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The Land of the Irish: Beautiful Countryside, Vivacious Cities, Tastes of Home July 23, 2013

Posted by pranayachilukuri in Travel Log.
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This past weekend I embarked to Ireland to make the most of my last weekend of traveling during the GTL program. I was very excited to be going back to Ireland for the second time. This time two friends and I stayed with my aunt, uncle, and cousin who live in Drogheda, Ireland, a town that is 1 hour away from the heart of Dublin.

After flying to Dublin on Friday night, we made our way to my family’s house. My first plan of action was collapsing at the dinner table and feasting on delicious home-cooked Indian food that I hadn’t eaten in more than two months. The thought that we were feasting at 12:00 am did not even cross my mind. We slept very contently the first night.

On Saturday morning, we decided that we would explore the idyllic countryside of Ireland. Our first stop was Wicklow Gardens in Powerscourt, Ireland. The breathtakingly beautiful gardens are coined as being the “Gardens of Ireland.” We strolled around for a couple of hours just absorbing the natural beauty around us. It was an incredible experience to be one with nature since most of the other weekends in the past have involved us hurriedly city hopping and being in very urban environments.

After leaving Wicklow Gardens, we took the backroads to drive up the mountains to Sally Gap, a peak in the mountains that is very famous for its sight overlooking the green Irish countryside. Standing there at that moment made me feel infinite but at the same time, very diminutive.

Next, we had lunch and nothing speaks home in the USA more than eating a chicken burger and fries for lunch. Lunch was such a great but teasing reminder of home and the nine days left until we leave for home.

After lunch, we drove to Glendalough Park, which is nationally known for its beautiful hiking paths and picturesque lakes situated between massive hills. We walked through the paths to the upper lake and lower lake. After soaking up the nature, the evening ended perfectly with butterscotch ice cream and chocolate.

That night for dinner, I devoured more delicious Indian food cooked by my aunt and ended the night by lounging on the couch and watching a Bollywood movie. And that was the end of Saturday.

On Sunday, we explored the city of Dublin by visiting the Guinness Factory, walking around the grounds Trinity College, and driving by the Dublin Castle. We also walked around a part of Dublin known as Temple Bar, filled with so many restaurants, cafes, and pubs. Each place had bands playing, people dancing, and the atmosphere erupting. The vivacity of the place was so energizing.

After walking around Dublin til sunset, we made our way back to Drogheda, bringing the weekend to a close.

Overall, Ireland was incredible. A perfect balance of idyllic countryside plus vivacious city side, American food plus Indian food, tourist activity plus local activity was just what I needed to call my European travels this summer to a close.


Italia: Land of Gelato, Sun, and Awe-striking Wonder July 9, 2013

Posted by pranayachilukuri in Travel Log.
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To begin, all I can say is, “The trip to Italy got off to a running start!” Literally. One of our group members missed the bus so he began sprinting and kept running half a mile to stop the bus driver. At that point, I knew that the 5-day weekend I was about to spend traveling to and in Italy would be an unforgettable experience.

Our trip began with a journey to the Brussels Charleroi Airport, where we were going to take off, courtesy of Ryanair Airlines. Now, Ryanair isn’t like any other airline. Ryanair charges you 38 euros round trip to a flight to Italy. Insane, right? That’s what I thought. To top that, every time you land, a victory horn noise is played to remind us that the airline did us great service by manufacturing an aircraft that did not kill us during our journey in the air.

Our flight was to Pisa, Italy: first stop in our Italy adventures. As expected, our first (and actually only) interest in Pisa was the Leaning Tower. Upon arrival, I immediately became one of the million tourists fighting each other for a picture with the tower.  After a couple pictures, I was done with trying to find one square foot of open area to stand and take another picture. We shortly were back on our way to the train station to head to our next Italian destination, Cinque Terre, or paradise as I refer to it.

Cinque Terre left me completely speechless. Out of the five cities in Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore was the first one we visited. This is where I indulged in my first true experience with Italian gelato. The flavors of watermelon, orange, and hazelnut were delicious and only left me for craving more. After gelato, what could be better than the beach, right? Thus, the next city on our agenda was Monterosso. The beach there was so serene and pure. After walking around and basking in the sun, I was dying to see the view that is shown on every postcard or Google image search of Cinque Terre: the city of Manarola. In Manarola, I was absolutely breath-taken by the priceless view. During finals week of the spring semester, the picture of the view of Cinque Terre had been set as my desktop picture to serve as my motivation to get through my final exams. Now I couldn’t believe that I was actually there! After that night, 2 cities in Italy had been checked off my travel agenda!

