Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

The Emerald Isle

One of our major goals of our study abroad was to get to Ireland and do some hiking and we have certainly accomplished our goal with three long days of traveling, hiking and Irish music. When we arrived we discovered that our hostel was situated above one of the best restaurants for traditional Irish music in all of Dublin, so of course we had to go.

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The environment was so lively and friendly. People were singing and dancing and there was a band playing with a fiddler and guitarist/singer. Fortunately we had prepared for the trip in Valladolid by laying out on the beach and listening to some traditional Irish music. So when the opportunity arose we were able to join in, singing and clapping along to songs like “Galway Girl” and “Whiskey in the Jar.” Amid the festivities we met a girl from Ohio, three guys from New York, another from Canada, and a bunch of rowdy Irish folk. Because we had to catch an early train in the morning and we thought it was 1:00am, we headed off to bed.

We arrived at the train station at 6:30am for our train to Cork at 7:00am, but upon arrival found out that we had hopped timezones and were there an hour earlier than we had thought. The train station was not even open yet, lesson learned. When we arrived in Cork at we only had 10 minutes to get to the bus station,  so we literally sprinted through the streets and thankfully caught our bus in time to travel to Kinsale. After 5 hours of planes, trains and buses we had arrived at our first destination, the quaint port town of Kinsale. We wandered through the tiny town of brightly colored buildings until we found our hostel where we met Sophie, a young Canadian girl traveling around Europe.

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Once we discovered we had similar plans for the day, we decided to explore together. First thing that we wanted to see was Charles Fort. After a hilly 40 minute walk with scenic viewpoints, we found our fort. We spent a while exploring every crack and crevice of the old, ruined fort.

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Apart from seeing the weaponry, storehouses and barracks, we were also able to see the ocean views and our next destination, James Fort. Two hours of walking later we arrived at a grassy hill and just beyond was James Fort. Just as we get to a clearing we saw a vivid, full rainbow cresting over James Fort.

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We couldn’t get into the fort, but we still explored the area, got stuck on the ruins of a house, and got a beautiful view of Kinsale from afar. We walked back to town for dinner and another not quite as fun, but equally as interesting night of traditional Irish music.  We enjoyed freshly baked muffins for breakfast and saw Sophie off before going to see a castle that overlooked the town.

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After wondering back to the bus stop we discovered two things: Ireland has sporadic weather patterns with hail one minute and blue skies the next and that Ireland’s bus website is less than reliable. Although our bus tickets were bought for that specific day, at that specific time, to that specific location, the bus does not exist until summer time. When the normal bus through Kinsale arrived, an hour later, the very nice driver told us this vital information and gave us a ticket for 3 different buses to Kenmare (instead of our 1). Despite our stress and struggles, we arrived in Kenmare only a half hour later than expected.

Upon arrival, we had to navigate to our Bed and Breakfast, without a real map and with no idea where we actually were in the town. It was raining when the first short journey began and after asking 2 people for directions and finding the correct road, the sun brightened up our walk. We walked up and down the steep rolling hills and admired the mountains and scenery surrounding Kenmare, a very tiny town. We found the Bed and Breakfast, a thatched cottage in the middle of no where, only to find out they did not have a reservation for us.

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Thankfully, the owner had a room for us and we had no problems with our stay. Even though we were tired and hungry, we set out to hike a part of the famous ‘Ring of Kerry’ trail. We found one of the highest peaks (on a trail) in Kenmare and were able to see the whole town and the lake beyond. However, we were not content with sticking to the road and decided to do some wandering. We hopped a fence and proceeded up a golden hill, but we soon discovered it was nothing but a swamp. With soaking and muddy feet we pressed on to the top with occasional leaping and jogging to avoid larger puddles. At the top, we had a perfect view of the surrounding landscape, where we took plenty of pictures before heading down the mountain.

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Our way down was even more interesting and adventurous. Again, we were not content with the makeshift mountain trail we’d taken up, so we decided to make our own trail on the way down. We jogged down the mountain side, attempting to tread lightly through the boggy water. We climbed under, through and over barbed wire and many tiny hills before arriving at a bigger obstacle in our path. Before us was a five foot deep and 3 foot across gulley with a small stream at the bottom. After a bit of mental preparation we leapt across the troublesome gap. Then we stumbled through some tall and thorny shrubbery and found a little running creek, where we jumped in to wash off our muddy shoes only to step in a puddle of mud 5 steps later. Shortly after we climbed out of the wilderness and up to the road back towards the town. All the town had was a fancy restaurant, so we tried our luck and ate pizza awkwardly surrounded by families wearing suits and dresses, doing our best to hide our muddy shoes. We were exhausted so we headed back to the B & B, along a pitch black road, with perfectly visible stars, and took nice warm showers before an early night for rest.

The following morning we had our first real Irish breakfast. Laid out for us was fruit, granola, yogurt, OJ, and then our hostess (Caremel) came out with tea, hot plates of Irish bacon, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomato and toast.

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Needless to say, we were stuffed, but it was the best breakfast in Europe so far. They gave us a ride to the bus stop, where once again we had a dilemma with the buses. We realized that the specific bus doesn’t run on Saturday out of Kenmare and we were stranded, with another traveler, once again. Thankfully, this man had a friend who called a cab, and going against our better judgement of walking to Killarney (only 15 miles), we took it with him so he wouldn’t have to pay the whole fare. In Killarney we were happy to find out that our train would definitely arrive later that evening. So, we set off, without worries, through on and off hailstorms to Killarney National Park. From there we took ever path and side path that we could to get amazing views of the lake and the snow capped mountains on the other side.

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After we tired of walking we made our way back to town to do some souvenir shopping and to eat. Later we boarded our train, to head back to Dublin, found our hostel, once again without a map, and went to sleep to prepare for a long day of traveling back to Valladolid. We both still insist that some day we will return to Ireland, but there is no way that we will do it without a car.

Juliana and Steve.

Segovia and Salamanca

We arrived in Segovia, and the first thing we saw was the gigantic Roman aqueduct. It is the most in-tact aqueduct in Spain and is quite impressive. So, obviously we had to spend some time taking pictures and admiring the architecture.

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Then we ventured to a water fountain with water from the mountain and drank some of the refreshing water. As we walked the narrow streets we admired the cuchinillos and various pastry shops. Cuchinillo is the most famous dish of Segovia and it consists of an entire baby pig served on a platter. We then ventured to an ancient fortress on the edge of the highest part of town, el Alcazar. We looked at all of the weapons, armor, king’s bedroom, and decorated ceilings.

 

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We climbed the perilous spiral staircase which opened up on the tower where you could see all of Segovia.

 

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We then went to the Cathedral and took pictures of everything we possibly could.

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In Salamanca we toured the cathedral, finally being able to go to the upper levels and view a church from above.

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We then climbed to the top of the bell tower to see a grand view of the city, and also nearly became deaf in the process.

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We then took a brief tour of the city visiting La Casa de Conchas (a house decorated with shells), the beautiful plaza mayor and the university.

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Then we had time to explore. We found a nice place to bask in the sun where we listened to a violinist play pop songs and many of us gave him change because he was so talented. From there we wandered into a candy store and bought chupachups (lollipops) and were offered free cookies! We adventured into souvenir shops and then we headed back to Plaza Mayor where we waited, and studied, for the group to head back to Valladolid

Steve and Juliana

 

Barcelona!

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7am on a dreary morning in Valladolid we embarked on a 7 hour train ride to Barcelona, a city on the Mediterranean. The ride was very long and boring, but once we arrived and stepped out from the depths of the metro station we were ecstatic.  The first thing we did was take off our jackets to feel the almost 70 degree Mediterranean air.

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To start off our adventures we headed to the famous street Las Rambles and on our way encountered the Arco de Trion, a large arch in the heart of the city. Las Rambles is a large street lined with stores and restaurants with a wide walking path that is packed with people speaking all different languages. We stumbled upon a huge fresh food market that had almost every type of fresh food you could want: fish, vegetables, fruit, meat…everything. We all got delicious fruit juice and vegetables to make salad and we went back to our hostel to relax on the terrace because we were exhausted from traveling.

The next day was non-stop sight-seeing. We started with the Sagrada Familia, an indescribable cathedral by Antoni Gaudi. It is still under construction, but it is still an incredible building. Then we went to see some of his other works in the city, like casa Mila and casa Batllo. However, casa Mila, the one that we really wanted to see, was under construction and covered in rafters so that we could not see it at all.

 

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Next we went shopping, found our way to Las Rambles, and then worked our way to the ocean. We tried to find a place to eat and ended up finding a cheap little restaurant along the water. The food was wonderful; we ate a two course meal of fresh mussles, calamari, and paella with seafood. After a fulfilling lunch we set out once more for the ocean.

 

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The weather was nice enough for us to consider going swimming, so we decided to take a plunge into the icy water. Besides all of the weird looks and being freezing cold, we thoroughly enjoyed our dip in the water.

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Our next trip was to another of Gaudi’s famous works, Parque Guell. Little did we know, it was on a mountain, but you can’t get a better view of Barcelona from anywhere. We trekked to the top of a “hill” and were able to see a 360 degree view of the entire city. We spent almost 3 hours touring the park while taking in all of the nature and architecture before dragging ourselves back to the hostel.

 

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Finally, on our last day, we went to see the cathedral. It is a large Gothic cathedral with high pointed vaults and beautiful stained glass windows. After looking around we took a minute to admire the mini-orchestra playing outside on the steps. around the orchestra were many large circles of church members dancing to the music. Then we headed to the depths of the metro once again to make our long hard journey back to Valladolid.

-Steve and Juliana

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Madrid!

Sorry we are so late on this post everybody, but we have two posts coming up very soon.

Two weekends ago we went on our first weekend excursion, a 3-day trip to Madrid, Spain’s capital. After a scenic and quite entertaining bus ride (there were tablets with movies and games in the seats) we arrived at our location. At the point we had to learn how to use the Metro, which was an adventure in itself because it was the first time for many of us. We finally arrived at our hostel, which was actually quite a nice place with a lot of interesting people, before we embarked on our journey around the city.

The first thing we did was go to a playground and enjoy our lunches. The playground was wonderful! We stayed there for about 20 minutes reliving our childhood days and from there we set out for more ‘mature’ adventures.

We set out for the Palacio Real, which was a grand and beautiful building overlooking most of Madrid as well as all of the surrounding gardens. We ran down into the palace gardens and ended up just hanging out and taking ridiculous photos. By the way, the weather was perfect for practically the first time since we had arrived in Spain.

 

We then wandered to the Plaza Mayor, which apparently every Spanish city has. We enjoyed looking at the painted buildings, a fat spiderman and a creepy sparkly goat. We then went to a really cool supermarket comprised of tons of different eateries, bars and pastry shops which were very similar to Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. After a well-deserved nap we decided to take a quick trip to Garet’s favorite part of Madrid, the red-light district, which was located next to the biggest and fanciest McDonald’s that we had ever seen.

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The next day we set a goal of seeing every notable part of the center of Madrid that we could possibly see, including: an Egyptian palace, many fountains, el Museo del Prado (where we saw the famous Velazquez painting, Las Meninas), and the Buen Retiro park. The park had a huge glass palace, a couple of ponds and many musicians playing fun music.

The following day we awoke, and went off to an open air market where we bought two books from the Eragon series in Spanish for our reading pleasure. Then we headed back to the hostel for a dismal trip home to discover that there are real lollipop trees all over Spain…So for all of the art critics out there, lollipop trees do exist.

-Steve and Juliana

El Campo Grande

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It was five in the afternoon and Steve randomly texted Juliana to ask “Do you want to go to the park and look at the birds?” By birds he meant the pavos-reales or peacocks that live in the El Campo Grande, the main park in Valladolid. Even though we have been in Valladolid for almost a month, we still had not ventured into the center of the park to get a good look at everything. So, we brought along cameras and went for a walk on one of the nicest days since we had arrived.  The pavos-reales were everywhere and we just started chasing them around to get the best picture possible. After we got tired of the birds, we continued exploring throughout the park. We found fountains and various other sculptures.

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After an hour of wandering through the park, we found a little lake with a bridge that we wanted to go stand on. While searching for it, we found a flight of stairs; we didn’t know where they went, so naturally we started climbing. The steps were tall and difficult to climb (especially for Juliana), but somehow we made it to the top and we were quite impressed. From the top of La Cueva we could see over the entire park and all around the city surrounded by clear blue sky. Of course we had to take some nice photos…which took us some time considering we were using a phone set on a 10 second timer. After climbing down we were amazed to see that we had been standing on top of a cave, hence the name La Cueva. We set back to our original goal; searching for the bridge, however, after a couple of minutes of searching we realized we had been standing on it all along. It was quite embarrassing…

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Later that night, we decided to show our bored fellow Dutchman Erin the glorious Cave of Wonders in El Campo Grande. By the time we arrived at the park, few paths off the main boulevard were sufficiently lit to be able to venture and view what the park had in store. However, ‘twas not all in vain (said Erin), for there was one path that had a fountain and an empty small amphitheater. The three of us climbed atop the stage and began to perform for our imaginary audience, with sketches varying from Shakespeare to Disney. Right in the middle of a stirring rendition of Mulan’s music, Juliana peered from stage right and saw a man locking the gates. With a mighty shriek from all of us, Erin leapt from the stage followed by Steve and Juliana. After a brisk jog out of that section of the park we realized that the entire park was being locked, not just our personal theater. From the middle of the park we weren’t sure if the main gate was locked yet or not, but it was definitely closed. So obviously, we started to contemplate various methods of escape, such as climbing over the gates. However, the closer we got we came to the realization that the gate was slightly opened, but Valladolid’s finest was just about to close it up for the night. Erin says that their pants were not the only things that are tight; they are strict about their rules too. And so ended our journey to see the glorious peacocks knowing that as the sun rose our journey to Madrid would just be starting….(tune in next week)

-Juliana, Steve, and Erin

Churches, Chocolate and Churros

While wandering around one night with nothing better to do, we saw a door slightly cracked open in a dark alley. One of our friends, Tinsley, decided to just open it up and walk on in while the two of us and her sister, Terrill, stood in shock. And so…we had no reason to do anything but follow her. We found ourselves room with two doors, went through the right and realized that we were in a large dark church. There was an eerie silence in the air as we crept to the back pews and marveled at the glory. Nobody wanted to interrupt the people who were silently praying, but Tinsley and Terrill still ventured into the middle of the church to read a book on a pedestal, which may or may not have been the bible…we are still unsure. As we sat in pure silence a woman sitting in a pew to our left coughed and as it echoed off of the high vaulted ceilings, it sounded as if God himself was coughing. After we all took a picture of the church we tiptoed out slowly in order to not disturb the peace anymore. Although we don’t have a picture of the outside of the church from that night, we have an inside shot and some others that we have ventured into since then.

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Another night 9 of us ventured out to a local chocolatería to buy the famous chocolate and churros that everyone has told us about. Once we walked through the front door, there was nothing but chocolate in sight, from gelato to pastry’s.  After the waitress attempted to create a table large enough for our group, we all sat down and read about the healing powers of chocolate. After a confusing conversation with the waitress (because they don’t split bills in Spain), we finally ordered a round of chocolate and a huge plate of churros. About 10 minutes later, she returned with piping hot tazas of steaming chocolate. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, chocolate here is essentially melted chocolate bars with just enough milk to make it drinkable, yummmmmmmm. The churros are exactly what you think they are, and you dip them into the chocolate and it is like heaven. We scarfed down these delectable treats and proceeded to pay completely in change, 27.80 € exactly. Needless to say, we were all on a pretty good sugar rush for the next couple of hours as we took a walk around Valladolid.

