Saturday, April 27, 2013

EUROTOUR 2013!!!

Has anyone slept for 16 hours straight without waking up before?  Probably that's a yes to those who've experienced one of the most thrilling trips of a lifetime: Eurotour.

So coming back from the Rotary-organized bus-tour with 48 Rotary Youth Exchange students, travelling for 12 days in 6 countries and 12 cities made me realize just how exhausting yet amazing voyages can be experienced in one's life.  Eurotour was certainly, one of the most incredible experiences spent in my lifetime.  (I've only lived for 17 years so far, but I know that I can say "lifetime" with no doubts.)
I returned home to join my host family for lunch and attempted to share my stories from Eurotour (which was super difficult because how can an entire trip be explained in one sitting?!)  Later that day, I slotted my camera's memory card into my laptop and found out that I took over 1500 photos and videos, thinking man, there's A LOT of time needed to see which ones to keep!  I was about to begin looking through them, but I was so tired that I crashed onto my bed at 2 pm, assuming that I would wake up before dinner time.

Except, that wasn't actually what happened.  Instead, I gracefully opened my eyes at an unknown time having absolutely no clue what time of the day it was.
It was that awkward time of the day where you can't determine if it's dawn or dusk.  Is it still Friday or is it the next morning?  I questioned, assuring myself that I probably just missed out on dinner.  But my mind didn't settle down simply as it ranted, but what if it's morning?!  I jumped in shock, imagining the possibility of having skipped dinner PLUS having slept through the entire night.  (As you can tell, I am the type of person who is a food-lover and cannot miss a single meal.)  No way!  No way!  No way!  I rejected in denial as I turned my iPod on to see the time.
6:04 am
Saturday April 27th, 2013
I froze.  The iPod screen blacked out.  My eyes widened almost freakishly and I immediately turned it on again.  It showed exactly the same time.  NO WAYYYYYYY!!!!  I shouted in disbelief.  I actually slept for 16 hours straight.  I sprang out of my bed to see if anyone was in the kitchen BUT... my fatigued (or rather lazy) body refused to move and I slumped back onto my bed to sleep for another two hours.  Vive les vacances.
I hope you now understand just how tired you become after a full-packed tour of Europe.  Anyways, here is where EUROTOUR 2013 (France) took us:


Quite a wicked trip, eh?  (Notice my Canadian accent?)  On a typical Eurotour day, we were on the road during mornings, arrived at the cities in the early afternoon, occasionally given some free time later that day and rested at hostels or hotels each night.
In any matter, here we go!

DAY 1:  PARIS & REIMS

The night before, I headed over to my Brazilian's friends house in the city of Chalon-sur-Saone, Bourgogne, to stay there for one night 'cause we were going to take a TGV train directly to Paris at 6:23 am the next morning.  So on Day 1, we energetically woke up at 5:00 am and arrived at the Gare de Lyon in Paris at 7:46 am.  Obviously we were a little tired already, but when other exchange students arrived at the station, we were ready to kick off into our awesome spring break trip.

After introducing ourselves to one another, we all hopped onto the bus - all 49 of us - and started to tour Paris, the city of lights.  Since it was my first time in this most-visited capital of the world, I was so exhilarated!


My Brazilian friend and I enjoying English Breakfast tea at the train station
Exchange students from across France filling up the bus ♪
(Funnily, there are no guys in this photo)
The Place de la Bastille: where the Révolution Française began.
Jardin des Tuileries, a beautiful garden designed back in the 17th century;
a taste of French aristocracy!
Le Louvre, one of the largest museums in the world housing the famous works like
Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and Venus de Milo.
La Seine, the river that flows through the heart of the capital.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris surrounded by petit street-side shops.
This type of boutique EVERYWHERE: It's a never-ending obsession.
L’arc de triomphe de l’Étoile: The gigantesque and Neoclassic monument
built under the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte,
the extremely influential and powerful emperor during the Révolution Française.
A must-see-thing in Paris:  Le Tour Eiffel  that was once hated by the French when it was constructed by Gustave Eiffel and his collaborators during the 1889 Exposition,
but now, one of the most iconic (well probably the most iconic) symbols of Paris.
(The jumping is a must-to-do.)
(And yes, the one with the bizarre pose in the air is me.)
Oh the Canadian love!
Two from Ontario, two from B.C., one from New Brunswick and one Albertan (me)

