Welcome to Part II of my three-post study abroad blog, where I shall attempt to relay my travels outside of London. Part I can be found here. A full itinerary of travels is included at the bottom of this post. If you have Bohemian Rhapsody playing in your head now, awesome!
In retrospect, I wish I’d had a year in London, especially since I chose to spend a large portion of my time travelling everywhere I could on the infamous (and wonderfully affordable) RyanAir. While I also flew EasyJet and WizzAir, in addition to travelling by train, boat, and bus, RyanAir sticks in my mind solely because they tried to sell us model airplanes to commemorate a 2-hour flight. Hilarious.
I’ve often been asked to choose a favorite place from my travels, and I have yet to properly give an answer. How can you pick a favorite of so many good experiences?! There was Amsterdam, where some of my best friends and I explored canals, rented bicycles, and spent a night homeless because we were too cheap to pay Friday night hostel prices. Then Lisbon, the first city I visited after London, won over my heart with its hills and views of the ocean, and a new friendship with Portuguese teenagers Ines and Tita (Ines we met on the flight over) made it that much more eye-opening. Visiting my Japanese friend Marie in Gothenburg, Sweden during her year abroad was crazy since I hadn’t seen her in six years, and catching up on life since middle school made the cinnamon rolls and Swedish meatballs that much better. An end-of-term trip to Brighton with flatmates resulted in a shocking splash in the chilly sea, eating gelato every day in Italy was like heaven on earth, and I’ll never forget the water polo tour to Budapest, where we traipsed through the city as a giant group and got lost on the wrong side of the Danube.
The two-week ten-city whirlwind trip with Luke through Germany, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Italy (where Brady joined us) was quite the exhausting adventure. I’m so glad we got to see so many different cities, and at the same time I wish I could have stayed in every one of them a little bit longer. Again, there’s no way I can pick a favorite, though some of my fondest memories include seeing Michelangelo’s David, climbing Dubrovnik’s old city walls, and watching the sunset from a hillside church in Florence (which was totally worth Luke making the executive decision that we were to ascend even more stairs). I absolutely loved Rome, need to go back to Prague, and now just want to go to every other city in these awesome countries. I must also mention the best “free walking tour” we’ve ever had, guided by Englishman Sam in Berlin–that boy deserves a medal for most informative and passionate tour guide to grace the Earth. Sam highlighted how important it is to accept one’s history and work as a people to counteract mistakes of the past. He sung the praises of the Germans and left us feeling as though the world was a better place because of their ability to confront atrocities and move towards a better future. I have so much respect for the German people, and I think that they set a fine example for the rest of the world. Honestly, I’d seriously recommend the free walking tour company and every city we visited, each for a different reason. Also, shoutout to Luke, who planned everything perfectly and took over photo responsibilities since I decided to break my phone’s screen-side camera the day before we left.
Visiting Paris with my parents was awesome both because I got to see them mid-semester (rare occurrence) and because Paris is probably my mom’s favorite city on the planet and sharing it with her just seemed perfect. We hit up those museums like pros, of course, and I can honestly say I’d spend weeks in the Louvre and not get tired of it. There was so much amazing art in France and the rest of Europe, and it was incredible to see different pieces in their native countries (I’m sorry I’m used to seeing European art in LACMA–it’s not the same, though I do love LACMA). I’m really glad I got to share a piece of my study abroad experience with my parents, especially since now that I’ve moved away from home, it’s harder to relay the details of our lives. Plus, travels with parents also include eating well, and I definitely enjoyed the foie gras and superb wine selections. When it turned out that Luke was there at the same time, we decided to hit up Versailles and cycled around, rounding out a perfect weekend.
Probably favorites of my travels, though, are trips to Caerphilly and Madrid, because for two of my best friends and former flatmates, these cities are home. Alvaro showed us around Madrid as a local as well as a tourist, and really gave us the Spanish experience (which unfortunately didn’t include the Prado–I suppose one day I’ll forgive him). I really couldn’t get over how gorgeous it was, or how affordable (really, the pound kills–Euros were a godsend). But even more than the calamari sandwiches and tapas, cheap beer and themed bars, I enjoyed meeting his grandparents and seeing their home, hanging out with his mom, and exploring the area slightly outside of the city where he grew up. The more I saw, the more I was reminded of my own home, and the more I appreciated Madrid as a place for more than tourism. Similarly, I was able to see Wales from the perspective of the lovely Bronwen, with whom I went home to Caerphilly. Learning how her parents’ awesome house–which is completely self-sufficient and off the grid–worked, what sheep farming entails (her dad’s a sheep farmer, and I got to hold the lambs and it was amazing), and just chilling with her family drinking tea and eating cakes that her mom baked (because her mom is awesome) filled some of my happiest days–now all I want is to go back. It was home, and I’m just so grateful to have been able to spend that time there with them. And did I mention that they surprised me with a helicopter ride over the valley and a castle? That was awesome.
LAMB and flying over Wales with Bronwen in her friend’s helicopter
(I honestly don’t know which made me happier)
When I think about my travels, I think of both how beautiful Europe is and how crazy even the best-planned trips can be (we nearly got kicked off a bus, almost missed a boat, narrowly made a flight after sprinting through the airport because Brady convinced me we didn’t need to get our passports checked–thanks dude), but also of those that I travelled with and met in all of these places. It is the people who define the culture, people who build monuments and wage wars and have a history. I feel like I’ve neglected to think about the people who are attached to this history, and the ways in which cultures form and influence each other. I didn’t even really think about how much history existed in Europe until my friends there made fun of me for acting like the US had a history (and really, we do, there were just different people and fewer wars). It amazes me how influential Europe has been on the rest of the world in the past few hundred years, and I can’t believe how hard it was for me to even see that before actually going there. It’s amazing how perspectives can change. Maybe this is why they tell us kids to go study abroad.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to travel so much during this semester and I can only imagine how much this habit is going to cost me later in life, when I stop thinking that park benches count as appropriate sleeping locations or that sketchy hostels are sanitary. What a life it will be.
Itinerary of Travels Beyond London
with Kianna, Megan, Mike and (later) Alvaro and Brady
with the BL Water Polo Team
with Alvaro and Brady
Prague, Czech Republic
with Luke, mastermind itinerary planner
continuing with Luke and meeting up with Brady
with my parents (though later we ran into Luke)
with Alvaro, Brady, and Bronwen