Our Trip gets Mapped Out…

The Low-Res Version

The Low-Res Version

EURO MAP!

^^^Click the link to see the full-res version of the wonderful map that the lovely Anouska Rickard so beautifully put together for our trip. We met her and her husband, Mitch, in Italy along the way. We were staying at the same campground in Cinque Terre and we instantly wanted to be their best friends because they are such incredible individuals, and an amazing couple!

The map came out better than I ever imagined and I can’t wait to have it in my apartment! It includes a lot of the little moments along the way and the big landmarks that you can’t miss. Thanks a billion Anouska! She’s super duper talented if you need a graphic artist for anything! www.anouskarickard.com

-Jess

Imprisoned Blog Posts

07/31/2015

Hilary is holding all of the blog posts captive. She won’t release them until we get home because she said we have to “enjoy the rest of our trip”…whatever that means. Just to give you a little update, we are just four days away from being back on American soil. 

Six weeks went SO quickly. Since June 23rd I have gotten over 100 mosquito bites, 50 bruises, 20 blisters, 1 sprained ankle, a massive infection that made my neck gland visibly swell so I looked like a chipmunk, and it was all completely worth it.*
Check back soon for the rest of our trip in blog form. Or just find me after August 5th and ask me about it. 

-Jess 
*numbers are approximate 

Day 10-11: The Hell Train to Venice and the Road to Saint Marco

Jess: Ah, the night train. What an unexpected nightmare. We were a little late reserving the train because we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do at the time. We ended up reserving a chair since all of the beds were booked up. Being new to the night train, we were unaware of just how much worse the cabin chairs would be than the beds.

Hilary: As you’ve seen before and as you’ll surely see again on this blog, I can sleep anywhere. I slept maybe two hours on this ten-hour train ride. We were in a six seater car- three seats facing another three seats- and when one women left in the middle of the night it was every man for himself to claim her old spot. A sleepy Hilary is ruthless in her quest for comfort, and I don’t remember snagging the seat but somehow I did. Jess was murderous. Sorry, Jess. 😦

When we finally arrived in Venice, we were delirious but alive. We only had a few hours to see the city, so we decided to keep our bags with us instead of putting them in a locker for the afternoon. Cue non-stop sweating for the next five hours (and really the next 10 days in Italy). It was some serious sweat-dripping-off-my-nose-when-standing-still kind of sweating. I must have lost 5 lbs that day. But don’t worry. I’ve already gained  it back with all the pizza and pasta we’ve been eating.
The streets of Venice are not very intuitive and can be difficult to navigate if you don’t have a map. Though mapless, we were determined to make it to San Marco square, the main square in Venice. Here’s a recap of our journey:
Hilary with her backpack having just exited the Hell Train. Tired, but ready to find San Marco!

Hilary with her backpack having just exited the Hell Train. Tired, but ready to find San Marco!

At first we tried to use the canals to navigate, until we realized that every street was a canal. Here's Jess pausing to take in the scenery.

At first we tried to use the canals to navigate, until we realized that every street was a canal. Here’s Jess pausing to take in the scenery.

One of the hundred canals we passed. We were considering taking their freshly dried clothes because ours were so sweaty.

One of the hundred canals we passed. We were considering taking their freshly dried clothes because ours were so sweaty.

Hilary after shedding her hat and glasses in favor of sunglasses.

Hilary after shedding her hat and glasses in favor of sunglasses.

We tried to steal the gondola, but these guys were too fast for us.

We tried to steal the gondola, but these guys were too fast for us.

So, where is this place?

So, where is this place?

Jess: "This....is it? I mean, it's pretty I guess." Hilary: "No, this can't be."

Jess: “This….is it? I mean, it’s pretty I guess.”
Hilary: “No, this can’t be.”

Ok, so not the right square, but HATS!!!

Ok, so not the right square, but HATS!!!

Nap break number 1. Much deserved.

Nap break number 1. Much deserved. Backpack stuck to back.

Jess marking her territory. Just kidding, that was there.

Jess marking her territory. Just kidding, that was in the back alley we wandered into.

Seriously. Where the hell is this place. Should we get a map?

Seriously. Where the hell is this place.

These stylish cats were laughing at how lost we were.

These stylish cats were laughing at how lost we were.

A clue!! Could it be?!

A clue!! Could it be?!

WE MADE IT!!!!!

WE MADE IT!!!!!

Details of Saint Mark's Basilica. Totally worth it.

Details of Saint Mark’s Basilica. Totally worth it.

Saint Mark's Basilica.

Saint Mark’s Basilica.

Hilary and Jess at the Grand Canal to celebrate our victory!

Hilary and Jess at the Grand Canal to celebrate our victory! Still sweaty.

