Berlin

I cannot believe that Easter Break is over already and that we only have two more weeks left at St. Clare’s! Time is flying by and it is extremely bittersweet. While I’m so excited to be at home with family and friends (and tacos), I will really miss being abroad and being able to hop on a train and get anywhere.

Reflecting back on Easter Break as a whole, it is amazing to see how much better we’ve all gotten at planning trips and how we have grown as people. I’m super proud to say that we planned and achieved an incredible two-week backpacking trip all on our own!

Now, on to talking about¬†Berlin! My Amsterdam post will come soon ūüôā

Berlin

If you’re wondering why I have so few pictures from Berlin, it is because IT SNOWED while we were there. While I packed lots of layers, I did not bring gloves or a hat and therefore my hands were WAY too cold for photos. We toughed it out in the rain and snow and still had an amazing time!

Out of all the places we visited, we all agreed that if we had more time in any place, we would’ve picked Berlin. Our friend Alexa back at Elon gave us absolutely amazing recommendations (she was lucky enough to study abroad in Berlin) and she did not lead us astray!!

Unfortunately due to the way our travel and trip worked out, however, we had a very limited amount of time to explore and I already want to go back!!!! If you’re going to Berlin, definitely stay more than a couple days because there are an infinite amount of options. If you’re a student looking for a great hostel, stay in The Generator! It was in a prime location, cheap, and SO nice with a great lounge and bar attached!

Berlin caught my attention because everything seems¬†new¬†and¬†unique and¬†fresh.¬†It is still a city very much discovering its own identity – and it is so cool! After all, the wall was only taken down in 1989. I really appreciate how much Berlin accepts its history and keeps the important things at the forefront and refuses to acknowledge that which does not deserve to be. For example, Hitler’s bunker is unmarked while other various memorials lie throughout the city.

Here’s what we did during our limited time:

Day 1:

On Day 1, we were extremely exhausted and decided to take it fairly easy and sleep in, then head to the Turkish Market for lunch.

The Turkish Market is on the Eastern side of Berlin in a fairly Middle-Eastern neighborhood. The incredible smells draw you in and the views along the river are gorgeous! We spent an hour or so wandering through the market, snacking, and enjoying the weather (which would not last!)

Afterwards, we headed to the Jewish Museum. Learning more about the Holocaust and the history in Berlin is an absolute must. I definitely recommend the Jewish Museum. It is huge, comprehensive, and extremely well-done. The first exhibit focuses on making you feel in order to understand. As you walk through, the floors are sloped, everything is grey, and you feel uncomfortable. Subtle design choices really force you to think.

The museum itself is huge. We spent about 3 hours going through and probably could have spent even longer. Although we were not able to visit a Concentration Camp during our trip, I’m really glad that we got the chance to visit this museum.

After the museum, we were pretty much wiped out. We went back to our hostel for a short nap, went to a lovely dinner and explored the central historical city, and then got some much needed rest! Traveling sure is exhausting!

Day 2

Day 2 in Berlin is one of the most memorable days of the trip for me because of the free walking tour.

The three of us met up with a group right in the middle of the city to embark on a three-hour walking tour through the sleet and snow. In a way, these unideal conditions made learning about Berlin’s history even more real. I was absolutely blown away as we stood at the spot where Hitler shot himself (now a parking lot surrounded by apartment complexes), stared at a remaining piece of the wall, and got a glimpse of the reconstructed Checkpoint Charlie where the famous tank standoff occurred. Even though I had learned about these events in school, I was completely unprepared for the impact I would feel by actually standing there. Our guide did a fantastic job of keeping the group engaged and knew exactly how to set the mood at each “stop” along the tour.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews cannot be encompassed by photographs. While a bunch of ugly huge concrete slabs in the middle of a city might seem strange, the effect that one feels makes complete sense. Our tour guide stated: “The Holocaust is not easy to understand, so why should the memorial be easy to understand?” Quite simply, this memorial works because it¬†is¬†controversial. It is not a statue that you see and take a picture of, but something that you experience and then talk about. As you walk through this memorial, you are forced to walk in straight lines, almost like you are soldiers or maybe prisoners marching. When you are walking, you can still hear the eerie noises and sounds from the outside: children screaming and playing and cars zooming by. As you get closer to the center, the concrete slabs get higher and the ground slopes. Again, you are uncomfortable. Once you enter, it is impossible to find your family or friends until you exit on the other side. Finally, you may meet again.

