Reading Week Road-trip

This is a post that I have been looking forward to writing for a while but between travelling, school and family visiting I’ve put it off until I could really take my time writing it (yes, that means it’s going to be long). I finally get to write about visiting one of my favourite places in the world with one of my favourite people in the world! In October, Xavier (my wonderful boyfriend, for anyone who doesn’t already know) came over to visit me on his University reading week and after spending a few days in Rotterdam, we set out on a road trip to France. I never thought that I would have someone that would want to come back to Normandy with me, let alone be more excited about it than I was. After a very, very long planning process, we managed to make an itinerary which squeezed in as many possible historical sites as we could in out short time on the French coast before heading off to be tourists in Paris. Xavier arrived just in time to celebrate Canadian thanksgiving, in the Netherlands of course. It was great timing because it meant he could bring over pumpkin purée for me which was something that was getting me some very strange looks whenever I asked for it in the Dutch grocery stores. My roommates and I planned a big Canadian Thanksgiving dinner for all of our exchange friends in the Cube which was quite an experience and it meant that Xavier was able to meet all of my exchange friends.

The next day, we went to pick up our rental car and start our trip. We got on the road at the nice early hour of 3pm, after buying the most important road trip snack, donuts of course. We were almost out of Rotterdam when, confession time, I realized I had forgotten my passport. After being so concerned that we had everything else, it completely slipped my mind. Not my most ‘Wanderful Student’ moment but hey, it happens to everyone. I know that Europe has open borders so they don’t check it when you cross the border into another country like they do between Canada and the US, but I thought that it really wasn’t a good idea to risk travelling without it. So, of course, we headed back to the Cube to pick it up and then, finally, we were on the road to our first destination: Dunkirk.

Xavier and I had originally planned on being on the road much earlier in the day so were going to stop in Dunkirk for lunch, before continuing onto our Airb Bnb in Dieppe. But we ended up doing dinner in Dunkirk instead. We arrived just in time to get the last of the daylight, as well as a stunning sunset over the beach. It was so surreal to be standing on what is now a beautiful public beach full of tourists and locals, with hardly any trace, apart from part of the docks, that the war effected them at all. I got to introduce him to his first French food by ordering moules frites for dinner, and they were fantastic as always. After enjoying a very peaceful walk on the beach, we got back into the car and drove to Dieppe. It ended up being a much later night than I expected and we arrived at our Air Bnb shortly after midnight, but our host was more than accommodating and left the door unlocked for us, with the keys inside the house. It was the cutest little farm house apartment that was attached to her main house. It would have been really nice to have been able to enjoy the cottage a little more but we were so exhausted by the time we got there that we fell asleep before we even had a chance to properly look around. 

It was an early morning the next day as we wanted to make the most of the day in Dieppe before leaving for Bayeux. We drove down to the coast from our little cottage, and parked up before walking down the pier to take in the sights. There’s a reason to Normandy coast is one of my favourite places in the world, it’s truly stunning. The coast is dotted with little towns and the cliffs and beaches are even more stunning. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do in Dieppe apart from see the beach where the Canadians landed during the Battle of Dieppe and visit the museums that was established in the town to commemorate this. Once we got out onto the beach we realized that there was actually a castle, so we walked through the town, towards the museum, and up to the castle. Of course, just our luck, the museum was closed so we kept walking up to the castle and stumbled across a beautiful memorial garden to the Canadians who lost their lives in Dieppe. One of the intriguing things about the Norman coast is that you can drive (or walk) around for hours and stumble across any number of monuments, or cemeteries which don’t even appear on the ‘tourist’ maps. Each of them tells a unique story and while they are quite harrowing, I like to think that by paying my respects at each and everyone of them that I am helping to keep that history alive. the garden had been done beautifully and had quite a few wreaths laid out as well. It was right at the base of Dieppe Castle, over looking the beach where the soldiers landed. We had to climb up quite a steep path to get to the castle, only to find that it had been turned into an art museum (thankfully our student cards got us in for free). While neither of us are particularly artsy people, we walked around anyway to see the features of the old castle and, though I hate to admit it, quite enjoyed the artwork inside it. We really enjoyed our time in Dieppe but all in all, there wasn’t a whole lot to do once you walked along the beaches and did the castle. It was the perfect place to stop on the way to somewhere else, but I didn’t think it warranted longer than a day.

Château de Dieppe – Dieppe

We had a few more hours to drive to Bayeux after we left, and we made it quite late in the evening (yet again). We checked into the most stunning apartment in the old town, where you could see the bells and the church steeple rising up above the neighbouring houses. We were using Bayeux as our ‘home base’ for two days to drive out to all the landing beaches. We were determined to do all five (Utah, Omaha, Juno, Sword and Gold) as well as Point du Hoc and Pegasus Bridge. Admittedly it was quite an ambitious itinerary for the amount of time we had there, but somehow we made it work and visited everywhere we wanted to visit PLUS Beny-Sur-Mer the Juno Beach (Canadian) War Cemetery. As I mentioned before, I have already written about Normandy so I won’t go into too much detail about each of the beaches because if I did, this post would really never end. It was really nice to be able to take someone else who has such a passion for history to all these places and to share the beauty of the region, and not just the history of conflict. 

This time, we did a few things that I didn’t do during my last trip. Mainly swimming in the English Channel and horseback riding on Sword Beach. We really lucked out with the weather and even though it was October, it was very warm and sunny the whole time (global warming for you I guess), so of course we went swimming…in our clothes. We were on our final beach before setting off to Paris and had talked about swimming but left out bathing suits in the car, but that wasn’t going to stop us. Yes, the water was freezing, if you’re wondering but we didn’t care. Our riding was equally as amazing. I found a place which would take us down for a ride on one of the beaches but it worked out so much better than I ever could have imagines. After running disastrously late, we arrived at the the riding stable to find that we actually needed to go to their beach front location, something they had neglected to tell us. Luckily, they held the ride for us until we got there. We parked, mounted up and within 5 minutes had set off on the ride with a group of other tourists. Generally on hacks with multiple riding abilities, you go at the pace of the least experienced rider but since they knew the two of us were quite experienced, they broke us off from the rest of the group to go for a gallop. So yeah, we got to go galloping on Sword Beach. I never thought that would be something I could say I did! 

Our drive to Paris was pretty painless (I say ‘our’ but I did none of the driving, oops!) as we managed to avoid the craziness of downtown Paris. In all fairness, the outskirts of the city are bad enough to drive but we arrived quite late so we missed rush hour and the roads weren’t very busy. We checked into another apartment between downtown Paris and Disneyland. It was the perfect location because we actually had somewhere to park the car, we were right by the RER station and it was only 30 minutes on the RER (train) to get into the centre of Paris. Now, this might be an unpopular opinion but I am not a massive fan of Paris. I have nothing against Paris specifically but I really just don’t like cities. I also feel like once you’ve done all the touristy stuff the novelty wears off a little bit and there are SO many tourists and the city is always packed. I do, however, always love an opportunity to work on my French and I mean come on, it’s Paris with my boyfriend, I really can’t complain about that.

