Spring break! I just want to forewarn you guys that 4 countries in 10 days means a lot of adventures…which means a long blog ahead. Prepare yourselves!
Our first stop on spring break was Prague!! Myself along with 5 of my friends (Taylor, Kat, Melissa, Rossano and Melissa) flew into Prague last Thursday afternoon (March 21st), got off the plane and headed straight for the hostel. We checked into the hostel, and had some free time to explore. We walked down one of the side streets looking for a place to have some dinner. We ended up stumbling upon this hole-in-the-wall café. Of course we were looking at menus outside these restaurants, but there were two problems. 1. We couldn’t read Czech and 2. We had no idea what the currency (the Czech crown) converted to in Euros or Dollars. So, we had no clue what we were about to eat or how much it would cost. But, with our sense of adventure, we decided to enter this little café, hoping someone spoke English. Well, we were in luck. The bartender spoke a little English and explained to us that we had three options of food—beef, duck, or rabbit, with a side of dumplings. We sat down and all ordered the beef meal with dumplings on the side. When we got our meal, we noticed that the dumplings weren’t dumplings that you would get served in the states. Rather, they were similar to pieces of bread on the side of a beef stew. Well, it turns out that we ordered a typical Czech meal called Goulash. It was amazing!!! We got some beers with our meal and got the check. The check came out to 900 Czech crowns. When we saw that number, our hearts dropped a little, until we figured out that it was actually super cheap when converted back to Euros. After dinner, we headed back for the hostel, hoping to get ready to go out. But, once we all sat in our beds, we were overcome with exhaustion. My friend Audrey, from Chapman, is studying abroad in Prague. So, she came over to our hostel and brought a bottle of wine with her. So, we sat in the hostel, enjoying some wine and catching up.
The next day, we woke up early to grab some free breakfast and we were off to join a walking tour. We started walking, and good lord was it cold!! I wasn’t used to there being snow on the ground, nor I was used to 20 and 30-degree weather (it has been 40s and 50s in Madrid). The walking tour took us to some incredible monuments and areas of Prague—some of which included Old Town Prague, the famous astronomical clock, the Jewish ghetto, and more! The walking tour lasted about three hours, and at this point I couldn’t feel any of my limbs. I was actually frozen, along with the rest of my friends. But, after walking through the Jewish ghetto and seeing the oldest synagogue left from the Second World War, I really wanted to go into the Jewish museum. The rest of my friends weren’t interested and wanted to find a café to get some hot tea and defrost. So, while my friends went to grab some tea, I went into the Jewish museum in the old Jewish quarter in Prague. It was a museum that Hitler had built for people to remember an exterminated race. The first part of the museum was an empty room with the walls filled with last names (in alphabetical order) of Jews that were killed. After that, I came across an exhibit with children’s’ drawings during the evacuation of the ghetto and from the concentration camps. These kids drew pictures of skeletons, the bunkers in the concentration camps, and even the Nazis whipping other kids. It was an unimaginable sight, and I was overcome with emotion. There were dolls, found, that once belonged to these kids. There were also the “Jude” patches that the Jews had to wear during the war. Continuing on, I stumbled upon a cemetery—a cemetery with 11 layers of bodies, everywhere. Another powerful sight to see, I walked through the cemetery taking in the sight and thinking about the people whose lives were taken at such a horrific time in the world. After walking through the cemetery, the last exhibit was in front of me. This was an exhibit with old silver and gold, old Torah covers, and old clothing that were once used in the ghetto. After seeing this, I took a casual walk around the block to gather my thoughts and then met back up with my friends.
After sitting in the café for a little while, defrosting, we decided to go to the fair in Old Town. Because we were traveling during Easter week, each country had their own cute little fairs with food, souvenirs, deserts, and entertainment. So we headed for the fair and got some hot wine and fresh beef and ham. We walked through the fair looking around at the little stands with cute things to buy until we came across a stand with wooden stick whips. We were so confused. We asked the guy what they were used for. He then proceeded to explain that in the Czech Republic there is a tradition, that on Easter Sunday the men get to lightly whip the women with these sticks (while singing a song). In return, the women hand the men Easter eggs. To me, it was funny and unfortunately I never got to see anyone get whipped because we left Prague before Easter Sunday. So, we walked around for a couple of hours, got some hot wine, and some typical Czech pastries and enjoyed the atmosphere. After that, we headed back to the hostel to get ready for an organized Clock Tower Prague pub-crawl.
