Tips on Becoming an Au Pair

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Have you always wanted to experience another country but couldn’t find an economical way to do so? Are you a patient person who enjoys spending time with children? Does the idea of spending a summer or the next few months working at your local Dairy Queen make you cringe? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then becoming an Au Pair might be a great job for you.

What is an Au Pair?

Generally speaking, an Au Pair is girl from another country, between the ages of eighteen and late twenties, who lives with a family and takes care of their kids. In exchange they receive room, board, and some pocket money. Usually it is a cultural exchange where the Au Pair becoming a sort of member of the family rather than a baby-sitter.

The exact role depends on the needs of the family, but often you will take care of the kids during the week for around 30 hours and have weekends free. This could involve light housework and some cooking. I chose a family that had a housekeeper who did both, so I didn’t have to worry about cooking.

How do you find a family?

The website that most of the Au Pairs I know have used is Au Pair World (www.aupair-world.net). It is a really great site that allows you to create a profile and search through families’ profiles while they also search Au Pair profiles. Most importantly, it is free!

Advice for Future Au Pairs:

Don’t settle for the first family who contacts you. You may be super excited at first and fall in love with every family you see, but do your research and wait and see what other offers you get. There are a lot of families looking for Au Pairs, so you shouldn’t be worried that you won’t find one who wants you. Check the country guidelines on Au Pair World to see the minimum you should get and don’t take less. Although you shouldn’t take an Au Pair job to make a lot of money and your living expenses will be covered, you need enough to go out sometimes and travel a little bit.

My amazing girls!

My amazing girls!

Don’t do it just for the money. If you make an effort not to spend much, you can probably come home with some cash, but not much. Don’t go crazy, but don’t force yourself to stay at home every night to save money. You won’t have enough for frequent shopping sprees, but you will have plenty to enjoy yourself. You might be able to make some more money teaching private English classes, though. If you want to travel but don’t want to spend a fortune, try Couch Surfing.

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During the family vacation in Mallorca

You might be overwhelmed with messages. This varies depending on your preferences. If you are a native English speaker and choose a country with a lot of families, like Spain, you probably will receive a lot of interest. There are a lot of families looking for Au Pairs to help their kids practice English, so if you are a native English speaker you will be in even higher demand.

Trust your instincts. If you are messaging with a family and something seems sketchy, don’t continue. There are plenty of other families out there. Make sure you have a lot of contact and Skype with the family before accepting an offer. You can also ask for references from past au pairs if they have had any.

Be clear about your expectations and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. If you are interested in learning the language, get the family to pay for your classes! It may be intimidating to ask for it, but you shouldn’t have a problem finding a family willing to do so if you are staying for longer than a summer. If you are a terrible cook, don’t tell the family you have no problem making all of the family recipes.

The family is more important than the location, but location is still important. Although you may have your heart set on living in the city center of Barcelona, don’t accept an offer with a family you won’t be happy with just to be in a cool place. With that being said, don’t accept an offer in a place you couldn’t see yourself being happy in just because the family is awesome. Make sure you figure out how close the family actually lives to the city. They may say they live in Madrid, but that could mean fifty kilometers away. Ask a lot of questions! Also, don’t be afraid to go to a city you don’t know much about. Just because it isn’t a typical tourist destination, doesn’t mean it isn’t a cool place to spend a few months (or longer!).

Views of Zaragoza's Basilica del Pilar

Views of Zaragoza’s Basilica del Pilar

So what are you waiting for? If you are curious, you can browse Au Pair World and even check out some families before you create a profile. If there are any current or past au pairs who have anything to add, leave a comment!

Reflections on my Au Pair Experience

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A few months ago I finished my two and a half-month summer job as an Au Pair in Zaragoza, Spain. Although my friends and family all laughed at me when I told them I was going to take care of children this summer (I may have given them the idea in the past that I didn’t like children), it ended up being a fun and incredible learning experience.

The main reasons I decided to become an Au Pair were to improve my Spanish, gain experience working with kids, and spend some time in a new place, and do some more traveling on the weekends. I am pleased to announce that I met and exceeded all of my summer goals.

