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Scared Swissless July 18, 2013

Posted by mcwaples in Travel Log.
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Following the long weekend in Eastern Europe, my group and I travelled to Interlaken, Switzerland for some outdoorsy adventures! I am pleased to say my wallet was the only part of me that sustained injuries.

Day 1: The weather was quite rainy and foggy, however, that did not stop my friend, Ryan Calhoun, and I from hiking the Lauterbrunnen valley and visiting a UNESCO World Heritage site comprised of 10 waterfalls caving out a mountain on the northwest side of the valley. Aside from the obvious grandeur of the waterfalls and mountains in the background, I was amazed by the size and abundance of giant Swiss slugs! After becoming one with the wildlife, taking in the views, and feeling quite cold and wet, we went back to the hostel to thaw out, eat, and buy Swiss Army Knives. Next came the most nerve-wrecking part of the trip: bungee-jumping. Ryan and I were beyond nervous on the drive and gondola ride up. We established a home base in a gondola station and were separated into groups to make the jump. My group went first, and we were all terrified on the rickety gondola ride up before being 450 feet above a lake. From there, the staff counted me down from 5 as I made the scariest jump of my life. The jump down took about 6 seconds, during which I literally could not breathe. When I slung back, however, I felt more alive than ever and yelled in excitement before ultimately dropping onto a boat and getting back to the base. Ryan had a similar experience, and we rejoiced when it was done. That night, we celebrated with some LSU law students we had befriended at our hostel, Balmer’s Herberge. Then, we rested up, knowing what was ahead of us.

Day 2: The weather had cleared up for a perfectly sunny, warm day: perfect weather to go canyoning for several hours with the likes of Missy Pittard and my brothers! After suiting up and heading into the canyons, we began our adventures with a 40 foot plunge into the cold waters. Following that, we were tested through various climbs, a 70 foot descent through a waterfall, jumping onto rocks and sliding down them, front flips, attempts at gainors, other high jumps, climbing, and sliding down waterfalls! Words cannot express the amount of fun that transpired that day, and the day was wrapped up nicely with a drive past the lakes and mountains, which made us understand why the area is called, “Interlaken.”

Far East Movement July 18, 2013

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Hello friends, it’s been a while, so let me tell you of my travels a few weekends ago to Budapest and Prague.

 Day 0/1: After many delayed trains, an unexpected free night in a Swiss hotel, escaping out the window at 4am because the door was locked, and another 10 hours of trains, my group and I arrived in Budapest, Hungary. The first thing we learned: Eastern Europe is much cheaper than the west. Our hostel served us a delicious traditional goulash, a night’s stay, and breakfast in the morning for a total of 9 Euros each (about $12). In Paris, I couldn’t fathom something like that for less than 50 Euros…Upon leaving the hostel the first night, we went out, embraced the beauty of the city at night, and enjoyed one of the top 3 ranked bars in Europe: Szimpla. Not your run of the mill pub, Szimpla is a two-story open air “ruin pub” given the distinction because it was built from historic ruins. After enjoying the local brew, treating ourselves to some hookah, and making friends with some British rugby hooligans, we retired for the evening to brace ourselves for the next day.

Day 2: Budapest is given its name for the fusion of the two sides of the Danube River it spans: Buda to the west, and Pest to the east. We began our adventures on the less urban, more scenic Buda side, spending a good while hiking to the summit of the highest point in the city, which houses an historic fort. Following an hour or so enjoying the views, we trekked north to find the city’s famed palace (where much of Austro-Hungarian history was made). Upon leaving the Buda side, we sought to relax. Therefore, we went over to the famous thermal springs and happily spent several hours there cycling between cold baths, hot baths, and saunas. Unfortunately, however, we were swindled 8000 Forints (about $30) each by a metro attendant for a common tourist-trap mistake on our tickets, so we were in a bit of a foul mood the rest of the day and did not seek many adventures in the evening.

