Currywurst, Karl Marx Stadt and Goulash: A European Spring Break

I’ve been absolutely horrible at maintaining my blog. I’ve been back from my spring break travel extravaganza for about a month now, unbelievable. Yet, I’ve managed to avoid writing about it. I think sometimes I don’t know where to begin and it just seems so intimidating, so I just avoid it and find something else to occupy my time. However, its really not that hard and doesn’t have to re-cap every single moment. I’ve been reading several blogs and noticing different styles of writing. So I’m going to play with how I write my blogs. Since, I’m writing this one so late, I’m just going to do a brief update with a few pictures and the high lights. As a preface, I had to be in Berlin for the Fulbright Seminar and decided to take advantage of being on that side of Germany and just travel.

Sunday March 17-Saturday March 22 
City: Berlin
The German Fulbright Commission hosted a Seminar for all European Fulbrighters. It was a great opportunity to network. I spent a few extra days in Berlin too!

Highlights:

  • Meeting outbound German Fulbrighters, they will be leaving for the US in August/September
  • Berlin is an amazing and young city! I loved the vibe from it!
  • Stayed in the Park Inn at Alexanderplatz. It was AMAZING! The hotel was super nice and we had breakfast every morning too!!
  • Attended a few interesting sessions about the EU and Education in Germany
  • Found a delicious hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in the middle of Kreuzberg, Santa Maria
  • Made some wonderful memories with some amazing people!
  • Had delicious Burritos!
  • Visited the Ritter Sport Store
  • Ate some delicious Currywurst at Curry 36
  • Bought a new camera because my iPhone just wasn’t working for me. There is nothing like having a real camera for pictures! I’m so happy with my purchase!
Took the fancy train to Berlin

Took the fancy train to Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Bundestag / German Parliament

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Bundestag / German Parliament

Santa Maria, the hole-in-the-wall Mexican food place!

Santa Maria, the hole-in-the-wall Mexican food place!

An amazing night filled with performances by talented Fulbrighters

An amazing night filled with performances by talented Fulbrighters

Catching up with old friends from the Hilltop and making new ones!

Catching up with old friends from the Hilltop and making new ones!

The Ritter Sport Store, sadly I didn't get a picture of the make your own Ritter Sport section

The Ritter Sport Store, sadly I didn’t get a picture of the make your own Ritter Sport section

The famous Currywurst! Delicious!

The famous Currywurst! Delicious!

Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor

Amarette jumping across Europe

Amarette jumping across Europe

The famous TV tower in Berlin

The famous TV tower in Berlin

 

Saturday March 22-Friday March 29
Cities: Chemnitz, Dresden, Leipzig, Freiberg (Sachs).
Since I was already in Berlin, I decided to a small tour of eastern Germany. One of my Fulbright friends, Kaylee,  lives and works in Chemnitz, so I stayed with her and did some traveling around Saxony.

Highlights:

  • Getting to know some other cool Fulbrighters: Ben, Maria, Becca, and Katherine
  • Discovering the TV Series Türkisch für Anfänger Season 1
  • Saw the Karl Marx Kopf-a huge statue of Karl Marx’s head
  • Attempted to see the Baustei Rock Bridge, but failed due to ice along the path
  • Met the most amazing little German girls, who told us their whole life story basically
  • Saw Dresden twice, quick glimpses of the city both times, but I loved the city. Its rich with history and is gorgeous
  • Found the German equivalent of Austin: Leipzig.
  • Spent some quality time with a fellow Texan and enjoyed some delicious vegan Tex-Mex food at Atacaolypse 
  • Got ditched by my car-ride share to Prague, but ended up spending an extra night with a great friend enjoying 1.50 euro Doner and watched Pitch Perfect
Attempt to climb to the Baustei Bridge

Attempt to climb to the Baustei Bridge

Along our hike...thats supposed to be a lake.

Along our hike…thats supposed to be a lake.

Hiked up to this frozen waterfall, but risked my life in doing so.

