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The Luck of the Irish is constantly Dublin July 27, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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I apologize again for the title, but I just can’t help myself in regards to making puns half the time! This past weekend was our last travel weekend due to the fact that next week we have finals, and we decided to save up one of the best trips for last- Ireland. After last weekend’s 34 hours of travel on a train, the notion of arriving in Ireland the very same day that we left was an amazing one. We flew on Ryanair (or as we so fondly call it, “The Bus of the Sky”), making sure our bags fit the exact dimensions that one can have without being charged. After looking over the beautiful ocean as we landed, we quickly headed to our hostel to drop our bags off. The first observation I made upon landing in this new country was that all of the signs were in English and that I could actually understand the side conversations going on around me. This lead me to of course reading every advertisement in the airport and eavesdropping on everyone, just because I could. It was a very strange feeling having a culture shock from hearing and experiencing my native language- however, from that moment on Ireland immediately felt more like home than any other country we had been to. Once we arrived at our hostel, Gloria and Jessica decided to stay in, and Andree and I headed to a local pub for a quick beer. We had all had tests that day and were extremely exhausted, but Andree and I figured it would be worth it to at least go and see some Irish nightlife. We were staying in The Temple Bar district, which is home to the famous Temple Bar and essentially all the bests bars in Dublin. It was packed on that Friday, and reminded me of a classed up Bourbon Street. There was bars and drunk food everywhere, and live musicians lined the streets. Andree and I headed to one of the more crowded looking places (I can’t for the life of me remember what the name of it was). The atmosphere was amazing, and I know understand why the concept of an “Irish pub” is so popular all over the world. The place was packed, the beer was flowing, the person next to you would always randomly start up a conversation, and the live band was amazing. Interestingly, the band that was playing was a rock band, but the front runner was playing the flute. We couldn’t help but dance as we drank a pint of the delicious house beer. We headed back around 2 after some quick pizza, and tried to get some sleep for our big tour day the next morning. The next morning, we headed to the famous and old Trinity college and looked around. We sat for a long time on the field there, thinking about how interesting it would be to go to school there and also how annoying all the tourists there would be. We then grabbed a quick lunch of Fish n’ Chips, an obligatory dining experience in Ireland. We then walked through the medieval district, which was full of Norman castles and churches. My favorite place was an old church that was completely free for the public to go into, and kind of hidden. Inside of it, we found an over thousand year old church. We even stumbled upon the famous “lucky stone”, which apparently workers would go out of their way to touch before work every morning to ensure they had good luck that day.

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We continued walking through the medieval district until we hit The Guinness Storehouse. This attraction is located right next to the Guinness factory, and is essentially like Disneyworld with beer. The exhibit essentially showed us how they make Guinness, along with the rich history of advertising Guinness and the Irish people’s passion for their favorite beer. After several hours of exploring this massive place, we eventually got to the top of the building, and got our free pint of Guinness. Although none of us are the biggest fan of dark beer, it was a cool experience looking of the whole city of Dublin while drinking the Irish beer of choice.

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We then spent quite a bit of time wandering around the city just taking it all in and shopping for souvenirs. We stumbled upon this burrito shop that had the exact same setup as Chipotle and 2 for 1 burritos, so of course we had to stop. I think how much we miss America is directly correlated with how frequently we seek out Mexican food, and we ate at this place for dinner the next day, too. After a delicious burrito stuffed with cheese and guac, we quickly changed at our hostel and went out for the night. We started our Irish bar adventures at the famous Temple Bar, recognizable for it’s red walls. It was packed, the beer was delicious, and the live band was great, playing classics from The Lumineers to Guns and Roses. After an hour of hanging out at the Temple Bar, we headed across the street for some air. Instead, we ended up at a smaller bar, with a live band and some Irish dancers. We grabbed a pint and a table, and essentially stayed their for the rest of the night. It was an extremely intimate band experience, the band even staying on longer to play a request for Gloria and making fun of me for clapping too early in a song. It was an amazing experience, and probably my favorite night life of the entire summer.

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The next morning, we got up bright and early for our long bus ride to the other side of the country. We had signed up for a tour of the Cliffs of Moher and the city of Galway, all on the West coast of Ireland. Although it was pretty early in the morning, our tour guide gave us an extensive Irish history lesson along the way, in addition to pointing out points of interest. The original settlers of Ireland were Kelts, but the were eventually overrun first by the Vikings, and then the Normans. Most of the stone architecture one associates with Ireland is of Norman descent. However, the most interesting part of our history lesson was why their was such a big difference between the East and West coasts of Ireland. During the English revolution, most of the Irish supported the English crown because Oliver Cromwell was a Protestant (and the Irish were a very Catholic country). After a Cromwell victory, Cromwell punished the Irish by invading Ireland and killing over 40% of the country’s pre-war population. After raiding was over, the survivors were required to move west of the River Shannon. Therefore, the East of Ireland became more of a British state and completely accepted the English language and way of life due to large number of immigrants, while the West even today has a much stronger ties to Irish history and tradition. Our first stop on the tour was The Cliffs of Moher, about 90 km away from Galway. The cliffs are a stark drop in the landscape directly into the Atlantic Ocean (the closest we’ve been to the USA in a while!) and were absolutely stunning to behold. The rolling hills and green fields surrounding the cliffs just added to the beauty and majesty of the landscape. After about an hour of walking around, we grabbed a quick lunch of soup and jumped back on the bus. We then stopped at the adorable city of Galway. This city was smaller than Dublin, and was somehow even more charming with a Bohemian vibe. We only had about two hours in the city, so we sat in the park and watched a trapeze show in addition to several local street performers, and then spent some time walking through the markets. We barely had any time to grab Ice Cream before jumping back on the bus and heading back to Dublin.

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We got back from the trip pretty late, so we grabbed a quick dinner and beer at a local pub then headed to bed because the other girl’s flight left early in the morning. I took a  later flight that allowed me an extra 12 hours in Dublin, and time for a daytrip to Paris the next day. Although I missed my travel group the entire time, it was kinda fun to be able to do whatever I wanted in the city. I saw the ancient Book of Kells, and as a lover of old books it was absolutely amazing. However, my favorite part of this tour was the Old Library at Trinity College, which was a huge hall full of 20,000 old and precious books (think Beauty and the Beast, but better!) I love the smell of books, and honestly just sat down in the middle of the library and took it all in for a half hour. The history and treasures that surrounded me were amazing!   Next, I took a tour of The Old Jameson Distillery (2 alcohol tours in 3 days, what’s more Irish than that?) It was really interesting for me to compare and contrast how Whiskey and Beer are made! Also, I realized I have taken too much Chemistry at Georgia Tech because I was able to precisely explain the science behind distilling liquids to several older couples next to me. I usually am not a huge Whiskey fan, but Jameson is smoother than Jack and it’s hints of vanilla made it quite a treat! (I’m going to admit I didn’t drink it straight, but with Ginger Ale and lime.) 521609_10200394478527785_897153750_n21417_10200394482327880_439484277_n

After some time shopping and just exploring the city by foot, it was time to head to the Airport. I got into Paris really late, and passed out in my hostel bed. The next morning, I woke up nice and early to hit Musee d’Orsay. We didn’t have time during our Paris weekend to hit this museum, and I definitely made it a point to go back. The museum is housed in an old train station, and this alone makes it a neat place to visit. Impressionism is my favorite kind of art, and this museum hosts one of the greatest Impressionism collections in the world! I grabbed myself an audio guide (thank you France for free entry to museums to students!) and spent hours pouring over the paintings, especially those by Claude Monet (who is my favorite artist). The sense of freedom that one gets from Impressionist painters and the fact that it isn’t quite lifelike is what I truly enjoy about it, in addition to the interesting layers and textures to the works.

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After a quick crepe and some time at the Eiffel tower, I hopped on a train back to Metz. It was sort of bittersweet taking my last train of the summer, but I was excited to finally be back to my own bed after a long and exciting weekend. I’ve had a great time in Europe, but I’m really excited to say that the next stop is the good ol’ United States!

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A Tale of Two Cities July 17, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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This week, our travel group continued our Eastern European adventures in Budapest, Hungary. Although at this point in our program 17 hours of trains each way seemed a daunting task, but the fact that we were able to upgrade to couchettes (little beds on the train) on the way there helped quite a bit. By the time we got there the next morning at 2 PM, we were exhausted but so excited to be in this new and mysterious place. What made this trip so different from the others we have taken was that I honestly didn’t know much about it or what to expect before going: it felt more adventurous and spontaneous. When we arrived and walked to our hostel from the train station, I admit that at first I was slightly disappointed- it seemed sort of like a grungy city lined with Kebab shops and random restaurants. We changed some money to flourints, which have an exchange rate of 300:1 for euros. Essentially, after withdrawing a number in the thousands, we were ready to spend some money on a great dinner. We then headed to “A Kék Rózsa”, a traditional Hungarian restaurant recommended to us by our hostel. I have never thought of Hungarian food as a particularly awesome or special food, but it was amazing! For around 10 euros, I enjoyed a pint of local beer, a salad, a traditional goulash soup, a delicious and kind of spicy pork entree with potatoes (and some gross bacon fat thing that I couldn’t eat), and a dessert. Talk about being full! To walk off our huge and cheap meal, we walked to the Danube river. I didn’t know this before I went, but the city of Budapest was actually originally two cities, “Buda” and “Pest”, separated by the Danube river. We happened to be staying on the “Pest” side. Once we got to the river banks (after passing by Eastern Europe’s largest synagogue, a huge ferris wheel, and the beautiful St. Stephen’s basilica) we decided to pay a visit to the “Buda” side. There are many bridges that connect the two sides, but the first and the most famous is the Chain Bridge, so named due to it’s supports looking like bicycle chains. After crossing over and debating about the probability of surviving if one tried to jump onto a river cruise from above, we climbed up to the top of a tunnel on the other side. On top of the tunnel, one could see the bridge and the entirety of Pest. The Pariliament was beautiful and ostentatious, the Palace huge, and most of all, the graceful and flowing Danube. I think the river is extremely defining of the city, and seeing it from a bird’s eye view was an amazing experience that instantly changed my opinion of the city.

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After crossing back over to the Pest side of the river, we decided to check out the local nightlife to get a better taste for the city. After speaking to people at our hostel, we learned that the best way to experience nightlife in Budapest are at the so-called “Ruins Bars”. Essentially, they are bars all over the city that are basically set up in old abandoned buildings. The closest one to our hostel also happened to be one of the most famous one’s, called Szimpla Kert. When we walked in, I immediately fell in love with it. The atmosphere was exactly the right amount of chill, with live alternative rock bands. The decor was essentially composed of anything and everything you have ever discarded, arranged in chaotic harmony to surprise, delight and comfort you in eclectic and ruinous surroundings. The seats were composed of things like boats and cars, and no two were alike. I absolutely loved it. The beer and house wine were good, and we had a great time talking to locals and tourists from all over the world.  It had the right amount of quirky character that appeals to me, and was definitely one of my favorite bar experiences so far in Europe.

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The next morning, we got up bright and early to do a free walking tour of the city. We usually don’t do these type of scheduled things and prefer normally to discover the city on our own, but since we knew very little about the city we figured it was worth it. Although it wasn’t my favorite thing we ever did, our tour guide was really cool and I learned a lot about Hungary itself. Hungarians are extremely proud of their history, despite the fact that they haven’t won a victory since the 12th century. We walked around the famous parks, over the chain bridge, to the top of the Palace Hill looking over the city, saw the famous tiled roof of the Matthias cathedral, apparently the world’s most expensive penis shaped statue (“Leave it to the communists to put this up”, our tour guide said) and saw the changing of the guards at the Hungarian White House. However, the most interesting part of the tour to me was when our guide was speaking about the Hungarian language. It is apparently the 5th hardest language in the world to learn, and after she explained it it was clear why. Hungarians actually originate from the Mongols, and therefore their language isn’t really related to any of the traditional European languages. There are 44 letters. One can put the word’s in any order that they like- for example, “I’m very cold” could be said “I’m very cold”, “Very cold I’m”, “Cold I’m very”, and any other combination of the words. There are also an infinite amount of words, because one can add as many of the hundreds of suffixes to the ends of words as one likes. I learned how to say “Thank you”, “Hello”, and how to count to four, and that is probably the most I’ll ever be able to pick up in Hungarian. However, from a linguistic point of view, it is pretty fascinating. In addition, this tour really gave great insight into the effects of communism on the country- a lot of the famous sites we saw were firsts after the end of the communist era, including statues and bridges.

