Monday, March 14, 2011

Budapest

Praha

Second stop - Prague!  I didn't know too much about Prague before visiting, other than it was one of Casey's favorite cities and they have a 5 story club.

Our hostel was soo nice, the nicest one we stayed in.  So clean and new and more like a hotel.  They had a fancy bar right off of the reception with guitars on the walls that had signs next to them saying you could play.  There was a huuuge projection screen TV

Berlin

Our second 10 day break we decided to travel throughout Eastern Europe.  Our three locations were Berlin, Prague, and Budapest - the capitals of Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.


First stop March 5... Berlin!


We got there Friday night around dinner time, grabbed some kebobs/falafels and then played flip cup in our hostel bar all night.


Saturday morning we got a relatively early start and headed to the Pariser Platz to begin our 4 hour walking tour.  Luckily, there was a Starbuck's in the square... heaven!  Also in the square was Hotel Adlon, the hotel where Michael Jackson precariously dangled his baby out the window in 2002.


The first building we saw on our tour was the Brandenburg Gate, which was the former city gate and one of the main symbols of Berlin and Germany.  It is the only remaining gate of a series through which Berlin was once entered.  We walked past the Reichstag buildling, historical edifice constructed to house the Reichstag parliament of the German Empire, and then went to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It was a very different memorial, designed by an architect and engineer, Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold.  It consisted of 4.7 acres of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field.  The slabs all vary in height, designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere - representing the ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.  This was one theory our tour guide told us regarding the reason behind the design, but Eisenman stated that his memorial represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, by not including any symbolism.  Below the memorial is an Information Center that holds the names of all the known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.

We saw the site of Hitler's Former Bunker, and walked down the street where he once lived... creepy.  The Famous Berlin Wall was next.  It was a dirty graffiti filled never ending concrete slab with chunks breaking off and internal metal rods showing through.  It's crazy how new the history is in this city - the wall began being constructed in 1961 and fell in 1989, just one year before I was born.

We saw the former SS Headquarters, Checkpoint Charlie (the name given by the Western Allies to the best known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War), the gorgeous Gendarmenmarkt square where the French and German Cathedrals lie, and the Bebelplatz - site of the infamous Nazi book burning ceremony in 1933 where around 20,000 books, including works by Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Geinrich Heine, Karl Mark and many other authors, were cremated.  Today, there is a memorial consisting of a glass window set into the cobblestone ground, giving a view of underground empty bookcases, commemorating the event.  Engraved into the ground in front of it says "Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen,"- "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people."

We continued on to visit the Old Royal Boulevard, Neue Wache memorial, the TV Tower, and ended at Museum Island, named because of the five internationally renowned museums that occupy the island.  After a very informative tour through the cold, I ate a delicious bratwurst, and walked through the market where vendors were selling various types of artwork, clothing, hats, pictures, paintings, and sculptures.

Later in the evening we went to the coolest club called White Trash.  When you walked down the second set of stairs into the basement there was a dark underground smoky cave that had a DJ playing at the back and bright colored lights flashing everywhere.  The bartenders were behind a cage, and the place was packed.  Definitely one of my favorite nights abroad thus far.

Sunday morning a small group of us went to revisit the "cool" part of the Berlin Wall and see all of the artwork painted recently on top of it.  Our next stop was the Berlin Zoo, another one of my favorite stops so far.  They had every animal!  It was fun to see a German version of an American childhood favorite.  We walked next door to the Aquarium after and saw some legit underwater critters.

Other than the cold, Berlin was a great place to tour, visit, and go out.  Rich with so much relevant history that I could relate to, having occurred within my parents and grandparents generations.  I had a blast and would definitely go back.

Roma

Rome Rome Rome.  I loved Rome.

It was such a pleasant surprise to walk off the train and have beaaaautiful warm weather upon our arrival.  Our last visit to Italy (Florence) was quite the rain filled weekend, so it was nice to see a warmer side of the country.

Our first stop was the famous Sistine Chapel.  Located in the Vatican City, we trained over right after checking into our hostel.  The inside consisted of incredible architecture and wall paintings frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists.  We walked through the entire building which was more like a museum making our way to Michelangelo's famous ceiling painting, completed in 1512.  It was incredible.  All of the colors and detail put into the painting - it is hard to believe it was completed in only four years.

That night we had fun in the bar in our hostel, then decided to head across the street to grab some dinner.  Ashley and I walked in then decided we just really wanted pizza so we went back out and across the street to a pizza place we had gone to earlier in the day.  We had some fun making pizza with the chefs in the back and things got pretty aggressive.  The night ended shortly after and we went back to our Yellow Hostel next door to call it a night.

In the morning we woke up and went to see the Colosseum.  We got off the train, walked up from under ground and BAM it was right there, the huge, semi circle, stone, fortress.  We were attacked by faux gladiators on our way in and then decided to join a tour group to see the inside.  It was huuuge!  Everything seems so much bigger in real life.  I really enjoyed the Colosseum.  We learned that back in the day when the gladiator fights used to go on there they would let huge lions, tigers, cheetahs, rhinos, and other large animals loose within the colosseum to run around and kill people for the upper class's entertainment.  Scary to imagine.  Palatine Hill, Roman ruins, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, and Spanish Steps were next.  We had lunch at a cute little cafe.  Shared a moment with our waiter, got gelato, and went home to get ready for the night.

After wandering the Roman streets we stumbled upon a Colosseum Crawl and partook in the events.  We began with some sketchy shots in an alley... then went to two dance clubs.

Sunday morning we enjoyed lunch outside with a surprise visit from some Sig Eps from home, Brian, Judd, and Broughten, in the Campo De Fiore, then hopped on train back to Lugano.  Successful weekend, and Rome might be my favorite Italian city!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Paree

Paris!  The City of Lights and the City of Love.  And a lot of it.  Especially Valentine's Day weekend.  Upon our arrival to the dirty yet classy Parisian city, we made our way to a little cafe for a real parlez-vous francais dinner.  I split the the best appetizer, or shall I say hors d'oeuvre, and salad with Megan.  The platter consisted of a bunch of different kinds of meats and cheeses, olives (which I now love), tomatoes, and some other mystery items which were delicious.  After dinner it was dark out, and we decided to go see the Eiffel!  We took a train and got off at about 11:53.  Right when we got out we could see the tip of the 1,000 foot tall Tower.  It was beautiful!  I could not believe that I was standing right there, in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower was right in front of me before my eyes.  We started walking closer and more and more of the Tower began to unveil.  When the clock struck midnight, right on cue, the entire building began to sparkle.  It was almost as if the Tower knew we were coming and was greeting us with a big show.  We later found out that it lights up every hour on the hour at night...

Friday we woke up around 10 and went with everyone on the walking tour.  This was the day where I ate everything French in sight.  It began with 3 croissants by the fountain at St. Michel.  I love the french accent.  The way everyone said "Meeshell" and "bonshjjjour!"  Anyway, three croissants and three minutes later, we made our way to the Notre Dame.  After Ashley got a picture of me hunching my back over in front of it and dodging people pretending to be deaf trying to get us to sign their petitions saying that we would give them 20 euro, we went inside.

The Catholic Cathedral, considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, had flying buttresses on the outside, and beautiful stained glass on the inside.  Ashley and I blessed ourselves with holy water upon departure.

We continued on to see the Pont Neuf bridge, the Latin Quarter, the Louvre, Palais Royal (which was like an architectural fun zone with giant silver balls, black and white striped stumps coming out of the ground), the Tuileries Gardens, Les Invalides, the Academie Francaise, Opera Garnier, Pont Alexandre III, the Assemble Nationale, Champs-Elysees, the Place de la Concorde, my favorite to pronouce - Zi Arccccc de TriOMPHEEE, and ended at the Grand and Petit Palais.  So many cool buildings and statues everywhere.

After the tour Ashley and I were exhausted and ran to the Esplanade des Invalides (French for, really green field) and passed out.  It was so nice to just drop all of our bags, purses, jackets, glasses, and just lay for a second looking at the sky and remember where we were.

Oh I didn't finish telling you guys what I ate.  Quiche for lunch, ham and cheese crepe for snack, fried donut stuffed with chocolate for another snack.

Our next stop was the ferris wheel at the end of Champs-Elysees.  I don't remember the last time I rode one, but it was definitely nothing comparable to the view of Paris surrounding me.

We headed back over to the Louvre to go see the Mona Lisa.  The Louvre has definitely been my favorite architectural building so far in Europe.  It is so unusual and modern looking like something out of the movie Inception.  Or like a glass office building fell and crashed and is half under ground.  I saw Mona!!  And the Venus de Milo (famous ancient Greek statue).

Croque-monsieur for dinner and a chocolate crepe to wash it down.

Saturday morning we got to sleep in, then went to see the Musee d'Orsay.  I saw original paintings from two of my favorite artists; Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet.  This was my favorite museum in Europe!  I enjoyed being able to recognize work from artists that I was already familiar with and love.

