For some reason, our school in Barcelona thought it was a good idea to give us a week long break the week before finals. I know universities in the states sometimes do this (aka dead week), but when my classes consist of “sketching”, talking about my weekend in Spanish, and listening to my professor whine about Spain’s lack of efficiency, an intense week of studying wasn’t exactly necessary.
Instead, I took off for Amsterdam, Prague, and Budapest over the course of 9 days. I’ve been trying to figure out what is the best way to blog about this adventure, but I decided to jam pack it into one extremely wonderful blog instead of three….extremely wonderful blogs. The truth is, now it is finals week and minor studying is kind of necessary, so I need to make this short and sweet.
The trips go in order for a couple of reasons. First, the order of travel. Duh. Started in Amsterdam, flew to Prague, and bussed (7½ hour bus to be exact) to Budapest. The cleanliness of the hostels also fell in the same order. Enough said. Finally, my love for the cities follows the same path. I loved the entire trip, but Amsterdam was absolutely incredible and Budapest was….hmm, I’ll ponder this as I keep writing.
The entire week leading up to the trip, I continuously checked weather.com. The drastic drop in temperature occurred side-by-side with my drastic drop in excitement. And in this case, correlation did indeed mean causation. I was not sure how I was going to survive 20 degree weather and snow. Actually, I’m still not sure how I survived it.
I tried not to let the cold weather bug me too much. It probably irritated my roommates more than me because I wouldn’t shut up about the frost bite on my toes despite my three pairs of thick socks. I know “snob” isn’t exactly a positive characteristic, but I am quite proud to be a weather snob. Back to the trip…
Amsterdam is beautiful. But it is beautiful in such a different way than Western Europe. Amsterdam is built around a river, there are bridges everywhere and you can take water taxis. It kind of reminded me of the venice canals in Venice beach…I guess that means it should have reminded me of the actual venice canals in Italy, but it definitely didn’t. Maybe it’s because Venice, California and Amsterdam have similar views on drugs….
On that note, I have to say, you would never guess in a million years that Amsterdam has a huge drug culture. Okay fine, that’s a lie. There are “coffee shops” everywhere. It’s kind of confusing because the places to buy/smoke marijuana are called coffee shops, so when I actually wanted coffee I wasn’t sure what to do.
Basically what I mean is Amsterdam isn’t filled with crazy cracked out creepers. Everyone is extremely friendly. The city is safe and peaceful and wonderful. They have police, but I’m not exactly sure what they do…
I guess I’m expected to comment on my experience with the drug culture of Amsterdam. I’ve been contemplating the best way to blog about this. Michael Phelps and Miley Cyrus seem to be doing just fine. Smoking weed also worked out for Barack Obama…and Bush…and Clinton for that matter. But I’ll just pull a Clinton and claim I didn’t inhale.
Besides the drug culture, Amsterdam is most known for the red light district. Curiosity definitely won, and we made our way to the land of hookers. The red light district is named correctly. There actually are red lights. Scantily clad women of all shapes, ages, and sizes stand behind glass windows and call out to men on the street. It’s kind of like, “How much is that puppy in the window?”, but instead of puppy it’s, “How much is that hooker in window?” And instead of “the one with the waggedy tail,” it’s more like, “the one with platinum blonde cheap extensions.” I think my new lyrics could really catch on…
Oh, don’t try to take pictures of the hookers. They will throw pee at you. I’m not really sure who’s pee it is, but does it really matter? We were told about this “tradition”, so we kept our cameras hidden.
Overall, it was just kind of sad. It was awkward walking through it and staring at the girls. While we were talking about how sad it was and how each girl was “someone’s daughter” and how bad we felt for the women, Lauren slipped in the snow and fell flat on her butt. The girls behind the windows all started laughing…We humbly stepped off our moral pedestals after that.
Here’s the point where I’m supposed to segue into talking about the Anne Frank house. For some reason, I can’t think of a clever way to relate legal prostitution to the Holocaust….that’s probably a good thing.
The Anne Frank house was incredible. You tour through the office building and then rooms in the attic where they lived. It was very eery and painstakingly sad. After the tour, I stood on the beautiful, peaceful street outside the house. I tried to imagine Nazi soldiers patrolling. It was impossible. It’s easy for us in America to say, “How did people stand by and let that happen?” I still don’t have an answer to that question. Nor can I imagine Jewish people being carried away on that very street where I stood. I am glad I was able to visit the home and remember the atrocities human beings are capable of committing against one another. It is something we all must try to be a little more aware of.
I guess I should move on to Prague. Honestly, it’s so hard to wrap up these places in a few short paragraphs. Each city is so unique. Even my pictures cannot do justice. You must feel the city. Embrace it. Let it show itself to you. Often times I am bothered by tourists. I get frustrated because it seems like people simply travel just to say they did so or just to show off their pictures of far away lands. Traveling is so much more than that. You have to get lost. You have to wander.
It’s also extremely hard to get to know cities when we only had about three days in each place. I tried to view it like I am getting little samples of all of the places I have to visit again. As of right now, I intend to live in Amsterdam for two years and then move to London and then to Madrid. But my plans change after every trip I take…and I haven’t eaten a burrito in a really long time, so I might scrap the whole plan when I realize how much I miss California.
Oh yeah, I’m talking about Prague. The food was great. We bought shirts that said, “Czech me out.” I’m pretty sure that’s all the explanation I need.
The final leg of the trip was Budapest. We traveled by bus; a bus that left at 6:30 in the morning. As my study abroad trip has progressed, I’ve gone from being economical to frugal to downright cheap. Instead of paying the extra 15 euro for another night in the Prague hostel, we asked them to hold our bags and we just stayed out all night. Best decision ever. Not sarcastic. As soon as we were on the bus for Budapest, I fell right to sleep.
Budapest was beautiful in its own way. The city actually has a sadness to it. It’s almost tangible. Hungary has been walked on time and time again. They fought and lost with the Germans in World War I. They were occupied by the Nazis in World War II. Then they were “liberated” by the communists. Hungary has only been a democracy for 20 years. Our tour guide was oddly positive about the whole thing. She said, “We were lucky during communist times. We had jeans…and Coca Cola.” But she didn’t eat banana until she was an adult because of the communist regime. I guess Barney didn’t go over quite well with Hungarian children with the song: “I want to eat, eat, eat apple and bananas.” Rough.
We spent a lot of our time in a bath house. Budapest is all about them. They have indoor and outdoor pools with natural hot spring water. While packing, a bathing suit wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind, so we had to “rent” them. As I put on the disgusting suit, I tried to pretend it was clean and not just left there by some random person. Eww, it’s even gross to write about. It was wonderful to finally feel warm. I thought I was going to be a popsicle for ever.
With a 6:30 am flight back to Barcelona, I pathetically refused to pay for another night in a hostel again. It was even more pathetic than Prague since the Budapest hostel was only 7 euro a night. Instead, we found ourselves in a local karaoke pub. We sang Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.” I think we were a hit…The craziest thing in the world happened at the pub. As we were talking to some people we met, an older man asked where we were from. He was clearly American. I told him I was from California…Los Angeles area. Same as him. Ventura County. Same. Simi Valley. SAME. I literally met a man from Simi Valley in a bar in Budapest. Incredible. He decided to move 10 years ago to travel and teach English in Budapest. He was full of great stories and awesome life lessons. Apparently I must see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. I think I’ll take his advice on that one…
India, here I come. Just kidding mom. I’ll be home in 6 days.