Spring break was one of the busiest, craziest, happiest weeks of my life. This was not only because of everything I got to see and do, but also because Evan finally came to visit. I am so very thankful that he was able to make it over here and enjoy spring break in Europe with me 🙂 I showed him around Leiden and Amsterdam before we embarked on our international travels.
There’s a reason I’m able to travel to so many places during my semester in Europe. Well, two reasons. 1. I worked three jobs before coming here. 2. I’m cheap. Reason number 2 is the motivation behind our decision to take a 7 hour bus ride to Paris. Thanks to my many years of traveling for soccer, I am no stranger to long car rides, but that didn’t make the ride any more comfortable. It was worth it, though!
When we arrived in Paris, we couldn’t get off the bus. Everyone was standing up and just waiting. We looked out the window and saw a large group of very intense looking policemen looking around the bus. Eventually, two of those policemen boarded the bus and began looking all over the place – under the seats, on top of the luggage racks, in the bathroom, everywhere. After not finding whatever they were looking for, the police allowed us to begin leaving the bus. It took forever, because each passenger had to present their passport and answer some questions. The police officer asked us how long we would be in France, then requested to search our bags. Looking around, I saw that every passenger had to open their suitcase for a police officer and allow him to search through it.
The police officer asked me a question with a very heavy French accent, so I didn’t understand him the first time. He clarified by asking, “No cannabis? Marijuana?”
Oh. Right. We were on a bus from Amsterdam. Everything suddenly made sense.
After the police finished searching my bag in about five minutes and Evan’s in about fifteen (his Spider-Man playing cards seemed especially dangerous), we finally set off to find our hostel. My first impression of Paris was that even the biggest, best cities have a really gross metro. Once we exited the metro, I saw that Paris above ground was also…well, kind of gross. I did love Paris and all of the things we saw and did, but I feel like people tend to describe it as this gorgeous, pristine, glamorous city…and it’s really not quite at that level in my opinion. Paris is amazing, interesting, and spectacular…just not very clean.
Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower. Wow. Of all the things I’ve seen so far throughout my travels, this sight was definitely the most surreal. It’s such an iconic monument, and you see it all over movies and TV shows, so to actually see it in person was just weird. I had butterflies just looking at it. We were there as the sun was setting, so we got our first sight of the Tower all lit up as we were right underneath it. Then, to many “oohs” and “aahs,” the Tower’s white lights started blink, giving it a gorgeous glittering effect. It was incredible. When we got to the top the sun had completely set, so we could see all the lights of Paris. It was absolutely breathtaking. I think that’s the least Evan talked during the entire trip 😛
The rest of our visit to Paris was very packed, but we managed to do quite a bit in very little time. We saw the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Montmartre, Luxembourg Garden, Notre Dame, and we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (which consisted of stores so luxurious that I feared the products’ value would drop the moment I walked in).
Some smaller, not so Eiffel Tower-level highlights: Every major monument we visited had at least five military guards present. I saw watches that were more expensive than cars. I saw a giant bottle of Chanel perfume that would literally last a lifetime. It was the size of the fifth Harry Potter book and it was 3000 Euro. Upon walking into the Disney store, I heard “Let it Go” in French. Baguettes are a super big deal. I saw someone walking down the street eating a baguette sandwich every few minutes. There were crepe stands all over the place. We got one and it was delicious! We were once confused for Australians. We were also confused for Latinos.
Rome was the most rushed part of the entire trip. We anticipated this, but that didn’t make things much easier. We had a lot to see in very little time, and it didn’t help that Rome was the hardest city to navigate. The winding streets changed their names every ten feet, and intersections were really hard to figure out because they had ten different streets sprouting from them at several different angles.
Our first stop was The Vatican, which was a lovely way to witness some of the amazing architecture we were going to see in Rome. It was very beautiful and huge. It was also packed because the Pope had spoken earlier that day. We also saw The Pantheon, The Spanish Steps, and my favorite, The Colosseum. This part was quite the adventure because the Colosseum website did not bother to mention that it would be closing at 5 for a small period of time. We raced to get there before their last entry (which was supposed to be 6:15) and made it just in time…only to find out that it closed at 5. We were really, really upset. However, we were determined to get in to the Colosseum. We found out that it opened at 8:30am, and our train to Florence left at 9:50 the next morning. So, we got up bright and early, made sure we were at the doors before they opened, and we got to go inside the Colosseum. Just being able to make that happen made Rome a huge victory for us. After that, we had to race back to the hostel, check out, and race to the train station. We made it with ten minutes to spare. Woot!
We also saw the Trevi Fountain, but it was missing a pretty important component – the water. The drawback of traveling in the off-season is that you are bound to find out that some of your favorite sights are under construction. Well, the Trevi Fountain was under construction. We still got to see the structure itself, and it was beautiful. We agreed that this was just a reason for us to come back to Rome one day.
