Monday, June 13, 2011

Weekend Trip to Berlin

Last weekend we went on a wonderful weekend trip to Berlin! Around 6 pm on Thursday we took a metro to the train station at Florenc and boarded a bus to Germany. The bus was a lot nicer than we were expecting. It was a coach with hard wood floors, a lot of leg room, and free WiFi which was fantastic! I spent a lot of the four and a half hours reading and catching up on e-mail.

When we reached Berlin, we had to take their metro from the station to our hostel. Although we had directions, we ran into some issues when there was some construction on one of the lines. Mainly, we just didn't even notice everyone else had gotten off the train and were just sitting there waiting for it to move again until a friendly German man helped us find our way.

Our hostel was called Wombat City. It was actually very nice and had fantastic helpers at the front desk. We were in a six person room with 3 bunk beds so since there were only five of us we had a random roomate named Martin. He was a 26 year old from Sweden there for an ultimate frisbee tournament. We all loved Martin because he was super nice and told us all the good places to go in Berlin. He was also very smart and Allyson and I talked to him a while about the difference between American and Swedish politics.

Thursday night we went to bed quite early because we had spent the whole day traveling so we were pretty tired. We woke up early on Friday because had a lot of touristy things we wanted to do. The first thing we did was to go to Museum Island which has five museums that have cultural artifacts from historical sites such as Rome, the middle east, Egypt, and elsewhere. They had some very beautiful work.

Museum Island

Alte Nationalgalerie that has artwork from a wide range of periods.

Another view of museum island.

Pergamonmeseum which houses things from Turkey

Statues in the Pergamon Museum

Large alter--very beautiful.

Picture of what the alter used to look like when it was whole.

Other ruins in the museum

Ishtar Gate from the city of Babylon

The museums were really nice because they had free headphone tours where the recording would tell you where to walk to and then describe what you were looking at. This was very helpful because otherwise we would have been completely overwhelmed or have had no idea what we were looking at.

After the museums, we went to the Reichstag which is the parliament building for Germany. We were all so nerdily excited for our trip here because we had written and gotten permission to tour. After Germany was reunited in the 90s, the Reichstag was reconstructed with a glass dome on top to symbolize the new goal for transparency in the government. So in our tour we got to walk up to the top of the dome and see the beautiful view as well as look down into parliament in session. Needless to say, it was awesome. After that, we went and saw a few other sites such as the Brandenburg Gate, and the Jewish Memorial which is in the middle of the city.

After all our site seeing, we met up with two of the boys from our trip that had come on the bus on Friday and had dinner at a German/American place. It was delicious. At night we went to the bar on top of our hostel and then explored the town for a while.

Pictures from Friday:

The Reichstag and all of its security.

The inside of the dome. You can see into parliament through those windows. There are lots of glass mirrors because the whole dome also works as a natural way to generate heat for the building.

Meaghan and I in the mirrors.

View from the Reichstag. It was neat how we also got headphones at the dome that had sensors that could tell where you were so they could tell you what you were looking at outside the window.

The building that the President sits in.

More views of Berlin. The gate is on the left with the horses on top of it and you can kind of see the Jewish Memorial behind the trees.

View from the top looking down into can't really see them in my pictures

View from outside the dome

Front view of the Reichstag. You can see the dome peaking out over the top

East Berlin is famous for their little walking sign man. When Germany reunited, it was a very controversial topic because they tried to turn all the signs into the West German normal figure, but the East Germans wanted to preserve their little man.

In the middle of this street is where the Berlin wall used to stand. You can't tell that well in the picture but the first walking man in the East Berlin one and the second is a normal stick figure.

The Brandenburg Gate is the only remaining gate of the many that used to have to be passed through on the way to visit the palace of the Prussian king when Berlin was part of the empire.

There were really good break dancing street performers by the Brandenburg Gate that we stopped to watch for a while.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is a monument that has 2,711 concrete slabs that are all the same length and width. However, the ground is sloping and has some hills, so the height of the slabs vary immensely. Apparently it is supposed to represent confusion and disorientation among order.

Another view of the slabs.

Outside the memorial

Another picture form inside the Egyptian museum. The coolest thing they had there was bust of Queen Nefertiti. However, we weren't allowed to take pictures of that.

On Saturday, we slept in a bit longer than we had on Friday because we were all exhausted from how much walking we had done the day before. For lunch, we traveled to AlexanderPlatz to see what was going on there. There were many shops and restaurants in this square, and we watched a man bungee jump off of a building which was fascinating.

