Four months later…and it’s back to life in the USA.
To say I had the time of my life studying, exploring, and experiencing Europe would be an understatement.
It’s hard to believe that I traveled to 11 countries while in Europe (especially considering the fact that I’ve hardly been to 11 US states).
Some of these places have left extremely memorable impressions on me, while others have left me with impressions for a different reason.
Nonetheless, in order to wrap up my travels, I thought it would be best to share my adventures as I best remember them.
- After two days in Brussels, I felt knowledgeable enough to navigate the entire city.
As part of the academic aspect of the program, we visited the European Commission, the Council of the EU, and numerous EU lobbying groups (Finance Watch, a financial reform NGO, CEPS- The Centre for European Policy Studies, and lastly the Flemish representation to the EU).
In our free time, we took a visit to the Belgian Beer Museum that came highly recommended by IES and numerous travel guides.
Unfortunately, it was hardly a museum at all, and the 5-Euro entry fee simply got you a glass of beer.
The famous Belgian waffles, on the contrary, actually were just as good as claimed.
They were hot, delicious, and filled with strawberries, bananas, Nutella, and whipped cream.
Belgium’s modern-feel, as well as its traditional beauty were also extremely comforting.
We made sure to see notable landmarks such as the Manneken Pis, and the famous square, known as the Grand Place.
- This was the last trip I went on in Europe, and without a doubt one of the best.
We booked a villa in the city, and experienced everything that the little known location had to offer.
One day, we took a full-day cruise around the multitude of islands that exist between Italy and Croatia (in the Adriatic Sea).
On one island, we went cliff-diving in crystal clear water, and laid out on the beach to dry off.
It was extremely warm and sunny while we were there so it made for a tremendous vacation.
At first, I was skeptical as to what it would be like to venture to Croatia, seeing as how it is not yet a member of the European Union, and how many Eastern-European countries struggle with fighting poverty and crime, but I was completely overwhelmed by the safe atmosphere.
The most shocking part of the entire trip, however, had to be seeing the vast number of houses that were leveled by the war that plagued the country in the 1990’s.
A mere block from our villa, there was a house that was split in half and was still crumbling.
It was certainly an amazing series of events to learn about.
In addition, there were also incredible historic sights, including Roman ruins from the 1st
Up until last week I still had a piece of Croatia in me, by way of a sea urchin that I stepped on after cliff jumping.
While it would have been nice to have had the experience remain apart of me forever, I am glad that the ½ inch spikes are no longer in my foot.
Here’s a NY Times piece on the hidden gem of Zadar: http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/travel/06next.html?pagewanted=all
Oh, and the wild dolphins swimming and jumping alongside our cruise ship were a nice touch as well.
- While we were only in Prague for two days, we saw nearly everything the city had to offer.
Our one important academic session here was a lecture at the University of Economics, where we learned about Czechia’s transition to a market economy.
It’s incredible to consider that up until 20 years ago, the area was under Soviet control.
Prague was a massive city, and I actually got lost while trying to navigate my way home during the day once.
During the evening, we got to experience Prague’s famed 5-story club, which was incredible.
Unlike Croatia, Prague had a very eery feeling about it at times, and we were strongly cautioned to watch out for pick-pocketers.
At night, the city was probably the most beautiful out of any city I visited.
The main square was vibrantly lit up, and the hourly church presentations were incredible.
Also, the food (kebabs, potatoes, fresh vegetables, dumplings and more) was great as well.
The Eiffel Tower was more than I anticipated it to be, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to see it in-person.
While in Paris, we visited the International Monetary Fund (IMF), attended a University lecture on the Eurozone crisis, and had a large amount of free time to visit the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral and the famed Eiffel Tower.
I never expected before the trip to visit the Eiffel Tower light show two nights in a row, but it was a certainly an amazing experience.
It was difficult at times to find affordable and good restaurants, but beyond that I felt as if Parisians were a lot more open-minded and kind than their French counterparts in Strasbourg.
The rudest city in Europe.
I wasn’t necessarily as open-minded as I should have been before traveling to France for the first time, but the hospitality, or lack thereof, provided by thIS French city was extremely lacking.
