At the end of March, Lauren and I spent a weekend in Amsterdam. It was a rainy and chilly most of the weekend, but I fell in love anyway. The city is young, vibrant, modern and full of life. It’s full of artsy shops, interesting restaurants and beautiful museums. And I’ve never seen a city that’s so bike-friendly, although joining that biking throng ourselves was a bit nerve-wracking. (Trams + cars + pedestrians + other cyclists = a lot to navigate. I banshee-screamed through intersections more than once.)
In March, I visited Brussels, Bruges and Ghent with my mom, step-dad and sister. The beer was amazing, the food was delicious, and the architecture was beautiful. We ate Belgian waffles, toted around cones of frites, and enjoyed practicing both our French and Dutch. We learned Belgium is split into Dutch-speaking and French-speaking areas. Brussels, as the capital, is considered a “neutral” zone, where both languages are spoken. (For example, police officers in Brussels always work in pairs: One must be a French-speaker and the other must be a Dutch-speaker.)
While the weather was chilly and rainy, we loved our visit — Bruges especially. Here are some of my favorite photos from our trip.
When I planned my trip to Cinque Terre, I had a surprisingly difficult time finding information on where to stay, what to do, and how to get there. This might have to do with the fact that Cinque Terre is still a relatively up-and-coming destination, and there aren’t that many places to stay since the villages are so small. So, I wanted to use my experiences to create a cohesive guide to visiting Cinque Terre.
What is Cinque Terre?
The phrase Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands” in English, refers to the five villages that form part of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre. The national park encompasses both the land surrounding the villages and a protected marine area. It’s also dotted with miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty. The villages — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore — are relatively close together and connected by ferry, train, and trails, so you can easily customize your visit to your own travel preferences.
We stayed in Riomaggiore, one of the larger villages. We chose to stay there we’d read it has plenty to do and places to eat (ahem, gelato), but it’s also less touristy than the better-known villages of Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.
We spent four days and three nights total in Riomaggiore, which I’d say is the minimum amount of time needed to really experience the Cinque Terre. I’d recommend five days and four nights to really enjoy everything the villages have to offer. We didn’t want to leave!
March and April have both been a whirlwind. Between three separate family visits and two other trips with friends, I have a lot of catching up to do! (I keep saying I won’t do this to myself. I’m a masochistic blogger, apparently.)
In the middle of March, I realized I had a free weekend between the last day of school and the day my family arrived. My destination? The five quaint and colorful villages on the northwestern coast of Italy, known collectively as Cinque Terre. I’ve wanted to go ever since two of my friends made the trip during our semester abroad in Alicante. I asked Jo to come along, and, after a little research, we booked tickets to Milan on everyone’s favorite low-cost airline. I couldn’t wait to see the beautiful place I’d heard so much about.
Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and Parliament
After the Apple Store, we visited the Apple Market and had a coffee break in Covent Garden. We walked to Trafalgar Square, where Lauren bought two disposable cameras to compensate for her broken iPhone. (We have yet to see those photos, but I have high hopes for them.) We enjoyed the blue skies while we strolled past Big Ben and Parliament, then we caught a bus to Picadilly Circus. We sat on the top deck, of course. It was kind of thrilling.
Two weekends ago, Lauren and I jetted off to London. And we absolutely loved it. We ate (a lot), we drank (a responsible amount, of course), we saw the sights, and we visited museums.
Since we flew Ryanair, “jetted off” makes our flight sound a lot more glamorous than it really was. Unless you enjoy listening to your Spanish co-passengers block the aisles while negotiating with each other because they all must sit together at the expense of an on-time departure. But hey, Ryanair got us to London, and they got us there for 80 euros round-trip.
We caught the Express Airport Bus to Barajas because our flight left at 6:10, and neither the Metro nor the Cercanías could get us there on time. After having our passports stamped by Ryanair’s minions, we headed to the gate where we sat on the floor, vigilantly guarding our places in the boarding line.
“You have to go to the north. You have to go to Bilbao.”
These are one of the phrases I heard most from Iván, a native vasco and my speaking partner at college. As part of the Spanish program at Drake, each student was put into a small group with 2-4 other students and assigned three hours a week of conversation practice. These sessions with Iván did wonders for my spoken Spanish — he was a dedicated and friendly teacher who always had plenty to say. And, as a typical vasco, much of that had to do with selling us on the merits of northern Spain, including the food, the sights, and the landscape. (Also, every abuelito in Bilbao wears a beret, as I was soon to discover. I loved this.)
For some reason, though, I never made it to northern Spain while I was studying abroad. When I moved to Madrid in September, I promised myself I’d finally visit Bilbao. We had a long weekend in early December, so Jo, Kaitlin, Lauren and I hopped the high-speed train and headed north.