From January 2-13, I visited various cities in seven different countries, by means of gluing my butt to a coach seat. The tour was escorted, and basically everyone was 25+, except for me and a sophomore majoring in nuclear engineering. Here’s a quick rundown of each place (or at least as brief as I can make it, because if you know me, then you know that maximum page lengths for essays are the bane of my existence):
- England: London
London was essentially composed of rain, old-fashioned bricks, and glass-faced modernity. On the second day, when we went on a sightseeing tour of all the major landmarks, it was still dark at 9am. We hit up St. Paul’s Cathedral first, which had a lot of impressive architecture that we couldn’t take pictures of, and then briefly saw places like Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the building that was used as Gringott’s Bank. In the afternoon, I dragged my parents through the Underground to King’s Cross Station with me so that I could see the Harry Potter store and Platform 9¾.
- Netherlands: Amsterdam
We took a coach to Dover, passing foggy moors, OCD trees, and weirdly intermittent intervals of sunshine and blue skies. After a rather bumpy ferry across the English Channel, we took a coach from Calais, France, driving past a multitude of windmills in Belgium before arriving in Amsterdam.
The third day started with a scenic canal cruise featuring narrow little houses and, well…canals. We then disembarked at a diamond factory with ludicrously small and expensive diamonds. (Really, who decided that diamonds should be so expensive? They’re just minerals that refract light.) Upon escaping the tourist trap, we explored the city—which has more bikes than people, believe it or not—and its various souvenir shops before embarking on a long, uneventful ride to Germany.
- Germany: Rhineland, Rothenburg, and Munich
In the morning, we headed to the Rhine River valley and got to see the sunrise and remnants of snow. When we reached the river, we boarded a cruise and saw numerous castles and conglomerations of quaint, colorful little houses. A long drive on the Romantic Road past houses, mist, and vineyards brought us to Rothenburg, a small, colorful town where nearly everything was closed. On the way to Munich, we were treated to a rose and lavender sunset, splashed with gold.
- Austria: Innsbruck
We got to watch the sun rise over the massive, snow-covered Alps as we left Germany for Austria. After visiting a Swarovski shop/another intended tourist trap, we wandered through freezing Innsbruck, which consists of pastel houses set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Later, as we headed toward Italy, the Alps gave way to the somewhat boring-looking Dolomites, which were made slightly more picturesque by a soft sunset as we approached Venice.
- Italy: Venice, Montecatini, Florence, and Pisa
The sixth day began with a boat ride on the Grand Canal to one of the main islands of Venice. San Marco’s essentially a labyrinth composed of a series of intersecting alleys, canals, and piazzas, and it was pretty cool being able to see part of the setting of a favorite childhood book, The Thief Lord. We started off our visit to the city with a tour of a glassblowing factory, where a glassblower made a vase in a few minutes. (Glassblowing isn’t as effortless as it looks. You have to go to school for twenty years.) Although we only spent a few hours in Venice, the city’s absolutely gorgeous; even though the water isn’t clear, it’s a pretty green-blue. In the afternoon, we headed through the lush Italian countryside to Tuscany and Montecatini.
We spent the following morning in Florence, which has an interesting mélange of medieval, Renaissance, and modern architecture, and sort of looks like Ventimiglia when you see the Arno River. After lunch, we drove to Pisa, where I climbed to the top of the leaning tower: while there weren’t that many steps, climbing them was such a strange feeling.
- Switzerland: Lugano and Lucerne
If I’d been awake, I’m sure that there would’ve been a fantastic sunrise. Lugano, a temperate town nestled by a lake and mountains, was surprisingly pretty. The numerous swans that populated the calm lake waters seemed to agree. After driving through a bunch of tunnels, we arrived at Lucerne, another picturesque lakeside town. Its beauty, however, was deceptive: nearly everything was closed at 5pm on a Saturday, even restaurants, and everything was ridiculously expensive—why should a bottle of water ever cost 4.50 euros?
- France: Paris
Day 10: The drive to France was rainy and tunnel-y, although we were greeted by a rainbow and French music when we finally crossed the Swiss-French border. Eventually, the sun came out and illuminated a canvas of verdant valleys and gentle, sloping hills. Despite the lengthy drive to Paris, it was such a relief to finally be able to speak a country’s native language and stop feeling like a stupid tourist.
The next day, which was also the final day of the tour, we started off with another sightseeing tour, where we got to see La Notre-Dame, La Madeleine, L’Arc de triopmhe, Les Champs-Élysées (oh my god I just realized that this translates to the Elysium Fields), and of course, La Tour Eiffel. I really wanted to go to Versailles, but it’s closed on Mondays, along with 99% of all the other museums, so I contented myself with a visit to the Louvre. I got in for free (bless student discounts), and the museum’s absurdly massive: apparently it’d take 4 months to go through the entire place if you allotted 1 minute for each piece of art. Tuesday, I went to the airport way too early, and took the train back to Nice. Paris to Valence was basically green grass and bronze crop fields, and Valence to Nice consisted of trees and mountains.
Now, you’re probably wondering, where are the photos? The answer is, I took so many that I’ll need to sort through them all and then post my favorites.