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Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Week in Dublin :)

Hello Everybody!

I realize by now you are all probably sick of hearing about Europe, but I happen to love drawing the experience out as long as I can! I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to get this particular blog written, but I’ve been having a hard time establishing how exactly to tell you about all of my Dublin adventures – they kind of blend in with each other!

In any case, I shall begin where I left off – heading from Glasgow to Dublin! Mum dropped off Sebastien and I at the airport, and we were extremely happy to be flying somewhere together for once! We’ve made many trips to the airport together, but this was our first time actually sitting together on the plane! Speaking of which, our plane that was traveling to Dublin was fairly obvious to spot…

Green with a shamrock on the tail!

The flight went very smoothly, and it was extremely exciting to look out the window at the green fields of Ireland for the first time. We even saw a rainbow as we were flying in!

When we arrived in Dublin, it fortunately didn’t take us too long to find our hotel. We ended up approaching it from a roundabout way, but we still arrived before the rain started. We had chosen a hotel that was right in the heart of downtown, which made walking to different places extremely easy for the rest of the week.

We spent a large part of the week leisurely roaming through the city. I have to say, it was a lovely change from the rapid pace and rigid schedule of the week before! We had never been to Dublin before, so we spent all of our meal times walking between different pubs and seeing which one tickled our fancy. I would probably say that our favourite meal was Guinness beef sausages with mashed potatoes at ‘The Boxty House’. The Guinness made the sausages amazingly flavourful, and they were definitely the best I’ve ever had! We didn’t eat at a ton of Irish Pubs though, mainly since they were usually on the pricey side. Sebastien and I also decided that we preferred pubs in Scotland to those in Ireland; while the ones in Ireland had fish and chips and a large variety of stews, the ones in Scotland had these things as well as macaroni and cheese, and haggis of course.

But believe it or not, we did not spend our entire trip to Dublin eating! There were a lot of cool monuments to see along the main road, such as a James Joyce statue and the Spire of Dublin.

The Spire of Dublin, from up close!

Base of the Spire

Just in case you can’t tell how tall it is from other angles, here it is one more time 😛

James Joyce Statue! Famous Irish writer 🙂

Another cool monument…I’m afraid I don’t know a lot about Ireland besides the writers, so I didn’t really understand who a lot of the monuments were about! (plus a lot of them were on the island in the middle of the road so I couldn’t read the description!)

It was pretty amazing to be so close to main street, and to be able to see all of these cool things by just walking out of the hotel!

The main street was extremely wide, with monuments on the island in the middle of the street. I have to say, I have never been in a city where the crosswalk lights are considered to be a mere guideline before. The light stays red for an exceptionally long time, so a lot of people just go ahead and cross the street…and often, so many people cross while it’s supposedly red that cars have to wait for most of their green light! There is also bountiful jay-walking, which was quite the thrill at times. But while the main street was extremely wide, it only took crossing the river to get to the good spot, where there are plenty of restaurants and old cobblestone streets.

Old Bridge 🙂

Random street corner…sorry I didn’t portray the awesomeness better!

And yes, it was in a restaurant on one of these streets that we had our amazing guinness sausages! It was also on one of these streets that we discovered why Ireland is sometimes associated with rainbows – while the sun was still blazing, there was a sudden rainstorm! We ducked under an awning, and it was over within minutes. Quite cool to see, although I’m happy it didn’t happen too often!

Hard to tell in this small picture, but it’s raining in the sunshine

So for our first two days, we experienced great weather. I believe it was on our second full day there that we checked out the Guinness Storehouse! It was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel, and on our way we got to see the building in which James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ was filmed. Well, not the actual book, but the movie adaptation of the book.

James Joyce’s House: ‘The Dead’!!

Basically, James Joyce wrote a short story called ‘The Dead,’ which I believe was published in a collection called ‘The Dubliners’. I had to read it for my Irish Literature Course this year, and also watched the film adaptation. We didn’t get to actually look inside though; it used to be a museum, but due to a lack of visitors, the only way one can see it now would be to call up someone to come and open the door. We decided not to go through the trouble, since we were extremely excited about getting some Guinness.

