Bikin’ in Berlin

Monday to Thursday in Prague flew by (as it tends to do). In those four days I did manage to squeeze in a fair amount, including school work, errand running, laundry (so fun!) and a bit more inspired activities like going to see Grand Budapest Hotel in theatres, catching up with friends from home, checking out some new parts of the city and some quirky thrift shops, enjoying Prague’s international cuisine (Indian, Chinese, and Italian!), and sampling local beer at the Beer Museum.

 

But what about the weekend!? How about a straight-forward narrative?

 

Come Friday, we once again boarded the bus—almost Dejavu except this time we took the “mini bus” which looks like a small child compared to our usual monster of a vehicle.

 

For my third time this trip we crossed the border into Germany—our Friday drive was broken up by a few hour stop in Dresden. For a city I had heard of only a handful of times, it is quite a gem. The city on the River Elbe is home to a museum housing Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, the picturesque Zwinger Palace, a world-famous Opera, and various other architectural eye-candy. And if this city wasn’t cool enough, it’s also the place where porcelain was first made in Europe. Ok, geekout completed.

 

Dresden

Dresden

After our tour (including a stop to a local bakeshop for some typical German mid-day snacks) we finished the drive into Germany’s capital city: Berlin!

 

Berlin immediately felt quite different than any of the cities I’ve visited so far in Europe. Its modern buildings, wide streets, and expansiveness reminded me very much of an American city, though its historical monuments (which popped up whenever you were just getting convinced you might be back in the States) changed any such illusions. Additionally, the notoriously fraught history of the city of which we are acutely aware adds an entirely different sort of interest.

At the Brauhaus with the gang

At the Brauhaus with the gang

 

The first night we began our Berlin experience by walking into Berlin Mitte (City Center) and then to the Brauhaus for some German cuisine and beer. It was a massive beer hall packed with people nursing equally massive beer steins whilst listening to a rather depressed looking trio playing trad music—they probably could have used a beer too but I imagine it’s quite hard to balance a stein and an accordion simultaneously. I reminisced of livelier German celebrations back in St. Paul, Minnesota in Der Glockenspiel with my relatives where our boisterous singing and the accompanying accordion playing cleared out the rest of the patrons by closing time.

Berlin Berlin Berlin and the River Spree

Berlin Berlin Berlin and the River Spree

Come Saturday, I was chomping at the bit to finally explore the city. Zdenek gave us a tour in the morning, guiding us through the historic district, much of which was rebuilt after World War II in the original style. We crossed over the Spree River and became “islanders” on what is called “Museum Island,” home to several collections of art and artifacts. Markets lined the canal leading to Unter der Linden, the famous street leading to the Bradenburg Gate. At this street we parted ways, and after Liz and I wandered through the markets together we too bid each other “adieu” to strike out into the city on our own.

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Unlike the other cities we’ve toured, Berlin is not exactly a walking city. It could be done, but because our time was limited, several of us rented bikes to get around. Luckily Berlin is a very biker friendly city with permanent bike lanes. I hoofed it back to the Television Tower (a remnant of Eastern Berlin Soviet era, and the tallest building in the European Union). There I rented a  “Fat Tire” bike and quite gleefully peddled off. My feet were very happy. Back past the Berlin Cathedral to Unter Der Linden, past museum after museum I rode until I arrived at the Brandenburg Gate, the only remaining gate from a series of gates that once led to the Prussian palace. It has been the site of an incredible amount of history—during the division between West and East Germany, the gate was closed and could only be viewed from a distance. At the gate, Reagan spoke those words that every good school girl and boy has heard, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

 

Victory Column

Victory Column

The next hours I spent cycling through the Tiergarten, a huge forested park that begins right beyond the Gate, and stopped at various sites including the Jewish Memorial, the US Embassy, the Siegessaule (Victory Column), and the Bellevue Palace. I also got a jelly donut so I felt quite justified in rereating JFK’s famous words “ich bin ein Berliner”

Biking through the Tiergarten

Biking through the Tiergarten

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Come 3:30 our group reconvened in front of the Reichstag and toured its dome where we got an excellent view of the city. It was odd to look out onto the city and the huge green expanse beyond the Reichstag and imagine all the destruction that occurred in that very place. After the tour Arnie and myself hunted down some filling German food and then biked back to the hotel with full stomachs. There I serendipitously ran into Olivia, Brooke, Ellen, and Alyssa who I joined in a night bike ride which ended at an Italian pizza place and a candlelit pub where we “Cheersed” to a jam packed, unforgettable day in Berlin.  After a late night ice cream snack, we collapsed into bed.

