I’m supposed to be writing an essay on Simone de Beauvoir and the portrayal of women in media right now, so clearly it’s a good time to write a blog post instead. I haven’t posted on here in a while, due partly to the fact that I’ve been busy gallivanting across Europe, and mostly to the fact that I’ve been buried under a lot of homework. So here I am! I’ll try to make this post kind of short, because I also have to read about a hundred pages of French critical feminist theory before my seminar tomorrow morning, while attempting to forget that all of my friends are at the local pub down the street. Being a literary genius is so trying sometimes!
(I’m being sarcastic. I do not consider myself a literary genius. Just a disclaimer, there.)
Anyway, this has been my first week back in class after Reading Week, a fabulous week off given to students in order to study. If you are the average British student here, it means a week off to relax, go home, see friends and family, and get some work done. If you’re the average American student here, it means it’s time for OMG EUROTRIP!
I stayed in London for the weekend after classes ended, because plane and train tickets are more expensive on Saturdays and Sundays. I’m glad that I didn’t leave on vacation right away though, because I got to experience Guy Fawkes Day in London! For those of you who don’t rememember what the holiday is, or haven’t seen V for Vendetta in a while, it’s celebrated on the 5th of November to commemorate the fact that Guy Fawkes, a political dissident in the early 1600s, was caught and executed before he could carry out his “gunpowder plot” to blow up Parliament. Guy Fawkes Day is also known as Bonfire Night, because it’s common to burn him in effigy in a bonfire, as well as set off fireworks as a reminder of gunpowder’s significance. While American Halloween is getting more popular in England, it was easy to see that Guy Fawkes Day is a much bigger deal. During the entire week leading up to Guy Fawkes Day, I would hear fireworks being set off every single night. On the actual day, I walked outside into a fog of smoky, sulfury air—the entire city was covered in firework smoke. There were a ton of different parks all over London putting on fireworks displays that night. Me and my friend Liz went to one in Southwark Park, which had free admission and, more importantly, hot mulled wine. We had a fun time watching an AWESOME fireworks show, laughing at the antics of all the little kids in the park, and drinking our delicious mulled wine in the crisp November air. Oh, and the fireworks were set to music, which included Katy Perry’s Firework. I approved.
Me and Liz on Guy Fawkes Day :)
On Monday morning, me and my friend Zoe set off on our continental European adventure, traveling to Paris and Amsterdam! Our cheap flight to Amsterdam left London Luton Airport at 6:45 in the morning. Since Luton is about an hour away from the city, and since we obviously had to arrive at the airport earlier than our flight, we booked a bus trip from central London for sometime around 4:30 AM. This meant that we had to leave campus at 3 AM, since the Tube wasn’t running and we had to rely on multiple night buses to get into the city center. Fact: It is not very much fun to wake up at 3 AM, carry a giant backpack, and get on a slow and crowded night bus full of drunk people. But we made it! It was a little crazy because we spent three hours getting to the airport for a flight that lasted about 37 minutes. Before we knew it, we were in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a really neat, interesting, and beautiful city. It’s very small, and the cityscape is defined by all of its canals—it definitely earns its nickname “Venice of the North.” Because of all the canals in the city center, it’s not a very good city for driving. As a result, Amsterdam has an awesome bike culture—EVERYONE rides bikes EVERYWHERE. It was definitely my first time being in a place where the cyclist rules the road, instead of cars or pedestrians. When me and Zoe were walking from the train station to our hostel, we even found that there were areas that didn’t even offer anywhere for pedestrians to walk—we had to try to stay out of people’s way on the bike lanes. When there were main highways, the bike lanes were always completely separated from the road, which was pretty cool. I like the idea and convenience of biking around a city, but I’m admittedly too afraid to do it in Boston traffic.
Me on one of Amsterdam’s many bridges.
Another thing that I liked about the bike culture was seeing families biking together. Little kids travel in all sorts of seat contraptions on their parents’ bikes, and you could tell that it was just as normal to them as it is for American kids getting chauffered around in Mom’s minivan. I saw a few kids crying and arguing in their bike seat as their mom or dad pedaled on.
