Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So Long, Farwell, Auf Weidersehen, HELLO Austria!

Although I didn't sing the entire Sound of Music soundtrack while in Austria, I managed to see a lot of the sights from the filming in Salzburg! I arrived in Munich after a terribly stressful voyage (it consisted of not being able to get a taxi at 430am, running to the bus stop in the pouring rain, missing the bus, sitting for an hour in the freezing cold and being soaking wet, almost not making the flight and a lot of pleading in spanish) but I made it! Dave met me at the train station and we jumped on a train to Salzburg, Austria!

After a quick 90 minute train ride, we were there! It still shocks me that within a few hours you are in a whole different country! Sadly, they are all EU countries, so I never get any new passport stamps, so my passport doesnt show I have been all these amazing places, but you will have to beleive me. Salzburg, is actually a UNESCO world heritage site, as it is the best-preserved cities north of the Alps, so you can imagine how beautiful it is! Not only is it a gorgeous city, but somehow we were blessed with amazing weather - sunny and warm (a rare feat in Germany or Austria). We took advantage and set our bags down and went to explore.

Dave studied in Salzburg when he was in college so he knows the place really well, which was nice. No maps involved and a personal history-major tour guide! Pretty sweet deal! We started off by hiking a million stairs to the top of a hill that looked over the old part of town. With the weather, the view was amazing! The town has so many Baroque style churches, so everywhere you look you see green church tops popping up. In Austria, you are not allowed to build a building higher than the church, and as a result, the green domes stick out starkly against the red roofs of the old buildings. With the Alps in the background, it is just a breath-taking place to sit and look out. The city is on the Salzach River - which basically means Salt River in German. The city became so rich from these salt mines and the name still pays homage to them.

After gazing at the old part and the castle at the top of the hill, we decided to go check them out. Walking through the old part, you pass new modern shops nestled next to old shops that look as if they have been open for over a hundred years. We popped in and out of little shops - trying on old man Austrian hats, clothes shopping and of course christmas ornament shopping. We also stopped by the Salzburg Cathedral - a 17th century of the Roman Archidiocese and also home to Mozart's baptism! A massive cathedral, the inside was actually more cold than it was outside! Not as fancy as churches I have seen in Rome and Florence, the cathedral was still beautiful and boasted an amazing dome - one of the biggest in Europe. I found it interesting that the dome was actually a renovated one because in WWII the dome was bombed crashed through the top of the dome.

When we were done winding through the old streets, we started the trek to the top of the hill where the Hohensalzburg Castle sits. It is one of the largest medevial castles in all of Europe and was used as a fortress starting in 1077. Walking around the fortress grounds, you can still see old cannons, torture rooms and visit the museum and see how the fortress would have been inside from days past. Myself, I enjoyed the small-sized doors since people used to be so short back then. They were perfect for a person like me :D From the castle grounds you can see all of Salzburg, even a better view that our previous big hill. From up there, it just looks like a postcard, and you just have to take it all in! From one side of the castle you have the whole city and to the other side you can see the beginning of the Alps - beautiful views all around. Not only did the castle have amazing sight-seeing, but also an old dungeon restaurant where we made sure to try out the beer. I normally don't love beer, but I figure it is pretty required in Germany and Austria to try out thier beers, and they are actually growing on me. I found a new boyfriend as well - a nice stud in full body armour ha. One more interesting and random fact: this castle was the first of a set of coins of the 'Great Abbeys of Austria' minted in 2005. Completely off topic, but thought it was kind of interesting!

After the dozens and dozens of stairs we took to climb up, I was happy to finally walk downhill! We stopped off a little café for some coffee and then some appetizers at an outdoor bar. We stopped off and did some more shopping and finished the night off at a local beer house. Sunday morning we woke up and headed to Mozart's birthplace - Mozarts Geburtshaus. I don't speak German but I translate that as something like 'get birthed house' ha. Who knows. Anyways, it was a really great little museum filled with history of the family and some of his original music sheets that he wrote, his first violin and more. I found out he produced 626 works of music, was 1 of 7 children (only him and his sister survived to adulthood), and that his sister was just as much of a prodigy as him but since it was a different time, she was not accepted as being as famous as Mozart. He actually learned to read music when he was only 4 and had written his own works by age six - quite a child star! Salzburg loves Mozart so much that they even have a special chocolate in his name. It is a ball of chocolate that has marzipan covered in nougat inside. Pretty tasty and sold everywhere for good reason.

