Alternative Berlin

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For a major city Berlin is unlike any other I’ve been to; between the tourist attractions and slightly off the tourist path beats the true heart of Berlin; an alternative side that’s found slightly below the surface. On top of this Berlin is also extremely cheap considering it’s the capital of Germany and compared to  prices of Paris, New York or London it’s in a different world.

In order to understand Berlin you have to look to its recent history and the polarization it faced during its duel occupation, symbolically and literally shown through the Berlin Wall.  Put up overnight it cut the city in half, tearing apart families, friends and lovers for 28 years; while the democratic western side flourished, the communist controlled eastern side stagnated and was stripped of all its resources. For 28 years the Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin, when it fell in 1989 the Berlin that we know today was born.

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After WWII destroyed Berlin it was built to hold a population of 8.5 million people, today there is only 3.5 million with a unemployment rate between 10 and 15%. Now you can imagine how much worse it was when the wall fell. When the wall fell millions of people had already fled and were fleeing to the western half and with the GDR no longer in control of the east there was a surplus of vacant apartment buildings. This led to a massive squatter movement, people believed that since the buildings belonged to the GDR and the GDR no longer existed, they were free to move in. These squatter homes, which I believe don’t exist in any developed capital city have been the anchor of a vibrant radical cultural and political environment, and the cornerstone of Berlin’s anti-gentrification movement; with graffiti and street art as a tool for this counterculture.

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The graffiti and street Art is world class, found throughout Berlin in various formats, from tagging to monumental wall pieces they can display the quick scrawl of somebodies initials or an elaborate mural depicting current events as the artist sees them. Others are put up simply to improve the urban environment and its people. One artist a teenager put up bright colored smiling mushrooms around the city because he thought it would make people happy and you never see mushrooms in a city. Another artist put up “crying girls,” water based paint pasties that are placed in areas of rain, so the longer they’re on the wall, the more they “cry” and merge with the wall. A different one pastes pasties of people dancing and while the paint is still wet throws confetti onto them. His subjects are people he notices at concerts that are completely lost in the music, he takes their picture and then blows up the picture to paste on the wall. Personally I wouldn’t want to see myself on the side of a city building in Berlin. Street art is synonymous with Berlin as yellow cabs are with New York, without them, neither city would be the same.

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Vokda, Wódka and more Vodka

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It’s true what they say about the Polish, they like their Vodka. Walking into a liquor store I’d never seen a wall of so many various types of Vodka. I didn’t know that many types of vodka even existed, with my knowledge limited to Popov and Svedka. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was in shock of seeing a wall of clear bottles with labels I’d never seen. They were cheap too! and while I didn’t buy any I drank my fair share.  Each night in the hostel I participated in their organized bar crawl (to meet people of course), which included about  an hour and a half of unlimited vodka drinks, from various types of mixed shots, to mixed drinks, or if you wanted just straight shots of vodka.  As the saying goes, when in Poland do as the Polish do.  It would have been rude to do otherwise.

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Krakow, unlike Warsaw was saved from the destruction of WWII. There are a few reasons as to why Krakow was saved, for one it wasn’t the capital, the second reason was that it was proclaimed the capital of the General Government, it was to be the third reich’s supply base for agriculture and light industry, and lastly when the Red army approached    in 45 the Germans had to flee quickly in order to not be trapped in the city. They didn’t have time to burn it to the ground, leaving the historic center of Krakow with its original century old charm. However, just because it wasn’t burnt to the ground doesn’t mean it was exempt from Nazi’s rule.  The Jewish quarter, which once housed the ghetto during WWII is now a UNESCO world heritage site.  It was also where the film Schindler’s List was filmed.  The actual factory is not far from the border of the former ghetto.  There is a small section of the ghetto wall still standing, which I was unable to find and on it there is a plaque that reads, “Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”

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Auschwitz

Auschwitz is a place you read about when learning about WWII, it’s a place that you hear about, a place you see in films, a collection of descriptions in various forms.  But, words cannot describe it, pictures cannot do it justice.  Anything I say will just be another one of those descriptions.  It’s one of those places you have to experience, to walk the grounds of a place where unimaginable horrors took a place, a place where 1.5 million people were killed.   These are some of my photos:

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Wroclaw

After Krakow I spent a night in Wroclaw.  Wroclaw is a quaint little city located on a river about halfway between Krakow and Berlin.  It has a beautiful market square lined with colorful townhouses and about 400 dwarf statues scattered throughout the city.  They’re cute and extremely fun to find while walking throughout the city.  While in Wroclaw, I also got lucky that the three people staying in my dorm were friendly and interested in doing something together.  We got dinner and ate pierogi’s, or Polish dumplings and then ended up at a cheap food and drink place where we sampled shots costing a euro each.  With prices like that, good food and beautiful cities it was hard to leave Poland.

