25 Reasons to Visit the Netherlands, Belgium, and France
Art, Culture, and the truth of human life and love, which lie within the spirits of our hearts and minds, cannot, and will not, be superseded by our ability to perceive their greatness.
Never in writing have I been challenged with a greater task
than Identifying and declaring my experiences of my short journey through Europe in a light which would give them justice. The gravity of the intense and amazing human history that our party experienced together was both epic and beautiful. This beauty, which has been exemplified through the foundation of new friendships and exploration, cannot be measured by a single thought or action. This blog will carry you through the twenty five greatest things that I found through my trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
#1 Epic Netherlands Architecture
The flight from Chicago to Amsterdam was brutal simply because I have not mastered the art of sleeping on a plane, but after receiving a full dose of jet lag and a lack of sleep I was almost immediately revitalized by the unique and interesting architecture of Amsterdam. The cities canals offer a method of travel that is also beautiful and unlike anything I have seen in the United States. You can see that the building are very narrow and tall. This is because the residents of the city are taxed by how wide the buildings are, and not how tall they are. There are also hooks attached to pullies at the top of most buildings which are used to move furniture in and out of buildings. The third picture here shows a large number of bikes. People in Amsterdam ride their bikes like the United States citizens drive their cars. Bikers will not stop for pedestrians and also expect the paths to be clear. With the combination of my long flight and lack of sleep this aspect of the trip was the hardest to deal with at first. After a while I was able to appreciate this interesting and unique way of life, and even found myself shouting "Halo," and "Voy," to somewhat confused bikers who couldn't figure out if I was someone they knew.
#2 The food and art of Amsterdam.
So... I ate a cheesy mushroom pancake in Amsterdam. After seeing it on the menu at a restaurant that had a full sized carousel in the center I knew I had to grab it. It was actually pretty good. We headed to the city of Amsterdam museum of art, but sadly at this point I was suffering from severe exhaustion due to being up for over twenty four hours. The struggle was worth it though as we pushed on to see some beautiful artwork. In the basement of the Amsterdam museum I took a cool picture in the hall of mirrors that seemed to stretch on for infinity. Some of the stories of the East Indian trade company and how they acquired riches for the Dutch were quite interesting. At this point my feet were hurting from the walk, but I was ready to move on as we were heading for the Anne Frank museum.
#3 The Anne Frank House
Unfortunately I do not have pictures of the Anne Frank house as photography was not permitted in the building. The emotions that were felt inside the house were extremely deep and stirring. As we traversed through the house and read small excerpts of her diary I felt many of the same feelings that I had experienced when I had first learned about her story as a child. The great injustice that was done to these people in this time is deeply saddening and I believe it is imperative for us as humans to remember these things so we can stay vigilant to prevent anything of the sort in the future. All of our hearts were with Anne's family and her people for that short period of time that we visited to learn and pay our respects. I'll never forget the pictures Anne put up on the wall of her room, and her resilient attitude in such dark times.
#4 Amtersdam's Rijksmuseum
We ate breakfast that morning at the Hostel and began the second day of our journey. The view of the Rijksmuseum from the outside was absolutely fantastic, and the architecture within was just as beautiful. The many pieces of art as well as the statues inside of the building were awe inspiring in many ways. From the outside it was interesting to see bikers riding through roads that were constructed to run through the center of the building. I caught an interesting conversation as a man on a bike was yelling at a man on a skateboard. I don't understand Dutch, but it sounded like the biker was angry about the skateboarder using the road. Inside the museum we were greeted by an amazingly large quantity of beautiful statues and paintings. There were very high ceilings and beautiful stained glass as we entered the upper floor of the museum, and each rooms lighting and design had a way of beckoning our group to enter. Without actually being inside the museum it is difficult to explain the scale at which many of the paintings were made. It wasn't uncommon for a piece to be twenty feet wide and twenty feet tall. Much of the museum had just been remodeled, so getting a chance to see how everything looked was quite the treat.
#5 The "I Amsterdam" sign
Behind the Rijksmuseum were the famous "I amsterdam" block letters. Seeing the reactions of all the people around the sign was quite rewarding in itself. There was a very bright and buzzing atmosphere about this place, and we happened to be visiting it on a day with fair weather. Of course, many of our party members including myself felt obligated to climb to the top of one of the letters for a picture. Outside of the sign we visited a small food stand where I purchased a "junkyard dog." It was an epic hotdog to say the least...
