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Oct 12, 2014

DAY FORTY ONE - Přítel v Berlíně - 12 OCTOBER 2014

Dobrý den, moji přátelé! Moje čeština je neexistující, takže je to všechno google translate.The past few days have been pretty quiet, but nevertheless quite enjoyable. We have our midterm exams and papers this coming week, so much of this weekend was spent reviewing and sleeping (and a lot of accidental napping).

Earlier this week, however, my program took a morning off of classes and made our way to the Reichstag. The Reichstag has quite a history, having been completed in the 1890s, but is now used as the meeting place for Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. We had a nice little tour /explanation of the building and its history, where we were able to sit in the viewing quarters and see where all of the representatives sit when in session. Fun fact - our group sat in the section that is typically reserved for special guests, such as Barack Obama and David Cameron. After our history lesson we headed up to the iconic glass dome and walked around there for a good bit before heading back to the IES center for our afternoon classes. 

One of my close friends from high school, Liam, is studying in Prague for the semester and came to Berlin for the weekend with some of his friends. We met up on Friday night and had drinks while watching the Festival of Lights at Potsdamer Platz - a beautiful week-long event throughout Berlin that I am excited to see more of. It was so wonderful to see him! We saw a lot of each other over the summer, but it’s crazy seeing someone I’ve known and been close with since 2004 while in Berlin. What’s better - I’m visiting him in Prague in a few weeks! Very much looking forward to that adventure. 

This week, as I already mentioned, we have our midterms, but on Saturday (or Sunday?) we leave for St. Petersburg! I am so excited. And a bit nervous - I really have no idea what to expect. We’re in St. Petersburg (all thirteen of us) for a week, and I really do not know what to expect. One of the only things I do know is that we are going to be seeing Don Quixote performed by the Mikhailovsky Ballet! I believe that’s the one. I really don’t know. I feel very uninformed, which is not a feeling I enjoy, being the plan-obsessed person I am. Either way though, I am very excited. Aside from that, this trip is going to be one big surprise. And where better to be surprised than in Russia….? 

Here’s a fun little fact, though - despite Russia’s craziness (and lack of fondness for Americans) of late, I was able to get my Russian visa not only for the week I am there, for for an additional 155 weeks! I have a visa for Russia valid through this time in 2017! How wild is that. So, if anybody’s going in the next three years, be sure to let me know…

Bis bald.

Oct 8, 2014
Oct 8, 2014

Images of the “rock church” Temppeliaukion. 

A bookstore in Helsinki I spent nearly an hour in…I think I’m turning into my mother.
Oct 8, 2014

A bookstore in Helsinki I spent nearly an hour in…I think I’m turning into my mother.

This is how fresh the Market Square fish market in Helsinki was. Really wish I could have bought some.
Oct 8, 2014

This is how fresh the Market Square fish market in Helsinki was. Really wish I could have bought some.

Oct 8, 2014

DAY THIRTY SEVEN - FAR NORTH - 8 OCTOBER 2014

Hei taas ihmiset! So the past week or so has been amazing. New cities, countries, languages…very exciting. 

I headed off to the airport on Friday and caught my flight to Helsinki. Despite being only about 440mi south of the arctic circle, the weather was surprisingly mild. Quite cloudy of course, but the temperatures were good. I arrived around 6:00pm on Friday and took a quick little stroll around the neighborhood I was staying in before settling in for the night. 

I was up and moving by 8:00 on Saturday morning, and made my way towards town via a beautiful and somewhat lengthy walking trail around the two lakes in north-central Helsinki (Töölönlahti and Eläintarhanlahti). I went first to see the Helsinki Cathedral at Senate Square, seeing as it seemed to be one of the only things that opened before 11:00am on a Saturday. The interior was beautiful - a lovely lutheran cathedral with beautiful chandeliers, interior decor and a magnificent organ. I was also able to see the statue of Alexander II of Russia in Senate Square before too many tourists arrived (note: Russian tourists, posing as though they themselves were Alexander II of Russia). I had intended on visiting the National Library of Finland and the Helsinki University Museum as well, but was unable to due to their being under construction. Instead I found my way to a lovely café facing Senate Square called Café Engel and had delicious yogurt and muesli breakfast. 

