One Short Day series: Boston

Hi all! This past year I was in school in Syracuse, New York. Though it’s a few hours north of NYC, it still put me within easy driving distance (at least compared to Dallas or Birmingham!) of some of the Northeast’s greatest cities. This resulted in quite a few day trips, and I thought I’d share what I did on these trips with you. To be sure, each of these cities could easily fill a week’s worth of touring, but if you’re just driving through or have an extended layover, this series will give you an easy plan to make the most of your time in the city. Bonus: it’s also super affordable because, hey, I was on a grad student budget when I visited!

Up first is one of my favorite cities in the U.S.: Boston!

For my day trip, I visited here in November with my now-husband. We arrived in the city about lunch time, and I knew exactly where I wanted to eat: the Bell In Hand Tavern.

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It claims the title of America’s oldest tavern, and whether or not that’s true, it certainly has the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted! I usually just get a big bowl of chowder, but this time we also got the soft pretzel appetizer to fill us up more, which were also delicious. Located just around the corner from Quincy Market, it’s in a great location with very reasonable prices.

From there, we spent most of the day following the Freedom Trail. The trail is about 2.5 miles through Boston and visits 16 historic locations. It’s clearly marked by red bricks in the pavement which makes it super easy to follow. You can pay for a tour, but at around $35 per person, we decided to go at our own pace. They have plenty of info on their website about each location, and most spots have ample signage so we didn’t feel like we missed anything by going at it ourselves (and this allowed us to choose where we wanted to spend our time, so we liked it more than a tour!)

The trail officially starts at the Boston Common, but our lunch location situated us near another stop, Faneuil Hall, so we started there.

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Faneuil Hall is also right next to historic Quincy Market, a great place to shop and eat (if you decide to forego Bell In Hand Tavern).  There are also always street performers that are a blast to watch.

Nearby is the Old State Meeting House, and the location of the Boston Massacre. In good weather they sometimes have performers outside, and every hour or so they have a “changing of the guard” performance.

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Inside is a museum.  We decided not go in, but admission is $10 for adults, with student and senior discounts and free for kids under 18.

We did decide to go inside the Paul Revere House. Admission is $5 for adults, again with various discounts for students, seniors, and children. It’s a small museum, but fun to see where an American history icon lived part of his life.

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If you’re looking for more Paul Revere spots, the Granary Burying Ground is worth a visit. The resting place of Revere, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, and other notable citizens, the cemetery is free to enter and a nice shady spot to explore some historical figures.

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The Freedom Trail technically ends at the USS Constitution. While this spot is definitely worth a visit, walking to it adds an extra mile from the second-to-last stop (Copp’s Hill Burying Grounds) to the ship. Crossing the Charlestown Bridge can be nice, but I would recommend doubling back a little bit and taking a ferry from the Long Wharf North. Only $7 for a round trip (included in a day or week pass Charlie Card), it gives a great view of the city and it’s always fun to be out on the water.

The USS Constitution site includes both the ship and the museum, which are operated separately. The ship is free to enter, but is an operative navy base so visitors over 18 need to have a federal or state issued ID. Check their website before you visit also, as it’s not open year-round.

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The museum has a suggested donation amount, but is technically free to enter. If you’re really into nautical history and technology, this is for you. Otherwise, we didn’t find it particularly interesting (especially if you’ve been on your feet walking all day!)

These are just a few of the stops along the trail. If you’re a history buff, they’re all exciting to visit, but some especially notable ones include the Old North Church, King’s Chapel, and Old South Meeting House. Information on these and all the other stops is available on the Freedom Trail website (linked to previously in the article).

If you have some extra time or are looking for some indoor options, here are some of my favorite museums I visited while there for a full week:

1. The Boston MFA

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Easily my favorite museum in the city, it’s definitely worth a visit. They have a wide variety of collections (hello, Ancient Egyptian artifacts!) and interesting temporary exhibits that are constantly changing. It can be pricey to enter normally, but if you’re there on a Wednesday after 4pm it’s free, as well as a few other holidays throughout the year. Visit their website for more info.

2. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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A unique museum, it used to be the house of Isabella Gardner, and features a plethora of collections, all arranged the way she specified. And yes, the picture above is part of the museum: it’s the courtyard that the entire original museum space is centered around. There is also a recently-built modern building that has changing exhibits, but the original house is an interesting place to visit. General admission is $15, but 20 minute introductory tours are available for free, which I would highly recommend to get a better idea of what the museum is all about. Check out their website for details.

3. The Harvard Peabody Museum

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From the Peabody’s website

The Peabody is on Harvard’s campus, part of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, and is a fascinating museum for anybody interested in archaeology or ethnology. They recently renovated their upstairs space and it is BEAUTIFUL, as well as interesting for adults and older children (probably about middle school and up). General admission is $12. Here’s their website.

Of course, there’s much more to do in Boston. Have you been? Do you agree with my recommendations? What would you add?

Happy travels!

 

10 Reasons Vancouver Should Be Your Next Summer Adventure

While the USA recently celebrated a birthday, Canada also had a big holiday on July 1–Canada Day. In honor of this and my recent graduation trip with best friend Rae to Vancouver, here are some reasons that Vancouver is one of my favorite places I’ve visited in the summer.

1. The obvious: whale watching

Vancouver is right on the west coast of Canada in British Columbia, which makes it an ideal place to find a variety of whale watching options. We chose the Vancouver Whale Watch company. They had above a 90% chance of sighting whales, and if you don’t see a whale they have a lifetime guarantee so you can come back for free until you see one. It also leaves from Richmond, about 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, which was pretty convenient (we drove, but they also offer a shuttle service). Our guide was great, and we saw both orcas and humpback whales, as well as harbor seals and bald eagles. Whale watching is what many people think of when they think of a Canada vacation, and this was a great way to experience it.

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2. Double the vacation

Since we live in Texas, getting to Canada was one of the more expensive parts of the trip. But we figured out it was much cheaper to fly into Seattle, rent a car, and drive three hours into Vancouver. That also allowed us to have a car for the whole week, which made getting to places outside the city much easier as well (just don’t forgot to factor in costs of the car, such as parking, gas, and insurance). Being able to fly into Seattle sort of gives you a 2-in-1 trip, if you do what we did and fly in early enough to spend the day in Seattle.

3. The exchange rate

While the U.S. and Canada both use dollars, the difference between the two is notable (at least at the time of this writing). 1 USD is equal to 1.30 CAD, so your trip budget will go even farther there, whether it’s for a place to stay or a souvenir to take home.

4. The weather

While Canada in the winter may be more than these Texans could bear, in June it was the ideal weather. It stayed in the 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit), and while it was drizzly some days, it never lasted too long and we never let it get in the way. So if you’re trying to escape the summer heat, the Pacific Northwest is definitely an ideal spot.

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5. The loooong days

Since Vancouver is so far north, it means that the summer daylight lasted long enough to get everything done, and more! The sun didn’t start setting until around 9:15pm, so we were able to fill our days with activities and still be back before it got too dark, which was perfect for a girls’ trip. The city feels pretty safe anyway, but not having to walk back after sunset made it feel even more comfortable.FullSizeRender (14)

6. Proximity to…everything!

Vancouver is a great city in and of itself, but it’s also a hub of several great destination day trips. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a short (free!) shuttle ride away; Whistler Mountain is only and hour and a half drive up the Sea to Sky Highway, one of the prettiest places you’ll ever drive; Vancouver Whale Watch is about a 30 minute drive; Vancouver Island is a ferry ride away. A day trip to Vancouver Island is also customizable to what you want to do–three hours to Victoria on the southern tip of the island,or just twenty minutes to Bowen Island (what we did) and great hiking trails.

7. Poutine

When you Google “Canadian cuisine” (like we did before visiting), there’s really only one thing that stands out: poutine. Poutine is fries covered in gravy and curds, and then you can add toppings of your choice. We got the plate for dinner one night, and it was definitely unique. While it may not look appetizing, it was pretty tasty and you have to try it at least once while you’re there!

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8. The nature

Vancouver is within easy driving (or ferry riding) distance of amazing natural views. We went hiking on Bowen Island, explored Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, biked around Stanley Park, and they all have something to offer any nature lover. Half of my photos from the trip are just pictures of trees! Be sure to find a place to explore the West coast rainforests that are common throughout British Columbia. Yes, Canada has rainforests.

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9. And the city

Staying in Vancouver is also guaranteed to bring adventures. Whether you decide to try all the different food trucks, visit the various museums, or explore the different neighborhoods of the city, there’s something exciting around every corner. Tuesday night is pay-what-you-want night at the Vancouver Art Museum, which had a Picasso exhibit while we were there, and the Vancouver Public Library is worth visiting as well. Gastown is the oldest part of the city, as well as the shopping hub, so it’s an exciting place to walk around. Without ever needing to get into a car, the city will provide endless amounts of things to do!

10. The best of all worlds

Vancouver, we decided, really has everything you could say you want to live nearby: big city, beach, forests, mountains. You don’t have to choose one to enjoy, when they’re all within easy driving distance! It’s enough to fill any vacation with a variety of adventures and will make sure you never get bored.

Have you been to Vancouver, or another part of Canada? What did you love? Anything you would add to the list?

 

A Week in Haiti

Hello everyone!

First off: apologies that I slacked off on the blog at the end of last semester. It got to the point where I ended up choosing to spend my remaining time in London doing things, rather than writing about them. I’m always up for sharing photos and talking about my trip if you ever want more info though!

My most recent travel adventure was spending a week in Haiti. It was a challenging week, but I loved going and decided to write a summary blog post of it (I could talk about it for hours on end, but I’ll try to keep the post short!)

A group of about 20 girls from my university teamed up with Life is Hope, an organization that sponsors 5 orphanages in the Port-au-Prince area, on a mission trip over spring break. We arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the Haiti, on Sunday morning. The LIH house is in Bon Repos, just outside of the city.

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The view of the mountains from the roof of the Life is Hope mission house

I, personally, had a rough time at the beginning of the week. I felt homesick and was also discouraged by the destitute circumstances surrounding me. The landscape of Haiti was so beautiful, but it contrasted so starkly with the poverty that seemed to be everywhere, ignored by the few wealthy people in the country. I wasn’t sure why God had called me to go on this mission trip, and even regretted signing up at times. But as the week went on, God showed me joy through the kids and taught me how to trust more deeply in Him. He knew what He was doing when He presented me with the opportunity to go on this trip, and the more I got to know the kids and focus on the work we were doing there, the more I was glad I went.

Each day, we visited one or two orphanages. We played games, colored pictures, made bracelets, and sang songs with them. Haiti is by far one of the poorest countries in the world, but Christianity is the dominant religion there. Especially after the earthquake in 2010, the people began turning to trust God for their daily needs–they really have no other choice but to trust Him because of their extreme poverty. Because of this, our focus there wasn’t to share the Gospel, but to spread the love and joy of Jesus. What we weren’t prepared for was how the kids we visited would share love and joy with us.

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Enjoying a coloring book
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Singing along with the kids. A popular song was “This is the day the Lord has made,” both in English and Creole

The kids had so little, and yet were so content and joyful about what they did have. They simply wanted to be with you and spend time with you. It was convicting to see how happy they were with so little, depending fully on Jesus for everything they needed.

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The girls loved having their nails painted, and often returned the favor to us
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Even the youngest children were fascinated by the selfie function on phones!

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Also at the orphanages, we helped give health check ups to the kids–every six months, the kids are weighed, their heights measured, etc to make sure they are growing and receiving the food they need.

