Archive for August, 2012

So this is what everyone is doing right at this very moment:

Morning class at the A+O Hostel in Ostkreuz – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

I’m sitting behind them, listening to their interesting discussion about secularism in contemporary Europe, and about to tell you about the last few AMAZING days in Berlin!

I left off with our arrival on Thursday… On Friday we all met in the morning and went out for our first German excursion – to the Deutsches Historisches Museum on Museuminsel (Museum Island) in downtown east/side Berlin.  We saw exhibits on everything from Friedrich der Grosse (Frederick the Great) to WWII and Nazism in Germany to the story of the Berlin Wall and reunification.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver     Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver     Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Although we spent over four hours at the museum, it wasn’t nearly enough for the amount of information there!  After the museum there were a few hours of free time.  Some people decided to walk down part of the Friedrichstrasse (Frederick Street).  There were street musicians playing hot club music:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

And the students got to see Ampelmann for the first time.  Ampelmann is the famous Berlin-specific Walk/Don’t Walk sign man:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Fast forward to Saturday…

While everyone walked around Tiergarten and explored other parts of Berlin, I ended up going to the hospital with a bad case of bronchitis.  Not so fun, but I definitely got to practice my rusty German and learn new medical words like “Krankenpflege” (it means female or male nurse).

Fast forward to Sunday…

Cori and Professor Nyitray went off to see Schloss Charlottenburg, one of Prussian royal family’s most beautiful palaces in the Berlin area.  The whole group met up for class on Sunday evening downstairs in the hostel.


Yesterday everyone was refreshed after a weekend of rest so we all headed out to Potsdam, one of the most historically interesting places in Brandenburg (the region of Germany in which Berlin is located).  First we explored a German department store (Kaufland) and then hopped on the M-695 bus to Schlosspark Sanssouci (Castle/Palace Park “Without a Care”).  We got off at the Neues Palais (New Palace stop) and started our journey though the beautiful grounds.

Neues Palais was constructed between 1763 and 1769 by Frederich II (der Grosse) as a symbol of Prussian prosperity after the Seven Years War.  It has 300 rooms, 322 windows, and 488 statues!

Perla, Andrew, Jason, Prof. Nyitray, Erin, Angelique, and Cori in front of Neues Palais – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Jason, Perla, Angelique, Andrew, Cori, Shady Grove, and Erin in front of Neues Palais – Photo by Vivian-Lee Nyitray

We continued our walk to the Friendship Pavilion, built by Friedrich II for his favorite sister, Wilhelmina, after her death.  It features famous pairings of good friends:

Friendship Pavilion – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Prof. Nyitray, Jason, Andrew, Angelique, Perla, Erin, Cori, Shady Grove in the Friendship Pavilion

We saw the Chinesisches Haus (Chinese House):

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The Windmill:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

And finally…we arrived at Schloss Sanssouci (Palace “without a care”)!

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Where a very nice person offered to take a picture of the whole group:

Perla, Angelique, Andrew, Jason, Erin, Prof. Nyitray, Shady Grove, and Cori in front of Schloss Sanssouci

We saw the grave of Friedrich der Grosse (which has potatoes on it at all times):

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

And the Orangerie…



After we finished at Park Sanssouci, we took the bus back to downtown Potsdam where we got a bit nostalgic walking around the Hollaendisches Viertel (Dutch Quarter), built in the Dutch style by religious refugees from Holland:


We also got to see the area of Potsdam around the Nauener Tor (Nauener Gate):


We then hopped on the S-7 train back to Berlin.  Professor Nyitray, Cori, Andrew, Jason, and I went to have dinner at Potsdamer Platz – one of the most fascinating places in the city.  It was right on the border of east and west when the Berlin Wall was standing and there is still a small wall exhibit there today:



We had traditional German food for dinner at the Sony Center and watched the sunset…and the lights on the ceiling go from blue to pink to purple…


All in all, it’s been a great few days in Berlin!

View of the Deutsche Bahn building from the Sony Center at night – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Thursday, 09 August 2012

Tot ziens, Nederland! –> Guten Tag, Deutschland!

On Thursday, we checked out of our lovely home for the week in Utrecht — Hotel Mitland — hopped into a few cabs, and went to Utrecht Centraal.  At the central train station, we dragged our bags onto the regional train to Amersfoort and then transferred to the red “Hispeed” train to Berlin.

