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!



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