Semana Santa (Easter)

It is funny to hear all of the stereotypes Europeans have of Americans. One of the stereotypes I have heard most often is that the American motto is “Go big or go home.”

The majority of Western European schools got the week before Easter off from school, similar to our Spring Break in the U.S. This means there are a lot of students and families traveling all around Europe, with the most popular destinations being so packed, you can barely turn around.

I decided to confirm this stereotype and go on a nine-day European vacation, traveling on a bus to 5 different countries with a group of 54 students from 15+ countries around the world. We traveled to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxemburg, and then back to France on a Gothic Art Tour. Here was our nine-day itinerary (with Spanish spellings):

Day 1: Paris
Day 2: Paris – Brugge
Day 3: Gante -Brussels
Day 4: Amberes-Amsterdam
Day 5: Amsterdam
Day 6: Amsterdam-Colonia
Day 7: Luxemburg – Champagne
Day 8: Paris-Madrid
Day 9: Madrid

A personal stereotype about me is that I manage to get myself stuck in the middle of funny situations. This tour was no exception. While I thought I was booking an English-speaking tour, we instead ended up with a Spanish-speaking tour…but at least I was able to practice and meet lots of students from Latin and South America also studying in Spain for the semester.

Here are some of my favorite memories from each day:

Day 1: Paris
The first day of Easter break means cars were crawling along the highway. We got stuck in more traffic jams than I could count. What was supposed to be a 12-14 hour drive from Madrid to Paris turned into a 20+ hour drive, but we finally made it. It was not cold when we arrived in Paris at midafternoon, but by 9pm that night, I thought I was going to freeze. We saw Notre Dame, the Louvre, and stopped for crepes and macaroons under the huge Ferris wheel (Roue de Paris) light up like the French flag. However, seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night was worth freezing. After a 30-minute shower, I finally began to unthaw.

Eiffel Tower Night

Day 2: Paris – Brugge
We had the morning to walk around Paris with the tour group. We scaled Mont Martre to see a beautiful panoramic view that morning. As it was Palm Sunday, I was able to watch church members march in white robes with huge green palm branches into the church. Later that morning, we walked to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and Moulin Rouge.

Mont Marte.png

That afternoon, we took a side excursion to the Palace of Versailles, which was one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip! The Hall of Mirrors was my favorite room inside the palace, and we spent as much time as we could walking the length of the room while taking in all the details. It was gorgeous! The gardens stretch for miles and miles beyond the palace. We were only able to see the main sections, and even though nothing was in bloom in March, we could only imagine how beautiful it must be during the summer.

Hall of Mirrors.png

Day 3: Ghent –Brussels
My favorite city we visited was Ghent, Brussels. This might be because I bought enough Belgium chocolate to last any normal person at least a year. My goal is to not open anything until I got home or else there will be nothing left for the rest of my family to sample! We went in nearly every chocolate store we saw to see their beautiful creations. We saw the city center, Cathedral, Belfry Tower, and Gravensteen Castle, among many other beautiful historic sites.

Belgium Chocolate.png

From Ghent, we headed to Brussels. The Grand Place, is the large central square, surrounded by beautiful old buildings. Brussels is home to the renowned Manneken Pis (Peeing Boy) statue. By that night, we could barley climb the steps into the bus, but everyone had enjoyed a wonderful day.

Day 4: Amberes-Amsterdam
We woke up that morning in our hotel in Brugge, Belgium. Over my chocolate covered donuts and hot chocolate, I learned of the attack in Brussels. We had been in Brussels 13 hours before the terrorist attack. Thankfully, we were an hour outside of Brussels, and we were all safe. I was surprised our bus was not stopped leaving Belgium. They were setting up barricades as we drove through. Brugge reminded me so much of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina with all of the plants, tress, and birds chirping.

Brugge.png

We stopped in Rotterdam in the afternoon in order to grab lunch and see the city. I was appreciative of seeing a modern city after all of the many historic cities, cathedrals, town squares, etc. The Rotterdam market was huge, stretching for at least a mile, with white tents as far as the eye could see.

Day 5: Amsterdam
We had the entire day free in Amsterdam since we were staying in a hostel there that night. I stayed with our tour group in the morning and went on a canal ride. Due to its many canals, Amsterdam is considered the “Little Venice” by locals. The fact I remember the most is that even though there is a barrier between the canals and the roads, it is small. Our boat driver explained that each week, there are always several cars that accidently drive over the barrier and have to be fished out of the canal.
I saw Anne Frank’s House, but the line wrapped around the entire square, so I was unable to take the tour. Only 5 people in our group of 54 made it into the house and they were in line for over 3 hours. Instead, I branched off from the group and took a guided walking tour around Amsterdam. Our guide was from a small town in the Netherlands and was very knowledgeable on the history of the country. My favorite place we saw was the thinnest house. It is only 1.3 meters wide—the man who owns it is taller than his house is wide! In the past, houses were taxed based on their width, so this was the original owner’s way of getting around that law.
During the French occupation of the Netherlands, they wanted the locals to have last names in order to easily identify family ties. The locals believed it was a joke and at the most a fade to be thrown away when the French left. Many people choose crude, funny, and obscure last names as a joke…unfortunately for those individuals, last names did not go away. Those families are stuck with those names today!

Day 6: Amsterdam-Colonia
As the tour was called “Gothic Art of Europe,” we saw many cathedrals. For me, the interesting detail about the Cathedral in Colon, Germany was its history during WWII. The entire city had been bombed, and on one side of the Cathedral, there were pictures of the city after those fateful days. It was interesting to see the devastation in those pictures and then to look over the city and see how well it was rebuilt. We spent the night in Trier, Germany.

Colon.png

Day 7: Luxemburg – Champagne
Luxemburg was much smaller than I imagined. We saw another Cathedral and several impressive street performers as we walked toward the center of town. Of course we went into the Luxemburg Cathedral. After the quick stop in Luxemburg, we headed back to France. This time, we stopped in Reims, the capital of Champagne, France (and yes, this is where champagne originates). The most impressive Gothic cathedral of the trip was in Reims, and after a sip of Champagne, we headed back on the bus for Paris.

France Cathedral.pngChampagne.png

Day 8: Paris-Madrid
Our trip had come full circle, having started, and now ending in Paris. We woke up early in order to make the most of the day. We headed to the Eiffel Tower first thing before it got too crowded. I branched off to meet a friend in the Luxemburg Gardens and to see the Pantheon before taking the metro back to join the others. We spent the afternoon in the Musee D’Orsay viewing paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Renior, and many other famous artists.

Luxemburg Gardens.png

I ran into my piano teacher from my small town in North Carolina in the museum. I had not gotten homesick until this trip, so seeing her and her family was an extremely nice gift!
That evening, our group walked along the Seine River, through the Latino district to grab dinner and crepes, and then I took them back to the Luxemburg gardens. None of us were ready to return back to reality and school tomorrow. We boarded the bus at 9pm for the all night bus ride back to Madrid.

 

Studying abroad has really helped me better understand what it means to have an “international mindset” and to look at things in the manner different people around the world would view these issues. I am learning so much more from traveling, everyday routines, and navigating foreign countries than I could ever learn in any school. This was truly a wonderful trip, and one that I will never forget.

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