25 August 2007

London & Back Across the Pond

Oh man...after a very rainy 3 days in Paris, I have arrived back into my favoritest city in the entire world, LONDON! And it's sunny here! Woowoo! We are spending the day here - reuniting with our old London friends - and having a jolly barbecue before heading back home across the pond tomorrow at noon.

Unfortunately, Paris was a bit of the bust, seeming as the rain prevented us from doing all the sightseeing and taking all the beautiful pictures we had hoped. However, we spent an awesome evening at the Louvre museum Wednesday night - they have late night at the Louvre on Wednesdays and Fridays - and took a plethora of pics from La Tour Eiffel as well as Notre Dame.

As always, we gorged on baguettes and Nutella - and had a lovely lunch under the Eiffel Tower with baguette sandwiches and a bottle of wine. We played A LOT of Gin Rummy over the past few days and decided our only option is to come back to Paris to enjoy it under better conditions. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Enjoy the Parisian pictures!

The best meal of the trip: a Nutella & banana crepe under the Eiffel Tower!

One of my favorite sculptures in the word: Psyche & Cupid by Canova.

Hope to see you all or talk to you all before I leave for Thailand on Friday! Yikes, Friday! Oh man, going home is not going to be pretty. I have 5 days to get my entire life together. We'll see how this goes...

24 August 2007

Another Rainy Day in Paris

Actually, that should be another TWO rainy days in Paris. It has rained - and by rain, I actually mean downpoured) in Paris since we arrived. Ironically, it is supposed to be a beautiful weekend. Too bad we leave tomorrow morning :(

But, in true American fashion, we have made up for this travesty by consuming loads and loads of baguettes, Nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut spread - YUM!), pain au chocolat pastries and of course, coffee! We have also seen the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Le Opera - but let's be real, it's all about the food here in Paris!

To make up for our sadness over not getting to wear our cute dresses we bought just for Paris, we bought more dresses and did more shopping. Oops! I'm still not sure quite how it happened, but I now realize Paris is not called the shopping capital for nothing!

Off to enjoy the rest of Europe before back to London, then back home on Sunday. Au revoir!

22 August 2007

Rainy Day in Paris

After anticipating the City of Love for two weeks, buying cute new dresses from Zara (an adorable European clothing store) and spending the night sleeping in the Munich airport, Megan and I get to Paris and it is raining - steadily raining. As if we didn't get our fair share of downpours in Austria already (check the previous post if you don't know what I am talking about), Paris has decided to drench us again.

But....this is Paris people, and no matter what, Paris will not break our spirits! So what are two American girls to do who have 5 hours to burn before they can check into their hotel? Drink an espresso and eat a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) of course! Megan and I spent two hours sipping fine French coffee, eating delectable pastries and playing about a hundred games of Gin Rummy - a new obsession for us.

Now we are making a quick Internet stop before we can finally check into our hotel - which is absolutely adorable! We are less than a 5 minute walk from the Champs Elysees and once this rain goes away (we will make it go away!), we can already tell we are going to love Paris!

After our treacherous hike in the Alps, we took it easy our last two days in Salzburg to say the least. For the record, both of us are still sore from the hike - especially when there are stairs involved! We just walked around Salzburg, enjoying the happy atmosphere of the town, which is still in full force - raining or not. We met Ted and Tyler at our hostel - who happened to be wearing Minnesota shirts but lived in Wisconsin, and Ted even graduated this past spring from UW-Madison on the exact same day as me. Crazy coincidences! We also met two girls from Australia and another guy from Canada and started a nice global game of Gin Rummy. Did I mention we are slightly obsessed with the game?

Off to pray for the rain to stop and to brush up on my French. Au revoir!

P.S. The Parisians are so chic - it puts America to shame!

20 August 2007

A Day in the Austrian Alps

Now, many of you may be thinking - I wish I could spend a glorious day hiking in the Austrian Alps just like Maria Von Trapp and all those Austrians. Well, before you let those words enter your head, you may want to continue reading to find out what the REAL Austrian Alps are like. This isn´t going to be pretty people. I warn you now.

Yesterday, after awaking from a lovely day in Salzburg, Megan and I were as excited as ever to get hiking in beautiful rolling hills and mountains that surround us looking outside our window - partially because we like to hike, partially because its about time we burned off the pretzels, beer and bakery goods we have gorged on so far. We dressed ourselves in cute little hiking outfits and set out for Untersburg - the famous mountain which opens the movie, The Sound of Music.