We had very ambitious plans for our first day but we were so exhausted from how much we did in Normandy that we ended up just relaxing and watching movies for the first half of the day. When we finally made it out of the house, we wanted to do the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. The Arc the Triumph was stunning and even though I’d visited Paris twice before that, I had never been up it. It’s really cool because all the streets just spread out like a sun with the Arc at the very centre. Once we did that we hopped on the metro to the Eiffel Tower and arrived just after sunset. We, quite contently, waited in line for a good thirty minutes before we realized that they won’t actually let you take the stairs after sunset, DUH! I feel like part of the experience is actually climbing it so we decided to come back the next day and walk up it. Instead, we found a carousel right under the Eiffel Tower which was just too cute not to go on. Overall we didn’t do much tourism on our first day but just walking around and seeing the city was nice enough, and we headed back to the apartment. 

Day Two in Paris, we did a MUCH better job of being tourists. We started off with the Eiffel Tower: attempt two. We still didn’t make it up (don’t worry there is a happy ending) because we booked into a wine tasting and it would’ve been too much of a rush to try and walk up the Tower and then rush all the way across the city to the wine tasting. Instead, we went to Notre Dame Cathedral and walked to the wine tasting from there. The wine tasting was very close to the Louvre because it was actually where the wine used to be kept for the Royal Palace, when the Louvre was the Palace. They used to role the barrels of wine through the tunnels and into the Palace hundreds of years ago. The whole experience was just really pleasant. The guide took us through a few different tastings and explained how the different wine regions in France work. At the end of the tour you had the option to buy some of the wines that you tasted so we bought the most beautiful bottle of red wine (thanks Mum!). After the tasting, we went to the Louvre and, just our luck, it had literally just closed. Instead, we went up to Sacré Coeur with our wine to watch the sunset over the city. It really is beautiful up there and there is always live music and just a buzz of young people hanging around. There was one busker who was singing at the bottom of the steps who let Xav get up and sing which was AMAZING and just a once in a life time thing to say you’ve done.

On our next day in Paris we went to Versailles, I finally made it! It really was absolutely stunning. Luckily we booked our tickets ahead of time which meant we could skip the line to get into the palace quickly. It really is the most beautiful palace I’ve ever seen. The tour of the palace takes just as long as they say (an hour and a half) partially because of the tourists but mainly because of the sheer size of the palace. Every part of it was so eccentrically lavish and really was what you would picture a King living in. The gardens are just stunning and they had the ‘musical fountain shows’ while we were there as well which was lovely (but they don’t let you sit on the grass by the fountains to watch?). We ran out of time to go to the house of Marie Antoinette which on on the very opposite side of the garden from the palace. Though this wasn’t for lack of trying. We decided to jog there, got halfway and realized we just wouldn’t make it before we had to leave, so we decided to stop, get an ice-cream and walk back to the car. We both would have loved to spend more time in Versailles but we had to drive back to our apartment to get ready for our evening at Moulin Rouge.

The Hall of Mirrors – Palais de Versailles

Moulin Rouge wasn’t cheap, but honestly we both LOVED it. It was one of those experiences where I’m going to look back 50 years from now and still be telling people about it. The show was absolutely fantastic and it really was magical. It had it all, dancing, singing, ponies and my personal favourite; a woman swimming in a tank of real snakes. Apart from the show, the entire atmosphere was just buzzing. When you arrive, you’re shown to your seats which are these classy little individual tables where they serve you your champagne. Since there was only two of us, we had to share the table with another couple but we were so enthralled with the show that none of us minded. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures of the night since we couldn’t take pictures during the show. I can truly only speak highly of the show. Sure, it might be touristy and some might think it’s tacky but I genuinely enjoyed that night so much and it was well worth the money in my view.

Moulin Rouge – Paris

On our last day in Paris, we FINALLY made it up the Eiffel Tower. It was the first time that we were able to walk up to the top and had time to do it properly and it was amazing. I’ve done the Eiffel Tower before but it was so nice to watch someone else experience it for the first time. Then we had probably the quickest trip to the Louvre in history. Neither of us are particularly arty people and while we can both appreciate nice artwork, we had to make a decision on if it was worth it to push through all the tourists at the Louvre to see some of the most famous works. We decided that Xav probably wouldn’t be back in Paris for a while so we should do it while we could. We were in, out and had seen the Mona Lisa in 20 minutes. I have to say, we were quite impressed with ourselves. We saw a few other pieces and left feeling quite happy that we’d seen all we needed to see. One of the reasons for the rush was that we had to drive to Luxembourg to get to another Airbnb that night, and we didn’t want to be leaving too late.

We checked into probably the coolest apartment I have ever seen, just outside Luxembourg City and just had a relaxing night it, cooked for ourselves and then slept in the next day. One of the reasons that we went to Luxembourg was that it split up drive back to Rotterdam nicely. On our way home the next day, we stopped into the city which was lovely. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, well we really didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t that. It was pretty tiny, especially compared to where we had been before. But it was really nice and there were a few older parts of the city that we really enjoyed. We grabbed coffees and just walked around for a while before heading back to the car and back to Rotterdam.

We had such a wonderful time on our road trip and saw some really incredible places. France is such an easy place to drive around and we were so thankful that we had a car for while we were down in Normandy. It’s one of those places where you really do need a car to get everywhere you want to go. This was definitely one of those trips I’m going to be looking back on for the rest of my life.

Visiting Historical Krakow

I recently finished my second term at Erasmus University and realized that the way my exams fell, I had an entire week off before my classes started again. So, of course, I quickly sent a message to my friends and we decided to organize a trip to Poland. We are all history majors on exchange in the Netherlands so, naturally, we all wanted to go to Krakow medieval Old Town and see the effects of the Second World War on the city and its surrounding areas.

We left on February 2nd and flew out of Eindhoven airport, which was a first for me. It was a little more inconvenient to get to compared to Schiphol Airport but the flights were SO much cheaper so it was worth it. We flew into Krakow Airport and landed around 4pm in the evening, taking a cab to our Airbnb because the train wasn’t running from the airport. Brief tangent, but cabs are so unbelievably cheap in Poland. We were apprehensive about taking one, since it was supposed to be a 30 minute drive into the city, but it ended up being 5 euros each! For a Canadian, who basically has to sell their soul every time they want to take a cab, it was a very exciting experience. Our Airbnb was super nice, and was everything that we could’ve wanted, with a nice little kitchen and two beds for the four of us.

Our first day in Poland we decided to go to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, about 20 minutes on the train outside of the city. We really didn’t know what to expect but had heard that it was a ‘must visit’ site in Poland. We arrived and were taken down 54 flights of stairs by our tour guide to the entrance of the mine and began walking around the large caverns and hallways of the mines. It really was beautiful. The area used to be mined for rock salt so all the rooms were completely carved out of salt which, of course, meant that you could lick everything. It might sound a little gross but we all felt like it was one of those things that you just needed to do. Many of the rooms had been converted with sculptures, explaining the history of the mines and how they were discovered. The most fantastic part of the whole experience was the large chapel which was created for the miners. It was absolutely massive, with rock salt chandeliers hanging from the vaulted ceiling, religious motifs and sculptures carved out of the rock and intricate floor tilings designed out of the rock salt as well. All in all, it was a wonderful experience, but you can really only look at salt for so long before it becomes a bit repetitive. After eating lunch and doing the tour, it took us most of the day to do the mines but it was a day well spent. We went back to the apartment that evening where we planned our next day when we would be going to visit arguably the most infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz.