#6 The Van Gogh Museum
There was plenty of art to be admired inside the Van Gogh museum. I was able to snap a couple of photos of his pieces including his very last painting "Wheat Field with Crows." Van Gogh was unable to finish Wheat Field with Crows as he had shot himself in the leg outside of the farm house that he was painting it at. Many of our party was disappointed to find out that "a starry night" was not at Van Gogh's museum in Amsterdam, but instead is in New York. I guess that means we'll need to find an excuse to visit the Empire State!
#7 The Canal Ride in Amsterdam
The canal ride was definitely one of my favorite parts of Amsterdam. I felt like our group was really able to see the most beautiful parts of the city. After getting a picture in my awesome, giant yellow clogs, we jumped on the boat and I took some video of the ride. It ended up turning out pretty well. Seeing the bright and beautiful lights of the city at night was something to behold, and there were some really great buildings that we had not seen on foot at this point which I absolutely loved. My jet lag was finally dying down at this point, and even though we had already walked miles I was starting to feel significantly better than before. The sound of the engines and the sight of the water was very comforting and relaxing. At one point we had to turn the boat around because someone had fallen into the water ahead of our tour. We didn't hear anything about it afterwards, but I hope they made it out ok. A couple of our group members had an interesting conversation with the man commandeering our vessel. He said he was afraid to visit the states as he may be incarcerated. I'm still not quite sure what that was all about, but it was funny nonetheless.
#8 The Red Light District
*GASP* The famous red light district! We took a quick tour through the Red Light district and witnessed the many things that we had only heard of in legend before. There were indeed women standing behind the glass with the lights on waiting for customers to come and test their wares. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed so I wasn't able to snap any pictures, but I was able to incite some laughter from my group when I asked if anyone wanted to split a prostitute with me. All jokes aside, it was an interesting short jaunt, and there were a variety of sex shops and interesting clubs in the area.
#9 The city square in Belgium
At the beginning of the third day of our trip we exited the Hotel Euphemia and began our trip to the train which was departing for Belgium. I'll never forget how polite and wonderful all the people were that we met in Amsterdam. We jumped onto the train and I sat behind the rest of our group with a vacant seat next to me. Uncomfortably, I leaned my elbow against the window and laid my head down onto my hand and fell asleep. I was awoken, quite confused and disoriented, by a police officer speaking French to me. I couldn't do much but shake my head, as I had no idea what he was saying. Finally he asked me if I spoke English. I replied yes, and he asked me where I was from and I told him Iowa. I then handed him my ticket and passport and after a very brief look at my bag which had our Art and Culture of Netherlands, Belgium, and France tag, he left. It was a very quick thing and I knew I had done nothing wrong, but it made for a good story and laugh for our group. After exiting the train we began a quick walk to the city square in Belgium where I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the palaces there. The pictures don't hardly do the square justice, but they can give you an idea of just how beautiful and magical the place is.
#10 Mannequin Piss
A trip to Brussels would not be a trip to Brussels without eating Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffels, seeing the square, and visiting the famous Mannequin Piss! It's a statue of a small boy peeing which has garnered international attention for quite some time. There are two stories about the statue. The good story is that there was a little boy that went missing and when he was found he was "making water," and the other not so pleasant story is that he was found deceased in the woods.
#11 The art museum in Brussels
At this point in the trip I had officially reached awesome overload. I was so blown away by the beauty of the city of Brussels that I was completely elated at the joy of being there. Once again, we were treated to some wonderful artwork and statues at the art museum in Brussels. Outside of the museum there is a beautiful garden with a large statue of a man on a horse that I was able to capture as well. Inside there was a main hallway with great archways and pillars holding them up. My favorite piece of artwork here was the Tower of Babel.
#12 A Highspeed Train to Paris!
We had finally departed the beautiful city of Brussels and were beginning our trip to Paris. By now the excitement for the trip was really building. A lot of the members of our party had considered Paris to be the number one destination on our list, and experiencing the views of the countryside from our train was quite pleasant. I will include a video of our train ride here.
