07 August 2007

One Last European Adventure

I’m back in Eichstätt for the final week of my study abroad experience. I spent the last or so seeing northeastern France and my dream city of London. Here’s a brief tell of the tale.

My Japanese friend Mariko and I left two Fridays ago with Pauline as she returned home to France after studying in Eichstaett for a semester. Her home town is a small village close the coast of the English Channel called Mineville. Her family lives in an old barn that they converted into their home.

We stayed with her family for a couple of days and enjoyed large home cooked meals of fresh fish and crab, quiche, and other French dishes. One day we drove to the coast and took in the view from sea cliffs overlooking the ocean. In the distance one could barely make out the famous white cliffs of Dover, England. The high vantage point was dotted with the remnants of Nazi constructed bunkers and observation posts, as seen in the first photograph below. I believe the second image speaks for itself.

Two days later we left for the large city of Lille, about an hour and half drive away from Mineville. This city is the center of the region for northeastern France. Pauline lives and studies here. Here are some photos from around town. Look carefully in the second, it’s actually the entrance to a restaurant. In the last one you see Pauline standing before the city’s art museum.

On Tuesday Mariko and I left Pauline and ventured to London, England by means of bus and ferry. London may be a world metropolis with a never ending list of activities and sights, but I think we came very close to seeing and doing nearly everything in the three days we stayed. At least it felt that way to our sore feet at the end of every day.

Our hostel was on the west end of the center of town in the Kensington neighborhood. Essentially the only employee we saw during our stay was the front desk man for the night shift because we woke up early and never returned until very late in the night. But that was fine by us because this man, Dana, was a friendly Iraqi who had been living in London for ten years and quickly developed a liking for us. He would always offer to break out the juice and food meant for breakfast whenever we returned at night. We were very pleased with our last minute lodging selection.

As for sharing with you what we actually did while in London, I think I’ll simply run through some of the photos from the trip. Here we go:

There was the London Eye located across the Thames from the Palace of Parliament. At 16 American dollars a ride we decided to enjoy the view from the ground looking up.

A stroll along the Thames at night was a relaxing and beautiful way to see the city. Above you see the pedestrian-only Millennium Bridge spanning the river over to the Tate Modern, an old power plant coverted to an art museum.

Westminster Abbery, the church of the nation and the final resting place for hundreds of members of royality up to the King George III, as well as famous British authors and literary greats.

The changing of the guard ceremony at . . .

. . . Buckingham Palace.

The Horse Guards on watch near St. James Park.

Number Ten Downing Street, the simple but official residence of the Prime Minister. A new security fence prevented any pictures from a closer persepective.

At St. Paul's Cathedral we climbed up to the dome and viewed the London cityscape, a view of which one sees below.

We could have spent a day at the entire Tower of London complex, but we did manage to get in the White Tower, photographed above.

The Tower Bridge is not an easy sight to miss.

We headed to the Notting Hill neighborhood, but were too late in the day to catch the famous market on Portobello Road. However, we did view some attractive stores and cafes.

One finds warnings at almost all of the street crossing in London to look in the other direction for on-coming traffic. I suppose it's a friendly nod to the millions of foreign tourists who visit the city and must remember that traffic drives on the left hand side of the street. If you take another look though, maybe you'll understand why I now regret taking a picture of the painted warnings on a one way street.

Mariko insisted on going to this train station one night. There we discovered the site pictured below, Platform 9 3/4.

Unlike in the Harry Potter films and books however, there is no land of wizards and magic on the otherside of the brick wall. Instead, there is only place:

a mundane coffee shop for rail travelers.

This photo was of course taken in no other place but on a subway platform. A one way ride with the subway would cost the equivalent of US$8. We bought three-day travel passes that cost onlz $32. A good deal considering that we must have ridden the subway at least four times a day.

One day we headed over Greenwhich and snacked on fish n' chips for lunch. In case you never realized it, in British English a chip is a french fry.

After lunch we headed up a hill the Old Royal Oberservatory. It is one of my favorite places we visited, but of course as a Geography major I would expect that. Scientists (Geographers one might say) created the system of longitude and latitude here. As the creator of the system, what bettter place would there have been to arbitrarily choose as the loaction of the zero degree line of longitude than you own? They did exactly that, and thus the Prime Median runs straight throuh the site. When one stands on boths sides of this line he finds himself simultaneously in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

We shopped briefly at Harrod's, the world's most famous department store.