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Dancing Penguins

Our university, if that’s what you can call it, is 3 different “buildings”, which are about a 20 minute walk from each of our apartments. Within these buildings there are 2 classrooms, a computer lab and three professors. It turns out that we only have two of them, Patricia and Sergio, but they are both awesome. So far the classes have been really interesting and we are learning a ton of Spanish and other fun things. Just the other day the last student arrived, so now we are 12 strong.

Plaza del Viejo Coso-location of Universitas Castellae

Plaza del Viejo Coso-location of Universitas Castellae

First of all, we should probably explain that the Spanish youth are used to and even expected to stay out extremely late (at least according to American standards). Around 1:30, we ventured to a discoteca close to La Plaza Mayor where we expected to see a room packed full of locals dancing like crazy. Much to our surprise, this was not the case. Although the music was bumping, hardly anyone was dancing and there were less than 20 people. However, we didn’t let that bring us down and we went in there and rocked the place. All 11 of us danced for an hour and a half, showing off our Soulja Boy dance moves (which everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the DJ).

Every year in Valladolid there is a huge festival of pinguinos, which are not actually penguins…they are motorcycles. Hundreds of motorcycles line the streets as people flock from all corners of the world to partake in this festival. Everyone walks around in full leather gear, carrying helmets and admiring the other bikes. These bikers stay in a large field outside of the city, and come into the city every day to see the churches and cathedrals. On the last day, everyone gathers in a large park, campo grande, to see a show in which professionals ride quads and dirt bikes around in circles popping wheelies and doing crazy stunts. People were climbing trees and statues and trashcans in order to see the event. Juliana had to stand on a longboard just to see over the people in front of us (short people problems).

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First Couple of Days In Spain

After almost a week of packing, and unpacking, we finally had suitcases that weighed less than 50 pounds. So the journey began with the customary drive down to the Philadelphia Airport where we said goodbye to our parents and went off to meet eachother. We decided that even though we were at the airport, going to Spain still seemed like a dream. Normal airport events transpired and we ended up sitting at our gate for about an hour before the flight was delayed. By this time we had met up with Jake, and after buying our last American McDonald’s for the next four months and sitting around for a while we were finally allowed to board the plane. This is when we realized that people aren’t going to fully understand us and we are not going to fully understand them for the next couple months. Almost everyone on the flight only spoke Spanish, except for a couple of other students who appeared to be there for study abroad as well. After about 20 minutes on the plane, the pilot announced another delay so that we could wait for a connecting plane. After that hour or so, we headed to the de-icing platform and ended up being there for an hour (which is just “several minutes,” according to the pilot). By around 10pm, we were finally on our way to Spain, and very worried that we wouldn’t make it in time to meet the rest of the students before heading off to Valladolid from Madrid. Oh, by the way, Steve’s fear of flying is unrivaled, so at take-off, landing and every hint of turbulence he could be seen desperately clutching the seat to prepare himself for the inevitable crash. However, we made it safely to Madrid after 7 or so hours of nothing but boredom and watching other people sleep. After the journey through the airport (with no sign of escalators or elevators), the man at customs stamped our passports, and thankfully none of our bags had been misplaced. The journey through the airports had been an utter success. As we navigated our way to Terminal One, a tall, dark-haired man came up to us with a folder that said “Universitas Castellae.” This was Alberto, and he was our contact to the university.IMG_9563IMG_9573IMG_9574

We hopped on a bus where we met up with Erin and 6 other students from the school. After the scenic and WINDY ride to Valladolid, we were each dropped off at our respective bus stops to meet our host parents. Valladolid is a beautiful city. There are grand, ornate churches and cathedrals on almost every block. Even our university is located in an awesome building. The building is La Plaza Viejo Coso and it is one of the only octagonal plazas in the city. It also used to be home to el corrido de los toros, or bullfighting. We met Sergio, one of the teachers at the university, and went on a tour of the inner city to see all of the main landmarks, monuments and churches.

Next we went to the parade for Three Kings Day. Basically, it’s like the Christmas that we celebrate in America. The three kings that visited baby Jesus come to Spain on January 6th to give gifts to everybody.   There were tons of people lining the streets in La Plaza Mayor and it was near impossible to find a spot in which we could actually see the parade. However, we managed to locate a spot where we had a decent view of the parade. The floats all were designed around Disney movies. From Aladdin to Peter Pan, these floats covered everything Disney.  Upon three floats were the kings for which the holiday is named. They rose from their floats and walked down a raised platform to a government building in the plaza and stood on a balcony above the on-looking crowd. And boom! Fireworks erupted from the building in brilliant and dazzling colors, all just 20 or 30 feet above our heads.

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Later that night, there were a lot of fiestas to celebrate. All of the locals go out on the 5th to bars and cafes to enjoy the festivities. We decided to go to La Negra Flor, which is owned by a friend of Alberto. The place was packed shoulder to shoulder. After about an hour one of the “kings” (in a cheesy costume) stepped out of the back door and everyone went crazy. For the next hour he walked in and out, throwing out different “gifts” each time. There was everything from party hats to clown noses and each time he returned the shouting got louder and louder, but the best part was when he came out with a pocket English dictionary and the crowd just erupted!

