“He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him.”
— Dutch Proverb
After a grueling 21 hours of flying, layovers, and shuttles, I finally made it! Maastricht is by far one of the cutest cities I’ve ever seen! I promise I’ll post better pictures once I actually spend more time in the city, but the way that the city squares and cobblestone roads are lit up by beautiful holiday lights and open terrace restaurant/bars is unlike anything I have seen in my life!
During my first full day I tried pudding vlaai and stroopwafels, two Maastricht delicacies. I was jet-lagged and half-awake the entire day, so I barely took any pictures (I promise to do better). Vlaai is essentially pie, and the one I got to eat for breakfast today was custard-filled (or as the Dutch call it- pudding). It was a lot lighter than I thought it was going to be, and the taste of the pudding reminded me a little bit of the Chinese dimsum custard tarts.
In the afternoon, we also went through the Maastricht caves (see the pictures above). The caves are actually a massive network of underground limestone and flint tunnels that helped people safely travel and live during world wars. The walls of the caves were etched with charcoal paintings and advertisements that have although have withstood several decades, can be easily wiped away with one touch. The limestone that the caves were made up of kept the underground caves super humid and dark, which apparently is where both mushrooms and bats thrive. The bats were hibernating since it’s winter here, but they were only the size of a small mouse, and maybe the size of an adult hand with its wings extended. There’s also a whole trail above the caves that people picnic at, which I can’t wait to discover when it’s warmer.
Some of the things that I have learned about the Netherlands/ Europe so far:
People like to take their time, especially with meals. Waiters never bring the tab to your table; you have to go up and ask for the tab yourself.
Staying hydrated is not a thing; people drink alcohol in place of water. I bring my water everywhere and always order water at restaurants out of habit, which nobody else does. One of my friends ordered water at a restaurant and it ended up costing more than my other friend’s soda!
Everyone really does speak English (Thank God!) I exude foreigner vibes so people have been very nice and patient with me.
Roads in the Netherlands are super narrow because there are bike lanes and people park on sidewalks and not the streets (which I learned when I thought a car was coming for me).
School hasn’t started yet, so I still have quite a bit of time to continue navigating my way around!
“Traveling — it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
What a whirlwind of a week it has been! As many of you probably know, my time abroad has been cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak. This was incredibly unexpected and though I am sad to be back in the United States, I am incredibly grateful for the almost 2 months that I had abroad.
Not much happened from the time I came back from Dublin, mainly because I had a nice weekend to explore Maastricht and catch up on school work. Every time I venture out into Maastricht, I fall more and more in love with the city. Having an entire weekend to explore it by bike and just take in everything is truly unforgettable.
Two of my friends from my home university also came down to visit me for a day, which was nice because it is always fun to see familiar faces. I got to show them my favorite parts of Maastricht, like the squares and the river. We also discovered some cute stores, like a store dedicated to Nijntje*. It was beyond fun to catch up with them and learn more about everything that I have missed out on at home!
*Nijntje, or Miffy in English, is a bunny figure that is essentially like the Hello Kitty of the Netherlands. Kids grow up with Nijntje lunch boxes, or stuffed animal nijntje.
My last day in Maastricht felt like a fever dream, and still does to this day. I woke up to hear that I had to return home immediately, which is quite a way to start the day. Over the next 24 hours, I had to pack up my entire room (which made me realize just how much stuff I actually bought while abroad), clean the room, return my bike, buy some last minute souvenirs/memorabilia, grab food and drinks, then catch a bus to the airport and fly out the next morning.
I am still in shock over everything, and part of the reason why I am writing this last post is to try and process everything that has happened. As I mentioned before, I could not be more grateful for the experiences I have had just from being abroad for almost 2 months. I was able to set foot in five countries, re-learn how to ride a bike, introduce myself in Dutch, and meet a plethora of truly amazing individuals who have helped me to form lifelong memories (as cheesy as that sounds). The circumstances were not ideal, but I will return and continue the adventures I had planned. As for now, dank je wel en tot ziens (thank you and until we meet again 🙂
Day 0: Arriving in Dublin- Picking up from my last post, I was a bit under the weather when we went to the airport. I bought a surgical mask to cover my mouth and prevent further spread of my cough. As you have probably guessed, I got a bunch of stares from random people around the airport (we love coronavirus!). Anyways, I got another visa stamp in my passport (which makes me super excited)!
