While studying abroad, vacations are incorporated into our semester schedule just like any other university. This is a nice chance to take a break from late nights of writing papers and studying, but also a wonderful opportunity to see other cities nearby. For my fall break I embarked on an adventure-filled tour of Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris over the course of ten days. Each city is uniquely its own. Berlin holds a strange peace and serenity to it in the day time with picturesque orange and gold trees sprinkled everywhere. Amsterdam is a storybook town, with its spotless canals, lush parks, and happy cyclists. Paris, an urban jungle: crowded streets, smushed together (sometimes even slanted) buildings, and amazing fashion.
At 850 acres, Tiergarten is Berlin’s oldest and largest park. With a cool temperature, a thick layer of fallen leaves, and a slow sunset, it felt like walking around in a calendar picture for November. The most notable and surreal thing about Tiergarten was the pure serenity of it. It’s right in the middle of Berlin, however there were few souls around. The park is so huge, you could easily spend a solitary day exploring it. You can’t really find that in places like Central Park or Hyde Park in New York, which are typically dotted with people. My favorite find in Tiergarten was a tree etched with romantic carvings from couples proclaiming their love for one another with hearts and arrows.
There is a lot of unused space in Berlin. The best example of this is Spreepark, an abandoned theme park next to Spree River. The park has been abandoned for almost 15 years and is popular for daredevils to sneak into and tour. Despite this, the park sits untouched. In America, developed space rarely sits around long enough for nature to reconquer, especially in a major city. Just taking a walk around Spreepark’s fence is an adventure. There are huge overturned dinosaur statues lying around. And at night when the wind blows, the ferris wheel makes some spooky noises.
Amsterdam wins the eco-friendly award. Cyclists definitely outnumber cars. It was whimsical seeing hoards of people biking to work in business attire, their briefcase stowed in the bicycles’ front basket. In Amsterdam, the bike lanes are as busy and stressful as a freeway lane. Crossing the main street was a dizzying affair each and every time, as there are about eight lanes of traffic and the central metro train meandering its way down the street too!
The Dutch even bike on their night outs. I saw couples pedaling in sync on two-person bikes, dressed to impress. As one person told us, “Everyone here has two bikes. A really good one, and then a crappy one in case the good one stops working…or if a friend comes to visit you.”
Amsterdam’s beauty is obviously prided. The canals and cobblestone streets are cleaned each night to look spic-and-span.
Therefore, Paris was a major change.
The outlying districts of Paris reminded me of New York, with trash thrown about on the street and in the gutters. To fix this problem, the streets have a steady stream of water running down them. The water comes out of curbside openings and washes the debris into the sewage system. It makes Paris more energy and eco-efficient, as the sewage water runs through a different set of pipes than the drinking water, and is therefore treated to different, less costly standards. Here’s an article that explains the eco-friendly water system in Paris way better than me. This practice is good for the environment, but not good for pedestrians crossing the street sometimes. There can be huge puddles near the curb. I feel sorry for any fierce Parisians wearing a cute pair of heels.
Random, but Paris really loves carousels. I saw about six of them in the most random places during my visit. That’s six more than I’ve seen in London. Obviously this needs to be fixed, Queen Elizabeth.
Thankfully, I was in Paris the weekend prior to the recent attacks. My thoughts and prayers go out to the multiple countries attacked this past week.