I had finally received one of the two breaks I was allotted during my time abroad in Spain (currently on my second one). This one happened to be over the week of Semana Santa or “Holy week” in English. With Spain being a Catholic country, this is a highly anticipated week among the Spaniards with thousands coming out into the street to watch the processions.
This however is not a blog post on Holy Week. That will maybe come later, I haven’t decided if I want to write it yet.
No, this post will be a re-telling of my biggest travels thus far as well as including tips and places to see for those of you who plan or wish to visit in the future.
This was my shortest stay out of the three places, being there not even 24 hours. We were actually there a few days before the Notre Dame fire. The shortness of time was do to the fact that I had already seen Paris, my travel companion had not, and it’s not the cheapest city to visit.
Granted, the other two weren’t cheaper, but I was willing to pay more for Brussels and Amsterdam having never been to either.
So, we started off our time in France by taking a train from the airport to the Gare du Nord train station. The ticket was much cheaper than an Uber would have been. Once again the CityMapper app was a life savor in navigating the trains.
We purposefully picked a hostel close by the station, since we were arriving at night. It proved to be the right choice when we realized the area was a little sketchy.
The hostel, St. Christopher’s Inn Gare du Nord, was okay. The people were very nice checking in but I did have a problem with the lockers downstairs. We had to check out the next day at eleven and needed a place to store our luggage while we explored.
The sign said €3 for 24 hours but it only gave me until 1:30 pm. My friend ended up paying €6 because she tried to do it again, but it took her money and didn’t add any time.
The woman that helped us did reimburse us after, which was the right thing to do. However the breakfast was horrible.
I grabbed a boiled egg and it was so overcooked that the yoke was almost white inside. They didn’t even provide water and the rest of the options were meat and cheeses with a few cereals. Definitely not worth €5.
After breakfast and the locker fiasco, we took the metro and went to see the Eiffel tower.
It gives you the full experience of really being able to see how big Paris is as a city from the top. For tickets to the top, they have a youth rate (12-24) at €12.70, €6.40 for children 4-11 and free for kids under 4. I recommend getting a ticket to go all the way to the top. It’s so high up my ears kept popping when we were in the elevator.
As one must do while inside the tower, we purchased some macaroons and a coffee to eat and drink as we looked out at the city. It really was quite the Parisian moment; although I doubt actual Parisians even go near the Eiffel tower, in annoyance of all the tourists. Which I can’t blame them for.
We decided to make our decent and walk to the Louvre along the River Seine. While walking we happened upon a little market displaying some unique jewelry and delicious food.
Seeing all the big wok like pans full of Indonesian (maybe) style dishes and aromatic sausages made us realize lunch had found us, so we stopped. Me and my travel buddy shared a shredded chicken dish with curry like spices and fries on the side. I can’t say for sure what style it is since there was no name or I just didn’t notice one. I also opted for a beer to drink in order to really complete the market experience.
The chicken was absolutely delicious and I think about it daily. The beer had an interesting flavor to it too. I don’t know what kind it was either because it was the only one on tap and again had no name (seems like a theme). It had a type sweeter almost syrup like undertones to it that were a bit unusual in a beer.
I even ended up buying a ring for myself (it’s an obsession) at a unique little boutique tent. The ring itself, I believe, is silver coated or some other type of metal that doesn’t turn your skin green. I unfortunately don’t know much about the jewelry world so I cant say for sure. All I know is I asked if it would turn my skin green and she said no, and so far it hasn’t.
We eventually made our way to the Louvre and walked around its expansive gardens since we didn’t have time to get tickets to see all the artwork. I toured the last time I was there and would definitely recommend investing in a ticket if you have time.
The Louvre is works of art within a work of art. The palace may be the thing that houses all the precious paintings and sculptures, but be sure to look at the building itself.
Also depending on how long you are in France, I suggest taking a trip to Versailles. It really is worth all the fuss and something you should see at least once. I went with my school back in 2016 and wish I could have again this time.
This was one of the cities I enjoyed the most out of my travels. I would say it tied with London, which you can read about in my post Went to have tea with the queen, and Amsterdam.
