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Second Half of My Year

Alright everyone,

 

So, I know it’s been a long time since I have written anything.  Life has been very hectic and I really haven’t had time to sit down and reflect on everything that has happened in my life the past few months.  But, I figured now would probably be as good a time as any to do so.  And just so everyone has fair warning, it’s going to be very emotional when I discuss my grandfathers battle with cancer.  So, please know that before continuing to read.  Thanks.

 

Grampy and I on the beach in Florida

 

After I returned from my amazing European journey, I spent a week hanging out with my family and friends before heading down to San Antonio, Texas, to be a corps member for City Year.  For those of you who do not know what City Year is, I will offer a very brief description, but feel free to contact me and ask more!  City Year is a national non-profit organization that unites young adults between the ages of 17-25 for a year of full-time service.  As corps members, we work with youth in middle and high schools (in San Antonio at least) on their ABC’s, which are Attendance, Behavior and Coursework.  We act as tutors and mentors to the kids and run our own after school program.

 

It is incredibly challenging work, but I (as well as all my co-workers) have fallen in love with the kids and look forward to seeing them everyday.  As challenging and demanding as the work is, there are tiny little moments with the kids when they do something amazing that make it completely worth it.  It is really hard to explain what we do, but what I can say is I have never worked with more inspiring people and never done something more meaningful.

 

Like I said, the people I work with are really amazing.  There are about 80 corps members in City Year San Antonio, and each one of them is uniquely incredible.  I was placed with 11 other corps members at S.J. Davis Middle School on the East Side, and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive and caring group of people to work with.  I’ll get into more detail on that later.

 

On top of the amazing work we do in City Year, I was really excited about living in such a culturally rich city while participating in the program.  San Antonio is a massive city, but the people are so kind and friendly that I fell in love with it very quickly.  Yes, the consistent 105 degree weather took some adjusting to, but I’m still alive so I guess I figured it out!  Anyways, everything was going great until September 14th.  On that day I was at some of my friends’ house (House of 6) and decided to go wander down the street and watch some Pop Warner kids play football.  I have no idea why I wanted to wander, I just felt weird and decided to explore.  When I was finished walking around and was heading back to the house, my mom called.  After a fairly brief normal conversation, she told me she had something to tell me and that it was going to be okay.  Obviously I thought it was something bad, but nothing could have prepared me for what she said next.  “Grandpa had pancreatic cancer.  It’s not curable.”

 

Hearing those words I felt my body just crumble to the ground in the middle of Camino Santa Maria St.  It felt like a nightmare, but this time I couldn’t wake up.  This was as real as it gets.  I gathered myself and tried to go back into the house and act like nothing was wrong.  I was doing great until I sat down with a few friends at the table and just lost it.  I don’t remember much of that night after that, I was just so blindsided I didn’t really know what to think.

 

Now, for those of you who know me well, you know what my Grandpa Jack means to me.  He is and always will be the most important person in my life.  When my father was too immature and uncaring to be a part of my life, my grandfather took over.  But, he was more than just a grandfather, more than just a father figure.  He was my best friend too.  If you have been around me the last few years you have undoubtedly heard me brag about him or just mention him all the time.  We had such a special relationship I can’t really put it into words, so I won’t try.  He was like a father to me and I was the son he never had.

 

I made plans to return home for the whole week of Thanksgiving to spend some quality time with him, but little did I know he had no where near that long.  As things got worse, and I couldn’t take being away from him while he battled this horrific disease, I booked a ticket to go home for a week in mid-late October.  When I arrived and walked into the hospital room my heart sank.  Seeing my grandpa, the man who golfed three times a week and walked the dog every day, sitting in a hospital bed, made my heart physically hurt.  I pretty much spent the next week with him between my aunts house and the hospital, but I don’t regret a second of it.  Despite his deteriorating condition and all, he was still the same wonderful, loving, hilarious Jack we all knew.

 

I think the characteristic of my grandpa that made him so special was his selflessness and kindness.  I have never, in 22 years, seen my grandpa be mean to someone.  That might seem like an exaggeration, but if you knew him then you know I am dead serious.  I think the one example that sums up his selflessness occurred that week while I was home.  As he was getting into bed and saying goodnight, he turned to me and whispered in my ear, “You make me feel like I’m 10 feet tall when I’m with you.”  Honestly, that is one of the nicest things someone has said to me.  But, beyond that, it illustrates how he was more concerned with making me feel good about myself than the fact he was dying.

