Monday, September 19, 2011
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
For a city we only put on our schedule only because we thought it would be cool to go to Denmark, Copenhagen absolutely blew us away. After taking an overnight train to get there, we arrived a little to early to check into our hostel, so we locked up our luggage and went exploring. Our first stop was the Assistens Cemetery, which may seem like a dismal start, but it was actually a very beautiful and interesting cemetery. First of all, you had to be someone special to be buried there. Each and every tombstone was unique and very different from others around it. Among the most important was the grave Hans Christian Anderson, who is famous for writing several children's books including The Little Mermaid and Thumbellina.
After grabbing lunch and getting settled into our hostel, we used the local bike share program to get free bikes and see more of the city. We crossed over some of the beautiful lakes of Copenhagen before finding Christiania, a little hippie village that is governed by its own very lenient rules but makes for the best people watching in all of Denmark. From Christiania, we made our way to Nyhavn, which is famous for all of its colorful little buildings and waterfront placement. The area was very lively because it is covered in restaurants and accompanying street performers, but it was a perfect place to sit by the water and enjoy a cheap bottle of wine for those of us on a backpacker's budget. Further down the street we found the port where we could watch huge ships coming in and out until the rain (that has still followed us to EVERY city in the last 4 and a half weeks) forced us back to the hostel for an early night.
The next morning we made our way to Strøget Street, which is the famous strip of shops in Copenhagen. Because Legos originated in Denmark , there is a huge Lego store on the strip with some of the most impressive window displays I've ever seen. Also, Copenhagen is home to the world's largest collection of Asian elephants, so they are spread throughout the entire city, each decorated differently. One of my favorite parts of Copenhagen is the Church of our Savior , which not only looks incredible on the outside, but has the best view of the entire city if you climb to the top of its spiraling tower.
After noticing several locals close to our age wearing these strange little sailor hats all over town, we had to ask what they were for. Apparently it is a tradition in Denmark to wear these hats for a special two week period after graduating either high school, technical school, or a university, marking your right to celebrate properly. These ex-students rent party buses and ride all over town honking and screaming. The even more outlandish part, however, are the cuts on the inside of their hats that mark all of the celebratory "accomplishments" they rack up, which can include everything from partying for 24 hours without sleep to sleeping with a former teacher... These kids are crazy.
On our last night in Copenhagen, we lucked out again by falling into a huge celebration in Nyhavn that marks the longest day of the year. To celebrate this day, several floating bonfires are set up all along the coast and even into Sweden. We sat by the harbor listening to a local jazz band play until it was finally dark enough to light the bonfires and celebrate.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
As soon as we arrived in Berlin I realized it is a young adult's wonderland. Not knowing what to expect, I figured it would be similar to Munich, but the two German cities could not be more different. Practically half of the surfaces in Berlin are covered in graffiti, but the kind of graffiti you can't help but be impressed by because it's painted by very talented street artists. Kreuzberg was the eastern part of Berlin our hostel was in, completely covered with the young and the grungy. Most of the trendy restaurants and waterfront bars are in the area, but what surprised us most were what seemed to be abandoned warehouses that turn into the city's most popular clubs every night.
Our first night in town, we explored the area before grabbing dinner at Amar, the best Indian food restaurant in Berlin. After dinner, we walked over to one of the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery. This particular display is covered in paintings by hundreds of different artists with various interesting themes and designs. We were already blown away by the city as we finished our walk along the wall when a spontaneous firework show started right above us, making just being at the East Side Gallery that much better!
The next morning we woke up early for a free walking tour of the city, which was the perfect cheap way to cover a lot of ground and the history behind the city. We started at the Brandenberg Gate, which just so happens to be in the same plaza as Hotel Adlon (famous for the Michael Jackson window fiasco) and the very large and impressive US Embassy. We visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, and my favorite part of the tour, a small window on the ground where you could see an underground library that is completely empty but is big enough to hold all of the banned books that were burned during World War II. A few hours after our tour, four friends that are studying in Prague came to meet us for the weekend. We showed them some of the hot spots in Kreuzberg, made friends with a few locals, and got our first taste of Berlin's night life.
Our last day in Berlin was by far my favorite because we visited Mauerpark. What seems like a regular park 6 days a week turns into the best part of Berlin every Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of vendors set up tents selling art, clothing, food, random household items, and pretty much anything you could possibly want or need. We tried some interesting but super yummy food vendors and shopped around for a couple of hours. The coolest part, however, is the karaoke. Around 3 o'clock every Sunday a guy rides up on a bike bringing speakers, a laptop, and a microphone to set up karaoke in front of thousands of fans (below there is a before and after picture of hill is is set up on). Anyone can sign up to sing and no matter how terrible or talented the performers may be, I'm pretty sure it is the best karaoke in the world. My favorite singers were two young blind girls that sang My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. It was literally the most amazing thing I have every seen and received the loudest applause I have ever heard.
After Mauerpark we ran through the entire city barely making it to our train to Prague, but we all agreed we wouldn't trade seeing karaoke for anything in the world. This particular train ride was interesting because we got to watch a guy get arrested. He tried to sneak on without a ticket and preceded to hide under the seats in the cabin next to us before the police found him and kicked him off the train. By the time we arrived in Prague it was way past our bedtime so we rested up for the next day. After brunch at a local burger place (we have to have American food every once in a while), we made our way to Old Town Square, which was very much like a real life Renaissance festival. There are vendors all over the square selling sausage, candy, and trdelnik, a delicious cinnamon covered roll famous in Prague.
While we were in the Old Town Square we heard all sorts of music and yelling coming our way when what looked like a small parade came through the area. We soon realized it was actually a group of Korean theater arts students that have a traveling play. The small bus looking panels that they "traveled" in were folded out to make a backdrop and they performed various acts and songs right in the middle of the square. It was super entertaining, and just one more instance of our being in the right place at the right time on this trip.
After making our way across the Charles Bridge, we visited the castle where we arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guards. Because it sits on the top of a hill, we discovered a winery just behind the castle where we could enjoy a glass of wine and have an amazing view of the entire city, my personal favorite part of Prague. We spent the evening at a local pub, cleverly named The Pub, where you sit with friends at a table that tracks the amount of beer consumed by each person so you can compete against other tables. Although we did not win this little competition it made for a very fun last night in Prague.
The next day, after getting past a little problem involving a deadbolt and an extreme language barrier, we made our way to the train station. We rode back to Berlin before boarding our first overnight train on our way to Copenhagen, which I will cover in my next post!