We only saw a glimpse of Paris since we headed towards our next city, Reims, around mid-afternoon.  I hope I can visit this city again!  Nevertheless, the first afternoon was a great opening to the trip as it involved lots of self-introducing and memorization of names.
___________

Reims is a city in the region of Champagne; I visited this region already during my first inbound week-end.  We only stayed there for one night and left early the next day, but we managed to visit the famous Cathédrale Notre-Dame.  The cathedral looked outstanding and a little eerie as it was illuminated against the pitch black sky.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims where several coronations of French Kings
including Louis XIV, the Sun King, took place.

DAY 2:  STRASBOURG

The bus drove us about 145 km east to Strasbourg, a city that sits on the French side of the French-German border that still keeps a lot of its German influences.  We were so lucky to have beautiful weather that day.



The dark-pink sandstone Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.
A magical and inviting little neighbourhood called La Petite France:  along its tiny cobblestone streets, there are Alsatian and Renaissance styled buildings
that survived wars between Germany and France.
Ate lunch at a super yummy Korean restaurant!! 
It was so nice to eat Asian cuisine and use chopsticks for once in a long time!!
Just a random photo that I took on the way to the restaurant.
Who has ever tried FOIS GRAS SUSHI???!!!!
The entire Rotary group went on a boat tour around the islands of Strasbourg
that are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites
With my American and Taiwanese friends :)
Four brave girls and I decided to climb the Cathédrale (remember the picture earlier?) which meant going up THREE-HUNDRED AND THIRTY stairs in circles.  I think these whirling stairs made us feel dizzy and go nuts.  Seriously nuts.
My American friend giving a bisous to a gargoyle.
Oh HOW romantic.

WE MADE IT!!!
The super team of five girls from America, Indonesia and Canada
The roofs here in Strasbourg are SO steep!!!
Our mission wasn't quite over until we treated ourselves to gelato!!


DAY 4:  NUREMBURG, Germany



During our long bus rides in the mornings, we stopped by gas stations, learning that washrooms aren't always free... (ranging 0,40 to 1,00 Euros!)

Nuremberg is one of the most historic cities in Germany, dating back from around 1050.  For example, the first Diet (the general assembly of the former Holy Roman Empire) was held here.  Also the Nazi rallies and the Nuremburg Trials that convicted people of crimes against humanity took place in this city too.

Where the dictator, Adolf Hitler, rallied his people under the principles of his Nazi propaganda.

It felt particularly weird to be standing in a spot where globally changing events took place.
Our bus tour also passed by Kaiserburg (The Imperial Castle),
the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds) and Justizpalast (the Nuremburg Palace of Justice).
All pretty fantastic!  I would recommend doing some research before travelling.

Apparently, 90% of the old town of Nuremburg was destroyed during wars, so recovering the remains was considered a miracle according to the people here.  Also in 2001, the UNESCO prize for Human Rights Education was won here for the first time in the world. I personally found it very intriguing about how a city with immense totalitarian background ended up being awarded with a world-renowned prize of human rights in less than a century.  I mean, who would have thought back in the early 1900's that this city was going to be internationally recognized for its humanitarian deeds?  Which leads me to think, what will the world's future hold in 100 years?  Would it really be what we are thinking now?


In front of St. Lorenz Kirche, one of the most beautiful churches in Nuremburg.
The people I met on this trip were so friendly! I love them all so much.
Some exchange students and I went to a cute café hidden on one of the islands, and Hannah, from the US, and I ordered a black forest cake and an apple strudel!!
Mmm, European pastry is so good. Try it all!

Here's my South Korean friend next to me.  She was so kind, super funny yet really wise too!  Also she's very talented at singing!!


