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.

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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

A Semester in Prague: Week 4

Whoops, these posts are getting later and later in the week. Time is flying by here in Prague though! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! I’ve never been outside of the US for this long and while I’m enjoying my time immensely, all the comforts of home are starting to creep up on me. Classes keep me somewhat busy and my weekend adventures definitely keep my traveling spirit alive.

Tuesdays are always my longest, yet most enjoyable day of the week for one simple reason — my culinary class. I’m a huge fan of cooking and signing up for a Czech culinary class might have been the best decision I have made thus far on my trip. Each week we make a three course dinner for each other, consisting of soup, an entree, and the most delicious desserts. I’m starting to think that I should dedicate an entire post each week to what we make in this class, sharing each recipe so that I can remember them in the future as well. This week we made roasted onion soup, sausage and sauerkraut strudel, and a classic apple strudel. Its so interesting to learn new techniques and to learn our teacher’s family recipes.

The rest of the week flew by and before I new it I was packing my bags and boarding a plane to Eindhoven. It was so refreshing to know that I was flying to a familiar place where they spoke a (somewhat) familiar language and seeing some of my favorite people— my Dutch family. I took four friends to the Netherlands with me and was well and prepared to be their official Dutch tour guide!

We arrived late at night and my uncle, Luc and cousin, Daan came to the airport to pick us up. A few minutes later we were “home” and settled. We had a few drinks in the blokhut, played some games, and chatted until the wee hours of the morning. It was a fun way for my cousin to meet my friends and they got a bit of a taste of my family as well.

The next morning my friends slept in while I made my way to Bergeijk to pick up my Dutch passport!! After the stressful fiasco that was trying to get a visa for the Czech Republic, I was so glad to officially be a part of the EU. Holding that passport was like a giant weight lifted off of my shoulders.

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The rest of the day was spent playing cards, exploring Boxtel and the Friday morning market, and visiting Oma. It was fun to show my friends around a town that I am so familiar with and I gained a new appreciation for Boxtel and the childhood days I spent there. I consider my Dutch heritage to be a huge part of who I am and it was fun to get to share that with my friends. We ended the evening with the typical Friday meal of frietjes and kroketten and a long night of endless card games.

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The next morning my friends and I woke up early to catch the train to Amsterdam. We only had a few hours in the city, so we did a bit of strategizing to get the most out of our short visit. We walked quickly through the Red Light District, stumbled upon Dam square, strolled along the canals, barely dodged quite a few bikers, and finally ended up at the Rijks Museum. The Rijks Museum is probably one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever been to, and its not as overwhelming as other art museums such as the Met.

We spent an hour or so wandering around and looking at some incredible artwork. I had been there before, but still managed to see artwork that I hadn’t seen during prior visits. After the Rijks Museum we spent some time being typical American tourists and took photos at the I amsterdam letters outside of the Rijks museum.

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After a quick lunch, we split up into two groups — two of us headed to the Van Gogh museum, and the other three to walk the streets of Amsterdam. I was a bit museumed-out so I guided the other two to Vondelpark, and then just through the streets to see the typical Amsterdam houses. In the two hours that we were walking around we got sunshine, clouds, and even a bit of rain.

We all met back up for dinner and made our way back to the train station for an early night back to Boxtel. We spent the rest of the night playing games, laughing lots, and building card towers.

The next morning I woke up early to have breakfast with Oma, and spend a bit of time with her before we went back to Prague. We headed back to Prague around noon, and spent the rest of the day getting ready for the week ahead.

It was so nice to see my family again, and to feel a bit of that comfort of home. I feel incredibly lucky to have them so close and its comforting to know that they’re only a short plane journey away.

I’m still loving this study abroad experience, and its giving me a serious case of the travel bug. I am making all sorts of plans to travel within Europe and I’m even thinking about some short trips I might take when I get back to the US. Next weekend I’m taking a bit of a break from the weekend trips and just having a chill weekend in Prague which should be nice a refreshing. I’ve seen quite a bit of Prague already and I’m getting relatively comfortable with the city, but there’s so much more to explore. Catch you next week for another update, and possibly another post dedicated entirely to my cooking class!

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 1

Its no secret that I’ve been a traveler since I knew what the word meant. I’ve spent quite a few summers abroad, exploring the world less known to me. When the opportunity to study abroad first became known to me my mind went wild with possibilities. Would I stick with something comfortable like London, go as far as I could to Australia, or place myself in an entirely foreign environment like South America or Africa? While Australia really tickled my fancy for a while, a program offered by my university caught my attention. You see, NC State has a foreign campus in the cultural hotspot of Prague, Czech Republic. I had never been to Eastern Europe and the comfort of having a piece of my family just a short plane journey away really appealed to me. I submitted my application and within a few months and a fair deal of planning, visas, and stress, I was on a plane to the Czech Republic.

