I’ve been putting off talking about Switzerland, because, well, it’s hard to describe. We took a night train from Prague on Thursday, and I awoke somewhere between Mannheim in Germany and Basel in Switzerland, and saw beautiful blue skies (Prague had been pretty cloudy, so we were worried about the weather) and nice fall colors (we were farther south than Prague, so it wasn’t as cold). We caught a connecting train from Basel’s Swiss station and after 2 hours of winding up the mountains – and my ears popping – we were in Interlaken. Interlaken has an average population of 5,000 and it’s at the base of the Jungfrau mountains, between two lakes. It’s a charming little village and the adorably Swissness of it brought a smile to my face.
Friday we walked around Interlaken, just taking in the city. Grabbed some groceries and made dinner at the hostel’s kitchen. Did some shopping, and somehow resisted buying a cowbell but caved and bought a Swiss Army Knife and some other stuff like chocolate. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the TV room of our hostel with a couple other cool kids watching movies.
Saturday we got an early start. As in, my alarm went off at 5:30, and I stumbled out of bed and into a hot shower before putting on about 5 layers of clothing. Saturday was, in a word, amazing. We took a train up to the highest train station in Europe – Jungfraujoch. We climbed something like 4,000 meters in elevation. It was funny, because Friday had been cloudy, so Jean and I didn’t notice that there was a visible snow line. But Saturday morning as we headed up (and watched the sun rise) you could see the line. And then, all of a sudden, the frost on the ground turned into a light snow. And got deeper and deeper and deeper. And all of sudden, you’re in the middle of the Alps.
And the sun is shinning, and the air is clear, and the sky is so blue. And except for the voices of the people you’re with, it’s so quiet. And it’s breathtaking, and even though the snow glare makes you want to close your eyes, you can’t help but be wide-eyed and take it all in. After we’d explored, sent some postcards, and headed home, we went for dinner. We had Roesti (think hash browns, but not exactly. And with meat and cheese, and better) and chocolate fondue for dinner. And crashed.
Sunday was the day I’d been looking forward to. We got a much later start, but took a couple trains to a small town called Innertkirchen (where the cows roamed in a nice big field next to the train station). From there we hiked a kilometer or so up the hill to a practically non-existent, and barely marked place called “Pfengli” where my great-grandma grew up. And even though we had to hurry – since the sun sets early where you’re between 2 mountains – we did take time to just look around, snap some pictures, and drink from a true alpine spring. By the end of the day, we were beat. We had some cheese fondue, admired the town of Interlaken some more, and then headed to bed.
Monday we said a sad goodbye to Switzerland and spent the day chaotically taking trains back to Prague. Neither of us wanted to leave, and both of us have vowed to go back. Personally, I think that no European adventure could be complete without a trip to Switzerland. It was the most expensive trip I took, but I don’t regret it in the least.
I’m not going to lie, my main reason for the trip to Poland was that it was included in our program, so I figured, ‘why not?’ but, Poland just wasn’t my cup of tea, as many would say. Oh, Krakow was beautiful, and full of people – student, not tourists! (This is a strange thing to someone who lives in a city where the tourist to native ratio is 3:1 in most areas). But Poland was windy and foggy, so…cold. However, we did see the Jewish ghetto – what’s left of it. And the super cool Salt Mines. I’d already been to Auschwitz, so I chose not to go again. Some things really are only meant to be done once in a lifetime.
Since it was so foggy, my pictures of Poland are not as pretty as my pictures of Vienna or Berlin, I haven’t had the energy to sort through them and edit them. I have some good shots of the salt mine, though.
We got into Krakow on Friday after taking a night train from Prague to get there. We didn’t have reservations, which was not my call, and a very bad idea). We saw a castle and went to a church concert at the Church of St’s Peter and Paul. It was beautiful quartet, and the church was a fascinating background. It wasn’t something I’d normally do, but I recommend doing it at least once. Saturday we went to the Salt Mines, which took a good chunk of the day, most of it really, and since we were beat, we decided to be lazy, and watch the new James Bond movie (with Polish subtitles, maybe not such a good idea). Sunday a few of us travelled back, while the others went off to Auschwitz.
