When I think of Paris, I think of sitting at a kitchen table in an apartment tucked away in the corner of a neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe. I’m slowly sipping a mug of sleepytime time as Andrea and her aunt converse in Romanian. I appreciate the language as if it were a painting through which I can only convey the artist’s purpose, without comprehending the entire story. Recognizing my lack of understanding, Andrea switches to English to explain their conversation. We continue to talk in English, and now it is her aunt who is left listening to a foreign conversation. She watches us as if the sounds coming from our mouths will rearrange into words familiar to her: Romanian and French. Andrea can speak Romanian but not French, while I can speak only French and English. I turn to Andrea’s aunt to ask her a question in French, bringing her back into the conversation while Andrea is left watching. Together, we have no common language, but we have somehow found a conversational balance around this table in a city known for its history, art and passion.

So continued one of my favorite evenings in Paris. My second visit to Paris showed me the true grandeur of the city. Yes, the Tour Eiffel and Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris took my breath away when I first saw them. And I was thrilled to see la Jaconde (the Mona Lisa) in person and visit as many patisseries as possible. However, architecture and food cannot represent the entirety of Paris. The typical tourism destinations do not portray one of the most important parts of Paris: its people.

The city has inspired some of the most incredible writers, artists, scientists, and so many other professions for hundreds of years. It is not the air in Paris that inspires, but the Parisians themselves. The hardworking Parisians earn their place in the city by continuing to build a thriving scene of culture and life at every street corner—from the markets to the students to the merry-go-rounds that seem to appear on every corner. Tourism brands the French as uninviting and disinterested, but I would argue that the Parisians do not live in Paris simply welcome tourists to their city. Look at history to determine the true character of Paris and its inhabitants. The Parisians are proud people who fight for what they believe. It is the Parisians who ensure Paris remains true to itself and thus, Parisians truly make Paris, well, Paris.

During my first visit to Paris, it took a moment to become accustomed to seeing so many armed guards walking around the major tourism areas. This was not a sight I saw frequently in America. After a few days in Paris, I realized the importance of these guards and felt great appreciation for them. These men and women were put in place by the city and the government to ensure the safety of the Parisians and the city’s guests. I was thankful for their service throughout the duration of my trip.

I think that is why I felt so shocked as I read the news pouring out of the City of Lights yesterday. Paris has harbored a special place in my heart since high school, and I think that many people throughout the world feel similarly. After several visits in the past few years, I could never imagine the horrors experienced by Parisians (and the French people) in the past few days. Who could ever imagine this kind of terror? My heart aches for the people of Paris, the people of France. There are not words to describe such terrible acts, so I instead wanted to share my portrait of Paris. It is important to remember why we must continue to care about the well-being of all people throughout the world whether they live in Paris, Beirut, Japan or anywhere else under threat of disaster.

So I would like to finish this dedication to Paris with a request. Look at this wall. It can be found in the small courtyard nestled in the heart of Paris. It was slightly difficult to find, but it was worth the journey to see “I love you” written in hundreds of languages. Think about how many ways the world has to say “I love you” around the world and then commit to making more actions of love for all those you love and even those you don’t love. If we can commit more actions of love than hate, I believe we can drown out senseless horrors and show that we are made for more. We are made to love and in that, we have nothing to fear.

Over the course of five months, I visited London about a half dozen times and spent over a week non-consecutively exploring the city. I really enjoyed the time I spent there and believe everyone should try to visit it at some point in their lives because there’s something for everyone to see and enjoy. I divided the city and what I’ve seen in it based on interests in hopes that you can make the most of your next trip to London. And no, it’s not everything in London because London is huge, but this guide includes some the best sights to see along with a picture gallery at the end!

Note: Everything in blue is free to see/do!

If you want to see the major sights…

  • Big Ben and Houses of Parliament: Two of the most iconic sights of London and seat of the British government. Big Ben took my breath away the first time I saw it. Absolutely magnificent.
  • Westminster Abbey: From coronations to royal weddings, this is place a must-see. It’s a magnificent place and the Lady Chapel is stunning. It’s a bit pricey and you can’t take pictures inside, but it’s worth every penny.
  • London Eye: As a fan of aerial views and an engineer, I really enjoyed this large Ferris wheel. London is gorgeous, so it’s amazing to see it stretched out before you. I could have watched the capsules slowly spin to keep occupants upright for hours. The only sad thing? The price is a bit more than it should be, so do it once and you’re set.
  • Buckingham Palace: Home to Queen, it’s really something not to be missed. I suggest wearing your best walking shows and attending the change of the guard. I expected this ceremony to be like Arlington Cemetery in DC, but it was very different with plenty of pomp and circumstance as well as music! I was unable to do it, but there are tours of the palace in the summer.
  • Thames River: The Thames will always remind me of the opening of Heart of Darkness from AP English unfortunately, but that didn’t keep me from strolling along it several times. On the bank opposite Parliament, there’s a wonderful paved path so one can walk along the river, grab a bite to eat, and stop off at other attractions such as the Globe Theater.
  • Tower Bridge: This iconic bridge over the Thames is stunning and probably one of my favorite sights of London aside from Big Ben. Definitely try to get a picture with it!
  • Piccadilly Circus: The Times Square of London is bright and bombastic, especially at night. This is also where to go if you’re looking for good shopping or good (but expensive) food.

If you’re a history buff…

  • Tower of London: This former royal castle became one of the best prisons in history as the final home to Anne Boleyn and Richard III’s princeling nephews, along with countless other tortured prisoners. Now, it a museum to the royal family which houses the incredible crown jewels.
  • British Library Archives: My favorite attraction in London and one the best hidden secrets, the British Library is beautiful in and of itself. Its archives make it special. It’s the only place in the world you’ll find Handel’s original compositions, alongside the Magna Carta a stone’s throw from one of the oldest Codexes in the world, alongside the Beatle’s original lyrics for Yesterday written on scrap notebook paper. It’s free and everything in the archives are amazing!
  • Westminster Abbey: Every major event in the royal family can be traced to Westminster Abbey from the wedding of William and Kate to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Read more under Sights.
  • The Globe Theater: The recreation of the venue where Shakespeare’s play were performed for the Queen is must for all theater fanatics. You can even see shows in it if you’re lucky, so that you can pretend you’re back in the time of the Bard!
  • Bomber Command Memorial: A tribute to 7/7/2005 victims, this may not be the most thing in London to see, but it’s a place to see and pay your respects to innocent lives and be thankful for your freedom.

If you’re a museum goer…

  • British Museum: It contains more history than you could ever know so there’s something for everyone here from the Rosetta Stone to the ruins of a Greek temple to Egyptian mummies. As an engineer, my favorite part of the British museum is the clock room.
  • Natural History Museum: First of all, the building the Natural History Museum is housed in is stunning. Secondly, the museum itself is really interesting including dinosaurs, mammals, rocks, etc.
  • Victoria and Alpert Museum: Right next door to the Natural History Museum, this museum is also quite beautiful and has a focus on art and artifacts. It wasn’t my favorite, but there’s a really nice exhibit on iron work that I enjoyed.
  • British Library Archives: Some of the oldest, most historical, coolest books and writings you can find on the planet. Read more under History.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum: This may be located at 221B and devoted to the famous sleuth, but you don’t need to read the books to appreciate this museum. Why? Because it’s also a great depiction of life and homes from the Victorian era. Just be sure to get there when it opens to avoid the lines!

If you enjoy artistic masterpieces…

  • National Portrait Gallery: The name says it all. I only visited briefly so I can’t tell you much beyond the fact that it has a ton of portraits, but it us quite nice.
  • Victoria and Alpert Museum: This beautiful museum houses both artifacts and rather large collection of art. Read more under Museums.

If you’re a book lover…

  • Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour: If you like Harry Potter even the teensiest bit, you need to go. And don’t forget your camera! As a huge Harry Potter fan, I absolutely loved every single moment of it. One moment I was in the set of Dumbledore’s office, but just a couple strides took me to the Gryffindor Common Room. The tour showcases sets, objects, costumes, and special effects that made Harry Potter come to life on screen.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum: At 221B Baker St, I was able to set foot in the room of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Mrs. Hudson. The sitting room is even complete with bullets in the walls and upstairs is a bundle of letters sent to the famous detective asking Sherlock to help find a poor third grader’s cat. Read more under Museums.
  • Westminster Abbey: It has a poet’s corner dedicated to famous writers including Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Chaucer, and (of course) William Shakespeare. All of the authors buried in Westminster have quotes from their most famous novels as their epitaphs.
  • Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross: To London, King’s Cross is a train station full of commuters and travelers. To Harry Potter fans, King’s Cross is where one can find a one way ticket to Hogwarts. Or you can at least take a picture with a trolley coming out of the wall by Platform 9 and 3/4.
  • Millennium Bridge: For those who have seen Harry Potter movies way too many times, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s opening sequence includes the destruction of a bridge in downtown London. The Death Eaters did not in fact blow up this bridge and if you take the time to find it, you can walk across it and reimagine this iconic scene.

