Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday: Frankfurt Walking Tour

memorial to book burnings

memorial to the Jewish people from Frankfurt who were killed during the Holocaust

a stumble stone

the last remaining tower

Euro symbol and banking skyscraper

So this morning I went on a walking tour around Frankfurt. I was surprised that there are so many things to learn about in the city because it's pretty small.

On the tour, we went to some of the churches in the area. Frankfurt once served as the meeting place for electors of the Holy Roman Emperor, so Frankfurt is the place where holy emperors were chosen and coronated. In one of the churches we were in, we actually got to see a small class of students reenacting the coronation process, which was pretty adorable.

I also learned a bit about Jewish/Holocaust history. Over 11,000 Jewish people from Frankfurt were killed during the Holocaust. There is a memorial where each person has an individual placard with their name, birth and death date (if known), and the death camp or ghetto where they died. It was astounding to see how many placards there were. The path around the memorial was not paved, it was large pieces of loose gravel--apparently the developer made it this way so that no one could ever stand comfortably while looking at the moment, they would constantly be on uneven ground. Near this is was a memorial to the synagogue that was burnt during Kristallnacht (a night during which a large amount of anti-Jew violence were carried out), which is basically a cube of the remaining rocks that made up the synagogue. Throughout the city there are also stumbling stones, which are markers that are placed where victims of the Holocaust formerly lived. The stones are put in after a fair amount of research is done, and there is a ceremony where living relatives or the researcher is present. They stumbling stones are set into the pavement and the idea is that when one looks at them to read the name of the victim, they have to bow down. Also, feet walking on them helps to keep them polished.

I also saw a memorial dedicated to book burnings. After the Nazis gained power, many books were burned that were considered anti-Nazi. Authors such as Upton Sinclair and Karl Marx were some of the first to be burned.

Another part of the tour was about much of the damage sustained from bombings during World War II and the rebuilding of the city. Because Germany was on the losing side of the war, there was no one to help them rebuild cultural sites in the aftermath. Citizens, therefore, had to personally contribute to rebuilding things, and were therefore allowed to choose which things were to be rebuilt. The first thing that they agreed to rebuild was the birthplace and house of Goethe, an author/playwright who is often referred to as the Shakespeare of Germany.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday: Wandering Frankfurt

St. Katharinen (Protestant church)

random statue

Alte Nikolaikirche (Protestant church)

St. Leonhard (Roman Catholic church)


Today I just walked around Frankfurt and peeked into some churches. There are quite a few within a small area, so I got to see a lot of different places. Frankfurt is also known for its skyline because there are many skyscrapers in the city--it's an important place in the business world. Nothing too exciting happened today, so I guess there's not much to report...

Monday: From Madrid to Frankfurt

I am currently in Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany.

Today was another heavy-travel day. My flight left from Madrid at 1:30, so I was ready to go with several layers of clothing on kind of early. My luggage was over the limit last time, so I had to lighten the load somehow. Unfortunately, Madrid is hot, so extra layers of clothing were an uncomfortable choice...

It was an metro ride to the airport, then a 2 and a 1/2 hour flight into Frankfurt Hahn, then a 2 hour bus ride to Frankfurt am Main (there are two cities named Frankfurt in Germany). So, I finally got the hostel around 7. I wasn't really up to going out, but I got some dinner at a nearby cafe and just went to bed early. For the rest of today, I might just wander around a bit and not really do much.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday: Prado, Sofia Reina (again), 2016 Olympics Celebration

Spanish church

statue in the Sofia Reina

Picasso drawing from the Sofia Reina

Puerto Alcala

church by Museo del Prado

So this morning I decided to go back to the Sofia Reina Museum because I didn't get the chance to see some rooms that I wanted to. I saw a lot more of Picasso's work this time, which is one of the many highlights of this museum.

After I spent a few hours there, I stopped to eat at a tapas bar for lunch. I tried some paella, which is a traditional Spanish dish. It was pretty delicious, and after I was refreshed I decided to take a walk around Retiro Park. It was a beautiful place to just stroll along casually.

After the park, I went to the Museo del Prado, another very famous Madrid museum. This museum housed more classical works, and had artists such as Rafael, Francisco Goya, Diego Valezquez, and Bosch. They have quite a large collection of Spanish artists, most likely the largest in the world, so visiting this museum gave me a chance to get a bit closer to the interesting history that Spain has.