DAY 4 & 5:  PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

This city was originally separated into five independent towns: Staré Mesto (Old Town), Nové Mesto (New Town), Josefov (Jewish Quarter), Hradcany (Castle area) and Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter)I was lucky enough to see each neighbourhood, though spending a day and a half is no where near enough to reveal the capital's true richness. 

Of course, making our lives very difficult, the currency in Czech Republic is not the usual  Euros but instead the Czech Korunas, Czech Crowns (CZK) or, as one of the funniest exchanger on this trip nicknamed them, "Czechle Dzechles".  So at times, it was so hard to judge whether or not items in gift shops were expensive, since 100 CZK equals approximately 3,98 EUR.

On the day we arrived in Prague, we did a walking tour in the Old Town.
Above is the astronomical clock which is apparently the third-oldest in the world (1410)
and the oldest one that still functions!!
Fun Fact: Exchange students typically wave at strangers.
We waved to a couple on the second floor who gave a kind wave back at us.
It seemed like they were getting a foot massage by little fish in a tank...  
I never knew such service existed!!
We passed by Josefov, the Jewish Quarter.
A Jewish community has been an active part of the city for centuries here.

The city is known to sell handmade marionettes!!
The next day was going to be a full day in the city but opposite the castle area side!!
The Vltava river and the famous Karluv Most (Charles Bridge)
On the bridge, Karluv Most, holding many statues, tourists, vendors and beggars.
Walking from the Old Town to the Lesser Quarter, the eighth statue on the right is called
St. John of Nepomuk which gives good luck or a return visit to Prague if you touch it.

The next morning in Prague was a lot more easier than the other mornings we've had so far because we didn't change hostels (which requires packing)!!

At Hradcanské námesti (a square) in the Castle area, enjoying the view of baroque and Renaissance buildings and where the film Amadeus was filmed (replacing Vienna)
Cathédrale Saint-Guy (Cathedral St. Vitus) that contains tombs Bohemian kings
and Holy Roman Emperors.
Exchange students from the United States, South Korea, Taiwan,
Brazil, Japan, Colombia.
I don't remember what I was doing, but it seems like I was having a blast!
(This is what happens when you take too many photos...)
Crowds of people choking the entrance of Karluv Most
My Japanese friends and I at the top of the astronomical clock tower!
Really lovely girls; I'm so glad to have met them during this trip.

Front of the Tančící dům, known as the "Dancing House" or "Fred and Ginger"
in the New Town.  It's a glass and steel tower that twists against the other like
they're dancing together.


DAY 6:  VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Between Prague and Vienna, the distance was a hefty chunk of 330 km so we didn't arrive in Vienna until the afternoon, only leaving us enough time for a bus tour, which quickly passed by numerous tourist spots, and a ride on a Ferris wheel.  Despite of the short day and the gloomy weather, we all enjoyed this "City of Music", appreciating that Vienna was the birthplace of famous musicians such as Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss I & II.  Also, this city was where Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms and many other renowned musicians have come to work!  It is truly a dream city for musicians around the world.


The Austrian Parliament Building.

Gothic-styled Rathaus (City Hall).

REPRESENT!
In front of Hofbibliothek, a National Library containing treasures of books.
Mozart apparently held weekly performances here during a few years around 1782!

As a musician myself, a deep desire to witness one of these master classes 
burned inside of me when I saw this...


DAY 7:  LIDO DI JESOLO, ITALY

Vienna to Lido di Jesolo = 595 km = The longest bus ride = VERY TIRING

That was the only math (or call it 'logic') most of us did in our heads that day.  We left Vienna very early in the morning and reached Lido around dinner time.  At least I brought a pillow from my home back in France (though everyone funnily thought I stole it from a hostel), so I got very good sleep.

Singing karaoke during the long bus ride
Although we got to choose our roommates for each night (same gender of course), we didn't get to pick our rooms, so my Ecuadorian friend, Canadian friend and I unfortunately ended up getting a room on the top (5th) floor, making us haul our heavy luggage up the hotel stairs.  (Sadly, the elevator was not available... but I sure hoped that the climbing burned some of the Austrian pastries that I ate a few days ago!)  After getting to the top, we crashed onto the beds of our room, took a few seconds to breathe and relax, then immediately, we ran downstairs and headed straight to the beach!!!



