European Itinerary: Switzerland

Swiss Alps, Swiss army knife, Swiss chocolate, Swiss bank, Swiss cheese—Switzerland seriously has it all!

One of the biggest regrets during my time in Europe was not taking full advantage of the fact that Switzerland was only a two hour drive from my front door (but probably a good thing for my bank account, as Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in all of Europe!)

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Regardless, a true European experience is not complete without out at least setting your sights on those majestic Swiss Alps and sipping a world renowned Swiss hot chocolate!

With so much to see, do and taste in Switzerland, it is strongly encouraged you allow yourself at least 48 hours of exploration.

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To make sure you maximise your time in this gorgeous—and pretty much perfect—country, here are a list of tips and must-do’s in the land of the Swiss.

Getting there:

If you are planning on being in Germany, France or Italy, then Switzerland is only a hop, skip and a jump away!
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This whole region of Europe is absolutely stunning and perfect for a road-trip. Just remember that Switzerland is not part of the European Union, so it is very possible you might be stopped to show your passport! They are also on a different currency called francs and it is definitely handy to have a few in your wallet before your arrival.

Day 1: Zurich

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Zurich is one of those places that is too perfect for words. To understand the “perfection” that is Switzerland, then one must step foot onto the cobblestone roads of Zurich.

Transportation:

The streets of Zurich are extremely walkable and the best way to experience it’s magic. They also have a tram system that will take you efficiently (because that is the Swiss way) to anywhere you want to go in the city. The tram also goes all the way to the airport, which is great if you have opted to fly into Zurich or have booked cheaper accommodation in the outskirts of the city.

Sight-seeing:

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It is important when planning your day to remember that the majority of places close at 4pm—sometimes even 3pm. This came as a total surprise to me during my visit as I had definitely not started my day early enough to see all that I wanted to. Actually, the majority of times I arrived at a café or museum right as it was closing!

1.Lake Zurich

One of my favourite locations in Zurich was near the water-front. Lake Zurich’s already sparkling blue waters is enhanced by the towering Swiss alps in the backdrop. Make sure to hop on a boat or ride a bike along the water’s edge.

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2. Streets of Niederdorf

This is my favourite part of Zurich because of the rich history and old town feels. The narrow and windy streets are complimented with colourful buildings that showcase some of the Swiss’s finest merchandise. It truly feels like a walk back in time.

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shout out to my awesome mom for living out my Swiss dream with me xo

3. Chinese Garden

This zen garden costs 4 francs and is located along the lake at Bellerivestrasse 138. What was originally a gift from Zurich’s Chinese partner town of Kunming is now a gift of complete relaxation and beauty to tourists and locals alike.

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4. Urania Sternwarte

The one big disappointment from Zurich was that I didn’t personally get a chance to star gaze—so I can only hope to live vicariously through you! Located on top of the Jules Verne bar is a large dome that offers a unique view of the city and the sky.

Where to eat:

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Sightseeing is cool, but let’s be honest, if you are coming to Switzerland you are coming for the Swiss chocolate and Swiss cheese. Here are my top favourite finds to have a culinary experience.

Miyuko//Beckenhofstrasse 7/9

A vegan Japanese teahouse/bakery/cake extraordinaire that can not be missed! Go here for the most decedant cake you’ll ever have and top it off with their adorable and delicous loose-leaf tea.

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 Odeon//Limmatquai 2

Einstein once hung out here, so it is an automatic must-do. Plus, their champagne and cheese platters are out of this world.

Lindt Chocolate Shop//Pilgerweg 58

Not going to lie, this was the highlight of the trip. Make sure to go and stock up on Lindt chocolate galore at their outlet shop. Warning—it’s impossible to walk out empty handed.

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Day 2: Zurich—Lucerne—Mt.Titlis

It’s not a trip to Switzerland unless you’ve been to the Swiss Alps! Either make a trip yourself or book it via a tour group, but don’t miss out on this slice of Swiss perfection.

Lucarene:

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Lucerene is about an hour and a half outside of Zurich and a perfect rest stop before making your way to Mt. Titlis.

Landmarks:

Lion Monument//Denkmalstrasse 4

Commemorating the massacred Swiss Guards of the 1792 French Revolution, this sculpture is not one to miss. Mark Twain himself has even commended the statue, so it is also pretty much guaranteed to be flocked with tourists.

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Kapellbrücke//Reuss River

Also known as chapel bridge, this wooden medieval bridge is one of the highlights of the city. Make sure to enjoy all of the unique paintings on the interior part and just stop to admire the perfection of your surroundings.

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Mt. Titlis:

The drive to Mt. Titlis is absolutely gorgeous and made me personally want to get out of the car and frolic through the hills. Once at the base of the mountain, you will go up a gondola in three stages. This particular mountain is famous for the surreal views that seem to go for miles. But on the day that I went, all I could see was white. The one thing you can’t have control over is Mother Nature, but that is okay because whether you see white all around or miles and miles of mountain ridges and sparkling waters, the experience is par to none.

