Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Let's Berlin Again

Berlin is an incredible city that fascinates me with its heart wrenching history from the 20th century. The city is filled with contrasts and juxtapositions: old/new, beautiful/industrial, fear/ forgiveness, rebellion/order, power/oppression, etc. It is a city with an internal struggle to celebrate history, while simultaneously wanting to demolish and abandon it.

Our time was divided into exploring Berlin’s history and celebrating its famous Christmas Markets! 
Bunker Tour M took us underground and explained how people from East Berlin used the subway, sewage and bunker systems to escape from Communism to freedom in West Berlin. It is fascinating learning about the challenges that were overcome and the determination to reach freedom and reunite divided families. 

The most moving part of our Berlin Walking Tour was the photos of the women after Berlin was captured by the Soviets. All of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were now dead or being whisked away to prison camps and their city was completely destroyed. The photos of these tiny ladies cleaning up massive debris and rubble was just heart wrenching. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Their incentives for cleaning the charred mess of the city was to receive food stamps to feed their children. To add injury to insult, the survivors worked tirelessly to restore Berlin yet within 15 years West Berlin was surrounded by a wall, families were divided and everyone in East Berlin working in the West was now unemployed.

After the walking tour, I highly recommend taking a free tour of the Reichstag Parliament Building during the day. The history is quite comprehensive and the tour explains not only the history of the building, but the surrounding areas as well. I was also interested in the square at the State Opera, the place of the famous Nazi book burnings. 25,000 books were burned once deemed impure to German society and standards. These books were written by classical, liberal, anarchist, socialist, pacifist, Jewish and Communism authors. If you look closely you can find the underground memorial, which is empty, white book shelves. Lastly, Cathedral of Berlin is beautiful. The outside is still charred from the war.

Overall, Berlin is enthralling and I'm so thankful I got to see and experience so much history that I have previously read about. I learned more on our tours than I ever could have in a book, which is a huge reminder why it's so important to travel when you can! I would love to go back to tour more museums, ride bicycles through the Tiergarten and attend the Philharmonic Orchestra (one of the best in the world)!

Recommendations: We were all really happy with where we stayed, Circus Hostel. There were five of us in a five person room and it was super clean, warm, great location, nice staff, etc.

We ate dinner at a really delicious and cozy German restaurant in Mitte called Schwarzwaldstuben. You have to get one of the German sour cream pizzas, seriously yum. I got the vegetarian plate (kind of a lame choice in Germany I now realize, but I loved it.) Pretty much everything looked amazing. 

Tausend is a super guay Asian-inspired restaurant that requires a reservation several weeks in advance. It’s crazy because it’s located hidden under a bridge with an unmarked door. Some of the best food we ate was from the stands at the German Christmas Markets.... another post coming soon!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Croatian Vacation in Photographs

Amy and I were lucky enough to spend some time in Croatia in September. We flew to Dubrovnik for a few days before traveling to Hvar. Here are some favorite photos from the trip.... travel details to come...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Paris est un rĂªve....

Paris is perfect. I can’t put into words why I love it so much, but I’m so happy every time I visit. As budget-travelling teachers, we found extremely inexpensive flights on EasyJet four months ago and then booked an AirBnb. The AirBnb was hilarious. Somehow the review didn’t mention that there was no bathroom. The bathroom was down the hall. Or that if you are over 5’5" you can lay down with your head touching one wall and your feet touching the other. We had a beautiful view of Les Invalides though and got tons of exercise trekking up seven flights of stairs. Obviously, this last part was not by choice, but because there was no elevator. Still, it’s PARIS and I would happily sleep on a park bench to be there.

We toured the Royal Opera House and strolled through Galleries Lafayette our first afternoon. These two sights are only a few blocks apart, so it's easy to see both back-to-back. That night we had dinner on the Seine and went to an underground jazz club, Caveau de l'Huchette, recommended to me by one of my best friends, Holly. Saturday we took our day trip to Giverny, which was just the cutest. Sunday we walked through the Marais neighborhood, window shopped, and spent the afternoon in Luxembourg Gardens. The BEST part of the trip for me was finding an outdoor jazz concert in Luxembourg Gardens and meeting the most adorable French grandma who talked to us about her life in Paris. Then, we sat and had crepes and Rose for the end of the concert. That night, we met some guy friends I know from my trip to Paris a few summers ago for drinks and had so much fun. I can’t wait to go back because I still need to make a trip to Normandy. Au revoiiiiiir!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monet's Garden Trip (backpacks + bike lanes)


Por fin! A day trip to Giverny to see Monet’s Gardens! I have wanted to do this for years and I was so happy that Alex hadn’t been to Monet’s Gardens either. We took a little train from Paris to Vernon (about 45 minutes and 30 euros roundtrip) and then bought bikes right next to the station and biked 4 kilometers to Giverny. We were handed maps, but figured it would be easy enough to navigate and took off. We started biking along the highway and I was really overwhelmed because there was no bike lane and lots of huge tour busses zooming by. I thought this was a popular thing people do so where are all the bikers? How do grandmas bike on this dangerous highway? This is not safe! We continued to trek on sloooowly until we saw some bikers pop out of the trees taking pictures about 20 feet up and realized the bike lane is a bit hidden, but parallel to the main highway. The ride was so much more fun/less stressful once we discovered the not-so-secret bike lane.

Upon arriving at Giverny, we found the cutest flea market selling all sorts of imaginable antiques/food/wine/etc. It had everything you never knew you wanted or needed. I saw the most beautiful map of Europe and was able to buy it for one euro. I also bought a really pretty old book in French. I have no idea what it says, but I would like to start buying an old book every country I travel to so one day I can have a collection of books from my time abroad. I’m excited even though it seems a little weird to have a book collection I can’t read. Books are cheaper and easier to transport than wine/candles/paintings though so it’s definitely a more practical collection.

Once we reached Monet’s Gardens, we were in awe. It’s absolutely so beautiful! I took so many photos of the flowers and am so happy I finally got to go visit!

Monet's Garden DIY Day Trip Advice

Buy your tickets to the Monet's Gardens online and then arrive 30-45 minutes early to the St. Lazare train station because you have to buy your train tickets from the information desk because you can only purchase them from the automated machines if you have a French credit card. I also would advise travelling with a small backpack if you decide to bike so you have a place for any flea market items you may pick up and/or wine and snacks you might want for a picnic. I did NOT have a backpack and had to get pretty creative biking back with my book and map.

Really wishing I had a backpack at this point. And spoke French.