 

View of Berlin from the Reichstag Dome

View of Berlin from the Reichstag Dome

Dinner time--pork, sauerkraut, dumplings, and beer=happy girl.

Dinner time–pork, sauerkraut, dumplings, and beer=happy girl.

The best part of the weekend began at 5:15 this morning (which actually felt like 4:15 due to European daylight savings) when Olivia, Alyssa, and myself dragged ourselves from bed and biked out into the city to see it the sun come up on Berlin. In an almost empty, quiet darkness the city was peaceful and the powerful monuments only more impressive. We admired the Cathedral, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag as the sun rose and hung out in front of the cathedral as the sky turned brighter.

 

Brandenburg Gate on our morning bike ride

Brandenburg Gate on our morning bike ride

Cheesin in front of the Berlin Cathedral as the sun rose

Cheesin in front of the Berlin Cathedral as the sun rose

By the time of our return our hands were nearly frozen but our gleefully stupid, cheeky grins said it all.

 

The rest of the morning was spent touring a local thrift market (here’s to 2 euro sunglasses!) and walking along the East Wall Gallery before driving to Wannsee where the famous Wansee Conference convened, solidifyng the Nazi plan for the “Jewish Solution.”

 

At the East Gallery, one of the last sections of the wall left standing as a memorial and reminder.

At the East Gallery, one of the last sections of the wall left standing as a memorial and reminder.

After a final meal in a Biergarten, we sadly boarded this tiny tiny bus where I sit now typing this blog post.

 

Here’s to the fervent hope that we make it to Praha soon where I will happily collapse into bed.

 

‘Til next time

 

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Home-ish

A week ago, Monday evening, it’s my first day back at school in Prague after a weekend with my parents in Rome, who at this point are on a plane bound for O’Hare. Sitting in my room, trying to read about theories of temporal coincidence and nationalism (as fun as it sounds), and running on minimal sleep, I suddenly get very overwhelmed by how much I miss them. As miserable as I felt, it is a great blessing to have people in my life whose absence is so marked when they leave, even if we’ve only shared a few days in the same zip code.

 

I wish I could say I promptly picked myself up, got out into the city and with great vigor shook off my miserableness. But more accurately, it’s taken a bit of plodding through the misery, a few familiar faces, and some well-placed reminders to start moving out of this funk.

 

A few of the familiar faces came via Facetime—for all my frustrations with technology, I certainly can’t fault it for this brilliant little tool! I got to wish my big brother happy birthday from my dorm room, catch up with friends enjoying their spring break, and get a view of my own backyard which is no longer covered with snow (Mom and Dad were very excited about that one).

Me and the birthday boy--throw back to Ireland. Soon we'll be reunited once again across the pond!

Me and the birthday boy–throw back to Ireland. Soon we’ll be reunited once again across the pond and taking superstar status photos!

Another big treat was getting to see a high school friend studying in France this semester.

Reunited with Madeline at the John Lennon Wall!

Reunited with Madeline at the John Lennon Wall!

Madeline and I probably haven’t seen each other for over a year and a half, but we got to spend a beautiful day together in Prague! She and her hostel-mates Richard and Chris enthusiastically joined in on a day of sampling local food, visiting some of Prague’s best sites, and enjoying the sun after a long hike up Petrin Hill. And, as if the world wasn’t small enough, we figured out that another student from our high school is studying here in Prague and lives in the same dorm on the floor below mine. We all enjoyed a brief Boylan reunion before I said goodbye to Madeline and ran off for the ballet Don Quixote. That’s a far cry from a bad day!

