"Down here at Cape Spartel is the celebrated cave of Hercules, where the hero took refuge when he was vanquished and driven out of the Tangier country. It is full of inscriptions in the dead languages, which fact makes me think Hercules could not have traveled much, else he would not have kept a journal."

-"The Innocents Abroad," Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Seeing Europe in 17 Days: Part 3

Last part of my trip! Our time in Italy was spent in many cities - the first, La Spezia, we arrived in the evening of the 26th. We were in a rather nice hotel in the middle of nowhere, which was a relaxing variation on the rest of our experience so far. Because of this, there were no postcards for me to find (sad) and I can't say that I took pictures to make up for this lacking. However, we did have a wonderful pesto pasta with dinner :)

The following day, we took a day trip to Cinque Terre, which, after a certain distance, was no longer accessible by car/bus. The plan was to hike and then swim once we arrived, but there was a certain problem. Upon our arrival, our group leaders somehow were informed that the trail we were planning to follow was closed! What were we to do? Take the boat that regularly goes back and forth. Anyway, we did that, some people swam (it was too cold/deep for my taste), ate pizza, and celebrated my friend's birthday with delicious, freshly made gelato. Pictures! (And yes, those 2 people jumping are some of my crazy friends, not random people.)

After putting our stuff and ourselves on the bus again the next day, we headed to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower! Funny enough, I didn't actually realize that this tower is a free-standing bell tower. That belongs to a church. Looking back on it now, I see that it should have been an obvious conclusion, but it just did not occur to me...

If we continue on our trip through Italy/Italia/Italien, we arrive in the walled city of Lucca! This walled city happens to be much older than Avignon - the ancient Roman city was first founded in about 180BC. The city today is a lovely example of a Tuscan town.

Last stop of the day (for the night) was Florence! In the morning, we were taken on a tour of the city, where we saw famous statues, the pig that gives you luck if you rub his snout, walked over the Old Bridge/Ponte Vecchio, by many a piazza, ate gelato (okay, so that was later on our own), and went inside the famous cathedral, the Duomo/Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. This turned out to be my favorite cathedral out of all of the churches we saw! The outside shows it as extraordinarily large and extravagant, but inside, the artwork is minimal for a European Catholic church and is done to a scale that makes it appear much smaller.

 Our last 2 day before driving back to Austria, we stayed in the beach town of Jesolo and went to Venice for the day. The first day, my friends and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 5AM to see the sunrise on the beach. Literally - remember, we're talking about four teenage girls who are suffering from lack of sleep. But we managed:

Then, of course, we were off to Venice, where we saw lots of beautiful water, various types of boats on water, people taking pictures of water, masks thankfully not in water, architecture right on the water, water leading to more water... stunning city, lots of water, in case you are not getting where I am going with this :)

And for the end of the day, we returned to the beach and buried ourselves in sand. The following day, we loaded the buses for the final time. Our final destination was where we began: Linz, where we had a 2 day Rotary district conference to present ourselves to all of the members before saying goodbye to everyone.

This is only a brief summary of everything that I have done and a tiny portion of my photos - thank you for reading about my journey! It is, to be cliche, one that I will never forget.

mary beth

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Seeing Europe in 17 Days: Part 2

So, I left you last in Paris! On Monday, we had a long drive to Toulouse, where we spent the night. We did not see any more of the city than the restaurant we walked to for dinner - and even then it was hard to see. It rained so hard that we were completely soaked through both the way there and back; I was glad to have a rain jacket!

The next day we shoved all of our wet things into plastic bags and drove to Andorra, where I again did not take pictures. However, it was our first time entering into mountains, and I had not realized how much I missed them! We drove through clouds on our way to this tiny country, were we stopped long enough to eat and do a little shopping (it's inexpensive and tax free).

Last stop of the day: Barcelona! We ate, walked around the city, went to the hotel to sleep. Wednesday, we took a day trip (about ah hour's drive) to Montserrat:

Afterwards, we went down back to Barcelona, where we walked around the main harbor area and saw the famous Columbus statue:

Day 2 of Barcelona was spent, naturally, exploring the city. And the beach :) Among our activities were seeing the famous Park Guell from Gaudi (who inspired Hunderwasser, in case you didn't know) and one of our favorite (rather random) findings, a fresh fruit market! In the evening, we went as a group to see the fountain/light show in front of the grand palace (which is an art museum today).

On Friday, we loaded the buses (I'm getting tired of saying that now) and spent the night in the ancient city of Avignon, France.

