Smooth Sailing – in the Canals of Amsterdam

Would like to note that the reason that I haven’t really been posting so much is because my power converter for my USA chargers broke! The only reason I have any charge on my laptop still is because I’ve been borrowing the chargers of other people in my hostels while they aren’t there… you gotta do what you gotta do. So yeah, limited power = limited posts.

Okay! So we left off on a very unfortunate day coming into London. I would now like the record to show that London was indescribably fantastic. I have never been to a more lively, exciting, and diverse place in my life. Even out in Oxfordshire, it was just gorgeous. Most of the people that I met were so wonderful and helpful, and I’ve already made a lot of friends along the way. I also last-minute was able to attend the Hero Round Table leadership conference in London, thanks to some friends who are involved in the organization of it. I also met some very interesting people there and was able to network a little with individuals of similar interests. All in all, London was beautiful and alive and amazing and I’m already looking forward to spending more time there.

From London, I flew to Denmark, and then got a text from a friend studying in Sweden, so instead of taking a train to Copenhagen, I hopped onto a train to Sweden. My weekend in Sweden was filled with biking, beer, viking castles, dancing, good pals, and tons of sunshine. I really lucked out. I wish I had planned better, because I honestly would have loved to just stay longer there, but I foolishly had already bought a return ticket. Sunday night, I took a train back to Copenhagen. Copenhagen was a very old, very wealthy city that I was only able to spend 48 hours in, but during that time, I saw a lot of really interesting things, such as Christiania, the rogue civilization that basically just does whatever they want. I also somehow met a couple people that just graduated from Michigan State University and are moving to Ann Arbor in the fall, incredibly close to me. I spent most of my time hanging with them, and I’m definitely looking forward to hanging with them when we’re all back in the states. It really is a small world.

I arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, and this city does not disappoint. Again, lots of new pals. Feeling the personal growth and getting out of my social comfort zone is so good. Went out for a few drinks with a German girl and a Russian girl the first night, and it was honestly so funny and cool to all come from such different backgrounds but be having an awesome time together, drinking Abuelo rum (Yes, KY pals, I found it in AMSTERDAM) and hanging with a few Dutch dudes on the patio until the place closed. Then, when I splurged and went on the Heineken Experience VIP tour, it was just me and a huge group from Florida together. There were eight of them, all family and significant others, and we all immediately got along. This family was hilarious and dynamic and totally out of control in the most fantastic, enjoyable way. They invited me to dinner, and then to breakfast and a canal cruise with them the next morning. I am still blown away by their generosity.

So today is Friday, and of course I’ve hit some art museums and just enjoyed this beautiful city. I will say that, as far as canal cities go, Amsterdam over Venice any day of the week. A slight bump did come up when I realized that I had lost my backup credit card in Sweden, just as my limit was approaching on the one I was already using for most things. I’m running out of money now due to that very silly mistake on my part, but seeing as I go home in less than a week (WHAT???), I think I should be okay. Not a huge deal; just have to eat most of my meals from grocery stores, rather than restaurants! Luckily, I prepaid for all of my hostels and transportation. Good work, Dest.

Anywho. I have a few days left in Amstie, and then I move on to my one day in Switzerland to visit an old friend! Very stoked. Very happy. Very chill.

Good vibes, my friends xx

Not Everything in the City of Lights is Bright

Let me begin by saying that I did love Paris. Paris was just beautiful, exciting, and brimming with all of the things that I love (art, bread, and coffee). Every Parisian that I met was lovely, and so many people demonstrated such kindness through helping me on the metro, showing me all of the places that they loved in Paris, and offering insight on just how to be a Parisian without actually being one. It made my time in Paris so much more worthwhile.

On the plane from Chicago to Paris, the woman sitting next to me was a fast friend. The plane hadn’t even taken off yet, and she had offered me half of her avocado sandwich (of course, I could not decline. It was avocado…) She was originally from Venezuela but moved to the Miami area in her teens, and was to enjoy some time in Paris before meeting up with her husband in Amsterdam the following week. She was such a peach, and we made dinner plans a few nights from then. Already off to a good start.

