Europe · 12 Days · 64 Moments · May 2017

Cathy's Tour of Eastern Europe

7 June 2017

Next we went to Amsterdam. We got a walking tour of the main square and got dinner when we first got in. It was gloomy and cold though when we got there. The next day it was pouring rain, and we did a bike tour of the city. Needless to say, it was cold and damp, but they gave us ponchos, so it wasn't too bad. We went to the I am Amsterdam sign, Vondelpark, and past several canals. It was rainy and cold the whole day unfortunately. Later we walked to the Monument op de Dam in the main Dam square. Lexi, Ashley, and I went to Madame Tussaud's wax museum too. There wasn't a lot to do, especially since I'd already been there. They went off to the Anne Frank house, which I skipped since Id already been, and I walked around for a bit before heading back to the hotel to nap. That night we did an Amstel river dinner cruise, our last meal as a group. It was really fun and the food was Indonesian which is technically "Dutch" food.

5 June 2017

We went to Burgermeister for dinner. I got the Meister Aller Klassen burger. The place used to be a public bathroom and then they converted it into a burger place. It's apparently one of the best burgers in the world. It was not. It was good but not amazing.
I went for a run and these are my city views --honestly not that great.
More Berlin Wall art
Various city views
Berlin Cathedral. Again you can see the burned walls
This is the site of the Nazi Youth book burning. Now called Bebelplatz, across from the library there is a creation called the "Empty library" to represent the site of the book burning. There is a piece of glass on the ground and if everyone stands around the edges to created a shadow across it to block the sun, then at an angle, you can see rows of empty shelves underground. The plagues nearby it are related. One of them is a quote from 1820 by Heinrich Heine about how once the world burns books, people will shortly follow. The tour guide this quote particularly spooky and foreshadowing.
A main square. One building is dedicated to French and one to Germans.
Checkpoint Charlie was the checkpoint along the wall that connected the US sector to the east side of Berlin.
It's shocking how terrible Germanys history has been continuously. Even after WWII, conditions were not great in Eastern Germany. One of the signs explain that many of the Red Army would harass and rape the women after they helped liberate east Berlin.
Remaining portion of the Berlin Wall next to our open air museum. East Germany put up the Berlin Wall over night. They put barbed wire along the border for a temporary wall, and soldiers guarded it. They built the permanent wall after that. Hugo boss was a nazi supporter and he created the uniforms for the SS army Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I. But Germany was bankrupt from wwi, and the treaty basically said it was all Germany's fault and they had to pay back countries where they caused expensive damages. The economy was terrible and the deutch mark was worthless currency. People were depressed because of wwi. Wwi was the most expensive, bloodiest war that had ever occurred up to that point. Hitler was a good orator and so he got people to rally behind him because he said that the reason they all got blame for wwi, was because of the Jews. Nazi is shorthand for nationalist socialist. Hitler wrote Mein Kompf when he was in jail for 9 months.
Nazi ministry Most populated country in the EU is Germany with 83 million.
On our tour, we walked to a dead patch of grass next to a parking lot. Our tour guide explained that were were standing on top of Hitler's Nazi bunker where he spent his final days before committing suicide. We also watched Downfall (apparently one of the most historically accurate Nazi films) on the bus, so it was interesting to be standing on top of where the bunker (Fuhrerbunker) was. Hitler was clearly deteriorating mentally and because of his Parkinson's disease. Our guide explained that after his suicide, his guards burned his body, and when the Red Army showed up they want to hide the left over remains of Hitler so that the other Allies would go on a wild goose chase for Hitler in Argentina, and then they could take over Germany. Germany shares borders with 8/9 countries which is why it was such a big country to win--once you had control of it, it would be easier to take over the several other countries that share its borders.
2711 blocks at the holocaust memorial They want you to feel insecure like it could collapse on you and makes you feel disoriented. The blocks are blank so they're open to interpretation. The blocks are covered in anti-grafitti material that is produced by the same company that created the chemical mixture that the nazis used in the gas chambers to kill the Jews. The company agreed to provide the anti-graffiti mix for free for as long as they need it for the holocaust memorial.
The hotel where Michael Jackson held the baby over the balcony
Famous Brandenburger Gate
Next we did a Third Reich walking tour. We had a very funny tour guide who actually grew up in East Berlin and was 16 when the wall came down. Nov 9 1989 - wall came down Tour guide raised in east side and the wall came down when he was 16. Growing up was fine because you can't want what you don't know about. He said specifically that they would suck on bananas like lollipops because they only got them twice a year. Third Reich = third kingdom. (Roman empire, German empire?, and then the Nazi empire).