Day 9.5 &10: Munich, a Tour of Emotions

Hilary: We had a half day in Prague on Day 9 before catching a bus to Munich, so we spent the morning exploring some sites in the Jewish Quarter that we’d briefly visited the day before on our walking tour.

 
Jess: The Jewish Quarter definitely contained a lot of history I didn’t know about. We walked around a cemetery that had over twelve layers in it because the government wouldn’t give the Jewish people any more land to bury people in; only dirt to put on top of the existing land. One the top of the 10m high cemetery were all of the old tombstones that had to keep being raised every time another layer had to be added. Extremely haunting. There was also a museum of artwork of children from a nearby concentration camp during the Holocaust. An art teacher had the kids express their feelings through art and it was a solemn moment to read the name, birthdate, and the date of art right before the date they were killed in the camp.

We walked back through Prague once more to the train station to find our bus to Munich. It was relatively painless (minus the fact that I forgot my passport in my bag that was stowed under the bus and had to get the man to open the compartment on the side of the road in Germany to retrieve it… but that happened to about 10 other people too so it wasn’t that mortifying).

Once we got to Munich we had to find a place to stay. With a severe lack of time/wifi we were unable to do so beforehand.

Let me tell you, despite how compact we look, carrying around those backpacks is not the easiest thing when you are tired and hungry. I’m already an animal when I’m hungry, add in being exhausted and a 25lb backpack and I’m basically the Hangry Hulk. (Hangry, for those of you who do not know, is hungry+angry).

We went to a hotel on one side of the train station and they were far too expensive but they had great desk candies that I decided to stock up on. Hilary thinks I eat too much sugar. She’s right. The woman behind the desk there sent us to the other side of the train station to the cheaper hotels. It was hard finding one that wasn’t all booked up. The one we landed on only had one room left in the entire hotel but no air conditioning. Once the desk clerk, Marcus, threw in free breakfast we said, “who needs air conditioning?!?” and booked the room for the night.

Marcus told us about the huge local beer garden Augustiner Keller, the oldest beer garden in Munich, and said that we’d have to hurry because it was closing soon (at least I think that’s what he said). We went upstairs, dropped our backpacks, and quickly tossed things out of our day-bags that weren’t necessary in order to lighten our loads.

The beer garden was insane. Imagine a giant park with trees and a couple playgrounds with winding paths and then drop thousands of people in there with some cafeteria-style food service, giant soft-pretzels, and enough beer for an ice hockey game in Boston. I told you… insane. We ambled around a little bit, unsure of what to do, because this was our first beer garden experience. Eventually we figured out that we go to the food, not vice versa, and found the food lines at the back of the garden.

I was paying, excited to go sit in this giant park full of drunk people, and Hilary looks at me with a face of pure horror and says, “Jess, I don’t have my wallet. I think someone stole my wallet.” Since I was still in Hulk mode I just looked at her and said, “Well, do you want me to pay for your food?”

Hilary: Yes, I did want her to pay for my food, because in my tired and hungry state I went into what I’ll call an “emotion-coma.” Pure numbness. I figured half a chicken, a liter of beer and 5 lbs of soft pretzels could only make things better. I also figured that my wallet was a lost cause, so we sat at the beer garden for a while formulating theories as to what could have possibly happened to it.

“I bet it’s at the hotel,” Jess said. “I’ve been with you the whole time, and no one has bumped into you.” This was true. But in my numb state, I’d dreamed up the Houdini of pick pocketers, stealthy enough to summon my wallet with magic.

Jess:  We have heard A LOT about the amazing pick-pocketers of Europe. Because of this we have been pretty diligent about watching each other’s stuff and holding onto our bags. Hilary had me a little worried, but we were just so exhausted and she had definitely thrown a bunch of her stuff out of her purse at the hotel; so I was betting at about 85% that her wallet was with the stuff on her bed. It didn’t make eating the plate of ribs and pretzel any easier, though. We were both anxiously drinking beers just wondering what kind of horrible monsters hung out at beer gardens stealing wallets.

Hilary: Long story short, thankfully my wallet was indeed at the hotel. After an exhausting day of travel, we all but passed out into our beds.

Jess: Hilary hugged her wallet for about 10 minutes, by the way.

On day 10 we had a decision to make. We only had the day in Munich and heard about this monastery where the monks have been brewing their own beer for centuries and the only place to get it is at the actual monastery. That sounded pretty good, especially since Hilary still had a wallet. Our other option was the Dachau Memorial. I think we chose well when we decided to go to Dachau instead of drinking beer all day.