If you love churches…

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: One of the tallest buildings in London, I felt like no matter where I walked, I could always spot St. Paul’s. The outside is beautiful and the interior is stunning, though you can’t take pictures inside unfortunately. Also, since it is so tall, St. Paul’s is the best place to pay less and receive a bird’s eye view of London. I’m really sad the whisper gallery was under construction when I tried to go up.
  • Westminster Abbey: Well, I’ve talked about enough already, so I’ll just ask you this: Don’t you want to see where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married? See Sights and History for more information.

If you’re obsessed with the royal family…

  • Buckingham Palace: If you want to find out if the Queen is at home, go look to see if her flag is flying above Buckingham Palace, her beautiful London residence. See Sights for more information.
  • Kensington Palace: Located in Hyde Park, Queen Victoria and Princess Diana both called Kensington Palace home. I did not get a chance to go inside, but I did explore the gardens which are absolutely lovely.
  • Westminster Abbey: Not only did William and Kate get married here, but this also where kings and queens have been crowned for centuries. Just before exiting the church, you even get to see the coronation chair! See Sights, History and Churches to learn more.

If you love theatre…

  • West End: Famous for it’s spectacular shows, the West End is London’s version of Broadway. I saw Spamalot for the first time and it was excellent. The West End is a definite must for anyone who loves a good show.
  • The Globe Theater: The recreation of theater where Shakespeare’s plays were staged is one of the most medieval looking buildings in London. You can even attend a live performance of a Shakespearean performance! I never had the time, but I really wish I had!
  • TKTS in Leicester Square: If you’re trying to catch a West End show, stop by TKTS in Leicester Square before going. It offers discounted show tickets so that you can save your money for other London attractions like the London Eye.

If you are a tree hugger…

  • Hyde Park: It’s remarkable how large Hyde Park is when everything in London is so compact. The green space goes on forever. It contains Kensington Palace and Gardens, a large swan pond, a monument to Prince Albert, and so much more. On a nice day, dogs walking with their owners can be seen in every square meter of the park.
  • Regent’s Park: In northern part of London, this park has breathtaking flower arrangements everywhere. The best flowers are to be seen in an inner circular area called Queen Mary’s Gardens. It’s absolutely stunning and I loved exploring the park on a warm, sunny spring day. I didn’t even feel like I was in London as I walked through it.
  • St. James’s Park: A stone’s throw away from the Thames, mix up your walk through London by taking a path through this lovely park. There’s plenty of little points of interest including a tiny cottage that looked like it had come straight out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
  • Kensington Gardens: Just in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, I enjoyed strolling around these beautiful gardens. They’re not large and showy, but that’s why the gardens are so charming. I could just imagine Queen Victoria in a beautiful billowing dress walking around the fountain pool with her beloved Prince Alpert a hundred years prior.

And here’s what I loved most:

  • Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour: I grew up reading Harry Potter and waiting hours for the midnight premiere of the movies. It was amazing to walk around and see the sets, props, and costumes used in the movies. I even learned new things about the movies such as Umbridge’s outfits became more pink as she gained more power. Even though the books and movies are done, the magic of Harry Potter lives on at Warner Bros. Studios. Read all about it under Books.
  • All of the parks and gardens: I love flowers, so I’m probably a little bit biased, but I thought the parks of London were incredible. My pictures don’t do them any justice. Please, if you visit London, stop by at least one park. It’s nice to enjoy serenity in one of the busiest cities in the world. See more in Trees.
  • British Library Archives: I never would have explored the archives if I hadn’t been trying to kill some time and looking back, I’m so happy I had extra time. The variety of amazing things as described under History and Museums doesn’t even cover the magnitude of amazing documents, compositions, books, and art on display.
  • Westminster Abbey: Don’t let the fact that you can’t take pictures or the cost bring you down. It’s worth every penny. There’s a little bit of everything inside of Westminister Abbey and the Lady Chapel amazed me, despite how many European churches I had seen. Read more in Sights, History, Books, Churches, and Royals.
  • Clock room in the British Museum: I’ve always loved history so it was cool to see mummies, the Rosetta Stone and a Greek temple front, but I’m ultimately an engineer. On my third visit to the British Museum while looking for mummies, I discovered the clock room and fell in love with it. It held working clocks from almost every decade for the past four hundred years ago and a large clock’s inner mechanisms so I could fully understand how a clock works. I loved it. See Museums for more information.
  • Natural History Museum: Dinosaurs and animals with a statue of Darwin in the lobby. How could I not love this museum? There’s a ton different exhibits from insects to rocks to sea creatures at the Natural History Museum. The exterior of the building itself is stunning and worth a few photos as well! Read all about it under Museums.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: I love churches and every time I saw St. Paul’s, I was in awe. Inside, St. Paul’s is truly beautiful. I loved pointing out its beautiful dome wherever I was in the city. See Churches for more.

