Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw was the fifth stop of our trip and second time to be in Poland.  We arrived late on April 2, 2018.

April 3, 2018

First on our list was a walking tour, which had a lot of information about the history of Warsaw and took us to many famous sites.

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Castle Square

 

Our tour started at the base of the column (left side of the picture), which was erected in 1643/1644 in honour of Kind Sigismund III Vasa. He moved the Polish capital from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.

 

 

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Adam Mickiewicz Monument: Poland’s greatest poet, known for being outspoken against the Russian occupation.

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Presidential Palace 

 

Presidential Palace: The building was first built in 1643 and has been the location of many famous world events, such as Chopin’s first concert, the discussion and signing of the Warsaw Pact, and the Rount Table of 1989.

 

 

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Church of the Holy Cross

University of Warsaw: the largest Polish university, which was established in 1816. Fryderyk Chopin’s father was a professor at the university and we saw one of the places where the Chopin family used to live! Chopin also attended and graduated from there.

However, he left Warsaw shortly before the Warsaw Uprising of 1830. As a result of this, he was not able to return to his country of birth and resided in Paris until his death at the age of 39. However, as Warsaw was his home, one of his last requests were that his heart would be returned to Warsaw. Today, his heart resides in a pillar inside the Church of the Holy Cross.

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Chopin’s Pillar

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Staszic Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staszic Palace: the home of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The statue in the front is Capernicus, considered to be the only ‘true’ famous Polish scientist because most of Madame Curie’s work was done in France.

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Palace of Culture and Science

The Palace of Culture and Science: constructe in 1955, formerly known as the ‘Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.’ For many, the building symbolizes bad memories and there have been discussions of destroying it. But, for now, it is an exhibition center, office complex, cinema, contains two museums, a swimming pool, auditorium for 3,000 people, and an accreditted university.

 

This is where our tour concluded, so we were off to see the sights!

Frederick Chopin Museum:

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Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina (National Institute of Frederik Chopin)

 

 

My favorite part of this museum was listening to one of the students practiced in a small concert hall.

 

 

 

April 4, 2018

Centrum Nauki Kopernik (Copernicus Science Center):

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Centrum Nauki Kopernik

The museum is named after Capernicus because he was Polish!

For OKC peeps – think the science museum, but every display had instructions in ~7 languages. The 4 of us uni students ran around with the primary school kids for the morning. It was a blast!

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Warsaw Uprising Monument

 

 

 

Dedicated to the uprising of 1944, which lasted 2 months and destroyed 90% of Warsaw’s buildings.

 

 

Maria Skłodowska-Curie Musuem:

fullsizeoutput_4440One of my personal favorites from the city, located at 16 Freta Street, which is where Madame Curie was born in 1867. The woman scientist in me was very happy to be reading about how she left home at the age of 24 to seek higher education in Paris (this was not permitted in Poland), married her husband and worked with his to discover Poloniom and Radium, and discovered radioavtivity. She is the only scientists that has been awarded the Nobel Prize twice and in two different areas!

 

 

 

Overall, I had an absolute blast in Warsaw. It’s a lovely city with rich history. I was sad when we had to say good-bye (especially because our flight was at 6:00 am).

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Until next time, Warsaw!

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Oslo, Norway

Due to some unforseen flight changes (the airline called and said “we moved your flight to the following day”), we had almost 3 whole days in the wonderful city of Oslo. While our initial thoughts of the itinerary change were of annoyance, we decided that it actually worked out perfectly.

March 31, 2018

The Palace and it’s gardens:

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The National Gallery: Definitely a must see! Easily the best gallery I have ever visited, with peices by Munch, Christian Dahl, Monet, Matisse, and many more. One of my personal favorites was this self-portrait by Eilif Peterssen from the 1870s – he looks just like Harry Potter!

 

The Vigeland Sculpture Park:

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April 1, 2018 – Happy Easter! It might have been the weirdest Easter ever, but I didn’t mind it too much.  
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Viking Ship Museum: I wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into, but it was actually really cool! The museum is home to 4 viking ship burials that were uncovered from the Oslo fjord area, dated around AD 820, 900, and 910. 

