This past May my best friend and I did Europe Part II: two weeks, three countries, and memories that will last forever! It was an amazing trip, and I’m so happy to relive it through blogging over the next few weeks. We began in Paris, France took the train to Amsterdam, Netherlands – then flew to Italy where we would explore Rome, Florence, Venice and it’s surrounding islands. We stayed at hostels, always ate breakfast in, and did a ton of walking or took public transportation to cut down on costs. The weather tried to rain on our parade the first half of our trip, but it only made the second half brighter by comparison.
Paris is a city supersaturated with culture! It is brimming with some of the best museums in the world, a devoted focus on fine cuisine, interesting street art and dreamy architecture.
The style of the Parisians was something of interest as well – men with their elbow patches and women with their half up buns and yellow nail polish, really some unique trends. We stayed at the Oops! Hostel [50 Avenue des Gobelins, 75013 Paris, France] which was conveniently located to multiple metro lines, so getting around the city was super easy. Whenever traveling in a foreign city you are bound to bump into some roadblocks. A major stereotype I had heard about French people are that they could be rude, however I found this the farthest thing from the truth. There are rude people from every corner of the world, but in Paris I didn’t run in to a single one. In fact, people were more than willing to stop and take time out of their day to help out to foreign tourists.
Five days went way too fast and before I knew it we were on a train whirling through the countryside, passing through Brussels, and as night set in arriving in Amsterdam. We stayed at the WOW Amsterdam Hostel [Wiltzanghlaan 60, 1061 HC Amsterdam, Netherlands] which was a bit far from city center, but was clean, affordable, and equipped with a pool table. It was time to learn a whole new set of words, manners, and metro lines – which in this case was mainly comprised of trams.
A new obstacle for us was learning how to cross the street. In Paris we thought all of the rotaries were difficult to cross, they were no match for the quirkiness of Amsterdam. Dodging cars, trams, and a barrage of bikes on narrow streets, pedestrians really don’t feel like a top priority. So we were always alert, which was kind of hard when we were trying to take in all of the sights – but you get used to it and almost embrace the insanity. I loved how different layout of the city ways – an intricate layer of colorful skinny brick buildings, canals with houseboats, and collections of bikes chained up on every corner.
A funny thing about trying to find your way in the city is, everything is relatively the same height and densely packed, therefore there are very few physical landmarks to tell you where you are or where you want to go! It was a bit disorienting, so having a good map or a good map app (like City Maps 2Go – which allows you to access the map offline) is essential.
Other than the exciting architecture, museums, sights and cuisines of a new city – something I really loved about Amsterdam was all of the BIRDS!
As we were visiting in spring, the creatures were lively as ever and we had an interesting encounter with a fledgling and an old Dutch man. I heard the cry of a bird coming from the ground and stopped to seek it out. It was a baby raven scared and seemingly alone crying out for help. At home I would have dialed up the number for a wildlife rehabilitator as always when I find an injured animal, but I was at a disadvantage in another country with no internet. So walking down the street the man asked us what was wrong. He made some calls and waited for responses, and even went down to a local shop to grab a box to house the injured bird while we kept watch. As we were about to save the bird, he got a call back which explained to him that this is the time of year when the mother birds kick their babies out of the nest in order to get them to fly. We backed away from the bird and found that an adult raven was indeed lurking near by with a sharp eye on the baby. After our misadventure, our old friend invited us over for some tea!
Four days flew by and it was time to bid Amsterdam vaarwel, while I would miss the strange wonderful nature of the city – I was ready for the warmth and sunshine promised in Italy. We hopped on an early morning plane and arrived in Rome. We stayed at the Alessandro Palace Hostel & Bar [Via Vicenza, 42, Roma, Italy] which had an amazing location, right near the major train station and close to the Colosseum – however it was definitely a party hostel with a rooftop bar so it was quite loud at night! As a lover of history, the city is a place I’ve dreamed of for years ever since I first learned about Romulus and Remus in high school social studies and Latin classes. Standing inside the sights that I had seen in textbooks was surreal – it is shocking and impressive to see how much of the old world remains preserved in modern day, a true testament to the masterful craftsmanship and a people proud of their heritage.
Coupled with the relics of the past was some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life…pasta, pizza, and gelato! Good thing we walked for eight hours a day, daily.
On our third and last day in Rome there was a transit strike on the wonderful metro system within the city, which curtailed our plans for the day. The strike was for transportation within the city of Rome, and did not affect inter-city travel. As a person who is all about having a set itinerary I was in a bit of disarray trying to figure out our next plan of action. My nifty travel partner came up with the ingenious idea of a spontaneous trip to Florence, just an hour and half by train through the picturesque landscape.
Fly by the seat of your pants was the motto for Florence. We stepped out of the station without knowing a thing about the city and popped into the tourist center to get a map and a few recommendations, and we went off to see the sights and discover treasures of a shiny artsy new city. This happened to be one of my favorite most carefree days of the trip, wandering through narrow alleyways lined with mopeds, climbing up the hills, crossing the bridges, admiring the elaborate churches and yellow buildings with green shutters.
The next day we hopped back on the train to make it to our final destination, Venice. We were staying in a 16 girl room at the Generator Hostel Venice [Fondamenta Zitelle, 86, 30133 Venezia VE, Italy], and I was terrified about that amount of estrogen in a confined area. It turned out to be a really respectful and nice experience. I loved the vibe of the place and the convenient bar downstairs and close proximity to water taxis (vaporetto). Trains, subways, and buses were traded for vaporetto, and the lack of vehicles on the street was absolutely welcomed. The water was turquoise, we actually made it to a beach, traveled to islands, and watched sunsets. I could get used to Venice, but I don’t think I could ever figure out their maze like set of streets! All a part of the adventure.
My second trip to Europe taught me a whole new set of customs and cultures, cultivated a love a wine, and most importantly brought me out of the shell I had recently been donning. Lessons learned? Even if it’s raining – remember to look on the bright side of things, because it could always be worse. It’s okay to drop the itinerary and fly by the seat of your pants. Don’t be embarrassed to wear a fanny pack and visor. Learn how to at least say hi, please, thank you, excuse me, and sorry in whatever country you are going to. Always have change for the bathroom, a lesson that we learned on Europe Part I. Smile and enjoy the ride!