A Dream Come True: My Trip to Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls has always been one of my top places I wanted to visit, so when I found out I got a spot in the exchange program at my University and would be studying in Canada for a few months, I knew this would be my chance to see Niagara Falls. The city I was living in, in Canada, was about a two-hour drive from Niagara Falls, so it was the perfect opportunity.

Even better, one of the University’s organizations for exchange students offered a trip to Niagara Falls, including tickets for a boat tour and the Skylon Tower, so my friends and I signed up. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t so lovely on the day of our trip but I wouldn’t let that stop me from enjoying every second of my Niagara Falls experience.

So after a two-hour bus ride we finally made it to the town of Niagara Falls. We did get some time to walk around the city but it started pouring, so we went back to the bus fairly quickly. I didn’t mind very much because I wanted to go see the waterfalls anyway.

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Fortunately it had stopped raining once we reached Niagara Falls. Did you know it consisted of three waterfalls? I never knew that to be honest. The big one, I’m sure everyone knows, is the horseshoe fall and on the Canadian side. But there is also a smaller waterfall on the American side called the American Falls (what a surprise) and an even smaller one right next to it, which is the Bridal Veil Falls. While the American Falls and Bridal Falls are nice to look at the much bigger Horseshoe Falls is definitely the most breathtaking one.

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(American Falls on the left and Bridal Veil Falls on the right)

First we walked around the area a bit before we decided to get on one of the boats. I’m not gonna lie I was very much surprised by how close the boats take you to the actual waterfalls. Everyone has to wear rain capes but you’re still going to get a little bit wet from the mist. It was an amazing experience to get so close to this huge waterfall. You suddenly feel so small.

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Another nice thing around Niagara Falls is that you can go up the Skylon Tower to see everything from above. I think the ticket was around CA$13 and in my opinion totally worth it.

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(View from the Skylon Tower)

My friends and I spent the entire day there just walking around the area and looking at the waterfalls. Honestly, I was a little nervous whether I might be disappointed but the actual Niagara Falls. You know how you tend to have pretty high expectations of places you’re dying to visit? Luckily it really was as beautiful and mesmerizing as I imagined and I definitely was not disappointed. One minor thing that takes a bit of away from the beauty for me is how commercialised the whole area is. There’s casinos and big hotels everywhere.

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Despite the rain and not amazing weather as you can see from the pictures I still loved my visit at Niagara Falls. I could’ve stared at the Horseshoe Falls for hours. So if you ever get the chance to visit you should definitely go! I’m not sure if I personally would stay for more than a day but there definitely is a lot to do. I didn’t go to the American side but I heard there’s a big shopping mall and there’s definitely lots of attractions on the Canadian side.

Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? What’s one of your dream places to visit?

Love,

Sophie

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The Beauty of Traveling Alone

Traveling has always been my passion. If money wasn’t a problem I’d probably wake up in a new place every week, just waiting to explore everything. The list of places I still want to see is endless.

I briefly mentioned in my last post, that I spent a semester studying abroad in Canada. I went to an amazing university in a city called London, about two hours away from Toronto, and I had the most amazing time. I met some lovely people and I got to go on many amazing trips with my new friends. I felt so lucky because I got to see quite a bit of the beautiful country that is Canada. However, Vancouver was still on my list of places to visit but since it was at the other side of the country, from where I was living, I didn’t get the chance to go during my studies. My semester in Canada ended at the end of December but my new semester back in the Netherlands didn’t start until February, which left me with six weeks of free time.

I thought this would be my chance. My one chance to go travel to Vancouver and maybe some other places. Unfortunately all of my friends I made back in London all had to go back to their home countries much earlier than me, so if I decided to stay and travel I would have to do it on my own. I thought about it long and hard. Especially because it would also mean that I would miss Christmas with my family and would have to spend it alone but I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so I booked a flight from Toronto to Vancouver, one from Vancouver to Seattle, one from Seattle to San Francisco and one last one from San Francisco back home.

