Tibet – Days 5 and 6

Tibet - Days 5 and 6

Sorry it’s taking me so long to write, I’ve been really busy here in Beijing. The photo above is of me and my friend Carina at our beautiful campsite, seriously amazing! And also just a quick update on Beijing, which I’ll write more about later! We just started classes this past week, which have been really fun but very challenging. We have about four hours of language class a day and are on a language pledge. Beijing is a really cool city that I can’t wait to explore more of! Today I move into my home stay, which is nerve-racking but exciting! Wish me luck! Anyway, this post is about Tibet! So here it is!

Day 5

“Today was one of my favorite days so far here even though four or five hours of it were spent on a cramped bus. Even the trip itself was an adventure. We drove up a really steep and windy road that was, in my opinion, really not meant for a bus as wide as ours is. To add to this complication, our bus driver is completely insane. So let’s just say I was definitely not soundly sleeping while we were passing cars on the wrong side of the road next to treacherous cliffs. Only at one point, though, did I legitimately think we weren’t going to make it. The driver passed a truck on the left while another car was coming towards us on the right. I don’t know how, but we were able to squeeze through the opening just before the car heading towards us hit us. After getting to the top of the mountain, we were able to see the most beautiful lake I have ever seen – in English, it is called the Turquoise Lake, and I forget the Tibetan name. After stopping there to take pictures, we went to lunch at a small place named Yam Dork Yak Restaurant (English in China can be a little off sometimes/most of the time!). Literally all we have eaten since we’ve gotten here is Yak! Then, as we approached the campsite, the road was under construction, but as it is Tibet and there are evidently no driving laws, we went on it anyway, waving to construction workers as we went! The campsite is SO beautiful. In the afternoon, a large group went to a nearby nunnery, but I really wanted to hike the mountain next to the campsite – so I did that instead. The mountain was really steep, and the altitude of about 16,000 only made it harder, but I made it to the top and the view was amazing! I don’t know what place could possibly top this.”

Day 6 – 8:30 a.m.

“I just want to reflect really quickly on my first night camping in Tibet – definitely an experience! A humungous thunderstorm passed over, and literally shook the ground throughout the night. This wouldn’t have caused any problems, except for the fact that I left my stuff in the alcove in between the tent and outside, and realized half way through the night that some of it was probably getting wet – which it was. It turned out not to be a big deal, but it made for a restless night! Also, some people, including my roommate Sabastian, have started suffering from altitude sickness. So far so good for me, but we’ll see!”

Day 6 – 10:15 p.m.

“Today has been a very interesting day. After breakfast we started our drive to our new campsite. On our way we stopped at two beautiful scenic locations. The first was a spot on the Himalayas, which was the highest altitude that we will reach during out trip – over 16,000 feet. Then we stopped at was described to us as an artificial lake, which turned out just to mean that it was created by a dam, which was also beautiful. Later in the day, we arrived at the second largest city in Tibet, called Gyantze. We went to a monastery with a very unique Stupa that was built in the early 1400s. From there we drove to the Gyantze region’s security checkpoint, where we needed to get permission to camp. I’m starting to realize that traveling in Tibet without Tibetan tour guides would not only be hard, it would actually be impossible. We then started to drive to the campsite, but stopped when the roads became impossible to drive on (they had seemed impossible to drive on to me for about fifteen minutes, but our driver put forth a valiant effort!). It also looked like it was going storm. Our leaders then made the decision to return to the city and stay in a hotel, which isn’t as luxurious as it may sound, but was still nice to get a shower, although cold! So a lot of traveling again today, but we’re getting to see a lot of different aspects of Tibet rather than just the city life in Lhasa.”

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Tibet – Days 3 and 4

Tibet - Days 3 and 4

Here are my entries from days three and four in Tibet! The picture above is of me and my friend Chelsea in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

“This morning we first went to the Potala Palace, which I am able to remember the name of because I keep thinking Portabella (as in mushroom) palace. The Potala Palace is probably the most famous ‘touristy’ place in Tibet. It is seriously spectacular, and holds so much Buddhist significance. It honestly doesn’t look real. After seeing this palace and the monasteries the other day, I’m starting to realize how deeply religious Lhasa and Tibet in general are. Everywhere you look people are wearing traditional dress or carrying around prayer wheels, meant to accumulate karma. Also in the center of Lhasa is the most important Tibetan Buddhist Temple, considered the Mecca of Tibetan Buddhism, suggesting that every Tibetan Buddhist should visit it once in their lifetime. We paid for tickets to get inside and coincidentally got to see a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, which apparently can only be seen on rare occasions and is very significant in Tibetan Buddhism. So in summary, what’s been my most striking discovery of the day is the deeply religious, and specifically Buddhist, sentiment evident in Tibetan culture.”

