Archive for October, 2009

A Fall Journey Through Ireland

Toted as one of the best study abroad locations, the Emerald Isle is also one of the world’s most beautiful places to explore. I had dinner with relatives visiting from Ireland last week. My goal: to win them over.  My plan succeeded and I have been granted housing as soon as I can make it across the Atlantic. Call me crazy, but I love traveling during the fall and winter. The coolness in the air mixed with the warmth of the holidays. In Ireland, it doesn’t matter the time of year, you could have rain one moment and blue skies the next. Here are some great reasons to check out Ireland this fall.

County Cork & the Southwest

Find Hidden Treasures in Ballyvourney

Find Hidden Treasures in Ballyvourney

Cork is the largest county in the Republic of Ireland and home to the country’s second largest city. Visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney stone. Check out the picture perfect seaside town of Kinsale, just south of Cork City, with its quaint, narrow streets and abundance of gourmet restaurants. Capture Irish language and culture at its best in the small town of Ballyvourney, which borders County Kerry and is surrounded by forest and mountain landscapes. It’s also home to the holy well and burial mound of St. Gobnait. In Cork, stop and pay your respects to the monuments at Cobh Heritage Centre, which honor two ill-fated ships: the Titanic and the Lusitania.

Dublin

Imagine seeing U2 in their hometown. The city that spawned the legendary rock band also stands as one of the most popular spots in all of Ireland. Visit Bunratty Castle; have a dinner with cabaret at the famed Abbey Tavern; enjoy a brewery tour and tasting at the Guinness Storehouse; or check out the Old Jameson Distillery. To continue the Nobel Prize hysteria, Dublin is the only city to honor three winners in the same category. William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett all won the Literature prize.

Ireland's Coast Will Leave a Mark

Ireland's Coast Will Leave a Mark

Galway & the West

Want to get a taste for the West of Ireland? Start your travels in Galway! The fourth largest city in Ireland, Galway has retained much of its small town charm. It boasts a lively arts scene as well as a classic Irish culture. Don’t miss the Galway Aquarium, which houses 170 marine and freshwater species, including: seahorses, stingrays, sharks and the skeleton of a Fin Whale. You’ll also want to stop by the Claddagh Ring Museum. Maybe you’ll find one home for a special someone back home. Ireland is known for its amazing views of the Altantic Ocean, so don’t miss the spectacular sights from the Cliffs of Moher

The list goes on but you get the picture.

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Sightseeing for a Weekend? How about Mountaineering?

This week’s Gulliver newsletter talks about planning a weekend trip during your study abroad experience.  If you’re interested in something . . . wilder, maybe this is for you.

I have a strong but inexplicable desire to climb mountains.  Maybe it’s an extension of my affinity for hiking and backpacking or perhaps it’s the desire to conquer something (my mild fear of heights?), I really can’t be sure.  So naturally, while in the shower – a locale usually reserved for relaxation or problem solving, not mountaineering – I think about my list of mountains and fantasize about the sizeable lottery jackpot I’d need to hit to afford a trip to each.  In addition to regular mountains, I find volcanoes fascinating, so in my brain, pairing mountaineering and volcanoes is like pairing swimsuit models and beaches: separately they’re fantastic, but together they’re perfect.  Below, read about some cool volcanoes that aren’t too far out of the way and don’t require serious gear to enjoy.

Doesn't this make you want to climb?

Doesn't this make you want to climb?

Cotopaxi and Chimborazo:

Both of these volcanoes are in Ecuador, though Chimborazo is inactive, and together they are the highest peaks in that country.  I remember staring up at Cotopaxi while in Ecuador and dying to climb it, but time constraints and lack of long sleeves torpedoed that idea pretty quickly.  I vowed I’d be back.  If you’re in Ecuador, definitely tackle these two.  Most weekends you’ll find quite a few people hiking them and they can be climbed year-round.

Mt. Fuji, Japan:

Visible from Tokyo, Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest peak and over 200,000 people hike it every year.  There are 4 main routes up the mountain with many stations and huts to rest in along the way.  The most popular time to climb is between July 1st and August 27th as many of the hiking stations are manned during that period.

Pompeii and Vesuvius, Italy:

Of the volcanoes on this list, Vesuvius is definitely the easiest to summit in an afternoon, mainly because there’s an access road that will take you to within 200 meters (vertically) of the summit.  One can’t visit Vesuvius without also seeing Pompeii, which is about 5 miles away.

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania:

Kilimanjaro is the most out of the way compared to the other volcanoes on this list.  It’s much harder to get to, takes much longer to climb, and requires more gear.  You will probably need at least a few days to climb it (due to topographical prominence) so make sure to budget in some extra time.

