Archive for July, 2009

Summer Festival Season: Edinburgh, Scotland

What better way to spend your summer than overseas!!!! Edinburgh, Scotland is a great place for exploring- whether it’s a trek to an extinct volcano, walking in the footsteps of kings and queens from Edinburgh Castle down the Royal Mile, or checking out lesser known towns. In Edinburgh, summertime also means festival season!

Festive Fireworks Light up Edinburgh

Fireworks Light up Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s summer festival season runs through the month of August. Catch the tunes of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival from July 31st-August 9th. The event brings more than 100 concerts to venues around the city. Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe (the largest arts festival in the world) run nearly simultaneously for three weeks in August and feature thousands of world-class concerts, plays, comedic and dance performances. With 12 festivals throughout the year there is more than enough for everyone. If you’re itching to get a taste of another culture- this is a great way to dive right in!

The Sweetest Views of Switzerland

Whether you’re living, studying, or just swinging through Switzerland, how do you capture the beauty of this amazing country? Yes, you can hike through the Alps, but there’s an easier- and for some- more relaxing choice.  Whoever said the most beautiful way to see a country is by train…was right. Switzerland is no exception.

The GoldenPass: Interlaken to Montreux

GoldenPass is Your Ticket to Happiness

GoldenPass is Your Ticket to Happiness

The GoldenPass Line is Switzerland’s most coveted ticket. The route is up to you. My journey brought me from the northern mountain town of Interlaken to the southwestern coastal town of Montreux. Although you can use the train ride to catch up on lost sleep, this is one ride you don’t want to miss. Imagine seeing the Swiss Alps from every angle (except aerial); cows grazing in green pastures; snow covering small mountain towns; or the moment the mountain ranges open up to the sea. It’s truly an unforgettable experience.

The Swiss rail network’s GoldenPass line stretches nearly 150 miles from Lucerne to Lake Geneva. Unlike normal trains, the GoldenPass is designed for panoramic views with large windows and some of the most comfortable seats you’ll ever experience. Even better news… this exclusive view of Switzerland won’t cost you an extra penny if you have a Eurail Pass!

Other Routes to Consider

The Chocolate Train: Discover the real flavor of Switzerland.  This panoramic route takes you from Montreux on the Swiss Riviera to Gruyeres, home of the famous Gruyeres cheese and Nestle chocolate factory. There is nothing better than great views and Swiss chocolate! You’ll want to check ahead, though, because trains operate on certain days depending on the time of year.

The Swiss Alps Provide Unforgettable Views

The Swiss Alps Provide Unforgettable Views

Bernina Express: Catch the most beautiful views of the Alpines! The north-south Alpine crossing from Chur to Lugano offers breathtaking views as the express travels over viaducts, through winding tunnels, and past ice-age glaciers. So you catch everything, this express has large windows extending to the top of the train. Wow.

Glacier Express: A bigger dose of the Alps. This trip goes from St. Moritz or Chur to Zermatt through the Alpine heartland of Switzerland. Zermatt, of course, is home to the famous Matterhorn (not the one in Disneyland). The journey lasts seven and a half hours, passing through 91 tunnels, crossing 291 bridges and the 2033m high Oberalp (Over-alps).

Whether it’s snow capped mountains or luscious green countrysides, Switzerland offers some of the most beautiful views in the world. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from my window during my trip from Interlaken to Montreux. For a few hours I felt like royalty. Now it’s your turn! Let Gulliver take you there!

Another Sunny Day: Enjoying Summer in Edinburgh

By Sarah Chamberlain

Being a native Californian, at times in the past I’ve taken warm weather for granted. Actually, taking it for granted doesn’t cover the full extent of my feelings. I’ve whined and moaned about the summer heat, sat in front of fans in darkened rooms, and even put my pillows in the freezer in an attempt to cool off at night. Summer lasted from early May until early October, and the sun always shone down from an almost-blindingly-bright blue sky. It was only when I moved to Scotland to study abroad here in Edinburgh that summer did not always mean lots of dry heat and sunshine. Instead, gray clouds and drizzling rain tend to be the order of the day. But occasionally the BBC’s usually-overly-optimistic weather forecast does come true, and a warm summer sun shines down on the city.

