Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Haarlem Travel Blog

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I've finally written about my trip to Europe in retrospect (I had to get it done as part of my paper about the trip for aesthetics class). If you are interested at all, here is a more detailed account of my trip. I’m leaving on a Jet plane; don’t know when I’ll be back again. By Heather Hopkins It was June 2nd, sometime in the early hours of morning. I awoke, more excited than a kid who was given ten dollars and then let loose, un-chaperoned, in a candy store. In a mere few hours, I would be boarding a plane destined for a European adventure. With my boyfriend Norwood by my side, I excitedly prepared for what would be the experience of a lifetime. Norwood’s dad drove us to LAX, where we met up with the rest of our group of over 30 people, and we impatiently waited for them to call boarding for our flight.
I sat in-between Norwood and Katy on the ten-hour flight to Paris, and couldn’t contain my excitement the entire way. Every little thing was thrilling, things such as befriending our French flight attendant, Jean-Luc, and watching the map screen and squealing and bouncing with Katy as we flew over places such as Ireland, England, and finally into Paris, which we affectionately cooed over as being “the most romantic city in the world!” The rest of the trip would continue to inspire us as those first few magical moments had. Though our flight took us into Paris, we weren’t scheduled to explore there at all. Our first stop was actually in Holland. I must say that my experience in Holland was quite unique and remarkable. Home base was in a small town called Haarlem about ten minutes by train outside of Amsterdam.
I felt like I was in a dream. Everything had such amazing attention to detail. All the streets and the town square were paved in bricks; every building was beautiful architecturally with ornate details in every nook and cranny. Every windowsill had planters with colorful flowers and there were canals and bridges and people riding bicycles instead of driving cars. I was awe-inspired by the large gothic cathedral, which was literally across the street from my hotel. I found myself wishing that I were Dutch so that I could live in such a place with such a lifestyle. We had a lot of enjoyable times in Holland. From visiting great museums such as the Teyler, Frans Hals, Hermitage, Mauritshuis, Rijks, Rembrandt and Van Gogh; to places like St. Bavo’s Cathedral and the Windmills; or simply shopping and exploring the cities, Holland was one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been.
I’ll never forget things such as when I fell down the stairs in the shoe store in Amsterdam and everybody turned around to stare at me, or when Katy and I obsessed over Vermeer’s Girl with a pearl earring work so much that the guard gave us dirty looks. On our trip to The Hague, a small group of us even got the pleasure of seeing the queen of Holland, standing less than ten feet away. We met a lot of really interesting people as well. My favorite person was the man who owned the cheese shop in Haarlem. He let us sample cheeses and explained to us everything there was to know about Dutch cheese. The last day of our Dutch adventure was quite eventful indeed. That is when Norwood and I did our shopping in town and bought a lot of really great gifts to bring home (cheese included).
In the late afternoon, the two of us met up with Dinah and Julie for a bicycle ride into the countryside. It was exhilarating. My favorite place was the windmill in the countryside that we visited. We also met some horses and some goats. At that moment, I felt that I had truly experienced something unique and special. It would be a memory I would cherish forever. On the morning we were to leave Holland and head off to Belgium, I couldn’t help but feel a bit gloomy. Haarlem had managed to become home to me in a mere week’s time. However, the adventure had only begun. The morning we were to set off to go to Belgium, a large, brightly colored bus managed to squeeze its way through the tiny streets of Haarlem and into the town square to pick us up. I found the sight of such a bus to be comical in the midst of old-style Dutch surroundings.
Nevertheless, we all piled onto the bus and watched in bewilderment as our driver maneuvered us safely out of the tiny town and onto the highway with only a few close calls. The bus ride was long, but it was a great opportunity to sit back and take in the sights of the countryside. When we arrived in Belgium, we first visited Antwerp. It was such a beautiful town filled with great things to see and do. My only complaint was that we tried to squeeze in too much in too little time. We did, however, manage to visit a wonderful museum filled with many beautiful paintings, some by Rubens, whose house we visited a couple hours later. However, we had to squeeze in a bit of time to see the gorgeous cathedral in the center of town. Outside the cathedral there was a man pretending to be a statue, which amused many of us.
I also managed to snap a shot of two old Belgian men feeding pigeons on a bench in the midst of our hurry. After Antwerp, it was back on the bus and off to Bruges, our home for the next few days. It was about this time that Norwood and I had discovered how close to Paris we were and started formulating plans to visit Paris before we were to leave. We called his mom and she reserved us a hotel room for two nights in Paris, and we got our train tickets in order and were ready to go. In the meantime, we still had a few days in Bruges so we explored the town and took in the culture. It is such a beautiful place. Besides constantly trying to restrain myself from stopping at every chocolate shop and making a pig of myself, we also did things such as go on a horse and carriage ride through the city.
In retrospect, it was such a great idea to do that because we got to see the town in a very romantic and unique manner. Norwood got an extra bonus in this because he was quite excited and intrigued by the horse’s “poop chute”, as he kept calling it with a huge grin on his face. During our horse and carriage ride, we discovered “lover’s lake”, a beautiful romantic lake in town. It is said that if you go to Lover’s lake and throw a coin into the lake with somebody special, you will be lucky in love. Naturally, Norwood and I threw coins into the lake. Just to be sure, we threw in coins of both American and European currency. Belgium is also a great place for dessert. With the chocolate and the Belgian waffles covered in ice cream and strawberries, my taste buds thought they were in heaven.
