Paris part deux

I went to Paris last year but this is one city where you need more than a few days to see everything. Also last year we were always in a hurry to get to the next spot while it was raining. This trip had a few sights on the to-do list but the goal was to do everything at a slower and more Parisian pace. We had sunny skies and 50-60 degree temps so we took advantage of the perfect tourist weather to enjoy each moment of the louvre’ly city.

We had an early Friday flight to take advantage of a full day. We arrived and by the time we got to the hotel and regrouped, it was lunch time. We found a charming cafe with window seats on the Seine. The food, views, and weather were in-Seine (pronounced insane). We walked to Musee d’Orsay because it was number 1 on our to-do list. We plugged our headphones in and listened to Rick Steves audio guide. To be honest, I got the insane-inSeine pun from him. Thanks Rick! I’ll probably be doing a future post of classic portraits in the near future.

After feeling a little sleepy and having sore feet, we recharged with some coffee and crepes. Then we kept walking past the Louvre and towards the Arc de Triumph. We took advantage of the wonderful walking all weekend and didn’t even step on the metro once. We used the excuse of walking over 20 miles during the weekend to treat ourself to as many crepes as we wanted. My favorite is butter and sugar. After classic tourist photos at sunset, we walked in the direction of the Eiffel tour to see it all lit up. I think it could be considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. It is just a magical sight to see it sparkle in the navy blue skies, it gives me goosebumps each time. After about 100 different pictures of the Eiffel Tower, we walked back to our hotel and found a little cafe to eat dinner.

Day 2 had two different purposes: shopping and cathedrals. I hadn’t seen Notre Dame yet or Sainte Chapelle and it was on the list. I also had some money that was burning a hole in my pocket and what better place to shop than Paris?! After what could be the world’s best croissant for breakfast, we passed a few shops on our way to the cathedrals. We stopped in and didn’t leave empty handed. As my mother jokes, I could find sales in any country. She’s correct! Before we knew it, it was already 1:00pm and we haven’t eaten lunch or seen either of the cathedrals. Oops! We ate lunch outside with coats off and sunglasses on. We both decided we are tired of winter weather and can’t wait for European spring/summer.

After a quick pit stop at the hotel to drop off the goods and put on some new purchases, we were finally on our way to see the cathedrals. We first went to Sainte Chapelle which is a chapel completely covered in stained glass. With the afternoon sun coming in through the windows, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Then we headed over to see Quasimodo at Notre Dame. Spoiler alert: the gargoyles don’t actually talk or move. Inside the cathedral, they had a lot of pictures or designs of construction and how long it all took. I couldn’t even imagine being the architect to a project where I would never see the final product.

After another crepe pit stop (running count: 3), it was nearing sunset so we walked towards the Eiffel Tower to see it light up again. If I was in Paris for an extended period of time, I would go see the Eiffel Tower every night. It’s probably one of my top 5 favorite sights. We found a nearby cafe for dinner, split a bottle of wine and toasted to a successful Parisian weekend.

I really believe Paris is a city you could come back to again and again and still find new something to see. Eiffel (pronounce: I fell) in louvre (pronounce: love) with Paris and I know you will too.

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Prague

Another Czech off the bucket list: Prague.

PSA: I will be trying to include as many Prague/Czech Republic puns as possible in this post.

This was a very quick but necessary weekend trip to a dream destination of mine.  I’d love to go back in the future and hope for better weather to see more of Prague’s beauty.

Let’s start with the plane ride.  Remember the 8th ring of Dante’s hell that was our Berlin plane ride? This was the 9th level.  We flew Czech Air and I will double czech before ever booking with them again.  The take off was more shaky and had more ups and down than a roller coaster.  3 long hours later, we arrived in Prague.  There was applause because we made it in one piece.  I’m usually not a fan of clapping when landing, but it was a true miracle that we still had all the tires on the plane and the wings were still attached to the plane.

After getting all settled at our super cool hostel, we headed out to dinner and get a quick view of the city.  It was cold and foggy, so we couldn’t see much, but the forecast called for a sunny Saturday morning-we were happy.  We called it an early night to rest up for a full day of tourism.

