March Madness: Part 2

So I left you hanging in my last post, but I promise this one will be worth the wait!

I left off telling you Anna and I were headed to Amsterdam from London. The craziness starts there…we left Tower Bridge and headed to the bus we needed to take to the airport, but first we needed to stop at the hostel and grab our bags. We missed the earlier bus we needed, and ended up having to take one that was cutting it close to our flight time (our bus ride was supposed to be a little over an hour long). We asked the bus driver what time we would arrive at the airport, and he said around 6:00…our flight left at 6:45. Due to an insane amount of traffic, we didn’t arrive at the airport until 6:40. Anna and I spent the next couple hours figuring out our next step. We searched flights for that night and the next morning at different airports around London, but our best and cheapest option was one leaving the next afternoon. We were pretty upset because we were supposed to meet our tour group in Amsterdam the next morning, and our original flight only cost 13 euros…let’s just say, that’s not what our second flight cost. We slept at the London Stansted airport (a place we will never forget), and finally arrived in Amsterdam late Friday afternoon.

Along with my friends Miriam and Marissa, Anna and I were in a tour group through Weekend Student Adventures. WSA was created by Andy Steves, the son of travel guru Rick Steves. I highly recommend WSA – having a local guide was unbelievably helpful, and all of our activities and hostel nights were included. It is well worth the money, especially when you’re getting to skip the line at popular attractions. Our tour guide Arthur was very nice and knowledgeable, and he was eager to answer any questions we had. Anna and I met up with our group for dinner on Friday night, and we ate at a local place where we tried schnitzel and a local beer. Schnitzel actually reminded me a lot of chicken fried steak, so I felt right at home!

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Finally in Amsterdam!

After dinner, we were thrown right into life in Amsterdam with a tour of the Red Light District. Seeing this in person was a very weird experience, but I was happy Arthur was guiding us, and he gave us a lot of behind-the-scenes knowledge about the prostitution system in Amsterdam.

Saturday had lots of activities, including markets, a Dutch pancake lunch, food sampling, and the Anne Frank house. I have to throw this in here because it was one of my favorite parts about Amsterdam: the cheese! Arthur got us free samples of goat’s cheese that was aged 9 months, and I was immediately obsessed with it…so obsessed with it, in fact, that I had to buy some! I rave on and on about this cheese, and I will be very sad when I finish my little wheel.

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I saw bikes, bikes, and more bikes in Amsterdam.
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My bacon and cheese pancake – delicious.
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Trying herring – not so delicious, but surprisingly not bad either.

The Anne Frank house is by far one of my favorite things I’ve done so far. Walking around in the Secret Annex was a very powerful experience that I will never forget.

We finished our long day with Thai food (that actually reminded me of Rice and Spice in Oxford) and an evening canal cruise. The city is beautiful at night, and if you go to Amsterdam, I think a canal cruise is one of the best ways to see it. On Sunday, Arthur arranged for me and Anna to go to the Van Gogh Museum since we missed it on Friday. That was another one of my favorite things! I learned a lot about his family and the evolution of his painting style. Later on Sunday, we met back up with Miriam and Marissa for a late lunch and shopping (including more cheese sampling). We tried on giant clogs, bought tulips that were later confiscated at the Houston airport, and ate garlic fries and a crepe. Overall, Amsterdam was a success!

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There were so many tourists at the I amsterdam sign that this was the best photo we could get.

Anna and I decided earlier in the week to fly back to Dublin from Brussels, only a train ride away from Amsterdam. We mainly wanted to try a waffle and chocolate (we pretty much enjoy going to new places so we can try the food), but also thought it would be cool to see another place while we had the opportunity. Well, we realized at the Brussels airport that we didn’t have enough time to make it into town and do anything and still make it back in time for our flight (we were already scarred enough by our London Stansted experience). We ended up getting a great tour of the Brussels airport. If you ever need tips on what to do in European airports, hit us up! We did get our waffle (which tasted more like a donut) and chocolate, so we were happy. We visited the Brussels airport exactly one week before the bombings, which is crazy to think about. My roommate was in Brussels when it happened, but was safe.

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Our only proof that we were in Belgium.

After lots of traveling, we were SO happy to be back in Dublin that night. We spent the next few days getting some much needed rest, and we caught up on all our reality shows.

On March 17th, the day we had all been waiting for finally came – St. Patrick’s Day! Anna and I bought beads and hair bows to get into the spirit, and went into Dublin early to get good spots for the parade.

The parade was lots of fun and included floats from all over Ireland and marching bands from the USA.

We spent the afternoon at the carnival in Dublin and in Merrion Square Park. It was so fun to watch all the families having fun at the park on such a special holiday. We ate Chinese food from a market happening in the park, and then went to the Blarney Inn pub for some Jameson.

In Dublin, the St. Patrick’s Day Festival is a four day event. On that Friday, we went to a céilí, where you learn traditional Irish dancing.

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After our St. Paddy’s Day fun, Anna and I had one more adventure before she left for Mississippi: Chatsworth House.

We flew to Birmingham, England, just so we could visit the place that was Jane Austen’s inspiration for Pemberley in her book Pride & Prejudice. Chatsworth House was also used as Pemberley in the 2005 film version of our favorite book. It has been a dream of ours to visit Chatsworth for such a long time. For some, it might seem crazy to fly to England just to visit a house, but it was worth it to us! After a flight, a train ride, and a taxi, we pulled up to Chatsworth with tears in our eyes.

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Our first view of Chatsworth. This is when the tears started.

Walking inside felt just like the movie – we couldn’t help but feel like we were in Jane Austen’s time and in Mr. Darcy’s house.

Chatsworth House is easily one of my favorite places on Earth. Anna and I were full of joy the entire time, and I can’t tell you how many times my jaw dropped. We didn’t stop smiling the whole day, and all of our traveling was well worth it.

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March was a wonderful month, and guess what? I’m still not finished telling you about it! Sadly, Anna had to leave, but Easter vacation for me was just beginning. I can’t think of a better way to spend Easter than in…well, you’ll see.

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