Give Less Popular Places a Chance! / Poland Reflection

When planning for study abroad, of course it involved creating an EXTENSIVE list of anywhere and everywhere you want to visit while in a foreign place. For myself, and for many I assume, the top of my list included every iconic city in Europe. These consisted of all of the typical ones that you see in movies and are very commercialized like Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, London, etc. I didn’t even take much time to consider less popular places because in my mind I didn’t think they held the same weight or need to visit them.

So, when I was given the opportunity to visit Poland for a weekend, I didn’t find myself jumping at the prospect of it. It was all already planned by my program so I said why not? I didn’t have another trip planned yet so let’s do it! Only 3 people in my program of 20+ decided to go, which in itself said a lot considering almost everyone went on the other trips. What I’ve found is that I think it is intimidating to people to be on a trip to a place that holds such heavy history, and Poland was the center of some of the most horrendous scenes in the last century.

The majority of our weekend in Poland focused on the central theme of World War II and its effects on the Polish people. We visited places like Auschwitz and Schindler’s Factory, which hold such weight to even be close to these sights. The majority of time spent in Poland I , as well as most other attendees, found myself in intense reflection and often times of silence trying to come up with a way to understand the things we were seeing and the heinous events that occurred. Auschwitz, “the world’s largest cemetery where nearly 1.1 million people lost their lives”, was so powerful of a place to visit and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to go.

Poland was immensely beautiful and full of life. From this weekend trip I’ve created a newfound respect for less popular places. I know Poland isn’t an “unpopular” attraction, but for sure one not one the immediately came to my mind. After visiting, however, I will recommend everyone see this beautiful country at some point in their lives.

Heart and Seoul

Anyeong-haseo: A phrase I have spoken more than once a day every single day since coming to Seoul, South Korea. One may tell you that this phrase means, “Hello,” however, that would undermine the true meaning of this beautiful phrase.  It literally translates to, “Are you at peace with yourself today?”
In such a bustling metropolis such as Seoul, one may think peace to be impossible: car horns blast all day and night, people shop from the late afternoon through five AM, and someone (myself often included) is always running to catch a subway when they are running late to university. How can one even begin to think they are at peace here?
Even through this insane hustle that is Seoul, I have truly found peace here. In the past few months, I have seen glorious sunsets through the city skyline, made many amazing and lovely friends, eaten some of the best food I have ever tasted, seen architecture one can only experience in Korea, and gotten the privilege to attend an utterly beautiful and lively campus in the gorgeous mountains lining the country. Korea is a new adventure each day.
It can be difficult at times to live in such a different place. There is a language barrier, sometimes ahjummas and ahjussis (old Korean women and men, respectively) stare straight into your soul unforgivingly, and it is often difficult to make friends with Koreans. These things should not be discouraging to a foreigner (we’re called “waygookin” here!). Rather, it should be an opportunity for learning about such a vastly different culture than our own. Sure, the language is difficult, the stares re obvious and uncomfortable at first, and it sucks to feel utterly invisible at times. Nobody said it would be easy!
I have learned a lot about these concepts in my time here. A simple “Anyeong-haseo,” “Kamsahabnida,” and “Anyeong-hikeseyo” can get a foreigner pretty far in Korea. To be fair, Seoul has been the easiest place to get around, to find things to do, and to meet people I have ever had the chance to travel to. Some Koreans can be distasteful of foreigners, but many are so kind and lovely. I have made lifelong friends in Seoul with people from around the world.
There is no place I would rather be.

Places to visit:

-Pretty much any cafe aside from Starbucks. If you are into K-pop, there are cafes for K-pop idols and groups! There is also cat cafes, dog cafes, raccoon cafes, and meerkat cafes.

-Dongdaemun History and Culture Park (The DDP). Here, you can see many cool art installations and see fashion at its highest. Plus, it looks like a spaceship that crashed straight into Seoul.

-Hongdae during the day is a shopping haven with some of the cheapest and cutest clothes. Hongdae during the night is a wild party with the cheapest alcohol selection in the city.

-Edae (Ewha Women’s University) street. Ladies can find the cutest clothes and accessories here!

-Though I personally hate Myeongdong, many people suggest going there to shop and eat.

-Ikseondong has an adorable small hanok village with the CUTEST coffee shops and trinket shops! Plus, the old architecture takes you back in time to a Seoul before the skyscrapers and bustle.

