***I had trouble putting pictures in, so I encourage you to check out my Netherlands album here and my Scotland one here***
So I haven't been my best this past month at updating you, but let me play a little catch up now. Right after my last post, I jetted off to London which only takes about 10 minutes because of the time difference! My first 3 nights I stayed with 2 Irish girls who right away gave me crumpets and tea (with milk of course). The next day I took my favorite free walking tour and saw all the essentials including Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey (although I never went in), St. James Palace where Henry the VIII lived, and the QUEEN! She was traveling in her coach back to the palace after giving a speech. That night I saw an improv comedy show with another Clark student and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was for a free show. I'm not sure if it was their charming British accents or just British humor in general, but I loved it enough to see another show a few nights later. Since most attractions were quite expensive, well really most things in London, especially since the pound to dollar is not a pretty conversion, I went to a lot of museums which are all free. While I was there I managed to hit the National Gallery (not a huge fan), the National Portrait Gallery (absolutely amazing), the Natural History Museum (dinosaurs never get old), the Victoria and Albert Museum (probably my favorite), and the British Museum. I also hit plenty of markets like the Old Spitalfields Market with antiques and vintage items, the Borough Market which provided TONS of free samples, and the Camden Market which was MASSIVE and similar to Greenich Village in New York City. I also took a fantastic tour of London's alternative culture, graffiti and street art. We even saw one of the artists working on a wall. The street art in really incredible and so many world renowned artists come to the walls of the East End and off of Brick Lane. In addition, to seeing London from East to West, I took a day trip to Cambridge. In Cambridge, I met up with a friend from high school who goes to the university and was able to take me through all the college yards and gardens. Despite the rainy weather and the cough I developed only while I was in London, the city absolutely stole my heart. I loved how quick the Tube was, the double-decker buses, and just being in a city that once ran an empire--but now it's just full of lovable scamps =)
Nonetheless I had to get back to the Netherlands for my last few weeks. After a day or so back, my parents arrived for their week long visit. Unfortunately, they picked the coldest and rainiest week and had to push through to make sure they still saw all the quintessential Dutch spots. They loved how unbelievably friendly the Dutch were at giving directions or satisfying my mom's need to talk to everyone, although when it came to biking, she found the Dutch to be far too aggressive to stay on the road. Together we journeyed north to see Alkmaar's cheese market, do a walking tour through the very historic Hoorn, and eat dinner in Haarlem. We also took a trip to Amsterdam to see the Jewish Museum (highly recommend) and Portuguese Synagogue followed by a canal tour. I tried to get my parents to go to a coffee shop which my Dad was quite excited about, but my Mom complained about her asthma and vetoed it. Since, I mostly cook for myself, it was quite nice eating out in Leiden's restaurants. While, I was sad to see them go after a week, I was also sad to see my computer and all of my stuff go to since I am now travelling and living out of my backpack.
After my parents left I wasn't alone for long, my friend Josh came to visit next. I gave him the full Leiden tour and we journeyed to the Hague. In the Hague, we went to see the Queen's palace, Parliament, the Peace Palace, and Madurodam which is an open air museum of small scale Dutch cities and interactive videos (it was like I was studying for my Dutch Culture exam). We also took the tram to the beach outside the Hague called Schvenigen and had some delicious Indonesian food for dinner. The next day we did a walking tour of Delft, climbed the New Kirk for some incredible views, and did a tour of the factory where they make Delft Blue wares. All in all a really lovely visit and a chance to get in some more places I had yet to see.
On my final week in the Netherlands, there was still so much more for me to do. I had two exams which I did okay on...I also made it to the Rijksmuseum for a bit (the fire alarm went off and shortened our visit), but I was still able to see some Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and so many other incredible Dutch artists. I managed to stop at the Anne Frank House as well and was really touched by how well it was organized and being in the same tiny attic that Anne hid out in. I also took a trip to Leylstad to visit my friend Judith's home and family, a city that has only existed for the past 60 years since it used to be underwater until they built lots of dikes. The city also has a lovely reserve next to it with tons of birds, deer, wild horses, and a beautiful landscape. Since I started dating a Dutch guy, Thomas, I even went to see a play entirely in Dutch that he was in. It's sad that aside from the synopsis that I read beforehand, I was not able to understand a word. On my last day inthe Netherlands, I got my vaccinations for Asia, took my last exam, and went to a concert in Amsterdam with Thomas and his friends (again I have never felt so short).
