jump to navigation

What a Summer September 11, 2013

Posted by B.R. Smith in Travel Log.
comments closed

In my last post I ended with my time spent in Edinburgh. Edinburgh was great and allowed me to research some of my family’s Scottish history. The weekend after Edinburgh we decided to head across the Irish Sea to visit Dublin and hopefully see the Cliffs of Moher (more on this later).

                Getting to Ireland, however, proved to be a bit more involved than we originally hoped. The trip started with a seven hour train ride across England and into Wales. We crossed the border into the land of the Welsh and not one stop later did we have to get off because the rail line was down. And there we had it; what was supposed to be the tail-end of a smooth 7-hour train ride complete with air-conditioning and wireless access to the Interwebs turned into a hellish three hour bus ride akin to the bus ride we had up to Edinburgh. We arrived at the station on the edge of the Irish Sea at about 4 AM. Our ferry was situated to depart any minute and hurried aboard. Stepping onboard that ferry was like stepping into an air conditioned room after being in a sauna. It was incredible. Plush, reclinable seats, coffee machines, and the comfort of knowing we were almost there eased my aching joints caused from the bus.

                In three hours time we arrived in Dublin. Our schedule was packed so we immediately went exploring and sight-seeing. We visited many of the sights of Dublin, and ended our exploration with a trip to the Guinness Factory to obtain some knowledge. All the while, we were trying to figure out how we were going to make it to the Cliffs of Moher which, if one is familiar with Irish geography, is on the complete opposite side of the country facing the Atlantic Ocean. Some friends had told us they used a taxi cab driver that would drive us across to the cliffs and back for a flat rate. We decided to hop on that deal. After an early night and a nice Irish breakfast, we met the driver and headed across the country to the cliffs. Our driver, Andy, was a trip. Just a good ol’ Irishman. Andy kept us entertained all across the beautiful Irish countryside that was dotted with cows, stone fences, thatched roofs, and never-ending green fields.

                We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher and immediately our mouths dropped. The green Irish grass led us right up to the edge where cows were still grazing. We looked down and saw the sheer drop that protected Ireland from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Being the interested fan that I am, I was reminded of the scenes of Game of Thrones that were shot there. We spent a few hours there exploring the cliffs and ignoring sensible warning signs. On the way back home we stopped at one of Andy’s favorite traditional Irish restaurants. After sightseeing there’s nothing like some Irish stew to rejuvenate the body.

Image

 

Image

 

Image

                At the end of the weekend we arrived back at Worcester College in England. As I walked across the grounds to my living quarters, I was reminded how unique an experience I had this summer. I had the wonderful opportunity to tour around Europe, experiencing places I’ve always wanted to visit and falling in love with places I had never even heard. All the while I was with a legendary group of people. Not only did I get the opportunity to see Europe, I was also able to spend six weeks in Oxford, England at a college older than the United States. The culture I was a part of while in Oxford is something I don’t think I’ll experience again. When you eat your meals, study, waste time, go out, and travel with one hundred and fifty people every day for six weeks, you start to get really close with everyone. It was this that made me enjoy being at Worcester. I mean, where else can I get a Guinness after class with my Environmental Ethics teacher? Moments like that made me realize that I was a part of something unique in the Oxford Program. It was wonderful; an experience I’ll never forget. Thank you to everyone who spent their time reading this. Additionally, to the PS Program, thank you for allowing us wide-eyed young adults to expand our worlds. This summer has changed my world and I’m excited to bring my knowledge back to Georgia Tech.

Image

Image

 

Image

 

Until next time! 

Munich and Edinburgh August 2, 2013

Posted by B.R. Smith in Travel Log.
comments closed

A couple weeks after Paris, a few of us decided to venture to Munich, Germany on one of our free weekends in Oxford. We weren’t able to get a taste of the famous German food and drink on the travel portion, so this adventure was much-needed.

