A Hidden Gem

Sofia is the only place I was ripped off during my travels. I thought I had done enough research but still ended up way over paying for my cab from the airport to my hotel. Considering the gentleman driving my cab spoke little to no English and I spoke no Bulgarian and he was much larger than me and had me in his car I paid him because I would rather be safe than sorry. Regardless, Sofia was beautiful.


Opera House!

Sofia had not been on my original lists of must sees, it had only been a cheap plane out of Tel Aviv. However, I am so glad I went. Central/Eastern Europe has a different feel than any of the other places I had been. And my little Religious Studies student heart was all a flutter seeing all of the neat Orthodox churches.

It was also nice to be alone for a bit. Israel had been great and it was super cool to meet my friend in person for the first time, but it was also nice to have some time to myself before I headed back to England where I would be meeting up with yet more friends that I had never met in person. Also, I had decided to treat myself with my hotel room and it was so great and still only a little more expensive than some of my earlier nights.

Sofia was super low key for me. I went on a walking tour the first day of which I saw highlights such as parliament, the hot mineral springs, and the changing of the guard! We also got to see the Tolerance Square where there is an Orthodox Church, Catholic Cathedral, Islamic Mosque, and Jewish Synagogue all within a few minutes of each other. a true lesson in getting along.

My final day in Sofia I actually went on Europe’s first free food tour. And I even made a friend! A fellow traveller with whom I also went to dinner. It was a lot of fun!

Dinner was chaos. We found this random place outside the centre of the city billed as a ‘traditional restaurant’. It was massive. And deserted. Despite our misgivings though it was so much fun and the food was A-MAZE-ING. And we got a performance of singing and dancing as well!

Long story, short. Sofia was great and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to travel somewhere a little bit different, but still somewhat familiar.




They tie these to the trees in the spring!

The Telephone Booth that Survived TWO Terrorist Attacks!

Next stop on my itinerary was Israel. Unlike most of the places I visited on my grand adventure I was not limiting myself to a particular city but instead trying to see as much as possible. This was aided by a friend I already had in Israel (who was the reason that it was added to the plan in the first place) and his family who were happy to schlep me around and show me their world.

Israel was a nice break from Europe. I love Europe, but so much time traveling Europe had me getting a bit jaded about the architecture and history around me so taking a short break was a nice change of pace.

My friend lives in a small town at what he once referred to as ‘the end of the world’ and which was rather accurate. It was a nice retreat from the regular hustle and bustle of the trip. I arrived late at night and as soon as we got back to his place I basically passed out into sleep – we had an early morning ahead of us because we were heading to Jerusalem first thing!

13631469_10157147546850125_4622131714667243975_nJerusalem was amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it. Knowing that I’m a politics nerd, the first thing we did was take a tour of the Knesset. It was us and a bunch of America teenagers who were there presumably for some sort of Birthright type trip. Our guide was great and we had audio guides as well which I always appreciate. My friend also had a story or two for me about his time being involved with the Israeli youth council where he got to have actual meetings at the Knesset which I thought was pretty cool.


Tapestries Reflecting Jewish History/Themes by Marc Chagall.

Just up the road from the Knesset was the Supreme Court of Israel and so naturally we took a detour over there. We even got to watch a bit of ongoing court proceedings. Obviously I could not understand a word of what was going on, but it was still super interesting to see. Also, one wing of the court was dedicated to a small museum of Israeli law and history which I thought was an interesting touch.

After that we headed to the market where I was super overwhelmed, but tried a lot of things that I to this day have no idea what they were. I do remember the halva though. Yummy, yummy halva. After that we went to the main attraction of the day – the Old City.

Old Jerusalem is split into 4 quarters – the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. We entered through the Jewish Quarter for a few reasons – the most obvious one being that that was the entrance my friend was most well acquainted with.


Our first stop was the Western Wall (aka: Wailing Wall) where there were (of course) separate entrances for men and women. We split and agreed to meet up in ten minutes of so. Despite not being Jewish I did leave a note and spent a few moments in quiet contemplation trying not to seem like a watching weirdo. There was also a bar mitzvah going on nearby so I stopped to watch the festivities for a few minutes as well.