I was very lucky to end up with a very kind and welcoming family with three lovely and well-behaved girls. Eva, who is twelve years old, is extremely mature and fun. Her English is very good for her age, and she wants to be an English teacher one day. Elena, the ten year old, is very sweet and curious. The little five year-old, Alicia, is one of the cutest kids I have ever met and loves everyone and everything (except cheese). All three of the girls were adopted from China when they were babies. The parents, Cruz and Javier, are really fun and open-minded and speak English very well.

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The family in Benasque

My main aim and responsibility this summer was to help the girls improve their English. Before I came, Alicia only knew a little bit of English vocabulary such as numbers, colors, animals, and a few foods. She has learned so quickly during the summer and now understands a lot, although she doesn’t speak very much. I am very happy with how much the older girls have improved as well.

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I came to Zaragoza with about six years of Spanish language classes under my belt, but I hadn’t practiced anything in over three years. Thankfully, the vocabulary came to me quickly, but the grammar was another story. I don’t remember any of the grammar I learned in school. This made me very shy to talk in Spanish, especially with people who knew English well. Because of this, I did not get nearly enough practice with conversation this summer as I should have. I need to sit down and study the grammar so I can become more confident. I did learn a lot of vocabulary, though, and my listening has improved immensely.

As I mentioned, I didn’t exactly love kids before I became an Au Pair. This could have turned out terribly if I didn’t end up with very well behaved kids. I’m sure you are curious: has my opinion about children changed? Overall, yes. I have learned that I enjoy spending time with kids when I can tell them what to do. I still reserve my disdain for nasty little boys running around screaming in the grocery store, though. As you are probably also wondering, the thought of possibly having children one day doesn’t disgust me quite as much.

With little Alicia.. Such a cutie :)

With little Alicia.. Such a cutie :)

As for travel, I managed to see a lot; in fact, too much to mention in this post. Overall, my experience as an Au Pair was very positive. As I mentioned, I got very lucky to end up with a wonderful family. Are you thinking about becoming an Au Pair and wondering about how to go about making it happen? Check back for my next post about how to get started and advice for looking for an Au Pair job.

Teruel Fiestas del Ángel

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One weekend during my summer in Zaragoza I was casually browsing Couch Surfing to see if there was anything interesting happening nearby. I came across a post from a guy looking for people to go with him on that Sunday to Teruel (2 hours from Zaragoza) for the local fiestas. I messaged him, rounded up two other Au Pair friends, and the next day we were off to Teruel without really knowing what to expect. It ended up being us 3 Au Pairs (with Gemma from Italy and Zoe from Northern Ireland), another girl named Naify from Mexico (who ended up becoming a great friend), and Rui, the driver, who was Portuguese.

When we arrived in Teruel, none of us knew where to go. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out, though. We just followed the herds of people dressed in white with red scarves and kerchiefs.

Views of Teruel

Views of Teruel

Where's the party?

Where’s the party?

Rui had told me to wear white and be prepared to get my clothes dirty. I soon saw what he meant. There were people with water guns running wild in the streets and squirting red wine at each other. No big deal, I thought. We purchased red scarves and kerchiefs and a squirt gun of our own and joined the fun.

"Before" in the main square

“Before” in the main square

Ready for the fiesta

Ready for the fiesta

Besides running around the streets like hooligans shooting each other with wine, one of the main events of the day took place in the main square. Although I am still not sure of the significance, it involved a bunch of guys climbing a pillar to tie a red kerchief on the bull statue at the top. Surrounded by thousands of screaming drunk spectators chanting, pushing, and splashing wine everywhere.

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We shoved our way through the crowd to secure a spot as close as we could to the action. We didn’t get far because the people were packed in shoulder to shoulder. Everyone was hot, sticky, and covered in wine.

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Some people watched the event from balconies overlooking the square and poured water on the crowd below. After the men finally succeeded in climbing over each other to the top and the crowd cheered wildly, it was over. The people filed out pretty quickly to continue with the festivities, which mostly consisted of drinking excessive amounts of wine.

After

After

The rest of the day, we wandered the streets of Teruel and squirted wine at people. Most of this wine we found in abandoned cups along the street. After thinking about that, I really regretted letting some guy squirt wine in my mouth earlier that day. The last event we went to before heading back to Zaragoza was an unexpected foam party. How convenient, since we were all sticky and disgusting. Although I felt a little cleaner after, it took several showers to finally get all of the wine off of my body.

