The city of love and lights. As two people who were not in love, I can’t tell you about the romance of Paris, but certainly the city lights up and you can feel the magic when the sun sets.
Looking back on it, I don’t think I appreciated this place as much as I should have (I’d put that down to my amateur status as a newly fledged traveller). We were still getting used to reading maps, understanding the public transport, carrying our huge bags and, most importantly, budgeting. During the conception of our trip, we decided on a £30 budget to cover food, trips, transport and alcohol. Some days we were far below the £30, which helped for the nights we exceeded it.
As all tourists should do we went to the Eiffel Tower, but unlike most of tourists, we decided to join the much shorter queue (only €4 for under 25s) – the only catch is you have to climb the 600 steps to the middle, and then – If you are willing – pay for the elevator to the top. As an impatient person, I was more than happy to climb, and it had the added bonus of working off the Nutella and cream crepes we’d consumed on the way there.
Our hostel was in Montmartre, the art district of Paris – only a 5 minute walk to the Basilica and the Dali museum, a 15 min walk from the Moulin Rouge, and a short metro journey to Notre Dame. I imagine that the lines to get into the Basilica and Notre Dame would be horrific in summer, but in autumn we found it was quick and worth it to have a cheeky look around and see the beauty of the glass windows and the interior architecture.
Food in Paris was expensive, but luckily our hostel had a guest kitchen, so we could make our own food for the whole day. Depending on your budget and appetite you can decide when to eat out and when to save money at the expense of your taste buds... there’s usually a lot of pasta and bread with cheese, but it also depends on the facilities at the hostel.
The moment you arrive in Amsterdam, you feel welcomed. There is a buzz of excitement but also a very relaxed and youthful vibe. When arriving in a new city, it can be quite daunting to decide where to go and what to do, especially for a night out! I’d recommend doing a bar crawl – yes, sometimes they can be lame, but it gives you a good idea of places to go the following nights, you get to meet fellow travellers, plus you usually get a free T-shirt... and who doesn’t like free stuff? For a good night during spring or autumn there is also a carnival set up in the main square – with rides, games and food, it’s a good laugh.
Many people say a walk around the Red Light District is a must, as it’s such a famous area in Amsterdam. However, in my opinion it isn’t an enjoyable experience, although it does give you an insight into the culture. There is also Red Light Secrets, museum of Prostitution, which I would recommend; it’s not too pricey and it gives you a further insight and understanding of the darker, scarier side of the industry as well as the history of it all.
Obviously there are tons of things apart from the Red Light District and drinking to do in Amsterdam. It’s relatively simple and cheap to hire a bike for the day and explore the city’s streets and parks, for example Vondelpark. Just be aware that although hiring the bike is cheap, there is usually a deposit of roughly €50. On the way to Vondel park is the ‘I
amsterdam’ sign, which can be a challenge to take a photo with, but is a touristy must! Near there is also the Van Gogh Museum and cute food stalls with a great selection of foods and
St Christopher's club, with our Canadian roommate
flavours. If you get tired of bikes there are also canal cruises, giving you another perspective of the city. The Anne Frank house is also very culturally significant, however due to lack of funds – and patience, on my part – we gave it a miss. On the other hand, The Temple of Venus is only €4 and is a good giggle.
Our hostel, St Christopher’s Inn at The Winston, was by far my favourite hostel. It had its own bar, and a nightclub attached to it. The rooms were big and the beds were comfortable. St Christopher’s is a hostel chain, with locations in Prague, Paris, London and our next stop...
Physically drained from a weekend of partying in Amsterdam, we gave Berlin’s night life a miss, even though everyone we met highly recommended it. One club stays open the whole weekend, so if you really feel like it you can party on a Sunday afternoon! Another one is so exclusive that if the bouncer doesn’t like what you’re wearing, he won’t let you in (even if you waited 2 hours in absolute silence in the queue)!
Though we didn’t do much in the evenings, our days were always busy. A good way to explore a city with so much history is to do a walking tour; SANDERMANs is a company that – along with full price tours – have great free tours, with each of their guides working freelance. Their knowledge is extensive and they are very captivating, and (although they are “free” tours) the guides do work on tips, so unless you’re a heartless cheapskate, a couple of euros is nothing. SANDERMANs also operate in cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Prague, to name a few.
Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
We spent a whole day at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s a vast area of grey concrete blocks. As you walk through the ground undulates, and the grey blocks begin to tower over you, disorientating you, making you bump into people and feel the claustrophobia. It is symbolic of different things, depending who you talk to. Some say it represents a ghetto, some a concentration camp, while others think the maze-like structure is more symbolic of the uncertainty faced by those who were persecuted. There is also a free museum underneath the memorial. One room’s floor is lined with accounts/letters/diary entries of the men, women and children who faced the holocaust. It really deepens your understanding and makes you grateful for the life you have.
If I had to recommend one city to visit, it would be Prague. Not only is it astonishingly beautiful, with its gothic architecture, winding river and castle, but it is also affordable and a great night out, being the home to central Europe’s biggest club, Karlovy Lazne
. It’s 5 stories, and each floor has a different genre of music. The entry fee gets you into four out of the five, as the bottom floor is the ice bar.
Left: River cruise; Right: Ice tea in Choco Cafe
The only thing we spent money on in Prague was a river cruise, which as a student you get a discount for. Europe is a great place to be a student, as nine times out of ten there is a discount available somewhere, even on the SANDERMANs tours. The rest of the time we just wandered the streets of the old town and new town as well as the Jewish quarter. The astronomical clock is definitely worth a look, and Charles Bridge
– which is beautifully gothic and lined with artists and little stalls – has a great view down the river. Each day we visited Choco Cafe , which not only had the best macaroons I’ve ever eaten in my life, but also has delicious homemade ice tea.
After a long train ride we finally reached what we thought would be our last stop…
Again, you could spend all day walking through the little alley ways and window shopping, getting lost in between the lanes and crossing bridge after bridge. Like Paris, however, it is a place I think would be best to visit with a partner, as it is the ultimate romantic destination. As it was our last stop, though, it was nice to just relax, drink wine and eat some yummy Italian food!
Left: St Mark's Square; Right: Venice canals
The Rialto Bridge and St Mark's Square are two of Venice’s most famous spots. I was slightly underwhelmed by them both, perhaps because they were swarming with tourists and souvenir stalls, so you couldn’t really get a taste for their actual beauty. In St Mark's Square there is a tradition to try to get a pigeon to land on your arm. My cousin was lucky enough to have them come to her – all you need to do is have some food in your hands and spread your arms out. As a bird hater the thought of a bird landing on me made my skin crawl, but all the people around me had smiles on their faces and their was laughter, so on behalf of them I’d recommend it.
So, our trip was coming to an end – although we’d had the best time and learnt so many things, we were ready to go home. Unfortunately, on our train home, people broke into our cabin and stole our handbags with our passports and train tickets in. They were probably just after money, but jokes on them (‘cause I was certainly not laughing) – we didn’t have any money left. It hasn’t put me off travelling at all, and it shouldn’t for you either. It was human error; we got too comfortable and forgot there are bad people out there. If you take anything from this article, let it be this... separate all your important documents, tickets, money and bank cards!
So now a sixth city was added to our little adventure, Munich, but that is a story for another time…
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