The Dome of the Rock

Next we waited in line to head up the Temple Mount. My friend was almost not allowed to go because Jewish people are not supposed to go up as it is against Jewish law. He got a talking to by the guards, but they eventually relented because he was with me. I’m definitely glad we got around that one because it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Non-Muslims are not allowed in the Dome of the Rock which was unfortunate, but not entirely surprising. It was amazing just to get to see it and it was not an opportunity I ever expected to have so I count myself fortunate to have had the experience.

We wandered around the Old City some more and eventually decided to check out the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa is believed to be the path that Jesus walked to his own crucifixion. All of the stops are numbered and there are maps you can get that show you the way and give a little explanation about what was supposed to have occurred at each of the stops. It took us a lot longer than I am proud of to find our way through it.

After that we wandered around a bit more – including showing me Hell (which is an actual place in Jerusalem apparently) before heading back for the night. Another, strange thing that was pointed out to me in Jerusalem was a telephone booth that has survived two terrorist attacks. Strange what passes for a landmark sometimes.

Jerusalem was the big one, but my friend’s family made sure I saw a lot of other things too. One day we went to Masada – an ancient fortress that was subject to a siege in the first Jewish-Roman War and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Another day we went to the Dead Sea of course. I didn’t own a swimsuit so I had to go in in a dress – the dress no longer fits, but I do not regret it in the least. Naturally I got salt water in my eyes because that is how my life works, but it was still worth it. My friend couldn’t go in with me, but his sister was kind enough to float away with me.

We also went to Ein Gedi National Park. We hiked the shortest trail, but it was still beautiful and amazing.


Ein Gedi

It was so much greener than anythingI expected to find in Israel – most of which had lived up to my imagination of desert. The final big stop which we did on my last day in Israel was to go to Jaffa and Tel Aviv. We spent the morning in Jaffa which is right beside Tel Aviv and used to be the main port city in Israel. We did one of those free walking tours and it was a really neat experience.



In the afternoon we met up with my friend’s sister for lunch at a place that my friend found fit to tell me had been the site of a terrorist attack a month previous. I was a bit jumpy over lunch to absolutely no surprise. What can I say – Canadians are very isolated from that sort of thing whereas it’s much more part of the public consciousness in Israel.

We also went to Independence Hall which is where Independence was declared in 1948. It was neat to see. Obviously very rah rah rah as any site like that is bound to be, but interesting nonetheless.


Independence Hall

We also went to the memorial site for Yitzak Rabin who was assassinated in 1995. Rabin was a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was well known as an advocate for peace between Israel and Palestine.

All in all, my trip to Israel was amazing. There is still a lot to see obviously, but I feel like I managed to cram a lot into a very short time. One of my friends asked me if I went to any of the more controversial places (i.e.: places in the Gaza Strip or West Bank) and the answer is no. It’s not that I would never want to see those places because I do, but the time just was not right. Plus, the friend I was with obviously would not have been allowed over there so it just didn’t seem wise.

The chaos was not over yet though. They almost did not let me leave! For some reason they could not find anyone in the airport who spoke decent English when I was supposed to be leaving, but thankfully they found someone who could speak some English. Enough to ask me whether I would just let my friend speak for me anyway. I didn’t care. I just wanted to move onward. Israel was great, but I was ready to head back to Europe. They did eventually let me go and I raced for my plane arriving with approximately 10 minutes until boarding. That was terrifying, but soon I was back in the sky heading to Sofia, Bulgaria. More about that next time!

  • Kali

Viva Italia!

Rome was a nice departure from being with the group. There are real perks to group travel – people to talk to and you don’t have to figure out everything by yourself. There are also drawbacks in that too much time with people can breed annoyance. Plus, most of us need some alone time now and again.


The Colosseum!

In Rome I stayed in an AirBnB that ended up just being a normal BnB. I also happened to be the only one staying there. Which in hindsight was kind of odd, but at the time it was just nice to be blessedly alone. My flight from Vienna was on time, but I got a wee bit lost in the Rome metro system. I ended up taking the Leonardo Express from that airport. It was a little more expensive than it would have been to try and find my way just using regular transit, but the convenience was worth it to me. I arrived at the BnB around 8pm and after a bit of interesting conversation trying to communicate with my host’s limited English and my non-existent Italian found myself safely ensconced in a nice little room. A nice little room that was air conditioned which was my favourite thing in the summer heat of Rome.

