Well, I went, I did everything I wanted to do, and I made it back all in one piece. A few highlights:

1. My presentation went so well, despite being sick, jet-lagged, nervous, and presenting at 8:30 AM. There were a few “titans” in the audience, and while it made me nervous, it was also reassuring. Perhaps I could have done better, but I presented my work, it’s a line on my vita, and my next presentation will be even better! I also attending some entirely inspiring and stimulating sessions that really made me think about my future as a scholar. I took the whole experience as a sign that I’m doing exactly what I am intended to do.

2. Utrecht is a beautiful city, and The Netherlands in general is a nice place to live. They take care of their people, and their philosophy on morality and law coincides nicely with my own. If I spoke Dutch, I’d move there in an instant. The weather is fantastic, the architecture is great, and the quality of life far surpasses what one can have here. There’s so much history and tradition, but they don’t dwell on their past. There is a lot of ethnic/religious diversity, a strong respect for technology and innovations, and they are a very tolerant and non-judgmental group of people. This is so refreshing for someone who comes from the South.

3. The Thalys trains are absolutely mind-blowing, especially in first class. The meals I got on the trains were better than a lot of the things I eat here, and it allowed me to see the countryside in Holland, Belgium, and France. The free wi-fi on the trains didn’t hurt, either!

4. Paris is everything I dreamed it would be. What a magical place! As an aside, I found the people there to be extremely kind, helpful, and decent people, which is a complete violation of the snobby Parision stereotype so commonly perpetuated Stateside. I think that has a lot to do with the way in which I saw so many of my fellow Americans acting in Paris, and if the waiters/hoteliers are rude to American tourists, I can’t say that I blame them. I was glad that I spoke French well enough to not have to reveal the fact that I was also American. The few people I told (“je suis américaine”) were somewhat surprised. A smile, some politeness, and a valiant effort are really all it takes, but sadly so many people didn’t get that far. I definitely will go back, hopefully multiple times. That city has so much beauty and culture, and I barely scratched the surface.

5. Amsterdam is pretty, and the people are nice enough, but it was nothing like I imagined. It doesn’t feel like a major world city at all. Thankfully, it was not as touristy as Paris can be (in parts), and it wasn’t ridiculously expensive. I didn’t do much in the way of sightseeing because of how little time I had, but I did a fair bit of walking around and enjoyed what little I did see. The canals there are really nice and for such a big city, it is definitely laid back. I recommend staying in another neighborhood (I was in the Oud Zuid) and taking the tram around. My hotel was nice, clean, comfortable, and a great bargain (4 stars for less than $90/night).

6. I fell down the escalator in the Gare du Nord w/ all of my luggage and have the bruises to prove it. It was embarrassing, but it really could have been a lot worse. Luckily, no one else was hurt, and my injuries were definitely not serious. I just look like I’ve been cage fighting.

I’m taking the weekend to recover and rest, and I’m back to work on Monday, ready for my next adventure!