Paris, You Stole My Heart

Bonjour from Paris!

I spent last weekend in the amazing wonderful city of Paris, France. I have been dreaming of visiting this city since I was a little girl; witnessing the Eiffel Tower and posing in front of the Arc de Triompe. I’m happy to say that my experience here matched, if not exceeded my expectations of the city.

Wednesday night and most of the day on Thursday was not looking promising for our trip, however. Working with kids all day exposes you to some pretty nasty germs and illnesses. I’ve fought them off pretty well, until last Thursday. Karina, who works in the same center and classroom as me, also caught the bug and we were both sick with the same symptoms within 30 minutes of each other. The virus knocked out a good portion of our kids and staff and I’m happy to report that it’s on it’s way out of our center. Thank the Lord! Believe me, I much rather would have been working that Thursday than feel the way I did.

We were back to work on Friday and I’m pretty sure Paris was my only driving force. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was still uneasy about eating food and my ability to keep it in my system.

Luckily we were on the upswing and good to go on Friday. Well, until I realized I had forgotten our train reservation tickets at home and we were due to get on the train from work.

Possibly the single downfall of France is that their trains require you to have reservations in advance for seats. We made the reservations the week before, but I had forgotten the tickets. Good move, Kaley. Luckily we had planned to take a late enough train that our boss could play superhero, pick us up from work, run us home to grab them, and get us to the train station with time to spare. Two claps for Tracy.

With our eurail train passes, we take ICE trains, which are high speed. On these trains, Paris is only 2 1/2 glorious hours away. I couldn’t wait to get there and the train seemed to be crawling at the pace of a snail.

We arrived into the city around 11pm and headed to our hostel. We had saved directions how to get there, but by blind chance we wandered out of the train station, walked a couple blocks, and stumbled upon it without even realizing it.

Our hostel looked promising, with a restaurant/bar on ground level with live music. We checked in, dropped our stuff in our room, and headed down to listen for a while.

Paris was the first city and first hostel I have had to share with strangers. Unlike hotels, hostels are rooms with 6-8 beds in them and can be reserved by anyone. There is no privacy really, unless you’re lucky enough to have a curtain to block your bed from the rest of the room. Two of our roommates were from Maryland and studying in London, so that was pretty cool. We never met our other roommates, but it was a pretty pleasant stay for a hostel.

After being sick and traveling, we decided to call it a pretty early night. We knew we’d be hitting the city hard in the morning. At this point, we were only planning to stay Friday night and head for home Saturday evening. When we awoke Saturday morning, we quickly changed our minds and decided to stay another night. Boy am I glad we did, because I didn’t have the energy to do anything else on Saturday.

After eating breakfast, our first item of business was to buy a metro pass. These were very reasonable, costing us less than 4€ a person (because we’re still considered ‘youth’ in Europe) to use the subway or local trains all day in zones 1 & 2 of the city. For anyone who might need a future reference, every major attraction in Paris is in zone 1.

A perfect day weather-wise, without a cloud in the sky, with the sun shining bright and warm, I knew it would be a promising day. Our first stop was sacre cour, a beautiful cathedral atop a hill. We climbed the short incline and saw a great view of the city. The hustle and bustle of tourist season was very evident here, as there were tourists taking photos and locals sitting on the steps listening to a harpist play a beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah.”

We didn’t go inside, but marveled at the beauty of the outside. After a bit, we wandered around the neighborhood and discovered an art market taking place. We walked around for a good amount of time admiring the beautiful paintings and sketches of the city, of famous people, or of themselves. We even caught a few of the artists in action as they were painting the ongoing around them or a memory of a site in the city. Seeing this made me wish I had any artistic ability at all. Since I don’t, I contributed to the art market and bought a beautiful painting of Paris and the Eiffel Tower at sunset.

We headed down the hill to hop on the metro. Our next stop? THE EIFFEL TOWER. I was like an 8-year-old on Christmas morning, giddy with excitement, but nervous at the same time. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as amazing as it had been in my head all these years. Like I said earlier, the city did not disappoint and surely the Eiffel Tower didn’t either. If I was a person who cried a lot, I probably would have cried at the site of it. But I’m not, so I just smiled my ‘three finger smile’ and laughed as I looked up at the marvelous work of architecture.


We had planned to go up to the very top, but the lines were crowded and never ceased to get longer so we decided against it. Only because I know I’ll be revisiting Paris in a few weeks was I okay with this. (Hint: buy your tickets ahead of time. Even if you plan to walk to the top, you need tickets.) This was also the part of the day where I realized it was really windy. And I was wearing a dress. And a big floppy hat. Do you know how hard it is to keep your dress from flying up while also trying to keep your hat from flying away? Hard, very hard. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Luckily I have friends who give me their clothes so I can walk around with a little bit of dignity. Karina was wearing a cardigan and gave it to me to tie around my waist to help hold my dress down. What a saint.

We made our way across the street a bit so that the Eiffel Tower was in full view. We enjoyed crepes with the most beautiful view there ever was. We took some photos and took our time getting to the metro for our next stop. Along the way, we saw a beautiful newlywed couple taking photographs with the Eiffel Tower in perfect view behind them. Talk about a dream come true!


Our next stop was Arc de Triompe, which was positioned in the middle of an 8 lane roundabout. Just looking at the traffic made me anxious, let alone watching bike carriages and buggies riding along in the traffic. Whoever chose to ride in that thing had a death wish I think. I’ll stick to subways and trains, thanks.


The Arc was at the end of the famous Champs Elyseés. This high-end, designer shopping district was flooded with people. People going every direction, going everywhere and no where at the same time, rushing or taking their time. I looked into the distance and all I could see were people. I’m not a large-crowd person, but it was neat seeing all the people out enjoying such a beautiful day. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the city, but in that moment I loved being surrounded by hundreds of strangers.

We popped in and out of a couple stores before making it to another metro station. By this point, we were starting to feel the exhaustion of the non-stop traveler/Parisian lifestyle. With one last stop on our agenda for the day, we made our way to the ‘island’ of the city, home to Notre Dame cathedral.

