Poland: An Adventure of Discovery for Me

The Palace of Culture and Science at night

The Palace of Culture and Science at night

For the past eight days I travelled Poland, visiting three major cities with friends I had made while studying in Berlin at the Humboldt University. During the trip, many laughs and fun times were had and overall it was a great week excursion. Wrocław, Krakow and Warsaw were the cities we visited and this entire trip opened up a whole new country, culture and history to me, all of which I did not know much about before. Oh and of course the food! But I will get to this part later on.

Perogies!

Perogies!

We took coach buses for our travels. In particular, the company ‘Polski Bus’ took us everywhere we needed to go. All the buses were fully loaded and super cheap. For example, our bus ride from Wrocław to Krakow, which lasted about four hours, cost only 1 złoty, which in conversion to the Euro, is only 25 cents! It even included complementary snacks and drinks along the way! This comparison speaks to the entirety of Poland, I would say. The prices of food, drinks and city transportation for example are inexpensive in contrast to many other cities (Europe and North America) that I have been to.

Ordering my obwarzanek from a typical street vendor

Ordering my obwarzanek from a typical street vendor

We first spent one night in a hostel in Wrocław. We stayed in the city centre which was surrounded by many historical buildings and rivers. We visited many old churches and landmarks, finding our way around with a tourist map. We then spent three nights in a hostel in Krakow, the second largest city in Poland. The hostel was called “Let’s Rock Hostel” and I would really recommend it to anyone who wants to visit Krakow. The staff were extremely friendly and always there to help you with anything you needed. There were even themed evenings; for example we drank sangria one night and ate waffles another.

Krakow- Cathedral beside the Wawel Castle

Krakow- famous cathedral beside the Wawel Castle

On one day, we went on an excursion to the Auschwitz concentration camps. We took a bus from the main station and the journey was about an hour and a half. I visited two concentration camps before, but nothing compared to this one. The content was heavy and the themes were deep. The entire set up of the experience was very well done, with documentation, artifacts, authentic buildings, information panels and pictures explaining the camp’s history. If anyone plans to visit in the future, it takes a whole day; there is so much to see.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

On another day, we jumped on a free walking tour of the city. The entire history of Krakow was narrated to us and we visited the most important sights to see such as the main square, Wawel Castle and St. Mary’s Basilica. Walking tours are great- you get to walk around and get some exercise, breath fresh air, enjoy the sights, all while having someone explain to you the history of the city, pointing out important landmarks. Afterwards, we went to Oskar Schindler’s former factory, which was turned into a museum dedicated to Krakow’s history of German occupation during the Second World War. In particular, I enjoyed the section about Schindler himself and his role within the city. Like from the movie, “Schindler’s List”, pictures and documentations were given about the history of the man who saved the lives of over 1000 Jews through the running of his factory.

The Palace of Culture and Science- beautiful architecture

The Palace of Culture and Science- beautiful architecture

One viewpoint from atop the Palace of Culture and Science

One viewpoint from atop the Palace of Culture and Science

Finally, the last stop of our tour took us to the capital city of Poland, Warsaw. With much thanks to a Polish friend of ours who also studied abroad for the first semester in Berlin and who currently lives and studies in Warsaw, we were able to stay at her apartment for the duration of the trip. We all did a free walking tour again, which allowed us to visit some of the important sights of the old city. Our guide was hilarious, so it made the experience that much more enjoyable. We visited the top of the ‘Palace of Culture and Science’, a building built by the Soviets in 1955. The architecture was impressive and being located within the centre of the city, it offered an amazing 360 degree view of Warsaw; definitely a highlight of the week. We also went to the ‘Warsaw Uprising Museum’. It was very well displayed and the content was great; weapons, artifacts, movie clips and documents were displayed. There was even a full-sized bomber plane hung up on the ceiling! The entire experience there reminded me of our ‘Canadian War Museum’ in Ottawa. This museum is a must if anyone ever visits Warsaw. It speaks directly to the courage and strength of the Polish fighting spirit during the German occupation of World War Two.

