Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Geneva, Amsterdam, Home.

I’m sitting on a plane flying over the Atlantic Ocean right now, so this will likely be my last entry. I just wanted to give one final update on the end of Yitka and my journey; that being our time spent in Geneva and then one last day in Amsterdam. As I think I mentioned before, in order to get to Geneva from Athens we had a long journey. We started by taking the Greek metro, suburban, and national rail from Athens to Patras (a port town in the Northwest of the country). From Patras we caught a Superfast Ferrylines boat to Ancona, Italy. The boat ride was 22 hours long but it went by quickly; probably because Yitka and I both slept for about 15 of the 22 hours. The ship itself was basically a cruise ship complete with multiple bars, restaurants, and stores, and even an internet cafe. Unfortunately or not... we spent so much time sleeping, we didn’t actually take advantage of any of these things.

We boarded the ferry about an hour before departure and both proceeded to fall asleep and nap until about 5 hours in to the trip. When we woke up it was about 6pm, so we decided to have dinner and even some dessert. After dinner we played a nice game of scrabble (of course) and then after a little reading we both fell asleep on two tiny deck chairs that we pushed together. Despite the sleeping space being probably the most uncomfortable that we encountered on this entire European adventure, we were both able to sleep pretty much straight through until about 10am, just an hour before we were to dock in Ancona. It was pretty great. After arriving in Ancona, we walked about 1.5km to find the train station where we caught a train to Milan, and from Milan we got another train to Geneva. It was about another 12 hours of travel after we had docked and finally at midnight about 41 hours after leaving our hostel in Athens we were picked up by our lovely host at the Geneva train station.

Our host in Geneva was actually a friend of mine that I went to pre-school with who moved to Switzerland with her family when we were about 3 years old. They’ve been living there ever since, but luckily Helen and I are still in touch and her family was happy to take us in to their beautiful house. They don’ actually live in the city of Geneva, but they’re about 30 minutes from the center of the city. Their house is this amazing old farm house with beautiful views of snow capped mountains and vineyards all around. Although we did manage to get in to Geneva for a little bit of touring on one of our days there, we were both happy to simply appreciate the amazing house and countryside that we found ourselves staying in. On both days that we were there we took long walks with Connie (Helen’s mom) and their dog and Matthew and Charles (father and brother of Helen) on the second day. These walks were not only wonderfully relaxing, but we also got to see a bunch of old Swiss villages and of course appreciate the wonderful scenery of their neighborhood. It was definitely an amazing visit and it is now a goal of mine to return to Switzerland for another, longer vacation with the Stevensons.

We left Geneva on Saturday night in order to catch an overnight train that got us in to Amsterdam Centraal at 9:30am on Sunday. That gave me a whole day to appreciate the city that I have come to love so much one more time. I had a whole list of things I wanted to do on my one day in the city, and I think I was pretty successful in getting stuff done. Most of the things I wanted to do involved eating certain things that you can only get in Amsterdam, so for each of my three meals yesterday, I had a different Amsterdam delight. Maoz (falafel), toasties, and frites, it was a good food day. I also picked up a few last minute souvenirs and even went to see a movie!

This morning I had to sell back my cell phone to my program and then I took a cab to Schiphol Airport. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the most relaxing of travel days. My travel plans involved a connecting flight in Frankfurt, but my flight to Frankfurt from Amsterdam was delayed about 45 minutes and so by the time we actually landed in Frankfurt my flight to New York was already in the boarding phases. Also, Frankfurt happens to be the biggest, most annoying airport to make a connection in that I’ve ever been to. Our plane wasn’t taken to a gate, instead we came out on the tarmac and then had to take a bus to the terminal, but the terminal is so huge that by the time we got there I still had to walk/run for about 20 minutes before I actually got to my other flights gate. On top of that, I had to go through Immigration. Luckily I was carrying my Amsterdam Residency Permit on me, otherwise I think I probably would have gotten in trouble because I’ve been in the EU longer than is allowed without a visa or residence permit. Good thing I got my Dutch professor to translate that note for me way back when that told me to come pick up this card. Anyway, after all the hassle, I made it to be gate about 15 minutes before the plane was due to leave and all was well. The flight so far has been alright, a little turbulent at times, but Lufthansa is a pretty great airline so I can’t complain to much. Three more hours and then I’ll be in New York... But likely by the time I post this and any of you get around to reading it, I may be off in Honduras!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pictures! (prague-athens)

Well we finally got a good enough internet connection here in Switzerland to upload our pictures through Athens. There are two albums, so here are the links:



We'll be in Geneva for a few more hours and then we're catching an overnight train to Amsterdam! Then one more day in A'Dam before heading back to America! (at least for a couple of hours). Enjoy the photos.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Athens (The city where we met people our own age)

Well, it’s our last night in Athens and fortunately we’ve been able to pick up some pirated wireless for the time that we’ve been here and therefore we’ve remained quite connected to the outside world. Athens has been beautiful and sunny and warm! I spent the last two and a half days walking around in a t-shirt and my flannel, and I was warm! It was a nice change from the intense winter of Eastern Europe that we had just come from. We did get a bit of rain on our first day here, but it was interspersed with bouts of wonderful sunshine, so we couldn’t complain too much. But let me get to the update, because these things always end up being extremely long anyway, I don’t want to bore you with tons of insights that you don’t care about, so here we go!


We arrived in Athens on Sunday after a one-night visit to Vienna, which we made solely to get on a really cheap flight to Greece. It seems that the second half of our trip has been quite different from the first half, mostly because we’ve just been meeting so many more people. On our metro ride from the airport to our hostel we ended up talking to these two guys who had been on the same flight as us from Vienna. It turns out that they were brothers who are in their 4th month of a 10-month trip around the world. They’d already been to Central and South America and had made their way around a whole lot of Europe, and their next stop is Africa. We talked for the whole train ride and then decided to have dinner together. Apparently somewhere over the course of their 4 months abroad they developed a tradition of having pizza every Sunday night. Not surprisingly, pizza is a food that they’ve been able to find in every place they’ve been to. Given that it was Sunday, Yitka and I were all for a dinner of Greek pizza. We parted ways in order to check in to our separate hostels and then met back up a few hours later and started walking around the neighborhood that our hostel is in. Within 5 minutes we had already found a pizza place that ended up being a really awesome restaurant, with a wonderful waitress who enjoyed taunting us immensely and who made us laugh over and over again. We liked it so much we actually ended up going back there for lunch the next day.

After enjoying our pizza dinner we decided to go explore the area near the Acropolis. Our hostel was literally 3 blocks from the main archeological site of the Acropolis, which made all the sightseeing we wanted to do extremely convenient. Obviously the actual ruins are closed at night, but we were able to walk around them on the other side of the fence and get some pretty cool views. We ended up climbing some random stairs that we came across, which to our surprise, led us to the top of a rock ledge where we could look out upon the entire city of Athens, it was stunning. You could just look out in front of yourself and see the whole modern city of Athens, and then dispersed within the modern city would be these lit up ruins from Ancient Greece, it was really cool. We explored a bit more before deciding to get back to our hostel so we would be able to get up and go exploring in the daylight the next morning.


You may have noticed from these blog entries that Yitka and I really aren’t the type to get an extremely early start in the morning. We usually are satisfied with ourselves if we get up around 10am and leave our hostel by 11am, which is exactly what we did on our second day in Athens. After waking up and enjoying the continental breakfast of toast with Nutella, we headed out to explore the ruins. One of the girls staying in the same room as us in our hostel goes to Oregon State and we’ve been spending basically all of our time together for the past two days, so when we headed out to explore, she came with us and was with us on all of the adventures that I am about to impart to you.

