Our Europe Trip to London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam (Guest Post by Bridgette)

It’s been around 5 months since I came home from the very first trip I single handedly planned. Hello, I’m Bridgette, and I’m 13 years old. Ok, so like I said, I actually planned a trip to Europe all by myself, but it was not easy! It was my mom’s idea, and when she told me that I would be planning, I was really eager to plan an entire trip! There are so many fascinating countries to visit, but I only had about two weeks in Europe. I love exploring Europe because there are still many countries I want to visit, and since I was planning the trip, I got to decide where we would dine, what adventures we’d go on, and where we would stay. I was really looking forward to finding out what it feels like to be in mom’s shoes as the planner of the family. Although I took a long time planning, I was motivated to know that each decision would contribute to an awesome trip for us!

For most of this trip, I chose places I had never been to, and those places were Amsterdam and Edinburgh. Amsterdam has been on our bucket list for awhile, and as for Edinburgh, it was recommended by a friend. Honestly, I had no idea where Edinburgh was, so I had a lot of research in store. Throughout the planning, I would often turn to my mom for her opinion, and I was really grateful for her advice. My mom and I decided that for this trip, we would have a set budget for everything, including meals, flights, accommodations, activities, etc. I was worried I would go over budget by choosing 3 different destinations, but plane rides to and from different countries in Europe turned out to be fairly cheap. I finished planning the trip not long before we embarked, because the research and planning took much longer than I anticipated! We would be flying from San Francisco to London, London to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to London, and then we would fly from London back to San Francisco, all in a span of 2.5 weeks.

In due time, travel day arrived. I expected to be very stressed, but I think I handled it adequately. Our flight was smooth, and I felt confident until I remembered we were on the clock to meet our Airbnb host at a scheduled time. We managed to leave the right exit at the airport to start our journey to our Airbnb, but I quickly realized that my lack of research on transportation logistics made it very hard to figure out everything on the spot while we were in a hurry. With our heavy luggages, we were sprinting, as I anxiously tried to figure out how to buy the right tickets and be on the right platform at the right time for each of our transfers. After several different train rides and a whole lot of running, we finally made it to our Airbnb a few minutes late. However, not only did I forget to research properly on transportation, I also did not research enough on where we were staying, so our neighborhood turned out to be a little sketchy. I hadn’t even considered the idea of researching on the safety of neighborhoods! Fortunately, despite it being in a not-so-good neighborhood, our Airbnb itself was still really comfortable and welcoming. Through this, I learned that even though transportation may seem like such a simple thing, taking the time to research ahead of time is really helpful, because every country has such different transportation systems.

Spending time with our good friends, the Tam family, was our main goal in London, so I didn’t plan many activities there, but I did buy tickets for one special night to watch the famous performance of Hamilton! It was definitely an incredible performance! The songs, the dances, the costumes all made Hamilton a super memorable show, and both my mom and I really enjoyed it. I also made reservations to an elegant and whimsical restaurant I decided to splurge on, and it ended up being one of the best parts of our trip. “sketch” has been on my bucket list ever since mom showed me their gorgeous afternoon tea room which was really pretty and fine and a little quirky, so even though it would take a scoop out of our budget, I decided to spend the money for the best afternoon tea experience ever (at least for now). 

Hitting some tourist spots with our local friends Karen and Betty.

Our second stop was Edinburgh, which we flew to by plane with EasyJet. We arrived in Edinburgh at around 6:30 PM, and made our way into the city by bus. The air was crisp and windy against my very cold face, and I expected to be at our Airbnb soon because it was supposed to be close to the main new town (it’s not that new.)  However, I forgot that Edinburgh sat on hills, so the walk took much longer and was a lot more strenuous than I anticipated. As we went further down the hill, we noticed there were fewer and fewer restaurants, and since we were so tired, we decided to buy some food at a supermarket to cook a simple dinner at our Airbnb. When we arrived at our Airbnb, we started cooking right away! We rarely cook while traveling, so I had a lot of fun cooking in a new environment. That night we also cooked with a cheese we have never seen in America called Haloumi, and I really savored every bite!

Probably one of the best Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in!

