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Week 49: A Day in Amsterdam

I left Berlin at 12:30 in the morning.  This was my first experience using a sleeper car on the train.  I found my car and room, but it was already locked.  People who had gotten on earlier were already in bed and asleep.  I tried to knock timidly to no avail and then knocked more thoroughly.  Suddenly a hand appeared from one of the beds wrestling with the latch and waving me in speechlessly.  The door to the room listed the bed assigned to each person so I quietly slid into my bed and tested to see if I could fully extend my 6’5 body… nope.  I tucked my bags out of the way of everyone else and put on my blinder.  As I slept through Germany, I came as close as I would to Twistringen, where my mom’s mom’s mom was born, Dinklage, where my mom’s mom’s father was born, and Hohenwestedt, where my mom’s father’s father was born.  I went to sleep thinking of my heritage with a weird feeling of home wishing that I had more time to stop and explore my family’s history.  I awoke with an hour left to Amsterdam.

The overnight train from Berlin to Amsterdam:

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace – Dam Square in the late-17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde:

I only spent a day walking around Amsterdam before I flew on to Edinburgh so I felt the least amount of connection with it.  I walked from the historic train station to the Royal Palace where I sat for a while reading and people watching.  There were 30 or more people who were standing dressed as a princess, a monster, and everything else you can think of.  It was interesting and obviously tourist central.  I then decided to walk down past the Red Light District and follow the canals around until I eventually made my way back to the train station after a baguette.  I truly missed having a local person with whom I was staying to show me around and ground me to the area as I had been blessed with in every other town I had visited.  I could tell that I was tired and frustrated with only a day in Amsterdam.  I hopped on the train from Amsterdam to the airport and struck up a good conversation with a young man from the southern part of the Netherlands.  My time in Holland came and went too quickly.

The bags looking back up the street toward the train station:



Week 49: Berlin: Sites, History, and Hospitality

When I first think of Germany, I think of WWII and the Berlin Wall.  Both horrible events which occured in the previous century, so pretty recent.  I also think of half of me with my mom’s side of the family because our ancestry is fully German.

I was blessed again with an amazing host, Bob, who is from upstate New York.  I rented a bike and he showed me around the city via bicycles.  We rode from his house to the Victory Column (from where Obama made his speech last summer in Berlin)…

Berlin Victory Column
(Pic from Wikipedia):

Looking out from the Victory Column after climbing it towards the Brandenburg Gate:

We then rode down the street above to the famous Brandenburg Gate.  The Berlin Wall was built right outside the arch.  This is from where Reagan spoke and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, bring down this wall”and Clinton spoke in 1994.  The Chariot, Quadriga, on top was installed in 1793 (facing East into the city).  From 1814 to 1919 only the royal family was allowed to walk through the center archway so I chose to walk through it numerous times for a nice confidence boost.  It worked.

Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall in 1989 when the Wall came down (Pic from Wikipedia):

Brandenburg Gate and Me:

Hotel Adlon right on the east side of the arch (where MJ stayed):

We then rode by the Reichstag building (which is the site of the German Parliament), the  Berliner Dom (which is the largest church in Berlin and Protestant), and quite a few other famous and beautiful buildings.

Then we arrived at Checkpoint Charlie which is the most well known Berlin Wall crossing point.

Checkpoint Charlie:

Then we followed the road down to where a section of the Berlin Wall is still standing in it’s original place.  From 1961 to 1989, the Wall was built to stop immigration from East Berlin to West Berlin, however, 5,000 people still attempted to cross to West Berlin and estimates are 98 to 200 people were killed trying to cross.  I was only six when the Wall came down, but do remember watching the people rejoicing on television even at six.

Berlin Wall and Me:

Wherever the Wall was they put brick down representing where it stood:

Then we road our bikes to where Hitler’s Bunker had been.  It is now a parking lot and the only thing marking that it was Hitler’s Bunker is a sign on the side of the parking lot.

(Pic from Wikipedia)
“July 1947 photo of the rear entrance to the Führerbunker, in the garden of the Reich Chancellery; Hitler and Eva Braun were cremated in a shellhole in front of the emergency exit at left; the cone shaped structure in the center was part of the bunker’s ventilation system.”
Bild 183-V04744

Today (Pic from Wikipedia)

Today (my lousy picture):

After this we rode back to Bob’s home.

I went out exploring on my own and looking for a post office to mail post cards and ran into the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church for which Bob told me to look.

Back around 1900 (Pic from Wikipedia)

Today, after surviving WWII:

Berlin Guitar store across the street from my host’s home (Praise Jesus!):

Maggie people watching:

I must once again say how amazing my hosts have been on my Europe trip.  Bob and Ralph were excellent hosts.  Bob took me all around Berlin and was continually helpful.  I asked Bob if we could go out for a German dinner one night so we did.  I asked if I could pay to show my appreciation for letting me stay with him.  The bill came and I got out my wallet and I think that Bob saw that the bill was all the Euros I had left.  So he quickly took out money and paid for our meal telling me that I would need my money on the rest of my journey.  I was challenged by Bob’s hospitality and many of the people with whom I stayed in Europe.  I am excited about continuing the chain of hospitality when I get back to the States and daily.

My hosts, Bob, Ralph, and Bailey, with me:

Good business model:


Me and German dinner:

Week 49: Vienna: A History Lesson and Wiener Schnitzel

I arrived at my couchsurfing host Guenter’s home after mid-night.  He welcomed me with a smile and food.  He got the bo-jazz with which to make a sandwich and I started constructing.  He asked if I wanted tomatoes (one of my least favorite vegetables) to which I said, “No” and he proceeded to watch me ungracefully try to spread some unusual form of cheese on my bread.  We both laughed and he decided I needed to experience some Austrian tomatoes.  So, we sat and I ate my sandwich and tomatoes (which were really good) as we talked about our different cultures and religion.

Guenter is an open air museum curator and has a vast knowledge of history.  The next morning he took me around Vienna and explained all of the major sites to me.  We went by where Beethoven lived, where Mozart lived (Wolfgang is a great first name), and several beautiful churches and government buildings which without him would have not made much sense.  I was fascinated with the rich history of Vienna and what a central city it has been in the world for so many more years than the States has existed.

Me with frankfurt in Austria:

St. Steven’s Cathedral:

Dinner in front of Sigmund Freud’s apartment:

Wiener Schnitzel:

Austrian dessert and Me:

For dinner, Guenter took me to a place with traditional Austrian food that was located across the street from Sigmund Freud‘s apartment where he lived most of his life.  I had Wiener Schnitzel, which is a cutlet of veal that is pounded flat, coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and fried in clarified butter.  Dinner was very nice as I sat and pondered how bizarre it was to be sitting across the street from where Sigmund Freud lived.

Austrian host, Guenter, and Me:

Week 48: Venice: Lost, Jewish Ghetto, and Padova

Venice is one of the most beautifully unique cities in the world.  I spent three days strolling around taking in a city with boats and streams instead of vehicles and roads.  All of the guidebooks said that one must get lost in Venice, which is not hard to do after you take a few turns while not paying much attention.  The guidebooks should specify a recommended number of times to get lost…



I stayed with an amazing host, Alfredo, in Padova which is a 40 minute train ride from Venice.  Each day, I would take the train into Venice and then back to Padova.  It is very simple to get to Venice because they have built a large land bridge between Venice and the main land for trains and cars.  This makes it easier and inexpensive for people to travel, but changes the entire makeup of Venice.  It is very touristy obviously, but you can still find a place if you walk far enough where you are all alone.  However, I could not help but think what it would be like to visit Venice before the bridge?  Furthermore, what would it have been like to visit Venice before cell phones and the internet?  I’m not knocking the new bo-jazz, but it is helpful to imagine what it would have been like before these things.  I had similar thoughts all the time while in Kenya.  How much different would my experience have been if I was unable to blog and communicate so easily with my friends and family back in the States?  There would have been major disadvantages, but there would have been some advantages too.  The what if game…

Venice and Me:

Venice and Me again:

Jewish Ghetto – one of five Synagogues – Note the five windows representing the five books of the Torah:

Jewish Ghetto – another one of five Synagogues – Note the five windows representing the five books of the Torah:

Alfredo was kind enough to take me to Venice the first day and show me all of the churches.  They were gorgeous and extremely peaceful.  We also went to the Jewish Ghetto.  As the amount of Jewish people fleeing to Venice increased, the Venetian government decided that the Jewish people must all live in one part of Venice.  At one point, there were 3,000 Jewish people living in the Jewish Ghetto in Venice.  “The word “ghetto” actually comes from the word “getto” or “gheto”, which means slag in Venetian, and was used in this sense in a reference to a foundry where slag was stored located on the same island as the area of Jewish confinement.”  The five synagogues from that time still remain, each synagogue representing a different ethnic group that had settled in Venice (ex. Italian, Spanish, etc.).  I was happily surprised to go on a tour of three of the five synagogues and learn about the Jewish history of Venice.