-Any palace is a beautiful and wonderful experience! Many offer free entry if one rents and wears the traditional Korean clothing called hanbok!

-Dongguk University offers temple stays to students on a regular basis. I have not gone to one, but many of my friends have and have told me its an interesting and amazing experience if you are interested in Buddhism.

-My temporary home, Sindang, has the best ttebokki (rice cake in spicy red sauce) in the city! They even call it “Ttebokki Town!”

A lot of people think Korea is a scary place for some reason, but it is far from that. Its amazing here and I suggest EVERYONE take the chance to check out Korea in their travels in life.

Note: I wrote all of the romanized phrases in the above post in Korean, but WordPress doesn’t red Korean. If you ever want to learn some simple Korean phrases and know how to write them correctly, don’t hesitate to ask me! It is actually quite a simple language to write.

Scotland Reflection

I was never particularly fond of nature or enjoyed driving down scenic routes for enjoyment. It wasn’t until I spent 3 days on coaches and trains surrounded by the beauty of Scotland that I actually took a step back to appreciate the natural wonders that the world has to offer. The gothic beauty of the buildings down every street in the cities was absolutely breathtaking. You could only imagine the history that those walls had stood through. With that, here’s my guide for Scotland travel: 

Edinburgh:

-Beautiful gothic city

-Learn all about Mary Queen of Scots 

-Walk the Royal Mile

-If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, visit multiple sites around the city that hold history from the show

-Birthplace of Harry Potter and where JK Rowling lives and wrote the novels

            -Actual gravestone of a man named Tom Riddle (very cool)

-Doune Castle (about 45 minutes out of the city) is the real Winterfell. They filmed the first episode of the series on this site.

Glencoe: (Lowlands)

-The most beautiful mountain scenery

-Leads into Loch Ness which is eerie and mesmerizing. You cannot take your eyes off of it (which is why I believe people think they saw something in the water!). 

-Three Sisters are a breathtaking group of mountains that you have to drive about 20 miles through the Lowlands of Scotland to get to. Completely uninhabitable area, so it is secluded and very peaceful. 

Fort Augustus:

-Very small town with maybe 500 inhabitants. It sits right on the end of Loch Ness 

-Best fish and chips I have had in Europe so far (and I live in London, the fish and chips capital)

Scotland as a whole:

-The Highland Cow is one of the most beautiful animals you will see in this world. 

-There are more sheep in Scotland than people

-They love their cashmere

-Not as many men in kilts playing bagpipes as you’d think

-Every person is so genuine and kind

Scotland was an unexpected surprise. I didn’t anticipate to be so entranced by it, but I would go back in a heartbeat and recommend it to all who get the chance to go!  

Getting Adjusted to London

It’s difficult to break from an old routine and create a new one. I realize now the importance of finding simple things you enjoy to keep you grounded and calm in times of transition, and also using each lesson to grow. To say going from a small urban area to one of the most busy cities in the world is challenging would be an understatement. It is easy to get overwhelmed being in an unfamiliar place, thrown into true independence because you can’t just call a family member to come help you when they are an ocean away! It’s also a time to be exactly who you want to be with no outside influences. There are a lot of lessons London has already taught me:

-Always bring your own grocery bags unless you want to pay for them

-Be on time

-It’s okay to rush but also take time to enjoy your surroundings

-Respect all walks of life

-Gloomy days actually make for some of the best times being holed up inside with new people

-Even the most directionally challenged people cam learn

I’m finding joy in the idea of being in charge of every aspect of my life and taking on each day with a positive frame of mind and using each one to become a better individual, student, family member, and friend. 

Making Barcelona a Second Home

I’ve officially been in Barcelona for two and a half weeks and can now say I’m feeling more at home. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I have so much more of the city to see, and often times get overwhelmed, but I am getting much more comfortable here. 

Before arriving in Europe, my biggest fear was navigating public transportation. I’d never caught a taxi, been on the Tarc, let alone been in a metro station. How was I supposed to go from driving everywhere to having to figure out catching a train to class? Well, it really wasn’t that bad. First of all, Google Maps is a blessing, and has told me which bus/train to catch and when. And second of all, the other people in my program were just as unfamiliar, so we figured it out together. Turns out I have more common sense than I thought.

