Monthly Archives: August 2014

Istanbul, Turkey (Part 2) & My Final Trip Thoughts

I arrived in Istanbul around 9:30 PM from Kiev, Ukraine. Kiev was a good time and Istanbul would be my final stop after traveling for 7 weeks. Originally, I had planned to take maybe a two day tour to Ephesus and Troy. Because of the two travel days spent in Kiev, I decided to just hang out the next three days in Istanbul and see the things I didn’t have time for when I arrived at the beginning of my trip.

The first day was spent over in the “New Town” area. This is where Taksim Square is. Taksim Square is also the location of the massive protests seen on TV. The day I went there, all was quiet. The presence of police barricades were around for if protests did break out again. Though I didn’t see any demonstrations here, I did come across one near the Hard Rock Cafe. Riot Police were at the seen, acted briefly, and then pulled away when they believed it wouldn’t violent. I got my Istanbul riot selfie in!!

Taksim Square (Picture 1)

Other than Taksim Square, I checked out the Saint Anthonie Church and Galata Tower. I would have gone up it, but there were so many people and I was getting burned out on cueing. From there, I just walked down to the water and took some pictures in the area. This pretty much concluded the day for me.

Saint Anthonie Church (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

Galata Tower (Picture 1)

Mosque and Waterfront (Picture 1)

The next day I went and saw a few things I had not seen when I arrive at the beginning of the trip. There were a few mosques and a piece of a Roman Aqueduct that still stands.I also strolled through the Grand Bazaar again. Really, I was just enjoying walking around and checking out the old Ottoman architecture. I was thinking about going to a couple museums I know I really should go to, but am pretty much tapped out. I know I will be back here because I learned about so many amazing places in Turkey to go. May have to make a two week trip out of this country to hit up some of the hotspots as I venture out to other countries in the area!!

Ottoman Architecture (Picture 1)

This pretty much concludes my trip!!! It was an amazing 7 weeks. Not only did I get to visit some amazing places, but I also saw things that will change my perspective of the world even more. I was able to meet up with and visit new and old friends that I met on my previous travels and a couple from back home in Wisconsin. I also enjoyed sharing my travels with this blog and the pictures I posted. I know not everyone can take a trip like this. This trip was pretty much 20 years in the making for me and it may never have happened if it wasn’t for teaching English at a university in Korea. I don’t know how long my work schedule will allow me to travel like this, so I will take advantage of it as long as I can. Thanks everyone for your love and support on this journey. It means the world (literally) to me!!

Now, back to Korea I go^^

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Kiev, Ukraine

When I told people I was heading to Kiev, many thought I was crazy. “Don’t fly Malaysian Airlines!”, “Get War-zone Insurance!”, they said (perhaps jokingly or seriously!). Well, I wasn’t going to listen to any of that because most of it is based on BS Western propaganda. The conflict is in the Eastern part of the country and yes, there may be demonstrations or protests that arise, but I was prepared to take caution if something would put me in danger. I also figured that if there were serious issues, the airspace would have been shut down. Yes, I may have been taking somewhat of a risk because something could have happened. That’s life. Live it or shove off!!  I will never not travel because of terrorism, war, fear, or what ever other reason others try and keep us pacified by. Of course there are places I won’t currently travel to, but they are always on my mind as I wait for the opportunity to go. Sorry for the rant, but travel is a passion of mine. I’m willing to take a risk to do it.

The flight in was smooth. No rockets shooting us out of the sky! Though, the landing was a bit rough. I got on the bus to the Central Train Station and then decided to walk to the hostel. Looking back, I should have taken the tram. I thought the walk was much shorter than it was. Oh well, I checked in and decided to just hang out instead of going out into town.

In the morning I was trying to figure out where to go, using the useless visitors map I was given. It didn’t mark where anything was. I ended up buying a five-dollar map application for my phone, which ended up being very helpful. With it I was able to see all the sights I wanted to see. So the day was just me walking around taking pictures. I didn’t go into any of the churches because they pretty much all had some kind of service going on. Didn’t want to try and figure out what it was all about.

