"Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gardens with the fortress in the background
So many markets!
One of the many main squares in Salzburg
View as we drove to our guesthouse
Balcony from our guesthouse in Fuschl Am See, just outside of Salzburg
Lakeside restaurant we ate at that night
Mom and in Hallstatt, the vivid color setting on my camera helped make such a dreary day not so dreary :)
Mama lookin’ so pretty! :)
Momma and I in Braunsbach
Us in Rothenburg
Our hotel in Rothenburg
Mom was reunited with her 3 cousins and Uncle Stefan!
Gorgeous vineyards in Fellbach
Town Hall in Munich
Mom and I at the Hofbrauhaus!
Ludwig II’s castle in Linderhof
Mom and I on the bridge overlooking Castle Neuschwanstein
Friday, April 6, 2012:
We woke up and had our car dropped off—my mom ordered one so we could travel on our own throughout Germany! We left and headed to Braunsbach where my mom was born. It’s a very small town near Stuttgart. We walked around a little here, but unfortunately the house where my mom was born is no longer standing and she was unsure of the street, but it was still great to see the town she was born—that has been on my list of places to go for a long time, so I am very grateful I got to go! Then, we continued our drive to the Romantic Road and our first stop was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We stayed here that night and it was one of my favorite cities out of all that I’ve gone to so far this semester. It was the classic medieval German village that one would picture with the colorful buildings, stonewalls, and the timbered buildings. We took a horse drawn carriage around for a 30-minute tour of the town and then indulged ourselves with a piece of orange cake and an apple strudel cake. We walked around the town a little longer and then headed back to our hotel that is well known in Rothenburg. It’s called Altfrankische Weinstube and thanks to some information in Rick Steve’s Germany guidebook this is a 600-year old building where people enjoy candlelight dinners in a dark pub type of environment. It was just as he described and we enjoyed a delicious dinner consisting of wine, soup, salad, and of course bread. Our room here was so adorable—we had a canopy bead with a window that overlooked the small street that our hotel was on. After dinner, we headed up to our room to unbutton our jeans and let our satisfied tummies breathe.
Saturday, April 7, 2012:
We had a delicious breakfast in our hotel and then walked around Rothenburg a little more, where we saw St. Jakob’s Cathedral. This church is known for it’s wood carved décor, so that was really interesting and beautiful to see. Rothenburg is known for year round Christmas stores, so many people were excited to see Christmas decorations in April! Then, we were on our way to Fellbach where my mom’s cousin, Helmut, lives. We arrived around 2:30 and he greeted us with open arms. My mom and him had not seen each other in over 20 years, so I was so happy that they finally had a chance to see each other again. His wife, Hildegard, is just as sweet and they were so welcoming. They’re flat was awesome! They live on the top floor, so their ceilings are tilted and they have the coolest layout with an amazing window at the end of the hallway where it stands from the floor to the ceiling. After catching up a little with them, we went to see my mom and Helmut’s Uncle Stefan who lives in a nursing home about 10 minutes away from Helmut. My mom was so excited to see him and had told me before that he was her favorite uncle. I could definitely see why because for him being 93 years old he was still walking and making jokes. Although he only spoke journal, I could just tell what an amazing person he is. Also, 2 more of my mom’s cousins where there, so she reunited with them as well. We all went to dinner and spend the evening catching up, so it was a great day.
Sunday, April 8, 2012:
My mom and I woke up to a wonderful breakfast laid out by Helmut and he took us to the vineyards of Fellbach where we walked a part of a trail and then had an amazing few of the entire city. The vineyards went on for miles and the sun was shining making the few even more gorgeous. Then, we met with Hildegard and they took us to the old town of Esslingen where stands a wall built during the medieval ages. It was built because the city of Stuttgart wanted to have control over it because at the time, Esslingen was an independent village, so it didn’t have to pay taxes. The wall looked really neat and you could just tell how old it was, I mean we’re talking about 800 years old! We walked around the old town, stopped for cake and coffee, and then headed back to their flat.
That night, their daughter, her husband, and their kids came over for an Easter dinner. My mom had not seen their daughter since she was a few months old and now she’s in her thirties, so that was great. Her husband was really sweet and he spoke fluent English, so that was nice to give our brains a break for a little while. My mom gets so worn out speaking German! The kids are 8 and 3 and they were adorable! Every time I spoke to them they looked at me like I was crazy because they don’t know English yet, so I just sat on the floor and played with them. I hadn’t been around kids like that since I was back home, so I was very happy! We enjoyed a lovely pizza dinner from a local Italian restaurant they love. Then, after the family left, Helmut and Hildegard showed my mom and me photo albums of the past years to catch my mom up. They also showed us a picture DVD of their photos from Nepal. Helmut and Hildegard travel for 3 weeks every year and they have gone to some pretty amazing places. This November they are going to Cambodia and Vietnam. I hope I can do something like that when I’m older!
Monday, April 9, 2012:
My mom and I said goodbye to Hildegard and Helmut and thanked them for all that they had done—they were so good to us! We headed to our next destination called Burg, Colmberg. We drove for a few hours and this night we stayed in a castle hotel! It was awesome because you could see it driving into the small town and then once we drove up to it, we had amazing views of the town. Since it was the Monday after Easter, nothing in the town was open, so we decided to stay at the castle because it was very cold. We walked around the castle where we found a chapel and a few other rooms open for public viewing. Then, we ate a lovely dinner where I ate one of the most delicious meals I’ve had since being in Europe: a vegetable herb crepe! It was so yummy and had an herb cream sauce all around it. I think I have gained so much wait here!
