The Next Month!

I just wanted to let you all know that I’m going to be traveling for the next month without my computer. I wanted to thank you for reading my blog and supporting me along the way. I hope you all felt like you were part of my journey and that you enjoyed reading my posts 🙂

I’ll be going to Greece, France, Spain, Portugal and Turkey and then back home to my luxuriously comfy bed!

Talk to you all soon and lots of love.

The Last Week…

Friends and family, I have officially concluded my semester abroad. Well, the semester is over but I’ll still be abroad for the next month. Whether I passed or not, that’s a different question. Kidding! (I hope). I cannot believe I’m done. The papers are turned in, the tests have been taken, and the celebratory drinks have been drunk.

It’s been 100 degrees with high humidity the past couple of days so really it’s been a challenge to stay sane in an apartment on the 6th floor (heat sure does rise) and without air-conditioning. But with many cold showers and minimal movement, I’ve managed to do it.

My 12 roommates and I went to our favorite specialty home-made ice cream shop called Villar yesterday to finally take our picture for the wall of photos – success! I can now leave Sevilla.

The energy of this week has gone from high to low very quickly. The beginning was spent on school, making sure my papers were turned in, my presentation a success and exams completed. Of course, the time spent on work was mixed in with loopy sleep-deprived moments. Have you ever made your computer talk to you? I figured out that google translate will read your emails out loud. Commence an hour of hysterical laughter in our bedroom room from 2-3am. In case you didn’t know, “Ich liebe dich” means “I love you” in German and hearing it out loud is quite entertaining.

I still can’t get over the way Spanish universities work. I think I had 5 days of class the whole month of April, the rest vacation. The whole semester is incredibly minimal work which makes midterms and finals incredibly difficult to focus and study for.

The end of this week has consisted of me laying on the couch watching a whole season of Private Practice on my computer. I’m not kidding. It’s been too hot to do anything else! But it has been relaxing.

I’m hesitant to write some sort of reflection piece for fear of ridiculously cheesy writing, but in case you’re dying to hear how I’m feeling right now, right this very instant (if only I could get my hands on some good Mexican food), I’ll give it a shot.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this experience. Really, I do. I know how special it is and I feel like I won’t be able to truly understand or articulate how I’m feeling until I’ve returned to my everyday life back in the states. What I can say is that I’m so glad I came. I love Sevilla: it’s a magical city. It’s romantic, beautiful, enjoyable, relaxing and sunny. More than that, I’ve loved my trips. It’s always been my dream to travel the world and I feel like I’ve made some sort of dent. This experience has reaffirmed my love of travel. I love it, I love it, I love it. I enjoy learning about new cultures and experiencing completely different ways of life. And walking through small windy roads and stopping at cute cafes and trying cheeses from every city…

I’ve learned a lot about myself here. The people I surround myself with are very important to me. I’m so lucky to have had one of my best friends here with me the whole time and I’m grateful for all of the new people I’ve met. But I’m beyond thrilled to be with my family and I cannot wait for my last year at Michigan. I’ve learned that I can survive on little sleep and that if I get to the point of extreme tiredness, I can sleep in a lot of different environments. Before coming here, I needed a comfy bed, my special pillow and a dark room. Not anymore. Hello, planes, trains and automobiles. I’ve learned how much a functional and clean kitchen means to me, and I really look forward to returning back to one. I’ve learned that I love adventure and spontaneity. I’ve learned that if I’m not in the mood to do something, I’m usually not in the mood (hello stubbornness). I’ve learned that I love the challenge of figuring people out who are hard to figure out. And I’ve learned that although I love Europe, I really do love America.

Things I’m looking forward to in the next month:

1) Hugging my parents.

2) Staying in clean hotels.

3) Eating good food.

4) Exploring new cities.

5) Not spending tons of my own money.

6) Swimming in pools.

7) Hugging my parents.

Things I’m looking forward to once I go home:

1) Mexican food.

2) Healthy food.

3) Running.

4) The ocean.

5) My bed.

6) English.

7) Driving.

Finally, the number one thing I love about Sevilla is that people just love to live. They live in the moment and don’t worry about the past or future. And I hope to bring this mentality with me wherever I go!

