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The last few days — sorry it took so long!

Well as most of you know I’m now back in the states and have managed to catch up on some sleep and start the massive pile of laundry. I wish I could have had the chance to write about my last few days in Berlin while I was actually there, but we were just so busy/tired that I never really made it to an Internet cafe long enough to write.

The last time I wrote we had just gotten to Berlin and were happy to have left Prague (and I’m still glad that’s over)! Our first full day in Berlin we had a walking tour of the city that took about 3 hours…Berlin is huge! We literally walked the entire city and saw pretty much everything there is to see. Berlin is so beautiful, but definitely much more metropolitan than Munich. There is still a lot of history there, but the amount of modern buildings is way more than Munich. I can’t even begin to tell you exactly what we saw because it would probably take me all day (plus the fact that I can’t remember what everything is called…it was a long day). But I would definitely love to go back to Berlin and have more time to explore everything.

That night almost all of us went out to dinner and planned on going to a club. By the time dinner was over and we got to the train station there were only 5 of us left and 3 decided to go home once we got there. David and I were the only troopers that made it there and we met up with three others from our group that were already there. The club was called Matrix Berlin and I’m SO glad we went. It was such a cultural experience — German people have a very different way of dancing than here in the states. We stood around for about 45 minutes just watching them “dance.” It involves a lot of stomping, step-touches and crazy arm movements. We eventually joined in and, although it looks really weird, it’s a lot of fun! Needless to say, we stayed out wayyy later than we should have and took a cab home since the trains had stopped running.

The next day — running on about 3 hours of sleep — we took a day trip to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church. The town of Wittenberg is about a 30-minute train ride away from Berlin and it was such a cute little town. We got to see the church where he nailed the theses to the door (not the original door, but a memorial one) and saw his tomb inside the church. We then walked around the town in the freezing cold and ended up at the Martin Luther museum where our tour guide proceeded to talk for another hour about totally pointless things and we all tried our hardest not to fall asleep while standing up. We finally finished the museum and had lunch, then met back up at the bus stop to get back to the train station.

Transportation fail # 137: the bus never came! At this point, none of us were surprised that the bus was late since we really hadn’t had a good day of transportation the whole trip. As we were standing outside it began to rain/sleet…cue the umbrellas and penguin huddling. Luckily we weren’t the only ones waiting for the mystery bus, a few locals were also confused by the lack of buses going in the right direction. Finally it came and we got to the train station, where we ended up getting on the hour-and-a-half train back to Berlin, rather than the 30-minute train. It worked out though, seeing as almost everyone fell asleep and got a nice long nap!

When we finalllly got back to Berlin we all split up for dinner. The professors had been taking small groups out to dinner as a treat throughout the trip and this time was the last group, including me and 6 others. We had about 30 minutes to get ready by the time we got back, but we went to a great little restaurant right near our hotel and had a very nice dinner and talked with the teachers about how the trip had gone and what we liked/didn’t like. After dinner we met up with the whole group at the Sony Center to see “Valkyrie,” the Tom Cruise movie about the plot to kill Hitler. Friday night was opening night for the movie in Berlin and it was so cool to be able to watch the movie in the city that it was flimed in!

After the movie, almost the whole group decided to go back to Matrix with us! This time it was a Friday and the place was crazy! There were 5 different dance floors and it looked completely different from the night before. There was also a lot less weird German dancing and more dancing that we were used to. We all had a great time (despite some coat check problems) and again, stayed out way too late.

The next day, Saturday, was our last day in Berlin and we were all a little sad to see it end. Luckily we got to sleep in a little and after breakfast we went to the Resistance Museum which is all about the 15 attempts on Hitler’s life while he was in power. The main focus was on Operation Valkyrie which was SO cool because we had just seen the movie the night before. The building that the museum is in is the actual building used in the movie, and the building that was used during the real Operation Valkyrie during the war. I can’t even explain how cool/kinda creepy it was to walk around this building where they held meetings and stand in the courtyard where they were all executed after their plan failed. It was just amazing to be able to put the movie into real-life perspective.

After the museum a few of us went back to the hotel and took a nap. Then almost all of us went to the Reichstag which is the parliament building in Berlin. The top of the building is a huge glass dome and you take an elevator up to the roof and get to walk up to the top of the dome and see all of Berlin. Unfortunately it was a cloudy, rainy day, but it was still fun to walk to the top and be able to see all the places we’d walked around the past few days. That night we all went out to dinner with Dr. Hatcher at this really nice Italian restaurant and had a really great time on our last night of the trip.

