Tag Archive: Places


Day 62: Berlin

Berlin is impossible to tackle in only two days.

We were very ambitious though and decided that if we only had two days we were going to make the most of them, from dawn till dusk.

Our first destination was Checkpoint Charlie. It is one of the more famous points of crossing between West Berlin and East Berlin.

The sign says, “You are entering the American Sector. Carrying weapons off duty forbidden. Obey traffic rules”.

Looking towards the East.

We walked up towards the checkpoint coming from the East, which was a good choice, because just before reaching the checkpoint there was an outdoor history exhibit. Learning about history in the safety of a classroom is always informative, but actually standing where the events took place gave me chills. Looking from East to West, I really felt like everything was suddenly put into perspective.

Throughout the city there are different colored bricks laid into the road. These trace the outline of where the wall used to stand. There Checkpoint Charlie museum is just to the left.

The Checkpoint Charlie museum was a little overwhelming. Imagine the entire history of WW II to the end of the Cold War, in four different languages, covering every single wall of the museum from top to bottom. I tried to read everything, but halfway through the first room my eyes were already swimming.

The best part of the museum was actually the stories about how people crossed the wall without getting caught. Some people swam, some people used zip-lines, others dug tunnels, one group actually built an entire hot air balloon and flew across the wall. The most popular seemed to be hiding in cars. The examples went from simply hiding in the trunk, to turning someone into the equivalent of a car seat. It was inspiring to see the lengths people would go to for freedom.

The last Kremlin Flag, hung on the side of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

After Checkpoint Charlie, we headed down the road a little until we came upon the museum called “Topography of Terrors”. Part of the wall has been left up in this area, and below the wall is some of the remnants of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. All along the bottom of the wall is some more history, this time centered more around WW II and the cruelty of the Nazi party.

The museum and the old headquarters is below street level, while the wall is above.

A part of the wall left standing just above the headquarters.

Next we walked to the Jewish Museum, which is a must see for anyone who goes to Berlin. In fact, it was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.

The first part of the museum is the most moving. It was built by Daniel Libeskind, who had a vision for the museum as a place where not only the things inside the building are important, but the building itself is critical to the understanding of Jewish history.

Upon entering the museum we had to walk down a flight of stairs that opened up into a crisscrossing of distorting hallways. Although the ceiling of these hallways are level, the floor is not. This made it seem as if the further I walked down the hall, the smaller it was getting. Libeskind calls these hallways Axis. There is the Axis of the Holocaust, Axis of Exile and Axis of Continuity.

The Axis of the Holocaust is a hallway with stories of those who had been influenced by the Holocaust. At the end of the hallway is an almost invisible door that leads into the Holocaust Tower. The Holocaust Tower is something I will never forget. The walls of the tower are completely smooth and there is nothing at all inside except for a small slit in the roof that allows only the faintest amount of daylight into the tower. The walls of the tower slope in until they reach a point directly under the light, which allowed me to stand between two of the walls and feel them pressing in on me. It was quite except for the hush of cars outside on the street. Standing there in the dark is hopefully the closest I will ever come to knowing what it was like to be trapped, to know that you were probably going to die, and yet the world is moving on without you and doesn’t even know or care that you exist.

The Axis of Exile led outside to a garden filled with blocks of stone. The ground was tilted and the stones were also angled, just enough to make it hard to walk without getting dizzy. Again, I could almost feel what it must have been like to be kicked out of your country, to flee, and to feel as if you were in exile. Sometimes I would see other people in the garden, but then they would disappear and it was like they had never been there in the first place.

However, there are trees growing on top of these stones, in which I felt represented hope and a new opportunity.

Lastly was the Axis of Continuity. This lead up the Sackler Staircase, which from the bottom looked as if it went on forever. This axis leads to two millennia of German Jewish history. However, before reaching the history exhibit, Libeskind forces everyone to walk through what he calls a Void. Voids are areas of the museum with nothing in them. They are painted completely white and there are many of them throughout the museum, but only one is open to the public. They represent death, which can’t really be represented by anything in this world. I felt like these voids really allowed each person who entered to fill it with their own feelings and beliefs about death. For everyone death is something different and therefore it shouldn’t be represented in any particular way.

Sackler Staircase from the top.

Walking through the only open void, the Memory Void, led us to an exhibit created by Menashe Kadishman. This exhibit is created out of 10,000 faces welded out of pieces of metal and dedicated to all the victims of war and violence. They are scattered on the floor and those who would like to can walk upon them, but not quietly. As people walked on the faces the clang of sharp metal rang throughout the entire void. I believe it was created to show people that no matter how carefully you might step your actions will still effect those around you.

The faces of the Memory Void.

The last and final axis was the Axis of Continuity. It was the permanent exhibit about Jewish history, culture and traditions.

After the museum we were all starving, so we went out to search for a little known restaurant called Zur Letzten Instanzwhich one of Addison’s roommates from Berlin had suggested. Allegedly, Napoleon Bonaparte ate there at one point, but really the food itself was worth the visit. The dishes were on the more expensive side, but the portions were large and it was probably one of the best meals I’ve had so far at a restaurant.

