Sunday, March 20, 2011

Walks Review

So, as part of my "walks" assignment, I have to pick 3 of my favorite walks from the semester.

The Central Parks walk was probably my favorite of them all. Perhaps this was because I did it on one of the first truly sunny days here in London, but whatever the reason, I really enjoyed myself on this walk. It was nice to see people out enjoying themselves doing normal, every day things here in London instead of the typical touristy stuff. It helped me envision the things I could do on a weekend here if I lived here permanently, or opened my eyes to the option of just going on a bike ride in the park one of these weekends while I'm here. It also helped me look deeper at the parks, rather than the fact that they are a park - they have cool sculptures and gardens that many people probably never have the chance of seeing. So, Kudos to you "Central Parks" walk for making it to my top 3 list.

Another of my favorites was the "Lambeth & South Bank" walk. I think the reason for this was for the most part the view of the city you get from the other side of the Thames. I don't think most tourists venture to this side of the river (other than to ride the eye) and I feel like it's something that people should do. You get to see parliament and Big Ben with the view of the river right in front of you. It was quite breathtaking actually. So, some of the other stuff on this walk was kind of boring, but once you hit the River - it was well worth it.

Last, but not least, "The City (East)" also makes my top 3 list. Though, maybe if I had done this on a business day my opinion might be different. So, to anyone doing this walk - go on a Sunday when this place is a ghost town. This was the financial district. (so who knows, maybe it would be cool to see it hustling and bustling) but what I liked about this walk was finding all the hidden treasures that this part of town holds. Again, things that tourists would probably not even know existed, but that are well worth taking the time to see them. My favorite part about this walk was stumbling on Guildhall Yard. Right smack dab in the middle of London's modern working center was this massive open courtyard with incredible old architecture.  The contrast between old and new was amazing.

Looking back at the time spent doing walks that seemed, at times, tedious...I am so glad I was required to do them. It helped me see parts of London that I probably would have never even known existed. It opened my eyes to the "real life" part of London, rather than just the touristy things. Through these walks I've been able to get a better understanding for how London is laid out and how it runs. I know where things are and that's something I don't know that I could say had I just popped in for a week and left. This experience has been amazing, and it's something I know I will never forget.

Just my Backpack & Me...

(..sorry if that is incorrect grammar, it just sounds more childish & fun in my opinion..but maybe it's correct grammar, I don't even know.)

.....and a few other wonderful people had an amazing opportunity to travel for a week through Germany & the Czech Republic.

Prior to coming to London we were all informed that we would be given 6 days of free time to travel pretty much anywhere within a 2 hour-plane-flight radius of London. Upon hearing this I had plans of grandeur...and hoped other people would be along for the ride. Luckily for me - I wasn't the only one who wanted to visit Germany & Prague.

So I, being the stress-case/fairly organized/planner began to map things out and make a plan for what was to become one of the best weeks of my life. We (Brenden, Spring, Haley, Geoff, I) would start out in Berlin, make a stop in Prague, & finish in Munich on a 6 days backpacking trip.

Day 1: Tuesday March 1st!

Happy Birthday to ME!!!!! after packing and getting everything ready the night before, I was feeling pretty confident about the itinerary we had planned when I decided to double check all tickets and bookings that I had printed out the night before....everything seemed to be fine until... dun dun dun... I checked the information for the Bus/Coach that was to take us from the tube station to Stansted airport (which is about an hour from where we live) I noticed that the way our ticket was booked was to get to London from the Airport on March 1st, and to get from London to the Airport on March 6th.....which was opposite of what we wanted. PANIC MODE! I tried calling the coach company with no success, and was freaking out. If we didn't make it to the airport - we would have been in all sorts of trouble. Luckily we had about 2 hours before the coach was to leave so I grabbed all my stuff and told the rest of my group members where to meet me, because I was going to head to the coach station to get it all sorted out. Though I was confident in the Itinerary, I was worried about much of the logistics of traveling to 3 cities, in 2 countries, in 6 days. Things were not off to a good start, and I prayed that this wouldn't be a sign of things to come. Of course, all my stressing was unnecessary and upon arriving at the "coach station" (which was really just a bus stop with some smoking employees in reflective yellow vests standing in the freezing cold) they assured me that it wouldn't be a problem and we would be able to catch the bus just fine to the airport - but we would probably want to catch an earlier one than planned because it was during rush hour - something I hadn't thought about. So in reality - this little incident was a blessing in disguise...I guess someone was watching out for me. I waited around the bus stop until the rest of my group showed up - just in time for the coach to take us to the airport.