“This morning must have been the most insanely crazy morning I have ever had in my life. We woke up at 5:00 so that we could go to the Yoghurt Festival, which only happens once a year. It turns out, to all of our surprise, that there is no yogurt at this festival, but is rather significant for its religious value. This “festival” takes place at one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Tibet, and the significance of the festival is based on a large tapestry with the image of a Buddha. As cool as the actual scenery and Buddhist significance was, however, the clear stand out of the morning was the absolute insanity and chaos of the crowd. Thousands upon thousands of people all climbing a mountain (literally, climbing!) is something I have definitely never experienced before. I also stood out more there than I had ever stood out before, as I was the only one tall enough to see above the crowd! There was security everywhere, but as much as they tried to control the people, no one listened. They ended just being there to make sure people didn’t fall off the cliff, rather than making sure they stayed on the path. Insanity is seriously the only word to describe it, and even that may be an understatement. The rest of the day, as we were all so tired, we just walked around Lhasa and hung out. It’s been great getting to know everyone – it’s a really good group of people.”

Tibet – Days 1 and 2

Tibet - Days 1 and 2

The picture above is of me with my friend from Amherst Chelsea (on the left), and new friends Carina and Keila on the Lhasa Kitchen balcony overlooking the city!

So we just got back to Tibet and it was absolutely incredible! The scenery was amazing, the culture was shockingly different, even from Beijing, and the experiences we had were unforgettable. And since we had so many experiences, I am definitely going to have to do more than one post on Tibet. Since we are back in Beijing and about to start orientation activities, though, I won’t be able to make videos for the posts. So, I was thinking I would just do a write-up and a picture. I hope that at least gives everyone a taste of the trip!

While in Tibet, I kept a journal so that I would remember everything that we did and what I was feeling at the time. So I figured for my entries onto the blog, it would be most interesting to copy down what I wrote at the time.

Day 1

“Today was our first day in Tibet, and if I thought Beijing was foreign, this is a whole new world. People stare constantly at us, and me especially. I frequently hear “gao,” which means “tall,” or “laowai,” which means foreigner. These people seriously have no shame! One man even came up to me and very obviously measured his height in comparison to mine. I’ve also caught a few people blatantly taking pictures of me. To start from the beginning of the day, my roommate and I overslept and therefore arrived to the bus 15 minutes late, which ended up not being a big deal. The airport, as one should expect in China, was insanity. Lines aren’t a concept here, people just push and shove until they get to the front. Because we’re foreigners, we were the optimal people to cut in line, so it took us especially long to get through security. We did make the airplane, but only just in time. When we arrived in Lhasa, I could immediately feel the altitude change, as Lhasa is about 14,500 ft. We were picked up by our tour guides at the airport, and given Katha, which resembles a sash and is a Tibetan Buddhist way of saying welcome. Otherwise, we just hung out today, had two authentic meals (which consisted mainly of Yak meat), and went shopping/bargaining in the market. Bargaining is really interesting, and requires a certain amount of skill that I have yet to acquire, but hopefully it will get better! One last observation for today: the security in Lhasa is crazy. There are police literally everywhere we look. We have to go through security screenings whenever we enter the main square because I think the Chinese are worried about self-immolation – they pay particular attention to lighters. We’re not allowed to take pictures of them, and if we do, they’ll yell at us and come over and watch us delete it. They definitely seem to be more worried about people who look Asian though, because when we approach security they usually just let us through. It’s been really interesting so far, I’m excited to keep observing everything!”

Day 2

“Last night, I suffered some from the altitude, but not nearly as much as some people. Yesterday a lot of people had headaches and felt sick; I haven’t had any of that, but I did have trouble breathing. But anyway, today was really fun! We left the hotel at 10:00 a.m. and visited two monasteries and a nunnery. We ate lunch at the nunnery, which was simple but still good. To get to the first monastery, we hiked about an hour uphill with amazing scenery. We got to witness the monks and nuns chanting scripture, which was interesting. It was kind of awkward walking two inches in front of people so focused on Buddhist study – I felt like I was intruding. At the second monastery, we witnessed monks debating, which was interesting but only remained interesting for so long as everything was spoken in Tibetan. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and then went to eat. And let me just say, everything is incredibly cheap here – it makes me eat a lot more! My meal would be converted to about $7.00, and that was expensive! It included, soup, a meal, dessert, and bottled water. Tomorrow we get to see Potala Palace, which is probably the most well known aspect of Tibetan culture. I’m excited!”