When I was done at this museum, I heard some loud music in the distance, and decided to follow it. Turns out there was a large celebration to promote Madrid as the city for the 2016 Olympics to be hosted in, so there was a free stage for music and lots of people gathered in support of the cause. After I spent some time at the festival, I decided to go back to the hostel so I can rest up for tomorrow, because I'm going to Germany.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday: to Madrid and Reina Sofia

Atocha Train Station

one of the surrealist paintings at Reina Sofia

a Picasso at Reina Sofia

some sculptures at the Reina Sofia

So, today was another nice five hour bus ride across Spain. My bus left at 10 this morning, so I got up early, ate some breakfast, and was on my way. I got to Madrid at about 3, then hopped on the metro and got to the hostel around 4. I showered, then decided to venture out. I found a place nearby to sit down and grab a quick bite to eat, then decided to go to a museum.

I visited the Sofia Reina Art Gallery, which houses some very famous surrealist (and other types of) paintings, and just so happens to be free on Saturdays from 2:30 until 9. I was able to see some Picasso and Salvador Dali paintings in person for the first time, and they were beautiful. I stayed there until they kicked us at at 8:30, but I think I might go back tomorrow because there were at least two floors I didn't even peek at.

It seems that the fun starts pretty late in Madrid, so I might enjoy a few beers with some new friends, but I plan on getting up early tomorrow because it's my only full day here in Madrid and there's lots to see.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday: Alhambra & Royal Chapel

building in the Muslim area of Granada

doorway to Royal Crypt

actually caskets of King Fernando and Queen Isabel, their daughter Juana and her husband Philip the Handsome, and the first grandchild, Miguel

view from the top of the Alhambra

Palace of Charles V, on Alhambra grounds, built by the Holy Roman Emperor after the Moors were conquered

Today I visited the Alhambra, which is absolutely the most famous monument in Granada, and some claim that it is one of the ten wonders of the world. The Alhambra used to be home of the Muslim rulers of Spain, and was built in the 1300's. The name means literally "red fortress", which seems fitting because most of the soil (at least from what I saw) was comprised of red clay. There was a beautiful rose garden, which is unusual to see because Spain has a pretty dry climate. Many other buildings are located on the grounds, some churches and some palaces. The inside is incredibly beautiful--all of the walls are intricately decorated, there are pillars everywhere, and even the ceilings are artistically decorated.

After this, I went to the Royal Chapel, where Isabel and Fernando are buried. It was built in the 1500's, when the two announced that they wanted to be buried in Granada. These two are the reason that Spain is the way it is today--they were the Catholic monarchs that conquered the last of the Moors. The place where they rest is also decorated with religious relics, portraits, paintings, tapestries, and Baroque sculptures--it was mostly from Isabel's art collection, but of course the individual tombs were created later. It was also very beautiful inside, and peaceful. It had the air of a chapel, even though it's simply a burial site and not an actual chapel.

After this, I enjoyed a beer and some tapas by the river. It was a very peaceful way to end a day full of walking! Tomorrow I go back to Madrid, so it'll be another 5 hour bus ride for me nice and early tomorrow morning.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday: Wandering Granada

my bed in the hostel--I'm pretty klutzy, so I'm pretty sure there will be some sort of mishap

I spent the morning in the hotel, planning out what things I wanted to see for the next few days. I read a book for part of the early afternoon in an orange grove by a monastery, accompanied for a bit by a homeless man taking a nap on some cardboard, which was actually quite peaceful.

After this, I was finally able to check into my hostel. Apparently, they don't close until midnight so they felt really bad about the mixup and gave me the difference of what I paid for the hotel from what I would have paid for a room for them--very generous, if you ask me!

For the rest of the afternoon, I stopped in at a tapas bar and did some writing. I just wandered about for a bit and checked out some of the public gardens. I plan on going to the Alhambra tomorrow, which is considered one of the 10 wonders of the world, so I'm pretty excited. I should have some great pictures for everyone tomorrow.

Wednesday: Travel all Day

So, my flight left from Italy to Spain at 11:15, so I left the hostel around 8 because I had to catch two buses to get to the airport. I made it there with plenty of time, but had to readjust a lot of my luggage because it was too heavy again--I guess I'll have to layer up the clothing again for my next flight so I don't have to worry about moving things around again!

I got through security and whatnot, and it was a pleasant two hour flight. After this, I got to the Madrid airport and asked at the Information desk how to get to the bus station so I could go to Granada. They told me I had an hour-long trip on the metro to get there, so I sat down and had a quick lunch at the airport. After I got to the bus station, I bought my ticket to get to Granada, and waited for about 45 minutes before I started the five hour bus ride. I got to Granada around 9:30 at night, then took a bus to get to the hostel. The directions were a bit confusing, and I didn't end up getting to the hostel until 10:30 at night, and discovered it was closed. So, I walked around a bit, spotted a hotel, and booked a room immediately. It was nice to spend a night in a room by myself, where I didn't have to worry if I would be able to take a shower right away in the morning. It was great to relax after 14 hours of waiting or being on a train/bus/plane.

Tuesday: Bored in Bologna

view from the entrance of my hostel

outside of hostel--it was kind of in the middle of nowhere

statue in Bologna

statue at sunset

one of several nice little parks in Italy

So, I traveled from Florence to Bologna on Tuesday. I left for the airport right after breakfast, around 10, then caught a bus to the train station. At the train station, I bought a ticket and had to wait for about half an hour for it. The train took about an hour or so, and when I finally got to Bologna and caught the bus that was supposed to go to my hostel. Turns out the directions were wrong, and that was the way to get there at night--since this was during the day, I ended up lost (not in the good sense) in Bologna for a bit.

Eventually I straightened things out and caught the bus. The hostel was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, though, so it took some time after I got off the bus in what appeared to be a field to find where I was supposed to go.

After I got settled in, I took the bus back into the city so that I could get some food (there was literally nowhere to get food nearby, I had to take a 15 minute bus ride to get near a restaurant). I wandered around the shops a bit, got some pizza and wine, and went back to the hostel for the night.

To be honest, I think I cared for Bologna the least out of all the places I stayed. Maybe it's because I didn't have much time to check it out, or because it was so frustrating to actually get to the hostel only to have it be in the middle of nowhere, but I just really didn't like it. Good thing I stayed just the one night, I guess.

Monday: Santa Croce

monument of liberty

Basilica of Santa Croce

Michelangelo's tomb

some of the artwork in Santa Croce

ceiling outside one of the cathedrals in Santa Croce

There are many churches and whatnot within Italy to see, but today I decided to go visit the Basilica of Santa Croce because it houses art and tombs as well as being a church. The building was beautiful. They were working on restoring some parts of it, so I didn't get the chance to see some stuff, but I still spent most of the afternoon there.

I had the chance to see both Michelangelo's and Galileo's tombs, which were in the wall, and the floor was lined with hundreds of graves as well. The church was huge--the ceiling was incredibly high, and intricately painted, and there were frescoes and statues and carvings in all of the walls. And this was just the cathedral section.

There were also two galleries dedicated to different examples of religious artwork. It was interesting to see how many different religious pieces of artwork there really are, and how intricate and large they sometimes are. People were passionate about the things they were painting, which is prominent in the work that was produced.

After Santa Croce, I spent some time going to a couple of different parks and chatting with people.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday-Uffizi Gallery and Wandering

Carmen and I waiting in line for the Uffizi Gallery

entranceway to Uffizi Gallery

Kate and Carmen tired from all day in the gallery

from a park a few blocks from my hostel

monument in exact spot where a car bomb killed 5 people

Today was yet another unstructured (yet fun!) day for me. I got up kind of early this morning so that I could go with Kate and Carmen (two gals from America who are currently studying in Rome, but have been taking weekend trips throughout Italy) to the Uffizi Museum. This museum featured many different, not to mention incredibly famous sculptures, paintings, and drawings. I got to see some works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. Kate and Carmen had to catch a train back to Rome, so I took in the last bit of the gallery by myself.

I wandered around Florence for a while in the afternoon, stopping in the Piazza della Signoria for a bit to read and write a bit. This square is really beautiful. It features an exact replica of the sculpture of David, as well as the Fountain of Neptune and a covered, open-air museum featuring lots of different statues. It was a great place to stop, rest, and enjoy the view.

I also stopped in a park that's just a few blocks away from my hostel. It's incredibly beautiful--it had several large arches and a fountain, and some benches to while away the afternoon. After this it started raining pretty intensely, so I'm just spending the night in at the hostel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday in Italy


Today was a pretty relaxed day as well.

I spent some time with two Americans for most of the day. They were both quite hungover (while I was not), so although we originally planned to do a day trip to Siena, we ended up staying in Florence.

We did a bit of shopping in the open air market near the train station to start with. I only got a pair of sunglasses (because thankfully, it's hot and sunny here), but there was lots of stuff--shirts, purses, leather jackets--to choose from. After this, we got some pizza and coffee in a nearby shop. It was pretty delicious, and I can understand why people go to Italy in order to try the food.

We went and saw the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo, which is basically a giant cathedral. It was massive, and incredibly gorgeous. It's mind-boggling to think how much time, work, and planning went into create such a large structure that is so detailed. I didn't go inside or climb to the top of the tower, but it might be something I do in the next few days.

We just wandered around a bit after this. We walked by the canal, which was gorgeous and had some pretty fantastic-looking bridges, and I sampled gelato for the first time (it's kind of like ice cream, but creamier, and incredibly delicious).

I went back to the hostel for a bit, then went to a nearby park to do some writing. The sky began to look pretty ominous and the lightning got pretty intense, so I went back early and am making it an early night at the hostel. Tomorrow I plan to go to the Palazzo Degli Uffizi pretty early with some people who are studying in Rome, so I'm making it an early night.