Fall Break Part Three ~ Cochem, Germany {day 50}

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For our previous day’s adventures in Luxembourg, click here.

On Monday, we had planned to stay in Germany. We wanted to go to a small town in the countryside, preferably near a castle. Come Monday morning, we had yet to actually choose said town. It was a test to our adventuring skills and the control freak streak several of us have, to not really have a plan on the day we wanted to go. But we (well, the Sams. Have I mentioned they’re the best?) did some research on Monday morning after we got up, and found Cochem. It fit everything we wanted, and was only a couple hours away, with a train leaving soon. With that decided, we finished getting ready, caught our train, and headed to the quaint German town with a castle.

When we arrived, we were not disappointed. The little town is nestled in between forested hills, with a branch of the River Rhein called Mosel cutting it in half, and a castle crowning the town on a nearby hill that looks over the entire valley. We were ecstatic, and began wandering around, first to find lunch. We stopped at Chapeau Claque Bistro and got sandwiches, then meandered to the “downtown” area, stopping at several stops along the way to do some shopping.

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It was pretty popular, but not overcrowded. We got the impression that it was a common place for Germans who were on vacation, but not international tourists like us, which was nice because it kept the old German town feel without being touristy. We then headed up the hill to the castle, Reichsburg Cochem. It was a bit of a hike, but completely worth it.

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There was a metallic looking painting on the tallest tower

The view from the castle was spectacular as well.

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We then headed into the castle and went on a guided tour. The tour was in German mostly, but they gave us a sheet in English that described all the rooms, and our guide spoke some English to us as well. The inside of the castle was just as fabulous.

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The banqueting hall

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Our tour guide– very friendly and helpful, always trying to explain as much as she could in English to us
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Legend has it that if you close your eyes and touch this mermaid (hanging from deer antlers…) belly, you can make a wish and it will come true

The tour was about an hour, and we spend much of the time admiring the view from various balconies of the castle.

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Finally, it was time to leave, if we wanted to do anything else that day. We took a short detour to a small field on the side of the hill overlooking Cochem.

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We then crossed over the river to the other side of town. It was more residential, but we were trying to get into the woods above the houses on the hill to do some hiking. We ended up not having enough time to make it, but we did still get some great views.

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Finally, we headed back down and grabbed dinner at a restaurant along the river. The food was really good, and the weather was perfect to eat outside and enjoy the view. We then headed back across the river to the train station and caught a train back to Cologne, arriving around 11pm.

It had been a more relaxing day, spent in a picturesque German town–and in a castle, which we were all thrilled about. If you’re ever in Germany, we suggest visiting Cochem!

Thanks for reading! Soon to come, our day in Belgium!

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Scotland {days 26,27,28}

~Day 26~

Today we woke up around 5am to catch the first tube train to get to King’s Cross for our 7am train. It was an excruciatingly early morning, but we were all to excited about going to Scotland to be concerned that much about it. It was a five hour train ride, and we arrived on a cold, cloudy drizzly day.  If we had any doubt we were in Scotland, though, we were quickly reassured by our tour guide, who wore a kilt and played bagpipes.

IMG_4265He was pretty good at the bagpipes, too. He gave us a bus tour as we drove around Edinburgh and we got to get a first glimpse at the many sights and historical monuments in the city. Some of my favorite locations included the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson and the massive monument to Sir Walter Scott, which was funded by donations that poured in from around the world after his death.

It was an especially interesting time to be in Scotland, as the day before we arrived was September 18th–the day of the Scottish referendum vote. We found out as we were on the train to Scotland that they had voted to stay. Despite this being the outcome, nearly everyone we talked to seemed to think it was a wasted opportunity, and a variety of signs could be seen supporting both sides throughout the city and the countryside.

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Some of the signs included drawings from children–future politicians!

After about the hour-long tour, we were dropped off at our hostel, the Elas Guesthouse.

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Our group took up several rooms, so we didn’t have to room with people we didn’t know. For us this weekend the accommodations worked fine, though if it had been just me or a smaller group traveling I don’t think I would recommend it–there were no safes to put your valuables in and the kitchen wasn’t open to residents to use, and the owners are smokers so we had to open our window because of the smell in our room.

After settling in, we set off to get lunch, since it was 2pm and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. The Group was joined by one of our professors and her daughter (a junior in high school who is also spending this semester over here and has become good friends with everyone in the group) as well as another student who was staying in the hostel. Our group was part of a larger tour organization called International Friends that scheduled everything. The guy we met was a part of this tour group, but didn’t know anybody else,so we welcomed him to come to lunch with us and ended up hanging out together most of the weekend. His name is Razul and he was studying in London like us, but came from Azerbaijan, so we had a lot of really interesting talks about differences in culture and in religion, since he was Muslim. It was a really cool way to experience one of my favorite things about travel–meeting new people and learning about different cultures through them.