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Paris! at last

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Paris like London was one of those places that I never had a huge desire to visit because other cities interested me more.  Also like London I felt that I needed to see it before I left Europe and again like London I had a friend that I could stay with.  When you have friends in places you have to visit them while you can because you never know what the future will bring.
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I arrived to Paris Friday night and had four full days to explore the city .  On Saturday, my first day in Paris I did a tour of Montmartre in the morning.  Looking back on my trip it was probably one of my favorite areas because it is so different from the rest of Paris and at times it felt as if you were in the country.  For lunch I ate with an old lady who did the same tour as me.  She was traveling around France for her 75th birthday with some family members, but did the tour alone that morning.  When we got to the Sacre Coeur she was nervous and scared about making it back to the Moulin Rogue, so I said I’d walk with her. On the way we got a baguette from the winner of the 2010 and 15 Paris baguette competition, some cheese and strawberries. We found a table outside a bar that wasn’t open yet and sat down to eat.
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After I went to the armory museum and on my way I saw for the first real time the Eiffel tower from the Pont Alexandre III.  The night before I caught a glimpse walking to the metro, but it was only the very top between buildings.  It was so brief and it had this rotating light like a lighthouse I wasn’t even sure it was it.  The armory museum was huge and very in depth, I spent about three hours there.  From there I walked to the Eiffel tower.  Seeing the Eiffel tower in person was surreal.  You see it in so many pictures and films and in pictures it looks big, but it is so much more monumental and beautiful in person.  I immediately feel in love with it.  After encircling it for a bit, I climbed to the top (the 2nd floor),  which is as high as you can go using the stairs.
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After climbing the tower I walked over to the inception bridge
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then to this other spot where I waited for the sun to set so I could take more pictures of the tower.  While there I met a Korean girl and talked to her a little about Korea.
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After taking enough pictures to fill a scrapbook I had dinner and then walked to the main spot to the the light show.  I didn’t get back to my friend’s house until 12:30.  I had only been in Paris for one day, but I felt like I had seen the whole city.
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Sunday was the day of unsuccessfulness.  I had a 12:30 tour of Notre Dame and the latin quarter and I planned to do three things beforehand, one was to see 59 Rivoli, the second was to see San Chapelle and the third was to see the covered hallways.  When I woke up I realized I didn’t have the adapter for my camera charger and my battery was down to half.  I didn’t charge it before I came because I brought my charger and and I knew I had the adapter for my phone.  However my phone adapter is only usb and the camera charger needed the prongs.  Roxane (the friend I was staying with) thought her friend who lived in Canada might have one, so I delayed leaving in the morning until Roxane was ready and then we walked over to her friends place only to discover  that she didn’t.  I then went to the covered passageways, but for some reason they were closed.  So I went to 59 Rivoli only to find that it too was closed. On my way to San Chapelle I stopped in an electronic store to see if they had an extra battery, but they didn’t.  They told me about a store that would BHV.
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Finally when I went to San Chapelle and something positive happened.  I didn’t have to pay to get in! because of my Spanish student visa.
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After San Chapelle my day started turning around, but it still wasn’t without its setbacks.  At 12:30 I did the two hour walking tour.  It was very informative and the tour guide Chris was great.  During the tour I asked him if he knew where BHV was and I explained to him my predicament. He said he had a canon charger and if I wanted I could have it, I told him not to worry.  After the tour I went inside Notre Dame.
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After the mass I tried BHV and they didn’t have a battery or an adapter.  They told me another store to try.  As I was leaving I connected to wifi to see what time it closed and to wish my Dad a happy father’s day.  I wasn’t going to check whatsapp, but did by chance.  The tour guide had texted me (I contacted about the tour through text because he didn’t receive my email) asking me if I wanted the canon charge, this time I said yes instead of trying another store.  I met him at his place on the island next to Notre Dame, which was only about 15 minutes from where I was. When I got there he brought out the charger, I looked at it with a sinking feeling because it looked slightly different.  I tried my battery and it didn’t fit, his charger was unfortunately an older one.  Then he came out with a converter! so I was able to charge my battery for 20  minutes, which was enough to keep it going the rest of the trip.  Feeling slightly happier and relieved that my camera wasn’t going to die I went back to 59 Rivoli and this time it was open.  After Rivoli I went to the Lafayette building because I wanted to see the inside, but it was closed so I walked over to the Opera house to check it out and go inside, but there was a show starting later so I couldn’t.  After those two failed attempts I went home.  Overall it was a good day, I got to see more of Paris.
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On Monday I went to the Louvre with a 10:30 entry time, but was able to get in around ten.  I spent four hours there exploring the halls and I enjoyed every minute of it.  My favorite parts were the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas and Egyptian Antiquities.  The first exhibited sculptural masterpieces from around those regions.  I had never seen art like it, to me they seemed like modern art, but without trying to be.
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 And the Egyptian art was fascinating because of how old it is.  To see hieroglyphics on papyrus and a mummy! was incredible.  It’s kind of funny if you think about it that 2,000 years after whoever is in the mummy was buried he is now on display in a museum for people to see, when at the time he wouldn’t even be able to conceive what the future would be like.
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After the Louvre I walked through the gardens, saw two goats eating grass and then went to the Orangerie museum.  I spent about two hours in the museum with a majority of my time spent in Monet’s oval rooms.
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 When I got out of the museum I was exiting the park and there was a police by the exit checking bags. I thought it was weird, then on the street there were a lot more police grouped together.  I was going to go to the Arc De Triomphe via Champs Elysees next to the petit palace, but it was closed off and there were at least 50 reporters waiting nearby.  It turns out that an hour before someone tried to crash into a police van.  Nobody was hurt except the driver who was killed and I had to walk the long way around.  I was able to get into the Arc for free because of my student visa, but even if you had to pay I would definitely recommend it because it provides beautiful views of the city.
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On Tuesday and my last full day in Paris I went to Versailles in the morning. I arrived at 9:30 and stayed until 4.  I chose the wrong day to wear black because I spent the whole time outside and it was the hottest day yet in Paris.  I toured the palace and was overall disappointed because I expected a lot more, though the hall of mirrors was spectacular as well as the gardens.  I walked the gardens for a bit and then toured the other half.  I saw  the smaller palace and got lost trying to find Hameau de la Reine, Marie-Antoinette’s fake rustic village.  It’s completely out of place and really strange to see, it had a farm with all sorts of animals.
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I then walked back to the other gardens to see the fountains on.  I ended up doubling back many times because I came across ones that were off thinking they were on, it was like a maze. it was extremely hot and they had no water fountains to drink from. I bought one small water bottle for 3€ and couldn’t find it in myself to buy another. I don’t think I sat for more than 2 minutes, the gardens are too big and there was too much to see.  To reward myself I went to best crepe place in Paris according to my tour guide, called Au’ptit’grec
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On Wednesday my flight was at 9 something and I had to be at the bust stop around 3:30, so I spent the morning walking around Paris.
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Paris was incredible, probably one of my favorite cities that I’ve visited.  I would really like to go back to experience the cuisine and night life because when I was there I mainly explored the city.  The day I left was the beginning of a music and dance week which would have been amazing to experience.  It is definitely a city I want to go back to and if money was not an issue a city I could live in. I’d have to learn the language first though.