This is something that¬†everyone¬†needs to experience for themselves! Our tour wrapped up in the spot where books were burned. Here lies the quote, “Where they burn books, they will in the end, burn people” – Heinrich Hein 1821, years before the Holocaust.

I am extremely thankful for my country, my ability to travel, and for freedom of press and speech. Let us not forget nor repeat history.

 

Germany Uncategorized

Prague

After much deliberation, I have to say that Prague is probably my favorite city that I’ve seen in Europe so far. I’m not quite sure what it is about the Czech Republic but we were all completely enamored. After hearing good reviews from our friends, we decided to book an Airbnb for 4 nights and I’m so glad we did!

Our Airbnb was a quick tram ride down the river from Prague’s Old Town. The public transportation in the area is absolutely stellar and SO cheap. I’m not sure if we have just adjusted to Oxford prices or if everything really is¬†that¬†cheap, but either way, we were happy gals. The 72 hour tram pass will only cost you about 11 USD and a normal lunch runs from 4-7 USD. Beer is cheaper than water in this town!

Day 1

On Day 1, we decided to orient ourselves in our favorite manner – a Free Walking Tour! As I’ve said before, this is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to get familiar with a city while getting some of the history in. I think that one of the reasons I love Prague so much is because of my Eastern European ancestry. Visiting has made me all the more curious to learn about my family’s past! Our tour explored Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. The tour guide did a wonderful job of switching the mood from light, to funny, to serious. She told stories about the horrors of the Jewish Quarter – where Jews were forced to live in the low, flooded, slums. Disease ran rampant and few jobs were available to them. The Nazi’s sent cars of Jews from here away to Poland where they were murdered and many children were left without parents. Now, you can tour a museum full of these children’s’ drawings expressing their emotions during these times.

Before the war started, Czechoslovakia was betrayed by their allies and handed over to Hitler who did not just take back German lands, as he had promised, but took over the whole country and set up a base in Prague. As a result, the city was completely untouched during the war and therefore, a large portion is original. This is completely different from many other European cities that I have visited and the contrast is stark. Prague is stunning – a mix of 11 types of architecture built along the river. When you walk around, you must look up and simply admire everything.

Now, the Jewish Quarter has been raised above river-level and is beautiful. Today, it houses many of the city’s rich inhabitants. The history in the Czech Republic is very fresh. After the war, they turned towards communism in attempt to rebuild. Our tour guide’s parents were actually deeply affected by communism. Her grandparents refused to “vote” for the communist President (which was mandated by law) and as a result, lost their jobs and their daughter’s place at her university. Despite these barriers, the grandparents stayed strong in their beliefs and continued to stand up against communism with many other Czech people. The Czech’s escape from communism is referred to as the “Velvet Revolution” and their split from the Slovaks as the “Velvet Divorce”. These splits hold a lesson for all of us – peace is possible.

After our long morning tour, we crossed the absolutely beautiful Charles Bridge to the John Lennon wall which, to be honest, was a bit disappointing! It is much smaller than we expected! However, it is still a must-see spot for first time tourists and a great photo opportunity. Truly, the best part of Prague is just walking around and soaking up some sun.

Next came nap time and after that, a traditional Czech meal. The only way to really describe Czech food is delicious, savory, and heavy. Think meats and bread dumplings drowned in gravy and delicious sauce. Duck and schnitzel are of course, also popular items. This is definitely the type of food that stays in your stomach all day! We tried to taste some Czech cuisine throughout the trip but alternate with some lighter meals.

In the evening, we Czech-ed (haha) out some of Prague’s nightlife which of course included¬†some delicious local beers.

Day 2

For our second day of the trip, we signed up for a group day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora! For only about 20 dollars a person, we got a nearly all day tour that lasted from 12-6! This was a great way to do something unique and experience a smaller Czech town. After about an hour train ride, we arrived in the town of Kutna Hora. Our first stop was a tour of the Church of Bones, also known as the Sedlec Ossuary. I don’t even know how exactly to explain what this is other than to show photos. The chandelier has every bone in the human body.

The Church of Bones was decorated with, yes, real human bones of about 40,000 people after the town’s graveyard got too large, largely because of the Plague. First, they dug up the bones and placed them underneath the church, but someone eventually decided that they should be cleaned and used as decoration.

