First Time Traveling to Europe

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
-Mary Ritter Beard

January 1, 2018:  I penned the areas in which I wanted to grow for the year, followed by my goals for said growth areas.  A big goal for me this year is expanding my perspective.  It's been a focus for the last couple of years, but I wanted to specifically focus on a more global perspective.  This is a really fancy way of saying I wanted to travel abroad.

Soooo, on January 1st, I booked our first international trip.  We booked Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Nice.  Being that it was still a first-world situation with English-speaking people, it was a fantastic and easy introduction to international travel.

We started our trip in Amsterdam and ventured south with each subsequent stop.

AMSTERDAM

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Founded in the year 1275, Amsterdam is known for its elaborate canal system, composed of 165 canals and 1,500 bridges.  While boats are certainly plentiful, oddly enough, the city has more bikes than people!  Amsterdam hosts 20 million visitors annually who come to see the canals, the Anne Frank House, and the Red Light District.

Personally, I found Amsterdam overrated.  I think I would have loved it if I were a 20-something bachelor, though there were plenty of couples and older tourists as well.  It just wasn't my cup of tea, but ya live and ya learn, right?

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3 Words to Describe Amsterdam: bicycles, canals, aged

Surprised by: Bicycling through Amsterdam is about as nerve-wracking as a NYC cab ride!

Must Do: Ride bikes around Amsterdam...with caution ;)  It's unforgettable!

Must See: any non-touristy neighborhood.  We enjoyed staying in Haarlemmerbuurt

Must Eat: The Pancake House (imho) serves the world's best crepes

Local Hack: Buy tickets to the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum in advance. We didn't, and they were sold out

 

BRUSSELS

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Brussels was settled in the year 580 and is as majestic as it is historic.  However, we found that the city really embraced youthful change, as was evidenced by the city-allotted graffiti alley in the pristine museum district.

Brussels was the most diverse place we visited!  It wasn't uncommon to hear 4-6 languages being spoken at once.  Belgians typically speak French, Dutch and English.

3 Words to Describe Brussels: magnificent, beautiful, underrated

Surprised by: The architecture is next-level elaborate.  I spent half the visit just gawking at the buildings!

Must Do: Visit Grand Place once during the daytime and another in the evening for 2 completely different experiences.

Must See: Musical Instruments Museum

Must Eat: Belgian waffles with nutella and creme fraiche

Local Hack: If you're at Grand Place at night and you're tight on money, don't sit at one of the many restaurants. The Starbucks closes around 8pm, which leaves the outdoor seating open for a romantic picnic watching the sunset over the square. BYOB anyone?

 

PARIS

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"Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history... All was embraced by her, by her volatile and enchanted populace thronging the galleries, the theaters, the cafes, giving birth over and over to genius and sanctity, philosophy and war, frivolity and the finest art." -Anne Rice

Yeah, what she said.  The allure of Paris is legendary. My heart was won over before I even visited her, and she confirmed what I already knew:  a piece of me has been and always will be Parisian.*PRAYERS UP*  I will be a Parisienne some day (hopefully soon please Lord Jesus I'll serve you forever and dedicate my children to you and stop staying up late binging Netflix please please puhleeeeeease!).

3 Words to Describe Paris: unbelievably extraordinarily romantic

Surprised by: The Eiffel is so much taller in person!  80 stories tall.  But without walls.  I experienced vertigo once we got to the top.

Must Do: Recline on a green chair near any of the many fountains for city-style suntanning

Must See: Saint Chapelle - I could have spent hours admiring the stained glass depictions

Must Eat: anything from any patisserie -- croissants, French bread, macarons, caneles de bordeaux

Local Hack: The view from the top of the Eiffel isn't better than the view from the 2nd Level (40 stories up).  And there's no champagne bar.  Skip the "View from the Top" and soak in the 2nd Level view, where the ground-level scenery is actually visible.

 

NICE

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The French Riviera, or Côte d'Azur, is located on the Mediterranean Sea.  It extends from Cassis to Menton, including St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo.  Established as a vacation spot for aristocracy and artists alike, it has hosted Picasso, Matisse, and King Edward VII.  Residents include Elton John, Bill Gates, and Tina Turner.

Nice is the exhale after a deep inhale of Parisian life. It's the perfect combination of relaxing and posh.  Russell enjoyed Nice so much that he was already researching housing costs in the area before we left!

3 Words to Describe Nice: relaxing, relaxed, blue

Surprised by: Nice isn't a small town; it's the 5th most populous city in France.  But it feels like a small town, and most tourism professionals are local, born and raised.

Must Do: Ascenseur du Château.  It's a long, uphill trek, but so worth it!

Must See: The village of Eze.  At the top of Eze are the remains of a castle from the 12th century.

Must Eat: Italian food! Nice was previously part of Italy, and is culturally half-Italian.

Local Hack: On day 1, we tried to "beach" like we do in Florida, on the free public beach.  Don't do that.  On day 2, we bought the daypass at a private beach for access to the loungechairs, umbrellas, private water access, restrooms, and chair-side bar service.  Do the private beach.  Trust me ;)

When we landed back on American soil after 2 weeks away, I was surprised at how different I felt.  I was still Priska, and this was still home.  But I was markedly changed.  I started questioning the American norm in comparison to the European norm.  Things that mattered before suddenly didn't.  And I immediately started calculating how quickly we could return.  Mary was right:

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
-Mary Ritter Beard

Wishing you wonderful experiences expanding your perspective,

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