What a girl wants

In true Amanda Bynes style, I was off to the land of Harry Potter, Jane Austen, the Beatles, Shakespeare, James Bond, red telephone booths and funny accents….

Yes I was like a giddy schoolgirl as my Communications class headed off to London for the week. With my obsession with castles and royalty….I soon felt at home and was prepared to stalk William, Kate, and the rest of the royal family. Maybe more specifically Henry…in hopes to finally receive my official invite to join the Cambridge clan.

Our class started off with some bonding over a biking tour of the city. You can’t imagine how “excited” I was (refer back to Biking in Bornholm post…or any other entry explaining my love hate relationship with bicycles). However luckily London was FLAT, and the biking tour turned out to be quite enjoyable! It was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip. We roamed through where all of the Queens and Kings of the past and present have lived, taking the same trails as Queen Elizabeth and King Henry. We saw Buckingham and Kensington palace galore. Although in true style of my luck with bike rides, it began to rain towards the end of the tour. Either way we all still had a great time.

The next day we visited the well renowned Saatchi Gallery, which aims to provide publicity and space for contemporary unknown young artist to present their work. Afterwards we stuffed our faces at Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant, a famous British chef featured on food network. I probably gain about 10 pounds each time I travel with DIS thanks to them spoiling us with food. Not complaining though.

On our way to our tour at BBC, I was lucky enough to be interviewed with some of my classmates about our first kisses for a BBC podcast. The star treatment continued as we were soon given an exclusive look into the BBC newsroom, famous studios, and celebrity dressing rooms. One of my favorite things about the tour was finding out how diva like some stars can be. For instance, Mariah Carey requested puppies to play with before her interview and Jennifer Lopez refused to sit on anything that wasn’t white. Guess she’s not Jenny from the block anymore? We ended the entertaining tour with a friendly game of trivia amongst our class. After a close tie with Amelia, I was crowned the winner. As a prize I won an antique and very valuable BBC pen.

Later that night my friend Kate took us to an adorable London residential area where she grew up. She also brought us to this great family Italian restaurant, which use to be one of Princess Diana’s favorites! While in London I got to see my friends Zacc and Emma, which was awesome! Emma took me out to this exclusive club, and to our luck the recent Olympic crew gold medalist team joined us. They had just come from a party hosted by the Queen, so they were decked out in their Olympic gear. I finally got my chance to wear the Olympic gold!

I loved visiting 3 Fish in a tree while in London, which is a small yet very successful communication and creativity, design, and branding company. I enjoyed the family feel of the company, and they produced some amazing simple yet powerful designs for clients around the London area. They work great as a team, and everyone is expected to voice their opinion on every project. One thing that really stuck with me was when I asked about what they look for in an applicant. They emphasized that although your resume really matters, your personality might sometimes be the thing to get you the job.

One day our class took a day trip to Stonehenge and the Roman Baths. Both were  interesting and beautiful sites to see. It’s still a mystery why the stones stand in Stonehenge today. Some in our class would say aliens perhaps? I was particularly amazed by the well-reserved Roman Baths, which date back to the 19th century. Its naturally heated water makes it one of the seven natural wonders to see in the world.  Afterwards we had some time to explore the town of Bath, which was an absolutely beautiful small and quaint English city.

Visiting the Lords Cricket Ground later in the week gave me a glimpse back to my time spent studying abroad in Barbados. In both places cricket is extremely popular, however the cricket lifestyle in England is completely different. It’s an all day high-class event that can last up to 5 days. During the day people only take breaks for breakfast, tea, lunch, and even dinner.

Amongst studying the European trends in communications through business visits and class lectures, we were given the chance to also be a true tourist. Some of my favorites included Saint Paul’s church, where Princess Diana was married, as well as Shakespeare’s round opera house and Big Ben.

Abbey Road definitely wins for best touristy picture. Let me tell you a little about Abbey Road. It’s an actual road. So while tourist line up to get their perfect picture, there is ongoing traffic. You can imagine the chaos. I bet everyone in that neighborhood hates obnoxious Facebook picture alcoholics like us.