We were Prague Super-Tourists.  3 different tours in one day.  We started out with a walking tour of the city, then a Prague Castle tour, and ended the day with a beer tour.  We had the cutest and best tour guide for the first two tours-Andrea was a real Czechoslovakian, equal parts of her family are from Czech Republic and Slovakia! How cool!! It was so interesting to hear her stories about communist life and changing times.  April and I lucked out with sunny skies to start the day with the walking tour, but by the end, the clouds rolled in and our feet were cold.  After lunch we took the second tour to the Prague Castle.  This was interesting because I was expecting a castle, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It’s like a little village of different buildings, cathedrals, and museums. I suggest czeching out the history on your own time because like the views we saw, I’m still a little foggy on the history.  Everything is very intertwined with the Hapsburg Dynasty that I learned about in Vienna.  I have some good reading material for the future.

After a long day out in the cold, we headed inside 3 different bars to try 3 different beers.  We had a really fun group of 10 people and 1 loser tour guide.  Our 3 hour tour turned into all night out at a nightclub with bottle service.  When in Prague!!  It was the most random group of study abroad girls, German-Americans, and a Romanian, but it was a night I’ll remember forever!

Two days wasn’t nearly enough time in the city and I’d love to do another combo-trip with Vienna and Budapest in the future.

 

Toulouse, France

If you asked me two months ago where Toulouse was, I’d probably respond “Hmm central Europe?”  FYI it’s in the south of France, right above the Spanish border.  But April and I found roundtrip plane tickets for 26€ so we decided to stop on over.  Why not?!  Actually a lot of the teachers from school raved about it, so I was pretty excited for my first weekend trip of 2017.

I arrived early Friday morning and April had to work a half day so I told her I’d get the lay of the land before she arrived.  Not much land to see, to be honest.  I headed to the center and saw the main plaza, then walked to the river.  I stopped in some cathedrals, very pretty.  Now looking at the pictures, I don’t remember how to distinguish them.  (That happens to me a lot and to write my post I have to google the church to match the name to the pictures)

I kept walking walking walking until lunchtime.  I had a warm ham and cheese sandwich on half a loaf of bread.  Oh I forgot to mention I ate half a baguette for breakfast.  This was not the trip to work on the 2017 less carbs new years resolution.  🙂

I felt like after 7 miles of walking and 6 hours, I had seen everything Toulouse had to offer. I headed to the hotel to rest and wait for April.  Oh and then I booked us a car pool to Andorra for the following day to go skiing.  See next post for my review of the Pyrenees and how I will never go skiing again.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

A necessary day trip from Berlin, there is no excuse to skip this historical and eye opening tour.

April and I went with Sandemans New Europe Tours during a grey and gloomy day in Berlin, fitting to the site we were going to visit.  I think it’s very important that you go with a guided tour so they point out the most important information.  They said that if you read little blurb by pictures or objects, it would take 3 weeks to complete the camp.

I don’t have a whole lot of words to share, because I believe it’s better to go and experience it for yourself.  I also didn’t take a whole lot of pictures, because nothing in print could compare to the actual site.  I learned so much from this tour and our very knowledgable guide.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt that I occupy such a small place in the world as I did in that moment.

Here’s just some basic information about the camp.  It opened in 1936 and was a training center for the SS and prison for political prisoners.  It wasn’t originally designed as a extermination camp until 1943 when a gas chamber and ovens were introduced to deal with Red Army POWs.  More than 200,000 people were imprisoned during 1936-1945.

I don’t want to put a lot of my opinions out there other than this event in history is the worst thing I’ve ever learned about.  But one thing that I wanted to share from what I learned is the extent of public involvement.  I think when I was learning about WWII and the Holocaust in my history classes, I was always surprised that no one knew what was going on abroad.  And the truth of the matter is, that everyone did know and some were using it to their advantage.

Adidas and Puma (the shoe brands) were founded by German brothers, Adolf and Rudolph Dassler.  Both brothers were members of the Nazi Party, both worked for a family shoe store but split because of differences.  Rudolph was sent to Poland to fight and suspected that his brother turned him in.  And this is where the internet stories end, but there’s more.  Adolf Dassler sent new models of his shoes to Sachsenhausen to be tested by inmates.  Inmates were given new shoes with the condition that they had to run 26 miles daily on a half circle track.

Coca Cola (the drink) was the preferred beverage of the Nazi Party.  However the syrup to make Coca Cola was difficult to import due to a trade embargo between the US and Nazi Germany.  Coca Cola sent them a formula to make an orange variation of the drink because all the supplies to make the syrup could be found locally.  Want a Fanta? No thank you.

Again, the best way to learn is to visit.

