Well here I am again, on yet another flight, jetting off to somewhere new. On my flight to Sydney from Prague, I spent about 3 hours writing the best blog post EVER. However, it somehow didn't save and now you're gonna get a shitty post lol. Last time I left off, I was snuggled up in bed for about 28 hours on a cruise ship to Venice. Let's go back to a few weeks ago... Back to the lovely country of Italy.
Verona, Sirione & Lake Garda, Italy. We stopped at this WONDERFUL little lake town called Lake Garda outside of Venice that reminded me of Banff or Jasper. Beautiful and mega touristy, full of shops and restaurants. We chilled out here for a bit, had lunch and I even bought a cooking apron that will sure to have a layer of dust on it in no time. After lunch we headed back on the road. Next stop was the romantic city of Verona, the home of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'. This city was so cute! It was cozy and sweet and had wonderful shopping. We didn't stay long but we checked out the basics such as their theatre that looks like a mini colosseum and of course, Juliets balcony. On the way to her balcony, all the walls leading up are covered in graffiti of love messages such as Sally + Jack = true love forever and cheesy (cute) stuff like that. Obviously, being a whimpy sensitive female, I LOVED it and even wrote my own message and then took a thousand photos. The usual. Then we were back on the road again and we headed into the amazing city of Venice.
Our first night in Venice was tame. We stayed outside of the city because since you can't take normal vehicles into the city, it would be such a pain in the ass to take in 35 people and their luggage onto a little boat. We had dinner and relaxed... Did I mention that the toilet was in the shower? Kill two birds with one stone perhaps? I don't know but what I do know is that I will never take another North American washroom for granted ever again! Anyways, the next morning we headed into the city by train, and then we got into a taxi boat to get downtown. We did a walking tour with a local lady and she taught me a few things about the city. The library was opened in 1554, the city has been virtually untouched for 400 years and will probably always look the exact same as it did 400 years ago. The population is just under fifty thousand and most young locals head to mainland because they find it boring due to lack of nightlife and how there are no basic things like a movie theatre for example.
Venice gave off a really interesting vibe. It was creepy but interesting and beautiful. There are canals literally everywhere and the water comes up at certain parts of the day, which you can see in the centre square when it will come up through the gutters and temporarily flood certain areas. It is extremely hard to get around because the streets are far from straight and parallel and unfortunately has turned into a tourist-fest. Therefore every other store sold the Venetian mask or Venetian glass. Venice is known for their glass, so Greg took us to a glass making factory and also to a lace making factory, which they are also known for besides the masks.
Later on before dinner, a couple gals and I shared some champagne on a gondola! So fun, such a highlight and I definitely recommend doing the gondola ride if you get the chance. The driver was a very good looking older Italian man, so naturally, we were harassing him in no time. Before you know it, he had Sharan up there with him rowing the boat and he was kissing her cheeks. We were laughing so hard, what an awesome time. After the ride we headed out for a pasta-fest dinner that even included whole battered and deep fried little tiny fish, eyes and all. So nasty. Then back home we went....Great day in Venice!
Next stop was Vienna, Austria. I haven't spent much time researching, or even thinking about Austria to be honest. I had no idea what to expect and it wasn't a part of the trip I was looking for but I was pleasantly surprised. Just driving there was amazing, through the Dolomite mountains. Our first night in Vienna was a Mozart concert. We all got dressed up and headed to the theatre and listened to quite a few Mozart songs and there were also dancers and opera singers. At intermission we got to drink champagne and hang out with the dancers and the instrumentalists. It was a pretty neat experience and I couldn't believe how many Mozart songs I knew, and I have since added a few to the good ol iPod playlist. I feel so seasoned now! After the concert we headed out for dinner and wine and I had the best tomato soup I've ever had in my life. They gave me deep fried veggies and everyone else got chicken schnitzels with tartar sauce. Interesting.
The next day was the sightseeing day. First we started off with a walking tour through the I FORGET palace and yard, the government buildings where Hitler made many speeches, then to the famous Spanish Riding School (as famous as riding schools get, don't worry, I had never heard of this before either) Greg led us around and pointed out some things, including a huge sculpture of Mozart in the city park. After our walking tour we ventured to another tour, a Swarovski crystal tour where I bought myself some snazzy gold and crystal earrings. This store had 3 floors and carried everything you can imagine. From the chandelier in Oceans 13 to USB memory sticks. Could have gone broke in there!
