Trip 5 – Barcelona

Man has it been a long time since I wrote a post. There have been a gazillion things that have happened since I last blogged in early April. But, we’ll get to those things later on. Here is my trip to the amazing city of Barcelona. I mostly saw the city with my buddy Sean, though we had a few buddies back at the hostel that were traveling around too. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of all 5 of us.

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Since this city is so massive and has so much to see, I will break it down in a list much like a table of content (*nerd*):

A. Top Sights

B. Gaudi Sights

C. West Barcelona

D. Central Barcelona

E. East Barcelona

F. Walking Tour (if you read nothing else, please take a look at this section for the history/culture of Barcelona)

G. Nightlife and Hostel

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A. If you are only in Barca for a short amount of time, here are the top two sights you must check out:

1. La Sagrada Familia

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La Sagrada Familia is widely considered as Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, his final project that he was obsessed with. Gaudi was very affected by the poor people in Barcelona, and he wanted to build something for them. He finally settled on building a church, as he took out all his money and poured it into constructing this great church. Unfortunately, the building was less than 25% complete when he passed away. Gaudi had only designed one facade, as it took 100+ architects to design the other two after Gaudi’s death. If you compare the facades, you will see that 1 man trumps 100+. As you can see from the picture, the building has not been completed yet, and they estimate that it will be finished by 2028. Once the second richest man in Barcelona, Gaudi’s influence over the city’s architecture is undeniable, and you can’t go anywhere in the city without hearing about the man and his legend.

2. Parc Guell

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This bizzarre-looking park was also designed by Gaudi, as he took on this project for his friends to live in. It’s quite a large park, so make sure you give yourself a few hours to walk through it and sit and look out at the view (my favorite view of Barcelona).

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B. In case you didn’t get enough of Gaudi, here are some other of his amazing architectural designs:

Casa Batllo.

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Casa Mila.

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Palau Guell.

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Gaudi’s first paid design. A street lamp in Placa Reial.

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C. Now that we have Gaudi out of the way, let’s break down some sights geographically. Starting on the west side of the city. Please note that the city isn’t actually divided into West, Central, and East. This is just my own breakdown of the city’s touristy sights.

1. Camp Nou

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This is where FC Barcelona plays, and if you take the tour, you get to go through the entire stadium and take a seat in the actual stands! If you’re a football fan, this will be heaven for you.

2. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya / Magic Fountain of Montjuic

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This is my favorite spot in Barcelona. The museum is awe-inspiring when you see it for the first time. When you climb the steps and turn around, this is the view you get:

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Just below the museum is the Magic Fountain, which displays a water show at night where the water is lit up and music is played.

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3. Montjuic

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Situated on the south of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is Montjuic. Montjuic is a hill that overlooks Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea, as it has a military fortress (Castell de Montjuic) that was formerly used as a lookout point. You can take a gondola up the hill, but I chose to walk instead.

D. In central Barcelona, you have:

1. Passeig de Gracia

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This is a long shopping boulevard where you can buy all the high-end luxury brands that you want. It is Barcelona’s equivalent of 5th Ave or Andrassy Ut. Also, Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Batllo are situated on this street.

2. Placa de Catalunya

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Walking down Passeig de Gracia, you will come across this plaza, which could very well be the busiest plaza in Barcelona since it connects the shopping district to Las Rambla.

3. Las Rambla

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La Rambla is a pedestrian-only street with a ton of restaurants and shops. The southern end of the street used to be Barcelona’s red light district and drug district. Also on this street is La Boqueria Market, which had some of the best tapas I’ve had in Spain.

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4. Beach

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At the end of Las Rambla, you will come across Barcelona’s beach that leads you to the Mediterranean Sea. Around the beach area are shops, restaurants, museums, an amusement park, etc. You could easily spend a large portion of your day just walking around the beach.

It is also here that I had the best paella I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but Barcelona boasts that it has the best paella in all of Spain.

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E. Finally, here are some things to the east of the city:

1. Arc de Triomf

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There’s a story attached to this: originally, Gustav Eiffel came to Barcelona and wanted to build something for the city. However, the city turned it down and said that the design was too big and would not mesh well with the city’s look and feel. Instead, the Arc de Triomf was built.

The rejected design? The Eiffel Tower.

2. Parc de la Ciutadella

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At the end of Arc de Triomf is a gorgeous park called Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s got some beautiful statues, lakes, gardens, and hiking trails. I saw more joggers here than I did the rest of the city.

3. Barcelona Zoo

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Parc de la Cuitadella is also right beside the Barcelona Zoo. I was told this was one of the world’s best zoos, and it’s certainly got its fair share of animals: zebra, camel, hippopotamus, elephant, cheetah, puma, lion, tiger, hyenna, vulture, etc.

F. Now that we’ve covered most of the sights, I wanted to spend some time describing what I learned during the hostel’s free walking tour, which is unanimously the best walking tour I’ve ever been on. It covered Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, which is the oldest region of Barcelona and the area that the Romans once conquered.

Let us rewind the clock 2,000 years when the Romans came to the city and took it over. When the Romans took over a city, they built temples at the highest point of the city to be close to God. At that point in time, the tallest point of the city was at 16.9 meters.

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So the Romans started putting up buildings like this:

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However, when the Visigoths took over, they started destroying all the Roman buildings and building on top of them. My tour guide told us this was an imprudent move, because the Romans had technologically sophisticated buildings and systems that would be unrivaled until after the Stone Ages, such as the aquaduct system that brought clean water into the city. It’s quite remarkable just how advanced the Romans were for that time period.

Referring to the two pictures below, you can see how the Visigoths built over the Romans’ buildings. The Romans built things to last forever, using big stones over smaller ones. In contrast, the Visigoths favored beauty and style in their buildings instead, using smaller stones, erecting taller buildings, and having more windows (to allow more “God” into the buildings).

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The Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of Barcelona, and you can easily tell that you are there because the streets are very narrow (picture below). This made sense back then because people only walked, so there was no need for streets to be wider. However, after the black plague hit Europe, they realized that streets needed to be wider to allow for more air circulation to flow through the city.

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Moving along in time, modern Spain was built on Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand’s marriage. At this time, Christopher Columbus had wanted the King and Queen to finance his voyage to the Americas, but the King repeatedly denied his request. You see, Columbus and Isabella had been very good friends, and some had speculated that the King was jealous of Columbus, so he finally decided to finance Columbus in order to send him away.

Whether Columbus and Isabella had an affair or not will never be confirmed, but here’s the thing: Christopher Columbus brought back many things to Spain: fruits, spices, etc, and the last thing on that list was syphilis, of which he died from. Now get this. The Queen and King also died from syphilis. Yeah, you be the judge.

The picture below featured the steps on which Christopher Columbus climbed to greet the Queen and King, where he told them that he had found “India”.

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Now a quick word on Catalonia. Catalonia used to be its own country before Spain conquered it. Today, it is still a part of Spain, but Catalonia remains very patriotic and proud of its Catalonian heritage. In fact, when you’re in Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia), they’re not really speaking Spanish; rather, they’re speaking Catalan. If you look at their metro station names, all the names don’t look quite Spanish, and that’s because they’re not. In Catalonia, the Spanish staple of bullfighting is illegal because it is deemed as brutal. Some speculate that it may not be long before Catalonia secedes from Spain. Who knows. Perhaps not quite the same, but there are parallels between Catalonia/Spain and Quebec/Canada.

I find this quite funny and random: the national sport of Catalonia is the human pyramid, where they have a race to see which team can build the highest pyramid. Unfortunately, there are no safety nets, so people often fall and get injured.

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This was the prestigious art school that Pablo Picasso’s dad sent him to when he was a kid. To get into this school, kids had to take a month-long exam. Picasso did it in a week.

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When Picasso was 13, his dad felt that it was time for Picasso to become a man, so his dad bought a prostitute for his son. Picasso’s work is very influenced by prostitutes because he spent much of his life living around them. His famous painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, features five prostitutes, as this was inspired by the real-life prostitutes on Carrer D’Avinyo in Barcelona (picture below).

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This is quite a cheeky one: back in the day, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro were both the top artists coming out of Barcelona, sparking a great rivalry between the two. Joan Miro’s designs were known to be quite simple and elegant. So to mock Miro, Picasso painted the following mural to show that anyone can paint simple designs.

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G. Let us now turn our attention to Barcelona’s world renown nightlife. The thing with Spain is that they party very very late. People eat dinner anywhere from 9-11pm and don’t even start drinking until 12-1am. We lined up at the club at around 2am, and upon getting there, we were quite worried that we wouldn’t get in because it would be too packed. However, at 2am, no one was even in line yet because it was so early!

Here are some of the awesome places we went to the three nights that we went out in the city: Opium, Catwalk, and Otto.

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The hostel we stayed at, called Kabul Hostel, was rated as one of the best party hostels in the world, with its own bar, lounge, and pool table and foosball table. They take you out every night of the week, have beer pong tournaments, happy hours from 12-1am every night, and get you free cover into the club every night of the week.

For instance, on Saturday, we tried to get into Opium, which is one of the most reputable clubs in the city. However, we couldn’t get in because we weren’t wearing leather shoes. The next night, however, we went with the hostel. Not only did we not get rejected for not wearing leather shoes, but we got in for free and didn’t line up at all. Kabul Hostel is definitely the place to stay.

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Oh and finally, I met two waitresses that worked at the restaurant beside Kabul Hostel. Their names are Vicky and Christina.

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…You know, after the Woody Allen movie called Vicky Christina Barcelona.

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Trip 4 – St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

Oh, Dublin. What can I say about you, you drunken, awesome devil of a city? Yes, the people are friendly. Yes, they can drink you under the table. Yes, live Irish bands in Irish pubs can make you dance to music you thought you would never be able to dance to.