Edinburgh

Our trip to Edinburgh started off with a bang. As we were standing in line to board our flight from Dublin, a lady stepped right in front of Sarah and separated us. Once Sarah and I were reunited, I was saying how rude she was and Sarah informed me that the lady was taking care of someone she was with. So we cut her some slack. Well, it turns out the lady she was taking caring of was Susan Boyle, the internet sensation from “Britain’s Got Talent,” and nothing was wrong with her, they just wanted to cut the line.

As soon as I saw Edinburgh from our double-decker bus window, I entered a state of awe. When we stepped off the bus, my jaw dropped. For those of you who’ve been to the University of Michigan, the whole city looked like the Law Quad. For those of you who haven’t been to the University of Michigan, the whole city looked like Hogwarts. It was old, it was dark, it was grey, it was stone – but somehow, it felt incredibly cozy. It was so mysterious, intriguing and inspiring. It made me want to move there and become a writer.

We stayed in a hotel, which was a very nice break from a hostel. Our room was complete with two comfy and clean beds, a working TV, wireless internet, a nice bathroom and even a blowdryer!

Edinburgh is divided into two parts: the old and the new. Our hotel was in the new part but the walk to the old part was quick and beautiful. The new part of town reminded me of a smaller scale London while the old part of town was unlike any other place I’ve ever been. Millions of years ago, a volcano and then glaciers formed Edinburgh. The topography is stunning.

Our first activity was a 3.5 hour walking tour with New Europe, a company that offers free walking tours and collects tips. Our guide Fiona was awesome. She was young, quirky and hilarious. Seeing as it was in the low 40s and incredibly windy (reminder: we are used to Spain and due to packing restraints couldn’t bring warm gear with us), our goal was to make it through the whole tour without developing hypothermia – and we did!

The tour gave us historical information (like how Edinburgh was formed) that was fascinating. We learned that Edinburgh is the most haunted city in Europe. There are many haunted sites throughout the city that we visited. The city used to be known for torturing people. In addition, more witches were killed here than any other city. The Mercat Cross is where many of the torturing took place.

Fiona was a great story teller and one of my favorite stories was how the expression “shit-faced drunk” originated. Years and years ago, Edinburgh didn’t have a sewage system so everyone would go to the bathroom in bins and twice a day, at 10am and 10pm, they would shout down into the street and dump the bins outside their windows to empty the sewage. Well, the bars also closed at 10pm. So when people were stumbling home and heard a shout from above, they would look up and the droppings would land on their faces. Ha.

We also learned how the expression “graveyard shift” originated. During Scotland’s period of enlightenment in the 18th century, the medical school was thriving. This meant that there was a high demand for fresh dead bodies so that the medical students could practice on them. So a black market was established and people would dig freshly buried coffins out of the ground and sell the bodies. Bodies remained fresh for about 6 weeks. So for the first 6 weeks after someone died, if they were lucky, a friend or family member would guard their grave every night. Or you could just kill people like Burke and Hare and not have to worry about the graveyard guards.

OK, last creepy story. Can you tell I love stories? This is the story of Maggie Dickson. Good old Marge married a man who left her in Edinburgh. The problem was, she was legally married to him which meant she could not be with any other man. Maggie was a rebel and didn’t care about this restraint and soon learned she was pregnant. There was a law at the time that every pregnancy needed to be recorded so that people who were unlawfully pregnant could be shamed. Being the rebel she was, Maggie didn’t record her pregnancy. She got away with it and gave birth after 8 months to a premature baby who died. When she was burying her child, she was caught and was ordered to be hung at the Grass Market. After she was hung, the man was driving away with her casket in the trunk when he heard a knocking noise. Maggie was still alive. She was taken back to the square and was supposed to be hung again but someone from the audience shouted out and said she’d already lived out her punishment and deserved to be set free. And she was. For the rest of her life, she would go down to the Grass Market hangings and comfort people who were about to be hung with a “It’s OK. I survived and you can too!” or something of that nature…Now the Grass Market is a hip area where many bars exist, including this one:

And to end on a positive note, I will tell you the story about Greyfriar’s Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who belonged to John Gray, a night watchmen in Edinburgh. The two were inseparable for two years and then John Gray died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. It is said that Bobby stayed by his owner’s grave every day and night until his own death 14 years later. That was one faithful dog. The statue is now the most famous statue in Edinburgh and Bobby’s grave is visited regularly.