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During my visit I experienced Mt. Titlis in a constant state of white. Although I was somewhat disappointed that I did not get to experience the highly anticipated ariel views, the uncertainty of what lie ahead or beneath me made the mountain exploration all the more exciting!

So regardless of the weather, make sure you do the following:

1. take a revolving cable car to the summit

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2. race down the Glacier Park snow slide

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3. walk over the highest suspension bridge in all of Europe

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don’t be fools like us and go to a mountain in spring clothing!

Bonus Day 3: Liechtenstein

Okay, so this itinerary was only supposed to be for 48 hours in Switzerland. But assuming that you are going to spend more than 2 days in Europe, I thought I should include where your next European country should be.

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And that is the 25km long country of Liechtenstein. Population: 30,000

Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, this country is oozing with medieval glory. From the castles to museums and general townships, this country is a must-see! Plus, it is a good place to get rid of all your extra francs (which, by the way, if you have any francs leftover from your Switzerland visit, you clearly didn’t indulge in enough Swiss chocolate!).

Not convinced that the 6th smallest country in the world is for you? Take a good look at these pics and think twice about post-Switzerland stops. Liechtenstein is seriously as pretty as a postcard and one of the most underrated locations in Europe!

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European itinerary: Pula

Since Game of Thrones introduced the magic of Croatia, it has quickly become a hot-spot European destination. And while the classics of exploring fortresses in Dubrovnik and sailing through Split are all the current rage, there is one Croatian city that has been overlooked.

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Pula is the most underrated city (in my humble opinion) in Croatia and needs to be put on your European bucket-list immediately! The city has everything you could want in a Croatian vacation, and here is everything you need to know to make the most out of your trip!

Getting there:

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Croatia is not part of the EU, so you will need to go through customs before entering. The easiest and most scenic route to get to Pula is via a car, so make sure to reserve one from your point of origin. And because Pula is only a few hours from the borders of Germany, Italy and Slovenia, be prepared to wait an up to an extra two hours to get through on a sunny day. But I promise the long wait is well worth it.

Currency:

Croatia is on the Kuna currency. In general, Croatia is a rather inexpensive country but it is handy to have cash as the national parks are cash only.

Accommodation:

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As with any city, the best way to experience it is through a local’s eye. AirBNB is extremely popular in Pula and you are guaranteed to find accommodation in walking distance from the sea.

Historic spots:

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Pula is one of the oldest Croatian cities and was also home to the Romans. In fact, Pula is home to the original coliseum before one was ever built in Rome! You can take tours of this ancient beauty during the day or enjoy a concert there in the evening.

The coliseum is located in the center of Old Town and is located right near the ocean front (so according to my standards, kicks the Roman coliseum’s butt!)

But the coliseum is not the only thing Old Town has to offer. Make sure to explore their many food shops and old bars along the way.

Beaches:

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I initially chose to visit Pula because of the reputation of their beaches/cliff jumping. And it did not disappoint!

Literally impossible to not find a pristine bathing spot, as according to local’s “the beach is every way”, Pula is full of coastline beauty and sparkling blue waters.

You will have your selection of mermaid pools to lounge in on the rocky coast or select from numerous sandy spots. And while local’s utilize their city’s magic coastline, it is likely you will always get to enjoy a section of it to yourself!

National Parks:

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To one-up Pula’s central bathing spots is their spectacular national park Premantura. Paying what is equivalent to $5 euros will give you access to the best kept secret in all of Pula. Take your pick of which cliff to jump off of and which secluded tanning spot you would like.

After a morning full of sunbathing and cliff jumping, make sure to rejuvenate at the Pirates Bar, which offers shady eating spots hidden among the grass and a swing set that allows you to swing over the Mediterranean.

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European itinerary: Munich

Munich will forever be one of my most beloved cities. My home for nearly three years, this old-meets-new Bavarian gem has provided me with some of the best experiences in my life and is a place that should be visited for more than just its beer festivals (however, these are nothing short of spectacular purely for the fact that you can wear a dirndle or leiderhosen and not be judged).

But for anyone who has Munich on their radar during their European adventure, here are the must-do’s to make sure you make the most out of your visit to one of the most historic cities in all of Germany.

Transportation:

Before you start deciding where you are going to explore in Munich, it is important to know how you are going to get there! Munich is a biking city and there are bike paths lining nearly all the streets! You can rent a bike from Hauptbahnhof (the central train station) for around 20 euros a day and it is the best and most efficient way to see the city!

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Breakfast:

Germans’ main meal of the day is lunch, so don’t be surprised if the breakfasts options seem slim. But not to worry, you still have plenty of options to get your day off to the right start.