Leaving was bittersweet, but I was so excited to go to Scotland! I spent my first 3 days in Edinburgh couchsurfing with 3 Lithuanian students. The city is a mix of new and old architecture and is dominated by the Edinburgh Castle looming over the city. While in Edinburgh, I took another excellent free walking tour and learned a ton about Scotland's complex history. I also climbed Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat which are mountains right in Edinburgh that provided for some spectacular views. I got my fill of Harry Potter facts too having passed by the restaurant that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in and the cemetery that Rowling got inspiration for many names like Professor McGonagall and Tom Riddle (in London I stopped at Platform 9 3/4 and later in the Highlands I passed through Gilfinnan where Harry Potter's train went through in the movies). Edinburgh was the perfect mix of city, nature, and again terrific accents.
From Edinburgh I took a Megabus up to Inverness, one of the bigger cities in the north, but still very very small. After a stop there, I took a bus to the Invergarry Lodge where I have been spending my week. In exchange for doing the cleaning each morning, I have been able to stay at the hostel for free and explore the Highlands. On my first day I accidentally took a 6 hour hike around Loch Oich and interacted with far more people than sheep (the hills are covered in sheep, although I'm not sure if they are there to be sold, for wool, for haggis, or all of the above). Another day, I met a Dutch student hiking the Great Glen Way (from Fort William to Inverness) who was staying at my hostel. We continued on the next day together to explore Fort Augustus where I tried some fish and chips and to seek out the Loch Ness monster on Loch Ness ( I think Nessy is definitely in there!) My craziest day was when I decided to try out hitch hiking. I was trying to make my way to Fort William, but a Scottish musician picked me up and offered to take me to the coastal town of Malleig. From there I took a ferry to the Isle of Skye and was able to see the other smaller isles along the way. Once I arrived in Skye, I toured a small eco-campsite, saw some castle ruins, and walked along the coastline for quite some time before getting my next ride with an old man who facilitates marriages. I asked him how he could live out in the middle of nowhere and he told me that the last city he was in, Portree, with a population of 3,000 made him feel claustrophobic! The next ride was with a father and daughter. The daughter was only 16 and wrote and recorded her own CD (I suppose when she gets famous, I can remember the time I rode in her car). My last ride passed through some incredible scenery and another castle ruin from Kyle of Locash back to Invergarry. It was with a truck driver carrying a huge load of prawns and once I got used to the fishy smell we had a great time sharing travel stories. On my last day, I aimed to go to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom, but misjudged just how far that was so instead I had a terrific hike along Loch Lochy (translating to Lake Lakey.. oy). As much as I have thoroughly enjoyed my very relaxing week in the middle of nowhere, I am ready to head down to Glasgow for 3 days!
From Glasgow I head to Italy for 3 weeks. If it wasn't for the allure of spaghetti and gelato over haggis and black pudding, leaving Scotland would be quite hard. Hopefully I'll be able to send another post out soon from there!
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
It has been a BIG week here in the Netherlands! After taking some well needed time to re-coop from another month of travels and get in some homework, I was ready for Queen’s Day. Queen’s Day celebrates the Queen’s birthday (roughly… since Beatrix’s birthday is actually in the winter, but partying then isn’t ideal) and overall love for the Dutch Royal family. This year was a particularly large celebration since Queen Beatrix was stepping down (it must be exhausting work being a queen) and her son Willem Alexander and his wife MAXIMA were being coroneted. However, for an excellent description of the holiday, I encourage you to read this. So decked out in orange (for an explanation of the Dutch people’s love of orange see this) I headed to Amsterdam for a full day of activities and the last Queen’s Day (it will be King’s Day until he passes the crown to his daughter). On the train ride there I finally caught my first glimpses of the dazzlingly bright fields of tulips!
|Dam Square and the Royal Family|
At Centraal Station I met up with my Dutch friend Judith who took me to Dam Square where the legal documents were being signed to make the switch and where I even saw the royal family wave to us from a balcony! From there we walked to one of my favorite parts of the day, Vondel Park. One part of Queen’s Day is that anyone is allowed to sell things on the street without a permit, but in Vondel Park the children take advantage of this entrepreneurial opportunity. The park was full of kids selling their toys, performing dances or playing instruments for money, selling baked goods, or offering games. After getting our fill of adorable children, we cruised through other packed streets in Amsterdam stopping at people’s open living room windows to watch scenes from the coronation and royal festivities.
|Biscuit Eating contest. I WON!|
|Judith and I in Vondel Park|
|Compliments and hugs only 50 cents!|
Finally we met up with my friend Danean and few others at a park with music and dancing. When we had had enough techno music (it was one beat over and over again with a few variations) we took a ferry to my friend Nouha’s apartment. Even the ferry was a party with decorations, a DJ playing, and people dancing away. Once there we headed to a festival and danced for hours. By the end of the evening Danean and I took a much calmer ferry back to the train station and headed to Leiden which was covered in trash since the celebrations were just as huge there.