I’ll hopefully post about days three and four in Tibet sometime soon!

England

I wrote the following post from London, but I couldn’t get internet so I am now posting it here from Beijing! The flight wasn’t so bad and I made some new Chinese friends. Also interesting, there were several Chinese Olympic swimmers on the plane with me who apparently won medals, which was very cool! Anyway, here’s my post on England!

I would like to credit my mom for giving me the time to write this blog post. Without her, I would not have been instilled with paranoia about airports and arriving on time. And without that paranoia, I would not be sitting in London Heathrow Airport 6 ½ hours before my flight leaves. Air China isn’t even open yet! But no worries, it will give me a chance to write (hopefully) a good blog post!

Ok, so this past week was spent with my friend Peter, who, like Melissa, I met at camp last summer. This trip was much less touristy than my month with Melissa, but I definitely still feel like I got a solid British experience.  The first couple of days were spent at his parents’ house in Brighton, which is in the south of England.  Last summer at camp, our friendship was based on our love of competition (that’s a nice way of saying that everything we did we really just wanted to be better than the other). So, naturally he wanted to play British sports that I had never played before so that he could beat me – I guess he has to win at something every once in a while! Anyway, we played croquet and a version of cricket, which were really fun. While in Brighton, we also watched a lot of the Olympics.  It’s incredible being in the host country during the Olympics.  Everyone is really paying attention – everywhere you go you hear people talking about how Team GB did that day. It was also interesting for me to listen to the British commentators. You don’t really notice that commentators have a bias towards their home country until you listen to commentators from another country! For example, they would interview a British runner who finished 5th before an American runner who got the gold (a result I am proud to say is happening frequently!).  Near Brighton was also the Leeds Castle, which we visited one day. The castle was amazing, but the grounds were even more striking. They were incredibly expansive, and included a maze (which took us way too long to figure out).

After those two days, we drove up to Bristol where Peter lives during the school year.  On the way (after what turned out to be a good wrong turn!), we stopped at Windsor Castle, where the queen lives at certain times during the year.  We weren’t able to go in because it looked like they were expecting someone important to show up, but it was still cool to see. All through this time, I must say, I had been eating really good food, most of which (I say “most” because we had Burger King a couple times) was British.  To be honest, I can’t really remember the names of some of the dishes, but the simplest (and probably my favorite) was the fish and chips.  One of the advantages of traveling with Peter is that he is from England, making it easy for me to see how the culture actually is. I could see it through just hanging out with him and talking, through listening to conversations he and his friends were having, and through going out and meeting all sorts of people. I really enjoyed getting to see and culture from more of an inside perspective.

The last (and probably the most memorable) thing that we did was we (Melissa was back with us at this point) went to the women’s gold medal Olympic soccer game, which was made even more incredible by the American victory.  The game was in London, and you’re probably expecting me to talk about all the great things I saw there also. Well, I have some bad news – we didn’t quite get to that!  We had planned on walking around London during the day before the game, but we took a wrong turn on the train that added four hours to our travel time! Not our plan, but still a fun day just hanging out. I guess I’ll just have to go back! Anyway, the game was the most widely attended women’s soccer game in Olympic history (80,000 people), which made for a great atmosphere. Also, we had really good seats – only 40 rows up right behind the goal. I personally have never felt so patriotic in my life. There were American flags everywhere (and I had two myself!).  It’s amazing the feeling of pride that the Olympics can give to you – people from all different places cheering on their own team in a (usually) friendly competition. I’d never really felt the power of the Olympics before that experience.

So to wrap up this week, I had an amazing time. It was great to see Peter again, and hopefully next time I visit he’ll have figured out the British train system so we can go back to London! But in all seriousness, it was a wonderful experience that I won’t forget, and I’m really appreciative for his hospitality. Next stop for me, Tibet! I leave tonight at 8:25 London time and arrive in Beijing at 1:30 in the afternoon tomorrow their time.  After a two-day orientation, we’re off! Sadly (for those of you nice and interested enough to read the blog) I will not have a computer with me in Tibet, so this will be my last post for the next two weeks. But next time I post, I assume I’ll have some pretty cool things to say!

