This is probably the most adorable town I’ve ever seen. Only a short 1 hour train ride away from Brussels, the city of Bruges is a real gem. I feel like I’ve been transported back in time. Also, if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, this is pretty close to what I imagine Hogsmeade to be. I’m convinced they sell Butter Beer right around the corner somewhere.
It’s Monday and we’ve been in Brussels for two days now. This is probably the most European I’ve felt this whole trip. The buildings are very medieval, and there are small bars, restaurants and chocolatiers everywhere. We spent a lot of time exploring as a group here, but there is consensus that Paris is still our favourite city. The people here primarily speak French and Dutch. The beer is good, the chocolate is great. That about sums up Brussels so far.
It’s Saturday. We have the entire day to explore Paris. I’ve been awake since 5 am planning my day and the foodie in me is going nuts with anticipation. We have breakfast at the hotel before splitting up into groups and heading out. First stop -Sacré-Coeur.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica and often simply Sacré-Cœur, is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The majestic building is located on top of the Montmartre hill, and it is an awe-inspiring sight even for people of other religions like me. As we walked in, a lady asked me to take my hat off. I realized that wearing a hat is disrespectful in formal settings and obliged. The inside of the church was just as beautiful as the outside. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
After dropping my bags off at the hotel and grabbing some food, I set off to meet with the rest of the group. Today, we were attending an evening reception with UVA alumni in Paris, and the UVaClub of Paris was helping organize a panel where alumni would share their experiences adjusting to life in Europe. I took the metro to the reception and was pretty excited to finally spend time with the other students.
I’ve just missed my domestic flight to Paris due to a delay. As a result, I won’t be able to meet up with the rest of the group until tomorrow morning. This might be a blessing in disguise as it gives me an entire day in Milan. The opportunities are endless. I hopped on the train from Malpensa airport to Milano Centrale without thinking twice.
If you’ve already read pre-departure posts from other trips and are expecting this to be the same, think again. Keep reading.
Instead of being filled with excitement over the upcoming trip to Europe, my last two weeks have been spent battling with embassies, airlines and my checking account to figure out if the trip was even going to happen. To avoid going into technicalities, basically my Schengen visa was delayed incrementally each day leading me to miss the first 5 days of the trip. With each day’s delay came a hefty airlines change fee and price hike that accumulated to around $1,500 of extra expenditure. At one point, I called my mom in absolute despair, almost in tears, thinking that my euro trip was over before it even began. And worst of all, I felt responsible for it. (Please learn from my mistakes and apply for your visa months in advance.)
Today, the gang took two group naps. Upon awaking from the first, we found ourselves in Wells, a quaint little town with a huge cathedral. We split for lunch, with the majority of the guys gravitating toward the sausage street vendor or meat pasty shop* – just like mom used to make. When we met back up in front of the Wells Cathedral (pictured below), I heard one of the girls mutter something about brie and apple, so they probably all ate that.
*To correct a mistake in my previous post, shop owners not always cool with eating-in if you ordered at the “take away” price. Lived and learned.
In the past 24 hours, the group has learned several key differences in British and American culture. We have compiled a short list that we believe any traveler between the U.S. and U.K. should use to effectively interface between cultures:
1. NEVER intrude upon a private dinner party
In the U.S., when a party is underway, it is typical for anyone in the general vicinity to happily partake in the party’s activities, which are meant to bring an enormous amount of fun to the party-giver. This is NOT the case in England. In England, if the party-giver is present, apparently it is NOT acceptable to approach the group with a video camera to capture the joy of the moment. Also, once the original video taker is turned away, it is not acceptable for any consecutive five American video takers to enter the room subsequently.