Get Away to Garda

Through USAC’s Verona program, they offer an optional overnight tour of Lake Garda close to the end of the session. It was one of those things that I thought, I’m only here once, I may as well go. I didn’t expect Lake Garda to be one of my favorite places I got to see.

The boat across the lake to get to a Limone, the city of lemons, began the trip on a high note. While there, we toured a 14th century lemon grove that was practically grown into the side of the mountains. The town itself was practically untouched from modernization, giving us another moment to step back into time.

 Our next stop, via boat, was town across the lake, Riva. After a short tour, we hit the beach and walked around the coastal town. While walking about with a group looking for gelato, we even made another friend with a local cat! It was easy to see she was a neighborhood cat based on how cuddly she was. The cat reminded me so much of my own two black cats back home.

Lake Garda was a great trip to catch a breath and relax from the go-go-go attitude we all carried during our session in Verona.

Until next post , arrivederci!

Some of the lemon trees in the grove. There were signs everywhere warning tourists not to touch the fruit!
The cat we met walking around town. She was an absolute sweetheart!

A Moment in Milan

A great part of the study abroad experience is that once you get to your new city, nothing is stopping you from exploring the rest of your new country. What I’ve learned is that Italy has a fairly efficient train system, and its not that expensive either! One Saturday, a group of us took a train to the Fashion Capital of the World: Milan.

Milan is an interesting city, starting with that it has so much old mixed with the new. Unlike Verona and Venice-cities that go to lengths to preserve every ounce of history they can-Milan proudly shows off the blending of old architecture and the new buildings. Take the Duomo di Milano for example: here is this ancient church that has withstood the test of time, and right across the street is a strip of high-end stores.

We didn’t go into the Duomo that day, since some of our group didn’t have anything to cover their shoulders, but we did manage to get tickets to their museum. Inside, they had a scaled replica of the Duomo, as well as the history and artifacts it used to house. Since its under renovation and maintenance. Since its under renovation and maintenance, some of the statues that used to sit around the top of it are now displayed in parts of the museum.

While in Milan, leave it to the group of college students to find one of the only Starbucks in Italy. The building the Starbucks was built into is another example of Milan saying, “Yes, we can embrace the new without forgetting the old, thank you very much”. The Starbucks Roastery Reserve was built inside the historic Poste building in Piazza Cordusio, and everywhere you turn, they are paying homage to the Italian artisans and Milan’s history. After living on Italian coffee for two weeks at this point, it definitely wasn’t a let-down to have something that tasted like home (even though my drink was hands down better than when I get it in the States).

After our coffee break, we walked back toward the Duomo and checked out the mall close by. Most of them we only walked by the window. It was one of those experiences where you see the store front, look inside the window for a few minutes, and keep walking since there aren’t any prices posted.

Overall, Milan is another beautiful city you should try to see if you can. It’s one of those cities you can tour on your own at your own pace and still make it out just fine.

Until next post, arrivederci!

From the front of the Duomo di Milano

Alyssa: Far From Home

Recapping first full week in Italy, our group took a day trip to Venice. Stepping out of the train station, we could see why it was called the floating city: it’s a city entirely connected by canals and boats. It was an overcast for part of day, and it sprinkled a few times during the walking tour, but that couldn’t stop some of us from going on a gondola ride during our free time! Our guide was mostly silent, only speaking up when he wanted to point out an interesting landmark you may not see on the beaten path (“You know Marco Polo? He lived there.”)

Venice was a beautiful city to visit, with tons of little hole-in-the-wall stores and restaurants to pop into when you needed a break from dock workers yelling “Attenzione!” to warn you they were coming through, regardless if you’re walking there or not. These dock workers are the city’s main way of getting merchandise and orders from the canal to their destination, since Venice doesn’t allow cars, trucks, bicycles, or motorbikes in their city!

Arrivederci!

A historic building that we passed as we toured the city.
A view of a canal from one of the small bridges as the sky cleared up.

Reflecting

I travelled home today after about 2 months abroad and was able to do a lot of reflecting on my time and experiences over the past few weeks. From wine tours in Tuscany to exploring the tiny streets of Lake Como, from riding bikes in Amsterdam to stumbling upon corners of people playing live music in Paris, I’m so thankful for every place and person I was able to meet, and have some memories that I will cherish forever.

