I can’t even believe that I have waited so long to write a post. If I can get everything I’ve done squeezed into this one post, it will be an amazing feat of my memory. Don’t judge me if I need to turn to others to jog my memory of the things I’ve done. I guess I’ll go day by day in this post, simply because I couldn’t possibly string my stories together in any way but chronologically.
So. Let’s begin a week ago, Thursday.
I woke up early and hopped on the tram with Lynsey to get to finance. We had a short test, and, for me, it was miserable. Thank god I am a marketing major. Fortunately, our professor liked us because we were very vocal and attentive during his class (mostly because it’s only the two of us, so it’s not like we actually have a choice) so I didn’t answer an entire question, got another wrong, and still got a B+ (the test only consisted of three questions). I can only hope that the Angers professor is just as lenient and forgiving.
For our marketing class, our professor had planned a tour of the Unicum factory for the entire group. Unicum is a Hungarian liquor that is available in the United States, but, after tasting it, I can’t imagine anyone would ever feel the need to buy it. It was a cute little tour with a movie in the beginning and a tasting of three types of liquor at the end. I do believe that was everyone’s favorite part. After the tour ended around 5:30 pm, we headed off to Spoon, a super chic restaurant located on a boat that sits on the Danube River. We wined and dined for two hours, eating delicious and decorative dishes and enjoying each other’s company. Stuffed, we galumphed down the river walk to another boat, one that we happily dubbed The Booze Cruise (like in The Office). We climbed to the upper deck and rushed to grab seats outside just as all of the lights of the city flickered on. The boat cruised up and down the river for an hour and gave us THE most beautiful view of Budapest that we had seen yet. We also got served free champagne, so that probably helped with the beauty of the city as well.
We began our last day in Budapest with two tests and a project due. By the time classes and everything were over, we were a bit exhausted, but ready to pack and hit the town for the last time. We went back to our favorite restaurant and ate yummy Hungarian dishes and got serenaded by a pair of Hungarian musicians. We were obviously American, so I guess the violinist decided to play a song that we would recognize instantly: The Chicken Dance. Very classy, sir. He played some other songs for us, and, after some Sinatra, we decided it was time to leave. We scurried back to our apartments and spent our last hours in Budapest chatting and sharing stories. It was a perfect last night.
The next morning, not as fun. At 9 am we herded downstairs, dragging our luggage behind us, and piled into three taxis organized to take us to the train station located in the middle of Budapest. We hopped on the train and relaxed as we snaked towards Vienna, Austria. Even though we only spent two night in Vienna, I loved it way more than Budapest. I think there is less to do there, overall, than in Budapest, but the city is just somehow brighter and happier. After dumping our luggage at the modern yet simple hotel, we hustled back to the underground in order to ride downtown and get some lunch. We chose a tiny restaurant located in the middle of a market-type-thing that sat in the middle of a square downtown. I had my first taste of schnitzel and authentic Austrian beer, and it was almost heavenly. (I found later that the schnitzel I had at that meal really wasn’t all that great, I’ve had way better since then). Afterward, we split up in groups, some went shopping, others went to museums, and Dan and I decided to just wander through the tourist district till we found something cool. I do believe I made the right choice. We walked and talked for blocks. We ran into a church procession, street dancers, St. Steve’s Church, some buildings with incredible architectural features. Overall, our walking self-tour of Vienna was a success. Once we had exhausted our energy levels, we sat down at a little café in the tourist district and ordered dark, sweet Austrian beers that was delicious. We were just sitting, chatting, and people watching, when, all of a sudden, our TA walked up and plopped down next to us. His train had come in hours after ours, and we had no communication saying who would be where and when, so he found us completely by chance. It was so odd and hilarious that we made quite the scene laughing and carrying on like we Americans do. Once the three of us decided we were sick of sitting, we left the waitress a large tip and headed out of the tourist district to one of Vienna’s two palaces (don’t remember their names. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.) Apparently, there was some sort of festival taking place because there were bands playing music outside, tents set up, poetry readings and the like strewn all across the palace gardens and neighboring parks. It was so neat to see the city in action. After a few hours of wandering, our tired feet got the better of us, and we trudged back to the hotel to get some sleep.
