The Charles Bridge is a famous pedestrian bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. This bridge arches over the Vltava River and is full of merchants, musicians, statues, tourists, and locals. This bridge is essential to Prague because it was the only way Prague Castle and the Old Town were connected. King Charles IV may or may not have laid the first stone to build the bridge, and the date this occurred was chosen to give the bridge additional strength due to a strong belief in numerology. The Charles Bridge has seen its fair share of tragic events - flooding, severed heads, damage. Nonetheless, our group walked over the bridge, listening to music - including a rendition of the Mario theme on violins - and browsed the local products being sold. The views from the bridge are beautiful, as many people paddleboat on the river on warm days. If you go to Prague, make sure you cross the bridge to get from the Old Town Square to Prague Castle, because the bridge is another site between those two!
So on our way to Vienna from Budapest we made a quick stop in Bratislava. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. Adding another country to our list for a quick visit doesn’t hurt. Bratislava is right at the borders of Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. It also occupies both banks of the Danube River, which is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. We went to a castle in Bratislava where you can overlook the Danube river from up above. Also Bratislava is about 30 minutes away from Vienna. Slovakia is an Eastern European country, which used to be part of the former Czechoslovakia. Slovakia gained its independences in 1993 from the separation of Czechoslovakia and two new countries were created: Czech Republic and Slovakia. Now Slovakia is part of the European Union and they also use the Euro. Our trip to Bratislava was one that I will never forget, and I am happier each day to be here.
The Old Town Square:
The Old Town Square in Prague is one of the landmarks you should go and see if you find yourself in the city. Situated between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge it is a large public square often full of tourists and vendors selling their goods. Our apartments are right around the corner from this square and it is really nice to be able to walk straight into a cultural and tourist hub. It is the site of the Astronomical Clock; this clock is the oldest still functioning Astronomical Clack in the world having just celebrated its 600th birthday in 2010. It is an amazing looking clock consisting of three main parts, the astronomical dial, the walk of the apostles, and the calendar dial. The dial is a mechanical astrolabe that is used to tell the position of the sun and the moon in relation to the Earth. The Walk of the Apostles is a clockwork show of hourly figures of the apostles as well as figures such as death, and the calendar dial shows the months. This clock is definitely something to be seen in your life if possible, so walk up to the Old Town Hall and there it is.
A few people in the group visited the House of Terror on our second day in Budapest. The museum contained exhibits related to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary but it was also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. When we began our visit, we started at the top of the building and walked through the various exhibit rooms, reading about the history of the two different regimes during their time in Hungary. It was a very interactive type of museum with many items left over from the days when the parties were in power, as well as videos from survivors who had been imprisoned in the house and had lived to tell their story. The final part of the exhibit, which we all agreed was the most striking was when we took an elevator down to the basement of the building to see examples of the cells where prisoners were held, tortured and ultimately executed. It was very grounding to see the actual physical proof of the terrible things that had happened in the building. There was also a beautiful memorial to the victims right before we exited, which I appreciated because it helped to relieve the gloomy feelings we all felt from having seen the prison cells. The exterior of the museum was also very striking and made it stick out from the rest of the buildings around it. There was a metal sculpture that was built around the edge of the building which drew attention to the terrible past of the building. I will include a picture in the post because it is such an unusual building.
Atop Gellert Hill, with a wide and beautiful view of the Danube River and both sides of Budapest, lies the Citadella - a fortress built under the Habsburg reign after the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. Forced laborers of Hungary built this fortress for Austrian troops, but by 1899 had taken possession of their Citadel. Not only Austrians controlled the Citadella, though, as in 1956 Soviet Troops held reign before another Hungarian Revolution. Prior to there being a fortress on Gellert Hill, there were vineyards. Nonetheless, the Citadella is known for its Liberty Statue, a monument erected by the Soviet Red Army to commemorate their victory in World War II.
Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy is part of the social, religious and political center of the city. Part of St. Mark’s Square is St. Mark’s Basilica, the Clock Tower, Doges Palace, and other monuments. Many winged lions will be seen, as the Lion of Venice is the symbol of Saint Mark. Currently, there are many people, pigeons, and vendors in the Square, but it is also quick to flood with heavy rains and water. Many empires have had control over Venice and therefore the Square, but each happening in history has contributed to the overall look of it in terms of the decorum. The square is a great meeting place, full of the only hustle and bustle you will find in Venice, as there are no cars among the gondolas, and the winding alleys and small streets don’t allow for masses - but everyone knows the Piazza so you shouldn’t get lost! Water taxis will take you to the Square, among other locations, but I recommend you start your day at the Square and go through the museums surrounding it, then wind your way down to the Rialto Bridge, shopping and roaming along the canals, to then catch a water taxi back to the mainland.
For one night of our journey we stayed near the base of Mt. Olympus, the home of the Gods in Greek Mythology. From our hotel in the beach portion of Litochoro, we had an amazing view of the mountain and the sunset was breathtaking. Litochoro means “City of the Gods,” and the mountain was formed in the defeat of the Titans, according to legend. We were all assigned Gods/Goddesses and Heroes from mythology to research (to share with the group once we arrived to Olympia), as the mythology is important to the culture, history, and nature of Greece.
The Island of Capri has been one of my favorite places on this trip so far. It is an island located off the coast of Sorrento, Italy. We took a boat to get there. The landscapes were amazing which was my favorite part. On the way from Sorrento to Capri we saw the sea, and a far from the distance we saw Mount Vesuvius and the beautiful landscapes of Sorrento. We also went all around the island of Capri in a small boat. It was breathtaking seeing the mountains, cliffs, rock formations, plants, and the clear water. I have to say that out of all the places I have been—Capri has been the place I have taken the most amount of photos. I had one of my best days there. I also had one of the best gelatos I have ever eaten in my life. We also took a chairlift to Monte Solaro, which is a mountain on the island of Capri with an elevation of 589 m, its peak is the highest point of Capri. It was a nice view from there. We then explore some of the top part of Capri. We didn’t want to leave at the end. We all just wanted to stay there. I’m really looking forward coming back to Capri.
The group had just arrived at our hotel outside of Venice for the night, and had sat down to a delicious dinner when the event of the Boston Marathon bombing broke. Even now I am grateful that several people in our groups subscribed to the AP newsfeed and updates on their phone, because we were all made aware of the situation within five minutes of it happening. I grew up in Boston and the majority of my family lives there. The first thing I thought of was whether anyone of my friends or loved ones had been hurt in the bombing. It was a very nerve wrecking hour after the bombing happened, as I and other people in the group tried to contact our loved ones. For me it was particularly intense because as I was looking at the pictures of the aftermath that were being posted on social media sites, I recognized the location and it was especially horrifying to think about because I had been in that area in the few days before I left on this trip. It was an immense relief once we all knew that no one we knew had been hurt in the bombing. Over the next few days, everyone in the group was on the Internet constantly checking the stories being published online because we were all very interested in the development of the story. I also chatted with family members at home, and they gave me interesting insights into what was happening at home, that I was not getting from the news articles online.