My Experience in Western Europe

In May of 2019, I went to Western Europe with a group of students from the Honors College at Grand Canyon University. This was my first experience traveling abroad. It was incredible and life-changing. We visited 7 different countries in two weeks. From the city of London; to Amsterdam; to a beautiful small town in Germany; to the gorgeous green hills of Austria; to my personal favorite, Venice, Italy; to snow-filled Switzerland; and finally, the grand city of Paris.  

While in London we saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben (who was sadly under construction and covered in scaffolding), rode the London Eye, went to Kings Cross Station and saw Platform 9 ¾, and even rode the Underground like real Londoners. It was super rainy and cold (for a native Arizonan).  We tried some local pubs and restaurants and was surprised by how similar and different eating out in Europe was. For example, if you want your food to go it is going to cost more and the service is much more laid back and calm compared to fast-paced consumerism in America.

Travel Tip: Always check the weather for where you’re going, and bring clothing for all types of weather regardless. Better safe than cold and wet and pack a swimsuit; you never know who has a pool.

We were only in Amsterdam for a day, and while there we went on a boat ride in the canals and went to the Rijksmuseum where we saw works by Rembrandt and Van Gough. After Amsterdam, we traveled to a small town in Germany.  We went on a small sunset hike to the top of a hill, watched a beer stein demonstration, and went shopping. 

 

Travel Tip: If possible try not to convert your money in airports, train stations, or on ferry boats.  Large businesses know people need to convert their money and drive up the conversion rates. Also, try and convert as much money as possible or convert money with friends, so you aren’t constantly converting small amounts and losing money.

After Germany, we drove to Austria. In Austria, we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. The experience was sad but important.  It was chilling and eerie, to be in a place, knowing how many people were harmed and killed for not being a dictator’s vision of “perfect”.  After Dachau, we went to a beautiful small town in Austria that looked like the cover of The Sound of Music. We went on a bike ride through the rolling hills and even went paragliding, which was AMAZING. I am an adrenaline junkie and thrived off the feeling of free-falling and being so high off the ground.

Next was Venice! The whole time we were there it felt like a movie.  We went on a gondola ride through the canals, looked at landmarks, did lots of shopping (I was surprised at how touristy and souvenir- filled Venice was), and tried gelato and had an authentic Italian dinner. A mishap that did happen while in Venice though; last minute we went on a tour of a Cathedral. I was not allowed in because I was wearing shorts; so, we tied 3 people’s jackets around my waist, so I was wearing a makeshift skirt.

Travel Tip: Research beforehand what clothes are socially and even legally acceptable depending on the country; and be aware of the dress code required while visiting certain landmarks.

After Venice was Switzerland. We rode a train to a train station at the top of a Swiss mountain and being from Arizona, I had never seen so much snow! Everywhere I looked it was completely white. The train station itself also had plenty to do. We walked through a real-life ice castle, and felt like Elsa from Frozen, saw a Lindt Chocolate Shop, and while down in the town we saw a Swiss knife demonstration.

The final stop on this whirlwind “holiday” was Paris, France. The night we got there we went to see the Eiffel Tower, and she was gorgeous. We went to the very top and we were able to see the lights of the whole city. The next day, we went on a bus tour and saw some landmarks, visited the opera house that inspired The Phantom of the Opera, tried macaroons, went shopping, and toured the Louvre. The Louvre was incredible, and we saw so many iconic works of art, like the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.

 

This is an experience I will cherish for a lifetime, the memories I made with new friends are irreplaceable. I recommend everyone to make time and save to travel, even if you stay in the state. Experiencing new people and a new environment is a wonderful way to grow and learn as a person. Plus, it is always fun to try new foods, shop, and take pictures!