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

20 Aug

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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