4 June 2017

Our hostel was right down the street from a main section of the Berlin Wall. Street art is very big in Berlin. Berlin's thing is being very open to all people, being nonjudgmental and accepting, and very anti-establishment and anti-commercialization. 65 million murders in WWII. 85 percent of Berlin was destroyed. Berlins slogan is "poor but sexy." Berlin is a swamp so they have different colored pipes to deal with the moisture The wall was built to keep the people on the east side because life was so much better on the west side and they didn't want people seeing that and leaving. East was communist.
Next we headed to Berlin. Our first stop was Treptower Park, which is a memorial created for the Soviet soldiers that died. The giant statue of a Russian soldier carrying a child in his arms after they helped liberate part of Germany at the end of WWII. It's a controversial memorial but there are hundreds up unidentified bodies buried at the memorial, so the Germans didn't want to harm the memorial in case some of the bodies are German.
We stopped in Dresden, Germany the next day for lunch. NATO bombed when they didn't need to and killed 40,000 civilians. You'll notice that a lot of these older buildings have dark black sections. That's because in a lot of the Germany cities, buildings were bombed, causing fires, and so they tried to use the original materials to rebuild the buildings as much as possible.
We walked to the Lennon wall after that

3 June 2017

Walking across the Charles bridge.
Prague castle district
We walked up the hill to the Castle district and got pics of of the views
Group pic after Prague walking tour

2 June 2017

Prague at night
The next stop was Prague (or Praha as spoken by locals), Czech Republic. We did a night walking tour of the Old Town center. We stopped at the 600 year old clock tower at 10pm to see it run. When the creator finished the clock tower 600 years ago, the people gouged out the guys eyes so that he couldn't make another one. He got a friend to steal a small piece of it, but had a heart attack before he got to see it. It took them 90 years before they could get it working again.
Continued... They clearly didn't gain any perspective or learn anything from the experience. They're within walking distance of a camp that exterminated thousands of innocent people that were dragged from their homes, separated from their families, and living in terrible conditions with the impending deaths hanging over their heads, and the locals have the insensitivity and audacity to say "well having people remember this is an inconvenience for me." This camp was a level three, which means it had the harshest conditions. The Nazis exploited the prisoners by making them work long days while they received barely any food. 190,000 people were prisoners here and 90,000 of them died there. The prisoners had to be walked through the main town square in order to get to the concentration camp. The camp had several crematoriums and a gas chamber.
We left Vienna and entered Germany. We stopped in Mauthausen Concentration camp. It started with us watching a short 20 min clip, and right off the bat I was not impressed with how they organized how they represented the concentration camp. Dachau did a really good job of portraying the horrors that occurred. In the movie clip in Mauthausen there was a whole 5 mins about how the citizens of the town didn't like having the concentration camp as a memorial because people continued to associate the atrocities there with the citizens even though the citizens of the town themselves weren't involved. It was the most unintelligent and tactless approach to starting a tour of a concentration camp that I could imagine. They make it clear that the town people did know what was happening but they pretended not to because they didn't want to do anything about it. And then the current citizens were still complaining about how that makes them look. It still makes me mad to think about.
The camp had a quarry and prisoners were forced to take giant granite stones up the "stairs of death". Because of the long work hours and lack of food, as well as the spread of diseases, many people would fall on the stairs under the weight and knock the people over like dominoes. This ended many prisoners lives. Some prisoners were shoved off the top of the quarry and fell to their deaths. If a guard showed any sympathy to the prisoners, he had to shove several of them off the quarry ledge.
That night we had an Viennese Chamber Orchestra night. They served us dinner--which was a small amount of food and it took them forever to bring to our table. I was crabby because it took forever and I was still hungry after. Then we went to the room to watch the performance and it was a million degrees. There was apparently no AC. I was sitting in my own sweat. They played classical music, had some opera singing, and had some ballet and folk dancing that were Austrian themed. I was so hot and miserable that I couldn't stay awake. Needless to say, I will never be doing something like that again.

1 June 2017

We ate lunch and then walked to the main square to see the buildings and take pics. We walked by the winter palace too.
Ellen Degeneres apparently stayed at our hostel in Vienna
The next day we went to Vienna or Wein, where we first stopped at the summer palace to walk around the grounds.

31 May 2017

After that we stopped at a central square area by our hostel--there were a bunch of people hanging out and they had a temporary Ferris wheel. Me, Ashley, and lexi did the Ferris wheel. We got to the top and Lexi goes: this probably isn't a good time to mention that I'm terrified of heights. We all cracked up
That night we did a dinner cruise on the Danube River, where we got to see a bunch of the buildings lit up at night. The parliament building is the really gorgeous lit up one. Probably one of the prettiest building I saw on this trip.
The Central Market
After the market, I walked around a bit by myself. I walked along the water front and across the green pedestrian bridge. The buildings along the water were really beautiful.
One of the longest pedestrian walking streets in the world.
The next day we went to the Turkish Baths--the water is about 84 degrees in one of the pools. The other ones are a little cooler but they're all warm and have natural minerals that that "healing qualities". It was a relaxing way to start the day. We headed to the market after that. I really liked the building and colors of Budapest. It a very fun, clean city.

30 May 2017

We went to Budapest next. We started with a driving tour and learned the basics about the city and stopped on the Buda side to get some good view pics.
we stopped at a Costa coffee across from our hostel and I got a donut latte. It actually came with a donut. It was delicious. Definitely not healthy
We entered Hungary (part of the EU), where the currency is ft (forint). The key ingredient in almost all their food is paprika. We headed to Budapest -- pronounced Budapesh-t. The Rubix cube and Escape rooms were invented here. They were the first to invent the computer and ball point pen. The short hand of thank you is Cusi. Hello is see-ya Buda and Pest used to be two cities split by the Danube River. Buda side is considered more expensive because it's on a hill so it has better views.

29 May 2017

Belgrade was a large city with a metro downtown that had quaint alleyways with restaurants. The bus dropped us off downtown and we ate a Dva Jelena. Serbia is known for cooking meat really well. I got a burger, and it didn't come with a bun or any condiments but it was delicious. It was really juicy and tasty without anything on it. Serbia uses the dina for their currency. To figure out the exchange, you had to multiple the euro by 123. So something that's 4 euro would be about 500 dina.
These are two of the buildings that NATO bombed in Belgrade to stop the Serbians war against Bosnia. They've been standing like that for 20 years, and there are plans to demolish them but it costs. They also used the buildings as propaganda for a bit to say "look what NATO, the US, etc did to us".
Continued... In response, sometimes the men would actually volunteer, "I survived. Kill me."
Today children will go to school with each other, and the events are still so recent that another child's family member could have killed someone in your family. After that, we watched a short film which was a compilation of live footage. Our guide pointed out a brief few seconds when he is in the video as a younger kid, being ushered with other men by the Bosnian Serbian army. It was crazy to see live footage of someone who actually experienced this first hand. They showed a clip of soldiers taking a group of six guys out for their execution. The soldiers shoot the four guys, and then the last two are forced to carry the dead bodies of their friends to a shallow grave. Then the soldiers shoot the two remaining men. The soldiers intentionally filmed this event--they even stopped in the middle to go get a new battery for their camera. We also heard a testimonial of how the soldiers would take the men, and shoot them down a line. At the end, they would ask "are there any survivors?"
When the men were taken on buses from the UN "safe zone" to their execution, they were killed at several different execution sites. The women and children were on another bus, and were taken to Potocari. Many of the women and girls were tortured and raped. Our guide mentioned specifically that St Louis MO was a specific location where refugees now lived. I want to look into this more, since it was one of the few specific locations the guide mentioned and I didn't even know about it. Additional note: there are still 750,000 active land mines in Bosnia, and people continue to have to be wary of this. The really alarming part is that no one on my tour had even heard of or remembered anything about these events. And it makes me wonder if in a few years, there will be museums and shocking tales about Syria and other similar locations.
This means that people who lost their mothers, fathers, children, etc. still don't have closure and don't know where the bodies are. We listened to one testimonial where a wife didn't find out for sure about her husband and child until 2009 because Serbians moved the remains so much that the bodies became mangled and some bodies were found in as many as five different locations. We got a tour later by a survivor. He got separated from his dad and brother , and he was the only one to survive, but it took years before he was informed officially. They don't even charge for the tour because it's more important to them that people become aware and educated about the atrocities that occurred.
The next morning we left for Srebrenica, where we stopped at the Memorial and Cemetery for the victims of the genocide that happened in Srebrenica of over 8,000 bosniac men. It was chilling to see how recent it happened, and I don't even remember hearing about it. The killings were of boys and men, so many people lost their family members all in the month of July in 1995. Many people seemed refuge in the Dutch UN headquarters that were set up in an old battery factory. The Bosnian Serb army told the UN that they would move people from one town to another. But they lied and they actually sent the women on one bus and the men on another and the men were sent to large fields and execution sites where they were massacred. Serbia didn't want the international community to find out so they dug a mass grave, and then ended up taking bulldozers and moving the bodies to a secondary site up in the hills. Then they moved them a third time because they were worried still people would find out.

