A birthday week well spent

Friday

 

First day in Paris! As I was riding the metro to my hostel I remembered why I wasn’t a huge fan of this city when I went back in highschool. Paris is just too huge. The metro system is confusing, the pure quantity of people is overwhelming and if you go even one block outside of the main touristy areas you will find trash and graffiti. Now I am not saying that anyone reading this shouldn’t go to Paris, because the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, etc. are must sees, but I just want to give you a heads up before you go. While Paris certainly has its charm, it definitely has a big/dirty/crowded city feel to it.

 

So my adventure started Friday morning bright and early at 3AM so that I could catch a 6:30AM flight out of Sevilla to Paris. The flight put me there at 8:50 so I figured that would be plenty of time to get to the hostel by 10:30 when our tour group left right? Wrong. It took me over an hour in the airport to figure out where I was supposed to go and what ticket I was supposed to by and then once I finally got my ticket, the ride to the hostel took almost another hour. Needless to say I was very late, but it turned out ok because Allison was late too, so we ended up just meeting with the tour group later in the afternoon.

 

The first thing that we saw was Notre Dame and the gardens nearby. Although I had been to Paris 4 years ago, the cathedral was still completely stunning and I was honestly shocked at how much I didn’t remember. It makes me thankful that I am writing these blogs and posting lots of pictures with captions to Facebook so that I can go back and re-live all the memories.

 

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The lounge area of our hostel that we all stayed in at Paris. Super modern and super cool!
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Allison and I in front of Notre Dame
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I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how large Notre Dame is. This is a side view of the cathedral 

 

After Notre Dame we explored the Latin Quarter for lunch and then continued on to the Louvre! Now this museum I did remember a lot about because we spent a good 3 or 4 hours in it the last time I came. Sadly this time we only spent about an hour and a half in the museum and stopped to see like 10 of the major pieces. I voted to stay in there longer but I was outvoted by the rest of the group who wanted to go back to the hostel and shower… kind of a bummer but at least we went!

 

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In the courtyards outside of the Louvre
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The Louvre received a great deal of its artifacts from the conquests of Napoleon
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I will never understand why this painting gets so much fame

 

Saturday

 

So today we had breakfast at our awesome hostel (seriously this place is wicked cool) and then set off for the Eiffel tower!

 

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The cloudy day made for some really cool pictures, although it was a little cold
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The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower

 

After spending a good cold and windy 30 minutes up top we headed back down and set off to the Champs Elysees where we had a couple of hours of free time to catch lunch and go shopping. Then at 4:30 we met back at the hostel to start our bike tour around the city! Our tour guide was super chill and had been all over the world even though he’s still in his twenties (born in Russia but also lived in Australia, Japan and now France). I will post pictures of the major sights we saw below!

 

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Arch of Triumph
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An old military school that Napoleon graduated from and was the last safe haven of the nazis in Paris
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Dome Church where Napoleon is buried…that’s real gold on top!
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Alexander III bridge
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Although it was raining throughout our entire bike tour “kickstand and deliver” never failed me
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The rain finally cleared and gave us some awesome sunset pictures of the Eiffel Tower

 

The bike tour was concluded with an hour long cruise down the river where we got to relax, sip some French wine, and attempt to dry out our clothes as the entire bike tour was conducted in the rain. After the cruise we got some dinner (AMAZING Chinese food that was super cheap too) and made our way back to the Eiffel Tower to catch the hourly light show.

 

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Our tour guide, Kevi, and everyone else in our Paris group

Sunday

 

Today we took a day trip to Versailles to see Louis XIV’s Palace and the accompanying gardens! The Palace of Versailles was one of my favorite memories from when I went back in highschool so I was super excited to return. Turns out however, Versailles is a little bit more difficult to get to when you are traveling by yourself instead of with a guided tour.