Foam Party

Foam Party

At some point, I started talking to some guys and ended up figuring out they were on Erasmus in Brno (at a different university) at the same time I was there! Of course we reminisced about 7.Nebe and smaženy syr. What a small world!

My first Spanish fiesta was definitely a success. I had an incredible time and made some wonderful friends. I didn’t expect it to be that crazy, but I was pleasantly surprised. I can’t believe that was just one day of a week’s worth of events for the fiesta. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like with the real bulls! I hope to attend many more Spanish fiestas during my lifetime. I hope to one day make it to Tomatina, the world’s biggest tomato fight in Buñol.

Plitvice National Park: A Natural Wonderland

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On Sunday, the earlier bus from Zagreb was sold out, which meant we ended up arriving at Plitvice Lakes later than we had hoped. We got off the bus unsure of our plans, but thankfully we were met by a pushy old woman who insisted we stay in her guesthouse for the best price and best location. How could we resist? The woman and her husband drove us to their home. They turned out to be the sweetest and most adorable couple and amazing hosts. The husband could not speak English, but he was laughing and smiling and insisted he carry every single piece of luggage despite our protests. After a wonderful welcome, we headed for the lakes.

Plitvice National Park is a place you could spend several days, but unfortunately we only had five hours to explore. When you see the pictures of Plitvice Lakes you think there is no way such a beautiful place could exist in real life. I was in awe when I saw the first glimpse of the vivid blue water and the clusters of waterfalls peeking out from behind the trees. It was so incredible!

We made it!

We made it!

We hiked up to some viewpoints and past a giant waterfall in the first section of the park. Some of the wooden paths were even directly on top of the falls with the water gushing by underneath your feet. It rained, but only for a very short period. It was a wonderful time to visit because it was not hot and it was not swamped with tourists.

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By the time we got to the other side of the park, it was a little late so we had to walk quicker and take less stops. There was barely anyone on this side of the park. We must have passed only ten or so tourists. I am so happy we did not skip the other side because I thought it was the most beautiful and peaceful.

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We were not only hiking above the lakes, but we were walking through the forests with big and smaller waterfalls and lakes around every corner. I could not believe how amazing it was. Unfortunately, the photos do not do it justice in the slightest.

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Plitvice National Park is officially one of my favorite places in the world. I hope I can return someday and spend much more time there. If I do, I will definitely stay with our wonderful hosts Mirjana and Rade again. Let me know if you plan to visit and I will send you their contact information!

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What’s So Great About Berlin?

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Sooo Berlin. What can I say about Berlin? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Everyone told me I would love it, but nobody could really explain why. Now I understand. I love Berlin, but it’s difficult to explain why. Let me try.

I went to Berlin with my homegirl Karla at the end of May. This was her first stop on her epic solo trip through Europe, so I figured I would see her off and check out a cool city. We had some unfortunate weather but didn’t let that stop us! We got the three-day transport pass, which ended up really coming in handy because of the rain. We still managed to walk quite a lot, though. A few of my highlights of Berlin included:

Walking through the Tiergarten and  stumbling upon the zoo (face-to-face with some llamas)

TIERGARTEN


Learning more about the effects of the Nazi Regime and Communism in Germany

Walking along stretches of the wall covered in grafitti in Mauer Park

MAUER PARK

Checking out some hip and diverse neighborhoods

HIP NEIGHBORHOODS

Seeing the entire stretch of the East Side Gallery

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Tasting the famous currywurst

Walking through the abstract and disorienting Holocaust memorial

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL

Experiencing a city in transition that is overcoming while recognizing the horrors that took place there  in the past

The candle in the middle of the meditation circle says "For All Victims and Victimizers"

The candle in the middle of the meditation circle says “For All Victims and Victimizers”

Seeing the beautiful Berliner Dom

BERLIN DOM

Speaking with a Hungarian anarchist living in Berlin who told us that Obama is secretly the son of Malcolm Ex, America is the Fourth Reich, and Bill Gates is poisoning African children

Crashing a Germany vs. Germany football viewing party

There was also a thing you could walk through that spray-painted your whole body red or yellow

There was also a thing you could walk through that spray-painted your body red or yellow

Buying watermelon on the side of the road and eating it by the river

WATERMELON

To be honest, before this trip I did not know much about how Berlin has rebuilt since the fall of the wall. I was amazed to see how much it has developed within the past twenty years. It will be interesting to see what it will become in the next 10-30 years. Despite the gloomy weather, I was able to have an incredible time in Berlin and appreciate the city for what it is, was, and will be. So why do I love Berlin? My best answer: why don’t you go there and find out for yourself?