After dropping the other Meg off at the train station (she was heading off to Italy to meet her boyfriend Will for the week), Megan and I set off on our journey up the mountain.

Our first challenge came navigating the city bus system. The Information lady - conveniently located right across the street - gave us no help to get to Untersburg but with the help of an adorable (and well-dressed) elderly lady, we were able to make it to the base of the mountain with really no problem. We should have forseen the difficulties ahead.

We bought a map and found Reitsteg - a trail for slightly experienced climbers - on the other side of the mountain. We asked information at Untersburg how to get there, and the lady told us to take bus 35 - it would drop us off right where we needed to go. Reitsteg was not too far, so Megan and I walked without difficulty to a trail which meets with Reitsteg.

At this point, we are feeling pretty jolly. We are finally hiking in the Alps (on Maria Von Trapp´s mountain nonetheless) when suddenly, the trail we are supposed to meet up with has a large, 10-foot barbed wire fence protecting its entrance. Here is where the story starts my friends. There was no choice but to hop it, and hop it we did.

From here we found Reitsteg with ease and set up the mountain. Not even 15 minutes into the climb did we soon find Untersburg to be steep. Not just steep - but straight up the mountain, vertical, up and down, don´t fall backwards unless you want to tumble 15 feet down into a tree, steep. So, a mere 5 or 10 minutes into our hike, we had to stop for water because we were panting. Yes, panting.

However, both being the stubborn people we are, Megan and I were determined to make our way the 3.5 hours up the mountain. As we traversed bridges, wooden steps, tree trunks and rocky trail, we got into a groove and soon found ourselves making good progress. About an hour or so into the hike, the trees became less dense and the view we saw set us on an adrenaline rush towards the top.

(***Note: The pretty, blue sunny skies.)

After more than 3 hours of hiking, we started nearing the top of Untersburg. Everywhere around us we got spectacular views of Salzburg and the beautiful mountainous surrounding areas. I have never been so high or marveled so much as the Austrian landscape. At this point, our legs ached, our butts hurt, and we were still out of breath, but the views made our journey up the mountain completely worth it.

Now...as we started nearing the top, there were some clouds accumulating. Per Weather & Climate class freshman year, I chalked these clouds up to the fact that a lot of times there are clouds over mountains, because all the air gets pushed up over the mountain than dissipates. I blame what happens next on Professor Ackerman.

The air started getting heavy, and it looked like storms could roll through. So, after making it just about to the top, we made the smart, common sense decision to head back down the mountain, seeing as we still had to hike down the entire way we hiked up. It seemed to be getting darker with every passing second, so we tried to hurry a bit (still being safe of course) down the mountain.

Here is the top of the mountain - which you can´t see due to stormy skies.

No less than 10 minutes down the mountain, to our left appears a huge, ginormous rain cloud - which you cannot see through. At all. Then, we start feeling some sprinkles, and at this point, are just hoping the rain keeps off until we get down. Could we have been more wrong?

Suddenly, out of nowhere, it starts raining. I am not talking sprinkles or even a nice shower. I am talking downpour, torrential rain - severe thunderstorm worthy. Now just remember, we have just hiked 3.5 hours up a vertical mountain which means we need get down - on a vertical! Did I mention storm sirens were going off?

Now, we are getting worried because we have at least an hour or two before getting down the mountain and the rain is NOT letting up. Megan is soaked to the bone, I am drenched (and I have our hiking backpack on underneath my pullover as to protect our cameras and other valuables we brought along). So, in other words, I look like a pregnant lady and are hiking down Untersburg - which seems like such a happy place in The Sound of Music. Not for us!

For the next 1.5 hours, Megan and I faced a steady torrential downpour of rain as we are navigating stairs, mudslides, waterfalls and a collection of slippery treats for us, making our way down Maria´s mountain. Now, I try to describe this scene for you, but just imagine the worst rainstorm you have ever been in. Now throw in hiking down a mountain in the Austrian Alps. At one point, I swear to you, we prayed to our Lord (Thank you Jesus!) to get us down the mountain safe, because one little misstep could have sent either of us down a 20 foot drop at any moment. Not to mention the lightning right above our heads every so often.

