8 days. 4 countries. 3 currencies and languages. 1 amazing Spring Break!
The first city that my friends Brittany, Sydney, and I visited was Berlin, Germany. When we arrived, we checked into our airbnb and then took the tram into the tourist center of the city, Alexanderplatz. We then went up to the top of the TV tower. The TV tower is the tallest building in Berlin and has windows all the way around. So, when we were up inside the tower, we could walk around one of the top floors in a circle and look out to see the entire city of Berlin. When we were up in the tower, I realized how absolutely gigantic Berlin is and I felt a bit overwhelmed. We were only staying in Berlin for two nights so I was afraid that we would not be able to see very much of the city. (Spoiler alert: we saw tons of things and it was amazing!) After we took an amazingly fast elevator back down from the tower, we walked around the city for a while to try to get a handle on the layout and feel of the city. Then we went to dinner at one of the oldest still functioning dance halls in Germany for dinner. Inside, the restaurant had tables lining the walls with a large dance floor in the middle. Many local couples were doing a variety of different ballroom dances while we were there which was so much fun to watch. We ate wiener schnitzel and had water buffalo meatballs for dinner which were both delicious. After dinner, we went to a been garden to enjoy some beer, pretzels, and apple strudel while we listened to some live music played by a small band there.
The next morning we got up early to grab breakfast before going on a 4.5 hour guided walking tour around the city. On the tour, we saw all of the main attractions of Berlin like museum island, the site of the Nazi book burning, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, the site of Hitler’s bunker, and the Berlin Wall. After the tour, we got some currywurst which is a local speciality of Berlin. Then, we went back to a few places on the tour that we wanted to see again or in more detail. Then we went to a restaurant our tour guide had recommended to use for dinner. We had raspberry beer, a variety of different types of sausages, and spetzel which were all amazing. Afterwards, we went back to the beer garden for some more live music before heading back to our airbnb for the night to reflect on our trip so far.
Berlin was not what I had expected. I do not mean that in a bad way, however. Even though I knew that Berlin was a capital city and that it was pretty big, I did not expect it to be as big as it was and I had still pictured it as somewhat quaint more like Munich or Dusseldorf, which it is not. The city was very urban, modern, and hipster. Even when a building looked old, it was most likely new. This is because of the massive destruction of the city during World War II and the reconstruction of the city afterwards. So, I did experience some culture shock in Berlin. One of the most interesting things about the city was the fact that being there made history feel so recent. The city does not shy away from acknowledging the atrocities of Nazism. It presents it’s history in a way that honors victims and discourages Nazi sympathizing. It was very shocking and disturbing to see places such as the site of the Nazi book burning in person, but it was also very moving and I am glad to have experienced it.
When we woke up the next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast and went to the train station where we hopped on a train to…
Prague, Czech Republic!
When we got off of the train in Prague, something felt a little off. The station itself was plain concrete and was almost completely empty. The few workers we found told us that there were no taxis available to get to our hostel. So, we wandered a bit and (thankfully!!) found a taxi a few streets away from the station. The driver told us that we had accidentally gotten off of the train at the wrong station and that we were in one of the outer districts of Prague, Prague 7, which was a bit of a distance from the central station and the center of the city which consists of Prague 1 and Prague 2. Oops! Luckily, it was a fairly quick taxi ride from Prague 7 to our hostel, and soon enough we were checking in. Then, we walked through the new side of Prague to Old Town Square. We walked around the square and saw the astronomical clock and the surrounding beautiful architecture. There were many street vendors nearby, so we picked up some mulled wine (it was very cold out) and trdelnik pastries which were sooo good. Then, we walked around a bit more before going to dinner. At dinner we had beer cheese, goulash, potato dumplings, and chicken with potatoes. For dessert we had a traditional Czech pastery. That night we went on a pub crawl which was exciting because we met some other study abroad students and made new friends!