The next morning, we departed for Florence. The first place we went to visit was the Uffizi Gallery. I saw many beautiful paintings, including Spring and The Birth of Venus by Boticelli. After leaving the Uffizi, we went straight to the Galleria de Accademia, home of a sculpture of some guy named David that another guy named Michelangelo sculpted. Maybe that sounds familiar to you?? There’s no way anyone leaves Florence without admiring David. While taking in the sculpture, I actually didn’t realize that the slingshot was sculpted. I learnt that the slingshot was such a minor part of the sculpture to symbolize David’s victory over Goliath and attribute it to his intellect, and not physical superiority. That night, we celebrated our time in Florence by partying with multiple groups of GTL students because it seemed like every group traveling to Italy was staying at the same hostel in Florence.

The next morning marked the beginning of day three in Italy. We behaved like typical tourists and meandered from one souvenir stall to the next in hopes of finding good deals on scarves, purses, and wallets. Where else to buy leather goods than in Florence, right? After shopping as much as my patience allowed me to, we headed to the train station to catch our train to Rome.

Of course, as expected in Rome, our top priority upon arrival was visiting the Colosseum. It was incredible! I couldn’t even take in the fact that I was standing in architecture that was built in the 1st century! It made me appreciate to indescribable lengths how talented the work of mankind can be! After the Colosseum, I ordered pasta to go at the cutest and one of the best-serviced restaurants ever. The night in Rome ended with a visit to the Trevi Fountain where I made my three wishes, the Spanish steps, and of course, gelato again.

The next morning began Day 2 in Rome and Day 4 in Italy. Every weekend thus far, I have had some sort of struggle. This was the time for that. I woke up with a fever, slightly affecting my mood that day. However, the most was made of the day. Our first stop: the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica. I took a deep breath when I entered the Basilica because it is just magnificent! After walking around the Vatican, we realized that we were going to miss spotting the Pope by just two hours! Maybe next time… Anyways, in Rome, we also visited the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. For lunch that day, I ordered my first pizza in Italy. The day began to draw to a close after we visited the Pantheon and called our experience in Rome to a close.

The next morning, we departed Italy, courtesy of Ryanair again, and journeyed back to good ole’ Metz. Ciao Italia!


Amsterdam in Less Than 24 Hours June 17, 2013

Posted by pranayachilukuri in Travel Log.
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Weekends of traveling can be such whirlwinds of activity! Every weekend, I seem to have one adventure or another that is very good and very bad. I can now say that I have travelled across Europe by myself in a train. After missing the train that I was supposed to take with my group early in the morning this past weekend, I ventured to travel 7 hours to Amsterdam by myself. It was such an extreme learning experiences that I honestly would not like to repeat again.

After finally arriving in Amsterdam, a time that I never thought would occur during several moments of the journey, we immediately set out to explore. Amsterdam is an interesting place, with the word “interesting” carrying a spectrum of opinions. Disclaimer: Go to Amsterdam is you enjoy almost being run over by bikers pretty much every second of the day. Until this weekend, I have never seen so many bikes at once in my life. Although people have the opportunity to splurge in coffee shops, no wonder they are so fit. 

Our first activity in Amsterdam was a trip to the Anne Frank House. After reading her diary and watching so many video memoirs of her life story, it really hit home to see where she lived during the most crucial period of her life. 

Afterwards, we ventured across the city to find the city center where there was supposedly a square of restaurants. This was a little anticlimactic as I thought that we would have found dinner at a place just as decent without having to walk for 30 minutes. After feasting, the night ended calmly by sitting outdoors and eating ice cream, a dangerous indulgence towards which I think I am starting to develop an addiction. 

The next morning was “go time” as we only had 6 hours left in Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum was next on our sightseeing agenda. Definitely needless to say, Van Gogh is brilliant. Seeing such incredible artwork all in one place was breathtakingly overwhelming. 

To end our Amsterdam visit on a very cliche note, I had to go see the “I amsterdam” sign. After attempting and competing with every other tourist in Amsterdam to take pictures around the letters, we began to “head that way” (as one of our group members Adam would say) towards the train station to begin our journey back to dear old Metz.

The journey back was much less stressful, thank goodness, and the weekend ended on a calm note.

Weekend 5 has been checked off my calendar, officially bringing this summer-of-a-lifetime to a halfway mark.

