These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
I apologize for the lack of attention I've been giving to this blog, but I've been running around so much it feels like I haven't had much time to sit down and record some of my adventures.
Last weekend however, I was invited to spend the weekend in Taranaki with a friend of mine from University. Taranaki is the region that makes up the western peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. The defining characteristic, being Mt. Egmont (Taranaki being the Maori name) which is a massive cinder cone in the center of the peninsula. The national park surrounding the mountain is almost a perfect circle, and the mountain is considered to be one of the most cylindrical volcanoes in the world!
Aside from the mountain, Taranaki is a relatively flat region given that most all of New Zealand is built into some sort of hill or incline. The region is known for it's farms and off shore oiling rigs. There's even a heated debate underway over the use of fracking within the region and the country as a whole.
While I was there, I stayed in the coastal town of Opunake, called "Ops" by the locals. Opunake has a population of about 1,500 and an even smaller feel to it. Farms run right up to the shore line and meet drastic cliffs that drop off into the ocean.
While I was there, I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the mountain as well as some other cool geological features that resulted from it's most recent eruption.
What truly made this a great weekend though, aside from the scenery was the hospitality I received. If you or anyone you know is planning on traveling to New Zealand anytime soon, I highly reccommend looking into farm stays. Staying on a farm is become a much more popular and accessible form of accommodation in New Zealand and really is a great way to connect with the country. My friend's farm was relaxing, clean and had an irreplaceable homey feel to it, something any traveler would appreciate.
We were even able to enjoy some roast sheep that was, to say it discreetly, fresh?
We also got to explore the larger city in Taranaki; New Plymouth. New Plymouth is a great hub for outdoor adventure and architecture that is very reflective of the region. A 12 km coastal walkway surrounds the town, with great views of the ocean, and if you're their at sunset, the colors are astounding. A highlight of our trek, and worth going out of the way for, was the Te Rewa Rewa bridge. Built to frame the mountain, it reflects the strong surfing culture of the region, and resembles a wave breaking over Taranaki.
As always, if you ever find yourself on the west coast of any landmass, take some time to watch the sunset.
On the next chapter of my adventure I arrive in Vienna by train. The ride here was quite pleasant; much more enjoyable than riding the trains in France. I find the hostel very easily using the emailed directions, and I am greeted at the front desk by a kind woman speaking fluent English. She checks me in, and I'm given the keycard for my room. It's a nifty little card that works on a radio frequency, so no need to insert it into the door. She says this also works for the locker in my room. It's cool to only have one thing to keep track of.
After a quick shower I crave some exploring. There is still plenty of light left in the day and I intend to use every second of it. I grab a map from the front desk and then walk out of the hostel and take a right turn. With no real destination I just walk in the direction that interests me at the time, and keep walking until another interests turns me.
The first place I come across is the Vienna Opera House. It is made from tan-colored stone and has a beautiful copper roof that has turned green over the years. I next pass a couple of wonderful parks that are filled with lush, green grass and plenty of picnickers. They look to be fantastic areas to spend a warm afternoon. Vienna seems to be filled with beautiful parks. Soon after I walk through the Hapsburg winter palace without even realizing it. The palace itself is so large that it seems to be just a normal city block of buildings. In truth though it is one large palace that the royal family used for living during the winter months. It amazes me that the Austrian monarchy was in power until the end of World War 1, and these wonderful old palaces are still kept in good condition. I continue walking, passing a couple of Gothic cathedrals, some wonderful buildings, and the town hall. At the town hall I stop for a while. An entire ice skating area has been set up outside the building, so I watch the skaters glide through the winding courses of ice. I notice they are selling tickets and rental skates, but I decide to pass this time. The sun is going down now, and I am so tired from the train rides and the walking. I make my way back to the hostel and immediately go to my room to fall asleep.
When I awake the next day I remember being told that Vienna has some excellent museums. After I eat breakfast I leave the hostel and head for the Natural History Museum. The admission is cheap, so I grab a site map and head in. The museum is laid out in a winding spiral from bottom to top, so it is very easy to make sure you have seen everything.
