Monday, April 1, 2013

Escapades in Europe!

We had a week off of school, so my friend Claudia and I went backpacking and ventured to Stockholm, Sweden; Tallinn, Estonia; and Paris, France!

Our escapades began when we got on the wrong train to Stockholm. Luckily, we realized it before the train left and were able to get off. We had been pretty occupied with midterm madness the week leading up to our trip, so we weren’t prepared at all (we didn’t even think to print off any maps). So upon arrival, we had absolutely no clue where to go. We finally figured out the metro system, but then got on the wrong bus, which added about 45 extra minutes. Finally, we arrived at our hostel (after walking half a mile in the wrong direction) around 2 a.m. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep!

We started off Saturday morning just wandering around towards Gamla Stan (the old part of Stockholm), and we found a pretty neat view of the city near our hostel.

Gamla Stan was pretty neat with cobblestone streets and beautiful old buildings. Claudia and I went inside Stockholm Cathedral, which has to be the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen!

We found the Royal Palace and happened to get there right before noon, which is when they do the changing of the guard. As Claudia said, it was pretty anticlimactic. We waited for about 15 minutes before they finally started, and they pretty much just marched a bit. The palace was very pretty to see though.

Claudia and I walked along the walking street, which was PACKED with tourists! We found the Icebar, which is the original ice bar, but it was 180 krona to get in so we just took pictures outside.

We then went on a mission to find a park called Haga, which Google Maps told us was a 38 minute walk from our hostel. Total lie. It took nearly an hour from where Icebar was. We finally found the park, but we were stuck on the other side of traffic. We found what we thought was a walking bridge, but it turned out to be a railroad under construction.

We ended up having to “play Frogger” and run across the highways to get to the park. We saw people walking around in the snow on what we thought was a large field, but it turned out to be a giant frozen lake! So of course we had to walk on it. I’ll admit, we were pretty terrified for the first bit, but it was really neat! And, we didn’t slip and fall once!

We headed back towards the hostel and stopped at Max along the way. Awesome cheap burgers! When we finally arrived back at the hostel, we were absolutely exhausted! Claudia calculated that we had walked about 15 miles that day!

On Sunday, we went to a park where there was supposed to be a free tour of the city. We couldn’t find any guides, so we decided to go see City Hall. It was beautiful! We got to go into the hall where they hold the banquet for the Nobel Prize reception and see a room completely covered in 24 carat gold!

After our tour, Claudia and I walked along the water to the History Museum. I really wanted to go to the Vasa Museum and see Viking ships (I wrote a 9 page research paper on Viking ships last week, so I was pretty stoked to be able to see them in person), but sadly, it was closed for renovations. Thankfully the History Museum had a Viking section, so that was cool to see. I was a big nerd and gave Claudia a history of Nordic mythology and Viking ships as we walked through.

It took longer to get through the museum than we thought, so we went over to the next island for a quick picture of the Nordic Museum before going back to the hostel.

Monday morning Claudia and I woke up at 4:45 to catch our plane to Tallinn, Estonia. We planned to take the metro and switch to a train at the central station that would take us straight to the airport. As it turned out, what we thought was the metro station was actually some sort of stadium. We couldn’t find the metro station anywhere, so we had to half jog half power walk the two and a half miles to the central station with our massive backpacks. I think the guards at the palace got a kick out of how ridiculous we must have looked. Somehow, we miraculously made it to the airport on time!

We thought the craziness was over when we arrived in Tallinn, but nope, our day got even more hectic! We knew we had to take a bus to our hostel but we weren’t sure which one, so I decided to ask a bus driver while Claudia looked for a ticket booth. As soon as I stepped on the bus and asked about tickets, the driver shut the doors and took off! I quickly tried to explain that my friend was still at the airport with the money, map, and address of our hostel, but as it turned out, the driver didn’t speak ANY English. Panic attacks ensued since I knew our phones wouldn't work outside of Denmark, but thankfully, the next bus stop was only half a mile from the airport. I walked back on two to three inches of sheer ice (miraculously without falling) while poor Claudia was  wondering where the heck I had gone. Thankfully, I made it back!

