A January Weekend in London

Back in the Fall, my school was given a schedule with newly-added holiday dates, one of these being Friday, January 30. As it turned out, school was actually in session that day, but the problem was I had already booked a trip to London. After explaining to my school the confusion, they gave me permission to miss work for the day, so off to London I went!

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This was my third time to London, but I just can’t get enough of this city! And at the time that I booked it, I thought this was going to be my last year in Spain (which it might still be, but my mind changes all the time so who knows) so I wanted to be sure I went back to one of my favorite cities before leaving since I’m not sure when I’ll make it back to Europe in the future.

London is always calling!

London is always calling!

After a delayed flight, I arrived to London Gatwick Airport on Thursday night. I had a bunch of problems trying to print my train ticket to get into the city. Eventually I had to go pay to use the airport’s computers. What I immediately noticed about London was how rushed everyone seemed! There was no waiting for anyone. The woman working at the ticket line was so rude and hurried everyone along, meanwhile all of the people in the airport were walking at warp-speed. This observation shows just how long I’ve been living in Spain. As a country, Spaniards walk SO SLOW. Normally us English-cultures are hurrying the Spaniards along. But in London, I couldn’t keep up! I felt like an annoyance to everyone because I know how it feels to have someone in your way when you’re trying to get somewhere (basically every single time I step outside in Madrid).
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I finally boarded my train into the city center, navigated the underground, and checked into my hostel located just north of Hyde Park. The next morning I ate breakfast at the hostel with my Swedish roommates who came to London because they just wanted to live there and they had been living in the hostel for quite some time while they searched for a job and a place to live. We also sat and talked with a girl from Taiwan. We had the most interesting conversation. The girl (who was actually 32-years-old, so maybe not really a girl) from Taiwan was just days away from leaving London because her visa was expiring. She had been living and working in London for two years for the sole reason of finding a white husband! She said she preferred white men to Asian men, so she had spent a good amount of her life searching for a white husband. I felt sad for her because she never met Mr. Right and was now forced to go home to Taiwan. I hope that things work out for her in the end. It was just so interesting because I had never met anyone to move to a new country just to find a husband of a different race.

After breakfast, I took London’s free walking tour which met in Green Park. Though I have been to London before, I had never taken one of its free walking tours which I like to do in most cities I go to. I always learn new things and it’s a great way to meet other people. We were a small group of only 8 and half of us were traveling solo so it was nice getting to know everyone. After the tour I grabbed lunch and drinks at a pub with a couple girls from the tour. I ordered a ham and cheese melt with SWEET POTATO FRIES!! Oh how I’ve missed sweet potato fries. I was a happy camper.

Messing with one of the guards on duty.

Messing with one of the guards on duty on the tour.

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Sweet Potato Fries!! <333

That night I met up with my high school friend, Claire! I haven’t seen Claire in years so it was so great seeing her! She now lives in London with her fiancée, Josh, so it was great having them to show me around London for the weekend. We grabbed dinner and then I left to go to the Camden district of the city for the pub crawl that was advertised on my tour earlier that day. I met with one of the girls I went to lunch with and we had a fun night! The pub crawl took us to 4 bars and a club all on the same street. There was one bar that used to be an old horse hospital so in the barn area, each stall was either turned into a seating area or into a bar area. It was so cool- unlike anything I’d ever seen before. We ended the night at Koko nightclub which used to be a theater. I love European clubs because often old theaters are turned into nightclubs which I find really cool. Finding my way home was interesting because I got off at the wrong bus stop and ended up having to walk a half hour to my hostel. It was actually snowing while I was walking which was beautiful and freezing at the same time. The streets were deserted at 5 AM which was the polar opposite of Madrid. I definitely prefer Spain’s nightlife for that reason.

London at 5 A.M.  Snowy and deserted.

London at 5 A.M. Snowy and deserted.

For the rest of the weekend I hungout with Claire and Josh as they showed me around. Saturday afternoon we had tickets for a Charlton Athletic football match. It was FREEZING, so it was hard to fully enjoy the game, but it was still cool going to an English soccer game since I never have before. That night Claire and I walked around the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, got fish and chips for dinner, and then went to a pub for a couple ciders before calling it a night. Sunday afternoon before my flight, we hiked up Primrose Hill for a view of the city skyline, went to Trafalgar Square and went inside the National Gallery, walked through Convent Garden, Picadilly Circus, and Oxford Street. We ended our time with getting some of the best burgers in London before it was time for me to head to the airport for my night flight back to Madrid.

Charlton Football Match

Charlton Football Match

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

View of London from Primrose Hill.

View of London from Primrose Hill.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

It was a wonderful and relaxing weekend in London. It went by way too quickly. Though it wasn’t my first time there, 3 nights is just not enough time to explore London! But it was a great trip and it was so nice seeing an old friend in one of my favorite cities! Until next time, London 🙂

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My Second Year Winter Break Trip!

When I returned to Spain this year for a second year, I thought I had made a definitive decision that I would go home for Christmas break no matter what. Well, after my hectic month in September, I didn’t get fully settled back in until October and by that point Christmas was already creeping up quickly. Since I had made no travel plans yet, I found myself dreaming of where I would travel to over the holidays rather than looking up [expensive] plane tickets home. Since it’s difficult for me to travel around Europe on the regular weekends, I knew I had to take advantage of a full 18 days off of work. As difficult as it was to make the decision to spend another Christmas away from home, I also realized how much more comfortable I felt living over here this year and I felt like I was emotionally more prepared to spend the holidays away from home this year.

Fortunately for me, my friend Lindsey was also planning on staying and traveling during Christmas again this year! Lindsey is my good friend that I met when we studied abroad together through the same program in Sevilla (4 years ago!). She and I took on Central Europe last year during the holidays in an amazing trip to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and Hamburg. It was such an incredible trip that when we both decided we were going to stay and travel again this year, we got together with Lindsey’s friend Angela (they worked in the same town last year) and planned another amazing itinerary.

Lindsey and I enjoying the Christmas markets in Vienna last Christmas Eve!

Lindsey and I enjoying the Christmas markets in Vienna last Christmas Eve!

This year we went to Geneva, Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. This trip was filled with a little less eating and Christmas markets than last year’s (probably for the better) but it was far less cold and possibly even more fun! Last year, Lindsey and I faced a lot of problems with transportation and sleep (on my end). This year, our problems had more to do with our health, which somehow didn’t get in the way of it turning into one of the best trips of my life!

Here are the links to read about each place:

Geneva, Switzerland: Days 1-4
Brussels, Bruges, & Ghent, Belgium: Days 4-10
Amsterdam, Netherlands: Days 10-14
Copenhagen, Denmark: Days 14-18

Copenhagen, Denmark: Days 14-18

DAY 14: JANUARY 1, 2015
We used the first day of 2015 as a travel day to get to the last city of our trip: Copenhagen, Denmark!

Copenhagen's town hall.

Copenhagen’s town hall.

After about 5 hours of sleep, we reluctantly rolled out of bed at noon to pack our bags and check out of our airbnb by 1 pm. After a 30-minute walk to the train station and a 30-minute train ride to the airport, we arrived to the airport at 2:30 pm with about 2.5 hours to spare so we grabbed lunch at Burger King (I seriously eat more American food in Europe than I do in America) and relaxed before our 5 pm flight.