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I was so excited I got to travel and explore new cities with no worries, no deadlines in the back of my mind. I knew this would probably be my last few weeks of freedom and no stress, because once I got back home I would have to start working on my BA Thesis.

Before I left to Vancouver my mom and brother came to visit me in Toronto for two weeks and we had the best time. But when we all went to the airport and they got on a flight back to Europe it was really strange for me because I knew I wasn’t coming home with them. I was about to get on a flight to a city far away from everything and everyone I knew. I knew this wasn’t going to be like going on vacation with my friends to somewhere else in Europe. No, I would be across the world from my family and I wouldn’t have any friends there. Suddenly I started regretting my decision. I think I just got scared but I was also incredibly sad to leave Toronto. My few months in London had been some of the best of my life and I was devastated for it all to be over. I got to visit Toronto a few times while living in London and I fell in love with the city the first time I went there. I’m not even joking but if someone offered me a job there I’d move in a heartbeat.

Anyway, my point is that I think leaving Toronto to go travel by myself for 3 weeks really made me realize that my Canadian dream was about to be over and before I knew it I would be back home stuck in the same old routines.

After hours of traveling I finally made it to my hotel in Vancouver and went straight to bed. The next morning I woke up at 6am because of jet lag but I couldn’t get myself out of bed. I suddenly felt so lonely and anxious. After a few more hours I finally forced myself out of bed and opened the curtains in front of my hotel room windows. What I saw literally took my breath away.

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From my room I had the most amazing view over the city and if I looked all the way to the left I could see water and mountains. Within seconds my feelings changed from anxious and nervous to happy. I quickly got ready and started walking around the city to explore. The first place I walked to was the harbour and with each moment my heart filled up even more with joy.

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I know that sounds so corny but everything I was seeing looked so incredibly beautiful and I realized how lucky I was to experience it all, even if I was all by myself and didn’t have anyone to share it with. It didn’t matter at all in that moment. I felt so free and liberated like I have never felt before in my life. After all I was half a world away from everyone I knew. I was free to do exactly as I pleased and there was no one I had to explain myself to. No limitations. No restrictions.

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Everyone I told about my plans of traveling on my own was skeptical about it. Aren’t you goint to be scared all by yourself? Isn’t it much nicer to have someone to share those experiences with? The answer for me now is no. Yes, I was scared at first but all my doubts quickly flew out the window. Yes, it is nice to go on vacation with friends or loved ones and make amazing memories together but it is also incredibly nice to experience it all on your own. Wanna know why? Because you learn so much more about your self. You’re forced to make every decision by yourself, which really teaches you want it is you like, what it is you want and what it is that motivates you to make those decisions. It’s incredibly liberating and it is the most amazing feeling to be able to say yes I did this on my own. I was scared but I pulled myself through.

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Especially in Vancouver I went on lots of long walks through the beautiful nature there and just listened to music and took everything in. If you ever get the chance to visit this beautiful city take it. The city itself is nice but the nature around it is literally breathtaking. I’m definitely more of a city than nature person but I was captivated and even went on a little hike by myself, which is something I never thought I’d be doing. Especially not on my own. But that’s what traveling on your own does. It challenges you. It helps you discover new things about yourself that might really surprise you.

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After one week in Vancouver it was time for me to pack up and move on to a new city and a new adventure: Seattle.

The only reason I picked Seattle was because I knew I probably wouldn’t get the chance to go there again. It’s only a 27 minute plane ride from Vancouver, so it just seemed logical for me to go there. Seattle is a city you know even if you’re not from the US but is it a city you dream to travel to? Probably not so I figured I should go while I was kinda close because next time I travel to the States it probably wouldn’t be Seattle. Maybe Florida or NYC or the Grande Canyon or Las Vegas. But probably not Seattle.

