Visiting Strasbourg

One of my favorite places that I visited during my time in Germany was Strassbourg, which lies just within the borders of France. Strasbourg is a very interesting city because it has been passed back and forth between France and Germany many times over its lengthy history. Because of this unique history, there is a strange and wonderful cultural blend between German and French cultures. Although they are a part of France, and French is the official language, it isn’t hard at all to find someone speaking German in Strasbourg, or as the Germans spell it, ‘Straßburg’. This was definitely an advantage for me, as my French skills were virtually non-existent. Strasbourg is pretty touristy, so it wasn’t hard to find menus in English, but it’s always possible to run into a language barrier.

While visiting Strasbourg, I would definitely recommend climbing the tower of the cathedral. While entering and viewing the inside of the cathedral is free, climbing the cathedral is not. Luckily, most places in Strasbourg offer a significant student discount. While the view from the top of the cathedral is not necessarily the most amazing in Europe, it does offer a nice view over the tops of the low buildings that make up most of Strasbourg.

I would also recommend stopping for a glass of wine or a hot cup of coffee in ‘Petite France’. This part of the city is very old and historical. From here you can also take a boat tour along the picturesque canals of the city.

Overall, Strasbourg is an amazing city and deserves a visit, especially if you’re studying in Western Germany or Northern France.

Celebrations

One big difference I noticed abroad was celebrating different holidays and traditions. My first month abroad, Costa Rica had its Independence Day on September 15th. My program had us celebrate by taking part in the Independence Day parade and making faroles, which are decorative lanterns children typically carry through the parade.  We got to walk in the parade and see all of the festivities that took place in the town center.

It was strange being abroad in the fall, because Costa Rica does not celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving. Some people dress up in the bars on Halloween, so I went with other Americans and we all had some sort of costume, even if it wasn’t well put together. Although it is not as important of a holiday to me now that I am older, it was still strange not seeing decorations up. It did not even feel like Thanksgiving when the day rolled around. I had class in the morning as usual, and in the afternoon I went out with my professor to find a fabric I was looking for to use in a project for his class. I called my family and they all talked about how much they missed me and what they were doing, which felt strange to watch from the outside. Later, my study abroad program set up a dinner for us at a restaurant where we ate typical Thanksgiving food. It was not a bad day, it just felt very confusing.

Learning the Language

One interesting aspect of traveling abroad is the language barrier and learning to speak a new language. I took Spanish all throughout high school, although our classes were not very advanced, and in my first 2 years of college. I was excited to spend four months in a Spanish speaking country. I did not think about my growth in the language much during my time abroad, but it is interesting to reflect and see how far I have come.

 

When I first arrived, I was nervous to meet my host family. My 26-year-old host brother spoke English, but his mother, aunt, cousin, and grandparents who all lived with us did not. I came to their house late at night, so we had a quick conversation before bed. I was able to communicate with them just fine and they kept telling me my Spanish was advanced, but I know it needed lots of work. I started the semester with a month-long class in Intermediate 2 Spanish. I could hear myself improve in grammar as well as my speaking skills throughout the month, and I continued to practice outside of the classroom. When I was with my friends we typically spoke in English, so I made sure to go some places alone. I continued to better my speaking skills in stores, with my host family, and in taxis. I even went to a Spanish conversation group to talk to local college students. Even though I’m not a fluent speaker, I now feel comfortable speaking Spanish.

Costa Rican Beaches

Some of the most popular places to visit in/near Costa Rica are the beaches. To travel, I always took the public bus. Here is a list of the beaches I visited and what I thought about them!

 

Playa Jacó

This is a very touristy beach just about 2 hours away from San José. It was a popular first weekend destination. This beach ahs a big town and lots of souvenir shops. The beach itself is a bit rocky and not one of my favorites, but it is close and good place to learn to surf. This town also has a very busy night life- which can be fun, but also dangerous. Most students studying in San José will visit at least once.