Tuesday, April 10, 2012:
After breakfast we began our drive to Munich. The weather finally started getting better—warm enough for our windows to be down! Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city, so once we settled in our room we took a bus and then a train into the city. Once there we walked around the Marienplazt where we saw the Town Hall and the churches around the square. We arrived here right on the hour, so the figurines at the top of the town hall building began moving, which is why the square was packed with tourists to watch. Then, we walked around the market that was a block over where the major beer gardens are. Even though it wasn’t Oktoberfest, they were still packed! We love markets, so it was hard not to buy everything. We bought bread, cheese, hummus, fruit, and pickles for lunch the next day.
After the market, we went to the Hofbrauhaus and enjoyed delicious sausage with sauerkraut and potato salad. You can’t forget our beer either, although I am not much of a beer person I knew I had to get one since we were at the Hofbrauhaus! As we walked back to the subway, we stopped for a few souvenirs and some delicious gelato!
Wednesday, April 11, 2012:
This morning we had to wake up very early because we had an all day tour. We had to meet by the main train station by 8:30, so once we made it we were on our way to our castle tour! Our first stop was Ludwig II’s palace in Linderhof. It was gorgeous from the outside in, but it was quite small compared to the other palaces I have been to. The detail was amazing and everything was made so delicately. It was very interesting to see. Then, we hopped on the bus and headed to our next destination, Oberammergau, which was a small town where we could just shop for souveniers. The weather was not looking too promising, so we were not happy to be walking around in the cold and rain. My mom and I definitely did not expect that considering it was so warm the day before. Our final stop was in Fussen where we ate lunch and then headed up the most visited castle in the world, Castle Neuschwanstein. It was absolutely amazing and is the typical picturesque princess castle. By the time we arrived high up on the mountain where the castle stood, the rain had turned into snow and it was freezing. We walked onto the bridge that overlooks the castle from the back but also over a huge valley. It was worth the view and scariness of how slippery the bridge was. We walked through the castle, but there is really only 1 level that was completed before Ludwig II died, so they did not continue decorating the rooms after he died. The rooms we did see were still amazing and full of life and color. Afterwards, we had a long hike down the mountain that took awhile. Both my mom and I were wiped out once we sat in our seats on the bus and were headed back to Munich, but we were also relieved for this reason. The tour began at 8:30 and we didn’t arrive back in Munich until 6:30, so we just headed for our hotel and went to bed early after dinner since we were so tired. However, it was definitely worth it to see such a gorgeous castle!
Thursday, April 12, 2012:
This morning we woke up and headed for Austria! This was one of my favorite parts of the journey because we walked around Salzburg for a few hours, which was amazing. I love cities built along rivers (which is practically ever city I’ve been to), so we walked along the river and saw beautiful gardens with the view of the castle up on the hill in the background. The weather had warmed up somewhat, so that was great too. Then, we drove to our hotel, which was about a half hour from the city. We drove up and up in and out of the Alps, along cliffs and through the woods until we finally arrived to this adorable farmhouse surrounded by only 3 houses. They were secluded with the mountains in the distance. It was the nicest place we were at because it was so peaceful and after later talking to the lady who greeted us, we learned that it was a family run guesthouse that has been running for 6 generations now. We had a balcony view of the mountains and at night we saw every star crystal clear. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen; I could’ve stayed out there for hours looking up if it hadn’t gotten so chilly.
We also went to dinner at a nice restaurant about 10 minutes away that sat alongside a lake. It had a beautiful view of the lake and mountains in the distance, so that was a nice dinner. Also, across the street was an interesting building that sat on water. We asked our waitress what it was and she informed us that it was Redbull’s headquarters. We had no idea that it was an Austrian company and she also told us that the parking garage was underwater. We drove around it a little and saw inside the building because everything was glass, so that was pretty neat!
Friday, April 13, 2012:
We had a delicious breakfast consisting of organic eggs and fresh milk from the chickens and cows on the farm. We had to leave our lovely farmhouse and head to Hallstatt, a small village about an hour away from Salzburg. We went to our hotel first because it was across the lake and we met the owners. They were an English couple who had been running the hotel for 7 years. They were really nice and showed us our apartment style room, which overlooked the lake, so that was great! Then, we walked around Hallstatt—it is such a cute little town and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It’s great for a day trip since it’s so small and you can easily see everything in one day. We walked up to the Catholic church and saw a small temple like building where the bones are kept of the dead. The reason for this is that there is limited ground space for the cemetery, so people who pass away can only be buried for 10 years and then their bones are dug up, put in this small temple, and their names are written on the skulls for identification. I couldn’t even go inside because it was too weird for me to picture. I saw the bones from a distance and that was good enough for me.
We walked a different way back to our car and saw the most adorable buildings. It was really neat here because most of the houses were built into the rocks and mountainside, so it was something we had never really seen before. There were also houses high up on the cliffs that looked like a huge trek up, but I would have loved to walk up and see what one of the houses looked like on the inside. We headed back to our hotel and ate dinner there from the leftover cheese and bread we had saved up, so it was a nice relaxing day.
