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Tag: Amsterdam



I never knew much about Amsterdam, but it had always been on my bucket list. I don’t know why I always had this gut feeling to go, but I did, and without doing any research on the city my friends and I booked a flight there for a weekend. If only I had known that a weekend was nowhere near enough time.

Our trip to Amsterdam came at a rough time. We conveniently planned it for the weekend before I had three final exams and three major essays due, and my stress was at an all-time high. The night before we left, I was in my room alone, grumpily packing my bag and wishing I could just sleep in in the morning rather than catch my early-morning flight. I almost didn’t even want to go, but I also had no idea what was coming.

While running on hardly any sleep, the ride to the airport, the wait, the flight, and the bus into Amsterdam were all a complete blur. It was a cloudy morning and I had not had a drop of coffee, so everything is a bit hazy. Our first stop was at an adorable breakfast restaurant where I finally truly opened my eyes after sipping on a hot cappuccino and taking my first bite of an authentic Dutch pancake. It was then that I realized I was literally in a dream world. The buildings all looked like they were etched out perfectly for a Christmas movie set. The people spoke with such eloquence in their Dutch accents. The weather was just brisk enough to refresh you but not cold enough to make you shiver. The streets were busy, with bikes whizzing past you in every direction all at once, but they did it so effortlessly it was almost relaxing. I loved how you could bump into a canal in almost any direction, and even though it made it made it a little confusing to get around, I didn’t mind getting lost one bit.

I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Amsterdam, but every step I took I found something to admire. There’s something so quaint about a city that’s bustling with bikes and has tulip shops on street corners. We stayed across the street from the Van Gogh museum, and everywhere I looked, the people of the Netherlands paid homage to their beloved Vincent. A city that loves art, flowers, bikes, and canals is a city for me.

We, of course, had to make the touristy stop to the “I amsterdam” sign, where two very kind British guys helped me conquer my fear of heights and lifted me up onto the sign. We made our way around the city center, and even stumbled upon the bench that was made famous in the movie “The Fault in Our Stars”, where we encountered a line of teenage girls waiting to take a photo on it. It was cheesy but fun, because 16 year old me who absolutely adored that movie would have never thought I would ever actually see it. But the thing that really stuck with me was our visit to the Anne Frank House, where we got to enter the secret annex that the Franks actually hid in during the Holocaust. It really put things into perspective for me. There are no words to describe how I felt walking through that exhibit, and although it was not a super fun and exciting thing to do, it was necessary. You learn about things your entire life, but nothing is truly like being there in the place where it actually happened. After we went through the exhibit, none of us really knew what to say. It felt weird stepping outside and back into present day like nothing happened. But it did happen, and that’s the most important thing to remember.

We ended our trip by visiting the Heineken museum, where we learned all about the brewing process and got to experience some really interesting exhibits. As someone who has never enjoyed beer until this semester, I like to pride myself on all of my newfound knowledge I’ve acquired from breweries I’ve visited in Europe (But, obviously, Guinness will still always be my favorite!)

Although my time in Amsterdam was nowhere near enough, it gave me a glimpse into a beautiful city that I never thought I would fall in love with, and now all I can think about is how happy I would be if I could live there. Maybe I’ll never be a local resident riding her bike across town, but I know I will definitely come back for a longer visit one day.

Fall Break 2018 Recap- A Beginners Guide To Country Hopping (& Spontaneous Finds)

Fall Break 2018 Recap- A Beginners Guide To Country Hopping (& Spontaneous Finds)

Ciao, Hello, Hallo, Ahoj!

Fall break was an overwhelmingly amazing 10 day spread of European travel– and I’m here to dive into ALL of it (or as much of it as I can):

1st Stop- 4 days in London

London, London, London! What to say about London! One of the gloomiest autumn cities, but also one of the most gorgeous autumn cities I’ve ever seen in my LIFE. My first day in London was dedicated to no other than the classics: London Eye, Big Ben (although my view of Big Ben was his clock peering through construction pipes, but I saw him nonetheless), palaces, parks, oh my! I recommend skipping entry fees and just observing the feeling of the areas (unless your a Royal family fanatic, then by all means)– the London eye/bridge was hustling and bustling and, in my opinion, drinking mulled wine from a food truck and walking around was almost better than waiting in insanely long lines to get on the eye.

