Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was absolutely worth all of the hype it gets and truly looks even more amazing in real life than on instagram. It’s a group of five brightly coloured villages along the Italian Riviera. The villages were historically small fishing villages that are now famous for their beauty and a popular spot for tourists. The area is remote and wasn’t always accessible to visit, and visiting by train will connect you easily to all 5 villages, but it can also be done on foot. Be ready to walk, climb stairs and be sure to pack a bathing suit because you won’t be able to resist the amazing seaside. The higher parts of the villages are full of unique walking trails with picturesque views. It’s easy to see why it’s a UNESCO heritage site. 

Vernazza offered a lovely mix of local Italian seaside town and beautiful tourist destination. Here we enjoyed our weight in gelato and enjoyed lovely coastal views stunning architecture. 

The area is very rugged and has various terrains. The swimming spot in Manarola makes for an incredible day:

The incredibly bright colours of the buildings is unique. 

The absolutely picturesque village of Manarola, where we sipped sangria from a cliff side spot: 

The water in the area is spectacularly blue. 

Monteresso offers the best strip of true beach out of the five villages: 

The villages are full of friendly locals and endless amounts of places to enjoy wine, gelato and Italian cuisine. The area is specifically known for pesto, and while it is different than the pesto you are likely used to it is delicious and a must try. The area is also well known for seafood, not surprising based on its location! 

An all day train pass is the best way to see the area quickly, and it’s very affordable. Most train rides between the towns are 5-10 minutes

For me, of the 5 key areas of Italy I visited, Cinque Terre wowed me the most and would absolutely be on the top of my list of places to return to in the future. 

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Amsterdam

Amsterdam was definitely one of the coolest and most unique cities I have visited on this trip. The city has beautiful architecture, a lovely canal system, and overall a very cool vibe. 

I spent 3 days in Amsterdam which I found to be a good amount of time. 

We were lucky enough to be visiting during the last weekend of the tulip festival at Keukenhof Tulip Festival. This is where the massive tulip fields and gardens are located about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam. It was absolutely beautiful to see all of the different colours and types of flowers and different types of gardens and even a petting zoo. We walked around for about half a day here because there was so much to see. Earlier in the season (April), the fields are still filled with tulips so I hope to have the chance to go back then!


The city is also full of local flower markets which are lovely to see. The local markets in general are very nice to visit and offer lots of good food options for snacks, lunch and groceries! We ended up grabbing everything we needed for a picnic lunch from one of these markets.

A flower market in Amsterdam:


Amsterdam is well known for its night life, specifically the Red Light District. It’s definitely one of the most unusual things to see that is unique to the City. 

The city has absolutely beautiful architecture with buildings dating back hundreds of years. We learned on a tour that the city was built on a swamp and that’s why the canals were built. Some of the buildings are even slanting forward because of the uneven soft foundation.


Amsterdam is very well known for its bicycle culture. Everyone is on bikes all the time, they are definitely more prominent than cars or even pedestrians. We did a 3 hour bike tour which was by far the best way to see the city and learn about the history of the city. As a planner it was amazing to see a place where cyclists are the priority on the streets. Think bike lanes on steroids, with cyclist signals and bike racks everywhere! No one even wears helmets when cycling because it’s so safe, and people carry all kinds of things while biking including their children in baskets on the front of their bikes! 

It’s also worth noting that the city also has a great metro and tram system. We bought two day passes when we were there and got a lot of use out of them! 

Bikes:

We decided when we were in Amsterdam that we wanted to do a Canal tour. Luckily after some research we realized we could actually rent our own boat! We rented a boat for two hours which was surprisingly affordable for a group of five. This was a great way to explore the canals on our own, have a “picnic”, and learn how to drive a boat! 


The food in Amsterdam was really unique! From stuffed jacket potatoes, frites and Dutch pancakes think carbs, potatoes and cheese. We also had some great fish and of course lots of sweets! 

Amsterdam has a ton of museums as well, which I will definitely check out on my next visit! The Van Gogh museum would be first on my list! 