Hiked up to this frozen waterfall, but risked my life in doing so.

If you look super closely between those rocks, you can see the bridge we were attempting to reach.

If you look super closely between those rocks, you can see the bridge we were attempting to reach.

Dresden

Dresden

Frauenkirche in Dresden

Frauenkirche in Dresden

Karl Marx Kopf in Chemnitz

Karl Marx Kopf in Chemnitz

Monument to the Battle of the Nations

Monument to the Battle of the Nations

On top of the monument with an amazing view of Leipzig

On top of the monument with an amazing view of Leipzig

Memorial to the protest against communism, which eventually led to the fall of the wall

Memorial to the protest against communism, which eventually led to the fall of the wall

Statue of Bach in front of the church, where he played.

Statue of Bach in front of the church, where he played.

Enjoying the delicious Tex-Mex food!

Enjoying the delicious Tex-Mex food!

 

Friday March 29-Saturday March 30
City: Prague
After the disaster with the car ride share, I decided to just take the train to Prague and ended up standing for 2 hours to Prague.

  • My friend Joelle and her friend Holly were also in Prague and I got to meet up with them because my other friends, Lydia and Christina weren’t getting in till later. (I met Lydia in summer 2011 at the Hesselbein Conference. We’ve remained in contact and she along with Christina came to visit me in March. They’re both currently studying in Brno in Czech Republic.)
  • Got lost trying to find Joelle, but discovered some different parts of Prague including the dancing house!
  • Went to the Cinderalla Ballet at the National Theatre and it was an amazing experience. Plus it was only 3 euros!!
  • Stayed at an amazing hotel (Hotel Seifert) with an amazing breakfast. Probably some of the best coffee that i’ve had in Europe.
  • Enjoyed some delicious Czech Beer and Goulash, which is quite different from what most of Americans think of when they hear goulash.
  • Had the best tour guide on the Sandeman’s New Prague free walking tour!
  • Met a Canadian, who is living in Germany and knows my friend Morgen, another ETA.
  • Enjoyed some traditional Czech food at the Easter Market
The main train station in Prague. Czech is quite a different language!

The main train station in Prague. Czech is quite a different language!

The dancing house!

The dancing house!

Cinderella Ballet at the National Theatre

Cinderella Ballet at the National Theatre

Potato Chips on a stick!

Potato Chips on a stick!

Traditional Hungarian specialty, but its everywhere in the Czech Republic.

Traditional Hungarian specialty, but its everywhere in the Czech Republic.

 

Friday March 30-Monday April 1
City: Cesky Krumlov
After spending time in Prague, I travelled by bus to a small town in southeastern Czech Republic that is known for its castle. My two friends, Christina and Lydia, basically planned the whole thing.

  • The bus trip was great! It was super cheap and the bus had free Wifi
  • Cesky Krumlov is the most adorable, quaint town EVER.
  • Our hostel was all kinds of cute, Hostel Merlin 
  • Had the most delicious, filling Easter dinner for only about 8 Euros. It included: soup, half a chicken, potatoes, bread stuffing thing, and dessert!
  • Experienced my first ever white easter!
  • Explored a cool castle with a tour guide that had a very interesting accent
  • Took a stroll around the Easter market and almost bought a new purse
  • Enjoyed some roasted almonds
  • Met the best souvenir shop owner ever who spoke English, Czech, German and Russian.
  • Took some great photos throughout the city
  • Had some delicious cocktails with Lydia and Christina
The main course of my delicious Easter Dinner!

The main course of my delicious Easter Dinner!

Christina and I in front of the Castle!

Christina and I in front of the Castle!

The Easter Snow Bunny!

The Easter Snow Bunny!

Me Jumping Across Europe

Me Jumping Across Europe

The secret garden door!

The secret garden door!

My lovely friends Lydia and Christina

My lovely friends Lydia and Christina

Last view of Cesky Krumlov before leaving

Last view of Cesky Krumlov before leaving

Monday April 1-Tuesday April 2
City: Back to Prague
Christina and Lydia had to go back to school  on Monday and I wasn’t quite ready to leave the Czech Republic, so I headed back to Prague to do some more exploring.

