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HOME. August 22, 2012

Posted by allisonb1102 in Travel Log.
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Well everyone, I am back in America!! I know it has been a couple of weeks since I arrived home, but my excitement level to be here is still off the charts.

This summer, I traveled to Paris, Metz, Nancy, Nice, Monaco, Luxembourg, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Rome, Florence, Interlaken, Tours, Munich, Flieden, and Strasbourg. I saw the Eiffel Tower, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Monte Carlo Casino, la Pieta, the Versailles Palace and la Sagrada Familia. I traversed a canyon in Interlaken, and hiked the Mediterranean coast in Italy. I practically walked through history by visiting an ancient Roman bath, two old French Castles, Fort Hackenburg on the Maginot Line, the Struthof concentration camp, the former Nazi headquarters of Munich, European Parliament, and an East and West German border from the cold war. My French skills have gone from a simple “Bonjour” to a more complex “J’ai besoin d’un taxi pour le huit heure du matin.”  Go figure – I even learned a few things about computer science and statistics as well! When I look back on this experience, all I can say is “WOW”. Never in my life have I been so challenged, so molded, and so incredibly inspired by the beauty of the world that we live in.

I will, however, be honest: when it was time to go home, I was more than ready to leave. After a while, I got tired of the slight frustrations that daily life in France/Europe had to offer. I wanted free refills, refrigerated milk, peanut butter, the English language, Hulu, and most importantly, my friends and family.  When I stepped foot into the Atlanta airport, I couldn’t stop myself from crying tears of joy.

From all of my experiences abroad, here are two common statements that I learned to be absolutely true this summer.

1)      You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. To my family and friends who were not with me this summer, you are such wonderful people. My parents are amazing, supportive, and loving people; I missed them SO much. My sisters are a constant source of encouragement and joy – I couldn’t have better siblings to grow up alongside. My incredible friends back at home were missed every single day.

2)      There is no place like home. Though this one is even more cliché than the first statement, it is one of the most accurate phrases ever created. There is no monument, building, landmark, or beautiful view that can compare to the miracle of love and security that only home can offer. I will never, ever, ever again take for granted the blessings that my life in Marietta, Georgia offers me.

This summer taught me more than I could ever put into words. I grew up more than I could have ever predicted. I made amazing new friends, and saw some of the most beautiful sights that my eyes have ever witnessed. Thus, one more vital truth that I must include comes to this:

The world is a playground; never ever stop playing.

A Weekend of Pretending to be French Royalty #2 – Versailles August 9, 2012

Posted by allisonb1102 in Travel Log.
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The day began with an early taxi into the city to catch our train out of Tours and into Paris. We arrived in Paris mid-morning with only one goal for the day: Versailles. Sometimes, the simplest of things are the easiest to mess up. When you aren’t really stressed about something, it leaves your mind completely and you forget to think about it at all. Unfortunately, this was the case with the planning for Versailles.

We got to Paris and were ready to head to Versailles. Our group split at this point, because many of our group members had not been to Paris yet, and wanted to see other things in the city. Those of us that had already been to Paris (Maria, Conrad, and I) were to meet our friend Davis and head to Versailles. Somehow a miscommunication on where and when we were meeting led us to waste a couple of hours in Paris just walking around. However, if ever you are going to waste a couple hours, I do recommend Paris as a place to do it. We got to eat some lunch and also got to briefly see L’Hôtel national des Invalides. We then headed to Versailles to meet up with Davis.

We got on the metro, expecting about a 20 minute trip, but receiving a 45 minute trip. It was about 1:00 when we arrived, though our original plan was to be there by 12:00. Our train out of Paris was at 5:40, leaving us with only a few hours at Versailles. After a bit of searching, we found Davis and got in the line for tickets. Versailles has two options for buying tickets: online, or in line. I recommend the online version, because waiting in line takes literally one hour. We were finally out of the ticket line by 2:00, leaving us with only two hours before we needed to leave Versailles for the train station (which was about a one hour trip across the city). Yay.