A Quick Trip to London

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When I first came to Europe three years ago, London was never high on my list and it wasn’t even on it for some time. However with the impending realization that I’ll be leaving Europe at the end of this school year, I began to think that I needed to go, to experience it and to see it. Maybe it goes back to my colonial routes of rejecting the crown, or maybe because I was annoyed that in the English world of Spain everything is British, from the accent and grammar they speak, to the flags and decorations they have around the classroom, or perhaps I was drawn more to different cities like Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Whatever the case was, I have friends in London and I wanted to go while they were still there. A week and a half ago we had a puente/long weekend because of the Féria, so I left for London on Thursday and came back to Jerez on Sunday.

I was really impressed by London, but even more so by the people.  Every interaction I had, whether it was asking for help in the underground, or asking for directions above ground, talking to people on the train, to the staff in a restaurant/bar or to the workers on the ferry, was positive.  It’s left me wondering if everybody in London is that nice or maybe I caught the right people in the right moment of their day.

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It is the people that make up a city, but without buildings and spaces their would be no city, and the buildings and spaces of London really impressed me. It’s a beautiful city that feels as if it’s five cities in one, different buildings juxtapose each other one after the other. Walking along the bank of the Thames you can find the Neo-gothical Big Ben, across the modern London Eye, further along there are various bridges all ranging in different styles from the modern millennium bridge to the iconic gothic revival Tower Bridge; across from the tower bridge on one side of the Thames is the castle of London flanked by skyscrapers; the shard, the walkie-talkie and the gherkin. Each is a unique, individual building that represent the every changing architectural landscape of London.

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I enjoy traveling alone, but having the opportunity to visit friends is also something I enjoy. I stayed with my friend Aoife, who is the best friend of my friend Niamh, who was one of my roommates in Costa Rica and who I spent Christmas with in Ireland three years ago. My other friend is Mike, a friend from Delaware who I did habitat for humanity with spring break sophomore year. He’s living in London and when he took a trip to Andalusia last year he stopped by Jerez and we had lunch together. Aoife was a great host and luckily I was able to combine those two worlds. Friday night Aoife, a friend of hers and me had plans to eat at a steak restaurant, called Flat Iron; 10£ for an amzing steak. It’s the only dish on their menu. It’s located  in the Williamsburg of London, coincidentally right around the block from where Mike lives, so we put our names down and then met with him at his place for about an hour and a half. Once your number is called you have 15 minutes to get there or they give your seat up. It was amazing, one of the best meals in recent memory and it was affordable, cheap for a city like London (but still a lot more than what I’d pay in Jerez). After dinner we met up with Mike and his friends and we went to a divey, but awesome Jazz bar. Hearing something other than live Flamenco Music was nice for a change.

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Saturday we went to Greenwich.  I realized while walking around the Royal Navy College that I had learned about it in one of my architecture classes. While traveling I often stumble upon something that I’ve learned about, not knowing it is where I am and every time a wave of excitement passes over me.  Also in Greenwich is the famous Cutty Sark ship, which up until that point I knew only as a cheap whisky in Spain. I had no idea it was an actual ship.  We also stopped by a cute little craft market with food trucks. For lunch I ate Ethiopian food for the first time. We also went to the oldest pub in Greenwich and one of the oldest in London, the Plume of Feathers. It was established in 1691 and is just outside the touristy part of the city, it’s cozy and friendly, the perfect place to hang out in winter. It was also the first time I saw a pump tap, I don’t know if that’s the proper term, but it was like a lever that the bartender had to pull toward her a few times to fill up the pint. Later that day, Mike and his girlfriend and a friend of Aoife came over to her place and Aoife as the gracious host made a delicious dinner. We hung out and played a board game, ending my time in London.

One thing I was extremely disappointed about was the Natural History Museum. People kept telling me how great it is, how you need to go and even one of the Night at the Museums was filmed there. I expected a lot and it didn’t live up to it. The building is beautiful and when you go inside there’s a glowing orb that you take an escalator through, but that’s where the excitement ends. The rooms were cramped and to me seemed poorly designed, the exhibitions were outdated and have probably been there since the museum opened, all the interactive displays seemed as if they were going to fall apart in need of a new coat of paint, and the displays were dirty and dusty. I remember looking at one of the worlds largest cut diamonds and being amazed at the large smudge over it. The dinosaur skeletons were awesome, but the room they were in didn’t allow you to appreciate them. Maybe I’m just not used to history museums.

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I was however impressed by the Victoria and Albert which is right across from the Natural History museum and the Saatchi Gallery, which, with the exhibitions they had, might be one of the best galleries I’ve ever visited. One of the rooms, about the size of a 5 lane gym swimming pool had projections on each of its walls of  thousands of  YouTube videos of people explaining something simultaneously playing. From afar the wall looked like a bunch of little boxes of color, but as you got closer you can see the people’s faces and when you’re right in front of it you can focus on one individual box or person. At the same time the sound of all those videos together was constantly playing in the background creating a very unique feeling as if you’re in a crowd. In the gallery my favorite pieces were created by Daniel Rozin. He had two interactive works that moved according to your position in front of it. They were really fun and I spent 20 or 30 minutes interacting with them.  If you go, make sure to not confuse the Saatchi & Saatchi with the Saatchi Gallery, they’re two distinct places.

The Forgotten City of Andalucia

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Nestled between the Sierra and olive fields as far as the eye can see is Jaén, the forgotten city of Andalucia. Stated by our blahblahcar driver, “You know you’re in Jaén when the road starts deteriorating” and as if on cue we hit a couple of rough patches that rattled the car. There’s no highway to Jaén, at some point only a two lane local road where you hope to not get stuck behind a truck hauling olives. After all, Jaén is the olive capital of Spain.

To say Jaén is forgotten wouldn’t be completely true, to Spaniards it’s known for having the best olives and the highest quality olive oil. It also has a tapas scene that rivals, if not better than Granada. However you wouldn’t go to Jaén just for the tapas nor for just the olives, which is why when you tell somebody you are going to visit or have visited they ask why? with a confused look on their face. If it wasn’t for my friend Mitch living there, I would have never gone.

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Since I’ve heard so many unflattering things of Jaén my expectations were low. I imagined it as a dull, deteriorating city where it’s inhabitants only ate olives and drank olive oil.  That wasn’t the case, but I was told amongst the locals most conversations seemed to always come back to olives, or they were trying to get you to buy into their cooperative. I cannot attest to the validity of this, however I can say that because of my low expectations, Jaén pleasantly surprised me. The city itself isn’t much to write home about, but it has its moments. There is a long tree lined avenue that would be beautiful in Spring time with a nicely laid tram line running through it. Unfortunately there’s no tram. If there was anything that best exemplifies the Spanish government, it is this. In 2009 the city was given money by Andalucia to install the line, just as it was finished the leading political party in Jaén’s government changed and they were against it, so they sold the tram cars to Australia (I think) and since then it has not been operational.

