Thursday, December 12, 2019

Backpacking Europe Part 7: Germany and England

This is the final installment of this magical month tramping around Europe! It's been really fun for me to live back through our trip to tell the story of it, and I hope it's been enjoyable for you to read. We only have two more countries left at this point to share, but lots of adventures within as Germany had two different city stops with a detour in between to a separate town, and England includes a day trip out of London with three big stops. That said, this post is full of lots of detailed info and pictures, so grab a cup of coffee and sit back and dive in...

Our trip up until now:
New York City
London and Paris
Switzerland and Spain
Italy and Croatia
Santorini and Athens
Hungary and Czechia

Picking up from the Czech Republic... 

We took an Uber to the station (because we got lost using public transit) and departed Prague via train. This experience was a hot mess. Our printed train tickets were not in English, and even accessing them on the Trainline EU app, there was no way to translate them as it was a Germany-based trainline.

To complicate matters once we boarded, our tickets did not have assigned seats and where the attendant told us to sit ended up being reserved. This train was not spacious and the seating was separated into different rooms, so it was difficult to maneuver with our backpacks. Lots of other people were in the same predicament as far as seating so there was a lot of frustration and confusion. As the train was already moving, we finally found a place to sit and kind of intruded on an American from Charlotte traveling alone that I am sure was wanting the little room to herself...sorry girlfriend.

At last...we got settled and were bound for Dresden in the German state of Saxony. :) This was country #11 for the trip. I was excited to explore a new part of Germany. Last time Landon and I went two years ago we visited Munich and Heidelberg.

Immediately upon arrival I think we were a little "hangry" as our train had stalled multiple times for blackouts delaying us a few hours so we went and grabbed some burgers then ventured to our apartment.

Then we walked to the Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady). It's a former Catholic church that became Lutheran during the Reformation. It was destroyed during a bombing in WWII and was rebuilt in the 1990s after Germany was reunified. This church has one of the largest domes in Europe, and it is considered a symbol of reconciliation.

It was a Sunday that we were in Dresden so we didn't do any formal tours...just a lot of exploring on our own and taking in the city. After some coffee and dessert, we walked over to the Zwinger.
It's a Baroque palace that houses museums and a place for theatre performances, including an opera house. It's stunning!

To get back home, we ended up renting Lime scooters. These things could fly! It was a very free-spirited moment zipping across town and we just had a lot of fun. We had pizza delivered to our apartment as hardly any restaurants near us were open and called it a night.

The next morning, the guys went to pick up our rent car and came back to scoop up us girls. The car's navigation was talking to us in German (we finally got it changed into English after getting into traffic), we had to Google how to put that tiny little manual car into reverse, and it was raining with poor visibility...but we survived, even after stopping at a sketchy gas station in the middle of nowhere. :)

Ultimately we were headed for Berlin, but the reason we rented a car to get there is to see something that's been on my bucket list for many years. We were making a pit stop in Wittenberg, home of a significant turning point in world history. It did take a few hours of driving a little out of the way via Leipzig...but it seriously meant so much to me to check this off.

This little university town is known as the Birthplace of the Reformation.

I was a little bummed that I had a migraine come out of nowhere while we were here and also that it was pouring rain in diagonal sheets...because I would have loved to explore this town a little more than we did. Thankfully my headache did get better before we walked down to Castle Church.

Per the usual for European churches, it was absolutely beautiful. They don't make them like this anymore...

We walked around on our own just taking it in instead of doing the tour that's offered once daily. I got chills thinking about all of the history here! 

The Reformation changed the world and is important for so many reasons. Most notably, it was during this time that the Bible first got translated into the vernacular for laypeople to be able to read and interpret on their own.

This is the famed door (not the original due to the Seven Years' War) where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses. You may have heard of the Five Solas...this is where they came from. Among other things, he challenged the extravagant Pope Leo X on his offering of indulgences to pardon sins in exchange for funds to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica...he saw this as a perversion of the gospel as he claimed that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone.

We explored the little museum and saw the displays, including the Wormser Edikt (Edict of the Diet of Worms) which was the proclamation banning Martin Luther from the Catholic Church and labeling him a heretic.

There's SO much more history that I could talk about, but that's the basics. I was so, so pleased to fit this into our itinerary and was thankful that my people indulged my nerdy self. ;) I know I study theology for school, but I also do it for personal reasons--as every believer should. It's so fascinating to me and to see this place in person was a day I will forever remember. So unreal!

We then loaded back up and drove on to Berlin. The guys returned our car, and then a nap was in order for this rainy day as we had no afternoon reservations. That night we had a dinner at a local biergarten (beer garden).

And the next morning, we were ready to explore the capital of Germany.

We had an early appointment to visit the Reichstag Dome, the home of German parliament. It's free but you must have a pre-made appointment specifically in your name and have your passport checked to enter. The dome offers 360-degree panoramic views of Berlin and includes a free audio set with good information about the city, the government, and the building.

From the Dome we walked over to the famous Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) that is a symbol of peace in Europe.