Following breakfast I didn’t have anywhere specific I wanted to be for a few hours, so I decided to wander through town and see what I could. I found the wonderful Market Square at the Port of Helsinki, which was full of tourists but simultaneously had a very local vibe. There were many stalls that were selling “souvenir” goods (such as magnets and tacky hats), but also a lot of stalls that were selling hand-carved wooden kitchenware, hand-crafted antler knives and even handmade reindeer leather goods.

My favorite part, however, was the food. No surprises there, of course. Sadly I was very full from my yogurt and muesli, but still enjoyed looking (and smelling) the food being sold from these stands. I usually do not care for the smell of fish, but let me tell you - the fish at this market smelled amazing. Really fresh. And so obviously local. In fact, I saw a young man selling fish directly off of his boat in the harbor. 

Making my way past the market I wandered towards the design district, home to many lovely little boutiques and cafés and galleries. I wandered the streets around there for hours before deciding to move on to see the very intriguing “rock church” (Temppeliaukion Church) that I’d heard so much about. The church was a bit of a hike to get to from the design district, but a lovely hike and through some very interesting streets. 

The church itself was incredible. A little rocky hill in the middle of a roundabout covered in moss and colorful leaves, you would never think that there would be a church literally beneath your feet. I walked in just as their afternoon service was getting out, and was able to see it relatively empty. The colors were amazing - the seats were all purple, the organ was gold, the stone walls were almost a bluish-green, and the dim natural light streaming in through the skylight roof made it all so much more vivid. It was a truly incredible place; I sat in the hall for almost an hour, just taking it all in. It was absolutely unlike anything I had ever experienced before. A lot of wows. 

After Temppeliaukion I made my way home by way of a little food stand and called in another early night (I feel like I’m not doing this “Europe” thing quite right sometimes). 

Sunday morning I headed out pretty early once again. I had a tighter schedule that day: breakfast, the Ateneum Museum, and then the ferry port…because I spontaneously bought a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia via ferry! Exciting! So I ate breakfast at this absolutely amazing café called Café Ekberg. I paid 17.50€ for a buffet that had more strange and exciting foods than I could count and coffee and tea galore. While I ate almost everything offered (muesli, lunch meats, fruits, some weird sort of rice/oatmeal thing), what stood out were the lox. I think I had three pieces of toast with lox. They were truly incredible, and brought in just that morning from a local fisherman (if I understood the server correctly). 

After that incredible and awfully filling breakfast I went to the Ateneum Museum, the Finnish National Gallery. I wanted very much to see their exhibit on Tove Jansson, author of the Moomin series, but over half of the museum was closed. However, I was still able to see some beautiful Finnish artwork, as well as one of my favorite Van Gogh pieces (Katu, Auver-sur-Oise). 

I walked to the ferry port and boarded the massive ship, and to my surprise found out that I had mistakenly booked a ticket in the first-class cabin. The cabin was very weird: all of the seats and couches were covered in zebra-print upholstery, the walls were covered with paintings of the Sahara…it was weird. Needless to say I slept nearly the entire ride. 

Tallinn was incredible. Absolutely incredible. I do wish that I had stayed longer, but I would not have felt comfortable staying in Tallinn alone, as I did in Helsinki. I was able to visit the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an old Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the Old Town, as well as the old Town Wall, some smaller old churches and the highest point in Tallinn. It was incredible. I finished the day with a four meat soup, bread and some hot mulled wine. It was great. 

My weekend in Finland and Estonia was an amazing and completely new experience. I had never traveled alone before (not overnight, at least), I had never visited places so new and culturally different from anywhere I’d been before (especially Tallinn), and I had never felt so independent. It was a truly incredible experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’m very excited to continue traveling throughout my semester here, but a little sad I won’t get more time to explore on my own. However, I’ve started making the last of my travel plans, and could not be more excited to visit some of the most amazing cities around Europe. 

Bis bald. 

Sep 30, 2014

DAY TWENTY NINE - BIRDDAY - 30 SEPTEMBER 2014

Hyvää iltapäivää! Been a while since I updated - this week has been a bit wonky, so sadly I haven’t done much. All the same. 

To start things off (and to state the obvious) I am now 21! Fun. Not a lot happened on that much anticipated day, but it was great nonetheless. Went to a schwanky breakfast with a friend from my program (her birthday is the 26th) and had the most delicious yogurt-muesli concoction. (I have since tried to replicate it, and while not quite right, I have created some pretty decent muesli-type breakfasts.) We had classes all day, but in the evening several people in my program opted to go and enjoy the weather in a park for a while before getting some very tasty phở. Following dinner, I dutifully did what any newly minted 21-year-old would do — I went directly home and passed out by 10:30pm. 

I had started feeling a little ill about Wednesday of last week (perfectly timed for my birthday), and the icky was in full force by the end of my birthday dinner evening. Despite falling directly on my birthday, the timing for getting ill couldn’t have been better, as I’m traveling for the next several weekends and obviously would not have wanted to be sick for that. 

By the time Sunday evening rolled around I was feeling much better, and managed to get myself out of bed and to the beautiful and world-renowned Berliner Philharmonie concert hall. I was able to see the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester (DSO) with several people from my program, and it was a truly incredible experience. We had amazing seats and a brief backstage tour, and were all so impressed with the performance and the conductor (a young English man). Overall a truly excellent way to spend a Sunday evening.

This weekend is Germany’s 25th Unification Day (Friday, October 3rd). Sadly I will not be here to enjoy the festivities. As I’ve mentioned too many times now, I’m off to Helsinki for three days on Friday and (clearly) could not be more excited. 

Glad to have had a bit of a quiet week, but ready to get going again. 

Bis bald. 

Sep 23, 2014 / 1 note

A segment of the north frieze of the Pergamon Altar, the Pergamon Altar in large, and the brilliantly blue Ishtar Gate, all seen today at the Pergamon Museum and all off-limits for the next five years starting Sunday. Feeling so lucky to live in such a cultural city.

Sep 23, 2014 / 1 note

The four dear friends with whom I spent Oktoberfest. The top image (left to right: me, Shannon, Becky, Jess, Sofy) is one of us at our table at Oktoberfest, and the other two are us all at Marienplatz the following day when we did a bit of sight-seeing around Munich. 

Sep 23, 2014 / 1 note

DAY 22 - OKTOBERFEST, MUNICH AND MUSEUMS - 23 SEPTEMBER 2014

Hei hei haloo! Been a long weekend! A tiring weekend. Exhaustive! Incredible. Marvelous. I went to Munich once before, in 2007 (shoutout to a Mr. Steve Dutton), and absolutely loved it, and going back did nothing if not raise my high opinion of the city. 

I arrived in Munich around lunchtime on Friday, and was eager to explore. I knew my friends from F&M that I was sharing a room with (four Alpha Phi girls; two studying in Florence, one in Brussels and the other in Copenhagen) weren’t going to arrive until after dinner, so I had basically the whole day to myself to explore the beautiful city. I went and checked us in to our hotel, took a brief nap (I had been too excited to sleep much the night before), and was headed out into the city to explore by 2:00pm. I mostly did a lot of wandering. Intentionally getting lost and then unintentionally being unable to find myself seems to be a strength of mine. Luckily, I’ve downloaded a city map of everywhere I’ve visited so far (and plan to do the same for future travels), so being lost is not so scary. More fun!

