Hola aus Barcelona!

[Originally written on Saturday, the 29th]

Right now, I am on the plane flying back from Barcelona. Arrival at the airport and check in for our flight was much more difficult than it needed to be but here we are. Our class went to Barcelona because a biennial landscape architecture conference was happening, but also because we wanted to go to Barcelona.

We landed in the city after a very early flight and took a train to the subway station where we sweat our way to the hotel. After dropping off our bags, we headed over to Park Guell, designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudi.

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Our coordinator took us on a tour around the city, down busy streets and through lively plazas and parks. Las Ramblas, a busy pedestrian walkway, and the Barcelona Cathedral. He left us to go do work and we explored a bit, then had lunch at a tapas place.

In the evening, we went to the opening ceremony of the conference. A bunch of my friends had spent last summer in Barcelona, in a study abroad studio, and all lefter after the opening to get food. But an another classmate who speaks fluent Spanish and already knew her way around the city took a few friends an I to a less-touristy seafood place. We ordered appetizers, a pitcher of sangria, and an absolutely fantastic seafood paella!

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The next day, we attended some presentations in the morning, then went to an open air market for lunch. It was bright and colorful, with vendors selling fruit, juices, pastries, and meats. One stand had samples of salsa and chips. Without reading the label, I took a scoop of salsa and popped it in my mouth. Then Logan told me the salsa was made with ghost peppers. They are very hot.

A few of us then decided to go see the Sagrada Familia (also by Gaudi) which is a very famous cathedral. There were no tickets available to go inside so we just looked at the outside which was quite spectacular.

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Instead of taking the sweaty subway back, we walked around the city and through the Arc d’Triomf park by the hotel.

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For dinner our AIB coordinator, a lovely man, made us reservation at a tapas restaurant. We didn’t have to order anything, they just brought s a bunch of pre-ordered tapas. All delicious.

On our last full day, we went to a presentation before lunch, then took a trip to Casa Batllo, a house designed by Gaudi. It was cool to see, but all the rooms were empty to make space for the tourists. And there were a LOT of tourists!

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Before the closing event and reception for the conference, a group of us decided to head down to the beach. I looked for cool rocks while a few people swam in the ocean.

In the morning, before heading out, Logan, Haoran, and I went with our AIB coordinator to a walk around the park. No one else came because they were all sleeping. Anyway, it was an enjoyable walk.

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Berliner Weekend

DAY 1

Last weekend, I flew to Berlin. We got in around mid morning and just walked around the city for a bit, not looking for anything in particular. We spend some rime in Alexander Platz. There was a festival going on with food and beer stands. I packed a sandwich but my friends got potato latkes, curry wurst, and schnitzel so I just bummed food off of them. There was a beer stand selling banana hefferwisen and Ned went over to order one. The vendors were chucking as they poured the drink and laughed out loud as Ned walked away. The same thing happened when Ben. He decided to go back and ask what was so funny, and apparently he told Ben that it’s a ‘girly’ drink. I thought it tasted gross. But I think all beer is gross. It was hot and muggy and I wished I had shorts on instead of jeans. After sightseeing, we took the train to our lovely Air BnB, settled in, then walked to the Rewe for groceries. Dinner was a feast of baked chicken, rice, and vegetables with cake for dessert. (Thank you to our head chef and sous chef, Logan and Ben respectively).

DAY 2

The next day, we headed out after a delicious breakfast to the center of Berlin. First we stopped at the Petersburg Gate, crossing over in to western Germany.

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Then we walked along an allee to a sculpture. I don’t know what it was called.

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We went to a design exhibit about the future of food which had a mix of real projects and satirical future solutions that mocked the current state of the food industry. Particularly funny was a theoretical project proposing VR (virtual reality) glasses for chickens so it looks to them like they are free range when they actually packed together in a dark warehouse.

After lunch. Well, I think we had lunch. We went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Experiencing this memorial was surreal because we discussed this memorial a lot in class (the design intentions and such) so it was interesting to see how successful the memorial was. It is supposed to be an immersive, isolating, and somber experience. Unfortunately, the memorial – to those who are unaware – looks like a very fun places to play and run around.

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DAY 3

Our plane didn’t leave until 9:25 PM on Sunday so we had plenty of time to see more things. We started with some Berlin Wall exhibits.

The East-Side Gallery
We walked down a portion of the wall that had murals done by artists after the wall had fallen.

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The Berlin Wall Museum
I honestly knew relatively little about the Berlin Wall and there was a lot of interesting information about the history here. There was  a portion of the wall sectioned off to show what it originally looked like with the inner and outer wall and the death strip in between.