I have to admit that Sebastien and I are not actually the hugest Guinness fans, but the tour of the factory was definitely worth doing! The tour started out showing us the different ingredients that are put in Guinness, where they come from, and the importance of their role. We then got to see a lot of the machines that they use for brewing Guinness, and then were given a sample (!). After that, we got to see a history of Guinness advertising, including the origin of how a toucan came to be used in Guinness commercials. Believe it or not, but I never knew that ‘Guinness is good for you’ until I saw this part of the tour! Although throughout the tour, it is emphasized that there are only four ingredients in Guinness, so it is extremely pure, as opposed to having tons of junk in it. The other interesting thing I learned was that the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ began when people in a bar were debating what breed of bird was able to fly the fastest. When they did the work to find out which bird it was, they realized that people in bars often debated facts such as this; so they began a book filled with records, and gave it to bartenders to settle disputes. Cool, eh?

After that, we got to see a short demonstration on cooking with Guinness, and how the different types go well with either savoury or sweet foods. I took a few recipe cards (Guinness chocolate truffles, Guinness beef stew, Guinness chocolate mousse…) and I got another sample! Each of these phases of the tour that I have mentioned were on different levels, and at this point we were getting pretty close to the top of the building. The top level of the building was a room with all glass walls, and a bar in the center. With the cost of admission to the tour, we got a ticket that would give us a free Guinness, so Sebastien and I cashed in and proceeded to enjoy the view of Dublin!

hard to see, but the Spire by our hotel can be seen in the distance!

The Wicklow Mountains in the distance 🙂 the water from those mountains is used in the brewing of Guinness! Apparently Arthur Guinness founded his brewery in this spot because of the proximity to the water supply!

Unfortunately, about halfway through my pint I really started to remember that I am not a Guinness fan, and had to leave a bit in my glass before we left. But we had a nice walk home, and spent the rest of the day wandering through the city. One thing I forgot to mention about the downtown part of Dublin is that it is absolutely packed with tourists. I guess this is a fairly obvious statement, considering that everything tourists would want to see is right there, but I found that I was just as likely to hear a conversation in German or Spanish as I was one in English. Almost everyone we saw was carrying a bag from the major tourist-y store in the city, and one time in an Irish restaurant, we were next to a group of Asian people that were getting a real kick out of their big pints of Guinness. We had no problem with it, but it was funny to hear so much German when I had left Berlin just a few weeks ago!

The other mildly cool thing that happened while we were in Dublin was that the Irish premier of the movie ‘Total Recall’ happened at the theatre right by our hotel. There was a red carpet, three giant posters for the movie, and when we walked by at about 2 there were already crowds forming. When we left the hotel again at about 6 for dinner, we walked in the opposite direction since the crowds were so huge. However, we dared to walk on the red carpet a little while later when everything was being cleaned up.

I’m practically famous!

When we were planning our trip, Sebastien came up with the brilliant idea to rent a car for a day. It was difficult to find a car rental company that wouldn’t charge an arm and a leg for Sebastien’s being under 25, but we finally succeeded. Sebastien had a great time driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car…he has actually driven on the wrong side of the road multiple times thanks to his previous trips to the UK, but this was his first time driving from the passengers seat. He got used to it extremely quickly though, and we headed towards Kilkenny. Unfortunately, the skies chose this day to open up and let it pour…the weather was absolutely miserable! Sebastien had a planned road stop at a cool outdoor site, but we didn’t see farther than the parking lot. We went into the tourist building to use the washroom, and by the time we got back to the car we were completely and utterly soaked. It also took us a while to figure out how to stop the windows from being completely fogged up, but I eventually found the right button. Our plan had been to take the small scenic roads on the way up to Kilkenny, and then take the highway back. But despite the terrible weather, I still was extremely pleased that we took the road trip. When I had pictured coming to Ireland, I had imagined all of the scenic green fields covered in sheep that I had seen in movies. While Dublin was great, it was way more of a big city, and seemed fairly similar to other big cities I have been to. On the road trip, I finally got to see the small towns and sheep covered hillsides I had imagined. I would love to go back sometime to spend more time in the country, exploring it on a less rainy day.

To be honest, my primary reason for wanting to visit Kilkenny was that I wanted to say I had been there next time I was at ‘Kilkenny’s Pub’ in Calgary. Sebastien had much better motives – he was quite interested in seeing the Kilkenny Castle, and the other hot spots mentioned in brochures. Thankfully, the bad weather eased up by the time we arrived there. After having lunch in an Irish pub with a giant cricket bat (stick?) on the wall, we walked around the city a bit to check out the sites. The Kilkenny Castle was pretty impressive, and there was one room in which they were doing a presentation on it’s history. I’m afraid I don’t remember a lot of its history, but I can assure you that it is an extremely old castle! I remember Anne Boleyn being mentioned during the presentation, and by the time she was involved the castle had already been around for quite some time.

Not the best photo, but there’s Kilkenny Castle and the garden 🙂

Of course, Murphy’s law ensured that we had fantastic weather for the view-less drive back to Dublin, but it was nice and relaxing either way. We also got to see cows heading home, which was extremely exciting in my opinion.

cows are coming home!

The next day was mine and Sebastien’s two year anniversary. It’s pretty amazing to think that we began our relationship (well, round two of our relationship, since round one all took place in Calgary) in Scotland, then celebrated our first anniversary in France, and were able to have our second anniversary in Ireland. Unfortunately we got to the Writers Museum too late in the afternoon to be able to check it out, but we did have a delicious dinner at a badass restaurant (I’m not exaggerating: it was called “Bad Ass”).

The next day, we were fortunately able to visit the Dublin Writer’s Museum, as well as see two movies, before we had to go to the bus that would take us to the ferry back to England. The Writer’s Museum was absolutely amazing to see! It was an extremely thorough museum, and had a wide variety of artifacts as well as extensive information. Since I had taken a class in Irish Literature, I found it extremely interesting to read all about the authors behind the works I had studied. There were lots of samples of literature; my favourite being a copy of a poem in which the author had gone and re-inserted certain stanzas in handwriting, since they had been removed by the government for being inappropriate. They also had a teddy bear that belonged to a famous writer on display, and my new goal in life is to be famous enough that people are excited to see my teddy bear. Sebastien also thoroughly enjoyed the museum, and we were extremely glad that we were able to make it before we had to leave.

That evening, we began the trek back to England. We took a bus to the ferry, which took us to Wales. We then had to wait the entire night at the train station in Wales, and eventually took a train to England (although we were not exactly awake for that leg of the journey!). From the Central Station there, we made our way through the various subways to the airport, and then took a bus to the hotel where we would stay for our last night. It was quite the trip! I was extremely glad that we had one more night though, instead of doing all of that traveling to instantly be separated at the airport.

I just noticed my word count…I guess I shall be writing one more blog after all! What summer adventure is complete without a summary blog? Thank you so much for reading!

Bis Spaeter (I hate being away from a German keyboard!)

Robyn

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Shakespeare, Olympics, and the Worlds Highland Games!!

Hi Everybody!

So apparently my definition of ‘tomorrow’ is a little different from most people’s, considering that it has now been a few days since my last post. In any case, it’s here now!

So the last entry I wrote was while I was on the bus from Berlin to London. The bus ride took a total of 20 hours, during which time I primarily ate pringles, read my book, and got no sleep. I also gained a strong dislike of the bus driver we had, since he spoke no English or German. In most cases, I don’t mind language barriers, but when he’s telling us we have ‘kains’ minutes at a certain rest stop, and then gets mad when people aren’t back after 10 minutes…it was quite frustrating. He also almost left me behind at the border crossing between France and England – it took a little longer for me to get through since I’m not a European Citizen, and apparently Sebastien had to literally stand in the doorway of the bus to prevent the driver from leaving. The driver figured I was just in the bathroom on the bus or something, but Sebastien used his basic Spanish to get through to him that I was not physically on the bus.

However! That border crossing brought about the most exciting part of the bus ride…getting to take the Euro Rail! For any of you who don’t know, there is an underwater tunnel that leads from France to England, and is a much faster way of traveling than by ferry. Basically, all of the vehicles (including our bus) board onto a long train which then travels through the tunnel. Here’s a picture of the view as we were inside the train:

It was pretty cool to be on a bus that wasn’t running, as the train was moving. We could feel the bus swaying gently back and forth, and it was pretty insane to think that we were traveling under the ocean. Sebastien appreciated the experience at the time a lot more than I did though, since I was still quite traumatized from almost having been left in France. But in the end, we definitely made it to London in one piece. The bus experience had been interesting…I don’t think I would like to repeat the entire 20 hour trip again, but it was relaxing to not be driving or have to worry about directions, and it was definitely a nicer experience having Sebastien with me than it would be alone.