The restaurant is tucked into a side street, keeping it off the main track.

Inside was very cute and cozy. We were probably one of the few tourists there. The plaque on the table shows where Napoleon supposedly sat.

After lunch we still had half a day left, so we went to the DDR museum. This was another of my favorite museums. Unlike most museums, this one allowed you to interact with everything. There was nothing you couldn’t play with and although it did have some interesting history, it mostly talked about how people lived in the DDR, which I find really interesting.

By the time we left the museum it was dark and everything was closed, so we caught a tram back to our hostel, stopping briefly to check out the left over festivities from Oktoberfest.

The fest was located on Alexanderplatz. It wasn’t very crowded, but most of the stands were still out.

The Radio Tower.

Ari and I couldn’t resist the smell coming from the candy/popcorn stand, so we bought chocolate covered strawberries.

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Day 60: Trümmelbach Falls

The following day we woke up to the pouring rain, so we figured it would be the perfect day to go visit one of the caves in the area. We arrived just in time to catch the bus, but when we asked the driver for directions, he informed us that the caves were closed because of flooding.

That little setback didn’t stop us. We had also wanted to visit Trümmelbach Falls, so we took a train there instead.

That day was overcast and never stopped raining, but we weren’t put out by it, considering that we all know what Oregon weather is like.

As we drove along the road, the mountains towered above us with small waterfalls throughout the cliffs. Some of the falls even seemed to empty into nothing, becoming only a misty cloud halfway up the mountain.

Once we arrived at the falls the surrounding area was so beautiful that I took out my camera and turned it on to take some pictures. It was only then that I realized I had made one of the biggest camera mistakes one could make. Charging the battery and then not putting it back in the camera.

At first I was really upset that I had forgotten my battery, but later I realized it was probably for the best, because we got completely soaked through.

Despite my camera mishap, the falls were amazing and I can’t even believe there is such a place in the world. This particular falls isn’t massive like Niagara or even that tall. From a distance it’s almost impossible to even see the falls, but this is because most of the falls isn’t outside, but inside the mountain.

There are ten different “stops” along the falls. The first eight or so can be reached by an elevator, which you can ride up and then walk down a path along the falls. The last few lookout points have to be walked, but in reality the entire hike up and down only takes a half hour if no stops are made.

Because we wanted to get some exercise and breathe in some fresh air, we decided to just walk the entire thing. The first and probably most impressive stop along the falls is just to the right of the elevator. We walked up the short flight of stairs not really expecting much, but when we rounded the corner we were met by a massive roaring spout of water shooting horizontally from a hole in the mountainside. It was spectacular!

We stood there getting completely wet, but all we could do was look at each other in amazement and laugh. There was one corner where we could stand right next to the spout of water and feel the wind and mist. It almost felt like we were standing directly under the falls.

Half of the hike is outside, while the other half is inside a sort of crack in the mountain. Inside the mountain there are lights all along the stairs and corridors, so it was easy to walk and the stairs were nice and even, making it an easy hike. It was really cool to see how the waterfall had carved a tunnel right through the mountain. Sometimes, we were so deep in the middle of the mountain that all we could see was a slim crack of sunlight high above.

Afterwards, we were all completely soaked through our jeans and in Ari’s case her purse. My purse seems to not only be theft proof, but also water proof, which was lucky because I had my battery-less camera inside.

That night we had another wonderful dinner and we watched “Whose Line” while drinking hot chocolate and listening to the rain outside.

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The following day we boarded another train (this time everyone made it safe and sound) and headed up to Berlin.

We arrived later that night and checked into our room at The Circus. It was a really nice hostel, with very friendly people as well as secure and clean. We decided against going out that night, because we were so tired, so we ate unlimited pasta served at the hostel until we were full and then called it an early night.

The lounge of the Circus

Day 59: Jungfraujoch

I had never heard of Interlaken before going there, so it was all thanks to Ari that I even made it there in the first place! It’s almost a given that if you go to Switzerland there are going to be mountains, and big ones none the less, so I wasn’t surprised when Ari informed us that just an hour from Interlaken was one of the highest train stations in Europe.

The station is called Jungfraujoch and it stands 3,454 meters high or 11,333 feet.

The night before we had asked one of the employees at the hostel, which day was going to be nicer. She told us immediately to go on Monday, because the following day was going to have horrible weather.

Monday morning, after a fitful night of sleep (mostly everyone in the room was snoring that night), we woke up to a bright day. There were a few clouds in the sky that covered the mountains, but even before we had finished breakfast they had begun to clear away.

There are multiple ways to reach Jungfraujoch. All throughout the little valleys there are a number of small villages, all of which are connected by train. Admittedly, getting to Jungfraujoch was pretty expensive (over 100 swiss francs), but we got to ride on the train the entire way up and none of the destinations points at the top cost any money. However, not everyone who visits Jungfraujoch has to take the trains all the way up. If we had had more time in Interlaken, hiking part of the way up would have been wonderful. There are plenty of hiking trails around the area that make it pretty simple, but as it was, we traveled by train all the way up, from Interlaken, to Lauterbrunnen, switched trains to Kleine Scheidigg, and finally boarded one last train to Jungfraujoch.

The entire journey from bottom to top is amazing and breathtaking. At first we were low in the mountains and our view consisted of rolling hills overshadowed by giant craggy cliffs, but as we climbed up the side of the mountain the world began to unfold around us. Suddenly we could see hundreds of peaks stretching out and many small villages tucked safely inside the valleys.

Looking back down the hill from where we came, all we could see was bright green grass and trees, but looking ahead, the landscape drastically changed and suddenly all I could see was snow, crumbling rocks and barren land.

About half way up we were able to spot the end station, it’s so high and yet it still doesn’t reach the summit! On the right of the Jungfraujoch station is Jungfrau at 4,158 meters or 13,642 feet. To the left of the station is Mönch, which is a little shorter at 4,107 meters or 13,475 feet.

Once we reached Kleine Scheidegg the train basically dissapears into the mountain and the rest of the way up we had no view. There are, however, two spots where the train stops and we were allowed to leave the train to see the view. One of the stops was called Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and the other Eismeer (Sea of Ice).

View from Eigerwand.

As we climbed it was easy to feel the difference in temperature, luckily the train was heated, although the one before hadn’t been. After about an hour and a half of riding we finally arrived at Jungfraujoch. The tunnel we arrived in was long and dark and as I stepped out of the train, it hadn’t quite hit me just how high up in the mountains I was.

At Jungfraujoch there are a number of things people can do, but in general people stick to the “guided” tour. I say guided, but really there were only signs telling us where to go. After exiting the train we had to walk down a long tunnel until we came to the Jungfrau Panorama. Basically this is a giant room with wonky projector screens that show you what you’re going to see outside. It was kinda cool, but at the same time I would have liked to keep the view a surprise. However, the projections of the view, as you can probably imagine, are nothing like the actual view itself.

To get to the very top of Jungfraujoch we had to take an elevator to the Sphinx. The Sphinx is the platform outside on the mountain. It has a inside viewing area with two levels and then an outside viewing area with a large deck. It was one of the most amazing and absolutely freezing views I have ever experienced. I had dressed appropriately for going to Switzerland, but I hadn’t realized that we would actually be going so high into the mountains and I forgot a hat or a scarf. Despite my lack of hat and scarf, when I stepped outside I completely forgot about how cold I was.

The Aletsch Glacier

Standing there I felt so insignificant, just looking at the Aletsch Glacier and imagining the sheer power it must take to carve through mountains. I took so many pictures of the same view that my fingers were beginning to hurt from the cold and I could already feel my ears turning red and my cheeks stinging, but we must have stayed out there for at least twenty minutes. We had been completely lucky and there were barely any clouds in the sky, so we could see for miles and miles on end. It was the perfect day.

From the Sphinx we were apparently suppose to be able to see France, Germany and Italy, although I was all turned around and really couldn’t tell which way each country was.

A helicopter far off in the distance. There were also a few jets flying overhead. They would circle the mountain and then come around and fly over Jungfraujoch, probably showing off for the tourists.

On the opposite side from the glacier. One of my favorite things was the low-lying clouds hiding in the valleys.

After we had officially all frozen into icicles we decided to head back inside and check out the rest of the area.

Exiting the Sphinx, the tour signs led us down a long hallway that came out in a room with a giant snowglobe. This part of Jungfraujoch is called Alpine Sensation. Basically, it was a long tunnel full of lights and music, and some history.

The giant snowglobe that would change from day to night and then through the seasons too.

The second thing I was most looking forward to at Jungfraujoch, after the view, was the Ice Palace. To enter the palace we had to walk down a flight of stairs and then step into a very long tunnel completely made of ice. It was really exciting and fun to slide around on the ice with our shoes and walk through little tunnels made completely of ice.

The entrance to the palace.

A small ice tunnel that I could basically touch the roof of with my head if I stood up straight.

An example of the ice sculptures that were placed throughout the palace.

After goofing around in the ice palace we headed to the last stop on the tour, the Plateau. The Plateau is off to the side of the Berghaus, or the main building, and it allows people to walk out onto the mountain. There were ropes on either side of the Plateau, but it was actually a little precarious walking out there, because it was so slippery. Right outside the door the snow sloped up to the Plateau, so we had to shuffle our way inch by inch until we could reach flat ground. It was hilarious seeing so many people shuffling along up the hill. Luckily no one slipped.

The small hill everyone had to climb to reach the Plateau. It wasn’t actually that steep, but ice makes everything tricky.

After we took some photos Ari and I decided to have a race down the hill, so we both sat down and using our hands pushed ourselves down the hill on our butt. It was a safer and much more fun way of getting down.

Completely frozen and exhausted from the altitude, we decided to get lunch at one of the restaurants in the Berghaus. We were lucky, because after we were done eating the Plateau was closed, maybe because it was too icy.

We ended the day by traveling back down the mountain. This time we went through Grindewald instead of Lauterbrunnen, because Ari and I wanted to explore some of the smaller villages. We stopped for a half hour in Grindelwald, giving us just enough time to walk down the main street and enjoy the disappearing sun.

