The beginnings

Oestrich-Winkel, my new home, is situated pleasantly in the middle of wine country. Vineyards surround the town and looking out from campus down a gently sloping hill is a vineyard that leads right up to the Rhine River. Campus though, is only 3 buildings, one of which bears the remains of a 300 year old castle. The temperature has been on average 30 degrees cooler here, so coming from the sauna that Ky is during Aug was a fast-forward of about 3 months.

EBS has a well established exchange program, so there are plenty of resources available to us, but there is also the fact that there are over 100 exchange students. And we’re called Tauschies. This has been a really great way of meeting people because we had 2 weeks of German classes with just exchange students before starting regular classes.

Apparently, since I have a very notoriously American accent, people ask which state I’m from and 4 out 5 times, the reaction is “Kentucky Fried Chicken!” I don’t quite think I like being known as Miss KFC. Everyone is very friendly here, and especially helpful when they know you’re a Tauschie.

August 21st

I woke up before we arrived in Vienna and did some catching up on my journal while looking out the window at the beautiful Austrian countryside. A dreary sky had given way to feathery cirrus clouds and a brilliant, piercing sun that danced off the still dewy grass. We passed quaint villages that were inset in lush, green rolling hills. I wanted to stop the train, bypass the rest of my education, and retire in one (a town, not a hill).

After surprisingly receiving a complimentary breakfast on the train, we made plans to meet Brad and Jason (our two new Canadian friends) later that night for dinner or a beer. The train rolled into the station where Paige and I stored our bags in lockers and ventured out into Vienna after procuring a map of the city.

Downtown Vienna seemed very Westernized. It was quite different at first glance the other European cities we’d seen in which old buildings lined narrow streets full of small, typical European cars. Vienna was more of a concrete jungle with large streets, large cars, and several SUVs. One thing we noticed about the Austrians that we found rather strange was the fact that they waited for the green walking light at every intersection that had one. No one in any other city we’d been in did this and no one in any other city that we’ve been in since did, either. As we got deeper into the city, the new concrete buildings gave way to some older-looking buildings, slightly similar in architecture to some of the ones in Amsterdam. However, my guess is that the older-looking buildings actually aren’t quite so old (the ones I’m referencing in Amsterdam were built in the 16th and 17th centuries) but were instead built more recently in such a way that they looked old. They just seemed too new and the architecture too precise to be that old…furthermore, the streets were very wide unlike the narrow streets of some of the older sections of the previous cities we’d visited. This would lead me to believe that the invention and adoption of cars had taken place when the buildings were built. However, I’m far from an expert and could very well be wrong.

Anyhow, Paige and I chose to eat a lunch that would’ve been enjoyed by a native Austrian – beer and bratwurst. The bratwurst was especially interesting because it was filled with cheese and then stuffed into a long, hollowed-out roll of bread into which ketchup and mustard were squirted. The meal was phenominal, albeit messy, and the beer cheap and delicious.

After walking around and seeing some of the more popular sites, Paige and I decided to find a park to take a nap before meeting Brad and Jason for dinner. Along the way, we came across an interesting computerized kiosk that rented bikes to those with a credit card, tourist pass, etc to make it easier to see the city. There were approximately 20 bikes locked into racks that would be released upon paying. The computer was able to display all of the other kiosks in town, tell how many bikes the location could hold, how many bikes were available, the aggregate total time ridden on the current day of all the bikes, and the aggregate total distance ridden on the current day of all the bikes. The bikes were rented by the hour and the first hour was free; however, losing a bike resulted in a EU400 fine. Theft was prevented because, as I mentioned, either a credit card was necessary or before getting a tourist card, one would have to volunteer some sort of credit card information.

After the nap, we met Brad and Jason for dinner. Trying to conserve money, Paige and I had decided to sleep in the train station since there was a shower there. Upon learning this, Brad and Jason selflessly offered to share their room with us…we couldn’t believe that we’d lucked into another couch surfing situation without even meaning to! Their room was very nice and more than large enough to accommodate all four of us. Brad and Jason shared with us a few beers that they’d bought as we played some more uecker and watched some strange music channel that played covers of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Jason and I teamed up to win the uecker game, as we’d done on the train (though it took surviving a ferocious comeback from Brad and Paige). Since it took us so long to put the game away, we didn’t get to bed until 3:30 AM.