Day 1: Cliffs of Moher, Wild Atlantic Way, Galway & More
We woke up at a beautiful 6:00am to get on a day-long tour bus around Ireland. The first stop we had in the morning was a rest stop called the Barack Obama Plaza. I can’t believe I came all the way to Ireland just to find the Obama’s! Apparently, Obama could trace his Irish ancestry back to the area where the rest stop was, so they dedicated the rest stop to him and Michelle with statues (see me with them)! After that, we headed to the Cliffs of Moher, which is Ireland’s most famous attraction. The drive out was about 3 hours from Dublin, and it was absolutely beautiful. In another life, I would live in the Irish countryside. The entire drive there was raining on and off, which was a bit worrisome. Once we got to the Cliffs, the skies cleared up and it was so sunny (pictures above for proof). My friends and I wandered around for a bit and saw the Cliffs from different perspectives.
Afterwards, we went on a drive down the Wild Atlantic Way, which took us further down the Irish coast. We stopped at an old monastery on the way, and then ended the day in Galway. Galway was the cutest town ever and I wish we got to spend more time in it. We walked around and saw the infamous Spanish Arch (which sadly was under construction), tried weird flavors of ice cream at Murphy’s, and checked out Aron Island knitwear (super famous). We also ate at a really good pizza before taking the bus back to Dublin!
Day 2: Dancing through Dublin
For our second day in Dublin, we took a tour of the Dublin castle! As you can tell from the pictures above, the palace was gorgeous and had lots of rooms, exhibits, and history. The history was particularly interesting because many English, American, and other well-known figure were mentioned. The colors of each room were also incredibly aesthetically pleasing, especially the cranberry color rooms (see above).
After visiting the Dublin Castle, we took a stroll into the garden right next to the castle, and wandered into an exhibit about women’s rights and female representation in Ireland. The exhibit was really interesting because Ireland apparently has had female representation in politics for 100 years! We stopped at a cafe near where we were for some lunch, before wandering around Dublin some more. We found the Dublin umbrellas, a cathedral, and a park with very large hungry pigeons. There are also seagulls everywhere in Dublin, and they will literally sit next to you while you eat your sandwich until you give some to them!
We then ventured out to Howth, a seaside town on the edge of Dublin (shoutout to my Irish neighbors for the suggestion). I got super motion sick from the drive out there, so when we started hiking the Howth Cliff, I lied down and just stared at the sky (which was beautiful + blue). I ended up doing the rest of the hike, which you can see the view from in the top left photo of the gallery of photos at the very top of this post. Walking down from the cliff walk, we stopped at the beach and just sat and enjoyed a bit of the sunset before grabbing dinner at a nearby restaurant. After that, it was back to our hostel to rest before going out for the night.
Our hostel sponsored a pub crawl, so we decided to take part in it for the night. It was a weekday night, so there weren’t as many people out and about, but the people we got to know on the pub crawl were a lot of fun (and we love making new friends). There were some Belgians that we practiced our Dutch on, a couple of fellow Americans, and a Swiss guy who knew how to break it down on the dance floor. All in all, it was a great way to end the day!
Day 3: Dublin pt. 2
For our second full day in Dublin, we explored Trinity College, the National Art Gallery, and ate at Kilkenny Cafe! It was a little weird that so many tourists go to see Trinity College, because there are literally students and professors walking around the quad like a normal university. We got to see [a replica] of the Book of Kells and the Trinity Library, which some parts of Harry Potter were based on.
For lunch, we went to Kilkenny’s, which kind of reminded me of Nordstrom or something like that because there was a shopping mall on the bottom floor and a restaurant on the top floor. The food was really good (I had salmon and curry!) We have been eating a lot of seafood because Dublin has so much (and I missed seafood so much), and this by far was the best fish.
