A Semester in Prague: Week 6

This week has felt like quite a turn around for Prague. Almost the entire week was filled with blue skies (although still quite cold) and the color looked good on the city. Its like Prague really comes to life with a bit of sunshine and bright blue skies, and I think I do too.

I managed to get out and enjoy the city solo on Tuesday before my cooking class, and wow, it put me in such a great mood. There were so many people out enjoying the weather, and so many street performers just doing there thing. Bubbles seem to be relatively popular here in Prague, so it was only natural to find a man making giant soap bubbles in the middle of the Old Town Square. I stood and admired the bubbles for a bit, then headed to my cooking class.

This week we made a bunch of bread. We started with a sourdough loaf which our teacher had prepared beforehand to let it rise for a bit, and then moved onto a yeast dough that we shaped into animals and braids. We also made a delicious mushroom soup topped with a poached egg and some dill. I was a bit unsure about the soup since I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms or eggs, but it was absolutely delectable and the yolk from the egg added a richness to the soup. For dessert we made a cinnamon twist loaf that again was delicious.

The rest of the week went on as usual, until Friday when at 11:30 p.m. Marcie, Jack and I hopped on a bus to Budapest, Hungary. It was a roughly 7 hour bus ride and we drove through the night and arrived early that morning. It was too early to check into our AirBnB, so we dropped off our luggage in a closet they had for us and then went exploring for a bite to eat at STIKA which was cosy and delicious. We still had a few hours to kill so we wandered for a bit and ended up at the Central Market Hall to escape the cold and experience a bit of the local culture. We passed the Budapest Eye at the Erzsébet Square, and saw a bunch of incredible murals hidden on the sides of buildings.

After about an hour wandering around the market, we made our the House of Terror Museum which serves as a memorial to the victims of two terror regimes in Hungary. The museum presented a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times both under the power of fascism and communism, and the nations relationship with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

By this time we were exhausted from a rough night of sleep on the bus and walking around in the cold, so we went to check into our AirBnB. We all passed out as soon as we got there, but were ready and recharged to take on the evening. Jack found a very hip restaurant right near our AirBnB, so we went there for dinner and finished the night on the Budapest Eye.

We planned Saturday to be our main touring day, so we planned all the places we wanted to see and set out to check them off our list. Our AirBnB was conveniently located right next to the Basilica, so I snapped a quick photo on our way out the door and was ready to set off! Marcie had visited Budapest as a kid and had some adorable photos around the city, so with Jack’s detective work we found all the locations and recreated the photos. After we checked that off of our list we headed across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to see the Parliament building.

The Parliament Building was so grand and ornate and I probably could have stood there for an hour and still not have been satisfied with admiration. Unfortunately, it was freezing so we took a few pictures and set off again. We managed to find our way to a subway station and after some time and planning, we figured out how to get to the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion was probably my favorite sight of the entire trip. It was so gorgeous with its ornate white facade paired with the colorful tiled roof. After having lunch on top of the hill near the Fisherman’s Bastion we made our way back down, stopping quickly at the Buda Castle.

We headed back towards the center of the city and walked to the The Dohány Street Synagogue. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we were still able to walk around the outside and see the Holocaust Memorial known as the Tree of Life or the Emmanuel Tree. We called the night relatively early and just watched movies in our AirBnB until the next morning.

We woke up the next morning to a layer of thick, heavy snow. We decided to make the most of our next few hours in Budapest and went to Memento Park which is a collection of gigantic monuments from the communist dictatorship in Hungary. These statues were removed from the streets of Budapest and placed in a park outside of the city where they stand today.

Budapest was absolutely wonderful and quickly became one of my favorite European cities despite it being cold and grey for the majority of our visit. As we were getting on the tram to get to our bus the beautiful city waved farewell with a gorgeous blue sky.

fullsizeoutput_9ff

These weeks are going by so quickly, and its only a short time now until I get to see my parents and show them around Prague. I’m so glad I have them behind me encouraging me to take the most of this incredible opportunity, and I love them so much more for it. Thanks Mom and Dad for affording me this life-changing experience.

