Monday, May 31, 2010

Dutch Wonderland

When I was a kid, one of my favorite places to go during our summer visits to Pennsylvania was the children's theme park Dutch Wonderland. I loved the rides, the windmills, everything about it. I guess you could say that the Pennsylvania Dutch inspired my dream to visit the real Dutch Wonderland. Thankfully, the Eyjafjallajokul volcano held off and Marianna and I got to visit Holland...and during tulip season! A DREAM COME TRUE!!

On Saturday morning, we headed off for Haarlem, Holland to visit the hometown of Corrie ten Boom--a remarkable Christian woman who hid Jews during WWII. Her book The Hiding Place is one of my favorites of all time. (Read it, if you haven't!) We explored the little town a bit before our tour of the ten Boom house. The tour was really great. We got to go throughout the entire house and hear all the insider stories. How surreal to be walking through the home of such a courageous, Christ-like family.

After our visit to the quaint town of Haarlem, we got on the bus to Lisse to see the tulip fields! When we stepped off the bus, I was greeted by hundreds and hundreds of vibrant yellow daffodils and people-lined streets. We were thrilled to find out that we were going to be in Holland during the annual Flower Parade -- the largest parade in the Netherlands. We got our spot along the parade route and waited for the most amazing (and fragrant) parade I have ever witnessed. The theme was "A Journey through Europe"--how fitting for us!

After the parade, we visited Keukenhof Gardens--the most beautiful spring garden in the world, they claim! Oh and it was. I kept wishing that my Great Grandmom and Mom-Mom could have seen it. It was unreal. Here are a few pictures from the gardens, though they hardly capture its true beauty.

On Sunday morning, Marianna and I walked the streets of Amsterdam. It's a great city. I loved how the canals just run through all the streets. People love their bikes in Holland! You should have seen them. I especially liked the bikes that were decorated. They were super cute and helped with spotting your bike in a packed two-story bike rack. (Yes, they really have those!)

We got to visit the Anne Frank House. I have loved Anne Frank since middle school and was so happy to get the chance to visit the Annex. Otto Frank wanted the house to remain unfurnished since the Nazis stripped their home of all the wood and valuables when they were found. So the museum was bare, but it didn't even matter. The museum was absolutely incredible. Quotes from Anne's book were posted all throughout the house. They had lots of memorabilia of the Frank's in the various rooms and models of what the rooms did look like back when they lived there. My favorite place in the Annex (besides seeing Anne's precious plaid diary--that's a given) was Anne's room which still had the posters and pictures of movie stars that she put up to make the room happier. I just love her.

Unfortunately, we had an early flight back to Berlin, but I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands in the Springtime. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I do hope to go back some day and see more of Amsterdam!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ooh la la!

The next stop on our Spring Break itinerary was Paris, France! We went almost to the day that I visited with my mom, sister, and aunts eleven years ago, so I was excited to go back.

On Friday morning, we headed off to see the Catacombs. Although I'm not a huge fan of walking through dark places with skulls and bones surrounding me, it was definitely a Paris must-see that I didn't get to when I was 13. It was super creepy, but very interesting.

Then, Marianna and I explored the Montmontre area of Paris. We walked the streets, perused the cute boutiques, and then people-watched on the lawn of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. The rest of the day was spent exploring more of Paris. We wandered around the busy streets and just took in the sights of such an elegant Parisian city.

The next morning, we went to the Louvre. I have always wanted to see the "Mona Lisa!" And that I did...and so much more. I loved the Louvre. All of the art was so beautiful and unique. Besides the Mona Lisa, my favorite piece was "The Wedding Feast at Cana." It was a massive painting with unbelievable colors. The piece was actually directly across from the "Mona Lisa," and I found it a bit sad that people paid more attention to a simple portrait of a woman than the magnificent painting depicting Jesus' first miracle!

After the Louvre, Marianna and I started out on our journey to the Eiffel Tower! Since we could see it from the Louvre, we pretty much just headed in its direction without looking at our map. haha. It was fun not to have any plans in particular and no time frame. We stopped along the way at a local grocery store and bakery to buy our lunch--baguette, brie, bananas, and madelines for dessert. :)

When we finally reached the magnificent Eiffel Tower, we found a spot on the grass and had lunch. Marianna and I, then, got in line to go up in the Eiffel Tower. After lots of time waiting, we made it to the second platform. It was a really clear day, so we could see the entire city. I even recognized a soccer field down below that I had taken a picture of when I was in Paris the first time!

The Champs Elysees was our next destination. Since it was a Saturday, it was bustling! We went into all the shops along the posh avenue, including Louis Vuitton, Lacoste, and Guerlain (Paris' first perfumery). Our shopping excursion did not stop at the Champs Elysees--I really wanted to go to two of the most famous Persian department stores. So, we headed to Le Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. It was so much fun to see all the designer clothes! Once again, all of the dresses I liked were out of my price range. ;) I did come out of Galleries Lafayette with a pair of earrings for Sara Beth to commemorate where we got our ears pierced!

Our day ended with McFlurry's at the Champs Elysses McDonald's and then seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. It was beautiful! At 10 pm, the lights sparkled all over it for a few minutes. We were excited to happen upon such a special event.

On our last day in Paris, we took it easy since we had been traveling for two weeks straight! We walked along the Siene and staked out along a bridge to cheer on the runners of the Paris Marathon (including Marianna's cousin). Then, we walked around Notre Dame and went to a couple of Sunday morning markets. It was fun to get out of the touristy spots and hang out with the locals for a little while. After lunchtime, it was time to pack up and head to the airport and our "home away from home." What an incredible Spring Break we had!