August 20th

We woke up at 5 AM and escorted Kali to the train station so we could say our goodbyes. Check-out at the hotel wasn’t until 11 so Paige and I went back and slept for a few hours longer. We subsequently took a train into the center of Venice and after buying a ticket for a couchette on the overnight train to Vienna, we ventured out into the city.

The first goal was to find a supermarket since we hadn’t eaten in a while and were starving. Walking around Venice, I quickly noticed that the city was as advertised: there were canals everywhere. In fact, and I didn’t know this until we got there, boats are the primary mode of transportation for the majority of the city. I saw very few cars in Venice. However, there were police boats, ambulance boats, boat taxis, of course the gondolas, and a wide variety of personal boats ranging from small paddle canoes to speed boats. It was quite an interesting and unique city. I was also delighted to find that I was unable to smell the odor for which Venice is infamous.

Since Venice is a series of islands, running internet cables throughout the islands is very expensive; this is reflected in the outrageously high cost of the internet cafes. Riccardo told us that Venice occassionally floods and the water can get up to several feet high. In this scenario, one needs special water-resistant boots (think fly fishing) to walk around the city because doing so barefoot would put the individual at risk of getting bitten by rats (which are apparently everywhere during these floods).

Venice had a nice feel and I’m sure that if one were to go there with a boatload of money and a sweetheart, it would’ve been an amazing place to visit. However, for poor college students whose sweethearts were elsewhere, there didn’t seem to be much beyond old, poorly maintained-looking buildings, high priced restaurants, and shopping. We walked around the city for several hours but ended up getting to the train station with time to spare, dissatisfied with Venice.

Finally, our train arrived and we made our way to the couchette car specified on our ticket. The couchette cars are slightly more expensive than a regular seat but are well worth the money because they afford one an opportunity to actually lay down, turn off the lights, and get a decent night of sleep. For long train rides, I couldn’t imagine traveling any other way. On the way from Madrid to Barcelona, our couchette slept six – three beds on each side of the car. It was pretty crowded and I felt like we were in the sleeping quarters of a Navy ship. However, we were fortunate on this train – only us and two other guys from Canada would be sharing the room. Before the train even got moving, someone had boarded the train who apparently hadn’t washed his feet in weeks. It smelled absolutely terrible. Naturally, he thought it was quite amusing (as he’d probably refrained from washing his feet for weeks in anticipation of this night). Fortunately for us, he wasn’t in our car but it didn’t matter – the odor crept out from the closed door of his room and filled the entire train car. If we kept our door closed, it was enough to keep the odor from penetrating our room but the smell persisted in the hallway literally the entire trip to Vienna. Going to the bathroom was risky business since the train didn’t keep a supply of gasmasks on hand.

The two Canadian guys were very friendly and we got along with them extremely well. They taught us to play uecker, which we did for a few hours to pass the time before calling it a night.





August 19th

I woke up a little before the girls, took a shower, got packed and ready, and then cooked breakfast for us all so when they got ready, we’d have nothing left to do. Today we were to go to Venice. Unfortunately, there was no direct train from west coast Cinque Terre (or the surrounding areas) to eastern Venice. We took the train south from Riomaggiore for ten minutes or so to La Spezia. From there, we dealt with a very unfriendly desk attendent at the ticket office who, despite us being as polite as possible, got frustrated with our lack of knowledge of Italian and unwillingness to pay EU162 for three train tickets (when we knew we could get them much cheaper) and began openly cussing us in italian. I decided it best not to ask her to repeat herself in english. After we balked at the EU162 ticket package, she found tickets on a train that left twenty minutes later for EU112 (for three tickets).

Since there were no direct trains to Venice, we’d have to change over in several cities (from La Spezia to Bologna, Bologna to Parma, and Parma to Venice). However, there were stops at various stations along the route between La Spezia and Bologna and between Bologna and Parma. Our train from Parma to Venice however, was to be a direct train (Eurostar) and therefore much shorter.