Saturday, April 14, 2012:
Today was dedicated to driving because we drove all the way from Austria to Luxembourg where my mom saw the small town of Differdange where I have been living for the past 3 and a half months. Although the original plan was for her to not come to Luxembourg at all, I’m glad she got to see it and the chateau where I take my classes. Her flight leaves early Monday morning, so she’ll be staying at my host family’s house until then.
Overall, it was an amazing trip and I loved every minute of it, even if the Von Holle women were in over our heads at certain points along the way. I’m so grateful my mom had the chance to spend 10 days with me in Europe and I couldn’t have asked for a better trip! I have loved being in Europe, but I am ready to go home. I’m excited for these next 2 weeks in Europe because next weekend is Barcelona, then finals, and then home sweet home!
Josef, the concentration camp survivor we met
Main square with a lot of shopping :)
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Friends and I at dinner at a Jewish restaurant in the Jewish Quarter
Part of the Cracow Ghetto memorial
Front of Shindler’s Factory Museum, which used to be the original factory
Remains of the Cracow Ghetto walls
Where other parts of the walls once stood
Royal Cathedral at Wawel Hill
Bus we took on the communist tour
Arbeit Macht Frei sign
Wall where many prisoners were shot (the wall was specially made so bullets wouldn’t ricochet back at the Nazis.
First gas chamber and crematorium
This is what you see when you walk through the station
Barracks that were recreated after they were all destroyed
Each chimney type structure represents where each barrack once stood
Sample car that carried the victims here and where the notorious selections took place
End of the train tracks facing the station
Memorial for the 1.1-1.4 millions killed
Saturday, March 31:
This week is everybody’s base study tour and I am in the Hitler class where we’ve learned about the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler. We are traveling to Poland where we’ll visit Auschwitz, Gestapo cells, the Cracow ghetto, Shindler’s Factory as well as other places associated with WWII and the Holocaust. We left Saturday for the Cologne Airport at 8:15 AM and arrived around 11:00—our flight left at 1:50 and we landed in Kattowitz. From there we were picked up by our tour guide and bus driver and we headed to Czestochowa. After about a 2-hour drive, we stopped at a church where we saw the Black Madonna. Then, we checked in our hotel and had a delicious dinner consisting of the best soup I’ve had in Europe as well as vegetarian lasagna and apple strudel for dessert. After dinner we watched Shindler’s List by Stephen Spielberg in order to prepare for our visit to Cracow a few days later. It was a very moving movie, even though it was hard to watch at times. It is a necessary movie to watch, especially when learning about the inside of ghettos since most of us only picture concentration camps when we think about the Holocaust. It was a rough end to the night because the movie didn’t end until midnight and we had to be up and eating breakfast by 7:30. So, everyone headed to their rooms and went to bed right after.
Sunday, April 1:
This morning we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast. The hotel we stayed at was really nice—our professor treats us well. His name is Emile Haag and he is such an amazing person. He knows about Hitler inside and out—when he gives us lectures twice a week for an hour and a half, he does not look at any notes. He speaks from the top of his head and tells us stories perfectly, not missing any piece of the puzzle to how Hitler came to power and the implementation of the Final Solution. Professor Haag is one of the most intelligent teachers I have had thus far and is very interesting to listen to.
Anyway, we left for Auschwitz around 8:15 and arrived to Auschwitz I first. This is the original Auschwitz camp where Soviet and Polish prisoners of war where held. We walked through the barracks that are now turned into museums representing what each barrack was during the war, such as a hospital or prison for those victims who were punished. It was very disheartening to walk through, but then again I was picturing something different that I was soon to see at Auschwitz-Birkenau. But as we finished up in Auschwitz I, we walked through the first gas chamber and crematoria—this wasn’t used for very long here, but it still existed. It was very eerie to be inside, knowing that thousands of people were killed in the very spot I was standing.
After the tour, we ate lunch at the center there. Then, we had about a 5-minute bus ride to Auschwitz II, Birkenau. This is the extermination camp that was created second. Here you will find what you probably would find if you type Auschwitz in Google. There were barracks upon barracks in perfect rows that lined the camp along the railway line where the prisoners arrived. All of the men’s barracks had been ruined by Germans as well as others after the war, but the foundations of them still exist and there are model barracks that were recreated just how the ones were during the war. The camp was immense—it is estimated that anywhere from 1.1 to 1.4 million people were murdered here and to have walked where these people once stood was difficult to fathom. Even walking along the train tracks knowing these people had only come here to perish was extremely hard to do. We have learned so much about Auschwitz, but actually being there and walking in the same footsteps as these people was life changing. As hard as it was to do, it was worth it because it definitely makes you look at life differently. These victims were just like you and I—innocent people who had no idea their lives would be taken from them so abruptly. After seeing both these camps, everyone was ready for a small break from such an intense day.
