A bit belated, but I wanted to share some photos and tid-bits from my travels around Europe for Spring Break early this month. By clicking the name of each city described, you will be directed to my Picasa album of photos I took while visiting.
I kicked my trip off in Paris. What more can be said about Paris? It’s a fantastically beautiful city, of course. The highlight, for me, was my visit to the Sacre Coeur. The 300-step climb to the top is totally worth it for some breathtaking views of the city 🙂 One thing that was a new and difficult situation for me was the intense language barrier. The only foreign countries I had been to up to that point were Spanish-speaking countries, and I was at least minimally prepared enough to get myself around. It was my experience in Paris that not many people spoke much English, and I was not expecting that nor prepared to deal with it. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life! I hope to return someday during a warmer time of year, and when I am more prepared for the language barrier.
I spent just over one day in the land of my ancestors: Germany. My time there was cut short by a missed flight in Paris. Instead of going to Cologne for a day, I spent a day sleeping on a bench in the Paris airport (fail.) The day I did spend was in Düsseldorf. I can’t say that it was at the top of my list of cities to see in Germany, but it was pretty feasible to cover most of the city in one day, so it turned out to be a good thing. The language barrier there was much less intense due to my friend Mitch’s German expertise. We drank some good German beer, explored the city and even got to watch a storm at a bird’s eye view from atop the Rheinturm tower. Cool stuff. The most heartbreaking part of my spring break adventures was that I wasn’t able to spend more time in Germany. I shall return.
I fell in love with Amsterdam within the first hour of my arrival. I had no idea the city would be so aesthetically pleasing. Walking along the endless canals by quaint waterfront houses with their signature forward-leaning façades makes you feel like you’re living in a postcard. Another impressive aspect of the city is the number of bikes. I promise that, unless you’ve been there, you can’t even imagine a city with this many bikes. My amazement at this is evidenced by my taking photo after photo of heaps of bikes, people biking, and even a 3-story parking garage for BIKES at Central Station. The highlight of my stay in Amsterdam was the fulfillment of an item that has long been on my bucket list: visiting Anne Frank’s secret annexe. It was amazingly surreal. Overall, I think Amsterdam gets the award for being my favorite city on my spring break tour, and I never would have expected that before leaving on the trip.
I spent three proper days in charming London. I imagine that the way I felt in there is a fraction of what I will feel upon returning to the States this summer– there was so much familiarity from my “former life” there–products, businesses, people speaking English, etc. Perhaps I am so far removed from the American way of life that I couldn’t tell how distinctly different it was from home, but at the time I felt like it could have just as well been New York City except that the people spoke funny and drove on the “wrong” side of the road. Thanks to my wonderful tour guide and long-time friend, Xandra, I saw most of the city in my short time there. Since I stayed with her and her Spanish friends, we even managed to have a botellón in the middle of London. ¡Qué loco!
My last stop was bellisíma Barcelona. It really was so great to be back to Spain…back to my café con leche, vino tinto, tapas, paella. Back to a culture where I know (most of) the “rules.” On the other hand, as Lonely Planet describes, Barcelona is perhaps the most “un-Spanish” city in Spain. I suppose this is due, in part, to Gaudi’s splashes of very modern architecture, and perhaps simply the fact that the city is crawling with tourists. It was definitely a bit touristy for my taste, but the number of tourists also indicates that it is a place a lot of people want to see, and there is certainly a reason for that. It’s just beautiful. My friends and I had some great bird’s eye views of the city; first from Montjuic and another day from Park Guell. We took part in the rambunctious night life by way of a “pub crawl” which really turned out to be a “club crawl.” We ate paella and more paella…and really, what more do you need?
All in all, it was a fantastic trip. Extremely exhausting, but I know how fortunate I am to have covered so many major cities in such a short time. I’ve increased my willingness to try new things, I have learned the value of packing light (I did not) and the intensity of language barriers, and much more. As the mural in our Barcelona hostel told us, “Traveling is the best university.”