Munich – Day Two

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag Drew! In other, less German words, Happy Birthday Drew!! I love you!

After a less than comfortable night in our “apartment,” we grabbed breakfast downstairs in the hotel. There was a huge selection of things to eat, but many of them were odd or scary. I settled for some granola cereal and toast (I know, I know, so not adventurous). After breakfast we headed to the train station to hop on the train that brought us to the bus stop where we got on the bus that brought us to Dachau.

Once there we met up with our tour guide Clara who led us around and gave us a ton of information about the concentration camp. She was around our age, grew up in Germany and was going to university in London. She was a fantastic guide and made the experience even more memorable. Clara explained that what we would be seeing is a memorial and does not look exactly as it did when it was used as a concentration camp. The original camp was much bigger, with most if its space used as a training facility for the SS. We began our tour by walking through the main gate, with the inscription “work will set you free” inlaid in the gate. Clara explained that this was supposed to give the prisoners the false hope that if they behaved and worked hard they would be be able to go home. Next we went through the section of the camp that has been turned into a museum. This was the building where the prisoners were taken when they were first brought to Dachau. Here they lost every trace of their personality, name, clothes, hair, and any personal items. This building also housed the shower room, which was where many prisoners were punished. Now the building holds pictures, documents, and posters giving information about the camp. We were then shown the camp’s prison, which was used to keep “special” prisoners and also for more extreme punishments. Next we were led through the barracks, which were set up to show how progressively awful it was to live in Dachau, with the beds becoming smaller and smaller as the years went on. We then walked by a number of memorials that were built on the grounds, which included Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox memorials.

Clara explained to us just how impossible it was for prisoners to escape the camp. If they put even one foot on the narrow strip of grass that surrounded the camp they were shot on sight and, even if they weren’t, there was a huge ditch they would have had to crawl out of before they could even begin to think about getting over or through the tall electrified barbed wire fence. The last stop on the tour was the crematorium, which was even more somber. While Dachau was not an extermination camp, their crematorium had a small gas chamber that was used in secret to experiment. It’s hard to grasp just how many people died within that camp. Right outside of the crematorium was a small monument with the inscription “to mourn the dead, to warn the living,” which serves as a reminder that people need to made aware of what transpired within concentration camps. Clara told us that whenever anyone asks her why it is still so important for people to know about the camps, she brings them to that monument, emphasizing that knowledge is the best way to keep history from repeating itself.

One of my biggest thoughts throughout our time at the camp is how crazy it was that everyone on the outside pretended that they had no idea what was going on within the camps, when it was blatantly obvious that people were being tortured and killed. I can not get over just how horribly those people were treated, living in terrible conditions, being experimented on, being treated like dogs. I agree with Clara that it is extremely important that everyone is aware of what happened so that it doesn’t ever happen again. While sad, visiting the memorial site was an amazing experience.

When we returned from Dachau we spent some time thinking and relaxing back in the hotel, while watching The Big Bang Theory in German, which was interesting. The hotel did in fact move us to a new room, which is much less sketchy! Although Aaron is still very unenthusiastic about his couch bed. Then a group of six of us set out to explore Marienplatz some more. We eventually found our way to the Hofbrauhaus, which is a huge drinking hall with a great environment. (Fun fact, the Hofbrauhaus is the place that Hitler met to form the Nazi party.) Traditional Bavarian music is played by a live band and the waiters and waitresses dress is traditional costumes. It was crazy busy, but we were able to find a table pretty quickly. My friends ordered beer by the liter but I stuck to apple juice. The waiter was nice enough to put my juice in a mug so I felt like part of the group. I ordered a huge pretzel and we had a blast soaking up some German culture. I managed to get everyone back to the hotel safely (after only one stop at McDonalds!) and we are getting ready for bed.

Tomorrow is a day trip to Salzburg, which should be awesome! Talk to you soon!

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Happy 2014!!

Happy New Year from Europe! And Happy Birthday Papa! I love you!

This morning began with a delicious breakfast at our hotel before we grabbed our luggage and walked across the street to the metro. From the metro we got to the train station where we boarded the train to Munich. There were six of us squished into a little train compartment, which was the same size as our couchette (tiny) but with seats instead of benches. After sorting out a seating debacle, we stored our luggage and settled in for the trip. We amused ourselves by playing 20 questions, Family Feud, and various games on our iPads. This ride was much more enjoyable than the last, but we were still very excited to arrive in Munich.