Another thing Vienna is famous for is Sasha Torte chocolate cake. It's a heavy, dark chocolate cake with a thin layer of marmalade in the centre. It's coated in a harder shell and even comes with the chocolate seal stamp. It comes in a little cute box and that shit is delicious! I ate about 1/4 of it and had to quit because it was so rich. I definitely suggest you try a slice if you get the opportunity! But get a glass of milk to go with.
We tried to go to a Holocaust museum but it was unfortunately under construction so we walked past the Vienna Opera House and then onto the Museum of Natural History. Really cool stuff to look at in there, thank goodness because hardly anything was in English. I was disappointed that the dinosaur exhibit was also under construction, but T-Rex is just gonna have to wait til next time. After that, we jumped off the bus and drove on over to the Schnapps museum! It was awesome because a) the main building and entrance is only 1 of 3 of the original buildings; the rest were destroyed in WW2 b) everything in there is original, including the cash register c) The creator, Mr. Schnapps, handed down the business to his son, and now his cute grandson named Patrick does the tours and he was pretty funny d) who doesnt like Schanpps!?
After Schnapps we went back to the hotel and then went for some mexican food. Besides the fact that my drink(s) had the entire fruit fly family swimming in them and my salad had more dirt and sand than the Sahara, it was a good time. Good company of course. After dinner we just played pool and Greg embarrassed me 3 times in a row, destroying me completely. Billiards, friends off.
On the way to Germany came the most sobering moment of the trip, a stop at Mauthausen, a 3rd degree concentration camp during WW2. We started our tour with a short film on the active days of the concentration camp, a brief history and photos and then we were able to explore the camp on our own. I started in the barracks, which were very small considering the number of people who were forced to live within the walls. They said people laid on their sides across the floor in rows to fit as many as possible, and when the camp got busier, the Nazis would make them stack, and sleep on top of one another. I was also able to walk through the crematoriums which were very terribly upsetting knowing how many people lost their lives there. The victims were even stacked to go into the ovens, to get the full 'potential' out of the space. There was also "neck shot corner" that was a corner easy to clean after shooting someone. Three particular things I'll never forget are 1) Prisoners were fed once every three days, and that was 5 spoonfuls of mush 2) Soldiers would throw them outside in the winter, naked, and then throw water on them and let them freeze to death 3) they would line them up and make the one behind push the one in front off the edge of a cliff. There are a lot more but I think that gets to the point. Sickening that a human could even think of that sort of thing, let alone do it to one another. I feel really fortunate that I was able to stop by one of these camps and get a first hand look at how things were done then and what happened in our history which wasn't that long ago. Call me crazy, but I didn't feel alone for one second in Mauthausen, and I'll never forget the way it made me feel.
On a lighter note, that night in Munich was a fun one. Of course, Munich being known for it's beer and beer halls, we had to go check it out. So after doing the important stuff, we went to Hofbrauhaus to check out what the fuss was all about. I'm not gonna lie, close your eyes over protective family, but I drank way too much in the most fun way possible. Seriously had one of the best nights of my life. Being with thirty new, fun friends plus the millions of awesome people we met that night, it was such a blast. Forgive me for sinning, but on the bright side, I'm sure I made my dad proud lol
Unfortunately, Munich was a really quick stop because we had to get going to Austria. Tyson, being the sweetheart that he is, took us on an amazingly scenic route through the mountains and forests. It looked like Banff/Jasper area, absolutely stunning. I honestly thought Germany would be ugly for some reason but that's not the case. It was awesome and I felt like I was back home in Canada. On the way we stopped for white water rafting and since I did this once before in Jasper in April, i figured I was pretty much a pro. WELL, Austria has different standards, and not in a good way. In Jasper, we practiced a million different directions from our guide and were told certain ways to get back to safety. Not here, he was telling us how hungover and sick he was, followed by a good pep chat to get us to jump off the boat and "go for a swim". Go for a drown, maybe! Having a couple princesses floating down a river in the middle of God knows where with some sketch bag for a guide led to some pretty great memories to say the least. Got some good photos and the pizza at the end was delicious so what can you say about that. All around good times.
We got to Hopfgarden a little later on that night and Greg and Tyson and the crew there served up an awesome meal at the hotel and we hung out and played some games and had a pretty chill night. That is until we decided to head out and check out the little town. It's a little snazzy and fun ski town and we had a ball at the Silver Bullet. Some of Gregs buds came out to meet us and they did a great job DJ'ing and teaching us the dance moves for "No Americano". Watch out friends of mine, I got some damage to show ya.
The fresh air of the mountain town of Lichtenstein felt great on my face the next morning
but that was soon ruined when my bill came for lunch and my mini bottle of very necessary H2o was 6 Lichtenstein dollars. I soon realized why Lichtenstein was a stop location, not an overnight location. Oh well, I found a huge Croc (the ugly shoes) as well as a novelty greeting card rack and found that pretty entertaining until we were whisked off once again...
We arrived in the beautiful city of Lucerne and I was instantly in love! Switzerland had outdone my expectations and they were already pretty high! Greg and Tyson took us to one of their favorite monuments, a huge lion carved out of stone which commemorates the Swiss Guards that were massacred in the French Revolution in 1792. A really nice quotation that says it best:
"The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.
Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is."
— Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880
After our visit to the stone, we went into town to check out the famous Swiss Army knives and Swiss watches. We shopped around the gorgeous city and I happened to find myself a Swiss chocolate shop! Who would have thought?! It was a nice but short visit and then off to the Alps we went!
The Swiss Alps were unbelievable, the beauty of any mountainous skyline never ceases to amaze me. The hotel where we stayed was half way up Mt Titlis so we had to take a small gondola up through the mountains and hop off mid way. Our hotel was gorgeous, doubling as a ski and snowboarding lodge. Our rooms were made of wood and I felt like I was in a little log cabin. Our windows were huge and opened fully so I could jump out onto the roof (which was also a patio... Awesome.... Which also had a big steel slide going down to the bar and restaurant. Awesomer. ) I decided to go down the slide, not even thinking that my Lululemon outfit would fly me down the slide and catapult me into a bunch of mulch, to much amusement of Greg and Tyson!
We generally took it easy in the Alps, except for the day of the bungee jump. In the morning, Sharan and I took the gondola to the top of Mt Titlis and checked out the awesome glacier caves and then went on the top for a good blast of freezing cold air. We had some pizza and some drinks (Sharan drank a whole bottle of wine lol) and then I had to head down to the lodge to meet with the bungee crew. Not to forget Jenna and I being pretty much molested and excessively photographed by about 15 Thai men. Just call me Britney from now on, guys.
We had to take a separate gondola out to the place where we jumped, so after we signed our death certificates and weighed in, we got in the gondola and headed up the mountain. We stopped and we were 140 meters in the air with mountains all around us and a shit ton of roaming, fat cows underneath us. Complete with cowbells. They were pretty cute actually ( I even pet one once I was down) we got all strapped up and Tyson jumped first. I got pretty stoked watching him, but when it came to my turn, I was so bloody scared!! I got to the edge and looked down and instantly wanted to vomit. Seeing Tyson a the bottom, alive and well, was a slight affirmation but not entirely. I wasn't scared, I dont know what I was, I've never felt that way before. We told me to hold onto his shoulder because he had to drop the rope down, so I instantly felt a heavy pull, pulling me gently off the cart. After I threatened his life if I got hurt, my friends counted down and there I went.... leaping to my death. Except I didn't die! I bounced right back up and down again and eventually was lowered into the arms of the worker on the ground and I have never appreciated a strangers hands on me so much in my life! Well it's off the bucket list but you can bet your ass you wouldn't catch me doing that again!!! We even scootered down the mountain after the jump, which was even scarier and unsafe than bungee jumping....flying around a curvy road with oncoming traffic and no shoulders with deep, steep ditches over mountain sides or forests. Stupid, really but pretty fun. The group was way more crazier than me, so I got left in the dust, so I stopped for some great photo ops, even one shot with a little sheep. Great, great day.
I'm seriously so annoyed right now that I've had to re write ALL of this! So I hope you're still enjoying, and if you're not, I don't want to hear about it lol
Next up we have St Goar in the Rhine Valley of Germany. Rhine Valley was beautiful, peppered with on-slope vineyards and castles in the hills. We took an hour cruise upon our arrival and then headed to the shop of beer steins! I purchased a limited edition stein that has a little piece of the Berlin Wall on the top of it. Can't use it, as it's a collectors edition, but it's a pretty cool part of Germany to have! We also went to the Birkenstock store and even the cuckoo clock store where the biggest cuckoo clock in the world hangs (which came in handy looking out the window when our clock didn't work) That night we went to this awesome wine cellar for a tasting. It was so creepy in there and with the candlelight, I could t help but think of the wicked Halloween party I could throw in there with DJ Rad Ad! We tried many Rieslings, as they come from Germany, as well as an ice wine. I took it easy that night and was probably the first time in the last year that I was in bed before midnight. Would have stayed up but you could smoke in the hotel lounge which was making Sharan and I sick.... So nasty.
Off to the Netherlands!! If somebody told me there was a cuter town than Edam, Holland, I would bet some serious cash. This town is ADORABLE!! We rented granny bikes (complete with the epic back pedal brakes) and went around the town to check out the dyke and the old windmills. The Netherlands, being under sea level, should really be a little lake in Europe. Because of the dykes built up high, the water stays out. A cool little fact I learned about the Netherlands is that they don't have fences to keep their cattle on their land, instead they dig little trenches and the water comes up and prevents the cows from crossing over. Because the cows never rub up against any fences, their leather is virtually perfect, attracting big buyers like Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Amsterdam. What a gong show. On the coach heading in, we were presented an optional trip to check out a sex show... So I figured what the hell, I'm a pervert and have a decent sense of humour, so how bad could it be? Well man, this was CRAZY. I'm not going to get into it, but just say I'll never look at a cigar again thanks to "Smokin Ashley". And as a tip, don't sit front row. (it wasn't my choice, I swear!). Entertainment to say the least and it made me feel better when Greg told me that most of them were married couples. Does that make it any better? Ssssuuuuuuuuuure. We went through the red light district, checking out "fat alley" and "skinny alley" and then went out for a bit that night.
The next morning, we went for a humbling visit to the Anne Frank House Museum which was pretty sad... the video and photos of her survived father brought tears to our eyes. So sad to think of the heavy heart he had to carry for so many years, being the only WW2 survivor out of his family, and having to come home to life without literally anything, at all. That night we went out for our final dinner and then an awesome canal cruise where we shared too much wine and too many stories and memories. We went to a few little bars and then back to the hotel for our last sleep on tour.
The morning was so sad! You really get to know people when you spend literally every minute together. I became especially close with Sharan, being roommates, and from being from the lovely Canada! We seen each other in some of the best situations of our lives, but we also shared our crazy female antics and some intense life stories. Definitely made great new friends. I came out to the bus in the morning (most people were getting off that night in London, but since I already did London, I was going to stay in Amsterdam) Tears and hugs all around!! It was so sad!!!
I went back to bed and when I woke up I felt so lost! I actually had to think for myself for the first time in a month! Survival skills kicked in pretty kick and in just a few hours, my good friend Becky and I met up downtown Amsterdam. We went for lunch and walked around just filling each other in on the last month of our lives and upcoming excursions. That night we had a ridiculous situation with our hostel, which meant a 2 hour re-route and not only was I already pissed off at my first ever hostel experience, I was tired and CRANKY. The hostel was dark, and loud and the balcony door wouldn't lock, which wouldnt have been a big deal if it wasn't a shared balcony with other rooms. So the table and chairs had a little slumber party in front of the doors so at least I'd wake up if some little creep slithered in. Turns out that I once again survived. I kept telling myself "life experience.....life experience" but that didn't last long because I was looking for the nearest Hilton. Much to my dismay, a hostel the 2nd night was in order because there were no available hotels. This one had a clean room but it was sketchy downstairs and everybody in that town is so bloody stoned that I felt like i was in the Zombieland movie set. We did the Heineken museum (which was great) and then met up with Beckys old boss and her husband and went for another canal cruise. We ventured out with them for a bit that night as well.
Since Becks and I weren't big fans of Amsterdamage, we booked a flight to Czech Republic and headed to Prague instead. What a beautiful place. We stayed in a really nice hotel with no cigarette burn holes in the sheets or stoned receptionists. We did a walking tour our first day, checking out the centre square, old town, new town, the Jewish quarter and the palace. We also did a little cruise down the river. The next day we slept in, did some laundry, drank some beers, and then went out for a nighttime ghost tour....which wasn't scary at all....except for they had random people hiding in alleys as we walked by and I almost shit my pants the first time lol! Aunty Puff, just think that could be a full time job for ya! Hahaha
After all the wine and smoked pepper cheese was gone, so was the end of our time together. I flew off to Sydney, Australia and Becky was off to Romania for her first semester as an international student at the University of Transylvania.
I'm doing great!! Loving that I am finally living my dreams. I'm very happy to say that I have reached, for my first time, an actual New Years Resolution! It was to stand on three different continents while I was 25 years old. Sad to say that's easier than losing 10 pounds!!! Lol!!
Take care everyone and I'll update on Australia soon!