I know, it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy! Second semester has been full of travels, visitors, and a Formula One race! I plan to sum up my travels in one long post to make up for laziness throughout the semester.
First trip to speak of is the one I took right after first semester ended, in February. I’ll be brief, because I know Megan talked a little about the first part of our journey in one of her own posts (The start of a new semester). First off, France is beautiful. Even in the cold, snowy weather of February I was open-mouthed at the castles and towns we visited in the Loire Valley. It was also a special treat to stay with one of the girls I had lived with until December, who lives in Tours. She took us around the city of Tours, introduced us to her friends, and sent us off to cute towns with big castles via train. We took an extremely long train ride to get to Tours, and although it was comfortable I wouldn’t recommend using the train unless you plan on getting a pass. It was really expensive for the six hour journey through France, and I believe flying would have been a smarter choice in this situation. The train system was excellent to get around France once you’re there, but I recommend flying into Paris first.
As for our stay with my French friend, I was amazed at how well all of her friends spoke English. They all were constantly apologizing for their “terrible English” but I could easily hold a conversation with them. My knowledge of French is limited to “I don’t speak French” “Hello” and “Goodbye,” a very limited conversation, that would be. Although, they were happy to help me struggle through learning a little more vocabulary while I was there.
For touristy advice, I highly recommend visiting Chenonceaux, Amboise, and the city of Tours, although I’m sure they’d all be more spectacular in the spring or summer. The gardens in February were quite sparse, and I was disappointed I couldn’t stroll through them surrounded by beautiful flowers. Although the castles themselves contain quite a bit of history, and I learned a lot from the self-guided tours we took. Also, in Amboise, the Da Vinci house is certainly worth a visit. It’s referred on the little brown signs strewn about the town as “Clos de Luce” and it has a large yard and really interesting replicas of Da Vinci’s designs.
From Tours I went off to Paris to meet friends. In February, Paris is freezing. I had been to Paris before, in June, and had walked everywhere. However, if visiting in the winter, I highly recommend an itinerary full of indoor activities and good knowledge of the metro system. I was happiest strolling in the warmth of the Lourve throughout my visit. From Paris, it was off to Rome, my first time in the historical city.
Rome is incredible. You can walk everywhere, the metro system only has two uncomplicated lines, you practically stumble upon ruins everywhere you go, and delicious pizza is extremely tasty and ubiquitous. The only problem I had in Rome was the fact that it snowed while we were waiting in line to get into St. Peters, and I had to walk through the church in soaking wet Converse and jeans. Although, I don’t believe this type of weather is typical, so I wouldn’t pack for snow when you visit. There always seems to be something new to learn there and a friend of mine went back twice after our initial visit.
After these travels, my boyfriend and a good friend were coming to visit for their spring break. I was super excited to show them around Spain and my new home. We spent a short day in Madrid when they first arrived, then off to Santander. During the week we went to the Picos de Europa national park, where it was unfortunately chilly and rainy. The teleferico (cable car) was out of operation due to the wind and we were all quite disappointed. Due to this though, we did visit an amazing little town in Asturias called Llanes. It sits on the coast with the edge of the Picos right behind it. Although the town was practically empty, it was fun to walk around and look into the shops and cafes. There is an excellent walk along the coastline that is all grass and is situated right on top of the cliffs. We also tried the famous sidra (alcoholic cider) of Asturias, but none of us enjoyed it. We did enjoy, however, the drive into and out of the Picos de Europa, which runs along a small river through the mountains. It’s extremely narrow and twisty, and if you don’t get stuck behind a tour bus, is a fun drive full of scenery and tight curves.
After my friend and boyfriend departed, I spent only four more days in Santander and then off on an adventure around Europe for Semana Santa. For the Easter break, we got 10 full days off from class. I took full advantage of this long vacation and traveled to Düsseldorf, Germany; Tilburg and Amsterdam in Holland; London, England; and Dublin, Ireland. Two days in Düsseldorf were spent alone, while one friend of mine joined me for Holland, then another joined us for London and Dublin.
First off, Düsseldorf. I really enjoyed strolling around the city. The river Rhine runs along the edge of it and there is an excellent walk along the water with restaurants and boating tours. The city is known for its art and architecture because of the Frank Gehry buildings (Frank Gehry is the famous architect who designed the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao) and large assortment of museums. Unfortunately, as I was there in the off-season, most of the museums were being renovated and were closed. I did however peek into the glass museum and walk down to the harbor to see the Frank Gehry buildings. There is also an excellent crooked bell tower on the main church. Also along the riverside I stopped for some spaghetti eis…which is vanilla ice cream pushed through a machine to make it look like spaghetti, then topped with raspberry sauce and white chocolate chips acting as tomato sauce and cheese. It was awesome.
After Düsseldorf, I met up with a friend with whom I traveled to the house of a friend of hers who lives in Holland. We stayed at his house for the weekend and went on a day trip to Amsterdam and a nearby town of Breda for a music festival. The thing I most enjoyed about Holland? Stroopwafels. They are an amazing Dutch pastry that consists of gooey caramel in-between two small round”wafels.” I guess I also enjoyed the city of Amsterdam, though I must say I found it quite expensive. Although I was told by our Dutch host that Holland is expensive in general and that it’s not just Amsterdam. I really had wished to go into the Van Gogh museum but the wait was around the block and the admission price was 15 euro! I guess Spain and France were spoiling me, as I paid 2.50 euro to get into the Prado and got into the Lourve for free (with my residency card).
After Holland, we flew from Eindhoven to Stansted and then took a bus into London. My first impression of London? It’s big! We walked everywhere, but it took a full 45 minutes or more to get from our hostel to the Tower Bridge. Although it was tiring, it was great to walk around. Like Rome, you seem to run into something interesting everywhere you go, although it’s a different kind of interesting. Another great thing was that most of the museums are free. You do have to pay to get into the churches though, which was extremely surprising to me…I had always thought that looking at churches was a cheap way to see beautiful architecture. However, since churches are one of the main attractions, Westminister Abbey, St. Pauls, they cost about 12 pounds to get in. We decided to admire their beauty from the outside
We also went to go see a play at the Royal National Theatre. We waited outside at 7 a.m. the day of the play and got front row center seats for the evening show for 10 pounds! The play was called “The Habit of Art” and featured pretty well known actors. We even recognized the actor from Harry Potter (the man who plays Harry’s uncle Vernon) as the lead actor in the play. We were at first skeptical about all the trouble we had gone through to get the cheap tickets, but after the play we realized it was worth it. The actors were incredible and the script was scintillating yet held a deeper meaning in the context of the whole play.
After getting up at 3:30 a.m., we took an early flight to Dublin. Dublin is tiny. We quickly covered the main attractions of the city in a day, walking extremely slowly and stopping to sit on benches. We decided to take a day tour to the surrounding countryside. This was a most excellent choice, as the day trip wasn’t too expensive (25 euro for the whole day including two walking tours and bus ride, though that’s the student price, for adults it was 30 euro) and we got a great tour guide. We visited Glendalough and Kilkenney and got a guided tour throughout the entire countryside. The guide talked the entire time we were on the bus, and told us lots of interesting cultural and geographical information about Ireland.
In the city we visited the Guinness Storehouse, which was a lot of fun. It was also very interesting as it takes you through the brewing process and all the history behind the Guinness brand. You also get a free pint at the end! All in all the trip was a great success. Next post will include the Facultad de Caminos’ infamous Viaje de Practicas, our rock art excursions for prehistoric art class, and the Formula One Race at Circuit de Catalunya!