The next day was our last before we entered Italy - we were headed to Monaco! It was beautiful, appeared as rich as you hear, and there were a lot of people. Probably due, at least in part, to the fact that it was the day before the Grand Prix! There were tents set up everywhere selling official goods and advertising.

In the afternoon, we were taken quickly to Grasse, France, which is considered to be the perfume capital of the world, to visit a perfume making shop (not sure what you would call that).  Needless to say, it smelled very strongly! We were giving a little bit of background - and I had not realized how complicated it is to be able to make perfumes! There are certain schools to be trained to differentiate between scents and many restrictions so that you are able to keep it up. And then we drove...

Italy: coming soon to a computer near you!

mary beth

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Seeing Europe in 17 Days: Part 1

How did I do all of this in 17 days? I have no idea. I also know that I said I would write while I was gone, but sadly, between lack of internet, bad connections, lack of time, and lack of sleep, it did not happen. Instead, this will be in 3 parts so that I am able to squeeze in as much as possible! Also, just so you know, we were divided into 2 buses, with a total of 86 students. Because of this, we did not do many things together as a group; rather, we were told to go see the city and meet back at a certain time and place.

On May 15, we all came from our corners of Austria or Croatia to meet in Linz, Austria, which is about an hour away from me by train. At the train station, we all got reacquainted with one another, and the people who had not gone to ski camp (like me) met the "newbies," the students who had arrived from the southern hemisphere in January (mainly Australians/New Zealanders). We all rushed onto the bus and were headed to our first city, Prague! They are in the process of switching currency, which means that they prefer the Czech crown but will accept euros as well. We were able to have a tour of the city (which was conducted by our guide in an interesting German) - here is a quick overview of the city! We stayed the night in the city.

Day 2! We all packed up and drove to Dresden, Germany, where we spent the morning and picked up lunch to take with us. The city had beautiful buildings that were destroyed during WWII but have been since rebuilt. Here I am in the main square with Martin Luther! The people you meet when you travel...

From there we drove on to Cologne/K├Âln, Germany, where we arrived and slept because it was rather late. The next day, we went to see the main attraction, namely then cathedral, which is the most well-known in all of Germany. It is also one of the hardest to get all in one picture when your camera doesn't have a wide-angle lens and you run all the way to the other end of the square but you look at it later and it turns out to be slightly crooked. But here it is :)

From there, we continued on to what would be my favorite country we visited, Belgium. Our first stop was the capital, Brussels, which is also one of the 3 EU capitals. Now, being my favorite, I cannot just put in one picture. Here you see some of the guild halls for every trade on the main square, the Grand Palace; my Belgian waffle, which was warm with sugar inside and melted chocolate on top (SO. GOOD.); and of course, we tried the frites (french fries) at what a native told us was the best place in town!

Our next city was our second and last in Belgium, which was Bruges. Bruges is beautiful in a quirky kind of way, and a little more of a small-town feel than Brussels, so I cannot really say which I prefer. Both, probably. (Although now that I think about it, that may be because we actually saw Bruges at night and earlier in the day when it would have been less populated.) I love all of the architecture - none of the houses look the same - the greenness, the water. And the people that we spoke to were welcoming and glad to help. But I'll let you see some of it yourself:

That afternoon we continued on into Paris! In the evening we ate dinner in the hotel and unpacked, where we would be spending three nights. On Saturday, we spent the morning as a group, where we had a tour guide on the bus who took us around the whole city. (She was an Austrian that had lived in Paris, therefore we were able to understand her well.) We stopped several times, once at Tour Montparnasse, which is the tallest skyscraper in Paris, where we were able to see almost the entire city (it is HUGE), and also at the Eiffel Tower. The rest of the afternoon we spent getting lost. (Small groups, remember.) During this period, we just went ahead and bought postcards and decided to plan out how we would work the following day. Which was a much better idea. Sunday we were able to see Sacre Coeur, the church at the highest point in Paris; the Louvre (with Mona Lisa); Notre Dame, where there was a bread festival outside so we watched it being made and ate it right afterwards. After dinner, we went on a boat ride on the Seine with everyone else, and it rained. Or, more precisely, poured buckets. And then it calmed down, and we took pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower lit up. Here are some of my favorites from all of it:

I think that is enough at one time; more coming soon! Thank you to everyone who has wished me well during my travels!
mary beth

P.S. No, I did not feel the earthquakes while I was in Italy - I did not even know they occurred until afterwards!