A Semester in Prague: Spring Break

Despite the weather taking a major dip into the single digits, on Friday I jetted off to Holland to meet up with my parents and begin spring break! The freezing temperatures weren’t my ideal weather choice for spring break, but we made the most of it and headed up into the mountains to find some snow.

We spent the weekend in Holland visiting my grandmother and just having a bit of a relax before a solid week of roadtripping. We spent most of our time in Boxtel, where my family lives, but managed to drive north to Wassanar and Scheveningen for a day to enjoy the North Sea and visit my great aunt. We walked along the sandy shore, made our way up to the pier, and got caught in stand-still traffic trying to leave the beach.

After developing a lose plan on Sunday night, we jumped into the car on Monday and headed for Heidelburg, Germany. On the way we stopped in some smaller towns where the rivers intersected with the autobahn. Our first stop was Kobern on the Mosel River. Situated in a steep gorge lined with rows and rows of grapes, Kobern wasn’t much of a town, but had a castle, like every good European town should have. It has been transformed into a wedding venue and office spaces and was quaint and beautiful. Our next stop was Bingen on Rhine. Here we found yet another castle, and also stopped for a bit of German fast food: hamburgers, currywurst, and schnitzel. We explored the city for a bit, walked along the Rhine, and later trekked on to Heidelburg.

The next morning we drove into the town of Heidelburg after spending the night in the quiet countryside. We had a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee, then walked along the river in search of the schloss (castle) and the beautiful arched bridge at the foot of the castle. It was a bit hazy, but it only added to the fairytale-like effect of the older part of the city. After stretching our legs for quite a bit, we climbed back in the car and went even further south to Switzerland.

After about two hours of driving we made it to the Swiss boarder! We handed over our passports, got a highway pass and set off to St. Gallen. St Gallen is known as a university town, but also contains one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever witnessed. It was so ornately decorated in a way I had never seen before with rich purples, greens, and golds. The murals on the ceilings were stunning and really added to the overall effect of the interior. We lit a candle in honor of my grandfather and then headed across the street to the Chocolaterie am Klosterplatz to kill some time and grab a real Swiss hot chocolate. We headed back to the car and made our way up the mountain towards Trogen where we visited an old friend of my dad’s who he worked with at a camp in the US when he was my age. We spent the night gathered around their kitchen table as they all reminisced and shared old memories of camp and their travels afterward. It was fun to hear all of their stories and reminded me that all of these memories that I’m making on this study abroad trip will be memories that I’ll keep forever.

We made plans the morning to take a short walk up to see the mountains. At this point in our trip I was really itching to see some mountains, and seeing a snow covered landscape really tickled my soul. There really is just something about being up in the open air, surrounded by peaks that heals my heart. After a quick photo session on the mountain, we made our way back down and packed up to get on the road again. Our plans were taking us to the Neuschwanstein Castle back in Germany and I was oh so excited to fulfill a childhood dream. On our way to our next AirBnb we left Switzerland, drove through Austria and stopped in the small town of Lindenberg im Allgäu in Germany. We noticed as we were exploring the small town that my dad left his wallet back in Trogen, so we hopped back in the car and made a quick trip back through Austria, back into Switzerland to pick up his wallet. After a quick cup of coffee we finally headed off towards Fussen, Germany.

We arrived in Pfronten late at night in the snow, and after a bit of trouble finding our AirBnb, we finally made it into the warmth. We finished the night with a few card games and got ready to see the Neuschwanstein castle in the morning. When we woke up we were greeted by the most beautiful scenery of snow covered mountains. We then headed into Fussen to find breakfast and walk around the town for a bit. There was a large fortress in Fussen up on the hill, but we didn’t manage to get up there in order to save time. I was itching to see the castle at this point and all I could think about was the Disney-like castle only a few miles away.

I’ve seen a few castles in my time, but nothing has ever compared to the beauty of the Neuschwanstein castle. Granted, it may not be as old as other castles, but the restoration of the castle was beautiful and it was like stepping into a fairytale book. We got our tickets, and walked up to the castle, stopping along the way to grab a few pictures. I wasn’t able to take photos of the interior, but imagine the most lavish, decorative interior you can possibly think up and then add some more gold covered furniture, and bedazzled lamp posts. It was absolutely gorgeous although way to extravagant for my tastes. But still, there is something about being in a real-life castle that makes everything seem more magical. I found it hard not to imagine extravagant balls, large feasts, and lavish tea parties happening in all of the rooms. Plus, the view from the front of the castle was gorgeous, gazing onto Lake Alpsee surrounded by snow covered mountains: pure bliss.

Our last stop on our Spring Break road trip was Prague. It was such a fun experience to show my parents around the city that I’ve been exploring for the past two months especially since neither of them had been there before. We walked to the castle, went inside the church, had a mid-afternoon dessert on a floating restaurant, visited the Jewish Museum, saw the Old Town Square amongst all the tourists, and ate dinner on top of the Dancing House building. Having them here really lifted my spirits and gave me the energy to finish out the last six weeks. Being so far away from home for such a long time is very different emotionally than I thought it would be. While I’m having the time of my life here and making so many amazing memories, I can’t help but long for some comforts of being back in the U.S. I’m sure that as soon as I’m back I’ll want to be traveling Europe again. I guess we always want what we can’t have.

Thank you Mom and Dad for such an amazing spring break. It was so fun touring Europe with you, seeing things I never would have by myself. Thank you for passing this travel bug gene onto me and encouraging me to go where ever my heart desires. I love you two to the moon and back.

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

A Semester in Prague: Week 2

My first week in Prague was mostly dedicated to the touristic side of Prague: the unique architecture, the beer culture, and the fascinating history of the city. My second week took us behind the scenes of Prague a bit more and showed us the alternative culture of Prague. We started the week with an “alternative tour” around Prague, showing us more of the up and coming culture, and the life of the younger generations. Since Prague has had a fairly rocky history, it is just now starting to boom with hipsters and a more art centered population. Having a tour guide that was heavily involved with the youth of Prague gave us such a good understanding of the ideas and movements that are emerging from Prague.

We started the tour by seeing the Invader installation on a side street in Prague. This kind of guerrilla art was all over the city. We then made our way to one of the many legal graffiti walls in Prague. The graffiti here was quite beautiful and the juxtaposition between the old historic buildings and the street art below was quite interesting. It was also cool to learn the street rules of graffiti, one of them being that you can’t paint over someone’s work that is better than your own. This way more respected and skilled artist’s work can have a longer lifespan.

We then walked to three very interesting “hipster” spots near our dorm. The first was was an old slaughterhouse that had been converted into a cafe and theater. They kept a lot of the authenticity of the slaughterhouse when the renovated it, and a good deal of the art inside was created from recycled materials. The second spot was a classic American hipster joint. There was coffee, clothing, artwork, and lots of exposed brick. The third spot was a bar, Cross Club, that was created by a bunch of steam punk artists. It was very cool, all recycled materials.

On Tuesday, we went to the theater and watched the movie Anthropoid. The movie highlighted the Operation Anthropoid, the code name for the mission to assassinate the third highest Nazi official (behind Hitler and Himmler), Reinhard Heydrich that took place here in Prague. It was carried out by Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, two Czechoslovakian soldiers in exile in Great Britain who parachuted into the city. When the time came to complete the mission, Josef’s machine gun jammed, and Jan’s modified grenade didn’t get a direct hit, although did injure Heydrick. They fled to a nearby church, Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where they (and 5 other parachuters) hid in the crypt and took turns on lookout in the balcony. The Nazi troops stormed the church after a long manhunt (I’m really shortening the story) and had a fierce gun battle with the parachuters, who eventually committed suicide to avoid being captured.

After watching the movie, we were able to visit the church where the shootout happened, and stand in the crypt where the parachuters were hiding. It was a very surreal experience to be in a place where so much history had taken place, and amazing that it had been preserved so well. I was silenced at the sight of the bullet holes that are still present around the small window into the crypt. It was a piece of WWII history that I had never learned and to be able to experience it in such a unique and very real way was quite a memory. Its a very interesting story and although rather gruesome, I highly recommend WWII history buffs to give it a watch.

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When we exited the church we saw the famous Dancing House building just down the road, so we walked down to see it. Our tour guide from the Alternative Tour was telling us that the Czech people are very proud of any modern architecture that makes its way into the city. Everyone comes to Prague to see the historic architecture, but many people in Prague, especially the younger generation, take pride in their modern architecture because its new and exciting to them.

On Wednesday, we did a spray paint/graffiti/street art workshop with our tour guide from the Alternative Tour. We each got to cut out a stencil, and create our own spray paint masterpiece. It was a lot of fun, but so cold outside where we did it! On Thursday, we all gathered as a group and presented some photos that we took during that week and shared our graffiti with everyone.

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On Friday, we made our way to Salzburg, Austria where they filmed the Sound of Music. After quite an adventure of finding the bus station, we loaded up and set off on a 6 hour drive from Prague to Salzburg. I slept for most of the journey, but my waking moments were spent smiling about the completely white landscape (thanks snow!) and the gorgeous Alps. When we arrived we headed out on the town. We stayed in an AirBnB that was only about 15 minutes from the center of the town so we were able to walk to everything. We ended up walking on the main shopping street, popping into cute stores (my favorite being one that sold exclusively hand-decorated egg ornaments) and taking lots of pictures.

