My first stop during the Holiday Break was Berlin. I had passed through that city many years ago but never had an opportunity to actually see it, and I’ve heard interesting things about it. Following the history path, along with few friends, I signed up for a walking Nazi tour. Our tour guide – an Irish history geek, was a gem. He was full of interesting facts and stories and his voice was loud and clear so everyone in the back could hear him 🙂 We started at the Brandenburg Gate, stopped by the Reichstag building for a quick history lesson of how Hitler came to power, continued to Soviet Memorial, Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker site and finished with some more dark Holocaust stories. The evilness of World War II strikes me over and over again. More than 60 million people died, of which 10 million were Jews.
The most famous Graffiti on the Berlin Wall “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”
More or less 70 years ago, Germany was only for Germans as they were considered to be the superior race. It’s interesting to notice now, that these times are long gone and Germany has one the most diverse population in all of Europe. Berlin is full of Turks who own delicious Doner Kebabs – a perfect late night food, Middle Easterners, and other Europeans, especially Poles whose language I could hear all over the city.
Berlin is a strange city. On one hand people are free to drink on the streets, so you can see them with bottles of beer and other alcohol on the streets and in public transportation. You can see drunk people, drugged people, and bizarre looking people. But on the other hand, people follow the rules – they do not cross the street on the red lights and sort the trash religiously. I followed some rules and broke others. I walked around with a beer in my hand but I also crossed the street on the red light and took public transportation without a proper ticket. I guess you can call me a rebel!
Traditional German Christmas Market with Glühwein, or mulled wine, which I couldn’t get enough of.
Spotted Santa drinking Glühwein.
L’Umbracle in the City of Arts and Sciences
Over the past few weeks my life has been overtaken by reading, doing group projects, polishing my CV and attending a ton of networking and career events. I though I couldn’t let this craziness overpower me too early in the process, so I decided to go on a quick weekend trip to Valencia. I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about Valencia but I didn’t research much before. I went with the flow. The city is located in the middle of the east coast and is the third largest city in Spain. That of course was a great opportunity to catch the last summer rays of sun on one of the city beaches, which we did as the weather was gorgeous. In the evening, before embarking on a long night of dancing till the early hours, we wandered around through the maze of narrow, romantic streets of the old town. It wouldn’t be a proper trip if I didn’t try paella which I mentioned in my last post. I found a restaurant which seemed to be a great choice according to the reviews. Despite the charm and the atmosphere of the place, the food was not as good as expected and left me a bit disappointed. Oh well…believe it or not, after eating out so much I am convinced that Spanish cuisine is just ok…shocker!
The next day a group of us went to the City of Arts and Sciences which blew me away. It is an architectural complex designed by world renowned Spanish architects – Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. The complex is made up of 7 modern buildings which host a planetarium, oceanarium, a museum of science, an opera house and an art gallery. What is interesting is that some of the structures, which are located by the Turia river, are designed in a way to resemble an eye of knowledge, a skeleton of fish, and a water lily. The rest of the day was spent in oceanarium, which is in fact the biggest oceanarium in Europe, and sightseeing the city center. I highly recommend this city to anyone who wants to check out Spain. You cannot miss Valencia!
El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (Museum of Arts) and L’Hemisfèric (Planetarium)L’Oceanogràfic
Inside the Shark Tank
Puerta de Alcalá
It’s been one day in Madrid and so far so…great! Except for one thing…the apartment that I’m renting with two other girls is not ready for us to move in yet. Our lease was supposed to start on August 15th…It turns out that during bathrooms’ renovation the workers have uncovered an issue that needed to be fixed and therefore the process is taking longer. Bienvenidos a Espana! On the bright side of things, we’ll have brand new and fully functional bathrooms (or so I hope). Luckily, one of my roommates’ family lives in Madrid and they were kind enough to let us all stay in their beautiful apartment until everything is ready. When I arrived to my temporary home, I was surprised with a warm welcome from Ariel and her family. I also received a welcome bag which included some notebooks for classes, (Spanish) wine and my new phone number. So thoughtful!
