...with the sound of music! The Sound of Music tours are a big deal here and Salzburg and we wanted to make sure we saw it all, so we booked one. It was a little bit hard to take pictures of everything since we were in a van but here's a few. We got to see the two houses that they used for the front and back of the Von Trapp home, the lake that the children fall into, the 16-going-on-17 gazebo, the church that Maria and the captain get married in, and more. Our guide also told us a lot of interesting facts about the movie making and why some things look different. For example, the church that the wedding was filmed in is actually quite small, so they filmed Maria and Lesile walking four times and used them all. Here's a few pictures from the day!
We are now in Salzburg! After spending Christmas near Hallstatt, Ryan, Justin and I traveled to Nuremberg for a few days in Germany before meeting up with the others. We left Hallstatt on Wednesday and took a few trains to Germany with no trouble. I had found a small apartment that was a close walk to the city center and we took the metro to get there. Our host met us and gave us the key before breaking the news that there was, indeed, no wifi. Nor ethernet. I must admit that I didn’t take the news very well since I was planning on spending some time skyping with Mikey and my family. In addition, there’s this new-city feeling you get when you leave one town and arrive at the next, not knowing where anything is or how to get anywhere. This always bums me out a little bit, which is usually made a little worse if it’s already dark out. Luckily there was a pizza shop close by, so we took some up to our little apartment and chatted while we ate. 

The next morning we slept in and Justin ran to the store for some eggs and toast. Luckily there were several supermarkets within a five-minute walk so soon we were enjoying cereal and french toast. Our plan for the first day was to walk around the old town, see if there were any remains of Christmas markets, and end the day at Starbucks to check our emails and communicate with the rest of our group for meeting up this weekend. The old town of Nuremberg was very nice. We visited the Nuremberg (Imperial) castle where we climbed the tower and also saw a super deep well. The guide only spoke German, so I don’t actually know how deep the well was, but he poured a whole pitcher of water and it took several seconds before we heard anything after the entire container was empty. 

We spent the rest of the day walking around, stopped in at H&M and even the Lego store since all the stores were starting their after-Christmas sales. We made dinner at our apartment and spent the rest of the evening talking and looking through photos.
For our second day in Nuremberg, we decided to visit the Nazi museum (Documentation Center) and Nazi Party Rally Grounds. The museum took us on a very detailed tour from the beginnings of the Nazi party to its end and the Nuremberg trials. It was very educational and packed with photos and videos from the time. I didn’t realize how early the Nazi party actually started in Germany since it seems that in history classes we focus on the forties and WWII and the depression in the thirties. After the walk-through audio tour (which lasted quite awhile), we got to walk out to see the rally grounds. I also didn’t realize how important Nuremberg was for the party in general. Every year they had a Nazi Party Rally and actually started constructing these huge buildings for their events. The one we saw looked quite a bit like the Colosseum, but was never finished. The audio guide said that all of these building projects were meant to show power and instill a sense of being a part of something big. It was a little bit scary to learn about how the party came to power and how people just went along with it even though such terrible things were happening. One point they made several times was that people didn’t go to the Nazi rallies for figuring anything out or learning anything, they only came for the experience and the emotion of being there and taking part in the festivities. There was virtually no logic to anything that occurred, everything that happened was just to show power and make people feel that they were part of something bigger than self or even country. After the museum I decided that there were bigger problems than not having wifi and having to go “all the way” to Starbucks to check my email. 

The next day we left our apartment and took two trains to get to Salzburg. I have decided that I love taking trains and I’m so glad we got Eurail passes. It’s so easy and there are no security check points so you can show up to the station five minutes before your train leaves and have plenty of time. Finally we arrived in Salzburg and found our hostel where we met up with Shannon, Josh, and Jessica! It was so good to see them and our room is very nice and modern with 6 beds and a bathroom. Much nicer than our hostel in Florence. We decided to go hunt for something to eat and got to see the old town of Salzburg by night and enjoyed a veggie-burger at McDonald’s. We finished the night watching Sound of Music since we went on the official Sound of Music tour today!

