Tips for Visiting Rome, Italy

  • 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.

Ten Places to Visit While in Edinburgh

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Grassmarket
    • 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).              
  6. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Why You Should Study Abroad

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Study Abroad Reflection

“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.”

-Anthony Bourdain

 

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!

 

 

5 Must-See Places When Visiting Denmark

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.

Weekend Trip: Costa Brava

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.

Three Reasons Why You Should Study in 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.

2. Culture

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.

3. Nightlife

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.

9 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Came to France

I had studied French during all four years of high school and learned a decent bit about their culture, so I figured I had a decent idea of how France would be like before I studied there. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here are nine of the things that I wasn’t really expecting before coming to France and some tips to help you overcome them!

1. Clothes: Everyone wears jeans and only jeans. And if you’re a girl, its high-waisted jeans. I tried this for the first few days, then I realized I hated being so dang hot 24/7. I really don’t know how they do it. What’s even crazier is the fact that they are usually wearing jackets too. Absolute madness!!! Now, I just wear my nice shorts and welcome the stares from everyone(may or may not be because the shorts).

Tip: Bring at least two different pairs of jeans if you want to fit in and not get the endless stares like me!

2. Appearance: I really stick out in a crowd. Everywhere I go, I always get many people staring at me. It could be the shorts, could be the fact I’m about a foot taller than everyone else or that I look like I’m from the USA(some have thought Netherlands). I didn’t expect that everywhere I went, I would constantly get stared at because of my appearance.

Tip: Don’t be tall or wear colored, pastel shorts like me.

3. Driving: The drivers here are CRAZY!! They weave in and out of lanes, dodge motorcycles that seem to have no rules and do it all while staying calm, cool and collected. Not to mention, they actually let drivers over when they have their signal on, and they do all of this without undercover cops patrolling the streets to hand out tickets(they use cameras). The best way to describe their driving is organized chaos. It is 10x worse than anything in the USA, trust me.

Tip: Don’t drive yourself unless necessary. Take the metro or walk and burn off those calories from the cheese and bread!

4. Food: Before I came to France, I assumed I’d be eating a lot of French food. Crazy right? But everything in Paris and the major cities has been Westernized and it was like eating back at home, except not as good. Even when we wouldn’t be in residential areas it seemed like all you could find were burger shops and Italian restaurants. Of course, you can go get an amazing crepe at just about any place you go, but you’re hard pressed to find restaurants with truly French cuisine. Don’t fret though, you can still find great food(like the fish and chips above) you’ll just have to search a little harder.

The main thing I didn’t expect when it came to food, was the fact that the seafood tastes could be so different in France than the USA. When I stayed at Mont St-Michel, I ordered a Fruit de Mer(fruits of the sea). I was looking forward to eating some scallops, shrimp, fish, mussels and crab. I was in for quite the surprise when they brought me out a plate with only one of those. My first reaction was to literally throw the plate across the room. Yeah, a little over the top, but it was warranted. It was one of the most unappetizing dishes I had ever seen. I gave it the ol’ college try and had some of these alien snails, prawns that had their insides explode on my hands and much, much more. If you’re like my brothers right now, you’re thinking I’m just a picky eater. That might be true, but even my parents couldn’t choke down this food. Needless to say, it was the worst food experience of my life and it still gives me the heeby-geezies thinking about it. Don’t worry too much though, I had fantastic lamb after that and the best vanilla ice cream I have ever had for dessert.

Tip: Try and ask locals where the best restaurants are and try and eat outside of the touristy areas. Also, try and clarify what exactly you will be getting and don’t assume it is the same as at home.

5. Language: They. Talk. So. Fast. When I listen to them speak it is like one long word that never stops. Add in the fact that they are speaking a foreign language and you’re completely toast figuring out what they are asking/telling you. And before you say, “Well why did you go to a country you don’t speak the language”, I DO!!! I am not fluent, but I know enough to be dangerous. Hopefully by the end of the summer I will be proficient enough to understand everyone and communicate much easier.

Whenever we went out my parents would typically ask them right away if they spoke English and typically the waitress/waiter did. We were at a nice fish and chips place(Poissonpare, highly recommended) on the Loire River in Nantes and my parents went through the usual routine and found out our waitress didn’t speak English and really didn’t seem very interested in having us eat there. So I stepped in and starting using my French skills to ask questions and order all the food for us. Everything changed after that. Our waitress was peppy and sweet, and no longer looked like she wanted to throw us into the Loire. When I went to pay, she was very sweet and was trying to tell me something in French, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying because she was speaking a million miles an hour. After, having her repeat it multiple times, she ended up telling me in broken English “congrats on your French, it’s very good”. HA! I didn’t even understand her complimenting me on my French. So much for being very good… In all seriousness though, it made my day. Let this be a reminder to always try your best to use the local language when visiting a foreign country because you never know what can come from it.