We figured out the buses and BOTH got on  the right bus this time and made it to the city. Being the direction illiterate people that we are, we ended up walking the opposite direction for a mile before realizing it. Long story short, we FINALLY made it to our hostel in one piece! The hostel was right in the middle of Old Town and had a really friendly atmosphere with an neat common room and bar. We were told that there was a walking tour of the Old Town leaving soon, so we headed out for that. 2 hours later, we had seen and learned a TON about Tallinn and Estonia’s history. The Old Town was really quaint and not as busy and touristy as Stockholm, so I liked it more than Stockholm. Plus, everything (including chocolate) was much cheaper!

We were pretty frozen and hungry, so we went to a Medieval style restaurant and had elk soup for 2 euros. It was delicious and warmed us up wonderfully!

Claudia and I wandered around some more for the rest of the afternoon and stopped at a café for some delicious (and cheap!) pastries.

We went back to see inside Alexander Nevsky Cathedral since we were only able to see the outside of it on our tour, and it was gorgeous!

In the evening we hung out in the common room as we planned for our trip to Paris. We met some of the other people staying at the hostel, and another DIS student was actually staying there. After hanging with them, we headed to bed early to get some shuteye before our early flight.
Thankfully, nothing crazy happened trying to get to the airport this time! We were absolutely exhausted and fell asleep on the first flight before a short layover in Latvia before heading to Paris.

After arriving in Paris, Claudia and I got lost (as usual) finding my friend Camille’s place, but we finally arrived in one piece! We were welcomed by Camille with delicious homemade ratatouille and then went venturing into Paris! Our first stop was Sacre Coeur, which was absolutely gorgeous! We also had an excellent view of Paris from the top.

We walked around towards Moulin Rouge and then to two churches: Eglise de la Sainte-Trinite and Paroisse St. Augustin. They were both absolutely gorgeous! The stained glass windows were especially breathtaking.

Wednesday morning, we got up bright and early to see the city and began with the Eiffel Tower. Since we got there so early, there was no one around, so we had the view all to ourselves! Then we went to see Arc de Triomphe, which was a little busier with tourists.

Claudia and I walked down Champs-Elysee and popped in as many cheap pastry shops as we could find. No offense Copenhagen, but the Parisian pastries are much more superlaekkre!  We tried chocolate macaroons, pain au chocolat, croissants, and Claudia got a bunny dipped in chocolate for Easter. I was surprised how much French I had retained from high school, and I actually ordered everything in French!

We crossed a gorgeous bridge to Hotel des Invalides and had another wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t go into the Hotel des Invalides since it cost money, but that’s where Napoleon is now buried.

Claudia and I went to Notre Dame next, but the line to get inside was over a block long, so we just took pictures outside and planned to go the next day when it first opened.

Then, we went to Musee d’Orsay! Thank goodness for our Danish residence cards because we were able to get in for free! The museum was pretty incredible, and I really loved the impressionist gallery (Monet is my favourite!).

After perusing through for three hours, we grabbed a quick dinner and went to the Louvre (also free with our residence cards!). The Louvre was MASSIVE! I knew it was large, but it was much much larger than I had expected! We saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory, which were all very neat to see in person.  We were there for three hours but barely made it through one floor since it was so big!

Thursday morning, Claudia and I got up really early to get to Notre Dame. It was worth it because we got there right when the doors opened and we in there with about five other people! The cathedral was breathtaking, and it was even more amazing to be in there by ourselves in the silence.

We got breakfast of quiche, croissant, and éclairs filled with chocolate mousse (delicious!) and ate in the garden outside of Notre Dame until the tour of the top of the cathedral was open. We got in line early and were one of the first people to go to the top and see the beautiful view of Paris!

After the long, long climb down the steep, narrow staircase (our calf muscles were twitching afterwards!), we headed to Versailles! The gardens were positively superb, and I know they’ll be even more beautiful in the spring!

We went through the palace, which was very ornate and beautiful. The Hall of Mirrors was especially neat! Unfortunately, my camera battery was completely dead at this point, so I couldn’t take any pictures but Claudia was nice enough to send me some of hers.

We got back in the evening and went to see the Eiffel Tower light show. The viewing area was packed this time, but we were still able to get some neat pictures! We went to bed really early since I had to get up at 3:30 to catch my flight.

My week was absolutely exhausting, but Claudia and I saw some incredible sights and had an awesome, crazy time country hopping! 


  1. Julia, I am glad you had such a wonderful time seeing other parts of God's world and sharing it with us.