I’m updating this blog weekly (or trying to at least), but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

Barcelona, Spain

The second city on our Europe tour was Barcelona, one of my new favorite cities. We had a little bit more time in Barcelona, and I feel like both the addition of half a day and a bit more planning lead to a much better experience in Barcelona.

We were staying with a family friend, and they gave us a few suggestions on places to go, and things to see. The first day we got there we wandered down to Las Ramblas in attempt to go down to the beach. Las Ramblas were fairly crowded, so we walked quickly down to the bottom and grabbed an ice cream before walking for a bit on the boardwalk. About halfway on our walk to the beach it started to rain, so we turned back to head home.

The next day, we booked our tickets to go see La Sagrada Familia. We had the morning to explore more of Barcelona, so we headed out to the streets with a basic idea of what to see per suggestion of our family friends. We explored the Gothic Quarter and finished at the Barcelona Cathedral. The architecture was absolutely stunning in the Gothic Quarter, and there were decorative details at every turn.

When we were getting closer to our ticket time for La Sagrada Familia, we hopped in a taxi and drove across town. We made sure we got there with some time to spare so that we could view the outside and take some time to admire the architecture before we went inside. We walked all the way around the building, which is still under construction after 131 years. The exterior of the basilica is stunning, but I was not at all prepared for the design and scale of the interior. It was absolutely breath taking, and I was completely mesmerized by the stained glass windows.

After visiting La Sagrada Familia, we hoped in a taxi again and headed to another of Gaudi’s most famous works: Park Güell. We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the park, and admiring the architecture and the views. The park was a nice escape from city life, and was beautifully landscaped.

While we didn’t spend the money to venture onto the terrace, we didn’t find it necessary with the amount of land to cover. We hiked all the way to the top of the steep hillside and back down again making a full circle around the park. The sunshine and warm weather definitely made the experience that much better.

IMG_3392

On our last night, we took the kids out for dinner. We also met up with one of Marguerite’s friends from college who had been living in Barcelona. We had a lovely night and spent a lot of good time catching up.

I fell in love with Barcelona and I honestly can’t wait to go visit again. There was just something about the bright positivity of the city that I can’t resist. I highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance.

Madrid, Spain

Beginning last November, my sister (Marguerite) and I started planning our yearly trip to Europe with two new additions to our group. My brother (Olson) and his girlfriend (Sam) decided to join us this summer, only to add more fun to our adventures. For the past few summers, my sister and I have traveled to the Netherlands in the short time period between school and summer camp to visit our family. As we’ve gotten older and more adventurous we have added countries to our trips, always experiencing new things and visiting friends abroad. This summer, we all decided to check Spain and Italy off our travel bucket lists. We had about a week and a half of travel, so we found four cities that piqued our interest the most, and started planning.

Our first city was Madrid, Spain. One of my best friends from boarding school lives there, so I used our trip as an excuse to go see her. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan our trip very well and we came right in the middle of her final exams, but we did get to see her for a bit. We didn’t do a whole lot of planning for Madrid, and weren’t really sure what we should be going to see. So a lot of our time was spent just wandering the streets.

IMG_2836

On our first night, after a bit of miscommunication and confusion with our AirBnB hosts, we finally arrived at our AirBnB and were ready for dinner. We were not fully acquainted with the cultural differences in Spain, and when we arrived at this restaurant at nearly 8 p.m. we were shocked to find out that they were not serving dinner yet. Luckily they opened just a few minutes later and we were able to have our first true Spanish meal. This place was recommended by our AirBnB hosts, and it was absolutely delicious, plus who couldn’t turn down a restaurant with such an appealing look! We ended the night with a stroll around and a first taste of Madrid, as well as a cone of gelato before making our way back to the apartment.

 

The next morning, after a bit of research, we decided to visit the train station, the The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Plaza Mayor. These things were all relatively close to our apartment, and we were able to knock out all of these sights before noon.

Edit1_25

We were starting to get a bit hungry and were looking for a place to rest for a minute. Knowing that Spain is known for its churros, we found the Chocolatería San Ginés which just happens to be one of the most famous spots for churros in Madrid! I definitely recommend stopping by and getting yourself some churros here. Also, the hot chocolate is a necessity for the churros, and no, it isn’t like American hot chocolate. Haha.