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Now Seattle was nice. It wasn’t amazing and it couldn’t even come close to Vancouver or Toronto (for me personally) but nonetheless I’m glad I went. I went up the Space Needle and visited some cool museums. I walked along the water front and probably all of downtown Seattle. I liked it but I didn’t love it.

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The amount of homeless people and people high on drugs or wasted on alcohol shocked me and I was scared to go out alone after it got dark. I’ve never been scared of walking alone through the dark at home or in the city I lived in, in the Netherlands when I went to college, or even in Canada. I saw a lot of poverty and homeless people when I went to Chicago with one of my friends a few months before visiting Seattle but I wasn’t alone then so I never felt worried. Now being on my own that definitely changed.

But still I don’t regret going to Seattle and I don’t regret going on my own. I might’ve been a little bit disappointed and who knows maybe I would’ve loved it more if I hadn’t fallen so in love with Toronto and Vancouver. Who knows? Still I’m so incredibly grateful for every experience I made while traveling alone because I learned so much about myself in those three weeks and a lot of the things I experienced gave me a new perspective on life. Most of all it taught me how privileged I am to be so lucky to travel and see new places in the world. I will forever keep those memories with me and no one can them away from me.

So if you ever think about traveling somewhere but don’t have anyone to go with you don’t hesitate! You can do it on your own and every minute of it will be worth it. I would recommend everyone to at least travel somewhere by themselves once in their life. Even if it’s just for 2 days or just an hour away. Take the time for yourself and you might be surprised by what you find!

If you have made it to the end of this very lengthy post thank you for staying with me until the end.

So have you ever traveled alone or would you consider it?

Lots of love,

Sophie

 

Chicago Travel Diary Part 2 (Days 4-7)

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Day 4

On Thursday we had one event that lasted the entire day. We had to be ready at 10.30 and got picked up at our hostel by a bus, which took us to Bronzeville: the African American neighbourhood of Chicago. We had a great tour guide, who has been living in Chicago for ages and has been and still does fight for the African American culture and heritage. He took us around the neighbourhood and showed us many different and very interesting things. We also went to a Blues house and several African American history and art museums. The tour lasted until about 5pm but it was I felt like I learned a lot about the cultural diversity of Chicago.

Day 5

Friday was our University day. We started of again at Roosevelt university where we were given a lecture about the history of Chicago, especially how it rose to become such a big and influential city in the US despite the Chicago fire. After the lecture we took a bus to the University of Chicago, were we had a little tour and visited the bookstore. For dinner we were invited to the house of a professor of the University of Chicago. He first gave us a little walking tour through the neighbourhood he lived in, regarding architecture and historical things, before serving us dinner. After dinner we had a big group discussion about relations between Europe and the US.

Day 6

We had been invited by the organisation Cair Chicago, which is a non-profit islamic organisation that fights against discrimination against muslims and islamophobia. A woman, who was raised as a catholic but became an atheist before converting to the Islam, gave us a little talk about what their organisation does and Islam as a religion in general. I though this was quite interesting but we had to sit in a pretty small room for almost 4 hours, which was a little lengthy. Nonetheless I think it’s great that organisations such as Cair Chicago exist, who go to schools and colleges and try to make people see that there is no reason to discriminate or be afraid of the islamic religion. The lady finally dismissed us at 2pm and we had the entire day off. So we went to Millennium Park to check out the Bean and do some shopping.

Day 7

Sunday was probably one of my favorite days. It was incredibly hot but we rented bikes for a few hours and got to cycle around Chicago. Did you guys know that Chicago has biking trails all around Lake Michigan? Me neither! It was so much fun though! I loved the contrast of having the city and the huge skyscrapers in the one side and then Lake Michigan and beautiful nature on the other side. After a fun bike ride with an incredible view and went to check out Navy Pier. This day was definitely one of the prettiest and most fun days. If you ever go to Chicago I can only recommend renting a bike and exploring the city with it.

