Last week, I took the trip I had been highly anticipating all semester! During my Fall break, I traveled to Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Barcelona -- all in 10 days! It was exhausting to say the least, but it is hands down one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. Seeing the East Side Gallery in Berlin, the beautiful canals of Amsterdam, the gorgeous architecture in Brussels, the glimmering Eiffel Tour in Paris, and the lovely beaches of Barcelona, all while being surrounded by great friends, is definitely one of the biggest highlights of my year!
We began our 10 day trip with a 16-hour-long bus ride from Florence to Berlin. With the help of lots of sleep and plenty of Netflix, we made it to Berlin in a semi-sane state! After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we jumped right into our activities with a walking tour of the city. Since we had such an amazing tour guide, we were able to cover many of the city's most famous points while we learned a great deal about the city and its vast history!
After the tour, we headed back to our hostel to freshen up after our long trip before getting ready for our group dinner at a local restaurant. The group dinner in Berlin was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip The atmosphere was so lively as the restaurant was full of singing locals, delicious foods and drinks and fun music! When in Berlin you have to enjoy traditional German foods, so I had a pig knuckle, and I must say, it was pretty amazing! We settled in that evening to get a good night's rest before finishing our sight-seeing the next day.
The following day we went to the famous East Side Gallery where we enjoyed some amazing artwork. The renovation of the Berlin Wall into the East Side gallery is truly a great representation of creating something beautiful out of a dark past. We then spent the rest of the day enjoying schnitzel and fries before adventuring on a pub crawl in the evening. We went to 3 different bars and a club to finish the night off and a striking theme of Berlin night life is the city's love for techno music! Overall, Berlin was full of beauty, diversity and I'll be leaving with more than a handful of great memories!
After an early morning departure from Berlin, we made it to Amsterdam by late afternoon. Having the rest of the night free, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to an ice bar! The ice bar sounded much better in our heads, but after standing in the -9.4 degree Celsius room for just 10 minutes we had had enough! Nonetheless it was still a fun activity and we cooled off with waffles while we walked the streets of the city.
The next day we began with yet another amazing walking tour! On the tour we saw local markets, traditional architecture and the beautiful nature and foliage that Amsterdam offers. Living in a city like Florence, we don't often see trees, or anything green for that matter! So, being in Amsterdam where everything is so lush was incredibly comforting. After our tour we made our way to the Vincent van Gogh Museum where we were able to see the evolution of his work. Though his most famous paintings such as "Starry Night" are certainly masterpieces, there are other works of his, such as is drawings, that are definitely overlooked.
After the museum we saw the famous "I Amsterdam" sign before grabbing food at a local restaurant and enjoying the beauty of Amsterdam. That evening we made our way to the Red Light District, which I was very hesitant about. It was actually accidental as we had eaten nearby and saw red decorative neon lights along a street. I jokingly said, "Is this the red light district?" and it actually was! It was a strange, yet necessary experience and I now understand why previous visitors say, "It's just something you have to see for yourself." Though it made me uneasy as the concept is so foreign to me, and the normality of it is hard to comprehend, I can check it off my list of things to one day do!
Overall, Amsterdam was one of my favorite places I have visited thus far! The general vibe of the city is amazing and comforting. As soon as we entered the city I just felt warm, like I was home away from home. People are friendly, the city is beautiful and I can't wait to visit again!
After leaving Amsterdam, we made a short stop in Belgium to quickly see the beautiful city and taste their amazing food. Luckily for us, most of the famous sites in Brussels can be seen within about 3-4 hours, which is exactly how long we had to visit the city. We saw the beautiful Gran Place square filled with golden covered architecture, the Manneken Pis statue and some awesome street art along the way. And of course, I can't forget the delicious fries and tasty waffles! Truly, Brussels has the best fries I have ever had and I would definitely go back just to enjoy them again!
Oh Paris, where do I begin! I'm so glad I made it to this wonderful city! After getting into the city late, we got a good nights rest before visiting the Palace of Versailles the next day. After a short bus ride to Versailles we were able to walk the hallways and see the beautiful art and history lining the walls. Visiting art museums is one of my favorite things to do, so walking the halls of the palace were like being in heaven. With artwork dating back centuries, the vast amount of culture and history that I was immersed in was unbelievable. I cant forget about the beautiful gardens either! If I had more time, I could've spent hours in the palace and even longer walking the acres of gardens outside.
After leaving Versailles, we got dropped off in the city center of Paris where we got to take a quick look at the Arc de Triomphe. We then grabbed a quick lunch before making our way to the Eiffel Tower. It is truly breathtaking, and seeing it for the first time up close in all of its grandness was a moment I will never forget. We walked around the surrounding park and took in the view before heading over to the Louvre Museum. After visiting the Louvre, we headed back to our hostel to rest up before going back to see the Eiffel Tower light up that evening. We made our way back to the city center just before the Tower was set to sparkle as it only does so for 5 minutes at the top of every hour. With a few minutes to spare, we quickly took pictures before the Tower began to gleam and glimmer lighting up the night sky.
The next day we made our way to the Luxembourg Gardens were we ate lunch and snacked on some delicious macaroons. There's a moment during every trip I take where I am able to be fully present in the moment -- sitting in those gardens with close friends and good food, I was able to do just that. After leaving the gardens, we made our way to the Notre-Dame which is absolutely breathtaking. Following that, we found a local flower market nearby where we truly able to stop and smell the roses. To finish out our day, we headed to to Sacré-Cœurr, a truly breathtaking cathedral with a view of the city. Paris was a treat, and I am so glad I got to witness all of its greatness.
Our last stop was Barcelona, and though it was cloudy and rainy during most of our time there, the city did not disappoint. After an overnight bus ride to the city, we started our day with another walking tour. During the tour we were able to see the Barcelona Cathedral, explore the Gothic quarter and enjoy some traditional empanadas on the way. We learned a great deal about the history of the city and its populants before we were sent on our way to explore for ourselves. After the tour, we made our way to the beach where we enjoyed some sun and sand. We then grabbed a bite to eat at a great Portuguese restaurant nearby. The bus ride from Paris to Barcelona had been rough for my roommates who barely slept, so they went back to the hostel to rest while I continued exploring the city on my own.
There was a fair amount of sights I wanted to see while there, and the following day was forecast to be full of rain. So, I had a lot to cover in the 6 hours of free time before our night out at a local club. My first stop was the Arenas de Barcelona. While I imagined that it was an old structure dating back centuries, it was actually very modern and the inside was renovated into a beautiful mall! Close by was the Fountains of Montjuïc, which was as breathtaking in person as it is in pictures. This beautiful building and the stunning fountains leading up to it were definitely worth the trip. Then, the sun was beginning to set, and though the Park Güell requires tickets to view the famous mosaic walls, the rest of the park is free. So, I hopped in an Uber and headed to the park. Although I missed sunset, I was still able to see the beautiful and worthwhile skyline view of Barcelona at night.
Unfortunately for me, my phone was at 5% as I was leaving the park, my portable charger was dead, and my Uber account had stopped working. That left me stranded about 3 kilometers away from my hostel, and with no other option, I was forced to walk back using the limited directions I had while rationing each percentage of my remaining phone battery. The silver lining in all of this is that I was able to see so much more of the city than if I had simply rode home. Due to the high rate of pick pocketing in Barcelona (I mean, super high rate -- 4 people on our trip got their phones and/or wallets stolen!), I had to be super aware of my surroundings. But, this allowed me to be fully present and appreciate the city for all that it is.
I finally made it back to my hostel, and after a quick and much needed nap, we got ready to go to the famous Opium club. The night was full of laughs, lots of dancing and great memories, and we slept comfortable in our beds that night before finishing out our last day in Barcelona. The next day, we had tickets to visit the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. Though it was cold and rainy, we were eager to see the beautiful cathedral. Of all the cathedrals I have seen in these past few months, this Basilica is unlike any other. The Gothic architecture and the colorful stained glass windows make it uniquely beautiful and an amazing place to visit. Later that evening, we had another group dinner at a local restaurant where we got to taste traditional Spanish foods and drinks. Enjoying great food with even better friends was the perfect way to conclude this trip!
After a 14-hour bus ride back to Florence from Barcelona, I was nothing less than exhausted. Hitting 5 countries in less than 2 weeks is no easy feat, but it was an experience I will never forget. Being afforded the opportunity to be studying in Italy, and to further be able to travel all over Europe has been amazing. I am so appreciative of all the cultures I have experienced, all the memories I have made, and all the friendships I have created. My love for traveling only grows with each trip, and I cant wait to see where I'll go next!
A presto! (Talk to you soon!)