Monday, May 14, 2012

Can you spot the two Americans?

My class (and Laura) on our trip to Berlin. I love you 4E, and it has been so great having you for a class! Music majors know whats up :-)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

France and Germany!

This is one of the things I love about Europe, and Switzerland in particular: how many times can you say that you have been to FOUR different countries in two weeks? Well I can now, after my two lovely trips to France and Germany!

When I got home from my fantastic week in Italy, I had three days left of Spring Break in Zug before I would leave for France. Zug was absolutely beautiful that week! It was around 80 degrees every day, and the sun was shining from morning until night. I spent most of my time on the lake near my house, or tanning on the beaches of Lake Zug with my friends. One day, Laura and Sienna and I took the peddle boats out on the lake, and Zug looked about as picturesque as I have ever seen it.
Lovely Laura infront of Old Town Zug
Pulling a Titanic moment
Sienna infront of the Alps
Sienna and I also took a day together to hike the Rigi, which is Zug's most famous mountain. You can see it in the picture above--it is the largest mountain in the picture, and a little curved on the top. It was a beautiful and refreshing hike, and the view was incredible. We could see Lake Zug and Lake Luzern at the base, and the Alps, which seemed to stretch on to infinity. I love the Alps so much, and know already how much I am going to miss them. Really, is there any prettier place on Earth?
This picture doesn't even do it justice. I love Switzerland!
Then, while the rest of my friends were preparing to go back to school, I was packing to meet my Aunt in France! On Saturday, I took the train by myself to Geneva, where I loaded my plane to Nice. It was a strange experience for me, since it was the first time I have ever gone to an airport by myself, but everything turned out fine. I flew EasyJet, which is probably the most hassle-free experience I have ever had flying before. It was 20 Euros for my ticket, and they never even asked to see my pasport. The whole process took 25 minutes, and they didn't even ask to see my ticket until I boarded my plane. We didn't even have assigned seats!

One hour later, I met my Aunt in the Nice Airport. It was such a surreal feeling to see her! I haven't seen a family member for 8 months now, and I felt like I was dreaming when I finally saw her face. It was strange and yet wonderful being able to talk to her about things from my other life, like this whole year had never happened, and I was the same person I was when I left. I really missed her, and it was great to talk to someone about the things no one is Switzerland knows about, and the things I miss the most: my home, and my family.

We stayed in a villa in Nice with three of her friends for two days, and it was so quaint and lovely. The flowers were blooming and the air always smelled like summer. We spent the first two days exploring our small town, laying by the pool and having wonderful French dinners. I even tried duck! On the last day, we went to downtown Nice and enjoyed the wonderful weather by the ocean and walked along the boardwalk. I understand why the French call it the "Cote Azur" now, because the water was as blue as the Caribbean, and stretched until infinity. 
The view from our villa
The old village, where we spent most of our time
Historic Nice
A view of Nice's beach
It goes on and on and on...
The Mediterranean Sea!
My Aunt having a drink with me on the beach
After our three days in Nice, my Aunt and I flew to Paris, where we would stay for two nights. How can I try to even explain Paris? It was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be, and just how one imagines it in their head. We ate at small cafes and wandered the cobblestone streets, and I felt like I was in a movie. It was so much fun being able to explore this city with my Aunt Marcy, because she is such a easy person to travel with and is always up for an adventure. We went to the Eiffel Tower together, saw the Notre Dame and went on a boat tour on the Seine. Our hotel was in a beautiful location in the Latin Quarter, and there was a wonderful night life around there with bustling restaurants  and shops. My trip to Paris was short, but definitely one of my favorite parts of my exchange, and I enjoyed every minute. Now I know I need to come back one day to see more of it!

We got to go to the Eiffel Tower!
And walked down the Camps-Elysees! (I kept singing the song
the entire time...sorry Marcy)
The Notre Dame
Our boat tour on the Seine
We got stuck in another protest--this one was full of socialists.
I got a picture under the Communist Flag, just
for you Dad!
So many bridges in Paris, and they are all
so beautiful
The most beautiful city in the world
The street of our hotel--tons of cool restaurants!

Paris at sunset

(you better pronounce it "behr-leen" or else Swiss people will have no idea what you are talking about. "Berlin? Oh! You mean 'Behr-leeeennn'"....haha)

I am so glad I was able to participate in this awesome trip with my class, thanks to Rotary, who helped me pay for it. My class went to Berlin for a week to study music, art and history, and it was such a once in a lifetime experience. My exchange friend Laura also came with us, since her class is going on their trip after she goes back to America.

Berlin was an interesting, and amazing city. It wasn't beautiful, it the sense of Paris, or Rome or Venice, but in a different way. Berlin has a bustling center full of skyscrapers and museums and modern architecture, and is very much an alive city, but also has some parts that still cary a sort of sadness from it's tragic history. The Berlin wall is still intact in some places of the city, as well as bunkers and stations for watching people who wanted to flee to West Berlin. One of my favorite things about Berlin, however, is the talent it has of turning sad, horrible things into things that are truly beautiful. The walls of the building that were burned or destroyed have been turned into modern art projects. The space between the two Berlin walls are now parks, and an abandoned air field is now a place where people can bike or jog on the landing strip. Berlin has found a way to become a metropolis, while also remembering the tragedy of it's past, by keeping old monuments like watch towers or bunker as part of the city landscape.

Some of my favorite parts of our trip were taking an 8 hour bike tour through the city, visiting museums, and going up the Berlin tower. We had a lot of free time in Berlin, and our teachers let us go where ever we wanted on the subway, as long as we were back in our hotel by 12. My friends and I got to go to the philharmonic concert and a Berlin jazz club, as well as some bars and cafes together. It was a great week, and I really got to spend some time bonding with my class.
Laura and I on our bike tour--riding for EIGHT hours. We
were all so tired by the end!
My class on an abandoned airport landing strip
We got to eat at an "American" diner one night.  It was so much fun,
but I had to lie to my class and say that the food was good,
when in fact, that was the worst milkshake I have had in my LIFE.
I think Germans should just stick to bratwurst.

The Brandenburg Gate
The view of Berlin from Postdam Platz
You can see the Berlin tower in the distance! We went to the top,
and it was very cool.
Before our philharmonie concert

A piece of the remaining Berlin Wall
A preserved watchtower and gate, that were used to stop people
from escaping to West Berlin
Our boat tour on the River Spree

The German Parliament building

Our Modern Art museum

Our trip to Berlin was not only informational, but also very fun. I had a great time with my class, and our teachers were very nice too. They even took us to a bar one night and bought us all some drinks, which my class thought was totally normal, but was a very strange experience for me and Laura. When would something like that EVER happen in the US? You gotta love Europe! We got to try bratwurst and currywurst, and Berlin pretzels and ride the famous Berlin subway sytstem. My class really loved seeing the skyscrapers in downtown Berlin, and they were so excited when we got to take an elevator to the top of one.

For me and Laura, it was no big deal at all, since the building was probably smaller than the Columbia Tower. But to my class, it was a huge deal, since the biggest building in Switzerland is probably ten stories tall. I thought it was cute, but also an interesting cultural difference between our two countries that I had never really thought of before. Of course they would be excited to be in a city with buildings that are newer than 500 years old, because that is something they don't have in Switzerland. Even Berlin's tower, which is probably one of the most famous monuments in Germany, is smaller than the Space Needle. I find it funny how Americans all dream of going to historic cities like Paris or Rome, but my Swiss friends just want to see newer cities like New York or LA. I guess we all want what we don't have, right?

I just got home this morning, after an 8 hour ride in a night train, which was an interesting experience in itself. If you haven't ridden one yet, I would really suggest trying it sometime in your life, because it was definitely a new experience. I was in a small cabin with two sets of tripple layered bunk beds with some girls in my class. It was a tight squeeze and in now way comfortable, but it was also fun and a new adventure, and a good way to make the 8 hour ride go by quicker. We just pretended we were on a ship like in Pirates of the Caribbean, which was easy to do, since our train was swaying the whole night.

My Berlin trip ends my wonderful three weeks of travel, and tomorrow, I sadly have to go back to school. Luckily, it is only a three day week because of some Catholic holiday on Thursday, and Wednesday is the last day for our Seniors, so the whole school gets to have a day of activities and on Tuesday night a huge party in a club. I'm really excited, but am going to be so tired on Wednesday morning! Speaking of tired, I am still exhausted from my lack of sleep last night, and need to take a quick nap before my host family takes me to that movie about Aung San Suu Kyi tonight. Happy Mother's Day everyone, and I'll be writing again soon! 

