Written by Emily Janik (Classic Travel Intern, Fall 2013).
Studying abroad was all that I could ask for and will be a favorite memory of mine from my college years. I experienced 6 countries in one month and I’m only twenty! Within 4 weeks, I traveled to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Italy. I traveled over 10,000 miles, experienced multiple living styles, talked with numerous natives, used three different currencies, took on 10 different high speed train rides, overcame five different language barriers, and had the most amazing time of my life. We were traveling almost every couple of days, taking our luggage with us everywhere we went and by the end of these 4 weeks, I became an expert at their subway system, the Metro. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the memories I made studying abroad.
We stayed in Paris, France for 2 weeks out of our program. I was with a group of about 35 students and we stayed in a hostel nearby the famous Seine River. I’ll be honest, it rained almost every day in Paris but that didn’t stop us from anything. Within this time frame, I visited Notre Dame cathedral, had a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, visited the Louvre where the famous Mona Lisa is held, shopped on the street Champs-Élysées (which took a big toll on my wallet), went to the top of the Arc de Triumph, walked over the lock love bridge, and hiked up Sacre Coeur. Sacre Coeur had the most breathtaking view overlooking the city and I would highly recommend walking up the steps!
The Eiffel Tower is exactly as amazing as you would imagine it to be. Notre Dame cathedral’s architecture is astonishing with every detail put into it. I couldn’t get enough of the crepes in France. The food service in Europe takes about double the time anywhere in America would, but it taught me to truly enjoy the people I’m with and relax. My group became my family over the weeks while we all tried to learn and cope with new cultures. On a free weekend of ours, we took a train to Versailles to visit the Palace and Gardens. It was amazing; we walked through the gardens and watched the fountains for hours enjoying the beauty of it. While being in these countries, I wanted to experience the culture. I ate snails for the first time in my life! For as picky of an eater I am, they were actually pretty tasty. Also, don’t be surprised to eat an abundance of baguettes while you visit; the French love their bread!
We spent a weekend in Brussels, Belgium. Although this was my second time returning to Brussels, I enjoyed it as much as my first. We had the opportunity to visit the European Union and Parliament educating ourselves on Europe’s political power. With my short time being there, I saw the famous Brussels landmark, Manneken Pis and walked around the Grand-Place, the central square of Brussels. The waffles were to die for, and the chocolate barely made it home to my family! And if you’re looking for some great tasting beer, our night at Delirium bar didn’t disappoint us. With three stories high, and over 2,500 different types of beer, it was definitely a must go to! My favorite was the cherry flavored☺
Zurich, Switzerland was breathtaking. We were here for two nights. The town and the buildings were beautiful. We had to change our currency to francs for this trip and learn to cope with a new language, German.
We finally had our first day of sunny weather! We experienced a boat tour on Lake Zurich and enjoyed the view of the Swiss Alps in the distance. Although Zurich was a little pricy, the town was gorgeous and the people were very friendly. A group of us rented bikes and rode throughout the city along the lake. Of course, it started raining about halfway through our ride. We rode in the pouring rain along the streets of Zurich. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The view from my hotel room in Innsbruck, Austria blew me away. The food was amazing, and the people were so enjoyable. We took a gondola ride up to the top of the Tyrolean Alps that surround the city. It was below freezing and snowing up there! We met a man at the top who stopped and talked to us for a bit telling us that everyday he hikes up the mountain after work. He HIKES it. He was such an aspiring and friendly person to talk to, making Austria so much more enjoyable. The food was delicious and our stay at the Hilton could not have been any more enjoyable. It was set within the picturesque part of the old city, making everything easily accessible. My view from my hotel room overlooked the city with the mountains in the background. Austria was beautiful. We had the chance to stroll through the Historical Old Town and do a little shopping but we were only here for one night. Austria is one place I’d definitely like to return to some day.
Our last stop before heading back to Paris was Munich. We were here for three nights. Germany was more than I could imagine. We had the opportunity to visit the US Consulate, tour the BMW factory and Museum, and have a private tour at Spaten Brewery! Not to mention our free samples at the brewery were enjoyable and the soft pretzels were a favorite of mine. Germany’s Wiener schnitzel is definitely my top favorite food I had in Europe.
