Thursday, May 19, 2011

Easter Break: Dublin

Tomorrow, when I turn in my last assignment I will finally be done with school in Montpellier! This is kind of sad though because mostly everyone will be leaving the next day. I know I haven’t talked a lot about school stuff I have been doing, but what can I say school is school no matter where you do it. Soon, though, I will post my thoughts on the classes I took! But now to continue with my Easter break posts. Only two more cities to tell you about.

After spending 4 nights and 3 days in Amsterdam we were feeling anxious to get moving to Dublin. I had fun in Amsterdam and was very happy to see it, would even go back again someday, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I have with Montpellier. The day we left we were catching an afternoon flight so John decided to work on a paper in a park, though I’m convinced he was mostly feeding pigeons, while I walked around a bit more. I walked down a street with all the fancy, designer stores and by the Rijksmuseum one last time. Then I headed to H&M to look around. The H&Ms in Europe are soooo much better than the one at Mall of America. Literally, in every city I’ve been to I’ve gone to an H&M. After that I stopped and got a snack at a place called “Chipsy King”, it’s a French fry chain I had been eyeing up the whole time I was there. After that it was on to the airport and then to Dublin.

There is a discount airline called “Aer Lingus” that we just had to take. I think it is much better than RyanAir and the planes are so stereotypical Irish! 

We got there in the evening so we just checked into our hostel, walked around a bit, and ate. Above is a picture of a spire that is in the middle of the town that I had no clue about. The hostel was called the Townhouse and it was really nice for the budget price. Free breakfast, coffee, and tea! 

Our next day started off again with a lot of walking. Warning! Be careful because in Ireland they drive on the wrong side of the road and you are habituated to looking right before you cross the street. They have these “look left” reminders for all the stupid tourists. John told me they have these in London, as well.

First we saw the outside of Dublin Castle.

Then we saw Christ’s Church.

Then we followed the signs to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. John, who is born on St. Patrick’s day, with the Cathedral.

Then we followed the signs to the Guinness Storehouse. It’s museum dedicated to nation’s extremely popular and unique beer in an old storehouse at St. James’ Gate. The making beer process is cool and what not, but what I found the most interesting is that Arthur Guinness, in 1759, signed a 9,000 YEAR lease on the land. How does that happen??? Looks like Guinness will be around for a long, long time.

 I also really enjoy their old advertising campaigns.

At the end you get a pint of Guinness and get to take in a 360 degree view of the city. The rest of the day we walked around some more, passing many hip shopping areas and pubs. I believe we also walked around Trinity College in the afternoon for a little bit. 

Friday we were super tired and hung out at the hostel most of the morning. This was just fine by me because we had a TV with shows in English and I got to watch the royal wedding live! We did see Dublin’s oldest pub (established in 1198) and had a nice evening stroll alongside the Liffey.

Saturday we toured the old Jameson Distillery, yet another important and famous Irish export. Then went to two free photography exhibits and got snacks in a main area called, Temple Bar. Then we walked to Pheonix Park, which is enormous. After only seeing a tiny portion and feeding a swan we were super tired and just wanted to take a rest. 

It is the largest walled city park in Europe and is home to a wild herd of fallow deer, the Dublin zoo, and a few monuments. We only saw Wellington Monument and a little bit of a cricket game.
Later that night we enjoyed our last views of Dublin at night and our last dinner of our trip. 

The next day our plane to Frankfurt wasn’t leaving until 8pm, so we had made plans to visit this huge and free decorative arts museum in an old military barracks and then take the tram to the pier. Our plan didn’t work out so well because when we showed up to the museum at noon it wasn’t open until 2pm! We wanted to leave for the airport early by 3:30pm because John had more paper writing to do, so that was a bust. The building was still cool to look at.

Then when we took the tram all the way to the end we realized the further parts of pier were a longer ways away than thought and not very accessible by foot. We walked as long as we could then turned back around and left.

Me excited to be on the top level on the double decker bus on the way to the airport. Overall Dublin we really enjoyed Dublin. It certainly wasn't as pretty as Amsterdam, but all the people we welcoming, there were free things to do, and the food was delicious. Especially the complementary Irish breakfast we got at our hotel every morning. Irish breakfast includes...sausage, thick bacon, beans, fried tomato, fried egg, hasbrowns, toast, juice, and coffee! I also ate "banger and mash" or sausages and mashed potatos, a meat pie, and had a bite of John's Irish stew. 

Ok one more last random thing I liked about Dublin. The Irish accents, of course, and that all the signs were in English and in Gaelic. Took this picture for my Nick back home. 

Next post I will be sharing about my return to the dreaded Frankfurt-Hahn airport and the long, but well worth it, journey back to Freiburg!

P.S. Wishing my momma good travels on here way to Montpellier tomorrow night/Friday.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Easter Break: Kuekenhof

Back again! For our last full day in the Netherlands, John and I went to Lisse to see Kuekenhof. My mom had mentioned it to me when I told her I was going to Amsterdam, and after googling it I knew we had to go. Kuekenhof is the largest bulb flower garden in the world planting up to 7 million bulbs by hand per season, according to their website. That number seems impossible but the park is 32 hectares large and each flowerbed was EXTREMELY dense. For 28 euros each (including transportation) this was by far the most expensive touristy thing that we did on our trip, but we definitely thought it was worth it.
Upon arrival we found it to be super crowed and truly a tourist destination.