After a couple of hours, the announcements on the train switched from Dutch to German and we stopped to pick up a German engine and staff at the first border station.  On the train, some of us slept, Angelique and Erin watched one of our course films [“Zwartboek” or “Black Book”], a few people made their way to the lunch car for a first taste of German fare, and others spent the six hours watching the landscape fly by through the windows.

We pulled into Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) at around 17:30 (5:30 pm on a non-24-hr. clock).  It sure is an impressive train station!  It even has a huge sign on one end of the ceiling that says “Wilkommen in Berlin” — Welcome to Berlin!

After getting our transportation passes and getting a feel for our new home, we made our way to the S-bahn platform (the S-bahn is like an above ground metro/subway) and rode to our stop in the Ostkreuz neighborhood.

Ostkreuz S-bahn station – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Ostkreuz S-bahn station – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

And what a neighborhood Ostkreuz is!  It’s filled with restaurants and snack shops (one block alone has a Pho place, a “chicken hut,” a Mexican/Indian joint, and a Japanese/Korean eatery).  Right next door to our hostel (A+O) is a “biologisch” market = all organic with LOTS of vegetarian and vegan food.

Street art in Ostkreuz – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Ostkreuz neighborhood – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

We dropped our bags in our rooms and went out for a wonderful dinner at the Indian restaurant.  For a number of people, this was their first time trying Indian food!  It seemed to be a big hit.  Several bowls of palak paneer and aloo gobi later, we walked back to our new home for nice, long night’s sleep…

…But first we went downstairs for an impromptu survival German lesson and a sampling of local beverages.  I went up stairs to get the vocabulary sheets; when I came back down to the communal area to meet everyone else, I was surprised to hear Disney songs emanating loudly from the lounge.  I was even more surprised to see that it was emanating from two of our own intrepid students who had–to the delight of the lonely barista–discovered the karaoke machine.  Post-Disney and Michael Jackson, we all sat down for a crash-Deutsch course, followed by a round…or two…of pool and then sleep.

Will be updating about our last few days in the Netherlands – due to illness and lack of internet for a few days I’m playing catch-up.  But current updates to come as well.  For now, I bid you…

Auf Wiedersehen!

WEDNESDAY – 1 August 2012

On the first of August, we all piled onto the train once more and traveled through the cow- and sheep-filled pastures to the beautiful old city of Leiden (Leyden in old Dutch).

Leiden Centraal – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Straight out of the station I saw a small booth selling….HERRING!  “Haring” is a Dutch specialty.  It’s lightly smoked fish served with onions…yum!  All of our non-vegetarians braved the fishiness and tasted it – and from what I heard, they all liked it well enough.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver     Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver     Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver     Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Then we all walked over to De Valk, one of the oldest windmills in the Netherlands.

Prof. Nyitray, Cori, Angelique, Jason, Andrew, Perla, and Erin in front of De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

We learned about the different uses for windmills traditionally, including to help drain the marshes and make much of the inhabited land in the country today.  Since much of the country used to be marshland and wetlands, the water had to be drained to some degree to make the land stable enough for building.  Other uses for windmills included grinding grain and corn, and nowadays, they are often used for wind power.

We walked all the way through the house…

De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…up the VERY steep stairs through the attic area…

Perla and Erin in De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Jason in De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…to the top where we saw the sails going ’round and ’round over Leiden!

Cori at the top of De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Andrew at the top of De Valk – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The long climb got us all pretty hungry so after a few hours wandering around Leiden, we met up again at the pannekoekenhuis (pancake restaurant) Oudt Leyden (old Leiden).

Oudt Leyden – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

We had wonderful pannekoeken on traditional large blue and white (Delft blue) plates.  There was every flavor from Caprese (mozzarella, tomato, pesto) to ginger/powdered sugar to cherries with ice cream!

Oudt Leyden – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…I guess none of us learned not to eat anything larger than our heads…because this is what we looked like when we left:

Perla, Erin, Prof. Nyitray, Jason, Andrew, and Cori at Oudt Leyden – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Luckily, there were people giving out free caffeinated beverages at the train station so we all woke up out of our food coma for the ride home.  Cue goofy faces for the picture!

Prof. Nyitray, Shady Grove, Jason, Andrew, Perla, Erin, Angelique, and Cori in front of Leiden Centraal

All in all, it was a great day in Leiden!

Hello everyone!