Next we were off to check out the sights of the Sound of Music. Since the movie is actually set in Salzburg, we had already seen a lot of the backdrop - the hills, the churches and such, but Dave insisted on taking me to the Mirabell Gardens. This is where the Do-Re-Mi song takes place in the movie, in case you have the whole thing memorized! Because I have no shame, I took a skipping picture in the gardens while singing a Sound of Music song. While I have no Von Trapp kids at my side, I really felt like the hills were singing ha. As famous and popular as the movie is and was in the USA - it is virtually unknown in Austria. It is a rather historically accurate movie except for a few points I found out - 1) At the end of the movie, the Von Trapps walk off into the hills to Switzerland, but really walked to the train station and took a train to Italy. If they had actually walked into the mountains they most likely would have ended up at Hitler's mountain retreat; and 2) the real Maria Von Trapp was sent to be a tutor to the kids, not a governess. I think that's pretty good Jeopardy information if you ever need to know it! It's been so long since I have seen the movie, but my mom loves it, so I figured she will like this authentic trivia!

Because it had started to rain, we decided to head back to Munich. Once there we checked out the Town Hall and the famous church in Munich before we stopped off at a few local beer halls. An early night, I caught my flight Monday morning and was back in time to teach some more English! Another fun weekend and another country on my list! Also, I have added some new pics to the 'fave pictures' on the side for you to check out the Austrian sights!

Küss (Kiss in German - which is what they speak in Austria!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Off adding another country to the list!

Well, it's Friday night - TGIF! I am in the process of packing because tomorrow I am going to visit my friend in Germany again and this time we are going to Austria! Specifically, we are going to Salzburg, Austria which is about 2 hours south of Munich! If you like old movies, it is the setting of the Sound of Music! It's one of my mom's favorite movies, so I am hoping I can get a nice field-skipping photo for her, to prove how Von Trappish I can be haha.

Hope you all have a great weekend!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring has Sprung!

Hi everyone! I know you 'sprung ahead' with your clocks a few weeks ago, but I wanted to let you know that I will be going ahead an hour this Sunday. I have been searching all over the internet to figure out why differnet parts of the world change Daylight Savings Time at different times, but cannot seem to find a valid response. Turns out that the US changes thier clocks on the second Sunday of March, whereas we in Europe do it the last Sunday of March. Why? I don't know, but I figured you would love to know this very exciting information ha. Eventhough we haven't changed our clocks, it is obvious that Spring is here in Spain. We have blossoms all over, which are a breath of fresh air from the cold and rainy winter that we had. I can't help but smile when I am walking around or taking the bus and see groups of trees with buds and gardens blooming along the street. It's a great time to be in Spain! Off to enjoy the sunshine before I catch the bus to work. Hope you are all enjoying Spring as much as me :D

Besos! Amanda

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

FAH-la een-GLAYSH?

FAH-la een-GLAYSH is how you pronouce 'do you speak English' in Portuguese! We found that out this weekend when we took a 4-day trip to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Peni (my friend from Denmark) and I had originally been planning on going to Paris for our 4-day weekend, but turns out Thursday was national strike day in France, so all of the trains were cancelled which really messed up our plans! We couldn't bear staying in San Sebastian when we had such a long weekend, so we figured a 14-hour bus ride to Lisbon was in order ha. We bought our tickets Wednesday night around 8pm and at 12:30am were on the bus! Talk about spur-of-the-moment!

The bus ride, although long, was rather fun, except for the heinous eye infecton I got! Someone on the bus must have had some sickness and my eyes took to it. As soon as we arrived in Lisbon, I bought some eye drops and am all better now :D Peni and I were a sight for sore eyes (no pun intended) though - she is on crutches from a sprained ankle and I couldn't take my sunglasses off all weekend because my eyes were so gross. Quite the travelers ha.

