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 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 3

This week started early Monday morning with my first class of the semester. From Monday to Thursday, I spend a good majority of my day in class, often starting at 9 am and ending around 4. On Tuesday I have a cooking class which is a lot of fun. There are around 12 of us that all cook traditional Czech cuisine together and then have good conversation as we eat our meal. Having this cooking class along with a Czech language class is starting to give me a good grip on the culture here.

On Friday, two of my friends from Miss Halls School (Emma and Sandra) and I planned to meet up in Copenhagen for the weekend. I was very excited to see them again since it had been almost four years since the last time I had seen one of them! I spent quite a bit of time at the airport on Friday, but was so happy to see the girls again.

After making our way out of the airport and to our hostel, we headed out on the town in search of dinner. We walked to the center, near the City Hall and Tivoli Gardens. After dinner, we met up with an former counselor from camp, Jeppe, and he walked around with us for a while, showing us a bit of the city, and giving us advice and tips for seeing the most of Copenhagen. It was so good to catch up with him and meet his girlfriend.

The next morning, we decided to rent bikes from our hostel. This proved to be the best decision we would make during our whole trip. Copenhagen was a bit more spread out than I was imagining, so having the bikes made it so easy and fast to go from point A to point B. Our first stop on Saturday was to the stork fountain that we saw the night before. We had been told to use this as a landmark to get to Nyhavn, so from there we headed to the colorful houses.

Nyhavn was absolutely beautiful. Luckily we got some blue sky while we were there which just made the bright colors of the houses even brighter and warm. When I first thought about going to Copenhagen, this image of the colorful houses was on the top of my mind. I low-key thought all of Copenhagen looked like this, but made me appreciate it even more that it was just this small canal.

From Nyhavn, we rode our bikes to Christiania. Christiania is self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district that is most well known my tourists for cannabis. We weren’t interested in that aspect of Christiania, but it was interesting and eye-opening to see this community of people just doing there own thing in the center of Copenhagen.

After being a bit intimidated by the atmosphere in Christiania, we quickly headed to to the Amalienborg Palace (the home of the royal family), to witness the changing of the guards. It was a traditional ceremony of the new guards marching down the street and taking the place of the others. It lasted quite a bit longer than I was expecting, but afterwards the square in the middle cleared out and we were able to get some pictures.

We started to get a bit hungry, and decided to meet up with one of Emma’s friends for a late lunch. We hopped onto our bikes and rode out of the center to a very cute cafe called Mad & Kaffe. It felt very cozy, or as the Danes say, hygge, and the food was absolutely delicious. After sitting and chilling for a bit, we asked for some recommendations on what we should do next and planned to see Copenhagen from above.

We rode our bikes to the Christiansborg Palace which is the tallest tower in Copenhagen, and the home of the Danish parliament. Since the tower is free to enter, there was quite a long line, but after about an hour of waiting, we finally made our way to the top of the tower. The sun had just set and the views were gorgeous.

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After visiting the tower, we headed back to our hostel to hang out for a minute and get ready for dinner. Earlier that day, we discovered that we had another friend from Miss Halls who was studying in Copenhagen for the semester and decided to meet up with her for dinner. We went back to the center to meet up with her and had dinner at the Tivoli food hall. It was nice to catch up with her and meet some of her friends who she met while in Copenhagen, but Emma, Sandra and I were completely exhausted from a full day of touring the city.

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The next morning we checked out of the hostel and headed towards the water to tick off the last item on our Copenhagen bucket list: The Little Mermaid. We walked for about an hour to this relatively small sculpture, which we were told would be slightly disappointing. The sculpture is a Copenhagen icon and is based on the story by the Hans Christian Anderson. I’m glad we made the trip out to see it, but I probably won’t go back if I venture to Copenhagen again.

After visiting the mermaid we walked with our suitcases back into the center to the central train station. After some advice from Jeppe to take the train rather than a taxi, we all agreed that we’d rather save a few bucks and walk for a bit than shell out some cash for a taxi. The train was super cheap and relatively easy and I’m glad we made that choice.

My flight didn’t take off until around 9 pm, so I had a lot of time to chill in the airport, but I enjoy both my own company and airports, so I was content. I shopped around for a bit, found a deck of cards to add to my collection, and watched a few movies before my flight took off. Then I was back in Prague, making my way back to my housing all by myself on public transport. I’m really starting to get this city living thing down. Mom, you’d be proud.

This weekend I’m heading to The Netherlands to visit my family and to show my friends around Amsterdam. I’m super excited to see some friendly faces and to finally hold my Dutch passport in my hands! Its gonna be a good few days.

Sorry that this post was a bit late, it was another great week in the books! I’m starting to count the weeks until my parents come and I get to show them around Prague. This whole experience is going by so quickly!

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

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.