I LOVE BERLIN

 

My Travels Since February

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Hey friends! So if you are one of the 5 people who actually read this blog you may be wondering.. Why the heck hasn’t Lydia posted in months? All I can say is that it was a combination of laziness, business, and drunkenness. During and after my semester in the Czech Republic I had the amazing opportunity to travel to several countries in Europe. Here is a brief list of where I’ve been.

February

Arrived in Brno, Czech Republic for my semester abroad

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Prague, Czech Republic

Wandering the streets of Prague

Wandering the streets of Prague

March

….

Germany (Frankfurt, Mainz, Cologne, Heidelberg)

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Budapest, Hungary

View of Castle District on the Danube

View of Castle District on the Danube

Easter  in Prague and Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov travel buddies

Český Krumlov travel buddies

April

Krakow, Poland (including Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine)

Krakow, Poland

Venice, Italy

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Czech Paradise and several UNESCO towns in the Czech Republic

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May

Slovakia (High Tatra Mountains and a few other places)

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Berlin, Germany

I LOVE BERLIN

Vienna, Austria

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June

Couch Surfing adventure through Croatia (Zagreb, Plitvice National Park, Split, Hvar)

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 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Paris, France

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Arrived in Zaragoza, Spain to start my summer as an Au Pair

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Benasque, Spain (small village in the Pyrenees)

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July

Teruel, Spain: La Vaquilla del Ángel fiesta

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So there you have it. I fully intend to go through and actually post about the places I have neglected. It will probably take me awhile though and the posts won’t be as awesome since I am lazy and it was a long time ago. So stay tuned for some updates :).

Saying Goodbye to Brno

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When I came to Brno, Czech Republic in February, I was not sure what to expect. Moving to a foreign country where you don’t know the language and have not experienced the culture before can be a scary thing. Thankfully, I had nothing to be worried about and this has been the best experience of my life. I came to Brno for the main purpose of taking part in a program for English teachers, and I learned so much in and outside of the classroom.

The greatest part was living in the international student dorm and meeting students from all over the world. I formed so many incredible friendships that I know will last a lifetime, and I learned how to be a better member of this global community we are all living in. This starts with expanding your knowledge of the world and the people in it. Living and learning with these amazing people has reminded me that every person and every culture is wonderful and any person can be a great friend if you give them a chance.

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Turkish breakfast outside of Vinarska

Living in Brno has also taught me a lot about what makes a city a great place to live. I have learned how much I appreciate public transportation, café culture, vibrant city centers, and other parks and public spaces. Brno is the kind of city I could see myself living in one day, especially while I am still young. I hope that I will find a job in a city with as much energy and life as Brno. I am determined to explore more of the U.S. and fall in love with a city with its own culture and community to settle down in one day (if that will ever happen).

Bubbles in Brno's main square

Bubbles in Brno’s main square

When I started the CELTA English teaching program at Masaryk University, I had never taught before, and I was worried that I would be a terrible teacher or not like it. Thankfully, the knowledge and experience I gained from my courses here have allowed me to learn enough to call myself a teacher. I have witnessed how much people appreciate the ability to talk in English with a native speaker and how much I have taken my native tongue for granted. With more dedication and practice, I know I could be a successful English teacher. Now that I have learned how much I enjoy teaching, I am ready to pursue my goals of living and teaching English abroad. I plan to start this summer by being a nanny for a family with three young daughters in Zaragoza, Spain. I will help the girls learn and practice speaking English. Without my time here in the Czech Republic, I don’t think I could have had the courage to do this. Now, I am more confident as a teacher and as a person. After spending the summer in Spain, I hope to obtain an English teaching job somewhere in the world.

