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A Trip to Europe

July 12, 2018

Written By: Kay Torres and Marissa Kusayanagi

London, England 

Kay: This summer, Marissa and I were lucky enough to take a trip to four different cities in Europe. Our first  stop was London, England. With over eight million people living there, it is one of the most hustling and bustling cities in Europe. With London being our first stop on the trip, I arrived with bright eyes ready for a new adventure – so this part of my experience might be a little biased because I saw London through rose colored lenses! From the museums to the sights, the city has preserved their rich history in such an incredible way.

London is a multicultural metropolis with a mosaic of cuisine, colors, languages, faiths, and cultures that make the city energetic and refreshing. There are so many sights to see in London, and luckily the public transportation there is incredibly easy to navigate. There are stops within walking distance of each major tourist spot! Some of my favorite spots around the city were Westminster Abbey, Kensington Gardens, Covent Gardens, Borough Market and Hyde Park. On our first day in the city, we were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the Queen of England as she was visiting Westminster Abbey for the opening of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee galleries, which features artifacts from the Abbey’s 1000-year history. Seeing the Queen of England was such a remarkable beginning to our time in London.

One of my favorite spots in London was Borough Market. It has a similar vibe to Pike Place Market in Seattle with local vendors ranging from food to flower arrangements. It was an open outdoor market with a gazebo-type covering that houses over a hundred vendors. Borough Market is the oldest food market in London, as it has been around for a thousand years. There is so much to see at Borough Market, such as fresh fruit being squeezed into juice and small-scale artisan producers bringing their goods to the market. Borough Market is another reflection of the diversity of London. The Market provides a place for local goods, but also for cuisine from cultures around the world.

Lastly, you must visit Brick Lane! We stayed at an Airbnb in this part of London and quickly realized it is an eccentric and flourishing part of the city. It is definitely a growing part of London with many young professionals moving in. This influx of people has furthered the rise of specialty coffee shops, bars, and boutiques. European coffee shops are very similar to restaurants in the States, as they have a full service kitchen and encourage you to sit and have a meal there. My personal favorite coffee shop in Brick Lane is  Nude Coffee Roasters; they are a full-service coffee shop with their roastery across the street. They open their roastery to the public during cuppings or educational workshops. All their coffee is sourced ethically and ensures that their relationships with farmers are sustainable. Brick Lane’s Vintage Market is open from Thursday-Sunday, and it was hands down the best vintage market I have ever visited!

Hop on the Tube (or Underground, as some call it) and explore this diverse city, full of culture and cuisine! Don’t forget to try a classic English scone while you’re across the pond, you won’t regret it!

Paris, France 

Marissa: As I journeyed across the pond, I sat on a train that left the glorious city of London and moved toward the infamous Paris, France. There were countless sights, museums, and cuisine that I anticipated as I sat on the train, but nothing could compare to what I experienced. The architecture of the buildings was by far the most fascinating and inspiring part of my trip to Paris.

The Eiffel Tower is as incredible and jaw-dropping as you would expect. As I walked up to the immeasurable tower I could not even begin to fathom the enormity of the metal structure. Something that is a MUST on your Europe bucket list is visiting the Eiffel Tower at night, but beware of the thousands of rats that come out! Make sure you wait for the Eiffel Tower to shimmer – it happens every hour once it is dark.

The Louvre, one of the most popular art museums in the world is located in Paris and cannot be skipped. I must warn you, the museum is enormous and it is almost impossible to see everything in a day, so if you are in a hurry make sure you see the Mona Lisa. Follow the arrows to get to her and if you get a chance there is a café with balcony seating that overlooks the glass pyramids.

Grab a baguette and a blanket, sit under the Eiffel, pick up a cup of espresso, and don’t forget to see the Mona Lisa. There is so much to see and experience but make sure you find ways to really connect with the people around you.

Gent, Belgium 

Kay: Our next stop was Gent, Belgium, which is the second most populated city in Belgium and just an hour outside of Brussels. We had less than twenty-four hours in Gent – it was our break from all the larger cities. Although we spent the shortest amount of time there, it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Gent is the quaintest city we stayed in, but the quaintness does not inhibit the fullness of culture and history there. Gent’s historical heritage has remained intact for hundreds of years, which makes a great deal of their architecture unique. My favorite part of Gent is their attention to “ecotourism”. Gent is committed to the environment and they want to encourage tourists to limit their impact on the environment. To achieve this goal, the city is very accessible by walking, bicycles, and green public transportation. Their city centre is a car-free area, encouraging use of the aforementioned modes of transportation. As a tourist, I easily understood why the residents of Gent love this growing city. Like Amsterdam, there are canals that connect the city, and these canals encourage tourists to take boat tours to see the city from a different perspective.

You can tell by the restaurants there that Gent’s attention to the environment is not just a fashion trend, but a way of life. In 2009, Gent launched “Thursday Veggie Day”, where they encourage their citizens to only eat vegetables on Thursdays. There are markets located all over the city that range from your typical farmers’ markets to flower and book markets. My favorite meal was at a small local café (Carmen Soep) that is owned by a local woman who opened it less than a year and a half ago. She prepped and cooked all the meals by herself, and the meal I ordered was simple yet delicious.

In the short time we were there the people we encountered were incredibly hospitable and kind, they had a plethora of Belgian waffles to choose from, and don’t forget to grab some chocolate for your friends back home. If you’re planning a trip to Belgium, skip Brussels and head over to Gent!  

Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

Marissa: If you are a fan of vegan meals, vintage shops, and riding your bike, then Amsterdam is the perfect city for you. I can easily say Amsterdam was one of my favorite cities that I visited in Europe. Amsterdam has an entirely different atmosphere than London or Paris because people are extremely health-oriented. Our first Uber driver mentioned how vegetables are a staple in Dutch cuisine and that you will experience the healthy eats everywhere you go in Amsterdam.

We made our first stop in Amsterdam at a café called Pluk, because how can you pass up smoothie bowls and fresh avocado toast? Pluk was the perfect way to start off our visit in Amsterdam. The restaurants and boutiques really embody the feeling of the city. We walked in and immediately there was fresh fruit and vegetables to our right, sitting under a window that brought in light to the shop. As we looked over the counter, there were countless fresh baked good likes a matcha cake and carrot cake. Handmade goods surrounded the walls of the café along with plants, and sunlight was beaming into the room. Freshly made food and drinks kicked off the day perfectly for us, especially after a long morning of traveling.

Our next stop was the Anne Frank house, which is pretty much required if you ever visit Amsterdam. The tickets are cheap and it was by far the most incredible experience I had in Amsterdam. We walked through each room of the house and listened to an audio recording of everything that occurred in the home. Pictures, letters, and Anne Frank’s journal are pieces saved for people to enjoy as they walk through the house.

The Dutch-inspired city is home to the Canal Ring, a network of intersecting waterways, that surrounds Amsterdam. Canals were used in the Golden Age for trade purposes and architectural development, which created expansion in the city. Amsterdam is a unique city with vibrant colors, the feeling of home and the pursuit of culture. A city home to hundreds of different ethnicities creates a welcoming atmosphere for any visitor.