Our bus left Prague at 11:55 but fortunately, the bus station was right across the street from my apartment, which makes it very accessible. The trip was really nice, as bus rides go. There weren't many people, so we could all spread out and attempt to sleep. Apparently the midnight bus is a favorite of American students abroad because we met another group headed our way as well. We all had to wake up at about 2:00 a.m. when we crossed the border. I was disappointed that I didn't get my passport stamped, but apparently, they just like to verify that you entered another EU country legally. The Czech woman at customs at the airport very helpfully stamped my passport on the very last page, so the border agent literally had to go through the entire thing. He was very nice though- unless, of course, you were a Russian smuggler trying to get into Germany with invalid papers. Then he became a bit stricter- but still, on the whole, very pleasant. I probably would have been far less well mannered in that sort of situation (smuggler, doesn't speak English or German, no papers, 2 am, etc etc) but I guess that's his job!
Our bus was supposed to get in at about 6 am, but we arrived over an hour early. This would be a very pleasant surprise under different circumstances, but somehow I found arriving in a foreign country at 4:45 a.m. with about an hour of sleep under my belt to be a little rough. No worries, though, I had written down directions to our hostel the previous night, so we successfully maplessly navigated our way to the hostel. And what a hostel it was! We stayed at St. Christopher's, part of a chain of hostels across Europe. It's associated with a bar called Belushi's- remember that delicious hamburger I ate in Bath? Yeah, I got to enjoy another one of those this weekend (yum!). The hostel was beautiful, and an all around great place to stay. However, since we rolled in at 6, we decided to go explore Berlin a little bit (and get some breakfast). We wandered over towards Alexanderplatz, and found ourselves a crepes place (I had nutella and bananas on my, which is simply a heavenly combination) as well as a Dunkin Donuts. Around eight, we wandered back to the hostel, where we sort of marinated in our exhaustion before changing and heading out to the bike tour at 10. I was so excited about this bike tour- regardless of the fact that the last time I rode a bicycle, I completely destroyed my face. Minor detail. You will be relieved to know that my bike adventure across Berlin did not result in any major injuries. I did inadvertently crash into a few pedestrians- my bad, guys- but everyone was fine. And I didn't fall off my bike!
We saw literally all of Berlin on our tour. Five hours of casual biking across one of the world's major capitals. It was incredible. First of all, this makes me feel significantly better about my life plan involving a bicycle with a wicker basket. But secondly, and more importantly, I absolutely love the city of Berlin. There is something so very human about it. Parts of it are beautiful, and other parts are clean, and clearly impoverished. The ultramodern contrasts with the historical, and the broken sits next to the rebuilt. It's a major city, but there are parks absolutely everywhere. While biking through one of those gardens, we took a break at a local beer garden for lunch. Guess who ordered entirely in German? Yeahhh, that was pretty sweet. Black tea and bratwurst: win. After lunch, we continued biking around the city, seeing even more sites. We wandered around a little more after we finished the tour, and then grabbed dinner at the hostel. Afterwards, we went to a square next to the opera house where there was a huge screen set up so that the public could watch the opera live. It was very cool- even though we understood very little, since the opera was in Italian, captioned in German, we were still able to grab the gist of the plot. I thought it was an awesome experience! I hung out at the hostel that night when some of my friends went out on bar crawls, and I was able to get to know some other kids who were staying there, which was a lot of fun.
On Sunday, we had a laid-back morning with breakfast at the hostel, and then got ourselves rolling. We explored the city a little bit more (we joked that we were eating our way across Berlin. Sad? Yes, but very accurate, and my stomach certainly wasn't complaining! The strawberry cheesecake that they have at Starbucks here is delicious, and who can resist a good kebab?!) and eventually wound up back at a portion of the Berlin Wall. We went to a museum there called the Topography of Terror, a free museum located where the SS headquarters stood. It was both fascinating and devastating to go through. It chronicled the rise and fall of Hitler and his Third Reich, the rapid progression from a weak and poor but free country to a cruel dictatorship with incredible strength. After further meandering through the city, we arrived at a park, and stopped to watch a football [soccer!] game for a bit. Who's getting excited about the World Cup?! I literally cannot wait! It's going to be awesome. Anyways, we left that park and our group split up. I went with my roommates to get ice cream and sit in yet another park. After people watching for a bit, we headed back to the hostel, where we ate again. Not part of the original plan, but it worked out well because we could get currywurst- apparently a very traditional dish here, there's even a currywurst museum- fries, and a salad for 3.50 euros, which is very cheap for dinner! Later, Ashley and I headed out with two friends, Scott and JJ, in an attempt to find the free concert that everyone else had gone to. Unfortunately, we couldn't meet up, but we did get to watch an incredible sunset over Berlin as we wandered through several other parks. Eventually, though, it was time to head back to the hostel, because our bus was leaving at midnight again. On the way back, one of the guys suggested that we stay another night. At first, we brushed it off. It just seemed crazy. But to indulge JJ, we let him make a few phone calls in the time we had left. We still weren't sold on the idea, and Ashley and I actually ended up saying goodbye to them and walking down to the subway to catch the U-bahn. As we stood down there waiting, we were just incredibly sad about the whole situation, and it dawned on us: when are we ever going to be able to spontaneously spend the night in Berlin ever again? Isn't that what studying abroad is all about? So we did it. At 10:50 at night, we waltzed back into the hostel, and asked for two more beds. We switched our bus tickets, and we decided to stay another night. I couldn't have been happier with my decision.
After wrapping of the business of rearranging our travel plans, we set out into the city of Berlin again. After grabbing some drinks and snacks (including the aforementioned package of waffles), we found a bench to hang out on. We spent a long time just talking and watching the people go by. Eventually, we relocated to a Lebanese restaurant that was close by, and ate chicken shawarma- essentially the same thing as a kebab, or a gyro. So many names for such delicious food! We crashed from sheer exhaustion at the hostel that night, and slept incredibly well once again. The beds were so comfortable- far more comfy than the one I have in my apartment! We ate breakfast at the hostel, stored our luggage in the room they had there, and then ventured forth into the city one last time. First, we went to the East Side Gallery, the longest portion of the Berlin wall still intact. The graffiti there is all newer, and it's the legal artsy type. I really enjoyed walking through that area. It was quite incredible. After that, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. The lady serving us was so sweet, and the food was delicious. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! We headed back towards Alexanderplatz for a little more exploring before coming back to the hostel. Scott had to leave before the rest of us, since he was taking a train to Frankfurt before heading home. We timed our departure carefully, so that we wouldn't have to buy two more two hour passes, and once it hit 3:15, we were off to Tiergarten again. After some much needed frolicking (followed by even more necessary flopping down in the grass), we proceeded to the bus station, after grabbing some sandwiches for the road.
The bus ride back was fairly uneventful. They showed Ice Age III and Couple's Retreat, so that made the time pass by quite quickly! We had a short stop in Dresden. What an incredible town! I would love to return at some point. It was absolutely stunning. We watched the sun set over the Elbe- another beautiful German sunset- and then continued on our way. I was a little unnerved by the fact that we didn't have to stop at the border. Czech authorities are apparently pretty chill about these sorts of things. We drove through this huge complex, and I thought it looked like a border crossing, but we kept going so I figured that maybe it was something different. Maybe German rest stops are just strangely official looking? Nope, that was the border. Suddenly everything was in Czech again. Go figure.
We arrived back in Prague right around 11, and then I had class again the next morning. Fortunately, it was just my art and architecture class, and we were taking a tour of the Prague Castle. It was good day to be able to relax and take things slowly! The castle complex was beautiful. It truly afforded a glimpse into another area, as did the tour of the Municipal House (that was this morning. We got to listen to the Prague Symphony Orchestra rehearse while we were there. Um, that made my day!). On Wednesday, I desperately wanted to go out to get tea, so after relaxing in the University's botanical gardens and going to Tesco to pick up a few groceries, I ventured out towards Old Town Square. I wandered through a market, found a second hand store- where I got a really cute tunic for less than ten dollars!- and finally found a place to my liking for the tea adventure. Black tea and fruit crepes, delicious! So maybe crepes aren't exactly scones, but they are very delicious, so who am I to complain? I was perfectly happy with where I ended up. And then I decided to be a bit experimental when I cooked dinner. I was envisioning something along the lines of a frittata, and I think that actually ended up vaguely happening- go figure! Macaroni, eggs, bacon, olives, lots of cheese... It was wonderful. I was very proud of myself! It feels like in the past few days, I've really been able to piece together Prague and get a feel for how the city fits together (which can be a bit difficult when your preferred mode of transportation is the Metro- aka the subway). I'm starting to really know my way around (beyond my general feel for directions). I even gave someone directions yesterday! Isn't that crazy?! She asked me if I lived in Prague- and I said yes (which was exciting in and of itself!), although I was a little apprehensive about helping her find her way. Luckily I knew where she needed to go, and I was able to point her in the right direction, phew! I guess that must mean I'm starting to settle in!
Going on a bike tour of Berlin? Excellent choice.
Oh hey there, Marx and Engels. Nice to meet you. (Yes, this was in East Berlin)
Opera for everyone! Can't beat that!
At the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was really incredible; I'll have to show you guys more pictures at some point. These huge grey stones (self cleaning, so they're always pristine) just tower over you. They are set into even rows, but the uneven heights make it feel very mazelike. It's easy to get lost in there.
The beer garden where we ate lunch... and where I managed to order entirely in German!
And this is where Chancellor Angela Merkel parties it up from nine to five (translation: this building is the German equivalent of the White House)
One of several markets that we explored
The ruins of the former SS headquarters, with part of the Berlin Wall in the background.
Discover Football- who's excited about the World Cup?! I know I am!
The "ampoule man" signal is rather cute, if I do say so myself. They actually originated in East Berlin- ironic because they've become a highly commercialized icon and are currently a key part of capitalism in Berlin.
The sunset was jaw-dropping.
Sunset over the Royal "Chapel"
One of my favorite sections of the wall... and Marco, haha
St. Christopher's! The hostel where we stayed was absolutely wonderful.
And I leave you with a quote that really sums up my mood of late: