Berlin & Amsterdam

“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank

As mentioned previously, I had the entire week off for Semana Santa. After seeing two whole days of the processions in Sevilla, my friends and I left early on Tuesday morning for Berlin. Ever since my European History class in high school, I have wanted to go to Berlin, so I was very excited leading up to this trip. I was sure to refresh my WW2 / Cold War knowledge before heading that way, just so I could fully understand and appreciate what I was going to see.

When we first got to Berlin, we decided to do a walking tour of the city and all of the important historical landmarks. Although it was advertised to be a three hour tour, it ended up being four! Our guide was an American who “never came home from study abroad,” and is now getting a Masters in history from the most prestigious university in Berlin. I won’t even list all of the landmarks that we visited on this tour, because we saw pretty much everything there is to see in Berlin.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. An incredibly designed reminder of the lives lost to an incredible demonstration of hate.

One of the things that I admire so much about Berlin is its openness to its dark and complicated history. Berlin is full of thoughtful and artfully designed acknowledgements of its history. Here are some examples that particularly stood out to me:

  1. On the tour we saw The Bebelplatz, which is a famous site where the Nazis burned books. The site is marked by a subtle, yet harrowing, memorial.
  2. The entire line where the Berlin Wall once stood is marked with red brick. Obviously, this line now passes through busy streets, malls, etc, but it is still there as a reminder of the once-divided city.
  3. There are memorials all over the city dedicated to the persecuted Jews, Homosexuals, and Roma people.
  4. Hitler’s bunker is now covered by a parking lot with a metal sign that reads “Hitler’s Bunker” indicating that this site is not celebrated, it is simply acknowledged.
“Arbeit macht frei” – a German phrase meaning “work sets you free”. The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of Nazi concentration camps.

On the second day in Berlin, I decided to peel off from my group and visit the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, which was a Nazi concentration camp  used primarily for political prisoners. The majority of the original buildings are still standing and the curators have woven “museum content” into the existing structures. The result is an unparalleled experience that is equal parts educational and emotional. This was truly an experience that I will never forget. After my visit to Sachsenhausen, visited the Topography of Terror, which is a museum located in the former Gestapo headquarters. Again, very interesting and I am grateful to have visited it.

On Thursday, we flew to Amsterdam – another place I’ve always wanted to visit. We ate breakfast in a cute little (this place was literally so tiny) cafe. By some amazing stroke of luck, we miraculously got tickets to the Van Gogh museum, which was previously sold out for that week and the following. We purchased the tickets at 2:00 PM for the 2:30 PM times-slot that same day, so we dashed to the museum rather quickly. After the museum, we explored for a bit and ended up at a nice restaurant for dinner. I had pasta with pesto and it was delish.

Ever since seeing “The Fault in Our Stars” (not a fan of the movie, just FYI), I have wanted to visit the Anne Frank House. I was majorly disappointed when I realized (about a month ago) that they were already sold out for the rest of April and beginning of May. I did read online, however, that they release 20% of the day’s ticket allocation on the morning of at 9:00 AM….CHALLENGE. ACCEPTED. After not being able to get tickets for Thursday morning, we woke up with a strategy on Friday morning. By another amazing stroke of luck – we got tickets for Friday evening at 8:00 PM.

We decided to have ourselves a day full of museums, starting with The Moco Museum and ending with the Anne Frank House. The Moco museum is a fabulous modern art museum that has lots of Banksy’s work. This museum was definitely a highlight of my week.

After The Moco Museum, we did some exploring and eventually ended up at the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House was every bit as touching, jarring, and thought provoking as I had imagined. It is insane to me that the Third Reich fell in 1945 – that’s not even that long ago. It is absolutely crazy to think that such horrible and barbaric events happened in the twentieth century. One of the things that stood out to me most was a video at the end of the Anne Frank House tour. The video showed celebrities and tourists reacting to their visit to the Anne Frank House. One of the people interviewed said “all of Anne’s ‘would-haves’ are our opportunities and possibilities.” I’d like to start living every day thinking about Anne Frank, her unfulfilled aspirations, and the encouraging optimism that she maintained even when facing the darkest of situations.

We made a stop at a floating flower market on a canal in Amsterdam at some point!

With the Anne Frank House still sitting heavy on our hearts, we decided to go for an “easy” bike ride on Saturday morning. Amsterdam is known as the “city of bikes” and that could not be more accurate. There are literally so many bikes all over the place. It seems like there might be more bikes in the city than people – there are literally tons. So anyways, my friends and I rented bikes for the full day with plans to just ride around the city. Easy enough, right? Within twenty minutes I had already hit the back of the tire of a biker riding perpendicular to me at an intersection….. Shortly after, I realized that I had no idea who had the right-of-way at 99% of the intersections I encountered. I quickly decided that  I wanted to get the heck off of that bike ASAP. Eventually, my friends and I stopped for Dutch pancakes at a lovely little pancake restaurant (Hallalujah!). After that, we just wandered around the river and visited the tulip garden at the Rijksmuseum. I then took a pretty hefty nap at the hostel – I needed it!

