Brushing up on my Greek Mythology…

As I sit here next to Kylie on my 4 hour flight back to Dublin, eating the baklava we purchased just before leaving Athens, I figured it would be an opportune time to jot down everything that has happened the past couple days.. in Greece! Originally, Kylie and I had planned to do a 4 day trip to Athens and Crete – 2 days in Athens, 2 days in Crete. But our class has a field trip tomorrow on Saturday April 1st, so we had to cut Crete out of our itinerary and rebook a flight home earlier. We took a loss on the money we spent for that airfare to Crete, but when traveling around Europe is this cheap, I’m chalking it up to part of the traveller’s experience. Apparently not everything goes smoothly all the time. Who knew?

A highlight of the trip was that I had a lovely surprise in Athens because I found out that some of my family friends were currently in Athens too! That night I had the chance to meet up with them. Who would have thought that I would find more people I knew halfway across the world?!

After being in Ireland for awhile, we decided that we were in need of some Vitamin D. We also found super cheap flights (one-way flight from Athens to Dublin was €35 if that tells you anything). We honestly lucked out because we booked our flights for dates just right before tourist season kicks off and airfare prices skyrocket (the next couple weekends, flights to Greece are upwards of €200+).

Our flight left Dublin around 7 am on Wednesday, so just like any other early flight, our routine is to get up around 4:30, get ready, catch the Aircoach shuttle for 45 minute trip from UCD to the Dublin airport, breeze through airport security in 15 minutes or less, wait for Ryanair to tell us which gate we are boarding at (because they are always late to announce it), get an airport coffee, and relax at the gate until we board the plane from a set of stairs outside.

I also lucked out on this trip and got randomly assigned to a window seat, so I could see all of the countries that we were flying over. My favorite part was flying over the Austrian Alps and seeing them from the air, especially after having skied the Alps, I had a brand new appreciation for it’s God-given beauty.

4 hours after taking off from Dublin, we finally flew over some Greek islands, a beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea, the Greek countryside dotted with (maybe they were Olive) trees, and landed in Athens where the sun was shining out of a clear blue sky and it was 65 degrees. Gorgeous.

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After Kylie and I got a brand new stamp in our passport, we took the metro to the Syntagma Square, walked 15 minutes to check into the hotel, and then were off to explore. As a side-note, for anyone who is traveling, I really suggest you download the app called Visit A City. The app lets you download almost any city and it’s suggested travel itineraries are based on what you want to see and where you want to go. It also gives other tips, suggestions on tours and lists other useful information about what is going on in that area and the surrounding areas. It has been super useful in all of my travels and is like a guidebook you can fit in your pocket (without looking so much like a tourist).

Before we did any sight seeing, we stumbled across a cafe/bakery and went back to this place 3 times throughout our stay because the food was THAT good. But the best part – I paid €2.80 for the whole meal. And I got a donut for free. The waiter apparently knew the way to my heart (free delicious food, in case you were wondering), and I was immediately in love with the country.

After our first heavenly food experience, it was about 5:00 pm when we started roaming around the city to see what we could find. We came across the Roman Agora and several other places that we decided to save for the next day since they were already starting the close for the night. Kylie is really into Greek history and ruins (she was much more knowledgeable than I was), and so she was extremely excited to hike up the hill to see the Parthenon in particular.

On our hike up the very steep hill, we came across Areopagus Hill and took a detour. It proved to be a very slippery, difficult climb to the top of an uneven marble rocky outcrop that has been worn down for thousands of years and millions of people climbing on it. However, the view was worth it. Areopagus Hill is situated between the Acropolis and two other hills and is 115 meters high above the city. In the past, it served as a place of worship and also a place where the Areopagus council met for judicial trials and other important matters. Back in 1600 BC, the northern slope of the hill served as a cemetery until about the 6th century BC and onwards when it became used as a residential quarter.

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After taking in the view of the city and the Acropolis on the neighboring hill, we adventured onward up the hill and literally stumbled upon the Prison of Socrates. It was amazing that people who lived thousands of centuries ago were able to literally cut groundwork and whole rooms out of bedrock. They were incredibly advanced for their time and I never fully understood the scope of that until I saw it with my own eyes. The Prison of Socrates was a structure cut into the slopes of the Hill of Muses and was likely a 2 or 3-story dwelling.

The rest of the day was spent exploring around the Roman Agora and the side streets of Athens, while we dodged the hundred stray cats and dogs roaming the streets.

Day two was filled to the brim with so many awesome things. My personal favorite? The Panathenaic Stadium! In short, this is what we were up to that day.

  1. Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon – built in 447 B.C. and was a temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos. Damaged throughout the years by various sieges, many of the sculptures were removed or stolen. Today, a lot of these pieces from the Parthenon are on display in the British Museum of London (because the Earl of Elgin took them to England in the 1800’s. It is under a lot of construction today as they restore it.

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2. The Erechtheion – This building has a strange design because it was built to house an ancient sacred spot, the salt spring. The legend has it that the salt spring appeared when Poseidon struct the rock with his trident while competing with Athena.

