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Category: Travels (Page 6 of 12)

Take on Me by (Pr)A-ha!

One of the buildings at Námēstí Míru.I recently made a solo trip out to one of the most beautiful cities I have ever laid my eyes upon: Prague, or as its called in Czech, Praha! I spent about three days there, standing in awe beneath enormous churches and eating various versions of traditional Czech goulash. This city had some of the most breathtaking buildings, very much inspired by the Gothic architecture movement originating in France, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century.

Originally coined as Opus Franciginum (“French Work”), Gothic Architecture was envisioned by Abbot Suger of the Church of Saint Denis. By the time of his death, Abbot Suger had also invented what is known as a façade (the very intricately decorated and detailed front of a building, intended to set the tone for the rest of the edifice), and the rose window (a circular form of stained glass with different colorings or tracings suggestive in the form of a rose). Very characteristic of the medieval period, Gothic architecture spread all throughout Europe, but had a larger influence in Eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic.

One of the views from the clock tower in the center of Prague!

My temporary home was in Vinohrady, which is also home to Námēstí Míru, literally translating to “Peace Square.” From my BnB, I could even see the Church of Saint Ludmila, which is a Neo-Gothic Church right in the center of Námēstí Míru, built from 1888-1893 by Bohemian architect Josef Mocker. Mocker also completed the St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle, which I had the chance to visit as well! The Prague Castle, or Pražský hrad, is the largest ancient castle in the world, according to Guinness Book of World Records, and it attracts over 1.8 million visitors each year. It dates all the way back to the ninth century, and is now the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle also holds the Bohemian Crown Jewels, which are the fourth oldest in Europe!

A stained glass window in the Cathedral of St. Vitus (feat. old guy and companion).

While taking a break from the beautiful sights, I made my way through the labyrinth of tiny, cobbled streets, on a search for the perfect goulash! I knew that this was a traditional Czech dish, so I had to try some while I was there. The first restaurant I went to seemed relatively new, and even though it had a traditional menu, the decor and atmosphere was very modern. A little strange, but I actually liked it a lot! I ordered some goulash, and what was served to me was not at all what I was expecting.

I thought goulash was some kind of soup with beans and chunks of meat or something, maybe I would get a bread roll on the side, but instead of finding that mess, I saw a beautifully plated hunk of beef, covered in this red, slightly spicy, but incredibly delicious sauce. To top that, it was served with four potato rolls, which I can only explain as really dense bread rolls with the flavor of a potato. That was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and I didn’t think it could get any better, so actually my quest for the best goulash ended at this little hole in the wall, of which I could not remember and definitely couldn’t pronounce the name, but it was about two blocks from my BnB! I just went there every night for a good dinner, sometimes I also for lunch, to fill my stomach to its physical capacity.

My favorite metro sign: Náméstí Míru!

Because of my shortened food quest, and still not having visited all the places I wanted to see, I would definitely visit Prague again – no doubt. Next time though, maybe with a little more diversity in my meals? I’d like to see something other than goulash with different kinds of meat on my plate! And so, until next week’s adventure, I bid thee farewell!

Daerstetten to Interlaken: Peaceful and Intense

This weekend I decided to break the mold and go somewhere not in a city. I love the outdoors, and heard that Interlaken is nice this time of year. Before I get to the activities we did, allow me just a little time to gush about the awesome AirBnB that I found.

Our small cabin was in the village of Daerstetten, about an hour from Interlaken. In the hills, and boasting a meager population of 2000 people, this tiny town is made up mostly of cow pastures around the mountain river in the valley. Our AirBnB was in a cluster of traditional log cabins dating back to the 1600s. With an amazing view of the mountains and a sheep pen right outside our window, I felt about as far away from the city as you can get. According to our host Jorg, most people live their whole lives in that town. He himself grew up in the neighboring house.
 

View from our AirBnB. Hello, sheep!

