the sunflower garden

sunflower_garden_maryland

A day trip to Maryland calls for sunflowers and wine tasting. We ventured to The Sunflower Garden in Westminster to frolic through the field and pick some fresh blooms. Oh, and a quick photoshoot to experiment with my 50mm lens. Then we headed to Linganore Winecellars for a tasting and downtown Frederick for dinner. The perfect weekend activity.

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monet’s garden in giverny

monet's garden - giverny

Cold without snow is the worst kind of cold. Naturally, I dream about summer day trips as I clutch my electric blanket and hover by my 3-wick candle. Last July, I ventured from Paris to Vernon on a day that was way too hot to be spent outside. But I did it anyway. And I would do anything to go back.

My friend Kristen and I took a train to Vernon then a bus to the village of Giverny (was that website made in 1995 or what??). The whole journey took about an hour, and it is very commercialized… Nearly everyone goes straight from the train to the coach bus. You have to pay for a train ticket, a bus ticket and a ticket to enter Monet’s house and garden. Total cost? About 40€. But I love Impressionism and thought it was one of those things you just have to do once in your life.

Although it was crowded (nothing like seeing the famous Japanese bridge overflowing with people), I loved wandering around the gardens. The water lillies are so beautiful. It was like seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time—you have an idea of what it will be like in real life, but actually seeing it before your eyes and being in its presence throws you into a state of bliss. Since I’m more of a photographer than a painter, I refrained from whipping out my paintbrush Monet-style and picked up my camera instead. Many of my images turned out to be wildly similar, but I couldn’t help it. It was a one-time visit, and I had to capture the moment. Why stop and smell the roses when you can stop and stare at the water lillies?

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day trip to amsterdam

Amsterdam canals - lesley siu

7 hours on a bus + 10 hours in Amsterdam + 7 hours on a bus = 24 hours in the life of a crazy solo traveler. I went to Amsterdam to see my friend Inge, who I met while studying abroad at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

It all started with an overnight bus ride on the good ol’ Megabus. You see, Megabus and I have a complicated relationship. I love that I could get from DC to NYC without breaking the bank, but it was almost always delayed a few hours. This was my first time using it in Europe, so I was hoping for the best. Only $20 USD to get to Amsterdam? Sold. The catch? Seven hours on a crowded bus… overnight. I’ll deal.

The Megabus stop in Paris is at Porte Maillot Coach Park, near the Porte Maillot metro on line 1. My bus was scheduled to leave at 11:30 p.m., so I arrived around 10:45. I read that the metro had clear signs leading to the bus, but I think I exited from the wrong side of the station… I walked around like I knew where I was going, even though I had no idea. After a few minutes of following the signs to the airport shuttle, I found the bus. There was a handful of other frugal travelers waiting for the driver to open the doors, so I didn’t feel like it was too sketchy waiting in a dark parking lot.

I boarded the bus around 11:15, and we promptly left at 11:30. The overnight ride wasn’t bad at all. If you can sleep on a bus like I can, it’s definitely a good option to travel and save money. We arrived in Amsterdam around 6:20 a.m., 20 minutes earlier than expected. To get to the city, I got on a tram to the train station. The bus stop is conveniently located next to the tram, and the one to the city is the only one that stops there.

I met Inge and her friend Lotte at the train station around 8. We walked around the city, which was so quiet early in the morning.

amsterdam - dam square - lesley siuThe Royal Palace in Dam Square

We went on a boat tour of the canals, stopped for lunch, then went on the free walking tour. The canals are beautiful!

amsterdam boat tour canals

amsterdam canals

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dam square - amsterdamNational Monument on Dam Square

amsterdam canals

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amsterdam canal tour - lesley siu

I amsterdam

park RijksmuseumPark by the Rijksmuseum

I wanted to eat Dutch food for lunch. Inge and Lotte insisted that I try the pancake with bacon and cheese. They said whenever they make pancakes, they always eat them with bacon and cheese! It is served with syrup—Buddy the Elf would be proud. So good, yet so bad (for my health).

dutch pancake bacon cheese

They also bought me stroopwafels to take home. Stroopwafels are two thin waffles with caramel in between. I dream about these.

stroopwafels amsterdam

Before I knew it, it was time to catch the 5:00 p.m. iDBUS back to Paris. At 50€, it’s less crowded and much more expensive than Megabus, but it runs much more frequently. It’s more comfortable than Megabus, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the extra money. It’s also further out from the city center—about 30 minutes walking from the Rijksmuseum.

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IMG_7273Passing through the Dutch countryside

I arrived at the Bercy station in Paris around 11:30 p.m. (also 30 minutes earlier than expected), and took the metro home. The bus stop is about a 5-minute walk from the metro, but it was also a little sketchy difficult to find in the dark… I made it home around 12:30. It was an exhausting day of traveling, but I’m glad I got to see the beautiful city of Amsterdam.