Amsterdam & Rotterdam Living

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FullSizeRenderAfter Paris, Haylee and I hopped a bus to Amsterdam. I honestly can’t believe that I just typed out a sentence where I hopped a bus to Amsterdam. It was a damn long bus trip and for the first time that week I regretted only packing my flip flops because the bus was cold and my feet were soon freezing. Haylee laughed at me when I stretched my sweatpants down over my feet in an effort to cover my toes.

When our bus stopped in Brussels, an American student who was studying in France got on. Her name was Molly and she was lovely to meet. Talking to her helped us to pass the time while our very late bus made its way to Amsterdam. It was interesting hearing about her adventures studying abroad because they were so different from our experiences. Well, except for the fact that all three of us missed food and food prices from home.

After our bus dropped us off in Amsterdam the three of us set out to get a map and find out where we wanted to go. Haylee and I bought our train tickets to go to Rotterdam and after figuring out what we wanted to do for the night, we parted ways with our new friend.

IMG_2188Because our bus was so late getting into Amsterdam, Haylee and I only had a few hours to spend there. We set off to explore the city as best we could. I’ve never really wanted to go to Amsterdam before, but now that I’ve been there I can’t wait to go back. We went and saw the Anne Frank House and on the way there came across the canals. I have no idea why, but I was completely in love with the idea of canals running through the city. I wish I had more time to walk along them.

Sadly, we weren’t able to find the iAmsterdam sign because of some wrong directions, but simply walking around the city was enough to make me fall in love with it. The city was alive and beautiful at night. It wasn’t like many of the other cities that I’ve been in where the lights are harsh and the air feels polluted with them. Instead the city just buzzed and the light felt very natural.

Once our time in Amsterdam was up, Haylee and I hopped a train to Rotterdam where we would spend the next two nights. The train was a double decker and we sat on the top level. It was interesting to feel like you were flying through the air as the train zipped us off to our stop.

After nearly 16 hours of travel Haylee and I checked into our hotel and collapsed into our bed.

IMG_2194As I fell asleep I thought about what I normally would have been doing. If I had been at home, I would normally be playing in the annual basketball tournament that my team hosts every year. When I woke up the next morning I felt a little bit homesick as I thought about the fact that my younger sister would be waking up later that day to get ready to play basketball. I missed my teammates. I was thousands of miles away from home and I kind of wanted to cry.

IMG_2225Then I remembered where I was and what I’d been doing all week. Not only that but I remembered that I was spending the week with one of my favourite people and closest friends. I couldn’t have picked a better person to travel with. Even though I was a bit homesick, I couldn’t help but be thankful that I was with Haylee and we were soon going to be heading out into a new city to explore it and see where the day took us. Then I realized it was barely 9am and that we had decided to sleep in that day and I promptly rolled over and passed back out.

Spending the day in Rotterdam was interesting. Rather than training to other parts of the city, Haylee and I walked around the area that we were staying in. It was nice just to be able to walk around a city and enjoy it. We were looking for the European Walk of Fame, but apparently Google lied to us (or we suck at looking things up) and it was in a different part of the city. That didn’t phase us though. We carried on exploring until we found a Lidl (cheap grocery store) and we stocked up on snacks.

IMG_2238One of those snacks was supposed to be a carton of chocolate milk to go with our cookies. Except it wasn’t chocolate milk. Rather than buying a litre of chocolate milk, we bought a litre of chocolate pudding. When we got back to our hotel to settle in for another relaxing night, Haylee went to pour herself a glass of chocolate milk and it came out…well, it came out as pudding.

At that point I got hungry and went out on my only solo adventure in Europe to find food and something to scoop our pudding up with. I wound up buying pizza and I got forks to eat the pudding.

The next day our adventures in the mainland of Europe came to an end. Haylee and I hopped a bus to head off to London for two days before returning to Lampeter.

I had never had any interest in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but I can definitely say that seeing both of these cities was an experience I will never forget and I can’t wait to go back to them. Except when I return I will be armed with the knowledge that chocolate pudding masquerades as chocolate milk and that VLA = PUDDING. I think this was one of my more valuable lessons that I learned while travelling.

Well, that and a whole host of other things, but I feel like knowing that pudding can dress up as chocolate milk is important.

