Thursday, January 28, 2010

Brussels and Bruges

Our last stop on our European adventure was Belgium. We spent one day in Brussels, the capital of Europe, and a day in Bruges, now one of my favorite cities. Brussels was interesting. It had an old downtown center with cobblestone streets, and all surrounding it was a bustling metropolis. This is the main shopping street, and below it, the same street further down.

One of the main sights in Brussels is Mannekin Pis, a statue of a little boy no more than two feet tall. It's quite funny to think that this is the most famous statue is Belgium!

In Old Town, near Mannekin Pis is the main square, with gorgeous buildings and lots of chocolate shops. If there is one thing you have to get while in Belgium, it's chocolate!

And then, just a ten minute walk away, is the business district. What a difference! However, Brussels makes it work. We weren't able to visit the EU Buildings, but there is always next time!

Our next stop was Bruges, a small town that is just overflowing with character and charm. It was absolutely picturesque, and despite the freezing weather, Sarah and I really enjoyed just wandering around and exploring.
Chocolate is a big thing in Belgium, and it was cool to see all the little creations they made. Even little creatures and chocolate make-up! So cute.
Bruges is a city of bikes, and as you can see can get rather congested. But, it just adds to the charm, and everyone was very friendly and laid back. No one was in a rush to go anywhere, despite the cold.

As you can see, Bruges is absolutely beautiful, and it is a place I want to go back to in the spring or summer.

This statue is one of the few of Michaelangelo's found outside Italy. In Bruges of all places!

Belgium was a fantastic stop and I'm so glad we got to spend two days there, no matter how quickly it went. I was very happy to be heading back to London, however. Just one more stop until we go to go home!! Here is Sarah checking our flight status at the airport in Belgium. We got there so early, we were the only ones in the terminal!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Venice, Italy

The next stop on our European tour was Venice, where we arrived on Boxing Day. Venice is unlike any city I've ever been to, it almost didn't seem real! The canals and boats and everything were very beautiful, as were many of the buildings that we saw. We rest the first day we were there,, except for a bit of exploration. It's very easy to get lost in Venice! But, luckily our senses of direction got us through.

This is a shot of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge in central Venice. It was very cold on the canals, but also very picturesque. You can also see some gondolas. Sarah and I decided not to do a gondola ride because 1. It was freezing and 2. it was over 80 euros!! Way too expensive for two students.
San Marco Square is one of the Must-Sees of Venice. There you can find the Basilica and the Doge's Palace (see below). We didn't go into the palace until the last day we were ther, but we did explore the outside early in our trip. Isn't is unbelievable?
One day we were there, we went to see the Jewish Ghetto. It was amazing to think that thousands of Jews lived in two tiny squares, cut off from the rest of Venice for many, many years. Now, there are only a few Jewish families still living in this section of city, but it was very interesting to go into the synagogues which were used in secret centuries ago. We even saw one just as it was in the 1500's! I've seen plenty of churches in my travels, but not many synagogues, so it was really cool to experience.

Being December, it was very cold and cloudy in Venice, but we did have one sunny day!

We took a day to visit some of the islands, and took a Vaporetto boat out to them. It was a lot cheaper than a gondola, but we got the same views!
Our first stop was Murano, home of the famous Murano Glass. We got to see a glass blowing demonstration as well, which was definitely a highlight of the trip. It's amazing how they can get the glass to form so many different shapes. Even life size insects!!
After Murano, we took another Vaporetto boat line to Burano, home of the famous Burano Lace. I absolutely loved the houses there! Everyone was a different color. I imagine that in the summer, it would be very bright and cheery.

On our last day in Venice, we headed back down to San Marco Square to go into the Basilica and into the Doge's Palace. As you can see from the picture below, Venice was having a bit of a flooding problem. They put out these boards for people to walk on, but luckily the water wasn't that high.
The Doge's Palace was a definite highlight. It was so cool to learn about the government of Venice and see where Casanova was held. He was actually a pretty awesome dude. He was held there because he was "disturbing the peace" but befriended one of the guards and was able to to get a knife from him. From there, he carved a hole in the ceiling of his cell, climbed out and hid in the rafters. He couldn't get out because the doors had been locked from the outside. So, the next morning, he waited for the guards to open the doors to the palace, and he burst out as soon as they were unlocked. He literally walked out the front door!