We headed to our hotel, which was about ten minutes away and had some time to ourselves before we met up again. I took a short nap and before I knew it, it was time to meet with our class. We had a debriefing about what we had seen that day and Professor Haag encouraged us to share our thoughts. We did so as well as asked him questions about things we were unsure of that we had seen that day. It was a very interesting session and helped clear up many things we had wondered. Professor Haag even choked up at one point because a student asked if he feels less emotional after returning to Aushwitz twice a year, year after year. He answered that it becomes harder every time, so it was a very emotional day for all of us. Afterwards, we ate dinner at the hotel and had the rest of the night to rest up, so Molly and I just talked with some people for a little bit and then went to bed early.
Monday, April 2:
We woke up and had a bountiful breakfast as usual and then headed to Cracow. It was about an hour and a half bus ride, so we got to sleep a little bit longer. We stopped at our hotel first; it was a little taste of home because we were staying at the Holiday Inn! Today was my favorite day of the trip because we had the privilege of hearing a concentration camp survivor speak. He met us at the hotel and we went into a conference room where he spoke to us with his translator. His name was Josef Rasolowski and he was a Polish political prisoner at the Mautausen concentration camp in Poland. He was only 16 when he was there and luckily survived the camp after 8 months when they were liberated in May 1945. His story was so inspirational—at the end he encouraged us to ask questions and he answered them with incredible answers. The one that stuck out to me was one person asked him what motivated him to stay alive because he had said that he didn’t lose hope and knew he wanted to survive. His answer was that he knew he had to have hope in order to survive because if you didn’t you’d become weak and be killed. He also said that that other prisoners saved his life whether they hid him or helped him when he was hurt. I couldn’t believe his words—how someone can be that positive after all that he had gone through. Then, he continued to describe his family life and how he’s married to a beautiful woman with wonderful children and grandchildren. I felt so happy for him, seeing that smile on his face as he described them; he is truly a remarkable man. Afterwards, he welcomed people with open arms to take pictures with him, so of course we all did. I am very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to hear him speak.
Then, our tour guide, Phillip, took us to the city center, which had an amazing market. We had the afternoon to ourselves and didn’t need to meet back until dinner that night, so a group of girls and I walked around the market. Everything was so pretty—decorated wooden eggs were on display for Easter and many booths had gorgeous amber jewelry. As usual, I wanted to buy everything! We ate perogis, a Polish specialty, and chocolate covered fruit kebabs. It was delicious! After walking around for awhile, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for dinner.
We ate at a Jewish restaurant located in the Jewish quarter. We listened to a guitarist and violinist during dinner and they were wonderful. We were served garlic soup, a beef and bean dish, and then a delicious nut cake for dessert.
Tuesday April 3, 2012:
Our first part of the tour was the Gestapo cells that are open for public view. There were 4 of them that we could walk in. They were very small, with no windows and all concrete. We were informed that they were located directly next to the sewage plant during the time of them being in operation, so one can only imagine the smell that lingered throughout the air. The prisoners there had carved many things into the walls, such as names, quotes, prayers, etc. They were very powerful to see, especially when translated and we could understand them. The conditions they lived in were hard to hear—I couldn’t even imagine going through something like that.
Then, we left and headed to the main square of the Jewish district. We were free to have lunch on our own, so we found this cute authentic restaurant and we all devoured perogis once again. I split fruit filled perogis with a friend—they were delicious with strawberries inside and a vanilla sauce on top. I tried others’ cheese and potatoes perogis and they were to die for—just like mashed potatoes stuffed inside! After a wonderful lunch, we went to the Jewish Ghetto where we saw a memorial of the liquidation of the Jews in the Cracow Ghetto. It was a really interesting memorial because there were 65 chairs spread out where one chair represented 1,000 people, symbolizing a total of 65,000 people in the Cracow Ghetto. The chairs resembled the things left behind by the Jews, such as household belongings and clothing. Then, we walked down the street where part of the ghetto wall still stands today. Our tour guide informed us that the shape of the wall at the top reflects Jewish tombstones, which are rounded at the top, therefore implying that death lies within the ghetto because there is no escaping. It was very powerful to learn that, another method the Nazis used to tear apart the Jews not only physically, but psychologically as well.
We continued walking and our last stop was the Schindler Factory Museum. This was one of the most interesting museums I had ever been to because there were many tactile components where we could touch and interact with the various exhibits. We learned more about Shindler’s story and it definitely helped to have seen the movie a few days prior. There was more information about Cracow and Poland itself that I did not know before. My favorite room in the museum was the very last 2 called the white and black rooms. The first one had quotes all around the room that resembled a newspaper. The quotes were of all different languages, but from ones that I could read they were regrets made by prisoners and others that could have helped the victims of the Holocaust. It’s hard to believe that prisoners regretted things that happened, but most of these regrets revolved around helping others victims. At the time, they did what they had to do to survive, but in most cases this was not a satisfying image knowing some of the things they had to go through in order to save their own lives over others. In the very last room stood 1 white book and 1 black book, symbolizing good and the bad. From what we inferred, there was no justification for what the Nazis did, so you either agree or disagree with it—for this instance, there is no gray area in between. That is one of the most powerful statements one should take away from learning more about this.
That night, we went to a piano concert of this 23-year old young man who was incredible. He has traveled all over Europe performing and has 60 concerts a year. He has won many awards for his talent—he played all Chopin pieces, representing Poland since Chopin was from Poland. After the concert, a group of us ate dinner at this wonderful restaurant where we had gone a few days before (I know that we should have tried somewhere new, but the food was just too good!) We ate perogis the last time, so this time I ordered bruschette because I wanted something a little lighter, but then I ended up ordering delicious apple pie as well. It was so yummy! After dinner, we met up with 2 of our other friends and went out for a little bit because it was Andrew’s 20th birthday. We found this awesome bar with live music and stayed there for an hour or so. The music was great—it was 2 guys playing guitar and singing soft rock type of music. Then, we went back to the hotel and hung out a little longer before going to bed.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012:
This morning was rough waking up—everyone was extremely tired, so the going going going every day was definitely catching up with us. Our first stop of the day was Wawel Hill, the famous castle in Cracow. It was not a long walk from our hotel and the sun was coming out making it a beautiful day. We went inside the royal cathedral where many of Poland’s religious idols are buried, including the president and his wife who died in a plane accident 2 years ago. Also, there are bones hanging in the entrance of the church, supposedly being dragon bones. There is a story behind Cracow and the many dragons you can find all over the city. This is how our tour guide told it: there was a poor boy who got a sheep and filled it with sulfur. The dragon ate the sheep and then drank water. Well, when the sulfur and water mixed it caused the dragon to explode, therefore killing it. So instead of having a heroic story with a knight slaying a dragon, the dragon was tricked by a little boy and basically killed itself—interesting, huh??
Then, we visited Jagiellonian University, the major university in Cracow, going through the museum exhibit. It is very famous and has grown over the years so now 45,000 students attend. There were many neat artifacts in the museum, such as the first globe with North America drawn on it and awards on display such as an Oscar, Nobel Peace Prize, and an Olympic gold medal. The school seems wonderful—I would have loved to gone through one of the academic buildings to see how different they were from back at home. Afterwards, we headed to the market square where we had gone to previously. Our tour guide took us through the most famous church in Cracow—St. Mary’s. It was gorgeous inside. Then, we had lunch on our own and finished with the last part of our tour. This was a struggle—everyone was lagging behind and extremely tired. At least we were picked up by these awesome vans that were made in the 1950s. The one I was in reminded me of a Voltswagon van, but needless to say this was the highlight of the tour. This tour showed us all the parts of Cracow where communism took over after WWII. Our guide was not that exciting (Phillip was not our guide for this tour), so no one really knew what was going on. Then, we watched a movie and I’m pretty sure everyone fell asleep, even our professors and other adults in our group. It was hilarious because when the movie was over, my friend told me to look back since we were in the front and we saw almost everyone fast asleep. It was hilarious! I tried to stay awake, I really did, but I had no clue what was going on in the movie, so it was a lost cause. We were learning about Nowa Huta, which was the name of the part of Poland that became a communistic state. Our last stop of that tour was at a communist cathedral, which was very interesting looking. The roof was made of wood that resembled Noah’s Ark and when you walked inside, it represented you under water since the bottom of the boat was above you. We saw many beautiful and interesting churches on this trip.
Needless to say, we were all so relieved when we got on the bus for the last time knowing we were headed back to the hotel. We had a few hours until dinner, so I took a short nap. Then, a group of us headed to the market for dinner and we walked around some more. I ate perogis filled with spinach, cheese, and potatoes and then Molly and I split a potato pancake—SO GOOD! Polish food has definitely been some of the best I’ve eaten since coming to Europe and I will miss all the wonderful perogis. However, I need a break from it if I want to fit in my clothes on the way home! After dinner we went to this cupcake place that sold PEANUT BUTTER CUPCAKES! I’m not kidding, I freaked out when I saw this because you cannot find good peanut butter here. Yes, there’s such a thing as peanut butter, but it’s different—it’s oily and grainy here, so nothing like Jiff. The peanut butter cupcake was to die for and I’m not exaggerating one bit. I have an obsession with peanut butter, which I am not afraid to admit, so I devoured that thing at incredible speed. I tried to make it last because it was that good, but I couldn’t contain myself! So, I got a peanut butter one and a grasshopper one, which was similar to mint chocolate chip—that was delicious as well!
We headed back to the hotel, watched a movie, and ordered popcorn from room service, so it was a nice and relaxing evening. We were all excited for it to be our last night in the hotel, even though the trip had been great. We were just ready to be on our own and I was getting so anxious to finally see my mom! I kept thinking how I would see her the next night! I miss her so much!
Thursday, April 5, 2012:
This morning we got to sleep in 45 minutes more than we normally did! It was great, so I finished packing, took my time at breakfast and then we loaded up the bus. We headed to the Salt Mine that is very famous in Poland—it was about a 30-minute drive, so it is located outside Cracow. Honestly, it was not that interesting to me. The sculptures and rooms made of salt were amazing, don’t get me wrong, but I think it was because I was so tired I couldn’t truly appreciate it. There was even a church inside where weddings are sometimes held, so that was neat. We ended up finishing 45 minutes later, so it was a good thing no one had plans right after when were supposed to have ended.
A group of us headed to the train station and then took a short train to the airport. I got a little confused when at the airport because in Cracow, there was a domestic terminal and an international terminal. I was flying to Frankfurt, so I went to the international terminal. However, I had a layover in Warsaw, so it didn’t even dawn on me that I needed to be at the domestic terminal. Luckily we had gotten to the airport with plenty of time and I realized it with almost 2 hours until my flight left, so I just walked to the domestic terminal and everything worked out. I arrived in Frankfurt around 9:30 and as soon as my plane landed, tears began to fill my eyes because I knew I could finally hug my mom! I quickly grabbed my luggage, found a cab, and was at the hotel within 15 minutes. I asked the receptionist what room we were in and then ran up the stairs. I knocked on the door and as soon as it opened I fell into my mom’s arms. I was so happy! I missed her so incredibly much, so it was one of the best feelings I have ever felt.
French Cathedral in the Gendarmenmarkt
Mural part of the Berlin Wall
Ample Man-famous in East Germany!
Molly and me :)
This weekend, it was just Molly and I who went to Berlin. We both knew that we were not going to have a chance to go before the semester ended and we couldn’t leave Europe without going to Berlin! We left Friday morning since we didn’t have class and after about an 8-hour train ride we made it to Berlin around 4:30. Berlin had a really nice subway system, so after asking directions to our hostel we got off at the right subway stop. The directions were vague from there, so we went in this cute little woodcraft shop and the women in there was so sweet. I asked her if she spoke English (in German practicing my German skills, of course) and she did, so we explained were we were trying to go. She looked up the hostel in her phone book and called them just to make sure it was the right one we were staying at, and soon we were in our hostel. That was a great first impression of Berlin! Our hostel was awesome—for only 12 Euros a night we got free breakfast, WiFi, and a nice room! We asked the receptionist of where we should go that night, and she told us to go to the western side since we would see most of the eastern side during our tour the next day. So, we got off at the Zoo Garden metro stop where the zoo and aquarium was. We walked around the main strips—there was so much shopping, but we were starving—food was our number one priority. We really wanted to find an authentic German restaurant, but all the ones we found were way out of our price range. So we ended up finding an all you can eat salad bar that we saw through the window. I know that when you go to a country, you should eat food that is from that country, but in this case we hadn’t had vegetables in awhile, let alone a buffet! So, we both got the all you can eat salad bar and water with ICE CUBES! I haven’t had ice in my water since I’ve been here. Even though we only got 3 ice cubes that melted within minutes of getting our water, it still counted and we couldn’t have been happier. Then to top it all off, Molly and I split an apple strudel. It came with whipped cream and vanilla bean ice cream—one of the best apple pie type desserts I have ever had, hands down. After, we headed back to the hostel to rest up for our long tour the next day.
After eating breakfast in our hostel, Molly and I headed to the Brandenburg Gate where we met our tour group. Our tour guide was named Rob and he was originally from England but had been living in Berlin for about 5 years or so. He was great and told us all about the main sites in Berlin. We saw the bricks in the ground from where the Berlin Wall stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and then we walked to the Jewish Memorial that was right next to the Brandenburg Gate. The memorial was very moving—it was made up of huge concrete blocks that were the same width and height, but they gradually got taller as you walk towards the middle. It doesn’t have a specific meaning, so anyone can interpret what the memorial stands for. To me, I saw it as something to make one feel small and insignificant, especially as you walk towards the middle when the blocks become at least 3 times one’s size. This could represent how the Jews felt during the Holocaust, only they felt this on a much grander scale. I was really happy that I had the chance to experience a memorial such as that one. Then, we walked to this parking lot that we soon found out was above the bunker where Hitler committed suicide. That was disturbing to hear, just knowing that I could’ve been standing in the same place that he once stood. It gives me the chills just thinking about it now. Next, we saw the remains of the Berlin Wall—it was sad to see parts of it chipping away from people breaking it down to sell pieces of it. People are so inconsiderate—this is a part of history that did not happen long ago, but is something that always needs to be remembered. Regardless, it was really neat to see and it put into perspective what people in eastern Berlin had to see and experience on a daily basis. The rest of the tour included the Gendarmenmarkt, the Berliner Dom, and the square where the book-burning memorial exists, that occurred during the Nazi regime.
When the tour ended, Molly and I went to the mural part of the Berlin Wall. I think this was my favorite part of the trip—I loved every single mural and took pictures of basically all of them. They were all so interesting and unique and represented how the world should view events such as the Berlin Wall and communist takeover. They were very inspiring as well, so I am extremely grateful I got to witness these. Then, Molly and I headed to a subarb of Berlin called Spandau where we were on the search for my Great Uncle Stefan’s grave, who died during WWII. At first, I had no help of finding it because no one at the train subway station knew where the address was of the cemetery when I come to find out that a bus ran directly there. The stop was the very last one of the line and dropped us off right in front of the cemetery. I got extremely lucky because the field he was in was one of the first fields, but then his grave was not where I was told. I had the specific field, row, and tombstone, but he wasn’t there. Molly and I double-checked each grave in that field twice, which there were probably over 100 soldiers buried there. I was very sad that I never found it, but I took a few pictures of the field. At least I had the chance to visit where he was buried.
We left soon after and headed back and ate at this cute little restaurant near our hostel called NO! It was a winery type restaurant, but had fantastic food. It was the first time I ordered a meal in Europe not knowing what I would be served, so that was exciting! I’m not even sure how to describe my dish—it was similar to huge ravioli stuffed with either meat or cheese topped with grilled spinach and greens with fried onions. It was delicious! Then, Molly and I split chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and that was just as good as the apple strudel. Definitely the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had!
That night, we met up with 2 of our other friends from the program who were also staying in Berlin. One of our friends had a friend of hers come out with us because she was living in Berlin—she did our program 3 years ago and met her boyfriend in Berlin one weekend and now she’s living with him! I thought that was great and she was very nice, so we all had a good time. We went to a few bars and then a club, but the time jumped ahead an hour so we didn’t get out of there until about 3:30 in the morning and there were still tons of people there.
The next morning we got up early and did a little souvenir shopping, but then headed to the train station because we were leaving at 11:48 to head back to Luxembourg. We met up with our friends from the night before and were soon on our way home! The ride back was gorgeous, especially when we reached the Rhine River. All the cities and train stops we made along the way were beautiful, so I can’t wait to see sites like these when I go to southern Germany with my mom (she’s coming in a week in 2 days for my spring break!!!!!) I absolutely loved Berlin—the city was so diverse and it had a little bit, or a lot, of everything.
Eiffel Tower :)
Champs de Elysees
Arc de Triomphe
View of Paris from the Eiffel Tower
Group in front of the Moulin Rouge
Palace of Versailles
Place de Terter-street artists square
I think I have a new favorite city! Paris was absolutely amazing and it was the first weekend where I got to do/see everything I wanted to and more! We left right after class on Friday and took the 12:20 train from Luxembourg City to Paris, which only took a little over 2 hours, so it was wonderful compared to our other travels. However, unlike we had hoped, we did not have the easiest time finding out hostel. I will take full responsibility for not printing off directions from the metro station because I booked the hostel, so it was my job to get directions. Since I failed at that, we had to scramble for Internet at a nearby Quickburger restaurant and luckily found directions. Sidenote: when we got to the metro station, our tickets didn’t work and so we all had to jump over the metal bars that we were supposed to walk through. We did that quite a lot because we always had trouble with our tickets, so you could say that we participated in the Parisian youth rebellion! We asked for help at a gas station and he told us he knew where it was and told us which way to walk; we realized later on that he sent us in the wrong direction. After walking about 2 hours, we managed to walk all the way to another metro stop and finally found the right way to go. We got on another metro and took it to the same stop we were originally at but this time we walked out a different exit and found the hostel in no time. We were so relieved yet extremely mad at the same time because the hostel was right there the entire time!
We quickly checked in and headed off to the Eiffel Tower! I was star struck when I first saw it—it was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life, hands down. I know people always say “Wow, the Eiffel Tower is incredible,” and people just nod their heads in agreement, but you can’t even describe it this way. It was breathtaking; I could have easily stared at it all night. To make it even more amazing, when it got dark it sparkled every hour on the hour for five minutes. I took so many videos and pictures because I knew that I would not be back for awhile (however, awhile turned out to be the next day). Oh! The group I was with was the girls from Italy plus our friend Andrew. He was such a trooper traveling with all girls, let alone the Hot Mess Express, which is our nickname. We grabbed dinner at a nearby and ate it in the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I loved it! Everyone was outside because it was such a beautiful day/night and the weather was perfect!
The next day we had many things planned, so we got started early. Our first stop was the Louvre. When we walked out of the metro station, we were swarmed by people shoving clipboards in our faces. I kept saying no and turned away from them, but about 4 or 5 people came up to me within 1 minute of standing there. We all tried our best to walk away from them, but some of us didn’t get away fast enough and they were talking with the people surrounding us. Sarah gave a 2 Euro coin and they tried telling her that you could only give a minimum of 5 Euro, so right then and there she knew to turn away, but one guy came up to her and reached for her wallet to get more money. Then, Victoria came over to us saying a lady just took 15 Euro right out of her hand. She was in shock—it was really bad and we should have crossed the street as soon as we walked up there. Things like that happen and when they do they are really frustrating, but they definitely teach a lesson. We’re all smart girls and we knew not to get involved with anything like that, but that’s easier said than done when put in the situation. It all happened so fast and we were just happy that it didn’t get worse than that.
Well, after that whole fiasco, we headed to the Louvre. We got in for free since we were students permanently living in Europe for the time being, so that was great! There were 3 different exhibits and we went into the first one where the Mona Lisa was. You don’t realize how small it is until you actually see it, so that was very surprising. But it was really neat to see it in person instead of a computer screen. Erin, Andrew, and I were the only ones to walk through most of all 3 exhibits and I really enjoyed it. Art has definitely grown on me and some of the pieces we saw were amazing. The Louvre was definitely the best art museum I have ever been to. After we left, we walked along the Champs de Leysees towards the Arc de Triomphe. We got closer and saw the Arc in the distance, so that was awesome! There were many cool stores along the way that we peaked in, but nothing too major. We got pictures at the Arc de Triomphe and instead of being smart civilians and use the underground pedestrian crossing like we were supposed to, we decided to run across a 5 lane roundabout intersection. It was hilarious because there were others around us who were trying to do the same thing. So we all started walking inch by inch towards the road and then we turned into one big mass of people slowly crossing the street dodging cars left and right. We were all laughing hysterically and once we finally crossed the street we exhaled in relief of our survival. That was probably one of the funniest parts of the trip and I wish I had it on camera!