We boarded a glass enclosed room that had four seats (two on each side facing each other) and a sliding glass door for the ride to Bologna. Somewhere along the way, while Paige, Kali, and I were playing cards, a man opened the sliding glass door and started begging for money in some foreign language (I couldn’t quite hear him because he mumbled but I assume it was Italian). By this time, I’d learned to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian” and we motioned to him that we didn’t have any spare change. Thinking that took care of the situation, we went back to our card game. However, a few minutes later, he returned and began begging for money again. We politely declined and he was off. Relentless, he returned again and after we (admittedly, a little more agitated at this point) declined his request for money, he began begging for a beer that Kali had opened. Only this time, he wouldn’t quit talking and wouldn’t leave the room. I was closest to the door so I took the door handle and forced the door closed. I hated to do that but I felt that at this point, it was necessary. A few peaceful minutes passed and he returned again only this time, I saw him coming and held the door closed. I assume he got off at one of the stops somewhere along the way because we didn’t see him again.

We got off the train and walked to the platform expecting to see our train bound for Parma arriving shortly. However, we were met with a message that informed us our train was delayed by 15 minutes. Shortly thereafter, 15 turned to 20, and 20 to 25. Apparently, delays are quite common in Italy. This was problemmatic though because we were going to be cutting it very close on making our Eurostar connection in Parma. Finally the train came and we were on the way.

Sure enough, as our train rolled into Parma nearly 30 minutes late, our Eurostar connection was just pulling off en route directly to Venice. The next train wouldn’t come for another 45 minutes and it wasn’t a direct train, therefore an extra hour and a half or so was to be added to our trip. Aggravated, we went out into the town and found some dinner before returning to the train. At one of the stops along the way, the train sat much longer than it had at any of the other stops. Curious, I got up and started looking around. Everyone else was looking out the window of the train at some police officers questioning a few teenage boys. I asked a few people what the fuss was about. Apparently, the boys had gotten into an argument with the conductor and one of them broke one of the glass windows on the train. The train sat and waited for everything to get sorted out before continuing on the way to Venice. This delay was about an hour or hour and a half.

We arrived in Venice much later than expected and without accommodation for the night. Kali had to be in Treviso, which is a small airport about 45 minutes outside of Venice, to catch her flight to Rome, where she would fly back to the United States. Aggravated, tired, and hungry, we tried to decide what to do. Should we see the city at night so Kali had an opportunity to see Venice or should we just find a place to sleep and call it a day? After finding out that we were a good 10 or 15 kilometers from the center of Venice and finding that no trains were running at this time, we decided we’d find some food and then a place to stay.

Hotel after hotel was entirely too expensive for our tastes or they were booked. Finally, after meeting up with a Croatian guy named Ivan who was in a similar situation, we found a hotel at 1:30 AM that agreed with our price range. It was going to be EU18 per person for the four of us to split one room or EU20 per person for us to get two rooms. We decided to take the latter and Ivan and I were able to sleep in our own beds instead of on the floor. What a terrible day. By far the worst of the trip. I think being on a train all day was starting to drive us mad.


August 18th

After waking up late because we slept in, we took the train from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, a short 10 minute ride or so. The pizza the night before was so good and so cheap that we decided to have two more before we got started.

The reviews we’d read about the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso were absolutely true. That was one beast of a hike. The trail twisted up and down and up and down the hillside, seemingly needlessly (but I enjoyed it, it made it interesting!) and the path was so narrow that when someone came from the opposite direction, it was all one could do to get out of the way and keep from bumping them off the path and onto the cliffs and water below. As usual, the scenery was spectacular, making it impossible to take a bad picture. We finally got to Monterosso, which had the only sand beach out of the five cities (the rest were rock beaches that had been smoothed out by the Sea). I got scorched (sunburnt) the day before and was concerned about having to carry around my having pack being sunburnt so Paige and Kali spent a few hours in the water while I wandered the town and tried to catch up on my journal of the trip. We met at a predetermined meeting place/time and went to the grocery store so I could try my hand at cooking “real” Italian pasta back at Mama Rosa’s.

The pasta was pretty good but was no match for Diego’s creation of a few days prior. We did get a chance to talk a set of brothers from Portland, Oregon who were staying in one of the other rooms in the house and backpacking together. After a fruitless attempt at locating some beer for a card game, we decided to hit the sack.