Below is the Golden Staircase, isn't is beautiful?

To be completely honest, Venice was not my favorite place I have visited. It was no where close to being as nice as Salzburg, I have a feeling I may like other Italian cities more. But I'm very glad I went (especially before it sinks). Belgium next!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So, it’s been an incredibly long time since I’ve updated. Almost a month! And wow, what a busy month it has been. I’m at home now – well, not home, I’m in Florida with Nana and Daddy Tom – and after some relaxation, I’m finally ready to update the blog. I’m going to update in installments, one entry per city, since I went to Salzburg, Venice and Brussels and Bruges.

My program in Bath ended December 19, and I headed to London for two days before beginning my European adventure. A friend of mine from Franklin and Marshall lives in Hampstead, and she was nice enough to let me stay with her. Victoria lives in a really nice area of London, right down the street from two of the Spice Girls (Ginger and Baby, if you’re curious). Plus, with the snow, it was extremely beautiful. A Winter Wonderland!

On the 21st, I caught an early flight to Salzburg, Austria, where I was meeting one of my really good friends from F&M, Sarah. She had been studying Copenhagen, Denmark this semester, where I had visited her over fall break. We decided we wanted to take advantage of our time in Europe and travel before heading home for winter break. There was a lot of snow when I landed in Austria, and Sarah’s flight was delayed for a few hours, but the snow just made the city that much prettier. We were especially excited for The Sound of Music Tour the next day (the only reason we went to Salzburg in the first place), but we had a wonderful time just wandering the city the first day we were there.

Towering mountains surround Salzburg, so the views are just breathtaking. There is also a large river flowing through the center, giving beautiful views of the city.

The Sound of Music Tour was definitely a highlight of my trip. It was a four hour bus tour of Salzburg and the surrounding area. They took us to see many of the sights used in the movie, with lots of fun facts about the film and the city. I highly recommend it if you ever go to Salzburg!

The picture below is the Untersberg, the mountain where Maria sings ‘The Hills are Alive,’ and below that is the lake in which Maria and the children fall out of the boat when they see the Captain and the Baroness. The back of this mansion was used as the back of the Von Trapp Villa.

And here is the famous gazebo! Sarah and I were very excited to see this, and we really wanted to sing ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen.’

The bus also took us through the Austrian countryside to see the Lakes. Isn’t it picturesque? Also, here is the church where Maria and the Captain got married. So cool!

After the tour was over, Sarah and I decided to frolic in the Mirabell Gardens, where Maria and the Children sang a large part of ‘Do Re Mi’. It was beautiful in the winter, so I can just imagine how pretty it would be in the spring and summer. I definitely want to go back!

The next day, we headed up to see the Hohensalzburg, the Salzburg Fortress, where the Prince Archbishops lived until Salzburg officially became a part of Austria in the mid 19th century.

It was a beautiful walk up there, and we had fantastic views of the city.

Afterward, we headed down to the Kriskindlemarkt and did some Christmas shopping. It was so much fun seeing all the Austrians out and about Christmas shopping. A really cool experience!

That night we also went to a large beer house in Salzburg. Of course, we had to get the big mugs! To be honest, I didn’t really like the beer, though. It was cool to just go and hang out, as the hall was just a big open room and everyone sitting at big, almost communal tables. A bunch tried talking to us, but my high school German could only get us so far!

Our last day in Salzburg included more wandering (one of our favorite activities). In our wanders, we found a Marionette Museum, which was really cool. Its amazing to think that people can control those dolls as well as sing so well! Salzburg is also the home of Mozart, so we visited his house and birthplace.

Our last full day there was Christmas Eve, so we decided that night to go to Midnight Mass at the main cathedral in Salzburg. It was a really cool experience, and we even got to see a Cardinal! My favorite part of the service was at the end, when they turned out all the lights and sang “Stille Nacht” by candlelight. ‘Silent Night’ was written in Salzburg, and so it was fitting for it to be sung there.

Salzburg ended up being one of my favorite cities in Europe, and I definitely want to go back at some point. Our next stop was Venice. Hopefully I’ll get that update on here soon!