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Monday (Jan 8th) started the first day of orientation for NC State Prague. We hopped on a tram and took it to Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí). It turns out the school is located directly in the center of Prague, just a few feet off of the Old Town Square. After what seemed like endless meetings about expectations, rules, and academics, a few awkward ice-breakers, and a quick history lesson we were free to explore the city. It gets dark at around 4:30 here, so most of our exploring was done in the dark, but this city looks beautiful lit up at night. We wandered around the Old Town Square, made our way to the Charles Bridge, and managed to get back to our accommodations without getting lost or asking for directions.

The next day we were given a guided tour around the city. Our tour guide was American and had moved here after her studies, and knew a heck of a lot about the city. It was interesting to learn about the history of the city through the world wars and the communist regime in the Czech Republic. Since the city was occupied by the Germans before WWII began, much of the city was left unharmed in the war. A good majority of Prague is centuries older than the United States and its crazy to think of all the life that has been lived on the streets of Prague.

After a full day of touring the city, my friends and I wandered into a so-called speakeasy in the center of Prague. It was recommended by our tour guide as a good spot for a beer away from the typical tourist destinations. It was located within an apartment, on the very top floor and was cool and quirky, the way you’d expect a speakeasy to be. After a beer and some good conversation, we headed back to our dorms and called it a night.

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On Wednesday, we left the city for our first out-of-city excursion. We headed north in the Czech Republic for a ski trip in the mountains. On our way we stopped at the Sychrov Castle for a tour. The castle was owned and occupied by the Rohan family from the early 19th century, when they reconstructed the castle that previously stood here, until the WWII when it was nationalized. It was absolutely beautiful, but oh so cold within the castle walls. I guess central heating wasn’t popular in the 19th century.

After our tour we headed to Černý Důl, a small ski town in the northern part of the Czech Republic. Once we had checked into our hotel, we went to the ski shop to rent our skis. Later we had dinner, and the whole group met up for a night of games. The restaurant/pub had 9-pin, pool, and table football. We played these games late into the evening, then went to bed, getting well rested for a day of skiing.

The next morning, we woke up to a fresh dusting of snow and a winter wonderland in Černý Důl. We put all of our gear on and walked to the ski lift only a short walk away. Unfortunately I sliced a good chunk of my finger on the bottom of my skis, but a quick rinse and bandaid later, I was ready to hit the slopes. The view from the top of the ski lift was worth the terror of making it down the slope. I am no rookie skier, but I was not prepared for the steepness of the hill. I managed to make it down the hill a few times with only one fall before deciding to call it a day. I wanted to stop while I was ahead and before I took a huge tumble or exhausted every muscle in my body. But my goodness, it was a beautiful ride. We ended the day with a traditional Czech meal of meat and potatoes, and my friends and I all pushed a few beds together and watched The Shining.

The next morning we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Prague. On the way we stopped at a Czech brewery for a tour and tasting. The Svijany Brewery is one of the oldest breweries in the Czech Republic, dating back to 1564. There they showed us the process of brewing their beer and even let us try their malt and hops (which I would not recommend). I’m not a huge fan of beer, however I did try the beer because why not, but all I could taste was hops from trying a hops pellet earlier in the tour (that taste really lingers). After our tour we made our way back to Prague, sleeping most of the way home. I decided to call it an early night to recharge my battery.

On Saturday, my friends and went on a city adventure. We walked almost all day and saw quite a bit of the city. We took the metro into town and headed straight for the Charles Bridge. It was a bit more crowded than earlier in the week, but the views were still gorgeous. We made our way into Malá Strana which is the smaller part of Prague across the bridge. While the English translation for Malá Strana is Lesser Town (for its size), it certainly is not lesser in beauty.

At the top of the hill sits the Prague Castle, surrounded by palaces and ecclesiastical buildings. Below sits a wide variety of shops, churches, and gardens. We wandered through the residential streets for a bit before deciding to make the trek up to the castle. The views from the top were magical, and you could see the entirety of Prague. We didn’t manage to make our way into the castle, agreeing that it would be more fun when the crowds were fewer and the weather was warmer.

We made our way back down the hill and wandered among the tourist-y streets until dark. We crossed back over the Charles Bridge back into Old Town and found our way back to Old Town Square. We had some time to kill until dinner so we headed over to the Palladium shopping mall to escape the cold. There I found some post cards to send to my family and spent quite a while roaming a Czech bookstore, looking at pretty books, unable to understand anything. We braved the cold once again to head to dinner. We took the metro to Praha 3 where we found a underground Vietnamese restaurant away from the hustle and bustle of the center.

