College is over and the new life begins. Sort of stereotypical, but Betsy and I went to Europe for roughly two and a half weeks directly following graduation. A tour of Europe; my first trip abroad. We plan to hit the major cities, staying 2-4 days apiece: Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona.
(May 28 2008) Day 1. Flying out from Boston, Landing in Amsterdam.
The header photo is my first sunset on the trip as seen from the airplane. I’m bursting with excitement, I can’t believe that I’m so close to being so far away from home. When we land, it’s surreal. It’s hard to believe that my home and family and friends are so many miles and time zones away.
Amsterdam is the perfect introduction to Europe. It’s English-speaking and full of tourists, but definitely has that European feel. All of those bridges, the beautiful canal, all of the bicyclists. After figuring out the train and train ticketing systems and eventually making our way from the airport to actual Amsterdam, we spend the first day and night simply wandering around and getting to know the city, letting the excitement of the fact that we made it (after all of that planning, all of that budgeting, all of that anticipation). We checked into our hostel, ate french fries, reviewed our guidebooks and maps to see what we should do over the next day – our first real day as American tourists in Europe.
Once the sun goes down we head to a bar to celebrate our first night abroad, but are quickly disappointed to find that it does not serve either Amstel or Heinekin. We’re in Amsterdam and can’t drink their two most famous brews? (The news also came to us from the black Australian bartender…I guess we just didn’t pick the most authentic of Amsterdam bars.) So we settle for something less domestic and watch as a group of 4 teenage Americans proceed to order 16 shots. We laugh at their ignorance as they desperately try to make good on their order…before pawning the extras off on their friends. Then we talk to some other foreigners who invite us to ‘join the party upstairs’…no thanks. We may be new at this travelling abroad by ourselves bit, but we’re not dumb.
(May 29 2008) Day 2. Amsterdam.
Full day. We go to the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank Huis, and a highlights cruise. We also took pictures at the quintessential ‘I amsterdam’ sculpture in front of the Rijksmuseum. We got hopelessly lost and walked in circles unsuccessfully trying to find the Rembrandt House. We also got close to being hit by trains and bicycles many times.
Then comes the nightlife. Over the scene from the night before, we decide we can’t go to Amsterdam without going to at least one coffee house, right? We eat some spacecakes and then walk around. Our hostel is right in the middle of the Red Light district, so we decide to go ahead and check that part of the city out…and it’s exactly as we expected, if not even a little bit crazier. Naked and half-naked women chilling out in open windowsills, gesticulating for us to come in. And those are the last images we have in our memories before calling it a night and heading back to our hostel for our final sleep in the Netherlands.
(May 30 2008) Day 3. Leaving Amsterdam, Entering Paris.
We only have until early afternoon in Amsterdam left. We’re not sure what to do in such a little amount of time, so we mainly just hang out in the city center near the Obelisk (one of the first of the hundreds we end up seeing while in Europe). Then it’s time to head to the train station and begin the next chapter of our adventure – in Paris!
This is our introduction to the Eurail system, soon to be our new best friend. Our first destination: Paris Nord. Train ride duration: (a mere) 4 hr 9 min. When we pull into Nord Station and walk outside into the crisp Parisian air, I cannot control my excitement. I have been dreaming about visiting Paris since I was in elementary school, partly due to my then-new obsession with Leonardo da Vinci (many of his surviving paintings are held in the Louvre), as well as my desire to learn the French language. French classes in High School fed these ambitions to visit Paris. I couldn’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, eat Croque-Monsieurs, and order un coca!
We waste no time to sightsee. After checking in with Betsy’s cousin, who was graciously housing us over the next few days, we immediately went to explore. We began wondering and soon found Hôtel de Ville and Notre Dame. We then wandered over to the Pompidou Centre. We even make it over to the Arc de Triomphe and cross the Seine for a bit.
(May 31 2008) Day 4. Paris.