I went for a short walk to try and find some food, but mostly that night was a write off. I figured out what I wanted to do the next day and uploaded pictures to Facebook for my family and friends. It was nice to just relax.

The next day my plan was to try and see as much of Rome proper as I could manage. The place where13620315_10157142450325125_4786196210328915803_n I was staying was about a 20 minute walk to the Colosseum so naturally that was my first stop. Before I made it there though I happened to come across a random park where there was a band playing pop culture music (i.e.: I heard the Star Wars theme and followed that until I found them). So that was kind of neat!

I managed to make it to the Colosseum where I ended up waiting in line for way too long in the heat. I probably should have expected it, but there was not much I could do about it by that point. I am proud that I managed to get through it without buying any of the super overpriced frozen water bottles that people were wandering around selling to people in the line though. I will admit to having been very tempted though. I hadn’t realized that my ticket to the Colosseum would also get me into the Roman Forum, but it did so I obviously had to take full advantage of that.


The View from the Hill

I spent a lot more time in the Roman Forum that I had intended to… this was partially because it was pretty big, but also because I had some trouble figuring out how to get out. By the time I found my way out I was super hungry. Even though I’m usually bad at eating while on trips I couldn’t exactly skip eating in Rome of all places! Real Italian food. And, boy was I happy to get out of the sun for a bit. Plus, the lasagna I had for lunch was absolutely delicious.

After lunch I wandered towards the Trevi Fountain. Other than when I went to and from the airport I walked everywhere in Rome. Part of me regretted that because my feet were killing me by the end, but Rome wasn’t huge and I probably saw a lot more than I would have otherwise. On my way to see the Trevi Fountain I ended up veering off to see the Pantheon. On the way there I got awkwardly flirted with. Some random guy stopped me in the street to tell me my eyes were beautiful and ask me to have coffee with him. First of all I was wearing sunglasses so he couldn’t even see my eyes, but regardless I obviously did not have coffee with him.

There must have been something in the air in Italy though because one of my eyes was 13658998_10157142450795125_6853691658861986719_nbasically weeping the entire time I was there. It was awkward, but what can you do. I’m glad it was only Rome where it was a problem at least.

I never thought I would get bored of looking at fancy old architecture, but there was so much of it in Rome that I eventually started taking it for granted. Which seems hard to believe now, but at the time it was just the way I started to feel.

Another cool thing about Rome was that there were just churches basically everywhere. Fortunately for me I thought to bring a scarf with me everywhere to cover my shoulders so I actually was able to visit all the churches. I definitely saw more than a few people be barred from churches due to not meeting dress code and I’m glad to say I was not among them.

My second full day in Rome I had to take a visit to The Vatican. First of all how can you be in Rome and not visit The Vatican and second of all that’s the kind of thing I’m a huge nerd about. I had to pick up a long skirt to head over there since my skirts were mostly knee length, but it was fine because I needed one for when I would be in Jerusalem regardless.


Welcome to The Vatican!

I did end up spending most of the day at The Vatican. The lunch I had was pretty good, but it’s hard to know whether it was actually good or whether I was just starving. I think I’m just going to let my some of my Vatican pictures speak for themselves.

The next day I had to check out of my BnB at 10:30am and my flight left the airport in Rome just before 3pm. I basically just spent a while at the airport. I was pretty nervous because my next stop was Tel Aviv via Istanbul. Obviously I lived to tell the tale, but that tale will have to wait until next time.

  • Kali

Ahhhh. The Circus Maximus…

Singin’ in Salzburg

From Prague we went onto Vienna, but although we spent our first evening in Vienna, our first full day we actually left the city for a day trip to Salzburg. Salzburg was added to the itinerary essentially because of a group appreciation for The Sound of Music. There are specific Sound of Music tours, but we didn’t do one of those. We just did a general tour.

I hadn’t seen The Sound of Music in years (although I have recently watched it now on an airplane ride), but I remembered enough to appreciate the decision to take the trip. Unfortunately the tour itself did not live up.


Welcome to Salzburg.