My first week in Prague has been chock full of exploring and culture. I’m still getting used to living in a city abroad, and I’m starting to plan my first ventures out of the Czech Republic. So far, I’m loving the adventure, not crazy about the traditional cuisine, and forming a strong group of friends. I still have a week until classes start, but my school has prepared a few activities for us to get to know the city like a local.

I’m looking forward to learning to live in this city and exploring all there is to see. And I hope you come on this adventure with me!

 

Amalfi Coast

When you google search “Italy” you are greeted with thousands of images of Rome, Venice, and a stretch of coastline called the Amalfi Coast. Just seeing the photos made my travelers itch grow intensely strong, and I knew we wouldn’t be going to Italy without visiting this paradise. It was a love at first sight sort of experience, and the pictures just don’t do it justice.

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In this beautiful landscape mountains plunge straight down into crystal clear bright blue waters, pastel houses hang onto the sides of sheer cliffs, and a sweet lemon fragrance follows your every footstep. The beaches are filled with rows of brightly colored chairs that so beautifully compliment the warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The cobblestone streets lined with small boutiques, secret hidden stairwells, and constant chatter of voices gave me an immediate sense of belonging… like this was where I was meant to be.

Because of time constraints, we opted for a day tour of the four major cities along the coastline, Ravello, Amalfi, Positano, and Sorrento. We left Pompeii early in the morning, and weren’t home till late that evening, and it was incredible how much we were able to see that day. It was quite a bit of driving on winding, sides of cliffs types of roads, but the views were well worth it. We stopped several times along the way and between towns to get photos and our driver was very eager to slow down for us to really enjoy the scenery.

Our first stop was Ravello, a small town perched on a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast. The town was essentially just a few streets centered around a cathedral and a large open square to wander. It was the only town we visited that was perched on the top of the mountains and it felt as though we were on our own beautiful planet.

We then visited Amalfi, the main town on the coast. We spent the majority of our time on the piers that jutted out into the water, looking back at the gorgeous town. It was such an incredible day, and we managed to sneak in a impromptu photoshoot before wandering into a very mediterranean cafe and ordering frozen lemonades (an absolute must if you are ever in the area). We only had an hour or so in the town, so we didn’t manage to make our way into the center, but the views from the water were just to good to pass up.

As we travelled on to the next town, we stopped along the way to see the Emerald Grotto, a beautiful cave named for the color reflected in the water through a small opening to the sea. I couldn’t manage to get any decent photos of the light, but it was quite magical, and the commentary after we explained that we were American was hilarious.

 

After our short boat ride around the cave came to an end, we stopped for lunch at one of the most gorgeous restaurants I have ever been to. Clinging to the side of the cliffs, we had a front row seat to the beautiful coastline.

After a bit more driving, we found our way into Positano which much like the other towns on the Amalfi coast clings tightly onto the side of the cliff and falls straight into the turquoise waters below. A healthy set of stairs and narrow paths lined with boutiques led us to the seaside where we sat on the pebble beach and soaked up the sun. I stuck my feet in the water (not wanting to be wet and salty for the rest of the afternoon) and searched for sea glass while my siblings escaped to the water.

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The last stop on our day trip to the Amalfi Coast was Sorrento, the birthplace of Limoncello liqueur. At this point in the day, we were all worn out, and I didn’t manage to take any photos of the town despite carrying my camera around my neck the entire time. We wandered the streets of the town, stopped in a few shops to try Limoncello and other fruit flavored liqueurs, and saw lemons on practically everything in sight. It was a lovely town, but we were all wishing that we would have been able to spend more time in Amalfi or Positano. Maybe it was because we had already seen so much, but Sorrento didn’t really impress me.

As the day came to an end, we headed back to Pompeii where we would stay one last night before heading off to Venice. We didn’t plan appropriately, or anticipate how much we would all fall in love with the Amalfi Coast, and quickly realized that a one day tour was far too short. Since the rest of our trip was already booked, we could not extend our stay, but it would be safe to say that we will be back soon. I’m already looking forward to spending more time exploring and hiking the quaint Italian towns on this coastline.

I made a short video documenting our tour through Italy that you can watch here.

Pompeii, Italy

When Italy was mentioned as a potential country to visit, it was my brother who suggested we visit Pompeii. It hadn’t really crossed my mind as a option, but once he brought it to my attention, I was obsessed with the idea. I’ve always been fascinated history and I think it stems back to my love for Magic Tree House books as I was growing up. Visiting Pompeii definitely made me feel like I was going on an adventure with Jack and Annie and their magic tree house.

