The More Things Change

Despite the fact that Granada is 3,664 miles away from New Paltz, there are many similarities between both of these places that I call home. The most obvious thing being the atmosphere and the feeling I get while walking around. There’s parks here are filled with young people sitting with their friends, playing guitar, singing, juggling, hula-hooping, and just enjoying the moment. You can find these things on any quad on campus during the fall or spring. The people are also just as friendly and willing to starting conversation in both places.

The mountains and views are breathtaking from both places, and I can’t imagine living anywhere that doesn’t have these types of views. I’m in love with everything that I see when I’m walking around Granada, and it’s hard for me to imagine not living here. New Paltz is the place that made me fall in love with the mountains and showed me how easy it is so escape somewhere that is peaceful and healing. For this reason, I was very excited about going hiking in Granada and experiencing the same feeling an ocean away.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve done a lot memorable hikes and met a lot of great people along the way. My friends and I try to go hiking almost every week, and sometimes twice if we all have time. It’s an activity that allows us to bond and have a good time together. The friends that I made hiking or the ones I go on hikes with are some of closest friends I have here.

Hiking and yoga are the two things that I made sure I continued when I came to Granada. I was never really a fan of having routines because it always made me feel like I was living the same day over and over again. However, I like having activities that make feel like myself and that I enjoy. When I first got here, I joined yoga classes with the University and I’m glad I did. The classes were different than the ones I was used to in New Paltz, but I still enjoyed going.

Granada and New Paltz are two places I feel fortunate to call home, even for just a while, that have undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am and continue to do so. It’s amazing how much a city or a town can teach you about people, the world, and yourself.

Where has the time gone?

I cannot believe I have been here for 2 months already! I do not feel like it has been that long, but my family and friends say it feels like I have been gone much longer.

I have been keeping busy with small day and weekend trips. Midterms are finally over, and it was probably the most stressful week I have had since I have been here. Now I get to enjoy a 2 week spring break. I can’t complain much about that!

Over the last few weeks, I have visited Montepulciano, Pienza and Prague. I got to go to Montepulciano and Pienza through a field learning trip. They are both providences in Siena and absolutely magnificent. They each overlook miles of beautiful landscapes and vineyards. While I was there I got to do a food and wine paring in Montepulciano and a pecorino cheese tasting in Pienza. All the food in Italy is so fresh, which makes it taste 30000x better. Something I learned while in Montepulciano was parts of Twlight: New Moon were filmed there. It was cool getting to be there.

My next big trip was to Prague in the Czech Republic. Prague is a huge city, and is slowly becoming a big tourist spot in Europe. More and more people are starting to realize how beautiful the city is and appreciate all the amazing artictecturhe. I can attest that it is beautiful, and everyone should at some point in their life go there. Probably my favorite part about the trip was the food. The food in Europe in general is hands down awesome, but the food in Prague is a whole other level. When traveling to different places constantly I try and eat as many traditional foods as possible, because when am I ever going to get the chance to try them again. As it would happen there was an Easter festival going on while we were there. There were all these carts with handmade crafts, and lots of different food. We basically tired a new traditional food for each meal. We had huge sausages with cabbage mustard and ketchup in a hot dog bun, fired cheese on bread, fired dough with ketchup garlic and cheese, goulash soup in a bread bowl, goulash dumplings and turtle necks. Turtle necks are those cylinder shaped pastries usually filled with ice cream and strawberries you have probably seen on twitter or instagram. Yes, they are as good as they look. They can get a little messy , but it is worth it.

Prague was a whole new type of atmosphere much difference than Switzerland and Italy, and I am happy I got the chance to experience it.

The Real Definition of Melting Pot

Besançon is a melting pot. It’s a very eclectic little city, but despite its small size and the fact that most people have never heard of it when you ask them, there are thousands of people living here from all over the world: Thailand, Syria, Belorussia, Iran, Japan, China, the Republic of the Philippines, Indonesia, Italy, Senegal; the list goes on and on.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines melting pot as “a place where different types of people live together and gradually create a community.” If you ask me, that describes Besançon pretty well. Especially after the Tour Du Monde en 80 Plats (Around the World in 80 Plates – yes, a clear play on words of Around the World in 80 Days), where I feel the definition is present both literally and metaphorically speaking.