The tour guide came to pick us up this morning around nine and we all piled in the van for a morning of sight-seeing all the locations where the Von Trapps were in the movie. You can read about that in my next post!
. . . which apparently means "Merry Christmas" in German! We are here in Austria near the picturesque town of Hallstatt for the holiday and we've been having quite the adventure. I'll try to catch you up on the last few days.

Sunday morning started early for us in our hotel in Venice. Austin's flight home left at 6:30 so we all woke up to see him off at five. It was so great that he could come and tour Italy with us and we had so much fun! Even though he had a few glitches, he's home safe and sound now. We went back to bed after seeing him off for another two hours and got up in time for breakfast at the hotel and checked out around 8:30. Then the traveling began. The Hallstatt area is a bit difficult to get to, and required us to take three buses and a train, which stressed me out a bit because we had to purchase the tickets between stops, where we usually had only about 15 minutes. 

The first part of the trip was a bus from Venice to Villach. It was run by OBB which is a train company, so we could use our Eurail pass, but some places they use buses instead. That bus ride was about three hours and for the last hour was very beautiful and picturesque. We also noticed that public transportation in Austria is very different than Italy and Spain, where people talk and laugh loudly. All the trains and buses here are so quite, and even have signs for "silence please" and restrict cell phone usage in train cars. Anyway, after that bus we had about 15 minutes to catch a train which took us two hours further into what appeared to be the middle of nowhere in the alps. At the second station we found another place for a second bus which took us to an even tinier town where we stood in the snow and waited for one last bus. It starts getting dark here about 4:30 because of the mountains so by the time we got to our apartment at five it was so dark. When the lady let us in, we asked if there were any nearby grocery stores where we could grab something to eat, and she said no since it was Sunday. 

It was disappointing, but we enjoyed using the wifi and I got to skype my family for a while and Justin and I enjoyed chatting with them about our adventures. Then we watched a movie and before going to bed tired and hungry with the hope of a quick walk to the grocery store the next morning. Before I continue, here's a few pictures from the train and the first day:

We awoke around 8:30 the next morning, ready to find a grocery store and make breakfast. When I found this apartment as a place to stay, I asked if there was a grocery store within walking distance. Apparently walking-distance means different things to different people, and we walked for about an hour before finding a market. We shopped for about an hour since we didn't want to have to walk all the way back for anything during our two days here. We decided on meals of pasta, beans and rice, scrambled eggs, and the precious veggie-links I'd carried all the way from Spain, sent to me by Union! The problems began right as we left the checkout line. As the lady scanned our foods, everything began piling up very quickly before we could start stuffing it into our grocery bags. Before we could do anything, a carton of eggs fell to the floor and we lost two. Right then we also had to pay and get out of the way with some Austrian ladies giggling about the crazy foreigners who couldn't get it together. We gathered the rest of our food and headed out the doors for the long, long walk home. 

The walk was rather unpleasant since we had so much food and only three pairs of arms to carry everything. But it was about it get a little worse. Arriving home, we discovered that the bottle of yellow liquid with pictures of vegetables on the front was not cooking oil as we had suspected, but vinegar. Frustrated and still hungry from our 24-hour famine, we bitterly discussed the options. Finally we decided that it was Christmas eve and people were probably feeling friendly, so we knocked on the door of the lady who let us in and gave us our key and asked for some cooking oil. She nodded and gave us some in a cup and saved the day. 

Things began looking up and we enjoyed our lunch of scrambled eggs with fries to improvise for a lack of hash-browns in the store. We decided to go on a walk down to the lake and found a small trail near a waterfall in the mountain. It was lovely but began getting chilly and dark so we headed home to do laundry (since our apartment had been advertised with a washer/dryer) and make dinner. 

