Poland

Exploring Krakow and Poland!

The past few days have been spent in Krakow, Poland, and the city is beautiful! I didn’t know what to expect visiting eastern Europe, but the architecture of the city is gorgeous and the old quarter is incredible! There are old churches all over the place, a big castle on a hill, a museum to Oskar Schindler, and day trips out to Auschwitz and an old salt mine. So far we’ve done them all, and we have another day to spare just wandering the streets and catching our breath after traveling between different cities so much over the past few weeks.

We spent our first couple of days here exploring the city and going to museums and old buildings. The churches are incredible, the interiors as intricately sculptured or painted, often with blue ceilings and gold stars. They’re unlike any other churches in western Europe, and it’s cool to see a new variation on the same type of building. We explored the castle, and also stopped in to Oskar Schindler factory museum. The museum was actually not really about Schindler, it was mostly about Krakow’s involvement in World War II, but it was still interesting and a worthwhile stop. We had a great couple of days seeing the beautiful city and eating the delicious cheap food around the city.

Our next day we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was obviously a pretty heavy day trip. The museum was well done and it was interesting to see so many things that I’ve seen in history classes or movies about World War II. Even so, it is difficult to spend a day at a place like that, where there is so much devastating history.

Finally, I spent today at a salt mine! Unfortunately, Lexi wasn’t feeling well, so I ventured out alone. The mine was actually very cool, full of sculptures in salt and even chapels and churches carved out of the salt. In the photo below, the entire structure is not only a hundred meters underground, but all carved out of salt (other than the wood support beams, lightbulbs, and chains). The chandeliers are salt crystals, the floor is all a giant block of salt (made to look like tiles), and the stairs / sculptures / walls are all salt. I spent a few hours deep underground walking through the caves and caverns, and then came back to spend the rest of the evening relaxing around the old town!

saltchurch.jpg

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Italy

Venice and Milan!

The past few days have been spent wandering through Venice and touring around Milan! Two beautiful cities with plenty to offer, and I had a great time in each of them!

We landed in Venice and spent the first couple of days there. Day 1 was the usual tourist things, San Marco’s Square, the Rialto Bridge, the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and a couple of museums. Venice is really all tourists as you walk through the crowded streets. While it somewhat takes away from the experience to be surrounded by a mass of tourists ambling aimlessly between San Marco’s and the Rialto Bridge, the city is beautiful enough that it’s not really that big of a deal. Oh, and we spent our first day celebrating Lexi’s birthday! Our parents got her a nice hotel room as a gift, which was obviously pretty nice for me too.

Our second day in Venice was mostly just wandering through the streets before catching a train to Milan. Even without explicit tourist sites to see, it is a beautiful city. Spending half a day weaving through the narrow back alleys and over the gorgeous old bridges is actually one of the best ways to spend time in Venice (in my opinion). There is far more to the city than the two big tourist sites, and it’s nice to wander around without a herd.

Arriving in Milan, we had another beautiful hotel as a surprise gift for my sister’s birthday (again, to my benefit as well). Our next day was spent as part of a tourist herd ourselves! We went on a 7.5 hour walking tour around Milan, seeing the Last Supper, the Duomo, the Castle Sforzesca, and a couple of other churches with some artwork that I didn’t catch the name of. It was a new experience on this trip, to have such an organized tour of a city, and it was actually nice to learn so much all at once (even if I was part of a classic tourist group).

 

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Switzerland

A Few Days Around Switzerland!

It’s been a while since I posted, but that’s not for lack of seeing new things! Lexi and I spent a few days in Geneva (and a day in the nearby town of Lausanne). It’s absurdly expensive, so we spent about a week surviving on bread and peanut butter, which was quite an experience on its own.

Overall there was quite a bit to see and do, even without being made of solid gold. We even finally got some good weather! Our first day in Geneva was spent just seeing what the town itself had to offer. We walked around the old section, investigated some churches and old museums, and saw the large jet of water that was listed as an attraction for the city, and retired early because we didn’t have the money to go out at night (a recurring theme in Geneva).

Our next day was spent on top of Mont Saleve, looking out over the city of Geneva and accidentally getting caught in a hailstorm (the bad weather managed to find us for a day). Even with the extreme cold, it was a fun day trip. The best day was the one in which we actually left Geneva altogether, off to see a nearby town of Lausanne. The town had a beautiful coast, surrounded by mountains and with views of the town built up into a hillside. We rented bikes and spent the day riding around the coast and the town (we even accidentally biked into a bike race and across the finish line, coming in at just under 15 hours for…some distance, we never found out).