Here are the awesome people I went with:

And here are the awesome people we met up with (more like bumped into) on the actual St. Patrick’s Day:

We got there on Friday, which gave us tons of time for sightseeing before the big day on Sunday. However, we found out that St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t only celebrated on the day itself, but there was a whole week of celebrations preceding it! As such, there were festivities everywhere we went, and along with those festivities were hoards of tourists (mostly Americans, Germans, and Spanish). The entire city was a big party, and going out on Friday night was just as hectic as going out on the actual day itself (although costumes were mostly worn on St. Patrick’s Day).

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The first place we went to was the busiest street in Dublin, called Grafton Street. This is a pedestrian-only shopping street much like Robson Street in Vancouver. There are a ton of street performers/musicians here, and even more people trying to sell you things.

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We then came across the Bank of Dublin…

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…Which was directly beside the Trinity College. It’s Ireland’s oldest universities, and I though I haven’t seen any of the other ones, I’m guessing it’s probably one of the most beautiful. The following pictures were all taken within the main square once you walked through the front building’s gates.

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City Hall!

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Christ Church Cathedral. What’s interesting was that there were food tents set up on the church grounds with cuisine from all around the world. I don’t know if they do this at all churches, but I had never seen something like that before.

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We walked on Dame St. all the way until it merged into Thomas St. to get to the Guinness Storehouse. This place is one of the most awesome places in Dublin and it’s a must when you visit the city.

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With 6-7 floors, this tourist attraction takes you through the entire history of Guinness and the process of how the beer is made.

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At the end of it, you get a pint of Guinness at Sky Bar, which has a 360 view of Dublin. It was the best view of Dublin that I saw while I was in the city.

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I used to hate Guinness. However, that was when I had the beer back home. Drinking Guinness in Ireland is like drinking an entirely different beer altogether. It’s so much better in Ireland and the foam head is so creamy that it might just be the best part. The reason why Guinness tastes the way it does back in Canada is because each beer must have a longer shelf life since it is transported overseas. Therefore, more hops are in these beers for them to maintain their taste.

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We went to Leo Burdock for fish n chips dinner. A tour guide told my friend that this place had the best fish n chips in town. I’m not sure how it compares with the rest of Ireland, but this may just be the best fish n chips I’ve ever had.

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More than 800 years old, The Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub.

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I’ll come back to what we did at night later. For now, on to Saturday!

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Best conversation of the trip:

Question: “Who was Saint Patrick?”

Response: “Well, I know he was a saint.”

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Funny thing about how we got into the actual cathedral itself: We knew there was a charge to get inside, so we decided to just head to the souvenir shop to escape the rain instead. We went through the exit thinking that this would get us into the souvenir shop (it did), but little did we know that the souvenir shop was connected to the cathedral as well. Yes, we accidentally snuck into a church.

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We got to Jameson Whiskey Distillery quite late, so tickets were already sold out. However, we snapped a few pics before going on to the next place.

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Okay. It is now time to talk about the drinking and nightlife in this city.

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You see those doors painted different colors? A tour guide told my friend that they’re painted like that so the Irishmen would be able to recognize their own houses when they were drunk and walking back home. Let that be a bit of context.

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Whether it’s a stereotype or fact, Ireland has long carried the reputation of being a country of drinkers, and somewhere along the line a phrase was coined: “There are more drinkers in Ireland than people.” With that in mind, most people we met during the three nights we went out were actually not Irish; they were mostly tourists.

So here is a recipe for a fun weekend: 1. Dublin is the capital of Ireland, a country whose residents can hold their liquor; 2. This was St. Patrick’s Day weekend; 3. Most of the party goers were tourists, who are known for letting loose while on vacation.

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We went to Temple Bar on all three nights. Temple Bar is basically a district with a ton of pubs and clubs. On Friday, we mostly stayed at Fitzsimons, which is my favorite place to go out in Dublin. While most places have bouncers that cut you off when the bar is full, Fitzsimons was the only one that kept allowing people inside regardless of how packed it was. We were there on Friday and Saturday, and both times it was so packed that you could barely stand. It was mayhem, but it was awesome mayhem.

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Temple Bar was basically a night time playground for young people. Every night featured street parties, people singing and dancing on the streets, and high-fives given to random strangers walking by. On Saturday night, a German band had an impromptu performance on the street, which drew a huge crowd. The crowd started dancing, and out of nowhere, they formed a congo line that took us down the street for at least a block or two. congo line.

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On St. Patrick’s Day, we went to Bad Bob’s in Temple Bar from 3pm until 2am (11 hours). They had a live band playing Irish songs and even contemporary songs by bands like Mumford and Sons.

These were some of the songs they played (for multiple times, mind you): Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man (it’s been weeks and I’ve still got this song on repeat); The Dubliners – Whiskey in the Jar; Wild Rover – No, Nay, Never; Sham Rock – Belle of Belfast City. We heard these songs all weekend, so we were all addicted and singing them on our way back to Sweden (and even when we were back in Sweden).

I honestly didn’t know that I could dance to Mumford and Sons, but when you’re in an Irish bar, when there’s a live band playing, and when there’s a ton of Irish dancing all around you, you just get caught in the moment as well.

