Budapest | Vienna | Prague

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Since any regular readers have become accustomed to the lateness and irregularity of my blog posts, it won’t be a surprise to you that I am only now getting around to telling you about my February vacation. (What can I say? One of my worst faults is procrastination…) However, even with the delay I’d like to catch you all up on this trip, and what’s been going on with me lately.  And though I certainly could write enough about my trip to fill up several blog posts, I’ll try to keep it concise and leave everything here.

So, I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit several central/eastern European countries during my February vacation, and exciting opportunity because the furthest east that I had traveled before this was Germany.  The weather during most of the trip was colder than I had experienced in France so far, which meant it felt like a real Michigan winter, minus the snow (good for me, maybe not as good for my friend Heather who I was traveling with. She’s from the south and doesn’t like the cold as much as I do.)

I began my trip in Budapest, Hungary.  I didn’t know much about the town before arriving, except that it was famous for thermal baths.  We had some mishaps on our arrival, in that we wandered around for several hours looking for our hostel even with google maps and once we arrived the desk workers had gone out for ice cream (oops!), but overall my experience with Budapest was lovely.  On our first day, we spent the morning at the Rudas Baths.  These Turkish baths were built when the Ottoman Empire ruled Hungary, and were recommended by a friend because they were less expensive and less touristy than many of the other thermal baths that Budapest has to offer. Before we went to the baths, I was skeptical as to whether or not I’d enjoy them, but overall I found them very relaxing.

After this, we had a tasty lunch and wandered around Fisherman’s Bastion a bit before taking a walking tour.  We could only find one free walking tour that was run in Budapest, and thought it was a good way to see all of the sights in one go, we were disappointed by the limited information that our tour guide gave us (every other free walking tour I’ve been on has always been really informative and well worth my time).  Also, because of the cold, we were feeling pretty exhausted after the walking tour, and at this point went back to the hostel and called it a night.

On our second day in Budapest, we took a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building. The building is stunning from the outside and even more beautiful inside.  The architecture was based on that of the English Parliament building in London, and inside you can see the Hungarian crown jewels.   This was honestly one of the most worthwhile things that we saw in Budapest, so if you’re making a trip out that way, it’s not to be missed.  Later in the day, we went to the Hungarian National museum.  It was interesting to visit and learn about the Hungary, from its early history, to its time under communist rule.  After visiting the museum, we went to the Great Market Hall, a huge market with all kinds of fresh and prepared food, as well as souvenirs.  We had goulash for lunch here (a traditional Hungarian dish) and rounded off our meal with some delicious strudel.  I’ve never seen so many flavors of strudel in one place.  It was heaven!

After our filling lunch, we went to visit St. Stephen’s  Basilica.  One of the draws of this particular church is the mummified “Holy Right” hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s beloved King-Saint.  Unfortunately, during our visit we couldn’t get the display case holding the hand and its reliquary to light up, so we didn’t get to see it properly (I was disappointed. I think reliquaries are AWESOME!). The basilica also had really interesting,modern-looking stained glass windows of some of the saints.

In the evening, our last in Budapest, we went on a Ruin Pub Crawl. The ruin pubs are famous and very particular to Budapest.  There are also many of them.  They are all different, and to save space trying to explain them, I’ll link to a description here.  The experience was very cool and we were lucky to visit several of the city;s most famous ruin pubs, including Szimpla.

On our last morning in Budapest, we visited the House of Terror.  This museum gives visitors a glimpse into life in Hungary during the fascist and communist regimes and is housed in a building that was used by them.  The museum was a chilling but important look at some very dark times in Hungary’s history.  After we finished at the House of Terror, we caught our train and were on our way to Vienna.

Click here to link to my photos from Budapest.

In our first day in Vienna, we also went on a walking tour to get to know the city.  I enjoyed this tour as it was much more informative than the one that we did in Budapest.  On the tour we got to see the opera house, Mozart’s house, and St. Stephen’s cathedral (not a typo, there’s one here too), among other sights.

After the tour we got lunch at a restaurant called Aida, where they serve sachertorte, one of the most famous desserts in Vienna (a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling).  We also got to try some of the delicious coffee drinks that Vienna is famous for.  If you know me, you know that I’m a foodie and I have a big sweet tooth, so this was a highlight for me.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the Hofburg Palace, where we got to see the royal silver collections, the royal apartments, and the Sisi museum.  Not having known much about the Austrian royal family (apart from the fact that Marie Antoinette was Austrian royalty – most of my European history knowledge, which is very little, comes from my French classes), these exhibits were interesting.  Also it was interesting to see the apartments of a royal family that wasn’t French, because most of the palaces or castles that I’ve seen have been in France. Finally we visited the Austrian National Library (gorgeous! reminded me of the library at Trinity College in Dublin) and headed for dinner.