Oh, the horror!
The beautiful Lido di Jesolo, along the Adriatic Sea.
The beach at last!!!
Canadians!!!  3, 2, 1...
JUMP!!!
Fooling around with my Sri-Lanka-Japanese friend ♫

The beach probably gave a home-coming feeling to some students in our trip as many of our Latin American friends live very close to their beaches in their home countries!  To that moment, I didn't clearly think about how each of our lives originate from such different places across the globe, letting us carry unique stories that no one else has.  It is cool how places give different meanings to people, even though we all see the same landscape.


DAY 8:  VENICE, ITALY



That morning, we took a boat from Lido and arrived at Venice for a morning walking tour through a sample of its 118 little islands, 150 canals and 400+ bridges. 

Some girls and I went for a gondola ride, the flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat tour
through some narrow waterways.
One of the three bridges that crosses the Grand Canal: the Rialto Bridge.

The Rotarian who came along the entire trip showed us where
Venice's Rotary Club meets: in a prestigious hotel!!
Rotary International is everywhere!!!

After the tour, my friends and I became extremely hungry so during our free time, we were determined to fine at the most typical Italian restaurant in the city (because who wouldn't?)  We ended up sprinting a small restaurant we passed by earlier, and here are some delicious dishes that we found on the menu:

The "Tagliatelle 'Alfredo' con pollo e funghi" attracted my empty stomach.

We were in Italy so of course, we HAD to eat pasta and pizza.  We were totally like those typical tourists shouting, "this is soooo good" and "try this, try that."  It was so delicious that we couldn't help ourselves from saying how good it was out loud.  It was such a memorable lunch! 



Bon Appetit ♥
JUST when we finished eating, there was a tremendous rain storm that literally
struck and poured through the entire city, slightly sinking those gondolas.

Thankfully, I had an umbrella to share with my Filipino-American friend, Amanda!
She was one of my best friends on the trip who I first met in Paris, but we actually had a story together that began way before this trip even began.
It all started off by my curiosity back in January about the probability of my blog showing up in Google search.  I typed the words 'rotary youth exchange', 'france' and 'blog' and what came up 5th on the list was not mine but another that was titled: La vie en Rotary by Amanda Flores.

Hm, don't know who she is, but why not give it a look? I asked myself.

So I began reading basically a stranger's blog, and got super glued to it!  It was such an interesting and humourous personal story about another Rotary exchanger who happened to be spending her year the same time as me!  I read series of her entries and even viewed a YouTube video of her Rotary speech, becoming amazed of how other students are involved in Rotary and living through their exchange.  However, my continuous reading came to the point where I felt so uncomfortable and creepy because I was literally stalking one of the hundreds of students in France who I will probably never meet.  Therefore, I gave up.


However after a few months, I saw her name again.  But this time, it was on a Facebook group page where all the Eurotour students were already contacting each other beforehand.  When I saw "Amanda Flores" in the list of members, I said to myself, wait... I've seen that name before. But where?  We didn't even have mutual friends, but her full name rung with familiarity in my head.  Suddenly in a blink, I remembered it all.

IT'S THAT AMANDA FLORES ON YOUTUBE!!!!!!!!  I screamed.

From that moment, I was physically spinning in my chair in front of my laptop, thinking that I will get to meet her in real!!  This was such an exciting moment for me not only because it's cool to meet someone who you first know on the internet, but also because it was HER!! It felt like we were destined to meet!!

Of course being very excited, I approached Amanda on Day 1 in Paris asking with a huge grin,  "Your last name's Flores, right?"

My conscience knocked in but a little too late, realizing what a creep I am for knowing so much about her already.  But Amanda's reaction wasn't bad, actually.  Instead she replied with a smile, feeling really happy to know that there were other readers of her blog aside from her own family.

And voila.  From that moment, we became life-long best friends.

_________

I wonder to myself, how is it possible to create strong friendships in such a short amount of time?  What is the difference of having a best friend from several years of high school and the other from a short, 12-day trip?  I asked myself this question in amazement.  But now that I think of it, it's probably the wonderful personality that people have, which pulls me closer to them.  In Amanda's case, she's an outgoing, super hilarious and very intellectual person; someone who I could spend hours talking about anything and she'd be there listening for me.  It's not only her, but as well, many other exchange students on the trip became my best friends too.

Anywho, back to the story of Venice; it was raining so much that Amanda and I stopped at an outdoor café next to the Rialto Bridge (that included a roof, of course) and sipped earl grey lemon tea together, gazing at the dribbling rain and people on the street side hastily popping their umbrellas out.  It was such a funny moment together, 'cause neither of us ever thought we'd spend an afternoon sipping tea right next to one of the most iconic bridges in the remarkable city of Venice.  An unforgettable occasion.  Our day was finely finished by getting lost in the winding streets and rivers, looking at a panoramic view of the city in the bell tower and heading back to Lido for the night.

Ciao, Venezia! ♫

DAY 9:  MILAN, ITALY

Milan is a city that is known for more of its chic European groove rather than a traditional and ancient Italian character like its big neighbours, Venice and Rome.  It appears that this city was captured and ruled over by almost every invader in European history like the Gauls, Romans, Austrians... so no wonder the city never settled down with just a one-faced personality.

My sweet Indonesian friend and I in front of the Fontana di Piazza Castello ♪

A child being devoured by a blood-thirsty viper is the emblem of the Visconti family
who ruled Milan from around the 13th to 14th century.

My American friend who I nicknamed Brioche Brianna while she calls me Désolée
(Get it?)  You can never get bored with her!
In front of the second largest church in the world, the Duomo,
with my friendly and warm-hearted from Canada.
Friends and I under the spectacular glass-roofed, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele,
one of the world's earliest shopping malls (plus a stranger whose existence wasn't realized until we saw this photo...)

In the northern apse, this mosaic of a bull brings good luck if
you spin on it's "delicate" part


DAY 10:  CHAMONIX, FRANCE

We left Italy by passing the underground tunnel of Mt. Blanc and drove past beautiful mountains which brought back memories of my home in the Canadian Rockies.   At noon, we arrived at the small mountain village of 9 000 people; Chamonix.

There, my Canadian friend and I decided to spend our free time taking a télécabine (gondola) to the Plan des Aiguilles which is a point located at 2317 m in altitude; twice the altitude of the village!


Downtown Chamonix.
We went up to where it's written in red, "Vous êtes ici"
At the summit, there is a very touristic Aiguille du Midi,
but it was priced 50 Euros (close enough to $50 dollars) for a round-trip!

Canada, we miss you!!
After our free time, everyone met up together and we all took a different cable car to the Mer de Glace: basically a glacier at 1913 m of altitude
VOILA!!  Now we had to take a lift down to a base and
walk further down to the glacier to walk INSIDE it!
Tunnel inside the Mer de Glace.
A fantastic view, but due to the rising global temperatures,
the glacier is unfortunately melting several meters every decade.

After we left Chamonix, we were able to enjoy the night at a small amusement park!
Above are the super five girls racing each other on go-carts.

This ride was one of my favorites!!  It swung, turned and twisted non-stop...
enough to make some of my friends feel like they were going to launch off into space.
Us after the ride... laughing in merriment


DAY 11:  GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
                  & DIJON, FRANCE


During the morning, we had our last guided tour at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva.  In my opinion, it was the best tour we've had during these 12 days because it was truly inspirational.  Inspirational enough that made Amanda (my American friend) and I get the idea that we might become colleagues one day here.
We went to see one of the conference rooms where there was a mic set for every couple of chairs, guessing that they're for representatives who would speak on behalf of their group/country.


