Hallo, Berlin! (Spring Break: Part II)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

  • Part I: Ahoy, Prague!
  • Part II: Hallo, Berlin!
  • Part III: Hey, Amsterdam!
  • Part IV: Bonjour, Paris & Versailles!

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Welcome to BEARlin! 😀 …We saw these silly bears all over the city.

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This was actually my first impression of Germany…spotted in the LADIES’ restroom on our way to Berlin.

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We arrived in Berlin on a rather gloomy evening, which made the city feel so dark and creepy that it was almost surreal. It actually reminded me of a rainy day in NYC though, except much more deserted and eerie.

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Berlin was the only city where we stayed in a true hostel–a space for travelers to communally share a temporary living space with. Our room was shared among 16 girls, set up as a little labyrinth of bunk beds. The community shower wasn’t particularly delightful, but it was a good experience to have as someone traveling through Europe.

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Our hostel had an AWESOME reception space though, which was also just a public bar.

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Cheers! This hostel reception space was a great place to mingle with other students traveling on this Northern Europe Loops trip, and with other travelers in general.

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Lubzer is the best beer I tried on this trip — and it was cheap on draft in Germany!

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Maps are indeed necessary when traveling. And my navigation skills truly elevated from city to city! Practice makes perfect 😉

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We took the Metro in both Berlin in Paris. The European public transportation is GREAT–at least in these cities. Clean, frequent, organized and very accessible.

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The East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery

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Oh hai

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WWII history surrounded us everywhere. At one point, we were even standing where Hitler killed himself. Cue goosebumps.

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The only Nazism-style building that remains.

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Berlin Wall

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Checkpoint Charlie

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This is one of my favorite things we saw on our tour through WWII history. It’s an underground monument outside Humboldt University, where the great book burning took place. The monument is a library of empty shelves built underground that is inaccessible, and only viewable through a small transparent piece of ceiling walked upon on the street above. It represents the absence of those books that were destroyed.

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On a lighter note, Berlin ended up being really fun despite the melancholy moments of dark history! And speaking of making history, this is possibly the most hilarious picture ever taken of my friends and me.

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I started “The Great Cartwheel Race,” which attracted a large audience of onlookers, and a group of Italian tourists also outside the site who decided to partake.

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“CARTWHEELS IN EVERY COUNTRY!!!”

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Ahoy, Prague! (Spring Break: Part I)

Spring Break in Northern Europe

  • Part I: Ahoy, Prague!
  • Part II: Hallo, Berlin!
  • Part III: Hey, Amsterdam!
  • Part IV: Bonjour, Paris & Versailles!

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Architecture / City

Prague is truly full of stunning architecture. Not only will the historic sites impress you, but also the residential & commercial buildings as well.

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The famous clock tower. We had an AWESOME walking tour leader, Filip, who is honestly my favorite European I've met yet. He is young, quirky, and really brought the city's history to life through his animated storytelling. It was very amusing to hear him mock the clock tower, though, because of its anticlimactic "show" that happens every hour, which people come from all over the world to see and are always just like "oh" when it's over.

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The Old Town Square

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"Frodo, watch out! NAAAAAZGUUUUUL!"

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Very possibly my favorite building I've seen in Europe.

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To the castle we go!

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City by day

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...And city by night

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Czech out the people & culture!

I wasn't sure if I was looking at a soldier or a LARPer...

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The classic old dude playing accordion-like instrument with monkey 🙂

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I have no idea what instrument this guy was playing, but it was awesome.

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I LOVED the people and culture of Prague. The Czechs are extremely friendly and communal. And they say "Ahoy!" as a greeting, which is badass. I would like America to adapt this pirate lingo.

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The Czech currency is crowns instead of euro, and will make you feel like an absolute 'baller. I only took out 40 Euro (~$52), which equated to 1000 crowns. It came in just one bill. Madness.
P.S. I did not mean to flip you off in this photograph -- I apologize.

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Marionettes were EVERYWHERE. This is one of the creepier ones I encountered...

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Absinthe is huge in Prague. If you've seen Eurotrip, you know all about "the green fairy" behind the craze of this bright green beverage. I had never seen it before, but it was a major component of every bar and liquor shop.

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Beer is by far the greatest drink of Prague, though. Apparently, Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nation! Pilsner Urquell is one of their major beers, and all beers were generally cheaper than water where we went 😮

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Nightlife in Prague

Prague has excellent nightlife. Whether you're looking for a relaxed atmosphere, a jolly pub to drink some beers, or a crazy club with good dance music, the city is full of great locations to have a great time.
We happened to be there St. Patrick's Day weekend, so we kicked off Spring Break with some green beers!

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On our first night, we partook in a major Pub Crawl that brought us to four different locations. It felt really silly traveling in this giant mob of young people from place to place, but it was a fun experience to try.

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Cheers!

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I am on the hunt for the kind of Electronic/Techno/Dance music that I heard in Prague. It was unlike anything I've ever heard because it had a noticeable influence of polka beats under the music (which may sound weird/corny, but it was very well done, very unique, and very enjoyable!)

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The next night, we czeched out a five-story club -- the largest dance club in all of Europe!

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At an AWESOME Irish pub we found on St. Patrick's Day, we asked for tequila shots. The bartender asked "silver or gold?" and I had no idea what that meant. He then explained that silver is taken with lemon, while gold is taken with cinnamon and orange. I said I wanted silver, but with salt and lime, and that I had never heard of the latter. "Aaaah, you are American, huh?" he replied. Apparently, tequila with salt and lime is a very American thing, and tequila with cinnamon and orange is something that most Americans don't know about. We eventually tried it...I didn't like it. But the Olmeca brand (also a tequila I've never heard of) was wonderful!

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After checking out the five-story dance club, Heather and I ended up going back to that Irish pub that we loved so much. It was late at this point, but it was still really energetic in there. We met some very friendly people from Dublin and conversed with them a bit. Then, the bartender who had served us the tequila earlier that night emerged next to us, now dressed in normal attire because his shift was done. He introduced himself as Jacob, joined us, and we were welcomed to stay until the wee hours of the morning. He introduced us to a shot of Absinthe lit on fire--which I guess is part of the Prague experience, but a pretty awful one! The alcohol literally burns down your body and leaves a terrible aftertaste. It's no wonder why he kept laughing to his friend, "I can't believe I'm having this!" One of the interesting parts of our conversation with Jacob was about Czech's attitudes towards Americans. We explained to him that we're constantly warned about Europeans' disdain for Americans. His instant response was, "What? We LOVE Americans!" And I must say, of everywhere I've been in Europe, Czech Republic is by far where I felt the most welcomed and accepted. What a great culture and great people.

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Our last night in Prague ended when the sun was rising...We truly made our short time there matter. Two hours after going to bed, Heather and I were woken up by the girls sharing our room in the hostel (who were also on this "Northern Loop of Europe" trip). "Wake up! We have to board the bus for Berlin in 10 minutes!" That was the quickest getting-ready/packing job I've ever done.

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John Lennon Wall

In my opinion, the John Lennon Wall is a must-see if you go to Prague...

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We all took a turn contributing something new to the wall... I put up lyrics from a Scranton, Pennsylvania-based indie band I love, Tigers Jaw, and sent them a picture of it on Facebook with a "Welcome to the John Lennon wall!" caption.

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"POW!"

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Sending lots of love from Prague! ❤

Spring Break series

Ciao!

Over the 10 days of Spring Break, I traveled through 7 different countries and visited 4 major cities–WHEW! I spent over 48 hours total on a bus, and have over 848 photos on my camera. And now, I have ~1 million things that must be done…or so it seems.

So, my Spring Break series is on its way slowly but surely! I’ll share some highlights, stories and pictures from my experiences in Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris (and Versailles) through a four-part series. Here’s a small sneak peak of what’s to come:

As exhausting as this trip was, it was downright the most amazing experience of my life!

Adventures in Assisi

March 3, 2012 - I decided not to look up anything about Assisi before boarding the train, so that everything I saw would be a complete surprise and adventure. That's the way to do it.

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When we arrived in the Assisi train station, we looked out at the medieval city up on the afar hills. The castle on top seemed so high and far away that we had some doubts about reaching it, at first. There was one desolate road that went towards that city, so we started walking, unsure of exactly how long and direct this journey would be.

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...It was a beautiful walk.

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(Photo credit: Heather Ayvazian) As we entered this medieval city, every winding layer of road we climbed only became more and more impressive. I kind of felt like I was climbing up the city of Gondor, except with an atmosphere of warmth instead of gloom.