The most exciting part of my photo adventure was an undercover cop preventing me from taking a picture of the Communist Russian logo on a gate. He totally freaked out on me!! At least I wasn’t arrested. I guess with the current tensions, something like that may cause problems with pro Russian or pro European opinions. I even think I was tailed for awhile through the park I walked through after my ass biting and I started noticing that the place on many monuments where the Communist logo probably was, was now removed.

Golden Gate (Picture 1)

Saint Sophia’s Cathedral (Picture 1)

Saint Andrew’s Church (Picture 1)

Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral (Picture 1)

Independance Square (Picture 1)

Overall, I really enjoyed my walk around Kiev. The churches were different than what I had been seeing on most of this trip, which was nice. I do wish I would have gone in a couple of them, but it will be something for next time. I just really hate bothering people worshiping. Sort of why I don’t venture far into the grounds of a mosque.

I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Ukrainian people, outside of those at my hostel, but my impression was of a rudeness from what I am used to. The store clerks pretty much wanted nothing to do with me because I don’t speak there language. Pretty much the same ignorance many non-English speakers experience in the U.S. I’m sure!! Also, the language and the way people talk makes me feel like everyone is always yelling and unhappy with each other. A topic I will need to discuss the next time I run into a Ukrainian who speaks English!

After my sightseeing, I was pretty beat. It was a hot day, which was nice after all my cold days in Germany! I had the hostel dude call me a cab and take me to the airport. I totally recommend everyone to come to Ukraine, because there is nothing crazy going on here like the media is portraying. At least for the moment! I am also happy I got the opportunity to come here by chance. When my friend Nicole and I were putting together our leg of this summer backpacking trip, Ukraine was a destination we both wanted to go to. We didn’t because of time, but mostly because of the news. Well, there is so much to see in this country. I look forward to coming back!

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle

Today, Gina, myself, and a friend of hers were going to head to Neuschwanstein Castle. Unfortunately, her friend canceld on us, so it was just Gina and I. We arrived to the train station with time to spare, so we grabbed breakfast and then found seats on the train. The train ride was about two hours and when we got there, everyone scrambled to get on the buses to the castle. We squeezed on one and then found ourselves cueing for about an hour or more to get tickets for the guided tour. We chose the German one because we were unsure about train times back to Munich. We also had about a 3-4 hour wait for the tour, so we decided to walk around the lake nearby. When that was finished, we hiked straight up the hill towards the castle to take a picture of it from a bridge.

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This was also a long cue. Finally we went into the castle at our arranged time. The tour was pretty short and we learned about this king who really had no power, but wanted to be powerful like the medieval days. Gina would describe it as a “fake” castle because it’s only 130 years old. But the popularity of the castle is because of it is what inspired the Disney Castle. If you are prepared for a long day of cueing and people, and really want to see this castle… go for it. Otherwise, stay away!! Can’t say there isn’t a beautiful view though 😉

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On the way back to Munich, we ended up sitting across from an Aussie couple. This made the time fly by pretty quick because of some awesome conversation!

Overall, the day was a crazy tourist trap and Gina was especially annoyed. I don’t blame her for that and feel bad that I brought her to this stress hell on her holiday weekend. When we got back to her place, we ordered Indian and that is the end to my time in Germany. In the morning I will take a flight to Kiev, Ukraine, where everyone thinks I am going into a war zone and/ or will get blown out of the sky by the Russians.

 

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Dachau & Augsburg, Germany

Dachau and Augsburg

Today Gina and planned to go to Dachau and then Augsburg to walk around and attend a BBQ that her boyfriend’s co-workers were planning. We started the day heading to Dachau and spending a few hours there. Gina had been there before when she was 16, so it was nice she joined me.

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We spent most of the time walking through the buildings and reading the information they had about Dachau and the life of those who passed through the gates.  One of the things I found strange that I didn’t see at other camps I had visited on my trip were all the memorial churches for different religions within the grounds.

