Wow, what a great city to end my trip on! This city is great, so exciting but also so relaxed. I got a train into the city and decided to take the metro to near my hostel. Kind of wasted my money, it was only one metro stop away and I could have easily walked. The metro trains were really trippy though, I bet the high people riding them have a blast. The inside was this huge black and white cartoon mural of all these animals smiling at you. There were bears playing drums and mushrooms with big smiles on. It was a trip. The city is made up of all these interconnecting canals that have a bunch of houseboats and canal boats on them, which is incredible. There are so many bikes riding around, way more than cars, which makes the city a little quieter and much more peaceful. There are also a lot of trams that follow the same streets as the cars, but are much quieter. You have to be very careful crossing the street though, I would hate to get hit by a tram and wouldn’t like getting hit by a bike much either. The buildings are all skinny canal houses (they had to pay by the width of the house, so people built skinny houses that go further back), as well as some awesome Dutch buildings with cool roofs.
I got to my hostel and checked in, then went down the road to grab some food. I asked the guy at the desk where there was some authentic food around, and he said the Dutch aren’t really known for their food. First I stopped by a tobacco store and grabbed a couple disposable cameras for my next couple days. They said “Wedding Memories” on them, but I just took off the outside cardboard label and had a blank black camera. Then I went to this little restaurant got a really interesting dish. It was linguini with these sort of sweet nuts and squid (with the little tentacles and everything) It was really tasty, I love eating strange food too! I wandered down to the Leidseplein, a square that had street performers, this strange grassy area with bronze iguanas all over it, and an arch with the words “Homo sapiens non urinat in ventum”, which means “Wise men do not urinate into the wind”. This city is so kooky, but so cool.
I then walked over to the Red Light District and took a walk down some of the streets. On the way I walked by several coffee shops with the smell of weed wafting out into the streets. It was a Sunday night, so they weren’t that packed (some of them only had like 2 people in them and had the lights on and no music). Getting down into the Red Light District, things got much more interesting. Walking down the street, you walked past glass doors with red lights along the side and prostitutes posing and summoning you over to their window. Some of the doors had a shade pulled over them, so I guess they got their business. There were also some live sex shows, where you could pay 35 euro and watch a show with all sorts of crazy sex acts. I thought about going in just to say I did it, but 35 euro was a little too much for me (it’s like $45). I walked up and down the street once to check everything out, it was a very interesting time. Only in Amsterdam haha.
I then continued my trip of things I could only do in Amsterdam by going down to this coffee shop in Rembrandtplein, this square with all sorts of restaurants around it. I had seen this place called Smokeys earlier and decided to go check it out. They checked your ID at the door like any bar or club (you have to be over 18) and you go inside and it’s just like any bar. They had a counter with drinks and a counter with weed. In the display case there were about 8 different choices of pre rolled joints and like 25 different types of weed with descriptions of its type of high that you could buy by the gram, as well as free rolling papers. I chose a pre-rolled joint of White Widow mixed with tobacco, which was only 5 euro. The thing was massive though, much bigger than the joints I see rolled in the States. I sat down and lit up and watched some music videos from the 90s and 2000s (including the video for In The End by Linkin Park, which I downloaded back when I was like 9) and chilled. After a little while, I walked over to this restaurant called Wok to Walk where I got a big order of egg noodles and teriyaki sauce, then headed home to the hostel.
As a disclaimer, I went to this coffee shop to enjoy the culture and legal things I could do in Amsterdam. I could legally drink in Europe, so I drank. I got steak tartar because I was in Paris (and it was sort of an accident too), but it was authentic and part of the culture. I could legally smoke in Amsterdam, so I smoked. This might be looked down upon by people reading this, but unless you open your mind to the cultural acts and identity of an area, you’ll stay right where you are, grounded in your comfort zone of home. I hope no one ever tries to make me answer for doing this in Amsterdam, because I won’t apologize. Just putting that out there.
The next morning I got up and got some breakfast, which was amazing. All the other breakfasts I had gotten in Europe had been maybe a croissant or a few pieces of baguette and some butter or jam. I was not very impressed by most breakfasts, but this one was a little better. They had several types of sliced bread, some delicious raisin bread, and meats and cheeses to put on your bread, which made my breakfast!
I then walked down to the Van Gogh museum, which was only about a 20 minute walk. I got tickets across the street at this tourist office so I got to skip the line and get right in. The exhibit was awesome! They had the story of Van Gogh’s life and his art separated chronologically. I never knew he just started art 10 years before his death. You could see the transformation he had from the Dutch style of art (with more browns and blacks, much more cold) like the Potato Eaters piece to his brighter impressionist style that he picked up after he moved to Paris and met Monet and Gauguin and got influenced by their work. There were so many pieces of his, along with other pieces his friends. There was also a really cool temporary exhibit on symbolist painting where I found some cool work by Paul Signac and Charles Guilloux. I really enjoyed my time there.
Next I went to the Heineken Experience and got to walk through there, which I liked a lot. They gave you a wristband with these two green buttons and a white button on it and you could trade in your green buttons for two Heinekens at the end of the tour. I got to taste wort (which is the roasted and soaked barley, as well as smell the hops. They had a moving seat movie and some interactive things throughout the tour, and then at the end you could decide if you wanted two 30 cL Heinekens, one 50 cL Heineken Extra Cold, or one 30 cL of Heineken that you learned how to pour from the tap yourself and a certificate that you are now a professional. I chose the bartending experience, which actually took a couple tries to get it right. I thought college taught me how to pour a beer, but I needed a little practice to get just the right amount of head (which is right at the star on the glass and is necessary to keep the beer fresh. People always ask for no foam at school, but it’s actually an important part of the beer). I actually met a girl who graduated from JMU there (I was wearing my hoodie) and we took the free canal boat shuttle from the Heineken Experience to the Heineken Brandstore to pick up our free gift (sunglasses). We then went to this pancake place that served huge Dutch pancakes with bacon and cheese in them.
I then walked down to the Amsterdam Sex Museum, which was another thing I had to do while in Amsterdam. It was a pretty wild museum, with so many pictures and sculptures of erotic acts and genitalia everywhere. It had a lot of the same type of stuff that the Barcelona one did, with things from the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese, as well as pictures from the 1800s and 1900s. There were a few animatronics that did some funny stuff, it was obvious that not only were they trying to show all these artifacts, they were trying to have a good time too. Definitely a fun experience.
Next I went down to Cannabis College, this free exhibit my travel guide had recommended. It was just this room with a bunch of display cases of different objects made from hemp and hemp oil, as well as a ton of literature and people to talk to. Basically is was just an organization looking to advocate for marijuana and hemp usage, pretty cool place.
I wrapped up my sort of off color time by going to a very respectable place, the Anne Frank House. It was an amazing experience, you could walk through the whole house where the Franks and other Jews hid during the war and watch videos of friends and coworkers of the family. At the end, they had a display of some of the papers that Anne copied her diary down on, but unfortunately the actual diary was off getting restored or something. I really enjoyed this experience, it painted the picture of how these families lived so well, it was a super powerful experience.
When I got out of the Anne Frank House, it was down pouring outside. Actually the first time there was any significant rain on my whole trip (besides a few times in Ireland and that one time in Nice). I was really blessed by good weather throughout this whole trip, I don’t know how I pulled it off. I walked back to the hostel, packed up my things for departing the next day, and went to get dinner. I went to this Indonesian restaurant in Rembrandtplein. The Dutch had control of Indonesian for some time, so the restaurant was very authentic. I got this special with beef in a slightly spicy sauce, a skewer of pork with a peanut butter sauce (VERY good), and a fried egg with a hot sauce on it, along with rice. I got an Amstel beer, another Dutch beer, but it ended up being 5.50, way more than I expected to pay for a beer. The meal was phenomenal.
To kill some time, I then walked down to the Amsel Hotel, a super nice hotel on the Amstel river. Our guide on the canal boat told us that’s where Snoop Dogg always stays when he come to Amsterdam to smoke weed. The lobby was absolutely amazing, but when I tried walking further into the hotel, I got stopped by a security guard. I told him my family was coming in a few weeks and I wanted to look around, but he said I could only get a tour by the manager. While walking back towards the center of town, I thought about how I could have taken this guy for a loop and told him my family was in the Tobacco business back in Virginia and my family needed me to check out the hotel before they decided to stay there. I would have introduced myself as Adam Marlboro and asked if he had heard of my family. If only… haha.
I then walked back to Rembrandtplein and went to Smokey’s again (never going to be able to do this anywhere else) and got a White Widow mixed with organic herbs joint (so basically organic herb mixed with organic herb haha). I chilled out and watched the Euro Cup soccer game between Ukraine and Sweden (Ukraine won. My people!). The Euro Cup is huge over here, everyone is watching it in all of the bars and restaurants. So many places are decked out in Holland orange and lions (even though I think I heard they lost). It’s so big over here. Afterwards, I walked back to my hostel and fell asleep.
