WOW WOW WOW sorry to leave y’all hanging with the latest installment of my travels series! Incase y’all forgot what this series is about, over the summer I had the amazing opportunity to spend 6 weeks in London as part of my university’s study abroad program. This post is the sixth in an 8-week series of travel posts, where I’ll be sharing everything from my favorite places in London to my adventures in other parts of Europe (5 countries + Scotland) to my travel tips and hacks.
As this was our final weekend in London before the program ended, almost my entire class of 27 people decided to take a trip to mainland Europe to see Brussels and Amsterdam. Since there was so many of us, we decided to take the ultra low-cost “MegaBus” for all legs of our trip (London to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Brussels, and Brussels back to London). When I say ultra-low cost, I mean it! The total cost of transportation for the entire weekend was about £31, and the Amsterdam to Brussels leg was only £4!
Getting to Mainland Europe
And now I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself – England is a country surrounded by water, how are they going to get to mainland Europe by bus?? WELL LET ME TELL YOU. There’s two options for crossing the English Channel from Dover, England to Calais, France. They can either put your bus on a large boat (we did this on the way over), or they can put your bus on the Chunnel, the train that runs under the English Channel (we did this on the way back). Let me tell you, both options are strange.
On the boat, they load up a ton of busses and cars in the lower levels of the boat. Then herd everyone to the top of the boat where there’s a food court, a bar, and duty-free shopping. WHICH SOUNDS GREAT, except that it’s 3 IN THE MORNING, so you’re stuck either a) staying up and wandering around the shops or b) trying to find a nice table to put your head down and get some semblance of sleep. Not fun, and it’s about 5AM when they heard you back onto the buses once the boat reaches France.
The Chunnel option is definitely preferred, mostly because it takes 45 minutes instead of 3 hours. They load up all the cars and busses up in big empty train cars, and once the train starts moving you’re allowed to walk around in between cars. We were lucky enough to find a McLaren ($265,000+(!)) a couple of cars down. It’s such a weird feeling to be sitting on a bus that’s parked inside a train car that’s speeding under water!
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
So after a 12+ hour bus ride, we were all ready to stretch our legs and explore Amsterdam! The most natural place to start was the “I Am Amsterdam” sign in Museumstraat, which is a big square surrounded by some of Amsterdam’s most popular museums. We had a lot of fun climbing in and on the letters!
Next, a group of us headed across the square to the Van Gogh museum to learn about the life of Van Gogh and see some of his most famous works! I was really excited to see the sunflower paintings that he is known for (Starry Night is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City). Our next stop was the Heineken Experience, where we got to see where Gerard Heineken started brewing is world-famous beer in Amsterdam in 1873. At the top of the museum is a rooftop bar where you can enjoy a fresh pint of Heineken and soak in the amazing views of the city!
The Heineken Experience is located right on part of the canal, so it was fun to watch boats and bike tours go by!
After dinner, we took a guided canal tour of the city! I’m sure this would’ve been a great way to learn about the history of the city, but we were all so tired that all of us fell asleep! 🙂 I managed to get a picture of a really cool mural on our way to the tour, though!
The next day, it was time to take our ~3 hour bus ride to Brussels, Belgium!
After putting all of our belongings in the hostel, we set out to explore the city. One of the first stops was near the center of the city to see “Manneken Pis”, which yes, literally translates to “Peeing Boy”. This is one of the most famous (if not the most famous) feature of Brussels, so the area was extremely crowded with people all trying to take pictures with the fountain (check out the side eye that this guy is giving me). I thought the sculpture was pretty underwhelming, but it’s definitely a must-see!
My friend Daniel and I decided to explore the city further by taking a self-guided walking tour of comic strip murals around the city. This was hands-down my favorite part of the trip! It was really fun to read the history behind the murals, and it was a great way to explore parts of the city that we might not have otherwise seen. Below are some of my favorite murals.
I was happy that the little bit of French I took in high school came in handy when trying to decipher this mural! (The people of Belgium speak Dutch but this mural was in French). Mich, on the left (holding fries in his hand) says “Yeah, two minutes Gudule!” while Gudule (on the right) says “You wouldn’t help me, Mich”.
The comic strip “The Adventures of Tintin” originated in Belgium, so there are also a few murals of Tintin around the city!
The next day, a group of us headed to the Royal Palace of Brussels. This is where the King and Queen of the People of Brussels conduct official state business (they live in a separate palace on the outskirts of Brussels). The interior of the palace was beautiful, filled with high ceilings, lots of gold, and countless chandeliers.
They also had a really cool art exhibit in the palace. A Belgian artist covered the ceiling of the grand hall in beetle (yes, beetle!) shells to give the ceiling it’s beautiful teal color.
This is the view of the gardens from the back of the palace!
Our trip to Belgium ended with a stop at Palais du Justice which had really neat views of the city!
Have you been to Brussels or Amsterdam? Thinking of traveling there? I’d love to chat! Tweet us @theswirlblog or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to check out my other summer travels, including my stay in London (London Part 1, London Part 2) and my weekend trips to Dublin and Scotland! While this concludes my posts on my summer travels, I’ll be continuing my travel series with tips on packing, traveling, and not looking like a tourist, so stay tuned!