After last year's trip to Belize, I knew I had to go on another international trip. I booked this European trip through EF. I highly recommend them if you're young and don't have anyone to travel with. They take care of everything for you.
Friday, August 3rd
Only a travel day. They had me fly from Columbus down to Atlanta, have a 4 hour layover, then fly over to Venice. My flight from Atlanta to Venice was an overnight flight and I was in the air for 10 hours.
Saturday, August 4th
My flight arrived in Venice around 9am. I immediately met with the tour guide and waited for the rest of the group to get there. We headed over to the hotel and we got to walk around and explore for a couple hours before we had our orientation. We made sure to stop and get some authentic Italian pizza (the first of many) and gelato! After the orientation we went to this cute like bar/restaurant for our welcome dinner. We had delicious little appetizers and some spritzer. Pretty much as soon as we finished at the restaurant we headed back to the hotel to catch up on sleep.
Sunday, August 5th
The day started out with bus and boat rides into Venice. We met with a local tour guide and toured Venice for a few hours. We saw the outside of St. Mark's Basilica but for some reason didn't get to go inside, which I'm kind of disappointed about but oh well. The tour ended at a glass blowing building because Venetians are known for their glass. As soon as the local tour was over we took a Gondola ride. The ride only lasted about 15 minutes and we were always in crowded canals, next to another Gondola. It was still cool though.
We made our way over to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal. We made a few stops for food and souvenirs and then walked most of the island back to the spot where we were meeting the group. Once we got away from the major parts of town, the city got quiet. The tour guide had mentioned that many locals have actually moved from the island. The population has actually diminished drastically. She said even most of the locals who run the shops on the island, commute into town every morning. The island was almost eerily quiet because nobody was around.
We met back with the group, took the boat and bus back to the hotel, then shortly headed back out to wine country. We headed to a vineyard, got to stroll through the grape vines, learn about the wine making process, enjoy many different homemade pizzas and pastas, listen to the family's father sing italian opera, and we got to taste five different kinds of wine. In all honesty, I was kind of disappointed in Venice, but this vineyard was amazing and I'm so glad that I went!
Monday, August 6th
Travel day from Italy to Austria. It was about a 6-7 hour drive but we made stops every few hours to stretch our legs. Our first stop was in Northern Italy in the Italian Alps. About half the group went white water rafting, I opted out of this though and we explored the cutest little town. Italy is big about not letting cars through their busy streets in these towns so it was just foot traffic and a few bikes. We enjoyed lunch in the town, I had my last taste of authentic Italian pasta. Then we took a mountain gondola almost to the top of the hill and hiked a good bit after that. There were gorgeous views from up there! We headed back down, got on the bus, and our next stop was Innsbruck, Austria.
Innsbruck: I really liked this stop. It was very colorful and quaint. Fun fact: Did you know that croissants are originally from Austria?? Well they are! I made sure I had one in Innsbruck. It wasn't anything special though...
We reached our final destination after 8pm. We were going to stay in and eat at the hotel but they were closed so we had to head into Salzburg to get food. Our original plan was to go meet up with the rest of the tour group but we got off at the wrong bus stop and ended up going to this other random outside bar we found. I think it ended up being a good choice though.
Tuesday, August 7th
Tuesday started with a guided tour around Salzburg. We started in the gorgeous garden where The Sound of Music was filmed, Mirabell Palace, then we headed into the older part of town. We saw Mozart's birth place and headed up to the top of the hill where we walked around an old castle, Fortress Hohensalzburg. It had gorgeous views from the top of the watch tower. We ate lunch at this cute little restaurant and ate outside. It was quiet and we had good conversations! After lunch we just wandered around town, taking everything in. I don't have any other words to explain it besides safe, calm, quiet, and comfortable. We went in and out of shops, walked along the river, and headed back to the hotel for a few hours. We went out later that night and saw a movie playing in the square, it was an Austrian opera and ate dinner at a local Indian restaurant. I love trying Indian food in every country I visit!
