sábado, 30 de mayo de 2015

May 20 - Berlin, Germany

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer
At the Berlin Wall Memorial Site, you can see a portion of the wall that was left to create the memorial. There are several information points that explain how the wall came to be and how it changed over time. I didn't know that the wall originally started out as barbed wire fencing that just lied on the ground and soldiers were stationed every so often to enforce it. I also didn't know that they added additional structures to prevent people from getting through to West Germany. There is a portion of the memorial that remembers all those who died at the wall, which ranges from infants to elderly. It's kind of weird to see this and think of how the city was once divided, breaking up families and jobs, and of staying that way for years!

Berliner Dom
Shortly after I got into the Berlin Cathedral, there was a prayer session complete with organ playing. It was very enjoyable and a cool experience. The Cathedral also contains a small art museum and a crypt, plus you can go up to the dome and get some amazing views of the city! Interestingly enough, the cathedral was severely damaged during the bombings during WWII, and West Germany paid for the restoration to the church, even though it was in East Germany at the time.

While the cathedral was originally Roman Catholic in the mid-1500s, it has since changed hands a few times and is currently United Protestant. Also, the name is misleading, because it had never been the seat of s bishop, which is what the time title of "cathedral" denotes.

Berliner Mauer East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is a part of the Berlin Wall that was painted on the east side with various scenes in 1990 by 118 artists from 21 countries painted with anything from brushes go spray cans. The painting of the wall never would have been allowed under East Germany control, so it was a great way to celebrate the fall of the wall.

Jüdisches Museum
The Jewish Museum is an odd place architecturally because the designer made it very abstractly, but intentionally. On the ground floor, the entire floor is at an incline and tipped to the side, so you feel like you're tipping over while you're walking. Also, there's a tall room that is empty, unfinished, isn't heated, air conditioned, or lite up, but simply has a small opening toward the top that lets in natural light. There is also a garden that has a slanted, tilted floor with columns like the ones at the Holocaust Museum, though the columns are also slanted and tilted, so walking through it makes you feel kind of sick.

The permanent collection has over 2,000 years of German Jewish history on display. There's also a computer database you can flip through to learn. There is art and old relics on display. It's one of Berlin's most visited museums and is definitely worth seeing.

Schloss Charlottenburg
Charlottenburg Palace, which was once a royal palace dating back to 1699 for the German kings and queens, is now a museum. Behind the palace is a huge garden, which is nice for strolling through and enjoying the scenery, and even the ponds. The Palace, originally called Lietzenburg because it was located in the village of Lietzow, was commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg. When Sophie passed away, he renamed the palace Charlottenburg in memory and honor of her. Later kings commissioned the additions of the two wings, as well as the expansion of the garden to include orange trees, a stable, and more. It was badly damaged in 1943 during a bombing and was feared it would be demolished like some other historical buildings, though it was decided to restore it to its former glory.

Berlin is a lovely city that's very progressive and fun. I am honestly surprised at how well put together the city is and how orderly everything is. Since it was left in ruins after WWII, combined with the splitting of Germany and the city being split by a wall, which only came down in 1989, I was expecting there to be more visible damage from everything that's happened there in the last 75 years. Today, it is a beacon of hope for the future, and I think that's in part due to the constant reminder from all the memorials that are placed throughout the city of their past. They don't want to return to that, so they've gone in the complete opposite direction and are very progressive and liberal, which fits me to a T! On top of that, it's the cheapest capitol to live in in Europe, so who could pass that up?! The only thing that throws a wrench into living in Germany are the frequent union strikes of the DB rail conductors, which can make getting around in the city slightly more problematic, though not impossible by any means.

May 19 - Berlin, Germany

Brandenburger Tor
The Brandenburg Gate was constructed between 1788 and 1791 as the entry to Unter den Laden, which used to lead to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs. Today, it stands at one end of the Großer Tiergarten and leads to a renowned boulevard of linden trees. It was severely damaged during WWII (like much of the city), was inaccessible due to the Berlin Wall until 1989 when the wall fell, and was restored between 2000 and 2002.

