Updated: Apr 22
I am currently crossing another thing off of my very long bucket list of things to do while studying abroad in Europe – ride the train through the Chunnel between Paris and London. I parted ways with my fellow study abroad students about an hour ago and headed to Paris Nord train station. I arrived very early, as I always try to do, but was waiting in the wrong place. I completely forgot that the United Kingdom is not 100% part of the European Union, thus I needed to report to the international travel booth for passport check. Eurostar was great, though. They popped me in a wheelchair and flew me through France Border Control, UK Border Control, Security, down the elevator, past a few train cars, up the ramp, and to my seat in less than 20 minutes. I am seated in a car all by myself – seats for people with disabilities are in first class and I suppose people do not want to pay for a first class seat for a two hour train ride. I’m not complaining!
Now that I’m on the train, though, I have some time to reflect on the past week of traveling around Europe in an intense fashion. It should be no surprise to you when I say that this was the best spring break of my life and its not even done yet! Please let me put it into numbers for you (excluding London):
Four different cities (Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris)
Four of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been (Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris)
Seven different countries (Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, and England)
40 hours on a bus (maybe that is not something to brag about)
2,852 kilometers on a bus
24 new friends
Six languages spoken (English, Italian, Czech, German, Dutch, and French)
A countless number of stories to tell over the course of my life
I don’t think the most pessimistic person in the world could say that was a bad spring break. I can now say that I witnessed the sun rise over the plains of Eastern Europe, saw the astronomical clock show in Prague, visited the wall that divided and then reunited the world in Berlin, sailed in the canals of Amsterdam, had a baguette and wine while watching the Eiffel Tower light up in Paris, rode the Chunnel from Paris to London, and it’s not over!
The tour company I traveled with exceeded my expectations immensely. Bus2Alps put together a great travel itinerary to maximize our time in each city which enabled us to see the most important sites. In each city they arranged a walking tour which covered the highlights of the city. Our tour leader, Stephanie, was phenomenal. She was very knowledgeable and went above and beyond to help us out or point us in the right direction. She knew each city very and was able to answer any question we had. I have already booked my next trip with Bus2Alps (to Croatia) and would not hesitate to recommend Bus2Alps to anybody!
It was quite interesting going from Amsterdam to Paris. In Amsterdam, everyone happily spoke English to us and random people came up to us to ask us if we needed help in finding something whenever we looked like we were lost. People would wave to you and say hello as you passed them on the street. I knew the Parisians would be different and went into Paris with this in mind, but quickly realized that the Parisians can also be friendly. As long as you make a concerted effort to speak in French (even if it is a simple “Bonjour”), they are willing to help you out and point you in the right direction!
I definitely grew on this trip as a person – I had my first major “I’m not in America anymore” moment. I am actually surprised it took this long and that it did not happen in Italy. In America, and I guess even Italy, I have never been told what I can’t do. I have never had limits placed on me. I have always been allowed to do anything that able bodied people are allowed to do if I am up to it. This is why I was surprised when I was denied access to the top viewing deck of the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned in my previous post, the staff of the Eiffel Tower told me that I could not do stairs if the elevator broke that goes between the top and middle part of the tower. I understand that this may be the case for some people with disabilities, but I would have expected the customer service agent to ask me if I am able to descend stairs in the event of an emergency. If I say no, then the customer service agent should explain that the policy is that everyone who goes to the top of the Eiffel Tower must be able to navigate stairs. If I say yes, then I should be allowed to climb the Eiffel Tower. After being denied access, I told the staff member that I could navigate the 1,000 stairs down the Eiffel Tower if needed. She then said that all people with mobility disabilities are not allowed up to the top. When I asked her if I could sign a waiver, she claimed she didn’t understand. Then, I asked her to speak with a manager and, again, she claimed she did not understand. At that point, I realized it was not worth arguing over and walked away. As soon as I walked away, the staff member closed her window shade as if she was trying to deter me from coming back to argue. It was very frustrating.
Regardless of the above, this trip confirmed my decision to return to Europe next summer to do a traditional “backpacking across Europe” trip. A city like Prague was not even on the list of places I wanted to visit and I loved it. It really makes me wonder just how many places are jewels like that just waiting for me to discover them! I feel like a more knowledgeable and cultured person after a week – imagine what a full summer can do. I can’t wait to find out!
Note: This post was originally published on April 2, 2011 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe” which chronicled my study abroad experience.