Through my years of high school surrounded by plenty of education and career opportunities, I was never deeply enthralled by certain studies or schools.  I was lost.  In the sea of determinate students already making after-grad plans, career goals or at least having a picture of their "ideal future" in their minds, I felt very far behind.  I've had amazing work experiences and researched about some careers, but none of them really made my heart pound in excitement passion.  Actually, it's part of the reason why I chose to do exchange thanks to my career counselor who thought exchange would let me realize what future I want.

I am so glad to have chosen to take his advice and participate in exchange, because in this year alone, I've learned so many things that cannot be taught solely in classrooms.  I think something different yet sensational started to spur inside of me that morning at the headquarters.  I'm not completely sure yet, but I realized that I want to take part of something that involves with communication.  Environment.  Leadership.  Science.  Social issues.  Research.  Internationalism.  But you see, I'm not even sure how to branch these together!  My interests will certainly change again when I head back home in Canada, but I'm so grateful to find something to start holding onto finally.



After the tour, we had a some free time so my friends and I decided to save some money by eating at McDonalds (where exchange students go when they're broke) and walked along the pristine lake and the Jet d'Eau (water jet) that shoots 140 m high, enjoying the last full day of Eurotour.



DAY 12:  LOUHANS, FRANCE

Since my Brazilian friend (who I mentioned at the beginning of this post) and I live in the southern area of Dijon, we left the group early in the morning when they returned north to Paris to catch their trains that afternoon.  It was one of the saddest good-byes I've ever went through.  It was even harder than leaving home from Canada, because I knew that I would never meet everyone together like this again, while I would see my family and friends back in Canada.


Before I left the bus, my friends all gave me huge hugs as we hoped this process wouldn’t be too emotional.  Besides, I didn’t expect anyone to cry for me.  Despite the wide smile that I held throughout the entire time, I felt my friends shake during our embrace and I saw reflections of their tears falling down their cheeks.  From the instant that I knew that those tears were for me, my eyes automatically bawled rivers.  However, I knew my friends' tears were not signs of sadness or farewell.  Instead, they symbolized the lasting friendship and good memories that we shared on this trip.  No one ever said farewell, because we all knew very deep in our hearts that we’d meet each other someday, somewhere.  In return, my tears were filled with thank you.


Thank you everyone for this wonderful, unforgettable trip of a lifetime and I will never forget any of you and the priceless moments that we all shared.  Thanks to you, I now have numerous international connections and I am grateful to have such fantastic and brilliant individuals like you to be more than just my friends, but my family.  I wish you all a successful future, and I look forward to seeing you all again.

Merci beaucoup.  Je vous aime trop ♥

Sari


8 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your kind words about me! I hope you know that I don't consider myself extremely close to any other people my age unless I can sense they are equally as daring, intelligent, hilarious, motivated, and confident as I am. I already wrote (and doodled) you a 14 page message in your little notebook, so I won't say too much more, but do know that you were one of the best (and most unexpected parts of my Eurotour. :)

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    1. I love you so, so much Amanda, and thank you for filling so many memories into my notebook. I cannot wait till I can read it! I am so glad that I was able to meet you, and thanks for the kind comment!

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  2. Hey!!!!!!!!!!!! Love you so much and I love this post also !!!! There are all memories we had during the trip in this post !!!!!!

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    1. Hyesoo!! You are one of the best friends on this trip, and I'm glad that you appreciated my dedication for you. I miss you and your laughs so much!! We'll meet again for sure!!

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  3. Sari, what a trip you had! you will look back on this trip with very fond memories, and you have made some friends for life. You saw a lot of sights, but it sounds like you absorbed alot of the history and ambiance of the places you visited (i.e. pastries and cafes!). Glad you had so much fun....it snowed here today, and I am ready for spring. Really enjoyed your blog. Hugs, Janet

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Janet! Yes, I look forward to when I'll look back at these blog entries to appreciate the amazing times of my exchange. SNOW?! Oh my!! Enjoy the lovely flowers and warmer weather when they come!!

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  4. Super blog Sari !!! Continue !!!

    Nicolas

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    1. Thanks Nicolas!! I will for sure :D

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