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Brussels, Amsterdam, and Munich! June 30, 2013

Posted by mjmaurer7 in Travel Log.
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I’m finally on my way back to Barcelona. I loved every second of the trip, but a week of constant travel is very tiring. This half of the trip was more experiencing culture than sightseeing. It started off in Zurich.

There was nothing particularly interesting in the city itself except maybe the people. One thing that stuck out was an almost complete lack of crosswalks. Pedestrians pretty much weave in between the trams and the cars to get where they are going. Plus, the sidewalks sometimes blend into actually roads, making the situation more difficult. On the more serious side of things, on a subway ride in Zurich, we were stopped by the metro police because we no passports to go along with our eurail passes. Thankfully, we were staying with my friend’s uncle, and he was able to bring our passes to the next stop. They had four officers wait with us at the stop along with three security personnel. It was incredibly awkward, and I apologized in every language I knew afterward. Her uncle later told us that running away from the police is pretty common, thus the extra security.
Speaking of the people in Switzerland, I happened to be taking a train to Zurich by myself and I had a great conversation with three swiss people. We started talking after they heard me speak English. Two of them were a couple headed to a birthday party, and the third was headed to a business meeting. After talking about some great places to go in Switzerland, the topic changed to America. Everyone there had been, and they said they found people in America nicer than those in Europe. The business woman (her boss happened to be from Kentucky) did say that the American system of production could use some work. According to her, Americans prefer the “quick and dirty” method of quickly producing a product and making improvements each time. The Swiss prefer to do it right the first time no matter how long it takes. Another thing I noticed was that the birthday cards all started off “Happy Birthday to you!” I was very surprised about the English, and asked them about it. Apparently it is a very common way to say happy birthday, and it was the first time I realized how prevalent English was in other cultures. At the end of the trip, the couple gave me their email, phone, and address in Switzerland, along with a beer they were taking to the birthday party. I don’t plan on actually drinking the beer because I think it would be funnier if I take pictures with the beer around Europe and send the pictures back to them. I will post progress pictures.

Belgian Waffle!

The next stop of the trip was Brussels, where we met up with a bunch of other people from the Barcelona program. The stay was for two days, and it consisted mainly of eating. Brussels’ food is phenomenal. I must have had three waffles, and it didn’t help that our hostel was right next to a chocolate factory. It was my first time staying at a hostel, and I have to say I’m a big fan. It lets you meet people from all over, the only problem is the showers. You have to hold down a button to get water drizzled over your head. I am so glad a got a haircut beforehand.  One last thing about Brussels, the grand plaza is beautiful at night, because the biggest tower starts to change colors.

Brussels’ Grand Place

After Brussels came Amsterdam, still with the whole group. Maybe it was because our hostel was a minute from the red light district, but Amsterdam came off as a very sketchy city. I never really felt in danger, but there is just a lot there that we were not used to. The red light district was more sad than interesting, but highlights include the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the IAmsterdam sign.

IAmsterdam Sign with friends from Barcelona

Next, it was on to Munich with just the two of us. Our entire first day in Munich was spent at old castles in the country. Even though the weather was bad, the castles were absolutely beautiful. Also, there were a lot of interesting facts from that day. For instance, the king who built the castles was gay and had trouble dealing with the situation, so he spend a lot of time in seclusion (of course no one knew he was gay until years later in his journals). When we got back to Munich, we fell asleep almost immediately (we were pretty tired by this point). The next morning (this morning) we headed for a German Beer Garden. Even though I have never lived in Germany, I felt some connection to the atmosphere because I have a very German family and name (that sounds odd but it was a weird feeling). At the hall, there were huge pretzels, meat everywhere, and massive glasses of beer. We stayed for a while before we had to depart to catch our last train, where I am now.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria

And so ends my weeklong break. The second half of the trip includes a lot more travel, so these posts will hopefully stay interesting. Until next time!

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First Days Out of Spain! June 16, 2013

Posted by mjmaurer7 in Travel Log.
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A LOT has happened since my last blog post. I am currently writing this on a train headed to Zurich from Lucern in Switzerland, but I won’t be able to upload it until I have a laptop so I can add pictures easily.

So last time I left off, I was about to head to Tarragona (a city an hour down the coast from Barca) for a day. I woke up that morning bright and early to catch the earliest train possible to Tarragona. It was my first time on the train system and I was going by myself, so I made sure to triple check the correct train. At the train station closest to myself, I quickly found out that there was no option to buy tickets for the train. Realizing I was going to miss the first train, I headed over to Sants (the biggest station there). I had a whole hour and a half to figure out how to get there. After about an hour, I was getting pretty worn out, and I still wasn’t any closer to my ticket. I had waited forever in the ticket window, only to find out that the person couldn’t speak English and I had to wait again.

All of the sudden, someone jumps on my back. Being in a foreign country with no one I knew around, adrenaline started pumping. However, having stood in line for an hour, I was too tired to do anything about it. After the dude on my back started hugging me, I figured out it wasn’t some crazy Spaniard. It turns out it was a very good friend visiting from Madrid who was studying abroad from University of Kentucky. We weren’t able to meet up that weekend because neither of us could communicate without phones or constant Internet and we kept getting lost. I had no idea he would be at the train station so I was happy to see him, but I got worried when I noticed he was having trouble talking.

As it turns out, he had his bag stolen at the station. The bag had his wallet, passport and all of his other belongings in it. He had no way of getting back to Madrid because he had no phone or money. We literally couldn’t believe that we happened to see each other in such a big station without any prior knowledge. After I helped him get a ticket, he helped me order the pass to Tarragona because he was near fluent in Spanish. So as it turns out, it worked out for both of us. After all this, I still happened to barely miss the train. I decided to go back after that, and I was dazed all day because I was so dumbstruck. Sorry that took long to tell, but it was one of the most odd, least likely things to ever happen to me. Picture below.

Me and Sean

The next two weeks were more of the same. That next weekend, a lot of the people from the GTL program came to Barcelona. A few of them were even fellow purple snakes! I went with some of them around Barcelona, and it was perfect weekend to be there: bright, sunny, and very warm. We did all of the Barcelona activities that weekend like beach, tan, parks, and clubbing. It was a solid weekend, but I was still looking forward to the week-long break that was a week away.

The first stop of the trip was going to be Zurich in Switzerland. My friend who I was traveling with me had an Uncle that lived in Zurich, so we made Zurich our base camp in Switzerland. We had Eurail, which meant a lot of train travel. The night train was incredibly long, and it was my first time hearing French. There was a small fight in the train that night, and we did not understand a word of it. It was very uncomfortable, especially because it was almost right next to us. One benefit of the trains is the layovers though. There are some beautiful towns that we got the chance to stop through such as Cerbere in France (pictured below) that we never would have seen otherwise.

Cerbère, France

When we got to Zurich that day, we were supposed to head directly to Interlaken for canyoning. Unfortunately, the canyoning was moved due to weather, and so my friend decided to go to Zurich for the whole day while I headed to Interlaken by myself (I had paragliding scheduled for that day as well!). Here’s where the very bizarre circumstances start. On the train ride, I happened to meet two girls from Atlanta who were now going to college in Kentucky. After talking for a while about how we had switched places for school, we walked around a little when the train arrived in Interlaken. Interlaken was stunning. There were huge mountains with a lake reflecting them, and it was a perfectly sunny day.

I said goodbye to the girls and headed to the paragliding base. The circumstances continued as I happened to run into the group from GTL that I had seen the week before. We chatted for a while, and soon it was time for paragliding. Paragliding may have been the best experience in my life. Interlaken was even more beautiful from thousands of feet up. The guide let me steer for a while and did all of the tricks. Again, the group that I was going with happened to be from Cincinnati (15 minutes from where I live in Kentucky).

Me steering the ship

The next day, we were back in Interlaken for canyoning. Have you ever tried hiking in a wet suit? It is very difficult. The workout was worth it, and now I have some good footage of me failing at rappelling. After Interlaken came Lucern, where I’m headed from now. The train there was a huge surprise. It took us through the hills with a great view of the alps and smaller villages. We didn’t have as much time in Lucern as we planned for, so right when we got off the train, we picked a spot on the high hills and headed there. It took us a while, but we were rewarded with a great view of Lucern, the lake and the alps. And here we are, on the train back to Zurich. Stay tuned for more vacation adventure featuring Brussels, Amsterdam, and Munich!

Switzerland August 3, 2012

Posted by Frederick Grimm in Travel Log.
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Though I have enjoyed seeing the beauty of the old cities in the countries I have visited, I was thrilled to see the natural beauty of the Alps in Switzerland!

Though we did not have much time here, we certainly were able to see alot!  The adventure started in Interlaken.  I did not do traditional ‘touristy’ activities like caving, skydiving, or vanyoning.  Instead, I followed the advice of Miller Templeton and traveled to Lauterbrunnen.  It is now tied with Fiji for the most beautiful place on Earth!  The small town located in a valley beneath the Alps with waterfalls streaming on both sides was truly a sight to behold!  We found a hiking trail and continued upwards until we could see the Jungfrau, the highest point in Europe!  We pulled out our swiss cheese and chocolate and snacked for several hours while taking in the view.

The next day was spent in Zermatt.  Zermatt was exactly what I thought a Swiss town would look like, complete with alpine homes and traditional swiss yodelers.  We started the hike up to see the Matterhorn.  After several  minutes of hiking, its sharp top became visible.  What a sight!!!!  I was certainly taken back by its sheer scale.  The hike was gorgeous and the mountain air was noticeably fresh.  Here, I spent quite some time laying in the wildflowers gazing at the mountain.  We all slept well that night after our mountain hike!

Our final adventure before heading back to GTL was in Zurich.  I had no idea what was in Zurich, but we made the most of it!  There had just been an Ironman triathlon competition the day before we arrived, so many people were wearing their Ironman shirts (I really would like to complete an Ironman before leaving college, so this was very cool for me to see!).  We saw the large lake in the center of the city, and we were very surprised by the large fountain in the middle!  We walked closer to the fountain, and we noticed several people taking laps in the lake.

From this, I put two and two together and assumed I could just swim out to this behemoth fountain.  Though the water was freezing, it was completely worth it.  I swam to the fountain and my friends took some very neat pictures of me under the massive shoots.

Looking back, I could not have predicted that Switzerland would have been this beautiful.  I cannot wait to visit again!!