Quick Notes on the Netherlands

– While many commonly refer to the country as Holland, this term only encompasses two of the twelve Dutch provinces: Noord (North) Holland and Zuid (South) Holland.

– The three largest Dutch cities – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Den Haag (The Hague) – are each located in the two provinces that make up Holland. This is a likely explanation for the innocent mistake of using the term Holland when one is really referring to the entire country.

– The region that includes Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg is called Benelux.

– Amsterdam is appropriately known as a tourist hotspot for not just the Netherlands but all of Europe. In the warmer summer months, it can get quite crowded, so much so that the national tourism board encourages tourists to visit anywhere in the Netherlands other than Amsterdam. The New York Times recently suggested Delft and The Hague for tourists looking for a quieter and more intimate experience than in Amsterdam. You can read more on that here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/12/travel/traveling-europe-summer-crowds.html

– The most recognizable Dutch staples might be beer and cheese. Heineken is one of the best-known beers worldwide and the village of Gouda gained notoriety for its cheese of the same moniker. Architectural and engineering features such as canals, dikes, and windmills are commonly associated with the Dutch landscape.

– The three largest Dutch cities each pique the interest of tourists for unique reasons. Amsterdam houses historic museums and is shaped by intricate canal paths. Rotterdam is known internationally as an architectural hub, with sleek, bold design influencing the city. The Hague is home to renowned institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICC has a relationship with the UN Security Council, while the ICJ is the main judicial arm of the United Nations.

Finding Happiness in Flexibility

Hopefully, the end feeling of any journey is refreshment and joy. The act of travel can be stressful, however. The buzz and bustle of airports and train stations can be more anxiety-inducing than enjoyable, especially in unfamiliar lands. I would count myself among the many who double and triple-check their bags to ensure everything is in order. Passport, camera, laptop, etc. Everything needs to be in its proper place.

It is with that same careful sense that I approach planning a journey. Whether I’m opening a hefty compilation of New York Times itineraries for cities all across Europe or a Lonely Planet guidebook for my own city and country, there is comfort in having a plan for each day. Knowing that I can squeeze in a few hours along La Rambla in Barcelona before departure or that I can embark on a city tour upon arrival in Copenhagen helps me make the most of every minute of travel.

Understanding that I am more comfortable with planned travel, it has come as a surprise that my most enjoyable experiences have occurred when I have welcomed flexibility into my journey. As much as hopping on a bus every hour allows you to see many landmarks, it does not grant you the time nor the clear mindset necessary to truly experience a city.

The flexible travel experience that most notably sticks out to me is the weekend I spent in Lisbon. My university scheduled a week-long study break (with the understanding among even the professors that there was likely more travel to be done than studying), and I had just finished the majority of the week in Barcelona and Valencia. Rather than book a return flight to Amsterdam from Valencia with the rest of my friend group, I chose to fly to Lisbon, Portugal.

With little more than a full backpack and charged phone, I explored Lisbon for the next few days. It would have been much easier to take the tram cars across the hilly landscape and towards the ocean, but it felt much more immersive and rewarding to make the trek by foot. It might seem aimless to stop wherever you would like along the way to a recommended landmark, but you often find the hidden gems of cities if you allow yourself to. In my case, I found street art, incredible viewpoints, streets full of vibrant colors, as well as one of the best cafes I have eaten at in all of Europe. They each caught my attention as much or more than listed landmarks and were only found because I allowed myself the time to stray off the beaten or recommended path.

My greater point in all of this is that I have found it necessary to adopt balance in travel routines. The best-laid plans do not always yield the most memorable results, and building in time to explore aimlessly can be rewarding. Flexibility can turn stress into refreshment, and a more casual approach can bring greater happiness than a rigid itinerary.

First Day in Verona

Ciao! At the time I’m writing this, it’s been about just over 3 weeks since I first stepped foot in Verona, Italy, after eating from local restaurants, moving into the Residence, and getting some-semblance-of-adequate-sleep, I can proudly say that it’s finally hitting me: I am in a different country.  I think this reaction has been delayed because I have been go, go, going non-stop since the first connecting flight.  When we first walked through customs, our USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium) program director has kept us busy. Between group dinners, orientations, and tours of the city, there hasn’t been time for it to really sink in that we are far away from our home country.

