Spring Break Stop #3: Amsterdam. Duration: 26 hours
Arriving by train in Amsterdam Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t long until we found ourselves lost in the city. After an hour and half, a scenic tour of the Jordaan neighborhood (on the opposite side of the city from where we were supposed to be going) and a very nice lady with a map, we finally found Hotel Hortus.
It didn’t take long for Amsterdam to shock me: all I had to do was talk to the hotel attendant on duty. Top quotes from the conversation:
1. “Are you guys interested in coffeehouses?” My roommate: “I don’t like coffee.”
2. “If you are trying to experiment, all I ask is that you don’t eat that s**t. I have spent too many nights telling kids they’re not going to die, they don’t need to call an ambulance, and please don’t call your mother.”
3. “I didn’t agree with them outlawing shrooms, but I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t had to tackle a naked guy in a long time.”
4. After asking him his thoughts on the Anne Frank tour: “Well you’re actually in the Jewish quarters. During the Holocost, 12 people were killed right out back. 50 more shot against a wall up the street. Next door is haunted: you can hear kids laughing on the third floor and dogs barking but there’s no kids and no dogs.”
5. After asking him his thoughts on the Heineken tour: “If you like seeing how mass produced piss-water is made, then go for it.”
So, needless to say, it didn’t take us long to get out of the hotel. After dinner, we met up with friends also in Amsterdam and, like everywhere else, sat down for a beer. Another shock to me: the nightlife in Amsterdam was calmer than anywhere else we had been.
The next morning we set out on foot at 11am, and didn’t return until 5pm. Altogether, we walked at least 8 miles and saw pretty much the entire city:
Anne Frank’s House
Scenic canals EVERYWHERE!
And SO many bikes
The “I Am Amsterdam” letters, of course.
The outdoor flower market filled with beautiful Holland flowers.
Yummy smoothie shops
And not pictured: the zoo!
It was hard to say goodbye to this beautiful little town, but we had a bus, and a plane, to catch. After nearly missing the bus (not our faults it wasn’t in the right place), and running through Central Station, we arrived on time to Eindhoven airport, where they actually stamped my passport!
More about London soon!
Spring Break Stop #2: Brussels, Belgium. Duration: Two days
Myself and 15 others from my program boarded the flight to Brussels on Friday afternoon. Because Ryanair does everything by weight (kind of alarming when they move “the smaller people” to specific areas), we all got to sit together too.
We, of course, got lost on the way to our hotel (you’ll soon find out this was the trend for this trip). A nice man called our hotel and gave us the right directions.
Hotel the moon had an awesome view and was in the very center of the city!
We again got a taste of European service, with dinner at the “Drug Opera” (we have no idea what the significance of the name was) taking over three hours from start to finish. But, I got to taste BBQ sauce again for the first time since before I left.
We went to Celtica Bar and experienced the crazy European rugby fans AND three stag (bachelor) parties. That was an experience.
We met some awesome Brussel natives who knew more about the US political system than we did. The only thing we all were confident in was knowing that there was no way any of them could become president of the United States one day (which they were very confident in doing), and with that, we crushed all their hopes and dreams.
We went to Delirium, famous for Delirium Tremens. 3 stories high, a maze of rooms, and an awesome atmosphere, the beer was awesome too.
Saturday we went to the Grand Place, the Palace, saw the Mannequin Pis (the iconic peeing boy statue in Brussels), walked through some parks, visited the cathedral, and explored the adorable town.
And, of course, our stay in Belgium would not have been complete without a Belgian waffle and some frites.
Then, it was off to the beautiful, biker crazed, environmentally friendly, Amsterdam! More to come soon!
Spring Break Stop #1: The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Duration: 1 hour.
With a flight to Brussels out of Pisa, we figured adding an 8th city to our agenda wouldn’t hurt.
More of a picture opportunity than anything else, I kicked it down, held it up, leaned on it, pushed it over, and got some pretty funny picture fails in the process!
"An Australian Sandwich": Friends from my program and our new friends from Australia on both the ends!