It it interesting to mention the restaurant that we had dinner at, called Vollpension.  The restaurant’s meals, especially their desserts, are cooked by grandmothers and grandfathers who use their own family recipes.  The restaurant itself looks like your grandmother’s house, all decked out in knickknacks and retro dishes.  There are even little old ladies to bus the tables and make sure everything in the restaurant is ok.  I loved the food and cakes and the atmosphere here, and it made me miss my grandma a bunch.

On our next day in Vienna, we went to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs.  The palace was lovely, and the interior reminded me a bit of Versailles.  Later in the day, we went to see the Capuchin crypt, where many of the Hapsburgs are buried. After, we saw St. Stephens Cathedral (the inside this time…and there were a bunch of reliquaries!)  the inside and the outside of the cathedral were impressive.  The church has lovely colored tiles on its roof, making it different from the ones that I’m used to seeing in France.  We ended our day by visiting the Kunsthistoriches Museum (an art museum).  The museum was very big and had many interesting old pieces.  The building it was in was something to see even on its own.  All of the rooms had beautiful ceilings.

On our final day in Vienna, we did some shopping and then visited the Albertina Museum.  This museum also had royal apartments and wonderful collections of impressionist and modern art.  We saw many beautiful Picasso pieces, as well as an exhibition on photography’s importance to films.  After that, we got on a bus and headed to Prague.

Click here to link to my photos from Vienna.

When we got to Prague, we had a day before we were joined by several of our other teaching assistant friends.  We went on a walking tour (by Sandeman’s New Europe. The best one of the whole trip!) that gave us a lot of background on the history of Prague and an overview of the important sights.  After this, we wandered across the Charles Bridge to see the John Lennon graffiti wall.  In the evening, we met up with our friends and had dinner.

The next morning, Amy, Sarah, Josh and I took a day trip to Kutna Hora to see the Sedlec Ossuary, a church decorated with human bones.  I was really amazed by how beautiful it was.  That evening, we went on a beer tour. We got to go to several different pubs and sample traditional Czech beers (all pilsners).  This was a great way to end the day.  We got to drink beers, while learning about how they were made and what makes Czech beer different from beer in other places.

On our last day in Prague,we went to Prague Castle. We had to climb up a huge hill to get there, but the view over Prague from up above was breathtaking.  The castle was nice, but the most impressive part of the castle complex was St. Vitus Cathedral.  The architecture was stunning and the stained glass windows were lovely.  Another interesting part if the castle complex was getting to see the windows where the defenestrations (throwing people out of windows) that started the Thirty Year’ War happened.  In the evening, Josh, Sarah and I went to see a Two Door Cinema Club gig.  I was really pleased that we could see them in Prague, as they’re one of my favorite bands and I couldn’t make it to their concert in Paris on this tour. It was my first time seeing them live, and it was well worth the years that I’ve waited.

Click here for my pictures from Prague

I really enjoyed getting to visit 3 cities that I had never been to on this trip. Before we had gone, I thought that Vienna would be my favorite city to visit, and though I really liked Vienna, it wasn’t actually my favorite.  Prague was my favorite city to see.  The architecture there was lovely.  I really liked the atmosphere of the town.  The food was great, too(chimney cakes galore!).

Thanks for bearing with me in the long wait for this post.  It’s been a busy around here. I’ve been trying to make the most of the time that I have left in France (just about a month!) and that hasn’t left a whole lot of time for blogging.  Tomorrow, I’m off for my April vacation (yes another school break. how do they do it?) to Brussels, Dublin, and traveling around Scotland.  I’m sad to be leaving France very shortly (probably a post on that later) but I’m trying not to dwell on it.

Anyway, if you want to see pictures of some of the things I’ve been up to lately (visiting to châteaux, biking to châteaux, picnics because the weather has been amazing, etc.), feel free to click here.

Blois had a Carnavale and a parade, so that was cool and there are some pictures of that, as well as some cool châteaux, there.  Don’t miss the pictures from some of the museums around Blois and the really awesome light show that they project on the château here.

That’s all for now and thanks for reading!

Sara

 

My Travels Through Italy in February

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Here I am again, super late in updating my blog.  I’ve been back from Italy for more than a month, but it’s been a little bit crazy here in Orleans with work and everything else that’s been going on. *Disclaimer: This blog’s been cut quite short because I wanted to get it put up before my post about my spring break, so sorry for that. That’s why it starts off with a lot and then the descriptions get significantly shorter….*

So in my February break from school, my friend Madison and I traveled to Italy for two weeks.  We started our trip in Milan and the proceeded on to Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, and Turin.  Naturally, we did a lot in those two weeks, so I think I’m just going to include mostly just the highlights for each city to keep this blog from becoming ridiculously long.

