A Day Trip from Zürich: Bern

“You should go on a day trip.” Always a good idea, and from Zürich, the possibilities were overwhelming. Lucerne, Geneva, Basel…after talking with some locals and doing some digging on Wikitravel, I finally decided on Bern. I chose Bern because it is Switzerland’s capital but is also small enough to walk around and there were many sights to see.

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Train travel within Switzerland is fairly simple. In my case, I just showed up at Westbahnhof, the big train station in Zürich, and bought my ticket 20 minutes before the train left. The ticket machines are easy to use, everywhere has easy to follow signs, and the trains will leave EXACTLY on time, accurate to the second. Although I have to say, while simple and efficient, the Swiss train system, like everything in Switzerland, is by no means cheap. It cost 100 CHF for a round trip ticket to Bern!

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Once I got to Bern, I made a beeline to the tourism office, where I picked up a map with a self-guided walking tour that took me through the major sights. Bern is quite small, so I was able to take my time and take lots of pictures. One of the first things I saw was the Astronomical Clock, which reminded me of the one in Prague.

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I continued wandering, passing Einstein’s house as well as a bunch of weird fountains. Bern is really obsessed with bears.

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Eventually I crossed the Aare River and made my way up the hill on the other side to probably my favorite spot of the day, the Rosengarten overlooking the city. This park was beautiful, and as you would expect, it had lots of roses. I spent some time in the grass reading and savoring the day, but it was the view of the city that was the highlight of the Rosengarten.

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Afterwards I made my way back down, stopping by the bear pits, which I went into (the bears were on vacation), and then crossing the river again. I was there on a warm summer day, and lots of people (tourists and locals alike) were floating down the river. I kicked myself for not bringing a swimsuit, but I did take the chance and wade into the icy waters. It was the perfect way to cool off and take a break after so much walking.

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After that I took my time wandering back to the Bahnhof, taking in a few more sites before boarding my train back to Zürich. By the time I slumped into my seat, my feet were sore, and I’m pretty sure my face was sunburned. But wow, what a great day. Bern was perfect for a day trip: small enough so I could see all the sites in one day, with interesting history and architecture around each corner. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to see more of Switzerland than Zürich.

Have you ever been to Switzerland? If not, what Swiss cities would you like to visit?

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Climbing the Scheeberg

Note: Sorry this is obscenely late, my computer crashed and I lost all my files and more importantly, most of my pictures. Backing up – super duper important!

“Want to go climb a mountain tomorrow?”

I don’t know how many times you’ve been asked that question, but in my experience, the answer is always obvious: yes.

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Traveling in Austria with my family, we’re always meeting up with my mom’s old friends. In this case, it was Dopps, who my sister and I knew quite well. He and his family had visited us a couple years back, so we had experience traveling together. So when he asked us if we wanted to go up a mountain, we knew it was going to be good.

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The next morning, we woke up and dressed in our best hiking clothes (shorts and tennis shoes). As we drove further and further out of Vienna, buildings turned into farmland, less people were walking around, and something amazing happened: mountains appeared in the distance. “Do you see that one?” my mom asked, pointing down the highway. “That’s the Schneeberg.”

I exchanged glances with my sister, Natalie. We hadn’t hiked in a while, but it didn’t look too impressive for part of the Alps. It would be a pleasant hike, but not particularly challenging.

Boy, were we wrong.

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Dopps drove us partway up the mountain, where we stopped at a small tourist center. We took a ski lift (would it be a hike lift since it was summer?) another part of the way. Natalie and I swung our feet and snapped pictures as we gazed at the trees around us.

Then the hiking began. After passing a few friendly cows, we started going uphill – quickly. I almost immediately started breathing hard and realized I had vastly underestimated how hard it was. For a while, we climbed through forest, but eventually we broke above the tree line and were rewarded with amazing views.

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For the record – the Austrian Alps are amazing. To be fair, I’ve only been to the Alps in Austria, so I can’t really compare. Austrians, in general, are very outdoorsy and don’t hesitate to take advantage of the amazing natural formations around them. This means plentiful skiing opportunities in the winter, and well designed, well maintained hiking trails for the rest of the year.

The best part about the Austrian Alps? They have a gasthaus on basically every mountain, and it’s just about the best thing ever. It’s basically a small hut that serves anything from beer to strudel. As we made it to the summit, it started pouring like mad, so we quickly headed inside to take shelter.

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Well, once we were there, we obviously had to have lunch, and maybe a couple drinks. I felt absolutely no guilt diving into an apfel strudel – I climbed up a mountain and hell, I deserved it. I honestly don’t know how these little houses make such good food, but they do. Around us, more hikers than I thought were around were digging in as well. Why isn’t this a thing we have everywhere?

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Once it stopped raining, we ventured out again, slightly disappointed to leave our warm refuge. We took an alternate path down. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty scared. Everything was slippery from the rain and at times the path seemed to go straight down. I didn’t even have real hiking shoes on, just some flimsy running shoes. While I had been easily able to keep up on our way up, I quickly fell behind as I cautiously picked my way down the path.

It was frustrating, climbing down so far behind everyone, even though I felt like I was going as fast as I could. But I finally made it, even if it was twenty minutes after everyone else.

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As we walked to the car, I looked back at the Schneeberg one more time. Having been to the top and back, I knew what a challenging climb it was. But that didn’t mean I didn’t want to do it again.

Have you ever climbed a mountain? How challenging was it?

Prague in Photos

I had a really hard time with this. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to, and I have way too many pictures to put into one blog post! But if there’s one way I want to share Prague, it’s through photos. So I looked through all my albums and finally managed to edit it down. These are Prague’s greatest hits.

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Prague’s architecture is simply fantastic. Most of the city was spared from bombs during World War II, leading to many of the original buildings being preserved.

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We were lucky enough to take a boat trip on Vltava, so we got to see many of Prague’s buildings from the river. I would highly recommend this way of seeing the city.

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I took two day trips during my time in Prague – getting out of the city was super easy and we were rewarded with beautiful views.

Day trip to Karlštein..like out of a painting
Day trip to Karlštein..like out of a painting
Lake Orlík
Lake Orlík

There’s not much to say. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Lennon Wall
Street art at the Lennon Wall

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Needless to say, I will be returning. I’ve fallen in love with this breathtaking city.

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What is the most picturesque city you’ve ever been to?

Why I Didn’t Fall in Love with Paris (But Want To)

I have a confession to make: when I went to Paris, I didn’t fall in love. I didn’t even like it that much compared to my other travels. I saw most of the main tourist attractions, which were great, but I guess I was looking for more.

“What? Everyone falls in love with Paris!” my mom told me upon me telling her this. While I have no problem with having different tastes than the majority of travelers, this situation was a bit different. I knew Paris was a city I could love, given the right circumstances. It seemed like a missed opportunity more than anything.

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There were a lot of of factors that made Paris a less-then-enjoyable experience. Maybe I was European citied-out. I’d already been to London, Prague, and Vienna, and after a while, all the old churches start to blend together. There’s only so many tourist attractions you can see, and while I love the history, many of my favorite travel experiences have been elsewhere. So maybe that was part of the problem.

Prague or Paris?
Prague or Paris?

I think another major factor in my Paris experience was the people I were with. Just a little back story: I was in France for 2 weeks doing a sort-of exchange with some family friends I had never met before. However, the parents were working in another city, leading to me spending most of my time with their 14-year-old son, who was going to come the United States after I was done in France. In Paris, we stayed with his aunt, or more appropriately, in his aunt’s apartment, because we rarely saw her. Who was there though was my travel buddy’s cousin, who was (surprise) 14 years old.

Being 17 at the time, two 14-year-old boys were not the ideal travel companions, for several reasons. We didn’t really have anything in common, aside from the Homeland we watched in the evenings. While my travel buddy was fine, his cousins was (maybe I’m stereotyping here) a Parisian douchebag. While I appreciated him showing us around, he was a bit patronizing and made it clear he didn’t really like me. I can usually deal with this behavior in small doses, but having someone put you down 24/7 in an unfamiliar country where no one knows you is draining.

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Next came the food situation: I was beyond excited to be in a city famous for its cuisine. I was expecting to be going to bakeries, street markets, and generally just eating well. Maybe we’d have a few nice dinners at restaurants. Well, as it turns out, this is not what my hosts had in mind. “Grab anything in the kitchen for breakfast,” they told me. Maybe it was too idealistic to hope that every Parisian household had fresh baguette, but the only bread they had in the house was Wonder Bread. Seriously. I don’t even like eating that stuff in America.

We packed our lunch and came back to the house for dinner (usually leftovers). Admittedly, the leftovers were good, but not very French. The one time we went out for dinner was at an Italian place, and we were rushing to eat before our next activity. Although this eating strategy was certainly cheap, it was no where close to what I was hoping.

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Closed…

When I think about my Paris experience, I’m disappointed, somewhat about the situation I was in, but also myself. To be fair, I mostly went passively along. I didn’t put myself out there with my French: they frequently made fun of me for being quiet the whole time. And I was. I was alone and awkward and didn’t understand anything. I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even see it anymore. Now, looking back, I wished I could’ve pushed myself more. Maybe I could’ve gone on my own to get breakfast. Maybe I could’ve used my limited French to try to talk to my hosts. I could’ve made Paris the amazing experience it had the potential to be.

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I’m going to be honest here. My Paris experience really shook me. It was my first really bad travel experience. I came home wondering if I still wanted to travel as much. I went into a spiral of reflection and self-doubt. Traveling is such a part of my identity that suddenly everything was uncertain. However, I finally have come up with a decision: I want to go back to Paris. I want to go eat the food and have the experiences I didn’t have last time. I want to go to one of those cafes that I missed, god dammit.