Once we were off the bus, we started heading for St. Albans, which is a fairly small town just outside of London. It was interesting navigating the subway with all of our luggage, but somehow we made it! (Thank goodness for Sebastien’s navigation skills!) While we were at the station, I decided to get a bit of breakfast…and as the lady behind the counter asked me what I would like, I almost tried to stumble my way through ordering in German! I had spent the last three months in a country where they would probably understand what I asked for in English, but primarily spoke German. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about being back in English territory…but either way, the breakfast was quite tasty! In St. Albans we were staying with my friend Jini, who I lived with for a semester at UVic while she was on exchange. Last year, when Sebastien and I were taking a road trip through Europe, (twice as long as this year’s road trip!) we stayed with Jini and her family for a few days, and had an absolutely fantastic time. So this year, when we were trying to plan out how to get to Scotland to meet up with my pipeband, we decided to leave a few days early so that we could stay with Jini again. Fortunately, her family agreed to have us again, despite my bringing a set of bagpipes this time.

So we spent our first night in England catching up with Jini and her family, and enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal (needless to say, it was soooooo much better than pringles on a bus!). The next morning, I practiced my pipes…and unfortunately woke up Jini’s brother who had been out all night at the rugby Olympic event. Thank goodness he was a good sport about it! After that, Jini, Sebastien and I went into London, and met up with Jini’s boyfriend Dave.

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention that this trip happened while the Olympics were going on. Seb and I watched the opening events before heading off to the UK, and were totally excited about the fact that we would soon be there. At the subway stations, there were lots of people in pink vests helping out tourists, and a few people with megaphones directing people to various Olympic locations. At one point, Seb and I were behind a herd of girls in pink t-shirts and backpacks, and as soon as they were through the gates, their supervisor yelled ‘Alright, let’s move it!!’ and the entire group started sprinting across the Station.

Our first stop, once we were in the heart of London, was St. Paul’s Cathedral. Seb and I hadn’t seen it on our last visit, so we wanted to check out the outside of the building, which was pretty amazing. After that, we spent quite a bit of time walking around, and checking out all of the sights. One of the highlights was definitely seeing the Olympic rings on the Tower of London Bridge. It was also cool to see lots of flags from different nations everywhere.

Tower of London Bridge 🙂

Hard to tell, but this is me walking directly under the Olympic rings, while on the bridge!

A square with lots of different flags hanging around

It was funny to be seeing London at the time of the Olympics, because sometimes it was hard to tell which pieces of art had been put up specifically for the Olympics, versus the things that had always been there. By Westminster Abbey, there were some impressive statues created for the Olympics:

There were also a few smaller statues like this one inside one of the churches. Very well done!

Our trip did not revolve entirely around the Olympics though…we made a point to see the classics, such as Big Ben. At one point, we were also in a sort of shopping area (I’m really sorry that I don’t remember the name of it!) and there was an opera singer performing in an open square. She was an absolutely amazing singer, with an extremely powerful voice…the only thing I didn’t like was that, between each song, she would yell out advertisements about herself, saying that she was not just lip-syncing, was not being paid to be there, and had CD’s available. Hearing her normal voice ruined the opera effect for me a little bit, but overall it was still pretty cool to see.

The entire day was pretty fantastic, and Jini and Dave were excellent tour guides. But the evening was, in particular, extremely exciting and special. We got to see a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre!! This was the theatre at which Shakespeare initially would have his plays performed…and while the theatre is not the original that used to be there, it is constructed in the exact same way; with standing room for some of the audience, and then benches farther back. The only noticeable difference was that there were lights to shine on the stage when it got too dark, whereas back in the day they had to work with whatever light they had on the day! To make this work, there was no real roof over the theatre – and there still isn’t today. We got sprinkled on slightly at one point in the play, but in general the weather was definitely on our side!

Back in Shakespeare’s time, peasants used to get standing tickets, while the higher classes of society would sit farther in the back. Our group stood; it got quite tiring after a while due to the fact that we had spent a fair amount of the day walking, but it was still a pretty awesome experience.

The Globe Theatre from the outside, during the day

Poster for ‘Henry V’ which is what we got to see!

a glimpse of the stage, from where I was standing. a lot of it is open air past the main performance stage

The performance itself was absolutely fantastic. ‘Henry V’ is a historical play, so it was perhaps not one of Shakespeare’s most exciting or funny plays – Jini mentioned that the historical plays were probably performed during the Olympics specifically, so that tourists could get a taste of British history. However, the directors and actors made it an extremely entertaining performance. There were definitely moments of humour, including one scene where Henry V talks about the pride of Britain and holds up a British hat that someone in the audience was wearing. A few of the actors would also enter the crowd as the play was going on, which made the performance more engaging. The music performed throughout the play was incredible, and the whole thing ended with a song and dance. Apparently, at the Globe, a Shakespeare performance will always end with a dance, whether it is a tragedy or comedy…so at the end of Hamlet, everyone that is dead jumps back up and starts dancing! I bet that would be extremely entertaining to watch.

