As many of you probably saw with the many pictures I have posted lately, I just returned back home from an AMAZING 10 day journey in Europe. Every night, I made an effort to take 5-10 minutes to write down what happened that day, as a small travel journal, so that I wouldn’t forget any of the amazing experiences I had. Now that I am home, I thought why not share my travel journal with everyone!
March 31 – Flight to Berlin
When flying within the US, you go to the airport, check in, sit at your gate, and when it is finally time to board, you show your boarding pass and then walk down this tunnel thing that leads right to the door of the plane. One of the weirdest things about flying to/from and within Europe is that not once did I walk down one of those tunnel things. Once you show your boarding pass at the gate, you board a bus that then drives you to the actual plane. Once you land, you unload the plane to get back onto a bus, which then drives you to the terminal. On my way to Berlin, I had a 4 hour layover in Kiev, which was unfortunately too short to leave the airport and explore. While waiting out my time, I decided to go to the duty free shop to get some snacks and a bottle of water, because I was thirsty. Little did I know, when you buy ANY type of liquid from duty free, they put it into a sealed bag that you are not allowed to open until you reach your final destination…Whoops! I finally arrived to Berlin around 2 pm, and took a bus to my hostel. That evening, I celebrated my first night in Germany with a dinner of shnitzel and German water (more commonly known in the US as beer). From there I continued to the Bundestag building, where Germany’s parliament meets, for a tour. Our tour guide was very monotone, and actually quite boring, but the tour was overall a great experience, and the building is beautiful!
April 1 – Berlin
I started the morning with the hostel breakfast, which consisted of breads, cheeses, and sliced lunch meats. It was then that I realized fruits and vegetables would be very hard to come by on this trip. I then went on a 3 hour free walking tour. (Side note to anyone traveling Europe in the future, check out New Sandeman’s tours! GREAT tour company!!!) Our tour guide was truly amazing and had a lot of knowledge of the places we went. Our stops included the Brandenburg gate, the Holocaust memorial, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the location of Hitler’s bunker, the square where the book burnings of the 1930’s took place, and Humboldt University. Humboldt was the school of over 27 Nobel Prize winners, including Karl Marx, Einstein, and the Brothers Grimm. About halfway through the tour, we stopped at a small cafe for a bathroom/lunch break. I tried currywurst, which is a cut up sausage in a delicious curry sauce. After our tour ended, I returned to the Holocaust memorial because they have an underground Holocaust museum that we did not have time on the tour to go into. The museum was small, but very well done. After stopping for a bratwurst dinner, I returned to my hostel to prepare for a pub crawl set up through the same tour company. The pub crawl took us to 4 different bars and ended with VIP entry into a nightclub. It also included a free shot at every bar, plus drink specials. Two of the bars had buy one drink, get a free shot. At the beginning of the crawl, another woman and I introduced ourselves, and we formed a group of people that we hung out with all night. In order to get from the last bar to the club, we had to take the Underground. Now, just imagine 140 drunk people on a bar crawl, all trying to cram into one Underground car, and then someone deciding it was Karaoke time, so we all started singing 500 Miles by the Proclaimers! By the time we got to the station to get off for the club, I realized how tired I was, as it was already 2:30 am, and I had been up since 8. With over an hour journey back to my hostel, I decided to skip the club, and head home to get some sleep.
April 2 – Berlin
For some odd reason, my body woke me up bright and early at 9 am. I used the time to pack up all of my stuff, and then went to the New Synagogue of Berlin. While this synagogue is no where near new, it was completely destroyed in WWII, and has since been beautifully restored. I then met up with the woman I met at the bar crawl for lunch at Burgermeister, which is one of the places I was told was a MUST GO in Berlin, and I have to say, I definitely agree with that! It was incredibly delicious, and pretty cheap! The woman and I then went to East Side Gallery, which is a part of the Berlin wall that is still standing, but has been turned into a gallery of street art. There are sections that are gated off so the artwork can stay as intended, and there are open sections where artists are still able to come and leave their mark. The artwork was truly magnificent! We were also able to stop and get our passports stamped with the original Checkpoint Charlie stamps, from when travelers had to cross the Berlin Wall when it was actually in use. Because Berlin was split into 5 different sections at that point, I got a German stamp, a French Stamp, a British stamp, a US stamp, and a Soviet Union stamp, all of which were used at one point. When we got to the end of the gallery, we went our separate ways, and I went to the Jewish Museum of Berlin. I started in their special exhibit going on right now about women’s head coverings. It was such an amazing and inclusive exhibit that spoke about how all three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) all have head-coverings worn by women. It showed some of the different types of coverings for all of the religions, and spoke to the discrimination some women face due to the choice to wear the head-covering for their religion. There was a section of the exhibit that spoke about burqa bans in different countries, which I thought was very powerful, because when you look at a burqa on a mannequin, it looks so similar to the head-coverings for Christianity and Judaism, but those are not being ban. I continued up to the main exhibit of the Jewish Museum, but it was honestly a bit of a let down to me. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was very simple. There were a lot of things, but many explanations that I feel did not do some of the pieces justice, and many of the artifacts they had in the museum were just regular Judaic items that were there merely to explain the meanings of the different aspects of Judaism. I think it could be an amazing museum for someone coming to learn about Judaism, but for me, it was too simple. After the museum, I proceeded back to my hostel to retrieve my luggage, and headed to the bus station to catch my overnight bus to Amsterdam!