It was free to enter, so we got in line and took our time exploring the beauty of the inside. I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed the immaculate and extravagant La Sagrada Familia, Goudí’s famous cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. Anything compared to that cathedral seems to be mediocre. Notre Dame was beautiful, but it wasn’t as awe-inspiring to me as it was perhaps to a lot of other people. What I will say about it is that I appreciate its class. It was tasteful, classy, and very genuine. The stain glass windows go unmatched and the architecture was simple and beautiful.

With miles under our feet of walking around and our senses stimulated by the sights, sounds, and smells of the city, we headed back to our hostel. We ate dinner at the restaurant below, our first full meal since being sick I might add. We filled our stomachs and headed to our room to rejuvenate and figure out our plan for the evening.

It turned into a relaxing evening complete with revisiting most of the sites we’d seen earlier in the day. Paris has two personalities: one during the day and one at night. Both equally as alive as the other, but perhaps more of a sense of magic and beauty at night. I mean, we saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling. SPARKLING!

We went on a river cruise on the River Seine where we passed under the infamous lovelock bridges and other landmark bridges. We also saw Notre Dame lit up at night, which I must say was so beautiful.

After a chilly, relaxing boat ride we were definitely ready for bed. Especially since we’d be tackling (or attempting to tackle) The Louvre in the morning before heading home.

A restful night’s sleep could never prepare someone for The Louvre experience. If you’re someone who is genuinely interested in art, it’d probably take you two days to go through and view everything in-depth. To be honest, Karina and I were mostly interested in seeing the Mona Lisa and maybe some statues. However, we made the mistake of forgetting to take a map with us, so when we entered it was a good 30 minutes before we meandered through the maze and found our way back to the information desk. In getting lost through the twists and turns and multiple levels, we saw a decent amount of the museum. The marble sculptures and Egyptian ruins were the most beautiful and interesting.

We finally made our way to the Mona Lisa, which I will plainly state was underwhelming. A large crowd of people surrounded the painting, with cameras and phones recording their presence there. We fought our way to the front, took a photo, and quickly escaped the soon-to-be mosh pit that was ensuing. It was much smaller than I had ever pictured, but at least I got to view that and many other miraculous pieces of artwork.

Another sunny, beautiful day put us in the mood for a lot of walking once again. With a few hours before our train left, we walked the few miles from The Louvre to the Eiffel Tower; I couldn’t leave without embracing it’s beauty one last time for as long as possible. This time, we enjoyed ice cream as we said goodbye to the epitome of Paris.

Our train ride back was a little more complicated. First of all, we tried booking a reservation for a seat on the way back Saturday in Paris and were denied, being told we should have booked 15-30 days in advance. Oops. We panicked a little before creating an alternative plan and booking reservations into different cities and taking more, but shorter trains to connect to other trains. Needless to say, it was a confusing process and made a 2 1/2 hour trip almost 6 hours. Our first train was confusing and we wandered around for a good 10 minutes before we figured out where our real seats actually were. The next train had no open seats so we had to stand for 30 minutes before deciding to get off at the next stop and finding an alternative route. Our next train was late getting to the platform, making us miss our connecting train and making us wait an hour and a half for the next one. It’s safe to say that we were more than ready to be home when we arrived around 8pm Sunday evening.

Expectations are often times not met; maybe we have too high of expectations, maybe they’re unreasonable or unrealistic. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments in multiple aspects of life, but I have yet to encounter one in travel. Even though the Mona Lisa wasn’t as big as I had thought or Notre Dame wasn’t as beautiful as other churches I’ve seen, I was able to appreciate each event in other aspects. Don’t be afraid to have high expectations, but also don’t be discouraged if those expectations aren’t met. It just means that next time, you’ll know how to better set those expectations up for success.


Au Revoir! Paris, I’ll be back for you!


Lakes, Mountains, and Sunshine: A Relaxing Weekend at Lake Constance

Better late than never, but here’s my adventure from two weekends ago!

We were a little late in our planning for the weekend and we were just being plain lazy, so we finally worked up the plan to travel to Southern Germany where the border flirts with Switzerland and Austria to an area called Lake Constance.

We again started our Saturday early, arriving to the train station around 6am. Our first destination would be Lindau, a port city on Lake Constance. We arrived in the city around 11 and walked around the charming alleyways and streets barely big enough to walk side by side. The buildings and shops had character and there was a beautiful cathedral in the center of town.

We didn’t spend much time walking through the city because it was a beautiful, sunny day and we wanted to spend what time we had there by the water. We walked along the shoreline with a destination in mind, the point where Switzerland meets Germany.

I almost walked right past the marker where you enter Switzerland. There’s no grandiose sign or flashing lights, but a simple street sign with the Switzerland flags on each side of the street name on one side. I crossed over and looked up at the same sign, that read the same street but with German flags on either side. It was pretty underwhelming, but at least I can say I was in Switzerland. Nonetheless, Switzerland and Germany simultaneously.


Preparing for a lengthy train ride, we soaked up as much sun as possible before heading back to the station. Our next destination was Lindau, another port city across the lake. And by across the lake I mean we crossed through Switzerland and Austria (illegally through Austria I might add) to get to this city.

What we saw of Switzerland was nothing short of Germany, except you could see the Austrian Alps the entire time. We took multiple short train rides, changing lines about every 20-30 minutes. It took about an hour and a half to finally reach Lindau.

What I meant by crossing through Austria illegally is that we all have Eurail passes, which allow us to freely go to and from four bordering countries. We all chose to have France, Germany, Switzerland, and Czech Republic on our passes, not Austria. Right as we were stepping onto the train was when we realized we were on an Austrian train. We decided to chance it and hope that no one came by to check our tickets on the final 20-minute train ride.

The nerves kicked in when we saw a ticket attendant come into our car. For some miraculous reason that I’m choosing not to question, he walked right by us and didn’t ask for our passes. It was nerve wrecking because the fines here for not having a ticket or for having the incorrect ticket are more than the ticket is even worse, and we definitely didn’t want to be slapped with a heavy fine. The train gods were on our side in that moment.

