We started the traveling section of our program in The Hague where we visited the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. For the latter, we were able to sit in on part of the trials. This is actually one of the court’s final trials before it closes since this court was made particularly for this country. I went through the security into the building right next to the witness! It was really really interesting.
We spent a weekend in the Hague and most of the people on my program took a train to Amsterdam to spend a day exploring. I hadn’t realized how close the two cities were but it was only a 45 minute train ride between the two. The train ride was scenic and really beautiful. Most of it was through the countryside where there were various farms, little towns, and gardens. I could see myself living in the Netherlands for sure! Spending the day in Amsterdam was also cool because I was able to show my friends around to all the places that I had gone when I was there before our program.
The Hague is also only a 20 minute tram ride from the beach. I went there twice while we stayed and even got part way into the water one of the times! The water was FREEZING. I couldn’t feel the lower half of my body. The best part about the beach was that the world championships for volleyball had been going on all weekend and the courts were all still set up. A group of us went and played for around 5 hours in the open stadium on the beach. It was really fun, exhausting, and definitely a great end to the weekend.
We then walked out to the end of the pier, sat on some large rocks by the water and watched the sun set.
A cool little place in the Hague that we found is a microbrewery that was located right around the corner from our hotel. It was called The Fiddler and it had a very classic bar setting and great atmosphere. The menu had over 300 different brews and several of them were made in house.
We left the Hague at around 5am on Tuesday morning and took a bus to Brussels. I am sure that the bus ride was scenic but I slept the whole way so I can’t say for sure. The main thing I realized about Brussels during this trip was that it is on my list for places to go back to. We only had about 1.5 days there and a good portion of that time was spent in meetings. Here we visited the EU Parliament and the EU Commission, which were both really interesting.
As a group, we attended a Belgium Waffle making and history tour. Our guide told us about all the different types of popular waffles and how they were eaten. A traditional Belgium Waffle is eaten with powdered sugar and honey because honey was a sign of wealth in the old days. A waffle also has the indents of a honeycomb, which supports this theory, just some food for thought. They gave us the recipe, laid out all the ingredients, and set us about making the waffles. It was a great experience and now I am a pro-waffle maker!
Belgium is also known for its chocolate, which, I assure you, I ate as much as I could in two days. Lastly, Belgium is known for its beers. We went to this bar that is known world wide as one of the best. It is called Delirium and they had the most extensive menu I have ever seen in my life. The menu was an entire book, the size of maybe five magazines bunched together. The bar also comprised of several different rooms, which made it feel like five different restaurants.
Returning to Madrid was something I had been looking forward to the entire trip. My last study abroad in high school was spent in Madrid and returning after 4 years was so cool! As we rode the bus into the city from the Airport I was feeling deja vu and remembering driving into the city with my host family. Our hotel was very centrally located and we did a lot of walking around. Since I had lived outside of the city, staying at this hotel gave me a new sense of Madrid. We toured the inside of the royal palace, something I hadn’t done the last time I was in Madrid. It was magnificent and audioguides were very informative. I would definitely recommend getting them!
The first time I was in Madrid, I was lucky enough to attend a Real Madrid soccer game. This time around, I went on the tour of the stadium. I could remember exactly where in the stadium I had sat to watch the game. While walking through the stadium, locker rooms, and by the field is really cool, one of the really cool parts was all the interactive videos they had to show all the different clips from games throughout the club’s history. The technology was really high tech and I felt like I was in a futuristic movie or something.
For our program, we met with members from the PSOE and PP, which are the two main parties in Spanish Politics. One of the members took us into the Spanish Parliamentary meeting room, which most people don’t get to see. Even the people on our program last year didn’t get to see it! Elections are coming up this year in Spain and there is the chance for some crazy and unexpected changes, which made meeting with these groups all the more interesting. Of course I missed the Spanish food and was so happy to be back. I think I ate enough Serrano ham to make up for 4 years!
Also, on the last night, our alumni association put together a dinner for us at a rooftop club. It was a great way to end the trip and say goodbye to everyone until the school year starts. Overall, the program was absolutely amazing and I definitely wasn’t ready for the trip to end! Now I just have all those final papers to do!!
