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(Credit: Anna Zakelj)

Before the storm of tests and papers that is finals week at BCB, in the lull of spring break, a friend and I made our way to Prague. The trip was an adventure. We didn’t plan much, didn’t have much money to spend, and I forgot my passport at home, adding an air of excitement to the journey that was accentuated by my whiteness and US citizenship. The trip was filled with encounters with odd and wonderful people. In transit, in a subway station in Prague, loaded down with backpacks and sleeping bags, we were approached by an old man. He exited the train going the other direction and walked up to where we stood waiting for ours to come. “You traveling?” He asked in a loud, goofy voice. “Where are you from?”

“Slovakia and the US,” we responded respectively.“The US! We’re neighbors. I’m Canadian. I’ve been living here a long time, though. I came over when I was young, just a little older than you two. I used to travel a lot. One summer some friends and I took a long bike trip through a few different countries and one guy died.” My friend Veronika and I looked at each other, confused. Was this the punchline to some strange joke? Should we be laughing? “We drank beers for lunch before cycling,” he continues. “We weren’t thinking about the consequences, forgot about the alcohol. He swerved and got hit by a car. He was young. 30 something. But that’s another story. What’s past is past.” Before we could really respond, our train came and he left, flashing a peace sign with a toothy smile and an emphatic “Bring back the hippies!” The whole interaction lasted less than five minutes. Let’s use this as a learning experience. As we part ways and go adventuring during the summerbreak, let us always bring our passports, be willing to talk to interesting strangers, and remember to never drink and cycle!

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Tuna Cans

With the allure of all-inclusive cruises and Harmony Korine’s 2013 film “Spring Breakers,” spring break has certainly entered into its own mythological status. So what did BCB students do during their week off in April? We talked to Hanna Bargheer, Lily Cummings, Shua Bauer, and Stella Burke to find out.

Featured songs, in order of appearance:

“Degenerative Eloquence” by Spring Break

“Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

“Berlin Du Bist So Wunderbar” by Kaiserbase

 

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Budapest

View over the Danube river in Budapest (Credit: Tanya Sharma).

Sunday, 8:00 pm, On our Way to Budapest
The train is quiet save the steady rumble of any old-fashioned locomotive. The noise laps gently at my ears, rising and falling with the heave of pistons. Night has laid its thick blanket over the window, replacing cityscape and countryside with the eerily distorted reflection of compartment’s innards. Bursts of unsuccessfully stifled laughter from two compartments over, where the rest of the BCBers are seated, are met by our own smiles of sleepy excitement.
I look up from my scribbling to Alona (BA 2019). She is curled like a contented cat in the seat across my own. The words that have been running, screaming through both our minds for the past 4 hours or so have finally settled into a rumbling hum.
We exchange a grin. I see the same words that have been at the tips of our tongues for so many weeks now hanging on the edges of her smile: “We’re going to Budapest”, she says.

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The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill.

The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill.

“I think, I think when it’s all over it just comes back in flashes, you know.  It’s like a kaleidoscope of memories, it just all comes back…It’s not really anything he said or anything he did.  It was…the feeling that came along with it.  And…the crazy thing is I don’t know if I’m ever gonna feel that way again.  But I don’t know if I should…”

Taylor Swift understands me, on a level that is beyond my love life.  In the opening of her 2012 hit song, I Knew You Were Trouble, she describes the suffering wrought by a deceptively charming ex.  Hair chopped, surrounded by dessert, trash bags, and flyaway toilet paper, she looks back on the days when life was too good. I see her experience as a dramatic version of my dreamy spring break trip to Budapest.  With warm weather, vast 38°C outdoor pools, island parks, Costa Coffee Coolers, and sweet cinnamon-scented air, it was as if life could not get any better. It was like real-world affordable Disneyland.  Fueled by magic, by “synchronicity”. 

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View of a medieval look out in Sion, Switzerland. Photo by the author

View of a medieval look out in Sion, Switzerland. Photo by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. I have never before been calm at the airport. Airport is synonymous with rush, chaos, discomfort. I believe it is distinctly a quality of the European continent to casually fly. I forget countries can be so petite, no one checked my passport.

2. Geneva wears a suit.

3. The lesbian bar is a candlelit library, everyone whispers and eats peanut flavored chips. I suspect there are more men here than women. I nod and pretend I understand what they are saying to me.

