Journals from Austria Program Fall 2012
2012-10-28 From the Top of Europe to Berlin, Germany--Fall Break 2012!
Kelly, Addison, and I on The Top of Europe (Jungfraujoch, Switzerland).
Fall Break: October 5th- October 14th
It has been a very long time since an update, but this past month has been crazy-packed full of crazy adventures, expeditions, The Top of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, Stoerungen (German for..disruptions..), and midterms!
There's so much to talk about but I'll just start at the beginning of Fall Break: The Long Night of the Museums. Saturday October 6th Kelly, Addison, and I partook in the Long Night of the Museums. This is basically a night where hundreds of museums throughout Austria are open from like 6 p.m.-1 a.m. for the price of one admission ticket. We started off the night by preparing ourselves some Mexican food in Addison's apartment, and then made our final decisions for what museums we wanted to visit. In the end we were able to only visit the Vienna Museum, Technology Museum, Chocolate Museum, and Circus Museum. It was nuts of us to go out so late when our train was leaving so early the next morning, but we didn't care, and we went on an expedition to have a long epic night!
All in all, the Technology Museum was the best, and the highlight was this electricity room where a band was playing and when the keyboard played the electricity inside of a cage would zap to the tune and there was a light within the cage that would illuminate as well. (Wow..this description is not very good, but I can't think of a better way to explain what was going on! Addison is the physics/science guy, not me!)
We were psyched to go to the chocolate museum...but it was a little disappointing. Yes, we did get some free chocolate which was nice, but for how excited we were about it and how many people were lined up to get inside.. it wasn't that extravagant.
Next, we went to the Circus Museum. But by then we were just so exhausted (It was midnight by this time) and we left shortly after arriving to get a couple hours of sleep before making our way to the train station to start our trip!
Our first destination was Interlaken, Switzerland and Kelly and I met up at the train station early Sunday October 7th (Addison accidentally slept through his alarm having been so exhausted from the night before and met us in Interlaken a little later). We had to transfer in Zuerich and then once more in Bern before arriving in Interlaken. It was pouring when we arrived and we had to lug our bags, clutching to umbrellas to our hostel, Backpacker's Villa.
The hostel was absolutely fantastic. The workers were incredibly nice and helpful. When you checked in you got your sheets and blanket cover as well as several Hostel Coins which you could use for hot drinks, internet, and laundry. We stayed in a mixed room and there were three others staying in the room with us every night. The first person we met staying in our room was very nice, but he seemed to give us misleading information about different things in the area being closed or no worth seeing...We didn't really get to know anyone else, but one person above me was an obnoxious sleeper who smacked constantly throughout the night and we couldn't believe our ears, so glad to escape from him when our last day there arrived.
We were going to have dinner at a local restaurant that first night, paid for through the hostel, but because we'd gotten split up on the train we decided to go out and look for food at a cheaper place or the closest super market and eat out the next night.
Everyone had been telling me that Switzerland was expensive, so I thought I was prepared for the extreme prices. I wasn't. It was INSANE. A hamburger was easily 20-30 Swiss Francs and a normal soda in a restaurant was 6 Swiss Francs (which are almost equivalent to a dollar!) After getting money we decided there was no way we were going out to dinner every night we were there so we went to the supermarket to try and find some food. Even there it was outrageously expensive; something that was 2 Euros in Austria was about 6 Swiss Franc here. Kelly bought some food, but I decided to just eat leftovers from our train trip that night.
After leaving the market, we realized our phones weren't working and we didn't know how to get a hold of Addison who was still on the train! Eventually we decided to split up, Kelly going to the East station and me to the West (which are about a 20 minute walk apart) hoping to catch him at one of the two. Our worrying was all for naught and we did catch Addison (at East station) and we met up again, going back to the hostel and eating dinner in the very warm and welcoming common area.
The nice woman at the front desk told us that Monday was going to be the prettiest day so we decided that we'd wake up early the next morning and make our trip to Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe. We had been confused about how to get there and how much it would cost ever since we started doing research on it, but it was so much easier than we thought! We just went up to the ticket person at the station and told her what we wanted, getting one ticket that the checkers hole-punch on each leg of your journey.
The train ride was beautiful and exciting! We had already taken so many pictures by the time we actually got to Jungfraujoch. We first transferred trains in Lauterbrunnen Valley and then in Kleine Scheidegg. The last train went through the mountains and traveled on a special type of track designed specifically for getting to Jungfraujoch.