What we saw of Lindau was basically just the port. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse, snapped some photos, then made our way to where a street band was performing. We listened for a while, enjoyed the crisp lake-front air, then hopped on the train for the final time that day to get to Füssen where we would be staying the night.


You might recognize the town of Füssen from an earlier post of mine. It is the city where the Neuschwanstein castle is; the one Disney based its logo on. While Karina and I had already been there, Elisabeth hadn’t, so we made it one of our stops for the weekend.

Arriving in Füssen around 7:30pm we checked into our hostel before roaming the streets to find a bite to eat. We settled on a restaurant a couple blocks away and sat outside by the fire. Germany is lovely in the Spring.

It was an early night for us, as it was a fairly early morning the next day. We hopped on a bus that drove us up to the castle. Last time we visited, it was freezing and snowed all day. It was still beautiful, but I was looking forward to visiting it in the sunshine and being able to hike to the top rather than ride the carriage.

It was a decently long hike and a perfect day for it. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the views of the Bavarian Alps and the Alpsee (the lake) were crystal clear. Also, last time I visited the infamous bridge where you get the best view of the castle was closed due to the imperfect weather, so I was excited that it was open this time. We hiked up to the bridge and saw the views clear as day. What a wonderful way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.


After a while, we hiked back down, taking our time and sitting by the lake for a while. We eventually made our way back to the bus and train station. Though it was a relaxing weekend, it was full of traveling and adventure, and we were all zonked out on the train ride home.

Weekends like this one are few and far between; we got to visit and experience new places and adventures, revisit an old city, relax, and enjoy time with great friends. It wasn’t a strictly planned weekend, nor one with major sites and sounds, but it was a new experience all the same.

Keep looking for those new experiences, even in old places. You never know what you’ll find.


“To Honor the Dead and to Warn the Living” — Experiencing Munich and Dachau

What a pleasant surprise the city of Munich was. When I began looking into visiting the city, all I really knew was that there was a concentration camp just outside of city limits called Dachau. What I didn’t know was just how historically captivating Munich’s past and present truly are.

We were pretty ambitious to say we were going to make the 5:45am train on Saturday morning, but we managed to do it. It was pretty motivating to know we just had to wake up, call a cab, and we could fall right asleep on the 4 hour train ride. Trains are relaxing and with hardly anyone on in the wee hours of the morning, it was a quiet ride. When we got to the train station to catch the train I couldn’t help but laugh at all the people who were still making their way back home from the night before. European nightlife is much different than it is back home. By 2 am you’re kicked out of the bar, but here, that’s when people start showing up to the bar.

It seems that luck was on our side, if you believe in that sort of thing. Arriving in Munich around 10:20 or so we stored our bags in the lockers at the train station and made our way to the main square, Marienplatz, to see if we could still get tickets for the free walking tour of the city. Luckily, the groups were still getting organized and we were able to join. I am glad we did, because I learned so much about the city and its history, and it was a perfectly sunny, warm (yes, I just said warm) day. It also helped that our tour guide was fun, interesting, and talked with a British accent. Because who doesn’t love listening to people with British accents?

Munich was created as a trading city, central to Austria, eastern European countries, with gateways to the western and northern cities and countries. In the 1600s, a religious war took place and the Swedish Army held the city ransom until they were given everything the city was worth. After such a strenuous war, the city constructed the Virgin Mary statue in Marienplatz to symbolize the strength of faith, and it is the largest outdoor shrine today.

After a few more stops, we got into the history of World War II and the Holocaust. To my surprise, Munich was the capital of the Nazi party movement. After experiencing the history of Berlin, I had just assumed that Berlin was the most influential city in the rise of the Nazi party.

I don’t think anyone can disagree that Hitler was a force to be reckoned with. He took over the country and ruled from the Reichstag building in Berlin, but not before establishing fear and terror in the citizens in Munich. He had a favorite beer garden in Munich where he would spend most of his free time. Bodyguards stood outside of the garden 24/7, threatening those who failed to salute or “heil Hitler”. Later on we would find out that many were sent to Dachau Concentration Camp for failing to follow this minute ritual.

One night, there was an uprising that required police action. Police even attempted to shoot Hitler. He was shot at 11 times and almost killed. Hitler’s bodyguard covered Hitler with his own body, taking all 11 shots to his back, surviving the trauma. Just think how different history would be had the police been successful with even one of those bullets. It’s almost frightening.

Not only was the population affected by Hitler’s reign, but the city itself was also severely affected by the war. The city we witnessed was almost entirely rebuilt, as about 80% of this beautiful city was destroyed during World War II.

We cut out of the tour when we reached the Hofbraühaus. For those of you who have never seen movies or experienced for yourself, this is the bar that you would picture in your head if you were thinking of German bars. The important thing to remember about Munich is that it is in the region called “Bavaria.” Also in this region are the castles I visited a couple months ago. Rich in genuine “German culture,” you see men in lederhosens and women in dirndls walking down the street. We especially saw these outfits inside the Hofbraühaus. Bavaria is known for their delicious shandy, half light beer and half lemonade. If you like Summer Shandy back home, it’s got nothing on the Roß (pronounced “Ross”) beer that we shared at the Hofbraühaus.

Germans don’t mess around with their beer, either. At the Hofbraühaus, they only served beer in liters, with the occasional half-liter beer being ordered. I’m not the biggest beer fan back home, but this was delicious.

After sampling and experiencing the Hofbraühaus, we were more than ready to head to our hotel for an afternoon snooze. We relaxed for a bit before venturing out for dinner and to see what Munich’s nightlife had to offer.

We were all still exhausted, so it was a very low key, relaxing night complete with a glass of wine and some quality conversation. Sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going. I also knew I needed to emotionally and physically prepare myself for Sunday, when we would be touring Dachau Concentration Camp.

We got a good night of sleep and headed out in the morning for our tour. Even the weather knew it was going to be a gloomy experience, because the skies were overcast and it looked like it could downpour at any second. The weather was already foreshadowing the emotional drainage I would feel at the end of the day.