We joined a tour group at the Munich train station and headed for the former Holocaust Work Camp. From the moment we stepped foot at the entrance I was absolutely consumed by emotions. Once we stepped through the infamous gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” I don’t think I took a breath for a while as I was just taking it all in.
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Our tour guide explained the history of the camp, some of which I knew, some I didn’t. We went through the jail and the barracks before making our way to the gas chamber. I don’t know how to explain to you the feeling of walking through a defunct gas chamber, even if history reads that the one at Dachau was never used. It’s not something I want to experience again and it’s hard to put into words the feeling I had when I was there. We walked through the park where the mass grave was and I just stood there for a minute by myself in the quiet woods and lost it.

This question has been asked so many times in so many different ways but how in the hell can humans do that to one another? How do we keep letting this happen in the world?

At the end of the tour, the tour guide read some quotes about how remembering and learning from the atrocity would be one way to honor the victims. It doesn’t feel like enough.

After that I don’t think I thought a coherent thought for a good couple hours. I didn’t even talk until we got to lunch and even that was strained.

Hilary: I’ve been reading about the Holocaust and various individual accounts of it since my early teens, and I still had no idea how I would feel when I walked into the camp. That time in history has always been a point of fascination for me from a humanitarian perspective- as Jess asked, how did this happen on such a mass scale and how can we keep it from happening again?
I was determined to soak it in from an academic “what can I learn from this” perspective. As a person whose memories are very much influenced by how I feel in a particular moment, I knew if I didn’t try to walk around the camp with a certain level of emotional detachment I wouldn’t remember much about the experience except being sad.
One of the most chilling aspects of the camp was how organized it was. Our guide told us that Dachau was the first camp and served as a model for the others, and that the people living in the small town Dachau had no idea what really was going on within the walls.

We had a reservation on an overnight train to Venice at 11:30pm that night, so with a few more hours left in Munich we explored around the city.

Jess: My dad had told me that in his 20’s he also visited Munich. He said that he remembers a large city square and the place where Hitler founded the SS (Hofbräuhaus). Thirty years later, I went to those same places where he went and it felt pretty cool to be somewhere across the world where my dad had been 3 decades prior.

We made our way to the English Garden for a little relaxation after our trying mental day. The streams running through the park were perfect to dip our feet into after the long walk there; but in order to get there we had to walk through the nudist meadow. We knew it was coming because it was on the map but I guess we weren’t completely sure if it was real or not. Spoiler Alert: the Nudist Meadow is real. Several people were completely nude running around the park and tanning. Everyone else was just in their swimsuits enjoying their day by the water like everything was normal. The water was absolutely perfect and I’m still a little sad I didn’t have my swimsuit with me. I know, you think I should have just taken all of my clothes off and went in nude but I just don’t know if the pool in Reykjavik, Iceland was enough to expand my comfort zone.
The stream along the nudist meadow. No nudists were captured in this photo... sorry.

The stream along the nudist meadow. No nudists were captured in this photo… sorry.

We were leaving Munich on a good note, ready to see Italy for 10+ days, drink a bunch of wine, and eat a bunch of pizza and pasta. Then Hilary went and said she was excited for our first night train… leading to The Hell Train to Venice.

Days 8 & 9: Prague

Jess: We’re currently on day 20 of our trip…or, as we like to call it, HALFWAY!! Clearly we have some catching up to do! **Don’t worry, Pepper, Mommy didn’t leave you with those mean relatives forever. You’re 50% done with your torture.**

Pepper recently managed to send me this from the depths of New Jersey.

Pepper recently managed to send me this from the depths of New Jersey. She sent a note with it saying she’s fine but she hopes she doesn’t have to stay there forever because they make her walk 5 miles a day.

Day 8 started in Berlin with us saying goodbye to our stupendous host, Sam. He waited so nicely for us to get all of our stuff out of his apartment and walked us to the UBahn stop on the corner. Such a gentleman. Hilary and I then made our way to the main station and boarded the train bound for Prague.

Hilary and I have Eurail passes to easily travel via train all over Europe. They are wonderfully convenient because we can just hop on and off the trains without having to buy a ticket. The one thing we didn’t realize with that, however, is that even though we don’t need a ticket, that doesn’t mean we don’t need a reservation. Some of the trains are comprised completely of 4-or-6-seat cubbies that are enclosed with a hallway going all the way down the right side of the train. When all of those seats are reserved, you end up in one of those narrow little hallways, standing for multiple hours all the way to your destination.

Remember last post when Hilary said, “Man, we walked 20 miles yesterday, I’m excited to sit on the train for a few hours.” She said it out loud… therefore, yes, we stood in a hallway with all of the other sad saps who didn’t make reservations, the entire trip to Prague. At first we held out hope that one of the cabins was open and we could sit down but as we moved between cramped train cars it became more clear that there was no hope. We became the lowest class of train-goers: the aisle idlers.

