The Blog of Jake Kelfer
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I finally understand. I now understand why everyone talks about traveling abroad and seeing the world. The 15 hours travel days weren’t fun but the experiences that followed resulted in one of the greatest trips of my life.
When I first thought about going abroad I was hesitant. I was hesitant to spend a lot of money. I was hesitant to take 2 weeks off work at a time when I was picking up steam. I was hesitant it wasn't the right time. All of these hesitations were valid but making the plunge and committing was 100% the correct decision. I was able to spend two weeks traveling Europe with some of my best friends and seeing the world’s marvels.
We left on June 29th and for my July activity we traveled to Amsterdam, Rome, Florence, Barcelona and Berlin. I didn't really know what to expect other than I was going to visit some incredible places and see some amazing sights.
When we first arrived in Amsterdam, we were stoked to be off of the plane and on our way to our first hostel to rest and get some food. We were jacked up to finally get started after 15+ hours of flights and layovers. Oh and by the way, our plane didn't have food or an entertainment system. Anyways, we went straight to eat and then went to a coffee shop. Many of you probably know but for those that don't a coffee shop in Amsterdam is a place that sells coffee but is mostly a place to smoke weed. In Amsterdam, almost everything is legal from weed to mushrooms. I almost forgot to mention, it was pouring rain and we were soaked, but because we didn't want to get in a taxi after flying for so long and we wanted to explore, we decided to walk over two miles to get to our hostel. When we finally arrived at our hostel called the Flying Pig we were ready to begin our adventure in Amsterdam. The first thing we all did was get situated and get all of our luggage locked up and put away. One of the things I was most excited/nervous for was the hostels. I didn't know what to expect when I heard we'd be sharing a room with 10 people. Would I be able to leave my stuff around? Would we like the people? Would we want to hang out with them? How would the bathroom situation work? After wondering what it would be like, the Flying Pig was exactly like a college dorm. Men and women sharing rooms and bathrooms with everyone having a good time. The only difference was in Amsterdam, the bathrooms were the smallest I've ever seen. For those of you that know me, you know I like to have a good bathroom. Unfortunately that wasn't the case anywhere in Amsterdam but that's okay. We all have to adapt.
It turned out the Flying Pig would be one of my favorite experiences on the trip because everyday there was a happy hour and I would go down to the hostel bar and meet people and learn their stories before we would start our night. I met some amazing people from Australia, Finland and even some people from the states. Aside from the incredible atmosphere of the hostel and the small bathroom situation, Amsterdam was filled with amazing experiences. We went to tons of museums highlighted by the Van Gogh Museum and Sex Museum. Talk about two different vibes. The Van Gogh Museum was filled with incredible artwork and history. I was fascinated to learn the story of Van Gogh and his journey. The Sex Museum on the other hand was quite interesting. It was filled with pictures, videos, objects and so many other things that made for a unique first impression. We also did the I Amsterdam sign and made sure to get our touristy picture with the sign. We even went to the Red Light District at night. The Red Light District is quite interesting because in every window there are women waiting to have sex with you. Red lights mean they're women and purple typically means they’re transsexual. I won't talk too much about this other than it was unlike anything I've ever seen. After a wild three days, we were ready for Rome.
Rome was the shortest part of out trip as we were only there for a day so we knew we had to make the most of it and that's exactly what we did. After checking into our Airbnb we hit the streets to see all the main attractions in Rome! On our way to the Colosseum I saw some people dressed like Trojans so of course I went over to take a photo. What I didn't realize was this was the most expensive photo I’d ever take. They charged me 10 euros for just a couple photos. You better believe they were some of the best photos I’ve ever taken. We started our sightseeing with the Colosseum which was absolutely beautiful. We even ate lunch facing the Colosseum which I thought was a pretty cool experience. From there we went to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and then the Vatican. When we were at the Vatican, we decided to climb to the top of the dome. After over 550 steps we reached the top and were able to look out and see all of Rome. The view was breathtaking. To think that we were standing above one of the most famous buildings in the world and overlooking a city with such rich history was truly amazing.
One of the best parts about seeing all these different sites was appreciating the architecture and the culture behind each sight. After a long day of sightseeing we went out for a good Italian meal and night on the town. In Rome, we were able to buy wine and roam the streets (see what I did there?!). Now I'm not a big wine drinker but I had my fair share of red wines throughout our trip to see if my pallet would change. Unfortunately, I am still not a wine drinker and don’t think I ever will be. We found an awesome area where we were able to sit down, drink and hang out with each other. While we were sitting we ended up meeting a few Russian guys who were traveling the world and started chatting. One thing led to the next and about an hour later we were at a bar and they were teaching us how to take vodka shots the Russian way. Our night in Rome finished shortly thereafter and we got ready for our next stop in Florence.