#13 Notre Dame!
Yes, Notre Dame! Visiting this legendary place was something that I had been excited about for a long time. The tall towers and beautiful statues adorning the outside of the structure were something to behold. The level of nostalgia at this place was breathtaking and left me in awe at the sheer ability that was used to construct these marvelous masterpieces. We sat down briefly at the beginning of a church session and listened to some of the hymns before departing. I felt extremely lucky to be there experiencing the sights and sounds with the awesome people that I had met in our group.
#14 The Arc De Triomphe!
After we finished our visit to Notre Dame, we began our trip to the Arc De Triomphe. Upon arrival I was once again absolutely blown away by the magnitude of what I was witnessing. There was so much history at this spot that is significant in a number of ways to the world and its people. At the time of the writing of this article though I don't have any pictures at the arc! My camera's battery had died before I made it, but some of my friends captured some wonderful pictures which I will put up soon. Our professor who led us on our journey had planned a wonderful surprise for us here. He had walked to a spot by the Arc where directly behind him the Eiffel Tower was visible. From there he began lecturing and we were shocked when the Eiffel Tower started sparkling in a brilliant fashion. It was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen, and I didn't want to walk away from it. I'll never forget that moment.
#15 The Louvre!
Ahhhh! I get goosebumps when thinking about the Louvre! What a wonderful place. When most people think of the Louvre they think of the Mona Lisa and not much else. It is so much more than that, and we were able to experience all of that first hand. I already feel guilty in writing this section of the blog, as there are not quite words to truly describe the beauty of the art and architecture of this place. I was humbled by the fantastic experience here and even captured a lecture by our amazing professor Dr. Alan Garfield explaining one of David's pieces to us. The audio isn't the greatest in the world due to the microphone on my camera and the large crowded room, but I felt like the lecture came out quite well. We also had the chance to visit Mona Lisa which was something that I've always wanted to see. The glass pyramids and the fountain outside of the Louvre were also fantastic!
I also made a wish at the Louvre! I hope it comes true! After we left the Louvre we began our wonderful tour with our British guide, Nancy!
#16 Love locks at the the Pont des Arts
The sweet stories of lovers coming to lock the their padlocks and toss their keys into the river as a show of eternal love and endearment is quite heart warming. We had the pleasure of visiting this bridge and hearing about the history behind it. Unfortunately for many of our star crossed lovers, the locks are cut from the bridge annually because eventually they become heavy enough to weigh the bridge down. I can only hope that this isn't a sign that the unfortunate ones who are cut down have lost their love.
#17 Place de la Concorde
We had the pleasure of visiting the amazing Place de la Concorde which is home to Paris' Ferris wheel that stands directly inline with the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. It was here at this square during the reign of terror that over a thousand people were executed during the French revolution. The wonderful Ferris wheel that resides here is known as both a landmark of Paris and also for having an amazing view of all the major landmarks from the city. We spent a short time here while some of our group members grabbed a hot cup of wine. The wheel looked absolutely beautiful as the sun set.
#18 The Palace Versailles
On the next day of the trip we jumped onto the train and began heading for Versailles. Unfortunately, the train stopped moving so we had to jump off and walk to find a different way there. We ended up piling onto a bus (a very crowded bus), and cruising to the palace. I'm not sure what to say about this one. I've been wanting to visit Versailles since I first learned about it in history class. This palace is truly as beautiful as legend makes it out to be. The amount of money and workmanship that went into the palace is unbelievable.
#19 The approach to the Eiffel Tower
Cue the dramatic music. Start the shaking, knee wobbling, breathlessness, etc. We were beginning to get close to the most recognizable monument on the planet Earth. This tower has stood so long and still manages to grab the attention of people all around the world. The goosebumps and chills running up and down our spines might as well have been audible at this point. We were reaching our final major landmark destination that we had planned, and all of us couldn't help but be excited. As a child, I had always dreamed of visiting this place, and at this time I felt extremely blessed to be going here with all of my new friends.
