Berlin: June 15-16
On June 14, 2023, I boarded my first international flight. We arrived the following day after an 11 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean to a city rebuilt from rubble. The first day, our tour guide, Stephi, led us around the streets of Berlin. It looked much like many big cities within the US. The buildings ranged from one story to sky scrapers. The streets themselves were compact and littered with trash. Anywhere we looked we could see spray painted pictures or words. But, despite its outward appearance, there was a distinct beauty within the city.
We didn’t wander the city for long before Stephi led us to the restaurant that EF had reserved for our dinner. I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite. After dinner, we partially avoided the now rainy streets by taking the subway. It was about a 30 minute transit to the hotel but it felt much longer after the restless flight and previous hours of walking. When we arrived, our tour bus driver unloaded our luggage for us and we each got our rooms and roommates. Kayla, Valerie and I shared a room while Jaida, Audrey and Julie got another. Jacob was by himself while Morgan was with her mother. The first night everyone was exhausted. I passed out almost immediately after laying down.
On the second day we continued with a tour of Berlin. First, we visited the Brandenburg gate. A large portion wasn’t open because there was a sports event occurring during the span of our trip. The architecture of many of the places we visited, including the gate, was what stood out to me most. On top of the monstrous columns stood an angel upon a chariot led by four horses. It was honestly more stunning than anything I’ve seen within American borders.
Our next destination was Kurfürstendamm. This avenue is home to one of the most famous checkpoints between east and west Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie. Now there’s shops lining the outskirts of the checkpoint, one of which is a Hard Rock Shop. I really liked this area simply because the people of Germany took something that stood only for terrorization and made it into a solemn attraction.
After eating lunch at Kurfürstendamm avenue, we took the tour bus to what still stands of the Berlin wall. Of course it started raining on the way and stayed that way until we left for Potsdam. The wall is covered in various art pieces done by over 100 artists. One of the ones that stood out most was the painting of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in a socialist fraternal kiss. The painting symbolizes the connection between east and west Berlin post separation.
We didn’t stay at the wall for long due to the onslaught of rain and the cold, so we moved on to Potsdam. The main focus of this visit was the Sanssouci palace. It was built by the Prussian King Frederick and much of it follows the baroque style architecture. The building itself is yellow with a portion of its roof being green and columns lined with sculptures of men and women. At the front of the building stands a magnificent staircase down a layered garden. At the bottom sits a fountain surrounded by marble statues lined in the classic baroque gold. This was easily one of my favorite locations during the course of our trip. The rear of the building is surrounded by a semicircle of columns overlooking what seems to be Greek ruins in the distance. However, these “ruins” were actually man made and ordered by Frederick.
Prague: June 17-18
After two days in Berlin, we made our way to Prague. But, we stopped at Dresden for a walking tour first. It was more of the characteristically gothic castles with long spires and darker colors. We mainly stopped there for lunch, though, and we didn’t stay long. My mother, Morgan Myrick, Stephanie Myrick, and I ended up eating together at pizza place just outside of the square our group split up in. We finished just in time to make it back on the tour bus.
By time we made it to Prague it was already dinner time. We walked around for maybe two hours before Stephi led us to our dinner reservation. Unlike Berlin, Prague hasn’t been modernized. The streets are still narrow and laid in stone, and the buildings reminded me almost of some of what you would see in downtown New Orleans. They were colorful and outlined in marble. It surprised me how well kept they were. We ate dinner and headed to the hotel.
On the second day we did a walking tour of the city. First, it was St. Vitus Cathedral. It was constructed in the baroque style, meaning a large portion of the interior was gold. Second, we went to the Charles Bridge which is lined with vendors either selling jewelry or making art. Lastly we visited the market square where the Astronomical Clock stands. This was all Jaida had been talking about since we left Berlin. After maybe an hour in the market, Stephi took us to our reservation for lunch. We spent the next two hours on a boat restaurant going up an down Danube river. The rest of the day we wandered freely through the city. Prague was by far my favorite location on the trip.
Krakow: June 19-20
From Prague we went to Krakow. We didn’t see that much within the city. Wawel Hill was the main location as well as Glowny Square. Wawel Cathedral was much like the rest of the cathedrals, laid in gold and massive. Many royals were buried in the cathedral and their caskets were one of the most beautiful things within it’s walls. They were intricately carved from marble or stone. The second day we spent the majority of our time at Auschwitz and Birkenau, the biggest concentration camps used during WWII. We hear about them in history but actually seeing them and walking through the gas chambers is a truly sobering experience.
Budapest: June 21-22
It wasn’t long before we reached our final destination. The trip honestly felt like it flew by in a few hours. I’ll admit, the majority of Budapest is a bit of a blur. At this point we were all exhausted and homesick. We saw the parliament building and the shoe memorial on the first day. Then we had dinner and took the tour bus to our hotel, which was by far the best on the trip. That is, if you forget that Kayla, Valerie, and I’s door wouldn’t open and the air condition did not work.
The next day we took a guided tour of the city. The main destinations were the Heroes Square and Castle Hill. The Heroes Square was filled with beautiful monuments depicting various important figures across the history of Hungary. From the vantage point of Castle Hill you could see almost all of both sides of Budapest. After the guided tour, Stephi took us to the Matthias Church. We didn’t spend much time there before hurrying to the Budapest Baths. Hungary is one of the two countries in Europe that has natural hot springs, Iceland being the second. The spa utilizes these springs for it’s pools within.
Overall, the trip was a wonderful experience and the memories of it will live with me forever. Europe as a whole is a beautiful continent and I hope to see more of it in the future.