Barcelona: un lugar magnifico! June 5, 2013

Posted by pranayachilukuri in Travel Log.
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You know you had a good weekend when you get lost in Europe’s 4th highest rated travel destination, eat to your heart’s galore, visit world-renowned architecture, take a siesta on the beach, and do all of this with your closest friends. Hombres y mujeres, bienvenidos a Barcelona!
This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Barcelona for 4 days. On our first day of arrival, we roamed around for a few hours and explored La Rambla, an entire boulevard that is the tourist hotspot. One of the highlights of the exploration was visiting a local market and being amazed by the plethora of colors displayed by the fruits and vegetables. The trip to the market was such a true cultural immersion. At this point, I must claim that I was very shocked by the number of Indian and middle eastern immigrants who live in Barcelona. I guess owning tourist shops is a viable way of living. I was excited to be going to Spain because I would able to finally speak Spanish and understand what the locals were saying. However, it turns out that more Hindi might have been spoken to our benefit than Spanish.  Moving away from that side note, for dinner that night, I tried la paella and sangria, two famous Spanish specialities. The night ended by walking around Barcelona at night and admiring how the city is so vivacious at night.
The next day constituted of typical tourist activities. I took a 6-mile guided group tour of the gothic culture in Barcelona. During the tour, I explored the Barcelona Cathedral, the Institute of Art where Picasso and Gaudi studied at one point, various town squares that locals visit, and two of Gaudi’s houses, Casa Mila and Casa Battlo.  The tour concluded with our group indulging in delicious tapas, or multiple appetizer portions, for lunch. Then, we visited Park Guell, a beautiful park that overlooks the entire city of Barcelona. Words cannot express how this experience was so gorgeously breathtaking. After eating paella again for dinner, a different kind this time, it was time to call it a night.
Finally, Monday morning arrived. The plan for the last day of our Barcelona adventures was to visit La Sagrada Familia, Sacred Family, cathedral, designed by architect Antoine Gaudi. This cathedral, which has been under construction for more than 200 years, is one of the most unique sights I will ever see in my lifetime. The architecture is so intriguing! From there, to end our Barcelona adventures on the right foot, we proceeded to Barceloneta beach to soak up some of the sun. 
Overall, I couldn’t say the weekend wasn’t anything less than incredible.

What Happens In Europe Stays in Europe…And on this blog. June 5, 2013

Posted by pranayachilukuri in Travel Log.
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It’s been almost two weeks since I have arrived in Europe. Time has flown by. I’m off on my second weekend’s adventures! One observation I have quickly made is that everyone just lives for the weekends at GTL! As I set forth on creating more memories this weekend when I will be traveling to Munich, Germany, I want to reflect on all the crazy experiences from the past weekend I spent in Luxembourg and Brussels and Brugge in Belgium.

When I first arrived in Metz, France at GTL, I was going to change the name of my blog to “A Series of Unfortunate Events…” To explain why, everything seemed to be tumbling down a hill. I had no internet access in my dorm, my hall was deadly empty, I had no travel plans finalized, train reservations were running out, and I just felt like my life was not together. Now I understand that these conditions are to be expected when you are placed in a foreign environment, literally and figuratively.

I thought the first weekend of traveling would get me accustomed to making travel plans. Luxembourg was the first stop. Here, I gave the continent of Europe a new definition.

Europe (noun). the only place where beer is cheaper than water.

The first night in Luxembourg, a group of about 10 friends and I went to a pizzeria for dinner. We spent 36 euros on just water! Insane, right? However, that wasn’t it. Luxembourg consisted of a lot more adventures. The next day, after we finished lunch, I went to the bathroom for a second. When I left the bathroom, I realized that my group had already left the restaurant. My thoughts at this moment were, “OH NO! I’m stranded in Luxembourg! I don’t speak French!” So going with my gut feeling, I started to walk out of the restaurant in the general direction of the train station. Very thankfully, I was able to find them in 15 minutes. Getting lost in Luxembourg/Europe will be something that happens once and never again.

But the adventures did not end there. Just when I thought I had spent enough quality time with the streets of Luxembourg, I was proven wrong. We left Luxembourg and went to Belgium. I had a wonderful time in Brussels and Brugge. The Grand Place in Brussels was beautiful. Brugge is also a very scenic town. Additionally, last weekend in Brussels was Gay Pride Celebration Weekend. The streets were filled with parades and a “variety” of people. To complement this experience, I wandered through the streets of Brugge as I passed a uncountable number of chocolate shops.

To come back to Metz, we had to get on a train that stopped in Luxembourg. After reaching Luxembourg, our group realized that we had read the train timetable incorrectly. What we thought was a train leaving Luxembourg to Metz at 1 am was actually schedule for 1 pm. Guess what we ended up resorting to? The streets of Luxembourg…a familiar site for me, to say the least. Thus, what happens in Europe stays in Europe.  I don’t plan on ever being lost in a city by myself or being homeless again..except for that “one time in Europe.” So, what happens in Europe stays in Europe.

All in all, after a very uncomfortable night in Luxembourg filled with random strangers coming up to you to ask for a cigarette, lots of rain, and hard winds, I made it back to Metz. Now as I am about to embark on my next weekend journey, who knows what Munich has in store for me. Guess I’ll just have to find out!

Til next time, au revoir!