Situated above the city is the castle of Santa Catalina. Part of the Castle route of Jaén, which contains more Castles per square kilometer than any other place in Europe. Santa Catalina is a beautiful, mostly restored castle that was started in 1492 and has now been partly converted into a hotel.  It provides stunning views of the city and the surrounding countryside.  Also in Jaén is a park with grass! something Jerez lacks, with a view of the cathedral and the surrounding countryside as well, though not quite the same as being at the castle, it’s more accessible and a nice place in the city center to relax.

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Adding to the experience of Jaén and the reason why we went was seeing Mitch. It was also St. Patrick’s day weekend and there are a lot of Irish there. For a smaller city than Jerez, the atmosphere was good. We met his friends and his roommates and got to see the new life he’s made away from Jerez. As sad as it is to have him gone it was good to see him doing well.

Jaén definitely isn’t the most beautiful city of Andalucia, but it has beautiful aspects about it and if you go, you might just be surprised like I was.

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Birthday In Lisbon

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This year, I decided to spend my birthday in Portugal with Christine.  She went to Madrid to get her ESL certification and teach for the year.  I would have loved to have been home and spend the weekend with my friends and sister in Montauk, but I had already booked my roundtrip ticket in March and they refused to change it (even though I had insurance on it).

So, I arrived to Spain on the first of September and we left for Lisbon on the third.  Lisbon is only a little more than an hour flight from Madrid.  Lisbon is a hidden gem, which is rarely atop ones European bucket list.  It is a beautiful city with a history as rich as any.  Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Western Europe, predating many other modern cities.

In Lisbon we stayed at one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in, Goodmorning Lisbon.  The staff were amazing, the way it was decorated was awesome, and they had the most amazing free breakfast; eggs, fresh cooked waffles, fruit, juice, sandwiches; they also had awesome nightly events. Even better was that we met a bunch of awesome people

.  When we first got to Lisbon our room wasn’t ready, so we decided to get food. At the same time we were sitting down for food 3 Aussies, Monety, Declan and George were as well, so we decided to sit and eat together.  They would become our friends throughout our time there.  I later found out they were going to Porto the same day as me (Christine wasn’t) and staying at the same hostel! Anyway, after lunch Christine and I explored the city, we walked down to the shore, wandered and weaved our way through old medieval streets to the Cathedral. We climbed to the top, which gave us amazing views of the city. IMG_4980There, we met a super friendly security guard who told us about a huge market on the weekend and friended us on Facebook to help us if we needed.  The thing about Portuguese people is they are extremely friendly; friendliness with strangers that makes you weary about somebody.  After the Cathedral we toured the castle with some people we met along the way.  The castle was built in the mid-11th century, during the Moorish period on a hill in the middle of the city.  The castle wasn’t anything special and definitely not the coolest I’ve seen, but it had amazing views of the city.

Later that night, the hostel had a tapas night, with 6-7 different tapas cooked incredibly by one of the hostel workers/chef.  At first it didn’t seem like there would be enough for everyone because we were only getting small tastes, but by the end he was bringing over the pans with what was left.  We didn’t do much after that, just kind of relaxed and took it easy. While we were going up to bed, we met 2 Australian chicks, Jodi and Cat, who had just gotten into Lisbon.  We would hang also hang out with them the rest of the trip.

The day before my birthday…

We woke up and had the amazing hostel breakfast with another friend and dorm mate, Wax.  After breakfast we did a free walking tour of the city.  The tour guide was awesome, but like most walking tours I do, I don’t really remember much now.  It doesn’t help that I’m writing this a month later.  Some things I remember are that, for a 20 year period the capital of Portugal
was moved to Brazil and with it went the king, during this time the church convinced the citizens to murder Jewish people to gain acceptance into heaven, around 3,000 people were killed.  There is a church in the center, itsIMG_5001 interior gets painted red by the people as a way of remembering this event.  There are also two monuments outside of the church.  Another thing is that Lisbon suffered a catastrophic earthquake in the 18th century destroying 85% of the city.  After the tour we got lunch with some other people from the tour at a Portuguese buffet.  Christine decided to put the Portuguese super insanely hot meat sauce on her salad and eat it, which prevented her from eating anything else. I on the other hand, got plate after plate of insanely delicious meat and other foods.  IMG_5015

After lunch we went to the famous district of Belem. Belem is only a couple of miles from Lisbon and is the place where many of the great Portuguese explorers set off on their voyages of discovery.  There are a few things to do and see in Belem.  There you can find the famous Belem Tower, a fortified lighthouse that was built to defend one of Belem’s other famous historical building, the Monastery of Jeronimos.  The tower was cool to see, but it wasn’t anything special, if you wanted to go into it you had to pay, we didn’t.  The monastery is IMG_5027a massive structure that takes up the space of about two city blocks.  We only went into the church.  The church was beautiful and had incredible vaulted ceilings.  Belem is also home to the world famous pastry of Belem.  It’s like a tart kind of thing that you can find all throughout Lisbon and Portugal, but Belem’s is the original and the best.  The recipe has been secretly guarded for more than 150 years.

Afterwards I went with Wax to this strange art exhibition called House of Psychotic Women.  I probably would have never went on my own, but he was really excited about going so I went along.  The artwork was inspired by several films; the female protagonist and their distorted contact with reality.  It was pretty interesting and there was free wine.

Later in the evening the hostel hosted a free sangria night, which we all of course attended.  We played drinking games which eventually turned into a hostel wide karaoke night of 90s music.  It was cool to see so many people from different countries singing the same songs.  At 12, prompted by Christine, they sung happy birthday to me and then we went out.

Birthday Day!

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On the way to Sintra

We woke up and of course had breakfast at the hostel.  After breakfast, Christine, Wax, new friends Harry and Sean (who were also in our dorm), and I went to the street fair (the one the security guard from the Cathedral told us about) hoping to find cheap stuff.  It was more like an outdoor goodwill.  There you could find a strange assortment of all types of items; sometimes, it looked as if they decided to clean out their car, but instead of throwing it away, see if anybody would buy it.  It was cool to experience, but I didn’t find anything.  After the fair, Christine
and I departed from the others and went to Sintra.  We didn’t enough time to see al that we wanted to in Sintra (there is a lot to see), so we settled on going to the Quinta de Regaleira.  Quinta is an estate with a large palace surrounded by a park that rivals park Guell.  Throughout the park you can find elaborate structures of varying architectural styles reflecting different types of ideologies

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On the way to the estate we ran into a friend (Crystal) we met on the walking tour.  We spent about 2.5 hours touring the gardens.  In the gardens is a 27m well down into the earth.  It’s more like a tower with stairs.  We spent about 40 minutes at the top taking pictures from all different angles.
The park closed at 6:30, but at 7 there was a small fado concert in the basement of the chapel in the park.  Small, maybe less than 15 people were there, more couldn’t even fit. Fado is a type of music specific to Portugal.  It IMG_5107consists of a women singer and two guitar players.  They are usually sad, but can be happy as well.  The concert was awesome, and even though we couldn’t understand what was being said, the women singing conveyed her emotions so well we didn’t have to, we could feel it.  She had one of the most mesmerizing voices I’ve ever heard.

We got back to Lisbon at 8:33 hoping to stop by the supermarket and grab some food and drinks.  We didn’t want to take too much time eating and didn’t want to spend a lot on food, however the supermarket closed at 8:30.  So, we walked around for a bit and ended up finding this cheap bar-like restaurant.  For my birthday dinner I got a hamburger.  We ended up at the hostel around 10 and started drinking with the others.  Played some games and went out with a bunch of people from the hostel.

My Last Full Day….

IMG_5260Missed breakfast, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway.  Christine left before noon, she was going back to Madrid to start
her course.  I went with Harry and Sean to Caiscais.  Caiscais is a beautiful, quaint beach town like 45min on train from Lisbon.  We chilled at the beach for the first couple hours, then went for a walk and saw the cliffside, tried to get food at this place recommended to us, but it was closed until 7:30 (we hadn’t eaten anything all day).  So, we got hotdogs and went back to the beach and played some cards and when the place opened went there for dinner.  The fish there was fresh caught that day, prepared and cooked by little Old Portuguese women.

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Lisbon was an awesome city.  We met so many cool people and did so many amazing things.  It’s also one of the hilliest cities I’ve ever walked around. Somehow it feels like you’re always going uphill.  My next stop had even more, Porto!

A Troubled Past, A Bright Future: Budapest

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My last stop of the journey.  I was in Budapest from April 3rd to the 7th and could have stayed had I had my suitcases.  My first thought upon arriving was, that it looked like a dirty Vienna; It’s hard for any city to match its beauty and cleanliness. However, Budapest is so much more than what you can see; it’s like an onion, each corner, each monument, each layer reveals something new and interesting about the city and its tumultuous past.  This combined with an amazing night life, makes Budapest a truly remarkable city.

There’s a lot to see in Budapest during the day and during the night.  This will be about my day experiences and another one will follow about my night ones.   I arrived  to Budapest via train from Vienna.  I then made my way to the hostel via metro and tram.  I stayed at a hostel called Carpe Noctem Vitae and the first thing they did was sit me down and ask me  what I wanted to see, if I knew where anything was, gave me recommendations and show me where things were.  This was really awesome and I’ve never had a hostel do anything like that.  They told me my best option at that time (late afternoon) was to walk to Heroes Square and wander around the park; so that is what I did.

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Heroes Square is located at the end of the world famous Andrassy Avenue and at the beginning of city park.  Andrassy Avenue, like Heroes Square is a World Heritage Site.  It was built in 1885 and is lined with eclectic Neo-Renaissance palaces and houses.  It was considered to be a masterpiece of public planning and public transport was prohibited to preserve its character; this gave birth to the idea of the first ever subway line in Continental Europe, it opened in 1896.  The stations and the cars have transcended time and are they same as they were when it
first opened.  They are incredibly beautiful stations.Buda1 Stepping out of them is like stepping into the past.

Heroe’s square commemorates the thousandth year anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895.  At the center of the square is the Millennium Monument (erected in the 1930s) topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel.  Around the base of the monument are statues honoring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes and behind the monument is a massive semi circular colonnade with statues of famous men who madetheir mark on Hungarian history.  It’s a powerful sight to behold.

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Szechenyi Bath

After this I walked around the park and saw the Szechenyi Bath, well the outside.  The next day I will go in them for a party.  The Szechenyi Bath is the largest thermal bath in Europe.   On top of being the biggest, aesthetically it is one of the most beautiful.  Budapest is home to many baths because thermal springs that run under the city. After this, I walked around Vajdahunyad Castle, which is also located in the park.  The Castle isn’t a real castle.  It was built, like Heroe’s square for the Millennium Exhibition.  The castle copies several features of landmark  Buda4buildings from different parts of the Kingdom of Hungary and displays different architectural styles; Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance.  It was originally temporary and made of wood and cardboard, but because it was so popular with the citizens, it was rebuilt from stone and brick from 1904 to 1908.  Like Kruezenstein Castle, it is a beautiful fake castle.  After some walking, I then took the metro to the Hungarian Parliament building.  It is the most beautiful building I have ever seen.  To make it even better, the sky was splashed with red, orange and yellow hues and the moon, which was full was rising just behind it.  Unfortunately, they are putting in a subway line, so you have to stand behind a fence and can’t see the Danube river.  Later that night I did a ruin bar pub crawl.

Second day in the city

With difficulty I woke up early after a crazy night to go on a walking tour of the city.  It started at 10:30 am.  It started at St. Stephens Basilica.  The Basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in Hungary, with the other being the Hungarian Parliament building.  They are the same height at 96m to represent equality between church and state.

Something I learned, Budapest is actually two cities divided. Buda7 Buda is the left side of the city and is the old town.  Here, Castle Hill is located along with many Roman ruins; Pest is the newer other side of the city.  For most of history the two sides were divided and never actually one.  It wasn’t until a bridge was built in 1849, funded by Count Szechenyi, did the two sides become connected.  Even then it took about another 30 years for the city to become unified.

The tour lasted a little over three hours and for once, it was a beautiful day.  We walked and stopped at places on the Pest side and then made our way to Castle Hill.  It’s kind of a misleading name because there’s not actually a castle on the hill.  There is a church called Mathias Church and the famous Fisherman’s Bastion and some other buildings.  Mathias Church is not monumental, but it is extremely beautiful.  It is built in the Gothic style in white stone, which contrasts amazingly with its beautifully decorated diamond shaped roof tiles in a range of colors.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a large white tower and terrace complex in front of the church and looks over the Pest side of the city.  It was completed in 1905 and gets its name from the fish market that used to be held there.  The tower section looks like a sand castle. Something else I learned was that you should touch all the statues in Budapest.  Each one has some certain charm or magical powers that you will get if you rub them.  For example, If you rub the policeman’s belly (pictured above) you will have good luck and if you rub his mustache you will make great love.  So touch them all.

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Mathias Church

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McDonalds

At the start of the tour I became friends with a kid named Brad who was also doing the tour.  He happened to also be staying at the same hostel as me.  After the tour was finished, we wandered around Castle Hill and walked through the Buda side of the city.  We ate lunch at a typical Hungarian place recommended by the guide.  We both had really good beef goulash with Hungarian pasta, which is awesome.  It’s like rice, but not.  After lunch, we stopped at Gyungati Station, a large wrought iron and glass train station built in the 19th century by Eiffel Company of Paris.  The building is surprisingly home to what is dubbed as the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world.  Afterwards we made our way to the Terror Museum.

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The Terror Museum or “House of Terror” was witness to and part of two shameful and tragic Periods during Hungary’s 20th century history.  In 1944, during the gruesome domination of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, the building was known as the “House of Loyalty” and was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis.  Then between 1945 and 1956, the communist terror organizations, the AVO and its successor took residence there.  The basement of the building was a prison and was the scene of torture and death of thousands of people.  The cellars remain; which makes it very unsettling to walk through; there was a room no bigger than a person; a padded room whose pads were faded and worn; solitary confinement, which was only big enough to kneel in and a room with some type of torture stand still in it.  It’s was a very uncomfortable somber feeling walking through that basement.  Overall, the museum was really well done and informative.  It commemorates the victims of terror, it also a memento, reminding us of the dreadful acts of terrorist dictatorships.  Somehow, after that experience, I took a short, but well needed nap in the hostel and went out later that night to a party in Szechenyi Bath.

Third day in the City

After another crazy night out, I got up, this time not too early, had Mexican food with my friend Robbie (he was staying in my dorm) and then we met Brad for the Communist walking tour at 2:30. Different than the tour I did on the second day, this one focused on….. Budapest’s communist history.  Now, I don’t really remember too much from the tour because there was so much information.   One thing I learned was that if you walk across the bridge statue by the Parliament building, you become a new person.  I attempted this and to this day I am still feeling the effects of my new found persona.

Buda10In a square known as Freedom square you will find the juxtaposition of buildings unlike anywhere in the world.  For one, the square is called Freedom Square; and in this square is one of the few remaining Soviet monuments; an obelisk crowned with a five pointed Communist star and on the base a crest showing the Soviet hammer and sickle.  It represents the soldiers in the Red Army who died from 1944-45 during the liberation of Budapest.  As you may guess, most Hungarians aren’t fond of the monument and want it torn down, but the government won’t do it.  Just last year, Putin visited the monument and placed wreaths at the base to commemorate the fallen soldiers.   Secondly, there is another statue on the other side of the park that is suppose to commemorate the victims of Nazi occupation; it was put up in the cover of darkness by the government.  The statue is of the Archangel Gabriel, an elongated figure with wings standing in front of a classical colonnade with some columns broken.  It is equally as despised as the communist statue and the people also want it removed.  The reason for this is because the government views itself as a victim during that time, while others believe they were a willing collaborator.  Finally, to tie Freedom Square together, right behind the communist statue is the US Embassy and for some reason a statue of Ronald Reagan.  After visiting Freedom Square on the tour, we stopped at the shoes monument.  It is located in front of the Parliament building next to the river.  It is a memorial to the Jews during WW2, who shot into the river.  The reason for shoes is because shoes were a commodity during the war, so they were forced to take them off before being murdered.    Each statue, is a copy of a pair from someone who was killed.  Simple, but extremely moving.  It is one of the most powerful memorials I have seen.

After the tour, I walked around the city with Brad (the kid I might the day before) and some other people I met.  We had intended to go to the top of the Basilica, but it was closed.  We wandered around and found some Easter markets.  Stopped at the Buda13Synagogue with intent to go inside, but it was also closed (due to Passover).  It is the largest one in Europe and one of the largest in the world.  Fun fact! I saw  both the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest synagogue in Europe, which is located in the town of Pilsen, Czech Republic.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t go into either one of them.  We then stumbled upon this really cool covered food truck area where we had a beer.  Later that night we went out to one of the ruin pubs.

Last day in the city

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On my last day I did some fun activities.  I should mention that my flight was a 6 am the next morning.  Robbie and I started the day by going to the only other communist statue in the city.  It is atop the hill in Buda.  In our condition, it was a struggle to get there, but we were well rewarded with amazing views of the city.  The reason why it’s still there and tolerated is because the people decided they liked the statue and had the flag with the communist star, which was in the women’s hands replaced with a feather; it’s now called the freedom statue.  After this, Robbie went back to the hostel to nap and I went to the Rudas Bath.  It One of the oldest in Hungary, it was built in 1550 during the time of Ottoman rule.  The main feature is an octagonal pool covered with a Turkish dome.  It featured smaller pools with various tempartures as well as a sauna of differing heat and steam rooms. It was extremely relaxing and I could Buda15have stayed there all day, if I weren’t hungover. I was dying of heat and dehydrating after about an hour and a half.  I also had to get back to the hostel by 6 because I was doing a beer bike with Robbie and some other people.

A beer bike, is a bike that can hold up to 14 people and a lot of beer.  We had 10 people and 40 liters of beer to drink in a magnificent and 2 hour tour around Budapest.  It was incredibly fun and I met some really cool people.  It finished at 8 and afterwards we went back to the hostel and met up with the hostel because they were going to an open mic night.  Robbie was pumped because he was going to preform.  We went to the bar, drank and I listened to others preform.  Robbie was amazing, the best one there and there were some good people.  Because my flight was at 6 am, I decided to not sleep and stay out until 3:30, which is when I left to go back to the hostel;  packed my things and take a 4 am taxi to the airport.  Coincidentally, one of the guys in my dorm, was taking the same flight back to Mardrid as me, so we shared a cab together.  Exhausted and drunk I boarded the plane; ending an amazing Semana Santa in Austria and Hungary.

Added Bonus: The pronunciation of Pest is like “pesht”, so Budapest is actually pronounced like “Budapesht.”  It blew my mind when I first heard it.