 
On the first day, we decided to go hiking through the hills around our AirBnB. We walked past many traditional cabins, tiny clusters of houses, and lots and lots of cows. Hopping a train to a neighboring town, we followed a mountain river, then climbed through a cow pasture and down through another town. The views were absolutely pristine.
 

Reppin’ GT in the countryside. #buzzinabroad

 
The next day, after taking the train to Interlaken, we decided to rent bicycles in the town. The lady at the rental place suggested a route around Lake Brienz, and we were off. The lake was so clear that you could see straight to the bottom even at great depths. It was glittering and blue in the sun. We rode our bikes up and down hills, around sharp corners, and over the dirt paths. It was a total of 45 km, or about 28 miles. About halfway through, I took a nasty tumble on my bike, but I had to keep going. I am very proud that I did! It’s much better to say, “I biked all the way around Lake Brienz!” rather than “I biked about three quarters of the way around the lake and then had to take a train back because of a few bruises.”
 

Bike trip! Before the fall.

 

The next day we all woke up exceedingly sore. Just one member of my group and I decided to go to the Trummelbach Falls, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and awesome tourist attraction. After a breakfast of eggs and tomatoes, we headed out on the scenic mountain train.  Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the mountain runoff from the glaciers began carving a path through the mountain. Trummelbach Falls is the only place in Europe with accessible tunnels to see these rock-encased waterfalls. The water can flow up to 20,000 gallons per minute, and inside the tunnels you can hear nothing but the roar of the water carving its way through the rock. The walls are perfectly smooth from the erosion, and it is all quite terrifying to look straight down.

Need a place to relax by biking nearly 50 km, or hear the soothing sounds of thousands of gallons of water crashing violently through a mountain? Interlaken is the place for you!
 

What the inside of Trummelbach falls looks like.

How To: Find Your Body’s Physical & Mental Limit

The adorable village of Därstetten!

Finally having arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland on a very cloudless and sunny Thursday morning, my three travel companions and I checked into our small AirBnb, then went out to do some exploring. Our home for the next few days was comfortably nestled in the rolling hills of a village called Därstetten. This village was so small that the cows easily outnumbered the humans, and trains only went through every hour. Our house was this sweet, little country home, with the architecture and design staying true to traditional Swiss style homes. It had dark wood paneling on the outside, and carved wooden shutters painted green. There were vibrant red and yellow tulips surrounding the front, as well as a couple of free-range chickens wandering the campus, and we all fell in love with the area almost instantly.

Now I could go on an on about the home and our immediate surroundings, but I’ve actually got a very interesting story to tell you, so I’d better get started:

Waterfalls at the halfway mark!

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early to do some more exploring. We ended up deciding to rent a couple of mountain bikes in Interlaken to ride around Lake Brienz. This is where the story really takes shape. I have not touched a bike since probably my freshman year of high school, but some part of me chose to ignore that fact and take on a 40+ kilometer trip in jeans and a sweater. It was nearly 65 degrees Celsius, and I had one bottle of water. Well, I figured I could use the exercise, plus I would be able to see the lake from all sorts of angles! During the first half hour of the trip, I was doing great. We were riding on flat, paved road, and I was really enjoying myself. Then the hills started.

*Pensive thoughts*

I don’t know what we were expecting, seeing as we were in one of the world’s most hilly/mountainous regions. We all turned a corner and saw the road go up. And up. And up. At first, I tried toughing it out, so I switched my gears and went into the first ascent at full speed. Soon enough, I lost my momentum, and found myself pedaling just to keep my bike from falling backwards. At this point, my thighs and calves were feeling a healthy sting, so I kept going until I reached the next turn which seemed to plateau off.

But what was waiting for us when we turned that corner? You guessed it- another hill! I took a breath, gathered myself, and started to tackle this one. We all got about halfway up before we hopped off our bikes and walked them to the next corner. This is how we took on every other hill. After seeing some beautiful waterfalls, falling a couple times, and a lunch break, we finally got to the opposite end of the lake. This next half of the trip was supposed to closely follow the water line, and we all joked that we would get there and see nothing but upwards roads. We would literally be going uphill both ways. That joke quickly turned into a sad reality.