Going back to Tuesday…

We started the morning with breakfast in the room and a short discussion of what we’d be doing for the rest of the week.  Then we all made our way down to Drift (near Janskerkhof in central Utrecht) where we had a wonderful lecture on the religious history of the Netherlands by Professor Henk Tieleman.

Andrew, Prof. Nyitray, Cori, Erin, Perla, Prof. Tieleman, Jason, and Angelique in the classroom at Drift – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

From there we walked over to lunch under the Dom (in the Domplein) and tried wonderful Dutch specialties like uitsmijters (open-faced sandwiches with 3 over-easy eggs on top) and kroketten (soft gravy/meat inside a hard fried shell).  We weathered the huge summer storm under the lunch umbrellas and then walked to the St. Willibrord’s church, the most richly decorated church in the Netherlands.  It was built in 1877 in the neo-Gothic style.

St. Willibrord church – Photo by Jason Cardenas

At St. Willibrord’s we were taken around by a nice volunteer who made sure to point out all of the unique nooks and crannies inside the church (including the dual-facing pews that flip up and down so parishioners didn’t have to get up and change seats when the speaker would walk up and down the aisles).

St. Willibrord church – Photo by Jason Cardenas

From St. Willibrord’s, we walked under heavy skies to the Catharijneconvent, a peaceful former convent that currently has the largest collection of relics and religious artifacts in Europe outside the Vatican.  We had coffee in the museum’s cafe and talked about the pillars of Dutch society and what it means to be Protestant and Catholic in the Netherlands both historically and contemporarily.

An intrepid few walked all the way back to the Hotel Mitland from the Catharijneconvent before heading out for dinner later that night.

Next installment coming later tonight!

Tot straks! (See you soon!)

Wow!  It’s already Wednesday night here in Utrecht– can’t believe the first 3 days of the program are already done.  Saturday evening brought Andrew to the Netherlands, followed by Erin, Perla, Cori, and Angelique on Sunday morning.  The whole group braved intense jet lag to wander around the city of Utrecht Sunday afternoon before sitting down for an intro dinner at the Hotel Mitland.  One final trip to the airport to collect Jason Sunday evening and the program had officially begun!

Monday morning we had breakfast in the hotel cafe and then met in our makeshift classroom aka extremely comfy suite living room for an short ‘intro to the Netherlands’ meeting.

Room at the Hotel Mitland – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

On Monday afternoon, we laced up our walking shoes and took the #4 bus to Prins Hendriklaan where we started our walking tour of Utrecht.  We walked up to the University College Utrecht campus and saw the Kromhoutskazerne area– site of monasteries and nunneries from the 1100s – 1600s, home to the Dutch military during WWI, and local headquarters of the Nazis in the provence of Utrecht during WWII.  It’s currently an English-language honors college affiliated with Universiteit Utrecht (located up the street).  We passed by the Rietveld-Schroeder house (a pioneering example of ‘De Stijl’ neo-plasticist architecture), had lunch at the Park Cafe Buiten (I got a great salad with pear, brie, cashews, and arugula), and walked through the Wilhelminapark before catching a bus downtown to Janskerkhof.

From the Janskerk (church) we walked up to the Speelklok museum, which has an amazing collection of automatic instruments (from early music boxes and clocks to large dance organs).

Speelklok museum – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

After listening to a number of music pieces–including ones by a self-playing piano, automatic violins, our wonderful tour guide with a phenomenal voice, and one organ fondly known as “the goat”–we gathered up our things and moved on to the Domtoren (crossing over the historical edge of the Holy Roman Empire…of course).  The Domtoren is the tower of the largest church in Utrecht.  The tower is still the tallest one in all of the Netherlands!  We then proceeded to climb nearly 500 steps to the top of the tower.  The climb, combined with the view from the top, was absolutely breathtaking!

View of Utrecht from the Domtoren – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

After the Dom, we went over to the Oudegracht, or ‘old canal,’ to have a traditional Dutch pancake dinner (called pannekoeken) at the restaurant ‘t Oude Muntkelder.  As it was Jason’s birthday, we snuck a card around the table to sign and then took him out for a drink downtown at Neude square.  For Jason: GEFELICITEERD!

All in all, it was a great first day!  I’ll be playing a bit of catch-up here on the blog for the next day or so to fill in the first few days when I didn’t post.  Hope you don’t mind backtracking!  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next installment from the low countries…