My week was filled with, I think it ended up being, seven different art museums, as well as strolling through the streets of Le Marais district, finding myself at the Eiffel Tower on more than one occasion, and exploring neighborhoods on the Paris Metro lines. I was even able to actually use my French for the first time ever. I also, of course, visited the Palace of Versailles; you’ll always find me where art and history meet. The palace was gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe that it was in that very palace that so many people that I spent years learning about in history classes had spent their days there. On the way, I had also listened to this podcast on Stuff You Missed in History Class about the OG Womens March that actually happened at Versailles a few hundred years ago. To be fair, it wasn’t about women’s rights — it was about bread. But hell, I would lead a march, too, if there was a bread shortage in Paris while the king was swimming in it.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy a wine tasting of different wines from around France with a French sommelier. We had five different wines as well as a type of champagne, all different on a scale from the lightest of white wines to the darkest of red wines. It was honestly quite similar to a coffee tasting. It was just with wine. I complain about neither. For some back story, I had happened across this on AirBNB while checking on room prices to make sure I was getting the literal cheapest place in Paris. What came up wasn’t rooms to sleep in, but experiences. AirBNB was testing out an Experiences feature that basically has locals of that specific city to offer interesting things to do that would be difficult for a traveler to be able to take part in or find on their own. I thought, What the hell! I can get down with some French wine. So I did, and it was wonderful. Thierry was very funny and extremely knowledgeable about aromas, flavor notes, and how to tell the alcohol content just by looking at the glass, among other things. It was very informational, as well as delicious. There were four others there, and I learned that three of them were actually developers working for AirBNB specifically on these experiences that they were selling. As we were all talking and laughing, the five of us decided to go out to dinner after the wine tasting, as it was two hours long, and we were in Latin Quarter, where a plethora of fantastic restaurants was. We settled on this little place a couple blocks over, and the food was so good. We talked about what we did and what we were all doing in Paris, and Thierry even dropped by for a glass of wine and chatted about the French election. Since we did talk about their work at AirBNB a little bit over dinner, they paid for dinner and wrote it off as a “business expense”, which was good for everyone. All in all, a fantastic evening.

Paris was lovely, but it was dirty. I actually have gotten a little sick (sniffs, coughs, being always completely parched, etc), and I think it was the germs from the metro. Honestly, I think it may rival the grime of the NYC subway lines. On my last night, I went out with a girl who was studying in Prague for dinner and to see the Eiffel Tower at night. The tower was so beautiful as it lit up and sparkled at midnight, but the incredible number of rats scurrying between all of the bushes was slightly distracting.

The real problems for me actually happened yesterday, upon arriving to the UK. Yesterday was just a pretty horrible day that was very discouraging and I just kind of wanted to go home (obviously, I did not). The man at Customs was probably the most unpleasant person that I have ever encountered, and I couldn’t even give him attitude because he was literally the only thing barring me from getting to London, and I didn’t want to piss him off. Firstly, when he asked me where I was coming from, I replied, Paris, France. This seemed like a perfectly acceptable answer. Wrong. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and goes, “What, do you think I don’t know what country Paris is in? Is that why you included France? That would be like me saying that I was coming from New York, United States. Do you see what I’m saying?” No, he wasn’t even joking. He was just being a massive, steaming turd from a corn-fed cow. And then (I wish I was finished), regarding where I wrote the location of where I would be staying (Hyde Park View Hostel), apparently the title simply wasn’t good enough. He required a complete address. Now, mind you, never in my life have I ever had to present a complete address to where I would be staying when entering a country, and I have been to more than a few countries. So he made me connect to the wifi so that i could look up the official address of this hostel, all the while lecturing me about what I would have done if I didn’t have a phone, etc. I usually just follow maps, or order an Uber when I’m feeling particularly drained, when getting to hostels because addresses aren’t really helpful unless you’re taking a cab anyways, which is way out of my budget. Finally, he stamped the damn thing and let me out of his sight so that I could fume in peace.

While waiting for my bus, I was mulling over how upset first thing in the morning that guy made me. I found my bus with no problem, and it wasn’t until I was halfway to London that I realized I had forgotten my water bottle at the airport. Now, if you hang out with me at all, you probably know how much I love that water bottle. It’s covered in stickers that I’ve gotten from places that I’ve been and businesses that I love and support, and I take it literally everywhere with me, including Europe. I kind of started freaking out and immediately made the decision to go back to the airport to try to find it. The water bottle is my piece of home and kind of brings me back when things get a bit rough; very sentimental stuff. So I pay the bus fare again to go back to the airport, which is a round trip of about four hours, so I can’t say that I was surprised when I didn’t find it. I knew in the back of my mind that it would have been an actual miracle if I had found it sitting by the benches, right where I had left it, and of course, yesterday was not a day for miracles. I headed back to the bus to pay the fare for a third time that day, just wanting to head back into the airport to buy a ticket home.

Six hours and a wasted £25 later, I finally made it to my hostel around 5pm. I talked everything through with a friend who I knew would understand and help me figure out what I was feeling, which helped more than I am able to express. The day was definitely a huge reminder that solo travel isn’t always amazing. Really unfortunate things happen frequently, and I want that to come across accurately while I’m on this trip. Solo travel is an experience in self-exploration. I know that I can get really anxious and stressed and totally panic, and I don’t know how to control it sometimes. Traveling alone can be really difficult and can get lonely and forces you to push your boundaries, and sometimes that means experiencing alone what can feel like some heavy losses and knowing that, if you just push through, you can come out even better on the other side.

Later that night, I was sitting there, and I thought to myself, You know what? I’m in LONDON. I can’t just sit here anymore. So I grabbed my bag and hunted for the nearest metro station. I got myself an Oyster Card and made my first attempt at the London Underground, which was successful (It’s the small wins!). I could’t help but smile as I got off and found a restaurant with an excellent mushroom burger as a reward to myself for deciding to get out there, even if the day was a bit of a shame. Of course, today was a huge improvement, as I went to a few quirky museums and hung around St. James Park all afternoon.

And I know that tomorrow will be even better.

xx