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I Dreamed of Paris

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IMG_1960Charlotte, Haylee and I were on an escalator heading up and out of a Metro station. We’d arrived in Paris the night before and were spending the next couple days exploring. Our first stop was the Arc de Triomphe. As we came to the top of the escalator I basically screamed in delight. There it was. This glorious arc in the middle of a roundabout that I’d been dreaming of seeing since my teens. Then I nearly shit my pants because there were two clowns waiting at the top of the escalator trying to get their pictures taken with tourists.

In case you haven’t met me, hi, my name is Rachael Bowser and I’m terrified of clowns.

Haylee and Charlotte walked right passed the clowns while I cut a wide circle around them and did my best to ignore the demented circus beings. I wasn’t about to let my irrational fear of freaky painted party poopers ruin my childhood dream of seeing Paris and loving every second of it.

IMG_3348If I had been alone I probably would have cried seeing the Arc de Triomphe. Except I wasn’t alone, so I looked at this giant monument with absolute awe. I’d started reading about this monument and looking at pictures before I hit puberty and finally being able to actually see it was a dream come true for me. It was a lot bigger than I imagined. It looks huge in the pictures I saw of it, but I didn’t fully realize exactly how big it was until I was standing across the roundabout from it. It’s 50 metres tall. Now, I’ve sprinted 50 metres before so in my mind, the monument couldn’t be as large as the pictures led me to believe.

Well it is and it’s awesome.

The Arc sits in the middle of a roundabout that branches off in a sun shape to other parts of Paris. Haylee, Charlotte and I decided to walk around it and naturally I spent a good 5 minutes trying to convince them that we should play in traffic to try and get across to the Arc. We could have taken the underground tunnels and paid to see it, but we decided to go for a walk instead. I still think we should have made like that arcade game “Frogger” and tried to cross the very busy street.

Simply seeing the Arc was enough to make my week and leave me content with my travels abroad.

Except we went to the Eiffel Tower next. If you thought I was excited for the Arc de Triomphe, I nearly peed myself several times on the way to the Eiffel Tower. The moment I saw it appear on the skyline my heart started to race. I felt breathless. Then I took a picture of my lawn gnome, Charles Gnomewin, with it. Once again, a childhood dream was coming true for me. I can remember being in my grade 12 French class and working on an assignment where we had to plan a weekend trip to Paris. One of the things that I had planned to do on that trip was take the stairs up the Eiffel Tower.

AND I DID IT!

There are 669 stairs up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower (the highest that you can take the stairs) and at first I was a little daunted by the task. While my fitness levels have slowly climbed since moving to Wales, I didn’t think I was anywhere near in shape enough to make the 669 step climb to the second floor. Then Haylee and I bought our tickets and started to go up. And up. And up. And up. On the way up we saw a lady carrying a baby up the stairs. Then we saw another lady going up in HIGH HEELS, of all things. We made it all the way up to the second floor and the view was amazing. Paris is beautiful from the ground, but from that height, it is absolutely amazing.

My thighs were shaking by the time Haylee and I finally made our way down off the Tower and our day wasn’t even half over yet. Soon we were on a train to go see Notre Dame. Unfortunately the line to go in was really long, but simply seeing the outside structure left me in awe. The thing that blows my mind away about something like Notre Dame is that it existed before my country was even a country. It’s been standing while new worlds were discovered and history happened around it. Just the idea of a structure being that old is mind boggling for me. I can barely build a Lego house that will stay standing, so the idea of that this building has survived hundreds of years completely blows me away.

After Notre Dame we spent the day seeing the bridges with love locks attached to them.  The idea is that couples put a lock on the bridge together to symbolize their eternal love. There are literally hundreds of locks attached to these bridges. The lock bridges were a stopping point on our way to the Louvre. There were actually a few stopping points on the Louvre because we got a tad lost. Well, not really lost, but we were a little turned around and only vaguely had an idea of where we were going.

IMG_3349I wound up being able to stand in the Seine River and we discovered these awesome green box thingies that merchants sold their books and other shenanigans out of. I could have spent hours at these box thingies looking at all of the books while trying to pick out one or two that I wanted to drag back home to Canada. Haylee knows me well though and kept me moving on our way to the Louvre.

This is where I had the chance to use my very limited French knowledge and talk to one of the merchants.