Holocaust Mahnmal
The Holocaust Memorial's architectural style is surprisingly modern. It's 2711 concrete columns, or sreale, which are each 3'1" wide and 7'10" long; they all vary in height between 7.9" to 15'9". The monument is bought l built in a slump, so you descend into the memorial and eventually can't see your way out of the sea of columns. You can also go to an underground site, which is interesting to see. There are a ton with short clips about several of the prisoners, each one lasting about a minute, which tells a shortened version of their story. If you were to sit down and watch them all, it would take you over 6 years. How crazy is that?!

Homosexual Mahnmal
The Homosexual Memorial complements the Holocaust Memorial very well. It is across the street from the Holocaust Memorial and is of a similar shape, though larger than any of the individual pillars of the Holocaust Memorial. It is made of metal instead of concrete, but is of a similar shape. One of the sides has an opening in it, and if you look into the opening, there is a looped video playing of two men kissing. They have also added a clip of two women kissing, and it alternates between the two. It is dedicated to the gay men (and few women) who were murdered by the Nazis for being gay (most gay women weren't discovered and murdered, since it was easier for them to pretend to be straight). These "forgorren victims" weren't even discussed: in 1985, the then German president referred to them as the "victim group." It's hard to believe that just a short time ago gay men and women lead lives that weren't even considered recognizable, though LGBTQ rights are hardly protected today by many countries.

Victory Column is in the center of the Großer Tiergarten and is surrounded by a round about, which divides the park into four sections. It was originally in front of the Reichstagsgebäude, but was relocated here. Also, you don't need to play chicken with the traffic going around the round about to go check it out: there's an underground plaza that will get you there and back safely! (Obviously I realized that after I had already crossed the roundabout...) The column is beautifully crafted and almost glimmers in the sunset. It was constructed in the 1860s and early 70s to commemorate the victory of the Prussians during the Danish-Prussian War. By the time it was finished, Prussia had also won a war with France and Austria, which lead to the addition of "Victoria," a large statue on top to commemorate the "unification wars."

Großer Tiergarten
The Big Animal Garden is an amazingly beautiful park in the center of Berlin. It used to be the hunting grounds for the royal family, hence its name. Since then, it has become a public park. After WWII when Germany was in a very bad depression, the trees were actually harvested from the park to help the people. Since then, it has been replanted and is lovely to walk around in.

There are several ponds and streams with ducks and geese enjoying the park also. I sat down next to an old gentleman who was feeding the ducks bread crumbs, and I just thought it was so beautiful to see a kind, old soul feeding birds that most would shoo away or shoot for a trophy or to eat. The birds were very accepting of us being there, and even sat down and rested while we did the same. There was one duck who had a bumb leg and couldn't move very well, and she was perfectly content sitting right next to us getting personal service bread crumbs! It was a teaching moment for me about balance and how kindness can make an otherwise enemy feel comfortable being in presence.

There is also a portion of the park where it is acceptable to sunbathe in your birthday suit. Having never seen such a thing (or even having been to a nude beach), I figured I'd check it out. I read online that people will walk through the park right by those sunbathing and not even stare or give it a second thought, which I think is amazing. It wasn't until I got there and there were several others lying out enjoying the sun in their birthday suits that I decided to join them! Having never been naked in public before, it was a great experience for me. I'm now more comfortable with my body and nudity and wish it was more widely accepted.

Something to note if you're traveling to Berlin: taking a trip up to the dome of the Reichstag Building is great offers wonderful panorama views of the city, has an educational audio guide, and is definitely worth doing; one thing to note: while it's free, you need to either book tickets online or stop by and pick them up. You can't just show up and expect to go up. The building has some neat history too. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Imperial Diet until 1933 when it was severely damaged in a fire. Hitler actually used the fire to convince the public of the government's incompetence to help promote his regime. The building sat unused and exposed to the elements until the 1960s when it was sealed off and partially remodeled. It wasn't completely remodeled between 1990 and 1999. After its completion, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament.

jueves, 21 de mayo de 2015

May 18 - Oswiecim and Kraków, Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
You would never know on the bus or train ride from Kraków to Auschwitz what you're about to see. The surrounding land is beautiful and serene with bunches of houses throughout the rolling hills. There are forests that consume the land everywhere there isn't a building or road. It's honestly a very peaceful area.

When got my first glance at Auschwitz, I was shocked...because it actually looks fairly nice. The barracks are brick buildings, everything is orderly, it's fairly small, there are grass and trees and birds chirping... But the thing is, that's what Auschwitz is 70 years after it was occupied. There aren't dead bodies lying around. The grass hasn't been eaten by the starving prisoners. There isn't the smell of human feces and burning flesh everywhere. There aren't people crying or screaming. No one is getting shot. No one is being tortured or experimented upon. The gestapo and SS Police aren't watching over you. It's actually a fairly peaceful place. I take comfort in this though, because that means that there aren't spirits lingering around, forced to spend any more time in this now unholy land.

At the entrance to the camp is the famous sign that reads: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, which roughly translates to "Work Makes You Free." Ironically, if it wasn't the gas chambers, it was the work that killed so many there. The only people who were "lucky" with their work were those who worked in the kitchen, because they got enough to eat, didn't have extremely hard labor, and had the ovens to keep them warm during the winter.

There are some fairly shocking sights to see here, though. In one of the rooms you will find 80,000 pairs of shoes; the crazy thing is that only represents 5% of the people who died at Auschwitz. The shoes literally pile up to the ceiling. There's another location that has thousands of children's shoes too.

In another room, there is an incredible amount of human hair, mostly from women, that was shaved off of their heads after they were murdered. Another spot has hundreds of pairs of glasses. Another has suitcases with names written on them. Another has shaving equipment and brushes. Another has cook wear and other household necessities that the mothers brought for their new "homes." All of these belongings that were found here after the camp was liberated is an incredible sight to see. It proves that the Jews who were relocated here were under the impression they were merely coming here to work and had no idea the horrors they were about to witness and experience.

In the living quarters, you can see how the living situation changed over the years. Initially, prisoners slept on straw that was on the floor. Then, they got "mattresses" made of fabric and straw that lied in the ground. After word was received that the Red Cross was going to be inspecting Auschwitz and other camps for living conditions, wooden bunk beds with mattresses, pillows, and blankets were shipped in to make it seem like the living conditions were more bearable.

Prisoners who tried to escape, anyone found trying to help the prisoners, etc. were sent to live in block 11. Block 11 was where the trials took place to justify the murdering of any non-Jews, who were then taken to the area between blocks 10 and 11 and shot. In the basement, there are several torture rooms too: one is a standing room where 4-8 prisoners stand in an enclosed room where there is hardly enough room to stand, much less consider attempting to sit or lie down, and they wouldn't be let out until the morning, at which point they would receive no food and would have to go to work for their 10 hour shift and return to the room again; one room is where they would stuff dozens of people where the only air input was a small hole in the wall, and they would all suffocate to death; another is a starvation room where people would be placed and wouldn't receive any food or water for days. In most of these torture rooms, everyone would eventually die. There is one remarkable story about a man who had a wife and children living outside the camp; after a prisoner escaped, 10 people were selected to be killed in the starvation rooms to deter any others from attempting to escape. When the man was selected, Father Maksymilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place. After surviving for 2 weeks in the starvation room, the Nazis knew they couldn't let him live, so they murdered him so he couldn't bring hope to the other prisoners. The young man who he volunteered for survived the camp, returned to his family, and died at the age of 95. Pope John Paul II later made Father Maksymilian Kolbe a saint for his actions.

In the building next to block 11, block 10, experiments were conducted on women and twins to attempt to discover ways to help the German troops. Many died as a result of these experiments, and those who lived were not in very good physical condition anymore. Children were sometimes shot in the shooting area between blocks 10 and 11, which the SS knew could cause an uprising, so they would do it during the day when the prisoners were at work. Ironically, the prisoners in blocks 10 and 11 could hear the shootings, but they weren't supposed to live very long, so the Nazis didn't care about them. Also, anyone caught trying to help persons in the camp had a trial (which everyone lost) and were shot here. Many survivors want to visit this spot first when they return to Auschwitz to pay homage to those who actually tried to help them. They say that these people paid the ultimate sacrifice because they didn't even have to try, but did, and lost their life because of it.

Also in Auschwitz is the original gas chamber and crematory of this camp. The fact that 700+ people were killed at a time here is truly unfathomable. However, it is important to remember that Auschwitz was originally a military base for the Polish army, so that is why it is as "nice" as it is. Birkenau, however, is another story.

Birkenau is more of what I think of when I think of when I think about a concentration camp. It's extremely large, the buildings go one for what seems like an eternity, and it is dismal. The train tracks lie right in the center of the camp, which is divided into sections; one half of the camp was for men and the other for women. There were also sections for gypsies, families, and others. The train tracks run until the end of the camp, which is where the "showers" were. After being stuck in the train cars for 3-7ish days, those who survived the journey were filthy, exhausted, and hungry. They were told they were going to get a shower to clean up, and then would be receiving some food. Well, we all know that wasn't the case. They went into the changing room, where they were instructed to remove their clothes; adults were instructed to make sure they keep their belongings together so they don't get mixed up with someone else's, and children were instructed to tie their shoes together so they wouldn't get lost. Then they moved into the "shower" chamber, where toxic gas was released in from the ceiling. After the last of the screams died out, which you could barely hear because they were underground, other Jews were instructed to collect any valuables off the dead, and then they were forced to move them into the next room, where their bodies were cremated. The ash was either used to fertilize the surrounding fields or dumped into rivers and lakes, meaning there are ashes from the Holocaust all around the world now.

Some of the healthy, strong men and women were selected to live and work for the Nazis, which may have been a faith worse than dying in the gas chambers, because they were starved, forced to do hard labor, had horrendous living conditions, and most eventually died. The barracks they lived in slept 700 to 1000 people per barrack, with 4 to 9 people per bunk. There were 3 levels per bunk. The prisoners could only use the restrooms once in the morning and once in the evening; at night, 2 five gallon buckets were left in the barracks for the 700 to 1000 people to use. Because of all the health issues, Those buckets filled up quick with diarrhea, so people often went in their beds, meaning you wanted to be on the top bunk so you didn't have crap literally falling on you. Not to mention, there wasn't any air circulation or conditioning, so during the summers when temperatures got VERY hot, it was nearly unbearable to stay in their because of the heat and the smell. Winter was also horrible because, due to building requirements, the Nazis had to provide heaters, but didn't have to supply oil to run them, so it got so cold people froze to death in their sleep.

Our tour guide was amazing. Her grandmother lived during the war and, while she wasn't Jewish and sent to a camp, she was affected greatly by the Nazi occupation. (Interestingly enough, she said the Russians who occupied Poland after the war treated the citizens worse than the Nazi Germans did, apart from the concentration and death camps.) Her father-in-law, however, is a Holocaust survivor, so she had firsthand experience and stories to share with us. She even told us about a young German boy who was the son of a Nazi officer at a concentration camp who used to play around the camp's grounds and had to wear a sign on him that said who he was and who his father was so the soldiers wouldn't mistake him for a Jewish prisoner and kill him. What's truly sad about this is that he could be mistaken for a Jewish boy, meaning he wasn't much different from them. What was the difference between that boy and the thousands, if not millions, of little boys and girls who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis? That especially, but the whole experience reminded me of the amazing movie "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," where a young boy, who's the son of a Nazi camp official, meets a Jewish boy at the fence of the concentration camp, befriends him, and while sneaking into the camp to play with him one day, the Nazis round up a bunch of the Jewish and put them in the gas chamber, the little German boy included, which devastated the mother, who was against the whole Nazi operation.

When we think of the Holocaust, even though we now know much of what too place, we can't imagine what the people in the camps experienced. Even the most horrible situations we could paint in our imaginations couldn't compare to the horrors that took place. Even visiting the camps today does nothing to do it justice. I thought it would be interesting to have a simulation where you are forced to leave your belongings in a pile, fancy phone and camera included, then go into a room and get undressed, file into a shower room, and have fog flow into the room. Obviously you can't get it to be exactly like what happened, but I think something like that would really hit home and resonate with a lot of people.

Overall, I an very glad I went and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. While a lot has to be imagined because it's just so different than how it was, it is amazing to see. Visiting the camps is free too, which is amazing. However, if you want a tour guide, which help a lot and can answer any questions, it does cost like €8, which is more than worth it for the more than 3 hour amazing experience. Anyone who believes that WWII and the Holocaust didn't actually happen should go visit a concentration or death camp and tell their guide at the end of the tour that they think it's all a lie. I would love to be there and see that pan out.