This weekend, since I’m feeling a bit sick, I might just hole up here in Prague. I have tickets for the opera (Carmen) and ballet (the Slovak National Ballet is coming for a joint show with the Czech Ballet) next week, that will be exciting. And I also have tickets for an Advent Concert in December. The beautiful thing about Prague is that with an ISIC card, you can get 50% off of all tickets at the National Theater, which has Opera, Ballet, and Theater tickets, as well as occasional concerts. My seats weren’t fantastic, but they were very very cheap (I got all three tickets for less than $15 USD)
Yesterday we went to the top of Europe. Amazing views, and there was snow! I was super happy 🙂 We also had traditional Roesti and chocolate fondue for dinner at a little place called Des Alpes. Yum. And bought lots of chocolate as well. Today we’re off to Innertkirchen and Understock. This trip is crazy, but so much more than I imagined it could be.
By the next time I write, I’ll have hopefully accomplished the following tasks. Wish me luck!
So here goes. The plan is to stay in Interlaken, which isn’t too far from where my Great Grandma grew up. It’s kind of a jumping-off point for all sorts of tourism in the area, most of it of the adventure sports variety. We’re arriving on Friday around noon, and we plan to explore the city and around it on Friday. Saturday, we’ll probably head up to the alps – the weather is kinda iffy, but Jean and I want to do some hiking or go up in the train, gondola, whatever. Sunday, I plan on making my way farther east to Meiringen and Grund, then eventually to Unterstook, which is a small village. My Great Grandma grew up in the mountains nearby, and since I don’t know where exactly (and the family that has visited said it’s hard to get to), I probably won’t find the house. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will all work out and somehow we’ll find the house.
After the weekend trip to Vienna, I spent the following two weekends being an absolute coffeehouse, art-seeing, park-strolling bum in Prague. And it was wonderful. I went to the Mucha Museum and fell head over heels in love with his work. There were quite a few pieces I had to refrain from buying full size posters of. I did promise myself I buy a few when I got home and settled into my apartment. The coffeehouses were lovely, and one of the ones I went to used to be a favorite haunt of Franz Kafka.
The weather even decided to warm up, and so I was blessed with a beautiful babi leto (Indian summer) for those couple weeks. I also got to spend tons of time catching up on homework and took plenty of photos of Prague, but the weather distracted me and I never did as much as I’d planned.
On Thursday evening Jean and I are leaving for Switzerland. This trip is super special for me because I’m traveling to the area where my Great Grandma lived when she was a young girl, and she used to tell me stories about it. It’s always been a dream of mine to go visit, and so now I’m getting the chance.
Vienna is, in a word, charming. It doesn’t have the stunning cityscape of Prague, nor the young and funky culture of Berlin, but it has charm. Vienna begs you to step into one of its millions of coffeehouses and have a drink or two and spend an hour or two just contemplating life and dreams. One of the great things about Vienna is that a lot of the museums have days where they offer half price or cheap tickets, or sometimes have free exhibits.
We arrived in Vienna on Friday afternoon, dropped some things off at the hostel, and our professor took us on a quick tour. Afterwards, we grabbed some dinner, and then Jean and I made a mad dash back to the hostel to change, and were off to the Opera. We read in our copy of Rick Steve’s that for a mere 3 Euros, you can buy a “standing place” ticket for the Vienna Opera. The view isn’t very great and after 3 and a half hours of standing, I was beat. However, it was great to see an Opera in Vienna, especially for 3 Euros. After the opera we went out for some of the best gelato I’ve ever had, and then back to the hostel.
Saturday morning dawned bright and early. Jean and I headed over to the Naschmarkt, which is basically like Pike Place market combined with a flea market. And when I wandered past the stalls selling fish and seafood, I felt like I was back in Seattle. After spending about three hours there, eating falafel and hummus with fresh fruit and bread. After lunch, we split up for some museum wandering. I went to the Kunsthistorische Museam (The Art History Museum) and spent almost another three hours wandering the halls. it was great, and I only left when I got too hungry that I couldn’t focus on the art anymore. I decided to head to a cafe for a while, since that’s what Vienna is all about. And after a “short” 90 minute stop at a cafe near St Stephan’s Cathedral, I went to see some sights and another museum at Modern Art and Architecture. Then we all met up at the hostel for some dinner and just hung out.
Sunday morning I went to the History of Vienna museum (which is free on Sunday mornings), which had tons of cool artifacts from Vienna’s past. After that, I ran around to see some last sights and spent another hour in a cafe and ate way too much. With a quick, final jaunt to visit the Belvedare Palace, we went to the train station and left for Prague. All in all, I believe that Vienna is a beautiful and charming, but very expensive city. However, I felt proud of myself because I was able to speak German for most the time.