This day was so much fun. I enjoyed my life every second of that day. First, we went to the Spanish Riding School, which is famous for its talented professional riders and beautiful white stallions that perform the tricks. The building that the show takes place in is beautiful in and of itself. Everything is white, and three huge crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The horses were magnificent. They were beautifully adorned with gold straps and deep red blankets with ornate leather saddles situated on top. Manes gleaming, the horses showed off their talents of jumping, riding sideways, dancing and so on. Their muscles rippled underneath glistening coats as they jumped and twisted with incredible grace for such a large animal. It was a really neat thing to watch. A spectacle, realy. Schӧnbrunn Palace was next. Most fun I’ve had in my life. Well, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it was still a blast. The actual palace tour was just ok, but we also got to eat apple strudel (after watching it be made right in front of us in a cute little demonstration), play in hedge mazes towering in the back of the garden, climb around on children’s playground equipment, and climb a rather large hill to get a gorgeous view of Vienna. (Don’t fret, I took pictures). After the palace, a few of us wandered to a Rick Steve’s recommended restaurant. It. Was. Awesome. We walked inside, but it felt like we had walked outside. Ivy streaked across the ceiling a few feet over our heads and soft lamps dangled from the foliage. The glass roof retracted a few minutes after we sat down, allowing the cool Austrian air brush past us as we sipped white wine and laughed as we reminisced about the day’s antics. (Feel like your reading a trashy romance novel yet?) After some more excellent schnitzel (I do believe I have had my fill now), we walked slowly back to the room to freshen up and hit the town. Unfortunately, Vienna is not known for its night scene, but we did find a cheesy amusement park where we wasted some Euros riding cheap-looking roller coasters and rides that made our heads spin. Afterward, we spotted some cute, cozy places to chat, listen to music, and enjoy the evening. It was a great night that I’ll remember forever.
Our minibus picked us up from the hotel in Vienna early in the morning and then we were off to Salzburg. Our bus driver was an exotic-looking German woman that wore tight jeans and drove like a freaking maniac. She drove about 50 mph on the Autobahn, but then went streaking through narrow mountain passes at 70 mph. I couldn’t even fall asleep on that dang bus I was so afraid for my life. Anyway, we arrived in Salzburg without any major mortalities and we got dropped off at the salt mines. Before we could enter the mines for our hour-long tour (the tour with the ADORABLE tour guide that wore a uniform and everything), we had to get dressed up in these ridiculous white suits that made me feel like I was touring Willy Wonka’s factory. Don’t worry, got some pics of that, too. Once properly attired, we were marched down two flights of stairs, had cheesy pictures snapped of us, and were lined up to get on the “train” that was to take us deep into the mine. It was so fun because the train is really like a giant teeter-totter that doesn’t go up and down, so the whole group sits on it in a line and straddles the person in front of them. Needless to say, it was quite hilarious and, if we would have been children, I’m sure there would have been much bickering about who got to sit behind who. The ride only lasted for about five minutes, but we enjoyed it all the same. The mine actually straddles the Germany-Austria border, so we crossed the border while wandering through the underground tunnels. The tour guide spoke to us first in German, and then repeated himself in English. After a few little facts and movie clips, we got to the first slide that would take us deeper into the tunnel. This is where the suits came in handy. The slide is made of two polished wooden rails that you straddle and then whiz down until it flattens at the bottom of the incline. We went down two or three at a time, and we had a BLAST doing it. We also got to ride a boat on an underground lake-ish thing, and it was so cool because the ride only lasts about 5 minutes, but they shut off all of the lights and turn on colored spotlights that give the large room an amazing (yet eerie) appearance. Plus I felt like I was in the Harry Potter movie. I half-expected to bump into a strange island in the middle of the lagoon. After the boat ride and the second, much longer, slide, the tour ended with a ride back out on the train. We all had so much fun on that tour.
Next, the bus took us to our hotel, which happened to be like 600 years old. Rachel, Jenny, and I shared a room, and you could tell by the layout of the hotel that it truly was extremely old. A crystal chandelier dangled above the four-post queen-sized bed, and the key we were given was actually brass and looked like those from the olden days. We spent the evening eating and watching movies. Dinner was delicious cheese spatzel (pronounced shpitzel) that probably cost a lot, but it’s essentially just glorified mac and cheese.
