By Justin Porter*
To continue my European adventure, I set out on a trip that challenged me physically, spiritually, and intellectually – and also emotionally, mentally, literally, and metaphorically: how to live out of a backpack for 25 days.
(Is there anywhere else in France? Oh, Champagne, France!)
The first leg of the trip began with the underground EuroStar from London to Paris, France (pronounced: Fraaaahns, apparently *sips tea with one pinkie up*).
I was already in over my head.
Many of the stereotypes were correct: Nobody will go out of their way to speak English, and most of the French have a cocky strut. There are also dramatic avenues full of traffic and angry drivers. On a positive note, the crepes were to die for.
My overall opinion varied. It wasn’t what I expected. Paris was overrated - by far the dirtiest, foulest-smelling city I would encounter. The highlights were the Eiffel Tower (naturally) and Arc Di Triomphe, but more than that, the cuisine. THE CREPES. THE PASTA. THE MACAROONS. THE WINE! Cue Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. (Except he couldn’t have been French, because they ain’t that nice.)
My journey continued three days later when I decided last minute to catch an 8-hour overnight Megabus from Paris to Amsterdam with a layover in Brussels, Belgium. Only one catch:
The bus left at midnight from a station on the other side of the city.
I ran with my entire wardrobe on my back, navigating the subway system (which runs on Mac Truck tires rather than rails) and the confusing avenues that all began with “Avendia de ____.” Finally, I spot the bright blue Megabus, and I sprint. I sat down in the seat at 11:59. Who said I couldn’t travel Europe at age 21?
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
(This has to be one of the only countries with a “The” in the name)
Easily my favorite city, Amsterdam’s superlatives include “Friendliest” and “Most Beautiful” when it comes to places I have visited. Then again, I live in America.
Everyone also looked like me: Six-foot-four, beautiful flowing locks of blond hair, flawless complexions, infectious personalities…
Okay, maybe everyone was just blonde and tall. But that’s beside the point.
Aside from the fact that our hostel was over an hour outside the city and we had to Uber home multiple times for $85 (how many Five Guys burgers could I have bought in London for that?), I enjoyed the city so much I ended up staying two additional nights.
A short list of things to do:
- Visit the canals
- The red light district. Literally just buy a pint and sit on a park bench around 11 PM and watch. Cheap entertainment.
- Rent & ride bikes
- The Van Gogh Museum, full of art and beautiful scenery. Right in the heart of the city, too.
- I AMsterdam sign
- The Sex Museum – no, seriously. Do it.
- Go to a coffeehouse. This is not like Starbucks. Coffeehouses sell cannabis and an occasional drink or two, but mostly just weed. Oh, and thankfully for the ignorant Americans (like myself), they have menus that explain everything.
- The Heineken Experience
Though I sound like a European noob, I had once been abroad to Germany before at age 16 to visit an exchange student my family hosted in America who I now refer to as my half-sister.
I met my half-sister, Steffi, in Hamburg after a 7-hour ride aboard the Deutche-Bahn, filled with sleep-deprived tourists (aka me) and Germans going to work (what is work? I thought everything in Europe was utopia). Upon entering the car, the usual sight greeted me: someone sitting in my seat even though I had paid for the reservation. Naturally I ask in American English if the lady could move. I get cussed out in German.
After a few minutes of back and forth where each of us spoke the 10 words we knew in the other’s language, a kind soul entered the carriage who translated for us. We realized we were just on opposite sides of the seats, which meant I was placed next to her screaming child for 7 hours. I preferred her cussing.
Hamburg was a great city for young people. Though I was only there 36 hours, I enjoyed the port city and the incredible canals. The canals are more than just scenic: They helped build Germany’s economy by increasing trade routes. After all, a boat ride to London is a few hours from Hamburg and even closer to Amsterdam.
The majority of my week was spent in Göttingen, Germany in Lower Saxony, home of Georg-August-Universität, the Gänseliesel (I love using accents), and rolling green hills; this is one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country. (Everything in Europe is “the most beautiful” if you can’t tell.) I spent day after day exploring the local area, including day trips to Kassel and Gittelde, at the foot of the Harz Mountains. These cities were filled with incredible history and architecture and even better food. On days I wasn’t gripping for my life on the Autobahn, I was walking through cities and enjoying local cuisine – still on the search for a good iced coffee.
To cap off the end of my German beer-drinking adventures, I headed out to Göttinger Kiessee aka the local pond. It was full of cigarette-smoking, wine-drinking Germans listening to hipster music and minimal clothing. It was basically San Francisco.
As my German adventure came to a close, I hopped on another train, bound for Frankfurt, once again full of screaming children and angry German women. But this time, I got the conductor to remove the person sitting in my seat and I enjoyed watching the cars fly by on the Autobahn from my window seat.
The last leg of the trip was spent along the Mediterranean and Atlantic: Spain & Portugal. Will I survive? Will I find an iced coffee? Will I run out of money?