Monday, February 4, 2013

1.2.2013 Journey Home

We woke up at 3 a.m. Hungary time (9 p.m. east coast time) to pack up and head to the airport. Even at 3 in the morning and on our way to the airport the adventure was still happening. Our shuttle showed up and there were only 6 seats in the back and not enough room for all of our bags so we rode sandwiched in the back of the shuttle with a couple of suitcases in our laps and carry on bags shoved in crevices. Once we got to the airport the flight home was a piece of cake, we had no delayed or cancelled flights, and no lost baggage. We got back to school and got Cook Out for dinner and I fell asleep at 8:45. When I woke up in the morning I was more than eager to make the very last leg of my trip to finally be home.

A month ago I had a totally different idea of what this trip would be. Even though I had carefully looked over the syllabus multiple times I thought that this trip would be more focused on the Holocaust and be a very moving and emotional trip. I was mistaken, but not in a bad way. There was a pretty equal distribution of Holocaust and Jewish Culture on our trip. We also learned about how people teach about the Holocaust and a culture that disappeared from their country. We learned that in some places, like Bratislava, have a very difficult time explaining thoroughly what happened in the Holocaust and what happened to a culture that used to thrive there, whereas other places like Berlin and Budapest had very little problem conveying the message.
Not only did we learn a lot about the Holocaust, Jewish Culture, and how people in different countries share information about tough topics we also learned about the current cultures of 4 countries, we learned a lot about how people outside of the United States live, and we learned a lot about each other.
There are certain benefits that come along with being home such as family, friends, and, well, home, all things that we are familiar with. But there are also benefits to not being home, and not being with family,  or familiar things. Some of these things are making new friends, getting to go experience new things (hopefully with an open mind), and learning first hand how other people live.
There is not a single thing that comes to mind for me that was a negative experience on this trip, some things were emotionally heavy but I would not say that they were negative, it was a growing experience. Over the trip I kept thinking "this has been an amazing trip so far, I'm so glad I got to experience this" but I don't think I actually realized how great of a trip it was until I got home and realized how much I missed the places we went, and the people I was with.

Thank you so much for keeping up with my blog!

--"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness" Mark Twain

31.1.3013 A Day Full of Pleasant Surprises

I couldn't have possibly asked for a better or more beautiful last day of our time in Europe! When I checked the weather this morning it said it would be partly cloudy all day with 15-25 mph winds, this was not the case at all. It was sunny all day long with winds that picked up in the afternoon but were only bad enough to make me look a little wind blown.
We started our morning off at the most informative museum of our trip, the Holokauszt Emlekkozpont (The Holocaust Memorial Museum). I have said a few times in my post that some of the museums we've been too have been disappointing because of a lack of information and explanations. This museum did not disappoint at all, in fact I was a little surprised with the abundance of information. When we entered the museum there was a room that told us a little bit about Jewish culture but the rest of the rooms told us all about different laws and then a lot of information about the Holocaust. There were some parts that were really graphic like the part of the museum that talked about experiments that Dr. Mengele ran on twins in the Holocaust and there were a lot of videos and pictures of dead bodies at Auschwitz. I think that in a way this is necessary when teaching about the Holocaust because it is the reality and it is difficult for our minds to understand some things with out seeing it or at least seeing images from it. One of the the things I learned from this museum is that one of the first antisemitic laws limited the amount of Jews who could be employed in certain areas as well as how much land Jews could hold. The land that was taken away from Jews was given to gentiles, thus they learned that they benefited from antisemitism and more people started supporting it.
Once we had gone through the Holocaust Memorial Museum we went to the Dohany utca Synagogue. This is one of the oldest and biggest synagogues still standing in Europe. The reason we went to it is because there were synagogues the same size as it in Vienna and Berlin but none of them survived the Night of Broken Glass. It was extremely beautiful. Dr. Moser told us that the reason it looked so much like a church is because of the successful attempt of assimilation in the community over time. Outside of the synagogue was a garden called Memory Garden which was dedicated to a mass grave for Jews. There were a few headstones that actually commemorated a person that was buried and there was a short concrete wall showing where they were buried, but for the most part there were just a lot of name plaques leaning up against the short concrete walls commemorating some of the people that are in the mass grave. This is significant because in order for a Jewish funeral to be considered an actual Jewish funeral the person must have a headstone saying who is buried there, so it is important that some of the people have some sort of recognition even though they never actually got a proper Jewish funeral.
Exterior of the Synagogue
stained glass in the synagogue

Memory Garden
Memory Garden

After you walk past Memory Garden there is a memorial for Raoul Wallenburg who saved thousands of Jews. The memorial for him is really pretty. The walk way is cobble stone. There are some plots of grass and some trees. The memorial itself is made up of a metal tree with the names of people he saved on each leaf and a stained glass panel.
stained glass panel
Heart on one of the leaves

When we finished with the synagogue, Memory Garden, and the memorial for Raoul Wallenburg we walked across Pest to go find the cafe we were going to have Jause at, unfortunately though we did not have anything there since they did not accept American Express and Dr. Moser did not have enough Forints to pay in cash (he also did not want to take them out of the bank and be stuck with the Forints he did not spend). Once we realized we weren't going to get jause, we split up. Elliot, since he was sick the day before, wanted to go see the memorial for the Jews that were shot into the Danube so I went with him and then we wandered around Budapest for a while before making our way back to the hotel. For dinner we just had fast-food but we all sat in one of the hotel rooms joking around and telling jokes, which was a great last night of a great trip.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

30.1.2013 The Final 48 Hours

Welcome to Budapest, Hungary!

We just had our last night in Vienna. When we woke up this morning there was a tiny sense of sadness in our group but for the most part there was excitement about the next leg of our trip, no matter how short it may be. For the last day and half of our trip we will be exploring different holocaust memorials and exploring Budapest, Hungary in general.
Standing at the train station we were all trying to delayer because the sun was coming out and it was significantly warmer than what we have been experiencing for the last two weeks. We were hoping that it would be the same in Budapest but Dr. Moser told us that it would be chilly and rainy there.
funny graffiti
View of the bridge
Gorgeous roofs
More amazing roofs
Old Buda
We had about a 3-hour train ride from Vienna to Budapest and then took a trolley from the train station to our hotel. Our hotel is actually old apartments that were turned into a hotel. They are really pretty. There is a spiral staircase going up to each floor. Our room feels really big compared to our room in Vienna, but it feels really homey. After we dropped our stuff off at Hotel Kalvin House we moved on to our tour of Budapest. Within a few minutes of being on a trolley we could see one of the main bridges that crosses the Danube from Buda into Pest. Once we got off the trolley we took a trolley to the top of Buda Hill where we got a really good view of Buda and Pest. The difference is the age but you can really tell by looking at the architecture. The buildings in Buda are all different heights, but since Pest was modeled after Vienna all of the buildings are required to be the same height. Luckily some of the fog from the morning had disappeared so we got a clearer view of the city. There were a lot of gorgeous buildings but the one that stood out to me the most was the Parliament Building. It is an enormous white building with a giant red dome and a lot of towers. The architecture in Budapest is absolutely breathtaking. Since we had a morning full of travel we did not do a lot of super academic things today but we definitely got to see some very pretty buildings, and especially intricate roofing.

The main academic thing we did today was go to a memorial for people who were shot into the Danube between 1944 and 1945. This memorial spoke to me the most out of all the places we’ve been to the whole trip. Once I realized what it was I stopped talking and just stood still for a minute trying to process what actually happened. In school we learn the basics of the Holocaust, but I never learned about people getting shot into the Danube near the end of the war. You can try as hard as you want to wrap your mind around the Holocaust and some of the things that happened but I think it is always going to be incredibly difficult for anyone to ever completely understand what happened or what was going through the Nazi’s minds. The monument is extremely simple, it is just a lot of pairs of metal shoes lined up near the edge of the walkway by the river. It is an extremely inaccessible monument, in order to get to it we had to cross 4 lanes of traffic, walk down a narrow sidewalk, cross 2 more lanes of traffic, hop over a guard rail, and walk down another walkway. When you first turn the corner it doesn’t really make sense what it is, in fact I don’t know if people that didn’t know about it would know what it is, but once I saw it it hit me like a brick wall what it was. There were women’s shoes, men’s shoes, and even a pair of children’s shoes. People had left candles and flowers in some of them.
By this time it was raining and we were ready to move on. We started to head back to the hotel but our professor stopped to ask if we wanted to see more and we all agreed that we wanted to see as much as we could in the short time that we had left in Europe. We wandered around some and saw some more breathtaking architecture and then decided we were tired of getting rained on so we headed back to the hotel to relax and dry off for a little while before dinner.
For dinner we went to a little restaurant a couple of blocks away from our hotel. I got Gnocchi with tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, mushrooms, and a really tasty cheese on it. After dinner a few of us and our professor went for an adventure to see some of Budapest at night. The most amazing view we got was of the Parliament Building lit up and it’s reflection on the Danube.
Time for bed so I can be ready for a full day of adventures and education tomorrow!

28.1.2013 Vienna War History Museum

It was snowing this morning! We got a small breakfast this morning and headed to meet Dr. Moser to go to the War History Museum. It was a very interesting experience, not so much because of what we learned about war history in Austria but because of how the museum was set up and what we learned about how they teach about their own history and the Holocaust. We've discovered by going to a few museums that Austrians don't really know how to teach about Jewish traditions, lifestyle, or the Holocaust. Instead of putting up information along with displays, their main form of displaying information is to put up a lot of pictures, names, or items (such as an entire display cases of Torah scroll decorations) with a very short description in German about what the items are. Some of the descriptions even say things as short as "Scroll decorations" which is a little surprising to me because it seems to me that if people are going to a museum they are going with the intention of learning something from their trip not just to see a display case of things that they may not know the purpose or significance of. Something that was interesting and helpful was that at the beginning of each section there was a rack of sheets that had some information about the most important pieces in each room.
Although it was difficult to actually learn a whole lot from this museum it was still really interesting to see some of the things that are significant to the Austrians. For example one of the rooms we went into was designated to Archduke Franz Ferdinand and more importantly his assassination. They had the uniform that he was wearing when he was shot, the couch that he died on, and the car that he was assassinated in. There was very little written information on these items but it was obvious how significant this event was since they dedicated a room in the museum to it.
Once we were done at the museum we all split up to get lunch and do our own thing for the day.
After dinner Steph, Morgan, Elliot, and I went ice-skating. The area in front of the City Hall of Vienna was turned into an incredible ice-skating rink. There were two main rinks but there were also pathways that went in between trees that connected the two rinks. It was so amazing and really, really pretty.
Once we were done ice-skating we stopped to get a pastry and then headed back for a relaxing night at the hotel.

27.1.2013 Food Day

We spent our day today stuffing our faces with a fabulous brunch and wandering around a History of Vienna Museum. Our professor took us to an all you can eat Sunday brunch buffet at the Hotel Renaissance in Wien Meidling. The first thing he said to us when we met up with him, besides “hurry up, we’ll be late” was “we do not want to miss the sea food buffet” and he was not kidding. They had lobster, sushi, shrimp salad, teriyaki shrimp, crab dumplings, and spring rolls just to name a few. After we had some seafood, I went to get something else. I ended up with some veggies, bread, cheese, and grapes. After two plates of food, I was feeling comfortably full and decided it was time for dessert. The dessert buffet was astounding; there were so many options. I got a piece of chocolate cake that had vanilla icing and a ton of berries on top, a piece of strawberry shortcake, and some coffee flavored mousse (it was like eating a coffee flavored cloud). After inhaling massive amounts of food it would be an understatement for you to say we were full. We were stuffed, I’m pretty sure we all wobbled out of the restaurant like obese penguins.
Windows from St. Stephens Cathedral
Once we made it out the door we ventured down the street to the Vienna History Museum. There were a lot of really interesting looking items in the museum but it was difficult to learn anything because there were very brief descriptions of the items and the majority of them were in German. Something that was interesting was that they had windows that had been taken out of St. Stephens before the war so they wouldn’t be damaged. They were considered very important and beautiful because they had bright colors and Thomas Aquinas said that things that have bright colors are beautiful. There were also a few models of Vienna at different stages of its expansion as a city. They were really cool to look at because you could gradually see how Vienna expand and start to make out where some of the districts formed.
 Model of Vienna 1897-1898

26.1.2013 Royalty and Religion Part II

Jewish Monument at Judenplatz
The first thing we did this morning was go to Judenplaz, this is the Jewish quarters where the majority of the Jews lived. There was a monument there recognizing the Jews killed in the Holocaust but to be completely honest it was extremely disappointing. It looked for all the world like it could have been a shed that housed an A.C. unit. The structure was supposed to have books on the outside but they didn’t look like books, there was not a lot written on the monument to tell people what it was, people had let their dogs use it as a bathroom, and to me the worst part was that it was obvious that no one cared about it or had put any significant though behind it besides that maybe they should make a memorial there.
Next we made a short stop to see a memorial for the Black Plague and quickly moved on to your next stop.
Everyday Silverware
A Cabinet designated to glasses
The next stop of the day was Hofburg, the downtown palace of Queen Elisabeth and Franz Joseph. Queen Elisabeth did not stay at the palace very often and was not as recognized by people as Franz Joseph’s mistress Sisi. The first floor of the palace was turned in a display for all of the royal dishes and silverware. It got a little over whelming because you couldn’t turn your head without seeing more dishes and at the end we were trying to figure out how to get to the next floor. It was really interesting to see how tastes progressed in the royal family along with what the everyday use dishes looked like versus dishes they used for extravagant meals with special guests. Once we got out of the maze of dishes we went to the second floor. The first part of the second floor was designated to what Queen Elisabeth was like including her reaction to her son’s death and her obsession with her physical appearance. After the section about Queen Elisabeth we got to tour some rooms in the house. My favorite was the ballroom. It was enormous, with beautiful paintings on the ceilings, and lots and lots of sparkly crystals on the chandeliers and candles mounted on the walls. It was interesting to see the difference between this palace and Schonbrunn. Hofburg felt smaller and therefore less formal than Schonbrunn did, I think that probably had a lot to do with the fact that there were family portraits in a lot of the rooms that we got to tour.
Welcome to Vienna!
After our tour of Hofburg we rode a bus to the top of one of the first Alps near Vienna and got an aerial view of Vienna in the snow which was absolutely gorgeous.
Interior of St. Stephens Cathedral
Our final stop today was St. Stephens Cathedral. When we got there, there were people setting up for mass the next day. We got to look around the church and listen to a group of strings play some beautiful songs.

25.1.2013 A Whole New Meaning of "Close"

Bratislavský Hrad
We left an hour later than our syllabus says this morning, a much needed delay. When we left the hotel we were headed for Slovakia! On the way there our professor informed us that it was about 18 degrees outside but there was a 9-degree wind-chill and we sure felt it. We were warned before we went to bed last night to wear more layers than normal because not only was it going to be colder than what we were used to but we would be on top of hills and near the Danube so we would be experiencing some seriously cold winds. Despite the fact that it was really cold I was really excited because it was one of the first days that we’ve seen sun since a few days before we left Ashland.

View from the castle

The first place we went was to Bratislavský Hrad, the Bratislava castle, which had been destroyed and rebuilt. Once we got off the train to Bratislava, Slovakia we got on a bus that was absolutely packed with people and rode it a few stops, then we waited on a street corner for the trolley bus that would take us to the top of the hill where the castle was. It was extremely difficult to ride the trolley bus because it would stop quickly and then start quickly, and it was very shaky. Nonetheless we made the best of it and the view at the top was definitely worth some Slovakian trolley bus riding. There were cobble stone walkways and a little street leading up to the castle, both of which had patches of ice on them. Once we were at the top we were standing between an enormous white castle with red shingles and a gorgeous view of Bratislava and the Danube. When we left the castle we got hit by a very cold and very strong wind, we were all making jokes about getting blown away.
Hungarian Style Goulash with Dumplings
Interior of the restaurant
Once we got to the bus stop we decided it was already time to sit down and have something to eat. Dr. Moser talked the majority of us into having goulash, I’m not a picky eater so it didn’t take too much arm-twisting to convince me and  I didn’t regret it at all. I got Hungarian style Goulash with dumplings. Dr. Moser said that goulash is kind of like a stew so I was expecting it to come out in a bowl but when it came out I was pleasantly surprised. The goulash was on the same plate as the dumplings, which were more like slices of bread. The pork fell apart before I could even get it to my mouth, and the dumplings were delicious soaked in the sauce.
After lunch we went to the site of a synagogue that had been destroyed. A monument has been built for it but the sad thing is that a freeway was built right behind the monument so in a way it seemed as if people do not care that there was a big piece of history there, or that they are not educated enough about it to care.
Monument for the Synagogue
After we went to the monument for the synagogue we went to a Museum about the history of Jews in Slovakia and more specifically in Bratislava. This was the first place where it really occurred to me that people do not know how to talk or teach about the Holocaust. The majority of their displays were objects with out much description. There was one room in particular with a lot of pictures but little to no description about what its significance was.
After the museum we went to jause, our afternoon snack of pastries and coffee. I got a Truffle Torte, which was super chocolaty, and a cup of coffee. After sitting and enjoying each other’s company for a while we went to a mall and to walk around the newer and nicer side of Bratislava and then decided that we were ready to head back to Vienna instead of walk across a bridge going over the Danube and walk on ice in the dark.
We had an interesting experience getting back to Vienna. On the way back to the train station we had to take a trolley and a bus. We had to run for the trolley and barely made it, and did the same for the bus. Once we got off the bus at the train station we had to sprint to our train so that we wouldn’t miss it and in the process we accidentally lost one of the guys in our group. Dr. Moser decided he would send everyone back and wait for Elliot to arrive and as the train was about to leave I looked up and Elliot and Dr. Moser were walking down the aisle of the train to go find seats. To say the least it was a very exciting day.
When we arrived back in Vienna we all went to get Japanese food at a place right around the corner from our hotel which was really nice because after a long day in Slovakia, and an interesting trip back we were all ready to sit (again) and be social and relaxed. More tomorrow!
Moon and the Slovakian flag