Thursday, February 27, 2014

Test #2 and Only a Month Left in Germany

We've officially completed our second final of the course, which means we officially only have a month left in Germany. It's kind of crazy to think of how fast this time has gone by. In the beginning I felt like it was going to last forever, but now I see that time is flying by. As far as actually learning German while I've been here, that has been a success. The tests aren't too hard and the professor is really awesome, so paying attention in class and understanding what is happening is pretty easy. He will only speak in German, but it really helps with picking up the language. It's strange how much can change in the span of a few months. On the first day of class I was so intimidated and I second guessed my decision of participating in this program. Now, I can pick up on what most Germans are saying and I can communicate fairly easily. I'm glad I didn't follow my instinct on the first day and fly back to the states. Culture shock can be killer the first bit you're in a foreign country, but if you just push through it everything turns out okay.

Now the next stage of culture shock is about to happen, the culture shock of returning home. The prospect of returning home, while welcoming, is more intimidating than how I felt when I left for Germany. I am excited to get home and being back in the comfort of my family, but it's going to be strange to re-acclimate. While you are studying abroad you kind of forget that others lives keep going and things keep happening even when you aren't around. Your best friends will have inside jokes that you don't understand, some people will have changed in little ways and things won't be exactly like the way they were before you left. While leaving for a foreign country you are prepared to be thrown out of your comfort zone, in most cases, that is why you chose to travel abroad. But we seem to forget that returning home is going to be out of comfort zone as well. You will be more aware of the parts of your home country that you don't like and you will miss the little nuances of your host country. You'll be able to share your memories with your friends, but they won't be able to truly understand your experiences. In a sense, you are returning to a slightly foreign environment.

But, before I have to worry about that I have one month left here, which includes a trip to Frankfurt and Berlin. I plan to enjoy every second of it!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Paris, Day 3 the Third and Final Day

Now for the conclusion of this epic tale of adventure and travel. On the third day we once again rose at 7, had our croissant and coffee, and went to drop off our bags at Eric's (one of the students on the trip) aunts apartment. From there we went back to the Eiffel Tower and waited in line to go up to the very top. A short 30 minutes to an hour later we had our tickets. We made it to the very top; however, at the very top is extremely windy and pretty cold. Observe here...

That face says it all, folks.

We rapidly took photos of the view and the preceded back to the bottom of the Tower.



We then went to the bridge of love, aka. the bridge where everyone puts locks on the side and throws the key in to represent eternal love or whatever. Savannah and I decided to change this around a bit and got locks for ourselves. I personally put a lock on the bridge to commemorate my experience abroad and to promise myself a good and happy life, you know, the typical stuff.




With that our last event in Paris, we headed back, got our stuff and took our train back to Bad Mergentheim. Overall, this was one of the most amazing experiences I have had on the trip and I completely understand why people fall in love with Paris. Hopefully, I will make it back one day!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Paris, Day 2 cont. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame...EVERYTHING

Continuing on from Versailles…..we bought some souvenirs and headed back towards the train station. I couldn't find my ticket, so I had to quickly buy a new one and I found my old one as soon as I got on the train. Go figure, such are the trials and tribulations of travel. So, we took the train from Versailles back towards the Eiffel Tower, as that was our next stop on our whirlwind tour of Paris. As soon as we got out of the train station we could see the tip of the Eiffel Tower glancing over the buildings too look at us. Already, we were taking pictures even though you couldn't even see the whole thing. We decided to get lunch beforehand, where I had a ham and cheese crepe that was delicious! Alec ordered some escargot and he let me try a piece and, let me tell you, the French know how to make food!


After lunch, we quickly made our way to the Eiffel Tower and it is simply awe inspiring to round a corner on the street and all of the sudden there is the Tower in all of its glory. We soon realized that going up the tower was not going to happen on this day, the line was sooooooooo incredibly long. So what did we do? We took a bunch of stereotypical tourist pictures….

 You've got the typical nice smile.
The, look at the Eiffel Tower in all of it's glory!

 Am I holding it yet?
 What about now?
Why is this so hard?

 Look, mom, aren't you proud of me? I can touch the top.

Don't mind me and my super strength.

All touristy stereotypes aside, the Eiffel Tower was a sight to behold. It was built in 1889 for the World's Fair and it is still one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. It is also a gorgeous sight at night as it lights up the Paris skyline...more on that later.