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After learning all the depressing stuff about the Berlin Wall, we went to an exhibit called “The Topography of Terror” which detailed the events of World War II and Hitler’s rise to power because we wanted to be even more depressed. But honestly, it was quite interesting, although hard to swallow.

After being sad all day, we got dinner at an Irish Pub, then headed to the airport. Check in was a breeze and we set up camp at a little table near our gate. We played the card game Saboteur for a while and waited for the information for our gate. Finally, we got our gate and had to run all the way down the terminal to get to it. But right as we arrived, they announced that our gate changed to one that all the way back where we had just been sitting. Then our plane got delayed. And delayed again. We didn’t end up boarding until 11:30 pm.

A Hike Across the Rhine

Hi! This post was originally written on September 21st but I have been too lazy to post it. Enjoy.
Last weekend,  we went hiking to some castles and ruins. We took a ferry across the Rhine. The ride was short but the ferry captain was very friendly!

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It took us an hour to find the trail. We accidentally wandered into some industrial war house complex and a private residential road before finally finding our way. By the time we got there. My Fitbit had already reached 10,000 steps! I had assumed it was some small trial though the wooded mountains but it actually much more touristy. A wide, paved path started straight up an incredibly steep slope and we were all out of breath. Our first stop was a castle. We thought about walking around the grounds but we had to pay an entry fee. We hiked some more. The trail took us into the woods an by a tall rock mound that looked like a good place to stop for lunch. The next stop was at Drachenfels Ruins. The ruins were overrun with tourists but the view of Bonn was magnificent.

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We ran into two there friends and continues hiking with them.

At one point along the path we found a grove of apple and pear trees so we picked a bunch for snacking.

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Finally we sat down at the biergarten at Petersberg Hotel. It was relaxing and I ate some pretzels.

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The week was busy with class and excursions. On Wednesday we visited a museum exhibit about play structures which was really interesting! AND we got to play!

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Yesterday we walked around Köln for class, then went to a youth orchestra concert that was a mix of western and Indian music for Beethoven Fest.
Right now, I am on a plane headed for Berlin for the weekend. I am sitting in the very front and had to store my bag in the overhead for takeoff. I forgot to get my headphones out so now I must wait until we are in the air.

Aachen Site Visit

For the last three days (Monday through Wednesday, actually) our team of heroes has been in Aachen doing a site study for our studio. Aachen is a town on the border between German and the Netherlands. Literally a tiny scoot across the border is the neighboring town of Vaals, in the Netherlands. The history of the border itself is also quite interesting , although I can’t recall anything off the top of my head. Our site is focused on a main street that runs through both towns.

Looking toward the Netherlands side from Germany

For our site study, we had to observe, photograph, and sketch the place and choose something about the site that we wanted to investigate further. I chose graffiti after two days of indecision. Anyway, we stayed at a nice hostel by the train station. Some people enjoy having trains go by at night but these trains were not chugging, but screeching and whining across the tracks. Luckily, we walked so much every day that falling asleep wasn’t too difficult.

We spent a lot of time on site.

On Wednesday morning, we hiked to the three countries point where Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium meet.

Here I am sitting in all three countries at once

We also played on a playground which was quite fun.

In studio on Thursday, we had to compile all our photos and notes we made about our chosen focus and pin them up for a classic longer-than-Zoe-can-pay-attention-for group critique. I sat on the floor for some of it. There was a wide range of focuses from colors and textures across the site to the location and types of trash found and what that says about the area. The pin-up actually looked really cool because it was a jumble of loose paper instead of a finished board. This, however, did not detract from how long we had to sit there.

My pinup

Farms, Forests, and Fairs

This will be brief because I have to get up at 6:00 AM (It’s currently 12:14 AM but I’m not tired yet). Anyway, here’s the low-down on the last few days.

On Thursday, we took a day trip to Andernach, a permaculture town. It has a farm to generate revenue and it’s super neat.

They call the downtown area the “edible town” because there is an area where they grow produce that is available to the public for free. Here is a picture of it. It’s in an old moat.

Also, all throughout the pedestrian area are planter boxes with edible herbs, flowers, and such. Pretty swanky. At the end of our tour, they provided a nice spread of foods that were produced using the farm we had toured! It was delicious!

Friday was our first “Independent Study” day where we are free to travel or do whatever we like. A group of us got together, rented a car, and drove down to the Black Forest for a little camping trip. (Shout out to Ben for driving there and back because no one else knows how to drive stick). It was nice to sleep in a tent while wearing less than five layers of clothing (Which is what happened in Iceland). We had trouble finding a good place to hike on the first day and ended up wandering around some logging roads which were still pretty cool. Rain poured down on us for most of the afternoon but cleared up before the hike finished. Honestly, the woods looked a lot like Pennsylvania. Like if I saw a picture of where we were hiking and someone told me it was in PA, I’d be like, “Yeah, ok”.

There were more deciduous trees than I thought and it was also not quite as dark. Germany prohibits any camping not on a designated camping site so we stayed at a cute little campground that was reminiscent of Iceland. There were bathroom and a dish washing station and a covered table for gathering. OK I’m getting pretty tired, I will finish this tomorrow…

Hello it is many days after “tomorrow”. I was in Aachen for a site visit but that is a post for another day.

After our hike we played on a really fun playground and in this fountain that we think was spring fed and felt very cold and nice on our gross, sweaty feet.

In the evening we played some cards, then went to bed.

The next day we packed up an headed to another part of the forest, saw some beautiful vistas and interesting things along the trail, then decided to pay nine euro to walk along a super high boardwalk and up this crazy wood spiral structure.

Pretty crazy.

On Sunday, Logan and I went to this big festival held biannual across the river in Bonn called Pützchens Markt which is a huge festival with tons of food and carnival rides. The rides were expensive so Logan and I jut ate a lot of food instead.

“It’s an Honor to be a BONNer”

Today was my third day of classes. I have now spent 5 full days in Bonn! I haven’t gotten lost yet but I have successfully used public transportation and said “excuse me” and “Thank you” in German. I love walking through the plazas with cool cobble stone and paving patterns and past random, old and interesting buildings that have turned into restaurants and shops.

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Classes are going well, but it doesn’t really feel as much like class since the schedule is different every day and we are “out and about” much more. The AIB “campus” is a few buildings and an enclosed courtyard that we hang out in during lunch or between classes. My abhorrent sense of direction makes it difficult to orient my self anywhere but I am slowly seeing familiar places and remembering turns. We spent Saturday after we arrived just walking around the city. Exploring and what not.

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On Sunday, we went to a festival. Some of my friends are staying in the neighborhood in Bad Godesberg called Muffendorf. It’s an adorable medieval-looking town with cobble stone streets and half-timbered houses. They have a festival called Muffinale in the street with food and music and shops selling their things. The tiny streets were crowded with people!

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Monday was the first day of classes. Class was uneventful, although it was exciting to be using the train to go somewhere (We hadn’t really used it much before now). Afterwards, we went to the HARIBO outlet and bought a butt-load of gummy bears.

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Today (Wednesday), we did a biking tour through Bonn. I thought that 17 students trying to navigate a foreign city on bikes would be a disaster but it actually ran pretty smoothly. We biked along the Rhine on both sides of the river and stopped at various places to rest, play on the playground, and eat paid-for ice cream. It was very hot and sweaty but overall quite enjoyable.

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Bonding in Blankenheim, Meet the Parents

Now time to get back to the real world. We flew from Keflavik into Frankfurt where we were picked up, along with some other Penn State and Texas A&M landscape, and driven to Blankenheim for a “bonding” weekend. We had a big delicious barbecue cook out and then walked around the city. It’s a quaint Medieval town with cobblestone streets and half-timber houses.

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Also, our hostel is a castle! So cool!

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The next day, we did some bonding activities at the hostel and other meeting stuff about important things. In the afternoon, we did a high ropes team building course. I don’t have any pictures of that but it was pretty fun!

On the last day, we hiked around in a National Park in Belgium.

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After our hike, we got back on the bus and were taken to AIB in Bonn, where all our classes will be. There, we had some introductory talking stuff. It wasn’t that exciting of course but they had drinks and food for us. Then, our host parents came to pick us up. Everyone was nervous and excited to meet their host families. We milled around in the courtyard, waiting eagerly to see the next person who walked through the door. One by one, my friends were picked up and taken to their new homes, until only Haoran and I were left.

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Not too long after this picture was taken, we got picked up by our host dad!

Our house is in a quite neighborhood. From the balcony, you can see mountains and castles. The family is wonderful! After we unpacked in settled in (each in our own rooms) we were invited to have dinner with them!  We talked and I impressed them with the amount of food I could eat. Then it was time for bed!

Iceland, Day 5: Bed at Last!