Walking through was more eerie and creepy than we expected. Nothing is really blocked off either – you are standing face to face with dozens of human skulls.

In addition to touring the Bone Church, we also got to see the beautiful St. Barbara’s Cathedral and some of the town!

Day 3

Easter Sunday! When we woke up, we were confused to find that no one really seemed to be celebrating Easter. We brushed it off, knowing that the Czech Republic is the most atheist country in the world, and decided to head to a Catholic Mass anyway. The church was absolutely stunning (as most European churches are). While I missed being home with family, celebrating with my friends was so much fun!

Later in the day, we actually realized that the Czech Republic celebrates their Easter on Monday! Their traditions are quite interesting. Men walk around with braided sticks which they use to bop women. Then, the women must thank them and give them shots of alcohol and food. Supposedly, this prevents the women from growing old. When we were headed out on Monday, we did see quite a few men wandering around with these braided sticks!

Day 4

On our final morning in Prague, we decided to book a Castle Tour! The weather was absolutely atrocious but we toughed it out in the freezing rain! The Prague Castle is the largest in the world and it does not disappoint! Really, it is more of a collection of large palaces and a couple churches. St. Vitus’s Cathedral is particularly gorgeous (and was a safe haven from the rain). While we didn’t get to go in a ton of buildings, the tour did a good job of explaining what you¬†needed¬†to know. You could definitely spend a whole day – or more – here going inside museums and other buildings.

After the tour, we enjoyed a great overhead view of the city and a last delicious Czech meal before heading to our next stop, Berlin! By the way, the Czech language is SO difficult. The only words we learned are hello (ahoy!) and cheers (na zdravi!).

Thanks for the memories, Prague!

Czech Republic Uncategorized

Munich

For the second stop on our Spring Break extravaganza, we had the incredible opportunity to stay with my St. Clare’s roommate, Tatjana, at her home in Munich! Huge shoutout to the entire Hoesch family to hosting us for three nights! It was so nice to stay in an actual home and really get to relax with some great home cooked meals.¬†Munich and the surrounding area are absolutely beautiful. Tatjana’s suburb, about 30 minutes south of the city was so peaceful and relaxing. My favorite part of this section of the trip, by far, was spending time outdoors, especially with the gorgeous mountain views! Although all the time spent in cities is great, sometimes you just need some time out in the country!

Neuschwanstein castle

On our first full day in Munich, Tatjana drove us into the countryside to visit the HUGE and ridiculously beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle, which was built by the crazy Bavarian King Ludwig II. This castle is so ridiculously in the middle of nowhere that no one could ever live in it. Eventually, it was open to the public to raise enough funds to maintain it. Unfortunately, we were not able to tour it as there were many tourists visiting during Easter Break. So, if you want to visit, get your tickets in advance! We did, however, tour Ludwig II’s childhood home, Hohenschwangau.

 

Centre city Munich

On our second full day, Tatjana took us around her city, Munich! We took a bus tour, got a delicious Bavarian lunch, climbed up a tower for a great view, and then visited the absolutely stunning English Garden. I’ll warn you in advance – you will see people naked sunbathing! While we only had a short time in the city, we all really enjoyed it. Munich defines German efficiency very well. It is clean, green, and beautiful!

 

Bavarian food

I’m not quite sure why this is the only meal I got a good picture of, but all of our food in Bavaria was amazing. Bavarian German food is just as you’d expect – heavy, delicious, and always with beer. Bavarians even sometimes drink a light wheat beer with their brunch! Tatjana’s lovely family treated us to several homemade delicious meals and we got to try one of their favorite local restaurants (pictured below)! Check out that duck! We also randomly stumbled across a random barn with a huge pile of bread and pretzels. Only in Germany! You can even bring your dog into restaurants – I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason one needs to love this place.

Favorite little things

Ultimately, my favorite thing about Munich was really just enjoying the time spent outdoors with friends. I had no idea how much I missed the open land and green grass until I arrived! The weather on our day of arrival was particularly stunning. On our last morning we took a little walk and overlooked a valley near their town and my breath was taken away. Meeting new people and seeing new things and learning is really what travel is all about! I also loved learning about some of their German town cultures. For example, the blue and white huge tree (pictured below) is guarded every Spring 24/7. Other towns may attempt to steal it, in which case, you’d owe them food and beer! Having locals to show you around really brings places to life.

 

I’m very excited to visit Berlin and contrast it with our time spent in Munich! Thank you again to the Hoesch family for being so welcoming and taking the time to show us your beautiful city!

Germany

Spring Break – Vienna

Ah! I cannot believe that Spring Break (Or “Easter Break” as it is referred to by Europe) is finally here! Over the next two weeks, I will be traveling through¬†Vienna, Munich, Prague, Berlin, and Amsterdam with my friends Kristy and Rachel.

This trip is an absolute dream come true¬†– we’ve been planning it for MONTHS!¬†We booked a Eurorail pass back in semester and are hopping around cities via the train which is SUCH a relaxing way to travel. I am definitely going to miss the ease of traveling back at home!

A few quick and dirty Vienna tips:

1) Vienna was NOT card friendly! I’m not sure what it is about Europe but each city is so different when it comes to money! Austria uses the Euro so make sure to pick some up at the ATM as soon as you arrive!

2) Getting around is easy! We skipped out on a travel card and were about to walk nearly everywhere from the Wombat Lounge Hostel (such a nice place to stay!)

3) Make dinner reservations!

4) Check out the Spanish Riding School for a super cool and entertaining cultural experience!

Getting punk’d in Vienna

So some of you might have already seen my Facebook post about getting punk’d at our hostel in Vienna! Here is the full story if you haven’t read it already:

After a 20 minute walk in the rain and a long travel day, we rolled up to our hostel fairly exhausted and soaking wet. Let’s just say we were all not looking our best. We struggled to get in the door with all our luggage and then walked up to the counter. I had made the reservation so I told the guy my name and information. Without looking anything up, the guy immediately told us: “I’m sorry, we are actually overbooked this weekend.”

Confused, we nervously laughed and told him we had put down a deposit for a 4-person room reservation.

He proceeded to tell us that if we wanted, we could room in an 8-person mixed room with 5 Russian men. We were extremely confused and assumed he was joking and again asked him to look up our reservation. Then, he told us that if we wanted to dance on the bar we could have our room for free. We started to get angry and frustrated and kept explaining to him that we had made a deposit. He asked us why we made a reservation in a 4-person room when we were only 3 people and started demanding we pay for the 4th bed too. When he saw our American passports, he started making Trump jokes.

We were¬†all extremely confused and starting getting angry when all of a sudden, we looked up and several men with cameras were in front of us with lights and cameras in our faces. We had been punk’d for an Austrian TV show! We all burst into laughter and were all quite shocked. I can honestly say that it was one of the strangest things that has ever happened to me. Our trip sure started off with a bang!

Things I loved about Vienna:

Because my friends and I will be traveling for a little over two weeks, we didn’t want to burn ourselves out on the first stop. We each took charge of planning a city and then met as a group to set an itinerary outline for each place! We focused on coming up with one or two main activities per day with alternate options in case we wanted to do more. Kristy was in charge of Vienna and everything that we did was absolutely fabulous!

Food:

After our punk’d incident, we decided to eat dinner nearby and call it an early night. Food-wise, you really can’t go wrong in Vienna. Of course, I had to order beer and Schnitzel!

At the Schonbrunn Palace the next day, they had a special Easter market set up. This was the perfect place to buy some souvenirs for friends and try some cheap street food! I had some spaetzle and Vienna sausage, both of which were amazing!

Tatjana’s sister recommended a place called the 25 hour hotel for their rooftop bar. The view of the city is incredible! We liked the bar so much that we decided to eat dinner at their downstairs restaurant. I had an amazing funghi pizza.

Favorite activities:

My favorite “tourist” activities were the Schonbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Spanish Riding School!

The Schonbrunn Palace was a great way to start off our trip because you get SO much Vienna history in a short amount of time.  We spent about 4 hours here between visiting the market, touring the Palace, and the gorgeous gardens.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is probably the coolest gothic church I’ve ever seen. It is free to walk inside and an absolute must for any trip to Vienna. The outside is¬†quite impressive but the inside blew my mind. It is so incredibly dark and gothic and does not scream “church” at all to me but yet, it is beautiful. As you may notice, some of the sculptures are covered in a strange silver aluminum blanket that resembles a shock-blanket you might see at the scene of a fire. This is the work of an artist hoping to make a statement – we all need help at certain times in our lives. She also states that it is time to cover up men, too.

