Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Europe Trip- Part 1, April 24th-May 4th, 2010

On Saturday April 24th I got on a plane to Europe with two of my closest friends, Hayley and Kaiti. This is part 1 of a summary of our adventure.

Amsterdam (The Introduction)
After our long overnight flight (good food, personal movie screens, loud babies, annoying drunk people, sporadic cranked neck sleep), we arrived in Amsterdam and promptly got lost. The subway system was incredibly confusing. Hayley got on a train as the doors were closing, and the driver wouldn't open the doors to let Kaiti and I on. We then realized Hayley was on the wrong train! So we found the right train, and went to the station near our hotel to wait for Hayley. An hour later I ventured out of the station to look for a bathroom, and found Hayley at a station down the street with the same name as the one Kaiti and I were waiting for her at. We opted to take a cab the rest of the way to the hotel.

We spent our first night of the trip in a hotel to battle jet lag. It worked!! We got a little taste of Amsterdam: walking along the canals, admiring the beautiful architecture (and being amazed that people actually live in such gorgeous places), dodging cyclists, eating at a delicious Italian restaurant, and riding a ferris wheel in Dam Square.


We left the Blue Square Hotel in Amsterdam and hopped on the train to Germany! Though it was a long (and very hungover) train ride it was lovely, because the scenery in the Netherlands was so beautiful!

Berlin was a little scary at first, we got lost, it was raining, and gypsies abound! But our hostel was amazing, we met awesome friendly people, and made new friends from Bruges. We stayed at the Baxpax hostel in Kreuzberg, which looked like a rough neighbourhood in the rain, but turned out to be lovely and lively!

That night we went to some bars down the street from our hostel; a traditional pub, a gay bar called Roses, and a rocker pub.

On Tuesday we went on a Sandemans New Europe walking tour of Berlin (gratuitous plug #1... seriously, if you go to Europe, and want to see a lot in a short amount of time, do these tours! The guides are really nice and funny, and most of the tours are free!) with an awesome tour guide (a theatre grad), and then visited the Jewish museum. Afterward we had a night in at the hostel.

We started Wednesday on the hunt for a post office, and once one was located we leisurely walked around our neighbourhood, we discovered a beautiful graffiti filled park, and Hayley had espresso for the first time.

Next stop, the Sandemans New Europe alternative Berlin walking tour. We saw street art, former and current squats, and how alternative Berliners have made use of the city's still standing war ravaged buildings. We also saw the effect of the "Media Spree" on artists, and historic buildings. "Media Spree" is a construction project targeting the area around Berlin's Spree river. It is meant to "clean up" the city. Ie: bring the city into capitalism, and make it look like any other city. The tour ended at the East Side Gallery- the Berlin Wall.


Our tour guide said that if we visit Berlin again in 10 years it will be very different. He suspects that street artists will be forced underground as the "Media Spree" takes over or demolishes their spaces. I hope beyond hope that he is wrong.

We ended our alternative day appropriately by doing the "anti-pub crawl." This took us to a hippie lounge bar called "Yesterday's," a "goth-rock horror" bar, an indie rock bar with a live band, a ping-pong bar, an absinthe bar, and a dance club in a bombed out train depot.

Berlin, lovely Berlin, don't ever change. xoxo.

After we settled into the "Pozdim" (autumn) room in the gorgeous Sir Toby's hostel we ate a delicious meal on the patio of an Italian restaurant down the street, and then came home and played trivial pursuit (without a board) at the bar downstairs.

On Friday we did the New Europe walking tour of Prague, oooh'd and aaah'd over the city's beauty, and went to two Jewish museums and the Jewish cemetery. The first museum's walls were covered with names of Jewish people who died in the holocaust, and children’s drawings from Terezin, a propaganda concentration camp.We saw images of happiness, hope, fear, and genuine talent lost to the world. It was a hauntingly beautiful and tragic experience.

We ended the day by pre-drinking (or pre-gaming, as they say in the states) in the Sir Toby's kitchen with other travelers, attempting to go to a witch burning ceremony in a park and missing it due to extended pre-gaming. We still got to buy pints in the park, and drink them on the way to Cross Club, a crazy multi-level bar, uniquely built from scaffolding, car and electronic parts, and other oddities (with a random "desert" style reggae bar on the top floor). We played flip cup outside the bar, and inside the bar. It was amazing.