The next day, we woke up early again for breakfast and soon after we were off for another adventure. It was now Saturday, and we were headed to the Prague Castle and several other sights. We walked up this huge hill until we reached the castle walls and walked in. We got to see and walk through this beautiful cathedral and walk through the Castle. Afterwards, we walked back down the hill and headed towards the John Lennon Wall. This was a wall that was used for people to express themselves freely. Although the communist government painted over the wall, every night, it now remains a place for people to express themselves freely. Being that there are hundreds of layers of paint, we were not able to see any of the original art, so instead we proceeded to make our own art and express ourselves freely. I wrote a quote on the wall, along with my name and the date. After taking some pictures in front of the wall and reading what other people had wrote, we headed for lunch.
On the way to lunch we crossed the Charles Bridge, which is fairly new. On the bridge is a statue that if you touch, you supposedly get good luck from it. So after a touching the monument, and hoping for some good luck, we went to lunch. We went to a famous restaurant, known for its Czech food. We enjoyed a great meal, and then headed back to the hostel. We took some siestas and started to pack. That night we had a low-key night, and got some drinks from the bar in the hostel.
The next morning we were off to the second stop on our trip, BERLIN! We woke up early and got on the bus at 9am and took about a 5-hour bus ride to Berlin. We arrived in Berlin and I was so surprised by how much snow was on the ground! Being a typical Californian, I often get crap for being excited when I see snow. And of course, my friends laughed at me when I got excited to see all the snow. Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize that snow means cold, and I WAS FROZEN…again! Pulling into the city on the bus, we passed another cute outdoor fair with food, entertainment and souvenirs. So, after checking into the hostel and getting settled, we headed straight for the German food. We walked through, got fried dough balls, and potatoes pancakes (LATKES IN GERMANY)! After grabbing some snacks at the fair we headed straight for the East Side Gallery—the East side of the Berlin Wall. This is the only side, that in the 90s, people were allowed to paint huge murals. So, after getting lost a couple of times, and walking in the freezing cold for about 45 minutes, we arrived at the wall. Let me just say, what an incredible thing to experience. We got to see people express themselves with these paintings. (see pics below) After walking and looking at all the murals, we went back to the fair to eat some dinner. We ended up getting Goulash (beef stew) with potatoes and corn! IT WAS INCREDIBLE! I definitely think Germany had the best food on out of all the countries I visited over break. That night, we grabbed some drinks at a bar and just enjoyed each other’s company.
The next day we woke up early for a walking tour of Berlin. The tour started at the Brandenburg Gate. This was the original city gate. We walked through the gate and we then got to see the Reichstag. This was basically the Nazi Party’s government building during World War II. Now, it stands as a typical government building. Right in front of the gate and in front the Reichstag, there was a line of bricks going through the middle of the road. Our tour guide explained to us that those were the remains of the Berlin Wall, and where the Berlin Wall used to be. It was pretty incredible to see the remains of the wall in the middle of the street. To think that you could be on one side of the street and be in East Berlin, and then cross the street and be on the other side of the wall, and be in West Berlin. Our tour, for the most part, stayed in East Berlin simply because there was more to see and more history to cover in this territory.
We then walked down the street and came across an incredible and intricate memorial. This was the memorial of the murdered Jews of Europe. It was interesting to see a memorial in the middle of Berlin because to me it is rare to find a memorial in the same city of the people who committed the murders. There is so much symbolism in this memorial. From afar it looks like blocks, short and tall, big and small. Some argue that it is supposed to represent coffins of those killed. Others say, the blocks start off small to symbolize the small number of deaths, and then as you get deeper and deeper into the memorial, the blocks become bigger—symbolizing the increase in murders and eventual genocide. I agree with this one. As you walk through this memorial you become engulfed and lost—making it difficult to find your way out of this maze, you begin to realize to complexity of the blocks, illustrating the individual stories of those who were murdered.
After walking trough this maze of a memorial, we continued walking and ended up in an empty parking lot. This was where Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. They do not have any remains of the bunker, rather instead they made it an empty and old car lot. This is so people do not have a place to worship Hitler and the Nazi ideology. After that we got to see the oldest and only Nazi building left standing from the war. (see pics below) Afterwards, we got to see the place where the Nazi book burning took place, and the library where all the books came from. Then of course, the tour ended at the Berlin Wall. It was pretty crazy to be standing in front of this wall that looks like a typical wall, but actually has so much meaning into it. It was built over night. So if you were at a friend’s house on one side of the street, and your family lived on the other side of the street, the next morning you would have no contact with your family. Once the wall was up, you lost all contact with your friends and family who lived on the other side. There were so many contraptions and ways to prevent people from getting over the wall. The tour guide mentioned some crazy number that only about 12 people were able to actually get over the wall. It was an incredible sight to see.
