Semana Santa: Berlin, Krakow, and London

Well, once again I find myself way behind the time on this update, but life does have a tendency to get in the way, doesn’t it?

So, Semana Santa gave us TWO glorious weeks off (boy will I miss these vacations next year…) to travel the world. To start out, all 5 of us Andorra Fulbrighters set off for Berlin, where the German mid-year conference was happening. The German commission opens their conference to all the European Fulbrighters, so of course we jumped at the excuse to head to Berlin! It was a huge conference (an overwhelming number of people, really, when you’re used to 5!) and super fun. There was a good representation of the Spain crew there as well, and we hung out with them a lot because #spandorra is the best.

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#spandorra crew representing in Berlin. I stole this photo from Cass’s FB – thanks, Cass! But look how damn #spandorrable we all are.

 

We skipped some events because they had little to do with teaching English in Andorra, but the ones we did attend were cool. Aside from a million Americans, there was also a big group of Germans about to go study/research in the US next year, so it was cool to meet them as well. In between sessions, we managed to see some sights around Berlin, partake in lots of delicious food (mostly kebabs, kebabs, and more kebabs…), and even go to an ex-pat stand-up comedy show! Berlin is a really cool city, very hipster and interesting, and I can definitely see its appeal.

(Holocaust Memorial, Bradenburg Gate, the German government, the Berlin Dome, the Berlin Wall x2)

After Berlin, Johanna and I hopped an overnight train (complete with beds – we felt like queens!) to Krakow to spend a few days there. I honestly had no idea what to expect, because I had very few preconceived notions of Poland. I ended up loving it! Krakow is beautiful, and sort of reminded me of Prague and Budapest in more ways than one. Our time there was also spent eating delicious (and cheap!) food – this time of the Polish variety – and seeing the sights, which included a cathedral, an old salt mine with some crazy salt art, the main market, the Jewish Quarter, and a castle.

Poland is undeniably beautiful, but there is obviously a dark side to their history, especially in the 20th century. We visited the Gestapo Museum, Oskar Schindler’s Factory (of Schindler’s List fame), and of course Auschwitz-Birkenau. While I certainly wouldn’t describe any of the above as “cool” or “great” places to visit, they are very interesting and, I think, something everyone should visit at some point in their lives. I don’t really have the words to describe how it feels to stand at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and know that over a million people who walked through those same gates never walked back out, or to walk through the gas chamber and know that right where you are standing, thousands of people were murdered. The exhibitions at Auschwitz are very well done, and they are really impressive in their ability to show the scale of the atrocities committed in WWII. The scope of the horror is in some ways incomprehensible; the idea that human beings could treat other human beings in such a way is terrifying. It is not an easy thing to do, visiting these memorials, but it is absolutely important and I would recommend it to anyone traveling to Poland.

After Poland, I traveled to London to visit my good friend Charlee (you may remember that she visited me back in November with her boyfriend, Josh!). I had visited London once, five years ago, the first time I met Charlee. That time we were only able to visit for a day, but now she lives in London so I got to spend several days there. And wow, London is awesome! (Expensive as hell, but awesome.) We packed in lots of tourist activities and an impressive variety of delicious food. (Andorra and Spain are wonderful, to be sure, and the local food is delicious, but good Lord do I miss international food, and wow does London deliver just that.) One of the highlights was our tour of the Tower of London. We had a HILARIOUS tour guide, “Billy Beefeater,” who pretty much took the piss (look I’m so British now) out of everyone in the group. Another super cool visit was to the Sky Garden – Charlee’s idea; I had never heard of it. It’s free and you get great views of London… and the drinks are tasty! (Although not free.)

Overall, the trip was fantastic, but after 2 whirlwind weeks, it was nice to come back to Andorra and settle back into my routine here. It’s hard to believe I have less than 3 months left in my Fulbright experience. We recently got the contact information for the new grantees coming next year, and it was a little bit weird. It makes the approaching end feel more real, and it’s even a little sad to think my students will be hanging out with a new lectora next year (although I’m sure she’ll be awesome).

In the meantime, life back here has been great. Ski season ended, sadly, so my weekend activity of choice is suddenly gone and I’ll have to figure out a substitute. (Probably hiking, because the mountains are addictive.) Work is going well. Last week we took the students to see an English theater group that travels around and puts on plays for English students, and it was a lot of fun. They make the kids participate and do silly stuff, so we were all laughing – our students are great!

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Well anyway, that’s all for now! Happy Monday everyone!