Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Copenhagen: the perfect end to spring break

To finish our spring break travels, Rachel and I arrived at our Airbnb in Copenhagen late Thursday evening. Our Airbnb host was so accommodating and helpful, we were excited to start our next day in this unique city with another Sandeman walking tour. We met our tour group along with our energetic tour guide at Rådhuspladsen, or city hall square. Not knowing what to expect for this new city, we were eager to learn more about Copenhagen! About 10 minutes into our tour, we realized that maybe the Danish really were the happiest people on earth, like many studies claim. Our guide was genuinely happy and even proud to be sharing all he knew about Copenhagen. From our meeting place, we toured the historic streets, (well, what was left of them since Copenhagen has a horrible history of fires). Many buildings here actually only date back to the 1700’s. We stopped near Paleis Christianborg where the Danish parliament is seated and from there we moved onto Nyhavn, a famous neighborhood which is also the most photographed part of the city.

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Similar to Amsterdam, Copenhagen boasts its many canals one used for transport of goods in and out of the city. Nyhavn was once the Red Light District of Copenhagen where sailors would come first after being out at sea.

On the right hand side of this canal, interestingly, a lighthouse boat was parked. Of course our guide provoked us, what in the world would a lighthouse boat ever be needed for if lighthouses are used to mark land? With the swift tides and water currents, the sandbars offshore are constantly changing, and therefore this odd boat was once used to mark the best docking place for sailors with the ever-changing sand bars. Also to the right of this picture, stands the house that Hans Christian Andersen lived in. Famed for writing many fairytales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “Thumbelina,” we learned that Hans Christian Andersen actually lived in the heart of the Red Light District during his lifetime (odd for a writer of children’s books, huh?) At that time, writers didn’t receive much pay, and therefore relied on the goodwill of their landlords for a place to stay. Supposedly, Hans Christian Andersen had a crush on his landlord’s daughter, and therefore never wanted to move from this area. However, it is also rumored that he enjoyed living here for the unique mix of cultures found on the harbor.

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Next, we walked along to the water to see the Opera House and Amalienborg Palace, home to the Danish Royal Family. We saw a flag waving meaning someone in the family was home! Additionally, we ended our tour here just in time to see the changing of the guard! Our tour was ended and Rachel and I headed into Frederik’s Church to warm up from the freezing weather.

 

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From here, we walked to the iconic little Mermaid Statue. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, the statue appears quite sad. And well, of course she is, being stuck in limbo between two worlds, never able to be human but also never able to return to the sea.

 

Next, we headed back towards the city center to walk the longest walking street in the world, called Strøget. Lined with every shop imaginable, we enjoyed window shopping and people watching. We made our way to Rundetaarn, originally an astronomical observatory, this round tower was built in the 16th century. After admiring in the connected church, we headed back out into the cold weather to try one of Copenhagen’s famous hot dogsIMG_4539

 

Known for their organic hot dogs, DØP stands can be found across the city. We each ordered a Ristet hot dog, which was a roasted dog with ketchup, mustard, remoulade, onions and pickles.

 

 

 

Next, we ventured to Rosenberg castle, a Dutch Renaissance Castle, the former residence of the Dutch Royal family, until the 1700’s. We admired the iconic castle from afar through the wrought iron gates before heading to a nearby food market called Torvehallerne. To scratch one more neighborhood off our list, we crossed the bridge to Nørrebro. After some window shopping and walking over 12 miles for the day, we returned to our AirBnb exhausted but excited for day 2 in this unique city!

With an 8 pm flight back to Madrid later that evening, we woke up early Saturday to make the most of our day. We took the bus towards the city center and got off on Christianshavn, a small island separating the eastern lying neighborhoods of Copenhagen from the city center. We found some walking paths and enjoyed being in a less populated part of the city while we waited for the Church of Our Savior to open at 11. The Church of Our Savior was impressive, with an tall spire that dwarfed all other buildings in the area. We opted out of climbing to the top to save time and instead just enjoyed the interior of this neat church. Most notable was the massive wooden organ located at the back of the church.