Me (Speaking French): Excuse me, sir? Where is the Louvre?

Him (Also speaking French): Straight that way.

Me (Still speaking French): Thank you very much! Have a good night!

Sadly the Louvre is closed on Tuesday’s (the day we were there) and we weren’t able to go in. However, we were able to explore the outside courtyards and they were astounding. Even though I didn’t get to go in, I was still giddy at actually having found the Louvre and seen it. The day had been filled with doing all of the things that I’d been dreaming about doing since childhood and I couldn’t have wished for a better day. My only complaint is that not peeing myself in glee left me with a full bladder and we wound up having to hustle back to our hostel at the end of the day so I could go.

Our second day in Paris found Haylee, Charlotte and I leaving our hostel and walking to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. There are no words in my vocabulary that will let me accurately describe the inside of this place. Talking about the beauty of it would be an understatement. I felt overwhelmed in the most peaceful of ways as soon as we walked in. That sounds weird and silly, but there is literally no way for me to describe what I saw. Even though I hadn’t been overly excited to see the cathedral like I was to see the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur was my favourite stop on our travels through Paris.

Which is saying something considering the fact that the three of us went to see the Moulin Rouge (only the outside because there were crazy long lines and it was kind of late when we went there) and I saw all of the sex shops, strip clubs and all kinds of shops dedicated to the type of debauchery and shenaniganery that I adore. I loved this street and I wish I had had more time to explore it. This was another place I could have spent hours going in and out of shops. In fact, the next time I am in Paris I full intend on going to the Erotic Museum and spending more time in Sacre Coeur.

That night Charlotte left us to go back to the UK and Haylee and I had a relaxing night in our hostel eating baguettes and pain au chocolat to round off our Paris experience. I decided to shower that night as well, but instead of paying to rent towels I used one of my bed sheets and a t-shirt as towels. Haylee howled in laughter when I walked into our room and she saw me with a bright yellow t-shirt wrapped around my head.

Whatever, I was clean and the shirt was doing a fab job as a towel.

After two full and amazing days and Paris, I’d realized a lifetime of dreams, but my travels with Haylee weren’t over yet. Even though I was beyond giddy and thankful for the experiences I’d had in Paris, we still had to go and explore Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and London.

London Calling

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IMG_1593March 20-22, 2015

One of the trips that my school organizes for it’s international students is a weekend in London. I got to spend a night in London last semester before I went home for Christmas break and I fell in love with it. Needless to say that I was super excited for this weekend. The only thing that made it better was the fact that I was getting to spend it with some of my favourite people. Since Lisa, Haylee and I are all international students, we were all going. However, we were able to invite Charlotte and Josh to join us as well. We left that Friday in the late morning and arrived in London in the evening.

On the way to London we saw a lot of sheep because Wales has sheep. Except the sheep all had numbers on them. Being the curious soul that I am, asked why they had numbers on them and Josh quickly replied that their numbers were the order they got killed in. At that point I had a mental breakdown thinking about the cute fluff balls that sheep are all lined up to head off to slaughter and our trip to London was cut short. Just kidding. Josh is a butthole and said that just to be mean and to see my horrified reaction. Never mind that he almost made me cry. As it turns out, the sheep and their babies get the same number put on them so they can be easily paired up again.

Charlotte was staying with one of her friends and the rest of us were staying in a hostel. After some quick hugs we all set off in our own directions for the night. Our hostel was about a half hours walk away from where we got dropped off. Except we got a little lost and wound up taking the scenic route to where we’d be sleeping for the weekend.

IMG_1407That night we walked around the area we were staying in and had a fairly early bedtime. The hostel was really nice and we were staying in a dorm that slept 28 people. The way the room was set up, all the bunks looked like human-sized wooden cubby holes. As you can see in the pic, these bunks are not meant for the tall! At 5’9″ I had my head pressed against the headboard and I was almost too tall to fit in my cubby. Sleeping in there made me feel like a vampire because this is what I imagine sleeping in a coffin would be like.

IMG_1621The next day we set off on my first full day in London! We started off by briefly visiting the British Museum. After that we walked up and down Oxford Street. I couldn’t believe how busy it was! I’ve spent the last 10 years living in different parts of the Greater Vancouver Area and I thought those areas were busy! Or at least I thought they were busy until I was on Oxford Street on a Saturday!

