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Holiday in Europe

Graduate School: Applying, Living, Thesising

The Professional Student is a blog about everything grad school from the application process to my experiences living as a grad student, being a parent in grad school, and researching the role of chemistry in the evolution of our universe.

Holiday in Europe

Olivia Wilkins

At the end of November, the family and I headed to Europe for the holidays. Alex and I had been itching to get back to our beloved Köln (you can share in my Fulbright adventures by reading posts from A (Ful)bright Future), and what better time to visit Germany than when the country is saturated with Weihnachtsmärkte?


Most photos by Alexander Sauers, the rest by me.

November 28

Our friend Cam dropped us off at LAX after we treated him to pancakes at Denny's. Cam had class that afternoon, so we arrived nice and early at 10:30 for a 16:30 flight. After hanging out for a couple hours with a woman on her way from Hawai'i to Norway to visit her son and family, and an overpriced beverage from the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Terminal B, we checked in and were on our way to London Heathrow!

November 29 - December 1: Norwich, UK

After landing at Heathrow, grabbing coffee at Caffé Nero, and taking the Tube to London Liverpool Street Station, we grabbed a train to Norwich. I had studied abroad in Norwich in Spring 2014, and Alex fell in love with the city when he came to visit me. We've been back twice since and hope to make it back in the future!

We stayed at the Central Hotel, a bed and breakfast by the riverside near the train station where he enjoyed a comfortable room and a delicious full English breakfast. Other grub in Norwich included fish and chips at Grovesnor Fish Bar (twice... easily our favorite place to grab a bite in England), steak and fish pies at The Lamb Inn, and Christmas pudding cookies at the neatest Starbucks in the market. We spent our time trying to get warm between snow and sleet, walking along Riverside Walk, meandering through the Royal Arcade and the market and the Forum, and takinging in the views of places we've enjoyed in the past.

December 1 - 3: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

While Alex and I have been to the Netherlands before, we hadn't been to Amsterdam. We stayed at the Hotel Ibis near Schiphol Airport and used our I amsterdam city card to easily take a bus and tram into the city. We enjoyed dutch apple pie, poffertjes (mini pancakes drenched in butter and powdered sugar), and hot chocolate, and while I am sure there was real food in there too, it wasn't quite as memorable as the delicious baked goods! In between enjoying the sites in the frigid cold, we gallavanted around museums—the Van Gogh, the Amsterdam, and the NEMO Science Museums. Perhaps the highlight of this segment of the trip, however, was a canal boat ride through the city (also included, along with public transit and entrance to museums, in the I amsterdam city card!).

December 3 - 7: Köln, Germany

Going back to Köln felt like going home. At the end of our time in Germany, Alex said that he was confident we would always feel we had a home in Köln. Being there, we had a wonderful feeling of belonging, everything was familiar and comforting. We walked around our favorite places near the Dom and Hauptbahnhof. We visited the Christmas markets and drank Glühwein. We ate Currywurst, Jägerschnitzel, and Bockwurst (at our favorite Gaffel am Dom, as well as other places) and enjoyed Spaghettieis (vanilla ice cream that looks like spaghetti and is topped with strawberry sauce and white chocolate shavings), Brezeln, and Berliner (the best jelly-filled donut in the world) for dessert. We saw St. Nicholas at Gaffel am Dom where he gave out chocolate and the entire beer hall burst out into (German) song. We visited people who were important to us when we lived there, namely our Hebamme Petra (who visited our house several times a week to check up on us after we had Güni) at Schamong Kaffee and the Cologne Laboratory Astrophysics Group (who welcomed me with hugs and gave me an overwhelming feeling of being loved and important, especially when they talked to me about coming back sometime to collaborate). We visited Ehrenfeld, the neighborhood where we lived, and ate at our favorite Döner place before walking past our old apartment building with misty eyes. Germany was wonderful, and there is no doubt about it: Köln is home. <3

December 6: Wuppertal, Germany

Despite Wuppertal being only a 30-minute train ride from Köln, we never made the time to go there when we lived in Germany. We changed that on this trip. Wuppertal is perhaps most famous for their Schwebebahn, or "floating tram"/suspension railway. After warming up our hands with a cup of glühwein after a jaunt up to Bismarckturm (a stone tower overlooking the city and the botanical gardens), we rode the Schwebebahn from the Hauptbahnhof in the city center to the eastern end of the line before riding it all the way back to the western end where we caught our train back to Köln. The Schwebebahn is so cool. For much of the city—to the east—the train hangs above the Wupper river. To the west, it rides right above the cars in between buildings. Definitely worth the day trip!

December 7 - 10: Paris, France

France was another place we didn't manage to get to before. We headed to Paris, staying by Gare du Nord train station, the convenient hub for trains from Köln and to London. We spent most of our time in Paris battling the cutting wind while enjoying the sights: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe. We even made a detour to see the (French) Statue of Liberty! Paris is a beautiful city, but I was eager to leave it; as an avid lover of trains, I couldn't wait to be whisked away to London by Eurostar, a high-speed train running across the French countryside before dipping below the English Channel.

December 10 - 13 14: London, UK

Similar to our time in Paris, much of our time in London was spent fighting off the bitter cold (and now, sleet) to see the sights. We stayed in Waterloo, a quiet area south of the Thames. We arrived on a Sunday and, after dropping off our bags, went across the street to enjoy Sunday Roast. Sunday Roast is a tradition where pubs cook up all sorts of meats, potatoes, parsnips, and puddings for a Sunday meal. Mouths watering, we arrived at The Three Stags pub to find it was completely booked; there was not a free table all evening. Feeling sorry for us (or wooed by the adorable little tyke I was carrying), the manager of the pub managed to find us a table: a small corner table whose purpose was nothing more than to hold a couple of candlesticks. He conjured up some short stools, took away the candles, and—wa-lah!—gave us our very own table.

The next day, we journeyed to Greenwich to visit the Astronomers Royal Observatory where we toured the Royal Astronomers' house and planted our feet in both the east and west with respect to the Primer Meridian. To get there, we had to cross the city of Greenwich and a large park, climbing up a steep hill battling sleet. After, we rewarded ourselves with a nice ale and delicious fish and chips at The Greenwich Tavern.

On our last full day in Europe, we headed to Richmond to see Aladdin at the Richmond Theatre. The show was a panto (or, more "formally", a pantomime): a musical comedy put on in Britain around Christmastime that relies heavily on participation from the audience. (There's no good way to describe it... except perhaps just plain weird, but a hilariously good time nonetheless!). Other stops of the day included the Houses of Parliament, a walk along the Thames, the Eye of London, and Hyde Park.

Finally, it was time to go home... or so we thought. At 01:00, just 14 hours before our flight was set to depart, Alex received word that our flight had been cancelled, and we had been bumped to a flight the next day. After several phone calls and no progress, we decided to catch some sleep and get a hotel near Heathrow. Oh well, another day in Europe (and time for another meat pie for dinner and full English breakfast)!