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The kids lining up to begin their check-ups with Miss Linda, a board member of Life is Hope who joined us on the trip

In addition, we did an Easter egg hunt at every orphanage. It allowed us to tell the story of the resurrection, and also to give the kids a new experience. None of them had ever searched for Easter eggs before! Though they may have been unsure at first about scouring the yard for hard-boiled eggs that were strange colors, they quickly got into it and had a blast!

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Bonus: they got a yummy snack after hunting for eggs! (Which we usually did at least twice, because they had so much fun!)

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On our last day there, we got to take the children of one orphanage to the beach. It was probably the best day of the whole trip. We got to give the kids new swimsuits, and see the absolute joy in their faces as they played in the water. The beauty of the beach was outdone by the smiles of the kids as they got to spend the whole day playing and having fun.

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Ultimately, I was so so thankful to be able to go on this trip and meet everyone I did. There is something unique to serving God internationally, and trusting in Him to overcome the language barriers and drastically different backgrounds to make a difference. I grew so much in just one week, and will never forget what I learned while I was there. The people have so much joy, but also need so much help. Living in Haiti for a week will permanently change the way I live and view my life in the US, as I am more thankful for my many blessings and more aware of the global needs of others, physically and spiritually.

Thank you for reading! I hope you consider learning more ways to help the people of Haiti through organizations such as Life is Hope and Filter of Hope.

We’ll Be Home for Christmas

It’s Thanksgiving today, and we did our best to celebrate in London. It’s not quite the same without our family, though. Since we’ve been missing our friends and family back in the US, we made this lovely video for them. We miss you, and enjoy!

Click here: We’ll Be Home for Christmas

PS– Sorry I didn’t realize til very late in the semester that I needed to be holding the iPhone sideways to get a full screen picture, so the videos are that awkward skinny phone length

PPS– Sorry to my mom that I was always behind the camera and so I appear on screen only once. I was there, promise!

Thanks for reading (and watching!)

Fall Break Part Three ~ Cochem, Germany {day 50}

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For our previous day’s adventures in Luxembourg, click here.

On Monday, we had planned to stay in Germany. We wanted to go to a small town in the countryside, preferably near a castle. Come Monday morning, we had yet to actually choose said town. It was a test to our adventuring skills and the control freak streak several of us have, to not really have a plan on the day we wanted to go. But we (well, the Sams. Have I mentioned they’re the best?) did some research on Monday morning after we got up, and found Cochem. It fit everything we wanted, and was only a couple hours away, with a train leaving soon. With that decided, we finished getting ready, caught our train, and headed to the quaint German town with a castle.

When we arrived, we were not disappointed. The little town is nestled in between forested hills, with a branch of the River Rhein called Mosel cutting it in half, and a castle crowning the town on a nearby hill that looks over the entire valley. We were ecstatic, and began wandering around, first to find lunch. We stopped at Chapeau Claque Bistro and got sandwiches, then meandered to the “downtown” area, stopping at several stops along the way to do some shopping.

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It was pretty popular, but not overcrowded. We got the impression that it was a common place for Germans who were on vacation, but not international tourists like us, which was nice because it kept the old German town feel without being touristy. We then headed up the hill to the castle, Reichsburg Cochem. It was a bit of a hike, but completely worth it.

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There was a metallic looking painting on the tallest tower

The view from the castle was spectacular as well.

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We then headed into the castle and went on a guided tour. The tour was in German mostly, but they gave us a sheet in English that described all the rooms, and our guide spoke some English to us as well. The inside of the castle was just as fabulous.

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The banqueting hall

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Our tour guide– very friendly and helpful, always trying to explain as much as she could in English to us
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Legend has it that if you close your eyes and touch this mermaid (hanging from deer antlers…) belly, you can make a wish and it will come true

The tour was about an hour, and we spend much of the time admiring the view from various balconies of the castle.