As I finish up midterm week, I cannot believe I am already half way through my time in Europe. I cannot believe I am leaving for Spring Break tomorrow. I cannot believe my family will be here in two weeks.Time has absolutely flown, but despite living in Florence, between class, homework, cooking (and cleaning), exercising, sleeping, and traveling, I can’t help but feel like I don’t have a lot of time. So, to make sure I make the most of my time in Florence, I’ve made a bucketlist*** with everything I have to get done before returning home in April.
*Constantly being added to.
**If I included all the food places I have to get to, this list would be double to size.
See “The David”: What a great looking man (no picture because there are actually photo police guarding him)
Take a run around Florence: they stare at you, beware.
Attend a church service: I may not have understood anything except “Gloria” and “Amen” at this Catholic service in Italian, but it also was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Florence so far.
Climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo: Well I ran up it, so does that count for double?
Have an authentic Italian breakfast: Rich pastries and teeny-tiny coffees.
Take an “IU” shot at Lion’s Fountain: Yes, there’s such a thing. No, it’s not very good.
Sing karaoke at Red Garter: Throwback to Spice Girls. No Shame.
Go to an apertivo: You buy a drink and eat unlimited “appetizers”… Sounds like a good plan to me.
Find your favorite sandwich place: No place will ever beat Antonio Porrati’s.
Go to the fresh market: Beware of the butcher shops
Still to be done
Climb The Duomo: I see it from my window everyday, but I’m still waiting for the perfect day
Barter at the leather market: even though I’m technically not a tourist…
Go to a Florentina soccer game: actually not called “football” in this country.
Go to the Pitti Palace: ‘cause it sounds really cool
Go to Boboli Gardens: it’s like 2 for 1 with the Pitti Palace
Attend class at an Italian University: Univeristy’s are paid with taxes here, so anyone can go to classes… USA, please take notes.
Volunteer: anywhere, anything.
Study at the public library: except there’s not much studying to be done here.
Eat gelato while exploring the Ponte Vecchio: Mom and Dad, this is being saved for when you’re here.
Go to a wine tasting: because why not?
Ride a vespa: vroom, vroom
Take an Italian cooking class: to expand on the pasta/vegetables/rice/potatoes/chicken/hard boiled eggs I can currently cook.
Take an exercise class taught in Italian: This may get interesting…
Rent bikes and explore the outskirts of town: Since I can’t ride Little 5, it’s the next best option.
Find my favorite gelato place: Lots of research to be done here.
Find my favorite pizza place: Again, lots of research.
I’ll update about my Spring Break adventures soon! First stop: Leaning Tower of Pisa.
On January 16th, less than a week after arriving in Europe and still jet lagged, my roommates woke me up from a nap and told me to get my credit card ready- we were booking a flight to Paris for Valentine’s Day.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t crazy about the idea.
First off, I had a list of of “top” places to visit in Europe and only so many weekends abroad. Paris wasn’t on this list.
Secondly, I heard the French were rude and hated Americans. I really didn’t want to go somewhere I wasn’t wanted.
Third, being that I am more single than a nun, Valentine’s Day in “The City of Love” seemed extremely unappealing.
But, still half asleep and fearing that I would be left alone in my apartment that weekend, I booked it anyways.
My hostility towards Paris didn’t go away. As my friends were crawling with excitement, I just felt obliged.
But the second I saw the Eiffel Towel as our bus drove us into the City Center (the bad thing about cheap flights is that you never truly fly into the city), it was love at first sight.
My fears about the French were also completely abolished immediately and I owe it all to Pascal.
Pascal was coming back home to Paris after being in Morocco for work. He worked in water treatment, was a dad with three teenage boys, spoke 4 languages, and coincidentally lived in the neighborhood where our hotel was. Having arrived in the city center at nearly 11pm, there is no way we would have made it our hotel as safely and stress-free without him. Pascal took us on our first metro ride, taught us how to use the ticket machine, and got 5 American girls (who don’t speak a lick of French), and who he’ll never see again, to their hotel at midnight just out of the goodness of his heart.
I knew right away I was going to like Paris.
But “like” was an understatement. After being served baguettes and croissants for breakfast at the awesome Hotel Andre Gill, we set out at 11am on feet towards the Seine River. We were in the Montmarte neighborhood and could see the Moulin Rouge down the street, so we were a good thirty minutes away.