My first quote off the bus was 'I feel like I am in Cuba.' Since I havent been to Cuba, I am not sure why I made this comment, but I figure I have an idea in my head and Portugal and Cuba matched up! I guess it could have been the clothes drying in the air on the clothes lines, the warm weather as we stepped off the bus, the tan taxi cabs, and the relaxed atmosphere of the people - all of which I loved right away!

We arrived Thursday afternoon and checked into our hostel - only 12€ a night! It was so nice and was in this old building with beautiful tiles. Lisbon is known for thier amazing tile mosiacs and the colorful tiles cover most buildings in the city. Since we had just survived the longest bus ride of our lives, we decided to call it an early night and were actually in bed by 10pm ha.
With a lot of rest, we woke up early and hit the town! We found a pamphlet for a tour of the city from the river which runs around Lisbon, and thought it would be a great idea. After searching for it on the docks for an hour, we found out that they don't start tours until April. Sadly, we just jumped on the tram and headed out to Belém - which means Bethlehem in Portuguese. This part of Lisbon lies right on the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and is the place where many of the Portuguese explorers used to set off from in the 15th century, including Vasco de Gama (the first person to sail from Europe to India.) Because of all of these explorers, this area is known as the Area of Discoveries, with towers, statues and monuments to explorers and new discovery. The most stunning for us was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastary) which is a huge church and monastary that sits right next to the water. It was built as a monument to Vasco de Gama's trip to India and was funded completley from taxes of sales of the spices he brought back. It was built in 1502 and is now is gorgeous reminder of discovery! Also in the Belém area, we tried the must-have Pasteis de Belém. This is a pastry that the monks at the monastary used to make and since 1837 have been selling at a nearby café and is the hit of the town! It was kind of like a custard pie with cinnamon sprinkled on top aka scrumptous!

After filling up on tasty food and pastries, we headed back to the main part of town to check out the shopping areas and more tourist destinations! We headed to a neighborhood known as Chiado, which is the hip part of town. With square tile mosaic cobble-stone like sidewalks, crutchy Peni struggled a little so we caught one of the historic trams to the center of town. It's funny because they have a huge red bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate (but here it is called the 25th of April Bridge - the day of the Portuguese revolution). So here they have this bridge and then they have these cable cars that run all over the city, but instead of calling them cable cars, they are called historic trams. It was kind of like being in San Francisco, except no English-speaking people! As touristy as it was, we loved the tram since it climbed the steep hills for us and gave us great views of the city on the ride!

Once in Chiado we poked around some stores and stopped off at a famous restaurant to try some Portuguese wine and cheese - my favorities. The appetizers were tasty but the actual dinner was not so impressive. For being in all the guide books and being so famous in Lisbon, we were expecting a delicious cod (bacalhao in Portuguese and bacalao in Spanish) which is what Portugal is famous for. Having had some cod in the Basque Country before, we were sadly disappointed with the dinner but didn't care too much and hit the town for the night - crutches and all! We found a few good bars, heard some live Brazilian music and met some Canadians! Since we wanted to get up the next morning we didn't stay out to late and eventually made it back to our hostel, with a nice Spanish-Portuguese language conversation in the cab haha.
Saturday morning we woke up bright and early and headed to the Castelo San Jorge (Grammy - remember how to say that name???), which is a huge castle in the neighborhood of Alfama. In 1755, Lisbon was hit by a massive earthquake and this neighborhood is the only one that survived, so it really shows the history of the city! The Castle was the first must-see on the agenda because if offers spectacular views of the city from atop the hill and also used to be a royal residence and I have never been to a castle! This castle has history all the way back to the 6th century and has still survived. It has been a castle, palace, jail and a barracks! Quite the multi-purpose area. It was built by the Visogoths and expanded by the Moors in the 1100s. In the 1300s, new walls were built around the city of Lisbon. There were originally 77 towers in the wall and we were able to see the 18 that still remain from that construction. I actually climbed up in one and posed for Peni, which caught quite a few nervous stares!

