Monday, March 31, 2008

Wow!

I have become a traveling MACHINE the last few weeks. Between Frankfurt, Munich, Prague, Plzn, and Valencia, I have received my fair share of sites!

Every new city in Europe is so vastly different and I feel so lucky to be able to experience them all. I'm also so incredibly grateful that I've had people I love come to visit me while I've been here.

Our first guest, Alex, whom I have known since middle school, came to visit and we had a chance to see Buck 65, one of Joe's favorite musicians, the day before Alex's birthday. The night ended up being more than we bargained for and we had to put off our trip to Prague for the day.

We had a great extra traveler with us on the way to Prague as well. My friend Liam, with whom I took classes at Schiller, has a brother in the Peace Corps teaching English in Ukraine. He decided to backpack his way there and we drove him a little closer to his destination before he hopped on a train for a day of travel in Eastern Europe.

In Prague, we got to see some of the most magnificent sites in all of Europe. The apartments were all beautiful and I felt like I couldn't find a direction to look in where I wouldn't see an elaborate sculpture or historic site. Aside from tour guide specials like the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, which were almost completely overtaken with souvenir vendors, we also had a chance to get an inside look on the city.

We stayed with a German Erasmus student in Prague named Jane. She was so hospitable and her roommates were incredibly nice too. Our car disappeared from outside her flat after a day of site-seeing and her American roommate, Charlie, quickly arrranged for a Czech friend of theirs to come over and help us call the police since none of us could speak any Czech. Thankfully it only took a few minutes for their friend to rush to our rescue and while we were deciding whether it could have been stereotypically jacked in Prague or impounded, their friend called and told us, much to our relief that it was parked illegally and had been impounded just down the street!

Their entire group of friends and us, about 10 people, all walked together to get the car. I was so impressed that they all were so interested in making sure that we got it back and were there to support us. I love Couchsurfing!

We found a safe place to park the car and went out for great Czech beer night both nights we were there. We tried the original Budweiser Budvar, Grombius, and Pilsner Urquell. Our host knew some really great Czech bars and restaurants outside of the city center, so it was absolutely great to be around locals!

On our way back to Heidelberg, we stopped at Plzen, the city where the Pilsner style of beer came to be. We visited the Pilsner Urquell brewery and tried the beer straight from the wooden barrels that it is stored in, without preservatives or artificial refrigeration. It tasted like magic!!!

We arrived back in Heidelberg safely and without incident and then went to Burg Eltz to see the absolutely beautiful castle and take a tour inside. We had great luck finding the place down a steep and twisting road and then had great luck again with
finding our way back via flat terrain.

The next day my sister, Haley, and her friend, Rob, came to visit us. They arrived early in the morning, so we decided that Alex and I would pick them up from the airport and drive directly to Munich from Frankfurt! It was a big game day for the Bavarian footballers and the city was packed! It was a great day to be there. We went to the Hofbrauhaus and had beer in Oktoberfest-style, one-liter glass mugs (Masses) along with gigantic Bavarian soft pretzels.

Our trip home was a bit more adventurous than we would have liked due to inherited direction deficiencies and we ended up very close to Salzburg, Austria. It was a long day/night to say the least.

We celebrated Easter together the next day and Joe cooked a ham, pierogis, green beans, mashed potatoes, and even baked an apple pie! It was a great dinner and we even had more for lunch the next day.

On Tuesday, we exchanged one Alex for one John at the airport, and went on a phenomenal tour of the Heidelberg Castle with help from our landlord's wife, the tourism director of the castle. It was great having John, Joe's older brother, and my sister here at the same time.

John was here only two days when we all parted ways for the brother trip to Poland to see where their grandma grew up near the Prussian border, and for the sister (and Rob) trip to Valencia to enjoy some sunshine and Spanish culture. I loved it! I took Spanish all through high school and was actually able to communicate rather effectively. More about Valencia in the next post!

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