I was extremely happy to have been able to see the play, and after seeing a bit of London at night, we went back to St Alban’s. The next morning, Sebastien and I took a train to Edinburgh, and then another to Stirling. I much preferred train travel to bus; we were given drinks, got to use nice bathrooms, and were able to see the world speeding by. Plus, I wasn’t missing out on sleep since it was not an overnight train.

We eventually arrived safely in Stirling, and got settled into the dorms that we would be living in with the pipeband. I play with the New West Minster Police Pipeband, which is based around Vancouver. Different people in the band were arriving at different times, but it was great to see everyone again. It was especially nice to see my mom, since I had not seen her in over three months (and she plays in the same bagpipe band as me). The housing situation was set up so that ten people shared one kitchen/living area, and a lot of other people from the band would usually gather in one of the living rooms to socialize.

I suppose there isn’t a lot to tell about the week leading up to the World’s Pipeband Competition…the band practiced two or three times every day, and between that time there would be a lot of talking and perhaps drinking and dining. We often visited a pub in Stirling called the ‘William Wallace Pub,’ which was ironic because I watched Braveheart for the very first time on that trip. We traveled in to Glasgow a few times as well; one time my mom was going to see a pipeband in concert, so Sebastien and I took the opportunity to see the new Batman movie (I didn’t want to force Sebastien into hearing more bagpipes than he already had that week!). Another day, we went to a bagpipe competition that was between five different world class pipers, in which they had to play for a half an hour as they were judged by pipers anonymously in the crowd. I imagine most people cannot really tell the difference between good and bad bagpipers, but it is absolutely amazing to be able to hear professional bagpipers such as what we heard that night; those pipers being extremely well in tune, able to play everything extremely accurately, and having a sense of musicality. When I first came to Scotland 4 years ago, I was absolutely amazed at the quality of piping I was able to hear. Some pipers across North America, such as my mother, are also fantastic, but I can’t imagine living in a country where that is such a standard accomplishment.

Anyways! The other particularly awesome part about Scotland is the food in pubs. If you are a person that thinks haggis is disgusting, I question if you have tried it…if you are someone that simply thinks it sounds gross, than I ask you: what is in a hot dog? Anyways, I personally quite enjoy haggis…to me it’s basically meat with various herbs and spices to make it quite tasty. However, pubs also carry other favourites of mine such as fish and chips, and macaroni and cheese. I have not yet encountered a Scottish mac and cheese that I didn’t like! Between the amazing food choices and Bulmer’s cider (not available in Canada, as far as I know) I am usually a happy camper in a Scottish pub.

I suppose I should move on to the main event though…the World’s! Just a quick rundown for those of you not familiar with the bagpiping world…the World’s Pipeband Championship is a competition that takes place every year in Glasgow. While there are Highland Games held all over the world, ‘The Worlds’ specifically is an extremely huge and prestigious event. There are five different levels of bagpipe bands (5 being the most beginner, 1 being the most experienced) and pipebands from all over the world, from each level, come to compete at this event. The events are usually so large that, at least for grade 2 and 1, there are two rounds of competing. My pipeband is in grade 2, and we competed in the first round fairly early in the morning. This is the event that so many bagpipe bands spend their entire year preparing for; there is always so much work that goes into the funding, and the practicing and preparation of music…each member gives up a large amount of their time to make it happen. It was amazing to think that playing in the actual event itself lasted for such a short time! After a long time spent tuning, suddenly we were marching into the circle to compete. I personally felt that I played well, and from where I was standing in the circle everything else sounded good too. We were extremely lucky to have fantastic weather on that day…often, pipebands will spend all their time and effort preparing for the Worlds, only to spend the day playing their bagpipes in the pouring rain!