After lunch, we went to see a part of the Berlin wall that is still standing. This part of the wall has been turned into a mural gallery. It was so cool walking along the wall because well the murals were beautiful and interesting, but also just thinking about how it had once divided two almost completely different worlds in that time.

One of the murals on the wall

Walking along the wall

I liked this one

There were such interesting paintings

View through a gate in the wall at the West side

Old picture of where you would leave West Germany

Check Point Charlie. We went to see this after the wall. This is one of the most famous places where people could pass from the West to the East. There was even a tank stand off here in the 60s.

Same sign from the picture before. "You are leaving the American Sector"

Remaining bits of the wall and a memorial

Saturday night we all split up for dinner. Allyson and I decided to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant because we were craving pasta. We then met up with our friend Aileen's friend from home and explored the city some more at night. Sunday morning we just hung out at the hostel until it was time to leave for the bus and then we took the four and a half hour drive back.

View of our hostel from outside. Our hostel was very nice. There was free WiFi in the lobby, but I hadn't brought my computer. However, they had computers you could pay to use for fairly cheap that we used a few times that were very helpful. The beds in the room were rather comfy and they came with big lockers to lock our stuff in to make sure it didn't get stolen. We would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Berlin.

View from the top floor of the Wombat Hostel.

View of Dresden from the bus window. We drove through it on our way home from Berlin. I wish we had time to stop and explore. I am so sad we have to leave here so soon!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week Three

This week has been super busy! We have had a lot of work to do, but we are still trying to fit in as many Prague events as we can. Monday morning we had a test in our Politics class which made everyone a bit nervous because no one knew exactly what to expect from a Czech test. It wasn't too bad so that was relieving. After class, Allyson and I went to Vysehrad which was this other beautiful castle in a part of the city we had not yet gone too.

Our main reason for heading to Vysehrad was to see an exhibit about Winton's trains. These were trains that Nicholas Winton organized to transport mainly Jewish Children from the Czech Republic to England at the beginning of World War 2. He is credited with helping to save over 699 people. The exhibit was amazing because it had many different stories of specific survivors along with pictures which was neat. It was great that such an important person could be recognized. One of the interesting things about Nicholas Winton is that what he did was not publicly recognized until 1988 when he was recognized by some of the survivors on a talk show. There are now over 5,000 direct descendants from Winton's saved children.

Pictures from Vysehrad

Pretty walkways with flowers

The awesome kids play ground. We had to hold ourselves back from joining in.

Fantastic view number 1.

Someone enjoying the view.

The river from up above.

Looking towards town.

Vineyard and part of the castle.

Winton's trains exhibit.

Nicholas Winton

Basilica of St. Peter and Paul

Another view of the church

While we were looking at the exhibit it began to storm so we took refuge in a cafe nearby. These were the silly silverwares they provided us with.

The yummy desert we ate during the storm.

HAIL on the roofs ahhh.

Another view of the church

Vysehrad cemetery where some famous Czech people are buried.

Another beautiful view from another beautiful outlook.

Allyson looking at the exhibit

A sign for the restaurant we took refuge in.

After the exhibit we returned to our dorms and ate at a nearby Czech restaurant.

Tuesday morning, Laura and I ate lunch at a cafe called Half and Half. They had fabulous pizza for very cheap. Our European Integration class then went on a field trip to the Communist Museum. It wasn't one of the best museums I have ever seen, but we did see some interesting video clips and propaganda. Afterwards, Allyson and I met to interview our new Czech friend, Sabina. Sabina was a freshman at the same University as us. She is studying to be a German and English interpreter. We went to a little student pub and had very interesting conversations about her life and politics. I am so glad we got to meet her!

Wenceslas Square. One of the main squares in Prague. Here is where many of the rallies were held that led to the Velvet Revolution.

The museum was located between a casino and a McDonalds which we thought was entertaining.

Monument of St. Wenceslas who is their patron saint.

National Museum--hopefully we'll get to it one of these days there is just too much to do!

On Wednesday, Allyson and I went shopping after class for souvenirs. We spent a long time trying to decide what to buy from the neat vendors on the Charles Bridge. For dinner, we all went to this cute cafe by our school and had fantastic food!

On Thursday, we went straight home after class to prepare for our trip to Berlin! Our bus left at six o'clock from a station right off the Metro so it wasn't too bad to get to. I will write about our trip to Berlin shortly.