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The contest continued with Athena striking the rock with her spear, and an olive tree sprung up, thus giving her victory. You can see the olive tree in the picture below!

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3. Theater of Dionysos – birthplace of European theater. At one time, this theater could seat up to 17,000 spectators! Today, only 20 rows of seats have survived.

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4. The Odeon of Hedodes Atticus – another ancient performance venue right next to the Theater of Dionysos. The whole structure used to be covered in marble.

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5. Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus – Both are right next to each other. The arch is in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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The Temple of Zeus was one of my favorite places in Athens but I am not entirely sure why. It is simply an impressive structure. It was the largest temple in ancient Greece, and was actually even larger than the Parthenon. Only 15 of the original 104 columns are still standing today! One last column also is still lying on the ground.

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Some of the ancient Roman baths surrounding the Temple of Zeus that have been excavated.

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6. The Panathenaic Stadium – home of the 1st modern Olympic games!! I was definitely geeking out at this stop because I love the Olympics. It is the only stadium in the world completely built with marble. This stadium was first built in 300s B.C. to host the Panathenaic Games, but fell into disrepair until it was restored in the 19th century for the fist modern Olympics in 1896.

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Me as I finished running my lap around the track and feeling very accomplished!

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7. Temple of Hephaestus within the Ancient Agora – constructed 2 years before the Parthenon and was the first Athenian temple made of marble, and they still are unsure of which god was worshipped here because there were many cult statues found in the temple.

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8. More of the Ancient Agora – the agora was the heart of ancient Athens and people would come here form all around for business, shopping, socializing, school, and political events. It holds the Stoa of Attalos among other ancient ruins. One of the cool things I found was the Odeon of Agrippa and the Gymnasium.

The Gymnasium was also called the “Palace of Giants” and had an area for bathing, two courtyards, a garden, and other rooms.

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And just like that, it was time for us to head back to Dublin in order for us to make it to our field trip the next day. As for Greece, I would love to come back some day. Until next time!

Spring Break, Part 4 (Auschwitz)

Destination #6: Poland

My trip to Poland was especially hard to write about, but I did not want to leave this part of the trip out of the blog. Our trip to Auschwitz is something that profoundly impacted me and it is worth sharing.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Becca and I caught a night train from Vienna to Oświęcim which was cheap and worked out well because we had the whole cabin to ourselves so we could sleep. Turns out we both slept horribly but it was a good option in theory. It just ended up being a good example of “you get what you pay for.” From the train station it was a kind of short, kind of long walk to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Walking through the neighborhoods surrounding the concentration camp, it put us both in a somber mood before we even arrived. The skies were cloudy and gray, it was chilly, black crows were flying overhead, and I couldn’t help but think about all of the people who were sent to this terrible place, the largest Nazi German concentration camp and death camp. In the whole scheme of the world, the time of the concentration camps wasn’t too long ago, just in the 1940s. It hurt my heart to think about all of the things that went on behind the gates we walked under, reading “Arbeit macht frei” which translates into “Work is liberating.”

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We walked through the blocks used for the men’s camp, the blocks used for the women’s camp, the blocks for Soviet prisoners of war, and the blocks where both women and the sick were subjected to medical experiments. The SS doctors specifically utilized the women prisoners for sterilization experiments.

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A lot these blocks are now used for the displays explaining the different areas of the concentration camp, and so as you walked through, there were artifacts, explanations and things to read. One of the buildings we entered housed different displays of the evidence of the mass murders – prisoners’ clothing and property that was taken from them upon their arrival to Auschwitz. Walking though this building was emotionally one of the hardest parts for me. Upon arrival, all prisoners had their heads shaved. This hair was found and used as evidence of the committed crimes. This hair is now part of a display, and piles upon piles of hair rest untouched behind a wall of glass on both sides of the room. Also upon arrival, the prisoners’ clothes were taken from them before they were given a uniform. This included all of their shoes. Which leads to the fact that there is another room housing the hall of shoes. I think a person’s shoes say a lot about them, and these shoes definitely have so many stories to tell. About 110,000 shoes are piled up behind the glass walls on either side of the room. Other rooms housed piles of glasses, brushes, suitcases, and other personal items that people were forced to leave behind. Little did they know, they would never see their things again. One last exhibit that made a lasting impact on me was the exhibit having to do with the medical experiments. It also had enlarged photos of women who were prisoners in Auschwitz, taken after they had been in the camp for a long time, literally starving to death. They were reduced to skin and bones and weighed a fourth of their initial weight when they entered the camp. I have never seen anything like it and even just recalling the images is difficult to stomach.

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One of the last things we did at the camp was walk through the gas chambers. As I sit here and write this, I cannot help but be filled with sadness as I remember the overwhelming grief that enters your body as you enter the chamber where unsuspecting people awaited mass murder.

Overall, the Nazis sent at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz, a majority of them Jews, but also including Poles, Gypsies,, Soviet prisoners of war, and people of other ethnic groups. Also, of the 1,300,000 people who were in Auschwitz, 1,100,000 of them died there, a majority from the gas chambers.