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After we visited the crematoriums, we headed to Augsburg. But, as we were waiting at the bus stop we got a text that the BBQ was canceled because of the weather. It had only sprinkled a little, but oh well. We decided to go to Augsburg anyways and just walk around the town. We went into a few churches and took pictures before heading back to Munich. Overall, I felt it was a nice little town. I enjoyed the visit. It may look like every other Bavarian town, but there is always something unique to find.

That night, we ended up playing a board game, Der Name Der Rose, which I enjoied very much. Ross, Gina’s boyfriend, also made a great dinner. I also got to meet to other American’s who were over and who live and work in Munich. It’s nice to have those in-house social gatherings. I haven’t experienced one before this in ages!

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The Kehlsteinhaus (The Eagles Nest), Austria

The Eagles Nest

Today I went on a group tour to Hitler’s Eagles Nest in the mountains of Austria. This place was made famous, for many people, when it was depicted in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. For me, I learned about this place about 20 years ago when I was originally planning to go to Germany for a Scouting exchange program. Instead I decided to work at Camp Phillips, my Boy Scout council’s Scout camp.

The tour went by bus and started in Munich at 8:30 in the morning. The tour guide was very talkative and she described many places that were important for the Third Reich in Germany on our way out of town. We even drove past Hitler’s first home in the posh area of Munich. It has since been converted into a police station in order to prevent Neo-Nazism. I found the 2.5 hours to our destination flew by because of all the information our guide shared on the trip.

When we got to the sight of the Eagles Nest, it was already pretty busy with people and tour buses. Fortunately, our guide was very well organized and had appointments made for transportation every step of the way. When we got up to the top parking area, we rushed town the tunnel to the “gold elevator” which would take Hitler to the Eagles Nest. Once in the elevator and up to the top, we walked into the building and had an opportunity to walk around and see the magnificent views. Clouds unfortunately blocked half the view, but I still enjoyed what I could see. Shortly after visiting most of us walked down to the buses with our guide so that we could get a few more pictures in.

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Once down to the visitor center again, I joined a couple from Latvia for lunch and then headed to see some underground bunkers that were built into the mountain. I also joined the tour guide down a path to see Hitler’s residence here where he spent about 1/3 of his time while he ruled Germany. Well, at least what was left of the residence. It was blown up when handed back to Germany to prevent Neo-Nazi gatherings. The Eagles Nest itself was never a place anyone stayed overnight, it was just a tea house. Plus, Hitler only made about 13ish official visits to it because the altitude bothered him. Hitler actually enjoyed a different tea house just down the road better.

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After visiting Hitler’s Eagles Nest, we headed to Berchtesgaden to see a monastery. I found this to be a nice relaxing little town. At this point it started raining, so I headed back to the bus after making this visit. This was the end of the trip and we headed back to Munich. The time flew by again because I actually talked to the girl sitting across from me. We had a wonderful conversation and then we went different ways forever.

That night, I headed back to my friend Gina’s place and we went to a schnitzel place for dinner. Boy was it good!!

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Munich, Germany

Munich

The bus to Munich was pretty long, close to 6 hours. This is what I mean by Germany being much bigger than I originally thought. It takes 6 hours to get to Chicago from my home town in Wisconsin, Eau Claire. And, Germany has an autobahn, which pretty much allows people to go as fast as they safely can. Another cool thing, I thought, about this bus was that it had shoulder strap seat-belts. It’s rare to ever find seat-belts at all in the states.

When I got into Munich, I headed to a hostel I booked for the first night there. The German friend I am staying with had to work some long hours, so I didn’t want to add any pressure being a guest. The hostel I stayed at had a 40-bed room that I stayed in!! It wasn’t as bad as I imagined it could have been and I would stay there again. After I dropped my things off there I headed out into the main square area.

My first impressions of Munich was how diverse it seemed. There were people of many different colors, nationalities, religions, and regions of the world. Come to find out they are all just tourists. The rest of Munich isn’t that diverse and the city square area is probably one of the dirtiest areas of town. Well, at least I got the hood out of the way first!!