We arrived to Copenhagen around 6:30 pm and took the metro to the center of the city where our hostel was. We stayed at the Generator hostel but it took many back and forths until we finally found it. Once we checked in and got settled into our room, we went to a pizza/kebab place around the corner from our hostel because it seemed to be the only thing that was open on New Year’s Day. The whole city seemed pretty dead when we arrived. Apparently the night before was so crazy that everyone went to sleep early on New Year’s Day, which is exactly what we did once we finished eating.

DAY 15: JANUARY 2, 2015
Like every other city, we wanted to spend our first full day in this new city getting to know it by doing one of the free walking tours that was advertised in our hostel. And just like our usual late-selves, Ange and I were a couple minutes late to meet our special hostel pickup so we ended up having to go to the town hall on our own to meet everyone. On our way, we stopped for some breakfast at 7-Eleven!! YES, that’s right, Copenhagen had 7-ELEVENS! In fact, it had a lot of them. I was so shocked to see them because I had no idea they went international. Next to the town hall, there was what I like to call “American Row.” In a straight line there was 7-Eleven, Burger King, and KFC with a huge McDonald’s advertisement that hovered up above.

I'm still shocked they exist in Denmark!

I’m still shocked they exist in Denmark!

The tour was great because since Copenhagen is so small, it really covered most of what we needed to see. I feel guilty because we were given a lot of information about Copenhagen and its history on our tour, but since it was more than 2 weeks into our trip, we were all feeling a little burnt out so it was hard to pay attention. Things we saw on our walking tour, however, included the Nyhavn, which is the city’s old port, which used to be filled with sailors, prostitutes, a pubs. We also saw that Amalienborg Palace, which is a square of four buildings, one being a museum and the others being the houses of the Danish royals, and it is also where you can see the changing of the guard everyday at noon. Our tour ended just a few minutes away from The Little Mermaid Statue. This [said to be] most overrated tourist attraction is a bronze statue that was inspired by the characted of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale was unveiled in Copenhagen in 1913. It was definitely underwhelming, as it was just a tiny statue that, I mean, didn’t even look like Ariel- like, come on! But I already knew what the statue looked like and that it was small so I didn’t have any feelings of disappointment when I saw it.

There she is!

There she is!

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

After getting stir-fry for dinner and resting a bit at the hostel, we decided to go on the pub crawl that was advertised by our tour guide. We were surprisingly on time (if not early! *Gasp*) for this ridiculously early pub crawl that started at 8 pm. It included 4 bars and a club at the end so I suppose there was a lot to fit in and therefore needed to start early. This was definitely one of the best pub crawls I have been on. It was a great group of people and we all had a lot of fun. Our night ended in the wee hours of the morning with Ange, Lindsey, and I all getting separated all over Copenhagen from one another but luckily we found each other in the end.

DAY 16: JANUARY 3, 2015
We were complete waste of lives this entire day. After all waking up past noon and getting ready, we found a burrito place near our hostel that hit the spot in our hungry bellies.

Our plan was to go back to the hostel for a bit to re-group but that “bit” turned into the rest of the night. Luckily the Generator Hostel was like a huge college dorm and student center. It had a café and bar, an area to watch TV and movies, a pool table, and plenty of comfy seating. We stayed on the couch next to the pool table for HOURS napping and listening to soothing Ed Sheeran play through the speakers on repeat. I was loving life. When people started to use the pool table things got intense because an old Swedish man who was staying at the hostel started dubbing himself king of the pool table and was challenging poor young guys who just wanted to play pool. It was entertaining at least.

When we finally decided to move, we only moved about 30 feet to one of the tables next to the café. We ordered dinner from the hostel which was actually delicious and then we called it a night and went to bed early. After a crazy New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam and then an even crazier night two days later in Copenhagen, we were feeling pretty exhausted. Luckily Copenhagen was a small city and we didn’t have a long list of things we wanted to see or do so we had some extra wiggle room to take a day off and not feel guilty about it.

DAY 17: JANUARY 4, 2015
Since we missed the day before, we got up early to make the most of our day of sightseeing. As I was showering, our roommate came in and told us that there was a siren going off and we had to evacuate the building. Of course it was just as I got out of the shower- lovely timing. Being the slow-movers that we are, Ange, Lindsey, and I finally made it outside after the majority of our hostel had already been there. But lucky for us, we only had to stand there for 10 minutes before we were allowed to enter the building again. Thank god because Copenhagen’s temperatures were not exactly ideal for standing outside with wet hair! To this day we still don’t know what happened but we assume it was a small fire of some sort since we saw firemen in the stairwell.

Our first stop was 7-Eleven (of course) to grab some breakfast and we ate it next to the beautiful Nyhavn area. Then we walked over to the royal palace to watch the changing of the guard which happens everyday at noon. It was so much better than London’s changing of the guard! For starters, there were MUCH less people there so we were actually able to get up close and personal as the guards marched by. Second, they performed the changing out in the open, instead of behind giant gates, so we had a perfect view the entire time. I really enjoyed it! And being able to stand right next to the guards allowed us to see how some of them are complete babies! (Babies as in probably 18-years-old but still, that’s young!)

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Next we made it over to the Strøget, which is a pedestrian, car-free shopping street. It’s one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, stretching over 1.1 km. Naturally we had to do a little shopping! Afterwards, we spend a couple hours in the National Museum before it closed at 5 pm.

Our last stop was Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world which opened in 1843 and is located right in the center of the city, next to the town hall. It was great how everything was in walking distance of each other in Copenhagen! We decided to pay only the entrance fee instead of buying unlimited rides because we weren’t sure if we would actually go on the rides. The Christmas season had been over for quite some time by this point- but not in Tivoli Gardens! It was like walking into a Christmas wonderland and I absolutely loved it! There were lights everywhere, Christmas music surrounding the park, and even a Christmas market. We treated ourselves to some gløgg which is the Danish version of mulled wine, just a little sweeter with more fun surprises (like dried fruit at the bottom) and we walked around the park. We saw the water fountain light show in the lake, Ange and I rode the swing ride, and then we caught the impressive firework show since it was Tivoli’s last day of the season.

The Christmas-y entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

The Christmas-y entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

Glogg!

Gløgg!

The end-of-season firework show.

The end-of-season firework show.

It was a great day of sightseeing! And since it was the last night of our trip (sad face) we went to an Irish bar on the Strøget street for some drinks. We got some Carlsberg’s since that’s a must-do in Copenhagen, where the brewery is located. There was an American singer/guitarist performing for all 8 of us spectators. Once he found out we were American he dedicated his cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” to us and then an even more special one to Ange since she was from Chicago. The best was when he said he was going to do a cover of our “homegirl” and then burst into “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears haha.

