Enriching Europe

27th Jun 2018
Photo of Enriching Europe by Nandini Ramesh
Day 1

What is the best way to come out of your comfort zone? Travel. What is the best way to grow in that zone? Travel to Europe, of course!!

The boy and I did just that. Our recent trip to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris that we lived after months of planning still seems like a dream. Need I a hard pinch. I dare say yes!

For my son this vacation was a first in many ways - first international trip and first set of stamps on his passport! For me, that childhood imagination of experiencing Europe - the thrill of looking up at a clear blue European sky, gaping at centuries-old charming buildings, people-watching in a busy square with not a care about time - was not for naught. That imagination transformed to reality!

We struck a balance between the tourist and traveller extremes. One main attraction a day and loads of walking trips to explore the cities like a local were our chant from the word go. With visa, tickets and Airbnb accommodation out of our way, the most boring bit of planning an itinerary actually turned out to have a positive side effect, that of stoking our excitement! We relied heavily on travel blogs and Rick Steves resources to plan our trip. Being vegetarians, we were surprised to discover many vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants in Amsterdam and Paris. Brussels, not quite.

There were too many wow moments in our trip. Some stand out.

No school-level Geography lessons ever prepared me for unequal nights and day as a trip to Europe in the summer did. It took me this trip to understand why so many Airbnb listings boast of black-out curtains!!

Watching cyclists go by at the end of a working day - simply out of this world!!

Seeing progress in every nook and cranny of Amsterdam and knowing what it means to rebuild from ashes - immense respect!

Understanding that English is just a language and not something to be proud about - thank you for that humbling lesson, Brussels.

Experiencing the Belgian pride in comics taught us why it is important to laugh at oneself!

Looking up at the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and watching the clouds drift past - serene!

Standing at the edge of an island on the Seine - beautiful!

Sampling a melt-in-the-mouth éclair - foodgasmic!

Looking down from the dome of Sacre Coeur Basilica - feeling immense gratitude for how much we have!

What disappointed us? Just a few that I can count off using fingers on one hand.

I amsterdam sign - why?! Seriously?!

Paris, save paper! Use disposable carnet card for visitors instead of book of 10 t+ tickets.

This travel article is a way for me to keep our memories of Europe alive and more tangible. Also, a reminder that our perspectives about people and life in general have been enriched!!

For both of us, this vacation drove us to the point of saying we were ready to go home. We were truly satiated, truly content! Thank you for being so amazing, Europe. À bientôt

Amazing Amsterdam

We spent 4 nights in Amsterdam. Since I was traveling with my son, I was particular that he not witness the red light district. I planned walking trips in such a way that we by-passed this district! We stayed at the Student Hotel in Wibautstraat. The Hotel is 2 minutes by walk away from the Wibautstraat metro station and it was easy to get around Amsterdam once we got to Central Station which was about 7 minutes away! Being centrally located, within walking distance were the Albert Cyup Markt, Amstel River and Sarphathi Park. At

28th June

Used a combination of Rick Steeves City Centre Walk and GPS My City to design my own walk, by-passing the red light district of Amsterdam Center. We also visited the De Negen Straatjes (The 9 streets) during our walk and this area reminded me of Brigade Road in Bangalore. After our walk, we visited the Anne Frank House Museum. Before our visit, we heard the carillons of the Westerkerk chime away and I got a sense of how this very sound must have filled an 13-year old girl with immense hope for after the war. Throughout the tour of the Anne Frank House, I kept thinking how the actions of a person you don't even know is capable of turning your life upside down. The walk through the museum humbled me and helped me feel immense gratitude for all that I have and shouldn't take for granted!

Day 2

29th June

Going all the way to Amsterdam and not visiting the Zaanse Schans is equivalent to traveling to Russia at this very moment and missing the chance to catch a football world cup game in live! Is Zaanse Schans touristy? Yes! And, who says that that is bad?! We simply enjoyed the clog-making session, tasting every kind of cheese, watching how a windmill works and sailing across the Zaandam River. A place for awesome photo ops, if that is what you are into! From Central Station, you can ride bus 391 to this museum. On the day we visited, there was a bus strike on when it was time for us to return. So we walked through the village and took a train back. Bonus: The air was filled with the aroma of cocoa beans being crushed!!!

Windmill at Zaanse Schans

Photo of Zaanse Schans, Zaandam, Netherlands by Nandini Ramesh

Zaanse Schans

Photo of Zaanse Schans, Zaandam, Netherlands by Nandini Ramesh
Day 4

30th June

The last day in this city of cycles was spent soaking in the feel of open air markets - Noordermarkt, Westermarkt and Albert Cyup Markt. Filled our tummies with oh so yummy waffles, stroop waffles and freshly pressed orange juice! Then it was off to exploring the real side of Amsterdam - the Jordaan Neighbourhood. A treat to the eyes, tongue and ears. Gable buildings, canals at every intersection, absence of tourists and locals sitting on sun-kissed terraces and holding interesting conversations with each other - the only way to experience the laid-back city that Amsterdam is!

Buzzing Brussels

A day and half is all that you need to explore this city. During our visit, Belgium was playing the quarterfinal of the Football World Cup. The excitement was palpable and enticing!

Day 5

1st July

I thought I would be in Brussels by 11 am. But no, the railways had other plans for us. We changed 5 trains before we could say Hey, Brussels at 3pm! Obviously we missed visiting the Maroles and Vintage Markets. Then to make matters worse, it was difficult communicating with people who either did not know English or were unwilling to communicate in a language other than French or Dutch! But we managed through trial and error! We figured out how to purchase a metro ticket and we ventured out to visit the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. Bonus: nearly empty cathedral on a Sunday! The architecture of this cathedral resembles the much enormous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, by the way.

Day 6

2nd July

We had signed up for a walking tour offered by Sandemans and were thoroughly entertained and educated through the 3 hour long walk. To end the ankle-crushing walk, we ate some heavenly sugar and syrup waffles. Visiting Belgium and missing their frites (French Fries) is blasphemous, right?! Well, we did not commit that sin :) Do visit the Mont Des Arts, climb to the top and turn around. I promise you that the view of Brussels from up there will make you go Ooo la la! Since the kiddo was in tow, we visited the Comic Book Museum. Those who say comics are for kids are lying! I went crazier than the boy! In fact, the centre of the city has scenes from Belgian comics painted on the walls of different buildings. Each mural comes with a metal plaque that gives you a map showing the location of the closest murals. We managed to spot only 4 of them during our short stay in Brussels.

Day 8

Perfect Paris

If you get a chance to travel by a Thalys train, grab that chance. Super fast and most comfortable, you reach your destination in no time. Who designed the metros in Paris? They are the masters of logic and simplicity, I must say. Much impressed with how easy it was for a non-French speaker to access the metro and find her way around Paris!

4th July

Another informative and fun city walk with Sandemans followed by a visit to the Louvre. We used Rick Steves Louvre Walk. Be practical, you cannot possibly explore the entire museum in a single day. Even the self-guided tour that we relied on was saturating towards the end. Hands down, the Greek and Roman sculptures stand out for me. So do the French paintings. And the Mona Lisa did not fail to disappoint me! Instead the Wedding at Cana was completely gripping!

Day 9

5th July

We were staying in the Belleville area in Paris. So we headed out to explore the area and were promptly left feeling confused. Had we landed in China or perhaps Africa? No, of course not. When you are staying in a district with most number of expatriates, what else can you expect?! Do visit the Parc de Belleville for some amazing view of the city and look through the telescope to see the Eiffel Tower as though it was just an arms distance from you!

We then made our way to Trocadero Gardens to take a ride up the Eiffel Tower. The views of Paris from up above are so fulfilling and worth every cent that you pay for the tickets! Walk back down if you can and remember to explore the 1st floor. Dare to look down through the glass flooring! The serpentine line of people will looks like ants moving about with some sugary loot!

Day 10

6th July

Visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral and climbing the towers on the same day is doable. We chose to do it on two separate days. Get there early, before 9am, to beat the tourists and visit the Cathedral without jostling around with other people for some space to take in the Gothic architecture of the Cathedral. On the side of the cathedral, there is a kiosk where you can book a slot for the tower visit. The kiosk opens at 9:15am daily. Advance booking is not possible. Alternatively, you could book your slot on JeFile app. While at the top, don't miss spotting the edge of the island that is hosting you - the very same island where Paris was born!

Day 11

7th July

Montemartre - home to Sacre Coeur Basilica, Moulin Rouge, former home of Van Gogh and a square alive with artists coaxing you to get your portrait made! Eat the combo breakfast at Coquelicot. I strongly recommend opting for the bowl of chocolate! You will need that energy, trust me. We climbed up several flights of stairs to finally reach the base of the basilica. We approached it from behind and were able to get stunning views of the cathedral with not a single tourist or street hawker in sight. Even if you don't get a portrait made, visit the Place du Tertre and watch the artists at work. Some were good but most had a set template for portraits, me felt! Observe and observe more before you select who will do justice to your portrait! Climb the 300 odd stairs to the dome of the basilica and soak in the beauty that is Paris. If you are too weary from all the walking, take the funicular down to Anver metro station.

Do I have an unfulfilled wishes from my trip - just one. Not being able to witness sunset in Paris and watch the city of lights come alive. Does that sound like an excuse to go back during the winter? You bet!

Eiffel from Belleville

Photo of Parc de Belleville, Rue des Couronnes, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh

Seine from the edge of an island

Photo of Île Saint-Louis, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh

Notre Dame towers that seem to kiss the clouds

Photo of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, Parvis Notre-Dame - place Jean-Paul-II, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh

Gargamel, let go off that smurf!

Photo of Brussels Comic Book Museum, Rue des Sables, Brussels, Belgium by Nandini Ramesh

From the dome of Sacre Coeur Basilica

Photo of Sacré-Cœur, rue du Chevalier-de-La-Barre, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh

Go on, be comical!

Photo of Brussels, Belgium by Nandini Ramesh

Canal, boat, gable buildings - Check

Photo of Jordaan, Amsterdam, Netherlands by Nandini Ramesh

Hello, Iron Lady

Photo of Eiffel Tower, Avenue Anatole France, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh

Need I say anything?!

Photo of Louvre Museum, Rue de Rivoli, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh


Photo of Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, Netherlands by Nandini Ramesh

Spot it fast - edge of île de la cité

Photo of Île de la Cité, Paris, France by Nandini Ramesh

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