It took about 30 minutes, a train, and a bus to reach the camp. The price we paid included a tour guide who was very knowledgeable and pleasant to listen to. We began our tour outside the gates, where she briefed us on some history of the time period. Before the tour even began, I learned a lot about what fueled Germany’s fire in World War II, eventually leading to the Holocaust.

America’s Great Depression deeply affected Germany and caused an economic crisis throughout the country. Not only was the Great Depression disheartening in America, but it was also a tragedy in Germany, putting a strain on President Hindenburg and the choosing of his chancellor. Hindenburg feared communism, but he hated Hitler. This left him in a very tough spot. In the end, he feared communism more than he hated Hitler, leading him to choose Hitler as his chancellor.

It was downhill from there. Hitler was granted a position of power and began his power-hungry strike.

Originally a gunpowder factor to contribute to war weapons, Dachau became the first concentration camp in 1933. It is the only camp to last the entire war and holocaust, surviving the length of the entire third Reich. It was originally opened for Germans (mostly convicted Communists), but soon became a temple of doom for any and all depreciated minorities, homosexuals, and Jews.

It seemed that overnight Hitler and the Nazis had taken the liberty of enforcing new laws and making up their own. It all started with the Reichstag Fire Decree. The Reichstag (government) building in Berlin had been set on fire, and the consequences were that all civil rights were taken away from the population. This is when the Nazi party took it upon themselves to enforce this, fueling the rise of the Nazi regime.

Dachau quickly became a death sentence. The people of the city knew it existed and could make pretty accurate guesses as to what was going on there, but the question was: Did they care? A newspaper article was published, so the public definitely knew what was going on, but for fear of resistance, most kept their mouths shut and turned the other way as thousands were marched through the streets from the train station to the camp. We took the same route that thousands took to their death on the bus from the train station.

Not only was Dachau a place for those who chose to rise against or dare to have different opinions, but it was also a training camp for guards. Dachau became the model camp for any and all other concentration and labor camps that were established throughout Europe. The guards trained here became the most cruel, the most brutal guards.

To soften the blow to the public, they mostly referred to the camp as “protective custody rehab” because if people were sent here, they obviously needed help in correcting whatever problem admitted them. Or so the Nazis thought.

With focus on labor, the gate that stood at the entrance of the camp, and other camps such as Auschwitz, read “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Sets You Free.” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see these words because in the last couple of months the gate was stolen from the camp. Our tour guide suggested that whoever stole it has some bad karma coming their way, and I have to say I agree.

When we entered the gate, we passed under a building that was closed off to the public. Our guide explained that places where extreme torture or places that could cause extreme uprising or emotion are closed off to the public. The watch towers are also closed off. The watch towers are seen as highly sensitized because if anyone dared to step on the grass that surrounded it, they were considered dead. The slightest movement triggered machine guns positioned and ready to kill. If that didn’t work (which was highly unlikely), the electric barbed wire fence would get them next. The building under which we passed had about four or five rooms in it, used to interrogate prisoners who were entering the camp. These interrogations were often personal, and came with some sort of abuse by guards. These rooms were also places where the prisoners were stripped of their last ounce of dignity and strength. Many didn’t make it out of these rooms alive

After discussing these two areas, we talked about the vast, open land that stretched out before us. Known as ‘Roll Call Square’, it is perhaps one of the most brutal areas besides the two I just mentioned and the gas chamber I will talk about later. This square is where all prisoners would gather, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Attendance would be taken here and if a prisoner was absent, everyone had to stand in the square until that prisoner was located. Exhaustion, malnutrition, and fear took many lives in this square.

We made our way to the barracks. Only two reconstructed buildings stood today, but about 20 were present at the height of the camp. There were three rooms, symbolizing how the barracks degressed in the three different stages of the holocaust. The first room had dividers between each bed, ladders up to the top lofts, and shelves above each bed. The shelves were a psychological form of torture—the prisoners had no personal belongings, no photographs, and no keepsakes. If they came to the camp with them, they were taken away along with every ounce of individuality they had left. The second room had barracks that were similar, but with no ladder to climb to the lofted beds and no shelves. By the third room or the third stage of the holocaust, it was simply rows of boards where as many people as could fit squished together in hopes of gaining body heat and that ounce of human interaction that might allow them to survive until the wee hours of the morning.

They had a regimented schedule. Prisoners would be woken up at 4 a.m. and spend two hours cleaning every inch of their barracks. There was to be no smudges on the window, no dirt on the floor, and their beds had to be pristine. Perhaps the biggest challenge of cleaning was their beds. Seemingly a mathematical equation, the angles of their comforters were to be at certain degrees and the sheets had to be pulled up to a certain inch below the top of the bed.

If you think that sounds bad, imagine these barracks at 4-5 times over the maximum capacity. Then think about the bathrooms at that level. With 12 toilets and 2 sinks, it was nothing short of a sewage system. With disease already running rampant, the survival rate was basically zero.

After viewing the barracks, we walked across Roll Call Square to what the guards referred to as the ‘maintenance building.’ Here is where prisoners’ belongings and clothing were stripped, where they became anything but individual, visible only as a threat, as garbage, as worthless as dirt. There were also showers in this building—these were actual showers and not gas chambers. They were brought here to ‘cleanse themselves’ of their wrongdoings, where they were shaved and sanitized and made to look no different from one person to the next. I’m actually surprised that this area was not closed off, as some of the punishments that took place here were unimaginable and I would classify the area as an area of extreme sensitivity.

After the maintenance building, we trekked to our last stop. It began to rain lightly on this walk; it seems the sky just couldn’t hold back the rain any more than I was holding back my emotions at this point. I contemplated a lot on the walk from the maintenance building to the gas chamber.

The gas chamber at Dachau is the only original chamber in any camps that is still standing. We stood outside of the chamber as our tour guide explained that this is a very controversial chamber. A sign used to advertise that this chamber was never used for mass killings in five different languages. However, no one will ever really know if it was.

