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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Edinburgh Part II

OK everyone, sorry for the delay, but with getting started on the new semester, I didn't have a ton of time to write this.  I'm sad because I've probably forgotten some of the details about what exactly happened, but that's fine, I will get the gist of it down.

So, after the museum, we tried to find The Elephant House Cafe.  This is the place where J.K. Rowling came up with all of the characters and beginning story lines for the Harry Potter series.  We looked on the map and saw that it was right next to our hostel and we were really excited about it.  But, when we walked down the hill to our hostel, we couldn't find it.  Upon further examination of the map, we realized that it was actually on top of our hostel, on a bridge.  Once we found it we were really excited and we had some shortbread (something the Scots are very proud of, and should be) and drinks.  If had a great atmosphere and we sat there for hours.

After leaving there, we did some more exploration of Edinburgh and found St. Andrew's Square that had a marine exhibition, so obviously I needed to read up on some of my favorite marine creatures.  They even had a poster of my favorite: THE CUTTLEFISH!!!

From there, we went back to the hostel and did some internet for the first time in a few days and then we walked back over the hill and went to the Hard Rock.  Even with my membership card, it still took us about 45 to get a seat.  It was a really nice place, though!

From there we went to bed, it had been an EARLY morning and we were ready to just get to sleep.  Thankfully, our room was quiet, but there was a couple in the bed next to me sleeping with each other, but...that's not a big deal. They were quiet.

The next morning we had a late start because we knew we had the whole day (our bus to London left at 10ish) to see the rest of Edinburgh and we didn't want to spend exorbitant amounts of money.  The pound is not our friend.  It is our enemy.  It is false.  You think it's just like a Euro...or worse...like a Dollar, but IT IS NOT.  It got worse when we got to Scandinavia, though...

Well, we woke up, had a mediocre breakfast and walked our way to the castle because we wanted to beat the crowds.  It opened at 10 and we were there by 11 and it was not too busy, so that is really great.  The history of this castle was so interesting.  Mary, Queen of Scots is probably the most famous of the Scottish royalty and her son, James I united Scotland, Ireland and England for the first time.  Pretty cool stuff.  We also got to see the Scottish Crown Jewels that are older than the English ones (but not as pretty).  It was also cool because it was on top of a hill and therefore had really great views of the Scottish Highlands and surrounding city. 

This is Arthur's Seat, people climb it for fun and can see the best view of Edinburgh, we obviously did not do this.  It is really photogenic, though. :)

Us inside the castle walls.

From the castle, we walked right out the gates to the Camera Obscura.  All of the travel websites and books say that you have to do this and it is so cool and we were skeptic.  It's basically a house of illusions, we didn't think we'd be that impressed....but we were!  It was basically to coolest place I have ever been.  Obviously the pictures here do not do it justice.  It was just so cool.  There was one room that you walked into and the walls were spinning but the floor was totally stationary, but your brain must tell your legs that you are falling or something because I could not stand up straight, it was so cool.

Inside the mirror maze.  It would have been more effective if the little girls running around didn't get their hands all over it so it was easy to see which way we were supposed to go, but it was really cool just the same.

They had a computer program where you can click things like "Make me Asian" or "Show me as a baby" and this one is "Make me more manly"  I personally think that I look A LOT like Travis in this picture....and this is what I would look like if I was more manly.  I don't know what that means.

This was a room where the floor was slanted to Braden looks bigger than me.  I ripped my pants jumping around in this room, that was my second pair on the trip that I ripped.....awesome.

Another fun Camera Oscura picture.

The main event at this place is the actual Camera Obscura on top of the six story building, there is a system of mirrors and with it, the can take a 360 look around Edinburgh.  So crazy, it's like one of those things on a submarine that you put up through the water.  We had a lot of fun at this place and it was really worth the money.