I was very thrilled to visit Edinburgh, but while I was looking through Airbnb Experiences for different activities, there weren’t any options that suited us. I decided we would have a very laid back and relaxed time, but I wanted to do something, so I reached out to my friend Fiona to ask for recommendations. She told us that she loved the SANDESMAN’s New Europe free tours, so I trusted her and booked the tickets right away! We had an amazing time on our tour. Our guide told us so many things we didn’t know about Edinburgh, and without him, we would have passed by a handful of things without knowing the fascinating stories behind it. We roamed all over the Old Town of Edinburgh, and at the end of the tour, everyone tipped our guide however much they thought the tour was worth. That was our very first free tour, and my mom and I learned so many things! Our guide was amazing, super experienced, and knowledgeable, so we decided to join another tour he would be guiding, one that did charge a fairly small amount of money. Our second tour with him was a night tour where our guide told scary but true stories like executions, murders, etc around graveyards and on chilly hills! I even learned about witches which were a big part of ancient Scottish mythology, and I had a great time! We also got last minute tickets to Edinburgh castle which was so worth it because Edinburgh castle was a sight to see! It was majestic and ancient and full of fascinating stories. We love self-audio guides, so we really enjoyed exploring the castle with them. The coolest part for me was the dungeon because it was just so mysterious and a little creepy.

 Something that I try to do in every destination I sojourn is to eat the local dishes, so I convinced mom and myself that we couldn’t leave Edinburgh without trying Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, as well as Cullen Skink.  Haggis is basically sheep lung, heart, and liver all minced and cooked together, and neep and tatties are mashed potatoes and turnip served with a gravy like sauce. It tasted just as terrifying as it sounded, but now I can say I’ve had Haggis! I can’t even describe the taste, but the texture was sort of like quinoa. Cullen Skink is a fish stew from Edinburgh, but it wasn’t to my liking because it had a sour/weird taste. I don’t think I’ll ever want to eat it again, but I’m glad I tried it. We also tried a Scottish soft drink called Irn Bru which tastes like a mix of Sprite and Fanta.

 On our last full day in Edinburgh, we got to visit a Christmas market! Christmas markets are European markets full of mostly food and trinket stalls that last through Winter, and the one in Edinburgh was HUGE! We had a great time exploring the market, and the food was so good! Christmas markets are absolutely recommended! I love the vibe at Christmas markets! The air is cold, but it always smells like something tasty, and there are so many different delicious savory and sweet food everywhere! There are a few things I see at every Christmas market. I always see a fruity wine served hot called mulled wine, but I’ve never tried it. I also like to think that a Christmas market can’t possibly be a Christmas market without cheese. Cheese is so European, and there are many ways to serve cheese at Christmas markets. You can serve cheese stuffed in a hot dog, you can serve hot gooey raclette on potatoes, you can make fondue in a bread bowl, or you just put out cheese samples. There are desserts too! There are a lot of dessert stalls serving up hot sweets, and  it’s so hard to choose which ones to eat! This time in Edinburgh, I convinced my mom to share this dessert I’ve never seen. They called it cookie dough, and I expected cold, sticky, cookie dough, but that wasn’t the case. Our cookie dough was served with thick nutella and ice cream. It seemed like an under baked cookie that was put back in the mixer. It was very hot, very thick, very sticky, and very sweet, but it became my mom’s new favorite dessert! Besides food, there are a lot of trinket booths at these markets! I’ve seen a lot of wooden carvings, scarves, and ornament booths, and we’ve given them to friends/family as souvenirs.

After five days in Edinburgh, we embarked on our journey to Amsterdam by plane which went quite well, and in around 2 hours and 30 minutes later, we found ourselves in a whole new country! Since I hadn’t researched on transportation, it was a little hard to navigate around, but we soon made it to our Airbnb. In Amsterdam, I had booked multiple excursions to go on, and so we were busier during our week there. Our first activity was a bike and history tour. Mom and I love to bike, so bike tours are perfect for us to learn about and explore the city. We had an insouciance time, and we saw so many beautiful canals and storybook-like houses. Riding our bikes around Amsterdam made me feel like I was really immersing myself into the Dutch lifestyle because biking is the most popular form of transportation for the Dutch. I had been told that riding through Amsterdam could be rough, but because I have ridden through Coppenhagen two years ago, I felt fairly confident, and I found riding through Amsterdam to be a breeze.