The Tour Du Monde, in something like its 20th year running, was held this past Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29 and 30. This event, to put it simply, pretty much exemplified everything that Besançon is and has to offer: the different people, the different food and all of the different culture blended into one event over the course of two days.

Everyone from their individual countries got together to cook and bake traditional homemade cuisine. Our American team made barbecue pulled chicken, corn bread, coleslaw and cheesy potatoes (thanks to Griffin, Jesse, Katherine and Kyle) as well as banana bread (thanks to Genesis) and cheesecake (thanks to yours truly, Tori, Kate, Laura and Hespera).

The Americans! (left to right) : Hespera, me, Katherine, Kate, Jesse, Kyle, Tori, Griffin, Laura, Leanne, Kevin, Riley.

The Americans! (left to right) : Hespera, me, Katherine, Kate, Jesse, Kyle, Tori, Griffin, Laura, Leanne, Kevin, Riley.

Last Monday was the day we started baking. Tori and I woke up early to go food shopping, and from there on we were all making cheesecake from dawn until dusk: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Twelve hours and nearly 30 containers of Philadelphia cream cheese later, we were all completely drained, covered in Speculoos crumbs and cheesecake batter, with 170 mini cheesecakes and three big cheesecakes cooling outside my apartment.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling some sort of hungover. I had drained all the life out of myself. I relaxed all day until I knew friends were coming by to help me carry the cheesecakes around the block (it’s a good and convenient thing I live where I do) – I also knew the long night we all had ahead of ourselves.

I walked into the Grand Kursaal where the event was being held: a big theater filled now with tables and chairs for the people who would be coming to eat all different varieties of food. Everyone was setting up at their individual tables. Chinese lanterns hung next to our big American flag. The room was rushed and buzzing.

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Le Grand Kursaal. Photo by Mayuko Hamada.

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever felt such a lively, enthusiastic energy in a room before. Everyone was excited to tell their guests about their food, their culture and themselves. As Americans, it was sometimes easy for us to understand why the guests chose other tables over ours at first. People knew more about the United States than most other countries at the Tour Du Monde. But when people came over to us and actually took the time, they realized we were more than just burgers and fries. Our servings started to dwindle. Our cheesecake even sold out on the first night (so yes, we did have to make more the next day… 15 more containers of Philadelphia, 131 mini cheesecakes and three more cakes later…).

Being as this event was run by the social/cultural activities coordinators from the CLA (our university), a lot of our friends from class were there. And that’s another cool thing about living in Besançon and going to school at the CLA: you meet so many new, interesting and diverse people here from all over the world. Our friends from South Korea introduced us to chicken marinated with garlic and other spices, ketchup and a sauce called “gochujang” (“닭강정” in Korean, pronounced “dakgangjeong”) along with a traditional honey cookie called “yakgwa.”

Korean chicken dish: Dakgangjeong.

Korean chicken dish: Dakgangjeong. (Picture by Yeonsu Chu)

Our friends from China made homemade spring rolls (“nems” in French, “春卷” in Chinese, pronounced “chun juan”), rice with shrimp and vegetables, spicy tofu (ma po tofu), and a dessert called “perles de coco” (the French translation, “nuomici” in Chinese) a glutinous rice dumpling filled with a sweet red bean paste and coated with coconut. I tried homemade sushi made by my friend Mayuko. I also walked around and tried food from the Philippines and Syria (it turns out Syrian food is incredible; would recommend).

Japanese food. Photo by Mayuko Hamada.

Japanese food. Photo by Mayuko Hamada.

Most of all it was just super cool and inspiring to be able to (and to have to, for that matter) communicate with everyone in French. It was so interesting and enlightening to be surrounded by people whose only common language was French (though some people would throw us Americans a “hello” or a “thank you” every now and again).

Photo by Kyle VanKrimpen.

American food! Photo by Kyle VanKrimpen.

And naturally, when you’re standing next to a bunch of people in a crowded room for hours, legs hurting and feet sore from standing too long, you need to find things to distract yourself. You start talking to people – maybe in French like all of us. You start to learn more about them and their culture. You learn why they came to France in the first place, what they’re looking to accomplish here, when they’re going home, which meal they made for their stand, which meal they liked from yours. Not to mention everyone complimented our cheesecake. That was enough to put me on Cloud 9. Everything about the Tour Du Monde was fun. I just felt giddy.

(left to right) Mayuko (who bought our cheesecake!), me, Kate.

(left to right) Mayuko (who bought our cheesecake!), me, Kate.

Not only was there food but there was entertainment too, or “les spectacles.” We watched our friends from Japan and Indonesia perform their cultures’ traditional dances. The music and the movements were so catchy we caught ourselves dancing and vibing along while we watched them. Riley performed a traditional Irish step dance and Griffin played a couple songs on the guitar to represent the United States.

At the end of Wednesday’s night, as the night was coming to a close, everyone got up on stage as Vincent, the coordinator acknowledged each of the countries that participated. They played a couple songs that we all danced to on stage, ending with Psy’s “Gangnam Style (강남스타일)” (it was super cool to see people, a couple of my friends among them, who actually understood the lyrics and could legitimately sing along to them).

But like I said, the Tour Du Monde was probably my best/favorite experience while being abroad yet. Being able to talk to people, laugh with them, learn about them, and teach them some stuff about yourself and your culture, all while speaking French, has just been so gratifying. It makes knowing I have to leave this city and all these people in about two months that much harder and that much sadder. And with a two-week spring break approaching at a rapid speed (it’s already next week, woohoo!!) it’ll all be going by that much quicker. I’ll just have to try to make the most of it and make it last for as long as I possibly can.

Thanks to all my American friends who helped bake with me, who cooked and baked all of our other food, set up our decorations and who have become like a little extension of my family. Thanks to all the other friends I have made while I’ve been here – y’all know who you are, and I have learned so much from all of you. These are truly experiences I will never forget.

(left to right) Yeonsu, Ghozy, Kate, me, Yuqi.

(left to right) Yeonsu, Ghozy, Kate, me, Yuqi.

(left to right) Meitong, Yuqi, Angga, me, Kate, Ghozy, Yeonsu.

(left to right) Meitong, Yuqi, Angga, me, Kate, Ghozy, Yeonsu.

Terrorism Abroad

In light of the attacks in Brussels yesterday, I feel that blogging about terrorism abroad might be prevalent.

I’m happy to report that I as well as all my friends are fine. Nothing is happening in Besançon, it’s been just like every other day, which I am more than thankful for. But as I was saying to my housemate earlier, even these small, less know, less popular cities like Besançon are on high (maybe high-ish) alert all the time. Everyday when I’m walking down the street there are the “vigipirates,” the soldiers/police who drive down very slowly, très lentement, in their white vans, looking closely at average people like me walking down the street to make sure nothing suspicious is happening.

A few months ago before I even arrived here, I had received an immediate notification about the attacks in Paris. It was Nov. 13. I was in my office with my boyfriend Jack, getting ready to prepare the night’s newscast. I remember both of us got the notification simultaneously. My heart sank a little when I read my update from The New York Times. Jack got the same one but from The Associated Press and he asked me, “Are you sure you still wanna go to France?”

I took the question as a half-joke because 1) of course I was still going to go to France, and 2) I didn’t want to psyche myself out. But of course, I did anyway.

Because when you hear about the kinds of things that happened in Paris in November and what just happened in Brussels yesterday, you get nervous, you get scared, you start to think too much. You hope to God that something like that will never happen to you but you never really know, because it can happen anywhere. It can happen in Europe, it can happen in the Middle East, it can happen at home in the United States, especially somewhere like New York.