We knew that we wanted to visit Auschwitz while we were in Krakow because it is an extremely important part of world history and is important for people to witness the atrocities that were committed there. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what exactly occurred there but I am going to talk a little bit about the experience of visiting and the history of the camps, so if that is something that is difficult for you to hear then just skip this section. Auschwitz is just under an hour and a half drive outside of the city, purposely placed there in an attempt to keep the public oblivious to what was really happening there. We started the day by visiting Auschwitz II – Birkenau, which is the part of the camp which is known as the ‘death camp.’ You walk through the ‘gate of death’ into the camp, where you do a self-guided tour of what remains, a few barracks, monuments and the harrowing train tracks which moved millions of people into this camp. I think the most surreal part of the whole thing was the sheer size of the camp. We spent 2 hours walking around and we didn’t come close to walking the whole perimeter of the camp. You can see as many pictures as you want, but I don’t think until you’re standing there for yourself, are you able to really take in just how big it is. It was emotionally overwhelming to be there and I honestly don’t think it’s hit me yet that I actually went to Auschwitz, to such a site of horrors. We did the memorial in the opposite order from usual, so we went to Auschwitz I next. This was the original camp and has now been turned into a museum and memorial site. Each group of people that were sent to Auschwitz has a building where there is a memorial or exhibition dedicated to them, along with other buildings where there is further information about the atrocities which occurred there. We were all very glad that we went to this historic site, but it definitely wasn’t easy. It was very hard to stand and hear about everything that happened there, but like I said earlier, it’s extremely important to learn it.

We knew that we were all going to be very emotionally drained after visiting Auschwitz, so we wanted our final day in Krakow to be a little more positive, so we saved the Old Town and the Castle for the last day. We set out in the morning for the castle and, as soon as we rounded the corner into the Old Town we were not disappointed! The castle had the most fantastic walls surrounding it and was massive. We decided to start there, so we walked up to the top of the hill where the castle was and started with the Wawel Cathedral. It turns out, you were supposed to pay to go into the Cathedral but we accidentally went through it without paying. It didn’t say on the door that you needed to pay and we assumed that a church would be free to enter, and it wasn’t until the very end that we realized we were supposed to buy tickets in order to visit. Oops! The castle was run in a very interesting way because unlike most museums, you had to pay to visit each individual part of the castle and it was quite expensive. We decided to only see the estate rooms and then walk around the grounds ourselves, for free! The estate rooms were lovely but very different from what I have seen in comparison to other European palaces. There wasn’t the same type of gold detailing as the palaces in France but it was beautiful in its own way.

After visiting the castle, we walked down to the market square, stopping for lunch on the way. We ended up in a really cute little restaurant with skylights and delicious, traditional Polish food which somehow met all of our MANY dietary requirements. We ended up sitting in here for almost two hours before going back out to the square. My favourite part was all the carriage horses lined up around the square to take people out on rides. We all thought that would be a fantastic way to see the Old Town so we went on a 15-minute ride. The horses were so well looked after and happy and the driver was more than happy to chat with me about her horses and let me spend as much time as I wanted petting them.

We ended the day by visiting the Jewish Museum which was really nicely done. They had arranged it as a photography exhibit about Jewish life in Krakow, followed by a photo display about the aftermaths of the Second World War on the Jewish community in Poland. We followed this up by going to get Latkes, which are potato pancakes and were AMAZING. Yet again, we managed to find a place that met all our dietary needs and had a great final night, chatting over delicious food in the cutest little vegetarian café. We ended the trip there, since we had a very early morning flight the next day.

Krakow was absolutely fantastic and we all had a wonderful time. It is a beautiful city with so much more to do than just what we saw. I think I could easily have spent 2-3 more days there, without running out of things to do. I highly recommend visiting this historic city, especially if you’re travelling on a budget. Our Airbnb came out to €8 a night each, the food was all very reasonable and transport was unbelievably cheap, even for Europe! Travelling on a student budget isn’t always easy, but we felt like Krakow was a place where we didn’t need to constantly be worrying about how much we were spending.

A Week in Croatia

I am incredibly excited to write this blog post because I think Croatia has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I travelled to Croatia with my friend Bay at the end of August for 7 days and we had the most amazing time together. Just for some background, Bay and I took an outdoor education class together and are both very adventurous and you know, if we can live in a snow shelter for a night in Northern Canada, we can definitely get through a trip to Croatia together.

Since Bay was visiting her Dutch family before our trip, she stayed over at my cube the night before our flight left. We had a lovely 5:30am start time the next day and despite our train to Amsterdam being cancelled, we made it to the airport. We flew with EastJet who have really good deals on flights throughout Europe. The flight was short and we both managed to sleep the entire time. The minute we landed and the plane doors opened, we could feel the humidity. We flew into Dubrovnik airport which was just outside the city, but a few different companies run coach busses into the downtown area. We were dropped off at the main bus depot and took a taxi to our hostel. I honestly cannot recommend our hostel, Villa Divine, enough. The staff were so sweet and the rooms were stunning, plus they did free drinks every night which is always appreciated. We stayed outside of the old town, which is what we wanted since the hostels in the actual old town cost WAY too much and anything much closer than where we stayed was just as expensive as the old town. The location was great because there was a direct bus route which took us down to the old town whenever we wanted to go, though we never did find the correct bus stop, instead, we walked to the second stop on the route.

Our first day, we went to the old town to see what there was to see and what types of tours we wanted to do while we were in Dubrovnik. If we had more time there I would have loved to visit the National Parks because they have the most fantastic lakes, but it was too far from where we were so we decided to settle on doing tours in Dubrovnik and Split. The old town was everything I could have hoped for and more. There were old cobblestone streets, churches and marble buildings and columns which, if you tried to block out the hordes of tourists, made you feel like you had stepped back in time. Fun fact, quite a few scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in old town Dubrovnik which is one of the reasons why it is so popular with tourists now. Luckily the receptionist at our hostel warned us not to eat on the main streets of the town because the restaurants there would be so much more expensive than eating on the side streets. Personally, I think that the restaurants and little shops on the side streets were much nicer and they were FAR less crowded than the main strip. After walking around the entire town, we decided that we would book a kayaking trip for the following day. Then we left to go back to our hostel so that we could go for a sunset swim at one of the beaches near the hostel.

The next day we were up bright and early to start our kayaking trip at 9am. We cut it VERY close because the bus took much longer to get there than we thought, but we managed to get there in time anyway. Bay and I got a two-person kayak and distributed our things between our waterproof barrels before setting off to the first stop of the tour, a little enclave in the cliffs. It was absolutely stunning and since our tour was the earliest group to leave, we were the only ones there for at least 30 minutes before other groups started to arrive. They supplied us with snacks, water and snorkels but, since I have an abnormally small head for an adult (seriously, I wear a child’s XS helmet for go-karting), the snorkel didn’t fit my head properly. We ended up seeing that there was a place that we could go cliff jumping which was something we both REALLY wanted to do. We had seen people cliff jumping in the old town the day before and thought, if we found a smaller jump, that we both really wanted to say that we went cliff jumping in Croatia. Anyway, this was the perfect opportunity so we both climbed on up and WOW was it ever high when I got up there. After a very long internal pep talk, I finally jumped and let’s just say it could have looked much nicer. Despite the bruise on the backs on my legs from where I smacked into the water, I can say that I went cliff jumping in Croatia and it was so worth it. The rest of the kayaking tour was amazing as well. We were supposed to paddle all the way around the island called Lokum, which is said to be haunted. Our guide told us the local legend that if you go ashore and fall asleep, you will die. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see all the way around the island because the current was too strong for most of the group to paddle all the way around. Instead, we went around the water just outside of the city and the walls, which was still very beautiful. After the tour was done, we had lunch in the old town before heading outside the walls to swim and tan overlooking the water. That evening we decided to have a night out in the old town and went to a really fun club with a couple of the people who were staying at the same hostel. I think the best part of the night out was being able to walk around the old town without there being any tourists there. I mean it was almost completely deserted by the time we left and there were lights which illuminated all the buildings.

In the morning we were up bright and early, yet again, to make our way to Split. We decided that we were going to take the ferry but once we arrived we found that all the tickets were sold, so bus it was. The reason we were hesitant to take the bus was that you have to cross over the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina before crossing back over into Croatia, so if there is a delay at the passport check you can get stuck there for hours. Luckily, we were through very quickly and made it to Split at the perfect time to check into our Airbnb. Bay and I were both absolutely exhausted from all the early mornings and the heat so we decided to have a relaxing afternoon in at the apartment, before going to buy groceries and explore the waterfront of Split at sunset. We went to Diocletian’s Palace which was lit up with lights, full of live music and bustling with tourists. It was absolutely incredible to see something so old still so full of life. We walked around for a little while before heading back to the Airbnb, having decided on the plan for our next two days in Split.

We decided we wanted our first full day in Split to be a beach day. Bay and I went down to the beach and rented chairs and lockers so that we could leave all of our stuff somewhere safe while we went swimming or went and got food. It was really nice to have one day where we could just relax, and not rush around trying to see everything. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and, since we rented chairs away from the main beach, we were able to get away from all the noise. We stayed on the beach all day before leaving to try and find a better place to watch the sunset from. We didn’t find one, so we just sat on the side of a pier drinking Croatian beer (since it’s totally legal to drink in public there).

On the 31st of September, Bay and I had booked a boat cruise around a few of the islands off the coast of Split. It was absolutely stunning. The water was perfectly clear and was the most fantastic shade of blue. There were quite a few different stops on the tour and it also included a complimentary ‘traditional’ lunch on one of the islands and free drinks on the boat. It was quite a lot of money, but in my opinion was worth it. It was tough to decide which boat tour to do since they all seemed to do the same route and were all roughly the same price, but we were happy with the one we chose. The main reason we chose our boat was that they had an inflatable water slide!! It was massive and unrolled from the top of the second deck on one of our longer stops between islands. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what islands we visited but they were very tiny and quaint. It was a really nice way to spend the day, with more than enough time for swimming in the beautiful water.

On our last full day in Split, we had both seen everything that we wanted to see except for Marjan Hill. We had a relaxing start to the morning and then just walked around the downtown and Diocletian’s Palace again. A few hours before sunset we decided that we would walk up to the top of Marjan Hill with our books and sit there until the sunset. Our plan was great BUT then it started to cloud over and look like rain. The hike up to the top of the hill was really easy, mainly paved the entire way to make it easier for tourists to get up. We had the most fantastic view looking out over all of the city and it was so nice to sit up there with our books, the breeze blowing. After the weather started to change, we walked back down halfway to where there was a nice little cafe which still overlooked the cafe. We sat there until the sunset and even though we didn’t get to watch the actual sunset, it was so beautiful to watch the darkness fall on the city and all the red-roofed buildings start to light up. I think it was the perfect way to end the trip and Bay and I ended up spending quite a few hours sitting at this little cafe before heading back to our apartment to pack for our journey back to Amsterdam the next day.

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View of Split from the top of Marjan Hill

We took another bus to the airport the following day, heading back to Amsterdam with EasyJet. I really, really enjoyed my time in Croatia and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Dubrovnik’s old town is a must see place but it is EXTREMELY touristy. I mean seriously, when Bay and I were there you could hardly stick your elbows out there were so many tourists there. I would say it is still worth it, but it isn’t a place to stay for a prolonged period of time. All the Croatian locals I met were so sweet and helpful, giving us a lot of tips about where to go and, more importantly, where not to go. I think that Croatia is the perfect place to go for a more adventurous trip because you have the option to do things like kayaking day trips and there is a lot of hiking as well. I will absolutely be returning to Croatia at some point in my life because I really want to see Zagreb and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is a country that is full of history, beautiful nature and it makes for such a great experience.

Discovering Dublin

Dublin was wonderful, simple as that. While it was a place I have always wanted to visit, it wasn’t wonderful for the reasons I thought it would be. Usually, when I visit a new city in Europe I like to go for the historical sites and then a few of the touristy sites as well but, in Dublin, the only historical place I visited was the Trinity College Library and even then I was in and out in under 10 minutes. I think the reason that I had such a wonderful couple of days was that I met some really interesting people to share the adventure with.

I stayed at Abigails Hostel (http://abigailshostel.com) which was in the best location I could have asked for, right in the middle of Temple Bar. Temple Bar is one of the famous and extremely touristy bars and the area around it is named after it. I never had to walk for longer than 10 minutes to get to anything I wanted to see in the city which was amazing. I met some really interesting people in my hostel too and it was great to have other people to tour the city with. It was such an interesting mix of people too. I met people who had just moved to Dublin and were staying a hostel while they found an apartment, I met people like myself who had been abroad all summer and this was one of their last stops and there were people who were in Dublin for only two nights. One of the things that I love about hostels is how open and friendly most people are, especially other solo travelers. Almost everyone is looking to meet new people and share adventures along the way. Just sitting in the lobby of a hostel, you can make a handful of new friends in no time and I think its just such an interesting experience to have. I mean sure, a lot of the people I met I will follow their lives at a distance on Instagram or Facebook, but there are others who I can see myself staying in touch with and going to visit wherever they might end up in the world.

I arrived in Dublin around 6pm from Toulouse airport and went right to my hostel to check in. I made my bed and then headed down to the nearest pub I could find to grab a bite to eat and my first Guinness (of many). I found a great little place a couple doors down from my hostel and sat listening to live music for a couple of hours and, of course, found myself sitting next to two other Canadians who were there on their honeymoon. I swear that Canadians are subconsciously drawn to each other when traveling because they seem to pop up whenever I am introducing myself to new people. The next day I was up bright and early, and I mean bolt upright and ready to go. The time difference between France and Ireland was only one hour but when you’re used to waking up at 6am in France, that means you’re up at 5am in Ireland. Despite my best effort, I wasn’t able to fall back asleep so I ended up lying around the room until I could finally go down for breakfast at 7:30am. By 8am I was out of the hostel walking around a VERY empty looking city. I was fully prepared to be the first person at all of the sites I wanted to see and had a long list of places to check off, but it turns out it was a holiday in Ireland so almost everything I wanted to see was closed. I ended up heading back to the hostel to change my plan for the day. I signed up to do a free walking tour at 11am and then booked tickets to see the book of Kells and the Trinity College Library later in the day.  I honestly have to say that free walking tours are one of the best ways to see a city, especially when you’re on a budget! The tour guides are all freelancers who work on tips so they have the incentive to give you a better tour because a better tour means more tips. Then you just need to tip them what you think the tour is worth! I have been using Sandemans New Europe Tours (http://www.neweuropetours.eu) and haven’t been disappointed with them yet. I even did 4 different tours with them in Berlin and all the guides were fantastic. But anyway, after that I went around the Book of Kells exhibit which was alright. I know that as a history major I should have been much more excited about it, but it was packed with tourists and the exhibit wasn’t of particular interest to me. I ended up just walking straight past the exhibit to see the books, which are very very beautiful, medieval manuscripts, and then headed right up to the library. The library is stunning and was very much worth the money I paid to get into it, but again it was absolutely packed with tourists so after taking a couple pictures there wasn’t much else I could do in there.

