A Travellerspoint blog

No May Flowers

overcast 11 °C

Hi everyone. I'm sorry I've been so bad about posting lately. It's been a really busy time for me. Once I got back from Spring Break, I had four large papers and two big exams due in just over a month. I've turned in one of those papers and am currently working on another, but it's taking at toll on me. I've been having a hard time - the weather here is unseasonably cold, according to the Belgians I know, and I know all of my friends at home are finishing up their finals and getting ready for summer while all of my hard work is just beginning. I've been very homesick lately.

Yesterday, we took a field trip to the office where refugees apply for asylum in Belgium. It was in the World Trade Center towers near my residence, and we had a great view of the whole city. It was interesting to hear about how they process applications for asylum. It's something I would consider to be an interesting career someday. After seeing the formal side, we went to a housing facility for people who are waiting for their refugee status to be approved or denied. Depending on how many times they appeal the decision, they can live in places like the one we saw for up to two years. I expected it to be something like the homeless shelters I've visited in the US, but it was much, much nicer. They do their best to insure everyone has as much privacy as possible, and the residents can come and go as they please. Everyone we saw seemed to be happy and healthy - their situation here is probably much better than the one they came from. It was an interesting field trip, but also kind of draining. It was just another reminder of how lucky I am.

Posted by rawrnold 08:19 Archived in Belgium Comments (1)

Berlin

sunny

The first stop on our spring break trip was Berlin! It was amazing. The first night, we walked to a neighborhood out the city center where we were planning to meet up with our traveling companions (my roommate's good friend from home, and several of her friends who are studying in London). We ate dinner at a sidewalk cafe and watched people walk by as they went home from work or out for the evening. There was a park nearby full of children. It was adorable. I wanted to live there!

After dinner, we met up with our (soon to become) friends and went to an English reading at a bookstore. It was interesting to be around so many ex-patriates from American and the UK.

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Our hostel was right next to the East Berlin TV tower - the tallest free-standing tower in Europe. The Soviets built it near the wall as a way to show the West just how good things were under Communism (not).

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On our first full day in Berlin, we took a walking tour of the major sights, which was such a fantastic way to see the city. I got to see everything I wanted to see, all of the historical places. I loved it.

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The photos above are of Museum Island, in the middle of the Danube. The Royal Palace used to be located here, until the Nazis destroyed it. It wasn't actually part of the walking tour, so I don't know much about it.

The first stop on the walking tour was the Brandenburg Gate! It's an iconic symbol of Berlin. It used to stand right in the middle of the two walls that comprised the Berlin Wall.

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Some wildly inappropriate street performers - you could pay for a picture with them. I chose not to.

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The next stop was the memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust. It's located on a square right in the middle of the city - people drive by it everyday on their way to work. It's composed of cement blocks. The ones on the outside are flush to the ground, and as you approach the middle the blocks get higher and higher. It was really powerful. It was spooky to walk through the middle. The architect didn't give a detailed explanation of its meaning - it serves as a powerful reminder of the consequences of bigotry, just because it is such an unnerving structure. There was a museum located underneath, which we returned to the next day. I didn't take photographs in the museum, but it was very powerful as well. In one room, there was a recording playing of a woman's voice reciting the names and short biographies of Jews known to have been killed in the Holocaust. According to the citation, it would take over seven years to read all the names in that fashion. It was overwhelming to be there and listen.

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The walking tour took us the street corner where Hitler's bunker was located under the street during World War II. This manhole cover marks the spot where they burned Hitler's body after he committed suicide.

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A piece of the Berlin Wall, still standing in the city.

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A former Communist-era police car, made of cardboard. Don't ask me how that's supposed to work.

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A tourist trap set up where Checkpoint Charlie used to be.

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The square where the Nazis first burned books in 1933. There's an eerie memorial plaque in the middle. I was very unsettled at this point. A glass plate shows a view of empty bookshelves in the basement of the University which used to be housed on the square. There's also a plaque engraved with a quotation from Heinrich Heine, a German philosopher from the 18th century: "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people." The most unsettling part is that Heine died in 1856.

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On our second day, we waited in line for hours and climbed to the top of the Reichstag building, where the German Parliament sits. It was free to take an elevator to the roof and then walk up to the top of the glass dome, where you get a great view of Berlin.

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We spent three nights in Berlin, and on the fourth morning we had to catch an early bus to Prague. I took so many pictures that I plan on doing a separate post for each city we visited.

One final picture: this little bear is all over Berlin, painted in different ways. He represents the city, or something. He's their mascot you could say. Of course I had to have a picture.

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Posted by rawrnold 04.24.2010 00:17 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Spring Break

Tomorrow I am leaving for ten days in Central and Eastern Europe - Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest. Talk to you all when I get home!

Posted by rawrnold 16:31 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Ghent

semi-overcast 12 °C

Last weekend I went to Ghent with my friends Luiza, Christopher, and Jordana. Ghent is a town in Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, about half an hour northeast of Brussels by train. It's a small city with a lot of character. You can walk everywhere, and we did so, strolling along canals and eating delicious pastries.

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This is the train station.

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Luiza, Christopher, and Jordana, checking the map.

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There was construction everywhere, so we missed a lot of the beautiful scenery...

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This is inside one of Ghent's famous cathedrals. One of Jan Van Eyck's most famous works is housed here.

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I lit a candle.

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One of those canals I mentioned earlier.

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Castle!

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After lunch, we stopped at this little bakery called Julie's. I ate the most delicious white chocolate-Speculoos tart... I'm daydreaming about it right now.

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One of the squares in Ghent not obscured by construction. There was a little flea market taking place as we walked around. We walked all over the city - there are a lot of antique stores that are easy to get lost in. It was a pleasant day.

Posted by rawrnold 13:32 Archived in Belgium Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Krakow!

sunny -4 °C

This weekend, I went to Krakow, Poland, with some of my friends from Hendrix. It was a lot of fun, and really cheap - Poland doesn't use the euro. We ate really well and saw a lot of interesting things. The first day we were there (Friday), we didn't have much time before the sun set so we walked up the road from our hostel and saw a historical castle and church. The church is one where Pope John Paul II was cardinal before he became Pope. As the sun was setting, we walked through the old Jewish quarter of Krakow and went to a very interesting museum of Jewish culture in Europe.
On Saturday, we walked around the city and saw lots of interesting things before catching a bus out to Auschwitz. That was an amazing experience. We didn't have much time to spend there, but we hired a tour guide to make sure we saw as much as we could in the time that we had.
I took a ton of pictures, so bear with me.

Here are some shots of our hostel. This was my first time staying in a hostel and it was a lot of fun! We had free coffee in the morning and free beer at night, and it was very homey. It was a good first experience.

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Here are some shots of the castle! It was literally two blocks from our hostel. We climbed the hill just as the sun was setting. It was beautiful.

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This is the church where John Paul II presided as cardinal. We couldn't go inside, but it was exciting nonetheless.

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Here begin the pictures from Saturday morning. We got up, ate (free!) breakfast at our hostel, and walked around the historical market square and surrounding neighborhoods. It was strange to be in a city where I had absolutely no comprehension of the language. I can get by with my knowledge of French, but I have no idea how to pronounce anything in Polish. It was a nice experience though. Especially since most people we interacted with spoke English!

This is the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It's significant for some reason that I can't remember now. I think Chopin performed some of his pieces here? I don't know.

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Grunwald!

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A miniature model of Krakow. Those are my friends Michelle and Jordana in the background.

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As we walked past the Grunwald statue again, this little Polish child was reaching out to touch the hands of the dying man-statue on the front of the monument. I thought it was cute.

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This is the restaurant where we went to lunch. It sold only perogies, which are Polish dumplings filled with cheese and potatoes, meat, or cabbage. They were SO GOOD.

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After we came back from lunch, the market was in full swing in the square. I didn't buy anything, but it was fun to look. Poland is known for its Baltic amber and its glasswork, as well as a lot of Russian-esque nesting dolls and brightly colored scarves and shoes.

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At this point, we left Krakow and took a bus out to the museum at Auschwitz. I did take pictures on the grounds, but I'm not sure that it's entirely appropriate to upload them onto a blog. I want to be as respectful as possible to the memory of those who lost their lives their, as well as to the survivors. I plan on going through my pictures again to determine which are appropriate for posting. Check back soon.

Posted by rawrnold 13:11 Archived in Poland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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