The exhibits start out with minerals and stones. I believe there is nearly every variety of mineral and stone in these first six halls. Once done with the mineral halls I move onto the fossils and bones section which I find much more interesting. They have ancient fossils and skeletons from present day animals as well as long extinct ones. The one bone that stood out to me the most was the portion they had of a blue whale. It was only one bone. Just half of the lower jaw. It was propped up in a corner, for good reason, and went from the floor to the ceiling. It must have been at least 25 feet long. I was really impressed by the size, and I wish I could see a whole skeleton. I walk through the rest of the exhibits that mainly contain stuffed versions of animals, extinct and present day, and make my way to the end of the museum. I grab my coat from the coat room, leave a couple of coins in the dish, and walk out and go back to the hostel. The museum was really worth the money, and I am happy as I took the time to enjoy it.
The following day I decide to visit another one of the iconic tourist attractions of Vienna, the Schönbrunn Palace of the Hapsburg family. It is very easy to get to and even has its own metro line station. When I get there I am astounded by this monstrosity of a palace. It must take up at least ten city blocks, and it's four stories high. The intricate details on the outer walls are beautiful. I pay my entrance fee and start my tour of the palace. The audio guide playing through my iPod headphones describes to me all of the different rooms that the tour goes through. All together the palace is amazing, but I also find it somewhat boring to look at gold and family treasures. I don't stay for long in any of the rooms and finish the tour. The real attraction for me here is the Vienna Zoo in the backyard of the palace.
Since I bought the winter ticket at the palace I was given access to the zoo for no additional charge. Lucky for me it was not very busy either. Also it was feeding time, so that meant plenty of opportunities to watch cute animals eat. I spend at least 30 minutes alone at the red panda exhibit watching the staff feed them pieces of apples and pears. Too bad you can't have one as a pet. The rest of the zoo is amazing. It is situated on the palace land. There are plenty of forests and hills containing different exhibits within the zoo as well. In the forest there is even a suspended walkway where I was able to walk from tree to tree and look down on the wildlife underneath. When I get to the end of the suspended bridge I find myself in front of the rainforest exhibit. As I walk in I am immediately stunned by the heat and humidity compared to the chill air outside. My glasses fog up completely and render me near blind. Once my vision returns to normal I follow the path in the exhibit and come across a vast assortment of really awesome animals. There is even a python exhibit that has the python's sleeping quarters situated, including a glass floor, right above the walkway so you can see it as you go by. This is quite freaky as it looks like there is an enormous snake that is going to drop on you if you look up. My favorite place though is the otter exhibit. There are two lively otters that have made their home here. Both seem very hungry, and when I come close to the barrier they run towards me thinking I have food. I grab a small leaf and toss it over the fence. They promptly grab it and wrestle with each other for a short while until they realize it isn't edible. Reluctantly I leave the otters and wander through the rest of the zoo. Nothing really tops the otters as far as entertainment goes though, and I leave the zoo soon after.
By this time I am getting pretty hungry. I've heard so many good stories about the food in Vienna, especially the schnitzel, so I must have some. After a quick search on the Internet I find out that there is a famous restaurant for serving schnitzel close by called Figi-Mueller's. They are supposed to be one of the first places to start selling the schnitzel, so they have to be good. The line is long when I get there, but with me only needing a table for one it doesn't take long to get seated. I order a schnitzel with a side of their potato salad and some white wine. The food arrives quickly, but I am still drooling at this point. The reviews were right. This is absolutely spectacular. The bread crumbs on the meat is wonderful. It has just the right amount of salt to add to the flavor of the meat. And the potato salad is downright delicious. They add a corn oil sauce to the potatoes that gives it just the right amount of flavor. Washed down with a sip of white wine, this is one of the best meals I've had in a while. It's really filling too!