Lake Brienz

There was a stint about a kilometer long that went all the way down to the lake and then it flattened out along the turn. Coming out of that turn, we, I kid you not, saw Another. Freaking. Hill. By this point, I’m already sweating bullets (the hot sun did not make any of this easier), and my legs were on fire. However, against my better judgment, I trekked up the hill. We were just over halfway home, and I was not about to be a quitter. There was one more relatively flat part, when we were going through a small town, but then the uphill battle quickly continued. We did actually go all around the lake- uphill both ways. What a story.

Towards the end, all of our bodies were feeling the toll of 40+ kilometers in our legs, backs, and souls. By the time we returned the bikes, one of us had a faulty ankle, one of us had a crazy-intense sunburn, and the other two of us had enough muscle cramps to last an army a lifetime. Plus, due to the questionable lack of padding on the bike seats, none of us could walk normally. We all hobbled and waddled into our beds that night. We were physically and mentally drained, so after cooking dinner at six that night, we fell asleep quicker than you could say “spaghetti bolognese and frozen vegetable mix” (our dinner).

The moral of this unfortunate story, even though I really did have fun and I’m thankful that I had the experience, is to NOT ride a bike for four and a half hours if you haven’t exercised those muscles in over six years, do NOT overestimate your physical or mental preparedness, and ALWAYS bring two to three bottles of water! Until my next misadventure, this is Sam signing off! 

Top 5 List of Favorite Encounters of the Food Kind

Thinking introspectively I’ve come to the conclusion that my love for travel might actually be not so subtly linked to my love for good food. Seeing famous landmarks and learning about the history of places is great and all, but my favorite part is undeniably the food. Be it street vendors, marketplaces, little cafés, or fancy restaurants, good food can be found everywhere, and in Europe you have nearly unlimited access to foods from many different cultures, and cuisine that might not be so easily accessible in the United States, so in the spirit of Buzzfeed, I decided to make a top 5 list of my favorite encounters of the food kind.

5. Schnitzel with Noodles, Heidelberg
Don’t get me wrong, this simple meal from Germany was delicious, but it secures a spot on my list for the experience of finally getting to eat the iconic food combination sung about in the Sound of Music. Growing up hearing that song, I never even knew what schnitzel was before coming to Europe, so it was fun for me to not just figure out what is actually was, but also to eat it.

4. Hot waffle with Ice Cream, Amsterdam
Right outside the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, by the famous sign, there’s a little food stand that sells an amazing combination that I had never seen anywhere else. Waffles, ice cream and coffee was a perfect way to break fast before enjoying the incredible art of Van Gogh and touring the beautiful canals of Amsterdam.  

Picture Courtesy of TripAdvisor.

3. Roasted Duck, Paris
This was one of the very first meals I ate in Europe, occurring in my very first weekend of travel. I’ll always have a soft spot for that first destination and the trip was highlighted by finding this tiny little café in the middle of Paris with great hospitality and even better food. This was also my first time actually trying duck and it has quickly taken it’s place high among my favorite meats.

2. Pork Belly with Creamed Potatoes, Munich
This whole meal at a lively restaurant/pub in Munich was amazing but I can say with some certainty that their potatoes were the best I had ever had. People who know me know that I love potatoes, so this was truly a wonderful experience. There’s just something great about the simple cuisine of Germany, and when it’s prepared as well as it was in Munich, there’s not much that can beat it.

1. Gyros, Athens

Right across from our hotel in Athens.

My number one spot comes from a little hole in the wall in the middle of Athinas street called the Pita Bar. My girlfriend and I discovered this place near the end of our trip and proceeded to go there for at least 4 meals in 3 days. It wasn’t particularly fancy or anything, but they knew how to make gyros like you wouldn’t believe. If you ever find yourself in Athens, I cannot recommend the Pita Bar highly enough. Just watch out, because other gyros will never taste as good again.

It might sound a little weird that food would be such a big part of traveling, but really, food is a huge part of culture. Europe is known for its diverse and impressive cuisine and it hasn’t disappointed. I look forward to a few more weeks of amazing food and amazing places.

5 Tips for Train Travel

From using the Eurail pass, I have learned a lot about traveling on trains. Especially when one doesn’t speak the language, going on trains can be a bit daunting. Trust me, I have taken my fair share of wrong trains, slept in a few very cold train stations, and been to many an information desk. This post is a ‘learn from my mistakes’ type deal so I hope everyone is ready!

1. Make sure you are in the right car.
I know, I know, this sounds like a no-brainer. However, a lot of the newer trains have the capability for cars to split off from one another and go to different places. Make sure that the car you get into is going to your destination, because there is no way to switch once you are en route.

2. Secure your valuables with your companions so you can all sleep.
It’s always a good idea to keep your personal items close to you. I keep my passport, Eurail pass, and money in a money belt, and put it under my clothes. However, sometimes I worry about my backpack. I want to sleep, but I don’t want to have to worry about my bag being stolen if everyone in my group falls asleep. So, I came up with a plan. Whenever we are planning on napping, my crew and I all buckle and tie our backpacks together. That way no one can grab our backpacks and quickly make off with one, but will have to struggle through the tangle of backpacks and thus become discovered. It makes me feel a lot safer.

3. Bring a scarf or neck pillow for sleeping.
One thing I learned about taking trains is that you will never know when or where you will be stranded. It is always a good idea to bring extra warm clothes in case you are stranded in a train station, because most of them are not heated. Also, most train stations don’t have places to lie down for sleeping, so having a pillow to rest your head on can come in really handy.

4. Leave enough time for transfers
Even though trains are usually on time, small delays or train strikes can lead to some close calls and missed trains. When planning your route, make sure that you can always get to the next platform for your transfer. I think 20 minutes is a safe bet. Every train station is different, and you need time to figure out where the train is and how to get there. Leave stress out of the equation and plan for decent transfer time.

5. Bring snacks!
Although many trains have dining cars, bringing snacks along for the ride is always an awesome idea. Train travel makes you sleepy, and a quick granola bar, apple, or other snack can be a great pick-me-up. Trust me, you will love yourself later.

Happy travels everyone!

Krakow: The Old City of Eastern Europe

As a Lithuanian, I was very excited to go to Krakow, Poland. As any Lithuanian will remind you when you respond, “I haven’t heard of that country,” the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, and Krakow was one of the main capital cities of the country.

This is a monument dedicated to the 1409 cooperation of Lithuanian and Polish forces in Grunwald.

The Polish are a proud people. They have seen some of the most brutal wars, famines, and atrocities of any European country. Since the 11th century, they have only seen about 100 years of peace total, in the 16th century. In the span of WWII to the fall of the Soviet Union, they lost about 35% of their population to death camps, shootings, war, and gulags. They have a fierce hatred for oppression, extreme national pride, and they oppose all things Nazi and Soviet. According to our tour guide, ask a little girl about 4 years old what the colors of the Polish flag stand for, and she will respond with intense expression, “White is for the innocence of our country in the many wars waged on its soil, and red is for the blood that our people have sacrificed in those wars.”

This is the beautiful square in the heart of the city. The old city was so prosperous because of trade with Middle Eastern countries for horses!

After the lighthearted tour of the old city, famous for its walled defenses, beautiful castles and wonderful cathedrals, my group and I were ready to face one of the most difficult topics in human history: the Holocaust. About 1.5 hours outside of Krakow is the site where the most people were killed in the shortest span of time in history. Auschwitz and its sub-camp Birkenau, Nazi death camps, are today Krakow’s main tourist attraction. No one is excited to go to Auschwitz. Remembering all of the atrocities committed there is not a fun day trip. But it is something that every human should do, and it is a burial site that everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to.

The victims were mostly Jews, but also included Soviet prisoners, Romani people, and Polish people. Here are some statistics from the US Holocaust Museum website: “Jews (1,095,000 deported to Auschwitz, of whom 960,000 died); Poles (147,000 deported, of whom 74,000 died); Roma (23,000 deported, of whom 21,000 died); Soviet prisoners of war (15,000 deported and died); and other nationalities (25,000 deported, of whom 12,000 died).” When you enter Auschwitz, you see the sign above the entrance “Arbeit macht Frei,” meaning, work sets you free. However, this was not true at all for the prisoners sent there.

After arriving off the cattle cars after days of journey without a break, food or water, you would be filtered through the entrance. If you were sent to the left, you would be sent directly to the gas chambers. If you were sent to the right, you would be put in the forced labor camp or sent to the human experimentation area. The only people sent to the work camp were strong young men. Women, children, the elderly and those with any sort of disability were sent to the gas chambers.
When you entered the gas chamber, you were told that you would be taking a shower. Prop shower heads would be on the walls. However, the room was filled with Zyklon B, which would kill you painfully in about 10-20 minutes depending on your proximity to the vent. We walked inside the gas chamber, and could see the nail marks on the walls where people had tried to claw their way out of the gas chambers.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the camp as a sign of respect. Here is a view of the barracks from the outside. 700 people were kept in each building.

After the people were murdered, a forced Jewish labor force would have to shave all of their hair to be used for coat lining or mattress filling, and all gold teeth and rings would be taken (along with any possessions they had taken on the cattle cars) to houses in the camp known as ‘Canada.’ These storehouses for valuables were called Canada because Canada was a symbol of wealth for the Polish. Then, the corpses would be placed in ovens and incinerated. Walking the paths of these people was incredibly moving and powerful.

If you were sent to the work camp, you would be given insect-riddled and soiled uniforms and tattooed with a number. You would sleep 8 in a bed in barracks with mud floors, full of rats and insects. Only one latrine was provided and almost everyone had dysentery. You were given about 200 calories per day. You had to work 14 hours or more of backbreaking labor, and if you fell, injured yourself, or passed out from starvation, you would be sent to the gas chamber. If you did not fulfill work quotas, you would be subject to capital punishment, including having your arms broken, lashings, beatings, spending a night in a suffocation cell (no ventilation, many people to a room, only a few survive) or a standing cell, (four people placed in a 1 meter by 1 meter cell with no room to move at all. After all of this, you would be expected to work the next day.

At Birkenau, the site of the largest mass killings, our tour guide informed us that there was a 1 inch layer of human ash just below the grass. The camp was liberated by the Soviets. Many of the prisoners that survived, however, were sent to gulags – Soviet-enforced labor camps – immediately following their liberation.

I know this post has been really heavy, so I want to leave you with an inspiring story. On our tour, our tour guide mentioned a professor that was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in the beginning of Nazi occupation. He survived four years of hard labor in the camp. After the war, his political ideals landed him in a Siberian gulag, because he opposed the Soviets, where he survived another four years of starvation, hard labor, and cold. He lived to be 104 years old. When asked by a student how he lived so long, he responded “I wanted to live long enough to see Poland peaceful. Now, after 80 years of nonstop war, I can tell them at the moment of my death that everything is alright.”

Castles and Cobblestones

Throughout all of my European adventures, I’ve noticed one thing that most tourist cities have in common: castles and cobblestones. The cities themselves are so old and commercialized that the house tech repair shops and Internet cafés are within one kilometer of their marvelous castles. Most downtown streets are covered with ancient cobblestone, and although, at times, you may trip or stub your toe (it happens to the best of us), it is so amazing getting to walk the same paths as so many people did before us.

This past weekend, I brushed up on my German “Ordering In A Restaurant” skills and sat on a train for three hours to visit my girlfriend in Heidelberg. Thankfully, with her German competence, I didn’t make myself too much of a fool! In all seriousness though, it was a great weekend!