And that sums it up. I can’t tell you very much about food or shopping because London is extremely expensive compared to other cities. I tried to save money by bringing a lot of my own food when I would be spending only a couple days there and I often was only traveling with a backpack so I had little room for souvenirs. Here’s a few other pieces of information on London:

  • Transportation: London is beautiful and it is best to walk around it to see the wonderful buildings. However, it’s also very large so an Underground day pass can be extremely handy when you have a lot to see and do or a time limit. It costs 7 pounds (~$10) which is expensive for public transportation. My suggestion is try to keep all of your sights for the day in one area and just walk there and back.
  • Food: Covent Garden has the best food for the best prices in my opinion if you look around enough. There’s also sometimes street performers who are quite fun!
  • Pubs: I’m convinced that everyone in London goes out for a pint immediately after work. So if you’re looking to have dinner around 5 o’clock in pub, I would not suggest it because it will be extremely busy with everyone socializing after a long day.
  • Restrooms: London isn’t as bad as some European cities, but it does have its fair share of pay toilets. If you don’t feel like paying to pee, go find the nearest free museum (London has a ton) and use their toilets. They’re usually pretty clean too!
  • Safety: I wouldn’t do anything silly like walk around at night by yourself, but overall, I found London to be one the places I felt safest in throughout Europe.
  • Navigation: I cannot promote the TripAdvisor Offline City Guide enough! It will help you find your way throughout London as well as tell you all the wonderful restaurants and attractions near you. You’ll be so happy you downloaded it. I know I am!

So that’s London in a nutshell. It’s a lot of information so I hope you find whatever you’re looking for. If you don’t, please feel free to ask! It really is a lovely city and I hope you visit it and enjoy exploring someday in the near future. Thanks for reading! Please share with fellow travelers, pin pictures of Pinterest, comment on what your favorite thing is London, etc. Have a wonderful day!

Hello! Buongiorno! Ahoj! Guten tag! Bonjour! Dag!

Greetings in every language I encountered over the past three weeks and welcome to what will be a long, colorful post of some of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Ready? Allons-y!

Italy

Just a little bit of background on myself, I come from a family of Catholics whose favorite restaurant is the Olive Garden. So it should come as no surprise that Italy was one of the main countries I wanted to visit over spring break. I dreamed of seeing Rome and Venice, while my friend Paul longed to see Pompeii and Rome. For these reasons, we decided to fly out of London at 6 am into Naples, Italy and take a bus to Pompeii. A couple days later, we took a train to Rome and afterwards, we flew to Venice. All of the cities were wonderful, though unexpectedly Pompeii was my favorite and Venice was my least. Overall, Italy was beautiful, the food was delicious, and it was rich with history.

Pompeii

  • Favorite experience: The ruins! They are breathtakingly beautiful and give me a great insight as to how people lived two thousand years ago.
  • Best meal: Our Bed and Breakfast served us a homecooked three course meal including spaghetti and pork.
  • Sights to see: Walk around the village to the little market and souvenir shops to enjoy the little Italian town atmosphere.
  • You can skip: Taking a taxi or car around the little village. It’s best experienced on foot!
  • Wish I could have: Visited Mt. Vesuvius. It’s still active!
  • Pro-tip: Don’t buy an audioguide because it’s outdated. Your visit will be much more valuable if you buy a book and a map or take a guided tour with an actual tour guide.