After sustaining some injuries (minor bruising, minor cuts and extremely sore legs), Megan and I did make it safely down the mountain. Now, I do not know how we made it - seeming as the entire mountain was foggy with rain (we could not see 10 feet in front of us), washed over with tidal pools of water and we may be the two clumsiest people we know. After 5 hours of hiking, I have never been so happy to see land in my entire life.

Soaked with rain and looking like drowned rats, we walked through town and could have swore the locals were saying, 'Look at those two dumb American girls - hiking Untersburg in the middle of a thunderstorm.' Two extremely nice cars stopped and offered us rides, but being the two smart American girls we are, we declined and found the bus station. Cold, freezing and wondering exactly how we got to this place.

To make matters worse, the sun decided to come out. Nuff' said.

We sat at the bus station for a half an hour before the number 21 bus finally came. We stepped on the bus - drenched, shivering and covered with mud, leaves and tree branches. Another hour later, we finally arrived back at the hostel only to find our window had been left open and guess whose belongings were right under than window? Mine.

At this point, Megan and I were so excited to be alive. We first took long (very long) hot showers, washed off our clothes then set in search of food. Needless to say toda, we are nursing sore legs, cuts and bruises but damn it, we are alive and kicking!

Take that Maria Von Trapp!

Fast forward to Salzburg

Alright...here is the real story. Ever since we arrived in Munich, well, things have gotten (to say the least) a bit crazy. Between sneaking into soccer games (which is extremely dangerous being the Europeans love their football!), running through fountains, taste tasting the finest brews of Bavaria, eating our weight in pretzels (you would too if they were covered with chocolate!), enjoying shopping the latest European fashions, visiting Dachau Concentration Camp (an amazing experience everyone should have) and gallavanting around the city, Munich may just be a trip that words cannot do justice for, even from me.

It might just be easier for me to fast forward the trip to Salzburg - my new favorite European city and home to our friend and legendary composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Here is the view of Salzburg from the Museum of Modern Art - located conveniently on a very big hill outside town. Salzburg may just be the happiest little city I have ever been too. Everyone here is immaculately dressed - I mean 85 year old women are trucking it around town here looking 10 times as classy and good as me!

It is a charming, more quaint city with just a population of about 150,000 people. Twice that number (300,000) of people visit here every year! Best of all, Salzburg is home to one of the best movies ever made: The Sound of Music! Naturally, there was no option for us but to take The Sound of Music tour and live the life of Maria Von Trapp!

Now...if you are a true Sound of Music fan, you will know this is exactly the archway Maria danced through with the children as the belted my favorite Sound of Music song...Do-Re-Mi!

After The Sound of Music tour and belting out every song there is from the movie (I mean, did you expect anything less from me?), we walked around the city and took in all the beautiful gardens, picturesque buildings and enjoyed a beer at one of Salzburg´s biggest 'biergartens' - complete with an apple strudel of course!

Here is Megan, Bridget, me, Noah and Megan coming to you straight from the Lake District where The Sound of Music got all their breathtaking scenery in the beginning of the movie!

18 August 2007

Picture time!

I won´t lie to you all, we have been seeing so much, doing so much and eating so much (heavy on the eating) that I have not posted on here like I should. I don´t have much time today but here are a couple snapshots of the journey. Enjoy, and I should post a longer summary of Munich and Salzburg (which is my new favorite European city!) in the next day or two!

Here are my new favorite German treats: schneebollens! 'Snowball' in German, they are deep fried dough topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, cappuccino...you name it!

Outside Allianz Arena...home to FC Bayern Munich (before we lied and snuck into the game)! Well worth it!

Enjoying a liter (yes, a liter!) at the world famous beer hall....the Hofbrauhaus! (By the way, beer is only sold by the liter there!)

Check back for most posts soon!

17 August 2007

Munich, Munich, Munich...

Oh...I don´t even know where to start with this post! We have been crazy monkeys these past couple of days!

Since leaving the cutest little town ever, Rothenburg, we headed south to Bavarian country and arrived in Munich (a.k.a. München) on Wednesday. Well, needless to say I wasted no time getting down to business here in beer country.

Our very first stop was the Hofbrauhaus - the famous beer hall that serves over 10,000 liters (yes, liters!) of beer a day! After hanging out there for a couple hours (or 8), Noah and I heard there was a FC Bayern Munich versus FC Barcelona soccer (a.k.a. football here) game that night at 6pm. On a whim, we headed down to Allianz Arena and well, to make a long story short, couldn´t get tickets, walked around for an hour a half, met a dad and son who left the game, gave us their tickets and snuck into the game and made it for the second half! The longer version will come later when I have more time! It´s seriously hilarious!