My favorite part of the first full day was the city walking excursion and the free time that followed. Our guide gave us a tour of Verona. He took the group down the ancient streets-some over 2000 years old- and gave us a compact version of the history of the city and Italy itself. We learned a little bit of everything, from Castelvecchio (“Old Castle”), to the true history of the Capulets and the Montague’s rivalry (Juliet’s balcony was actually constructed after the famous play came out), to Ponte Pietra (“Stone Bridge”). Each of these locations holds a special place in Verona’s history and helped shape it to be the city it is today.

For the free time that followed, I grabbed lunch and gelato with my roommates, and then we set out to discover the city on our own. Our first stop was Castel San Pietro (“St. Peter’s Castle”), where we took the Funicular up the incline to get to the top. The views from the castle boundaries were breathtaking: you could almost see the entirety of the city from there! Since the castle is under renovation, guests could only walk the grounds, but it was definitely worth the one euro trip up. From there, we met up with friends for dinner and finished exploring the city.

At the end of the day, I gained new insight into the city I will be calling home for the next six weeks, an appreciation of the art and history that can date back 2000 years ago, and 24000 steps that I definitely felt the next morning.

The next few posts will be catching up on the adventures I have taken thus far.

Arrivederci!

The view from the top of Castel San Pietro. One of the best places to get a full view of the city!
We finished our evening at a park near Ponte Pietra. Relaxing park right next to the Adige River.

Perusing Peru

Coming to Cuzco has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my college career! My Spanish skills have improved by far more than they have in any of my other Spanish classes and I have been able to easily navigate the city and daily life. While I will always be a gringo, I have become very comfortable here very quickly.
My favorite thing to do in Cuzco is eat. The food here is very good, albeit heavily potato, chicken, and rice based. I haven’t had a single meal here that didn’t have one of these three foods as an ingredient. The pizza here is also very different but very good. All of the pizzeria’s here give you a creamy garlic sauce, hot sauce, and occasionally a black olive sauce to drizzle on your pizza. As odd as these may seem I would highly recommend trying all of them. I have yet to eat pizza in Cuzco that I didn’t like.
Of everything I’ve seen in Peru, my favorite view had to be from the top of the Pachamama mountain in Lake Titicaca. Getting to see everything from the surrounding islands to the distant mountains in Bolivia was amazing. Capping of the experience was getting to watch the sun set from the top of the mountain and looking at the stars and eventually the milky way as the sun receded. Even if the rest of my trip is awful, my visit to Pachamama mountain would have made this all worthwhile.

China

The food in China is great, I can as much as I want and I am still losing weight. I ate hot pot for first time yesterday and it was a great experience. Very delicious.

I have not got used to the random stares by Chinese people. Which is not what I am used to. But it is cool sometimes and I don’t mind the attention. But China has been fun and a great experience so far

Off to Prague!

When I first decided to study abroad, I had no idea what it all entailed. Next thing I know, I’ve been thrown into this crazy process of preparing to go abroad. I decided on the Czech Republic for 9 weeks. I had no idea what to expect. Frankly, I didn’t think a whole lot about what it was like once I got over here. I was too preoccupied trying to make sure I had all my paperwork and everything turned in. Many were shocked I chose such a long program even though I didn’t know anyone and had never been to Europe before, but I’m incredibly happy with my decision. My first piece of advice? Don’t wait on friends to commit with you to go.

Force yourself completely out of your comfort zone. In my third party program’s words, “You paid to come over here and immerse yourself in a completely new culture. You’re going to be uncomfortable at times, and that’s ok. It’s how you handle being uncomfortable that helps you grow as an individual.” It’s two days in, and I have already made numerous friends within my program and we’re all having a blast! I have toured many parts of the city already including the Lennon Wall, Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle. Most of the other students came by themselves as well, so we are all looking to make friends on the fly. My second piece of advice? Go on spontaneous adventures! Whether it’s to try a new restaurant or visit a historical site, the spontaneous adventures have a tendency to be the best adventures!