Some smaller, not so Colosseum-level highlights: We saw quite a few cats! There were even a couple in the Colosseum while we were there, and I was really excited about it. I had my first Italian Gelato in Rome (I’m pretty sure this is the only reason Evan wanted to go to Italy) and it met every expectation I had. It was amazing. By the end of our visit to Rome, my legs were dying. We were literally running around in Rome, and we were both absolutely exhausted. The metro in Rome was nuts. It only consists of two lines, and they only intersect at one station. So, if you want to get really, really close with the people in Rome, just hop on the metro. Thankfully, we were able to walk to most places we needed to get to.
This was easily my favorite part of the trip. From the moment our train left the station and the scenery started to change, I could not contain my excitement. The view from the window was beautiful. We passed so many hills with little clusters of Tuscan-colored houses on top. It really felt like what I’d always imagined Italy to be.
Walking around Florence was incredible. In fact, that’s all I really needed to do. I didn’t care what we did or what we saw, I just wanted to walk around and pretend I lived there. The weather was gorgeous, the buildings were gorgeous, the language was gorgeous. I was ecstatic. It was also the most relaxing part of our trip because we weren’t on a tight schedule like we were in Paris and Rome. Everything was close together, there was no such thing as the metro, and I couldn’t possibly have been more thrilled. I was so done with the underground at that point of our trip.
I did do more than just walk around and pretend I lived in Florence, though. There were so many different museums to go to, but we chose the one that featured Michelangelo’s David – Academia Galleria. There are a couple copies that we found throughout Florence, but we wanted to see the original. The museum was really awesome, too. I can only look at paintings for so long, but sculptures are a totally different story. It was amazing to imagine how long it would take someone to actually sculpt the incredible art that we can still see today.
Florence had many notable churches that we were able to see, the biggest (and my favorite) being La Catedral de Santa Maria del Fiore. It’s the fourth largest church in the world, and for me it’s the second most beautiful (La Sagrada de La Familia being the first). When Evan and I were looking for it with our map, we both had a moment where we looked up and saw a huge tower in the distance and said, “Yeah, I’m thinking that’s it.” With Florence being as small and compact as it was, this church just towered over everything. It was definitely impossible to miss. It was really, really pretty. I loved the art on the walls, and it was a totally different kind of beautiful at night.
We also walked along the Arno river, which was lined with all of the gorgeous Tuscan-colored buildings of Florence. We crossed Ponte Vecchio, a very famous bridge that featured TONS of jewelry stores. I had to have seen every stone and every metal there is. It was all beautiful and crazy expensive. After all of the walking, our legs were super sore again. I definitely needed all of the walking though, because Italian food was everything I’d dreamed it would be. I tried gnocchi for the first time and it was the most amazing thing ever. I also had tons of other delicious pasta, pizza, and obviously gelato. It was all so amazing. We ate very well in Italy. The wine was equally wonderful 🙂 We tried limoncello as well, and I think we both could do without trying it again. It was both lemony and citrusy…and really, really strong.
Some smaller, not so La Catedral de Santa Maria del Fiore-level highlights: After lots and lots of climbing, we reached the highest point of Florence (Michelangelo’s Point) and it was so gorgeous. It was also nice and breezy, which was perfect after our exhausting climb. We went to the central market which featured tons of leather! Jackets, shoes, purses, you name it. Also, shopping in Florence was almost as luxurious as it was in Paris. Lots of expensive things that are worth more than I am.
Unfortunately, our spring break adventure did have to come to an end. It went by so fast. It was quite the struggle getting to class today. It was an even bigger struggle to say goodbye to Evan again. I thought it might be easier than when I left in January, but it wasn’t. It was waaaay worse this time. On the bright side, we know we’re perfectly capable of getting through it, and I have many more adventures planned until I see him again 🙂
Bouncing from place to place was incredibly busy and stressful, but it put an even bigger emphasis on how important traveling is for me. At one point during the trip Evan said, “You don’t realize just how many people are in this world until you travel like this.” We explored three different countries and five different cities together, and each place had different defining characteristics. Each time we got off a bus, train, or plane, it was very obvious that we were somewhere new. We experienced different architecture, different languages, different foods, different customs, different attitudes, and even different ways of walking (or shoving).
As usual, coming home to Leiden was an incredible feeling. I was really happy to see that Evan understood just how wonderfully peaceful Leiden is compared to the hustle and bustle of other cities. The traffic in Paris and Rome was just absolutely nuts. There were no lanes, pretty much no one obeys crossing signs, and it was just utter chaos. Coming back to bicyclists that give the right of way to pedestrians was wonderful. We had one more day in Leiden before Evan had to leave, and it was just the relaxation we needed.
Evan’s on his way home now and I’m sitting here recovering from my first day back to class. It’s quite a challenge to stay focused when all I really want to do is pretend I live in Florence again. I leave for Ireland on Thursday. You may be thinking, “Alexia! Why on earth would you plan to go to Ireland right after such a long, busy trip?” The thing is, I didn’t plan on going to Ireland on March 19th. I planned on going to Ireland on February 19th. This girl learned how to double-check what she’s booking before hitting “submit” the hard way.