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Finally, it was time to leave, if we wanted to do anything else that day. We took a short detour to a small field on the side of the hill overlooking Cochem.

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We then crossed over the river to the other side of town. It was more residential, but we were trying to get into the woods above the houses on the hill to do some hiking. We ended up not having enough time to make it, but we did still get some great views.

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Finally, we headed back down and grabbed dinner at a restaurant along the river. The food was really good, and the weather was perfect to eat outside and enjoy the view. We then headed back across the river to the train station and caught a train back to Cologne, arriving around 11pm.

It had been a more relaxing day, spent in a picturesque German town–and in a castle, which we were all thrilled about. If you’re ever in Germany, we suggest visiting Cochem!

Thanks for reading! Soon to come, our day in Belgium!

Fall Break Part Two ~ Luxembourg {day 49}

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Hello again! This is part two of my (long) post about our Fall Break. For part one, click here.

Since we spent the first day and a half in our base city of Cologne, it wasn’t until day three that we headed to Luxembourg. Why Luxembourg? Good question. Pretty much because, in order to do all the traveling we wanted, the easiest/cheapest thing was to get a Eurail pass. These things are amazing. You can choose a 2, 4, or 24 bordering countries in the EU and the number of days you want the pass, and then you can travel unlimited between and around those countries within 2 months, for however many days your pass is good for (they don’t have to be consecutive). We paid £175 for a 5 day pass to 4 countries, since we wanted to do more than 2. We were in the northwest part of Germany,  so Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands were the closest bordering countries to visit, each about a 3-4 hour train ride away. So that’s how we ended up in Luxembourg! Considering a return (or, round trip in American) ticket to Amsterdam was about £135, it’s definitely a great deal!

We arrived in Luxembourg in early afternoon. The center of the city was a short walk from the train station, and we enjoyed exploring some of the streets. You cross over a bridge that spans a forested park which divides the city in half, providing some wonderful views.

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From there, we stopped at their WWII memorial, which looms over the city, since they don’t have skyscrapers or anything, so it dominates the skyline.

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Our next goal was to find food. We ended up eating at a random Turkish food restaurant, which was really good. From there we went to find Rue (Street) Philippe II, where there was supposed to be a fun installation of 1200 umbrellas suspended over the street. Unfortunately, it turns out it had been taken down already, so we instead made our way to the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Luxembourg City. We stopped briefly so Rae and I could get “gelato on a stick”–why we wanted a cold snack when it was already rainy and cold, I’ll never know, but it was delicious!

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Then we arrived at the Cathedral. A beautiful Gothic building with splashes of Renaissance elements, it is the only cathedral in the city and began life as a Jesuit church. We thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the adornment inside and sat inside for awhile.

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From here, we decided to find the Grand Palace. This led to quite the adventure. First, we assumed the tower looming in the distance across the forest was the palace and headed that way, exploring the park along the way.

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We arrived at the building, and it looked very palatial.

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Our first attempt at a picture of the “Palace”

Then, upon further reading, we realized this was not a palace, but a very ornate bank. So we tried again, wandering toward the center of the city and attempting to follow signs (the language of Luxembourg is a mix of French and German called Luxembourgish. I kid you not.) We then found an even grander building, with a lovely garden in front of it. Excited, we again took numerous pictures.

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Palace #2

It then occurred to us that the palace would probably have better security, and we wouldn’t have been able to waltz up to the front door. That’s when we discovered it was a museum. Finally, we went into a coffee shop nearby and asked where the palace was. Turns out, we had been right around the corner of it when we were still at the cathedral. Whoops! So we headed back towards the center of the city. After asking directions (and getting them in broken English and some German), following vague maps, and misguided tourism information, we finally managed to find the palace!