The Oslo museum: a cool opportunity to learn more about the city’s  history. One thing that really stuck out to me that was a woman named Camilla Collett, who anonymously authored Amtmannens Døtre. The book is about the place that women held in society, their opportunities to influence their own lives, and the option to choose a spouse. At the 2013 centennial celebration of women’s suffrage, she was honoured as one of the big four in the struggle for women’s rights. 

Oslo Opera House: a stunning and very modern building that you can walk on top of for a beautiful view of the harbor and mountain peaks in the distance. fullsizeoutput_4680

In the spirit of Easter, I had found the website of an international church online with the webpage being in English. Score! Right? Well, we got there, and they were definitely not speaking English… that was a little hard to swallow. Being away from home on Easter actually was really strange.

April 2, 2018
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Did you know that all Nobel Prizes, except the Peace Prize, are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden? The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, where The Nobel Peace Prize Center is located. It has exhibitions dedicated to past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, the current 2017 winner (ICAN – International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), and a room for a traveling exhibition (current: Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield). Generation Wealth was really amazing, it discusses the detrmental affects that money and greed have had on society. The ICAN exhibit was called Ban the Bomb, but, my most favorite part was the room honoring past recipients. 

Overall, I absoluely loved the city and its subtle Scandinavian grandeur.  Everyone we spoke to was incredibly kind and helpful, never hesistating to stop and help or answer a question. As we walked around and saw people carrying cross country skiis and wearing snow gear through the train stations, I felt right at home. Norway is definitely on my list of places that I want to go again someday. 

Oświęcim, Poland

March 29th and 30, 2018 will be vividly ingrained in my memory forever. We were only in Oświęcim for about 20 hours, but I saw, thought, and felt an immense number of emotions in those few hours.

Driving up to Aushwitz-I is a little crazy because were in a neighborhood one moment and the next, we were looking at the concentration camp.

Once inside and walking toward the actual entrance of the camp, I was surprised at the condition of the buidlings. I had expected dilapidation and disrepair – what a reminder that this wasn’t all that long ago.

Going under the entry gate was thought-provoking. I knew that I would get to walk out of it a couple of hours later, but thousands had only walked one direction. In. 

The cloudy, somber, and cold of the day seemed fitting for the occasion. People were speaking in whispers, many had tears in their eyes.

Some of the barracks were set up to be museusm, honoring countries that had been especially affected by the Holocaust: Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands.. Other barracks were arranged to show how they had looked during the years of the camp’s operation. Prisoners had progressed from sleeping on piles of hay to very narrow bunk beds, 3 beds high.

There was one barrack dedicated to housing personal affects that had been taken from prisoners. There were shoes piled to the ceiling, enough dishes to fill an entire room, and more pairs of glasses than I have ever seen.

We saw the Death Wall, a short length of wall where people stood to be executed.

We walked through the basement of one of the barracks, where the first experimental gassings using Zyklon B occured and the first crematoria were located.

There are images in my head of emaciated survivors and perfectly aligned barracks that I will always remember. The feeling of physical sadness is not somehitng I will be able to forget.

The next day was Good Friday as well as the first day of Jewish Passover. What a day to visit Auschwitz-II Birkenau.

As we walked on the railroad tracks that had delivered people directly to the awaiting gas chambers or death by labor, I looked toward the looming, fog-shrouded, and recognizable building in the distance. My heart broke.

Looking to the right, the rows of builidings and fence posts was neverending, with the same view on my left.

We saw the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria, as well as the ponds where ashes were deposited.

On Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ death, I was surrounded by death.

Yet, the sun was shining, birds were singing, and a rabbit lept through the green grass. In the midst of darkness, I was given hope and reminded of the light and love of Jesus Christ.

I didn’t have the words to think or pray, it was all I could do to absorb what I was seeing and feeling.

Studying Abroad? It’s Fab

One month from today, my little brother graduates from high school. Not only is my mind blown because he’s not old enough for that, but also because it means that in less than one month, I will be back in the states. Part of me is excited to be home, but I am also dreading having to say good-bye to all of my wonderful friends and this country that I have grown to love.