I am headed to Spain on June 20, so I have until then to travel for a little bit around Europe. I am still not sure of my plans, but I know for sure that I will be going to Berlin, Vienna, and Paris. As for the rest, I will need to figure that out in the next few days. I will post my itinerary when I am sure! I still have a lot of other blog posts to catch up on. I wish I had done a better job of keeping up with this blog. I loved blogging during Semester at Sea, but I also fell behind during that summer, too. I am determined to catch up and write about every place I visit! Be prepared for an influx of blog posts at some point when I am feeling productive. I guess that is it for now! Sorry for such a long post.

Easter in Prague and Český Krumlov

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Hello there. Since Easter was over a month ago, I figured I should finally post something about my amazing trip to Prague and Český Krumlov. As I mentioned in my Budapest blog post, Central Europe is a great place to be during Easter time. There are many interesting Easter markets and traditional Easter crafts and foods to enjoy. Unfortunately, the one down side was that it was still so cold!

Czech Easter Traditions

Easter is a very exciting time in the Czech Republic. The streets are alive with vendors selling delicious sweets and meats. One of my favorites that I tried was trdelník, which is a sweet bread smothered in cinnamon and sugar and rotated on a fire. There are also many special handicrafts available at Easter time. Most important of these are the elaborately painted Easter eggs!

Yummy trdelník!

Yummy trdelník!

Easter Eggs in Prague

Easter Eggs in Prague

On Easter Monday, boys go to girls’ houses with whips made out of willow sticks and ribbon. When the girls answer the door, the boys whip them, and in return the girls give them decorated eggs or chocolate. This act is supposed to bring good health and beauty to the girls for the year and chase away bad energy. For the coming weeks before Easter, stalls started springing up around Brno selling these whips. Stay tuned for my blog about Czech Paradise, where we visited a small village and learned how to make these whips and painted eggs!

Prague

Christina and I headed to Prague on Friday and met up with my friend Amarette, who we visited in Germany. We spent Friday and Saturday enjoying Prague. This mostly consisted of hanging out in the Easter market in the old town square and more time wandering around the city. The Easter market was huge! I was a little disappointed with how touristy it was.

Easter market in the Old Town Square

Easter market in the Old Town Square

Easter Market

Easter Market

Interestingly decorated stand at the Easter market

Interestingly decorated stand at the Easter market

On Saturday, we took a free tour with Sandeman’s New Europe. I did not know much about these tours, but Amarette had been on several before and recommended it. I was so glad we did the tour! Our guide was so knowledgeable and energetic. Even though the tour was very similar to the one from our first time in Prague, I enjoyed it so much more. I learned a lot about what life was like in Prague during World War II and Communism.

Beautiful Prague with the Vltava river and Charles Bridge

Beautiful Prague with the Vltava river and Charles Bridge

Because we did not get to during our first trip to Prague, we also checked out the Lennon Wall. I really loved looking at all of the grafitti and messages on it. The wall originally started being painted in the 80’s as a form of peaceful resistance against Communism but has since continued as a vehicle of peace and love.

Lennon Wall :)

Lennon Wall

Český Krumlov

After a bus ride Friday evening, we spent the next two days in Český Krumlov, where it was snowing. Český Krumlov is a tiny medieval town, and one of the most visited cities in the Czech Republic. I was expecting it to be so much more crowded with tourists, but it was not that bad. This was probably because it was cold. Still, somehow, the Asian tourists managed to find this place.

Český Krumlov travel buddies

Český Krumlov travel buddies Amarette and Christina

On Easter Sunday, we went out in search of breakfast and instead found a delicious feast. For 135 crowns (less than $7) we had a huge meal of soup, a giant half of a chicken, potatoes, stuffing, and a desert cake. I was very happy about the amazing meal, and this was the perfect way to start the day.

Easter feast! Not pictured: soup and cake

Easter feast! Not pictured: soup and cake

We also walked around the cute little Easter Market. There were stalls selling all kinds of snacks and sweets as well as crafts, jewelry, and all sorts of random trinkets. I couldn’t resist buying some goat cheese and homemade potato chips.

