Saturday, February 28, 2015

Day 23: Prague and the Opera

I knew today was going to be the busy day in Prague. I had tickets to the opera tonight but we'll get to that later. I started the day off by going to the astronomical clock to see it do it's thing at the top of the hour. It definitely is a spot for tourists as there were hundreds of people already lined up. The minute hand hit 12 and the 2 doors opened up and they had peopel that rotated throught the doors. At the same time the 4 figures next to the clock were dancing and moving around. And that was that, next up I headed over to do the typical touristy thing in Prague and that was to cross the Charles Bridge. If you ever get to walk across take some time to look at each statue.
On this side of Prague the main attraction is the Prague Castle. If you want a great workout walk to the castle. It's all uphill and certain parts are steep. After getting my morning workout in, I finally reached the top. The Prague castle is not a traditional castle by any means. Instead once you go into the inner walls its more open grounds with a bunch of buildings. I wouldn't spend a day here exploring but it's worth the treck to get some great views of Prague.
Next up I headed over to the Lennon wall, this wall has been popular since the 1980s and it's a place where people put up Beatles lyrics and John Lennon inspired anti-war quotes. It has been repainted multiple times.

I continued walking on this side of the rive and a name you'll become familiar with if you are ever in Prague is David Cerny. He has very odd statues placed all around the city, you may have already seen a few of them in my Prague photo album. Well I stumbled upon another one, it was of 3 babies crawling with weird faces.
I eventually made my way over to the other side of the river to see one of the buildings I anticipated most about Prague. It was the dancing house of Prague designed by Frank Gehry! I'm always fascinated by Gehry designed buildings as he always adds a little modern twist to his buildings to make you think, hmmm I didn't know a building could stand like that.
I went back to the hostel to rest up and clean up for the opera in the evening. The estates theater is where Mozart premiered his show Don Giovanni and it is the last remaning building in the world where he actually performed. It is 232 years old! I have never been to the opera, but I figured I'm in Europe let's try it. I had tickets to Mozart's Magic Flute in a box in the 1st balcony to what equated to 22 US dollars, not a bad deal if you ask me. The theater was simply gorgeous. I had to take a walk around to really appreciate it. The show was really good too! I genuinely enjoyed it. It was in German but had Czech and English subtitles. My favorite character was silly Parmageno. The costumes, the orchestra, the acting, and the way the lights changed depending on the scene all got you into the show. Maybe I've been an undercover opera fan all along!

Prague photo album:


Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 22: Prague

So I hoped on an early train for a 5 hour train ride to Prague. I had a problem printing out my ticket at the station so I had to actually buy another ticket on the train. Hopefully, my credit card company can sort this out. During my train ride I attempted to learn some basic Czech. I was having a hard time and it could be for 2 reasons: Czech is a hard language to learn and my brain is just tired from trying to learn so many languages in such a short period of time. I finally reached Prague or Praha in Czech and walked over to my hostel. Right away I noticed my hostel seemed to be a bit out of the way from most of the sights to see. I checked in and it's the first day in a new city you know the drill, I signed up for a walking tour. I headed over to Old Town for Sandeman's 2 PM walking tour.
If you appreciate architecture you will really like Prague. During World War II a lot of the buildings were not destroyed so many of the original structures are still standing. There are so many different architectural styles in the city that just walking through appreciating each one is an experience in itself.
During the tour we learned a lot of Czech history, incluing when they stopped being Czechloslovakia and became the Czech Republic. During the tour we saw: Old Town Square & THE Astronomical clock (which ws 600 years old), Museum of Cubism, Tyn Church, 6 Synagogues and the Jewish Quarter, Municipal House, and a few of the odd statues of Prague.

The Estates theater, the only building in the world remaining where Mozart actually performed.

The Astronomical Clock, which has a cool show where everything moves around at the top of every hour. I'll try to get a video of this.

The Metronome, former site of a huge statue to Joseph Stalin

Prague Castle lit up at night

More Pictures of Prague:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day 21: Museum Hopping on Museum Island

It was my last day in Berlin and I felt like there was so much left to do so I decided to wake up extra early and head over to the East Side Gallery. This is the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still in tact. Street artists have took over this portion of the wall and made it their own. Definitely one of the best sections of street art I've ever seen. Here are just a few pictures of the wall in this area:
Afterwards I headed straight to Museum Island. There are 5 museums located on 1 island and they're all different. This island also includes the Berliner Dome which is a cathedral. I was able to buy admission to all of them for just 17 Euros. The plan was to visit all 5 of them if I could but I made sure I looked up the exhibits I wanted to see to hit up first. I'll include a picture from each museum but it is hard to describe all of them in detail, feel free to look through more detailed pictures at the end in the link provided. 

