Tuesday, January 25, 2011


We had a wonderful weekend in Munich! I didn’t know what to expect of Germany- honestly we have been going at such a fast pace since arriving in Europe that I didn’t have time to think about it very much- but I fell in love with the country.

After a eight hour train ride we arrived at our hostel, Wombat’s, which was right outside of Munich’s main plaza. Munich’s central plaza is called Marienplatz, named for the Virgin Mary. Wombat’s was a very fun, young place and Michelle and I ran up to our room to get ready for a night out starting at Wombat’s very own Wombar. Our hostel room consisted of three sets of bunk beds and we were the last ones to move in. We didn’t meet our roommates till later that night, but we bunked with three guys from Wales and another guy from somewhere else in Germany… they were very entertaining roommates for the weekend. MK and I began at Wombar and then ran next door to Jaeger’s, another hostel where about twenty of our friends from Virgina Tech were staying. We celebrated Carla’s birthday at midnight with the locals chanting German songs to her and making lots of toasts to Munich, good friends, and to our continuing excitement of being in Europe.

On Saturday we woke up and headed to Munich’s main plaza, Marienplatz, to take an organized tour of the city. Our group tour leader Stacey was awesome, she told us stories about every nook and cranny that we passed. I was immediately stunned by the beauty of Munich, but I was even more taken by its history. Almost all of Munich was destroyed in World War II, so most of the buildings that stand today are reconstructed. My favorite sights in the city were the New Town Hall with its famous glockenspiel, St. Peter’s Church (the oldest church in Munich), the Munich Church that “has the devil’s footprint” inside, the Hofbräuhaus, the Opera House, and the statue of a woman given to Munich from Verona (if you rub her breast it will lead you to your soulmate). We learned lots of cool things, such as there are 120 WW2 memorials ingrained in the city, and that during Oktoberfest Australia sets up a temporary embassy in Munich for Aussies who lose their passports. It was snowing and freezing all day, but the tour was definitely a highlight of the weekend. We stopped at a bakery on the way home to eat and warm up before our cold walk home.

Saturday night we all went to the Hofbräuhaus which for those of you who haven’t heard of it is a 400 year old beer hall. In the 18th century, Mozart lived a block away from the Hofbräuhaus and would often visit for a brewski. On a darker note, the Nazi Party used the Hofbräuhaus as a place to hold functions and meetings; Hitler often spoke there. It was crazy to be drinking a beer in a place with such a history! Another anectode about the Hofbräuhaus:

“When King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden invaded Bavaria during the Thirty Years’ War in 1632, he threatened to sack and burn the entire city of Munich. He agreed to leave the city in peace if the citizens surrendered some hostages, and 600,000 barrels of Hofbräuhaus beer.”

The Hofbräuahaus was such a cool experience and such a fun time! There was a band and everyone who working there, and also some guests, were dressed in classic German attire. They only served liters of beer there… nothing less! Beer in Germany was cheaper than water in Switzerland. We celebrated the rest of the night at the Hof.

On Sunday we woke up early and visited Dachau, the Nazi’s first concentration camp. It was an incredibly powerful day. We walked through the entrance that hundreds of thousands of Jews were marched through, and the thought in itself was chilling. I felt connected to my Jewish roots as I paid my respects to everyone who had been imprisoned in Dachau. It was sickening to imagine a camp like this was run for 12 years, and that it was during my grandparent’s generation. I learned so much more about the Holocaust, Hitler, and its victims. Even though it was a really hard day, I’m so happy we did that. The Holocaust is something that should be remembered by every generation, no matter how difficult of a subject it is so think about.

After Dachau we spent a few more hours in Munich before catching our train back to Lugano. We went out for lunch and explored what more we could of the city. We all said goodbye to Munich but hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time we’d be there!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fabulous Milano

The Duomo was amazing. It is a huge church, about a block long, that took six centuries to complete. As our tour guide told us, the Italians are more concerned with quality than efficiency, and this was definitely exemplified by the Duomo. We first saw it in the morning as the sun was rising behind it, and it looked like it was glistening. Inside is equally amazing, with high arched ceilings and the most intricate architecture I have ever seen. Each wall, corner, and nook told a different story. Each window illustrated a different scene from the Bible in stained glass. I could have spent all day in there.

