Based in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland in Ticino, myself and about 50 other business and architecture majors are spending our fall semester in Europe from August 15 to November 30. I aim to complete 24 credit hours, traveling each weekend and on my two 10-day breaks. Hope you enjoy following me on all my adventures! It should be an unforgettable semester (especially since I'm documenting almost everything in a blog and personal journal)
December 31st, 2011
December 30th, 2011
Leaving Madrid by plane we arrived in London by 4:30pm. This was it. This was our last travel adventure of the semester. And man, was it a lively city. Especially this time of year I would imagine. It was late November, there were thousands upon thousands of bright gleaming Christmas lights down every street (especially Oxford Street, where I got myself a nice scarf), and it was just an exciting place to be. Almost like Rome, London is a place you could spend several weeks in and still not fully experience all the city has to offer. But although it was the end of our 10 day break, and we should have been running out of steam, London’s energy seemed to fill us all with a second wind and of course that good old Christmas cheer (yes, even before Thanksgiving).
So, on our first night we thought “what better way to start a visit in this city than by seeing a play?” There were so many great choices and as you may know London is known for having some of the highest quality commercial theater in the English speaking world. We ended up deciding to see Wizard of Oz. You have to book tickets earlier to get good seats in plays like “The Lion King” or “Phantom of the Opera,” but still the Wizard of Oz was PHENOMENAL! And we had some of the best seats in the house for only 30 Pounds. I’ve never been to Broadway or even New York City before, but I can’t imagine it being any better than this. The singing, acting, and stage effects were so well done it practically put me to tears by the end. Our theater was called the London Palladium in Westminster, and I thought it was pretty cool to see pictures of The Beatles on the walls from back when they would come here to enjoy some good drama. Walking back to our hostel we stopped along the way to try some authentic British ale pumped from the basement. I was not disappointed.
On our one full day in London we were more than prepared to do it big. We started off the day with one last tour with New Europe Free Walking Tours. It was the largest tour group of the semester, but we had in my opinion one of the best guides all semester too. Our guide’s name was Andrew, originally from Scotland, but he had lived most of his life here in London. He must have been in his late 20’s, early 30’s, and other than having that awesome English accent everyone loves he was really funny (you know that crazy British humor. You either love it or hate it….I happen to love it). But he didn’t just take us around the city and spit facts at us like other tour guides are usually inclined to do. This guy preferred instead to tell us stories at each stop and really made the history come alive. We saw sites like the Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner, Wellington Arch, the horse guards, Big Ben, Parliament, and the Westminster Abbey, among others. The tour ended around 3pm and the four of us set off with a couple people we had met along the tour to get lunch at none other than the legendary Chipotle Mexican Grill! Alex put us all to shame and stuffed two of those babies down back to back. From there Kyle, Alex, Matt, me, and two other guys from the tour went off to check out the famous department store, Harrod’s. If anywhere this was the place to get those last minute souvenirs for your loved ones back home. The place is seven stories tall, the second largest shop in the UK, as well as the second most visited place in London according to Trip Advisor. The interior looks like an Egyptian temple, and there was shopping of every category from home furnishings, to outdoor sports. There was even a Harry Potter Shop on the third floor with 4000 square feet transformed to resemble Diagon Alley and showcasing original props from the films. And of course there was “Christmas World” where most of us did our shopping. I thought it was funny how almost every one of us picked up some authentic English tea for our moms or dads. And after seeing this other girl’s eyes light up at a little stuffed dog with a candy cane in its mouth I had to get my girlfriend one for Christmas too.
The four of us spent the rest of the evening with one of the guys from the tour, Frank from Munich, who had been great company all day and seemed to like hanging out with a bunch of Americans trying to make the most of our time abroad. The five of us went to see London Bridge and Tower Bridge, which were really cool at night, especially Tower Bridge. We passed the London Tower, which had an ice skating rink right next to it hosting a private holiday party. It was fun to watch the skaters for a while and listen to the live band play Christmas tunes. And of course, what’s a trip to London without riding the double-decker buses? We just hopped on one and rode it wherever it took us, which happened to be near St. Paul’s Cathedral. What a day…we had done pretty well for ourselves as far as sightseeing goes. To finally cap off our day, the four of us (plus Frank) had a late dinner in one last British pub, feasting on fish and chips, cider, and ale. We spent a good couple hours in that pub, enjoying the atmosphere and each other’s company. Couldn’t think of a better way to conclude our travels than that. Cheers, to the greatest and most life-changing semester of my life! And of course I thank God for blessing me with such an invaluable opportunity.