Sunday morning, my friends and I got up early and came straight home to Sevilla. What an adventure. I am so grateful to have seen, learned, mourned, and cherished all that I did this weekend.

Semana Santa in Sevilla

A paso during Semana Santa in Sevilla.

In Spain, as in many Catholic countries, Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week before Easter) is a huge deal. Not only do most employees and students get a week of vacation, but many cities have processions throughout the week. Sevilla, specifically, is known as “the place to be” during the festivities.

Although the processions officially began on Sunday, we decided to celebrate early by taking a quick day trip to the beach on Saturday. We went to a nearby beach (about an hour away) called Matalascañas. We spent all day soaking up the salt and sun and topped it all off with tapas and gelato.

A paso at night – while other processions feature music, the pasos that depict Jesus crucified on the cross are done in silence.

Plam Sunday, however, is when the real fun began in Sevilla. It is hard to describe the processions to someone who has never seen it before, but I’ll give it my best try. Basically, there are massive parades where thousands of people walk and/or carry a giant pasos (statues) that depict Biblical stories.Throughout Sevilla, there are many Hermandades, or brotherhoods, that each belong to a specific church in the area. Each of these “fraternities” prepares a procession and carries a paso throughout the streets. The people (there are SO MANY) who are walking in the procession or carrying the paso are performing an act of penitence.

Again – not at all related to the KKK in terms of tradition or sentiment. Please do not confuse this cultural & religious tradition for that sinister group.

There are a few typical “characters” and costumes of the procession, which I think is pretty interesting. The most recognizable are the Nazarenos, who wear a somewhat controversial uniform. The Nazarenos wear capes and hats that strongly resemble those of the KKK. It is important to note that there is NO connections between the beliefs of the two groups. The Nazarenos, however, are a little scary at first sight. It is a relief when they start handing out candy to children watching the procession! In addition to the Nazarenos, there are also the Costaleros. The Costaleros are very strong men who train all year to carry the pasos. Obviously, these statues are incredibly heavy! The Costaleros have to switch places under the float every fifteen minutes or so. When they come out from under the paso, they all have welts on their necks from where the paso rests. The dedication of the Costaleros, the Nazarenos, and the entire city of Sevilla to this tradition is just incredible. Semana Santa was truly something spectacular to see. The craziest part is that this happens all day for the entire week. And it is always crowded with tons of people in the street.

Switzerland

We found an abandoned bathtub on the trail and thought it would be a good idea to use it as a sled.

This weekend, a few of my best pals and I traveled to Switzerland! After weeks of planning the trip, we realized a few days prior to our departure that the weather was supposed to be bad while we were there. Much to our surprise, the weather was great and it made for a lovely trip!

We first arrived in Geneva on Thursday. While Caroline and Mia headed straight to Interlaken, Zoë and I decided to stay one night in Geneva to explore the city a little bit. After we arrived, we dropped our bags off at our Airbnb before heading out to a traditional Swiss fondue dinner. Our Airbnb host recommend a nice restaurant away from the city center, so we thought that we would give it a shot. People always say that Switzerland is one of the most expensive European cities to visit and I would have to agree! We spent around $30 per person on a giant pot of cheese and some bread. But hey, it was a nice experience. At that point, it was already nearly 10PM. We grabbed some drinks in the bar district and headed back to the Airbnb.

Geneva has colorful flowers like these all over the place! I could not get enough!

The next morning, we went out for a day of exploring. It became pretty apparent by the mid-afternoon that Geneva is a city that you can visit in one day. It is a beautiful city with an incredible lake right in the center. We saw all the main “spots,” including the United Nations Office and the Red Cross Museum. After a long day of exploring, we hopped on a train to Interlaken. The train ride itself was absolutely incredible. We passed by some of Switzerland’s many huuuuuge lakes and straight through the Alps.  Definitely the prettiest train ride I’ve ever been on.

Once Zoë and I arrived in Interlaken, we found our hostel and plotted the rest of the day. One of my friends, Mia, had been in Interlaken the previous night and had just returned from a long hike. We decided to all relax by hopping in the hostel’s hot tub before running to the supermarket to grab something for dinner.