Our first full day in Paris. I insist we make a true visit to the Tour Eiffel. We do, and it’s even more amazing than I could ever have imagined. We spend the day in the area, taking the necessary tourist pictures (we never miss one of those opportunities). Once we were all photographed out, we decided to take Sightseeing Cruise at night along the Seine. It was amazing – we got nighttime views of all the beautiful architecture along the water, including my first sighting of the Louvre! The grand finale was the Eiffel Tower’s light show. Apparently this began during their Millennium New Year’s celebration, but thought it was so cool that they continued to do it often ever since. Good decision, Parisians.
(June 1 2008) Day 5. Paris.
On the first Sunday of every month, all of the Museums in Paris have free admission. There is no way that Betsy and I will be missing this opportunity, so we wake up bright and early and head over to the Musee d’Orsay. The Museum is more than impressive. The structure was developed from an old train station, and the character was easy to spot. A bit overwhelming, we could not cover the entire collection in one day, but we didn’t leave a minute before we were simply too tired and hungry to take anymore. I saw so many of my favorite famous paintings, and this museum experience only made me even more anxious for what was yet to come (the Louvre!).
Once we regained our energy and refueled ourselves, we head over to the Sacre Coeur. We busted up those stairs, and the view and architecture made the feat well worth the effort. We sat on the famed steps, taking it all in for an hour or so. Afterwards, we explored the nearby avenues and shops on our way to visit the next icon on our itinerary: the Moulin Rouge. We didn’t end up going inside (there was quite a line forming), but I took the obligatory photo or two posing in front of the structure. Next time, I’m definitely going to be sure to fit in a show.
(June 2 2008) Day 6. Paris.
The day has finally arrived! It is our day to visit the Louvre, my passion since reading a biography on Leonardo da Vinci for a third grade book report. The anticipation was killing me. I could not wait to walk through the gilded hallways, stare at the famed Pyramide du Louvre, and be inches from real life da Vinci paintings – including the Mona Lisa! I was not disappointed. Everything lived up to my expectations. We obviously weren’t able to explore the entirety of the museum/mansion (the thing is huge), but we did a decent job before our hunger and fatigue hit us hard and we decided to leave the grounds.
And this brings us to our last night in Paris. What better way to end our tryst with Paris then to have Betsy’s cousin (our gracious host) take us to see the gorgeous night skyline. It was breathtaking, with the Eiffel Tower lit up above the rest of the buildings and houses. Perfect night to remember the city by.
(June 3 2008) Day 7. Leaving Paris.
This is the day we leave Paris and head to our next destination. However, before we leave we have a picnic along the Seine. Juice box red wine, croissants, and cheese. What could be more European? We had to share some of our picnic with the abundant number of pigeons surrounding us, but it was worth the peaceful view.
Afterwards, we headed to the Gare du Nord to catch our first overnight train ride. And it was an adventure in itself! We two 21 year old American girls were bunked with three old Italian men. Talk about straight out of the movie Eurotrip. They were flirtatious, trying to make small talk. Or, at least one of them was. The others spoke little to no English. At one point I was reading my book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (I know, I know – not quite the light vacation read, but so good!). In any case, I was reading the book when one of the men asked me: “Is that a romance novel?” I had to use all my might to not laugh in his face. “Not quite a romance novel, no…” After some awkward fiddling with the bunks (Betsy and I took dibs on the upper level), we somehow fell asleep and awoke to our new city: Rome.
(June 4 2008) Day 8. Arriving in Roma.
Oh, Rome, you blew me away at first glance! I went on this trip expecting Paris to be my favorite European city, and although I loved Paris to itty bitty pieces, Rome may have won my heart. Our first day was filled with wanderings along the river, through the streets, staring at the incredible culture and ancient structures strewn across the city. We stumble upon a farmer’s market/craft fair and buy a guidebook and souvenirs, including a ring for my sister.
Next we toured the Castel St. Angelo, but were told to leave shortly after due to a movie being filmed on its upper level. We later found out that they were in the process of filming Angels and Demons, and little did we know that the film crew and the movie’s star – Tom Hanks – would be shadowing our entire visit. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by the police sirens escorting the movie stars from one set to the next.
