A Travellerspoint blog

Greece

Athens!

I arrived in Athens late at night and immediately headed off to find my hostel. After depositing my stuff I decided to walk around the block. Imagine my surprise when -- BAM -- the Acropolis was RIGHT THERE. I hadn't seen it when I came out of the metro because my back was to it and I was focused on finding where I was going. It was really breath-taking, all lit up at night. I have never seen anything quite like it. DSC_0136_2.jpg

I spent the next morning exploring the Acropolis and the surrounding sites. It really was incredible. I have always wanted to see the Parthenon, ever since first studying it in art history. And it didn't disappoint. Incredible to think about how old all the buildings are and how the Acropolis has been the center of the city for 3,000 years. It was amazing walking around Athens and thinking about all of the history that has happened there. All of civilization as we know it was born here, including democracy, art, architecture, drama, literature and our ideas of beauty.
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One of my favorite things about the Acropolis was the rocks the buildings are built on. There are slabs of rock that are completely smooth (and very slippery). I loved walking across them and thinking about the billions of people who have walked here before. The rocks are so smooth because of the centuries of feet tramping across them.
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Surrounding the Acropolis are numerous ruins and historical sites. I really enjoyed the Ancient Agora. The Temple of Haphestus was amazing -- one of the most complete temples remaining. DSC_0280_2.jpgIt really makes me wish we could have seen the Parthenon in all it's glory -- rather than just a pile of rubble. I loved wandering around the agora, the ancient marketplace that was the center of the city. This is where Socrates used to meet with students and discuss philosophy and morality. Being in Athens, I really couldn't help but think about how much of our current civilization is shaped by Greek ideals. Specifically, Washington DC came to mind. Not only the whole process of democracy, education, arts, etc., but also the physical aspect of our cities -- how they are arranged. So many of the buildings in DC are modeled after Greek buildings and ancient Greek architecture. It is really impressive how far-reaching this one civilization has been.DSC_0249_2.jpg

I spent an afternoon at the National Archeaologic Museum and loved it. There were so many ancient statues, it was mind blowing. This museum is literally the entire first few chapters of any art history book. From prehistoric fertility cult figurines, to the Mask of Agammemnon, to the first kore statues. Amazing.DSC_0228_2.jpg

I had a couple of great nights hanging out with new and old friends in Athens. I was sitting in an outdoor cafe (enjoying the view of the Acropolis) when I started chatting with two girls from LA, Vanessa and Diana. We were watching a delivery truck who had somehow managed to get his front wheelrim stuck on a pylon that separated the pedestrian and traffic areas. He couldn't get the truck unstuck, and eventually there was a crowd of about 15 guys all scratching their heads and giving suggestions. It was really funny. I think it took at least 20 minutes to get the truck free, and we watched the whole process with amusement. Vanessa and Diana were on vacation in Greece and had just returned from the Greek Isles. They invited me to join them for wine that night. They were staying at a hotel that had a roof garden and an AMAZING view of the Acropolis. We had a great time drinking some Greek wine and hanging out. The next night I spent hanging out with the Greek guys that I had met in Madrid. At the beginning of my trip (it seems so long ago now!) we were roommates in the hostel in Madrid and had hung out there. I emailed them to let them know I was in Athens and we met up for drinks. It was a great night -- really fun. They are such nice guys and I had a great time hanging out with them.DSC_0308_2.jpgDSC_0325_2.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 06:00 Comments (0)