To get to Florence we took the train which was the only train we took between cities as we flew for the rest. Our hostel in Florence was the best one by far in terms of cleanliness. We had our own rooms and bathrooms compared to many of the other hostels where we had to share rooms and bathrooms. It might not see like a big deal but to the four of us it was huge. Also, the hostel had a pool which was exciting as it gave us a way to relax and enjoy ourselves without being in the room. At this point, we were settled in and heading into the peak of our trip. We had so many recommendations for Florence which I couldn't wait to experience. Big shoutout to Skylar Sullivan who gave us some awesome places to visit, eat at and explore. The first night we were in Florence was 4th of July so it was only right that we went to an American bar to celebrate. We met some awesome people including our friend Sammi Bongo who would become our mini tour guide for the next day. After the bar, we went to this secret bakery which was located in the back of a random store. In order to get service you have to knock twice and have your cash ready. It was such a cool experience to the end the night.
The Duomo is one of the main sights in Florence and we made it a priority to visit. Unfortunately, we couldn't climb the Duomo but we were able to climb the tower next to it to see the city of Florence. Once again, the view was incredible. Food was also a big priority for us while in Florence and we went to some amazing eateries. L'Antica Noe is a sandwich place that was incredible. Gusta Pizzeria was the best pizza I've ever consumed. The best part about it was they had a lactose free pizza on the menu. Never has bread, sauce and seasoning tasted so good ;) We also went to a dinner restaurant that was owned by three brothers and they love to give you a hard time. The last food item I'll talk about is aperitivo but I'll get to that in a sec.
On our second to last night in Italy we walked the steps at sunset to Piazzale Michaelangelo which overlooked the entire city. Wow! That's all I can say about that. While we were soaking up the view, we met a bunch of Germans who were studying Italian architecture. We spent the rest of the night learning about their culture and getting ideas for our trip to Berlin. For our last day in Florence we knew we had to go big and do a great final meal and go to the club. We decided it was time to try aperitivo, an Italian favorite. Apertivo is when you buy a drink and then get unlimited food. Are you serious? All I have to do is buy a drink and I get unlimited small plates of Italian finger foods. It was incredible as I was able to taste so many delicious items. After a great meal, it was time for the club Space. Here's where the night takes a turn. About 50 yards from Space, I get a brutal stomachache. We ran from place to place to find a bathroom that was open and free since I didn't have any change. Luckily, one of the guys on our trip found a bathroom and all was good. Or so I thought. After quite some time being nauseated I thought it was time to party so we headed to Space. We get in and everything is going great until BAM, it happens again. My stomach acts up and I have to go to the bathroom. When I get into the bathroom I see urinals and what looks like foot pedals and a hole. I'm panicking at this point. I still don't know if the stall I went in was the right place, but I had no choice. I ended up basically sitting on the ground wondering how I was in this situation. Classic! Anyways, I made it and went back to meet my friends where we had a great final night in Italy.
Barcelona! Barcelona was unlike any of the other cities. On one hand you had the historic sights and on the other you had topless beaches and some of the greatest clubs in the world. What a combo! For our first day, we spent most of it walking around and enjoying the great city of Barcelona. We walked down Las Ramblas which is a famous street to walk and shop. At night we went to this bar called La Canya where we met the bartender, Jere. Jere instantly became a fan favorite and we visited him all three nights. Once Jere gave us some great inside info, we were off to Espit Chupitos which is a shot bar that had over 500 different shots. Of course we had to try some. The first one we tried was called Marshmallow and we literally roasted a mallow on the bar countertop and then took a tasty shot. Another one of my favorites was when the bartender lit our fingers on fire and then we blew it out and took a shot. It was remarkable. From there we went back to get some rest for day two.
One of the first things we did on day two was go to the beach. I mean, what's more relaxing than a beach after spending the night in a hot, dirty hostel? The beach was so clear and the water was a perfect temperature. You could even see little fish swimming beneath you. Did I mention the beaches were topless? Well that definitely added a new component to the beach that I wasn't used to. On our way to the beach we stopped at Bo De B which is a sandwich place right near the beach. It was one of the best sandwiches I've ever tasted. Anyways, after the beach we went on a cable car ride to view all of Barcelona and we ended up eating at a restaurant that overlooked the beach on one side and the city on another. Not a bad way to spend a day in Barcelona. I almost forgot to mention this but we all wore Batman jerseys for our day at the beach. There's no good reason except that we thought it was be funny and also we wouldn't waste a clean shirt at the beach. Before getting ready to go out for the night, Tony and I stopped by and grabbed some food with Jere. We ended up talking for over an hour and learned his entire story. For me, learning about other people and their backgrounds is extremely eye opening and always fascinates me.