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The view from our “seats” on the train. Imagine someone trying to get to the restroom in between train cars from the middle of the aisle. Imagine that happening about 50 times in four hours.

As we stood at the back of train car 5 we both made a decision to make the best of it. We befriended the adorable Irish lads in front of us named Colin and Owen that were on holiday through Europe as well. They played “Heads Up” with us to pass the time but they quickly noticed that Hilary and I knew far more about American Movie and Pop Culture Trivia than they did.

Hil: Surprising. Also, shout out to Emily and Clare, sisters from Los Angeles who are on a trip almost identical to ours. Coincidentally, Emily works in production, too. Thanks for the cherries!

Jess: Just as we lost our will to survive, the train pulled into the main station in the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague. We made our way to our AirBnB in center-city and czeched in (I’m so so sorry, I had to. You’re welcome, Dad). After a late afternoon nap, we decided to just walk around a bit and see what Prague was all about.

Hil: That short walk around the city before bed turned into a multi-hour one as we walked deeper into Old Town of Prague completely mesmerized by the city at night. We weren’t the only ones, either. At midnight, Prague’s famous Charles Bridge was packed with people. Prague was the first city that slapped me in the face with it’s beauty and left me speechless.

Prague Castle in the distance

Prague Castle in the distance.

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Old Town Hall Tower.

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Jess: We were hungry after our trek through history and after multiple sad attempts at finding a place with an open kitchen, we walked into the Prague Beer Museum. As June 29th ended we were sitting at a table enjoying some cheese, sausage, (we still couldn’t escape the sausage), and Czech beer. As June 30th began, we were still doing the same thing but at this point, it was Hilary’s birthday.

Hil: Wahoo! Not a bad way to ring in 27. At the bar we made friends with some lovely Finnish gents who were stopping in Prague for one night on a road trip back up to Scandinavia. Some of my favorite experiences on this trip so far have been running into fellow travelers and instantly bonding. If you’re reading this, hey guys!

Our new friends: Atte,  Miikka, Juhis and photographer Henrik

Our new friends: Atte, Miikka, Juhis and (photographer, not pictured) Henrik

We stayed out a bit later than expected, so we slept in and woke up in time for lunch at a traditional Czech food restaurant-by-day/ club by night called Lokal. We filled up on multiple kinds of dumplings, chicken soup, mint tea, vienna coffee, various forms of pork and chicken, and multiple desserts. Yes, this was just lunch.

Main course at Lokal

Main course at Lokal

Once we stuffed our faces an adequate amount, we rolled over to Old Town Square for a walking tour. By the end of this trip, Jess and I are going to be experts on Western Europe’s free walking tour options. Being embarrassingly ignorant of the history of the Czech Republic, I was fascinated during the walk around Old and New Town Prague and the facts and unique stories our guide shared about King Charles IV, Jan Hus, the Nazi occupation, the Jewish Quarter and Prague’s rich musical history.

A candid photo of our guide.

A candid photo of our guide mid-story

Statue of Antonín Dvořák in front of the Rudolfinum, where he used to conduct the Czech Philharmonic. #classicalmusicnerd

Statue of Antonín Dvořák in front of the Rudolfinum, where he used to conduct the Czech Philharmonic. #classicalmusicnerd

The

The “Powder” gate. One of three gates to the city still standing

Now for something completely different: UnUtero, a sculpture of a pregnant woman. She's hollow, so you can climb inside of her to watch a video of a fetus in the womb.

Now for something completely different: UnUtero, a sculpture of a pregnant woman. She’s hollow, so you can climb inside of her to watch a video of a fetus in the womb.

I had two options for an evening birthday-ish activity: a Prague Pub Crawl or a classical concert of Vivaldi, Brahms, and Pachelbel performed by an eight piece string section in Prague’s Municipal House that we happened to see a flyer for at the last minute. Guess which one I chose.

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Hint: this is not a bar.

The concert was in an intimate room with about two hundred seats, perfect acoustics, and an incredible guest violin soloist. Even the other musicians in the group were smiling and yelling “Brava!” after his solo moments. Since we had decided to skip Vienna, Austria (arguably the classical music capital of the world) for timing reasons, my goal was to see at least one classical performance somewhere else in Europe. With this concert, we checked that off the list!

We ended the night at what I’m sure is Prague’s worst shisha bar. IMG_0273

Days 5.5-7: Eingang to Berlin

Guten Tag, everyone! The trip has been a whirlwind so far, making it difficult to update with any frequency. We’re long past Germany now, but we wanted to share some of the highlights from our short time in Berlin. Hilary is in normal text and Jess picks up in italics!

