These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
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.
I flew over the top of the world. Yes, I actually flew over the top! The route the plane took amazed me. It flew from Minnesota and up over Canada then Russia, and finally China. I was going to meet my boyfriend in Singapore before we went back to Australia. I sat on the plane and watched the television screen with the map and the little airplane showing where we were.
I found myself thinking back to 2010, when I studied abroad in Australia for 7-months. I remembered the moment that I met my boyfriend (Johan) and our first date. I had to go back to Minnesota State University of Moorhead so I could graduate in May. During the time that I was in the States, Johan and I experienced the journey that Hollywood likes to romanticize, "A Long Distance Relationship". That had been a crazy and lovely adventure. My memory bubble popped as soon as I started filling out the Customs form. It started making me think about the prescription medicine in my checked luggage. I started worrying about that, because the one thing I did know about Singapore was that they have a death penalty for drugs. So, during my last 2 hours on my 15 hour flight to Hong Kong, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I also wondered if I was going to get lost in Hong Kong, because my imagination had painted a picture of Chinese characters on the signs and not much English.I saw a clear picture of a "lost Devin"! I was very wrong, though - thank goodness.
I found my way to the boarding area for the Singapore flight, I had a 2 hour layover. On the floor a little ways away from me, I saw two little Chinese children playing with a gaming system. All of a sudden the older sister got up and hit her brother. His countenance was shocked as she ran away. He got up to run after her so that he could hit her back. It was funny, when I saw this because it got my mind off the worry that my medication would end in my death, because it made me think back to my childhood and my siblings. When traveling it's always nice to see things that remind you of home!
After the shorter flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, the customs was a breeze. The prescription medicine wasn't the death of me! :P I walked into the beautiful arrival area and I became introduced with the Changi International Airport. After freshening up I explored the beautiful arrival area of the airport for 5 hours before Johan arrived. I had a tea that is famous in Singapore. It was black tea with sweeten condensed milk. If you ever go to Singapore, make sure you have some! It was well worth it!
I was so happy when Johan walked into the arrival area. He saw me right away. After I spoke for a little bit, one of the first things he said with a little laugh was, "WOW! You sound very American!" (We hadn't skyped for about 1 month, because he had gone to South Africa to visit family for the Holidays. So, we hadn't seen each other or heard each other for quite a while! Only thing we had was Facebook chat... thank God, for it!)
Before going to Singapore, I hadn't known what to expect. I thought it was going to be dirty, but was I ever wrong. Well, they have steep fines for littering and also for drinking liquid or eating on the MRT train. (e.g. littering S$300, eating or drinking on the MRT train S$500) I definitely found out that is why it was clean. Everywhere was clean.
My mom has a high school friend (Tom) who works in Singapore. He lives there with his family now. One night he took Johan and I to the Chinese & Japanese Gardens. Which, they were beautiful!
Another day Tom took us to a local Singaporean food area. He took his two daughters with him to pick out all the foods that they wanted us to try. Some of it was quite different and strangely hot for a Scandinavians' tongue. :P One dish was Carrot Cake. Now, before you start salivating over the thought of the carrot cake that your grandma made you with the yummy glaze on top - let me burst your thought bubble and show you the reality. Okay, this carrot cake was made with a white turnip (it had a squishy texture) sausage, and eggs. I didn't really like it. (In the picture below it shows the Carrot Cake in the middle)
One of the other things that really surprised me was the desserts. I was really excited about the dessert, because of course desserts are good, right? I was thinking chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream. Tom brought us a contained dessert. The see-through lid had me convinced that it was a colorful pudding with yummy ice cream and vanilla cake. When he removed the lid my craving bubble busted. It wasn't what I thought it was. Now, I have never liked snow cones, but this dessert was made with the fine ice that one can find in snow cones. There was a molasses syrup poured over it with salty green noodles sitting on top. When I lifted a spoon-full up to my mouth I bit down and tasted corn. I was thinking, "Corn? in Dessert?" I dug my spoon into the dessert again. It was indeed corn, there were beans as well! That made me stop in my tracks - I couldn't get myself to eat much more because beans and corn were not in my description of a dessert. According to Tom, it was a big thing to local Singaporeans. I am glad that they enjoy it. It just wasn't my cup of tea!