Today we are driving to the AirBnB in Keflavik since our flight to Frankfurt leaves so early tomorrow morning. There were no set plans or stops, except in Reykjavik so Ben could return his tent and buy an Icelandic wool sweater. However, still determined to sit in a hot stream of water somewhere in the mountains, Ben found a place along our route to achieve his dream. Getting out of the car at the parking lot of the Boiling Springs trail head didn’t really make we want to strip down in a bathing suit. Wind and rain gusted across the mountains and we were all shivering. Still, we pushed on. The hike there was tiring on the steep terrain. With my short legs, I struggled to keep up (as is usually the case). Steam peeked from behind distant ridges. Eventually, we made it over the ridge and down into the geothermal valley. Passing through boiling pools and thermal vents, the hot spring came into view. Dams along a portion of the stream allowed the water to pool deep enough to submerge up to you hips. A board walk followed the stream and had changing dividers in a few locations which protected you from other people but definitely not the wind. We claimed an area of the stream and changed as fast as we could. Wet wood froze our feet and putting on our bathing suits, still wet from yesterday didn’t help. Dressed, we made a mad dash to the hot spring. It was definitely hot. We had to move  because it was too hot, but found a bit deeper area where the cold and hot streams were mixing and just sat and looked around.

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Getting out was almost more painful than getting in. The rain had slowed but it quite windy.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. We didn’t stop anywhere since it was overcast and rainy. In Reykjavik, Ben returned his tent and then went to the Handknitting Association of Iceland for sweater shopping.

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Logan and Ben both bought sweaters.

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We made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

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Iceland, Day 4: Black Sand and Hot Spring Disappointment

We did a lot of driving today. Before leaving our camping spot in Skjol, we stopped at Geysir, the original geyser. Logan and Ben didn’t see what was so great about it but when it erupted right as we rounded the bend, they decided it was worth the wait to see it go off again. We didn’t have to wait long though. After a few minutes, it erupted! This time we were ready with cameras.

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Today was a long day of driving, heading from Thingvellir to Reynisfjara and then to a camp ground an hour west of there. Our plan was to first stop for a hike to the Landmannalaugar Hot springs but the road leading to the trail head was uneven grave and required a larger vehicle to safely drive on the road. Our little rental was not up for the challenge. Plus, Iceland doesn’t allow rental of a 4-wheel-drive vehicle until the age of 24. Disappointed, we had to change our plans. We backtracked an hour and instead went to the Secret Lagoon, the oldest pool in Iceland, naturally heated by hot springs. There was an entrance fee but the experience was definitely worth it. Plus, showering before and after was required and we hadn’t had a real nice shower at all during the trip. The hot spring felt so wonderful. A decent number of people waded slowly around or floated on pool noodles. After a nice swim, we got a fish and chips lunch from the snack bar. We just sat for a bit, enjoying the warm sun and the fact that our feet were clean.

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Next stop: Mýrdalsjökull Glacier! The weather shifted from sunny and warm to cloudy, windy, and rain on the horizon. We drove down a winding road toward the glacier and hiked down the trail, hoping to get close to it. A rope prevented anyone not with a tour from getting all the way up to it but we still got a pretty good view.

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And, when we were ready to be out of the wind and cold, we got back in the car and continued the drive south the the Black Sand Beaches at Reynisfjara.

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Dinner was at a hostel restaurant along the road. Our Icelandic meat soup and bread was delicious and so reasonably priced that we splurged on salads as well! That evening, we camped in Hamragarðar. From our tent, we could see four waterfalls!

Iceland, Day 3: To Thingvellir

Today we drive to Thingvellier national park. Of course, we had to make a few spontaneous stops along the way. First was this waterfall.

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Svodofoss. In the backgrouund, you can barely make out the the Snaefellsjokull Glacier.

 

We also saw Kirkjufell Mountain, which is (I think) one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland, according to our map.

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And across the way was Kirkjufell Waterfall which was pretty cool but quite touristy.

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The Icelandic indie music playlist Ben downloaded for the trip perfectly fit the road trip montage-esque experience of driving through the vast landscape.

In the early afternoon, we arrived at Thingvellir National Park. It seemed funny how a certain part of Iceland was designated as a National Park when the entire island looks like one. We parked, got out, and started down a well-maintained gravel path. The landscape here was much scrubbier than the lava fields we’d been driving through. Our first thought was to see one of the more famous waterfalls in the park, but the falls was crowded with people. They waded into the stream, sat on the rocks, and some were smoking. It wasn’t particularly pleasant so we decided to just wander around on the paths.

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Part of our hike took us through the Almannagja Gorge which is the divide where the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates split.

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After a long day of hiking, it was dinner time. Unfortunately, finding dinner proved to be a difficult task – as least for three stingy college students with high metabolism who’s meals for the day consisted mainly of bagels and peanut butter. We found a few places but they were all pretty pricey. Eventually, we just drove to Skjol campsite where, luckily, there was a little restaurant. We all ordered fish and chips.

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No longer blinded by hunger, we set up our tents. Evening was setting in an we thought that it would be a good time to go see one of the most famous waterfalls, Gullfoss. Even with the fading light, the waterfall was spectacular.

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