The next morning, we woke up fairly early and started planning out our day. We had watched The Sound of Music a few nights before and I was very excited to live out some of my childhood dreams. We made it into the center and just started wandering around. It was snowing off and on throughout the day which only made Salzburg more magical.

Early in our walk around Salzburg, we stumbled upon the Salzburg Cathedral. We weren’t really looking for it, but when we found it, it was absolutely beautiful. The inside was absolutely stunning and beautifully ornate. I lit a candle for my Opa, a tradition that I learned from my Oma and try to keep going whenever I visit a Catholic church. I don’t personally have Catholic beliefs, but the sentimentality of lighting a candle always makes me a bit emotional.

On our way out of the Cathedral, we spotted a tram making its way up to the castle. Since we had given up on the idea of taking a gondola to the top of a nearby mountain, we splurged and took the tram to the castle. The view from the top was absolutely stunning. We were able to see the entire city and on the other side was the Alps. My heart was jumping up for joy at the sight of those mountains and I still think its the best view I’ve ever seen, sorry Roan Mountain.

We stared at the gorgeous view for quite some time before making our way into the castle walls. The castle was preserved as a museum and had a bunch of artifacts from the castle’s history. There were replicas of the grounds, gowns and garments from several time periods, and a whole room dedicated to WWII.

The last part of the day was spent ticking of Sound of Music bucket list items. We walked across the Mozart Bridge, sang the songs along the Salzach river, and jumped on the stairs at Mirabell Gardens. We headed back into the shopping street at the end of the day, and split up to save time. I stopped into a few souvenir shops and found a good collection of postcards for the family and playing cards for the collection.

We headed back to Prague on Sunday in the snowy, cold weather. We left with plenty of time to spare just incase there was a problem with the public transportation. We ended up getting to the bus station an hour early and had to wait out in the snow for the bus to arrive, which I think was a major contributor to my deep cough and stuffy nose. Oh well, it was well worth the sickness.

I’m still planning weekend trips and now that classes have started, I’ll be a bit busier during the week, but so far I’m loving this experience.

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

 

A Perfectly Magical Winter Break

I’ve been back in school for a week now, and I’m already hardcore missing winter break. It may have something to do with leaving the mountains, or returning to school work, or the fact that it is way to warm in Raleigh to feel at all like winter. I also had quite a long winter break (over a month!) since I didn’t have any final exams (perks of design school) so getting back into the daily grind and constant work work work has been a bit tricky.

So while I should be writing code, learning about shape grammars, and researching inclusive design, I’ll take a minute to share my winter break with all of you.

My whole goal of winter break was to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Since the full effect of cold winter weather hadn’t fully settled in yet, I found myself on the Blue Ridge Parkway almost once a day. Since both my siblings were still in school and I didn’t have my usual hiking buddies, I spent a lot of time alone which was actually super refreshing. I’m the kind of person who actually enjoys spending time by myself so having afternoons on the trails with only my camera and my thoughts was nice after a long grueling semester.

I’m realizing it now as I look through the pictures that I took over break and realized that I didn’t actually take too many photos. I found myself leaving behind my camera on several occasions and just going off for a drive and stumbling upon a trail to explore. It was a challenge to try to get nice shots on my phone, but I made do with what I had available.

Somewhere in the midst of all this hiking and outdoors stuff I managed to drive over to Nashville, Tennessee. My best friend is currently part of Nashville Ballet’s second company, and was performing in the Nutcracker. I haven’t missed one of his Nutcracker performances since we became friends, so the five hour drive surely wasn’t going to stop me now. Looking through my phone, I realized that I have absolutely no photos of Nashville, which sort of upsets me. Ah, oh well. I’ll just make him dress up like the grandfather when he’s home again and get a photo with him. Peyton, you down with that?

I also went exploring with the fam-bam and we all shared some of our favorite hikes with each other. While I enjoy the solitude of an hour on the trails, its nice to share the scenery with other people and discover new places in the process.

We all have a major love for snow skiing, so we made a ski trip a priority on our winter break list. We met up with an old family friend (not in this photograph) and had a fun filled weekend of snow tubing, decorating Christmas cookies (which we’ve been doing since I can remember), kids vs. parents games of Heads Up, and a day of skiing. It was a perfect day of skiing with 50 degree temperatures and sunny blue skies.

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Probably the most exciting part of winter break was having the company of my aunt, uncle, and Oma for Christmas. They made a last minute trip to North Carolina to spend the holidays with us. It was such a treat to have them here for a few days. It was Oma’s first time to North Carolina in roughly ten years. It was like a true family Christmas.