We saw a castle, which was more like a fortress, that was built in the medieval times. Leonardo DaVinci lived in the castle for twenty years! It's where he lived in the time of his life when he painted The Last Supper. It was such a piece of history but it was hard to imagine it ever being a place where royalty actually lived out their day to day lives.

Have to run now, packing with Michelle for Munich! We're leaving tomorrow after class. Sweet dreams, dolce sogno!   

The Duomo in Milan

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Has Gotta Be The Good Life

Milan tomorrow, Munich on Friday, just booked a hostel in Florence for two weeks from now, and a flight to Dublin for another weekend.

Feeling like a lucky little girl in very big world right now.

OneRepublic's "Good Life" captures the way I'm feeling about the world around me, the emotions surrounding the experience I've had so far in Europe.

I love the way Lugano sparkles at night. I love the way the group I'm with appreciates the trials and tribulations we've encountered just as much as the times our plans go smoothly. I love the smell of the clean Swiss air and the aromas that drift from the coffee shops and bakeries in the mornings.

Sweet dreams.. no matter where you are, breathe it all in.

When you're happy like a fool 
Let it take you over 
When everything is out 
You gotta take it in 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beautiful Interlaken

What an amazing weekend!

We hopped on a train after class on Friday and headed for Interlaken. It was about a four and a half hour train ride with two connecting stops. For a group of college girls who have never navigated a European train system before, we managed a very smooth trip! The ride itself was extremely beautiful. We traveled through mountains, past lakes, and lots of very cute towns. I still can't believe I'm actually HERE! The Alps are so majestic, I don't know if I'll ever get used to looking out my train window at such a spectacular sight. Switzerland is such a beautiful country.

We arrived at Balmer's and moved into our first European hostel room. It was a cute room with five sets of bunk beds. It was all of our Virginia Tech group staying in our hostel room except for a girl named Stephanie who was from Australia and has been traveling on her own throughout Europe since November. Brave girl! She was really cool and we hung out with her all weekend. Since it was late we grabbed a quick dinner at a restaurant next door to Balmer's and made it just on time to happy hour! We danced the night away Euro-style and met people from all over the world!

Saturday was an adventurous day. We started out by running into our two new friends from Australia and exploring the little town of Interlaken with them. The architecture in Interlaken is very different than here in Lugano. Interlaken is in the German part of Switzerland, and the buildings there reminded Michelle and me of gingerbread houses and Hansel and Gretel. The buildings looked like fancy log cabins. The town was beautiful with the warm sun out and the Alps peeking out in the background.

Later we went PARAGLIDING which was incredible! We drove wayy up a mountain, my stomach filled with butterflies the entire ride. When we got to the top the view was stunning, I literally felt like I was on top of the world. Then we got set up in our paragliding gear and ran off the side of a mountain with a "pilot", or one of the instructors. I felt like I was flying! We were right next to an incredible, crystal clear lake and on the other side was Interlaken. It was an amazing way to take it all in. It was such an adrenaline rush when we landed Michelle and I just pranced around in the landing field, loving life.

That night we went night sledding in the Alps with all the 30 of us who went to Interlaken. We took a bus up to another quaint little mountain town and then a train even farther up into the Alps. In the night the Alps looked like they touched the stars. Once we got to the top, we jumped on our sleds and headed back down. It was a faster ride than I think any of us were expecting! It was a narrow path and we were weaving around corners, hoping we wouldn't miss a turn and tumble off the side of the mountain. Luckily, we survived the way down. We ended up at a restaurant and had a genuine Swiss fondue dinner.

I can't believe how much we've done in the short week and half we've been here. I feel like I'm already becoming a more understanding and open-minded person. I have fallen in love with traveling and know that I want to continue seeing and learning for the rest of my life. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me the opportunity to do this trip. Let's come back here together one day!