After that we went back to the Elephant house and just sat around and did souvenir shopping the rest of the day. That night we got onto the night bus to London and did not sleep one wink, but meh, we were in London, so it wasn't a big deal.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Maria and I left at 7:15 to travel our way down to Bayern (Bavaria) and to Nürnberg to visit or friend from our freshman orientation group, Megan Lusty.  She is currently studying in Liverpool, U.K. and is on her vacation and doing her break like Braden and I did.  We were travelling on a holiday, so we were the only ones on our first two trains, so, naturally, we needed to take some fierce train photos because we spent so much of our time in Europe on these damn things!

After (finally) getting to Nürnberg, Megan met us on our track and we started walking around the city.  It was a beautiful day (about 75) and the trees were just starting to get full with leaves and it was really starting to look fantastic.  I wish I  could have seen all of the European cities like I saw Nürnberg, but I'm glad that I got to see them at all (and reasonably priced, too).

We thought the only thing that was gonna be open was the Easter Market, but thankfully that was not the case, it seemed like most tourist shops and food places were open, so we were able to sit at a cafe for a while.  We did, of course, walk through the Easter Market and make some small purchases.  I bought Braden and owl on a stick and myself some USA stuff for the 4th and the soccer game!!  SO EXCITED!!!!

After sitting down to lunch for a while and just chatting we moved on, but, of course, not before someone saw my Concordia bag and told me they graduated from Concorida, St. Paul and his friend from NDSU.  SMALL WORLD.  Crazy.  On our slow meander back to the train station, we happened upon.....a....FLASH MOB!!!  I have always wanted to see one of these...it's kinda funny because all of my little dreams that you don't think will ever come true are kinda happening. It was a Jesus flash mob (it being Easter), but the music was cool and the dancing was fun.  All ages, races, sexes, so cool.  I loved it and couldn't stop smiling for a while.

After the flash mob and some more food, we just walked about Nürnberg for the rest of our time and enjoyed each others company!

Maria would like to say that she is not Mexican.


It was so great seeing Megan and Maria and I just had such a great day.  We got a lot of homework for the upcoming weeks done on the long train rides and even saw Easter bunnies on the way home through the park.  It was just a beautiful and wonderful day.  Probably the warmest and most relaxed Easter of my life (last year I was at Nationals for Easter....)


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Weekend

I know this is out of sequence (by a lot), but this happened today and I feel like writing right now, so I will.  I will finish Edinburgh and from there London-Prague as well hopefully within the next few days and load them up periodically throughout the next few weeks.

So, Easter weekend started on Wednesday night when Yvonne and I went to the Exchange Student Semester Start Up Party.  We had a great time and I took a picture of our friend, Kari, who was here last year with me so she could relive her Jena days.  I hung out with my usual gang of Irish and Italians and had an overall good time, here are some shots ;)

In the Strassenbahn with the Kari picture

"On the Floor" w/ Kari

Roisin (IRE), Hyejin (S.Korea), Doireann (IRE)

Paul (IRE), Christian (Spain), Me, Filipo (Italy)

Following the fun on Wednesday, we all went and "studied" in Paradies Park on Thursday, went to a Gegenwartsliteratur class and then watched "Glee" and "Modern Family" at April's after eating some delicious baked ziti for Rodina Night!

The next day, Friday, the gang and I went out to Paradies Park right outside out apt building and we sat in the sun and played (or failed at) volleyball and read and were happy.  That night Braden and I had a Grey's Anatomy marathon and finished season 4 that we started in Amsterdam.  We will be starting season 5 when I finish this.

On Saturday we started out really lazy and just did some homework in the courtyard which is when we realized that we were about the only people in the apt complex and we were really happy about that and to take advantage of it we decided to grill.  While Braden and April went shopping, I watched (and loved) "Rio"

When they got back, we got to work.  We pulled out Maria's kitchen tables and put them outside, got the grill going and got out the beer.  In addition to it being Easter weekend, it was also National Beer Day in Germany on Saturday, so I even mixed myself a Radler (beer+Sprite) and drank that to feel festive.  We got the cards out and played "31" (thanks Sam and Brandon).