 

First of all, the metro to get to Versailles is pretty confusing so we may have gotten lost once or twice. Then, once we finally got to Versailles, we waited in line for tickets just to be told that we can go ahead and go to the palace because we are students. So we get to the palace and wait in line for a couple of minutes before freaking out that we need some sort of pass, so we get out of line and go and wait in the ticket line inside of the palace just to be told once again (idk why we didn’t listen) that we can get in for free since we have European student visas and that we needed to go in the other line. Needless to say we arrived at the palace of Versailles a couple hours later than we had planned. No worries, it was completely worth it 😀

 

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The Palace of Versailles
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One of the rooms inside of the palace
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Allison and I standing in the dining room
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The gardens behind the palace

 

After Versailles we parted ways with Allison (sad face) and started our journey to Denmark!

 

Monday

 

Copenhagen. Out of all the places in Europe, I never even thought I would make it this far north to the quiet, Danish town of Copenhagen.

 

The city is a cute little port town, known for its Little Mermaid statue and mostly blonde population. Well, at least that is all I personally knew about the city before I decided to pay it a visit. What I didn’t know is how charming the city and the city’s inhabitants would be. Everybody from the owner of our airbnb to the baristas at the cafe shops were extremely friendly and always smiling. Here are a couple of my observations as we walked throughout Copenhagen today:

 

1) The people of Copenhagen are a very happy, very blonde breed of people. They look mostly American, just more blonde and blue-eyed.

 

2) Copenhagen is extremely biker friendly. I have never seen so many people riding bikes (and in 40 degree weather too) or so many bikes on the side of the street. There was a bike lane on every single street and the bikers didn’t even worry about locking up their bikes when they went into a store or restaurant. They just left them there with the 50 or so other bikes sitting on the side of the road and nobody ever had a problem.

 

3) Many people have a boat and if you have a boat, the cool thing to do is to hang out with your buddies on the boat. They didn’t drive the boats, they just sat on them and drank a coffee/beer and talked with friends.

 

The whole functionality of Copenhagen is very intriguing to me. I think as an American population we have heard mixed theories about Denmark, stemming from Oprah calling the Danes the “happiest people on earth” to that meme that’s been floating around about the teacher who makes over 60 grand a year but pays a ridiculous amount in taxes and whose life sucks so therefore we shouldn’t vote for Bernie Sanders.

 

I mean come on, everyone knows that Facebook memes are always factually correct.

 

But here’s my interpretation; the Danes that I encountered in the street, in the stores, and in my airbnb were all happy, fit, and always wore a smile. Sure, food in Copenhagen was a little bit more expensive, but Denmark also has some of the highest wages in the EU, not to mention some of the lowest crime rates. Now, does that mean that I think the US should make the move to becoming a lot more socialist like Denmark? No, nor do I think it will ever be possible. However, how Denmark’s economy works is something that I am interested in learning more about, and I think that it is important to keep in mind that just because a government (or any idea for that matter) is different than yours, doesn’t mean that it is wrong. The Danes have a very different way of life than we do but from what I can see, they seem pretty happy about it.

 

It’s all about your perspective, people.

 

Alright, that’s enough opinionated rambling… here’s some pictures of what we saw today 😀

 

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Everywhere you walk you will see boats and canals
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On the left is Copenhagen’s old stock exchange, Christiansborg Palace is on the right
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Close up of Christainsborg Palace
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The little mermaid statue, dedicated to Hans Christian Anderson (the author of the little mermaid)
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Rosenborg castle. This castle used to be a summerhouse in the 1600’s… Imagine escaping to that every summer!
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The library of one of the universities here. Hopefully Helmke’s remodeling will look similar
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Copenhagen is appropriately named “the bike city of the world”. I saw more bikes than cars!
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Nyhavn. Just a street famous for its boats and the charm of its buildings

 

Tuesday

 

Day two in Copenhagen!

 

We had hit most of the major sites yesterday since Copenhagen really isn’t that big, so today we made plans to go to Copenhagen’s amusement park… Tivoli Gardens! After riding every ride 5 or 6 times (there were no lines on a Tuesday afternoon) we met up with a friend of ours who was also visiting Copenhagen before catching an evening flight to Amsterdam. Pictures below!