The next day was our travel day back to the states 😦 but luckily there were no transportation fails. Our bus picked us up on time and got us to the airport with plenty of time to make our flight from Berlin to Heathrow. None of our flights were delayed and we all made it safely back to the states around 7:10 p.m. Brad and Carolyn picked me up from the Dulles airport and I had dinner with them and got to meet my new cousin Sydney! They dropped me off at a hotel and the next morning I took a shuttle to the airport and endured two more flights to get back to Jacksonville. Ricky picked me up from the airport and he is ridiculously tan from his 3 weeks in Barbados…I’m pretty much invisible standing next to him.

So now I’m home, doing laundry as I type and wishing that Florida would get back to normal and stop being chilly and foggy! I’m planning on posting lots of pictures soon, although I’m having a hard time finding the ones I saved on the computer last night so it might take a while to reload them and get them posted. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some on here, otherwise I’ll put them on Snapfish or something and send everyone the link!

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Day 16 — Berlin

We finally left Prague (we were all a little creeped out by the end of the visit there) and had yet some more transportation fails. It really is amazing to me that we could have this many problems in such a short period of time. So we schlepped all our luggage to the train station which turned out to be the wrong train station, so we then had to schlep all our stuff to another train station and finallly found our train, that we had reservations for! However, as we were all getting our luggage out of the way someone stole Dr. Costello’s backpack with his camera and train ticket in it. Two students also had a hard time with the ticket checker because we were told that our train to Prague was good for going there and coming back (which it was not) so they had no ticket and had to get out of trouble twice! Luckily we finally made it to Berlin and it is SO much better than Prague.

We just checked into our hotel and then split up to get lunch and go blog about last night. Last night we went to Rocky O’Reillys which is an Irish pub that was right down the street from our hotel. Pretty much our whole class and Dr. Hatcher watched the inauguration there and David, Alexa and I talked to this British couple the whole time. Right after his speech, about 16 of us headed off to the Opera house to see Mozarts Cosi fan Tutte opera. It was a little weird, but very good and we all had a good time. Afterward we all stopped at McDonalds (of which there are about a million in Prague…no joke) and then David, Alexa and I went back to the hotel and wrote up a story for the Pendulum about the inauguration and reactions abroad. It turned out pretty good and hopefully it’ll make it into the online or print edition this week!

Tomorrow we’re going on a walking tour of Berlin, as well as going to the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. Hopefully I’ll have time to tell you all about that tomorrow!

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Day 15 — Last day in Prague

Well despite the creepy police encounter yesterday, Prague has been great! Last night we went shopping in the little market again (about to head back there after this one more time) and grabbed a quick bite at a little street vendor. David and I then got stuck in the elevator in the hotel…totally scary/hillarious…and just chilled for a while after our exhausting day. Then a bunch of us decided to go out to this club called Lucerna (which ended up being closed, again) so we found another club with good music and ended up being the only ones there! The DJ loved us and played all American music for us — Grease, Michael Jackson, etc — and we just all had a good time dancing!

This morning we got up and went to Radio Free Europe and had a tour of their building. It was SO cool and we got to talk to the manager of Radio Free Afghanistan and an intern who was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I can’t even explain how interesting the tour was, we literally stood in a studio while they were broadcasting live to Afghanistan! Now we have the rest of the afternoon to do whatever we want and we’re going back to the market for a bit. Of course we’re going to watch the inauguration, and then almost all of us are going to see an opera tonight at 7! But I’ll tell you more about that later!

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Days 13 and 14 — Prague!

We started our journey to Prague at 8:45 yesterday morning as we caught our train (on time!) and got ready for the 6-hour journey ahead. The train was definitely not the nicest one we’ve been on, but we had little compartments that were perfect for our rowdy group! David and I managed to snag our own compartment and lay down across the seats on either side. I slept for a good 3 hours which was glorious! We all stole some extra food from breakfast at the hotel for lunch which was good since there was no dining car on the train. Another 2-3 hours on the train and we were in Prague! We were all creeped out by the subway station and bus, but once we finally found our street and our hotel things were much better. We’re staying in the Hotel Adria which is SO nice! And we’re on a great street that is really close to the “old town” (not to mention the H&M and Sephora that are right across the street)! Once we got settled in around 4:30, the professors took us on a quick walk to the old town so we could see a little bit of the area, then we all broke up and got to explore for a bit. A group of us went to this cute little market right near our hotel where they had tons of jewelry and paintings and scarves (don’t worry, some of you are getting goodies when I get back)! Then we found a nice place for dinner and experienced our first taste of Czech food…it’s a little weird, but we all enjoyed our meals. After that we found a grocery store and bought some bottled water since apparently you’re not supposed to drink the water here…who knew? Then we all met up at 10 and went out to an Irish pub (yes, an Irish pub in Prague) and watched some American football!