We were on our way! We had heard horror stories about traveling on Ryanair, mostly dealing with Luggage restrictions so we all packed fairly lightly....and had no problem getting through security and onto the plane. (not to mention Ryanair was SUPER cheap. Only 19 GBP (about 33 USD) to fly to Berlin) We arrived in Berlin around 9:30 PM and made our way, rather smoothly, to our Hostel (Metropol...DEFINITELY reccommend this place. cheap. clean. conveniently located) By this time the boys were hungry - so we looked around the neighborhood a little bit to see if anything was still open. by this time it was around 10:30 or 11 so we didn't have much luck, except for the "currywurst" stand next to the hostel. So,  Geoff was brave and had his first interaction with a German who, with a lot of hand signs and pointing, figured out what Geoff wanted ( a wiener with some fries) .... I decided to make things easy and just said to her "I'll have the same..." she was very friendly as were the men behind me who helped translate. The wiener was DELICIOUS and we discovered how good it is to have a mountain of mayo and a mountain of ketchup on top of fries (not mixed together, but separated)... Definitely a different, but delicious, birthday dinner!

on our way back to the Hostel we noticed a little sign leading to a back alley advertising "Kim's Karaoke"....... we all looked at each other and with mutual understanding in our eyes made our way to this little gem. What could be better than doing karaoke, in a ghetto club, in BERLIN on my BIRTHDAY?!..honestly. not much could be that. This was my first - but definitely not last - exposure to karaoke. It was so fun just getting up there and making a fool out of myself and watching others do the same. During my last song of the evening (Whitney Houston's "I will always love you") - I got the best birthday present ever. I was joined on stage by... what would later be titled... the "Ger-Gaysian" (german gay asian) who continued to duet with me. Though there is video evidence of this event, I will keep that locked in the vault and give proof in photo-form:

We stayed out until 2 am doing Karaoke - and I must say, this was probably the best birthday I've ever had. Thanks to all those who contributed.

Day 2: Wednesday March 2nd
We woke up the next morning and headed out into the streets of Berlin.

This was something I was really excited about after learning about all the events that happened here in my World Civ class last semester (strange...I know. I learned something) so we made stops at:

Checkpoint Charlie

Holocaust Memorial

US Embassy

Brandenburg Gate

Some massive cathedral that none of us really know what it is....:

Were accosted by Gypsies:

Berlin Wall/East Side Gallery:

Random Girl at the gate.

We stopped for a DELICIOUS lunch:

and were exhausted by around 4. Good thing our train to Prague was leaving around that time - so we got some much needed rest. Seeing Berlin was something I never really had planned on doing in my life, but I'm so glad I decided to take the time to do so. Being able to see such important historical sites was kind of amazing. I, on multiple occasions, got History chills. Kind of validated my career choice and proves that I really am a History nerd.

The train to Prague was about 5 hours long - landing us at the main train station around 9 pm. After getting some local currency (the  Koruna..... so confusing) we made our way on foot the hostel. This one (the "Hotel Tabor) was...definitely not as nice as the one in Berlin. When we finally walked into the lobby we walked into the middle of an argument between an old man and the stinky man at the front desk....which caused for some awkward tension in the room. Upon finally getting checked in, stinky breath man told us that we would be staying in the building across the street (...what? weird.) and gave us like 30 keys to get us into our room. really only 3 or so...but it was all so confusing. We got to the door across the street and had some struggles opening the it (combination with a normal key and a magnet key....) but don't worry - we eventually figured it out and dropped our stuff off in our room and ran out to try and get some food before everything closed. We ended up at a chinese place that was closing soon so we hurried to try and understand the owner and the menu and ordered food to take back to the hostel. The food was....not the best. but hey, what do you expect from 11 pm chinese in prague?

Day 3: Thursday March 3rd

I'm lucky enough to have a cousin (Adam...or Elder Blair) serving in Prague and great family friends Terry & Karen Foster serving there as well. So I had made plans previously to meet up with all of them for lunch mid-afternoon. Until then we had time to roam the beautiful city of prague with stops at the old town square, and Prague Castle and cathedral.

Old Town Square

Spring & Haley recreating Twilight cover..oh, and eating what was dubbed "The best apple I've ever eaten"        

Delicious Ham in Old Town Square

Creepy marionettes for sale in a street market
St. Vitus' Cathedral (part of the castle)

me & a door.(St. Vitus)
Us and a door (St. Vitus)

Lunch was delicious and it was fun to catch up with friends and family.
Adam & I

Adam, Terry, Karen & I after Lunch

 Terry & Karen then took us to see the most beautiful view of the City from a park near the Chapel. It was AMAZING. Prague definitely is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

View from the park

Kodak Moment

After lunch we had arranged to "couch surf" for the night - basically an internet service that allows you to find people who are willing to lend you their couch for free to sleep on for the night. We were lucky enough to find a guy who had a completely open apartment in prague for us to stay in. The plan was to meet him at the Metro station at we were there on time just waiting for him...we waited in freezing weather for about 45 minutes and we still couldn't find him. We finally were able to get hold of him using a pay phone - he was down on the platform while we waited upstairs in the main station. He sounded bugged on the phone and told us that if we could make it to the apartment by 6:00 we could still stay there that night..... my amazing race watching really paid off at this moment. All we had was an address. no maps. no directions. nothing. So i approach one of the ticket windows and ask for any and all directions to get to this house. luckily 2 of the workers were able to speak enough english and printed out a map and told me which metro stops we needed to find this place.

