Jet Lag is for Amateurs

My most recent travel has taken me to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Copenhagen, Denmark. This was the first trip I booked when I started studying abroad. Katie, Alex and I booked this trip in late January so we’ve been waiting for it to come for about two months. Although Katie, Alex, and I were the only original travelers, we had some friends who tagged along in Amsterdam, as well as other friends who met up with us in Copenhagen. I’ve found that many of the trips I have booked with one or two other people, have now turned into groups of 7-12 travelers accompanying us. It’s great being able to travel with so many people!

After taking the train to Paris, (which we have to do for almost all of our trips), we took an overnight bus to Amsterdam. We arrived at our hostel around 7:00am and relaxed in the lounge until breakfast was available. We stayed at St. Christopher’s Winston and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Amsterdam. It’s a younger crowd, but a lot of fun with a great lounge area. Because we couldn’t check-in until 2:00pm, we put our bags in a storage locker and headed out to explore the town after breakfast. We joined the free walking tour of the city at 11:00am and after about 45 minutes of standing in the freezing rain, these tired girls were ready for another coffee! We skipped out of the tour and headed to a place called Crepes & Waffles, which quickly became one of our favorite places in Amsterdam.

When 2:00pm finally approached, we made our way back to the hostel for a much-needed nap. The little sleep we did get on the bus, was frequently interrupted and uncomfortable so we were happy to lay our bodies horizontal in our temporary bed at St. Christopher’s. After a nap, a shower, and food, we were as ready as we could be for whatever Amsterdam had in store for us! We ended up walking around and exploring the town which was much more beautiful when it wasn’t raining! We met up with my Australian friends Cory and Yvette, who I met in Rome a few weeks earlier. We toured the streets and walked through the famous Red Light District.

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At the “iamsterdam” sign.

On our second day in Amsterdam, we headed to the Anne Frank house/museum and spent a few hours walking through the house and hiding place that’s known so well throughout the world. It was very heart wrenching to be where so much tragedy took place. After the Anne Frank house, we had lunch, then met up with some of our friends at the “iamsterdam” sign. From there, we strolled along the even nicer part of Amsterdam, taking pictures and window shopping.IMG_9032

Our hostel was in a really convenient part of town and just a block away from the bar district. We joined in on a pub crawl that night which took us to six different bars within walking distance. It started out nice, but we found that the bars got smaller and more expensive as time went on. After leaving the 4th bar and on our way to the 5th, we passed Crepes & Waffles. Katie, Alex and I decided we would have more fun there than at the next bar, so we said goodbye to our friends and ended the night with some delicious food!

On our third and final day in Amsterdam, we went out to a nice brunch and spent the rest of the day shopping and getting souvenirs. Amsterdam was much more than I expected. For the reputation it has, I presumed it would be much more touristy and dirty, but I was happily surprised to find it as one of the prettiest places I’ve been to yet! I would recommend to go there if you have the chance, and hope I’ll get to return someday as well.IMG_9046

From Amsterdam, we flew two hours to Copenhagen. I will say that both Amsterdam and Copenhagen have really awesome airports. I was very impressed, and a bit relieved, to see it was much bigger and organized than prior airports I had traveled to in Europe! Both of these airports had a lot of options for food, as well as shopping. I’m talking full on grocery stores, H&M’s, Pandora’s, etc. in addition to all the people watching, (which is probably my favorite thing to do in airports).

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Hello Copenhagen!

Upon arriving in Copenhagen, we headed straight for our hostel. Nina and Keya, who we met up with in Amsterdam, also joined us in coming to Copenhagen, and we met up with Kajsa, Michael, and Gloria at the Downtown Copenhagen Hostel so our group grew from three to eight! After settling into our hostel, we went exploring for a few hours. We knew from our journey from the airport to the hostel that Copenhagen was beautiful and had great shopping! It was very quaint, the buildings were colorful and the streets filled with bicycles. The housing architecture and bicycle transportation were very similar to Amsterdam, but there was a much bigger ‘city-feel’ to Copenhagen, lots of shopping and restaurants. Venturing out after dark was fun in a larger city with lots of people and things to do. I was very excited to see a 7-Eleven, a taste of home I’ve missed. (Although after some investigation, I learned they do not have slurpees!) We finished off the night back the Downtown Copenhagen Hostel which has a great common area; live band, bar, coffee bar, foosball, board games, etc. It’s a great place to hang out and meet fellow travelers.IMG_9158

