Spring Break – ft. Madrid, Brussels, Prague, and Berlin!

Make yourself comfortable because this one is going to be quite long. Classes had been increasing in intensity between midterms and spring break, so by the time Thursday afternoon arrived, I was more than ready for some time off. Due to our recent travels, we hadn’t had a night out in Madrid for quite a while, so Nola, my cousin Madison, and I prepared ourselves to go to one of the most exclusive clubs in Madrid. Since it was also St. Patrick’s Day we of course had to start the evening at an Irish Pub. We were having fun but decided to head to the club early since it was a huge party night. Normally the streets of Madrid come to life in the evening, especially from Thursday to Saturday, but this night was on a completely different level! Even the metro was crammed full of boisterous youths drunkenly carrying on and breaking the law in various ways. We finally got to the club, at an obscenely early time, to be greeted by a hoard of people waiting outside. It didn’t take us too long in line to realize we weren’t going to get anywhere, so we decided to cut our losses and head to Kapital, which is that club with seven floors. We rushed there to learn that it was rented out for a private party, and if you weren’t on the list the entrance fee was 50 euros! We had recently been discussing returning to the club we used to frequent when we first got there for auld lang syne, so we decided to just head there. There wasn’t a line, and before long we were back on the familiar dance floor. It was so strange because I remember being so enamored by it in the beginning, but now it just seemed so small. Anyway, we still had a great time.

The night progressed and I was getting more and more caught up in the music, until a man on stage began to ask for volunteers. I didn’t even know what was going on until Nola thrust my hand into the air. He called me up, and we both thought it would be some sort of drinking competition. I made it on stage with six or seven other girls, and they had us line up to introduce ourselves. He then made the announcement to the crowd that the dance competition would begin. Although Nola and I weren’t near to each other, I’m pretty sure we had the same reaction when he said that. So here’s the thing, when I reach a certain level of intoxication and combine that with loud music, I have a very unique, yet distinguished style of movement. I’m told the best part about it is that my moves are always accompanied by a huge grin and what has been described as a look of “childlike glee”. If you’ve ever witnessed it you know exactly what I’m talking about, and if not maybe I’ll show you the next time we drink together. Anyway, by that point I had gone too far, so I thought “here goes nothing” and strutted to center stage and gave it everything I had. Nola admitted later that she was worried the room might go completely silent, but people actually began to cheer! I honestly think I blocked all of that out anyway, but the next thing I knew, the moderator began asking people to leave the stage and I was left standing with two others. The three of us then danced simultaneously. I honestly hadn’t been paying much attention to anything else because I was losing myself to dance, but I did happen to look over at them at one point and notice that they were both hardcore twerking with very serious expressions on their faces. Meanwhile, I was cracking myself up with my one of a kind movements. Eventually the judge called us forward one by one to give our final display and he judged our place by the crowd’s reaction. By this point Maddie and Nola were using the new friends from Portugal we met to try and rally the crowd, so that probably helped, but I couldn’t believe people were really cheering for me! I was even more surprised when the judge finally yelled “Victoria!” and thrust a bottle of champagne into my arms.

The rest of the night was a bit of blur, but I was pretty much a celebrity. When I would walk through the crowd random people would yell “la campeona!” (the champion) and high five me. I eventually managed to open the bottle of champagne, and I’m a bit of socialist, so it got passed around to quite a few people. That probably wasn’t the smartest idea because, you know, communicable diseases and whatnot, but it’s been over a week and I’m fine…though I may have infected them all with a sore throat. Oh well. Everything went well the rest of the night, and as soon as I woke up the next morning I started laughing and couldn’t stop for at least two days. Again, if you haven’t seen me in action you can’t grasp the gravity of this situation, but I actually won a dance competition! I mean that was something that I had sort of just accepted would never happen in life, yet here I was!

I took of Friday to revel in my glory, but I managed to get other things done too. Nola and I went to lunch at our favorite Thai restaurant, then I once again took the long trek out to that police station in the middle of nowhere to pick up my residency card. I was extremely relieved when they had it there waiting for me because stuff always seems to go wrong at that place. Anyway, it only took about four months after losing it, but I finally have my replacement card!

I finished everything by around midnight, but could not fall asleep for the life of me! I guess I was too excited about everything. Finally around 5am I abandoned all hope and started getting ready to leave as I had to catch the first metro at 6. Since Bomi had spent the last two days traveling, I figured she probably wouldn’t have slept much anyway, so at least we were on the same level.