I took a deep breath before walking in, a little hesitant about even walking through it. I started at the end where the victims’ clothes were sanitized. Five or six short and narrow closet-like rooms were used to clean the clothes of the soon-to-be-dead and prepared for the next group of prisoners who would be arriving. From there, I walked into the room where they were ordered to undress and wait for a ‘shower.’ Next, I walked through the shower. Hundreds of thoughts and emotions ran through my mind as I walked through, trying to hurry but also trying to even remotely understand the feeling of the victims who unreasonably lost their lives in this room. The next room was even more disturbing—it was the room where the bodies were placed until they could be cremated in the ovens. I continued into the room that housed the ovens. The original ovens, where there may or may not have been thousands of cremations of innocent people who had no way of knowing that their lives would come to this moment. And for no reason at all.

As I finished walking through the chamber, I took a second to look around. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this experience was not the horror of the past, or the images burned into my mind, but the insensitivity of some of the tourists around me. It wasn’t until this moment that I heard the shutters of cameras going off, or flashes illuminating the darkness. I could barely muster up the courage to walk through, let alone even think about taking pictures. I didn’t want to document this experience—the images in my head will not go away any time soon.

I walked out of the chamber and took a deep breath of the fresh, rainy air. We reconvened by a statue that read, “To honor the dead and to warn the living.” Not only was it a tribute to those who suffered at Dachau and throughout Europe during the Holocaust, but it is also a reminder of just how capable humans are of breaking other humans and causing so much pain.

What a memorable, impactful, and historical weekend we had in Munich. It makes me grateful that I get to learn about this experience and don’t have to witness it myself. If you’ve ever contemplated visiting a concentration camp, I highly recommend it. I guarantee it will open your eyes, open your hearts, and make you more grateful than you’ve ever been.

Stay humble and stay grateful.



I’m back!

Sorry for the absence lately, I’ve been doing a little (A LOT) of R&R the last two weekends. It was wonderful and just what I needed in the middle of the semester to give me the energy to complete my last eight weeks here!

It’s crazy I’m halfway done with my experience over here. Each day continues to challenge me in ways I never thought possible. While at the time, I fail to see some challenges as rewarding. But I have yet to look back on a tough day and not realize how much it taught me about myself and about those I work with.

Three weekends ago, Karina and I traveled to an area South of Berlin that claims its fame as an indoor tropical island. I’m not going to lie, the pictures did the place more justice than it actually deserved, but it was still wonderful and relaxing. With sandy “beaches” and a couple pools to swim in, we did a whole lot of nothing and enjoyed every second of it. We even tried out the spa and relaxing saunas. Our day of relaxing was so tiring, we crashed at 9pm and didn’t wake up until the next morning. Sleep is a wonderful thing.

We went into week eight feeling revitalized, refreshed, and ready to kick ass the next nine weeks!

It’s Monday night of week nine and this past weekend was just as relaxing as the one before. We decided to stay close to home this weekend. I was mentally and physically exhausted, with no room for imagination or energy to discover a new city or make any travel plans.

It started on Friday night with a dinner on the Air Base close by (Ramstein). Some good American food and good company started the weekend off right. We made an ice cream stop and returned home where we binged on Grey’s Anatomy (my second time watching the series) and a couple of chick flicks.

I slept until I couldn’t sleep any longer on Saturday. Once I decided to get out of bed, I made real breakfast food, rather than the bagels or cereal I’m usually scrambling to eat before work. I got myself together and we went into town to walk around and do a little shopping. Crepes and coffee accompanied us in the middle of our day.

We came back home and went for a run, soaking up every bit of sunlight that the approaching Daylight Savings is bringing us. Back home, it has already happened, but it is happening next Sunday for us in Germany.

We went back into town that night and mingled in some bars, with the ever-present fútbol on every TV. The appreciation this country and this part of the world have for the game of soccer is so refreshing. They even have street signs warning of pedestrian crossing and to be on the lookout for children playing soccer. So cool.

We found ourselves back on Ramstein Air Base on Sunday afternoon. We met up with a co-worker, enjoyed Starbucks and lunch, and some yummy homemade treats. When we arrived home, we binged on Grey’s Anatomy again and stayed up a little too late, probably disturbing the sleep we had just made up the day before. I’ll say it was worth it.

All in all, these past two weekends have been boring in the most wonderful way. A little rest and relaxation never killed anyone. It’s perhaps the only thing keeping me sane. I’ll be mentally and physically ready to overcome the challenges of the week and the weekend trips we are about to embark on.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks to hear about Munich, Prague, Paris, and a few others. I still love every second of this ride and it can only go up from here!

Take care friends, don’t be afraid to give yourselves a break every now and then!


Life is Beautiful

Hello my loved ones! I am writing about this weekend on Sunday, so I’ll actually get this post up in a timely manner! Yay!

This weekend was a wonderful, low key, relaxing one and it was much needed. I am heading into my eighth week tomorrow of my internship and of being in Germany. After this week, I’ll be halfway done with this experience. Time is flying by!

First and foremost, we slept in on Saturday. Except the first weekend after arriving, I think this is one of the few times I’ve actually gotten to do that. We didn’t have a strict agenda for the weekend, which perhaps made it even better.

We traveled a short two hours to a quaint town called Rothenburg (the ‘h’ is silent in pronunciation). My fellow interns who have lived in Germany before have been raving about this town, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. Let me just say, I can completely understand why they would praise the town, and I am now one of them. A beautiful, quaint city that is as picturesque as it gets if you were to imagine an ideal German town. A unique trait about this town is that there is an area that is the most photographed/photogenic area in all of Germany. It wasn’t hard to find that spot, as tourists came in swarms to take photos and selfies of that area.


We spent the majority of our afternoon walking the streets and wandering in and out of shops. Many shops were still closed, as tourist season doesn’t start for another month and a half or so. I’m fortunate to have had people recommend this town, because I feel like it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. If one didn’t know how adorable this town was, they wouldn’t feel the need to visit it. So here’s my recommendation: if you go to Germany, GO TO ROTHENBURG. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

We went into a teddy bear shop and it was the cutest thing. They had every time of stuffed animal from lions, to bears, to rabbits. They all had adorable outfits on and you could choose from your basic teddy bear, to a collector’s item. I wanted to be a kid again so I had a legitimate excuse to buy one. Sigh.

Not only are there shops and winding roads leading to nowhere and everywhere at the same time, but also there is a wall that surrounds the city. You can climb stairs and walk around the wall to see spectacular views of the valley and the outside of the city. This town would appease young and old.

After we left Rothenburg, we headed to a nearby city called Ansbach. There is an American military base in this city and our boss is the supervisor for this site as well. She showed us around the town a bit, we got what she claimed were the best dönners ever, and made our way to the shopping area.

Side note: dönners are amazing and if you need another reason to come to Germany, there it is. It is comparable to a cheeseburger back home (minus the cheese because who likes that stuff anyway) except it tastes 100x better and is authentic German food. It is delicious bread with meat in it (usually pork, sometimes chicken or beef) with a creamy yogurt sauce, choice vegetables, and either hot sauce or sprinkles of spice. It doesn’t sound like much, and it’s definitely not a fancy meal by any means, but they are quick, cheap, and there’s never a time where a dönner doesn’t sound good. I think I can consider myself a ‘dönner snob’ now after eating them, because I’m very judgmental about them when I try new places. I’ve even found my favorite place to get a dönner.

After wandering in Ansbach for a couple hours, we made our way to Illesheim, where we were going to stay the night. It’s a town of about 500, you blink and you miss it. What brought us here was a family that my friend, Karina, has become very close with. When she was placed in Illesheim at the Army base there, she lived with this German family and the other Camp Adventure interns in their guesthouse. She has been back to visit numerous times, and they always welcome other guests. The hosts, Simon and Gisela, own a restaurant that is in the downstairs of the guesthouse. They were hosting a gathering for the town’s firefighters when we arrived. Karina half-joked, was half-serious when she commented that every male who lived in Illesheim was at the gathering. LOL.

Simon and Gisela were the perfect hosts, sweet as can be and they welcomed us with open arms. We did what we could to help, mostly sticking to pouring beers, washing dishes, and drinking wine. Simon brought out the memory books he’s kept over the years of all the Camp Adventure interns he’s housed. It was amazing to see how much they meant to him and his family, and vice versa. Just another neat thing about Camp Adventure, it leads you to so many people who remain prominent in your life forever. He has people he’s housed who continue to write him and e-mail him and visit him, like Karina does. I have to say I’m a little jealous of all the interns who have gotten to live there and create all those memories with such a sweet family

The night came to a close, but not before many memories were made and much laughter shared. It was the most perfect way to detox and relax, while also feeling like we were a part of something. It was a home away from home and we can’t stop raving about Illesheim. We already have plans to return on our last weekend here.


We slept in again this morning and leisurely got ready to head out. We packed up the car and chatted with Simon and Gisela a bit before heading off to Würzburg. They saw us off and it was hard to leave such a wonderful place. Knowing we would be back made it a little easier. I can see why Karina continues to revisit and consider it a home here in Germany.

With nothing urgent on our agenda in Würzburg, we parked the car and started walking to the palace on the hill. It was quite a walk, I must say. The best part? Uphill switchbacks and taking the wrong path that lead us 80% around the entire palace before finding the entrance. When we finally reached the entrance, we realized we could have just driven. I can’t complain, though, because the sun was shining, it was WARM, and, like I said, we didn’t have a schedule. We walked around the palace, did some dancing (yes, we were stared at), and lounged in the sun for a while.


When we walked back down to the town, we strolled through the streets. Almost all the shops were closed, but it was nice to walk around with nowhere to be. We eventually made it back to our car and headed home.

To top off a wonderful weekend, we witnessed the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen on the way home

What an incredible weekend in the most unexpected ways. Life has a way of showing you what really matters if you choose to appreciate the little things and life and live to cherish the moments that aren’t planned.

My dear friend Erika shared this quote with me before we both left for our adventures. I think this weekend it really applies to me, and I hope someday you can all relate it to yourselves:

“Travel brings love and power back to your life.” –Rumi


Stay happy and keep your eyes open.


Berlin: The Beautifully Tragic

If I can just say one thing first, Berlin was amazing and I cannot wait to go back. I feel like I have said that about a lot of places, but this is one place that I don’t think I could ever get enough of.

We left Friday evening and got into Berlin about 12:30am. We took a short train ride and what should have been a short walk to our hostel. We got a little turned around when we left the train station and walked in a giant circle until we found our hostel. It was late, we were exhausted, and no we did not take the scenic route on purpose. Fortunately, it was only three blocks from the train station so it was a much shorter commute the rest of the weekend.

We had six of us and took up an entire room, which was a relief. For those of you who have never stayed in hostels, they are like hotels, but the rooms are not private. If your party didn’t occupy the entire room, there would be other people staying in your room with you. A little unnerving and uncomfortable I would imagine, as I have never been in that situation. This was my first experience staying in a hostel. It was mostly fine, however German drainage systems must be different considering the shower failed to drain and ended up in a large puddle in the middle of the room. I guess they wanted us to have our own personal pool. And the bathroom was the size of a shoebox. It didn’t mix well with six girls, but we managed. Luckily it was just a crash pad.

We hit the ground running on Saturday morning with a walking tour of the city. We met tour groups at the Brandenburg Gate, where we were separated into an English-speaking group and began our tour. It was a very historical tour, unsurprising given the city and its past. I learned some very interesting facts about the city; one being that America is actually older than Germany. After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Germany was reunified in 1990 and has been ever since. It is also the most liberal city in Europe. Something you can definitely realize when you observe the city and its inhabitants.