Going out in Barcelona isn't like it is in America. You start at a bar around 11pm and then head to the club around 2am until the sun rises. For those of you that know me, I am not one for being able to staying awake all night. If I get tired it's time for bed but I was up for the challenge. We ended up getting to the beach around 1am and going out until about 4:45am before we decided it was time to leave the club. We went onto the beach which by the way was filled with thousands of people and rested till sunrise. After a short nap we watched the sunrise and boy, was it beautiful. What a start to our final day in Barcelona.
Since our first two days in Barcelona were very relaxing, we wanted to see some great sights on day three. We started by going to La Boqueria which is a marketplace with fresh fruit, empanadas and much more. I got a spicy meat empanada, a strawberry pina colada drink, fresh fruit and a tasty dessert. From there we went to Sagrada Familia, one of the oldest churches in Barcelona to really see the history and architecture of the city. It reminded me of a castle that would be in a classic Disney movie. What happened next was my favorite part of Barcelona. We were about a mile and half from the hostel and I wanted to walk, so Max volunteered to walk with me while the other guys decided to cab back. Within 15 minutes of our walk home, we found our first accessible basketball court abroad. We went over and started shooting hoops which felt so good since we hadn’t exercised much in the past two weeks. The walk continued and what we thought was going to be 30-40 minute walk turned into a two and a half hour excursion. We walked to a park where we saw street performers. We came across a hidden waterfall with a golden chariot on top. We even saw a museum that showed the history of Barcelona as well as an imitation of the city ruins. Sometimes being open and trying new things can lead to the greatest adventures of them all. This led us into the final night of our stay in Barcelona.
Guess what Tony and I did before going out? Yep, you guessed it. We stopped by Jere's place, had a beer and said our goodbyes. He told us that if we ever come back we can stay with him and he'd show us how the locals do it. He also told us about his dream to live in California! Once we said our goodbyes it was time for Montjuic to see the water light show. Montjuic is a hill where people gather around to watch this incredible and historic light show. I thought there were going to be a few hundred people there but when we arrived it was jam-packed with thousands of people. It was absolutely stunning! The light show is connected to a castle so we went to the top and enjoyed the view that overlooked the lights of the city. What a perfect way to end our trip to Barcelona!
The final leg of the trip! Our first stop was the Jewish Museum where I learned all about the history of the Jews in Germany and Europe. I was surprised to find the extent of which the Jews were treated unfairly and not given equal rights. One of the most touching parts of this museum was a room filled with 10,000 metal faces on the ground to symbolize some of the fallen Jews. While this museum was extremely informative it wouldn't compare to what was to follow.
Our second day was filled with sight seeing. We saw the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building. Later that night we went out to the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery which consists of 101 large paintings along the Berlin Wall. They were absolutely amazing! Once we finished looking at all the artwork we went to a hole in the wall burger joint called Burger Meister. What once was a mini bathroom was now a famous burger place. It was no In N Out but Burger Meister was delicious. When we got back to the hostel later that night, I didn't really want to go to bed yet so I went down in hope of finding people to meet and chat with. I ended up meeting some great Irish guys and stayed up till 7am talking about everything from world politics to sports and it was very interesting to see their views on America and the future of our country.
For the final day we made the trek out to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Before I describe this experience I want to share that a concentration camp differs from an extermination/death camp. Concentration camps were originally made for working and included many types of people who were treated differently based on who they were. Extermination camps were like Auschwitz made specifically to kill Jews. As we took the tour, we learned all sorts of things. We were able to see first hand the awful living conditions. At one point there were 400 people living in a barrack designed for 120 people. Over 3 people per bed. Not just that but they were fed minimally and given very little time to go to the bathroom. In fact the winters were so cold, people would often pass out or die on the spot. There was no way out. Not just that but the camp had several measures in place to prevent people from escaping as a way for the officers to instill fear. One of the craziest things to me was when we saw the propaganda because the Nazis made it seem like the concentration camp was a good place for hard workers. Some of the propaganda featured officers helping the campers. One even went so far as to stage a killing of a Nazi officer by a camper even though the officer was really a murdered camper dressed in a uniform. Disgusting.
Now, although I said concentration camps weren't meant for killing people, that's exactly what happened. People were taken to the back behind closed walls and brutally murdered. Often times they thought they were going to the doctor but when they got their height measured there was a little slit in the wall where they would be shot in the head. In 1942, the Jews at the camp were sent to Auschwitz and other extermination camps as part of the final solution. When you see something like a concentration camp, I can't help but think of how people could treat others so poorly. It disgusts me and really puts into perspective how thankful I am to live in a country like America. I know we have our problems and there's a lot going on, but at the end of the day love will conquer all. I know that I am thankful to have a family that loves me and friends that support me. Now to finish off a great trip we ended by meeting up with our good friend Griffin for a final meal. It was only fitting that after a long, emotional day we were able to spend our last dinner with best friends laughing and looking forward to sharing our experiences when we returned.
Wow, what a trip. I can't believe it's over. Better yet, I can't wait for my next adventure.