Going DutchLondon, Spring 2013
Well, another two countries under my belt: Belgium and the Netherlands! We had a bit of a break for Easter this past Friday-Monday, and a big group of my friends and I went to Amsterdam with a great organization called International Friends, which takes groups of students in London to a variety of different places in Europe, for a really good price. I highly recommend them to IES students wanting to travel! It felt like I had scarcely gotten off the bus from France two weekends ago when we got on yet another bus Friday morning to do the very same bus and ferry trip across to France, then onto Belgium. The bulk of time in Amsterdam was capped with two stops in Belgium: first in Brussels on Friday, then in Bruges on Monday on the way home. I had no expectations of what Belgium would really look like, and I never imagined myself there, but I’m constantly amazed at how each city I visit in Europe can have such a different feeling from the next. The Grand Place in Brussels feels huge and monumental, while the streets of Bruges are the most quietly medieval thing you’ll ever see. We mainly spent our time in both places eating waffles and chocolate, of course. We even made a stop at a chocolate factory. It was deadly. Amsterdam definitely deserved a few days. Our hostel there was great, with a quirky bar/restaurant on the ground floor and breakfast included every day, and everything in walking distance. The first night, our group leader Rob took us all on a tour of the Red Light District, which was… something else! Such a strange but integral part of the city’s culture. We had a few planned tours with the group throughout the weekend, but mostly plenty of free time to explore, which is was a great balance. The next morning we got the whole typical Dutch experience in one go: Zaanse Schanse, a living museum outside of the city, had the picturesque windmills, the cheese-makers in traditional dress (and so many free samples of cheese), and so, so many wooden clogs of all sizes and colors. It was cheesy (hah, puns!) but so much fun. That led in to one more group activity, which was to take a canal boat tour back in the city. Goodness gracious, was that perfection. We were sunning ourselves like cats on the warm boat and in complete disbelief of where we actually were. I keep saying, in probably every one of my blog posts, that these places I visit feel “unreal.” All these sights that have been represented so many times in movies and books and photographs have only been some other reality to me up till now. So when I see them in person, I doubt what I’m really looking at! I was a bit disappointed in not being able to see the Anne Frank museum while in Amsterdam, but the line was hours long, and we had so many other amazing highlights: riding the Ferris wheel in Dam Square, eating the to-die-for frites and pancakes there, doing the Heineken Experience at the Heineken Brewery, and going out to a great restaurant on the water with my friends for an Easter dinner. It was just a perfect trip, and I couldn’t ask for any better experiences than these.
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