While all of the touristy stuff is good fun, London is GIANT, and there’s so many things to do all over the city.

What to definitely NOT miss in London is the markets. They’re phenomenal. And while I didn’t get a chance to visit all of them, the one’s I did visit were instantly some of my favorite spots. Here’s my top 2:

  1. Camden Market (CAMDEN LOCK PLACE, LONDON NW1 8AF)

Camden Market has over 1,000 shops ranging from dried fruit earrings to killer Chinese food. My venture to Camden Market was on a rainy morning- and I think it made my experience better. The market is both indoors and outdoors, with the best handmade goods, thrift shops, and food vendors. The market surrounds a canal that gives boat rides which makes it unbelievably picturesque, and regardless what spot you reside in Camden Market, you’re going to have an amazing time.

*Tip– If you walk to Camden Market, theres a block of touristy shops that say “Camden Market’ above them- but that is NOT the market. You will see the canal and the black sign saying “CAMDEN MARKET COME IN WE’RE OPEN.” It clearly looks like a structured building and it’s hard to miss!

2.   Borough Market (8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL)

Borough Market- oh my god. If you’re not hungry when you walk in here, you instantly will be. This is a food market with both hot, prepared food and packaged food to take home (I came for lunch and was not disappointed). An amazing part about Borough is that almost every vendor wants you to try their product- It’s like, fancy London Costco. I was handed seafood paella, a steamed mussel, copious amounts of cheese, truffle honey, etc. It was a dream. My lunch was toast topped with sautéed mushrooms (simmering in a giant vat of butter) with herbs and parmesan cheese and a piece of roasted cheese- I’m drooling thinking about it.

My motto for London, and every other place I visit, is to walk EVERYWHERE and honestly, not plan a dang thing. Of course, if you have spots you can’t miss, make a note to visit (reference to touristy London spots/markets- because it’s almost necessary to go), but not having a crazy scheduled day leaves you with the best gift you can have while traveling: the opportunity to stumble upon amazing things.


  1. Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet (you heard me)

Upon the realization that I was in London the same as the BFI London Film Festival (contact if you ever need research on a city), I made loose plans to be in the same area and possibly see a film. Long story short- I was standing about 2 feet from the Beautiful Boy red carpet and got stand by tickets to the premier. Truly didn’t feel like real life. Truly proved my motto to be true.

2. Crazy good breakfast spots-

Staying in Bloomsbury gifted me with some stellar spots to start my day (easily accessible if you aren’t in Bloomsbury!)-

  • Ginger Jules (Gordon Square Garden Kiosk, London WC1H 0PD, England) $

Ginger Jules reminds me of a little woodland fairy house with the best gingerbread coconut chai i’ve ever tasted in my life.  It’s a little garden kiosk in Gordon Sqaure, an old spot for famous writers, and when you walk up to the counter early in the morning you get smells of baked goods and sights of pre-lunch homemade soup preparation. It is vegetarian and vegan friendly and has a large supply of alt. milks (being a coconut milk enthusiast, I was over the moon). Due to the feeling of sipping a coffee and eating carrot cake in a leafy, earthy area, I became a short-lived regular. Let’s just say I will be dreaming of Ginger Jules.

  • Half Cup (100-102 Judd st, London WC1H 9NT, United Kingdom) $$

Half Cup is nestled on a side street near Tavistock Square, and usually has a line out the door. However, have no fear, because while you wait for breakfast you can sip something warm from the coffee bar (charcoal latte, maple chai, or caffe americano anyone?). Both the indoor and outdoor seating is unbelievably cozy, and the food matches the mood. You can feast on traditional english breakfast or, my new favorite, parma ham pancakes (a short-stack of ham, pancake, and gooey cheese topped with a sunny side up egg). A little pricey, but worth it.

3. Primark

Primark is just, simply, the place to be.

Overall, London was jam-packed with good food, long walks, and amazing finds. I cannot wait to return.

2nd Stop- 2 days in Amsterdam 

*Tip- to save money, book overnight busses to different countries (one less night in a hotel/hostel, no plane costs). It may result in a sore back, but hey, it gets you there.