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To end the post, here are a few pictures from the parade on Sunday! (PS – see if you can find Batman)

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Trip 3 – Brussels, Sensation White, and Bruges

Sorry for the lack of posting the last little while. Here’s what my last 2 weeks looked like: Belgium > Seminar > Final Essay > Dublin > Presentation > Seminar > Exam. I’m finally done all that and ready to post again before my trip to Spain this coming week. So as usual, let’s begin with the awesome people who I traveled with to Belgium. I’d also like to thank Maxim for showing us the city. I met him in Budapest, and since he lives in Brussels, he was kind enough to be our “tour guide”.

It took my buddy Louis and I the full day of traveling from Copenhagen to Eindhoven, and then a bus from Eindhoven to Brussels. When we finally got there, we met up with the girls at Grimbergen Cafe, which has the most awesome food. I had my first and now favorite beer called Grimbergen Blond.

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After the restaurant, we went to two more lounges/bars to get more beer. Honestly, Belgians make the best beer ever. The Chimay (center picture below) was brewed in Trappist Monasteries. Yes, these Chimay beers are brewed by monks! There are only 8 Trappist Monasteries in the whole world (6 in Belgium, 1 in Holland, and 1 in Germany).

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Check out my friend’s expert pouring.

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We made our way to Delirium Cafe, which is perhaps the most famous bar in all of Brussels and the one spot in the city where it’s packed every night no matter what. They’ve also got over 1000 different beers. Mindblowing.

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After Delirium, we wandered around the city and talked to people we randomly met on the street. I would say this was probably one of the most memorable moments on the trip; there is honestly something fascinating about wandering the streets at night and just chatting with strangers. We talked with Americans from the East Coast and tried convincing them that the West Coast was better (it didn’t work), we heard stories from guys who served in Afghanistan, and we met an Australian who thought that Canadians were afraid of the dark.

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After we went to Delirium, talked with countless people on the streets, and went to another club called Celtica, we came across what I believe to be the most memorable moment of the night…and for all the wrong reasons.

At the corner of Rue Gretry and Bld Anspach, we were talking to these people we had met, when all the sudden we heard the loudest thud. I turned my head and saw a taxi was screeching to a halt while a girl flew a few feet away after being hit by the taxi. She was motionless with her face down. All the sudden, her friends rushed onto the street to tend to her, people were crying all around, and one guy took a blanket from a homeless person to put over her. My friend Louis quickly called the ambulance but the operator didn’t speak English, so he had to pass the phone to another bystander. It was one of those moments where I wanted to do something but had no idea how I could’ve helped. About 10 minutes later, she finally regained consciousness and her friends had to help her to the sideway. She was bleeding all over her face. The ambulance finally showed up and she was helped into it. Thank God she woke up, though I’m guessing she was suffering a serious concussion.

We were going to return to Delirium Cafe, but the mood of the night totally changed after this incident. Needless to say we had sobered up completely.

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The next morning, we headed out to meet up with Maxim, when we came across Chinatown. I was honestly very surprised by this, but there were many Asian people in Brussels! I’m not sure if they’re tourists or locals though.

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We met up with Maxim, who took us to some awesome places for chocolate, pastries, waffles, and fries. Apparently French fries are actually Belgian to begin with. Also, I experienced all 4 of the Belgian quad effect on that day: beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries.

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We then arrived at perhaps the most beautiful place in all of Brussels: the Grand Place.

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Urban myth: The architect of this building had been told to put a window on the right hand side of the entrance (behind the lamp in the picture below). When the building was finished being built and the main entrance was not center-aligned with the tower, the architect committed suicide.

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Manneken Pis. This statue is huge with tourists, though small in actual size.

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Brussels is the home of the European Union!

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Arcades du Cinquantenaire, created to commemorate Brussels’ independence.

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Galeries Royales St Hubert.

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That night, we headed to the main event of the trip: Sensation White. This was my first EDM concert so I wasn’t sure what to expect, though I knew that these were usually classier affairs than the ones back home. When we got to the train station, we saw a sea of people all dressed in white, and an hour later on the train and bus, we finally arrived at the arena. We got in at 11:30pm and didn’t leave until the very last song ended at 6am.

The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Imagine more than 10,000 people all dressed in the same color and rocking out to an intense arrangement of sights and sounds. The thing with Sensation is that it is just about the sights as much as it is about the sounds. Awesome experience.

Sebastian Ingrosso’s “Reload” played 3 times that night, and we got so addicted to this song that we spent the rest of our trip humming and dancing to this song wherever we went: walking on the streets, waiting for the train, etc. Yes, we got weird looks.

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We didn’t get home until 9am, and we slept for 2-3 hours before waking up to head to Bruges. By train, this was about an hour away. Bruges is a beautiful small town that actually reminds me a lot like Lund, except it has several landmark buildings and a canal running through it (not to mention a movie dedicated to making it look magical). We saw the entire city on a guided tour on horse carriage; it’s definitely a great way to see this small, charming city. I will leave you now with a few images.

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And that’s that for Belgium! Definitely a memorable trip! PS – I don’t usually take pictures of food and drinks, but when you’re in Belgium, you can make an exception.