Day 3: Just as we were about to forgive the country, Hungarian officials messed with us again. This time, on the train leaving for Prague. In the Eurail pass, there is an optional/not emphasized portion for one to fill out destinations. Having never been checked for that, we had not filled that portion out, and were shocked when the train attendant demanded 50 Euros each for the “mistake.” As the foul demon had our passes in hand ready to rip them, we could only negotiate to 30 Euros a piece before angrily paying him and leaving his country for good. After a long train ride of bitterness, we were welcomed by Prague with open arms. We realized the Czech crown (0.05 USD) is a friendly currency, making a kingly dinner very affordable. Next, we decided to explore the nightlife with a boat tour/party followed by a 5-story club that made that night a night of fun, networking, an awkward ripped shirt story, and a fun 4am run through Prague to return to the hostel.

Day 4: This was one of my favorite days in Europe. My group and I began by crossing the Charles Bridge and taking in lots of sights before heading up to the castle located where? On top of a hill, of course! In addition to the incredible view of the city from there, it was also interesting seeing just where people were thrown out of windows in the First and Second Defenestrations of Prague (historical events leading to bloodshed such as the Thirty Years War). Following that adventure, we saw a flag monument to those killed in World War II, the oldest Synagogue in Europe, the John Lennon wall of random artwork, the largest platoon of swans imaginable, and lots of Franz Khafka tributes including a not so appropriate fountain. After a dinner in an awesome medieval restaurant, we tracked down the sunset by going up to the metronome on a hill (formerly the largest monument to Joseph Stalin outside of Russia) and were impressed to also observe a moonrise on the other side of the city, making for an awesome end to the weekend. All in all, Prague became one of my favorite cities for its beauty, historical significance, friendliness, and cost-efficiency.

Paris and Munich Round II June 24, 2013

Posted by mcwaples in Travel Log.
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Following an incredible weekend in Munich, a few of us took our travels to the City of Lights to feast upon the sights. Paris boasts an incredible amount of history, monuments, and culture, however I found it to lack cleanliness and reasonable prices. But enough of me whining, there was much good to outweigh the bad. Since the hostel we stayed in was to the far northeast, we found Montmartre (the hill overlooking all of Paris with a large cathedral) an ideal starting place since it was nearby and provided a good view of what was to come. The hike was reasonable and the view was absolutely wonderful, making us eager to explore more. Next up was the Eiffel Tower. Constructed in the late 19th century for a world’s fair, the tower is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. We climbed up stairs as far as we could before taking the elevator to the top. While the building itself is primarily a civil engineering feat, I could not help but think of the need for industrial engineers for ticket logistics there as it was unnecessarily confusing and slow. Additionally, I was impressed by whomever thought to sell champagne at the top: they charge at least 12 Euro for a small glass, yet most people at the top could be seen with one. The rest of the evening was spent strolling along the river, seeing the Arc de Triumph, and hiding from the torrential downpour of rain that ensued.

The next morning, we woke up early to get to what I was most excited for: the Louvre. This turned out to be the best decision of the weekend as there was no line to get in at opening, however, the line stretched for a good quarter mile 2 hours later. From the glass pyramid entrance onward, I knew the Louvre would be my favorite part of Paris. Nearly every work of art I had read about in classes or heard of on the History Channel could be seen there. Even better: the unknowing masses would only gather around places marked on the tourist maps, so the Mona Lisa and Hammurabi’s Code of Laws were really the only crowded sights. Little did others know of the works of David, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Van Eyck, and so many others.  Overall, the historical perspective Paris provides vast outweigh any other shortcomings that may be associated with the city.

 

The following weekend, everyone I wanted to travel with was going to Munich, and I thought: any German city is worth visiting twice. I did not once regret this decision. Whereas my last visit was rainy and cold, this visit was filled with sunshine, warmth, and Munich’s birthday! The first night, some friends and I went out to clubs, where I learned 3 things: dress code in clubs is weird for guys, German clubs are awesome, and people from New Zealand have the coolest accents ever! After much fun and time had elapsed, we got back to the hostel around 5am and discovered the sun was up already. Not yet tired, I decided to run to Olympic Stadium from our hostel near the zoo. The run was beautiful, nostalgic (as I have read much of the 1972 games), and about 16 miles long. When I returned to the hostel tired, I realized it was going to be a long day. Powered by Red Bull and kebabs, I visited the BMW museum near where I ran earlier, went to Marienplatz Square, visited the English biergarten, and enjoyed some cultural beerhalls. Somehow at the end of the night, I was able to muster enough energy to try the clubs round 2. While the people at these clubs were far more awkward, the experience was still memorable and fun. Overall, these two short weekends were well spent while experiencing much of the history, industry, and culture.

Deutschland Uber Alles June 6, 2013

Posted by mcwaples in Travel Log.
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Hi there, readers 🙂 In the past 2 weekends, I have travelled to Berlin, and (though unexpectedly) to Geneva and Munich. I will begin with my encounters of Berlin (and I apologize for the absence of photos, the upload function in the post doesn’t seem to work, but I will figure some way of showing pics and avoiding further comma splices).

Round 1: Berlin

 Admittedly, it’s kind of tough to see such a massive city on a 2-day weekend (especially when it is cold and rainy the whole time). However, I was nonetheless pleased with how much I could see in such a short period of time in inclement weather.

Naturally, Brandenburg Gate is a great sight as it now stands for the unity of the German nation and lies in the heart of the city. However, I was much more impressed by the Reichstag building (the German government building). While the building itself has stood through fires and war, the addition to the top is fairly recent. Adorning the roof of the building is a glass dome, inside of which is a tornado-shaped structure made of 360 mirrors that enable tourists and citizens alike to see into the government process. If unity and transparency are the main goals of the new German government, I see no better structure to promote it than the Reichstag. Berlin also maintains some remnants of the wall that divided the city in two for much of the late 20th century. Being able to freely go around these barriers  seems almost trivial to an uneducated passerby, but for one who knows the history behind it, you can feel the anguish that the wall produced for years to East Berliners. While other buildings including a nice museum were visited, I feel the aforementioned three were the best to speak upon. If in Berlin for longer, I would advise seeing as many memorials, museums, and as much of the GIANT park as possible.

BONUS TIP: Get the Doener in Berlin. Those kebaps kept my group and I happy and full for the entirety of the trip for very little cost. I am very compelled to start the industry up in the US, but we need a little more Turkish influence first.

 

Intermission: CERN

To begin the next weekend, my roommate and I travelled overnight to Geneva to visit the Council for European Research Nucleare (or CERN). The tour brought out every bit of nerd in me: large hadron colliders, Higgs-Boson, really expensive magnets…the list goes on! It was truly humbling to see what the greatest minds all teamed up together can accomplish there. If you are nearby, I would highly recommend a tour (it’s free too)!

 

Round 2: Munich

While in Geneva, my roomie and I learned 2 things: our original plans of getting to Barcelona fell through and Switzerland is expensive/not especially fun (sorry, statue of John Calvin). In a completely spontaneous move, I looked up trains to Munich, saw one leaving in 5 minutes, and asked my roomie if he wanted to go. I had to keep up with him running to the track as he was so excited (and for good reason).

Munich is one of the most exciting places in Europe right now: the culture and history are rich, the beer is refreshing, and everyone is super hyped about FC (Super) Bayern for their success in European football! After some recon of the city, we went into the famed Hofbrauhaus (beer hall) and were amazed by the friendly environment and patriotism towards their team. Every few minutes, someone was bound to start a chant about SUPER Bayern. I couldn’t help but feel pride for where I was too, and moreso after practicing my German on friendly locals for a while.

As I travel more and more, I like to develop my own style or philosophy on how to go about things. Trains and hostel bookings are straightforward, but people differ on how to get to know a city. Some just stare at maps. For me, I go for a long run! I saw more of Munich in a 2 hour stroll than I had the entire previous day. Seriously, try doing this in the mornings when you travel: it is a great kickstart to your day and gets you acquainted.

To the South of Munich lies the land of castles (specifically Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein), which is where we headed next. While the weather was again rainy and cold, I was stunned at the beauty of the area: two castles in the mountains with a clean lake in between is quite a site (though I learned it is a cold lake the hard way). While neither castle bears any remarkable historical, dimensional, or monetary significance, I still found the area to be rather enjoyable. The juxtaposition with the lake, waterfalls, mountains, and all sorts of nature really hammer in that these castles were from the romantic period.

Our last day was spent at Dachau for a very somber finale. While I had read plenty on World War II and, consequently, concentration camps, nothing could have prepared me for the sights of Dachau. Between the bunks, labor sights, guard towers and fences and gates, furnaces, and the infamous gas chamber, one cannot help but feel ashamed that members of the human race ever subjected their fellow man to such hardships. While I wholeheartedly believe that man can be good in intent, a sight like Dachau demonstrated to me that humanity has its dark side, and that it is up to all of us to ensure that tragedies such as this never happen again.

