Monday, October 6, 2014

Easter Break 

At Swansea they have about a whole month off for "revision" or studying for their final exams. Rather than studying, a couple friends and I used this time to travel around for a bit. We started our journey in Paris. It's quite pricey to stay in Paris but we found a good deal on a website where people can let out their apartments. The one we chose was really nice aside from the lack of wifi. 

The first day our group split up. The boys had already been to the main sights of Paris on a previous visit so I was off on my own for a while. I walked though a beautiful park called Jardin des Tuileries on my way to the Louvre. 

Once inside I got to see all the paintings it's famous for. I really enjoyed the pieces by Delacroix and Gericult. They are so large in person. After that I was feeling hungry so I got a huge sandwich that was really good from a brasserie close to the next museum I visited, Musee d'Orsay. This museum was my favorite because it held some of the most famous impressionist works. It was great. After that I met up with a family friend who lives in Paris. 

He and his girlfriend took me on an awesome tour of Paris. We went up to the Basillica of Sacre Coure and got a great view of the city. We then went around the "gold triangle" which has some of the most expensive shopping in Paris and probably the world. Later that night I met back up with my friends to get dinner and see Paris at night. Most of the monuments were lit up and looked beautiful.

After too short a stay in Paris we headed to Brussels, Belgium. Here we stayed at a relatively nice hostel and had a nice time overall. We enjoyed walking around "Old Town" with a French roommate we made friends with. Most of the cities we went to had an old part that was generally more interesting to look at. Brussels also had a bohemian quarter that had interesting stores and coffee shops. 

We walked through this part of town and ended up at the surprisingly grand Palace of Justice. It was up on a huge hill and after climbing it we had a great view of the city at night. While traveling we walked at least 5 miles a day and sometimes up to 10. This gave us a frequent excuse to reward ourselves with whatever the local treat was. In this case, lots of chocolate and waffles. 

 Chris was set on going to the European Parliament building (which was, perhaps, the whole reason we went to Brussels) but it was closed for tours when we were there.

As a result of the forced break from our phones and GPS technology, we had to use maps quite often. I suppose leaning to use a paper map is a valuable skill, but it is a skill I would have happily avoided the rest of my life. It takes so much longer to find things! 

Next, we were off to Berlin, Germany. Berlin is a nice city and it seemed much more spread out than the previous two we visited. We ended up walking the most here and I had awful blisters for the rest of the trip. There were lots of cultural places to visit and learn from in Berlin. 

We went to the National Gallery and enjoyed impressionist exhibitions when Chris wasn't getting yelled at by the security guards. Later we walked around Museumplien and the Tier Garden as well. The garden was massive and was adjcent to a zoo that we looked in on from the fence. We also saw the historic Book Burning Square where a book market is now held daily. 

The next day we saw the Memorial to the Murdered Jews and the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was struck by the amount of people who were  jumping across and taking selfies with the memorial exhibit for millions of murdered people. It seemed a bit disrespectful to me. The Memorial Museum was unlike any museum I have ever been to. It had really intense internal architecture and certain rooms to go in that were designed to evoke feelings of isolation, abandonment, and awe. We also learned quite a bit about Jewish history and culture. 

The Berlin wall was a much farther walk than we anticipated but it was worth going to. The art graffiti-ed on it was impressive. 

Next we took a beautiful train ride to Check Republic. One of the benefits of using trains is getting to see the country side. 
I think Paris and Prague were my favorite of the cities we visited. They are both so beautiful and we had great experiences in them. We ended up in Prague over Easter weekend and it was full of street vendors and pretty decorated eggs. We went on a great walking tour and the guide informed us about the most appalling Easter tradition I have ever heard. 

Guys across the city purchase these nicely decorated whips (WHIPS!) of woven tree branches and visit their female friends' homes on Easter Sunday. They then whip the backs of the girls legs (so they can have good luck in life or be fertile or something) and then the girls are meant to give them alcohol as a reward for coming to "bless" them. Ridiculous. Monday is intended to be the girls' revenge and they go around throwing water on all the boys who whipped them.  

This is a nice view of the city we had from up near Prague Castle. We attended an Easter Mass in Victoria Basilica in within the Castle walls. We didn't end up staying the whole time since the service was in Latin... I think we got the gist of it though. 

Our tour through the Jewish quarter was one of the most interesting, There were lots of great stories and ledgens. This is the oldest functioning synagogue in the world (i'm pretty sure). 

This is Prague's famous Astrological clock. I'm not sure about the functions of all the dials but its from the 12 or 15 hundreds and has impressive features for its time. At noon the Apostles appear in the little windows at the top and spin around while depictions of the 4 vices wiggle around towards the bottom. It seemed creepy and strange to us but we understood how entertaining that might have been hundreds of years ago. 

I bought a nice old watch while in Prague. I'm never quite sure if something is actually old when the vendor says it's "vintage" but this watch says "Made in USSR" so I'm relatively certain she wasn't lying.  

Our next and last stop for me was Vienna, Austria.  Vienna was lovely and the streets looked a lot like Paris to me. 


