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Spring Break in London and Amsterdam: Recap

I've always thought that my first college spring break trip would be to somewhere warm and tropical: Cabo, Cancun, Miami – the places it seems like every college student flees to as soon as March hits. However, my spring breaks in college have been anything but typical. My freshman year, our spring break happened to be the week after COVID hit – so spring break came early, and then technically turned into summer break. Sophomore year, the pandemic was still pushing on, so spring break was shortened to only a few days. Finally, as a junior, I can finally say I’ve had a real spring break – and though I didn’t go to one of the most popular spring break destinations, my trip exceeded every expectation I had.

This semester, 4 of my roommates and best friends are studying abroad in London. After I decided not to leave New York for the semester, I knew I had to at least go visit. I planned my trip months ahead and counted down the days and weeks until it arrived. Around a week before I left for London, my friends who were there found out they were now allowed to travel throughout Europe (they previously were forced to stay in London because of the pandemic). So, another leg was tacked onto the trip: Amsterdam.

I had never been to Europe before, so the trip was full of surprises. The first came immediately after I got off of the plane and into my Uber. I always knew that British people drove on the opposite side of the street, but actually experiencing it was uncanny, and, quite frankly, anxiety-inducing. I don’t know if I’d ever get used to that! Even crossing the streets was difficult, as I was always expecting cars to come from the right side instead of the left.

My first few days in London were a whirlwind of jetlag, fancy dinners, crowded clubs, and rides on the tube. I found myself especially intrigued by the Buckingham Palace guards – how do they stand so still?! As a picky eater, I didn’t try fish and chips, but we did eat at Gordon Ramsey’s pizza restaurant (secret: it was average). We also visited Camden Market, an outdoor market with what felt like millions of food vendors and shops – you could eat anything from a hamburger to Chinese food to something called a K-dog (a corndog with a twist?) and anything in between. Though London is often thought to be similar to New York, it was definitely a new experience for me.

After two days in London, it was time to pack our bags again for our trip to Amsterdam. Waking up at 4am for the flight certainly didn’t help my jetlag, but I knew it would be worth it – and I was right. After just a 45 minute flight, we found ourselves in the heart of Amsterdam surrounded by bicyclers, canals, and….marijuana. The culture shock in Amsterdam was bigger than I had thought it would be. We visited the Museum of Prostitution, and even walked past a few prostitutes hanging out in windows on the streets. The smell of marijuana was everywhere, and we couldn’t go anywhere without passing a “coffee shop”. One of the scariest surprises was how serious people were about their bikes. There were almost no cars, but bicyclers were everywhere, and it felt almost impossible not to get hit.

We visited the Van Gogh Museum on our second day in Amsterdam. Though I’m not much of an art person, the story of his life was extremely interesting, and we stayed in the museum for hours. His collection of art is so varied and there are so many different styles that it’s almost hard to believe it was all created by the same man. I was especially interested in his mental health issues, and the story behind why he cut off his own ear. Though I knew the basics, I learned many things I hadn’t known before, like how his neighbors petitioned for him to be sent to an asylum because he was so troublesome in the neighborhood.

We also visited the Anne Frank Museum, which was more interesting (to me) than the Van Gogh Museum, but also much sadder. I knew more about Anne Frank going into the museum than the average person, but seeing the diaries in person and hearing her father speak in interviews was surreal. The museum was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Stepping into the Secret Annex was definitely the most memorable part. The stairs were actually quite steep, and the Annex was bigger than I had thought (but by no means big enough for people to live in for two years). We were able to walk through all of the rooms in the Annex, and even looked at cutouts from magazines that Anne had hung up on her walls. The guided tour included facts about the Holocaust and read excerpts from Anne’s diary aloud to us as we walked through the museum. It didn’t hit me until the end that I was actually standing in the exact building that Anne and her family had hidden (and been found) in. It was a surreal experience.

After the museum, we all needed to be cheered up. It was a perfect time for our canal tour. I lived out my tourist dreams as I sat on a boat with wine and cheese, sailing through the many canals of the city. The tour guide was extremely informative and funny, and the experience was the perfect way to unwind after a long day.

After Amsterdam, we went back to London and I finished my trip with a tour of the Harry Potter Museum, St. Patrick’s day festivities, and lots of good food. My first time in Europe will definitely not be my last. Though saying goodbye to my friends was upsetting, I am happy to be back in New York and am already looking forward to the next time I get to travel.  

Kaleigh Pfohl

Fordham '23

Kaleigh is an International Political Economy major at Fordham and loves writing, reading, and social activism!
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