On the go: There are a broad range of bakeries to choose from, so if you are on your way for a day full of sight seeing make sure to grab a freshly baked bretzel or crossaint around any corner.

My recommendation:

Die Backstube//Sendlinger Tor

Rischart// Marienplatz

Sit down: Bur if you are feeling like a sit down meal, The Victorian Teahouse is snuggled in the corner of Marienplatz and is one of the only places in the city that offers brunch. Enjoy a wide selection of teas, coffee, pastries, eggs and even a BLAT!

Morning adventure: 

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Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz are considered the city center of Munich, so it can get quite busy by midday. Enjoy the historic sites without the busy bustle by checking these spots out first thing in the morning. Top places to visit:

1) St. Peter’s Church: Be prepared to climb nearly 700 old wooden stairs in cramped corners but you will be rewarded with an ariel view of the city. On a good day you can see all the way out to the Bavarian Alps!

2)Ludwig Beck: in the Galleria Kaufhof is one of the most posh stores in all of Bavaria. Make sure to try on some of the most exquisite dirndles and leiderhosens that this city has to offer.

3) Rathaus: One of the most iconic places in Munich, this city hall is a combination of old and new, with only remnants of the original building remaining post WWII. See if you can figure out the difference between the two.

4) Viktualianmarkt: a daily farmers market that has been in the same spot for hundreds of years! Make sure to get a basket full of fruit and snacks for an afternoon picnic.And don’t forget the obligatory milka as well!

Mid-morning break:

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After you have done your sightseeing for the morning, head over to the English garden for a bit of relaxation. Located right next to Marienplatz, it is no more than a five minute bike ride to Munich’s version of Central Park. Have a picnic, dip your feet in the Isar and make sure to watch the Munich surfers.

Afternoon:

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Bavarians love their long afternoons and most choose to enjoy it with a big and hearty lunch. Beergardens are an institution in Munich and it would be a crime to not experience one for yourself.  Remember that it is not an official beergardens unless there is a playground for children to enjoy as well! Make sure to order yourself a radler, bretzel and obatzda.

Top beergardens to find:

Seehaus//English Garden

Chinesischer Turm//English Garden

Augustiner Keller//Arnulfstrasse 52

Park Cáfe//Sophienstrasse 7

Evenings:

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Evenings in Munich can be as peaceful or l as wild as you want. If you are keen to experienxe a more local night out, head to Isator. You’ll have your choice of Bavarian fine dining at Augustine Keller,a row of local bars lined up along Isator Platz and a selection of films at the museum-turned-cinema Lichtspielhaus and an evening swim and hot chocolate across the street at Müller’s Volksbad.

But if your afternoon at the beergarden has inspired you to have a wilder night out, you have your selection of bars and clubs to choose from. And luckily, the Ubahn doesn’t shut down until 2am and there are night trams running twice an hour for the rest of the evening.

$: Turkenstraße and Gieselastraße

$$: Isatorplatz

$$$: Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz

But no matter how you choose to spend your time in Munich, make sure to appreciate the unique heartbeat of this city that has managed to capture the history of its development as well as adopt progressive mindsets that have made it one of Europes most successful cities. And remember to Prost!

 

Biking through Romania

If you want to spend a holiday surrounded by stunning nature and friendly locals for only one-fourth of the price you would pay nearly anywhere else in Europe, then Romania is the place to go!
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On my last holiday before I start graduate school in Munich I met up with some of my friends who were already biking through Europe. Catching a five A.M. flight, I arrived in Budapest just as the sun was rising; it was a stunner view to begin this end-of-summer adventure.
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The plan was to catch a train to Oradea, Romania to pick up my bike (I found an amazing bicycle rental company located in Bucharest, Romania called Carpatbikes. They shipped the bike to my preferred starting point and arranged to pick it up from me the following week in Bucharest .)