My favorite museum was the first one I visited, the Pergamon, it has collections from the Middle East. I like seeing old architecture and they had a few buildings inside and they had reconstructed a portion of the Ishtar Gate from Babylon! 
The second museum I went to was the Neues Museum, it is Berlin's Egyptian Museum. The most famous piece housed here is the bust of Queen Nefretiti. I was not allowed to take a picture, but the colored statue is worth the visit.
Next up was the Alte Nationalgalerie, it houses Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeir, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork.

Then I went to the Atles Museum, it houses antique collections from Greek and Roman times.
Last but not least was the Bode museum which houses late Antique and Byzantine art.

I definitely recommend visitng Museum Island if you are every in Berlin. I visited 6 museums while I was here and I don't regret any of them. Berlin has a bustling art scene that needs to be explored. One thing I'll say about Berlin is I have to come back. This may be the largest city I've visited and I feel like there is so much more to explore. Next time I come back I know what areas I need to explore. Three days in Berlin definitely was not enough. The Berlin metro is complicated but is so clean and is very efficient. It takes you everywhere you need to an unlimited pass is defintely worth it. Berlin is also very biker friendly so you may even want to think of renting a bike. Most people in Berlin speak English, so don't feel weird about not knowing German. I spoke German most of the time I was here, but when I couldn't keep up I'd ask if they spoke English and most people switched over flawlessly. Next up is Prague, I leave early in the morning on a 4 hour train ride to the Czech Republic, different language, different currency.

More museum and gallery pictures:

Lastly, I will review my lodging. I stayed at the Grand Hostel Berlin. It had quick access to the U-bahn lines of U1, U2, U6 and U7. The hostel was probably the nicest hostel I stayed in. It had a classy hotel feeling to it the whole time. Everyone had a nice big closet for their stuff in their room. The cafe/bar area was good to meet other travelers. The staff was friendly and helpful. This hostel had more of a laid back atmosphere to it where everyone kind of did their own thing which is good for a busy city like Berlin. I had plently of privacy. I would definitely recommend this place if you want a very comfy place to stay where you'll have your own space if needed. If you want a more social place to stay you may want to check elsewhere but I would say to stay here just cause it is so well kept. I also lucked out and had a whole room to myself the last night. My total stay for 3 nights cost me 40 euros.

Day 20: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

I write this post with a heavy heart because it takes a toll on you to visit a concentration camp when you realize the atrocities that were conducted there. Where did the idea for concentration camps come from? Well we can embarassingly thank ourselves as the idea was implemented by the British in Africa and the Americans in the Philippines. The Germans did the same for 11 million people. The Nazi's used fear to implement what they believed in and they used the example of 1 bad Jew to target the rest of them. One bad person never represents a whole race or people and I hope we have learned that lesson today. You can see the watchtower which was centrally located below.
Sachsenhausen was where the command for the SS was centralized so orders for all 15,000 concentration camps came from here. It was supposed to be the perfect design, the only one to be designed by an architect. Not a single prisoner had escaped during its time. In all 47,000 people lost their lives at Sachsenhausen, 35,000 during Nazi control and another 12,000 when they Soviets used it as a "special camp" after the war. The first statement prisoners would see when they walked in was below, "work will set you free", almost as an insult because the purpose of the camp was to work til death.
Where prisioners were hung when they misbehaved to seperate their shoulders.
The foundation of the execution chambers.
We also learned that Guantanamo Bay uses similar tactics and designs at that camp. Yesterday was the first time on my trip I was embarassed to call myself American. As Americans we all know what happens at Gitmo, we know why it's not on American soil, because it allows them to torture prisoners. That is disgusting and uncalled for. No person should be tortured and it is disgusting that places like this still exist. As the United States of America, we lead the world in many things, but torture should never be one of them. We as Americans can keep turning a blind eye to these atrocities our government commits and supports around the world through our allies but at that point are we any different then the German citizens during the Nazi regime? Our vote has power and we should only elect officials who stand against torture and all practices of it should be banned by our government.

Many people died during the Nazi regime, but I must reiterate that Germany has come a long way. It seems as if every citizen carries the guilt of that time. Everyone learns about it and the full facts, and it is a requirment for school children to visit at least one camp in their studies. I am glad to see that Germany does not try to whitewash their history like my country does with the atrocities we have committed through our short history. Afterwards I headed over the the Reichstag building, the seat of German parliament, I made an appointment to go to the top of the dome, which is free I might add. But not before I stopped by Aufsturz to try some schnitzel!
After a long day I went back to my room and I was talking to my roommates, who were from Portugal. I said to them "you guys are so lucky to grow up in Europe and be near all these cities to visit. They said "No you're the lucky one becuase you got to grow up in America and live the American dream". I didn't realize how much some Europeans envy America. They were right I was lucky and blessed to grow up in the best country on Earth. I was lucky that my parents came to the US with nothing and worked their butts off to make sure my brother and I were able to grow up in America with everything we needed and I appreciate that so much. I sometimes take for granted that I grew up with the "American Dream" right at my footsteps while so many others spend their whole lives chasing it.

Berlin Pictures: