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Okay, so I am back. Two AMAZING months of traveling across Europe is over (tear) and it is nearly time to settle back down to study, and also time that I updated everyone on what has been going on. Please note (I am warning you in advance) this is a LONG post!

I left Sweden in early June, saying a very sorrowful farewell to all the friends I made over the previous 6 months, (most of whom are not staying on for the September semester) and flew to Edinburgh. I don’t think I can really explain the degree of excitement that gripped me. In fact, the only thing surpassing excitement was fear that I wasn’t going to make the plane! As usual I had overslept, which is what happens without my wonderful mother present to ensure that my life stays on track (ah the joys of independence!).

Edinburgh at first glance bombards its visitors with plaid kilt shops, blackened gothic architecture (I’m not sure if gothic is the correct term as I know nothing about architecture) and Scotch whisky. While I loved Edinburgh as a city there was definitely a lot more to Scotland. This small country was one of my favourite spots, possibly because it was my first stop, but also because I was lucky enough to see more than just the tourist snapshots. Particularly enjoyable was a wildlife tour I took on one of the islands in the Inner Hebrides, on which we were able to spot otters, red deer, seals, golden eagles, sea eagles and many, many other bird species. I think that an acknowledgment of the variation in natural environments present in countries I visited was a really special part of my backpacking experience. Everyone goes to the cities to get the necessary photos, (which I did a lot of as well, e.g. The Eiffel Tower!), however, I began to find quite quickly that each city is very much like the last? With the sheer number of tourists, and exorbitant prices that characterise most of the continents major cities, it was very difficult to feel that you are actually in a different country. Oh well, I suppose that is globalisation for you....

Anyway, from Scotland I went to Ireland to trace some family routes, and was also exposed to some absolutely magnificent ancient megalithic structures at Bru na Bionne (outside Dublin). However, what I will always remember from Ireland is just the overwhelming kindness of the locals. I have never had people go out of their way to help me and make me feel so welcome before. Even bus drivers and shopkeepers!

I next popped back to England to visit Bath and live out my Jane Austen fantasies. Bath is a truly beautiful town and a good base from which to tour the surrounding sights (unfortunately, no Mr Darcy appeared however). Of course, I had to visit Stonehenge while in the area, but as people have told me before, the standing stones at Avebury were far more impressive (even if they don’t look as good on a postcard). After some country relaxation it was time to hit up London, and fulfill one of my life dreams... to see Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre. I was lucky enough to be in London on the closing night of Macbeth, and was treated to an amazing performance, which brought to life the creative works of this great man in a way that I hope I will never forget. Oh, what I haven't mentioned yet, is that for my 2 ½ weeks in Britain/Ireland I had only about 4 hours of rain! Can you believe it? I actually got incredibly sunburnt in Scotland... but that is what comes from spending 6 months in Sweden I guess?

After squinting over the heads of tourists at Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, I moved on to craning my neck to see the elusive Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris (very not-worth-it in my opinion, except for bragging rights of course, which is all that matters, hey?). I did love the Eiffel Tower however. The views of Paris from the top were spectacular, even if the queue was a bit of a pain. The most wonderful thing about France though is the cheese. I love cheese, and you can buy a good goats cheese from the supermarket for about 30 euro cents (well it was on special!). By this stage of the trip I was thoroughly looking forward to getting out of the cities (Dublin, London, Paris), in fact I think I said that I never wanted to go to a city again, which is why I by-passed most of my previous plans for southern France and headed straight to the mountains.

The Jungfrau region of Switzerland got the #1 position as my favourite place in Europe. My eyes felt entirely saturated with views of the dramatic landscape 24/7. There was not a single second when taking a photograph, would not overshadow those taken almost anywhere else on my travels. It was really that beautiful. I just stayed in some small villages and did a little hiking for a couple of days, and also visited Jungfraujoch (The Top of Europe) which was very cool. Some key things I will remember from Switzerland are the multitude of alpine wildflowers coating the mountainsides, and the movement of the clouds. At that height, the clouds seem to come up from the bottom of the valley to engulf you. They are so thick and so rapidly changing.

