Hallo Leute.... I'm back!
17 days, 7 countries, 40 exchange students.... what does that equal? CRAZINESS!
First of all... I want to thank my church and the Deacons for the Easter ''care package''. It was really cool!
Second of all... I need to thank Lima Rotary for the money for my EuroTrip. A really BIG thankyou.
This morning I went with Herr Heinzl to Emden (about 45 minutes from here) to an Archeology conference. It was located in a bombed out church that had been (very tastefully) renovated into a library and small musuem. The lectures were really meaningfull, especially being able to put what I am learning with Herr Heinzl in context after such a huge trip around Europe.
It is hard to believe that I have seen so much yet so little now of Europe. My favorite country was defintely the Czech Republic. It would take forever to remember everything that happened, so I am going to just give an outline...
Our first city was Strasbourg in France. We visited the European Union parliment building and spent a lot of time in the old town city center shopping and admiring the half timbered houses. I found the city to be real mix of both German and French culture, interesting yet slightly disapointing. My favorite part was the view from our hotel... right out over the train station.
From Strasbourg we drove to Switzerland and spent a few hours in Luzern, a georgous town in the middle of the Alps. There we visited a geology museum and learned a little about glaciers and then we rented paddle boats and we out on the lake were we swam and tanned. That night we slept in Engelburg. The next morning we went to the top of a mountain and took a look at the glaciers up there and had lots of fun in the snow (including tubing!).
After driving through probably the longest tunnel on the face of the earth (we were in the thing for over 10 minutes!) we finally made it to Italy. For a while were weren't sure if were were in Switzerland or Italy, so we renamed the area Switaly. But then we were going through Tuscany and you could definitely tell which country we were in. The picture perfect postcard images changed from perched wooden mountain homes to villas smack dab in the middle of vineyards. We spent the night on the mediteranian coast (and even swam in the icy waters). Later we met a group of kids from Milan and we went out to a bar together.
The next morning we went first to mass (a real italien catholic mass!) and then we drove further to Pisa and saw the leaning tower, which is actually a part of a complex of church buildings. I thought it was wierd that everywere we went in Italy, the baptismal fount was in it's own specialy built building. We ate Pizza in Pisa (and red wine!) and then drove on to Florence. That night we watched the sunset over the river.
In Florence I spent most of the day shopping and attempting to learn Italien. I ''inherited'' a 15 langauge translator from a Thai kid when he went home so I spent a lot of time searching through that. I even met a woman on the street while waiting for the bus and she sat with me for 10 minutes teaching me Italian! (unfortuatley I don't remember any of it).
The next night we made it to a resort town outside of Venice. It was on the beach as well and I had a lovely stroll on the beach that night. The next morning we were in Venice. Venice is everything everyone says it is. We did the typical... boat rides, getting lost in the tiny streets, eat pasta in the resturants, and gaggling at the shop windows, and listening to the Italiens sining love songs in the plazza. It was the saint day of the patron saint of venice, so the tourism was a little bit bad (we couldn't even get into the cathedral), but on the whole, it was a beautiful day.
From Venice we drove over 10 hours through Austria into Hungary and spent the night on the Balton, one of the biggest lakes in Europe. We got to sleep in the next day, but it started raining, so we couldn't go out and enjoy. I ended up doing laundry in the bathtub the night before with one of the Australians' which turned out to be an amusing situation with water everywhere.
After getting a little bit of rest, we spent only a few more hours in the bus and made it to Budapest. Now, with my host mom from Budapest, I was more that excited and ready to see the city. It turned out to be amazing (regardless that it rained almost the entire time). We saw the castle district, ate hungarian wurst (the best in the world, in my opinion) in the garden of the ''Kings Palace'' on the top of a mountain overlooking Pest (Budapest is two cities... Buda and Pest), saw one of the most amazing churches that I have ever seen so far, went to the thermal baths, saw one of the largest Synagoges in Europe, visited the Terror Museum (about communism), and went on a dinner boat cruise after dark... just to name a few things. I had a terrible time with the language but still managed between English and German. Apart from everything being really REALLY impressive, what will always stick with me the most is what I learned in the Terror musuem. It was the REAL story about what happened and it made me frustrated that after a whole year supposedly learning about socialism and communism in 10th grade English and history class, it didn't prepare me at all for the truth.... the stories of the people, the work camps, the torture chambers and prison cells, and what happened to the contries and the people who lived under Soviet-Russian control. It made me honestly feel that everything I had learned in school was american propoganda.
Our next stop was Vienna in Austria. Vienna is another tourist haven, just like Venice. They both know what they got and they flaunt it. But both cities also do a pretty good job at living up to thier reputation. The first evening in Vienna we went a music museum and afterwards met a group of Italians on tour in Vienna and we sang and danced with them for almost an hour and then walked around the city together for a while. The next day was a Sunday, so we went to Catholic mass again (our chaprone was Catholic and so he always brought a big group of us along of those that had interest). It was first communion and it was really neat. I finally got a chance to get into an art museum and I found a couple of my favorite pieces from Dürer that I did projects on in 11th grade. That night I went to a concert in the palace, supposedly in the same room that Mozart played his fist piece (at the age of 4) for the queen.
After Vienna we drove to Prag in the Czech Republic. I had absolutly no expectations. However I had heard that it was really pretty. Since I had had such a great time in Budapest, I wanted to try to live up to Hungary. What happened is that Prag impressed me and surpassed my wonder of Budapest within 45 minutes of being in the inner city. Since my Germany tour in October, I have been somewhat facinated by Eastern Europe and the Czech Republic simply fascinated me even more. The city was never bombed in the WWII (therefore all original and georgeous... the hidden pearl of Europe) and the people are very down-to-earth and hard workers. My initial attempts at learning Czech worked (!!!!) and I think the language just simply ''klingt'' good. I don't remember seeing anything particularily special, just that I was amazed by everything around me.
We spent most of the day after Prag in a city/concentration camp complex and then we had a brief stop at a market. We reached Dresden that evening. I visted the remnents of the May Day market in the central square and went to a church service and tour at the Frauenkirche (one of the most famous churches in Europe). The next day I rented a bike and rode about 15 miles along the riverside to a castle/palace with a small group and then later I went to the Zwinger, a famous art museum. There, I discovered that Raffeal's angel's (cherub things) were there (the two little board angels that are on everything in every gift shop in every first world country)! I also discovered a couple more peices that I recognized as well. It was a good feeling.
So then, yesterday, May 5th, we drove across Germany and I finally made it back ''home'' to East Frisia. I must have brought the good weather with me because it is absolutely beautiful here now. Spring has finally come and the trees are in bloom and the fields are glow in the dark green again, and the cows and horses and goats and donkeys are all back outside again.
I guess I've learned a lot in the past month.... 4 weeks of traveling. I'm looking forward to a bit of peace, but I am also really excited to get on the road again in 2 weeks. It's hard to think of the trip on a whole, I got to think about each city individually. So, if you write to me and ask me about things, I can explain a lot more (if anyone is interested). Write to me!!!