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Finally, we headed to one of the most interesting places we had seen during our spring break trip: Christiania. This neighborhood is known for its hippie community and widely accepted drug use. They proudly have their own flag, currency, and laws. Well, this isn’t entirely true, they function under the same government and laws as the rest of Denmark, but for some reason this area seems an exception to many of them. We first entered the Green light District, where marijuana is “allowed” or accepted, and sold openly along the alleys. It was early and Christiania was definitely still asleep after a rambunctious Friday night. We continued walking slowly through the community, almost in awe at this completely separate and very unique society.

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Rachel and I continued walking all the way through Christiania. We admired the colorful artwork and inventive ways those living there had repurposed what would certainly be trash to others. Reaching the end of the island, we then headed to the National Museum to escape the oncoming rain and learn a bit about Denmark’s history. With our departure flight approaching, we grabbed a pizza for lunch, picked up our things from our Airbnb, and headed to the airport, which might I add was one of the nicest I have ever seen!

Finally, it was back to Valladolid! However, this proved quite a stressful task for us. Our flight arrived in Madrid around 11:30 pm, giving us approximately 30 minutes to get from Terminal 2, where our plane landed, to Terminal 4 (a 10 minute transfer) where our bus was parked ready to depart promptly at 11:59 pm for our return trip to Valladolid. Rachel and I ran through the airport and grabbed a taxi to terminal 4 where we arrived just in the knick of time to catch our bus! What a relief! After 10 exciting, eye-opening, and amazing days it finally was time to return to the city I have come to consider home this semester.

Hej hej,

McKenna

Normandy, France

We spent our last day in Europe on a tour to Normandy! What a day it was. We experienced weather that I have NEVER experienced before. It was cold, rainy, and the winds were 100km/hour! I could literally lean back and the wind would hold me. I thought it would be a horrible day, but Kristin and I actually had a blast on the beaches “playing in the wind”. It was the perfect time to have bad weather because we got to experience Normandy like the soldiers experienced at the time when they landed during the war. Waves could reach as high as 1.5-2 meters high. As we were walking back to our bus after one of the beaches, we saw a plaque with a guy who was being remembered from Bethlehem Pa near my hometown!

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The tour included a few of the beaches, like Omaha and Juno, and then the cemetery. One of the coolest things I learned was when we were in the cemetery.  At the entrance, there is a wall with approximately 1,300 names of missing soldiers. There were special marks next to the names of those were found since the cemetery/wall was built. The latest soldier who was found, was found in 2009 when they were excavating the city hall building. He was found underneath city hall! He wasn’t identified until 2011.

Next and final stop:  Paris, France!

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FACTS:

Normandy’s name is derived from the settlement of the territory by mainly Norwegian and Danish Vikings (Northmen) from the 9th century, and confirmed by treaty in the 10th century between King Charles III of France and Earl Rollo of More, Norway.

During WWII, following the armistice of June 22, 1940, continental Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. The Channel Islands were occupied by German forces between June 30, 1940 and May 9, 1945.

The Allies (Britain, U.S, Free France, and Canada) coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large scale invasion of Normandy in the D-Day landings June 6, 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord.

Beaches of Normandy: Utah/Omaha/Sword/Gold/Juno

  • The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach were to attempt to capture Carenten at St. Lo the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold beach and the Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen.

~Jordan

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Unexpected Pleasantries: Hostels

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For a female student traveling alone in Spain’s capital, hostels are the opposite of the vast majority of safety tips and the epitome of one of Billy Joel’s iconic lyrics detailing the conundrum of travel security: they will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place, then they’ll tell you you can’t sleep with somebody else.

While this version is more explicit than this particular situation necessitates, it remains an apt description of the juxtaposition of a hostel stay. Taught from a young age not to talk to strangers, travelers now pay cheap rates for the opportunity to stay in expansive rooms with entire groups of unfamiliar individuals. The rooms are mixed-gender and available to all ages, which further breaks more childhood prohibitions.

These factors, topped by the hostel’s physical location in a foreign city, are enough to make the most intrepid of parents suffer tinges of fear at the thought of their student’s stay. Even experienced travelers can find themselves in a state of uneasy anticipation about the conditions of their temporary dwellings.

Perhaps questionable on paper, a stay in a hostel can add a unique and enjoyable dynamic to any viaje or excursion. Akin to any hotel, the prices vary based on amenities and location—not always on quality.

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Eager to save a dime and try my luck, a month before I had reserved a bed in the cheapest location available that included WiFi and a decent breakfast. From the safety of my computer screen I had felt confident in my twelve euro a night booking; wandering the streets of Madrid, mobile map in clammy hand, I felt less sure with each twist and turn of the narrow streets. The alleyway location and doorway that forced me to duck did little to assuage my trepidations (though it did reinforce my belief that this country was designed with short people in mind).

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Immediately met by welcoming staff and an impeccable lobby, the aching weight of my backpack replaced the apprehension in my gut. Reaching my assigned room on the third floor, the associated view eliminated the aforementioned mental and physical irritations. A brief pause allowed a languid glance over nearby residential rooftops before they became dominated by their corporate and apartment-complex cousins. The hostel’s central courtyard facilitated the view and transformed the inward face of each floor into a continuous, rectangular balcony. Mentally I rescinded some of the harsher curses I had muttered at the constantly-increasing elevation on the thirty-minute trek from subway to hostel.

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The lack of Thursday travelers afforded me my pick of spaces; by Sunday, each bed would be filled. For now the presence of only two other roommates offered peace, quiet, and ample space for all. The Argentinian and I discussed his undergraduate studies and plan to travel Europe before entering medical school; the Egyptian and I the joys of running a new city after spotting my sneakers tied to the outside of my backpack. Together we swapped travel stories and split the cost of dinner—pasta, spinach, and half a kilogram of oranges from the local Gadis.

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Too cold to use the patio and too early for drinks at the bar, the kitchen served as the building’s primary common space and social center. As the extended weekend progressed, I met an increasingly interesting and entertaining cast of characters during my meals at one of the many slatted, wooden tables: the British teacher who could tell you the weekday you were born from your numerical date of birth, the American-Austrian who spoke four languages and worked at the Austrian embassy, the Indian marathon runner who had lived at the hostel for the past six months, the stereotypical American with a penchant for boisterous (albeit well-meaning) ignorance, and numerous other students and vacationers.

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Similar to my first roommates, the American-Austrian student, an Austrian marketing professional and I met over a mutual need for dinner and spent the rest of the second evening frequenting the famous tapas bars in the La Latina district while enjoying one another’s company. Occasional parts of the remaining weekend were spent together: on Saturday, El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia , and on Sunday El Rastro, Madrid’s infamous flea market. Fast friends, the temporal nature of our relationship meant our conversations came without obligation and with ease, an airy retreat from the long-term implications of real-word conversation.

Though only a temporary home away from my [temporary] home in Valladolid, the space served as a momentary sanctuary from the constant commotion of Madrid’s streets. While they will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place, that’s  lie—you can, for about ten euros extra, though I am certainly glad I didn’t.

M. Gorman

Versailles, France

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Our second to last day in Europe, we took a tour of Versailles. We spent time in the palace of Versailles and then in the gardens. The palace was absolutely stunning but very crowded with tourists. The garden was big and would be beautiful as well, but none of the flowers were planted and the grass was not green. I really wish I could go back in the spring.

Next stop:  Normandy, France!

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FACTS:

The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.

Begun by Louis XIII in 1623, the château began as a hunting lodge in brick and stone. It was enlarged into a royal palace by Louis XIV.

In the 19th century the “Museum of the History of France” was founded in Versailles, at the behest of Louis-Philippe I, who ascended to the throne in 1830. Many of the palace’s rooms were taken over to house the new collections and the large Galerie des Batailles (Hall of the Battles) was created to display paintings and sculptures depicting milestones battles of French history. The collections display painted, sculpted, drawn and engraved images illustrating events or personalities of the history of France since its inception.

