Posted by Meghan Callender on Jun 19, 2018

Hallo Tumwater Rotary! 

 

I have quite the update for you. I’m currently writing this on a bus full of 42 other exchange students all on our way back to The Netherlands after a two week tour all around Europe. I think I speak for all of them when I say it was some of the most amazing moments of my life. 

 

The day before we left for the tour, we had our graduation party in Lelystad, a more central city of The Netherlands. To celebrate our accomplishment, we had food from all over the world, performances by all the students, dancing, singing, and good times with each other and our host parents. The next morning we all loaded onto our bus, and headed off to our first stop, Berlin, Germany. 

 

Berlin was amazing! The city is absolutely huge, with people from all over the world and beautiful architecture. We took a tour through the city, and also had time to walk around on our own. I took pictures with the Berlin Wall, saw the Brandenburg Gate, and for dinner we ate traditionally German food (although I can not say it is my favorite!) In the night we all sat beside a river watching the city. I have to say it was exhausting, we walked forever that day it seemed like, trying to see everything in such an enormous city, but of course it was worth it. 

 

Our next stop took us to Krakow, Poland. I think there’s a possibility this was my favorite stop of the whole trip. Poland was absolutely beautiful. The streets were so clean, and the buildings were gorgeous. We spent 4 nights in Poland, staying in the “Hollywood Hostel”. The biggest part of our stop in Poland was probably our trip to Auschwitz. A very heavy day, we toured the former camps, and payed respects to all that was lost there. I cannot properly convey what this experience was like through words. The next day, we toured the only castle in Poland, and also a famous art museum. All three nights we ate traditional Polish food, and one of the nights we ate in a Jewish neighborhood, and listened to a special performance of Jewish music. At night, we sat by the water and watched the city, just as in Berlin. 

 

Continuing on in our journey, we traveled on to Vienna, Austria. We spent only 1 night in Austria. During our visit to Austria, we visited markets, ate traditional Austrian food, visited the Austrian Parliament, an Austrian Palace, and wandered around the city taking photos and experiencing the culture. During the free time, I went with a friend to a café to try a very common Austrian cake, usually eaten on birthdays, and it was so good. After dinner that night, we went to an amusement park in the city. There we spent a small amount of time riding rides and laughing throughout the night. 

 

Our next stop would be Lido De Jesolo, Italy. But before this, we had to ride overnight from Vienna. I think we can all easily say it was the worst night of sleep any of us had ever had, trying to sleep on a smelly bus, and I think a lot of us were awake most of the night. But we watched the sun rise on the hills of Italy as we drove in from the east, until we arrived to our next hostel at around 9 am, where we had breakfast and waited for our rooms to be ready. Once our rooms were ready, we all showered, and put on our swimsuits for a day on the beach. I think it was a very necessary off day, with no scheduled plans, a lot of us either laid on the beach, swam in the water, ate pizza, shopped, or took naps. I personally did all of the above. We spent 3 nights in Italy. On the second day, we visited Venice, a city with no roads. We wandered around the beautiful city, taking pictures of canals, buying souvenirs, and stuffing our faces with some of the best pasta I had ever eaten. We also took a lovely gondola tour through the canals, seeing all the sights of Venice. For dinner we had delicious pizza, and we ended our nights on the gorgeous Italian beach. 

 

Moving right along, we drove from Italy to the Appalachian mountains of France, in the city of Chamonix. I loved it! It was the first time I had seen a real mountain in 10 months! I felt at home surrounded by the amazing natural views. Since we arrived in the evening, after dinner, we took a quick tour of the city, did some much needed laundry, and sang very enthusiastic karaoke in the hostel with lots of other French mountain men, and it felt like something out of an autobiography. The next morning, we all woke up to go on a hike through Mt. Blanc. We first took a gondola up the mountain before we began.  It was a normal and comfortable hike for me, coming from Washington, but for some of the other students who had never even seen a mountain before, it proved quite difficult. Either way, it was worth it for the beautiful views. After our hike, we went to visit a glacier. It was awesome! We took a train through the mountains to the area, and when we arrived, some of us went down and up around 500 steps plus a gondola to visit ice caves within the glacier. I have never seen anything like it, and it was so amazing, to be surrounded by a glacier! The glacier was so blue and beautiful, but it was sad to see how much of the glacier had melted over the years. To finish the day, I walked around Chamonix with my friend and tasted vibrantly colored French macaroons, ate dinner, and spent a cozy and exhausted night in the hotel recovering from a long day. 

 

Our last city stop began with the longest drive yet, from Chamonix to Paris, France. Upon arrival, we unpacked our luggage and headed straight to dinner. So far, French food had not let me down, and that night I don’t think any of us were disappointed by the large buffet of French food and desserts. After dinner we took a bus to visit the Disney Village, where we looked at souvenirs and walked around. We returned the the hotel in time for a good nights sleep, we all wantend to be rested to visit the real Disney Paris park the next day! So the next morning, we woke up, ate a yummy breakfast, and raced of to the park. We rode all the rollercoasters first thing, then took time for the smaller rides after. We took pictures with the Disney characters and of course in front of the castle. At night we rejoined in a big group to watch the Disney Castle fireworks, and lots of the exchange students had to cry knowing we were reaching the end of our tour and the end of our exchanges also. On our last full day of the Europe tour, we finally made it into the actual city of Paris. We started with a bus tour around the city, and were then given free time during the middle of the day. During this time my friends and I visited the parliament, notre dame, went shopping and ate French food. In the evening we all met for dinner, and afterward we were treated to a boat tour that led us through 22 of the 37 bridges in France. The tour was lovely and it was nice to look at the city from the canal. We ended our night at the Eiffel Tower, watching it light up and twinkle over the city. It was a perfect ending to an amazing trip. I wish I could do it all over again. 

 

So now I am back in the Netherlands, with a little under 6 weeks left to go! I am making the best of it for sure, but it is bittersweet knowing I will eventually need to return home. For now though, I will continue to embrace the Dutch lifestyle as my own. 

 

Groetjes, 

Meghan Callender