But even though this is the current state of the crazy world we live in and things can happen anywhere at any time… they usually don’t. More often than not, it’s a case of wrong place at the wrong time. And to me, these circumstances make these violent attacks all the more sick and tragic. Are these terrorists bombing innocent people just to prove a point? To show that they are capable of such threatening and violent acts?

An article from CNN reported that ISIS tweeted a statement saying “What will be coming is worse” after yesterday’s attacks in Belgium. Now, we are not at that point yet, so I’m not going to continue to dwell on it. And this goes without saying – BUT – life would just be so much easier if these kinds of things didn’t happen in the world and if there weren’t people who felt the need to act in such extreme, horrific ways.

Obviously as study abroad students we are inclined to be traveling a lot – it’s just a part of the experience being here. We want to do as much as we can while we’re here, because we won’t be staying for long, and who knows when we’ll have the chance to come back. So this obviously makes parents, friends, family members, professors and the like nervous, as it should. But traveling abroad is a lot simpler and a lot safer than some people make it out to be. And it is especially safer after events like these happen. That’s also why we have the vigipirates in Besançon.

Everyone is on high alert, everyone is looking out, everyone is well aware. My thoughts, prayers and love go out to those who may have lost someone yesterday in Brussels and I hope I never live to experience whatever they may be feeling. And as I’ve said, this is just the state of the world today. It certainly isn’t ideal, but the important thing is just to remain cautious, aware and vigilant. It’s also probably in everyone’s best interests to stay away from dangerous situations, ie. major cities, riots, large crowds, religious gatherings of any kind. I know that these attacks are scary and frightening above all else, but they just can’t and shouldn’t stop everyone from living their lives. If we start to live in fear, then the terrorists win, don’t they? And we can’t have that happen. It’s plain and simple.

Finding a Second Home

Forget what you’ve heard before: Prague is most definitely the most magical place on Earth. We just passed the one-month point of being in this city and besides the lack of decent peanut butter and sushi; I could not be more content. I’ve been doing a lot of exploring with my new friends, and there is so much to see and so much to do here: it is impossible to get bored of the same old thing or have nothing to do.

And after doing some traveling I’ve come to the conclusion that, in my completely unbiased opinion, that there is no better place in the world. How many other places on Earth can you get a delicious sit down dinner for the equivalent of five (5!) American dollars? In the states I can get on a bus for four hours and still be in the same state, but in the Czech Republic I can fall asleep on a bus for four hours and wake up in Vienna. There are a million art galleries I’ve been checking out so I can pretend I’m cultured, and if I’m really feeling it, I can pay four (4!) American dollars to see the magnificent philharmonic. There are farmers markets with wonderful food I’ve never seen before– apple chips, banana peanut butter balls, mulled wine. And every time I wander, I stumble upon a vast array of talented street performers. Everyday when I’m walking across the bridge to school I can’t help but smile and feel so blessed to be here, I can’t help but to think how happy I am I chose to study here. And as I sit stuck on this bus at the border between Austria and the Czech Republic because one guy doesn’t have his passport, I can’t help but to feel excited to return to the place I can now call home.IMG_1537

 

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On Adjusting

In about a week I’ll have officially been living in Besançon for two months. I really can’t fathom that in my brain. I’m caught between feeling like the time has flown by, while also feeling like I’ve been here much longer than two months. But maybe that’s just because I’ve been constantly on the move. Between having class and trying to travel, it’s easy to get tired and I’m actually just getting over being sick. This weekend has been good for me because I’ve finally had a chance to relax after trying to get all I can out of being here. Maybe that’s a sign of adjustment, too.

After the couple of months I’ve lived here, it’s easy to say I feel adjusted. It took me a little while though. I probably have only really ACTUALLY started to feel adjusted sometime within the last few weeks. Speaking French to my host mom and my French housemates and people on the streets and in stores has become something of second nature – whether my French skills are that great or not. In any regard, I’ve adjusted to having to speak a second language.