28 May 2017

We went to the main city center for dinner. It was well kept and busy. At one point on the Main walking Street of the downtown area, if you look one direction down the street the building architecture is older Ottoman Empire/Turkish looking and if you look the other direction is completely different and more representative of the Austrian/Hungarian style. We walked down the street both ways, and tried Burek. I tried other people's Spinach, Minced Meat, and Potato--minced meat was the best one). Then we sat outside at a restaurant and relaxed for a bit. Then our dinner was included and we met and were served a meal of soup, salad, some sort of meat dish, and a pear dessert. Don't worry--people didn't finish their salads so I ate mine and then two other people's salads.
Saravejo Roses are seen several places. There are scars in the ground from bombing shells and in memory of what happens, the people painted them red like flowers.
We stopped at the Tunnel Museum in Saravejo. It was the start of our introduction to the war between Serbia and Bosnia that happened 1992-1995. Essentially Serbia had Sarajevo surrounded except for one stretch where the airport runway was, but if people tried to cross there, it was extremely dangerous and it almost guaranteed death. So the Bosnian people were trapped in the city for four years. They had to continue to live their lives even as the city continued to get bombed. Children would go to school and people would buy their groceries and there was always a chance that they would be killed at any point. All electricity and communication was cut off from the town. They finally realized that they needed to build a tunnel that for communication. The engineers in town built it under the airport runway, and it was the only thing that gave people hope because it allowed them to use electricity in the tunnel.
Part of the museum included a field of example of land mines. Children are taught in school what all the different land mines look like because so many are still around Bosnia.
The drive through Bosnia was beautiful. We had to cross from Croatia to Bosnia to Croatia to Bosnia because of the way the roads are set up along the border. We got our passports stamped and checked at each of the border stops
Correction: the water was low under the bridge so it was actually more 25 meters (82 feet or 27.3 yards). Their currency is the KM (konvertible mark --not sure on spelling). It's similar to kuna, in that there is a drastic difference in comparison to the US dollar. It's about double the euro (1 euro = 2 km). The prices for things were really cheap though
We left Croatia and headed into Bosnia, and stopped in Mostar (mos - bridge, star - old). The bridge was bombed and destroyed years back but they reconstructed it and now you can pay 35 euro to jump off the bridge. They require you to do some practice jumps off a 10 meter platform first. Then the bridge is 23 meters down from the center. I asked if I could do the jump, and I did the practice jumps. The instructor said I had good form but that I didn't have enough strength and weight to combat the wind at the top of the bridge. So he wouldn't let me or the other girl jump from the bridge. He agreed to let three guys jump (one from another group, and Jacko and Jay from our group.) he recommended against Jackie and the other guy from doing the jump because they didn't have good form, but said they could do it at their own risk. He said Jay had good form and could do it. When jay got to the top though, the wind freaked him out so he didn't do it. The other two guys did jump though.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina population? Bosniacs - Muslim and Bosnian Orthodox Serbian - 36% of population Christian Protestant Jewish - 5% Croatian - 15% Serbians Bosnians

27 May 2017

We went sea kayaking, which is exhausting. My arms were not strong enough to keep that up. We had two people in each kayak. We kayaked to a cave where we could snorkel or cliff jump. The water was freezzzinnnggg. Then we went to dinner as a group in the old city. They use the currency the Kuna (kn), which is super confusing because the exchange rate is something like $1 to 6 kn. So a meal was like 100 kn, which is just difficult to math every time.
After the tour, we stopped and ate lunch. Then we headed up in a cable car to the top of a hill to see more views of the city.
We went on a Game of Thrones tour because a lot of scenes from almost all of the seasons were filmed in Dubrovnik. The King's Landing of Westros scenes are primarily filmed here. The guide walked us to spots where eventful scenes were shot. He also provided a lot of inside info because he worked on the sets before. He explained how big a lot of the budgets were for the huge movie and tv shows. For example, the new Star Wars movie that comes out in December paid the Croatian government 6 million euros to close off part of the the old town for 7 days of filming. And then they also had to pay each store owner and each tenant that lived along the street. Sometimes they just paid people an amount per window just so the person would keep the window closed during filming
The next morning I woke up 10 mins before breakfast ended, so I rushed down and got my free breakfast. Then a group of us went into town and did the wall tour. The old city is surrounded by a protective wall that you can now walk along to get beautiful views of the city.

26 May 2017

I met up with my tour group and met my roommates. Everyone was very nice and welcoming. We went to dinner together and then went to the old city where we had a guided night tour to learn about the city's history. Waking around the old city, it felt like I was on a movie set--the buildings and streets were white marble and well maintained. As we walked around, I actually kept forgetting me were outside because the temperature was perfect and the walls blocked any winds.
I landed in Dubrovnik around 11:30, so after getting my checked bag, taking a shuttle, and taking a city bus (I cheated and Topdeck actually send instructions on what bus to take), I was pretty proud of myself for getting to the hotel. I dropped off my bag and then walked down the street to have a coffee. After going to a super market for water, I did a walking path along the water where they had a bunch of stairs down to sunbathing rocks by the water. I picked a random spot and ate some snacks in the sun for a while to kill some time. It was relaxing and exactly what I needed after my flights.