After we were done playing, we had to wait a fair while to find out who made it into the next round. Unfortunately, our band was one of the many that did not. Hardly anyone from our group had heard of any of the bands that did make it to the next round, which meant that a lot of our fellow North American bands didn’t make it either. It was disappointing to not have made it, but important to keep in mind that the huge scale of the competition is what makes it so prestigious to do well. Personally, I spent a large part of the rest of the day catching up with fellow bagpipers. The bagpiping world is such a close-knit one…a lot of pipers travel around to different competitions, and therefore see each other again and again over the years. My parents are both bagpipers, so a lot of people in pipebands have known me since birth. And there were some people at the Worlds who have been competing against me since I was ten! Despite all of the competition involved in bagpiping, I have found that it is never too intense. At the end of the day, everyone can still get together and party, no matter what kilt you’re wearing. Speaking of kilts, here is a picture of my band as we were competing:

New West Minster Police Pipeband, competing in the Worlds

That’s me, right beside the bass drum…this is the band walking off the field after finishing our performance

At the end of the day, the band took a bus back to Stirling (which is also how we got to the field that morning, just in case you were wondering) and we all enjoyed some fish and chips before returning to our accommodation. The next day, after several good-byes, Mum drove Sebastien and I into Glasgow. From there, we took a plane to Dublin…but just to be a big tease, I’m going to save tales of that for next time!

Thank you to all of you for reading 🙂 It has been so fantastic to hear that so many people are enjoying this blog! I’m a bit sad to think that, after my next blog, I don’t have exciting adventures to entice an audience with…but who knows! I may find other epic things to write about.

I will be spending tomorrow in Okotoks, enjoying the Foothills Highland Games, but I promise to post my Dublin blog shortly after that!

Tschau for now!

Robyn

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Road Trip 2: Gorgeous Views, Salt Mines, and CHOCOLATE! :)

Hello all!

Once again, it has been too long since I’ve written! Believe it or not, I hadn’t realized I would have such limited internet connectivity in Stirling – part of this blog entry was written in a hotel lobby in Glasgow, part from a hotel room in Dublin, but after technical difficulties there I have resorted to finishing the typing of it in Calgary. I am going to copy a diary entry here, that I wrote on July 31st while Sebastian and I were on our way from Berlin to London. Enjoy your trip back in time! 😛 And don’t worry, I am still going to write atleast one more blog about my UK adventures, despite already being back in Canada. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the adventure as it’s happening, and write about it all later!

I have to say, it’s amazing how much can happen in a week…I’ll see what I can do to keep this entry from being a million words long! Sebastian and I spent the first night of phase two of our road trip in Wurzburg, Germany. Unfortunately we got rather lost on the way to our campground, and therefore ended up having less time to see the city than we would have liked, but we still had a fantastic night there. We started off by climbing up to the fortress on the town’s high hilltop. There were several layers of thick stone walls that have been standing there for centuries as a form of defence for the castle at the top. While I had not been extremely happy about all the climbing, the view was absolutely worth it. Within a split second, that became my favourite view in the whole world, and Wurzburg became one of my favourite cities. It was almost too bad that Wurzburg was one of the first places we visited, since there were so many amazing views on our trip but none could top this one.

Sebastian and I stayed there admiring the view for quite a while, then made our way to the town ‘Altstadt’ (old city). We ate at a very nice Italian restaurant, and walked around admiring the cathedral as well as the fortress on the hill as the city grew darker.

The next day, we went to Switzerland. We actually made the transition between Switzerland and Germany several times within the first hour or so, before being firmly in Switzerland. It must be crazy to live in one of the towns that exists on the border…there was a pub on one side declaring to be Switzerland and the other bragging of its German specialties. The green fields on the rolling hills in Switzerland were gorgeous – there were tons of sunflower crops, which I rarely get to see at home. We eventually met up with Sebastian’s cousin, Derek, who is spending a year working in Baden. We spent the night catching up with him and walking around the city, before we went to a campground for the night (just so you know, I’m referring to the Baden in Switzerland, not Germany). Baden feels like such a strange combination of rural and urban lifestyles…when we were admiring the view from a hilltop, there were numerous office buildings, but we only had to drive five minutes from Derek’s place to get stuck behind a tractor in traffic. The next day, Seb and I went to Zurich for the day while Derek was working. We found a lake within the city, which was exceptionally clean and clear. The day was extremely hot, and the area was crowded with people enjoying the sunshine and dipping their feet in the water.

After a bit of window shopping, we returned to Baden. Switzerland is known for being quite expensive…I had a craving for a subway sandwich, and bought two 6-inch subs and a small drink for over 20 swiss dollars. It was a good thing we weren’t in Switzerland for too long, or I would have become extremely broke! However, we enjoyed the sandwiches, and met up with Derek again. I played my bagpipes in a parking lot at one point, and enjoyed the reaction – one little boy came up close to watch, I got an encore (in German) from a family standing nearby, and cyclists going by kept looking over to try and figure out what the sound was. After that, we said farewell to Derek and spent another night at the campground.

