Monday, June 29, 2015

IBI Update: Paris, France

Paris, France

I was coming into Paris as an expert. Ten years ago, I visited the city with my mom and sister for four days sooooo, I knew what I was doing. I knew of a museum or two and that the city is huge, something anyone who's read the city's Wikipedia page could also tell you. 

Ok so we had a few planned items - boat ride on the Seine, bus tour of the city - and then a full free day in the city. On the partial day, Jorje and I got off the bus near the Opera House then took the Metro over to the Champs Élysées where we promptly got soaked and it was miserable. After strolling through H&M (something that's happened in every city), we split a pizza then went to see Jurrasic World in 3D in  one of the nicer theaters I've ever been. The movie provided English language adventure and stalled until there was a beautiful, post-rain Paris. We walked to the Eiffel Tower, saw it light up at night, then were late to check-in students as we got lost on the Metro.

But that was one of the few times we got lost on the Metro and we used it a lot. 10 times to be exact. It's intuitive and gives one a feeling of being very cosmopolitan when mastered. We hit some of the other hot spots: Notre Dame, Musee D'Orsay, Sacre Coeur, Versailles, and our personal favorite, the Latin Quarter complete with boutiques and restaurants geared towards visitors but not filled with cliches. 

I loved returning to Paris. It's elegant and refined and the people were friendly and welcoming and I could use a few French words. 
First Aid Kit

Jorje had the brilliant idea to go to a concert on one of our later nights in Paris. First Aid Kit is a Swedish folk duo that we've listened to a little bit but wouldn't count ourselves die-hard fans but the draw of a concert while abroad was too strong to pass up. Openers Stealing Sheep was a great all famale pop group. Catchy hooks and infectious personalities. Great openers. 

First Aid Kit is two young women in their early twenties touring their second LP. Beautiful harmonies, white lace dresses, very sweet and charming, with a drummer and slide guitarist. They're chock full of talent and it showed. Though they had two backing musicians, they carried the sound and when they performed an unplugged song, their voices were totally on point. The concert venue was some strange circus tent place called Cabaret Sauvage in a remote part of town but it was perfect and we were close to the stage and it was a great evening. 

Up next: Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Friday, June 26, 2015

IBI Update: Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland
Among being the home of the Red Cross and neutrality, Switzerland is a very wealthy, and thus, expensive country. Our spending money didn't go far and our accommodations were the most "scary hostel" (though really a college dorm) of the program thus far. One plus, we finally did some laundry and reveled in clothing that wasn't suitcase smelling. Oversll, Geneva was a very nice city to visit, albeit one of our shortest and packed as well. We had two visits, the WTO and Nestle, and a day trip to Chamonix thrown in to a three day stay. I also realized how nice it was to recognize some of the language. My years in high school and college French classes are still paying off when I can say four phrases and read signs. But for real, it's nice to know the panguage a little bit.
The city of Geneva is situated on Lake Geneva so there's a beautiful view along the water. They have their famous massive fountain which is only sometimes on (we only saw it once, from a distance). Across the street from the lake is Prada and other stores too expensive to actually shop at. Their old town is on-point and, during our stay in the city, there was a music festival happening so there were lots of people out and 6-7 stages set up. We hit up the festival two of our three nights there catching a DJ mixing his own beats, a French-speaking rapper, along with a number of mediocre acts. The festival was situated around the Reformation Wall area/park. It was a cool experience, attending something we would attend if living in Europe but not necessarily a purely tourist thing.
Vevey, France
On a corporate visit to the Nestle headquarters, we drove to nearby Vevey, France. Wedged between hills of vineyards and Lake Geneva / the French Alps, Vevey was incredibly picturesque. We only had a few hours there but it was stunning and Nestle's corporate offices would probably be a contender for the most beautiful place to work in the corporate world.

Chamonix, France
We took a day trip to this little mountain town because, well, Mont Blanc. The city was cute and had plenty of shopping and eateries but we were pretty stoked to take a cable car to one of the peaks. As has been the case for much of our time in mountains, there were clouds obstructing our view of anything. But it was still crazy scaling the cliffs and standing on a little structure built on a rock wall. I'm realizing that I'm now more afraid of heights than in my youth (I should be a dad) but it was cool to say we went to the top. There were a bunch of people parasailing and climbing the snow-covered mountain ridges, but we stayed safely on cable-cars and coach buses.

Up next: Paris, France.

Friday, June 19, 2015

IBI Update: Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck has a quaint feeling to it. It's located among Austria's Alps with the mountains always visible except when exploring the pastel painted old town buildings along the Inn river. Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and '76 and we actually stayed at an Olympic training facility sandwiched between a stadium and practice fields and rinks. A ski ramp was visible from our room. Not bad. Except for the wi-if and the one drunk woman who hassled us on our last night.

The fist half of our stay in Innsbruck was dominated by Jorje getting violently ill. Whether it was a 24 hour bug or food poisoning, it was pretty awful. But we had time to stay in bed for a day and I appreciated the rest and Jorje was grateful it didn't hit while riding the coach bus. Then a student got similarly sick and another student thought he might have broken his foot playing soccer. So we took a little field trip to the hospital and everyone turned out to be ok, just needed liquids and ice, respectively. Also, the students payed hardly anything for the excellent medical attention. Socialized health care!