Auschwitz

We decided to watch a scary movie one night at the corridor. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3d. Part way through the movie, I got a bit bored so I opened up my laptop and started editing my Budapest pictures. Deleting bad pictures, removing duplicates, all that jazz. All the sudden, I scrolled a bit too far down on iPhoto and came across my Auschwitz photos. A wave of dread washed over me in an instant and I started feeling sick. But why did I feel sick? I had seen Auschwitz photos a thousand times before, and although I would feel uneasy when I saw them, it was never as searing as this. Then I realized that looking at the photos immediately took me back to that surreal place. I had always empathized for the victims, but it never felt real until I set foot on the same place where they once stood. This was the effect that Auschwitz had on me.

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Rewind a bit to my actual trip to Auschwitz. I knew that I had to go to Auschwitz no matter what happened. I was not going to leave Europe without seeing what I believe to be perhaps the most important place to visit and pay respect to in Europe.

On the way there, I was listening to music and dozing off by looking out the window on the bus. The sights of the town we passed through got weary on the eyes, so I drifted in and out of day dreaming. Then, out of nowhere, brick barracks started passing by. That’s right, those ones. I immediately sat up, wide awake.

I was at Auschwitz.

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The first part of the tour takes you through the infamous front gates of Auschwitz 1 – “work sets you free”.

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Beyond the gates are rows after rows of barracks where prisoners lived. Each barrack had 700 prisoners crammed in them.

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The tour guide took us into several barracks that had been turned into museum exhibits, giving us an in-depth explanation of what happened in Auschwitz.

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Note: there used to be no trains directly into Auschwitz. Prisoners had to walk miles upon miles to get to Auschwitz, thereby taking too much time. Nazis realized that they were not killing prisoners fast enough. To increase efficiency, the Nazis built train tracks so that prisoners could arrive quicker.

You see, efficiency was very important to the Nazis. It was always the key. How were they going to kill a higher amount of prisoners in a shorter amount of time?

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As prisoners arrived at Auschwitz by train, they were told to drop their personal belongings because it would be waiting for them later on. Every prisoner was allowed to take a piece of luggage with them.

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What they did not know is that they would never see their possessions ever again. The Nazis had taken all these possessions and put them in piles for either personal profit or for the war effort.

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And what did they call the storage rooms in which they placed these belongings? Canada I and Canada II. The reason they called it Canada was because they wanted to name the rooms after a place that symbolized wealth and riches. I know, I was just as surprised as you are.

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The prisoners were then divided by men and women.

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Then came the infamous doctors. People stood in line as doctors placed prisoners in one of two groups. The first group was for healthy looking, able-bodied people who were able to work. The second group consisted of the rest of the people, who were to be sent immediately to the gas chambers. 30% of those who got off the trains were in the first group, while 70% were confined to the second group. In the picture below, you can see a doctor telling an elderly man to join what must be the second group.

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The prisoners walked underground (left part of the picture), and were ushered into a corridor where they got haircuts. They were informed that hair was needed for the war effort (middle). Finally, they were ushered into a huge room with showers in them, as they were told that these showers would cleanse them of bacteria (right side). Once the people were inside and the door was locked, doctors poured Cyclone B into the chimneys (right), which would make its way into the “shower room” and kill everyone inside.

1,500 people were locked into the room each time, and it took 15 minutes for the Cyclone B to kill everyone.

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In earlier times, Nazis lined prisoners up and shot them in the head. Heinrich Himmler had once visited an internment camp and fainted upon witnessing these executions. As a result, he ordered Cyclone B to be used because he didn’t want the Nazi soldiers to go crazy. That’s right, going from gun execution to gas chamber was for the Nazis’ sake!

Also, Nazis were not killing prisoners fast enough with guns, and bullets were also very expensive too. Using Cyclone B (pictures below) allowed Nazis to kill prisoners at a much greater pace and save money on bullets. Again, efficiency.

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Here is another gut-wrenching story of the Nazis’ obsession with efficiency. When prisoners entered Auschwitz, they used to take 3 pictures of each prisoner. However, as time went by, the Nazis realized that this was becoming too expensive. So instead, they put numbers on prisoners’ arms instead. They only did this in Auschwitz, so any prisoner who has a number tattooed on their arm means that they were prisoners at Auschwitz.

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This is the story of Father Maksymilian Kolbe: “At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place. In his prison cell, Kolbe celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.”  – taken from Wikipedia.

Kolbe was canonized and recognized as a martyr after this heroic act. When the tour guide told us this story, I couldn’t help but get a bit misty. This was the most emotional part of the tour for me.

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Kolbe and countless others were tortured here.

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This was a shooting wall used by Nazis to execute prisoners. On the left, you can see that the windows are boarded up so that the prisoners could not see these executions. However, they most certainly had heard them.

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This is an actual gas chamber where thousands of people have actually died in. I have pictures of the interior, but out of respect, I won’t be posting them.

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As the commander of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss had fleed after the war. However, once they found him, they brought him back to Auschwitz and created this gallow especially for Hoss. Thus, the last thing Hoss saw before he was hung was Auschwitz. Poetic justice.