First off, it was pouring rain the whole day. That, of course, could not be helped, but it did make the day quite dreary. More importantly though, our tour guide was awful. And not like she made terrible jokes awful (she did, but that’s to be expected), but more she did not seem to know what she was talking about and she barely actually showed us anything before setting us loose in Salzburg on our own for most of it. It seemed like a real waste of money.

13782176_10157113237855125_9099592559762694509_nAnd, unfortunately for me, this was probably the most awkward day of the trip personally. The couple went off on their own and then the other two clearly wanted to be left alone. I stuck with them for a little bit, but then left when they decided to go to Mozart’s Birthplace. They were the real classical music fans and frankly I had started to get the picture that they wanted me to go away. So I went away.

Fortunately for me I don’t really mind my own company. I was able to wander the streets by myself poking into stores, but mostly into churches. There were a lot of churches in Salzburg considering it did not seem to be a particularly large place.

One particular church, the Franziskanerkirche, was very peaceful. It seemed less open to random tourists than the others – quieter and more solemn – that I spent a fair amount of time in. It was calming and peaceful. I’m not (and never have been) religious, but I still have a fondness for the atmosphere cultivated in such places.

13668963_10157113237870125_5431240718315523179_nThere was not really a whole lot to do in Salzburg, but it was a nice little place. I suspect it would have been a better experience if the weather had been nicer and I don’t really feel any pull to return to Salzburg, but it was a pretty little place.

Honestly, I think we probably should have just done one of the Sound of Music tours. It might have been better run. I’m not really sure why we didn’t do one of those actually – I wasn’t part of the planning process after all.But considering the inspiration for going it would have seemed to have been the logical thing to do. Oh well. What is done is done at this point after all. And on the plus side, I mostly went because the others did. I do like The Sound of Music, but it had been so long since I had seen it that I wasn’t tied to the nostalgia the way a lot of people might have been. I definitely did find myself humming (and sometimes even singing aloud) the songs from the movie. They are particularly memorable ones after all.


Doe, a deer, a female deer…

While Salzburg may not have been exactly what we were all expecting/hoping for, I think the time apart served most of us well. The tension was notably lessened after that day. I don’t know if everyone was feeling it, but I definitely was.

More about our adventures in Austria next time.

  • Kali

Prague is Made of Hills

The bus to Prague was supposed to leave ridiculously early in the morning. We even had to do special early check out because our hotel did not have 24 hour front desk service. Fortunately for us the hotels were only like a 5 minute walk to the bus station so it definitely could have been a lot worse.

Ultimately it did not matter how early we arrived though because our bus ended up running over an hour late. This pretty much stressed out the girls, but the boys did not seem terribly worried. Mostly they were too preoccupied with playing Pokemon to pay much attention. I had my 3DS charged to play Pokemon as well, but I was too worried with when the bus would show up (if it would show up) to go play while we waited. And we had no way of knowing what was going on.

Fortunately for us the bus did eventually show up and we were on our way to Prague. Prague had not really been on my list and originally I had considered separating at that point, but our friend who had left first had seemed almost personally offended that that would mean I would not be going to Vienna – he loves Vienna. I ended up joining them. Now I’m glad I did because Prague was downright beautiful.


The View from the Castle in Prague.

In Prague all 5 of us were staying in the same hotel. Our rooms were only a floor away from each other. When we arrived the chaos did not quite end immediately. Our phones were telling us there was no way to walk to our hotel and we were getting a bit turned around. It did not help that we were already a bit short tempered because of the chaos from the morning. Thankfully, we did eventually figure out a way, but unfortunately for me our hotel was basically up a bunch of hills. I had no idea Prague was so hilly and it was hot and we were all rather irritable. It was definitely a relief to get to the hotel.

The couple decided to spend the rest of the day as a date day while the other 3 of us poked around a bit. Our big destination in mind was the Castle. Which was, unsurprisingly, on top of a giant hill. Oh well.

When we got up there we hurried our way through a self guided tour of the Castle. At one spot where you could look out over the city there was a tv crew filming some sort of segment. The tour was pretty cool. The others were particularly impressed by a room with a bunch of old music stuff – including original music written by Beethoven. I thought to was neat too, but not to the same level as the other two. I had had no idea they were such music buffs.