Our last couple of days in Geneva were spent wandering around the city, seeing the U.N., CERN, and a few different parks and a botanical garden. The city is very nice, but prohibitively expensive for a couple of student travelers!

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Portugal

Out of Ireland and on to Portugal!

It’s been a while since my last post, so we’ve covered quite a bit of ground. We spent a few days in Dublin, wandering around,  visiting the Guinness Brewery, a famous old jail (Kilmainham Gaol I think?), a seeing a performance of Othello. It really is a great city, and I’m glad we got to go back for a few days.

Now we’re in Lisbon! Our first day was spent walking through the narrow and steep streets around the center of the city, up to an old castle and some old churches (one even without a roof!). Strangely, the ground is all tiled around Lisbon, like a giant outdoor mosaic. While it looks very nice, I do keep worrying about slipping on it, as it’s been quite rainy.

We also took a day trip yesterday to a nearby town called Sintra. It had numerous palaces, castles, gardens, and overall it was a very pretty little town. We ended up walking something like 10 miles and 140 flights of stairs (according to my iPhone), which was pretty painful on my injured foot, but still very rewarding. We covered basically the entire town on foot, and it was a very full day as we managed to see so much.

We have one more day in Portugal, and then we’re going on to Geneva! Where we planned to do some hiking, but with my injury it might be a bit more sitting than hiking…

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Ireland

The Irish Coast!

After a few days in Ireland, I’m very glad that I got a chance to come back and see more of this beautiful country after my layover here last week. The first couple of days I was here I was over on the west coast, staying in Galway and driving up and down the “Wild Atlantic Way”. It was absolutely gorgeous. The fields were a rich and beautiful green, the ocean was a perfect blue-green, and the landscape was incredible. I had heard much about the west coast of Ireland and my expectations were pretty high, but everything has lived up to them.

As with Iceland, I could go on about the beauty of the landscapes and the drives around the coast, but it would be easier to just check out my Flickr album that includes all of those photos. It really was amazing, and I’m glad I got a chance to drive around and see it (even though the roads in rural Ireland are extremely narrow and difficult to navigate in the dark).

For the next couple of days I’ll be exploring more of Dublin and relaxing before traveling onwards to Lisbon!

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U.K.

We Never Win At Home And We Never Win Away

So as I write this I am actually in Ireland, but I just finished up with a weekend in the UK! Specifically I was in London, and was fortunate enough to be joined by my aunt, uncle, and mother for the weekend! We had a great time drinking our way through the city, checking out a couple of tourist sites, and watching our soccer team get thrashed by weaker opposition!

Normal tourism visits for Lexi and me are full of walking from famous site to famous site, keeping costs as low as possible, and occasionally getting to bed early in order to get an early start the next day. In London, our first day with our family was spent entirely devoid of tourist attractions. Instead, we got up and went straight to a pub. After that, we went to find tickets to a play, but wound up at another pub. Then we went to meet up with a family member, at another pub. After enough pub shenanigans, we decided to get serious. So we went to a pub to meet up with a friend for a bit. Things started to calm down, so we went to another pub to grab a drink. Finally, we rounded out the evening with drinks and cards back at the apartment.

Our next day was a bit more traditional for London tourism, we went to see Trafalgar Square, visited Big Ben, and went to the Camden Market, which was a massive sprawling city market selling everything from cheap soccer jerseys to Colombian street food.

Our last day was the one we were all waiting for, the Southampton vs Manchester City soccer game! We changed things up and went to a pub before the game, and then made our way over to the stadium after spending a couple of hours singing City’s club songs with other fans in Southampton. The game got underway, and the entire away section was singing and cheering endlessly… For about 20 minutes. Then Southampton scored, and the cheering turned into cursing endlessly… For about 5 minutes. Then Southampton scored again, and the cursing turned into silence.

Things more or less continued until the score was 4-1, at which point the away fans had essentially decided the game was over and cheering was for suckers. Rather than encourage City to win the game, we all started singing “We never win at home” (my personal favorite), “We’re f***ing s**t” (a catchy tune), and “Are you watching, Real Madrid” (sure to intimidate even the most fearsome team). It made for a fantastic second half, and proved that you don’t have to be on the winning side to have the time of your life at a soccer game!

So now I’m in Ireland, and spent the day driving around the countryside and the west coast. Look out for a post on it soon!

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