We touched down in Bavaria early Friday morning around 7 AM in a hazy state, coming off little sleep and a long night of travelling. A couple espresso shots later we were geared up for a day of adventure. The travel portion had museum-ed us out, so we were looking to some things that would make the visit all the more memorable. We decided to head to the Bayern Munchen home stadium just outside the city center. After touring the enormous stadium and getting the chance to marvel at some German engineering, we checked out the famous gardens in Munich. We ventured our way to the expansive Englischer Garten. The garden wasn’t even wholly accounted for on the map we had, and I’m pretty sure in its entirety it was larger than the city center of Munich. After walking around the park for a bit we decided to cool down in the chilly water of one of the creeks flowing through the garden. We floated down the creek until we came to a biergarten called Seehaus on a pond in the middle of the garden. We got out, drip-dried, grabbed some steins and had dinner at Seehaus while enjoying the peaceful Munich afternoon.

Image

 

Image

Image

The German culture fascinated me. The Germans are a very thoughtful and precise people. Trains are on time, connections are glitch-free, and everything is clean! In addition, the architecture juxtaposed with the expansive, beautiful parks and gardens makes for a wonderful backdrop to any sort of activity. Also the food culture of Germany was awesome.

Upon arriving back in Oxford we had another week of classes. When Thursday hit we were ready to hop on the bus and head to Edinburgh for the British Open. Getting there, however, turned out to be much more stressful than any of us had initially thought. We get out of class at 4:15, yet need to be at the train station at 5:00. Since none of us had packed our bags we swiftly went back to do that then headed to the train station. With the train set to leave at 5:07, we arrive at the station at 5:04 and got our tickets. We rushed to the platform only to find that we had to take the bridge walkway to the other side of the tracks. As we made it to the platform, the train’s doors were closing. You know that sinking feeling when you know you’ve messed up? We tried to stay positive, but knew our journey up north would not be as smooth as a train-ride. Since that was the last train of the day, we sort out our options and decided to take the 10-hour overnight bus ride. This later became known by those of us on it as the bus ride from hell.

Image

After ten sweaty, bumpy, cramped hours, we pulled into downtown Edinburgh at 7 AM. Excited to see the Open, we immediately hopped on the train to Muirfield to catch some of our favorite golfers tee off. We made contacted with two Tech alums there playing in the tournament, Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink. Though they didn’t win, we like to think our presence improved their performance, right? Regardless of their play, it was great to see some Jackets playing in the Open.

Another high point on the trip to Scotland was our visit to Arthur’s Seat, a large hill situated outside of Edinburgh. On my travels so far I haven’t really been able to get out of urban areas and explore the countryside. Though we weren’t in the wildnerness or anything, it was still refreshing to get out of the city and relax at the top of Arthur’s Seat, looking down on the city of Edinburgh.

Image

Image

Another great thing about being in Scotland was the chance I had to learn a little about my family’s heritage. My late grandmother, Fergie as we called her, always reminded us of our Scottish blood, capturing my attention with wild stories of her family. Luckily I was able to learn a lot about the Clan Ferguson during my time in Scotland and buy some souvenirs  that pertained to the Ferguson Clan. It was great to be near the high country. I definitely have plans to make it back here, hopefully sneaking in a round of golf or two at its birthplace.

Luckily, getting back home was one hundred times less stressful. We took a direct train from Edinburgh to Oxford and just relaxed and enjoyed the views of the English countryside.

Pearee’ July 21, 2013

Posted by B.R. Smith in Travel Log.
comments closed

                I would not be able to live with myself if I didn’t give a shout out to my favorite city. Though it has been a couple weeks since I was in Paris, France, I continue to daydream about visiting there again someday. The criteria for “favorite city” can be quite subjective as many people in my group did not particularly care for the City of Love. In contrast, from the moment we first arrived in the city and I glanced down the Champ Elysees adorned with manicured horse-chestnut trees, I knew I would love Paris. We saw some of the main attractions like the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. Though these iconic monuments were impressive, they did not define the character of Paris in my eyes. Paris had so much more to offer than that. It was the serenity of the Seine, the contrast of the wrought-iron on the stone buildings, the green trees straddling the avenues, and the complementary frenzy of the city streets with the calmness of the beautiful parks. I’ve heard it said that if every city had a character, Paris would be a young man in love with an older woman. After walking around the streets and feeling both young and alive and also mature and refined, I could not agree more. It was without a doubt the most attractive city I have ever visited. No wonder so many painters come from Paris. I felt like I was in an impressionistic scene just strolling down the city streets. I plan to live there at some point in my life, even if it’s just for a few months.