Becca and I had planned to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau too, but after seeing Auschwitz, we decided that was about all we could handle. Overall, I didn’t take many pictures from Auschwitz because I didn’t feel right taking them. I am, however, immensely glad I had the chance to see this place with my own eyes, remembering all of the research I did back in high school on the topic. This is a place I think everyone needs to see because it is a part of world history that shaped our lives today.

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A half a day in Krakow, Poland concluded our spring break trip, and the next morning we caught our flight back to Dublin. Overall, the wide breadth of experiences Becca and I had were irreplaceable, breathtaking, moving, and impactful. The amount of the world we were able to experience during the short two week break was impressive, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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I am sending a big thank you to Becca for being a wonderful travel partner, and to everyone else who encouraged me to take this trip. It was filled to the brim with life-changing experiences, my eyes have been opened to the world, and I could not be more blessed!

Spring Break, Part 3 (Germany!)

Destination #4: Germany (Berlin, Stuttgart, Garmisch)

Germany was one of my favorite places throughout my 4 months abroad. My reasoning? In a nutshell, Berlin, the Autobahn, the Alps and the food are 4 good enough reasons. Oh! And good company of course!

One of my good high school friends lives in Germany now, and we had plans to meet up the next morning on Becca and I’s second day in Berlin. On the way to Germany, I leaned over to Becca and asked, “do we have any clue how we are getting from the airport to our hotel?” “Ummm nope!” was her reply! We had planned on taking an airport shuttle but had found out just before our flight took off that the shuttle was not an option for us. So when we landed around 11:00 pm, we were desperately trying to find the information booth when someone behind me said, “Hey stranger, you looking for a taxi?” Dakoda had surprised us at the airport and THANK GOODNESS! I’m not sure I had ever been so happy to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place! He had rented a car for the week, and so we jumped into the car (which was a great feeling and something I hadn’t been able to do in several months) and took off to our hotel for the night.

For those of you who want to scroll through the pictures, you’ll be happy looking just below! If you want to read about everything I did, keep scrolling!

Photos from the trip

Brandonburg Gate

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The Victory Column

 

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Pieces of the Berlin Wall

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Longer stretch of the remains of the Berlin Wall

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Checkpoint Charlie

 

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

 

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Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

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Inside of the Berlin Cathedral and the massive organ

 

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View of Berlin from the top of the dome (of the Berlin Cathedral)

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Me driving the Autobahn (and going very very fast)

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Waiting to enter Neuschwanstein Castle

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ALPS!!!!!

River full of water running straight from the Bavarian Alps

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More glimpses of the Bavarian Alps

 

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View from the top of the Zugspitz, part of the Bavarian Alps

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The top of the Zugspitz, the highest point in Germany

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More pictures of the Alps in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

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Above: Jägerschnitzel and Spätzle

Below: Currywurst and German beer

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Above: Trying a little bit of everything (And it was sooooo delicious)

Below: Pictures from the Austrian Countryside as we drove through Austria

 

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Since we flew into Berlin, we had the chance to drive and walk around the city the next day which allowed us to see the Brandenburg Gate (symbol of division of Europe during the Cold War), the Victory Column and the Berlin Wall. We first saw a display with pieces of the wall, and then later came across the longer stretch of the wall and one of the few parts still standing. It was a somber thought that anything like that ever existed, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t take place until 1989. Even more mind boggling was that 136 people died just trying to climb the wall, most attempting to get to West Berlin. Right next to the wall is what remains of the Gestapo Headquarters, and just beyond that is a building with a new exhibit called the Topography of Terror. The exhibit has an extremely extensive timeline of Nazi Germany with all kinds of artifacts, papers, etc. I think my biggest takeaway was the information about the concentration camps.

Below: Remains of the Gestapo Headquarters

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After that, Dakoda insisted we needed to try some currywurst, so that’s exactly what we did before we walked a short ways to Checkpoint Charlie, where the USA and USSR tanks had a face off and where the world was on the brink of World War III. Checkpoint Charlie is pretty touristy now, and I can’t even begin to imagine the tension that must have been in the air in the very place I was standing. From there we went to the panoramic representation of the Berlin Wall – very realistic and gives you a new perspective on what life was like on both sides of the wall.

One place that wasn’t on our list of things to see was the Berliner Dom (the Berlin Cathedral). In fact, we were about to drive by it when we decided maybe we should just check it out after all. We were all glad we did when we stepped foot inside. What a marvelous place. It turns out the Berliner Dom is known for its ginormous, 7,269-piped Sauer organ. A service began while we were inside, so we had the opportunity to hear the rich notes being played (also yes, the service was in German so we had no idea what they were saying). We explored a bit more, found a staircase that kept going up, and before we knew it, we were on top of the dome! We were so surprised because we had no clue what we were going to find, and we found some awesome views of Berlin.

After dinner and discovering that German food is now one of my favorites, we had one last stop to make – the Reichstag Building at night. The Reichstag is their parliament building and if you sign up beforehand, you can go in and up to the impressive glass dome in order to get great views of the city and also learn about the German government. The best part? It was free. Music to my ears!!