Heidelberg, Germany

Even though I’ve got some Irish blood running through my veins, I completely forgot that Friday was Saint Patrick’s Day, and so did my girlfriend. With neither of us wearing green that entire day, we decided that we were thankful we weren’t in middle school anymore, hiding from overly excited, shoulder pinching, four leafed clover, leprechaun lovers. This isn’t to say that I have anything against Saint Patrick or the day that honors him, in fact I love it, it’s such a fun holiday. However, we all know that one kid who went out of their way to find their non-green-wearing-peers and pinch them when they least expected it. Aside from that, this weekend was full of unnecessary amounts of broccoli, the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, and schnitzel with noodles!

Thinking it would be both frugal and fun to cook our own dinners while we were at our BnB, we stopped by a grocery store on Friday to pick up a couple of things. We wanted to make this kind of pork stir fry, so as we went through the ingredients we usually see in stir fry, we eventually came across broccoli. Instead of finding small, single stalks, we only found packs of three giant stalks, so we had broccoli for breakfast and dinner, the whole weekend. It’s safe to say that both of us can go without broccoli for a while now!

On Saturday morning, after having stir fry for breakfast, we made the trek up the the world famous Heidelberg Castle, home to the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, the Heidelberg Tun. Built in 1751, the Heidelberg Tun is seven meters high, eight and a half meters wide, and able to hold 220,000 liters of wine. It even has a staircase along the side leading up to a dance floor at the top of the barrel!

Heidelberg Castle.

After our trip up to the castle, we went back down to the main part of the city for lunch at a typical German restaurant. Now, I really had no idea what schnitzel with noodles was before this weekend. I just remember Julie Andrews singing about it being one of her favorite things, so when I saw that it was on the menu, I immediately ordered it. What I got was this huge plate full of really, really thick noodles, an amazing mushroom cream sauce, and a giant chicken nugget to top it off. It was way better than how I’m making it sound, but really that’s how simple it was!

We visited the Lindt chocolate store and a couple of bakeries after that, but don’t worry, I will soon dedicate an entire blog post to all of my sweet tooth conquests! All in all, Heidelberg was good to us, and if I have another chance to visit again, I think I definitely will! So until next week,

Tschüss!

Amsterdam, a Severed Ear, and a Whole Lot of Garbage

This weekend, we made the journey to Amsterdam. Although the weather was bleak, we bundled up, and woke up in the morning ready to make the most of the day. Before I begin my usual account of historical events, I would like to give a small shout-out to the Amsterdam public transportation system. With frequent buses and trams and a ticket that allows you to swipe on any mode of transportation, my companions and I never had any trouble finding our way around the canal city.

The most tourist-y picture, smack in the middle of the museum quarter.


Now, to the history part! Ever since I was a child, I have always been drawn to Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch painter with his bold brush strokes and distinct style. When I was about 7 years old, my family took me to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. When I visited this weekend, I messaged my parents: “This museum was honestly life changing.” To which my mother replied: “It changed your life in elementary school too! You went from a perfectionist to ‘Oh, just get it done!’ It was after you saw the bold brush strokes.” So I guess I owe my adult personality to this painter.


Everything about Van Gogh is inspiring to me. He struggled with mental illness, didn’t begin painting until 27, and had the courage to challenge the social and societal norms of his time. The museum itself is in a modern glass building, where well-displayed galleries take you through his whole painting career from his earliest painting to his last days. His impressionistic style was quite revolutionary, and he is considered today the most famous painter in the world. The museum was thorough and excellent, displaying everything from Vincent’s letters to his brother, with whom he had a very close relationship, to his painting technique. (He didn’t typically mix colors on the palate, but rather mix the wet paint as it was applied to the canvas.)


My favorite thing about Van Gogh’s art is that his paintings aren’t meant only to depict a subject, but to depict what the subject is feeling. He preferred painting and living in the country, because he thought country living to be more honorable and honest than that in the city. He attributes the city to what drove him to madness. Indeed, in his last paintings while he was living in a mental asylum, he used much more red than in his previous work because he was trying to reflect the emotions of the patients there.