Once you choose a path to make your down the tall, shady trees and fairytale-esque views muffle the bustling noise of the entrance.

There are more than 100 varieties of tulips in the park. My favorites are the ones with fringy petals.

They reminded me of this picture I took of one of my dad’s tulips one spring. I just thought it was so unique.


University of Minnesota tulip!

Besides millions of tulips...there were ponds, fountains, clogs to stand in, swans and ducks, green houses, sculptures, a windmill, etc.

They also incorporated other flowers, often more mixed than the example above, to create some amazing flowerbeds.

John and I in front of a tulip field. We really enjoyed getting away from the big city for three hours and being in awe of the tulip crazy-ness of Keukenhof. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Easter Break: Amsterdam

For students at the U of M there is no such thing as an Easter break, not even a day off for Good Friday or the following Monday. In France, students get an astounding 2-week vaycay and France isn’t even a religious country by any means.  Granted this is kind of a mix of spring break and Easter break it is still awesome, especially for us American students who are only here for a short time and want to travel around more extensively. Many people in my program took this opportunity to travel to the remaining countries and cities on their lists, often meaning a grand tour of Europe!  My itinerary was laid back and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I traveled to Amsterdam and Dublin with John my first week and then went back to Freiburg with him for the second week. He only got one week of break, but I was really happy to go back to Freiburg one last time. It is such a great city that I needed to see it in the springtime…and I had to study for my exams. We did a lot of walking in Amsterdam and Dublin, more or less taking in the sites of the city rather than trying to hit up every tourist attraction or museum in site, though you better believe I did extensive window-shopping in each city!

We were in Amsterdam from Saturday to Wednesday. One of John’s friends from his program, who actually has friends in my program, was there with us from Sunday to Tuesday. I was just getting over my evil virus, so walking as much as we did was tiring. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed its labyrinth-like system of beautiful canals lined with skinny 4 or 5 story buildings. Take note these building are not fun if you are on say the top floor. Our hostel had a great location, just near a Vondel park, but the climb up those narrow steep stairs killed us every time! And with the heat- oh la! I’m thankful for the nice weather we had, but we never guessed it would be like 80 degrees in the Netherlands at this time of the year.  Some other things I did not expect was how crowed it was there. I know it is the biggest city in the Netherlands and touristy, but it was overwhelming at times, but good too because nothing was closed on Easter.  I was very much looking forward to going to cities that speak English, but for some reason I thought everything in Amsterdam would be written in English. Nope it’s mostly Dutch, which we found to be a strange version of German with random English words thrown. Ok photo time.

We found a little grassy area our first night that was filled with these guys. They are bronze or iron sculptures of Komodo dragons, water monitors, etc. I love them sooo much because they look alive and they remind me of my childhood obsession with Steve Irwin's television show. They are just genius and make me want to take another foundry class, so I can make my own!

John reading the map surrounded by the lizards. Love it.

Our first meal was probably the most Dutch. Savory Pannenkoek.

John and a canal.

The tram. I did not really like them. They had a good deal for an unlimited 3-day pass, but they were just weird. You had to validate your ticket when you got on and off and you had to get on and off very quickly. We missed a few because of this and John's friend almost didn't make it off with us one time. They were also extremely hot on the inside, during the day. 

The one museum we went to was the "Katten Kabinet". Read about it here It just seemed like such a bizarre museum that we had to check it out. Sure Amsterdam is home to the Rijksmuseum and a Van Gogh musuem, but this was cheaper and had no lines! I also got some great cat postcards from here.
The famous I AMsterdam sculpture with the Rijksmuseum in the background. 

Climbing the letters and taking pictures is a must. John and I in the "d".

Our hostel was literally across from Vondelpark. A long skinny park with a large bike path in the center, ponds, grassy fields, and a statue of Joost van der Vondel himself. We found it to be a great place to rest when we were too tired to go on anymore or for a late night stroll after dinner.

We walked by the Anne Frank Huis. 

A gorgeous canal we ate lunch ate one day.

John, of course, dragged brought us to the harbor part of the city to look at house boats. This one was cool because it had a floating garden too. 

The boat museum. John was very sad that it was closed for renovations.

Another canal

Another thing I learned is that the Dutch are OBSESSED with biking. My host dad mentioned they biked a lot, but I had no idea to what extent. They have special bike lanes that look kind of like the side walk to you have to watch out, especially since scooters and other small motorized vehicles can drive there too. Most people ride around on old-school bikes painted black, others are really fancy like the one with the cart above. The Dutch have really mastered riding a non-tandem bike with more than one person on them. We saw people riding easily with their friends sitting on the back, on handle bars, or in the middle of the bike all the time. Hardly anyone wears helmets though, even the little children, and we definitely saw some whip-outs. 

Those are just some of the highlights from exploring the citycenter at random and just taking it all in. My next post, before moving onto Dublin, will be about our day visit to Lisse to see Keukenhof. Google it and be amazed.