Milan:

The first city that we explored was Milan. We spent two days in Milan and I found that it was a really beautiful city.  My favorite thing that we saw in the city was the Duomo or cathedral.  It was beautiful and different from any of the cathedrals that I’ve seen in France.  We walked climbed up to the roof of the cathedral in the rain as well, which was very cool.  Later that day, after wandering around the city, we went to a modern art museum.  It was a nice museum, and had a great view over the main square with the Duomo.  Our hostel also had an aperitivo that night, where they had a bunch of free dinner food if you bought a drink in the bar that was there.  We ate dinner in the hostel that night and it was really cool.   It was probably one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in.  The second day we were there, I had risotto for lunch.  The risotto had saffron in it and it was a really typical Milanese dish. We also explored a castle that had feral cats living in the gardens around it, which was adorable.

Rome:

After Milan,we spent 3 days in Rome. One of the coolest things for me was that we arrived in Rome super early in the morning. Though I wasn’t initially pleased to be awake, we went to see the Trevi fountain and almost no one else was there.  When I went to see it in December it was so crowded, so getting to see it like this was perfect! Later that day, we went to see the Sistine Chapel.  It was worth seeing, but I didn’t know that they led you through museums and buildings and gardens before you even got to see the chapel.  It took several hours to see everything!  We also went to see Saint Peter’s Basilica and waited in line about three hours to see it.  The basilica was lovely, but at that point I was very tired of standing and waiting. That night for dinner, we went to dinner our roommates from the hostel.  They were super nice and it was fun to meet some new people. The food at the restaurant was amazing (though I didn’t eat much in Italy that I didn’t love).

The second day in Rome we went to the Castel Sant’Angelo. This was once the residence of the Pope but has been turned into a museum.  It had stunning views over the city and the Tiber river.  We also saw some lovely fountains and the Colosseum later that day.  That night, we had dinner with Nunzia and Vito.  I was so happy that they could take time out of their  busy schedules to meet up with us.  After dinner, we walked around the Trastevere quarter of room.  It was cool to see such a lively place at night, but it was also bizarre because there were so many people speaking English there since there are many American universities in the city.

On our third day in Rome, we spent the morning in the Villa Borghese, a big beautiful park in the city.  The weather was so nice while we were in Rome, so I was happy for us to spend some time outside.

Naples/Pompeii:

Pompeii was an amazing site as well, and something that I never thought I’d see. I can’t tell you how fascinating it was to be walking through a city so much older than almost anything else I’ve seen in my life.  Naples was nice to visit again. The city’s coast is gorgeous, especially in the setting sun.

Florence:

What a cool city for art! Saw many museums and galleries and they were hosting a chocolate festival while we were there.  The duomo in Florence is also gorgeous.

Venice:

A city like none other I’ve ever been to.  What gorgeous canals! We visiting some of the neighboring islands while there and I was impressed by the picturesque houses. Also, a lovely modern art museum, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, calls Venice its home.

Turin:

Many nice museums in this city. It was a nice calmer end to the whirlwind trip.

 

Anyway, linked below is are the albums of photos that I took over the trip. As per usual I went a bit photo happy….

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As I said previously, expect a post about my spring break adventures very very soon!

Trip to Germany and the Netherlands

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Currently I am on a two week break from school for the Toussaints holiday.  in France, we have a two week break from classes about every seven weeks.  For the first week of the vacation, I traveled in Germany and the Netherlands with one of my American teaching assistant friends, Madison. The trip was amazing and we got to see quite a few different cities. To start the trip, we had to take the train from Orléans to Paris.  Once in Paris, we traveled by megabus to Munich, Germany.  After Munich, we went to Berlin, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Cologne, and finally ended up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

We spent about a day in each city, sometimes a bit less than that (We were only in Cologne for 3 hours). It was nice this way, as we got to see many different cities, but in most places we didn’t get to see everything because there was simply not enough time.

In Munich, we took a trip to see the Dachau concentration camp because it was just a short train ride away.  It was something that I thought was really important to see, but it was also very hard to be there.  There was a large museum there in the buildings that people would have gone through as the arrived at the camp.  The museum was very informative and went through all of the different periods of the war and what the camp was like during these periods. Many of the buildings from the camp were still intact.  Those that weren’t, such as the barracks, had replicas available for viewing.