  • Was completely by myself in Prague and it was quite the experience. I had never really travelled by myself like that before.
  • Did the Sandeman’s New Prague Castle Tour and it was totally worth it!
  • Heard some Swiss German and then creepily introduced myself to them and had a great conversation with them. I always love hearing Swiss German.
  • Had some delicious hot chocolate up in the Prague Castle
  • Saw the changing of the guards
  • Had an amazing Hamburger at a place called Dish 
  • Met some interesting people staying in my hostel
  • Had a delicious breakfast at my hostel (Hostel Advantage)
  • Admired all the artwork on  the John Lennon
  • Took a picture for a mom and her little boy and didn’t think too much of it. A few mins later, she caught up with me and thanked me for taking such a great photo of her and her son. It made my day.
  • Had an amazing car ride share experience back to Germany. Matej, the driver, was wonderful and we had some great conversation the entire time. He even gave me a painted egg when we departed.
The Prague Castle

The Prague Castle

Inside the cathedral at the Prague Castle. We lucked out with the sun. It was soo pretty!

Inside the cathedral at the Prague Castle. We lucked out with the sun. It was soo pretty!

Must have picture with the castle guards

Must have picture with the castle guards

Random Church I found...beautiful!

Random Church I found…beautiful!

The Burger Place I ate at!

The Burger Place I ate at!

The famous astronomical clock on Old Town Square

The famous astronomical clock on Old Town Square

The John Lennon Wall

The John Lennon Wall

So basically in as few words as possible that was my European Spring Break! I am so blessed to have been able to travel to so many amazing places and have met some cool people  along the way too!

Abi-Potter: Voll der Mord

The Graduates

 

In Germany, the school system is quite different than in the US. One of the main differences is that not everyone completes the same amount of schooling. For example, some people stop at grade 9 and then begin technical school. While others, continue to grade 13 and then study at a university. This a very basic overview of the system, it’s a bit more complicated than that. If you would like to read more about the German education system, here’s an article.

I am at a Comprehensive School (Gesamtschule). At my school, students have the option of completing their Abitur, which is a requirement for studying at a university. These students complete 13 years of school and take strenuous tests. At the end of it all, they have a celebration: Abi-Ball. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend and experience it. I thought it would be just dance type event, however I was quite wrong.

It was basically graduation, talent show and prom all together in one evening. Everyone dressed up in cocktail attire, but the “graduates” were the most dressed up out of everyone. It was neat to see the students all snazzy in their evening attire. The theme of the evening was “Abi-Potter: Voll der Mord” so it was was a Harry Potter theme. I’m not quite sure the exact translation because the literal translation doesn’t make much sense, but I’m sure it has something to do with Harry Potter. The students did a wonderful job of decorating. Of course, I didn’t understand some of the references because I haven’t read the books. However, I have seen some of the movies. I know, I am way behind the times but it just never interested me much.

There were two parts of the evening: official and unofficial. To begin, all of the students walked in and sat in their seats. Next, there were several speeches from various people mixed with some musical pieces. At the end of the official part, all the graduates received their report cards, which is basically their diploma. We had an intermission to get food and drink. The crazy part was that alcohol was being served and even the graduates were drinking alcohol. However, this is quite normal because the drinking age is much younger here. Plus, most of the graduates are between 18-20 at this point. Oh, but I did forget to mention the location…inside the school! That’s the even crazier part!

For the unofficial program, there was a movie made by the students along with some skits. This was basically the talent show portion of the evening. By this time, it was already almost midnight. My ride was leaving, so I left too. However, the real party was just getting started aka the prom portion. In true European style, the party went on till early in the morning or so I heard. The whole experience was quite unbelievable for me because it was so long and alcohol was being served. However, it was still great to celebrate the accomplishments of the students.

One of my students singing.

One of my students singing.

The students receiving their report cards/diplomas. Sorry for the poor quality!

The students receiving their report cards/diplomas. Sorry for the poor quality!

Part of the festivities!

Part of the festivities!

Falling in love with the City of Lights

Warning: this is a rather long post! My blog is a mixture of writing to my audience as well as for my own sake. That being said, I won’t be offended if you only look at the pictures! However, if you’re going to Paris anytime soon, I’ve tried to include some tips!

The last weekend in February I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Paris with Austin and Katherine (two other amazing Fulbrighters living in Mainz). We were lucky enough to find train tickets for about 50€ (around $65) and this was for both ways. We all felt like we had to take advantage of this amazing deal. We were originally going for my birthday, but because of some other events decided to wait till the end of February. Also, February is the least busy time of year for Paris, so we were excited about that too.

Thursday 

Katherine and I departed earlier than Austin because of a fiasco with buying the discounted tickets. We left Frankfurt around 7pm and arrived in Paris about 11pm. Since it was rather late and i was a bit sick, we just headed to the Peace and Love Hostel, where we stayed for the night. It sounds sketchy but was actually pretty nice for a hostel plus we has a pretty chill roommate. He was just beginning his adventure of back packing around Europe for a couple of months at the mere age of 18. He had been working to pay for it and was excited about the adventures, despite doing it on his own because eating just isn’t as fun by yourself. We told him that we would have dinner with him before he flew back home out of Frankfurt so he wouldn’t have to eat by himself.

The view outside the Peace and Love Hostel in the morning

The view outside the Peace and Love Hostel in the morning

Friday  

The real party started when we picked up Austin at the train station and headed to St Michel for the Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour. This was our first experience and was a great way to get familiar with the city. These tours are in several major cities in Europe. I would highly recommend them to anyone traveling on a budget. Our tour guide was great and engaging!!

Right before the tour and the beginning of many selfies throughout the trip!

Right before the tour and the beginning of many selfies throughout the trip!

The New Bridge, also has the original drunken Facebook photos in the form of statues.

The New Bridge, also has the original drunken Facebook photos in the form of statues.

The Louvre by day

The Louvre by day

By far one of my favorite jumping pictures

By far one of my favorite jumping pictures

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

After our amazing tour, we headed to  the apartment we had rented on AirBNB, which sounds expensive but was actually much cheaper for the three of us. Plus, it was much more relaxed and worry free. We didn’t have to worry about our belongings being stolen. The apartment was nice and in a decent location, probably about a 15 min metro ride to the city.

One of the rooms!

One of the rooms!

The stairs to our apartment!

The stairs to our apartment!

Once we were settled in, we headed back into the city for a quick dinner at cute Italian place. After our delicious dinner and wine, we made our way to the Louvre. Since we are technically European Residents and under the age of 26, we were able to get into the Louvre for free (apparently on Friday nights its open later and its free for people under 26)…and this was only the beginning of several museums we were able to visit without paying anything!! The Louvre was overwhelming with the amount of art work that filled its rooms. However, the Mona Lisa wasn’t what it’s all cracked up to be, sorry to disappoint. It’s rather tiny for such a famous painting. The best part…it’s across from this amazing painting that takes up the entire wall, yet I feel like it gets ignored and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. However, I am thankful for the opportunity to have seen all the amazing pieces of art inside the Louvre, even the crazy weird interpretive dance exhibition that was happening while we were there.

The Seine at night

The Seine at night

The famous Mona Lisa

The famous Mona Lisa

The weird interpretive dance exhibition

The weird interpretive dance exhibition

The Louvre at night

The Louvre at night

After two hours of gawking at all kinds of art, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower to see the light show at night. Since we arrived a bit early, we decided to indulge in delicious crepes! Despite the unbearable wind, watching the light show with two of my closest friends was an incredible experience. It reminded me that I’m living the dream!

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Yummy crepes!!

Yummy crepes!!

The cool light show!

The cool light show!

