Italy and Greece for Fall Break!

It’s hard to believe that October is almost over! This past week was fall break and our mid-term finals were before that. I only had a final in Finance and hopefully I did well. We haven’t gotten our grades back. After the Finance final on Friday we took off to Brussels for our flight to Rome, Italy!!! We arrived in Rome about noon on Saturday and had a jam packed afternoon seeing all the sites like the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and some other monuments. We went back to the hostel around 8pm and called it a night. Sunday we met up with Josh and Brian at the Coliseum and got in the front of the line with our Roma Pass which we purchased at the train station. We got a guided tour which lasted around an hour and then headed over to the Roman Forum. It was so neat to see how the city was over a thousand years ago! I studied three years of Latin in high school and all the things we translated talked about the Senate House and the Forum and I was actually standing there where it all took place! It was a crazy feeling. After walking around there for a while we climbed to the top of Palentine Hill where there were gardens and old houses where people use to live. It was amazing. Afterwards we walked to where the Circus Maximus was, which is now like a park, but you can still see where the chariots would race. We walked further down and saw the Mouth of Truth which is part of an old church, and then went to St. Peter in Chains church where Michelangelo’s Moses is along with the chains that actually imprisoned St. Peter before his execution. Sunday night we got some pizza and wine, which is everywhere, and hung out at the hostel.

Monday morning we got up early and headed to the Vatican City. We took the metro and got there by 9:30. We stood in line to get into the Vatican Museum where the Sistine Chapel is and walked through there with an audio guide. All the galleries were very impressive and the so was the Sistine Chapel. There were tons of people gathered in the chapel staring at the ceiling. It’s still hard for me to believe that I was actually there! On the way out of the Sistine Chapel, we made a wrong turn and ended up outside in the back of the museum. There was a passageway that led through the tombs of the Popes and we followed that through and it popped out inside St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica takes your breath away! Walking through you think you have seen everything and then there is another room you didn’t see before. It’s the largest church in the world and words cannot even describe how beautiful and overwhelming it is! After leaving the church we still had our audio guides from the museum and somehow had ended up in the church so we had to walk all the way back around and turn our guides back in. We shopped around in the market in front of the Vatican for a while, I bought a scarf and other people bought jewelry. All the jewelry there was so pretty. We left the Vatican and took the metro and a bus out to the Appian Way. It was the first “highway” and is a few miles outside of Rome. It was very peaceful there and nice to see the cute Italian houses and fields. We walked from the bus stop to the Catacombs and took a tour of those which was pretty cool. That night we went to the Spanish Steps and climbed to the very top and got a great view of the city.

Tuesday we had a flight to Athens from Rome’s main airport which you have to take a train to get to. After missing the first train we made it to the airport with only an hour and a half until our flight left. We rushed around but finally made it. We arrived in Athens which was warm and beautiful. We flew over the water and along the coast line and it was gorgeous. Wednesday in Athens we went to the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Gate, first Olympic stadium, Roman Agora, and Ancient Agora. It was nice because our student IDs got us in free everywhere and most of the sites were close together. Thursday we took a ferry out to Aegina Island and spent the day at the beach laying out and enjoying the weather. Everyone is Greece was so friendly and willing to help us. We met a lady from New York who lives in Greece for 7 months of the year and told us we should stay here forever. I wish we could!

After a relaxing day on Thursday reality set in on Friday. We got up early and got to the airport four hours before our flight only to see that our flight back to Rome was canceled. We had planned to go back to Rome but then take a day trip to Florence on Saturday and then our flight back to Holland left Rome at 8:30am on Sunday. Once we saw our flight was canceled we talked to the service desk about our options and we could either buy another ticket to Rome which would cost around 400 euros or we could give up on Italy and just try to get back to The Hague. Our airline said they would exchange our tickets to Rome for tickets to Paris and we would have to catch the train to The Hague. We decided this was our best option (no Florence) and they had to put us in the airport hotel until our flight the next day to Paris. The hotel was very nice and they even paid for our dinner and breakfast. Saturday was a long day flying to Paris and then taking trains to Brussels, Antwerp, and finally Den Haag. We made it home around 10:30 Saturday night! Traveling in Europe you definitely have to learn to be flexible and that is something I am trying hard to learn! Now we are back and staying here for a few weeks. We have some papers and projects due in the next few weeks so it’s time to sit down and focus on school work.

