May: Museums, Markets and Men in Black 3

Because I just love me some alliteration. And because, well, it's true. I've spent this month doing a project for my Text, Art, and Performance in London class (I'm actually quite proud of it!) that was due on the 18th, "studying" (or not) for a final exam on the 25th, and doing London-y things. Slowly but surely, everyone is finishing up the semester, and we're getting out and exploring the city. This wonderful, wonderful city.

MARKETS!

Columbia Road Flower Market. Amanda, Erin and I headed out early one Sunday to walk around Bethnal Green and see some pretty flowers. It was fairly small and super crowded -- coincidentally, we happened to go on the American Mother's Day, though that obviously didn't contribute to the crowds -- but the flowers were gorgeous!



The whole market was only a block or so long, so after we squeezed our way through, we took a spin around the neighborhood. There were some thrift-y outdoor shops, and then we stumbled across a little tearoom hidden in the back of a vintage store. It was absolutely precious and everything I've ever wanted in a tearoom, complete with mismatched china, reasonable prices, and delicious scones.



Borough Market. Ah, a foodie's paradise. I don't pretend to be a connoisseur, but I just really like food. All food, really. And Borough Market is literally nothing but food. From fresh fish to fresh fruit (and that alliteration was by accident!), Turkish delights to handmade Italian pasta, paella, fudge, goat's milk frozen yogurt, jam... hang on, gotta wipe the drool from my chin. Basically, it was fantastic. Luckily we went in the morning, before some stands were open, because it was seriously a problem. We (Amanda, Carly, Jen and I) got lunch there, and I don't even remember what mine was called, but it was cheese melted over potatoes served with baby pickles. HEAVEN.



I also got orange, carrot, and lemon juice, which was fabulously refreshing. And, a word to the wise? It's definitely smart to walk around Borough Market on a full stomach. Much less tempted to buy everything!

Camden Market. Definitely one of my favorites! Camden is a very dangerous place, simply because everything is wonderful and I don't have nearly enough money to satisfy my impulses. I came so close to buying a gorgeous silk scarf. And a gorgeous lacy dress. And a London 2012 shirt. And far too much jewelry to even begin to remember. I did get a bracelet, though, and a Union Jack pin to add to my collection. Oh, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.



I'd love to go back to Camden. It's really a collection of a bunch of markets, and Amanda had stage combat the afternoon we went so we had limited wandering time. Actually, that's probably for the best, otherwise who knows how much I would've spent! But the area is just so quirky and fun, and I really enjoyed just window shopping.

Covent Garden markets. It was a pretty quick run-through with Amanda, but Covent Garden is just so prettyyyy. Interestingly, I have fairly vivid memories from when I was there during my trip in 2004. I bought my mom her scarf there back in the day. Fun fact. She still wears it, so there's that. I think I need to go back again to get Nolan a souvenir. I saw something that was perfect, but I hesitated like an idiot. Alas!

MUSEUMS!

Science Museum. If the MythBusters could create a museum, this would definitely be it. On the day we went, Amanda and I were working on completing the Museum Challenge (Science, V&A, and Natural History museums in one day), so we only had two hours to browse, and I could've easily stayed double that. There was so much interactive stuff! Personality games and touch screens and information walls... it was great.



My favorite part, though, was a giant globe they have that displays photos of the earth taken by satellites. So, so cool!

V&A Museum. Everyone that's been here had been raving about this place, so my expectations were really high. I wasn't that blown away, though. I mean, it was a really good museum, but I felt no need to flail about it. There was some art, and some historical stuff, but what I enjoyed most was the exhibit on how clothes and fashion evolved through the centuries. And the giant theatre exhibit was really cool, too!



Natural History Museum. Amanda hadn't been yet, and I wanted to go back... but it was the end of our massively long day, so our stop was a quick one. We visited the area I'd missed on my first walk-through (the Earth Zone, which reminded me endlessly of AP Environmental!), and of course the giant animatronic T-Rex. That was all, but it was enjoyable and enough.

The Museum of London. I went to this one alone because I wanted to see the Olympics exhibit, but it turned out to not be open yet. Oops. I decided to stay anyway, and I'm really glad I did, because this is definitely one of the best museum I've been to! It traced the history of London from the time of the first settlers, which was super interesting. In my mind, London just sprang into existence. But obviously, there were native peoples that lived in huts and dealt with the flooding Thames. There was a walk-in recreation of one of these huts, and a mock-up of a street from Victorian times, and lots of videos you could sit and watch. Interactivity and opportunities to sit while still culturing yourself are my favorite qualities in a museum, and this one had both! It also doesn't hurt that my love for London knows no bounds.



