Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Long “Weekend” in Vienna

As interesting as Budapest was, and as beautiful as Prague was, Vienna was my favorite city on our trip. My mother lived there in her first few years of elementary school because my grandfather worked for the State Department/was a spy and he had business there. I’ve heard stories about Vienna my whole life and distinctly remember a puzzle at Gramma’s house of elegant Viennese formal gardens, so I’ve grown up wanting to visit Vienna, this elegant city with which I feel I have a history, a connection.
We arrived in Vienna in the afternoon and spent the rest of our first day in the Schloß Schönbrunn, a magnificent palace on the edge of the city. It’s like Versailles in that it is a huge yellow palace surrounded by tons of formal gardens. We didn’t go in the palace (we’re cheap, okay?) but we did spend a lot of time walking around the gardens and admiring the fountains, statues, pigeons that looked like doves, and fake Roman ruins. There were a ton of people running in the park, which made it feel like we weren’t just tourists.

We also stopped by the Easter market in front of the palace and got a snack of kaiserschmarn which is small bits of pancake that you eat with an incredible apple sauce. Deeelish. After our snack we went to dinner, which was schnitzel the size of your head. Tourist trap? Definitely. Something you have to do when in Vienna? I’d say so.

We packed our second and last day full of sights. We started at the Belvedere Museum, which houses Klimt’s famous “The Kiss” painting and numerous other beautiful works of his.

We also stopped into St. Stephan’s Cathedral, which was an important stop for me because my mom said that she and her family went to church there a few times. To walk in that beautiful sanctuary and know that my Gramma, Grandpa, mom, and aunts had worshiped there, in that exact space, 40 years earlier was just really incredible.

We also visited the Music Museum which was gimmicky but I got to create a waltz and waltz around the room so that was pretty cool. We ended our day in the Prater, an amusement park inside a large city park, which is known for its giant ferris wheel. It’s basically a low-tech version of the London Eye, and it was so fun to ride it over the city to see Vienna at our feel in the dusky sky.

We ended our trip with a 13 hour night train from Vienna to Geneva (with a 7 am transfer in Zurich) which was certainly interesting, I’ll say that, but not too bad. It was improved by my “kitten tongue” chocolates.

Although we certainly stretched the definition of a long weekend to mean eight days, this trip was an incredible introduction to Central and Eastern Europe, and I can’t wait to go back! x
*I am writing this from the Geneva Airport - what up technology!

A Long “Weekend” in Prague

[It is my literal last day in Switzerland, so clearly now is the time to catch up on trips from over a month ago. Stay tuned for lots of entries and a wrap up in the next few weeks.]
Our first morning in Prague, we went for breakfast in an Art Deco restaurant with a funny waiter and tea with milk. Heaven. Then we went on another free walking tour. I can’t stress enough that these are the best way to learn about a city. We only had a day in Prague, so not only did we get to check off a lot of the key sights, but we also learned more than was in the guidebook and saw other things, like the Jewish quarter, that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We obvs saw the famous Prague clock, but didn’t get to see it strike the hour. Not that we would have known when that is - this clock includes moon cycle, astrological symbols, day, month, year, temperature, GPS coordinates, cooking times, etc.

A definite highlight of the day was our lunch at the Easter market. We got kielbasa sausages and these traditional Central/Eastern European pastries called trdelniks (literally no idea how to pronounce that) which are baked or fried dough covered in cinnamon sugar. How lucky were we to travel in the weeks before Easter when every city has its Easter markets?

We spent the afternoon in the castle, which we got to by walking across St. Charles’ Bridge, a famous pedestrian bridge lined with statues and 5,000,000 caricaturists. From the castle, on a hill in the midst of a sea full of red roofed houses, we could see over the river and the whole city. We didn’t go in the actual castle, but saw the cathedral on the castle grounds at just the right moment to revel in the stained glass light.

Fun fact about Prague: My friend Anna’s family lives in Prague (pray-gue), Oklahoma, so this whole trip was centered around matching Czech and Oklahoma traditions (and mispronouncing the name of the city). One thing we had to do was go to the church from which the people of Prague, OK, supposedly stole a baby Jesus statue. Anna was pretty much dying laughing when we finally saw it. We also went on a hunt through the city for kolaches, a Czech pastry that has its own festival in Oklahoma. They are like Danishes, but are pesky to track down. We gave up after looking in tons of pastry shops and bakeries, grabbed dinner (disgusting, unless you like gravy and dumplings that are both made from flour+water paste) and then stopped in a convenience store for some snacks and there they were! Kolaches!

