Winter Break

Although studying abroad itself can sometimes feel like a vacation this past week we had a real, 10 day long, “winter break” (my second one this year!). (I put that in quotes because it definitely doesn’t feel like winter here).

Two girls from my program and I sat down and tried to map out which places we wanted to split our time between, with cheap tickets being the main deciding factor. After lots of googling, we finally decided on flying to Brussels, Belgium, from there taking a train to Amsterdam, Netherlands, from there another train to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there one last, 7 hour train home to Aix. Trains have clearly become my favorite mode of transportation. It’s like free tours through each city you pass- I love snagging the window seat, plugging my headphones in, and watching the landscapes zoom by. I had just as much fun on the trains as in the cities we visited.

So, we set out, energetic and eager to do some exploring in parts of Europe we’ve never been before.

Brussels was chilly and misty. This might have factored into why I wasn’t that impressed with it. We rented an apartment from a girl a bit outside of the city. Brussels was huge, so it was kind of a pain trying to get around…taking the city bus, etc. However, we did take a day trip to a nearby, fairytale-like city named Brugge, where I quickly fell in love. The city itself is made up of quaint canals that tie everything together. The market square had old, colorful buildings that felt so classic European. We wandered in and out of lace shops, which Belgium is famous for. And, not to worry, all three of us came home with plenty of chocolate to share (or not). Belgium is split in half as far as language goes- there’s the French speakers and then there’s the German/Dutch side. Speaking was a challenge because our brains would recognize foreign languages and automatically try to spit out something in French before English. Here, it wasn’t as much of a challenge as we would find it to be as our trip progressed.

We then took a train to Amsterdam, Netherlands, which I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was our favorite spot.

The people were warm and friendly and the city was really accessible and easy to get to know, which is a big thing when you’re traveling, at least to me. I like to start recognizing streets and cafes.

The first day we stood in line to walk through the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII. It was so eerie and something that words can’t quite do justice to. I will never forget how it made me feel.

The weather here was lovely, so it was so much fun to be outside and explore on foot. Another girl in our program and her boyfriend happened to be in the city at the same time, so we met up for dinner and drinks, which was a lot of fun. I feel so lucky to have made such great friends on this trip.

Speaking of friends, our last stop was in Frankfurt, Germany, where an old friend of mine so graciously hostel the three of us in his cozy dorm room.  Although the space was tiny we were ecstatic to be saving on hostels! Plus, we got a free tour guide on top of it all! It was probably here the language barrier was the hardest. In Amsterdam almost every one spoke perfect English. How blessed are we to speak such a universal language? Anyway, having my friend I’ve grown up with show us around on top of hosting us was such a treat, especially towards the end of our adventures when we were feeling a little worn out.

Frankfurt was unique in that it was completely destroyed during WWII, which seems obvious, but you don’t come to terms with until you are standing in it, realizing how very modern it feels in comparison to the rest of Europe we’ve been seeing.

If Germany gets an award it would be for the tastiest food. We tried this “green sauce”, which is apparently really specific to Frankfurt, and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

We boarded our final train, eager to speak French and eat some pain au chocolat for breakfast again. I missed Josette and the other kids in my program. It’s weird how we were just as, if not more, excited to come “home” as we were to leave it 10 days prior.

If you’re still reading, thanks for hanging in there with me, I know this was a long one, but, as you now know, a lot happens in 10 days!