After the tour, about three hours later, we headed to lunch. We had asked the tour guide to recommend a place for us to get a typical German meal. We followed his instructions, busted out the map, and were on our next mission. We found the restaurant and it was definitely the best meal of the week! After lunch, we headed back towards the Berlin Wall, to go to the free museum. This museum was all about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. It was crazy to be reading about some of this stuff, all while standing the in the very same city where it all began. Now, Berlin was not my favorite city in terms of beauty—but this is because it was extremely modern (everything was destroyed from the war). Berlin may not have been a city of beauty, but it was definitely a city rich in its history. To walk through the same streets as Nazis and see the actual buildings and places where these historic things took place is something that I will never forget.
That night, we were off to our third country, AMSTERDAM! We took an overnight bus, Monday night from Berlin, and arrived early Tuesday morning in Amsterdam. We got off the bus around 6am, checked into the hostel and took a quick nap until about 9am. We got up, ate breakfast, and were off on our Amsterdam walking tour. At this point, you are probably asking why I took so many walking tours? Well, we found hostels with free included breakfast and free included walking tours! So, of course being as broke as we are, we took every advantage of the free food and tours. So, back to Amsterdam…we were off on the walking tour! It was still freezing in Amsterdam! I was ready to be back in the Madrid 40 degree heat. Haha. Well, honestly I didn’t expect Amsterdam to be as pretty as it was. The entire city is filled with the beautiful canals, and slanted buildings. I still couldn’t believe that I was in Holland. Holland? I went to Holland?!? This all still feels like a dream! Anyways, the walked tour took us through the town. We got to see the canals, the architecture, the red light district, the “coffee shops” and of course the most important—the Anne Frank House. The walking tour lasted about three hours and ended near the Anne Frank House. So what better way to start your day in Amsterdam than with a tour of the House you have been reading about in books since you were a child. I had read the Anne Frank Diary and I was about to enter the place where everything was not only written, but where everything happened. The line was extremely long and we were cold. So we all took turns going inside this café to get warm, then coming back out and taking turns standing in line. Well, me and Kat were so cold, that we went to go buy beanies and on the way back to the line we passed this little Holland cheese store. We walked in, of course to get some free samples of cheese. But the cheese was so good, that I actually bought 2 whole things of cheese!
Soon enough, we were at the ticket window and ready to start the tour. We walked through the house and it was interesting to see what each room was used for. It wasn’t so much as a house, rather a business on the lower levels and then in the attic where Anne Frank and others were housed to hide from the Nazis. When you walked up to the entrance of the attic stairs, you were able to see the original bookshelf and books that covered the secret doorway. We walked up the steep wooden steps and entered the secret annex. The thing that struck me the most, was on the wall Otto Frank had marked the height of Anne and her sister on the wall of the living room. The original pencil marks were still on the wall! You then entered the kitchen and got to see the original kitchen sink and cabinets. Afterwards, you entered Anne’s room. In Anne’s diary she mentions how she begins decorating the walls of her room to make it look prettier. Well, those images were still on the wall. There were still pictures, and magazine cut outs of people she admired. After that you walked back down the stairs and started reading more of her diary entries. The museum had her original entries, along with original files and records of the Franks from the concentration camps. After walking through this house, I found myself yet again overcome with emotion. Although unfurnished, standing in the rooms of such brave people and standing in a house with such incredible history will stick with me forever.
After the Anne Frank house, we headed to this pancake house—that was recommended to us by the tour guide. We hopped on the metro and were off to find more food! We got off the metro and realized that we were about to eat in front of the Heineken brewery! We found the pancake house, sat down, and ordered. When the pancakes came my jaw dropped (see pics below and you will understand why). They were HUGEE…and delicious!!! After lunch, we walked over the famous “I Amsterdam” sign. We took a bunch of pictures and were ready to head back to the hostel. So, we ended up walking back from the “I Amsterdam” sign (about an hour walk) all the way back to the hostel. That night, we decided to have a relaxing night. We grabbed a couple of drinks and walked through the red light district. For those of you that don’t know that that is, it is basically a ton of streets filled with prostitutes in windows. It was interesting to see how the process of getting a prostitute worked. We got to see men negotiate, prostitutes turn men down, and we even got to see a man walk out of a room with a prostitute while putting his wallet away. We walked for a while through the red light district, and along the canals until our eyes started to close. We headed back to the hostel and went straight to bed.
The next day we woke up, and headed to the Heineken experience, also known as the Heineken Brewery. We got to see what ingredients go into the beer, how it is processed and made, how the bottles are cleaned, filled, and labeled. It was pretty cool to see and it was an incredible interactive experience. We even got to “taste” or just drink free beers! After the Heineken experience, we went back to the pancake house and had lunch again. This time, I got a pancake with apples and cinnamon (instead of chocolate and banana—which I had gotten the day before). It was even better the second time!! After lunch we took a free canal ride in a Heineken canal boat, back to the middle of the city.