After our visit to the Eiffel Tower we hopped on another train--man, that day pass came in handy--and headed in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe, Before we walked up the road to the Arc we got another chance to explore the Place de la Concorde and I was able to snap a picture of this plaque. 

In case you don't read French...this plaque is basically stating that this was named the Place de la Revolution during the French Revolution. This was also the place where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were beheaded. This also means this was the place were thousands of others were beheaded during the Reign of Terror. Yeah...no big deal. heh.

After standing in the place where so many heads rolled, we headed up the road to the Arc de Triomphe. By the time we reached the top of the road we were all pretty tired, so we just snapped a couple of pictures and headed of on our next adventure.



We then found the nearest U-Bahn and headed in the direction of the Notre Dame Cathedral. This cathedral is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. The church also holds relics such as the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails. During the French Revolution the cathedral suffered damage as it was converted to a place of worship for the Cult of Reason and the Cult of the Supreme Being. In 1845 the cathedral was completely renovated by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. In the Second World War the cathedral suffered more damages to the stained glass and some of them had to be replaced. In 1991 a major restoration project was initiated and has returned the cathedral to pristine condition. This is also the cathedral where the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte took place.

When we arrived at the cathedral there was actually a service going on and we walked through on the sides of the cathedral doing our utmost to be respectful. The inside of this place is hands down one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen and, since we arrived right as a service was starting, we were able to hear the organ be played. However, the whole time I was walking through I couldn't help but have songs from the Disney movie, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Overall, an amazing experience.

 The iconic front of the cathedral.
The beginning of the mass, literally goosebump raising.

After our full day excursion, we stopped to refuel with some nutella and banana crepes. Oh my goodness, they were heavenly, if there is something the French have over the Germans it has to be the crepes.We then went back to our hostel where we relaxed for a few moments and then were back out the door too catch a boat ride down the river to see the sights of Paris at night. It was a chilly night, but I was so excited to see everything that it did not bother me that much. On the boat you were accompanied by a prerecorded tour that let you in on little facts about each building. I had a huge moment of nostalgia as "An American in Paris" by George Gershwin played over the speakers. I was thrown back to my high school orchestra trip to the south of France where we played that exact same song at a festival. I just sat there looking at all of the things I was able to see and really appreciating the opportunities I have had in life. My one goal has been to not lead a boring life, and I think it's safe to say that I am off to a good start.




Here's to continuing an exciting life!

Paris, Day 2 Versailles

Alright, and on to day 2! This day began at the much later hour of 7 in the morning. We woke up, enjoyed a nice croissant and coffee provided by our hostel and then went out to start our day. First stop, Versailles. Now, Versailles isn't actually located within the city part of Paris. You have to take one of the S-bahn's for about 30 minutes outside of the city. Luckily, you can buy day passes from the ticket centers by the S-bahn and train stations which makes traveling really easy and affordable.

Anyways, we eventually arrived at Versailles and as soon as you get off the train there are people standing at the corners of the streets telling you which way to go from the train stop to get to the palace and you basically follow a huge group of people from the train station to the palace. In other words, it is not very difficult to find at all. It happened to be raining when we arrived, so the line to get into the palace wasn't very long. Another plus, because we have residency permits for our stay in Germany we were able to get in for free!

You're greeted by a statue of Louis XIV at the entrance to the palace.

The gates are lined with gold; however, this is not the original gold as it was all dismantled at the beginning of the French Revolution.

In 1682, King Louis XIV moved the royal family to the royal chateau of Versailles. This made Versailles the center of political power in France; however, it also distanced the royal family from the common people of France. During the reign of King Louis XVI, Versailles was seen as a hide away for the royalty while the common people were suffering. On October 6, 1789 there was the Women's March to the palace of Versailles to demand more food for the common people's family. On this day, King Louis XVI and his family were forced back to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. This was the beginning of the French Revolution. On the 21st of June 1791, Louis XVI was arrested and all of the royal families possessions were forfeited. In 1792 it was proposed at the National Convention that the furnishings of the residence be sold. In August 1793 most of the furnishings were sold to make money for the French government and only pieces of artistic merit were exempt from the sale. The gold moldings on the gates were melted down and sent to the foundry to be made into cannon and the palace was placed under control of the French Republic.

The church within Versailles.

King Louis XIV in antiquated garb.

The Hall of Mirrors.