After lunch, we took a tour of the National Gallery of Ireland. I would highly recommend going here if you are looking for something to do in Dublin because it’s free and there’s so much to see (also a good place to go if it’s raining outside). I was not much of an art person prior to coming to Europe, but have loved all of the different art museums that I have visited while abroad! There were a lot of paintings with Catholic symbolism and religious influence, which made sense given that it’s Ireland.
That night, I got to meet up with some of my friends from college back in the states! It’s always good to see familiar faces again. Since we had already been in Dublin for a couple days longer than they had, we took them around to some of the places that we enjoyed. Another wonderful end to another wonderful day! Dublin just keeps getting better and better!
Day 4: Dublin pt 3.
I am apologizing in advance to my mother for this next part of our Irish adventures. On Day 4, we visited the Jameson Whiskey Distillery and got to learn more about how whiskey is made and the different types of whiskey. I had no previous knowledge of this process other than the fermentation part (yay biochemistry), so it was fun to learn. It was Leap Day, and one of the guys in our tour was turning 7, so it was nice to be a part of the celebration that he had with his friends too! We got to try American whiskey, Scottish whiskey, and Irish whiskey. There are many differences between them, with the primary one being that American whiskey is distilled once, Scotch is distilled twice, and Irish whiskey is distilled three times. They were all unique in taste and a lot stronger than I was expecting. My favorite one out of the three was the Irish whiskey.
After going to the Jameson Distillery, we stopped briefly at the Guinness Storehouse (Irish are really proud of their alcohol). We didn’t get tickets in time, so unfortunately we did not get to go on an actual tour of the Storehouse (we did try Guinness though). By the time we exited the Storehouse, it was pouring rain. We were able to get a cab back to the hostel, where we then relaxed a little bit before grabbing dinner. Our cab driver suggested a local pub that had good food as well as the football (soccer) games on, so we went there for dinner. I had a traditional lamb stew and chowder, both of which were incredible. It was also nice to see the pub environment without so many tourists around because it was really different than all of the other pubs we have seen.
Key Tip: Always ask the cab drivers/ friends who are from the area (if you have any) before traveling anywhere. Especially in places like Dublin, the tourist traps are insane!
Day 5: Leaving Dublin 😦 I was beyond lucky to be in Dublin with fantastic weather and fantastic people. Hopefully I get to go back again someday!
A Dutch stranger @ Carnaval *Aangenaam means “Nice to meet you” in Dutch, so it was a play on words because I was dressed up as a banana!
Fijne Carnaval (Happy Carnival)! We had this entire week off to celebrate! Unfortunately for me, I got really sick on the Thursday before Carnaval, so I spent a good portion of the time just resting and trying to recover. Nevertheless, I did do as much as I could to get into the Carnaval spirit and celebrate as much as I could!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Carnaval, it’s essentially equivalent to Mardi Gras in the United States (but a lot more fun!). It is primarily celebrated in Catholic/ historically Catholic areas, such as Brazil, Germany, Italy, and the southern part of the Netherlands. Lucky for me, I got to celebrate it in Maastricht! The festivities of Carnval were as follows:
Day 1: Ambtenaren Carnival- This is the Friday before carnival and people will literally go from work straight to the bars. Unfortunately, I was sick and stayed in bed instead of celebrating 😦
Day 2: Arrival of the Prince of Carnaval & Parades Galore! I went to see the parade with a few of my friends. When we got to the square where the parade was supposed to be, we saw this statue of a large vegetable woman (see pictures above). The Prins Carnaval (Prince of Carnaval) arrived following lots of bands and men dressed in kilts playing the bagpipes (did not think I would see that). All of the men in kilts stood around the vegetable lady (see above) while waiting for the Prince. While they were waiting in the cold, there were other ladies that were just handing out shots to all of them (which I guess is how they stayed warm that entire time).
Day 3: The BIGGEST day of Carnaval (Halloween on Steroids)- I dressed up as a banana (see pictures) and walked around the main squares of Maastricht. It reminded me a lot of a mix between Mardi Gras and Halloween. I saw the most extravagant costumes, with some people pulling out gowns and suits that looked like they were from the 16th century. Other people were dressed up in funny costumes like me, and others just wore lots of glitter and bright colors. Everyone was either dancing, drinking, or doing a combination of the two. The music they play at Carnaval was something else too. There was one song that has the same tune as “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” that confused the other Americans and I, but it definitely added to the festive atmosphere!