Volcano Sledding, Nicaragua:

I just wanted to throw this interesting article in just in case you are in Central America and enjoy interesting volcano-related activities.  Have fun!

International Hostels Serve Up Halloween Fun

Halloween brings out the freaks and geeks in all of us. This doesn’t change when we travel or study abroad. Staying in a hostel? Great! Hostels love celebrations, especially Halloween. Balmers Hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland decks its lobby with ghoulish treats and competitions, while hostels in France cover themselves in spider webs and flying witches. Don’t forget the drink specials. You can travel to the ends of the earth and still enjoy your favorite holiday treats.

Aboriginal Hostel– Budapest, Hungary

Terror Leaves its Mark on Budapest

Terror Leaves its Mark on Budapest

A great find in downtown Budapest, Aboriginal Hostel offers free WIFI, laundry, breakfast, and entertainment. Go cave diving or get recommendations for other incredible adventures. Just for Halloween, try some homemade Turkish “Witches Brew,” tasty cookies, and plenty of drinks to keep the energy flowing. Spend a night out with your roommates on the city’s popular Andrassy Avenue. Don’t miss the House of Terror.  Located in the former headquarters of the Nazi and Communist secret police, the museum showcases the grim history of the two governments with photos and relics from former labor camp prisoners. Creepy.

Generator Hostel– London, England or Berlin, Germany

London’s largest hostel, Generator, celebrates Halloween like no other. Enjoy cheap beds, cheap drinks and plenty of fun. Spend fright night at the hostel bar. Dress in your favorite costume and receive free drinks at the bar-turned-haunted mansion. Listen to popular DJs and dance until the wee hours. It’s not for the faint of heart.

If you’re headed to Eastern Europe, hit up the Generator Hostel in Berlin. Share a stein or two as you celebrate Halloween. Don’t miss the Superhero party on October 30th or the ghoulish midnight happy hour on Halloween night. The bar will rock both nights with famous karaoke and live DJs.

The Globetrotter Inn– Edinburgh, Scotland

A Little Halloween Fun

Get Caught up in the Web of Excitement

From its haunted houses to countless dark alleys, Edinburgh has plenty of chilling experiences for Halloween. The Globetrotter Inn turns the spooky factor up a notch with a big Halloween bash at its 24-hour on-site bar.  For an extra scare, visit the Edinburgh Dungeon to unravel the city’s history of witch-hunters, grave robbers, prolific murderers and executioners.

Loki Hostel– Mancora, Peru

Hit the beach this Halloween! Loki del Mar in Màncora is the newest addition to the Loki Hostel chain. Having found success in Lima, Cusco and La Paz, this new beach setting invites visitors to surf, body board, or kayak. You might want to save your costume for the after-party!

Nathan’s Villa Hostel– Krakow, Poland

No curfew. No lockout. No checkout time. Big Halloween Party. Take advantage of the eerie sights around Nathan’s Villa Hostel. Check out the historical Dragon’s Den, Auschwitz Concentration Camp, or Remuh Cemetery in Kazimierz. Cap off the night by competing for “Best Halloween Costume” and enjoying free punch at the hostel bar. The party will bounce well into the night…and early morning.

Spook Yourself at These International Destinations

With Halloween right around the corner it’s fun to look at some of the world’s most “haunted” locations. Now don’t be surprised while studying or traveling abroad to discover the Day of the Dead is more celebrated than Halloween. In some locales it’s a national holiday. When I lived in Paris I spent the day after Halloween exploring the city’s celebrity, Père-Lachaise Cemetery. Here are some other disturbingly fun destinations.

Hike to Dracula's Castle

Hike to Dracula's Castle

Walachia, Transylvania, Land of Dracula

Unlock the history of the real Dracula. “Vlad the Impaler” ruled medieval Romania from 1448 until his death in 1476. He had a habit of punishing his enemies in unique ways, like driving stakes through their still-breathing bodies. Scholars believe the legend of Dracula arose because “Dracula” literally means “son of Dracul” in Romanian. Since “Dracul” is “Dragon,” young Vlad was the “son of the dragon” or “son of the devil.” For an unforgettable view, hike through the beautiful Transylvanian Alps. If you’re lucky, you might catch medieval villages and the ruins of once-proud castles, including Dracula’s Bran Castle.

Tower of London

Apparitions, rattling chains, and howling winter winds… eeriness awaits you at this UNESCO World Heritage site. Constructed 900 years ago, the Tower of London has served as a tourist attraction, a prison, and a site of execution for some of England’s royalty. Don’t lose your head like Henry VIII’s infamous second wife, Anne Boleyn. Keep your eye out for a chained Sir Walter Raleigh, who apparently still roams the Tower grounds. Check out the Bloody Tower, where legend has it English child-king Edward V and his brother Richard Plantagenet, duke of York, were murdered in 1483; and Devereux Tower, where George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence, supposedly drowned in a barrel of wine in 1478.

Explore the Unpredictable Vaults

Explore the Vaults at Your Own Risk

Underground Vaults, Edinburgh

Paris has its famous underground crypts, and far below the busy streets of Edinburgh, Scotland rest its forgotten city Vaults. Discovered in the mid-1980’s, the Edinburgh Vaults sat abandoned for nearly two hundred years beneath the South Bridge. These rooms were used as cellars, workshops, labs, and residences by the businesses that forged their trade on the busy South Bridge. The vaults were abandoned due to excessive water and poor air quality. The vaults remained unaltered, having never seen the light of day. Be careful! Visitors have reported significant drops in temperature and attacks by the unseen, which left them with bruises, cuts, and scratches.

Car Museums are the Best Kind of Museums

I feel the need...

I feel the need...

I’m a BIG car fan.  If I had the chance, I would stay up 24 hours and camp outside Le Mans and I would pay through the nose to watch a Grand Prix in Monaco.  Lucky study abroad students have great access to all of the major foreign manufacturers and motorsport.  Even better, many of these companies have large and elegant museums (I’m looking at you Porsche) where you can trundle down memory lane, see the most modern concepts, and view race winning cars.  While many of the museums are a bit far from study abroad centers, they are usually no more than a train ride away.

BMW Museum

The BMW museum was established in 1972, right before the start of the Munich Olympics.  It was recently renovated and includes fixtures from BMW’s 80 year history.  Tickets are 12 Euros.

Porsche Museum

This museum is one of the largest and one of the most recent.  Located in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, it boasts over 80 cars on display and special exhibits.  Until October 31, the special exhibit is a dedication to Ferry Porsche and his contributions to automotive history over the past 100 years.

Mercedes Museum

Also in Stuttgart, the Mercedes Museum opened in 2007 and contains over 160 cars spanning its long history.  8 Euros covers the cost of a ticket and includes a guided audio tour in several languages.

Galleria Ferrari

...for speed

...for speed

If you want to be seduced by passion and beauty, then the Galleria Ferrari is for you.  Iconic road and track cars from the manufacturer’s history are showcased right outside Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy.  Head over to see Ferrari’s first car, the 125 S and a replica of Enzo’s office.  At 13 Euros, it’s a little pricier than the Porsche and Mercedes exhibits, but the wow factor will be huge.

Honda Collection Hall

The Hall is located at the Twin Ring Motegi complex in Motegi, Japan.  The complex was built by Honda and today is the site of both car and kart racing.  The Hall itself has a gallery of various Honda products including cars, motorcycles, and engines.

Peugeot Museum

Located in Sochaux, the Peugeot Museum traces the history of this venerable company.  While Peugeots haven’t been sold in the US for some time, they are still very active in Europe.  They even won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a few months ago.

Alfa Romeo History Museum

The Museum is sited near a now-unused Alfa factory in Milan, Italy, and has a large collection from nearly 100 years of company history.  Over 100 cars are on display, most of which are fully functional.  Alfa Romeo isn’t well known in the US, but after one trip to their museum, you’ll wish they were.

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International Film Festival Season

When I studied abroad in Europe I spent several days in Pordenone, Italy. This beautiful town, about an hour train ride north of Venice, hosts a silent film festival each October. My college film professor encouraged me to attend. It quickly became a highlight of my trip. These festivals not only introduce you to the creative minds of international filmmakers, but also give you the chance to explore new and fascinating cities. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto

Creativity Knows No Boundaries

Creativity Knows No Boundaries

Pordenone’s silent film festival brings you back in time, to the early stages of filmmaking.  No, you don’t shoot a silent film, but you do watch classics from D.W. Griffith,  the Lumière brothers, Erich von Stroheim, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd and other international silent stars before the 1930s. For a week every October, film professionals, preservationists, scholars and enthusiasts watch rare footage not available to most. For 30 Euro you receive unlimited access to a full line-up of classic silent films- many of which have recently been restored. While you’re there, explore the small town of Pordenone; take a day trip to Venice; enjoy a homely Italian lunch or savor a creamy gelato. It’s an unforgettable week!