Wednesday, August 8th
Travel day from Austria to Germany. We arrived in Munich in the afternoon. We headed straight out to a tour of the city. I didn't bring my camera this day so I was going to use my phone to take pictures on the tour. Before we started the tour we stopped to get lunch at a restaurant. The whole trip I had been really good about keeping all my valuables zipped in my purse and in front of my body, but this time I had put my phone in my front pocket and it fell out. I FREAKED out, I thought someone had stolen it. We searched and searched in the streets and even asked a few shop owners, nobody had seen it. We told the tour guide and he pretty much said "sorry about your luck", which I deserved, I should have been paying more attention. One of my friends let me use her phone to call my mom and get everything cancelled at home. When the tour ended a few hours later, we were on our way to the police station to file a report and I had a gut feeling to check with the restaurant we had walked in before. I asked if they had seen a phone, he said yes, he went back and handed it to me, and I immediately started crying, happy tears of course. I had spent ALL day freaking out and stressing about my phone being stolen when I was the one who dropped it in the first place. I could tell he had gone through it though because a few of my menu options were turned on that were off before. But I was just so relieved to have it back and not have all my pictures gone! Feeling much better we headed to dinner at the Weisses Brauhaus, I ordered a beer and we relaxed. Being so emotionally drained from a stressful day, we headed back to the hotel and crashed.
Thursday, August 9th
We started out the day by heading to Dachau, the first permanent concentration camp in Germany. As soon as we walked through the gates into camp, I just got really lightheaded. We walked into the building that is now a museum but was the shower building that all the prisoners went to upon arrival at the camp. The tour guide started talking about all the deaths and I couldn't handle it, I got really nauseous and had to walk away. We took a breather outside the gates and went back in to join the tour. We joined them right at the point where he was talking about the torture that the prisoners used to endure. We were right smack in the middle of the room, where they still had some shower heads and everything, he talked about how they were scalped and hung by their wrists until their tendons broke. I started crying listening to all of that. He showed us a painting that showed all of the prisoners lined up in the yard in front of the building, then we walked across it. The whole time we were walking across the big, open yard, I kept thinking about all of the dead bodies that we were walking on top of. We walked through the barracks. There were different sections to it. The first section had bigger, nicer beds and held less people. The middle section had smaller beds and held slightly more people. But the final section had very small beds and held the most amount of people. Even though they were bunk beds, most people were so weak that they had to pile onto the bottom bed or even the floor. We walked down the path between all the old barrack locations and headed over to the crematoriums. The two crematoriums are based outside the perimeter of the camp, there was a smaller one that was used for prisoners that had been in the camp and the bigger one was used for new arrivals. The new arrivals were told that they were to get undressed and showered before they entered camp. Little did they know, they were going into gas chambers to be murdered. We got to walk through the crematoriums and gas chambers. Then we walked around a pathway where all of the ashes had been scattered and monuments were now created. The day was very historical and I'm glad I went and experienced that. It was very sad but the history is real and I'm glad I could learn more about it and "experience" it.
After we arrived back in Munich, we headed to the BMW Museum. An older BMW has always been my dream car, I've always loved them thanks to my Maryland friends. I knew I had to take a tour of the museum while I was in town. I took A LOT of pictures but I'll only share a few here. I'm very happy we took the evening and went out to visit it. I didn't know that BMW was so involved in everything like they are. After touring the museum we headed back downtown for dinner. We ate at another outside restaurant. If you don't know, Munich is known for bees. Bees are swarming around EVERYWHERE. While we tried to enjoy our dinner, we had close to 30 bees swarming around us. We tried to be calm at first but the more that came, the more we freaked out. The locals beside us were laughing at us trying to swat them away. We barely ate any of our food when it started pouring on us. We left the food and beer and ran under the umbrellas. We paid and wrote the food off as an experience. We headed to a small cafe for some German cake, it was delicious! Then we headed back to the hotel and got drenched. I ran the whole way from the subway to the hotel. When I walked up to the front desk the worker laughed at me because of how wet I was.