Prague Metro Station

We ran through the metro station to catch 2 different trains and then finally arrived at the stop we wanted. Geoff and I stayed at the train station to figure out where to go in the morning to catch our bus to Munich, while Spring (yes..that's her real name), Haley & Brenden went to meet up with Martin (the guy who owned the place) at the apartment. Geoff and I figured our stuff out and eventually found the apartment but had to wait until the rest of the group came down to meet us. Martin was very nice and generous for letting us stay in his extra space. Although small, it was free and convenient. Not to mention the fact that there were hundreds of photo albums in the place which we may or may not have spent some time looking through. Nothing like seeing Martin's blind son participating in numerous activities at summer camp :)

2 Bunk beds & a Hide-A-Bed  ... all for FREE!

Martin's Kitchen
The Photo Albums! (well.. a portion of them)
Day 4: Friday March 4th

The next stretch took us on a bus from Prague to Nuremberg Germany, and then by train from Nuremberg to Munich. Upon arrival at the munich "Hauptbanhoff" (main train station) we grabbed a quick lunch...yep. you guessed it. Bratwurst & fries with may and ketchup. So delicious. And then we were on our way to Dachau concentration camp.

Going to a concentration camp is something I've always wanted to do, so I was grateful for the opportunity to go and pay my respects. The feeling there was definitely solemn and humbling. The weather was perfect, and I'm so glad we took the time to stop by there even though we didn't have much time to roam around.

Front gate entrance into the camp

Prisoner's Bunks (6 people per bed)
View from the window of the bunk houses - can't even imagine what it must have been like to look out this window everyday.

Entrance to the Krematorium

Gas Chamber (although Dachau wasn't a site for mass murders, there were a few instances of this chamber being used to kill innocent prisoners)
Spring outside the Krematorium

Group at Dachau

Following our visit to Dachau, we headed back into Munich to check into our hotel. We decided to "splurge" and stay at the local "Holiday Inn".... the hotel was definitely nicer than our previous night's living quarters so it was a nice change. We walked across the street for dinner at a local restauarant which ended up being like a German asian-family-owned restaurant. The food was good - and it was fun to see germans in all their glory. Unfortunately, they forgot to make Geoff's food so he got a free Coca-Cola. Nice trade-off? I'm not so sure. but it was a fun evening.

Geoff looking so happy to have his free Coke :).. and me? exhausted.
Day 5: Saturday March 5th

The planned activity for the day was to head to Neuschwanstein Castle which is about 2 hours outside of Munich. so we headed back to the train station around 9 in the morning for some more quality time on a train. I had seen pictures of this castle online and was very excited to see it for myself. It is apparently what inspired some of the Disney castles and the setting seemed gorgeous. The pictures don't even do it justice. Seeing this castle in person was amazing. the weather was perfect, snow on the ground - but sun in the sky. Nestled into the mountainside with a park city like town at the bottom. The castle was awesome, and the view from St. Mary's bridge was breathtaking. (and slightly terrifying) But this was definitely worth the excursion.

Group at Neuschwanstein

Illegal Photo taken inside the thrown room

Castle Tower

View of the bridge from the Castle

View of the Castle from the bridge
Looking calm, feeling scared of heights
"I know a little German, he's sitting over there."

We headed back into munich, arriving around 6 pm and headed straight downtown to hopefully get a feel for what Munich itself had to offer. We were pleasantly surprised to find endless amounts of shopping in a rather nice part of town, Marienplatz.

Munich Metro Station
After doing a little bit of shopping around we found ourselves at this massive beer hall, no... not for beer. but for dinner. This was by far the best meal we had all week (and that's saying something, because up until this point we definitely were eating well) it consisted of soft pretzels as an appetizer, wieners with german potato salad (...not as good as mom's of course, but definitely delicious), schnitzel with fries, and to top it all off...the most amazing apple struedel swimming in a delicious sea of custard. yum. yum. YUM. definitely the icing on the cake for this whole experience.

Group at Dinner

The Beer Hall... totally packed
Best mustard I've ever had... so delicious on the pretzels (and the schniztel, and the wieners...etc. etc)
Wieners & German Potato Salad
Enjoying my Schnitzel and Chips
best. dessert. ever.

Day 6: Sunday March 6

The time had come for us to make our way back to order to do so we used every type of transport imaginable: Metro to the train station. Train to the city of Memmingen. Taxi from the train station in Memmingen to the Airport. Airplane from Munich to London. Bus from Stansted to Liverpool Street tube station. Tube back to Queensway. Walk to 27 Palace Court. (only kind we didn't use was boat or bike). We were all exhausted upon arriving back in London... but I couldn't have asked for a better week. The people that were crazy enough to want to do this with me are now some of my greatest friends, and I'm so glad I got to share that experience with them. It's something I will never forget, and I'm glad that although I was stressing about the entire thing, I was proven wrong and had such a great time. Now I look forward to future backpacking trips the European countryside.... someday.