-Steve and Juliana

October in Berlin and around Europe

          I had quite a busy month in October, and it went by very quickly! A very large part of the time was spent traveling; throughout the month I really only had two full weeks of class.
          After midterms on Friday October 4th, my fall break began. Directly after my tests I went to the main train station Berlin and took an ICE fast train to Duisburg, and then transferred to a regional train to get to the town Wesel, near where some family friends of mine live. They met me at the train station and took me to their farm near a very small town called Drevenack. They have several large fields for their two horses, with public trails in the woods beyond, and a very large, tastefully decorated house. The house, like many traditional German farm houses, is connected to the barn where the horses are.
          Over the weekend, we visited around the area, including Scholoss Raesfeld, a picturesque castle protected by a moat, and Xanten, a small town originally settled by the Romans. The town has an impressive cathedral and parts of its medieval walls.
AMSTERDAM
          Monday morning I left early for the Dinslaken train station so I could take a train to Amsterdam. It took about 2 hours to get to Amsterdam by ICE train. After I arrived at the main train station I went to find my hotel. I only traveled with one backpack, which made it really easy to carry my luggage from place to place (although I had to pack carefully.) I stayed at Hotel the Crown, which was very cheap and light on accommodations, but at a good location right along the canals. I didn’t need to use public transportation at all in Amsterdam because I was able to walk everywhere. Most of the locals seem to use bikes to get around—there were bikes everywhere, often making had to walk on the sidewalks where they were parked, and on the streets where they were zooming around silently, not yielding to anything. This made the traffic pretty chaotic at times.
          The first day I went to the main square of town, Dam Square, with the royal palace and a famous church. I also walked through the Anne Frank house, which was different than I expected; the house was left totally unfurnished, but the walls were original. I sampled some local cuisine at Restaurant Moeders, namely “Stamppot,” which was mashed potatoes blended with spinach and served with sausage, bacon and a meatball. I walked a few hours along the beautiful canals, which as night came looked even more beautiful reflecting the lights on the houses and bridges.
          Amsterdam is clearly a city that prefers the night life to the morning commute. The narrow streets, packed the night before, were pretty much empty in the morning, aside from the trash that was left about everywhere, being cleaned up by street cleaners. Most of the stores were closed, too. I had a Dutch Waffle with strawberries for breakfast and took a canal tour on a boat, which was a neat experience. After the boat tour I walked to the flower market, famous for selling tulips, and stopped at a cheese store where I bought a hunk of Dutch goat cheese, perhaps the best cheese I ever had. I ate some of it for lunch on my way to a famous market, Albert Cuypmarkt, and some of the famous bridges in the city. After some souvenir shopping, I had a dinner of Dutch “Bitterballen,” or fried balls of rice and cheese, at Restaurant Greetje.
          The next morning I went to a laundromat to wash my clothes; since I was traveling just with my backpack, I only brought enough clothes for half of the week, and planned to do my wash on Wednesday.
LONDON
          Afterwards I took a commuter train to the airport to catch my flight to London, which left around 5:00 and only lasted 45 minutes, and was the cheapest way to get there. I landed at Gatwick Airport, which is far south of the city, and had to travel to my hotel north of the city, which was somewhat confusing because of the ticket system in London. For dinner I had a Cornish Pastry which I picked up at the train station; it was basically a stew wrapped inside a folded pie crust, and was very good. I got to my hotel, a Best Western in the suburb Ilford, late that evening and stayed there for the rest of the night. Although far from the center of town, the price for the hotel was good, and it was right near a train station.
          The next morning I bought a day ticket on the London Transport Network and headed to the Tower of London. I went into the grounds and got a tour from one of the royal guardsmen, commonly known as “beefeaters,” who gave an overview of the history of the complex. The castle was originally built by Normans in the 1100s, and used by the British Royalty for centuries afterwards. I was able to tour inside the building and go into the museum where the crown jewels are stored.
          After the Tower of London I went to the nearby Tower Bridge, which is a famous landmark over the River Thames. I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral later; I didn’t have a chance to go inside, though, because there was an event going on at the time. Next I took the Tube to Westminster where I saw Westminster Abbey cathedral, Big Ben and the Parliament Building; around this time it started to rain (as it often did as I was there). However, after the storm passed, there was a very pretty sunset on the clouds behind Big Ben.
          I went to Piccadilly Circus, a major square reminiscent of Times Square at dusk and did some souvenir shopping, before going back to see Big Ben, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge at night. Then I headed back to my hotel, which about a 20 minute ride.
          The next day, Friday, I went to tour the reconstructed Globe Theater, which is was Shakespeare’s home theater where he premiered many of his plays. The original theaters that stood near that location (actually a few blocks away) burned down hundreds of years ago, but the reconstructed replica does its best to be historically accurate. The theater is round with a stage in the middle and three floors of seating surrounding it. The middle is open-air, and intended for standing room, where the poor people watched the play in Shakespeare’s time. Because it was the end of the season, all the shows were sold out, so I wasn’t able to see one performed there.
          After the Globe, I went to the Charles Dickens House, which has been restored to its Victorian appearance when Dickens lived and wrote there. I toured the building before heading back out into the rain and going to a traditional Pub, where I had fish and chips for a late lunch. Also that day I visited Buckingham and Kensington palaces, but didn’t have enough time to go inside because of my busy schedule. I wish I could have had more time in London—there was just so much I wanted to see and do. Even with the time I had, however, I was able to get a good sampling of what the town has to offer.
          On Saturday I made some brief stops at Baker Street where the Sherlock Holmes Museum is, Leicester Square where the big British film premiers are, the National Gallery area and the MI6 Building where the British Secret Service is housed. I tried to get to Abbey Road where the Beatles recorded as well, but was unable to get there due to limited time and Tube closures. The next day, Sunday the 13th,  I had to leave early in the morning for the airport, sad to leave London behind, which is certainly my favorite place I’ve visited so far, aside from Berlin itself. Yet, after so much travel, it was good to be back in Berlin.
BERLIN
          While the leaves had been green in London, they were peaking in their fall colors when I got back to Berlin. While September was very cold, October was relatively warm, as far as fall temperatures go. On Tuesday the 15th, my friend Robyn, who is studying in Spain this semester, came to Berlin for the week. That week was also the “Festival of Lights,” during which huge projectors project lighted designs on many of the landmarks in the city. Greg, my friend from high school who is also studying in Berlin, and I took Robyn to all the major sites in Berlin, including some like Checkpoint Charlie and Tiergarten that I hadn’t been to yet myself.
          On the evening of the 17th, for German class, I sat in the audience of the Maybrit Illner Talkshow, a famous political TV program in Germany. That Friday our school group had a trip to Hohenschönhausen, the Stasi (Secret Police of Communist East Germany) prison. We toured the complex and saw the poor physical conditions in the prison cells and learned about the mental abuse the Stasi used to get information from the people they imprisoned.
          That evening I went to see the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra perform selections from Mozart, Heydn and Beethoven, including Beethoven’s entire 6th Symphony. Saturday I spent with Kayla, also here from LVC, souvenir shopping, looking at an art show and going up the famous Fernsehenturm tower in the middle of Alexanderplatz; the wait was very long, but it was worth it for the experience. Unfortunately it was dark by the time we got up there. Sunday I went out on my own and toured the Berlin Olympic Stadium from the 1936 Olympics and visited KaDeWe or Kaufhaus des Westens, one of the largest and most famous department stores in Germany.
STRASBOURG
          Before the semester began, our group of about 200 students was split in half for our major week-long excursion, and we were given the option to be in either the group that went to Strasbourg and Paris or Hamburg and Copenhagen. I chose the former option, because I wanted to see the famous city of Paris.
          Friday we took a train from the Berlin main train station at 10 AM, arriving after one transfer at 6:15 in Strasbourg. We found our hostel and split into rooms. The first night we didn’t really have time to go into the city, but Saturday I spent the whole day in town, exploring it on my own. Strasbourg was originally a German speaking, culturally German city, which changed hands between the French and Germans many times over the last 100 years, along with the Alsace region of which it is the capital. Today it is a part of France but is right on the border of Germany. Its medieval cathedral was once the tallest building in the world, and still towers high above the narrow winding streets of the old town. With all the old buildings, Strasbourg had a charm that I really enjoyed. I walked to major squares, went along the river and over a famous medieval bridge, listened to street performers, and climbed the towers of the cathedral. I also sampled local food, including Beackoffe, which is three meats in a Riesling sauce with potatoes and carrots, and the area’s wine, which is sweet Riesling wine.
          Sunday we went as a group on a bus to Verdun, a major battlefield during World War I for the Germans and French. We had a private tour guide who took us to major memorials, a destroyed village, and several bunkers. Though only shallow remains of the trenches survive, the entire landscape is extremely hilly and bumpy due to all the shells and bombs in the war. It was interesting to learn the history of the area and see what it still reflects today.
          Monday morning our group went and toured the European Union Parliament building, which is in Strasbourg. It is a very modern building with over 700 seats in the Parliament chamber. Afterwards, we took a train about 3 hours to Paris. Our group’s hostel was nicer there; we got free breakfast and dinner, and a larger room that was better designed for groups.
PARIS
          The morning of Tuesday the 29th, our group had a boat tour of the Seine River in Paris, which was quite disappointing because the boat was very large and overly crowded, and it was hard to see anything worthwhile. I had a much better time when I went out on my own touring the city later that day, visiting the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, and Notre Dame. It was interesting to see these monuments, particularly Notre Dame. More impressive than the cathedral itself was its age, dating from the 1100s. Just as I entered, a mass began, and the singing and organ gave a very ancient feel as I walked through the large chamber. That evening I headed back to the hotel early to get dinner, as I did most of the nights I was there. I stayed out late enough to see the church lit up at night, though.
          Wednesday we were given a ticket to the Louvre art museum, which is one of the biggest in the world and housed inside what was once the city palace of the French royalty. It was impressive to see so much art from famous artists such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci, including the Mona Lisa which was surrounded by a ridiculous crowd. However, it was hard to navigate, and got a bit redundant after awhile. I spent about five hours there, which was more than enough. Frustratingly, unlike museums in Germany and Prague, there were no English explanations at the Louvre, despite all the international tourists there; everything was in French. That afternoon, I visited Les Invalids where Napoleon’s tomb is, getting in free with my student ID, and then went to the Eiffel Tower until dark. I enjoyed seeing the tower lit up at night, especially when it sparkled with hundreds of strobe lights every hour.
          On Thursday our group visited Versailles, the later palace of the French Royalty, which was very lavish and large. We had our own audio tours, so we could move at our own speed and see what we wanted. That afternoon I visited Pere Lachaise cemetery, where many famous people are buried.
          Our last full day in Paris was free. In the morning, I went to a mass at Notre Dame; it was interesting at first, but was a special service and lasted more than an hour and a half, and since I couldn’t understand any of the French, it got a little long. Afterwards I went to a traditional French restaurant, Ambassade D’Auvergne, and had what was my best meal in France: a country sausage with Aligot. Aligot is a style of mashed potatoes blended with cheese until it’s thick enough that you have to cut it with your fork. The price wasn’t too bad, but the restaurant was very classy, and in an old building with a nice atmosphere. After lunch I visited the Luxembourg Gardens, which were colorful for fall, the Pantheon, a famous tomb, and the La Défense business district with its skyscrapers and plazas. The last thing I did in Paris was climb the Eiffel Tower at night. The weather had been nice all week except for Friday, so the line for the Eiffel Tower was finally short enough that I decided to wait. I climbed the steps, which weren’t too bad, but didn’t go all the way to the top; only to the second observation deck.
          On Sunday, November 2 we left Paris by train, which lasted 8 hours and had one transfer in Mannheim. For what everyone makes Paris out to be, I was a little disappointed. It was a neat city, but was very “glitzy,” lacking the down-to-earth feel of the other towns I’ve visited. Historical landmarks like the Tower of London or the Berlin Wall, felt more “real” to me—they were places where history actually happened, whereas in Paris the landmarks were dominated by monuments, which felt larger-than-life, but not exactly authentic. Also, building projects in the 1800’s tore down most of the medieval districts, so even the oldest parts didn’t have the charm of smaller cities like Strasbourg and Prague. There were a lot of swindlers in Paris too—at most every major monument, there were people who pretended to find a ring on the ground, and would try to use it to start a conversation to get money from you. I wasn’t a huge fan of the public transportation network there either.
          On the upside, Paris had great crepes, which I snacked on often while touring, and the Eiffel Tower at night and Notre Dame in general were very impressive landmarks. It was definitely worth visiting, and I’m glad I went there. However, given the choice to go back to Paris or London or Berlin, London or Berlin would definitely be higher on my list.
          All the traveling this month has been a bit exhausting, and it’s good to be Back in Berlin for awhile. Next month, my last full month here already, will contain weekend trips to Hamburg and Vienna, before it’s back to the US!