                I do not mean to take away from the great attractions that Paris has. After all, how bland would the Paris skyline look without that gigantic steel structure shooting out of the ground? I will say that going to the top of the Eiffel Tower (and from an engineering perspective being amazed at how they designed and built such a unique structure when horses were still used to carry cannons to war) was one of the coolest experiences. As the sun set we gazed out at the Seine with its dinner cruises just departing, and looked across the Paris skyline (which is quite expansive) right as the evening lights were being turned out. On our third day in Paris we ventured out of the city to visit Versailles. Words like gigantic, enormous, colossal get overused and really do not capture the extravagance of this place. My camera could not even get the entire palace in one clean shot. It was that big. I’ve heard that if the French government was to fully staff the Palace of Versailles, complete with cooks and maids and everything, that they would be bankrupt within a few weeks. The epitome of the rococo lifestyle, Versailles was not just a huge palace; there was also about 230 acres of gardens. Not just land either, manicured gardens. We rented bikes and rode around the pond they have only to realize that it is a five mile bike ride just to circle the pond. Just the pond! In doing so we didn’t even ride by Marie Antoinette’s second “cottage”. That was about another mile away from the pond, yet still in the same manicured gardens of Versailles. It was incredible to see. It made me want to see what that place was like when Louis IV lived there. No wonder the people revolted and sent Marie Antoinette to the guillotine. However, I do prefer peaceful transitions of power.

                Much to my dismay, we had to leave Paris after five wonderful, glorious days there. We made a stop in Belgium for a three days where I was able to take a cruise down a canal in Antwerp, eat my first Belgian waffle in Ghent, visit the Delirium Factory in Brussels, and meet up with another Oxford Group in Brugge.

                As I’ve said, Paris was absolutely my favorite city. However, every heavyweight champ always faces a challenger in their career. Think Rocky I, Apollo Creed was undoubtedly the best boxer in the world. Little did he know that in the streets of Philadelphia a pre-steroids Stallone was preparing for the coup. My challenger does not reside in the bowels of the City of Brotherly Love, it resides in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Stay tuned ladies and gents.

 Image

Image

Image

The Wonders of Eastern Europe (and Austria) June 25, 2013

Posted by B.R. Smith in Travel Log.
comments closed

The past few weeks have really been a blur, leaving me little time to recollect my thoughts much less put them on paper. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit Vienna, Prague, Baden-Baden, Paris, Ghent, Brussels, Brugge, and Antwerp. At the moment, after the hectic first half of the summer, I’m situated in my room at Worcester College at Oxford University in Oxford, England.

As hectic as it was, the travel portion of the Oxford Program was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my short twenty years of life. I will recount some of the things I’ve been a part of these past few weeks. The last time I posted on here I was in Budapest, Hungary. Probably the biggest surprise of the trip, Budapest was a wonderful city. Situated on the beautiful Danube river, Budapest is a cultural hub in Eastern Europe. In sharp contrast to the crowded streets of Rome, Budapest lacked the throngs of tourists typical of Rome and Florence.

The ancient baths in Budapest were incredible! Hopping into a sauna for ten minutes then jumping into a cold mint pool is painful, but oh so nice.

Possessing a cleanliness that would rival the bald head of Mr. Clean, Budapest was an attractive city for Europeans (I’m lumping the U.K. and Ireland into this, though they aren’t really Europeans) to visit. In one day I met two Irishmen visiting for a wedding, an Italian student on a weekend break, and a group of British folk on study trip. It was something else to see the world’s youth gathered in a single place exchanging laughs and helping each other navigate a foreign city.

We left Budapest and crossed the Hungarian countryside towards Vienna, Austria. It was nice to indulge myself in the Wiener schnitzel and sausages for which Vienna is famous. The music history in Vienna is impressive. All the Classical greats studied and composed here. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, you name it. Fortunately, my teacher informed us of an optional concert in the famous Musikverein (look how beautiful it is here: http://melomem.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/musikverein1.jpg) where for a measly five euro we were able to see the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Praised as one of the best philharmonics in the world (yes, world), they showcased a musical precision I would not have appreciated had I not been taking a music appreciation class during my travels. It really was incredible to watch and listen. Afterwards while the sun was setting, a few friends and I enjoyed a cup of coffee in a way that would make Europeans proud. Coffee has taken on new meanings while here in Europe. No longer is it a get-a-to-go-cup-and-chug sort of thing. This wonderful beverage deserves better than that.

