Monday, February 21, 2011

My First Trip: Amsterdam

I went on my first major trip since I have been here. There is a student travel shop at the university that can help plan trips and they have pre-organized trips that they advertise at the beginning of the semester. When I first got here, one of the trips they were advertising was a weekend trip to Amsterdam and I was interested. The trip included a lot of Americans. There was about 40 or so students that went and at least half of them were from the United States.

We left at 5 on February 17. Since we are in Wales, we had to travel across the entire UK. We drove to Dover, UK, which is famous for its cliffs. However, we didn't get to see them because it was dark. Dover is a major port in the UK and it services cars and trucks across the English Channel to mainland Europe. It took about 4-5 hours to get there from Swansea. We drove onto the ferry, which was really huge. It took about 90 minutes to get to the next port, which was Calais, France. There was no border stop here, since the UK is in the EU, we drove straight off the ferry and into France. We didn't stay in France for long; it took us about an hour to get to Belgium. We drove through Belgium and into The Netherlands. We got to Amsterdam Friday morning, at 8:30.

The first day in Amsterdam was a long one. We were tired because it had been difficult to sleep on the bus. We jumped right in: we purchased tickets for the Canal Boats. Amsterdam is divided up by canals and you can use these to get around. The tickets lasted for 24 hours. Throughout the day, we used these as a 'tour.' We would take pictures from the boats because they went by a lot of cool things and areas. We also walked around the city. At first this was very difficult because Amsterdam has a ton of bike traffic. Nearly 1/2 of the city gets around on bikes. They have bicycle traffic lights and lanes. When you cross a street, you have to cross two lanes of bicycle traffic, two lanes of auto traffic and a tram lane. The trams would often go right down the middle of the street. We ate lunch at a Dutch restaurant that day. The portions are significantly smaller than in the US and even Wales but it was surprisingly filling. We walked around and saw Centraal Station, the main train station in Amsterdam, and we saw many other buildings. The varied architecture in Amsterdam was probably my favorite part. We also saw the Anne Frank Huis and went inside. That night we ate at an Italian restaurant. This may seem weird, but Italian restaurants were everywhere here and they are very popular.

The second day we started at the Rijksmuseum ( I don't know how to pronounce it either). This had mainly Dutch paintings and paintings that depicted Dutch culture. The main painting of the museum was 'The Night Watch.' The building itself is very striking. We then ate at another Dutch cafe, which was good. We walked around some more and saw the sights. Here we did souvenir shopping as well. We saw the palace area and the main square which is called the 'Dam.' That night we ate a Greek place, which was very good as well.

The way back seemed to take a lot longer, as we had nothing to look forward to, but they trip was fun all the same. We traced our route back to Swansea by going through Belgium and France and then up into the UK. However, we did get to stop at a chocolate shop in Belgium and I got some Belgium Chocolates. I haven't eaten them yet, but I think I am about to.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More From Swansea

I have almost been here a month! I can't believe it. It only seems like yesterday that I got here on the train. The days go by so fast! I am finally getting used to the driving here. It seems normal to me now to drive on the left. Haha. Let's hope that doesn't come back with me when I get back to the United States.

We started the actual term last week. I have two modules or classes: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age and British Atlantic World. Both have been interesting so far and I have enjoyed them. War and Peace in the Nuclear Age is basically an overview of international relations since 1945. It is interesting to hear a different point of view on the Cold War and I have heard of concepts that I haven't heard before. British Atlantic World is an overview of early modern Britain and its relationship with its Atlantic colonies. It stops at the end of the Seven Years' War.

As far as travel goes, I went to Cardiff and Bath with my pre-sessional class. Those were really fun to go to. Bath was especially cool because of the Roman baths and ruins. It was terribly cold when we went there though. I am going to Amsterdam next week, February 17-20 with a school sponsored trip. This will be my first time to continental Europe! I'm really excited. Me and a couple friends here are planning a trip to Paris sometime towards the end of March. This is really exciting for me because I am a big history geek. Haha. I really want to go to Versailles.