Saturday morning came and we rose bright and early, in order to arrive at the park and wait in line for the tents by 8:00am. Two of us (including myself) sporting dirndls, we headed off in good time and were even able to stop and pick up a pastry from a local bakery. We waited in line for about an hour and a half, playing charades and spotting friends from F&M from afar, until the doors to the tent opened at 10:00. All of a sudden we found ourselves surrounded by a stampede of beer-crazed people, pushing as hard as they could to get into the tent. My feet were not even touching the ground for a solid five minutes as the herd trampled into the Hofbräuhaus tent! An irreplaceable and delightfully horrifying experience. Hopefully one I will never repeat. Going back to Oktoberfest I certainly do hope to repeat, undoubtedly, but I think next time I will opt not to go to the largest tent. 

We then waited another two hours, until at 12:00 the celebratory first keg was tapped by Munich’s mayor, and then came ours very shortly after. It was an amazing day, filled with various forms of gluten and cheese, old F&M friends, and some new German (and some American) friends.

I am so glad I was able to spend it with some of my closest friends, and that we were also able to see so many others from F&M. Berlin is amazing, and I enjoy the people in my program, but there’s nothing quite like seeing old friends. 

On Sunday we (shockingly) were up relatively early, and packed up our hotel room and found our way to a beautiful brunch café by 10:00am. Café Glockenspiel overlooks Marienplatz from five floors up and served us a magnificent variety of cheeses, fruits, breads, meats, eggs and yogurts. It was delicious. Following our brunch we made our way around Munich for a while, wandering up the 306 steps of St. Peter’s Church to get an amazing view of Munich (and the Alps in the distance), meandering through the cobblestone streets, snacking on curry wursts and pommes and ice creams (separately, of course), visiting the Munich residence museum, until we opted to run back to Oktoberfest to collect some final souvenirs. We bought matching Oktoberfest t-shirts - and they aren’t even too horribly tacky! Very successful, if you ask me. 

We made it to the Munich airport in good time, and luckily too - apparently, I had missed my flight. First time I think I’ve every even been late to a flight, and I missed it not by a few minutes, but rather by TWELVE HOURS. I had thought I booked a seat for 9:05pm, and of course it turned out to be 9:05am. Luckily, having an international student ID card and flying within Germany, I was able to get a drastically reduced rate on a flight to Berlin that night. Made it home safe and sound, with only slightly higher risk of heart attack. 

This coming Sunday (September 28) marks the closing of the Pergamon Museum for the next five years due to renovation work needed. Because of this, a classmate and I decided to visit it this morning and see the Pergamon Altar and (my personal favorite) the Ishtar Gate. I visited the Pergamon (and the rest of the museums on Museum Island) in 2009 when Ze Fam and I traveled Germany together, but it was wonderful getting to go back. Definitely going to go back to the other museums once it’s too cold to do anything outside. 

Have some really cool plans forming for the upcoming several weeks that I’m really looking forward to.

This Sunday (Sept. 28) I have tickets (thank you grandparents!) to see the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin at the Philharmic concert house, one of the grandest concert halls ever built (according to my architecture professor). Sadly it is not the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and so it will of course not be the notorious Simon Rattle conducting, however we do have some of the best seats in the house.

Next weekend (October 3 - can you believe it’s almost October?!) I’m traveling to Helsinki. I am particularly eager for this trip, as I have wanted to visit Finland for at least four years (I don’t know why, but for some reason Scandinavia - and especially Finland - really call to me). Desperately hoping to see the northern lights, although I’m not sure if it’s the right time of year yet. Or if I would need to be in Lapland to see them? Still need to do some research on that trip. Any advice would be much appreciated!

The following weekend I believe I’m traveling to Prague to visit one of my closest friends from high school who is studying there for the semester. And the weekend after that my program is in St. Petersburg for a full week! A very busy and exciting upcoming month, as I’m sure the following few will be as well. 

Sorry for the lengthy post - so much is happening! 

Bis bald.