We arrived to the city itself by high-speed train, which I almost missed because I couldn’t figure out the french on the ticket or which train car was mine. But hey I made it!
Helpful hint: don’t miss your train trying to be all independent, suck it up and ask one of the conductors.
It was dark out by the time we made it to our hostel after taking a tram from the train station. While on the tram we were pestered by some men almost the entire ride, making us alert and sketched out by the time we reached our stop.
For some reason none of the street lights were on and there didn’t seem to be a lot of people out even though it was around 9:00 pm. The hostel was right in front of us but a canal blocked our path and of course the nearest bridge was a good distance away.
Lets just say we turned that seven minute walk, as told by google maps, into a five minute walk.
The hostel was one of the better ones (Meininger Brussels City Center) I’ve been to with a great bar area (not a night club like Paris) and very clean facilities and beds.
We met up with another friend from our University who had already been in Brussels for the day. It was late and we were a little on edge from our trip here, so we decided to order a pizza and drink a beer at the hostel.
This is when I discovered the greatness that is Belgian beer. The bartender spoke English and recommended a Belgian fruit beer (Cherry Chouffe) that is typical. Wow was it good. So good that I drank it a wee bit faster than I should of with 8% ABV and found myself feeling a little loose.
The next day we got an early start and set out for some breakfast. We first stopped at a cafe that was under a hotel and grabbed a quick coffee or what would be a latte in the states.
Then we set off to get ourselves a Belgian waffle. However we soon realized there were two types of waffles to choose from. A Belgian waffle which is a rectangular fluffy waffle we all picture in our mind, and a liege waffle that is caramelized on the outside with sugar. Creating this sugary shell around the waffle with a fluffy warm inside.
The liege was by far my favorite out of the two waffles. I was also told by a native that the Brussels way of eating a liege waffle was plain. Apparently all the added toppings are for the tourist. So if your looking for authenticity eat it as naked as the day it came out of the iron.
Next stop was the Manneken Pis fountain. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a fountain with a little boy peeing. The story behind it is that he was the son of a mayor, who got lost in the market and was found peeing in the street.
From there we decided to wander the streets of Brussels looking for more adventure. We found a record shop and putzed around in there for about an hour.
Eventually we decided we had enough time before our chocolate tour (yes, chocolate) to take the metro and go see the Atomium statue outside of the city. I recommend checking it out if you have free-time. I was quite surprised at the size of it when we went, expecting it to be much smaller than what I was confronted with. Its about a 30 minute metro ride from the city center.
According to their website, it was built for the Brussels Worlds Fair (1958), the first one after WWII to signify “a new humanism“. The shape is supposed to be the depiction of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.
You can even buy tickets to go inside it, although they were a wee bit pricey for me not having it on my original plan. Still a great visit though.
After, we headed back toward the city to grab lunch right before our tour. We went to a great restaurant right around the corner from Grand Place Square, called Balls & Glory.
It specialized in meatballs, but not your spaghetti kind of meatballs. No, these were the size of a baseball and filled with other tasty ingredients. The menu was fairly simple and consisted of a package deal kind of thing. There were four different types of meatballs, your choice of salad and a drink.
I had the classic pork which at that time was a pork meatball with pear and red cabbage inside, a feta pasta salad and of course a Belgian beer on tap (happened to be La Chouffe again). You can take a look at their website here.
I dream about this meatball every day and night. It tantalized my taste-buds with the sweetness of the pear and the saltiness of the pork. I never wanted it to end.
Then it was time for the most anticipated part of the trip, the Belgian chocolate tour. We went to five quality chocolatiers, old and new, and even got to eat another liege waffle.
Our first stop was at Galler right next to the square. There we had a dark chocolate praline with a ganache center. The chocolate didn’t have any of the grittiness that is sometimes experienced with cheaper dark chocolates. It was smooth as it melted in my mouth and coated over my taste buds like velvet.
The flavor also had a bitterness to it that dark chocolates are known for due to a higher content of cocoa. I preferred the dark because of that bitterness. Milk chocolate is just a bit too sweet for me but Galler has options for all the different pallets!