1059049_10200340417376290_239763346_n 1065746_10200339748639572_1926845084_o1071739_10200339043021932_199471373_o After the long walking tour, we grabbed a quick sandwich for lunch and headed for a more relaxing afternoon at the Budapest bathes. Hungary was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years, and the main influence of the Turks that is left in the city is the large and ostentatious baths. We went to the largest one in the city, which was located next to the famous Hero’s Square. They had many different types of baths- hot, warm, cold, saunas, pools, whirlpools, basically anything you could think of. The weirdest one was where you went from a few minutes in the deathly hot sauna straight to a freezing bath- it was a very strange experience but it oddly awakened a lot of things in my body. In addition, we had booked massages at the baths, and it was a much needed time of relaxation after how intense many of our other trips had been. It was definitely a real treat! After that, we decided to just float around in the pool and take it kind of easy and just float around in the pool- I didn’t want to tighten up my relaxed muscles for as long as possible!

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The group then split up for dinner. My half of the group decided to hit up a local market, and tried some famous Hungarian Langos. Langos are essentially fried bread covered in garlic juice, sour cream, and cheese (again with the Hungarian foods being a heart attack waiting to happen!) However, it was quite delicious and very fun to eat in a local market place. We then moved to a different hostel for the night, the so-called crazy Grandio Party hostel. Albeit it was a Sunday, but the place was completely dead. A hostel can either be dirty or not fun, and this place was both to a bad extreme. Therefore, after a quick drink at the bar, we headed back to Szimpla because it was so awesome the night before.

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We ended up staying up all night, which made for a long 17 hours of trains back to Metz. However, we made it, and now have pretty much no long trains left! Budapest may have not been my favorite city I’ve seen, but I am so glad I went and experienced the completely different culture. Next stop- Dublin!

Czech me Out! July 9, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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This weekend marked our first weekend to an Eastern European country, and despite the 14 hour train ride, we were quite excited to experience a new part of Europe. The tickets had even been so far in advance that we had even gotten couchettes, or sleeping cars on the train to Prague. Couchettes are tiny cars with 6 bunk beds in them, stacked three high each. The beds aren’t great, but so much better than a seat to sleep in, and quite the adventure (for some reason, I was very excited about them.) We arrived in Prague much better rested than on previous trips, and immediately hit the town!

The first (accidental) trip was to St. Charle’s Bridge. We were trying to find our hostel, and crossed a very cool and very crowded bridge, and determined about half-way over it that this was certainly the bridge we had heard about and was planning on visiting that very day. The statues that lined the bridge very cool and very old- I think it would be hauntingly beautiful on a snowy day, even more so than on the bright Summer day when we were there. All the statues had some touch of gold to them, and it quickly became quite obvious why this was called “The City of Gold.” Street vendors crowded the bridge, everything from cartoonists to jewelery makers to little bands. You could see a panorama of old Prague from there, and it was a very neat view. We made sure to touch the famous dog on a statue for luck, and continued to our hostel. Our hostel itself is definitely worth mentioning- it was an old palace converted into a hostel, with frescoes on the ceilings in our room. For 16 euros a night, we got to stay in an amazing old building with the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in in months and a bathroom with tile (TILE? Too fancy for a bunch of broke college students, yet this hostel was cheaper than normal ones!)

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We then proceeded to head to Prague castle, apparently the largest collective castle unit in Eastern Europe. The view on the top of the city was very cool, and the castle itself a neat mix of the Sagrada Familia and Notre Dame. At this point, I began to observe the effects of communism in the Czech Republic. This country was clearly poorer than other ones we have been to, almost a second world country. However, old town Prague was extremely charming, and so very ancient looking. Everything was so medieval and ancient, accented with gold.

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That night, we headed out to have a traditional Czech dinner. For a small price of only 9 euros or 225 Czech crowns, I had 1 L of traditional beer and a huge plate of Goulash (talk about a deal- in France this type of meal would run at least 25 euros!) I still can’t believe how cheap this amazing meal was for how cheap. We then headed back to the hostel to get ready for a night out on the town in the famous Prague Pub Crawl. After drinking a little more beer than I probably should have, we “crawled” to several bars throughout the city, and eventually ended up at the largest club in Central Europe. The five stories of craziness was a lot of crazy dancing fun, and a great way to meet locals and other tourists. We even met some other Alpha Phi’s from Loyola Marymont!

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The next day, we woke up kinda late missed the train to see a church decorated completely with human remains. In lieu of this, we decided that it would be fun to go to a Thai spa and get our feet exfoliated by this little fish that eat the dead skin off of your foot (while in Prague, right?) The second you put your foot in the tank, the little fish would attack you! I am so ticklish that it was almost painful for me to have my feet in there, and something I am glad I did. Plus, my feet are pretty soft now! Afterwords, we headed to the Old Jewish Cemetery, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. We spent over a hour looking at the bridge and talking to vendors before heading to the John Lennon Wall. During the communist regime in the Czech Republic, students would use this wall as an outlet to express their true feelings about their government, and wrote Beatle’s lyrics on the wall as well. Today, people from all over the world write on there, and it is an amazing example of graffiti art. We of course spent some time making our contributions to it, and in the process staining several of our clothes.

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After being away from the US for so long, we all decided we needed a serious Mexican fix. In order to ameliorate this craving, we headed to The Cantina, a famous mexican restaurant in Prague. Watermelon and Guacamole are my favorite foods, so I was soooo excited to have chips and guac with a strawberry Margarita for dinner. After taking a quick break to let some of the large amount of food we had digest, Jessica and Colleen and I headed to the famous astronomical clock in old town square. We sat down not even 10 yards from the famous clock, and had a great talk over some beers. The clock is somewhat mysterious, especially in the dark. According to legend, the clockmaker’s eyes had been burned out after the creation of the clock in order to prevent him from making another one anywhere in the world, and since then it has been full of bad luck and prophecies. On the hour, a skeleton to the side of it rings the bell. I couldn’t understand the signs or symbols on the clock, but it was extremely cool and probably my favorite touristy spot in Prague.

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The next morning, we hopped on 14 more hours of trains back to Metz. Prague was awesome, and I am so excited to continue our Eastern European adventures at our next stop- Budapest!

The Hills are Alive… July 5, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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This past weekend was the first time in a while we had had a two-day weekend- since we had hit the majority of the cities close to us, we decided to head to the reasonably close city of Interlaken. Interalaken is a cute Swiss town situated in the Alps with a beautiful lake and view. I am originally from Colorado and therefore have an extremely soft spot for mountains and hiking, so I couldn’t wait to get out of the big cities we had been traveling to and into nature.

We arrived Saturday morning around 12. Of course, it was raining and extremely foggy- we couldn’t even see the lake or the mountains when we got there! We had planned on renting kayaks, but we couldn’t see anything and it was pouring so we couldn’t. Interlaken is a pretty sleepy town- there isn’t much to do there besides adventure sports or hiking, and all of that as basically out for the afternoon. Instead, we spent some time in the hot tub at our hostel and taking a nap (I know, very lame). However, we did happen to find peanut butter, and all promptly bought a jar to bring back to Metz. For some reason, they don’t make peanut butter in France so it’s a huge treat! We had to pay for it in Swiss franks (the first time we haven’t been able to use Euros!) and their coins and bills are super weird and almost trippy. Also, I feel that it is an art in itself to figure out how much money to withdraw for the weekend so you don’t have to withdraw multiple times and incur bank fees but also not have any left over.

Although Interlaken doesn’t have a super happening night life, the hostel we were staying at just happened to have the most popular dance club in Interlaken in it’s basement. We realized this fact after we had changed and gotten into our PJ’s, but no matter- Katie N. and Andree and I headed down anyways, PJ’s and all. There was a ton of GTL students there, and although the club was a little grungy, we had a great time dancing around and talking to people. I love dancing, although I am absolutely terrible at it (maybe that’s why it’s so fun?)

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to start hiking. A lot of our friends went canyoning and bungee jumping, but at this point our groups euros were running a little low and we opted to hike instead. After stuffing ourselves with free toast, swiss cheese, and Nutella (one of our many mottos of the summer is “If it’s free, you pee or eat”). In order to get to the trail we wanted to go on, we had to take a train to Grindelwald, and from there take a Gondola from Grindelwald up to First. I wasn’t originally planning on going on a Gondola ride, but I am so glad we did. It was amazing to see how green and gorgeous the Swiss Alps were- I felt like I was in the middle of a postcard during our entire hike!

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We then proceeded to hike up to a beautiful lake, and then through something that was almost a valley up to a view of three beautiful peaks. We weren’t expecting there to be so much snow on the path and it was sort of slick, but despite the multiple falls of Jessica, Andree, Katie N. and I into the snow, we had an amazing time. When we were at the Vatican a few weeks ago, one of my friends had said that there was where she felt God, but on top of the mountains in the Alps is where I felt closest to God and the world around me. The view of the three peaks was absolutely breathtaking, and worth the hours of hiking it had taken to get there. It was almost a surreal feeling being in the Swiss alps, and I felt like I was on top of the world.

After another hour down a steep trail known as “The Trail of Flowers”, we caught a Gondola back down the mountain. Oddly enough, this steep downhill slope was by far the hardest part of the hike, even more so than the steep uphills we had done earlier. We had to run to catch the next train, which was interesting considering how much we had hiked that day. However, we made it, picked up some Swiss chocolate and a shot glass, and headed back to Metz.

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I have decided that backpacking through the Swiss Alps is something I would really love to spend more than 6 hours doing in the future, and something I will definitely be back to Europe to finish. Mountains speak to me, and the Alps are no exception!

 

When (Almost) in Rome June 28, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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6 hours later, the security guard who had taken our passports for the night returned to wake us up from our deep sleep on the floor in a tiny shack. No, we weren’t arrested and detained or anything like that, we had merely had missed our initial flight to Rome last Friday night. The Ryanair airport at Paris Beauvais is actually quite hard to get to as it’s not in the city of Paris. To get there from Metz, we have to take a 20 minute bus, a 1.5 hour train, a 20 minute subway, and a 1.5 hour shuttle from Paris to the airport. We made it to Paris just fine and on time on the train, but there were no platforms for us to dock on, and therefore we sat on the train for an extra 40 minutes causing us to barely miss the shuttle and therefore miss our flight. However, luckily they had enough room on an early flight to Rome in the morning for our whole group, and we spent the next 6 hours in a shack right outside the airport (which, frankly, was much better than being outside in the rain for the night!) Many euros and a sleepless night later, we were in Rome by 12 the next day. After checking into our hostel, we naturally stopped at the closest pizza shop for lunch. The pizza in Italy was absolutely delicious, yet different than I expected- it was cheesy, but there was definitely more olive oil than tomato sauce. We then proceeded to the infamous Coliseum, the site of thousands of gladiator battles and gruesome entertainment in a time that is almost impossible for us to perceive nowadays. It was actually smaller than I had expected for some reason, but still an amazing work of architecture for the time. As we stood looking over the edge at the place of death for many, I could almost hear the roar of the crowds and see the almost 65,000 that packed into the stands. It was at this moment that I realized what an amazing architectural feat this was, and how representative of the time period in Roman history. Next, headed to the famous Trevi fountain, where we threw 3 coins in and made our wishes. For some reason, the only thing I could think about while there was The Lizzie Mcguire movie. Besides me being a little goofy, the fountain itself was pretty astounding. Italy definitely knows how to do a fountain right! We then traveled back to our hostel to freshen up, and sat down for an amazing Italian dinner. The key in getting a good Italian dinner for not that expensive is avoiding tourist attractions and places that have menus in English. I ended up ordering a delicious yet simple Spaghetti Bolognese, and it tasted so fresh. Italian noodles are much much thicker than American ones. 1003433_10151503312964142_506110109_n 1044452_10151988316576038_676235433_n The next morning we woke up early and headed for a quick stop at the Roman Forum. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time to spend there because we had made reservations at the Vatican, but it was still an amazing archaeological site that I would love to return to one day and spend more than 15 minutes at. We quickly made it to Vatican City, ensuring our knees and shoulders were covered, despite the fact that it was over 90 degrees outside. Vatican city was an interesting stop- I am not Catholic by any means but there is so much history there. I would kill to visit their secret archives. The Sistine Chapel honestly wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be, but the Raphael hallways right before it with tapestries and maps were my absolute favorite. St. Peter’s Basilica was very large and ornate. Most interestingly to me was the catacombs in the Basilica, where the bodies of the old popes were lain. Overall, I left with the feeling that the Catholics were a very powerful (and very wealthy) ancient force and that the Vatican was full of secrets. After a quick stop at the Pantheon, we headed to the train station to go to Florence. One question that I have been wondering throughout all of Europe is why we don’t call cities what the Europeans call them- the Europeans call Florence “Firenze”. Of all the places we have visited so far, Firenze has been my absolute favorite. It has the charm of a smaller city plus the gorgeous Tuscan landscape in addition to some amazing historical treasures. Of foremost interest to me was Bruneschelli’s Il Duomo. This amazing piece of architecture looks over the whole city, and is amazing and beautiful to withhold. The next morning after a crazy night out at an Italian club, we climbed Il Duomo the next morning. The fresco on the inside of the Duomo is one of my favorite that I’ve seen, depicting a transition from Hell to Purgatory to Heaven. After some pretty sketchy and steep stairs, we finally made it to the top, and were treated to an amazing view of the Tuscan countryside. There is a hill that can been seen from the Duomo that I decided that I want to build my retirement home on. 1000791_10200219881562970_1807091248_n 1017072_10200219883363015_2052480531_n Next stop was Academia, the home to Michelangelo’s famous statue of “David”. Jessica and I were the only ones willing to wait in line for it, so about an hour later we entered. The Academia also had a bunch of beautiful ancient books, including many bibles and an original Divine Comedy. When we came into the room with David, we were actually astounded by the him. We have visited many art museums and seen many famous statues, but this was the first piece of art that I was truly blown away. You could see the veins in his muscles and arms. and the exquisite detailing. We had had a long day of walking, so Jessica and I rested our feet and sat on a bench behind David and stared at his sculpted butt for over 20 minutes. After some of the best gelato in Italy (thanks Davis Harrison for the recommendation!), we headed to the leather market. My purse zipper had broken, so it was the perfect time to invest in a souvenir that I would always carry with me! We then had another nice Italian meal (I had pasta shells, ham, and red peppers), we tucked in early to prepare for our early train to Cinque Terre in the morning. If you didn’t know, Cinque Terre is a collection of small coastal villages in Italy that you can hike between. After checking into our hostel, we headed to the village of Monarola and had the best meal of my life. As we walked in, the view was amazing, and it was the perfect cozy setting. I ordered lobster pasta, and right after I did, they showed me the lobster that was going in the meal, still alive and kicking. It was amazing, as was the house wine that came with our meal. We proceeded to hike between Corniglia and Vernazza. The next morning, we did a sunrise hike between Vernazza and Monterosso. It was an extremely beautiful and introspective experience and one I wouldn’t trade for the world. We then headed to Pisa and took some pictures with the leaning tower, and headed back to Metz. What a weekend! 934935_10200219895603321_747957749_n 1003429_10200219893843277_362110275_n 1002238_10152041920654569_1897474216_n Next stop-Interlaken!