Van Gogh was truly mad, and many know the story of how he cut off his ear. He was living in a small house with his friend and fellow painter Gauguin, but after a few weeks, Gauguin began to find Van Gogh utterly intolerable, and attempted to leave. Van Gogh, angry at his friend, chased him into the street with a razor, and then being unable to catch him, cut off his ear in a fit of madness. He then presented it to his mistress, who was understandably horrified at the whole affair. Van Gogh knew he needed help, and a few years later actually admitted himself to the asylum, comforted by his brother’s shipments of painting supplies and letters. However, the tortured artist could not live with himself and shot himself in the chest. He will go down in history as one of the greatest artists of all time.


After the amazing visit to the Van Gogh museum, I embarked on a canal cruise. Amsterdam, by necessity, has become a city expert at controlling water flow, water levels and flooding. Using a system of locks, seawalls and sluices, they have kept their marshy city below sea level flood free. Drifting along the man-made canals, I could see that the facades of all of the houses were very skinny. This is because the taxes on the properties were determined by the width of the facades of the houses, so the skinnier the facade, the less taxes you owed the state.


Another very interesting fact about the city is that the term ‘flea market’ originates there. This is because in the very poor sector, floods happened so often that they sunk garbage into the water to prevent their houses and streets from flooding, and therefore made a sort of city out of garbage, riddled with fleas. In this area, most of the square is covered with stalls, and is a busy market during the day. Therefore, we get the term flea market.

Notice the skinny facades? Cheapskates!

Amsterdam has so many amazing museums, and I would love the chance to go back and see more.

All in all, a beautiful visit.

Time to Van Gogh!

As I look out my single window tonight and stare at the beautiful full moon, I am made to reflect on what else in life is full, or what makes life full? Is it good food and good company? Is it inner peace and joy? This may just be sleep-deprived me overthinking a giant, glowing space rock, but these things are nice to contemplate every once in a while. What do I really want from life? Well, I want to experience all of what life has to offer! I want to sail into uncharted waters, both literally and metaphorically, to explore and discover countless new places and states of being. I was a bit wary about traveling to one city more than once while I was studying abroad at GTL, but I fell too much in love the first time, that I couldn’t just do a ‘one and done’!

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Sam I am!

A couple weeks ago, I visited Amsterdam and got to see a maritime museum and a cat cafe, but that trip didn’t even scrape anything off what this beautiful city had to offer me, so I decided to go back this past weekend and see more of it with a couple of my friends!

On Saturday, I went to the Van Gogh museum, which was definitely the highlight of the trip. All of the exhibits were laid out in a way that, when they walk through, people are taken on  a journey through Vincent Van Gogh’s life as an artist, which I thought was really cool. One of the really great things about the museum, is that there is a special interactive tour that people can take which lets them experience some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings through physical touch, smell, and song. This tour, fittingly named ‘Feeling Van Gogh’, was designed especially for the blind and visually impaired to enjoy Van Gogh’s works with their family and friends. Although I didn’t take the tour, I thought that this was a really interesting and cool way of experiencing visual art, and I think its very neat of the museum to do this kind of thing to accommodate to all kinds of people with disabilities that might otherwise keep them from visiting an art museum!

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Almond Blossom (1890) by Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

That cool feature aside, as I walked through the museum, I got to see a lot of beautiful paintings and prints that I had only seen in my high school literature books, including The Bedroom (1888), Sunflowers (1889), and Self-Portrait As A Painter (1887-1888). Still, I discovered a piece that I had not yet seen before, Almond Blossom (1890), which I’ve got to say is my favorite Van Gogh piece to date. I got chills a couple times as I stared at all of these paintings, and maybe it was just the intense air conditioning, but there is something about studying Van Gogh’s life while in his own homeland of tulips and clogs that feels so surreal.