My time abroad has been truly brilliant and writing about all of my good experiences has been fun. But, just like anywhere else, every day is not perfect and living on another continent does come with some weird things that you have to get used to. Here are some examples:

  • I don’t have a car and I live my life according to bus and train schedules.
  • Going to the grocery store was challenging at first because the products are very different. Also, when checking out, customers bag their own groceries in reusable bags that were brought from home, because otherwise you have to pay for the plastic ones.
  • Beds don’t have a loose sheet, only have a fitted sheet and duvet comforter.
  • The temperature inside of buildings is regulated with heat radiators and by opening and closing windows, there is not central heat and air.
  • When you ask for fries in the cafeteria line, the lunch lady will give you a funny look until you remember that they are called chips.
  • Water fountains are basically non-existent. There are only four water fountains on the entire campus, two of which are in the sports center (gym), and you can forget about trying to find them in public places like shopping malls or airports.
  • If you want water while in a restaurant, you order a bottle with “gas” or “no gas,” which results in Evian that is either sparkling or flat.
  • The temperature is in Celsius, so it’s very confusing when people are super excited about it reaching anything near 20 degrees.
  • Students call tutors (professors) by the first name, modules (class) only happen once a week for 3-4 hours, and each class typically only has 1-2 graded assignments.
  • Electricity sockets have on/off switches, so if you plug your phone in at night and forget to turn the socket on, you will wake up to a dead battery (I’ve only done this about a dozen times).
  • When you ask for black coffee in a restaurant, they bring you an Americano, not a cup of filtered coffee that came from a pot.

I could go on forever about all of the small things that are different, but that’s not really my point. My point is that the short list seems trivial when you read it, but in the moment, those small things can accumulate and become overwhelming. When I walked (or flew) into this study abroad experience, I knew that some days would be harder than others, but I also knew that those bad days are normal and should be expected. So, I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I really wished the rain would go away and moments when I’ve wanted nothing more than a hug from my Momma. But, those brief moments of wishing for home have been greatly outnumbered by all of the good. My time has been filled with fun and travel, but more importantly, my comfort zone has been stretched to accommodate for all of these small differences and other cultural norms that at first seemed so strange, but now, are second nature.

Berlin, Germany: Part 2

April 28, 2018 – Our second and last full day in Berlin began when I woke up to someone yelling “oh my goodness, it’s snowing!!”

  1. I wasn’t very pleased with the rude awakening, but, it is to be expected when staying in a backpacking hostel where each room houses 12 people.
  2. Surprise! There actually were quite large snowflakes falling.
  3. I found out later that the yelling dude is from Florida and had never seen snow before. I guess that makes it a little more okay?

Anyway, the rest of the day was quite full as we wanted to see as many things as possible.  Our first stop was a free museum called the Topography of Terrors, which stands on the ground where the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), Gestapo, Reich SS Leadership, and the security service of the SS, used to be located. Walking through the exhibits made me think about seeing the Anne Frank House just a week ago, how we would be going to Aushwitz the very next day, and the fact that all of the other countries we would be visiting throughout the trip had lived under Nazi occupation. It was eye-opening to realize how removed I am from these parts of history and my lack of understanding how greatly these events affects so so many people.

Our next stop was the Berlin Cathedral on Museum Island. In comparison to other cathedrals that I have been in, it is much newer because of the continual reconstruction projects that have occurred during its lifetime. The best part was getting to go up to the dome (267 steps later!) and walk around on the outside of it while it was still snowing. The view was clouded by snow, but it was still a nice experience. We also toured the crypts, in which a large of number of Prussian royalty and nobility have been laid to rest.

Afterward, we headed to the Altes Museum (Old Museum), which is also on Museum Island. I’m not sure where I got the preconceived notion that the museum would be about German history, but I was very wrong. The museum was filled with Ancient Greek and Roman art, which isn’t really my thing, but it was still nice.