After grabbing lunch at a place called Grand Cru, we headed to the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is the street that forms the backbone of the Old Town in Edinburgh, connecting Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. It’s a good place to shop and eat, and sight-see as there are many interesting attractions along the way. One of these is St.Giles Cathedral.

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St. Giles was the most beautiful cathedral I have been into in the UK, and I’ve been to my share of cathedrals since I’ve been here. We spent a long while looking around at the beautiful architecture and stain glass windows before finally dragging ourselves away to walk around more.

We decided to go on a historic ghost tour at The Real Mary King’s Close. A “close” is a small, alley-like side street that branches off from the main road. Mary King’s Close was one that was built centuries ago, and had since been built over to form a sort of underground tunnel. The tour guided you through this place as well as reconstructions of the houses and rooms that existed there. It was interesting and educational, but not overly scary so if you’re looking more for a spooky ghost tour I would suggest something else. We thoroughly enjoyed it though, and afterward we grabbed a quick dinner from Sainsbury’s and brought it back to the hostel to eat before heading to bed.

~Day 27~
Saturday was an optional tour of the Highlands. We had gone back and forth about going on this trip, but finally decided at the last minute that we wanted to do it. It was absolutely worth it and we didn’t regret it one bit!

It was another early morning to meet the bus at 7am, but as soon as we got into the countryside it was absolutely beautiful.

IMG_4324And that was just barely getting into the highlands out of the lowlands–there was a marked difference, and it only become more incredible as we went on.

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IMG_4374As we rode through the beautiful scenery, our guide, Fred, played music varying from traditional Scottish bagpipes to epic soundtracks of movies set or filmed in Scotland to a woman singing in Gaelic (pronounced “Gallic” and quite distinct from the Irish Gaelic, as we were informed). It was the perfect way to see the Scottish highlands.

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We stopped several times for photos, which we couldn’t get enough of– I have nearly 200 photos just from that one day! Around 12 we stopped for lunch at small cluster of restaurants and stores nestled in the nature. Directly behind the gravel parking lot where our bus waited was a beautiful stream that the Sams and I explored for a few minutes after lunch.

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The finale of the trip was a visit to Loch Ness and the Castle Urquhart ruins that sit on its shores. The castle has a fascinating 500 year history, and we loved getting to climb around and explore the ruins, set smack in the middle of the incredibly gorgeous highlands.

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After a little over an hour of exploring the castle, we all met at the dock to take a boat ride along Loch Ness. It was cold and windy, but absolutely amazing.

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After about 45 minutes on the water (during which Sam K and I totally saw the Loch Ness monster) the boat arrived at the dock and we disembarked, only to reembark our bus. We were nearing the end of our trip, with mostly the 3 hour ride back to Edinburgh ahead of us. We drove through Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, and then made our way back through the rolling hills of the Highlands until finally returning to Edinburgh around 8pm. Fred dropped us off at Prince’s Street with instructions to head to Rose Street, which was lined with pubs and restaurants. We sat down at the Amber Rose pub, which had a great deal of getting 2 meals for only £10. After enjoying our dinner there, we headed back to our hostel. We debated watching Braveheart (we were in Scotland after all) but decided since we had another early morning it would be best to get some sleep.

~Day 28~
Sunday morning, the Sams, Razul and I all woke up just before 6am in order to see the sunrise. One of the must-see places in Edinburgh is Holyrood Park, and the highest point in the park is a large hill overlooking Edinburgh called Arthur’s Seat. We decided to hike up this hill to catch the sunrise at 6:45.

It wasn’t an easy climb, especially since we were running late and had to hightail it in order to get there before the sun came up (by “came up” I really mean came up from behind the low lying clouds, not the horizon. Leaving the hostel it was dark but by the time we were doing the more serious hiking it was plenty light enough for us to see–no safety hazards there!). After arriving at the top, huffing and puffing and gasping for breath, we agreed it was absolutely worth it. Even before the sun came up, it was a beautiful view of the city of Edinburgh, just starting to wake up, laid out like a twinkling carpet beneath us, with the North Sea stretching beyond the horizon to the one side. As the sun peeked through the clouds, it became an even grander view.

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The Sams, looking thoughtful as they gaze out over Edinburgh

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Around 8, we finally headed back down. The guys returned to the hostel to meet with Rae, but I had decided to visit Edinburgh Castle so I walked the length of the Royal Mile, stopping along the way to grab a delicious sausage roll for breakfast, to the castle. It opened at 9:30 and I got there about 8:30, so I ended up wandering down to the Grass Market area, where I sat on a bench and read for a little bit. A little after 9 I headed back to the castle to be at the front of the crowds. The castle is £16 to get into, and I had heard it was worth it but not worth the crowds. After my visit I absolutely agreed with this and was very glad I had decided to get there early. I was the second person in line to buy tickets and didn’t have to wait in any lines. You can buy tickets online beforehand if you want to really be ahead of the game, but if you get there early enough you don’t have to.

