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 :)