This happened a lot throughout the evening.

We took a break from cards and got food ready (I did the burgers) and got them on the grill and resumed play for a while.  Of the rounds, I won 2 and Braden won 1.   Haha, Braden, Haha.  From there we ate dinner and it was really good and really filling.  I also brought corn and green beens and we had wurst and chips.  SO GOOD!  

After dinner, I got the Easter eggs we had purchased and set out hiding them!

Under my air-drying bed spread (Maria's)

In a pile of rocks (Braden's)

In a tree (Maria's)

They all dutifully looked for their eggs.

There was not fair play, though.  First, April took Yvonne's egg thinking that it was Braden's.  Before that though, to no one's knowledge, Braden had already hidden one of April's in his pocket.  I then stopped Braden from taking Maria's from the tree, but that DQed Maria because then she didn't even find her own egg.  A chase for Yvonne's egg soon ensued.

April had his it down her dress.

Soon, the game was over and we were all friends again.

After that we had a nice night of chatting and being just happy.  It was a good Easter weekend.  My next post will be actual Easter Day!  :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Edinburgh - The City of Harry Potter's Creation!!!

So, why would people want to go to Edinburgh?  I think two reasons.  The first is obvious, it is gorgeous.  It doesn't have a big city feeling and the surrounding area (the highlands) are breathtaking.  The second is a little more personalized.  The cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote her ideas on napkins in the early days of Harry Potter is right in downtown!!!!  Well, Justin, did you eat there?  To that I say, YES!!  TWICE!!!!!  More on that, later.

We got into Edinburgh and I had to go to an ATM to get out some cash (I needed pounds).  For some reason, it didn't like my card, so I had to change what Euro I had left.  It was a sad day.  Watching the Euro disappear into small pounds hurt my heart.  I had enough to get by for the day, though, and could try a different ATM later.  We got onto a bus and into the front window seat and we drove into downtown Edinburgh.  It was so cool and the castle dominates the skyline.  We soon realized that we would be walking up hills pretty much the entire time we were there.  I, for one, was not happy about this, but knew it was inevitable.

It felt like about 6pm when we got there, but it was noon.....ugh.  We were tired.  We had gone through a time change not in our favor to get there and were ready for bed, but we knew we need to get some exploration down.  We asked the hostel people where a good place to eat lunch was and they pointed us to something called "Mom's Comfort Food".  It lived up to its name.  Our waiter was really nice and the food was fantastic and not too expensive.  I had a gingerbread shake.  Ummm....delicious!!!!!

I had Chicken Rosemary Pie (with homemade chips)!!

After that, we went across the street to the Scottish History museum where we had a blast and saw some really cool things all for free :)

This is Dolly, the sheep.  She was made in Edinburgh! (things I didn't know)

They had really cool exhibitions on the creation of Scotland with the tectonic plates explaining the hills and all that.   Also, the history of animals on the island and how they all came over from the mainland when it was still attached to Europe and have since died off from over-hunting years ago.  I also liked that Scotland created the steam engine.  There were exhibitions on the Scottish royal family and the early Scots as well.  Overall, for free, it was a very fun museum!

I'm going to take a break from writing this to eat some rice, now. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Break and Lux

We got onto the train EARLY from Paris to Frankfurt, but we made it and we settled nicely into our seats on the familiar ICE German train.  As soon as we took off, the woman checking tickets started to come around and make sure that we were all valid for the journey.  There was a man who thought he was going to make it all the way to Germany without being asked for a ticket apparently because he didn't have one.  When the ticket woman asked for his passport, he didn't have that, either.  Great!  So, they called the authorities at the next stop and he was made to stand by the door the entire ride until we got to the border of France.  Around the border to Germany, the German police came onto our train car and started asking everyone for their passports.  By everyone, I of course mean non-white people.  It felt like Arizona, but the racial profiling wasn't to Mexicans, it was to Middle Easterners.  But, I'm not going to knock it because it worked.  Three people from our train car were without passport.  The police man explained that they were having a lot of trouble with Afghanis trying to get into the country, and that was the reason for the asking.  However, Braden and myself were never once questioned and they carted away 3 Middle Eastern men without passports (including the man without a ticket).

