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!!

Thank you Europe

There were ups and downs on this trip. From missing a few trains, being stranded in a train station in Venice, living in no air conditioning, and taking 4 minute showers, I have to say that this trip wasn’t easy. Mentally and physically, I am exhausted. Even though this has been one of the most draining months of my life, it’s without a doubt been the most rewarding. I think that personal growth is something that I’ve been trying to work on lately. In Austria though, I’ve been forced into living the life I’ve wanted to live for a while.

1. I’ll start being more environmentally conscious. I will turn off the water while brushing my teeth, and recycle (I know I should of started doing this a LONG time ago). Being in Europe made me realize that we need to take care of our earth and that I take for granted having free water. I am coming back to America GREEN.

2. I’m smarter than I thought. I like to think that sometimes I freak out too easy, but in high-stress situations, I learned to keep my cool, and I made decisions to get us to where we needed to be.

3. I’ll take the time to slow down. There’s no reason I should rush home from work to do absolutely nothing. Why not take the long way and look at trees instead?

4. Turn the phone off. I thought I wasn’t that attached to
my phone, until we I didn’t have service or Internet access. Because I couldn’t mindlessly scroll through social media, I had so much more time to watch birds or take a walk or catch up on a good book.

5. Make. The. Bed. It takes ten seconds, and the room feels so much more put together.

And with that I will end this post by saying “THANK YOU EUROPE!” Studying abroad has been the most amazing experience and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.

Venice

I just want to say that, in Italy, you can only buy bus tickets at tobacco stores. Don’t ask me why, I don’t understand it either. The problem with this, is that we wanted to take the 8am bus to Venice, but tobacco stores don’t open till 9. Again, I don’t understand.

After our short wait to buy tickets, we ventured to Venice via bus and boat. The problem with Venice is that it’s relatively small, and extremely popular. With each new boat docking, hundreds of thousands or tourists were flooding into the city. Everywhere we turned, there was a small alleyway packed wall-to-wall with people taking pictures and haggling for ugly hats. It made it dif cult to see Venice in it’s entirety. Even though it was gorgeous, and I’m beyond happy that we got to experience it, I was reminded so much of Lichtenstein: I was stuck in a huge tourist trap. I’d also like to mention that I accidentally spent 7€ on a glass of wine.

I almost enjoyed our time a er Venice the most. Of course we’re all going broke, so we thought our best bet would be to go to a grocery store and get things to make dinner. I was so happy to finally be able to cook again, I’ve been anxious to make something since we got here. It was a great end to the day, sitting with friends and eating pasta fresh off the stove.

Austria

Bregenz is a quaint town, filled with elderly people and well behaved dogs. In the mornings, the city is still, the birds are chirping, and you can hear Lake Constance doing what lakes typically do. There’s houses nested in the mountain, and children walking to school by themselves.

Here, time moves slower. No matter how many things are on my schedule for the day, I still somehow have time for a short walk or a well needed coffee and croissant break.

In Louisville, even though it’s not necessarily a big city, I’ve watched the last three years of my life fly away from me. I’m always going, always rushing, always in a hurry. I’ve forgotten how lovely it is to stroll down the street and pick a few flowers. I’ve forgotten the calmness of a coffee shop with tables outside.

Being in Bregenz has forced me to stop and take a breath. In the short month we’ve been here, I feel like I’ve lived more life than being in my apartment at school. A part of me is nervous to go back. I don’t want to give up these short hikes, afternoon coffee on the balcony, and shopping at the market every Tuesday.

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