Spring break ended less than two weeks ago. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to three very different cities while away: Prague, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Together with three friends, I took on northern Europe in a whirlwind of an exciting and exhausting eight days. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from these three places. I had heard certain things about each, some exciting and encouraging, others not so much. However, I put my preconceived notions aside and entered each city with the idea of anticipation and desire to explore!
Prague was stunning. The views from the Charles Bridge, as well as varying styles of architecture, were unforgettable. The architecture was what stood out to me the most in this small city, so full of history. It is known as “the golden city of spires” because of the abundance of pyramidal structures sitting atop the buildings. The buildings are mostly in styles of Medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance. The use of color was also much more prevalent than in Rome. The architecture greatly contrasted that of my current home city. Roman architecture is unique in and of itself, as much of it is so ancient and pulled from Greek, Phoenician, and Etruscan styles from over 2,000 years ago. The architectural contrasts of the two cities were vast and exciting to see.
Our next stop was Amsterdam. Although I tried, I could not really walk into this place with no preconceived ideas. I had heard so many stories and things about this city. I wasn’t totally sure how I would feel about it once there, but it sure had a lot to live up to. We arrived after sunset and when walking from the central train station to our hostel, I almost immediately caught a whiff of marijuana. Well, this fits the rumors of Amsterdam’s “glory” already. We continued to walk and I was immediately attracted to the small, un-drivable streets surrounding by canals. It was surprisingly quiet, and my reaction was that I would really like this curious city. As we approached the hostel, one of my fellow-travelers who had been to Amsterdam noted, “We’re literally in the Red Light District.” And so we were; our hostel was cozily nestled within the midst of red lights and scantily clad women. As the days progressed, I became more and more impressed with Dutch sweets, waterways, and museums, but less impressed by the stereotypical tourist attractions of the Red Light District and coffee shops. It certainly is an unparalleled city though, perhaps overwhelmingly so.
Our final city to explore was Berlin. What a change from the two small cities we had just traveled; it was huge! It was the first place we visited that really felt like an actual city to me. It was spread out and inelegant, but so massively historical; the combination of these elements gave the city and edge and feel that likely isn’t felt in many cities around the world, and almost none in America. There was no ancient architecture to stand and gawk at, as it was nearly all crumbled during World War II. One could almost feel the dwelling feelings of shame or sadness felt by some members of the Berlin society regarding their difficult history. Although so unique, the city was also more Americanized than my previous two excursions, and Italy. There were many fast food restaurants, Starbucks galore, and a DUNKIN’ DONUTS (which we visited daily, without shame.) Being in Berlin made me realize how impressive a job Italy does with maintaining its culture. Here, there are almost no American restaurants (with the exception of McDonald’s and Burger King, which I presume to be a world-wide exception) and less American stores than I saw in Berlin. Go Italy!