On Wednesday we're going to Milan! Definitely beats your average field trip. Another city of high fashioned, beautiful people.

Ciao for now!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Conquered San Salvatore and to Interlaken We Go!

Yesterday we had the hiiiike of a lifetime. Almost all 43 of us ventured out of the Montarina in our sneakers and athletic sneakers expecting a long and challenging hike, but none of us had thought it would be AS long or AS challenging as it actually was. It was really steep from the beginning, but the higher we climbed the steeper it got. Once we had literally rock scrambled up the mountain, Brinberg had realized we had gone up the wrong- the expert climber- route. We had to backtrack down the rock scramble, back a few miles, back to a fork in the road where we then took the easier (but still not easy) path the rest of the way up. After another many miles up the mountain, we made it to the top of San Salvatore. It was BEAUTIFUL. We overlooked the spectacular Lake Lugano and charming little towns in Italy and Switzerland. We continued walking down the mountain and through an amazing little town called Morcote. The houses were set upon the lake and worth at least two million each. It was a fantasy land. To add to the charm at the end of the day swans swam up to us from Lake Lugano. It was a wonderful day. Brinberg even treated each table at dinner to a bottle of wine because we were such great sports about all the walking :)

Michelle and I are packing up our hiking backpacks and getting ready to leave for Interlaken! About twenty of us are going together. We're staying at Balmer's, a hostel that was highly recommended by all of our past Swiss travelers. We're so excited to get there tonight and tomorrow we're going paragliding (which I'm terrified for but have to do, so I hope I don't chicken out) and night sledding down the Alps. We have a fondue dinner and beer included in our night sledding package. Really looking forward to the weekend! Updates when I get home. Happy weekend Blacksburg and NOVA, and family and friends everywhere else. Xoxo

Walking through Morcote at sunset

Nighttime on Lake Lugano for Caroline's birthday

TITO'S PLACE- best club everrrrr! Hello local bald guy

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bongiorno, bongiorno

The sun is finally out!

We left for school bright and early this morning and for the first time had a clear view of Lake Lugano and the spectacular snowcapped mountains surrounding it. Nothing screams "American tourists" louder than a group of twenty girls walking to school together stopping every five minutes to snap pictures.

Today it's Caroline's birthday so after class we went out to eat at the Spaghetti Shop in celebration. 20 Francs for a plate of spaghetti and a water. I learned my lesson and will be carrying a water bottle with me at all times and pack my lunches from now on.. only going out on special occasions like birthdays :) Tonight we're going to celebrate the first birthday on the trip starting with wine at the train tracks.. so European. Andd Brinberg being the wonderful man he is cancelled class tomorrow and replaced it for a hike up San Salvatore in Lugano. It's going to be a beaaautiful hike. So excited about it!

Yesterday we had our first Italian lesson from Julien. We learned phrases such as "you can't touch this" to say to the Italian men we will meet, and simpler phrases to read menus and ask where the bathroom is. Our Italian class starts in about two weeks, but we just learned some of the essentials that will help us out until then.

We went on a run and walked around the lake. I can't wait to rent paddle boats in the spring and explore.  I wish you could all see in person how beautiful Lake Lugano is! After our work out we spontaneously decided to go out and get a drink before dinner, just because we can :) We went to a place called Irish Pub. It was a cute little place (overpriced of course, but cute) and the walk took us to a new part of Lugano. We invited Dr. Brinberg with us on the way out but he politely declined.

For now I'm going to enjoy the beautiful day until the birthday festivities begin! Happy birthday Caroline, and miss you all at home!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peter Pan and Castles

Switzerland is magical.

Yesterday we had the day to ourselves to explore Lugano. We quickly learned where to find the cheapest lunch- Migro's Grocery Store has excellent and inexpensive pizza ($4.80 Francs a slice, a steal!) and stocked up on groceries. The weather was still rainy and misty, but the fog cleared up enough to get our first view of Lake Lugano. I can't wait to see it in blue skies, it is easily the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. It is surrounded by mountains with houses of different shapes, sizes, and colors perched on top. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Montarina planning our trips for the upcoming weekends and ten-day breaks.