After 14 hours on bus, I arrived to sunny, smiling Amsterdam. Amsterdam is probably the most crazy beautiful place I’ve ever been. Even the best pictures of Amsterdam don’t do it justice. It was a tucked away haven of bikes, bridges, and leafy plants all rolled into one breathtaking city.

My time in Amsterdam was very museum-heavy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I visited the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh museum, and the museum of prostitution in the red light light district. If you can only squeeze in one of the three, I recommend the Van Gogh museum, due to the fact that it’s so big, so worth the entrance fee, and located in a museum campus (the museum lives right next to the modern art museum, so if you have a free moment and are in the area, you can check that out too!). It’s all around a wonderful area to walk around in after you visit. Also, the Van Gogh museum cafe provided me with zucchini, pea, and leek soup, and it most definitely changed the game of soup for me.


  1. Boat cruise! Boat cruise! Boat cruise!

20 euros for over an hour drinking wine and cruising around Amsterdam- you truly can’t beat it. Amazing for architecture, amazing for meeting people, amazing for feeling like you are the royalty of Amsterdam.

2. Mini dutch pancakes w/ nutella

I don’t care where you get them. Find them. Devour them. They’re delicious.

3. Omelegg (Ferdinand Bolstraat 143, 1072 LH Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

The perfect breakfast spot. It’s nestled on a cobblestone street minutes from the city center and has the coziest feel inside. Build your own omelets are the thing to get; they’re soft and fluffy and come with salad and a huge piece of toast.

4. Try some sort of lemonade or iced tea

It looks like water, it’s weirdly clear, but it’s so good? How do they do it?

My biggest tip for Amsterdam is to explore outside the city center. Dam Square and it’s surroundings are sights to see for sure, but the outskirts are easily just as charming and are laced with beautiful parks and cutely curated shops. Don’t limit yourself just to the main part of the city!

3rd stop- 2 days in Prague

13 hours in a bus go by and I arrive in Prague, or should I call it, Christmas town. Prague was seriously a magical wonderland. You could look out from any point on St. Charles bridge an see the most breathtaking landscape of warm orange trees. It was a pleasure just to look around in Prague– the air was crisp, there was an old, charming man playing accordion basically everywhere you went, and little street vendors with homemade art and jewelry decorated the town. It was the coziest place in the world without even trying; it was naturally warm and fuzzy. If you stay in the city center you are bound to find a plethora of things to do: boat rides that give you gingerbread and hot chocolate (I told you, Christmas town), gorgeous chapels that give organ concerts, market places galore (market place = chimney donuts = the place to be), weird museums (there is both a torture museum AND a medical torture museum, in case ‘torture museum’ wasn’t specific enough) and tucked away coffee shops. It’s just, a dream. I’m almost convinced Prague isn’t even real and I created it in my mind.


  1. Swans

SWANS. ALL OVER THE PLACE. There’s a spot on the water where swans and other birds just flock to greet you (or eat your food). It’s absolutely wild- bring some bread or veggies if you go.

*Quick info on the Czech swans- they are so comfortable with humans due to their displacement and the destruction of their homes. They now rely on humans to sustain them, they don’t have natural resources for food or living space. While this is an exciting attraction, it also brings light to the anthropogenic impact we have on wildlife. If you go, bring food for them because they now rely on it (no processed goods, please) and remain conscious that these birds no longer have permanent homes because of us.

2. Gingerbread houses

There are little huts of baked goods hiding all over Prague– they have mulled wine, hot chocolate, and gingerbread and coconut and chocolate treats! Quite possibly the best snack to have in Christmas town.

3. “Fun Explosive”

This is a brand that is sold in many stores in Prague. It has the cutest, funkiest prints. If you are looking for souvenirs or something cool to remember your trip, I highly recommend. Buy a t-shirt, tote bag, stickers, or all of the above!

4. Look around you!

I cannot stress this enough. Stick your head around, snoop a little, find breathtaking spots to take in for a moment. There is a boat dock near St. Charles bridge that you can’t get to, but there’s a lookout perched above it, and it looks like a painting. There is so much architectural and natural peace in Prague. I highly suggest you find it.