After the meal, and with my stomach thoroughly stuffed, I walked back to the hostel. There I laid down and relaxed in the common area. I met one of the guys that I was sharing a room with named Unai. He was from Spain and traveling in the same way that I am. We had some good conversation about the differences between Spain and the States. Soon after my full stomach started taking its toll on me and my body was telling me to get some sleep to digest. I kindly obliged the commands and walked back to my room and climbed into bed. As I lay there waiting for sleep I played over in my head the things that I experienced these few days in Vienna. It put a smile on my face as I drifted off.
Yes, I did just throw a 90’s-esque “not” into the title of this blog. And yes, it was completely necessary because the three days I spent in the coastal plain region of Barcelona were absolutely beautiful; people, sights, culture, and cuisine included. While, in my opinion, three days is simply not enough to take in all the beauty that is Barcelona, I will try to list my top 5 in Barca if you find yourself pressed for time.
1. GAUDI. Are you surprised? In all honesty you cannot walk around Barcelona without catching sight of at least one of Gaudi’s beautiful buildings, but why wouldn’t you want to? His innovative style is enough to make you feel like you are living in a fantasy world. I would go so far to say that I felt the same in Sagrada Familia when 21 as I did in Disney World when 6.
2. PAELLA. And you are hearing this from a vegetarian! Though, the classic seafood paella consists of shrimp with their eyes budding out at you which is quite a treat. Whether it is meatless, drenched in lemon, or a combination of meat, seafood, vegetables and beans, you are definitely rewarding your taste-buds with this dish. I won’t judge--order a whole pan for yourself.
3. PICASSO MUSEUM. I probably sound like a scratched CD (do you like my new-age metaphor?) talking about art all the time but I can guarantee a good time for all in the Picasso Museum. Not only is seeing his work displayed in five adjoining medevil palaces an experience in itself, but the museum is laid out in a fashion that allows you to watch his art evolve. We all know about the amazing contributions he made to cubism, but don’t lie and tell me that style hasn’t made you wonder if you could give a piece of paper to the five year old you babysit and get something similar. No offense P! You are a saint. And I now have an immense amount of respect for the styles that brought you to your final masterpieces.
4. NIGHTLIFE. Now I am not one who insists on getting belligerent in each country you set foot in, nor am I suggesting that for Barcelona but the nightlife is definitely something to at least experience. The main spot I would suggest is along the boardwalk simply because you can sip on your magarita right next to the beach while listening to 80’s American Pop (which is pretty big in Europe right now by the way).
5. WALK DOWN LA RAMBLA. Or just walk in general. At the end of La Rambla is an enormous monument of Christopher Colombus himself (fun fact: he is facing America. How cute). If you are lucky enough to get weather like I did, walk as much as you can. The metro is easy and convenient, but there is nothing quite like the energy flowing through this city. I would even suggest sitting in Placa de Catalunya for a good hour as you soak in the sun and simultaneously freak out/become mezmerized by the amount of pigeons doing the same thing.
Part of the nature of traveling while studying abroad is that many of my vacations tend to be weekend trips, meaning that I am not normally longer in a foreign city for longer than three or four days—I mean, I have to go to school on occasion… Hence, when I am able to spend any longer amount of time in a city I absolutely love it. I love finding the less touristy restaurants and neighborhoods, I love escaping the massively crowded tourist attractions and finding any place off the beaten path because those are the places I will really remember.
If you’re going to have an extra few weeks to explore a city thoroughly, you just will not find a better place to do so than London. I was lucky enough to be staying with the most wonderful family who was willing to drag an
annoying picture taking tourist me around their home city for a week and a half, showing me some of their favorite places as well as the tourist attractions that I would not be able to find time to see in just a few days! Although I could talk about London for years, here are a few of my absolute favorites from this trip. Obviously you just won’t want to be in London without traveling the almost obligatory route of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, etc. but if you ever have a spare day or two to explore a little further: this list is a good place to begin.
1. The Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A): All of London’s awesome museums are FOR FREE so let’s give a big gold star to London for that, am I right? Your first inclinations will be to hit the British Museum and the National Gallery, but if you are in the least bit interested in anything regarding theatre, art, or design, you just cannot miss the V&A. Located by the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, it is chock full of awesome jewelry, theatre, tapestry, fashion, and literary exhibits that will blow your mind. Make sure to check out the reading room (filled with original Charles Dickens manuscripts) and the cast courts from when the English were in a phase where they copied Roman monuments in plaster—useful? Not particularly, but still awesome.