 

Playa Hermosa

This beach is about 15- 20 minutes away from Jacó, and a prettier beach. It still has all the restaurants and you can travel to Jacó for the evening if you would like to go out. The sand is black and very hot. The waves are more intense here, so it is typically recommended for more advanced surfers. You may even see a famous surfer or a surfing competition while you visit.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel is actually a national park about 3.5 hours away from San José. The entire park is incredibly beautiful and has a $15 entrance fee. After you walk through the forest, you get to see two light sand beaches with warm water. Just make sure to beware of the monkeys! They will steal any food you bring, and possibly other items. You will also likely see sloths and other animals as you walk through the park. I took a tour when I went with my program, but you can also walk through on your own

Cahuita

This is also a national park about 5.5 hours away from San José. This park is on the Caribbean side, so the water is very clear and he sand is white. It was rainy when I visited, but it was clear that this beach was very clean and peaceful. The town of Cahuita is small, but cute. There are plenty of places to stay for under $40 a night (cheap when sharing a room with friends) and lots of restaurants to try.

Playa Red Frog (Panama)

This was probably my favorite beach, located on a small island off Bocas Del Toro in Panama. The trip to Panama was about 7 hours and then another hour to the water taxi that took us to our air bnb in Bocas. The beaches in this area were all white sand beaches with blue and clear waters. They are quite touristy, which means they have restaurants, bars, and activities on all of them. I got to go snorkeling off one of the islands and the water was very clear with lots of organisms to see. The water taxi rides to/from the different beaches were unique experiences of their own. Activities here were less expensive because the cost of living is less expensive in Panama. It’s a long trip, but I would recommend going!

Sámara

This beach is about 4.5 hours from San José. It is located in the Guanacaste province and has light sand. The beach is big, the town is touristy, and there are many nice restaurants on the beach. When I was here, I went horseback riding and I rented an ATV with a friend. Many of the beach towns offer these options, and I liked being able to do touristy activities as well as just relaxing on the beach throughout my time abroad.

Tamarindo

For the last weekend, I went with a group of friends to this beach, also located in the Guanacaste province and about 5.5 hours away. It was incredibly hot and humid here, but also beautiful. This was one of the prettiest beaches I saw and had many shells. It was difficult to get in the water at some points because of the large rocks. This town is one of the most touristy, which means there are lots of people trying to sell you things. That can be annoying or a good thing if you want some coconut water on the beach. Our air bnb was very nice and we had a great time here.

A Rhein-Main Region Travel Guide

Frankfurt

Frankfurt am Main is the fifth largest city in Germany, and the largest city in Hesse. Frankfurt has a historic center, neighbored by skyscrapers in the Central Banking District. Frankfurt is also home to the European Central Bank. Frankfurt has several malls including MyZeil, a large shopping district with restaurants and businesses. Transportation is easy in Frankfurt. Frankfurt public transport includes the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and the Straßenbahn (Tram). Frankfurt is also home to two long and beautiful riverbanks lined with riverboat tours and bridges that offer excellent panoramic views of the city and the Main River. Frankfurt also has a zoo and botanical gardens.

Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden sits about half an hour west of Frankfurt, and offers a small city feel. Wiesbaden features a nice inner district that hosts many festivals and markets. The architecture of the buildings along Bahnhofstrasse is beautiful. The center of Wiesbaden also offers a casino and a large park with a pond that’s great for warm weather get togethers.

Mainz

Mainz is a decently sized university town with an active nightlife and a well connected train station. If you find yourself in Mainz, I’d definitely recommend a stop at Eisgrub-Brau to share a five liter tower of beer with some friends. Mainz is also home to a massive cathedral and the Gutenberg museum.

Oestrich-Winkel

Oestrich-Winkel is a small wine growing town on the northern shore of the Rhein. It is also home to one of the schools that UofL has an exchange with, EBS Universität für Wirtschaft und Recht. Oestrich is a quaint city with many wineries and wine stands. The specialty of this region is Riesling.

Rüdesheim

About ten minutes by train from Oestrich-Winkel, Rudesheim is a touristy town with many restaurants and shops where you can buy souvenirs and trinkets. Rudesheim also has very steep vineyards and a cable car that takes you up above the vineyards to the Niederwalddenkmal, a massive statue monument that memorializes the foundation of the German Empire in 1871. From the Niederwalddenkmal you can see across the Rhein to the city of Bingen am Rhein and the endless rows of vines. I recommend following one of the trails behind the memorial to one of many structures along the high hills that line the bank of the Rhein.

Bingen am Rhein

Bingen lies across the Rhein from Rudesheim. The easiest way to get between these two towns is the ferry that runs several times an hour. Nestled on a hill in the middle of Bingen sits a castle. The tower that protrudes from the top of the Bingen Castle is free to climb, and offers an excellent view of the surrounding city and the river. Bingen also has a lively main-street type area for shopping, ice cream, or wine tasting.

 

Bacharach

Between Bacharach and Bingen am Rhein are at least four ancient castles that sit high up on the steep hills that line the Rhein. Bacharach itself is a very interesting city, and is featured on many travel guides that claim that it is one of the most ‘well-preserved medieval cities in Germany’. I recommend the castle that perches on a high hill behind the city and the main street. There is even a tiny and cheap ice cream shop that will let you try Riesling-flavored ice cream.

 

Runkel an der Lahn

Runkel is the most remote town on this list, but also one of the most untouched and beautiful. Like many of the other cities and towns on this list, Runkel sits on a river with high, towering hills that line both banks. Runkel sits and the Lahn river, which also runs through nearby Limburg. The river in Runkel is picturesque and going down to a small part on the river bank allows you to have a magnificent view of the castle that stands high above the opposite bank. Exploring the castle isn’t free, but it is one of the most untouched and authentic castles that I have ever visited, and there are several vantage points that offer excellent views.

 

Overall, I found the Rhein-Main region to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful regions in Germany. The Rhine Valley is excellent for a drive, if you’re able to travel through it by car or by train.

 

*Note: Rhein is the German spelling of ‘Rhine’

 

Berlin für Anfänger (Berlin for Beginners)

My trip to Berlin was the first time that I traveled away from my host university. Getting a break from the small village I live in was a relief. A few of us decided to make a quick weekend trip to Berlin. FlixBus is a cheap option for traveling across Europe, but the ride was about 6 hours (when it wasn’t delayed). Overall, I think Berlin is a must-see for anyone in Central Europe.

Here are a few of my recommendations for things to see (Sehenswürdigkeiten):

1. Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral):

Located in the “Mitte” district of Berlin, this Cathedral is beautiful. If you have a student ID you can get a discount for entry and go up to the top of the cathedral. ~€5

2. Museum Island:

In the middle of the Spree River there’s an island with many museums.

3. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is very tourist-y but worth a visit. The actual checkpoint is just a shack but still worth the walk.

4. Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

This famous Berlin sight is on the doors of the U-Bahn (Subway), on the Euro, everywhere. Must see.

5. East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that is covered in urban-art pieces and is the entrance to the old East-Berlin. While you’re there, I recommend crossing the river to visit the popular burger joint “Burgermeister”.

 

Overall, Berlin remains one of my favorite spots to visit if you get the chance.

 

Peru Bucket List

This summer, I had the opportunity of spending 5 weeks in Cusco, Peru. Peru is easily the most beautiful country I have ever seen. Its location gives it the ultimate landscape for all types of seasons and all types of weather. For example, you have the hot and humid Amazon Rainforest, the chilly Andes mountain ranges, and the neutral coast. Although the altitude sickness may have you resting for the first day or so, the wonders that Peru has to offer are “vale la pena.” Here is a list of my top 3 favorite experiences in Peru:

  1. Machu Picchu

It seems cliché, but there is definitely a reason why this site has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The ancient city was even more breathtaking than I expected and one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. The city rests peacefully on the side of a mountain, and there is nothing else in sight for miles around except for green mountains and the clouds rolling beneath you. I would return in a heartbeat. If you are wanting to go, book your trip quickly- our tour guide told us that he thinks that Machu Picchu will stop giving tours in the next 5-10 years. He said that this is because of the amount of damage that humans are causing to the ruins and the deterioration that has come from it.

 

  1. Eat the cuy

The cuy, or guinea pig, is one of the highlights of Cusco’s cuisine. It isn’t seen as a delicacy, but more of a traditional food of the city. Although it sounds disgusting, eating cuy was one of my favorite experiences in Peru. I went to a restaurant chosen by one of my local Peruvian friends (having a local recommend a restaurant is a good idea- they are more likely to be able to tell which restaurants look questionable and which ones look safe), and I mentally prepared myself to eat the guinea pig while he ordered our food. The guinea pig is cooked whole, so when you get your plate, it is literally a full animal in front of you. The appearance was a little frightening with the head and limbs still attached, but it was definitely an experience to remember and it is one of my favorite stories to tell about my visit (people’s reactions are usually hilarious, especially if they’ve had a guinea pig as a pet at some point in their lives).

 

  1. Las discotecas

You can’t leave Cusco without spending a night in one of their discotecas. Discotecas are basically techno-like dance clubs and are super common in the night life of Peru. It is an amazing feeling to dance the night away with all of your new friends to Spanish music, and it is even better if you find local friends to help you learn new salsa moves to go along with the beat. The atmosphere of the discotecas is very diverse- some have live music nights, some have face painting, and some have themed nights. There is always something new and fun going on, and it is best to take advantage of the new experiences you will encounter from visiting a new culture.

Reverse Culture Shock

Coming back from study abroad was definitely the hardest part of my summer. After spending almost three months in beautiful cities built centuries ago and meeting a new abroad family, it was not easy to return to the U.S. Simple things like walking to class seem so different when I’m not hopping on the metro with hundreds of other people speaking a language I don’t understand. I think  people underestimate how quickly a new situation can become your norm. I truly felt like a local during my time in Prague and it has driven me to look into possible careers in Europe. Having a difficult time coming home made me realize how much of an impact study abroad had on my life. If you ever have the chance to study abroad I would urge you to take it. The experience was something I could never have expected and I am so grateful I had the opportunity.

Audencia in Nantes, France

I’ve been back in Louisville from studying for a little bit but wanted to share some thought about my time abroad.

I attended Audencia for 3 weeks. I had 3 classes. My favorite class was one called “Crisis Management.” The instructor had set up scenarios for groups of us to handle as crisis managers and would give us “live updates” as we developed our plan that would change everything. It was SO FUN! I could see that type of work being a future career of mine. It was intense and difficult and exactly perfect for my personality.

One thing that I was most shocked about when I traveled was how all the students I was studying with took care of each other. I made a lot of friends while I was there so easily and in a new crazy environment, they really had my back. This helped me a lot because I was very nervous about traveling alone.

I got lost in France by myself (longgg story) because of a cancelled flight situation. I am very lucky to have turned the situation around but it taught me a lot of lessons. My advice to anyone traveling to Europe for a long time is to BREATHE before making decisions and to keep transportation plans as simple and as prepared as possible ESPECIALLY IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE LANGUAGE.

Another tip is don’t go to France for a long time without knowing SOME French. Learning 3 to 4 basic sentences that you know you’ll need is good enough, but know some. If you’re just visiting Paris for a couple days you might be fine without it, but if you go anywhere else or stay more than a few days, you need to know some French. I found it very difficult to get help from people as an English speaker, but as soon as I said something in French they immediately had more patience. So don’t expect them to know English.

While abroad this time I visited Nantes, Normandy, La Mans, Leon, and Paris (4 times) in France. Also Rome and Naples in Italy. London and Luton England. And Eindhoven in NL.

I had a great time and there were a lot of lessons learned. If you’re traveling now or traveling soon, HAVE FUN!! BE SAFE!!

 

 

Google Flights — For the Budget Traveler

My favorite feature of Google Flights is that you do not need to know where you want to go.

With Google Flights you can enter your point a, and leave the destination blank and let Google do all the meticulous searching for you.

From: Paris, France

To: (blank)

What you end up with is a highly interactive map of all the cities in Europe that you could possibly travel to. I cannot explain how useful this is. It is so easy to see the different prices for each trip, and its very easy to book last minute deals. Google redirects you directly to the airline checkout page when you are ready.

Its a lot of fun playing with this website and seeing what ridiculous deals you can find. I booked a one way ticket from Nantes, France to Rome, Italy for $40, 2 days before the flight departed.

Even if you are set on going to one city in particular, I would still recommend Google Flights to you because of the ease of use and aesthetics of the website.

I used Google Flights my entire trip and will continue to solely use it.