Another Beautiful Day

Another Beautiful Day

While temperatures on days like this never reach California highs (Scots consider anything over 70 Fahrenheit to be heat-wave levels), people here savor the weather in a way I’ve never seen Californians do. It seems like half of Edinburgh is outside somewhere, whether hiking or playing sports or just relaxing in the grass with their friends. So here’s a guide to places to go when the thermometer nudges up just those few degrees.

Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is kind of hard to miss, even if you’ve never been to Edinburgh before. A huge extinct volcano just south and east of the city center, it looms large on the skyline almost everywhere. On clear days you can see tiny figures both on the edge of the Crags and on the top of Arthur’s Seat itself. You can be one of those people too; it’s only a 45 minute hike up from either near the Scottish Parliament or from Duddingston up the hill to the seat. And once you’re there, the view is…incredible, to say the least. You can see all over the city, out to the Pentland Hills in the southwest and to Fife across the Firth of Forth. It doesn’t get much better than the combination of brown spires, green hills, and blue sky and water.

Inverleith Park

This is in a neighborhood called Stockbridge which is largely unknown to many tourists, so it’s a nice place to go if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile and Princes Street. On a sunny day you’ll see cricket matches and little kids racing boats in the small pond. There’s a particular hillside where you can get a lovely view of the Old Town as you people-watch. If you want to bring a picnic with you, there’s an awesome cafe called Circle on Brandon Terrace on the way to Inverleith where you can pick up cheap, tasty sandwiches.

The Meadows

If you’re not in the mood for a hike or even a long stroll to Stockbridge, the Meadows are an enormous park just south of the main campus of the University of Edinburgh. In May the lawns are covered with students alternately studying and catching what rays there are in between exams. You’ll also see people playing pick-up rugby and soccer, throwing a frisbee around, or having barbecues. Sitting here in the grass writing this, I don’t think there’s a more pleasant place to be on a day like this.

So on days when the weather’s too nice to be wandering around castles or museums, do as the Edinburghers do and get outside!

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International Celebrations Not to be Missed

With the Forth of July this weekend, everybody is celebrating across the Nation. We’re not the only country that likes to party. When traveling or studying abroad, one of the best ways to learn about a new culture is to experience its local festivals or sporting events. Here are a few celebrations to check out:

Oktoberfest in Germany

Germany's O-Fest is for the Whole Family

Germany's O-Fest is for the Whole Family

What happens at Oktoberfest…well, you know how it goes. Oktoberfest is one of Germany’s greatest festivals, with more than six million people attending each year. Held in Munchen (Munich) each Fall, the event dates back to 1810, when King Ludwig I commemorated his wedding with a grand horse race. Each year the city of Munich turns into a big fair. The festival consists of dozens of beer tents, food stands, a grand ferris wheel, and dozens of rides for those too young for the tents. Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without lederhosens.  It’s not all about beer, attendees indulge in Pretzeln (a special cake), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Knödeln (potato or bread dumplings), Weisswurst (a white sausage), and sauerkraut. A few words of caution: don’t lose your friends (you may never find them) and never leave a camera unattended (believe me, it happens).

Brazil’s Famous Carnaval

It starts four days before Ash Wednesday. For four glorious days and nights- Saturday to Thursday- people don their costumes and take over the town. Several cities celebrate, but Rio de Janeiro’s lavish carnaval is one of the world’s most famous. Carnival dates back to a Portuguese pre-lent festivity called “entrudo,” a chaotic scene where participants threw mud, water, and food at each other in a street event. Times have changed a bit- today carnaval consists of street parades, samba music, elaborate costumes, and thousands of dancers, singers, and drummers. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Palio di Siena

Catch One of Italy's Best Races

Catch One of Italy's Best Races

If you’re in Siena, Italy in July or August don’t miss one of the country’s greatest sporting events. Il Palio is a horse race held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th. Traditionally, ten horses and riders represent ten of the seventeen Contrade, or city wards. The horserace circles the Piazza del Campo three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. Don’t be surprised to see a few jockeys thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza. A festive pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.

Saint Patrick’s Day Festival in Ireland

Ok, we know you can celebrate this stateside, but there is nothing like spending Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland. For five days (March 12th to 17th) Ireland honors it’s culture, tradition, and history.  There’s music, carnivals, comedy, street performances, and treasure hunts. It all culminates with the world famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Five days. Thousands of performers. Millions of people. You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day…but it doesn’t hurt.

The list goes on.   What are some of your favorite celebrations? Or those you are dying to someday attend?

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