Monday, July 7, 2014

Jazz festival and Amsterdam

Hello again! I am writing this on the train back from my weekend in Amsterdam. But before I tell you about that, let me recap the last week.

Last weekend I had a ticket to go to Weimar for the weekend with my school program. I decided not to go, though, because I wanted to see Berlin for a weekend! It is sort of weird that, even after several weeks in Berlin, I feel like I don’t know the city very well. We have been away almost every weekend, and we live so far away from the center of Berlin that going into the city takes at least an hour each way. It was a tough decision not to go on the trip, but as soon as I woke up on Saturday I knew I had made the right choice! It was SO nice to sleep in, go on a run, get work done, and then spend the whole afternoon and evening in the city with just a couple friends. On Saturday afternoon we went to a jazz festival in Kreuzberg, a really cool neighborhood of Berlin. The area itself had a lot of restaurants, cafés, and little shops, and the festival was packed! Several blocks of Bergmanstraβe were filled with booths of arts and crafts, food, and clothes. The jazz bands were really impressive, too! We had so much fun walking around, listening to music, and checking out all the booths. I was also excited to find a dried fruit stand!

I was so happy to find this dried fruit stand. They had all kinds of things!

My favorite band who we heard!

Kürtőskalács, or "chimney cake," a traditional Hungarian dessert: warm pastry dough rolled in cinnamon sugar, almonds, or coconut.

In the evening we sat in a beer garden in Kreuzberg to watch the Brazil-Chile soccer game, grabbed some dinner from the street fair, and went to a wine bar in another neighborhood for an hour or two afterwards. An overall relaxing and enjoyable day! I even went back to the jazz festival the next day with a couple other friends, and went back to explore the area on my own for a few hours on Monday. I was so glad to get to go back to a cool area of Berlin and to do things at my own pace, rather than with a huge group. As much as I love all the friends I have made here, it can be overwhelming and sort of stressful to travel around in a pack of students. Everyone has their own opinions and preferences, but no one wants to make a decision! Good thing we all like each other so much! J

On Wednesday I went to two modern art museums with my literature class. Modern art is always so fascinating, but it can be hard to understand! It was fun to see something different, though! Also, the area of Berlin that the second museum was in was really cool – I hope to go back during my last week! That night, a friend from UNC who has been studying at Freie Universität since the fall came to hang out with my friends and me at our apartments! It was so great to see her and hang out with a big group of friends!

During the past week, one of my friends had been staying in my room because of bug bites that she thought she got from her own room. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but our apartments are NOT the cleanest rooms around, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are bugs. On Thursday during class, I noticed a few bug bites on my own arms. I told my friend who had been staying with me, and we went to the dermatologist who told us she thought I had flea bites! So, instead of spending the afternoon taking a nap, going on a run, and doing ALL the homework, I spent the afternoon riding the bus back and forth to the doctor and the laundromat, putting all my clothes in plastic bags, and cleaning out my entire room. I finally went to sleep on a thin floor mat in my friend’s new, bug-free (hopefully…) room after 1:00. Fortunately, I had a fun weekend trip to Amsterdam to look forward to! Unfortunately, I had to wake up EARLY on Friday after going to sleep so late. We caught the 5:19 am bus to the Hauptbahnhof, and then took a train about six hours to Amsterdam. Luckily, I slept for most of the trip, and felt a lot more rested when we arrived in Amsterdam.

Feeling happy to be off the train at Central Station in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, we found our somewhat-sketchy hostel, dropped our bags, and went to eat lunch and explore the area. As strange as our hostel was, it was in a really fun area, with lots of bars and shops right around us. We walked around for a few hours and then sat in a café to watch the Germany World Cup game. 

On Saturday we went to the Dam, which I later realized is the most famous square in the Netherlands. The Dam has a royal palace, a beautiful church, a monument, and lots of shops. We also went to the Amsterdam Museum, which had so much information about the history of the city. We could have easily spent another hour or two there! After lunch, we went on a canal tour. It was really impressive to travel through the city by boat. I have never been to a city with so many canals! We learned that the houses along the canals lean slightly in towards the water at the top, and that having a narrower house used to mean lower taxes, so a few houses are wide enough only for one window on each floor! The tour was really fun way to experience the city.

The canals were just so beautiful!

Dam, the most famous square in all of the Netherlands, by night! On the left is the Royal Palace, and on the right with the steeple is an old church.

My napkin was so cute that I had to take a picture! :)

In the evening, we watched the Netherlands-Costa Rica soccer game. I was so tired that I didn’t even make it up for the whole game! I heard lots of celebrating out our hostel window though, so I knew the Netherlands had won!

This morning we all woke up bright and early (not really – it gets light at 4:30 here!) to get to the Anne Frank House before it opened. We were glad to have gotten there so early though, because the line really started to build up as we waited to enter! I had some very brief memories from visiting the house thirteen years ago, but I’m sure I couldn’t completely understand it as a little girl! I am always blown away by how thoughtful Anne Frank was at such a young age. Seeing the house and reading about her story was so powerful.

After the museum, we ate some Dutch pancakes and then went to see a new area of the city. Some people in our group had bikes, some people went into an art museum, and I chose to walk around some cute parts of town with one other friend. There are ever more places to see and explore!

Looking back on my entire trip to Berlin, this weekend has been my favorite weekend yet. Amsterdam was so much more beautiful than I had ever imagined, and to me it is a much more manageable size for a city than Berlin. The architecture and canals make the city so gorgeous! I would love to live in a city about that size (especially if there were many fewer tourists!). Also, it made a big difference that our hostel was so close to the excitement in the city. I think my experience in Berlin would have been much different if I had lived closer to the city center! It was also really refreshing to get to choose which museums and neighborhoods to visit, rather than following a guided tour. I am so glad we organized this trip, even if it was a bit expensive! Also – trying to read Dutch was fun because it is so similar to German! J

I really can’t believe that a week from now I’ll already be out of Berlin. This time next week I’ll be watching the World Cup game in Prague! I’ll try to document all my sightseeing carefully for the two and a half weeks that I’m traveling, because I won’t have my computer. You’ll have to wait a few more weeks to read about and see pictures from my travels through Prague, Rome, Florence, Nice, Marseille, Lyon, and Paris!