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Okay, it was slightly underwhelming, having seen other castles and palaces, and having spent so long looking for it. But nonetheless, we were excited to finally find it and see what the Grand Palace of Luxembourg looked like! Then we decided to meander back towards the train station, looking for a souvenir shop and a place to buy hot chocolate (it had been cold and drizzly since lunchtime).

Fun fact: In Luxembourg (on Sunday, at least) EVERYTHING closes at 6. It was 6:30. We couldn’t find anything open, so finally we headed back to the train station, where thankfully they had both a place to buy hot chocolate and souvenirs (I’m collecting magnets from everywhere we go, so I was going to be quite disappointed if I broke the record on the first day of fall break!) Then we caught our train back and arrived in Cologne around 10. We were able to get dinner from basically the only shop still open in the train station and headed back to the hostel.

What do you think of Luxembourg–had you even heard of it before? Would you like to visit? Comment below!

Thanks for reading! See our next day in Cochem, Germany here.

Fall Break Part One ~ Cologne, Germany {days 47, 48}

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The second week of October was our fall break! We had ten days to travel wherever we wanted. The Group decided to do a week based in Germany. We would stay at a hostel in Cologne, with day trips to Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium, as well as Cochem and Berlin in Germany. We had one full day and two mostly full days in Cologne, and this is what we did with them!

~day 47~
To get the most out of our time, we wanted to get into Cologne early–this meant taking a plane at 7am, which meant getting to the airport around 5am, which meant leaving the house at 3:45am to take a taxi then a train to the airport… it was an early morning but we were ready and excited for the trip to begin!

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Our 4am train selfie

We got into Cologne around 9am, and took a train from the airport into the city. I have taken some German so I was able to translate a little, but it was still an adventure to do even something simple like buying a train ticket. Once we exited the train station, we were immediately greeted with the view of the Cathedral, dominating the center of Cologne.

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We checked into our hostel, Station Hostel for backpackers. As far as hostels go (at least, compared to the one we stayed at in Scotland) it was pretty nice. We left our luggage there and then went out to explore the city and get some lunch. We made our way to the Altstadt (Old City), which is the hub of the city. Naturally, my first German meal was bratwurst–and it was delicious!

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After lunch, we headed back to the Cathedral to take a tour around it and climb the tour. Both the inside of the church and the view from the top of the tower (533 steps!) were both beautiful.

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After that, we returned to the hotel and crashed. It had been a long day already, so we napped for the afternoon until evening, when we grabbed dinner from a bar in the Altstadt, as well as stocking up on water bottles from the super market nearby. Then we returned and spent our first night in Germany!

~day 48~
The next day, Saturday, we also spent in Cologne. We left the hostel around 11:30 and went first to the NS Dokumenszentrum, which is a preserved World War II Gestapo prison. It was a really interesting museum to learn about the history during that time in Germany, and we were glad we went, though it took much longer than we had expected. When we finished it was about 3 in the afternoon so we stopped by a pretzel stand to get a late snack before dinner. German soft pretzels are amazing, and we were able to sit in an open grassy area along the Rhein River and eat them. From there, we headed towards Gros St. Martin’s church. While it didn’t quite compare to the Cathedral, it was still a lovely church, and there were some original Roman foundations still available to see underneath the church, which was cool.

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From there we headed to the Chocolate Museum. It was really interesting to learn about the history of chocolate and how it was made, but let’s be honest, the best part was free chocolate.

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We left as the museum was closing, around 5pm. Since we had found out the hard way last night that most things here closed earlier (and also we hadn’t had much of a lunch so we were super hungry) we decided to start looking for dinner. Wandering through the Altstadt, we eventually found a small restaurant and sat outdoors, since it was such a nice night. Through a mixture of German and English, we were able to order some burgers, and they were SO good. Finally, we headed back to the hostel. Our room was a 6 person room, and last night it had been just the four of us in it, but tonight we were joined by two other students from Malaysia. None of us were very talkative and our group headed to bed quickly, as we had another full day ahead of us!

See part two in Luxembourg here! Thanks for reading!