In Which Our Group Fell in Love with the Ampelmann

When we last left off I was leaving Copenhagen on a bus to Berlin. I made this decision for financial reasons, but it was actually probably the best actual traveling between two points part of my trip. First of all, for various reasons I’m not the biggest fan of flying. I used to love it, but the older I get the more it seems to make me anxious. In fact, on the flight between Geneva and London one of the guys from our program actually ended up holding my hand during the entire ascent. Once we get in the air I’m fine, but I hate take off. Hate it so much. But that’s neither here nor there.

The bus company I booked with didn’t speak any English which made for an interesting adventure. I probably should have been clued in by the fact that there was 0 English on my ticket – I even screwed up finding my seat because I couldn’t read it. Whoops! Thankfully I made friends with my seat mate and she was happy to play interpreter for me during the trip and there was wifi on the bus so I was able to keep myself entertained. The trip itself was actually really relaxing. As much as I like the people I was travelling with it was nice to have some extended time just to myself. I wish I had appreciated it for what it was at the time because I would be almost constantly with the others for approximately the next 2 weeks.


View from the top of the Berliner Dom

I had a couple hours to myself once I got to Berlin and I spent a lot more time than I am proud to admit wandering around the Berlin Hauptbahnhof where my bus left me. First it turned out that my suitcase has broken so I needed to find a new one so I was poking around shops with my broken suitcase, but then I just could not for the life of me figure out how to use the transit system. Once I got it under control though, the German S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems became something I actually really enjoyed.

I ended up taking the S-Bahn to Alexanderplatz and was pleased when I left the building. The area around Alexanderplatz was beautiful, but the first thing I did was buy a new suitcase. That was a relief. After wandering around for a while I went to find the hostel myself and the person I planned accommodations with had booked. If I had been smart I would have been the one to book the hostel so that I could check in when I got there, but instead I dragged my suitcase around until that night when the rest of them got in and we all met up at their AirBnB. Hindsight is 20/20.

The hostel itself was cute though and only a 5 minute walk from their AirBnB. Proximity to the others was a priority when we were booking things and for the most part we aced it.


Personification of Germany

We were very fortunate that one of our group spoke German and had been to Berlin before. He made for a wonderful tour guide. And it was this part of the trip – the part where there was 6 of us – that I did not realize would come to be some of the best part of our trip. 6 is a good number because it meant that even when we were wandering places we could walk in pairs of two and all have someone to talk to. Considering the group was made up of a couple and two people who were really good friends it was nice for me to have someone to chat and laugh with. I did not appreciate it as much as I should have.

The first thing we did on our first full day in Berlin was (surprise, surprise) take a walk to the old Berlin wall. The place where we were staying was in the old East Berlin and frankly, I suspect we would have gotten completely lost without our faithful guide, but we did not.

Europe in general is full of history. Coming from a country as new as Canada is (although not actually new because of the First Nations peoples who were here far before colonization) just wandering down street in Europe was an experience. And to someone who spent a lot of time in high school loving her history classes that focused on mostly 20th century European history being in Germany was particularly thrilling.

We wandered along the wall for a while making our way towards the museum district of Berlin. Originally we were heading towards Museum Island, but we ended up getting sidetracked by the Deutsches Historisches Museum. How could we not go in? Little did we know how long it was going to take us (spoiler alert we were there for over 4 hours and we ended up rushing the last part because we knew there was still a lot of stuff to see).

We did make it to Museum Island where we split into two groups. The group I was in went to the Pergamon. It was not the museum we thought we were going to, but I actually preferred it to where we had intended to go. The other group went to the Alte Nationalgalerie. By the time we saw that though we were pretty much museum-ed out. I love museums, but even I was ready to not be in more museums. So instead we went to the Berliner Dom.

13615389_10157070624260125_5793225766610721155_nIt was beautiful. I thought my legs were going to die by the time we got to the top, but the view was fantastic and I did indeed live to tell the tale.

Fortunately for all of us, the plans for the next day did not include any museums. Instead that day was a day mostly of monuments and buildings.



The Brandenburg Gate!

Unfortunately for us it seemed like the poor weather followed us from Copenhagen. For the most part it was a beautiful day, but it definitely started pouring at one point and this was the day when we were outside basically the entire day.


The Reichstag!!!

Getting to see the Reichstag was AMAZING. The only disappointment is that we were not able to book ourselves on a tour to go inside. Our friend who had been to Berlin before showed us his pictures and told us it was not that impressive inside, but it was still disappointing. It’s just such a piece of history. It would have been so amazing to have gone inside. But it was not to be and we still had a lot of things to see and little time to see it. However, this is when it began pouring rain and we were trying our best to stay out of it. Fortunately for us it did not last all that long. The sun came out quickly and we were able to make our way to the Holocaust Memorial (aka the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe).

