How does one encapsulate or begin to describe the beauty of places, people, food and culture? I am intimidated by this post, realizing that I may not be able to accurately depict my experience in a manner that does it justice. It was the experience of a lifetime really.
- 20 days
- 7 countries
- 5 flights
- 5 train rides
- 2 taxi rides
- 984393885 bus rides
- 6 waterbus rides
We flew into Schiphol Amsterdam airport from Dulles in D.C on Thursday, June 6th. I attempted to sleep during our eight hour flight but I can’t seem to fall asleep in public places (probably because I sleep with my mouth wide open like an old man). In reality though, it was the the anticipation of what was awaiting me at the end of the plane ride that kept me awake.
Once we landed in Amsterdam, we met one of the employees of Maastricht University who would be our guide during the next 20 days. The program was a well-oiled machine and the partnership between Maastricht University and CNU was strong. We were emailed detailed schedules with each day mapped out down to the hour prior to our arrival, and then given hard copies once we arrived. So basically all I had to do was show up at the right time and place and everything else was taken care of. Normally, I am one who places high value on independence and doesn’t like to be tied down to someone else’s agenda – but I must say, the fine-tuned planning was nice.
The program was based in Maastricht, Netherlands and most of our classes were held at the university there. During our time there, we were officially students of Maastricht University (I felt so European). However, we only spent a handful of days in Maastricht. We would all load up into a bus and drive to places like Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Switzerland. Isn’t it crazy that you can drive to difference countries that easy? (In Maastricht, you could actually ride a bike to Germany)
What Did We Do?
It was truly amazing getting to roam around Europe. One day we would spend in Luxembourg, then that evening we would be in France. We had a free day and so we bought bus tickets to spend the day in Germany. It was mind boggling. Since the program was planned so well in advance, we got to do the coolest things in our travels. We rode on a boat tour along the city of Maas and explored the caves of St. Pietersberg. We got our own personal guided walking tour in almost every city. We got to visit the Royal Delft Blue Museum and paint our own tiles with their supplies and kiln. We got to visit the Anne Frank house and learn of the terrible events that surrounded her life. We were served traditional Dutch pancakes and got to see the beautiful windmills in Zaans Schans. We rode the world’s steepest cogwheel railway amongst the Alpine flowers and mountain streams as we went up Mount Pilatus. We went on Switzerland’s longest toboggan run which looked out on the picturesque Lucerne, Switzerland. We had a private tour of the Aeschbach Chocolatier where we got to make our own Swiss chocolate bar. We had dinner and wine at the Chateau Neercanne (aka a castle haha). And these are just the things that were scheduled.
(Believe it or not, we did have class too! The program was based on the course concerning cross-cultural leadership. It gave me credits toward my leadership minor and gave me an opportunity to explore so it was really a dream!)
Cities We Went To
Even though we only got 1-2 days at each place, it allowed us to go to multiple cities! I loved seeing how we went from country to country, the architecture would change. Sometimes, there were huge differences as you passed through different countries, sometimes there were only a few.
We had a free day so we bought a bus ticket to Aachen! Germany wasn’t originally on our agenda so we were excited to add another country to our collection.
I really loved Brussels (and not just because of the waffles, haha). We had our first guided city tour here and it started POURING. Let’s just say I was dressed for fashion and not for rain, haha. I also quickly learned that my rain jacket, was not a rain jacket HAHA! It was a windbreaker so needless to say, I got soaked. Nonetheless, it was still so awesome.
If you ever get the chance to visit Brussels, the waffles are a must. Try and find the least flashy places so that you can get the most authentic kind. Also, it’s tempting to get the kind where you put all the whipped cream and assortments of candy on top, but I would actually hesitate from doing so. You want to get the Liège waffle, it’s so much better and more genuine! (you’ll thank me later).
Next up we went to this famous city. The sights, canals, and *ehem* aromas were interesting. I wish we had more time here because there was so much going on. It’s a super touristy city and so we were pleasantly surprised to overhear English conversations on the streets! It also rained this day, surprise. But I got a cute Amsterdam umbrella for a souvenir, and it cleared up so it wasn’t all bad! We got to go to the Anne Frank house and learn of Jewish history in the Netherlands. Such a somber experience (I highly recommend you plan ahead, buy tickets, and set aside a couple of hours to spend there). The canals were so characteristic of the city. Here are some snapshots:
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this little country. If you try to find it on a map, good luck. I hope after you see these pictures of our afternoon there, you will have a greater appreciation for this cool place. I know I do.
We headed here after our afternoon in Luxembourg. We really only stayed here to eat dinner and stay the night before our bus ride to Switzerland but our evening was magical. I definitely want to go back! These photos were taken as we strolled through the city with no agenda.
You know you are entering Switzerland the moment it happens. There is something really special about this place. I have a 15 page paper to write for the program and I am writing it about Switzerland! Not only did we get to go to the top of Mt. Pilatus and ride on a toboggan down the mountain, but we also got to walk around the beautiful town of Lucerne. My mouth was wide open the whole time, and I’m still not over it.
After Switzerland, we had one last hoorah at the Chateau Neercanne that I shared about earlier. What was really cool about the program in addition to all the sights we saw, was that it provided a “free weekend”. It was scheduled at the end of the program (Saturday-Tuesday) and all the instruction we were given were that we had to be back for the goodbye dinner by 5pm on Tuesday. So as soon as I got accepted into the program, I began scheming with my friends Caroline and Emily who were accepted into the program too. We bought plane tickets, rented the cutest AirBnb, bought train tickets and waited. We couldn’t believe it when the time finally came and all our meticulous planning was put into action. Off to Venice we went! To make it happen, we left Friday after the Chateau dinner and road three trains throughout the night. We caught a flight in Amsterdam at 7:50am, another in Lyon at 10:50am and made it to Venice around noon. After a night of no sleep and constant travel, we were dead but it was so worth it.
We stayed on one of the Venetian islands called Murano. It has a population of only about 5,000 (the size of my college!) so it was super quaint. This island is known for its glass blowing so we go to see some really cool glass art. We really enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle of the tourism in Venice. Not to mention, it was so beautiful!
Only a quick waterbus ride away way this beautiful island. We were so excited about this place, named “the most colorful place in Europe” – at least that’s what it’s called according to Pinterest, haha. This island is known for their lace! The history behind the vibrant buildings is that fishermen would paint their homes bright colors so that they could find their homes easier. Well, thank you Mr. Fisherman, you fulfilled this color-lover’s dream.
Oh Venice – you are something special. As you would expect, it was a lot more touristy than the other islands we visited. The best advice I read was to allow yourself to get lost. It is super busy (and hot) and so it can be stressful trying to use your maps on your phone on those windy, skinny streets. So instead, just walk around. Stop and eat where it looks good. Get that gelato. Buy that purse. (they had super nice leather there! I got myself a cute new wallet). The three of us debated on doing one of the iconic gondola rides but they were 80 euro for only 30 minutes! So instead we spent money on souvenirs and things that would last us. Venice, you have a piece of my heart.
We somehow made it back in time for the goodbye dinner (ask me about that sometime, haha) and had one last meal in Maastricht. The next day, we hopped on the bus, drove to Amsterdam, and flew back to the states. There are so many things I could say about this experience, but I feel as though my words could do it injustice. Normally, all I can say to those who ask me in person about my trip is “incredible”. It really was. I hope that these photos give you a desire to make it to Europe at some point in your life. Just looking at these images reminds me how much I want to go back… and how little I want to write this paper, haha.