We hopped back onto our minibus with Angelica the German maniac and putted off to Dachau, the very first German concentration camp. We took a guided tour with a very knowledgeable tour guide. The last thing we saw was the crematorium, and, I have to say, it was the most difficult thing to learn about. As soon as I had stepped foot in the camp, my heart felt heavy. A wave of depression washes over you as you walk through those gates. Anyway, it’s rough, but I think that visiting a concentration camp is something that everyone should try to do in their lifetimes, so we never forget those who suffered during those horrible, horrible years.
Ok, sorry for the depressing topics. On to fun things.
Angelica, after Dachau, drove us up through the mountains to our little bed and breakfast situated in a valley beneath Rothenburg, Germany. The building used to be an old mill until the owner and his wife (adorable young couple) decided to turn it into a B&B in 1999. After dropping our belongings in the rooms, we hiked up the mountain on a path that led straight to Rothenburg. It’s a cute, medieval German town with the classic wooden decorations on the houses and old churches towering over the rest of the buildings. All of the roads are cobblestone, and the view from the ancient wall surrounding the city is incredible. We spent one night and two days there, mostly just walking around and touring the city on our own.
This morning we spent in Rothenburg, and then Angelica drove us to Bacharach which is another tiny German town situated in the mountains, but this one is on the Rhine River, and we got to stay the night in a CASTLE. Well, now it’s a hostel, but it’s still a castle! It was really incredible, plus we had a view of the river that just couldn’t be beat. We thankfully said our goodbyes to Angelica-the-driver-from-hell, and hopped onto a boat to take a lazy tour of the Rhine River valley. As the boat chugged along, we sat in a circle on the upper deck and gazed in awe at the surrounding mountains and the rows and rows of vineyards that grew on the sides of them. Talk about being in wine country… Oh, but the vineyards were nothing compared to the ancient castles that loomed over the river from the tops of the mountains. At every turn, a new castle was to be seen. Everything I looked at was so beautiful and ancient it put me into a shock. It’s so funny to me that something built in the 1500s-1600s is considered “new” to Europeans, but we have no buildings that old in the U.S. We all freak over a house built in the 1700s that still stands, and Europeans are shocked when they are not still standing. Anyway, we took a train back to Bacharach once we had reached the last stop on the river boat and headed back to our castle for some German beverages and card games, which we played while the sun set over the river that could be seen from the balcony and our bedroom windows.
Good lord, this is the longest post ever. Thank heavens I’m almost done.
Sorry for complaining. It’s my own fault for waiting this long.
Let's see. Ah, yes. Thursday we took a train to Trier: our final stop in Germany before heading into France for the remainder of the trip (well, for me, the first half of my trip). Trier is a lovely German town; no mountains in sight, but cobblestone roads and cute buildings can be seen for miles. By this point in our week of travelling, we were so exhausted that we really didn't do much in Trier besides walk around and eat. My fave things. I would suggest going to Trier once you're retired and want to go on a bus tour of Europe or something. I do believe that we were the youngest people in town.
That was an easy description. Ok, now on to Friday.
Ahhhhh old Paris. (Imagine that with a French accent, like Pear-ee, much more refined). Although I loved Paris, this is where I began to fall apart. First, on the train from Trier to Paris was very crowded. We have to carry our own luggage on and off the train (I may as well insert here that I packed way too much and have been regretting it since day 1). Well, I had wheeled my bulging green duffel toward the door of the train, but a German family squeezed in front of me once the train came to a screeching halt in the Paris station. So, the whole family gets off first (very slowly, I might add) and I attempted to follow suit with my bag out in front of me. Unfortunately, I underestimated 1. the sheer weight and girth of my bag, 2. the steepness of the train steps, and 3. the size of the gap between the train and the very cold, hard cement platform. As a result of these miscalculations, I began to teeter on the second step and the weight of my bag threw me forward, off of the train, onto the platform and onto my hands and knees. My heavy bookbag that was resting on my shoulders carried my momentum from the fall and turned me over on my back, my arms and legs sprawled across the cement and my luggage. My hair tossed in front of my face, blocking my vision, and my dress (thank GOD I happened to wear tights that day) flew up above my stomach. I looked like a G.D. fool. Not to mention, the German family that had pranced off of the train in front of me began to freak out and (I'm guessing) asking me if I was ok. Luckily, I escaped the incident with no more than a skinned knee and damaged dignity. I hurried to gather my things, thank the German family, and scurry off to meet the rest of my group that had gotten off the train from another exit. I still don't think any of them saw... Although I can't say the same for the 50 other Germans that had been waiting to get off of the train behind me.