The Castle is at the top of the hill that is the neighborhood, so after walking the grounds of the Castle, crossing the the moat and scaling the castle steps, we were able to see all of Lisbon! It was a gorgeous view and we were so lucky to have perfect weather so that you could see the whole expanse of the city and could just breath and take it all in.

After feeling like royalty, we decided to leave our castle and wander the streets of Alfama. More amazing views followed from a hillside cafe we found that looked over the neighborhood and the water. Because this is the old part of the city, the streets are still little mazes and have tall, skinny and tiled buildings lining them. During Moorish times, it was considered the poor part of town and still is to this day, as you would notice by the unkept buildings and crumbling walls. Although poor and not the most glamourous it was nice to see a different side of Lisbon aside from the massive government buildings and perfect streets and cafés that we saw the day before. After our wandering, we couldn't pass up the Starbucks we found the day before in the Belém neighborhood and headed back out to that neighborhood for dinner and a tasty frappucino treat. It was such a weird thing - for dinner we had Turkish food, American Starbucks for dessert, ordered in Spanish, spoke together in English, all while in Portugal! Who would have thought?!

Sunday morning we woke up and had a few hours before we needed to catch our bus home. I had found in my travel book and have always wanted to go to a Cemetario (cemetary) that has the mausoluems (the burial chamber buildings). It may sound a bit morbid, but I think this old old Catholic cemetaries are gorgeous. There were buildings with doors that could be opened so that the family could go and greive inside the building and some that were permantley sealed. Each site was different and unique, some containing one person and some containing whole families. I saw a grave with someone buried in 1847 and it was so well kept. It felt a bit odd taking photos of these gravesites, but they were so beautiful that I couldn't pass up sharing them with you. It's odd, but once I read about this place in the guide book, it was the place I most wanted to see while in Lisbon, so I am glad we made it.

We then trekked back to the bus station and began our 14 hour bus ride home. After sitting around and waiting for people to load and then waiting for people who were late (dont ask me why) we left one hour late and barely made our bus connection in Madrid, but alas, I am back in Spain. It's so funny, because while in Portugal, I actually missed Spain. It's a weird feeling to miss a place that isn't really your 'home' but I guess that is what Spain is becoming for me. I felt so relieved to come back and speak Spanish - haha.

Back in town for the week and then headed to Germany for another weekend! I love being busy and love to fill you guys in on my travels and exciting little trips! I hope you are having a great week :D

Biejos (kisses in Portuguese)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guten Tag

Hi everyone! I made it back from Germany and still don't know any more German than when I started ha. Friday morning I caught the early flight into Munich and my friend Dave was there to pick me up. Dave, as you might remember from an earlier blog, was a Kelso friend who came and visited me last month so I was returning the favor and went to see him in Germany, since I have never been.

When he picked me up it was cold and rainy, but I was still excited about the new country. We were planning on going to the Neuschwanstein Castle, which is about 2 hours south of Munich for our first sidetrip. This is the castle that inspired Cinderella's castle and ever since I did a report on Germany in 6th grade I have always wanted to see it. Unfortunatley, the rain got worse and worse and when we started hydroplaning on the freeway (aka Autobahn) we decided that from the looks of the black clouds ahead, it was probably not going to be a good idea. So we decided to head to the town he lives in, Amberg.

Amberg was founded in 1034 and was part of the Bavarian dynasty - which is now basically the German state of Bavaria. It is about 1 and a half hours north of Munich and pretty close to Nuremberg. When we entered the town, you could just FEEL how different it was from Spain. Everything in Germany seems so orderly and spotless. I am so used to Spain, seeing mixes of people, different houses, different cars, but in Germany although the houses were different shades of pastel colors, the houses were perfect little homes, the roads were wide and easy to figure out, the cars were all the same shades of greys and blacks and even the garbage was perfectly organized - paper, cardboard, food, glass, plastic and more. It was definitley a different dynamic!