For those of you who didn’t know, Edinburgh is home to many famous authors: Sir William Scott (Waverly), Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Jeckyl and Hyde), Robert Burns (my love is like a red red rose…), J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), and most recently J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in the adorable coffee shop the Elephant House. I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic but I fell in love with the cafe because of my love for elephants. There was elephant paraphernalia everywhere!

It was on the 3rd floor of this building.

Two of my favorite things: elephants and shortbread.

The view from the Elephant Cafe.

The school Hogwarts is based on.

Another thing about Scotland is that yes, men really do wear kilts. Also, they love the sound of bagpipes (and I do too). So much so that the angels in Guile’s Cathedral are playing bagpipes.

One of the most entertaining things we did was go on a late night ghost tour. Our guide was as good of a story teller as Fiona and the stories were thrilling. The tour ended with Sarah and I grasping onto each other in a pitch black room in an underground vault. OK, but seriously, how could you not be fascinated with a city that has underground vaults?! The vaults were completed in 1788 and used for 30 years by different tradesmen. People stopped using the vaults due to the damp and poor air quality but they still exist for purposes like nighttime ghost stories.

Saturday we woke up to frozen temperatures, rain and wind so our trip to the castle was really a test of survival. Notice I’m wearing one scarf around my neck and one scarf around my head as a babushka. I was still freezing.

The castle is perched atop a stunning jagged rock formation. It marks one end of the Royal Mile and the other end is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The castle compound is huge and there is a ton to do there. We went to the National War Museum, the dog cemetery where royal dogs are buried (another reason I loved the city: the Scots love their dogs), St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), the crown jewels and the stone of destiny, the Scottish National War Memorial, the Prisoners of War Exhibit and the state apartments. We learned about the Act of Union in 1707. England believed a united island was needed for proper defense and Scotland wanted to benefit from England’s riches. However, it seems that the present day Scots wished it was never signed.

One thing I loved about the city was the cafe culture. There were adorable cafes with delicious food on nearly every block. Edinburgh seemed like a city full of writers. There were writers at every cafe we went to. We visited the Writer’s Museum which showcased Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. My English Major nerd came out as I became giddy reading about their lives and seeing locks of their hair (no joke).

We visited the National Museum of Scotland which is home to Dolly, the cloned sheep. Boy that was a treasure seeing stuffed Dolly spinning around in a room with disco lights. The museum was actually really fun and interactive. We spent some time in the animal section where they had huge replicas of almost every animal you can think of.  We also went to the Childhood Museum (what a novel idea for a museum) where almost every toy or childhood object you can think of was there. We spent the afternoon as if we were 10-years-old again.

Although our weather wasn’t great, we decided to go up to Calton Hill. It’s a hill with spectacular views and many different monuments. I felt like I was on top of the world!

If you can’t already tell, I fell madly in love with Edinburgh. It was enchanting. The people were incredibly friendly and the city had such a warm vibe despite the frigid temperatures.

Dublin!

Before I went to Dublin, I imagined that everything would be green and there would be leprechauns roaming the streets. Well, my passport stamp was green and I happened to see a midget roaming the street dressed as a leprechaun. My expectations were not too high.

Dublin was a very friendly, manageable, and energetic city. My friend Sarah and I went to Ireland for the weekend and we spent one full day in Dublin and then we took a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and other surrounding areas.

Our cuisine choice was very international. Our dinners went as follows: American, Sushi and Thai. Of course we had the traditional pub food for lunches and I must say the seafood chowder I had was delicious. We also shared a Cadbury Egg Mcflurry.

Dublin reminded me of a smaller London but it also reminded me of a cuter Amsterdam. The city was old and beautiful but there were also some modern aspects to it. It had a great vibe. Listening to live music at the pubs at night was such a blast. People of all ages would crowd into one of the many bars in the Temple Bar area and drink beer, listen to live traditional Irish music (confession: I bought a CD), clap to the beat and sometimes dance. A river runs through the city. Everyone is friendly and says things like “cheers” and “thanks a million” frequently.

Things we visited: Kilmainham Jail, Guinness Brewery, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College, Grafton Street, O’Connell Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Cliffs of Moher, town of Limerick, a medievil monestary, and a quaint fishing village.

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I really enjoyed the city and would love to go back 🙂

Feria!