We were required to visit Strasbourg on an academic trip in order to attend a lecture at the European Parliament, which was very interesting, but beyond that I can’t say I would ever want to return to this city.
At one point, a group of five of us walked into a restaurant and were berated in English by the owner after we saw that the prices were way too expensive and decided to leave.
Won’t be returning here anytime soon.
- Berlin had a tremendous historical impact, and visiting everywhere from Hitler’s suicide location to a Stasi prison, was an extremely enlightening experience.
My favorite place in Berlin had to be the Topography of Terror Museum, which detailed, from a NAZI perspective, the war and the hidden secrets of genocide.
I think it would be an incredible idea to bring all American students to Berlin to learn about WWII through a first-hand encounter, rather than to just read about it in a textbook.
We also visited the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building, and saw many remnants of the Berlin Wall.
It is certainly tough to put Berlin into words, especially since it struggles with a major identity crisis after most of it was destroyed in WWII, but I am glad I had the opportunity to learn about its history from a first-hand perspective.
Also, out of all the places we visited, Berlin had the best food.
We went out to dinner all three nights and experienced 1) The Best Cuban food I have ever had 2) Delicious, authentic Italian cuisine and 3) Tremendous sushi.
Even though it certainly wasn’t the most beautiful city in the world, its cosmopolitan feel certainly made up for it.
- I was only in Frankfurt for one day when we visited the European Central Bank, but I wish I could have stayed longer.
The skyline was full of modern glass skyscrapers, and was one of the cleanest cities I visited.
Touring the European Central Bank was incredible as well, even if it doesn’t serve much of a purpose in EU governance.
- My European home, and favorite city.
Freiburg is an amazing city that is extremely diverse in its appeal.
First, it’s the most environmentally conscious place I’ve ever lived.
It also has a beautiful location, right in the heart of the Black Forest.
And even though it is considered a city (with a population of around 225,000), it feels like a small German village with old architecture, amazing churches, and plenty of bakeries, gelaterias, beer gardens, and great stores.
As months, and eventually years pass by, I will always think most highly of this German paradise.
The city that I will always fondly remember as the place I turned 21.
In fact, on the night of my 21st
birthday, our entire group ascended on a small karaoke bar (Ampir Club) directly across the street from the restaurant where our IES Farewell Dinner was hosted.
Little did we know, that this location was actually on the US Embassy’s list of places to avoid in Riga.
To quote the US Embassy website, “Under no circumstances should anyone visit these places” with Ampir Club listed as the first location.
Riga is constantly compared to Prague, since both are Eastern European and were once under Soviet control, but those are about all the commonalities that they share.
Riga has a much more Eastern European feel and was much more frightening to walk around then Prague.
Currently, only 2 million people live in the entire county, with more and more leaving every day due to “brain drain”, which leaves seemingly little hope at a prosperous future for this strongly Russian influenced nation.
On a side note, while on a guided tour of the city we ascended on an odd statue with a bunch of farm animals stacked on top of each other (Musicians of Bremen Statue).
As I was about to touch it, I heard the tour guide say “A common folktale says that anybody who touches the statue will be granted good fortunes and will return to Riga again in the future.”
As soon as I heard that I pulled my hand away, most likely because I am not all that interested in going back to a city that feels like it is still apart of Soviet-Russia.
When contemplating the question of where I would have wanted to study abroad, had I not chosen Freiburg, I would absolutely decided on Amsterdam.
The city was extremely friendly to outsiders, with the entire population speaking flawless English, and there were a ton of different things going on.
While I was there, we visited the Heineken Experience (the best “museum” I have ever been to), as well as the incredible Botanical Gardens.
We were also lucky enough to receive a free tour of the city on a boat that traveled through Amsterdam’s many canals.
It was also one of the most affordable European cities I visited.
Palma de Mallorca
- Having never been to the Caribbean before, I could only look at pictures to see what crystal-clear beaches actually looked like.
Thankfully, Spain showed me first-hand what pristine beaches look and feel like as well.
I was extremely impressed by the old architecture present in Palma, an island city located to the east of mainland Spain.
We traveled there during our Spring Break, and while it was only 65 degrees each day, we spent virtually every single hour lying on the beach.