There was the usual mess of men walking around offering five stolen Eiffel towers for the great low price of one Euro, but they seemed basically non existent at this point as we approached a decent viewing distance of the tower. The pillars of the building on either side were wonderful structures, but were presented in a subtle enough way that they did not detract from the magic of the tower. As with most places in Paris, there were great statues that adorned the walkway adding to the brilliance of the atmosphere, and demanding the attention of all onlookers. Finally, we reached a point where we could see the monument in all of its marvel and began taking pictures. At this point, life is good.
#20 The Eiffel Tower!
So we were finally here! We awaited our elevator ride to the top while anxiously chomping at the bit to make the climb. I was able to grab a couple of videos which I will post here of the climb from the bottom to the second floor, and also a survey of both decks two and three of the tower. During an awkward stop I asked my two friends Christy, and Brittany what their favorite parts of Paris were so far. I later pointed out to them at lunch that they both said that I was their favorite part of Paris. I'm never letting them live that down, and it will live on in this blog as long as the internet exists. I was able to get a video of a quick survey of the second deck and also the third deck of the Eiffel tower. What an amazing view of all the places that we had been in Paris. Many of the landmarks we had already visited including the Ferris wheel and the Arc de Triomphe were visible from here, and the overpowering sense of "like OMG I can't believe I'm on the Eiffel tower lolz..." was absolutely intoxicating. I'm still totally high from this experience and it's been a few days now. I was also soooooo proud of our friend Sammi. She hates heights and wouldn't go to the edge (by herself anyway) and tip toed with her back pressed up against the wall of the top deck. Way to go Sammi! We knew you could do it(She didn't even throw up once)! All in all this was one of the most amazing parts of the trip. It's one of those moments in life that would be ok to relive a billion times over just because of the circumstances. Here's to good friends, and wonderful life experiences!
#21 Awesome Eastern European Band Jamming Out
After departing the Eiffel tower and entering the subway we happened to run into what we believe was an Eastern European band jamming out. It was a pleasant experience toward the end of our trip and I was able to catch a short video of them performing before I threw a coin in one of their cases. We were trying to move quickly though, so we didn't stay for too long.
#22 The Gargoyles of Notre Dame
After eating lunch, one of my friends and I began our journey back to Notre Dame to climb the tower as we did not have a chance to do so earlier in the trip. We ascended the long spiral staircase and were able to get some pretty great shots of the gargoyles up there. Some of the gargoyles were incredibly creepy like the one of them in the photo below peering over the deck, while others were more tame. I got some good shots from the top of Notre Dame including one with the Eiffel Tower hanging like a dark shadow in the background. The walkway was very narrow on top of Notre Dame, but totally worth the effort of squeezing through to take in all of the history.
#23 The climb of Sacre Coeur
Another legendary place in Paris. We didn't get to visit the Sacre Coeur itself, but we made the climb up the stairs which I captured a video of. Interestingly enough, our professor "forgot" that we could have taken the metro to the top of the stairs. I'm actually glad that we did not as I wanted to make the ascension manually. It's a better story, and we might as well have burned off a few calories from the plethora of desserts that we ate. With a little luck, I'm going to be able to clean up this video so it's more visible, but for now it's more of a memory keepsake for our group. After reaching the top of the stairs we were treated to another wonderful French meal, by some wonderful French people. If you listen closely you can hear Professor Garfield declaring his second ascension of the stairs. The man is a walking machine with only one setting -- Uber, Ultra, Fast.
#24 The Moulin Rouge
Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir, anyone? Never have I ever seen so many sex shops in a city before (not even in Amsterdam), and why not visit one of the most famous of them all? Truly this is the city of love in more ways than one. The Moulin Rouge building was lit up quite beautifully at night. We didn't travel inside the famous building, but we did snap some pictures of the outside and learned about exactly what the shows entail. It's definitely more tame than the Red Light district in Amsterdam, simply in the sense that prostitution is illegal in Paris. This part of the trip is another one of those things that you have to say you did while you were in Paris. It's like eating a Belgium waffle except a little more risque`.
#25 My amazingly awesome new friends!
This may not be a reason for everyone to travel to Europe, but for me it was one of the greatest highlights I could ask for. I met so many of my wonderful classmates, and enjoyed laughing, laughing so hard I cried, and experiencing all the beauties of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. If you all made it to the bottom here, this one is for you! I love you all!