Built on a chunk of volcanic rock, the castle overlooks the city and has a long and fascinating history. I started the visit with a 30 minute guided tour that is offered for free. It was a good way to get a quick overview of the castle and its history. Afterwards I went through the castle on my own, using the small handout provided to make sure I didn’t miss anything. You can buy audio tours and guide books to accompany you, but I was perfectly content with the free handout and reading the informational plaques at each site.

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A stain glass window in St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh

It took me about 3 hours to go through everything in the castle, and I still didn’t go as in depth in some of the museums as I would have liked. Finally at 12:30 I left and met up with the rest of the group. On my way out of the castle I came across a favorite historical figure:

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Casually holding a claymore sword with William Wallace

The rest of the group had spent the morning hiking the Holyrood Park more, and we were all ready for lunch. We ended up going to The Elephant House, where JK Rowling had written much of the first book of Harry Potter, overlooking Edinburgh Castle. I, in particular, was very ecstatic to be able to visit here. I brought the Harry Potter book I was reading and read some of it while I was there. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter graffiti that covered the bathroom walls in layers. The cafe on the whole was a cute place to eat and hang out, and had managed to not turn into a “Harry Potter mania” or anything like that. The food was really good and well priced, and it was mostly just the bathroom walls they had allowed to be taken over by Potter fans. I, of course, added my own contribution.IMG_4668

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My note on the door

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The view of Edinburgh Castle from the window
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Outside The Elephant House with my Harry Potter book!

From there we wandered along the Royal Mile to do some last minute shopping, then met back up with the group to take our bus to the train station. We were sad to leave Scotland, but we made so many great memories and it was a wonderful experience–the highlight of the trip so far for all of us!

A Walking Tour of Oxford {day 20}

oxford_title.jpgHello all! SO sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. I started my internship (more about that later!) a couple weeks ago and have had zero free time since, so I’m just now getting around to finally posting. So, after a long wait, here is my post about Oxford!

A couple Saturdays ago The Group planned a day trip up to Oxford. Whilst planning, we struggled a bit finding a self-guided tour of Oxford–we knew it was small enough to walk all around, but we weren’t willing to pay for a guided tour! So we ended up putting together this tour of the city. So here it is, for your use and enjoyment!

Ashmolean Museum
Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH
Cost: Free
We arrived in Oxford around 10am, via train from Paddington station. First on our list was the Ashmolean Museum. The Ashmolean Museum is Oxford’s main and biggest museum. Founded in 1683, it was Britain’s first public museum. Having never heard of it before, we were unprepared for how massive it is. They especially focus on ancient civilizations, and we were only able to get through a few of the galleries. They have an impressively large collection of Egyptian artifacts, and one of the most important collections from the pre-Dynastic Egyptian period. Beyond just being a museum enthusiast, I am particularly interested in Egyptian history and would love to specialize in that area, so I was quite ecstatic to spend several hours wandering through this gallery.

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Lunch at Taylor’s
Mainly: 31 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LD

Cost: Approx £3
Since we ended up staying at the Ashmolean until about 12pm, we decided it was time for lunch. Taylor’s Deli in Oxford has several locations, one a little down the street from the Ashmolean, and they sell very cheap but very good sandwiches, along with other various things to eat. On the way we passed by the Eagle and Child pub, which we were very excited to go in, but we decided to make that our last stop of the day and not have lunch there. Instead we continued on to Taylor’s, picked up sandwiches, and then set on a short wall across the street and enjoyed people watching and eating our lunch.

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Bodleian Library
Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BG
Cost: Anywhere from free–£13
The Bodleian Library, founded in 1602, is the largest university library in the UK, with millions of printed items and manuscripts. The large price range is caused by the various tours. It is a large building and area, with a courtyard in the center and the various buildings branching off from there. It’s free to enter this historic quadrangle and the exhibition room (currently they have The Great War exhibit for the centennial of WWI). To actually enter the library area, you have to pay for a tour. They have a standard one-hour tour for £7, extended 90-minute tours for £13, and mini 30-minute tours for £5. We just did the free wandering, since we didn’t have much time anyway, but if I went back I would love to be able to go into the reading rooms to see all the books and where so many famous kings, politicians and writers have studied. If you’re interested in a tour, check out their website for scheduling and more information. Whether you go in or not, it’s a beautiful building and full of historic importance.