Fall break, London, Amsterdam, Prague,  you will be missed. Beans for breakfast and 14 hour bus rides, you will not be missed.

Borough Market in the fall, London
St. Charles bridge, Prague
Bikes&boats, Amsterdam
Boat cruise (aka living the height of luxury), Amsterdam
Ginger Jules, London!
Hidden gingerbread hut in Prague!
Timothee Chalamet, London
Amsterdam, looking stunning as always.
Sweet swans, Prague
Spring Break: Cold Krakow and Artsy Amsterdam

Spring Break: Cold Krakow and Artsy Amsterdam

As spring break comes to an end here at the JFRC, I just want to reflect on the places I visited, and talk a bit about the things I learned along the way. I spent two days in Krakow, Poland, and two days in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Afterwards I came back to Rome and have been enjoying the quiet of campus while also getting out to explore more of the Roman city center.

I flew to Krakow with my friend Victoria. Originally, I had planned to visit London and maybe Ireland over break, two places I have always wanted to see. Alas, London is not cheap, and I want to spend more than a couple of days there when I do finally get to see it. Victoria wanted very much to see her family’s roots in Poland and was planning to travel there alone. I thought, “It’s not on my list, but I could go to Poland too!” I’m so glad that I did. The first day, Victoria and I walked around the frigid streets of Krakow, shopping for gifts in an outdoor market and enjoying some delicious pierogi and mushroom soup. Unfortunately, early on the second day, Victoria lost her wallet. After filing a report with the police, and retracing our steps, twice, we came up with no wallet. In the process of searching, we did see a lot of the city, maybe more than we would have had the wallet not been lost.

On day two, we took a guided tour of Auschwitz. The camp was an hour and a half drive from where we were staying in Krakow. It truly was an experience like no other. Nothing has ever brought my life into perspective as powerfully as that 4 hour tour of the expansive camp. We both cried several times and sometimes it took a concentrated effort for me to keep myself composed. The tour was good, at least, as good as a tour of such a place could ever be. Our guide, Domenica, was sincere and patient as she took us through each hall of the museum and every area of the camp.

Of course, I had already known of the atrocities that took place here between 1940 and 1945, but to stand in the spaces where they took place was another story. Touching the wood of the bunks, walking across the uneven stone paths, connecting to this place made me hyper aware of all the blessings I normally take for granted. I missed home more in those moments than ever before. The museum portion features glass walls that hold huge piles of belongings that were stolen from those forced into the camp. Children’s shoes, cookware hastily packed from Jewish kitchen shelves, prosthetic legs taken from those that would never again need them, tons of human hair. All of it saved to remind visitors how real this camp was, and still is.

Although it is not an easy tour to take, I cannot recommend it enough. Before the tour, I expected I would only feel one way: sad. But I felt more than that. I felt dismay, anger, grief, but also strength, perseverance, even happiness. It was a lot of emotion all at once to say the least. Even though the temperature was in the 20s that day, Auschwitz was the coldest place I have ever been.  

From there, Victoria and I flew to Amsterdam to meet with our friends who would be getting in soon after we did. Amsterdam is bursting with its own unique personality. It reminds me of some Chicago neighborhoods like Wicker Park, of Hansel and Gretel-esque stories, and of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory all at once. Everyone rides a bike, electric cars are common, and yes, the coffee culture certainly is, different, than ours. The city is intersected by countless rivers and canals. One such river separated our hostel from the bustling city center of Amsterdam. This is where all of the city’s museums, galleries, and shopping was. To go to the “real Amsterdam” as our cab driver called it, we would walk a minute or two from our hostel, and hop on the 24 hour ferry that takes you across the river every few minutes. Bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians, and cars would drive up onto the ferry just in time to float across on their way to work every day. Amsterdam was the first city that I can see myself living in, for a few years at least.