Upon arrival we walked three blocks to our hotel, the Hotel Jedermann. It is a small hotel but is very clean and the people are very nice. They are extremely full tonight with New Years travelers so Caitlin, Aaron, and I are stuck in an apartment that is separated from the hotel by two huge locked doors. There are some mysterious rooms around the corner and the whole area smells horrible. Needless to say we feel very cut off from the rest of the group and are really creeped out. Luckily they will be able to move us to a room within the hotel tomorrow so we can be closer to the rest of the group.

After dropping off our luggage we took a long stroll down to Marienplatz, the city center. It is Munich’s main road and is lined with beautiful architecture, restaurants, and shops. The whole place was still decorated beautifully from Christmas and was amazing! A lot of things are closed because of the New Year so it wasn’t as exciting as it could have been. Luckily we have lots more free time in Munich so we can come back and explore when it is in full swing!

We ate dinner at the Augustiner restaurant, which was really nice and had great food! I ordered spaetzle, which is small flour dumplings covered in cheese and cream. It tasted like fancy mac and cheese and was delicious! After dinner we spent some time exploring around our hotel and in the train station, which is full of shops and little food carts. There are way less people here than there were in the other cities we’ve been to, and it isn’t nearly as lively. I’m hoping that that is due to the holiday and that it will pick up soon!

The train ride and exploring have wiped us all out and we are back in our hotel room now relaxing. It gets dark here around 4:30, which also throws us off and makes it seem like it is much later than it actually is. Tomorrow we head out to Dachau concentration camp, which will be very sad but interesting. It’s crazy to think that we have already completed two stops in our journey! There are so many more adventures to have! Talk to you soon 🙂

Photos from Amsterdam and Prague

I hope these show up! First Amsterdam.

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This was the street across from our hotel room.

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This was the boat we took our canal tour on.

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Some of the neat architecture along the canal.

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This was part of the light show! I took it from the bridge near our hotel. The big building to the far right is our hotel.

And here are some shots from Prague.

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This is the Christmas market we went to!

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This is the Prague Castle.

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This is the front of the castle. The big round window is stained glass although you couldn’t tell from the outside, and was absolutely beautiful.

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This was the view from the outlook.

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And here is the view from the tower we climbed! These are just a few of the pictures I’ve taken. I’ll attempt to put up more as we go!

Happy New Year’s Eve!!

I hope you are all ready and excited to greet the new year! It’s crazy to think that it will be 2014 for 7 hours here before it reaches you.

Today was our second and final day in Prague. After sleeping like a log in a non-moving, extremely comfortable  bed, we began the day with a wonderful breakfast buffet here at the hotel, with homemade muffins and crossaints as well as fruits and eggs. The raisin bran was extremely disappointing though… After breakfast we hopped on the metro on our way to the Prague castle, which by the way was three miles away from the farthest metro stop. We were all extremely excited after that little jaunt (not), and it was a little too chilly for our liking. But we got to see the changing of the guard in front of the castle which was awesome, and there were some really cool statues, fountains, and architecture surrounding it. Inside, the castle looked more to me like a cathedral with amazing stained glass windows and statues. It was beautiful!

Next we took a walk (oh joy!) to a small overlook that provided us with an amazing view of the city. Another walk took us to a tower, and we climbed all the way up to the top for another amazing view of Prague. I have tons of beautiful pictures, some of which I hope I can get uploaded to this blog soon! After climbling back down that tower, we got to explore the Charles Bridge, which was very cool. There were vendors laid out on both sides of the bridge selling beautiful paintings and jewlery and artists doing caricatures. We hung out on the bridge and the surrounding area for as long as we could before the cold got to us. We sucessfully navigated our way back to the hotel, being masters of the metro system by now. We stopped at the grocery store next to the hotel to grab some snacks and lots and lots of water. For some reason, here in Europe you have to pay for water, and it is very difficult to come across. We found some huge cheap bottles of water at the grocery store and stocked up.

We spent some time in the hotel’s computer room for our daily wi-fi fix, while trying to put together a plan for tonight. Our hotel is putting on a huge fancy New Year’s Eve party (which is New York themed) tonight, with dancers, singers, a dinner, and their own ball, which will be dropped from the ceiling! Unfortunately, staying here does not get you an automatic ticket to this party and none of us can afford a ticket nor do we have the fancy clothes required for attendance. So that’s out. Lucklily, one of our friend’s rooms has a big picture window that overlooks the festivities so we were able to sit up there and watch without having to pay! The dancers were good but it was weird to hear them dancing to all of he songs that have been or are popular back home. Traditional music is something that I haven’t heard any of, except for at the big open markets where it is played by live bands. I’ve heard a ton of the music we listen to back home, both the traditional versions and versions sung by local singers.