 

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Before visiting the amusement park we climbed up the Church of Our Savior to catch the view
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Tivoli Gardens, the worlds second oldest amusement park established in 1843
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The park was pretty small but had a lot of charm
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This ended up being the last ride that my friend and I rode… it made us pretty sick
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Met up with my buddy James to send him off to Sweden before we headed off to Amsterdam!

 

Wednesday

 

Sooooo… Amsterdam. Where do I even begin? I’m sure we’ve all heard about the weed and prostitution that goes on here, but the city actually has a really interesting history and is a place that is both beautiful and safe. We started off the day with a free walking tour and our tour guide taught us some really interesting things about the city so I will share with you six of my favorite fun facts:

 

1) Of course I’ve got to start with weed… it’s legal and it is everywhere. Amsterdam first legalized weed and other “soft drugs” in the 70’s to help combat its problem with “hard drugs” like heroine and meth. It worked, but to an American, it is still extremely weird to see an 80-year-old woman smoking a joint on the side of the road or a mom smoking as she pushes her baby around in a stroller.

 

2) Prostitution. Prostitution is also legal, however you usually only find it in a district known as the “red light district”. This is a normal district filled with normal shops, bars, and apartments, however some of the windows contain a large luminescent red light above it indicating that in the window you will find a scantily clad woman ready for business. Our tour guide took us through this area around 2 in the afternoon (there are girls out 24/7) and explained to us that prostitution in the Netherlands dates back to the 15th century when sailors would arrive to the port city after having been on the seas for months, deprived of any womanly contact.

 

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Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building and a famous church in the redlight district, conveniently located so that people can go confess their sins that they just committed last night with one of the girls 

 

3) If you haven’t guessed from the legal weed and prostitution, Holland is a very liberal country. This is true regarding LGBT rights as well because in 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage.

 

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Mandje, the world’s first gay bar established in 1927

 

4) This yellow building (shown below) is the start of the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam. When the Nazis invaded they surrounded this entire area and cut off all food and supplies to the Jews. The Jews were soon taken to concentration camps and of all the Jews that used to live in this area, less than 10 percent made it back after the war.

 

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5) Some facts about the buildings in Amsterdam. Many people hear about the “slanted buildings” in Amsterdam and we were told that is so for 3 main reasons. First, all of Amsterdam is built on a swamp, so over time the buildings have sunk in different directions and the floors have had to be re-leveled. Second, it used to be considered a huge luxury if you had a nice roof, so people had the buildings purposefully slanted so you could see their roof better and be aware of their higher social status. And lastly, the stairs in these buildings are usually too narrow to fit any couches or other furniture through. What do you do if you live on the top floor? Lucky for you, the building has been built at a slant and there is a hook at the top so you can use this hook as a pulley and lever system to hoist your furniture through the top window. The house is slanted so there is less of a chance that your couch crashes into your neighbor’s window and creates an unpleasant first impression.

 

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This picture doesn’t really do it justice but you can kind of see the slant that some of the buildings have
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You will find a hook like this at the top of pretty much every building

 

6) My last fact is that Amsterdam has over 1,000 bridges and canals that run throughout the city. These beautiful canals are part of the reason Amsterdam is such a popular tourist destination, however I also learned that these canals take the lives of 5-10 tourists every year. Why? Because many of these canals don’t have railings at random spots along the water. Apparently the canals are a popular place to take a pee when you have been out drinking too much and because there are no railings and you are drunk, you of course have a higher chance of falling in. Our tour guide told us that just yesterday they found the body of a Scandinavian college kid floating in the canal that had gone missing about a week ago. The last place he was seen? A bar.