Happy Mother's Day Mom, if you a reading this. I miss you so much, and seeing you again on July 9th will be the best birthday present I could ever ask for. I love you!



Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rome and Venice

Hello everyone! I am finally back home and safe and sound, after the three most amazing weeks of my exchange. Where do I even begin? So much has happened, and I have been able to the most fantastic things as I went to Rome, Venice, Nice, Paris and Berlin. There were just too many exciting moments for one blog post, so I am going to make three-- Italy, France and Germany. So I'll start with my first trip, which was to Rome and Venice.

DAY 1-
Sienna and I boarded our train in Zug at 7:30, and met the other exchange students who had boarded in Zurich a half an hour earlier. It was hectic, but we were able to both find seats together and squeeze our suitcases in the compartments above our heads. The ride from Zug to Milan is about 3 hours, and we spent most of our time talking and watching movies on her iPad. When our train got to Milan, all the exchange students transfered to our next train to Rome which would take another 4 hours. This ride was absolutely gorgeous! We all had a reserved car, and were able to laugh and play cards and watch the Italian country side go by. We finally arrived in Rome at around 3, and then put our stuff away, so we could head to to Colosseum!

Just like in Sparticus!

It is so much bigger from the inside
Issac, Emmeline and Sienna at the Colosseum

Italian Parliament buidling
Being in the Colosseum was absolutely unreal. Standing in this historic monument which you have seen pictures of your entire life is unexplainable but amazing. Sienna and our friend Emmeline and I toured this ancient building for an hour, and marveled at it's timeless intricacy in the beautiful Italien sunset before going back to the hotel for a three course dinner! Hard life.

Exchange Student photo! Love these guys

DAY 2-

On Tuesday, we all got to go to Rome and explore the city in the morning. I was really grateful for the freedom Rotary gave us. We all had subway cards and maps, and they told us they trusted us enough to be safe and be back on time. I guess it makes sense since we all have been living alone for a year anyways, but I was still glad they trusted us enough to explore on our own.

Sienna, Emmeline and I went shopping to take advantage of the Eurocrisis and even bartered for some things on the street. Sienna needed some help with her poker face, but was a pro by the end! We then all met again to go tour the Vatican.

Such beautiful buildings! And such a small country too!

One of the thousands of statues in the Vatican
The Vatican is one of the few things in the world, I feel, that truly is every bit as wonderful as you expect it to be. The buildings were lined with thousands of pieces of ancient artwork, and the floors designed with glossy marble. There were even priest walking around, just like something out of the Da Vinci Code. Of course, the flood of tourists crowding the halls did take away from the romanticism of it  a little bit, but it was still unbelievably gorgeous.

Now for the (somewhat) embarrassing moment of my tour of the Vatican: about an hour into our tour, I started feeling a little dizzy. This happens to me a lot, so I wasn't that worried, but then little black spots started appearing and I knew things weren't going good. I wanted to discreetly sit down, but when I tried, a guard starting yelling at me in Italian about it being a holy floor or something, and then my knees went weak, and I fell down. It was so embarrassing feinting in the Vatican! Luckily for me, one of the ROTEX (Rotary exchange students from Switzerland who are back from their exchange) was able to help me leave, and he made sure I was OK. But of course knowing our luck, we somehow managed to get lost in the massive building and couldn't find our way out, and had to wonder aimlessly through the hundreds of statues until we ended up in the Sistine Chapel, totally lost. 

You are not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, but here are some I took of St.Peters:

The chapel had painting like this all over the ceiling

St. Peters from the outside

So many beautifully constructed buildings!

These guards have been Swiss for centuries, because of Switzerland's
neutrality. Had to get a picture of my Swiss buddy!
We spent the rest of the day exploring and eating Gelato, and then another three course meal in downtown Rome, compliments to Rotary. We just had to be back in our hotel by 11, so the other exchange students and I got to see Rome at night too, which was really cool.

DAY 3-

On Wednesday, we got to have a guided tour of Ancient Rome. This was one of my favorite days, because the history we were able to learn was so fascinating! It seemed as if every building we would walk pass had some story, and many were unbelievably fascinating. A city as old as Rome just has so many stories, and it is a little hard for an American like me to even comprehend it. Stories of war, family disputes, and the church, from Ancient Rome all the way until the 1800's.

The Spanish Steps

A fountain in Old Town Rome

A present given (or stolen, either way you see it) from the Egyptians

We made a wish!

