My semester abroad in London is the first time I have ever been in Europe. I have dreamed about traveling across Europe for as long as I have had access to the internet. Initially, I intended to travel to France, Spain, The Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I realized that I did not have the time or budget to travel to so many countries I decided to change my mindset from one of disappointment to responsible planning. I decided to make a list of my top three countries and to travel them during my week-long summer vacation between my classes and internship. So this past week, I traveled to The Netherlands, Denmark, and France. This was one of the most emotionally expensive and humbling experiences I have ever encountered.
Of course, never having visited Europe, I will be excited to travel to any and everywhere. It can both be easy and difficult to have expectations of places you have never been before. Prior to leaving for London, my advisor made sure to tell me to visit The Netherlands so that I could get an idea if I wanted to study abroad there this upcoming spring semester.I was adamant that I wanted to spend 4 days in The Netherlands during my week-long break instead of a 2-day weekend trip. My reasoning? I didn’t want to only visit Amsterdam since that was not the city where my university would be if I decided to study abroad.
After the next few weeks of being concerned that I would either have to travel to The Netherlands alone, have my aunt come spend the break with me, or not go to The Netherlands at all, I was able to find someone who was also intending to go there during my break. We ended up traveling to The Netherlands and Denmark together, spending 5 days together. Firstly, we got into our Airbnb much later than we thought because of how long it took us to understand Dutch transportation. We were unable to find a decently priced Airbnb in Amsterdam for the 4 days we would be there so we ended up staying in Utrecht, a city 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam. As someone who is hoping to study abroad in The Netherlands, I was adamant about being able to visit more than just Amsterdam. So in that regard, I succeeded. But the transportation ended up being much more expensive than I realized. What we saved on a cheap Airbnb ended up costing in transportation.
We spent about €72 on trains, metros, and buses. One of the groups on my program stayed on a houseboat during their trip to Amsterdam while another group stayed in a farmhouse. Carefully choose your lodging so that it is close to where the majority of your activities will be. The Netherlands was the first country I have ever traveled to where English was not the first language (other than Puerto Rico). Honestly, it was not as English friendly as I thought it would be. Although almost everyone speaks English, many of the signs were not translated to English (primarily on the bus and tram) we had to make a lot of assumptions. Although my time in The Netherlands was met with some challenges (the unavailability and high costs of water and soda, confusing and costly transportation, etc), I love the atmosphere of the locals and how friendly they are. I believe I am making the right choice in pursuing a semester in Holland.
I was born in the United States Virgin Islands. These islands were owned by Denmark until they were sold to the US in 1917. A large portion of my heritage’s culture comes from Denmark. Since I was 11, I have always wanted to see the country for myself and I am glad that I was able to do so. Copenhagen is absolutely beautiful. It is quiet and calm. Canals are everywhere and you can get lost in thought while admiring the country. We visit Tivoli Gardens and did something completely new. There is this ongoing art project in Copenhagen called “The Six Forgotten Giants” where there are six huge art sculptures hidden around the city of Copenhagen to encourage a treasure hunt through the beautiful natural areas of Denmark. We started off our day with just intending to visit one giant but by the early evening, we were hooked and sought to find 3 more before we left the country. Oh boy. Hiking up a volcano was nothing compared to this treasure hunt.
Not having driven in foreign countries before, it would have been unwise to rent a car and Denmark didn’t have Uber so we opted to use the buses and trains to get around. If we had rented a car, it would have taken about 15-25 mins to get in between each of the giants but on the train and sometimes the bus, it can take at least an hour and 30 minutes and even two hours. It was so difficult trying to find the giants especially with the sun setting in a country I have never visited. But which each victory of getting a glance of the giants, it fueled us with more confidence and more excitement to find the next one. Although being in new countries was nice, sometimes the stress of trying to getting around a new city and trying to figure out how to from point A to point B safely, and as low cost as possible, would cloud my joy and make me feel uneasy. However, there were many times where I just had to sit, breathe, and take in the moment. Even though my glasses cleaner and journaling scissors were taken during security at the airport and my water bottle spilled all over my things, drenched my adapter and power bank leaving me unable to charge my phones for most of my trip. Because it’s okay. Even I was very stressed, I let it go and tried to enjoy what I could.
Lastly, Paris. I spent my entire life dreaming of traveling to Paris. Can you tell I had high expectations? Even when I heard the opinions of others who have been to Paris, I still kept my hopes up. It was not the best time to travel to Paris as there was an unprecedented heat wave. It was sweltering and almost unbearable. And it was at this point that I got my fever and my cold hit harder. The metros and trains in Paris had no air conditioning. As an American that is used to ice cold drinks and air conditioning everywhere, Paris shocked me more than any country I had ever been. I could not see through rose-tinted glasses, it was too hot to even wear them. To make it worst, our Airbnb didn’t have air conditioning either! I was boiling.
Paris didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t all romantic and sweet like I wanted but the locals were very friendly and the duck was delicious. At the moment, I was furious (especially after my awful time at the CDG airport and the horrors I experienced. But once I was able to regain my cool and think through my time in Paris, I decided that in order to truly get the Parisian experience, I would have to go during the Spring or Fall where the weather is less hot and more suited to my tastes. I learned a lot while traveling and I don’t regret my experiences although I was a bit unhappy at the moment. We would not be able to truly enjoy the highs or happy moments if we did not have lows to compare them to.