The biggest aspect of studying abroad is traveling and seeing new places and cultures (aside from studying of course) Since I knew this was a popular part of the abroad experience it was one of my top priorities before starting my program. I decided that I was going to embrace the traveler in me and backpack through Europe. Luckily, I knew a few people who had already done so and got a lot of information and pointers from them.
One piece of advice I got was to use trip companies geared towards students. They plan group trips which include transportation and hostels for every place you visit. I decided to book a few trips using these companies upon my arrival in Florence because they were having sales and I wanted to take advantage of the affordable prices! I booked my long weekend trip to Switzerland, a spring break trip, and a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast. However, this was all booked without having experienced a trip of this nature before and so I was naïve to what it would actually be like.
My experience with this company in Switzerland was good enough, as you read about in my previous blogs, but the spring break trip proved to be a completely different situation. It was a ten-day trip that visited Berlin, Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, and Barcelona. It sounded like a dream come true to me when I first booked it, but I definitely did not look into it as much as I should have and regretted a few things from the trips.
The main thing I did not consider was all the time we would spend on the bus getting to each place. For example, it took 16 hours to drive from Florence to Berlin at the start of the trip and it took 15 hours to get back from Barcelona. Another thing I didn’t consider before booking these trips that would affect my overall satisfaction with them was the hostel situations.
You would think that a girl who grew up in Greece, had a farm and gardens would be perfectly content backpacking through Europe and staying in hostels, but I guess America has spoiled me. I found that my standards for cleanliness where high because only a few of the hostels actually met them.
More so, I realized I was fooling myself for thinking I could bring just one small bag of clothes on this trip so, yes I brought my big luggage bag. Nonetheless, I was grateful for this humbling experience that brought me back to the reality that I am a college student and that luxuries I might have gotten used to in the U.S. are not everywhere.
The trip started off with Berlin and thankfully we drove through the night which made it a little easier since we were tired. I was actually genuinely impressed with this hostel, it was called St. Christopher’s inn and it’ was the chain hostel which we would be staying at in every place we visited.
Maybe this hostel was the reason why I had high expectations for the rest of the hostels but nonetheless we had an amazing time in Berlin filled with walking tours, visits to Holocaust museums, visiting the East Side Gallery and walking around taking in the city. I enjoyed some of their well-known foods like soft pretzels, bratwursts and got dinner at an authentic German restaurant to end the trip filled with German beer and live music. I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed my time there and how beautiful it was.
From there, we went to Amsterdam which was the city I was most excited to go to. We started with a walking tour which made me fall in love with the beauty and history of the city. After the tour, we went to check into the hostel which is when things took a turn. Although this was the same chain as the previous hostel it was nowhere near as good.
This one looked like it was under construction except it wasn’t. It had open walls and ceilings with wires hanging everywhere, grimy door knobs and walls, along with stained sheets and mattresses. Two of the mattresses actually looked like they had bed bugs, but the manager confirmed it wasn’t. However, since one of those mattresses was mine at that point my friend and I felt a lot more comfortable staying in a hotel then not being able to sleep in a place we felt uncomfortable in.
Getting the hotel room was the best thing I could have done and it genuinely made my experience in Amsterdam nearly perfect. The hotel was in a beautiful neighborhood compared to the touristy, red light district that the hostel was located and it gave me a good feel of what Amsterdam was really all about. Me and my friend Francesca spent our days walking all around the city and looking at all the very unique shops and homes of the people nearby. Amsterdam prides themselves with individuality and it was amazing to see how unique every shop and restaurant really was.
Needless to say, I was sad to leave Amsterdam, but I know I will be going back someday. From there we continued our trip by stopping in Belgium for a few hours on our way to Paris. Just enough time to take a look around the city and get some Belgium waffles with chocolate and strawberries. The first couple of cities on this break where very different from each other, but they each had their own feel to them which made me like and appreciate each city in a different way. It was crazy to think we had more cities and places left to visit on this trip and I was prepared for what I would experience in the second part of this trip.