Other than being turned off by Spanish hospitality after being served a free appetizer that smelt like road-kill (razor clams), every experience in this city was absolutely incredible.
- I still contemplate whether I would ever want to return to Stockholm.
While it is without a doubt a beautiful city, it also earns the distinction of being the most expensive in the world.
When a small to normal sized meal at McDonalds and Subway cost you $13 and $11 respectively, there is not much room to spend on other experiences.
Obviously, I would have preferred to dine at customary Swedish restaurants each night, but unless you’re Bill Gates it’s not possible.
The one traditional Swedish meal I did have was delicious though: diced sautéed potatoes, cabbage, and veal, served over a giant poached egg.
The city itself is gorgeous as well, but it was well below freezing for the entire time of our stay.
I was also lucky enough to witness a man beaten senselessly by police outside a club, after I was returning to our hotel from dinner the first night.
An experience that I will always remember about Stockholm though was going to an Ice Bar with our entire group.
Drinks were served in glasses made entirely out of ice, and we were required to wear gloves and insulated coats the entire time we were there.
And of course, all drinks were extremely expensive ($11), which made us to decide to leave early anyway.
- The purpose of our trip to Geneva was to visit one of the main headquarters of the United Nations (UN), as well as the World Trade Organization (WTO).
We were also fortunate enough to visit the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.
Out of all the places we visited over four months, this visit was the most interesting and enlightening to me.
Since we were in various meetings for most of the day, we did not have ample opportunities to tour the beautiful downtown area.
With one hour to spare before departing back to Germany, we were lucky enough, however, to enjoy a calm and relaxing dinner watching the sunset on Lake Geneva.
I was awed by the sheer beauty of this Swiss city, and would love the opportunity to return and see more.
(The Alps)- I would consider this the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life.
Pictures do the landscape little justice, considering how every direction I turned, it felt like I was staring at a postcard.
The Alps trump any mountain range I have ever seen in my life, and the pristine forests that surround them create a 360-degree collection of incredible views.
Beyond staring at the amazing landscape, we had the opportunity to sled down the Alps for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And let me be clear, when I say sledding, I more clearly mean racing (and crashing) 40 MPH down one of the largest mountain ranges in the world.
The bus ride up the hill took an hour, with an additional hour of climbing, before we commenced our 45-minute race to the bottom.
My face froze.
I flipped off my sled 3 times after crashing into snow banks.
And I screamed out in enjoyment for every second of the ride.
It was the most incredible thing I have ever done in my life, and it is my utmost hope to make this experience at least a twice-in-a-lifetime one.
After 2.5 months of living in a country with a native language was foreign to me, I knew it would be highly enjoyable to visit the UK.
However, even without the language benefit, London surpassed my expectations immensely, and is a place I now consider one of my favorite in the world.
All of the major London sights were more amazing than advertised.
From the Tower of London, to a private tour of the House of Parliament, it was amazing to see so many renowned monuments first-hand.
We almost decided to take a Harry Potter London tour, but instead chose to simply visit Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station instead.
Other major attractions included Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Bridge (or correctly known as the Tower Bridge), and Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus.
The funniest phrase of the trip had to be when we were told we needed to “Take the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters,” regarding utilizing the London tube system.
I also had the best lunch of my European adventures at an outdoor large-scale fresh BBQ, right near Shakespeare’s Globe (which is probably the least impressive attraction in London).
Overall, London was an amazing city to spend three days in, and I’m sure I’ll be back there soon to experience it again.
As my study abroad period has come to a sad end, I will now be turning my focus to work and school.
I’m extremely excited to be interning at Goodrich ISR Systems in Danbury this summer.
I will be working in the Finance Department, and will certainly have a great deal to learn and contribute as I aid the company in its transition to becoming apart of United Technologies.
In terms of schooling, in the fall, I will be taking classes in Investments, Intermediate Accounting, Strategic Management, and Environmental Technology.
This will be my second-to-last semester at Babson (as I am graduating next May), and I am looking forward to making the most of it.
For now, my blogging adventures may dwindle as my study abroad experience has come to an end.
Nonetheless, I absolutely plan on utilizing this tool as a continued method of communication.
I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to study in Freiburg, and I look forward to seeing how the many lessons I learned affect my new life back in the states.