A massive memorial/list of names of the Polish insurgent soldiers killed during the Warsaw Uprising

A massive memorial/list of names of the Polish insurgent soldiers killed during the Warsaw Uprising

And again thanks to our host friend, I was introduced to the amazing world of Polish food! This part of my Polish experience was one of the best portions (no pun intended). Our first stop was at a traditional Polish restaurant which served authentic Polish cuisine. Here I ate perogies and they were absolutely phenomenal. It is a sort of dumpling which is made of dough and the inside is filled with different ingredients ranging from meat, to a type of potato-like filling, to cabbage, to cheese. They are boiled and then fried in butter: pure deliciousness! I also had a hot beer with this meal (shots of flavour such as ginger and raspberry could be added upon request).  It was alright, but I think next time I will stick to a good old ice cold beer 😉

Also, before when I was in Krakow, I also ate an obwarzanek, which is pretty much a pretzel. They are a known specialty within the city, as the street vendors were literally everywhere to be seen. It was really cheap and fresh. Back now to Warsaw, we went again to the restaurant but this time I ate the recommended flaki. It is a beef soup, which literally translated, means “guts”. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound too appetizing, but it was amazing. Let the taste do the talking, not the sound or impression of the ingredients! Finally, we all tried zapiekanka, which is sort of like a long-shaped baked pizza made with mushrooms and cheese. I would say it is more a take-out, fast eating type of food. Again, it was inexpensive, yet very filling and of course, like all the food I tried, truly appetizing.

My zapiekanka. This one had bacon and garlic sauce

My zapiekanka. This one had bacon and garlic sauce

Flaki

Flaki

So Poland, what can I say? You showed me a country rich in culture and you have a lot to offer to all visitors. I had a great time this past week and it didn’t hurt the wallet at all. I tasted amazing food and learned a lot about history firsthand through the museums we visited and the tours we took part in. Before I head back to Canada, I will visit Poland again because I had such a good time. Furthermore, I will definitely be going to the annual Polish Festival that we have in Toronto- I always heard about it, but never went. I just did some research, and it is actually the largest Polish festival held in North America. I need to get my fill of perogies somehow!

My first zapiekanka was so delicious, I ordered another one: salami and Mexican sauce this time

My first zapiekanka was so delicious, I ordered another one: salami and Mexican sauce this time

Detour to Central Europe

Last week was reading week for all university students in France, which inevitably meant I went travelling instead of getting a head start on all my assignments.

My friends and I decided to visit Prague, Vienna and Budapest. 3 cities in 5 days was not a good idea. Especially because we refused to use public transit and walked for 9 hours each day trying to see everything there is to see in the city. We were completely exhausted by day 3, but persevered and climbed the hills at Budapest. Twice.

Prague as seen from the steps leading to Prague Castle

Prague as seen from the steps leading to Prague Castle

Seeing the actual windows where the defenestration of Prague occurred at Prague Castle was amazing. I had vowed to see it with my own eyes when I learned about it in my grade 11 world history class. 4 years later, it was surreal to stand next to it and look out at the steep drop below.

Prague - my first trdelnik. It's Hungarian in origin, but every other street stand in Prague sells them,

Prague – my first trdelnik. Every other street stand in Prague sells them, and they are absolutely delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial view of Vienna from the top of the St.Stephen's Cathedral.

Aerial view of Vienna from the top of the St.Stephen’s Cathedral. Somehow climbing seems to have become the theme of this trip.

 

 

The first thing I noticed about Vienna was how clean it was. I did not have to look down at my steps every few minutes for fear that I might step in dog poop (I’m judging you, Paris). The second was how white the buildings are. The aerial view shows a much more colourful Vienna than at street-level. The contrast is big when I was so used to the pastel-coloured buildings in Prague.

Vienna

Graben street, Vienna

 

Biggest tip I can give about Budapest is to wait to exchange your currency until you are in city proper. There are currency exchange stores everywhere, and their rates are extraordinarily good. Do not exchange your currency at the train station or the airport, I learned the hard way how much of a rip-off that was (1 euro was worth 310 forint in city center, while it was only worth 240 forint at the train station. You do the math).

Buda Castle as seen from the Chain Bridge

Buda Castle as seen from the Chain Bridge

As tiring as the trip was, I had an amazing time. With only 6 weeks left in my exchange, this is probably my last outside-of-France trip, and it is well worth it.

Budapest seen from Buda Castle

Budapest seen from Buda Castle

Dublin

This past week I had a few days off from uni so I decided to visit my friend Kat in Dublin. She visited me a few weeks earlier in London so I happily returned the favour. She’s from U of T as well and she’s doing a semester abroad at University College Dublin. I can honestly say the city Dublin was not what I expected. I don’t know exactly what I thought it was going to be like, but I remember thinking it was a lot bigger and nicer.

Even though it’s still February, everything is starting to bloom already. UCD is a campus uni with lots of modern buildings and green space. There are even a few ponds – it’s all quite lovely!

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Making friends with the swans

I think I would have been perfectly happy doing an exchange at UCD. To anyone considering it, it has my seal of approval. And I’m a stranger on the Internet, so I know that must mean a lot.

Whilst there, I also visited Trinity College Dublin, famous for its library containing the Book of Kells. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the book, but the library itself is stunning. It reminded me of the Hogwarts, so naturally, I never wanted to leave.

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I would have happily sat and read in this place… but sadly, the library is no longer in use and all the books are untouchable archives.

The next day, we hit the streets. I think the best way I can describe Dublin is hip. I would love to spend at least a month there just so I can try out all of the restaurants, cafes, and pubs. This is one of the more famous Irish pubs in the city:

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We also wandered into the Irish Parliament house…

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And a medieval church…

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The best places are always the ones you don’t expect to go to.

And of course, before leaving Dublin, I made Kat take me to a proper Irish pub, with live music sung by a cute musician and all. I had a pint of Guinness and regretted it sorely. I don’t know how people drink that stuff (sorry Ireland).

Overall, Dublin was a blast, and if anyone’s considering visiting – you won’t regret it.

Next stop, Berlin!

Talk soon,

Veronika

Canadians in Berlin

Proud to be canadian_thumb[1]

Not having access to television sort of put me behind following the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I was not really into the ‘Olympic spirit’ this time around. Usually I am always one for the Olympic Games and I am an avid follower every two years. Whatever following that I did do was either watching the replays on the internet or following my CBC mobile app with updates whenever possible. Of course, I did manage to watch the most important event of the entire games: ice hockey. For us Canadians, it all comes down to that. I was so happy and proud when both our men’s and women’s hockey teams won the Gold medal.

Yet there was one event, the men’s gold medal hockey game, which I will never forget in my life. I took a German friend of mine to a sports bar in the afternoon (not as early as 7am in Toronto, good on ya for doing it) to catch the most important hockey game for all Canadians, which arises only once every four years. As I walked in the front door, I forgot for a second that I was in Berlin, Germany- a country thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean away from my home. I thought I entered a Canadian bar.

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First of all, I was wearing my Toronto Maple Leafs toque. As soon as I entered, some Canadian dude, who already had a few to drink, put his arm around me and yelled out: “EH buddy, awesome toque you got on there, EHHH!” (the “eh” was of course accented for the joke between us two). I was not expecting such a welcome. I honestly thought I would merely arrive at some empty German sports bar in the middle of a Sunday afternoon to watch a sport that is not so popular (it’s all about Soccer here).

I arrived halfway through the first period, so the whole atmosphere was already in full swing. I walked into a sea of red and white. There were people with Canadian Flags wrapped around them, Roots jackets and sweaters, hockey jerseys, red plaid shirts and a Blue Jays ball cap. Hearing phrases around me such as “that’s a beauty Owen Nolan retro jersey you got on there!” or “oh yah bud, that was a big period for the boys eh!” or “I went to the Winter Classic this year!” really made me feel at home.

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... and a lonely Swedish fan

… and a lonely Swedish fan

Most of the people watching the game were from Canada. I met a group of travelling students from Toronto and we immediately struck up a conversation. From who I talked to, there were Canadians from Edmonton, Montreal and British Columbia. The amazing part, which I found really cool, is that some of the waiters and bar tenders were wearing something that was red and white or something that said ‘Canada’ on it. Quite a few native Germans wore Team Canada hockey jerseys too! To see my home country being so embraced and welcomed abroad warmed my heart. It was one moment in my life where I felt so proud to be a Canadian. Yes, I know that many of the spectators were in fact Canadian and hence the booming atmosphere, but the way we were greeted and supported by the locals was the best part of the whole experience.

