Monday, April 29, 2013

Eurotour Part Two!

So after Copenhagen, the tour headed south to Germany where we stayed the night in Bremin, without seeing anything and then made our way to the Netherlands.

The Netherlands was probably my favorite country we visited on the tour. I loved the country side, the people, the sights, and I loved Amsterdam. We stayed one night outside of Amsterdam, exploring a clog factory and a cheese factory, (which was like heaven for me, because I had eaten so much gouda cheese on exchange it was better than the chocolate factory) we tried many free samples of cheese and looking back, I regret that I didn't buy anything because it was so delicious, but it gives me a great reason to return to the Netherlands.

This is a wall of cheese, I am pretty sure that Heaven looks a lot like this. 

So the day after that we visited Amsterdam, which I think is probably the most beautiful city I have ever been to. I loved all the canals, the water, the houses and pretty much everything about the city. It was my favorite city that we visited in the tour. We took a boat tour from the canals, which was beautiful and a great way to see the city. We also went to the Anne Frank Hus, which was incredible to visit. After visiting all these famous places where history happened, it is so strange to stand there and imagine that so and so many years ago, something big happened there. I have experienced this every famous place I have gone to.

Right before we visited every big city or place, we were able to watch movies about or taking place at the spots, which was really nice. We watched Anne Frank before Amsterdam, Moulin Rouge and Midnight in Paris before Paris. Marie Antoinette before Versailles, and Romeo and Juliet before Verona. It is always really cool to watch a good movie and then visit where it was filmed the next day. Although the Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet was not filmed in Verona....

The night after Amsterdam we stayed in a city in between Amsterdam and Belgium. This hotel was the nicest that we stayed at, probably because it wasn't right next to a big city. I remember this being the best hotel from the trip, but not much else.

The next day we woke up, clambered aboard our dearest busses and then made our way south into Belgium. We stayed in Brussels for several hours, seeing the famous places in down town, and eating inexpensive but rich waffles that eventually made me feel like I wanted to hurl. It was really awesome that as we made our way south, the prices of things steadily decreased.

Nothing like being a total and complete tourist....

The best part of Brussels though, was seeing Manequin Piss, which is the statue of the little boy peeing, which I expected to be a lot bigger, but it was still pretty awesome. 

After a guided tour and some free time to gorge on chocolate and fruit covered waffles, we boarded the bus again and left Belgium, traveling South to Paris. As sad as we were to have spend less than a half a day in Brussels, everybody was anxiously anticipating Paris. I was especially....

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Eurotour Part One

The Eurotour started with a night over in the ferry to Stockholm. This was a late night and early morning, mostly because all the exchange students wanted to spend time together. Fortunately I had been on the ferry once before back in November so it wasn't a new experience for me, so I didn't need to explore the entire ship. Getting up at five in the morning the next day wasn't a great experience but we managed to get up and get to breakfast and enjoy the beautiful view of the fjord into Stockholm in the morning.

I had been to stockholm in November, but it was very dark, so it was my first time seeing the city from a distance in the light, and it was beautiful! Unfortunately our tour didn't include much of Sweden so as soon as we got off the ferry our bus drove us south and we were at the southern most point by Dinnertime.

Sweden from the Road 

After Dinner we took another ferry to Denmark, which was only about an hour, and enjoyable until the end of the ride when Monica and I got lost and well....I don't like to think about that...

We took the bus to Copenhagen where we found our hotel, then in the evening we went to Tivoli, the world famous amusement park. Our entrance to the park was paid for, but the rides were expensive, and I was a cheapskate. So I didn't go on any of the rides, but I had fun exploring the park and taking pictures with a fellow cheapskate. The park became absolutely gorgeous after the sun started going down (the sun going down actually shocked us because we were so used to the finnish sun setting very late, and we weren't even that farther south, but it sure seemed like it). We spoke a lot of finnish when we were going through the different shops, which was a lot of fun, because we knew nobody would understand us, except maybe the other exchange students in the park. 