Although Europe has some similarities with America, it most definitely has its differences. In housing, we have no clothes dryer and no A/C. The bathrooms are much smaller, but it makes you realize how “extra” America can be with housing. At first I thought the Czechs seemed stand-offish, but I learned they simply don’t interact how Americans do. As Americans, we tend to smile a lot, show lots of emotion, and be friendly to strangers. The Czechs are not stand-offish at all, they simply have their own day to go about and respect that you do too. That being said, whenever I have needed help with the tram or public transportation, they have always been very willing to help me out! There is a lot more English speakers than I expected, but I’m of course trying my hand at Czech. It’s a bit of a struggle currently, but I’m hoping I’ll get there. My third piece of advice? Do your best to learn the native language! You may feel like you’re butchering their language (I know I do!), but they seem to truly appreciate our efforts.

I’m already loving it here, I can’t wait to see where the rest of this adventure takes me!

What I learned in Rome, Italy Week One

So I am studying at John Cabot University for six weeks this summer, and I am here to update you on the lessons I’ve learned in the little time I’ve been here.

  1. Social Norms are Different

We all knew this would be the case, but I’ll just key you in on some things to be aware of. You don’t tip (It’s just not customary and I’m guessing they factor a “tip” in your bill?), people do not smile at you if you pass them, NO ONE wears shorts, and t-shirts are simply not an item in their closet.

2. Technology Isn’t the Same

Above everything, make sure you bring an outlet adapter. They have different outlets, so your regular phone charger will not work without an adapter. Also, basically everything technology wise is different here. Everything is smaller (oven, microwave, washer, etc.). Electricity is very expensive here, so you have to be aware of how many things you have plugged in. Dishawashers and driers are not a thing (uses too much electricity; you put dishes on a drying rack and dry clothes on a rack or clothes line). Air conditioning is also nonexistent in most places, so fans are your best friend.

3. You Have 1000 Different Trash Cans

Italy has banned trash incinerators, and because of this, need to dispose of their trash very efficiently because they have limited space and lots of people. Due to this, you have around eight different trash cans for plastic/metal, paper, compost, glass, etc. All of these need to be put out on different days to be picked up, and if you put out the wrong item, you will be fined.

4. Be Ready to Walk

Despite how this sounds, this is one of my favorite parts of studying here. Everyone walks because everything is so close together. There’s no, “Let’s drive down the street to get something to eat”. You simply walk ten minutes in either direction and you are bombarded with 100 restaurants, a grocery, and anything else you need. If something is too far, take the tram or best (also going to be your best friend).

5. Pasta & Pizza are Their Own Food Group

I kid you not, 90% of the restaurants in Rome are pizzerias. You have to really search if you wants something other than carbs on carbs. I have discovered a small mexican joint called Pico’s, a sandwich shop called Donkey Punch, and a delicious sushi restaurant called Coffee Pot. If all you want to eat is pasta, pizza, and bruschetta, you will never have a limited supply. You will also never be deprived of gelato, as there are 1000 places to get that as well. Also, get wine with every meal you can, trust me.

There are definitely more lessons I could share, but I’ll leave them up to you to figure them out. Overall, I can honestly say Trastevere, Rome is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, and I’m in love with all it’s cobblestone streets and twists and turns. You will definitely not regret coming here.

Made it through the first week

The first week in China was difficult for me, I had to adjust to a lot of different sleeping schedule and adjust to it being completely different from the US. It has been a week and I feel like I have finally adjusted to it and I am feeling better about things. I went on a tour of shanghai with my study abroad group and saw some very cool things. Shanghai is a really nice city.

Keen on Caffeine

Coffee lovers, rejoice! Wine is, of course, Bordeaux’s signature attraction. But, there is more than one locally distinguished beverage to be found in this city. Bordeaux is home to several artisanal coffee shops, cafés, and roasters, or les torrefacteurs.

Today, I present to you Bordeaux’s Coffee Map or “Porcelain Trail,” if you will. This map marks Bordeaux’s most authentic, exceptional, and inventive coffee establishments. Each offers outstanding service, aesthetic atmospheres, and true craftsmanship in every pour. This map has aided me greatly in discovering some truly remarkable brews, so I had to share! 

Among my personal favorites are Café PIHA and SIP Coffee Bar, as well as Books & Coffee and Saint-James (which are not featured on the map). 

I like to judge a café’s quality on its humble espresso, “Un café, c’est tout!” But, Café PIHA’s signature drinks are concoctions of pure genius. If you’re tastebuds are adventurous, then this is the place for you! 

With their loft seating, WiFi, and laptop-squatter friendly attitude, SIP Coffee Bar is perfect for afternoons spent studying. Their unique cafés filtres are a must try. And, their carrot cake is amazing.

Books & Coffee is the coziest hole-in-the wall café. Curl up with a cappuccino and a good read during their quiet hours, or gather the ladies for a phenomenal, affordable brunch feast on the weekends. I can’t recommend this spot enough!

Next door you’ll find the very stylish venue of Saint-James; decorated with chic tiles, hanging plants, and modern industrial fixtures. Stop here if appearances are your priority. The stained glass windows offer fantastic lighting. Do it for the ‘gram!

I hope Bordeaux’s Coffee Map guides you well. But, when in doubt, follow your nose and follow the locals. They know best!

Images Courtesy of the Instragrams of Café PIHA, SIP Coffee Bar, Books & Coffee, and Saint-James FR (left to right)

The Full Circle of Travel

As a student pursuing a dual-degree at the European Business School in Germany, I have the unique privilege of spending three semesters abroad. I began Part 1 of 3 on January 4th and I marked the end on May 28th. With each of these flights, something very similar – and very stressful – happened. I missed the last connection for the final leg of the journey. I want to reflect on both so that someone may find humor and perhaps advice from my experience.

I moved abroad on January 4, 2019. At a total of 13 hours for the trip, it was my longest to that point and the one for which I was most excited. It seemed to be pretty straightforward – Louisville to DC, 2-hour layover, DC to Munich, 1.5-hour layover, Munich to Frankfurt. And it was. For the first connection. However, on the trans-Atlantic flight, it began to snow in southern Germany. By the time we were set to land, snow and ice had layered on the runway. They had to scrape the runway before we could land. First obstacle. Then, once off, I had to go through Customs and Border Control before racing to my gate. But only, that gate was no longer my gate. I went to the service desk for updated information, and I was sent to the other side of the airport. I hurried off only to find that even though the new gate had a plane going to Frankfurt, it wasn’t “my plane.” Second obstacle. I raced to the service desk, only to be told that “my gate” was four down from the original, on the other side of the airport. I made an honest effort to make it back but came up short. First setback. The only thing to do in this situation is to go to the main service desk, explain what happened, make some fake tears fall down your face (reserve this for if they think it was your fault that you missed the connection), and negotiate to get a new ticket. This is exactly what I did to a resounding success. Except for one thing. No flights could accommodate me, so I was forced to take a 4-hour train from Munich to Frankfurt. Second setback. After two further weather delays of my trains, I arrived at my apartment in the small community of Oestrich-Winkel.

Now in my five months abroad, I came to really enjoy and appreciate Oestrich-Winkel, Germany, and Europe. However, I was excited about the chance to come home for the summer to see friends and family. As such, I booked a flight – Frankfurt to Amsterdam, 1.5-hour layover, Amsterdam to Detroit, 1.5-hour layover, Detroit to Louisville. As before, the first connection went as planned. I boarded my trans-Atlantic flight, got settled in for the long trip, and was anxious to be back on American ground (how naïve to think it would be easy). We were sitting on the runway in Amsterdam, waiting for clearance to take off, when a young man alerted the flight attendants that he was having chest pains and needed to get off the plane. So, as before, the notion that this would be a no-issue flight went out the window. We had to taxi back to the runway, get him off, find his checked bags in the luggage hold, refuel the aircraft, and cool down the brakes. Altogether, this process delayed our flight by about an hour. Unfortunately, this only left 30 minutes for me to alight, go through Customs, find my checked bag and recheck it, go back through security, and find my way to the correct gate. Needless to say, I missed my final plane by about 45 minutes. Thankfully, I had the experience needed to handle this. I marched to the main service desk, explained what happened, and negotiated for a new ticket as before. I landed back in Louisville at 9:30 pm, ready to start the summer!

Conclusion: delays can and probably will happen. Flights can and probably will be missed. Keep calm and put on a smile (or tears, depending on the situation) and ask for a new ticket. Before long, you’ll be on your way again, loaded with a wonderful story to tell your folks and a perfect subject for your travel blogs!