This morning I woke up, got another delicious breakfast, then took the train to the airport. I luckily had just enough for the train ticket so I didn’t have to worry about having to worry about coins for the airport metal detectors and what not. I’m sitting here waiting for my 2 pm plane to Reykjavik, Iceland, then a transfer to Dulles. This past month has really been amazing for me. I’m so glad I decided to study abroad and travel Europe. It has really opened my eyes to so many different cultures and experiences, stuff you just don’t find in the States. I met a ton of amazing people, from JMU students on my study abroad trip in Ireland and those in Rome, to people in the hostels. I’ve now met people from Ireland, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Argentina, Canada (lots of Canadians), Brazil, Hong Kong, Sweden, Germany, and many more I just don’t remember. I’m glad this trip seemed like a long time. I was scared that it would fly by and it would be done in no time, but leaving Dulles a month ago feels like an eternity. I think changing and getting used to a new culture every two days really kept this trip from going too fast. I don’t know if I can believe I’m heading home, and when I get home I don’t know if I’ll believe I’m not in Europe. This trip has given me the travel bug, now I want to go to Germany and Prague and Austria and Hungary and so many more, I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop travelling. When I get home, I’m going to try and find a job to make back the tons of money I spent here. I don’t feel too bad about spending all this money though. I spent it on experiences that I’ll cherish for a lifetime. I hope I can travel to Europe again soon because I really love it here, but next time maybe with someone else along so I’m not alone much (they have to be able to put up with a lot of wrong turns in walking and going the wrong way, I’m sometimes a trial and error traveler). This has been the time of my life, and I’m glad I could document it on here for you to read. I’ll be back in the States at 7 pm EST and very glad to hug my family and Megan. Until my next trip, peace.
So I’m a little late on posting this one, but I wrote it yesterday I promise.
I have never been to a city with so much history and so many monuments! Its wild to think this city has been around for thousands of years and still is around. I took the train from Florence to Rome which was a nice fast train that got me there in about an hour and a half. My hostel was close to the train station, so I walked over there and put my things in the luggage locker until I could check in. I got some really good pasta from across the street and then headed over to the bus stop to go to Plazza Navona, where I was meeting my friend Lost (that’s his nickname from the Frisbee team) and his JMU study abroad group.
I got to the hotel a little early and walked around the Plazza to kill some time. There were a ton of artists selling their work and some doing paintings right there, something I also saw in Florence and was very impressed with. It seemed Spain and France had more street performers, while Italy had more artists. Must still be the Renaissance here.
I met up with my friends Lost, Will Roegge, and Serena at the hotel and went off on the tour of the ancient Roman ruins. We had an Italian tour guide who used one of those microphones and transmitters with the receivers and headphones we all wore around our necks. I had seen it in all the cities with big tour groups (a lot from Asia), but I had never been a part of one. The headphones kind of sucked, they got real static-y so sometimes we just couldn’t hear our guide, but seeing the sights was still really cool.
We first went to the Pantheon which amazed me because it was about 2000 years old and still fully intact. The light came in from a big circular hole in the roof and the middle of the floor had drains in it for when it rained. It was pretty ingenious building, the Romans really knew what they were doing. Inside was also the grave of Raphael the Renaissance painter and master.
I had started feeling some pain in my knee while I was in Florence from walking around all these cities, so I popped some ibuprofen and kind of just fought through the pain. We had to walk a lot that day, but I guess either the pills helped or I just got used to it.
We walked down to the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II, this HUGE monument in the middle of town. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a monument of that size, it was incredible. We then went down to the Roman Forum, walked around there a little, saw the Roman Senate building and the Arc of Titus, as well as the ruins of the place where Julius Ceasar’s body was laid after he was killed by Brutus. Walking up the Palantine Hill a little, we came to the Coliseum.
The Coliseum was incredible to see. We went inside and got to stand down on the level where the Gladiators fought and they had a section of the floor rebuilt to show you how it looked. Our guide borrowed a book from a street vendor and showed us overlays of how the Coliseum looked back in the day, when it actually had a wooden roof and everything. It was pretty wild.
We then left and walked back to the hotel, and on the way got some dinner. I had these delicious tortellini filled with meat and in a cheese sauce with ham and peas, as well as a suppli, this deep fried ball of rice and tomato sauce. It was an incredible meal. Then I went back to my hostel.
I got to my room and found out I was sharing it with a brother and sister (Craig and KJ) from British Colombia, Canada, and Fergal, and Irishman from Belfast (who I talked a lot about Ireland to and he told me he’d show me around Belfast when I come back. He also randomly lived in Richmond when he was 2 years old; it’s a small world). They asked if I wanted to go to this Irish Pub in a few minutes and of course I couldn’t pass that up! We met up with a couple other Canadian girls that they had met earlier and walked over to the pub. It was an incredible time, I had my first Guinness since Ireland (which was good, but not as good as in Ireland) as well as a shot of Jamison on ice (Fergal said we were in an Irish pub, we had to get a whiskey. I couldn’t refuse some delicious Jamison). After a few rounds of beers and ciders, we headed back to the hostel and passed out.
I had to meet up with the JMU group to go to the Vatican at 8 the next morning, so after getting back at about 3 am and getting only 4 hours of sleep, the bumpy bus ride on the cobblestone roads didn’t feel too good on my head. I left too early for breakfast at my hostel and got to the hotel too late for breakfast there, so I was not feeling the best. I realized if going to the Vatican didn’t make me feel bad enough for my sins, my hangover would.
When we got to the Vatican, the place was packed. I grabbed a few things from the vending machine and filled my empty stomach a little, then we went into the Vatican museum. The place was huge, with halls and halls of artwork and sculptures. I never realized the Vatican bought art, but I soon found out they bought a TON of it. Going through the museum halls, suddenly my camera’s lens wouldn’t come out of the closed position. After trying everything, I found myself with an unusable camera. I was pretty frustrated, unfortunately uttered a few too many curse words in the Vatican, and accepted after trying for 20 minutes to get it to work that it just wasn’t going to. I was more mad that I wouldn’t have a working camera for Amsterdam than anything, but later KJ suggested I get a few disposable ones, which is a great idea.
We got a chance to walk through some Raphael rooms, which had some awesome works by the master. Finally we got to the Sistine Chapel, which was incredible! Previously I though the whole ceiling was a fresco of Michelangelo’s God and Adam, but I then realized there were so many more incredible Michelangelo paintings on the ceiling, as well as other painter’s works on the walls. We stayed there for about 30 minutes, then headed over to St Peter’s Basilica.
St Peter’s was so enormous, I was blown away. The ceilings were 300 feet high and the length of the church was immense (it’s the biggest church in the world). We saw Michelangelo’s sculpture of Mary holding the body of Jesus, the grave of Pope John Paul II, and the grave of Pope St Pius X, a pope who died and when they went to take his body out of the grave in the grottos underneath the Vatican for his beatification, they found it had not decomposed at all after 40 years in the grave. They put it in a glass case and it really was a miraculous thing to see. Afterwards we went into the Vatican Square, went to the gift shop, then went to lunch. I headed back to my hostel for a nap and to pack up after a really good pizza and an overpriced beer.
After my nap, Craig, KJ, and I went across the street to the restaurant to get some dinner and hang out. KJ and I realized we had to wake up and get on the bus to go to the airport at 5:30 am, which was not going to be fun (Craig was catching a ferry to Malta to hang out with his friend there for 2 weeks). In our last night in Rome though, we decided to go see the Trevi Fountain all lit up. After a decent walk, we got to the fountain. It was all lit up and beautiful. I realized it was on par with the fountain in Barcelona that I loved so much, but I couldn’t put it over the top of that one. We then walked down to Gelataria Valentino, which was this delicious gelato shop that Craig and KJ had heard about and been to. It was all homemade by this guy and his son, and they had the most delicious flavors. I got Dark Chocolate, Nutella, and Snickers and got a chance to taste Craig and KJ’s Lemon, Mango, Pineapple, and coconut, which I also loved. We walked back down to the Trevi Fountain, checked it out a bit longer, then walked home and went to bed.
Waking up this morning was not fun, but KJ and I got to the airport on time to catch our flights. I’m sitting in Barcelona airport waiting with a 4 hour layover for my flight to Amsterdam. I remember sitting in this airport before, I’m getting used to this traveling business haha. On the TV they have a handball game between Spain and Azerbaijan, which is a game I haven’t played since middle school. Pretty cool to see a professional version of it. I’m getting into Amsterdam around 5:30 and I’m super excited for it. Kind of sad it’s my last city, but I’m also ready to get back home to see my family and Megan. I’ve heard Amsterdam is a blast, so I’ll fill you in on the wild times next time. Peace!
Leaving Florence, I’m very glad I decided to come here. It was one of the places I was thinking about taking off the list if I didn’t have enough time or money, but I’m glad I kept it. I had a little stressful time getting here, my first train from Nice was 15 minutes late, which caused me to miss my second train. I got a new route from the information desk in the station, but it extended my trip from 8 hours to 11 hours. I also had to explain why I had a different ticket than what train I was on to each conductor, so that was annoying too. I did get a chance to write my paper for my Ireland course though, so at least the time on the train focused me on doing that. When I got to the train station in Florence, I had no idea how to get to my hostel from the station, so I had to go searching for a WIFI signal, which I eventually found in a McDonalds (they’re everywhere, I swear. Thank God for them though). I found out my hostel was the last stop on this bus line, so it was really out of town. I got the bus ticket and headed off.