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After Auschwitz 1, we were taken on a bus 3km away to Auschwitz 2.

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If you watched Schindler’s List, then you should definitely be familiar with this guard tower, which has come to symbolize Auschwitz along with the gates in Auschwitz 1.

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Auschwitz 2 is much, much larger than Auschwitz 1. Auschwitz 2 was built because the Nazis could not kill prisoners at a fast-enough pace with Auschwitz 1. Thus, they needed a much larger internment camp.

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Prisoners arrived here on these trains. The Nazis packed 80 prisoners on each train.

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10 people slept on each bed in these barracks. Being on the top bunk was very sought after because when people got sick, they would often diarrhea in their sleep. Also, prisoners had been known to fight and kill each other in order to take each others’ clothes and blankets. The reason for this is because there was no central heating and the buildings had no insulation at all. In the Polish winter, this was disaster. Take a look at the right side of the left picture where the beds are. Above the beds, you can see space between the wall and the ceiling, which meant that snow could creep into the barracks. What is often forgotten is that the cold and the starvation were sometimes as deadly as the gas chambers.

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This was an actual gas chamber that had been destroyed by the Nazis as a way of getting rid of evidence before the Allies could figure out what happened. It’s worth noting that the Polish government did not do anything to this chamber, so what you see in the pictures below is what the Russians saw when they liberated Auschwitz back in the 40s.

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I really have no way to end this blog post. When I think of Auschwitz, I don’t really think of how Nazis could do this to their prisoners. Instead, I think of how people did this to other people. How did we do this to our own brothers? It’s one of the most devastating moments in human history, and it is important to preserve its remembrance so that we can learn from this and make sure that it never happens again. Never again.

Trip 2 – Budapest Part 2

If you haven’t seen Part 1 yet, here it is. Without further adieu, onwards to Part 2! This post will cover sightseeing, shopping, relaxing, and a big section on nightlife.

Sightseeing. There is an abundance of sightseeing in the city, so much that I was quite taken aback when I was given a breakdown of the city. Honestly, you need at least 3-4 full days in this city to truly see all the sights (unlike in Vancouver where you can see everything in a day </bitterness>).

Let’s start with the Buda side of the city. Perhaps the most famous sight is the Buda Castle, where the royal family lives. It’s interesting to note that the royal family did not actually stay in the Castle during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, since they stayed in Vienna instead.

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It’s quite a trek uphill to get to the Castle, but once you’re up there, you get a sick view of Pest.

Shortly to the north of Buda Castle is Matthias Church (top) and Fisherman’s Bastion (bottom). Great views from here too.

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South of the Buda Castle is The Citadel. Built in the 19th century, The Citadel is a fortress that overlooks the city and is at the highest point in all of Budapest. In fact, getting up to The Citadel was like doing the Grouse Grind back in Vancouver. All uphill for about 25 minutes.

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The centrepiece of the Citadel is the Liberty Statue, which can be seen far away even from the Pest side of the city. The Liberty Statue was built in 1947 to serve as a memorial for those who served in Russia during World War II. After the Iron Curtain was lifted and Hungary received its freedom, the Liberty Statue was changed to commemorate all the lives lost for the freedom and prosperity of Hungary.

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Did I mention it has the best view of the city?

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Let’s move on to the Pest side.

As mentioned before, here is the awesome Hungarian Parliament, which is best seen from taking a boat along the Danube (I was lucky enough to be on a boat cruise at night, giving me the best view of the Parliament).

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St Stephen’s Basilica. It is so large that you can see it from the top of The Citadel on the Buda side.

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Heroes’ Square.

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Finally, the Grand Market Hall, where you can buy meat, fruits, vegetables, spices, etc.

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Shopping. Now that you’re done sightseeing, you must feel like you gotta get your shop on. Well, don’t you worry child. Budapest’s got a plan for you.

The most famous shopping street is Andrassy Street, which is Budapest’s 5th Avenue or Champs-Elysees, with its wide boulevards and luxury-brand stores.

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After Andrassy, there are Vaci Utca and Fashion Street, which are pedestrian-only streets much like Stroget in Copenhagen. There are less high-end brand names here and more shops like the ones you’d find on Robson in Vancouver.

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Some of the nicest store fronts I’ve ever seen are on Fashion Street.

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Relaxing. Now that you’re all tired from sightseeing and shopping, it’s time to sit and relax. Budapest’s got you covered in this department too.

One of the best times I’ve had in Budapest was at the Szechenyi Bathhouse. They’ve got indoor and outdoor heated pools (like being in giant hot tubs), as well as countless saunas that range in different temperatures (from 40-50 degrees to more than 100!). We tried the 100-degree sauna but walked out in less than 10 seconds. It’s basically like you’re in an oven.

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After the bathhouse, you must make your way over to Sirius Teahouse. From what I’m told, it’s everyone from our hostel’s favorite spot to hang out. It’s very hard to find because the teahouse’s sign is tiny and hidden away (left). At first glance, it looks like a regular teahouse (right). I mean, nothing special. Right?

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Wrong. If you look a bit harder, there are many hidden holes and ladders you can go through and climb to get to different rooms. Awesome place!

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The nightlife. Now that it’s night time, on to the main event. The nightlife in this city borders on insanity. Its options are limitless, and each place has its own character and flavor, outclassing most places I’ve been to.

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Before I delve into the nightlife, I have to give a shout out to Carpe Noctem, the hostel we stayed at. Prior to coming here, a few friends told me that this hostel made the trip for them. Indeed, it does. The hostel is very small, with only twenty or so beds. However, it is very homely and the staff (who also live in the hostel) are very friendly. And man, can they drink. Challenging one of them will be a big mistake on your part. The hostel has no reception area nor do they have multiple floors where you need a key to enter your room. Rather, you’re basically living in a giant apartment with awesome hosts that live in the same rooms as you do. When you arrive, they sit you down and give you a rundown of the entire city and all the things to do and see. In terms of your night, you don’t have to do anything at all. You just show up at the hostel at 8:30pm and they take you out every night. When I say that the hostel goes out every night, I don’t mean Friday and Saturday. I mean every single night. I’m not sure how these guys do it, but they basically party every night of the week for a living. They have 3 other sister hostels that have many more beds, so when the hostel goes out, they go out in groups of 100-200 at a time.

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During the first night, we went on a boat cruise where you pay $30cad that includes entrance on the boat, cover for the club, and a bottle of champagne per person. These were some sights from the boat.

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After the boat, we went to Morrison 2, which is a very large club with at least 3 different dance floors, all with different types of music.

On Saturday, we went on a pub crawl in the Jewish district (7th district). These bars are also known as “ruin bars” for the following reason: when Jewish people were forced out of Budapest during World War II, there were many empty buildings left behind. For the longest time, the Hungarian government didn’t know what to do with them. But then someone had the idea to turn these buildings into bars and clubs, and now we are left with the “ruin bars” of today. Here are some pictures of a typical old building in Budapest.

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The first stop was Szimpla Kert, which is ranked as the world’s 3rd best bar.

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I don’t have pictures from the second bar, but I remember that the place looked like an apartment. I think the booth we sat at was a bedroom with a wall taken out.

The third place we went to featured a live-band, which was very cool.

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The 4th stop was quite fun, and was the first place we went to with a fully functioning dance floor (with bars all along the second floor overlooking the dance floor).

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The 5th and final destination was a club called Instant. However, most of the hostel had lost each other at Fogashaz or had been too inebriated, so only our group of guys ended up going. Instant was the club that everyone had recommended, and when we got there, the line up was massive (pictures below). We ended up using a bit of our wits to get in without much of a line up. The club itself is much like Morrison 2, with numerous dance floors and countless bars. Also, there used to be a section where everything was upside down (ie tables, chairs, etc)!

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On Monday, the hostel went to Morrison 1, a bar that has everything: dance floor, karaoke, foosball, etc. The best part? 4 beers for 500huf (~$2cad).

I should point out that foosball is huge in Hungary. Every bar I went to had a foosball table, and everyone we played was very skilled.

Finally, on Tuesday, we went to this bar near Andrassy that had beer pong, a breezer-chugging contest, and karaoke (again). The best part? It was known as the stock market bar. You see, as more people bought a certain drink, the price of that drink would go up, and vice versa. These prices would be shown on TVs all around the bar. Pretty damn cool if you ask me.

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And that’s that. This trip was an eye-opener for me because I didn’t know such an awesome place existed before. I had thought that Budapest was a mid-sized Eastern European city with only a modest amount to see and do. Boy, was I wrong. I’ll end it here because I hate lengthy conclusions. Thanks for reading.

Trip 2 – Budapest Part 1

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Budapest. I knew this city was big and all, but I was floored by the rich history and the amount of activities this city offers. By day, there are countless tourist destinations; by night, the city comes alive with a buzzing nightlife. I mean, where do I even begin? I have so much to talk about that I have to separate my blog post in 2. Part one will feature the city and its history, while part two will cover sightseeing, activities, shopping, eating, and nightlife.

The people. To start, here are the amazing people that I traveled with. Without them, this trip would definitely not have been the same. They were all here Friday – Monday, and I stayed until Wednesday so I got to see a bit more of the city.

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The name. First, we have to establish an understanding of how Budapest got its name, which also provides a bit of insight into its geography. Budapest consists of a “Buda” side and a “Pest” side, both of which are separated by the Danube River (Buda to the west, Pest to the east). Buda is more picturesque, has many hills, and has more expensive houses/apartments. Pest is where the cafes, restaurants, hostels, shopping, clubs, etc. are, and is also very flat. Both sides have many tourist attractions, though we spent most of our trip on the Pest side.

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The goods. Lets start with some random facts/trivia about Budapest. Many of these were a pleasant surprise and really enhanced my admiration for the city.

1. Budapest has the world’s busiest traditional tram line, where tram-cars come once every 2 minutes during peak hours.

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2. It has the largest Synagogue in Europe (and 5th largest in the world).

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3. Budapest’s parliament building is one of the top 3 largest in Europe.

