Berlin Wrap Up

As always, here are my tips for Berlin:

  1. Berlin is a very large city so things can be quite far apart. That being said, I would still recommend walking around. There is a lot of really wonderful street art, and it’s a beautiful city in the sunshine.
  2. As in all of Germany, Google Maps is a godsend and works perfectly with the public transportation system.
  3. Buy and validate a transportation card. Berlin is the only city where I’ve had my ticket checked multiple times. The fine for riding without a pass is €40. You validate your pass on the platform in a red box.
  4. Invest in a Museum Pass. For €12 you get 3 day access to all of Berlin’s main museums.
  5. I bought a Berlin Pass (combination of a transportation card + discount card) and found that I was consistently getting better discounts with my student ID. I would say that you’re probably better off buying a transportation card and a Museum Pass (instead of a Berlin Pass) if you’re a student.
  6. Buying a SIM card is easy and affordable. I went to a Saturn Electronics store with my ID and was able to purchase a SIM with 250 MB of data for €5.
  7. If you’re going in winter you’d probably do well to pack an umbrella.
  8. Don’t jaywalk. It’s highly frowned upon in Germany and I’ve even been told that if you jaywalk next to a family it’s not uncommon to be yelled at for setting a bad example. Apparently there are even pedestrian signs that read “Think of the children.”
  9. For me the permanent must sees were: the Neues Museum (even if it’s just to see the building itself), Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten (see the nearby Holocaust Memorial and the memorials to the murdered Gypsies and homosexuals),  Reichstag dome (you can book a more extensive tour online provided you book in advance, but you can also get tickets at the Reichstag. If you decide to buy at the Reichstag I would recommend going early in the morning to avoid a line), Pergamon Museum, Piano Salon Christophori, East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie (mostly because it’s just one of those things that you have to do), Topography of TerrorSchloss Charlottenburg (more for the grounds than for the palace itself), and Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)
  10. The temporary must sees were: Mario Testino exhibit at the Gemäldegalerie
  11. Places to eat: Balli Döner for döner and Monsieur Vuong for Vietnamese food (there was always a wait when I went)
  12. Keep in mind that Berlin is basically two cities in one, so there is plenty to do. Even though I was in the city for about a week I still didn’t see everything that I wanted to.

Off on Our “Lillehammer” Retreat

The next day we were off to Lillehammer! We got up early in the morning to climb aboard what is probably the nicest bus I have ever been on. It had plush leather seats, huge windows with skylights, and a bathroom. It was lovely. The view from the bus was also really nice. Having now lived in Norway for about seven months and having travelled up and down the country, I feel somewhat qualified to say that I don’t think an ugly area exists in Norway.

IMG_9530  IMG_9533  IMG_9536IMG_9547  IMG_9552  IMG_9557Now you may know of Lillehammer from Netflix’s “Lilyhammer,” or from the 1994 Olympics, but in case you don’t, Lillehammer is a town a few hours outside of Oslo that is renowned for its ski jump. Considering that Lillehammer hosted the winter Olympics, you are also probably thinking that it has quite a number of downhill slopes. Well, that isn’t actually the case. The mountains that they used for the downhill Olympic events actually lie outside of the city. The downhill slopes have also been reduced over time since they don’t get that much traffic. In case you don’t follow winter sports, Norwegians excel at cross country and tend to prefer it to alpine skiing. So while we did get to pass through Lillehammer and catch a glimpse of the iconic ski jump, we were soon driving past the town and on to our final destination, Svingvoll. Don’t worry if you’re confused. I was also initially confused to as to why our so called Lillehammer retreat wasn’t actually in Lillehammer, but upon reflection I probably would have been a bit less excited if it had been called the Svingvoll retreat.

Lucky for us we arrived just before lunch was about to start. All of our meals at the retreat were covered by the Fulbright Commission, which also meant that everyone was quite happy to take full advantage of the buffet. Most of us never eat out due to how expensive it is in Norway, so it was nice to be treated to a good (and seemingly endless) meal.* In fact, Rena, the organizer, warned us to not get too excited by the buffet because last year’s Fulbrighters managed to eat so much food that they got sick. I didn’t really know that was possible, but I admit that I’m actually a bit impressed with their commitment to food.

After a hearty lunch and a quick stop at the ski rental place, I decided to take a walk with two other Fulbrighters, Abby and Shay. The Fulbright Commission had agreed to cover a two day lift ticket, and the three of us had decided to use our first day to explore the surrounding area and our last two days to tear up the slopes.

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Lucky for us, the hotel had jacuzzis, saunas, and steam rooms so it was very easy to simply relax and enjoy our time together. Other than that, the rest of the day was spent eating an excellent dinner and whiling the time away in interesting conversations.

*It’s actually quite funny to visit other Norwegian Fulbrighters since we all tend to have limited suggestions when it comes to eating out. Most of us cook since it’s so pricy to eat out, but we do tend to have plenty of coffee shop recommendations. The need for caffeine runs strong in academics.