I got more and more into the suburbs and outskirts of town until I was dropped off at my stop, with the hostel name and Campground on this sign. The directions said it was 500m beyond the gate, but I found myself walking down a gravel driveway into the woods at night. I was cursing this hostel and my travels in every way. When I got to the hostel though, I was pleasantly surprised. It was this huge complex with columns out front and a courtyard with a fountain and trees. The lobby was this huge room with a cathedral ceiling and a fresco painted on it, and there was a bar with hot food available. After getting a sandwich and a beer, I was much more relaxed. It was too late to check out the town by then, so I just sat outside and got on the computer. I met some girls from Quebec and talked to them for a while, then went to bed.
The next morning I got breakfast at the hostel (which was just bread with jam like at most of these hostels). I got on the bus and went to the center of town, where I could walk to everything. First I saw the Duomo, this huge cathedral with a giant dome. It was pretty easy to find seeing as it was towering over the whole city. The painting on the wall was super impressive and the statues were really neat. I then went to go get in line for the Gallaria dell’Accademia, which is where Michaelangelo’s statue of David is. The line was super long so I went over to where I thought I was supposed to buy my ticket and ended up buying a reservation for the museum for 4 o’clock, which was actually better because I didn’t have to waste my day waiting in that line, I could go off and do other things which I waited to get into the museum. I then headed over to Via de Calzaioti, this street with a ton of restaurants and stores on it. I came to the Piazza della Signoria, a big plaza with some beautiful buildings and a big clock tower. It was already 11 and I hadn’t had any gelato, so I went and got some coffee flavored, which was absolutely amazing. I love glato so much. I then walked down towards the river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge with a bunch of jewelry stores on it. The display cases were filled top to bottom with gold and silver and jewels, it was a sight to see.
I then got across the bridge and headed over to Palazzo Pitti, this huge palace with a giant courtyard. I didn’t want to spend the money to get in (I’m coming to the end of my trip and the end of my money haha), so I decided to walk up to what I really wanted to see, the Piazzale Michelangiolo. It was a long walk up a bunch of hills and stairs, but when I got to the top it was definitely worth it. The view of the city was incredible, with the rivers and the buildings with their terra cotta roofs (I guess that’s what they’re made out of). I could see all the tall major buildings and out to the mountains in the distance. It was so nice, I just sat up there for a good half hour looking out at the landscape. There were a couple of young guys playing guitar with an open case which was pretty normal, but on their sign it said “I could be your son! Traveling Europe” and I thought of my Mom and her crazy traveling sons (my brother Ben is currently biking across the US by himself). After looking out across the city a little more, I went back down to the main area of town.
I wanted to get some pizza for lunch, but unfortunately I stopped in the wrong place to get it. This place had all these delicious looking pizzas sitting out in a display case, but when you asked for one they took it and put it in the toaster like you’re at the mall. I was kind of disappointed by that, but I got food which was important. I then walked over to the Piazza Della Signoria, people watched for a little bit, over to the Piazza della Repubblica, people watched for a little bit, went to Piazza de Mercato Nuovo, walked around a little and rubbed the nose of a pig statue that’s supposed to bring you good luck, and then found my way over to Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which was this incredible plaza and church with beautiful painted sides. Trying to kill more time, I walked over to Mercato Centrale, which was this huge square of street vendors. It was all leather vendors and souvenirs, but I ended up seeing a nice Italian leather wallet that I liked and decided to get. I paid 15 euro for it and afterwards realized I probably could have haggled the lady down a few bucks, but it’s a very nice wallet and I needed a new one (Megan will be happy I got a new one, she’s been telling me to throw out my old wallet that I’ve had for 4 years for months haha).
I then walked over to the Gallaria del Accademico and got in line for the reservations. Getting in I realized it wasn’t that big of a museum, but they had a cool exhibit on musical instruments (with Stratavarius violins and violas and other cool old instruments. The rest of the art was religious art, which I’m not the biggest fan of, but there were these really cool marble statues done by Michelangelo and some of the other artists in his circle. They were incomplete statues, but it was interesting seeing where the piece was going and being able to see a work coming out of the rock. They also had a room of plaster casts of busts and statues from all over the world that filled a whole room, floor to ceiling. The obvious highlight was the Michelangelo’s David though. I never knew how huge it was, it was like 15 feet tall, and done so perfectly. It really was a masterpiece, done to perfection. After looking at that for a very long time, looking at other things, then coming back to look at the David a little more, I left the museum very content.
I walked over to another street where I got another gelato from this gelataria that my travel book said was homemade and a local favorite (it really was delicious, I got hazelnut), I took the bus back to the hostel. I ran into my roommate Petros, who was from Australia. We decided to go to the Pizzaria across the street and grab a pizza, which turned out to be a fantastic idea. It was real Italian pizza, with a thin crust, not much sauce, and just cheese and pepperoni on it. Teamed with a few beers from the bar, we ended up sitting outside on the patio and enjoying a delicious meal, as well as talking to this couple from New Zealand that was driving around Greece and Italy. I had a small world moment when Petros mentioned that when he was in Lyon, France, he met these two guys from Quebec. I asked if their names were Geon and Antoine, and he said yea and showed me a picture of them on Facebok. I was blown away, they were the same guys I had met in Nice. We had met the same two people in two separate cities, then ended up in the same room in a third city. It really is a small world!
Afterwards, I got on my computer and finished typing up my paper I had written on paper on the train (had to save battery life on the train so I wrote it in my notebook first), and then headed to bed.
This morning I woke up, got some breakfast, and walked took about a 30 minute walk to the train station where my train to Rome was leaving from (a different station from where I came in). Yesterday I got an email asking me how my stay was in Rome, and after looking at my booking confirmation I realized I had accidently booked the hostel in Rome for the wrong nights, so I lost one night’s charge for not showing. I was freaking out that I couldn’t find a new place, but I ended up getting a new hostel even closer to the train station where I’m coming in, which I’m happy about. I have plans to meet up with some friends and their JMU Study Abroad group in Rome to go see the sights, so I’ll hopefully be able to do that without too much trouble and without a phone. I have two days in Rome and then two days in Amsterdam, so I’m almost done with my trip! This has been the time of my life, with the good, the bad, and the lonely, but all in all it has been great. I think I have the travel bug now, I’m going to need to find a way to make my money back from this trip so I can go on another one! That is a plan for a later day, and I have Rome on my plate (which is delicious). Till next time!
There is no better name to give this city than that. The French Rivera is beautiful, I can definitely see why the rich and famous come vacation here. It’s coastline is so beautiful! I got here on the plane from Barcelona and when I got to the airport, it started to storm really hard. I was hoping a) that my luggage didn’t get soaked like some guys in Madrid who came from the US during that massive rainstorm, and b) that I would get to see the beach, not be stuck inside my hostel all day. Luckily it cleared up within about a half hour and I went out to get to my hostel.
Another miracle! I didn’t get lost! I’ve learned I need to do turn by turn directions with number of blocks to walk and landmarks to look for. Otherwise I get lost, like the other 4 hostels. The hostel was beautiful! It was tucked away in some palm trees and orange trees and had a big open lobby with a bar you could get drinks at! I got all settled in and decided to go try and find some food.
I ended up at this little brasserie a few blocks from my hostel that only had two options for lunch: lasagna and grilled ham and cheese. I went with the grilled ham and cheese and it turned out delicious! They melted the cheese on top of the sandwich and it was perfect. So good! I then went walking down to the old town area called Vieux Nice. I got a little scare when my debit card wouldn’t take out cash, but I then realized that it was just that this bank didn’t accept foreign cards, so I was really relieved. The Vieux Nice area is really cool, with winding streets and stores and restaurants all tightly packed together. I came across Place Messena, which was a big square kind of like Plaza Mayor. It had these interesting statues of men either sitting or kneeling on platforms that were 30 feet in the air. What was even cooler was that when I came back through there later that night, they had lit up in blues and greens and oranges.
I walked down to the beach, which was an amazing sight. The beach had a bunch of big flat rocks on it that people were lying on, and the water was pristine. This is the Mediterranean, so there were more topless sunbathers and men in tiny speedos. Its easy to pick out the non-Europeans on the beach because they’re the ones covering the most up. I walked up the beach a little bit, then headed over to La Chateau, this hill that overlooked the whole city.
After climbing up hundreds of stairs, I got to the top and the view was awesome! You could see the whole city and miles up the beach. I always love trying to find the spot where you can overlook a city, it really gives you a good perspective on the area and is really beautiful. I walked around the park they had up there, then headed back down to grab some food.
I found this creparie on the main strip of Vieux Nice and got this delicious ham and mozzarella crepe. I had always had them with dessert fillings, so it was cool to have it with dinner fillings. The crepe was delicious, so filling, and not too expensive. Just how I like it haha. I then walked down to the boardwalk by the beach a little and saw the moon rising over the Mediterranean, which was gorgeous. I looked out at the sea for a little while, then headed back to my hostel.
When I was sitting in the lobby of my hostel, I got asked the best question I can be asked in a foreign hostel: “Do you speak English”. The guy wanted to take a picture with his friends, so I did and they invited me over to hang out and have some beers. Ended up it was a guy from Argentina, two girls from Quebec, and two guys from Quebec. The guys from Quebec were actually hitchhiking across France, which I thought was really cool. They had some wild stories and some cool stories, and it seems like the people in France were being very hospitable to the hitchhiking cause. We hung out for a while and then went to bed.