When I visited one of my friends from home last week in London, we went out to buy a couple of beers to have with dinner. Upon having to actually purchase the beer, I told my friend that I felt inclined to speaking in French. It was one of the best feelings, because that really showed me that my mind had finally started acclimating to my surroundings in France. I’ve spent the last few months asking for things in French, checking out of stores in French, reading, writing, communicating as a whole in French – for the most part at least.

Speaking the language has certainly been the biggest struggle for me, as I’m sure it is for most of, if not everyone studying abroad in a foreign country. It’s hard to exactly communicate the things you want to say if you haven’t grown up in that culture. Either that, or it simply takes years to really get the culture of the slang and the base of the informal language down pat. That is one of the things my English-speaking friends and I have been noticing: the way that we learn French back at home in the United States just seems too formal. Sure, we learn how to formally write sentences, paragraphs, essays and the like. But when it comes to actually having to communicate, we’ve been taught so formally that it’s as if we’re about to read a speech. People don’t talk here the way we learn in class or the way that you would necessarily talk to a professor in a classroom. While I understand this classroom logic, I also think it’s direly important to teach students how to speak a bit casually. Because when it comes to actually talking to people, there isn’t time to think about how to invert a question and stuff to that effect. You just have to speak, otherwise you’ll miss the entire conversation.

Speaking has certainly gotten easier for me. A woman helping my friend and I at a bookstore actually complimented our French speaking skills the other day. This is not to say that my French is suddenly perfect, but if that didn’t make my week, I sure as hell don’t know what did. It feels good to know that I’m able to communicate with people to the point where they understand me, I can speak a little quicker, and I can get around without feeling completely foreign or awkward. Besançon is really starting to feel like a little piece of home.

Other than language and communication, it’s been pretty easy to adjust living here. What’s so hard about learning to adjust to a diet of mainly bread, wines and cheeses? I’ll tell you what: absolutely nothing. And the French do it in a way as to not overindulge as well, which makes it even better.

There is not much else I have to say about the food here other than the fact that it’s just good. There are a lot of potatoes in the salads and there is horseradish salad dressing everywhere I turn. I also live around the block from a little restaurant called La Boîte à Crêpes and my friends and I have gone there consecutively the past few Fridays.

Another way I’ve learned to adjust has been by going for runs. It’s a good way to assimilate myself with my surroundings, so I feel a little less like a stranger and a little less foreign in the city I’m living in.

Adjusting to the time difference back home has also been one of my bigger challenges. It’s been the reason I’ve been losing a decent amount of sleep on school nights. It’s difficult when you have 8:30 a.m. classes four days a week and friends, family and a boyfriend back in New York who are still wide awake and living their day to days when it’s time for you to go to sleep. Most days, I make it work somehow.

I’m also constantly surprised by the amount of people who are shocked and amazed that I’m from New York. Someone asks you where you’re from and you say that and sparks ignite in their eyes. I kid you not. It’s pretty gratifying actually. It usually is followed up by a “so what the heck are you doing in Besançon?” kind of question.

But that’s what I like about being here most. It’s different than the things and the places and the people I’m used to. It’s been nice having to adjust to something completely out of my comfort zone. And it’s a nice, little picturesque city away from most things major. It has the calmness of New Paltz in a European city setting. There’s not much to hate here, if anything at all. If there is anything to hate, I haven’t found it yet. And I don’t think I will.

Exploring

 

As much as I love Granada, I also love exploring the cities that surround me and other ones in the country. It’s relatively easy for me to travel everywhere because I’m a short bus or a taxi ride to the train station, bus station, or airport. I’ve found that the bus is the best option for me because it’s cheap and convenient.

In the two months that I have been here, I’ve explored a good portion of Andalusia, the southern coast of Spain where I’m living. Andalusia has mountains and beautiful beaches, so I can’t really ask for anything else. It is also a very relaxed and laid back area where life isn’t taken too seriously. I admire the lifestyle and also love hearing local opinions that “Americans live to work, and Spaniards work to live”. It’s refreshing because it helps solidify the fact that there is more to life than getting a paycheck.