Rome

  • Favorite experience: Mass with Pope Francis! As a Catholic, my attendance at the Blessing of the Oils mass on Holy Thursday was and will be one the most important spiritual highlights of my life. It was worth running through Rome, pas the Trevi Fountain, to get to the North American Pontificate and receive the last tickets they were handing out the day before.
  • Best meal: Tiramisu gelato! With tomato and basil gnocchi in a close second place.
  • Sights to see: Colosseum, for the history. St. Peter’s Basilica, for the beauty and reverence. Vatican Museums, for some of the most amazing art and sculptures in our world. Trevi Fountain, for a wish to make Rome magical. The Church of St. Peter in Chains, so you see more churches than just the Vatican and a Michaelangelo statue.
  • You can skip: The pizza. It may have been where we ate it at, but the last time I had pizza was in Chicago at Pizzeria Due, so it just couldn’t compare.
  • Wish I could have: Taken a tour of Rome, but we didn’t have enough time unfortunately.
  • Pro-tip: The Vatican is not that close to the actual city, so simply take a day to do everything in the area.

Venice

  • Favorite experience: Vaparetto (water taxi) ride early Saturday morning around the island because we were able to see all of the beautiful palaces on the Grand Canal while the rest of the city slept.
  • Best meal: Tagliatelle with pesto.
  • Sights to see: St. Marco’s Square, for the architecture. Glass and mask shops for the beautiful artistry. Otherwise, simply wander around and get lost instead of focusing on specific places.
  • You can skip: The gondola ride, at least if your student. They’re expensive and the water taxis are also boat rides on the canal!
  • Wish I could have: Visited the islands outside Venice where the glass blowers and lace makers live.
  • Pro-tip: Go to Venice with someone you love so you enjoy their presence as much as the magic of the island. Also, Venice has two airports so try to make sure you go to the correct one when trying to catch a flight..

Czech Republic

Whenever I mentioned Prague to people who had visited the old city, a smile would immediately cross their face and reminiscent gleam twinkled in their eyes. I knew there was something magical about the city. So after touring Italy I left my friend Paul at the airport as he went to the UK and Ireland, in order to meet other friends in Prague to celebrate Easter. Easter also happened to be my birthday this year, so it made the experience doubly special.

Prague

  • Favorite experience: Easter in Prague. Between the Easter markets and the beautiful mass I attended at Church of Our Lady in Front of Tyn, my birthday was amazing because of the joy of Easter seen throughout Prague. I feel lucky to have seen Prague at Easter.
  • Best meal: Risotta in balsamic reduction with tree berries. I don’t think this dish was very Czech, so I did try dumplings and goulash. However, the risotto was simply amazing.
  • Sights to see: Sandeman’s free walking tour for the history on various parts of the city. Prague Castle so you can explore the largest castle in Europe (but really, it’s a castle, the Czech are just stubborn). Funicular railway and Petrin tower to see over the whole city. Charles Bridge for the people, statues and artists. John Lennon’s Wall for appreciating the people of Prague. Infant at Prague for praying. Random carnival in the middle of Prague! Old Town Square for the beauty of Prague.
  • You can skip: Astronomical Clock. Well, actually, go once and see, but don’t expect too much.
  • Wish I could have: Visited the Jewish Museum. Spent five more days in Prague.
  • Pro-tip: The Czech Republic is on the korona (crowns) so don’t feel so rich when you have a thousand dollar bill because it’s really approximately fifty dollars. Also, don’t take two tours in one day. It’s too much.

Germany

In the third grade, my class once received an assignment to ask my parents what countries my family came from before they immigrated to the US. My fellow classmates returned to school the next day listing dozens of nationalities that made up their own unique heritage: Polish, Irish, Chinese, Nigerian, Scottish, Japanese, India, etc. When I had asked my parents, I was given only one primary answer: German. For this reason, I was really excited to visit Germany, land of my people, and especially Berlin. In the past fifty years, Berlin has witnessed some of the most important history in the world, events that still affect our daily lives now. So we left snowy Prague for a very cold Berlin on Easter Monday.

