Amsterdam & Paris

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A week and a half ago I went to Amsterdam and Paris for a 5-day trip! I was fortunate enough to meet my friend Lindsay during the UBC Go Global exchange orientation earlier this year. If I didn’t meet or get along with her, I wouldn’t have been able to travel to two European cities back to back. Since most of my friends here are British, it’s difficult to find someone who is willing to travel for long periods of time AND who has a similar school schedule with me (or at least willing to skip class). Thankfully, I have both Lindsay and my Aussie friend Michelle to travel with for most of my time here in England.

Lindsay and I’s travel itinerary consisted of flying from Manchester Airport to Amsterdam, then riding the overnight MegaBus to Paris, then flying back out to Manchester. The timing and price for transportation worked out well with round trip flights being around £110 (~$200 CDN) and the Megabus being £20 (~$35 CDN). For those who don’t know, MegaBus is a coach bus company that offers many trips to different cities and countries for a cheap price. The departure times are often a bit odd (we left Amsterdam at 11PM and arrived at 6AM) and it can be uncomfortable but for the price, it’s worth it.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Amsterdam is definitely a city you must visit! At first glance I thought it was similar to Downtown Vancouver’s surroundings, but after exploring and gawking at the beautiful canals, it’s quite different. Amsterdam is known for being a very open and liberal city, and my visit here definitely reconfirmed that. The city is quite artsy and emits a free-spirit kind of attitude. Smoking is extremely common here, and after a while, I got tired of walking through smoke clouds every few blocks. Also, the bike culture here is out of this world! There are bikes EVERYWHERE, and the city’s infrastructure is designed to accommodate bikes as if they were cars. There are designated bike lanes everywhere you go. People bike extremely fast and somehow always avoid a head-on collision with pedestrians. In the summer I bike frequently, so seeing bikes as a dominate form of transportation is great to see.

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Some things in Amsterdam are so bizarre…This elaborate tropical display was underneath a bridge behind a gated fence. What?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got an extra bundle of fries with curry sauce for free! Such a nice cashier!

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I tried a famous Dutch stroopwafel! So delicious!

The one place I was looking the most forward to was the Anne Frank House. I remember learning about Anne in grade 6 and visiting the Jewish Community Centre to listen to a Holocaust survivor speak. I was extremely moved by this survivor’s personal story and it sparked my interest in WWII history. Stepping foot into the Secret Annex where the Frank family and others hide for two years before being betrayed to the Nazis left me breathless. The exact same bookcase that hid the passage way to the annex was still there and I could feel the history, struggles and anxiety being secreted out of the walls.

I think 2 days in Amsterdam was enough to see the main parts of the city. I wouldn’t have minded an extra day to go biking around the city and to visit Zaanse Schans for the windmills!

Paris, France

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Taking the overnight Megabus to Paris wasn’t too bad. The timing worked out perfectly because we saved money by not paying for accommodation and arrived in Paris early in the morning.  We also met a bunch of Canadian guys who were studying in France on the bus and they kindly directed us towards the closest metro station. One of the benefits of travelling in late November was the lack of crowds. We were fortunate enough to have sunny or cloudy weather for the majority of the time, and were able to take our time walking through the parks and between buildings without worrying that our next destination had a long queue. Seeing the Eiffel Tower was incredibly beautiful in person! I found it more beautiful at night when it was all lit up. Another thing I noticed was that there were always men surrounding the tourist areas trying to persuade people into buying Eiffel Tower figures. It was difficult to avoid them because once you steer clear from 4 of them in one area, you’re confronted by another 5 of them the further you walk towards the attraction.

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Had the most amazing cheese baguette ever at this Christmas market. The cheese sit under a heated lamp and the man scrapes each type of melted cheese into the baguette. I didn’t like cheese before I came here and now I am a fan.

Pickpocketing and scams is also a big issue in Paris. We dealt with our fair share of people trying to scam us or beg for money. Thankfully we didn’t fall victim to any thief but 2 backpackers in our hostel lost €150 ($211 CDN) and their new iPhone 6. Some very clever scams we encountered were:

– Women trying to get us to sign a petition for a fake cause. What I heard they do is that once your hands are occupied with the clipboard, they (or someone else) pickpockets you.
– This one’s scary: A man approached us with a string in his hand. Apparently what he does is once you acknowledge him, he ties the string onto your arm so you’re in a lock, and he threatens you until you give him money.
– Short women flashing coins in your face until you give them money. This happened when we were waiting for the train.

So if you’re reading this and planning to go to Paris, be aware of this! Lindsay and I made a conscious effort to not speak on the train so people wouldn’t immediately target us as foreigners. Just exercise common sense, be more cautious with your belongings than back at home, and watch out of each other.

I have a lot more to say about my experience in Paris, so if you want to hear more, we’ll just have to meet up in person over sushi or bubble tea!

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I fought through this crowd to see the Mona Lisa. Not sure if it was worth it.

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