Oh, the laundry. We'd planned on doing it this week at the halfway point of our trip and had plenty from the three of us. Something went wrong in the first load and it never got to the spin cycle to wring them out as much as they should have. Then the drier didn't seem to work at all and only made our clothes very steamy but still wet. So we hung up everything on every surface of the apartment which made me a bit peeved since I just wanted to be able to get it done and enjoy Christmas eve. After Skyping with Mikey I went to bed, determined that Christmas would be more of a success. And it was!
Our plan for Christmas day was to take the train into the town of Hallstatt and have a look around. W got up this morning and Justin cooked eggs while I folded all the clothes that had dried during the night and tried to clean up for Christmas. After a filling and tasty breakfast we caught the 11:20 train to the Hallstatt stop where we boarded a small boat with several other tourists. Soon we were on the other side, stepping off into the tiny town. We began walking up the road and continued into some smaller trails on the mountainside. We kept going and realized that we were in a full-on hike. It was so beautiful! The very first photo on this blogpost is of a small look-out point on the trail. As we walked we discovered signs with historic information in English and German. There used to be salt mines in the mountain behind Hallstatt and every so often was an informative sign with history and photos. Justin and I both commented that our dads would have loved it. The historic background, the lovely hike, everything made me think of my dad. Everything in the town below, all the tiny, cute houses, reminded me of my mom. It was lovely and I know my family would have loved every minute. 

We hiked along, gaining altitude as the trains began to be more and more covered in snow. My ten-dollar boots from Target were not up to the task in the least, but I didn't care. It was about 50º F today so it wasn't that cold, even with my feet totally soaked. As we neared the top, we heard water rushing, and to our delight found that we were about to walk over a bridge spanning a rather large mountain waterfall. Beyond that was a lookout point for the top of the train where the salt mine museum was (although it was closed for Christmas of course). The view was breathtaking!

At the top, we thought we would go down the mountain a different way, but saw a sign that said there was a "danger of death" so we decided to stay safe and go down the same way we came up. It took less than half the time going downhill especially since we didn't stop to rest or take pictures. Back in town, we walked around and visited the church of Hallstatt with the ossuary and 600 skulls. We walked through the downtown and peeked inside two gift shops that were actually open for Christmas. The town is so cute and I loved seeing all the buildings and houses. Finally we rode the boat to the other side and waiting an hour for the train while I warmed my frozen feet on a radiator in the small waiting room. We got back to the apartment around 4:30 and cooked Christmas dinner, skyped friends and family, and now are settling in with another movie. Christmas abroad isn't the same as Christmas at home. We've all discussed that it really doesn't feel like Christmas here, even though we are in one of the most Christmas-y looking places I've been. Still, everything is beautiful and we had such a wonderful day together. Tomorrow we're off to a new city and more adventures to come!




Today we went to Venice! We are staying in Mestre which is right on the mainland off of Venice, and it takes only a short bus ride to reach the scenic island. Since we booked our hotel online, we even got free bus tickets for each of us. 

Since we're staying in a hotel here in Mestre, we get breakfast included. European breakfast's aren't particularly large or filling, and so far we've discovered that even most of the nice breakfast bars at hotels specialize in bread products with some form of nutella. For me, this is perfect! I also got to have coffee which was a special treat. We headed off to the train station around 8:30 since we needed to make reservations for the next leg of our trip, and then took the train from there and decided to use our bus tickets for the return home. 

When we first got onto the island it was pretty quiet since most of the tourist shops hadn't even opened yet. We walked through the winding streets towards St. Mark's square and began seeing more and more faces. It's the low season for tourism here in Italy, which has been really nice since we haven't encountered any large crowds or endless lines. Probably most people want to visit when it's warmer, which is understandable since the temperatures were hovering above freezing for most of today. Despite that, we enjoyed walking through the narrow roads, over countless bridges, and peering into bakeries and shops as we walked past. 

We've been told about the pigeons at St. Mark's square by some friends of ours who did Italy over fall break. We walked over to a flock of them and it immediately became evident that Ryan was the pigeon whisperer in the group. All he had to do was walk towards them with his hands out and they would come and sit there, even though he didn't even have food! We did watch some people being overcome by birds when they opened a small pack of food. Anyway, we spend quite a while amidst the birds and even revisited them after eating lunch and walking through St. Mark's Basilica. 

