Last Stop: London!

16 06 2013

Well, this upcoming week is an exciting and bittersweet week for me! Tomorrow is our ‘graduation’ from the EC&EJ program at Hogeschool! Although there have been many trials and tribulations throughout the semester concerning the school, I am just so glad to be done! It will be somewhat sad because I’ll have to say goodbye to the 26 other international students I’ve been with for the past five months. We’ve all gotten pretty close, and I loved getting to know them all! But I’m sure everyone is just as excited as I am to be heading back to our home countries and reunite with family and friends (and in addition, Cookout and Zaxby’s).

Aw, aren't we adorable.

Aw, aren’t we adorable.

But before I fly back over the pond to good ole Rocky Top, I’m taking a train to London to visit with two of my JEMers from UT, Rilwan and Butch! Although I am pretty certain I am much more excited to see them than they are to see me [I CRAVE TENNESSEAN INTERACTION and I guess I can talk to Butch, too], it’ll still get to be a great experience to see London and be able to understand what people are saying around me! Maybe? I sure hope so! I plan to do all the sights [Big Ben, London Eye, Buckingham Palace etc. etc. etc.], but I also hope to do the Harry Potter Studios tour! Uhm, yeah, where they FILMED. As in the cast stood there and said the lines and we saw it on screen! I am SO excited! /harrypotterobsession

I probably won’t get that blog update done until after I am back in Greeneville [judging on how long it took me to do my Paris update!]. With that said, this is probably my last blog update from the Netherlands! Ah! How crazy is that? Looking back at my October posts debating on whether I was even going to now, being done, is unreal! I have a few blog posts planned for when I get home as a still continuation of my study abroad experiences [they’re surprises!], so London won’t be the last one.

However, I can say right now that this experience has been a learning experience, to say the least. I have grown up, traveled by myself, made new friends, lived a Dutch life and even learned how to cook! Although at times it was rough and sometimes lonely, I know it has made me a better traveler, student and world resident. I look forward to returning one day!


Parisian Nights: A Weekend In Paris

12 06 2013

Howdy Ho, Neighbor!

I am happy to report that my trip to Paris was an amazing success! I had such a fantastic time exploring and meeting new people, all of which I’ll be conveying to you in the subsequent [EXTREMELY LONG] blog post!

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I started out very early on Friday morning, up and packing by 5 a.m. to make it to Rotterdam. Once there, I realized I had gotten there a bit early since I didn’t have a time on my ticket, so I sat patiently as the time passed. Eventually, I was on the train to Brussels. It was about a two hour train ride to Brussels, where I got to wait around 30 minutes for my fast train to Paris. But the time did pass and once again I was on a train, this time the destination to Paris.

Once arriving at Gare du Nord, I headed down to the Metro. I had been given directions by my host, Braham, and followed them to the dot which brought me to the apartment complex. I got inside the building into an outside courtyard and began to wait. I waited and IMG_2455waited, but no Braham was showing. I was instantly worried, especially since this was my first time booking with AirBNB. But after about 20 minutes of internal panicking, Braham showed up and took me to his apartment.

Now, I knew his apartment was tiny, but this had to be THE TINIEST APARTMENT I HAD EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. No really, this apartment was smaller than my room here in Utrecht. At first, I was honestly stunned at someone living in such a tiny space, but the price was good [especially for Paris] and I decided to roll with it.

Although I had been worried about the apartment itself, I was also worried about the company, especially the man I was renting from. But Braham turned out to be a very eccentric and nice French man who was kind to help me out in any way he could. He said ‘Voila!’ a lot. He offered to take me up to the Sacré Cœur Basilica and show me around. It IMG_2446wasn’t very long [maybe about 45 minutes?], but he showed me the less touristy part and gave me a few tips on Paris, which I was thankful for.