Rynek Glówny
The Market Square downtown is amazing to see! I have really taken to seeing cities at night. It brings out such a different side to the city when the locals are out having a good time and the tourists are in their hotels relaxing after a long day. It actually often feels like cities are more alive at night than they are during the day! Market Square is full of local, handmade products and food. If it weren't for Poland using a different currency and me only having Euros and credit cards, I totally would have probably bought a few souvenirs and tried some of the foods. There was even tools (real tools like a mechanic like my dad would use) that were made out of chocolate! There are also shops and restaurants all along the outside of the square, adding to the life. St. Mary's Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka) is also on the plaza, which is a gorgeous church. It would have been amazing to see the inside, but it was cool seeing it lite up at night too.

I was very surprised by Kraków. It's more of a small city than a large one, but I think that makes it more quaint and homey. It was gorgeous and there were so many people out having dinner, drinking, or just hanging out in the parks, etc., and it was a Monday night! The architecture and vibe were amazing. If it weren't for them using a different currency and very little Polish people speaking English, coupled with Polish being a hard language to learn and not very useful outside Poland, I would definitely consider moving here! At least for a couple years. I really did enjoy the city a great deal.

May 17 - Prague, Czech Republic

On my train from Munich to Prague, I shared a compartment with a French woman, Marianne, and a Finnish man, Tuomo, who were both around my age. This is probably one of my favorite things about traveling: meeting people from around the world and getting to know them. Marianne was only on part of the train ride because she got off at a town in Germany where she was studying, but I'll never forget something she told me: when you're young, you have the time and energy to travel, but you don't have the money; when you're middle-aged, you have the energy and money to travel, but not the time; and when you're old, you have the time and money to travel, but not the energy. This really resonated with me, making me very happy I took the month of May to travel, because we have the rest of our lives to work. Most people save money all their life so they can travel when they retire, but why not live your whole life instead of just the end portion? That's not to say working and raising a family isn't living, but there needs to be a nice balance. Besides, you can always make more money, but you can't get another life.

While Marianne had to get off, Tuomo was also heading to Prague. We chatted a decent amount on the train, and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day hanging out, because why not see a city with a friend? Something interesting about my Prague experience is it isn't what it would have been if I hadn't done it with Tuomo. He's a big sports fan, and anyone who knows me well knows I really don't care that much about sports. So, after eating this amazing Czech food for lunch, we found a bar so we could enjoy some beer, charge our phones, and watch the US hockey game. Then we did our sight seeing (quickly), and ended up watching the Canada vs. Russia hockey game in Old Town Square. It was a lot of fun, a great experience, and something I never would have done had I not met him!

Tančící dům
I'm not quite sure how some people think of the designs for some buildings. I know I don't have that kind of brain, and kudos to those who do, but wow, what a building. The Dancing House definitely stands out at a very modern building among the more classical or baroque buildings of Prague. If you look closely, you can see that it's designed to look like a man and a woman dancing, hand in hand, with her dress swaying. You can see it, though it's definitely abstract!

Karlův most
Construction of the Charles Bridge started in 1357, and it was the only way to cross the Vltava River until 1841, connecting the castle to the old town. It kind of reminded me of Ponte Sant'Angelo since it has several statues on the sides of the bridge, all are replicas now, of course. The bridge has been damaged several times, by nature and war, though it has been repaired several times throughout history too. While at one point carriages, trams, and even buses crossed the bridge, the blacktop has since been removed and is back to its original design.

Pražský hrad
To get to Prague Castle, you need to hike up a decent sized hill. (Of course castles are always on top of a fricken hill. Who needs protection and fortification, anyway...) The castle and it's grounds are fairly extensive, which is understandable since it is the world's largest coherent castle complex. St. Vitus Cathedral (Chrám svatého Víta), lovely art nouveau cathedral, is even located within its grounds. There's so much to visit and see here, though with everything closed on a Sunday night, we just strolled through the streets and enjoyed the buildings and views.