Germany

Berlin

There are several places that I have visited on my trip -- Paris, Rome, Prague -- that I have had to pinch myself and remind myself that I am there. Berlin is definitely one of those places. Berlin is an incredible city, so full of history and yet it feels so young and vibrant. Berlin is FUNKY and totally fun.
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The layers of history in Berlin are amazing, and yet the city feels like it is young and just getting started. For me, Berlin represents the Cold War. My generation grew up with the Cold War, the Soviets, the Iron Curtain, etc. I still remember watching the Berlin Wall fall and having a vague feeling that something really big was happening. I was 12 years old. To be able to be in the city where it all happened was amazing. It is still easy for me (and most westerners) to think of Berlin as East and West, but it is incredible to think that the generation of kids graduating from gymnasium never lived in a divided city. In some ways twenty years is a long time; in other ways, not so much.
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Many of the sites in Berlin are related to the Wall and the division of the city.DSC_0045_2.jpg It is funny to think that they are all just tourists destinations now, when for so long they physicially and ideologically divided the city. Most of the wall was destroyed as soon as possible. Understandably, Berliners didn't want any reminder of the wall that divided them. Throughout the entire city, there is a line of two bricks next to each other that designates where the wall ran. DSC_0061_2.jpgIt really is amazing to see how the city was divided, and how the wall used to run through public squares, parks, streets, and even buildings. I visited Checkpoint Charlie and the accompanying museum. The checkpoint itself is literally in a main street that doesn't divide much of anything now. An art installation shows a portrait of a young American soldier looking one way and a young Soviet soldier looking the other way. The museum is jam packed with mementos and nostalgia about the wall.DSC_0063_2.jpgDSC_0065_2.jpg One of the most fascinating parts for me was seeing all of the ingenous ways people came up with to escape from East Berlin. It really is incredible to think of one city being divided in such a way. People on one side had freedom of movement and access to western goods. People's lives on the other side of the wall were totally controlled and they lacked many basic goods. And to see the courage and inventiveness of people trying to escape a life of communism. The original reason the wall was constructed was because too many East Berliners were escaping to the west. What kind of government thinks the solution to that is to build a wall? Maybe I am biased -- I have been raised in America where we were constantly taught that communism was bad. But I also thought this was a really good reminder that walls never really work to keep people in (or out). People will always find a way, whether it is a hot air balloon, stuffed in the trunk of a car, of jammed in a suitcase. I do hope our politicians in America will realize this when they consider building a wall between the US and Mexico. Just won't work.

Of all of the cities I have visited, Berlin easily has the most construction going on. Within a mere months of the wall falling, buildings and businesses were sprouting up. Potsdamer Platz -- once a bustling early 20th century square, then a desolate part of the "death zone" behind the wall -- is now consumed with huge corporate buildings.DSC_0050_2.jpg It seemed like half of the city is under construction. The art scene in Berlin is also flourishing. Berlin has become known as a center of new and modern art. In some ways, Berlin reminded me of Prague. I really do think that oppression and adversity begets creativity and inspiration. DSC_0069_2.jpg

Of course the history of Berlin predates the Berlin Wall. The history of Berlin is also a history of Hitler and National Socialism. There are several memorials around town that commemorate the victims of the Nazis. The memorial to the murdered jews of Europe was very moving. The memorial itself consists of numerous slabs of slate arraned in rows in a public square. The museum that goes along with the memorial is heart-wrenching. There is also an outdoor exhibit where the original Nazi SS buildings stood, called the Topography of Terror. As always when visiting places like this, I am extremely moved. I just can't help but think how this was allowed to happen. I understand cerebrally the events in Europe and why people and governments chose not to get involved. But the extermination of so many lives is just overwhelming. It is a good reminder of why we cannot let regimes who practice genocide exist in our world.
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There are a lot of great sites to see in Berlin, but more than anything I just enjoyed walking around the city. I also rode the public buses a lot -- a cheap way to see a lot of the city. The old East Berlin is now considered the heart of the city and is the trendy place to live. There are still some signs of communism and the old regime, mainly in the style of buildings and apartment blocks. It is easy to pick out the blocky communist style. But other than that, the area is totally flourishing. DSC_0135_2.jpg

I really enjoyed my tour of the Reichstag building.DSC_0112_2.jpgDSC_0101_2.jpg The design is great -- a huge glass dome was built on top of the original structure that was destroyed during the war. There is a ramp up the glass dome and you can walk all the way to the top -- incredible views of Berlin. But the most interesting view is downward. You can see into the Parliamentary chamber and watch the politicians at work. Someone told me that this is the most important view to Germans -- that way they can literally keep an eye on their government.DSC_0087_2.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 06:00 Comments (0)

Germany

Munich

A few days before my mom was supposed to go back to the U.S., I got an email from my sister who lives in Tblisi, Georgia. She had mentioned trying to get together while my mom was in Europe, but we hadn't heard anything, so we just assumed it wouldn't happen. It turns out that at the last minute she got the ok from her boss to go to Munich for the weekend. So we changed my mom's ticket and headed to Munich!