When we got hungry we decided to bundle up and find somewhere that was open for dinner. We ended up finding **.  Then we headed out to find the river to watch the big fireworks show that they put on

Needless to say, we’ve done a ton of walking and are all starting to feel it. Tomorrow our train leaves at 9:00 am and we will reach Munich, Germany by 3:00. Talk to you soon!

Good morning Prague!

After 14 hours on that train, in that tiny couchette, with the train making stops what must have been every 20 minutes, we were all extremely excited to pull into Prague this morning. We ate a quick breakfast at the train station before jumping onto the metro. We made it to our hotel ( which is a Hilton!) pretty easily and were overjoyed to learn that we would be able to check into our rooms and shower! We were pleasantly surprised to find that these rooms are much bigger than the ones at the last hotel. There is space between the beds, a closet, and a desk!

Feeling refreshed, we hopped back on the metro to head out to the Old Town Square to check out the Christmas market. It was decorated beautifully, tons of lighs, garlands, and ornaments, and a huge Christmas tree in the middle. There were a ton of vendors scattered around the square selling food, ornaments, and other handmade things. We walked around for a while, admiring the pretty things and sampling the tasty things. I had a delicious chicken kabob on a bun and this amazing twisty bread thing that is a traditional Czech food. I decided that I felt much more comfortable in Prague than in Amsterdam. There were less people, and the ones here seemed less rude and frantic. I am still really surprised at how unfriendly most of the people here in Europe are. Maybe I’m just expecting too much Mid-western-ness.

During our wanderings we somehow made it to a very ritzy part of town that featured some very high-end shopping opportunities. We felt that our financial situations at present didn’t mesh well with the prices at Tiffany & Co, Gucci, Prada, and Fendi. So we decided to return to the hotel for some more relaxation, and some much needed wi-fi. At 6:00 we jumped on the metro once more (it’s finally beginning to make sense!) to take a ghost tour of the old city. I was really unsure what to expect of this ghost tour. Gwen (one of the professors leading our trip) told us it wasn’t too scary and that it would be very entertaining. She was definitely right. I had pictured us walking around dark scary places trying to see flashes of light or spooky apparitions. It ended up being more of a short history lesson covering some of the more gruesome and bizarre events in the Czech Republic’s past. It was very enjoyable though and our guide was entertaining. I liked getting to know more about the city and some of the strange things that give it character.

Once the tour wrapped up we were free to go and find some dinner. A group of four of us ended up at this little pizzeria that had great food for cheap. I had gnocchi for the first time and absolutely loved it! After dinner we decided to head back to the hotel instead of brave the cold any longer. We got a little turned around in the train station and had some trouble figuring out exactly where it was we were supposed to exit. We figured it out in the end and were able to come back to our fancy hotel to relax. We are all sitting down here in the comfy chairs of the lobby on our iPads, because this is the only place we can get free wifi 🙂 we are all exhausted and plan to turn in early to get a good night’s sleep. We have another whole day in Prague tomorrow, full of castles, bridges, and New Year’s Eve celebrations! Talk to you soon!

Don’t feed the birds!

Day two of Amsterdam began with the best raisin bran I’ve ever eaten (there were dried bananas in it!!) and some hilarious stories from the pair who were adventurous, or maybe crazy, enough to be in the Red Light district late at night. Next came a tram ride, and feeding some pigeons (not my best idea, although I did make several feathered friends) while waiting to get into the Anne Frank House. Once we did get into the house it was an amazing experience! It was incredible to think that we were in the same house as those 8 people who hid to try and save their lives during WWII. We got to see their rooms, watch some interviews from the people who were involved, read quotes from Anne’s diary, and even see the diary itself! It made me think of how much we take our basic freedoms for granted and just how much people suffered during WWII. The Frank family spent two years in that annex before being arrested, and only one of the 8 survived the concentration camps.

Next we went and waited in an even longer line for the Van Gogh museum. Once in, we got to see a large collection of Van Gogh’s paintings, drawings, and learned some more about his life and the way he created art. There were some beautiful and interesting paintings. While it wasn’t completely my cup of tea, it was still pretty cool.

After that we were again free to roam around Amsterdam! After wandering aimlessly for a bit, a group of 12 of us decided to board the tram and ride around for a while. However, we ended up riding for a little too long (about an hour and a half), and ended up on the edge of the city. We got to see more of the residential and business side of Amsterdam, and luckily were able to find our way back with little trouble. We spent the rest of our time in Amsterdam exploring shops, finding neat places and things to eat, and trying to navigate successfully.

