Tag Archives: Europe

Travel Misconceptions: Romania

Travel Misconceptions - Romania

One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

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Travel Misconceptions: Minsk

Travel Misconceptions: Minsk, Belarus

One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

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Snapshot Memories of the Week: Paris, France

Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves. 

This week my memories go back to Paris.

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Parieee!

I had wanted to go to the city of light since I was a little girl, enamored with Francophone culture. I didn’t end up taking French language lessons until I reached university level, but that only sparked my interest more, especially since my instructor was from Paris.

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I have to be honest, I didn’t have enough time to get a feel for the city as I would’ve liked, I only had a week at the start of my backpacking trip through the rest of Europe, and it went by far too quickly, especially with the long lines at most attractions in Paris during the summer.

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It rained the whole week I was there. From day 1, I arrived at my little hotel room and found the few warm clothes hiding in the crevices of my suitcase. After spending a month in humid Florence never needing more than a light cotton t-shirt, the weather was something to get used to a little further north.

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My first night I met up with one of my sorority sisters and a few of her friends from back in San Diego. We hit the town and I realized just how expensive a night in Paris can be. We went to a ritzy gay nightclub on Champs-Élysées called Le Queen that had a standard exorbitant entry fee that included a drink, and the same beat that played the whole night.

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Even though it was overpriced and repetitive, it turned out to be an incredible night. We stayed out dancing until 6am so that we could save money and catch the first train of the day home in the morning.

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The rest of my Parisian time wasn’t spent quite so extravagantly to the relief of my budget, but I still managed to squeeze in a lot with my time there.

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I saw the Louvre and the very tiny Mona Lisa, I stood next to the beautiful Notre Dame, I toured the Pompidou Museum, sipped Cappuccinos in Parisian cafes looking out at the rain, sat along the Seine, and learned how to use the extensive underground metro system.

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I found the best hidden kebabs in nondescript shops, stood under the Arc de Triomphe and discovered my favorite neighborhood in Paris is Montmartre, which gave me a chance to see the breathtaking Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, and brought me back to scenes from one of my favorite movies, Amélie.

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I went to a ridiculously good burlesque show, toured the city lights, drove past the Académie Nationale de Musique, where Phantom of the Opera was supposed to take place, and saw the Moulin Rouge from afar. I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night, and I tried escargot for the first time and french onion soup.

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I wish I had taken more pictures while I was there because there were so many character filled cafes (and way too many chocolate croissants that I ate), and so much beauty in the details of every day life in the city outside of just the standard attractions that every tourist and their mom goes to.

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But alas with the snapshot memories that I do have, the way I would remember paris is in Colorful Funky Artwork, the Elegant (mostly gothic) Architecture, and the Famous Historical Monuments I came across on a daily basis. I found it to be the city of light in a great many ways.

Colorful Funky Artwork

Funky Artwork

Elegant (Mostly Gothic) Architecture

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Famous Historical Monuments

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My experience visiting Auschwitz

The Holocaust.

I remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank around the same age Anne was in the story, and experiencing an incredible amount of empathy for a girl who was my age, but had the misfortune of being born into the wrong place and time. I’ve seen most movies about the Holocaust, from Schindler’s List to The Pianist, and read more than a fair share of books on the subject, and I’ve realized that it is always going to be one of the many violent events in our history that I will never understand. It’s a subject that affects me with a great amount of sadness whenever I learn more about it, but it is also something that I think everyone should learn more about and pay their respects to.

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One of the more profound experiences I’ve had in my life was visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland.

It was an intense experience walking into all the barracks and streets of a place where so many horrors were witnessed. It was sickening that so many atrocities were allowed to take place, that all the murders, torture and experiments were kept so well hidden for so long. It was a lot to wrap my mind around, that we as humans could commit such things based on someone’s race, appearance and physical deficiencies. It really makes you think. There were a few in my tour group who couldn’t complete the tour, they had broken down into tears after seeing the shoes and human hair piled up in a case.

I feel like going to these types of places with a tour group can sometimes bring out the worst sides of fellow travelers. It no longer becomes a place where a tragic historical event took place, but just another place to take too many pictures of to post on Facebook, and to say that you’ve been there done that.

There were a few in my tour group who were actually taking pictures of the wall of human hair, who were posing and smiling in front of gas chambers. These were the same people who, instead of listening to the history behind the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, were running around and jumping on top of the memorial taking pictures of each other.

To each his own, but to me, that is such a disrespectful way to visit a memorial, to take a moment to cherish the lives of all those who died.

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Even though it was a sad day, I’m glad I was able to pay my respects. Walking out of Birkenau, after just seeing the remnants of what used to one of the largest gas chambers in existence, I coudn’t help but think how lucky I was that I was able to walk out of those gates and back to the bus, when so many people never got the chance to do the same. So many innocent people who never wanted anything more than to be able to see the other side of the gates that enclosed them until their death. The ride into Prague was a quiet one, everyone taking their own time to comprehend the extent of what we had experienced.

Yes, this was definitely one of the most profound  and sobering experiences I’ve had in my life.

Escaping from a salt mine in Krakow

As a way to incorporate my past travels that took place before I started this blog, I’ve decided to start Throwback Thursdays, where I’ll post about past adventures that I’ve had in other parts of the world.

I backpacked through Europe a couple years ago, and one of the most unique (and unsettling) experiences I had was exploring the salt mines in Krakow, Poland. Here is my take on the Medieval city.

Krakow, the land of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages and post offices in old school buggies. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Krakow before visiting, but I found myself enamored by the relatively small and historical city. My most notable story by far was exploring the salt mines, the oldest in the world and in operation for 700 years.

It was pretty amazing, discovering another city far beneath the earth. It’s seven levels altogether, the first level was about 400 steps down, we only made it to the 3rd level and that took 3 hours. It is a massive testament to the strength of human intellect and what we are capable of. I would not recommend going down there if you’re at all claustrophobic, however.

Once you get to the first level with a tour guide, it’s impossible to simply get out whenever you want. Part way through the tour, half of our group broke into a run to try and get to the elevators (a big no-no in the salt mine – and being that I was in the group that didn’t know about the plan to escape the salt mine, we were constantly left with the blame for the rest of the tour).

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Once our three hour tour was finished, it took another 45 minutes of waiting in lines for the two elevators that take you up to the top level in a swift 45 seconds. The elevator was another experience in itself, they squeeze eight people in a small lift with hardly any room to breathe, the only thing protecting you from falling far below are shaky wooden planks that you can see in between when you’re going up.

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I don’t think Poland is as big on safety requirements as the States. The lines themselves were a clear sign of that; hundreds of people were lined up in a small tunnel for almost an hour with no way to escape if there was an emergency. Thank god I survived to tell the tale. After spending much longer underneath the ground than we had originally planned, we went off to enjoy the rest of what Krakow had to offer for the day.

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It may not have a hundred famous sights as many of the other cities I’ve visited in Europe, but it has a charm about it that remindes me a lot of Florence, Italy (my favorite place in the world), especially the main square with street art and performers everywhere. Taking a taxi home that night, looking out at the city of Krakow, our driver started randomly blasting Backstreet Boys with the windows rolled down…yeah, Krakow is pretty sweet.

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