We were really upset by how little time we had at Versailles, but we knew it was our own fault. I had been planning on buying tickets online but had never gotten around to it, so I was a bit mad at myself. We started through the palace at a rapid pace, fighting our way around massive tour groups. The palace was extremely crowded that day – so much so that it seriously detracted from the enjoyment level. Nearly all of my photographs are taken from a height above that of a human head. The palace was really impressive, however, and it was very neat to be in such an old and historic location. The rooms were all extremely ornate, with masterpieces as ceilings. It was clear that kings and queens lived here, not just random nobility. The rooms were so elaborate that they were nearly overwhelming – I don’t think I could live in such an overdone place!

The walk through the palace being shorter than expected, we finished in about an hour and a half. We had half an hour before we needed to leave, but we had not bought tickets for the gardens or for Marie Antoinette’s cottage (thinking that we would not have time for them), so there was not much we could do. We revisited the start of the walk through the palace, reading more carefully some of the details before turning around and leaving Versailles.

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To be honest, Versailles was overall a little bit disappointing. The palace itself was great, but the presentation was not as well executed as I would have liked for the money that I paid. Much of the palace was closed off, and there was not very much information on the background of the rooms. Also, the flow of people was poorly organized, leading to major bottle-necks and difficulty navigating the palace. Granted, a large part of this was our fault. Our hurried attitudes detracted a lot from the experience. Also, the Versailles gardens are supposed to be breathtaking and massive, and we did not get to see them at all due to our own carelessness. In the end, I think I can conclude that I would like to go back, having a whole day to see Versailles. I think that with more time I could liked it much more. That being said, it was still a great day. I was underwhelmed but still impressed with the beauty of the palace. I am very glad that we got to see such a historic place. I would love to go back some time!

We left Versailles and made the journey back to Metz, arriving that evening. The weekend of French royalty was a major success, and turned out to be the best weekend I had so far!

-Allison

A Weekend of Pretending to be French Royalty #1 – The Loire Valley Castles August 9, 2012

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Brace yourselves. Braced? Okay. This will be a long post, because I have a lot to say about this particular weekend! On the agenda was a unique combination of places to visit, all of which were the dwellings of the rich or the royal at some point in French history. I was traveling with my friends Silvia, Iva, Jason, Conrad, Maria, Kavya, and Eric. Chateau (Castle) Villandry and Chateau Chenonceau were Saturday’s plans, while Versailles was the plan for Sunday. Chateau Villandry and Chateau Chenonceau are located in the Loire Valley region of France, near a city called Tours. This area runs along a river and is home to many old castles of France. We decided to stay in Tours on Friday and Saturday, and travel to the castles during the day. Somehow, about 85% of the responsibility for this weekend fell into my lap – an exciting but scary opportunity. A lot of planning and stress went into the day, but everything happily worked out.

Our trip actually began with a pretty long connection in Paris, where we visited the Arc and then went to the Latin Quarter. It’s funny to me how Paris has started to become “no big deal” to us, since it is just an hour and a half train ride away. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and realize, “Hello!! You are in PARIS!” Anyway, we got some lunch (crepes, mmmm!) and then boarded our next train. We arrived in Tours late Friday night and took a taxi to our hotel. We woke up on Saturday morning to leave for the first castle, Chateau Villandry (which for sanity’s sake, I will just call Villandry from now on). My first major test was getting us to the first castle. Luckily, I had studied up on the bus system in Tours. It was very similar in operation to the one in Metz; we just had to find the bus stop and get on the right bus. It took us a while to find the right stop, but it ended up working out just fine!

We got off at the train station and onto another bus that we rode for over 45 minutes to the castle. Surprisingly, this nice coach bus was part of the bus system and only cost us somewhere around two Euros each. The bus was not even close to full, and I can’t imagine that they make money on that route. We stopped right outside Villandry and we got off the bus to go inside. A quick side note on this castle: the castle itself is very small, but was said to have beautiful gardens. It was raining outside, so we were feeling a bit pessimistic about our visit. However, as soon as we bought our tickets and walked into the view of the castle, we were all blown away by what we saw.