I got back from Munich Monday afternoon in time for Feria, which commenced Monday night. Feria started as a livestock festival in 1817. Now, it is a city-wide festival. There are separate Feria grounds in Sevilla, where the festival resumes every year. The grounds consist of private “casetas,” tents complete with a kitchen, dance floor and bar, that you must be invited to. The women in their flamenco dresses and the men in their suits dance the night away. The wealthiest and most important Sevillan citizens are taken to the grounds during the day by horse-back carriage. And their flamenco dresses match the carriages and sometimes even the horses. The different classes of Sevillan society are showcased during this festival. There is also a carnival section of Feria, where rides, cotton candy and bunuelos (mini doughnuts) are in abundance.

The Feria ground’s lights turn on at midnight on Monday night and stay on for the whole week. The countdown to the lights was kind of like waiting for the ball to drop in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. We got together with some friends for a cocktail before midnight and then headed over to the party.

It was very exciting and such a treat to walk through such a beautiful and exciting festival!

Munich!

One place I didn’t think I was going to go in Europe was Germany. Germany is famous for two of my least favorite things: sausages and beer. Turns out, in Germany, I like both of these things.

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One of my dad’s oldest friends lives in Munich with his family and offered his home to Sarah and I. Naturally, being the two poor college students we are, we were tempted. Then with the knowledge that Munich is home to Springfest, a beer festival that is similar to Octoberfest, we decided to book our flight.  We met two of our other friends in charming Bavaria and had a weekend full of beer, sausages and apple strudel.

I found the Germans to be very kind, and also incredibly attractive. The only experience I’d had with Germans was learning about them in textbooks and watching a group of them stare at my family when my dad was driving the wrong way on a very narrow one-way street in Mallorca. Thankfully, my experience with Germans in Europe was much better than my previous exposure!

Munich is really an interesting city. It doesn’t feel like a big city at all. It also has a distinct aesthetic. The buildings don’t seem to match. There are old ones right next to new ones, with no attempt to remain consistent. Many of the buildings are plain, and not in any way decorative, although there were a few that were.

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The inside of the buildings, including churches, were also either strangely or sparsely decorated.

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Despite the lack of beautiful architecture (in my opinion, of course), I loved walking through Munich. There were many lovely gardens and parks that were immaculately kept up. Steve has informed me that the Germans are obsessed with order, rules and practicality, and you can definitely tell by just walking through the city that these things ring true. There didn’t seem to be one grass blade out of place.

I don’t think there’s any way you can go to Germany for the first time and not think about WWII and Hitler. We found ourselves having many conversations about history. And for me there was definitely an eery feeling throughout the city, but it didn’t make me not like the city. Rather, I just found myself aware of the past – it’s kind of hard to forget, especially when you’re walking in a square where Hitler gave many of his speeches.

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Or when you’re walking along a street that leads to that same square.

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One of the highlights of the weekend was the Viktualienmarkt, an outdoor food market in the center of Munich. It was so fun to taste test things from all of the different stands, and of course buy an assortment of things for lunch. I finished a huge bag of the sweetest and crunchiest grapes ever, all by myself.

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Another cool but kind of creepy thing we did was watch and listen to the chime show on the big clock in one of the main plazas. It was pouring rain. The figurines spin around and dance and move while the chimes play.

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Of course, Springfest was an experience in itself. It’s a big carnival with rides and large tents where people of all ages go inside and drink beer.

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The Germans were dressed in traditional attire and all of the tourists were in baseball game clothes, very casual. We entered the tent in the afternoon, and everyone was casually sitting in picnic tables enjoying huge mugs of beer.

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By the end of the night, the tent was steamy from all of the crammed bodies and you can’t completely tell but everyone was standing on the tables drinking their beers. Not too much dancing, just standing and listening to music and talking.

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Another highlight of the weekend was visiting Nymphenburg Palace, which is Germany’s version of Versailles. Steve led us on our own private bike and walking tour of the grounds.

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One really fun thing about Munich was the beer drinking culture. People of all ages congregate in big open beer gardens and enjoy both their beer and the outside. We went to the English garden with Steve and his wife and one of their daughters, and had a blast. I had a “radler” which is half beer and half sprite. It was refreshing!

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I found my true beer calling when Steve took Sarah and me to get another beer later in the day. Finally, a beer I actually enjoyed the taste of. Never ever has that ever happened to me before. Behold, Weiss beer, my new favorite beverage. It tasted like fruit juice.