IMG_1622We walked and shopped most of the morning. One of the highlights was when we found a candy store. Haylee, Lisa, and I were the epitome of “kids in a candy shop”. The store had lots of North American brands that we love and we all took our own trips down memory lane as we found the things that we loved. The best part was introducing Josh to some of our childhood favourites like Air Heads and Pop Rocks. We stood out on the street and watched as Josh ate his first Air Head and had his first palm-full of Pop Rocks. He liked them both and I got a kick out of watching his reaction as the Pop Rocks began to spark around in his mouth.

Not only did we get to spend a weekend in London with Josh, we got to meet his parents too! We went out for dinner with them and Josh got to torment us while the rest of us tried to make good first impressions. He introduced Lisa by saying she was the American with the knife in her bag because he is a brat. Thankfully his parents have a good sense of humor and they went right along with the jokes and dinner was really nice, relaxing and full of laughs. It was a lot of fun getting to sit down and get to know his family a little bit.

FullSizeRender (1)After that we set off to meet up with Raz and to see Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross! At first I wasn’t overly excited to see a cart sticking out of wall, but as we stood in line to get our pictures taken with it, I found myself being more and more excited. I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until I was in my twenties, but I loved the books so much that getting to be in a place that was in the books had me bouncing in giddy excitement.

IMG_1592When we were done having our pictures taken, Josh left us to go spend some time with one of his friends and Raz took Haylee, Lisa and I to see Big Ben and the London Eye. We went for a small walk across a bridge that I don’t know the name to and basically hung out until it was time for Raz to leave.

IMG_1549Haylee, Lisa and I then carried on to Leicester Square because I wanted to go to a few used book shops. One of the things that Lisa was looking forward to while we were in London was going to Chipotle. Up until that point we hadn’t had the time to go to one. Then I remembered seeing one in the area the last time I’d been to London. If it weren’t for Haylee holding onto Lisa’s backpack, Lisa would have run out into traffic. That’s how excited she was for Chipotle.

We ended our night with getting frozen yogurt and hanging out in our hostels lounge while our phones charged.

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One of the walls at Abbey Road was signed by people who had been there. Now our names are there too!

One of the walls at Abbey Road was signed by people who had been there. Now our names are there too!

The next morning we woke up early to go to the famous Abbey Road Crossing! To be honest, I wasn’t overly interested in this stop, but I loved going there with Lisa, Haylee and Josh. They were all really excited for it and their excitement was infectious. I played camera person while they played in traffic to mimic the famous Beatles Abbey Road photo. Thankfully the road the crossing is on isn’t a busy road because they wound up crossing the road several times while I took photos and videos.

One of the things that I love about London is how it seems like such a huge city…until I start to walk around it. It’s amazing to think how much has been fit into such a small area. The train station in our area was closed that morning so we wound up going for a nice walk to get back to where we were being picked up so we could drop our bags at a place where travelers can store their stuff while they are in the city.

The best moment of the day was when Haylee, Lisa and I were walking to meet up with the rest of the international students to go home. Lisa and Haylee both had to pee and the only toilet we could think of that was close to us was the one you had to pay 30 pence to use. First of all, I was shocked to see that you have to pay to use toilets, and second of all Lisa totally did a face plant running up the stairs to get to the bathroom. I was looking down when I heard a crash and looked up to see Haylee crossing her legs while she laughed hysterically. Then I looked at Lisa and saw her face down at the top of the stairs while her whole body shook with laughter. I lost it. Between Lisa biffing it and Haylee almost peeing herself I had to sit down on the stairs because I was laughing so hard at both of them. I actually laughed so hard that I wound up needing to pee too!

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They even make bus trips interesting.

We all made it to the toilet on time and then slowly made our way back to where the bus was picking us up to take us home. All in all, I loved my first full weekend in London.

Side note: I got the equivalent of an A- on the last two assignments that I’ve submitted and I continue to go to class despite my best efforts to talk Haylee into skipping one or two. Basketball is still a blast even though we’ve only been practicing these past few weeks. My netball team also won their last two games and apparently we have a chance at winning our league! My room also sometimes smells like feet because my shoes get stinky and I sometimes hoard dirty socks like their treasure. I’m pretty sure this proves that I’m probably never going to fully grow up.