December 30th, 2011
December 30th, 2011
The four of us kicked off Madrid with a bang by seeing Cirque Du Soleil (Zarkana) upon arrival in the evening. I had never seen one of their shows before, so this was a REAL treat for me. Kyle had heard early on about them being in Madrid, which is really one of the main reasons we chose to travel here during our 10 day break. Cirque Du Soleil really does have some incredible talent. It’s a great mix of comedy, music, special effects, and acrobatics. We saw a woman juggling 8 balls at the same time while walking backwards up a flight of stairs, a man simultaneously balancing himself on a ladder and a woman on his head and shoulders, some crazy tight rope acrobats, flying trapeze artists, giant metal rings that people would fit inside and do all kinds of spinning tricks, and best of all – three people stacked themselves up standing on each other’s shoulders and a 4th person was literally thrown back flipping into the air to successfully land feet first on the top person’s shoulders. Mind bomb. I was blown away. After the crowds died down after the show the four of us went out to eat in style – the local mini market. Hey, honestly, we should have done this more often. It can save a lot of money and you can still get yourself a healthy meal.
Our hostel here (Way Hostel) was in a great location, right next to the metro and not far from the city center…and it had free breakfast. The next morning I had a nice conversation with an interesting elderly man originally from the States but he had lived in London for the last 20 years. He was retired, traveling Europe and staying in youth hostels everywhere he went. How cool is that? He was really nice and talkative and just wanted to get out there and see the world, without undergoing the costs of “comfortable living.” There was also a UVA student at breakfast that morning, whom I didn’t speak a word to…not really. Matt was still a little sick so he rested up while Alex, Kyle, and I went on New Europe’s free walking tour through Madrid. We had a cool guide from Australia. He led us around to some great sites – Restaurante Sobrino de Botin (the oldest restaurant in the world – there was a Guinness World Records certificate in the window to prove it), the Madrid Cathedral, Royal Palace, a chocolate churros restaurant (Kyle, Alex, and I crushed 24 churros dipping them in our hot chocolate sauce), Miguel de Cervantes’ house (author of Don Quixote), Puerta del Sol (the city center where we took pictures with the Emblem of Madrid to prove we really made it to Madrid), among many others. For most of the week I had been using facebook to plan a way to meet up with my old friend Pablo who lives in Madrid. After our walking tour he met me and Matt (who was starting to feel better) at our hostel and took us around the city for a couple hours. He showed us the Real Madrid stadium and took us to a nice bar for tapas and sangria. He even taught us a little Spanish slang: when you want to call a person, place, or thing “insanely awesome” you say it’s “da-booty!!” That’s probably not how you spell it, but that’s what Pablo sounded like he was saying…and he did note that it’s not something you would say in front of your grandmother. Anyway, it was a short visit but really great to see him and we had a great time. Kyle, Alex, Matt, and I enjoyed a little grilled chicken at a bar-restaurant for dinner that night, and just hung out people watching in a lively square. It’s funny how the Spanish cities come to life around 10pm. Everyone’s all rested up from their siestas and ready to hit the town until the sun rises. Our adventures in Spain were over for now. There was one final destination on our travel list to check off before heading back to Switzerland for the last time.
December 29th, 2011
December 29th, 2011
After only an hour and a half long flight with Ryan Air we had landed in Barcelona around 6:00pm. We got a little dinner at this delicious place right on the corner by our hostel called “Bracafe,” and ended up making the last 20 minutes of the Magic Fountain show down near Placa Espanya. They only do the Magic Fountain show on Friday and Saturday nights, and as it happened to be a Saturday night I was really glad we were able to at least catch the ending. It was a really great display: towering water fountains with glowing colorful lights and choreographed with epic music.