Bomi had booked her ticket to come visit me last September, and I remember it feeling like the day would never come, yet here it was. It was so great to see her and pretty surreal having her in Madrid. From the airport we went straight to the hostel to drop off our stuff, then ate breakfast and spent some time taking in the sights of Madrid. We met Nola for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, then checked into the hostel and settled in for a much needed nap.  We spent the rest of the afternoon showing Bomi the best of what Madrid had to offer and it was fun to see everything from a fresh perspective again. We took her to another one of our favorite places for dinner, then went back to the hostel to check out the pub crawl they offered. It was even cooler to do such a touristy thing in our city because we got to mingle with foreigners from other places and we experienced some new places around the city. Shenanigans ensued.

We woke up Sunday morning safe and sound in our hostel, but before too long Bomi revealed that her bag had been stolen. In it she had all the euros she had just withdrawn, her phone, and, of course, her passport! I figure that everyone who comes to Europe has to have at least one mugging story, so now she has hers. I hardly even broke a sweat because I was all too familiar with the protocol in these situations. I mean it was a shame about her stuff, but the passport was our main priority as our flight to Brussels was scheduled for that afternoon. We found the nearest police station, and I escorted her there to file a report. We arrived to the waiting room around 1pm and it was packed with other people filing reports from whatever they had lost over the course of Saturday night. We sat there for almost two hours and literally only one person had been called in, so we started to get nervous because our flight time was fast approaching. I went to one of the officers guarding the door and explained our situation; she was extremely nice about the whole thing and ultimately told us we would be better off heading to the airport, talking to a representative of the airline, and filing a report there. With that, we stopped back by the hostel to collect napping Nola and made our way to Barajas.

When we got to the airport, we were shocked to see the enormous line at the visa check counter for RyanAir; Nola went ahead and took a place, while Bomi and I went to find a representative. I explained the situation, and he told us she would indeed need a temporary passport, which she would have to get from the Korean Embassy. We reluctantly decided that Bomi and I would miss our flight to Brussels then book another one the following day. On our way to find the office to make a report, we passed Nola in line as she was showing her boarding pass to a representative walking through the line. We walked up to her just in time to hear him say that our flight had been cancelled. We were shocked. Apparently there was an air traffic control strike in France, so nobody could fly over it at all that day. The line was for people waiting to get a new flight and a hotel voucher. Now most people were pretty upset at the situation, but Bomi and I were overjoyed – we wouldn’t have been able to fly anyway, but at least now we would be reimbursed! Things were looking up as we went to the police counter and were immediately taken back to file the report. I got to be the translator once again, and I was really starting to enjoy it.

We were in pretty high spirits as we joined Nola in the line and began our wait. Those spirits gradually declined with each hour we continued to stand there. I didn’t really mind so much, but there were definitely some people starting to get outraged. The most intense part was that line seemed to grow exponentially. At one point I went to the bathroom and found that the end now snaked around several layers, and there were probably at least close to a 1,000 people camped out! Around hour seven, one of the airline executives came to address the mob, and it was pure chaos as a huge crowd of people surrounded him to hear his explanation. Bomi kept saying that fights and fires were bound to start happening eventually, and I was starting to believe her! The man pretty much just said that there was nothing they could do and to only stay in line if you needed a hotel for that night. People were not pleased. The three of us tried to make the best of situation and started playing random childhood games as we waited. At one point we had a pretty intense Rock Paper Scissor tournament. Apparently people were watching us and getting quite the kick out of it. One of the elderly Spanish ladies behind us explained that in Spain a fist represented an egg instead of rock, which completely changed the dynamic of the game. An Italian man further down the line confirmed that in Italy a fist is indeed rock.
By hour nine, we were the next in line! We were a bit distracted examining each others passports, when all of the sudden the crowd seemed to erupt in yelling; the next thing I knew, the sweet old Spanish ladies were yelling that it was our turn and one of them actually shoved me forward. It turned out that two good-for-nothing yellow-bellied degenerates had the audacity to walk straight up to the counter and cut the line! Everyone immediately behind us exchanged loud heated words with the pair, as we just sort of stood in the middle of it. We finally got the counter to be greeted by an exhausted-looking worker that couldn’t have been older than 24. We did our best to explain our complicated situation to him. Here´s the thing, we had tickets to Brussels for Sunday, then we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Prague on Tuesday, and take a train from Prague to Berlin on Thursday. So if we didn’t make it to Brussels in time it would completely derail the whole itinerary. We would have been fine going straight to Prague, but the stupid cheap airline of course didn’t fly to Prague. Everything was booked pretty solid, so he said the best we could do would be to fly to Brussels on Wednesday morning, then get a new flight from Brussels to Prague Wednesday night. That would mean we would completely miss out on Brussels, and only get to spend like 12 hours in Prague. That’s not to mention all the money we would lose on our hostel deposits. He also said we could try flying standby to Brussels Monday afternoon, so we were banking on that.