The next activity was a food and history tour, and if you know me, you know I love food. This was our first time in the Netherlands, which is why I was super excited to try Dutch food and to learn about Amsterdam. We have been on 5 food tours in different cities/countries, and our food tour in Amsterdam became our sixth. This tour turned out to be the BEST food tour we have ever been on, and not just because we loved the food. One thing that made this food tour so incredible was the fact that our guide gave us amazing food from local shops instead of the tourist traps on the main shopping streets. My favorite food stop was at this mini seafood shop tucked in between the gorgeous canals, where we had three different dishes. All three dishes were very Dutch and I’ll tell you about them in order from my least favorite to the best dish. We had herring which is a fish served raw with pickles and (raw) onions. I personally just didn’t like the extra fishy and salty taste that came with herring which is why this was my least favorite of the three. The next dish was THE BEST fried fish we’ve ever had. We got to have this super soft cod freshly deep fried in a very thin batter, and since this was all freshly made, the fish was still hot. The batter was crispy and incredibly yummy. If I try hard, I can still taste the buttery soft fish in its crunchy shell. You might not think it could have gotten any better after the cod but to me, it did with the last item we tried which was smoked eel. The only time I had eel was a few years ago, and I didn’t really like it then, but I decided I would give it another try. Anyways, the eel practically MELTED in my mouth! The smoky flavor was a lot like smoked salmon, but without that very salty flavor of the salmon. I was carefully degusting every bit. It was so, so, so, good, and as I’m typing this up, my mouth is actually watering. Those three dishes were Dutch dishes, so I was so happy to try them, and I highly recommend you try these three Dutch dishes if you happen to be in the Netherlands.

Another place I recommend is the secret Annex that Anne Frank and several others had hidden in from 1942-1944. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in the same room Anne Frank and her family had once hidden in, and to imagine all the fear they must have had because looking around the Annex really displayed the lifestyle they had to live. The rooms were tiny, and I’m amazed at how long they were able to hide, in near silence. Inside Anne’s room, it felt a little bare, but there were still some precious artifacts like posters of celebrities on Anne’s wall, a letter, and even her diary! As I walked through the secret Annex, the floors would creak and groan, and I found it so hard to not make any noise. We didn’t just explore the Annex itself. Our self audio guides also brought us to several other rooms to watch interviews, pictures, and videos about Anne and everyone else that went into hiding in the Annex. It was a great experience, especially for a Worldschooler like myself because I had recently read and watched videos about the Annex and Anne’s life, which made the experience much more immersive. I learned so much about Anne through their great audio guides and by looking through the Annex. Over and over, I was shocked at the fact that I was actually standing in the original Annex, the place where Anne Frank and her family had hidden in for over 2 years! 

There was still one more memorable adventure we had in Amsterdam, or at least it started in Amsterdam. I decided to go on a day trip to Delft on our last full day! I did think I was ambitious to do a day trip because I was just adding one more destination to my planning, but I chose to continue with the plan anyways. We took the train which was about an hour and thirty minutes from the center of Amsterdam. I found it easy to get the tickets, to find the train platform, and to make our way to Delft. While I was researching for the trip, I saw a video about Delft, and the small town looked very cute and fairytale-like, and that’s exactly what it was. Delft reminded us of a small and less busy version of Amsterdam. The canals were smaller, the houses were shorter, and there weren’t as many people. There was a small square in the middle of town that had a very cute little market. The market sold food, clothes, patches, and a lot of other cool things. We explored the market and ate snacks from the stalls, so to make room for lunch, we climbed 376 stairs to the top of Nieuwe Church where we saw an amazing panoramic view of Delft from very high up. From the top of the tower, we saw a lot of orange and gray roofs, a majestic looking church, and all their pretty, little canals. Delft had an amazing pulchritude. For lunch, we found a cute and colorful restaurant called Keg that we both enjoyed.

I’m flummoxed that I actually lasted two weeks of decision making, problem solving, and trip planning. The trip was surprisingly fun because I had expected to have a great deal of agita, but we both ended up having a terrific time! I learned so many new things like how to book tickets for a flight, why Amsterdam has leaning houses, how to stay within a set budget, and much, much more. This was a great learning experience all around. Throughout the trip, I worried about the budget, but I’m proud to say that I spent less than what we had budgeted for the trip! There are things I regret and I wish I had done differently. For example, I should have researched on transportation and where we were staying, I should have researched on how much day trips to Delft cost, and a few other things, which could’ve helped us to avoid some of the hiccups we encountered. But, I learned from my mistakes, and I am so proud and relieved to know that I could actually plan an entire international trip all by myself! Planning a trip is really complicated and challenging, and I’d do it again, but I don’t think I’ll plan any trips in the near future as I need a break!

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