By Lauran Woodruff

Pictured above: Lauran (left) and Anne Holiday explore Bayeux

Sometimes in life you undergo experiences that seem so unreal, or surreal, or just too good to be true, that you’re not entirely sure they happened. I’ve heard them called out-of-body experiences, or a “dream within a dream.” For me, they often feel like another life entirely, so distinctly separate from my day to day life, still real, but maybe the memories of someone else’s life.

Juniors Abroad was one of these experiences. Traveling has been one of the great loves of my life for many years; I cherish it, look forward to it and fantasize about the next big trip I hope to take. In the chaos, stress and endless humdrum of the spring semester, my impending trip to Amsterdam and Paris seemed like one of these fantasies. It seemed so far in the future and irrelevant to the papers I was writing, the projects I was presenting and the tests I was preparing for. Even when I was in the Juniors Abroad class sessions throughout the semester, I told myself it wasn’t real and such a long way off, and there was really no sense in getting excited about it when I had much more pressing things that needed my full attention. It wasn’t until the second to last session of class that it started to occur to me that I was actually going on this trip! But even then, it didn’t truly hit me until I stood in the airport with my luggage and all my classmates, all of us grinning from ear to ear.

At this point, I suddenly realized I was on my way to Europe, preparing to enjoy three of the best weeks of my young life! And all of this out-of-body experience and long-term denial left me feeling entirely unprepared for it. The plane trip helped. Nothing like staring at the headrest in front of you for 600 minutes to really get you mentally prepared for whatever may be headed your way. If only I had known that no amount of mental preparation could equip me for all of the wonderful experiences I was about to have.

My trip took us from Amsterdam to Paris, including:

  • 5 days in Amsterdam, Holland
  • 4 days in Brugge, Belgium
  • 2 days in Rouen, France
  • 3 days in Bayeux, France and Normandy
  • 5 days in Paris, France

We saw so many things and visited so many wonderful places, it would take me days to share them all with you. So I’ll give you the abbreviated version.

New experiences

Lauran (second from right) and her classmates enjoy waffles in Brugge, Belgium

  • Drinking cappuccinos overlooking cobblestone streets
  • Dutch cheese and stroopwaffles
  • Watching the inner workings of bell towers and windmills in motion
  • Belgian chocolates and waffles
  • Normandy caramels
  • People who can speak four times as many languages as we can
  • French pastries and fondue
  • Buildings older than our country!
  • The graves of 10,000 American WWII soldiers
  • Huge street markets in every city
  • French McDonalds (the McBaguette!) and Starbucks in the Louvre
  • Discovering the trams, trains and metros, and how to navigate them
  • Crepes for dinner and crepes for dessert
  • Public restrooms that cost €0.50
  • An hour standing in the rain staring at the Eiffel tower and waiting for it to light up and sparkle on the hour

And so many other new and unique experiences!

Stairs!

Photo by Lauran Woodruff

  • 366 stairs to the top of the Belfont Tower, Brugge
  • 668 stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower, France
  • 284 stairs to the top of the Arc De Triumph
  • 400 stairs to the top of Notre Dame

And those are only the ones they publicized!

Museums

  • Amsterdam
    • Rijkmuseum
    • Van Gogh Museum
  • Brugge
    • Memling Museum
    • Groeninge Museum
  • Bayeux
    • Bayeux Tapestry
    • Musee Dex Beaux-Arts
    • U.S. World War II Cemetery in Normandy
  • Paris
    • Rodin Museum
    • Musee d’Orsay
    • Louvre

Churches

Photo by Lauran Woodruff

  • Amsterdam
    • Westerkerk Cathedral
  • Brugge
    • Church of Our Lady
    • Saint Eloi
    • Church of the Holy Blood
    • Belfont Tower
  • Rouen
    • Rouen Cathedral
    • Church of Saint Jeanne de Arc
  • Bayeux
    • Bayeux Cathedral
    • Mont Saint Michel in Normandy
  • Paris
    • Notre Dame
    • Saint Chapel
    • Montmarte
    • Sacre Coeur

World War II Sights

Photo by Lauran Woodruff

  • Omaha Beach
  • Gold Beach
  • Utah Beach
  • Arromanches bunkers
  • 360° theatre featuring WWII footage
  • Point du Hoc
  • 3 war cemeteries
  • Anne Frank’s Annex
  • Corrie Ten Boom’s Hiding Place

Boat Tours

  • Canals of Amsterdam
  • Canals of Brugge
  • Night cruise on the River Seine in Paris

Sightseeing attractions

Lauran (second from right) and her classmates take time out for a photo op in front of the Eiffel Tower.

  • Dam Square in Amsterdam
  • Zaanse Schanz windmills in the Netherlands
  • Keukenhof tulip gardens in Holland
  • Street markets in every city
  • The Medieval architecture of Rouen
  • The Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • Versailles in Paris
  • Lover’s Bridge in Paris
  • The Champs Elysées –Paris shopping avenue
  • The Arc De Triumph in Paris

And that really is the abbreviated version – I promise! The trip was full of wonderful things to see, new things to try and history to immerse ourselves in.

One of the most valuable parts of the trip was learning all of the things I would do differently next time. One of the course objectives of Juniors Abroad is to make you a comfortable and competent traveler, able to organize schedules, manage public transit, and plan what you want to see and do. I think this is a great goal! I’m already planning my next trip abroad.