J’adore Paris! June 25, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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Sorry for the delay in getting this up, we only had about two days last week to get ready for Italy and I did not have enough time to post! (Although this blog website conveniently let’s me change the date on the side in order to make the sequence makes sense).

Our weekend in Paris started off in the least strenuous way possible. Not only was there only one train the whole time, but it was only 1.5 hours (faster than our second closest train by half!) We had gotten there in no time it seemed- the sun hadn’t even set! We decided to make the most of it by buying a bottle of wine and heading straight to the Eiffel Tower. The structure itself was absolutely massive, and much more beautiful in person than it appears in pictures. After buying a Nutella and banana crepe (can you say delicious?) from a stand nearby, we plopped down on the least crowded side of the tower and drank wine and ate crepes in front of the Eiffel Tower. Never have I ever felt more French than in that moment. We sat in front of it for almost two hours, talking and giggling, eating and drinking, getting pestered by vendors selling plastic towers, and even dancing. At 11:05, the Eiffel Tower started to twinkle in an amazing light show. Looking upon the massive tower sparkling in the skyline, it was a huge surprise to me that the French had ever thought of it as only a temporary structure.

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The next morning, I woke up bright and early bright eyed and VERY excited to go to the Louvre. I had dreamed about going to this place for years and years- even one of it’s not as famous paintings would be the masterpiece of any other museum in the world, and the Louvre has thousands of them. I felt like a little kid in a candy store going in. It would take me many many pages of blogs to describe every painting I saw adequately, but it was a surreal experience. I saw the naked ladies of the Turkish baths. I saw thousands of priceless Egyptian artifacts. I saw the amazing large Wedding at Cana. I saw the reinvigoration of Neoclassicism in David’s Oath of Horatti. I saw the Crown Jewels. I saw foreshadowing in the Coronation of Napoleon. I saw the grace and ecstasy in Psyche and Cupid. I saw the famous smile of the Mona Lisa. I saw hundreds of paintings and sculptures that I didn’t recognize, but were amazing and interesting anyways. 3 hours, tired feet, and some cranky friends later, we had done the Louvre, and I am confident that this will not be my last time. I intend to go back before GTL ends in order to go back and see things that I missed- there’s too much to see in one visit! (Good thing our student card gets us in for free!)

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After quick lunch of French onion soup and a stroll through the Tuillerie gardens, we headed started to walk towards Notre Dame.On the way, we stopped at the famous lock bridge, in which couples write their name on a lock, attach it to the bridge, and throw the key in the water, signifying their love. This along with the walk along the river in Paris made me appreciate just how romantic of a city it was. Finally, we hit Notre Dame, which is by far my favorite church we have visited in Europe so far. In order to fully explain the significance of this visit, I need to back up. When I was little, I used to watch the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame several times a week. Therefore, I felt that I had been to the church for some reason before and that I had some personal connection to it. Therefore, I was extremely excited to go inside and climb the bellower (as well as halfway expecting Quasimodo to show up halfway through). It was an amazing and beautiful cathedral and view, and everything Disney had portrayed it to be and more. Another lesson learned from Notre Dame- going down spiral staircases makes me dizzy.

The next stop was another climb- a trip to the second level of the Eiffel Tower. We climbed as far as we could be foot, which is very high and very exhausting after already having climbed to the top of Notre Dame. However, the shear fact of climbing to the top of the tower made me appreciate the amazing architecture behind it, as well as the amazing city of Paris (to which we were treated to a nice view). It was a great choice, and I would suggest to everyone I meet to walk it instead of taking the elevator to the top. After some another crepe (crepe count was at 3 at this point for the weekend…), we hung out and watched the light show again, this time with the Eiffel Tower lit up in green, pink, and blue with twinkles.

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The next morning, we took a train to visit the infamous Palace of Versaille. It was extremely packed and touristy, but the palace was hugely ornate and beautiful. There is so much history behind the palace, and in it’s role in the French Revolution. However, I almost thought the Royal Gardens were more beautiful- they were also incredibly ornate and large, but didn’t seem like they were trying so hard. I can’t imagine even living in 1/8 of this place, let alone calling it my home.