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This was my first visit to a Tuscan countryside area, and it truly was picturesque.

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I love Italy 🙂

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As we approached the top of the hills, we ventured off a main road and through a dirt pathway that lead us through the woods and up to the castle. Along the way, I spotted so many intriguing encounters, like this.

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STORM THE CASTLE!

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Feeling on top of the world.

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Rocco Maggiore

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oh hai there 😀

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Rob the Majestic

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I love feeling like I'm in Robin Hood...

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Basilica Papale di San Francesco

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...The most incredible sunset I've ever seen.

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And that concludes my adventures in Assisi...

Silhouettes on the Arno River

The Arno River is just a few blocks of walking away. I often walk by during the day to enjoy the beautiful view and people watch. It’s a perfect running location, too–well, at hours when there aren’t too many tourists. On a recent gorgeous day, my friends and I walked around the Arno at sunset. Bella, bella, bella.

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Piazzale Michelangelo

The Piazzale Michelangelo is the perfect place to see a breathtaking view of Florence. It’s located up on a hill across the Arno River, and is far worth a walk or bus ride over.

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Heels are not suggested for this visit 😛

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Sunset is my favorite time to visit this square

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You can view some of the countryside, with what remains of the third set of the Roman walls

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And you can see a beautiful, panoramic view of the city of Florence

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And you can see a lovely view of the city's outskirts and mountains in the distance

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The square is not only a major tourist spot, but also a hangout for locals who were walking around and drinking wine on the steps.

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My favorite view is actually from the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, which is just a quick detour away from the Piazzale Michelangelo and a little higher up. I actually prefer sitting outside the church more than Michelangelo's Square...I'll be blogging about the church soon probably.

Venice (Part V): Carnival Weekend

Venice, Italy

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Venice and the Carnevale

Last weekend was the opening weekend of Carnevale di Venezia. It is the major annual event that begins a couple months before Easter and lasts until Fat Tuesday–the Tuesday before Lent. Carnevale is most known for its incredible costumes and masks. The original meaning of the masks is that everyone would use the period of the Carnival to “mask” their social classes–so the rich could behave poorer, and vice versa.

Many people compare this celebration to Mardi Gras in the United States, but I felt that Carnevale is much different from that Mardi Gras that I know. The festivities have a greater connection with its history, and the emphasis is more oriented around family and culture rather than a LETS GET TRASHED AND GO CRAZY attitude. It was an awesome experience, full of energy and rich with culture.

Ciao! The city of Venice was dusted in snow on the opening morning of Carnevale--very unusual weather! The lagoon was partially frozen too, for the first time in ~50 years!

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A crowded, energetic St. Mark's Square

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The entire city was decorated for the spirit of Carnevale

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While we restrained from splurging on a gondola ride, it was nice to see them operating despite the cold weather

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Always look up!

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The streets were FULL of vendors and shops filled with displays of beautiful masks to purchase for the Carnival. The shopkeepers took lots of pride in the fact their their masks are authentically made in Venice, rather than imported or whatnot. ("NOT FROM CHINA--MADE HERE!")

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Ready to mask myself with my first souvenir from Italia!

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The stage set-up in St. Mark's Square mimicked an old theatre

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My favorite photo.

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The emcees on the stage got us dancing in the piazza to all the Italian hit songs!

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When off in the sidestreets of Venice, Chelsea and I heard a deep drumming from a distance. Following the sound led us to this awesome drum performance. This performance represents what is probably my favorite aspect of Carnevale--that so much of the festivities is created BY the people FOR the people. Carnevale is not dependent upon hired entertainers--it's the people themselves who provide the entertainment with their awesome costumes, spontaneous music performances and everything else. It's an awesome energy and spirit 😀

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The Flight of the Angel

The opening of Carnevale kicks off with “the flight of the angel” ceremony, in which a [very brave] woman descends from St. Mark’s Campanile.

The bell tower rang as the "angel" prepared to take her "flight" --How thrilling!

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She's ballsy.

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...So graceful

Crazy Carnevale Costumes

One of the coolest parts of Carnevale is seeing the amazing costumes that attendees wear. Everyone can buy a mask, but these full costumes are something really special. I tried to catch as many shots as I could!

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Well, that concludes my Venice series! Florence life is hopping, so I have lots to catch up on for sharing. Ciao for now 🙂

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