We walked around Marienplatz, the central square in Munich. The beer halls were so lively and fun. Our last night there, we went to the Hofbrauhaus. It is one of Munich’s oldest beer halls. The atmosphere was loud, open, and social. It’s a big open room with rows of tables and it’s almost impossible to catch the attention of the servers but it’s a must go to. You’ll definitely have the chance to meet other tourists and Germans as well, a great combination of people to listen to and share stories with. I can’t count how many great people I met and listened to them share about their travels or their life in Germany. We spent the majority of Germany eating a lot of food and drinking beer. It seemed like the Germans’ favorite things to do!
Our program finally made it to an end. A group of 9 of us decided to do some traveling afterward. We boarded a plane from Paris and headed to Venice. The airport was quite confusing trying to navigate around but we ended up finding a waterbus transportation to get to our hotel. We checked in and had the evening to explore Venice. Although it’s a little challenging with heavy luggage to make it through the rocky streets and tight alleys, the hotel was close to where we were dropped off. The Grand Canal, which is the essential water-traffic corridor in the city, was only a block away from our hotel. This is where the famous Rialto Bridge is located. We walked over it, enjoyed the scenery, and did some shopping at the little shops along the way. A short walk away was the Piazza San Marco, which is the public square of Venice. The open square is not only full of history and surrounded by old architecture, but also full of pigeons. We walked along the water looking at the surrounding islands. We stopped at a pizza place for our first dinner in Italy. The pizza was delicious. I don’t think we went one day in Italy where we didn’t have pizza. We also stopped at every gelato stand in sight. The next morning, we enjoyed an early gondola ride throughout the city. This was a great way to learn the history while experiencing the beauty of Venice first hand. There was no better way to begin our day than to see famous landmarks, as well as local homes and neighborhoods right on the water.
We took a water taxi to get to the train station. We boarded the train to Florence, taking about two hours. Our hotel was very close to the train station, about a 5-minute walk away. The hotel we stayed at was very accommodating and in a great location. We had the afternoon and evening to explore Florence. A couple of us in the group went to the Accadamia to see Michelangelo’s original David. Florence is filled with art. A short walk away from our hotel was the Duomo di Firenze, Florence’s Cathedral, one of the largest in the world. The baptistery, bell tower, and dome surround the Cathedral. Its marble colorful patterns are astonishing. The next day there, we made a day trip to visit Pisa. We purchased tickets at the train station and headed to Pisa to visit the Leaning Tower. Once there, we spent about two hours shopping and taking those silly pictures of each other holding it up. This trip was about an hour train ride, making it about a four-hour day trip. The rest of our time in Florence was spent shopping and walking around the main plaza enjoying our time. The girls bought some beautiful leather purses at the shops along the streets.
After two nights in Florence, we boarded our last train to Rome. Our hotel was about a ten-minute walk from the train station. We settled into our last stop, and headed out to get some lunch. Afterwards, we purchased red bus tour tickets. I would highly recommend getting this in Rome. It’s a two-story bus that allows you to hop on and hop off at selected famous monuments. The bus comes by each stop every 15 minutes. Within 24 hours, we visited the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forum. We took a private tour through the Colosseum and ancient ruins. Some of the group scheduled a private tour to visit the Vatican, also giving them the chance to see the appearance of the Pope that day. The rest of us explored the city on our last day. I climbed the Spanish Steps, made a wish at the Trevi Fountain, and climbed the stairs of Victor Emmanuel’s Monument. Although the monument is nothing that exciting, only filled with history of Italy’s first King, it gives a wonderful view of the city. From the top you can see the Colosseum in the distance, as well as most famous attractions and other ruins. Our journey finally came to an end. After a month of traveling with each other, we had our last dinner together. We had a car pick us up in the morning to drive us to the airport and boarded our last flight home to America!
Although my travels to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany were planned through Michigan State University’s study abroad program, Joy and her staff planned our after trip to Italy making it so much more of an ease for us. She had wonderfully located hotels, flights, train rides, and any extra tours or accommodations we needed already planned for us prior to our departure. They made it easy for us to depart right out of Paris and begin our journey to Italy. I highly recommended to anyone studying abroad to travel before or after your program. The plane ticket is the most expensive part about getting to Europe, so why not take advantage of it while you’re there? Being a student, traveling looks wonderful on your resume making you culturally experienced and worldly. Thanks to Classic Travel, my experience in Italy was everything and more than I thought it would be.