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Super German Weekend

This is going to be a narrative post and I’ll share more about history and information in following posts. Story time with G, here we go.
Once upon a time, Gabrielle and her friend found April found $35 plane tickets to Berlin. They didn’t realize how earlier they would have to get up for that super cheap flight that took off at 6:20am. Don’t worry be happy.
The journey begins Friday at 4:30am when we hailed a cab on the streets of Madrid. We chose to swallow the outrageous $30 flat rate to the airport because it allowed us to sleep for an extra hour. Airport arrival is smooth and fast, up until boarding. Some genius put two gates right next to each other with boarding times within 10 minutes of one another. We got in our respective line and glared at people who “cut” us in line because they were looking for the other line. Finally they sent an airline representative to walk up and down the lines reading the destinations aloud because some people refuse to read signs and simply ask for help.
We surprisingly all board on time and leave at our designated time. And then began Dante’s ninth ring of inferno. It started with a group of Spanish punks who were spread out throughout the plane but were all traveling together. One girl was seated next to April and I in the window seat. She expressed great concern about her fear of flying to her friend in the seat in front. The girl in front was freaking out because somewhere between scanning her boarding pass and boarding the plane, she lost her Spanish ID. Hope she knows German, because she’s not getting back into Spain without that card!  April and I looked at each other with concerning looks. Then the girl besides us is trying to have full and complete conversations with her friend across the aisle. Now it wouldn’t be a problem if she was also in the aisle seat, but she was in the window seat and had to shout across April and I to talk to her amigo. We did the deep Spanish sigh multiple times until she realized how rude she was being. All meanwhile a baby is crying—wailing for an entire 3hour plane ride. I understand traveling with young kids and I really don’t have a problem with it, but I think there was something seriously bothering this child. Don’t forget the kids behind us kicking our seats and putting their feet in the gap where our arm rest is. April and I couldn’t wait until we could get out of this nightmare.
We run out of the plane at 9:20am and run through the outside terminals to catch a 9:44 train into the city. We were trying to make an 11:00 tour in the center. I’ve never seen The Amazing Race but I’m fairly confident April and I could win. I run to ticket booth, she looks at board to find the correct platform and we make it on to the train at 9:43am. Dazed and confused we exit the train station in Berlin and power walk to the hostel. We are also thinking about entering the summer Olympics for speed power walking. Make it to the hotel and drop bags in lockers. Run to nearest underground to get to city center. We try buying tickets in the machine and some random guy comes up behind us and cancels our order on the screen. He hands us two tickets and says 10€. UMMMM? Is this a scam??!! We pay him and get on the train without even thinking. HAHAHAHAHA

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At exactly 10:50am we find the tour group and join them. The guide tells us we have 10minutes to grab some snacks or water because there is no food where we are going. Ironically there are lines that go outside the doors of every store nearby. We decide to ration out the 2/3 bottle of water we have and half empty bag of peanut m&ms. Remember we haven’t eaten since 3:45 when we woke up that morning. We head on the train with our possibly counterfeit tickets to Sachsenhausen Concentration camp for a day tour. Fun fact our tickets are actually real, we asked our guide. Some random German made an easy 10€ and we saved 25% of normal retail price! What a deal!!
Read my next post about the tour. It was something that I think everyone should see to put a real memory to something we’ve learned about since grade school.
5 hours and no snacks later we are headed back to Berlin city center with grumbling stomachs. We eat at the first cafe we see and make our way to the Christmas markets for some much needed holiday cheer. One bratwurst sandwich and mug of glüwine later, it feels like we’ve lived two full days. PS.) glüwine is gross, I tried it and there at just too many spices and flavors. But it was definitely worth the souvenir mug!! FYI the Christmas market in Chicago has nothing to see with the OG (original German)! This might rival Disney World for happiest place on earth. The Christmas spirit is alive and well in Germany, it was a magical experience.
We head back to the hostel and get some much needed sleep before another full day 2 of adventure.
Day 2, walking tour of Berlin. Again, see one of my upcoming blog posts about the sights and history of this amazing city. Back to story time. April and I booked cheap tickets to Berlin and cheap tickets out of Cologne. We thought a cross country train ride would be a cool adventure. We also forgot that it gets dark around 4:30pm so we took a 4 hour cross country train in the dark to Cologne for more Christmas markets. Cologne is on the top of Christmas market lists worldwide, we wanted to see if it was worth all the hype. But before the cheer, there was fear.
After an extremely crowded train ride to the main station, we find our designated track and wait for the train to arrive. We board the train with our sketchy online ticket that doesn’t say anything more than our start and final destination- no seat numbers, nada. We get on and find that there’s a tiny display above each seat with various stops along the journey. We ask another passenger if there are assigned seats, she says yes and April and I look at each other with concern. I peek outside the cabin to show the conductor our tickets and ask about the assigned seats. He looks at me with a mean German glare and says “These tickets are not valid. You don’t have assigned seat and will have to find an empty seat. Good luck because it’s weekend and this train is full” Tears well in my eyes and I run back into the train to tell April, suddenly the train starts to move. Well it looks like we’re going to Cologne with or without valid tickets. I find two seats with no label above them which I interpret to be “free” and we mark our territory to hope for the best. The mean German conductor passes by us, stamps our tickets and looks at the next passenger. WHAT??!!! We were both very confused but let it go, knowing that all was well and we would arrive to Cologne in 4 short hours.
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*pre German tears*