DAY 18: JANUARY 5, 2015
The official last day of our trip- WAHH 😦 Our flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon so we had time that morning to do some last-minute exploring. We decided to walk over to Christiania, or Freetown Christiania, which is an autonomous neighborhood in Copenhagen that is regulated by a special law. Like Amsterdam, Christiania is said to be tolerant of cannabis and this neighborhood represents the liberal and progressive side of Denmark. Unfortunately we got there, walked around, and saw nothing special about it. Everything looked closed and there weren’t many people. Something tells me that we didn’t go into the heart of the neighborhood, though.

After walking back to the hostel, the time had come to hop on our flight back to Madrid and officially end our trip. The definite perk of living in a big city is that once we reached Madrid, I was home. But poor Lindsey and Ange still had a little more travelling to do to get to their cities in the south. I was sad to say goodbye to them and our trip, but I was definitely looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and relaxing!


CONCLUSION
Lindsey, Ange, and I mutually agreed that we were a little disappointed by Copenhagen. It was a nice city and we had a great time there, but we weren’t very impressed. Everyone we had talked to prior to our trip said that they LOVED Copenhagen, so we had high expectations. So naturally I was expecting to be wow-ed but I just wasn’t. Perhaps it was our timing.  Cities seem to be a little lackluster the week after New Year’s.  But overall, it was my least favorite city on our trip but I’m still very happy I got to see it.

Amsterdam: Days 10-14

DAY 10: DECEMBER 28, 2014
AMSTERDAM! A city that has been high on my bucket list since I studied abroad but I just never made it there…until now. So saying I was excited our entire 4-hour train ride from Bruges to Amsterdam would be an extreme understatement.

We arrived around 2 pm and the second we walked out of the train station we caught glimpses of those famous canals, crooked houses, and racks on racks of bikes! It took us a while to figure out the bus system, but once we did we met up with our Airbnb host who walked us over to the apartment to show us the place. We stayed in a small studio apartment which was about a 20 minute walk from the center, which was a little further than what we would have wanted, but it was the best-priced option we could find considering we were staying for New Year’s and therefore all of the prices for accommodation were outrageously jacked up. Also the apartment had a giant window that faced a canal which was awesome and really made us feel like we were in Amsterdam.  With time, we got used to the walk to the center so it wasn’t bad at all.

Crooked houses and canals!

Crooked houses and canals!


THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT

After getting settled in, we ventured into the city and got dinner. Afterwards, we wasted no time and went straight to the famous Red Light District. This district was like nothing I had ever seen before- I was so intrigued by it! The widely-known fact is that prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. It is a very liberal country that believes something is okay as long as it covers three criteria: 1. It must bring the city money. 2. It can’t hurt anyone. 3. It must be discreet. Since prostitution covers all of these things, it has been legal in the Netherlands for centuries and consequently, prostitutes are granted with access to medical care and a help building in the center of the district called the Prostitution Information Center. Shockingly, the Red Light District is also the safest in Amsterdam as there are plenty of policemen and bodyguards for the women.

PIC:  Prostitution Information Center

PIC: Prostitution Information Center

Doubling up as also being the oldest district in Amsterdam, the small cobble-stone streets are literally lit-up in red. I was amazed by how big the district actually was. There are about 300 total windows that the women themselves usually rent out, where there are all different types of half-naked women posing seductively, mostly from Eastern Europe. The women are organized according to type so that it makes it easy for the men to find what they like. There were skinny women, curvy women, old women, young, white women, black, Asian, big boobs, small boobs, etc. It is the law that the prostitutes have to be at least 21-years-old. The oldest prostitutes just retired- they were twin 70-year-old women! There is even a website where men can see all the women that are offered so that they can read actual reviews about these women (like how they treat the men and whether they offer a girlfriend experience or not) and the location of the girl. The price of the “services” are negotiated at the door, but usually cost about 50 Euros for 15 minutes. We witnessed a couple different men actually negotiating with the prostitutes and then entering the small, red-lit rooms often only consisting of a single bed. Of course these men got a lot of stares from us fascinated spectators on the streets.

Red Light District

Look at all those red lights.  That means they’re open for business!

The streets of the Red Light District are not only filled with women in windows but also a lot of the famous coffee shops that sell cannabis and a lot of sex show theaters. You would think that this district would only be filled with creepy, solo men searching to pay for sex but there were actually all different types of people wandering the streets (I mean, we were three, young women walking around, right?). Yes, there were plenty of those loner men, but there were also groups of men, groups of women, tourists, couples, and even families with young children (though I can’t say that’s an appropriate place to take your 10-year-old but hey, every culture does things differently).

I found a red light in the Red Light District!

I found a red light in the Red Light District!


COFFEE SHOPS

Speaking of the coffee shops, they are another icon of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Another widely-known fact is that Holland is very lenient with their drug policies. What’s not widely-known, however, is that marijuana and all other drugs are actually illegal. So then why is the Netherlands known for being a country where you can walk into a coffee shop and buy a blunt and openly smoke it there? It’s because the Dutch people know that it’s impossible to stop all drug consumption and therefore as a method to lower the consumption, coffee shops (not cafés) are permitted to sell small amounts of soft drugs, like marijuana. This also follows the three criteria that says in order to be allowed, it must be good for business, it mustn’t hurt anyone, and it must be discreet. Since these shops are hidden under the identity of being “coffee shops” it stays discreet and the police are able to pretend like these coffee shops don’t sell drugs. There are about 200 coffee shops in Amsterdam (which is sadly dropping in numbers) and they are easy to pinpoint because the official ones have a green and white license sticker in the window. It was crazy walking down the streets of Amsterdam and immediately knowing when we passed a coffee shop because a strong smell of weed would surround us.

I personally really liked the name of this coffee shop:  Mellow Yellow.

I personally really liked the name of this coffee shop: Mellow Yellow.

I personally am in love with Holland’s liberal approach because it seems to be working. Since the Dutch people have easy access to soft drugs, the police are able to focus on catching the people selling harder drugs. They must be doing something right because Holland has the lowest number of drug-related deaths in Europe. Also, our tour guide, who had been living in Amsterdam for several years, told us that when he first arrived, the cool thing to do was to go to the coffee shops to smoke. But since it was “legal”, it sort of lost it’s appeal because it was no longer a rebellious feeling. Now the Dutch people don’t find it very exciting and these shops just draw in a lot of tourism (which is great for business!).

While we were walking around the Red Light District on our first night, we ran into an Australian guy who we met at our hostel in Bruges (small world!) so we went into a “coffee shop” to check it out and it was like walking straight into a cloud of marijuana. The atmosphere was so relaxed and everyone was just chilling in their seats with their friends engaging in conversation or, you know, just staring blankly into space. The coffee shop sold the cannabis in many different forms. You could buy it in a joint, a space cake (which is a brownie), a pound cake, or every person can buy a maximum of 5 grams. You have to be 18 with an ID in order to purchase and you cannot smoke outside of the coffee shops. We also saw in the Red Light District that there were shops advertising “magic truffles” AKA mushrooms so apparently those are allowed as well.

DAY 11: DECEMBER 29, 2014
We started our day off by doing the Sandeman’s New Europe free walking tour which met in Dam Square at 11 am. Whenever I go to a new city, I usually like to spend my first day doing these tours because in a few hours you get to see a lot of major attractions of the city, learn about the history, and hear about some interesting little-known facts. These tours are run on a tip-only basis, so at the end of the tour I normally like to give 5 Euros. Although our guide in Amsterdam was the best tour guide I have ever had so I was tempted to give him 10.