|Party on the ferry!|
|Awesome freight apartments|
|Danean, Nouha, Me, and Judith at the festival|
After a day to relax and study I then had my next jam-packed day. My Dutch culture class went on a bike trip through Zouterwoude’s polders and dikes before ending at a petting zoo of sorts! The baby pigs, goats, and lambs were too cute for words; plus Dutch children climbed into the pens with them to feed them from baby bottles. From the bike tour, I headed back to Leiden for a boat tour through Leiden’s canals with snacks, drinks, and friends to celebrate Danean’s last week in Holland. From the tour I had dinner at a student association (Quintus) with my Dutch partners and finally ended the evening at another student association, SSR, for hours of awesome Dutch student style partying.
|biking past some sheep|
|Dutch culture professor|
|kids and kids!|
|Leiden boat tour|
This past weekend, I finally made it to Gouda! Danean and I caught the end of the cheese market and walked around the small charming city. Most importantly we sampled plenty of cheese and enjoy a delicious wine and cheese plate! The next morning we were up bright and early to take a train to Wageningen (the pronunciation is ridiculous). It’s a small student city about 2 hours east of Leiden. Actually, after visiting I realized the university would have been a much better fit since they focus on life sciences and I finally found all of the Dutch hippies. Anyways, the reason for our excursion was because on the 5th of May, Wageningen puts on a huge celebration for Liberation Day (when the Netherlands was liberated from the Germans in World War II). We spent the day exploring the town, enjoying the sun, and hopping from stage to stage each offering a completely different type of music. We took a break for dinner with the family we were staying with and then headed back to keep on dancing.
|SO MANY cheese samples in Gouda|
|Wine and cheese in Gouda|
|We borrowed some marines hats =)|
I ended my week of amazing weather with a trip to the beach, Nordwijk which was absolutely lovely. Now I am off to London and could not be more excited!
Posted by Sharon Bort at 7:58 AM
Thursday, April 25, 2013
The last time I was in Berlin was when I was a freshman in high school and journeying there as a part of a Holocaust trip with my Rabbi and confirmation class. In my eyes this harsh, industrial city could only be seen as the extermination of millions of people. This time though, I was determined to see the city in a different light. Today Germany is a world leader, has one of the biggest Green Parties in the world, and has a rich history that is more than just WWII. I arrived Thursday night and took the train to stay with a friend from Clark, Stef, who has been studying abroad there for the semester. She gave me my first new taste of Berlin by going to a few of Berlin’s clubs. The first one we went to was in an area called the Raw Temple which is a bombed out section now covered in graffiti and hidden dance venues and bars. Since the trains don’t start running again until 4am we had some time to kill exploring Berlin by night and of course enjoying some fantastic falafel.The next day I was on my own, which I am normally quite good at when I travel, but for some reason Berlin made me terribly uneasy. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the city and had pangs of discomfort walking by the enormous Holocaust memorial again. Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before I met up with my friend Josh at our couchsurfing host’s apartment on Karl-Marx-Allee (the street is known for its Stalinist era housing once used as tenements, but are now quite nice). Our host Sebastian was quite busy, so after briefly getting acquainted he gave us his bedroom to use for the weekend and key to the apartment! Josh and I headed out for an awesome Indian dinner and an alternative pub crawl. The pub crawl took us to places we would probably never go including a 60s/70s themed bar (well maybe I would go there), a gothic/dominatrix bar, an absinthe bar, an 80s themed club, and finally a club underneath a furniture store! Unfortunately, the furniture store club was not very busy so we joined an Irish couple to another club with techno music and hipsters galore. What a night!
|Berlin has so many construction projects there are colorful pipes everywhere transporting gas and pumping out water|
|Holocaust Memorial for Homosexuals (inside the small window are clips of gay couples kissing)|
The next day we took a free walking tour to see all the main sites of Berlin starting at the Brandenburg Gate, to a parking lot sealing off the site of Hitler’s bunker where he married Ava and committed suicide, the old Nazi Airforce headquarters (now the German tax office), Checkpoint Charlie (the checkpoint between the American and Soviet sides of Berlin), past 2 very impressive cathedrals (now museums), Frederick the Great’s impressive cultural square, and Museum Isle. Afterwards, Josh and I walked around and grabbed Vietnamese food (another cheap and delicious food found all over the city). Tired from walking all day and the night before, Josh’s “half hour nap” turned into a 12-hour sleep so we stayed in that night.