Don Quixote Ballet- photo cred to Alyssa and Anna

Don Quixote Ballet- photo cred to Alyssa and Anna

After class on Wednesday a couple classmates and I grabbed dinner at a local student restaurant and met a couple our age from Montreal doing a seven month tour of Europe and beyond. Their stories of hitch-hiking, couch-surfing, and exploration were a wonderful reminder of the opportunities that are available to us if we only recognize that opportunities appear first as obstacles. As good ole G.K. Chesterton said, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”

 

Morning view of Krakow from the hotel room (that I got to share with the wonderful Liz Geiger)

Morning view of Krakow from the hotel room (that I got to share with the wonderful Liz Geiger)

 

This Friday morning myself and some twenty something of my fellow study-abroaders got on a bus. Ten-ish hours later we arrived in Krakow, Poland, a city that I fell in love with in the few short days we were there.

Horses in the main square- Krakow

Horses in the main square- Krakow

It might have been the pierogies, the wide bustling streets, the open square (which is really not square at all) lined with colorful restaurant fronts, the markets and the accompanying smells of dumplings and fresh flowers, the rows of amber jewelry, the street accordion player who played a tune my Dad would hum for my brother and I after dinner as kids, the smiling faces and friendly noises of clip-clopping horse-shoes and strangers saying “Dzien dobry!” I loved it. The city hummed and yet a welcome silence could be found in the frequent grassy bench-lined parks or inside the many churches.

St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow

St. Mary’s Basilica, Krakow

 

Bishop Karol Wojtya's (aka JPII) former residence, Krakow

Bishop Karol Wojtya’s (aka JPII) former residence, Krakow

Krakow

Krakow

Ellen and Brooke cheesin at the cupcake shop--did I mention we like sweets?

Ellen and Brooke cheesin at the cupcake shop–did I mention we like sweets?

The Castle

The Castle

The group admiring a statue dedicated to a faithful dog.

The group admiring a statue dedicated to a faithful dog.

The most comforting moment of the trip came Saturday night—we would leave the city early the next morning so I wandered out to the main square one last time. I headed in the direction of a cupcake shop we’d visited earlier where the kind server informed me that I must return for a carrot cupcake. As is typical of these tourist hubs, people trying to sell meals and souvenirs and tours (and usually wielding an umbrella) dotted the street. I chuckled as I watched a man walking five paces in front of me meet umbrella after umbrella, each time in flustered English spluttering “No thank you, no, no, really.” After he shook off a particularly insistent seller, I met even with him and smiling said, “Quite persistent aren’t they?” He seemed genuinely relieved that one, I wasn’t trying to sell him anything and two, that I was speaking English. Turns out that Tom was from a region in Northern Ireland and knew well the county of my own Irish ancestors. It was a pleasure to hear that Irish accent and part ways with a firm handshake and then a hug (because, why not? This is the Irish I speak of after all!)

 

The Castle

The Castle

Familiar faces and strange ones now not so strange, a foreign city that seems to love its people and even those who can’t quite call themselves “its people”. It was with this uplifted spirit that we then journeyed to a place whose torture and sickness is carried even in its name: Auschwitz.

 

And for that I really just don’t have any words.

 

It’s Monday night again, a week from where I sat feeling weighed down by the sadness of saying goodbye to two people I love most. Tonight there’s a different sort of weight. But familiar faces, and perhaps even some not so familiar ones are here to make the weight worthwhile.

Krakow

Krakow

 

Here’s to the things that make even these strange places a bit more like home.

 

‘Til next time

An Excellent Adventure

Dear People of the Blog Reading World,

First of all, apologies that so much time has passed since my last post! I can only plead guilty to having too many good things filling my time (a good problem to have I think!)

I left off on Fat Tuesday, and boy have things gotten interesting since then! Wednesday’s main point of interest was waiting for the English Ash Wednesday mass at St. Thomas’s with two North Carolinians, a Sri Lankan, a Slovakian, and a Filipino who all showed up a bit early along with myself. Here I was attending mass in my native tongue whereas others were here in a foreign speaking country attending a mass in another foreign tongue. The affect language has on the way we interact with other people never really registered with me until I arrived in the Czech Republic, and became the person struggling to communicate basic ideas.