Berlin

  • Favorite experience: Palace of Tears, which was probably one of my top places for the whole trip. Palace of Tears was a testament to the families, friends, couples, etc. separated by the Berlin for over twenty years and it was located next to a train station where people could be reunited for a couple hours every few years. The stories were beautiful and moving. They made me think about the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain in a new way.
  • Best meal: Falafel! When we arrived in Berlin, it was 9 pm by the time we found our hostel and we were too exhausted to go find food in the city. So we walked down the street and found a cheap Lebanese restaurant. The owner was so happy to meet us on our first night in Berlin and made us feel at home with his delicious food.
  • Sights to see: Tiergarten, the former royal hunting grounds, to enjoy beautiful green space. East Side Gallery to see what a living memorial the Berlin Wall has become. Berlin Philarmonic because they offer free concerts on Tuesdays and their musicians are amazing! Topography of Terror because as a people, the world must never forget the Nazis and what they did to the Jews and German people. The Jewish Museum to celebrate the beauty of Jewish culture. Brandenberg Gate at night because it’s beautiful. Sandeman’s free walking tour because it’s a great source of information. Checkpoint Charlie for the history. Gartenmarkt because it’s the most beautiful square in Berlin. The Holocaust Memorial for obvious reasons.
  • You can skip: Nothing really. Berlin has a lot of important history that it can be hard to see, but you really should visit.
  • Wish I could have: Had more time at the underground part of the Holocaust Memorial. Visited the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Gone up in the Reichstag, but you have to make reservations..
  • Pro-tip: Almost everything interesting in Berlin is free!

France

I spent four years studying French in high school, four years in French Club, two years as French Club treasurer, and one year as French Club president. Every year, we learned French while also learning about the culture and the country. I loved every moment of it. For this reason, France was the country I spent over a week in. Earlier in March, I visited Paris for a weekend with friends from Swansea. This is why I only stayed in Paris for a day before going on a three day group tour to see Mont St. Michel and the castles of the Loire Valley. Afterwards, I left my travel companion, an Illinois exchange student at Manchester who was going to visit her family in Romania, to go visit the Junior Enterprise Europe Etudes in Strasbourg. I had a wonderful time visit Westminster Business Consulting in London so I wanted to visit more Junior Enterprises and extend Illinois’s Junior Enterprise’s international network. Also, it meant that I was able to live like a Frenchwoman and speak only in French for three days after not using my French skills since high school. It was exhausting, but very rewarding.

Paris (includes places previously visited in March)

  • Favorite experience: Eiffel Tower at night. It’s stunning to see the old city sprawling out into the dark night sky from atop the shining symbol of Paris.
  • Best meal: Anything from a boulangerie (bakery). We found a cute local boulangerie nearby and bought breakfast there everyday in March. The baked goods were easy on our budgets and delicious!
  • Sights to see: Notre Dame because you just have to go! Shakespeare and Co. bookstore because it’s a great little bookstore that’s awesome. The Louvre to see Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and la Joconde (the Mona Lisa). Jardin des Tulieres to watch kids play with sailboats in the little pools. Champs-Elysees for a shopping street even more grand than Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Arc de Triomphe because it’s beautiful! Sacre Coeur because it’s the real most beautiful church of Paris! Place du Tertre to admire the best art in Paris. Mur des Je T’aimes because “the Wall of I Love You’s” is a really cute place to find. The Conciergerie because it’s home to a lot of amazing histoy. Walk along the Seine at night to feel truly Parisian. Try macaroons because they’re delicious! Eat Berthillon ice cream because it’s also amazing. Place de la Concorde to remember the French Revolution. Visit the flower market at the base of Notre Dame because it’s really cute.
  • You can skip: Royal Palais because the Louvre is housed in a much more stunning building. Centre Pompidou unless you’re really into modern art. The Pantheon unless you’re into dead people or really like St. Genevieve like me.
  • Wish I could have: Visited Jardin du Luxembourg which was for some reason closed when we went. Taken a bateau mouche ride. Gone in Saint Chapelle. Visited Musee d’Orsay. Saw the Monet paintings in Musee de l’Orangerie. Visit Versailles.
  • Pro-tip: For food, head over to the Latin Quarter because it’s where all the students live so prices are much better there. Also, the metro is a little confusing, but it’s worth learning so you can go to one area for the day so you don’t kill your feet too much. Paris is quite large. Paris is also probably best enjoyed with someone you really love (or if you speak French like me!).