|Parking lot over Hitler's bunker|
|Checkpoint Charlie (American soldier looking at Soviet side)|
|Checkpoint Charlie (Soviet soldier looking at American side)|
|Controversial Memorial with an unnamed Nazi soldier and unnamed concentration victim buried next to eachother|
|Our tour guide in fron the world's largest granite bowl|
Sunday we got off to an early start for breakfast and took Berlin’s alternative tour (if you ever go to Berlin, this is my number one recommendation!) Our guide (very alternative), took us through Berlin’s walls of notable graffiti, explained their significance and the notable artists that did them. Considering that the graffiti can change over night, he did an excellent job pointing all of it out. We concluded the tour at a beach venue on the River Spree called Yam that has been fighting to keep their location since investors have been trying to buy up the land along the water for businesses and apartment complexes—and also re-tearing down the Berlin Wall (the East Side Gallery). The East Side Gallery is the longest strip of the wall still standing and covered with artist’s work. After strolling along the wall, Josh headed to the Jewish Museum (I had been on my first trip) and I headed to a massive flea market at Mauer Park (once again, hipster central). I fell in love and spent quite a few hours there, before Josh and I re-met and he left for his bus back to Copenhagen.
|The future of Berlin?|
|Alternative tour guide in front of a tree house built next to the Berlin Wall when it was still standing|
|East Side Gallery|
|East Side Gallery|
|Mauer Park Flea Market- AWESOME|
The next day I got an early start and rented a bike as per usual for me. Starting in the East I biked to the end of Treptower Park and explored an abandoned amusement park and saw the WWII Soviet Memorial, which was huge and absolutely over the top, but a common thing to do for Stalin. Then I continued on and explored Kreuzberg, Berlin’s new trendy area and new reason to hike up the rent. From there I got lost for quite some time and finally made it to the Reichstag (Germany’s main government building) and biked all the way to the west through Tiergarten park to see their victory tower and finally Charlottenburg Palace.
|Abandoned amusement park|
|I went exploring...|
Exhausted, I took the metro back East to meet my final host Dave (originally from England, but has been in Berlin for the past few years). Since I had seen Berlin east to west, Dave took me south to Neukolln, an area resembling what Berlin used to look like when it was comprised of small villages and now predominantly populated by Turks. After a delicious Italian dinner, (German food never really happened since their main delicacy is curry wurst), we headed north to meet some of his friends. One of them was from Iraq and told me how much he approved of the war we started there—in fact, if he met George Bush, he would even shake his hand. Although I was surprised, it made a lot more sense once I learned he was a Kurd from northern Iraq (which he told me is beautiful and he’d be happy to host me there!) Since we were all having an awesome time hanging out, after a while it didn’t make sense to sleep before I had to catch my flight at 7am so we stayed out until one of his friends kindly drove me to the airport and gave me a small architectural tour of the center of the city.
|Like I said, curry wurst is a big deal here|
Berliners love their city and so do the tons of other people that have fallen in love with this raw and still growing city. Although Berlin definitely grew on me by the end of my trip, I’m not sure I will be rushing back any time soon. The city lacks the ornate and lavish air of other European cities and despite Germany being a world leader they are very much so debt. As their mayor stated, “Berlin is poor, but sexy.”
Posted by Sharon Bort at 3:48 PM
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Although Belgium had not originally been on my list of destinations in Europe, the allure of an easy train ride and charming cities drew me in. Belgium is a fascinating country split into 3 regions: the Dutch/Flemish side, the French side, and a tiny region of German speakers. With the exception of Brussels that has French and Dutch as their language, I was mainly in Dutch speaking areas (although, Belgian Dutch is much flatter and more subdued than Netherlands Dutch which is almost raucous). Anyways, I hopped on the train to my first destination, Antwerp (a city known for its student population, large port, and diamond industry). As soon as I arrived I was amazed by the intricate and beautiful train station in the city center. I didn’t have long to wait before my first couchsurfing host, Han, picked me up (like most Dutch, I couldn’t pronounce his name correctly, but he appreciated that I made it sound like Han Solo from Star Wars). We walked through the main shopping area and to his small student apartment where we made dinner together before seeing Antwerp by night. We walked through the main square, Antwerp’s tiny Red Light District, along the Schelde River, and stayed up until 4am getting to know each other and learning about each other’s cultures (although he was quite an expert at both the English language and American culture already).