2. Oxford University: If you are in the mood for a day trip, head up to Oxford for the day to check out a gorgeous, ancient town housing one of the oldest universities in England. Even if you cannot go into any of the colleges, it is still worth a wander around! I was lucky enough to have a see into Exeter College with a friend who is a current student; it is a little glimpse of history and prowess that will inspire you for months to come. The Oxford Tube runs from London straight to Oxford and is a comfortable, cost-efficient way to travel plus the bus has wifi…so…
3. Portobello Market: For an antique and vintage freak like me, Portobello Market in Notting Hill was HEAVEN. Not only is it in the gorgeous West London neighborhood, there are stands and stands filled with antique cameras, vintage jewelry, and cute restaurants. Take note of the Notting Hill bookstore, featured in the popular movie with Hugh Grant and Julia Robert and for a snack, try a crepe or a cupcake from the famous Hummingbird bakery. Some of my other favorite London markets are found in the winding alleys of Camden Town and the delicious fresh and international foods found at the Borough Market (the latter is open on weekends only).
4. Windsor Castle: If you’re all ‘been there, done that’ when you hear the words Buckingham Palace, take a few steps outside the city to see Queen Elizabeth’s weekend home and reportedly favorite residence. The chapel, holding the tombs of King Henry VIII and several of his wives was completely gorgeous and the room containing the elaborate royal doll-houses was also a standout. Make sure to have your ticket stamped at the end of your visit, as you can then come back for free anytime in the next year—not a bad deal!
If you have even more time, do stop by the National Portrait Gallery (just behind the National Gallery) for some really amazing artwork. And for relatively inexpensive and healthy meals, step into one of the numerous Pret a Mangers, marked by their trademark burgundy sign marking practically every block! I can’t wait to go back and explore even more.
Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day this Saturday! I’ll be sending the most Irish of wishes over the sea from Dublin.
A few weeks ago, there was an article written in the Star Tribune about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I was lucky enough to be able to hike the crossing this past weekend, and this is how it went.
On Friday, a group of us rented a car and drove up from school in Palmy to Tongariro National Park. The park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the fifth oldest national park in the world. Within the park are three active(barely) volcanoes: Mt. Ruapehu, a large snow covered mountain with a ski field for snow sports. Mt. Ngauruhoe, a smaller stratovolcano (and the mountain that was set as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings triology), and finally Mt. Tongariro, a longer volcanoe with multiple craters.
We drove up and got supplies in the nearby town of Turangi, a tourist town geared towards fishing on nearby Lake Taupo (a great place for anyone who likes the north woods and all they have to offer). A friend of mine has a Holiday Home (cabin) in a township called Omori on the southern banks of Lake Taupo, and conveniently 30 minutes from the mountains. We settled in, and set our alarms for bright and early.
We got up the next morning and headed for the park. After struggling for about an hour to find the correct car park, we were finally on our way up the crossing. The crossing itself is a 19.4 km (about 12 mile) hike and is estimated to take between 6 and 7 hours.
As we ascended, the terrain quickly changed from flat plains to a slow ascension until we reached the base of the junction between Ngaurahoe and Tongariro. From there it became a twisted steep ascension around hardened lava flows and volcanic rocks. After 2 hours we reached the south crater, which gave us some level ground to walk on, as one of my friends pointed out, if you didn't know better it would've looked like we were on Mars.
From the south crater the path becomes rather intense. As an aside, we were originally told that this hike was of relatively low difficulty and other than bringing something to eat and a rain coat you really had nothing to worry about. Once we past the south crater, we began to seriously question the credability of these sources. The ascent quickly becomes verticle and loose. Gravel, ash and loose rocks make climbing less of a leisurely experience. However, the view can't be beat. We were lucky enough to reach Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing itself before clouds rolled in. We were able to see Mt. Taranaki (another volcano on the western side of the North Island) and most of the North Islands landscape as well. Past Red Crater, the next scenic stop is the Emerald Lakes, craters formed from quick rapid explosions and filled with water that has since leached it's color from the unique minerals found here.