I woke up the next morning planning on going to the beach. I ran into the people from Quebec again they asked me if I wanted to go to Cannes with them. I said sure and so the 5 of us and one of my roommates (who was also from Quebec and said he wanted to go to Cannes) hopped on the train and took the 40 minute ride to Cannes.
I can definitely see why they decided to hold the famous film festival here, the place is glitzy and glamorous all over. The beaches are sandy, not rocky like Nice. We went to the grocery store to get some supplies for sandwiches, ended up walking through the retail part of town with all the expensive shoe stores and clothing stores, and then got to the beach.
The beach was incredible. I ended up getting in the water (something I wouldn’t do in Barcelona) and it wasn’t TOO cold, just about as warm as New Jersey beach water. I lay out on the beach for a while and listened to the people from Quebec speak French (I didn’t mind much, if I didn’t hang out with them I would be talking to no one, so at least they spoke to me a little in English). After a walk on the beach and another tanning session, we went back to the train station and to the hostel. On the way we found ourselves at the top of a hill overlooking the city and an old church along with it. Perfect place for a photo op
We stopped at the grocery store and got food to cook in the kitchen at the hostel. With rice, shrimp, bread, cheese, vegetables, and beer, it turned out to only be 5 euro a person, which was about 1/3 the price I could spend on dinner alone at a restaurant. Getting back to the hostel, I learned that my tanning session had been more of a burning session, even though I put on sunscreen. I’m kinda hurting today, but I stopped by the store to get some lotion to try and not suffer so bad. After dinner we sat around and talked, and I tried unsuccessfully to get on the internet for about an hour and a half. I needed to find the directions to my next hostel, but for some reason the internet wasn’t working for anyone there. After trying for so long, I gave up and went to bed.
This morning I woke up and did the normal morning routine. I tried the internet again with no success, and left for the train station. I’m taking the train to Florence with a few transfers in some Italian cities. I hope I can find internet somewhere or I don’t know how I’ll find where I’m staying. Of course, if you’re reading this, I’ve found internet so no worries. This long train ride will hopefully give me time to write my paper for the Ireland course, I have about 7 hours on the train. Check back again later!
Wow. I’ve heard great things about Barcelona, but I really was blown away by this city. I had the time of my life, met some awesome people, saw some awesome things, and didn’t want to leave. Everyone in Barcelona witnessed a miracle, I didn’t get lost trying to find my hostel! I took the train to the metro and then the metro to my street. I arrived at Hostel One Parallelo and was greeted by Joan Jose, an incredibly friendly and helpful guy. They had free finger food and coffee in the lobby area, so I obviously stuffed face. Joan (pronounced John) gave me a map and drew a whole route I could take to see everything. I felt so welcome there, more than any other place I had been.
Barcelona is interesting because they speak Spanish, but also Catalan, which is a mix of Spanish, French, and Italian. It was cool seeing how they took the languages and mixed them to create their own. Every sign was in Catalan, Spanish, and English, which helped a lot.
This was the first hostel I had been to that had mixed gender dorms. It wasn’t a big deal though, there were no awkward moments thankfully. I got all settled in and then realized I needed some food. I asked Joan where a good place to eat was and he sent me down to this place called Can Gusero. I sat outside and had a beer and some tapas (paella and beef on bruscetta). It was really good and really cheap, just how I like it.
I decided to go down to the beach. It was about a 30 minute walk, but I got a chance to see the port and all the boats, as well as some street performers and vendors. I was watching my things really carefully because Joan had told me how sneaky the pickpockets are here (Some guys from the States got pick pocketed by two middle aged women. They jammed the metro ticket gate and when the guys tried to go through, the women were putting their arms around them “trying to help” and getting them through the gate, but at the same time grabbing their wallets). I got down to the beach and it was packed. I had a little culture shock there too. It was a topless beach, so you’d just be walking along and see some boobs here, some boobs there, nobody really cared. It was interesting how open people are here. I put my stuff down where I could see it from the water and went to try and get in. It was freezing, I only got in up to my ankles before I called it quits. At least I touched Mediterranean water though! I kept my eyes on my stuff the whole time because I was so paranoid someone was going to take it, and then went back and lay on the sand for a little before heading out.
Then I walked up La Rambla, which is a long pedestrian walkway with a ton of vendors and street performers. I walked up it a ways to just check things out, there was so much going on. I went into Boquiera Market, which was this bustling indoor market selling everything: meats, fish, fruits, any food you could want. Walking around looking at the things they had for sale was awesome, even if I didn’t buy anything.
I headed back to my hostel for dinner then. What’s awesome about this place is that they want everyone to feel like family so they cook us dinner every night at 9 and everyone sits around the table talking and meeting each other. There were people there from America, Germany, England, Wales, Australia, Poland, and many other countries. Everyone was sharing stories and learning about each other, it was fantastic. It was one guy’s 50th birthday, so we had sangria to celebrate. Incredible group of people.
Next, a girl named Paulina showed up and gathered us to go out on the town. She was on roller skates, which I guess is her style and what she’s known for around town. We all got together (it was 12 of us) and we went to a few bars and eventually a club. We got free shots some places and free entry into the club, which was awesome especially because we didn’t have to pay for this pub crawl. I had a blast talking with everyone and going around to the different places, Barcelona definitely knows how to party. I was talking to a friend about Ireland and what I studied and I mentioned the IRA and these two girls turned around and looked at me. Come to find out they’re from Ireland (in Cork) and so we had a great time talking about Ireland and hanging out. I love how friendly travelers are, especially in Barcelona. I didn’t feel alone here at all. We left the club around 2 and headed back to the hostel where everyone passed out.
I woke up the next morning and had to pack up my things because I had to move rooms. I don’t know why, but people move around rooms a lot in this hostel. One girl who was sleeping in the bunk below me had to move beds in the same room, it was strange. I went down, had a few pieces of pastry for breakfast, and went out to see Barcelona.
The first place I went was La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral designed by Gaudi that has been in construction for 120 years (90 years since Gaudi’s death). It was such an awesome sight, with the spires almost looking like they’re melting and so many figures worked into the building. I didn’t know about Gaudi before this trip, but I could already tell his work was amazing and like nothing I had ever seen before.
I then walked down to La Padrera, another building designed by Gaudi. One of the girls in the hostel had recommended I go in and see it, so I wanted to see what It had to offer. It was designed for a rich family as an apartment building and residence for them. The rooftop terrace was wild, with a lot of wavy edges and cool spires. The floor was all wavy too, with stairs up and down. What was really cool was that the interesting looking spires all had a purpose too, being chimneys and ventilation openings and stairwells. The cool designs on some were made out of tile and pieces of broken champagne bottle. This guy was a master and this building a masterpiece. I walked around there a little and then went into the attic, which had really cool vaulted ceilings and an exhibit on the works of Gaudi. After that, I went into one of the apartments and they had it all done up like it was in the 1900s. This place was so cool!
I walked around a little and found a really cool little restaurant. What was interesting about it was that instead of a menu, they had a bunch of tapas out on plates with different style toothpicks in them. They were pieces of bruscetta with different toppings on them (one even had whipped cream, walnuts, and chocolate on bread) and the price depended on the type of toothpick. At the end, the bartender counted the number of toothpicks you had and charged you for that. It was pretty cheap and really good, seeming like the theme of the places I’m choosing to eat.
Afterward, I hopped on the metro and went to la Arc de Triomf, which was quite similar to the one in Paris. I walked down the park a little and came across el Parque de Ciutadella. It was a beautiful park with the most amazing fountain I’ve ever seen in my life. I literally walked up and was verbally saying “Wow, oh wow”, it was that impressive. I don’t know if anywhere can top it.
I walked through the park and down to the Picasso museum. I really wanted to go, and it was free at that time (Sunday after 3), but the line was literally 1000 feet long. I probably would have had to wait for 2 hours, so I said screw it and just walked past. I ended up coming across Sta Maria del Mar, a cool church, and el Catedral, and awesome Gothic style church with a huge spire on top. I love the architecture in this city, from the classic gothic look to the modern Gaudi work.
I then headed back to La Rambla to go up to Plaza Catalunya and the fountain. On the way, I stopped in the Museo Erotica, which is little museum on the history if sex and sexuality. There was stuff from Karma Sutra, the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese (including little porcelain figurines in sexual positions), all the way up to the modern day. It was actually an educational experience, not off color at all. There was some pretty racy stuff from the 1800s even, and overall it was a cool little museum. I had to do it!
I continued on to the top of La Rambla, where the Plaza Catalonya and the fountain are. I read in my travel book that the local legend is that if a visitor samples the water of the fountain, they’ll return to Barcelona. Since I had such an awesome time here and know I want to come back, I had to take a little sip. Not enough to get me sick though.
I went back to the hostel to try and meet up with some people to go to this free concert by Arc de Triomf. Some German guys said they were going there, but they were stopping by the beach first. I asked if I could come along and they said yea, but they were riding bikes. Since I didn’t have one, I said I would meet them down at the beach.