Our first stop of the day was the Acropolis, but the Acropolis isn’t just one ruin. It’s actually a whole area of Ancient ruins with six different main attractions. I think we managed to see about 4 of the main attractions (and that still took us 2 days). But we were definitely able to get a feel for it. The first day we went to the Parthenon, which stands atop a massive rock cliff in the center of Athens. From the top, no matter which way you turn you can see the city stretching out for miles, it’s really amazing, and as soon as we have a more steady internet connection we will surely be uploading many pictures of this awesome sight. From the Parthenon we went to explore some ancient caves, but then unfortunately, the rain began and it started coming down pretty hard. The three of us decided it was time to run for cover and so we headed back to our new favorite restaurant for some lunch. Don’t worry though, this wasn’t just a pizza place, it was actually a traditional Greek restaurant and we all ended up getting delicious Greek food for lunch (and let me tell you, Greek food is delicious).

After lunch we were going to try and go to the National Archeological Museum, but it was still raining and I think we were all pretty exhausted, so we ended up just using our pirated internet, and talking in our hostel room for about 6 hours. We also made Kayla (the girl from Oregon State) sit through viewings of our pictures from our travels thus far as well as tons of pictures and videos from Oberlin... I don’t think she was that bored by it, but it made Yitka and me both really nostalgic and excited to get back to Oberlin in a few weeks. After spending a while in the hostel we knew that we’d have to make up for it by having an awesome Greek dinner, and we definitely succeeded in that. We went to a restaurant around the corner that had been recommended by our hostel, and it was delicious! I had Moussaka, I’m not even sure exactly what it’s made of... I know it has potatoes, and meat, and vegetables, and it’s made sort of like lasagna, it was delicious though. We also had some of the most amazing baklava I’ve ever had, which was served with this weird shot of alcohol that I couldn’t quite place the taste of. Well, we enjoyed the food so much, we ended up going back there tonight, and I couldn’t help myself but order the exact same thing! It was just so good! I think my favorite thing about Athens has definitely been the food, hands down.

After dinner we had a laid-back night and came back to the hostel and watched Garden State, which we had learned earlier, was a movie that all three of us absolutely loved. Luckily I thought to bring my movie collection with me on this trip, I knew it would come in handy.


Today was similar to yesterday. We saw a whole lot of ancient ruins that I don’t think I can really do justice to just by writing about them. Don’t worry though, you will see pictures. Overall though I think it’s just really amazing to be in this city where you can just be walking down the street and all of a sudden a sign will be posted pointing out some ancient ruins right under your nose. And when you walk through the sites like the Ancient Agora, where we were today, you can just think about what it was like in about 200BC and you can actually imagine it because some of the structures are so well preserved and in tact. It’s just amazing and Yitka and I have both fallen in love with this city, it’s ruins, it’s food, and it’s people.

After seeing a lot more ancient ruins we then walked over to the old Olympic Stadium, which is actually the stadium from the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It’s a massive stadium with huge marble stands that we all just wanted to climb up to the top of. Unfortunately you couldn’t go inside, so we had to take our pictures from the other side of the fence... Oh well. After seeing the stadium we walked over to the National Archeological Museum, but once again, we failed to see it. This time (after about a 30-45 minute walk to get there) we found out that the museum closes at 3pm on Tuesdays, and it happened to be 4pm. It was still sunny out, so we lounged on the steps of the museum for a while taking in the heat from the sun before finally hopping on the metro and heading back to our hostel.

I already told you that we went back to that same restaurant for dinner again tonight and had an amazing meal. Now I think we’d both like to try and get a decent nights sleep because we have to be out of here by 7am tomorrow morning in order to catch our 8am train. For those of you who don’t know yet, our next stop on this journey is Geneva, Switzerland. How are we getting there though? Well that’s the interesting part. We will be traveling from 7am tomorrow morning until about 11pm the day AFTER. Our first leg of the journey is a train ride from Athens to Patras, a port city in Greece. From Patras we will take a boat to Ancona, Italy. From there we have to catch a train to Milan, and from Milan we will be able to catch a train to Geneva. Doesn’t that sound fun? Well, if you read this anytime before the 18th, that’s probably what Yitka and I are currently up to, so now you know!

