More than meets the eye
Amsterdam, Brussels and Dublin: trying to fit 10 days' worth of clothing into a carry-on suitcase is an art. The plan was to hit three different cities in three different countries within the 10-day fall break. Basing my decision to travel these cities for recreation, I was surprised by how much each city taught me when I looked a little deeper.
Amsterdam's reputation precedes the city itself. The capital of Netherlands is known for its laissez-faire policies in which marijuana and prostitution are legal. The liberal environment attracts millions of tourists each year, but after a couple hours of exploring I discovered Amsterdam offers more than I was led to believe. It is home to the Van Gogh Museum, Ann Frank's house, beautiful canals and great architecture. Amsterdam is a city with depth and unique culture.
The Van Gogh Museum, located in the heart of the city, is home to many of the artist's masterpieces. Walking through the museum fascinated me because the artist's life unraveled as I continued through it's four levels. My favorite part was reading the letters that Van Gogh sent to his brother and friends. Some included early sketches of his most famous paintings. Van Gogh's letters explore his struggles, achievements and insecurities, reminding me even the most successful people go through a journey and experience failure along the way.
The house where Ann Frank and her family hid from the Nazis is also located in Amsterdam. The old house, now open as a museum, documents the two years they spent in hiding in an apartment on top of a factory. Ann Frank's postcards, cutouts from magazines and pictures of friends still hang in their original places on the walls of her room. Learning about the Holocaust in a book will never do the tragic events justice. Walking through the old apartment, preserved through time, put me in the position Ann Frank and her family were in during the war.
I was especially fond of the architecture in the city. The distinctive mix of old and new is dissimilar to any other town I have seen. The small-town feeling of the city's residential areas inspires me to return.
Next stop was Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the home of the European Union. Because of the small city's political relevance, many of its buildings are government offices, and without a popular nightlife, I spent two days and one night there trying local cuisine. Brussels is known for it's chocolate, Belgian waffles and hundreds of different varieties of beers. I had my first meal at an 80-year-old restaurant, Aux Armes de Bruxelles, known for their mussels. Living up to their reputation, the parsley, garlic and mussels was my best meal experience since arriving in Europe. Walking dinner off, I stopped at a café for a banana-rum flambé and chocolate walnut crepes, which complimented the French feel of the city. Unlike Italy, I was able to find a typical American breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast. The food and beer proved to be a major part of my experience in Brussels, and before leaving I stocked up on Belgian chocolate.
After a short visit to Brussels I was ready for Dublin, Ireland. Compared to other cities, Dublin's aesthetic immediately reflects the city's character — quaint and welcoming. The first night in Dublin was spent in small Irish bars with traditional folk music. Many of the locals were still in suits and skirts from work, enjoying a Guinness along with the atmosphere. Unlike other countries in Europe, it was not hard fitting in. After a couple days in the city, I took a tour out to the Irish countryside. The tour started in the city of Dublin. We then traveled through two coastal towns, Dalkey and Killiney, recognized for their wealth and celebrity residents. Continuing along, the tour stopped at a 6th-century monastic settlement, surrounded by rolling hills, natural waterfalls and hidden lakes. Experiencing the views, colors, smells and small towns could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The peaceful spirit of the Irish countryside is the perfect environment to break up the monotony of my city travels. The sheer beauty is a scene man cannot replicate.
Fall break for a student abroad, much like spring break in the United States, is an opportunity to let lose and have fun. But for every memory of nights spent out with friends, there is also a history and a culture worth experiencing.
Kathleen Crouch is a University College senior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column "Adventures from Abroad," which she writes from Italy, runs on alternate Fridays.