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
After a brisk walk across Berlin, sitting on the edge of the Spree River is the East Side Gallery. Or part of the Berlin Wall that stands today as a reminder of the past. Some of the images painted on the wall are an emotional sight and fitting tribute that conveys the history of the wall through a transcending manner. There is a brick line across the city where East and West Berlin were once divided. However, the city has progressed and there seems to be no division in the city landscape.
Some of the nicest people that I met, while traveling,
resided in Berlin. Whether it was speaking to an Italian man, in a pizzeria, from
Sicily that embraced me like a long-lost brother or with a man that owned an
American themed restaurant. Each person shared their experiences and cultures
with me that have had a beneficial impact. Plus, it did not hurt to finally eat
American food after several months without.
The energetic atmosphere of Berlin is unlike any other
city that I have had the chance to visit and I look forward to my next time in
Another journey taken
was out west to Salamanca, Spain. The old city is considered a UNESCO World
Heritage site. The city boasts wonderful cathedrals, Plaza Mayor, and one of
the oldest universities in the world. Red graffiti scattered throughout the
walls of the city and university are the names of doctors that graduate from
the university. The new graduates had to pay for their own graduation parties
that the whole town could come to and would use the blood of the bull to write
their names – this old tradition is no longer practiced.
Since most of the
buildings use sandstone as material you may see lines worn into the stone. In
the past, Spaniards would use the stone to sharpen tools. In addition, the Casa
de las Conchas or ‘House of Shells’ has an ornate outside appearance. The man
that built the house expressed his love to his wife by putting her family crest
on the outside of their home. Today, the home is a public library.
If you travel to Spain
do not miss the opportunity to come to this wonderful place.
My first trip was to Segovia, Spain less than three
hours from Madrid. When we arrived at the outskirts of the city, I was amazed
at how well the natural barriers defended the city. Segovia is perched upon a
hill with steep cliffs and a river.
As we rode into the city, we saw the sunrise over the Alcázar of Segovia – melting the frost on the blades of grass. The Alcázar of Segovia is the castle that is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s design of the iconic Cinderella Castle. The base five-euro entrance fee is worth it to see the armory, knights, interior courtyard, and the views atop of the cliffs. For an addition three-euro fee, you can climb to the top of the castle – I would highly recommend climbing to the top and seeing the whole city against the snow capped mountains.
The city still has a supply of water that comes from
the mountains via the Roman Aqueduct. In addition, do not miss the chance to
explore the old part of the city and eat some tapas.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!