Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Germany is one of the most history rich countries I've ever visited. And a wild history at that. Thanks to my father, I got a love for history and couldn't pass up the chance to visit a country with one of the most fascinating and deeply saddening histories the world has. The main thing I wanted to do was visit a concentration camp, while I am closer than I'm ever going to be. It was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. It's an odd thing to say because of the extreme sadness that comes with a concentration camp, but it's also one of the few experiences in life that will truly make you appreciate every single thing in your life.

I arrived in Germany around 9:30 pm on July 9 (almost two months late for this-awful). My flight was delayed but other than that, it was a successful trip out of the Scandinavian lands. The flight is only about an hour and half long, so no biggie there. This was my first trip traveling alone to another country, even though I was ultimately meeting up with my roommate. But I had to get myself to the airport on time, check in, find the bus to take me to my hostel once I arrived in Germany, and all of it by myself. It's quite a liberating feeling to travel alone and accomplish all of these tasks that you are used to doing in the safe company of either your family or friends. It's something I never pictured myself doing. Once I got to Germany, I tried the 10 different wifi options that the airport provided, but none of them worked, so I had to get on my way without being able to tell my parents I had safely arrived. I already had to send two text messages when I was still in Sweden to let them know my flight was delayed, because of course the internet didn't work at that airport either and I have no way of contacting the world without wifi, unless I want to be charged for sending a text. Someone seriously needs to create a universal wifi already.

I was planning on taking a bus to my hostel but I'm not the surest of people and wasn't convinced the bus I thought would take me to my hostel would actually be the right one, so I opted for the expensive route of taking a cab. Best and worst choice. Best because he did get me to my hostel in one piece. Worst because he barely got me there in one piece. For some reason, this man felt the desire to drive like he was racing in a NASCAR race. He gunned it to over 60 or 70 mph for a random 10 feet, cut people off like there was no one else on the road, all the while texting like an idiot and like he wasn't driving another person around. If I wasn't so confused about where my hostel was when I got out of the car, I would have kissed the ground. My hostel just so happened to also be a bar, so I was extremely confused when the cab driver pointed to a bar entrance when I asked him where the hostel was. I was looking for a St. Christopher's Inn sign. Anyways, I finally checked in, set my bag down, and went to look for my roommate and internet. The hostel only had the free wifi in the downstairs bar area, which was rather inconvenient, but oh well. Glad to have some. That night I met my roommates friend from college and his wife. He lives in Germany and is a rugby coach and player. It was nice to have another English speaker around. It's one of the most relieving things to have while traveling.

The next day was our visit to the concentration camp. We met up with our group outside a coffee shop a few blocks from our hostel and then hopped on the trains to Oranienburg, which is where the camp is located. It's about a 30-45 minute journey North of Berlin. While we were still in Berlin, it was sunny and beautiful out, but as we traveled closer to the camp, it became eerily grey, cloudy, and cold. It was very fitting for what we were going to visit. It would have almost seemed off if it were sunny and the birds were chirping. I'll share a few of the main things I learned, and though it's quite easy to go on and on about the sick things that went on here, I'll keep it to the point. Sachsenhausen was opened in 1936 and operated until 1945, just 17 days prior to its liberation. After its liberation, it ran as a detention center for political prisoners by the Soviets. The prisoners sent here were from up to 30 different countries and were mostly Jews, Jehovah's witnesses, political opponents, criminals, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war or deserters. Stalin's son was sent here and died via gun shot wound when he tried to escape. Much of the original camp was first destroyed by the Germans to cover their tracks and then again much later by Neo-Nazi's, who set the barracks on fire. It was reconstructed and reopened in 1961 as a memorial to the atrocities that occurred here. This camp was the main bureaucracy for all of the concentration camps in existence.  There were 7 different ways allowed by the Nazi's to kill the prisoners and many of these ways were via medical "experimentation" that they were so fascinated by. One of the longest and most brutal roll calls was held here. The prisoners were made to stand for 15 straight hours. The life expectancy of the prisoners was just 12 days. I will never forget what I took away from visiting a place like this and highly recommend visiting one. It's quite disgusting knowing what the human race is capable of, but also good that this topic hasn't lost any of its attention over the years, hopefully to keep it from never happening again.


"Work will set you free"

Execution site and crematorium 

Barracks- designed for 147 people; over 400 slept here

The rest of my days in Berlin, a few with my roommate and a few on my own, were spent sight seeing, drinking amazing German beer, and visiting old palaces and cities. My roommates friend took us on a tour of Berlin, hitting the major sites like Humboldt university, the Berlin wall, the Brandenburg gate, the memorial for the Holocaust victims, Hitler's bunker, museum island and the TV tower. I never realized how many beautiful structures are located in Berlin. Much of these sites are under construction because they need to be restored.

Beautiful church

The Brandenburg Gate

Amazing beer from the Hofbrahaus

The Berlin Wall

 The history museum on museum island

In love with this building

The TV tower

Humboldt University

Parking lot over what was Hitler's bunker

I booked a trip to visit a city called Potsdam, which is about 45 minutes west of Berlin. It's a city filled with old palaces, gardens and lakes, with a heavy Prussian influence. I had to navigate the subway and trains alone for this, but thankfully my roommate gave me step by step directions that easily led me to the meeting point for the trip. The way home was on my own- took me a bit longer to figure out. My tour guide told us how it's sad because many people miss out on visiting Potsdam because they are so caught up with Berlin and all of its sites. She was right, it would have been sad to miss out on that because I got to see some very beautiful things and meet some really great people. Two older, very grandparent-esque, Australians befriended me and introduced me to their other Australian friend, who happened to be my age. There was also a couple my age from Uruguay and a guy also my age from Mexico. It was really nice to hang around with some fellow English speakers, even though for some of them it wasn't their first language (but had to be while they were in Berlin). My tour guide was also from Australia and happened to be the same age as well. It worked out really nicely. She was really knowledgeable and did a good job of keeping us entertained with her countless facts. While I was there, I saw some amazing palaces (one even made entirely of marble), gardens, lakes, and structures that were all just so beautiful. I even saw a building that happened to survive the bombings that took place there. One of the only ones to not get destroyed. I love learning little things like that.

Bridge dividing East and West

Brandenburg Gate number 2 

Everything seemed to be dripping in gold here

Sanssouci Palace- Frederick the Great's "summer" house

Unreal detail

Back of palace

Another piece of the Berlin Wall

Two things stuck out to me while I was in Berlin. The first is the fact that they don't use credit or debit cards as their main way to pay for everyday items. I wasn't aware of this before I got to Berlin, or I would have exchanged more Euros for the trip. My pin number for my debit card hasn't been working over here, so when I ran out of Euros, I thought I was screwed. Thankfully, my sweet parents let me use their card to take some more out. Second, I was really surprised by the amount of gypsy's that lived in Berlin. Many of them were homeless or struggling for money, which is how I encountered so many, and I was blown away by how children as young as five were able to ask in at least four different languages for money. I have nothing against gypsy's, I just could not believe how a child so young could speak so many different languages! They were also beautiful, so it was really hard to say no to them. 

I really enjoyed visiting Germany and hope to some day make it back to explore even more of its wild history, beautiful palaces, castles, and the like. Traveling to Ireland and Germany has just made me want to explore more of this beautiful world and its cultures and I hope I get the opportunities to continue to do that. I can't tell you how many times I've sat down to write this. I don't know why this has felt like a task, because I love to write and it has been fun to relive all of these life changing experiences. One of the times I sat down to write, I got a good deal of it written, only to later x out of the screen accidentally and lose everything. Didn't think about writing for a good two weeks after that. But here it (finally) is and hopefully whoever out there reads this enjoys it! 

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Emerald Isle

Where to even start with the unforgettable trip to Ireland? It truly was the Emerald Isle- so lush and green, even the ocean was its own shade of mesmerizing green. It was one of, if not the best, vacations I've ever had. Between the Irish accent, the locals referring to you as 'love' (couldn't get enough of that) and the insane beauty of the country itself, I was already planning a trip back while I was there. 

When I think of Ireland, I think of two things in particular: castles and alcohol, Guinness to be exact. Safe to say, those are the two things we spent most of our time on. My tolerance was at an all time high after I left there. The Guinness tasted much better in Ireland than it did back home. I don't even like dark beer and didn't mind drinking it. We stayed in Dublin during our time there and it's such an awesome city. So full of life. It reminded me a lot of New York City: buzzing with people and not the cleanest of places, but a fun environment nonetheless. One of my good friends I played club soccer with happened to be staying in Dublin at the same time as me, so we got to venture around Ireland, of all places, for our reunion!

Two of the best things about Ireland are one, there is free wifi located throughout the entire country and two, their train and metro system are extremely affordable. We paid 13 euros (around $17) for an all day train pass. Hop on and off as you please. The Euro isn't too far off from the US dollar and it was really nice to see prices that I am used to. Swedish Krona uses much higher numbers and even though it's reasonably priced, it gives you the feeling that you are shelling out a bunch of money. 

Aside from the literally hundreds of bars and pubs located within two feet of each other in Dublin, there are quite a few other things to see while you are there. We visited St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity College and Dublin's castle. I do have to mention that navigating the streets in some European countries is rather difficult because, depending on the country, the street signs are located on the sides of buildings, instead of the typical street signs you see in the States. They blend quite nicely with the walls they are located on. Any who, I can't even describe in words the beauty of the inside of St. Patrick's Cathedral, so I'll use a few pictures to do it for me. The detail is indescribable. My mom said it best: it makes you want to go to church.

St. Patrick's
St. Patrick's
St. Patrick's

Trinity College is another amazing piece of history that we were able to visit. Got quite wet in the process, but it was worth it. Some of the buildings seriously look just like Hogwarts. Ireland is a pretty rainy place, so the constant grey skies and rain added even more to the feeling of being in real life Harry Potter world. Getting up to go to class definitely would have been easier if you went there. Wouldn't have minded it as much. 

We were lucky to get to visit so many different cities in Ireland. Before we got there, we planned a visit to do a tour of the Blarney castle in Cork, which is a little under 3 hours away via train. It was an all day tour, starting at 7am, but very worth it. The Blarney castle was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy and definitely looks its age. A lot of the castle has crumbled over the centuries, but there is still quite a bit of it standing. You are allowed to walk around the castle via the extremely old, narrow staircases and get a feel for how people lived back then. The myth behind the Blarney stone, which is inside the Blarney castle and is actually from Scotland, is that when you kiss it, you supposedly gain the gift of eternal eloquence or great flattery. Interesting theory. Had to do the tourist thing and plant one on it... I can now say I've kissed literally thousands of people. More fun to say? The Blarney castle also comes with a Gothic mansion, made by the father for his son. Tough life. The mansion is absolutely beautiful. It had a somewhat purple hue and was just really striking sitting in the green hills of Ireland. And to top it all off...someone actually lives there a few months out of the year. Again, tough life. 

The Blarney castle

Gothic mansion

The visit to Cork also included a bus trip to Cobh (Cove). Cobh is located at the southern tip of Ireland and is quite the historical town. History lesson: it is the final port of call for the Titanic, where survivors were taken after the Germans torpedoed and sunk the Lusitania (another massive cruiser) and where 3 million Irish people emigrated to mainly the United States from, including Annie Moore, the first person to ever come through Ellis Island. Aside from all its amazing history, Cobh is also beautiful. Another picture Esq town, with colorful buildings lining the cliffs. 

St. Colman's Cathedral 

Our tour guide for this trip was hands down the cutest little Irish man I've ever seen. Exactly what I think of when I picture a little old Irish man. Wanted to take him home! He loved to talk so we asked him for details on where to go for fun things to do for the rest of our time in Ireland. After our trip to Cork and Cobh, we didn't have any set plans for the rest of our time in Ireland, so we took his advice and visited a few cities for the day. 

First, we traveled to Howth, which is a really small fishing town. I'm absolutely in love with this little town and hope to make it back someday! It's only about a 30 minute train ride North East of Dublin, with a population ranging somewhere in the 8,000's.  It also has colorful buildings built along the cliffs, looking out to the sea. I seriously can't get enough of places like that. While we were there, we first went to a cute little restaurant right near the ocean. They had really good sea food and wines and a friendly staff working there. Our cute little tour guide told us there was a castle there, so we asked one of the servers from the restaurant how to find it. Luckily, it wasn't far and it couldn't have been a more perfect day. They said it was quite hot for Ireland. Only down side to the countries in and around the UK is the constant grey, chilly days they so often get to experience. And that we did most of our days there. The castle in Howth was cute and was turned into a cooking school for students. 

Howth restaurants

Howth castle
After Howth, we stopped in Malahide, another town on the East coast with beautiful churches and a castle to visit. I really wonder how many castles are located in Ireland. There was one in every city we visited. Funniest thing happened while we were there. We got off the train and immediately got suckered into riding this little children's train that took you to look at the ocean and then dropped you off at the castle. The man who owns it got the idea when he visited Key West. Being that we are all from Florida, he named us his VIPs for the day. He was a really fun guy. The castle in Malahide is the oldest one we visited- from the year 1185. Surprisingly, it's been really well looked after, so it doesn't look old in the least. 

Malahide castle


Pints in every city

The day we were visiting all of these cities along the coast also happened to be the 4th of July! I've noticed that the more I travel, the more patriotic I've become. Nothing against any other country, I just have realized more how good I have it back home. Anyways, since it was the fourth, we only felt it was right that we get a pint in every city we visited. 

We ended our last night in Dublin at a fun sports pub where the championship football team's owner (or something along those lines) just so happened to be showing off the championship trophy. The pub was celebrating that Dublin had won, which they hadn't done in years. The owner brought the trophy right over to our table and let us take a picture with it. It seemed to mean so much to the locals, which was fun to see. They said it was the equivalence to our NFL leagues back home, but I can guarantee that trophy isn't brought to pubs and passed around the locals like it's worth $5! 

I'm so glad I got the opportunity to visit our homelands and I cannot wait to make another trip back some day. I loved everything about Ireland and hope to someday figure out our family tree and where exactly we come from and which family members made the trek over to start a new life in the US of A.