My host, Alfredo, and Me (prize winning shot of me):

I must say that my host Alfredo was fantastic during my visit in Padova.  It was great to experience a typical Italian home with amazing Italian food.  On my last night, Alfredo took me on a bicycle ride around Padova to show me some of the larger Cathedrals in the world.  I thoroughly enjoyed cruising through Italy with a good guide and a bicycle.

Me leaving Venice:

Week 48: Rome: First Hostel, Colosseum and Such, and the Vatican

I took three years of Latin which included quite a bit of Roman history and I have always wanted to visit Rome.  The train ride from Paris was beautiful with the Swiss Alps outside my train window.  Long train rides are a good form of therapy I’ve found.  Rome was the only place where I was not able to find a couchsurfer host.  I had a couch possibility, but when I arrived in Rome and checked my e-mail there was no couch.  Therefore, I did not have a place to stay in Rome.  Then I decided to eat at the Rome train station because I’ve found food in the stomach is always a good idea when you’re not quite sure what’s going on momentarily.  I struck up a few conversations with people at the restaurant and was told where a few hostels were.  I went to the hostel and discovered they were full.  As I was speaking into the intercom about where other hostels were, a man walked out and told me he had a bed and breakfast I could stay in.  I told him, “I don’t want breakfast” and after a few minutes of talking and walking away he stopped me and I had a big room to myself for less than I would have paid for a night in the hostel with six people to a room.  Cool.  The next morning I packed up, checked out, got online, and found the highest rated reasonably priced hostel in Rome and set off to my first hostel experience.  The Ciak hostel was an excellent place to stay and I got to become good friends with Brits, Hollanders, Greeks, and Spaniards.


I was lucky to find a Rick Steves‘ Rome guide book in the hostel which made my Rome experience exponentially better than it would have been otherwise.  I highly recommend his guidebooks, after using many other books I found his to be the most helpful.  My favorite part was how he would tell you, “Find a nice place to sit in front of… ” and I would sit.  When Rick tells me to do something I do it and it turns out that he usually knows when I’m tired before I do.  So, thanks Rick (second time I’ve thanked Rick on rtqblog).

The Colosseum was surreal for me for several reasons.  It is believed that over half a million people were killed in the Colosseum as well as over a million animals.  Wow.  That gives the place a sickening feeling.  However, it is such an incredible architectural achievement.  It could seat 50,000 people and was so logically built to get people in and out as quickly as possible.  It must have been an amazing sight to see in it’s glory days.

Ground Floor of the Colosseum:

Top Story of the Colosseum:

Colosseum and Me by night:

Another surreal aspect of the Colosseum which brought my year full circle is who built the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (the arch pictured below in front of the Colosseum).  The Arch of Titus was built to commemorate the capture and victory over Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The Romans destroyed the Second Temple, which was the center of Jewish worship and the remains are now the Wailing Wall, and took the Jewish people back to Rome to help build the Colosseum and an arch to commemorate the destruction of their most holy place and the deaths of their loved ones.  Since I was in Jerusalem in January learning about this history it was much more real for me.

Roman Forum from Palatine Hill:

The Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and the now unrecognizable Circus Maximus were amazing to see as well.  Walking on the same stones that Cesar walked on in the Roman Forum was a pretty crazy feeling.  My hostel was down the road from all of this so I would walk down every night and read my book about the Roman Emperor Julian.  Life is not tough, currently.

Sistine Chapel and Me:

The Sistine Chapel was another surreal experience for me.  Michelangelo is not just the best Ninja Turtle, but he was an amazing artist.  I probably sat there for an hour and a half inspecting everything.  I loved the nine center paintings from Genesis, especially God creating day and night.  My good friend Gabe always tells people how God moons people in the Sistine Chapel and it’s true.  Check out the bottom (hehe) left of the center panels in the picture above.

St. Peter’s Basilica – Peter’s Tomb

St. Peter’s Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.  My pictures of the church didn’t turn out well, but I have plenty of video I will post later.  I had heard about St. Peter’s before, but I had no idea what I was walking into in terms of size and beauty.  The materials taken to build St. Peter’s were taken from many historical places in Rome like the Colosseum which is frustrating.  Traditionally, Peter, the apostle upon whom Christ said he would build His Church, was buried here after being crucified upside down near the obelisk of Nero’s Circus (which is out in the courtyard in front of St. Peter’s).

The Pope is out of Rome during the summer and they did not have Mass while I was there.  I would love to experience Mass led by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica one day.

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