I got up early for our first full day in Barcelona and went downstairs to eat a cheap but filling hostel breakfast (only 2.50 Euros). A guy not too much older than me introduced himself that morning. His name was Jon. He was from Canada and he ended up being my primary travel partner for the rest of my time in Barcelona. He was a really friendly, talkative, and witty guy. He was an RV salesman who pulled the straw at his work that won him some good vacation time and he was here in Europe by himself to travel for a few weeks. He told me one of the things he loved best about traveling Europe had been meeting new people in the hostels who were out looking for some adventure just like him. Matt had recently gotten pretty sick with a fever so Kyle, Alex, Jon, and I went out together after telling Matt we would meet him at the Magic Fountain at 1:00pm if he was feeling any better (it happened to rain most of the day so Matt just decided to stay in and rest). The four of us went on to explore the Stadium that held the 1992 Olympics. We had lunch at this Mexican place at the mall in Placa Espanya, and shortly after were all back at the hostel checking on Matt and drying off. It was a Sunday and so I decided to go to the Barcelona Cathedral for mass and confession. Jumping on the metro by myself, map in hand, I got there with plenty of time for confession before mass. I even had time to listen to a street guitarist near the church before entering. For some reason it didn’t even occur to me that there might be a language barrier when I entered one of the many confessionals. I didn’t look for a sign on the door that said “Inglés” and turns out my priest didn’t speak one word of English, only Catalan. Luckily I had four years of high school Spanish under my belt and was able to say “Lo siento, solo hablo Inglés.” Yea…we went on for a few minutes trying to come to a solution until I finally heard him speak the words “Act of Contrition.” So, as I prayed in English he absolved me in Catalan. It was a quite the unforgettable experience, receiving that wonderful sacrament in a foreign country in a foreign language. Later that night Jon, his roommate, and I went out to a bar our hostel had recommended to sample a few different beers. By this point I knew to trust hostel recommendations and this bar was great, huge selection and a really nice atmosphere.
On our last full day in Barcelona, Matt, Alex, and Kyle agreed to meet Jon and me for dinner at 6:00pm. Until then we split up to do our own sightseeing. Jon and I explored Park Guell – a park designed by architect Guadi, originally intended to be a high class neighborhood, but flopped and now is a public park. Guadi had a really ostentatious and bizarre architecture style and this park honestly looked like a scene out of Alice and Wonderland. There were hiking trails surrounding the park that led off into different directions, but ultimately all connected into a big loop. John and I saw a hill high above Park Guell that would give us a view of the entire city and so we broke off onto one of the trails to find a way up. We got a little lost along the way, but eventually made it to the top and man, it was an incredible panoramic view of Barcelona. The entire city could be seen from that height and although it was still raining, as we were snapping pictures Jon turned to me and said “You know you’re having a good time when you don’t have to force a smile for the camera.” After heading back down the hill we made our way toward Las Ramblas – one of the famous streets in Barcelona with a lot of unique shopping opportunities. It leads right down to a giant statue of Christopher Columbus by the water. We passed flower venders, pets for sale, and a big market with all kinds of exotic foods (including los huevos del toro…). Jon and I even picked up a couple Cubans at a cigar shop along the way. At the end of the walk we decided to check out the Chocolate museum, which was small but definitely worth it. It told the history of Chocolate from the ancient Mayans and Aztecs to modern day and was full of amazingly intricate chocolate sculptures; examples include: Tom and Jerry, Spongebob and Patrick, the house from the movie “Up,” Bambi, Michelangelo’s Pieta, Gladiators fighting, Louis Armstrong, and scenes from Don Quixote – all made 100% out of chocolate. When we met up with the guys for dinner that night we decided to eat seafood by the water (Barcelona is known for great seafood, as is most of Spain). Everyone got giant delicious meals, especially the salmon, but I unfortunately learned the definition of “Tapas” the hard way. I ended up getting a measly little plate of miniature clams for the price of a normal meal…you win some, you lose some I guess. Later that night Alex, Jon, and I ended up going out to that bar again with 5 others from our hostel. One of the things I loved most about our experience in Barcelona was the hostel camaraderie. Each night a hostel employee would cook us a free dinner (at 10:00pm – the normal Spanish dinner time) and we would all gather around the dinner table like a big family to socialize and meet new people and enjoy each other’s company. It was a really special experience.