The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast at our hostel before going on a guided walking tour of the city. On the tour we saw both old and new Prague. We visited the Jewish quarter, the statue of Kafka, and the location of the defenestration of Prague, to name a few. After the tour, we took the Charles bridge to the other side of the river and toured Prague castle. We stayed up on the hill for a little while to just take in the beautiful view of Prague down below. It was truly stunning. Then, we made our way over to the Lennon Wall. It was amazing to walk up to the wall and see so much color. As you got closer, you could begin to make out messages that previous visitors had left on the wall. It was so special to see all of the stories of the people who had visited before us. There was writing in more languages than I could count. The wall was decorated in paint, spray paint, sharpie, and pen. Beatles quotes, jokes, messages of peace, and even Bible quotes were on the wall. To the right side, a small portion had been painted over in white as a tribute to David Bowie which was very nice. My friends and I had brought a sharpie so that we could write on the wall too, so we each took turns writing a Beatles quote on the wall. This was definitely one of my favorite moments of the trip. We even ran into some of our friends from the previous night’s pub crawl at the wall and got to talk with them some more. After that, we crossed back over the river and grabbed some traditional open faced sandwiches and plum pastries. Then after some more exploring we went to dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Prague. We had chicken and fried cheese which was very good. Then we went to a cafe for desert. I thought I was ordering chocolate cake, but it was actually carrot cake which turned out to be super delicious. This was the night of the housing lottery back at Duquesne’s home campus, so we ate our cake while anxiously waiting to hear the news from our friend Caroline about where we would be living next year. The four of us got the apartment together that we wanted and could not have been more excited! It was a great way to end an amazing day.
The next morning we had breakfast, did a bit of window shopping, and then got on a train to…
When we arrived in Vienna, we checked into our airbnb and were off and into the city as soon as possible. Unlike the other cities where we had two nights in each, we only stayed one night in Vienna so we tried to make the most of our short time there! We walked to the center of the city and first saw St. Stephen’s church which was beautiful. Then we walked along most of Ringstrass, which is a long circular street in Vienna from which you can see most of the big sights. We saw many of the museums, Hofburg Palace, the opera house, and the Mozart house. Then we went to the large ferris wheel (similar to the London Eye) and rode that at night. It was a great way to see more of the city and it was very beautiful all lit up at night. Then we went for a late dinner at a cafe. After that, we walked around the city a bit more and then went back to the airbnb for the night.
The next morning, we woke up early and got a quick breakfast before heading to the Belvedere Palace. We then toured the grounds of the palace which was extremely beautiful. Then, sadly, we had to head to the train station already. Soon, we were on our way to…
Our train got delayed quite a bit going into Hungary, but it only made us more excited to arrive! When we got into Budapest, we checked into our hostel as quickly as possible and then we took the metro to the thermal baths. It was much warmer in Budapest than in the other cities we visited over break and the weather was very similar to Rome in that way. So, it was the perfect weather to put on a bathing suit and go to the thermal baths! There were both indoor and outdoor baths, and cold or warm baths. We went to the warm outdoor bath and it was amazing. The water was slightly cooler than a hot tub back at home. We had a great time relaxing in the water. After a few hours, we left the thermal baths to grab some dinner. I had pumpkin soup and a fried goat cheese salad which were both amazing. Then we went back to the hostel and went on a pub crawl to experience the night life of Budapest! Budapest is famous for it’s ruin bars which are old ruins of buildings reconstructed and redecorated to be bars. It was very cool to see this special type of bar. On the pub crawl my friends and I met and talked with some local people which was really great.
The next morning, we got on a bus to cross from the Pest side where we were staying to the Buda side of the city where we went caving! When we arrived, we suited up in giant, coverall suits and helmets with a light on the front. Then our guide lead us out to the caves. I had no idea how intense caving under Budapest was going to be. I had pictured walking around and looking at rocks with maybe a little climbing here and there. This was not the case. Our caving experience was more like mountain climbing underground. At times, we were scaling rocks and army crawling through mud puddles. I even needed to be pulled through a crevice by the guide because I could not move myself through on my own. There was blood, sweat, and (almost!) tears. It was a very scary experience but it felt great to have completed it! Afterward we were completely exhausted. We went to dinner and I had paprika chicken and a traditional Hungarian cake for dessert. Then we went on some nighttime sightseeing and went to the Parliament building, the second largest temple in the world, and the palace, among other things. After that, we went back to the hostel and packed for our flight out in the morning.
In all, spring break was an amazing experience that challenged me in more ways than I could have expected. Physically, it was difficult to keep up with all of the walking that we did. We averaged at least 10 miles per day. It was also difficult to keep the hours that we kept. I’m so very glad that we were almost always out in the cities doing things, but it did not leave much time for sleep. We were out in the cold for most of that time, and I was beginning to get sick, so that was also challenging. Mentally, it was a hard to understand the conversions into two new currencies and to keep all of our train and plane traveling schedules straight. Also, there were many times when we would have been lost or stranded somewhere if we hadn’t paid close attention to landmarks and maps. Even though these challenges and others made the trip difficult at times, I am so glad that I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I leaned so much about myself and about how to handle new or scary situations. This trip made me feel like a “real” adult, and while I still do not think that I am ready to be a Full Time Real Adult, my traveling has given me the tools I need to do it one day. I am so grateful for this experience and am so blessed that I got to do it with two of my best friends by my side.
With love from Rome,