The great fun of this past week and a half began on Thursday when I took the good ole 119 bus to Vaclav Havel International Airport and boarded a plane bound for Frankfurt via London. Eight hours, two plane rides, a chat with Kent locals bound for Cape Town, one Guinness, a plate of fries, an Iceland soccer coach and German businesswoman as fantastic seat mates, and one directionally challenged but good natured taxi driver later and I arrived in Bad Soden, Germany (a town just twenty mintues drive from Frankfurt). There (after bailing out of the taxi having pulled onto the correct neighborhood street) I marched up the drive to the house marked Number 2 and knocked on the door. The sound of footsteps, the door opened, and there was my good ole Papa who in his excitement, exclaimed “YOU MADE IT!” just loud enough to wake up two sleeping kids and, more importantly, to make me feel like quite the luckiest girl in the whole world.

Overlooking the Rhine River Valley

Overlooking the Rhine River Valley

Thus began what my dad dubbed “An Excellent Adventure” where Mom, Dad, and yours truly took on three cities in just over a week!

Said adventure began in Bad Soden at the home of Mom and Dad’s college friend Heidi and her husband Max and two kids, Julia and Giacomo. This was the first time I had met Heidi—the last time my parents and Heidi saw each other they were only four or five years older than I am now. How’s that for time warp!? Bad Soden was an absolute little paradise! We spent the weekend there strolling through the woods and orchards that stretch for miles alongside their town, visiting with Heidi and family, eating some delicious Indian food and drinking some excellent Italian wine (compliments to Max), and on Saturday going for a day trip along the Rhine River Valley. Tiny towns and magnificent castles break up the terraced hillsides of the valley, and a tucked away monastery winery provided an excellent excuse to drive through the green countryside. Poor Mom and Dad have been living under feet of snow now for months, so the warm temperatures and blooming flowers were a welcome change.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

We bid farewell to Bad Soden on Sunday and took a train to Nurenberg, stopped for a sandwhich (Dad also managed to run into some guys from a small farming town near  his own stomping grounds), and then continued via bus to my temporary home: Praha. We carted the suitcases over the cobblestone (imagine that auditory delight!) and checked into pension Green Garland before heading off to a late mass. The place was packed, we got “re-ashed,” didn’t understand a single word of the Czech mass—but we got the “Amen”!

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

I was somewhat worried about Mom and Dad navigating the city whilst I was in class over the next three days—I needn’t have! They were absolute superstar tourists, fitting in an incredible amount of touring while I was in class, and dutifully arriving back at my school building to “pick me up” whenever I had a break. My class schedule allowed us to spend the better part of Tuesday morning and afternoon touring together—we hiked up to the Strahov Monastery and took in the view, made our way up Petrin Hill, and got to sit and soak up the sun in the gardens. Talk about bliss. Over the course of the week, I was able to show them all the places of my daily routine from the local grocery to the library to the metro. We enjoyed the local cuisine (here’s to goulash!) and the cafes and little shops I frequent. To my delight, they both loved the city and gave it their stamp of approval. As Mom said, “Even I could handle this city!”

Piazza Navona and the Four Rivers Fountain

Piazza Navona and the Four Rivers Fountain

And then, come Thursday we packed up again, made our way to the airport and headed off to Roma!!! The flight provided an excellent view of the Alps, and we soon landed in that great buzzing, lively, distinctly Italian place. Luckily we survived the taxi ride with the “suicidal if not homicidal” (Dad’s words, not my own) driver and said a few grateful Hail Marys as we settled into our hotel.

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill

I don’t want to say we saw all of Rome in three days–but as much of Rome as humanly possible in three day? Yep, we did that.