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The castle itself was indeed small, but it was absolutely adorable. Its white walls and dark grey roof made it look like something out of a fairy tale. We began with a walk through the inside of the castle, looking at all of the cute little rooms. The presentation was excellent. Fresh flowers from the gardens were in every room, and each corner of the chateau really looked like a home that someone had really lived in. The windows all had excellent views of the gardens, which made our excitement to see them grow ten-fold. We also went to the roof of the castle, where an amazing view was offered. If not for the rain, I could have spent a very long time up there!

We soon finished going through the castle and began our walk through the gardens. This was probably the highlight of the day for me. The gardens of Villandry are huge, with many different sections. The grounds seemed to never end. We were upset that it was raining, but we had to embrace it to enjoy ourselves. The next couple of hours were spent running around as if we owned the place, visiting the main gardens, the vegetable garden, the grass tennis court, the herb garden, the maze, and yes, even the playground! We had an absolute field day soaking in the beauty and the freedom that nature offers. The bus came back right as we were finishing up with the castle, so we bid farewell to the lovely Chateau Villandry and rode back into Tours. My expectations for Villandry were lower than they perhaps ought to have been, so it ended up impressing me more than expected. It is nice when things pleasantly surprise you!

Chateau Chenonceau was next on the list. In order to get there, we had to hop on some regional trains that supposedly would take us right next to the castle. I was a little nervous about that working out, but happily the trains went flawlessly. My planning was not in vain! Unlike Villandry, Chenonceau had some high expectations to live up to. We had all seen pictures of this beautiful castle, and we’re very excited. Chenonceau is much larger than Villandry, has much more history, and is much more well-known. The castle has played a role in several wars, included WWI, where it served as an infirmary. Chenonceau also extends over a river, which was a boundary line in WWII. People would use the grand hallway of the castle to sneak across the border out of the Nazi occupied zone and into safety. Very interesting!

When we arrived, our high expectations were gladly met. For the sake of your time, I won’t go into tons of detail about our experience at this second castle, but the next two paragraphs should hopefully suffice. We went to the maze first, as this was the closest to the entrance. It being nearly flooded, we soon headed for the castle. We walked through the castle, admiring the inside as we had done with Villandry. The presentation in Chenonceau was also very well done. All of the rooms had fresh flowers and well executed staging. It was very impressive and beautiful. It took us a while to make it through the large chateau, but when we had finished we went out to the gardens.

The grounds of Chenonceau were not as large as those of Villandry, but were still very nice. We spent a good amount of time walking through them, continual rain and all. They had two main gardens, in addition to something that Villandry did not have: a 16th century farmhouse. The farmhouse was adorable. I loved walking through its herb gardens! Many minutes and many photographs later, it was finally time to leave.

We took a train back to Tours, and when we arrived, the sun was shining as bright as ever. We were a tad frustrated by the irony that it would of course stop raining now as opposed to earlier, but it was a little bit funny. We had a couple of hours to kill in Tours before the bus would take us back to our hotel, so we walked around the city a bit and also got some dinner. Tours made a good impression on me while we were there, and I wish I could have stayed longer. We passed the cathedral on our way to the bus and were shocked at how beautiful the outside was. I wanted to go in so badly, but in order to make our bus we had to keep moving.

The bus took us back to the hotel, where we called it an early night. It had been an excellent day, and I greatly looked forward to heading into Paris the next day and seeing Versailles.

-Allison

Munich – Day Two July 9, 2012

Posted by allisonb1102 in Travel Log.
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The second day of my Munich trip (see my previous post to read about day one) started with a delicious breakfast consisting of a Nutella-covered roll, black tea, and yummy slices of kiwi. Breakfast with Ann Kathrin is always a great way to start a day. Our agenda for the awaiting day was calm but exciting. We decided to go to the German Museum, which is a very large museum with a ton of interesting exhibits. The museum is a little bit different than most, in that it does not house a lot of old artifacts. Instead, the museum focuses on informative exhibitions on modern, practical topics. For example, some of the exhibits that I saw signs for included: metals, aeronautics, mining, model railways, paper technology, and electricity.