Walking the small streets of Grindelwald.

We arrived back at the hostel late that night and thanks to a special deal we had with the hostel we were served a three course meal at one of the local restaurants called Des Alpes. It was so delicious that we decided to return the following night. For one of my dinners I ate Rösti, which is a traditional Swiss dish made out of potatoes, onions, cheese and bacon. Yum!

All in all our trip to Jungfraujoch was a day that fell perfectly into place. We got lucky with the weather, we were able to walk out onto the Plateau before it closed, and we were served a cheap and delicious dinner.

The following day our tour was all about Jewish history in Prague. The picture below is where the old Jewish ghetto once was, although it is now one of the most expensive streets for shopping in Prague.

We walked further down this street until we reached the Jewish Museum. In this area there was the Klausen Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The entrance to the Jewish Museum.

As we entered the museum we first entered the Pinkas Synagogue, which is now used as a memorial for the 80,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who died in the Holocaust. It was a very humbling experience. The names were stretched along the entire room, from top to bottom and continued up to the second floor. The simplicity of the memorial was what really made it hit hard and the sheer number of names was too horrible to imagine. Another part of the memorial was a room full of pictures drawn by children who were being held at Terezín or Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. This was even more difficult to see.

After the memorial, we made our way over to the Old Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery is not only extremely large for a cemetery in the middle of a city, but it also has twelve layers of graves, with about 6 hands of space between each level.

Rabbi Loew is buried in this cemetery. In a legend Loew created a golem to protect the Jewish ghetto. This golem is now said to be resting in the attic of the Old-New Jewish Synagogue waiting to protect the Jewish community if need be.

The exit to the cemetery leads to a back road and at the end of this road is the Old-New Synagogue. This synagogue is built on the old level of the city, Charles IV was forced to raise the city after it continued to flood.

In the vicinity there is also the Spanish Synagogue. This was an amazing building and even though the exterior is amazing, it just doesn’t do the interior justice. Once again, pictures were not allowed to be taken inside, but the entire room was covered in gold with millions of tiny interlocking lines and flowers. The dome was made up of lines that created a sort of mesh or net which spiraled slowly into the center.

The upper balcony of the synagogue was dedicated to the history of Jews in Prague. It spoke about what life was like in concentration camps, but it also focused on the accomplishments of individual Jewish artists or authors.

After this museum we went just across the street to a really wonderful and authentic Czech restaurant. We all had a delicious dish with a Pilsner Urquell on the side, which comes from the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is known for good beer, in fact they also have a Budweiser, but it is different from what we have in America and apparently, there is a deal between the two companies not to sell their beers in the same place.

After lunch our tour was over so we decided to head over to the Jerusalem Synagogue on our own. This synagogue was a little further from the others, but still only a five minute walk. The synagogue is squished between two other buildings and on a very small side street. It was a little hidden and if it hadn’t been for the impressive blue arch and the red and gold stripes, we might have passed it by.

After touring the old Jewish ghetto, we decided to head back to the Old Town Square one last time before we had to get on the bus and ride four hours back to Vienna.

The two-tailed lion is the symbol of Prague.

There were a lot of symbols like the ones above and below. We ended up seeing a lot of these on the older buildings, because they were used as a sort of address system when the houses originally had no numbers.

Many of the buildings in Prague were painted on. This one was on one of the buildings on Old Town Square. Some of them depicted entire stories!

Our last day was probably the best day for street performers. This band had a sort of southern twang to it. Their music filled the entire square and they had a huge crowd clapping and laughing along with them.

We also came upon a woman creating huge bubbles. It seemed like the boy in the red might have been her son. He would often stand up and chase after the bubbles, while she tried to make them pop over his head.

Prague by Night (Day 43 & 44)

We stayed a total of three days and two nights in Prague. Both nights we went adventuring around the city and although it was near impossible to get any good photos without a tripod, I was able to get a few night shots.

The nightlife in Prague was really great, there were a lot of people out and about. My favorite part was a group of young musicians that played on the street. They were having fun and just playing some of the new hit songs, while there was a huge crowd of people laughing and singing along.

The Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock

A close up of the Astronomical Clock

One of the many possible views from Charles Bridge

The statue of John of Nepomuk. He was confessor to Wenceslaus’ (the King of the Romans) wife and when asked what the queen had told him, John of Nepomuk refused to divulge any confessions to the king. So, John of Nepomuk was thrown off of Charles Bridge and died in the Vltava river. Underneath his statue is a picture of John of Nepomuk being thrown off the bridge and it is said that if you rub it, you will get good luck. It was easy to see the millions of hands that had rubbed the picture, because the metal around John of Nepomuk was completely golden, while the rest of the metal was gray and brown.

Another view from the Charles Bridge of the Prague Castle off in the distance.

EDIT 09/30/12 : Whoops! Almost forgot a photo.

This is one of the squares we had to walk by to reach the main part of the city. To the right there was a more official stage with a band and then there were some booths for wine tasting.