Thanks for reading!

Amanda Hesse

Fall Break=Trip of a Lifetime

Wow what can I say? What an amazing trip I just experienced!! The Hague had a week long fall break after midterms, and consequently we took advantage of it and went on a 9 day trip. Over the course of 9 days, we hit five different cities in 3 different countries. We used 6 days (out of 15) of our train pass in the process and traveled countless hours via train, but it was definitely worth it.

Our trip began on Friday night when we took an overnight train to Zurich, Switzerland. We arrived around 8:30 AM and spent about 12 hours wandering around the city. Zurich had the potential to be quite picturesque because it was sandwiched between the mountains and had a large river running in the middle of it. However, the weather didn’t help our cause at all. In fact, we actually got sleeted on for at least an hour or so. It was quite cold and rainy the rest of the day.

The city was quite clean and had many large buildings (predominantly banks and other commercial centers). However, it was a pretty expensive city even for basic things like food. Nonetheless, we visited a few cathedrals, including one, which had a tower that offered a panoramic view of the whole city. Other than that, one of our main focuses was to stay warm, which proved to be troublesome. Zurich didn’t offer that many attractions for tourists, as we saw everything we wanted to in the first 3 or 4 hours. In fact, my travel book had 0 pages about Zurich, and Brian’s travel book had 3 pages. Regardless, it was exciting to go to a different country that many people don’t ever travel to.

The next stop on our journey was Rome. In order to get there, we took another overnight train (from Zurich) which put us in the city around 9 in the morning. Rome was simply amazing!! There were so many things to see and do. Every ten steps you take, you see another picture-worthy building or site. We were there for 3 days, but I honestly feel that we could have stayed another 2 and still not have gotten bored.

The first day, we decided to knock out all of the Ancient Roman sites. We had to start with the famous Coliseum, of course. The most famous building of the ancient world was not a disappointment in the least. Regardless of the fact that I had seen so many pictures and heard so many stories about the Coliseum, the amphitheater was awe-inspiring. My imagination really came to life just imagining the crowds, the fighters, the animals, the naval battles, etc. that took place there some 2000 years ago. Afterwards, we visited the Roman Forum-the center of Ancient Roman life. Even though most of the Forum was mostly just ruins, you could just imagine the ornate temples, the courthouses, the Senate, etc. Following that, we entered some beautiful cathedrals filled with some amazing murals and statues.

The second day in Rome, we went to the Vatican City. The Vatican Museum was unbelievably huge-in fact there are over 4 miles of galleries in that one building!! Every single gallery I walked into, I was just like, “Wow.” I felt like I should have taken a picture of every single piece of art in the museum. The most famous artwork we saw was the Sistine Chapel. I just stared at the ceiling for about 20 minutes without problem. Eventually, I just had to give my eyes a rest as there was so much going on. Next, we wandered through the tombs of the popes and even saw the tomb of Pope John Paul II. The tombs led straight to the most immaculate church in the world-St. Peter’s Basilica. The church was so large and had so many quadrants to look at that our group actually got separated for about an hour. St. Peter’s puts just about every other church in the world to shame with its size, artwork, prestige, etc. After leaving the Vatican, we walked along the Roman countryside and even toured some catacombs dating back to the 4th and 5th century. The catacombs were the final resting place for persecuted Christians who were killed for practicing their beliefs during the time of the Roman Empire.

The third day in Rome, we walked to some of the less famous places in Rome. We started with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which regrettably, is much nicer, and more ornate then the one in Arlington Cemetery. Next, we walked to the Pantheon-a huge temple devoted to all of the gods of Ancient Rome. Afterwards, we meandered to Trevi Fountain, which in my opinion was quite possibly the prettiest thing I saw on the entire trip (if you have never seen it or heard of it, type it into Google Images and enjoy). The rest of the day, we just wandered around, leaving most of the touristy areas of the city.