However, the train situation was much more difficult than expected. Previously spoiled by efficient transportation in Germany, I was not prepared for the disorganization and chaos that ensued while trying to purchase a train ticket to Romania. Since we needed an international ticket, we can only purchase from one room. When we arrived to that room there was only one counter for English speakers. There was already a swarm of people and the number on the board was 121. When we took our number, it was 203. With the train we wanted leaving in thirty minutes we decided to come up with Plan B: catch a local Hungarian train to Békéscasaba, transfer to Kötegyán, take a taxi to Salonta, then catch another train to Oradea. But of course, that plan didn’t exactly work out as hoped. Once we reached Kötegyán–which is on the border of Hungary–with nothing surrounding to be seen for miles except the small train station–we realized that no one spoke English. So it took nearly an hour to figure out how to get a taxi. When the taxi did arrive, there was hardly any room for bikes; luckily our taxi driver figured out a way to creatively stuff them in the trunk.
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So all was good until we reached border patrol. Most of the countries in Europe are in the Schengen Agreement, so you can travel freely throughout countries without having to show a passport. Unfortunately, one of my friends only had his German drivers license on him. But instead of passport control denying access to him immediately, they kept his license plus our passports for the next two hours! Every so often a guard would come over to our taxi and tell us the license was no good, but then walk back away with it. There were not many people crossing the border so nearly all of the guards took an interest in our situation. Finally as the sun was setting, and the final train to Oradea has passed, we were free to go; but our friend had to go back to Budapest to retrieve his passport. Luckily, our taxi driver offered to drive us to Oradea for the same fixed price of 35 euros that had been originally agreed upon, which isn’t bad considering it was nearly a two hour cab ride!
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One of the many perks of traveling in Romania is the conversion rates from Euro to Lei. I got to live like royalty for the week– we spent the first two nights at the Astoria Hotel, which was once the Sztarill Palace and located right in the city center. It felt great to finally lie down on a luxurious bed after a long day of travel.
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We spent the next two days exploring Oradea  The city is one of the most important economical cities in Romania but still quaint in size. One thing I quickly learned is that if a sign says it’s a Cafe in Oradea, they only serve drinks–no food whatsoever.
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Then it was off to  Cluj-Napoca to meet  our friend and start our bike journey. We realized that day that train travel in Romania is still very old fashioned in comparison to traveling by train in the rest of Europe. First, the wait to purchase a ticket was over thirty minutes (with only one person ahead of me in line at the ticket counter) because they still hand-enter all the information into a travel journal in lieu of a computer . Then, once I was finally attended to, I was informed that for that particular train ride I buy the ticket on the train from the conductor. But all the inconvenience was made better when I realized a train ticket plus bike ticket cost only 24 Lei (6 euros)!

At one point during the train ride the train stopped for nearly twenty minutes. This was not because of technical difficulties, but rather because our conductor was collecting and eating berries from a bush nearby!
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When we finally arrived in Cluj-Napoca, the the sun was setting. The area is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains in every direction. One of my biggest fears prior to coming to Romania was the negative reputation of dog attacks. As we made our way to our pension called Déjà Vu, my heart stopped every time a dog was in our path. But we soon came to realize they were really harmless.
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After the three of us had re-united, we sat in the city center discussing options for a traditional Romanian meal. That is when a local lady came up to us and told us to catch a cab and go to Hanil Dacilor. The place was exactly what we were hoping for–traditional Romanian architecture, a lively atmosphere, and absolutely delicious food (especially my cheese-stuffed mushrooms).
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The next morning we started a three-day bike trip around the Cluj area. The first day was supposed to be all flat-terrain, and we would end the first day in Sâncraiu. Except, as it turned out, the flat-terrain turned out to be all off-roading on the dirt paths. The whole six hours on the bike were extremely bumpy and much more difficult than I had anticipated. But the off-roading led us to some hidden Romanian treasures, including the rural Romanian mountain towns where the main form of transportation were horses. Nonetheless, the locals were quite surprised to see the three of us arrive on bicycles!
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By the time we arrived to the extremely small and quiet town of Sâncraiu, I was absolutely starving (60km of biking will evoke some really intense hunger). Our pension we were staying at was on top of the hill; we were greeted by our charming host who had already prepared dinner for us. As he walked us to the dining hall, he excitedly explained to us that dinner consisted of lots of different Romanian meat dishes. When I asked if they had any vegetarian options, he gave me a confused look and exclaimed, “Why? Are you crazy?”. But his hospitable charm continued as he created an entirely separate vegetarian dish for me, as well as hired some local musicians to perform for the three of us while we indulged in the home-made Romanian cuisine. We found out that night that Sâncraiu is one of many Romanian towns that is mostly populated by Hungarians. The musicians were performing for the Hungarian’s “Saturday Night Out”, which ended promptly at 10PM.
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The next morning we awoke for day two of the trip, which would take us to Marisel. I was told it would be a hilly ride, but with little difficulty as there would only be a slow ascension. I quickly found out that this was false information. These hills were massive and the inclines seemed to be never ending. We ended the first big climb at the very top of the mountain and even though I was shattered, it was well worth it for the spectacular scenery!

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We even came across a cow on the ascent!

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There top of the mountain also had an abandoned church and never ending mountain peaks surrounding us.

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After a quick break, it was on to the descent of the mountain, and then followed by the next big climb through the Apuseni National Park. This park was an absolute beauty and made cycling uphill the next four hours a pleasurable experience.

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When we finally reached the very top at 1248m, we had finally arrived in Marisel. However, we had to conquer the last 5km on unpaved roads filled with a never-ending amount of potholes before arriving at our hotel for the evening.

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We spent the night in a beautiful pension and the three of us had the whole place all to ourselves! But unfortunately our luck ran out, as the next day we woke up to the pouring rain. The next five hours were spent biking down the mountain completely soaked and covered in water and mud. I have never been so happy to have shelter once we made it back to Cluj! After drying off and resting for a few hours we then caught the overnight train to Brasov.