After the tour, Ange went to meet up with her friend Emily who was in Amsterdam at the same time as us and they went to the Van Gogh Museum together. Lindsey and I wanted to go to the Anne Frank House at that time but the line was crazy so we decided to walk around the city instead. We met Ange and Emily at the big IAMSTERDAM sign and then walked around the city some more. That night, Lindsey and I took a special tour of just the Red Light District, since that was the most fascinating part about Amsterdam for us. This tour, though we had to pay 10 Euros, was worth it because we learned so much more about the district, including the history and recent times.

IAMsterdam Sign

IAMsterdam Sign

DAY 12: DECEMBER 30, 2014
Lindsey and I slept in while Ange went to go meet with Emily. Lindsey and I had quite the list of things we wanted to do, but that didn’t stop us from spending a good chunk of our morning trying on samples of make-up at HEMA- the Dutch version of Target. That’s not a fair comparison for Target since HEMA definitely cannot compare, but Target is the closest thing to describe it. Fortunately for me, there is a HEMA a couple streets over from my apartment in Madrid! We also bought an oliebollen from a food truck- a Dutch donut with powdered sugar, usually served around New Year’s. They were delicious!

We wanted to squeeze in both The Heineken Experience and a canal cruise that day but apparently we had lollygagged too long and we were only able to do the canal cruise. We bought a combo pack, though, which allowed us to do The Heineken Experience the next day. This called for a busy day the next day because it was our last full day in Amsterdam and we still needed to see the Anne Frank House. So Lindsey and I planned to wake up early the next day to fit everything in and still have enough time in the evening to get ready for our New Year’s Eve celebrations!

DAY 13: DECEMBER 31, 2014
Happy New Year’s Eve! Or so we thought. Lindsey and I planned to get an early start so that we could get at the front of the line for the Anne Frank House right as it opened but our plans changed a little bit…

I woke up about an hour before our alarm to go to the bathroom and I saw that Ange was also awake. When I came out of the bathroom to go back to bed, Ange said “Sam. I’ve been up for an hour and I can’t move. My side is in excruciating pain, I can’t pee, and I don’t think I can go on like this.” Not knowing how to react to this, I woke up Lindsey to hear her thoughts. Apparently Ange had told Lindsey about this about an hour beforehand but Lindsey rolled over and went back to sleep haha so since the pain was still pursuing an hour later, she figured it was serious enough to wake up this time hahaha.

After some serious discussion about the matter, we used Lindsey’s Skype credit on her phone to call a taxi to take us to a hospital. We signed Ange into the emergency room, as she could barely stand up straight. Lindsey and I sat in the room with her as she was given an IV of morphine. After 30 minutes, the pain was still not subsiding so Ange requested stronger pain medication. It was a really scary experience as we didn’t know what was wrong and we were in a completely different country, but the doctor ended up diagnosing it as a kidney stone. We waited in the hospital for about 4 hours waiting for the stone to pass. Lindsey and I, being the supportive friends that we are, spent our time running back and forth to the FREE coffee machine (we’re both addicts and there were so many different options like mochaccinos!) and using the free wifi to play quizzes on our phones. Luckily Ange finally passed it and she felt much better and was then released from the hospital. Also, the charges weren’t nearly as bad as we had expected.

After Ange went to the hospital pharmacy for her prescribed pain medications, she and Emily went back to the apartment while Lindsey and I booked it to The Heineken Experience in the hopes of still being able to accomplish everything we wanted to do that day. We got to The Heineken Experience around 1 or 1:30 and tried to zip through the whole thing in order to make it to the Anne Frank House in time but it was nearly impossible as it was flooded with people. The whole thing moved much slower than expected and we could hardly enjoy anything. We got two free beers at the end which we chugged on empty stomachs, then we grabbed our free Heineken glass and ran out of there.

The Heineken Experience.  Advice:  Do NOT go on New Year's Eve.

The Heineken Experience. Advice: Do NOT go on New Year’s Eve.

We tried to flag down a cab to take to the Anne Frank House but it was impossible so instead we walked. We made it before closing, but the line was already cut off by a guard who said they weren’t accepting anymore people. I was SO bummed because the Anne Frank House was a top thing that I wanted to see in Amsterdam, but we made some poor decisions regarding our time and there was no way we foresaw Ange having to go to the ER that morning.

The outside of Anne Frank's House.

The outside of Anne Frank’s House.

Feeling disappointed, Lindsey and I just decided to accept our defeat and enjoy our free time before our big New Year’s Eve plans. We got dinner, bought some alcohol, and walked back to the apartment to relax and get ready. On our way back, we got deja vu from our last NYE in Berlin. Amsterdam’s and Berlin’s New Year’s celebrations are comparable in that they are both like firework war zones. On this day, people just go crazy setting them off everywhere- in the middle of the streets, from balconies, etc. I have a video from last year in Berlin where you can see a firework literally land at our feet. So as Lindsey and I were walking back to our apartment in Amsterdam, everyone had started with the fireworks and one guy set one off right next to us and we had minor heart attacks. Welcoming the New Year with the possibility of being killed by fireworks was thrilling in Berlin, but one time is definitely enough. Which is why I was thankful that we purchased tickets for an all-night party on an ocean liner that cruised the harbor instead.

After our very hectic morning in the emergency room, we were very happy to see Ange feeling better and willing to still go out! Since we’re all English teachers in Spain, Emily and Ange had the cute idea of bringing Spain’s New Year’s tradition to Amsterdam. It’s a tradition that at the strike of midnight, everyone eats one grape for every chime of the bell. These 12 grapes represent good luck for each month of the new year. Since we didn’t have a real bell and we were going to be at our party at midnight, we made our own little make-shift countdown at 10 PM with an alarm on Emily’s phone. The chimes were spread a little further apart than the normal countdown so eating all of the 12 grapes was a little easier than it normally is. Before we knew it, the time we needed to leave to catch our boat party had passed and we were late! It was at least a 20 minute walk away, in addition to locating our particular boat because the harbor was a large place. Once we realized how close we were cutting it, we ran. And I mean RAN. We made it JUST in time and the ship set sail pretty soon after we boarded.

Twelve Grapes!

Twelve Grapes!

We found our boat just in time (and still had time to take a picture)!

We found our boat just in time (and still had time to take a picture)!

The ship was definitely impressive. The interior reminded me of the Titanic (of course) because there was a large staircase (obviously nothing like Titanic’s grand staircase) that lead down into the middle of the boat where the large dance floor was. The dance floor faced a stage where the music changed back and forth between a DJ and a live band. It was an open-floor plan so the 2nd floor of the ship looked down onto the dance floor. Before midnight, everyone gathered outside (it was FREEZING) for the countdown. At midnight, we sailed parallel with the city and we could see all of the fireworks in the city light up the whole skyline. I was in literal awe. Amsterdam is known to go firework-crazy on New Year’s, and we got to see all of them. And the best part was that we weren’t in the middle of the mayhem so there was no chance in being hit by one haha. Our ship shot some off the back, just not in our direction thankfully.