Thankfully we were able to avoid most of the flooding of the Danube while on our trip to Budapest and Vienna (both of which are situated on the Danube). We did see some of the after effects, though. The Danube is a gorgeous river. The architecture of both Vienna and Budapest complemented it well. Initially, I was a bit skeptical of Vienna and Budapest. Now, I would recommend these cities to a European traveler. They don’t have the historical attractions that a Rome or Florence has, but in terms of a comprehensive experience they were great. I realize this post is a bit long, so next time I will post about my experience in Paris (without a doubt my favorite city) and Belgium!

I still can’t figure out how to post pictures on here. It says there’s not enough space left for my upload. I’ll get this figured out by next time!

On the Road June 4, 2013

Posted by B.R. Smith in Travel Log.
comments closed

Just when I thought the pasta couldn’t get any better, the coffee any stronger, or the scenery any more picturesque, I arrived in Venice, a city I’ve wanted to visit since before I had even tried spaghetti. . I think what has always drawn me here is that it’s such a unique town. The old buildings and twisting canals complement each other nicely. It’s been kind of surreal actually realizing that I’m here.

This past week has left me with a skewed sense of time and space. It’s hard to believe I was in Rome last Thursday staring at the impressive engineering of the Coliseum (they built that without computers? or even calculators? or even any sort of machinery?) or the beautiful sculpture of Bernini in the Borghese gallery. If you have a chance, Google Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne”. It’s unbelievable that he could do that with marble. As we made our way to Florence I realized that the accordion tunes and ever-present smells of pasta were not localized in the tourist-heavy Rome. They are everywhere, adding to already lively Italian scenes. Before we made it to Florence we had a pit-stop in this small, Tuscan town of Orvieto. It was like a scene out of The Godfather. Narrow, cobble-stoned streets and friendly locals made me feel like I’d encountered the real Italy.

When we arrived in Florence immediately the scent of leather hit my nose, and I knew I was going to enjoy my time here. A tad smaller than Rome, Florence is famous for it’s beautiful Renaissance architecture, it’s seemingly infinite amount of museums, and of course Il Duomo. The town where Dante and Michelangelo found inspiration struck a similar chord in me. Though I won’t be writing any epic poems or fashioning any semblance of a “David” anytime soon, I believe Florence, with it’s red-tiled roofs and Tuscan backdrop, is a gorgeous town. Climbing up to the top of “Michelangelo’s Lookout” to enjoy a meal and catch the setting of the Tuscan sun was an experience I won’t forget. On a side note, I have to say the culture of Italy is refreshing to someone accustomed to the “hurry-up-and-go” attitude of the States. It’s nice to sit down to a meal and know that there’s no hurry. There’s no need to eat quickly when you have good food, good company, and an Italian backdrop. This attitude permeates a lot of activities, and it’s refreshing.

There’s something about travelling that gives the mind a sense of clarity. Maybe it’s because I’ve tried to log my activities and thoughts into a journal (something I’ve attempted in the U.S. but never have made habitual), or maybe there’s something in the espresso, but I’ve found I’ve discovered things about myself that were either dormant or deeply buried. For instance, I’m so pleased with the classes I’m taking, both History of Art in Western Europe and History of Music in Western Europe. These are the first times I’ve been exposed to either of these subjects. Sure, I’ve had plenty of piano lessons growing up and I dabbled in ceramics, but I’ve never had the chance to take a class centered around appreciation for the arts. This, coupled with the simultaneous travel through the actual places we discuss in class, has made my trip a truly refined cultural experience. Just last night we went to a string orchestra concert in St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. The gilded ceiling, the echoes of the string instruments throughout the church, and the emotive compositions combined for a full sensory experience. I really can’t even describe the feeling of the concert because I was just awestruck at how amazing the human race can be when we decide to focus on something that doesn’t involved harming other people. I digress.

As you might have inferred, I’m currently in Budapest, Hungary. It’s a wonderful place. Some of the activities planned are a trip to the local hot springs, lunch on a boat while cruising down the Danube River, and Hungarian folk dancing.

EDIT: I would really like to put pictures on here but I’m getting messages that the upload limit has been reached. As soon as this gets figured out I’ll share some photos!