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Overall, Paris has been one of my favorite cities so far and I am so glad to see all the mounments and history I’ve learned about for years. But there is something else about Paris I love, something about the combination of romance and pride, history and modernism, that really appealed to me. I can’t wait to go back for my day trip in a few weeks, in which I will visit Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre.

Next stop- Italy!

Nice is quite nice! June 13, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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Please excuse the cheesy title of this post, I couldn’t resist. Despite having said “Nice is nice” several times this past weekend, I still for some reason think it’s hilarious.

Anyways, this past weekend we spend in the lovely coastal town of Nice, which is situated in the Southern part of France in the Cote d’Azur. After a travel intensive and exhausting trip to Spain last weekend, we were all ready for a chill and relaxed weekend at a beach town. Although Nice is in France, to get there from Metz actually takes over 13 hours by train. It’s strange to me to think that it would take that long to travel across one country in Europe (which I normally consider smallish), but France is almost the size of Texas! We left Friday night, and *attempted* to get some sleep on the reclining chairs called “sleeperettes”. Being 5’11”, these did not work so well for me. However, the moment we got there, everything was completely worth it, even the long uncomfortable night with my legs squished by the person in front of me.

The vibe from Nice was just so relaxed and everything seemed to move at a slower pace. Although I’ve noticed that the pace of life of all of Europe is somewhat slower than in America, it was even more pronounced in this town. Our apartment was located in the old town, and on the way there we passed multiple fresh fish and vegetable markets, cafes, art galleries, and clothing galleries, all located inside very old and very French buildings. Essentially, everything felt extremely authentic and oh so French, and I immediately fell in love with this cute and romantic town.

At the suggestion of the host of our apartment, we stopped at a local cafe for lunch. It was a tiny, hole in the wall place that could barely seat 20, yet apparently would sell out by 2 PM everyday. We were one of the last groups seated for the day, and we all ordered the “Plat du jour”, which included an appetizer, entree, dessert, and a kir. Kir is a very popular drink in France, and it is a white wine with blackberry liqueur. I highly suggest it if you are in the mood to be a little adventurous while drinking wine. For the actual meal, we were served vegetable tart, which had some sort of egg base, a beef pot roast with homemade ravioli, and tarte aux pommes for dessert. Two hours and 5 very full girls later, we had successfully had a very authentic and extremely delicious French meal, one that will go down in the books as one of the best I’ve ever had.

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We then spent the afternoon exploring the old town. We luckily stumbled upon a Palace tucked inconspicuously in between a old few buildings. We proceeded to spend the better part of the next hour impersonating every painting and statue in the place, and laughing more than I can remember. It was a very beautiful 17th century baroque palace, with tapestries and ornate furniture everywhere.  Interestingly, it also doubled partly as a museum of music, the 2nd largest in all of France. We also toured several local cathedrals, which were also beautiful and very centrally located, in addition to just walking around the square and absorbing the town.

However, our favorite part of Nice was also the most famous- The Promenade des Anglais, or the Bay of Angels. Nice is at it’s heart a beach town, and it did not disappoint. The beaches in Nice do not have sand, but is actually made of large rocks. It was absolutely breathtaking, and the water was the bluest of any that I had ever seen, with the foothills of the Alps on the other side. Although the water was cold, we made up for it by setting up a picnic of wine and pizza and watching the sun set over the beach. After a few hours just soaking in the scenery and enjoying each others company, we attempted to go out on the town but quickly learned that in this beach town there was not a ton of nightlife.

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The next morning, we woke late (overnight trains really do make you tired!) and climbed the famous Castle Hill, on top of which there was a waterfall, a castle, and a nice panoramic view of the entire city. I am a huge sucker for a great view, and this was one of the best I’ve seen. We were then going to spend the afternoon biking around the town, but it started to pour. We hung out in a local cafe for a few hours, and headed back on another overnight train to Metz. Overall, we had had a great weekend, and Nice is definitely a must see if you ever have extended time in France. The romance and beauty at the heart of the city is astounding, and something that I will be back to see again.

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España, te amo! (Or, How many tall monuments can we climb?) June 6, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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I know that our 4-day holiday in Spain was a successful one because of the number of blisters that coat the entire bottom of my foot. Spain is a magical place, but not a time to only bring sandals for the weekend.

As we rode the escalator to the outside of the train station in Valencia, I instantly fell in love. I could understand the signs and conversations going on around me, the air smelled like the sea, Spanish architecture and orange trees surrounded me on all sides, and the sun was shining. Having not seen the sun for the past three weeks, this in itself was a miracle- I knew right at this moment that we were going to have an amazing time. After a quick lunch of Baradillos and Spanish Tortillas (small ham sandwiches and something that is sort of a potato omelette), we checked into our little apartment. Our host (who happened to have gone to Georgia Tech several years back) told us nonchalantly what exactly we were going to do for the next 24 hours that we were in the city, and the first stop was Valencia’s famous beaches. The beaches were amazing on all fronts. Being from Colorado, I have a soft spot in my heart for the mountains, and you could see them from where we were. The sand was the softest I have ever stepped on. According to local custom, I proceeded to have a “siesta” of my own on the beach, sleeping for an hour and enjoying just being able to relax for the first time in weeks.

After going back and getting changed, we meet up with some of Gloria’s friends that were studying abroad in Valencia. Valencia is famous for being the town that invented Paella, and they knew exactly where to go. As we walked into a super crowded and extremely Spanish looking restaurant, I knew we had chosen well. When I think of Paella, I think of some sort of seafood, but the original Paella actually consists of Lima beans, chicken, and rabbit. We placed an order for 7 of this famous dish and some pitchers of Sangria, and waited. An hour went by, and just about the time we all began to become ravenous, a giant dish of Paella as large as the table appeared in front of us. As hungry and delicious as we were, it was so much food that we couldn’t even get close to finish it. However, it was by far one of the most authentic and delicious meals I have ever had.

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After consuming my body weight (I exaggerate, I know) in Paella, we hit the night scene in Valencia. Of particular interest was a little bar called “Chupitos” in the middle of the city square. They only served shooters of alcohol, all with strange names. The most interesting one I had was called “S’mores”, in which they lit the countertop on fire, we roasted a marshmallow in that fire, we dunked the marshmallow in our drinks, and quickly took the shot. The locals were way more friendly than in any other place I had been, and it was so much fun to be able to talk to them in their native language.  After a long night out, we headed back to the apartment and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, we woke up early to see the sites. We had no idea when we booked the trip to Valencia that a Catholic holiday, Corpus Cristi, was occurring, and the whole city was celebrating. The main square was decorated with larger than life religious figures, and a huge parade was going on. The components of the parade varied from traditional Spanish dancers to men dressed up in Roman clothing, waving baguettes as if they were swords. Apparently, we missed the Spanish cardinals in the church we visited by only a few minutes.  After visiting the church and navigating through the hopping streets, we decided to climb the belltower in the center of the city to get a great view. Hundreds of narrow stairs later (getting to the top of important monuments is not always an easy feat, even if you are in shape!) We could see the whole city from the top, and it was amazing. We realized while looking out on the city that we were close to an ancient ruins site of Roman baths, and decided to pay them a visit.  I had never been to a site this old- parts of it were built in BC! It was amazing to me the quality of construction and infrastructure of the site, and well and the massiveness of the Roman empire. As a history buff myself, I loved imagining how the ruins would have looked thousands of years ago, and who the people that used the site were and what they thought about.

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Grabbing some Valencia water to go, we hopped on a gorgeous three hour train ride along the coast to Barcelona. We met up with some other Alpha Phi’s who are studying abroad in the summer in Barcelona, and headed out to a Tapas bar. I never really knew what Tapas were, and still don’t really. They are kind of a broad term for appetizers, and our order came with things like Calamari, potatoes with spicy sauce, and bread with a tomato paste. It was delicious and oh so Spanish, which I loved. Something that I didn’t really know about Barcelona before I went was that most of the people there spoke Catalan, which is completely different from Spanish (I can’t understand at all). Most of them speak Spanish, but all the signs and the main language used by the people is Catalan. We took a mini siesta and headed out to experience the famous Barcelona night life. I have come to the conclusion that Spanish people siesta in order to be able to stay out all night, which is what we did. The group of Alpha Phi’s and our friends Brian and AJ walked to the beach in the middle of the night and watched the sun come up over the water in Barcelona. It was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.

Not wanting to miss anything that Barcelona had to offer, we only napped for a few hours and went to the outside of La Sagrada Familia. La Sagrada Familia is a huge church designed by Gaudi, and has been under construction for a very long time (the architect, Gaudi, is a very famous modernist architect but unfortunately passed way). This building was by far the weirdest thing I have ever seen. It is supposed to be a church, but it looks almost other worldly in a negative sense- almost like it is melting. The amount of detail on it is striking, as is it’s giant towers that loom over the city. Although we didn’t get to go inside, it was an awe inspiring building that will leave a permanent mark on the city of Barcelona. Continuing with the Gaudi theme, we then paid a visit to Park Guell. Park Guell overlooks the top of the city, and it was well worth the massive and tiring climb to get to the top (the hills were at over a 45 degree angle). From the top point, you could see the entire city with the beach in the background, and the hike was totally worth it. All throughout the park, there were multiple other Gaudi designs, including a famous lizard and a house that looks like it’s made out of candy. It was a beautiful walk, and was probably my favorite part of Barcelona. After much more general site seeing, it was very late and we decided to take a little break at our hostel. We had walked for over 8 hours straight without sitting down, and our feet were swollen and bloody (should have packed some tennis shoes). We intended to take a quick siesta, but accidentally fell asleep because we were so exhausted.

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The next morning, we woke up and headed to the Picasso museum. I was excited to compare this museum to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam (see below). Although I usually like more traditional art, it was extremely interesting to see Picasso’s progression throughout his career. It seemed to me that Picasso took a lot more inspiration from other artists and drastically changed his style often, while Van Gogh had more of a slow progression into what we think of as his particular style. It was fascinating to me that Picasso also did pottery, and that the drawings that both had done in the beginning of their careers were strikingly similar. The building the museum was in was also a work of art in itself- high intricate ceilings surrounded by stone walls in the middle of the Old City. We then attempted to go inside the Barcelona Cathedral, but had no idea you couldn’t wear shorts inside of it and settled for a quick stop to Casa Mila and a liter of Sangria instead.

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That afternoon, we headed back slightly more tan, relaxed, and exhausted than when we left. Spain is absolutely amazing, and to date is my favorite country I’ve visited. We only have two days in class this week, so we have very little time to recover before our next adventure. Next stop- Nice!

Sausage and Superbayern May 27, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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It was Saturday morning at 5:30 AM and I had never been so happy to see a Burger King in all of my life. Not to eat there, but just for what it represented- that we had arrived in Munich Central Station and that there was someplace on Earth that was not absolutely freezing. We left Metz Friday night at 7, and 4 trains, a lot of card games, and a stop at a sketchy falafel shop in a random German town later, we  eventually got there. This was our first experience with overnight trains, and I couldn’t sleep a wink. The cars were cramped, really cold, and the man behind me was snoring so loud that not even my iPod could block him out (if I wasn’t so tired, I would have been impressed with the sheer volume of the noise he was making with his body!) However, it was quite the experience, and despite being exhausted we made a lot of new friends on the train and had a deliriously fun time.

Our hostel for the weekend was located in Dachau due to a big soccer game that was on this weekend (see below for more details), but only a quick 10 minute train ride from the center of the city. We freshened up quickly at the hostel upon arrival and went to our major historical site of the weekend- Dachau Concentration Camp. I had never been to anything like that before, but as a big history buff and someone who cares deeply about humanity as a whole, I was curious to go. Ironically, the town of Dachau itself is an adorable and peaceful German town, yet with a dark past. The moment I stepped in the door of the gate with the words “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will set you free”), I began two hours of a completely out of body experience. My soul felt so heavy walking through the museum and standing on the ground that thousands of people were tortured and murdered on. A place like this was hard for me to be as someone with an overactive imagination- the largest crime in human history was so real there, so much so that I felt that I could almost see and hear the prisoners there.  The “shower” room  where prisoners were tricked into their deaths (conveniently located next to the ovens to dispose of the bodies) was particularly hard, and I truly felt an overwhelming sense of evil and fear in that room. I could almost hear the screams and felt extremely trapped and terrified in my brief walk there. Overall, it was an extremely harrowing and difficult experience to have, but one that I think everyone should experience once in their life. Every part of human history is an important part of understanding the human condition, including the darkest parts that are difficult to face.

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I honestly considered writing two blogs posts about my Munich experience because of how different the next part of this post is, but for compactness and clarity I decided to keep the whole weekend together. However, my experience at Dachau stayed with me the entire weekend, and I felt that I appreciated many parts of it more than normal because our visit.

