A large part of the study abroad experience, for many, is traveling. Yes, this was initially achieved after I flew from DC to Paris, but that wasn’t the end of my travels. Many people study in one country and find ways to travel and visit other places. Europe offers so many different countries with different languages and customs, that going 400 km in any direction might land one in a different world altogether. This was my chance to take advantage of my position.
My girlfriend and her friend were with friends in London and I met them afterwards, in Brussels. Brussels, the capital of Belgium and home to the headquarters of the European Union, was boring. There wasn’t really anything “exciting” for us to do, and we managed to absolutely nothing special while we were there. We didn’t try the famous Belgian chocolate, we didn’t go to the well-known museums and we didn’t try any famous bee… drinks. We did try the waffles though. And they were very good.
Athena and her friend Kathleen didn’t purchase any of the tickets for Amsterdam or for the rest of their journey, and Kathleen spent most of the time talking with her friends and family on my laptop and losing her cool when she had trouble booking tickets and hostels. This was a recurring theme that I will try my best not to harp on.
A friend of Kathleen, Aaron, met us in Brussels and our group of four was set. After dealing with the ticket office and Kathleen’s ill-preparedness and annoying habit of planning important things at the last minute (like the frickin’ tickets), we were all able to safely board the train to Amsterdam. The train is where Kathleen was able to calculate our debts in her “debt book” and she did this without hesitation… at any and every place, including the bar, the restaurant, the hostel the metro, and maybe even the bathroom.
In Amsterdam, we noticed that everyone we came across spoke English very well, and this was a relief, because none of us spoke Dutch. Aaron and I were able to speak a little French in Brussels, but like in Amsterdam, it was hardly necessary, as people speak English there as well. We stayed in another hostel, and this one was very busy and lively, with people from all over Europe. Amsterdam offered more that interested me, including the Anne Frank museum (very interesting), bars (ok, these were available everywhere), the Red Light District (there’s a story that goes with this, but it’s for another time), and the well-known “coffeshops” (along with the coveted “space muffins”). Athena and I were even able to catch a jazz show at a nearby bar. Needless to say, we all had a good time in Amsterdam.
Paris was next and Athena’s father used some of his travel points to score her a hotel, which we came to find out, was outside of Paris. Not too far outside, but outside. This was a problem, because we couldn’t find it as easily as we thought. Since I am familiar with Paris (or at least I’d like to think I am), I was tasked with the navigation duties, and I was happy to be, especially since it meant that I didn’t have to take directions from Kathleen. I googled that address and we were on our way, but when we arrived at said address, we found out that we were in the wrong town. We asked around, but no one knew the hotel or the address, but the street was “correct.” It just so happens that the same street, “Boulevard Victor Hugo,” stretches from a suburb to the north of Paris, cuts through Paris and can also be found in a town to the east of Paris. The town to the east, Neuilly Sur Seine, was where the hotel was. Of course, we got lost again and we stopped by an open Internet café to consult our faithful friend, the Internet.
The guys running the Internet we delighted to engage us in conversation and one older gentleman was eager to tell me that President Obama was his friend. Apparently, Obama gave this man a jacket. Sure. After this short respite, we were on our way and we finally found the hotel. And it was a nice hotel, not one for cheap backpackers like us. They even moved us into an executive suite!!!!
As the de facto guide of Paris, I showed everyone around, touching all the cool spots like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, le Louvre, and Sacre Coeur. Martine invited the ladies over for dinner and that was pretty cool, especially since they got to experience a French dinner. The ladies constantly asked me to choose a good restaurant, but I was at a loss, because I usually eat at home. During the day, I usually grab a baguette or some other small treat to hold me over until dinner. I don’t usually eat big lunches. But we did manage to eat a few good restaurants, so I passed that crucial test.
Now when it comes to the nightlife, I had them covered. That’s where I shined. We went to some cool bars everyone had a good time. My skills as a tour guide are unquestioned. Thank goodness we all took pictures, because I’m writing this while trying to remember everything I saw and did.
It was a good experience, and I was happy to be with friends. Kathleen and Athena left for Prague a few days ago, and I was sad to see them go, but maybe I will see them next week… in Barcelona?