Around 10:15pm we arrive, hop on the underground to our hostel. Again very hungry, we check in quickly and ask about Christmas markets. The receptionist says everything is closed for the night. Now it must be having lived in Spain for so long that we were shocked. In Spain we would just be going out to dinner now! Oh Toto, it looks like we aren’t in Spain anymore. We head to the city center in search of any food. We find a restaurant that advertises “food served all day” go inside and sit down. The waiter comes over and takes our drink order. We start telling her what we want to eat and she says the kitchen closed 5 minutes ago. We settle for chips and olives.
Day 3 another town another walking city tour. This was some random tour that I found online and crossed my fingers it wasn’t an online joke. We arrived, walked around Cologne and ended with the enormous cathedral. I was fine only being in Cologne for about 16 hours because it was a bit of a let down after Berlin. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it but it was a big step down from Berlin.
I arrived back in Madrid Sunday night and we all lived happily every after, ready for another crazy adventure. Sorry for the long post but it’s like a page from my travel diary to see more of how each trip goes.
Oh my gosh, how could I forget about our favorite part of Germany?! The free public transportation!!—well sort of. After buying our non-counterfeit tickets from random German man, we asked our tour guide about tickets and if there is security. There are no gates or turnstiles in the underground stations in all of Germany, they work on the “honor system”. You buy a ticket from a machine and then stamp it yourself in another machine. However there’s no checking of tickets or real enforcement to see if you actually bought a ticket. I’ll leave it up to readers’ interpretation if we actually spent €1.90 for every train to the center. (Wink wink)

Sound of Music

Call me a grandma or an old soul but I had to do the Sound of Music tour while I was in Europe. It was on the top of my list! Thank god that my good travel friend April also had Sound of Music on her list of “favorite things”.

We took an early train from Munich to Salzburg to chase the sunrise. A 19€ ticket and a comfortable 2 hour ride with wifi. What more could you ask for in Europe? Not much other than good weather. We weren’t that lucky. Forecast showed continual sun for weeks but one day of rain and clouds, what day? Saturday. We came with raincoats and umbrellas in hand to not let anything get in our way.

We hopped on the Sound of Music Tour bus with big decals and stickers! The cheesier, the better!! I showed my true tourist colors that day and tried to recreate all the iconic scenes or pictures from the film. If they ever filmed a “remake of the movie” I might give Julie Andrews a run for her money. 🙂

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We had the cutest little tour guide who guided us in song throughout Salzburg. We stopped at various times to get out and see locations used in the film.

The lake where they fell in the water.

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Did you know that little Grettel almost drowned?! Julie Andrews was supposed to hold on to her but she accidentally fell off the other side and couldn’t get to her in time. They also used the backside of this house in front of the lake for the film and the backyard to film multiple scenes.

We drove past the front of the yellow house that they used for the front of the house. We stopped in a park where Julie Andrews sang “I have confidence”. I tried to recreate it as best as I could.


We saw the glass gazebo. It’s now in a random park because it was getting too many tourist visitors near the house by the lake. Unfortunately you can’t enter to sing “16 going on 17” but you can do your best “I’m 16, naive, and in love pose right outside it”.

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Then we stopped to take some scenic pictures that weren’t directly in the film. Just imagine the view of the clouds were gone and you could see the top of the mountains. Ugh I want to go back to Salzburg already.

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We then drove up to the church where they filmed the wedding scene. We had some free time to walk around this super cute little town, take pictures, eat apple strudel, and buy Sound of Music souvenirs.