Later in the evening Ashley and I went to go see an act by Olivier Giraud titled "How to Become Parisian in One Hour," at the Theatre de la Main d'Or.  It was a suggestion made by our tour guide, but I guess we were the only two interested in going, because within the audience of almost 300 people, we were the only two Americans.  I anticipated the act being a semi-tourist type of deal where they taught American's how to act more Parisian while visiting the city.  However, the skit was the complete opposite of a touristy event.  A little hole in the wall place located in a little hidden alley, Ashley and I walked back and forth past the street the theatre was on a couple of times trying to find it.  We felt like such fancy locals.  Giraud was hilarious and literally had me cracking up in my seat, dying laughing.  He was semi mocking people from all over, both the tourists who come to visit Paris, and the stereotype snobby French themselves.  At the end I was called up on stage, completely caught off guard, to perform a few of the lessons he taught us.  It was such a fun experience and I'm so so glad we went.

As if the night couldn't get any better, we went back to the Eiffel Tower, but this time to go up!  We waited in line for forever surrounded by couples smooching, then took the elevator up to the halfway point and got out to check a looksy.  We then proceeded to go alllll the way to the tippy top.  It was incredible!  I looked down on the baby ferris wheel I had rode the day before, thinking I had such a great view of the city, and that was nothing.  It looked tiny!  We were so so high up.

Overall, first ten day break was a success.  We visited some amazing cities.  It's hard to say between Dublin and Paris which was my favorite - Paris there was so many famous sights to see, Dublin there were so many drinks to be drank.  And London had a little bit of both.

Since then, I've been to Rome and Venice.  I cannot believe that we already leave for our second ten day break in two days!

I dyed my hair yesterday.  It's really dark right now, so I'm hoping it will fade a little.  But my roots are gone!  Wahoo.  Oh yeah, and Madeline and I gave Jillian a haircut today.  About halfway through with our trip - time for a little maintenance.

Love and miss everyone back home SOO MUCH!

Shout out to you Anna Klele - Happy 22nd!

xoxo

What I looked like in Paris: (copy & paste)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4T7b5mxniU

London

So Monday morning we woke up and hopped on another flight to our next destination, London.  Our first stop upon arrival in the UK was Chipotle.  The Londoners have Chipotle and they might even do it better than we do.  They had the option of brown rice.  Yum.

After getting our Chipotle fix we explored the area and wondered around trying to find tickets to see Wicked!  We navigated our way to the Apollo Victoria Theatre circa 7:00 and watched a great performance.  I had no idea what the musical was about going into it, so I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.  The cast was amazing, the songs were perfect, the lighting and scenery really came alive.  Everything was so green, magical, and wicked.

That night was Tyler's 21st so everyone met up at O'Neills in the Covent Garden area.  There was a live band who played some great tunes and we all sung and danced in the VIP band groupie section until it was  time to head home.

Tuesday Ash and took the tube to the Wellington Arch to explore and take a walking tour of the city.  We went to Buckingham Palace where the changing of the guard takes place, took some pictures with them, saw the the House of Parliament, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster Abbey (where Prince William and Kate Middleton will be wed April 29), Trafalgar Square (my favorite), the one-eyed, one-armed, one-testicled, Nelson's Column, and finally, Big Ben!

We stayed out all day and went back to Trafalgar Square at night.  It is a huge square with fountains, where Nelson's Column is found surrounded by four huge lion statues.  I tried to climb up on one of them (saw people doing it earlier in the day) but was not completely successful.  We walked over a bridge that overlooked some river and it was beautiful.  There were turquoise lights coming from a building in the distance reflecting down onto the water.

We walked past Buckingham Palace all lit up, did some cartwheels to the tube, and headed back to our hostel.  We went back out shortly after with our German roomie, Nico, and after struggling to find a place to grab a drink, finally found Shakespeare's Head near Westminster in Soho.

Wednesday we went to see the Tower of London; Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress.  The Tower has served variously as an armory, treasury, menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and currently the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.  Executions were more commonly held in the notorious Tower Hill; 112 occurring there over a 400 year period.  It was really neat to see where all these crazy royal things went down back in the day.  When we walked out from inside the Tower, which was more of a castle, we saw the gorgeous Tower Bridge.  Much more artsy and aesthetically pleasing to look at than any bridges that I have seen in the U.S.  Across from that was the very anti climatic London Bridge.  I guess it's history represents more than it's looks, because it was not all the songs make it up to be.

Ashley and I stopped by the British Museum that was right around the corner from where we were staying on our way back.  It was HUGE, containing more than 7,000,000 objects.  We checked out exhibits on Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Ancient Rome.  Next we went to a delish Indian restaurant and ordered samosas, naan, raita, and chicken masala (Natalie - I smelt great after).  We club crawled with Lugano friends after din.  Went to Oxygen and then a club that we could not afford where Keira Knightley made an appearance right before our arrival.

Thursday morning, another city here and gone.  Next stop, Paris...