Waiting for Pope Francis in St. Peter's square

Waiting for Pope Francis in St. Peter’s square

We lingered in the Vatican Museums, I gawked and had some major heart palpitation moments as we viewed some of the greatest works of art known to man. We craned our necks in the Sistine Chapel, took in St. Peter’s square and Basilica, joined a group of school kids crowding to see Michelangelo’s Pieta. Took a night walk through Piazza Navona, sat outside eating pasta and drinking Agape wine, made our second gelato stop of the day and ate it looking up at the lit up Pantheon. Walked the Colosseum and tried to imagine elephants and hippos in the arena, which was easier than imagining all the people that died there. Made our way through the Forum (on the Ides of March no less), up Palatine Hill to perfectly manicured gardens, orange trees, and the remains of imperial homes and grounds. Braved the crowds at Trevi and the Spanish steps, hit perfectly adoration in Italian at the church with St. Theresa in Ecstasy, ran to the basilica with the English mass, ate bruschetta, gelato, and other entirely Italian food. Somehow we managed to wake up this morning, joined the masses in St. Peter’s for the Angelus and to hear Pope Francis.

The Papa!

The Papa!

That hardly covers it. Just ask me when you see me next about Roma—there will be plenty of stories to share.

So tonight the Mama and the Papa and I said farewell again. This Excellent Adventure is wrapping up, and the Big Excellent Adventure continues.

Mom and Dad at Trevi Fountain

Mom and Dad at Trevi Fountain

Here’s to the two who started this whole thing—say hi to the pups and to Babe for me, and I’ll be seeing you soon.

P.S. Happy early Birthday to the kiddo who couldn’t join in on the Roma fun because he was off digging ditches to supply water to people in Nicaragua. Love ya bro!

P.P.S Sorry for the lack of pictures from Germany and Prague–by the time I realized the memory card was full we were already in Italy so those pictures are now safely stored on Dad’s laptop. Here’s to technology (and the technologically challenged)

‘TIl next time

 

Fat Tuesday Anyone?

I really love writing. Probably too much (if that’s a thing…still up for debate). On the pro side, it helps me sort out the things that are lodged inside my head but that I can’t quite visualize until they’re on paper. On the con side, my real time communication skills can suffer–always room for growth, indeed.

Prague and the Vltava River

Prague and the Vltava River

But one of the things about writing is that even though I love it, sometimes it’s hard to do. This weekend I went on an excursion to Moravia with several of my classmates— the trip ranks as one of those incredible ones I’ll smile back on for years to come. But as I sat in my room on Sunday night engaging in a series of arbitrary tasks like folding and re-folding my clothes, brushing my teeth multiple times, etc. I couldn’t deny that even this was a step too far in procrastination. I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t write my blog post. (Yes eventually I did but it ended up a brief anecdotal study of my roommate’s days).

 

View from the mini Eiffel Tower on Petrin Holl

View from the mini Eiffel Tower on Petrin Holl

Fast-forward to Monday night. It’s 7 pm and three of my classmates and I are sitting in the second level balcony at the State Theatre in Prague, eyes glued to the performance of “Swan Lake.” It was a feast for the eyes, and in a strange way, an unexpected reflective experience. As the music crescendoed and fell in that mesmerizing tune, and the dancers wove across the stage, I suddenly fell more into the “real world”.

 

Masaryk Statue with the Little Quarter in the background

Masaryk Statue with the Little Quarter in the background

At intermission, myself and my classmates turn to each other dumbfounded and absolutely taken aback by this shared feeling of awe. My friend Gaby and I sitting next to each other spent a good three minutes exchanging dumfounded ‘Wows” and “Oh my goodness, did you—wow, that was just, wow” which eventually morphed into a more coherent conversation on the way the performance opened us up to memories and experiences we hadn’t visited in a long time.

It was in that conversation that I realized why I struggled to write, and why I ended up spending my Sunday night re-organizing my laundry instead of working on a blog post.

 

Some construction underway

Some construction underway in Prague

Part of it is that when I put something in writing, it’s suddenly very clear that it happened. Happened. Past tense. Writing is (in a less “Ode on a Grecian Urn” way) the vehicle I use to make sense of and to preserve the experiences. But it also can have a sort of finality to it. As Gaby and I related, it’s like that one weekend or event that we look forward to for months, maybe even years. And then in all its bliss it’s here and gone, and when we write what happened and it doesn’t quite capture it all, we begin to doubt the value of our experiences. And sometimes, we’re just downright depressed that it’s come and gone.