We randomly came across the Royal Geographical Society headquarters, which was founded by the famous African explorer David Livingstone. This group supported and aided such individuals as Charles Darwin, Ernest Shackleton (Antarctic exploration), and Sir Edmund Hillary (along with his guide became the first man to reach the summit of Mt. Everest).

We fell into history at the British Museum and saw such things as the Rossetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, the marbles from the Parthenon, and other important historical artifacts.

And of course we also found time to pose for pictures with a traditional London phone booth.

We left Friday night on an uncomfortable bus ride back to Germany. The main problem was the bus missed the ferry it ought to have taken and we had to wait until around two in the morning in the Port of Dover for the next one.

Maybe I’m a bit biased since London is the first foreign city I can remember wanting to visit, but it may be my favorite European city to have come across. Of course every village, town, and city I have visited across this continent has its own special quality that I like about it, but London tops all others. I found more energy in Londontown than I did in Rome, and, personally, I also found it more beautiful than Paris. If I could only return to one place in Europe it would be London (of course that excludes Germany).

London may have left another positive mark with me for another particular reason. For the first time in nearly a year I was in a culture that speaks my mother tongue. For the first time since leaving America I could speak to random strangers flawlessly, read all signs along the street, and not feel like an irresponsible tourist when I asked in English for help or information. When we boarded the subway for the first time after arriving, my ears immediately tuned into the conversations of Londoners around us in the car and seemed to say, “Hey, we recognize that!” After a year of German it hit me as a surprise to find myself surrounded by English. I suppose it’s a sign of what’s to come in a week.

The bus took us to the German city of Cologne (in German: Köln). This city is located in central western Germany along the Rhine River and is justly famous for its magnificent cathedral. If you’re not familiar with the Cathedral of Cologne allow me to introduce you to it. To be blunt, it’s huge. In fact, more perfect adjectives are massive, giant, titanic, or Everest-like. Construction began in 1248 and lasted around 600 years until 1880. The towers are a little over 510 feet tall, or about the same height as an average 50 story modern skyscraper. They are the tallest church towers in the world, and in its day the cathedral was the tallest manmade structure of any kind. One can climb to a gallery in the southern tower as Mariko and I did, but it will require the ascent of 509 steps. Only from the gallery view can one truly appreciate the engineering marvel of the cathedral when he looks out and sees that only two or three of the city’s modern high-rises reach a taller height, but even those barely nudge above the cathedral’s spires. Inside the cathedral is a tomb which contains what are believed to be the remains of the Three Magi. Here are a couple photos. I think the first one gives a pretty good idea of how massive the structure is. For the second photo I had to walk to the very end of the square in order to fit the towers into one shot. Be sure to notice how small the people on the other end of square are in comparison.

After the cathedral we boarded a train and returned to Eichstätt in the evening.

With the semester break now underway for more than a few weeks, Eichstätt is a very lonely town. Most of the other foreign students have already left, and of course my German friends are somewhere on vacation. I visited the St. Michael’s dorm the other day. This was basically my second home in Eichstätt because I visited it so often during the past two semesters in order to visit friends, share meals, and enjoy parties. I found a building nearly empty of residents. The kitchens and gathering places were just like I remembered them, but completely desolate. It was eerie enough to send a chill down my spin, and remind that my own departure is not so far away.

I’ve begun cleaning my apartment and taking down photos from the walls. The small rooms that had acquired a homey feel have now reverted back to the soulless state in which I found them when I first arrived. The hand over of the keys will be next Monday afternoon, after that I will leave Eichstätt and spend the night in Munich in order to catch my Tuesday morning flight.

The timing of my trip to France and London could have actually been better. While I was away most of my friends left, leaving me in the somewhat guilty-feeling condition of not saying a true good-bye. As said, most of the Germans won’t return until next semester and most of the foreigners have returned home for good.

It would seem that I will spend the last week of my year abroad cleaning, packing, and spending quality one-on-one time with a beautiful Bavarian town named Eichstätt.