April 3 – Amsterdam
My bus arrived in Amsterdam around 7:15 am. I went straight to my hostel, put my luggage into a locker, and then wandered the city for a little bit on my own, until I could check-in. At check-in time, I got my luggage out of the locker, and as I was bringing it to my room, the handle decided to break off (yay!). Luckily, reception had a screwdriver, so I was able to fix it. I then went for a three hour walking tour of Amsterdam, with the same company as in Berlin. (Trust me on this. They’re great!!) We walked through the whole city and got to briefly see things like the Red Light District, some of the more famous Coffee Shops, and the Anne Frank House. After the tour, I headed to the House of Bols, which is the oldest distillery in the world, named after its founder, Lucas Bols. They had this simulator where you had a small shot of a red liquor you drank while they flashed lights and played different sounds to see how sight and sound can also affect taste. At the end, you got a free cocktail of your choice to taste the Bols liquor. I had a strawberry cheesecake drink that was absolutely one of the most delicious drinks I have ever tasted! I then stopped at the famous “I Amsterdam” sign to take my touristy photos, and then continued back to central Amsterdam to meet up with yet another tour, this time specifically of the Red Light District at night! We learned a lot of the history of the Red Light District and how prostitution became legal in the Netherlands. It was actually a really interesting and informative tour, and probably my favorite of the entire trip. After the tour ended, I stopped at Bulldog, the oldest running Coffee Shop in Amsterdam, but they unfortunately didn’t have any snacks that I could try, so I walked down the block to a regular grocery store, where I was able to pick up some cookies to eat once I made it back to my hostel for the evening!
April 4 – Amsterdam
I started off the morning at the Anne Frank house. (Traveler tip: buy your tickets MONTHS in advanced, or you’ll have to wait in a 2-4 hour queue just to get in the door!) Anne Frank is one of those people we all learn about in school, and how her family was able to hide in secret for so long before being discovered by the Germans, but being able to see Otto Frank’s office and where the whole family hid for so many months was a whole new type of understanding. I always knew that the room she shared with Dr. Pfeffer was small, but to actually stand in the room and realize that two single beds would barely fit in the space gave me a whole new understanding for the time they spent in hiding. After Anne Frank’s house, I stopped by the Amsterdam Cheese Museum to try some Dutch cheese, and ended up buying some to take home. They actual vacuum pack and seal all of their cheese so that it stays fresh up to 3 weeks outside of the refrigerator so travelers can take some home! I then continued to the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam and visited the Portuguese Synagogue. For entrance to all of the museums in the Jewish Quarter, you have to purchase a single ticket, which has a student discount available. I showed my Israeli student card, paid my entrance fee, and the man handed me an audio guide. When I started playing the audio guide introduction, I immediately realized the audio guide had been activated in Hebrew, because I showed the man my Israeli student ID. I returned to the entrance to fix the situation, and then was able to continue to see the amazingly beautiful synagogue. I then continued to the Jewish museum of Amsterdam, which I think far outdid the museum in Berlin. The artifacts felt more real, the explanations of things were better, and I enjoyed the overall feel and flow of the museum much more. The Torah they had on display was even open to my bat mitzvah portion! For lunch, I stopped in the museum cafe for a REAL BAGEL! Seeing as you cannot find a good Jewish bagel in Israel, this was an absolute treat! I then continued onto the Van Gogh museum where many of his most famous paintings are displayed. I saw many of his self portraits, the sunflowers, and the lily paintings. I did not realize how many of his most beautiful works of art (including Starry Night) were done while he was in an asylum for his severe depression. I finished off my time in Amsterdam with a tour of their many amazing canals, and ended with a dinner of a giant Dutch pancake. I chose a more traditional flavor of cheese and apple, which was so delicious and the perfect sweet and savory end to a day! It was the time to catch my bus to my last stop of my EuroTour, London!
Overnight Bus to London
Yes. This bus ride gets its own section of my travel journal! I got to the bus no problem, it was a little fuller than the bus from Berlin to Amsterdam, but that didn’t matter too much. We drove through Belgium and through France, but once we hit the French/British border, the “fun” began. It was around 3 am when we hit this border, and in order to cross the border, you have to go through passport control. Our bus stopped so that everyone could get off and first go through French passport control. We then had to get back on the bus, drive 10 seconds, and then proceeded to get off again to go through British passport control. Of course, one guy from our bus got pulled aside at British passport control. We had all gotten back on the bus, but we were still waiting for the one guy that got pulled. After about 10 minutes of waiting, the guy got back on the bus, escorted by a border police officer. He grabbed all of his things and then got back off of the bus. A few minutes later, another border officer came out and informed our driver that everyone needed to unload the bus again, taking all of their things, including the luggage from under the bus and go through passport control once again. Everyone’s things had to go through an x-ray machine, and a few people had their bags searched. I have to say, I am VERY glad I did not take any leftover Amsterdam cookies with me on that bus ride! After most people returned to the bus, it took about an extra 20-30 minutes for them to clear the few people they pulled, as well as the guy that initiated the entire check. Now, the only way to cross the English Channel is by train. So the bus literally drove into a giant train car, where we had a 45 minute train ride into Great Britain. The rest of the ride went smoothly and we arrived in London around 7:30 am.
