While a majority of my posts thus far have been about my experiences in Austria, I also wanted to share some of my other journeys throughout my six months in Europe. I’ve already shared a bit about my time in the Netherlands, Norway and Nepal, but I traveled a few more places that I have thus far left out of my blog posts.
First on the list is Germany. Let me just say that there is nothing that makes you feel quite so German as renting a car, driving the Autobahn, admiring castles in the distance and ending the day at a traditional Bavarian restaurant. Fellow Mines student Alyse White and I took the opportunity to drive through the eastern part of Germany over a four-day weekend in March. Our first leg of the trip began in Graz, from which we drove through the Tyrol region of Austria and ended in Fussen, where the beautiful Neuschwanstein castle (believed to be the prototype for the infamous Disney castle) looms in the distance.
After rising early the next day, we continued on our way to Berlin, which I found was one the my favorite cities in Europe. We made the most of our time there by taking a historical tour of the city in the morning and an “alternative tour” in the afternoon. We also had the chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial and the concentration camp just outside the city, both of which were very moving experiences and serve as a reminder to the world just why such a thing cannot happen again. I thought our tour guide put it extremely well when he said that the things he most admires about the German culture is that they own up to their past. While the first half of the 20th century was obviously not the best of times, the memorials around the city and nation remembering those who died, as well as the crimes committed, do not let the people forget what happened. They serve as a daily reminders of why the country, and the world, cannot fall back and repeat the past.
The city’s Communist past, combined with the new uprise of pop culture and street art, is a truly amazing combination. The effects of the Communist era are still evident in the matching gray buildings, fairly empty streets (for a nation’s capital city) and relatively low real estate values, trying to draw people and businesses in. Ironically, it was this very low cost of living left over from the Communist era that drew in artists and musicians from around the nation and the world. The streets are now filled with bright street art, and even the east section of the Berlin Wall, now known as the “East Side Gallery,” is covered with paintings promoting equality and peace from artists around the world. It’s exactly this combination of a dark, dreary history and bright (literally, colorful) future that draws me to this city in particular.
Next stop on the list was Prague, a city known for its beautiful architecture. During our quick stint here we made the most of our time by taking a tour of the city. I’m not generally one to enjoy city tours, but my knowledge of the city before arriving was fairly limited, so I wanted to take the opportunity to learn as much as I possibly could. Some of our stops included Prague Castle, the John Lennon Wall, and a medieval restaurant. We also happened to arrive on the first week of the Easter Market that takes place in the main square near the astronomical clock, Prague’s pride and joy. That chance occurrence gave us the opportunity to take in local performances and try some Czech Republic specialty foods and pastries. The two days spent there were really great and ended perfectly with a long climb up the watch tower to watch the sunset over the Charles Bridge!
Finally, we came to Budapest, Hungary. After a long night on the train trying to make ourselves comfortable in the sitting car, we arrived and made our way to the apartment of a friend who was living in the city at the time. Haley had spent the past year in Budapest and offered to give us a local’s tour of the city and a place to stay at her apartment. Quite the deal, if you ask me! She took us around the city, showing us parliament, the holocaust memorial and the island park that sits in the middle of the Danube, and she explained the history between the two sides of the river, Buda and Pest. Each side was once its own city before a chain bridge was built connecting them. There is still a stark difference between the two, in that Buda has lush, green rolling hills while Pest is flat and has been taken over by buildings. Apparently, this geographical difference is largely due to bombings from the wars, which destroyed the Pest side. The now-combined city has prominent buildings on either side, with the parliament in Pest and the Buda Castle (as the name implies) in Buda. For the last night of our stay, Haley took us up to her favorite spot in Pest, Liberty Hill, which overlooks the entire Pest side. It was quite the breathtaking view and the perfect way to end our stay!
I’ve had amazing opportunities to explore the world during my study abroad, and am incredibly thankful for the people who have helped me along the way. I would not have been able to visit many places without the help of a friend or two living in the area. It’s really incredible how quickly your network grows while traveling! I must say that I love it.
These are some of my last moments in Europe! My next, and last, post will be an update of what I’m doing in the states.
Until next time!