We finally left the airport well after midnight to head to the hotel. We were pretty excited when we got there and learned it was four stars! I can still remember the feeling of approaching of the building; I was so looking forward to falling into bed so we could get up bright and early to head to the embassy. Well, we walked into the lobby only to be greeted by another line! By that point all we could do was laugh it off. We ended up waiting another full two hours before making it to the counter. On the bright side, we found a nearby Chinese restaurant that was open late and made deliveries, so that occupied some time. The food arrived when we were about four people back in line, but we soon realized that they hadn’t given any utensils for it! Even worse, it smelled kind of disgusting. We dragged it along with the rest of our stuff as we advanced in line. Pretty soon a girl that had just checked in came down laughing and saying that there were already people sleeping in the room they had been assigned. They ran around behind the counter and eventually gave them another key. When it was our turn in line, the German couple that had been in front of us came storming down with the exact same complaint but in much worse humor. I felt pretty bad for the people working, so I asserted that the three of us could just share a two person room instead of them trying to find two rooms to accommodate us. The man seemed appreciative, but Bomi and Nola were a bit annoyed that I had made the offer without consulting the group; apparently a room for two included one double bed.
We made it to the room and were relieved to find that no one was already sleeping there. Nola immediately went to the bathroom and called out, “Hey, I found a comb!” which confused me because I didn’t think she used combs. It turned out she meant to use it a rice utensil; it was actually super effective, and I’m pretty impressed that she saw it and immediately thought of it. Bomi and I tried using the sugar packets from the coffee machine as our scoops, but I got annoyed when the paper got soggy after a few bites, so I went all natural with my hands. It wasn’t the most dignified moment in my life, but we had literally spend over 13 hours waiting that day and I was just tired and hungry. Fortunately Nola finished first and let me use the comb after. As we suspected, it was probably the worst fried rice we had ever tasted. I was elected to sleep in the middle of the bed since I was the one who made the offer. There was enough room, but it was unbearably hot so I couldn’t fall asleep. Fortunately the room also had this wooden bench with some sort of pad on it, so I used my backpack as a pillow and one of the bathrobes as a blanket, and with that I was finally able to doze off.

After only a couple of hours, Bomi I got up and went downstairs for the free breakfast. For what it’s worth, it was a pretty nice hotel and we were greeted with one of the best spreads I’ve ever seen! We only had time to stuff ourselves to a certain extent before we set out for the embassy. We made it there just before it opened, and I let Bomi take over with the language. One of the things she needed for the passport was a new picture, so she had resolved to make it the worst picture she had ever taken and she succeeded; over the last three days we had not showered and probably slept a total of five hours, so we were looking rough. The picture is amazingly perfect though. It only took about two hours before we were leaving with a brand new temporary passport in hand! We joined Nola back at the hotel and finally enjoyed a much needed shower. It was actually one of the best showers I’ve ever taken; I should start staying in four star hotels more often. We eventually set out for the airport feeling very optimistic about flying standby. We were greeted with yet another long line and were quickly informed that all flights were once again cancelled. I spoke to a representative who “couldn’t say for sure” but speculated that no flights would make it to Brussels before Friday.

With that we resigned to our fate and bought obscenely expensive airport hamburgers. We decided to just book a flight to Prague with another airline. Now RyanAir said that they would mostly likely refund our cancelled flights, but we would still have to have to make up the difference between airlines of no less than 150 euros. On top of that, RyanAir couldn’t even guarantee when we would get the refund, so we had to dig deep and front the money out of pocket. We found a flight to Prague for Tuesday morning with only four seats left so we quickly booked it and never looked back. We went back to the hotel happy that there was hope of someday making it out of Madrid, only to find out that our room had been given away. They found us another one that actually had a third bed! That night we ordered pizza from the only place that would deliver to our location and it was disgusting; it of course didn’t come pre cut either, so we pretty much just had to tear it apart with our hands. We were consoled by another amazing breakfast in the morning though.
I can’t describe our euphoria when we actually made it to our gate and learned that our flight was still on track to take off. We had a short layover in Barcelona, and by three that afternoon, we had finally made it to the Czech Republic! Even as we took the public transport to find our hostel, we couldn’t help getting sucked into the absolute beauty of the city. It was truly amazing. We found our hostel and at reception, the first thing he asked us was if we wanted complementary tea, coffee, or water. The place was perfect! The staff were incredibly friendly, and our room was one of the coziest places I’ve ever seen in my life. On top of that, we were just glad we had made it to Prague and our trip could continue as planned.

Then we connected to the Wi-Fi. Our phones immediately started blowing up with a flurry of people desperately demanding to know if we were okay. We had no idea why until Nola googled Brussels. The airport and one of the metros had been bombed that morning, the morning we should have been flying to Prague. Now in retrospect, since our flight was the cheapest you could get, we would have actually been flying from an airport about an hour outside of the city, but we could have easily been on the metro. In any case, we would have been grounded indefinitely and I can’t even bear to think of the anguish our poor mothers would have experienced. But still, it was so surreal that we were supposed to have been there but relentless obstacles kept us from going. I was pretty shell shocked to say the least, so we took some time to decompress in the room and respond to all the messages.

On a brighter note, we were also in contact with my cousin Nick who had decided to take a jaunt around Europe after having achieved his Master’s degree the previous December. We had planned to meet up in Prague, so it felt reassuring to know we would be with him in a couple of hours. In the meantime, we decided to venture outside of the hostel and explore the surrounding area. We were right next to the Charles Bridge, and as soon as we began to cross it we were already enamored with the city. It was chilly and gloomy, and the sun was starting to set, but the setting was absolutely perfect. It’s hard to fully describe the beauty of the city that night, but just know that it was truly incredible. We found a small street market and tried some Mauled Wine and bratwurst, both of which were delicious. We basically just wandered around trying to take it all in until the sun was well past the horizon. We returned to the hostel, and Nick arrived before too long. We had planned to go to a highly recommended restaurant for dinner, but the wait was outrageous so we had to find somewhere else. We ended up at a pretty classy place and the food was good enough; the best dish by far was the duck that Bomi ordered. After dinner we wandered around downtown in search of a decent pub, which was harder to find than we had anticipated. We ended up in an Irish bar with live music; it wasn’t nearly as great as Dublin, but it was nice to relax, catch up, and let the rest of the group get to know each other.

We started out bright an early the next day. Right across the street from our hostel was a small restaurant that sold pizza and all sorts of sausages, which were quite delicious. We went downtown to the main square where they were currently hosting an Easter Market. There were booths selling all sorts of crafts, along with great food and other types of Easter themed things. We registered for a free walking tour, which taught us so much about the rich history of the city. I learned a lot about the ineffective implementation of communism that had ruled the country for many years, but has thankfully been reformed. I hate to sound redundant, but it really was one of the most enchanting places I have every visited. I wish we could have stayed there for so much longer! Although all of it was pretty great, I think my favorite part had to be the Astrological Clock, which seems to be one of the most ingenious feats of science. It was quite a wonder to see in person! After the tour it was time for Nick’s most anticipated activity: Absinthe. I hadn’t really known much about this particular drink, but from what he had told me I was actually a bit nervous. The tour guide laughed when we asked him for a recommendation and gave us some really helpful information. So I didn’t really know what to expect when we walked into the small saloon, but the bartenders were very nice and helpful. We decided on a traditional Czech type, and learned soon after we ordered that it actually came from a bottle with a beetle in it! It was fascinating to watch them prepare the drinks, which were literally flaming. We all got a small glass, but it was recommended to sip it as opposed to shooting it. It was still quite warm and pretty interesting. You definitely feel the burn the whole way down, but it lessened after a while.

After all of the walking we found some food, then went to the hostel to take a rest for a bit. On this night were wise enough to go the restaurant super early, so we finally got a table. Nick decided he wanted to try an appetizer called beer cheese. The waiter had warned us that it was quite potent when we ordered, but we went for it anyway; it literally smelled like dirty feet and was extremely pungent, but Nick and I actually enjoyed the taste of it – as long as we breathed out of our mouths! Once we had eaten our fill, we hurried back downtown just in time to catch the free ghost tour of the city. Some of the stories were more interesting than others, but the best part of the tour was that we got to walk around some of the back allies and much less popular areas. Towards the end it started raining though, which really put a damper on things and we were somewhat relieved when it ended. Once again, we had to run back to the square where we met the representative for, you guessed it, a pub crawl! This crawl was a little different than the others, but it was a really good time. We went to three or four bars and two clubs. It goes without saying that shenanigans ensued, but we all had a lot of fun and really bonded as a group.