The train to Berlin was a long one. The Roskilde festival, a music festival in Denmark, was going on, and we had to make our way through a sea of hippie-fied festival goers. Imagine a festival the size of Bonnaroo where everyone packs up all their gear and travels by train. Oh, the sights and smells! There was a train that we could not fit on because it was so packed with people (There were literally kids shoving each other in tighter in the stairwell so that the doors could shut. I imagine they all just tumbled out backwards when they got to their destination). When we finally made it to Berlin, my friend Sam met us at the train station. I met Sam in college years ago during my two year stint at UT Knoxville in Tennessee, and we hadn’t seen each other since. When I posted on Facebook about the trip, Sam reached out and said he was living in Berlin as an architect (yeah..I know, right?) and that we could stay at his place while we were in town.

Sam took us to his flat in the Wedding neighborhood and it was on the top floor of the building- with no elevator. After our 10-hour train ride, we had to walk up 10 flights of stairs with our backpacks and weary bodies. Once we got to that top floor, though, it was worth the trek. Sam’s place is beautiful with great skylights and plenty of natural light flooding in.

The 27th was Jess’ birthday, and I wanted to be sure that we made up for having spent literally the entire day inside a train. Sam was ready with wine, beer, and a mint flavored German liquor called Rumple Minze that tasted like mouthwash, but was happily drunk by all (so sweet! Thank you, Sam!!).

He took us to his favorite Schnitzel place for dinner and taught us how to toast like a true German: don’t have a sip until everyone is at the table, look each person in the eye, clink everyone’s glass (don’t cross the streams), say “Prost!”, and bottoms up! If you don’t follow these rules it’s seven years bad sex, or something. Can’t have that!
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“Prost!” to being on a train for 10 hours! Can you tell?

One thing I’ve learned on this trip so far that any time I utter the phrase “Ohh, I’m really excited for _______!”, whatever is in that blank is not ever going to happen. “Ohh, I’m really excited for wifi on the train!” Nope, you missed the direct train that has wifi and now have seven connections. “Man, we walked 20 miles yesterday, I’m excited to sit on the train for a few hours.” Nice try, the train is full and you and 40 other people have to stand in the aisle for five hours (more on that later). Jess has even started shushing me any time I start to say I’m excited about anything. (Seriously, it’s bad.)

Anyway, case in point: At the restaurant, I ordered the spaetzel, a cheesy noodle dish. Or so I thought. “I”m so excited!” The restaurant was close to closing the kitchen when I ordered, and our waitress looked at me warily even though Jess and Sam had ordered schnitzel (When she brought out the silverware and napkins she also brought a tiny cup of mustard. When we saw that we were all a little curious as to what that could possibly be for). Twenty minutes later she came back, gave me a special knife, and said something I didn’t understand. Sam looked at the knife, horrified, having understood that she had said “That’s for the Haxe!” In my mumbly English, I’d mistakenly ordered Haxe, a ginormous dish of pig knee with hard, fried pig skin (and a handful of hairs) on top of a heaping pile of potatoes.

I think she might have said, “I’ll have the…” and lovely little German woman heard, “I’ll Haxe.” Either way, the pig knee was humongous and everything made sense then. Of course the woman was shocked that this American girl boldly ordered a giant pile of meat right before the kitchen closed. No wonder she had to check if they still had time to make it, even though we were all wondering why pasta would take longer than schnitzel. Hilary ate it like a champ though, I must say. 
Should I eat this?

Should I eat this?

“Yes,” she says, too tired hungry to consider another option. Sam looks on admiring Hilary’s courage.

Luckily, it was delicious.

After dinner we walked back to Sam’s place to get ready to go out. On the way back we stopped in a market and got a 3-pack of Reese’s to split as my birthday cake. (Sam had emphasized how exciting it was to see a Reese’s in a German convenience store). Naturally, I handed them out and then promptly dropped mine face-down on the floor. Nothing was going to stop me from eating my birthday Resse’s though so I just applied the 5-second rule and ate it. 

 
 We had some of the alcohol Sam had bought for us and made our way back into the city for some Berlin-style night-clubbing. Sam took us to this place called Fritz Klub (which Hilary thought was called Eingang all night because of the sign hanging above the doorway. Eingang, in German, means entrance). The DJ played nonstop and we danced right along with him for 5 1/2 hours to artists like Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Lil Jon, and some German artists we didn’t know but pretended we did. I had such a great time and was glad I danced off all of the beer and schnitzel I had eaten earlier.
Look at the fun we're having!

Look at the fun we’re having!

That brings me to a theme I noticed on this leg of the trip: Germans don’t mess around with their beer and meat consumption. I don’t think you can fathom the amount of sausages there are in any given square mile of Germany. Everywhere you turn there are stuffed cylinders of meat in various forms just waiting for beer-laden citizens to devour. Don’t worry, if you don’t like sausage there are about 50 other types of meat to feast on like the schnitzel (fried pork) I had. Even Sam, a 2-year Berliner, had sausage at 6am when we left the nightclub. Yes, we left the club at 6am and the party was still going strong. 
 
