Fall break to Paris and Amsterdam: culture shock at its finest.

Posted on November 21st, 2010 by

Unlike Gustavus, Lorenzo de’ Medici has the best fall break ever! Each year, they have a break long enough for American Students to explore Europe while they’re here for a short time. So, taking full advantage of this break, Melanie, Selin, Lauren (her boyfriend as well) and I all scheduled a nice, well-deserved, trip across Europe for the ten days we had off!

Pre-warning. If you want to read my struggles, skip down to the line “now this is where things get interesting.” If you’re a nice person and want to hear me ramble, read on :)

My break began a little differently than the girls’ did. Our first day of break was a Friday, but I didn’t leave to go to Paris until that Monday. Selin, one of Melanie’s roommates, was going to meet up with the other girls on Saturday to go to Barcelona (the one city on the trip I was skipping…just because of booking issues). So, naturally, on that Friday, Selin and I made a day of it. We walked around town, shopped, got errands done, and of course, climbed the duomo! This was both of our’s first time ever doing this (which is strange since it’s obligatory to do so if you live here for more than a day).

As you can tell from the picture below, this was the last thing we did that day. And consequently, it was beautiful! The sunset was ‘national geographic’ worthy as i put it.

But before we got to the top, I want to talk a bit about the inside of the duomo. Now although we didn’t walk around on the bottom floor, the stairs brought us out almost at the top of the inside of the dome, quite close to the frescoes! It was amazing! On the lower level of the dome (not pictured) were scenes of the devil and scenes from hell. They were very graphic and very powerful. But as you got near the top of the dome, the scenes went from hell, to land, to depictions of heaven. It was well organized and very well executed. Also, you can see the use of the perspective near the top (it looks like those saints are about to jump).

Overall, the walking around Florence was a day well spent. And, with the good looks we both have, Selin and I look great in front of a Florentine sunset :)

As for Sunday, once again I had nothing to do! So, by myself, I packed up my student i.d. card and keys, and headed to the Boboli Gardens. This tourist land mine is in the back of the Pitti or Medici Palace and once was the Medici family’s private garden. It is quite expansive and very relaxing to just roam around!

There are a ton of statues,

and a ton of great photo-ops!

All-in-all, it was good for me to relax before the stress of traveling with 3 girls and a ‘man’ for 6 straight days. Don’t worry, I’ll explain all of this later.

The first stop in our travels: Paris. So here is where things get interesting. So my flight to Paris was on Monday evening at 7:00. This was fine that it was so late, because somewhere in the process the girls or I got confused and it turned out I would be traveling and staying in Paris for a night by myself. I didn’t think this was too bad, because usually I am a very independent person and would love an opportunity to figure things out by myself without 5 people hovering over me and judging my decisions!

So, I got through all of RyanAir’s regulations just fine and was on my way to Paris. At about 9 o’ clock we landed in Paris Beavuis, which isn’t actually Paris (thanks RyanAir), so I took the 15 euro, 1 1/2 hour bus in to Paris. At this point, if you know math, it is already 10:30. So I decided to take a taxi to the apartment i booked on Hostelworld.com (best website ever).

The taxi wasn’t bad at all! Actually, it was rather reassuring and entertaining right away. I found a taxi pretty quickly and he was driving a nice car. So i hopped in, gave him the address, and he immediately started blasting Barry white and screaming, with his fist pumping, “REVOLUTION REVOLUTION!” Oh the French. How cute.

The taxi took a quick ten minutes, and we were there! “Here is your apartment” he said in choppy english. I turned to where he was pointing and saw a door. A nice, aqua-marine door. No reception desk, no welcoming sign suggesting that I had successfully traveled to Paris by my self and was finally reaping the reward of a nice comfy apartment, just a door. So i handed him my money, and he sped off.

Great. After pressing buttons, and realizing that i was definitely not going to get in, i had to think of another plan. Well, it was either that or joining jon doe down the street who had a thing for mattresses and down comforters in a corner of the parking lot. So I spotted (luckily across the street from our ‘aqua-marine’ door), an internet joint. I logged in to hostelworld.com, and found this line (straight from the site)…

BE CAREFULL VERY IMPORTANT

THE CHECK IN FOR THIS APARTMENT WILL BE AT

HOTEL RICHARD
35 RUE RICHARD LENOIR
75011 PARIS
METRO LINE N°9
STOP VOLTAIRE

THERE YOU WILL GET KEYS OF THE APARTMENT AND ALL INFORMATIONS FOR YOUR STAY

Some details :
– Check-in time : between 2 pm and 6 pm

Ah! Perfect! I’m at my apartment at 11:00, without my keys JUST like it says on the site that I looked at carefully before heading out blindly! :) Good planning Sam. So i google maps Hotel Richard and find that it is only 15 minutes from where I am sitting! YAY! Turning point number 2 for the night :)

**Note for anyone who uses google maps. When you find your destination and plan on walking, switch the directions to the “by foot” mode. You can do this by switching the nice, obvious, button from a car to a man walking briskly.

So I start walking. and walking. and walking. Finally, after walking for a half an hour and only making one of the suggested turns that google maps so kindly provided, I finally took the hint that I previously shared with all who are reading! It was a fifteen minute drive, and approximately a 3 hour walk. Awesome, maybe I’ll make the check out time for the next day?!

So, I flagged down another taxi. The ride took 15 minutes (thanks google maps). So i finally get to hotel richard. The door is open (WOOOO), there is a nice lady inside (WOOOOOO), and it’s open!!!!! I get my keys, pay for half of the stay (the total was 100 euro for 5 people for two days…you do the math. Yes, GREAT deal!) and then listen to her directions on how to get back to my apartment via, none other than, the metro.

Sweet. I HATE metros. Especially at 12:00am when the rapists, pickpocketers, and stupid tourists who don’t plan well are out. The instructions on how to get there made complete sense if you were well acquainted with the paris metro. Unfortunately, i have never traveled the paris metro alone. Go figure!? So I get to where the instructions told me to, ask the lady at the information desk where I should be and she points me in the correct direction and lets me in for free, thanks to my good looks ;).

So I get on the correct line, and start heading in the correct direction. At this point, I am still unsure of where i am going and am in desperate need of an english-speaking Parisian who will help calm my nerves and reassure my direction. So, naturally, I chose the most non-threatening person: the african sitting by himself. I’m not a judger, and he looked nice, so I showed him my directions and said (this is spelled phonetically, i don’t know how to actually spell it) “oo-ay,” which apparently means “where is.”

He used broken English, but reassured me I was in the right direction. He was the nicest guy I met the whole trip actually! He kept looking at my directions, and telling me how many stops were left, which line i’d transfer to, and also, that he was taking the same route as me (just staying on the metro a little longer than I)!

When we got off of that particular line, he warned me multiple multiple times to hold on to all of my valuables and watch my luggage! We even met up with one of his friends on the next line. Me and these two nice Parisians chatted all the way until my last stop. I thanked them excessively and then got off.

I then realized they had pick-pocketed my keys to the apartment.

Just kidding :) All was fine and those two gentlemen were my saviors for the trip! I finally got to my apartment at about 1am (which was HUGE and had 6 beds, a big bathroom with a shower, and a nice kitchen!) and passed out for the night.

The next day was a personal reward for myself. The girls weren’t going to get there until about 7pm that night, and I had no plans! So I referenced Rick Steves and headed to the center of the city! My first view of the eiffel tower made up for my stressful previous day

In all its glory, it is pictured above close to a huge museum I forget the name of. The day was beautiful, but pretty chilly. I walked in the direction of the eiffel tower and just enjoyed my time alone. I went to the Orsay (the only museum i wanted to check out that was open on tuesdays) and then headed back to the apartment to meet the girls. Before they came though i had the BEST subway meal ever! The lady working was the best! She had relatives in Minnesota and was a very good conversationalist :) Just what i needed at the time. She even gave me a free cookie!

An hour after I made it back, Mel, Lauren, her bf, cory, and Selin made it! It was sooo nice to see familiar faces and people who spoke english! We headed to the center of town with a family friend of selin’s and just looked at the lit-up eiffel tower.

The next day we decided to climb the eiffel tower! It was soooo amazing! For the second day in a row, it was beautiful out! Sunny as could be! It took about 3 hours all-in-all to make it to the top, and it was totally worth it.

After climbing the tower, we headed to the contemporary museum (the one i hadn’t planned on seeing, but still a pretty good museum). Since they didn’t have student discounts, we just saw the exhibition that was currently being showed. It was actually really disturbing. It was similar to an autobiography, just via graphic photos and short films. To summarize, he was a heroine and sex addict…Needless to say, i won’t go into details.

After the eye-opening contemp. museum we went to the overwhelming Lourve. Which, obviously, was AMAZING! It was at sundown, so outside pictures were amazing.

We got in free (thanks to isic) and it wasn’t crowded at all.

My favorite, the winged victory, is pictured above. It was just as amazing as I pictured it. As you walked down the hallway, you could see it in the distance at the top of the stairs. When you got up there, you could walk right up to it and almost touch it. It was fantastic! Then we roamed the halls of italian and spanish art (renassaincey period) and called it a night. oh, and we stopped to give mona a visit.

That night we headed to our second hotel which was in the outskirts of Paris at a nice hotel called “Hipotel of Hipoderm Paris.” It was lovely actually. It had hot water, two rooms for the 4 of us (selin stayed with her friend) and was a 15 minute metro ride away.

The next morning we woke up early to see Notre Dame. It was wonderful! We only stayed long enough to take stereotypical tourist pictures and just relax. Then we headed to our bus to bring us to Amsterdam.

When we finally completed out 6 hour bus ride to Amsterdam, we all just wanted to get to our hostel and pass out. However, we weren’t so lucky to do that.

We didn’t want to pay for a taxi, we just wanted to take the tram there. The only problem was that the specific tram to our vicinity was already closed. So we asked some dutch natives where to go and assured us it was only a 20 minute walk from there. lies. For people who have never been to amsterdam, it’s moreso a 2 hour walk.

We could not find this place to save our lives! We wandered around for two hours, but eventually found it. It ended up being our least favorite hostel, but it wasn’t bad by any means (we got soooo lucky that whole trip accommodation-wise).

The next morning we got up early and rented bikes. Amsterdam is actually the bike-capital of the world, and we thought it’d be kind of cool just ridin’ around. So for most of the day we just rode around, took pictures, and soaked in all of the fantastic scenery.

In between biking around and soaking in the scenes of holand, we took a pit stop at the nationally known beer’s origin; the heineken brewery! The brewery was named “the heineken experience” and that is exactly what it was. It was amazing! There were videos after videos and even an interactive film where the platform we stood on moved to the movie and allowed us to become the beer and go through what the beer went through. it was too intense for words!

Later that night Selin made it to the hostel (much quicker and more efficiently than us with the help of the OPEN tram) and we headed out to show her around. She rode on the bar of Cory’s bike and we just wandered. We then headed back after a couple of hours and called it a night.

The next day was pretty similar. It was spent walking around and exploring. Most of Amsterdam was just exploring the city itself, eating, and chatting. The bikes also helped keep things interesting.

After we had our fill of the city, we made our way back to a second hostel (hans brinker budget hostel which is well known for calling itself a crappy hostel) and called it a night. The next day Melanie, Selin and I found an early train to Eindhoven and from there we flew back to Pisa and trained our way on back to Florence. It was beautiful to be back in florence. And even though the trip was wonderful and exciting, it was refreshing to finally be back at somewhere we called home.

 

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