If you want to read more about my trip to Chicago make sure to check back in soon. Also remember I’m hosting my very first giveaway and I’d love for you to participate. ENTER HERE

– Sophie

 

Chicago Travel Diary (Day 1-3)

Hey there lovelies!

I’m back on European grounds. Apart from being incredible tired and jet lagged I’m quite sad to be back already. I had an incredible time in Chicago. It’s been one of my biggest dreams to go there ever since I was 11 and I still can’t believe I’ve actually been there now. The city definitely met up with all of my expectations and I miss it already. I got to see a lot of great things and made some new friends. Those of you who have been following me for a while now know that I’m an international student at a Dutch university and am still trying to learn the language. Therefore I was a bit nervous at first because I was the only not Dutch student on the trip and I was only friends with one other person there. Luckily I was nervous for no reason because everyone tried to help me with the language barrier and always made sure I was included. I made some really great new friends and got to bond with some people I already knew a little. So I hope you enjoy reading part one of my Chicago travel diary.

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Day 1

After a very long and exhausting 8 hour flight and a 40 minute subway ride we finally made it to the hostel we stayed in. Almost everyone was there already because most people of our group flew from Amsterdam but I flew from Dusseldorf with a much smaller group ( we couldn’t all fit into one plane). My roommates (we shared a room with 8 people) were already waiting for me and after I had freshened up a little we went out for our first dinner. I had an amazing chicken sandwich. After dinner we walked around Chicago for a little bit but went to bed pretty soon after that because we were all jet lagged and super tired.

 

Day 2

On our second day we had to get up pretty early and after enjoying a cream cheese bagel for breakfast we went to Roosevelt University were we had a lecture about Chicago architecture. After the lecture the professor, who gave the lecturer, gave us a tour of the Chicago loop area. After lunch we had an architectural boat tour along the Chicago river, which was probably one of my favorite things. I’m pretty interested in a architecture and Chicago sure has some amazing architecture. The lady that gave the tour talked non-stop for 90 minutes, which was incredibly long but also very interesting. We ended off the day with a baseball game. It was the Chicago White Sox against the Indian Clevelands. Chicago won. Yay!

 

Day 3

Today we got to sleep in a little and catch up on some sleep. After a yummy breakfast bagel we took the ‘L’ (also known as elevated trains: Chicago’s subway/tube system) to old town. Old Town is a neighborhood of Chicago, which is pretty historical and has a lot of cool buildings. We took a tour through the neighborhood and later went to see a comedy show at the “Second City” theater. The Second City has trained a lot of comedians such as Tina Fey and Steve Carell. Usually comedians don’t really make me laugh too much but the show we went to was pretty funny and I definitely enjoyed it.

If you want to read more about my trip to Chicago make sure to keep checking back as I will be posting part 2 soon :)

xx Sophie

A Day In Amsterdam

With exams finally being over this weekend was my first free weekend in about a month. At first I was planning on just doing nothing and chilling out to recover from exams but then I figured that’d be kinda boring. So I was thinking of what to do and then it came to me. I’ve been living in the Netherlands since last September now but I haven’t actually seen that much of the country except for the city I’m living in, which I really adore but I just wanted to see more. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is about an hour and a half by train from here, so I decided to pack up a few things, go to the train station, buy a ticket and hop on the next train to Amsterdam.

I’m so glad I came up with this idea and that I went through with it. I just felt a little adventurous and I love traveling and checking out new places, so I just went for it. I usually don’t travel alone and I was a bit nervous that I’d catch the wrong train and end up God knows where but everything went fine and I had an amazing day exploring the city.

When I left it was actually quite chilly and cloudy outside but the second I arrived at Amsterdam Central Station the sun came out. So here are some pictures of this absolutely beautiful city.

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I think Amsterdam just became one of my favorite cities in Europe. It is such a beautiful place. They have the cutest little houses and there’s all these canals. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to do one of those canal tours but I sure am doing one next time. Amsterdam is such a lovely and charming city I can’t get over it.