As the game was winding down and we had the game in the bag with a 3-0 lead over the Swedes, our national anthem ‘O Canada’ suddenly erupted from us all within the bar. Singing ‘O Canada’ in Berlin with many other people on a Sunday afternoon was something I will never forget. I got the goosebumps during the entire song.

There is one thing I can say for sure about my year abroad thus far. As ironic as it sounds, being away from Canada hasn’t brought me further away from who I am, but rather brought me closer to my country. I am learning more about myself and Canada in these past months than I ever did living in Toronto for the past 21 years. People actually notice that I sometimes, unintentionally, throw in an “Eh” in my sentences. Many don’t know the rules of ice hockey, which is understandable, but knowing them makes me feel uniquely Canadian. I have, no joke, been told that I say “aboot” and not “about”, something I never would have noticed myself. I know what real ‘Canadian bacon’ tastes like and I miss it. I know what a ‘Double-Double’ is from Tim Horton’s. Being recognized as the guy from the huge land of Canada with vast wilderness and brutal winters makes me feel somehow special.

Flag raising ceremony

Flag raising ceremony

I would never trade such experiences away for anything and I am sure that I will continue to learn more about who I am and where I come from. To end this blog post and to echo the famous Molson Canadian beer slogan:

I AM CANADIAN!

The Arts in Berlin: An Attempt to Scratch the Surface

One blog post simply cannot even come close to describing the art scene here in Berlin. Berlin has tons of museums, theatres, galleries, concert halls, classical events, performances, street art, concerts, special exhibitions … the list is literally endless. To cover and to see it all would be impossible no matter how long someone stays in Berlin, mostly due to the fact that this scene is always changing, always evolving. With this blog I will briefly discuss three events and how they relate to my personal experience with what I have seen in here so far in relation to the arts.

The Berlinale logo and I

The Berlinale logo and I

Action on the Red Carpet

Action on the Red Carpet

Firstly, this past week was the start of the famous Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. Like TIFF, Toronto’s International Film Festival, the Berlinale is one of the world’s leading film festivals in the world. Yesterday I went to see the action live on the Red Carpet with a really good friend of mine who is from Poland. I never saw such a spectacle in real life; usually just on TV back home. To actually see the actors and directors roll up in fancy cars all dressed up was quite the experience. It took place at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, one of the most important and major intersection hubs within the city of Berlin. This week we plan to get tickets and see the screening of one of the films. I am really looking forward to seeing further what a film festival is all about! I have never done such a thing before.

Stars rolling up

Stars rolling up

Next. Musical street performers … they are all over the city. From performing live at open-air markets on the weekend, to simply on the side of the street, to playing in parks, to dancing within the subway stations, to even strolling through the public trains, changing cars as they go along- they are everywhere. What is amazing about such performances in Berlin, is the diversity of what they do. I have seen solo singers perform wonderful works. There have been bands ranging from three to about eight members. Those who are really talented, make a LOT of money. I saw once a guitar case filled with what must have easily been at least 300 Euros.

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

There are guitarists, musicians who play every type of brass instrument you can think of, harmonica players, drummers, pianists, and even some foreign instruments which I have never seen before in my life. In particular, I enjoy how they mix genres and try to create new, funky sounds. It is hard to describe with mere words, but these street performers create new alternative music which is edgy and always exciting. One must simply hear it with their own ears. Most of these performers look well off, as if they do it often for money or just for fun because it’s what they love to do. Yet some, I can tell, are less fortunate, and it’s all they’ve got. Quite a few homeless people trying to make ends meet, performing what they can.

Unique music in Berlin's Mitte district

Unique music in Berlin’s Mitte district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

Interesting instrument

Interesting instrument

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

Finally, I would like to share my experience I had one night at the very famous Berliner Philharmonie. It is a concert hall, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  The building itself is known for its amazing acoustics and its distinct architecture. I was blown away by the interior of the concert hall!  It holds a few thousand people and it looks breathtaking. The orchestra played very well and there was a famous female violinist who had a few solo performances too. One portion of the entire show included a massive organ that was super loud- I felt pretty rattled afterwards. I am normally not exposed to classical music, so this entire evening for me was a new experience and I enjoyed it. I definitely plan to see more such events in the future while I am still in Berlin.

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

Adventures in Amsterdam

Last Wednesday a few of my friends and I decided to go to Amsterdam that very weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever done something so impromptu. Though it was fun, it was more of a learning experience than a holiday.

For starters, we immediately regretted our decision to take an 11 hour bus. The bus driver was rude, it was absolutely packed and the seats were tiny… But the fun really began around 5 am, when our driver decided that he didn’t want to drive anymore because he thought someone on the bus was drunk. He then attempted to kick a guy off the bus in the middle the night, somewhere in Holland. An argument ensued, which nearly everyone on the bus became a part of. We ended up sitting there for about an hour while people stood around outside, trying to convince the bus driver in any way they could to keep driving. In the midst of this, two fist fights broke out (I wish I was kidding). The police eventually showed up to kick some people off and thankfully nobody got seriously hurt (though my friend and I were almost accidentally punched in the face). We then continued our journey to Amsterdam.

The struggle didn’t end there. We had booked a hostel online that, judging by the pictures, appeared to be fine… when we got there, we realized it was definitely not. The stairs were essentially a ladder, there weren’t enough beds for us in this tiny room with ten people smushed in, there was drywall on the floor and the “free breakfast” was bread. They wouldn’t refund us for the person that was no longer staying with us, nor for a night that we didn’t spend there. The photos on the website did not correspond to the reality of the place at all. We left after an hour. To say it was awkward would be an understatement, but none of us could see ourselves staying there after the journey we had. We happily checked into a cheap hotel and began our day, sleepless but happy.

Amsterdam is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to! It’s hard to put into words, so here are some photos instead:

House boat

House boat

Van Gogh museum

Van Gogh museum

Floating flower market on the right

We spent a total of two days there, roaming around the city in a sleep deprived state. I’d love to go back with more time to spend there, especially since we never made it to the Anne Frank museum or Vondelpark.

At the very least, the weekend was an exciting one. The bus ride back was awful, but at least nobody got punched in the face.

Back in London I haven’t been up to too much. Just taking it day by day.

Oh, but this happened.

Yes that really is Rupert Grint and no I can't breathe

Yes that really is Rupert Grint and no I can’t breathe

No biggie.

Talk soon,

Veronika

 

A New Year, A New Experience to be had

Welcome back everyone to 2014 and Happy New Year!

For the Christmas break, I made the journey back to my hometown of Toronto. It was weird to land at Pearson Airport, as it felt like I had just left for Brelin back in August- time flies way too fast when you are studying abroad! But I have to say, it felt welcoming and good to be back on Canadian soil.

I spent a lot of quality time with family, relatives, friends….. and the cold weather. It was one crazy ice storm we all experienced this year. I arrived just in time for no power and life-by-candle light for a few days. Yet after my two and a half weeks back home, I had to say that I already started to think about returning and looking forward to getting back into the learning routine.

To compare climates, the weather in Germany is currently very mild for this time of year. The German people I have spoken to all say it is abnormal. Usually around this time, the weather is around -10/15⁰C with some snow on the ground. Yet this year (to my luck), there has been no such weather. The daily average is about 5⁰C and the grounds are dry. Everyone over here just wishes for it to snow. For me, I like it just the way it is! I’ve always had my fill of cold winters back in Canada.

I only arrived last week in Berlin and not much has happened since. One of the sights I always wanted to visit was the Berlin Wall and to experience its history first hand. So my Berlin Perspectives class (the program is described in a previous blog) met last weekend and checked out the wall.

As most of you probably already know, the Berlin Wall was constructed by the East German socialist government to prevent its citizens from escaping into West Berlin. It was built in 1961 and lasted a few decades until its fall in 1989. There were many escape attempts and many people died trying to make it to the other side. The majority of the wall has been removed since its collapse, but there are still some pieces still standing today.

One part is called the East Side Gallery. This is the longest still-standing stretch of the former Berlin Wall. In 1990, artists from around the world painted murals to depict themes of the Cold War. It stretches 1.3 km and it really is a wonder to visit. There are murals of Berlin related themes, political messages, messages of freedom, violence and oppression for example. Anyone who plans to visit Berlin MUST pay a visit to the East Side Gallery.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

There is another part of the wall which is located at the other end of the city. Here the grey, dull wall is not displayed as a beautiful piece of artwork. Instead, it replicates how the wall used to be when it was in operation. Guard towers are left erected, the “death strip” is still replicated, there are barbed wire and signal fences, there are anti-vehicle traps, patrol roads, and so on. Visitors are able to walk this part of the wall and learn along the way at information points all about its history and the brutal ways in which it kept citizens imprisoned within East Germany.

I hope that the studies are going well for those of you who are just starting the second semester. As I mentioned before, I am still in the winter semester for another month. I am starting to feel the pressure of final papers and assignments that are due soon. I will be of course exploring more of Berlin the next weeks and I will keep you all updated with my experiences. Until next time!

View from an observation platform overlooking the "death strip" section

View from an observation platform overlooking the “death strip” section

London Revisited

Hi again!

Veronika here, reporting from London.

I hope you all enjoyed your break (minus the ice storm if you were in Toronto) while I was slaving over my final essays. I finally handed them in a week ago, so I had a full five days to relax. Not optimal, but I guess it’s still something.

I’m back in London now as of Sunday and it’s been weird getting back into the swing of things. I expect I’ll be tired for about a week while I adjust to the pace of life here. But even so, I’m happy to be back! I missed the cafes, the pubs, and, of course, my friends here.

I’ve only been here for two days, so not much to report, but I did take a few snaps…

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St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

I just love the mix of architecture in London.

I also made it to the top floor of my university building and found out that it has quite a nice view (as well as a library I didn’t know about)!

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Gorgeous

London, you stunner. Guess I’ll be spending more time on the top floor in between classes.

But as much as I like where I live, I plan on travelling a lot more this semester. Ideally I’d like to go to Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Amsterdam, and Paris. But I’ll see where life takes me – and I’ll be sure to blog about it.

Til next time,

– Veronika

 

 

A new year, a new adventure

Happy 2014, and a wonderful new semester to all U of T students! I offer my condolences for the deep freeze that seems to have gripped Eastern Canada. We’ve noticed here in France! In a true display of schadenfreude, everyone has been asking recently me how cold it is in Toronto.

Since there were no blog posts over the winter holiday, I’ll give an update on how I spent my Christmas and New Years. December was pretty much a month of travel once exams were done. Besides London, and Milan (which I blogged about in my last post), I visited the famous Christmas markets at Strasbourg.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg – Christmas Decorations

Strasbourg

Strasbourg – Christmas Decorations at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spent Christmas eve in Frankfurt.

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Frankfurt – Christmas Eve at Romer Square to hear the bell toll with hundreds of Germans

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Frankfurt – I also had my first taste of the hearty German portion. I don’t think I have ever seen this much food served for one meal before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas day in Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg – It was raining for the whole day I was there, but it was still an amazing trip.

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Heidelberg – the view of the town from Heidelberg Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last four days of 2013 in Berlin.

Berlin

Berlin – I have so many photos of Berlin I wasn’t sure how to even choose. So, have a photo of my favourite group of museums on Museum Island. The Neues Museum with the beautiful Nefertiti, and the Pergamon Museum. The Old National Gallery was unfortunately closed on the day of my visit.

Berlin

Berlin – the Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt was still going strong past Christmas. This is probably the best Christmas market I have been to (even compared with those in Strasbourg and Frankfurt), with the most interesting and diverse stalls and lively but orderly atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And back in Paris just in time for New Year’s eve.

One disappointment in the amazing last 11 days of 2013 was the lack of official fireworks in Paris to herald the arrival of 2014. The light show at the Eiffel Tower was amazing (and I have heard good things about the one at Champs Elysées as well), but there is something to be missed about the noise and fanfare of city-wide fireworks.

—–

The new semester at Sciences Po starts on January 20th, but our course enrolment was today. I have written about course enrolment before, but it just goes to show that one can never be completely prepared with student exchanges. At 2pm Paris time, one hour before the official registration starts, the Sciences Po website crashes (the consensus seems to point to overcapacity from too many people trying to log in at once). Panicked posts start appearing on the Sciences Po exchange group on Facebook. The general level of hysteria among exchange students rises as Sciences Po administration admits that they have no idea when the website will be back up.

3pm, the time of course registration, comes and passes with the website down to all. Now there are posts from students who are waiting in airports, with flights in an hour, frantically looking for alternate options. While I track the general going-ons on social media, I have been refreshing the course enrolment page constantly, because the website can be fixed at any time, and all the courses would be fair-game. I was rewarded for my perseverance when at 3:11pm, the website loads for me, and I immediately went in and enrolled in courses. Woe be the students who decided to take a break and came back to discover most of the courses were full.

To be honest, besides the anxiety caused by the malfunctioning website, course enrolment seems to be a lot smoother for most students in the second semester. There was no posts from students who weren’t able to enrol in even one course. And Sciences Po administration seems to have learned from the pitfalls of last semester and blocked off some seats for each class, and released some after every few hours so students who were late still have some courses from which to choose. Now, if UofT professors would kindly reply to my emails about pre-approving courses, that would be great.

All said, I am incredibly excited about the start of the second half of my exchange in Paris. I’ll try to do the blog, and the city justice. Until next time!

Hamburg

Last weekend I went on a trip to the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg. It was a trip hosted by the international club at the Humboldt University. It was a great group trip for a mere 80 Euros. I received transportation to and from Hamburg, two nights residency in a hostel, a walking tour, a boat cruise, entrance to two museums and a weekend pass to use the public transit system. Hamburg is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in Germany, definitely worth a visit.

One of numerous water passages

One of numerous water passages

View from our hostel overlooking the port

View from our hostel overlooking the port

The first part of the itinerary once we arrived was a walking tour through the Innenstadt (the German word for “downtown” or “city centre”). We learned all about its history. Hamburg is a major port city located on the Elbe River and it is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. What is interesting about Hamburg is that it is a city-state, like Berlin. That means that it is both a city itself as well as a Bundesland (“state” or “province” in English). So imagine the City of Toronto held the same standing as Ontario – that is what it is like.

The Innenstadt- looking ready for Christmas

The Innenstadt- looking ready for Christmas

Two museums were included within the trip. The first one was the International Maritimes Museum. It was approximately 10 stories of pure fascination about all types of naval interests. There were artifacts, models, scene recreations, an art gallery, naval warfare displays, uniforms … I simply cannot begin to describe all the attractions this museum contained. It was simply amazing. The other museum we visited was the Hamburger Kunsthalle, which is the city’s art gallery. We had a guided tour and I learned a lot about the different genres and types of art. But the downside for both museum visits was the amount of time we had. Only one hour was given respectively to each museum, as our daily programme was packed with events. I could have spent a few hours in each of the museums alone, especially the Maritime one.

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Hamburger Kunsthalle

The nightlife in Hamburg is one of the defining features of the city. The most famous area is called the Reeperbahn. This street is lined with restaurants, nightclubs and bars. The action is not only on the main street, but the neighboring streets in the vicinity as well. The Reeperbahn is also the largest red light district in Germany. At all hours of the night the street was crowded with people, partying the entire time. It seemed like the energy just never left the area.

One morning we did a boat cruise along the Elbe River and through the harbour itself. This allowed us to get a great water-level perspective of the daily operations of the port and the sheer scale of its size. We saw everything from the endless rows of massive cranes used to unload the freight ships to the docks where repairs are made to all types of vessels. The amount of logistics behind such naval operations is mind blowing.

Boat cruise, a real up a close view of the harbour

Boat cruise, a real up a close view of the harbour

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Not only was the sight-seeing experience great. The best part is that I met a lot of really cool students along the way. We got to know each other pretty well and we will stay in contact for sure during the rest of our studies in Berlin.

One thing is for sure: the next trip that the international club offers next semester, whatever destination may be, I will take part in again for sure!

The Rathaus (city hall)

The Rathaus (city hall)

Inside the Rathaus

Inside the Rathaus