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Solo Travel P. I

After my Once In A Lifetime spring break trip, I landed back at Heathrow with my three incredible friends. Feeling happy, despite the shock of the disgustingly cold English weather. However, there was one more trip we planned to take, our “family vacation”. But, due to circumstances beyond my control, it suddenly looked like that trip wasn’t going to happen. So, in-between my finishing my final assignments, I planned a ten-day stint starting the day after I was due to submit them. The thing was, none of my friends wanted to go with me, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my time and insatiable desire to see the world. So I finalized the details of my solo trip and booked everything within five days of returning to the UK. Now, I just had to tell my mom.

Leaving early on a Tuesday morning, I headed to Gatwick airport to catch a flight to Budapest, Hungary. Never in my life did I think I would have the chance to end up here, or any of the places I visited really. My plan was to spend about two days in each city, visiting a total of five countries. I booked airfare, bus and train tickets, and a guided tour, simply banking on the hostels I was to stay at to provide any other information I might need.

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I remember the sense of freedom I had as I walked through the streets of Budapest that first night (god, how crazy does that sentence sound?). I’ve been lucky to visit so many different places and see incredible sights, but the first time I have ever felt truly free was that night. The following day, was a dreary one, filled with grey skies and rain, perfect company for the walking tour I had planned. I visited so many different sights and learned so much about the beautiful city of Budapest, and even met someone from Missouri!

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The next morning, I left for the bus station which would get me to Prague by mid-afternoon. Prague is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I am so glad I had the chance to return. I revisited some old sites, the Old Town Square in particular, before making my way to some new ones, like the John Lennon wall. I fit in two tours during my only full day there, one focused on art and modern Prague, the other on the effects of the Nazi Regime. One mandatory site I planned when deciding to go to Prague was to see the St. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, which was prompted by a book I read a few weeks prior, called “HHhH”. This book details the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhart Heydrich and the Czech and Slovak paratroopers Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík who carried out the attack, and in turn were killed, along with a few other allies, in an attempt by the Nazi police to take them. The small cathedral is the site of the altercation between the paratroopers and the SS and houses a memorial and museum dedicated to the soldiers. It was a story I hadn’t heard prior to reading the book, which by the way is a favorite of one of my tour guides, and I was honored to see it in person.

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That night I went to the train station to catch my pre-booked train to Poland. However, I seemed to have booked the wrong ticket. So, having to purchase a new ticket last minute, which ended up cheaper than the original ticket I’d bought, I managed to finally board my train and arrived in Krakow as the sun rose.

Since this post is already incredibly wordy, I’m going to split it up and post the second half in the following days. Thanks for reading; please stay tuned!

Xx Jessica

Spring Break Chronicles!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on the blog. Please forgive me, I was on my spring break adventure and wanted to have one compiled post about all of the amazing and not-so-amazing experiences I’ve had while gone!

I have no idea how I am going to put all of my emotions and experiences into one blog post, but I’m about to take a stab at it.

So, for spring break, my friend Miranda and I traveled to 5 different places: Rome, Italy; Frankfurt, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Budapest, Hungary; and Stockholm, Sweden.

In your head, you may be thinking that most of the places are pretty random. But let me tell you, these places are spectacular! I think that American media has done an excellent job at glamourizing big cities while downplaying and overlooking smaller cities and countries. But Europe has so many hidden jewels, and these places don’t need any approval to “shine bright like a diamond” (in the voice of Rihanna, the singer)—these places shine all by themselves and the fact that they are, indeed, hidden jewels is what makes them so incredibly amazing.

Stop 1: Rome, Italy:

The whole time in Rome I couldn’t stop singing the song from the Lizzie McGuire movie (one of childhood favorites)!

“Hey now, hey now. This is what dreams are made of!”

For those who aren’t hip to Liz, the movie was shot in Rome. And not even 24 hours after having the song stuck in my head I was walking down the Roman streets — the same ones that I only longed to watch as a little girl.

Studying abroad truly is what dreams are made of, and I am so blessed to have the opportunity!

Overall, Rome was beautiful, but the city felt very dreary and almost sad. The people weren’t the friendliest either. But during my time there, I had an encounter with a man who enhanced my time like I never thought! When we were at aIMG_0646 restaurant, an African man selling bracelets came to our table and gave us both free bracelets. When he left he said, “love and happiness” with a huge, bright smile. It made my entire time in Rome! I’m sure he had been selling bracelets and getting denied all day long. But he still decided to be generous and not force his sales on us.

What’s even better is later that day we saw him again and he gave us a High five while saying “happiness.” He then looked us straight in the eye and said, “I love you my sisters, happiness and blessings to you and your family.”It sounds a bit creepy when I type it, but I promise it wasn’t. It was authentic and from his heart.

I wish every one had as beautiful of a spirit as him — telling people they love them and meaning it! Not always trying to get over on people!

So that was my favorite Roman experience.