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4. Its subway system is the 4th oldest in the world.

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5. Budapest is home to the largest outdoor skating rink in Europe.

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6. It has one of the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, in a building built by Gustave Eiffel (you know, the guy who built the Eiffel Tower). Note: I was told that it was ranked as the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, but I tried looking for this information online and failed to find sufficient sources to rank it as the most beautiful McDonald’s. However, it is definitely on every top __ list that I have looked at so far.

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The history. Chain bridge. I’m not sure if this is urban legend or truth, but this was the supposed reason for building the Chain Bridge, which is one of seven bridges that link Buda and Pest together: a long time ago, there were no bridges that linked Buda and Pest together, and the only time that people could cross the Danube was by boat during summer. The Hungarian King was on the Pest side while his ailing father was on the Buda side. The King had wanted to reach his father, but his father died before the King was able to see him one last time. For that reason, the Hungarian King ordered the Chain Bridge to be built.

The Chain Bridge was destroyed by the Germans in World War II, but was rebuilt thereafter.

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Bath houses. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the legendary Hungarian bath houses in Budapest, and you probably asked yourself: “wait, aren’t bath houses Turkish?” Well, yes. Yes they are. The reason why there are Turkish bath houses in Hungary is because the Ottoman Empire once ruled Hungary and installed great big (and awesome) bath houses. When the Ottoman Empire left Hungary, those bath houses remained (and for good reason). Honestly, they’re quite awesome. More on this in Part 2.

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Shoe memorial. Let’s just say that the 20th century was no walk in the park for Hungary. First there were the Germans, and then there were the Soviets after that.

Walking along the river, you might pass by the shoe memorial and wonder what all that is about. During World War II, Jewish people were lined up along the river, told to take off their shoes, and then shot into the river. These shoes act as a memorial for them. Note: from my trip to Auschwitz, I learned that 600,000 Hungarian-Jewish people had been killed during the Holocaust.

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Double occupation. The House of Terror is a must see for everyone who visits the city. It is a museum that covers the German and Soviet occupation of Hungary in the 20th century (though it mostly focuses on the Soviet occupation). It is a very sobering museum and is a bit painful to go through at times.

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And that’s that! With a bit of context established for Budapest (and most of the heavy reading done), I’ll go over the sights, activities, shops, food, and partying in my next post!

Things I Learned From Other Countries

Living and conversing with people from all around the world teaches you a thing or two about their countries. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far (for the billions out there who are more cultured than I, many of these will be obvious):

– In Ireland, they call dishwashing detergent “dishwashing liquid”.

– In Chicago, there’s a street called Rush Street, which is where all the high-end clubs are.  Apparently, if you’re not dressed up or appear to be rolling in cash, you’re not allowed to step on this street. Not sure how they enforce this though.

– Hamburg’s red light district was the first in Europe (before Amsterdam had one of their own). If you’re a foreign girl, you’re not allowed to step onto the RLD or else the girls working there will be quite hostile towards you because they see you as competition. I believe they even have signs warning foreign girls to stay out.

– Budapest’s name came from one side of the city being called “Buda” and the other side “Pest”.

– Among all the people I’ve met from Holland, they’ve all introduced themselves as being from Holland and not The Netherlands, despite the fact that I was always told that the latter term is the politically correct one. Their reason is because they don’t want to say “the”; also, The Netherlands encompasses some islands in the Caribbean, while Holland only refers to the country in Europe.

– In regards to people who have “van” or “von” in their middle names, “van” is Dutch and “von” is German.

– Champagne is only champagne if it is from the city of Champagne, France. Anything else is sparkling wine. 

– Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland. If it isn’t from Scotland, it’s called whiskey, not scotch.

– In cafes in Rome and Florence, prices change depending on whether you sit in the cafe or not. One of my friend’s girlfriend was charged 20 euros for 2 cokes because they sat in the cafe. Whereas if they took it to go, it would’ve been much, much cheaper.

– From personal experience and from others’ accounts, Swedes and the Dutch have the best English out of all the Europeans outside the UK. Some of them have such faint accents that I thought they were Canadian/American.

– In Northern California, they say “hella”. Seriously, I haven’t heard that term used in Vancouver for 7-10 years.

– Some exchange students I’ve met think that Canadians say “aboot” instead of “about”, which is weird because I’ve never heard anyone say “aboot” before in my life except for someone who is trying to imitate a Canadian.

– Other exchange students are surprised that I find Lund so cold since I’m from Canada. Little do they know that Vancouver’s “cold” is child’s play compared to the rest of Canada. 

– Many Europeans like to be critical of Americans, yet at the same time seem fascinated with American lifestyle.

– Finally, since I hang out with quite a few Australians, I have picked up on some of their slangs. So for anyone who is headed to Australia, hit ’em with a few of these terms:

  • Skull: chug (as in your drink)
  • Keen: excited / “down” for something
  • Heaps: a lot / very 
  • Chuffed: pleased / happy
  • Chat: gross / disgusting (as in “that’s so chat!”)
  • Pay you out: making fun of you
  • Cut: angry or pissed