Even though my program had ended, my travels through Europe had not. I traveled to London early the day after my program ended. Traveling from Madrid to London was probably the worst travel experience I have ever had. First, I booked a 6am flight out of Madrid, I honestly do not know what I was thinking. This meant that I hadn’t even slept until I got on the flight. Then, once I reached London, I found out that the Tube workers had gone on strike and nothing was running. Of course I would pick the ONE DAY that the Tube strikes to travel to London. While I originally would only have needed to take one train into London and then walk 10 minutes to my hostel, I had to wait an hour, take a bus, take a taxi, and walk over a mile to get there. But, I made it which is all that matters.
Something that is funny about London is that everything is different from the rest of Europe. Even though I have visited over four different countries, most travel related things were the same. In contrast, England has a different currency, customs, time zone, and even outlet! To say the least, this meant that traveling here took much more hassle than any of my other trips. I’ve been sick the whole time in London but have still managed to group in as much as possible. On the first day I went to the Sherlock Holmes museum, Westminster Abby, London eye, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Trafalgar Square, and National gallery. I am a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan and really enjoyed looking through his house, even though the tour was definitely overpriced.
It was really cool seeing all these traditional London sites and I lucked out and had beautiful warm and sunny weather the first two days I was here.The national gallery was free (Thank Goodness) and had lots of different pieces that I had studied in my art history class. I have always been really fascinated with art history but there is nothing cooler than studying a piece of art and then seeing it in person. I think I have seen around 20 of the pieces I studied this past semester during this one trip.
As a loyal Harry Potter nerd, I visited Kings Cross and Platform 9 3/4s. I have been visiting some of my friends who are studying in London right now and we watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a couple nights ago. We are all staying right by Kings Cross so it was awesome seeing the area in the movie!
On my second day here I rode a double decker bus, explored the Tower of London, Tower bridge and the Borough market. On my next trip I will explore through the inside of the Tower of London, I just wasn’t able to this time around. The Borough market was an outdoor market with foods from all different cultures and places. They had roclet, which is a swiss dish that my family makes all the time. It was really nice walking around here and it was SUPER crowded.
One place that I visited unintentionally was the South bank centre market. My friends and I were walking back to our hostel when we saw two slides protruding from the side of a building. We decided to go check it out and stumbled upon the whole area of food stands, and outdoor activities. The slides are part of an interactive art exhibit where you have to ride the slides to exit the place. Sadly, the whole day was booked up so we weren’t able to go in.
That evening we went to Regents park and sat up on a hill and people watched for a couple hours. There were so many people there and you could see the London skyline. Of course, I visited the British museum. Honestly, I think this museum needs to be visited in a series of short trips. Each exhibit could be its own museum so it can be difficult to properly absorb everything. Again, this was a really cool trip because I learned about many of these pieces in my high school art history and ancient civilizations classes as well as my introduction to archeology class that I took this last semester at Emory.
Sadly my good weather luck ran out the last two days in London and it was rainy and dreary. I attempted to go to Hyde Park but my visit there was cut short by the rain. However, I uncovered a really cool way to see London because of this. I decided to take one of the double decker buses from Hyde Park all the way back to Kings Cross. This trip took about an hour and was a really cool way to see the city. It was like a very cheap version of the official London bus tours because it was just a normal bus that rode through a large section of London. If you are visiting London on a budget and want to see as much of the city as possible, just hop on one of the normal buses and ride it as long as you want.
My favorite place I visited in London was Camden Lock. For anyone who has visited San Fransisco, this place is very similar to Haight-Ashbury. It is a whole market of various food stands and small shops with anything you could think of! The shops sold different types of clothes and jewelry and random other gifts and items you could buy. I spent three hours wondering through all the different shops and easily could have spent all day there! I highly recommend checking this area out! In the food area, I tried an Avocado milkshake, which was surprisingly delicious.
Well, I am writing this last piece as I wait in the airport to board my final flight of this trip home. On this trip I have visited over 5 countries and 7 cities, flown on 12 airplanes, ridden countless buses, and walked more miles than I can count. I plan on continuing this blog by reflecting on the travels and giving more detailed advice and descriptions for the places I went and plant to go to in the future. But I just wanted to thank everyone who supported my on this trip again, because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them!