At night, it was a little bit gross because the streets were absolutely covered in plastic cups, beer boxes, and trash bags (but I guess it is all part of the experience). There were booths all night with carnival food (hamburgers and fries), which was a great way to end the night.
Day 4 & 5: Family Fun & Battle of the Bands- Magically, all of the trash from the night before disappeared and the square was turned into a kid’s carnival! Didn’t do much this day because again, I was under the weather. There are contests for a variety of bands. I also missed this day because I was on a train to the airport (stay tuned to find out where I went).
We left Maastricht at about 7am to arrive in Rotterdam at about 10am. It was already super windy, but in the 50s so it felt nice. We started our day with a tour of Markthal, a giant market and apartment complex. It is decorated with beautiful metal tiles of the different fruits and produce that can be found in the market and large glass panels at both entrances.
Fun fact: The artist who designed the inside of Markthal was high when designing the art of produce (guess it worked out well).
At the Markthal, we had fish and chips and the best Nutella stroopwafel. It was as big as my face and a very typical Dutch treat. After we ate lunch, we decided to explore the surrounding area. We visited the cube museum, which is a bunch of houses designed by a Dutch architect. It is a huge optical illusion and being inside one was super trippy at first. People actually live in the other cube houses, but the one we turned was specifically a museum. After the cube houses, we walked to St. Lawrence Church (see pic). This man in front of us stopped by this metal stall and just started urinating. I was super caught off guard by this, but apparently public restrooms in the Netherlands are very public. The church was somewhat similar to the other churches that wet ave seen so far in Europe, but nonetheless beautiful.
After admiring the church architecture, we took a tram and bus out to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site an hour outside of Rotterdam. Navigating public transportation in Rotterdam was slightly easier because we have cards for public transportation use around the Netherlands, but it was still different because Maastricht doesn’t have trams. The journey out to Kinderdijk had us switching between modes of public transportation, and we ended up running at one point because the bus we were trying to catch was a lot closer than we though it was and we were on the other side of a main road. It all ended up working out, and we got to the windmills when it was nice and sunny out. We walked up and down the dijk for a bit. It wasn’t busy probably because it was so cold, but it made it easier for for us. After the windmill, we came back to the hotel we were staying at and took a nice long nap.
We went to a ramen place called Takumi for dinner and it was incredible (shoutout to Dom for the recommendations)! It was so yummy and much needed after the cold windy day we had. After dinner, we walked around and got a couple of drinks around Witte de Withstraat. It was lined with cute lights, cafes, bars, and restaurants.There were plenty of people out and about that night, with most of them looking to be around our age.
When we arrived back at the hotel, there was a herd of people dressed up for what looked like a prom. Super wild. And with that, day one was done.
Het regent pijpenstelen (It’s raining pipestems- equivalent to raining cats + dogs)
Day 2: Royal Delft & Zaanse Schans
The Dutch weather was not kind to us this weekend. There were winds up to 40mph and the second day of our trip it was pouring rain. We started off the day by going to Royal Delft Museum and saw the fine earthenware that has been made since the 17th century (and taken from the Chinese!!). We saw the plates that they make for the royal family (hence why it’s called Royal Delft), as well as re-creations of some of the most famous Dutch art (Girl with the Pearl Earring).
After touring the factory and various art exhibitions, we got the chance to make our own Delft tile! As you can tell by the pictures, Delft earthenware is known for that shade of blue (called Delft Blue). It is made of cobalt oxide, and turns blue after being placed in the kiln. It was a little bit like calligraphy because we each had a little slab of some of the paint and then water that we could add to make the shade either lighter or darker. I ended up recreating one of the famous windmill patterns that they have (see the middle picture in the gallery above vs. what it’s supposed to look like next to it). Can’t wait to get my tile back once it’s done!