September in Berlin… and more…

Here’s my September update of what I’ve been doing in Europe!

My first full month in Berlin has passed, and along with many opportunities of learning about German culture, I’ve had some chances to get out of Berlin as well.

The German election was on the 22nd of September. It was quite an opportunity to see and compare the German voting culture to that of America. The most noticeable evidence of the election was the abundance of signs everywhere along the streets. There were also frequent small political rallies at many of the places I went. It was interesting, in the days leading up to the vote, to see the various newspaper articles and scandals. I watched part of the TV Debate between Merkel (CDU) and Steinbrück (SPD) and followed the “middle finger scandal,” where Steinbrück fell under heavy criticism after posing for a picture pointing his middle finger. In the end, perhaps not surprisingly, Angel Merkel’s party won in a landslide and controls the Bundestag (parliament), which chooses the chancellor. Thus Merkel will be chancellor for the next four years.

My classes have been going well; they are relatively easy as far as tests and subject matter goes (the German being slightly more challenging) but they often tend to be more work than I would like, considering where I am and what I could be doing! I have to read a novel or section thereof each week for my Berlin: History, Memory, Literature class, in English. We have to watch a movie late every Monday for my German Film before 1945 class. For both of those courses I also have to write an 8 page term paper with research, in English. For German I’ve had to already write 8 pages between two essays, in German. I also had to read a novel in German; I chose a play by Schiller called “Maria Stuart,” about Mary Queen of Scotts, and had to give a verbal book report presentation on it. Every other Thursday we have a trip to somewhere in the city with the class. So far we’ve visited a modern art museum, the Berlin Jewish Museum, and had an outdoor tour of street art on a very rainy day. (Overall, the weather isn’t that different from PA; last week was cloudy with rain some days, this week is supposed to be sunny. It is indeed colder here than in the US already; it feels like mid-October at least.)

As all this was going on, I spent my weekends traveling around Berlin, and also outside of it for the first time. The first weekend in September, I went with a group from the FU-BEST program to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp north of Berlin. We spent most of the day looking around the area. Most of the buildings are torn down, but in those that survive, one can see either exhibits on certain aspects of the camp’s history, or reconstructed rooms that display what life was like there. The camp had been used as both a Nazi concentration camp and as a Soviet prisoner camp after the war.

The next day I visited the Neues Museum in Berlin with friends Kayla and Greg, which displays some impressive Egyptian artifacts, and artifacts from other cultures as well.

On Sunday the 8th I went to visit the Holz’s in Woltersdorf, about an hour east of Berlin. They are my grandma’s cousin’s family. We had been in contact by e-mail, and were able to set up a time to meet. We had lunch and they took me on a walking tour of their town, which is a popular resort for Berliners because of its location on the lake. Afterwards we had coffee and homemade plum cake, talked about differences between American and German culture, and showed each other pictures. It was a nice visit, and we plan to meet again sometime soon.

The next weekend, Greg, Kayla and I made a last minute decision to go to Prague (last minute in that we planned it only a week before.) We traveled by train, about five hours, from the Berlin main train station to the central station in Prague on Friday the 13th (but we did not experience any bad luck). We left at 6:45 AM and arrived in the city at about noon. We went right away to a bus tour of the historical city, which included a stop at the Prague castle on top of the hill overlooking the city.