IMG_9175The next day was our only full day in Copenhagen. We didn’t realize how little time we had devoted to Denmark, but it turned out to be fine. Although the city was beautiful and there were more things we could have done, it was very expensive (specifically to eat), so we were okay with only spending a little bit of time there. Let me put ‘expensive’ into perspective for you: when we went out to dinner, at a mediocre restaurant, the bowl of chili my friend ordered for dinner was $28.00, and my nachos were $21.00! I think you can tell from the menu items, nachos and chili, that this place was no suit & tie establishment! Being in the 50s, it was cool outside, but many of the restaurants had outdoor seating and every chair had a blanket. It was really cute and almost made you want to sit outside. Unfortunately, the wind and rain had other plans so we spent most of our time indoors.

We made the best of the good weather when we could by visiting a famous street with very colorful houses, as well as visiting Freetown Christiania. Christiania is its own town inside of Copenhagen. The government gave them the land, and they have their own law/rules, and even their own currency! After reading many reviews on TripAdvisor, we decided it was worth seeing and went for a look. We were cautioned that since they are their own town, they are free to do what they want. There is a board with rules posted as you enter, and if you choose to disobey these rules, the locals of Christiania have been known to attack travelers and throw them out. These rules included “Have Fun”, “No Photos”, “Buying and Selling Hash is Legal” and “No running because it causes panic”. Here, drugs are legal, and there are no standards. My friend described it as “what the world would look like if it ended”, and I think she summed it up perfectly! The streets were dirty, buildings were man-made out of all different materials (sheet metal, tire rubber, etc.), there was much graffiti, and everyone looked as if they hadn’t showered in a month. Although it might come off sounding horrible, I was glad we went. It was really interesting to see how a beautiful, upscale town like Copenhagen, has its own world inside it behind a wall that explains how running causes panic!

Walking back to the main street from Christiania, it started to rain so we took the opportunity to do some indoor shopping where it was dry and warm! Being a group of girls, all in our twenties, I’m sure you can understand how we managed to survive a few hours inside some stores, but I think you’ll be surprised to learn that our afternoon started at the Disney store with a Tea Party!

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Tea Party

We are all still very much kids at heart so we couldn’t pass up the Disney store, in which we found the movie Frozen was playing, and there was a table and chairs set up (for five-year-olds) to have a tea party. Obviously, we took the chance to be children again and spent some time watching the award-winning animated movie. We spent the rest of the rainy day going from store-to-store mostly looking because everything was pretty pricy. We found some very cool shops though and enjoyed our time even though the weather was unpleasant.

Surrendering to the wind and rain, we returned to our hostel around 5:00pm and warmed up while everyone enjoyed the free wi-fi. As some hotels and hostels offer free breakfast, we learned that our hostel offered free dinner in order to help travelers with the prices of the town. We stayed in that night, ate some free spaghetti, and relaxed in the common room of the hostel again. (FYI: The hostel also offered a continental breakfast, the cheapest in town, costing you $12.00 USD.)

The coffee bar was one of my favorite things about the hostel. I really enjoyed having Chai Latte’s at night while enjoying the company around me. Chai has been something I’ve missed dearly from home and I was very happy knowing I could have it whenever I wanted in Copenhagen, (even if it did have a ridiculous price tag!)

Our weeklong trip was great! Amazing places with even better company made these six days very enjoyable! I would absolutely recommend everyone go to Amsterdam if they have the chance. It’s one of my favorite places, so far, for its beauty and architecture. Look at all my pictures from Amsterdam and Copenhagen here: https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/IMG_9003

I’ve spent a lot of time recently on buses, planes, and trains and speaking with my fellow travelers, we’ve all agreed that we feel we spend as much time traveling to the destination, as we do actually IN it! I’ve always been a good flyer and have no trouble in buses, cars, or trains, but I actually don’t mind the traveling part so much. It’s part of the journey and part of the story. Fortunately, I’ll have a lot of good stories at the end of these five months! (That are already 60% over!)

After returning home from Copenhagen, I spent one day (okay, 36 hours) in Poitiers before traveling again. I’ll tell you about my trip to Marrakech, Morocco in my next post! Stay tuned…IMG_9135  IMG_9171“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment” – Hilarie Belloc

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Me = Busy Bee

In the time since my last post, a lot has been going on! I started a ‘class’ called “Company Project”. This was described to me as a type of internship I’d be able to participate in. Basically, instead of sitting in a classroom, I would be working with an International Company, based in Poitiers, and help them execute a project. I thought this would be a great opportunity, because not only will I get the experience of going to school in France, I will also be able to say I interned with a company there! I’ve had a few meetings regarding this project, and it turns out that there are not any companies in Poitiers who do business internationally that need interns. I will actually be working for the school I am attending while I am here. Although it didn’t seem to be what I had anticipated, it is turning out even better! As part of my project, I will need to help students who are based at France Business School, and are going to study abroad at UM-Flint! I will be helping them adapt to everyday life with things like housing, transportation, food, etc., as well as planning 6 trips/excursions for them while they are in Michigan! I will need to organize, arrange, schedule, and budget these trips so it is easy for students to see what is offered. I am so excited to be able to show everyone what Michigan/US has to offer! It’s turning out to be a really fun project! I’ve learned that there are currently two French students at UM-Flint, and I was able to make contact with one of them. Unfortunately, the winter doesn’t seem to allow for much fun right now (with record breaking temperatures and snowfall!), but I hope they will get to enjoy the spring! I am really excited to work with future exchange students once I return home as well!

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I took a day trip to Bordeaux on February 8th to go wine tasting! It was actually a ‘tasting class’ where we were educated on the wine, where it originated from, what to look for in the taste, etc. We tasted 8 different red wines, all from France! It was a lot of fun and after being in the class I feel like I really know how to properly drink and taste wine! I went with 4 other friends, and after the 2 hour wine class, we roamed around the city and found this HUGE market! It was one street for as far as you could see filled with vendors selling everything from sausages to shoes!

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Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating, and the wind and rain drove us into ‘The Blarney Stone”, an Irish Pub (whad’ya know?!). We enjoyed a beverage, a cheese tray, and a game of soccer before making our way back to the train station. I felt like a horrible friend that day because I begged my friend Kajsa to tag along with us, ensuring her there had to be white wine at the tasting class (she does not care for red wine). Of course, to our luck, all red wine! To make it up to her, the 5 of us each got a bottle of white wine from a local store, a few baguettes and some cheese, and had our own wine tasting on the train ride home! It was probably the best part of the day. We had a short train car to ourselves, where we were able to drink, eat, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company! Bordeaux is a beautiful city with so much to offer, that we didn’t get to take advantage of because of the weather. We all agreed that once the weather gets nicer, we will do another day trip to Bordeaux, and recommend that anyone in France make that a mandatory stop! (As always, visit https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/ to see photos!)

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Last week I finished my first class! I had three days of this class in January, and finished it last week with a presentation on Thursday, and exam on Friday. I am confident that I did well and am relieved (and shocked), that I already have one class down! In addition to the classes I am taking here, I am also enrolled in an online Calculus class at UM-Flint. I am taking this class so I am able to continue with my curriculum plan on schedule. The online class is going quite well so far (*knock on wood*), and luckily doesn’t take up too much of my time here! 🙂

20140214_130106 I’ve been asked by many people “Do they celebrate Valentine’s Day in France?”. Of course they do! It’s home to the “City of Love”! Although I spent most of my day in class, and preparing for my final exam, a few friends made it a great Valentine’s Day! I’ve always had the notion that Valentine’s Day hit it’s peak in 3rd grade, where you were able to decorate a shoebox, and received candies and cards from all your classmates, (sort-of a second Halloween). This year, a few friends made this day very special for me! My good friend Michael, who is like a little brother to me, surprised me and two other friends with tulips we had been talking about seeing around town all week. (He got the hint 😉 ). After lunch, my roommate Elizabeth had a donut waiting for me at my seat in class, which I ate during my exam 😀 . Later that night, we all headed to Kajsa’s house to get ready for the Valentine’s Day party a few other students were having at their house. Upon arrival, Kajsa had heart-shaped cakes, wine, and music for us! We had a great time and it turns out there is something to look forward to after 3rd grade! ♥

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A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my roommates mother. My roommate, Elizabeth, is from South Carolina (another American!), and one of the sweetest, most genuine girls I have ever had the pleasure of meeting! It is really a blessing that we were placed in the same house together! Her mother reached out to me, asking if I would help surprise Elizabeth for Valentine’s Day. Their church group had all gotten together, and donated some money to send Elizabeth to make her time here a little more enjoyable. Obviously, I was all-in! I LOVE surprises, and planning a creative reveal is my speciality! So Saturday, February 15th, Elizabeth thought we were going out to lunch, and catching up on episodes of Duck Dynasty. Little did she know, I planned a scavenger hunt around Poitiers! I had clues leading her to her favorite spots around town, and even had some friends waiting at each location. When she thought the surprise was over, and we were going to start watching D.D., she was shocked when she saw a familiar face on the screen instead of one of the bearded Robertson men! I was so thankful to be part of this surprise and so glad her mother reached out to me. Seeing the look on her face during each reveal was one of the best memories I’ve had since I’ve been here. Great day for a great girl!

My international friends have truly become my family and recently, we’ve had few family dinners! My Columbian friends, Germán and Paula, made me and a few friends their Meatballs! I’m not exactly sure how they cooked them, but… WOW, they were amazing! I brought a side dish, and introduced them to my mashed potatoes! The next night I cooked Shepherd’s Pie for 9 of us, and seeing as how I did it without an oven, I think it turned out pretty good! Everyone was quiet and there were no leftovers so that’s always a good sign! I love trying new foods from different cultures, and seeing how everyone makes certain dishes. The Colombians put cut up hot-dogs in their meatball sauce, and even though I don’t, I know many people put cheese on their Shepherd’s Pie. The variety of customs we have is amazing!

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Family Dinner

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I’ve been keeping busy in my ‘off’ days by… planning trips! A huge part of being here is being able to see different countries, and experience new cities. Even many of the teachers will say “let me know what day is good for you, I know you’re here to travel too”! It’s nice to know that the school encourages you to travel while abroad, and your schedule allows for some great trips! (But just remember, you work hard so you can play hard!) Last time I talked to my dad he asked, “So how is travel agent school going?!”… It’s going great dad! 😀 I’ve gotten to the point in my calendar where I need to start thinking about which trips are really important to me because there are so many trips planned, I don’t have enough time to participate in all of them! I have created a new page for my Calendar so everyone is able to see where I’m at and where I’m going! (Look at the menu bar at the top of the screen.) I’ve been so blessed with the opportunity of being here… you can bet I’m taking full advantage of it!

My next trip will be with 8 friends to Paris for 4 days at the end of the month to explore the city. Elizabeth knows a friend who was able to get us an AMAZING deal at a very nice hotel near the Eiffel Tower which will make the trip even more memorable! We will also be celebrating Katie’s birthday that weekend, and I’m sure she won’t forget this birthday party! I’m excited to spend a few day in Paris with some lovely ladies!

I am definitely keeping busy, planning trips for exchange students visiting UM-Flint, keeping up with my online course as well as courses here, and planning trips for myself! The next few months are going to fly by and I’m just trying to live in each moment and not blink for too long! I constantly find myself walking up and down the streets of Poitiers (or wherever I may be), and really take in the fact that I am living in France!

*This is the time for small paychecks, and big memories*