I took the bus to the beach and when I got there, realized it was a mistake just saying I’d meet them at “the point”. It’s a huge place with a ton of people, so after searching for them for over 30 minutes, I gave up and headed over to the concert.
The walk there went through some cool streets and I got a chance to see how the people lived. I got to the Arc de Triomf and it was packed. So many people came out for this festival. The first band wasn’t my favorite, they were a two person Spanish band with a guitarist, a keyboardist, and a drum machine. I didn’t care for their music, but it looked like a lot of locals liked them. I actually ran into the German guys there, so we found a spot and watched the next band, which was kind of like Spanish classic rock. There were two older guys (probably in their 50s), a could guys in their 30s, and one guy in his 20s. They must have had other members back in the day but picked up new ones as the years went on. I didn’t care much for their music either, but they seemed very popular with the locals as well. One of the German guys convinced a beer vendor to give us 5 beers for 7 euro (random Indian guys wander around the popular tourist places with 6 packs they buy at the supermarket and sell beer for 2 euro each, so we got a discount). He was also the guy that convinced the bartender to give us two free Jager Bombs for our group the night before, so he’s very persuasive I suppose.
We went back to the hostel and had dinner, then looked for a bar to go out to. I wanted to go to the Magic Fountain (a Las Vegas style fountain and light show), but it was raining and I didn’t want to go out in that. We ended up just going to the supermarket, getting some beers, and sitting around talking. Some guys from England were talking with me, a guy and girl from Sweden, a girl from Seattle, and a guy from Wales. Everyone was having a fantastic time chatting, the English guys were very interested in American politics, Obama, and the Tea Party movement. We talked for a good while then headed to sleep.
This morning I slept through my alarm again (this is not a good trend), but was woken up by a kid shouting outside. I hurried my packing, got a quick shower, and grabbed some breakfast downstairs. I took the metro to the train station and the train to the airport (I almost got on the wrong train, they switched what platform it was on at the last minute). Luckily someone else made the same mistake, asked, and got off quickly. I did the same and got to the airport safely. I’m about to leave for Nice, which I heard is really nice (pun intended, you know me), so I’m excited to get another new experience. I’m ¾ of the way done with my whole trip and ½ way done with my solo trip, so I’m on the home stretch. See ya!
¡Madrid! I love this city! I arrived two days ago and took the bus into city central to catch the Metro. The Metro is amazing here, they are very up to date and clean and prompt, I really enjoyed using them. I got to my Metro stop at Argüelles and inevitably got lost (just like I do in every city when I’m looking for my hostel), but I was a little more comfortable than in France because I knew enough Spanish to ask for directions. I couldn’t understand their words very well (super fast talkers), but hand motions and a few key words got me going in the right direction. I did go into a Starbucks and ask again and the girl had no idea what road I was talking about, then I realized it was only a block further. I guess just because you work in an area doesn’t mean you know the next road up!
I arrived at my hostel and checked in. It was a really cool looking place, with a wide open center room that went all the way up to a sky light and an elevator that went up the middle. The room had 2 bunk beds in it, and I found out later that day that one of my roommates was from Argentina and the other from Germany, but neither spoke very good English. Guess I was seeing the city alone again!
I went out to get something to eat and went to this random restaurant a few blocks from my place. I got this delicious steak and fries with whole peppers on it, absolutely delicious. I also knew enough Spanish to order food, which was much better than France. I at least sort of knew what I was getting here! Haha
I headed out and decided to go to El Parque del Buen Retiro (El Retiro), which is a BEAUTIFUL park with a lake and rowboats you can rent, a ton of roads and trails to walk, several monuments and fountains, some buildings with some wild modern art in them, and a ton of people sitting around enjoying the day in the sun and the parque. There were some street performers and merchants surrounding the lake, so there was a lot of music and sights to se. I could have spent all day there, it was huge and beautiful and relaxing and perfect. But I had other things to see.
I then moved on to the Puerta del Sol, a plaza that has a bunch of street performers in it. It was near the main part of town, so the hustle and bustle was wild. I then walked down to Plaza Mayor, which was absolutely awesome. There were restaurants circling the whole square and more street performers there. The architecture was incredible and I loved the immensity of the whole thing. I thought Paris was beautiful, but Madrid was really giving it a run for its money! I walked around, people watched a little bit, and sat down at one of the restaurants to get a beer and people watched some more. I really enjoyed El Plaza Mayor! I headed back to the hostel, hung out there for a while, and headed to bed.
There’s this really cool thing that I noticed in Paris and Madrid. People who I guess get married write their names on a lock and lock it to a fence or railing. In Paris there was a whole bridge covered in them, and I also found some in Plaza Mayor. Pretty cool idea!
The next morning I got up and went to El Palacia Real, the royal palace of Spain. It’s not being used by the royal family anymore, but is still used occasionally for special events. The rooms were massive and exquisite, decorated with so much gold and crystal and porcelain and crystal. I couldn’t use my camera, but I can tell you this huge palace definitely showed the wealth Spain had when it was a world conqueror. I also saw the Armoria Real, the royal armory, which had a bunch of armor and swords and guns and all sorts of cool stuff. They had manikin horses and conquistadores all over the hall, it brought me back to the days when I used to play Age of Empires on my computer. I think I might have been more impressed with this collection than the one in the Tower of London (Madrid is really outdoing the other cities I’ve been to).
After that, I went over to the Museo de Renia Sofia, which was this big modern art museum. I got in free as a university student which was awesome for my wallet! I chose going to this over the Prado museum because the Prado only has works from the 14th to the 17th century, which I have a hard time appreciating. Most of that is religious art and I guess I get a little tired of seeing religious scenes over and over. The modern art at the Renia Sofia was incredible though! There was a lot of cubist and surrealist work, I saw so many Picasso’s and Dali’s and Miro’s and many more. Going to these museums in Europe is cool because they have so many pieces by these masters, and you really don’t get the whole experience unless you see the real thing. Some of the art was a little weird, in that there was a lot of nudity not in the ancient Greek sense, but in the 1970s sexual revolution sense. I loved that museum though, definitely an awesome experience.
I then headed back to my hostel and outlined my paper for my Ireland trip. It’s hard to force myself to write this paper being on the road, but I have to get it done. I should be able to write 7 pages on what I learned, I feel so passionately about the subject after being there. It’s just going to take me sitting down and getting started.
After working a little, I headed into town and met up with David Stocks, his wife Gloria, and their daughter Christina. David is a friend of my roommate Scott Roblee’s father and when I asked Mr. Roblee for advice on traveling in Europe, he introduced me to David via email. David came to Madrid on a study abroad trip when he was in college and loved the place, so when he got a chance to come back to work, he moved here. He had met Gloria in Madrid on his study abroad, kept in touch with her, and reunited when he moved here (pretty romantic). They have moved around a few times with his work, but have been in Madrid for a good while now. It was super interesting talking to someone who knew my own culture, but also knew a lot about the culture of Madrid. We got a drink at a bar, then went down to a restaurant to get tapas and beer. In Spain, tapas are plates of food that the table shares, so we got tomatoes and onions, roasted lamb, and calamari. We sat and talked about life in Madrid, life in the states, studying , my travels and the places I’ve been, and really enjoyed each other’s company. They then took me down to Plaza de Cilbeles, a beautiful plaza with an incredible fountain and some gorgeous buildings around it. I didn’t have my camera, but I wish I did so I could show how gorgeous this place is, especially at night. We went up to this rooftop bar and looked out at the city for a little bit, then headed back to the Metro to go home. I was incredibly grateful that David and his family met up with me, and I had a great time. Hopefully we’ll be able to see each other again sometime.
Last night was a little interesting because around 6 am, I heard a few loud bangs outside my hostel. The first thing I thought was “gunshots”, which got my heart racing, but when I didn’t hear any screams or commotion, I realized it might not be. I started smelling a lot of sulfer and then hear a wizzing sound before it, so I realized it was just some people shooting off fireworks thankfully. It must have been people coming back from the clubs. The clubs here don’t open until midnight and don’t close until 6 or 7 am (I wanted to go out, but my hostel doesn’t let people in after 1:30 am so I wouldn’t have had much time). My roommate closed the window to keep out the noise and so the room got even hotter (none of these hostels I’ve been to have A/C. Not even Madrid, where it’s often in the 80s and 90s). I fell back asleep to get another hour of sleep before I had to wake up to leave.
Unfortunately, my alarm didn’t wake me up for some reason. Thankfully my roommate’s alarm went off at 8 so I jumped out of bed, packed up my stuff, and ran out the door. I took the Metro over to the airport and got there with plenty of time to spare, just no time for a shower (which annoys me to no end). I’ll get into Barcelona at around 12 and find my hostel, which got rave reviews from my neighbor Amanda. The place is new and looks awesome, apparently they treat you really well there. The manager already sent an email a few days ago with directions on how to get there, tips for the city, and some useful Catalan words (which is a mix between Spanish, French, and Italian). I’m excited to check this place out and have fun in Barcelona. Hasta luego!
Well I’m just heading out of Paris. It was my first time in a country with a different language than my own, so I was a little uncomfortable at first, but then I got used to it and had a good time. On my train ride over from London, I tried to learn a little French, but to no avail. I only had down the easy ones (“oui, non, moussoir, madame, je voudrais, s’il vous plait, excusez-moi, and merci”). I tried to learn “I’m lost” and “Where is” but I butchered them whenever I tried to use them so I gave up.