This morning we got up and left the hotel around 9:30. The professors took us on a “self-guided walking tour” (aka “we have no idea where we’re going tour”) up to the palace and cathedral. The cathedral was AMAZING and unfortunately I left my camera in my room so I’ll be stealing lots of pictures from David the photographer 🙂 We went to the museum in the palace and were not terribly impressed. After the museum we split up for lunch and I ate with the profs and a few other people. We met up at the entrance to the Charles Bridge which is so gorgeous and got a great view of the city and the river. Once on the other side we walked back to the old town and then split up to have the afternoon to explore. A group of us went to the “yellow market” where you have to barter with the shop owners. It was not in the best part of town and all the girls were clinging to a boy half the time! I didn’t end up buying anything, but it was definitely an experience.

Another thing I experienced today is how much I do NOT like the Czech transportation system and the people that run it. As we were going down to the subway station, a very creepy security officer stopped us and asked to see our tickets. We all pulled them out (except for Stephen and Vanessa who couldn’t find theirs) and showed them to the man. Everyone’s was fine, except for mine and Fish’s because we had forgotten to validate them on the bus earlier in the day. The mean guard took us upstairs to another mean guard where the spoke in Czech and refused to explain anything to us. They took our IDs (our Phoenix cards since we didn’t want to just hand over our liscences) and finally told us that we had to pay a fine of 700 korun which is the equivalent of $35 or be taken to the police station. Luckily there was a big group of us so everyone pitched in to help us out with the money, but it was a very unpleasant experience and I have definitely learned my lesson about public transportation in Prague!

Tomorrow we’re going to Radio Free Europe and watching Obama’s inauguration around 5:30! We’re all so excited to watch it, and are hoping to find a bar or pub that will be showing it. David, Alexa and I are also going to write a story for the Pendulum about peoples’ reactions abroad that we’ll send over to our staff for the next issue! Then the next day we’re leaving for Berlin so you probably won’t hear from me again until we get there on Wednesday afternoon.

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Days 11 and 12 — Munich

Well we’ve been in Munich for 3 days now and today is the first day we’ve actually been in Munich. The other day we went to Dachau which I told you about, but yesterday we went to Salzburg, Austria for a Sound of Music tour. We took a train from Munich to Salzburg and got to see the German Alps which was so cool! The tour was 4 hours on a sweet Sound of Music bus! The tour guide was incredibly cheesy and parts of the tour were a little cheesy too, but we got to see a ton of the places where they filmed the movie! It was verrry foggy in Salzburg because it’s down in a valley, so we missed a lot of cool views, but once we drove up into the mountains it was so beauttiful! We got to see the mountains and lakes and we stopped in the little town where they filmed the wedding scene and the church looks exactly the same! We also got this delicious apple streudel and then got back on the bus and back to Salzburg where we had about 4 hours to walk around and explore. A group of 6 of us walked up a mountain to this huge fortress and rather than paying to get in the fortress we just kept walking through all these trails up the mountain and got the most gorgeous view of the whole city. Then we took an elevator back down (thank goodness) and got dinner, then had another miserable train ride back to Munich with several train problems and delays. We finally got back to Munich an hour and a half later than expected 😦 But today we didn’t have to get up early and I slept in ’til about 9:15!! We’re going to a museum this afternoon for a few hours and then leaving tomorrow morning for a 6-hour train ride to Prague.

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Days 9 and 10 — Nuremberg/Munich

We did it!! Yesterday we finally managed to have a day without any transportation mishaps, well with the exception of our last train of the day leaving 15 minutes late. We got up early and walked right next door to the train station in Erfurt and actually got on the train we had reservations for! We had an hour train ride and then switched trains (literally got there just as the next train was pulling up) and had another hour and a half to Nuremberg. Once in Nuremberg we stowed our luggage in the lockers and headed off to the Nazi Rally grounds and museum. It was really interesting and we spent about 2.5 hours in the museum alone. Then we got to walk around outside and see the different parts of the grounds…and I walked across a frozen lake! Everyone thought it was funny that I was making a big deal about it, but I explained to them that it has never been cold enough for me to walk across a frozen body of water! After the Rally Grounds we took the bus (well several as we got lost along the way) into the Old Town area of Nuremberg. We just walked around, saw the sights and got some lunch, then all met back at the train station and caught our last train to Munich.

