Day 15: Last day of tour

Our last day took us into the fantasy world of Neuschwanstein Castle and the dizzying heights of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. Despite the low temperatures at 2962 metres above sea level, students made the most of the snow!

Afterwards, we enjoyed our second and final evening in and around the main square in Munich.

On our return to the hostel, we had a trivia review of the trip from start to finish; a nice way to recall all that we have experienced over the past fifteen days.

We are currently at Munich Airport. Boarding is ten minutes away and our arrival home now only a matter of hours.

See you soon!

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Day 13 & Day 14: Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg and Munich

On Tuesday, despite an early start, we found ourselves running late for the two tours scheduled for the day. Our nemeses? Traffic and rain!

Our visit to Cesky Krumlov was centred on the State Castle. Dating to the Renaissance, this castle also boasts spectacular Baroque and Rococo styles. Controversially, it is also home to a number of bears. While the castle dominates the skyline of this town, the views of the town from the castle are equally breathtaking.

The rain we encountered from the Czech-Austrian border remained with us for the rest of the afternoon and was a bit of a dampener during our Salzburg city tour that included sites from the film The Sound of Music and Mozart’s birthplace.

In the evening, a few of us enjoyed watching Germany trounce Brazil in the semi-final of the World Cup.

On Wednesday we travelled from Salzburg to Munich via the Hallein Salt Mines at Durnberg. As odd as it may sound, we had a great time riding the trains, slides and boat that were all part of the tour.

In contrast, on our arrival in Munich, we visited the Dachau Memorial Site and Museum. Used as a brutal labour camp during WW2, Dachau accommodated more that 30000 prisoners at the end of the war. Thousands died there during those years in horrific circumstances.

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Day 12: Prague

Today we had the delight of visiting Prague, fondly known as the Heart of Europe. Since the end to Socialist rule in 1989, the Czech Government has invested heavily in Prague by reclaiming its history, restoring its buildings and upgrading its public infrastructure. Today it is a beautiful city and our experience gives truth to Franz Kafka’s view that “Prague never lets you go… this dear mother has sharp claws.”

Our guides Derina and Honza took us on a walking tour of the Prague Castle, St Vitus’ Cathedral, the iconic Charles Bridge and the sites of the Old Town including the Astronomical Clock and Tyn Church. After lunch, we enjoyed a one hour cruise on the Vltava River. Students then had time to enjoy the public squares and purchase a few souvenirs.

A note on the weather… Today was quite hot but we managed to rest in a shady spot whenever we could and the occasional breeze brought us welcome relief. This evening at the time we were to make our way to the bus, the heavens opened and drenched us to varying degrees. It was quite a storm and an experience we aren’t likely to forget in a hurry! For your amusement, we have included a photo of a few of us in ponchos and with umbrellas raised.

Tomorrow we have an early start. We will travel to Salzburg via the Czech town of Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stay tuned!

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Day 11: Dresden to Prague

Tonight we spend the first of two nights in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. We are using a new currency and struggling with the language but it is all part of the experience.

The major part of our day was spent at the Terezin Memorial. Built in 1780 by the Hapsburgs as a military fortress, from the second half of the 19th Century it was used as a prison. Its most famous inmate was Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and, as they say, the rest is history).

Most notoriously, the prison was used during World War 2 by the Gestapo. During this time, the nearby town of Terezin was redeveloped by the Gestapo as a ghetto and concentration camp. 33000 people died in the deplorable conditions of the ghetto and about 88000 were transported to Auschwitz where they were executed.

The Ghetto Museum includes a memorial to the 15000 children sent to Terezin during the war. Only 132 of those are known to have survived.

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Day 9 & Day 10: Meissen & Dresden

On Friday we departed Berlin for our next destination: Dresden. On our way, we stopped at Meissen, a 1000 year old German town in Saxony most famous for its production of fine porcelain. We walked through the narrow laneways of this quaint place and visited its main churches. Although the town has undergone much restoration over the past ten years, in more recent times it has experienced two major floods. The legacy of the most recent flood in 2013 is evident as many buildings are still undergoing repair. Sadly, the residents of Meissen are bracing themselves for more flooding this year.

