St. Petersburg was absolutely stunning. It is by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The first day we got into the city after a few hour delay at the Russia-Estonian borer. Usually tour groups and busses have to bribe the Russian border to let them in for around 250 euros. Lucky for us, we didn’t have to! That was a good introduction to Russia! The first night we got in we just stayed in at the hotel. It was right across the street from the Aurora ship, the ship that fired a shot to signal the start the revolution in 1917! We were about a 25 minute walk into the center of the city where the Cathedral of Our Savior and Spilled Blood was. The Cathedral of Our Savior and Spilled Blood was one of the most magnificent cathedrals I’ve ever seen. The gold domes that can be seen from around the city and the vibrant blue and green colors on the lower domes were remarkable. The cathedral had a variety of domes some of which you could only see from certain angles. It was a highlight of St. Petersburg. The area that the cathedral is around too was great. The main street called Nevsky Prospect was where all of the shops and cafes were around the city. The first day we did a driving tour which pretty much consisted of driving around Nevsky Prospect. We ate pie and drank vodka for a midday snack, a typical Russian snack. After walking around the city, we headed to dinner at a local restaurant. One of the Russians we met out told us that it was her favorite place to eat. When we got there, a tourist would have no idea that it was even a restaurant. It was very hidden and they barely spoke English. The next morning we went to the Hermitage, one of the biggest art galleries in the world. It’s similar to the Louvre if you have been to Paris! I highly recommend going inside. We also walked by St. Isaacs Cathedral which was beautiful with a massive golden dome on top. After that we hung out around Nevsky Prospect some more because it’s just beautiful. There are a lot of musicians around and locals just lying out to catch some sun. From there we had some borsht, a traditional Russian food, and headed to a Russian Folk Show! It was pretty interesting. It was nothing like anything I’ve seen before. The boys were very athletic doing half of the movement with just their legs, and the girls would walk around fast, but it looked like they were rolling around – true ballerinas!
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Tallinn is one of my favorite new cities. If you have the opportunity to go, I HIGHLY recommend it. Tallinn is a very old city that has a medieval twist to it. In the center of the city, there are multiple stands where the workers/owners were dressed up in medieval wear. It was awesome that most of the local people in the main square were dressed up. It was a little but touristy, but it wasn’t on the same level of Rome or Paris. The first night we were there we ate at a traditional Estonian beer hall and it was VERY COOL!! I don’t know how else to explain it. It was an upper class family house years ago that they turned into Old Hyne. We drank honey beer and ate a lot of meat! It was all you can eat, so you can only image how much we all had. It was great, they had a special Estonian beer sauce as well which was great! We went to a few pubs after dinner where we met the locals. I talked to quite a few early 20 year-olds who have never left Estonia before, even though Helsinki is a two hour ferry ride away. I thought that was a huge difference in culture compared to many other European countries. The colors of the buildings were also very different from other European countries I’ve been to. The buildings had a feel of the Bahamas to it which was strange, but the colors were vibrant and mostly pastels. It was beautiful.
Lapland was our first stop in Finland, specifically Rovaniemi! It was a beautiful citiy that is also known as Santa’s City! We went to Santa’s Workshop and took a picture with the “ultimate” Santa. The Workshop was perfectly set on the Arctic Circle which was pretty cool. Right down the middle of the park, there was a line that showed the line. So technically I’ve met Santa in the North Pole! It was a neat place where kids were running around in joy. It was beautiful in the summer, It would look stunning in Winter, especially with the Northern Lights illuminating the sky! We didn’t have much time in Rovaniemi, but Jyvaskyla made up for it! It is a city in the middle of Finland. It is a student city, with a major university right in the city. Unfortunately we didn’t see it in its full light because the students are on holiday! Some of us went out though and had a great time! We did some karaoke and met locals. It was a fun night. Then we finally headed down to Helsinki, the city that we were all looking forward too! Helsinki was beautiful. The colors were vibrant and again, it was right on water, like most of the cities I’ve been traveling to recently. The Finnish in Helsinki were different from the other parts of Finland – I like to think of it as New Yorkers are different than people from Texas. We went on a pub crawl and it was great, especially because it was a Friday! They have a pretty neat bar district. However, the ages of the people varied from 18 year-olds to 70 year-olds. Thats not something you usually see!