We tried to eat at a traditional Czech restaurants while we were there to experience the culture. My favorite dishes were Svíčková na Smetanĕ, which was beef in a vegetable gravy with bread dumplings, the area’s local Kozel beer, and Trdelníck, which is a traditional Czech/Hungarian baked good.

We got up at 8 AM the next morning and took a tram 20 minutes from our hotel to the medieval city center. Our self-designed tour included a walk across the Charles Bridge, which is a well-known bridge constructed during the late 1300’s. The bridge offered a beautiful view of the castle and the city along the river, and was one of my favorite spots in town.

We also visited the Jewish Quarter where we saw the Old New Synagogue, which was built in 1270 and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe, but spent most of the day around the Old Town square, which is surrounded by buildings like the town hall, built in 1364, and the Týn Church, built in the early 1400s. Along with it we saw the Astronomical Clock on the town hall tower, installed 1410, which has a show of moving sculptures every hour.

We didn’t go inside many buildings but spent most of our time enjoying the beautiful weather, while navigating the narrow winding streets of the Old Town. We also stopped at an “Ice Pub,” which was a bar totally lined with ice, except for the floor and ceilings. The tables, cups we drank from, walls, and sculptures around the room were all formed out of ice blocks. Consequentially, the room was very cold; we were given special coats before we entered, and not allowed to stay in more than 30 minutes.

Sunday morning we browsed at an open air market and spent the rest of our time in the Old Town Square watching the people and entertainers performing in the forum. Our train left at 2:30 so we didn’t have time for much else that day. Overall Prague was very beautiful and interesting because of its old buildings and foreign culture. The only disadvantages were the sense that it was a poorer, more dangerous city and that the Old Town had a lot of tourist-trap, boardwalk type shops with lots of crowds.

The next weekend I visited the absolutely beautiful city of Dresden, traveling alone. At first it was a little lonely to go by myself, but I ended up loving it because I could do whatever I wanted whenever I chose. The weather was cloudy but the city was still magnificently beautiful, largely because the entire skyline of significant baroque buildings is directly along the river and can be viewed perfectly from the other side. Although Dresden was heavily damaged during World War II, all of the significant buildings have been restored—some totally rebuilt to their original dimensions, and others repaired from their shells or whatever was left after the bombings.

I was in Dresden from Thursday night, the 19th, to Sunday afternoon. Since I had plenty of time, the atmosphere was very relaxed. I spent Friday walking around the city and on the old bridge, and also along the bank of the Elbe River directly across from the Altstadt which afforded an excellent view. There was a Fall Market at the Altmarkt square, which I also spent a long time browsing, sampling the foods of the area and buying some folk crafts. I also climbed to the top cupola of the Frauenkirche, a famous church, and later sat on the bridge watching the city light up during nightfall.

On Saturday I spent most of the day in the city palace of the Saxon kings, which included treasure rooms and museum exhibitions of Saxon armor and relics. I climbed to the top of the palace tower, after which I explored parts of the New Town on the other side of the river. Sunday I went inside the Frauenkirche, which was very impressive, and sat along the Elbe to watch the city, before I had to get on my train for the two hour ride to Berlin.

The next weekend, which was last weekend, I visited the Tiede family, which is more relations through my grandmother’s other cousin, for a few days. On Thursday the 26th I met them at their daughter’s apartment near central Berlin. We had dinner and made plans for the rest of the weekend.

Before I could go to Templin where the Tiedes live, I had to go with a school trip to Potsdam for most of the day Friday. We visited two castles, Schloss Cecilienhof and Schloss Sanssouci. Cecilienhof was the site of the Potsdam Conference after World War II, where Stalin, Churchill and Truman discussed the future of Germany, although most of the plans they made there were never carried out. Schloss Sanssouci is a very lavish palace built in the 1740s for King Fredrick the Great of Prussia.

In the evening I rushed back to meet the Tiedes. They drove me to their house in Templin, which was under two hours north of Berlin with the autobahn.

Saturday morning we drove me around Templin to see the area. Templin is a walled city dating from the 1200s, although most of the city was destroyed by fire multiple times since then. The entire wall still stands, though, which was interesting to see, and it is situated between several very beautiful, placid lakes. In the afternoon more of the family came over for coffee and cake, and to meet me and talk about the family. The Tiedes visited America 20 years ago, when I was 1, so they remembered me and know a lot of the family back home. We usually keep in close contact with letters as well.

Sunday morning I went with the Tiede’s to church, which is a Baptist church in Templin, with a service very similar to mine back home. It was Erntedankfest, a harvest holiday reminiscent of Thanksgiving, but much less elaborate. The church had a picnic afterwards and themed its service around harvest and thankfulness. After some more cake and coffee, I traveled back to Berlin by train with my third-cousin (granddaughter of my grandma’s cousin), who needed to make a transfer there because she was on her way to Cologne the next day. It was a very warm get-together which reminded me of our family gatherings back home.

Stay tuned for more pictures! Most recently I uploaded some from my visit to the Reichstag (the German capitol) with its transparent dome, and my little visit to Oktoberfest in Berlin.

Right now I’m preparing for my week long Fall Break. I’ll be traveling to visit friends north of Essen for the weekend, after which I’ll be going to Amsterdam for a few days and then London for the rest of the week and weekend. I’m looking forward to the trip, but in the meantime I have some mid-term tests to take.