Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A picnic in St. Wolfsberg

Crown of the Wolfgangsee

On the way to Salzburg, we stopped in St. Wolfsberg, a town on the eastern shore of the Wolfgangsee (lake) in the Salzkammergut region. We arrived to find the town cheering loudly for...tractors; I felt like I was back in Iowa. However, the scenery convinced me otherwise.

We parked the car and wandered down to the lake shore for a picnic (left). After enjoying our peaceful meal, we headed up to the city center to wander the streets (below). One of the highlights was the Pfarrkirche (church) which dominates the skyline of St. Wolfsberg (right).

Also, what adventure would be complete without some art impersonations?


Hallstatt - Population: 943
From Gosau, we headed to Hallstatt - a gorgeous town built into the mountains overlooking one of the lakes in the Salzkammergut region. We spent a few hours strolling the quaint streets, taking in the natural beauty surrounding the postcard-perfect village (Right: Town Square). One highlight was watching Ryan (Below: overlooking Hallstatt) eat an entire package of Lebkuchen, a German sweet, and then complain that his stomach was upset...


Is This Narnia?

On Friday, we got up bright and early to explore the natural beauty of Austria. After eating breakfast (I had my first German egg), we headed toward Gosausee - Gosau's breathtaking lake nestled in the mountains. We spent our morning walking around this small lake, in awe of the beauty, crisp air, stillness and absolute silence - it was a great place to think and reflect.

A few of the things we did around the lake (aside from taking hundreds of pictures):
  • Stopped to drink ice cold water from a stream coming off of the mountain (left)
  • Yell ridiculous things and listen for the echo (Riiii-coooo-laaaaaa)
  • See who could throw rocks farther (below)
  • Listen to water drops using a device to amplify the volume (right)
  • Re-enacted scenes from Cliffhanger

After our morning walk (best morning walk ever), we had lunch at the cafe overlooking the lake. I enjoyed bratwurstel, sauerkraut and potatoes with a mug of hot chocolate - almost as much as I enjoyed the views of the mountains.

On the Road Again...

5 days. 3 Countries. 6 cities. ROAD TRIP.

Captain Edwards (below, keeping my eyes on the road) was back in action as we hit the road to Oktoberfest. We rented a Fiat Panda (Right: Actual Size Shown) and left Florence on Thursday (Sept. 24th) for Austria. Ryan and I enjoyed views of the Tuscan countryside as the sun was setting over the land. We stopped in Bologna to pick up Katie, who flew in from Barcelona to go to Oktoberfest with us, and headed for Gosau, Austria.

We spent the next few hours trying to navigate by using road signs, as our directions were spotty. Things were much easier once we arrived in Austria; the infrastructure and traffic flow is much more orderly than in Italy (especially Florence). The views of mountains and changing leaves in Austria was also a plus!

One of the best things about tiny Gosau is that it is a QUIET village in the middle of the beautiful Salzkammergut region - a place of mountains and lakes carved out by glaciers. However, there are absolutely no lights at 2:30am, which made it very difficult to find our hotel.

We finally found our destination, Apartments Muhlradl (after driving around for half an hour), woke our friendly English hostess and proceeded to enjoy the quietest night of sleep in recent memory in preparation for the weekend ahead. (See photo for our view from the room)

The Itinerary

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SIENA - Florence's Rival

One of Italy's best medieval cities

Just South of Florence, Siena was Florence's archrival and a medieval powerhouse. Florence eventually came out on top and now boasts many of the famous landmarks and art pieces. However, Siena has arguably the best town square in Italy (right), little auto traffic to clutter the tall, narrow streets (left) and an easy-going feel that won us over during our visit.

Tom, Ryan, Corey, Beth, Kelley, Katie and I took the train on Saturday (9/19), passing the walled cities, villas and farms dotting the Tuscan countryside on the way to Siena. Siena is a walled city sitting atop a hill, so it was a little walk to get to the city center. Once inside, we wandered the narrow streets and I felt like was in a different time. After getting lost in the weave of alleyways, we emerged into Il Campo.

Il Campo, home of the Palio horseraces, is the focal point of the city that is dominated by City Hall & the Torre del Mangia (right). We decided to grab a bite to eat taking in the sights from a ristorante nearby the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) named Bar Il Palio (left). After lunch, we grabbed gelato (of course) and nearly crashed a wedding that happened at city hall (Beth was very excited). The rest of the day was spent exploring the city's streets, checking out Siena's Duomo (below) and see views overlooking the city and surrounding area. Siena - WIN. See the facebook album for more pictures...

LUCCA - One of Tuscany's Finest Towns

Lucca in one word: Charming.
After a half-day in Pisa on Friday 9/18, we caught the train to Lucca - known for its 100-foot wide walls surrounding the city. Lucca is a quaint town that wasn't overrun by tourists, which added to its charm.

We were greeted by the walls after leaving the train station (and proceeded to defend them like Spartans - right). We explored the tunnels underneath the walls, stumbling upon a tasting of Biadina, a liqour made in Lucca. It was served with pine nuts and tasted like Jaegermeister - definitely warmed the insides!

After emerging into the town, we rented bikes (see below) to ride around the city atop the ramparts (below). It was a gorgeous fall day and I couldn't think of a better way to see the city! After enjoying the Tuscan sunset from above Lucca, we headed into the city center to find some dinner. We settled on a peaceful (until strangely dressed street performers played a little too loudly...) back-alley place (below) called Ristorante L'Antico Sigillo and enjoyed Tortelli Lucchessi (a dish from Lucca), wine and tiramisu & panna cotta caramello for dessert! It was a great way to end a great day!

PISA - tower pictures and nap time.