Norway was the third of the Scandinavian countries we’ve visited and being in Norway for over a week has given me a feel of the country. Our first stop was Oslo, the capital. It wasn’t what I expected it to be! It kind of looked like Geneva, Switzerland. The opera house was beautiful! A big white building that was right on the harbor where all of the cruise ships dock. We walked to the top of it and the views were great! The only thing I wasn’t really too fond of was that the skyline was polluted with cranes – much like Berlin. They are restoring a lot of the city and building new buildings which kind of ruined the overall view of the city. They had a neat shopping area that we walked around for a while. And I’ll just say it now, there are little viking statues EVERYWHERE! If you get to Norway, take pictures of them! Most of them are different in different ways – ears, noses, flags. It’s cool! After Oslo we headed into the fjords and country of Norway. First stop was Andalsnes. On our way there we went to Lillehammer for a few hour stop! That is was the 1994 Winter Olympics was held. While we were there I went bobsledding on one of the olympic tracks! If you have ever seen Cool Runnings, (if you haven’t that’s the firs thing you need to do!) it’s the same thing (minus the snow!) When we reached our campground in Andalsnes, it was right on the water and beautiful heated room which was pretty different from some of our previous accommodations! We stayed at the campground because there was nothing around! We were just surrounded by rivers and mountains! At midnight, since we were still awake, we went outside and the sky was unbelievable. Since they have a midnight sun this time of year, it was bright as ever outside, but the sun was “trying” to set as they say so it was creating a purple/orange cloud throughout the sky. It was beautiful. After Andalsnes, we headed to Steinkjer! Before reaching Steinkjer, we stopped at Geiranger Fjord which was one of my highlighs of Europe so far! We drove through Trolls-Pass which is, by far, one of the hardest roads to drive. It is a road with fast turns that spirals on the side of a steep mountain. The views were amazing. I’ve seen waterfalls in my life, but every time I would turn my head and blink, there was another one! That is how the whole drive was to Steinkjer! After getting there we were exhausted from the day and headed to bed. Next day was a traveling day to get to our next stop, Korgen. Korgen was a pretty cool city. They had a lot of sports complexes and shops! However, that far north, everything was too expensive. We all wanted to go to a music festival but for a one-day pass, it was about 100 US dollars. So we decided against that and went to a bar- which wasn’t much better…it was 15 US dollars for a beer! That was all after we played a pick up game of soccer with some locals of course! Early wake up call the next day to go hiking to Svartisen Glacier – easily one of the best things I’ve done while traveling. We had to take a 20 minute ferry to the the start of the trail to hike. It was 45 minutes of one of the most fun hikes I’ve ever done – and being born and raised in Arizona, I know a lot about hiking. You could make your own path, there were just flags that showed you the general direction you need to go it. So we did that and all the sudden you put your head up and you see this gigantic glacier in between two of the mountains. It was beautiful. It looked a lot like Fox Glacier in New Zealand! We hung out there for about an hour or so – we brought some drinks and food and had a picnic-like meal while we were there! Our next Norwegian stop was Skibotn! Skibotn was where we did the polar plunge! It was crazy! Not only have I done the polar plunge in Antarctica now, I’ve done it in the Arctic as well! Antarctica was definitely colder, but it was still cold. And when I say C O L D, I mean it! After words I took a long hot shower because the walk back to where we were staying to miserable – it was very windy! After dinner we also made s’mores which was really fun! We all got to sleep pretty early again because our next stop, Olderfjord, is where we would leave our bags and head to Nordkapp!! Nordkapp is the most northern point in Europe and boy was it amazing. We went up there for the Midnight Sun! It took about two hours to drive all the way North but it was worth it! If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend it!
Copenhagen was by far my favorite city on this trip so far! The colors, the people and the things to do in the city were amazing. Right when we entered the city, we passed a zoo, that had glass windows that allowed the public to see camels wondering around. If that wasn’t kid-friendly enough, the first major view we had was of an amusement park ride. That was the beginning of what I found to be the Danish culture! Tivoli, the second oldest amusement park in Europe is in the heart of Copenhagen. At first, I didn’t want to go inside, but I’m so glad I ended up doing it! The rides were unreal, some of them I doubt would be allowed in the United States….they looked so unsafe! There were also rides there for everyone, even older couples! They had multiple cafes and restaurants too. My favorite aspect of it was that different sections of the park were based off of different countries! For example, you could go to a beer hall in “Germany” or have some rice and noodles in “China!” Aside from Tivoli, the streets and the shopping were cool. The city center is beautiful. More on the kid-friendly side of things, Lego had a store in the city – and since it was founded in Denmark, there were huge Lego animals all around the store. So we went inside and made Lego’s of ourselves – something that is a must-do if you are in Copenhagen. The highlight of Denmark, however, was doing a 3 hour bike tour around the city. The weather was perfect and we got to ride around with the thousand of other bikers. Copenhagen is like Amsterdam in that it is mostly flat so everyone gets around by bike. We then ate some Danish pastries and enjoyed the views. By night time, it ended up raining, so we went to a local pub and got some typical Danish beer, Carlsberg!
Stockholm was not what I expected at all. It was a beautiful city, but much like Berlin, there were cranes all over the city which really took away from the natural beauty of the city! Our first stop was the City Hall which was neat! One of the rooms was full of golden mosaics. On one of the walls, the artists messed up so the heads of two warriors were cut off. It’s an interesting story though, the artists, after they realized their mistake, figured it would work out because the story is that those warriors were beheaded! Stockholm was pretty difficult to get around since it’s all on water. We bought a hop-on hop-off boat to get around. It was a great way to see the city at a decent price. Also, Tivoli (same park at in Copenhagen) was right on the water – part of the skyline! I didn’t go into Tivoli in Stockholm, but some of the girls on my trip did, and Jason DeRulo was playing there! He is a Top 40 artist is you don’t know who he is. I would highly recommend going to Scanson too! It is a park that has a lot of different animals, activities and food! We went there for the midsummers day festival, we made flower halos, which is a very traditional thing to do! We also saw wolverines and bears. It was a fun area to walk around. The nightlife was great! Most of the clubs were outside, so all of the pictures I have of us going out it looks like it is like 8pm instead of 2am!
Berlin is a beautiful city! The city is completely different from the conservative ways of Munich.
Today has been pretty tame. I was on the Bahn for about six and a half hours combined with getting an hour or two of sleep last night, I decided to head in early tonight. For those of you that personally know me, shocker I know! Not to disappoint, when I got to the hostel, I went upstairs to the Sky bar! It is a really neat bar on the seventh floor with a great view of the city. While I was about to get a drink, a girl walks up to me and she looks very familiar. Then, I turn away and she yells my name! It was a girl that I shared rooms with in Munich! We ended up drinking together and met a group of English guys that were here for a Bachelor party! They were very fun, asking us what we thought about the English without anyone getting mad. Jen, the girl I met in Munich, was like well, I think English are assholes and they always argue. I’ve never seen a group of middle age men die of laughter! Then they bought us drinks, so it was a good conversation! Then they went off to dinner and we met some guys from Ohio. Two of them were still in college. They started telling us how they don’t understand what is it like to travel. The funniest story was that the three of them were in Amsterdam and got very drunk the night before they were supped to fly to Munich. One of them went up to use the bathroom and accidentally went into a different room and passed out in the identical bed! The two other guys looked for “20 minutes” literally 20 minutes, and then left him to catch their flight! They eventually met up in Munich! Unreal. Then we started talking to a Australian and Canadian who loved Eastern Europe and they gave us multiple tips on where to go and what to do!
Adventures in Munich!
I just left Munich and I’m on the Bahn headed to Berlin! Munich was an unbelievable city full of life and culture… one of which I learned the most about while I was there. I started out my trip by meeting up with one of my teammates who I play soccer with at ASU. We ate at this nice restaurant near the center of the city and we ate authentic Bavarian food. While we were eating, I didn’t really understand what “Bavarian” meant, but I definitely learned that before I left. After hanging out with her for a little bit, walking around the city and drinking beer, I went to my hostel to settle in. In most hostels, wifi is only in the lobby area so you can meet people – which is exactly what I did! I was sitting on my phone and these two guys from Boston and a guy from Canada sat right next to me. We started talking and they invited me to go to a beer garden with them. It was a fun adventure. It was all of our first nights there so we didn’t really know where to go. We ended up walking for about an hour or so and hopped on and off a train or two! We ended up going to this nice beer garden in the English Park. It was surrounded by a lake. The restaurant part was very nice and upscale. In the back however, it was this neat area that was just full of people with pints of beer drinking on picnic tables. There were lights that lit it up like it was daytime. It was really loud and all you could hear was laughter coming from every way. The table we sat at was right on the water where we could literally touch the ducks…and there were a lot of ducks! When people would throw bread into the lake it was hilarious to watch because about 150 ducks just swam as fast as they could to that side of the beer garden. After doing that for a few hours, we went back to the hostel!
The following morning I went on a walking tour of the city. The hostel, Wombats, has a free walking tour every morning so I figured I would go on that. It lasted about five hours and boy was it worth it. It was by far the best tour I have ever been on. Not only did I learn SO MUCH about Germany, Bavaria and the Nazi Party, I met a lot of great people. While walking through the city, the tour guide would stop at certain restaurants and markets and introduce us to different types of foods. I am usually pretty picky with food but I decided I would try everything and I was pleasantly surprised. The sausages and pork were all phenomenal. There is also a drink called Mezzo Mix, which is coke mixed with orange juice. It might be my new favorite drink! It’s delicious. We learned a lot about the Nazi party and how it started. It is very different hearing the history from the perspective of a German, especially in Munich. Since Munich was the birthplace of the Nazi party and it was started for the working class people of Bavaria, the story was a little different then I have previously learned. We went to the Hofbräuhaus right in the middle of the city to have a few beers. While we were there, the tour guide started telling us how that was the building where the Nazi party was pretty much founded. Hitler would drink there and thats how the party came to be – all over beer. If that wasn’t weird enough, he told us to look at the ceiling. There were four Bavarian flags that were painted in a pin wheel like shape. He told us that they had to paint that four times over what was originally there – swatstikas. After the tour was over, the tour guide gave us the option of going on a “pub” crawl aka beer crawl. So, of course, almost everyone does it. Two hours later, we met up in the middle of the city to start drinking! We went to about six different beer gardens and drink about five different types of schnapps. It was a great way to get to know everyone! There were people from Australia, Hong Kong, China, Canada and the US. We ended at the Hofbräuhaus at the end of the night to experience a genuine Bavarian night of drinking!
The next morning I went to Dachau with some of the people I met on the previous walking tour. Dachau was the first concentration camp that the Nazi party started. They called it the “tester.” We took a train there and it didn’t really set in that we were about to go to a concentration camp. We got into Dachau and it was strange, because the city of Dachau itself, is so normal. When I pictured a concentration camp, I imagined it as distant from houses or stores….that wasn’t the case. There were houses within 1 mile in all directions of the camp. There were two main parts to the camp, the actually camp and the SS base. The public isn’t allowed to go into the SS base because ironically it is now used to train the police force for Germany. All of the major leaders of other camps, like Aushwitz, were trained at Dachau. We walked through it what we all got out of it was that if Dachau somehow failed as a camp, the Holocaust may have not happened/ definitely not at the scale it did – that’s how big of a role Dachau played. After walking through the museum and going into the actual chambers was unreal. They had some of the same fountains and beds on display. Along with that, thee were multiple pictures of the inmates that had been in the rooms we were in. Then, the most horrible part of the camp came up – the gas chambers and ovens. They were located pretty far from the rooms and kitchens. We walked in them and it was unreal. The gas chamber was just a room that looked like a bunch of people could shower in it – which was what they thought they were doing. How it worked was they would go into the “shower” and the guard would lock the doors and walk around the outside and in two little opening, he would push in a capsule of poisonous gas. The system was so thorough that when the capsule would get pushed all of the way in, the top would pop off. The job was done. 150 dead in 20 minutes. Then they went to the ovens which had one central chimney. That oven company, which made some of the most powerful ovens, was shut down in 1950. Now, the area surrounding the gas chambers and ovens is full of beautiful trees and a few different memorials. Right behind the gas chamber there is a large Jewish star.
After Dachau, we went to the BMW Museum and the Olympic stadium (1972). It was pretty neat, they had models of BMW’s from almost every year they made a vehicle. There were also new models that you could get into and if you did it in advance, test drive. The architecture of the museum was probably the coolest part to me. When you walked in, you take a very long escalator to the top, and you walk in a cork screw all the way down to the bottom and each level had different models of cars. My favorite ones to look at were the Rolls Royce models. They had up to the 2012 model.
We then headed back to the hostel to relax for a little. While I was lying down in my room, I went to grab something from my suitcase…by doing that I somehow broke my zipper. That started a journey in and of itself to find a suitcase! I find one surprisingly fast – on sale too! Anyways, right when I got back to the hostel, I went to the hostel bar and met up with all of the people I have been hanging out with the past two days. We started drinking in the bar and within about 30 minutes it was packed with people from all over the world and all different ages. A soccer team from Germany came in and that was the beginning to the best part of the night! They started to cheer so as I joke me, another American and a Scottish guy started doing a cheer of our own and then started talking with them! They are there for the weekend celebrating a great season, and boy were they celebrating! We ended up going out with them to a few bars. We ended at a club right outside of the main square of the city. It was a two story club that was playing great local music along with some great American music! One of my favorite parts of going out with people from different countries is hearing them sing American songs with their accents, it’s hilarious! After a long night out we finally made it back to the hostel where I slept for a little before getting up at 7am this morning to make my 9am Bahn train to Berlin, which is what I am on right now! Hopefully Berlin will be as great at Munich was. Germany is a beautiful country!
I’m currently in Germany right now, landed yesterday in Frankfurt! This city is beautiful, pretty much your typical European city.
I’ve had a few bumps along the way to get here starting with my flights! My flight was supposed to leave out of Phoenix at 10am on June 9th to LA. Well, last minute that flight got delayed until 6pm which meant I would miss my connecting flight. After a lot of stress, my flight finally got switched so I would fly through Philly to Frankfurt. While I got to Philly fine, my flight to Frankfurt was delayed about four hours.
So fast forward to me arriving yesterday. I got to Frankfurt safe and sound, but my luggage didn’t. It is now June 11th at 7:30pm and my bag is still not here! On top of that, the airlines don’t know where my bag is and I leave for Munich tomorrow! Let’s hope my bag makes it here tonight!!!
My bag arrived yesterday night! Now I’m eating breakfast before heading to Munich!