Perhaps the most interesting things I heard on the tour was the set up of the government buildings. The Reikstag building is the tallest in the government district and is a tall, glass building with a dome at the top. Our tour guide shared with us that the design of the building was very intentional. The top of the building is for tourists and offers a spectacular view of the city. Below the tourist area are governmental offices. Another government building stands next to the Reikstag, much shorter where more governmental offices are held. The design of these buildings reflects their government and how they look ‘up’ to the people of the city, literally. It is in this design and attitude that Berlin hopes will remain strong, as to avoid another dictatorship. They really are for the people.

After learning about the government a little bit, we made our way a few blocks to what looked like a lot with a bunch of concrete blocks. When we all gathered with our guide, she shared with us that it was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The fact that we hadn’t known we had come upon the memorial was intentional in the creation of it. The reason for the memorial is obviously horrendous and does not need extra attention brought to it. The memorial just so happens to be on the corner of a block, in plain sight of the government buildings I described above. This, too, was intentional. A reminder of what the past holds, and a symbol of what they hope to always instill in themselves and their people in the future: tolerance.

The memorial is perhaps one of the most profound memorials I’ve ever witnessed. As you walked around, you became very disoriented. The concrete blocks were various heights so you couldn’t see out. I kept wandering around, realizing that there were small hills in the rows of blocks. When we all had reconvened, we talked about some of the interpretations people had come up with upon their experience. Personal interpretation was the architect’s main goal. He had few intentional designs, the rest was to be created by the wanderer’s mind.


Some interpretations saw the different sizes of concrete blocks as a bar graph, representing statistics of death by race during the Holocaust. Another interpretation was that the different sizes represent different ages of those murdered during the Holocaust. Perhaps the most grave one was that the hills in the walkways, which then created different heights when you stood at one end and looked at the other, represented the train cars that hauled millions of people to their deaths in concentration camps. No one could be wrong, which I think is a reflection of both the architect and the city. If no one can be wrong, no one can disagree, leading to a stronger unity of the city, its government, and its people.

After the intense reflection in the memorial, we walked a couple blocks to what seemed like a plain parking lot that housed cars of the tenants in nearby apartment complexes. Not so fast, for what lied beneath where we were standing was far more significant than the dirt we were standing on. We stood directly above where Hitler’s bunker was. Surrounding the parking lot we were standing in used to be the governmental building of Hitler’s Reich. The bunker is where he hid out during the final days of his life, and, our tour guide joked, where he did the best possible thing Hitler could have ever done for this world: killed himself.

During the final days of Hitler’s life, he accomplished many things from this bunker. One of them was marrying his wife, in a dark bunker, underground, in secret. How romantic. A few days later they kept their suicide pact and his wife ate cyanide and Hitler, who was so nervous he was going to mess up killing himself and end up paralyzed and taken by the Soviets, ate cyanide and shot himself in the head. He was not doing this in secret, and it was no surprise to the people around him. His trusted advisors then took their bodies and burned them in a square. Just another way that no one could take his body and torture it for his crimes committed. A few hours after their bodies began to burn, the Soviets stormed the city. They eventually discovered the identity of the bodies, but they kept it their little secret as other countries, such as the US, frantically searched for Hitler.

We then made our way to a portion of the Berlin Wall. I’m not going to lie; the portion I saw was a bit underwhelming. It was a simple concrete wall. It was not until I heard more of the history that I gained even an ounce of what it must have been like for the separation of this city.


The Soviets, who owned the eastern portion of the city, did not like the freedom that the Brits, the Americans, and the French were giving to their western portions. People were pouring into the eastern part of the city looking for jobs, for family, and for opportunity. The wall literally went up overnight. It began as a barbed wire fence, but by the completion of the wall, it was layers upon layers of concrete, linked together with boobie traps such as quick sand, vicious dogs, and metal spikes.

The wall meant that you were now separated from the entire other half of the city. If your family lived on one side and you lived on the other, you were now separated. If you went to school on the East side but lived on the West side, you no longer had an education. If you worked on the opposite side, you were now unemployed. Times were very trying as people fought for their families, their jobs, and their lives.

A lighthearted story was told to lighten up the mood about a family who escaped. They waited until nightfall and dressed all in black, carrying black cable wire. They had contacted their friend who lived on the other side of the wall, telling him to just be there, waiting. They scaled the side of their apartment building and somehow managed to get the rope to their friend on the other side—they’d just made a zip line. They then proceeded to zip across the wall and over all the traps. How did they not get caught, you ask? The security guard watching the tapes thought that the plan was so well thought out and performed, that it couldn’t have been anyone trying to escape, but a special group intentionally testing them and their security. Ha! A funny story to make us forget the horrors the wall caused for the citizens of Berlin.

After seeing a small section of the Berlin Wall, we headed to Checkpoint Charlie. A historical landmark, Checkpoint Charlie was the only neutral zone in the city where leaders from the US and Germany and the USSR met to discuss and make decisions. This has become such a tourist center that there wasn’t much to see besides the sign and an old US Army shed.


We cut out of the tour after Checkpoint Charlie and wandered around the city for a while. Side note: the walk/don’t walk symbols in Berlin are little men with hats and they are adorable.


Karina and I made our way back to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and went to the museum that is located underneath the memorial. The first section was mostly informational, basic facts about World War II and Hitler’s reign. The next room was very emotional; it housed large screens with fragments from journals of victims of the Holocaust. Many of the posts reflected confusion, distress, and pure fright. They had no way of knowing their horrible fate. One journal entry that really hit me read:

“You didn’t have to be a revolutionary to put yourself in deadly peril. It was enough simply to be oneself. It was sufficient to take one single step and one ran into the traps maliciously set for Jews.”

The rest of the museum included profiles of families with their history and their fate, and more information about the different concentration camps they were sent to. One of the most impactful things in the museum was the silence. I remember looking up after reading a board and forgetting where I was for a moment. I looked around and people surrounded me, but I didn’t hear a thing. There were kids in the museum, but it was like somehow they knew that it was a quiet zone, that sound was not to be made. The silence allowed for introspection and a remarkable view of the museum and the people it is dedicated to. They were innocent. They met a horrible fate when their heartless leader he had no use for Jews, among many other groups of people.