Tip: Know some French before coming. Also, make an effort to show you are trying and they will typically be helpful and speak in English.

6. Beaches: France has some amazing beaches… and they’re not even on the Mediterranean. I usually associated Italy, Thailand and Fiji with having nice beaches, but France definitely had a surprise in store for me!

For my parents last day in Nantes, we drove 1.5 hours outside of Nantes to Ile de Noirmoutier on the Atlantic Coast. What I thought would be an okay day trip turned into us discovering the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. It had nice sand, a great town around it, nice blue-green water and many trails that led to semi-private, picturesque beaches. I may not have been able to get into the water because it was still too chilly, I can say with confidence it is one of the best beaches in France and everyone should go soak up the sun on the beautiful Les Dames beach of Noirmoutier.

Tip: Don’t skip out on the Atlantic Coast beaches. They may not be as famed as the Riviera, but they are just as beautiful.

7. Smoking: I had no idea how many people smoked in France. I am used to seeing a few people a day back at home, but when we were going through France about 50% of people smoked. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was absolutely mindboggling for me, because I now see more people smoking in 5 minutes than I would in an entire day at home. Basically the only place they can’t smoke is inside the restaurants and hotels. If you have issues with smoke, COME PREPARED!!

Tip: Eat inside restaurants if the smoke bothers you.

8. Tourists: I hate being ‘that tourist’, but there are just too many of them out there. We came when it isn’t even peak season, and I completely hated some of the places(Palace of Versailles) that I knew I would like, simply because there were 10x too many people there. I couldn’t enjoy the palace, the Musee Orsay and many other places because you would be packed in like sardines with people who don’t care that you’re trying to enjoy the moment.

At one point in the palace, some short little kid was bumping into me and I had mumbled something like “Watch out little guy”. Turns out it really was just that! An extremely short man, twice my age.

Tip: Visit main tourist attractions during the middle of the week. Also, plan your visits outside of the peak season of June, July and August.

9. Markets: Before I came here, I assumed everyone did their shopping like we do in the USA. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. First off, everyone here has to have their own reusable bags or a cart and if you don’t they will make you buy one. Secondly, most people walk to the market just about every day. They’ll get their fruits and veggies, protein for the day and a delicious baguette. When I realized this, I was thinking, “You mean they don’t hoard away 17 years of food in their basement fridge? Weird.” After going shopping a few times, I realized I definitely like this better. You always have fresh food. You get to exercise and burn off all those calories from the cheeses and baguettes. You just feel healthier.

Tip: Buy a few reusable bags and enjoy the daily ritual of walking to the market for fresh produce.

This list is by no means all inclusive of everything that I didn’t expect, but it highlights the main topics. Be sure to follow the tips to help make your time in France easier and more fun!

P.S. Most of this is applicable to every country I visited in Europe, so be prepared regardless of where you go!

Top Reasons to Study Abroad in Prague, Czech Republic

Location

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.

 Food Variety

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!

How to be a Financially Responsible Traveler

It’s no secret that studying abroad is expensive. Tuition, housing, text books, meal plans, and airline tickets are just the beginning of the amenities you’ll be paying for. Once you arrive at the university, additional funds will be needed for groceries, transportation, souvenirs, etc. Here are some tips (that I’ve learned during my time in Ireland) on how to make your money last:

 

•Research the international fees that your bank charges for debit card usage. Capital One 360, what I am currently using, has no international ATM or foreign charge fees.

•Buy groceries and snacks. Not every meal needs to be eaten at a restaurant! Plus, this will come in handy if you get hungry late night in the dorms.

•Share supplies (and split costs) with your friends and roommates. Tide pods, dish soap, and toilet paper can go a long way when split between people. Plus, sharing is caring!

•Doing laundry can be expensive in some countries. If you don’t have a full load to do, consider splitting the cost and load with a friend. If you only have a few items, hand wash and hang to dry.

•Avoid taxis by using public transportation when available. When I was studying abroad, a cab to the airport was €50 ($58). Although a longer commute, using public transportation for the same route was only €11 ($12).

•When using ATMs, it’s better to take out a few large sums rather than many small sums. Most ATMs charge a service fee for each withdraw.

•If your bank allows, choose to pay in the country’s currency (rather than USD) when using a debit card. Normally a conversation fee will be applied if you pay in USD.

 

Studying abroad should be fun and stress free, but it’s still important to be responsible with your money. Be aware where your purse/wallet is at all times and let your bank know you’re traveling internationally before you leave.

Happy travels!