While Poland had cheap, hearty meals, Amsterdam was full of not-so-cheap, sweet treats. For breakfast I had delicious Dutch apple and cheese pancakes. Throughout the day it was never hard to find ice cream and pastries everywhere. After the bone-chilling Polish streets, Amsterdam’s upper 40s felt balmy. The most notable event was the Anne Frank museum. Tickets were only nine euro, but they have to be purchased in advance. The tour takes you through every room of the building that housed the Frank family, as well as the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. We were given whisper boxes that guided us through the house with English audio explanations of what we were seeing. I learned how smart and imaginative Anne was. I gained a better understanding of what life was like for those in hiding during the NAzi occupation of the Netherlands.

Overall, the four day trip was great. It was shorter than other spring breaks at the JFRC but it was packed full of events, some challenging, some just fun. Now that the weather is warming up in Rome, I’m looking forward to exploring the city more and getting better at public transportation here. Yesterday, I went with one of our SLAs Ola to a few places around Palatine Hill. We saw the beautiful cemetery where poet John Keats and William Shelley are buried. We peered through the famous Aventine keyhole and got a cheap dinner at Freni e Frizioni. They had specialty cocktails inspired by famous movies and shows. Naturally, I got the Better Call Saul.



The view from a bridge in Amsterdam


Bikes, Ferry, and Amsterdam Centraal Train Station


The bookshelf used to conceal Ann Frank and the others in hiding.


Views from my early flight to Amsterdam from Poland.


Just a few desserts in Amsterdam


The Non Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley (and many cats) can be found.














How to be a non-touristy tourist.

How to be a non-touristy tourist.

How do you become a non-touristy tourist? You can’t. If you want to be like a local, you’ll grab some take out and plop down on your couch for the better part of your trip.

What you can do, though, is be a cultural tourist rather than a sight-seeing one.

Back home in Chicago, I often find myself walking around, mouth wide open, staring at things. The city is teeming with life, and I’m always startled by the glimpses of beauty that I catch while walking down the block. For example, this summer, I stumbled across a community garden that runs along some train tracks in Andersonville. It was only a few feet wide, but there was gravel path that wound through artfully arced branches, creating a (terribly romantic) tunnel. It dawned on me that that is how you get to know a city; you find the little parts that individuals and communities have claimed for themselves and try to grasp what they see.

But, I live in Chicago. I take the Sears Tower (yes, Sears) and Navy Pier for granted. In a sense, I live in Cork too. I can take my time to blend in a bit before I whip out my Nikon and start madly snapping pictures of local monuments. Amsterdam, however, was a different ball game for me. I had to try to reconcile my urge to act like a local with my panicked need to see everything the city had to offer.

And so, I found myself fully accepting that at times I would look like an overzealous goof, trying to grab my camera out of my bag while attempting to tame the wild maps and souvenirs waiting for their escape. It’s OK to want to capture a city’s unique look and feel. If you crouch down enough and angle your camera slightly, people might believe you’re getting paid to take those pictures.

Grabbed a cheap breakfast of fruit from a local Turkish grocery store.

The key to not annoying the natives is knowing when to put the selfies aside. I’ve found that watching how people interact with each other – especially the small things, such as which side of the sidewalk people walk on – can carry just as much weight as learning when the royal palace was built. If you want to know the place you’re in rather than just see it, grab a cup of tea in every cafe you can. Beers in pubs work too, if that’s more your style. Everyday lives don’t often revolve around the great museums and statues, they center on the minimart down the street.

The most important thing is to have a framework for the day and then leave room for happy accidents. One night, a couple of friends and I were searching for a place to eat. We found a small restaurant called Serengeti down a side street. After debating about going in there or heading back to a Chinese place with an all-Dutch menu, we took a chance. The food was foreign, the decorations were bright and the setting was so intimate that we felt like we were barging in on a private party. In fact, I think we did. But after having a fantastic meal accompanied by some off-the-handle mango beers and music performed by the owner and her brother, I knew we found a gem. When I think of Amsterdam, that’s what I’ll remember.

Amazing mango beers.

Throw the guidebook out the door; you’ll know what’s important by how many people are crowding around it. Walk through parks and get lost. Cities are living organisms, and culture is the undercurrent pulsing through them. You can’t see it and you certainly can’t take a picture of it. You have to live it.

And you wanna know the best part of avoiding some of those sights? It’s cheaper too. #brokecollegestudent


If anyone is interested in seeing the large amount of pictures I did actually take while in Amsterdam, here’s the link.