December 27th, 2011
December 27th, 2011
Our second 10 day break (and last chance to travel Europe this semester) had finally begun. We had just finished our Management module, and Matt, Alex, Kyle, and I were ready for one last grand adventure together. This time our itinerary consisted of Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and London respectively. On our first day in Rome the four of us set off on our own having marked several sites that didn’t require waiting in a long line. We were more or less our own tour guides on our first day, and as always I had my good old Rick Steves “Best of Europe” to further enrich our experience. The first Roman site we explored was the Spanish Steps, with its ramps and stairs that intersect and open out like a fan, connecting the square with the “sinking ship” fountain and the Trinita Church. It’s a really intriguing sight. It was Alex Fagan’s twenty first birthday and Matt had him give a live introduction to our 10 day on his video camera.
From the Spanish Steps we trekked down to see the Trevi Fountain. This was a cool sight that Kyle’s girlfriend recommended we see. It’s powered by an aqueduct and displays Neptune, god of the sea in the center. He’s riding a shell-shaped chariot, pulled by two sea horses. Legend has it that you are guaranteed to return to Rome if you toss a coin into the fountain. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain and of course this is what we did…along with the plethora of tourists around us.
Next, we visited the Pantheon, dating from 125 AD. Michelangelo studied its great dome before working on St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s dome actually ended up measuring a hair short of the Pantheon’s dome. It was originally dedicated to “pan theos” or “all the gods,” but now it is an active Catholic Church dedicated to the Martyrs. It’s even the burial place for the great artist Raphael. We had some fantastic pizza and wine just outside the Pantheon with live music playing nearby. After lunch the next thing we knew is that we had accidently stumbled upon a big plaza full of art sellers. But it turned out Matt, Kyle, and Alex were in the mood to do a little shopping for the family anyway. Matt came across a painting he liked of a boat and was approached by the vendor: “you like this one? I got more!” And off they went to another stand. He offered Matt a similar one for 100 Euros. Don’t worry, Matt knew better. We came back a whole hour later to see Matt wrapping up the bargaining bonanza – he had somehow managed to get this guy down from one for 100 Euros to two nice paintings for 80 Euros total. Atta boy Matt. Kyle had meanwhile purchased a nice charcoal painting of the Spanish Steps for his mom.
Paintings in hand we headed toward the Victor Emmanuel monument – the first king of unified Italy -1878. It supposedly has the biggest equestrian statue in the world. The three guys then went to check out the Roman Forum while I had decided to do the next Mamertine Prison tour nearby. The Mamertine Prison is the ancient prison where enemies of Rome were incarcerated and often left to die of starvation or strangulation. It is believed St. Peter was imprisoned here and I went on the tour they offered for only 7 Euros. It was a phenomenal tour, more spiritual than archeological, which is in my opinion just how it should be. I got to listen to a short film about St. Peter, visit the cell where St. Peter was imprisoned (the holy spring that welled up for St. Peter to baptize his fellow prisoners is still there!), and sit in the Church of St. Joseph above to reflect and pray before a big crucifix of Jesus (yes, even this was a part of the tour) at the end. At the end of the day we all went on a pub crawl for Alex’s birthday. It was a pretty fun time, and we got a free tee shirt at the end.
The second day in Rome was our day to tour the Vatican City. It really did require a full day to even begin to appreciate. As we got off the metro, walked toward St. Peter’s Square and saw the massive lines we decided that a 30 Euro skip-the-line guided tour would be worth it on our only day here (and it really was). We were with a small group touring with a local lady who really knew her history and facts, had a real passion for the faith, and was really outgoing and funny. My friends and I arrived early and the tour guide was nice enough to introduce us to one of the Swiss guards (from Fribourg, where I had visited Katherine!), take us to St. Peter’s Square to give us a “private mini tour” giving us a little background of the Vatican City. She was really nice. She pointed out the windows of where the Pope lives and studies, and as we passed through the square, we were grateful that we would not have to worry about those insanely long lines for the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. She kicked off our tour with the Vatican Museum; jam packed with ancient sculptures from Greece, Rome, and Egypt, and incredible artifacts from all over the world. We saw Emperor Nero’s bath made of porphyry, 3000 year old Egyptian sphinx statues, the room where Leonardo Da Vinci once lived, a hallway of huge tapestries, and a whole lot more. At the end of the museum we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. It was pretty crowded but certainly a remarkable sight you can’t miss. It is a holy place however, the pope’s private chapel, so when the noise level got too high the security guards would have to “shush” the entire room for silence. Our guide showed us a picture of what it looks like when a new pope is elected here in the Sistine Chapel – with the chimney that emits the white or black smoke and the cardinals convening inside. Afterwards she led our group through a secret pathway leading from the Sistine Chapel straight to St. Peter’s Basilica, only allowed for tour groups, no lines, no waiting. This was however the end of the tour. She did not follow us into St. Peter’s. We were free to wander inside as we pleased until the church closed for the night. Now, my words can’t do St. Peter’s justice. It was simply mind blowing. A massive church, there are even markers on the ground showing where other large churches could fit inside. I was fortunate enough to witness Michelangelo’s original Pieta behind bulletproof glass, alter to the blessed John Paul II, the location of Saint Peter’s upside down crucifixion, the chapel that marks the spot directly above Saint Peter’s grave, Raphael’s famous painting of the “Transfiguration,” an entire area for confessions lasting until the church is closed, a statue of Saint Peter (with quite the kissable toe), among countless more jaw-dropping works of art and holy sites. Although the supersized church was full of people, it was filled with a peaceful silence, enabling everyone to calmly wander about, pray, and just be in awe of God’s love that helped build and preserve this one-of-a-kind church. All four of us stayed until the church closed at 6:30, and on our way back Matt and I stopped to buy our dad’s some Italian leather wallets. Matt was cracking me up, making sure he went thoroughly through the huge drawer of wallets, examining each and every one before making a final decision.