We found that shopping in Munich has been the best cure as it has rained here on and off the past few days. Munich is surprisingly fashionable, and we could not resist spending more money than we should have adding to our wardrobes! We´ve also visited all the sites, including St. Peter´s Church, Virtualienmarkt (a market area) and Marienplatz (the city center). Today, we also went to Dachau Concentration Camp which was absolutely amazing! More on that later!

I am going to write in more detail later, I promise as well as post lots and lots of photos! Otherwise, take care, sit tight and I promise you will be getting a much better blog post here soon! Auf wiedersein!

14 August 2007

Let the eating begin!

Let´s be real...a true German meal doesn´t start with food, it starts with beer! Yesterday we landed in Frankfurt with the hunger of a wild beast and wasted no time finding this cute German restaurant located right on a boat and had our first quintessential German meal: sausage, ham, wurst, cheese, bread and lots and lots of sauerkraut!

Now, this is a German meal! Today we arrived in Rothenburg (pronounced Row-ten-burg), which is a medieval city located right in the heart of Germany. During the Roman Empire, it was the 10th largest city in the world! It is definitely smaller today but absolutely adorable! It is a walled city that looks like it popped right out of a storybook!

Here is the special of the day at a local cafe: two wursts on top of späetzle (which is very similar to macaroni noodles) under a ladle of lentils. Two words: dee-lish! It was all washed down by a nice Pilsner beer (which is a lager - my beer knowledge is slowly growing) and was definitely the most tasty meal yet!

Here is one of the absolutely adorable side streets in Rothenburg. It is filled with shops, hotels, cafes and so much more. For dessert, I enjoyed a Bienenstich, which is a cookie topped with nougat, almonds, marmalade, creme and who knows what, all dipped in chocolate! Words clearly cannot describe.

If I come back 50 pounds heavier, you all will know why. Off to explore more of Rothenburg! More to come later as we venture onto Munich tomorrow...watch out!

13 August 2007

Wilkommen a Germany!

Guten tag everybody!

We have left our humble beginnings in London and have landed in the land of beer and the autobahn...GERMANY! After nearly missing our flight and literally running through Stansted airport to our gate, we have arrived in Frankfurt and wasted no time finding some delicious German fare!

Because of our crazy traveling, I had eaten nothing but a banana and handful (or four) of peanut M&Ms all day! So, we set out in search of some good ol' German food - meat, beer, cheese and strudel of course! We walked around a bit, realized our hotel, although right across the street from the train station, is also right in the middle of Frankfurt's red light district!

We finally found a cute restaurant right on the water in the middle of a boat! We first ordered a round of beers before settling on a meat (wurst, ham and salami) and cheese platter paired with good thick German bread and tomatoes to start with. Our waitress was absolutely marveled at the speed in which we wolfed it down! Then I decided to try bockwurst - which pretty much tastes like a Polish sausage but was oh so much better! With a little mustard, the bockwurst was perfection!

Of course, things would not be complete without some strudel so I took the lead and ordered a Apfelstrudel de Vanille - otherwise known as apple strudel with vanilla ice cream. It was quite possibly one of the best desserts this girl has had in awhile!

In Frankfurt, we also met up with Megan's sister Bridget and brother-in-law Noah so we have some new traveling partners for the next leg of our trip! Everyone is pretty tired so we're going to head to bed so we can get up early tomorrow and head off to Rothenburg - a small town right in the middle of Germany. As long as it has more meat and strudel, I am a-ok!

12 August 2007

How I love Londontown!

We are already on day 4 of the trip, and I do NOT want to leave London tomorrow! Although, we are heading off to Germany tomorrow morning for some beer drinking, liederhosen wearing, wurst eating fun! Woowoo!

The gang has spent the last days walking all around London, and I mean all around! I seriously think we average 12 miles a day walking around the city - no lie! On Saturday, we walked around East London and saw the Tower Bridge (featured oh so lovely below), St. Paul's Cathedral and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

We also took a tour of the less traveled East End of London. West London is, for most people, the only place to go - it has all the palaces, sites, sounds and entertainment most people want to see when they come here.