Alright, just one more city to go before we head back to Amsterdam and then home, 5 more days in Europe! How crazy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hanging out with middle aged men in Budapest

I hope you have all been enjoying my updates, and I hope you haven’t been bored out of your mind by the intricate details that I tend to include. We’re currently in Vienna and although the wireless at the hostel we’re staying at seems to be broken, I was able to get to a Starbucks about 10 minutes away from here in order to post the last two entries. So, I’ll write this now (Saturday night) and hopefully I’ll be able to post it tomorrow from Athens! Our hostel there is supposed to have free internet connections, so we can only hope that theirs wont be broken also, but I guess it’s pointless for me to be saying this because if anyone is reading this post, it means that I finally found some internet and was able to update my blog. Sooooo, on to our crazy adventures in Budapest!

As you heard in my last entry, we chose to stay in a different hostel than the one that we had previously booked. Mom, don’t freak out too much about this, we were very cautious, and really we could either have gone with Ziggy or tried to find our way around Budapest at 11:30pm… our options really weren’t all that great. Our choice to stay at the Locomotive Light Hostel (as it was called) is really the reason that we had almost all of the experiences that we did in Budapest. I’ll start from the beginning though, because I like to stick to chronologies.


After getting in at 11:30pm and staying up talking to Ziggy for a while on our first night in Budapest, Yitka and I were both pretty tired and so we decided to sleep in a bit instead of rushing out and trying to cram in as much sightseeing as possible. In fact, sightseeing was very low on our agenda for our time in Budapest. The first and most important thing that we did in Budapest was to take a trip to the thermal baths. We had heard before arriving that a trip to the baths was a thing not to be missed if one was going to visit this city and so at 11:30am we followed Ziggy’s directions and took a bus over to the Schezny Baths (I think I spelled that right). We got there at about noon and paid our 2500 fts. (About 15 dollars) each and then headed in. There were a bunch of different baths that one could go into, including one like a hot tub, as well as one with powerful water jets that made the whole bath into the most powerful whirlpool I’ve ever been in. If you just let yourself float in the water you would find yourself being whisked around the entire pool by no effort of your own. There were also two baths that may have had something special about them, but I really don’t know what that something would be… Now that I’ve explained that, I’ll just let you know that Yitka and I stayed there for almost 6 hours. We had left the hostel knowing that we weren’t going to try and do anything else that day, and the time just flew by as we were sitting relaxing in the water. It was extremely refreshing and also very good for us I think. The water supposedly has all these minerals in it that results in your entire system being cleared out just by sitting in it, it was pretty awesome.

So that was what we did on our first day in Budapest, but one thing that was different about our visit to Budapest than the rest of the cities we’ve been in so far is that we actually went out to some bars both nights. On our first night Ziggy introduced us to Andrew (a 34 year old guy from Idaho who ended up staying in the same room as us in the hostel for the next two nights) and Andrej (that’s Hungarian for Andrew, although I’m unsure of the spelling) a friend of his from Budapest. The five of us went to a nearby bar and had some delicious Hungarian beer and also played pool for a while. When we came back to the hostel, Yitka, Andrew, and I ended up playing poker until about 3:30am when we finally called it a night, all in all it was a fun night.


On our second day we were determined to get at least a little sightseeing done before we left the city. Since we hadn’t gone to sleep until about 4am the night before we allowed ourselves to sleep until 11am before getting up and heading out to see the sights. Unfortunately, we seemed to have picked the cloudiest, and grayest day of our entire trip, and so none of my pictures really capture Budapest in it’s truest glory, which we fortunately were able to see today as our train pulled away from the city.

Our first sightseeing stop was the Hungarian parliamentary buildings. We took the metro there, and as we emerged from the station we were immediately confronted with the beautiful sight of the parliament complex. Like the dutiful tourists that we are, we took a bunch of pictures of the building and of some of the statues surrounding it. That’s also one thing we noticed about Budapest, there are statues absolutely everywhere! We didn’t know who most of the statues were of, but they fill the entire city, and they’re all large and grand, it was really cool.

After leaving parliament we walked along the bank of the river until we came to a bridge where we could cross into Buda. That’s one thing I learned while in Budapest actually. Buda and Pest are two different places. Buda is on the western side of the river and is more expensive and also home to the castle grounds, while Pest is on the eastern side of the river and is less expensive and more industrial. We were staying in Pest, but we wanted to go walk around the castle grounds so we walked over to Buda. The palace is up on top of a mountain and is surrounded by a variety of other buildings with lots of museums and shops within the grounds. To be quite honest, I’m really not sure which building was actually the palace, but the entire grounds were really beautiful and from the top of the mountain we got a really great view of the rest of the city.

After leaving the palace we were going to try and go to the Statue Park, which is this park where all the statues of former communists leaders have been collected since the fall of communism. Even though I was already exhausted from our days adventures, I was really looking forward to seeing this place because we were told that it was a pretty amazing sight. We needed to take two different buses to get there from our hostel, but unfortunately after we got off the first bus and were trying to figure out where to get on the second bus, we found out that the park was closed. We were in a pretty random part of the city, so there was nothing for us to do besides turn around and take the bus back to our hostel… too bad.

That night we went out to a traditional Hungarian restaurant for dinner and I had the most delicious goulash I’ve ever tasted (sorry Rachel… it was very meaty). The only vegetarian thing on the menu was fried cheese, so Yitka got to enjoy that splendid delicacy. After satiating ourselves, we found ourselves heading to another bar with Ziggy and Andrew. This bar was much smaller and really personal. It was basically me, Yitka, and Andrew (the 3 Americans) and a bunch of 30-40 year old Hungarian guys. Oh yeah, and there was also a guy from Canada, and an older guy from Germany… what a crowd, eh? We spent the night drinking good Hungarian beer and playing a whole lot of foosball… more foosball than I’ve ever played in my life beforehand. What we learned was that, all 3 of us Americans were pretty terrible at foosball, but Andrej, and the German guy were both really awesome at it. After a few hours of foosball, random songs on the jukebox, and the largest pizza I’ve ever seen in my life, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hostel.

So that was Budapest… It was definitely an experience like none I’ve ever had before and I’m sure that I will never forget it. It was also really interesting for me, because I NEVER hang out with 30-40 year old men, and I wouldn’t really expect to have a good time with them, but I guess that would be a bad judgment on my part, because I ended up having a lot of fun, and it was definitely a night, and a city, that I will never forget.

Alright, by the time you read this I assume that I will be in Athens or maybe even on my way to Geneva! I’ve got 9 more days in Europe; I’ll try to make the best of it!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bratislava (?)

Well, I’m currently in Vienna, but I haven’t yet had a chance to update about Budapest or our trip there for that matter. We left Prague on Wednesday morning and caught an 11:35 train that should have gotten us to Budapest by about 6:30pm. We knew that our Eurail passes were not valid in the Czech Republic and so we had paid the required fair to get to the Czech border where we believed our passes would once again be valid. Unfortunately, we were unaware that the train would be taking us through Slovakia in order to get to Budapest, and therefore when the ticket taker came around and looked at our tickets as we were approaching Bratislava, we obviously did not have the right ones. Because of this, and because we also didn’t have enough money to pay the fare right on the train, we were forced to disembark our train at the next stop, which fortunately enough happened to be Bratislava and not some little random town in the middle of Slovakia. Since we had no Slovakian currency with us, we couldn’t buy anything at the station once we had paid for our tickets to the Slovakian border. We took a short walk away from the station just to say that we had been to Bratislava. Unfortunately we had to wait about 4 hours until the next train to Budapest came through, so we spent the time reading and playing Scrabble in this sketchy waiting room at the train station.

When we finally did get in to Budapest it was about 11pm and although we had directions to our hostel, we were having a lot of trouble figuring them out. This really sketchy guy with a beard and long hair, who was wearing a big black coat kept coming over to us and offering us a hostel. At first we kept turning him down, but he was extremely persistent and he showed us a flyer and eventually convinced us to go with him to see this hostel. I think we were both pretty terrified seeing as it was 11pm and we had just gotten to Budapest… But he ended up bringing us to a really nice little hostel that was right near the train station. When we got there we were still pretty sketched out because the entranceway had a big metal gate and we were also the only people staying at the hostel that night.

Everything turned out to be fine though and we ended up staying at this place all three nights we were in Budapest, and you’ll be hearing all about those nights in the next entry. I know these have been really behind, but I haven’t been able to get any wireless for a while, hopefully that will change soon.