Below: picture taken from the roof of the Reichstag Building’s dome lit up at night

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Our second day we were up and at ’em early to head to Stuttgart which was where we stayed the night on our way to the Alps. BUT, the best part of this day? The Autobahn. Yes, I drove the Autobahn and yes this was one of the coolest things I have ever done. I thought it would be way more scary than it actually was, and I most definitely wish we had this back in the States.

The morning of day three was spent at Neuschwanstein Castle (it was pretty foggy that day but the castle was nonetheless massively impressive). As you can imagine, the name of this place comes from the fact that the guy who wanted it built really really liked swans. As you can imagine, there are swans pretty much everywhere on the inside. This was one of those places that they are very adamant that visitors are not allowed to take photos. So unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from the inside. Guess you will have to visit for yourself if you want to find out what it looks like! Around noon, we finished the drive to Garmisch. Once we got close, it was soon one of the most jaw-dropping scenic drives I have ever been on. With the Alps drawing nearer and nearer, the road took us along a stream full of light blue-green water, which led up to a lake of the same color. This was some of the most pure water I have ever seen. The river flowed straight from the top of the Alps, so what did all three of us do? We had to taste it. And the verdict? I could definitely bottle that up and sell it – it was that good and that clear. (Ok maybe not exactly, there might be some more to the process). Dakoda drove through the mountains as I stared out the window with my mouth hanging wide open because one of God’s most beautiful creations was towering above us.

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That afternoon and evening was spent taking a walk through the tiny town of Garmisch, exploring a path that took us through small farms on the outskirts of town, and finding the 1936 Olympic Ski Jump. The snow was mostly melted but I could still picture the stadium packed and the Olympians preparing for one of the biggest moments in their life. If you have ever seen the movie Eddie the Eagle, you will recognize the name of the town of Garmisch because this is where Eddie ‘the eagle’ Edwards came to learn to jump and train for the 1988 Olympics.

Below: Where all the magic happened for the 1936 Olympics

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And finally, the part you all have been waiting for… the time when Rachel skied the Bavarian Alps! Prior to skiing in the Alps, the last time I had skied was 7 years ago with my friend Sarah. Lets just say, if you are planning to ski the Alps, I highly recommend you try skiing somewhere else before for practice and safe measure. Dakoda and I geared up that morning as he got ready to snowboard and as I was mentally preparing for skiing. I was nervous to say the least… maybe a little scared too… but there was no way I was going to let my fear of breaking a limb stop me from this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. We chose Garmisch as the place we wanted to ski because of the Zugspitz, which is the highest point in Germany which is in the Bavarian Alps. As we were riding in the cable car on the way to the top of the slope, all I could think about was how God is so awesome, how much I hoped I didn’t injure myself, and how thankful I was that I rented a helmet. The cable car took us to the ski lodge on the slopes, and from there you could see out above the clouds that were gently kissing the mountaintops. The skiers below us looked like ants sliding down the mountainside and you could barely see the tiny little ski lift. After taking some of the most beautiful photos I have ever captured, Dakoda said it was time to get to it. So, with my heart pounding, I said okay and we were out the door. As far as my first pass down the mountain goes, it was pretty rough. No lie. But the important thing was that I was determined, and Dakoda (who is a much more avid snowboarder) made sure I didn’t die. The second pass down the mountainside went much, much smoother, THANK GOODNESS. I was finally getting into the groove of things and getting some of my techniques back and even surprised myself a little bit with how well things went. I was feeling good then until my last pass down the Zugspitz, which is where I ran into some difficulties. There were so many expert skiers on the slopes zooming around me and I am sure they could tell I was struggling hard. Hopefully I at least provided them with some entertainment because let’s just say my helmet was necessary and I may have gotten some bruises from this go around. As I was nearing the end of the slope, I was feeling pretty defeated but decided I couldn’t quit unless I finished without falling again. But I was SO determined and I can satisfactorily say I accomplished what I set my mind to. As the saying goes, all good things come to an end. As I rode the ski-lift back up to the lodge, all I could do was admire the beauty all around me and wish I never had to leave.

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Becca and I originally planned on spending more time at our Destination #5 which was Vienna, Austria, but we decided to stay longer in the Alps instead. Dakoda was kind enough to drive Becca and I through more scenic routes of Austria on the way to Vienna, from which we had a night train to catch to Auschwitz in Poland. He dropped us off in time for us to get dinner and relax before we caught the train. Although I really didn’t get to see much of Vienna and would love to come back someday, I am still counting it as one of our countries and destinations. Which leads me to our final destination, Poland.

Spring Break, Part 2

Destination #2: Porto, Portugal 

The next day, Becca and I caught our flight to Porto, Portugal, where we immediately caught our train to the hostel since we were arriving at night. The hostel was only a 2-3 minute walk from the train station, which was extremely convenient since we were tired from traveling. The next morning, we stepped out of the hostel’s front door to be greeted by the bright sunshine and 70 degree weather. Perfect. Before we left, the lady at the front desk had given us a map, a few suggestions, and the name of a free walking tour starting at 10:00 am, so we knew we had about an hour and a half to explore before that began. After walking for a short while, we came across a beautiful pedestrian street, but quickly learned that the drivers in Portugal will drive wherever they can fit their car through – quite entertaining to watch a couple times. Since it was about 8:30 in the morning, most of the shops were still closed and it was very peaceful and quiet. A farther walk down the peaceful streets led me to one of my favorite things – a stunning blue and white tiled church – which was one of several in Porto.

