Trip abroad is packed with adventure, culture

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It’s summertime again, which means it’s time for adventure and self-reflecting upon those adventures (a format that comprises 90 percent of my columns anyway)! Every summer we try to go on some sort of family trip to expand our horizons.

Last year we went to Washington D.C. to reflect on our nation’s history, but this year my mother and I went out of the country to Europe, where we visited Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland for 10 days.

The entire trip was through a company called EF (meaning Education First), a business that hosts many international events such as trips, exchange students and the like. One of my teachers from Temescal Canyon High School is a part of this company and has begun to sign students and parents alike to travel abroad.

We signed up for this particular trip and, after a year of waiting, suddenly we were in the air for a wonderful flight! Let’s face it, even I can’t make flights interesting.

Because of the time difference, we technically traveled for a day and a half; meaning we literally lost a day to travel, and the next day when we arrived at Frankfurt, there was another four-hour ride in a coach to get to the first stop.

I’ll tell you what, we hit the ground running on that tour because there was no break, no rests outside the four-hour bus ride, nothing of the sort. It was literally, “Hey, here’s a beautiful medieval town!” And then we walked through with our tour guide, who explained some of the culture and history of the village of Rothenberg.

Shortly after the tour and many photos, we found ourselves in our first hotel, a lovely little place just out of the way in its own small village. It was strange, really, because of two aspects: 1. The sun was still shining at 10 in the evening; and 2. When some friends and I went out to explore the town, there literally was no one out – like a scene from the Twilight Zone or something.

Honestly, I could write a novel and a sequel detailing everything we did in Germany, but I think the most important stops were the Bavarian castle of Neuschwanstein, the Dachau concentration camp and the city of Munich itself. Each of these stops are completely saturated in history, a richness that has accumulated from the Roman empire and beyond; something that can only be truly appreciated from actually seeing it yourself. We were mainly in Bavaria, a state in Germany, and all I can say is that it was beautiful and quite a culture shock as well.

We hit the road again, with hours of driving before us, and stopped in Austria. Now, when I say we visited Austria, I mean we visited a city in Austria and the landscape for a few hours. I still count it; it was beautiful and I wish I could have stayed at least a day there.

The next stop was Italy, where we visitedf Venice first, touring the Doge’s palace, eating expensive and authentic Italian food and taking a gondola ride.

First things first: the canals are dirty but not as awful as people make them seem. I would definitely say they are cleaner than the lakes found here; and from what I observed, there was no particularly awful smell.

Outside of that, the floating city was beautiful and magnificent, with this strong historical presence bearing down and blending with the modern. And the gondolas were as romantic as they always make them seem, very slow and steady, going under the hundreds of bridges connecting the hundreds of islands that make up the city; with the only problem being how brief the time feels when you travel on them.

The students visit Juliet's house and balcony in Verona, Italy

The students visit Juliet’s house and balcony in Verona, Italy

On the way to Switzerland, we found ourselves in the city of Verona, famous for the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. We saw Juliet’s house, where there’s a statue of Juliet that brings you good luck, but only if you rub her left breast (not even our tour guide understood why, it just sort of happened). Nothing else to report.

Switzerland, much like the rest of our trip, was beautiful and interesting; but unlike the other stops, it was almost completely natural, with small cottage-esque houses dotting the landscape. Lake Lucerne and the city of Lucerne were grand, clean, natural and huge. But the highlight of Switzerland (other than the chocolate, which was magical) was a special trip up the second highest mountain in Europe: Pilatus.

We went up in a cog wheel, a cart that travels up hills like a roller coaster, walked about on the mountain and finally traveled back down in air gondolas.

Finally, to wrap it all up, we came back to Germany to stop in Heidelberg, see its castle and head to our final hotel.

Sadly, this was such a packed adventure that details would only convolute this article and make it hard to follow. But I’ll tell you this: being surrounded by all this wonder and beauty, I still missed home.

I may sound a little spoiled, but Europe is highly efficient with their goods; meaning that you have to pay for glasses of water, they never serve ice unless you ask, their drinks are slightly cooled by refrigerators but get warm quickly, and the customer service isn’t what we would expect. This point is actually kind of funny: the beer and wine is actually cheaper than the water, no joke.

On the other hand, it is the conservationism and efficiency that makes Europe what it is, and the things I complain about I don’t hold in contempt or scorn. In fact, I think it’s neat (outside of the paying for water). It was just different; something that I could easily get acclimated to in a year or two.

This trip has allowed me to expand my mind and understand other cultures, a concept that is increasingly necessary in our globalized society. In my opinion, the understanding of others is what truly leads to harmony, and only benefits the individual.

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Blake Echt