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The last day we decided to visit Dachua, a concentration camp. It was definitely an educational experience and I think it’s good that I went, but I’m glad we left it for the last day because we both felt uncomfortable afterwards. We stayed for a couple of hours and by the end I was ready to leave. Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp. If you don’t want to see a few jarring photos, stop reading now.

On the gate, the words “work will set you free” are engraved.

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Symmetrical rows of barracks.

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The beds.

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Where the barracks used to be.

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Gas chamber.

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Crematory.

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It was incredibly jarring to actually be there and witness what I’ve only read about in text books.

Lastly, two very “small world” experiences. As I was walking through Dachua, I looked up and saw a friend from high school. Then, fifteen minutes later I looked up and saw a guy I know from Michigan. It was such a weird environment to run into two people I know.

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Tagged

La Corrida de Toros

When I think of spring, I picture slowly melting snow and bright yellow tulips, I smell freshly cut grass and sweet rain, and I hear birds chirping, happy for some rays of sunshine. Just like many other things, here, spring is different. It is full of tradition, culture and festivals.

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La Corrida de Toros translates literally to “race of the bulls,” and it is one of the cultural aspects of Andalucia that defines spring. Last night, we had the opportunity to see a bullfight. In a traditional bullfight, there are three matadores (“killers”) who each fight two bulls; there are six bulls total. Each matador has six helpers, two picadores (“lancers”) who are on horses, three banderilleros (“flagmen”), and a mozo de espada (“sword page”). Together, they compromise a cuadrilla (“entourage”). Each bull takes between 20 or 30 minutes, so you can imagine how long the event lasts.

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The event is really rather peculiar. People show up dressed to the nines, as if they are going to church, not an animal killing. Tickets are pricey and the event is long. The audience becomes vocal and almost cheers on the entourage, or hushes the American girls who are rather tipsy and loud (not me, I swear). The majority of the bullfight is the men kind of teasing the bull. The bull follows the capes and the matador can observe how the bull moves. There are trumpets and costumes and precision and punctuality. The matador seems graceful, as if he is dancing. The men first attract the bull with the movement of the capes (not the bright colors, bulls are colorblind) and you watch the back and forth action. Then the men come out on horses and begin making the bull weak by stabbing it in the back. And then after the bull is stabbed a couple of times in the body by numerous men, the matador finally comes out. He proceeds to play with it and eventually kills it with a sword wound in the middle of its head. He is supposed to kill the bull with one stabbing, however, this did not happen at our bullfight. So they had to dig the sword into the bull until it falls over and dies. Then it is tied and dragged by a couple of horses out of the arena. Pleasant, huh?

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I actually thought I was going to be more uncomfortable than I was. I enjoyed learning about the event and experiencing such a strong part of the culture. One of the worst parts was when one of the picadores stabbed the bull, and the bull charged the horse that the picador was riding. The bull then got under the horse and pushed it so that the horse completely fell on its back and the picador was thrown off. The horses are blindfolded and it was sad to see the horse go down. Then of course, watching the bull keel over and die is sad as well. Let’s just say, I’m not dying to go back and see another bullfight.

I feel like a bullfight in Spain is the equivalent of a baseball game or horse race in the US. It’s a baseball game because it is such a common thing for the Spaniards to experience. The stadium style seating, men selling beer and snacks, and little red and yellow striped seat cushions seem all too familiar. But it’s a horse race because it’s also kind of a special event (it only happens during the spring and summer) that people pay a lot of money to watch and wear nice clothes to. The event as a whole is very important and serious to the culture of Sevilla. And for those reasons, I am glad I went!Image

Tengo Un Caso Grave de los Lunes

For those of you that don’t speak Spanish, I have a serious case of the Mondays. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to stay focused in school, especially when it’s so beautiful outside. So today I left school to run. And clear my mind. I haven’t skipped many classes but today I couldn’t be inside the confines of the school walls any longer.

I have less than a month left until my program ends and everyone is starting to panic a little. So little time and so much to do. I knew coming into this that there was no way I would ever be able to do everything I wanted to do, see everything I wanted to see and accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish, but I feel very pleased with all of my experiences. I’m not really panicking, well, besides my 10 page Spanish paper I haven’t started.

This Thursday I leave for Munich, then I am back in Sevilla for a couple of days to experience Feria and then off to Ireland and Scotland. Don’t worry, I’m not playing hookie, I have another week off of school next week for Feria. When we get back from Feria, I only have one more week of classes and then the following week is finals. So, I don’t have that much school left, which I am very happy about!

I am incredibly excited to travel once my classes are over. And I can’t wait to meet my parents and grandparents in Paris!

Enough about the future, here’s what I’ve been up to:

One day last week, it was a bit cloudy in Sevilla, but this made up for it.

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This past weekend was my final excursion with our program. We went to Portimao, Portugal. Unfortunately it was cloudy most of the time, except for the pocket of sunshine when I took most of my photos, just to fool you all. But I still had a lovely time.
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“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net forever.” – Jacques Cousteau
I enjoy every moment I spend on the beach, whether it’s sunny, cloudy, windy, rainy or stormy. I always feel calm and happy whenever my toes are touching the sand.
Saturday morning Mallory and I went on a run along the beach in Portugal and it was incredible. It was so windy that it was hard to run, but fighting against the gusts made me feel incredibly strong. The feeling of misty salt water on my face made it even better.
One thing I’ve realized is that I love bus rides. I can’t read on buses, so I always spend my time chatting with my seat partner, listening to music and thinking. Lots and lots of thinking. I enjoy the changing landscapes and silent murmur of the engine.
Tomorrow, I’m going to my first bull fight. I’ve been debriefed and I must say, I’m a little scared. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Crack… In The Form Of Nuts

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, I have an obsession: peanut butter. As you all know, the food here in Spain is simply not my cup of tea, to say the least. And if you even want to attempt to follow a recipe and cook a real meal, you have to first travel to a couple different stores to find all of the ingredients you need. Navigating the Spanish supermarkets with Spanish food labels is quite difficult I must say. I usually give up around the chocolate aisle and console myself with a nice bar of milk or dark chocolate with a touch of sea-salt. In the rare occasion that you do find the ingredients you’re looking for, there’s a good chance the stove isn’t working (which happened to us this past weekend for 3 days), or the kitchen is too dirty to cook in, or 10 other girls are trying to cook at the same time.

This is where peanut butter comes into the equation. It’s creamy, or crunchy, full of protein, and a bunch of other crap since the only peanut butter they have here is the uber processed Peter Pan or Capitan Mani brand. Nonetheless, it’s filling and incredibly satisfying. You might wonder what my preference is, smooth or crunchy? But the truth of the matter is, I simply can’t choose. And I never had to at home seeing as mom prefers creamy and dad prefers crunchy. So, I have a jar of each. A spoonful of crunchy as a snack (yes I eat it out of the jar, and I’m not ashamed), or a nice layer of creamy with honey or raspberry jam on fluffy bread.

Did you know, Spaniards hate peanut butter? So buying peanut butter is kind of an activity. We have to make a special trip to the one store that sells it, and pay 9 dollars per jar. But oh is it worth it.

And you can’t forget to hide your peanut butter from the roommates. If you don’t, it will be mysteriously gone within the week. And I’m not talking about putting it in a cupboard, oh no, someone will surely find it there. You have to be creative with your hiding spot. Sorry, but I just can’t reveal mine just yet…

Another Canal City

I had high hopes for Amsterdam. I admit it. I expected beautiful canals in between winding streets filled with quaint fairy-tale houses occupied by tall Dutch men. I should have known when booking a hostel called the “Bull Dog,” that this was not the Amsterdam I was going to get. You see, here’s the thing, every most college kids dream of going to Amsterdam, the city where everything is legal. The city where you can do whatever you want and not have to worry about being caught. So I went along with it. I figured why not stay in the Red Light District, why not book a room with 12 beds, why not stay at a hostel called, I repeat, “The Bulldog.” News flash Carley, that has never been and will never be your scene. The constant smell of weed/hash/ganja/pot … whatever you want to call it … not pleasant. It’s not pleasant at 8am, 12pm, 4pm or 8pm … it just ain’t pleasant. People too stoned to function like normal human beings, also not pleasant. Although it is kind of funny to see a middle-aged couple getting high in the coffee shop of “The Bulldog,” multiple times.

So two main things went wrong with our trip to Amsterdam.

1) Our hostel.

2) The weather.

I can positively say that I will never step foot in the Red Light District ever again. It felt dirty, a bit unsafe and just downright weird. I am however, glad that I experienced it for what it was. And I’m sure the prostitutes along the narrow road we somehow managed to walk down at least 8 times enjoyed seeing our nervous, scared faces oh so many times. And the guy who called us “nasty girls” for walking down this same alley probably enjoyed our presence as well.

