The second half of the semester is getting crazy with projects and last-minute work. Balancing work and travel has been very difficult lately. Something that happened by chance but I am thankful for is that I had every other weekend in Aix. Although Europe is perfect for traveling at a low price, Aix is beautiful and has so much to offer.
Something I have learned while being here is that no matter what you do, even if it is staying in town, everything is great! After all, I am in France. Staying in Aix is equally as enjoyable as discovering a new place. I wish I got to know the city I live in a little bit more as my time closes here. Do not feel pressured to travel every weekend if it is too tiring or you simply do not have the means, Aix has more to offer than you think!
On a different topic, last weekend my travels took me to Amsterdam! This city was different from any other I have been to in Europe. The differences culturally, gastronomically, and linguistically were insane. Amsterdam is known for its obscure buildings, beautiful canals, bicyclists, and much more. This was one of my favorite destinations because of its uniqueness.
One must do in Amsterdam is renting bikes and riding through one of their beautiful parks. My friends and I rented bikes for an entire day for only eight euros! Although it can be stressful to ride through the center of the city, you get used to the chaos quickly and enjoy the beautiful scenery you stride past. A unique and quite delicious pastry is a stroopwafel. At the Albert Cuyp Market, there is a stand where they freshly make these pastries for only two euros.
Of course, the most famous thing to do here is to visit the Anne Frank house. I did not know that in order to get guaranteed tickets, they need to be purchased two months or more in advance. 20% of remaining tickets are open for purchase at 9 am day off, but are almost impossible to get. Long story short, plan/buy ahead if there is a popular attraction you NEED to see! Amsterdam had so many museums and unique free activities/shops. I would strongly recommend trying to plan a weekend here if you are looking for something unconventional and fun!
Onto my current home of Aix. They recently have finished setting up the lights for the holiday season. They changed the usual clothes market to a Christmas market(although, the clothes market still goes on, just on a different street). They set up little white home-like shops with diverse, local products! The items being sold can be for Christmas gifts or just souvenirs in general. The shops are individual and fun. They also sell hot cider, beignets, and the French version of churros. It has been fun to buy hot cider with a pastry and watch the bustle of people go through the market. The lights are beautiful and I am so happy to be able to celebrate a portion of the season in Europe where they really do go all out.
On the topic of holidays, I spent my first holiday away from home here–Thanksgiving. I think everyone experienced a little bit of homesickness, but IAU tried to make it less intense. The school decorated the main hall and provided us with an, as close as it can get in France, Thanksgiving dinner. It was actually very nice to have a large free meal with the friends I have made and share our traditions at home. IAU and Aix has provided me with a great environment and community. I am thankful to be able to be here and be able to travel the way I have.