Some of my favorite cities so far have been Sevilla, Cádiz, and Málaga. Sevilla was the first city that I visited, and I absolutely loved everything about it. It was more modern and bigger than Granada, however, I don’t think I could’ve spent my whole semester there. I prefer the size of Granada and the fact that I am in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Another one of my favorite cities was Cádiz, which is a port city surrounded by the sea. I went in early February for Carnaval, which is one of the things the city is known for. Carnaval is basically a celebration or “street party” before Lent starts, and the whole city participates and dresses up in costumes. I meet people from all over Spain that came to Cádiz to celebrate, and it was one of my favorite weekends so far.

I loved Málaga and have visited three or four times. The beaches are beautiful even in the middle of January, and sometimes there are even people swimming in the ocean. One of my favorite things about this city is an indoor market called “Ataranzas” that sells fish, meat, cheese, bread and fruits and vegetables that are really fresh and cheap.

One of my favorite things about travelling so far has been staying at hostels and meeting tons of interesting people from all around the world. Most of the hostels that I have stayed at have meals or events that are meant to bring people together, and for the most part everyone is pretty friendly. I can’t wait to travel and explore more in the next few months!

making lifelong international friends abroad

I did not except to meet the girls I met abroad during my fall 2015 study abroad experience at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. The girls I met will forever be my best friends. Yes distance separates us, but we overcome it. We plan to reunite one day, hoping from country to country, catching up over our favorite pastimes–including drinks and tapas at our local bar. Except this time we will be sharing our favorite food or place to visit from our home country. For me, I’d definitely introduce my friends to some delicious New York pizza or even spend a day touristing throughout the Big Apple.

If you ever decide to study abroad, it is a great experience. You will meet a ton of people from different backgrounds and be intrigued to learn all about their culture, their language, and their customs. You’ll be surprised to hear all of the American stereotypes they think we have. I’ve been asked the one about those “epic college ragers” depicted in the movies, and whether or not I religiously watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I don’t.

I miss them.But thank god for the twenty-first century. Through Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and more you can connect with people around the globe in an instant.

Not sure where I’ll find my self meeting these girls again–whether it be in Sydney, Rio, Buenos Aires, Thailand, or even New York. Wherever it may be, I definitely look forward to seeing these girls real, real soon.

What is even greater is that I already got to see one! We met up recently while she was on vacation in New York City for a few hours to catch up.

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Chicas, ¡Los extraño!

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My advice to all of you college students: study abroad and get yourself some international friends…You won’t regret it!

The Best of Berlin

Hello! It has been a long while since I have written last. I apologize for this, as school has picked up, the weather is getting nicer, and well.. I’ve simply abandoned my blog. But I am back! To share our experience in Berlin 🙂

To start, Berlin is my favorite city so far.. of course, this is difficult to say because every city is so unique and special in it’s own way. It sounds as though I’m preaching to a group of self-conscious teenagers. Anyways, Berlin was wonderful and Ema, Becca, and I each wished desperately that we could have stayed there with our wonderful AirBnb host, Madlen and her gorgeous Australian Shepard-Border Collie , Kappa. Kappa and Madlen were very likely a huge reason we loved Berlin so much. So, thank you Madlen and Kappa 🙂

We arrived in Berlin after a terrible Ryanair flight on Thursday night, got a train directly to Madlen’s house and were immediately greeted by Kappa (who sniffed us up and down and apparently decided he liked us), we then went right to bed so we could start our Friday fresh and ready to explore.

Each morning, Madlen made us a wonderful breakfast with an assortment of several spreads — for our artisan rolls, of course. Our favorite of these spreads was, by far, her mother’s homemade jam, which Madlen gave us an entire jar of to take home with us! 🙂 🙂

The below photo is of Becca on the train, which I took and shared because I really appreciated all the art throughout Berlin — including the fun prints on their metro.

Below is another photo of street art, which is all throughout Berlin — just another aspect that I loved.