Two of the three treaties of the Peace of Paris (1783), in which the United Kingdom recognized the independence of the United States, were signed at Versailles.

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~Jordan

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Saturday we arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I love this city so much! I would definitely live here if I could. I wish there was a way to transport this city to the US. It is similar to Venice in that the city lies within many canals (it actually has more canals than Venice!). All the colors of the buildings have a combination of: black, ivory, deep purple, and maroon. If I were to describe it, I would say it is a very hipster-looking city. Bicycles are a big thing here in Amsterdam, and you have to be careful not to get run over by bikers while crossing the streets or walking on the sidewalks. Be sure to stay OFF the bike lane! On every canal (as seen in some of my pictures), bikes are parked along the fence, making it a very characteristic feature of Amsterdam.

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There were many differences from other European/American cities that we noticed right away when we were walking the streets. One was the public urinals that were right on the sidewalk! Some were covered, but others were not! When we talked to our driver leaving the city, he said that public urination is a problem here, so they built these urinals. If urination is truly a problem on the streets, I think the urinals are definitely a great idea!

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As I’m sure many of you know, Amsterdam is known for weed and prostitution! We saw through store windows clerks rolling weed. We also saw sex and prostitution museums! We didn’t go in them, although I’m sure they would’ve been very interesting. The driver also told us that smoking weed is just a normal thing like smoking a cigarette would be in the US. No one looks twice here. And if you are smoking a joint, and a police officer approaches, not to be afraid and throw it away, because they don’t care! I asked if he thought it was a problem that weed is legalized here and he said, “no, it’s a great thing. Every city should make it legal. More people want to do something that is illegal; the appeal is bigger.” He even stated that the majority of people who smoke in the city are tourists and not locals! He recalled one family who skipped their flight back to California so they could stay and smoke two more days!

 

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We had two great meals while here. We ate at a restaurant that supposedly had the best burgers.  I got a burger with: egg, bacon, cheese, onions, and a special sauce on it. For dinner on our last night, we ate at a restaurant called Jackets. They only serve salads, and baked potatoes (jackets are baked potatoes with the skin still on them). I got a baked potato with: chicken salad, herbs, cheese, bacon, and honey mustard. Definitely the best potato I have ever had. The road to obesity is definitely real on this European trip.

Next stop: Paris, France!

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FACTS:

Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous of the Netherlands

The city region has an approximate population of 2,431,000 people

Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, it become one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age (17th century). During that time, the city was the leading center for finance and diamonds.

The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world.

Home to the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House

Home to more than 60 miles of canals.

De Wallen is a designated area for legalized prostitution and is Amsterdam’s largest and most well known red light district. It consist of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

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~Jordan

Moving onto Berlin

Arriving in Berlin, Rachel and I had no idea what to expect, but we hit the ground running when we arrived Tuesday morning. We did a quick check in at our hostel, which was much nicer and probably more legitimate than our first, checked our maps, and headed to the city center on the S-Bahn.

We started at the Brandenburg Gate, an iconic and historic entrance to the city, and from there were walked through Tiergarten, Berlin’s largest public park once hunting lands for the royal family.  Near the entrance we found the Reichstag building, the former Parliment building which was nearly completely destroyed in WWII (like much of the city). Continuing through the park we admired the many monuments until finally we reached the most impressive: the Victory Column, built to commemorate a series of Prussian victories with Victoria, the Roman goddess of Victory atop.

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After walking nearly the entire length of Tiergarten (quite a feat, I might add!) we headed to Potsdamer Platz, a modern and iconic plaza in the city. Not far is the Topography of Terror, a museum describing the events of WWII through a detailed timeline beginning in the 1930’s. Interestingly, the museum is built on the grounds were the headquarters to the Gestapo and SS once stood. Additionally, it maintains one of the last 3 remaining segments of the Berlin Wall. Rachel and I spent over 3  hours in the Topography of Terror, absorbing as much as we could. By the time we left, it was nearly dinner time so we headed back to our hostel. It was located in a lively neighborhood of Berlin packed with restaurants and bars called Kreuzberg. We sampled a few German beers with our dinner and headed to bed exhausted from our first day in the new city. After our first full day in Berlin, it was evident this was a city unlike any other. Although a very historic, it is structurally a young city. After WWII a massive portion of the city needed to be restored and this work continues today. During the Cold War buildings (especially in East Germany) lay in ruin for decades. It wasn’t until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that many structures began to be rebuilt.