We got Munich around 7:20 and it is such a great city! We had about a ten minute walk to the hotel and we all got ready to go out for Steven’s birthday which was yesterday. We all went out to the Höfbrauhaus which, for those of you that have never been to Munich, is the biggest beer hall I have ever seen! It was HUGE and had a German polka band and was exactly what most people picture when they think of Germany. We all ordered the huge beer — 1 liter — and had a great dinner! A few of us went out after dinner, too, to help Steven celebrate.

We got to sleep in this morning until 8! After breakfast we walked to the bus/Ubahn station and took a 20 minute ride to Dachau, the concentration camp right outside Munich. We spent several hours there, walking through the grounds and museum and it was definitely a sobering day compared to some of the more upbeat things we’ve done in the past week and a half. It was just amazing to see the small amount of space that so many prisoners had to share. After Dachau we went back to the Ubahn station and had a quick lunch, then took the Ubahn to the Olympic Village in Munich where the 1972 olympic hostage crisis happened. We got to go up to the top of a tower and had a great view of the city and olympic village. We also got to go into the aquatic center where Mark Spitz set all the swimming records. There was another frozen lake at the village and we all took a 10 minute “ice skating” break! Then we walked over to the housing area where the athletes were taken hostage and held for two days. Again, it was a very sobering moment…made even weirder by the fact that the buildings have been turned into housing and someone was living right next door to the apartment they were held in.

Needless to say, it was a pretty intense day and we’re all exhausted. Tomorrow should be great as we are going to Austria for a Sound of Music tour! I don’t know about everyone else, but I LOVE that movie and am so excited! We’ll get to see the Alps and should have pretty nice weather, too! Missing everyone!

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Days 7 and 8 — Eisenach/Erfurt

Well yet another day of miserable travel/transportation fails. The day started out with 6 a.m. wake up calls to catch a 6:40 bus to the train station. A combination of us running 2 minutes late and the bus coming 2 minutes early was just the beginning of the miserable hours to follow…The bus came every 20(ish) minutes, so we stood around for 20 minutes and when the next bus came it was so full that only one of the professors and about 5 students managed to get on. Another 20 minutes in the freeying cold and the next bus was also so full that only 5 more students could get one. That left half the group standing outside for, you guessed it, another 20 minutes. That bus was so full that NONE of us could fit, so it left and we crossed the street which turned out to be the best idea of the morning. The next bus pulled up 10 minutes later and EVERY person on the bus got off! (by the way…the temperature yesterday morning when we stood outside for an hour and 20 minutes was -12° C (or 10° F) by the time we were on the bus, meaning it was between 5-10° F the whole time we were standing out there)We then had a 30 minute bus ride to the train station and of course had missed our reservation for the train. We finally got on a train and there were continuous delays…but we finally made it to Eisenach which was amazing! We went to Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther was in hiding after he was excommunicated from the church, and had to quite literally hike up half a mountain to get there! The bus dropped us off and we had to walk up the iciest, slipperiest road I’ve ever seen! The castle was beautiful though, and worth the dangerous walk! Then we went to Martin Luther’s house/musem which was the dumbest thing ever and very pointless (even the professors thought so) and then a short walk to Bach’s house/museum which was the coolest thing ever! The tour guide played five different instruments — 2 organs, a harpsichord and 2 others that I can’t recall the names of — and he was SO good! The museum also had alot of other cool stuff, so it was definitely worth it. After that we walked back to the train station and finally caught a train at the right time. We got to Erfurt and our hotel is literally right next to the train station! A big group of us went out for a bit after we got settled in and the town seemed soooo dead.

This morning we got to sleep in, 8 a.m. wake up call! We had breakfast, than took a 3-hour walking tour of Erfurt. The city is so beautiful and not at all what we were expecting after last night. There is so much history and SO many churches. We got to visit the monastary where Martin Luther became a monk (and eventually got excommunicated from the church) which was so cool! A group of us had lunch at a great little pub, then David, Alexa and I walked up to the top of this fort on a hill and had the best view of the city and took lots of pictures. Now we’ve got the rest of the afternoon to ourselves and most of us are planning on shopping and napping before dinner. Tomorrow is traveling all day again, so I probably won’t get a chance to fill you in tomorrow. But I’ll have lots to tell about Nuremberg and Munich in a couple of days!

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