Then we passed the US Embassy (with a Statue of Liberty version Buddy Bear in the window) and went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was sad and eerie to me but also weird because kids were running around playing hide-and-seek and people were taking selfies and modeling and it all seemed disrespectful.

From here we took the bus to an exhibition that we had tickets for called "Hitler, How Could It Happen" located in an underground replica of his bunker. Going back to the period of National Socialism, it tells the story of Hitler's birth in Austria and then his life and gives so much history and context leading up to the Holocaust. It's so in-depth that I really felt overloaded with information and felt the tour was a little long but it's well-curated and I learned a lot that I didn't know before.

One thing we missed in Berlin that I wished we would have squeezed in was the German Spy Museum. Because I love some good espionage. ;)

Lastly on the agenda, we went to the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial). When taking the subway there, we ended up exiting in one of the former ghost stations that was on the border of Divided Berlin. There was a little display about it in the station. Very eerie.

This is a section of the original wall. There's a chapel on the site and several informational displays along with memorials to those that died there. The wall fell only 30 years almost during my lifetime, which really gave me a lot of perspective.  

The next morning, we took the subway out to SXF for our flight back to London. In between security and passport control, we finally snapped a picture with a Buddy Bear (we had been seeing them all over the city). These are life-size sculptures that were started as an idea in 2001 in Berlin to promote kindness, optimism, tolerance, and peace. :) 

Our flight arrived at Luton which was fairly inconvenient but it worked. We took an Uber to our apartment in Ealing, walked to eat lunch and grab some snacks/drinks at the grocery store, and went back to rest for the evening.

For Round 2 of London, we had an all-inclusive day trip booked for the next day. It would have been fun to do all of these sights on our own as this package was the epitome of touristy...but by this point I think we were too mentally tired to deal with the logistics, ticket buying, arranging transit, etc. So we just showed up and let the company do all that. :)

We took the Underground to Victoria Coach Station and boarded our coach (bus).

First stop: Heaven Oxford, England. I kept asking myself why in the world I hadn't come to study here? It was beyond dreamy for this nerd.

We walked around the university and saw some of the colleges and highlights.

I thought it was really neat to see some of the places that supposedly inspired Narnia.

Speaking of, this is a spot where the Inklings used to it was on my list to see. I'm a big admirer of C.S. Lewis...I even once had a cat named Clive. ;)

We then left Oxford and drove to Windsor to see the royal residence there.

We walked through a small portion of the town before touring the largest occupied castle in the world. The original structure was built in the 1070's by William the Conqueror. It was lovely!

And then the last stop of our day was Stonehenge. I glad that I can say I've been? Yes. Would I ever go back? Doubtful. Is it worth going out of the way for? No.

It is neat and pretty and all. But at the end of the day, it's just a bunch of rocks out in a field in the middle of the countryside. :) I'm glad this was included in with the other stops because if I would have taken an excursion with this being the only stop, I would have probably been disappointed if I'm being honest.

We hopped back on the bus and headed back into the city. After getting dropped off, we went the long way home via the Underground so that we could go to King's Cross.

We of course went to find Platform 9 3/4 then shopped around the Harry Potter store there in the train terminal.

By the time we got back to the apartment we were tired and lazy and so Uber Eats for dinner it was. We packed up our bags and scheduled our transport to the airport the next morning.

It was actually really sad to me to pack up my backpack for the last time this trip. By this point I felt like I could pack that thing up in my sleep. Something that was hands-down a lifesaver for this trip was packing cubes. They are life-changing and I'm not even being dramatic. Get you some packing cubes! I had a large one for clothing, large for toiletries, and one small one for socks, under garments, swimsuit, etc. I had a couple of random items that I stuck in the front zippers...and that was it. Packing really isn't that hard because you don't need near as many things as you think you do (I did pack a hair wand--used it 0 times). As long as you plan ahead to be able to do some laundry, a few different clothing items that can be mixed and matched into different outfits suffices.

The next morning we were going through security at Heathrow and this girl lost her passport. Yep. It still gives me anxiety to think about! Thankfully I realized it as soon as I was walking through the duty-free shopping so I ran walked fast to security and the kind Brit recognized me from the picture in the passport that had just been turned into the security desk. Praise God. :) And then we hopped back across the pond!

It was a really sad moment when we had to go our separate ways in JFK after living together for a month. Landon and I were connecting on to Nashville, and Paige and Austin staying in New York for a few more days. 

This truly was the trip of a lifetime and I am so, so grateful that we manifested it into fruition instead of just dreaming and talking about it without doing any planning and making it happen. Traveling abroad for a month with this group of 4 was the most amazing was everything I could ever imagine plus some. I am a better person because of it. It expanded and up-leveled me in all the best ways...all the challenges only led to growth. And the experiences? Well you can't get them from your couch. :)

I believe that God made this huge, phenomenal planet for us to explore and enjoy, and it's a shame to not ever leave your corner of it if you have the capability. There's too many apps and resources these days for learning, budgeting, and planning to have much excuse. So that's just my encouragement to you...if there's a big trip on your bucket list? Make it happen. "Someday" is not a day.

Get out there. :)

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