Unfortunately, I made a big mistake right as I came in. I went down to the metro station to get a ticket to my hostel tried to use an automated machine. It was in French so I didn’t know what I was doing, but this boy came up and offered to help me. I tried to get a 2 day pass for 31 euro, but my card wouldn’t work in the machine, so the boy started walking me over to the gate. He told me to wait there and came back with a ticket which he said was a 2 day pass. I was skeptical and asked him how I knew it was a real ticket, and he said it was and it would get me all over the city etc etc. I told him I wanted to go in the ticket line, but he insisted that I should have this ticket. He wanted 31 euro for it, but all I had was 25. I know I shouldn’t have taken it, but in the heat of the moment in a country where I didn’t know the language and was very uncomfortable, I gave him 25 euro for it. Big mistake. This gypsy kid ended up selling me a one way ticket and I had to buy the real two day pass from a ticket booth a little later that day. I was pretty mad at myself, but now I see how the scam artists will pressure you and make you feel uncomfortable until you give in to what they want. It was an act of persuasion, an educational activity! Maybe I should be gracious! JK, screw that kid haha.
So I got off at my stop and inevitably got lost trying to find my hostel (just like I do in every city), but I went In a bike shop and this very nice guy gave me directions and drew a map for me, for which I was very grateful. I got to my hostel and went up to my room, which was a small 4 person room with two big windows opening up to the street below. It was a little dirty (like many hostels are), but it was fine for me to stay. I went to this French brasserie and got a delicious steak dinner with a glass of wine and then headed out to see some of the sights.
First I went to Notre Dame and saw the cathedral, which was huge! There was a big open area in front of it where everyone was sitting and talking and looking at it, it was very neat.
I then walked over to the Latin Quarter and checked that out a little bit. It had a lot of shops and places to eat, seemed like a pretty cool place to hang out. I then walked down to Jardin du Plantes, which was a long walk and unfortunately closed, but on the way back I got a chance to walk down by the Seine River and see the groups of young people hanging out by the river talking and eating and drinking wine and listening to people playing instruments. I even saw a group of older people dancing in a little plaza, which was really cool. When I got back to near Notre Dame, I found the metro and took it to the Eiffel Tower.
I got off the metro and was looking all around for the Eiffel Tower, then I realized I just had to look up. It was HUGE! 900 feet in the air is massive. I knew it was going to be big, but not that big. I walked around it a little bit, but knew I wanted to come back in an hour or so when it got dark.
I then went over to Place Charles de Gaulle and saw the Arc de Triomphe. I didn’t end up going under the road and over to the ground level below it because it was a little too expensive, so I just looked at it for a little while and headed back to the Eiffel Tower.
When I got back to the Eiffel Tower, it was dark and they had lit it up, which was a sight to see. I was just awestruck by its beauty. I walked down the way a little bit and found a place in the grass where I could sit and look at it. There were a ton of people sitting around with friends, talking and drinking wine and enjoying the view. This was the first time I’ve felt homesick since I left. I was under a lot of stress being in a country that speaks a language I don’t speak and infamous pickpockets and all, I was really missing my family, Megan, and my friends. I eventually just had to sit there and relax and realize that I didn’t come on this trip alone because it was going to be easy, I came on this trip because it was going to be an adventure. And that’s exactly what it is. I got up to leave and as I was walking away, I heard someone say “three minutes to sparkle time”, so I decided to stick around. Soon, the tower started sparkling with hundreds of flashing lights. I kind of wish I had been in my spot on the lawn to see it, but none the less it was still a beautiful sight. I got back on the metro and headed back to my hostel.
The next morning, I got up and went to a bakery to get a croissant, which was really good. I then got on the metro and headed down to the Louvre to check out some art. It was a zoo in there, so many tour groups from all over the world (many from asian countries) rushing around and snapping pictures of everything. It was not the place to try to quietly contemplate the art. It was take a picture and go. I saw a bunch of ancient Greek sculptures, which was really neat because normally I’m not too interested in sculptures, but these were just so beautifully crafted I couldn’t help but enjoy them. I worked my way through lots of different types of art until I got to the most popular exhibit, the Mona Lisa. The area was going wild. Everyone was snapping pictures and pushing past each other. I just stood on the side, got a picture, looked at the work for a little bit and moved on. I left the Louvre happy, I got a chance to see a lot of excellent works of art.
I then went to the Catacombs, a series on tunnels that were dug for limestone when they were building Paris. The line was super long, I had to wait for a long time but eventually got in. They were 2 km long and WAY down in the ground (I had to take 120 stairs down this spiral staircase). Eventually you got to the point where they kept the bones. In the early 1800s, the Cemetery of the Innocents was too full, so they took the bones of all the people in there and moved them to the Catacombs. They initially just dumped all the bones, but then one person started arranging them artistically to respect the people who were buried there. The halls went on forever, they said there are over 100,000 bones in there. It was a little spooky having skulls looking at you, but it was also really interesting how they did it. I loved it, definitely worth the wait.
I then went down to Jardin du Luxembourg which was a huge park where a bunch of people were enjoying the good weather. I got a crepe with Nutella and went down to fountain to sit and relax in the sun. There were a bunch of children with these sailboats pushing them across the water, it was very tranquil and nice. I walked around a little and came across these men playing what looked like Bocce Ball, and a bunch of men sitting around playing chess. It was exactly what you think when you think of a Pariasian Park, very neat.
I then took the metro over to the National Picasso Museum, but found out it was closed for renovations which was kind of disappointing. I headed back home and took a nap, then went to McDonalds on the corner to use their WIFI a little. I decided to go get dinner so I went to this Brasserie (a new one) and found the whole menu was in French. I decided to go with the longest, most intricate looking item and some medium priced red wine. I ended up with Tartare de boeuf a la tapenade noire, or in English, Beef tartar with tapenade topping. This is uncooked beef mixed with olive oil and herbs and topped with a black topping of olives, anchovies, and olive oil and served cold. It’s a specialty in Paris, and something I’m definitely not used to. It actually turned out to be pretty good, but I was really hoping it was prepared correctly and I wouldn’t end up sick that night. My wish came true, I was fine.
I got on the Metro this morning and headed to Charles de Gaulle airport, where I caught my flight to Madrid. I’m finishing up writing this on the plane and will add pictures when I get to some WIFI. Next stop, Madrid!
I arrived in London Gatwick and found I was a good ways from the city at that airport. After a, hour long train ride and some underground stops, I got to my hostel. It was a really nice place, looked like it was pretty new, and the atmosphere was great. The lobby was full of bright colors and they were playing Mumford and Sons over the speakers. I knew I was going to like this place.
I ended up being the first in my room, so I got a choice of beds. The room was very clean and it had its own showers and bathroom, which was very nice. I got online and messaged my friend Kaitlyn, who had been on the study abroad trip with me, to meet up with her. It was about a 20 minute walk down to her hotel, and I got a chance to see the streets a little.
Kaitlyn and I took a cab down to Westminster Abbey, which was closed but you could still see the beautiful outside architecture. We walked down past Big Ben and the houses of Parliament, and over to The Eye, a huge observational Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. It was a little pricey (like everything in this town), but it was really neat seeing London from over 300 feet in the air.
Kaitlyn and I then walked down to Trafalager Square, a big square in front of the National Gallery that a ton of people were hanging out in. I like that in London, people hang out in the parks and squares, they aren’t all cooped up inside. We met up with Kaitlyn’s father, who was in town on a business trip, and went to the Sherlock Holmes restaurant.
The three of us then walked back to their hotel and on the way saw Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park. Buckingham Palace was beautiful, and the area was getting ready for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years as queen), so there were Union Jacks everywhere. We saw the Queens Guard standing outside the palace with shockingly big and up to date guns. They marched around a little, which was cool to see. After that, we walked through Hyde Park, which is a huge open park in the middle of town. It was gorgeous.
After leaving Kaitlyn and her dad at the hotel, I went back to my hotel and found I have gained a roommate, Phillip from Brazil. He and I had a few beers in the Hostel lobby (5 for 10 pounds, great deal) and talked about what we wanted to do the next day.
In the morning, Phillip and I took the Tube to the Tower of London, which was awesome to see. We got a tour from a Yaoman Warder, who was actually a member of the military and lived at the Tower of London with his family and the other 80 Yaoman Warders. He gave a great tour, was very funny, and showed us the grounds of the Tower. Phillip and I then went into the building with the Crown Jewels, which was astonishing to see. Everything was so massive! What wasn’t covered in diamonds and other precious stones was solid gold. It was definitely an eye popping experience.
From the Tower of London, we could see the Tower Bridge, which most people think is London Bridge (London Bridge is actually not that impressive). The houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge were just like they looked in the Sherlock Holmes movie, but not as close together.
We then went down to the National Gallery, which was a huge collection of art. I saw Monets (Bridge over Lilly Pond, which my mom had a print of hanging in my house for years), Van Goghs (Sunflowers) and Leonardos.It’s awesome to see these masterpieces in real life, you just can’t capture their beauty in prints.