I’ve been to Amsterdam before but only once when I was a bout three years old. We still have a picture of me running around in tiny little rubber boots chasing doves. This time I obviously didn’t run around chasing doves and luckily I didn’t need rubber boots because the weather was gorgeous. After walking around the harbour and looking over the canals I walked to the city centre and did a little bit of shopping. They have the coolest stores there. Thank God the University of Amsterdam doesn’t offer my study program because if I was living there I’d probably totally broke and instead of studying I’d be sitting near the water just watching the ships go by.

Okay, I think I’ve fallen a bit in love with Amsterdam and before I continue to bore you with my ramblings I’m just going to stop now. But yeah you’ve probably noticed by now that I’ve had an amazing day and I can’t wait to go back again.

Any of you ever been to Amsterdam?

Happy Sunday!

I’M GOING TO CHICAGO

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Hey there people! I have some exciting news! So my University is offering this study trip to CHICAGO and I get to participate. This is basically the coolest thing ever! I would’ve wanted to go basically anywhere on a study trip but Chicago is literally my dream come true! I’ve been in love with this city ever since I was eleven. I have no idea why but one day I watched this documentary on Chicago and ever since then I’ve been so fascinated with this city. When I was twelve I started reading tons of books about Chicago and it was all I talked about all day. Soon I even started annoying everyone with my newly acquired knowledge.

‘Hey, mom! Did you know that the first skyscraper ever was built in Chicago? It only had like 10 floors.’

‘Yes, sweetie. You’ve only mentioned that about 9 times by now.’

I know this study trip won’t be all fun because I will have to take extra classes, on top of my usual classes, to learn all about Chicago’s history, architecture and politics but I’m honestly really looking forward to that.

I know this year’s just started but it’s been so good to me already. I got to celebrate into the new year in London, I passed some really important exams and now I’m going to go to Chicago in may. I feel so incredibly lucky to be offered such amazing opportunities and I still can’t quite believe it. I’ve been wanting to go to Chicago for seven years now and it’s about to happen. I must be one of the happiest people on earth right now.

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Anyway.. I just wanted to share this with you guys and I hope that your 2014 will be full of great opportunities and dreams come true.

XX

I Love London

First of all HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

I just got back from London today and apart from being incredibly tired I’m kind of depressed I’m already back. London was absolutely amazing. I love how the subway, or tube system (how they call it), takes you everywhere so fast and the city itself just has this British charm, that I totally adore. Besides that there is so much to see.Unfortunately I did not get to see everything but I saw a lot and it was so so so amazing.

Originally I went to London with my best friend to celebrate New Years Eve there. My last New Years Eves all kind of sucked so I finally broke the spell! This year totally rocked! I know I’m repeating myself but it was just so cool I can’t really find the right words to describe it. But apart from celebrating into the New Year we got to do so much more.

My best friend’s been to London so many times she already knows her way around there so I had my own personal tour guide in a way.

The first day we arrived pretty late so we did some late night sightseeing.

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The next day the weather was pretty British. Rain and wind but I guess when you go to the UK you just have to be prepared for that. Of course we wouldn’t let the rain ruin our day so we checked out Piccadilly Circus and did some shopping. London was full of sales and I love how in big cities you can find so many different kinds of clothes.

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After that we looked at the Tower of London and went up the Tower Bridge. Lucky for us the rain stopped so we could enjoy this amazing view.

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The next day we went to see the Buckingham Palace.

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On the 31st we went to Madame Tussaud’s and after waiting in line (or queuing as the British would say) we finally got in and I met one of my favourite superheroes… Captain America.

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Later that day we went back to the Hotel, changed and went back to the River Thames to wait for midnight and watch the fireworks. When the clock finally turned twelve we had an amazing view over the Thames and the fireworks. It was absolutely amazing and probably the best fireworks I’ve seen so far.

I hope all of you guys had an amazing New Years Eve as well and may all your wishes for 2014 come true!

XX