While studying in London, I had the opportunity to travel during our midterm break. I was more than ready to get out of London and take a break from classes. However, the experience of traveling for 10 days was exhausting in ways I had not foreseen and led to an unexpected revelation.
Thinking of this trip as a vacation, I overlooked how exploring new cities and experiencing foreign things had the same ups and downs as daily life in London—using public transportation, finding the next meal and interacting with locals. You never truly settle into the city you are visiting. As soon as you become familiar with one place, you move on to the next in hopes of finding some familiarity within that city.
My first destination was Berlin. In order to get there, my travel arrangements involved taking a 3 a.m. taxi, a 3:40 a.m. train ride and a 6:30 a.m. flight. It is not the travel expense that takes the greatest toll on the traveler, but rather the exhaustion.
By the time we made it to Berlin, all I wanted was to sleep. But we still needed to take a train from the airport into the city to find the hostel. The train ride was anxiety-ridden and left me wondering if we had gone the right direction. However, once we arrived, I felt relieved and a bit proud for figuring it out—until I remembered that we could not check into our room for several hours.
After seeing Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag building, the Bradenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial and the Berlin Wall, among other things, in a day and a half, we were understandably burnt out. Walking nearly five miles a day would remain a constant throughout the trip.
I would be lying if I said I was not relieved to leave Berlin, if only for the reason that my friend and I were roomed with a drunken gypsy woman that liked to stare at us.
Next, we took a six hour bus ride to Prague. Despite the length of the ride, I do not regret taking a bus. The view one gets while driving through the countryside of the Czech Republic is unforgettable.
Just miles outside the city are large rolling hills and fields of golden yellow flowers that cover the ground for miles. The only comparison I can make is to Wisconsin’s acres of cornfields, except that the fields of the Czech Republic were far more beautiful.
The beauty of those fields turned out to be an indication of the city itself. While there is not much to do in Prague in terms of activity, the beauty of the city and its landscape make the city a must-see.
After spending two days in Prague and walking nearly a mile uphill every time I returned to my hostel—the beauty of the landscape does of course come at a price—my friend and I left for Budapest. The city was similar to Prague in regards to its layout. It featured both a river that separated the city and large hills that overlook the city’s scope.
Perhaps the most memorable part of Budapest was not its impressive Hungarian Parliament Building or its many castles and churches, but the bar Szimpla that we visited. Szimpla occupied a ruined building and included a beer garden surrounded by crumbling old brick walls and separate rooms off to the side, which housed different themes, creating a very eccentric and charming atmosphere.
The final destination on the 10 day trip was Amsterdam, which as one might expect, was incredibly beautiful during the day and rather rowdy during the night. While expecting to see prostitution, I was unprepared for seeing how the business was conducted.
In the Red Light District, there are rows of glass doors with scantily-clad women behind them trying to draw in customers. Men hung outside the prostitute’s doors and ogled at that them, while women looked at them with disgust.
However, Amsterdam did not disappoint. I was fortunate enough to visit the Van Gogh Museum, take a boat tour along the many canals and visit the Anne Frank House. Perhaps the thing I liked the most about the Anne Frank House was that the curators did not focus on only Anne Frank’s story. They made a strong point to argue that Anne Frank stands as a symbol of others killed in the Holocaust that will never have their stories told.
The homage paid to Anne Frank, the members of the Secret Annex and all those who were killed during the Nazi reign left me completely speechless and utterly grateful for my own life.
While traveling was both exhausting and rewarding, the most interesting aspect about my experience was my search for little bits of London to latch onto. I could feel myself craving the familiar and attaching myself to anything or anyone that reminded me of London. That was my greatest shock while traveling: wanting to be in London, a place where I now feel familiar. If my experience in foreign countries opened my eyes to anything, it was that London is now my home.