Some of Amsterdam’s high points: raisin bran, stoop waffles, pigeons, European ketchup, not getting run over, and making new friends!

So we’ve said goodbye to Amsterdam and are now or our way to Prague! We boarded an overnight train, which I had been very excited for! However, it is a bit different than I imagined. We are in couchettes on this train, which consist of 6 bunk beds, three on each wall. There is about a foot and a half between each one, and with six people and all of our luggage it is a pretty tight fit. Hopefully we can fight off the claustrophobia, make the best of it and get a good night’s sleep. It is definitely the most interesting way I’ve traveled or tried to sleep, and has forced the six of us to get a little closer. I do enjoy riding a train, and have already made several Harry Potter references 🙂

One city down, several to go. Talk to you soon!

Amsterdam – Day One

We landed in Amsterdam at 7:30 local time after an 8 hour flight, several time zone changes, and not nearly enough sleep. We all put on our somewhat happy faces and mustered up enough energy to get us through our first day in Europe.

The day began with us figuring out how to navigate the train system, which is more like what we think of as a subway. They are used all over Europe and are a very popular method of transportation, as are bikes. It was still dark as we rode to the city center, so we could only see a faint outline of the city’s many buildings. The central train station is only about a block away from our hotel and we were able to come drop off our luggage before heading out into the city. We explored some of the local shops and took in some of the native culture before setting out on a canal ride. We got to see so many beautiful buildings and homes, as well as museums, old boats, and one very friendly pidgeons. It was a great way to see more of the city, but we all struggled with not letting the boat gently rock us to sleep.

Next came brunch! We traveled to the Pancake Bakery for what we had been told were some of the best pancakes in the whole city. They surely did not disappoint, coming in a crazy variety of flavors and were the size of a large dinner plate. Some of the better pancake flavors included bacon and banana, chicken and cheese, and banana and Nutella. With Our tummies full we set out on our next adventure, which was to be the Anne Frank house. However, when we arrived we were greeted by a line that stretched on for at least two blocks. So we decided to do that first thing tomorrow morning instead.

On our way back to the hotel we took a walk through the Red Light District for what were some….eye-opening sights, smells, and sounds. It was an interesting experience but will definitely not be a place that I will choose to hang out in when the sun goes down.

After that we got some much needed relaxation time back at the hotel before they set us loose on our own to go explore the city. We checked out more of the local shops, a bakery, and soaked up some more culture. Overall I have found that the people here are friendly, but very focused. They don’t waste any time when traveling, not thinking twice about walking or driving right in front of you. They also dislike it very much when you walk in their bicycle lanes, as bikes are always given the right away. We are going to need to quickly adapt to the pace here in Europe in order to not get run over or lost, but I’m sure we can handle it.

It’s an early bedtime tonight in the hopes of getting rid of our jet lag. Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon!

On your marks, get set….

Here we are, gathered at the Omaha airport, waiting for our short flight to Minneapolis and then the much longer flight to Amsterdam. We are practically buzzing with excitement for all of the amazing adventures we’re about to have!

Here is a quick rundown of where we’ll be in Europe and what we’ll be doing:

We begin in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We will take a canal ride, see the Anne Frank House, visit the Red Light District, and see the Van Gogh Museum. We will then take an overnight train to…

Prague, Czech Republic
We will see the Old Town Square, take a ghost tour, see some castles and spend New Years Eve on the Charles Bridge watching fireworks! After New Years, we’re off to…

Munich, Germany
Here we will see the Marienplatz and Dachau Concentration Camp. We’ll take a day trip to Salzburg in Austria. We’ll see some more castles outside of Munich and visit Olympic Park. Next stop is…

Rome and Florence in Italy.
Rome features the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish steps, seeing the Mediterranean Sea, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, then a nice day trip to Pompeii. Then we’re off to Florence to see Michaelangelo’s David statue and whatever else we can see in one day.

Paris, France is our next stop.
Here we get to see the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triumph, Notre Dame, and the Louvre.

London, United Kingdom will wrap up our tour
With the Piccadilly Circus, a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, seeing the Changing of the Guard, Westminister Abbey, and the Imperial War Museum.

Now this is just a taste of what’s to come. Watch out for a post (hopefully almost) everyday, and pictures if I can figure that out! We will be 7 hours ahead time-wise the whole trip except for in London, which will be 6 hours ahead. Wish me luck adjusting to that as well as the different currencies. Talk to you soon!