In the midst of our walking and and marveling, we literally stumble upon the Vatican. We suddenly were in the middle of a familiar-looking square, and had to look at our map before we realized we were staring at the Vatican in all of its religious glory. This was also the day we got our first glimpse of the Roman Forum and Pantheon. More of that to come!
(June 5 2008) Day 9. Roma.
On this day in Rome we visited Palantine Hill, the Colloseum, and the Roman Forum. Yup, a lot of sightseeing! And everything was as incredible as it seemed in all of the photos, movies, books, and stories that boast Rome’s glory. It is truly remarkable how huge these ancient structures are, and how so many of them are still standing in relatively decent shape.
Later on, we decide that we want to buy some snazzy Italian threads. We find a little shop and each buy a new dress with the intention of wearing them to some upcoming weddings later on that summer. Betsy’s was black and white floral patterned while mine was a brown-beige with white polka dots. Both were relatively cheap, so we treated ourselves to some lunch and gelato (not our first, and most definitely not our last).
(June 6 2008) Day 10. Roma.
We celebrate our next day in Rome by wearing our new dresses. We (intentionally this time) visit the Vatican and tour the Sistine Chapel. I did run into a little trouble, however, because my dress lacked proper sleeves, so I was enforced to wear my jacket on the blistering day. At least I had brought one with me! But the slight scolding and discomfort was worth viewing the infamous ceiling mural. So beautiful. That’s the buzzword of the trip, really: beautiful!
Speaking of beautiful, afterwards we visited the Fontana di Trevi. We pushed through the crowd and made the obligatory coin toss into the fountain to one day return to Rome. Still dreaming of when we will next be able to visit Rome (even though our current visit was not even over yet), we decide that tonight we will treat ourselves to a more than 10 euro meal. How can we be in one of the culinary capitols of the world and not indulge? We find a cozy restaurant not far from our favorite landmark (the Pantheon), and find some seating outside. We feast on authentic Italian pizza, risotto, and red wine. Prego!
(June 7 2008) Day 11. Roma.
When we wake up the next morning, we dread the idea of leaving Rome so much that we decide to spend an extra night in Rome. Luckily our hostel has enough beds available for us, so we simply have to move from one room to another and think up more places to visit on our extra day (not a hard task to accomplish). Once that’s cleared up, we visit the Roman Baths and walk the famous Appian Way. Once again we are blown away by the huge structure left behind by the Romans.
As the day began to draw to a close, we bought some Italian wine and limoncello to bring home with us and finally enjoyed one last gelato in front of the our beloved Pantheon. We decide to take advantage of our extra night and the fact that much of the next day would be spent on the train by going out. We don our nightclub attire and, after seeking advice from the hostel concierge, take the bus to a piazza to enjoy some outdoor bar hopping. Being from Boston, the idea of being able to take your beer outside of the bars and enjoy it while fraternizing among locals in the beautiful warm night was brilliant. It was the perfect way to leave Rome.
(June 8 2008) Day 12. Leaving Roma.
The next day we head to the train station and purchase our tickets to Barcelona. Unfortunately, there is no direct way to get there, so we are forced to purchase tickets to Montpillier, where we would then purchase our next ticket to Barcelona. After sorting that out, braving the laundromat to clean one load of laundry between the two of us, and eating some lunch, we embark on our second overnight train ride.
During this ride we weren’t bunked with three old Italian men. In fact, we were lucky enough to have our own car! Until, that is, some random boy came in to sleep. We were too confused and shy to really say anything about it, and he was gone by the time we woke up anyway. So I suppose no harm done…
(June 9 2008) Day 13. Arriving in Barcelona.
The next morning we arrive in Montpillier at 8:40 a.m., book our connecting train ticket, and finally arrive in Barcelona at 9:45 p.m.
It’s already pretty late, so we check into our hostel and then spend the evening walking around enjoying the summer night. We are already ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all of the Gaudi buildings, and spend much of our time by the water. Because this was just a sneak peak of the next few (and final) days of our adventure, we were both sad and excited. We soon went to sleep dreaming of our upcoming days on the Mediterranean Sea.