Hello again! I write to you now from a hostel in Budapest. There’s a whole story about our travels between Prague and Budapest, but I think it deserves an entry on its own, so you’ll get that in due time. Prague was really amazing. I think Yitka and I both agreed that it was one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever been to, all of the architecture is just stunning. It felt like every time we turned around we would find ourselves looking at another amazing building. We’ve been doing so much every day that I feel as though the only way I can manage to recount everything that we’ve done is to give a blow by blow account of each day of our travels as I did in my Berlin update, so here goes.


We arrived in Prague at about 4pm on Sunday and made our way to our hostel which was pretty centrally located within the city. The hostel was extremely nice. We were in a comfortable room and we had access to free wireless from the hostel. Our roommates on our second and third nights were all from the states and one of them went to SUNY New Paltz, so we even managed to find some common acquaintances through the wonderful world of facebook. After settling down we decided to go explore the city for a little while and grab some dinner. We went over to Wenceslas Square, which isn’t actually a square at all so much as a big avenue that spreads out in front of the National Museum at the top of the hill. We found a traditional Czech restaurant and treated ourselves to a delicious dinner. After eating since we were both exhausted we went back to the hostel in order to take advantage of the free wireless (which is how you were all delivered with my Berlin update and those wonderful pictures on facebook).


We spent our second day in Prague wandering around the city seeing various sites and of course, numerous beautiful buildings. We made sure to take advantage of our hostels free breakfast every morning of our trip and so after we had enjoyed our hearty corn flakes we were ready to explore for hours. Luckily the day before we had stumbled across some information that said the National Museum was free on the first Monday of every month which happened to be our second day in Prague. Always looking for a bargain, Yitka and I decided to make the museum our first stop of the day. I think the best part of the museum was probably the building itself. It was a massive structure with tons of statues and engravings all over it, we took lots of pictures (which I’ll upload next time I have wireless access on my lap top). We went to two exhibits in the museum, although I’m sure there were many more because it was a humungous museum. The first exhibit we saw was all about aerial archeology. It was about how archeologists use aerial photography in order to discover where ancient civilizations once were. The photos show the differences in landscapes that have formed because of different human uses of the land over the years. There was one picture where you could see the remains of a shipwreck that occurred over a hundred years before the picture was taken, it was really cool.

The other exhibit that we went to in the museum was called “The Human Footprint” and it was literally about the footprint that human beings have left on the earth (and the moon for that matter). The exhibit basically consisted of a bunch of different artifacts that all had something to do with human existence on earth. The most prominent artifacts were various pairs of shoes! There were all different kinds of shoes from all over the world that were prominently displayed… It was a pretty strange exhibit, I must say.

After leaving the museum we continued to wander around the city, we made our way through the Jewish Quarter and then over the river and up to the Prague Castle. The castle was beautiful and it was up on a hill so we were given a brilliant view of the entire city of Prague.


On our third and final day in Prague we made sure to get an early start on our adventures and were out of our hostel by 10am that morning. Our first stop of the day was the Old Town Square where Prague’s famed Astronomical Clock is located. This clock tells not only the time, but it can also tell you the zodiac and perhaps something about the movement of the planets (?) I’m not entirely sure to tell you the truth. Every hour when the clock strikes the hour all of these figures make an appearance from within the clock. A big crowd gathers every hour and so we made sure to be there when the clock struck 11am. It was pretty exciting I guess… I took a video of it, but it wasn’t really that amazing, but I’m glad we saw it.

After we watched the dance of the clock we walked over to the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Pinkas Synagogue where we forked over the 200 Crowns (about 10 dollars) to go into both places. The Pinkas Synagogue is a really old Jewish Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter where the names of many of the Prague Jews that died in the Holocaust have been recorded on the walls. There are a total of 80,000 names written on the walls. There are literally 4 large rooms where every wall is entirely covered in the names of victims as well as their dates of birth and death. Walking through the synagogue was an extremely moving experience. I found myself overcome with sadness as I calculated the ages of the victims. As I scanned the names I kept seeing my own name as well as the names Anna and Adolf and I felt a true connection to all the victims. When we left the synagogue, we went into the Old Jewish Cemetery that is right next door. This cemetery has been around since the mid 1400’s and there are so many headstones crammed into the tiny plot of land, it is obvious that many of the graves must be right on top of one another.