Next on my list was to sing along with the Sound of Music in gorgeous Salzburg, Austria (again a lifelong dream), and then head off into Slovenia.

Ljubljana was very interesting, and undergoing many modifications when I was there. The surrounding suburbs bore sharp contrast to the art and restaurants of the capitals centre, being mainly rough farmland. Lake Bled however, was equivalent to the "Palm Beach" of Sydney. Slovenes and tourists flock to this stunning fresh water lake to sunbake and bath in the constant party atmosphere.

From Slovenia, I made an unexpected detour to walk Via dell’Amore in northern Italy. This hike takes 4-5 hours and joins 5 small towns on the coastline between Rioggamiore and Monterosso. The scenery is beautiful and the humidity suffocating. From 11am to about 5pm it was impossible to do anything else apart from swim in the clear Mediterranean and chow-down on gelato – a very tough life for a tourist! The landscape was quite unique; very mountainous and yet also extensively cultivated with vineyards. In fact, I thought it must a land degradation disaster zone...The towns were perched on rocky outcrops, filled with narrow, twisting alleyways, fresh food markets, and pastel-coloured terraces which crowded on top of each other like overly boisterous siblings. I thoroughly enjoyed my short experience of Italy, except for the trains (they do not quite run with Swiss or Scandinavian efficiency yet); however, the heat did make me wonder how I ever survived in Australia? The only explanation I can think of is that Sydney must be far less humid?

Anyway, I then had a 36-hour train journey to meet up with my wonderful friend from Australia in Prague. We both experienced extreme “cultural immersion”, staying with a family friend of hers in rural Czech Republic for 5 days. Our education included the eating of native berries, drinking bush tea, learning Czech folklore in a fairytale garden, touring the many wonderful castles and having a traditional Czech BBQ at our hosts’ holiday cabin. This was truly an enlightening experience. We then spent a couple of days in Prague, before heading to Germany.

Munich was our first stop, and definitely one of my favourite cities. The culture that surrounded the town was vibrant (beer halls predominantly) and the historical sites such as Dachau Concentration Camp allowed reflection on past mistakes. We then went a little native and hung around the Black Forest for a number of days, a spot that I would really love to get back to in the future. Public transport was limited, and as such, many of our outdoor plans were foiled through not being able to rent a car. The last stop with my travelling companion was Berlin. Completely different to the Germany we had seen up until that point, Berlin was rough and yet modern; a city on the cusp of two vastly different time periods. The shopping was as fantastic as people say, the graffiti visually appealing and the carefully integrated memorials were effective in evoking reflection without pressing past problems upon current residents working to make a better “new” Berlin.

From Berlin I caught the only night train of my journey, up to Sweden to visit Lund University (where I had considered studying) and then headed to Oslo. Strangely, just passing through Sweden felt like coming home. I felt I could breathe, and be safe and comfortable in the knowledge of “how things work”.

I love Norway. It is beautiful. Some of the nicest train journeys I had were zigzagging across the country through pine forests, past fjords and deep lakes. Oslo is a carefully manicured capital, which inspired admiration if not comfort (particularly due to the hefty prices). I enjoyed visiting the relatively new opera house, which is strikingly similar to Sydney’s in the use of alternative architectural concepts, the town hall that displayed stories from Norse mythology and the Vigeland sculpture park. I stayed the following few days in the small town of Voss (famous for artesian Norwegian water), from which I was able visit sognefjorden (spectacular) and catch a small glimpse of Bergen between rain clouds. After a brief look at central Norway, I then finally headed back to my beloved Uppsala.

I really had a fantastic summer. I saw sights and experienced events that I had never even dreamt of, nor would have, had I not had the opportunity to come and study at Uppsala for 2010. I am now looking forward to another wonderful semester, which I will be sure to fill you in on as I go!

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