We went to a few palaces and several museums. I enjoyed the city and the weather was pretty nice while we were there. After Vienna Chris and Will went on to Italy without me. I decided to skip since I had already been a few years ago. I traveled back to England and stayed with my nice roommate from Swansea for a few days before heading back to Wales. I was then on campus for a few weeks before meeting up with RSU honors and PLC kids in Spain for two weeks. It was so much fun hanging out with them and getting to see people from home after being away for so long. It was also nice having Dr. Ford plan everything and navigate every where. After Spain my sweet roommates from RSU came to stay with me in Swansea for a few days before we all went to London together. It was such a great time and I was VERY happy to see them after 5 months without them. I might post some pictures from that trip and Spain eventually.... I wasn't as diligent with the blogging as I could have been. I was just having too much fun I guess :) My time in Swansea was awesome overall. It was an amazing experience and I am so fortunate to have had this opportunity to see so much of the world while being so young. I hope to travel again soon :) 


Friday, March 7, 2014

Hello! Since my last post I've just been keeping up with my classes and assignments and making more travel plans. Two friends and I bought Eurail passes that will allow us to hop on and off trains throughout Europe over our Easter break. Our break is 3 weeks long! Right now our plans include starting in France, then going to Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria! I'm excited for this adventure but I am constantly realizing how difficult it is to make travel arrangements. When I went to Scotland and Ireland with RSU I just followed the group and didn't have to worry about booking flights, hotels, and navigating. There really is a lot to figure out before we can get to where we want to be! I was never very good at directions but I think I'm getting much better while over here.

It was a bit sad not being home on my birthday but my nice friends here surprised me with a doughnut cake and a small party. On our way to town we got on a bus full of tipsy Brazilians who decided to sing me Happy Birthday in Portuguese! It was pretty memorable!

February 28th through March 2nd I went to Amsterdam! 

Thursday went to the Rijks Museum to see some of the famous Dutch paintings

Rembrant's Night Watch is their most famous painting. There is even a "Rembrant Square" in town that has most of the painting's characters represented in life-sized statues. The museum also put on a Flash Mob that depictied the painting to announce the reopening of the museum after it was closed for a while. The video is pretty good! You can watch it here 

The Van Gogh museum was my favorite place we visited. They didn't allow pictures inside but it was great! It's usually a treat to see one Van Gogh in a museum but this was full of them! There were a few other impressionist painters as well. 

I learned that there are more bikes in this city than there are people! It really is pretty dangerous to walk around and only look for cars. The bike come out of nowhere pretty quickly! 

We thought about renting some to ride around but we didn't feel experienced enough. We settled for taking a picture on someone else's... 

Some of my favorite parts about the city were the flower and food markets! Even though it is not Tulip season there were plenty of flowers out around town. 

This is an outdoor bakery! We really enjoyed walking around the streets Saturday morning looking at all the fresh food. There are also some nice art and book markets! 


It was a bit too cold for Chris when we got to the city

This was a really strange exhibit(?) of iron Iguanas in the middle of the city. They looked very lifelike! 

Friday we went to the Anne Frank house/museum. I read her Diary in junior high but I don't think it struck me how intuitive and reflective she was at such a young age. In the house we were able to see the attic where they stayed in hiding for several years. The bookcase hiding the door to the attic still remains and we were able to walk around what were their small kitchen and bedrooms. 

This quote from Anne's father reads, "We cannot change what happened anumore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it's everyones responsibility to fight prejudice."

This is inside the coolest library I have ever seen (sorry Stratton Taylor)! The library had eight floors and an amazing cafe at the top with lots of freshly made food and snacks, kind of like the one at Whole Foods in the States. There was also a movie theater that we wanted to look inside. While walking in we somehow got swept into a class tour. We were already half way in so we just sat down with them and their teacher started lecturing in Dutch while the kids started staring at us. We decided to awkwardly sneak out after 10 minutes.  

The cafe also had an amazing panoramic view of the city. 

Apple cake/pie and a cappuccino from the cafe! This was the first place we went where everything was actually labeled in Dutch. Everyone we ran into spoke English as well as Dutch, though. I read that 86% of the people in Amsterdam speak three languages! 

Saturday Hannah and I split off from the boys to wander about the flower markets and shopping areas; they didn't want to stop and smell the roses! We decided to buy some fresh bread and cheese from one of the markets and have a picnic in this huge park!  

Again, the labels were in Dutch so we were taking a gamble when purchasing this cheese. It turned out to be the smelliest awfullest (and most expensive) cheese I have ever tasted! Neither of us could eat very much of it. We decide to go back to the market and buy some fruit instead! 

It was much easier to get lost in Amsterdam than London! We often found ourselves on back streets and alley ways. We always figured out where we were going eventually! It wasn't so bad to be lost during the day but we were less adventurous at night. Our hostel was right in the middle of the Red Light district! It really was pretty scary trying to find it the first night we got there. It was really uncomfortable for me to see all the women in the windows as well. Our hostel was run by a Christian company that does some outreach in the city. They told us that many of the prostitutes are immigrants who chose to work there and send money home to their families while others may have been promised dance careers in Western Europe and ended up there instead. 

I didn't realize there were so many canals in Amsterdam. They're everywhere! Apparently they had to reclaim some of their land, so some of it would actually be underwater. 

While Hannah and I chose to eat from the bountiful fresh food, Will was adventurous enough to eat from one of the famous vending stores. There are lots of these around the city and they are just vending machines full of hot food. It looked a little too unsavory for me. The fried tube Will got was full of a chicken/beef paste. 

I had never seen a draw-bridge working before so it was interesting to watch them go up and down. 

Our time in Amsterdam was pretty good overall! Our flights in and out of Bristol went smoothly and the bus ride back to Swansea wasn't too bad. Like London, Amsterdam was a nice break from the Swansea weather that welcomed us back with characteristic wind and rain on Sunday. I have six weeks now till our European adventure. During this time I need to motivate myself to finish all my course work before we leave! I'll have to find something interesting to post about in the mean time.