Most random thing of the whole trip was this box of chicken fingers we saw in the grocery store in Amberg. They aren't called Chicken Fingers, as you would expect, but Obama Fingers. Horrible but very funny at the same time.

Dave showed me around his town, which is actually still in the center of a wall that surrounds the whole city! There were a lot of little shops and lots of restaurants. Later we met up with some of his military friends and went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant that they like in town. After dinner we poked around in a few bars, but I was terribly tired since I had woken up at 4am that day so we called it an early night. It was actually good that we headed home early because at 4am Saturday morning, Dave got a call from his commander and was told that everyone his troop had to come in for a special formation. I went back to sleep and when he came back home at 10am, he was super tired so slept a lot of the day. I guess when you are in the military, you never really have a 'day off'. After a long succession of naps, we headed up to an old Baroque monastary that sits at the top of a huge hill. It is called Hill of Our Lady Help of Christians (in German - Mariahilfberg). Next to the Monastary is a little restaurant where we stopped off for lunch. Dave ordered me some traditional Bavarian food, of which I cannot remember what it is called because it was all in German. He speaks pretty good German, so I don't even bother with the words. Turns out we had some deer medallions and some other deer patties of some sort. Delicious. From the restaurant you can gaze over all of Amberg, which is a pretty big town it turns out. One of my favorite shots of the buildings is this one - the yellowish brick in front is the church, the tower in the back is the high-point of the Baroque church and the building to the right is where the monks live. While we were having our lunch, some monks actually walked in and had lunch - in thier outfits and all - something I had never seen!

We ended the day with a BBQ and some more German beer drinking. I am usually not a beer fan, but found a few German beers that I actually really liked. The next day we slept in and then headed off to the military base. The base Dave is on actually used to be a Nazi internment camp, so it was kind of eery to step on base. The buildings are still from that time but everything else has been updated. I was excited because Dave told me he was taking me to the biggest commissary and Px in all of Europe. Happy American Amanda. We walked into the Px and I was SO overwhelmed. It was like walking into Target or something. It was somewhat surreal to step from an old Nazi camp straight into America in one second. Once my heart stopped pounding so quickly we did some shopping and then headed to the commissary where I was like a little kid on Christmas morning. Mac and Cheese, Chili, Cake mix, Crest toothpaste - these are the things I miss hahaha. After shopping and shopping we even went to Taco Bell - somewhere I NEVER want to go when I am home, but I figured I should complete the American experience. I actually got kind of choked up (I know, I know, who gets choked up about Taco Bell?) but being on base was just like being in the US and it kind of made me USA-sick (a temporary illness I diagnose myself with when I miss the States haha).
Once I was fully American-stocked, we headed back to pack my bags and then sped off to Munich. As soon as we arrived we dropped off our bags and headed straight for the Hofbrauhaus - a German beer hall, and supposedly one of the most famous. Supposedly, before the Nazis came to power, this is where Hitler used to meet up with his guys. It is said that some of the first violence against Jews took place in the Hofbrauhaus. Now it is one of most popular tourist spots in Munich. It is basically a HUGE building full of tables where you order traditional German food (I had the suckling pig) and liters and liters of beer. They have a German band playing and waiters and waitresses dressed up in traditional costume. The only beer they serve is in liter mugs full of thier own brew. Regulars can pay a fee and actually keep thier own special mug at the restaurant and use it when they come ha. I saw a grandma chugging beer out of her own special mug and couldn't help but laugh. Overall, it was a beer-filled and fun night and a great way to end the trip. We came back to the hotel at 2am, I woke up at 6am for my flight, took the bus straight to work from the airport and ta-daaaaaa went to sleep!

This weekend, we have a four-day weekend and have been planning to go to Paris but found out today that there is a national strike day tomorrow in France so our tickets were cancelled. SAD! We seized the opportunity and are now going to Lisbon, Portugal and are leaving in 2 hours, so I must rush off! More to come from my next country soon!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cooking and Cleaning...a man's job!