The Church of the Well-Dressed, Stolen Baby Jesus

The next morning we took the train to Vienna. On the train I finished The Kite Runner, which was so incredible. I read it the entire 6 hour train ride from Budapest to Prague, and opened it almost as soon as we got on the train to Vienna. So vivid, so emotional, and such a far cry from the life I am blessed to be living. x

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Long “Weekend” in Budapest

In the 20-odd days since I last updated this, I have finished my research project (46 pages of work, what up), traveled some more, gotten rained on, and eaten scones to my heart’s content. Before we get to those stories, let me take you back, way back, to March 22nd, when my friends Alicia, Anna, and I spent a 7-day-long “weekend” traveling Central and Eastern Europe.
Our first stop was in Budapest (pronounced Budapesht), where we spent three days exploring Buda (the old, hilly side of the River Danube) and Pest (the flat, newer side where our flat was). It was an interesting trip, because Hungary is now the furthest east I’ve ever been and it really felt different in many ways from Western Europe. We took a walking tour of the city on our first morning and our tour guide reminded us that she, a 25 year old woman, was born under Communism. It wasn’t all that long ago.

After our walking tour, we headed back to Pest to climb up to the top of St. Stephan’s to get that always-cool view of the whole city at our feet.

We went from the church to the opera! Anna, resident music nerd, found us tickets to Straus’ opera “Arabella.” Normally tickets are super cheap but there was a music festival going on so our tickets cost a bit more but we also got box seats...super fancy. The opera was in Italian and the projections were in Hungarian so afterwards we spent dinner trying to figure out what, exactly, it was all about. We cooked dinner in our flat’s kitchen, the smallest I have ever seen. There was hardly space to turn around, but it was just so adorable!

The next day we went to the Holocaust Museum, an incredibly touching experience especially in the country from which many Jews and Gypsies were deported. We decompressed with a lunch of goulash and an afternoon in one of the famous Budapest baths.

We spent our last day in Budapest at the synagogue, enriching what we’d learned at the Holocaust Museum. It was a beautiful building filled with so much history - there even remained part of the wall that was used to created the Jewish ghetto.

On that happy note, we left Budapest and hopped on a train to Prague. x

Sunday, April 1, 2012

No seriously, do you do any studying?

Answer: no.
April Fools!

is this hilarious to anyone else? just me? cool.
I sort of do. Actually, I really do. Contrary to popular belief, this term has involved many hours of reading, writing, and interviews...and we’re just getting started. After a few French exams and one three-hour-long written final we are technically done with classes. Yet as hard as it is not to go directly into break-mode, we are nowhere near finished with the semester. We get a month (more like 2.5 weeks at this point) off to do research on our giant research project.
The scariest part of this “ISP” (independent study project) is not the 30 pages or the 120 hours of research or the thought of writing a slightly short thesis in a month’s time, but it is the 30 hours of interviews we are required to have. I have sent out 25-30 emails in the past few weeks and today I FINALLY scheduled an interview. When I grow up I will make sure to answer everyone’s emails especially if they are a lowly undergraduate student just trying to get some research done.
Anyway, in addition to studying for finals and freaking out about interviews, my time between travels and since Ireland has been filled with lots of sunshine, friends, and lakefront lounging.

post-finals, holla!

I also went up to the mountains with my host mom. In a more successful adventure than last time, we rode a cabine to the top, saw the Alps, drank hot cocoa and ate crepes, and hiked down the mountain via the easy slopes. It really made me want to learn skiing - too bad it is the end of the season. Next winter though!

On one of the less-sunny days, some friends and I did slack off on our research and took a day trip to Montreux, the city on the opposite end of Lake Geneva. I went with my host family right before we went to Paris, but that was a quick trip filled with traffic and a fencing tournament. With my friends we were able to take our sweet time to saunter around the lake and sit in the shadow of the castle.

Anyway, this is just an intermediary post to fill you in on more day-to-day things outside of my big travels. But get ready, because I just got back from Eastern and Central Europe and I have lots of stories to tell. x

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The grass really is greener in Ireland*

I’d like to write a love letter to the British Isles. It goes something like this:
2-4 March 2012
My dears,
Thank you for consistently being such a wonderful host (ess?), offering up beautiful vistas and delicious fairy cakes with proper tea at every turn. Not only did you host me for an amazing semester in London, but you made a great experience out of just a short weekend in Northern Ireland.
Look at what Belfast had to offer us:
An evening walk that saw the town hall, a statue by the lake, and the leaning clock tower.

Seriously the most beautiful bus tour I have ever been on (also my first bus tour, but that is neither here nor there), including
incredible views of the sea,

probably the world’s most famous rope bridge,


the Giant’s Causeway,

and more photos full of green and blue than I thought was possible.
A sunny Sunday morning walk through Queen’s University.

A black cab tour on which we saw the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, the gates between them that were closed because it was Sunday, and the peace wall (with our new signatures...and Rhianna’s).

Protestant side of the wall

not all of the gates were close - Checkpoint
Charlie was open

Catholic side of the wall

And that doesn’t include the tea with milk (what a novel idea! Get on board, Switzerland), cider, fish and chips, and Cafe Nero caramel waffles.
You are beautiful. Let me know if you have any job openings; I’d love to spend some more time together.
Cheers, Julia
*Alternate titles for this entry include: “‘Our next wee stop will be in this little wee village, ladies and gentlemen,’” “This European PDA is really getting out of control,” “Belfast you make me feel like I’m the only tourist in the world,” and “Tea with milk, and other things I’ve missed from the UK.” x