Jorje and I were able to explore the town a little bit but it was pretty rainy throughout. We took a cable car to the top of a mountain and saw nothing. But the town was pretty and had a Northern Europe vibe to it that I was all about.

Our one corporate visit was to Swarovski to visit Crystal World, the equivalent of Hershey World in PA or Coke's museum in Atlanta. EXCEPT IT WAS A MILLION TIMES COOLER. Crystal World had fifteen or so exhibits indoors that out-do almost any modern art museum I've visited. Everything from dancing animatronic legs to crystal installations to great use of neon. Then the park portion had a five-story playground (inclusive of adults), a cluster of crystal trees over a reflecting pool, and a garden maze. All this was surrounded by mountains and you should go as soon as you can.

Next up: Geneva, Switzerland.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

IBI Update: Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

As usual, I've got a bunch of other Prague posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the #InterHATionalSummer hashtag.

I've heard from a number of people just how cool Prague is. It has a bunch of cultural significance being the home of Franz Kafka, influential cubist artists, and a thriving music scene to this day. It's a city that survived WWII and came out of communism with buildings intact and an economy and culture ready to engage in the developed world. The city fulfills every European fantasy as far as cobble stone streets and beautiful architecture but then also has a weird, off-kilter edge that satisfied my modern self as well. From a visitors standpoint, the city revolves around the river and the Charles Bridge (pictured above). The winding city streets are confusing but add to the charm of exploring the city; while we may have walked in circles a couple times, we also found a few uncharted streets each time we ventured into town. 

As for our visit, we were staying on the north side of the city, up on a hill near a castle and monastery. We were easily able to take a tram in and out of town which was helpful because my skinny leg muscles about died after footing the trek back the few times we did. The whole group received a tour of the city and the students visited nearby Stanley Black & Decker and heard from a marketing exec. during our stay. It was a full week but Jojette and I are still very much enjoying our time with the students. Prague did provide us with our first trip to the hospital for a student visit but all is well and antibiotics were acquired.

Jorjette and I owned the town on our free days, walking some crazy amount of steps (a FitBit counter would have been good for walk-bragging). The daily struggle is staying hydrated for all the walking without drinking too much because you never know when you'll find a bathroom and who even knows if they'll have change for your cash. Anyhow, we hit up one of the National Museums (New Building with exhibits on Death and Noah's Ark), the Grand Orient Cafe (the first cubist building), the Museum of Modern Art,
 took pictures in front of the John Lennon graffiti wall, climbed the Starom Radnice tower and Petrim Observation Tower, and fit in lots of strolling - or in Jorjette's case, power-walking - the streets. 

There were a few areas that were given over to tourists but many of the streets were just authentically wonderful and perfect for exploring. Due to its location in Central Europe, the city wasn't too expensive and the people were friendly. I loved Prague. You should go. Or I'll go again or whatever. 

Up next: Innsbruck, Austria.

Friday, June 12, 2015

IBI Update: Heidelberg, Germany

It's my intention to post once for each city we visit on this summer's two month long trek around the world with business students from Messiah College and other various CCCU schools. I'm slow to post on our first stop but hope to get into the swing of things soon. Also, sorry for the mundane nature of these blogs; I'll try to liven them up as much as possible but no promises. 

Heidelberg, Germany

For live pics and snarky comments, check Instagram and Twitter. And Facebook will house full photo albums.

For those unaware, Heidelberg is a medium sized city located in a valley alongside a river. It's known for the overlooking crumbling castle, old town area, and it's plethora of universities - most notably Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany.

While I believe the city gets a lot of visitors from the neighboring countries and is home to many college students, I don't think it is necessarily a destination for many from outside the country (besides us, of course). Jorjette and I explored the old town a number of times, toured the castle along with the students, and obviously made it to their zoo but otherwise we mostly spent our time adjusting to European life.

European (and city) life includes but is not limited to:
  • Lots of walking. 
  • Paying for bathrooms.
  • Paying for water.
  • Drinking better coffee. 
  • Eating ice cream every other night.
While the city was very pretty, it was also very hot. Deterred by the heat, we spent multiple mornings in bed adjusting to the time change and avoiding the heat. That said, most of our time revolved around finding places to eat. Due to the college crowd and number of tourists, there were many options in addition to the traditional German though we did get schnitzel and bratwurst in order to not get harrassed by others. One last thought on Heidelberg: it is a very dog friendly place. If you would like to vacation with your dog, Heidelberg approves. There were dogs everywhere and Jorjette was happy. 

As for our students and role as program coordinators, we have a fantastic group of 41 students. No major issues as of yet though a few "free-spirits" that are fun to round up when on tours. In Germany, we had one corporate visit to Deutsche Bank but otherwise we have devotions in the mornings, the days to ourselves and hold nightly check-ins with the students to verify they are alive. We've got a pretty good gig on our hands.

We're still going strong and excited for what's to come. Prague update next!