Hi everyone! Hope you are having a great weekend. There have been some big changes going on at Win-Win, so I figured now would be a good time to tell you about them since we had a big group dinner last night. Adam, the boy professor, actually found an amazing travelling international job in Pamplona that he couldn't turn down, so he is leaving the school in about two weeks. He has found his friend, Sean to take his place. Sean is from Scotland and kind of sounds like Sean Connery with his accent hahah. It will be a weird change because Erika, Adam and I were finally used to each other but Sean seems nice and is pretty funny. To celebrate Adam's new job and welcome Sean we had a group dinner.

This wasn't just any group dinner though. It was at a Sociedad - which is called Txoko in Basque. It is a gastronomical society where ONLY men can cook. They were started so that men could come together, experiment with food and socialize without women. Txokos actually originated in San Sebastian! Women are able to enter to eat the food thier husbands make but cannot enter the kitchen - which means no cooking and no cleaning - which I think sounds fantastic! Last night there were 3 groups of men cooking and a lot of women waiting around for thier dinners hahaha. Like many very-basque places, this txoko was in a large stone building with picnic tables...very rustic. These txokos have led to Basque cuisine being very refined and famous world-wide. I felt pretty special getting to go to such an authentic txoko - since of course it is invite-only.

Our cooks were Josema (Helena's husband in the apron) and Alvaro (Erika's boyfriend) and they made a delicious meal. It started off with fish soup followed by king prawns: two things I had never tried but thought were pretty tasty. Then we had some salad (yes yes I ate it) and then a huge steak (chuleta) with some foie gras. I kinda skipped the foie and just ate the steak. For dessert we had this slushy drink called Sorbete de Limón. It is a traditional dessert drink and is sooo good. There are two recipes on how to make it - you can make your OWN sorbet but I will spare you that recipe because it seems like a lot of work ha. If you want to try it, I suggest buying some lemon sorbet and champage and then blending them together and ta-da its probably quite similar! Last we had some cheese and quince (which is like a jelly for the cheese) and walnuts.

It was a fun mix of languages because Helena's husband doesn't speak English and Sean, although he has been here for a few years, doesn't really speak much Spanish. After dinner we stopped off at a bar in Hondarribia, and I thankfully didn't see any of my students! By 2 o'clock we called it a night and a good night it was!

I hope you had a great weekend! More blogs to come soon!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dinner Party!

Well, this weekend wasn't too crazy, more of a relaxing few days. Started off by having a dinner party at a friends house with a bunch of my good friends. Paul, the person who cooked it, made quite the dinner (cena). We started off with tuna fish with corn, followed by sardines with mushrooms. I took like one bite of a sardine and then saw there were still skeletons and was super grossed out and gave up, but points for trying it right? Next was some cod and then a pasta with a red sauce with more tuna in it. The sauce was good, but my friend, silly Irish men, didn't have enough burners to COOK the pasta and instead let the pasta soak in cold water for 2 hours so that it became soft!!! Our Italian friends were not so impressed hahaha. For dessert we had an oreo cake and a flan, both of which were delicious! Here is a picture of a few of my girlfriends - from left to right Katarzyna (yea impossible to say, from Poland), then ME, then Peni (from Denmark). Our dinners are always fun because it is always such a mix of people.

If you look closely you will see I am wearing a shirt that says YES WE CAN. My friend Madeline saw it the other day in a shop in town and sent me a message because she knew I would want to buy it. The next day I walked into the store and pointed to the shirt and said I want to buy that. I didn't bother trying it on or asking the price...I just knew I HAD to buy it! Turns out it fits perfect and it was only 12€. Everyone here knows I am so proud to be American so everyone loved it!

Saturday consisted of laying on the beach. The weather was rather warm so we laid out in our jeans and sweaters on blankets and just enjoyed the sun. With 2 pounds of strawberries for about $3 I was in heaven and had a very relaxing day. Sunday was more of the same with a little less sun. Today I had a movie party with my friend Peni in between looking up places to stay in Paris! It was a very relaxing weekend and I hope yours was the same! Happy March!