Our hostel was right in the middle of this charming little area. Now, it would have been better if our hostel was a lovely escape or even a safe retreat from the neighborhood around us; unfortunately, it was not. The man at the front desk was not friendly. The only thing he told us about were the best coffee shops to smoke marijuana. Thank you sir. And his partner, the lady at the front desk, was not friendly either. When Sarah was locked in the bathroom and about to have a minor panic attack and I asked the lady for help, she looked at me as if I asked her to kill a lion with her own bare hands.

Once we got to our room, we thought, this isn’t so bad. That was until we met our roommate. While Steph, Meg, Mal and Sarah had their bunk beds on one side of the room, the bed I was assigned was across the room, with a random person sleeping above me. Turns out this person was a man who was perpetually high, traveling alone, and the carrier of some virus, maybe SARs, that kept him, and the rest of us, up the whole night due to his coughing attacks that legitimately sounded like he was losing a lung and felt like a magnitude 6 earthquake to me, on the lower bunk. He was also deaf, and we could not communicate in any way because of this. He may or may not have had other problems seeing as one morning (early) he continued to put in and take out a loud empty plastic bag from his suitcase at least twenty times. Bless his heart but it was a very uncomfortable situation.

I was introduced to my new bunkmate in the middle of the night when her water bottle fell on my head. And then that morning she decided to blow-dry her hair 10 inches from my bed, while I was soundly sleeping. And the next night she ran out of bed straight for the bathroom to vomit. The Bulldog just didn’t want me to be a happy camper … or hosteler.

Besides the hostel, the weather was a drag. Apparently a cold front swept over all of Europe that week. I was not prepared. In MI, I am prepared for the weather, with earmuffs and down coats and leg warmers and mittens. In Amsterdam, we simply weren’t equipped. It was cold, windy, grey and dreary. And as I walked along the canal streets, flashbacks of my dad getting into a fight with the ice cream man in Venice, Italy kept popping up in my brain. Apparently canal cities do not like the Johnsons.

Despite the drawbacks we encountered, we managed to have a good time and I would happily go back later in life to experience the beautiful Amsterdam I wanted to experience (and did for a couple of hours!) and never step foot near The Bulldog or the Red Light District ever again. And yes, there are actual red lights serving as warnings to leave … walk away … DANGER DANGER DANGER … should have listened.

So I mainly put all of the above stuff in an attempt to humor you all, and not continuously complain. I really think the whole experience was downright hilarious.

Luckily, my very dear friends the Potters used to live in Amsterdam, so I went to the city equipped with restaurants to frequent and places to visit! And every recommendation was wonderful. Our favorite was Morlang, where we ate the best tomato soup I may have ever had. After our action packed London visit, Amsterdam was a lot more relaxed. We ended up spending long periods of time in our favorite little bakery/gourmet food place called De Laatste Kruimel to try to get warm. And eat as many things as possible from this adorable little place that was started by a cute young couple and has already been written up in the 3 months they’ve been open!

We arrived on Tuesday and went straight to Morlang for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was very cultural as we went to both the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. I loved both! The day brought me back to my Art History AP class and my goofy professor who always made us laugh. The Rijks Museum housed beautiful works from the Dutch Golden Age of painting, a period that was characterized by lack of religious art and a focus on realism, in the form of landscapes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life, among other things. Two of my favorite painters had works at the museum: Vermeer and Rembrandt. Vermeer is known for allowing natural light into his frame from left to right and Rembrandt is known for contrasting light and dark.

Although I enjoyed many paintings, my favorite was Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid.” The vibrant colors, 3D milk pouring out of the pitcher, natural sunlight and simplicity all intrigue me.

There was also a lovely Andy Warhol of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

How could you not love the pink!

The Van Gogh Museum was a gem. I have a copy of “Irises” in my bedroom, so it was a treat to actually see it. One phrase from Van Gogh I love is that he “tried not to see bleak things bleakly.” He also tried to capture the spirit in common people and everyday things, for instance his paintings of flowers. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed in this museum, although the couple next to me didn’t seem to understand that and almost got kicked out after the third picture they sneakily (or not) snapped. Some of my favorite paintings I saw were, “Seascape Near Les Saintes Maries de La Mer,” “Boulevard de Clichy,” and “Wheat fields Under Thunderclouds.”

After the museums we hopped on over to the I Amsterdam sign to snap a picture.

Can you spot me?

The restaurant we went to later that night was phenomenal. We had to remember that normal countries don’t eat at 10pm. Although, I must say the days seem so much shorter when you have to eat around 6pm or 7pm. We strolled up to our restaurant, The CousCous Club, and it was completely full. But have no fear, the owner (who reminded me of the owner of Turquoise who my dad just loves to talk to … for hours … so much so that my mom refuses to go there with him) took us through the kitchen to a separate room for us to eat in. There was no menu, simply three different types of couscous. I had the vegetable one with lentil sauce and it was delicious.  The restaurant’s key concept is healthy food; everything is steamed and grilled. The small quaint restaurant was filled with regulars and the owner couldn’t believe how we’d found it. It was a wonderful meal and evening.

Notice we’re all bundled up … it took a while to heat up the empty room.

The main activity for Wednesday was the Anne Frank House. The exhibit was really wonderful and I feel very fortunate to have seen it. Luckily we bought our tickets online and did not have to wait in the absurdly long line. The exhibit took us through the different rooms of the house. The rooms were left empty, something Otto Frank wanted, as a sort of remembrance to what had happened. There were miniature models in each room showing what furniture used to be in them, and all of the decorations on the walls (paintings, posters, photos) were left untouched. It was unreal to imagine being held up in the small space, to live your life in constant fear, and to not be able to step outside for such a long period of time. The saddest moment for me was a life-size photograph of Otto Frank, the sole survivor, staring into his empty house.

We continued on to an adorable shopping street, where I bought a pretty ring from a store called, Pretty Rings.

Then we found our favorite cafe and Mal and I stayed for hours.

That night we went to Chinese for dinner. The restaurant was in the Red Light District. The owner of the restaurant checked to see if the door was bolted at one point. The food was good.

Our last day, Thursday, began with an attempt at a walking tour with New Europe, a company that offers free walking tours and relies solely on tips. We made it through half of the tour, before our fingers were about to fall off, and abandoned it. It was nice to be guided through the city. Some of the highlights of the tour included walking down the “Big Mama” alley in the Red Light District, seeing the Old Church, once again in the middle of the Red Light District (ironic? I think yes) and seeing the original building for the Dutch East India Company, one of the companies established in the 17th century that helped contribute to the rise of the Dutch Republic, when the Dutch merchant fleet became the most powerful fleet in the world. This was the same century of Rembrandt and Vermeer.

VOC is the symbol for the Dutch East India Company.

We then headed to our favorite cafe, yet again. Let me just tell you some of the best things everyone got from this place: potato and leek soup, goat cheese and leek quiche, sandwich on chewy wheat bread with Dutch cheese, arugala, tomato, lettuce and homemade walnut pesto, and of course, a delicious brownie and homemade carrot cake. This was truly my favorite afternoon.

The sun decided to peak its way through the dreary clouds and the city suddenly came to life.

We walked by my friend’s flat and then continued to the cute part of town and went inside beautiful boutique after beautiful boutique. I bought a scarf that I absolutely love but I really had to restrain myself from buying everything in site.

After our shopping excursion, we had a lovely walk through Vondle Park, a gorgeous open park with canals running through it. We saw many willow trees, my favorite tree since I was young when I thought they only existed in fairy tales.

That evening we had dinner at an Indonesian Restaurant and then we went to a gourmet chocolate shop where I indulged in a chocolate covered banana. Let me just tell you how delicious it was. I hadn’t had a banana since being abroad, and it was so delectable, the perfect ripeness, not too sweet, and the warm chocolate on top was mouth-watering.

Also, if you don’t know the Dutch language, try pronouncing this.

or this!

We went home and went to bed because we had to wake up at 4am the next morning in order to catch our flight. So, walking through the Red Light District at 4am is quite an experience. And so is the train station. Either Amsterdam attracts sketchy people or I do. Either way, they were sketchy. And the ticket machine at the train station was not working so we had a moment of panic where we thought we were stuck. And for all of you that don’t know me, I am not a morning person. In fact, I do not function in the morning. So the fact that I made it out of there alive is solely credited to my dear friends who accept this major fault of mine.