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Solo Travel P. II

Upon arriving in Krakow, I checked my bags and headed into town to make one of two guided tours of the day. The first was of the Jewish Quarter and lasted for nearly three hours. We visited many historic sites, including many locations from the movie Schindler’s List. We ended the tour at the actual factory and were invited to walk through the museum, but because I only had one free day in Krakow, I chose to walk back to the Old Town and start another tour. The Old Town tour I took in the afternoon was interesting and intimate, being only three people and the guide. We walked throughout the Main Market Square and listened to the guide tell us different facts, some of which were about Pope John Paul II. We concluded the trip at Wawel Castle, which is one of the most captivating buildings I’ve seen, architecturally speaking because of the noticeable varied influences and designs throughout the castle. I spent the rest of the evening talking with a group of people staying at the hostel. We all managed to book different trips to Auschwitz the following day.

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My trip to the concentration camp was the only thing I planned for that day, and I could probably write an entire post on that experience alone. This is the second Nazi camp I’ve been to, but Dachau was a work camp as opposed to a death camp. Auschwitz I was our first stop; many of the barracks have been turned into exhibits. After visiting a few, our mini bus took us to Birkenau. The sheer size of the camp was overwhelming and intimidating, with the infamous train tracks leading through the gate. Being in a Nazi camp is like nothing I have ever experienced before and I full-heartedly think everyone should once in their lifetime.

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After an incredible, but exhausting two days in Poland, I left early to catch a flight to Copenhagen. Meandering around the city the first day, my full day was spent on more guided tours. By this point in the trip, my feet had blisters upon blisters and I was sort of tired of traveling alone. But there really isn’t a better place to cheer yourself up than Copenhagen. The people truly are as friendly as they are stereotyped to be. The city is beautiful, so picturesque and vibrant. One thing I suggest anyone who visits is to walk, or enter, Tivoli Gardens at night and experience the magic that prompted Walt Disney to create his empire.

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My final stop was Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I only had one afternoon here before catching a flight back to London. I walked through the canals from the hostel to Museumplein, the art district of Amsterdam. I made my way through the beautiful Rijksmuseum and had lunch in the park before visiting the Van Gogh museum. Afterwards, I walked through a street market, as recommended by the receptionist at the hostel and through the city center, making a stop at Anne Frank’s house before heading in for the night.

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When I started my study abroad experience, I never though I would have traveled on my own. Looking back now, this is the best thing I could have ever done, and is definitely one of the highlights of my whole experience. For anyone considering making a solo-travel trip, I could not suggest it highly enough. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Thank you so much for keeping up with me, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my travels as much as I’ve enjoyed reliving them.

Xx Jessica

When Goghing to Amsterdam

(Sorry for the bad pun)

For the first time since I left Edinburgh for a weekend trip I haven’t felt like I was participating in The Amazing Race. We had plenty of time to spare at the airport and were even able to have a proper breakfast.

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When I stepped into the city center of Amsterdam it was like a different world. On the train ride over we passed many apartment and business buildings and the scenery reminded me a bit of the suburbs at home (just without all the American single homes lined up in a row).  When you step out of the train station in the city center you enter a large square. Across you see the palace, to the right a grand church, and to the left is a canal which Amsterdam is famous for. Undoubtedly the best part of Amsterdam is walking through it.

We stayed in Amsterdam for two and half days which was more than enough time. We saw the Anne Frank House (where you are not allowed to take any pictures), the Van Gogh Museum, the Tulip Museum, and the Cheese Museum (where you can sample A LOT of cheese), walked through the Red Light District, and experienced an Ice Bar (where everything, including your glass is ice).  I really enjoyed Amsterdam but my advice if you decide to travel to this city is to rent a car. The best way to see The Netherlands is to take a car and be able to drive through the country side and see the tulips growing with the windmills in the background and go from city to city. This way you have more freedom to move about as you like and are able to get a better grasp on the country.

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My only regrets are that I was not able to go into the palace because it was in use at the time and I was not able to see the Rijksmuseum.

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Helpful Hint: When in Amsterdam eat pancakes!

Looking at a Culture Through a Floor-to-Ceiling Window

One thing that is great about studying abroad in Europe is there are so many different cultures situated relatively close to each other. This makes it a perfect place for exploring other countries, even if just for a few days.

One culture that I explored was that of the Netherlands. One day, my friends and I were taking the tram into the center of Amsterdam. I only had 50 euro bills, and when we got on the tram I asked the conductor if I could pay with a 50 – this for a 2.90 euro ticket. She gestured to a sign that said currencies greater than 20 euro would not be taken. But, with a calming voice, she said “But I’ll try.” After helping someone else, she turned around to grab her purse and was able to give me exact change from her personal bag.

This made me think about the Dutch culture, and specifically how Dutch people interact with each other and foreigners. I had found throughout the trip that Dutch people are overall very hospitable and friendly, even with people they do not know. From my incidents on the tram, to a man overhearing us and asking if we needed help with directions, to the grocery clerk’s patience and guidance when we were deciding what to eat, we felt kindness from strangers time and again. I think the culture is more community oriented.

In America our houses are generally spread apart and the windows shielded by curtains and blinds. In our neighborhood in Amsterdam, people had walls of windows at street level, where one could see the entire first level of the home. Forgetting privacy, the inhabitants would go through their routines – family dinners, cooking in the kitchen, getting the kids ready to go – in front of a clear sheet of glass. In fact, we once passed a building on the way home that we thought was a restaurant with a large group seated next to a brightly illuminated window. When we looked inside to see what kind of restaurant it was, we noticed the people looking back at us, smiling, a kitchen and living room behind them. They gave us a wave and we apologetically waved back as we walked away, laughing.

I had watched a video a few months ago about city planning one of my friends who studies urban planning had posted on Facebook. It said close communities with a lot of human interaction are happier, and I believe this is one of the reasons the Netherlands is known for being a happy country. I would love to return some day and stay longer, riding a bike everywhere and living in a creaky old house by the canal, all the while feeling the welcoming warmth of the Dutch people.