|Antwerp Central Station|
|Antwerp Friday Market|
|Han and I taking the OLD escalators into the tunnel|
|Schelde River in Antwerp|
|Antwerp City Hall|
The next morning, Han took more time away from writing his thesis to walk through Antwerp’s furniture market/auction, the tunnel going under the Schelde (often used to film Dutch music videos!), get lattes at an excellent hipster coffee place, through his university, and a tiny Chinatown. As soon as we parted ways, I met my second Antwerp host, David. Our first stop was biking to MUHKA, another VERY absurd modern art museum (he promised me that Belgium had better art than this)! Next we biked along the river to the MAS, Antwerp’s new museum with a fantastic view of the city and finally through a lovely park back to his apartment where we made dinner together, shared music (my taste was a little too indie for him), and sampled some awesome Belgian beers. The next morning David prepared a lovely breakfast before I left for Ghent.
|David and I at the MAS|
Just as I was entering my Ghent host’s apartment (Jochen), another couchsurfer was leaving. Jochen took me through Ghent’s medieval streets, around the Count’s Castle, through the big cathedrals, the meat hall, and even passed by a cooking show being filmed. As we toured, Jochen encouraged me to continue enjoying the sunny weather and stop for beers each time I asked him a big question such as “What are Belgian politics like?” (I learned they are VERY complex). Jochen also told me about his trip to Israel which was very interesting since its rare I meet non-Jews that go there and how his pro-Palestinian position (most of Belgium feels this way) was altered through his trip there. Next we met up with his friend Sarah who joined us on our tour and brought us to a delicious vegetarian restaurant. After dinner, we went to see a Dutch band play in someone’s kitchen. Although I couldn’t understand any of the lyrics, listening to the cello, xylophone, and guitarist was lovely. Finally, we explored Ghent by night (all of their buildings are lit up) and tried Jenever (a very tasty drink similar to gin, but with tons of different flavor options—I tried chocolate).
|Jochen in front of Count's Castle|
|Sarah and I in Ghent|
|The Mystic Lamb by Van Eyck|
|Sarah and I on a bar on a boat!|
|Ghent by night|
Jochen had to catch an early train to Leuven, so I also left early and headed to Brugges. The small city of Brugges (only 20,000 residents) could be likened to a medieval open-air museum full of giant groups of Asian and senior citizen tourist groups. Brugges was unbelievably charming and full of chocolate shops (I got plenty of samples), more cathedrals, windmills, a large flea market, and surrounded by a canal with several gates. I also had my first Belgian waffle and Belgian fries (Belgians are very adamant that they were the inventors of fries, not the French). My favorite place in Brugges was the Beguinage, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that claims to have housed the first feminists in 1200 who took a pledge of chastity and formed their own community (different than nuns though).
|Beguinage in Brugges|
With another quick train ride, I traveled to my final city Brussels. Sasha, my last host, picked me up at the station and took me around the city (the weather was absolutely perfect!) Sasha, originally from Ukraine was very interested to learn about the United States and differentiate reality versus movies. His roommate was in the same boat since she first asked me if I was Texas (I was a little offended ;)) and then asked me if I knew where Finland was since Americans don’t know geography (good to know I could conquer that stereotype). Next, Sasha and I met up with Rachel, a friend from Clark, who flew in from Valencia. She was able to catch the Grand Palace lit up at night, Manneken Piss (Brussel’s iconic peeing fountain), and join us at the Delirium Café that has a menu of beers the size of a thick clothing catalogue. We had a few hours to see Brussels the next morning in the rain before catching our bus to Amsterdam. Although Brussels had many things to offer, I found it to be like a less impressive Paris with its prestige coming from being the home of European Parliament (I was glad to get back to Holland).
|Manneke Piss Fountain|
|Brussels (view from Palace of Justice)|
|Rachel's first Belgian Waffle|
In Amsterdam, I was able to be the tour guide as we strolled through Amsterdam’s swanky Jordaan neighborhood, the flower market, and hit the main tourist spots in the center. The next day, I showed Rachel Leiden and even convinced her to ride on the back of my bike (a must for the authentic Dutch experience). Before her whirlwind trip to Holland and Belgium ended we went to the Windmill Museum, de Volk. Since I can’t seem to get enough of windmills, the next day, my friend Danean and I ventured to Kinderdijk! Kinderdijk is a small village near Rotterdam and also a UNESCO site featuring 19 windmills that pump out the water around the polder and plenty of tourists. From there we took a spur of the moment bus ride to Utrecht. Although, I didn’t get to see much of it, I did finally meet up with my fellow Clarkie, Leah studying in the Netherlands for dinner (I definitely need to go back). Now I’m off to Berlin, more on that next week!
|Rachel and I at the Burcht in Leiden|
|Danean and I in Kinderdijk|
|Clark in Utrecht!!|
Posted by Sharon Bort at 6:45 AM