I’m going to give Paris another chance, and I’m not going to let anyone or anything dictate my experience.

Note: This was just my personal story and in no way represents how other travelers experience Paris.

Have you ever had a bad travel experience? How did you deal with it?

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

Meaningless chatter, incomprehensible street signs…the language barrier is something every traveler encounters. It makes the simplest things, like ordering food, harder, and the harder things, like trying to fix your computer, impossible. Many travelers enjoy this challenge, and I agree: experiencing a different language is an essential part of traveling to another country.

However, I’m here to argue that the language barrier can be broken down, and quite easily. By this, I don’t mean you will be able to read those street signs that look like weird symbols, or strike up a conversation on politics with the person who sells you your coffee. This is just to make small interactions with locals a little more authentic.

Here are the four magic words: hello, good-bye, please and thank you.

There are two parts to this: first, like a mentioned before, it will make your interactions easier. But secondly, the locals will appreciate it. Putting in a little effort shows them you’re truly interested in their culture, and might make them a little more friendly towards you.

So go right now. Look them up in your target language. Learn them so you have them in your back pocket. And when you’re done with that, come back and read the rest of this post.

My sister likes to pretend she knows what's going on...
My sister likes to pretend she knows what’s going on…

EXTRA CREDIT:

Now, the four magic words is something you can learn if you’re staying at a location for even a day. But if you have some extra time that you want to invest into your travel experience, here are a few more words you can learn in the language of the place you’re going to..

Yes and no can usually be achieved through nodding or shaking your head, but in case of confusion, these are handy to know.

How to count from 1 to 10 is helpful when buying things, or when ordering three strudels because you deserve it.

Bathroom? You don’t even need a full question for this one, but it’s helpful to know when in the middle of nowhere with a full bladder.

Sorry! This is just to be polite.

Where is…? You’re going to get lost, and maps are confusing.

How much? Because you really want that street food but don’t want to pay too much.

Feel free to add anything else you might need! Research the country you’re headed to and develop some phrases of your own.

What phrases have you found useful while traveling?

Ice Cream Abroad

A comfort food: everyone has one. This is the food you eat to help you feel better in difficult times. My comfort food relaxes me when I’m stressed, makes me feel less homesick, and best of all, is available almost everywhere.

From Magnum bars to chocolate sundaes, little gelato shops or fancy cafes, ice cream is pretty much universal. The certainty of ice cream is something that comforts me when I’m having troubles on the road or feeling just a little too far away from home. I’ve even ventured out in a snowstorm before to get some cookies and cream! That being said, I have quite a few ice cream stories and recommendations…
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Searching for Ice Cream in Paris

On my last night in France, I was staying with my travel buddy in his aunt’s house, in a suburb of Paris. After dinner, I suggested we take a walk. As we wandered out of the house, I suggested we grab some dessert. I was hoping to find a cute ice cream shop, but no such luck. Paris’ suburbs are mostly residential, with a few small grocery stores and a couple really large malls. Almost everything was closed as we walked through the town square, so we took another street up to a huge mall in the area. The only thing open was McDonald’s. My travel buddy, being French, had no problem ordering a vanilla cone, but I was determined. I flew across an ocean, for god’s sake. If I was going to get mediocre soft serve, it should at least be French.

We ended up walking back to where we came, and managed to find a small corner store that was still open. I peeked in the door and voila! There was a small cooler with ice cream bars. I chose a Magnum bar (one of my all-time favorites), paid, and left. We managed to get lost getting back to the house, but I didn’t really mind wandering for a little bit more with the sunset in the sky and frozen creaminess in my hand.

Property of Wikimedia Commons.

Ice Cream : Vienna Edition

I’ve been to Vienna more than I have been to any other foreign city. I’ve walked around the First District more times than I can count, most times with my mom and sister in tow. I remember many occasions when that walking gets me hungry. After walking around all day, I always want ice cream.

There are a few famous ice cream shops in Vienna, but my all-time favorite is at Schwedenplatz, close to the city center. It’s immediately visible out of the U-bahn station, most likely crowded with people. It’s called Eissalon, and once you make your way to the front, anything’s good to order. You can either sit in the cafe or out in the square, in the company of everyone from toddlers to elderly couples enjoying their ice cream.

Bobtail's hot brownie sundae. Delicious.
Bobtail’s hot brownie sundae. Delicious.

Hometown Favorite

I don’t think there is a fiercer loyalty than than the loyalty you have to your local ice cream shop. I’ve been to ice cream shops from Singapore to London, and still I keep coming back to Bobtail’s ice cream company, about a block away from my house in Chicago. Their ice cream is all made in-store and is creamy and delicious. Some of their more off-beat flavors include Cubby Crunch (with rainbow sprinkles, cookies, and toffee) and Signature Sunset (merlot ice cream with dark chocolate chips). I’ve been there in the dead of winter, and in the middle of the night. This is a must for anyone in Chicago!

What’s your favorite ice cream place? Have you had any interesting experiences involving ice cream?