If any of you follow soccer at all, you would know that this weekend was the Champion’s League final. If any of you follow soccer at all, you would know that this weekend was the Champion’s League final. With Bayern Munich playing in the game, the city was going absolutely crazy, cheering in the train station even at 5:30 AM.Gloria was wearing a yellow jacket which just happened to be the color of the other team, and was harassed so much that I had to lend her my extra one (those European’s really do love their soccer!) We spent the afternoon walking around the beautiful English gardens, and stopping at the Chinese biergarden in the middle of it for some local eats before trying to find a good spot to watch the game from, all the while enjoying the excitement the infiltrated the entire city and the sites. We  eventually found a bar with just enough seats outside and a big screen playing the game- I ordered a big beer and an Apple streudal and was ready to experience European soccer culture. I am a big sports fan, but honestly I have never really gotten into soccer. However, I can definitely say that I am now a big Bayern Munich fan (major bandwagoning, I know). It seemed to me like the Superbowl, but with rowdier and even more dedicated fans. Every time a goal was scored, there was a ridiculous amount of cheers, high fives, and tables flipped. I loved every second, and loved being surrounded by Germans and felt that I was in the middle of a true cultural experience. By the end of the game I knew all the chants, songs (really obssessed with their official song, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK_bRU_FrHI ), and even had some German friends to celebrate with. When Bayern Munich won the championship, the city went absolutely nuts. We were essentially in the middle of a happy riot, complete with a bonfire, loud cheers, and fireworks. The streets were completely shut down for the celebration, and I must have hugged at least 5 random German people. I was also on German TV holding up a number 1 and generally being ecstatic.  Essentially, I am now famous in Germany. So far, this has been the most genuine experience I have had in any country, and will be a once in a life time event that I will remember forever. Having no previous soccer allegiances, I am now officially a Bayern Munich fan.

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After a long night celebrating, we woke up early to ensure we hit up the famous Hafbrahaus Biergarden. It was extremely touristy, but I throughly enjoyed my sausage, spaetzle, and raddler (a combination of beer and lemonade), in addition to the traditional German garb worn by the waiters and band playing live German music as we ate. It was the perfect way to end our trip to Munich. We boarded 12 hours of trains full of delicious food, happy, and full of German spirit.

Next stop- Valencia and Barcelona!

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The Lil Guy and the Lady on the Horse May 22, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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We officially survived our first weekend! As I sit here typing this post in my tiny room with speckled walls, I am proud to say my group and I have successfully navigated the cities of Brussels and Amsterdam.

The greater part of Friday night was spent taking the train to Brussels and getting to our hostel safely (which was actually harder said than done with pick-pocketers running rampant and the apparently sketchy part of the city we stayed in.) However, on Saturday morning, a day of adventure in the city awaited us. We woke up early and were treated to a free delicious breakfast of toast and orange juice- the perfect way to energize us for the busy day that awaited us.

In Brussels, there is a famous statue of a little boy peeing (no, I’m not kidding!) that is world famous known as the “Mannequin Piss”. No matter where you look in the city, there were references to it everywhere- souvenir shops sold wine bottle openers and everything under the sun as replicas of him, there were multiple signs “directing” us there, and even chocolate versions of the “Lil guy” as I eventually dubbed him. However, despite asking everyone we could find on the street, our group ended up getting very lost looking for him. At some point, we had been walking for quite a while and had gotten very hungry, and as if almost destiny a waffle stand appeared in our path. Now if any of you reading this have been to Belgium, you known that the waffles there aren’t one’s like we have in America. They are sweeter, and drenched in chocolate, fruit, powdered sugar, and whipped cream, also known as a heart attack waiting to happen. As we bought our waffles, we couldn’t help but notice that there was a large cluster of people in the corner near us, and walked over (of course being careful not to drop our waffles) to see what the commotion was. Lo and behold, the “Lil Guy” was there in all his tiny glory, peeing a fountain of water. We had found him, and were eating some delicious waffles to boot!

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Next we made a quick stop at the impressive Delirium Cafe, which boasts the world record of number of types of beers offered, with more than 2500. With only two hours and a desire to see the main square in Brussels, unfortunately we did not have time to try all the selections but grabbed one and walked around the ornate square before heading to the station to catch a bus to Amsterdam.

After a three hour journey, we finally arrived in the drastically different city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam had a much more relaxed vibe than Brussels, and we instantly were excited about the opportunities and experiences in the city. What truly struck me about the city upon first glance was the canals that ran through many of the main streets. I had never seen anything quite like it, and it was beautiful! Due to the canals and the age of the buildings, many of the buildings were leaning, which both interested and terrified me simultaneously. We rented an apartment in the middle of the city, and it could not have been in a better location, which we found by looking for a Lady on a Horse. The only downside to our lodgings were three flights of incredibly narrow stairs without railings, which were the bain of our stay in the city. Apparently this is extremely normal, as most Amsterdam residents have to move in to a new location using the windows as the stairways are too narrow.

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The first night we walked around the city taking in it’s unique culture and lifestyle and saw the King’s Palace and central square, and headed to a cafe to try the local brew, Heineken.  We tucked in early, ready for an adventurous morning the next day.

Our next day was full of the typical tourists stops in the city. Of particular interest to me was the Van Gogh Museum. I had been to an Art Museum in Denver, but never anything that compared to this. I loved experiencing some of the famous pieces of artwork I had read about for ages in person, including Van Gogh’s famous “Sunflowers”. There was also a huge section dedicated to how they restored the art work, and it was fascinating to learn about how the colors faded over time (apparently purple fades to red, and because contrast has a huge importance in Van Gogh’s painting, this change drastically changes our perception of the painting.) I am a huge fan of Impressionist artists, and was surprised and pleased to find several paintings by my favorite artist, Claude Monet, in the museum. This experience is one I will remember forever as my first true art museum. Another important lesson was also learned at this museum- lines to get in to the museums can be absurdly long!

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After a quick lunch of Kebabs and some pictures by the famous “I Am Amsterdam” sign, we took a canal tour through the city. It was awesome to see the entire city via the canals, while learning history about the city simultaneously. A fact that has stuck with me is that over 150 bikes and 1 car a week on average fall into the canals a week. So crazy! We then had a night out befriending locals and making Dutch friends.

The next morning, we headed back to Metz on over nine hours of trains, and thankfully (in addition to surprisingly) successfully made all of our connections. Week One travels were a success. Next stop- Munich!