It would have been nice to sleep a bit later the next morning, but we had to check out of the hostel on time and it was our last day there anyway, so we got up relatively early. We took our time to explore more of old town and made the climb up to the castle and royal palace. Once again, everything was picturesque and just so perfect. I’ve always heard great things about Prague, but none of it compares to the actual environment. I guess it was cool because it’s older than many cities, as it had never been destroyed by a war. Anyway, it was all just such a great experience. We eventually made our way back to the square and took some time to shop in the Easter Market. There were so many great things at such a reasonable price, I wish I had room for everything! We finally set off on our trek to the train station, which was bit further than we had anticipated but it was pleasant.

The station was chaotic and confusing, and we ended up sprinting to our platform unnecessarily, but the important thing is that we made it. I expected the interior to be sort like any other train I had ridden, but this one actually had compartments! In reality they weren’t that great because it’s hard to stretch your legs with someone sitting right across from you, but it was also sort of cozy. Somewhere near the German boarder a lot of people got off, so we ended up our very own compartment. By now it was completely dark, so we were able to stretch out and enjoy some very refreshing sleep.

We arrived in Berlin around 10 or 11 that night, so we didn’t take too much notice of our surroundings. Nick was staying at different place this time so we parted ways when we made it to our hostel, which looked really nice from the outside but was interesting on the inside. I mean it was clean and everything, it was just so bare and plain. We later learned that it basically represented communist style architecture: large, clinically clean, and almost intimidating. My favorite part was the small room near the common area that housed a pool table and computers; right above the door there was a small black and white sign that simply read “Fun Area.” It wasn’t so bad though. Interestingly, Nick’s hostel was only a few blocks away, but we later learned that we would have been on opposite sides of the wall.

We wouldn’t have much time to spend in the city so we really had to take advantage of every moment. So Nick knew this girl, who I think was a friend of friend of his that he had met once like five years ago, but she invited us to brunch so we went. Of course, we had quite a bit of trouble finding the bus and ended up walking way more than what was necessary, but what else is new. We finally met her at a nice-looking restaurant and were greeted with a Smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, fruits, and bread. It was all extremely delicious. Perhaps the best part though was the opportunity to get to know a local and compare perspectives on global politics and whatnot. We had a very interesting conversation about our countries elections, and the direction that public opinion seems to be moving towards in each place. She was very nice, and she even taught us a few German words!

By the end of the meal we were stuffed, so we meandered for a bit. Before long we thanked her for her company and bid farewell. With that, the four of us set out for downtown where we took advantage of yet another free walking tour. Berlin definitely wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of cities, I mean it has been completely rebuilt more than once in the not so distant past, but there was an almost overwhelming amount of history behind its walls. Though much of it was quite somber in nature, it was somewhat surreal to be physically standing in a place where so many things had happened. I feel like I could have spent several weeks in the city and still not see everything it had to offer. Of course it rained throughout almost the whole tour, but again it seemed sort of fitting.

We were all pretty worn out by the end of the day, so we decided to take it easy that evening. We got dinner at an excellent Vietnamese restaurant, then went back and hung out at the bar in our hostel for a while. Nick and Nola hadn’t planned to leave until Sunday, but unfortunately Bomi and I had to return to Spain on Saturday. Fortunately we made it through everything without any problems and by the afternoon we were once again wandering the streets of Madrid. We enjoyed a good meal and went to see any major sights we had previously missed. We decided to go for a drink at Pool and Beer, which was quite crowded. Bomi realized just how often we go there when several patrons greeted me by name and the bartender asked how I had enjoyed Germany. Her flight was for very early the next morning, so we went back to the hostel before long to try getting some sleep. I accompanied her to the airport in the morning and stayed until she got to security. It was bittersweet seeing her go; I was grateful that she had come to share quite an interesting adventure, but it felt like she was leaving too soon!

I stuck around the airport for a while waiting for the first metro to begin at 6, then I made my way back to the apartment. Beatrice had the door chained, so I decided to wait a while to see if she would wake up soon. I basically just ambled around the neighborhood watching the sun rise. I was tired, but it was a relevantly nice morning and it was enjoyable. I’d have enough by 8 though, so I finally rang the bell to wake her up. It was good to be back in my room, not to mention I was long overdue for a shower! I called home and talked to my family for a bit, but mostly I did nothing. Nish and I went to lunch when she came home and we both recounted the highlights of our weeks. It was an interesting Easter, and I once again enjoyed the sweet relief of the elevator!

I wasn’t quite ready to return to the reality of school, but I felt quite content with the whole experience. It had been stressful, joyful, and overall just a long, strange trip, but it was one of a kind and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by great company.

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