37: Bratislava

The friday before I left for Bratislava the other students and I had a Mexican food night. For weeks we’ve all be craving Mexican food and so we finally decided to just go out and find the ingredients for burritos, no matter how long it took. In reality, it wasn’t all the hard. Many of the ingredients we were looking for were labeled “MEXICAN” on the side in giant letters. Apparently, we haven’t been the first nor will we be the last to crave Mexican food in Austria.

That night we made a wonderful meal and we got to talk with Clifford, a student from Berlin. Currently he is staying with Addison, whose host mother has a German student, Japanese student, and an American student all under one roof! It was really great talking with Clifford. Throughout the night we shared our different experiences, with things from movies to politics to requirements to get your driver’s license, which by the way sounds A LOT harder in Germany, although they do get to drive faster here than in America.

After a very long, but very fulfilling dinner, I headed back to the apartment to get ready for our next big trip. This time to Bratislava.

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Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and only an hour away from Vienna by train. As soon as I stepped off the train, I knew we were going to have a hard time getting around. There were barely any English signs and when we tried to ask the woman at the ticket booth how to get a bus from the station to the city center, she just shook her head, making it obvious that she couldn’t speak English.

The Railway Station

Looking at the map we had acquired in Vienna, we could see that the city center wasn’t too far from the train station, so we decided to walk down the main street. Along the way we managed to get lost because two of the street names were spelled almost exactly the same, one was Štefánikova and the other was Štefanovičova.

An example of the language, Slovak.

We also became worried, when there was no one else out on the street and we thought perhaps there really wasn’t anything to see in Bratislava. However, the giant castle that sits above the city was our North Star and eventually it guided us to the old town. Once in the old part of the city, we were greeted by huge groups of tourists. By the end of the day, the streets were filled with people. Apparently everyone in Bratislava likes to sleep in.

Anyone heading into the old district from the train station must pass under Michael’s Gate. It is the only gate in the city that has been preserved from the middle ages and it used to be apart of the city’s fortifications. In the past, if anyone wanted to enter the city they would have to enter through one of the four gates that stood around the town.

After entering the gate we decided to make our way to the castle, which basically meant wandering until we found a road that lead to it. While we walked up the hill we came upon the Church and Convent of the Order St. Clare. From the front, we got a great view of the church’s tower and also the castle in the background. While we were there a huge group of German tourists walked up to us with a guide and we stayed off to the side and listened to him speak for a bit.

Although the  majority of Bratislava is not like made of up buildings like the ones in my photos, for reasons I’ll discuss later, the roads in the old town reminded me a lot of Venice. The roads were small with only enough room for ten people or less to walk side by side.

A few of the streets had some of the worst cobblestones I’ve ever seen. They were basically just nicely shaped rocks lying in the street, which wobbled when you stepped on them. Eventually we gave up counting the number of times someone tripped and almost fell while walking.

To get to the castle we had to cross under a huge roadway, which had a lot of really cool graffiti underneath.

The Bratislava Castle or Bratislavský Hrad in Slovakian, stands on a hill overlooking the Danube. When I hear the word castle, I think of something extravagant and over the top. The Bratislava Castle is indeed impressive, but to me it was more of a fortress than anything else. The walls around the castle are not to be messed with, and although the outside walls of the castle are white and bright, they are very plain and much more intimidating that inviting. In fact, the castle was used as a fortress in the past, as it was an important point for trade routes when the area was first settled.

The current castle looks as it does because of many different reconstructions, one specific reconstruction was made because of a fire that completely ruined the castle. Inside the castle there are now many different exhibits. One of the cooler exhibits has old objects destroyed in the fire, such as a knight’s armor and swords. Some of the other exhibits included paintings of important figures, prints of the castle, modern art and the altar painting, The Assumption of Virgin Mary.

The largest tower is called the Crown Tower and it is where the crown jewels were once housed. Today, people can walk up five sets of staircases to reach the top and get a great view of the city. Climbing to the top of the tower was somewhat scary considering how steep the stairs were and by the time we reached the top our legs were burning as if we had just run a mile!

The Crown Tower, which we climbed.

One of the more interesting aspects about Bratislava was the influence of communism. I’ve personally never been to a country or a city heavily affected by communism, but just walking through a small part of Bratislava is was easy to see some of the communistic aspects.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia (which is now two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) supported the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had come to their aid during the first war. This caused an extreme transformation of the country and Slovakia became a very heavily industrialized area. When we climbed the tower of the castle, it was obvious which side of the city had been most influenced by communism.

On the right there were cute little houses with cobblestone streets and red roofs. It reminded me a lot of Salzburg in a way.

To the left the city is filled with row after row of stiff-looking apartments, factories and roads. This area is called Panelák and is a good example of what buildings built during the communist era look like. 

From the top of the tower Bratislava was basically two completely different cities.

The Slovakian flag, waving proudly from the castle.

After visiting the castle it was later in the day and there was a lot more activity in the center of the town. In the streets there were statues of men sitting, working, or in the case of the photo below, taking pictures of the tourists. It was a really cute touch and every once in a while there was a real person dressed as a statue, which really confused us when suddenly, the statue moved!

The oldest church in Bratislava, the Franciscan Church.

