The Travels

The Travels Pt. 3

So . . . Prague happened. Having completed my traveling for this semester, Prague is second only to Berlin in my mind. Prague was something else. Within one hour of being in the city I had fallen in love. I knew it was going to be good when I walked into a main square and saw a Christmas tree silhouetted in front of an amazing, Gothic church façade. And it was more than good; it was great. The Christmas markets had great food (especially gnocchi with sauerkraut) and high quality products that made my Christmas shopping pretty easy. Inside the castle complex I discovered my new favorite church in Europe: St. Vitus’ Cathedral. It was a spectacular example of Gothic architecture, and I am a sucker for beautiful Gothic churches. There were great views and tons of cool museums. But more than anything else, Prague had a unique atmosphere.

Prague was the perfect mix of old and new. I’ve been in cities that have felt really old (like Rome) and in cities that are ancient and magnificent (like Siena). I’ve seen cities that have embraced modern society (like Berlin). Prague was the first city that seemed to have bridged the divide between the old and new. Sections of the city, such as the castle complex, had the charm and wonder I would expect from a fairytale. Other areas, such as one near the National Monument, were modern, bustling thoroughfares. But regardless of my location, it was always uniquely Prague. The city had not lost its identity to the modern world, nor was it stuck in the past refusing to adapt to a changing world. I’ll be coming back to Prague.

Now, just to wrap everything together (as it relates to traveling), here are my top three trips of the semester: in first, Berlin; in second, Prague; in third, Bern. The one thing these cities have in common is a great ambiance and unique character. Simply being in these cities was enjoyable – sitting in a café for hours would be awesome in any one of these cities. And of all the cities I’ve visited on this trip, these are the three that I want to go back to more than any others. So, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

The Travels While in Arezzo

Stopping to Smell the Roses

Whenever I’m out on weekend trips, I feel like I’m going 100 mph from the moment I get into the city until I get back to the airport (or train station, depends on where I am). There’s more to see in these cities than can be seen in a weekend, so I try to fit in as much as I can while I have opportunity. I wouldn’t change a thing about it – I want to experience as much as I can while I’m here in Europe. But sometimes, it’s nice to slow down and actually experience the culture; my thanksgiving break in Germany allowed me to do just that.

My thanksgiving break was (fantastically) long. I spent the entire week in Koblenz, Germany with the Köthe family, friends of my family. Having a whole week in a city allowed me to actually experience German culture, something that’s virtually impossible when only visiting for a weekend. I would say that I experienced some of the most important aspects of German culture over thanksgiving break.

First, I was given ample opportunity to eat lots of traditional German food (I was fed very* well while with the Köthe’s house). I had amazing bread every day, a German specialty Spätzle, two types of Würst at a soccer match, and a Bavarian breakfast (traditional Bavarian white sausage with salty Brezels, sweet mustard, and beer, in my case non-alcoholic). Perhaps most astonishingly, while in Germany I also developed a taste for coffee (another beverage done well in Germany).

Second, I was able to see parts of Germany that would ordinarily be impossible since I don’t have a car. I was taken to see the castles Burg Eltz and Marksburg (the first authentic castles I’d ever seen). We also visited the longest hanging bridge in Germany, located about 15 minutes walk outside of a small, rural town in Rheinland-Pfalz. We visited the fortress that overlooks Koblenz and the Rhine (the view from the fortress is pictured below) and spent time walking around downtown Koblenz. It was a great week full of amazing experiences.

Third, and finally, I actually got to speak German to native speakers. Although I can’t say that I can carry conversations too easily, the Köthes were all willing to help me struggle through speaking in German. By the end of the week, I could tell that a lot of what I had forgotten during my time in Italy was actually starting to come back; speaking in German was easier than it had almost ever been before.

Long story short, getting to “stop and smell the roses” in Germany was amazing and added a new dimension to my travels in Europe. I really want to thank the Köthe family for taking me in and making me feel at home for the entire week, for feeding me (not an easy task), and giving me the best the thanksgiving break I think I’ve ever had. Until next time, Germany (and there will be a next time).

The Travels

The Travels, Pt. 2

Berlin. In a word, amazing. I did more in Berlin than I could easily describe in this post, so I’ll hit the highlights here. Attending a concert by the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester at Konzerthaus Berlin, one of the best concert halls in the world (according to Business Insider), was probably the highlight of my stay. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (one that was rather more expensive than I would’ve liked), and was made even better since I hadn’t been able to see a concert in well over a year. In second, the incredible pastries. If Berlin had nothing else (and they certainly had more than just this), they had great, and I mean great, baked goods. Certainly the most unique sweet I had while in Berlin were vegan donuts (S/o to Brammibal’s donuts). Yes, they were fantastic. And in third, the view of Berlin at sunset from the Victory Tower was the best view I got the entire weekend (which can be seen on the background of the website). It overlooked the Tiergarten towards the Brandenburger Tor and the TV tower; it was quintessentially Berlin.

The thing that has stuck with me about Berlin, more than any of the great experiences, was its identity. The effects of the 20th century, particularly the impact of WW2 and the division of Berlin between east and west, can be seen and felt everywhere. There are solemn, contemplative monuments to the victims of Nazi aggression, a clear and frequent recognition of the crimes of the past. The monuments themselves are not what stick in my memory; rather, it’s the mindset that seems to result from them. Berlin refuses to be defined by its past. At the memorials to the Berlin Wall, the focus is on the efforts to rebuild and reunify Berlin. The memorials to the victims of Nazi terror facilitate remembrance, while acting as to forge a new path, one separate from that of the past. Berlin as a city looks towards the future more than the past; the city is a testament to the capacity of a nation to rebuild their society into something new and different from the past. The city seems hopeful and inspiring. I can say that visiting Berlin has been the most enjoyable trip of my European tour yet.

The Travels

The Travels, Pt. 1

A lot of stuff has changed for me in the last month; but most importantly, I’ve actually started exploring Europe – and I’ve loved every second of it. Europe is just undeniably cool, and there’s cool stuff everywhere. Since I can’t talk about everything I’ve seen in the last month, I’ll just hit some of the highpoints here: I’ve seen (depending on the ranking) the third and fifth largest cathedrals in the world (the Seville Cathedral and the Milan Cathedral, respectively). The Milan Duomo is awe-inspiring – it stands in the middle of a piazza – a monolithic testament to the power of hard work and dedication. I got to visit CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trip definitely brought my (not-so-inner) science nerd out – I can tell you that. That same weekend, I visited Bern, the capital of Switzerland and currently my favorite city in Europe. It’s just an amazing city – it’s surrounded by the Swiss Alps, it’s clean, has great views and great food; there’s nothing not to love (except for the price of drinks – I feel like I spent a whole paycheck on those). My favorite experience of my last month, however, has to be the moment I realized how amazing it was to travel. It hit me when I visited Pisa (this was prior to the other trips I’ve talked about); to see, and then actually walk to the top of, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to experience the baptistery and cathedral, was transformative. And now, just to close things out, some pictures of my experiences from the last month:

Objectively the best picture I’ve taken while in Europe
I’ve seen a lot of churches, and this one is still by far my favorite.
Getting to see this place was awesome — it’s just gargantuan.
I don’t know why I like this picture so much, but it’s one of my favorites from Pisa.