Favorite nighttime activity: seeing Mamma Mia on London Broadway! We treated ourselves to some show tickets. It was totally worth it!

Favorite meal: Chipotle. Finally got my Mexican fix. We traveled all over to London to find it, and no I’m not ashamed.

Between group tea dates, a London eye ride, and other shenanigans, our communications class really became a big family. DIS did a great job providing opportunities to see aspects of the London communication field that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Along with that, we had some great opportunities to site see, eat food we can’t afford, and get to know each other better. Towards the end of the trip we were totally delusional from exhaustion, which made for an entertaining last day in the big city.

Similar to the rest of my travels, even though I love them all it just reminds me of how much I REALLY love Copenhagen. London was so big and exciting, but a little overwhelming at times. I missed Copenhagen’s more livable small city feel. I also missed seeing the sun (the weather while in London was a tad rubbish), and I felt like I spent all my time on the tube. In London it’s ALL about the tube. Those Britts just have to keep calm and carry on…but I’ll stay in Copenhagen please!

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Stepping outside the classroom

Sorry it has been so long since my last post! DIS really knows how to keep you busy! One thing I really love about the DIS program is how they take what you learn in class, and then offer opportunities for you to receive hands on experiences beyond the textbook.

Being Jewish, it was an extremely special experience to travel with my holocaust and genocide class to Hamburg, Germany to explore and discuss the events that happened there during WWII.

I’ve obviously been taught about the holocaust for years, but actually stepping foot where some of these things took place was a somewhat eerie, yet important and an extremely special experience for me.

Our first stop was to Bullenhuser Damn School, where 20 Jewish children were killed in fear that they knew too much about the mental experiments forced upon them at Neuengamme concentration camp. Along with the children included the deaths of their four adult Jewish caretakers and six Red Army prisoners of war. Today the school is used as a kindergarten, however there are subtle monuments in place to remember the lives that were lost during this terrible incident. One of the most disturbing things I learned here was that the Nazi officers were forced to pull the children down while they were being hung since the children were too skinny from starvation. It’s always extra disturbing to learn about the innocent lives of children that were taken during these terrible events.

We also visited Nicolai Kirche, one of the only landmarks to survive the bombings that took place in Hamburg during the war, which is now used as a memorial to the death and destruction of WWII. Hamburg served as a strategic port city during the Nazi regime, thus making it a prime target for Allied bombings. Our teacher taught us about “Operation Commorach”, an Allied firestorm that resulted in the death of 46,000 Germans. Here we discussed that in Europe, it is seen as “taboo” to describe the Germans as victims during the war. However, many innocent German lives were lost during events similar to the one that took place in Hamburg.

Rubble and destruction in Germany was normal back then, and our teacher described moments as a child while traveling through Germany and witnessing all of the destruction and families without homes. Danish citizens could even see the fire from the bombings in Hamburg from the coast of Denmark. Millions of refugees from these bombings were left without help due to the fact that most countries refused to help Germany. Events like these are examples of the world hopefully learning from history, for strategic bombings on full cities do not take place today. It was definitely interesting to look at WWII through a totally different complex.

The most touching visit on the trip was to Neuengamme Concentration Camp, which was a forced labor camp used by the Nazis during the war. Our teacher, an amazing historian, took us around and gave us a private tour of the grounds with room for stories and reflection. The ride into the camp from our tour bus was extremely upsetting. While passing through cute and quaint towns, you suddenly enter the concentration camp gate. We learned that residents in these neighborhoods knew about the events that took place at the camps, and children even used the torture of prisoners as entertainment on their way home from school. While discovering more about the camp, our teacher helped us reflect on the daily dilemmas that campers faced. For example, since prisoners only received one piece of bread each morning, one would weigh the options of either eating it all at once, or saving one piece for inspiration to survive throughout the day. However, having that half piece of bread stolen was a constant worry…since food was a rare commodity. These simple decisions are things I know I will never be able to truly relate to, but it makes me feel so fortunate for my life today.