The next day, we drove to the Rheinfalls – quite a popular tourist attraction, and a very powerful body of water! It was cool to see how the rock had been eroding away due to the force of the water over many years. We then spent the rest of the day on the road.

The next day, we checked out Neu Schwanstein. It is an extremely picturesque castle in the mountains (as seen above) and I am proud to say that Sebastien and I walked up the entire way, instead of having a horse and carriage take us up. While the castle was absolutely gorgeous, I was not pleased with how crowded it was with tourists…it was hard to get a good look around since there were people absolutely everywhere! I took the above photograph on a bridge that is near the castle…apparently, the King who the castle was built for would not allow his wife to enter, but built her the bridge so that she could at least look at it. You would think there would be enough room for the two of them to share…

Anyhow! The next day, we met up with my friend Verena. She had been on exchange at UVic this past year, and is now back in Austria. Her family lives just outside of Salzburg, and was kind enough to take us in for two nights. We spent the first day touring around Salzburg, which is a gorgeous and historic place, but which Verena does not particularly enjoy visiting since it is usually packed with tourists. When the topic of “The Sound of Music” came up, she laughed and said how ridiculous the whole thing was. Considering the corniness of the movie, I could see where she was coming from! She made sure to assure me that no one runs around in those outfits in real life, or regularly breaks into song and dance. We did see a few people in traditional Austrian outfits though! I also learned that Red Bull was invented in Salzburg – I had totally thought it was American! We walked through various popular spots in the city…at one point we climbed a hill towards an old castle, and when we were standing and looking at the view we could hear an orchestra playing from below. It had a rather intoxicating effect! Sorry for not having pictures showing you that view. We also stopped at a brewery and beer garden before heading back to Verena’s parents’ house. Verena’s mother had made a traditional Austrian goulash for dinner, and it was absolutely phenomenal. That evening, I also had what seemed to be my peak in German conversational skills…I was able to keep up with the conversation and contribute to it fairly consistently throughout the evening, which felt pretty cool!

The following day, Verena, Sebastien and I drove to a small town in the mountains (the Alps!) a little outside Salzburg. There, we went on a tour of a mountain that houses the oldest salt mine in the world. It was an absolutely amazing experience – we first took a steep train up the mountain, and walked around and learned about the civilization that thrived there thanks to the salt mining. After that, we got to enter the heart of the mountain! We all had to put on huge coveralls to protect our clothes and keep us warm in the 8 degree cold of the inner mountain.

us in our coveralls 😛

We walked along an old tunnel for a long time…there were salt encrusted rocks all around us, and a limited amount of light to guide us. We then got to go down these steep slides made of slick wood to get farther inside the mountain. There were three presentations within the mountain, one of which explaining how salt happened to be located inside a mountain, and the others describing the history and nature of mining salt. It was amazing to be in a cave with the ceiling of rock so close to our heads, and knowing that previous miners had worked there before…and it is still being used as a salt mine today! To end the tour, we boarded a small train (basically a long bench we sat along, it was all still very exposed to the air of the tunnel) and sat single file as the train took us out of the mountain – rock sometimes almost grazing our heads! Each of us got a small container of salt as a souvenir, and then we went back down the mountain. In the pictures below, you can see the view of the mountains while we were still high up, and “Glueck Auf” which is the official greeting used around the salt mine.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great outside, so we went back to Verena’s shortly after. I ended up playing my pipes in the family basement at one point, and, despite the racket that is bagpiping, I think the whole family enjoyed hearing something so musically different from anything they’ve heard before. The next day, we were back on the road again…we had to double back at one point for a forgotten rain coat, but the drive still went very smoothly.

Our next destination was Graz, where two friends of mine that had spent a semester at UVic, (Thomas and Bettina) lived. Bettina had often practiced my German with me in Victoria, and said upon our arrival that my German had improved quite noticably since she last saw me. Unfortunately, she had to say that to me in English, seeing as I can blab away in German but still can’t understand it that well. Unfortunately, she was otherwise engaged that evening, but Sebastien and I had a great time with Thomas as he showed us around Graz. Apparently Graz is about the same size a city as Victoria, although Graz struck me as being a bit more like a big city than Victoria.