From a city with lots to see and do, to neat food and beautiful scenery, Amsterdam is a must see on any European adventure! 

London 

Over the course of my trip I have been lucky enough to visit London on a couple of occasions. London is a wonderful city that offers a lot of culture, and history but also feels a bit more contemporary than some other large European cities. It has a lot of important tourist sights such as Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace and even just the red telephone booths. 

The London Eye:

Big Ben:

This will be one of my longer posts because I have gained a couple of different perspective, both as a planner and as a tourist. To make it easier I have separated this into two sections, so read whatever interests you! 

AS A PLANNER…

Like many large cities, London is currently facing a housing affordability crisis. As part of my program at Oxford Brooke’s, I was lucky enough to spend a day in London with a focus on planning and architecture. 
We started with a tour of St. Pancras International Station. Here we learned about the design of the station. We also learned about the history of the station, which was nearly torn down. An original hotel that was connected to the station has now been converted to a restaurant that contains a lot of the original building design. The station was designed as a Terminus station so that trains would end here and not travel through the City of London. Kings Cross is the connected adjacent station with Underground service for the rest of London. 

The station now services several British Railway lines as well as the Eurostar which travels to Paris and Brussels. It’s a great example of a station that could have been destroyed but instead due to vision an design was converted into something wonderful. The redevelopment and the connections the station offers also served as a catalyst for a hub of new development and redevelopment including world renowned destinations such as Central St. Martens, part of the University of Arts London, and Google offices. 

St. Pancras International:

The Kings Cross area redevelopment comprises an area of 67 acres of land and a rich industrial history. The area requires a mix of presevation, and new development. The area is anticipated to have 2000 new housing units. It will also offer shops, restaurants and even 40% of the area will be developed as open space. The area includes schools and spaces for children as well,  making it also an ideal area for families. 

Kings Cross Redeveloment Area:


Kings Cross is one area of London currently undergoing substantial redevelopment. Because the city is surrounded by a Greenbelt, development is limited to within the city, making brownfield sites very important. 

We were lucky enough to visit New London Architecture (NLA) which offers a giant model of the City of London:


The model showed all existing buildings as well as any proposed developments to show where growth and change is occurring. The model is accompanied by a lighting system which can highlight features such as parks, museums and underground lines. The company has also put together videos that work together with the model to explain current development in London.

A presentation from Transport for London concluded our tours. We learned about the management of the Underground (Tube) and commuter rail outside of the city. TFL is also investing heavily in cycling infrastructure to create cycling “super highways” and the new Crossline 1 and 2 – new rail services through London. Housing is not the only challenge London is facing, moving 8.5 million people around in their daily lives is not an easy task. 


This likely explains what I noticed to be very expensive transit. If I have any advice in London about transit is that it is great and easy to use, but buy an Oyster card because it will save you money! 

AS A TOURIST…  

I was lucky enough to see many of the popular sites in London. 

Step One is get an Oyster card because it will save you money on transit! 

Big Ben:

For anyone interested in seeing a great view of London, the Shard offers a viewing deck. It also offers a restaurant, the Aquashard, which is free to visit and you can treat yourself to a nice drink or meal with a  beautiful view.

The Shard:

Views from the Aquashard:

SOHO, The Convent Garden and Neal’s Yard are all great suggestions to visit that are more local spots. The Covent Garden offers a lovely market, with vendors as well as many stores. 

The Covent Garden:

Neal’s Yard is a hidden gem of Covent Garden. It can be found through several alleys and is full of lovely buildings, plants, lights and cute bars and restaurants. We went to Homeslice for dinner for the best pizza ever! 

The Tower of London is one of the most unique tourist spots in a London. It’s a great way to learn about the city’s history. While you could spend hours, even a couple hours is enough with all the tourists. Remember your student cards to save a lot here. 

Make sure you check out the Thames and all the awesome bridges and boardwalks it offers, 

Tower Bridge from the Boardwalk: