Carpe Diem III: Travel Update

23 Jun

Ok people, last I left you I was in Merry Ole England. Well, a lot has happened since then, so I’ll try and give you the briefest recap possible:

Dublin: Short visit with the intention of meeting U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Mr. Dan Rooney. The visit fell through, but I managed to get an invitation for my parents and I to attend the July 4th picnic at the Embassy. Hopefully we’ll get to meet Ambassador Rooney then! In Dublin I marveled at the intricacy of the drawing and writing in the Book of Kells at Trinity College and drank a real Guiness (which tastes infinitely better than it does anywhere else). I also stayed with someone I met while visiting Prague – travel connections can be great!

London: Only got to spend a day here, but I walked around and managed to see most of the sights. The one thing I payed to enter was the Churchill War Rooms, which were underground bunkers were the British Govt operated from during the war and bombing of London. The rooms were closed at the end of the war so they have been left almost exactly as they were. There was also a small museum about Churchill – what a fascinating figure who I want to learn much more about. He lived to 90 and fought in two wars and had an up and down political career where he was at times beloved and at others hated. Well worth my time and money.

Oxford: What a fun time. Definitely best to visit with friends there and not as a tourist. My buddies and I went punting one afternoon and pub crawling all 3 nights. We even had a drink in The Eagle and Child where J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis used to meet. Enjoyed the English Ale and really enjoyed catching up with the guys – I even got to sit in on a lecture and meet some other students and went to a mass with vespers.

Belgium: What a great and under-rated country. I took a train through the Chunnel and met a French-speaking girl from southern Belgium who filled me in a lot on the culture. I stayed in Ghent with Patricia, a friend of Uncle Brad’s. She was such a great hostess, made me breakfast every morning, washed my clothes and gave me a key to the house so I could come and go. Ghent was incredible, impressive architecture, plenty of history, canals, and a masterpiece painting – the Adoration of the Lamb by Jans van Eyck – it really is breathtaking in St. Baaf’s Cathedral. Eyck managed to paint Adam in a way that he looks like he’s going to step out of the painting at you, and the angels are all singing on key based on their faces – really incredible details, all from 1432! I also got Belgian fries and a waffle! Ghent gives you everything that the more famous Bruuge has but without all the tourists (where I spent a day). I also took a short trip to Brussels where I visited my high school guidance counselor’s father and he bought me dinner and showed me around the city. Then there was my trip to Ieper to see the Last Post honoring fallen soldiers from World War I – every night at 8:00pm a crowd gathers while a few horns are played in remeberance of those fallen. Really a remarkable way to pay tribute to those who died almost a century ago. But back to Ghent, where I tried every quality Belgian beer I could get my hands on. I tried everyone that had been recommended to me, all the while on the look-out for the coveted Westlvetern, the best and rarest beer in the world. My last night at this bar I had been frequenting, I tried it. Here’s how the story went:

I met Patricia’s daughter at the bar one night. She’s a university student in Ghent and she was so great and insightful to talk with. I tried a beer that comes in a large tube of a glass – 1.2 liters of beer in what looks like a giant glass from high school chemistry. The glass is so popular and rare that you must surrender one of your shoes to drink out of one to make sure you don’t steal it. After this experience, I went to this bar all 3 days I was in Ghent, and with their massive selection of beers, I managed to try every beer my prof back home, Dr. Godzieba, suggested I try. The last night I was there I tried St. Bernardus #12, which accordingly to Patricia’s daughter was almost exactly the same as the much-sought-after Westlvteren. When I ordered the beer, the same bar-tender who’d taken my orders all three nights looked at me and said ˝That’s a good choice, that’s a very good choice.˝ He later explained to me how all the ingredients are the same as the Westlvteren except for the yeast. He also showed me how to pour it so I didn’t drink all the yeast at the bottom of the bottle. At this point I was extremely satisfied by my selection which impressed the paints off this Flemish waiter, and I was ready to accept that I was unable to find or try the coveted Westlvteren. When he came back, I asked to try the best beer they had as my last beer in Belgium, and to my complete surprise, he said they had it! I couldn’t believe it – it wasn’t on the menu anywhere! He kept repeating that he didn’t want to pressure me to get it since it cost 12 euros, but I said I needed to try it. He brought it back, and I must say, it really was one of the best beers I’ve ever had, and probably the best I’d had of all the different Belgian beers I’d tried (about 12 in all). As I payed the bill, he padded me on the shoulder, giving me the feeling that I had earned his and therefore the Belgian’s respect when it comes to beer-drinking.

The next day, after a brief stop in Colonge to see the massive black cathedral and eat lunch, I made it to Maienfeld in Eastern Switzerland. I stayed with a friend of my Danish host family’s, Soeren, who also did my laundry and gave me a map to do some hiking. His house is literally right in the middle of the Swiss Alps, so I spent a whole day hiking into neighboring Liecthenstien and then up to the top of a peak for an incredible view, which included a rainbow and clouds as they ROSE from beneath me – because the mountain was taller than the clouds. The next day Soeren had me take a train across the top of the alps where I watched a blizzard and a frzen lake (in June mind you) from my window for one of the most memorable and remarkable sights of my trip, and then had me stop in Bellizona in southern, Italian Switzerland to hike to 3 castles that are right besides each other. Then I made my way to visit Palles and Kirsten, also friends of my Danish host family, who live right on Lago Maggorie, a beautiful lake right next door to Como in Northern Italy. They took me to get the best pizza I’ve ever had where I watched the guy hand-make it, and I saw a beautiful lake-side monastery. They also did my laundry and gave me a much-needed hard drive to store my pictures on!

Onto the rest of Italy:

Bologna: Under-rated university town, great, authentic Northern Italian feel with tons of porticos, the tomb of St. Dominic, and ton of partying college students and an outdoor movie theater each night. There was forum going on about the future of Italy so I talked to some people about the current economic status of the country – really interesting!

Venice – swamped with tourists but with good-reason, St. Mark’s is unlike any other church and it was great to explore some sight streets without tourists – really a stunning city. The main square is breathtaking and the numerous streets and canals are charming unlike any other. Fabulous architecture. All that it’s made out to be. I really want to go back someday and do a proper tour.

Florence – over-run with tourists. I enjoyed the walking tour and learned a lot about Renissance architecture (wonderful tour-guide named Patricia), went to mass in the Duomo, saw some remarkable paintings in the Uffizi, I marveled at Michelangelo’s David – which really is all that it’s cracked up to be – and watched a golden Tuscan sunset from on top a hill. With that being said, I’m in no rush to go back to Florence.

Pompei – neat to walk through the Roman town’s streets and cross from sidewalk to sidewalk over the stones in the streets since the streets were always filled with rain water. But I didn’t learn as much as I could have – worth it but I wouldn’t revisit it. Really friendly lady in the tourist office who asked me to send her a postcard from back home! Also met a family from New Zealand who said I should visit the Marlboro Sounds.

Siena – redeemed Tuscany for me. Much fewer tourists than Florence, winding streets, beautiful roofs, the Duomo was much more impressive than the one in Florence, at least the interior, and met up with a friend from Nova, Nina, who showed me the city, introduced me to some friends and told me a lot about the famous horse-race they have their each summer.

Assisi – what a beautiful and holy mountain-side town. I crammed nearly all the big holy sites into my short visit and it was so well worth it – I really want to go back to Assisi and learn more about St. Francis and St. Claire. I met some great people here who really helped me out too, like Michael in the Basilica information office, and I was even in touch with a professor from back at Nova, Professor Getek, who gave me some tips and was so excited for me and who inspired me to cram in some mcuh while I could, it really was a blessed experience.

Then I took an overnight ferry from Ancona on the east coast of Italy to Split in Croatia on the Dalmatian Coast. I watched  the sunset on the Adriatic Sea and called my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday. After finding a place to do some laundry, I’ll explore the city today and visit a nearby island tomorrow, then off the Budapest on the 25th. More to come from Eastern Europe…

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Rachel in Denmark

[American] Expat living in Copenhagen

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