Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Independent Travel, Part 2

Buses, Trains, and Planes...Oh My!

Since Kyle gave a great overview of everyone’s Independent Travel, I will be giving a personal account of my travels to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. I traveled with Graham and Brandon, and we met a friend of ours, Katie Beth, in London.

We started the trip with a flight to London on Friday, March 13, and then went to Bexleyheath, the little suburban neighborhood where our hotel was, about 45 minutes from downtown London. Saturday morning we caught a double-decker bus to the train station and made our journey into town. The first thing on our agenda was to buy tickets for a show at the West End that night. We got a great deal on some tickets to Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel at the Savoy Theatre. Then we went to the British Museum, an incredible collection of cultural exhibits with a central glass roof structure designed by Norman Foster--a man we became quite familiar with during our stay in London. We went on to see London Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Abby, then called it a night after seeing an impressive performance of Carousel

Our second day started with Norman Foster’s London City Hall in Southwark, a nice development with modern architecture and a great park right on the Thames River. After doing some sketches and taking way too many pictures, we crossed the Tower Bridge and went in search of more architecture, including Foster’s Gherkin, which we had seen from afar throughout our time in London. Next, we went to The Monument, an obelisk that we weren’t quite sure the purpose of. (We know now that it’s a Monument to the Great Fire of London.) At sunset that day, we went to the London Eye and saw a beautiful view of London, both from the top of the Eye and from the river. 

The next day after lunch in a beautiful park, we went to Buckingham Palace, Green Park, and then to Canary Wharf, the business and shopping development with underground malls, large modern art structures and several skyscrapers. After a little photography and shopping, we went to Tate Modern  and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and then crossed Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

That evening we caught an overnight bus to Paris. On our first day, we saw Centre Pompidou and then climbed the Eiffel Tower, an incredible structure that exceeded my expectations in both size and splendor. On our way from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, we passed Place de la Concorde, the Arch de Triumph, and Charles Garnier’s Paris Opéra. The Louvre was closed that day, but we went back the next morning and spent the entire day viewing the incredible range of art. The history of the place and the vastness of the exhibits were overwhelming. We were completely exhausted by the end of this day! 

On our last day in Paris, we visited the Grand Arche de la Défense, a modern, orthogonal arch on axis with the Arch de Triumph. We took a glass elevator to the top, where we had a great view of the city. That afternoon we went to Notre Dame, one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen all semester, and then headed to Amsterdam. 

The first morning in Amsterdam we walked to Java Island in search of breakfast and some cool architecture. We found a wide range of sleek corporate buildings, colorful apartments, and unique footbridges. We then toured the Van Gogh Museum and the Heineken Brewery and Museum. The following day we rented bikes and rode around the beautiful city. Amsterdam has by far the best biking system of any city I’ve ever been to—clearly marked bike lanes integrated into vehicular and pedestrian  traffic, and entire parking garages for bicycles. 
Our next stop was Brussels, which was essentially just a stop on the way back to Genoa. We had one day here, during which we visited Atomium, a monument that Professor Sill taught us about during our studies of vertical structures. We moved between the nine steel spheres, each with different functions or exhibits. (We bought Belgian waffles in the middle sphere!) 

That evening we went to Charleroi, and then in the morning flew to Milan, where we caught a train back home to Genoa. We had an incredible trip – full of history, culture and architecture, but it was great to get back to the villa!

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