Walking home in the 6am morning light after a night of Berlin-ing

Walking home in the 6am morning light after a night of Berlin-ing

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Hilary has the unique ability to fall asleep anywhere.


We made it back to Sam’s place, ready for sleep, at 6:30am. All three of us took some Ibuprofen and immediately fell asleep. 
 

 
Later that morning (like 10:30am, somehow) we woke up to Sam cooking some leftover schnitzel and some scrambled eggs. It was amazing. I could really get used to all of these men cooking meals for me. Between Oliver in Copenhagen and Sam in Berlin, I have been quite impressed. 

 
Arguably one of the most infamous parts of recent history in Berlin, the Berlin Wall, was our first destination of the day. Sam acted as tour guide as he showed us sections of the wall that are still standing where it originally stood as a reminder.
 
Tall bars, like these, and bricks in the sidewalks show where the wall once stood.

Tall bars, like these, and bricks in the sidewalks show where the wall once stood.

 

Sam, our tour guide for the day, sharing some interesting facts about the Berlin wall.

Sam, our tour guide for the day, sharing some interesting facts about the Berlin wall.

An aerial view an area set aside to show what the wall used to look like. There's a guard tower in the corner.

An aerial view of an area set aside to show what the wall used to look like. There’s a guard tower in the corner.

Berlin Wall memorial site

Berlin Wall memorial site

Sam’s friends, Whitney and Sebastian, met us then and we made our way to the Flohmarkt, a German flea market. Obviously since we were in Berlin we had to stop at a market to get beer for the walk over. Apparently in Germany it’s totally cool to just walk down the street with beer like it’s water. 

We walked around the huge flohmarkt for a few hours while admiring the furniture, vintage clothing, other bits and bobbles, and or course, street food! We nommed on korean dumplings and drank fresh juice to cure our hangovers.
Berlin Flohmarkt

Berlin Flohmarkt

No caption necessary.

No caption necessary.

Jess Is Berlin.

Jess Is Berlin.

Next to the flea market was a large, open space where all of Berlin’s young people hang out.
The hip place to be!

The hip place to be!

Stadium seats where karaoke singers show off their skills.

Stadium seats where karaoke singers show off their skills.

The large mass of people in the stadium seats were watching karaoke singers perform. Every weekend, volunteers from the crowd sing Michael Jackson and Prince songs while the rest of the audience cheers and sings along.

We spent the rest of the day walking around Berlin taking in the sights.
Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate.

Holocaust Memorial. You can't tell from the picture, but the height of the columns vary drastically. The columns in the middle are actually about ten feet high.

Holocaust Memorial.

The line was long when we arrived at the Holocaust museum, so we explored around the memorial instead. The picture of the columns is deceiving. The columns vary drastically in height and the ground slopes down as you venture deeper into the memorial until you’re lost in a (very neatly laid out) maze of tall ten-foot high columns.
In the middle of the Holocaust memorial.

In the middle of the Holocaust memorial.

Jess in front of the Berlin Cathedral

Jess in front of the Berlin Cathedral

 

After walking around for hours, we ate a quick meal at Berlin’s version of Chipotle and parted ways with Whitney and Sebastian. Sam, Jess and I went back to Sam’s apartment for a chill, wine-filled evening so we could rest up for our train ride to Prague the next morning.

Thank you to our Berlin hosts- Sam, Whitney and Sebastian!

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Thanks Whitney and Sebastian!

 

Thanks Sam!

Thanks Sam!

DAY 5: Long Ride to Berlin

Jess and I are operating on about 4 hours of sleep per night since we embarked on this journey. The days are so long in the north that our bodies have had a hard time adjusting, and we’ve been determined to fill each day with activities since we haven’t had much time in any one place. We plan on stretching out the time in each place after this week so we don’t totally wear ourselves out, but so far it’s been a blast!

A few highlights from the past week- Hilary is writing in regular font and Jess is picking up in italics.

ICELAND
During our full day in Iceland, we stayed within the city limits to soak up Reykjavik. We woke up relatively early on the 24th to catch a free walking tour we’d booked a few days prior. Our tour guide, Erik, was a young history grad student with an Icelandic accent so thick with rolling ‘R’s, it sounded like what you’d imagine a Viking sounding like centuries ago. He was also adorable, evidenced here:
Our walking tour guide, Erik.

Our walking tour guide, Erik.

     He walked us around the city’s downtown area telling us the history of the region, recounting folk stories about Iceland’s past that may or may not be true, and making jokes picking on the Danes. He also gave us several recommendations for how to fill the rest of our day, a few of which we followed.