Around one we decided to walk along the waterfront for awhile and then find the "bus" which was really a boat that takes you all the way through the Grand Canal. We sat outside which was worth the photos although it was quite freezing. We took the bus back to Mestre and were back in our warm hotel room by four. After a short rest time in the warmth, Justin, Austin and I ventured out to find a grocery store to buy snacks for tomorrow. Now we're settling in with a movie for our last night in Italia.
Our second day in Florence was a huge success! Since we had done a lot after we got back from Pisa on our first day, we were able to do everything else we wanted yesterday. Most of the places we went, though, didn't allow photos so I don't have very many from the day.

The first place we went was the Academia Gallery to see the David. We ended up seeing lots of famous art yesterday that I had seen in my Arts and Ideas book, which was sort of cool. After the David we decided to climb the Giotto tower where we could get a good view of the city and of the Duomo. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. As Justin says, "climbing a tower never disappoints" which is quite true. We also went to the Uffizi museum with lots of famous pantings and a good view of the river.

For lunch I was delighted when we found a kebab shop! Kebabs are always good, very filling, and usually only €3.50. Foolproof. At this particular shop we also got a free drink with our student ID card! It was so delicious and held us off until later when the boys got pizza. My favorite item of the day was when we walked into a gelato shop and they had tiny cones for  50 cents! It was the perfect amount to try a new flavor or two without breaking the bank for a tiny scoop in a cup. I ended up with three, mandarin, mint, and then coffee.

We headed back to our hostel and finished the night with a movie and the decision to sleep in and check out as late as possible. This morning we made our way to the train station and caught a train to Venice where we are now! Our hotel is much nicer than the hostel we've been in the last few nights and it's in a good location. After we got here we found some food and then wandered around a Christmas market right outside our building. Tomorrow we will explore the streets of Venice!
We are in Florence! We arrived late Tuesday afternoon and checked in to our hostel before searching for some dinner. There is a panini shop across the street as well as a bakery so now we've had two nights in a row of sandwiches and canolis, but that's ok because they are pretty delicious! We got up early yesterday morning to catch a train for a day trip to Pisa. 

There are two train station in Florence and our hostel is near the slightly smaller one. We bought tickets from ours because it was a much closer walk, but saw that we had to change trains at the larger station. When we arrived our train was 5 minutes late, and with only 11 minutes to change trains, we ran all the way from platform 18 to platform 1. It was crazy! It took me quite a while to recover from all that running, but we had an hour and a half train ride to sit, and we enjoyed the views of the Italian countryside rushing by. 

We arrived in Pisa and walked all the way from the train station to the tower. Pisa seemed much more typical-Italy as we had imagined it and it was very nice to walk through. We came to the tower, took some photos, and went up on a small tour. Luckily it's low season here so it wasn't too busy. Since that's about the only thing to do in Pisa, we got some lunch afterwards and then headed back to the train station to come back to Florence. We had circled some interesting places on the map before leaving and actually managed to see most of them! This included Brunelleschi's Dome, the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and the Michaelangelo plaza where you can look out over the whole city. We ended our second night with more paninis, canolis, and a movie. 
We got up early this morning because we had an appointment at the Vatican at nine. With no problems with the commuter train this morning, we arrived early and got to skip the lines to get in. We first walked through the giant museum part that leads up to the Sistine Chapel. It took quite a while to walk through that part, which was interesting but started getting a little crowded with tour groups. We at last made it to the Sistine Chapel and spend a good deal of time there. I don't have any pictures because they yell at you if you try to take them. It sort of rains on your parade so I didn't bother trying.

After the chapel we walked out of Vatican city at the museum exit and then around to St. Peter's Basilica. Here we got to see the Pieta and walked around for awhile. Since we got such an early start, we were done with Vatican city by around 1:30 and stopped for sandwiches. The weather predicted a high percentage chance of rain, but luckily we managed to stay dry all day!

From the Vatican we took the metro to the Bocce della Verita, the Mouth of Truth, as seen in Roman Holiday! Apparently it was popularized by the movie and now there is a short line and you have to pay 50 cents. We waited for about ten minutes and got to take our photo. From there we walked to the metro along a huge road where we got to see all the Roman ruins around the Colosseum from a distance. It was so cool!