Ann Kathrin and I thought that a mining exhibit was a unique and interesting place to begin, so we walked down to the stairs that led to the “mine” and began looking around. The exhibit was very interesting, and absolutely huge. We spent a solid hour in that exhibit alone before finally emerging from the underground to the main part of the museum. Next, we went into a massive room housing all sorts of airplanes and helicopters – the aeronautics display. That too was a very interesting presentation. There were planes from all different eras, as well as interactive displays that taught you about flight.

I don’t know what it is about walking through museums, but it always completely wears me out. This day was no exception. After just two exhibits, Ann Kathrin and I were beat. We went back to her residence and made some coffee to wake up. She made me a café au lait, which despite having lived in France for a month, was my first one. It was great, and it woke me up for the rest of the day.

With new energy, we went out into the city again for some good ol’ tourism. We went to Hofbräuhaus, a classic, first. We didn’t eat a meal or drink any beer, but we did get to walk through and see the inside. It was a neat building with pretty painted ceilings and many long tables filled with customers. One funny observation that was made was that of the mug lockers. There are several lockers in Hofbräuhaus which hold nothing but rows and rows of beer mugs. These mugs are for weekly customers who have reached a sort of “VIP” status! I thought this was absolutely hilarious.

Following Hofbräuhaus was a leisurely walk through Munich. We saw several pretty buildings, got some ice cream, and saw a wall marking part of the old city limits of Munich. Eventually it was time for us to head to Mass at Ann Kathrin’s church. Michael met up with us and we went inside the beautiful church that she attends. The whole service was of course in German, but it was still very nice to attend a formal service. They sang several hymns, listened to someone speak, and read some scripture. I enjoyed being in church a lot, and it was great to see where Ann Kathrin calls her spiritual home.

When the service ended we returned to Ann Kathrin’s place to make some dinner, and we cooked some delicious pasta with vegetables. We weren’t planning on going to bed so early, but we both got really tired once our tummies were full. We stayed up and talked for a while before giving into our exhaustion and going to sleep. Unfortunately, the morning light on the next day meant that I had to leave Munich and Ann Kathrin with it. I was so incredibly sad to say goodbye to her, but I was immensely thankful I had gotten the chance to see her at all. She sent me off with love as I boarded the train. I love my German sister, and seeing her was exactly what I needed!

Until next time,

Allison

Better Late than Never?: Magnificent Munich and a Happy Reunion July 3, 2012

Posted by allisonb1102 in Travel Log.
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Bonjour to all from Metz, France!

First, I want to apologize for my lack of posting on this blog. In keeping up with my other blog, I have neglected to post here. Hopefully you will forgive me and allow me to begin now, with an account of my trip to Munich. I took this trip a few weeks ago, but I feel like it is an important blog to post due to its significance to me. Enjoy this blog, and look for more; I promise that more will indeed come! And now, on Munich:

One of the greatest things about France is how close it is to Germany – and thus to my German sister, Ann Kathrin. For those of you who don’t know, my family hosted a student from Germany named Ann Kathrin for an entire school year nearly 5 years ago during my freshman year of high school. She lived in my home, went to my school, and over time became an addition to my family. Our families are now very close, and we visit each other whenever we possibly can. Ann Kathrin is currently studying and working in Munich, Germany, and I decided to go visit her for the weekend of June 9-10.

I was SO excited to venture out to Munich as I stepped on the night train. It had been a few years since I have been in Germany, and thus a few years since I had seen Ann Kathrin. Unfortunately, my excitement level soon plummeted as I observed my sleeping conditions for the night. I was in a compartment with a total of six chairs and six people. The chairs were arranged as two rows of three chairs, which faced each other. The chairs did not lean back, did not have anything on the head-rest to block your head from rolling all around, had barely any cushioning, and were not very clean. Also, since the chairs faced each other, there was no leg room. You had to awkwardly wind your legs around to avoid the stranger across from you. Let’s just say that this was the worst night of sleep I think I have ever had. I arrived in Munich the next morning half alive.