The next day we got a guided tour of the city in our buses. This was a great way to see the city, stopping and getting out at the famous places, and we got to see a lot. I finally saw the little mermaid statue, whose fake statue I have seen in the Copenhagen Airport every time I have had a layover there during summers I went to Norway. I was really happy to see the real one finally! 

For some reason we decided to make a pyramid....

We found the statue that was a part of the latest season of the amazing race and we had a lot of fun posing next to it and realizing that the amazing race was here! We actually found a lot of places the amazing race was during our whole tour, and since we are travelers ourselves, everyone's a big fan of the amazing race.

We were in Copenhagen on June fifth, which happens to be their constitution day (kinda like our July 4) so all the danish flags were flying and everyone was inside at home enjoying their day off, so the city wasn't as crowded as normal. 

Later we had some free time in Copenhagen before we drove in the bus some more and got on another short ferry ride headed for Germany!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top Ten Moments of Eurotour

Eurotour is a trip that Rotary Youth Exchange Finland offers to all the inbound exchange students, and there are about 90 spots open for first come first serve. But it is an optional trip and costs an arm and a leg. I of course could never pass up such an opportunity so I paid and signed up as soon as I could. So at the start of June I set off with 87 other exchange students, two buses (with two bus drivers), two chaperones and four rotex (former exchange students from finland that actually did the chaperones' jobs), I think the chaperones just went along because some people might frown upon sending 87 exchange students across Europe with hardly any adults, so Rotary provided the bare minimum, two adults that didn't really do anything.

I was lucky because the actual tour started in my city of Turku. Other exchange students who lived on the other side of finland had to take ten hour trains before the tour even started, whereas I had to take a ten minute drive from my host parents. The tour started in the evening, so I invited some of the arriving exchange students to my house for the day, since the needed a place to hang out for several hours before the tour started.

The beginning of the tour was actually the overnight cruise to stockholm (which resulted in very little sleep for me that night), so the meeting place for the tour was in the ferry terminal, and it was such a great moment seeing all the exchange students that I hadn't seen since the Lapland tour in December. We had such a great time even in the first few minutes of fooling around in the ferry terminal waiting for the start of the tour.

The next two and a half weeks spent on a bus cruising around the continent was probably the best two and half weeks of my life. Before I get into great details about the whole trip I have created a countdown of the best and worst moments of Eurotour.

10 The complete lack of sleep we got on Eurotour (worst)

Every morning we got up mad early, which was absolutely awful. It wasn't that we always got into the hotel late either, because we always had plenty of opportunity to sleep in the evenings, but of course we stayed up late nearly every evening. Both my roommate and I (she was Monica Weller, whom I have mentioned before, and I have a link to her blog on the side) had a lot of trouble getting up in the mornings and sometimes we would try and go back to sleep even after our wake up call. Once we did that and then I woke up in what seemed like a minute but I looked at the clock and shot up, saying "Monica, the bus leaves in ten minutes!" We didn't get much breakfast that morning... Fortunately, the bus rides were long and we had plenty of time to catch up on our sleep then.

Trying to catch up on sleep

9 Spending time in Hotel Rooms (Best) 

Every Night Monica and I would spend a lot of time our Hotel room fooling around, a common guest in our room was our friend from Mexico, Sebastian, who you see in the above picture. Monica and Sebastian were probably the people I spent the most time with on the tour and we had such a great time every night.

Our Hotel Room in Paris, Sebastian, Me and Raphael, and Monica is taking the picture

8 Getting Lost in Copenhagen (worst)

This is definitely a moment I would like to forget....While getting off the ferry in Copenhagen, Monica and I took a wrong turn and got lost, with nothing but a camera, no phone or numbers or anything. This was definitely one of the worst ten minutes of my life. We got yelled at when we finally found the bus, but I was more relived than anything, and when we finally got on the bus, everyone cheered and clapped for us, because we'd gotten lost (and been the first ones to do so, since this was the second day of the tour).

