For my fall break during study abroad in Italy at FUA (Florence University of the Arts), I decided to plan a trip to Amsterdam, Paris, and Barcelona with my friends. This time we weren’t using student travel service Bus2Alps, as per usual. Organizing a trip on our own, we were able to customize our experience without being on a tour leader’s agenda. However, it did add more stress; making sure that you’re on time to every transportation departure can be difficult. Oh, and speaking of stressful planning, imagine beginning your trip with a public transportation strike…
A couple of days before fall break started, we got an email about a public transportation strike. This was the worst thing to hear, especially because it started the exact day of our departure. I devised a plan to outsmart the strikers. We booked a cheap hostel in Pisa the night before our Ryanair flight to avoid bus/rail travel from Florence. The next day, we got up at 5 a.m. headed to the Pisa airport (the closest airport to get cheap flights out of if you’re abroad in Florence). My spirits were high, knowing that I had beaten the strike and would be straight chillin’ in Amsterdam for the next couple of days. We were two hours early for the flight, so we went to the gate waited. We noticed on-screen flight departure times were starting to appear with 10-minute delays. The more they kept getting postponed, the more nervous we got. There was no way that this could happen today. After watching the departure board play with my heart – for hours – the flight was finally cancelled. Everyone was outraged and rushed to the ticket counter to change flights. I felt as though life was over. No Amsterdam, no Paris, and no Barcelona. We waited for another hour just to get to the front of the line, only to find out that there were no alternative flights going anywhere close to The Netherlands. I gave up after that and was literally done with the entire airport. If Ryanair was a real person, we would have fought. That’s how angry I was. Luckily I had a determined team, lead by my friend, Nate and my girlfriend, Keeks. Nate was in charge of finding out which flight would get us as close to Amsterdam as possible, while Keeks figured out what we would do upon arrival. The hastily devised plan was to fly to Paris and take an overnight train. To me, it seemed like this was never going to work but YOLO, I guess… right?
After successfully getting onto our flight (and a bottle of wine), hopes were high – but more stress was to come. We landed in Paris around 9 p.m. and instantly found out that all buses and trains to Amsterdam were full until the next day. Someone had the idea of renting a car and driving there. And guess who’s the only one who can drive stick? Me. (Almost all cars are stick in Europe and automatics cost a lot more.) I would have to drive five hours after being up for almost a full 24… YOLO! However, and rightly so, no car service would give us car, without a reservation, to drive out of the country. One of the staff gave us our only option: a taxi from Paris to Amsterdam for €1,000, split between seven of us. It sounds ridiculous, but after everything that we went through, there was no stopping us now. After a 5-hour ride and €150 a head, we were finally in The Netherlands.
Amsterdam was dope. It’s my ideal lifestyle, and I walked the streets everyday with the biggest smile. We spent most of the time in the Red Light District, going from coffee-shop to restaurant. But the main purpose of being there was the Amsterdam Music Festival. It was the craziest concert I have ever been to. It was sold out, and there were over 100,000 people and three huge stages inside one stadium. You would go from one stage down a long hallway, thinking you were exiting the arena, and end up at another huge stage with crazy light shows and people jumping up and down to the beat to some of the biggest DJ’s, like: Hardwell, Fedde Le Grande, Alesso, Armin Van Buuren, and many more. But Yellow Claw stood out among all the big shots. They played Trap-step music, which is like dub-step mixed with hip-hop, and everyone formed a huge mosh pit. It’s fun jumping around pushing people as hard as you can, and then patting them on the back with a smile when the song is over. After the concert, we had a couple more days in Amsterdam. But the journey was to continue back to Paris.
To get there, we took an Amsterdam-Paris Eurolines bus, which was about a 5-hour trip. A small tip: I wouldn’t try to take any “gifts” from Amsterdam to Paris, because, as the France boarder patrol informed me, they are “forbidden.” After a couple of confiscations, all was OK and we continued on to our destination. There are two St. Christopher’s hostels in Paris. I booked the Gare du Nord for me and my girlfriend, and my friends booked The Canal. They were both awesome and I recommend them to everyone visiting Paris. We had some drinks at the hostel bar and went to see the Eiffel Tower at night. It’s covered in lights and every hour after dark there’s a glittering show. The next day, after some obligatory crepes and a free walking tour, we were on to the next one: Barcelona!
To start off, I want to say that Barcelona just might be my favorite place and that I kind of want to live there… I guess we’ll see! We took an hour bus from Paris to the Beauvais Airport, where we boarded my favorite airline, Ryanair, to Barcelona. There were no interruptions this time and we were headed to Spain on time! We took a public bus to the city center and found our hostel pretty easily – the same chain as Paris – Barcelona St. Christopher Hostel. Upon arrival, we found pamphlets advertising scooter rentals for only €28 a day. Definitely had to do that. We headed to Cooltra the next day and got our rides. One important thing about renting cars/scooters/anything drive-able abroad, is that American licenses are not valid in Europe. You’re supposed to apply for an international permit at AAA in America before you travel (which before this I didn’t know was a thing). However, they were chill about it and told me if I got pulled over I’d have to pay €120 to get the scooter out of the impound lot. I was hesitant to rent one but… YOLO, right? After a couple of tips on roads with heavy police activity to avoid, we were off!
This was the best decision I have ever made on a trip. Keeks and I split a moped and we were able to see the entire city. We had so much fun riding around in traffic and seeing all the sites. It was awesome how fast we got around, too. Like one time, we were looking for the bull arenas and ended up at the mall instead. If we had walked there, we would of been so tired and disappointed; the bull arena was actually on the other side of the city. But instead of giving up, like we would have on foot, we just hoped back on and were there in five minutes.
The nightlife in Barcelona is crazy. My favorite bar I went to was the Stock Exchange, where drink prices vary based on how many people buy – just like the stock market! I spent a lot of time staring at the drink “stocks” waiting for my favorites to drop. And when the stock market crashes, lights go off and everyone rushes to the bar to get the best deal. The clubs were even more fun.
My favorite was Shoko, an underground bar with a back exit right that goes right onto the beach. It was amazing being able to dance with Keeks and then go out to the beach and chill, watching drunk people swim in their clothes, guys trying to sell you various things, and even a nude guy strolling by.
Another great experience in Barcelona was the soccer game: Barcelona vs. Madrid. The city gets really hyped. You can watch the games in any restaurant. I even got some jerseys just for the occasion. A tip is to get them from the illegal street vendors because instead of spending €40-€70 for one, I got two for €35. But you have to be good at bargaining.
Overall this was the best vacation I have ever had. I got to see so many different parts of Europe and spent the right amount of time in each one. I ended my trip with a flight with Vueling Airlines back to Pisa, and a Terravision bus back to Florence. I was both exhausted and sad to leave. After all of this though, I definitely feel more comfortable traveling on my own, outside of student travel agencies. And now can see that there is a way out of any unfortunate situation – an important travel lesson to learn. We made the best out of all the ups and downs of our trip and grew a lot from it. Now it’s like, “How am I ever going to top this?”
Ciao ciao arrivederci,