Wednesday, May 30, 2012


"Work will set you free"

I purposely excluded our visit to Terezin (Theresienstadt) because it felt like an experience that deserved special attention. There are not many words that can elegantly or even adequately describe this place, and if you're like me, you've never even heard of Terezin.


I was not sure what to expect from the trip. What would it be like? How would it look? What would I see? More importantly, what had they excluded from the public eye? The following is my journal entry, written just after visiting Terezin:

"I was not sure what to expect from the Terezin prison and concentration camp. I did not know of the horrific atrocities and crimes against humanity that occurred here.

"I did not know of the efforts made by the Nazi regime to disguise the misery of the Jewish ghetto as a harmonious community. I did not know that the very second I set foot in the quarters of the former and deceased prisoners I would feel an overwhelming and eerie sense of coldness, as if the spirits of its past inhabitants still remained.

"I did not know of the bizarre dichotomy of the peaceful yellow flowers and chirping birds amid the gloom and depression of the suffering that took place here seventy years ago.
Terezin memorial graveyard

"I did not know of the rows upon rows of graves marking the entrance to Terezin, some headstones displaying names, others only numbers, some documenting lives only too short, others documenting only that they had lived -- and then died here.

"Why didn't I know this? Why don't more people know this? I am grateful I know this now."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The rest of Budapest + Prague

Views of Prague from across the river

Whew. Where did the last few days go? I feel like I blinked and went to Budapest to Prague to Vienna, where we arrived this afternoon. Details:

We finished the Budapest visit with an orchestra concert that, while long, was a great experience. Plus you can't beat the views. Our final night in Budapest was relaxed (I think everyone was a little sleepy from the concert, to be honest), but we found a cool local pub where the city's soccer (sorry, football) fans gathered to watch the night's game. We all got pizzas and enjoyed the mostly empty space and colorful locals, who playfully mocked us with their talk of American football, the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady.
Budapest at night, as seen from the concert hall terrace

From Budapest we then headed to Prague. I was not quite sure what to expect from the city, but from the second we stepped foot there it was clear it was not like Budapest at all. On the whole, Budapest seemed much smaller, more quaint, and quieter; in comparison, Prague is like the louder but cooler older sibling. Our hotel was in a great location right next to the city's main boulevard (a bit like Times Square, but with much less lights) and a quick walk away from the river and Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, which is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

I saw my first opera in Prague, Tosca. It was dramatic, over the top, and corny for sure, but the singing! Oh my! It was incredible just to listen (and thank goodness for English subtitles, however unconventional they may be). After the opera everyone was dying to try the famed hot chocolate from Hotel Europa, an old haunt of many Prague creative minds, including Kafka. I balked at the hot chocolate and ordered the Irish coffee instead - it was delicious, as was the slice of cappuccino cake I shared to go alongside.
Cappuccino cake at Hotel Europa

Yesterday we started the day with a trip to Terezin (more on that later) and when we came back visited St. Vitus Cathedral on the other side of the river. Like Budapest, there seemed to be a great divide between the two sides of the river; it was so quiet and quaint over there, and the views were, once again, phenomenal.
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral 

So now we are in Vienna and will be here until Saturday. It's hard to believe I've only been gone a week because it seems so long ago that I was in Atlanta. The trip so far has been a whirlwind: crazy, eye-opening, challenging. (I even lost my voice last weekend.) But I feel so grateful to be able to experience Europe and this culture, even if only for a few days in each city. It's truly incredible.
Prague at sunset
Prague at dusk

Until next time... (likely from Italy - eep!)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Greetings from Budapest! After a long day of traveling (Atlanta to Amsterdam to Budapest), we arrived Tuesday afternoon in Budapest. I was so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open on the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, even though I was in this great European city. When I reached the hotel, I promptly took a four-hour nap, which apparently is not the best thing to do when you're feeling jet-lagged, but I woke up rejuvenated and ready to explore the city at night, and anyone who knows me will realize that I'm so much more pleasant when I'm well-rested.

We've spent two days in the city and it's really amazing how beautiful but also how different the city is. We're staying in a very touristy location near the river, so it's centrally-located (big plus!), but also centrally-located to lots of cheesy, touristy things (lots of casinos, Hard Rock Cafe, etc.).
Love locks
Love locks in a Budapest park 

The format of the trip is such that we get lots of free time in the afternoon, so I've been utilizing that to explore the city and get a feel for its character, which is harder to do when visiting museums or architectural sites.
St. Stephen's Basilica

Yesterday we visited St. Stephen's Basilica, which is the largest church in Hungary and really amazing inside and out. I've not visited too many cathedrals in my lifetime, but the grandeur is quite astounding. Unfortunately it was pretty dark inside so taking pictures was rather tricky.
Toward Pest
St. Stephen's Basilica on the right, as seen from Castle Hill

Dome of St. Stephen's Basilica
Dome at St. Stephen's Basilica (that's God in the center, with rays of light projecting outward)

Last night we went to the ballet, a production of the Brothers Karamazov. I went with a group of people and we were very high up, in the nose-bleed seats. Luckily we had a pretty good view of the performance below, but the plot was a little confusing and once the Hungarian voice over began (is this normal for a ballet?), we all kind of got lost.

Today we ventured to the Buda side of Budapest (the city is split into Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River; we are staying in Pest) to see the Castle Hill district and Matthias Church. After spending almost two days in the much more modernized Pest, walking around Buda was almost like stepping back in time. It's a quaint village, filled with small colorful cottages, cobblestone streets, and mosaic tiled roofs. The really amazing part was the view, though. Castle Hill overlooks the entire city so the sights are truly breathtaking.
Matthias Church
Matthias Church in Castle Hill
At Buda Castle (ready)
At Buda Castle 

The food so far has been pretty good. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of Hungarian food, but I've been pleasantly surprised - lots of pickles and beets, which I really love, although I've stayed away from the various arrays of sausages. One thing I've been surprised at is how many gelato stands there are everywhere (and I mean everywhere). Sometimes there are several in one block. I told myself I'd wait and save the really good gelato for the Italian cities, but I caved in last night and got a scoop each of yogurt with berries and coffee. I was not disappointed. Apart from Hungarian food, we also tried an Italian restaurant last night after the ballet that was really delicious. My handmade pappardelle with porcini mushrooms was delicious, hopefully a precursor to some wonderful carbs in Florence, Rome, and Venice.

Tomorrow is our last day in Budapest, and we are going to the Museum of Fine Arts in the day and an orchestra concert in the evening. Then one last night in the city and a long bus ride the next day to Prague.
Buda Castle
Buda Castle, as seen from a bridge connecting Buda and Pest 

Other odds and ends:
-Tried my first shot of jagermeister and felt it in my stomach for the next hour or so. I was a fan of the beer chaser, though.
-Hair straightener does not work in Europe. This is a problem.
-The flight was so much better than I expected. I occupied my time with Moneyball, Young Adult, Mad Men, and The Big Bang Theory. What did people do on airplanes before they installed screens in the back of the seats?
-The weather here is reminiscent of summer Florida weather: short showers in the bright sun, 10-minute-long torrential downpours followed by intense sunlight and humidity (see: hair straightener not working being a problem).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

oh hey + news

Well it sure has been a while. Or at least it feels this way.

Another semester come and gone. And a new one starting in just six days! That's right, instead of lounging around the pool or working at a summer internship, I'm taking classes this summer. I find it very interesting that the culture at Georgia Tech is so different from other universities that many of my high school friends go to. There, the end of spring semester is followed by three months of uninterrupted lounging and tanning. At Tech, it's sort of understood that summers are meant for taking summer classes or working at co-ops or internships. I'm not sure if this is a recent change but when you ask someone "What are you doing this summer?" you expect to hear one of the above options. Idle summers are rare. So I'll be forgoing a long break in favor of taking a 12-hour summer semester.

Oh, and I'll also be traveling around Europe, too.

Sorry I didn't mention that minor major detail before. The program I'm participating in is a 10-week excursion. The first four weeks I'll take two classes--one music class and one architecture class, both European-based--and travel around several cities in Western Europe, too.

The final six weeks, I'll take two more classes (of my choosing) while staying at Oxford University in England. On weekends I'll be able to take short trips to different destinations, as well.

So to say I'm excited would be a bit of an understatement. This will be my first time in Europe (and only my second international trip ever) and I can't wait to meet new people and see new things.

I hope to detail my travels here and post photos on Flickr and Instagram, so by no means do I intend to abandon this space. I know having it as my own travel journal will be invaluable.

I've added a feature on the right showing the cities I'm visiting, as well as new links to all the ways we can stay in touch.

As always, thank you for reading; I can't wait to share this exciting time in my life with you all!

[Image from here]