We had a fun weekend in Munich. It was a city that I wanted to visit, but I didn't think I would be able to. Of course the highlight was seeing my sister, bro-in-law and my 2 nieces. And because of the kids, we didn't do a lot of serious sight-seeing. It was fun to just hang out with them. The hotel they booked had a pool, and Madi was a huge fan -- we went swimming every afternoon. Because my sister and her family are overseas, we often only see them once a year. It was really great to get to spend some time with them.

We walked around the old part of Munich several times during the weekend. It is a pedestrian area, filled with churches, the Rathaus, restaurants, shops and lots of people. The first night we headed to an outdoor restaurant for some brats, sauerkrat and beer. There was a drum corps playing on the pedestrian area, and it was fun to just hang out and listen to them. The surprising thing was that most of the drummers were women, probably at least 28 of the 35 or so. I figured that Lisa N would appreciate that! It also happened to be the day of the German football championship tournament, and supporters were out in full force. Germans take their football very seriously (as all Europeans do). There were groups of fans wandering around, singing, chanting, and drinking beer. There were also a lot of police out in full force. Thankfully we didn't see any disturbances. I think it helped that Munich was not expected to do very well.

DSC_0923.jpgThe next day we wandered around the city a little more. We toured the Residenz Palace -- the royal palace of the Bavarian ruling family. The best part was watching Madi (age 4) listening to the audioguide. She took it very seriously, and figured out how to find the right number for each room. She didn't want to skip a single room. DSC_0918.jpgDSC_0927.jpgThe palace was incredibly beautiful. The amazing thing is that a large part of the palace was destroyed in WWII. Munich was the origin of Hitler and Nazi-ism, and was therefore bombed to smithereens during the war. The city managed to rebuild the majority of the historic buildings, as much to the original plans as possible. I read in a book somewhere that the course of a lot of German cities depended on the rebuilding campaign they took after the war. Frankfort built huge skyscrapers and became a financial capital. Munich rebuilt the old city and became a tourist destination.

We were lucky to have beautiful sunny weather for the weekend. We headed to the English Gardens and explored just a small part of the huge park -- bigger than Central Park. We did get to see the surfers trying their luck on the waves coming out of the smaller canals into the river. Apparently Munich is know for its surfing?

The highlight of the day was heading to the Hofbrauhaus, the original Munich biergarten. It was so nice to sit in the shady beer garden, enjoying a HUGE mug of beer, sausages, and pretzels! Yum!DSC_0951.jpg

We spent the next day wandering around the old town, popping in and out of churches, and visiting the Viktualienmarkt -- a huge outdoor market with food, flowers, and all kinds of goods. We spent the afternoon at the Deutsches Museum, a museum of science and industry. We spent most of the time in the KinderReich, a fun kid's section complete with puppet theater, music room, water play, a fire truck and a full size hamster wheel. So fun!

The highlight of the whole weekend for me (and I think for everyone) was the Munich Zoo. The zoo was incredible! It was the first zoo to showcase animals in the natural setting -- meaning each animal has a realistic habitat and plenty of room to move. The zoo was huge and full of fun stuff!DSC_1013.jpg We got to see brown bears, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, polar bears, etc. My two favorite parts -- watching the Siberian Tiger have his lunch (a rabbit) and being mesmerized by the penguins. We easily could have spent twice the amount of time there, but unfortunately my sis and her family had to catch a flight. It was a fun weekend and I am glad we were able to meet up. Madi said it best when she said "I don't want to go home. Germany is FUN!"DSC_0998.jpgDSC_1003.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 05:59 Comments (1)

Germany

Rhine Valley

From Rothenberg we headed up to the Rhine River Valley. It was a several hour drive, but I got to drive on the Autobahn! The freeway system in Germany is really amazing. Unfortunately I was driving a gutless VW Golf, so we couldn't really test out the whole no speed limit thing. There were plenty of people who were driving really fast, but for the most part people drove responsibly. When it started raining everyone slowed down. I couldn't believe how easy it was to drive in Germany -- especially after driving in Italy.

