My fall break is officially over. Now I start a new level of Italian and also my volunteering in an Italian middle school. Thank God for All Saints Day, a national holiday here in Italy and an excellent cushion day between traveling and school. I finished laundry, caught up with friends and family, went to the market and was even able to organize some OU things as well!
After plans to spend the break in Paris were cancelled due to the ongoing strike (Sarkozy wants to raise the retirement age from 60-62, God forbid) Marco and I spent too many hours on skype trying to come up with new plans. Istanbul, Egypt, Madrid? We settled on Prague and were even able to fit in two days in Berlin!
My trip started Saturday morning when I woke up at an ungodly hour (nearly any hour is ungodly when you go to bed around 4am, but I had to celebrate the first night of break and moving up a level somehow!) to catch a train to Milan. In typical Gina-style I missed the 11 am train that would have saved me around 20 euro and had to catch one that cost more. Oh well, I had more time and a faster train!
Sleeping on trains is an art, one that I am surprisingly good at–in my mind any moving vehicle is just a cradle for adults. After a decent nap and some much needed water I had finally arrived in Milan, only to realize that my phone was dead. For those of you who don’t know, the Milan Central Station is HUGE and finding Marco, my ride, wasn’t the easiest thing. After wandering aimlessly, then searching for a pay phone, trying to figure out how to use said pay-phone, asking a useless policeman who didn’t want to deal with some silly foreign girl during his cigarette break, standing hopelessly then desperately asking a teenage boy with more piercings on his face than pimples to use his phone– I found Marco! Only an hour after I had arrived! No problem, we were both feeling tired and were able to laugh it off. The day before Marco graduated from University! He is officially a doctor (aka he has the Italian equivalent of a PhD) and can now be proudly called Engineer (Ingegner Marco.) It was a festive atmosphere at his house needless to say. I was able to eat dinner with my cousins Vero and Anna and spend Sunday afternoon with them and Umberto in Bergamo Alta before meeting Marco’s entire family for a “congratulations” dinner, auguri!
Monday we woke up bright and early (minus the bright) and drove the hour to the airport. European airports (the little experience I have had with them) are disgustingly easy. The most tiring thing about the whole process was the drive there and I’m not even sure if I went through customs…something that is hard to forget in an American airport. We got to Prague around noon and checked into our 5 star hotel shortly after. (We were able to get a room that would have normally cost us more than 1000 euro for 3 nights for 35o euro…split two ways.)
Prague is a breathtaking city. It is little and warm and seems to be nestled in the hills of the Czech Republic. Bundled up to stay warm from the wind of the river, the stereotype of Eastern Europeans drinking a lot made much more sense–it was cold! But the trees were the colors of fire and the lights scattered among the brick streets were welcoming. We saw the Charles Bridge, the Castle, and St. Nicholas Church. We saw the Astronomical Tower, the Jewish Quarter and even took an underground tour, learning that the city used to be seven meters lower.
We ate at amazing little brick restaurants that lined the brick streets. I tried duck and hot wine with spices and our last night we ate dinner on a boat with live Jazz music! The boat went up and down the river, allowing us to see areas that we weren’t able to make it to by foot, and dinner was that much more entertaining with the dozen instruments the brazilian jazz band used. There is a large Jazz scene in Prague which was great for two reasons: the first being that I love Jazz and the second being that Marco had practically never even heard it before. It’s not a popular type of music in Italy and so the experience was completely new for him.
We left Prague Thursday by train and from the beginning there were problems. First, the tickets I bought were from a German company who mailed them to my apartment in Florence. Kinda useless when you aren’t AT your apartment in Florence. Since it was a German company the train station couldn’t do anything and we had to buy entirely new tickets. I left out that this entire time I had an awful runny nose and sore throat, and Thursday was by far the worst day of my cold. When we finally made it on our train Marco promptly passed out and I struggled between trying to sleep and trying to breathe. About three hours into our five hour trip we were woken up by people who were assigned to our seats. After some confusion and asking a few people in English (praying someone spoke it) we got off at that station, went down to the taxis waiting outside and promptly gave a taxi driver the address to our hotel. “This is Berlin,” he said. “Yes…” “You are in Dresden,” he promptly explained back. We had gotten off at the wrong stop.
After waiting another hour and a half and finding the wonderful news that a supplementary ticket wouldn’t be necessary (I promise you if I had to buy a THIRD ticket I would have bawled in the Dresden train station) we made it onto the next train and finished the last two hours of our trip, arriving in Berlin approximately four hours later than planned. Oh well.
The first thing that surprised me about Berlin was how modern it was! This makes sense considering the entire city was destroyed in WWII but I don’t think I ever took the time to think about that, especially after visiting such an antique city like Prague. The buildings are huge and the crazy architecture is not something anyone can ignore. Even the older buildings like the churches and Hitler’s offices, the Reichstag, were grandiose–remnants of an imperialistic city. We bought 48 hour subway tickets, quickly becoming accustomed to the clean and efficient German subway system, and were able to see most of the city considering our time limit. We saw the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall, Potsdam Platz, Pergamon Museum, and many other churches, piazzas and areas of the city in general.
I ate more food than I thought possible for one little girl but rationalize it with the insane amount of walking we did. That, and Germany has American food. I know, its awful, but Italy doesn’t and I haven’t had a hamburger or a Starbucks coffee in months. So yeah, I indulged a little. Even though Italian food is the best in the world, it was nice to eat something that made me think of home :)
We made it to our flight on time and the customs restrictions were the usual, despite our worries that they would be heightened due to the explosives found on the planes a few days earlier in London. After resting (aka playing with Marco’s four year old nephew all afternoon, God I miss Reilly) Marco took me to the Milan central station and I took the train back to Florence, making it in time to see all the Florentines dressed up for Halloween. You could say it was a pretty good trip.