The Spanish Riding School has been a tradition for more than 450 years! I had no idea what to expect from the show but even from the nosebleed seats, we were in awe. This was a fun way to experience an important part of Viennese culture!

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Other fun things:

While in Vienna, we got to spend time with one of our friends from St. Clare’s, Augusta, who is from Geneva, Switzerland! It was so much fun to see her and spend time with her again.

We were lucky to finally have some good weather on both days of our trip!¬†Walking along the Danube river and checking out the graffiti and grabbing an ice cream can’t be beat. The historic city hall area is also a must-see. We were shocked to see so many Roman elements throughout the city!

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Each morning, we swung by a local Austrian bakery to grab coffee and a croissant or doughnut. Sometimes, these casual times with friends are some of the best! As always, our time in Vienna went by super quickly and now we are in Munich learning even more about Germanic culture. Updates to come!

Austria Trips

Valencia

Hi everyone!

This blog post is slightly delayed – my apologies! I visited Valencia, Spain during the weekend of March 23rd-26th with a group of other students from St. Clare’s and had such a blast mixing things up and go on a trip with a different group of people than usual!

First glimpse

Upon arrival, Spain was not the impressive wonderland I’d dreamed of and I instantly got a little bit worried. The area that our hotel was in was really quite normal and didn’t look like I had pictured at all! However, when we got into the city centre, I figured out what everyone was really talking about – Spain is incredible!

On day 1 after a grueling early flight, we settled into our hotel rooms and a group of us set off for the aquarium! The Valencia Aquarium is really impressive as it is the largest in all of Europe. The architecture is instantly recognizable and the exhibits were amazing! We also got to see a dolphin show (who doesn’t love those??)

After a much needed siesta back at the hotel, we headed out to the city centre for some dinner before meeting up with the larger group for a Flamenc√≥ show. Dinner was absolutely DIVINE. I had a burger and of course, sangria. The meat in Spain was incredible all around and the drinks sure didn’t disappoint either! Agua de Valencia is also native to the region. Locals argue that¬†even if you followed the recipe elsewhere, it could never taste the same because you don’t have Valencian oranges!

Even though everyone was exhausted by the time we made it to the (11pm!!!!) Flamenco show, the show itself was unbelievable. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but the frenzy of bodies and skirts moving, guitars strumming, and passionate singing surpassed my expectations. I’ll warn you ahead of time, the shows are NOT quiet. The dancers and musicians alike really put their all into the performance and there is really nothing else I’ve ever seen quite like it. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from this!

Spanish Culture

What I loved most about my brief time in Valencia was not the architecture or the history (even though those are pretty great), but the feeling I got just strolling down the crowded streets. In Spain, things happen LATE. An 8:30pm dinner out is considered early. Yes, that late. However, the Spanish are huge fans of siestas and I really enjoyed participating in this cultural activity. We’d get up at 9 or so, go adventure during the day, nap and rest from 4-6 or so, and then go back out to walk around and get dinner. Most shops and activities close during this siesta break time and then open back up in the evenings. It is typical for restaurants to be open until 2am or so!

On Saturday and Sunday, my time consisted mostly of strolling around, admiring things, shopping, napping, and simply soaking it all in. Not a bad way to live, really. Spanish people also love to stroll around in the early evenings. The weather during our stay was gorgeous (much better than England, of course) and the weekend was really a perfect break from the stress of school.

We took a group walking tour and learned about the city’s history, climbed up a giant tour for a great city view, and explored the Mercado Central (Europe’s oldest working market)! Valencia is famous for being used as a stop on the Silk Road, and they stay true to this tradition with a coin and stamp trade market that you can see in live action every Sunday morning.

I have determined that I must go back to Spain to do a longer train trip sometime in my life like I did in Italy! Check out this churro shaped like a heart, with hot chocolate of course! Even though my Spanish level is EXTREMELY low, I still had a blast fumbling around and trying to remember basic vocabulary. I managed to ask a store owner about her favorite restaurant successfully! Visiting Spain really motivated me to do some type of longer trip abroad to a Spanish speaking country someday to improve my skills!

Salud, Spain! I’ll be back! (Yes, I do say this about every country).

Spain Trips