After stopping for lunch at a French sandwich shop, we soon came across the Louvre Museum. Taking the most tourist photo in the books, we then did the next most touristy thing: see the Mona Lisa.
To be completely honest, none of us knew the significance of the Mona Lisa or why the painting was the most famous in the world, but it seemed like the Paris thing to do, plus we got in free with our student visas.
After saying goodbye to Lisa, we made our way to the Love Lock Bridge. Reminding me how small the world truly is, I ran into two of my club volleyball teammates from high school. One of them studying in Sevilla and the other studying in Paris, I hadn’t seen either of them in four years, despite living 15 minutes away in the US.
Reinforcing the “small world theory” after I said goodbye to them, for the third time since we were in Europe, we ran into two of our sorority sisters at the Notre Dame.
After touring the gorgeous cathedral during a mass service, we exited to see a beautiful sunset starting to take place. Excited, we rushed to the metro to try to get to the Eiffel Tour before the sunset.
Despite Pascal’s tutorials the night before, we still took too long and emerged from the underground metro into darkness.
But, it didn’t matter, because I had finally found a date for Valentine’s Day: The Eiffel Tour. After 200 pictures at 50 different angels, I knew there was no going back: I was head over heels in love with Paris.
Not wanting to be confined to walls just yet, we decided to take a boat tour down The Seine.
By 10pm, we had been walking for 11 hours, and hadn’t eaten since our banana and Nutella crepes 6 hours earlier.
We returned to Montmarte and stopped at an awesome restaurant named “Marmite” for a very over-due dinner. After ordering a salad made for at least two and complete with french fries on the top (except they don’t call them french fries) and splitting a bottle of wine with my roommates, we were more than ready for bed.
The next morning, we took a train to the Palace of Versailles. In true tourist fashion once again, we took advantage of the free student entry and free audio tour around the beautiful palace.
After eating an eclair, we headed back to the Eiffel Tour to see the beauty during the day. From there we headed to the Arc de Triomphe and then to the Champs-Élysées. But suddenly, hail came out of nowhere quickly had us running for the metro.
At dinner that night, we found out about true “European-time”: slow. After waiting 30 minutes for our check, we power-walked back to our hotel to change for a night out in Paris. One of my roommates befriended a French exchange student during high school and he ironically lived just a few blocks away.
We were ecstatic about being able to make friends in another country, and they did not disappoint us. Some of the nicest and energetic people I’ve met, the night was so much fun.
I woke up the next morning sad that I was going to have to leave that day. But, we still had things to do! After buying a meringue from a French bakery (Mom, are you proud of me?), we walked to the stunning Sacre Coeur. After touring yet another gorgeous cathedral, we had one more must do before we boarded our budget-airline flight: Chipotle.
Performing a “happy dance” the minute I walked in the door, it was completely worth paying double what you would pay in the states. And I swear, it was better. With different “french” ingredients and spins to the menu, I didn’t feel guilty about indulging in this US food chain.
After an amazing weekend, we all arrived safely back in Florence. I can honestly say Paris blew away an expectations (and lack of expectations) I had.
Out of 72 hours this weekend, I spent 24 on a bus. Of the 48 remaining, I spent 16 sleeping. Doing the math (even though my classes are so easy this semester I have almost forgotten how), that left 32 hours to explore the city of Prague.
Starting out at 10pm Thursday night, there was only one pit-stop (unfortunately no where as cool as the one on the way to Interlaken) and one police stop (they were a little overwhelmed with the prospect of waking up and checking 70 girl’s passports— so, they just let us go) away from arriving in the Czech Republic. With very sore necks and backs, we checked in to the Czech Inn (clever, huh?) about 12 hours later. We soon found our way to the complimentary breakfast (shocking) and then to a walking tour of Prague.
For the next 3 hours, we learned how to navigate Prague’s public transit systems (their trains are so far underground you can’t see the end of the escalators), about the city’s medieval history, how Jews were completely outcasted (and how Hugo Boss- who created Nazi uniforms- is now located in the former Jewish quarters), about Czechoslovakia’s communist rule, about the 2nd World War’s impact on the city, and finally how and when Czech Republic became Czech Republic. And of course, I snapped lots of pictures of the town that looks like it belongs in a fairytale.