I was sad to leave Rome the next morning, but nonetheless, it was onto Florence-the birthplace of the Renaissance. After checking into our hostel, we went to the Duomo (once again Google it), a famous cathedral located right in the center of the city. Basically, every road in the city led to it, and one can see it from just about anywhere in the city. Later in the day, we entered the Uffizi Gallery, which according to many sources is one of the most impressive art galleries in the Western World (if not the whole world). Inside, we saw the works of such artists as: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt. My favorite artwork in the gallery was the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. It was just so interesting to see the real paintings rather than pictures in art textbooks.

The second day in Florence, we began with the Accademia. This art museum was not nearly as large as the Uffizi or had as many famous artworks inside. However, the Accademia is the home of Michelangelo’s statue, “David.” The statue was so large, perfectly sculpted, and still in perfect shape. This may be the one artwork that defined the Renaissance time period and to be standing in its presence was quite awesome. Afterwards, we walked around a marketplace and some shops (if you like shopping, Florence is a good place to go as there are vendors everywhere). After buying a few souvenirs, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge (Google it) to the more quiet side of the city. We walked around some beautiful gardens and climbed to the top of a hill to see the whole city. After a little more wandering around, it was time for dinner and to go back to the hostel before going off to Venice the next morning.

Venice was just as I had pictured it in my mind: just an extremely scenic place with lots of canals, boats, colorful buildings, etc. Our first adventure in the city was to take a water bus down the Grand Canal from the train station to St. Mark’s Square. St. Mark’s church had a totally different style than most other churches I had ever seen. Nonetheless, it was just another huge and beautiful cathedral in Italy. Across the street was a huge bell tower. We took the elevator up, and were once again able to see the whole city (it seems to be a reoccurring theme with us). It was just so cool to see all the little islands, the waterways, the gondolas, etc. Afterwards, we walked around the waterfront for probably a good mile or two just taking in the beauty of the city.

After we saw the major sights, we simply began to wander around the streets of the city. Venice is an extremely hard city to navigate around. There are 150 canals, 400 bridges, several islands, etc. There are few street signs, and most residents’ addresses are just the district of the city followed by a number (not a lot of help for us). It began to rain later in the night which didn’t help our cause, but we still managed to see a good chunk of the city in the 8 or 9 hours that we had to spend in the old town.

The six days we spent in Italy were so amazing. We saw so many sights, famous museums, and cathedrals. In fact, I probably went to more art museums this past week than the last 5 years combined. I have always found Italian food as the best in the world, and real Italian food didn’t disappoint. I ate so much pizza, pasta, lasagna, calzones, etc. The best, however, was gelato (Rick Steve’s calls it, “an edible art form”). I am already missing it-as it was probably the best ice cream I have ever tried (yes, even better than Graeter’s), not to mention that I had it about a dozen times in 6 days. I loved Italy, and hopefully I’ll be able to return there sometime in the near future.

From Venice, we had a 620 AM train to go to Innsbruck, Austria. We arrived in the quaint, mountainous town (about 110,000 people) around 1230. Innsbruck was quite literally located right in the Alps. We finally had nice weather and looking at the snow capped mountains was a great experience. We saw a gold plated roof dating back to the 15th century and the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I (it reminded me of the Terra Cotta soldiers in Xi’an, China). The Winter Olympics were in Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976, and we were able to see some of the old Olympic stadiums. We went to the top of the ski jump and had a drink in the all glass restaurant, admiring the beauty of our surroundings. The city of Innsbruck was very quiet, safe, clean, and pretty-I would love to return there to go skiing for a week.

Like I said at the beginning, what an amazing week my trip was. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be able to go to all of these places. My body and mind were exhausted by the time I returned to Holland Sunday morning, but the fatigue was well worth it; I enjoyed every minute of the trip.

Thanks for reading,


Quisqueya la Bella: The Domincan Republic

First Beach VisitWhat an experience this has been! It is my second time to be in the Dominican Republic and it won´t be my last… I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience here while studying in Santo Domingo, the capital. After over two months it is hard to sum up an experience like this.   One of my favorite things here in this country is the people and their rich heritage. The Dominican Republic´s national language is Spanish and the people are a mixture of 3 different groups; Africans, Spanish, and Natives. The island of Hispaniola was originally named  “Quisqueya” by the natives because it really is a beautiful land. Across the island, which is about the size of Pennsylvania and Maine together,  there are mountains, valleys, deserts, farmlands, busy cities, and of course beautiful beaches.

I am currently studying at PUCMM one of the best universities in the country. I have Spanish classes every day and I am continuing to improve my language skills. Every day we discuss current events in my class which has helped me understand the people, culture, and even the business world here.  The people here are some of the most outgoing and friendliest I have ever seen.  Of course, being a blonde American in a country where I never see other White people can cause some men here to be a little TOO friendly… Let´s just say I´m very cautious every where I go! Overall though, it is a great place to meet people and have a great time. The culture here seems to revolve around “having a great time”.  The food here is so delicious, especially if you enjoy eating rice, and I will greatly miss it once I return to the states. Also, people here love to dance and since Merengue originated from the Dominican Republic, every where you go at night you will most likely find people dancing. I love it!

While learning about the people and experiencing the culture I have learned how these greatly affect the business world here. I must say that working at my internship here has made me miss the efficiency and standards of the business world in the US. Because the Dominican Republic is a developing country there are many difficulties for businesses here, especially corruption. Granted, there is corruption in every country but here it is very evident,  out in the open and leaves people in a very helpless positions many times. I work without pay for a rural school in a small city outside of the capital, Haina. The people of Haina are very poor and do not have many options in life. My main job at “El Colibrí”, the school, is to raise funds. This has been a difficult task. Even though working in the business environment here has been a little frustrating, I have learned many skills I will be utilizing in the future.  It has also exposed me to the hardships of working for a non-for –profit organization. Even though it is difficult I enjoy the challenge and the knowledge that I am working for such a great cause. The Dominican Republic is such a beautiful country and I would be remised if I didn´t include some pictures of my excursions here. They have ranged from white water rafting in the mountains, to horseback riding to a waterfall, and escaping to all-inclusive resorts on the most beautiful beaches in the world. I have truly enjoyed this aspect of my time here as well. Overall, this has been a wonderful experience and I will be enjoying these last weeks until my return to the States.

Google Wave Preview – Worthy of a Look?

Instead blogging about Europe and it’s intricacies and wonderments, I thought I would shift gears on this post. As a CIS student, I would like to implore you to try out Google Wave, a new and intriguing communication technology from one of the most innovative companies in the world.

For anybody that does not know, Google Wave was announced in late May at the Google I/O conference. You can watch the 80 minute video where they introduced the technology here. Or for those without an outrageous amount of time and interest, you can just watch the first 2 minutes, and say you saw the whole thing. The video is quite a la Steve Jobs and his cliché presentation style, only geekier and with worse jokes.

Wave, as the video tells, is Google’s reinvention of the concept of an email, if it were possible to completely remake it today. Daniel Lyons from Newsweek explains that “Wave combines e-mail, instant messaging, and word processing and editing; plus, you can upload and share photos, videos, and other media.” The emphasis is on the conversation, or a “wave” between two or more people. Other people can be added to the wave, and use the “playback” feature to run through the entire conversation so far to catch up. They use features of HTML 5 to make it a very feature filled utility. It also has instant messaging capabilities, which allows faster communication than a regular email conversation and maximizes your time usage. All this is available on Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari 4, Firefox 3.5, or IE if you use a Chrome plug-in.

Google Wave

Over the summer, selected developers were allowed to explore the Google Wave system. This was a move to encourage them to program extensions for the utility before it actually comes out fully for the public. Now, since September 29th, Google has released a “preview” version of Wave to a select amount of the public. So, if you visit, you can apply for an account. In my own case I received one about one day after I applied. Be aware, though, that since it is a preview there are a number of features disabled as Wave is a work in progress at the moment. You can check out the Wave developers’ blog for information on how it’s coming along.