The next Chocolaterie was Corne Port-Royal where we had the option of a few different pralines using different chocolates and fillings. I chose another dark chocolate because I wanted to compare the two. I would say they are both tasty and pretty on par with each other. Really any of them would offer a great chocolate experience.
Now for my two favorite chocolatiers, both for their stories and their chocolates. These two are Mary’s with the champagne truffle and Neuhaus, the inventors of the Belgian praline in the Royal Gallerie of Saint Hubert.
The champagne truffle was an explosion of flavor. It was the most unique out of the chocolates I tried that day. The champagne was an active actor but didn’t over power the chocolate and other ingredients in the truffle.
Mary was the only women in an industry full of men. Making it nearly impossible for her to be successful in the chocolate industry from the start. To combat this, she first opened a tea shop, made royal connections, and later started the chocolaterie she set out to in the beginning. I love a good women empowerment story. Also its there 100th anniversary this year!
Neuhaus is special by having invented the praline, but their other secret to success is in their nougatine. Their famous praline known as Irresistibles have a unique triangular shape and are always filled with nougatine, various fillings and coated in dark, milk or white chocolate.
The nougat really makes these pralines the star performer on my taste buds with its caramel and almond-y goodness. Highly recommend the raspberry filled Irresistible praline.
The last chocolatier was also the youngest and most modern of all the rest. Atelier was my least favorite of the all the chocolatiers but I did respect the ingredient transparency they provided. Going as far as to put what region and country they got their cocoa beans from. They also use more modern out of the box ingredients you aren’t likely to see at the others.
After our tour and a little city exploring, which I recommend cause you find some interesting stuff, we went and had dinner at a frites shop. Now if you are ever in Brussels you will see a concoction of frites (fries) with a white sauce on top. Eat it; it’s tradition and delicious. We were neither hungry nor financially endowed enough to be super spendy with our dinner so these were on the menu.
However we got ours in the form of a fricken HUGE sandwich with doner kebab chicken, lettuce and a spicy sauce that reminded me of the fry sauce I’d get in Utah and a hoagie bun.
We left for Amsterdam a little after lunch/dinner according to U.S. standards. The train ride was about two and half hours to get there and our Hostel was about five minutes away from Amsterdam Centraal Station. Amsterdam is known for its canals and our hostel happened to be on the other side of one.
In order to get over there we had to take a free ferry. It was a fun experience learning how to properly load without getting killed by the bikes and mopeds.
My father had lived in Holland (Rotterdam, Utrecht and others) for two years when he was in his early twenties. His first and most important to do was to eat Indonesian food there at least once. I made it my first meal in Amsterdam.
May I say that it was probably the best shit I have ever eaten and can’t believe it took me this long to try it. We went to an Indian restaurant called Moguls. The place was so cute with maybe ten tables and situated in an apartment with one guy running the whole dining room. Food would come down a little elevator or lift and he would set everything up on your table.
I had a dish called Korma, a coconut, pineapple chicken curry dish with rice and vegetables accompanied by an Indian yogurt drink called lassi. It was set up in a traditional family style where people could pick from the different dishes and try a bit of everything.
After becoming properly stuffed to the point sitting down hurt, we decided to walk off our meal and ended up in Dam Square. There is a monument in the middle of the square that acts as a good meeting place, but other than that its just another tourist trap full of souvenir shops.
A hop, skip and a jump away from the square is the infamous Red Light District. Our night ended here but to be clear we did not mean to find it. In fact we were just in search of a bar to have a beer before heading back to the hostel.
We realized we were getting close to the main street once half naked ladies in windows with the glow of a red light illuminating their forms started popping up.
The whole experience itself was very confusing to say the least. There were many emotions swarming around my head in relation to seeing the working girls in the windows. Excitement at the sinfulness of everything, worry for the safety of the women and my perpetual feminist popping out asking “well where are the male prostitutes?”
We would find out more about its history on our tour the next day.
Next Day/ Keukenhof
We woke up on the earlier side of things so we could catch a bus with a tourist group to a tulip farm called Keukenhof in Lasse, Holland. The ticket was around €30 including the transportation to get there. We bought them online.