We had dinner at an exceptionally cool restaurant that served pizza, toast, and salad. Basically, there were three different types of sheets at our tables (one for each food) and each person would fill out the sheet for what they wanted…for example, I had pizza and salad; for pizza I could select from three sizes, and then pick up to four toppings – I had mushrooms, pineapples, salami, and mozza cheese (it already came with one type of cheese though). For salad, I picked the size, the dressing, and then four toppings to the basic lettuce…I picked brie cheese, pumpkin seeds, cucumbers, and corn. There were a lot of different choices, and it was a really great way to get exactly what I wanted to eat! The toast would consist of different meats and veggies on toast with melted cheese on top (atleast according to what I saw Seb and Thomas eat). After that, we climbed up the hilltop of the city, and sat at an open-air bar to enjoy a beverage as the sun went down. It was pretty cool to see the city become dark, and all the lights gradually come on. We then took a fun trolley thing down the hill, and then made a plan with Thomas and Bettina before going to sleep at Bettina’s (and might I add, she is an absolutely amazing hostess!)

The next day was one that I will not be forgetting anytime soon! (not that I will forget any of this amazing trip anytime soon, but any day involving this much amazing chocolate sticks out in one’s mind). Thanks to Thomas’s amazing suggestion, we went to the Zotter Chocolate Factory, which was about an hour out of Graz. They had a small plot of land with a sort of Zoo outside, which we checked out for a while before beginning our tour. The Zoo had a few Highland cows (and baby cows!) and there were piggies and goats and sheep too.

I had thought that, when Thomas told us about the Chocolate Factory, he was exaggerating about how much chocolate we got to eat. But it turns out that Heaven on Earth really exists after all! We were given a spoon at the beginning of the tour, and then sat down (on sacks of cocoa beans, perhaps…or was it barley?) to watch a film. I think the film was about where the cocoa bean comes from and how Zotter supports the fair trade of this product, but I couldn’t be sure since it was all in German. Before we began the next part of the tour, a guide told us to drink water from fountains throughout the factory when needed, and were warned that the first chocolate we would try would be extremely bitter since it was before milk or sugar is added. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch on to that last part. After trying one ok-tasting cocoa bean, I was revolted at the vile substance I tried that was posing as chocolate. Fortunately, shortly after that we walked by dishes with chocolate shavings, and I loaded up my spoon with those so that the 100% chocolate left from my over-enthusiasm was more endurable. We then proceeded to a station with different nougats we could try, and then went into a room where they had chocolate from 20 to 100%. I know it sounds too good to be true, so here are a few pictures.

I spent a lot more time at this station than I should have 😛 After that, there was a station with various spices we could smell, and then the chocolate continued. There was a sign telling us “do not eat, but rather enjoy” which first struck me as a very obvious statement, but unfortunately I didn’t follow that rule well at all. I kept tasting everything, but could hardly remember which ones I enjoyed more than the others.

My favourite station was definitely the drinking chocolate one. There was an open room with a mini-gondola travelling around carrying various types of drinking chocolate that we could select from and try. Apparently, the people who built it usually build gondolas for ski resorts, and this mini gondola set a world record for the smallest in the world. Once we picked our chocolate of choice (extremely difficult to settle on one, of course, but I tried cinnamon and honey) we got a cup of warm milk, and dropped our chocolate bar into it. Mine was extremely delicious! So much so that the rest of the tour was almost a moot point…of course it was all delicious, but I had definitely found my favourite thing. There were about three more stations with chocolate tastings though, and all in all it was a very tasty lunch.

After that, we went for a drink before saying our goodbyes to Thomas. By the time Bettina, Seb and I got back to Graz, we were hungry again and went for tasty schnitzel. The next day, Seb and I drove back to Berlin – it took us exactly 12 hours to the minute, and we made it home tired but extremely happy with how the trip had gone!

After that, Sebastien and I had another five days in Berlin…they went by much faster than I would have liked, but we did get to spend some of that time with our friends. One day, a group of us enjoyed a rafting trip in Potsdam, and lounged around in the glorious sunshine. We also had a delicious dinner at Seb’s parents house within my last few days. It was extremely sad to pack everything that I had spread out over Sebastien’s house in the past three months, and to say goodbye to everyone I’ve had such a great time with this summer. But I’m fairly confident that the goodbye is only temporary, and I still have another 19 days in the UK with Seb! In case you just did a double take, remember that I’m writing this on the way to England…We have officially been on this bus for 13 hours, and its been pretty fun so far since I am with Seb and we can just relax. That’s all for now!

If you made it through all that, I applaud you! Thank you so much for reading 🙂 Unfortunately, my opinion regarding the bus ride got steadily worse over the next 7 hours, but we did make it to London in one piece! I shall write another blog soon!

Bis dann!

Robyn

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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