The Arc de Triomphe was awesome and beautiful! We walked back down the Champs de Leysee on the other side of the street and headed towards the Eiffel Tower because we were going to walk up it. We went at the perfect time because you are able to walk up the first 2 levels, so when we did that it was around dusk but still light enough to see the city. By the way, walking up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower was definitely hard work. We walked up over 700 stairs, so we were a little exhausted! Then, by the time we reached the top by elevator, it was dark and the entire city was lit up. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen! The city looked incredibly amazing and I didn’t even care that it was starting to rain. To make things even better, the tower began sparkling! I got an amazing video looking up towards the top of the tower as it sparkled—it was beautiful!
After finally reaching the ground after going up the Eiffel Tower, we headed to the metro to go see the Moulin Rouge. I had no idea that it looked like the Moulin Rouge from the movie! It had the pinwheel and everything! It was really cool to see—we were all interested in going in, but there was no way we could because the cheapest ticket to go in was 92 Euro. Must be one good show! There were a lot of pubs and bars along the strip where people were our celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. There was even a Scottish man playing the bagpipes—it was great! We were so tired that we all headed back because it was almost 1 in the morning. Here’s where the real fun began:
After walking to our platform to catch the metro back to our hostel, we realized that the last had just left and we were not on it. So, we find another one that we could take and it would connect us to another station where we could then catch a bus to our hostel. We got on that metro and walked up to a bus stop. But before leaving the metro, here’s an important aspect of the story but it’s also a side note: The subway system in Paris is extremely confusing, in regards to knowing which ticket to buy. There are tickets that only work within the city, some that only work in the suburbs, and some that work for both. When you pass through the machine that checks your ticket, you have to walk through the metal bars that rotate. Well, we as a group had very few successful trips going in and out of these where someone’s ticket didn’t work. So, at this particular time, Victoria’s ticket was the one that didn’t work and so we tried to get her to walk through the exit part. The doors were automatic for those that were exiting, so I stepped near it to make the doors open while she would run through. However, this didn’t work because every time she would try to come through, they would close on her. Well, a group of girls walked through and when the last one exited, Victoria completely body slamed her into the wall as she runs through the exit. The girl was frightened and had no idea what just happened. Then, the doors closed on Victoria’s foot, so it was caught in the door. We were all practically on the floor in hysterics at this time and she was almost in tears—it was another extremely funny moment of the trip
Anyway, back to the story: we were all so confused because the bus schedule didn’t make sense and a bus driver pulled up saying he was done for the night. We were all becoming a little frantic thinking that we would not have a way back to the hostel. All these cabs kept driving up to us and asking if we needed a ride. We went up to 3 different cab drivers and they all laughed at us when we said were we needed to go (our hostel was not in the city, it was in a suburb outside Paris, a good distance from where we currently were). We were all getting really annoyed and were running out of options. Then, out of some grace from the good Lord above, a guy started talking to us who had been standing at the bus stop. We told him our situation and he pulled up the metro schedule on his phone and told us that we could take a certain metro and get off at a stop where we could catch a bus back to our hostel. He told us that it left in 5 minutes so after thanking him very quickly, we all sprinted across the street towards the metro. Then, our run through the metro was even better because we were all chaotically running at different speeds and going in and out of halls to find the right way to get to our metro. We were laughing, and yelling, but most of all struggling to make the run fast enough to catch the metro. Luckily, we all made it on the metro—everyone looked like they wanted to cry, but it was still hilarious. We get off at the stop the guy told us to and run to the bus station. Once again, luck is on our side and the last bus of the night was leaving in about 20 minutes and would drop us off in front of our hostel. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves, but we were all very excited. So, we take that bus home and finally make it back to our hostel by 2:30 in the morning. Saying it was a crazy day is an understatement by far. We were all in shock that we made it home that night.
The next day, Kylie, Sarah, Andrew, and I headed to Versailles while the others stayed back and slept in. We were all so tired since we went to bed around 3 and woke up around 7:30. The Palace was amazing! It was huge—I had no idea it was that big, but then again it is a palace. We walked through the Palace and then around the gardens. The sun finally came out when we were outside and it became a beautiful day. We didn’t have much time because Sarah and Andrew’s train left earlier than ours and they wanted to see the Place de Tertre where all the street painters were. We took the metro there, but unfortunately we did not find the square by the time they had to leave, so I felt bad for them. Kylie and I stayed and went into an art studio, which was one of the best decisions we made of the trip. The lady who was working was the sweetest lady! She painted all the watercolor pieces and the other artist painted with acrylics. I bought acrylic pieces and Kylie bought some as well. All the pieces were amazing and extremely well done. The lady was working on a piece when we walked in, so we knew that it was a true art studio. She gave us direction for the Place de Terter and it turns out that we just didn’t go far enough on the street we were on before. So, Kylie and I walked around and those paintings were great too, but extremely expensive. We were happy with our previous purchases. After doing more shopping, we headed to the Champs de Leysees to meet the other girls. We walked around for a bit, got some ice cream and then made our way to the train station. Our train left at 6:30 so and since it was only about a 2 hour train ride, we got back home at a decent hour. Overall, it was an amazing trip and I am in love with Paris. Pictures definitely don’t do it justice, and I will return someday!