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We got to the city of Pompeii, found our AirBnB for the night, and then started walking around the town a bit. We were almost immediately approached by a tour company, and as the bunch of polite southerners we all are, we stopped and let them give us their spiel. We usually aren’t the type of travelers that explore with a tour group, but it became apparent that the cheapest and easiest way to get to the top of Mount Vesuvius would be to go with them. So we got in their van and they drove us to the top of the volcano. This is where I discovered that I could in fact get car sick and after the 20 painful minutes of being whipped around the tight curves of the Italian roads I was so grateful to be on solid ground for a minute.

Unfortunately, when we got to the top of the mountain, a big cloud rolled in and we completely lost all visibility. I felt a bit disappointed that we had gone through all the trouble to get to the top of Mount Vesuvius and couldn’t actually see anything. But the cloud did lend itself to an other-worldly experience of the top of the volcano and it felt a bit like we were on Mars! And anyway, I don’t know many people who can say that they’ve been to the top of Mount Vesuvius! … an active volcano just waiting to erupt! (after discovering that Mount Vesuvius is in fact an active volcano, I immediately felt more bad ass and just want everyone to know that I live life on the edge. haha)

After another tummy-turning ride back to the bottom of Vesuvius, we headed to a recommended restaurant I Matti and had our first real Italian pizza. And let me tell you, you have not had pizza until you have had an authentic Italian pizza. I have never tasted something so delicious and fresh.

The next day, after a relaxing morning, we headed to the entrance of the Pompeii ruins. It was so surreal to see the city and walk the streets that I had read about in history books. It didn’t feel real! When we walked in and just started exploring. There was nothing that was off limits, and we soon found ourselves lost in the ruins of a house on a small road. It was kind of fun that within this very touristic site, you can create your own experience of the place without a large crowd constantly around every turn. We only had a small map of the site with very little detail but we managed to find our way to all the major sites within the ruins.

After walking around for several hours, we finally found the casts of the preserved bodies that make Pompeii so famous. It was crazy to think that those people lived in the houses we had been exploring all day and walked on the very same cobblestone streets that we had walked. We finished our self guided tour around Pompeii, and finished by visiting the amphitheater that looked almost perfectly preserved. It is also the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater, older than the Colosseum in Rome by over a century!

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After a long day of walking, we were all exhausted and headed back to the AirBnB. We walked to the grocery store and picked up a few snacks, then called it an early night and watched Shrek until we fell asleep. Pompeii was such an experience, and I couldn’t wait for the next few days in Italy and all the pizza and pasta that we were sure to consume.

I made a short video documenting our tour through Italy that you can watch here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

When you travel with your sister

When you travel with your sister, you argue, you make up, and you come back stronger than ever.

I couldn’t imagine a better travel buddy than my sister. Although, I’m still surprised by how well we travel together. With two years between us, my sister and I have always been pretty close. Growing up, I would follow her every move, trying to be just like her — I can distinctively remember her rolling her eyes when I tried to convince her to wear a matching outfit. She has always been there for me, teaching me the ways of middle and high school, taking the brunt of responsibility, and being the person I could run to when things went wrong. Despite our different personalities, we are always there for each other.
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Our personalities perfectly balance out each other. She is a planner. She likes to know what time we’re leaving, where we’re going, how we’re getting there. I’m more impulsive. I see something interesting and its all I can keep my mind on, I just want to go… do. She is organized, and has all of our travel details written down, always available. I’m easy going and will go along with any plans that are made. I calm her down when we’re running a bit late, and she always knows what to say to cheer me up.

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We share an appreciation of experiencing a city like a local, and would rather get a coffee in a local cafe than get sucked into all of the tourist traps of a particular location. We know what each other like, and make sure that we both get what we want out of our trip. I know that she collects shot glasses, and I collect playing cards, and we have both accepted the fact that we will not leave a country until we have added to our collections.

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After traveling for two summers with my sister, I can say that we have never been closer. I understand and appreciate her more deeply that I ever have. I’ve learned to love all of the little things that used to annoy me, like how she hates going into grocery stores alone, or how silly and touchy-feely she gets with a few drinks in her. Together we’ve learned how to navigate in foreign countries, tried all sorts of local cuisine, and seen some incredible sights. These experiences, both good and bad, have pushed us together as we learned and figured things out with each other.

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Together we are a stronger travel team, and I’m so glad that I have her by my side, whether we’re rushing to catch a connecting flight, exploring a city for the first time, or shopping at the Albert Heijn in Boxtel. When you travel with your sister, you are reminded just how much you love her.

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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.