Castles

I’m going to describe the castles I saw a little bit differently, so here it goes…

  • If you’re a religious person: Mont St. Michel is a giant monastery on a little tiny island in the English Channel and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
  • If you like history: Langeais was where Anne of Brittany wed Charles VIII, uniting most of modern day France.
  • If you like war: Amboise saw some pretty brutal parts of the French Religious Wars including Protestants heads being put on pikes.
  • If you’re an engineer: Clos-Luce, the final dwelling place of Leonardo da Vinci, has a basement full of models of Leonardo’s ingenious sketches from the flying machines to a precursor of the army tank to the first car! The grounds outside the tiny chateau is dotted with larger versions for visitors to test for themselves.
  • If you like flowers: Villandry is known for it’s beautiful gardens of many types: ornate, symbolic flower gardens, a water garden, woods, kitchen gardens, etc. I don’t recommend going until it’s warm enough for them to bloom though!
  • If you’re interested in home decorating: Cheverny is a small castle still in use today by the family that built it. The rooms inside were beautiful and every inch was covered in grandeur.
  • If you like pretty things: Chenonceau is the classic French castle which is built over a river as if it were a bridge and was given to Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II. Inside, the rooms are elegant and beautiful as well, save the room covered in black where a widow lived for the last decade of her life.
  • If you miss supersize at McDonalds: Chambord is the largest of the French chateaux in the Loire Valley with 365 fireplaces. The massive castle was only used for two months of the year for hunting so the grounds are extensive.

Strasbourg

  • Favorite experience: Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre Dame is my favorite church in all of Europe after seeing millions over the past few months. The exterior and interior were beautiful and I just instantly loved it. Fun fact: It only has one steeple instead of two, as cathedrals like Notre Dame of Paris usually have, because they ran out of money while building it. In close second, my other favorite experience was visiting the Junior Enterprise there because I made some great friends, spoke only in French for three days, and was able to experience French culture because I was staying with friends who are French. Strasbourg also reminded me of New Orleans for some reason which brought back some really great memories.
  • Best meal: A tarte flambees, also called a flammekuche, with choucroute (sauerkraut). I challenged myself by order sauerkraut and dark beer so that I would be trying all of the specialties of Strasbourg. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of beer, but the flammekuche avec choucroute was delicious. And our dessert afterwards was amazing too.
  • Sights to see: The market in the main square because it’s key part of French life and culture. The canal around the city for a beautiful stroll. Downtown Strasbourg to be enchanted by the winding streets and get the feel of small town France. The random menagerie in a beautiful park by Strasbourg’s university to see some cool animals including the stork, symbol of Alsace (region of France where Strasbourg is).
  • You can skip: Nothing! This town is beautiful and you should try to enjoy being wherever you are in the city.
  • Wish I could have: Seen the EU buildings there because Strasbourg is the official seat of the EU parliament.
  • Pro-tip: Always validate your ticket for the train, the tram, bus, etc. wherever you are in Europe. I saw someone fined because they hadn’t done so on my way to the train station.

Luxembourg

So on my train from Strasbourg to Brussels, there was ten minute stop in Luxembourg. I wanted to maximize the number of countries I had been in, so I hopped off the train for approximately two minutes just to say that I’ve been to Luxembourg. Success!

Belgium

Brussels is home to both the European Union Parliament and JADE, the board in charge of Junior Enterprise throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. On behalf of Illinois’s Junior Enterprise, I stayed at JADE for three and a half days where I had a lot of meetings with different officers. When I was free, I explored the charming city and the best way I can sum up my activities in Belgium is as such: food.

Brussels

  • Favorite experience: The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)! After visiting so many informational places in less than three weeks, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the MIM that much, but I love music and wanted to see what it would be like. For only two euros, I was given a pair of headphones and free range to walk around four floors of musical instruments as old as 600 AD to present. Whenever I walked by an instrument, it would play for a couple minutes over my headphones. I spent three hours simply listening to beautiful music played by equally beautiful music.
  • Best meal: Instead of buying lunch for myself on the day I explored, I bought myself chocolate because I was in Belgium. I regret nothing. So my best meal consisted of dark chocolate with strawberry filling, a chocolate mousse cupcake, and hot chocolate that was essentially molten chocolate. Runners up include: The waffles, fries, and the mango beer I tried at Delirium. Why did I actually like my beer? Because as the German with us exclaimed, “This isn’t beer!”
  • Sights to see: Walk into every chocolate shop in search of free samples because Belgian chocolate is amazing. Parliamentarium to learn more about the EU Praliament and how affects the world and Europe. Grand Place because the buildings there are gorgeous. Church of Notre Dame au Sablon because it’s pretty. Jardin du Petit Sablon to rest your feet and appreciate statues of important Belgians like William of Orange. Palais Royal because it’s a cute little imitation of Buckingham Palace. St. Nicholas Church for mass in a beautiful setting (I’m convince the Our Father in French is one of the most beautiful things to listen to ever.).
  • You can skip: Mannekin Pis because he’s really tiny and not that special. The metro because Brussels is an easy place to walk as long as it’s not dark.
  • Wish I could have: Found the murals of comics that are scattered throughout Brussels.Talked to a friend staying at the JADE house about visiting the actual EU Parliament while it was in session. Visited Atomium. Went to the Belgian Center of Comic Strips because I remember learning about it French class.
  • Pro-tip: All the tourist chocolate shops with free samples are near Galeries St-Hubert and Grand Place. The best chocolate to by is actually in Place du Grand Sablon because it tastes like heaven in your mouth and it’s cheaper. Also, if you go up to the cafe at the top of the Musical Instrument Museum, you have a great view of the rest of Brussels.

A few key travel tips and parting words:

  • Download the Tripadvisor Offline City Guide for the iPhone before traveling in Europe. I was never lost, visited the best attractions in every city, and ate where the locals eat in almost every city because of it. Even though I wasn’t using data and didn’t have wifi, my phone always knew where I was and where I was going.
  • Print out color maps of cities’ transportation routes (metro, bus, tram, etc.) so that you know what you’re doing upon arrival and/or departure.
  • Always have backup plans and emergency cash. Things will go wrong, but if you keep a calm head, you can overcome any challenge you come across while traveling.

So that was my trip and I’m happy to talk more about it with you if you ever consider traveling in Europe. Congratulations for making it to the end my amazing three weeks. Honestly, I didn’t even do these cities justice in showing how beautiful they were. I had the time of my life with so many different, unique experiences throughout out my trip. My advice is that if you ever receive the opportunity to travel extensively, do not hesitate! Take it! Finally, I must thank everyone who made my trip possible, especially my parents, and also thank everyone who made it amazing, especially my travel companions. The past three weeks were more than I could have ever imagined and I will always be grateful for the experience. As always, thanks for reading and please share with any other world travelers.

And the reward for finishing reading this post:

Hello! Thank you for stumbling across my website and taking an interest in it! This post is going to be a more of a personal note than commentary because I need to tell you about what’s happening with my life (and this website) for the next three weeks. So for those of you not aware, I’m currently studying abroad at Swansea University in Wales. It’s absolutely beautiful in Swansea and I’m having a wonderful time. One of the awesome things about Swansea (and the UK college education system) is that I have a spring break that is three weeks long. What does an American do when she’s living in the United Kingdom and has a three week spring break? She visits the main continent of Europe, of course! I’m beyond excited, but this means I’ll be unable to post blog updates for the next three weeks. Instead, I’ve created a website where I’ll upload my favorite photos whenever I have internet so check out Morgan’s Spring Break 2013. Currently, I just have a map of where I’m going, but I’ll add more as I go places!

Proposed Route for Spring Break 2013

Should you be compelled to ask yourself, “Where in the world is Morgan Bakies?” sometime over the next three weeks, I have an answer for you:

  • March 25: London, United Kingdom
  • March 26: Pompeii, Italy
  • March 27-28: Rome, Italy (including: Holy Thursday mass with the Pope!)
  • March 29: Venice, Italy
  • March 30-31: Prague, Czech Republic
  • April 1-3: Berlin, Germany
  • April 4: Paris, France
  • April 5-7: Mont St. Michel and Loire Valley Chateaux Tour, France
  • April 8-10: Strasbourg, France
  • April 11-13: Brussels, Belgium

So please, keep an eye on my iOS website for pictures of some of the coolest places Europe has to offer and live vicariously through me. When I come back, I’ll tell you all about European cities and how beautiful they are. In the meantime, please pray for everyone traveling, including myself, to be safe and enjoy this amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to continue writing and sharing my thoughts with you when I come back to Swansea. Have a wonderful next three weeks, internet! See you soon!

PS: I just downloaded a really cool app that lets me turn my photos into postcards. If you send me a request for a certain photo and your address, I’ll do my best to get a picture for you and send it to you! See how to contact me under “Start”.

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