All in all, great way to greet France.
Once we had gathered our luggage and everything, we headed down to the metro stop, so we could ride the metro to our hotel (well, not really TO our hotel. More like 7 blocks away). Again, this is where I am beginning to fall apart. When the metro train finally rode into the station, ten billion other people tried to get on at the same time as us. Unfortunately, we all had our luggage with us and had to drag it on the train. Well, I didn't have enough room to enter in one door (thanks to the guys in my group who pushed past me and onto the train via that door) and the warning buzzer that tells you the doors are going to close began to sound as I ran to the next door. There didn't seem to be enough room there either, but BJ grabbed me and made me squish on just as the door slammed shut--onto my backpack. So now I'm standing there on THE most crowded metro in the world, sweating like a pig in the 90 degree heat, trying to keep myself and my overstuffed luggage from falling over, while BJ struggled to free my backpack from titanium reinforced train doors. Needless to say, I was a little cranky by this point. It was well past noon and I hadn't hardly eaten all day. So then, we get off the train, go up an escalator, and end up on a main street in downtown Paris. That's when someone got my attention and informed me that the handle on the bottom of my BRAND new bag had fallen off. Now I was hungry, tired, hot, my feet hurt, my clothes smelled, my luggage was broken, I was sweating my butt off, no one knew where we were going, the hotel was no where in sight, everyone was cranky and sick of each other, the sun was shining too brightly in my eyes, my knee was still bleeding from falling off the train, my other knee was beginning to bruise, my dignity was shattered, and my backpack began to squeeze and hurt and pull my neck.
So I stood there with my arms crossed and pouted like a child for ten minutes. Then I felt better. Until we got to the hotel. Everyone was assigned rooms--EXCEPT for me and my roommate. Ours was still being cleaned. At like four in the freakin' afternoon. Jerks. So we dragged our luggage into BJ's room and sat on the bed until everyone was ready to go exploring, though I was hardly in the mood to go walk around in the hot sun. I tried to put my sour mood behind me, however, and I went along with everyone else as we walked to see Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. All were pretty cool. We only spent maybe and hour or two in the Louvre, which is a shame because we only got to see the top things (and only a couple of those like Mona, Code of Hammurabi, and a few others). Going up in the Tower was neat, too. We opted to walk to the second floor, which is like 40 stories up, and then take the elevator to the very top (there is no option to take the stairs). We spent about 3 hours overall in/around the Tower, and by the time we left it was going on 10 pm. We decided to stay and see the lights show, and it was really pretty at night.
More touring of Paris. First Napoleon's tomb. Cool but a little dull. Next, some French military history museum. Beyond dull. Next, the Orsay. LOVED it. They had a decent collection of Monet, my absolute favorite artist. And then we hit the low point. The ancient Parisian sewers. I don't know why the hell, in a million years, anyone would opt to take a tour of a city's sewer system, much less PAY to do so, but one of the girl's had read a lot of books that referenced it, so off we went into the world below to rush through some cement tunnels that smelled like.... Do I even have to say it?
I'm still giving her crap (te he he) for making us go down there, but one of these days I may decide to forgive her.
Last day in Paris. Slept in, packed, ate, sat in the park under the Eiffel Tower, watched gypsy children sing on the metro, drank lots of water, and got on a train to Angers. By the time we arrived in Angers, which is a town of about 200,000 people in the western half of France, we were exhausted. We were met at the train station by a student attending the school we are taking classes at, and he took us to our dorm and out to dinner.
Monday (today and the final day in this entry. Don't worry, it's almost over!)
I love our rooms because we each have our own room and bathroom and then a common kitchen, but we have one random French roommate as well, and we saw her for the first time today. She was on the phone with her family and didn't acknowledge our presence even though I was literally standing right in front of her, but, whatever, I'm sure we'll become acquainted eventually.
I'm not sure how I feel about Angers yet. It's about the size of Dayton, just in France. I'll keep you updated on how I feel about it. It's cute, but it seems like a rather boring city. We'll just see what happens.
Anyway, this post is freaking long enough!
I miss you all very much, and I can't wait to see you all in like 8 weeks!