Typically, I’m someone who tries something at a restaurant, loves it, and doesn’t order anything else. I’ve been making slower progress when it comes to trying new food, because how could you not order patatas bravas every time you’re at a tapas bar? But, at the same time, I have tried a variety of new things — the most adventurous being octopus! Back in Louisville, we’re not really known for seafood, so I hadn’t had much outside of the basics. So, tackling a big pan of paella with unpeeled shrimp, mussels, and squid rings was seriously intimidating, but also surprisingly delicious. It’s my goal to continue to try more amazing and unique food, because so far, it’s been rewarding.

But, it was most clear to me that Barcelona was becoming my second home when I felt ready to get back to my bed in my apartment after this past weekend’s trip to Seville and Granada. I enjoyed the views, the greenery, and the lovely Spanish culture outside of the city, but in the end, I was ready to be back in my place in Barcelona, Spain. 

Palma de Mallorca

When I arrived in Mallorca, I was able to understand why my friends had recommended the place to me and I was able to discover so much more than the beaches. Castle Bellver is one of the few circular castles in existence and overlooks the port city of Mallorca.

Sites to see:

-The Old Town

-Cathedral-Basílica de Santa María de Mallorca (La Seu)

-Plaza Mayor

-La Playa

-Castle Bellver

London

On the Tower Bridge in London, the London bridge that actually falls – not the London Bridge – is next to the fabled London Tower. I was able to get a free tour by Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and see the Crown Jewels that are on display – a must see if in London. Across the river a circular-shaped building is City Hall and beside that is the Shard – fourth tallest building in Europe.

It was a surreal experience to see many landmarks that had been in movies. And to be in the place where iconic events unfolded. In addition, I was able to understand the culture more than other places I had traveled because I was fluent in the language.

London is a place that is on my list to travel to again.

Things to see:

-Parliament Square

-Westminster Palace

-London Tower

-St. Paul’s Cathedral

-Shakespeare’s Globe

-Trafalgar Square

Napoli

One of the best sunsets I have encountered is on the coast of Italy in a city called Naples. The sunset over the islands in the Mediterranean. To the left of those islands was the Volcano Vesuvius and lost in the night was the town of Pompeii.

I was able to climb Vesuvius and explore Pompeii, but I was unable to go to the Ruins of Ercolano. However, I was able to have pizza in the home of pizza. I missed the train to Ercolano by one minute and had to wait forty minutes until the next one – in Spain I was used to a train every six minutes.

The trip was a great experience after exploring different cities and places within the city. I was even able to meet some friends in Naples. I look forward to my next visit to this city.

Places to visit:

-Vesuvius

-Piazza del Plebiscito

-Castel Nuovo

-Spiaggia Gaiola

-Pizzerias

Reflection of Zurich

After a steep climb – in leather business shoes – I made it to the peak of Uetliburg. This journey took two hours for me to complete, in the winter, from Wollishofen. At the peak of the mountain, I was able to overlook Zurich Lake, Altstadt (old town of Zurich), and the snowcapped Alps. On both sides of the lake, vast amounts of buildings stretch into the distance.

This trip was one of the first to test my preparation or lack thereof. I was prepared for the rain, but I was not prepared to walk over 17 miles or climb a mountain. However, that is one of the fun challenges of packing light.

I look forward to my next trip to Zurich, in the summer, with less rain. And maybe next time I will use the train to Uetliburg.

Places to visit in Zurich:

-Uetliburg

-Altstadt

-Fraumünster Church

-Grossmünster

-Lindenhof Hill

Stockholm Reflection

One of my favorite spots in Stockholm, Sweden – located in Södermalm – is the Skinnarviksbergef rock ledge. After an easy climb, up a rock face, you are met with a beautiful view of the skyline of Stockholm. This is one of the best places to enjoy the sunset with the locals.

Each night I was in Stockholm I went to this spot to enjoy the sunset. However, when I was in Stockholm the sunrise was at 3:33AM. This was the first time that I had been so far north that there was no definite night. The least amount of light that I experienced in the night was similar to a night with a full moon except brighter.

Places to visit in Stockholm:                                                                                

-Skinnarviksbergef

-Gamla Stan

-The Royal Palace

-Stortorget

-Riddarholmskyrkan