13631463_10157070624640125_1617963280079105575_nThis picture was actually incredibly difficult to get. I’m not actually sure what I expected the memorial to be like, but the giant concrete blocks was an unexpected encounter. We spent quite a while wandering among the blocks and somehow managing not to lose each other.

We also discussed what the meaning behind the design could have been but none of us were really able to come up with anything insightful, but it is something I am appreciate that I was able to experience. There was some sort of associated museum apparently underneath the thing, but it was temporarily closed. Maybe that would have been able to give us some insight into the design, but despite not necessarily ‘getting’ the art I still felt like it was an experience that really impacted me. Despite the somber tone that visiting the memorial put over our group we still headed out for ice cream afterwards.

13620326_10157070624780125_7353880732312011798_nContinuing on our outdoor day of history we headed over to the site of the famous Checkpoint Charlie. While of course the stuff sitting there now is reconstruction and I’m guessing the people in uniforms are actors it was still a cool place to see. There was a museum nearby dedicated to the checkpoint where apparently the original signs and such still sit, but it was super expensive. Far beyond what we were willing to pay.

Interestingly, over the museum there was hanging a giant Ukraine flag with a message on it.


It was an interesting choice of place to display the message. Apt because of the focus on unity in a place that is a memorial to a time when not only a country, but this particular city was split into two parts. I mean, that was the point obviously, but I have to commend them on smart placement.

The other big thing in Berlin for us was the Ampelmann. What is the Ampelmann you ask? Well, he is the little guy on the walk/don’t walk signals in the former East Germany. I’m not really sure why we all liked him so much, but we really did. And it seems like Berlin is pretty fond of him too because you can find him on everything. There are even Ampelmann shops!

I ate my fair share of  Ampelmann gummies and one of us even bought an Amelmann cookie cutter. Part me of almost wishes I had gotten an Ampelmann cookie cutter, but I don’t really make those types of cookies so it seemed like a bit of a waste of my money. Even though I don’t understand the Ampelmann obsession, I still miss that little guy. Clearly they’ve done something right.

Berlin was a whole lot of fun. I don’t feel like I need to go back, but I certainly want to. The next day it was onto Munich. Once again I went separately from the others. They flew and I took the train (specifically the ICE – Inter-City Express train). This time they arrived before me, but it was only by about an hour and a half. But this post has gotten long and Munich is a story for next time.

  • Kali


The rest of the Castle went well, a blur of studying and having fun with friends new and old. But things actually get exciting again at the end of the program. Because it is so expensive and time consuming to get to Europe (and because it seemed unlikely that I would be able to find anyone to give me a job in Kingston for what was left of the summer after the Castle) it seemed worth my while to spend some time traveling after the program was done.

I ended up traveling with some of my friends/classmates for the first bit and then did my own thing. The first place we went was a group of 4 of us and it was off to Copenhagen!


Copenhagen is a place I’ve always wanted to see. The largest part of my background is actually Danish (I’m essentially a huge Euro-mutt like a lot of Canadians) so I’ve wanted to go to Denmark for a long time.

Because I ended up joining the rest of them after they had already booked I ended up flying separately. Luckily for me one of the other people who traveled with us also joined in later so we were able to split accommodations. In Copenhagen, this was an AirBnB.

Sadly, I did not get any pictures of the place, but I can tell you that it was 8 floors up in a tiny little building with no elevator – fun with my suitcase for sure! The place itself was actually really cute. I slept on the couch and made the other person sleep up in the loft. The best part was the bathroom. It was literally the size of a closet. There was not enough room for a sink and when you opened the door you saw the toilet and on the wall above the toilet was a shower head. Yup. No separation.

I thought it was funny. I wouldn’t have wanted to be there long term (although having the toilet to prop your leg on would make shaving easy), but we were only there for a couple of days. 13567313_10157047419505125_5624583368100187707_nOn the first day we were there we had to take a trek out to the Little Mermaid statue. It’s one of those things you just have to do while you’re in Copenhagen. Of course that meant the vicinity was flooded with tourists making it difficult to get a good picture, but I think this one turned out okay.


Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg

Another thing that has to be said is that there are palaces in Copenhagen.  I actually had not realized they were one of the places that still had a working monarchy so that was kind of neat.

We also randomly came across the changing of the guard at Amalienborg. We had been trying to find the palace, but were surprised by the giant crowds when we got there. And then we realized they were all waiting for something and figured it must be about time for the changing of the guard. It honestly was not quite as interesting as I expected (although I’m not quite sure what I expected it to be), but it’s one of those things I’m glad to have had the experience of seeing.

We also spent a great deal of our time in Copenhagen trying our best to avoid the rain. One of the guys with us brought no rain gear whatsoever so that was a real adventure.  For the most part we were actually able to time it quite well. At one point I did end up paying the equivalent of $6 CAD for a tea though. And it wasn’t even good tea.

Our AirBnB was not a far walk from the neighbourhood of Nyhavn and the other duo had their hotel only a couple of blocks away from the famous coloured houses on the canals. So, naturally we spent some time just hanging around there.



Honestly, just walking around Nyhavn was really cool. Not to mention, I had been obsessed with going on a canal tour since Amsterdam, but had never had a chance. I was not letting another chance for a canal tour pass me by.

The second day in Copenhagen our main stop was the famous Tivoli Gardens. I had never heard about it before (and boy was it nice to just sit back and let someone else do the trip planning for a change) so didn’t know what to expect. The day itself was nice off and on. There was even a thunderstorm when we first got there! Thankfully it didn’t last long.

I was surprised to find that Tivoli gardens was more an amusement park than anything, but it was really cool just to walk around. At one point we almost lost one of our friends – it happened a few times, he has a bit of a habit of wandering off without telling anyone. Fortunately we did find him again.

And that evening was when I finally got to do my canal tour!


The view from the boat!

Overall, Copenhagen was a really cool experience. I would probably go back if the option was given although I would give priority to new places that I have not been before. We managed to cram a whole lot of things into a very short window of only 2 days. The others had a bit longer than I did because they all took the same flight to Berlin. I however, being economical, took a bus to Berlin. Yes, that’s right. A bus. I left at around 8:30 in the morning and arrived in Berlin around 4pm-ish. And, of course, that meant I got to take a ferry too. But that is a story for my next post.

Also, if you’re ever trying to figure out the name of a Danish king guess Frederik or Christian. They’re basically all named Frederik or Christian. It’s a good guess.

Until next time.

  • Kali


Vacation v Field Study

This is very behind the times. I’ve been back in Canada for months now and I’m back to classes. But, I still want to share all about my European adventures as I promised. So this post is about our field study week. Or, as us PILs (Public International Law students) called it, our vacation. For the business kids it really was more of a field study – they were go go go -ing all week long. For us in the PIL program it was a lot more relaxing.

Before our week started though a bunch of us – mostly PIL, but also some of the business kids – took a trip to Amsterdam. It was a real experience, but not something I would want to repeat. I mean, if a free trip to Amsterdam was offered I would take it, but I definitely wouldn’t plan a trip there that I had to pay for.


Amsterdam started out well, turned into pure chaos when we thought our hostel had bed bugs (it didn’t), and then ended up being fun. Honestly, it was beautiful during the day, but (of course) skeevy at night. I did end up going out with the entire group to a bar in the Red Light District. I feel like it was one of those things I am glad I can say I’ve done, but even if I won a free trip to Amsterdam I wouldn’t do it again.



One of the girls on our trip with us got a suggestion from some of the guys we met at our new hostel that we should go out to Den Haag early and enjoy it. They said it was a really nice place and that we would probably love it. So, we left a little earlier than a lot of our group and I was glad to get out of there. I was pretty much done with Amsterdam by that point.

And, he was right. I absolutely loved Den Haag. It had all the beauty of Amsterdam that I enjoyed, but none of the skeeviness. It even had a beach (I didn’t actually go to the beach, but a lot of people did at some point during the trip).

Den Haag was the first part of the PIL field study week. Basically, this involved us getting to go to a bunch of really cool international organizations and meet with interesting people involved in international law. Sadly, most of the places we went in Den Haag did not allow us to take pictures and one of the people in charge of our trip would not let us bring our phones or cameras so even if we were allowed to take pictures we did not have the ability to do so. It was very disappointing.


The International Criminal Court!!!

That said, the places we visited in Den Haag were: The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The OPCW had a special place in my heart because it was one of the committees I had done at a Model UN conference during my undergrad. I was super disappointed that I didn’t get to take any photos. The STL was actually the surprise gem of Den Haag. I didn’t know much about it before I went, but the high tech stuff they were doing was actually really, really cool. And of course the ICC was amazing. One of the people travelling with us actually used to work there so it felt like we really got the start treatment!



We then moved onward to Geneva. I actually found Geneva to be rather disappointing. I knew it was very expensive going in, but I think I just expected it to be more impressive than it was. It was nice enough, but I just expected it to be better. The visits we made there were pretty awesome though. And we were allowed to take pictures this time!

In Geneva we went to The UN Officer of the High Commissioner for Refugees (OHCHR), the Canadian Mission to the UN, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). And yes, some of those acronyms could get confusing after a while.

And finally, on our last day in Geneva, 3 of us went to the UN Headquarters there. The business kids had gotten to go as part of their official trips but we had not and I personally think we should have been taken. Regardless, I’m definitely glad I went.

The really cool thing was that the UN office there was actually the headquarters of the old League of Nations too (the predecessor to the UN). And so they had all the old insignia and rooms and stuff. And we even got to sit in the room where wars had been argued about and/or even settled. It was an amazing experience.

The whole week was a one of a kind opportunity and I feel so privileged to have been able to do such a thing. The Castle itself was a lot of work, but in my mind it was definitely worth it.

  • Kali