After that, I completely hit a wall. I don’t know if I was coming down from working so much in France this summer or if being back in a city was too much for me but I could hardly keep my eyes open and I started to feel super guilty about not continuing to tour around Dublin. I ended up just sitting in the lobby of the hostel for 2 hours, video chatting with my boyfriend while he tried to talk me out of feeling guilty for not walking around more. I was super close to just going to bed at 6pm but he suggested that I find someone to go for a drink with for an hour and honestly if he hadn’t convinced me to do that, I would have missed out on meeting some really awesome girls who I ended up spending the rest of my trip with. After I hung up the call with Xav, I ended up introducing myself to a girl who had also been sitting in the lobby for two hours. Basically, we totally hit it off and went out for drinks with another girl in her room. That one hour out for a drink turned into 8 hours of drinks, dinner, laughter, and dancing and I am so thankful that I didn’t just go to bed like I planned to. I think that I had my all-time best travel moment that night too when I dragged an Irishman onto the dance floor to dance. Let me tell you, we absolutely cleared the dance floor with the way he was spinning me to the Irish jig the band was playing.

I have to say as much as I enjoy travelling on my own, it was really nice to have company in Dublin. Our group did a little bit of shopping, because why not, and did the Guinness Storehouse together which was absolutely worth the money. It was packed but the view from the bar at the top was well worth it. We spent a good chunk of our afternoon up there meeting new people and looking out over the city. But as wonderful as all of that was, my absolute favourite part of the trip was the ride I did just outside of the city. I booked a private two-hour ride because let’s face it, after riding for three hours every day for three months, I figured I would be missing riding a little bit by then. By coincidence, the girl who took me out on the ride was from the same part of France that I had just come from and was the same age as me. We had a fantastic ride together galloping through the paths that overlooked the city. At the very top, you could look down and see the entire city of Dublin which was stunning. We even saw it when the sun was shining (believe it or not)! I really enjoyed the relaxing pace that I had in Dublin. Usually, I pack in as much as I can see and this time I didn’t, I just enjoyed the city and the new company and it was really refreshing.

My final day in Dublin was really chilled out and I went out for a goodbye breakfast with the girls before heading to the airport to fly to Manchester. I have just spent the last two weeks visiting with my family in the UK which is something I don’t get to do as often as I would like. My cousin Emily picked me up from Manchester airport and drove me up to her Uni house in Wales, and let me stay with her and her boyfriend for 5 days. We filled our days with cooking, history and a lot of laughing together. It was really nice to have someone to nerd out with over the stone outline of an Iron Age farm that we visited and even better to be with someone who was as in awe as I was over a neolithic burial chamber!! She’s also majoring in history, so she just gets it.  After spending time with her, she put me on the train to my aunts house in Crewe. I spent nearly a week with her, my uncle and two more of my cousins and had a wonderful time there as well. It was a huge change to be able to spend time one on one with all my family, because usually when I see them it is at Christmas time and it’s always a bit chaotic trying to see everyone in my very large family, in a very short period of time. My aunt has just bought a new horse so I spent an hour or so every day up at the stables with her. On my last day we went out on a hack together and honestly, just galloped around a country park for the best part of two hours. She and I had the most fantastic time and we even get the same silly smile when we’re riding. I also had the new experience of having a day trip out on my uncle’s motorbike. We drove around the English country-side up to a beautiful peak view (which of course we couldn’t see because of the rain) and then down to a place called Matlock Bath which is where all the bikes meet up for food and a drink. I also got to see where my mom and dad used to live in England which was really cool since I have never been there before. It was a jam-packed few days which also included visiting Alton Towers with my cousin and his girlfriend and having a night out with my other cousin. I think that this trip was probably the most time I have ever got to spend with my cousins, ever so we absolutely made the most of it. On Wednesday, my aunt dropped me off at the airport and I travelled to Amsterdam Airport before taking the train down to Rotterdam. And here I am, settling into the city that I will be calling home for the next 10 months.

 

 

Travail and Travel

I really don’t understand how summer flies by so quickly every year. It feels like just yesterday I was packing up all my clothes and heading to the airport to begin my year abroad and fly to Berlin. And now, all of a sudden I have been away for three months and I am only away for another eleven months? I do have to say that I think that I think this entire year is going to absolutely fly by, especially once school starts. I have had a wonderful and unique summer full of meeting new people and experiencing new places and parts of the world. I started off in Berlin which I absolutely loved and am going back there again for New Years this year with my friend Reilly. She is the one who I travelled with for New Years last year as well and since Berlin is so well known for its nightlife, we figured we would go back there to celebrate the New Year this year. I met some really interesting people in Berlin and everyone was so friendly and there was so much to see both culturally and historically that I was totally in my element. I Couchsurfed for the first time and it was a great experience. I really lucked out with that, since I didn’t get an offer to stay until literally the morning I left Canada. But I ended up getting an entire Berlin apartment to myself for free and the landlady was lovely, showing me around the city and telling me things to do whenever she was around. She also rented out her other apartment to two Dutch girls, so I am now in contact with them for when I’m in the Netherlands for school this year. The only downside to Berlin was the fact that I had to lug around a suitcase that probably weighed as much as I do. It was absolutely massive and let me tell you, the Berlin subway does not have elevators that are easy to find. So I had to carry one case up/down the stairs, leave it on the landing and then carry the other one, crossing my fingers that my first bag hadn’t been stolen. It is really rare that I travel with anything bigger than a carry-on bag so this really just confirmed why I do that.

I left Berlin on the 20th of May to fly into Toulouse airport to start my summer job. I was working at a French Château which ran riding holidays. They were located just outside of a little town called Promilhanes which was picturesque. It was exactly what you would imagine a small French town looking like; no restaurants, a church which was the center of the town and A LOT of farms. The Château itself was over 600 years old and still decorated in a traditional style. I got to live out the stereotypical princess dream of a 6-year-old girl, 14 years too late but nonetheless, it was wonderful. I lived in the tower of a Château in France, it doesn’t get much better than that for student accommodation. It was actually a really good arrangement in terms of housing for me for the summer because I was working for room and board which meant I had no expenses for the summer other than my phone bill, and in Europe, phone bills are about 1/4th of the cost as in Canada. I mean seriously, I had a better plan in France than I did in Canada and only paid €14 a month for it when in Canada I paid over $100. But anyway, working in France actually meant that I ended up saving on rent and food costs, all while working abroad which is something I have always wanted to do. Plus, I was able to work with horses every day which, as my friends and family know, is something I have loved for as long as I can remember. I was super fortunate because the family running the Château was unbelievably kind to me and treated me like a member of the family. I think that really helped me not to feel too homesick. It was also fantastic because my mother, niece, and step-father came down to see me for 3 days while they were in between traveling from London to Paris. I was able to show them all the fantastic areas near me which they completely fell in love with just like I had.

The south of France is an amazing area for history and is completely full of Châteaus. I mean honestly, it felt like every town you passed through had their own Château. There is also an abundance of Mediaeval Villages which have been more or less kept up to their original appearance. My favourite was Saint-Cirq-Lapopie which is a 13th-16th-century village which is built with a (now destroyed) Château on top of the hill with the rest of the village coming down the side of the hill. It makes for one hell of a walk when you have to come back up from the bottom of the village to the car park but it is completely worth it. I love this village the most because of the history behind the destroyed Château. Essentially what happened was whenever the lord of the area made a decree that the peasants didn’t like, they would lock themselves in the Château, but it was so well built that the lord couldn’t get them out unless he agreed to drop the decree. He ended up getting so sick of this that he just thought it was easier to destroy the Château so he did! Since I was staying in such a small area I was able to experience the village fête which is basically the big party that is put on in the village every year. They serve drinks, bring in a band and have food (yes that included snails and frogs legs). The one in our village was especially fun and the band played a mix of French songs which made me stand out as a foreigner and super English songs like from ‘Grease’ which I think made me stand out even more. I never thought that I would be singing ‘Greased Lighting’ in a town of 150 French people where maybe 1/5 know more than 10 English words, but I sure as hell was.  I also ate frogs legs, because well, when in France. They were surprisingly delicious and I was actually able to eat the entire plate of them.

I originally planned to stay at the Château for all of August as well, but they actually close for the entire month because the heat and the bugs are too bad to be taking the horses out on rides. So even though I was told I could stay, I decided to take advantage of the time off and travel for a month. I flew from Toulouse to Dublin on the 5th of August after a bittersweet goodbye to my ‘family’ and spent four fantastic days in Dublin before heading down to see my cousin in Wales for six days. There will be a post on Dublin up within the next week, this time I actually promise it will be, but since there was so much that I did in Dublin I don’t want to squish it all into this post. So right now, I am in Bangor, Wales and then I will be travelling down on the train to my aunt’s house in England for another few days. After that, I am off to the Netherlands to try and figure out housing and university things but after that, I am off to Croatia! One of my friends from Canada is visiting her Grandparents near the Hague (which is really close to Rotterdam) and so we decided to pop down to Croatia for a few days. We really aren’t sure what we want to do or see there yet, all we know is that we are flying into Dubrovnik and out of Split, and we’ll figure out the rest closer to the time. After Croatia, I am heading back to Rotterdam and actually settling into school and a regular schedule. I have a few more adventures planned though, from now until after New Years. My boyfriend is coming over to see me in October and we’ll be travelling around France together for 10 days, and then my dad is coming down in November to see ‘my’ city. In December, Reilly and I are off to do New Years in Europe 2.0 through Paris, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen and Venice!

Here’s hoping that I will be better at blogging now that I’m visiting so many new places, and have so much to write about. Anyway, if you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading!

 

First Day in Berlin

Guys, I am very excited. I woke up this morning in the cutest little apartment in Berlin with the sun shining in through the big windows, and I just smiled; this is it, I’m finally here! I was up bright an early at 5:45am Berlin time, early enough that my friends back home hadn’t even fallen asleep yet, but I can tell you there’s a very small chance that I will fall back asleep. There is so much that I have planned today and I just want to get a jump on it!

This isn’t going to be a long post but rather an overview of my arrival here and my first couple hours in the city. I left from Toronto airport at 9pm last night, after quite a tearful goodbye at the airport with friends and family. I flew with IcelandAir (as I always do) so I had almost a 2-hour layover in the Icelandic Airport. I really love that airport. Its small but they have the cutest little restaurants and THE BEST sandwiches I have ever come across at an airport. It’s the little things right guys? I managed to sleep for about an hour on the flight to Iceland and then I absolutely passed out on the flight from Iceland to Berlin. And when I say passed out I mean 95% chance I was snoring, flight attendants had to wake me up for landing, groggy to the point I didn’t know where I was, type sleeping. Anyway, the airport was a breeze and my bag was the third one out, which is the fastest I have ever had a bag come out.

I am trying something a little different for accomodation this trip which is Couchsurfing. I’m not sure if anyone has heard of it, but its an online platform based on the idea that travelers are willing to host other travelers for free. When I got out of the airport I followed the instructions that my host gave to me, lugging my bags (very big bags) onto the public bus and then onto the subway. Let’s just say that there were no elevators so I woke up with very sore arms this morning from carrying my bags up what seemed like an endless number of stairs. I arrived at my host’s apartment without a problem, to find that they have given me an entire apartment to myself! Yup thats right, private kitchen, bathroom, my own set of keys and everything. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who are willing to host me in this incredible apartment for my 5 days in Berlin. I got to meet and chat with the host and got to speak French with her (YAY) and she told me all the places that I should see and left brochures for me which was extrememly helpful.

Since I have my own kitchen, I decided that I should go out and get groceries so that I can cut back on the cost of meals while I am here because, let’s face it, eating out for every meal in very expensive. I ventured out in the pouring rain to find a grocery store last night and luckily there was one quite close. I stocked up on some snacks, breakfast food and bread before heading back to ‘my’ apartment to make myself dinner.

I decided against trying to go out and do sight seeing yesterday since I was very tired and the weather wasn’t great. It was nice to just relax and have the place to myself since I will have a very very busy day today. Today, I have a free Berlin walking tour at 11am which I am really looking forward to. After Reilly and I did the free walking tour in Amsterdam, I have decided that it’s one of the best ways to see a city on a budget! I will update this post later today with more information on the tour and the company I am going with, once I have done it.

Tomorrow, I will be going on a day tour with the same company to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which is on the outskirts of Berlin. That is bound to be a very emotional day, so I will write a post about that experience in the coming days.

Well that is about all the update I have for you all so far! I am really looking forward to exploring the city today and if anyone has tips for things that I should see or do, please let me know!

Update: I ended up doing four different tours with the company out of Berlin. They are called Sandeman’s tours and they were fantastic! I did one free walking tour, a tour about the Third Reich, a tour of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and a Pub Crawl as well. Here is the link to their website if anyone is interested, and they have tours in all the major cities in Europe!

http://www.neweuropetours.eu

Two Days in Amsterdam

Yeah, so I am procrastinating again. Isn’t it just so much easier to get blogging done when you have a million other deadlines looming over your head? I should be practising my French presentation or reviewing for my Zombie Apocalypse midterm (yes, that is a real University course). But, I’m not going to study I am going to write about my second favourite country on our trip at Christmas; Amsterdam!

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, if people made it that far, I am going to be attending Erasmus University Rotterdam in September for a full year exchange. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time I visited Amsterdam so it’s just as well that I thought the Netherlands was absolutely fantastic. I really can’t put my finger on it, maybe it was that by the time we reached Amsterdam Reilly and I had caught up on our sleep or maybe we were just wiser to the way of travelling on our own, but it felt very comfortable and relaxing being there.

Instead of taking the plane and dealing with all the hustle and bustle of yet another airport, we decided to take the train from Gard de Nord in Paris to Amsterdam Centraal. I have to admit, even though it took much longer than taking the plane, it was so relaxing and nice to have the three hours to switch off. This was the only train that we booked for this trip because, believe it or not, for all our other destinations it was much cheaper to fly. We arrived after dark on the evening of the 8th, so we really just hung out at our hostel and went out for dinner. We stayed in the Shelter City Christian Hostel for a very reasonable price, which included breakfast.

http://www.shelterhostelamsterdam.com

Our first full day there we booked a free walking tour. Most major European cities have a variety of free walking tours to chose from, which is a great way to get an overview of the city and find out what sights are worth going back to see. We chose to go with FreeDam Tours and I cannot rave about them enough! If anyone is going to Amsterdam soon and wants to get a tour of the city, this tour company is the way to go. You meet them outside of the Old Church for a three-hour walking tour which takes you through the history of Amsterdam, the Red-Light District, drug use in Amsterdam and the Second World War. Our guide was incredible and engaging and knew so much about every single topic. The only downside was that Reilly and I absolutely froze since Amsterdam was a good 10 degrees colder than Paris. I have included the link to the FreeDam website in case anyone is interested.

https://www.freedamtours.com

After the tour was done, we went for lunch and made our way towards the Iamsterdam sign which seems to appear in just about every Instagram post about Amsterdam. Much to our delight, there was an outdoor skating rink which had been set up for tourists so of course, we had to skate. We ended up skating for four hours taking it upon ourselves, as Canadians, to try and help those tourists who had clearly never stepped foot on ice before. Needless to say, after four hours of skating, and not having skated for quite some time myself, we were exhausted and headed back to a restaurant near our hostel. It was this cute little Italian restaurant. No, it wasn’t as good as the real deal in Italy but we couldn’t get enough of Italian food by this point in the trip. While it was a lovely restaurant, Reilly is extremely allergic to cats. Why does this matter you say, they wouldn’t have a cat in a restaurant…well they did! So we didn’t spend as much time in there as other restaurants throughout the trip.

On our final full day in Amsterdam we had a decision to make; did we want to go to the art museums? I feel like going to the art museums in Amsterdam is an obligatory part of being a tourist but neither Rielly nor I really wanted to go, so we didn’t. Instead, we went to the Anne Frank house. We had booked our tickets in advance online so that we made sure we were going in at a time that worked best for us, and it was just as well that we did. They were redoing the tourist area outside of the Frank house, so their entire system was down and you couldn’t purchase tickets in person even if you wanted to. I am very happy that we went to the house because I think it is a very important part of history, but emotionally, it was pretty tough. Everything inside the house is how it was left after the Nazi’s took the Frank family away, including the drawings and pictures that were on the wall. If we hadn’t gone during renovations, we would have been able to see the diary of Anne Frank as well but they had it put away in safe keeping until the renovations were complete. I will admit, I cried and not over something that most people would cry over. One of the pictures that was still on the wall was of the French coast by the English Channel. Now for my non-History buff readers that is where the allied forces invaded Occupied France during D-Day. So this piece of paper made me sob because the father had been tracking the movement of the allied troops as they made their way through Europe. But they didn’t make it to Amsterdam in time to save the Frank family, which really got to me. The way the Anne Frank Museum is laid out is very tactful and respectful. They have kept everything the way it was left by the Nazi’s, at the request of Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Every guest must use an audio headset for the guided tour which allows the museum itself to remain in total silence while the guests can learn all the information about the house and the people who once lived there.

After leaving the museum, we went and shopped in the gift store for the Van Gogh Museum, so at least we could pretend that we went to one of the art museums. We then arrived at the Heineken Museum, which we were a little hesitant about paying for but we did not regret for a minute. Not only was free beer included in the price of admission, but they also had games and other activities that you could do, including tacky tourist photos, YAY! I will try and phrase this tactfully for my family members who read my blog; we left the Heineken museum after rapidly consuming our free beers and headed to our next cultured and high-class stop; McDonalds Amsterdam. I know it sounds really weird but I love going to McDonalds in other countries. I think its so interesting to see what ethnic food is put on the menu in other countries like, for example, McDonalds in Italy has McSpaghetti! After that pit stop we walked back to our hostel in the pouring rain, but in all fairness, the weather had been almost perfect up to this point in the trip.

We took a quick nap and then headed to the Red-Light District. This is obviously one of the top tourist places to visit in Amsterdam and our tour guide with FreeDam Tours gave us a rundown on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour as a tourist. I mean, it’s a really cool area. If you don’t know what the Red-Light District is, just google it. I think that the Netherlands is just a great place in terms of letting people go about their business and not caring what they do. It is the same way with their Coffee Shops. Coffee Shops are where you can go and smoke Marijuana in a public place, with friends, on your own, literally however you want, because it is allowed in Amsterdam. Just to clarify, it isn’t actually legal but it has been decriminalized. Amsterdam is just a great carefree place to go which is SO different from North America.

I feel like in terms of things to see, there wasn’t much more to do unless you went to the art museums. If I was to go back to Amsterdam, I would want to stay for a month or so and really immerse myself in the culture. On January 11th we flew home after the most incredible two weeks in Europe.  We flew with WowAir which was quite good for a discount airline. The seats are somewhat cramped and they don’t offer free meals on board, but it is more than doable. The Amsterdam airport is lovely, very modern and a lot of fresh and healthy food for sale so we were able to grab some yummy food to take on the plane with us. We had another brief layover in Iceland and landed on the evening of the 11th back in Canada.

P.S. You guys NEED to try Stroopwafels. They are the most delicious and sugary Dutch treat which I just feel the need to share with the world.

Rome in Five Days

I am starting with Rome because it was probably my favourite part of my trip at Christmas. Five days is a little bit of a lie because once you take out travel time,  we ended up with only three full days to cram everything we wanted into our time there. Since I haven’t talked about this trip yet and will talk about it a lot more in other posts, I feel like some background information is in order. My friend Reilly met me in London after I travelled to see my family for a week in England. We set off together for two weeks to see as much of Europe as possible on our Christmas break. We hit five different countries, spent way too much time in airports and celebrated New Years before our friends and family had even eaten dinner.

So why was Rome my favourite city? It’s hard for me to say. I think it was a combination of so many amazing historical sights, INCREDIBLE food and the fact that we went horseback riding, which always makes a trip more special. We stayed in a very nice hostel called Hostel Alessandro Downtown where we stayed in an eight-person dorm room right by the main Termini station. We had the most fantastic restaurant across from our hostel which had the best pizza of the many, many pizzas that we tried during our time in Rome. Honestly, Reilly and I lived entirely off of pizza and pasta, just alternating which one we had for lunch and which we had for dinner.

