and the bed’s comforter. It took us a good minute before we could actually laugh about this. Except Emily who died laughing and went to find her room.
We went out and explored some of Amsterdam that night. This included riding a huge “swings on wheel” fair ride that took me and Emily a good ten stories up and swung us around for a scary, but beautiful 360 degree view of the city. Scott decided that he had just eaten and liked his feet on the ground. We also appeased Emily by going by Anne Frank’s house. Afterwards, we made our way back to the hostel and fell asleep to voyage in our dreams on our rose of love (please laugh here as there was nothing we could do about it).*On a side note (and I'm very proud of this) Scott bought a Euro/UK electricity converter and, to say the least, it didn't work so he gave me permission to tear it apart. I found that an internal connection piece was missing, so we MacGyvered it using a metal piece that was holding part of it together to make the connection. We snapped it back together and plugged it in and had to break it open twice more to get the steal peice flat enough to make the connection well....but after 20 minutes of messing with it we got it to work (college kids in Europe...rock on). *Ok so I can finally tell you about this morning. Today we caught a bus out to some tourist trap Holland area. We got to tour a windmill that was/is used to crush peanuts to get the peanut oil out (which can be used for deep frying and other such applications). We unfortunately didn’t have as much time as I would have liked there, but we got to see some ducks along and a wooden shoe production museum. We bought some delicious bread from the bakery museum (mine was lemon Scott got cinnamon) and enjoyed the beauty of the canals and green fields that surround them. Then we caught our bus back to the train station and after letting Emily buy a ticket we hopped on the high speed train to Munich...we’ve enjoyed some beautiful German countryside, some interesting people, a stop in Frankfurt , and some rain bows that brought with them some rain. Our hope is to get to Munich and take one more short train ride to a village where Scott’s uncle’s old college roommate will hopefully pick us up and let us invade his (and families)home for the next two days. (Sorry the blogs are days behind...limited internet and computer time is putting a dampener on things, but I'm doing my best to catch up).

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Paris Day/ Spring Break Day 2


OK, Emily stole my adapter so I have only a few minutes of battery life left so I have to type fast (please forgive errors...as you always do). So our flight (Scott and I) was perfectly on time and we even arrived outside Paris early (where Ryanair fly's into...not the middle of Paris hence the cheap prices). Emily on the other hand was delayed two hours and so we had to wait and call the hostel and make sure they didn't give away our beds. My first impression of Paris was all of us jostling for position to get onto the bus to ride into town. We barely got seats on the bus. It was so incredibly refreshing to be back on the right side of the road...something about riding on the left side hurts my brain, its probably because I feel like I constantly have to remind myself that its OK (in the UK and Australia anyway). We arrived at the end of the bus line with Scott's GPS in hand. We were 2.8 miles away from the hostel and went to look at a map. A very nice couple talked to us and instructed us on how to use the subway to get to our hostel (1.60 euro ticket) we took this advice and had crash course on the Paris railway system. I really enjoy using the subway here because it makes no sense. Unlike Glasgow's nearly perfect circular subway system, Paris is a minefield of many many many different train lines all converging and diverging to different parts of the city with almost no order. That said we got where we needed to go and popped out of the railway to find the not so great side of town...ah the joys of cheap hostels. Before we went to bed we all stupidly paid 8 euro for drinks (yes each one) at what we soon realized was a mostly African restaurant/club...we left quickly. I slept like a baby even without a pillow last night (some random guy had stolen mine and was using two) because I had only gotten 2 1/2 hours of sleep the night before...this was due to an online Clemson class test...but I passed it(pass fail grade) so I am done with that.
Anyway, today totally rocked. It felt really laid back and yet we accomplished/saw sooooooo much. This is all thanks to James who is Scott's girlfriends cousin. He's completing his master degree here in french studies and had the day off so he showed us the city and we basically kicked some Paris in the pants. Today we saw: Versailles (easily an all day event if you don't have your own personal tour guide) Versailles was the first highlight of the day. I did not realize that Neptune's fountain was there, I have seen it in pictures before and always wanted to in person. In Versailles we walked a lot. Apparently, there are many palaces on this one rather large piece of land. we toured the main palace, the gardens, Marie Antoinette's palace, and all kinds of places in between (stables, orange gardens, fountains...ect). Next we walked by Notre Dame. I once helped put together a 3d puzzle of it. being able to actually seeing it in person was almost unreal.
Somewhere in there we grabbed food which ended up being a weird gyro that had fry's in it...apparently it's popular here. I also had some Turkish delight (I ended up spilling powdered sugar all over me thanks to this), and raspberry gelatto (ice cream of sorts).
We traveled from Notra Dame all the way across Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. We just missed capturing it with the sunset, but it was very overcast so it probably would not have been very significant anyway. Emily helped convince us to take the elevator system to the top of the tower, I don't recommend this for anyone who is scared of heights.
We all agree that without James helping us all day we'd never have seen and done everything we have been able to.
Tomorrow is the Louvre and then off to Brussels ...gotta run batter power is low and this Internet connection here won't let me upload photos I'll take care of that asap!