Tate Britain. I wasn't sure what I was expecting from the Tate, but it surprised me. It was a lot more modern art than I thought it would be -- I mean, isn't that what the Tate Modern is for?? Some of it was really cool, but I just don't get modern art. And there really wasn't much of the museum. I think a lot of it was under construction or being renovated. So, I'm glad I can say I went and could cross it off my list, but I was a bit underwhelmed.



The rest of that day, however, was glorious. Amanda and I went to the museum and then meandered through the city to Hyde Park, where we had a picnic and bought ice cream, which we ate as we walked through the park and sat in a flower garden.



From there, we went to...

Harrod's. Oh come on, it's basically a museum! It's full of pretty things to look at that you have no hope of ever owning. Still, it's fun being a tourist, and the staff was friendly and didn't treat us like garbage because we were wearing sandals and jean shorts and looked vaguely sweaty. We each bought a washcloth for £4, both to get the Harrod's bag, and because they're embroidered with the Diamond Jubilee logo and the Harrod's logo. We walked around for a while, naturally spending most of our time with the Harry Potter toys and the real live puppies.



MEN IN BLACK 3!

Amanda and I went to yet another premiere, my fifth. :) It was actually quite a lovely experience, aside from the creepy guy behind me feeling me up repeatedly. We made some nice friends in the queue, got decent barrier spots, and there was even a DJ to entertain the crowd as the stars' arrival time got close. I only got one autograph, but Josh Brolin and Will Smith (!!!) were literally right in front of me. I was bummed that Emma Thompson didn't come over, but I wasn't too broken up about missing Nicole Scherzinger. :P



Also, I collected another poster, so that was a win. I'm 5/5! It's becoming a thing.

OTHER RANDOM THINGS THAT ARE NOT ALLITERATIVE!

Writing in Britain exhibit. Held, appropriately, at the British Library, this is basically an exhibit full of important British texts -- original manuscripts, authors' letters, etc. Really, Amanda, Carly and I only went because of the original manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I can now proudly say I have read the first page of The Journey from Platform 9 3/4 in JK Rowling's own handwriting, complete with cross-outs and edits. :)

All things East End. Okay, so not ALL things, but I've finally explored Mile End Park, and walked around in the graveyard that we've got on campus. Hah. Really, I had to.



My room attracts ladybugs. True story! Earlier this week I helped two back outside, one right after the other, and last night I helped one outside onto the windowsill and promptly noticed two more on my ceiling. I'll take this as a very, very good sign.

I have friends! Natasha just arrived in London for her summer internship, and we're gonna hang out tomorrow. Then Ali and Christina are both coming to visit and staying in my room at the same time. Because why not?! Let's see if my tiny room can hold three people.

I met an Olympian! But that, my friends, is a story for its own post. ;)

Post-Europe Olympic Things: Thank You, Steve Boyd

It's been about two weeks since I've gotten home from Copenhagen, and to be honest, I haven't done much. I took a few days to recover and allow my body to repair itself; there was a deadline mix-up for the final project of one of my classes, and I ended up working furiously for four hours to get it in on time; I saw Jessie Cave's play and got to meet her afterwards; and I saw Nat Tena's band play for free in St. Pancras Station, and got to meet her afterwards.

Other than that, though, my life has basically been consumed by two things: volunteering for the Olympics, and trying to figure out how I can keep doing so through the summer. I have so much availability now that I'm not in class that I'm picking up shifts left and right. I'm basically obsessed with it. The ceremonies are in rehearsals now, so I'm getting to see bits of what they look like, and have even been smiled at by Danny Boyle. It's beyond excellent. When I'm not there, I want to be.



...Which makes it even worse that I most likely won't get to do it this summer. I won't go into detail about my visa issues, but basically, the government of this country makes zero sense. I've been trying to get help, but the advice center at QM is so not helpful, and the American Embassy wouldn't even let me through security. Cool, guys. I'm doing what I want to do, and it looks like I'll have to give it up because the government sucks and nobody wants to give a straight answer to my questions. So, between all the highs and lows, my emotions have been all over the map.

Now, bear with me for a moment while I remind you of things I blogged about back in February. After the initial volunteer orientation, I said:

In one of our sessions, the guy leading us went year by year through the Summer Olympics and asked us our memories. When he got to 2004 (Athens), I raised my hand and said, "A lot of swimming, a lot of beautiful scenery, and in the closing ceremony, the giant torch was put out by a little girl like she was blowing a candle." He thought it was interesting, since they put on these massive performances, to see what people actually remember of them. :)

And my favorite quotes of the day:

"You are now a part of the center of the universe. As we like to say here, 'no pressure! There are only four billion people watching!'"

"The Olympics is the most complex peacetime venture. The only thing more complex than the Olympics is a war."

 Just... keep this in mind. Especially the underlined bit.

So anyway, this guy (Steve) is in charge of the mass movement team (which basically means he choreographs the movement of thousands of people), so I see him all the time, and he's always in and out of the office when us volunteers are up there helping out. During one of my shifts this week, he walks in, and the guy next to me says, "See him? He's a genius." He goes on to tell me he's worked on some big name movies (High School Musical 3, for example), so I laugh and say, "Oh my god, that's fantastic. I definitely need to look him up!"

After learning that his full name is Stephen Boyd, I hit the internet to see what I can see. I ended up learning that, yes, he did work on High School Musical 3... but he's also worked on every single Olympic Games since Barcelona in 1992. I found an article about him from his alma mater's newspaper, and allow me to quote it for a second here:

He was a corporate art director by 1999, but his day job wasn’t his dream job.
Even at UD, when professors talked to undergraduate Boyd about what he wanted after graduation, his answer was pinpoint-specific: Be a graphic designer for an Olympics.
“My whole family is jocks. My dad [Mike, AG ’62] was a scholarship football player. My mom [Jane, CHS ’60] was the only female phys. ed. major her whole four years of college. I grew up in a town where not much happened, so, when the Olympics came on, I was in heaven. When the 1984 Olympics in L.A. was televised, the venue designs were really exuberant and over-the-top garish. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s my way in.’ The Games ended the day before I started at Delaware.” He opted to major in visual communications. 
Boyd says his Delaware professors and his magazine bosses in Manhattan helped him move toward his dream. “It was just people understanding that I was someone with a desire to do something really specific. A lot of people just cut me a break for being young, dumb and excited,’’ Boyd says. 
He worked several jobs at once and made connections all over New York City. He worked weekends for free for an art director who led him on about a job at the 1992 Olympics, but Boyd says the guy blew town for Barcelona without him. Fortunately, a chance meeting with an old acquaintance on a Manhattan street just before the Games began led to a radio job at the Olympics. 
That first gig was a perfect low-pressure entrĂ©e to his dream, and it came with ringside seats to every Olympic event. Boyd was hooked. 
He went on to Lillehammer in 1994, Nagano in 1998, Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 and Salt Lake City in 2002. 
And, last year, in Athens, he literally ran part of the show. As a coordinating producer, Boyd made sure the presentation of the presidential speeches had proper pomp, athletes paraded without a hitch and the torchbearers made it to the cauldron without a glitch.

Excuse me for a moment while I go sob quietly in a corner.

This is the guy who thought it was interesting that I remembered the little girl from the Athens closing ceremony. He was there. He was running the show. This is the guy whose Mexico City '68 shirt I complimented after volunteer orientation. This is the guy who talked about the Olympics being the center of the universe and the most complex peacetime venture. He actually knows that they ARE. I found his website, which goes into more detail about what he's done -- he's behind the amazing audience light stunts in Vancouver, stage managed the presidential box in Torino, designed lanterns, placards, the massive logo quilt, and ran the audience stunts in Salt Lake City, etc. etc. etc. This guy, who walks around rehearsals in his neon pink mass movement team high-vis vest with a smile on his face, and makes sure the casting team volunteers are recognized and thanked by the performers that are rehearsing.


He was in charge of choreographing THAT.

I literally do not know how to deal with this information.

Steve has the life that I want. I am him when he was in college. I still don't think my advisor quite believes me when I tell him what I want to do, but he won't dissuade me from it because I'm "young, dumb, and excited." Except he knows I'm smart, so he really doesn't know what to think about my extreme single-mindedness. But Steve wanted to be involved with the Olympics, and he IS. Has been for 20 years. How's that for single-mindedness?

I wanted to cry as I was reading this. It just filled me with so much hope. Even if I have to leave this summer and miss working at the actual ceremonies, this doesn't have to be the end for me. I will have more opportunities. Steve is the proof.

Still kind of want to cry, actually. But for the first time since I've been dealing with this visa situation, that's a good thing. :)

Eurotrip, Part VI: Copenhagen

Woo, almost done! I'm exhausted just blogging about this trip. How the heck did I live through it?!

April 18th

Our second and final overnight train was actually quite enjoyable. We had "couchettes" this time, which are basically makeshift beds that fold out of the wall. Horizontal surfaces! Bed linens! Hooray! The train was divided into compartments of six, and we were in one with two other girls. They were Asian and didn't seem to speak English particularly well, and they weren't especially warm or friendly, but they kept to themselves. The train apparently stopped during the night due to a medical emergency (they had to get a doctor on board), so it was three hours delayed in arrival. I didn't mind, though, as it meant I had more time to sleep.

We got to Copenhagen at around 1, and had a bit of an adventure trying to buy travel passes (at 7-11?) and figure out how to get to our hostel. We got there eventually, though, and hung out for a bit, since we were there late enough that our room was ready. None of us really had an agenda there, so we planned on doing the Sandeman's tour the next day at 11, getting lunch (at 4 pm? Okay), and just wandering for a bit. We ate at this little Chinese/grill place and headed into the center of the city, stumbling across the design center and spending some time there. We also found Hans Christian Andersen!



The design center was really cool! There was a huge exhibit on new and innovative materials, and there were tons of things to touch and play with and sit on. Interactive stuff is the greatest!



We were going to explore some more afterwards, but it was cold and damp and we were hungry. So we walked back towards our hostel and got dinner at this little Italian/kebab place that we ate in our room. By the time 11:30 pm rolled around, seven people in our ten-person room were asleep. So weird.

April 19th

Our original plan of taking the 11:00 tour was scrapped upon getting a message from Erin; the four of them were arriving on a train at 10 that day, and had booked the tour for the next day. So we decided to do the tour with them instead, and waited at the hostel for them to get there before we started our day. They got there at around 11, fresh (or not) from an overnight train.

After some freshening up, we headed out into the gloriously beautiful weather. We walked to the center of the city and took a boat tour around the canals. I couldn't really hear the guide at all, but all I really wanted was to see things anyway, so it was good. It was awesome being in Copenhagen -- ten years after doing a project on Denmark in PAG! It's such an adorable city, with little cobblestone streets, canals, and pastel colored buildings.



When the tour finished up, we ate on the fly and went to the Carlsberg experience -- basically, an exhibit about their beer. As I still don't think beer is especially tasty, it wasn't the most fascinating place in the world, but the cost of admission got us two drinks each. Plus, horses!



We took a bus back to the city center to meet up with Cynthia, who's studying abroad in Copenhagen, after her class let out. Erin, Liz, and Angela left to do their own thing, while the rest of us went to see this super hippie area of town called Christiania and meet up with Lorraine's friend David. Christiania is really cool and equally as weird -- pot is legal there, and taking pictures isn't allowed... -- but at this point, my whole body hurt and was basically refusing to function until I'd eaten a decent meal.

Luckily, though, David's parents own a little restaurant... coincidentally the one we ate at for lunch on our first day! Hah. They made us a huge, delicious, free Chinese dinner. Seriously, I wanted to eat forever. It was so delicious!



We went back to the hostel after that to reconvene with the others. They decided to go out to a bar, but Amanda and I stayed in; my Achilles heel was bruised (because why not?) and obnoxiously painful, so I decided to save it for the walking tour.

April 20th

Whoa, last full day!

We woke up that morning intending to climb the round tower before the tour but, true to form, we took too long getting out the door. We ate breakfast on the go on our way to the town hall square. There were some science tents set up, so we looked into those and did some souvenir shopping before the tour started. I bought a pin and a keychain from a very lovely shop owner who jokingly assured me that my English was perfect and it sounded like I'd been practicing for years. He's my favorite! :)

Our tour guide was named Anna, and she's a Copenhagen native. This was the first time that our guide wasn't British! I really loved this tour. I knew so little about Copenhagen, so it was awesome to see some sights and learn some history. It's so beautiful there!







After the tour, Amanda, Liz, Lorraine, and Jen went to Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park. Angela, Erin and I, however, didn't want to spend that much money, so we went off on our own. We got lunch and pastries and did some people-watching before going (back) to Christiania. On the pot holiday, no less! I actually liked it much better this time around. I was less hungry and in much less pain, so I could actually enjoy myself. It was like the '70s reincarnated; people were smoking weed and playing music and lounging around in parks. It was bizarre, but once we got into the more residential areas, it was so nice.

Erin and Angela had to catch their train after that, so I wiled away some time on the pedestrian shopping street before meeting Jen, Amanda, and Cynthia in the square at 6:30 -- Lorraine and Liz had left to catch their flight already. We walked around for a bit and explored a market before getting dinner at the Italian place we'd eaten at on the first night. We brought the food and some cider back to the hostel, where we marathoned Endurance. No joke. My abroad friends have discovered it, and they actually think it's really cool, lol. I haven't watched it in so long, and it was bizarre seeing it again. In Copenhagen. What is life?

April 21st

I never got around to journaling about our last day. Heh. My diligence evaporated as soon as my feet touched down on British soil. :P

We had a fairly busy morning planned before we wanted to get to the airport, so we were out fairly early. It was gray and drizzly, but we were determined to finally climb the round tower. It was a giant ramp inside as opposed to stairs, which I've decided is a far superior way to climb a tower. Because of the clouds, the view from the top wasn't fantastic, but it got the job done. There was also an art exhibit inside, which was pretty neat.





By the time we got back to the ground, it was raining harder, and I was hood-less AND umbrella-less. But we pushed onwards, because I couldn't leave Copenhagen without taking this picture.



Ten years in the making! :')

Just like we started the trip at the Eiffel Tower, we ended the trip on a similarly iconic note at the Little Mermaid statue. The weather cleared up as we were walking there, thankfully, so it turned into a lovely spring day. Unsurprisingly there were hordes of tourists at the statue, so we only hung around there for a few minutes. I think that's all we really needed, though.



Then it was time to collect our bags from the hostel, and head off to the airport. Once we were there, we grabbed hotdogs for lunch to spend our remaining kroners. The flight was problem-less, and suddenly we were back in London, happily whipping our our Oyster cards and stopping for fish and chips on the way back to Queen Mary.



Overall?

Honestly, I wasn't expecting Copenhagen to have as much character as it does. I mean, an area of the city where pot is legal? It's such a great city, though I can understand why people say that it's boring. I don't think there's really a ton to do, and the amount of time we spent there was more than enough. That being said, it's such a nice city, and I'm SO glad I finally got to go! Check that off the bucket list! :)

EUROTRIP WRAP-UP

Well, I did it. I successfully backpacked across Europe for nearly three full weeks. None of my possessions were lost, and I was even manage to fit all my souvenirs in at the end. I came back to London carrying no more than I left with. I'm quite proud of myself! It was so difficult, and by the end I was sniffing my shirts to see which would be the least offensive to wear, but it was definitely the experience of a lifetime. I also collected an impressive list of injuries: bruised forehead in Paris, plantar fasciitis in Venice, bruised tailbone in Berlin, and bruised Achilles heel in Copenhagen. There was a good stretch in Germany where my plantar was fixed and my tailbone hadn't been hurt yet, but I was pretty much constantly in pain there for awhile. Wearing Converse on this trip was definitely poor decision making on my part. Luckily, though, the pain didn't take away from my enjoyment!

I hate to sound cliche, but I definitely learned a lot on this trip. I learned a lot about my own limits, both mental and physical, and about what I'm like as a person and a traveler. While taking this trip with friends was amazing, I think I'd really enjoy traveling alone -- I'm often at my happiest following a tour in complete silence, looking around and absorbing the sights and feeling of a city. Back in second grade, Ms. Prysock called me a sponge -- I definitely live up to that description when I'm out in a foreign city. I like to sit back and observe.

But I also learned that, while I absolutely loved seeing all these cities, I definitely picked the right place to study abroad. I was in London for nine days in 2004 and desperately wanted to come back ever since. Each city we visited was great, but I don't feel that kind of obsessive love for any of them. By the end, I was more than ready to get back to London, and finally getting on the tube after three long weeks away felt like coming home. :)


Eurotrip, Part V: Berlin

April 15th

So, the overnight train was definitely an experience, to say the least. The seats reclined pretty nicely, but I was on the aisle so I had nowhere to lean. And there was a man that snored all night, and I wanted to smother him to death. Seriously. It was loud and obnoxious and kept me up for hours. I think he had sleep apnea; every so often he'd sort of huff and wake himself up. And this is what I was thinking about as I blasted music in my ears to block it out and tried to go to sleep.

I did end up sleeping fairly well, all things considered. We got to Berlin at a little after 9. The directions to the hostel from the station were basically non-existent, so it was an adventure to find it. We eventually did, and checked in before asking the guy at the desk for directions to Mauer Park. I'd found out via Google that on Sundays, there's a massive flea market and outdoor karaoke. The guy was very impressed at how in-the-know we were! :) It was close enough to walk to, so we did. It was really, really cool! Berlin is such a ridiculously hipster city. We spent hours browsing, and I got a ring and a magnet featuring JFK and a doughnut (because all I could think of in Berlin was ICK BIN EIN BERLINER!). This place was seriously ridiculous, though. There was food and everything from furniture to bikes to jewelry to old army paraphernalia. I've never seen anything like it!



We hung around for a bit and watched some street performances in a little ampitheater after that. Honestly, they weren't good. Maybe we just don't understand German humor, though, because they certainly made a nice little profit after their acts! Then we climbed a hill to play on the swings at the top. We found out a day or so later that... uh... we'd actually been swinging in front of the Berlin wall. How were we supposed to know that "mauer" means "wall" in German?!



We went back to the hostel after that to get our room -- we were the only girls in a room with five guys. Slightly awkward, especially after seeing empty beer bottles and a condom on the floor. But it ended up being fine. We planned out the rest of the night before leaving to get dinner at this little burger stand. It was so good! The food was amazing (and it was great to have a meat other than sausage), and the atmosphere was really cool. It was a little shack under the train tracks where you stand around tables to eat. I really felt like I was getting a true Berlin experience.

After that, we decided to go see the Reichstag. It turned out that you can't get in unless you book three days in advance (boo), but the outside of the building is beautiful.



From there we went to see bits of what's left of the wall. It's so hard to believe that that whole situation was real. Building a wall to separate and isolate people seems to archaic -- how could this possibly have existed until so recently? It was quite a powerful experience to get to see it.



April 16th

You know that awkward moment where you run into four of your friends in the train station of a foreign country?

Liz, Lorraine, Erin, and Angela arrived in Berlin that morning, and we'd planned on meeting up and taking the 11:00 Sandeman's tour of the city together. But on our way there, we happened to run into each other at the train station. After the initial shock of "wait, what are YOU doing here?!"we all hugged and rejoiced at seeing some new familiar faces. After all, it was the two week-iversary of Amanda, Jen and I beginning our trip!

The tour was really enjoyable, even though our guide (Captain Rob) was no Fred. It was cool to learn about Berlin a bit from a non-Nazi perspective. The history of the city isn't all swastikas, and it's actually really fascinating. My favorite part was the stop we made at the memorial to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It's basically a grid of giant cement blocks. Rob gave us a few minutes to walk around in there, so I went on my own. It's a completely abstract concept, so what I was surprised to find is that it felt like being in a ghetto. Or, rather, what I imagine being in a ghetto would've felt like. It's hard to explain. You're just surrounded by concrete, and you're not entirely sure how to get out, and it's kind of claustrophobic and scary. But then you just follow a path to the end, and I found myself thinking, "oh, well that wasn't so hard." It's like walking in there gives you this whole different mindset.



We finished at around three, and got pretzels from a stand on the street (YOLO) and went to the DDR museum. At first I thought it was a museum about dance dance revolution, until I realized that Germany in German is Deutschland. So there, the German Democratic Republic is the Deutschland Democratic Republic (or whatever those words are in German. You get the idea). Basically, it was a museum about life in Communist Germany. We hear so much about the wall, yet so little about life behind it, so this was really interesting. And it was really interactive and hands-on, which is always a plus!

After that, we headed to what we thought was a chocolate museum but was actually a chocolate store with a little how-we-make-chocolate exhibit. I bought myself two interestingly flavored bars, one of which was cherry ice cream (I know, right?), and they were both delicious. We hung out there for a bit before returning to the section of the wall that we'd found the night before. The exhibit by it was open now, so we spent some time there.




By then we were absolutely freezing and hungry, so we adventured towards one of the places on Amanda's list. I got half a hen and a salad, which was both delicious and made me feel less fat! lol. But seriously. All that wurst in Munich, man.

Liz was desperate for some apple strudel, so we stopped at a bakery after that before going back to their hostel for a little while. We ate our respective dessert purchases (what was that about feeling less fat?) and did a little bit of planning for the next day... that was still continuing after we'd returned to our hostel via Facebook at 1 am.

April 17th

You know your day is going to be intense when you feel that it's okay to have currywurst for breakfast because you think you'll need the protein.

This means... a bike tour.

I legitimately don't remember the last time I rode a bike other than the stationary ones at the gym, so this was quite an interesting adventure. Couple that with the fact that my bike was also too tall for me, and, well, the tour became a lesson in learning how to give up on not looking ridiculous. It was a good exercise in letting go of any kind of ego I may have. My one consolation is that I improved over the course of those four hours, and eventually learned how to compensate for my overly large bike. That being said, though, it is now May 6th, and my tailbone has finally stopped hurting as of today.

Aside from my own trials and tribulations, it was a pretty cool tour. Our guide was very speedy, and I would've appreciated her being a little more accommodating to those of us that don't ride bikes for a living. I definitely prefer walking tours, because they go at a slower pace and allow me to actually take in my surroundings as opposed to spend the entire time worrying about falling and/or running over anybody and/or being run over myself. But we got to bike basically along the path of the wall, which would not have been walkable. We ended up back at Mauer Park, at the first place where the wall was opened (where it actually snowed for a minute), and at the final remaining original watch tower. It's run by an old man whose brother was one of the first people to be shot and killed trying to escape.





By the end of the tour, I basically couldn't sit down. While the hills gave me more trouble than I care to admit, my legs were thankfully not sore the next day. My butt, on the other hand, was another story. So I stood up on the train ride out to Olympic Stadium. Woo! Getting to go there was really awesome. Munich was really cool and all, but the Olympics in 1936 were just so full of history. Jesse Owens, and the potential boycott, and Hitler and his white supremacy, and Nazi propaganda... SO interesting. And the stadium itself is ridiculously cool!







The area is really set up for visitors, with informative signs and monuments and such. I love how these stadiums are just open, and you're free to walk around them!



We were supposed to meet up with the others at a pub called MacLaren's, which is the name of the pub on How I Met Your Mother. Due to the U2 being partially closed, though, we took ages to get to the stadium, so we were almost an hour late... and they weren't there. Whoops! The food was really good, though. It's a cute little place.

We went back to the hostel after that only to find out that the lounge was closed so, because we'd checked out, we had nowhere to hang out. So we awkwardly sat on the floor in the hall for a bit, and then in the lobby. We got to the train station ridiculously early (because at least they have benches there!), and luckily it wasn't too freezing. Then it was time to board our final train!

Overall?

I really, really love Berlin. It's not the most physically beautiful city because everything was basically destroyed in WWII, but there's just so much history there. It's really hard to explain, because I still feel like I don't know a ton about the city, yet there's still just something special about it. You could be walking down a very regular street, but when you see that narrow line of cobblestones, you know that that's where the Berlin wall once stood. If someone had been walking in the same path barely more than 20 years ago, they would've been shot. It's just bizarre, and gives everything a very significant feeling. "Oh, we're in East Berlin right now? Welp, couldn't be doing this 25 years ago."

And I gotta say, getting to see the Mauer Park market in all its glory added so much to those few days. It's one thing to learn about the history of a city, but it's quite another to experience its present-day culture firsthand. This was NOT a touristy thing to do, so we were literally surrounded by hipster German culture. I could've bought authentic Soviet-era pins bearing the hammer and sickle if I'd wanted to. We dug through a basket containing old photographs and official documents. We walked around drinking fresh squeezed orange juice that was more pulp than actual juice, and ate currywurst at a rickety little table. Hell, Amanda pushed me on a swing that was literally feet from the Berlin wall.

Honestly, I think Berlin had what Paris lacked: authenticity. Everything about Berlin is real. And it's awesome.


Eurotrip, Part IV: Munich

April 12th

The day started bright (well, dark) and early, as we had to catch a 6:20 am train from Lausanne to Zurich. This time, though, we timed things much better and had minimal time to wait in the station. This was all around a better travel day than the last one -- both trains were on time, and neither broke down. We were on one train to Zurich, and one train to Munich. We were better prepared with food this time as well. The only downer was having to pay eight Euros for the 20 minutes the train was in Austria that our Eurail pass didn't cover. Head, meet desk.

We got into Munich at around 1:30 and found the hostel pretty easily.  The room wasn't ready yet, so we left our stuff in the luggage room and went back to the station to reserve seats to Berlin and get public transportation passes; 23 Euros for three people for three days. I'm sorry, what? I LOVE GERMANY. We did some walking around after that, just stumbling across things. I knew basically zilch about Munich, but we found some cool old buildings and the English Gardens, which was really nice.





We went back to the hostel after our meandering to do some planning and look things up for dinner. We went to a place called Hofbrauhaus -- it's basically a fake Bavarian tourist trap, but the atmosphere was great and the food was delicious! They serve giant one-liter steins of beer, and between that and the sausage I ate, the night felt very German. Amanda and I split a Radler, which is a liter of beer mixed with lemonade. It was actually quite tasty! Leave it to Germany to find me a beer that doesn't make my lip curl and my nose wrinkle.

April 13th

Uh oh, Friday the 13th. Ironically, it might've been my favorite day of the trip, as I crossed two major things off of my unwritten bucket list. :)

We woke up that morning to discover that breakfast at this particular hostel was freaking amazing. It's included in the cost and actually featured food groups other than bread! Hooray! After stocking up on fruit and protein, our first stop was Dachau, the concentration camp. We caught an 11:00 tour, which was actually a little bit cheaper than getting an audio guide and walking around on your own, and in hindsight I can see why. It would've been a really cool experience to just wander alone through a concentration camp. If I ever get to go to another one, I think that's what I'll do. But the tour ended up being really good. The guide did a good job emphasizing that Germans were victims too, and he talked a lot about the political prisoners that were held at Dachau. The Germans weren't the bad guys; the Nazis were. It was a really, really good visit.








I always expected to be really moved by a concentration camp, and I was not disappointed. Even walking through there, it didn't feel real. Everything that went on there is just so hard to fathom. What I wasn't expecting, though, was how goosebumpy I got when I walked into the gas chamber. I almost didn't want to go in. It was a claustrophobic little room that people were murdered in. As a Jew, going in there felt really... wrong, almost. It was very powerful to walk in and be alive to walk out again.




Ironically, we had lunch in the cafeteria there afterwards before heading over to Olympic Park! Jen decided to go to the BMW museum instead (it's a mechanical engineer thing), but Amanda walked around with me. Thankfully, she's the type of person that gets this fangirly about things, so while she doesn't quite understand my obsession, she sympathizes. We got to go into the aquatic center before Olympic Stadium. There's a path that goes all the way around the top of the stadium, which was awesome, and you're allowed to just hang out in the stands. So we did!







After a while, we left to go find the Walk of Stars (which featured all four members of Bon Jovi, and the Undertaker), the summer curling area, and steps listing all the gold medal winners from the Games. I got really excited about the prospect of seeing Gary Hall Sr.'s name on there, but it wasn't. I know he won medals, but alas, no gold for him in Munich. But I love that the city has held onto their Olympic legacy for so long! The facilities are still in use, and there's plenty to do at the park.

We met up with Jen again afterwards, and went to the BMW exhibition because it was free. It would've been really cool if I was into cars, and was just full of little boys running around and hogging all the cars that could be sat in. Looks like I'll never sit in the drivers' seat of a BMW! :P I did really enjoy the architecture of the building, though. God, I'm such a nerd.

Departing completely from the night before, we went to an authentic Bavarian place for dinner. We were the youngest people in there by a solid 20 years, which meant we were definitely doing it right. And the food was amazing! On the way back to the hostel, we came across our favorite street musicians ever. They may play classical music, but they perform it. They engage the crowd and are absolutely hilarious. If I wasn't so broke, I would've given them so much money!

April 14th

By this point, I'd finally hit the stage where I was mentally burned out, so the day was a bit of a struggle to not be cranky. But it ended up being quite wonderful!

I woke up really bizarrely to my phone dying at 6 am, despite the fact that I'd charged it to 100% the night before. Real wake-up was at 8:30, and we stuffed ourselves at breakfast before checking out and storing our stuff. We headed right out to Marienplatz to see the 11 am Glockenspiel show -- basically, a giant cuckoo clock. It was a very Bavarian experience, and pretty neat.

From there, we went to the Pinakothek Museum. The guy at the desk was an ass and didn't accept my Cane Card OR my UK student visa as proof that I'm a student, so I had to pay the full price of admission. I was furious, but the museum ended up being really good. Audio guides were included that basically analyzed the paintings, pointed out details, and put them in context. They were fabulous! I hate looking at art without knowing what it is I'm looking at, but when there's a paragraph to read, I always find myself just reading it and not even looking at the painting. So this was a total win. We went through an entire wing of the museum before calling it quits for lunch.



We found a cute little market and walked around for a bit before getting schmaltznudel (or something like that) -- aka fried dough covered in sugar. Holy foodgasm, Batman! We got some wurst with sauerkraut afterwards, and then didn't really have anything else left that we wanted to do. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering into things, including a toy museum that Jen got super excited about, a little art gallery, and some souvenir shops.

For dinner we went back to Hofbrauhaus. We weren't remotely hungry yet, but we got working on our liters of beer. Eventually we all got Brockwurst and potato salad (delicious), and I DID finish my liter of beer/lemonade! It was quite the achievement.



We hung out there for awhile before heading out and finding our favorite street musicians again. :) They're seriously magnetic, so we watched one of their "sets" before dragging ourselves and our food babies back to the hostel. We plugged our electronics in for a final time before getting to the train station in plenty of time for our first overnight train adventure!

Overall?

I really wish we'd gotten to take a tour in Munich, because I still feel like I know so little about it. But I got to run around in an empty Olympic Stadium and visit a concentration camp. Check and check! That alone made it a more than worthwhile stop on our trip. It was also really cool to get some Bavarian culture in before going to Berlin. I mean, it's not in every city that lederhosen shops are a normal occurrence!