In my continuing quest to visit 30 countries by the time I’m 30, I’m trying to conquer Europe. A bold statement, but I’m not doing too badly as of yet. I’ve visited lots parts of Europe already, on family holidays and school trips (if either of those count), and in the past nine months I’ve added a few more destinations to my list.
AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
This wasn’t the first time I had been to Amsterdam, technically it was my third (But I don’t think I can really count a visit with my brother’s football team when I was about 11 and school art and photography trip). This was the first time I really saw what Amsterdam had to offer and why it appealed to so many for a long weekend break. Amsterdam was beautiful; the tall buildings, the long canals. I only wish I had longer there. I was only staying for one night; I was going to see Ben Howard at the Heineken Music Hall, or as its now known AFAS Live, with a friend (it had been cheaper to fly to Amsterdam, watch him perform and stay the night than it was to pay for the train and a ticket to his London appearance) and we were determined to squeeze in seeing as much as we could into the two days we were there.
We wandered around the city, strolling along the canals and down winding back roads which were home to endless bakeries and patisseries, full of the most mouthwatering cakes and pastries. Its safe to say my usual health conscious diet went out the window and I tried as many as I possibly could. During the evening, we also got to briefly see the Johan Cruijff ArenA (previously known as AmsterdamArenA – the home of the football club Ajax) before our gig. The atmosphere was incredible. Little did we know, we were visiting on a night that actually had a game. I’ve never seen such passion and excitement for a game, hours before it began; chanting, singing, flares. Never did I feel intimidated or uncomfortable in a place where I didn’t belong.
Amsterdam is full of so many museums and other attractions too. I don’t know how we did it in less than two full days, but we managed to visit The Amsterdam Museum, Sexmuseum Amsterdam Venustempel, Body Worlds; The Happiness Project, The Amsterdam Dungeons and Nemo. The best belated birthday present to myself, and although we experienced so much, I wouldn’t hesitate to return.
Iceland has to be the most magical place I’ve ever experienced. To me, going away on a ‘holiday’ was always really about getting some sun. And in Iceland, in February, this was never going to be the case. Not with only about seven hours of daylight a day. Our first day, wasn’t that cold and wasn’t snowy. And if I’m a honest, this was a little disappointing. I was prepared for the worst, had packed so many layers and I wanted it to be extreme. And by our second day, I really got to experience Icelandic weather. One moment, the sun was shining. Don’t get me wrong, it was still FREEZING, but you could feel the warmth of the sun. The next moment, out of nowhere, a blizzard. Snowing from black clouds, as if the sun was about to set. Every five minutes the weather was changing, and I LOVED it!
Similar to any short trip I’ve been on, I want to fit in as much as possible. So straight from the airport after landing, we headed to The Blue Lagoon, southwest of Reykjavik, the world’s most northern capital. If you get the chance to ever visit here, go. Its amazing, and so relaxing. The natural spring was like a huge hot bath, lined with silica mud, perfect for an exfoliating face mask.
The Golden Circle tour is another must-do whilst in Iceland, which is made up of Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall and Haukadalur, an active geothermic valley home to the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. As we were visting during ‘winter’, the views were incredible. Everything was covered in snow and Gulfoss was almost completely frozen over. At Haukadalur, Strokkur erupts every 5 – 10 minutes, so we battled through the extreme weather conditions to watch and photograph it erupt numerous times.
Obviously, whilst in Iceland, we also tried to ‘chase’ the Northern Lights. Although we weren’t successful (the first night it was too cloudy, and even though the second night had completely clear skies, it just wasn’t meant to be), being out in the middle of nowhere, in the freezing cold and the pitch black, it was so thrilling. I will see the Northern Lights at some point. Whether that means returning to Iceland, or seeing them on travels around another northerly country, I wont give up!
Barcelona will always be a trip that holds great significance to me. It will always be my first real solo adventure. Yes, I went to Thailand on my own, but I was meeting a group of people out there and had everything planned for me. In Barcelona, I was completely alone. I was terrified. I thought I’d be lonely and unable to do things for myself in another country, but I was so wrong. Travelling alone allowed me to be decisive for myself and do everything that I wanted to do whilst I was there, and do it in the order I wanted to. Complete freedom. Barcelona has to be the city I have most felt at home in too. It was so relaxed and laidback. I walked for hours every day I was there, visiting all of the ‘must-see’ tourist destinations. Casa Batlló, Sagrada Família, The Parc de la Ciutadella and The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc to name a few. I also wanted to visit the zoo, and without anyone around to stop me, Barcelona Zoo was also added to my list of things to do. I felt so at home, and so chilled out, that I even found time to go for a long run along the beach, and to hire a bike and cycle around the city.
On my last morning, I laid on the beach. Thinking over how much of a difference this trip would make to me as a person. I felt so much more confident in myself and my abilities. I’d traveled alone, to a foreign country, navigated myself around, planned what I wanted to do and done it. Now that I know I can do that, there’s nothing stopping me from doing it again, and again, and again. Not having a travel ‘buddy’ wont stop me from seeing the world.