Easter market in Český Krumlov

Easter market in Český Krumlov

One cool thing about Český Krumlov is that it is a pedestrian town. There are very few cars, and you can enjoy walking around in the tiny streets and alleyways without being worried about getting run over. The main things to do here are visit the castle and walk around, which is what we did.

Town Square

Town Square

Beautiful Český Krumlov with a view of the castle

Beautiful Český Krumlov with a view of the castle

Streets of Český Krumlov

Streets of Český Krumlov

To be honest, castle tours really aren’t my thing. Nevertheless, when you travel around Europe, you are bound to take many castle tours. Of course, we had to visit the Český Krumlov castle considering it is one of the most important things to see and it is the second biggest in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, I did not retain too much information from the castle, and we were not allowed to take photos. The coolest part of the castle was the Masquerade Hall, which was added on in 1748 and painted with a detailed mural of elegant people dancing and entertaining.

View from the castle complex

View from the castle complex

Český Krumlov Castle

Český Krumlov Castle

Masquerade Hall

Masquerade Hall (from ckrumlov.info)

Český Krumlov is a beautiful little town, and I am so happy we were able to experience it. It was nice to get away and have a relaxing trip. I love traveling to interesting places where wandering on foot is the best way to explore and there are not a lot of sites to rush around and see. I definitely recommend Český Krumlov if you are ever in the Czech Republic!

Beautiful Budapest

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Hmm… What can I say about Budapest? How about that it’s freakin awesome. I love Budapest.. a lot. Honestly, I’m too lazy to give you guys the play-by-play of what I did every day in Budapest, but how about I tell you about some of the highlights? Pretty much the theme of this blog post is that I did not expect everything about Budapest to be so incredible. I did not know much about Budapest before I went, but now I urge everyone not to miss this city if you are traveling in Europe. This is a little summary of what I saw!

Markets

One of the coolest things about Europe during this time is the Easter festivities, including the Easter markets. Budapest had a very cute Easter market with food, drinks, and handicrafts for sale. I had a cup of mulled wine, which is a delicious hot red wine with spices. Despite the cold weather, I enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere and browsing all of the cute stalls.

We also walked around in the indoor Central Market, Vásárcsarnok. This market had everything from butchers and vegetable sellers to cheap souvenirs. On the first floor were all of the Hungarian specialties, such as goose liver, pálinka (strong fruit brandy), and paprika.

Easter Market food stall

Easter Market food stall

Painted Eggs in the Easter Market

Painted Eggs in the Easter Market

Central Market building

Central Market building

Paprika and Produce in the Central Market

Paprika and Produce in the Central Market

Food

Hungarian food, or at least what I had the privilege of trying, is so delicious! Hungary is famous for their paprika, so you will find it everywhere and in everything. I guess I never really had much paprika in my life, but after this trip it is one of my new favorite spices. I tried Hungarian goulash, which is a delicious soup made of beef, potatoes, vegetables, and of course, paprika. I am pretty sure this was the best soup I have ever had. Another specialty of Hungary is lángos, which is a deep fried fluffy piece of dough often topped with sour cream, cheese, and various meats and vegetables depending on your preference. I liked the lángos, but it was very heavy and filling.

Lángos

Lángos

Hungarian Goulash

Hungarian Goulash

Statues

Everywhere you turn in Budapest, you are bound to find some random statues. Seriously, I have never seen a place with so many statues in my life. Here are a few of the many I saw.

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Pretty Streets

Budapest has gorgeous and eclectic architecture. One moment, you will be in the modern city center and the next you will be walking down a quaint street with a village feel.

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The Danube River

The Danube River separates Budapest into two parts of the city, Buda and Pest, which were independent cities until they united in 1873. There are eight famous bridges in Budapest. One of the most well-known is the oldest Chain Bridge with its lion statues. Legend says that the lion statues at the base of the bridge have no tongues, and the sculptor drowned himself in the river out of shame.

View of Castle District on the Danube

View of Castle District on the Danube

More views

More views

Lion Statue on Chain Bridge

Lion Statue on Chain Bridge

The Castle District

Two of the main attractions in the Castle District are the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a look-out terrace with seven towers and amazing views of Budapest. For some reason, I was really in awe of Matthias Church. I think it was because it is one of the few churches I have seen that included beautiful colors on the outside. Unfortunately, we did not go inside.

Matthias Church

Matthias Church

Chillin in the Castle District

Chillin in the Castle District

Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion

Parliament Building

Hungary’s Parliament building is the third largest in the world and definitely the most phenomenal government building I have ever seen. Our group took a guided tour of the building, and the inside is just as ornate as the outside.

Inside Parliament Building

Inside Parliament Building

View of Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion

View of Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion

St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest and is dedicated to the first king of Hungary. It is the same height as the Parliament Building, 96 meters, and therefore tied for the tallest building in Budapest. The building was very damaged during World War II, and reconstruction was finished just recently. We also climbed to the top of the tower to see spectacular views of the city at sunset. By climbed, I mean took the elevator. Sadly, my camera died so I was only able to get one photo of the beautiful sunset at the top of the tower.

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Inside St. Stephen's Basilica

Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica

View from the top

View from the top

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

I also had the opportunity to visit the largest medicinal bath in Europe. The Széchenyi baths is a complex of indoor and outdoor pools situated on two hot springs with temperatures over 160 degrees Fahrenheit. These healing waters are said to help with joint problems and several other illnesses. Hungary has many thermal baths throughout the country, and visiting these baths is a normal part of Hungarian culture. I can see why! I was getting over a cold when we left for Budapest, but bfter a day at the thermal baths I felt amazing. I was even able to get a much-needed one hour full body massage for 35 Euro. Since Hungary is not far from the Czech Republic, I would like to see if I can find another thermal bath close to Brno.

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A Weekend in Germany

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A week ago, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Germany. I met Amarette at the Hesselbein Student Leadership Summit two years ago, and now she is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ingelheim, Germany. So many of the wonderful people I met at that conference are off doing super cool things now! Christina, a fellow exchange student, joined me on the long journey. After a ten-hour bus ride on Friday night, we arrived in Frankfurt at midnight where Amarette met us at the train station. Unfortunately, I started the trip off on a bad note because I brought one of my illnesses from the dorm with me. I had a terrible cough the entire weekend, but I did not let it stop me from having a great time! We stayed at Amarette’s cute house in Ingelheim.

Enjoying Sunny Heidelberg

The next day, the three of us took a train to Heidelberg, a gorgeous city not too far away. Heidelberg has a romantic old town and is home to the oldest university in Germany. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to see the university, but now I have a great excuse to go back some day.

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The weather was so amazing in Heidelberg! I even had to take off my jacket at the beginning of the day because it was too warm. It felt so great to finally feel the sun. Too bad that was the only warm day we had in Germany.

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We spent a lot of time in awe of the amazing views from the bridge. A very nice man who took our photo told us some of the history of the bridge. He said that it was originally made of wood but kept getting flooded and had to be rebuilt many times. In 1788 Karl Theodor built the bridge out of stone and it was named after him.

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Bridge gate

Bridge gate

Lovers' locks on the bridge

Lovers’ locks on the bridge

After enjoying the  bridge, we grabbed some lunch nearby. I ate maultaschen, a pork ravioli dish that is a specialty of the area. I also enjoyed a radler, which is a beer lemonade combo that is quite tasty. For whatever crazy reason, Christina was not a fan, so I got to finish hers, too.

maultaschen

maultaschen

Enjoying my radler and the warmth outside

Enjoying my radler and the warmth outside :)

After lunch and walking around the shopping area a bit, we climbed up 208 steps to the top of the Church of the Holy Spirit in the city center. By the time we made it to the top of the tower, I was exhausted and coughing a lot, but it was worth the steep climb. I am so glad that Amarette knew to take us there, because the views were spectacular!

These views were worth the 208 steps :)

This view was worth the 208 steps :)

We were down there!

We were down there!

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

We then headed to Heidelberg Castle. This involved another steep hike, although it was not as bad as the one to the top of the church tower. We paid the “entrance” fee to see the castle, although we did not realize that we could not go inside without paying more for a guided tour. It was still pretty cool to see the castle up close.

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Chillin at the castle

Chillin at the castle

Church on the left is the tower we climbed

Church on the left is the tower we climbed

When it started to get dark, we walked around the main shopping street for awhile and got ice cream before stopping in the grocery store and taking the train back to Ingelheim.

Mistaken for a Homeless Woman in Cologne

On Sunday, we went to Cologne. The train trip was kind of long, but it was very nice! I really enjoyed looking out the window as we traveled along the Rhine river. I saw ten castles before I lost count or fell asleep.. I’m not sure which happened first. Between the sleep and the views, the train ride was great. When we finally got to Cologne, it was already 2 PM and it was freezing there. We definitely were not prepared with our winter clothes after the warm day in Heidelberg. Because of this, we did not get to fully enjoy Cologne the way we should have.

The main thing we did in Cologne was hang out in the Cologne Cathedral. Boy, was that place amazing! After already seeing so many churches in Europe, I did feel like I was crossing another one off my list. I am very glad we did, though. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and also has the largest exterior and second-tallest spires out of all churches in the world. We also got to see the historical treasures and relics of saints. I have never seen so many gold and silver chalices in my life. We even saw a piece of a nail from “the” cross. I am still convinced I read that wrong.

We thought about climbing to the top of this one.. yeah right.

We thought about climbing to the top of this one.. yeah right.

Inside the cathedral.. photos don't do it justice obviously

Inside the cathedral – photos don’t do it justice obviously

Besides checking out the Cathedral, we spent some time wandering around the streets of Cologne and trying to stay warm. We also saw the bridge full of lovers’ locks across the Rhine river.

That's a lot of love

That’s a lot of love

I need to purchase one of these outfits to wear to the club

I need to purchase one of these outfits to wear to the club

Before heading to the train station to depart Cologne, we stopped into a museum gift shop. I was so tired and cold at this point that I honestly don’t remember what museum it was. While Christina and Amarette perused the gift shop, I decided to sit down nearby. While I was sitting there coughing and looking miserable, some smug guy threw a Euro cent at me and snickered while saying something in German. I gave him my “are you kidding me” look, and he walked away. I guess the guy thought I was homeless because I looked so pathetic, but does that mean that this jerk would have laughed at a homeless woman? I really don’t know what his deal was.

Quick Tour of Mainz

On our last full day in Germany, Christina and I slept in while Amarette went to work. We really needed the rest after trudging around in the cold the day before. Unfortunately, Christina also got my awful cough (sorry Christina!). We got a super late start and managed to get to Mainz with only enough time to walk around quickly and then get dinner. Amarette lived in Mainz for the first half of her time in Germany, so she was able to be an awesome guide and show us around. Even though we spent so little time there, I definitely learned more than I would have after a full day there without her knowledge.

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City Center

City Center

Cathedral

Cathedral

The first thing we saw was an ancient Roman temple to the goddess Isis. The remains of this temple were discovered in 2000 during the construction of a shopping mall. Interestingly enough, the exhibit was opened downstairs in the middle of the mall.

One thing that Mainz is known for is being Gutenberg’s hometown and therefore the site of the invention of the printing press. Sadly, the Gutenberg museum was closed that day so we did not get to check it out. We did, however, see the church where Gutenburg was baptized and the building of Gutenberg’s last apartment.

Gutenberg's church

Gutenberg’s church

As I mentioned, we arrived in Mainz pretty late so we did not catch too much daylight for touring the city. It was also pretty cold that day, too. After seeing as much as we could, we went to dinner at a spectacular restaurant with its own brewery. I did not have a beer because I was being cheap and also did not want to drink since I was sick. The food there was so good, though! We had this delicious cheese dip called spundekäse. I was so obsessed with that dip. That along with the turkey steak I had has probably been one of the most phenomenal meals in Europe so far. Even though I had absolutely no appetite from being sick, I ate every last bite. I was pretty proud of myself.

Spundekäse! I am craving it right now

Spundekäse! I am craving it right now

After that fantastic meal, Christina and I said goodbye to Amarette at the train station as she went back to Ingelheim and we headed to Frankfurt to catch a movie and stay up until 5 AM for our bus ride.

I really enjoyed my time in Germany despite being ill and having mostly cold days there. Amarette was such a great host, and it was wonderful having her company as well as her knowledge and German language skills. I cannot thank her enough for taking care of me while I was sick and making sure we had a great time! I am excited for her to come visit Prague and Brno very soon!