The conditions of the campers were completely unbearable. The little food they were given was rotten leftovers that the surrounding farmers refused to feed their pigs. What really hit me the most was touring the camp cellar. During air-raid alerts towards the end of the war, thousands of prisoners were herded into the cellar vaults. Many lost their lives in the resulting crush or at the hands of the SS during such alerts. While listening to interviews from surviving prisoners, these events were sometimes the most violent incidences that took place at camp. There weren’t many surviving prisoners left, with around 50% of the campers reaching their death during their stay at Neuengamme.

Although this wasn’t your typical “European travel vacation”, I feel so fortunate to have shared the experience of visiting these important places with a historian who is truly inspired by teaching and providing hands on experiences for his students. It will definitely be something I’ll never forget.

Austria’s biggest fan

Vienna was a great end to our amazing first week of independent travel. We saw many beautiful things, learned a few life lessons, met some more friendly Austrians (and Australians for that matter), got to know each other better, and most importantly I took a shot that was on fire.

Kelsey and Caroline, some of Kate’s friends, joined us in our hostel. I’m so glad that I was able to meet them, and we all had so much fun exploring the city together. Random side note: did you know that Kate and I are middle name twins? We both are the only people we know with the middle name Lillian. Just a fun fact.

Our first day in Vienna started off as an emotional roller coaster. I think that my obnoxious uploading of pictures proves how much I love my camera. Walking throughout Vienna is overwhelming, everything is so beautiful and you want a picture of everything. With us girls being so ridiculously good looking, you can only imagine how intensified this overwhelming factor was. Needless to say, and to make a long story short, my poor and innocent camera got caught in a crossfire of photo confusion. After being dropped, my lens unfortunately came to its tragic demise. Luckily with the help of some great friends, I avoided a total personal meltdown and made it my mission to find a Canon store. Literally the first Austrians we ran into informed us that there was a Canon store right up the road. What were the chances? Can’t help to think that the camera gods were looking down on me. The theme of Austrian friendliness helped to my advantage when the Canon storeowner gave me a discount on a new lens. I kept staying positive and was really thankful I still had a camera to use for the rest of the trip!

After the drama, we decided to relax at a cafe for lunch. The cafe ladies overheard about our rough day and gave us free strudel to try! Please Austrians…could you try to be any nicer?

Touring the State Opera House was probably my favorite thing about Vienna. I felt like I was living straight out of scenes from my favorite musical, The Phantom of the Opera. It was so cool to be roaming around where Mozart and Beethoven first played their famous concerts. Not only beautiful, but the opera house had some great stories. When first opened, they warmed the theater by using body heat from 200 marching soldiers two hours before show time. Eventually people complained of the smell.

Second favorite place: the Imperial Palace. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a girl that loves her a good castle. Well, so far, this was the most extravagant castle I have ever seen. The grounds were gorgeous, and we all were speechless as we wondered around the gardens.

On a different note, remember that time I said I took a shot that was on fire? That was at Travel Shack, a bar meant to be a common spot for people traveling through Vienna. Besides the fun and delicious shots of different flavors and “themes”, our time spent at Travel Shack added a lot to our culture immersion for the week. (I promise mom and dad!) We were able to meet a lot of people from all over the world, but especially Australians. Australians run wild throughout Europe, I don’t know how they all find so much time to travel. I’m jealous!

There was a running joke with my friends about my so called “southern charm”. With their northern background, we all started to realize some funny differences between one another. While they might seem a little more stand offish, they teased me for being too open when meeting people for the first time. Some might just say that I’m adorably friendly. And I argue that Amelia is just as friendly if the “stranger” happens to be a male and happens to have an Australian accent. Either way, my “southern charm” helped me make some great new friends in Vienna. My favorite was the owner of a coffee shop right down the road from our hostel. After a few days of friendly conversation, our short-lived friendship came to an end, with a surprise free croissant included. Gotta thank my mom for raising me with some southern charm, it sure can come in handy!

On our train ride back to Prague, I realized something. Babies bring everyone together. No matter where your from and what language you speak, babies have this special ability. In our train car, Amelia and I sat with a random variety of Czechs and Austrians. At first things were a little quiet and awkward. Then this one baby arrived. He was just so incredibly cute that during the rest of the five-hour train ride we all giggled and played with the baby together. Afterwards, although we didn’t speak the same language, we all had this weird closeness and shared a warm goodbye. In conclusion, I believe babies can solve world peace.