Staroměstské náměstí 
When we got to Old Town Square, it was full of people watching the Canada vs. Russia hockey game. There were huge screens with the game projected on it and stands selling beer and food. Apart from me being the minority preferring Canada beating Russia, it was really interesting and cool to see. The square has a ton of shops and old buildings on it, including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, which has been operational since the 14th century. In the tower of the Old Town Hall is the 3rd oldest astronomical clock, and the oldest one still operational, which was installed in 1410. There is definitely a lot of history here, considering Prague was one of the major trading cities between eastern and western Europe.

Prague was a fun city, though it probably isn't quite my favorite. I think what made it the most memorable was spending time with Tuomo, drinking beers, and watching some hockey. It nag be fairly simple, but it reminded me of home and taking life a little slower. I would, however, like to go back; Prague is supposed to be an amazing place to party and has the largest club in Europe with several floors, each playing a different style if music. It just sounds like it could be a blast with a group of fun friends!

domingo, 17 de mayo de 2015

May 16 - Munich, Germany

Karl's Gate is a recreation of the original, which was destroyed in 1857 by an accidental explosion of gunpowder that was to be stored in the main tower. The new tower was constructed between 1899 and 1902. The original was a part of a fortification of the city, which was constructed between 1285 and 1347 and had a moat and all! The current tower is actually larger to allow for modern transportation (ie. horse drawn carriages and the occasional electric tram). It's interesting to see and is the entrance to the old downtown, which is a lot of fun to see and hang out in!

Marien Square has been the main square in Munich since 1158. In the Middle Ages, markets and tournaments took place here. It's usually packed with people due to the convenient location and all the shops around the area. Today, Marienplatz is dominated by the new city hall, which was constructed around the turn of the 20th century. On the new town hall's tower (Rathausturm) is the Glockenspiel, which dates back to 1908 and depicts two separate stories from Munich's history: the first is the wedding of Duke Wilhelm V in 1568, which ends in a joust between knights from Bavaria and Lothringen, and obviously the Bavarian nights win. The second is from a legend of a plague that hit the city between 1517 and 1519; in order to raise the spirits of everyone in the town, the barrel makers would dance through the streets, which has since become a Bavarian tradition and is reenacted every 7 years. There's a small show that the Glockenspiel plays through, though it wasn't when I was in the area, so I didn't see it.

When I went to visit the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady, it was after a small lunch and a couple beers, but since I was in Bavaria, it's okay to go to church after having been drinking... Well, they were actually having mass when I showed up, so I decided to take a seat and join in, which means I've been to mass in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German now. It's a modest cathedral. The exterior is being restored, so I couldn't see what that looked like, but it was nice and fun to hear a service in Deutsch.

Residenz München
On my way to see the Residence Palace of Munich, I ran into a beer and music festival (of course), so I stuck around there and listened to the live music (and had a beer). German's really like house music, and as such, there was a synthesizer as a part of the band. I've gotta say, it would be very interesting playing in a band with a synthesizer!

After enjoying the festival for a while, I decided to continue on and check out the palace. It's a huge complex, and I hardly saw anything, though I wasn't able to enter it by that time. Interestingly, the palace became a public museum in 1918 after the end of the Bavarian rule, but was severely damaged during WWII. Most of the palace wasn't reconstructed until the 80s, but in a simplified manner, and the frescos and several artifacts were lost. I could definitely go back and spend more time checking out the palace.

Munich was very fun and I definitely enjoyed it a great deal! The Bavarian beers are amazing! I really enjoyed the Augustiner Bäu München Edelstoff, specifically. There were also several bachelor and bachelorette parties going on, and I participated in a bachelorette party activity where I had to cut out a drawn on shape from the bride's shirt. I got free champagne and a muffin, plus the girls were fun, so it was totally with the €3! Hopefully I'll be able to make it back sometime to enjoy this amazing city with some friends and locals! Especially to drink more in the streets, which is legal there!

sábado, 16 de mayo de 2015

May 15 - Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria

Bratislavský hrad
Bratislava Castle is on top of a hill overlooking the river and the city. I must admit, it is a decent view of the city and surrounding area, even if that is slightly bleak. I didn't tour the castle, but you can enter into the inner courtyard and see the inside structure too.