Next on the list was the Eastside Gallery, a portion of the Berlin wall that was covered in art by 105 various artists in the 1990s. It measures 1,316 metres (~0.6 miles) long and is considered a monument which honors of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Some of the paintings were colorful and pretty while others were dark and mysterious. This was probably one of my favorite parts of Berlin.

Our last stop of the day was the Reichstag building, which we had seen yesterday on our tour. But, this time, we got to go inside. After waiting in the security line, showing our passports, going through metal detectors, and having our bags scanned, we took a huge elevator to the top of the building where we walked out onto the roof and had a great view of the city. Then, we were able to walk into the dome and to the top of it. From inside, you have a clear line of sight into the room where parliament meets. So cool! The building is really modern and quite a sight.

And, just like that, our 2 days of sight-seeing in Berlin were up! The city is so full of things to do and places to see that it was impossible to do them all, so I guess I’ll just have to go back someday. 🙂

 

Berlin, Germany: Part 1

Berlin was stop #2 on our spring break adventure. Our flight arrived quite late in the evening, so as soon as we arrived, we made our way to the hostel and called it a night.

On our first full day in the city, we went on a bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours – I highly recommend them! We had a really great time. During the tour, we hit most of Berlin’s famous attractions and learned about it’s unique history.

  • The place where Berlin now sits was initially a swamp with Slavic/pagan inhabitants. Berl means ‘swamp’ in old Polabian, which is the origin of the name. The city was founded in 1237. 
  • Our first stop on the tour was Bebelplatz, one of the many city squares.
    • The Berlin State Opera (Staatsoper Unter den Linden) – originally completed in 1742. The building was renamed Lindenoper in 1918 after the collapse of the German Empire. During the reign of the Nazis, Jewish members of the ensemble were dismissed and many German musicians exiled. The building was bombed in 1941 and again in 1945. In the 1990s, it’s name was officially reverted to the original name.  
    • St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (Sankt-Hedwigs-Kathedrale) – the first catholic church built in Prussia after the reformation.
    • Humbolt University – founded in 1810 and one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Famous alumni include Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Albert Einstein, W. E. B. DuBois, the Brothers Grimm, and Felix Mendelssohn. It is associated with 55 Nobel Prize winners!
    • The book burning of May 10, 1993 – 20,000 “un-German” books from homes, libraries, and academic collections were burned in the square. Today, there are two plates set in the ground, inscribed with the words: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.” Heinrich Heine wrote those words in 1820 regarding the Spanish Inquisition. Then, 100 years later, the same book containing those words in was burned in the square. In the middle, there is a window looking through to a sunken library which is full of empty bookshelves. It is said to house the books that were lost in the fire.
  • Gendarmenmarkt Square
    • Konzerthaus Berlin – famous concert hall which houses the German orchestra. It was built as a theatre from 1818-1821, but it has been used as a concert hall since WWII. While we were looking at the building, our tour guide pointed out that the statues on the opera house and surrounding buildings appear to be much older than the buildings which they sit on. This is because at the beginning of WWII, Hitler knew that Berlin would be a target for bombings, so he had all statues removed throughout the city and then hidden underwater to preserve them. Following the war and reconstruction of the buildings, the statues were replaced. 
    • The French Cathedral and Neue Kirche – following the 30 years war of Europe, Berlin’s population was low and economy was struggling. In response, open arms were extended to people being prosecuted in other countries. French Huguenots (Calvinists) immigrated and ultimately made up 25% of Berlin’s population. To show gratitude to the French for coming to Berlin, the French Catherdral (Französischer Dom) was built. This church is housed in the square. However, following the construction of the French Cathedral, the Germans were not happy that they did not also have a cathedral. This led to the construction of The Neue Kirche, also Gendarmenmarkt square, which stands 1 metre taller than the French cathedral. 
  • Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. 
    • The Potsdam agreement was signed in 1945 by representatives from the United Kingdom, USA, and Soviet Union. It resulted in the division of German lands, military occupation, and reconstruction. This arrangement worked well for several years. But, the Marshall Plan was signed 1948 as a way to boost the economy of West Germany and aid in the rebuilding of western Europe. The soviets didn’t like the plan and refused to accept aide from the United States. In response, all supplies going to West Berlin were stopped. To maintain West Berlin, all resources were flown into the country. It is estimated that a plane landed every 90 seconds during that time, which resulted in the Soviet’s plan to fail and gates reopen. 