Marie Antoinette's room. On the sides of the bed were doors that she used to escape during the Women's March.

All of these pictures demonstrate the opulent style that the royalty lived in and you can begin to understand the frustration of the millions of starving Parisians. After the French Revolution, the First Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte came into power. While Napoleon did not live at Versailles apartments were arranged for his empress Marie-Louise.

A portrait of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.



Besides the gorgeous interior of the palace there are also the massive gardens that spread out behind the palace. We did not have enough time to explore as much as we would have hoped, but we were able to snap a couple of pictures by one of the fountains.

 The fountain wasn't on because it is "winter" time.
Part of the gardens.

Once again, I was nerding out the whole time over the amount of history I was surrounded by, I couldn't comprehend half of what I was seeing. I was just trying to soak every moment in. Here is a little video that kind of gives you an idea of what it's like to be there.


video

Friday, February 21, 2014

Paris, Day 1

Time for a crazy weekend trip round 2! This weekend it was Paris and the weekend started at a pitch black 4:45 in the morning on Friday and didn't end until 11:30 on Sunday. As you might have guessed, this was a weekend packed with traveling, sightseeing, and fatigue; but, we powered through and got to see some of the sights most people never lay eyes on in the span of 78 hours. Here’s to writing a whirlwind recap of the weekend……it all began before the crack of dawn…..(queue melodramatic music and ripple effect)



On Friday we had to get up to head to Stuttgart to catch our bullet train to Paris at 8:45, or maybe it was 7:45...it’s all a blur. After a total of 8 delirious hours of travel, we finally made it to Paris at 12:30. There we met Eric’s aunt who made sure we got the right tickets for the metro and took us to our hostel. She also took us to a really great place for lunch and I had a steak with fries. I finally got the chance to satisfy my steak craving, now if only I could find a Chipotle or a Sweet by Holly.


After our lovely lunch we traveled to the Catacombs. Just to give you a little bit of background here is a baby history lesson….

Today the Catacombs hold underground ossuaries located beneath the bustling city of Paris. Just so you know the dictionary definition, an ossuary is, "a container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed," exciting stuff. This particular ossuary located in the Catacombs contains the remains of about 6 million people. Now, you have to wonder why there is enough space for all of these remains bellow the city. Well, the Catacombs were not originally designed to be an ossuary, they were actually quarries to mine the rich limestone located beneath Paris. The actual section of the quarries that the Catacombs engulfs is only about 1/800th of the actual quarries. Needless to say, these quarries span a large majority of the left bank of Paris. Now, why would the Parisians need to create an ossuary? Starting in 1130, Parisian burial grounds were beginning to overflow and, by the end of the 19th century, Paris' central burial ground was a two meter high mound filled with centuries of Parisian dead. The transfer of bodies began in the 1782 in order to make more room and to clean out the Parisian cemeteries. In the early 19th century it became a tourist attraction and it continues to mystify people today.

Some of the workers in the mines carved sculptures into the walls.



Not gonna lie, there is something really eerie about being surrounded by bones 62 feet below ground in the dark.

Once we returned to the land of the living and returned to the surface, we then made our way towards the infamous Louvre. For all of those that may be traveling to Paris in the near future, entrance to the Louvre is free on Fridays after 6:00 pm for those 26 and younger. However, when we arrived it was around 5:30, so we decided to explore the Tuileries Gardens and the Place de la Concorde which are right next to the Louvre. While walking through the Gardens we were able to catch a view of the Eiffel Tower in the sunset.


 We also too plenty of pictures on the outside of the Louvre before we went in.




Honestly, I cannot begin to encapsulate the feeling of entering the central area outside of the Louvre and having that realization that you are actually seeing it in person. It was one of the moments where I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I was overtaken by this complete feel of euphoria and I remembered why I enjoy traveling so much, for moments like these.

Anyways, now onto the big ticket event of our first night, actually going into the Louvre and seeing all of the pieces of art and history you thought you would only see on TV or in movies. We didn't have that much time, only 2 hours to be exact, but to see everything in the Louvre you need at least a day. So, we found a map and went to each of the big ticket items such as the Mona Lisa...


The Venus de Milo...


and the Coronation of Napoleon



Seeing the Coronation of Napoleon was definitely a highlight for me. Last semester I took a class on the French Revolution and even wrote a research paper on the topic, so seeing this piece set my little historians heart on fire. The Louvre is a massive museum with many priceless works and I am sad that I was only able to be there for the short time that I was, but I suppose that just means I have to come back again.

After the Louvre we returned to our hostel, took showers and passed out. Day 1 of Paris was jammed packed with some of the biggest things to see in Paris, but day 2 is even crazier.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Vienna, Only the Most Amazing City Ever

So, this weekend we went to Vienna…that’s right Vienna. That really awesome place in Austria that has been known for centuries as a hotspot for classical music? Yep, that would be the one. Needless to say, I may or may not have hardcore fangirled over some composers graves and I may or may not have drooled over some Hapsburg treasures. (Don’t worry mom, I cleaned it up and didn’t get arrested. You don’t have to bail me out of Austrian jail.) But, seriously, Vienna is an amazing city with a lot of history and beautiful sights!


On the first day we were there we went to the Shonbrunn Palace and it was gorgeous. We did not tour the inside because it was closed, but exploring the outside was more than enough. Behind the Palace were the royal gardens and, even though most of the plant life was dormant, they were gorgeous. There were several statues set up around the garden and most of them were in a classic Roman style. Further behind the palace stands the Gloriette, this was built in 1775, with several Roman-esque sculptures decorating the structure. From this building you could get a great view of the Palace with the rest of Vienna spread out in the background.





After taking many pictures there, we stumbled upon the “Roman Ruins” in the gardens. During the mid-18th century there was a Romanic movement. The Romanic movement was used to preserve the remains of the heroic past and to display the power of the great empires. However, the 18th century is also when the great powers in Europe began to decline, so the Romanic movement can be seen as the last attempt by royals to reassert their power and stability.
Anyways, these Roman Ruins were built in 1778 by Hetzendorf von Hohenberg. The “ruins” are really quite picturesque and there are figurative representations of the Danube and Enns River in the center of the pool. These ruins were built to show the stability and power of the Hapsburg dynasty. They are damaged and have dark fire markings on them. This is due to the bombings in Austria during the Second World War. I find it amazing that some of these structures are still standing when you consider the damage that was taken during the wars in Europe. So many of these structures could have been completely destroyed, but they are still standing and there has been so much time and effort put into renovating any of the buildings that took great amounts of damage.




Also found in the Schonbrunn Gardens is the Obelisk Fountain. This has to be my favorite part of the whole Palace. Marble figures are placed against rock outcroppings and it makes a beautiful contrast. I wish we could have seen it while it was working, but during the winter most fountains are turned off to prevent damage from freezing. The figures dotted around the grotto of the fountain are meant to represent river gods. The detail on some of these marble figures is absolutely amazing. The musculature is practically lifelike. The obelisk and fountain were erected in 1777 and was designed by Hetzendorf von Hohenberg. The obelisk is supported by four turtles, which represent stability, and the hieroglyphs on the obelisk were said to depict the history of the Hapsburg dynasty. However, the hieroglyphs are not necessarily accurate considering Egyptian hieroglyphs were not deciphered until 1822.






In Ancient Egypt the obelisk was seen as cosmic symbol for sun worship, but in the Baroque era the obelisk was a symbol of princely steadfastness and stability of rule. This is one of the reasons the turtles are utilized to represent the stability of the Hapsburg rule. This Obelisk Fountain was not only a beautiful work of art and architecture, but it was also constructed to convey the Hapsburg's claim to absolute and enduring power.

On the next day, Alec and I got up early to go see the Nachtsmarkt. The Nachstmarkt is like a big farmer's market, but on Saturday's they open a large flea market section. When we first arrived not much was opened, so we went to a local cafe and had one of the best omelette's I have ever had in my whole entire life. Seriously, I never thought I would rave about the quality of an omelette, but this thing was heavenly! Anyways, after stuffing our faces, we walked around the flea market and I purchased a couple souvenirs. We then took the S-Bahn back to the main station and traveled to the Zentralfriedhof. The Zentralfriedhof is Austria's main cemetery and holds more then 2,500,000 graves. Amongst those graves are some of the most famous European musicians, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and many others. Mozart is not actually buried here, but there is a memorial for him. Needless to say....I may have freaked out a little bit.







After chilling with some of the dead composers, we made our way back to the Museum District and went to the Art History Museum. We were able to see some of the treasures from the Hapsburg Dynasty and that pleased my little historians heart to no end. All in all, Vienna has been my favorite city of this whole trip.