(June 10 2008) Day 14. Barcelona.
We wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the city. It is also my mom’s birthday, and after two weeks away I feel a little homesick. However, with only three days left of vacation, I couldn’t let those feelings bring me down.
We decide to begin our adventure by visiting the Picasso Museum. It was awesome to be able to see all of the different phases of genius the artist went through. Even standing in line to get in was not a chore because we were serenaded by Spanish guitar players along the street.
Afterwards, we go shopping on La Rambla. We buy some cute and inexpensive jewelry, clothes, and accessories. We even purchase some artwork – beautiful paintings of flamenco dancers. We each buy one for ourselves, and I also buy one for my parents. Having built up quite the appetite from all of the walking and money spending, we decide to take advantage of one of the street-side restaurants and order tapas. It was delicious! We ordered half a dozen different varieties to share, along with a pitcher of sangria, and it was all mouth-watering good.
(June 11 2008) Day 15. Barcelona.
The next day we venture out to the Sagra Familla. Talk about spectacular! Whether you think the structure is gorgeous or outrageous, you have to admire Gaudi’s passion for the unusual and sense of unbridled creativity. You also have to respect Barcelona for accepting that unique style as the city’s defining trait, with his buildings scattered all around the city and having this structure dominate the skyline. Betsy and I took the elevator up to the top and admired the views. We then took the long trek down the stairs, again admiring each of the different perspectives as we made out way to the bottom.
We then spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach. We took our first swim in the crisp, clear Mediterranean and enjoyed some cold beers while basking in the sun. We were a little culture-shocked by the half-nudes, as well as the rowdy group of American teenagers sitting behind us. We recharged ourselves in anticipation of our night out, during which we walked along the beach in our cute new dresses drinking (way too strong) cocktails. We discovered that the nightlife began far too late for our touristy ways. We usually wake up at a ripe 8 or 9 a.m. in order to get in as much activity as possible, but the Spanish did not begin their partying until almost 1 in the morning! We eventually gave up and went to bed without experiencing the crazy nightclub scenes that we had heard about…but to be completely honest, that wasn’t really our scene anyway. We were much more the nerdy, museum-going 21 year old tourists versus the more stereotypical party-hungry ones.
(June 12 2008) Day 16. Barcelona.
Our last full day in Europe! After getting through the shock, we visited Park Guelle, another of Gaudi’s fantastic creations. It was quite the hike to get up there, but was luckily aided by some outdoor escalators – I guess the Spanish knew tourists were lazy (and/or unfit)! The view alone was worth the trek. We could see the entire city, including the Sagra Familla. We spent the afternoon wandering through the various pedestrian bridges, landmarks, and parks. We even purchased some beautiful hand-made wire and stone earrings and immediately wore them for the rest of the day.
We ended the day back on La Rambla. When we got hungry, we made our way to the waterfront hoping to eat dinner with a view of the sea. The restaurant greeters were all a little aggressive for our personalities, but we finally ran into an old man who lured us into his establishment. We both ordered paella and sangria, and we were both more than satisfied with this last dinner of our trip.
(June 13 2008) Day 17. Leaving Barcelona, Heading Home.
The next morning, it was all over. It was time to pack our bags for the last time, check out of our hostel, and head to the airport instead of another train station. Our days of using the Eurail were over, but we couldn’t complain. After 17 days, we were ready to go back home and reunite with our family and (other) friends.
Wow, 17 days. An experience that I will always remember. Not to be cliché – but seriously, the tip of a lifetime! Looking back, I’m so lucky to have had this opportunity – and a best friend that I was able to experience it with. No fights, similar expectations, and so much fun.
In conclusion, writing this first post was harder than I thought! (If you’re keeping track, it’s been a little over one year and three months since my introductory post.) It didn’t help that the trip was so long in length and long ago in time. But, it was well worth it. Now on to the next one!