Reflecting On My Trip

Hello blog readers! It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago I was on a flight back to Charlotte from Poland! I was working on a personal photo album of all my pictures from the trip and reflecting on all the good times I had there. I thought it would be necessary to share a few of the photos from the last part of my trip..

As stated in one of my earlier posts, our visit to Auschwitz was something I will never forget. The first photo is the electrical fence surrounding the camp. As you can see, there are two rows of the fence, making it practically impossible for prisoners to escape. It most have been so depressing for the prisoners to literally look through the fence and see that freedom was just on the other side.

This second photo from Auschwitz is a gravestone as a reminder that this place is to be a memorial for the millions of people who were murdered. This gravestone was written in many languages to reach out to people all across the world. Needless to say, when our group reached the spot in the camp with this memorial site, we were all speechless as we remembered the lives that were lost in this camp and all across Europe.

When we spent a few days in Krakow, we visited Wawel Cathedral on top of Wawel Hill. This picture shows most of our group standing in front of the cathedral with our signs, “Queens is my home.”

This final photo is of one of our last days on the trip when we had lunch with university students in Warsaw. They were extremely hospitable and even took us on a tour around the city even though they were only required to eat lunch with us! It was fun to get to see th city from a university student point of view because we were able to visit historical places that are well visited by the younger generation of the country. And, of course, it was nice to have tour guides our age that spoke Polish just in case we got lost!

I am still so grateful I had the chance to go on this study tour. I have made new friends and new memories that I will remember forever!

Our Final Day of the Trip

Hi again blog readers! If you have been following my blogs, you know that yesterday we had the opportunity to eat lunch with university students in Warsaw. It was so much fun to be around people our own age and get their viewpoints on anything from politics to food to culture. We talked a lot about the similarities and differences between Poland and the United States. It is amazing how every one of the students is at least bilingual while Americans are not required to become fluent in a second language. When we asked them to describe what they thought of when they thought of Americans, they replied that the stereotypical American is “fat and selfish.” At first I was a little offended, but when they explained their viewpoint I could understand how Europeans could think of us as this stereotypical image. They explained that America is one of the fattest countries in the world because of the food we eat and because of the lack of exercise. They also explained we are selfish because we expect every other country to conform around our needs (for example, learning other languages). The students did admit that they did not think any student from our group fit that stereotype, but it was interesting to find out what typical Polish students thought of Americans.

This morning, we visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The Warsaw Uprising occurred when the Home Army of Warsaw attempted to fight against German forces during WWII. The Home Army unfortunately failed due to lack of supplies and essentially lack of support from the Allies, and Hitler ordered the city to be completely destroyed. This museum is dedicated to the 63 days out of the entire time span of WWII in which this uprising occurred. As soon as I walked in the museum, I noticed a huge monument that goes through all three stories of the museum that has a steady heart beat that represents the lives that were lost during the war and the uprising. I think the section of the museum that affected me the most was the replica of the graves seen all over the city. The citizens were running out of room to bury people in the cemeteries, so they were forced to bury people in the streets, backyards, parks, and whatever other open spaces they could find. It was sad to think that there were that many people who died just from this city that they couldn’t even find enough room to properly bury them.

For dinner tonight, we were set up with Polish families who invited us into their homes to serve us a traditional Polish meal. My meal was absolutely delicious and my host family was so welcoming, and it was so nice to have a home cooked meal instead of just restaurant food for the first time in two weeks! My host family served us: an appetizer of turkey slices, Polish sausage, and vegetables; beet soup and bread; meat and potato with cottage cheese pierogies; and, home made cheesecake and poppy seed cake with hot tea. Pierogies are a very popular Polish dish, and they are basically dumplings stuffed with meat, cheeses, and sometimes even fruit. I have eaten them many times at restaurants while in Poland, but none of those meals compared to the freshly made pierogies I ate tonight! It was a lot of fun to go into a Polish home and join their family for dinner because it was an experience that no city tour guide could have given us.

These two weeks have flown by so quickly, and it really feels like just yesterday I was walking into Charlotte Douglas Airport ready to fly to Germany. It is sad that this was our last day of our trip, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to travel abroad! I will continue to blog when I return home, and I will be posting more pictures so you all can see more of my experiences during this time!

Welcome to Warsaw!

Hello blog readers! We have finally made it to Warsaw, Poland which is our last city on the trip! We spent two full days in Krakow and it was probably one of my favorite cities we have visited so far. There is so much beauty and history in all of the buildings and streets, and we only had to walk about ten minutes to enter into the main town square where all the restaurants and shops were located. We do not have too many planned activities while we are in Poland, so we are able to choose what we want to do for the majority of our time now. It was fun to visit a city that the history was not so focused on WWII and the Holocaust for once. Although the city of Krakow was affected by the war, it was not destroyed during the war so most of the buildings date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Although I enjoy learning about WWII and the Holocaust, it was nice to give our minds a break, especially after our emotional day at Auschwitz.

In Krakow, we visited several different cathedrals, all of which would absolutely beautiful. We visited one cathedral that had a pew dedicated to Pope John Paul II because it is the same pew he used to pray and worship on. Pope John Paul II was a Polish man, and the Polish people are very proud that he came from this country. We also walked up Wawel Hill to visit the Wawel Cathedral. Wawel Hill is where kings, queens, and other royal people are buried in tombs in the basement of the cathedral. All of the tombs were beautiful, and it was interesting to see how this basement area is used just to honor previous Polish rulers. In the cathedral, we were able to climb up to the Zygmunt Bell Tower (by the word climb, I literally mean we had to climb up hundreds of very steep stairs and crawl through wooden beams that ran across the walkways). The bell is so huge that it takes 12 men to ring it! It is only rung on special occasions so we did not get to hear it, but we were told that if we touch the bell then it is good luck!

I think my favorite part of Krakow was the Cloth Hall, and outdoor market with tons of vendors. This outdoor market used to be used by people traveling through Krakow to trade and buy goods, but now it is mostly a tourist shopping area. Our money definitely goes further here than it did in Germany, which makes it more fun to buy souvenirs for my friends and family! Most of the vendors sold items that were very tourist based, but other vendors had hand-made crafts like blankets, scarves, and jewerly.

When we made it to Warsaw, our first visit was at the Chopin Museum. Chopin was a composer during the 1800s, and we had the opportunity to listen to a lot of his different pieces. The museum holds his original sheet music and letters he wrote to friends and family. It was fun to relax and listen to his music and learn about the different styles of music he composed. After the museum, we were able to walk around what is called the “new part” of Warsaw. All the students went out to eat dinner together, and then we visited a chocolate lounge. This chocolate lounge was so delicious and it had everything chocolate like cake, brownies, ice cream, cheesecake, truffles, and yes, even chocolate beer and wine!

So far, Warsaw has been pretty fun, but it is hard to believe that we only have a few more days left in our trip! Luckily, the weather has finally begun to warm up so we can enjoy being outside more! Our group is getting ready to go out to lunch with a group of Polish university students, so I will blog later about that experience! Keep reading our blogs!

Our Visit to Auschwitz

Yesterday we finally entered Poland. It’s amazing how time has flown by so far and that we are already in our third and final country of the trip. We left Prague yesterday and spent around six hours on a bus ride to our first stop in Auschwitz. It was hard for me to imagine that we probably crossed the paths that the actual trains took that transported Jewish people to Auschwitz. When we finally arrived at the camps, I feel like all conversations ceased because of the overwhelming feeling of being in an actual concentration camp finally hit us. It was also a cold and dreary day which I think helped set our minds and bodies to what we were about to experience in this camp. We entered the camp under the sign, “Work Makes You Free,” a cruel way for the Nazis to motivate the prisoners to work in this camp. The feelings I experienced in Auschwitz are hard to explain. I felt heartbroken for the lives that were lost in this place, angry because this was allowed to go on for so long , shocked at how big the camp was and how many prisoners were kept here, and disappointed that humans could do these acts of injustice to other human beings. We went in various buildings, and I think the one that I will remember forever is the camp warehouse that held all the belongings the prisoners took with them when being transported to Auschwitz. There were piles upon piles of lugagge bags, shoes, eyeglasses, Jewish prayer blankets, and even children’s toys. They also had a huge display of human hair that was shaved from the prisoners before being sent to the gas chambers. The pile was massive, and it made me very emotional because these people already had everything taken away from them and then they couldn’t even die with something as simple as their hair. The most disturbing part is that the Nazis transformed this hair into blankets and other textiles for profit.

We also entered other buildings like the bunkers, wash rooms, toilet rooms, and even the gas chamber and crematory. Again, I can’t begin to explain how I felt when I walked into the gas chamber because innocent people were murdered in this same room. Needless to say, I don’t think any one of my group members had any sort of social conversation while touring the camp. It’s obviously not a place to joke around, but I don’t think anyone would have been able to have any type of conversation because of how overwhelming this camp was. It was basically silent except for the voice of our tour guide; it was like even the birds flying above our heads knew to remain silent.

This is an experience that I know I will never forget. It makes me wonder how people could torture and murder millions of innocent people like this. One important statement our tour guide said is that survivors of Auschwitz want this camp to be known as a memorial instead of just a museum. The survivors want us to remember the lives that were lost and the people that suffered in this camp. The ashes of the murdered prisoners may have been thrown anyway throughout the camp or even used as fertilizer, so survivors want visitors to treat this place like a Jewish cemetery. I know I definitely remember my visit to Auschwitz forever, and I wish more people had the opportunity to visit here. I will post a few pictures of Auschwitz when I get the chance, but continue to read these blogs in the meantime!

Auschwitz and arrival in Krakow

Yesterday morning we traveled from Prague to Auschwitz, eerily the same route many Jews took to their death at the camps. When we arrived in Auschwitz it was freezing cold. None of us complained we only imagined the conditions even worse, wearing thin pajamas and no shoes. One of the most haunting things was walking into. Room where there was hair that had been cut off of murdered prisoners. The sample was massive from floor to ceiling and about fifty feet long. To imagine that this was only what was found at the very end is so disturbing. We were in the prison where the first use of cyclone b was used to kill prisoners for the very first time. The camps seemed to feel so haunted and everywhere you turned you could feel the terror of what happened there. After visiting the camps we arrived in Krakow. We are staying t a traditional and very quant hotel near Wawel Hill. Our first goal was to find Polish food! We found a restaurant, one of the few still open at 9:30pm, and we choked down on pirogies. So amazing! Today we are doing a walking tour of Krakow which is a much smaller town then the other ones we have visited. I am excited to see a different perspective of European culture and I will return to let you know how it goes!

Our Adventures in Prague

Hi again! I just wanted to write a quick blog about our day in Prague. We went on a full day walking tour in Prague today that began with a tour in the inside of the Prague Castle complex. This castle was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking. I’ve never seen so much detail invested into a building like this. For example, the castle had stained glass pieces that apparently took a year each to make. It added so much character to the castle. I was also amazed at the size of the castle. There were individual rooms with statues made of pure gold and silver. We were also able to walk on a small street called Golden Lane with buildings that used to be homes. It’s weird for me to think abouts that families used to live in homes that were about the size of my dorm room. Some of those homes were transformed into gift shops while other homes were left as museums to show what these homes used to look like.

After attending a beautiful classical music concert in the castle, we toured the rest of the city. We walked across St Charles Bridge that connected the two halves of Prague. Below is a group picture of us on the bridge. You can’t see too much of the city in the background, but at least it’s a good group picture!

Our JBIP group on the St Charles Bridge in Prague

We also learned an interesting Czech legend while on the bridge. There was a saint that was thrown over the bridge into the river, and he held the confessions of an important leader of the nation. He is known as the “keeper of secrets” because he held those confessions until his death. This picture shows me touching the five stars on a spot on the location where we was thrown over. According to legend, those who touch those stars and make a wish will have their wish come true because this saint will not tell anyone about your wish.

Overall, I had an amazing time in Prague. I’m glad we added Prague into our trip, even if it was only for one day. The city is beautiful, just like every other city we’ve visited so far. Tomorrow we will leave for Krakow, Poland. We will also be visiting Auschwitz, which is what I have been looking forward to this entire trip. Keep reading my blogs, and I will be back home in Charlotte in one week!

Pictures from Berlin and Dresden

Hello again blog readers! I have been able to upload a few pictures from Berlin and Dresden! I hope you enjoy them and I will be uploading more pictures when I can! Enjoy these pictures for now and keep following these blogs!

It was like we stayed in the Berlin version of Chalotte!

I’m glad we stayed in Charlottenburg in Berlin. We knew that if we got lost we couldn’t forget the name of our section of Berlin!

Members of our group spelling "JBIP" with their hands

We tried so hard to figure out the best way to spell JBIP with our hands! I think they managed to do a good job though!

This is us visiting Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

Queens is our home..and always will be!

This is my hot dog with a cute smiley face on it. I think I have had some sort of sausage with every meal since being in Germany! It's all so delicious though!

Rich in Praha

I cannot believe our trip is half over and we are already in our third city out of five! We spent the day in Prague and it is absolutely gorgeous. We visited the castle, St. Vitus cathedral and many other popular sites in Prague. The way I would describe the city is touristy on the ground and beautiful from the 2nd floor up. I feel absolutely rich here because the exchange rate is 20 kc to a US dollar. Things are less thana dollar and needless to say we did a lot of shopping. One of my favorite things that we saw here was a statue hanging from the building and it’s said to be Sigmund Freud hanging from a pole because he liked to draw the attention of the police. I must also tell you about Dresden where we spent one night before this. When we got there we were clueless on where to go for dinner. Wandering around we found a Beirgarten and had very authentic German as a large group. I had white asparagus which is in season, and it is amazing. It has a holendaise sauce in top and is heaven in your mouth. The next morning we saw a lot of the city and did yet again more shopping! Although I am getting tired I am soaking in everything I can while I am here. I have come to understand just how young the US is. I will be blogging again soon!

Tschus Berlin!

Hello blog readers! Today we left Berlin and traveled via tour bus to Potsdam, Germany. While we were there, we visited the Orangery Palace that Friedrich Wilhelm IV built. The original palace, Sanssouci, was built by Friedrich The Great in 1748. The Orangery Palace was built 100 years later as a type of greenhouse with two apartments behind it. The apartments were color coordinated based off of colors of stones. The chairs, tables, and fireplace were all matched based off the color of the stone. For example, the tables were inlaid with amber and the walls were red with an orange tint. Overall, the palace was absolutely beautiful and massive. I thought it was also interesting that the palace garden was created at three different time periods, so a portion of the garden is a French garden, another portion is an English garden, and a third portion is a Renaissance garden. We were not able to see the entire garden because it was over 250 football fields long! (And I thought the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC was large, boy was I wrong!). I truly enjoyed this palace because I could not imagine the time and energy required to create every little detail in the palace from the marble statues to the miniature porcelain statues.

After we left Potsdam, we continued our drive to Dresden, Germany. As soon as we arrived, we went to the art gallery in the Zwinger museum complex. This was our second art gallery we have been to in Germany. I liked the styles of pieces and layout of this museum better because the layout was circular so I could see everything on the floor easily. Although we weren’t able to see every single piece in the museum, we did learn a lot about some master painters like Rembrandt and Vasari. I have never been to any art galleries before, but I am glad I was open-minded because I was able to appreciate the art that was being shown and described for me.

I wish I was able to share photos with you all, but unfortunately I am not able to upload them. I promise I will upload them at the soonest possible time!

We only have one day in Dresden and then we are off to Prague tomorrow! By the way, I apologize if I have mixed any “Y’s” and “Z’s” because they are in different places on the keyboards in Germany!

Topography of Terror

Even though my second day in Berlin is coming to an end, I still find it hard to believe that I have been waking up in Germany! Today we visited a couple museums related to World War II and the Holocaust. One museum we went to, “Topographie of Terror,” was about how the Holocaust began from the perspective of the Nazi regime. It was interesting because I know I personally remember facts about the Holocaust from the perspective of the Jewish population. This museum made me realize that we have to think about the people responsible for the Holocaust. After the war, only dozens of Nazi officers were tried in courts for “crimes against humanity.” Of those who were tried, only about three officers were actually found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Unfortunately, most were released early because Germany’s focus quickly changed from WWII to the Cold War. It’s kind of baffling to imagine that the men who had a part in the Holocaust were let free because they were simply “following orders” from Hitler. This museum also stood in the exact location of what used to be the Gestapo Headquarters during the war, which is interesting because it’s like the Germans wanted to show they are able to rebuild and move on from the past. The Holocaust is something Germany will never forget, but it’s so different from how Americans view that time period. I am glad I have the opportunity to try to attempt to understand how Germany views the Holocaust and how they remember the past only to learn and grow from it. It’s a beautiful country that I feel some Americans look down upon because of the Holocaust. But, it’s a country that has grown into a magnificent and efficicent place to live and work.