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.
As my time in Prague draws nearer to a close, I thought it would be an ideal time to share some of the insight I have acquired during the past 8 weeks I have spent in Europe. One of the things I fantasized about the most about my time abroad was taking speedy weekend trips to the countries surrounding the Czech Republic. Now, the number one thing I have learned in regards to this topic is that it is important to make sure you spend plenty of time in your host country. There are so many hidden gems in Prague, 9 weeks would never be enough to make time for all of them, but I found myself having to rush to make time for all of the things on my must-do list. As for the weekend trips, keep it to one city. If there is no city in europe you can “do in a day”, at least not if you want the full experience. The most exciting part of my weekend trips was finding the underappreciated, scarcely known tidbits of culture that you won’t be exposed to if you don’t get passed the famous landmarks. During my time in Paris, I spent my first two days going to a festival and seeing the major sights such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel tower and the Louvre, and as fun as it was to see the sights I had dreamt of for so long, it was the third day that I will remember the most. I spend my final day walking around the tiny streets visiting formaggeria and bakeries that the locals shopped at, watching the locals at a small city park, and perusing tiny hidden art galleries. Needless to say, sometimes less can be more when it comes to traveling. There is so much to see in the world, but traveling is much more than checking countries off a list, it is about full cultural immersion and connecting to a place vastly different than what you may know.
- Visit the Roman Forum before the Colosseum
The line to get tickets at the Roman Forum is WAY shorter than the line to buy them at the Colosseum! Choose the option to buy a ticket to see both at the Roman Forum, that way when you get to the Colosseum you can skip the line to buy tickets. The ticket even lasts for two days if you’d like to split your time between the two.
- Take recommendations from locals
My favorite restaurant I ate at while in Rome was a little hole in the wall pizzeria recommended to us by our Airbnb host. The food and wine were amazing and the service was great! We even ate here twice during our weekend trip because we loved it so much. We wouldn’t have even thought to go there if we wouldn’t have asked a local.
- See the Vatican Museum at night
On Fridays, there is an option to take a night tour of the Vatican Museum. I highly recommend this! It was less crowded than normal so it was easier to navigate. It also was very hot in Rome the weekend we were there and there is no air conditioning, so I can’t imagine exploring the museum during a hot day.
- Take time to just wander around
Sometimes when visiting a city for a short amount of time it’s easy to get caught up in sightseeing and you can forget to actually take in the culture of the city. Take time to just walk around with no real place to be and just take in the beauty of the city.
- Edinburgh Castle
- This is probably the most famous landmark in Edinburgh. It sits on Castle Rock, which is volcanic rock. This castle has been in use since the 12th century but has not been occupied since the 17th The Crown Jewels of Scotland are displayed here, which are a sight to see. The rich history and majestic beauty of this castle make it a must-see while in Edinburgh.
- Palace of Holyroodhouse
- The Palace of Holyroodhouse is situated on the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the castle. It is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II when she visits Scotland. This, like most things in Scotland, has a deep history with the royals. Mary, Queen of Scots resided here during her reign and Bonnie Prince Charlie took up residence here during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Since this is the official residence of the Royal Family, be sure to look for when the flag is raised to see if they are home.
- Arthur’s Seat
- Another old volcano, this hill (what the Scottish call a mountain) is worth a climb. It is not an easy hike up, but if you are able, you should do it. Once at the top, the views of Edinburgh are breathtaking. Speaking from experience, go during the day. If you go at night, it may start raining. In the dark and rain, this hike may feel like a near death experience.
- Calton Hill
- If you are not able to climb up Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill may be a better choice. This hill (an actual hill) also gives stunning views of Edinburgh, without being so physically taxing on the body like Arthur’s Seat.
- This area is one of my favorite places in Edinburgh. It used to be the site of the gallows, but now it has lots of great pubs and shops. A few places to visit while in the Grassmarket include: Mary’s Milk Bar (great gelato and great view of the Castle), Armchair books (a very cool secondhand bookshop), and the White Hart Inn (a haunted pub which claims to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh).