Austin asked if we were interested in seeing Paul's chains and the Moses statue that he saw on the first day before we arrived. We decided it would be a good stop and it was worth it! It was in a rather small, uncrowded church and was only a short walk from the metro. For the evening we planned to finish soon after sundown with Gelato and the Trevi fountain again before coming back early to cook at home. 

We stopped for Gelato at Giolitti which was delicious! I tried a mix of coconut, nutella, and café. Once we got home we ran across the street to the grocery store and got pasta, cheese, sauce, and bread, and made a delicious dinner. Tomorrow: off to a new location!
Our first day of Christmas break was a huge success! Justin, Ryan and I got in last night at 11:30 and quickly found our way to our apartment where Austin was waiting. It's very nice and modern and only a 3 or 4 minute walk from the train station. We got a little bit of a late start after a very delayed train, but made it into Rome by 11:30. Our first stop was the tourist info station to pick up our Rome Passes (free transportation for 3 days and two sites of our choice) and then headed to the Vatican to try to see the Pope. We got there just as he went inside, but that was ok. 

We didn't stay at the Vatican long because we are going back later. We headed instead to the Colosseum and spent a few hours there and at Palatine Hill. It's crazy that all these ruins are so, so old! Since we'd gotten a late start though, it was already late afternoon when we were done. We walked to the Pantheon just as the sun went down. After that we walked around and all the way up to the Trevi Fountain where we threw our coins in,  then took the metro back to our apartment to make dinner.

Tomorrow's a busy day and it's already late, so we are getting ready to head to bed. So far I am loving Italy and have personally found Rome much less stressful than Paris. I can't wait to see more of it tomorrow!
I have gone way too long without blogging, but now that finals are over I can start to catch up! No worries–I'm not going to be one of those people who just stop blogging. Now that I'm on Christmas break, I'll be giving tons of updates on travel and everything else!

The last six weeks have gone by so fast. We all knew that once we got back from Fall break we would just have to buckle down and get ready for the end of the trimester. These last two weeks have been the most crazy with tests, Christmas parties, vacation planning, shopping trips, and more Christmas parties. 

Last week we had two days off for festivals which was a great opportunity to finish some end-of-the-trimester papers and homework. I had written three papers and read three books, all of which I finished up on Thursday. On Friday Justin, Jon, Hannah and I went up to Castellon to go to the mall to shop for our "Secret Amigos" (more later). I'm not a big mall person, I don't usually love shopping especially in Christmas crowds, but the mall reminded me so much of the States and we had a good time shopping and getting Kebabs. 

One fun activity was a Navidad party our Folklore class put on. We combined the top Spanish Holidays into one event one morning before lunch. We each had to draw a name for an "amigo secreto" (AKA Secret Santa . . . we tried explaining this to them but here that means "secret saint") and had to leave them little notes on a board every day and then get them a Christmas present. We also celebrated the Lottery Day which is December 22 and the start of the Christmas celebration here in Spain. Then we gave out our Amigo Secreto gifts and moved on to New Years. For New Years Eve here in Spain, everyone must eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, each to the rhythm of the clock striking 12. It turns out this was easier said than done. Our Folklore teacher told us that at her house, she peels and seeds all the grapes so that they are easy to swallow. We had no such luck and no one could eat them all in time without laughing. The party ended with sparkling apple juice and an impromptu flamenco dance performed by two of our teachers.

This week was finals and I was surprised by activities even the nights before finals. At Union we pretty much just study and pack during finals week, but here we had yet another Christmas dinner hosted by the dorms as well as a tradition some PUC kids brought over... boxer (yes, and bikini) caroling for those so inclined. Needless to say, I didn't get very much sleep this week with all the happenings. Finals finished on Friday at noon and then Seth and I went up to Castellon to visit the mall one more time. Last night was a little crazy because everyone in the dorms were either packing or leaving, and I woke up early this morning to hearing suitcases rolling down the hall for so many early-morning flights. 

I am all packed and ready to head off for Christmas break! We are meeting up with Austin, my other cousin who is Justin's brother, and we are so excited to see him! Our flight leaves tonight but we'll probably head out to Valencia sooner just to make sure we make it on time. I'll keep you all updated on everything for the next three weeks of break!