Saturday morning, we woke up early to depart on our first adventure in Interlaken. Some of the friends that we had made in the hot tub the night before decided to join us as well. We decided to take a ski lift to the top of a mountain and hike our way down. We had the best time frolicking through the snow and enjoying all of the beautiful scenery. We had many snowball fights and made tons of snow angels. We were all acting as if we had never seen snow before (hey, it’s been a while!). It took us about three hours and several “wipe outs” to make it back to the bottom of the mountain. The weather was incredible and although there was snow all over the place, we kept quite warm. We finished the night by cooking some frozen pizza at the hostel to avoid dropping another $30 on dinner. Our hostel was amazingly home-y and it made it so easy to make friends. We met people from all over the United States as well as Europe. It is so cool to interact with other travelers and I love that hostels really give you that opportunity.

Zoë, Mia, and I at St. Beatus Caves. Some of my favorite Sevilla girlies!! I am so thankful to have met these ladies.

On Sunday, the weather was kind of bad. We went to St. Beatus Caves, which is a popular cave system with lit pathways. It was super cool and a great “rainy day activity,” as the caves are “inside….” More or less. After that, we went back to the hostel and played fooseball, ping pong, and pool with our new friends. We had such a blast meeting new people all weekend! I think that our new friends were such a big part of what made this weekend so special.

On Monday morning, we traveled back to Sevilla. I am tired, sore after all the hiking (!!!!), and forever thankful to get to experience Switzerland! This weekend was definitely one of my favorites – we had just the best time being silly and meeting new people – I would not trade it for the world!

Lisbon, Portugal

Thanks for showing this Okie a good time, Portugal!

This weekend, I went to Lisbon for the weekend. My group left super early Friday morning and took a six-hour bus ride to Portugal. We stopped in Évora, which is a town with preserved medieval walls and many other monuments. While we were only in Évora for a few short hours, we got to see the Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones. The Chapel gets its name because the inside is “decorated” with human bones and skulls. I don’t have any pictures of this because….seems weird. But picture the Catacombs of Paris but much smaller and less…underground. In the same building, there was also a beautiful Cathedral. It had some of the most colorful stained glass that projected bright colors onto the wood floor. It almost made it look like there were some kind of disco lights on in the Cathedral. I’m a big fan.

After our visit to Évora, we continued on the bus to Lisbon. Once we arrived, we had a guided walking tour of the city. Lisbon is a beautiful city with pastel-colored buildings and buildings covered in decorative tile. We also walked near the river; Lisbon lies on the River Tagus, which honestly is so large, it looks like the ocean. I was shocked to find out that it was only a river. After the walking tour, we decided to find a good place for dinner. We went to a little restaurant at the top of a huge hill. Portugal is known for their dried and salted cod. Before it is prepared, it is soaked in water overnight to soften it. For dinner, I had Bacalhau à Brás, which is a traditional dish that is basically a mix of scrambled eggs, potatoes, the salted cod, and olives. It was interesting – I’d give it a 7/10.

Tram 28 and me. Just as this picture was taken, it started driving off. Luckily, I was at the back!

Saturday morning, we gave ourselves the privilege of sleeping in. After that, we headed to the city to see if we could catch Tram 28. Lisbon is full of archaic-looking tram lines. Tram 28 is the most “famous” of these lines and provides a good tour of the city. We rode Tram 28 for about forty-five minutes then hopped off to grab some lunch. We found a huge market with different food stalls with all kinds of food. I went for a stall offering Portuguese cuisine and got some more of the traditional salted cod. My friend, Mia, got pumpkin risotto from the same restaurant and we shared. After lunch, I headed to the Museu Coleção Berardo, a modern art museum and the most visited museum in Portugal! To be honest, it was a little underwhelming for me, but that’s besides the point. The outside of the museum was incredible and it offered some good views as well. After the museum, we went back to the hotel for a *too* long nap. We went out for dinner around 10:30 PM (waaaay too late by Portugal standards), so out pickings were slim. We ended up at a classy burger joint and, honestly, I was kind of glad. I don’t think I’ve had a burger since being here (okay..except for one or two Micky D’s stops while in airports, etc) and WOW was this a good one!

One of *many* peacocks and a beautiful view of the river.

Saturday morning, we had another walking tour that included the Castelo de S. Jorge, which is the *casual* local castle of Lisbon. My favorite part of the tour were all the peacocks that were around the fortress of the castle. They were so incredibly beautiful – I’ve never seen one up close before! After the tour, we made a stop for one last pastel de nata (Portuguese cream tart) before we headed back to Sevilla. I think I had five pasteles de nata over the course of the weekend, and this one was definitely my favorite!

Overall, Lisbon was great! I came home with a bunch of memories and even a *small* vocabulary of Portuguese! I can say “milk,” “thank you,” “good day,” “coffee,” and….that’s it! All the essentials, right?