The Unforgettable Capital Cities of Slovenia and Lithuania (Part 1)

Slovenia in September
University Life
Travel Goals
Cake at a Castle
Lake Bled
Ljubljana

Dear readers,

It’s time now on my flight leaving Greece to reflect on my trips in Europe and put my adventures into words. I’ve been on three trips (or maybe 2 1/2 is a better description) since the last time I wrote about my travels. A bus ride and morning stop in Liechtenstein with half-a-day spent in Innsbruck, Austria. Two days in Vilnius, Lithuania. And three days in Greece (Epanomi and Thessaloniki). In this post, I will cover a trip I made back in September then begin with my trip to Lithuania. In the following post, I will discuss my bus ride to the German-speaking countries of Liechtenstein and Austria and finish with my time in Greece.

The semester has started again in Germany. Three weeks of classes are already behind me. I still have German language classes; I finally got to have Russian again and I’ve even started a beginners French class. In just a few weeks now, I will be a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in German Language & Literature. I have about 3 1/2 more months in Germany before I return to Georgia, USA. As far as my next plans.. well, I’m planning to apply to a couple honors graduate programs both in the USA and in England. I’d like to study journalism, history and maybe even something connected to art or politics. When I return to USA, I want to travel—slowly see all 50 States. And before I make it back to the States, I want to study Russian language in Ukraine for at least four weeks. Not to mention, I would also like to work as an English teacher in Asia within the next few years. Another travel goal, is to visit all former countries of the Soviet Union.

You may ask if my trip to Slovenia was in September why am I writing about it now? But, it’s all connected and my trip there was amazing so I think it’s worth sharing. It’s a trip that I definitely recommend! Two weeks into my study abroad program here, my intensive German language course started. It was Monday-Friday. (Fridays ended a bit earlier.) The class lasted at least 3 hours each day. That means that with a relatively small group (about 15 students), we got to know each other during the 2 1/2 weeks pretty well. It was also still vacation time so most students weren’t too worried about their studies yet. We talked a lot and had a nice time together. One of the other female students mentioned a travel group called Euro Trip Adventures, that was going to Slovenia over the weekend. I hadn’t heard much about Slovenia, but the suggestion intrigued me and I bought myself a ticket. Unfortunately, the tickets were sold out before my friend could get hers so I ended up going alone. As I mentioned in the post about Switzerland, Euro Trip Adventures can be an easy way to get know new people while traveling. So it turned out just fine going alone!

~night time in Ljubljana, Slovenia~

Overnight bus rides are quite exhausting–as was my bus ride to Slovenia and back again the next day to Germany. Space is limited and you have to be able to kill time during the journey. I recommend bringing water, healthy snacks, a pillow, your phone charger, cash, a book or games and toiletries for freshening up. My stop (in Erlangen, Germany) was first so I had gotten comfortable and was able to fall asleep by the time the last group got on the bus. Euro Trip Adventures usually stops in at least 4 cities in Germany to pick up all the travelers. It was a actually pretty funny because I laughed out loud in my sleep–no idea what I was dreaming about–and quite a few people heard me and I ended up waking myself up, but not really caring that I had laughed, and falling back asleep. I ended up making friends with the guy who sat next to me. So I hadn’t scared him too bad by laughing in my sleep 😀

In the morning, we stopped at a truck stop so that we could freshen up, use the bathroom and have breakfast. It was still another hour or two before we reached Lake Bled in Slovenia. By the way, most buses offer snacks and drinks so cash always comes in handy! The tour guide collected the money from everyone who wanted to do a tour of Ljubljana. That’s the capital of Slovenia and quite a lovely city (more about it soon.) The tour either cost 10 or 15 Euros.

Lake Bled itself was such a stunning and serene site. We had about 3.5 hours there, which was plenty! The lake was an amazing color and so clear. We had enough time to climb the steep hill and enjoy the view from the castle. The view was incredible! Being at the castle and looking down on the water was magnificent and fairy-tale-like. My eyes  devoured the scenery. We also had time to have cake at the castle-café (the view was also quite nice from the other side of the castle at the café) and more time to explore down below and walk around the area near the lake. There was an entry fee to the castle–about 10 Euros. Slovenia is part of the European Union and uses the Euro so we didn’t have to worry about exchanging currency.

The bus ride from Lake Bled to Ljubljana lasted–if I’m not mistaken–about 90 minutes. At Ljubljana we had about 8 hours to explore the city. The tour leader took us from the bus stop into the city center and told us where we would meet for the tour with a local guide. Before the tour, we had time to explore some of the city. I had lunch and got to check out many different parts of the city like the center, some side streets and the market area as well as the many bridges. I hadn’t done too much research about tips, sightseeing or the history of Ljubljana before the excursion, but I learned quite a bit on the tour! The tour guide was awesome. He was a history teacher and seemed passionate about the city and his country. The city was charming. The history quite interesting. And overall, we got to see a lot during the tour. What I got from the tour was that Slovenia is an interesting mix of Slavic, Roman and Germanic/Austrian heritage. You can see multiple influences in the architecture. There are, of course, authors, poets and thinkers that are Slovenian–part of their own story and heritage. Quite a lot of history is represented in artwork and sculptures in Ljubljana. I was engaged and impressed by the beauty of the city and its history. The tour even included a trip up to the castle in Ljubljana. After the tour, we had more time to explore the city. I got to try local beer and wine, see more areas of the city and experience the beautiful night-time atmosphere of the lights and bridges.

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To conclude, I thought Ljubljana was clean, charming, cute, inviting and somewhat romantic. It felt like the city greeted me with a nice, warm hug. And I learned more about history. There’s never just one story and our world is so rich with different cultures that aren’t mainstream but still very special. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will be about my trip to Lithuania and an update about my studies here and back home!

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

A December Excursion to Switzerland

an excursion—to Zürich, Switzerland! I hope everyone has had a nice holiday season so far and will be able to rest for the upcoming year. Keep reading to the end to get an idea about what travelling means to me.

Dear readers,

The semester at my home university ended three weeks ago. Although I did not get the full experience of attending class, I finished two online courses (Business German and German Civilization) and am that much closer to graduating! Every college student should try their best to keep a journal because the time will fly by and it will be hard to recall all the special times you had. I could write a novel just about my college years!

And it seems my time abroad has gone by even faster.. I’ve been here almost four months already. The winter days are much shorter than in my home state and I am responsible for everything here, so it leaves me a lot less productivity time. With that said, let’s get back to this blog entry. It will be about an excursion—to Zürich, Switzerland! I hope everyone has had a nice holiday season so far and will be able to rest for the upcoming year. Keep reading to the end to get an idea about what travelling means to me.

The first part of the excursion was a stop in Schaffhausen to see Rhine falls, which is only about an hour away from Zürich. A little bit of information about the falls:

Rhine falls (Rheinfall in German) are the largest water fall(s) in Europe. During the Ice Ages, tectonic shifts occurred, which forced the River Rhine into a new basin. This was over 15,000 years ago. The older riverbed was filled with gravel. During the Würm glaciation, the river was pushed south over a hard Limestone bed and it was this movement over the hard bed and easily-eroded gravel from previous glaciations that caused the falls to form. The height reaches approximately 75 feet and the width spans to nearly 500 feet. There are two main falls divided by a rock formation.

 

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Even before getting close to the waterfalls, I could feel chilly, open air. My face felt fresh and my lungs felt light and clear. The still water of the lake area was a relatively dark teal and there was quite a lot of fish.

Even though the falls were rushing, there were still many ducks swimming around directly at the falls. The water danced over the rocks in numerous streams and where the water cut down on the rocks, white foam gushed.


The falls are directly at the bus parking lot. We just had to walk down a few flights of steps. There were immediately restrooms, tourist shops, and cafes. The falls weren’t massive in height or width, but still a very a beautiful site. Looking at the water can be just as mesmerizing as staring at a fire. Around the falls were pathways and many open areas to examine the falls and take photos. There was also a castle sitting above a hill right at the falls. We had limited time there (about 75 minutes) and I wanted to eat something and check out the tourist shops so I decided to skip the walk up to the castle. And based on my internet browsing, one may have to take a boat over to the castle anyway.

 

 

Next stop: Zürich

The photos above were taken at Lindenhof. It provides a nice view of the city, including the university, the institute of technology, and of course, the old town. The Romans had a fort there in the 4th century and later, Charlemagne’s grandson built a regal palace for a place of residence. It is a peaceful place in the city and chess players often meet for some matches. It is also the oldest place of the old town.

The streets are not built according to a grid pattern and the tour guide even said Google Maps sometimes struggles when locating a certain street. There are also quite a lot of hills. Some years ago, there used to be a wall around the city, but it was preventing the city from growing so it was taken down. It was located near the main train station.

Our next stop was a church with a pretty interesting background. And supposedly the bell inside is larger than Big Ben. The clock on the church tower is so big that you can see it from almost any point in the old town. There used to be a person who stood watch in the tower and alerted the town of a fire by waving a red flag. And compared to many other cities, Zürich never had any bad fires. But, there is no longer a person who keeps watch in the tower.

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St. Peter Church

While walking around, we also saw the “financial street” with many, many banks. That is something Zürich is well-known for (being a financial center).  The city was quite crowded especially with families but it was the Saturday before Christmas Eve so it could have been a slight exception to the norm. Zürich isn’t the capital, but it is the biggest city in Switzerland. Since Switzerland is a small country, it is not huge in comparison to other European cities. The main university has 30,000 students.