Stepping out of the train onto The Top of Europe was an amazing feeling. I'd been looking forward to this trip for so long, ever since my mother had told me about it and how I needed to go. The first room we went into was a sort of panorama view of the mountains on long flat television screens with much dramatic music. Then, we took an elevator up to the Sphinx, where we had the most gorgeous view. It was crazy to be in the snow, wind, and ice after being in Vienna for so long. We took dozens of pictures, trying to soak up every moment of being in such an incredible place.
Next, we went through something called the “Alpine Sensation” which had an odd snowglobe like model with figurines and gondolas in it. There was also a wall that documented the history of Jungfraujoch and the building of the railroad and train station.
Finally, we got the Ice Palace. I was shaking with anticipation. I'd been so excited for this very moment and when I stepped onto the ice floor and touched the wall I actually almost started crying because I was so happy to finally be there! And I was missing my mom too, wishing that she was able to be there with me because I knew how much she really wanted to be there. The ice palace is completely made out of ice with sculptures everywhere of bears, penguins, and even Sherlock Holmes. There is also scat from the Ice Age frozen in the wall.
After the Ice Palace we went out onto the Terrace to take even more pictures. It was crazy icy, and everyone was slipping and sliding all over the place, but the view was worth it, a thousand times. On our way back down to the door we didn't want to slip so we just sat down on the ice and had a race to the bottom.
Feeling totally exhausted, cold, and hungry, we decided to check out the restaurant. Everything was crazy expensive of course, but we did each end up ordering at 8 Swiss Franc soup. They also put bread on our table, but we weren't sure if we could eat it because in Austria they charge you for the bread they put on the table. We asked finally and the waiter looked at us with wide eyes and said “No, it's okay! You can eat it, go ahead, no extra cost.” He looked at us like “Oh, what poor, sad American students!” Needless to say, the bread was gone in ten seconds.
We took the train back down the mountain and stopped for a half hour or so in Grindelwald, a small village in the mountains.
After our adventurous day in the mountains we went to dinner at at Des Alpes, a traditional Swiss restaurant. We had paid an extra 19 Swiss Francs on the hostel for this meal and at the time, it had seemed like so much, but now we knew: it was a steal! We had a nice salad, a main course, and got to choose a specialty cake for dessert. The food was so good, and the prices on the menu also looked pretty reasonable (we actually found a few dishes between 20 and 25 Swiss francs!) so we decided we'd come back again on our last night.
The next day we had been planning on going to the St. Beatus Caves, but it was pouring rain again and the bus driver said the caves were flooded and closed for the day. But before we could despair we remembered our other plan to go to Truemmelbach Falls and so we went to the train station and bought a train ticket to the waterfalls via Lauterbrunnen Valley and hopped on the next train! And we were not disappointed. The falls were amazing! Truemmelbach Falls is basically where all the melted glacial waters fall. The first view we saw was stunning. The water was rushing down, super loud and we got soaked from our head to our toes, Kelly's and my glasses getting all fogged up and covered in water droplets.
After another very successful day we went back to Interlaken and had dinner at Des Alpes again, getting some more traditional Swiss food.
When we were finished we went souvenir shopping. We also still had a lot of Swiss Francs left and we needed to get rid of the extra cash. I got a few postcards, and a couple gifts. In the end, two days in Switzerland had cost us 400 Swiss Francs!!
We slept pretty well the next night, and we took an early direct train on Wednesday from Interlaken Ost to Berlin, arriving around 5.30 p.m. In the train station we went to the information desk to purchase Berlin WelcomeCards that gave us travel during our stay as well as discounts at many museums. We finally figured out which S Bahn and U Bahns to take to get to our hostel (the public transportation is very effective and convenient, but it just seems a little...excessive at times.)
The Circus Hostel was just as nice as the hostel in Switzerland. Annika had stayed there a few years before, and Rick Steves recommended it and we were not disappointed! Though we can all speak German, all of the workers spoke fluent English and it was difficult to speak German with them 100% of the time! We saw a poster on the elevator that said tonight was all-you-can-eat pasta night for two Euros at the hostel..and having just come back from super expensive Switzerland we jumped at the opportunity! We ended up going to the homey eating-room and getting the all-you-can-eat pasta as well as a beer and had a very pleasant 5 Euro dinner at our new hostel.
Our new room was very nice, with just one other person staying in the room with us. He was originally from New Jersey and throughout our stay we had many nice conversations with him.
The first thing we did the next day after breakfast was make our way to Checkpoint Charlie. There was an outside area that was really moving, with a timeline of events. The museum itself we weren't very thrilled about. Mostly it was rooms with walls full of information from ceiling to floor in three different languages making you dizzy. It was mostly just historical information that you learn in school anyways.
We walked nearby to see a stretch of the existing wall and right by it was the Topography of Terror, where the SS had had their headquarters. Outside there was again a timeline with a bunch of interesting information. Also, across the street was a bear. A bear that is part of a set of peace-bears that one can find throughout Europe. I took my picture with every bear we came across throughout our trip.
We went to the Jewish museum, which was exceptional. The first part was designed by Liebeskind, and it had three axes (plural of axis), one leading to the Garden of Exile, the other to the Holocaust tower, and the other up the stairs to the actually permanent exhibit. A lot of rooms in the museum are kept empty on purpose to emphasize holes in memory, or voids. One very poignant part of the museum was all of these metal faces, thousands, each hand-made and you would walk across them hearing the clangs throughout the silence.
After the museum we found ourselves very hungry so we took public transit to get to the oldest restaurant in the city where Napolean actually ate. It had very traditional foods, and Addison actually had a pig knuckle...
After lunch we went to the DDR Museum which was easily one of our favorites. Right next to the museum was a great church and we took a look at that first before going to to the museum.
The reason we enjoyed the museum so much was because we could actually touch everything! The museum was set up so you would open drawers and touch every-day objects, sit down in a traditional DDR car, enter a typical DDR living room where the T.V. was playing old news programs and you could answer the telephone and listen to conversations. Also in this room you could open covers and learn about women in the DDR and sexual education and flip through all the books.
The other rooms had other cupboards to open and you could go into an example of a prison and interrogation room as well as learn about voting in the DDR and practice with your own ballot. You could also create your own socialist person and it would grade you on how well you did.
The next day we went to the Brandenburg Gate and there we saw some protestors. We weren't sure what they were protesting, but they were Mexican and we couldn't understand what they were doing in Berlin. We also went to the Reichstag not expecting to be able to go in because it was going through cleaning during our visit there. But apparently it was opening that afternoon, so we stood in line for an hour making a reservation to go in later than evening. We then went to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe which was basically concrete rectangles of many different heights. It was a sort of maze and people also were sitting on them. Apparently the designer had wanted the memorial to be like this, that it should be part of the everyday life of Berlin.
We then went to the German History Museum which was a very cool museum with so many interesting artifacts and it was nice to have some background knowledge from the courses we had been taking!
After the museum we looked around for a place to have lunch. We saw a random red sign for a place called “Vapiano.” It's an Italian place where you get a card at the front desk, and you go up to the counters ordering food and you put it all on the card. They make the food right there in front of you, with super fresh ingredients (they literally have plants growing where they pluck the herbs from!) We each got a pizza and had a great time. (On a side note, upon returning to Vienna we found out there was a Vapiano literally ten feet from my apartment! We have been there two or three times now since this discovery..)
After lunch we went souvenir shopping, and I got a fake sort of license plate that says “Berlin” on it, and got a pamphlet that described to me finally what the bears all around Berlin meant.
We made our way back to the Reichstag and after showing our passports, and going through security we were able to get in a very large elevator and enter the Dome. We walked around outside first on the roof, and then we entered the actual Dome and walked up and down it, taking pictures of Berlin. It was a pretty good view of the entire city and there was a helpful pamphlet telling you what everything was as you walk around the dome.
We took the bus to Museum Island and were hoping to get into the Pergamon Museum but it was closed so we got tickets to the New Museum. However, there were police and black cars everywhere and we weren't allowed to go inside. There was apparently someone visiting the museum and no one was allowed in until they left. We watched from a distance as several black cars pulled up to the entrance and many men with several brown umbrellas rushed about as a man and a woman exited and got in one of the cars. Once getting inside we asked someone who worked there who it was, and it turns out it was the future Mexican President! The protest we saw in front of Bradenburg Gate started to make a little bit more sense after that.