I promise to write at least on more entry before this blog and this experience come to a conclusion.


DaddyO said...

What a great post, I really enjoyed reading. What I realized reading it thought, was how I felt looking at the pictures thinking your mom and I had been in some of those places. Just kind of a neat thing. What a wonderful world we live in, and what a great life we have to be able to experience all it has to offer. I sure that we all will make more trips to Europe. I know it's a little sad right now for you moving on, however what a rich full year you have had, plus maybe you will be able to keep in touch with a few of the European friends. We are looking forward to your return, first night it's BBQ ribs!!!

mom said...

Nick, for the past year you have taken us along on your jouney by way of this blog. It has opened a world for me and many others who read this that we would not have been exposed to. Thank you for allowing us to tag along.

I talked to a friend today who spent a year in London back in the 80's. She talked about how hard it was to come home and how lonely it got sometimes because back then there wasn't the communication links we have today - no cell phone connections, no emails, and for certain no blog. When she came home she also was lonely for her London friends and the only way she could contact them (relatively inexpensively) was mail and a periodic fax.

You have made permanent friends on this trip that you will be able to stay in touch with, thanks to your electronic equipment.

As we enjoyed your road travels and international experiences, we also share in the emotions you feel knowing that this soon will be a wonderful memory.

I look forward to having you back in town and what is to come in the year ahead! Not to mention looking at all those pictures that never made it to the blog..(like the ones of the french country barn house!!!!).

b said...

I leave the 17th.

Do you know when you'll be free to hang out?

Nick O. said...

Dad: Thanks, and yes, I really am looking forward to tasting some BBQ once I return.

Mom: Thank you to you as well. I really hope I will be able to stay in touch with the friends I've made here. I'm happy you enjoyed reading along.

B: Should be ok on the 15th and 16th.

Andrew said...

i think you'll understand when i can't say ooh london was better than paris/florence/munich/et cetera, but it definitely set itself apart. it and paris are the frontrunners for me. and, strangely, eichstatt. huh.

it's just vibrant with life and history. it's THE immigrant city because it has so many colliding cultures from all the colonies britain once held, it's got beautiful buildings (half of which it seems were built by christopher wren. that fire was the best thing ever to happen to him), it's got the best of everything. my feet hurt every single day of the week i spent there.

i loved the tate modern. i...you know, didn't really see much of the art in there because i'd decided to split off from the group (went on a group trip w/ a bunch of french folks, ended up ditching them and wondering around the city myself most days) and see a play on shaftesbury avenue and then meet everyone at the tate modern. since it was my third day there, i decided to trust in my directional instincts and promptly walked in about 2 and a half circles until i decided to look at my map and hop on the tube. i crossed tower bridge and walked the rest of the way to the modern, where they were CLOSING.

so i crossed half of london for no good reason. the true reason i wanted to go in the first place was that one of the art exhibits was a series of twisting tubes stretching from the top floor all the way to the basement floor. these were special tubes. if you got a ticket from the help desk, they would allow you to sit on a towel and RIDE THROUGH THEM. by the time i got there, all multistory crazy artslide rides had closed down, and they were disassembling the exhibit that night.

the park around the observatory was hands-down my favorite park area in all of europe. it was so HUGE and beautiful with...beautiful. i don't know. i read about how easy it was to plot longitude and how long they had to wait until they could find latitude (or vice versa) and the insane methods they tried before the successful one - my favorite was the powder of sympathy. the one with the knife, the dog, and the magic powder. do you remember it?

in the park, i climbed a tree and london people walking their dogs looked at me strangely. i can't imagine why, but i thought of you. did you go to greenwich village right below the observatory area? i loved the flea market type place there. i got the collected works of booth tarkington in hardback for one pound, and i found a 50s gold (plate) brooch/windup watch for natalie. and i also found the best tex-mex in europe, which was also the only passable tex-mex in europe, at a beautiful place called cafe del sol.

paris was great because i basically lived in its center at my friend's apartment and really got to know it well, but i think i did by far more things in london than in any other town.


cough. sorry. europe attack. you get used to them.

did it strike you as funny that buckingham palace looked like a government building and parliament looked like a palace?