Once we passed the lakes, we crossed the central crater to Blue Lake, again another crater (Tongariro has erupted a lot in its lifetime) filled with water. Once the crater was past there was a quick descent to the final car park. When I say quick descent, I mean we dropped altitude, fast. The actual majority of our hike didn't even begin until this point, and while it was incredibly beautiful and scenic, we had started to feel a little winded. Once we reached the bottom, we celebrated with what little energy we had left and headed back to Omori. Needless to say, we all slept like rocks that night.
If you have happened to stumble upon my posts in the past, you may be experiencing déjà vu: yes, I was in Paris in December as well. I firmly believe, however, that it is just not possible to visit Paris too many times! So I was not about to pass up the chance to visit a dear friend of mine from (from Wayzata High School as well) during her own exciting abroad adventure in Paris. And I am ridiculously glad that I did.
How I Got There: I flew from Dublin into Paris Beauvais on the popular European budget airline, Ryanair. Since it was Ryanair, Paris Beauvais was an airport a little less actually in Paris then the name would lead you to believe…the shuttle from Beauvais to Porte Maillot, a metro stop in Paris, cost thirty euro round trip and took about 1h15. So if you’re willing to make your journey a bit longer, it’s not an awful way to save around a hundred euro that you might have paid to fly into Charles de Gaulle! If you enjoy convenient, easy, and non-stressful travel…Beauvais is a hundred percent not a place you will want to step foot in.
Things to Do, People to See: Luckily on my last Paris trip, I was able to do much of the sightseeing that was my priority so this trip was more to enjoy the city itself. On recommendation from a friend, I visited Laduree on the Champs-Elysees for macaroons and it was absolutely, fantastically, FABULOUS! The restaurant was closed, so we picked up our macaroons and ate them on a bench while people watching (which is hands down one of my favorite hobbies anywhere abroad). I also visited the Louvre for the second time, and found a few new areas I had missed previously- make sure to walk through Napoleon’s apartments. Especially if you won’t have time to visit Versailles, they are a perfect example of luxurious French opulence. Those chandeliers, man….
Chateau Thoiry: ALERT: ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE AHEAD. My friend Maari, currently abroad in Paris, was kind enough to invite me to visit her relatives at their family chateau, Chateau Thoiry (which is about a half-hour train ride from Paris Montparnasse). The chateau has been in their family since it was built in 1559, and currently houses a museum on the first floor and a zoo, opened in 1968, in the backyard. We were able to stay for a night and experience the absolute beauty and splendor of the castle, as well as the kindness of the current occupants! The chateau can only really be explained in photographs, so hopefully the images below will be able to show how absolutely amazing this place is. If you ever have a spare day in France, I absolutely encourage you to take a trip out to a true example of French history; the train ride to Thoiry is also through the rolling French countryside which is not a bad way to spend a half hour! The museum is completely gorgeous, and the zoo is a lovely and natural environment- like, the animals LOOKED HAPPY. It was an unreal experience, and I am so grateful to the family for allowing me to experience it.
Basics: The metro is extremely easy to use, so you won’t really need to worry about cabs or buses during your time there. Since I knew I’d be there for a few days, I bought a carnet of tickets (ten tickets for 6e35), and individual rides are 1e70. Eating out in Paris is EXPENSIVE, like Ireland expensive, but buying food in grocery stores is surprisingly cheap and they have a pretty large selection!
Why to Go: Paris is a beautiful place to be, even if you can only stay for a few days. I distinctly remember the moment when I was walking through the Tuileries, passing French men with long baguette loaves in their messenger bags, being able to see the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and smelling the musty, fresh sod from the gardeners re-planting the lavender flowers. And those are the type of times I will remember about Europe- walking, soaking up culture through every pore, and living in the moment.
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