Monday, August 15, 2011

Chris in Europe!

I can’t believe I let it go this long. I’ve been meaning to document the journey with Chris ever since it happened in December. 

Chris was the only one of my American friends who was able to make a trip over to Europe while I lived there, and I’m so grateful to have had that experience! We decided to see Berlin, Prague, London and Edinburgh together.

I got myself to London on the day after Christmas (which, around those parts is known as ‘Boxing Day’) despite the copious amounts of snow covering Leipzig and the fact that the Straßenbahn (streetcar) wasn’t running and I got lost trying to walk to the train station, at the last moment admitting defeat and hailing a cab.

After walking about in London and enjoying the change in atmosphere (I left Germany covered in 2 feet of snow and landed in London to 45ºF temps) I headed to Heathrow Airport to pick Chris up. After the requisite excitement of welcoming a friend at the airport, we promptly realized Chris had left his brand new iPad behind on the plane.

Despite much hassle and due to some splendid serendipity, Chris managed to locate the iPad (thanks, fancy tracking apps on the iPhone!) and we took the Overground from Willesden to retrieve it from the police station in a sleepy little Borough called Watford Junction, where we found a fish ‘n’ chips and a pub that was showing a game of football.

London with Chris was great. We had loads of fun, visited museums (Natural History, Imperial War)

A bit of the Berlin Wall in London, Imperial War Museum.

and took in all the lovely sights (Westminster, Trafalgar Square, the South Bank of the Thames); 

Tower Bridge, London

Tower of London

Parliament, London

Trafalgar Square, London

Tchotchkes and souvenirs on Westminster Bridge, with a view of the London Eye.

but I feel like Chris’s best moments by far where when we visited the film museum and Chris came face to face with Dr. Who’s Tardis and the Doctor’s mortal enemies, the Daleks. 

Doctor Who fandom in full effect!

When we walked in to the room that housed the Dr. Who props, a look of joy spread across Chris face. Then there was the photo we snapped in the “Death Star”, with me as Darth Vader and Chris as Luke Skywalker. I even got to brandish a realistic looking light saber. Chris was like a kid in a candy store. We also found time to eat a deeeeelicious Indian meal 

and of course, make a day of it in Camden Town.

Unfortunately Chris became quite ill in our last days in London, and instead of coming along with me to experience Hogmanay (the New Year celebration) in Edinburg, he stayed behind at our hostess Kate’s flat to rest and attempt to bolster his immune system. He ended up having a pretty epic New Years celebration in London, from what he told me, but it was still a bummer to have to split up.

Our next adventure together was Berlin, which quickly became, like mine, one of Chris’s favorite cities. Berlin can be really easy to love, if you’re a certain type of person, which Chris and I both must be. After a day there I went back to Leipzig because I had classes, but Chris stayed on there until the night before we were meant to travel to Prague. He told me about a graffiti tour of Berlin he took that was offered by the hostel he stayed in. It sounded amazing and I'm still jealous that I didn't get to take it!

At the end of my school week we reconvened in Leipzig. Early Friday morning we departed Leipzig by train, heading to Prague. We arrived there around noon. and after a series of missteps in the train station

Main station in Praha (German for Prague)

(shady currency exchange, a thieving ticket machine,) we headed to the hostel we'd booked on the internet. When we got there after climbing many, many steep cobblestoned hills while lugging our heavy bags, we quickly realized, upon descending into a smoke-filled dungeon of a check-in/common room, bearing sunken, tattered chairs and a very potent cigarette reek, that we might not have the most pleasant stay there. It definitely seemed like the kind of place that a tourist might get their organs sliced out and put on the black market. A quick peep at the bedrooms upstairs (and furthermore, the bathrooms! Eugh!) and we were hightailing it out.

Chris used the recovered iPad to find us a hostel; we wound up at a place called the Czech Inn. That hostel was, especially by contrast: gorgeous, modern, clean, spacious and wonderful in every way-  especially in that it wasn’t much more expensive than organ harvesting nightmare we’d just escaped from! The dorms were bright and open, with pretty hard wood floors, the beds sported crisp, clean white linens, the bathrooms were well-lit and sparkling, minimalist with cool, sleek granite implements, and there was a bar downstairs that served a lovely continental breakfast in the morning and delicious Czech beer in the evening for only 20 Krone, which, if I’m not mistaken, is equal to about a euro.

Prague itself was, in my opinion, a bit overwhelming and intimidating. I was taken aback that I couldn’t make out ANYTHING in the Czech language. It is an unsettling feeling not to be able to read street signs or even just advertisements on the streetcar. We didn’t meet any Czech people, aside from the staff of both hostels, so I can’t really speak to the friendliness of the locals. We did make the acquaintance of a Canadian girl and some Australian boys, who we went out into the city with on our first night. I honestly don’t remember much except for shots that had been lit on fire, which are almost never a very good idea.

Prague itself, especially Old Town, was pretty breathtaking. 

Chris and I ascended the Tower and got a wonderful view of the city.

We saw Old Town, including the castle and the gorgeous cathedral nestled within it’s walls, from this high vantage point, and then we ascended the hills to visit the Castle on foot. Obviously we couldn't resist taking numerous jumping shots.

Another point of interest in Prague, The Charles Bridge, was as beautiful as it’s reputation boasts. There are loads of sculptures along it’s perimeter with Biblical themes, many of their hands, feet, or other brass bits rubbed to a shining, glinting gold from the Catholic pilgrims that come to touch and pray at the religious icons.

We then saw the Lennon Wall which, just a few steps past the grandeur of the Charles Bridge, is a rainbow-colored wall of graffiti; a place where locals had gathered in the oppressive days of communism for peaceful protest.

After Prague I headed back to Leipzig and soon we were both off on our separate ways, me to Buffalo for my cousin’s wedding and Chris back home to Seattle.

In all it was an epic adventure (practically Bill and Ted-worthy) and I’m really super glad Chris came to Europe to share it with me!

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