Typical bike seat for kids. I wanted Zoe to rent one of these and chauffer me around in it all day, but she said no.
After checking into our hostel, Zoe and I walked around and explored, and ended up visiting the Anne Frank House museum. The entire exhibit was really well done. It was incredibly moving to see the actual rooms where Anne Frank, her family, and their friends hid for two years during the Nazi occupation of Holland. In Anne Frank’s old bedroom, you can still see all the postcards and photographs she taped to the walls, just like she wrote about in her diary. Anne Frank’s Diary is one of a few books whose details have always stayed with me since I read it in middle school. It was really powerful to see the exhibit that the museum had to offer.
A blurry photo of the secret passageway leading to the attic where the Franks hid.
After the museum, we walked all over a good part of central Amsterdam. The Red Light District is definitely an interesting place—there are a bunch of so-called “coffeeshops” that don’t sell coffee, and prostitutes in lingerie standing in window displays. The thing that was most interesting to me was how nice the area still was—everything was as perfectly clean and nice-looking as the rest of the city, and it was common to see a really nice, expensive house right next door to a sex shop. (Actually, our hostel happened to be very Christian, and it was right in the middle of the Red Light District.) The whole area was really touristy as well. There were a ton of souvenir shops and fast food places that were a little too reminiscent of a Jersey shore boardwalk for my liking. It was definitely fun to walk around and hit up a few coffeeshops, but I found myself liking the real, untouristy Amsterdam a bit better.
Red lights in the Red Light District.
Me and Zoe exploring Amsterdam’s bar scene. (The Heineken was good, but the Dutch serve beer in half pint glasses! It was quite a shock after coming from pint-happy England.)
That night me and Zoe found a cute and cozy bar, and ended up talking to two Dutch guys who sat down at our table. (This will always be my favorite part of traveling—the interesting conversations you can strike up with people from all over the world.) Pretty much everyone in Amsterdam spoke English, and the guys we talked to confirmed that it’s the only foreign language that’s completely mandatory in school there. We talked about the differences between our native countries’ political leanings, and they were mostly appalled at the conservative ideas in the US. (One of the nice things about being in Europe is that pretty much everyone agrees that healthcare is a human right. Imagine that!) They also couldn’t believe how expensive school is in the US. We told them that we couldn’t believe it either. Apparently in the Netherlands, university is free…as long as you manage finish your degree in ten years! Then you have to pay a little extra. I definitely enjoyed being in one of the most liberal cities in the world, although I think I could do without the prostitution. I know that as a matter of pragmatism, the government can regulate it and make it safer than illegal prostitution, but I think that it still has harmful effects on women in any form.
The next day, Zoe and I rented bikes for the day and rode around the entire city. It was cold, but we had SO much fun, and it was a much easier way to get around than walking. We had Chinese dim sum for dinner, which was delicious. One funny thing about Amsterdam—there were hardly any Dutch restaurants in sight! It was all Chinese food or Argentinean food, with a few American steakhouses thrown in. Later in the day, we came across Amsterdam’s new library, which is eight stories high. It was an awesome (and free!) way to get a fantastic view of the city. It was also the coolest library I’ve ever been in. Aside from being absolutely HUGE, it was extremely modern, and had a ton of different books in all different languages (mostly Dutch though.) All the decor and furniture were reminiscent of Ikea, there were two really nice restaurants and a bar, and the kid’s section was probably the most incredible book-related thing I’ve ever seen in my life. (I was pretty jealous of all the little Dutch kids running around it.) So yeah, Amsterdam has an awesome free library, paid for by taxpayers who get to benefit from its extensive resources. The perils of socialist-leaning government!
Amsterdam’s Tulip Market
The I Amsterdam sign in front of the main art museum. So pretty!
Just me, nonchalantly biking around Europe. No big deal.
On Wednesday evening, Zoe and I said goodbye to Amsterdam and got on a (really fancy and modern) train to Paris. And this is the part where I go finish more homework. More to come later!