In the evening, when Ariel came back from La Tomatina (the festivities in Buño during which you violently attack each other with nearly rotten tomatoes ewww), we went for a quick jog to Parque de Retiro – a mini Central Park of Madrid. I must say this place is lovely! It has many paths for joggers, a few gardens with perfectly shaped trees and a mini lake where you can rent paddle boats (and let your date paddle you around).
First run in Parque de Retiro
I was surprised that when we finished our run it was still bright out at 9pm. It doesn’t get dark until 10ish this time of the year and it might be the reason why Spanish culture is a late night culture where you don’t typically eat dinner until 10pm.
Speaking of dinner, my first meal I ate in Madrid was…Indian food. A lot of people from my program have been here for a few weeks, diligently learning Spanish, and they must have been a bit fed up with Spanish food already. I love Indian food so I didn’t protest against this idea. What was more important for me was meeting all the people I was conversing with during the past few months. The evening ended with joining the other group of students at a more traditional place, Tapas 44, for a drink and a few more introductions.
The next morning Tanya, my third roommate, arrived from Costa Rica and the three of us started the day with a cappuccino and a jamon y queso minisandwich (called minibocadillo) at a local cafe, discussing the things we need to do before the official start of classes. We picked up our school IDs and attended an information session about living in Madrid (beware of pickpocketers!) One more week before I get buried in books!
My shorties Tanya and Ariel
I spent last weekend with my high school girlfriends in TriCity, where they currently live. TriCity is a metropolitan area connecting three cities – Gdynia, Gdansk and Sopot, which are situated adjacent to one other on the coast of Northern Poland by the Baltic Sea. The first city, Gdynia, is known for being the most important and busiest seaport (Port of Gdynia) which was built in the early XXth century. The next in line, Sopot, is a small seaside city and spa resort. This popular summertime destination is known for the longest wooden pier in Europe (511.5m) which is a popular tourist attraction and a venue for entertainment events. The last is Gdansk, a city of a thousand year history charms with its narrow cobbled streets of the Main Town, monster red-brick churches, and grand, elegantly slender and colorful buildings. You can sip on coffee in characterful cafes, shop for amber jewelry and visit intriguing museums. TriCity is a a two hour car ride from my hometown, Slupsk and because I have a family in Gdansk, I often came here as a child. A walk along Dluga Street in Gdansk’s Old Town was a must, and it never got old. Strolling along the familiar streets made me feel like at home.It felt amazing to be here again and observe the changes that happened over the years. I would definitely recommend TriCity as a place worth visiting in Poland. Enjoy the photos!
Old Town in Gdansk with its colorful buildings.
The view of Gdansk from the tower of St. Mary’s Church, the oldest brick church in the world (XII c.)Motlawa River and Gdansk Eye.
With my high school girlfriends after a night out in Sopot.
Sunrise in Sopot.
Gdynia, decided to go on a crazy ride!
So this is it…The day has come and I’m on my way to Poland. Packing was successful and I ended up checking a bag that was about 6 pounds below limit (but my mom filled it with 6 pounds of candy…). As always, I arrived at the airport too early so I’m snacking on crackers and hummus at the United Club (found few expiring passes in my wallet 😁). Few tears were shed today and a few more goodbyes were said. The ones with my family were the hardest because I won’t see them for a year. I’ll miss Chicago but I’m taking my Chicago spirit and pride with me by wearing a Blackhawks shirt all the way to Europe 😃 Adios!
I thought that the worst part of moving to another country was packing (which I’m struggling with anyways). I couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the past nine years of my life in Chicago I met a wonderful group of people who I am proud to call my friends. I am leaving lots of great memories here but I am also excited for the new memories we are going to make when you come and visit Spain. I could not be happier to have met you all and I am definitely going to miss you. Until this day I felt like I was going on vacation but saying goodbye to everyone made it so much more real. And that is the worst part of moving.