August 17th

Sleeping on a rock path wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds; I felt great the next morning. Of course it would be hard not to feel great, for when I opened my eyes, I was looking out over sun-kissed sapphire blue water and some of the most amazing scenery I’d ever seen.

Paige, Kali, and I ventured into town and soon were approached by a woman renting out a room in her house for EU40 per night. Mama Rosa, as she called herself in very broken english, took us up the side of the cliff via elevator and showed us the room. We told her that we would be delighted to stay for two nights, so the price was a mere EU80. Split three ways, we felt this to be quite the bargain. Of course, we shared a bathroom and a kitchen with the inhabitants of two other rooms but it turned out to not be a problem at all.

Cinque Terre is an Italian national park and as such, a nature trail was constructed by the government that linked the five towns. Residents of Cinque Terre had taken extreme care in the past to prevent the area from becoming an over-commercialized tourist spot so there were no hotels, no McDonald’s, no chains whatsoever. I think that definitely added to the mystique. We began the hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola via the “Via Dell’Amore”, the Lover’s Walk. The path, elevated and inset in the cliffs, winds along the coastline and proved to be a much easier hike than we expected. In fact, it wasn’t much of a hike at all because the paved walkway was crowded with tourists – not quite what we were hoping for. We pressed on and continued the hike from Manarola to Corniglia, which became slightly more difficult and slightly less populated, but still a far cry from the hiking we were anticipating doing (although the pathway was no longer paved). A set of stairs led up the cliff from the walkway and into Corniglia; however, a passway to the famous Guavano Beach (a nude beach) was also at the end of the walkway and just before the steps. We decided to make our way to the nude beach before continuing on. I can still honestly (and somewhat ashamedly because when in Italy…) say that I’ve never been in the Mediterranean Sea nude. To not implicate anyone else, I’ll go ahead and fast forward to the steps. Three hundred and sixty eight of them. Ugh. Up the steps we went, though. We pressed onward to Vernazza, the fourth of the five cities. By this time, the path was much less populated and winded its way across the hillside. This was more like what we were expecting. It was much more of a workout than the previous paths, hence the reason not as many people were on it. However, we got some great views of the area as we stopped to catch our breath periodically on the hike.

When we arrived in Vernazza, we were more than ready for dinner as we hadn’t eaten much of a breakfast while in Riomaggiore. The pizza in Italy is extremely cheap. And extremely good. We devoured two of them and assessed our situation. The hike from Vernazza, the fourth town, to Monterosso, the fifth town, was supposed to be the hardest of them all. Since the sun was setting, we decided to enjoy dinner, have a few beers, enjoy the sunset, and then pack it in for the night.






August 16th

Having only allotted ourselves one evening and a few hours during the day to see Florence, we missed out on quite a bit. Of course, we were able to walk around and see some of the more famous sites such as The Duomo at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the dome for which Brunelleschi became famous), Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise”, Campanile (the bell tower next to The Duomo), and several well-known squares in the city. Florence had a different feel than Rome…it was almost as if one could feel the old money of the Medici family while walking around in the city.

We also took time to enjoy a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit that showcased some 40 or so of his inventions. Models were built of each invention and about half of these were interactive so we were actually able to put them to use and see how they worked. Many different types of pulleys for dragging or hoisting weight were there, several different military concepts (such as the tank and various weaponry) were on display, an early version of the car, a parachute, a rotisserie cooker, bicycle, ball bearings, and of course, the flying machine were all on display. Tribute was also paid to his study of human anatomy, though not much attention was paid to his work as an artist.

Anyway, after getting a taste of Florence, we caught the train to Pisa. By all accounts, there isn’t much to see or do in Pisa other than the Campo dei Miracoli, a walled part of the city that contains the Leaning Tower, the Bapistry of St. John (the cathedral), the Camposanto, and the old city wall. As far as “touristy” things go, I would tend to agree (although Pisa would be a nice, quiet little town to spend a few days in if one wanted to get away from the bigger cities). We ate dinner, took the obligatory “push down the Tower” picture, and after learning it cost EU15 just to go up in the Tower, made our way back to the train station. EU15 – outrageous! However, I suppose I did right by the Business School by putting forth a suggestion as to why it made sense for their cost structure to be shaped in such a way. After a few hours in Pisa, we were on our way.