Below: the first blue and white tiled church we found!

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Below: Clérigos Tower and the view from the top

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I have always loved looking at pottery and fine china that is painted blue and white, so this was almost heaven for me. Our point of interest before our walking tour was Clérigos Tower (built back in 1763), which after a 240-step climb to the top, provided a fantastic panoramic view of the city of Porto. If you haven’t noticed yet, I enjoy going to the top of things, whether it is a mountain, a building… or really anything I can climb. So, a short climb later, we were at the top and gazing out over orange-tinted grooves as far as the eye could see. Our time was short, so we quickly made our way back down so we could meet up with the walking tour. Our guide took us to the São Bento railway station, where the architect in 1900 was so concerned with making the train station beautiful (so people would want to come to Porto) that he forgot some very important things… He forgot to add a bathroom to the design, and he also forgot to include a ticket collection booth (or any place you could buy a ticket). However, the inside of the station was truly impressive as all of the walls were covered in hand-painted tiled murals and azulejo tiles – all having something to do with Portugal’s history. The tour also took us to a TINY bakery called Cozinha doce, where the owner was a woman who was kind enough to make some lovely desserts for us. So, naturally, I had to treat myself to a typical Portuguese dessert. We also went to Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, which was another painted, blue and white tiled church constructed in the XVIIIth century.

Below: Inside the São Bento railway station

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Above: The traditional Portuguese dessert I tried (no clue what it is actually called)

Another stop of the tour that stood out was the visit to the Church of Santa Clara. While the facade of the church does not look like anything special, all you have to do is step inside to see the intricate woodwork and gold gilding to be overcome with awe. The wood carvings are covered in gold leaf, and the lavishly decorated church sits unused today, with 200 kg of gold covered in a light layer of dust. Porto is trying to raise money to restore the building, and they therefore forbid anyone from taking pictures of this mysteriously eye-catching place.

One of the last stops of the tour was the famous Dom Luis I Bridge, which spans the Duoro River. On one side of the river, there is Porto. On the other side of the river, there is Vila Nova de Gaia. Portugal is known for its Port wine made in the Port region, so it only made sense for Becca and I to do some wine tastings while we were in town. The best wineries span the riverfront on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. The Vila Nova de Gaia side is also where you can get one of the best, most-photographed views of Porto due to its picturesque, multicolored buildings lining the river with bright sailboats in the foreground. We made sure to admire the view of the Cais da Ribeira and snap some pictures before we did our wine tastings.

Below: Parts of the view from atop the bridge

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Below: The view of the Cais da Ribeira

IMG_3470.jpgThe first tasting we did was a wine and chocolate pairing with three wines – a Ruby, a Tawny, and a Rosé. We also learned that the way Port wine is created is quite unique because they actually stop the fermentation process in order to add additional alcohol, giving the wine it’s 19% alcohol content. But, due to the process, the wine also has a very high sugar content, giving it a very palatable taste. After our wine tasting here, we were on to the next winery – the Sandeman. Here we actually took a tour of the facility and learned more about the process that goes into the wine production. Many people recognize this brand of Port wine for the logo, which reminds many of the movie Zoro. At the Sandeman, we tried two wines, the Ruby and the white.

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After two tastings, we were more than ready for dinner, and we took it upon ourselves to try out a recommendation at a place called Cafe Santiago which made one of the best Franceschina sandwiches in town (so we were told). The Franceschina is a must-try if you are ever in Porto because the sandwich was created there. What doesn’t look that looming or threatening on your plate can be quite deceiving. Under that nice blanket of an egg on top, hides layers and layers of just about everything.IMG_3664.jpgThat night, since it was our second and last night in Porto, we explored the lighter side of the nightlife and I enjoyed a $3 sangria (which is VERY cheap for drinks here). Other highlights of our stay in Porto included the fact fact that you could purchase a HUGE bottle of water for 20 cents… unheard of anywhere I had been before.

The next morning, we woke up early to catch the metro back to the airport which was an experience in itself. When we had first arrived in Porto, we thought we had purchased the return ticket but were not completely sure SO when the police came on the metro to check tickets, and they started handing out fines to people who’s tickets were not valid, Becca and I had a little bit of a scare. BUT good news, our tickets were valid – THANK GOODNESS. Once we got to the airport, we checked into our flight to Paris. The lady at the desk informed us that our flight had been rerouted to another airport due to “an incident.”

Naturally, Becca and I were curious as to what the incident was so we went off to the side and googled it. Come to find out, there was a shooting that morning at the airport we were supposed to fly into… not exactly the news you want to hear. So after our second scare of the morning, we checked to make sure it was still safe to fly into the other airport and decided we would go ahead and make the pit-stop in Paris.