After walking around for a long while, we couldn’t resist getting something warm and sitting down for a break. We ordered hot chocolate with mint, which actually turned out to be almost pure melted chocolate, somewhere between a pudding and a hot chocolate drink. It was wonderful on a cold day! We also wandered around the main square of the town, looked at all the trinket shops and ate at a local restaurant, which served really good sandwiches.

Soon after, we made our way back to the train station, making sure to stop by Grassalkovich Palace, Grasalkovičov palác, which is the residence of the Slovakian president. Behind the palace is also a garden, where people were relaxing and enjoying the last of the nice weather.

Tomorrow, I’ll be headed to Prague, which is in the Czech Republic. Everyone has been telling me that I need to go there, so I’m super excited for the trip!

The following day we decided to explore the less crowded areas of Venice.

Although the residential areas weren’t full of towering churches or enticing designer clothes, I ended up liking the quiet streets more and more as we explored them. The ground was dirty, the air smelled like salt water and fish, and the buildings were crumbling, but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m so glad that I was able to get to see Venice, because it really is a very different city.

One thing that I thought was really cool were the wooden posts in the water. Somehow I think they made “traffic lanes” in the water and all the boats seemed to know exactly where they should go. It was also fun to see the water line on the posts showing how high the tide reaches.

On the nights when there was a possibility of rain, which while we were there was every night, the gondolas would be covered in blue covers to keep the fabric on the seats and the inside dry.

The gondola’s themselves were each very unique and very fancy. The all had a little couch in the center and then a few chairs on the side. The fabric was usually a bright red, while the embellishments around the sides were golden.

There were about a million pigeons on the island, perhaps just as many pigeons as there were tourists.

Below is my favorite set of stairs I found in Venice. They looked like they should have lead to something, but only disappeared into the water. There were a lot of stairs that went into the water like this. Most of them are for getting out of boats, but Venice is (or was according to some) sinking, so I like to imagine that maybe there’s something more hidden beneath the water.

For this picture we were walking along a bridge and I just love the way the buildings look like they are floating.

A lot of the walls of the buildings were crumbling like in the picture below. It looked like people had tried to repaired the wall multiple times, but it just continued to fall into disrepair.

There were also a lot of buildings that were obviously uninhabited.

Even some of the nicer places had stains and streaks running down the side of the building.

In many of the courtyards there were these huge wells that were sealed shut. Although I never saw anyone use the wells, which probably don’t work anymore, there were other smaller spouts that constantly poured water and more than once I saw residents walk out and grab some water from the spouts with a bucket.

There were a surprising amount of dogs in Venice. Sometimes it was hard to tell if someone owned them or if they were strays, because there were so many out on the street without a leash or collar. The dog below was just relaxing, while his owner was somewhere inside the building.

There were at least two towers that I saw that looked slightly unstable leaning to one side.

Eventually we wandered over into the Castello district and found the Arsenale. The Arsenal was the shipyard and armory for Venice.

Walls of the Arsenale

After a very long day of exploring we headed back to our room for the night and began to pack for our flight the next day. We all felt a little relieved to be leaving, because we had been on the go from dawn till dusk for about three days, but it was also sad leaving Venice knowing that we had only scratched the surface of things to do and see.

The next day we had to leave the apartment at 11 and although we didn’t have our flight until 7 p.m., we decided to meander through the city towards the bus station. It ended up only taking us about a half hour to walk slowly across more than half the island. Once we arrived at the airport we weren’t allowed to go through check-in until two hours before our flight. By the end of the day we had sat in the airport for seven hours and compared to that our 50 minute flight was nothing!

Day 23: Touring Venice

The next day we decided that we were going to see all the tourist sites around Venice, but that didn’t mean that we wanted to be surrounded by tourists, so we got up early.

Venice is divided into six districts called sestieri. They are, San Marco, Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Croce. There is also a small sliver of an island called Giudecca separated from the rest of the island by Canale della Giudecca. While we were in Venice it became obvious that San Marco and San Polo were the districts with the most tourist and many of the famous buildings.

At eight in the morning there were still quite a few people out on the street, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the day before, so we were able to stop by the Rialto and see the bridge before all the shops opened and the streets filled up.

What the Rialto bridge looks like when all the shops are opened and all the tourists are out and about.

Basically our apartment was in the San Marco district so we didn’t have to walk very far to reach Piazza San Marco.

Piazza San Marco has quite a few attractions, the most noticeable being St. Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower, which juts up into the sky. It looks out of place compared to the low white buildings around it. To the left of the Campanile is the Clock Tower, which rang while we were there and filled the entire square with music. Directly behind the tower is the St. Mark’s, which was very beautiful and an interesting contrast to the rest of the city.

The entire Piazza

The Piazza about halfway to St. Mark’s

The very top of St. Mark’s Campanile

The Clock Tower

While most of Venice is rundown and very old, St. Mark’s is clean, white, and covered in statues. The grandeur of the church really didn’t match the rest of the city. The church has four domes, huge arches and painted murals above the doors. Compared to a lot of the other churches I’ve seen it was a lot more chaotic, with many colors and statues.

Front of St. Mark’s

The right side of St. Mark’s, where we were standing and waiting to get in.

The outside of St. Mark’s was impressive, but inside was even more amazing. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside. In fact, a lot of things were restricted inside the church.

Before going in we had to wait in a long line for the church to actually open. After a half hour we finally reached the door, but there was someone there turning away anyone who wore shorts, a large backpack, or a shirt that didn’t cover their shoulders. Lucky for us, Addison knew that this would happen so we were prepared and the line moved quickly as almost every other person was turned away.

Inside, the entire ceiling was gold, it seemed almost sad that such a wonderful and luxurious church was surrounded by so many crumbling buildings. We also made it into the treasury, which had some amazing swords, goblets and stones, from many different times and places.

When we walked back outside I immediately noticed just how many pigeons there were. Although the winged lion represents St. Mark and is Venice’s symbol, I would argue that pigeons are probably the unofficial symbol of the city. They filled the sidewalks, they sat on the sills of every building, they flew through the sky and they slept on every statue they could possibly find. There was more than one time where I had to duck, because a pigeon literally flew right past my face. Although pigeons are in general dirty, I found that they added to the charm of the city.

I noticed that some of the birds were unnatural colors, the one I was able to take a picture of was green, but I also saw blue, red and purple pigeons. I suspect that people catch and dye the pigeons, however I have no idea what it symbolizes, if it symbolizes anything at all.

After the church, we decided to go up the tower. About ten people had to cram into a tiny elevator for the ride up, but the view of the city was worth the awkward ride. To look out over Venice and be able to see the entire island from one spot was breathtaking. All the buildings looked so tightly packed that it was impossible to even see the waterways. From above it was also very easy to tell just how old Venice was, there were no modern buildings and all of the buildings were more or less the same height. Looking down on the city I felt like I could have been standing in Venice hundreds of years ago.

Three of the Four Domes of St. Mark’s

One of the possible views from the tower.

When we returned to the bottom of the tower the Piazza was suddenly teeming with people, so we decided to head away from the San Marco district and explore Dorsoduro. Immediately we noticed how much quieter the streets became and at certain times we were the only people out on the street. It was a very different Venice from the one we’d seen earlier that morning. The buildings weren’t grand, but they had their own special touch to them and the suddenly Venice seemed a lot more like a city than just a tourist destination.

We ended up walking all the way to the tip of Dorsoduro, where the church Santa Maria della Salute is. While we were there we sat on the steps and ate our lunch.

We were basically the only people down on this street, although there were some children playing.

Local children playing soccer in the street.

Soon after we headed back to the apartment, but on the way we encountered a persistent gondolier, who gave us a “discount” on a ride. I say, “discount”, because I really doubt he was giving us a special offer, but he seemed to want to convince us that he was. Usually I would try to avoid such an expensive and obviously overpriced boat ride, but we were in Venice and when would I ever get to ride in a gondola again?

The ride actually ended up being pretty relaxing and it was fun to be so close to the water. The gondoliers are incredibly good at navigating the waterways and I couldn’t believe how close they would get to the walls. Sometimes they even pushed off the wall with one foot to keep from hitting it.

The Rialto from the water.

That night we went out to dinner at a place along the water and we had some authentic Italian wine and lasagna.

Day 21: Hiking in Vienna

After our usual classes on Thursday, we were taken to the 19th district of Vienna. To reach the 19th district we went by UBahn, so I was surprised when we came out of the underground and found plenty of trees and small little houses. It was a completely different Vienna. Our guide, Bergit, told us that the 19th district is a very expensive place to live and I can understand why. All the houses are very cute and bright. I felt like I was in a separate little town nowhere near a large city. All the houses had yards, which was the first time I’ve seen a yard since Dorfgastein.

I immediately felt at home in the 19th district. It reminded me a lot of Portland and the actual hike was almost exactly like Forest Park, with unpaved roads and thick dense trees. Everyone was really friendly and it felt great to get away from the fast paced life of the city.

Our hike took us slowly, but surely up a hill towards a place called Kahlenberg. Compared to the hiking we did in Dorfgastein, this one was nothing and we all agreed that Dorfgastein hadn’t been a vacation, but boot camp to prepare us for all the walking we would be doing in Vienna. The hike was actually very relaxing and once we got to Kahlenberg, there was a great view of Vienna and a place to stop and eat. We didn’t stay there long though and instead headed further up the hill to Leopoldsberg.

Leopoldsberg provided us with an amazing panoramic of Vienna and the Donau. It was really interesting to see the difference between the Neue Donau (on the left) and the Donau (on the right). From above it was pretty obvious which one was cleaner. We tried to look for landmarks to see exactly where we were staying in Vienna and we were eventually able to see what we thought was Karlskirche, which is somewhat close to where we are all staying.

After the hike we headed back into town and went to a little *”restaurant” called Schwammerl Wochen. Inside was an open courtyard where there were picnic tables and an open buffet. It was a really cute place and very relaxing after the hike.

My snack was bread with bacon and a Radler. I was a little queasy at the thought of having bacon after a long hike, but it was one of the only foods I recognized and I didn’t feel very adventurous that day. It actually tasted really good and what I couldn’t finish, the others were more than happy to eat.

Soon after eating we made our way back to the UBahn, which would have been a simple ride home if it wasn’t for a group of 100 men, what we assumed were soccer fans, all trying to cram into one single, and already full, train. While they all boarded we had to wait at least 15 minutes and also listen to them sing and bang on the train. We knew it was getting serious when the police also boarded the train and stood at the entrances with their bulletproof vests and helmets. Miraculously, everyone made it onto the train and nothing more happened.

That night I ate a quick dinner and packed my backpack for a four day trip to Venice the next morning. I was so excited that I didn’t even mind that I was going to have to wake up at four in the morning to catch my flight.

*EDIT 9/24/12

I finally figured out what these restaurants are called in German. The place we stopped at is called a Heuriger. A Heuriger is like a small tavern where people sell this year’s newest wine.

The first day we were in Vienna, before we had left for Dorfgastein, one of our language instructors took us to a food market called Naschmarkt. After being in Vienna for about a week, we finally decided it was time to return to Naschmarkt for lunch.

Naschmarkt is almost like a farmers market. It has the usual stands full of fruit, fresh meat or bread, there are food carts where people can buy their food and then take it away, and there are also more perminent restaurants where people can sit down and enjoy their food right in the market. It’s a great place to get fresh and cheap food.

The most talked about food in Nashmarkt is the Turkish kabobs and dürüms. I ordered a chicken kabob, which was basically a really good sandwich, however, the best part about ordering these dishes is getting to see them prepared. Both the lamb and chicken are placed on vertical spits, which they then cut the meat off of to put in a sandwich. Somehow this makes the chicken extra delicious. They also add some sort of sauce, tomatoes, onions and the optional chile spices.

After lunch I had a lot of free time after my first lesson and before the next one started, so I decided to go exploring.

I feel like I’ve already been here a long time and yet its only been 14 days. I thought I had seen everything there was to see in the vicinity of the Institute. I know where Stephansdom is, where all the good places to eat and shop are, where the Opera is, where my house is. What else could I possibly need? My explorations today showed me just how wrong I was.

Just around the corner from the Institute there is not only a really great hotdog stand, but also the Albertina, an art museum. Below the museum is a fountain that’s a great place to sit and watch the tourists walk by.

If you head down the road on either side of the fountain you can climb the stairs up to the Albertina and also see the huge statue of one of Austria’s emperors Franz Joseph. From above he looks regally out over the bustling streets of Vienna as if he still commanded its people.

After climbing the steps to stand below Franz Joseph’s statue, I noticed that there was an entire park behind the Institute and two other huge buildings! How could I have missed this? From my vantage point I could only see the bright green rooftops and so I quickly headed down to explore a whole new area.

What I found was probably the largest library I’ve ever seen. In front of the library was a nice park where people were reading and sunbathing. I definitely want to return to this place and actually go inside when I have more time. It’s impossible for me to resist any place that holds so many books.

The entrance to the square is guarded by a double-headed eagle. It is the symbol of the Habsburgs and it is also associated with the Byzantine Empire. It’s a symbol that can be seen often around Vienna.

After wandering around the Institute, I decided to visit the resting place of the Habsburg family. The day before, our Professor had pointed it out to us, but we hadn’t had time to visit it. The Imperial Crypt is called Kaisergruft and is below the Capuchin church. It contains over 100 bodies of the royal family, some of the more well-known names being Franz Joseph and Maria Theresia.

Below is Franz Joseph’s tomb with his wife Elisabeth and his son Rudolf.

Many of the caskets were both simple and elegant. Others were huge, with human sized statues of angles, skeletons and cherubs. The artistry that went into making those tombs must have been amazing and awe-inspiring to say the least. I took a lot of pictures of the different tombs and quite frankly got a little lost on the names, even when there was a plaque explaining their relationship to one another.

There were multiple rooms that the caskets were set in. Some of the rooms were filled with up to ten or fifteen caskets, while others had only one or two. Some of the rooms were also hidden way back in the corner where only one or two caskets could be seen.

Many of the tombs were swimming in symbolism. The ones below were some of the most intricate tombs in the entire crypt.

Going through Kasiergruft was something I’ll always remember. The tombs made me feel small and insignificant. The Habsburg’s power was blatantly stated in the bronze crowns, the angels, the small floral flourishes. I was in the presence of royalty and even in death the Habsburgs did not want me to forget.

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On a different note, after I returned to the Institute we took a trip to the Prater, which is a small amusement park with a grass park out front. It was one of those amusement parks that didn’t have the latest rides or even the fastest one, but there were no lines and it seemed to be a very nice place to simply hangout if you didn’t want to take a ride on anything. In September they also put on Oktoberfest out on the grass and we’ve been told it’s a must go.

The Prater also has a ferris wheel that goes around very slowly, but the cart is large enough that you can rent it and have a part inside with catering and everything.

We didn’t have time to actually try any of the rides, but most of us in the group have already chosen what we want to do when we return.