After our tour, we visited the Albretchtsburg, the Gothic style castle and royal residence of the House of Wettin built between 1472 and 1525. The banquet halls have been restored to their former glory.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the Meissen Porcelain Factory. We learnt about the process of porcelain making and decorating and spent time looking at some priceless samples from around the world. While a few of us purchased small trinkets, we stayed clear the the big ticket items. For example, jewellery ranged in price from €1500 – €25000!

The highlight of our first night in Dresden was Germany’s World Cup quarter-final win over France. The German supporters amongst us got into the spirit by donning black, red and yellow face paint to cheer on the home team. We will be in Munich for the semi-final game between Germany and Brazil.

Yesterday, we made the most of our short time in the beautiful city of Dresden. Almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing raids at the end of World War 2, parts of the old town have been reconstructed including the Katholische Hofkirche, Semperoper and, in 2005, the Dresden Frauenkirche. We ended our morning tour at the Zwinger Palace and Semper Gallery, home of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. If you aren’t familiar with it, you will be familiar with the two angels that have been replicated on countless consumer goods from umbrellas to clocks over the years.

In the evening we returned to the Semperoper for a two part ballet performance, Legends: Homage to Richard Strauss. The major performance Joseph explored the Biblical narrative of Genesis 39 in which Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph. It was quite thought-provoking in terms of its representation of women, the persecution of the Jews and its exploration of sexual desire and violence across time. Apart from the ballet, the students had the chance to dress up for the occasion. We gave them two hours to do so!

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Day 7 & Day 8: Berlin

Yesterday, we spent our first day in Berlin visiting some of its iconic sites.

In the morning, we took a self-guided tour through Charlottenberg Palace which was commissioned by Queen Sophie Charlotte during the reign of King Frederick I in the late 17th Century. The building was destroyed during WW2 but completely reconstructed and refurnished with original decor that was stored safely during the war.

From there, we travelled to the Reichstag – the German Parliament building – for a tour of the roof terrace. The modern glass and steel dome construction offers panoramic views of Berlin and gave us a better understanding of the size of the city and the close proximity of the wall that divided East and West Berlin.

In the afternoon, we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by Peter Eisenman, this memorial is an extensive yet sombre tribute to the approximately six million victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Students were given the opportunity to walk between some of the 2711 concrete tombs and reflect on the feeling the memorial evokes. Students identified a sense of isolation and confusion but some also thought that the monument offered a sense of hope in the midst of tragedy. The visitors centre documented the history of the Holocaust in a most informative and respectful way.

After taking a photo opportunity at the Brandenburg Gate, we returned to the hostel for dinner and then walked to the nearby Potsdamer Platz for an evening of shopping.

Interestingly, the construction of the Holocaust Memorial and the new shopping complex of Potsdamer Platz were only possible because they were built on the vacant land that separated East and West Berlin known as the Death Zone. Many East Berliners lost their lives trying to traverse the barrier separating them from the freedom offered in West Berlin.

Today, we continued our tour of Berlin with a guided tour of a number of sites, including the dividing line between East and West Berlin. The highlight of the morning was our stop at the East Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved.

We then visited Berliner Dom, a very ornate Evangelical (Lutheran and Reformed) church constructed at the start of the 20th Century. The dome of the church offered more spectacular views over Berlin, especially the gallery precinct and site of the reconstruction of the City Palace. The crypt is of tremendous historical and cultural significance as it holds 94 tombs dating from the end of the 16th Century until the beginning of the 20th Century, including those of Frederick I and Sophie Charlotte.

Students had the opportunity to eat their lunch in the park and wander through the gallery precinct before our next stop at Checkpoint Charlie.

The third checkpoint separating East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie is most renowned for the confrontation that took place between Soviet and US tanks in 1961. This history – and the history of international peace efforts – is documented extensively in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

Our last stop was Ka De We, one of the world’s largest shopping centres, second only to Harrods of London. Shopping is becoming quite an attraction. Parents, be afraid. Be very afraid!

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Nano in Ypres

While it is often said that Nano Nagle (foundress of the Presentation Order) was educated in Paris, history suggests it is more likely that she was educated at the Benedictine Abbey in Ypres. The Abbey was destroyed during WW1 so nothing remains but we were able to visit the location where it once stood.

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