Once again, we faced more train difficulties. Unlike the previous train where we had to buy the tickets on-board, this conductor expected us to already have purchased the tickets. This gave him the perfect opportunity to overcharge us, but being so exhausted from the bike trip, none of us were in there mood to put up a fight.

It was really strange going from the nature of Romania to one of the most touristic cities in Romania–Brasov. The city even has a “Hollywood” styled sign of “Brasov” in the hills. Even though I am not too keen on overly touristic cities, I still really enjoyed Brasov because it is said to be home to the original castle of Dracula.

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Only a thirty minute cab ride from the city center, we arrived at the inspiration of Dracula– Castle Bran. The castle looked especially spooky in the overcast night sky.

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My last day in Romania was spent getting to Bucharest, which unlike my experience in the rural mountain towns the past few days, is an absolutely chaotic and overwhelming city. Drivers are overly aggressive and have no problem driving on sidewalks to skip traffic or speeding through crosswalks. Luckily, Carpetbike–he company I hired my bike from–offered to pick me up from the train station and personally bring me to the airport. I found out during the car ride that the owner of the bike company had left his other job early just to pick me up. He even made me a goodie bag full of Romanian treats!

My holiday in Romania has made me realize a few things. First is how fortunate I am to get to travel to people’s home towns who will most likely never get a chance to visit mine. Second is that no matter what the economical state of a country is, they always seem to be rich with kind-hearted people. I was really blown away by how helpful and accommodating the people in Romania were towards me and my friends. Third is that even though I was raised a “Vegas city girl”, I am starting to become a keen “nature girl”. The Romanian landscape is unforgettable, and it’s definitely worth taking a bike ride through the country. Just be prepared for lots of hills and bumpy terrain and being welcomed by some of the nicest people in Europe.

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How to vacation in France:

Chateaus with exquisite wine, beautiful countryside that meet the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, and of course endless amounts of Crepes and Fromage (cheese): no wonder my host family spends three weeks holiday in France every year!

But the destinations that my host family go to are almost all without airports, so that meant we covered nearly 3/4th of France with three fighting and screaming children in the backseats. But hey—a worthwhile endeavor as the reward was all the French wine that my heart desired!

Our first stop on the road trip: Reims.

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Reims, or as I like to refer to it—land of Champagne—is a girls dream! A charming and quiet city with the finest Champagne in all the world available at every corner. My host dad had booked the kids and I to spend the night at the five star hotel Chateau Le Crayeres, and it looked like a castle fit for a princess! And as upscale as this hotel is, they were extremely friendly towards the kids! Xavi even got pulled on the suitcase all the way up to our room!

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The hotel room was just as impressive as the exterior of the hotel. It had the most spectacular view!

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After jumping up and down on the bed for a few minutes with the kids out of excitement, we all quickly got changed and headed to dinner downstairs

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All of the guests were dressed in black-tie attire and beautiful crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. We were treated to a superb five-course meal and the best champagne I have ever had!

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The next morning we awoke for an early afternoon tour of the Pommery Chateau.

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After the death of Louise Pommery’s husband, she took control of the estate and dug over 12 miles of underground cellars which could hold up to 20 million bottles in a controlled temperature environment—a model that many other Champagne houses later copied.  We had a thirty minute tour of the cellars, which explained the process of making champagne (which is the mixing of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay). We also learned that it can only be called “Champagne” if the grapes grow and are fermented in the Champagne region.

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Afterwards we all got to indulge in a Champagne tasting.  But don’t worry, it was just fruit juice for the kiddies!

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Next we went to explore the city center of Reims, which was basically deserted due to French holidays. But that made for a very peaceful exploration of the Notre-Dame de Reims, where all of the former French kings were crowned.

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After letting the kids ride on the carousal nearly twenty times, and indulging in one too many crepes,  we were back in the car for a six hour journey to the Bretagne region, with Sainte-Cast being our end destination.

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Sainte-Caste:

Sainte-Caste is in the very northern tip of France, and basically inaccessible by anything but car. But it is worth the effort to get there, as the whole city is picturesque, from the grey brick houses surrounded by bright pink hibiscus flowers that sit high on the cliffs to the laid back harbor atmosphere.

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But the beaches are my favorite part of this idyllic sea-town (which is no surprise if you know me). Plage Sainte-Cast le Guildo are really unique because of the tides. In the morning the tide would be nearly reaching the beach-side cafés. But throughout the day the water goes so far back, probably over 1KM, so that the beach seems to have nearly quadrupled in size! When this happens, the muscle-farms become visible, and it is quite a sight! The kids and I spent much of our free time building sandcastles, swimming in the ocean, and chasing (or running from) crabs.

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If you are a golf-fanatic, this beach is especially great because there is a 18-hole golf course right on the beach! So after a long day in the sun and sand, the kids and I would meet their dad and grandfather for apple cider—which is a local specialty—and watch the sunset.