Our next destination was Cinque Terre, a string of five towns built into cliffsides along the Italian Riviera. The goal was to get there before dark and find a place to sleep on the beach. We got off the train at the first town, Riomaggiore, but to our disappointment, were unable to locate a beach. However, we did find a walkpath and followed it along the edge of a cliff until it stopped. This was to be the “campsite”. It was very dark so we couldn’t look out over the Mediterranean Sea but setting up campsite (which was comprised of a few sheets) while drinking a bottle of wine, looking into a clear, star-filled sky, and listening to the waves crash against the rocks below was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.





August 15th

The train ride from Rome to Florence was a short one – maybe an hour or hour and a half. After getting off at the wrong train station and being lost without a map in Florence for a while, we got directions to the correct train stop we were supposed to get off at and then found our hostel. By the time we’d reached the hostel and unloaded our bags, it was about 19:00.

Florence, capital of Tuscany, is an amazingly beautiful city of about 956,000 set on the Arno River and at the foot of the Apennines Mountains. It’s highly reguarded as the main Renaissance city and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. As we walked across a bridge over the Arno River and to a gellato shop, we admired the beauty of the bridges and the skyline with the mountains and a setting sun in the background. I had heard several people rave about the gellato in Italy and in retrospect, Florence is the gellato capital of the world as far as I’m concerned. Gellato is a sort of ice cream-yogurt type mix and is to Europeans what ice cream is to Americans – it’s even often served in cones. I got some sort of cake-flavored gellato and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had. That is, until I tried caramel creme later that night (I’m a caramel fiend, so I was a bit biased). Anyway, we walked around the city and admired its beauty at night while enjoying a bottle of wine and sitting along the river and then packed it in for the night.


Florence at night

August 14th

Having heard about the terribly long lines at Vatican City, we decided to be proactive and get to Vatican City before 9:00 in the morning (this is quite early for traveling college students). Unfortunately, several hundred people were quite a bit more proactive than we were. The line to get into Vatican City was so long that it literally took a good ten or fifteen minutes to walk the length of it. We were told to expect approximately a two and a half hour wait and that the gates wouldn’t even open until 10:00. It didn’t take long standing in the already sweltering heat for us to decide that someone should probably get breakfast and some sort liquid for us to share. Once the Vatican opened, the line moved with surprising speed and we were admitted in seemingly no time at all.

We followed the crowd to the Sistine Chapel, famous for its architecture (which was designed to evoke Soloman’s Temple of the Old Testament), its purpose as a site of papal importance, and of course, the frescos and decorations that were done by some of the most famous Renaissance artists. As I walked through the hallways, I was stunned first by the fact that the ceilings, walls, and floors were absolutely covered with scenes depicting various Biblical events and secondly by the detail and precision with which the artists painted. I couldn’t imagine being upside down on a scaffold and painting an arched ceiling to perfection. Room after room, hallway after hallway were covered with paintings that seemed to come alive as I walked in awe. As you might imagine, the place was packed and I found it difficult to be able to stand and stare at a painting without feeling like I was in someone’s way. I’m certainly not an art connoisseur or art buff but it would’ve been nice to be able to go in one night alone and spend the entire night admiring the artists’ work. The most densely populated room of them all was of course the chapel itself. Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the vault, which took him four years to complete. The walkways of the chapel were dimly lit thus it was difficult to take pictures; pictures and video of any kind were altogether forbidden in the actual chapel, though people took them anyway (much to the dismay of the individuals whose job was to try and prevent people from taking pictures).

After the Sistine Chapel we made the short walk to Saint Peter’s Basilica, which was an absolutely gigantic structure capable of holding over 60,000 people. Much of the marble in St. Peter’s Basilica was carted over from the Colosseum, which was badly damaged. We saw one of the most famous sculptures in the world, Michelangelo’s Pieta. Other ornate and impressive sculptures of past popes lined the walls. It would’ve been nice to know Latin to be able to read some of the insignia on the walls and ceiling but I did find one cool sign that had the names and dates of all the popes of the past.

We exited the church and walked through Saint Peter’s square and then out of Vatican City. Tired from all the walking, we walked over to the Mausoleum of Hadrian and napped on a curb for an hour or two. Having spent much of the day in Vatican City, we first went to Termini to buy our train tickets to Florence for the next day and then went back to Riccardo’s to meet him for dinner (we’d previously agreed upon a time to meet). We were originally going to go out to eat but his friend, Diego, wanted to show me how to cook “real” Italian spaghetti. I’ve given it a shot since and it’s still a work in progress. Diego shared some chocolate that he’d brought with him from Sicily. He had kept it in his freezer and when he opened the pack, the sugar crystals were clearly discernable from the chocolate…suffice it to say, this was far and away the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life.

To cap the night, Riccardo and Diego drove us to the center of Rome. We grabbed a few beers, walked past the Pantheon, and arrived at the Trevi Fountain. When Paige and I had visited a few days ago, there were so many people that it was difficult to move; however, at night, there were only a few people there to drink a beer and listen to the water. Two guys who were there decided that it would be fun to mess with the security guards who were on guard by swimming in the fountain, since it was forbidden. One jumped in fully clothed and swam around for five minutes or so. The other stripped down to his boxer briefs but never could get up the guile to jump in. The guards, who probably see this every night, calmly walked over and confiscated the clothes of the guy in his boxers and patiently waited for the other individual to emerge from the fountain. Everyone there (except the guards, of course) got a pretty good laugh out of this. When we left, the guards were still talking to the two gentlemen (one of whom was still in his boxer briefs since his clothes had been confiscated) but according to Riccardo, they wouldn’t be in any serious trouble.



Vatican City



August 13th

Paige and I have agreed to basically split the blogging of our backpacking trip so I’ll take it from here on out, though I’m sure she’ll have some much-needed injections (my memory is pretty terrible).

On August 13th, we picked Kali up from the airport and, after dropping her luggage off at Riccardo’s, made our way to the Colosseum. We got a tip in Barcelona from a girl from Vancouver about how to bypass the 45 minute to an hour wait for entry into the Colosseum. There is a park of ruins opposite the Colosseum called Foro Romano…we bought tickets for this park (at one of the ruins, the Palatino) that also granted us entry into the Colosseum. Sure enough, we were able to walk directly past hundreds of people and straight in.

“Il Colosseo” was every bit as incredible as I had always dreamed it would be. Something about looking directly into the past of one of the most dominant civilizations of all-time is a pretty awe-inspiring thing. I tried to picture what the atmosphere would have been like 2000 years ago for someone outside of Rome when marble, some of which still remained, lined the walls and walkways. I’m sure walking through the corridors, one’s nostril’s would’ve been filled with the musty smell of 50,000 sweating under the burning Mediterranian sun as the racious crowd roared in approval at whatever spectacle was being displayed in the center of the arena. Maybe the putrid smell of the hypogeum (the two-level subterranean network of tunnels beneath the floor of the arena where animals and prisoners were kept) would seep through cracks in the marble and the screams of those slain would pierce one’s eardrums. Oh, to be a time traveller.

After the Colosseum, we made our way through the Palatino and into Foro Romano, a large archeological-looking site where dozens of ruins stood or laid. Walking through Foro Romano was spectacular in its own right as it offered a glimpse into the majesty that was Rome. I just could not imagine being from out in the countryside, having never seen anything larger than a two story farmhouse, and stepping into the streets of Rome – it had to be overwhelming. In Foro Romano we saw, among other things, the Arco di Settimio Severo, the Basilica di Massenzio, Colonna di Foca, the Arco di Tito, and the Casa dei Vestalli. What a day.

Finally, we ended the day by going back to Riccardo’s house where he had, as he’d done the night before, prepared a traditional two-course Italian meal complete with wines from various regions in Italy. I can’t put into words how amazing Riccardo was (both as a cook and as a host) and how excited he was to help us experience and learn about his culture. We ended the night with a delicious cup of coffee and rested up for the next day.

The Colosseum at night

Inside the Colosseum

Foro Romano

Paige is Pensive

Trevi Fountain