Friday, July 9, 2010

What was I thinking?

I don't know what came over me. I have never had a strong desire to go bungee jumping, sky diving, paragliding or other such things. Probably because the thought of being that high makes me ill. As I was perusing my options while here, I saw the page on tandem flying. I looked at it, chuckled to myself: the thought of me, in the air? Yeah right.

And that's what did it. I considered the reasons to not do it, and the only reason which came to mind was that feeling in the pit of my stomach, my fear telling me not to do it. But you see, I have this strange attitude towards fear. I have trouble allowing it to hold me back. Now. This is a change, likely due to the fact that I faced a huge fear by moving to Spain for six months, alone. I survived that and know that it was worth all the fear and anxiety. Now I feel that there is no reason to let fear get in the way of me doing things. Anything. Including running off a mountain.

So that's what I did. It took me two days to think it though and get up the courage to even inquire at reception about how to make it happen. The sweet girl working that day asked if I was nervous, and of course I said yes. She assured me that it was safe. Then she giggled and said: "But I don't do it. Haha"

Okay, thanks.

She called and scheduled me an appointment, even printed off the bus information and gave me a discount card. It was as good as done.

And so I embarked on this adventure. It didn't really hit me what I had gotten myself into, until I saw the yellow parachute gliding well above my head. That is when I started to scratch my scalp.

But there was no backing out. Lois, the instructor, introduced himself and quickly saw my nerves. He asked if I was nervous and I said "yes, very nervous." He said: "Goot. It very goot." I don't know if he was trying to assure me that it was going to be good, or if it was a good thing I was nervous...

Either way, I bought my lift ticket and climbed inside the little car to head up the mountain. Climbing the mountain surrounded by a sturdy box made my heart pound, and I couldn't believe I was actually going to be in the air, attached only to a parachute, from this height.

But I was wrong. I got out of the lift only to find another one, heading further up the mountain. My instructor quickly followed me out of another car. I looked at him and only pointed towards the other lift. He said: "Ya, we go up more." Luckily my stomach was empty; I wanted to vomit.

But up we went, Lois trying to make small talk, and assure me that it was good I was nervous...

We got out and set off for a small hill, sloping towards...nothing. Just the ground, thousands of meters away. He attached everything, including my harness to his, and told me all I had to do was walk when he told me to do so. I was expecting we would have to run off the cliff at full speed. We took a few steps to the right, then a few more, and suddenly the wind filled the parachute and we were in the air! I screamed (I had previously warned him there was a good probability of that happening) and kicked my feet, covering my eyes for just seconds, before I realized I was flying. After that, I squealed in amazement. I hardly stopped laughing the whole flight. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Check out the video I posted yesterday (below the post about my hike) and look at my photos on Picasa!

Now it is time to get ready for another hike and my last day in Austria!

I will be home in FIVE short days. Unbelievable.


P.s. I saw the woman from reception on my way back. She asked how it was. I told her how amazing it was, and that if I can do it, she can do it. She said she just might.

"What are men to rocks and mountains?"

I have always loved that line from one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, but being here really makes me wonder! Just kidding, men.

It is amazing, though, looking out my window at the mountains! It doesn't take much of a hill to excite a mid-western girl like me, but this area is just beautiful.

The weather kept me inside most of my first day: it was raining off and on, and rather chilly. But I certainly needed a low-key day, and certainly enjoyed the time to catch up on my pictures and my blog.

On Tuesday I set off for a hike. I asked the woman at reception to recommend a hike, maybe an 1.5-2 hours or so. Six hours later, I returned. But the majority of my delay was intentional, I promise. I did head the wrong direction when I left the hostel, but that only set me back about twenty minutes. I also had difficulty finding the trail, but about an hour after my initial departure, I was on my way.

This particular trail was only about a 45 minute walk, and when I reached the end I hadn't even sat down to eat my picnic lunch yet, so I kept walking through the village and found the beginning of a national park on the other side. I walked a bit into the park and found a tree stump next to a stream: perfect spot for a picnic.

Energized after lunch, I ambled along another 2 hours. And then I reached the end of the national park, and was about to turn around, but then I decided to head towards Talschluss, unsure of the trail and the endpoint.

I still am not sure what I was supposed to find, other than beautiful glimpses, at the end of a challenging climb up part of the mountain!