 

The last night in the hospital my Aunt and I stayed over and watched the World Series with him until he fell asleep.  I stayed up the entire night because I didn’t want 9:00 to come.  I knew I had to head to the airport to return to San Antonio but I just wanted time to stand still.  Try as I might, 9:00 still came.  As we both started crying while saying goodbye, the last thing he said to me was “Keep doing what you’re doing. I love you a thousand times.”  I told him how I felt and then walked out the door.  I don’t think I have ever felt or could ever again feel as empty inside as I did while I walked out of the hospital that morning.  I didn’t know it was the last time I would ever see him again, but I had a feeling it might be.

 

When I returned to San Antonio everyone was so supportive and caring which really helped.  I tried to take his advice and keep going as best I could.  I tried and still try to influence the kids the way he influenced me.  Two nights later after I got back, I got a call at 4 in the morning from my mom telling me there was nothing more they could do and they would just try to make him comfortable.  I immediately threw some clothes in a bag and numbly walked out the door, knowing the most important person in my life was about to die.

 

As my plane took off and breached the cloud layer, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the clouds.  It looked as if we were hovering over the arctic, with billows of snow in every direction.  I didn’t think anything of it, other than it was beautiful.  When I landed in Boston, I sprinted through the airport to get to my mom quickly so we could get to the hospital and I could say goodbye.  As I came outside the doors and turned right, I saw my mom, slumped with her hands in her pockets, fighting back tears.  I knew immediately it was too late, but sprinted over anyways.  She opened her arms for me and, with tears streaming down her cheeks, said “He’s gone.”

 

The rest of that week was completely surreal and I remember very little.  I had my moments, but tried mostly to think of how lucky I was that I had him for 22 incredible years.  I have some truly great memories and those I will hold onto and cherish forever.  He is gone physically, but I know he is always with me in my heart and is up there watching over.

 

Returning to San Antonio was obviously going to be tough, but the support of my friends and the City Year staff has made such a difference.  It’s hard to explain how much it means to me, but if any of you are reading this, thank you for being you.  I couldn’t possibly have stayed strong and gotten through this without all of you!  All of my friends and family have been amazing too, so I have had support everywhere.  It’s not easy all the time, and there are moments each day where I have to fight back tears during school.  But I do, and I will keep doing what I’m doing.

 

As I go into the new year, I look forward to more amazing experiences in San Antonio.  I will continue to strive to influence my students the way my grandfather influenced me.  I also try to be kind to everyone I know and meet no matter what.  What better way to remember my grandpa than to be just like him.

 

Thank you all for bearing with me through that.  I wasn’t planning on going off like that.  I was just going to jot down some quick thoughts but before I knew it I had written a story.  I hope you all have an amazing start to the new year!  Be safe, have fun and I hope to talk to all of you soon!

 

Josh

 

Hey everyone!

Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

I guess it’s time for my final entry on Italy.  Our last stop before heading to Spain to conclude our trip was in Venice, the lovely sinking island city on the East coast of Italy.

We always hear so much about Venice and how amazing it is, but it’s hard to grasp how incredible it is until the moment you see it.  But, once you lay eyes on it for that single moment you know why it is so infamous and popular.  It’s truly incredible to be in a city where there are no roads.  It is just canals with boats and walkways for people….which are really fun to intentionally get lost in, I might add.

One of the coolest things for me was seeing all of the staircases into the water.  When you look closely you can see the signs that the city is sinking because there are usually one or two steps completely submerged in the canals.  It really is an incredible thing to be able to see the evidence of Venice slowly sinking over the years.  It was one of the cities in which we didn’t even think about touching a map or making plans….we just decided to wander around for hours and see as much as we could.  It isn’t that big of a place so we really did see a good portion of it in one day.

Oh you know, just a staircase into the canal...

One of the other things that I really enjoyed about Venice was all the different bridges.  There are only 3 or 4 main bridges that cross the Grand Canal, and each is totally different from the others.  I also loved how there were so many alleys and dead ends all over the place that it was like a maze.  Some alleys would go on for hundreds of feet and end with nothing but a small staircase into a side canal.  Where else in the world can you continuously find stairways into canals and boats carrying mail to peoples houses?  No where.

Venice isn’t a place where you are going to go party and get wild.  It’s not a place where you are going to find too much peace and quiet (tourists everywhere).  And I’m not sure if it’s somewhere I would want to live.  But it sure as hell is the only city of it’s kind in the world, and that’s gotta be worth something….

 

 

Thanks,

Josh

Alright, so here I am again to bombard you all with another entry.

This time the subject will be Florence, Italy.  Florence is for sure one of the most aesthetically pleasing cities we have been to so far.  Every building, park and street is nice and it is a phenomenal city for walking around.  We again stayed at a camping hostel here, with the only downside being the walk from our tent to the bathrooms.  Other than having to climb a mountain to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night it was a great experience.