Wednesday we scheduled another Sandeman walking tour, hopeful that our tour guide for Berlin would be better than ours in Amsterdam. We met our tour group at the Brandenburg Gate and were lucky to receive a lively and knowledgable guide who took us on the best tour of our entire spring break trip.

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Early in the tour, we stopped at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of Berlin. Designed by Peter Eisenman, this impressive and thought-provoking grouping of cement slabs of varying sizes is completely open to the interpretation of the viewers. He left no explantation or reasoning behind its construction allowing visitors to interpret it as they feel suitable. Our energetic tour group grew quiet as we walked through the monument as we experienced mixed emotions.

 

Next, our guide led us to a small gravel parking lot. As it turns out, what is now an unassuming, ordinary car park was once the location of Hitler’s bunker where he spent the last 4 months of his life, hiding from the allied forces. While hiding here, Hitler and his wife married and then about a week later committed suicide together in April 1945.

We continued our city tour after a short break to warm up and grab a currywurst. Currywurst is one of the most famous foods served in Berlin, which I can best describe as a type of sausage served in a tomato sauce with yellow curry powder. A must have if you are going to Berlin!

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After our intermission we headed to Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous crossing point of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. As we neared the end of our tour we walked to Humboldt University. Einstein, Schrödinger, and Karl Marx along with many other notable figures have studied here!

IMG_4210After our guided tour, Rachel and I took the rest of the afternoon to explore more of Berlin on our own. We headed to The Berliner Dom, also known as the Berlin Cathedral. We climbed over 400 steps in order to reach the top of the dome and get a panoramic view of the expansive city.IMG_4264

 

 

The ongoing reconstruction of the city can be seen nearly everywhere throughout the city (note the crane in the distance).

 

 

After our long descent, we went to the Pergamon, Berlin’s most visited museum. Housing many fully reconstructed ancient structures, Middle East art, and the museum of Islamic art, we spent 3 hours admiring the vast collection. By the time we finished touring the museum, we were practically zombies, exhausted and starving.

Thursday, our last day in Berlin, Rachel and I headed to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall today, which has been turned into a memorial for freedom. We strolled along the entire gallery, enjoying the colorful artwork and thinking about this memorial’s significance.

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From here, we went to Alexanderplatz, a large, modern, and bustling square. As one of Berlin’s most popular tourist stops, we were happy to end our adventures in Berlin here. Next, it was off to the airport to catch our flight to Copenhagen!

Tschüss,

McKenna

First stop: Amsterdam

To kick off spring break, Rachel and I headed to Amsterdam last Friday, eager to explore a new city. Unfortunately we lost nearly the entire day just traveling, so when we finally arrived in Amsterdam around 11pm we were exhausted and eager to get to bed in order to start Saturday bright and early. Our first night in a hostel was… let’s say a night to remember. Trying to be economical travelers, we booked a 20 bed mixed room in our hostel, with decent reviews and cheap rates. Although the hostel was exactly as described online when we booked it, I guess we just weren’t really prepared for what staying in a hostel was like. We were each assigned an old (but clean) bunk bed and shown the bathroom and shower stalls, and that was that! It took a bit adjusting to staying in a room with so many people from so many different places but we grew accustomed to it and of course found electrical outlets to charge our phones (a seemingly impossible task throughout our travels so far). Saturday we scheduled a free Sandemann walking tour of the city which showed us the main highlights of Amsterdam while also giving us some history to go along with it. Although our tour guide was not the best, we tried to absorb as much as we could in order to understand more about the history and culture of this beautiful and very unique city.

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We saw Begijnhof, a small and completely secluded community of houses which a group of women established in 1150. Additionally there are 2 churches here, one called The Hidden Church which was 2 houses converted into a chapel for secret Catholic worship during times of oppression.

 

IMG_3766Amsterdam is famous for their crooked and leaning houses although unclear in this photo. Built almost entirely on marshy, wet land everything in the city is sinking! Buildings lean on one another and windows are on a considerable slant. The shutters frequently seen like the ones on this building indicate that it was once a warehouse used for storing products. The shutters closed to keep goods dry during the year. At the very top of this building (and nearly every other in Amsterdam) there are outcroppings with hooks. Because stairways were so narrow, they used the hooks to haul goods to the top floor where they could be kept dry for storage. Before thinking to construct outcroppings, many buildings were built with a considerable forward lean to prevent the goods from scraping the face of the building, you can imagine how crooked this city really is!

Amsterdam proves unlike most countries not only in history, but also for its allowance of the public sale and use of marijuana. While marijuana is actually illegal, it is sold nearly everywhere around the city and no one is concerned with enforcing the laws against it. Coffeeshops sell pot and cafes sell coffee, something we learned quite quickly on our stay. Even more unusual to us, prostitution is legal, and taken quite seriously by the community. As in many port cities in the past, when sailors would arrive in the city they were in search of someone to cure their…loneliness. Somehow, Amsterdam has managed to preserve this custom even today. The Red Light District is the name of the group of streets and alleyways where the heart of this business takes place. Taking pictures is strictly prohibited in this area (you risk having human urine thrown on you by the women working) in order to protect the women, which, might I add, have full benefits and health coverage through the government. Just as famous, Amsterdam has one of the most extensive canal systems in Europe, with four main canals encircling the heart of the city.

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Walking through the city, the canals look nearly identical so understanding the names of the four main canals proved an essential way for orienting ourselves. Two of the most famous museums in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, house many renowned artworks. With only a few days in the city to explore, Rachel and I chose to visit the Van Gogh museum which houses over 2,000 of Van Gogh’s paintings, drawings, and letters making it the largest collection of his works in the world.

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Next we headed to Vondelpark, a beautiful public park not too far from Museumplein (the name given to the area where most museums in the city are located including the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh). After a long first day, our feet were tired and we headed back to our hostel for a good night’s rest. Sunday proved a relaxing day as we strolled around Jordaan, a famous neighborhood where the working class and immigrants once lived. Next we visited the Cheese Museum and also the Tulip Museum, two notable products produced in Holland. We continued to explore and took a canal tour in order to learn more and see the city from a different perspective. We enjoyed basking in the warm sun and resting our feet while on the boat. After, we continued to wander around and visited Bloemenmarkt, a famous food and flea market which was unfortunately closed at the time. Walking almost 12 miles each day, we were exhausted and ended our night early to rest for Monday’s adventures in Zaanse Schans, an outlying community famous for their windmills. Rachel and I spent the entire day enjoying this beautiful community, visiting the wooden clog making museum and touring a working sawmill in one of the windmills!

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We were sad to leave this beautiful, historic, and unusual city Monday evening; however, knowing Berlin was next on our itinerary made leaving just a little bit easier.

Vaarwel!

McKenna

Berlin, Germany

Thursday we headed to another country: Germany! We were in a Harry Potter train again, but this time there were no beds. The guy who checked our ticket started yelling at us for not putting the date on our Eurorail passes. He continued to yell at us in front of everyone saying we would have to pay a 250-euro fine each. A fine for not putting the date on our passes before getting on the train! No one told us prior; now we know. He ended up just doing it for us.

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Saturday morning we had a six-hour tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Before getting on the train, we met four other PT majors from San Diego, California. They were undergrads and thought we were the coolest people for doing a clinical over in Italy and wanted to do one too!

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Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

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Our tour guide was from New Zealand (and was really cute too!) and moved to Berlin when he met his German wife. On the way home from the camp, he gave us suggestions on where to go, what to eat, and what to see during the rest of our stay.

