Traveling for nearly two weeks out of a backpack can be quite difficult. I decided to use every day of my spring break traveling. This trip took me to six different countries across Europe over two weeks. With my parents in town, we decided it would be fun to take a trip to visit my mom’s family in Maastricht, Netherlands. First, we decided to stop in Brussels for a day since it was on the way. As a chocolate lover, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so blown away in my life. Because my dad shares the same love for chocolate, we took a three hour walking chocolate tour through the heart of the city. It was great to be able to try chocolates much better than popular brands in the U.S. The rest of the day was spent exploring the main sites such as the pissing boy and the grand palace. With Brussels being known for good beer, we went to a bar that offered an incredible 2,000 drink selection.
Our transition to Maastricht took a different path than we had expected. Sadly, a week before we were set to travel, my mom’s aunt that we were to stay with passed away unexpectedly. Instead of staying with her, we ended up attending her funeral the day we left. Thankfully we were able to provide a distraction to her son’s family as they went through this tough time. Maastricht is a beautiful city on the southern tip of the Netherlands. Amazingly, you can stand in three different countries, Holland, Belgium and Germany, all at once. We spent a day walking through small streets filled with shops while they were setting up for Carnival, a festival celebrating Mardi Gras. That evening our cousins treated us to a wonderful meal on the Mas river. Interestingly, my mom’s cousin Rolf told us how the part of Belgium across the river was trapped in time. There is a sliver of land trapped between two rivers, so the area looks as if it is stuck in the 1950s. Although funerals are always a sad time, it was unique to be able to experience the differences of a funeral in a different culture. I also had chills as the priest changed from Dutch to English out of the blue to acknowledge my family’s presence.
Saturday brought a change in the dynamics of the trip. I was now with one of my best friends instead of my family, and the weather was much more pleasant In Lyon, France. It is known for its delicious food which did not disappoint. There is a particular meal called Bouchon that focuses on meats, and in particular raw meats. I found myself eating things I would never envision eating. Meats that Nick and I tried included thick slices or raw bacon and slices of pig head. While the bacon was delicious, the pig’s head left quite the weird taste in your mouth.
On Sunday Nick and I were on our way to Geneva, Switzerland. We took a beautiful bus ride through the French Alps to get there. Geneva is surrounded by French mountains and a big lake that stretches much further into Switzerland. The defining feature was a jet that was spraying water over 150 meters into the air. The jet was an entertaining site that could be seen from many parts of the city. With the sun out and the temperature in the upper 50’s it was perfect to walk and eat along the lake. Among other things, Nick and I played multiple games of life size chess in the middle of a park. We also took a walking tour of the part of the city that houses all of the international bodies such as the United Nations European building. It was extremely interesting learning about Geneva’s place as a world hub for international relations, while their own country historically has been neutral in international relations.
Nick left me on Tuesday and I headed off to Prague for my first experience traveling alone. It was peaceful and lonely at the same time. Prague was the most beautiful city I’ve seen when the sun shines on it. A climb up Prague’s mini Eiffel tower offers a fantastic panoramic view of the city. The combination of bridges over the river and red roofs make the view stunning.
Thankfully, Prague offers many great food options at a much more affordable price. I was able to have a traditional meal of chicken-filled potato dumplings on a bed of sauerkraut for around four dollars. Another unique aspect to their food culture is the Bohemian bread desserts that are sold on nearly every street corner. It is dough that is wrapped in a cone shape and covered with sugar. It can be filled with whatever you would like from fruit to ice cream. This treat was so delightful that I had it three times in my short two days there.
As my 21st birthday approached, I was on my way to Warsaw, Poland. For the first time, I decided to take a night bus instead of a plane. While it wasn’t optimal, the ride really wasn’t too bad. This part of the trip was also unique because I was staying with my girlfriend’s cousin’s house. They work as diplomats in the state department. As a result, my first highlight was getting a tour through the restricted access parts of the embassy.
The city had a different feel than many other European cities I have visited. It felt more rugged and less charming than other cities. With that being said, there were many beautiful churches and a small delightful old town to walk through. A more charming place is Krakow, Poland. We took a day trip there, and their beautiful old town and Jewish quarter did not disappoint. The highlight of the day trip was a guided tour of a famous salt mine in Krakow. Over time, miners have carved incredibly intricate statues in the cave out of salt. Many of the statues are of kings or other prominent Polish people. Miners worked for 90 years carving out a beautiful chapel that is still in operation to this day.
A big part of the culture in Poland is their food. Pierogis are the signature food, which is dough that is filled with different fillings and is then baked or fried. They were delicious.
This trip was the adventure of a lifetime. I was able to explore many different places in a short amount of time. I’ve never been so happy feeling exhausted and dirty from living out of a backpack for two weeks. This experience is one that I truly will never forget.