A Titanic pose is a must!

A Titanic pose is a must!

Welcoming 2015 on the ship deck!  No coats=bad idea.

Welcoming 2015 on the ship deck! No coats=bad idea.

The ship docked early in the morning and we were back in our beds by 6 or 6:30 am. It was definitely a New Year’s Eve to remember forever. Waking up the next morning to check out of our Airbnb and fly to Copenhagen was a killer though, as one would expect.

CONCLUSION
I loveloveloved Amsterdam. It was my favorite stopping point on our trip. It’s rich history and liberal mindset is enough to draw anyone in (well, maybe only those who are liberal). It was a place unlike I’d ever been before and was a perfect location for our New Year’s Eve celebration. The only thing I can think of that I didn’t like about Amsterdam was the biking culture. I thought I would like it but there are SO many of them and they come from all directions. So when you think you’re good to go to cross a street because there are no cars coming from a certain direction, you need to make sure you look the other way because a cyclist could be speeding around the corner. But I suppose it’s the perfect city if you are a cyclist yourself. I 100% intend on visiting Amsterdam again in the future. If not to see those beautiful tulip fields in the spring, then at least to finally see Anne Frank’s house! (I will be forever bitter about that lol).

The biking culture:  the only thing I didn't enjoy about Amsterdam.

The biking culture: the only thing I didn’t enjoy about Amsterdam.

Brussels, Bruges, & Ghent, Belgium: Days 4-10

BRUSSELS
DAY 4: DECEMBER 22, 2014 CONTINUED

We arrived in Brussels that night and were relieved that, contrary to what our research said, Belgium used the Euro. It’s exhausting constantly switching currencies! We took the train to the center of the city but we got a little lost once we left the train station and tried to find our Airbnb, so we had to ask some people on the street for help.

Once we finally found our way, we ended up in the very center of the city where there were Christmas lights everywhere and a lot of people out and about. The buildings were gorgeous- typical European-looking. There were waffles, fries, and chocolates in all the windows. I was so happy to be in Belgium!! I had just put it on my travel-list about a year ago so I was thrilled that it fit so well into our trip.

Our Airbnb was so central- about 10 minutes walking from Grand Place. This was my first experience with Airbnb and I LOVED it. It was about the same price as a hostel but instead we were given an entire apartment in the center of the city all to ourselves! Our host, Frosina, couldn’t meet us to give us the keys and show us the apartment, so instead her two friends greeted us. The building was so old and the elevator was a little terrorfying but also fascinating. It reminded me of a Tower of Terror-type elevator. Our apartment was on the top floor and it was so spacious. A nice big bathroom, kitchen, and each of us got our own place to sleep: I was on the separate mattress, Ange on the couch, and Lindsey on the bed.

Our own apartment in the center of Brussels!

Our own apartment in the center of Brussels!

Tower of Terror Elevator

Tower of Terror Elevator

After settling in, Lindsey decided she was going to stay in to try to Skype her mom for her birthday while Ange and I went out for dinner and “one drink.” We went to a kebab shop and then to an Irish pub across the street for a drink. The pub closed really early and we realized we weren’t ready to go back quite yet. On our way to our apartment earlier, we remembered that we passed by an Irish pub that said there would be a DJ this night so we decided to go check it out. Suddenly that one drink we went out for turned into a fun and crazy night of dancing that didn’t end until we stumbled into bed at 6:30 in the morning. We definitely welcomed in our time in Belgium with a bang. We were just so excited to actually be able to afford going out for food and drinks after not being to spend money in Switzerland!

DAY 5: DECEMBER 23, 2014
We had originally planned to leave the apartment at 10:30 to make the 11 AM walking tour. Lindsey woke up at the time we talked about, showered, got ready, and waited for us to wake up. Since Ange and I weren’t expecting to have the type of night that we had, we slept way past then, thus missing our tour and making Lindsey wake up early and get ready for nothing- whoops! So we decided to do the tour at 2 pm instead.

Before the tour, Lindsey and I went and got burgers for lunch at an American-western themed restaurant while Ange slept some more. Then we met our walking tour at Grand Place. The tour took us around to a lot of the major attractions in Brussels which was good since our time there was limited. We saw the Manneken Pis statue which is said to be one of the most overrated tourist attractions. It is a statue of a little boy taking a piss into a basin and has become one of Belgium’s national symbols.

Mannekin Pis in all his glory.

Manneken Pis in all his glory.

Our tour ended in a park across from the royal palace, so we walked over to take pictures in front of it. While Ange was taking Lindsey’s picture, I was holding Lindsey’s water bottle. I thought I was being clever by throwing it up in the air and catching it, but it ended up falling a lot faster than I had anticipated and it ended up clobbering me in the face and busting the top of my lip to the point where my lip swelled up and there was blood all over my teeth. That may not have been a smart move on my part, but at least I didn’t lose a tooth- that water bottle was vicious!

Pre-Lip Busting in front of the Royal Palace.

Pre-Lip Busting in front of the Royal Palace.

After that whole mess, we walked back to the Bourse building which was right down the street from our apartment. We stopped at a popular place to get a cone of fries, or “frites.” They were good, but not the best I’ve ever had. Then we walked around the Christmas market for a bit, picked up salads at a supermarket for dinner, and then called it a night.

Frites

Frites

 

DAY 6: DECEMBER 24, 2014
Merry Christmas Eve! Though maybe it wasn’t so merry…

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling extremely nauseous which worried me because it was our last day in Brussels and there was still more that we wanted to see and do. Fortunately I was able to go back to sleep, but it wasn’t easy. We all woke up several hours later to get ready for our day but I was even more nauseous than before and I could hardly stand. I thought that I would feel better later on so I told Lindsey and Ange to go ahead and I would meet up with them later after spending the morning resting in the apartment.

The nausea never went away. Turned out I had a stomach bug- yay! I spent the whole day rotating between the couch, my bed, and the bathroom to vomit (sorry for the over-share). I’m so glad we had an apartment all to ourselves because being that sick in a hostel would have been ROUGH.

Lindsey and Ange came back to the apartment around 6 and let’s just say things were a little chaotic. They went to the Delirium Café which I was bummed about because that was the number one thing I wanted to do in Brussels. It’s a small café that holds a world record of having over 2,500 beers on its menu. There was no way I could have downed any beer though, so I’m glad Lindsey and Ange were able to go for me.

A few hours later, after we all rested up a little more, though I still felt pretty sick, I mustered up some energy to go out to see the light show in Grand Place. I’m so glad I did! It was so incredibly magical. For 15 minutes, eerie but beautiful music floated through the arena of Grand Place and different colored lights danced upon the historical buildings in time with the music. For me it was such a special moment because it was Christmas Eve and I had spent the entire day with my head in the toilet inside a stuffy apartment. This was the first time I had stepped outside and the air was so crisp and chilly that it was refreshing and this show was remarkable- with everyone in the middle of Grand Place standing in complete silence just in awe of this sight. It was truly a magical moment of our trip.