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Our last stop was at the gardens where they filmed parts of Do Re Me. At this point it started to rain so Ana wished us goodbye, farewell, auf wiedersen.

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I have absolutely ZERO complaints about this tour and I would recommend this to everyone and their mother, brother or father. If anything, we could have sang more. She did have a lot of information to share when we were driving to the different locations. We had a couple sing alongs to the most popular ones. I only shed one tear when we were singing “My favorite things”.

We spent the rest of the rainy day walking around the town and ducking in and outside of shops to do some shopping! I loved everything about this full packed day and would do it again in a heartbeat.

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The hills are ALIVE with the Sound of Music

Munich, Germany

I have nothing but incredible things to say about Munich. There is so much to see in and around the city that I will be heading back again to see more.

I had approximately 1.5 days in Munich and fully intended on jamming as much into those 30 hours as possible. I arrived Friday morning and dropped bags off at the hostel and made my way to the center. My friend, April, and I realized that we came one week too early because they were just finishing setting up all the Christmas decorations and market stands. It was still pretty to see them setting things up with lights and Christmas decorations. We are very excited for a future trip in Germany in the beginning of December where the Christmas spirit will be in full swing!! I love Christmas and I think Germany is such a magical place to see the Christmas spirit and holiday cheer.

Friday afternoon I took a free walking tour with Sandeman’s tour company. I really didn’t know this company existed but I’m really looking forward to using this tour again in the future. We went on a 3 hour walking tour of the city with a very knowledgeable guide. Small world moment: she’s from Chicago and her dad worked in Palatine!! The tour was great and I learned so much! Dad—I’m basically taking an immersion course in AP European history, I love it!

A couple of the highlights:

Funny stories that the guide told us.  Now, I’m not sure how credible these stories are.  Be warned

Peterskirche: St. Peter’s church.  An Italian girl’s skeleton was used to consecrate the church. Girls and women go to the church to pray to Miriam (98% sure that’s her name) and ask to find love. Men stand at the exit of the church and pick up girls by saying that God sent them there. HAH (pictured below)

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Frauenkirch. This church was completely destroyed after the war sans the two bell towers. According to local legend the devil appeared to the architect and proposed a deal. Make a church with no windows so the God’s light can’t come in, and the church will be built in record time (under 20 years). The architect did put windows in the church but standing at the back of the church it looks like there are no windows because the columns hide them. The devil stepped into the church and his footprint is marked in the concrete. And I found evidence of this on the internet so it must be true 🙂

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Series of beer saving Munich::

Alter Hof: Prince’s nursery. This little tower is where part of Prince Ludwig’s nursery was. The prince had a pet monkey and one day the monkey picked up the child. The monkey ran up the tower and was hanging from the roof with the young prince. How do you make the monkey come down carefully without hurting the prince and future ruler of Bavaria? Since bananas are uncommon at this time in history, the closes thing you have is beer that smells like bananas. They brought a big barrel of banana flavored beer to have the child returned to safety. Beer saves the prince of Munich.

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Munich was under Swiss control in during the 1600’s. After many years of peaceful obedience. Munich asked the Swiss to leave. Switzerland asked for a large sum of money and since Munich only could come up with a small portion of the outrageous price, they paid in liquid gold–beer. Beer saves the people of Munich.

Again, I’m not sure how reliable these stories are, but I think they really enhance some of the darker history that Munich has seen.
Hofbrau house. Duke Wilhelm didn’t like the beer that was being brewed so he commissioned a different brew that became the famous Hofbrauhaus. When the Hofbrauhaus was first built, there were no bathrooms. EW! People went out into the street to pee in the ditch in the middle of the street. They eventually changed this because people were getting upset because they lost their seat when they got up. However this change was for the worse. They installed pools below the tables so people could simultaneously get rid of the liquid they were drinking. Good luck getting that picture out of your mind! Update: they now have normal bathrooms with real plumbing.

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Other things I saw:
New Rathaus and Marienplatz:  Current town hall and town square.

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Old Rathaus.  This is where Joseph Goebbels gave the speech that is known as the prelude for Kristallnacht.

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In conclusion, I saw all Munich has to offer but there is so much to see in the surrounding areas. I would like to go back and take a day trip to both Dauchau and Neuschwanstein castle. Munich is also a great city to train to other countries in Central Europe. April and I took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria to do the Sound of Music tour. Read my next blog for the details!