The Rhine River has been one of the most important trade routes since Roman times. The river is still incredibly busy, with all kinds of barges and container ships going up and down the river. During medieval times, land barons built castles on the riverbanks and charged passing ships tolls. The river valley is filled with castles from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. There are train tracks and roads on both sides of the river, and it is still an important transporation hub for Germany.
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We arrived in Bacharach, a small Rhine river town in the afternoon.DSC_0840.jpgDSC_0894.jpg We hopped on a boat that afternoon and took a cruise down the Rhine. It was fun to be on the boat and to see all of the castles from the river. Some of the castles are in great shape, others are in total disrepair. A few now have hotels and restaurants, but some are privately owned. I could easily see how the landscape with all of the castles inspired fairy tales!5DSC_0879.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 05:59 Comments (0)

Germany

Rothenberg ob der Tauber

From Bavaria my Mom and I drove up the "Romantic Road" - as it has been labelled by the Germany tourists association. It was a beautiful drive through country roads. Unfortunately half the time we weren't sure we were on the right road as signs were few and far between. But eventually we ended up at our destination -- Rothenberg ob der Tauber.
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Rothenberg is considered the best preserved medieval town in Europe. It is a walled town, with fortifications completely surrounding the city. It is a beautiful town and a great place to just wander around. The streets are cobblestone and spread out from the central Market Square. There are fountains all over town -- they used to be the only water source for residents of the area.

St. Jakob's church is the main church in town and was built in the 14th century. The outside is currently under renovation, so we didn't get a good look at that, but the inside was interesting. The farther north in Europe you go, the less decorated the churches. The Protestant reformation removed a lot of the decorations and embellishments. Thankfully, the amazing altars and stained glass windows in this church were not destroyed. The Altar of the Holy Blood in St. Jakob's was incredible. It is fully carved of wood and over 500 years old. Stunning!DSC_0795.jpgDSC_0798.jpg

Rothenberg is known for hosting one of the biggest Christmasmarkts in Germany during December. As you can imagine, it is a great place to shop for all kinds of German souvenirs. My mom and I both enjoyed the German Christmas Museum. It was really interesting to see the history of christmas decorations and how they have evolved over the years. And the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop was like nothing I have ever seen before! I have never seen so many Christmas ornaments in one place -- all for sale of course.

We spent one afternoon walking the entire wall around the city. It was fun to see the city from a different angle and to hike along the ramparts. Spread out along the wall are several towers, only one of which is now open. We climbed to the top and had a great view out over the city. DSC_0825.jpgFortunately, most of Rothenberg was spared during WWII. In the last days of the war, bombs were dropped on the western edge of the city and destroyed parts of the wall, but thankfully no historic buildings. The wall has been rebuilt with donations from people all over the world who have enjoyed visiting Rothenberg, and small plaques on the wall are dedicated to these donors. It was fascinating to see all the people who have donated from all over the world. It makes you realize how small the world really is, and how much others help during times of crisis.

One of the best things about travelling with my mom is meeting different people. My mom is known for talking to anyone and everyone, and this trip has not been any different. While travelling on my own I have met lots of people in the hostels -- most around my age or younger. With my mom, we have met a lot more people of varying ages. We met a great Brazilian couple while touring the castles in Bavaria -- and ended up running in to them in Rothenberg. We had a great dinner with them -- they were so much fun to talk to! And as a result, we have an open invitation to visit a coffee plantation/cattle farm outside of Sao Paolo. While we were in Switzerland, we met a really nice German couple who were vacationing there and staying at our hotel in Brienz. While we were packing up to check out, the man knocked on our door and gave us several beautiful photos that he had taken of the area. I know I have said it before, but I will say it again -- the best part of travelling is all the amazing people you meet from all over the world. It is a great reminder that we are all alike, no matter where we come from. I have really enjoyed travelling with my mom. It has been nice to have someone along for the trip and to meet people of all different ages.

Posted by jenniesue 05:59 Comments (0)

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