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But because Sainte-Caste is so far up north, the weather is unpredictable. What seems like a perfectly clear and sunny day can turn into a stormy one in an instant. But even in the more depressing weather, the city still holds its charm.

But there are a lot more things that Sainte-Caste has to offer other than the superb beaches!

On one of the days I woke up with my host family to go on an early morning fishing expedition. We sat in a little boat for four hours, and unfortunately the weather was horrible and TT and I got sea sick. But after a quick nap in the back of the car after arriving back to land, we were feeling well enough to indulge in several crepes for lunch.

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We also discovered a high ropes course called Sainte-Caste Avnture that is suitable for both kids and adults. It was so cool—a forest full of high rope courses and ziplines.  But don’t be fooled by my smile, I was actually terrified the entire time!

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After seven days in Sainte-Caste it was another twelve hour car ride to the South of France!

Sainte-Maxime:

When most people think of the South of France, they think of Sainte-Tropez with its huge yachts, and lots of celebrities and partying. But a fifteen minute ferry ride from Sainte-Tropez will bring you to the quiet and not-as-glitzy city of Sainte-Maxime.

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I spent a week with the family at their villa, which had the most spectacular view! Most mornings were spent lounging around the pool and visiting their good friend Julian, who owned  the bakery Maitre Julian right down the street.If you want a real french baker experience, go there. The food there is phenomenal!

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After an hour of indulging in croissants, Pain au Chocolats, Palmiers, and Madeleines, we were off to the Mahai beach club for the rest of the day! I even got all three of the kids to swim out to the buoys with me!

When the sun started to set we would go into the center of town and go to the Fiori di Gelato for an afternoon pick-me-up!

On the last day in Sainte-Maxime we all decided to go to Laser Quest Frejus and have an adults vs kids laser tag match! Adults won, of course.

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Why Summertime in Munich is the Best

There’s something about summertime in Munich that is magical.

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The Englischer Garten: When the sun is out, everyone heads to the Englischer Garten. Bigger than Central Park in NYC at 910 acres, the park provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city It also provides easy access to cool off during the rather hot and humid days; running through the middle of the Englischer Garten is the Eisbach, which is an ice-cold and rapid-paced river.

At the very start of the Englischer Garten, near Maximillianstrasse, are the “Munich Surfers”, who surf on the waves of the river day and night. It was actually illegal to surf on the river until 2010, and now there are always huge crowd watching in amazement.

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Walk a little further into the park and you will find huge grassy areas covered with bikes, small groups of friends playing volleyball or Frisbee, sunbathers, and teenagers floating down the Eisbach. People who float down the river often start by the surfers and float all the way to the tram stop, where they hop out and get on the tram in their sopping wet bathing suits and go back and start from the beginning once again.

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A little bit further into the Englisher Garten are several biergartens, the two most popular being the Chinesischer Turm and the Seehaus. On the third Sunday of July tons of local arrive at the Chinesischer Turm at 4AM for the annual Kocherlball in their leiderhosens and dirndls–which  was originally for domestic workers to dance, and is now the best attended folk dance event in Munich. It is quite the sight to see people of all ages dancing on tables with beers in their hands as the sun is just rising. But the Seehaus is my personal favorite though because of the adorable lake next to it. It is an especially fun place to take the kiddies, as they love riding the paddle-boats around.

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The World Cup: Of course, this summer has been extra-magical because of Germany’s recent success at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Germans are so passionate about their Fussball team: every time Germany had a match the entire city nearly shut down and everyone crowds in the biergartens, pubs, or other public viewing areas to cheer on their team.I was lucky enough to watch the historic 7-1 Germany vs Brazil semi-final match in the Olympic Stadium. By the end of the game I was soaked in beer and learning the “celebration dance” from my happy new German friends.

But if that wasn’t exciting enough, the following Sunday I got to watch the final Germany-Argentina match with thousands of other fans! However, finding a place to watch was not easy. Little did I know that the moment Germany secured a spot in the final, every place in Munich was reserved. So at 4PM I lined up with nearly a thousand other people to try to get a spot at a public viewing area.

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After getting into Muffathalle, it was another five hour wait before kickoff, so luckily I had the great company of many other expats. But it was worth the wait when Germany finally scored in overtime–everyone climbed on the tables, threw their glasses of beer on the floor, and  jumped up and down in celebration. As soon as the match was over and Germany was officially pronounced “Welt Meister”, everyone ran to the streets with their Deutschland flags. The Ubahns were soon flooded with people chanting “Deutschland ist sehr schon” and heading to Leopoldstrasse to celebrate. I have been part of some major post-game celebrations at the University of Michigan, but that was nothing in comparison to what I experienced that night. Over 500,000 people flooded the streets until 7AM the next morning singing, dancing, and drinking in celebration.

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Summer Festivals: Munich is also great in the summer for all of the festivals! For the majority of July there is a music and arts festival called Tollwood in Olympic Park. It is full of different cultural vendors, performing artists, and of course heaps of beer! It is one of the most popular hang outs for locals on the weekends.

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Right outside of the inner city of Munich is another festival called Kaltenberger Ritterturnier. Located in the forest and the Schloss (castle) of the town, the festival takes visitors back in time to the medieval days. For the whole month of July visitors can walk into an atmosphere full of knights, street performers, naturally made food and drinks, and witness a live jousting tournament. While this is not really up my alley in terms of entertainment, it was so much fun watching the kiddies have a blast and pretend to be medieval nights themselves. And they sure loved the wieners there!

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But summer in Munich is not always full of sunshine. In fact, there have been more rainy days than I care to count. But the best part about the rain is that there is always a beautiful rainbow arching over my favorite city in the world.

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When friends come to visit, you better travel

Salzburg, Prague, Budapest, Vienna: not a bad itinerary for two weeks of travel. Especially since I was lucky enough to have the best travel buddy (and one of my best friends) to explore these cities with.
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Salzburg:
With Salzburg being so easy to reach, we spontaneously decided to take a two day trip out to the city the night before. So Meredith and I showed up to the city with no plan and no directions to our hotel (we didn’t even have an address, oops!)
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So after the help of many locals and free wifi from Starbucks, we managed to check into our hotel–which was less then a mile from the beautiful Austrian Alps.

We celebrated our first night in Salzburg at the local Austrian beergarden called Bräustübl Tavern. The place is self service (you even wash your own mug) and was very lively considering it was only a Wednesday evening. We ended up sharing a table with a bunch of Austrian police officers in training, who were celebrating being done with school. It was very entertaining company.
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The next morning we decided to hike to the top of Gaisbergspitz, which locals told us was just an easy baby hill.
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Well 6 hours later, Meredith and I finally reached the top of this “hill”, and were treated to a spectacular view. We celebrated with radlers, chocolate, and a quick nap in the grass.
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We decided to go right to the train station after the hike so that we could be back in Munich that night. Unfortunately, there was drama halfway through, and all trains stopped running in both directions. Meredith and I found ourselves stranded until 1 AM in OsternMünchen (a tiny train stop 2 hours outside of munich). Thank goodness we had extra radlers and good friends to come rescue us.
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Prague:
Two days later Meredith and I hopped on a bus to go to Prague for the next three days.

We arrived in Prague at sunset, and the city was full of excitement.
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Once we arrived at the hostel, Mer and I discovered we would be sharing a dorm room with 16 men (one who was well over the age of 60). This would be interesting.

The next day Mer and I successfully walked the entire city, even while getting stuck in a torrential downpour. We were joined by over 200 other people taking refuge under the bridge.
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Everyone claims that Prague is great for two reasons: the nightlife and how inexpensive everything is.

Unfortunately Mer and I miscalculated how cheap Prague would be, and had to survive off what was 15 euros worth of Czech money for the last two days. Thank goodness for cheap cheese and crackers.
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Budapest:
The city that Mer and I were most looking forward to was Budapest. After an eight hour train ride we arrived in the city full of rustic and bohemian architecture.
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The hostel we were supposed to stay in ended up being overbooked, so they put us up in a flat all to ourselves!

Being a Saturday night and all, we decided to go check out the Szechenyi pool party for the night. We started the night at Retox, which is a run down bar full of frat boys who were traveling their way through Europe. We have never felt so old an out of place.

The night ended up being absolutely crazy–as is expected when a bunch of drunk tourists are put in a hot bath together.
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The next morning Mer and I went to recover in the famous Gellert hot baths. Unfortunately, we got a little lost on the way and ended up at the top of the hill instead. Which was great because we had an amazing view and met a new Aussie friend who ended up joining us in the baths!
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The hot baths during the day were completely different than what we had experienced the night before: peaceful, calming, and re-energizing.

After spending four hours lounging around in the ten different naturally heated pools, we headed off to explore the cave church.
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Night time in Budapest is absolutely beautiful and quite magical. We spent quite a bit of time up at the castle admiring the buildings surrounding us, which were practically glowing in the night sky.
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We ended our last night in this bohemian city by checking out the ruin bars. A local told us that these ruin bars were once empty lots or buildings that students used to break into to drink, and they would bring their own furniture to sit on.

These ruin bars now offer a really laid back and unique environment to drink and socialize. Our favorite was the Szimpla Kert.
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Vienna:

Our only motivation to go to Vienna was to have the famous Sacher Torte (apparently the best chocolate cake in Austria). So once in Vienna, after an easy 3 hour bus ride from Budapest, we quickly changed and rushed off to the Sacher hotel to indulge in this delicious treat.

It was by far the best chocolate cake I have ever had.
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The rest of our time in Vienna was mostly spent exploring all of the gardens at Schloss Schonbrunn-which are breathtaking.
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We also discovered that there are “beach clubs” along the river, which offer sand and lounge chairs to drink on during the day.
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Then it was off to our overnight bus, which turned out to be quite dramatic in itself. At around 3 AM detectives pulled over the bus and took everyone’s passports. Apparently they were trying to search for someone who was on the run, and even took a few people off the bus to questions them.

But thankfully we arrived in Munich just in time for sunrise, and spent our last day together eating Milka bars, thanks to the last minute discovery of Milka World in Munich.
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Sports in Munich

Back in the states, when people go to the gym they often say, “I’m going to workout.” In Munich, people will instead say “I’m going to do sports.”

There was a new gym that opened right across from where I am living, so it was not long before I had gone over to test it out. Gyms in Munich are set up very logically. The first station is labeled “Herz-Kreislauf”, which means cardiovascular. There are four rows of cardio equipment, which most gym-goers only use for ten minutes as a warm-up. In all the times I have been there, I have never seen a person on a machine for longer than fifteen minutes.

The next station is labeled “Frauen Sport-Bereich”, which means women’s sport area. This area has resistance machines rather than weight machines. There are rows of lounge chairs and a table with incense in the middle. The entire area is walled off with temporary walls. As a former D-1 athlete, I refuse to use this section. Women can lift weights too!

So I spent most of my time in the third section, labeled “Männlich Sportbereich”, which means male’s sport area. There are rows of weight machines and an entire wall lined with dumbbells. However, these weights are in kg instead of lbs. Thus, what I thought to be a twenty-five pound dumbbell was actually fifty-five pounds! I was the only female in this section, and I received a lot of curious and confused stares from the other males in this area.

One even came up to me and asked “sind Sie ein professioneller Gewichtheber?” (Are you a professional weightlifter?) (Ha. I wish).

Being extremely new to the German language, I just shook my head and repeated “Nein. Nein. Nein,” and ran over to the fourth section labeled “Stretching-Bereich”, which means stretching area. The final section is labeled “Wi-Fi area”. The gym wants to make sure that people are not distracted by the internet, and only one area gets efficient Wi-Fi. Talk about motivation to finish a workout : )

Since arriving in Munich, I have also had the amazing opportunity to experience another aspect of “sports”. Kelsee invited me to a Bayern Münich Fußball game! Locals take this sport very seriously in Munich and it felt as if nearly half the city was in the massive Allianz arena for the game.
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The morning of the game Kelsee and I went shopping in Marienplatz to pick out some fan gear. We opted for the red and blue t-shirts. We later learned at the game that many people wear their work clothes to the game and wrap a Bayern Münich scarf around their neck. Next time we will know what to wear.
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We took the U-Bahn to the game after we finished work that evening and the entire train was full of eager Bayern Münich fans! Nearly every person had an open bottle of beer in their hand. The game took place on a rainy Wednesday night. The Allianz arena, which holds 80,000 people, was glowing red. This signifies that a home-game is taking place. The arena lights up blue when they team is playing an away-match.
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The entire stadium was filled by the time the game started! This was pretty impressive considering that most people had work the next morning. What was even more impressive was the entire crowd chanted cheers, such as “Ein Schuss, ein Tor, die Bayern, DIE BAYERN!” for the entire 2 ½ hour match without any breaks!
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My favorite chant was when the announcer interacted with the fans of the stadium. He would ask “Bayern-Fans- Wie viele Punkte hat Viktoria haben?” (Bayern Fans-How many points does Viktoria have?)

The crowd would reply in unison, “Null!” (zero).

Then the announcer would ask, “Bayern-Fans- Wie viele Punkte hat Bayern München haben?”

The crowd would then roar, “fünf!” (five) and erupt into dancing, cheering, and applauding.

While the game itself was a blow-out, it was great to be a part of an exciting atmosphere! It even came pretty close (but still does not surpass) the crowds at the University of Michigan football games!

Another experience Kelsee and I have had with sports was when we recently decided to try Bikram Yoga! We were both really nervous because we figured the entire class would be in German and we would be completely lost. However, the instructor of the class was bilingual, and spoke the first round of instructions in German and the second round in English. (giving us another opportunity to learn German.)

Germans often have a reputation for being really serious, but every person in this demanding yoga class was smiling the entire time. There were also a couple of ex-pats in the class who introduced themselves to us after the class was over! They were all so kind and made us feel very welcomed. This was just the type of relaxing detox Kelsee and I needed after our hectic weeks of chasing children around.

I have also started swimming at the Olympia Schwimmhalle a couple of times a week. You can’t find better inspiration during a workout than swimming in the same lane that Mark Spitz won his seven gold medals in! The perfect place to prepare for the Cologne swim and run 12k in May!Tschaauuuu! (cheers)