The East End is the blue collar, working man's part of town but has sooo much history! We walked down Brick Lane (the London center for both fashion and Indian curry), visited Spitalfield's Market (maybe the best, most eclectic market London offers) although we didn't see much because it was closed - bad timing on my part!) and jaunted through a lesser known part of town. But it did have a classic English telephone booth!

Today, surprise, surprise, we did more walking! I kid you not, my feet have never been so tired or sore in my life! We have been booking it around this city, but it has all been worth it, especially to visit Covent Garden where we went today.

Covent Garden is probably one of my most favoritest places in all of London. It has everything a girl could ask for - a market (Jubilee Market), shopping (the possibilities are endless!), yummy food (cookies, cakes, pastries, bakeries), street performers, theatre (any Broadway show you could want), people all around and of course, a carousel!

We walked from Covent Garden to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, which are the heart of London. Then we headed down to Trafalgar Square and decided to go to the National Gallery, which is the best art museum in London, featuring artists from the 1200's to 1900's including Botticelli, Cezanne, Renoir, Monet, da Vinci - you name it! Unfortunately we did not get very far as we found an extremely comfy sofa and sat for over an hour resting out feet before deciding it was time to get food!

Meg, Meg, Will and I decided it was only right we indulge in a hearty English meal before leaving for Germany so we found a pub and ordered the heartiest fare we could find. Yours truly ordered the Ploughman's Lunch - a large wooden board stocked with an apple, salad, butter, crusty baguette, apple chutney, ham and English White Cheddar! It was, needless to say, delicious!

Now we are resting up before going to go out enjoy London for a last night before our German adventure begins!

10 August 2007

Jolly ol' London

Cheers everyone!

I have arrived in my very favoritest city in the world: LONDON! After many hours of traveling, two of my bestest friends, Megan #1 and Megan #2 (to ward off confusion), and I made it to London yesterday morning. Quite frankly, I feel as though I never left - everything is so wonderfully familiar, and I could not be a happier gal at the moment.

Yesterday, we got a personal tour of Wimbledon, aka the holy grail of tennis. Megan #1's boyfriend Will has worked at Wimbledon the past two summers so he gave us a nice little tour. They are undergoing a lot of construction to build new courts and retractable roof on Centre Court (hence the construction wear we are oh so fashionably sporting in this picture). After the tour, we rested for a bit before we grabbed a pint with Will and a bunch of his British chums who work with him at Wimbledon at the pub. Needless to say, I am a sucker for the British accent!

Today we spent the day walking all around London. It's been a couple years since I have been here, and today I clearly thought I remembered London better than I actually did! I got us lost a few times, but I mean come on, we got to see the real backstreets of London. So what if we saw the same backstreet 5 times?

We walked all around Hyde Park then stopped in for a quick visit to Harrod's, realized everything was ridiculously out of our price range and were determined to find something a bit cheaper. We stopped by Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (seen here in this lovely photo) and then decided our poor feet needed a break. Tonight, we are going to grab a bite then see where the night takes us!

07 August 2007

Practice Run

Since I am quite new to this 21st century blogging thing, I thought I would make a nice little run of it by blogging my European jaunts over the next 2 1/2 weeks.

Yes, I know I am crazy - hopping across the pond for several weeks, returning back to the U.S. before parading off to Bangkok, Thailand for the next 8 months of my life to teach English, but hey, as they say, go big or go home, right?

So, tomorrow I am off to enjoy the wondrous shopping of London, taste test the best of the brews through Germany, stuffing my face with strudel (cherry, almond, apricot...I don't discriminate) in Austria and then sipping coffee (looking very Parisian of course) at sidewalk cafes all around Paris. Along the way, I hope to blog and post photos so I hope you all enjoy!

01 August 2007

Well...am I crazy?!?!

If all goes as planned, yours truly, Holly Anne Whittlef, will be headed to Bangkok, Thailand come September 3rd to educate the young 1st & 2nd grade minds of Sarasas Witaed Saimai Ektra School on the outskirts of Bangkok for 8 months.

Last Thursday, I was offered a teaching position at the school and yesterday, gladly accepted. Now I am busy getting transcripts, documents, police clearance certificates and visas all ready before I leave for a European jaunt in one week. Needless to say, my mind is running about a million or two miles an hour these days.

I'm crossing my fingers I can get everything together, book my flight, make this thing happen and maintain my sanity all at the same time! Off to a good start so far!

Let's hope for the best!