Olympic experience in London a perfect end to European adventure
Recent FGCU graduate concludes her summer-long backpacking trip
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 17:08
After finally getting back to Berlin and its amazing and efficient public transportation, we took a train to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I'm not sure what comes to anyone else's mind when they hear Amsterdam, but for me it had been a darker, kind of rough, wrong side of the tracks type of city. Somewhere you did not want to be caught in after dark.
That could not be further from the truth. Amsterdam was a beautiful, vibrant and clean city. I loved Amsterdam. The whole city was so alive and easy to navigate and the people were very nice. All of the streets were packed with people and the buildings were narrow, glued together with rivers crisscrossing everywhere. It somewhat reminded me of Venice, and yes there were a lot of "coffee shops" everywhere. It was a very cool city and I have rarely been so happy to be proven wrong.
We stayed in Amsterdam for four days (wish it could have been longer) and saw the secret annex where Anne Frank and company hid for those two years (I recommend seeing it), the Sex Museum (recommend), street markets (recommend), churches and just explored the city itself. The only thing I'm ticked I didn't get to see was the Red Light District. I had heard it was a very interesting place to see by many people and was interested to know what all the fuss was about. Oh well, I guess this just means I'll have to go back at some point.
From Amsterdam we headed to Paris, France. France did not like us. The entire week we were there, it rained. It rained while we were in Paris, in Caen, in Normandy and in Nantes, and when it wasn't raining, there was a fierce, biting wind that froze you where you stood. So, much like Poland, my opinion on this country is withheld because while I hated the weather and outrageous prices for everything (France, especially Paris, is very expensive), I loved all the things I saw. In Paris we went to the Eiffel Tower (amazing), Arch di Triumph (nice), the Louvre (HUGE place. This place alone will take you a day to see) and Notre Dame (long line moves very fast and the church still holds services so you have to be very quiet. View from the top is well worth the wait in the line around the side of the church, even if the wait is in the rain). I wish we could have had nicer weather and more cash to stay and explore the city longer, but after that we went to Caen, pronounced "con."
We only stayed in Caen because the hotel we found was really cheap and it was close to the Normandy beaches. The lesson we learned from making a decision based on that was to read up on where you are going. Caen is not a major city, and on Sundays not all of its transportation is running. We did not know this, so naturally the one bus line we needed to get to our hotel was not running. Of course, we also did not find this out until three hours after we had arrived in the city and had followed faulty directions from thre different people. Finally, we went back to the main train station and got a cab to our hotel, which was not located in a shopping district, as it claims to be on its website, but in a warehouse district with no food or shops around for miles.
Fortunately, the Wi-fi worked and for the other two days we were there, the bus did run there (though not very often). We really only stayed there so we could go to the Normandy beaches, and it was worth it.
We ended up taking a day tour from Bayeux (nearby city) to see Omaha and Gold beach, the U.S. Memorial Cemetery, preserved Nazi bunkers used to repel landing troops (some still with guns or interconnecting underground tunnels) and the D-day Museum. It was a very good tour and I feel I got a lot more out of it having only seen Auschwitz about a week before. It was fascinating to see the beaches and bunkers and easy/sad to imagine how things must have played out for the troops landing on the beaches in clear view of the cliff bunkers before them. The final stop was at a preserved Nazi bunker where you could see all the underground tunnels and bomb craters that had decimated the site. It was a very sobering experience, especially seeing the Normandy American Cemetery where 9,387 American service men and women from WWII were laid to rest.
We only stayed in Nantes for one day so we could catch our Ryan Airs flight to Ireland the next day.
One observation that I found rather interesting about the people of France is that they are a lot like Americans in that they prefer to speak their native language and no other. The French like to speak French and not many seemed to know another language, much like how in America (at least in my experience) most Americans prefer to speak English and are content to not speak any other language. I found this very interesting and surprising as everywhere else we have been in Europe most people at least knew a little English, and I can't decide if I like the French for this or not.
Ireland has been amazing. Thus far, we have been to Shannon, Ennis, Limerick, Galway and are now in Dublin after just returning from Belfast in Northern Ireland. My only complaint for Ireland has been the weather, though it has been much better in recent days.
Also, to clarify, rain in Ireland is not like rain in Florida. It is more like sheets of heavy mist that are constantly blown at you on a very strong wind. It is not water falling from the sky as dictated by gravity, but waves of mist following the currents mandated by the wind. These rains can also last all day, which happened to us. Despite it being mist-like, the rain still gets you very wet.
Due to the ever-present precipitation, everything here is very green and lush and the people are amazingly kind. No matter where we have been, everyone has been more then willing to help us if we ask. We even had one gentleman randomly wish us a safe trip as he passed by us. It has also been very nice to be somewhere were we can understand what people are saying to us. I did not realize how much I missed hearing English until we got here.