Monday, January 21, 2013

The Last Leg: Prague

 A magnificent view of Prague Castle

The last leg of our Christmas Adventures. So sorry about the late posts but we have been pretty busy trying to finish up our semesters here in Oldenburg.

What to say about Prague: beautiful, magnificent, awe-inspiring, and friendly. We stayed at the Plus Hostel just outside of town. Ashley and I were accommodated very nicely in the female-only dorms while Alex, unfortunately, was placed in co-ed dorms. We took some quick showers and met in the lobby to commence our new plans. First: Explore.

 The Astronomical Clock!
     We started out just wandering around the city. We chose a random stop off the subway and walked around for a few hours. This way we were able to see some national monuments and some local hospitality. We stumbled upon the historic district which was so big! It was this giant town square with towering buildings and massive cathedrals. As we entered the Old Town Hall began its hourly entertainment: The Astronomical Clock. Every hour on the hour the Astronomical clock would begin to chime, play music, and rotate different images and sculptures which created a very cheery atmosphere. First installed around 1410 it comprises of 3 main parts: The astronomical dial that represents the positions of the sun and moon in the sky and displays various astronomical details; The "Walk of the Apostles" which hourly shows the figures of the Apostles rotating with a skeleton in front-right of them that represented death; finally, the calendar dial with medallions that represented the months. If you ever have the chance to visit Prague, this one is a must! From there we just continued to walk and explore various buildings, shoppes, and the remains of the Christmas Markets.

That night we participated in a Beer Tour of Prague. It was a fairly cheap tour where we were guided to 3 different local breweries, taught about how to make a brew and what makes a certain kind of brew, and then tried some of the local brews. Talk about a great Tour! The tour guide was hilarious and even drank a few of the beers with us. At the end we were presented with our "Beer Diplomas" and went on to explore a few more pubs on our own. :D

All of us with our Beer Diplomas!

Needless to say the following morning we were a bit hungover, but, we all agreed to champion the day! A rough start- no hot water in the Hostel. But we were given a free meal because of it. Talk about a bad morning start being hungover AND cold! This day we headed out to the Old Prague Castle and its little hill-town it is nestled in.

The inside of St. Vitus Cathedral

     On the way we read the map wrong and ended up a bit lost-but for the better. We stumbled on this vast and beautiful hidden view of the city. It was so beautiful that we stuck around for a bit and relaxed in the crisp air. After a half hour we made our way to the right path to the Castle. We took the Old Castle Stairs (which was more like a slope than stairs) and into the gates of the town. Talk about cool! The walk to the Cathedral and Castle took us through some side streets where we saw some of the older buildings now being put to use as souvenir shops and cafes. Then, behold! A huge and beautiful Gothic Cathedral- St. Vitus. Both inside and out were gorgeous and a rare sight to be seen. This Cathedral was founded in 1344 by Jan Lucembursky and was finished 600 years later in 1929- still built according to the original plans of Matthias of Aras.

The outside of St. Vitus Cathedral

Finally, we concluded our short (but filled) day by going to the Old Royal Palace. Built in the 16th century by and for the Bohemian kings and queens. It was a very simple castle but very charming. I would love to come back in the Spring when the flowers are in full bloom. I can only imagine what it all must have looked like while still in use by the Monarchy.

 Ash and the view we accidentally found!

    For the rest of our trip to Prague we simply walked, explored, ate, and shopped. We decided to take it easy because the rest of the trip was so heavy. But we all agreed of all the places we visited during our trip that we would have wanted to spend more time here.

Love and miss all of my family and friends back home.

XOXO Emily

Travel Tips:

If you are having trouble working out some issues with a friend, try going to a local pub and loosen up a bit with a drink (note: A drink: meaning 1, you do NOT want to get drunk and talk about it).

Ash and I found the U.S. Embassy!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Free time? What is that?

Pure Joy
So, this will be a little bit out of order. Emily will be posting about Prague soon, but we decided to tell you guys a bit about being back in school. A lot of it is my week, but I assure you that Emily is just as busy if not more than I am over here. This girl has papers to write, articles about movies to translate, trips to plan, and a melancholy best friend. How does she do it? I don't know, but I respect her for that. She puts up with so much and doesn't ask for too much, if anything, in return. Now this post is going to start off a little bit backwards, because I started writing this Saturday instead of today.
 Saturday has been awesome. I got to spend the day with two lovely ladies, Emily and Emma. It was nothing but a baking fest. I made a lovely white cake while Emily was playing with the fondant, making us flowers. Emma was doing a great job at entertaining us, telling us stories of home and school. I also made some passion-fruit cupcakes without a recipe. I just looked at all the ingredients I had and was just adding things as I saw fit. It was amazing! Today was an overall good day, something I desperately needed.
I’m not saying the week was bad, but I just wanted a break. It felt like nothing was going right or just standing still. Monday, we had an in class debate and since no one from my group wanted to talk. I had to start talking. That didn’t end well. So now I really dislike the class and the teacher after that. There is a reason I don’t talk in class and that is so I don’t make a fool out of myself. The rest of that day went pretty well. I just read some of my homework for my two new classes that started that day. Tuesday was nothing special either. Wake up for my 8 am, participate in class, learn a little bit about German grammar, text Emily during class, and make sure Shigeru didn’t fall asleep too often in class. I mean that was just the first 4 hours of the day. I was convinced, by Corey, to go to the Schützenweg Pinte, a student bar, for a drink or two. From recent experiences I don’t like to drink the day before a class. I did stick to my guns and have a drink. Cheers to being responsible.
Hamburg Freezers
Wednesday was a day of studying with everyone’s favorite Finn. That’s right I got to spend time with Markus! Jeremy, the always entertaining Australian guy, joined later. Studying with both of them for about 45 minutes was productive. Then it was lunch time. Who loves lunch? This girl especially when it is chicken nuggets. After that we were stuck trying to find a place to do homework. I swear people seem to remember that the library exists when it is close to finals time, but before then it seems to repel students. Anyways, we ended up sitting on the floor huddled near an electrical outlet. That was a fun time. It reminds me of sitting in Starbucks trying to work on homework with a bunch of friends and all of us huddled around electrical outlets sharing websites we were finding. Oh the days at NMU. After an eventful day in the library and class, the joys of learning about Modern old English, I got to have drinks with my co-blogger and best friend Emily. We had some pretty good laughs and just caught up on life after vacation. We both have been pretty busy with homework, friends, and some other things. Thursday was spent pretty much the same as Wednesday, except I just stayed home because I wasn’t feeling the best. However, Emily, Boris, Jonathan, Cedric, and Jan made it all better when I was dragged, yes dragged, to Boris’ house for a dinner party. I got to make a super yummy cauliflower oregano lemon soup that Cedric couldn’t get enough of it. It was pretty funny. “Anyone wants anymore?”, and then Cedric just takes the rest of the soup. We also got to pick on poor ole Cedric and our new friend Jan. A fun time was had by all that night. I mean how can you not with awesome company?
Emma's first flower!
Now on to Friday, what happened on Friday? Oh! Emily, Everardo, and I went to Familia! It was Taco night for Emily and she needed to pick up some taco stuff. It was an interesting adventure since we added another person to our grocery shopping event. Friday was also another international student’s birthday. He is originally from Mexico and he has been having trouble finding some of the stuff he needs to do some cooking. Em told him about our little trip and he joined. It was interesting since Familia is like a small Wal-mart for us. It has a little bit of everything. We just love going there to just see what  they have. After the shopping adventure we went our separate ways. I had to get ready for my ice hockey game in Hamburg, while Emily started her cooking. Sadly, because of hockey I missed out on an awesome taco night and friends. However, hockey was simply AMAZING! I went with two other Americans and it was all of our first German hockey game. It was Hamburg Freezers vs. Adler Mannheim. And can the Germans appreciate a fun sport. I almost thought it was a football (soccer) game with some of the things they were doing. It also helped that we had amazing seats. We were three rows from the ice. Like I said the game was amazing. I even got a new scarf.  I will never forget that, I mean they lit fireworks off in the arena!
Tara was beyond excited for her cake.
Even though it has been a bit of a busy week I couldn’t ask for more. I learned I have to time manage more. I discovered that I can make up my own recipes. I found out Emily is bomb at working with fondant and that Emma is great at rolling balls for the cake. I found out that people are protective of their friends and family. I got to see my little sister go into full on mamma bear mode over my nephew. I do have to say it was kind of funny to see that. After a long week I am looking forward towards a nice less chaotic week. Time to buckle down for exams and then it is time to travel again!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A peaceful Christmas in the Ore Mountains

Aren't we productive?

So our train to Dresden was pretty uncanny.  We didn’t leave Vienna until 10:30 pm, but that isn’t why the train was eerie.  It was our first night train and we were excited, don’t get me wrong. It was just that, our train was a Russian train at night. I think any train at night can be creepy. But you can imagine the amount of jokes we started to make. We didn’t get a sleeping cabin, bad idea, so we were stuck in a sitting position for the whole 10 ride. I had to joy of sitting next to a Czech couple so in love I thought they were going to make babies right there! They didn’t though, luckily. They just moved a lot to get comfy, something the rest of us couldn’t do. We really didn’t  get much sleep, because the ticket guy kept coming around. He would startle all of us and I felt bad for the others, Emily and Alex, since I was the one with the ticket and they could have continued sleeping.  I think after this ordeal  we have decided pay the extra cash, if it isn’t too bad, for a sleeping cabin.
Christmas market!
                Once we were in Dresden I had a feeling that none of us would be able to stay up, or even be functional. I know Emily wanted to go to the Christmas market there and I did too since it was the oldest, but there was no way I was going to be pleasant if I had to stay up.  When I suggested that we just headed straight for Freiberg to sleep everyone agreed with me.
The train to Freiberg wasn’t interesting, since it was still dark. What was interesting was that there was no public transportation, which we saw, by the train station. Emily asked the cashier in the little kiosk that is in the train station if there was and she said no.  Luckily one of the first things we saw once outside of the train station was a taxi, when I said public transport I meant a bus.  The taxi was nice enough to take us right to Benny’s building; we were using his apartment while he was gone. As soon as we stepped into the apartment we all just went to bed. Emily and I had the bed, so we had to climb a ladder to reach the loft. It was awesome to have a bird’s eye view of the place. I really want an apartment like that now! Alex got the couch, except for one night when Emily was skyping with her family.
                We were completely exhausted because we didn’t wake up until 1 pm. After that it was time to shower (we were all sorts of smelly and dirty), watch a movie, and message Benny on how to find the Freiberg Christmas market.  The Christmas market in Freiberg was super cool, and small. It was our first super tiny Christmas market. Well it wasn’t super tiny, but a bit smaller than the Oldenburg’s Christmas market.  They had this booth that sold nothing but chocolate, so you can guess who bought a lot of chocolate for some special people’s stockings. I also had some yummy Glühwein with blueberries in it. Sadly I didn’t get to try the strawberry one.
Our beautiful Christmas tree.
                Other than our adventure to the Christmas market and the grocery store, we didn’t do too much. We watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice in two days; we are still making LOTR references to each other. We also made a Christmas tree out of Benny’s little palm tree, I think we had too much time on our hands.  We also went through all of our movies we brought. That is over 12 hours of movies! One of the biggest reasons we watched so many movies is because our internet went down.  It was nice though to have no internet for a few days. I could access it on my phone, but I didn’t spend too much time on it. I did get to level 17 on my game. Wooo! Emily also beat her all time score on her Bejeweled game. We were very productive. I did make scalloped potatoes, cookies, and a cherry pie. Emily made yummy  and great chicken noodle soup that fed us for 2 days. Alex was a good sport with dealing with all of our mischief. I think it was the book Santa brought him that saved his sanity.
                On our last day in Germany, before we went to Prague, we got to see some of the countryside. It was simply breathtaking. The rolling hills, small streams here and there, small farms, small towns, the train on a bridge for a nice chunk of the trip, and so much more, seeing all this was amazing. It was what I thought Germany would look like, not like the flat north. Still love the north though! It was what I have read about in fairy tales, minus the train. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was one lovely train ride, plus there was no rain!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Vienna III- Enchantment at the Belvedere

 Gustav Klimts "The Kiss"
     The third day in Vienna was my favorite day. Why? Because we went to the Belvedere Castle and saw some beautiful and amazing pieces of art - including Gustav Klimts "The Kiss".

     Check out at the Wombats was at 10 am sharp and we were there about 8 to get one last good (and big) meal in before the days start. We took the subway to get to the Belvedere, but here is where the map misled us. It said the entrance to the Belvedere was only a short walk from the station but in fact we should have taken a tram to the entrance (a difference of a 20 minute walk (and goof-around time) to a 2 minute tram ride). Upon entrance to the Belvedere we immediately went to get our tickets before trying to see the grounds, Castle, or Christmas Markets. The tickets were not that pricey but it was very confusing because there are different parts to the Castle with its own ticket. So, if you wanted to see the entire Castle and its grounds then you had to buy 3 tickets. We only bought one ticket - the Upper Belvedere which allotted us into the main part of the castle and the museum.

Ash and I goofing around on the grounds at the Belvedere.

As we walked towards the front of the Castle we noticed the beautiful view it had with the grounds in front and a landscape of Vienna in the background. It was simply breath-taking. We took this moment to get a bunch of our photos in front of the Belvedere, the grounds, and the city-scape. We got some good photos and a bunch of goofy ones as well. Over all this took us about 30 minutes because we were having such fun.

 Ash and Alex in front of the Belvedere

     Upon entrance to the Castle we quickly had to ask if we could take non-flash photos. No, we could not: photos were strictly prohibited. Oh well, guess we would have to buy postcards as well as remember all of it. We first started in the Medieval Art section on the first floor. This featured original statues and works of art from all over Austria. Some of which were even the originals from the Castle itself. We moved upstairs to the Realism and Impressionism section of which we witnessed the famous work by Jaques Louis David "Napoleon at St. Bernhard". Next was the Marble Hall, this was once the main meeting room/entertainment room of the Palace. It was so beautiful that we sat down for a few minutes just to enjoy the view. We then ventured into the Baroque and Early 19th Century Art. Here was housed the largest collection of works by Gustav Klimts including "Judith" and "The Kiss". They were absolutely magnificent. I could have stood there and stared for hours. Upstairs was the final section housing Neoclassical and Romantic Art. Our entire walk through took about 2 hours.

 Jaques Louis Davids "Napoleon at St. Bernhard".

Seeing the art works in person was so unreal. Being an Art History major I have read, heard, and talked about these works of art. But seeing them there: huge, colorful, real. It was one of the best experiences so far.

After that, well, we not only visited the Christmas Market outside of the Belvedere but we also found a few others before we headed on the train to Dresden!

Love and Miss everyone,


Travel Tip:

None this time, maybe next!

The rear of the Belvedere where there was a Christmas Market.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Vienna II- Horses and Cathedrals

St. Stephan's Cathedral
     The second day in Vienna was a fascinating one. We woke up early so we could get a good start for the day. The Wombat Hostel in Vienna offered an breakfast consisting of fruit, bread, cheese, meats, veggies, cereal, yogurt, juices, and of course coffee and tea. It was a great start to an adventurous day.

     From there we headed out to the Spanish Riding School. The Spanish Riding school is a traditional riding school for Lipizzin horses and their riders. The riders begin as apprentices working in the stables and behind the scenes for about 4 years when they are promoted to second assistant. Here they are given an experienced horse for their own care and training for about more 4 years. They then graduate to Riders, here they are given an unbroken horse for them to raise and train; this is the most lengthy period for a rider because it will often take up to 6-8 years for their skills to fully develop and become natural. After they complete they become masters.

Alex at the Spanish School              
     Every morning the Seconds and Riders exercise the horses to keep them tame and in shape for their occasional performances. The riders are in full uniform everyday which consists of brown tailcoats with gold buttons, white buckskin breeches, white suede gloves, black top riding boots, and bicorne-style hats. The horses, during morning exercises and casual occasions, are not dressed but when they are they adorn gleaming gold straps and double bridles, gold plated breast plates, and buckskin saddles. There was one horse that was partly dressed for a performance and that horse looked very lovely. The morning exercises only last until 12:30, which we then snapped a quick (and prohibited) photo of Alex in front of an empty exercise stadium because this was his idea and he loves horses. Ash and I were unfamiliar with horses and the Spanish school. However, Alex was kind enough to explain ideas and concepts to us, answer any and all questions, and have patience if we did not understand something. All of us came out of there very happy and we all enjoyed it beyond measure.

 The Bakers at Demels Cafe

     So now it was the middle of the afternoon and we had no idea what to do. We were all hungry so we decided to find a nice cafe somewhere and have a good meal. We found this cute little cafe called Demels Cafe and we decided to try it. When we walked in it was super busy and we walked around until we came to this large glass wall where we could see into the bakery. They actually let you watch the bakers create, bake, and decorate the yummy goods that they offer! It was really cool and we eventually found a seat near the glass so we could watch while we ate. Plus, we got the most delicious food. We first ordered hot chocolate with whipped cream, both of which were made from scratch and by hand. YUM! I ordered Goulasch Soup which was heavenly! Ash ordered Caesar salad and Alex ordered Ricotta stuffed ravioli with tomato sauce. All of us were over taken by the amazing food as well as the fact we could watch the bakers make some beautiful creations!

Inside of St. Stephan's

      Afterwards we were heading to the Mozart Museum but were stopped (by me) because I wanted to go inside of St. Stephan's Cathedral. And good thing too because it was absolutely breathtaking. The Viennese consider this to be the symbol of the city and was originally a burial ground until 1732 when Emperor Karl VI banned any further burials for hygienic reasons. It took over 74 years to build (starting in the 1200's) and is built in true Gothic fashion with a few remodeling hints of early Baroque. We were walking around when we noticed one could go into the Catacombs for a tour. At first we thought we got in for free because there was a large group already down there about to commence with a guide. We learned that many of the emperors had their dead bodies divided between the 3 main churches of Vienna. The internal organs (minus the heart) was located in St. Stephan's, the hearts in St. Augustine's, and the bones in the Kapuziner Church. Also in the catacombs we saw some excavated mass tombs of victims throughout the ages, including victims of the plague. They excavated in total about 5 tombs before they halted excavations because the smell was so atrocious. At the end of the tour we found out we had to pay at the end of the tour, oh well, it was only 4,50 euros, not a bad price for an interesting tour.

An original staircase protected by glass. (St. Stephan's)

Well, after that we did not do much besides continue to walk around, look at Christmas markets, and had fun. So far, I was really glad to be on such an amazing and incredible Christmas Adventure.

Love much, Emily

Travel Tips:

Take lots and lots and LOTS of photos. You'll look back at them always and remember the good times (even if it is a week after). 

Write down your every day adventures on a post card for yourself. This will help you remember what all you did each and every day.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas travels: Wien/ Vienna I

A view of the Palace. Emily's photo

             So plenty has happened since our last post, we went on an adventure to Vienna, Wien, for three days. For Christmas we stayed at our friend Benny’s apartment while he went back home to Bremen. Then we were in Prague for a few days. Now we can’t talk about all the adventures we had or the sights we saw in one post, so we will at least cover the past week in two or more posts.
I got serenaded by Mozart!
                Our adventure to Vienna started on Wednesday the 19th. As soon as I finished my mid-term Emily, Alex, and I made our way to Hannover. We had our first couch surfing experience and can’t wait to have some more. Our host was very nice and generous, even made us dinner and took us to the tram stop to make sure we got on at 4 in the morning. The flight wasn’t bad to Vienna. I got to see the sun rise over the clouds and it is one sight I will never forget. It was simply amazing. After landing we found our way to the hostel and they were still serving breakfast! After eating a very fulfilling breakfast and a quick nap we sat down and planned what we would do during our time in Vienna. 
Alex and some horses
               Once that was all done we found our way to the nearest tram and went to Schönbrunn Palace to see their Christmas market, it was too late to take a tour since we were told it would be an all-day event. I do wish that we went to it since it looked just gorgeous, but the rest of the day was well spent. We decided to go to Stephansplatz where we saw Stephansdom, Stephan’s Cathedral.  Parts of it were under restoration, but you could still see most of it. Right next to the cathedral were horse draw carriage rides. Emily and I both agreed that this would be the perfect gift for Alex, because we couldn’t figure out what to get him. We had come up with several ideas, but none seemed right. However, when we saw the horses we just knew. He could see Vienna and be around his beloved four-legged creatures.
Christmas market by the Rathaus
                On the tour we saw a few Christmas markets, some cool buildings, and my terrified face. I can tell you this much: horses scare the living daylights out of me. I don’t know why I am terrified of them, I just am. Alex found this extremely funny. When we got on one tried to sniff me and I almost ran for the hills, well across the road.
Goofing around.
                After the tour we decided to have dinner and then head to the Christmas markets that we saw. We kind of stumbled upon the restaurant that we had dinner. It was down a random alley next to an antique shop. When we walked in there was no one, but a group of 12 or so people eating dinner. We didn’t know if it was a private event, since there were so few people, but the owner reassured us that it wasn’t. Alex even got to have his first taste of venison! I was downright shocked. How could you have never had venison? Emily and I had a nice dinner of pumpkin soup and chicken with a zesty potato salad. The atmosphere was awesome, until the music stopped. The music literally stopped and we didn’t know if we could continue to talk since we were the only ones there. The silence lasted about 10 minutes until we broke out into laughter.
Rotary in Wien!!!!
                Once dinner was done we decided to go hunt down the Christmas market by the Rathaus. We got a wee bit lost, but on the way we stumbled upon a nice surprise. It was a Rotary club sign, for those who know me I was just ecstatic. It took us about 8 failed picture attempts to finally get a decent on of me. I have this nasty habit of making faces when I should be serious. Rotary love.
                Upon finding the Christmas market, we just wandered around it. Mostly looking for an ATM, but sadly we didn’t find anything.  The market was very beautiful though. There were about 6 trees that they had lit up. Each tree had something different. One had candy canes while another had owls or presents. That was probably the only thing that made it stand out from any of the other Christmas markets we saw.
                Once all pictures were taken and everyone was happy with the outcome of the day we went back to our nice hostel. After such a long and busy day we just wanted to relax before bed.


Travel tip:
Don’t try to see everything in one day. Just take it easy and enjoy what you do get to see.