Destination #3: Paris, France (for the second time)

Due to the rerouted flight, we basically utilized the whole day for traveling and did not arrive in Paris at our hostel until dinner time that evening. We were just in time to meet up with Cecelia and two other friends who just happened to be visiting Paris for the week! That night I tried escargot for the first time, and believe it or not, it wasn’t bad. I was doing great until one of the girls said “Look, you can see its feet!” That slightly took away my appetite but nevertheless, I was fearless and kept chewing! It was an experience, and there is a slight possibility I would try escargot again in the future (if someone else was twisting my arm). After the escargot escapades, the night got even more interesting when I arrived back at our hostel and found someone else sleeping in my bed! Oh the joys of traveling.

On Saturday, Becca and I were up early to make the most of our day. Since she had never been to Paris before, I made sure to bring her to all of the major places like the Eiffel Tower, the Tuileries, Notre-Dame, etc. One thing I wanted to make sure I saw was the Pantheon, which was something I did not get the chance to see the first time. Back in 1744, King Louis XV wanted to dedicate a building to Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. Thus, in 1791 the building was declared a national Pantheon. Not only is the life of Saint Genevieve, the protector of Paris and its French Kings, depicted in painted decorations all around walls of the building, but many great people, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie, are buried in the crypts underneath the building.

Below: the Pantheon

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Following my visit to the Pantheon, there was one last place I was determined to visit – a cafe called Le Depart. This specific place was on my list because a family member of mine ate at this restaurant when he was 17 years old. Since it was one of his favorite spots, I was so excited to experience it for myself. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. In fact, the food in Paris never disappoints.

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And just like that, our 24 hour stop in Paris came to a close. It was back to the airport and on to the next stop: Germany!

Spring Break ~ Part 1

6 countries, 2 weeks, 1 backpack. 

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Week 1: Barcelona – Porto – Paris… Starting with Barcelona!

UCD’s class schedule allows students two weeks off in March for spring break. Some students (like me) are lucky enough to have that whole timeframe free, but other students actually have their final exams during this time. I thought it was strange the first time I heard that students in certain majors only have a 7 weeks worth of courses during their 3rd year, second semester. But they aren’t off the hook after their 7 weeks is up. They are then required to do an additional 7 week work experience, which will complete their semester. This apparently is common for most students in the College of Agriculture.

So, as the 3rd year Irish students finished their finals and got ready to move away for their work experiences, I booked some plane tickets and said “See ya, Ireland!” This post is the insider scoop the 1st week of my spring break travels.

Destination #1: Barcelona, Spain 

Ireland is a gorgeous country, but the weather can be significantly variable and we rarely see a day that is completely sunny. So when Becca and I stepped out of the airport in Barcelona, it immediately felt like paradise because the sun was shining, it was beautifully warm, and there was not a single cloud in the sky. After bussing to and checking into our Airbnb near Las Ramblas, we couldn’t wait another minute to get back outside. We had a list of things we wanted to see and do, but not a set itinerary so we set off walking through Las Ramblas, which is a lovely street lined with shopping, restaurants, markets and street vendors. Las Ramblas also houses the Mercado de la Boqueria which turned out to be one of my favorite places in Barcelona. The Mercado was exactly what I pictured when thinking of a fresh produce Spanish market, and blew every farmers market I have ever been to out of the water. As soon as you step foot inside, you are greeted with the aromas of fresh fruit coming from the vast array of fruit and juice stands lined up in aisles. Piles upon piles of every kind of fresh fruit you can imagine.

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Each of these fruit stands also had freshly squeezed juices of every fruit you could think of. I couldn’t resist, so my first purchase was a fresh fruit bowl, and I’ll be honest when saying this… wow, the mangoes were the best I’ve ever had. When you get past the fresh fruit stands we realized that this market was so large that you couldn’t see the end of it when standing at the front. Continuing our way forward, we came across the meat counters. As a student who did meats judging in FFA in high school, I consequently thought this was the coolest thing ever. Almost each stand owner specialized in a type of meat: beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken and poultry, fish, and even deer. On top of that, they offered a variety of meat cuts, and an even higher number of variety meats (meaning parts of the animal like the heart, liver, tongue, tripe, etc.) and even were selling the whole heads (yes, the eyeballs were still intact). Past the meat counters were more fresh produce stands, spice counters, people selling nuts, dried fruit, elaborately decorated chocolates and candies of all kinds, and pastries.

Our sightseeing began after we walked past loads of storefronts and came across a swarm of people trying to catch a glimpse of Gaudi’s architecture at Casa Batlló. With a colorful mosaic facade, Casa Batlló was remodeled in 1904 by Antoni Gaudi and has been called “House of Bones” by locals because of its architectural skeleton-like resemblance. A short walk down the street and you run into another work of Gaudi, Casa Milá, which was built from 1906-1912. Apparently back in the day, people made fun of this building, made satirical cartoons about it, etc., and even made comments that the building would lower the price of the land it sat on… but now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Who do you think got the last laugh?