 

After a quick churros break, we headed back onto the streets, looking for Puerta De Sol. I think we were all a bit overwhelmed by the crowds (we are used to the quiet Appalachian mountains) to fully enjoy Puerta de Sol, and we decided to do a little shopping on the back streets of Madrid after that.

After some shopping and walking around all day, we were tired so we headed back to our AirBnB to take a quick rest before having dinner with my friend Sandra.

 

At around 8, we met up with Sandra, and had tapas at a restaurant I can no longer remember the name of. It was so nice getting to see her again after two years, and having someone who actually spoke Spanish to be our translator. Our limited Spanish was getting us by, but it was nice to have that person to actually know what was going on.

We realized after expressing our disappointment with Madrid with her, that we had not gotten a true experience of Madrid. I am definitely eager to go back and visit the city with a bit more knowledge and preparation. I would say that one day is definitely not enough time to truly experience a city, and I will definitely be making another trip.

The next morning though we were hopping on a train to Barcelona and our time in Madrid had come to an end. If you are planning on taking a trip to Madrid, definitely plan to have a few days to explore the city. We only saw a small section of the city, and unfortunately that section of the city wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

Europe Trip 2016 || Day 18-19: Boxtel

I’m going to condense some of the days spent in Holland because a majority of our time was spent relaxing with the family.

Day Nineteen:

Our week long trip in Ireland had come to an end. We woke up relatively early to make it to the airport on time. Once all checked in and through security we stopped for breakfast and coffee. Then we boarded the plane and made our way to Eindhoven. Our Uncle Luc met us there and he drove Mom and Amy to the central station so they could go into Amsterdam to see a coffeeshop. Marguerite and I went back to Boxtel with Luc and just relaxed with our cousin Bart and his duck until Suus (Aunt) and Daan (cousin) got home. After dinner Suus, Luc, Bart, Anina, and I went to see Oma (our grandmother). We played cards and had tea. Oma was so happy and excited to see us again. Then we went back to the Molenpad and met Freek (Daan and Bart’s cousin… not on our side of the family) and Daan were playing darts and drinking since Daan finished his final exams that day. We all just sat around playing games and chatting and just enjoying each other’s company. Mom and Amy showed up at around 11:00 and they said they had a fun time in Amsterdam. We stayed out until about midnight until we were all tired then we went to bed.

Day Twenty:

Marguerite and Amy slept in, so Mom and I went to Oma’s early that morning. We stopped to get her flowers on the way and I laughed at mom using American biking signals on our bike ride. After a cup of coffee and a lekker warm stroopwafel we headed back to the Molenpad (Aunt and Uncle’s house) to make sure Marguerite and Amy were up and awake. At around 1:00 we went back to Oma and Opa’s house for a big family reunion. Anne-Lies (great-aunt) came early to spend some time with us before the great-aunts from my Oma’s side got there. Then Oma’s sisters came. Tante Ann, Marij, and Guus and his wife, Thea were all there. It was nice in the garden with the whole family and to see all the tantes again. Oma was so happy as well. After that we went back to the Molenpad and Daan had another party with all his friends. Denis came and brought paling (smoked eel) which is my Mom’s favorite so we ate that and had a few drinks sitting next to the Dommel. Marguerite, Bart and I played a game of dominoes as all of Daan’s friends had a bonfire in the back yard. After a few rounds, Marguerite joined Daan and his friends and Bart and I went to sleep.

Europe Trip 2016 || Day 6: Göttingen, Germany to Düdingen, Switzerland

After our last breakfast together, Johannes took us to the train station where we said our goodbyes. I had such a lovely time in Göttingen and had a blast catching up with Johannes again. The night before, we had bought first class train tickets (how luxurious of us) since they were only an extra 10 euros. I definitely felt like we didn’t belong in the first class car of the train though. Everyone in there was at least 30 years older than us and we probably wondering why two young travelers were in the first class car. It was worth it for our long train ride from Göttingen to Basel though. Having pretty much guaranteed seats was wonderful after our past few train journeys. This trip went very smoothly and we spent the whole time reading, and enjoying the free snacks of first class. It was fairly frustrating though because we never got our tickets checked on our whole journey. We only got asked IF we had a ticket but no one ever asked to see them or punched holes into them. We had spent a total of 230 euros to get the ticket and could have potentially ridden for free. But, in the end it is better to be safe than sorry.