After spending 163 Czech crown on lunch (don’t worry mom and dad- that’s only about 7 USD)- I climbed the 600 year old clock tower. By far one of the best picture spots in the city, it was well worth the 50 crown (only $2.50- got to love exchange rates) and the elevated heart rate caused from walking up there.
At the bottom of the clock tower was another magnificent sight: Starbucks. Breaking into “it (smells) like home to me” the minute my friends and I walked into the coffee shop, I decided to take the free smells but, trying to “culture” myself, pledged to refrain from American companies until I get back to the US in April.
That night, we set out for the “Clock Tower Bar Crawl”. To be completely honest, considering the limited clothes I was able to pack for my 4 months abroad, I was more interested in the free T-shirt than the bar crawl itself, and I didn’t even flinch when we were told to meet at 8pm without having a chance to eat dinner.
With underground tunnels and rooms, unlimited sangria, beer, and shooters, the bar crawl started out with promise. But by 11pm, we were all starving, and soon found out that unlike the US, Prague restaurants closed at regular hours.
That is, Prague restaurants. So, breaking my pledge, I indulged in some midnight KFC. I don’t even eat KFC in the states, but whatever works, right?
Bright and early the next morning, we had another tour in front of us. Starting at the river, we made our way to the love lock bridge and then to the John Lennon Wall. The John Lennon Wall was by far the highlight of the trip, and just knowing the historical significance behind it brought tears to my eyes. My friends and I took picture upon picture, and I even got to leave my own mark and some Hoosier pride.
We then explored the Charles Bridge and got some of the coolest souvenirs.
And, I obviously couldn’t leave Prague without trying some authentic Czech food. Complete with a man playing an accordion, dark beer, soup, bread, a goulash-like dish, and apple strudel for dessert, authentic is what I got.
Feeling more Czech than ever, we had one more Prague sight to cover: the castle. The biggest medieval castle in existence, the gothic cathedral sits within the castle grounds atop one of the highest points in the city. Complete with guards, and serving as the home of the President, it was definitely a sight to see. The Starbucks in the castle was also just as cool, and probably had the best view of any Starbucks in the world.
Exhausted from a long day, we went back to the the Czech Inn to take a nap. And then, a close second to the John Lennon Wall as the highlight of the trip, we found a Mexican restaurant two blocks away from our hostel.
Opting for a good nights sleep, I decided to pass on round two of Prague nightlife. At 10am Sunday morning, we loaded the double-decker bus for another 12 hour ride.
Of course, never without excitement, the bus was pulled over within minutes and our driver was breathalyzed. After he passed with .00, we all clapped for him, and once again began the trek back to Florence. Our pitstop this time was right outside Munich, Germany! Not counting countries unless I actually walk on the ground (airports and just driving though don’t count), I was happy to add another country to my list. But, I’m hoping to get back to my homeland for more than 45 minutes in late March - believe it or not, I have every weekend booked except two!
Finally getting to this post as I recover from all the Praha excitement this weekend, I just printed my boarding pass for Paris this upcoming weekend! Maybe that one month of sixth grade French will come in handy… Maybe.
Ciao for now,
Every stereotype you have of Italian food is most likely true - there is an over abundance of cheeses, bread, olive oil, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, pasta, and pizza- lots and lots of pizza.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing even close to wrong with any of these foods. Carbs and cheese? Yes please. But after two weeks, I was ready for a short break from my already serious relationship with Italian food.
My friends and I loaded the bus at 7pm Thursday night and prepared ourselves for an 8 hour ride to Interlaken, Switzerland. Equipped with a DVD player and excitement, the bus ride passed quickly and the bus came to a stop after just 4 hours.
We weren’t at the Swiss Alps yet, but we were somewhere almost just as amazing: The Autogrill.
The Autogrill put all highway oasis’, gas stations, and pitstops in The States to shame. There was extra extra large king size candy bars, a toy store, a grocery store, a restaurant, and everything in between. There was even Pringles and Arizona Ice Tea! After walking the isles of this massive “pitstops”, I decided on pizza- okay I guess I really wasn’t ready to let it go yet- and loaded the bus with a satisfied stomach.