St. Vitus Cathedral

When we made it out of the castle we discovered we were near a bunch of other cool tourist spots. I was particularly impressed by the churches – the Basilica of St. George and St. Vitus Cathedral. Sadly they were all very expensive and we did not have much time considering how much later we had arrived in the city than we had expected to. Still, at least we got some good pictures. After, we headed down and decided to walk back towards the city centre. We stopped on the way to grab some souvenirs and we each grabbed a fruit smoothie too. The day was hot making the smoothies just that much more refreshing. We did not rush ourselves and enjoyed meandering slowly back. We also stopped to get some kind of sun burn soother. Hilariously, the one buying it almost accidentally bought sun tan lotion. Luckily one of our friends speaks Ukrainian which is sort of (ish) close to Czech and she was able to stop him in time.

The next day we split up in the morning. I joined the couple for a free walking tour of Prague while the other two went and did their own thing (more on that later). Our walking tour was fabulous. Our guide was actually Czech-Canadian and had grown up in Toronto before moving to Prague after high school. What a small world, right?


Our tour started in the Old Town Square near the astrological clock. Word is that there is a big show that happens at the clock, but according to our guide it’s easy to miss because it’s just the really small animated figures that are involved. We didn’t see it, but I’m not overly disappointed. The clock was cool to see, but it was still a clock.

Along the way we learned some neat little facts and phrases. Not that I remember any of the phrases anymore, but it was sweet of her to give us the short lessons. I do remember that apparently the people of the Czech Republic don’t like Sweden because apparently the Swedish government has a bunch of stuff they took from the Czech Republic in their museums and won’t give it back. The rivalry is apparently a friendly one, but it does mean that the one person from Sweden in our group ended up being the butt of a joke or two.


The Kafka Statue!

The tour was actually pretty cool – we saw a lot of the main city. A few places I doubled back to later in the day for a better look, but I would definitely recommend the free walking tours to anyone wanting to get a sense of the layout and history of Prague.

Not only did we get a language lesson and a few funny stories along the way we also were walked through the Jewish quarter, stopped at the Kafka cafe for a snack, and saw the Prague opera house among other things.

I had to laugh because at the end of the tour our guide left us by “Voldemort”. Obviously it was not actually Voldemort, but that was what she called the statue near the opera house. I had to take a picture and after putting it on Facebook it is only too obvious how amazing and dorky my friends truly are.

I uploaded it with a Welcome to Night Vale reference (do not approach the hooded figures) and the comment thread referenced both a dementor and ring wraith. I really do love my friends.


Voldemort, hooded figure, dementor, or ring wraith…

After the tour I went off by myself and just walked around. Took a walk over the Charles Bridge, had gelato at Angelato, wandered back through the Jewish Quarter, and up to Wenceslas Square. Really I just tried to hit all the interesting spots on the Prague map app I had downloaded before meeting up with the others for dinner. We had decided to meet at the mall mostly because it was big and hard to miss.


The Charles Bridge.

We had wanted to go to Lokál for dinner, but it was far too busy. It was pretty disappointing since we had heard such good things about it from our tour guide. Hilariously (or perhaps sadly) we actually ended up eating at the mall. We did have goulash so at least it was Czech food – and it was actually pretty good – but it’s perhaps a little lame.

We also got to hear what had happened to the other two who had done their own thing that day. Turned out that they had actually spent most of the day in the mall after being mugged by a guy with a snake. He cornered them, put the snake on, and demanded they give him their money. Boy had they had an adventure in Prague.


I stumbled upon this beautiful synagogue completely by accident!

As much as we had all enjoyed Prague we were very much looking forward to moving on to Vienna. Vienna was also somewhere that we would be staying for a decent amount of time which meant that our adventuring could (in theory) be a little more relaxed. This wasn’t completely true though because we had planned a day trip to Salzburg. But that’s a whole other story.

  • Kali

Walking the Wall in Nuremberg

We arrived in Nuremberg in the early evening and all 5 of us were impressed from the very start. We were split up once again – 2 of us in one hotel and 3 in the other. But our attempts to stay close to one another paid off – we were only a 2-3 minute walk away from each other.