I also learned the difference between hand-made lace and needlepoint lace, which I previously had not known anything about. I feel quite privileged to have experienced such a wonderful place. The morning we were to travel to Paris was quite hectic. The group was traveling to see the Ghent Altarpiece, which neither of us wanted to miss, and our train was leaving out of Brussels, which we could not miss. We got up early and packed, squared away our debts at the hotel in Bruges, and headed off to the train station. We got off the train in Ghent, checked our luggage in at the train station, and hurried to the Ghent cathedral where the altarpiece was. We had a short run-in with the group at this time, so we said some good-byes in front of the cathedral, which they had just seen, and hurried in to see it for ourselves.
All I can say is wow. I had always seen it in books in tiny thumbnail form, but seeing it in person was a whole new experience. The detail that went into painting it was absolutely amazing. I was in awe. I was definitely glad we took the time to go and see it, because I would have been disappointed to miss it. After we saw the altarpiece it was back to the train station in a hurry. With some McDonald’s burgers and fries in hand, we boarded the train to Brussels where we would meet our connecting train to Paris. The whole time I was bouncing up and down in my seat, chanting: “I can’t believe I’m going to Paris!” After the experience I had, I will always have a special place in my heart for Paris. It’s such a magical place; I was definitely like a kid in a candy store.
When we first arrived at Gare Du Nord, the train station in Paris, we took a cab to our hotel. Our cab driver was a grumpy old Parisian man who kept complaining about the traffic in French and some broken English. I was so excited to hear his accent and to be in the place I had always dreamed of being, it was just a magnificent experience. Our hotel was the Hotel du Notre Dame, which consequently was very near to Notre Dame. After checking in, we went inside the famous cathedral. They were holding a service at the time, and I felt really special for being there while they were conducting a service. It is so interesting to me that these wonderful cathedrals, built so many years ago, are still in use today. After ooh-ing and aah-ing at Notre Dame, Norwood and I decided to take the boat tour taxi to the Eiffel Tower.
It was a wonderful idea, because it was right at sunset when the light hitting the buildings was especially beautiful, and I got to see many of the famous and beautiful sights of Paris right there on the boat as we progressed to the Eiffel tower along the Syn river. When we first came upon the tower, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was in the midst of living a moment I had dreamed of all my life, and it was wonderful and beautiful and magical and everything I had hoped it would be. We had some freshly made crepes for dinner on the grass below the tower, and then decided to go up inside. While I am glad I went up inside and saw the city of Paris form above at sunset, I don’t think I would ever go up inside the tower again because it was so crowded I became quite claustrophobic.
I know Norwood felt the same way. Still, It’s something I have always wanted to do and now I can check going up inside the Eiffel tower off of my list of things to do before I die. The next day, we got up early to go to the Louvre, only to discover that is was closed on tuesdays. This worked out for the better, though; because we had planned to hit up the Louvre and the Musee d’ Orsay on the same day, and would not have had enough time to do so. Instead, we went straight to the Musee d’ Orsay and saw the exhibit there. Norwood and I both agreed that it was our favorite museum ever. It had all the major impressionist works from our history books, and it was filled with beautiful sculptures as well. We spent six hours inside the museum and were sad when they told us that the museum was closing and that we would have to leave.
I could have easily spent another six hours there in the presence of all those magnificent works of art. Since the museum closed, it gave us the time to check out the champs elysses and the Arc de Triomphe. I wasn’t all that impressed by the Champs Elysses, because it reminded me too much of the shopping districts in the United States, but the Arc de Triomphe was HUGE! I had always seen it in history books, but never imagined that it would be as large as it was. It was truly impressive. The funny thing about the arc was that there was an extremely busy circle street surrounding the arc so if you wanted to see it you had to walk through an underground tunnel. After we visited that part of town and stopped in at a small café for some crème brulee, our feet were hurting quite a bit and it was starting to get dark anyway so we went back towards our hotel for the night.
On the way, we stopped by Notre Dame again and watched a really scary mime perform in front of the cathedral. The next day was June 15th, Norwood’s and my one-year anniversary and our last day in Paris. We decided to spend a large part of this joyous occasion at the Louvre, which we hadn’t been able to see yet. We only had three hours to spend there, but I feel that it was sufficient because we were able to see pretty much all of the paintings and all of the major sculptures, and a few other things. I couldn’t believe how crowded the room to see the Mona Lisa was. I felt claustrophobic being in that huge crowd, but I was glad I had seen it. The amazing thing was, in the hallway right outside the Mona Lisa, there were other DaVincis and Raphael’s and Donatellos and other amazing, priceless paintings, and nobody was crowded around them.
You could just walk right up to them and study every nuance and brush stroke if you wanted to. It was awesome to be able to do that with those priceless master paintings. After our visit to the Louvre, and a small lunch at a sidewalk café, it was time to leave the most romantic city in the world. We had to go back to Belgium, where we would be meeting the rest of the group in Brussels early in the morning. On the subway, we savored our last taste of Paris life as we listened to an accordion player serenade us with sweet tunes as we traveled back to Gare du Nord. We arrived in Brussels early enough to explore the city a bit, and since it was still our anniversary, Norwood and I decided to find a place to have a romantic dinner. There was a wonderful Italian restaurant on one of the streets right by the town square that we decided on, and we sipped red wine, ate delicious pasta, and tantalized our taste buds with a very rich desert as the sun set on Brussels that day.
After dinner, we strolled around town a bit and took in the atmosphere until the streets were empty and the town was asleep. It was a perfect day. The next morning was officially time to go, so we walked to the train station quite early in the morning and met up with the rest of the group to catch our train/plane back to the U.S. I was very sad to be leaving. All I can say is that this experience has enriched my life so much and inspired me to travel more and to see the world through eyes anew. I would not change this experience for anything in the world.
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photo by: lydia12345