Even though it was sad that our travel break had to come to an end, we were very ready to return to our lives back in Copenhagen. My obsession with Copenhagen has come to the point where it was comforting to hear people speak Danish on our flight home. We were so happy once we landed on Denmark soil, even though I have to admit, I didn’t quite miss the weather. Either way, you just have to love Copenhagen.

So glad I made it back from traveling in one piece! Next adventure is Germany this weekend for my Holocaust class. Oh, and my parents come next week! Life couldn’t get better 🙂

The hills are aliveee

Salzburg, Austria is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life (so far). Salzburg is home to the birthplace of Mozart, where Sound of Music was filmed, Einstein did many presentations here, “Oh Holy Night” was written here, and it is even where Red Bull has their headquarters. (The owner of Red Bull lives in a castle in the middle of Salzburg, pretty random.)

Kate, Amelia, and I began our journey to Salzburg from Prague in true Sound of Music fashion. During our train ride, we decided to download the movie onto Kate’s iPad in order to study up for our tour the next day. Our train ride began with beautiful scenery; we were even fortunate enough to see the sun set over the rolling hills of Austria’s country side.

It was early on that we realized just how friendly Austrians are. The first friend we made was a train conductor, who sat down with us during part of our journey. He told us all about skiing and snowboarding in Austria, and even showed off pictures of his one American possession, a Harley motorcycle. From then on we referred to him as our Austrian father. We were lucky to have such friendly Austrians around during our journey, since our trip to Salzburg included jumping from five different trains with four connections. Sometimes we would get off one train, and have about three minutes to figure out how to get to the other one, at train stations in the middle of no where, where no one spoke English. Lets just say it was a journey. We were lucky enough to meet another friendly train conductor who offered to fill up our water bottles for free in between one of our connections (for those who don’t know…water can be an expensive commodity in Europe).

The Austrians kindness was key during a (now hilarious…then not so much) mistake we made during one of our train connections. We accidentally got off one stop early, and found ourselves in the middle of an industrial Austria town surrounded by factories. The only sign of civilization was a trucker bar around the corner. In need to make our next train connection, we ventured inside looking for help. The whole bar went silent as everyone stared at the over dressed lost Americans with luggage. It was basically straight out of a movie. Luckily the woman bartender called us a taxi immediately, and we were able to make it safely to our original destination. Definitely had to get some McDonald’s for comfort food once we arrived though. In the words of Amelia: “I came, I saw, and I conquered that bitch” #thuglife. I know we will never forget our journey to Linz train station.

Once we finally made it to Salzburg after a long day of traveling, we were warmly welcomed by an amazing hostel with great staff, awesome roommates from around the world, and even better we arrived just in time for happy hour. I know we needed it!

During our time in Salzburg we took the Sound of Music tour. Jealous? Figured you would be. During our trip we saw the largest fortress in central Europe, the oldest monastery in northern Europe, and amazing views of the Alps. It was refreshing to see the countryside, which was a unique experience to just traveling throughout European cities. There is so much history in Salzburg, and we were able to see things built in as early as the 12 century. Many of their buildings were an “imperial yellow”, a beautiful and popular color used for royal buildings in Austria.

Our Sound of Music tour guide loved us  (obviously, who wouldn’t). We were by far his favorite, and were always so enthusiastic about everything…including singing along to the Sound of Music soundtrack. It was fun to see where different scenes from the movie took place, and learn the true story behind the Von Trapp family. For example, in real life the Von Trapp family actually took a train to Italy in order to escape the Nazis. If they climbed over the mountains like in the movie, they would have ran right into one of Hitler’s properties. Funny side note: during one of our heart to hearts with our new best friend the tour guide, we found out he had only seen the movie twice! It’s ok; we still loved him and promised to keep it our little secret.

The tour not only focused on the movie, but also was a great way to learn more about the culture of Salzburg, and was the perfect transportation to view the absolutely breathtaking views of the countryside. One thing I found to be most interesting about Salzburg, and Austria in general, is the stone plaques placed throughout the city in exact places where the Nazis shot victims. They are used as a remembrance of victims from the Holocaust, and our tour guide emphasized how important the Austrians found it to not forget that dark part of their history. We all found this to be very touching.

The whole tour experience was magical (corny but true). We listened to the Sound of Music soundtrack and works of Mozart as we drove through the mountains and over the lakes. Saint Wolfgang Lake is the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen water so deep blue! The leaves were changing colors for fall, which just added to the beautiful landscape. I can see how Austria is known for their classical music with all this great inspirational scenery surrounding the town. It made all of the drama during our train ride adventures to Salzburg so incredibly worth it. At the end of our tour we were able to walk around Moon lake town, a small quaint area known for their apple strudel (best with vanilla ice-cream on top). We also were able to see the breathtaking church where the wedding scene from the Sound of Music took place.

After our tour I continued my role as the restaurant finder (goes perfectly with my obsession over food) and I took everyone to this hole in the wall family Italian restaurant. Fine, I will give some credit to my Lonely Planet travel book. Homemade pasta is made here every day! I ordered seafood pasta with white wine sauce…and complimented it with some white wine, of course. It was absolutely delicious!

Before we left we stopped by Mozart’s old apartment and hung out with him for a bit. He is pretty cool. (A little uptight though in my opinion.)

After our amazing experience in Austria, we could not wait to see what Vienna had in store for us!

Czech me out

Did you know Americans are some of the only ones to come up with “new names” for cities? This can make for a VERY confused traveler. (Praha is Prague, Wien is Vienna.) All I needed was more confusion, I was already pretty nervous about planning my first week of independent travel….hostel hopping throughout Europe. However I had some great friends to help, and we took off last week for Prague, Salzburg, and Vienna…with no idea of how many adventures there were in store!

Here are some excerpts and random thoughts from our fabulous time in Praha:

Tara, Amelia, and I started things off right with Czech Airlines… our complimentary wine made us feel so adult. Also, most legroom in a flight that I’ve EVER had. This was definitely a pleasant surprise. Once we arrived to the Czech Republic, we realized we were not in Denmark anymore. People talk on public transportation? There aren’t blonde Barbie dolls running around everywhere? Also…Prague has scary escalators! They are about four stories tall and go so fast. Something you can’t even explain without seeing them.

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Prague is a fairy tale city. Literally…I learned that lots of Disney World was based off Prague’s atmosphere and unreal architecture. I kind of felt like I was wondering around Bush Gardens. At night the bridge, castle, and city lights lit up over the water has been ranked one of the top most romantic places to go in the world. Now I can understand why the Czechs PDA like animals. One of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen was on Prague’s Charles Bridge, where couples monogram their initials onto a locket and leave it on the bridge. They then throw the key into the water, symbolizing that their love can never be broken. It was an amazing thing to see.

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Hostel hopping is an experience…(emphasis on the experience). Didn’t think I would ever be able to handle sharing bathrooms…and even bedrooms…with strangers. But it’s actually a really unique concept that somehow just kind of works. Our first night in Prague we had a middle aged couple as roommates. Caught us off guard at first but they were so nice and you have to give them props for traveling around Europe together at this point of their life, especially in hostels. I can only hope my future husband and I are as cool!

I miss traveling with my parents. Ok, ok I said it. I’d have them take care of money conversions, finding things on the map, figuring out a place to stay, and more any day. Amelia and I entered complete culture shock while trying to figure out buying a transportation pass for the Czech metro. You can only use coins? The machine doesn’t work? No one speaks English? Oh and not to mention the drama we had trying to purchase a train ticket to Salzburg thanks to the language barrier. Even though it was difficult we always figured it out every time, and it was obviously a great learning experience. And anyways, it was nothing a Starbucks couldn’t cure! (Yes Prague has Starbucks THANK GOD.)

The best news ever: The Czech Republic’s liquor prohibition ended literally JUST in time for our arrival. Shots all around! The restaurants were also making their drinks extra strong out of celebration. You know we weren’t complaining!

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One of my favorite things about Prague…we felt like we could afford things for once! No more expensive Copenhagen. We spoiled ourselves with delicious food…and basically ate like kings all weekend. Beer was cheaper than water. Water was cheap in general. And we could eat something more delicious than an eight-dollar sandwich (no offense Copenhagen). One night we spent around $15 American dollars each for two cosmopolitans, a traditional and delicious Czech dinner (Goulash- meat stew and potatoes, also known as the “Czech Big Mac”), and dessert. In addition we were in a beautiful candle lit dungeon restaurant. Don’t mind if I do!

During our time in Prague we were lucky enough to meet up with some of Tara’s friends who were studying abroad in the city. They showed us to the best restaurants and bars, and gave us a glimpse of Czech culture. Czechs are always late, which is SO unlike the Danes. Similar to the Danes, Czechs are very reserved until you meet them. However in my opinion, Danes in general are a lot warmer people. I missed my Danes!

A few things about the first bar we went to: I had the best beer in my life, which was grapefruit flavored. They constantly played Aerosmith, which really excited me, made me feel at home, and also made me really miss my mom.

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One day we headed to the Czech suburbs to watch our friend Tara’s cousin play on Prague’s baseball league. Talk about going back in time…all of the neighborhoods looked like they were stuck about 20 years ago. It was an experience for sure. However being at the game was great, and we had the greatest meal ever with beer and the best chicken I’ve had in Europe for a whopping four dollars. And our team won so we got to celebrate their championship status! We were lucky to be able to see a different side to Prague.

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Thanks to Tara’s cousin we were able to have our own personal tour guide while exploring the city. He showed us the Absinthe Museum, where I got a delicious Absinthe smoothie (flashback to my favorite movie Moulin Rouge). We saw the John Lennon expression wall, which was used for Czechs to express themselves during the communism period. Even though it was painted over every morning back then, people kept returning with beautiful artwork. Amelia wrote a great quote: “The shadow proves the sunshine”. With traveling Europe after her second torn ACL surgery, along with more I’ve learned as I’ve gotten to know her better, this quote really reflected how strong of a person she is. I can definitely live by this quote! She really is an inspiration…you just have got to love her (#thuglife). Lets not forget Kate, who you’ll hear more about it later post. She met us towards the end of our time in Prague and made our adventures even that much more amazing. I’ve been so lucky to be making such great friends.

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At night we went to the biggest club in central Europe, complete with 5 dance floors all bearing different themes (house music, radio hits, oldies, disco, ice bar, etc). It was like a Chuck E. Cheese for drunken adults. We obviously spent all of our time on the oldies floor. Even met some people that went to Chapel Hill! Can’t get over how small our world can be…

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My new mission: to find a Mexican restaurant in every European country I travel to. I know its pathetic but if you knew me and how much I love Mexican food, you’d understand. Thanks to my lonely planet travel guide I was able to find the BEST Mexican place, finally got my fix for some chicken enchiladas, and I was the happiest girl in the world.

I had some time to catch up with my Jewish heritage while in Prague. Prague has a whole “Jewish Quarter” section with some extremely interesting history that I was not aware of. The oldest Jewish cemetery exist here because during WWII, Hitler ordered for nothing to be bombed there in plans to turn it into a Jewish museum after his planned domination. It was great of my friends Kate and Amelia to come with me to check everything out.

Some things we missed about Copenhagen: quiet metro systems that don’t make you feel like your ear is about to burst, bikes, blondes, and fashion (bless their hearts but Czechs don’t compare to the fashionable Danes. It’s not the 80s anymore). Copenhagen has seriously become a security blanket, and with all of this traveling all of us realized just how much we consider it home.

Our motto for the trip, created by the one and only Amelia: YOPO! (Your only in Prague once). However, I mistakenly said POLO once…so that was kind of what we stuck to for the rest of the trip. Either way, we were only in Prague once and we defiantly made the most of our time there!

Keep an eye out for future posts on our time in Salzburg and Vienna…