I ventured into the center of Munich with my map in hand to do my sightseeing with my hands in my pockets and on my wallet. There were so many people and I felt like I was in a prime pickpocket area. Also, shortly into my walk I had to pull out my umbrella. In the rain, I walked around taking pictures and sneaking into churches. The interior of some of the churches were stunning. So stunning they probably would help me find religion again! The highlight was watching the town hall clock chime with a clock tower display.

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The next day I stopped in a couple churches that closed before I could see them and I spent most of the rest of day at the Deutches Museum. It was so big and hard to really find my way around from one place to another. I enjoyed walking around and the parts I enjoyed the most was the mining and aviation areas. It was really cool to see a German WWII fighter plane.

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Later that afternoon, my German friend Gina picked me up from the hostel and we headed to her place where I met her boyfriend and we all ate a nice Mexican place in her neighborhood. Tomorrow I will wake up early to take a tour to Hitler’s Eagles Nest.

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Dresden & Berlin, Germany

Dresden

Daniel, Nadine, and I headed to Dresden early Friday to walk around the town. I found Dresden’s old town square to be absolutely beautiful with all the old buildings and cathedrals. It’s amazing how buildings can be restored after a war. Other than walking around town, the biggest oops moment took place when we had dinner. We went to a German restaurant and I was having a bit of a problem choosing what to eat. I was sort of hungry for fish and came across herring. When I got my food, I then found out that it was raw pickled herring. I was totally expecting something cooked and the menu didn’t specifically state “Pickled Herring”. My friends shared there food with me and I gave them the herring. I am really surprised at how much Germany is surprising me when it comes to food.

Dresden Castle (Picture 1)

Old Town Dresden (Picture 1) (Picture 2) (Picture 3) (Picture 4) (Picture 5)

Martin Luther Church (Picture 1)

After walking around Dresden, we then headed to the Bastei Bridge in Saxon. This was a nice little hike and I was able to get some nice pictures too.  Later that night, I was also was hoping to see James Blunt back in Dresden, but we all found ourselves to be a bit to tired for that. We headed back to Leipzig and pretty much called it a night.

Bastei Bridge (Picture 1) (Picture 2) (Picture 3)

Berlin [two days later]

Originally, I was planning on a road trip to Berlin with Daniel. But, he found he had to work. So, I headed up on my own by bus. Somehow though, I got on the wrong bus to Berlin and ended up on the opposite side of town. When I asked the bus driver if the bus was just making a stop or heading across town, he informed me that I was on the wrong bus and that it was forbidden that I ride on the bus. I said,” Oops!! Sorry. Oh well, I made a mistake. No big deal, Berlin ticket and we are in Berlin!” He seemed pretty pissed off. Screw him! I walked right past him with my ticket out in the first place and he didn’t stop me. I thought he was going to check tickets after people got on! Now I know how German buses work!

Well, I really was on the other side of town and had a long way to walk. It ended up working out great because I first headed to the Hard Rock Café, then to Victory Monument and on down through the center of town were all the main sights are.I had starred a number of places to see in Google Maps, so really all I was doing was playing connect the dots on my phone. I really like the feel of Berlin. I sort of wish I stayed there a couple days, but time would not allow for that at the moment. Something I’ll have to consider the next time I make my way through here.  My last stop before heading back to Leipzig was the Berlin Wall Monument. This was the most touching part of my sightseeing because I am old enough to remember watching the wall come down on TV.

Berlin Victory Column (Picture 1)

Russian War Monument (Picture 1)

Brandenburg Gate (Picture 1)

Holocaust Memorial (Picture 1)

Berlin Cathedral (Picture 1)

Reichstag (Picture 1)

Red City Hall (Picture 1)

Berlin Wall (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

With all my sightseeing done for the day, I made it to my bus on time and headed back to Leipzig for one more day before I head on to Munich to visit a friend I met on the road back in 2008, Gina.

 

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V2 Rocket Factory with Doma Concentration Camp & Kyffhäuser Monument

Today Daniel and I planned a little road trip which would first take us to the Metalwork V2 assembly plant and Dora Concentration Camp. This site is pretty much where the foundations of rocket technology was created and sort of the future of NASA. The reason why I say this place is sort of the birthplace of NASA and the man on the moon is because the German scientists who pioneered the rocket technology worked here and after the war, worked for the U.S. government to work on rocket technology there.