On Saturday we took a tram up to Prague Castle, walked through the fairy tale forest behind the castle, and then walked around the quaint area surrounding the castle. At night we hung out in the kitchen "pre-gaming," and then went back to Cross Club, where I said goodbye to my first pair of broken flip flops of the trip.


We were sad to leave the lovely hostel (which I highly recommend to anyone going to Prague), our hostel-mates, and the beautiful Prague.

We czech-cz-czech-czech-czech-cz-czeched it out.
We liked what-wha-what-what-what it's all about.

Munich was rainy and cold, but we made the best of it! On Sunday we did laundry (sweet, sweet laundry) in our hostel, Wombats, and then I read in the super awesome common room. There was a costume bachelor party in the bar- the pirate was a rowdy fuck. A drunk wigged British man approached a few Asian travelers sitting in a hammock and called them "Picachu." So charming.

That night we ate at a fancy Italian restaurant (white asperagus is goooood) and wandered around the area looking for a movie theatre playing English films. Unfortunately none existed, so we packed it in early.

On Monday we took a train into the alps, and hiked up a mountain to King Ludwig the II's Neuschwanstein Castle.

The hike was challenging, but having already done so much walking on the trip we were prepared! At one point on the hike we took a little detour to a bridge over a waterfall. It was very high up, and there were a lot of other tourists. As I was about to leave, an older middle eastern gentleman asked if he could take my picture. I didn't see any harm, so I agreed. Then he asked a friend to take a picture of him with me. But his camera wouldn't work, and the men kept trying to get it to work and wouldn't let me leave. Hayley had to get our tour guide to come pull me away. When we saw them later, they were nudging each other and pointing at me, like I was a movie star. Or saying gross things. I'm going to just assume they thought I was a movie star, la la la la la la la.....

When we got in the castle, we told we couldn't take pictures, except for out the castle windows which was such an amazing view, including the actual Swan Lake! The castle was pretty cool, one might even say fabulous. My favourite room was the throne hall, which featured a mural on the ceiling of Jesus in front of a rainbow, and a colourful tile animal mural on the floor. There were Swans EVERYWHERE, and we were told that they were Luddy's favourite animal. He had his own personal theatre built, with a pretty forest scene as a backdrop, for performances of his favourite operas composed by his "buddy," Richard Wagner. The castle was built for Luddy and Wagner to live in together, but Ludwig died (under mysterious circumstances after being labeled mentally ill without having any medical examination) before the castle was completed. Although he never intended for the castle to be accessible to the public, the funds for its completion could only be raised through opening the castle up for paying visitors. It's amazing that such extravagance was intended for only two men (and however many staff would have been necessary to run the castle) to enjoy.

Though it was a little cold and cloudy, the rain held off and it was one of my top favourite days of the whole trip! It's not every day that I get to hike up a mountain to a fairy tale castle! Did I mention that the Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration for the Disney Castle? Yup, it's that fabulous.
That was a very long day, since the Munich beer challenge started immediately after we got off the train from the castle. Our tour guide was Australian, and our group was made up of Canadians and Irishmen (who I beat in a chugging contest). We went to pubs and beer halls, including the famous HofbrÀuhaus, where the Nazi party used to hang out, that has since been reclaimed as a great beer hall full of merriment. Songs were sung. Much beer was consumed. Hayley shed a tear. T'was a splendid eve.

On Tuesday Kaiti went to Dachau while Hayley and I went shopping. We bought her an awesome water bottle with Ampelmann - the East Berlin "walk" stoplight sign dude - on it to cheer her up. Then we went to find dinner and beer! We walked and walked to find an authentic German meal, which was nearly impossible with a vegetarian (sorry guys!) so we ended up at Munich's Hard Rock Cafe for a mediocre meal. Then we looked for our last beer hall for our last night in Munich, and ended up being served by Oscar the Grouchy Giant German (probably not actually named Oscar). Hayley had a beer, Kaiti and I had ice cream, which outraged Oscar, who eventually warmed up to us. 

Though Munich was cold and rainy, and our hostel wasn't very friendly, I really enjoyed Munich and its GIANT beers.

 My next post will be about our time in Paris, Bruges, and round two of Amsterdam!