A big group of us went out to dinner at Manora, a restaurant across the train tracks and down the hill from the Montarina. I had a delicious bowl of pasta and ordered my first (legal) drink with dinner. We got to know a lot of the group better and I really enjoyed the evening with friends, good food, attempts to speak Italian, and lots of laughter.

After dinner we finally discovered the infamous Peter Pan, a bar close to the Montarina. We took over the place. There were free drinks, dancing, and mingling with the locals for the first time. It was such a fun night, Lugano '10 and other past years I can see why you guys love the place so much!

Today we went to Bellinzona, Switzerland with a group of about 20 girls. It was such an enchanting little town! There are three big castles from the 1400s that still stand atop the hills of Bellinzona. We walked to the very top of two of the castles, quite the work out might I add, and were charmed by the history, the architecture, and the views of Bellinzona. We had lunch at an adorable pizzeria and walked around the town. I saw my first European church! It was beautiful inside and outside. We caught the train back to Lugano, only about a twenty minute ride, and we all felt pretty proud of ourselves for figuring out the train system so quickly! Today really felt like a fairy tale.. I am embracing each moment of this trip, I feel so lucky to be here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lugano, We Have Arrived

After quite an adventurous journey we have all made it safe and soundly to our new home in Lugano- the beautiful Hotel Montarina- and I am so happy to be here. I am already so in love with this charming little town.

Yesterday's travel plans didn't go as seamlessly as we had anticipated; just as my bags were about to be checked, Dulles Airport was temporarily shut down due to a "suspicious package". After a stressful few hours and a very delayed flight, I was thrilled just to set foot onto our plane. As Kelsey Vitori said best, putting it in perspective for me, "welcome to travels!"

We arrived in misty weather, but Lugano was picturesque nonetheless. Beautiful architecture, palm trees line the sidewalks, narrow streets, and colorful buildings tucked away within the mountains. We made our way up to the Montarina with all of our luggage, and did I feel like a lucky girl. The Montarina is a quaint, light pink building surrounded completely by palm trees. Michelle and I got our room- room number lucky 13- and brought our things up to our new home. A room with antique furniture, two narrow single beds, and even our own bathroom awaited us. We're in love with our view! Our only wish is for more space for our clothing, but that's not much of a complaint.

We ate lunch together in one of the Montarina's dining areas. The best lasagna I've ever had! Dr. Brinberg then took us on a walk around town. Much of the town was still decorated with white Christmas lights. Each time we'd walk past an especially pretty display, we would all stop and take pictures... I think it's safe to say the locals could quickly pick us out as tourists. We saw many pizzerias and spaghetti shops, each one unique, markets selling delicious looking fruit, and many upscale fashion stores. We walked to our university for the next four months, Università della Svizzera italiana. We then continued our own tours of the town and had another big family dinner at the Montarina. Michelle and I finished making our new room our home and now I lay in bed feeling overwhelmed, thankful, and excited about what's ahead of me in this adventure.

Baggage claim at the Zurich airport

Charming window in our bedroom

Our plain and simple room, pre move-in

The Montarina on a foggy day

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Last Sleep in America

I am full of excitement and nervous butterflies. My two fifty-pound bags are packed to their fullest, my hiking backpack is stuffed with tools to prepare for my adventures as much as possible, and my to-do list has been checked off from 100+ to-do's to a just few left. Europe, I am ready to meet you. Our plane departs from Dulles at 5:50PM tomorrow, and just a short six hours after that we will touch down in Zurich. And after another three hours we will arrive in our highly anticipated new home sweet home, Lugano.

I couldn't have asked for a more supportive family in preparing me for my trip. Thank you for everything Mom and Dad. 

Virginia Tech, I'll miss you this semester! I love you guys and will be thinking of you all the time from across the pond.

Goodnight for the last time from America. Sweet dreams of the Hotel Montarina, Lake Lugano, cobblestone streets, and palm trees covered in snow...