Thursday, March 20, 2014


Krakow is definitely one of my favorite places I've visited. It's so pretty, not completely over run with tourists (like Paris or Amsterdam), and it is CHEAP! It's a great exchange rate between the euro and the Polish zloty and your money definitely goes much further than in western Europe.

I went to the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was first built in the 13th century. Legend says the mine was founded when Hungarian Princess Kinga was to be married to the Prince of Krakow. She asked her father for a salt mine and he gave her one. She threw her engagement ring in the Hungarian salt mine and when she arrived in Poland she instructed miners to start digging. They came upon a lump of salt and in it was her engagement ring. Kinga is now a saint and also patroness of Poland. The most spectacular thing in the mine was the Chapel of St. Kinga which is a huge chapel carved entirely out of salt (including the chandeliers!).
It was a long way down!
Chapel of St. Kinga

Altar in the chapel
Relief carving of "The Last Supper" 

But this was also the most somber trip I've taken. My trip included a visit to Auschwitz which was an emotionally draining day. Having read so many memoirs and historical accounts about Jews in Auschwitz, their stories just kept coming back to me. I also kept thinking about a scene from one of my favorite movies "The History Boys". In the scene the students and teachers are discussing the Holocaust and have the following conversation:
Teacher:"They go on school trips there nowadays don’t they? Auschwitz, Dachau. What’s always concerned me is where do they have their sandwiches, drink their cokes."
Student:"The visitors center. It’s like anywhere else."
Teacher:"Yes, but do they take pictures of each other there? Are they smiling? Do they hold hands? Nothing is appropriate."
Student:"What if you were to write that this was so far beyond ones experience, silence is the only proper response."
That's exactly how I felt: nothing was appropriate. How are you supposed to act when you're in a place where over one million people were murdered? When you're looking at a pond where the ashes of thousands of people were dumped? When you see the gas chambers that killed hundreds of thousands and the crematoriums that turned them into smoke? When you see 2,000 kilograms of human hair taken from murdered women? Is it even appropriate to be there?

I still don't know my answer to that last question. I understand the reasoning behind preserving Auschwitz and other camps but is making them into a museum the best way to remember the victims? I'm not sure. Walking through the various exhibits I noticed so many people taking photos of everything, including the piles of hair. Is photographing hair that belonged to thousands of murdered victims (and then presumably uploading them on facebook or somewhere else) really the way to show your respect? Is it right of the museum to display the objects (shoes, artificial limbs, suitcases, etc...) of the victims. This is an interesting article that deals a bit with how to preserve Auschwitz. Here's an excerpt from it relating the opinions of an expert on the construction of Auschwitz:
He supports the preservation of the Auschwitz main camp, although he acknowledges it is a 'kind of theme park, cleaned up for tourists'...letting Birkenau disintegrate completely would be a more fitting memorial than constantly repairing the scant remains. Birkenau is the 'ultimate nihilistic place. A million people literally disappeared. Shouldn't we confront people with the nothing of the place? Seal it up. Don't give people a sense that they can imitate the experience and walk in the steps of the people who were there.'
I'm inclined to agree with that. I think the exhibits and buildings at Auschwitz I (the smaller site) can tell you so much about the victims and the Holocaust. I'm not sure Auschwitz II-Birkenau needs (or should) be constantly repaired just for people to walk through it and walk where one million people were murdered. I think there are better ways to memorialize the victims and remember the horrors that were inflicted. But on the other hand, walking through Auschwitz II-Birkenau is the only way to get a sense of the sheer size of the camp. It's such a difficult topic and I'm not sure I'll ever have a satisfactory answer.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Munich and Salzburg!

It's been a while since my last post (almost 3 months!) but I have lots to report! I had two weeks off at the end of February and used that time to take two trips The first trip was a solo trip to Munich, Salzburg, and Krakow and the second was a trip to Prague with my good friend Jaelyn.

You're probably going to read this about every city I visited but I loved Munich! First up on the agenda was the Bayern Munich game. It was so much fun to see my favorite team and it was such a great atmosphere in the stadium.
Too bad those aren't the actual players...

I went on a free walking tour of the city and learned a lot about the city. Even though much of the city was destroyed from bombs during WWII the large towers (some of which are seen here) were not. The bomber pilots didn't target them because they were such good landmarks to locate the city.

After the war many buildings had to be rebuilt and great attention was taken to rebuild the buildings back to their pre-war state. This is a church that was rebuilt and they even put an Austrian cannon ball that had been there for hundreds of years back in it's place. It's the black ball at the top right of the window. 

These gold bricks are a memorial to Germans who resisted the Nazis. In the 1930s a memorial commemorating the Beer Hall Putsch  had been erected on the street perpendicular to this alley and whenever you passed it you had to salute. Some people would take the long way around and go down this alley so that they did not have to pass the memorial. Members of the SS would stand in the doorway on the right and as people passed, they would question or beat them. But that didn't stop people from taking the alley to bypass the memorial and some were even sent to concentration camps for their actions. The gold colored bricks stop at the doorway to commemorate the Germans that were stopped by the                                                      Nazis. 

I took a bus trip to see Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles which were built by King Ludwig II in the 19th century. Ludwig was more interested in the arts and architecture than in carrying out government duties. He used his personal fortune to build several castles. The most famous is, of course, Neuschwanstein. It was the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle and was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It did not disappoint! It was absolutely stunning. It also had some very modern technology for its time: a telephone, flush toilet, central heating, and warm running water.

The snow covered courtyard at Linderhof

The altar
Asam's Church is small church in Munich. It is just on an unassuming street of row houses but when you walk in it is quite stunning. It's a small space but the inside is very ornate and extravagant. It was built in the 18th century by two brothers as their own private church.

A creepy skull

I took a day trip to Salzburg from Munich and it was so much fun! Much of The Sound of Music was filmed there and I had a great time seeing the locations from the film. I also got to have some fun in the snow atop the mountain Untersberg!
Atop the very snowy mountain Untersberg.

At Mirabell Gardens where much of Do Re Mi was filmed. They look much nicer in the summer with the flowers blooming!

Nonnberg Abbey is where the real Maria was a novice and scenes from the movie were shot there. Didn't realize when taking this picture that it's the same angle from the movie!

The iconic red top of Nonnberg Abbey

Stay tuned for my next post about Krakow including a visit to Auschwitz and some incredible salt mines. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A look back at 2013

I can't believe how fast this year has gone by. It seems like just yesterday I was graduating from University of Maryland and driving down to Florida to spend Christmas with my family. But here I am, living in the Netherlands, and spending Christmas with my new Dutch family. This time last year being an au pair wasn't even in my plans but I'm so happy I decided to do it. These past 4 months have just been amazing; I've seen so many incredible sites and I think I'm so lucky to have this chance.

My map of the countries I've visited while I've been here

My favorite memories from 2013:

My graduation! Technically this was 2012 but it was so close to 2013 that it deserves to be included. This was such a huge milestone in my life and I'm so thankful for the support of my family that enabled me to get to that point.

Easter with just me and Tara home aka that time she brought brown eggs for us to paint and I ran out of eggs for baking twice. It was just so typical "us" and I miss spending time with her now that I'm here. 

Our hike in Great Falls Park. It was such beautiful scenery and great company! The image that sticks in my head is me and Mrs. Eppinger walking up ahead while my mom was cajoling Tara and Jackie to keep walking. But they both made it to the end!

Camping and hiking with Susan in Shenandoah was so much fun and the area was gorgeous. Even though we were scared to death when a bear cub came less than 20 feet from us and I got a bit scared going up the mountain it was still an awesome time. P.S. Thanks for the hand up a difficult part of the mountain, Sue!

Graduation "photo shoot" with two of my best friends. We've known each other since elementary school and now we're college graduates...I don't know where the time has gone! Miss you both so much!

Went to a few D.C. United games, USA v. Germany game and a Washington Nationals game!
Charlotte all decked out in USA/DC United gear...yes those
are USA sunglasses. Miss you!

Washington Nationals games exactly
a year apart...what a coincidence!

Getting to see my grandparents in Antwerp! I'm so happy I was able to meet them on one of their cruise stops. We had a delicious lunch and, of course, played a card game. 

Spending a weekend in Amsterdam with Susan! Here we are dressed up as Dutch cheese farmers...

Visiting Berlin and especially going to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. After studying the Holocaust and reading so many books and memoirs about it, I'm so thankful I got to see a concentration camp. It just makes everything you read much more real and vivid (I hope that made sense). 

Everything about Paris! My three days there were so much fun and way too short. I definitely want to go back!

And of course all the time I've spent with my host family here. My host parents couldn't have been more welcoming or warm towards me and I'm so happy I'll be with them for another eight months. The boys are so sweet (well most of the time haha) and I have so much fun when I'm taking care of them. 

That's it for my look back...looking forward to what 2014 has in store! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I'm finally caught up on my blog writing...yay!!! A couple months ago there were really cheap tickets from Amsterdam to Milan so I just decided to book them and go for a weekend. One of my favorite things was definitely the food. I ate so much on Saturday and none of it good for you haha. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well on Sunday and didn't have much of an appetite but Saturday more than made up for it. I had a delicious thing that I can't remember the name of but it was like a fat cannoli but crispier and I also, of course, had a cannoli. For lunch I went to a place called Panzerotti Luini which is a really popular lunch place (the line stretched down half the block!) and they have things called panzerottis which is like a fried calzone. I had the classic tomato and mozzarella and it was so so good. From the same place I also got a pastry filled with chocolate and pears. If you're in Italy it's a give in that you have to get gelato, even if the temperature is only slightly above freezing. But even with the cold, the gelato was delicious. To end the night I had pizza with grilled vegetables which, as you guessed, was delicious. So now that I've made myself hungry to go back I'll move on to the sites I saw...
The Cathedral (Duomo) was absolutely stunning. Construction started at the end of the 14th century and never really finished until the 20th century. In addition to going inside the cathedral, I went up to the roof.

View from the top

I went to see The Last Supper which is at Santa Maria della Grazie. During WWII much of the church was damaged from bombs but the wall the painting is on luckily wasn't damaged. The painting had started to deteriorate only decades after da Vinci  painted it, so it's gone through many restorations. It was really neat to see it in person and see it's actual size (which is really big!).
I walked down Via Monte Napoleone which is where all the expensive designer shops are located. They all have interesting window displays and most of them are decorated for Christmas. That was fun to see!

I went to the museum at La Scala Opera which had a lot of props and mementos from performances there and a large exhibit on Verdi. Many of his operas premiered there. It does not look that impressive from the outside but the inside of the theater was gorgeous. You can't take pictures in there so here's a picture of it. 
Castello Sforzesco is a castle that was built in the 15th century and a few centuries later was enlarged and became one of the largest citadels in Europe. Here is an aerial picture of the castle so you can get an idea of how big it actually is. It now houses 14 different museums, archives, and libraries. I went into a few of the museums and really liked the musical instrument museum. It has a large collection of antique instruments including a harp guitar which I had never heard of before. It's basically a guitar with a miniature harp attached. There's a large park behind the castle and at the end of it is the Porta Sempione which is an old city gate. 
Part of the castle

Porta Sempione


My three days in Paris were so much fun! There's so much to do there and as soon as I left I wanted to go back. It was also so much fun to spend the weekend with Rocio and Ana...looking forward to when I can visit them in Spain :) 

Notre Dame at night. So pretty inside! 
Sacre Coeur Basilica. You can't take pictures inside
 but here's a picture of the beautiful altar.

Arc de Triomphe

Moulin Rouge! We had to go see the iconic red windmill,
especially since we love the movie

Versailles was absolutely stunning. It was so gorgeous inside and definitely lives up to the hype. 

The 3 of us in the Hall of Mirrors
One of the many rooms
The gardens of the castle

We went to the Eiffel Tower twice so that we could see it lit up at night and climb it in the day. It was really pretty lit up at night and the view from the Eiffel Tower was awesome, even if it was a lot of steps to go up!

We went to the Army Museum which was really big and had so much information. The chapel at the museum is where Napoleon's tomb is so that was cool to see.

Napoleon's tomb
Army Museum
A trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Louvre. It's enormous and I'm pretty sure you could spend an entire year in there and still not see everything... We just went to the things we really wanted to see which of course included the Mona Lisa. It was smaller than I thought it would be and really crowded in the room. But it was still so neat to see it in person!

At the Louvre

The last stop of my trip was to the Pantheon. It was really pretty inside and is where many well-known Frenchman are buried including Victor Huge, Marie and Pierre Curie, Rousseau, and Voltaire.