 

Stop 2: Frankfurt, Germany

It’s safe to say that I caught “The Germ” very quickly; I am in love with Frankfurt and of all the places I went it is among my favorite.

I’ll keep it short, but everything from the museums, to the people, to the beautiful river, to the hostel, to the fact that the city has a Chipotle (YUM) was absolutely amazing. Frankfurt also has a Communication Museum—which is so monumental for me because I’m a Communications Major. We also went to a play at the English Theatre! Much of the time I was a little home sick though, primarily because it reminded me so much of the States.

Obviously I didn’t have the chance to see every part of Germany or Frankfurt—but from what I have seen and experienced I would suggest it to anyone looking for a good place to travel. I would especially recommend it as a study abroad location because it has a very “at home” feel.

 

Stop 3: Prague, Czech Republic

This place is magical. If you ever wanted to star in a Disney princess film, just go to Prague and you’ll easily feel like you crossed that off of your bucket list. It’s filled with stunning castles. I felt like I was either in the movie Tangled, Shrek, or Cinderella (the one with the singer Brandy in it).

Not much to say outside of this—the pictures, I believe, speak for themselves!

 

 

Stop 4: Budapest, Hungary

I thought Hungary would fulfill my travel appetite. But after getting a taste of some of Hungary, I’m not so hungry anymore…

A lot of people I study with here in Malta LOVE Budapest— although it was nice, it wasn’t among my favorites….not even slightly. That could be because we were there much longer than the other places we visited, though.

But even with my slight disdain for Budapest, the bridges and scenery had moments of beauty. I also went to a contemporary dance show which made me feel like a local. Also, the Holocaust Museum was absolutely AMAZING. Here’s a fast fact: After World War 2 and the holocaust, most Hungarians were very poor, which is where Hungarian ingredients and signature dishes come from. Hungarian food is typically made with simple, inexpensive ingredients like hand-made bread and paprika because at the time that was all they were able to find and afford. Another fast fact, many of the buildings in Budapest still have bullet holes in them from the war.

   

Stop 5, Last Stop: Stockholm, Sweden

The very first observation I made when I got here is that in formal settings, people say hey instead of hello. It’s so interesting and I never really noticed how much I say “hello” instead of “hey” until I got to Stockholm.

Anyway, the city was stunning, and Stockholm is one of my favorites, right next to Frankfurt. It is the capitol of the Scandinavian countries and it is basically a bunch of islands connected by public transportation. I did not get many pictures there because we didn’t stay very long, but here they are. Their country’s animal is the Moose. I fell in complete love with the cute little moose souvenirs!

The ONLY negative I have is that it’s cold. But we live in the Midwest, we’re used to that right?

Sorry I don’t have many photos of the Stock.

Final thoughts and pieces of advice:

I’ve learned that when I’m traveling I don’t prefer to do sight-seeing, tourist activities. I prefer to explore the places no one goes to and discover hidden jewels of the city. I like to be either doing something, or learning something. I enjoy mountain hikes and museums…stuff like that. Even the Rome is…well, Rome… I enjoyed little ol Frankfurt more and I think it’s because we did more exploration and went to museums… We did things that stimulated our minds, rather than just looking at statues, monuments and cathedrals. Not saying that those things aren’t beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to spend my whole time doing that.

That’s me though. I say all of this to say that it is important to know your travel style so that you can plan your trips accordingly with things you like and want to do.

When I decided to study abroad, the only places that seemed appealing were the really popular, really common, really touristy places like Rome, Barcelona or Paris. But now I’m realizing that a person’s lack of knowledge, respect, admiration or media attention for a country or person does not stop its beauty from permeating, and it does not stop it from being a great place to visit or study abroad at!

The biggest piece of advice I have for people studying abroad is to NIKE…Just do it. Do it! Every place will have a unique experience to offer you with plenty of things to learn, so just go for it and you’re sure to learn something. Don’t look at the smaller cons like the weather (whether its warm or cold) or the population size— your experience will ultimately completely outweigh any of those tiny little factors!

Additionally, just because a place is common or well-known doesn’t mean you will enjoy it more. In fact, you might even enjoy it less because of the utopian idea you’ve developed of it; the media’s hype over major cities could cause you to set a fantasy standard that wouldn’t be met if you visited the place. Ultimately, larger cities like Paris and Rome thrive off of tourism—which is great! – but if you’re looking to go to a place where you can feel at home, welcomed, and truly like a local, then looking into less-talked-about-places should definitely be an option.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to want to visit larger and well-known cities… I’m just saying that you shouldn’t cross out other options just because you’ve never heard of it. My travel buddy and I both wrongly assumed that Frankfurt would be boring solely because nobody talked it up like they did other parts of Germany. But it ended up being one of our favorite places! Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t choose London or Paris. Malta, in all of its tininess, is the PERFECT place for me, and I wouldn’t have chosen any other place to study abroad! I had fun during spring break, but I’m glad to be back in cozy little Malta.