Maximiliánova fontána
Maximilian's Fountain was constructed in 1572 after King Maximilian II ordered its construction to provide a public water supply for the citizens. The original fountain contained a statue of Maximilian in a suit of armor, though the statue has been damaged and rebuilt several times, so there's no way of knowing whether the current fountain looks like the original.

Fontána svätého Juraja a drak
The Fountain of St. George and the Dragon comes from an ancient myth of a general in the Roman army, George, who came across a town being terrorized by a dragon. The town was deciding who to sacrifice to the dragon by flipping a coin, and when the king's daughter lost to the coin flip, George went after the dragon and killed the dragon with a spear. This is symbolic of the constant battle with evil and Christianity's battle over the heathens. Interesting, eh?

Modrý kostol svätej Alžbety
The most notable characteristic of the Church of St. Elisabeth is that it's blue. And not just a little blue, but it's all blue. The exterior. The interior. Even the pews are blue. Well, of course not every single piece of the church is blue, but a large majority of it is. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style to be part of the new school that was designed by the same architect. It is dedicated to St. Elisabeth of Hungary who lived her entire life in Bratislava.

So I'm assuming most of you have seen Euro Trip? And know the scene when they find themselves in Bratislava? Well...it wasn't quite as bad as in that movie, though it could be because it has been several years since that was filmed. Anyway, the city still is kind of bleak and unwelcoming. It's definitely not somewhere I will ever go back to. Maybe it was the cold and cloudy weather that succumbed the city that day, maybe the Slovakian language, maybe the lingering feeling of communism...there was just something that I wasn't a fan of and don't have a desire to see again.

Schloss Belvedere
The Belvedere Palace sits on a HUGE piece of land with a large reflection pool in front of the upper palace and a huge park with fountains and sculptures behind it, followed by the lower palace. There's also a stables, orange grove, and more here. The palace was built for Prince Eugene of Savoy of the Habsburg dynasty after he successfully won a series of wars against the Ottoman Empire.

Hofburg Wien
Hofburg Palace was the imperial palace of the Hamsburg, with the oldest part of the palace being from the 13th century. The palace has been expanded several times since then, and today houses several museums, a stable, horse riding school, the home of the President of Austria, and more. It's quite beautiful and definitely a jewel in the center if the city. When I got to the palace, there was a gentleman playing his cello. Crazily, he started playing the song that has been stuck in my head for days and that I was just singing while walking there!

The Town Hall from a distance, especially if you don't know what it is, looks like a gorgeous castle! It wasn't even on my "to see" list, but I was drawn to it like I'm usually drawn to chocolate or wine! It's probably because it was lite up with a red light...and then a pink light...and then a white light... But yeah, it was gorgeous. They're setting up for the Life Ball, which is the world's largest fundraiser for AIDS! Who knew?! It was very interesting to see what has been set up so far.

Domkirche St. Stephan
The exterior of St. Stephen's Cathedral reminded me slightly of the cathedral in Seville, probably because they are of the same style, but it made me miss Seville... Anyway, I got to the cathedral just 15 minutes before they were closing the doors for the night, so I had enough time to check out the interior a little, say a prayer, and light a candle for my grandparents before they were ushering us out. One thing I particularly liked about this cathedral is that the candles are placed into sand, so I had the idea to draw a little in the sand as though I was a kid again. (I'm trying to stay young at heart.) I drew a candle with a cross, alpha, omega, and a flame on top, and then put my candle into the flame portion of my drawing. It was fun. :)

The only thing I didn't like about Vienna is that their public transportation system isn't loaded into Google maps! Usually that is amazing and will tell you exactly where to get off at and transfer to another metro line, etc. And, since most cities fail to have a good map of the public transit system overlaying a map of the city, it's hard to know which line to take and which stop to get off at if you're not from the city. However, usually I prefer to walk anyway so I can see how the people from there actually live and not just the major touristy attractions, etc. It's good exercise too! I did take the underground to get back to my hostel quickly at the end of the night, which was crazy because after I hopped on, I looked up and saw Jens, a German friend who had studied abroad at UWP! What are the odds that he would be in Vienna visiting his aunt when I was there traveling through the city? Furthermore, that we would both get on the same metro car at the same time?! He only had to go one stop, more, so we didn't get to catch up much, but it was still really cool to have happened.