Needless to say, I did not feel very good when I got there. I had gotten really sick – my stomach was acting up and I was hunched over just trying to walk. Luckily, I quickly found Ann Kathrin at the platform and after giving her a huge hug, we headed to her residence. She lives pretty close to the train station in a hallway of students who rent out rooms in a side building of a convent. We talked non-stop on the way to the building, but I needed to lay down by the time we got there. Ann Kathrin’s hall thankfully has a spare room for hosting guests, and I had it to myself for the weekend. Wonderful Ann Kathrin made me some hot tea and put it by my bed; I sipped on it happily before falling fast asleep.

I didn’t wake up until about three hours later, when it was already 11:30am. I felt a little bad for wasting some of my time in Munich, but the nap had made my stomach feel SO much better. Also, Ann Kathrin had time to run to the grocery store while I was asleep. We timed it about perfectly so that she arrived back right when I woke up! Feeling one hundred times better, I thanked her for taking care of my pitiful self, and we went to her kitchen to make lunch. Lunch was an immediate sign that I was indeed in Germany: we had rolls with different cheeses, some sauce, and tomatoes (which sounds simple, but was very good!). With full tummies and no sick people, we finally went out to see Munich.

In the next few hours, we explored all over the city. We saw many pretty churches and a cute German market with fresh produce. We went to the bell tower of one of the churches, St. Peter’s Church, which offers a great view of the city. It was a deceptively high climb to the top, but the view was completely worth it. Ann Kathrin pointed out important buildings and monuments, and filled me in on a lot about Munich. We spent a bit up at the top and then went back down into the streets. We next went to a really pretty church, called Theatinerkirche. It had an elegant yellow exterior and a clean white interior. It was a very graceful church with a lot of light inside, and I really loved its atmosphere. We got really lucky with the timing of our visit, because we entered right as they were about to begin a free tour in English. The tour was wonderful, and really added a lot to the experience. It was very neat to learn about subtle details in architecture that can hold so much meaning and symbolism.

When we left the church, we met up with Ann Kathrin’s boyfriend, Michael. He is super nice, and I was so happy to meet him! We walked through a festival that was winding down for the day, and we were able to catch some street performers and see various stands before they shut down. We made our way next to Ann Kathrin’s school, the University of Munich. It had a beautiful lobby complete with even an organ! Why a school would need an organ in its lobby, I have no idea. It was really neat to see where Ann Kathrin studies, and it was also fascinating to hear about some of the history that took place in her school. During WWII, a student resistance group that was centered in the Univeristy of Munich actively fought against the Nazi regime using intellect and reasoning. The group, called the White Rose, distributed anti-Nazi fliers and did a lot to generate anti-Nazi sentiment among German people. Many of the students were arrested, and some even lost their lives for their brave actions. There is now a memorial dedicated to the these inspiring students right outside the school.

After seeing the university, we went for a stroll throughout the English Gardens to view some pretty landscape. The gardens were beautiful, with a lot of green-space, a stream, and a cute little gazebo. We walked through the park to the bridge, under which a river with a strong current was flows. I looked down at the water and saw that there were people surfing on the water! It looked really difficult, and it is apparently pretty dangerous. One of the surfers actually fell and broke his board, which made him nearly hysterical with anger. When we got over our justified fascination with the river surfers, we walked through the park a little more and then went back to Ann Kathrin’s building to eat some dinner.

For dinner, Ann Kathrin and her friends cooked some meat, salad, and bread in the kitchen. I wanted to help, but since I am not the best of all cooks I decided to just observe and help clean dishes.  The dinner was absolutely excellent, and we were all absolutely stuffed when we finished! Ann Kathrin also made a delicious dessert made of chocolate, banana, yogurt, and marshmallow, which was happily devoured.

When we finished eating, Ann Kathrin, two of her friends, and I put on our Germany gear and went to a nearby restaurant/bar to watch the Germany v. Portugal Euro Cup game. The atmosphere for the game was excellent; we were outside under a huge tent with hundreds of people all riled up for the game. The game played on two huge screens. It was so fun to cheer on the German team, which happens to be my favorite team, while actually IN Germany! Germany won the game 1-0, and everyone went crazy! We went to a different bar afterwards for just a bit to prolong our celebration, but soon left and turned in for the night. I went to bed very happy on my first night in Munich, thinking about how excited I was to spend the next day with my sister Ann Kathrin!

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my first post!

-Allison Brackin