I think that perhaps the most upsetting place that could be visited at the camp was the gas chambers.  One could visit the gas chambers, and the old and new crematoriums as well as the camp prison.  Though it was hard to see and imagine the atrocities that occurred in other parts of the concentration camp, these sites made me feel the most uneasy.  I could walk into the gas chamber and view it, knowing full well that I would be able to step out the other side unharmed.  The same cannot be said for the many who visited this room while the camp was in operation.

Another thing about the site of the camp that was striking to me was the wooded area surrounding the location. The trees here were tall and there was a small creek on one side.  The woods were not unappealing, but I don’t want to call them beautiful because of their close proximity to a site where so many people were brutally murdered.  We walked through part of the trails around the crematoriums of the camp and could see markers for the mass graves  where the nazis unceremoniously buried their victims.  There were markers along a line of trees that explained that this area had been used as an execution range as well. Nature goes on even when terrible things are happening in the human world, but it is still striking to me to see such calm in a place that was once full of turmoil.

After we finished at Dachau, we went back to Munich and went on a guided walking tour of the city.  This was great because we got to see many of the important landmarks and got to learn about Munich’s history.  We ended up in a lovely park called the English Gardens that stretched through a large expanse of the city.

After this tour, we went back to some of the sights that we had seen to explore them in more depth.  From there, we went to a cool little ice cream shop in town that had all kinds of weird flavors.  I got strawberry basil, but you could choose from flavors from champagne to fish stick to kinder bueno (a European chocolate bar that is kind of like what a kit-kat would be like if you added hazelnut cream to the center. Do yourself a favor and try one if you haven’t. They’re the best). We ended our night in a restaurant called Hofbrauhaus with gigantic beers and cheese spatzle (homemade German egg noodles, that were good, but not as good as the ones that my mom made when I was growing up).

We took the bus to Berlin next.  Once we arrived, we realized that our hostel and the bus station were quite for from the part of the city where most of what we wanted to see would be.  We got to see several cathedrals in the city, walked through a huge park, climbed to the top of several tall monuments, and finally got to see the Berlin wall.  The part of the wall that we visited was called the East Side Gallery an featured graffiti from artists all over the world.  Berlin was quite a cool city to visit, but this city in particular was one that probably would have been better to see over the course of several days because there was so much there and things were quite far apart.

Next on our voyage was Nuremberg.  When we arrived in the city, we first visited the Kaiser’s castle. We didn’t get to see the inside, as it was closing soon, but the outside of the castle was beautiful! It was interesting to see a German castle and compare it to the French chateaus that I have seen.  There was also a lovely food market in Nuremberg in front of one of the big cathedrals in the middle of town.  I love markets, so this was a great find.  While looking around, we found an area with several shops selling interesting handmade things.  One of these stores sold hand painted springerle, a traditional German cookie.  I was really happy to see this store because my mom’s side of the family is German and my mom makes these cookies every year at Christmas.  It was cool to go in the store and tell the man there about my family’s holiday traditions and to feel connected to Germany as a country.  After wandering around the city for a while we went to get dinner. I had schnitzel, something that I had been wanting to eat for the whole trip so far.  At the end of the night, we ended up in a bar with live music and spent our time there until we had to leave to catch our bus to the next city.

Our second to last stop in Germany was Hamburg. This city was cool to see because it was so different from the others we had visited thus far.  The city had a port area and a lot of it was surrounded by water.  While in Hamburg, we visited a museum called the Miniature Wonderland. The museum had model trains and small scale replicas of different parts of Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world.  The museum was very cool to see, but was awfully crowded.

Our next stop was Cologne, but we were only in the city for three hours.  This left us enough time to see a cathedral and get breakfast, but it was still nice.

The final stop on my trip was Amsterdam.  This was one of my favorite cities that we visited. The first night, after checking into our hostel, we explored the city.  Later that night, we went to see the Anne Frank House.  I remember learning about Anne Frank in school, and seeing the house where she went into hiding was heartbreaking, but worthwhile.  After this, we walked around the red light district and saw the canals.  The next morning, we got up and went straight to the Van Gogh museum. Van Gogh is my favorite artist, so going to see a museum dedicated to his art and his life was completely amazing.  After the museum, we got to meet up with my friend Silvia. I was so happy that we got to spend time with her, because I hadn’t seen her since I left France after studying abroad.  We got to see the Dutch flower markets and cheese shops and explore the city a bit with the help of someone who knows their way around more than Madison and I did. After exploring the city some more, we had dinner at a restaurant called the Pancake Bakery (they served European “pancakes,” so crepes).

I was really happy that I got to see so many cool cities during the week.  It was definitely a good first trip outside of France.

Below is the link to the album of the pictures from my trip. There area lot of them, so it was easier to give the link than to put them all in this post.

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