We took a little time to walk around and shop until we came across a sex museum. Of course, being in Amsterdam, we had to do something sexual. So we paid the 4 Euros and went into this sex museum. I wont give too much detail, but lets just say there were sights of people that dated all the way back from the 1900s. after the sex museum, we found this cheap steak house in the middle of the Amsterdam, had some wine and steaks and then headed back to the hostel. We got dressed and were ready for a night out.
The next morning, (Thursday) we were off to PARIS! This was the last of four stops on our spring break! We arrived in Paris Thursday afternoon, checked into the hostel, and relaxed for a while. That night, we decided to join an organized pub-crawl around the Moulin Rouge district. After a fun night at a couple of bars and a club, we needed to get some sleep. The next morning (Friday) we woke up to take the free walking tour of Paris. The walking tour took us to the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the lover’s lock bridge, and the Arc de Triomphe. After the walking tour, we grabbed some baguettes and walked closer to the Arc. We walked under it and got to see the memorial of unknown soldiers from World War I. After that, we headed to the Eiffel Tower. We walked along the riverbank for about 40 minutes, just keeping the Eiffel Tower in sight. We finally arrived at it and it was incredible. Now, this was my second time in Paris, and I do remember being completely amazed by the Eiffel Tower. But, it was definitely better the second time. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only is it a lot bigger than you think, but it is just breathtaking. We walked under it and then farther away from it to take some pictures. I had to keep turning back to make sure it was really behind me and I was really in Paris looking at the Eiffel Tower. After taking some pictures, we walked back to the Notre Dame to go inside. But because it was Easter weekend, Mass was going on and they weren’t letting people inside, unless we wanted to sit through Mass. So, we decided to find a restaurant for dinner and then come back when Mass was over and tour the inside of the Notre Dame. So we walked down a couple of streets and found this cute little café with happy hour. We sat down and enjoyed a nice dinner.
It wasn’t until we were finishing dinner, when we heard this loud scream. I look over to my right and my friend Melissa is standing on the chair freaking out. Then I hear Kat say, “there’s a mouse…or rat…and it’s by your feet!!” All of a sudden, everyone lifts up their legs and a mouse comes running out from under the table. For some reason, nobody else in the restaurant moved. Only us Americans were scared a mouse in a food place. Well, in the states, that restaurant would be shut down if mice were running around! So the waiter comes over, speaking not a word of English, and hands me a fork and knife and smiles. I look at him, then my friends, confused as to what the heck I was supposed to do with that. Chop it up?! I was so grossed out, so we got the check and got out of there as fast as we could. Keep in mind this is after we had all just tried Escargot. After dinner, the Notre Dame was still closed so instead we decided to go see the Eiffel tower lit up at night. We hopped on the metro and headed in that direction. We got off just in time to not only see it lit up, but there is a light show every hour, on the hour. So we saw the Eiffel Tower flicker with these amazing lights and afterwards we couldn’t do anything but figure out a way to get to the top. At this point some of my friends were freezing and not really interested in waiting in line, so they headed back to the hostel. But the cold was not going to stop me from going to the top! I had been to the Eiffel Tower before, but never the top! So Kat, Melissa, and myself, waited in line for a short 20 minutes and before we knew it, we were on the elevator going to the top! The elevator stopped and we were surprised as to how fast it was to get to the top, until we realized we were only at the first level and then we had to switch elevators to get to the top! Well, we finally made it to the top and although it was probably 10 degrees up there, it was AMAZING! The view was incredible and to be standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower with your best friends in Paris is something that I will never forget. Then, before we knew it, the Eiffel Tower started to flicker with lights and we were on the Eiffel Tower during the light show!! We couldn’t believe it!!
The next day, Saturday, was our last day of spring break. We decided to take the train over to the Palace of Versailles. Unfortunately, we decided to do it with a tour group, but the tour only took us through the secret gardens. So, we didn’t actually get to walk through the palace. I was kind of upset, but thankfully I have been inside before and I do remember what it looks like, especially the hall of mirrors. So after walking through these beautiful gardens, for a couple of hours, we had to head back. Melissa and I decided to stop in some stores on the way home. Once we got home, we had to grab our luggage and head straight to the airport. After an incredible 10-day journey to four extremely different countries, I can’t believe its over.
I am so happy to be able to travel to these countries that people only dream of. Am I dreaming? How did I get so lucky and fortunate to travel to these incredible cities? I take in every adventure and cannot wait to come back to these places. Out of all four cities (Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, & Paris in case you forgot), Prague was my favorite. It was not only the most beautiful but it was just filled with this loving and lively atmosphere that I was sad to depart. Hope you all enjoyed reading about my spring break adventures and I didn’t bore you too much! There are full albums of the trip on my facebook page. Thanks again for reading! Next stop: Poland
Besos y abrazos