Out of my month in Paris, my favorite moments ended up not being all of the museums and statues I saw (although I did see a lot and really enjoyed them!), they were all of the picnics by the Eiffel Tower and along the Seine where I was able to feel fully immersed in the experience, in the city, and in the culture. I was in Paris for Bastille Day and decided to go to the Eiffel Tower for the celebration. There was a live classical concert and a huge fireworks show and it was one of the best nights of my summer!

I’m going to miss being in Paris but I know I will be back one day. I can’t wait for that day to come and until then I will be looking back on all of my memories from this summer!

Get Lost

While there are hundreds of articles, lists, blog posts, etc about “The Best Places to eat in ___”, sometimes the best way to have a memorable experience is to just get lost. Walk around the city you’re visiting, turn down random streets, go into shops that seem interesting, and check out small, local bookstores. One of my favorite things to do is just walk around, because you never know what you will stumble upon. So many cities, especially in Europe, have very rich and extensive histories that are represented in statues, buildings, etc. There is so much to learn just by wandering through parks and down roads that it’s important to take advantage of it! 

Another thing I have loved during my time abroad has simply been talking to the people around me. I wish I would have thought at the beginning of my trip to bring a notebook for all the people I’ve met along the way to sign– people from Wales, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, and so many other places. It’s amazing how much you can learn from striking up a conversation with somebody. It’s so amazing to have the opportunity to connect with people from so many cultures and corners of the world. So don’t be afriad to introduce yourself to someone or ask to join a conversation that seems interesting, it could be the beginning of an amazing friendship!

“You Time” while travelling

When you’re bouncing from city to city, country to country, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the quick pace of it all. Feeling like you have to see every inch of every city is normal, and there is also always a slightly guilty feeling if you sleep in later than expected, need to take a rest, etc. One thing I’ve learned from travelling so far, however, is the importance of taking a step back and slowing things down. While you of course want to make the most of your experience in each place, sometimes forcing yourself to explore from morning to night can have the opposite effect. It can hinder your experience and lessen your appreciation for the things the city has to offer. So, don’t feel guilty if you don’t get to every historical monument, museum, or famous restaurant. It’s okay to slow things down and take the time to appreciate the things you do get to see and experience, and it makes the experience all the more memorable! 

Wrapping Up Prague

My time here in Prague is wrapping up quickly, and it’s so bittersweet. Although I miss my animals and friends/family, I absolutely love the culture, food, and overall atmosphere so much in Prague. I’ve been able to try so many new things and new experiences I would never be able to get in the US, and I’m just so thankful I was able to go on this trip. My classes went really well, and it was awesome to be able to meet some locals through the school. Although my program technically ends this Saturday, I decided to extend my trip by a few days to travel to Amsterdam which I’m very excited about.

My experience here has made me want to investigate coming back next year, possibly even for a potential career. The food is so fresh and delicious, I’ve had the best fruit of my life here! I’ve been able to try pork knuckle, beef goulash, kebabs, roasted duck, the list goes on… The travel is also so much cheaper, I can’t believe I went to Budapest for only 40 euros round trip! Budapest was so beautiful; we visited many gorgeous buildings such as the Parliament House and Fishermen’s Bastion. The night life was a lot of fun as well, but I still love Prague the most. So thankful this was the city I chose to spend the majority of my nine weeks here!

Last Days in Spain

 This past weekend I went on my long weekend trip to Málaga and then to Sevilla. While in Málaga I decided to not go to the beach and instead opted to take a day trip with a friend to the British owned overseas territory of Gibraltar.  I’m really glad that I decided to do this.  It was interesting to see the mix of Spanish and British culture of not only the landscape but also of the people who call Gibraltar home.  For our first activity we decided to take the cable car to the top of the rock and see the beautiful landscape that Gibraltar had to offer.  When we got to the top we were unfortunate to run across the Gibraltar macaque monkeys that call the top of the rock home.  One immediately climbed on top of my shoulders for what I thought was a friendly hello.  Turns out the only reason the monkey wanted any part of me was so that he could steal some of my stuff.  By the time I realized what was happening, the monkey had stolen my aspirin and was attempting to eat it like candy.  Fortunately, the monkey wised up to the fact that It wasn’t a snack and promptly threw it all over the cliff.  From that moment on I knew that the monkeys were not to be trusted and I walked with caution for the rest of my time at the top.  Once we got down from the mountain, we went on a dolphin seeing tour around the Mediterranean which I found to be a cool experience.  We finished up the day by grabbing a pint and some fish and chips at one of the local pubs around Main St.  

   For Saturday and Sunday, we took a train to Sevilla and experienced some of the local culture that this wonderful town had to offer.  We visited the plaza de los toros, explored the gardens of the Alcazar where Game of Thrones was filmed, and we even experienced a Flamenco show which is a local specialty in Sevilla.  Overall our long weekend turned out to be a wonderful yet tiring experience.  I am very glad that my last weekend will be spent just chilling in Segovia as I will finally get some time to explore everything that the city has to offer.    

To say the time has flown by is a huge understatement. When I officially signed up, 9 weeks seemed like a long time. I’ve since been in Prague for 5 weeks, and it only feels like 2! I’ve been travelling on the weekends, visiting Germany, Poland, and Italy. Although they’ve all been beautiful in their own way, I’m so glad I’ve loved Prague the most.

Munich and Nuremberg in Germany were gorgeous, though I did prefer Munich more since it had more things to do. Italy was gorgeous but pricey. Rome was very touristy so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but Florence was gorgeous and had a lot to do! Venice was also beautiful, and of course I took a gondola ride. The best advice I have for those visiting Italy would be to haggle with the street vendors or pretty much anyone who tries to sell you something, you can typically get a few euros off the price. In Poland, I stayed right by the Wawel Castle which was beautiful, walked around downtown, stumbled upon a Polish festival which was a lot of fun, and then did a tour of Auschwitz. I HIGHLY recommend anyone visiting Europe to walk through Auschwitz; it was incredibly emotional and very intense, but I learned so much more about the history than I ever learned in class.

Back in Prague, the numerous museums here have been fascinating—Medieval Torture museum, Museum of Communism, Franz Kafka museum. I have also gone to the Prague zoo and see a ballet of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. I had never seen a ballet before, and it was such a cool experience! Even though I’ve been here over a month, there is still so much to do—the activities never stop!

Update from Segovia

   Yesterday marked the half way point in my month long trip in Segovia Spain.  There have been bumps along the way, but overall I think that everything has gone pretty well.  I have met some really incredible people along the way and my roommate never fails to entertain with his bizarre but hilarious sense of humor. I couldn’t have asked for a better señora to stay with.  She cooks three wonderful meals a day, does the laundry, helps us with our Spanish, and most importantly she makes us feel like family in her home every second of the day.    Daily life in Segovia has proven to be a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of Louisville.  Nobody is ever in a rush here to do anything which I think  is very refreshing to see in society.  There aren’t any cars almost running me over to get anywhere and the locals seem extremely laid back.  They always haven’t been amiable to our group being that we are from the U.S, but generally speaking I have much respect for the lifestyle, culture, and personality of Segovia and the people who live here.    I have taken multiple excursions to places such as Toledo, Madrid, Salamanca, Avila, and just this past weekend spent two days in Barcelona.  Along the way I have seen marvels such as the Sagrada Familia, Picasso’s Guernica, The Prado, Universidad de Salamanca, Park Güell, Camp Nou, Puerto de Sol, the Mediterranean sea, and countless cathedrals for which each one gives me something new to admire.     The classes have proven to be more difficult than I originally thought they would be.  I think that this is a combination of them only being one month long and having professors with completely different styles than what I am accustomed to in the United States.  I definitely struggled to start out, but I have recovered very nicely in the last few days and I think that I will make out ok in my classes which is a huge relief.    This weekend I will travel the Málaga and then Sevilla for our long weekend trip.  I can’t wait and see what new adventures await and all the lasting memories I will make. Until then GO CARDS!!