We then headed to see Zaanse Schans, which is a tiny village about 15 minutes north of Amsterdam. It’s known for the green wooden houses and windmills, as well as clogs and cheese! It was pouring rain (as you can probably tell by the pictures). Our tour guide was actually born and raised in Zaanse Schans, and he had a lot of stories to share with us about what it was like growing up. There were lots of chickens and goats (still are too!), and plenty of unique details in the various houses and buildings that reflect the families that owned them. There was one house that was lined with honeycombs and surprisingly, they were known as the Honey family. We also saw the first Albert Heijn (the Dutch equivalent of an Aldi or Times).
We also got to see how clogs and cheese were made, and try some of our own. The cheese was incredibly (minus my lactose intolerance), and the clogs were really interesting to see because they were a lot lighter than I thought they would be. And just as our tour was ending, down came another rain! Everything of mine was completely soaked, which made for a very cold bus ride back.
Stay tuned for some Carnival adventures and another upcoming trip!
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”
Class is in session (and boy do I have lots to learn)! I have just finished my first week and a half of school. I was super excited for classes (nerd I know) because I’ve been in need of some routine, and they have met/exceeded all of my expectations.
They go by “blocks” instead of semesters here, which is similar to the quarter system back in the United States. I am taking three classes this block: Culture & Identity in a Globalizing Europe, Social Movements, and Dutch.
My classes consist of a lecture portion (~25-50 students), and tutorial (discussion) sessions (~10-15 students). Each class session is about 2 hours, which is way longer than my attention span can handle at times, but with tutorials it goes by quickly. The coolest thing about my tutorials is that there are students from all around the world (Singapore, France, Poland, Greece, China, South Korea, and England- to name a few). Though it can get rough sometimes because there are people with heavy accents (and I’m sure some feel the same way about mine), their perspectives and understandings of the world are truly enriching and engaging. The three professors that I have for this semester are also from all over the world: New Zealand, the Netherlands, and (you will never believe it) the USA!!
Something that I didn’t expect from studying with international students, especially Europeans, was the abundance of knowledge that they had about current events not just in their local communities, but globally. I had a classmate come up to me to talk about American politics (a fun subject), and they knew more than I did. Professors also make constant references to political issues and turmoil around the globe, so I honestly spent my first week simultaneously taking notes and looking up the different social and political phenomena that they were making references to.
The Dutch class has been super fun though! I took Chinese for 7 years, so I figured that learning another Germanic language would be a lot easier. Boy was I wrong. I have definitely forgotten how much I’ve struggled with learning Chinese at the beginning, and I am revisiting all of the same frustrations and challenges. I think Dutch is harder though because they use the same alphabet but everything is pronounced differently. Guess we’ll have to see how it is at the end of this block.
In case you were wondering what Dutch I’ve learned: Hoi! Mijn naam is Kiana. Ik kom uit Amerika. Ik spreek Engels. Aangenaam. (Hi! My name is Kiana. I am from America. I speak English. Nice to meet you).
Aside from all of the learning I’ve been doing inside the class, I have also been able to explore more of Maastricht and settle into to life here. For those of you who don’t know, cooking and biking and not strengths of mine, but both are essential to living here. I tried to cook a chicken breast for the first time last week and nearly set the kitchen on fire (shoutout to my roommate Hannah for helping me and teaching me). I recently found this Asian supermarket though, so I ended up finding ingredients for curry and fried rice (and didn’t break the kitchen in the process of cooking). They also have 5,000 different kinds of ramen, which I have saved as cheat meals when I’m too lazy to make anything else.
Fun fact: The Asian market here sells “American food” (ie. Twinkies, Fruit Loops, and Capri Sun). I was just as surprised as you probably are.
Biking has also been a huge adjustment for me because 1) I’m incredibly out of shape and 2) haven’t biked since I was in middle school. I had to bike against 25 mi/hr winds and it was nice because the wind was cold so my legs were numb and I almost couldn’t feel the pain from biking anymore, but I was also sweating and panting like crazy. I will say though, that the worst blow to your self-confidence is when little kids bike past you (because everyone- and I mean everyone- bikes, and does it better than me). I did bike 10km (~6 miles) yesterday though, so I’m getting the hang of it.
Also if you have any name suggestions for my bike I am currently taking them because she’s cute and deserves to be named.
Side note: I am super behind on updating this blog so major apologies but I will get better at it soon!