 A 15 foot lean from the vertical

For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that taking funny pictures is a top travel pastime - and Pisa's famous Leaning Tower is a classic place for creative pictures. Sporting the "gangsta lean", the cathedral's gorgeous bell tower is still held in place by people like me (right), day and night.

Team Firenze (our traveling group name) kicked off the weekend with a half day in Pisa. There isn't too much to see in Pisa outside of the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) - the location of the bright white marble "Pisan Romanesque" buildings: Duomo (cathedral), Leaning Tower, Baptistery and the Camposanto Cemetery.

After taking pictures with the leaning tower, eating lunch at a kebab place (you had to be there to appreciate that experience) and exploring the Duomo (VERY beautiful inside - left), we relaxed on the pristine lawn of the Campo dei Miracoli (below), chatting, listening to Beth sing "Best Friends" by Aqua and napping. I've been having really good luck lately finding music that fits my current state and have been carrying my iPod around much more recently - life is much better with the right soundtrack. From Pisa, we caught the train to the wonderful walled town of Lucca...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clubs @ LdM

I look like I might know what I'm doing in that picture - but I don't.
Lorenzo de Medici offers students with a variety of interests the opportunity to get involved in clubs. Tom & I joined the basketball & soccer club (which meet on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively). Ryan joined the soccer club and Zack signed up for the slow drink club & music club.

(Random side note: You know when you stop and think about certain words, they seem weird? Club. Club is a weird word. Sorry - I digress.)

We had our first club meetings this week, playing pick up games of basketball and soccer (both 5 on 5). My basketball skills were rusty, but it was good to run the court. One highlight was someone getting dunked on a-la "Patrick chEwing".

While I have some experience playing basketball, my soccer abilities are non-existent. I love watching soccer, but I only played organized soccer for two years in elementary school (The Stallions & The Pack - word). The picture above (playing in Brazil, 2007) might lead you to think I have soccer skills, but you'd be wrong. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun to get some exercise and meet some new people. Hopefully, over the course of the next few weeks, I'll get better.

We have a soccer tournament coming up the week of September 27th. We'll be squaring off against teams of students from Syracuse, Florida, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and some local teams...think World Cup, but more competitive and important... hopefully no one gets Zidane'd....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Learning to cook like the Italians...

Piatto del giorno: Trenette al pesto and Bonet
Getting school credit to eat = legit. Today we cooked for the first time in my Food of Italy class - and it was AWESOME. Throughout the course of the semester, we will be preparing typical dishes from different regions of Italy, as each region has its own history and style of cooking that we'll learn about.

Today, we prepared food typical of the Northwest regions of Piedmont & Valle d'Aosta - Trenette al Pesto (above) and Bonet (a caramel coated custard) for dessert (right). The coolest part was that we made everything from scratch - the pasta, pesto sauce & dessert!

Upcoming dishes:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Calcio - My first soccer match in Europe

Fiorentina vs. Cagliari
 On Monday 9/13, Tom found out at the last minute that Fiorentina, the local soccer club in Florence, had a Serie A match against Cagliari. Tom, Kelley & I scrambled to catch the bus to Stadio Artemio Franchi (beautifully situated at the base of the hills - see photo) and get tickets (only 13 euro!) for the match. I love watching soccer (I fell in love with the game after my trip to Brazil two years ago) and had a great time (despite the spot of rain towards the end of the first half that droves us to hide under the bleachers) attending my first European soccer match. Fiorentina didn't disappoint as the won 1-0 from a Giraldino header. Hopefully, I'll be able to catch more of the home games in the future!

CINQUE TERRE - Best. Hike. Ever.

Five towns. Five times the awesomeness.

Cinque Terre is absolutely amazing. (Warning: this note doesn't come close to explaining the gloriousness that is Cinque Terre) There are no roads interrupting the provincial life of the tiny towns - the only transportation between the towns is walking or taking the trains or ferries. We reconvened with the group in La Spezia on Saturday morning (9/12) and caught the train to Monterosso, the largest and northern most town of the five (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola & Riomaggiore) . The picturesque hikes get increasingly easier and shorter as you work your way south from Monterosso, so we decided to get the hard part out of the way first.

The first challenge we ran into was storing our luggage. In most train stations, there is a place where you can store luggage for a small fee. The luggage storage attendant at the station in La Spezia was nowhere to be found and, upon arriving in Monterosso,  we discovered there was no place to deposit bags. Fortunately, I just had a backpack, but most others had a duffle bag. We searched all over town for somewhere to keep our luggage, but to no avail. So we began our hike, luggage in hand.

As we were almost out of town, Peter & Colleen, a couple from Vancouver, Canada stopped us because they couldn't believe we were about to hike 9 kilometers with all that stuff. They generously offered their hotel room for the day and would not accept any compensation - they told us of all the help their son had received from strangers during his 6 month charity trip in Eastern Europe. They said just to pay it forward. Without their kindness, our day would not have been as wonderful as it was!

After the challenging, narrow, up-and-down hike between Monterosso & Vernazza, we stopped for lunch overlooking the bay in Vernazza - my favorite town of the five. The region is where pesto began, so I ordered Trofie al pesto, a dish typical to the area, and shared a half liter of vino bianco (white wine) with Tom.

We continued hiking, enjoying the views, conversation and exploring each town. We stopped on the way to Manarola to take a dip in the Mediterranean at a smooth rock beach where the beautiful water was clear and refreshing after a day of hiking under the hot Tuscan sun. Afterwards, we dried off as we finished the rest of the hike going down the famous Via Dell'Amore between Manarola & Riomaggiore. It was definitely one of the best days I've had. My words can hardly do justice to the experience, so I would encourage you to check out my pictures on facebook and make it a goal to visit Cinque Terre yourself!