Thursday, May 1, 2014

Amsterdam and Brussels

Last week, I was lucky enough to get to visit the beautiful cities of Amsterdam and Brussels, with a short stint in Rotterdam in between. My floor mate and I planned it on a whim just the week before, so we were hard pressed for a place to stay. We decided to take the leap and give couchsurfing a try, and it turned out to be awesome! 

Upon arriving at the Brussels airport, we took the train immediately to Amsterdam. We (with our heavy backpacks) spent the day exploring the city and even ended the day with a canal cruise. It was so beautiful there, not to mention the laid back vibe you get everywhere you go. 

Our host we stayed with was in Rotterdam, about an hour train ride from Amsterdam. We were pleasantly surprised at how cool the city was and we quickly concluded that despite the distance, it was a total bonus that we got to see it.

The next day, we got up, nice and refreshed, and headed to Amsterdam for the only full day we had there. We were excited to join the masses and rent a bike in order to be more efficient with our time.

The city was all decorated for King's Day, which is a huge party holiday. We decided to avoid being there for it since we truly did want to see the actual city. It was even unusually crowded when we were there, so I can't even imagine how crazy the next day was.

Bikes, bikes everywhere!

We really, really wanted to go in, but we were in such a time crunch and we would have spent the entire day in line. Next time!

The next day, we explored Rotterdam. It is such a beautiful city situated on a harbor, and alarmingly modern when compared to ever other European city I have been to. 

The famous cubic houses

inside view

Then, we took a boat from Rotterdam to Alblasserdam to see the windmills. It was so beautiful, and something totally different to see besides the cities.


From there, we took the train to Brussels. Upon arrival, we met our host at a bar. We quickly found that it was going to be an awesome couple of days, which was spot on. He and his friends were mostly Americans living there due to NATO/Navy assignments. Words can't even describe how awesome it was to hang out with Americans again, I felt so at home!

We walked around the city and then went to hang out at a club, and I quickly fell in love with Grand Place, the square in the heart of the city.

The next day, our host was kind enough to show us around the city. We saw the palace of justice, which was by a beautiful overlook of the city. Then, we walked around a bit, went into an antique shop, a market, and of course bought a belgian waffles. Yes, the hype is justified.

We then got on the metro and went to an icon of the city, the Atomium. It is literally a giant model of an atom created for the World's Fair in the 50's. It made my inner nerd happy.

We then met up with our group at Art Brussels, a world-renowned modern art festival. It was really interesting to see what people consider art, and some of it was really cool. 

Afterwards, we got some food, and relaxed for a bit before heading out to do some karaoke. We were with such a fun group of people and it was a great night. 

The next day, our last in Brussels, was spent quickly going through and doing as much as possible. We simply didn't have enough time to do it all, but we did our best. It was incredible, I had a hard time not taking a picture every 5 seconds. Brussels is unlike anywhere I have ever been, it is such a melting pot of culture. It felt like everywhere you went, there was 10 different languages being spoken within earshot. It was amazing to be among so many different kinds of people.

Tips for couch surfing: exercise caution, read profiles thoroughly, only stay with people who are identity verified, have lots of friends and good reviews. It can be an amazing experience, but it is based on a lot of trust so be careful! 

This week has been CRAZY! Since coming home, I have had class, assignments to do, unpacking, the Valborg Festival**, and repacking because I leave for another trip tomorrow (to Helsinki/Tallinn/St. Petersburg)! Exciting, but busy! 

**Valborg is a Swedish (and Northern European) celebration of the coming of Spring. We spent the day yesterday relaxing in the park, joining in a parade, watching a concert, and hanging out at a fairgrounds type of place. It was a sunny day up until the evening, so we can't complain.

See you next time :)

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