You are probably thinking, "Devin, it seems like you really didn't enjoy any of the food in Singapore?" Well, that isn't true! I promise, i did enjoy some of the noodle dishes. The spices are a different sort of hot & spicy compared to Mexican hot & spicy. I love Mexican hot & spicy - but some of the Asian hot & spicy spices are too much for me. But, yes, I did enjoy some of the food as well! That next morning I woke up thinking I had dreamt that I had eaten the food - I soon remembered it wasn't dream. I got up and looked down out the window into the town to see little people down below doing tai chi. It was so neat to see them all moving in sync with one another! It was a clear reminder that I was in Asia.:)
A few of the days Johan and I just walked around Singapore and looked at different parks and areas in the city.
This Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple was located in Little India. This was a big thing for a small town Minnesotan to see. It really told me that I definitely wasn't in Minnesota anymore. The little statues are of Hindu deities.
The Singaporeans were getting ready for the "Chinese New Year". This year's Chinese Zodiac was "The Year of the Dragon" I was all excited and had to get a picture with the dragon, because my Chinese zodiac was the Dragon!
One day Johan and I took a cruise for a few hours on a Ming Dynasty Dinner Cruise. It was a beautiful boat. We ate and then went out to look into the Singaporean bay. I saw so many ships. When it got dark we saw Singapore all lit up in lights and then we went to the other side of the boat and saw a floating city that was just about as bright! (floating city = all the ships!)
While in Singapore someone told me that the ships in the Singapore bay always fly a Singaporean flag in respect even if the ship isn't from Singapore. I also thought back to the guy who sat next to me on the flight from America to Hong Kong. He told me that there are Pirates in the body of water between Jakarta and Singapore. Isn't that crazy? As a writer it made my imagination go wild. :)
The last night in Singapore, Tom took us to a Night Safari where there were flame throwers and nocturnal animals.
This Night Safari was unlike any other zoo I've ever been to. There was a show where they introduced animals. The lights dimmed and all of a sudden i heard a very familiar eerie howl. The lights came back on to showcase a little wolf. They introduced the wolf as the American wolf from the far north. It made me laugh because this wolf was puny and coming from a State that is known for their big timber wolves it seemed ironic. A bit later there were the well known ring tailed bandits that liked to steal my cat's food at night - the Raccoon. It was just interesting that they were showing animals I was so familiar with!
The only thing I didn't enjoy that night was the bat cage. I've never had luck when it comes to flying living things, especially when they are flying above me. I was looking up at this bat and all of a sudden I felt a little drip land on my arm. I thought, "Oh, it's nothing, probably just condensation from the tree's leaves." and then there was another drop, I brought my boyfriends phone up to my arm to see that a bat had pooped on my arm. I ran out of the bat cage flapping my arms and probably squealing like a scared little girl.
Things to know about Singapore before traveling there:
•It's always HOT & HUMID so be sure to bring light clothing and suntan lotion
•Gum is illegal - leave it at home
•There is a death penalty for illegal drugs. If you must bring any sort of medication, be sure to have copies of the prescription with you so you are certain.
•Singapore is a small country/city and you can get almost everywhere from the MRT train system.
•There are different areas of Singapore that you must see (e.g. Little India, Chinatown, and Arab Street) All of them are different and unique in their own ways! (Be sure to try the Peach Fanta, while in Singapore... it was absolutely amazing!!!)
•Singapore is a safe city.
It was soooo hot there! I had decided that Singapore was a very nice place to visit and I will definitely go back there again someday. It was a nice introduction to Asia for me.
Barcelona has all the makings of a fantastic vacation spot. It has sunshine and beaches, the people take PLANNED nap time in the afternoon (I’m allll about that siesta), and the entire city is filled with awesome sculpture, art, and culture. I could rave about Barcelona for years, to be perfectly honest, so I decided to narrow it down to a few things that any Barcelona trip should include (in my opinion). Something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to make Barca your next vacation destination is that there is LOTS of crime, mostly pickpocketing. We really had to learn just not to talk to anybody on the street, because chances are that they were figuring out a sneaky way to grab my purse! This didn’t affect us in any major way, but I don’t think it’s a great family destination; it’s not the most kid-friendly city. For anybody else, though, I’d say to BOOK YOUR TICKET NOW! What are you waiting for!?
1. La Sagrada Famila: This cathedral, still under construction 130 years later, is/was the crowning achievement of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi’s work is found all over the city, but this church is the most spectacular of them all! And the best part: they aren’t even finished with it yet. It’s 100% worth it to pay the fifteen euro to enter (even though it’s a bit steep for the typical student budget)! The outside is amazing, but the massive sandstone columns and gigantic panes of stained glass on the inside make it completely worth it. Walking in with the sound of construction reverberating around you, gazing up at the seemingly sky-high ceiling, and admiring the swoopy curves and designs of stairwells and seating areas is an unforgettable experience. It’s also worth the few extra euro to take the elevator to the top for a great view of Barcelona; don’t forget to stop in the Gaudi museum on the way out to see his grave!
2. Quimet & Quimet: I KNOW I always talk about food, but this place is too good to ignore…in fact we may or may not have gone there every night! There are tapas restaurants littering the streets of Barcelona, and this is hands down one of the best- it’s on a tiny, empty side street and somehow is completely packed every night. Picture this: you squeeze through the crowds into a one-room restaurant, the walls are lined with wine racks and there are small tables dotting the wood floors. You stand at your table, yell out in mangled Spanish to the proprieter to attempt at an order, and two minutes later he produces an absolutely gorgeous tapas with unique ingredients and flavors! Not bad, eh? Our favorites were the langostinos con pequillo (caviar, prawns, and yogurt sauce on a crostini) and another one we couldn’t pronounce that was dried beef with a sweet balsamic sauce and relish. They. Were. Delicious. Make sure to try the tangy house beer, aptly named Quimet & Quimet, prepare for an unbelievable culinary experience: and the tapas are only two-four euro each! Then mail me the meat and cheese platters, and I’ll love you forever.
3. Parc Guell: Aaand we’re back to Gaudi! The man was all over the place, I tell ya. Parc Guell, a massive green space found a bit north of the city, was originally intended to be a private neighborhood that integrated eco-friendly public areas with private homes to create one exclusive community. Unfortunately for them but lucky for us, funding and the high requirements to join led to the downfall of the plan and the opening of the park to the public! A walk through the park will show you surrealist structures that seem to be out of a Dr. Seuss novel, along with leafy trees and a view from the top of the city! The house where Gaudi lived is also inside the park and is worth a walk through just to see the sweet furniture he designed. If you’re lucky, while you are there you will see a police bust of all the gypsies selling trinkets along the side of the path as well as the gypsies fleeing up the side of the mountain with the police in hot pursuit! We did, anyway- I’ve never seen anything like it.
4. The Picasso Museum: If you are a Picasso fan in any regard, this museum will be your heaven. The museum goes through stages of Picasso’s life, even the times when he was not residing in Barcelona. There is a fabulous collection of his paintings, as well as rooms full of his ceramic work that I didn’t even know existed! Beware: this museum is ridiculously hard to find, as it’s on a weird little side street in the very middle of the city, so make sure you have good directions so you don’t spend two hours attemping to find it like we did…
Some of our other favorites: Rosal 34 (a delicious tapas restaurant located near Las Ramblas), Montejuic Park and Castle (a great afternoon activity for a beautiful view of the city), and la Barceloneta (the beach neighborhood on the ocean).
Stay tuned next Tuesday to hear a little more about BERLIN!
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