After leaving Braham, I left to head to the [of course] Eiffel Tower. I maneuvered the metro quite nicely and caught a quick glimpse of it before leaving to go meet up with an old friend from Greeneville GLAWPIGT! It was nice to see and old familiar face and catch up with Amanda [who is also doing big things in Europe]. We had dinner at a little café [whose name escapes me] and afterwards, made our way back to the Eiffel Tower to take photos. We ended up crossing the street and going to the fountain side which was just a beautiful! We walked back down to the grass side and decided to stick around for the next twinkle session since the Eiffel Tower twinkles on the hour at nights. It had gotten pretty cold [much colder than I had imagined] so I urged the hour to go by pretty quickly. Before long, though, the night was lit up with sparkles from the tower and We made our way back to the metro stop where I said goodbye and headed back to my tiny apartment to crash.

I had planned to get up early and go to Versailles on Saturday, but because of my early Friday morning and late night, I ended up sleeping much later than I planned. I woke up and started getting ready when I met my bunk mate [whom had also had a late morning] Lachlan, an Australian living in London. I had been pretty worried about this as well [I try to always be cautious of other people when traveling] but lucky for me he ended up being a perfect gentleman. I offered that we go exploring together and before long, we were out the door heading towards IMG_2347Notre Dame.

Notre Dame had been one of my must-sees during my trip, mostly because of Dr. Rubenstein’s class back at UT [where I discovered most of my destinations]. He played it up as the top of Gothic architecture and after visiting, it is clear as to why. Notre Dame is gorgeous. Maybe not as big as I pictured it [a reoccurring concern of mine], but none-the-less, it did not disappoint my love of cathedrals. The rose windows were marvelous and worth the visits themselves. Just as amazing as Rubenstein had painted. We walked around the church and went back outside to wander around. While walking, I saw one of my food destinations I had seen while researching: Bertie’s Cupcakery! A cupcakery run by an ex-pat American, I had to go in and get a cupcake, purely for support reasons. We had a quick chat and I chose the Oreo Cupcake, which was AMAZING. But we were back on our way again.

We ended up splitting up after some walking, so we said our goodbyes and I set out to find a grocery store. I’ve found that buying from grocery stores instead of restaurants is much easier on me as well as my wallet when traveling. I walked around for close to an hour, wandering and ducking down streets, hoping to see a store but to no avail. Eventually, I decided to head to the Eiffel Tower, mostly IMG_2586because that was the only grocery store I knew of and having a picnic on the lawn of the tower didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

In fact, it was a great idea. I loved taking in the atmosphere, listening to the people around me and enjoying the nice day. I spent about an hour there eating and sitting in the grass before heading back to the apartment. I ended up taking a nap before dinner, where I decided to just walk around until I found something. I enjoyed some pretty good pizza [how many countries have I had pizza in now?] and started to make my way up to the Sacré Cœur. After climbing what felt like TEN MILLION GILLION stairs, I was at the top of the humongous mountain admiring the dusk skyline of Paris. This second trip what much prettier than the first, and I enjoyed getting to see the sun set. I headed back home to rest up.

Sunday morning, I woke up with the determination to go to Versailles. I was up and out by 9:30, en route to the RER C to Versailles. About an hour and a half later, I was in line to see the palace. Luckily for me, the admission price [normally 25 euro] was free for residents of the EU who were 25 and under. I had brought my passport with my Amsterdam stamp and when paired with my student ID, was able to get in free. [Hooray for saving money!] While waiting for access into the palace, I met two couples from New Jersey named Leslie and Ken with G and Jim. We talked all the way through the hour-long wait and I ended up being the unofficial tag-a-long of their group. I was really glad they let me stick with them and they were much nicer than they had to be to me. I was really grateful. We made our way through the palace and ended up outside, waiting for the tram to go to IMG_2609Marie-Antoinette’s section. G ended up paying for my tram which was incredibly nice of them to do, and before long we were on our way to the village. We went through and after seeing it, I split up from my adopted group to go see other places around the enormous estate. I walked back to the Grand Trianon and looked around and then took the tram to the Grand Canal where I had some of the best ice cream I have had since being in Europe. By this point in the day, I had gotten pretty exhausted from all the walked, seeing and learning. I decided to head on home around 5ish.