The New Museum was fascinating to me. They had an excellent Egyptian exhibit, and it made me want to take the Ancient Egypt course at Linfield. There were different statues, art, ancient papyrus, and one room completely dedicated to the famous bust of Nefertiti.
On the bus back to the hostel, we were so disappointed to be leaving. We hadn't seen everything we wanted to see and we didn't want our vacation to be over. So we made a impulsive decision and decided to stay an extra day! We went back to the hostel and asked if our room was still available and it was so it was settled, and they helped us find our train times for the next day.
We woke up early and were among the first people in the Pergamon Museum. It really was fascinating. There is a famous altar there that a German archeologist found people burning parts of for fuel and decided to excavate it and bring in back to Berlin. Lots of pieces are missing, but it's been expertly put back together. There were also other magnificent ancient objects in this museum as well as a stunning collection of Islamic art.
After this museum we went to find a stretch of the wall next to the river with some beautiful artwork on it. It's the East Berlin Gallery, and some of the murals are breathtaking and broadcast many significant messages.
We were getting rather hungry by this time so we tried to go to the Tiergarten to find a particular restaurant, but when we couldn't we took the U Bahn and S Bahn back to the hostel to clarify the name of a German Restaurant they'd recommended to us earlier. It was called Sophieneck, (Sophie's Corner). We had some good schnitzel and meatballs as well as ice cream and thoroughly enjoyed our last evening and meal in Berlin.
We woke up extremely early to catch our train, and settled into our seats around 7.30. However, as we were traveling we pulled up into one station, and all of a sudden there was an announcement on the loudspeaker. Which they didn't repeat in English. Now, I speak pretty good German but loudspeakers are hard to understand! All I got was that there was a problem and we were going to be stopping for an hour. So I got up and tried to find someone who spoke English or could explain to me what the problem was. I go to the meal train and ask the man “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” He says flatly “Nein.” But goes on to tell me his boss does, so I look around for his boss, but I can't find him but I do see a girl on her phone wearing the train uniform, so I asked her if she spoke English and she said a little, so we spoke Denglisch and she tried to explain to me that there was a disturbance on the track and they had to fix it. And every train was delayed, so it would make no sense getting off the train to find another.
So we finally got going again, and they brought around letters of apology and ways to get reimbursed (but we had EUrails Cards so they didn't apply to us) When we got to Fulda where we were supposed to get a direct train to Vienna, we knew we'd missed it so we went to Information and I asked for the next train to Vienna. We had to take a train to Wuerzburg and transfer there. So we went to the platform and saw the train we were going to take was supposed to have gotten there at 10.30 but it was so late it was getting in at 12.30. So we got on this train and sat down, thinking our worries were behind us. But then there was another announcement (that they also didn't do in English!) And they said there was another Stoerung (disturbance) and we would have to take the old railroad, making us even later, a total of 180 minute delay. I had to get up to get some of this information clarified and I saw a bunch of people in line for a room where three women who worked for the Deutsche Bahn were dealing with more envelopes of apologies and reimbursement options. I ask them “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” And one simply says “Nein,” and then goes back to work. And so I'm like, Okay, I'll just do this in German then..And they explain to me a little more about what's going on and because we're going to miss my next train in Wuerzburg they find the next train for us to take.
I went back to my seat finally and we all burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all. A nice man explained to us more about the disturbance and explained that it was an electrical problem. We finally got to Wuerzburg and waited an hour for our train, but it was a direct one to Vienna so once we sat down we could finally relax, and we got into Vienna at 9.30 p.m., 4 hours later than planned. But it had been an adventure; however, we were happy to be home and I immediately fell asleep upon parting ways and returning back to my host parents' apartment.
We had a wonderful fall vacation, and I'm so happy I got to travel to Jungfraujoch and Berlin. They really were experiences of a lifetime and I feel so lucky I got to go and enjoy these places with two of my friends.
I really wanted to blog about it immediately, but we got back with only one week to go before midterms and the week was super busy, full of mostly just homework, solo-studying, and study-sessions with everyone else. But now that all that is over, I can finally stay more up-to-date with my blog. My next entry will talk about our class trip to Klosterneuburg and Kreuzenstein, being on television (again!!), as well as our adventures on October 26th, Austria's national holiday!
Also, just as a reminder, you can check out my personal blog at: http://rainbowtravels.wordpress.com
Here you can find more pictures from our adventures as well as maybe a few more personal anecdotes, stories, or details. Until next time!