7 Things we do in Austria (best)

My three hours in Austria makes this list because it was one of the first times during the tour which I spent with Sam, the other exchange student from my school and we had become such good friends over the year, and throughout the tour we hadn't spent much time together, so we got separated from some others in Austria, and went off to have lunch, and we found such a good deal on lunch too! Three Euros for a gigantic Schnizel Burger, which was awesome!

The burger was seriously the size of my head!

6 Getting Sunburned in Monaco (worst)

I hate sunburn...and since I have such pale skin, I always need to have sunscreen on if I am in the sun for even a few minutes. The day we went to Monaco, I didn't really think that we were going to be in the sun for all that long, and boy was I wrong...Advice for everyone..if you have pale skin and planning a trip to the french riviera, pack sunscreen, and never forget to apply! All of my shoulders were sunburn, except for the strap marks from my shirt, which were very clear...

It was horrible...

5 Speaking Finnish and Confusing Everyone (best)

Because Americans have somewhat of a reputation abroad, some of the other americans on the trip decided that we would try to speak finnish to each other sometimes, and it was a lot of fun, because it was basically a guarantee that nobody would understand us. Later on we actually used it for safety because in the big city of Paris, we didn't want people to understand us when we were talking about where we were going and what we were doing. 

4 The Paris Subway (worst)

Since Paris is such an expensive city, our hotel was somewhat cheap and not in a very good neighborhood of the city. The first night we were in Paris, it was our job to get back to the hotel on our own, using the subway. Since we went to the top of the Eiffel tower in the evening, it took us several hours, and we weren't on the subway back to the hotel until one in the morning, and this was before we had realized that we shouldn't shout to each other what stop we are getting off at in english, so there were some very suspicious people on the subway that caused us to start speaking in finnish, and eventually we had to get off at a different stop then we had originally planned because we were so paranoid that some of the people on the subway were going to follow us. This was moment was tied for worst moment of the trip with getting lost.

3 The Bus Rides (Best)

Some of my favorite memories from the trip are actually from the bus rides, which were spend talking, sleeping, laughing and every other great thing you can do with some of the coolest people in the world. The two buses on the trip had a great rivalry, which was so much fun, and in the end some of my best friends are those that I spent time with on that bus. The bus became our home and our fellow eurotourers became our family.

1 and 2 Saying Goodbye (Best and Worst)

The last night everyone on the tour got together to say goodbye. It is a custom for the exchange students that are soon leaving (such as me) to give gifts to the australians that came in January and are only had-way through their exchange. Usually these are goodbye gifts and come with lots of hugs and tears. This time wasn't any different. In the end when we all sang a song to the Australians, I seriously burst out crying in the first line of the song and couldn't stop. This was followed by many more tears and hugs with my fellow exchangers. I knew that I wouldn't be seeing a lot of them for a very long time, if ever. Saying goodbye to these people is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. All these exchangers will always be my family. 

I look back at Eurotour with so much fondness. Every now and then when I accidentally open my pictures from Eurotour, I get sucked into all the memories until I have looked over every picture twice. I love talking to all my friends from the trip because we could gab and gab about the trip forever and never run out of things to talk about, or even if we did run out of things to talk about, we would never get bored talking about it. I think that Eurotour has been the best part of my life and always will be. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The End of my Finnish School Experience

I realize that I haven't posted in a long time, but here I am again, I have been meaning to post since I have been back in the US but I have been busy (I am also a member of the world wide Procrastination club!). After being back in the states for so long my english is most definitely better than it was when I last posted, but alas my finnish has dwindled! Which makes me sad to the end of the Earth. 

I will start with where I left off. 

