As part of our semester-long study abroad program, we were given a week on our calendar labeled “midterm week”. At first, I thought it was a finals-style intensive week, but it turns out to be a weeklong break! We were advised to make the most of that (which translates to “travel as much as you can physically and financially without burning yourself out”), and after a bit of deliberating and perusing Kayak and HostelWorld, I decided on four places to go: Düsseldorf, Prague, Budapest, and Amsterdam.
I hadn’t made a ton of plans ahead-ahead of time; I booked a ticket for the Anne Frank House about a month before I left, before I even figured out how I’d get to Amsterdam. I had reached out to an old friend in Germany about plans and we figured out that the last weekend of October would be a good time to visit. A good friend from IES Abroad and I decided to link up after that for Prague and Budapest, and then I’d go to Amsterdam by myself for the Anne Frank House and whatever else. It was a bit of a misshapen triangular path through areas of Europe, but it ended up working great.
On Saturday, October 28th, I flew from Dublin to Düsseldorf, where I met my friend in the airport. We hadn’t seen each other in over four years, and it was great to catch up again, and we realized there were many things we didn’t expect that we had in common. We spent Sunday walking around Düsseldorf, exploring the city and the skyline, eating some local food, and somehow, getting both of our credit cards frozen due to an ATM mishap. Thankfully, all has been sorted out with those. We relaxed in the evening, ordering takeout, watching Derry Girls , and recreating photos from our first time meeting up, six years ago.
On October 30th, I bade my friend farewell and took a train to Berlin, where I caught the next train to Prague. I was supposed to have a 45-minute layover in Berlin, but delays cut it to ten minutes—I’m glad I took others’ advice in planning that layover, as it gave me just enough time to run down four flights of stairs to my next train. I made it, and spent the next three nights in Prague with a good friend, one of my flatmates from IES Abroad. In Prague, we ended up traversing around the city square, where my friend had me close my eyes while they walked me into the center before opening them. And I’m so glad they did—the sight of the cathedrals and statues and lights was something I not only will never forget, but found a hard time believing it was real. I did several 360 degree spins just to take it all in.
Prague is an absolutely gorgeous city. Most of the sights we went to were within a 30-to-45-minute walk of our hotel in Old Town, and the food is incredible. I highly recommend roasted duck, and for dessert, the Nutella-coated ice cream chimneys. We spent Halloween walking about for most of the day, stopping by the shopping malls and Jewish Quarter, and spent the day after venturing through Prague Castle. On November 2nd, we packed our stuff and took a train to Budapest (this time, no one had to run down copious amounts of stairs to catch trains).
A bit of family context here: in the 90’s, my parents lived in Hungary for a couple of years, and made good friends with a couple in eastern Hungary. While they were there, their friends’ daughter was born. Fast forward to now, that daughter is thirty, living with her husband in Budapest. Through my mom’s magic, Flatmate Friend and I got connected with the daughter, who ended up hosting us for two nights. During the day on Thursday (November 3), we visited Parliament, the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, and the Buda Castle, home of a large art gallery. At night, we returned to our host’s apartment, where we stayed up talking about life, careers, the state of our respective nations, and, most importantly, admiring our host’s six-month-old kitten.
Bright and early on Friday, November 4th, I took a bus to the Budapest airport, from which I flew to London, and from London to Amsterdam. The day was full of travel and catching flights and sitting on flights thinking I’ll do some reading but ending up falling asleep, and by the time it was dark, I found myself in Amsterdam. I stayed in a hostel, in a shared room with seven other people, which at first was a bit intimidating, but it turned out to be way more welcoming and relaxed than I expected. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, willing to strike up conversation, and the room was quiet even before 11 p.m.!
I slept in after my long days of traveling, and in stark contrast to my planning for the Anne Frank House, I booked an afternoon visit to the Rijksmuseum two hours before it was due to start. I walked to every stop I had in Amsterdam, giving extra time to admire the canals and architecture of such a cozy city. The whole city just felt safe—there were so few cars in the old town areas, and so many bikers and walkers that made everything feel more human.
In Amsterdam, the museums tend to give you a 15-minute window to arrive, that way if you’re chronically a few minutes late (guilty as charged), you’re totally fine, and you don’t have to fret as much waiting in line. I gave myself extra time walking to places so I could stop and take in sights, but made sure not to take the time window for granted. I got to the Rijksmuseum and spent the next couple of hours before it closed in, honestly, what felt like an alternate reality. The art is incredible, of course, it’s the freaking Rijksmuseum, but more than how good it is, its significance as stamps of history was something that I still struggle to wrap my head around. There are works of art spanning from the 1200s to the present, preserved for us to witness 800 years later. I could go on and on about how mind-boggling that is to me, but this blog would end up way longer than it already is.
Lastly, I visited the Anne Frank House, the spot that had kicked off this trip in the first place, which was a 15-minute walk from my hostel. I spent the next two hours bearing witness to a dark, painful story that will live in my memory forever. It struck me, for one, how well records had been kept, including original documents from the oppressive German forces, and how well Anne herself documented her life—she not only wrote the original diary, but she rewrote most of it as well, and all of her work survived even amidst the intense efforts to censor Jewish voices. Needless to say, the Anne Frank House is not the romantic scene many of us saw in The Fault In Our Stars—it’s a raw, revealing experience of a dark period in history and how it affected an innocent family in Amsterdam and a young girl’s coming of age that shouldn’t have been cut short as it did. I recommend this site to everyone.
The following morning, I woke up decently early to pack my things, check out of the hostel, and take a train to the airport, where I got my flight back to Dublin. By now, it was Monday, November 6, which I had independently off from class. I was pretty exhausted from all the moving about, but got myself safely and comfortably back to my accommodation. I mostly napped on and off and unpacked a little that day, but let myself relax, having gotten myself around Europe and back in one piece.
This trip taught me a ton—while I had some help over the phone from my parents in transferring payment (especially after the adorable little getting-locked-out-of-my-card-while-overseas thing) and my friend who joined me for Prague helped plan/pay for things we’d do together, I booked and handled everything else on my own. It honestly wasn’t as hard as I predicted, but that’s because I’m the type of person to pick comfort over getting as much time as possible—for example, I’d rather take an 8 a.m. flight and then have a couple hours’ layover than take a 5 a.m. flight and run through the next airport, even if it means not getting a couple more hours in a place I’m visiting. Knowing that about myself, I was able to prioritize my needs and ended up having a fun, enjoyable, and unforgettable trip.
One of the biggest challenges I did find was a timeline in booking details for my travels—if I booked too early, I risked plans changing closer, especially since it can be hard to be sure of plans way in advance. But if I booked too late, prices would be higher and there might not even be room. Finding a middle ground can be really hard, and figuring out what your priorities are helps. That way, if, like me, you thought you had everything sorted out but actually forgot to book a flight from Budapest to Amsterdam until the week of departure, you’ll know that getting a medium-priced one at a reasonable hour with a layover would be better than a super expensive direct one, or cheap one at five in the morning. Or maybe, for you, getting that early flight is better! No judgment here (seriously, how the heck do you survive that? I can barely function waking up at 8 a.m. let alone 3. You have my concern, but also my respect.)
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he/him -- I'm studying Creative Writing and Studio Art at Knox College, class of 2025! I mostly dabble in cartooning, poetry, creative nonfiction, portraits, and humor writing. Outside of my majors, I play guitar and electric bass and sleep a lot.