    • The German Democratic Republic (GDR, east) and Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, west) were established in 1949 and continued to be separated by the iron curtain. 
    • A brain drain of doctors, educators, scientists, and other skilled, highly-educated people began and East Germany was rapidly losing many valuable people from its population. On August 13, 1961, the building of the first Berlin Wall began. It only took a week for the 155km/96mi wall to be completed. 
    • People from West Germany were able to visit East Berlin, but not vice versa. There were very specific procedures that had to be followed. First, they would go through checkpoint alpha where the car was searched, weighed, and meticulously documented. The people in the car then had 2 hours to reach checkpoint bravo, where the same process ensued, and all details had to match. The third and most famous checkpoint was checkpoint Charlie.
  • Hitler’s Bunker – today, the large and completely underground fortress of 32 rooms is completely filled in with rubble with a dirt car park on top. There is only a small sign to mark the space. It couldn’t have been more understated, which I think is very proper way to avoid commemoration of such an awful place.
    • Hitler retreated to his bunker on January 16, 1945. He had never married his longtime girlfriend, Eva Braun, because he was “married” to Germany. However, he became angry at Germany, blaming the country for the fact that they were on the losing side of the war. So, he “divorced” his country and married Braun on April 29th inside of the bunker. The two then committed suicide together the next day by taking cyanide pills. However, Hitler also shot himself for good measure. Their bodies were then burned, as he had instructed. However, the Russians overtook the area and were able to identify Hitler by his dental records. Their bodies were then thrown into a river to avoid honouring him with a burial or grave. 
  • Jewish Holocaust Memorial – completed in 2005 to honour the 6 million Jews that had been murdered. The memorial does not have a specific meaning attached to it, but visitors are encouraged to peruse the somber memorial and form their own meaning. 
    • The memorial is coated in a chemical that protects it from graffiti. If it is defaced, it can simply be wiped clean by another chemical. However, after the memorial was completed, it was pulicized that the company responsible for developing the anti-graffiti chemical was the same company (under a different name) that had developed and sold Zyklon B. This was the gas used in concentration camp gas chambers. Following the reveal of this information, there were protests at the memorial until the company admitted to the accusations, apologized, and gifted the anti-grafitti chemical to the memorial at no cost. Some other companies that have been known for their contributions to the Nazis are Hugo Boss (designed Nazi uniforms), Volkswagen (Hitler helped design the VW Beetle and described it as a car fit for a proper German), Coca-Cola (refused to sell coke to the Germans, but secretly developed Fanta, which was marketed as the premier Nazi drink of choice), and others. I thought this was fascinating. 
  • Pariser Platz 
    • Brandenburg Gate – completed in 1791 to mark the end of the boulevard Unter den Linden. However, in 1806, Napoleon visited the area. When he left, he took the statue from the top of the gate back to France for his personal gallery. The statue was returned 8 years later and now “looks” at the French Embassy, which is also housed in the square.
    • Hotel Adlon – where Michael Jackson dangled his child from the 3rd story balcony. Apparently, people pay big bucks to stay in that room.
  • Victory Column – Celebrates the Prussian victories over the Danish, Austria, and France. Panels that depicted the defeat of French armies were stolen from the monument and stored in the basement of the Louvre for many years. They were returned to Berlin on it’s  750th birthday.
  • Reichstag Building – the German Parliament.
    • It was mysteriously burned down on February 27, 1933, not long after Hitler was elected chancellor (Jan 30, 1933). A man was found at the scene of the crime, soaked in gasoline, and “confessed” to setting the fire. However, he was schizophrenic, communist, and known for confessing to crimes that he did not commit. Regardless, this event led to the Reichstag Fire Decree by the president on February 29, 1933. This was advised by Hitler, revoked the civil liberties of citizens, and made it possible for the Nazis to begin establishing themselves as the one party of Germany. Eventually, Hitler was able to pass the Enabling Act on March 24, 1933, which gave Hitler the power to pass laws without the consent of the Reichstag and ultimately establish a legal dictatorship. 
    • The current building was completed in 1999. In front of it, flies the largest German flag in existence. German flags are not often flown in Germany because patriotism does not have the same positive connotation that it has in other countries. 
  • Museum Island (Museuminsel) – it is actually not an island. It is where two rivers meet. Houses the Bode Museum, Altes Museum, Pergamon Museum, Neues Museum, and Berlin Cathedral. 