The rest of our wanderings that day led us to the Charles Bridge and up a funicular to the top of a mountain on the edge of the city. There’s not really much to say about these places, so I’ll let the pictures do all the talking when I get a chance to upload them in a few days.

Our last stop of the day was the Kafka Museum. I’ve never read any Kafka, but this museum really intrigued me and now I definitely want to read a bit of his work. I really liked the museum, especially because it was really focused on Kafkas’ relationship with the city of Prague. So it was really interesting to read about it and see all the old pictures of the city.

Before heading back to our hostel for our last night in Prague we went to this amazing vegetarian restaurant that we had read about on our tourist map. And now here’s the best part, we ran into ANOTHER Obie at this restaurant! We were sitting there waiting for our food and all of a sudden this girl walked in and we both stopped our ramblings (which of course were about Oberlin) to stare at her befuddled and amazed that we were running into another Obie on this short trip!

Anyway, so that’s the story of Prague. More to come about the ride to Budapest and our experiences in Hungary in my next post. Also, I’ll update pictures soon as well.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Berlin (and a little London)

Hello Again! Well, it has certainly been a long time since I last updated, I’m sorry to keep you all in suspense about what’s been going on in my life, but the dial-up internet connection in London just wasn’t cutting it. Since this entry is mostly about my time in Berlin, I don’t want to spend too much time discussing what I did in London, but I’ll just give a quick overview of my 11 days in London. My mom and I traveled from Amsterdam to London on Saturday December 22nd, where my friend Wendy met us and stayed with us until after Christmas. We proceeded to spend the next few days seeing various family and friends in London. We spent Christmas day with our cousins, and my cousin Rachel cooked a huge feast for us and Wendy as well. Rachel (not my cousin) and her family came to London on the 28th and we all had lunch. By the 31st my mom had left and Rachel, Yitka, Wendy, and her boyfriend Alex had joined me. We all spent New Years Eve together at my grandpas flat. On New Years Day we went on the London Eye, then Rachel left on the 2nd, and the rest of us cleared out of England on the 3rd. Wendy and Alex headed off to Amsterdam and Yitka and I hopped on a plane to Berlin. And so finally, I will tell you about the time I have spent in Berlin.

We arrived in Berlin at 9:30pm on January 3rd after a long day of traveling. We had to leave the flat at about 2pm in order to make sure we were able to get on a bus to Stansted in time for our 6:45pm flight. It seems like a lot of time, but the tube ride to the bus station was about 40 minutes followed by the actual bus ride to the airport, which was at least an hour. Before getting on the bus we had to wait in a line where it felt like we really weren’t going to get seats on the bus we wanted, but luckily we were given the LAST two seats on the bus, lucky us! After that all travel went smoothly. RyanAir treated us well (definitely worth the 20 pounds we paid for those tickets!) and we arrived in Berlin on time. For those of you that don’t know, we’ve been staying with my old au pair (spelling? I’m not so good with the French) from when I was 2-3 years old. She picked us up from the airport along with her son Joschi (short for Joshua, pronounced Yoshi). I don’t really remember Stefanie all that well from when I was a toddler, but the whole time I’ve been here she has been telling me all these wonderful stories about her memories of me and Lindsay when we were babies. She also showed me her four photo albums/scrap books from the year that she was in America and they include tons of pictures of me and Lindsay as 2/4 year olds as well as a bunch of pictures of my house before all the remodeling that we’ve done over the years. It was really fun to look through the pictures and hear stories about what Stefanie remembers from that time in 1989. It sort of felt like I was getting an outsiders perspective on my childhood and my family, and I really appreciated it. On top of all that, Stefanie and her boyfriend Thomas have also been amazing hosts. They’ve fed us breakfast every morning and taken us on walks around Berlin and they even treated us to dinner at a delicious Vietnamese restaurant on Saturday night.

Anyway, on to our activities in Berlin. We had two days of tourist activities, so I’ll just go day by day.


After a wonderful breakfast with Stefanie and Joschi we made our way via the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn (Berlin public transport) to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main border checkpoints along the Berlin Wall between 1962 and 1989 when the wall was in place. On one side of the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie was Communist East Berlin and on the other side was the American Sector of West Berlin. Outside the museum they have left the Army checkpoint station standing and there is also a replica of the old sign that alerted people to the fact that they were entering or leaving the American Sector. The museum itself was entirely overwhelming. It is dedicated to those people that lost their lives trying to flee East Berlin, but there was just sooooo much stuff inside. There were hundreds of pictures and newspaper articles and models of different methods people had used to try and escape, but there was no cohesive story to tie everything together. I’m obviously glad I went because I think it was good to be able to see all these things, but I wished that there had been a more cohesive story that flowed throughout the entire museum instead of just a slew of hundreds of random artifacts thrown randomly into the museum.

With that said about my opinions of the museum, here’s a small world story for all of you. Just as we were leaving the exhibition a girl grabbed my arm and asked me frantically if I went to Oberlin (I was wearing my sweatshirt of course). We started talking and it turns out that she also went to Oberlin, AND, she was in the museum with 2 of her friends that ALSO went to Oberlin. We ended up knowing the other two girls as acquaintances and so we stood around in the Checkpoint Charlie gift shop and talked about our European travel plans for a while before parting ways. It was just really cool to run in to Oberlin people in Germany! Small world eh?

That evening we met up with Stefanie and after utterly freezing ourselves walking around the city for an hour or so (it was about -8°C), we finally stopped in an Indian restaurant and had a yummy dinner.


For our second day in Berlin we tried to start the day early, but even though we had set our alarm for 9am we didn’t actually get out of bed until after 10am. Again we were greeted with a lovely German breakfast of bread, cheese, and various meats. After eating we headed into the city on the train prepared for a long day of touring. The first place we went was the Brandenburg Tor (Gate) which, to the best of my knowledge was an old entrance to the city. After wandering around in the area we came across the Jewish Memorial for those that lost their lives during the Holocaust. The memorial consists of a series of big stone boxes which at first don’t really look like much but when you start to walk through them you soon find yourself completely immersed and surrounded by these stone structures. When you look around you can only see the narrow paths that are created by all of the stones. I’m sure there is some profound meaning to why the memorial is set up in this way, but I haven’t yet taken the time to look it up.

After exploring the Jewish Memorial we made our way two blocks over to the Reichstag where you can enter and go up to the Dome at the top of the building for free, just so long as you’re willing to wait in a long line out in the cold. Since it was free we chose to wait not knowing that we would be standing outside in the below freezing air for over an hour. Despite the long, cold wait, it was pretty cool to get inside and have a view of the city and also to see the photo essay history of the building that was presented in the Dome.

Our next stop of the day was the German Historical Museum. This museum was also extremely overwhelming because it attempted to tell the story of German history from around 500BC to the present day. With that being said, it was definitely a lot more organized and easy to follow than the Checkpoint Charlie museum as the story was actually told in a cohesive manner that was easy to follow and interesting to read.

As an end to our time in Berlin, Stefanie and her boyfriend Thomas took us out for a lovely Vietnamese dinner, but not before taking us on an hour long walk across the newly ice slicked streets of Berlin. The walk was very treacherous and all four of us had some pretty close calls to falling right on our butts, but luckily we made it to the restaurant all in one piece.

This morning we caught a train to Prague and that is where I am right now. The train ride was 5 hours, but it passed by rather quickly. After a nap, some reading, and a good deal of time spent staring out the window at the snowy white countryside we found ourselves in Praha (where the snow had finally stopped falling). We’ll be here for three nights and then we head to Budapest. So that’s all for now, and in a few days time I’ll update again with some stories of our time in the Czech Republic.

I won't be uploading photos to my blog this month, but I'll keep facebook as up to date as possible. Here is a combined album of mine and Yitkas' photos from our last few days in London and our time in Berlin: