Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cheap Flight= Let's Go to Germany!

Two weekends ago, a few friends and I took a trip to Berlin, Germany. It wasn't on the original list of places that I had wanted to visit while in Europe but my friend Erin found roundtrip tickets for just 40 Euro so it was a deal that was hard to pass up. We arrived in Berlin at about 5:30 pm on Thursday evening and we're told by friends that the best way to get into the city was using the metro, so we followed signs form the airport to the metro station. The friend said "the signs are very clear as to how to get into the city" but apparently her version of "clear" is a lot different from mine. After trying to decipher multiple signs in German, we weren't having any luck as to which train to take into the city. After about 15 min of walking in circles, I asked a local and got an answer in broken English as to the way we were supposed to go so we decided to just follow what (I thought) he had said and hopefully we'd end up in the city. After diligently paying attention to the stops, we got off at the metro station stop that the hostel had recommended. At this point, we found a spot in a local mall with free Wi-Fi and Laurel was about to get the GPS directions to the hostel, just a mere 5 minutes away. We finally arrived at the hostel around 7pm or so and got settled. After getting a recommendation from the hostel about dinner places, we found the place they recommended but the prices were a bit about our college budgets so we decided to keep looking. Before we knew it, we were walking in what I figured out to be the expensive part of town after seeing numerous luxury cars and menus containing 40 Euro steaks. After about an hour of searching, we ended up at an inexpensive Italian restaurant which had great food. After finishing, we went back to the hostel and called it a night. On Friday, the four of us woke up, went to a local bakery for breakfast, and then headed to the monument called the "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe".
Memorial containing 2,711 rectangular concrete structures
Museum for the memorial

The museum was incredibly solemn and containing a lot of diaries of people involved in the Holocaust. It's one thing to learn all about the Holocaust and its effect on Europe but it's a whole other thing to read excerpts from diaries of people involved at a memorial in Germany; going to this museum was tough to take in but I'm very glad we took the time to go. After seeing this memorial, we headed to one of the other main monuments in Germany, the Berlin Gate.
From left: Me, Erica, Erin, and Laurel
After the Berlin Gate, we went to a food place nearby and order some traditional German food such as currywurst. As we were about to leave the restaurant, it began to drizzle, which turned into a rain, and then a downpour. We wanted to walk around a bit but not with this rain so we decided to trek to this area called "Museum Island" which is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of museums on a small island on the Spree River in the north part of Berlin.
Didn't have the chance to take this picture because of the rain; taken from Google
We all purchased student passes which gave us access to all 5 museums on the island but we really only ended up going to two, the one pictured and another one because we ran out of time. After the museums, we trekked another mile or so to a cathedral. As with any cathedral we encounter, we went inside, saw the beautiful historic architecture and then climbed to the top of the dome. It was an incredible view to be able to walk around the top of the dome and see 360 degree views of the city.

By this time, we were starting to feel really hungry and had wanted to get kebabs that were recommended to us. We stumbled upon a row of food shops and to our luck, one of them had a kebab place. I order the kebab exactly how it looked in the picture to get the full experience (pun intended) and man oh man was it delicious. Made with lamb and a whole lot of toppings, it sure was a mouthful to put down but worth all of the mess. And the best part was, it was only 3.50 Euro, one of the best food bargains I've encountered in a while for the amount of sandwich there was.
On our way back to the hostel, I caught a glimpse of a full size Porsche 911 Carrera being displayed in a store window along a main city street. A few steps later, my jaw dropped as I saw a $400,000 Lamborghini and a Bentley in the next window. I was in awe as I looked in this building and saw almost a dozen luxury sports cars on display. Intrigued beyond belief, I told myself I'd come back the next day and check it out in the day light. We went back to the hostel, got ready to go out, and headed to one of Berlin's most famous clubs, Tresor.
It used to be an industrial manufacturing plant and then was converted into a multi story techno club. It was a very unique experience and no place like we had been in any other city and we all made it back to the hostel in one piece following me as the guide, as happens in every city because I not only enjoy being the leader but am also very good at figuring out how to get places without a GPS.
The next morning, we woke up and ate breakfast at the same place that we had the day before...yes it was THAT good. I split off from the girls and went back to the car showcase while they went to check out this place called Checkpoint Charlie. When I got back to the building that I had been at the day before, I realized it was called the Volkswagen Group Forum which had various cars on showcase from a few of the brands that Volkswagen owns. I saw a lot of Porsches, an Audi R8, a Lamborghini Huracan, and even the Porsche 918 Spyder, a $900,000 semi electric hyper-car which was only produced 918 times and is very rare. It was nice to be able to spend as much time as I wanted there and drool over cars to my heart's content.
Volkswagen Group Forum
2016 Porsche 911 GT3

Porsche 918 Spyder
After I had my fill (or some portion of it) of the cars, I went back and met up with the girls and we headed to the metro station to take it across Berlin to check out what's left of the Berlin Wall in East Berlin.

After seeing the wall, it was time for us to head back to the airport to catch our flight. Although we only spent about a day and a half in Berlin, it felt like plenty of time to be get a good vibe for the city and see most of what it has to offer. It was different than most of the other cities I've visited; it gave off a different vibe per say. It had its historic regions but also was very modern in some parts. Berlin itself is also a very wide spanning city and therefore we didn't get to see the whole city; we mainly saw the central area along with some of the east parts where the wall stands. For a 40 Euro roundtrip flight, the company of 3 fun girls, and beautiful cars, it turned out to be a great trip and I'm happy to say it is on the list of places I visited while abroad.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beavers Exploring the 'dam For a Weekend

Thursday April 7, 2016. After waiting the whole day, we finally caught the bus to the airport at about 4:15pm. It felt like we had scheduled this trip an eternity ago because it was the first official trip we had scheduled, despite it being in April. We made it to the airport with plenty of time (felt like almost TOO much time given how many close calls I've had missing flights) to catch our 7pm flight. After making it through security, we were informed that our flight had been delayed until 7:30pm. After a few more delays, we were finally able to board the flight at about 8pm and took off around 8:30pm at which I point I captured this sweet panorama of Dublin at night. Maybe I'll send it into Ryanair so they can use it as a promo picture given the plane wing snuck into the picture.
We arrived in Amsterdam at about 11pm, a short 1.5 hours flight plus the time change of 1 hour. I couldn't believe how BIG Amsterdam Airport was...when we landed, the plane had to taxi about 15 min just to get from the runway to the terminal. On top of that, the airport was huge once we got off the plane and walked to the exit. I was in awe because I think airports are fascinating. Upon leaving the airport terminal to get transportation to our hostel, we were approached by a large bearded man asking if we wanted an "official taxi". At first he seemed legitimate but then realized he seemed a little sketchy so I politely said no and continued to walk away with my three friends. He continued to follow us pestering us about a taxi as we continued to ignore him. Eventually we got to the transportation desk and requested an official taxi...the man pointed us in the right direction outside to where a lot of taxis were lined up. He even said we could take a Tesla Model S taxi for the same price as normal. My jaw literally dropped to the floor upon hearing this. Given that I am a big car guy and worked at a country club the past two summers where I'd see one of those cars a day and had always wanted to ride in one, it was almost a dream come true.
 To think we rode in a $80,000 car as a taxi for the same price as a junky 5-seater in Dublin was a great feeling. I got to ride shotgun, of course :). Our taxi driver drove the car like he stole it, zooming under the dimly lit streetlights weaving in and out of cars on the freeway. He must have been just as excited as we were to be in the Tesla.  After getting to the hostel, we checked in, put our bags in our rooms and my friend Laurel met up with a friend from home, Lauren.
We went out in town to get a bite to eat and boy was it rowdy for a Thursday night, just as busy as a Friday in Dublin and we were on the outskirts of the city, about 20 min from center city. We found a place that looked good and ordered traditional Dutch food right off the bat. Erin had researched places to go and things to eat, one of which included "bitterballs" which were basically a deep fried meatball. I ordered a different type of traditional meatballs and gravy and they were delicious (slurp slurp). After this satisfying meal, we headed back to our hostel and went to sleep.

On Friday morning, we woke up bright and early at 8am. After going to bed around 3am, it was definitely a struggle. By the time we were all up and moving, it was about 9:30am and we headed towards to city. We had a few places here and there that we wanted to see but no real plan of which way to go; rather, just walk around and act like tourists. The first place we went to, given that it was about 10 minutes from our hostel, was the "I Amsterdam" sign. Luckily, there weren't too many people there so we were able to get great pictures from climbing on the letters.
The Amsterdam Crew from Left: Me, Erin, Kelly, Lauren, and Laurel

Representing my family (Roda) on top of the letter r
Right as we were about to leave, a group of about 200 kids ran towards the sign like a pack of monkeys trying to find the last banana on earth. After about a minute of them starting to climb on the letters, their group leader made a motion for them to go somewhere else and all at once, they continued the stampede in a different direction while I captured this all on my GoPro. Speaking of stampedes though, the bicyclists and moped riders of Amsterdam are INSANE. There are dedicated bike lanes which they do a good job of sticking to but if you step foot in the bike lane for a few seconds, your head better be on a swivel or you'll get hit in a heartbeat. It wasn't much of a concern for me as I am a bike rider myself and can think like the bicyclists but as for the girls I was with, one of them were bound to get hit by the end of our trip. And Laurel did get hit later on that night and it wasn't too pretty; no injuries luckily, just an embarrassed look on Laurel's face and a lot of laughs.
We continued on into the city, taking in the picturesque views and of the canals running along the roads. There was no shortage of sweets bought in Amsterdam by our group and by the end of the day we probably had purchased five desserts each. Also, being in Holland, an area known for their cheese production, we stopped by the Amsterdam cheese museum to sample all of the cheeses from gouda to goat's cheese to kinds I had never heard of it. It was all delicious but no one ended up buying any cheese at this time; we would later though.
Yes I actually took this photo, no it isn't from Google :)

Anne Frank House (didn't have time to visit; 2 hour wait consistently) 
After a long day of walking around, we headed back to the hostel to nap and get ready for dinner. At around 6:15 we all got up from napping and got ready to go Gijs downtown at a nice restaurant. Gijs was a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands to my cousins 6 years ago and we've kept in touch since so, from the beginning since I had accepted the study abroad program in Dublin, I knew I had to take a trip to Amsterdam to visit him. The restaurant we were going to was on the exact opposite side of the city from where our hostel was so I knew it was going to be a hike to walk there. As the navigator (with no cell service which meant no GPS as most people from our generation are used to finding places), I had mapped out the route before hand. After a long (but scenic) walk through the city for 45 min, we finally arrived at the Eastwood Restaurant which stood on the bottom floor of a Hilton Hotel.
From left: Me, Gijs' cousin, Lauren, Laurel, Gijs, Kelly, and Erin
The best part about this restaurant was that, because Gijs worked for a different branch of the Hilton at the Amsterdam Airport, he got 50% everything at this restaurant. So Kelly and I splurged and got the 800 gram steak that Gijs recommended for 50 Euro which was to be split between Kelly and I, still giving us a 15 oz portion each. Therefore, we only paid 12.50 Euro each for this incredibly tasty Tomahawk steak. After a filling dinner, we headed up 11 floors to the SkyLounge which overlooked the north end of the city. It was a bit chilly outside but we each bought a beer and talked outside listening to the live music.

After spending about an hour here, we went downtown to a few of bars that the locals attend, something we wouldn't have been able to do without the help of our trusty tour guide Gijs. We called it a night around 1:30am because everyone was tired from a long day of walking around the city.
On Saturday, we woke up around 10am and had decided to take on a daunting task not many tourists should: rent bikes to ride through the city of INSANE bikers. Gijs' cousin who was at dinner with us the night before had given me some areas outside of the city centre that we should bike to and I was very eager to try it out. The girls...well they were eager to ride bikes as long as they had a fearless leader; that was my claim to fame. It was only 12 Euro to rent the bikes for 3 hours which was the prefect amount of time before we had to leave for the airport around 3pm.
Leading the pack while balancing the camera for an action shot

We rode around for a while towards the west side of Amsterdam, the less crowded more wealthy areas. It was a nice place to ride bikes because there was a lot less hustle and bustle which meant less of a chance of an accident occurring. We stopped by the Noordermarkt which was an outdoor flea market with tons of yummy food stands. I had quiche for lunch and bought a block of authentic Holland cheese for the road, vacuum sealed so it would make it back to Dublin!

We rode back to the bike rental place, returned the bikes, and bought another dessert to eat in a park near the "I Amsterdam" sign. We collected our bags at the hostel, called an Uber, and got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
It was a 'dam good weekend for sure
Amsterdam sits nears the top of my list with Lisbon, Portugal as one of the best places I've visited while abroad. From the entrĂ©es to the desserts to the picture perfect canals, it didn't fail to disappoint in the slightest. 5 trips in 5 weeks coming up and trip 1 was a huge success. Bring on the next 4.