At this point, I have been in Europe for officially one week and have already set foot in 3 different countries (5 if you count layovers in airports)! We attempted to take Berlin public transportation to the bus station to take the bus from Berlin to Prague and failed miserably (thank god for Uber!). But we made it to Prague and all is beautiful and well! We also figured out the public transportation and were able to take it from the bus station to our hostel and managed to convert Euros to Czech Korunas!
Day 1: We arrived with half a day left to explore Prague! After checking in to our hostel, we grabbed a bite to eat at this international vegetarian/ vegan place and then decided to explore the city. Our hostel was about a mile away from the city center, so it took us a bit of a walk to get there, but one thing that I noticed on the way is that there are so many asian restaurants in Prague (definitely not expecting this).
We got tired along the way and stopped for some gelato before heading through old town for some trdelnik (chimney cake). The trdelnik I had was filled with ice cream, so it was essentially like eating ice cream inside a soft churro-like cake cone. I HIGHLY recommend it. Another nice thing about Prague is that everything is super cheap, which is why we had so many desserts and I didn’t feel too bad about it (then again, maybe it’s a bad thing).
We ended up wandering to St. Charles Bridge (one of the most famous bridges in Prague). There weren’t too many people around because it was dark outside, but there was a man with owls, a group of people with masks, and a couple of other wanderers like us. We crossed the bridge and wandered around a church and this cute little square (could not tell you where we were), but we made some notes as to where we wanted to go in the daytime and headed home.
That night, we went out to Duplex, a rooftop nightclub there. Girls got in free (yay!), and it wasn’t crowded at all when we got there. Europeans love to party and go out, but they do it far later than Americans do (which I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to). We stayed only for a bit because we were exhausted from walking around all day, but it was fun just to dance! Over time, a lot more guys showed up to the point where I felt like the ratio of guys to girls was 1:7, but we didn’t make eye contact with them and they left us alone. Another weird thing other than the gender ratio was that there were a lot of older people out at dancing at the club. It was entertaining to see this one couple busting it down like there was nobody else around them. Definitely a weird night, but all ended well and all of the dancing definitely helped me to fall asleep immediately when we returned to the hostel.
Day 2: We decided that exploring would be a lot more fun if there was someone to explain everything to us, so we went on a fun free walking tour of Prague and the Prague castle (pictured above). There were people from Australia, the UK, Austria, Germany, New Jersey, and Hawaii on our tour (what a coincidence)! I talked to the people from Hawaii and of course, we had mutual connections!
The tour itself was so much fun! We took a tram up to the top of the hill to the Prague Castle and Cathedral, and learned about Rudolf, Charles, Maria Theresa, and Václav Havel (two kings, a queen, and the first Czech president). The prettiest part about the castle architecture is that it is kind of a mismatch of different styles, which we learned was because some of the castle was built one way but the queen only liked one style of architecture and demanded that the rest of the castle be changed to another style. The cathedral, took 600 years to build!! There are still some parts that you can tell are meant to have statues and other decorations, but the builders just stopped and thought it was good enough (which I think is an understatement). The inside of the cathedral, not pictures, had beautiful stained glass windows. We didn’t get to go all the way in, but we took a little peak in.
After the tour of the cathedral, we walked around some more and found the astronomical clock and more cute shops. We ate warm goulash, potato dumplings, and other traditional Czech food at Havelska Koruna (shoutout to V for the suggestion!) The tour was really cold so having a nice warm meal really hit the spot.
We tried a different nightclub afterwards, Karlovy Lazne, that is famous for having 5 stories that all have different musical themes (ie. RnB, Mainstream, Oldies, etc.) Again, we got there earlier than the rest of the crowd and actually had a dance floor to ourselves (which was a lot more enjoyable than I thought). It was a weeknight and thus only ended up being filled with other tourists. Like most other things, the company is what makes the experience, so regardless of who came in and out of the club, my friends and I had a blast. I would definitely come back on a weekend-night if I visited Prague again.
Day 3: Today was the nicest day in Prague we’ve had. It was a lot warmer than the other two days and it was finally sunny (as you can tell from the pictures above). We went on a journey back to St. Charles Bridge to see what it was like in the daytime!! It was incredibly crowded with tourists (lots of Asian ones too), street artists, musicians, and more! We also looked for two statues that our tour guide from yesterday pointed out: one was of a saint and the other of a dog. Apparently, people come to touch both the saint and the dog for blessings, but the dog was made as a prank for tourists to touch! We did not touch either statue, but it was funny to know. We then headed to a cute cafe and had crepes (not originally Czech but still incredible). Afterwards, we wandered around the bridges and tried to go to a new art exhibit, but it apparently was not open (we did however find a clean free bathroom in the exhibit and that was a win!). Prague is easily walkable and there are just pretty buildings everywhere, so I didn’t mind getting lost and just taking in the view.
We still had some time to kill before we had to catch a bus back to the Netherlands, so we continued to check out some of the shops around Prague. They have so many bohemian crystal stores and pirate-themed candy shops. We ended up buying some gummies for the bus-ride back, and they were all so good! It didn’t take me long to finish them either.
If you haven’t caught on already, I have a huge sweet tooth 🙂 !
Prague was an amazing city, and also taught me a lot because it was my first trip with just friends and me (Berlin was organized by the school). It was definitely nerve-wracking at time to make sure that everything was in place and organized (transportation and housing wise). Now that I know that I can do it, we’ll have to see where I go next!
I officially started school a week after this trip, with orientation in between! Stay tuned for an update of being a student abroad and upcoming trips in a few weeks!
Day 0: Berlin is the bomb (literally). Upon arriving in Berlin after 10 hours of sitting on a bus, we learned that someone had found a bomb from WWII near one of the squares and a bomb squad was being called to come and diffuse the bomb. They weren’t sure whether or not we would have to evacuate in case we were in radius if the bomb accidentally went off. We ended up going straight to the hotel and never heard any more updates, but I assume all went well since everyone is still alive and well.
Day 1: Hitler’s former office is now a Chinese restaurant, and his bunker is now a parking lot. If you were also wondering, Hitler had one testicle and a micropenis. All true facts, according to our lovely guide.
We took a three hour walking tour of Berlin and saw some of the most beautiful buildings, like the Berlin Cathedral (bubble picture at the top) and the Alte Nationalgalerie. We also found the line that divided East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall! I’m not a huge history buff, so it was really cool getting to learn about history at the sites that they took place in. Our tour guide as obsessed with telling us all of the intriguing affairs, testicles, and other random but juicy details of the lives of different German leaders.
Fun fact: If you don’t remember the name of a Prussian king, it’s either Frederich or Frederich Wilhelm.
The last part of the tour, and probably the most eye-opening experience, was visiting the Holocaust memorial (bottom left of the section above). We were each given the time to walk through on our own and reflect about what we saw before our tour guide explained it to us. Walking through it was overwhelming and breathtaking all at once. You can ask me if you really want to know the true symbolism of everything, but it’s truly something that you have to see for yourself 🙂
My friends and I stopped for lunch at a random restaurant and I tried schnitzel (definitely worth the hype)!!
We ended the day with a tour of Reichstag (see first two pictures below). The Reichstag building houses the German parliament, but it also has a rooftop dome that overlooks the entire city of Berlin!!! On our way back to the hotel, we decided to treat ourselves to some dinner and drinks in the nearby mall. They had outdoor trampolines, which after the drinks, were a lot of fun to play on. We also struck up a conversation with two older German couples who didn’t speak English (and we didn’t speak German) about football (soccer), and it was a time!!
Day 2: We started off the day with a visit to Hohenschönhausen, a former Stasi prison (see below). Again, another overwhelming but truly educational experience. Something that I always forget is how recent all of the historical events surrounding WWII and the events that took place at Hohenschönhausen. Our tour guide told us that many of the other tour guides (excluding himself) were former inmates at the prison, and that telling their stories to those who visit the prison memorial help them to cope with their traumatic experiences. Just seeing and hearing about the different forms of torture, especially the psychological torture that occurred, made it unbelievable to me that people were even sane enough after leaving the prison to talk to other people and give tours. There were so many intricate details, from the design of all of the rooms to the choreographed order of prisoners and guards, that the Russians and later East Germans took into account when planning the torture of their prisoners. It was truly horrifying just to learn about it all, but also made me realize its importance; it is a part of history, even though it’s not a pretty part, and thus must be talked about and reflected upon.
Post the prison memorial tour, my friends and I tried currywurst (recommended to us by our bus driver)! Currywurst is basically like a sausage with curry-ketchup on it. It sounds weird but was SO GOOD! Will definitely have to eat again!
Museums galore! Next, we got to explore the Menschen Museum, which was essentially a big exhibit about the body and its different parts. There were full-body statues that showed all of the muscles in the body, and one exhibit with a whole digestive tract stretched out (definitely my kind of museum). We also went inside Alte Nationalgalerie (The National Art Gallery), and saw the works of Monet, Shinckel, Delville, Lepsius, Hitz, and more!
Back at the hotel, we found coupons in the bathroom for discounted entry fees into a nearby night club, but when we looked it up online, all of the reviews talked about how racist the club was (yikes!). I had never felt that way at all in Berlin, but it was interesting that some places still were that way.
Once the night time came around, we ended up going out to the Berlin Ice Bar and then to a nearby pub. The Ice Bar was definitely a tourist trap, but it was an experience with good company and that’s really all anyone needs. Our bartender at the pub looked a lot like Mac Miller, but his name was actually Marvin and he got really offended when we told him he looked like Mac Miller. He had a good time poking fun at all of the stereotypical American things that Europeans hate, and even put on an EPL game for us when we asked him too. Another solid end to a solid day/night.
Remember the night club we found coupons for? Apparently another group of students from our school went and the bouncers let everyone in except for the Asians, so I dodged a bullet and got a good night’s rest.
“It is not history we are doing, but memory work”
Julian the Tour Guide
Day 3: Our last full day in Berlin 😦 As if yesterday and the day before were not filled with heavy history and tours, today sure was. We visited the memorial of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. By far the most engaging and heartbreaking tour I have been on (not to say that the other two tours were not absolutely fantastic). Our tour guide was incredibly thought-provoking, and gave me the feeling like I was actually in a classroom instead of on a tour (in the best way possible). He talked to us not just about everything that happened at the camp, but also asked us to think deeper about the events and the way that history is told. He would show us pictures that were taken, and talk about the propoganda and perspective behind everything we saw. The feeling that I got from the moment we walked through the gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you Free)” engrained on them is truly indescribable. From the cabins to the ovens, there was not one time where I could do anything else but just try to process my surroundings.
Like the quote at the beginning of this section says, witnessing the memorial of the concentration camp was not merely to learn history, but to remember it.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the East Side Gallery and the famous Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum bridge). Though we only stopped by, it was still really fun to see a different side of Berlin. If I were to go back, I would 100% walk around the area more and look into the different shops that were nearby.
Taking a break from all of the heavy meat and potatoes that the German diet offers, we got pho at a place near our hotel. It was freezing outside and a nice warm bowl of pho did just the trick. We had 4 hours afterwards to continue to explore Berlin, but we ended up just taking a 4 hour nap instead 😛
For dinner & drinks, we all got to go to Hofbräu Wirtshaus, a hofbraühaus right next to our hotel. Probably the largest portions of food and beer that I have ever seen! Fun fact: the beer was cheaper than getting a glass of water. On top of the food and drinks, everyone (especially after their drinks) was singing and dancing on the main dance floor in the center of the hall. It reminded me a bit of the Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast. It was an exuberant ending to being in Berlin!!
Check out the next post coming soon to see where I ventured after Berlin!
“Take nothing but pictures; kill nothing but time; leave nothing but footprints; make nothing but memories.”
Hi Friends & Family (and anyone else who has stumbled upon this site),
If you didn’t know, I will be studying abroad this upcoming semester in the Netherlands! I am both beyond excited and nervous for this journey and all of the lessons and memories that will come with it. I have never travelled outside the country alone, nor have I ever been to Europe!
I started this blog in order to reflect on and remember each experience I have, and keep you up to date on my adventures (s/o to Keren for the blog name)! I hope you enjoy the stories, and please stay in touch with me (social media/ WhatsApp works)!