And, ~4 hours later, that was the end of our tour! Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased because  I learned SO much and have a much more complete perspective on WWII.

Stay tuned for Day 2 of Berlin, coming soon. 🙂

Easter Holiday: European Edition

Hiya, friends! It’s been awhile!

I just got back from doing some traveling for Easter Holiday, aka spring break. Myself and 3 other international students, armed with 1 carry-on and personal item each,  visited 7 cities in 5 countries over the course of 18 days. It was a crazy trip to say the least, but so worth it. I will share more about individual places later, but for now, here are some highlights.

  • Essen, Germany: Some of our fellow international students live in Essen, so of course we had to make a stop to see them. We stayed one night in Julia’s flat and explored Essen a little bit. Seeing a little bit of their daily life and getting to love on sweet Pablo, Julia’s dog, was such a treat!
  • Berlin, Germany: During this stop we went on a fun bike tour, visited the Berlin Wall, and went into the Reichstag (German Parliament building) – just to name a few things. It was really cold while we were there and it even snowed!
  • Oświęcim, Poland: This is where Auschwitz-I and Auschwitz-II Birkenau are located. We spent all of our time exploring the two concentration camps.
  • Oslo, Norway: During our time in Oslo, we explored the National Gallery, Viking Ship Museum, saw the famous Opera House, and spent quite a bit of time in the Nobel Peace Prize Centre. Oslo was so beautiful! I felt like I fit right in with the locals.
  • Warsaw, Poland: Some of you are probably wondering why we went from Poland, all the way to Norway, and then back to Poland. It’s because we found really cheap airfare, and why not?? We got to experience some really wonderful weather in Warsaw – the sun was shining and sky was blue for most of our stay. We learned a lot about Chopin and took some time away from learning about serious things to explore the Capernicus Science Museum  – for those of you from OKC, think the OKC Science Museum ;). We were happy to be back in Poland because our first stay just wasn’t long enough.
  • Budapest, Hungary: We again were treated with some really nice weather. Not wearing a jacket for the first time in 4 months felt very strange, but liberating. My favorite things about this city was the pretty architecture and the chance to learn about communism in the House of Terrors Museum. As our travels have continued, my understanding of WWII and communism has grown exponentially.
  • Prague, Czech Republic: We were greeted in the Czech Republic by one of the other international students who is originally from the beautiful country. He showed us around the city center and major historical sites before taking us to a traditional Czech meal. While in Prague, we also explored the Prague Castle, saw the John Lennon Wall, and had a picnic in a park.
  • Essen, Germany: We concluded our adventure with one more night with our friends in Germany. At this point, we were exhausted. Luckily, we were able to just hang out, order sushi, and enjoy each other’s company before having to go back to uni and get serious about end-of-term assessments and final exams. Plus, we got to celebrate Michelle’s (aka Granny’s) birthday! Happy Birthday, Granny!

18 days later, we have been to 11 museums (I think), 10 countries, on 9 airplanes, visited 7 cities, used 5 currencies, and saw way too many historical sites to count. I have seen more of the world in the last two and a half weeks than in all 21 years of my life and I could not be more thankful for all of the knowledge and perspective that have been gained. I can’t wait to share more about these wonderful cities with you, but for now, I have to get to back to work. The end of term is coming, and I am not quite ready for exams (haha) or to part with so many wonderful friends. Ta, for now!

xx,

Mad (or as most of my uni friends call me – Maddie)