After the show, Angela unfortunately started to get hit with the same bug as me so she went back to the apartment. Poor girl. Lindsey was feeling great so I accompanied her to go get some food. There weren’t many things open since it was late on Christmas Eve but we found a nice, family-owned Italian restaurant. This was my and Lindsey’s second Christmas Eve dinner together. We have such fond memories of last year’s dinner together in Vienna that I was bummed I felt so sick and couldn’t have a similar experience. Instead I got a cup of minestrone soup that I could barely swallow two bites of. I ended up getting sick again that night anyways so it’s not like those couple of bites mattered haha.

BRUGES
DAY 7: DECEMBER 25, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS! I woke up feeling much better, just still a little weak and nauseous, but luckily it must have been a 24-hour bug. Poor Angela still felt sick, but not as much as the night before.

We left our Airbnb apartment (without even seeing our host the entire time we were there) and walked to Grand Place so that I could take some daytime pictures. There happened to be a large group of people dressed in Santa costumes and one jolly guy jumped in my picture!

Santa decided to make an appearance on Christmas day!

Santa decided to make an appearance on Christmas day!

Christmas Day in Grand Place.

Christmas Day in Grand Place.

Then we walked up to the train station, got some Starbucks for breakfast (so American), and hopped on our train headed to the quaint little town of Bruges. The train ride was so easy and we arrived to Bruges a quick hour later. From there, it was about a 15 minute walk to our hostel and since we couldn’t check in until 3 pm, we walked around the city for a bit. There was a Christmas market close to our hostel so we stopped there for lunch, or rather Lindsey and Angela did. I still couldn’t stomach much and nothing sounded appetizing.

Once we could finally check in, we walked back to the hostel and got settled into our very strangely-arranged room. Our room was made for 11 people. Against the wall were 8 “cubbies” (or coffins?). Above these beds were 3 more beds. It was so strange! We felt like we were in a morgue and you could pull out our bodies. Since it was Christmas, the 3 of us skyped with our families for a couple of hours. It was so nice being able to do this since I didn’t get to talk to my family on Christmas last year. It was timed perfectly that I was catching them just as they were opening presents, so it was like I was there!

Our hostel cubbies.

Our hostel cubbies.

Ange still wasn’t feeling well, so Lindsey and I went out to get ourselves some Christmas dinner. We ended up at yet another Italian restaurant where we both ordered pasta dishes. Mine was the epitome of bland- plain spaghetti with tomato sauce, because I felt like I could still barely eat after that bug. But since it was Christmas, Lindsey talked me into ordering a bottle of sparkling red wine– BAD IDEA. Luckily nothing happened, but my body was definitely not ready for wine and it definitely slowed down my road to recovery.


DAY 8: DECEMBER 26, 2014
We woke up at about 9:30 to go into town to get breakfast. I had read great things about The Gingerbread Café on Tripadvisor but sadly it was closed! So instead we went nextdoor to The Humpty Dumpty Café which was still tasty and was where I finally got a Belgian waffle! Apparently Belgians like to eat their waffles plain with just a bit of powdered sugar and that it’s a popular foreigner thing to do to load it up with other toppings. That didn’t stop me from getting my nutella & strawberry waffle!

Belgian waffle decked out to the max!

Belgian waffle decked out to the max!

After our breakfast, we had some time to spare before our walking tour. Angela shopped around the Christmas market in the main square a bit while Lindsey and I ran back to the hostel. On our way we got a little distracted by a stand at another market that was selling watches. They were having a great after-Christmas sale and I found myself a nice watch for 15 Euros! I used to wear a watch every single day until my old watch fell down the elevator shaft in my host apartment on my very first day in Sevilla four years ago and I just never found another to replace it, so I was very happy to find a new one! Lindsey also fell in love with a watch. She excitedly told the saleswoman that she’d take it, so after the woman adjusted it to Lindsey’s size, she told Lindsey that it was 79 Euros, not 30 like we thought it was! Our mouths dropped open and Lindsey couldn’t take that watch off fast enough. We basically ran away and avoided that stand at all costs for the rest of our time in Bruges haha.

Due to our watch distraction, we ended up being late for our walking tour but fortunately we passed by them on our way to meet them so we joined ourselves onto the end of the group. The tour itself wasn’t very informative and our tour guide started out funny but the more time we spent with him the more we realized what a sarcastic jackass he was (Lindsey’s words haha). The highlights of the tour were definitely seeing the city, which is very small and walkable, as well as being given many different coupons to places like a chocolate shop, a restaurant, and a waffle truck.

In the Market Square- the center of Bruges.

In the Market Place- the center of Bruges.

After the tour, Angela, Zach (a fellow American that we met on the tour), and I went ice skating in the ice skating rink that was set up in the main marketplace. I have hated ice skating my entire life- it just brings back terrible memories of birthday parties in elementary school where I spent the whole time either falling down or clinging to the wall. But last year in Berlin, Lindsey convinced me to go ice skating in Alexanderplatz and after starting out slow, I realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was and I ended up loving it! So I jumped at the chance to ice skate in Bruges. One of my favorite things about Europe at Christmastime is that you can ice skate in so many gorgeous, historical, surreal places. I was having so much fun that the others had to tear me off of the ice.

Good luck getting this girl off the ice!

Good luck getting this girl off the ice!

After ice skating, we put some of the coupons we got from the tour to some good use. We went back to the chocolate shop where we got a discount on a variety box of chocolates. This was in addition to the variety bag of chocolates I got the day before in Bruges. Apparently our chocolate overdose in Switzerland didn’t put me off to the stuff for the rest of the trip. I have to say, though, Swiss chocolate is way better than Belgian.

After the chocolate shop, we went to the restaurant that we had a coupon for. Ange and I shared the traditional Flemish beef stew and the mussels and fries. Mussels and fries were also on the list for must-eat Belgian food and they were delicious. The Flemish stew was even more delicious!

That night at our hostel, Lindsey and I signed up for a Belgian beer tasting that was led by the same tour guide from earlier. For 11 Euros we tried 5 different types of Belgian beer, in addition to a free beer from our hostel bar after the tastings. It ended up being a rip-off because the prices of the beers in our hostel were really cheap so for 11 euros we could have gotten several full beers. Oh well. Yet again, my body was telling me that it was not ready to drink alcohol yet (my nausea literally lasted the entire time we were in Belgium.  It sucked). That night it also started to snow so I made my dear southern Californian friend, Lindsey, run outside with me to dance in it. Apparently a year and a half in Spain has really thinned my blood and I was just as much of a wimp outside in that snow as Lindsey was! We didn’t last long and ran back inside, frozen.

Tasting a variety of Belgian beers!

Tasting a variety of Belgian beers!

DAY 9: DECEMBER 27, 2014
Ange and I really wanted to see the other Belgian city, Ghent, so we got up early in order to make a half-day out of it, just to see the city. Lindsey wanted to see more of Bruges so she and Zach stayed back to sight-see some more.