The last several weeks of my time at Luostarivuoren Lukio were some of the greatest in my life. But these great weeks were draped in sadness of the knowledge in the back of my mind that I would soon have to leave all that I knew behind and return to that place I "lived" in before I truly lived. 

There is nothing worse than a goodbye. 

The last weeks of school I spent a lot of time by the river with my friends, enjoying the spring/summer, and admiring how green everything had suddenly become. I also became OBSESSED with Eurovision...To this day I am still disappointed that Sweden won...

I had to do a couple short speeches in finnish for my school and for Rotary. The speech for Rotary was long, but I wrote it all myself, and surely enough I had many grammatical errors, but I didn't want anyone to correct me, because I wanted Rotary to know that it was MY finnish that I was speaking and nobody else wrote my speech for me (because I know a lot of exchange students who did that in the past). I wore my beautiful (and heavy) Rotary blazer while I presented and I talked about everything from my trip to Estonia to how I though the rain was exciting when I first arrived. I was so depressed when I walked out of that door afterwards, because I knew it was my last Rotary meeting, and I was so sad at the thought of no longer being that club's exchange student. And of course I would miss the delicious food every Tuesday. 

My speech for my school was a little different. Different in that I cried many times during the writing process. It was late at night and my emotions were high and I couldn't bare the thought of leaving behind all these wonderful people that I have met! I would miss everything about it like to the smiles I have gotten from people I barely know and the waves on the street from friends I talked to six months ago, but we still wave whenever we see each other. It hurts me to think about the idea of no longer being the center of attention as the strange and shiny toy from another country that everybody asks questions and is so friendly to. 

Thankfully I managed to not cry during my speech, because that would have been a bit embarrassing...I actually made a lot of people in the room laugh with a couple of the jokes I made, which was a great moment because finnish audiences are the hardest to present in front of. 

A bit grainy photo of the three exchange students in Luostis 2011-2012

Ykis paras asia tapahtuu minulle koulun viime viikkossa. Robin, Suomen Justin Bieber, mene luostarivuori ennen lukio (middle school) ja lounsassa yks päivä mä nähdän hän ja minä juoksin hänelle  ja kysyäin englaneksi "Can I have your augograph??" ja hän sano "Mitä?" ja mä selitän että mä olin vaihto-oppilas, ja hän antoi mä hänen allekirjoitus! Best moment of my exchange right there...I set out from the beginning of my exchange saying to my friends "I am going to get his autograph or else I am not going back to the US". It was kind of symbolic that it happened in the last couple weeks of school. 

One of my last finnish school lunches...My friends were embarrassed that day that I was taking pictures of my lunch..but that's what they get for being friends with the exchange student 

I should also note how obsessed I was with the Finnish hockey when the world cup was in Helsinki. It was amazing watching Finland play, I loved it so much, and I died a little inside when they lost and Russia won...that seriously killed me a little. It was a bit scary when Sam and I were in town on the day of the USA-Finland game and we were wearing our american flags and everything, just to be trolls. But then USA lost and everything went as planned. My host father did threaten that I would sleep outside if US won that game...Was he serious? We will never know....

My host parents gave me the job of baker for my host brother's graduation party, which was the day after school got out. That meant 200 pulla. All before 12:00. Being the cook that I was, I demanded of myself they be fresh, so I would make them the same day. On top of that, it was the day I left for Eurotour, so I invited several of my friends from all over finland to come to my host brother's party (since we left in the evening) They came over and it was all a good time. Although it was one of the most busiest mornings, I really enjoyed making 200 pulla because in the end, I can say that I made 200 pulla in just four hours. 

That was the day I had to say goodbye to my very good friend Winnie from Taiwan, who would be leaving for Taiwan when I was on Eurotour. It made me very sad to say goodbye, but I plan on making a trip to Taiwan in the not-so-distant-future, so who knows when I will see her again! 

That evening I left for my Eurotour, which was, as I expected, the greatest two and a half weeks of my entire life.....

more on that soon.....