When we arrived in Basel we switched trains and headed to Fribourg and then switched again to get to Düdingen where we would meet Valérie (another former counselor). Again, not once did our tickets get checked. When we arrived in Düdingen, Valérie was waiting at the train station to pick us up. We walked up to her family’s flat and met her parents before going back out to the train to venture into Fribourg for dinner. We went to a cute little local burger place called Cyclo Café which was very tasty. Then Valérie showed us around the town. It was a very cute little city, especially charming in the evening with the twinkling lights. It was definitely a change of scenery from the gentle rolling grassy hills of Germany to the steep mountains of Switzerland. She showed us around her university, then we went to get gelato. We then went further into downtown (downtown being the lowest part of the city, not the center) and saw the Fribourg Cathedral. We walked even further down and saw the city from below which was really quite beautiful.

Then we were walking to catch the bus back up to the center of the city but we missed it, so we took the stairs back to the top. There were SO MANY stairs. We had to take a break a few times, but after about 30 minutes of climbing up we made it to the top. There was a little train next to the stairs that was fueled by poop (I can’t remember if it was human or animal waste, but nonetheless). When we finally got to the top of the stairs, we walked to a little club and hung out there for a little while. We met some of Valérie’s friends and then managed to find a table and Valérie told us more stories about Switzerland. After about an hour or so, we walked back to the train station and went back home. Once we got home we were all tired and it was so late so we all went to bed.

*Today was primarily a travel day, and I forgot to bring my camera into Fribourg when we went out that night, so not too many pictures, but there will be tons on the next post

Europe Trip 2016 || Day 4: Göttingen, Germany

Today we slept in while Johannes went to his morning class (University was still in session when we arrived). We got to meet his lovely mother that morning and she was so gracious for the flowers and chocolate that we brought the night before. When Johannes got back we ate breakfast together. Then we went into Göttingen town center to look around and experience the city a bit. We ran some errands with him first before getting out of the car to walk around. We walked along the wall that surrounds the town, which is very old. Some parts of it have been destroyed or have fallen apart throughout the years, but much of it is still standing. It used to enclose the whole city, but now the city has grown and much of it has expanded beyond the wall. Then we found out we had to move his car so we walked back and on the way we stopped for an ice cream. After we moved the car we walked around in town for a little while longer before we went to his school to grab a bite to eat.

We sat outside and ate our food and watched all the students. It was another super sunny day, so there were a bunch of students around campus. Then we went to his English writing class since he said the professor was American and funny. The writing class was good, much of the stuff he talked about we also learn is school. While he wasn’t explaining the writing stuff he threw in stories about the nude beaches and then bashed on the Germans for a bit. Marguerite was pretty tired and fell asleep for some of the class, but luckily the teacher didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t call her out on it. After all, we weren’t his students.

Once class was over, we walked back to the car and drove to a little town outside of Göttingen so we could hike up to see the watch tower. It was a pretty steep hike, and I forgot a water bottle, which was not the smartest of my ideas. Marguerite had to use the bathroom, so she ran up to the top while Johannes and I took our time. Once we got to the top we walked out to the edge, and it was such a gorgeous view! You could see for miles and miles. Then we all got on the wall and rested in the sun for a bit. After about an hour we walked back down the mountain and drove back to Johannes’s parents’ house. His mom had made lasagna which was very delicious. For dessert we had rhubarb (which was from their garden) and cream for dessert. I wasn’t so sure about it at first because it is pretty tart, but after I got used to the flavor, I loved it. After dinner, we went out on their balcony and played dominoes with his Mom. We had taught the game to Johannes when he visited us for Thanksgiving a few years before, and he was determined to finally beat Marguerite (she is kind of the queen of dominos). Johannes’s mother ended up going to bed a little earlier so she didn’t finish the game. When it got dark we moved inside and Marguerite ended up winning (it wasn’t really a surprise). After the game was finished, we all went to bed, ready for a trip to the Herrenhausen Gardens in Hannover in the morning.