For the next 3 hours, I watched out the windows at the towns on the side of the highway twinkling and glowing in the night. At 6 hours in, my ears started popping and the towns and lights were taking shape of the mountains. At 7 hours in, snowflakes the size of chocolate chip cookies started falling from the ski. I’m not exaggerating- this Chicago raised girl has never seen snowflakes even half this size. We continued up the mountain until I felt the large coach bus, filled with 49 study abroad students and 5 guides, significantly slow. I was close enough to the front that I could read the spedominter on the dashboard, the expected arrival time on the gps, and I should have been able to see the road in front of us. But I suddenly realized I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of us, and I watched as the spedominter decreased to 30 km/hr, then 20, then 10, then so low it looked like 0. We were inching along, and at this point all 54 passengers were awake and staring with big eyes. I watched as the expected arrival time got later and later. After a half hour, our guide got on the intercom and asked us to give the driver a round of applause- he had just navigated a coach bus over a 2000 ft mountain pass in a snow storm in the Swiss Alps.
My Switzerland adventure was just starting.
We arrived around 3am at Backpackers Villa Hostel. With heavy eyelids, I carried my bags upstairs and quickly climbed into my bunk bed.
Walking down to eat breakfast the next day, I saw the Swiss Alps for the first time in daylight. I was taken away by the beauty of the mountains surrounding us, and I immediately fell in love with the 12,000 person town.
Two of my roommates, Annie and Tess, signed up to canyon jump that day. For moral support, myself and our two other roommates, Alexis and Molly, each paid 10 franc to be taken up the mountain with them. As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, the views only got prettier and prettier.
We pulled into a parking lot and started a trek- by foot - up the mountain. With a layer of ice under the snow, a steep climb, and cliffs not too far away, canyon jumping was probably safer than the climb itself.
When we finally got to the top, my friends were harnessed in, and after some liquid courage, we watched them jump 255 feet into a canyon.
After making sure they landed in one piece at the bottom, Molly, Alexis and I got ready for our trek back down— After watching people tumble walking up there, I definitely would have rather jumped down at that point.
Safely making it back down— with all feet kept on the ground— I was ready for some exhilaration of my own.
Growing up, my parents had taken me skiing all around the Midwest. At one point, I had my own gear and was just as confident on skis as my own two feet. Despite it being nearly 10 years since I strapped two long sticks to my feet, I was told it was just like riding a bike- you never really forgot- so I was overly confident in my abilities and excited to take on the Swiss Alps.
After renting all the equipment, a twenty minute bus ride, and two thirty minute trains up the mountain on Saturday morning, we finally made it to the slopes. After seeing friends from school at the top of the Swiss Alps, we decided to all start down the “beginners” hill together.
"Beginner" must mean something else to the Swiss. Not to mention, skiing doesn’t come back as easily as people said it would or I wanted to believe. And despite leaving pizza behind in Italy, pizza is what I did.
When you first learn to ski, you’re taught to pizza, (or snowplow): literally to put your skis in a pizza shaped position. Any skills I had at age 11 had been completely lost. Not to mention, the Swiss Alps were not the place to relearn. After a few hours, I was exhausted and my ego was swiped as I saw 5 year olds whip past me on the slopes.
I was relieved to return back down to lower altitudes and offer advice to anyone who would listen: don’t ski the Swiss alps unless you know you’re actually a good skier. Or if you do, get the beginners package- it’s cheaper and comes with an instructor.
After an amazing weekend, and hundreds of surreal pictures, we safely arrived back in Florence. I definitely wasn’t the best skier the Swiss Alps had seen, but I’m so glad I was able to have the opportunity to do so. Plus, the views, the laughs, and the memories were totally worth it.
One of my favorite quotes is “every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day”.
However, I wouldn’t classify today as “not good”. I wouldn’t classify it as “okay”. I wouldn’t even classify it as “good”.
Quite simply, today was “great”, and I couldn’t just tell you one reason why. Instead, I’ll give you ten:
1) I watched movies in class. Like actual good, Hollywood produced movies.
2) In my three classes, I was given a gelato break, a coffee break, and a food break.