One fun thing about my time in Vienna is that I was tired when I got to my hostel, so I didn't go out to check out sites right away. Instead, I vegged at the hostel for a couple hours and even washed my clothes (which if course were still damp the next morning...I can't wait to have a washer and dryer again...). Then, I went out at like 7pm, which was amazing to see the city at night! The fountains were all lite up and several of the buildings too. There weren't a million tourists everywhere either. Ugh, so serene and beautiful! I definitely wouldn't mind living here in the future!

viernes, 15 de mayo de 2015

May 14 - Budapest, Hungary

Nagy Vásarcsarnok
The Central Market Hall is an impressive collection of stands selling everything from fruit to fish to souvenirs to jewelry to leather and mink hats! It is a lot of fun to walk around and peruse what each of the vendors has to offer. The upstairs even has a few vendors selling some Hungarian food, which you can't go wrong with! Definitely worth checking out.

Dohány utcai Zsinagóga
Budapest's Great Synagogue on Dohány Street was built in the mid-1800s and is the largest Synagogue in Europe. The interior is exquisitely decorated; it's truly a sight to see. It was also the first time I have worn a kippah, which was difficult to keep on the head. ( At least I thought so...)

There are also a couple exhibits on display and a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during WWII. One of the most touching and impressive memorials I have seen was here; it's a weeping willow tree made of metal, and each of the leaves has the name of a Hungarian Jew who lost his or her life to the Nazi regime. Every single Hungarian Jew who lost his or her life is represented. It is very emotional to see.

Hiking up Castle Hill offers not just some good exercise, but some amazing sights of the Pest side of the city. There's also a tram to that can take you up the hill, since it is a bit of a hike, but where's the fun in that?! (And besides, there was a long line and it would cost like 7 euros to just ride it up and come back down!)

The newly cleaned Fisherman's Bastion is a gorgeous structure overlooking the Danube River. The sights of the Pest side of the city, especially the Hungarian Parliament Building, are amazing to see from up there. The history behind the structure is kind if interesting: it used to be where there was a fortified wall for the castle that was there. However the current structure was built around the turn of the 20th century and has never seen war. The 7 turrets represent the 7 tribes that were in Hungary when it became its present day country back in 895.

Mátyás Templom
The Matthias Church is ridiculously decorated on the inside with designs on all the walls and pillars. It is very colorful, with a lot of red, blue, green, gold... There is a nice complementation of paintings and tile work. Even the roof on the outside is covered in colorful tiles!

The original church on the site that was built in 1015 was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols. A new church was constructed in the second half of that century, which has been belittled and partially destroyed several times. It was even the base camp of the Nazi occupation during WWII and suffered great damage. Between 2006 and 2013, it underwent a serious restoration, which restored it to its former glory.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is a jewel on the Danube River. It's a wondrous building that is impressive to look at. You can tour its almost 700 rooms, though I decided to opt out if that... Because it's on the river, the only way to get far enough away to take in the whole building is to either hop on a boat tour and see it from the river or check it out from the opposite side of the river, which is what I did.

Hősök tere
Heroes' Square has two museums on either side with a statue centered between them and colonnades behind the statue. It's also one of the entrances to Városiglet, aka City Park. There's even a Castle structure with a half moat in the park, albeit the most was drained when I was there, though how effective is a moat that only goes around the front half of a castle, much less one that's drained?

Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő és Uszoda
My trip to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths was the first time I have ever been to a bath house/spa. It was indeed very relaxing, though it would have been nice to get a massage too! ;) There are several pools, both indoor and outdoor, that range in temperatures. There are also saunas and steam rooms, fountains, water aerobics, and more. I gotta say, the Romans had the idea of bath houses right! There are even guys playing chess in the outdoor pools! The thermal water with its minerals just leaves you feeling so refreshed. It's definitely a must do while visiting Budapest, and since there are bath houses all over the city, it's easy to do too!

I've gotta say, Budapest is an extremely underrated city. Everyone goes to Europe and wants to go to Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome...no one ever thinks to go to eastern Europe, but it's very fun and cheap too! I stayed with my friend Simón, which was fun to get to hang out with him too and have an expat to give me pointers. The only pain is having to switch my money from euros to huf! I will DEFINITELY be coming back to Budapest in the future though!