Saturday

We woke up a bit early so we could take full advantage of the day. We headed into the city and decided to get out the Charles de Gaulle metro stop to look for breakfast. Unbeknownst to us, it was the metro stop for the Arc de Triomphe. We found a cafe to grab a croissant and some coffee. Since we were already close and had been planning to see it later in the day, we decided to go ahead and check out the magnificent Arc. Surprise! We were able to go to the top for free!

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

The amazing view at the top

The amazing view at the top

I really enjoyed the view, so breathtaking.

I really enjoyed the view, so breathtaking.

After taking lots of pictures on top and around the Arc de Triomphe, we made our way to the Catacombs. Once we got there, we saw the line going down the block and thought it wasn’t worth it to wait in line. In reality, it wasn’t that long of a line and wouldn’t have been too bad to wait in but the cold persuaded us otherwise. First thing Monday, we would try the catacombs again. We walked through the Montparnasse cemetery on our way to find something else to do. In the end, we just walked around trying to find a place to eat lunch.

Montparnasse Cemetery

Montparnasse Cemetery

Once our tummies were full, we continued exploring the magical city. We headed to the Musee d’Orsay to check out the amazing artwork there. What do you know, we were able to get in for free there too!  The Musee d’Orsay used to be an old train station that has been converted into a museum filled with amazing pieces of artwork. We all split up because we all had different interests. I enjoyed exploring all the different exhibits on my own. This is a must see museum, especially for people who enjoy art! After we had our fill of art, we made our way to Notre Dame. There were a ton of people, so we looked around for a bit inside, but didn’t go up the towers. It didn’t seem worth it because the weather was horrible.

The clock inside the Musse d'Orsay

The clock inside the Musse d’Orsay

Austin trying to plank with Musee d'Orsay sign

Austin trying to plank with Musee d’Orsay sign

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame

 

By this point in the day, I was starting to feel pretty horrible due to my cough and what not. However, I pushed through because I didn’t want to be lame. We decided to see if we could see the opera, but it didn’t work out because it was closed. We then found the Galeries Lafayette, which is the high end department store french equivalent of Harrods in London. It was amazing inside, just bustling with shoppers. It has this beautiful ceiling that is a must see. Once we finished adoring the architecture, we decided to find a grocery store, buy some dinner, wine and dessert. On our way home, we stopped at the corner shop to buy a roasted chicken, which was delicious! We stayed home for the evening, which was exactly what I needed, some chill and relax time.

Inside the Galeries La Fayette

Inside the Galeries La Fayette

The amazing ceiling!

The amazing ceiling!

Summary of the day!

Summary of the day!

How we spent our evening!

How we spent our evening!

Sunday

We woke up early to start our journey to Versailles, the most famous castle in the world. To no avail, the weather was still cold, snowy and windy. At least the snow made it a little more magical. After an hour-ish train ride, we arrived at magical palace. At first, we were a bit confused because there were no lines and we weren’t sure where to go. Plus, we also didn’t have to pay again! It was such a lovely surprise! One of the greatest things was the audio guides provided. It enhanced the experience so much more because I was able to learn about what I was looking at and learn the background about. We spent about 2-3 hours exploring the different rooms in the palace. We tried to brave the cold weather to explore the gardens, but it was just too miserable. The wind and the snow was just unbearable, plus the gardens didn’t look very alive. Oh well, just another reason to return!

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

In front of the gates!

In front of the gates!

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Jumping across Europe!

Jumping across Europe!

My globe-trotting face according to Austin.

My globe-trotting face according to Austin.

We arrived back in Paris around 2pm or so. We decided to check out Sainte-Chapelle, one of the most gorgeous chapels I have ever seen. Something like 75% of the chapel is made of stained glass. I had thought I could maybe light a candle for my Granny there, but it wasn’t possible so we headed back to Notre Dame so I could light a candle in her memory. It was a special moment for me because I wasn’t going to be able to attend her funeral, so this was my way of celebrating her life.

St. Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

The Metro

The Metro

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

In Loving Memory of Mary Lou Berry

In Loving Memory of Mary Lou Berry

Of course, a trip to Paris isn’t complete without a trip to Montmartre and luckily the weather started to improve a little bit, as in it wasn’t snowing anymore. We climbed our way to the top of the stairs to enjoy the view and the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur. We had to watch out because there were tons of pick-pockets in the area. There is usually a group of them. One of them tries to distract you and they all surround you and then one of them grabs your wallet out of your pocket while you’re not paying attention. Be careful and just ignore them and continue walking past them. Despite the annoying pick-pockets, we were able to enjoy the amazing views.

Montmartre and the Basilica Sacre Coeur

Montmartre and the Basilica Sacre Coeur

Monmartre

Monmartre

For dinner, we decided to head to the Jewish quarter and have some delicious falafel. We ate at this delicious place called, L’AS du Fallafel and it was amazing! I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a delicious falafel. With satisfied tummies, we decided to do a bit of exploring in the Jewish quarter, plus we were also in search of grocery store for some dessert and wine for the evening. However, it was unsuccessful and just headed home. Luckily, there was a small shop that was open next to our place and were able to get some goodies for the evening.

Summary of our Sunday

Summary of our Sunday

Monday

Originally, we had planned to do the catacombs, but like many museums and attractions, its closed on Mondays. So we had to scratch that, but just gives me one more reason to return. We packed up our stuff, took it the luggage lockers at the train station and found a place for breakfast. We had the most enjoyable and affordable breakfast ever. It was 9 Euros and included: baguette, croissant, egg, orange juice and coffee. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was amazing. After enjoying a relaxing breakfast, we headed to the Eiffel Tower to make our way to the top. We walked through the gardens and took some pictures. Of course, the weather was even worse than the day before because it was super cloudy and still snowing. Just our luck, the very top of the Eiffel Tower is closed due to snow and ice, so we weren’t even able to go all the way to the top. It was a sad day, but were able to file for a refund because we had bought tickets online. We were still able to go to the second floor, so at least we had some sort of view. It was just extremely cold and windy up there, which was a theme of our trip.

Our delicious breakfast!

Our delicious breakfast!

The dreary day

The dreary day

Of course we took jumping pictures!

Of course we took jumping pictures!

 

JUMPING!

JUMPING!

One of my favorite pictures from the trip!

One of my favorite pictures from the trip!

 

Galeries La Fayette

Galeries La Fayette

The rest of the day was spent walking around and doing a little bit of shopping before we headed back to the train station. We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to collect our luggage and look for our train platform. For some reason in France, they don’t tell you the platform ahead of time. You don’t know it till about 20 mins before departure time, which is a bit frustrating. We looked at the screen for our train, but there wasn’t a platform number and there was a french word in yellow. We thought it looked positive, but decided to check with information just in case something was wrong. Good thing we checked because our train was just cancelled and we had to wait 2 hours for the next train. It was so frustrating because we already had our luggage and the weather was still crappy. We decided our best bet was to find a cafe, grab a coffee or something. We found one not too far from the train station and ordered crepes and hot chocolate. However, it didn’t pass as much time as we had hoped, so we headed back to the train station to wait for the platform to be announced. Finally, the platform was announced and we made our to find seats. Luckily, we found seats with a table for the three of us together which made the ride much more comfortable. The worst part about the whole ordeal was that I was unable to make it all the way home, so I had to spend the night with Austin. However, we arrived in Mainz around 130am and I had to be up early to make it to school on time the next day. It wasn’t the best way to end the trip, but I still had an amazing time.

Passing the time with Crepes!

Passing the time with Crepes!

Angry at Deutsch Bahn for canceling our train!

Angry at Deutsch Bahn for canceling our train!

Summary of our last day!

Summary of our last day!

Overall, the trip to Paris was amazing and I can’t wait to return someday soon! I fell in love with the amazing city!! Katherine and Austin were wonderful traveling companions! I’m glad I was able to experience it with them!