No particular importance, just thought this was really cool street art

The first night we were there we just relaxed a little bit and sat on the terrace overlooking the city.  The camping ground was set near Piazza Michelangelo, which is a beautiful little plaza with a spectacular view of all of Florence and the mountains behind it.  The next day we had plans to see the Uffizi and St. Croce, the church where Michelangelo was laid to rest.

Our first stop was the Uffizi, where we waited in line for about 2:30 until we finally got in.  There was some cool stuff to see but I probably wouldn’t have waited in that line if I knew what was inside.  It was obviously really great artwork and all that, but I am not huge on that to begin with but we felt we should check it out regardless.

The sunset in Florence was incredible....

From there we got some delicious Italian pasta and wandered around for a while.  Then we went into St. Croce and saw Michelangelo´s tomb as well as the School of Leather located behind the church.  It was definitely a cool pace to check out and we enjoyed it.  We also went to see the Duomo, which is massive and really intricately designed on the outside, yet simple on the inside.  After some more exploring, and gelato of course, we returned and grabbed dinner near the hostel.  While we were hanging out we  met some cool Canadians and Americans and ended up drinking some wine with them.

One thing led to another and before we knew it we had a 12 person table playing a drinking game and then going out to a club.  We were out until 4:00 at the club and then had a hilarious walk back to the hostel and eventually arrived around 5:00, at which point I hopped the security gate because I didn’t want to wait for the guy to open it.

The next morning we got up a little later due to our night out and went straight to Academia to see the famed David statue, also by Michelangelo (is there anything that guy couldn’t do?).  After another two hour wait in which we watched the shadows move from one side of the street all the way to the other and up the wall, we got in.  Unlike the Uffizi, this was absolutely worth the wait.  The statue is absolutely stunning to see in person and is much larger than I expected as well.  The detail is impeccable and it looks as if he could just start walking out of the museum.  there are also many unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo which were really neat to see since it showed the process and how he worked.

....incredible enough for me to put two pictures of it up

After that we again returned to the hostel and ran into Derek from Arizona who we met the night before.  We sat down with him and met two other guys, Jordan and Matt from Birmingham, England, who we started talking to.  They convinced us (probably not too difficult) to get some cheap wine as well (.80 for a carton or 3 euros for a liter) and hang out.  We ended up going to Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset because everyone was telling us how it was truly amazing.

The sunset lived up to it’s massive hype.  The sun slowly dropped behind the mountains behind the Tiber River, which glowed with all the colors.  I will put a picture because it isn’t worth trying to describe.

After that we met two more British people, Matt and Abby, and talked to them for a while.  At midnight I somehow got everyone in the place to sing happy birthday to Eric which was funny, get some free shots and then go out again.  We went to the same club (called Twice) at some point and also another place.  The walk back at 5 was probably one of the funniest things that has happened on our trip, but I will spare you all the details.  I’ll just say it involved extra spicy kebabs even though we both hate them, meeting a Taiwanese girl taking pictures (still makes no sense), Matt eating leftover Kebab off the street and stealing a construction sign.  Basically, it was fun.

In the morning we woke up at about 9:45, which was perfect since our train to Venice left at 9:15.  So, instead we made our way up to the top of the hill and ran into the gang from the night before.  We rehashed all the stories and events from the night before and talked until around 2:00 when we decided we’d head to the train station and grab reservations to Venice!

I really loved Florence and enjoyed my time there.  It was a beautiful city and we met a lot of cool people as usual.

Thanks everyone!

Josh

Roma

Hey everyone!

Coming down to the end of our trip which is kind of hard to believe.  We arrived in Madrid today which I already love from just walking around for an hour.  This will be our last true stop as we will be flying back to England for a couple days after Madrid and then home from there.

However, this post isn’t about Spain because I’ve still failed to finish my Italy posts, or even start them actually haha.  So, here goes my thoughts on the historic city of Rome.

Obviously there is a hell of a lot to see in Rome.  The first day we arrived we headed to our hostel, which was a camping site about 20 minutes on the metro and bus from the city center.  We got there in the late afternoon and just hung out and relaxed for the day.  Our roommate was a really cool Australian guy named Andrew and the three of us grabbed some beers from the cheap supermarket across the street and just hung out for a few hours.  Once it got late we moved to the club where there were tons of people drinking and dancing until about 2 a.m. at which point we got to bed.

Trevi Fountain in Rome

The next day we headed into the city pretty early to see as much as we possibly could.  First we got off at the Vatican to check it out, but we weren’t planning on going in.  After that we went to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, which was absolutely amazing.  Of course, neither of us have a clue what the significance of either one is but they were still cool things we knew we were supposed to see.