Going into the tunnels where these rockets were produced was the main purpose of this trip here. Unfortunately, we found out that the only way to go into the tunnels is with a guide, on a two hour tour, all in German. We decided to stick it out, along with many others there who I don’t think spoke German, to see these tunnel ruins. The guide went into, what I could tell, great detail about the camp and work life of the prisoners, workers, and guards there. But, all I could really do is stand and wait to go in the tunnels. This large delay in the days plans caused us to have to eliminate the plan to go to Buchenwald Concentration Camp (the same camp Anne Frank died at and the largest camp in Germany).

The tunnel area we were allowed to visit was only about 4% of the whole tunnel system. It really was in shambles. After the Amerians found the tunnels, they took all the technology out so they could use it in their own rocket development and they then abandoned the tunnels. When the Russians came through after, they destroyed most of what was left with dynamite.

          Tunnel Remains (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

          Rocket Remains (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

One of the things I did learn was that the conditions were so bad in the tunnels, people were dying at a rapid pace. The camp originally shipped the dead out of the camp, but later built a crematorium to try and keep up with the mortality rate. The crematorium still stands and is pretty much the only building left at the camp that wasn’t destroyed.

          Crematorium (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

After Doma, we went to the Kyffhäuser Monument. The same architect that built The Monument to the Battle of Nations built this. It is dedicated to German Emperor William I and Frederick Barbarossa. I found this to be a pretty cool monument to visit and worth the drive into the mountains.

          Kyffhäuser Monument (Picture 1) (Picture 2) (Picture 3)

By this time it was getting late and we headed back to Leipzig. When we got back we went to a hole in the wall beir garden in the middle of nowhere. We had schnitzel, beers, and schnops. Dinner was so good! We were heading out when the table next to us insisted we sit with them for a beer. One of the old ladies wanted to speak English with me, so we joined them and had a good time of laughter and conversation.

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Leipzig, Germany

The train ride from Warsaw to Berlin was smooth and comfortable. I was looking forward to making my way to Leipzig to see the German friends I had made in Laos last January. Unfortunately, I was not able to take a direct train. So when I got to Berlin, I then had to buy a ticket to Leipzig. This train ride was a little over an hour, but cost about the same as my Warsaw to Berlin ticket. This gave me an immediate eye opener to the price differences between Eastern and Western Europe.

The connection between trains was pretty quick, so I was unable to call my friends in Berlin and had to wait to call when I got to the train station in Leipzig. Daniel came and picked me up and we headed to a kebab place to get me some food to go. Their place was really nice and I even got my own room. Makes me wish I had another room in my apartment! The evening consisted of catching up on some conversation, I did all my laundry, made a little plan for the week, and then bed. I was pretty exhausted and was looking forward to checking out Leipzig with Daniel in the morning!

Leipzig- Part 1

Nadine had school today, so Daniel and I hopped on a couple bikes and headed first to The Monument to the Battle of Nations. This monument was huge and I guess one of the biggest in Europe. At the site of the monument was were Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. There were about 60,000 casualties in this battle with soldiers from many nations participating. After walking around here, we then headed over to a panorama exhibit dedicated to the history of this battle.

          The Monument to the Battle of Nations (Picture 1)

When we finished the exhibit, we got back on our bikes and rode into Leipzig’s main downtown/ square area. Leipzig has a nice relaxed atmosphere. Daniel pointed out a bit of the history of a number of buildings. The highlight for me was St. Thomas Church. Here is where Johann Sebastian Bach is laid to rest.

           St. Thomas Church- Bach (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

After a little walking around, Daniel and I met up with Nadine at the university cafeteria for lunch and then headed to a bier garten. That evening we had, what was described as, a typical German dinner, we chatted a bit, and then headed to bed.