Critics of Wave are of course already complaining about how hard it is to understand and explain simply, which reminds me a lot of Twitter detractors. In fact, you can check out, a site poking fun at the gadget’s complexity. Warning: annoying music is included on the site. Critics of Wave are quick to point out how many unsuccessful products Google has churned out at an alarming rate over recent years. Their methodology seems to involve throwing as many ideas through the R&D department as possible, and seeing whether or not the occasional viable project comes out the other side. While this business model may not be financially prudent, it is the only way true brainstorming works. This process has produced things like GMail, Google Maps, Google News, and Chrome. And lest we forget that the original search algorithm of Google made the company’s name an actual verb that has been added to English dictionaries in recent years. (Digression: yesterday in class my German teacher exclaimed, “Sie sollen das google.” or “You should google that.”)

I want to warn anybody not particularly interested in new web technology that getting an account at this point is probably a waste of time. While you can use Wave for communication today, there are obviously not a lot of people with accounts, so it will not be a viable option if you are looking for an email or IM alternative immediately. Google’s launch of the full product is supposed to be in the first half of 2010. You should only check this out if you are interested in seeing what the future of web communication might be like. Whether or not Google Wave takes off remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that future communication will be built upon ideas like this.


Since I last wrote so much has been going on here in
Holland. Classes have started to settle down and they aren’t moving and changing as much as they had been in the past.  We have made a trip to
Dublin, Ireland which was gorgeous and so much fun.  We have gone to Gouda famous for its cheese and
Rotterdam, these day trips out into the country are so fun and easy.  Ashley and I bought a discount pass for the internal train system which gives us 40 % off train tickets inside The Netherlands.  Our day trips to Rotterdam and
Gouda only cost us around five euros each way. 

This past weekend Ashley and I, along with another exchange student from Arkansas went to
London.  We had so much fun! Instead of taking the train we decided to take the ferry which traveled for nine hours overnight and got you to
London in the morning.  The ferry was cheaper than the train or a plane ticket so we decided to go with that.   The ferry was so nice; it was almost like a cruise ship.  It had ten decks with two restaurants and a movie theater and shopping. We spent four full days in
London and got to see everything we wanted.  We stayed in a Holiday Inn which was a luxurious change from our previous hostel experiences.  We went to
Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben,
Tower of

Hampton Court

Wimbledon, and Harrods.  It was a busy few days and we were extremely tired when we got back on Monday morning. 

This week is mid-terms so there are no classes.  I only have one test which is not until Friday so I have had time to relax from our trip and study for my test.  As soon as the week is over our fall break begins.  I am so excited because we are going to Rome and
Greece for the week!  It’s going to be another crazy busy time, but it will be beautiful.  We are flying Ryanair and got fairly cheap plane tickets.  Some other U of L students have a euro-rail pass and will be meeting us in
Rome when they arrive. 

Overall we are having a wonderful time, last week we had a meeting where all the exchange students got together to give the school feedback about what we liked and did not like about how things were going.  It’s nice how the school creates opportunities for all of the exchange students to get together and meet each other.  I feel like I am meeting people I will stay friends with for a long time.

Thanks for reading,



This past weekend, Brian and I ventured to Luxembourg. We bought a train pass before we came to Europe, but now we realize that we will be hard pressed to use all 15 days of travel in a 2 month period. In all honesty, the two day trip to Luxembourg was quite spontaneous, as we didn’t decide to go there until the past Monday.

We left on Friday morning and came back late Saturday night. With travel times included (about 6 hours each way), we were actually only in Luxembourg City for around 24 hours. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed our little get-a-way from Holland. The city was quite pretty and picturesque. Luxembourg even had hills!!! We had not seen substantial hills since Dublin (the literal translation of Netherlands is “low lands” or “flat lands.”) The city was also quite clean; it may have even been the cleanest place I have ever traveled to.

We maximized our time there by going to as many places as possible in a short period. We saw the Palace of the Grand Duchy (Luxembourg is the only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy), some beautiful cathedrals, and a famous fortress dating back to the 10th century. The rest of time there, we wandered around a marketplace, took a hike through the forest, and just took in the sights.