3) I got to draw for three hours straight. For a class. And it legitimately counts for credit.
4) I found the most AMAZING sandwich place, Antonio Porrati, with the jolliest old man who works there. I actually almost fell over with happiness while eating it. If perfect is a thing, it was this turkey-mozzarella-sun dried tomatoes-pesto panini.
5) A local lady at the grocery store actually smiled at us. And, even more exciting, she helped us figure out the English translation for a food item (and she didn’t even work there!)
6) We took our first public bus ride in Florence. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much different than the B Bus at IU, except for the lack of frat guys. Just DON’T go through the middle door.
7) We played “football” with Italians and I am still in one piece despite wiping out on the slippery turf.
8) They classify me as “youth” still in Europe— I knew that adult stuff was B.S.
9) I just booked a 10 day Spring Break to Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Dublin, and Venice!
10) I leave for Interlaken, Switzerland tomorrow!
With love from Firenze,
I’ve been in Florence for exactly one week. Within 12 hours I was being warned about the stages of culture shock: “Euphoria” being the first of them. Within the next two days, I realized this was the real thing. I was imagining a blog post titled: “Euphoria is the first stage of culture shock, and I am definitely in it.” I couldn’t wait to post about how I wake up to church bells, I can see the famous Florence Duomo from bedroom window, every corner I turn is another picture opportunity, I take class in a building built in the 13th century with murals on the ceiling, I fall asleep looking at my exposed brick and pilar ceilings, I eat food so fresh you can taste it, I have gelato shops, pizzerias, and sandwich shops a few feet from my front door, and I work out next to attractive Italian men everyday.
But, then class started and reality set in and I soon realized, as with anything in life, there are positives and not so positives to everything. I started to add “ands” “buts” and “howevers” to each statement of my euphoric blog post:
I wake up to church bells…and barking downstairs, babies crying next door, and families yelling in Italian… At 7am.
I can see the famous Florence duomo from my bedroom window… And the graffiti that lines the street.
Every corner I turn is another picture opportunity… And another opportunity to step in dog poop.
I take class in a building built in the 13th century with murals on the ceilings… For 3 hours… In a row… For each class.
I fall asleep looking at my exposed brick and pilar ceilings… Cuddling in blankets and my winter parka because the heat is only on 8 hours a day.
I eat food so fresh you can taste it…But only have a stove top to cook it with.
I have gelato shops, pizzerias, and sandwich shops a few feet from my door… But I might go into early debt If I eat at them more than once a week.
I work out next to attractive Italian men everyday…who don’t wear deodorant.
But, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives and the negatives have made me appreciate sound proofing, pooper-scoopers, hour and fifteen minute classes, furnaces that work 24 hours a day, microwaves, American dollars, and Secret/Dove/Degree/Old Spice.
Who would have thought that these are the things I got out of my first 7 days in Florence?
Posted on 17 January, 2014
As I spent the day unpacking and repacking my bag to get it under 51 pounds (thank you England for being on the metric system and therefore converting to one glorious extra pound— that’s actually 4 shirts if you were wondering), I couldn’t stop hearing this annoying, uncontrollable voice in my head. With every move I made, that voice would peep in and say “this is your last___” or “this is the last time you’ll do ___”. Every time it happened it was for little nonsense things:
the last time I used body wash with a label in English, the last time I charged my phone with this type of outlet, the last time I sent an ugly snapchat on US soil, the last time I’ll have an alcoholic drink in the US (clarification: self medicating the nerves after my travel partners connecting flight to Chicago got canceled), or the last time my beloved iPhone will read “4G”. But every time this happened, despite my annoyance (especially since I’ll be back in less than 4 months), I couldn’t help but be excited for that voice to come back the next day and say “this is your first ____”. As I board my plane (two and a half ours late), I cannot wait to experience my European “firsts”: the first meal, the first glass of wine, the first time exploring the city, the first trip to an Italian grocery store, the first time overcoming the language barrier, the first place I will travel in Europe, or the first new friend I will make. And all I can say to that little voice is: bring it on.
P.S. The bagging attendant at the airport asked me if I was checking my complimentary bagS- that means I was allowed two 51 pound bags. Jokes on me, right?
Posted on 11 January, 2014