“Vado a London, Paris e Amsterdam per la vacanza,” I told my Italian class the day before fall break started. My Italian teacher then asked what I would do when I was there, I responded with a sincere, “non lo so” (I don’t know.) It was true; I really didn’t know what I would do. With all the stress of planning the transportation and accommodations for the trip, plus studying for midterms, I had not yet planned what I would do in these amazing cities. At first I imagined my fall break being spent somewhere strange and exotic like Croatia or Turkey, and I resisted the idea of going to all the “normal” places. But soon I gave in to these cities, in part because the overnight buses that would get me between cities were much more wallet-friendly than flights to Croatia. So, without an itinerary, I went off into the wild European yonder, and I soon arrived in London.
I was greeted in London by a familiar fac: none other than the wonderful Kimi Greer of Northwestern University! Reminiscing about NU led me to feel my first tinge of homesickness, but I cast it aside as I explored the famous monuments of London. After taking the obligatory pictures in front of Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye, we tried to decide what to eat for lunch. “Well, what kind of food do you want?” This question blew my mind. “London food?” In Florence, no one asks what kind of food I want. It’s all Italian all the time. In London, like America, there are so many different choices of cuisine that I actually have to start making decisions more complex than deciding which pasta dish to eat that night. Afraid of change, we first ate at a small Italian sandwich chain named Café Nero, but for dinner I mustered up the courage to visit a pub and eat as the Londoners do. After hunting for bargains on Brick Lane, enjoying Ben’s cookies in Covent Garden and watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, it was time for me to be on my way to the next city: Paris.
Ahh Paris, the city of love! And éclairs, baguettes, crepes and the most delicious improvement on the grilled cheese: the croque-monsieur. The croque-monsieur was something I was introduced to in my seventh grade French class, as were a number of French songs that remained stuck in my head the entirety of my stay in Paris. One particular melody, “Champs-Elysees,” became my anthem during my stay in Paris. It seemed to me that everything I had learned about in seventh grade was coming to life in this short trip, and I longed to spend more time in the city. One problem I did encounter, however, was with the language. As I had taken 5 years of French before beginning Italian, the language center of my brain was in total chaos. I desperately tried to remember the French I had learned, but it was no use. Even though I carefully constructed asking for a pastry in French (“Je voudrais un pain au chocolate s’il vous plait,“) I still responded “Si” instead of “Oui” when asked if I wanted it to go. My French professor Monsieur Trotin would be severely disappointed.
In Amsterdam, I encounter very few language barriers, as the Dutch know a huge number of languages. As I learned from my Rick Steve’s Podcast (I’m a dork, I know,) the Dutch learn English, French and German in school, plus an additional “foreign” language of either Italian or Spanish. During my stay in Amsterdam, I took a wonderful day trip to a small Dutch village of Zaanse Schans. Zaanse Schans is what I considered a classic town in Holland, complete with windmills, cheese, and, of course, wooden shoes. The idea of wooden shoes fascinated me. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I longed to own a pair of wooden shoes. It was completely illogical: They weren’t comfortable and they wouldn’t match any outfit I owned. Luckily, they were so expensive that I was able to quickly and easily dismiss this idea. Later in the day, I explored a working windmill, and watched a cheese demonstration (as well as ate many of their free cheese samples!). Upon returning to Amsterdam, I took a great walking tour, ate Dutch pancakes and stroopwafels and then explored the Red Light District by night.
As my trip came to close, I began to look forward to the return to school and life as it was with sadness. However, as I arrived back in Florence, I realized I had nothing to be sad about. Sure, I left three wonderful cities filled with history, unique cuisine and culture, but Florence has everything I could want in a city. And as I walked across the Arno, about five minutes from my apartment, I felt contented. I was back home.