Although, before heading home, I went back to the Notre Dame cathedral to see the Lock Bridge [shout out to Maci for reminding me!]. It was crazy the amount of locks that were on it, but it was pretty clear that the city must do a ‘cleanse’ every year or so since most of the locks were within the past year. Who could blame them with its popularity! I admired [and self-pitied at my alone-ness] for a while longer before heading to something I had saw while walking towards it: Shakespeare & Co. I had seen it in my travel guide and thought it had shut down, but to my surprise it was open for business and even better, is an English-language bookstore! I couldn’t resisted buying some IMG_2700books, including Misery by Stephen King [I’m a fan of the movie; hopefully the book, too] as well as the seventh Harry Potter [IT WAS THE BRITISH VERSION]. By this point, I could have dropped down right in the street so I made my way back to the apartment, ate a sandwich and promptly fell asleep.

Monday came all too quickly. I ended up sleeping late but by 10:45, I was out the door and on my way to the Louvre. I was expecting a very long wait after hearing Lachlan’s horror story of two hour waits, but to my surprise, I barely waited 30 minutes before being in the Louvre. One step further, I ended up not having to buy a ticket for it as well since the same rule applies like Versailles. I passed the security and made my way to the first stop of 99.9% of Louvre attendees: the Mona Lisa. Finding her wasn’t that difficult. There were signs everywhere and in the off chance you couldn’t read, the masses of people walking the same way could have been a dead giveaway. Before long, I was in a room ready to battle the group of people trying to get to the front. One of the advantages of travelling alone is not having to keep up with someone, so I was able to get near the front rather quickly [no thanks to the older man who kept IMG_2735getting RIGHT UP ON MY BACKSIDE and whom I promptly elbowed every time]. But eventually I was at the barrier, looking and Miss Mona for myself. It was hard to admire, what with everyone harassing you to move so they could get their photos. I eventually headed out of the huge mass and made my way to other places. I decided to not even stay in that part of the Louvre [once you’ve seen 100 Madonnas, you’ve seen them all] so I looked at the map and decided to hit the main points it listed. I ended up seeing a sphinx, Venus de Milo, the Code of Hammurabi [Dr. Rubenstein can’t say I didn’t learn anything in that class!] as well as some other pieces that were neat and interesting. But I’ll be real with you: I’ve seen A LOT of museums here in Europe. A LOT. And as much as the hype is about seeing the Louvre, it’s honestly just a really huge museum, just like every other one. Except bigger. After about two hours in there, I decided to call it and made my way to the top and see the infamous pyramid.

Afterward leaving the Louvre, I made my way to one of my must-destinations: Angelina’s. I discovered this place while reading the blog of a former UT’s student’s trip to Paris and decided I had to try it. Essentially, it’s an upscale tea room with the fanciest desserts I have ever seen in my life. I was told that the hot chocolate was a must so I ordered it and so sort of chocolate-by-death dessert [not actual name; only interpretation]. The hot chocolate ended up being ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. It was legitimately like liquid chocolate with a pot of whipped cream to help thin it out. I couldn’t finish it or my dessert because if I had, IMG_2803I was pretty sure a heart attack would have been in my near future! [I was quite disappointed in myself.] Afterward, I headed back towards a garden and started walking towards the Arc de Triomphe. It was pretty much the longest walk ever [probably needed after my massive sugar intake!]. I walked down the Champs Elysées, ducking into stores every now and then. It was a good two hours before I made it to the Arc. It was interesting to see what felt like the center point of Paris. By this point, I was pretty tired, so I decided to head back to the apartment to rest up. I had  a sandwich for dinner and went back out to souvenir shop for the family as well as a quick trip to see the Moulin Rouge [hello, theatre geek, I knew you were still there]. But by the time I had done that, It was getting dark, so I made my way home to get some sleep before Tuesday’s travel day.

Paris was an extremely successful trip! I loved seeing the city of love [or is that Rome?] and seeing all the sights and things that before were just figments. The trip was a good learning experience and I am so glad I went! Only six more days until I head off to London to visit some of my sorely missed JEMers! And not too long before I’m on my way back home to Tennessee! It’s so crazy that this has come to an end, but I am more than ready to be reunited with my home in the Smokies!

More to come!