The next few stops were two more churches before the tour guide departed from us and left us at the outdoor Christmas market near the lake. Our tour guide did a great job of giving directions like how to return to the bus stop, which was near the train station. And we got to walk on both sides of the town since we crossed the bridge after seeing the women’s monastery. The tour guide did seem passionate about the city and the stories she told were very interesting, but the tour seemed very short–like there weren’t many special sites to see, or that the tour guide wanted to do a very basic tour.

However, I found the stories about the last two churches fascinating and even relevant for some of the previous research I’ve done on this blog, so I’ll share what I remember about them now:

Fraumünster (Women’s Minster): The story portrayed on the fresco is about some girls who were lost and the deer guided them to the river, which allowed them to find their way home. However, when the tour guide was telling the story I missed the transition from what was portrayed to how the church came in to the hands of female aristocracy. And although, women had control over this monastery, women have only been allowed to vote for not even 30 years in certain places in Switzerland.

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Felix and Regula (holding their heads)

The last site was Grossmünster. The patron saints Felix and Regula (shown on the previous church) were supposedly beheaded and buried there and when Charlemagne travelled through, his horse stopped there and he had a monastery built on the spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside this church. I did, however, see the court area of the previous church, which is shown in the pictures above.

 

Germany vs. Switzerland:

I noticed some differences between the Christmas markets in Zürich and the ones that I have been to in Bavaria, Germany. There were more stands selling goods such as umbrellas, clothes, candles, etc. in Zürich. Traditional food stands and hot drink stands were harder to find. I also noticed more international food in the mix (burgers, Indian food, American whiskey, etc.) Of course, there were Christmas lights, but no music and the overall atmosphere felt a lot different. It did not have that cozy “Glühwein feeling” like I experienced beforehand in Bavaria. Everything was 2-3x more expensive than typical prices in Germany (a small, regular coffee at Starbucks was 6 euros). Most places accepted euros at the rate 1 euro= 1 franc, but I am not sure how the conversion rate is if you were to buy Swiss francs with euros—most likely, the euro is about a quarter less in worth compared to the franc.

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Largest indoor Christmas market in Europe- Zürich train station

 

Concluding thoughts about the trip:
I got lucky and had a seat by myself on the bus, which meant I could catch some ZZZ’s since I brought my pillow with me. I met up with some cool people from the tour group and got to hang out with them after our city tour. If you are currently living in Europe, speak English and/or German, but do not have many friends to travel with and still want to see a few new countries easily—Euro Trip Adventures is a great option. I did not have many expectations of the places we went to beforehand, but I was not head over heels in love. The architecture was not very charming, exotic or historic (to me). Although the guide said it is authentic since it was not destroyed in any wars. The historic part of Zürich felt very small. The tour was relatively short for 15 euros.

Looking back through my photos now, I’ve been thinking that I did get to see some beautiful places in Switzerland and that maybe being there only for half of a day didn’t allow the beauty to quite sink in. I still think day trips are quite fun to get a taste of new places and learn a little history if you do the tours, but after my New Years trip to Berlin with a friend I have reconsidered aspects of travelling that I maybe overlooked since I’ve been living in Germany. Although, I did do another day excursion with Euro Trip Adventures and was much more impressed with that trip to Slovenia even according to the following points I’m going to discuss.

I think that there are 3 “levels” when travelling. The first is the most superficial–the outer layer. This is the level of tourism. I mean: seeing the major sites, eating at the well-know restaurants, trying out the things that have been recommended for tourists. I truly enjoy hearing legends and stories about new cities and adding to my overall knowledge of history. I also enjoy seeing churches, palaces and castles. Not to mention, museums, theater and other entertainment-attractions also make for a fun trip.

The second level is deeper and more authentic than the first. It means taking things a little slower and going with the flow. Getting to know the character of the city by spending time at the coffee shops and restaurants. Seeing the different people who are passing by and those who live and work there. Taking time to travel with the transportation and walking along the streets-seeing what you can find this way.

The third level could be more or less “extreme” depending on a person’s interests. Some people may want to go hiking, climbing, or even camping in the nature. I am not one of those people. However, I do like to see nature when travelling. I find water, foliage and flowers especially beautiful and calming. Even if I am travelling in European cities, I still want to try to appreciate nature. To close my eyes, take deep breaths, and relax my mind.

To conclude, I think all three of these “levels” are important to have a fulfilling trip. And day trips are quite nice, but I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Learning the historical basics of a city is one thing, but spending several days there and developing a feel and understanding for the city (even if you may get to visit fewer cities) is also very memorable and enjoyable.

All the best in the new year,

Stephanie