- Victoria Street
- Just off Grassmarket lies Victoria Street. This street is full of cute shops with colorful facades. This street’s true claim to fame is that is serves as the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, visiting this street is a must.
- Dean Village
- This is an old village which is just a short walk from Edinburgh’s City center. It is well-preserved old milling village. It is very scenic, with a beautiful creek running through the center of the village.
- Royal Mile
- The Royal Mile, or Edinburgh’s High Street, runs between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It has many gift shops and restaurants and is where St. Giles Cathedral is located. If you have seen Avengers Infinity War, this is one of the locations used while the crew was in Scotland.
- Elephant House
- Another place for any Harry Potter nerd. This is the café where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Many people flock here, but despite the crowds, it is a place worth visiting. I recommend getting a tea or coffee and maybe a slice of cake, the food here is a tad overpriced. This café has a great view of the castle, which served as the inspiration for Hogwarts. If you do come here, make sure to go to the bathroom and check out all the Harry Potter inspired graffiti.
- Caffe Nero (Princes Street)
- While this café is a chain, I still recommend visiting. They have good coffee, but this location has become my favorite in Edinburgh. While visiting, you should go up to the second-floor seating area, because it has wonderful views of the castle. If you can tell from the places I’ve recommended, any place with a good view of the castle is a good place to visit.
- Grow up and become independent: Nothing makes you grow up faster than being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you have to learn how to navigate the city, order food, etc. When you’re abroad you’ll be traveling too, and let me go ahead and tell you – you will have travel issues. You will miss flights, you are going to get lost in a foreign city, and dumb things that you never think could happen will. But the good thing is, all of this is going to make you grow up and it will be quick. By the time you come back home you’ll feel like you can handle any situation and do it without the help of anyone else.
- You meet people from all over: While I was studying in France and traveling throughout Europe, I met hundreds of people from over 20 countries. There are many people I still talk to and consider good friends of mine. Not only are you going to make lifetime friends when abroad, but you’re going to learn a lot about other societies and their viewpoints on different topics when you talk to them.
- See and do things you never imagined: When I was in Europe, I saw 10 different countries in my 3 months, including one in Africa. I got to ride a camel, hike mountains over 10000 feet, experience the world cup in the winning country, see some of the most historic architecture in the world and see more places than most people will in their lifetime. My favorite moment from the summer was when I was staying in Positano, Italy. My last night there, everyone I met at the hostel and I went out to the club right next to the Mediterranean Sea and stayed until it closed down. Instead of going back up to our place, we decided to swim in the freezing cold sea while watching the sunrise at 5am. We later had to walk up the entire hillside and over 800 steps, while it was raining, to get back to our hostel, but it was totally worth the views.
- Have fun: The most obvious reason to study abroad is to learn A LOT right? But who says you can’t have some fun while you’re at it? Every single day is a completely new experience and you’ll always have fun. My time abroad was the best time of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Of course, it can be different for some people, but if you go in with the mindset of trying new things and wanting to have fun, you’ll have a blast.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
This quote has been the story of my study abroad season. Travel is so much fun but it isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes you feel like your running a marathon but it is a cool marathon because you get to travel from country to country. Travel can be uncomfortable. Paris is a dream location for many and has been at the top of bucket list since my childhood. But, often times with city life, it was a little uncomfortable. We stayed in an apartment that was very tiny and I had to walk up five flights of stairs. You definitely want to pack light because you will eventually have to carry all of your stuff with you! Paris is well worth staying in a tiny apartment, though. Getting to see the Eiffel Tower and Mona Lisa was amazing. I never thought I would get make it to Paris to see those things.
Travel does break your heart. I met so many lovely people from all over the world that became close friends. It was very hard saying goodbye but I’m sure our paths will cross again. That’s another thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet or where you will end up. Travel is sometimes an unknown journey but I love the mystery behind packing a suitcase and going.
The journey changes you. My journey opened my eyes to the big world we live in. Travelling gave me a mindset that I can do anything. When you travel to a country you have never been to before by yourself, it can be a little scary but it is the most freeing thing you can do. Your mind becomes an open book, its like turning a page to adventure. It’s the little things in life that are a bit different from country to country. They make your mind second guess why you do what you do. For instance, in France, many people walk to work. This daily habit can be life changing for someone who is overweight in America. Travel changes your mindset and your daily life, and opens your soul to the world around you.
Your visit to each city or each country gives you something different. In France, I took away the need to gather with friends and family. In England, I took the need to have fun and let loose. In Ireland, I look away the need to enjoy nature and the beauty that surrounds us. In Italy, I took away the need to live in the romance that each day provides.
I left behind my smile. A smile has no language barriers. I took it everywhere I went, despite the uncomfortable and heart breaking moments during my journey. I still have my smile with me though as I look back at all the memories made and I don’t regret my journey in the least bit. My wallet is a little lighter than before but my passport is full of stamps!
Denmark may not be the most common or even the most exciting tourist destination, but this little country still has plenty to offer. Most tourists will never get outside of Copenhagen, and that’s okay, but I still want to draw attention to some of the smaller cities and the lovely things they have to offer as well.
#1 – Tivoli Gardens – Copenhagen
This amusement park may not have the tallest or fastest rides you’ve ever been on, but it was good enough to inspire Walt Disney to create Disneyland. That’s right – Mr. Disney himself made the trip to Denmark to take notes on how to create a successful, fun amusement park. In addition to the rides, Tivoli also has a theater, gardens, concerts, shops, and much more! It’s been open since 1843 and is still pleasing crowds in 2018.
#2 – Den Gamle By – Aarhus
Den Gamle By, which means “the old city”, is really a one-of-a-kind experience. Right in the heart of Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, lies this attraction that truly takes you back in time. Upon entry, visitors are shown what life was like in Denmark prior to 1900, and they know how to keep it authentic. There are farms and homes set up with actors who dress the part and can tell you all about what life is like in this time period. If you find something nice at the store you’d like to buy, it’s cash only, please. Credit cards didn’t exist in 1900, so they won’t be found here! The last way that they stay authentic is through the houses. There are over 30 historic houses inside Den Gamle By that have been transported from all over Denmark. As you make your way through the attraction, you’ll go through different time periods, all the way until you reach the 1970s. It’s amazing to see how much life has changed!
#3 – Aros – Aarhus
Aros is a modern art museum that I just fell in love with. I’m not usually one for art museums, but Aros is different. The most incredible thing about Aros is the rainbow panorama located on the roof. Visitors can walk up to the roof and have a nice rooftop meal before entering the panorama. As you walk around it, the city changes color right before your eyes. There’s no way to describe it that does it justice – you just have to see for yourself. I passed Aros every day on my way to school, and when the sun shines just right, you can see the colors of the panorama reflected around the city like an ever-present rainbow.
#4 Where the two seas meet – Skagen
Skagen, the northernmost part in Denmark, is home to breathtaking views of where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet. What’s so crazy about two bodies of water coming together, you ask? Well, as you can see in the picture above, these seas don’t mix! There’s a clear distinction between the two seas and it is amazing to watch the waves crash against each other but never mix.
#5 – Amalienborg – Copenhagen
It’s the Buckingham Palace of Copenhagen – the home of the royal family. As you can see from the photo above, it’s a beautiful piece of architecture. Visiting a royal palace is something you just can’t do in America, so it’s nice to see something completely unfamiliar. Fun fact: If the Danish flag is raised, the queen is home. If it’s at half mast, she’s away. The same goes for the other close-by buildings where her grown sons live with their families.
Along with Italy and France, Spain also has an impressive coastline along the Mediterranean. With my study abroad group we made a trip up the coast for the weekend visiting several Spanish towns; L’Escala, Figueres, Roses and Cadaques. The Costa Brava coastline is far different from our coasts on the Atlantic and Gulf as well as the Pacific coasts. The water is a clean deep dark blue and the coasts are mostly rocky rather than sandy.
Our first stop was in L’Escala for an early lunch at a small beach within the town.
Afterwards we went up to Figueres and visited the Dali Museum. Salvador Dali is Spain second most famous painter behind Pablo Picasso. Most of his work came from his travel to America and this was shown through his work.
After the museum, we headed up to Roses where we spent the night at the Marina Hotel. We spent that night hanging out on the sandy beach and roaming through the town.
The next day we took a trip by boat farther up the coast to the town of Cadaques.
After spending sometime exploring the sea village and grabbing lunch we headed back to Roses and headed home to Barcelona.
1. City Life
Barcelona provided the perfect backdrop for a student looking for a busy city to study abroad. Within the first few days I had that feeling of a New Yorkesque lifestyle. The busy taxi filled streets into the late night, the never-ending selection of restaurants, bars, and shops, and the blended lifestyles of locals, travelers, artists, businessmen, and wonderers. Barcelona offered an endless list of experiences to be discovered, rather your interests are history, art, food, nightlife, or shopping. Along with taxis Barcelona provided a well-designed Metro that could get you anywhere in the city in under 30 minutes.
The city offered a cultural melting pot that was not mimicked in many of the other cities I visited. This included the rebellious side of Catalonian culture, represented in areas such as El Raval, as well as the beach life represented throughout La Barceloneta. Barcelona’s big city lifestyle was not without the vast choices of food. From tapa bars to fine dining Barcelona had everything to satisfy your appetite. Being a coastal city the seafood was fresh and plentiful. There was no shortage of art on the menu either. This was represented through Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, the Picasso and various other museums, as well as the endless amount of street art.
In Barcelona, there is no shortage of nightlife. Around just about every corner was an assortment of clubs and venues. With many of these night clubs not opening until midnight and going until 6am, Barcelona competes with American cities such as Vegas and Miami for the party until the sunrises club scene. There is no lack of extravagance at these clubs either, with many only opening in the last decade. Along with packing them full 7 days a week they also brought in some of the biggest artists from around the world. This included acts such as Tiesto, Wiz Khalifa, and Deadmou5. Along with there being an infinite number of options to choose from our study abroad group also received free guest list entry to many of the top clubs. By avoiding the usual high cover charges this made stopping in to take a look at many of the nightclubs far more favorable and led to nights of endless fun and entertainment.
One of the things I loved most about Prague and the Czech Republic as a whole was the location. The Czech Republic is landlocked and surrounded by Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, with Italy and Croatia nearby. This was especially convenient for travelling on the weekends. We took busses or trains to a variety of places on the weekends, which proved to be faster and cheaper than flying. There are also many unique towns and villages located right outside of Prague in the Czech Republic. Day trips to Pilsen to tour famous brewery cellars or to Karlstejn to tour the 1348 Karlstejn Castle were fun excursions when we wanted to venture outside of Prague.
Ease of Public Transportation
Getting around the city was much easier than I originally expected. The most common methods of transportation are the underground metro, tram, or walking. Personally, I lived about 20 minutes from campus and the main part of the city, so I took the metro just about every day. After the first several days in Prague, we had the metro schedule down and could figure out how to get almost anywhere around Prague. Walking and taking the above-ground rail tram was great when we were already in the main areas of the city because it gave us the opportunity to see different areas of Prague and learn where everything is.
After researching Czech food before arriving in Prague, I found that traditional Czech meals consist of heavier foods such as meat, potatoes, dumplings, and goulash. Although this did not sound discouraging, I was going to miss a good plate of pasta or chicken quesadilla. However, after arriving in Prague, I came to realize the city was filled with plenty of restaurants catering all types of cuisine. There were more Italian and Mexican restaurants than I could count, and a KFC could be found every several blocks. Plus, I learned Czech food was pretty tasty, after all!