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Above: Casa Batlló

Heading northeast from Casa Milá will bring you straight to the doorstep of the minor basilica and Roman Catholic Church that has never stopped undergoing construction since construction began in 1882. La Sagrada Familia was another work of Gaudi, and he worked on it until he died at the age of 73 in 1926. When he died, only a quarter of the project was finished. At this time, construction is about 75% complete, but there are still large cranes outside and once you see the building, you can understand why it’s taken so long. The amount of intricate detail that has gone into this building is unimaginable for me. The stained glass literally lights up the entire basilica in every vibrant hue possible. This is truly a masterpiece that even I could appreciate.

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Above: Outside La Sagrada Familia. At the top you will notice it is still under construction.

Below: Inside La Sagrada Familia.Spring break trip.jpeg

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Above: in front of the Arc de Triumf

At this point, it was continuing to be a beautiful (but very windy) day to be outside, so we turned back to visit Barcelona’s Arc de Triumf and walk through the aisle of palm trees lining the street on our way to check out the beach for a little bit before dinner.

Day two in Barcelona was our first actual beach day, which was some much needed ocean therapy… until 2 hours later when we both realized we were burnt to a crisp! It had been so long since I had used sunscreen I forgot I needed it! Regardless, I have never been happier to get a sunburn. Following our sun tanning session, we went on to rent a couple bikes so we could explore more of the city, which was definitely a good choice. We had so much fun riding past all of the palm trees lining the streets and the picturesque views that came with it.FullSizeRender.jpg-7.jpegIMG_4466.JPG

HIGHLIGHT! On the third day in Barcelona, we took a day trip to Montserrat which was about an hour outside of the city. Being an outdoorsy person, I was in my element for the hike up Montserrat Mountain, part of the Catalan Mountain range. After some convincing, Becca agreed to hike to the highest summit of the mountain, called Sant Jeroni (4,055 feet above sea level), with me. Before we could begin our hike, we had to take a cable car up to the monastery that sits on the side of the mountain. Such a unique experience! After a two hour hike up the mountain, we finally reached the peak and the views were breath-taking.

Below: View from the Montserrat Monastery

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On our last day in Barcelona, we took care of some unfinished business by visiting Parc Güell, enjoying some tapas at a little restaurant nearby, and paying one last visit to one of my favorite places. Becca and I ran to the Market de la Boqueria one last time and purchased some dried fruit, including strawberries, plums, mangoes, and cantaloupe. Unfortunately I doubt I will ever be able to recreate it or find anything like it back in the States!

Below: View from Parc Güell

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Above: Enjoying one last round of tapas!

Next post will be about stop #2 of our spring break journey – Porto, Portugal!

Paris

Paris.

Magnifique. Ètourdissant. Charmant.

What an incredible weekend spent in the City of Light. Never in my life did I imagine I would climb to the top of Notre-Dame, enjoy Macaroons at the Palace of Versailles, watch the sun set in front of the Sacre-Cœre, sip champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower or see it sparkle at night. Sending a huge thanks to one of my roommates, Kylie, for being my travel partner for the weekend!

The food in Paris was so phenomenal that it truly deserves a whole blog post devoted solely to it. On Friday, we met up with Cecelia, a friend of mine who is studying abroad in Paris, and see took us out to a lovely restaurant called Chez Mademoiselle. She convinced me to step up my game and try something new, and I must say I’m glad I did. Foui Gras for an appetizer, Risotto Scallops for the main course, and Creme Brûlée for dessert. I highly recommend all of it (and a red wine to complete the meal).

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But the list doesn’t stop there. I drank the best hot chocolate I’ve EVER had in my life. E. V. E. R. Let me repeat, EVER. It literally tasted like rich, creamy melted chocolate truffles and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink regular hot chocolate again. I also ordered a croque monsieur which changed my whole perspective on ham and cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches in Paris are served on the best bread or baguettes and the cheese is to-die-for.

It was recommended to me to try a hot dog, and I am certainly glad I did. When you order a hot dog, its served on a baguette with two hot dogs, generously  topped with melted cheese, and Dijon mustard on the side. Normally I’m not one to order a hot dog when I’m out and about (hotdogs kind of sketch me out unless I know they’re all beef… maybe it’s the farm girl coming out in me), but this time it was fantastic.

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I could continue trying to describe the food, but instead I’ll list the other honorable mentions: the crepes, the chocolate croissants, the melt-in-your-mouth macaroons.. and basically all of the rest of the food in Paris. Oh! And the wine.

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Friday

Moving on, we arrived in Paris at our hostel at about 12:30 am on Thursday, so Kylie and I woke up the next morning and rode the metro into the heart of the city. After we finally managed to find the sign that said Soirte (exit) we stumbled upon the Arc de Triumph, which was much larger than I expected, as soon as we got above ground. After snapping some photos there, we found a small café on our way to the Eiffel Tower where we had our first taste of food in Paris – our first chocolate croissant and coffee – and it was heavenly. After that, we decided our goal was to drink champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower, which is exactly what we did. To me, the view and the experience was 100 percent worth the wait in line at this point in the year. (If it was peak tourist season and the lines were ungodly long, I would probably reconsider). We rode the elevator up to the first floor, second floor, and then the top. Yes, the view was stunning from every level and I’ll never forget feeling so incredibly happy.