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Sunflower maze outside of the Van Gogh Museum (2016), courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Definitely feeling blessed and highly favored after this last trip to Amsterdam, I’ve decided that traveling and art are two things that make me feel complete, and that make my life feel full. Looking at the full moon tonight makes me want to explore so many places and do so many things with my life, and I have realized that just because I’ve already seen one place, doesn’t mean that I have actually experienced it. With all that said, I hope that if you ever get the chance to travel to Amsterdam, you’ll pay a visit to the Van Gogh museum, a truly magical place. I wish I had spent longer in the Netherlands, but alas, classes and studying were calling me back, and those are two calls that one cannot miss! Thank you for tuning in this week, and until next blog post, au revoir!

Berlin, a Wild Pig and lots of Currywurst

Berlin: the capital of Germany, known as the most international city in Europe, and the headquarters of one of the most evil regimes in history. The city is beautiful, modern and shiny (as a result of the old buildings being bombed so much), but dig a bit deeper and you find a scarred and difficult past.

My favorite activity in Berlin was the 3 hour walking tour we took. Beginning at the Brandenburg gate and ending in the square where the book burnings took place, I don’t think I have ever learned more about a place in that span of time.
The Brandenburg Gate, topped with the statue of Victory carried by her triumphant horses in her carriage holds a German joke. After Napoleon took the initial statue back to his personal collection in France, the Germans built the new statue to look straight at the French embassy that sits in the square, constantly watching. Funny right? Speaking of embassies, Berlin holds one of the few North Korean embassies in the world. Our tour guide joked that his hand had been to North Korea.

See the gaze of victory? Totally pointed at the French embassy!

World War II, as you can imagine was not a good time for Berlin. Especially at the end. Citizens were not permitted to leave as Allied forces took the city, and many were caught in the crossfire. Our tour guide took us to the site of Hitler’s suicide bunker, which was below what is now residential apartments and a sad playground. In his final days, Hitler behaved very madly, obsessing over his dog and eating an entire cake for every meal. The bunker was blown up and filled in, and now is marked with nothing but a tiny plaque stating what happened. The city didn’t want to make anything bigger for fear of it looking like a memorial.

The Holocaust memorial, on the other hand, is a very powerful place. The large stones, situated in rows on uneven ground, and tilted slightly from one another give a sense of the anonymity of the Jews that were murdered in Europe. The museum below, tracing stories, quotes and the lives of the jews killed in mass shootings and concentration camps was exceedingly powerful. Another amazing museum was the Topography of Terror, with powerful photos of the atrocities committed.

Then, the tour shifted to the Cold War, and the very famous WALL. The wall went up to prevent the East Berliners, specifically academics, and skilled workers from leaving to the more prosperous and decidedly less Communist West Berlin. We walked past Checkpoint Charlie, the American controlled way from East to West, where Cold War tensions arose over one American man’s desire to get to the East Berlin opera. We saw the last remaining Nazi building, in grand but severe stone, that served first as the Nazi air force headquarters, then as the Soviet government building, and is used today as the tax department of Germany.

Although the sign is a replica, the frame is original.

We also learned that the Berlin Wall came down entirely due to a TV announcer’s error. After delivering an exceedingly boring and dry report of the East German state of affairs, he was slipped a memo that said travel restrictions would be lifted for those over the age of 65 that could pay a hefty fine and give 12 months advance notice. Because he was flustered, he read only the first part. When the reporters asked him when “travel restrictions will be lifted,” he panicked and responded with the only date he saw on the paper: the very same day as the press conference. As a result, thousands swarmed the wall, overtook the guards, and were reunited with their western brothers once again.

Another really interesting thing about Berlin: the Nazi’s planned it to be the capital of the world. It was designed to hold 8 million people. Today however, it houses only 4 million. The sewers must be periodically flushed with water because their is not as much flow as anticipated. Lots of wild animals live in sewers and other such unused spaces. In fact, about 6 weeks ago a wild pig attacked two people at a bus stop in the city.

Berlin still remains a thoroughly international and political city.

My absolute favorite thing about Berlin is the currywurst. Currywurst is a delicious snack consisting of a sausage in a curry ketchup, covered in curry powder and paprika. It is absolutely delectable. Total currywurst tasted: 4.

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