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After the tour, we went to see the Berlin wall. There are parts of the wall still standing, and we were advised to go to the portion covered in graffiti by the river. A wired fence protects some of the wall while other parts are open and can be touched by passersby. Tourists were writing their names on the wall as they walked passed!

Sign on gate into concentration camp "work will set you free"

Sign on gate into concentration camp “work will set you free”

LVC at Berlin wall

LVC at Berlin wall

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We took a wrong turn while heading to dinner and ended up in a large park. This was probably one of the scariest experiences I’ve had thus far. About a 100 guys lined the sidewalks of the park and approached/tried to talk to us.  We could smell weed and saw a guy right in front of us snort something straight from another guy’s hand! Luckily there were families with children walking through the park too, so we weren’t alone.

Next stop: Amsterdam, Netherlands!

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FACTS:

Berlin:

Capital of Germany

3.5 million people

After WWII, the city was divided into East & West Berlin surrounded by the Berlin wall (1961-1989). Following German reunification in 1990, Berlin was once again designated as the capital of the united Germany.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp:

Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945.

Executions did take place, but only after the war started. It was made as a work camp.

The main gait (Guard Tower “A”) held a 8mm maxim machine gun that could point down the lines of each of the barracks. It also housed the offices of the camp administration.

On the front entrance the gates held the infamous slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free).

About 200,000 people passed through the camp between 1936 and 1945.

50,000 were brutally murdered.

First camp established under Heinrich Himmler

Until its closure in March 1950 another 60,o00 were captive here of which 12,000 died of similar catastrophic conditions of hunger, physiological, and physical exhaustion.

Sachsenhausen was intended to set a standard for other concentrations camps, both in its design and the treatment of its prisoners.

**I don’t really want to share too much more concerning concentration camps and the treatment because I advise all readers to travel to one and experience it personally. Being in one definitely gives you a different kind of feeling and a special appreciation for life.

Famous Prisoners held in Sachsenhausen:

Georg Elser:  opponent of Nazis who attempted to kill Adolf Hitler on his own in November 1939. He was later moved to Dachau concentration camp.

  • (Inspired the movie 13 minutes-look up how and why this attempt failed! History was changed forever because of just 13 minutes!)

Yakov Dzhugashvili:  Joseph Stalin’s eldest son, was briefly imprisoned and then died here in 1943. He was kept alive thinking he would be a good collateral during the war, but Stalin later claimed that he did not have a son, and he became unimportant.

~Jordan

Reflections of the Past: Germany

From the safety of today we look back and marvel at the past. Sometimes we weep, but often we just stare, voyeurs into the lives of those who have gone before us, a set of omniscient eyes viewing from above. At a distance we observe individual triumphs and failures, choosing which moments to view and which to fast forward as we hurry on to the next chapter. We can scene select at will, an untouchable intrusion with the power to determine what is important and what can be cast away. With decades on our side we insulate ourselves from the worst moments, turning away from the screen when it becomes too much, too hard, and too heavy.

Germany presents one of the most tenuous borders between the past and the present, a deliberate shortening of distance and weakening of barriers to allow for the personification of an otherwise overwhelming amount of statistical information. The last century of the country’s history is complicated and marred by suffering, with the numbers of the persecuted–living and dead–ranging in the millions. At this level the numbers are impossible to fathom, to comprehend as individual lives lost, and rightly so; for the living, this is our survival technique. The true impact of that many lives ending and that much suffering is an unsustainable madness for the empathetic nature of the human mind. Many of Germany’s key historical sites and memorials maintain a careful balance of allowing the viewer to feel while preventing them from feeling too much.

This is not to say that the illustrious nation hides its history. It is impossible to move within the the nation’s capitol without encountering  a memorial, monument, or museum. Even Berlin’s streets pay tribute to the past; photographs of the city after World War II prove the widespread decimation, which affect their construction today. Workers literally rebuilt the city from the rubble, using the shells of bombed-out buildings as the framework for the future structures and the excess of rubble to reconstruct the rest of the edifice.