     Erik pointed out a hot dog cart on the way and told us that they were the best hot dogs that the city had to offer. Obviously, I immediately decided we needed them for lunch. Hilary agreed so after the tour we made our way back to the little hot dog cart a block from the harbor.
 

     Reykjavik was a pretty easy city to navigate because there was always the landmark of a giant church called Hallgrímskirkja to look for. Having heard that this was the best spot for a picture of the city we decided to check it out. It was definitely a beautiful sight to see the city from that view.
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View of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

 

 We were surprised by the bell in the top of the tower:
  

Another one of Erik’s recommendations was to visit a local hot pool, a hub the equivalent of a coffee shop or bar in the States where Icelanders meet daily to socialize. He suggested we avoid the tourist trap that is The Blue Lagoon, and instead go for a truer experience and to pay 1/10th of the price at a pool called Vesturbæjarlaug. Me, Jess and our new friend Araba grabbed our bathing suits and walked (forever… we walked forever) to the pool not sure of what to expect. (Once we finally got there…)We handed over our Icelandic Krona and headed to the locker rooms where we were instructed to rinse off- totally naked- in the main shower before getting in the pools. Showering naked in a huge multi-shower open room with a bunch of Icelandic women and some children wasn’t exactly something we’d expected to do that day. We figured, “When in Rome,” as a small, naked Icelandic child showed us how to use the hairdryer.

That night we followed Erik’s final suggestion for us: Tapas. In Iceland their biggest industry (until the recent increase in tourism) has always been fish because they are an island in the middle of an ocean. Needless to say, there was plenty of delicious fresh fish in our tapas selection and it was so good. Hilary enjoyed the blue ling the most while I was busy devouring my garlic butter lobster tails.
 
We went back to the hostel for some regrouping/goodbyes and got some sleep before our flight to Copenhagen in the morning.

COPENHAGEN

Thursday morning we woke up at the crack of dawn (well… it would be in any other country. In Iceland it was just as light at 5am as it was at 2am) and headed to the airport. We ate a little breakfast at the airport (my 4th, and certainly not last, croissant of the trip) and boarded our Iceland Air flight without issue. 

Copenhagen marked our first experience with Couchsurfing, a service where fellow travel-loving locals host you in their homes in exchange for you potentially hosting them in the future. Our host was Oliver, a German scientist who is passionate and endlessly knowledgeable about a myriad of subjects, ranging from forms of sustainable energy to Beethoven Sonatas (he taught himself one of the Beethoven Sonatas as he was finishing his PhD…and here I am trying to tie my shoes). He went above and beyond during our stay, cooking us multiple meals and acting as the best tour guide we could have asked for.

When we first got there on Thursday we met up with him at his apartment and chatted for a bit about multiple topics before he took us on an 8 mile walking tour of the city. He knew so much about all of the statues, the new construction, and the history of the city. When we got back he made us some great little sandwiches and delightful savory pancakes. We stayed up pretty late talking about life until we all crashed.
 
Friday morning, Hilary and I got up and had a tasty brunch full of every necessary food group and started on our exploration. One of my favorite people in the world, Lacy, just so happened to have been chaperoning a school trip to Copenhagen and had landed that morning. We decided to walk to her hostel to see if they checked in. After some creepy stalking of American accents, I learned from her students that she was out in the city still (which I later found out meant searching for a student’s lost bag). I walked down the stairs to see if I could find her and I ran right into her. It was incredible to see one of my best friends across the world during this trip even if it was extremely brief.
 
Jess and Lacy re-united halfway across the world!

Jess and Lacy re-united halfway across the world!

Our next mission was to rent bicycles to try to fully blend in with the Copenhageners. As soon as we got our bikes we were off hitting the pavement in the most bike-friendly city in the world. We meandered a good 6 miles around until we met back up with Lacy for another brief second. Oliver came to meet us there and we were off again! 

We biked for the next 4 hours as he took us on a 26-mile bike tour of Copenhagen (“!!!”, said our thighs) and the surrounding areas. What was a marathon of cycling for us was a typical commute for him. The city is a maze of bike paths covering every nook and cranny, and there wasn’t one place we went that didn’t have an area designated for bikes. Oliver told us that the busiest bridge in the city sees up to 40,000 bikers PER DAY in the summer months.
This is not the bridge, but is basically what any street in Copenhagen looks like.

This is not the bridge, but is basically what any street in Copenhagen looks like.

We were sad to leave Oliver on Saturday morning but we had a train to catch in order to get to Berlin for my birthday celebration. We returned our bikes and walked over to the train station. Little did we know we actually had 7 trains and a ferry to catch before we got to Berlin at 9pm. 