After that we headed to the Memorial Vittorio Emmanuel who was some important Italian guy or the father of modern Rome or something.  Regardless of who he is, the building is massive and very imposing to stand at the base of.  After heading to the top and looking out at the city we set our sites on the main site of Rome; the Colosseum.

On the way we stopped to watch a few street painters who use spray paint which reminded me of San Francisco and was fun to watch. Then we finally arrived at the ancient Colosseum which is even more astounding to see than you could imagine.  It appears even more amazing when you take into account that it was built in 17 AD.  Yep, you read that correctly.

While we were waiting for our tour we met two guys (brother-in-laws) who were from the Boston area orignally and had a good time talking to them.  Our professional goals came up at some point, and Daniel informed us that he is a journalist for the Wall Street Journal and also the New York Times.  Of course, with me wanting to be a sports writer

I think you all know what this is....

that was music to my ears!  He also volunteered his e-mail address and told me he is good friends with the head of sports at the Boston Globe and that he’d see what he could do for me.  So, not only did I tour the Colosseum, but I met a potential connection to my dream career.  Pretty good couple hours.

After the Colosseum we headed over the the Foro Romano and Palatino, which are basically all of the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire.  The ticket for the Colosseum covered all three of these sights.  It’s truly surreal to walk around the ruins because you realize that you are standing where the most historic, famous, ancient Empire to ever exist was formed and ruled for ages.  It makes you feel really small being there and thinking about how amazing it is that they created such incredible structures over 2,000 years ago.  It’s hard to fathom.  After that we called it a day because we really couldn’t walk any more after all that.

The next day we tried to go to the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel, but of course it was a Sunday so it was closed…pretty good timing, eh?  Instead, we grabbed some lunch and headed for Circo Massimo, the ancient track where the Romans used to race horses.  We also walked over the bridge that crosses the Tiber River and into Trevestere, a cool little area with lots of restaurants, gelato and shops.  We found a place with amazing gelato and then explored for a little while before heading back for dinner and some rest.

The ancient ruins of the Roman Forum

The next day, our last in Rome, we finally got ourselves into line for the Vatican, mainly just to see the Sistine Chapel.  After walking through about 10 rooms we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel and it didn’t disappoint one bit.  It’s hard to believe one person painted almost that entire ceiling and the walls.  It doesn’t make sense at all, especially to something with as little artistic ability as me.  All I can say is that Michelangelo was one talent dude.

That pretty much concluded our time in Rome, as from there we went back and packed up for our train to the lovely city of Florence.  Rome was one of the most incredible places to see so far because of how much you hear about it in history and really everyday life.  There was so much to see and it was all as amazing as I thought it would be, if not better.

I’ll write about Florence soon, which was an absolute blast!

Thanks,

Josh

Alright so as promised I am back to discuss our time in Croatia.  We spent about a week in Croatia in three different places.  We started in Zagreb, the capital, then moved to Split, a beautiful coastal city, then finally on down to Dubrovnik on the southern coast.  Explaining Croatia in words is an impossible task, yet I will attempt it anyways so that maybe you can at least get a glimpse of how amazing it is.

Drazen Petrovic's grave in Mirogoj

So, as I mentioned our first stop was Zagreb.  We arrived by train and met our couchsurfing host, a 22-year-old student named Sanja and her roommate Tamara.  They were both incredibly kind and helpful and we ended up spending a lot of time with them (and getting helpful pointers, such as don’t ever pay for the public transportation there).  We grabbed lunch and then went to the huge park in the city and explored.  After that, we headed over to Mirogoj Cemetery, mainly to see the resting place of Drazen Petrovic, a former NBA player for the New Jersey Nets and subject of the ESPN 30 for 30 Documentary “Once Brothers.”

The cemetery was one of the nicer ones I have seen and is mostly enclosed in a walled in area.  The tombstones and graves are really interesting to walk around and look at and Eric and I both got separated and lost at one point but eventually met at a war memorial.  We probably searched and explored Mirogoj for about an hour before finally stumbling upon Petrovic’ grave.  It might seem weird to some to want to go see a former NBA players’ grave, but I am a huge NBA fan and wanted to see it while I was there.

After exploring the town center for a while, we met up with Sanja and Tamara who took us to the “Upper Town” which we failed to find earlier.  It is basically the old town of Zagreb and is really fun and nice.  You keep going up and up until you are overlooking most of the city, at which point you find the incredible summer festival area.  It is a long trail through the woods with a stage, bars, seats and trees hanging over.  In addition, there are lights hanging down from the trees and it gives the feel of an enchanted woods (really odd thing to describe something as but it’s all I could think of).  After drinking some beer and laughing for a couple of hours we went to a salsa bar, then got fruit flavored shots and went back to get some rest (on their floor of course).

The incredible Plitvice Lakes

The next day we barely made our 8:40 bus to Plitvice Lakes, the beautiful National Park we wanted to stop at on the way to Split.  After a quick 2 hour bus journey we arrived and bought our tickets.  Plitvice is one of the most well-known and popular tourist attractions of Croatia and after seeing it the reason is pretty clear.  The water in the lakes is a color that’s hard to explain other than to say it looks like the most refreshing water on earth…seriously.

After wandering around Plitvice for about 3 hours we made our way to the bus stop to catch the 5 hour bus to Split.  This may have been the most beautiful ride of any kind I have ever been on and put the train ride from Austria to Slovenia to shame.  It’s really not worth trying to explain because you just have to go on that ride to know how beautiful it is.  The whole time we were going through the Dalmacion Mountains weaving in and out of the peaks and valleys and all that.  There were also incredible lakes along the way and Eric and I really couldn’t believe what we were seeing.  As beautiful as Plitvice and Zagreb were, I think it’s safe to say that this ride was when I fell in love with Croatia.

As we arrived in Split, the bus drove through a tunnel under a mountain and came out on the other side high up on that mountain with Split below us and the Adriatic Sea behind it….again, truly a sight everyone needs to see.

The Dalmacion Mountains behind the railroad tracks in Split

Split was easily one of my favorite cities on the trip, possibly even my favorite.  It is not touristy, which is important when you look at the places we have been so far.  There is a gorgeous restaurant and walking area with benches all along it on the coast, as well as beautiful beaches and old buildings.  There is an amazing “Green Market” down a set of stairs where you can buy all kinds of fruits and veggies for wicked cheap (plus the best apple danish in the world!).  Also, they have a bunch of little flea market time shopping areas where I managed to buy a Borussia Dortmund (Lucas Barrios) jersey for 100 Kunas (about 18 USD) which is ridiculously cheap.

There are tons of places to grab good food all around and in the center near the coastline is an old palace that has winding alleyways and expensive shopping throughout.  It is the castle that originally made up the grand palace for the city however was partially destroyed and is now the main attraction of the city.  It is really neat and exciting to walk around inside it.  We also got some drinks on the water with our 3 British roommates and our other Canadian friends one night which was a lot of fun.

Oh, and I forgot the beach.  Clearest water I have ever seen.  I walked in all the way until my head was barely above water and could still make out the details of my feet and legs.  While chilling and relaxing in the amazing clear water of the Adriatic (really cold water by the way) I turned to face the shore and see the astounding Dalmacion Mountains towering above the city.  I felt like I was in heaven for the whole time I was in the water, and I am really not overstating the beauty at all.

After a few amazing days in Split, we regretfully had to leave and head for Dubrovnik on a 4-hour long bus ride.  But, we were excited to take the bus ride along the coast and see Dubrovnik.  The bus ride was pretty much just as beautiful as the one from Plitvice to Split so I won’t go into too much detail.  I’ll just say that we were driving high up in the mountains with the peaks on one side and the Adriatic coastline on the other.

Dubrovnik is a very cool place as well, although we didn’t have a ton of time to explore before our ferry to Italy.  The “Old City” is located on a peninsula

Bus ride from Split to Dubrovnik

along the water and is basically all inside an ancient fortress with crazy stairs and turns and alleys in every direction.  It’s like a medievil place out of a story book for kids.  A place I would definitely love to return to at some point!

Oh, I almost forgot the most important thing about the bus ride there; we passed through Bosnia & Herzegovina for about 10 minutes along the coast!  It was a magical experience.  No but seriously, I really want to go to Bosnia we just ran out of time to do more than go through it on our bus.

I hope I have convinced many of you to go to Croatia at some point; I certainly know I will be going back sometime in the very near future!  All I can say is that Croatia get’s in your bones!

Thanks,

Josh

I realize I am about three weeks behind on my updates, but here goes a quick recap of the last however many places we’ve been.  Pretend this was posted back then haha….

First off, congratulations to Andrew Goudelock for being drafted no. 46 by the Los Angeles Lakers.  Although that is literally the only team in the NBA I didn’t want him to go to, I am incredibly happy to see him realize his dream of being drafted into the NBA.  I watched him for 4 years at the College of Charleston and no one deserves a shot more than him.  I have even wrote about how he should get a chance back in the beginning of his senior season as some of you may remember.

Good luck Drew!  Although I can’t say I’ll be rooting for the Lakers, I can say I will root for you to tear it up every night only to have the Lakers lose in the last couple minutes of each game (I’m a Celtics fan, that’s not going to change).

Anyways, since my last post we have been to Prague, Czech Republic and Vienna, Austria.  We are currently in Ljubljana, Slovenia after a beautiful train ride through the Alps.

Prague was really cool other than the fact that it’s confusing as hell and it took us an hour to find our hostel.  Also, it’s the first place where people brushed us off when we tried to talk to them or ask them questions.  I guess I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they were having bad days and not all Czech’s don’t want to help you haha.

The first day we went into the city and explored.  We went to the communism museum and then went to a cool little pub to get some dinner.  We also got corn from a hot dog stand because apparently that’s a big thing in Prague…

That night we stayed in and took it easy because we were dead from not getting much sleep on our overnight train.  However, two of our roommates were from Chile (Ignacia and Josefa) and asked me to open their bottle of wine.  After I did that, they asked if we would like to have a glass with them (they were out of glasses at the hostel so I got a mug….classy).

We ended up drinking wine and talking to them for about 5 hours that night and it was one of my favorite nights of the trip so far.  They both speak English, but of course there are some words they can’t come up with easily where we would help.  But, I tried to mostly speak in Spanish during our 5 hours because I thought it was unfair to only speak English and it was kind of fun to try and see how well I do with Spanish.  I was pleasantly surprised, although I’m obviously far from fluent haha.  The point is we had a really fun time talking to them and it was a great night.

The next day we got up early for our free tour with the same organization from Berlin.  The tour was really fun, but again, what made the time worthwhile was the people we met.  Right off the bat we met Taylor and Eric from Chicago, both students at University of Illinois.  We spent most of the tour hanging out with them and talking, and when the tour stopped for lunch at a bagel place we discovered that Taylor was Jewish (you know, the whole bagel thing).

After the tour we explored the city for another 3 hours with them, eventually ending up at a beer garden in a park which was really cool.  They had really cheap beer and the park was very nice until it started raining.  After we parted ways we headed back to our hostel, where we hung out with the Australian girl and 3 English girls who had joined our room

Vienna's Belvedere Palace at sunset

Vienna was a really neat city and very clean.  That might be a weird thing to notice, but regardless it’s true.  The first day we just wandered around

exploring and found a place called Belvedere Palace where we watched the sunset over the Alps.  The sky was all kinds of crazy colors.  The coolest thing about Vienna was how almost every building looked incredibly important.

The next day we toured the Parliment building which was really interesting and beautiful, went to Schonnbrunn Palace which was one of the most amazing buildings and palace yards I have ever seen.  We then got Weinerschnitzel which was delicious and went to hang out with our Canadian and British roommates.

Lake Bled, Slovenia...the picture doesn't do it justice

The next day it was off to Slovenia.  The train ride from Vienna to Ljubljana was absolutely amazing as the train rode through the A

lps almost the whole way.  When we got to Ljubljana we grabbed some Burek, the specialty food of the Balkan countries which is really good.  If you ever go I highly recommend trying it.  The next day we went to Lake Bled which is the most picturesque place we had been so far.  It’s a fairly good sized lake with clear blue water and a small island with a pretty church in the middle.

Hard to put into words, so we took about 80 pictures from different angles haha.  We also explored Ljubljana which was a really neat place and then went around at night for a bit to see what it was like there.

That’s enough for this post, but I’ll do Croatia later today!

Josh

Alright everyone, so another city is down and we are on to Prague today.  Our time in Krakow, Poland was very enjoyable and it is certainly a city I would like to return to because it is lively and beautiful!

However, the main reason we added Krakow to our itinerary was to visit the Auchwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland, which are located about an hour drive from the city.  Obviously going to these camps is hard and emotional for everyone, but as many of you know Eric and I are both Jewish, so it was especially tough.

I don’t really want to go into a lot of details about it because it gets my emotions going too much, but I will describe a little bit for those who have never been to one of these camps.

The infamous gate above the entrance to Auchwitz

As many of you know, Auchwitz is the most infamous of the “death camps” the Nazi’s set up.  Over 1.4 million people were killed on the site of the three Auchwitz area camps (the third was completely destroyed).  We took a bus to the site of the camps and got into a group for a tour of both facilities.  First was Auchwitz I, the original camp of the three.  The first thing you see when you walk in is the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign above the entrance, which means “work set’s you free.”  Obviously this is a completely false hope given to the people imprisoned in the camps and actually seeing it in person gave me chills.  Walking through the gate was very hard because you can’t help but picture the thousands upon thousands of people making that same fateful walk.

From there on, we walked through a lot of former barracks which had been turned into museums somewhat, with pictures and displays to be explained by the guides.  I was doing pretty well for most of that, until we got to a certain room.  As we turned a corner and walked into a room, before us were 2 tons of real human hair from Auchwitz victims.  This hit me like a ton of bricks and I started crying and getting very emotional.  There were also cases with 40,000 pairs of shoes belonging to victims, eyeglasses of victims and so on.  It was not something I expected to see and it affected me a lot.

I really don’t want to go into detail about the gas chamber because that is something I can’t explain.  It was hard to even breathe and Eric and I both exited very quickly.  It’s a feeling I have never had before and likely never will.

From there we drove 3 minutes to Birkenau, the second camp, which is 25 times larger than Auchwitz I.  Unlike

Train tracks through Birkenau, the larger, better preserved of the two camps

the original, this camp was left almost exactly the way it was when allied forces liberated it in 1945.  It is incredibly eerie to walk around and see the place where so much horror took place.  After that we returned to the bus and went back to Krakow.

As tough and emotional as it was to visit Auchwitz and Birkenau, I’m glad we did it.  I won’t mince words when I say it was one of the hardest days of my life, but it is absolutely something that everyone should see so they can be reminded of the horrors that human beings are capable of and make sure nothing like it ever happens again.

Despite all that, Krakow was actually a fantastic little city.  The “Old Town” is incredible and there is a huge square where there are always entertaining street performers and places to eat and hang out.  It has a lot of character and the most beautiful women of any place we have been so far (probably tied with Brussels).  We met up with our Irish friends (Robbie, Pete, James and Doug) who we went out with in Berlin and had a great time.  Although if there was one lesson me and Eric learned that night it’s this; DO NOT try to keep up with the Irish when you drink with them haha.

I hope everyone is doing really well and I miss everyone back home.  Take care and I look forward to seeing all of you very soon!

 

Josh

Berlin, Germany

I’m back!

This time I will be writing about what was my favorite stop on our boomswag tour around Europe; Berlin.

Where do I begin?  Well, first of all, the city is young which makes it a fun place to be.  But, as our tour guide mentioned, it is also a very dynamic city, especially given how recently it came back together.

If you think about it, the current city of Berlin has only existed since the year I was born….and I’m only 22!  However, despite how new and ever-evolving the city of Berlin is, it is still rich in history, particularly in relation to war and conflict unfortunately.

Our second day in Berlin we took a free tour with NewEurope, an organization that gives free tours in about 12 major European cities and is still expanding.  We met two kids, a guy and a girl, who go to USC (South Carolina) on the tour and made friends with them quickly.

Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe

Our tour guide, Tim, was an Australian born kid who was very passionate about what he does.  He was one of the better tour guides I have had in my travels because he showed how much he cared; his passion came through clearly.  Along our tour we visited many different things, including a couple memorials.  Three memorials stood out in my mind for how well done they were and how powerful as well.

The first was the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It is essentially a labryinth of concrete blocks.  The blocks are all plain, no writing or symbols on them or anything, and they are of varying heights and widths.  There are 2,711 blocks in all and you can walk around between all of them.  Near the side we started on they were about waist high, but on the opposite corner they were almost double my height.

Tim told us how the creator, Eisenman, intentionally made the memorial vague so as not tell people how to think; he wanted to let people decide what it means to them for themselves.  I thought this was a perfect way to handle such a tough memorial.  As our group discussed what it made them feel, some said it showed the anonymity of the victims or how if it’s hard to fathom 2,711 then it’s impossible to wrap your head around 6 million.

For me, it showed how people kind of dissapeared once they went in.  If you watched people walk towards the taller blocks, they simply were gone until they came out somewhere on the other side.  As you walk inside that area you also begin to feel sort of trapped, much like victims of the holocaust and

Memorial for All Victims of War and Tyranny

other events must have felt (obviously the difference being they were actually trapped).

The next memorial that struck me was the Memorial for All Victims of War and Tyranny (controversial title because an SS Officer who is killed technically falls under that – this is what Tim was telling us).  This memorial consists of nothing more than an empty large room with a statue of a greiving mother holding her dead son in her arms.  However, directly above it there is a circular opening about 15 feet in circumference on the roof, so the statue is always exposed to the elements. INSERT WHATEVER THAT MEANS.

The final thing that impacted me was the Book Burning Memorial, which was on the site where Nazi’s burned 20,000 books by Jewish, homosexual and other “unpure” groups authors.

In the center of that square there is a small glass window on the ground, through which you can see empty bookshelves.  There is enough room for exactly 20,000 books on the shelves, but the room is locked so they will stay empty forever.

The most chilling part is a quote on the ground next to it taken from a Jewish author in 1820, over 100 years before the holocaust (it was from a book he wrote which was burned in the book burnings of 1933).

That was mere foreplay.  Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”

Me and the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall)

That sent chills down my spine.  Also, its worth noting that they destroyed the bunker where Hitler pussied out (I mean, committed suicide – most cowardly person of all-time) because it could attract neo-Nazi’s.  The Germans really do an incredible job remembering the horrors of their past and doing it from the perspective of the victims only.