Festival de Cannes

Since 1946, the Festival International du Film in Cannes, France has been one of the world’s premiere film festivals. Today it draws tens of thousands of film professionals from around the world. The festival gives novice and seasoned independent filmmakers a chance to showcase their work before their peers. Check out films by Quentin Tarantino, Michael Haneke, Steven Soderbergh, and Park Chan-Wook. See the work of your favorite stars or expose yourself to a bigger film culture. Located in southern France along the French Riviera- it’s hard to go wrong!

Internationalen Filmfestspiele Berlin

Berlin Comes Alive at Night

Berlin Comes Alive at Night

The Berlin International Film Festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2010.  Selling more than 200,000 tickets each year, “Berlinale” hosts the largest audience of any film festival in the world. The festival in Berlin, Germany showcases more than 400 films over a two-week period each February. Prestigious awards include: the Golden and Silver Bears, the International Jury Award (Alfred Bauer Prize), as well as awards for top Feature, Actor, and Director. Located in one of the world’s most historical cities, attendees can visit unforgettable landmarks, taste delicious food, and explore memorable locals.

Other notable festivals:

Hiking the Swiss Alps

With the fall season in full bloom, now is your best chance to hit the open trails before they convert to ski slopes. The fall is also a perfect time to study abroad or travel through Switzerland. The country offers some of the world’s most stunning hiking opportunities. A little advice: keep an eye on your surroundings as trails often disappear right before your eyes.

Zermatt & The Matterhorn

Matterhorn Provides a Sweet Backdrop

Matterhorn Provides a Sweet Backdrop

No, we’re not talking about Disneyland. The majestic Mount Matterhorn or Monte Cervino (in Italian) is one of Switzerland’s most popular alpine peaks. Standing at 4,478 meter (14,692 ft) it attracts thousands of professional and novice mountaineers each year. Climbing to the peak requires mountaineering experience. Consult a professional guide if you’re not familiar with the routes.

Another option is hiking to Gornergrat from the town of Zermatt. Gornergrat can be reached by foot or on a 40 minute cogwheel railway. Built in 1898, Gornergratbahn was Switzerland’s first electrically operated railroad. The ride is not the cheapest, but the views of neighboring Matterhorn are breathtaking. There are several scenic hiking paths. You will need good shoes, but no special mountaineering equipment. The altitude difference between the village and Gornergrat is extreme, so don’t be surprised to get a bloody nose. Scale the mountain early, because once the clouds roll in, your visibility will disappear. When hiking back to Zermatt- locals recommend keeping an eye on the railway. You never know when you’ll abruptly lose sight of your trail.

Gimmelwald, Murren & Beyond

Gondolas Provide Impeccable Views of the Alps

Gondolas Provide Impeccable Views of the Alps

A less extreme, yet just as rigorous day hike takes you through Gimmelwald, the quaint town of Murren, and if you have time, the peak of the Schilthorn. If you want an easy walk, take a gondola to Murren, relish in the alpine views, and then hike down to Gimmelwald. Murren is a beautiful, car free, mountain village, which offers fun exploration. The best route, though, is to hike from the base of Stechelberg, to Gimmelwald and Murren, and then climb to the Schilthorn. It’s not an easy task. Why Schilthorn? It’s home to a world famous revolving restaurant, “Piz Gloria.” The Piz Gloria Restaurant sits 3,000 meters high, and turns itself 360° each hour. On a clear day, visitors will see 200 mountain peaks, 40 glaciers, the Black Forest, Jura and the Mont Blanc. It’s so famous, the Schilthorn was named ‘James Bond’ mountain, after serving as the set for several scenes in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

If your short on time and don’t want to break a sweat, then hop onto a gondola. Take one from Stechelberg to the peak of the Schilthorn. Do this early in the day, because once the clouds roll in you won’t be able to see anything.

Jungfraujoch

Often called the “Top of Europe,” Jungfraujoch is a col (or saddle) between the Mönch and the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps.  Overlooking Gimmelwald and Murren, Jungfraujoch is one of Switzerland’s most incredible viewpoints. Standing at 4,158 meters (13,638 ft) the Jungfrau is the westernmost and highest of the famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau trio.  Its North Face towers nearly 10,000 feet over the valley below. Jungfrau and its neighboring peak Mönch (4,099 meters) are separated by the Jungfraujoch, which houses an observatory, railway station, and hotel. At 3,478 meters (11,412 ft), Jungfraujoch is the highest point in Europe reachable by railway. From there, Jungfrau’s summit is a short, icy climb up the northeast ridge. Similar to other alpine mountains, always check the weather beforehand. If any clouds are forecast, cancel your hike/climb, because they will spoil the trip.

While all of these alpine adventures are stunning during the summer and fall months, they turn into great ski slopes come winter. Any time of year you’re bound to have an unforgettable experience!


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