Friday, August 10th
Travel Day from Germany to Switzerland. Our first stop was at the Neuschwanstein Castle or more commonly known as the Disney Castle. It is the basis for both the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland and the Cinderella Castle in Disney World. We had to hike up a bike hill to reach the castle and it was under construction so we couldn't get a good picture of the front but it was still awesome to see. We took a tour inside, only a third of the castle is finished but it was very extravagant inside.
Our second stop was Liechtenstein, the fourth smallest country in Europe measuring at a whopping 15 miles long with a population of less than 40,000 people. It is also the only country in Europe that you get a passport stamp in, the rest are only when you enter or leave the EU. We stopped in the capital, Vaduz, caught a glimpse of a huge volleyball tournament they were having, got our passport stamps, and headed out. We visited four countries in one day. Upon our arrival into Switzerland, we ate a late dinner and headed to bed.
Saturday, August 11th
Saturday was our only full day in Switzerland, which I'm very sad about because it is an absolutely stunning country, but it is also VERY expensive. For example, they charged $5 for tap water because they can. We started out the day by touring Lucern and saw the famous lion statue. When the tour finished, we grabbed some pizza and headed to eat by the lake. After eating we met our tour guide and took a ferry across the lake, took a train up to the top of Mount Rigi (5,900 ft. high), and took some amazing pictures. They view was breathtaking. Second best to Machu Picchu. We spent some time on top of the mountain then took a gondola going down. The gondola did a very big drop and it felt like we were going almost straight down the side of the mountain. The train took us an hour to get up the mountain, the gondola took us five minutes to get down... When we got back into Lucerne, we had more free time. We didn't really explore much more, we perused the gift shops but it was still an awesome day. We headed back to the hotel and had our Farewell Dinner. After dinner we went out to the small club to dance the final night away. I'm not much of dancer but I still had a good time.
Sunday, August 12th
We woke up bright and early and headed to Zurich to come home. The Zurich airport is very big and they are very strict. Before we could check our bags, they made us answer questions. They asked me simple questions like where I'm from, where I was going, and who I was touring with but the girl in front of me they asked her questions like who was the vice president of America. They put either a red or green sticker on our passport. After we checked our bags and got our tickets, we headed through the first security checkpoint. Two girls couldn't get through because their tickets didn't have seat assignments. They overbooked the flight and they were on hold. They had to talk to someone to get through the checkpoint. At the second security checkpoint, I was randomly chosen for a more thorough search. They rubbed my hands, buttons on my pants, and everything in my carry on down with a special pad thing. After the second checkpoint we got on a tram that took us near our gate. We got to the gate and if you had a red sticker on your passport from the beginning, you got called into this gated off section where you had to answer more questions. It took us almost two hours to get to our gate. The two girls were still in limbo without seats, they eventually got seats at the last minute but it's still not right, they had checked in the night before just like I did.
I had less than an hour between landing and my next plane taking off to get through customs and security again in Atlanta. I started panicking a bit here. I don't like the Atlanta airport anyways, I think it's too big and confusing to start with but when you have to retrieve your bag, check it again, go through security and customs again, and get to a different terminal for your gate, I was pushing it. They even held my carry on bag back because they security lady didn't know what my camera lens was.... I tried to explain to her but they still had to search through my bag and waste an extra 5 minutes. Luckily I made it to the gate right before boarding but I was scared. My flight home felt short after being on the other plane for 10 hours. I was very glad to be home!
Overall, the trip was pretty good. I liked half the countries. I'm kind of glad we only spent a couple days in each, that way I can see which ones I want to visit again, cough cough Switzerland. I would highly recommend seeing Austria if you can, it's very underrated and probably one of the favorite countries I have ever been to.
I can't wait to see where my next travels take me!