Another upside of our trip was the hostel. The hostel that we stayed at was not only the cheapest one available, but it resembled a Holiday Inn. It was by far the best hostel I have ever stayed at. I am hoping to stay in another hostel run by the same chain in the near future.

All in all, I am glad that we decided to go to Luxembourg. It was nice in a sense because nobody really talks about or travels to Luxembourg; it was cool to do something that most people won’t ever do. Luxembourg was also the prettiest place I have seen since I have been to Europe. Because of its small size, there was not a whole lot to do. The amount of time we spent there was pretty ideal. So, I wouldn’t recommend ever going there for an extended period of time, but if you are ever in the nearby vicinity (Belgium, Holland, Germany, or France), I highly recommend you stop in Luxembourg for a day or two.

Thanks for reading,


Waking up from the American Dream

I have been hesitant to write another blog entry for fear that I didn’t actually have something interesting to say. I don’t just want to write about my misconceptions, how mind-blowing the culture shock has been, and how beautiful Germany is. I purposely waited until after we had the opportunity to be here a little while and get acclimated so I could have a better handle on some things I wanted to discuss. So here goes:

I have been living and interacting with students from all over the world. These students are from Singapore, Korea, The Czech Republic, and Hungary just to name a few places. At least once a week, we will get together for dinner and this is a great way to share our culture with one another. I have had the pleasure of tasting all sorts of Asian delicacies and then I was the judge of a Goulash competition. I tried my Hungarian roommate’s Palinka, a traditional schnapps recipe that is made differently by each family by aging various kinds of fruit in a special distillation process. During these weekly endeavors, I have slowly come to this realization: America has very few traditions that have not 1) been stolen from other cultures and then changed to reflect our own tastes, or 2) been shamelessly exploited and marketed to the rest of the world.

When I tell people that I go to school in Kentucky, they don’t recall that we have a beautiful landscape with rolling hills, they neglect to make note of the largest horse race in the world or the most spectacular fireworks show in North America. They ignore the things that make it so dear to us, but their minds immediately go to the eleven herbs and spices of the man in the all-white suit. That’s it. To the rest of the world, Kentucky is KFC and Jim Beam, California is Hollywood and hippies, and Florida is Daytona at spring break. It’s really sad that our culture has been spread throughout the world so that there are so very few of the many things that used to make us unique.

When I visit a new place in Europe, I love the feeling of learning everything about it. Coming into this trip, I didn’t really know too many of the nuances of my friends’ cultures so everything is brand new to me. I feel like I am learning so many things that I would never have been able to in the States. But when I try to tell them about the ever-evolving political landscape in the US, how LeBron James is single-handedly reviving the NBA, or any other thing that I would assume to be unique to the US, they have more to contribute than most Americans I know. I feel like I have nothing to tell them that they don’t already know. America prides itself on its rugged individuality and its capitalist mindset, but somehow in “Americanizing” the rest of the world, we have lost many of the things that make us the non-conformists we pride ourselves to be. We have embraced this capitalist mindset to such an extent that we have mass-marketed our very best traditions to the global economy, and I believe in doing so, sold part of our identity. I am afraid that our culture no longer instills wide-eyed aspirations for the American dream in the hearts of those throughout the world, but instead we may have almost become a parody of ourselves. I often wonder what it would be like to come from a lesser-known country and have the opportunity to introduce others to all the things that make my land different. I would like to introduce the world to an America that they don’t already know everything about, and show them some meaningful traditions that haven’t been satirized. I guess the thing that makes patriotism so special is the fact that only one’s countrymen can identify with the things that make your home so dear. But when everyone in the world knows about your home, sometimes it loses a little of its luster.

America is the greatest nation in the world because of our freedoms, our opportunities, and our people. It’s noble to want to spread these ideals to the rest of the world, but I just wish that we had realized that it’s okay to keep a good thing to ourselves sometimes because that is what makes her special and that is what makes our dream uniquely American.