Most of my walk was on a fairly level path through the woods, and I loved finally feeling like I was hiking in the mountains! That night my back was telling me something different, but it was well worth the sore muscles!

And the perfect ending to a lovely day? Watching Spain beat Germany to make it to the championship game of the World Cup on Sunday! I will be back in Spain just in time for the game (I hope!) and cannot wait to witness the madness!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Here is a clip of my latest adventure! Paragliding!

I'll post pictures soon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Venice: Sunny and Sweltering

From Berlin I flew to Venice, Italy, to meet up with friends from Salamanca. (If you want an entertaining story about my flight(s) to Venice, just ask me. Right now time and my pride prevent me from publishing it).

I loved Italy when I went during spring break, and was glad to return, especially to Venice. And because I love small towns, and water, I enjoyed this city. However, it is run down. It appears as if there is no attention paid to the upkeep of most buildings, which is sad. Because with the canals and the breathtaking views of the ocean, there is so much potential for an incredible city.

We toured the cathedral and the famous Piazza de San Marco and spent the rest of our time winding through the confusing streets, all the while looking for any bit of shade and water fountains to escape the heat. It was over 95 degrees with 95% basically I didn't stop sweating the whole time I was there. And I am used to hot summers, so I am not sure why I was so surprised by the heat here. I think it is because I rarely spend all my time outside in weather like this. Or if I am outside, I have the relief of an air-conditioned building or a pool...but only stores are air-conditioned. We did luck out with a room with two oscillating fans which helped a bit. And the open windows drew in a multitude of mosquitoes who feasted on me. I must have sweet blood; after one night in Venice I counted 15 bites, just on my two arms! And I woke up with another fat eye, due to a bite just below my eyelid...Oh, and as we were cleaning before checking out we found an insect repellent that plugs into the wall. But it was sitting on the floor...The whole time I thought it was an air freshener. Oh well, I could certainly have worse issues!

I took a bus through the Alps into Austria where I caught a train to Badgastein. I settled in last night and awoke to find myself nestled at the bottom of the mountains.

Unfortunately, it is chilly and raining (a far cry different from Venice yesterday!). But at least I had time to finally catch up on pictures and this blog. I think I will still head out on a bike this afternoon, in spite of the rain. I just wish I hadn't left my warm clothes, and rain jacket, out of my suitcase. And what makes this trip a little sweeter is the upgrade to a single room. It is nice to not only have my own space but also to know I will be here more than 48 hours. I will make my way back to Spain on Saturday or Sunday before coming home on the 14th! It is so soon, I can hardly believe it!

Poor but sexy... how the current mayor of Berlin described the city. I will share my description later.

World War II is one of my favorite periods of history to study. Therefore, being in Berlin was a treat, in that respect. And the city itself has endured a difficult history. And the mayor is correct: there are economic struggles (but this is true just about everywhere), and this is evident.

My first day I took a bike tour to orientate myself with the city. We saw many sights and heard a great history of the city. We went to Check Point Charlie, the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing, the area where Hitler's bunker was (where he killed himself), The Reichstag, The Royal Gardens...and much more.

After the tour, I took in a few museums (which are free on Thursday evenings) and then went back to my hostel for a good night's sleep. That was hard to come by, due to the size and general atmosphere of the hostel, but I did my best!

I awoke early (sort of) on Friday and took in a few more museums. I went to Topography of Terror, which is an open air museum on the sight where Nazi headquarters used to be. There is also a building with an extensive history exhibit, which chronicles the rise, height, and fall of Nazi control in Germany and Europe. I learned so much there!

Next I toured the Jewish History Museum, which covers the religion and people throughout all of history. Again, this museum was huge and offered an abundance of information.

The last museum is underground, beneath the memorial to the Jewish people killed during WWII. This was by far the most powerful. I bought an audio guide which added depth to already extensive exhibits. There was a room which had excerpts of letters and postcards people wrote to loved ones from camps and ghettos, usually when death was imminent: they were last words, and written without certainty that the intended recipient would ever receive their farewells. The words reflected hope, fear, sadness. I couldn't hold back my tears. Another room had fifteen boards which followed individual families, explaining the background information, what members survived, etc. Then I walked into a blank room that had audio clips sharing stories of individuals. The last room highlighted different internment, work, and death camps. At this point, I was emotionally and mentally overwhelmed, and could barely take in anymore information. I listened to an audio clip of a woman who thought she would be helping her sons and mother survive by requesting they not be forced into the working group. It was later she realized that if you didn't work, you were killed. And so she lived the rest of her life knowing she sent her loved ones to their deaths. I am sorry to share such a sobering history; even as I rewrite it, I have tears in my eyes. I experienced quite a reality check; I was reminded of my blessings: education, religion, family, friends, and above all, my freedom. Freedom to live my life abundantly, to pursue an education, an occupation, worship God, share experiences with my family and friends. How easily we forget all we have!

I was told if I wanted authentic German food, to dine in the oldest neighborhood in Berlin: St. Nicholas. I did, and enjoyed a delicious meal: The Berliner, washed down with a big red beer.

After that, I was sleepy and ready to head back to the hostel to sleep before my early morning flight to Venice, Italy!

Now, back to my humble opinion about the city...apart from the history, I was not crazy about Berlin. People rave about the architecture, but I think I have been too long entrenched in grand Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque architecture to appreciate the newer architectural styles of Berlin. There are certainly impressive buildings, but much of the city reflects the economical challenges. I guess I didn't really feel the "sexy" vibe...but, it was certainly worth the trip to experience the history!

Amsterdam is interesting...

Architecturally, Amsterdam is a beautiful city. As much as I enjoy seeing the big cities like Paris, London, Madrid...I really love wandering pretty, smaller towns. Amsterdam fits that bill. The canals, the colorful buildings, and all the bikes make it fun to see.

My friend Stef (from Australia, but we met in Salamanca) met me in Amsterdam for the afternoon, which made it that much sweeter!

Call me a prude, but that being said, I think the famous (perhaps infamous?) Red Light district (which is highlighted on any city map) and the lifestyle it promotes detracts from the beauty of the city. That, and the smell of pot wherever you go. Let's just say Amsterdam isn't a city I would put on the itinerary for a family vacation...

It does hold the Secret Annex, where Anne Frank, her family, and two other families hid during the Nazi occupation and WWII. Having read her diary many times, being in the rooms made it much more real for me. It was no longer a story, but a reality. I want to reread her diary, because I was reminded of her strength and hope for such a young girl in such a horrible situation. And to think that there were people in situations 1,000 times worse!

Next stop: Berlin!

The Outskirts of Paris: Versailles and Giverny

My first stop after saying goodbye to Salamanca was Paris. I went during my spring break, but was unable to visit Versailles, Giverny (where Monet lived and painted his water lilies and other paintings), as well as the key art museums: The Louvre, Museé D'Orsay, and L'Orangerie. I spent just two full days in Paris (though I love the city and could still spend more time there!).


I elected to take a tour bus trip to see both Versailles and Giverny in one day. It was a bit pricey, but I think it was worth the money and the peace of mind. We spent the morning at Giverny, a small town about an hour from Paris. Monet was traveling elsewhere by train, passed in front of the property, and decided to move his family there. He spent the second half of his life there, creating the amazing gardens surrounding his house. After losing myself in the tranquility of the gardens (in spite of the many tourists, we drove a short way to another small village to eat lunch in a building that was once an old mill. So simple and beautiful.


And then we drove to Versailles, about an hour and a half from where we were. It was a hot, hot day, and the palace was incredibly crowded, two factors that detracted a bit from enjoying the palace, but I was still able to soak up the luxury of the rooms...but I still cannot imagine living there! The French have an intense history, and if only they could have found a bit of a balance, rather than going from one extreme to another. But, I am no expert; I always say there is a reason I am not in charge. And one thing I have learned from my travels is how relative history is; yes, there are facts, but the facts effect each person differently, and therefore many different "histories" emerge. More on that later.

The next day, Sunday, I spent in the art museums, and finished with a picnic under the Eiffel Tower: wonderful, and surreal.

I realized, while submerging (and maybe overwhelming) myself in art, why I love these museums so. Art, like history, is very subjective. A single event, or moment, or person, or object can be represented in so many ways, depending on the artists opinions, societal status, time period, religion, and other factors. Also, art has the ability to inspire so many feelings. Fear, joy, sadness, reflection, peace, is an amazing thing. And art transmits life; though it is literally the capturing of a person or moment, a painting or sculpture gives life to the most ordinary, the most plain person or object.

I love art. And therefore my weekend in Paris was (expensive) but well spent!

I learned a few phrases in French, and this one sums up the city well: Paris est magique!