Our day started out by walking upon Checkpoint Charlie, so we checked that out for a while. Another really great thing about Berlin (yes, there are so many great things about Berlin) is that their landmarks are free and open to the public. Of course, there are many museums, which we did not end up visiting because we have quickly discovered how draining museums can be, so we have decided to skip out on museums, unless there are ones that we must see. (This also saves a large sum of money)

Below, I am standing between a small part of the Berlin wall at Blackbox Kalter Krieg (it was an outdoor exhibit explaining Checkpoint Charlie).

After reading all about Checkpoint Charlie and watching several people pay to take photos with an army man in front of it, we moved on towards the Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), which is something I have wanted to see since my German language teacher explained it to us last semester. What she said is correct, the memorial has an odd feeling to it.. you can get lost in it, because the deeper you go, the higher to cement slabs rise and the lower the ground dips. It is also disconcerting because children that are also visiting the memorial run through the alleyways shouting and laughing and you cannot see them until you round the corner of the next cement block, and by then, it’s too late.

Holocaust Memorial featuring Becca (to show the size of the structure).

We then walked out of the memorial, to the Großer Tiergarten, which also has many exhibits — if that’s what they can be referred to as. Berlin is filled with so much history, it hits you at every turn. Throughout the park there are monuments, sculptures, stone collections (Global Stone) — which you will see below.

 This just looked so cozy to me, so I took a photo 🙂 (Above)

Below are Ema and Becca between two stones of the five stone groups. From our understanding of it, these different stones are from different countries in the world, they connect somehow with the sun during summer solstice, and they are meant to symbolize the unity of people all over the world. They are lovely rocks.

This is a photo of tree bark from a tree that we saw in the park. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen tree bark like this. It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but it is a beautiful woven pattern, so I had to take a picture. I’ll try to look up the type of tree and get back to you later on that. (Dad, do you know?) 

After exiting the park, we came upon a Russian War Memorial (Russisches Ehrenmal Tiergarten). We really didn’t realize how much Russian influence there was in Berlin until seeing such memorials. There is another one that we happened upon in another park that is featured below. The above may sound like an ignorant statement, but until you are really there, you don’t realize it.

From that Russian memorial, we spotted the Brandenburg Tor, which Ema was itching to get to, as were we all. So, we headed over thataway and admired the wonderful structure, took some photos, walked down that stretch a bit, looking for food — of course. We settled for a second breakfast in Kaffeehaus Einstein because we were starving at that point. We regathered ourselves, ate a delicious meal, and headed on over to the Reichstag Building to wait in line for free tickets to see the above glass dome. Yes, free. The line was quite long and the time slots for the day were filling up quickly, so we were only able to snag tickets for a 7PM-ish visit. After getting our tickets, we decided to walk out along the Spree River to maybe find a cafe or warm place to settle for a while.

We found a quaint little cafe, got ourselves some wifi and espressos (it’s been a bumpy adjustment as a coffee-lover here, as the coffee market is very different from that of home — warning Mom and Erin 🙂 ) AND! The most exciting part about this cafe, other than their vegan scones, was that they sell Mast Brothers Chocolate!!! Becca and I were ecstatic as it was a little bit of Brooklyn in Berlin, plus we just love their chocolate. We did not buy any though, considering how expensive it is at home, it must’ve been out the roof there. Ha!

Anyways, around 6:30 we made our way back towards (I speak of Berlin as if everything is just around the corner or a block over — which it isn’t, Berlin is actually huge compared to the cities we’ve been in thus far) the Reichstag for our tour.

Below are photos from the rooftop terrace and the glass dome atop the Reichstag building. It was beautiful to see the Berlin skyline at night.. many photos were attempted, but none captured the essence, so we left it be.

The dome offered so must historical information as well and we were guided by an audio tour as we gradually walked to the winding top of the dome. The structure of the dome itself is also beautiful, as it is an open structure, allowing rainwater and such to enter through the center structure. This is meant to symbolize openness or transparancy in the German government, as you are able to see the parliament floor throughout the entire dome. In the photo below, you can see the purple seats of the parliament on the first floor reflecting in the mirrored pieces of the long center structure.

  Above are Ema and Becca on the rooftop terrace of the Reichstag.

Below is a photo of the amazing meal that we had at Chipps — a delicious vegetarian restaurant. Featured below is bread dumplings, mushroom ragout, baked leaks, and cranberries. Becca and I also tried out different beers, which were also lovely!

On our walk home, we spotted the Berliner Dom at night.

Here is a photo of Ema with Kappa, who loved to come into our room to play with us when we arrived home at night. If you couldn’t already tell, we loved Kappa lots and he loved Ema’s pillow!

The next morning, we walked through the nearby park, Becca showed us another Russian War Memorial she had run upon, which we found out actually has buried soldiers beneath some sections. 
Here is Ema.

Following this, we made our way to the East Side Gallery — or Berlin Wall. Below are some of the art pieces that I really loved.


Below is the Berliner Dom by day. 
Becca and I in front of the derriere of the Dom across the Spree.

 We found a street art market whilst walking around this area as well. After looking around, we decided to go see the Olympiastadion, which was at the outskirts of the city. There was a rowdy game going on once we arrived and you had to purchase tickets to gete in, so we observed from the outside and listened to the rising and falling noises of the crowd inside for a little while, then headed back to the center for an early dinner at a delicious Thai place, then headed home for the night.

The next morning, we caught a flight back and regrouped for Monday once back in Brussels.

None of us wanted to leave, as we all appreciated Berlin so much. I plan to return someday because I know that there is much more to the city than we were able to see in just one weekend!

Goodbye for now! It is a wonderfully sunny day out — such a rarity in Brussels– so I am off to run through a park!

Ciao Svizzera!

Another week in Florence has flown by. That means time for a trip! Next on the list Switzerland.

Let me just start off by saying Switzerland was amazing! My friends and I all had so much fun, and I would highly recommend this trip to anyone thinking about going. We traveled to Interlaken, a cute little town located between two huge lakes. The lakes there were a beautiful crystal teal blue, which looked so nice next to the snow capped mountains. Although the town was small, there was no shortage of things to do. You could go skiing or snowboarding, make chocolate, paragliding, sky diving, hiking, ice skating and more.

We decided to book our trip through one of the local traveling companies, Euroadventures. It is one of the more popular traveling agencies most study abroad students use. Their trips are affordable and cover transportation, lodging and sometimes breakfast. Only down side the transportation is usually done by bus. So traveling from Florence to Interlaken was not so fun.The bus ride ended up being 9 1/2 hours with two stops for bathrooms and food, but we finally got to our hotel around 3 am.

Even though we were running on barely any sleep, we went on a walk to see Lake Thunersee, one of the two lakes surrounding the town, on Friday morning. After we decided to go on a nine mile hike up one of the nearby mountains, and the view kept getting better at each lookout point. After a long day of adventuring we learned how to make chococlate at the Funky Chocolate House. Why wouldn’t anyone want to learn how to make chocolate in Switzerland of all places! I am pretty sure I ate my weight in chocolate that night, and I have no regrets.

Saturday was a little more slow, but no less exciting. We explored the shops of the town and went iceskating. The ice skating rink was different than a normal one, because it was smaller rinks connected by multiple paths. Originally the plan for the day involved paragliding, but due to poor weather conditions it was cancelled. We did get lucky on Sunday, because they rescheduled us for a morning jump.

Sunday morning, we piled into a van that took us 20 minutes up a mountain and then walked another 5 minutes to get to the jump site. From there we ran one by one off the mountain into the air. It was the strangest feeling, because they tell you keep running even when you are no longer touching the ground. Before you know it you are soaring high above everything. It was one of, if not, the best experiences of my life. You glide through the air for about 15 minutes, which is plenty of time. The professional paraglider with me did tricks and took pictures and videos to capture the whole thing. It was the perfect way to end our trip to Switzerland.

I decided to take this upcoming week to explore Florence some more with my extra free time. I can’t wait to share what I find!