With an eventful morning behind us, we were excited to get into our old stomping grounds of Frankfurt am Main.  When I say that, it's with disdain, as some of you may remember (from a post called, "Yeah'), Frankfurt is where my friends and I were robbed by a Romanian Neo-Nazi.  We stayed inside the train station and had McDonald's and Starbucks, though, so no harm done. 

From there we went to Jena and I repacked and watched some Desperate Housewives (which I secretly am caught up with).   I was also able to meet up with some of my friends from Jena that were about to go home that I would probably never see again. 

From Jena (actually, I think from Erfurt) we left again to Luxembourg.  We were on the train almost all day, but that's fine.  Neither of us were SUPER excited to see the city, it was more of a "let's check off a country" sort of thing.  We did get to ride through the Rhine River Valley...and let me tell you, it was beautiful even in early spring.  I would imagine it is stunning with the grapes and the leaves.  

When we got into Luxembourg the tourist office was closed and I couldn't find us a map anywhere.  I had no idea at all where the hostel was and I hadn't even Google mapped our way there, which is something I always do.  So, that was kinda a fail.  Thankfully, we had the address and it told us which bus to take.  When we got to the bus driver, even though all the signs were in French and the man probably spoke English, I decided it would be a good idea to speak to him in German...why?  Because.  I'm smrt.  Well, I totally mis-pronounced "einzelfahrt" (one-way ticket) and his didn't understand me at all until Braden, laughingly, corrected me.  He doesn't love me.  He just likes to show how much better at German he is than I am.  Well...regardless, we bought the ticket and got off on the right stop.  From there, we walked around to a school and a restaurant that smelled fantastic and then down a hill until we finally found the place.  We had to wait in a long line, but we got into our room and all was perfect.

After getting settled, we decided (reluctantly at first) that we needed to go out and explore at least a little bit.  I mean...we'd probably never come back to Luxembourg....ever.  So, off we stole into the night for some food and adventure.  The city walls are still in tact and our hostel was at the bottom of them and everything in the town was onto of a hill.  So....what has become my personal FAVORITE pass-time, we climbed a steep hill.  For some reason, this one really hit me and I was super light headed until we got into a Pizza Hut (yay!) and ate.

After dinner, we explored some of the city.  All of this was at night, so the pictures aren't fantastic, but this is what we saw of Luxembourg.

It's a super cute little city with lots of hills and walkways for pedestrians.  I suppose it wouldn't be a terrible place to live...there isn't much to visit, though.  In any case, I got my postcard when we got back to the hostel and off we went to bed.  And, after Madrid, we really didn't want to have another hostel story...but we do.  Luxembourg was one of our other bad hostel nights.  After we had been sleeping for about an hour, a man walked in and turned on the light, for like 20 minutes, while he was getting his stuff together for bed.  It was really annoying, but bearable.  It wasn't to the Irishman who was sleeping in the bed below the one the man was getting ready for bed.  He began to yell at the man to turn off the light.  The man, who was Indian, said that he would then be unable to see (they have such proper English).  A fight ensued, but the Indian man just climbed up into his bed.  From there, he said, "someone can please turn off the light now."


Well, we all know how the Irishman just LOVED that.  He threw a fit but ended up getting up himself and turning off the light.  The Indian man the preceded to fall asleep and snore LOUDLY all night.  The Irishman incessantly kicked his bed, but he never roused.  It was not the best night of sleep, but we were only there until about 5AM, so it wasn't a big deal.

In hindsight, this is the place that I should have just stolen bedsheets from and saved myself like $30...but, I'm not that smart.