The other part of the tour that was really cool was the Berlin Wall.  The former path was marked all the way around the city, except where the wall still stands, which we got to see.  It’s really incredible to see the actual wall that divided this city for so long.

I could go on and on about the sites, but I’ll move on to the nightlife; it’s amazing.  We went on a pub crawl with our two S.C. friends and met tons of other awesome people.  We met three Canadian guys from Edmonton who I watched Game Seven with.  They were awesome guys.  We also met four Irish guys who came to Krakow the same day as us and are basically following the same trip path!  So, we are going out with them in Krakow tonight too.

I won’t go into details on the Berlin pub crawl, but I will say that we went to five places, but both our memories of walking from place to place are sort of hazy, we were given free shots of jager every time we bought a drink, and me and Eric found ourselves at Checkpoint Charlie at 3:45 a.m. (that’s about 30 minutes walk from where we were staying haha).  It was an incredibly fun night and we had a blast with the people we were with.  If you want details ask, but I’m not puting it all on here haha, sorry.

Moral of the story is this, go to Berlin!

Thanks everyone!

Josh

Alright everyone, so I’m a little behind on the blogging of each country and what we did.

First off, I need to take time to say….THE BOSTON BRUINS ARE STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS!!!

We watched Game Seven in a Berlin bar with mostly Canucks fan who, unlike those in Vancouver, were very fun, civil fans who took their loss fair and square.  It was really amazing to watch it in Berlin, although I admit I’m incredibly bummed I don’t get to be in Boston to celebrate this incredible championship!

Thomas kissing the Stanley Cup

I could go on for days about that, but just know I haven’t been more happy about a Boston championship other than in 2004!  Timmy, Bergy, Recchi and all the other guys deserved that Cup so bad it was surreal to watch them lift the Stanley Cup!

So, Copenhagen was a pretty neat place.  We stayed with a guy named Jens who was an awesome host and showed us all the parts of the city that you wouldn’t get to see if you were on your own.

We got an insiders look at the city, as well as Christania, the amazing counter-culture society in Copenhagen where the houses are all creatively built, often by hand, in unique ways.  It’s really hard to explain, but it’s easily the best thing in Copenhagen (which by the way is one of the most expensive cities ever).

We enjoyed our time there before heading to Berlin, which will be the topic of my next entry in a little while.

Alright, so since leaving Amsterdam the last 24 hours have been quite a whirlwind adventure for us!

First, we got onto our 7:01 overnight train to Copenhagen and found our cabin, which had 6 beds in very cramped quarters.  There were three beds on top of each other in two columns with about a two-foot wide area in the middle.  Can you say comfy?  The only other passenger in our cabin at the time was a Swedish guy named Adam.  We started hanging out with him and talking about our plans and everything since he is a young guy traveling Europe too.  We folded down one bed to make a couch and then decided to watch Gladiator on Eric’s laptop.

Of course, 10 minutes after we began to watch the train stopped in Cologne and our other three roommates got on. They were all total Buzz Killingtons and went to bed immediately, ruining our movie time in the process.  This left us with nothing to do except listen to music and doodle in our little diaries (no restaurant car or chill car where people who didn’t want to sleep could go).  I went to search for a place to hang anyway and ran into a guy named Pierre from Lyon, France.

Along with Pierre, Eric and I went and found an empty cabin that the conductor allowed us to use for a while.  We spent about 20 minutes talking to him about his travels and ours as well as lots of other things.  He was a really nice, fun guy.  Eventually we got kicked out of the car and called it a night.  We arrived in Copenhagen at about 10:00 a.m. and set out to find our hostel.

Unfortunately, as has been the case more often than not, Google gave us horrible directions that entailed waking about 2 miles on roads that don’t even exist.  But, we found another lovely woman who directed us to the correct bus and stop to get off at and we made it to the hostel.

That’s where the real fun begins!  While checking in, the woman working the desk pointed out to us that we had booked only for the 12th so we were not able to check in until the next day (I’m not pointing fingers, but let’s just say Eric made that reservation haha).  We actually found this pretty funny and had a good laugh, because honestly what else can you do in that situation?

We frantically sent out Couchsurfing requests to a bunch of people while looking for cheap places to stay in case we had to.  Luckily, a man named Jens responded within about 20 minutes and told us we were welcome to stay here.  We were about 10 minutes from his place so we hurried over and met him.  He is an incredibly nice, smart guy and already showed us around the city a bit before he had to go in for work.  Tomorrow we are going to see all the main sights in Copenhagen before heading off to Berlin the following morning. Regardless of how Copenhagen turns out in the end, at least we can say we had an adventure!

 

Thanks!

 

Josh