Rome Wrap Up

Even though I was pretty travel weary when I arrived in Rome, I still managed to really enjoy the city. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Rome is a city that you can easily visit multiple times, so there is no need to rush through the city.
  2. I went in winter and I have to say that going during the off season was a good choice. You can still expect crowds at all of the major tourist attractions, but they are pretty manageable. I think the longest wait that I had was about an hour.
  3. Rome is a fairly walkable city. All of the buses that I saw were packed, but I’ve heard that the subway is pretty functional. You can use this website to figure out how to navigate the public transportation system, though be aware that things generally don’t run on time. If you want to avoid public transportation, all of the big tourist sights are probably within an easy 20-60 minute walk no matter where you are in the city.
  4. All of the fountains in Rome offer clean water that you can easily fill a water bottle with. Now when I say fountain I don’t meant that you should dip your water bottle into the nearest Bernini fountain, I mean small water fountains that are scattered throughout the city.
  5. When ordering water at a restaurant it will be bottled (and expensive) unless you specifically request tap water.
  6. Many sights are close to each other so be sure to glance at a map beforehand so that you can be efficient with your time.
  7. If you are a Dan Brown fan and want to follow the major sights listed in Angels and Demons check out this blog.
  8. People in Rome eat late so many restaurants won’t open until late.
  9. I was warned by pretty much everyone I know to watch out for pickpockets in Rome. Honestly as long as you keep an eye on your things and take preventative measures such as zipping up your pockets you’ll be fine.
  10. You do not need to tip at restaurants since a service charge is generally included.
  11. Sights run by the city of Rome should be free on Sundays.
  12. On Sundays the Pope occasionally appears at noon to give blessings to people in St. Peter’s Square.
  13. Many churches have their most famous pieces of artwork in shady corners. Many of these shady corners have lights that are activated when you feed a few euros into a machine.
  14. Have gelato
  15. Italians HATE it when you don’t have exact change so try and keep track of those pesky coins.
  16. While reservations and tours would probably enhance your experience in Rome I was honestly just fine without them. That being said, the standards for tour guides are quite rigorous so if you do hire a guide you will probably have someone who is very knowledgeable about the city and its major sights.
  17. For me the permanent must sees were: the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica (go through the catacombs and the climb up to the dome), Villa Borghese (you should probably make reservations for this, although you can try and weasel your way in), Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Church San Luigi dei FrancesiSanta Maria Maggiore, Roman Forum (you can buy combination tickets for the Coliseum and the Roman Forum so buy them at whichever sight has the shortest line), Coliseum, Piazza Navona, and Trevi Fountain (though it’s currently undergoing renovations).
  18. The temporary must sees were: the M.C. Escher exhibit at Chiostro del Bramante and the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis

Trondheim

We finally made it! At around 8am the Finnmarken docked in Trondheim after a particularly impressive bit of parallel parking.

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My first view of Trondheim

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A tough parking spot

My parents graciously decided to stay with me in Trondheim for a few days so my first impression of Trondheim was a hurried mix of sightseeing, grocery buying, and Ikea constructing. My initial thoughts on Trondheim are that it’s very beautiful and very walkable. You could easily walk all of downtown, otherwise known as Sentrum, in a few hours. The bus system here is also great, if very expensive.

The first place we had a chance to walk around was the Stiftsgården, or the official residence of the Norwegian Royal Family in Trondheim. The building was originally built by a wealthy member of Trondheim society and was later purchased by the government and eventually converted into the royal residence. Norway has not always been a prosperous country so many of the Stiftsgården’s original antiques were sold long ago. The current furnishings were mostly provided from the marriage and coronation of Princess Maud of England, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to King Haakon VII. Fun fact: the Norwegian Royal Family didn’t actually come from Norway. When Norway achieved independence from Sweden in 1905, the Norwegian government decided that it wanted to remain a monarchy instead of becoming a republic. In order to actually establish a monarchy (since they could no longer use the Swedish one), they invited Prince Carl of Denmark to become the king of Norway. When Carl accepted, he changed his name to become King Haakon VII, and Princess Maud became the Queen Consort.

We also got the chance to see the Nidaros Cathedral and bought a combination ticket to see the cathedral, archbishop’s palace, and the crown jewels. Because we were short on time I wasn’t able to see too much of the archbishop’s palace, but I did learn that the building has been reappropriated throughout the years, and was most notably  a site of resistance against the Nazi invasion. As for the crown jewels, they were of course beautiful but I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures.

Now for the cathedral! The cathedral dominates the Trondheim skyline and is in fact the largest and most northern medieval cathedral in Scandinavia. The cathedral was built in this location because it is where Saint Olav was buried. Saint Olav was the king responsible for brining Christianity to Norway, and with the help of his sword, Olav managed to convert the entire country to Christianity within two years. Olav was believed to be a saint because when he died in battle it was said that those who came in contact with his body were healed of their wounds. When the body was exhumed a year later it was said that his body smelled of flowers and showed no signs of decay. The body was originally laid to rest inside the cathedral so that pilgrims could come pay homage to Saint Olav; however, when the Reformation took hold in Norway priests feared that harm would come to body and hid it away inside the cathedral. To this day they still haven’t discovered where the body is, although they continue to test graves within the cathedral. While the cathedral itself was beautiful, for me the highlight of our tour was climbing to the top of the cathedral tower and getting a great view of the city skyline. Overall it’s an experience that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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Stiftsgården

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Old Town Bridge in Trondheim

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Part of Sentrum

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