During the last few days of my winter break, North Carolina got a mini monster of a snow storm. It started on Friday morning and by the time I woke up on Saturday morning we had a good 6 inches on the ground. On Sunday, the snow still hadn’t melted but I packed my car up and got ready to go back to Raleigh. I had just hit the road to go back to school when I got a text informing me that my first day of classes had been cancelled, so I got one extra day of break. It was a nice little surprise to have one last home cooked meal and a few hours more with the parents.

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Europe Trip 2016 || Day 8: Swiss Alps and Basel

We woke up early the next day and had a special Sunday breakfast of fresh croissants. Then we got in the car and drove to the Schwarzsee (Black Lake) so we could see the pre-alps. I mean, you cant go to Switzerland without at least getting a glimpse of the Alps. We walked around the lake, and I went crazy with the camera. I wish I could have spent a whole day there just exploring and what not. Valérie told us more stories about Switzerland while we were walking around. We got to see traditional Swiss cows and feed the babies and pet them. There we also people paragliding around the lake which was pretty cool to see. After we had made it all the way around the lake, we went on a driven tour around the Fribourg, looking for good views of the city. We parked illegally to get some photos of the whole town, then pulled off the highway to get a picture of a picturesque bridge over the Saane river that runs through Fribourg. Then we headed back to Valérie’s house to pick up our stuff so that we could catch the train back to Basel. Valérie walked us down to the station and we said our goodbyes. It was really nice to see Valérie again and she was such an amazing tour guide.

We took the train into Bern and then transferred to a train to Basel, where Chris Guillini (a former camp mom and tutor) met us at the station. She took on the scenic route back to her house which consisted of lots of winding roads. We got to see the Goetheanum and all the weird shaped houses of Dornach which is the center of the anthroposophical movement. Then we dropped off our stuff at the house and met Lorenzo and their dog Pandora (a little pit bull mix, such a sweet dog). Lorenzo (Chris’s husband) took us to the bottom of the mountain and Marguerite, Chris and I hiked with Pandora in the Jurassic alps. The scenery reminded me a lot of the mountains here in North Carolina. Since it had been raining a lot, we had a minor detour since the trail Chris normally took had a pretty fast moving river running through it. We managed to find our way around and when we got to the top of the mountain, Lorenzo met us and picked us up. We then went to a small brewery where Chris and Lorenzo knew the owners and everyone had a few beers and snacked on soft pretzels. Since Marguerite and I hadn’t eaten much that day Marguerite got pretty tipsy pretty quickly.  Pandora started getting restless so we went back to the house. Since everyone except I had been drinking, they let me drive us all back to the house. Pretty cool to now be able to say that I have driven in Switzerland (even if it was only for about 5 minutes).

When we got back, Chris and I prepared fondue chinoise which is one of our favorite family meals that Chris introduced to us. Basically its like fondue with a hot broth and you cook your vegetables and meat in the broth. It is so delicious. After dinner we watched Legally Blonde (Lorenzo’s choice) and Marguerite and I both fell asleep during the movie. We did stay awake long enough to hear both Chris and Lorenzo singing along to the songs, it was fun. After the movie was over, Marguerite and I went straight to bed. I think it was pretty obvious that we were both exhausted.

Mini NC Adventures: Roaring Creek Falls

As of recently, I’ve been really into getting to know the area that I live better. There is so much unexplored terrain in Mitchell and the surrounding counties of North Carolina. I’ve been home quite a lot in the past month (spring break, Easter break, and this past weekend) and therefore, I have been trying to dip my toes into the unexplored lands of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of my new favorite oasis is Roaring Creek Falls in Yancey County, NC. I went for the first time over Spring Break, then returned during Easter break with my mother. Okay, I’ll show you some pictures and then tell you all about the falls (or all that I know at least).

So, the falls are located in Yancey County, NC not too far from Mount Mitchell (the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River). There is about a .5 mile walk to the base of the falls that is almost entirely on an old logging road (definitely Grandma-level “hiking”). I’d give it a 2/10 difficulty rating. To get to the top of the falls you will have to do a little climbing (definitely not Grandma-level hiking). I would give it a 7/10 difficulty rating, my dog and my mother both got up and down without too much difficulty. The view from the top and the bottom are both equally beautiful, but I definitely recommend seeing the falls (any falls you visit) from the top as well as the bottom. It changes your perspective of the falls, and just makes the whole experience more rewarding.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you live in WNC and haven’t seen these falls yet, I highly recommend that you make the trip to go see them. I encourage you all to try to get to know your city, town, region, a little better and go explore places you’ve never been to. I am sure that you won’t regret it.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day, and enjoying this crazy thing called life.

Peace out, enjoy life, and live the adventure.