4. Notes on The Lake:

  • Same color as the sky. If the jet wasn’t there you might not be able to tell the difference. I am certain I could walk on the surface.
  • I never before thought about the way water falls. The jet is a waterfall without the backdrop. I spend a lot of time counting rainbows in the water spray.
  • My favorite part about the lookout spot in Geneva is the people taking pictures in front of the jet. Tourists with big backpacks, so happy to stand in front of an enormous gray lake.
  • I want to take pictures with them; maybe we could make it into a family portrait of travelers.
  • More notes on the lake later.

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Prague covered in fog prepares for a rainy day

Prague covered in fog prepares for a rainy day

Prague – the city of dreamers, travelers and adventure seekers. There is so much that could be said about the capital of the Czech Republic: from its breathtaking architecture infused with history, to its rich café culture that brings together the old and the new – both in generations and spirit. Prague is a city for those who wish to get away from everyday concerns and troubles of day-to-day life by losing themselves among medieval Gothic cathedrals or walks along Vltava, followed by a coffee or brunch in one of Prague’s old-style coffee shops. Yet, even in those moments of “being away” from our Berlin home, the phantoms of old life recur. I would like to focus on the latter, and talk about how traveling to a new place, especially one as contemplative and imaginative as the city of Prague, made me think and re-think in new ways about life and myself.

[read more to see the photo gallery]

Map-reading in Florence

By approximately the fourth week into my first semester of ECLA’s Academy Year Program, I had decided that the coming seasons should constitute a “European experience” for me. Though in hindsight I only vaguely knew what that meant, I still vainly pronounced my “European Year,” at the very least aiming for it to be upheld by brave choices, honest hopes and modest discoveries.

Fast forward to four weeks into my last semester, and I had made only a few forays out of Berlin’s perimeter. Whilst I could add Leipzig or Dresden to my travel resume, my grand “European” experience had been monotonously German up to this point. I had hammered into my head one defeating belief: flimsy wallets do not aid the geographically courageous.

Digressing over an afternoon’s brunch conversation, one amongst the many jet-setting ECLAns spoke of her daring European adventures. I realized that despite proclaiming the need for an experience, I lacked the courage to actually “make it happen.” All along, I had been worrying about financial security – or rather, using it as an excuse not to travel. Most ECLAns (this one in particular) choose to travel with a courage to experience, not to spend. As I was to find out, nothing can stop you from traveling, as long as you have the necessary immigration documents. Inspired, a solution came to me: Spring Break!

On the night after that travel-enlightening brunch, still riding the adrenaline from my submission of the semester’s midterm paper, I mustered up a plan for Italy. Scavenging through the internet, within 15 minutes I already had a rough itinerary in mind. All I needed was a companion who would willingly share the whims of being broke. The next day, I mentioned the idea to a friend, who joined with much spontaneity and excitement. She proved to be the perfect traveling companion; as I was to find out, it is only the friendliest and wittiest of conversationalists who can truly wring out some joy from the most dire of situations.

Naturally, a tight budget meant a lot of compromising – but somehow, finances were not the geographical barrier I had thought they would be.

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Hitch-hiking in progress

Hitch-hiking in progress

Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Prague… A 10-day spring break in the beginning of April gave ECLA of Bard students the time to explore the nearby European capitals. I could only sigh as I jealously observed some of my friends booking tickets and checking the attractions: due to my lack of advanced planning and some outstanding tasks, I was supposed to stay in Berlin during the break and look at the April snowfall through the library window, accompanied by cups of tea, German books and romantic TV series on laptop. These decadent plans went awry due to a random message from a distant online friend, who suggested participating in a hitchhiking competition to Marburg. Within ten minutes I was already seeking out my backpack in the depths of the wardrobe, painting Easter eggs and getting ready to seriously hit the road.

How can you compete in hitchhiking?

The Easter-Hitchhiking-Days I was invited to were organized by the HitchhikingHub – an international hitchhiking community created on a voluntary basis in 2008. Since then it has transformed into a bigger community, with regular events and a charitable component (the annual long race helps raise funds for water sanitation projects). Every year the rules for short and long races change: previously, the participants had to hitchhike in funny costumes or make the longest possible round trip in 60 hours. Since the race I was invited to was dedicated to Easter, participants and teams were supposed to start with an apple and an egg, and later try to trade them for something weird/ridiculous/funny from the drivers they had a ride with. My teammate Lars and I decided to complicate the journey and go to Marburg through… Amsterdam. According to the rules, we were not supposed to use public transportation or pay for the rides, though travelling for free in Germany (the European country with the biggest carpooling infrastructure – Mitfahrgelegenheit) first seemed impossible. In any case, there was no way to back off: the challenge had been accepted and our previous years’ experiences instilled hope that this time around the trip would also be successful.

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