Our real struggle in Rome was finding enough time to fit in everything that we wanted to do, and I know that I could easily go back and find other things which I have yet to do. For example, we went to Vatican City but didn’t get a chance to go into St. Peter’s Bascillica because the line up was so long and we didn’t get to the Pantheon either. However, we did do quite a good job, if I do say so myself, on fitting in everything that was a must-see on our list.

The day that we arrived was hell. Honestly, hell. Neither of us had ever been so tired because, in an effort to save money, we booked a 6:30am flight on New Years Day. That meant being at the airport 2-3 hours before the flight, so we left our hostel at 3:30am. Now, when I say we left our hostel, I don’t mean left the comfort of our beds, I mean left the lobby of the hostel where we had been squatting for the night. It seemed silly to book a room in the hostel where, after New Years Eve festivities, we would only stay for three hours before leaving for the airport. Needless to say, neither of us were able to sleep in the lobby, so we were boarding our flight with zero hours of sleep, plus three days of bads sleeps before that. So that is why our first day was hell, but we did save a lot of money. Once we arrived at our hostel, we weren’t able to check in so we, along with 6 other people, slept in the lobby until the rooms were ready for us.

Our first day in Rome, January 1st was a total write off, but we rested and got up early for our second day in Rome. On the 2nd we travelled to Vatican City, which we left an entire day to do since it can get so busy. We waited in line the see the Sistine Chapel for two hours and when we finally got in we had to walk through the entire Vatican museum before getting the ‘main attraction’. It seemed a little bit pointless to me but I am sure there were some people who came to see the museum as well. By the time we were done and ate lunch, the line of for St. Peter’s was so long that it wrapped all the way around the courtyard of Vatican City, and neither of us felt the need to wait in line for another three hours.

From there, we headed to Castel St. Angelo which was one of the most interesting and underrated sights that we went to. Interesting fact; it was originally the mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family but it was turned into a fortress for the Pope when Vatican City was under attack. It is also over 1500 years old, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me.

On January 3rd, we headed to the Apian Way, a road that the Romans built to connect Rome with one of their ports. We got to travel quite a ways down the road on horseback, veering off into fields to let the horses run. The road is dead straight and made of cobblestones, with mausoleums and other Roman buildings lining the way. From there, we were told that the Colosseum was just a thirty-minute walk, so we headed down the winding roads in the Italian countryside. We reached the Colosseum two hours later, only to find that it was closed.

On January 4th, the Colosseum was at the top of the list, considering we didn’t make it inside on the first try. But believe me, it did not disappoint. It was very crowded, as one would expect, but we were able to see everything that we wanted to see before heading over to the Roman Forum. The forum was incredible, to see all the buildings and the society that was still intact so many years later. From there, we went to find the Trevi Fountain. The most amazing part to me was that you find yourself walking through very narrow and unimpressive streets when all of a sudden you turn and see the astounding spectacle which is the fountain right in front of you. Of course, we tossed coins into the fountain which is supposed to mean that we will return to Rome one day.

We left for Paris the next day, leaving at a much more reasonable hour than when we arrived. I loved  Rome and I really hope that I will be able to return one day, but I think that I will have to see Venice first as that is near the top of my bucket list.

I will try and write another blog soon about the rest of our travels in Europe but for now, I will end with the exciting news I mentioned at the end of my other post. I have accepted a job in France this summer where I will be working from the middle of May until the end of August. I have planned a five-day trip to Berlin, Germany before I got to France since I won’t be able to travel much this summer because of work.  Following that, I will be travelling to the Netherlands to attend Erasmus University Rotterdam for a years exchange program. I am very excited about these opportunities that I have and am very fortunate to have family and friends who support me wholeheartedly in my next adventures.

 

 

Normandy

Normandy was one of my all time favourite trips…

I am actually really excited about writing this blog post, even though I should be writing essays, because this was probably one of my all-time favourite trips.  Normandy is a beautiful and unspoiled part of France where the largest allied military offensive took place during the Second World War. I’m sure there a few of you out there really hoping that I don’t start talking about the history of the D-Day invasions, so I will try and keep it short. Essentially the allies landed on the beaches on June 6th, 1944 where they took the beaches and eventually won the war. Okay obviously it was a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea.

I am assuming that most of the people who read my blog are family and friends, in which case you already know that I am a huge history nerd and am majoring in History at University. So of course, this was a dream trip for me. Europe is so full of history and Normandy doesn’t disappoint, plus it really is a gorgeous area of the world which always helps.  My dad and I planned the trip purposely to be in Normandy for the 73rd Anniversary of the landings which meant that there were celebrations and events going on all around the region. The coast of Normandy is basically spotted with small French towns which meant they all had their own celebration according to what their liberation looked like 73 years ago. For example, Sainte-Mère-Église is famous for paratrooper John Steele getting stuck in their church tower, where he stayed until he was taken as a POW. This town had a paratrooper dummy on their church tower in honour of him, along with bands and military representation.

One of the really cool things was that after the war was over, many people bought up the old military vehicles and refurbished them. Everywhere we went, and I honestly mean everywhere, there were people camped out in fields with their WW2 jeeps and motorcycles in honour of the anniversary. You were able to walk around their camps as well and see all of the equipment they had been able to maintain, even authentic WW2 sleeping bags! (Okay, after typing that I realize that sounds super lame, but at the time I thought it was really cool)

We definitely spent most of our time doing the beaches as there are 5 to see, each with their own museums and events that were taking place. If we hadn’t gone so near the anniversary it wouldn’t have taken us as long to do everything, but when you are surrounded by live music and military fly by’s you don’t really want to rush. All of the beaches were amazing but honestly, if I write about all of them this post will go on way too long. Each beach had their own history of D-Day and of course, were extremely interesting but, even before I got there, I knew what beach would be my favourite.

I’m sure most people know that one of the landing beaches was ‘Juno’ and that is where the Canadians landed. Being Canadian, Juno Beach was the key point of the trip for me and we spent A LOT of time there. We had dinner our first night there overlooking the beach and found our way back there at least 3 times again during the trip. We decided to spend the actual anniversary on Juno beach, our way of honouring the fallen countrymen I suppose. Sadly, the event was completely full so we didn’t get to see the actual ceremony but knowing that we were on Juno Beach for the anniversary was worth it all the same. The tour that we were given around the old German bunkers was amazing too, we actually got to go down into them and see what they were like.

I would say, the most amazing part of Juno Beach was that there are Canadian flags everywhere. I mean I had shivers about how, 73 years after the fact, this array of small town surrounding the beach was still so thankful for the Canadian soldiers who liberated them. In Bernieres-sur-Mer, ‘Canada House’ still stands, one of the first areas liberated on  June 6th. They had pictures taken, then and now of the house and it even shows up in pictures that were taken during the D-Day landing.

I know that my posts usually talk about travelling on a budget but Normandy was so incredible to me that it was more important than a budget. I wanted this post to talk about the trip itself and less about the money because to me, it would be worth spending the money. There is so much to see in Normandy outside of the D-Day beaches like Bayeux and their namesake tapestry, but that will be for another post. If I could, I would go back to Normandy on the anniversary every year. I really don’t think that I can put into words how much this trip meant to me and how thankful I am to have had the experience.

In case anyone is interested in the history of the landings, this link sums it up really well:
http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/sites-and-attractions/the-d-day-landing-beaches-5-2.html