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From there, we walked along the Seine, through the Tuileries Garden, and to the Pyramide du Louvre and Louvre Museum where we stopped for a touristy photo op.

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We didn’t go into the Louvre, so I’ll have to save that for next time. After enjoying the view, we kept on until we reached the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Being at the Notre-Dame Cathedral was a dream come true for me. I’m not sure why, but I loved the movie the Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was growing up and I’ll admit… I think the gargoyles are the coolest things ever. A little background on the Notre-Dame Cathedral: the building was completed in 1345 and is located on the île de la Cité. There are tons of gargoyles surrounding the cathedral and their symbolic purpose is to ward off/scare the evil spirits… but their practical purpose is for water run-off from the roof. Kylie and I were able to climb to the top of the towers, and we arrived to a spectacular viewpoint a mere 387 stair-steps later.IMG_2106.jpg

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By this time on Friday, the sun was about to set, so we made the trek up to the highest point in the city, the Sacre-Cœre, which is a Roman Catholic Church and basilica. Watching the sunset here is a popular ordeal, evident by the crowd enjoying the lovely evening while sitting on the steps of the basilica.

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Saturday

The next day, we made our way to the Palace of Versailles – well worth the trip if you have extra time during your stay in Paris. Splendor, magnificence, grandor – all words that describe this home of past kings and queens. All aspects of the palace were marvelous. The gold-gilded everything, the artwork, the gardens. Here we also enjoyed time in the famous Hall of Mirrors, and I had to stop and wonder… how much does one chandelier in the Hall of Mirrors cost? If you figure it out, let me know.IMG_4480.jpgIMG_2229.jpgIMG_4681.jpg

Saturday night Kylie and I experienced the true Paris nightlife, and let me tell you… it was a darn good time.

Sunday

Sunday was more of a leisurely day for the two of us, but in line with the rest of our weekend, it was nothing short of amazing. We spent a short amount of time in the Galeries Lafayette (a very classy old department store) and then strolled to the Sainte-Chapelle which is a royal Gothic-style chapel that Saint Louis ordered to be built between 1242 and 1248 to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. Saint Louis is the young man who became King Louis IX at the age of 12, and when he got older he became famous for his role in the crusades. The Sainte-Chapelle left me in complete awe and I considered the 6,458 square feet of stained glass windows to be one of the most jaw-dropping, most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. To give you an idea of the intricacy of this place, 1,130 biblical scenes were depicted in the stained glass. I would have been completely content with sitting there for hours, maybe even days. Words can’t describe it.

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We ended our last night in Paris by watching the sunset over the Siene River on the Lock Bridge.

All in all, this weekend was magical and reminded me over and over how blessed I am to have this opportunity through the College of Agriculture at Purdue. These experiences and memories are irreplaceable.

Ireland Un”Cork”ed

Last Saturday I kissed the Blarney Stone and I now officially have the “gift of gab,” so have fun reading the longest blog post you’ve ever seen! 😉

Kidding, I will try to keep this relatively short considering its late at night while I am writing this.

I have been on the move lately, taking a day trip to Cork this past weekend and previously traveling around Ireland with my parents for almost two weeks. They were both able to make the trip to this lovely island and spend some time with me, and I was thankful they were able to come. Just to name a few places, we were able to visit the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park, the Dingle Peninsula (funny name, I know), Wicklow, and Kilkenny. We also made our way up to Northern Ireland to see Giant’s Causeway, the Dark Hedges, and hung out at a nice pub in Belfast.

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Above: Panoramic view at Torc Waterfall near Killarney National ParkIMG_0921.JPG.jpeg

Above and Below: Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula – one the the most magical places I’ve ever seen

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Above: Glendalough Lake (no editing done on this picture – I never knew places like this actually existed)

Below: Giant’s CausewayIMG_1485.JPG

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CORK

Eight of us Purdue students hopped a train down to Cork, which is located in southern Ireland, where we were able to do some sightseeing and other touristy things. Originally, I wasn’t planning on going to Blarney Castle because I had heard many mixed reviews with a majority of people saying it wasn’t worth the trip. However, I am so glad I went because we all had a blast. The castle grounds were beautiful and we easily spent half a day exploring. From the extremely narrow, mossy, spiral staircases, to the hidden underground caves, to the tiny castle bedrooms, it was hard to imagine how people used to live there. But, it was easy to see how claustrophobic tourists would not enjoy exploring the spaces as much!

Kissing the Blarney Stone was a highlight of the trip, and apparently is one of the 99 things to do before you die. So there you have it folks, I only have 98 more things to do. Making progress.IMG_1754.JPG.jpeg

Downtown Cork at sunset

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View from the top of Blarney Castle

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Above: Kissing the Blarney Stone while a lovely old man who works at the castle held me upside down. What a nice guy.

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Above: View from the top of the castle

All in all, its been a great past few weeks. Next stop: Paris!