DAY 1, part 2: ICELAND!

Ahhhhh, we made it!

As I sat down in my plane seat on Iceland Air (23 rows in front of Hilary), I was just thankful that I didn’t throw up the sandwich I ate on the way to Boston. Hilary already gave my EWR–>BOS seat buddy, Jo, a shoutout yesterday but I just wanted to send another “thank you” out to her for the extra dramamine. Jo, if you ever see this blog (since I gave you the wrong web address for it…sorry!), please know I appreciated that chewable dramamine all the way to Reykjavik! Anyway, after a few hasty “We made it” texts, we were off for Iceland.

**SIDENOTE: I watched The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies on the plane. It was fine. I’m still mad they made three movies and that Lee Pace was Orlando Bloom’s dad but what are you going to do?!** 

We landed in Kevlavik, Iceland around midnight to a beautiful sunset. Yes, the sun set at midnight. We stopped at an airport store to grab a celebratory tiny bottle of wine before heading outside to find our shuttle to the hostel. We boarded the shuttle and shared an orange on our 50 minute ride to Reykjavik.

It was still light out when we arrived at Hlemmur Square Hostel to check in at 1:15am. We made our way up to our room, which we shared with 11 other people, and managed not to trip in the dark as we found the two empty top bunks. Quickly realizing neither of us were tired enough to sleep, we thought we’d go check out the lounge.

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A Panoramic of our Street: Hostel down on Left…. Penis Museum on Right.

We headed toward the lounge and this guy was just hanging out in the stairwell. That sounds really shady but this guy was super welcoming.  Enter: Lad. Lad is our first #eurofriend (see: hilandjess instagram) and he is an amazing world traveller. We sat with him for a while chatting until a girl named Araba walked out of the elevator with her 47 bags and we asked her to join the stairwell party. Araba was a little hesitant about joining our stairwell shindig but accepted our offer after she went into her room and heard the man with night terrors that would be her bunkmate. Thus, our 2nd official #eurofriend took a seat on the stairs.

After a bit more conversation, we finally crashed around 3:30am and went to sleep up on our top bunks… daylight still shining through the curtains.

Some subtle wall decor

Some subtle wall decor

I’m sorry that was so boring; day 1 was an exhausting day!
–Jess 🙂

DAY 1, part 1: Newark —> Boston —> Reykjavik

The first official Eurotrip 2015 travel day started without a hitch. Jess and I woke up on time to our neatly packed bags we’d prepared the night before. Jess leisurely read the paper as I ate cereal AND cinnamon toast (my gluttony proving to be serendipitous carbo loading, as you will soon see). Loki, the guard dog of Jess’ family’s house who wanted me dead the moment I’d arrived at the house, was in his cage, uttering only the slightest growl when he saw me walk by. We left the house a quarter after 9:00am and arrived at the airport right on time. Jess got her boarding pass without a hitch. All was well. The security line was long, but nothing out of the ordinary:
Jess' face.

Jess’ face.

Then, the universe decided to test our mental and physical fortitude early in the trip. As soon as we got to the front of the security line, the security guy alerted us that our flight out of Newark had been delayed an hour and a half. This was troublesome news since our layover in Boston was only two hours. Any dream we had of a sandwich before our flights were shattered as we realized we’d have to full on sprint with 25lb bags on our backs. By the time we landed, we only had half an hour to book it to the next flight.
“Man, Hilary and Jess, I wish I’d been there to experience that exciting moment with you guys!”!
Don’t worry, friend. We have footage. To come TBD.
Luckily, barefoot and carrying our shoes, we made it and were greeted by a very pleasant flight attendant and free bottles of water! Wahoo! We needed it after all the sweat we’d lost. Here’s my crazy, dazed, smiling face after I nestled into my seat:
How did I get here?

How did I get here?

Shoutouts of the day!:
  • Bonnie and Jo, the two lovely women we sat next to on the flight to Boston! Thanks for the calming conversation.
  • The 15 people who saw (and probably smelled) our sweat and let us skip them in the security line into the Boston International Terminal. If you ever see this, we send you a digital hug.
  • Hildur, the woman from IcelandAir who helped Jess when we were considering alternate flights. Sorry we didn’t call you back. I hope you’re not worrying about us.
  • SPECIAL shoutout to Ruben, the kind gentleman who gave us some sweet travel tips and offered to let me watch a Will Ferrell movie with him on the plane to Iceland!  At the end of the trip, he pulled out a mobile charger/ lantern, handed it to me and told me to have fun on our trip. He said that when he was young and traveling, people went out of their way to be generous and this was his way of paying it forward. If you read this, Ruben, THANK YOU AGAIN! Jess was also thrilled. Also, sorry I called you Bruno.
-Hil : )