Vienna Wrap-up

The part of the my travels with Vienna as a home base is coming to a close, so I thought I would make a video to help remember all of the amazing experiences I have had so far. I would like to first thank Melissa for inviting me to come and stay with her family. Not only was she great at planning our trips and working out the details, but she was also a really fun friend to share every experience with. Also, I want to thank the Salzmann family for letting me stay at their house over the past month. It’s not easy having a guest in your house for such a long time, and they were always so nice and welcoming. My European adventure, however, is not over! Tomorrow, I leave for London and ultimately Bristol in England to visit my friend Peter, who I also met working at camp last summer. I’m looking forward to an amazing time, and I will update again in about a week with a bunch of new stories to share!

Salzburg 2 – The City

Like I said, Salzburg was an amazing city. There are so many things to see, but we had to squeeze as much as we could into about a day and a half. Friday evening, we went to old town and went to Mozart’s birthplace, which has been turned into a museum. It was really interesting to not only see and learn about where he grew up, but also to see the actual instruments he played and some of the music he composed. As it turns out, Mozart is not the only aspect of the city that is musical. We were actually there for part of the Salzburg Music Festival, in which there are several performances. We even witnessed a showing of an opera below the fortress, which was pretty incredible – there were people everywhere and the opera was very good (not that I know anything about operas, but it seemed good to me!). After paragliding on Saturday, we went back into Salzburg and went up to the top of the fortress, which was amazing. I know it’s hard to compare the two, but I couldn’t help but notice the similarities and differences between Prague and Salzburg. Prague is obviously much bigger, but the uniqueness and the consistently old quality of the architecture really stuck out to me – there were no modern buildings in either city, at least not that I noticed. Also similar to Prague, Salzburg is extremely touristy, so it doesn’t really have it’s own distinct culture when it comes to the people – the culture is much more evident in the buildings and the history. One thing I liked better about Salzburg was the beauty surrounding the city. Every direction you look you see the Alps, which was seriously mesmerizing. That night, we ate dinner at the fortress, which as you can see in the picture in the video, was beautiful. And, despite the 40-minute wait for soup and then another 30 minutes for our meal, we had a great time relaxing in such a nice atmosphere. Sunday morning, we went back to old town and saw some of the sights from the Sound of Music. I think my mom and I watched that movie at least 1,000 times, so as I saw some of the places the scenes definitely came back to me. It was very cool to actually see in person those places I’d seen so many times on screen! Lastly, we visited St. Peter’s Graveyard, which must have been the most elaborate graveyard that I have ever seen. As you see in the pictures, each gravestone was very ornately decorated, and some even had their own area that was fenced off. All around I think I may have enjoyed Salzburg the most out of all the cities that we’ve visited – it had everything: beautiful scenery, rich culture, and paragliding. What could beat that?!

Salzburg 1 – Paragliding

This weekend, Melissa and I went to Salzburg, which was probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. Not only did we do a lot of cultural activities and explore the city itself, but we also went to a town called Werfenweng to go paragliding. Now let me just say heights are not my favorite thing, but when Melissa suggested it, how could I say no?! A chance like this, especially in such a beautiful location surrounded by the Alps, was impossible to pass up. So, I did it, and we videotaped the entire morning. We were planning on taking a bus from our stop off the train to Werfenweng, but when we got there, we found out we had misunderstood the bus situation. Because we arrived so early, however, we decided we had time to walk to the starting point. We were told Werfenweng was just 5 km up the road – it felt like much further than 5 Km, and we were right! We just looked up on Google Maps how far it actually was, and it was 12.1 Km or 7.5 Miles with about 1500 ft increased elevation from start to finish. Needless to say, we were tired at the end! I think it was worth it, despite our sweaty shirts! The views were amazing and it was a great way to explore the area. The experience of paragliding itself was not nearly as scary as I had anticipated. I actually calmed down when we got to the top of the mountain, and any last jitters I had before take-off were immediately gone once we were in the air. The flight was incredible. The views of course were amazing. Also, the simple feelings of being that high in the air and so free at the same time were surreal. In the video above, he’s actually letting me steer us! The experience was amazing, something I will definitely never forget!