During a Fall Break that provided several unexpected obstacles (thanks in large to the French strike), Eric, DeSean, and I were forced to turn to the American Embassy for help and guidance. I am not referring to the U.S. Embassy you are probably thinking of (although we did go there once in Milan and was offered little help), but of the one with over 60 locations in Louisville the last time I checked. That’s right, McDonald’s. They greeted us with a smile, fed us, and most importantly, provided free wi-fi connection. In times of uncertainty, whether we needed to book an emergency flight home, skype a family member, or book a hostel the McDonald’s wi-fi always came through for us. In the 12 day trip, I can honestly say we probably visited a McDonald’s at least 15 times. This is about the amount of times I would visit during a 6-month period at home. But, more valuable than the one euro cheeseburgers was the unlimited wi-fi that we always took advantage of. Our fall break trip saw us travel through four countries, not including the Netherlands in which we are studying in, and provided us with many countless memories some of which I will share with you! I will highlight each city we visited.
The start of the trip really set the tone for our week long adventure for the 2010 Fall Break. Living just like true backpackers, we spent the night on the floor of the Brussels International Airport because we had to catch an 8 am flight in the morning! Eric found comfort under the tables in Pizza Hut, DeSean slept on them, and I chose the cold tiled floor as my mattress selection. Considering the circumstances, we actually caught some very valuable ZZZs as a long day laid ahead of us. The next morning our flight landed in Milan roughly around 10 am. From there we had to take a bus to the central train station and a train from there to Rome. After a few delays, we arrived at our Hostel around 4.
ROME—-Friday-Sunday Morning—-(5 STARS out of 5)
Hostel: Yellow Hostel (5 STARS)
The Eternal City was a great visit and one of our favorites of the semester so far. After eating some delicious Italian pizza and hitting the town, we called it an early night for so much needed sleep on Friday. We started Saturday morning with a tour of the Vatican City. What an amazing tour it was! To be able to see the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pieta among other things was incredible. While in the Basilica, we were even lucky enough to witness one of the Cardinals entering a Saturday night mass. As a Catholic, this tour was especially neat to go on, but no matter what your religion is the Vatican City is a must while in Rome! After this, we hopped on the tram to visit some of the other hotspots in Rome. Eric and DeSean took pleasure in the local markets buying plenty of fake Burberry and Louis Vouton items! We saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi’s Tower, and the Panthenon most notably. By nightfall, we had arrived at the Colliseum and what a sight it was! As you can imagine, we got our fair share of sightseeing Saturday and only witnessed just a few of Rome’s many treasures. Sunday morning we were up bright and early to hop on a train to Florence!
FLORENCE—-Sunday Afternoon—-(4 STARS)
First off, let me say that my rating of Florence is a little skewed because we were only able to spend such little time there. Because of the train schedules, to make it to our hostel in Milan by nighttime we were forced to cut our Florence adventure trip short. Nonetheless, in the short time we were there, we experienced a true European market and witnessed one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen!
I certainly wish we had more time to spend there.
MILAN—-Sunday Night-Monday Night—-(2 STARS)
Hostel: Hotel Emmy (4 STARS)
While there is one spectacular church (Il Duomo) in Milan worth seeing, there is not much else there! If you are in to shopping there is plenty of that to go around as we saw first hand why they are one of the â€œfashion capitals of the world.â€ Everything was extremely expensive (if you wanted to get a coke at a restaurant it costs 6 euros) which certainly didn’t help our impression. One funny experience happened at the plaza in front of the Il Duomo. A guy walked up to DeSean and told him to hold out his hand. As DeSean did this the man immediately poured bird seed in his hand and told DeSean he would take a picture of the pigeons eating the seed out of his hand with the church in the background. While this did produce a wonderful picture, the man demanded 5 euros from DeSean (something he didn’t mention before)! There are many con artists like this near the Il Duomo so watch out.
It was on Monday morning that we hit our first speed bump of the trip. We arrived nice and early to catch an 11 o’clock train to Nice, France where we would stay the night. It was at the station that we learned of the strike in France. For those of you who hadn’t heard of it, the French government was debating raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 years old causing many French Unions and Youth to rebel. The majority of trains, gas stations, and even some planes were delayed or canceled because of it. Our train happened to be one of them! Thus, we made our first (business) trip to McDonald’s! We couldn’t find any cheap flights there but next door was a travel agency, which was where we would eventually book our 16-hour bus trip to Barcelona. While waiting for its departure, we visited a small Italian village and played soccer with a local kid and his father. A nice woman even offered to give us a ride to a nearby McDonald’s so we could stock up for the trip! (As you can see, I was not lying about the number of Mickey D’s visits!) At 9 pm we boarded the bus and were happy to be on our way to Barcelona, even though there was a long trip ahead!
BARCELONA—-Tuesday-Thursday Morning—-(5 STARS)
Hostel: Mambo Tango Hostel (5 STARS)
There was so much to see in Barcelona! We arrived at our hostel around 4 after our long bus trip and made the trip to Camp Nou, Barcelona’s Soccer Stadium. Here I visited the team’s musuem and fan shop. It was disappointing not to be able to tour the stadium but, I would soon find out I would get another chance! Next we made a stop at KFC to test out its taste overseas. It was surprisingly not that bad, but they had no macaroni and cheese which was a disappointment! The next day was spent sightseeing and we saw many incredible sights such as the Segrada Familia and the Cathedral. There were a lot of people on the streets in support of FC Barcelona and their opponent (because there was a game that night) Copenhagen. Chants and songs were routinely heard throughout the day. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a hold of a ticket and watched the soccer game. It was definitely my favorite part of my study abroad experience and a perfect way to cap off a great trip in Barcelona.
Hostel: Albergue Juvenil (5 STARS)
We arrived at our hostel in Madrid pleasantly surprised. The staff was wonderful and the facilities were incredible for the price! They had a pool table and HDTV among other things. We spent the first night with another UofL student, Lucy Paez, who studies in Madrid. She showed us some of the local hot spots that many tourists miss. There we enjoyed the famous Spanish dishes known as Tapas, which are the equivalent to finger foods/appetizers. The next day we walked all over Madrid, literally, enjoying the many sights. I could say that had we left when we were supposed to (Saturday) I would have a better impression of Madrid. But, unfortunately, when it came time to board our overnight train to Paris on Saturday night, we learned it was canceled due to the French strike. This left us with a difficult situation as travel agencies were closed until Monday and we had no internet to figure out a way home. So, where did we go? That’s right. McDonald’s. We considered taking boat, buses, and even renting a car! After countless, stressing hours of surfing the web and visiting the airport we finally got a plane ticket home for Monday morning (we did not get this ticket until Sunday morning around 5 am).
As you can tell, our Fall Break trip was a memorable one. We met many nice people, experienced several different cultures, and even improved our problem solving skills! Fall Break 2010 was a trip I would not have had any other way….Well, except for the strike!
Until next time,