 

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Everywhere you turned you could see canals like these, similar to Copenhagen’s yet just a little bit darker. And as you can see, no railings 

 

So after being thoroughly entertained by the history of Amsterdam through our walking tour, we grabbed a map and spent the rest of the day walking to the other top sites. We finished off the day at Amsterdam’s top ice bar, where everything from the walls to our glasses our drinks were in were made out of ice! In the bar we met some really nice couples from London that had been all over Europe and America. Meeting new people from all over the world and being able to learn about some cultural differences and other different opinions are some of my favorite parts of this study abroad experience!

 

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Amsterdam’s Central Station… probably cooler than your central station
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A Buddhist Temple near Amsterdam’s version of China Town
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Home to the oldest condom shop in the world… what an honor!
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Amsterdam is also home to the oldest stock exchange in the world
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The old street signs of Amsterdam. When Napoleon took over he had them all removed because they were useless. Imagine trying to give directions… “Errrr go down girl in a blue dress street and then take a left at the brown box street”
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Dam square
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Homomonument. Yes it is dedicated to the LGBT community and yes it is called the homomonument
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Amsterdam is also very bike friendly, they have an entire parking garage dedicated to bikes
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The ice bar! Those were our glasses that we drank out of

 

Thursday

 

My birthday! I was in Amsterdam so you know what they say, when you turn 21 in Amsterdam… go to the Anne Frank Museum.

 

Not really, I just made that up. But that really is what I did 😀 It was quite a somber start to my afternoon but totally worth it. The Holocaust is such an important part of my history that it just makes it all the more impactful to have learned so much about it and then get the chance to walk through the bedroom that Anne Frank actually hid in for 2 years. It was very humbling to me to see how they were forced to live for so long and it is even more humbling to know that if I was born 80 years ago in Europe I probably wouldn’t have lived to see my 21st birthday. The whole experience was very eye opening and although I may not have spent my 21st birthday like most people do, I have a feeling that it will be just as memorable (probably more-so if you think about it).

 

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The green door is where Anne Frank used to live. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside
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All around the city you could find artists trying to capture it’s beauty
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We spent the rest of the day hanging around Amsterdam’s museum district. Here you can find the “I AMsterdam” sign and lots of tulips. I didn’t know that Amsterdam was known for its tulips… they export them all over the world!

 

Friday-Sunday

 

After meeting up with Allison in the Seville airport Friday morning we had a lazy day and pretty much slept the entire afternoon because we were so tired (her from a long week of school and me from traveling for the past week).

 

By Saturday we were nice and refreshed and ready to celebrate Feria de Abril, Andalucia’s biggest party. How did we celebrate Feria you may ask? Well… you’ll just have to tune into next weeks blog to find out! 😉 This blog is getting a little bit lengthy and I’ve still got a lot to tell you all so I’m going to hold off till next weekend and include it in that blog.

 

So I will end it here… I hope you all have been enjoying the great weather Fort Wayne has been having lately! It was actually warmer in Fort Wayne on Saturday than it was here =O

 

Hasta luego,

 

Brandon =)

 

 

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5 thoughts on “A birthday week well spent

  1. Great post. What a whirlwind of a week! I recognize your bike from the Fat Tire tours. They are a great company! I love the culture in Denmark, it would be great if we could create a fraction of the bike culture they have, here in Fort Wayne!

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  2. Beautiful pictures, Brandon! Did you get a chance to see the Art Museum in Amsterdam? It’s amazing!

    And Happy Birthday!!! As someone who teaches the Holocaust, I think spending the day at the Anne Frank Museum on one’s birthday is an excellent choice!

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  3. What a great week, moving all over the European continent! Really, it’s a pretty enviable experience you’re having right now, and it’s incredible that you get to spend parts of it with friends

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  4. Oh, wow, you guys seem to be having an awesome trip! It was really interesting reading about the slanted buildings in Amsterdam, since my family if from the Netherlands and some Dutch people see them as a symbol of the country (we even had fridge magnets with miniatures of those buildings, haha). Also, you have to give me the address of that hostel in Paris. It looks amazing.

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