There are only 12 actual days of class left. I don’t even know how that happened. It feels like less than a month ago I was loading my bags into the car to head to the airport and now I have just over one month left until we all get ready to head home. Despite the dwindling time, I still have many grand adventures planned.
This weekend’s journey took two countries off of my bucket list: The Netherlands and Belgium. Aga, Julia, Joe, Paola, Peter, and I made our way to Amsterdam for a day of canal exploration, train time table deciphering, and street wandering. It always amazes me how clean these big European cities are. There are millions of people wandering the bridges and canals every day, but the streets are spotless and the air is fresh. I also feel as though everyone is much friendlier. I don’t know if I expected every major city to feel like walking around New York City or Chicago, but I’m always surprised at the kindness of strangers. People are genuinely interested in where I am from and how I am enjoying my time abroad. As long as you don’t block the bikers’ path, I have experienced nothing except positive vibes from strangers.
Saturday morning, we took a tour bus to Belgium. After surviving Friday on only one hour of sleep, the two hour bus ride was a welcome naptime. Our first stop was Antwerp where we saw the diamond factory and explored the streets. Because it was Saturday, the cultural market was happening and that is where our weekend of food began. It wouldn’t have been a trip to Belgium without chocolate and waffles. I personally opted for the Asian noodle stand, because although I dearly love Ireland, it’s been a struggle finding good lo mein. I appreciated the style and attitude of Antwerp. Everyone we passed was well-dressed and the shopping looked amazing. It’s probably for the best that our time there was short because I would have been tempted to stop in and make a few purchases.
After Antwerp, we drove into Brussels. I think Brussels may be my favorite European city so far. The buildings and the street layout are beautiful. The entire city seems to light up as the sun goes down and cathedrals, palaces, and government buildings can be seen from everywhere in the city. The city center provided a perfect backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot and dancing. We were able to eat waffles and ice cream for dinner, try some of the world’s best chocolate, and pick out postcards to remember our short, but perfect day in the city. The afternoon gave us the opportunity to celebrate Peter’s birthday, for Paola to practice her French, and for me to fall in love with a lively city. Our tour guide informed us that Brussels has the most diverse international population, second only to New York City. I loved being able to hear so many different languages being spoken on every street. I was a bit heartsick to board the bus back to Amsterdam not knowing when I’ll find myself in Brussels again.
When we got back to Amsterdam, exhausted, hungry, and a bit soggy from the rain, we sought the comfort of the familiar: McDonald’s. Normally I avoid all things American, but sometimes it’s nice to know exactly what to expect, especially at 10pm. We decided we couldn’t leave Amsterdam without visiting the iconic Red Light District. We walked down the streets and I was surprised to find that I didn’t feel nearly as uncomfortable as I thought I would. I think having four friends along relieved some of the tension and I am glad we decided to experience the Red Light.
My full days and early mornings have made me a firm believer in the power of Starbucks. We woke up with the sun to see the “I AmSterdam” sign and Vondel Park to take advantage of the quiet morning and good weather. It was a nice change of pace to take the morning slowly and goof around on the playground before some last minute souvenir shopping. Then, it was back to the airport to head home. It was a foggy day over the Atlantic and we experienced some pockets of turbulence. I realized during these moments, that turbulence is a great way to explain how I have been feeling lately. I am not really homesick, but I’m people sick. I miss my parents and my best friends. But I also know that I am incredibly fortunate to be in Ireland and to be able to go to amazing places with inspiring people. I also know that within a week of getting home, I’ll be homesick for Europe. These little moments of missing home are like turbulence for me.
Just because there are a few bumpy spots, that doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing to be in flight.