April is tulip season in Holland, which means if we didn’t see millions of tulips while there than we wasted our trip. Just being real.
The farm was HUGE! Every time I thought it was the end there was an entirely new section waiting to be explored with all sorts of tulips varying in color, size, shape and placement.
The farm has a specific theme each year and this years was flower power (my kind of theme). You could catch this hippy theme in various parts of the farm but the biggest was in a greenhouse called Beatrix and full of orchids (they dabble in other flowers as well).
They even had your classic dutch windmill to go up and take pictures under. However beware of the blades, they can get awfully close. There is a warning sign once you get up there.
We spent about three hours exploring the grounds and still didn’t cover every inch of it. Its a perfect family place with a playground for kids in the middle of the farm (even I was tempted) and strategically placed food carts; selling foods like dutch waffles, fresh strawberries and even herring to guests.
I recommend going as early as you can because of the crowds later in the day. It got pretty cramped by the end of our stay nearing lunchtime (which is later in the day in Europe).
Also don’t forget to take all the Instagram worthy photos you can because I don’t think you’ll ever get a better background anywhere else. The nature and vibrant colors made for some of my best photographs to date.
After we got back to Amsterdam we had lunch and then headed to our meeting spot for the red light district tour in Dam Square.
Red Light District
The history and politics behind the legalization of prostitution was to be explained the next day during our tour with Geert. He talked about the history of the district going back to the when the city was a big merchant port (where the train station is now) and how the sailors would partake in such pleasures.
What really interested me was the reasoning behind the legalization of the trade. Prostitution had been illegal all over Europe for hundreds of years, yet it continued on despite the fact. It was also one of the most dangerous professions out there with risks to diseases and even the womens lives.
So, they decided to try something different. Instead of continuing to make something illegal with zero control of what happens, why not legalize it. This way the can control the industry, set regulations and protect the women; making the practice safer as well as the community around it.
The control is put in the hands of the women, she decides what she is willing do, or simply refuses service. They also have security around the windows and a panic button inside the women’s rooms.
I still don’t know if I entirely agree with the whole process, but if this is truly by choice of the women, who am I to judge or tell her she can’t do it.
Helpful Tip: DO NOT take photos of the working girls. They will smash your phone on the ground.
We decided that when in Amsterdam, check out a coffeeshop.
Yes, the time has come to talk about the weed. Now I want to start off by busting a myth that weed is legalized in Amsterdam. The drug has actually never been officially legalized and therefore is not legal. As our tour guide graciously said “it is highly tolerated”.
As long as they don’t openly advertise that they sell marijuana on their sign or in their advertisements, the government looks the other way. With this tolerance comes better quality weed and safer means of acquiring it.
Now it is important to point out a shop that sells marijuana will say “Coffeeshop” on its sign. An actual shop that sells actual coffee and pastries will be spelt “Koffee” and not have the aroma of weed in the air.
The shops will have menus. You can choose to buy it by the gram, pre-rolled or as an edible. In addition they provide the strength and type of high it will provide as well as the price.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. A majority of people in the shop are tourists trying it for the first time and the employees know this.
You can’t smoke in the street yet many do. However as a tourist without the local knowledge, stick to the smoking rooms in the shops. Getting arrested is very unlikely but better safe than sorry.
End of Day/Next Morning
Unfortunately we had to hit the hay a little earlier that night because of an early wake up call at 4 am to catch our plane out the next morning. We ended up going to an Italian restaurant called Pasta Pasta. The place was super cute and had great food. There I had an Amstel Cider that has know become my favorite.
Getting back to the Schiphol airport from Amsterdam is really easy. There is a train that goes directly into the airport from Amsterdam Centraal for a few euros. When traveling on a budget this is the way to go rather than an Uber.
I know this is quite the long read, but I haven’t written in awhile and wanted to write about one of my favorite trips so far. Its hard to condense the three countries into a blog post but I did the best I could! I hope you enjoy reading it and that it inspires a desire to visit these places yourself!
Finals are coming up these next two weeks so I may not be able to get another post out until I get back to the states! However I still have so many more posts to write and experiences to share!