This past week was hands down one of the best winter breaks of my entire life. It started out in Brussels, Belgium. This was an organized group trip, so we had our coordinator, Sven, with us. We went to SHAPE which is the headquarters of a world military organization NATO. It was really interesting because pretty much nobody is allowed to go there, and we’re one of the few lucky groups that got this opportunity; it was probably one of my favorite excursions so far. We also went to visit the US commision, but we didn’t stay there too long and I was sleepy so I didn’t get as much out of it as I should have or wanted to. We also went to the Atomium, which was described to us as the Eiffel Tower of Brussels. It was nothing like I had expected, kind of like outer space and it reminded me of how much I used to love astronomy. We also walked around the main city center, and tried Belgium fries and delicious Belgian waffles with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and chocolate, and whipped cream and nuts, mmm. This was only the beginning, though.
Afterwards, we headed to Amsterdam. This is one of my favorite cities we’ve been to so far, because everyone is so laid back and friendly. We stayed in a tiny hostel with 4 bunk beds and 8 people sharing one bathroom, but it was a few of the best days I’ve had here. We woke up early every morning and went to sleep late every night, but the trip was an exciting blur of museums and tourism to the max. We visited art museums, the Royal Palace, the Anne Frank House, and lots more; I spent the most money here, but I think it was worth every penny.
Finally, we went to Paris, back here in France. This was probably the busiest and most exciting and alive city we’ve been to, with everyone wide awake and out literally all night; it was also the most touristy though, and reminded me of New York. The first night we went out and managed to get lost in the middle of the night, but thankfully we eventually found our way back home by early morning. The next 2 days we were complete tourists and visited tourist attractions, and tried different types of food at new restaurants. We almost got ripped off by the waiter, but I wrote that off as just another one of my memorable experiences abroad. The view around the Eiffel tower was my favorite place during the entire trip; I could see an amazing view of the entire city, beautiful fountains and gardens, and families and couples and kids laughing and enjoying life all around. There was even another street music performance which made me really feel at home. One of the highlights for me in particular was my visit to the Paris Jamatkhana, my Ismaili place of worship. This is where I felt the most at home; it really reminded me how big a part religion is of my life, and I felt a real sense of community and belonging as soon I entered and everyone was so kind and welcoming, and I just didn’t want to leave.
The checkout time at our hotel was 11 in the morning, but our train wasnt until 5pm…so for 6 hours, i was homeless. But luckily we snuck into the hotel and pretended we still live there, and I slept in the hallway listening to my iPod while the others were online on their laptops, making jokes and hoping not to get caught; it was quite an experience. Now that I’m back, I am still in vacation mode and am not ready for this upcoming week of classes and homework and cooking my own food again. I am looking forward to the rest of our trip, but mostly to the rest of my travels around the south of Europe during spring break!