After that, we went to the British Museum, which had an enormous collection of artifacts from history, from Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets to Egyptian mummies to the Rosetta Stone. The place was a building within a building, the great hall was a sight to see.
We then went to a pub across the street and I got Steak and Kidney pie, which my mom told me I had to have. After having it, I don’t know if I’m the biggest fan, but I had to try it at least.
Phillip and I walked back to the hostel and got ready for the Camden Pub Crawl, a pub crawl through a really cool, alternative part of town. It wasn’t very busy at the bars being a Monday, but we got a free shot at all 4 of the bars, discounts on drinks, and free entry to a cool club called the Stables, which was inside a horse stable. My favorite place was Belushi’s, with a free shot of Sanbuka and cheap Jager Bombs (staples of my trip with JMU). There was also a blues club called The Blues Kitchen which had live music and a really cool atmosphere. On the pub crawl, I met people from New Zealand, Germany, Florida, and UPenn. It was awesome.
I ended up losing my bus ticket, so Phillip and I walked 30 minutes home, which wasn’t too bad seeing as we had quite a few drinks that night. We got back to the hostel and passed out.
This morning I took the Tube to St Pancras Station and am about to head out on the train to Paris. I’m a little nervous about heading into the part of my trip with countries that speak another language, but hopefully I’ll be ok. I’ll check back on the other side of the Chunnel!
On our first day in Dublin, we headed out to the Irish Army Base to meet with the brother-in-law of the Irish Studies Center director. He spoke to us about the work of the Irish army with the UN, in places such as Liberia, Bosnia, and Colombia. It was interesting to hear from a member of a fairly small military who is generally thought of as neutral. Being from the US, we rarely enter a conflict as a neutral party, so hearing from someone who has gone into areas and been welcomed with open arms by both sides of the conflict was interesting. He also mentioned that the members of the Irish Army actually volunteer to be deployed on these missions, and it’s more of a first come, first serve type of selection process. Very different from the dread of being deployed that we find in America.
We came back into the city and got on one of those Hop On Hop Off bus tours, which gave us a layout of the city and told us about a lot of different places to see. We picked out the ones we wanted to go to, and got a brief overview of the others that we would skip. The bus driver was an excellent tour guide, he kept cracking jokes and puns. Could be a career path for me in the future! That night we headed out to the pubs in the Temple Bar area and found some pretty cool places. Headed back around 2 and hit the bed.
The next day, we got up and went to breakfast at this cool place in Temple Bar run by Amnesty International. Some of us went to the National Gallery and got a chance to see some amazing art done by some Irish artists (John Mahoney and Paul Henry), and even got to see a Van Gogh, a Monet, and a Picasso. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any works by famous artists like those in person, or not while I’ve been of the age to appreciate them, so it was very exciting. It really is true, you can’t capture the beauty of a piece with a print, they’re so much better in person.
Next we met up with the rest of the group at the Guinness Brewery. I have been thoroughly enjoying Guinness while I’ve been on this trip; I see why people say it’s so much better in Ireland. I don’t know if beer with ever taste as good as this does, and so readily available in every pub. The Guinness brewery was really neat, but sort of busy. It was a walk through the steps it takes to brew and ship Guinness, as well as history into the advertisement and sale of it. At the top of the building, the Gravity Bar gives a 360 view of the city and a free Guinness. Arthur Guinness took out a 9000 year lease on the land for the brewery, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
We then headed back to City Center and met up with our professor at a pub for our final dinner all together. I got Lamb stew, and there was a guy there playing traditional Irish music. I asked him to play Rare Olde Times, which is one of my favorite Irish songs, so that was fun to hear and sing along to. Then we headed out to Temple Bar, where we went to THE Temple Bar and heard a group of young guys playing Irish music on Guitar, Accordion, and Pan Flute. We actually ran into some of the UMASS guys and hung out with them for a little while. Very good night.
Tbe next day, we got breakfast across the street at this cafe. One of the girl’s meals came with Black Pudding, so I tried a little bit for the “When in Rome” experience. It was a little sweet and a little salty, but I had to try it. For people who don’t know, Black Pudding is also called Blood Pudding, because it’s made from dried blood. Once in a lifetime things you just have to do!
The whole group headed into town and went to Kilmainham Gaol, a, old jail that was in use from the 1700s to the 1930s. It housed people from the famine (most of whom wanted to be there because it provided food and shelter) and prisoners from the Irish Revolution in the 1910s and 20s. It was where the planners of the 1918 Easter Rising were executed, so I’m sure there are ghosts. Our tour guide was All of us, as communication students, were very impressed by him.
Next, Meg, Katie, and I decided to head to the Old Jamison Distillery, while the rest of the group went back to City Center to shop. We hopped on the same bus we came there on, assuming it would take us back when it made its loop. We were wrong. We started going into the suburbs of Dublin and began picking up some sketchy people on the bus. A group of people who looked like they did Heroine were at the front talking some pretty crazy, raunchy stuff, and we started seeing more run down houses and poverty stricken areas the further out we went. Soon, we saw a 12 year old boy driving a carriage with his butt crack hanging out and picking up a 50 year old shirtless man. More and more horses started showing up, and we even saw a horse on a chain in the middle of a public park like it was a dog. It was pretty weird.
We got really far out in the suburbs and realized we did not want to get dropped off. Soon everyone was off the bus and we were out in one of those very open, office park style places you see on the outskirts of towns. And we got the Last Stop call. We got off the bus and found ourselves very far from Dublin with no bus to take us home. We found a bus stop on the other side of the street with times that buses were supposed to come, but none did. We went into this hotel and asked, and apparently buses only come every few hours to that stop. We went back out and eventually got back on a bus going to city center. We went through all the same parts of town we had just gone through, so we really got a look at the non-touristy part of Dublin. We got off at the Jamison distillery and were very happy to be back in that part of town. It was a very funny adventure, I’ll remember it forever.
The Jamison Distillery was incredibly cool. It wasn’t as busy as the Disney World-like Guinness factory, it was much classier and more relaxed. We each got a Jamison cocktail (mine was apricot, apple, and Jamison) and hung out in the lobby until our tour started. The tour began with a movie that they made about a reporter coming to the Jamison Distillery in the 1800s and was very funny, kind of like the Jamison commercials on TV these days (the hawk commercial). We then got led through each part of the process and finally got a free Jamison (or Jamison and ginger ale that I got). Then Meg got a chance to be one of the select few whiskey testers and got to compare Jamison, Jack Daniels, and Johnny Walker (Jamison was the obvious choice). After that, we headed back to the hotel and got dinner at this delicious Italian restaurant across the street.
We went out that night and found this place called 4 Dame, which turned out to be a gem. It was a bar downstairs with a pretty good night club upstairs. We stayed late into the night, and didn’t head home until 4 am. The Irish can party forever!
I didn’t end up going to bed because I had to catch my bus to Cork at 6:30 in the morning. A few other people had to leave for the airport at 5, so we pulled all nighters and packed. I got a taxi to my hostel, dropped off my luggage, and headed to the Tourist Office on O’Connell St.
For some reason, the bus drivers didn’t think anyone would be at that particular tourist office, because they were late and arrive on the other side of the street. It was luck that they saw me when I waved them down, but they stopped and I got on. We picked up like 30 more people at another tourist office and headed off to Cork.
I don’t remember much of the trip on the bus because I promptly passed out. With not getting any sleep and having gotten used to sleeping on the bus in Derry, I found it physically impossible to stay awake more than 5 minutes after the bus started going anywhere. It was a 3.5 hour trip to Cork, and we only got a few minutes to look around the city before we had to pick up more people and head out. Our tour guide was a young Irish guy and was pretty funny. He joked that he was a Dublin man and didn’t understand the people of Cork (guess it’s kinda like New York/Boston rivalry). We then went to Kinsale, which was a cool little fishing town with a beautiful ocean view. I got a chance to walk around the town a little, got a bite to eat, and then we left for the Blarney Castle.
The main reasons I went on this tour was to see County Cork (where my ancestors are from) and to kiss the Blarney Stone. Being a communication major and wanting to someday become a good lawyer, I knew I needed to get my communication and persuasiveness to the highest possible point. The Blarney Castle is in this cool little town in County Cork and tucked away among some beautiful woods and gardens. Once you come upon it though, it towers above you. I explored some caves underneath the castle, then made my way up through all the different rooms, along this spiral staircase, to the very top. It must have been at least 200 feet from the ground. I worked my way around the top and came upon the Blarney Stone. Lying on my back, I tilted back until I could kiss it. The view of 200 feet down can be frightening right-side-up, not to mention upside-down. I lay a big kiss on it, then headed back down to the ground to explore the woods and gardens.
Next, we left for Cobh, another coastal fishing town whose fame comes from being the last stop of the Titanic before it set off. It was cool to see the place where the Titanic was built (Belfast) and the last place it was seen afloat in the same trip. The town had a huge cathedral and some very quaint looking fishing boat, so that was nice to see too.
We all grouped back up and left for Dublin, which was another 3.5 hour drive. I once again slept the whole way, while the tour guide played American country music on the speakers for some reason (don’t really know why). I arrived back in Dublin at 9:30, got some dinner, and went to my hostel. I was going to do my laundry, but it was too expensive and I decided to use the hand washing detergent Meg had given me to wash my socks and boxers in the sink. I went to bed with clothes hanging all over the sides of the bed drying.