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Magdalen College
Oxford OX1 4AU
Cost: Free
Perhaps the most important thing to know at first about this college is that it is pronounced “Maudlin” college, contrary to what its spelling suggests. If you pronounce it the way it’s spelled, you will get quite chastised, since there is a college in Cambridge that is spelled the same way but pronounced “magdalene.” Actually important to the college itself, however, are the many prestigious alumni, including Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, King Edward VIII, and of course C.S. Lewis. Of particular interest to Tolkien and Lewis fans are the paths behind the college. The campus itself is beautiful, but directly out the back gate is a large path through trees and around a field, and it is here that Tolkien and Lewis would walk and discuss their writing. It was a thrilling feeling to know that two of the arguably greatest (for sure two of our favorite) writers had walked here just as we were. It was one of my favorite things we were able to do that day.

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The small grassy area that the main college rooms encircle
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The eating hall for students
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The hallways that form the boundaries of the grassy area
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Another grassy meadow on campus
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Behind the college, a small stream runs along through the trees
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The paths behind the college that follow the stream are beautiful, weaving through trees and bushes, with benches placed occasionally so you can simply sit and enjoy the nature

Merton College
Merton Street, Oxford, OX1 4JD
Cost: Free or £2
This is the oldest college at Oxford University, founded in the 1200s. What we were excited about was the fact that JRR Tolkien had taught here. Normally, you can walk around the grounds for free, and go on a tour of the Old Library for £2, but while we were there they were celebrating their 750th anniversary, and unfortunately had closed the college except for various private events to honor this. Disappointed, we moved on to our next stop. Eventually we agreed that it had actually been a good thing we didn’t spend time there, as we were still barely able to fit in everything we wanted to see!

Christ Church College
St Aldate’s, Oxford OX1 1DP
Cost: £7, students £5
This college has had numerous notable students and teachers, including 13 prime ministers, John Locke, Charles Wesley, John Wesley, Robert Hooke, William Penn, John Crowe Ransom, and Charles Dodgson, who wrote Alice in Wonderland under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

But let’s be honest. We went the because its Great Hall was where the dining hall scenes in Harry Potter were filmed.

Don’t misunderstand me; we were truly excited about the rest of the history at the college, and enjoyed the full tour. But we freaked out just a little bit more when we got to walk up the stairs where Professor Mcgonagall welcomes Harry and his friends in their first year, and to see the Great Hall of Hogwarts.

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The staircase from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–try to imagine it without all the tourists
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The Great Hall– of course, a bit of movie magic was added to make it as magical as it is in the movies

The Hall was set up for a private event so we couldn’t actually enter it, but we were able to look in and get some pictures. It ended up working out for the best, as since this part was closed off our admission price was discounted to just £4.50. The rest of the self-guided walking tour was beautiful as well, taking us through the impressive architecture of the building and especially focusing on the historic cathedral on campus.

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Oxford Castle
Prices Vary
The final attraction we had decided to visit was Oxford Castle.We had expected a grand stone building with looming towers that had overlooked and protected the city since ancient times…we were a little disappointed with what we actually found. It was a small building, but still interesting enough. Most of the interesting bits were inside, with the Unlocked Tour and the Prisons exploration, which we didn’t feel like paying for, though they were intriguing. What we did decide to do was climb the hill that is on the castle grounds. Normally it cost £1, but since the weekend we were there was Open House Oxford (where numerous locations have free or discounted rates) it was no cost to climb. Though we were tired from being on our feet all day, the hike was worth it, as it gave you a spectacular view of both the city Oxford and the countryside beyond.

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A part of Oxford Castle
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Hiking up the hill
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Made it to the top!

The Eagle and Child
49 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LU
Prices Vary
This was perhaps my favorite part of the day. The Eagle and Child, or as it is known by locals, The Bird and Baby, is the pub where Tolkien, Lewis, and the other members of the Inklings writing group would gather on Tuesdays every week to discuss their writings. While the pub has been added onto and extends back farther, the original pub where the Inklings met is at the front part, where we sat. Several of us bought a pint of ale to try, and we enjoyed once again reveling in the fact that at one point, Lewis and Tolkien had sat here and talked of Narnia and Middle Earth.

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From here, we headed to the train station to catch a train back at around 7pm. We had spent a full and amazing day in Oxford, but there was even more we weren’t able to do. If you have time, here are some of the things we missed (and might go back to do!)

Oxford Poetry Walk– For a more literary view of Oxford, this is an audio tour so you can go at your own pace and hear Oxford as described by its years of famous poetry
The Story Museum–  A small museum we saw while walking to Oxford Castle, it looked like a really interesting place to visit, for people of all ages who enjoy reading and stories
St. Mary the Virgin Church– For a small fee you can climb to the top of the tower and see some spectacular views of Oxford
Modern Art Oxford– If you’re into modern art, this looked like an interesting place to visit
Museum of the History of Science– Whether you’re into history or science, this museum is a must-see. We just walked around the introductory exhibit and gift shop and were fascinated

Is there anything else you would suggest visiting? What would you most like to see? Comment below!

Thanks for reading!