 

Tune in next time for…PARIS, City of Lights

 

 

Watch out, Europe! (part 1): From humble beginnings to the low lands May 20, 2013

Posted by mcwaples in Travel Log.
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When I was younger, people would always tell me college was full of non-stop adventures. This seems to be the case as I had a week between my co-op term and going off to Europe. While I thought that week would be “down time,” I found myself surprisingly busy either preparing for my trip, unpacking, packing, catching up with friends, or sneaking off to go skydiving 🙂

But enough about the US, as you are surely reading this to experience Europe vicariously through me. My journey began when I landed in the Frankfurt (am Main) Airport, where I split a room for the night with fellow Purple Snake, Parker Buntin. Parker and I landed early in the morning and slept until midday to counteract jet lag. Upon waking for our slumber, we hit the town (a surprisingly pleasant experience). Much to our liking, Frankfurt offers both buildings of historical significance/style and those of sleek, sexy modernism with surprisingly smooth harmony between old and new.

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Me trying to put on a giant tie

To unwind in the later part of the day, we had fun at playgrounds along the Main River (proving one is never too old for some things as seen in my avatar). To replenish lost calories, we stopped for dinner at a super authentic German restaurant that made me wish I had Lederhosen to sport.

The next day, we left Frankfurt (and the sun) for the rainy/cloudy yet still wonderful Metz. The next week was spent transitioning to the French lifestyle of walking, public transportation, baguettes, and NUTELLA 🙂

Weekend 1- The Adventures Begin

Day1: Following classes on Friday, my group left to go to Brussels. Following several hours in trains along the rather rural countryside, we arrived at our destination with eager eyes and hungry stomachs. Upon running into fellow PS, Salim Choueiki, by chance we learned that “when in Brussels, one must eat mussels…waffles…and drink beer.” And in that order, we had such things: first with dinner, then at a famous bar known as “Delirium.” Word to the wise: Belgian beer is more concentrated than that in the US (from what I was told) and is not to be consumed without that in mind. With that being said, I found all aspects of the quote to be savory and delicious.

FASET...rockin the F even in Brussels :)

FASET…rockin the F even in Brussels 🙂

Day2: Our group of 11 diverged into groups of 5 (mine) and 6 as we learned logistics are more feasible in small groups. We then spent the day exploring Brussels ranging from a palace to a HUGE monument of a body-centered cubic Fe structure created for a world’s fair (the MSE in me came out that day and I was lucky to travel with another one of my kind). We concluded by cheering on the Gay Pride parade while waiting a very entertaining hour for our megabus. Overall, Brussels was a city of good eats and decent views, but we were ready to move on. We then travelled by megabus to Amsterdam and arrived in the early evening.

MSE with Tyler...and Fe

MSE with Tyler…and Fe

From there, we simply explored the town and tried to figure out sleeping arrangements (and wi-fi to determine where our potential hosts would be). Just as we were becoming worn with exhaustion, we were saved by delicious frittes (original fries), free wi-fi, and a facebook message from fellow PSs: Palavi, Katie Neuberger, and Katie Pokrant saying we could stay in their apartment and could be let in right away. Sleeping on a floor never felt so good 🙂

Day 3: My group left bright and early to go to the hotel we reserved for the next day. Next, we explored the city in daylight. The Van Gogh Museum was easily a highlight of the trip (in addition to the super long lines elsewhere). The general layout of the city was also interesting as the buildings are close together and have become quite slanted in many cases. Bikes are absurdly common and supposedly outnumber the human population there (guess people got tired of all the red lights there…hehehe). The city also is host of more liberal advances than most are used to…with more varieties of plant and herb being legal in addition to a tax-filing prostitute population. Such things tend to group into select areas of the city, however, which makes much of Amsterdam still similar to other cities in that regard. All in all, the city was quite interesting and I would recommend staying the duration we stayed or somewhat less than we did.

The next day (today) we left Amsterdam and returned to Metz after spending the whole day in transit. I am grateful for this past weekend as it whet my appetite for more travel and taught me to plan ahead for future weekends.

Next stop: likely Berlin for 2 days!