Something that surprised me about the “typical” German dinner was how light it was. Nadine and Daniel explained how German’s tend to eat a heavy lunch and a light dinner that may include some cold meat, bread, cheese, and a salad. The German cuisine and style of eating was also surprising to me because I thought it would be more similar to the food I grew up with. I would have to say I was definitely taken back more than once about the new foods I was trying. But, I can see how with a little time to adjust to how Germans eat, I would probably follow suit like I did in Korea. I did find many of the foods I tried delicious. Others would take a little time to acquire the taste, like liver sausage.

Leipzig- Part 2

One of the coolest things about travel for me is meeting up with people I have hung out or met before. Well, while I am hanging out with Daniel and Nadine, two people I met on my travels in Laos, another friend, Tim, from my Boy Scout camp staff and early 20’s party days happened to be in Germany! We figured it had been at least 13 years since the last time we had seen each other, which was probably his wedding.

While Daniel was working on a special lunch for Tim and I, we headed to The Monument to the Battle of Nations. I didn’t go in with Daniel, so Tim and I headed to the top and walked around the area, while also catching up on the last 13 years. After a lovely lunch, we went on a boat ride down a river with Nadine and members of her family. After that we got some food from the grocery store and Tim and I did some grilling for dinner. That night we sat around drinking beers and had some excellent conversation. I was hoping to go to a disco that night too, but we found ourselves pretty tired. The next morning we took Tim to the train station and Sunday was pretty much a day of relaxation.

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Wieliczka Salt Mines & Warsaw, Poland

Wieliczka Salt Mines 

On our second full day in Krakow, we got up at 5:45AM to get ready and make it to the salt mine for one of the first tours. Nicole was not happy with me because I made her get up so early. But, as usual she was glad I did get her up to go there.

This salt mine has statues and rooms creatively carved from the salt caverns throughout the corridors underground. The highlights included a couple of churches build underground, made completely out of the salt. The walls had carved pictures, the alter, chandeliers, floor, etc. were all made of salt. I guess many weddings are done down here and it’s an active church that has services. Pretty fascinating!! There was also a chapel dedicated to Saint Pope John Paul II. He visited the mine at one point and there is a salt statue carving of him too.

Salt Church (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

Saint John Paul II Salt Statue (Picture 1)

At the end of the tour we headed back to Krakow to visit the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow. We paid to go through the Cathedral there were many royals are buried. The church is absolutely beautiful and there is even a chapel inside dedicated to St. John Paul II. I’m curious whom he replaced! After visiting the castle we just wondered through the Krakow Old Town more.

Wawel Royal Castle (Picture 1)

Warsaw

Nicole and I took the 7:20AM train to Warsaw. From Krakow, it takes about four hours by train. After we arrived, we got some much needed coffee and headed to our hostel. It was really hot out today, but I pushed Nicole to go see the town because we only had the afternoon to see it. We decided to start by walking through the Jewish neighborhood area and make a loop around to the main square to try and catch the 6PM Free Tour. We did not make it to the tour. If you ever decide to visit Warsaw, I recommend renting a bike. The town is much bigger than I anticipated. Especially since most towns I have visited on my trips have everything pretty close together. Warsaw is easily a two day or full morning to evening type of town for visiting on foot.

One of the things I found disappointing about Warsaw is that there isn’t much of a trace left of the Warsaw Ghetto. Of course the uprising did destroy a lot, but the Jewish area of town where the ghetto las located is a pretty big area. Not many pieces of the wall is still standing and really only monuments mark some of the important historical areas. There are also some buildings still standing from that era, but I don’t think they will be standing much longer. I did come across remains and a museum of Pawiak, a Gestapo political prison, and a marker of were part of the ghetto wall stood. Again, I wish I had more time to explore in Warsaw.

Pawiak (Picture 1)

Ghetto Wall Marker (Picture 1)

Though we missed many monuments and places to visit in Warsaw, I’m not to broken up about it. I’ve been pretty much doing the nonstop sightseeing for over a month now and I got to see some important things  in Warsaw. I will just have more to see the next time I visit!!

When we got back to the hostel it started to pour really good and we hung out a bit since it’s our last night together traveling. I’ll be getting on a train to Berlin and then Leipzig and Nicole will get on a flight back to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Well, another year and a half to go until we probably see each other again!

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