Parliament building
We spent the rest of our 8 hours of free time shopping, eating Italian pizza, getting harassed by Italian boys and almost dying from the crazy driving in the streets. It was a beautiful day until it started raining right before dinner, but that only made for great pictures! One of my favorite moments from my exchange year happened this day, right after our dinner: Emmeline, Sienna and our friend Isaac were all trying to find our way back to the subway. It was a warm night, and the stars were glistening over our heads. It was completely peaceful until in a matter of seconds, we were surrounded by a crowd of shouting Italian protestors holding torches and signs, screaming about the Eurocrisis.

I remember looking at Sienna as we were both completely encircled by the protesters ,and just laughing. We were in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, in the middle of a protest, could not speak the language and had no idea where we were. It was one of those moments when your are just so happy and feel so lucky to be alive, and just want to be drenched in every moment of it. 

The Pantheon

Love my exchange student friends!

Emmeline, getting some REAL Italian pizza

Swiss Francs and Euros!

Rome in the rain
Rome at night

They made it out of the protest alive!

DAY 4-

On Thursday, we boarded our train for Venice and arrived at around 3 pm. It was a pretty rainy day, but Venice is so beautiful, that is was able to shine through the clouds. We walked the streets together taking pictures and watching the gondolas go by, and it was magical. Venice is famous for it's masks, so many of my friends bought some from the local street vendors, and wore them for the whole day, not caring that other people were staring or giggling. We're exchanges students, we can't get embarrassed! And as my friend Patrick would say: "YOLO" (for those of you who aren't high school boys, its a joke teenagers say which stands for 'you only live once', which was used about every five minutes during our trip). 

That night after everyone was a little high on life, some one got the idea to do some dancing in our masks in the street, which then turned into a mini-parade down the road. The Japanese tourists sure loved us, and I think our ROTEX got a kick out of us too. Definitely one of my favorite moments from our trip.

Having fun on our three hour train ride


The masks

Seattle girl knows how to deal with the rain

My two lovely friends on the bridge of sighs

We are not tourists

The most I have ever laughed in one night. I love
exchange students!

Mini-street parade in Venice? YOLO

DAY 5-

On Friday, we started the day by riding a ferry through Venice's Grand Canal. With the sun shining and the breeze blowing my hair, it truly might be one of the most beautiful places I have been in my life. What can you say? It's Venice! It is romantic, ancient and sinking--which makes it's story even more tragic, and even more beautiful. We also got to have a historical tour of Venice, which was fascinating. We learned about the making of the city, and the history of the church there and the Venetian dialect, as well as the architecture of the many old buildings . One of my favorite parts of the tour is when our tour guide took us down on some of the alley ways, to see the "real" Venice. Anyone who has been to Venice will know that that high of a concentration of tourists is such a small space can be a little overwhelming, so it is lovely to see how the real people of Venice live. 

Is this real life? 

It was so nice to be on a ferry again!

Really, how could a city be more beautiful than this.

The ships people ride to and from their houses

Venice's famous clock tower

The church of San Marco

Beautiful paintings on the walls of San Marco

Some gondolas under the Bridge of Sighs

Half way through the day, it started raining again sadly, so we found some shelter in a Gelato shack and got some amazing Italian coffee, and then spent the rest of the day getting lost in Venice. That night, Rotary took us on a night boat tour of Venice and to a very nice Italian restaurant to celebrate our last day in Italy. On our way back on the boat, it started pouring, and we all were drenched by the time we got back to the mainland. We were ran back to the bus laughing, and one of my friends totally wiped out on the bridge, and ended up sliding back to the road on hist butt. All our shoes were soaked and our hair sopping, but it was a fantastic way to end a magical week.

Eatin' some gelatto in Venice

We ain't scared of no rain!

Such a beautiful city

Lovely Venice at night...right before the storm!

I  loved every moment that I had in Italy--it was gorgeous, the food was delicious and I had such a fun time exploring the cities with my dear friends, and having so many adventures and fun times with them. It was a little sad going home on the train to Zug, because this is the last time we are all going to see each other again, and I really do feel like a part of a 75-person family now. I guess the short year we had together just makes me enjoy every moment we shared even more, and really appreciate these great people I met and all that they thought me about being brave, curious, and not being afraid to look a little stupid. I'll miss you exchange students of 2011-2012, and if I don't see some of you again before I leave, I wish you the best of luck in all the adventures I know you are going to have!