I don't think I truly experienced what it was like to travel across Europe until this final week. Throughout my 6 weeks I had some weekend trips, but it's different when you're living in France. This time I had no French family waiting for me to come back, and I had everything I had brought to Europe with me that I had to carry around. It was during this time that I realized several travel mistakes I had made, like overpacking and bringing a duffel bag carry on instead of a suitcase. I could hardly walk around with my large suitcase while carrying a duffel bag plus a backpack. I eventually bought another suitcase, this time with four wheels, that saved me from probably having back problems and sore arms the rest of the trip.
I somehow lugged all my belongings to Paris (with the help of some friends) and we arrived at our Airbnb in the Saint Martin district in the 10th Arrondissement. It was a cute little apartment owned by a family, that was apparent since almost all of us had to sleep in little bunk beds in kids rooms.
However, it didn't really matter since we were in Paris once again and planned to be out doing things most of the time. The first night there we walked around and made a stop at the Eiffel tower to see it sparkling in the dark. There's something about walking through Paris at night that makes it feel even more surreal to me.
The following day we took the metro over to the district of Montmartre to walk up the huge hill to see Sacré-Cœur and the view from the top. Although a long and tiring walk, the view was most definitely worth it.
Then we had planned to see the catacombs, which some of us ended up waiting three hours in line for. I wouldn't recommend going in the middle of the day like we did when it's the most hot and the lines are the longest. You can skip the line if you buy the tickets online, but they will be more expensive. Since we had the time and this was our only chance to go we decided to wait anyways. We finally made it inside and it was nice to be in the cool underground although it was slightly creepy. After that we decided to head over to make a quick stop to see Notre Dame then headed back to hangout at the Eiffel tower again at night. Watching it sparkle each evening never gets old.
The next day a few of us had planned a trip to go visit Monet's gardens in Giverny, which is about an hour train ride outside Paris. When you arrive the train takes you to the town of Vernon, which is right by Giverny, and we had planned to take one of the shuttles to the gardens. However, the first thing we saw when we got there was a cute mini train so we hopped on that which gave use a tour of Vernon and Giverny on the way.
We hadn't planned this longer tour but it was neat to see the picturesque little villages. By the time we got there we had just about enough time to get through the whole gardens once and it was absolutely beautiful. The whole thing looked so unreal and just like a painting. We got to walk around the house where he lived and see the sight of the water lily paintings. It was a dream to visit Monet's gardens and I know I'd love to go back again someday and spend more time there.
That night was our last night in France so we decided to stay in for dinner and just cook at our Airbnb. It was a great way to end our last evening with good friends and food, and some French wine of course. That night we headed to the Eiffel Tower again for one last time to say our final goodbye. It was so strange to be leaving France for the first time in over six weeks, and I couldn't believe it was already time to leave this country I'd come to love so much.
The next day we were on a three hour bus ride to Brussels from Paris that only cost us around twenty euros. One thing I love about Europe is how easy and cheap it is to get around to a whole different country. It makes traveling so much easier and enjoyable there.
In Brussels we stayed at our first hostel right in the city within walking distance from almost everything. Although small, it was a really stylish and cool hostel, that was perfect for us since we wouldn't be staying long. We mostly wandered around the city to explore and go shopping and we ended each night sitting at the Grand Place with our Belgium waffles and beer.
The following day me and my friend Sarah took a train to Brugge, which is only about an hour outside Brussels. Brugge is a cute little medieval town with lots of canals and cobble stone streets. It was my probably favorite place we visited in Belgium. Before we knew it we were on another three hour bus ride to visit Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has always been a place I've wanted to visit and I couldn't believe we were finally on our way there. Unfortunately the weather that day wasn't so great and it started raining pretty hard when we arrived. We quickly ran inside to the train station to call an Uber to our hostel to avoid getting soaking wet.
We arrived at our hostel right in the city not far from the Rijksmuseum to find that there was no elevator and we were on the third floor. Since the floors start at zero in Europe that meant we were really on the fourth. We eventually made it up with all our suitcases to our four bedroom hostel room. Hostels are a great way to save a lot of money when traveling but they usually don't have much space as we quickly found out. That probably wouldn't be a problem for most people but with four girls and three of us being abroad for so long it was a little cramped. However, we made it work and wouldn't be spending much time there anyway.
That night we arrived we met up with two of our friends who had been in Paris with us for dinner at Pasta Pasta. They also were apart of our same study abroad program and it was nice to see some familiar faces again. The next day the four of us girls walked around and went to see the Van Gogh museum. I could have probably spent all day there and it was definitely worth the visit. The museum has several floors and it is all paintings by Van Gogh. It was amazing to see so much of his work and get to know more about what his life was like.
That day we also saw the I Amsterdam sign and did some exploring around the city. When we were headed out that night we stopped to watch some street performers who happened to be the same saxophone band we had seen in Brussels just the other night. We couldn't believe it was them and we had to tell them we knew who they were.
The following day I got to see the Anne Frank museum which was very enlightening and unforgettable. Me and my friend Bridget had planned to go so we bought tickets a month in advance to make sure we would make it. It felt so strange to be in their house and the hideout where they lived for two years before being discovered by the Germans. It was a visit I'd never forget after experiencing and seeing what it was like living there.
We had finally rented bikes that morning to ride there and rode them around that day. I'd recommend getting bikes as the first thing to do when you get there instead of waiting like we did. We later went on a canal boat cruise that took us to different canals around the city and it made for a perfect last night. We headed out for our last dinner in Europe and talked about our trip and all the memories we had made so far. We ended the night eating nutella crepes by the canals then headed back to pack and be ready to leave at four in the morning.
It felt so strange to be packing to leave Europe and head back to the U.S. That night I don't think any of us wanted it to end and we were up late all still talking before we finally fell asleep for a few hours. Me, Bridget, and Sarah were all leaving to go to the airport and I had to say my final goodbye to my roommate Camila who happened to be the first person I had met coming to France. It was sad to leave that morning because it was starting to feel more real that everything was over.
It helped that I had two friends along with me who were also on the same flight back to America. After we landed in Detroit, the three of us said our goodbyes before heading to our gates and I was officially headed home and on my own for the first time in seven weeks. I felt more ready to head home after that final week especially because it consisted of so much traveling and exhaustion. But I also couldn't wait to see my family and friends again and to be home where everything felt familiar.
As amazing as my whole time abroad had been, I knew it would be coming to an end eventually. However, I was leaving with so much more than just postcards and pictures, I was taking with me a lifetime of memories and experiences that have impacted me in more ways than I ever imagined.