On our last day in Rome, we woke up around 9:00 determined to see the Coliseum before leaving the city. We were especially smart tourists today (guess that’s what you get after about 3 months of traveling) and instead of joining the giant mob of a line in front of the Coliseum we went to the Forum where there was no line and bought the same entry ticket. This way we not only got to see a little bit of the Forum, but we completely bypassed that crazy 2 hour Coliseum line. We then joined a 5 Euro tour group, which I didn’t expect much out of, but which turned out to be great. He told us about the different seating sections, the trap doors hidden beneath the sandy floors, the animals raised up at random to fight, and about the different types of gladiators. I learned that the Coliseum was the world’s first domed stadium, was built in a mere 8 years, and used for 500 years. Incredible stuff. It’s really impossible to do Rome in three days, but I don’t think we could have done a better job.
November 26th, 2011
November 26th, 2011
November 4th-6th was a weekend I had been looking forward to since early September. I was about to spend an entire weekend in Austria with a girl I’ve known since I was in elementary school. Our families are both military, and our dads met while flying together with VP10 in Maine when I was five years old. For many years now we’ve lived no more than an hour away, but our lives went their own directions throughout middle and high school. Now, by the mere “coincidence” that we were studying abroad in the same semester, I was about to meet up with my childhood crush in two of the most beautiful European towns, Hallstatt and Salzburg.
Traveling out of Switzerland on my own for the first time was a little intimidating. Although I spent a lot of time carefully writing out each step of the journey, if one train was significantly delayed, or I missed a connection my entire trip to Vienna could have been really difficult, if not ruined. I allowed myself as much time at the airport as possible, but that was only a mere hour and a half. Still, much to my surprise, the travel seemed effortless. All the trains were right on time, the airport was easy to navigate, and buses taking me to Vienna Westbahnhof train station were really easy to find. It was unreal how smooth travel was all weekend long in fact.
I anxiously waited for Amanda at platform 1. Things had been going so well so far, I just hoped she hadn’t had any trouble getting here by herself. Sure enough there she was, right on time, and we sat down and began catching up while waiting for our train. She told me about some of her earlier semester travels, and of course the question arose: “what are the odds that two military kids who have moved all over the states in the past, attend different universities, and have known each other for over a decade would be sitting together in a train station in Vienna!?” Makes you wonder…
Before long, we were on our train to Attnang Puccheim where we jumped on our connection to Bad Ischl. This train to Bad Ischl always stops at Hallstatt along the way, but as the conductor checked our tickets he told us that tonight this this wasn’t the case. That could’ve been a huge damper on our weekend if it wasn’t for this nice couple sitting across from us who had a smart phone. They were kind enough to look up taxi numbers on their phone, and even call for us to do the speaking in German (the driver didn’t speak much English). Sure enough, as soon as we arrived in Bad Ischl, our cab was waiting for us at the station and drove us 30 minutes straight to our Bed & Breakfast (Gasthof Simony) in Hallstatt. Talk about a close call. The big man upstairs was certainly looking out for us this weekend.
On Saturday morning we woke up to the smell of a fresh Austrian breakfast – assorted meats (Amanda calls it all ham), cheese, bread, ripe fruits, eggs, and juice and milk. With just a few key ideas of what to see in this tiny storybook town we were out the door by 8:30am. Hallstatt is situated in the Salzkammergut Lake District. It’s truly a toy town (around 900 people), almost free of traffic, and squeezed between a mountain and a gorgeous lake where you can almost always see swans swim by – the perfect place to relax and commune with nature. This is a town you could tour in 10 minutes if that’s all the time you had, so there was no doubt that this was going to be the most laid back, lazy-like-Sunday-morning, carefree day of the semester – in other words: a REAL vacation.
We began our day strolling through the town, admiring all of miniature buildings and doors (perfect for Amanda, but a tad bit too small for me) the whole time thinking how lucky we were to be here outside of tourist season. It was like we had rented out the town for ourselves. Eventually we found ourselves at the park. There were a bunch of awesome swings and such like a zip line, a rotating double tire swing (Amanda’s favorite), a jungle gym, see saw, rock wall, and my personal favorite, the swinging hammock. But talk about a flashback to when we were little kids playing together on our family camping trips. Never would have guessed that 10 years later we’d be playing together on a playground in Hallstatt. We spent a good amount of time swinging on the hammock and gazing at the postcard view of the multicolored fall trees covering the mountains all around us.
Afterwards, we made our way to the other end of Hallstatt to see the Catholic church, laughing at the tiny doors along the way. Just before entering the doors of the church, who do we find?? A couple from Amanda’s school, Franciscan University, also spending the weekend in Hallstatt! Of all the places in Europe to go for a weekend, we never thought we would see anyone we knew here, it was hilarious. The four of us chatted briefly and then said the old “goodbye, but I’ll probably see you later today” goodbye. Anyway, the church was beautiful. There were two elaborate alters, a painted story of the passion on the back wall, and a powerful statue of Mary holding the crucified Christ which really seemed to strike Amanda’s interest. As I had usually done in past visits to the many awesome European churches, I took a moment to silently pray and thank God for all the blessings in my life, this semester abroad, and especially for this wonderful weekend in Austria with Amanda.
As I mentioned before, Hallstatt is a really small town crammed between a mountain and a lake. As a result, space is limited to bury the dead. Bones only get about 12 years at rest before making way for the newly dead. Right next to the Catholic Church is this bone chapel – each skull is named, dated, and decorated with ivy (for men) and roses (for women). Supposedly they stopped this practice around the 1960’s when the Church began permitting cremation. After walking a little more, we found the tourist information office and picked up a free map of the town, where we discovered the nearby 2 hour roundtrip hiking trail. Sounded like fun, and it couldn’t have been a better day for a hike. On the way up we would stop and read the signs telling about Hallstatt’s history as the salt mining capital of Europe. One of the world’s oldest salt mines (if not the oldest) is located here in Hallstatt, and there is even a 700 year chapter in Europe’s history known as “The Hallstatt Period,” which says a lot about the tiny town’s importance. Halfway up we came across a bridge overlooking a gorgeous waterfall where we each made a wish and tossed in a coin. Near the top we found a wooden gazebo and carved in our names - our everlasting mark on Hallstatt. The view at the top was phenomenal; to see all of the different fall colors on the mountains, the glassy smooth lake, and the entire town, it was as if we were looking at a giant painting.
By the end of the hike we were pretty hungry, and not much was open but for this one bakery. We took our pretzels and pastries back to our old park, ate in the hammock, and relaxed until it got too cold for us to be outside without coats. By this point in the weekend let’s just say that the girl who was once my first crush all those years ago was starting to become my current one. Walking back to Gasthof Simony, as we were both freezing (actually I’ll admit that I was the one doing most of the shivering), I put my arm around her for the first time. Had to keep warm somehow right? Right.
Thankfully there was a fire burning in the B&B, I was so excited to warm up that I forgot to close the door behind me. The next thing I know Amanda whispers to me: “Umm, Chris? A black cat just ran upstairs.” (*Face palm*) We had to go after it, couldn’t leave a stray cat wandering around the nice lady’s B&B. It wasn’t too hard to find once it started meow-ing. I drew it out from under the bed in one of the empty rooms, and as I was shutting the door Amanda had knelt down to beckon the kitty over. She seemed convinced that it wouldn’t bite her, and she grabbed it! I was beyond impressed. She’s certainly got some guts. Just like that she saved the day, and we said goodbye to the cat outside. To pass the time before our ferry would come to take us across the lake to the train station we looked around the local “sports shop”. There were a ton of cool little wooden carvings of nativity scenes, but best of all were the rocks and minerals collection. We found candles inside sculpted salt from the local mines. They were so cool – we couldn’t help but pick one up while no one was looking and lick it. Downstairs there was a customer book where we wrote:
“I licked your salt candle :)
Chris and Amanda”
There were actually some pretty cool things to see downstairs. There were preserved remains of an old Roman bath house and a bunch of old artifacts dug up from around the town. Finally, our ferry had come and we were on our way to Salzburg. At one of the train stops I saw a conductor outside who looked like he needed some cheering up, so I saluted him through the window. He saw me and seemed pretty amused, and saluted right back. There was hardly anyone on our train, and Amanda began to tell me about the different ways she would sleep on trains, buses, you name it - the sideways-on-the-seat technique, the handstand method, and my personal favorite, the lie-down-on-the-dirty-floor approach. I told her that I would rather sleep on the train’s luggage racks than on the floor. And what does she do? She climbs right up there, that’s what she does! You see, one thing to note about Amanda is her risk taking tendencies. She gets some kind of an adrenaline rush by breaking the rules. So, before the conductors came in and kicked us off the train I made her get down and she took a nap for the rest of the way there. Crisis averted.
Upon arriving in Salzburg around 11:00pm, Amanda led the way up the hill from the train station to find our second B&B that she had booked. It was quite a hill though, we paused and took a rest break halfway up, noticed that the stars were pretty bright that night (it’s funny how much you notice in life when you “stop to smell the roses”), and I gave her a big hug while we caught our breath and warmed up. This B&B had claimed to have a sign or a flag to make it stand out. Didn’t end up being the case, but a nice neighbor pointed out that the place was right next door. We hadn’t had anything for dinner that night so we just dropped our bags off and headed back out to find some grub. It was pretty late and nothing close by seemed to be open, so we assumed we would have to take the bus into town to find a McDonalds. 25 minutes and 6 taxis passed as we waited in the cold before the bus came. We each paid a Euro and sat down on the bus for literally 10 seconds as we rounded the corner to the next stop. Our McDonalds turned out to be a 2 minute walk from where we waiting on our bus. Oh, It’s funny now, but at the time…haha yea. The rest of the night was spent back at the room watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in German – I did some translating because German is pretty much my second language…and I’ve seen the movie like 10 times.
The next morning began with Amanda breaking the rules again, this time by sneaking into the nice lady’s towel closet so she could take a shower. She got a much deserved verbal thrashing. We had towels in our room the whole time. The breakfast wasn’t bad, but our train into the city was pretty early, so we had to eat fast. One of the many highlights of the weekend was going to “Mozart Mass” with Amanda in the cathedral where Mozart was baptized. He would practice and compose here as well, and we sat right beneath the large dome where the best acoustics are. It was one of the most beautiful masses I have ever been to. The quality of the music does make a difference – the music at mass is supposed to help engage the body of Christ into worship – so when it almost brings me to tears you know they are doing just that, and doing it well. Once again we ran into a group of Franciscan students. It’s a Catholic university, so if anywhere you have a good chance of running into them at church, as we experienced twice in one weekend in two different cities. Still, it’s a small world. Following mass, Amanda and I were able to tour Mozart’s birthplace and browse the museum with some of his old pianos and samples of opera music that he wrote. It was getting close to lunch time, so we walked the streets of Old Town, keeping an eye out for a place to eat (she even let me hold her hand!). We stopped at a pizza place, and then made our way back to the river where we spent the last few hours of our weekend vacation sitting on the bank. For the first time all semester I forgot to get a postcard of the city I was in (Salzburg in this case). As the weekend progressed there was ultimately only one thing on my mind, and that was how fortunate I felt to have met this girl while overseas. She’s just an all around wonderful person, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have crossed paths with her. The last hour on the bank seemed like a minute, and the next thing we knew we were about to head to our own train platforms back to Gaming and Riva San Vitale. We hugged, I kissed her on the cheek, and just like that one of the best weekends of my life so far had finally come to an end.