I woke up this morning to find evaporation hadn’t worked as quickly as I would have liked. I found my driest pair of socks and left on my basketball shorts and rolled everything else back up in my towel to dry when I got to my next hostel. I got a shuttle to the airport, ran into Lauren and Emma in the terminal, and then flew off to London.
I’m sitting in London Gatwick Airport right now about to get a train into the city and find my hostel. My friend Kaitlyn from my study abroad trip is in London with her dad, so I think we’re going to try and meet up. I need to decide what kind of things I want to do, even with this short time I have here. Check back later!
It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this, and a lot has gone on. Friday was a super powerful day. First, we went to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and heard from a policeman there about policework in the Troubles and today. The police are trained on everything here, from traffic stops to customs, pepper spray to automatic rifles. They don’t have police cars, they go out in armored vehicles to protect them from petrol bombs and rocks being thrown at their car. In the time of the Troubles, when there was a call for the police, even if it was the smallest of things, they went with 15 heavily armed police officers because they didn’t know what was a legitimate call and what was a call to pull them into an ambush. Even today, he said he looks under his and his wife’s cars everyday to make sure there’s no bombs, walks out the back door randomly to check for booby traps on the front door, takes a different route to work every day, and didn’t tell his son he was a police officer until he was 14 because he didn’t want it getting out. It’s crazy to think there are people who on a daily basis look to kill police. I’m still not sure why anyone would sign up for the job.
We heard from the director of the Pat Finucane Center about his work with families of the murdered about finding out the stories of how they died, because many families don’t know how their loved one was killed, or who did it; they just know they’re dead. And it wasn’t that it was the paramilitaries or guerilla groups were killing everyone, the British Army and the Northern Irish police force were killing people and not announcing what happened, even though they know the whole story. To this day, not a single British Army member has been convicted of murdering an Irishman, even though it was happening every day.
Next, we were honored to hear from John Hume, the only person in the world to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King Jr Peace Prize for his work in designing the Good Friday Agreement and getting it agreed on by both sides. He was such an inspiration to listen to, and he even sang us all the verses of Danny Boy, which was super powerful. You could hear his love for his country in his voice. It gave me another moment of remembering my Grandma and when she used to sing that, which made the moment even more special.
Next we went to meet the Mayor of Derry, which was pretty neat to hear. He’s a politician, so we didn’t hear anything too radical from him, but he was very friendly and took a picture with little groups of us. We heard how the government is set up and his roles (you know, typical politician talks).
Then we headed over to meet John McCourt, who gave us a walking tour of Derry. We went up on the walls of the old city and heard about the siege of the city in the 1600s, got to look out and see the different parts of the city and where the Catholic parts and Protestant parts are, where the Catholic parts was barricaded off from the British military during the Battle of the Bogside, and where the Bloody Sunday massacre happened. Then we walked down into the Bogside and had a REALLY powerful experience. John gave us a narrative of Bloody Sunday, showing us pictures and taking us to stand in the spot where people tried to hide, got shot, and died. He showed us an image of a young person who had just gotten shot, and running behind him was a man, John McCourt himself. He brought us to the place where he ran to hide and heard his friend get shot behind him, turned, and saw him lying paralyzed on the ground. He told us how he stood motionless as a British soldier walked up to the body, shot him in the back, looked at John, shrugged, and walked away. It was an incredibly moving experience and one I will NEVER forget.
We then returned home and heard from a member of the Sinn Fein party in the Irish Parliament. We learned about the history of the Troubles from a different perspective, which is nice to hear because we have had several people give us presentations on the history, but what one person leaves out another puts in. It really gives us a comprehensive view of the conflict. We also talked about the Austerity referendum that is receiving so much attention right now. There are posters on every street post in Dublin, Derry, and Belfast with either “Vote Yes” or “Vote No”, so it was good to get an understanding of what the whole thing was about.
Then we went into Derry and went back to Sandinos, the pub we first went to with John McCourt a few days earlier. We had a few drinks down in the bar, then went upstairs to the club where they were having 80s night. I initially thought it was going to be dumb, but I ended up having a really awesome time just dancing to 80s music like a fool. We had a blast.
On Saturday, we went to Omagh, which is a little town in Northern Ireland where the larger casualty bombing occurred in 1998. In this bombing, the IRA put out several warnings to send people away from the City Hall, where they said the bomb was, then blew up the bomb when people ran towards the actual location. In all, 31 people were killed, including a mother with unborn twins. We spoke with the father of one of the victims who is now director of a community center that works with victims to provide counseling and many other services to help them make it through their loss. There was a really cool memorial that had 31 mirrors and a series of mirrors on street lights that led to the giant glass monument where the bombing occurred. Supposedly, on a sunny day the light reflects off the 31 mirrors, bounces off the other mirrors, and hits the glass monument, connecting the two locations.
We then moved on to the Ulster American Folk Park, which was basically like Williamsburg of Ireland. It showed how people lived in the 1800s in Ireland and eventually how they lived when they moved to America, complete with blacksmiths, weavers, and ducks. It was all based off of the home of Andrew Mellon, an Ulster Scot who moved to America and got rich in the banking business. Carnagie Mellon is named after him.
That night, we went to this bar in Bun Crannagh and heard a performance by the Irish Study Center director’s son and his band. They played classic rock and some roots rock like Jet and Franz Ferdinand (I’m really bad with genres, they were good even though I don’t know how to describe them). Then we went downstairs to the bar where two Irish guys were playing country western music, which was really weird to hear in Ireland. You get enough drinks in you though, you start dancin around like a hill billy and having a great time haha.
On Sunday, we headed to the northern tip of Ireland to Giants Causeway, Castle Dunluce, and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. Dunluce Castle was right on the shoreline with really cool cliffs and stuff. The coast of Northern Ireland is the coolest!
Side note, one girl got stung by stinging nettles (a plant that gives you a really painful rash) so we went in the shop by Dunluce to find if they could help us. Apparently the only way to cure it was to find this certain type of leaf and rub it on the rash, so the local cyclist went trapsing around this cow pasture looking for this curing leaf. It was really funny, and pretty wild at the same time. Crazy Irish remedies haha.
We then went to Giants Causeway, which was built by the giant Finn McCool so he could get to his love in Scotland. So he built this causeway across the 11 miles of ocean to Scotland. The whole tale is really long and really fun to hear, but for some reason geologists think the place was created by cooling lava. Any way it was formed, the rocks are all geometrically shaped exactly the same and fit together perfectly. Its really really awesome, definitely a great place to go
We then went to Carrick-A-Repe rope bridge, which was this cool rope bridge over to this island where you can look out to the ocean. It had some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. Cliffs going into the water, caves in the cliffs, beautiful water, it was incredible. The rope bridge scared some of the girls really badly, but I loved it. Ireland is full of the most amazing places.
We then went over into Portrush, which was the beach community where all the Irish go to vacation. It was kind of like a mix between Ocean City and Cape Cod. We had a delicious dinner at this fancy restaurant and headed home to rest for our next day.
On Monday, we went to the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, which is one of these regional technical colleges similar to our community college systems in the US. We learned about how they have this business incubation center where small businesses work in the same office building and can bounce ideas off each other and utilize the faculty of the University for aid. It was an interesting tour.
Then we moved on to the Glenveagh National Park, which has a very different landscape than the rest of Ireland. Instead on rolling hills of lush green grass, there was rocky field of coarse brown grass and steep, rocky mountains. It was still gorgeous in its own way, but I didn’t expect such a change. We went to the Glenveagh Castle, which was this vacation home built by some super rich people. It was nestled in this forest (which I also didn’t know Ireland still had) and was next to this pristine lake surrounded by huge, steep mountains. The gardens on the property also had some really exotic plants, which I’m sure flourish in the wet, mild summers of Ireland, but I don’t know how they survive the freezing cold of the winter. It was a beautiful place though, definitely a dream get away fit for the rich and famous
When we got home, we had a feast of Beef and Guinness stew and wine waiting for us, which was incredible. Our last night on Inch Island was pretty great.
Yesterday we left Inch House (very sad) and headed to Belfast. We saw the Titanic museum (the Titanic was built in Belfast), which was a brand new museum that had just opened up a few months ago. It was really interesting and interactive, but a little too much information in some parts. They did have a really cool “It’s a Small World” style ride though that took you through the building of the ships, which I enjoyed. They also had a room with life-size projections of the different levels of the ships, which made you feel like you were really there.
We went into Belfast and walked around the city a little. It was much bigger than Derry, so the hustle and bustle was a welcome surprise. When we went into the Protestant parts of town, though, there was an obvious feeling that they didn’t want us there. Good thing we didn’t stay long!
Then it was off to Dublin! We got here last night, checked into our hotel, and got some Chinese food from across the street. We went down to the hotel bar, had a couple drinks, and talked about our experiences. This trip has really changed my life, and I’m going to take the stories and lessons I’ve learned over the past two weeks and carry them with me forever. I have hours of things I can talk about that would never fit on Tumblr, but I would love to share them with anyone who wants to listen. Off to dinner and pubs now, I’ll talk about my day in Dublin today sometime later. Cheers!