With stressful midterms behind me, I quickly became equally excited and daunted by the advent of my spring break. Over the course of 10 days of traveling, I would be taking on four of my top destinations. So without further ado, here is my spring break abroad.
To the uninitiated, Germany may seem to be an intimidating culture paired with a terrifying language to match. But after touching down in Schoenfeld Airport in Berlin, I was in for a surprise. I had the opportunity to stay with my friend who, thankfully, was able to speak German. After she gave me a brief crash course in German syntax, along with the surprising realization that German is more closely related to English than any of the romantics, I felt equipped to explore the city. With limited time, I tapped into my inner history nerd and sprinted to sites like the Brandenburg Gate and the former American entry point into East Germany, known as Checkpoint Charlie.
Due to its history and relevance with both the Cold War and World War II, Berlin is very much a city torn between classicism and modernity. The remnants of the Berlin Wall continue to act as the barrier between these separate cultures, with beautiful buildings like the Berlin Cathedral, the T.V. Tower and the famous Museum Island showcasing the multifaceted city. Also, the food in Berlin was really an unexpected joy with dishes like schnitzel and bratwurst being strangely delicious.
My next stop was the progressive and infinitely charming city of Amsterdam. With canals as far as the eye can see and beautiful buildings everywhere, Amsterdam was every bit as amazing as I could hope. The city offers many different things depending on what one is looking for. Just south of the “I Am Amsterdam” sign contained a stretch of beautiful attractions, like the Van Gogh Museum and the famous Heineken Factory, whereas up north contained the infamous Red Light District, which presented itself as the risqué side to Amsterdam. Everywhere I went, coffee shops and coffee shops (there is a pertinent difference between the two) lined the streets, while cyclists threatened to pummel unsuspecting tourists at every turn. Seriously, it was crazy how many people ride bikes in Amsterdam. But above it all Amsterdam felt like a city straight out of a modern fairytale, with beautiful gothic buildings lining each block and a dreamlike quality that irradiated each canal. Leaving the city left me with an immediate longing to go back.
Vive La France! All my life, I have wanted to experience this beautiful city. Paris is so entrenched in the fascinating history and culture of France, with a romantic charm that has long been attached to the city; I knew at some point in my life I would need to go. Walking out of the Gare Du Nord station in northern Paris, I felt my heart nearly skip a beat over the realization that I was standing in the city of lights. With dozens of different arrondissements, Paris nearly has a stunning landmark for all of them, from the towering Sacré Coeur to stunning Montparnasse. I spent my first day just wandering the streets like a romantic Woody Allen character, desperately practicing my rusty French at every turn. Locals were mostly accommodating to my linguistic blunders and yet I found some of my most rewarding abroad experiences occurred while truly participating in French culture. As I walked through the impossibly beautiful Luxembourg Gardens towards the River Seine, I could barely suppress my constant expression of sheer awe at my surroundings. But after stopping in Shakespeare and Company, the most famous bookstore in France, I found the best view of Paris at the top of Le Notre Dame.
On the next day, I visited the luxurious palace of Versailles. I knew the history behind it, but nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming feeling of finally seeing it in person. The tragic Marie Antoinette. The excess of King Louis XIV. All these personalities hung over the countless acres like a regal ghost. With its mammoth gardens and fountains, and a palace that had a literal golden aura, I felt like an actual peasant. I left my heart in Paris the next morning as I rode the train to my favorite country in the world, the United Kingdom.
London, United Kingdom:
This was it. Years of obsession with a culture that has managed to produce some of the greatest musicians, writers and filmmakers in history was about to be fulfilled. I stepped off the train into Kings Cross Station and everything just felt right. Britpop tunes were blaring in my head the whole morning and I felt right at home rushing for some afternoon tea. My heart swelled hearing the posh accents at every turn and I quickly became like a little kid lost in a candy store running around Piccadilly Circus. The diverse Soho district offered famous theaters and an amazing Chinatown with the proud Trafalgar Square off in the distance. Regent Street gave me glimpses of stores I could never hope to afford, while northern Camden offered some of the coolest fashion and eateries I have ever seen. Both Kensington and Buckingham palace gave me a taste of royalty and made me dream of one day being knighted by her majesty.
What is so fascinating about London is the diversity within the city. Every block offers a completely new scene to dive into and the city truly represents itself as a crossroads for the world. Just taking the tube a few stops from Westminster to Kensington signaled a dramatic shift in culture. Scenic gardens and buildings could be found in every neighborhood, but my vote for the most beautiful setting goes to Notting Hill, a place that screams of springtime luxury. Sitting on my plane back to Florence, I never felt happier knowing I finally fulfilled my dream of living in London, even for just a few short days.