April 5 – London
After dropping off my things at the hostel, I headed over to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards ceremony. I even caught one of the red coats SMILING!!! I then continued on for, you guessed it, a free 3 hour walking tour of London! We saw many of the most famous London spots, including the perfect tourist selfie spot where I was able to get a selfie with a telephone booth AND Big Ben in the background! When the tour ended, I was able to go actually check-in to my hostel, where I got ready for my first night out in London, dinner and a show! I had dinner reservations at Getti’s, an Italian restaurant. I had fried calamari, a seafood pasta, and tiramisu for dessert! It was then off to see Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It was SUCH an incredible show!!! My original seat was at the very top of the theater, which had an overhang that unfortunately blocked a little bit of my view. At intermission, I then went down to the theater manager and asked if there were any open seats, and because it was the middle of the week, to my luck, I was re-seated five rows from the stage, on the main floor! I absolutely loved the show, and would recommend it to anyone who was thinking about seeing it! When I returned to my hostel, a few of the girls I was sharing my dorm room with invited me down to the hostel bar for some dancing and drinks.
April 6 – London
For today, I bought the London Pass, which got me discounts on different tours and restaurants, and got me into many famous London places for free. I started the day at Westminster Abbey to see the tombs of most of the past kings and queens of England, as well as some famous people like Issac Newton. I also saw the cathedral that all of the coronations and royal weddings happen in. Then, I was off to Kensington Palace. Right now, they have an exhibit featuring many of Princess Diana’s outfits. Afterwards, I headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the top of the cathedral is a giant dome with one of the best views of London. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling the 1,000+ stairs to get to the top, so I didn’t see the view. I then took a short stop at the British Museum, where the Rosetta Stone is held, and then crossed the street to a cute, quaint restaurant for a traditional, English afternoon tea. After tea, I went to the Tower of London, which is a giant castle built for William the Conqueror in 1096, and is currently home to the Crown Jewels. I then walked over to the Tower Bridge, which has two towers on either side of the bridge that stand 65 meters, or 213 feet above the Thames River. There are walkways between the two towers, with glass cutouts so you can see down to the road below while crossing. I then ventured down to the dock on the side of the River to take a river cruise towards Westminster Abbey and back, and then went on a hunt to find fish and chips for dinner. I had no idea that fish and chips would be so difficult to find in London! By that time in the evening, and it was only 8 o’clock, every fish and chips place that wasn’t outrageously expensive had already closed. I ended up heading back to my hostel and just ordered a burger from the restaurant downstairs. I spent the rest of the evening packing up my stuff so I didn’t have to worry about it in the morning, as I had a very early wake-up.
April 7 – London
With the London Pass, I was able to get a discounted tour (including transportation and an entrance ticket) to the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour! The bus left the tour company at 7:30 am sharp, so I was there by 7:15, because I was NOT missing that bus! Of course, since it was a planned tour, we were on a double-decker Harry Potter themed bus. And, what better way to pass the hour and a half long drive, than to put on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (don’t forget, I was in London)! We arrived in time for our 9 am entrance time, and by then, I was geeking out pretty hard. The tour starts in a small movie theater where they show a film about the creation of the films, and then the screen lifts to reveal the door to the Great Hall. A guide explains to you a bit about the self-guided tour and how it is set up, and then the doors open to reveal the actual Great Hall set inside. There are costumes from each of the four houses, so the guide went around to each and, when she got to Hufflepuff, she asked who were the Hufflepuffs in the house. I was the only one who cheered, and she made a Hufflepuff joke by saying, “Great! That’s one more than usual!” Let me just tell you, that Hufflepuff is not only the best house because of its members’ extreme loyalty, but it is also J. K. Rowling’s favorite house! From then on, the tour was completely self guided, so I walked from set to set and saw tons of the props used in the movie. Halfway through the tour, you come to the backlot, which has a cafe, that of course sells Butterbeer! You can drink your butterbeer while exploring the Knight Bus, the Potter’s House from Godrick’s Hollow, and Number 4, Privet Drive, before you head into the second half of the tour. The second half of the tour includes the Creature Shop, where you learn how many of the different anamatronic props, including Hagrid’s head were made! You then pass through Diagon Alley before seeing the white card models of all of the different sets used throughout the movie. The tour ends with the actual model of Hogwarts that they used for the entirety of filming! I had some fun in the shop as well, where I got a Maurader’s Map mug, a chocolate frog, and Honeyduke’s Salted Caramel Fudge! Upon returning to London, I had about an hour and a half before I needed to head to the airport, so I FINALLY was able to find myself some fish and chips, and they were definitely worth the wait! I got a few last souvenirs for my family, and then headed to the airport to catch a flight to Berlin, where the next day, I finished my journey with a flight back to Israel!