After the museum we went back to the Brandenburg Gate and snapped a few photos as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, the square was just another historical area that has become a tourist trap. For example, Hotel Adlon resides in this square. Some of you may recognize the name; it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the side of the balcony. You can even go into the room and stand on the balcony. What’s even more atrocious is that this hotel costs 15,000 euros PER NIGHT. Yeah.


After we returned to our hotel, we got ready to celebrate our friend, Sarah’s, 21st birthday. It was fairly easy to start our night, as there was a bar and club at the bottom of our hostel—easy enough. We then made our way to a couple bars that appeared to be where both locals and tourists alike joined together. We ended our night at a club called Matrix. This club was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. More rooms than I could keep track of because they all ran together, each room had a different theme. We walked from one dance floor playing rap music, to another playing Spanish music; to another playing more hip hop music. It was unbelievably great. What a great way to spend your 21st birthday!


We sadly left Berlin Sunday morning. Never fear, I have plans to go back in late May. Who knows, maybe I’ll be spending my 21st birthday there!


On the road again…literally

Hi friends! Sorry for the delayed post, but it’s been a hectic week and I did not have my Sunday binge of wifi like I usually do.

This past weekend, we took a road trip with our boss across Germany and slightly over the border of the Czech Republic. Why would five of us cram into a tiny (and I mean tiny) car and drive four and a half hours? What better reason that to shop…

Cheb is where the market is. I don’t mean fish and meat and cheese, I mean all things from scarves to watches to purses. I have already experienced the Souks in Marrakech, Morocco, (BTW if you ever get the chance, GO TO MOROCCO!) so I was prepared for the type of bargaining and behavior that would occur at the market. It was pretty similar, but let’s just say it was a little bit more sketchy here.

We would be walking along the center aisle and in their broken English, people would ask what we were looking for. They would whisper ideas or suggestions, and if we showed interest, they became very secretive. They would turn their heads left and right, then say, “come come,” and hurry us down a narrow hallway behind a blue tarp to a door unseen by the public. They would then let us into a tiny, cramped room where all the real goodies are. The longer we spent in each room, the more the price would go down. It was slightly awesome. Once we completed purchases, they told us to “keep quiet” and ask “how much you pay?” to suggest that we not advertise what little we spent on [insert item here].

After we were plenty frozen (the market is outdoors) and ready for our next adventure, we hopped back in the car and shortly after, stopped for gas. Now I normally wouldn’t include this portion in my story, but an important member of the family was added at this gas stop. His name is Roary (hehe) and he is a (stuffed) lion. He is dressed in an adorable German outfit and he’s even wearing a hat. I was reluctant at first, but he’s now my godson and you will see him featured in future adventures. Roary goes everywhere now.

After driving for about four hours until we got to our destination: Füssen. It is a quaint town that just happens to have two enormous castles up above the town. No big deal. After we checked into our hotel, we walked around the town to find something to eat. The shops and little streets were picturesque, holding character and beautiful architecture in every direction. We finally settled on a warm and inviting authentic German restaurant.

Exhausted from a long day of mostly driving, we headed back to our hotel to soak up the limited amount of time where we had wifi at the touch of a button. Most of us caught up on communicating with friends and family back home before crashing for the night. We needed our beauty sleep if we were going to wake up as royalty.

Well, we didn’t wake up as royalty, but we did wake up to 3 inches of snow with no signs of stopping. I shouldn’t complain, because I’m from Iowa and I’m used to waking up to flash ‘floods’ of snow, 10+ inches. But I’ve gotten used to hardly any snow and more mild temperatures. I’m being spoiled, I know. (Sorry Iowans, I don’t miss the weather!)

We ate breakfast in our hotel before heading up the hill to the castle. It snowed most of the day, but it was worth it. The castle we visited is called Neuschwanstein and it was where the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, reined from. Next to Neuschwanstein is another castle, just as immense and grandiose, but it was his childhood home. Because every child needs a childhood castle, and a castle for adulthood. Duh.

Given the occasion, we treated ourselves like royalty and took a horse carriage ride up the mountain. It was peaceful and we didn’t have to climb the giant, slippery hills in the snow.

King Ludwig II was very involved with the planning and architecture of the castle, which is impressive considering he could have just said what he wanted and thy will be done. He worked first hand with designers to create his perfect sanctuary. Unfortunately, only 1/3 of the castle was completed before his death in 1886. When he died, so did the work on the castle.

Perhaps the most unfortunate room that had not been completed was the throne room. We toured this immaculate room, complete with a 2,000 pound chandelier and 2 million tiles on the floor, and beautiful tapestries and artwork consuming every angle of every wall. The theme of his throne room was religion, evident with a large portrait of Jesus Christ himself above where the throne would have been. The only thing missing from the throne room? The throne. The guide stated that, because there was no royalty after King Ludwig, there was no reason to continue building a throne.

We then toured his bed chamber, complete with a beautiful reading chair, as he loved to read, and his own vestibule to pray in. The theme of this room was Tristan and Isolde, an interesting choice as the story is quite tragic.

Due to the weather, the bridge behind the castle was closed unfortunately. This bridge is a small hike from the castle itself, but offers picturesque photo opportunities and a beautiful view of the castle. Just another reason why I need to get back there again someday real soon.

We met up with our group and took a horse carriage ride back down the mountain. We browsed some of the shops and continued on our way, leaving the adorable town of Füssen and Neuschwanstein behind. It was about 4 hours back home, so we settled into Hugo (the nickname for our boss’s car) and ventured home.

I always say that it can’t be considered a road trip if you don’t get lost at least once. Good thing Hugo made sure of that. We ran into a traffic jam on the way back, and the GPS system decided to take us to another traffic jam. After programming Hugo yet again, he led us in a circle right back to the original traffic jam. Thanks a lot Hugo.

We made it home safe and sound and utterly exhausted. Being cramped in a very small European car for 4+ hours is not ideal, but the weekend and those it was shared with made it worth it. Road trips are the epitome for making memories.

Stay tuned for my post about Empanada-making night with my co-workers! Yum!


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