 

I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder. Yes, I do have a piece of the beloved yellow-shag carpet that was in our living room until I turned seven years old, and the drawers in my dresser are stuffed to the brim with old notes and books (I promise I still reference them). I just don’t like the idea of forgetting. I don’t like the idea that what happened, those brilliant moments, those ones we look forward to and lived in, mean nothing for the present. It’s the fear that after all the hype, all the planning, all the looking forward to, that it somehow wasn’t enough. And more importantly, that what we do with it in the future won’t reflect the things we’ve learned.

 

Mini Eiffel Tower I climbed Sunday for a beautiful view of the city

Mini Eiffel Tower I climbed Sunday for a beautiful view of the city

That’s why it’s hard to write. It’s a challenge in black and white—look at what you did. Look at who you were. Now, how are you going to use it?

 

View from the mini Eiffel Tower on Petrin Holl

View from the mini Eiffel Tower on Petrin Holl

Enough of that—Today is Fat Tuesday! Because you really want to know, here’s what my meals have consisted of thus far: Breakfast—yogurt and banana (healthy enough right?) Second breakfast—Three spoonfulls of Nutella. Elevensies—Czech sausage from a kindly Carnivale street vendor. Lunch—Chocolate-caramel cake (excellent nutritional value). Dinner—Potato pancakes and a few stolen bites of some questionable meat from a friend’s plate. Dessert—Coffee gelato. 2nd Dessert—well, the night is young…

 

Classes are going splendidly, thought it is quite odd that most of my peers back home are already taking midterms while I’m still in the add/drop period.

 

More on those classes later!

 

‘Til next time

 

 

A Picture Post

Dear Readers,

I know you’ll all be torn up about this, but the following post will be short. That’s right, short. (I think it’s about time after that novel last week).

Also, I thought I would tell you a little bit about other people’s days (not because mine haven’t been loads of fun, but just because…because)

My roommate Madeleine found a bikram yoga studio today where she was in this steaming hot room for a full hour and a half pulling off crazy yoga moves. She’s supposed to wake up for a 6:45 am yoga class tomorrow—props to her if she makes it. She also chopped off all her hair (ok not all of it) so she’s winning the “most transformed” prize.

My other roomie Liz is a pro walker and explorer. I’m pretty sure she’s seen more of Prague than any of the rest of us combined.  Today she introduced me to something called “carobella” (Google it) and she just gave me a children’s book called “22 Czech Legends”—bed time stories perhaps? She and I had a very long tram ride adventure that taught us we should always check the number on the first tram car. The most enjoyable part of that entire adventure was the when we realized we needed to switch trams, and in the process of hopping off had the doors close between us. Luckily they re-opened after a brief moment of panic and we were reunited without any Hollywood type chase scene.

Casey, the lovely lady I get to share a room with, has introduced me to the wonders of pepper-jack mac ‘n cheese. In other news, we mastered the art of not tripping over each-other’s Ethernet cords, and enjoyed our first movie night. Speaking of which, if you’re fed up with me singing “Let it Go,” you know who to talk to.

And now, because as the cliché goes “A picture is worth—“ (you know the rest), I’ll let them speak for the rest of my week.

"Porta Coeli" or Gateway to Heaven at a cloister in Tisnov

“Porta Coeli” or Gateway to Heaven at a cloister in Tisnov

Memorial at Austerlitz where one of the most brutal battles of the Napoleonic Wars took place

Memorial at Austerlitz where one of the most brutal battles of the Napoleonic Wars took place

Winery where we enjoyed a drop dead delicious meal and of course the wine selection straight from the cellar.

Winery where we enjoyed a drop dead delicious meal (and of course the wine selection straight from the cellar).

Ceiling of the "Pearl of Moravia" Cathedral

Ceiling of the “Pearl of Moravia” Cathedral
Part of the Karst Cave tour--we emerged from the cave into this abyss. Essentially it felt like a scene out of Jurassic Park.

Part of the Karst Cave tour–we emerged from the cave into this abyss. It felt like a scene out of Jurassic Park.

Spring is coming!!!

Spring is coming!!!

‘Til next time