Ange and I met my friend that I met in the hostel during my month of living in the hostel in Madrid, Chanel, who is from Bruges and studies in Ghent. We unfortunately didn’t get to hangout while I was in Belgium, but she happened to be going to Ghent from Bruges the same morning Ange and I were so we decided to catch the same train so that we could at least catch up a little on the easy 30-minute train ride. We parted ways once we arrived to Ghent since she was meeting up with a friend.

The walk from the train station to the center of Ghent was definitely a lengthy one. The outskirts that we were walking through didn’t look like anything special which disappointed us a little bit. But once we got to the center of the city we were far from disappointed. It was gorgeous!! We walked around the Christmas market, bought Dutch stroopwafels (which quickly became my weakness- so good!), and walked down to the waterfront for a gorgeous panoramic view.

Ghent's waterfront.

Ghent’s waterfront.

Of course we chose the worst day weather-wise to go. It was FREEZING. To hide from the cold, we hopped onto a canal cruise boat almost immediately, just for some warmth and protection from the rain that turned to snow. The boat tour didn’t stay warm for long though as some inconsiderate family in the front opened their windows for pictures. Where were these people from that they were immune to the bitter cold? Antarctica?!

After the canal cruise, we were forced back into the sub-arctic temperatures so we decided it was time to head back to Bruges. But of course the snow and wind started to pick up and our bodies quickly became icicles. We ducked into a McDonald’s, which was apparently where everyone in Ghent was hiding that day since it was like a ghost town otherwise, to warm up a bit and find someone to ask for directions on how to get back to the train station.

What seemed like a never-ending trek back to the train station finally concluded and we were safe and sound (and dry) back in Bruges around 4. Of course the weather was fine, just cold, back in Bruges! We met Lindsey back at the hostel and sat in the lobby to try to get feeling back into our bodies again. I thought we had time to see the one thing left in Bruges that I still wanted to see which was the Michelangelo statue “Madonna and Child” that my mom saw on a documentary and told me to see. I checked my phone to see what time the Church of our Lady, which housed the statue, closed and it said it was closing in 7 minutes! So I jumped up, shouted at Lindsey and Ange to get up, and we sprinted to the church! Thank God it was just around the corner and we made it with just a couple minutes to spare!

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child in the Church of our Lady in Bruges.

Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in the Church of our Lady in Bruges.

Side note that was really funny: the whole trip my camera was acting up and making these loud, motor sounds. I’ve never heard a camera make this sound before, so I really need to get it fixed, especially since it draws so much attention. Well, as we were looking peacefully at the statue in the church, a man came up with his camera to take a picture and his camera started making the same sound! I started cracking up so I turned my camera on too, knowing that it would make the same sound. The man didn’t acknowledge the fact that the only sounds in that church were our cameras making beautiful harmonies together, but now I know that I have found my camera’s soul mate.

After the cathedral, we walked around the city, checked out the Beguine Convent (called the Beguinage which was founded in 1245 and is now a monastery), and saw some of the famous Bruges swans. For dinner, I ordered a veggie quiche that was supposed to have spinach and eggplant. But the quiche that I received only had mushrooms…a LOT of mushrooms. I didn’t say anything because it was still good, but I was annoyed that the sign lied to me. I must have had a lot of built-up frustration about the whole thing because when we left and stood outside the restaurant, I saw the vegetable quiche in the window and started yelling “they LIED to me! My vegetable quiche was supposed to have spinach and eggplant in it, but it only had MUSHROOMS!” Since I was very oblivious, Lindsey needed to bring to my attention that the large window in front of me was wide open and the workers could hear my every word. I was so embarrassed that I ran away but as I was running, one of the women called Zach back in and I panicked thinking it was about what I said. It turned out it had nothing to do with that and I was just being a paranoid wimp.  But now I know to keep my mouth shut until I’m certain I’m out of earshot!

Goodnight, Bruges!

Goodnight, Bruges!


CONCLUSION

Overall, I loved every city we saw in Belgium. It’s a gorgeous country that often floats under the radar on many people’s travel lists, but in my opinion it encompasses all of the best things that Europe has to offer: interesting history, beautiful architecture, delicious food, kind people, and culture. I also find it fascinating how linguistically diverse it is. There are three official languages: French, Dutch, and German, let alone everyone speaks English.

Belgium is a country that I would love to return to in the future for many reasons, but mostly because 1. My time in Brussels got interrupted by the stomach bug so I need to return, if not only to go to Delirium! And 2. The weather in Ghent was AWFUL. But that’s not to discourage anyone from visiting Belgium in the winter. In fact, I highly recommend going around Christmastime as it was a perfect location for our Christmas celebrations (I just wish our health allowed us to enjoy it more). The light show in the Grand Place in Brussels was just plain magical and the gorgeous canals, small cobble-stone streets, and abundant numbers of horse-drawn carriages in the quaint city of Bruges set up the perfect Christmas-y atmosphere. So basically, if you’re given the opportunity to go to Belgium- go!

Starvation in Switzerland: Days 1-5

DAY 1: DECEMBER 19, 2014
Lindsey and Angela arrived to my apartment to sleep over from their cities in the south of Spain the night before so that we could catch our morning flight out of Madrid on this day. We already got a late start that morning, but of course the metro line we needed was closed off and there were cops everywhere surrounding the entrance. To this day I still don’t know what happened, but we spent a half hour trying to walk to different metro stops/try to flag down a cab. Neither proved possible. So we did a loop back to the metro stop next to my apartment and we finally figured out that just the one line was closed, so we re-routed and made it to the airport with just enough time to check-in and board our flight.

It was amazing flying over the Alps! Switzerland was never on my list of places to see, but it was at the top for Lindsey and Angela and man, am I glad they got me to go! Everywhere was just stunning. When we landed in Geneva and got off the plane, the temperatures were NOT what we were expecting for Switzerland in December. It was sunny and in the 50s! It got cold later during our time there but it was nothing unbearable.

I loved Switzerland with the exception of the RIDICULOUS prices. Literally everything was triple the price. We had our first meal at McDonald’s at the mall across the street from our hotel (we don’t scream American, do we?) and a meal there was easily 13 euros!! But we surprisingly did the best job at managing our money in Switzerland. We bought fruit, bread, and granola bars at the grocery store to hold us over for breakfasts and snacks. We also just didn’t really eat that much in general while in Switzerland. We pretty much starved our whole time there, but it saved us loads of money! Also, for being so expensive, Geneva offered some opportunities to save money such as free public transportation which came in handy because our hotel was located about 15 minutes by bus outside the city. Which, speaking of, we stayed in a HOTEL. Hostels were way too expensive in the center of Geneva so instead Lindsey found the Ibis Hotel for much cheaper which was amazing. Since living in Europe, I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve stayed at a hotel was with my parents (it’s just not in a young travellers budget). So the fact that this hotel was such a steal was amazing and we were definitely spoiled at the beginning of our trip!

After checking into our room, we headed over to the mall where we exchanged our money, did some shopping at H&M (we complain about being poor in Switzerland and yet we still had enough to shop.  Go figure.), did a little grocery shopping, and walked around the center of Geneva that night. While we were at the mall, I dropped the back of my earring and looked like a crazy person bending over trying to look for it. Suddenly a nice older woman started to join me to look! She asked what I was looking for and I showed her the back of my other earring. Then ANOTHER woman started to join, as well as Lindsey and Angela. Suddenly we had a full search party for the back of my earring! After looking for a while, another woman came out of nowhere, found it right away, and handed it to Lindsey. I couldn’t get over how many people were willing to stop and help find the silly back to my earring. It was such a great first impression of the Swiss people!

DAY 2: DECEMBER 20, 2014
The night before while we were in central Geneva, we bought a (very expensive- but it was Switzerland, so what else is new?) 2-day train pass that ended up being so worth it because there really wasn’t much to see or do in Geneva itself. The Swiss countryside and small towns is where it’s at, and those little trips are what made Switzerland such a great stopping point on our trip.

The first day trip we took was to Montreux- a gorgeous little town located on the other side of Lake Geneva. The sights were UNREAL. This is where I fell in love with Switzerland. We chose Montreux because it was said to have a spectacular Christmas market which did not disappoint! We did a little shopping around the market and walked to the Château de Chillon which was about a 45-minute walk from the town. On the way, Angela pointed out that our surroundings resembled those of the famous “it wasn’t over, it still isn’t over!” scene from The Notebook. So, being big fans, we obviously had to recreate this scene. After doing a few different casting takes, we decided Angela was better suited to play Allie and I was better suited for Noah, meanwhile Lindsey made a fabulous (and patient) videographer/director. Our laughing got the best of us and it took many takes to finally get a video we liked.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva

Château de Chillon

Château de Chillon

We finally made it to the Château only to find out the entrance fee was way out of our budget so instead we just walked around the area and the [free] views in itself were worth the long walk. On our way to the Château, Ange and I realized that we messed up the lines in our Notebook reenactment (only slightly). Since the imperfection was eating away at us, we decided to stop at the same dock on the way back to re-record. We were working against daylight but that didn’t stop Ange and I from not being able to hold it together, thus taking even longer to get the perfect video. In the end we finally did it! Take a look at our masterpiece:

If you’d like to compare our performance to the real thing:

That night we walked around the Christmas market some more, drank mulled wine, did some shopping, and FINALLY ate. The only thing we ate that day was a piece of fruit and a granola bar in the morning (thanks, Switzerland, for making your outrageous prices starve us). Our stomachs were growling all day but the food at the Christmas market might have been worth the wait!

Christmas market in Montreux

Christmas market in Montreux

 

DAY 3: DECEMBER 21, 2014
We got another early start for our second day trip. We caught the train to Gruyere which gave us amazing views of the Swiss countryside. Our first stop was the Gruyere cheese factory where we took an audio tour through the cheese-making process. We were given three cheese samples, each were SUPER strong and had matured for different periods of time: 6, 8, and 10 months.

Cheeeeese!

Cheeeeese!

We had some time to kill before our train to the Cailler chocolate factory so we hiked up the hill to the cute medieval town of Gruyere. We LOVED it and wished we could have stayed longer to explore. There was a fountain in the center surrounded by the cute buildings that it reminded me of the scene in Beauty and the Beast where Belle is singing and reading to a herd of sheep. So I asked Ange if I could borrow her Hunger Games book (in Spanish) and I tried to re-create that scene.  Lindsey and Ange thought I was strange for keeping my mouth open in the picture, but I was pretending to sing like Belle!

Adorable Gruyeres

Adorable Gruyeres

This resembles Beauty and the Beast, right?

This resembles Beauty and the Beast, right?

Yeah, it totally does.

Yeah, it totally does.  Don’t lie.

Afterwards we caught the train to the Cailler chocolate factory which was A. Maz. Ing. We got there right as the English tour was about to start so we paid the 8 euros and got right in. The tour was awesome- it was like a walking ride in Disney World! We were told that we were given unlimited free samples at the end of the tour, so during the part where we watched how the chocolates were wrapped, there was a bowl of chocolates that we could eat. We thought that these were the free samples so we took probably more than we should have thinking that was it- but boyyyyy were we wrong.

The ACTUAL room of unlimited free samples.  Heaven...  Or was it?

The ACTUAL room of unlimited free samples. Heaven… Or was it?

At the actual end of the tour, we entered a room with a wrap around table with trays of about 18 different chocolates. We didn’t dive in slowly. We lingered at the tables and maybe 2 or 3 different tour groups passed by us, finishing their free samples while we were being gluttons and eating probably a whole box of chocolates each. Towards the end of the table we began to really slow down. Ange, who is lactose-intolerant, started to feel the nauseating effects first. Then Lindsey and I also began to drop. Suddenly the unlimited free chocolates didn’t seem like such a good idea and we started to feel SO sick. We limped out of that room holding onto our stomachs and we were emptied out into their chocolate-world of a gift shop. We couldn’t even bear the sight of all of that chocolate. We sat in the attached café for a little while as we grabbed our bearings and then headed for the train back to Geneva. Though it made us feel like utter crap, the Cailler chocolate was incredible- especially the caramel filled chocolate cups!  My biggest advice is to just pace yourself- something we definitely did NOT do.

We were all smiles for our first couple of chocolates!

We were all smiles for our first couple of chocolates!

...And then it hit us like a ton of bricks.

…And then it hit us like a ton of bricks.

 

DAY 4: DECEMBER 22, 2014

Our flight to Brussels wasn’t until later that evening, so we had most of our last day in Switzerland to explore Geneva since we didn’t really see much of actual Geneva, which was okay because there really wasn’t that much to see.

We walked around the English Gardens, saw the fountain (Jet d’Eau), the flower clocks (L’horloge fleurie), St. Pierre’s Cathedral, and the UN office. While walking around the city, we were those obnoxious American girls walking around with Lindsey’s phone playing Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and Hairspray’s “Good Morning Baltimore” and having a huge sing-a-long while doing so.  For lunch, we used our last day to splurge on eating out because Lindsey and I needed to have fondue before leaving Switzerland. We found a place that only listed fondue for one person, so Lindsey had a minor freak-out that Ange and I still endlessly tease her about because she was scared that the waiter wouldn’t let us share the fondue and ultimately we wouldn’t have our Swiss fondue. All turned out well and we shared some delicious fondue, while Ange ate soup that was essentially broth with a poached egg in it.

Lake Geneva and Jet d'Eau

Lake Geneva and Jet d’Eau

L'horloge fleurie

L’horloge fleurie

The UN Office

The UN Office

Fondue for two!

Fondue for two!

We were able to see everything we wanted in Geneva with just enough time to head back to the hotel, grab our bags, and head off to the airport. So long Switzerland, hello Belgium!!

CONCLUSION
Switzerland was never on my travel list. I’m not sure why, but it just never interested me. But I can honestly say I fell in love with it and I’m so glad that Lindsey and Ange both wanted to go there on this trip otherwise I might have gone my whole life not knowing what I was missing. Geneva honestly didn’t have much to offer in my opinion, but the scenery of the surrounding villages and the chocolate alone are enough to bring me back. And come on, where else would a pack of strangers in a mall help me look for the lost back to my earring?! I can only hope that I become rich when I’m older so that I can afford another vacation back to Switzerland and maybe buy one of those beautiful Swiss watches (a girl can dream).