 

The East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining physical portions of the Berlin Wall, sits a short walk from the S-Bahn station Ostbahnhof and the U-Bahn station Warschauer Strasse. Its profile is dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, Mercedes-Benz Arena, and other swooping signs of modernity. This juxtaposition makes the remnants’ presence even more surreal, evidence from a time unfathomable to this generation of autonomy and technological freedom. At breaks in the Wall visitors can step from one side to the other and walk away from the crowds down to peace of the riverbank, a privilege many Berliners could  never imagine. Hundreds died attempting to achieve what now is done on a whim.

Amid the smiling tourists angling for the perfect picture is an underlying sense of pain. It is easy to forget within the modern cityscape and in some of brighter, more whimsical panels on the Wall. In many, however, the political satire betrays a raw anger and in the darker panels, the senseless pain caused by warring nations and their leaders. As they suffered, those in the East could see the prosperity and development of the West. This feeling seeps into the streets and chokes viewers with the image of relatives suddenly split between the sides of a nation divided. From behind the Wall they could see the city on the other side and know that their loved ones were there, but never share a hug or a family meal. One of the country’s many examples of the danger of ideological manifestation and the compounding potency of words.

The idealized quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous work, The Great Gatsby, states that you cannot repeat the past. The specific meaning of this statement is ambiguous: determining whether it is impossible to repeat the past or possible but should not be done is a decision left to the discretion of the reader. Germany’s history stands as a stark warning to both, and as a reminder of the need for constant vigilance and self-awareness. While the endless barrage of cold, hard facts is horrifying, even worse is its antithesis: the human element and the subtle development of the militant nation-state.

Beneath the numbers are the accounts of ordinary humans beings who wanted economic stability, sought a strengthened state, and rallied behind the political figurehead who promised these things. To look into their lives is to look into a mirror of timeless themes and relevant needs and to observe the tragedy of inaction and political hatred. Within the institutionalized insanity is a dangerous normalcy, before the country’s devolution into absolute madness. For this, the world paid an unspeakable cost.

Prague, Czech Republic

The word on the street is that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. I would have to agree with that. It definitely tops my favorite cities thus far. The architecture is amazing, and I love the color and detail in every building.

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Stamps watch after the Prague Astronomical Clock

Stamps watch after the Prague Astronomical Clock

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On Tuesday, we arrived in Prague around 5pm. Kristin found a great restaurant recommended online so we decided to walk across the bridge from our hotel to find it. We decided to call to make reservations to make sure, but we didn’t think they would speak English. Contrary to belief, they answered the phone in English and spoke it really well (see facts below). The restaurant had the best meals for the best prices.

I got: pork tenderloin marinated in mustard and herbs, mashed potatoes with bacon and buttermilk, roasted Brussels sprouts and sage sauce.

Kristin got chicken breast stuffed with Prague ham and sun-dried tomatoes, served with roasted fresh vegetables with herbs.

All the desserts looked wonderful, so we decided to get three! The special pineapple, mango, and coconut cake was only for that day, so we bought two more to take home! Total cost for two main meals and 5 desserts was 37 euros! The prices for food and alcohol were outrageously cheap here. It was wonderful.

Apple Strudel

Apple Strudel

On Wednesday, we walked to the Prague castle and then headed to Old Town, Charles Bridge, and the city center. We ate the famous donut cones (apple, walnut, raisin, whipped cream, strudel). We also saw the famous astronomical clock tower. I bought a Stamp watch that resembled the tower. It is one of the most unique watches I’ve seen, and it will always remind me of Prague. We ate a great restaurant for dinner near our hotel and headed to the five-story mall that held over 200 stores after because it was raining.

Next stop: Berlin, Germany!!!

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Prague Astronomical Clock

Prague Astronomical Clock

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FACTS

Capital and largest city of the Czech Republic

14th largest city in the European Union

Home to about 1.26 million people, while its larger urban zone is is estimated to have a population of nearly 2 million people.

Lowest unemployment rate in the European Union

Largest city in Central Europe in which over 50% of residents speak fluent English, making it the second language after Czech

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~Jordan