The hotel we were staying in was nice, but small. Unfortunately for me things had already become tense between myself and the person I was sharing with. We are very different people and had not really known each other when we had joined the others. Our first night in Nuremberg we all went and had dinner. Fortunately both of our hotels were essentially in the centre of town so we had a lot of options open to us.

After dinner all of us went out for a short walk before retiring to our separate hotels. My roommate informed us he would not be joining us the next day though we would all meet up for dinner. I felt bad, but was kind of relieved that it would just be the 4 of us.

When we met up in the morning we soon discovered the downsides to small town Germany on a Sunday. Everything seemed to be closed. We did manage to find a coffee shop to have what we had started calling ‘European Breakfast’ (aka coffee/tea and a baked good) before heading off to our first stop of the day (and the reason Nuremberg had even made the list) – the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. On the way there though we discovered the Strasse der Menschenrechte (The Way of Human Rights).

We only noticed it because the stark white entrance stood out among the rest of the town. Naturally, our curiosity led us to check it out and we were taken by surprise by the pillar lined area with each of the pillars engraved with one of the articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each one was in a different language so the only one we could actually read was number 7 (All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law). It was a really neat thing to stumble upon considering 2 of the 4 of us had spent the first half of our summer learning about international public law including the UDHR (one of the others had been doing international business law and the other was a significant other who had not been doing our program).

We did eventually make it to the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, home to the memorial to the Nuremberg Trials. This was an amazing visit. We all had our English audio guides and it was an amazing experience to be able to sit in the same courtroom (though most of it was blocked off – understandably) where high ranking Nazis such as Herman Goering and Rudolph Hess were tried. The majority of the place had been turned into a museum which was interesting though obviously there was a lot of review. In many ways it felt like a very natural extension of ours studies. Especially when I saw a sign proclaiming ‘From Nuremberg to Den Haag’ since now I had visited both.


The Courtroom!

After leaving the memorial we were getting pretty hungry. Based on our experience from that morning we had easily decided that we would eat something at the first place we saw that was open. The other big place that we had on our agenda to see was Nuremberg Castle and we figured we could get there easily enough by just following the city wall. And so that is how we found ourselves walking along the wall.


Follow the Wall!

We seemed to be walking along the wall for a lot longer than we had expected. It was not necessarily a bad thing – it made for a beautiful walk and because there were only 4 of us it meant no one was left out. At various points during our wall walk all of us said how much we liked Nuremberg. It was, quite honestly, the surprise gem. It had been added solely because of its place in the tribunals, but it was probably my favourite place that we went in Germany. I would have expected it to be Berlin because I love big cities, but it was Nuremberg that really stole my heart.

One of the best parts was when we came across a playground along the wall. And all of us took a few minutes out to play. One of us climbed this rope structure and then all of us played on the giant tire swing. We even tried to take a picture of the girls on this rope balancing thing. We barely managed to keep it together, but it was a lot of fun.


The best way I can describe Nuremberg is that it felt like we had stepped into a world of fairy tales. When we finally did reach the castle we got a little lost, but eventually we found the entrance and we managed to see most of the gardens as well. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we were disappointed that we were spending such a short time in Nuremberg.

When we met up with our fifth member he told us he had had a good day as well. He had not made it to the Trial memorial, but had seen the castle and wandered along part of the wall.


I had to take this picture… they just looked so sassy!

Dinner was a simple affair and then I tried to make myself scarce from my room so that my roommate could Skype with his girlfriend. It seemed like giving them their privacy was the right thing to do. Besides, it gave me the chance to walk around Nuremberg some more. We were leaving pretty early the next morning so I wanted to take a last chance to see things.

13668974_10157108986665125_7257954035957029839_nThe final soccer game was going on that night as well. The other 3 had returned to their hotel to watch the big game. I myself was kind of relieved to not have to watch it and pretend to care. I would have, but I didn’t have to. A lot of people were watching it outdoors so I still caught snippets of it here and there. Enough to know who won at least. I’m not sure who we were supposed to be rooting for in the end since our team (Germany) was already out, but no one seemed devastated by the ending the next day so I’m assuming the French win was fine with our group as a whole.

I was sad to leave Nuremberg the next morning. Even though I was excited to visit the next city on our list (Prague) I kind of wished we had more time to spend in Nuremberg. While it had not been on my initial list of ‘must sees’ in Europe I was very glad we had taken the detour.

The next morning we were up and checked out early and we all met at the bus station. The bus from Nuremberg to Prague was scheduled to get us into Prague at around 9:30am. Unfortunately that was not the way it played out since the bus was over an hour late getting into Nuremberg. Needless to say we were more than a little stressed. But more about that in the next instalment.

  • Kali

One of the most beautiful views we came across during our wall walk.

Munich Madness

Munich was mostly mad because this was the beginning of the real whirlwind part of our trip. As I mentioned previously I arrived separately from the rest of the group, but only about an hour and a half later. Essentially we all arrived one afternoon, had the next full day, and then we left Munich the next afternoon.

In Munich all 6 of us stayed at the same AirBnB. This was the last leg of the trip that one of our group would be with us for. He left back to Canada the morning we left. He had been to Munich before so he was once again able to play guide a little bit.



So, after we all got settled in we were led to Marienplatz – the heart of Munich. We wandered around there for longer than I care to admit before finding ourselves somewhere to eat.

The main priority for most of our group (which was to say everyone but me) was to find somewhere that we could watch the soccer game. It was a big game between Germany and France. We were cheering for Germany – yes, I was informed of who I was supposed to be cheering for. Unfortunately our team lost.

The plans for the next day were for most of us to visit Dachau concentration camp. It was close enough to Munich that we would be able to get there in a reasonable amount of time and most of us felt like it was something we should see while in Europe. The one guy with us who had been to Munich before had already been and so he set out on his own to enjoy his last day in Europe. And, unfortunately, one of our companions became ill so he missed it and his girlfriend stayed back with him. That left 3 of us to go.

There are no words I can use to explain how powerful that visit was. So, instead I shall let some of the pictures I took speak for me.


“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1939-1945 because they resisted Naziism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.”

After the sobering experience of the visit to Dachau (I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area) the three of us headed back to Munich proper. In what was very much a contradiction to the haunting visit of the morning in the afternoon we went to visit Nymphenburg Palace. We had to rush it a bit because we were supposed to be meeting up with our friends for dinner, but it was a beautiful place.

13754359_10157108883730125_7956721366339219242_n.jpgWe managed to see both the palace itself and then we hurried our way through the stables as well. One of our members is really into horses and carriages so this was not not the first time we had done such a visit (we had also done it in Denmark). I’m not the hugest fan of that sort of stuff, but there were some really beautiful carriages.

We had kind of hoped we would be able to get back to the AirBnB before dinner, but it was not to happen. Throughout our trip we did not really have many avenues for speaking with each other if we were not together – only two of us had any kind of data/texting/calling on our phone which could make it a bit difficult.

The three of us were the first to arrive at Hofbrauhaus. We had let our friend who was leaving for Canada in the morning pick our dinner plans and we were not disappointed. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of the place itself, but it was a loud, busy beer hall/restaurant. It was clearly pretty touristy, but it was still a lot of fun. And the menus were entirely in German so we were pretty lucky to have our friend who spoke German with us or who knows what we might have ended up eating!

As it was we ended up eating pretty standard German food – mostly sausages and potatoes. The big deal of the night was that the friend who was leaving in the morning had a lot to drink. And he claimed he normally could have handled it, but we rushed him and so it… was not handled quite as well.

He mostly cleaned up after himself, but I was the lucky one who got to finish cleaning the bathtub of vomit in the morning. He seemed alright when we saw him off early in the morning though and he did make his flight by the skin of his teeth. Which is, I suppose, the important thing.

Because we’re a bit crazy we decided to walk to the Munich bus station. I had actually walked from pretty much the same place to the AirBnB on the first day (the train station and the bus station were basically right next to each other). It actually was not that bad a walk, but the sun was high and hot and we ended up stopping a lot along the way. And then when we got to the bus station we were awfully early. This time we were all travelling onward together. It was only a 2.5 hour bus ride and we all had Pokemon games to play to keep us entertained. Onward to Nuremberg.

  • Kali

We were in Munich during Pride Week though we did not realize it until just before we left.



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