You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Europe’ category.

Not as sunny as Greece or as romantic as France (and still recovering from Soviet rule), Poland is usually overlooked by the student traveler. But the country’s eccentric combination of history, nature, and nightlife may help to put it on the map, according to a host of recent travel articles:

Veteran traveler and television personality Rick Steves touts Krakow, Poland, as both “the next Prague” and the “Boston of Poland” in his CNN article. With historic sites at Main Market Square, folksy market stalls, affordable dining, and pastoral countrysides, Krakow has a unique and sometimes wacky spin on history. A salt mine just outside the city, for example, houses an underground cathedral carved entirely out of salt.

According to the New York Times, the city of Wroclaw has an equally unique combination of modernism and history. Over 150 bronze dwarfs, symbolic of the communist resistance movement in the 1980s, have dotted the city since 2001.

But don’t let its quirky exterior fool you: Residents praise the vitality of the “young” town, as evidenced by student-friendly clubs and cafes. The article also lists recommended hotels, restaurants, and sights.

Even the Polish sector of Minneapolis is having its own revival. Previously ruled by Polish delis and clothing stores, the 13th Avenue stretch of northeast Minneapolis is now home to art galleries, restaurants, and record stores, according to the New York Times. Neighborhood artists and students alike can afford nights out at the well-priced Anchor Fish & Chips or the 331 Club (no cover charge).

Experience the offbeat culture of Poland for yourself with a semester-long study abroad program in Warsaw. And since Rick Steve says that it is one of Europe’s least expensive countries, Poland may even be worth an independent trip.

I recently watched the movie A Little Princess (circa 1995), and was reminded that “all girls are princesses.”  I ended up thinking about where I would want to live if I was a princess.  My decision is based on my heritage: France—although I’m not sure I would want to live in a castle because that may get lonely.

My roommate, Alyson, a 21-year-old journalism student, recently came back from a trip to Germany and France.  She brought back photos of castles in both countries.  The architecture goes beyond the blueprint plan of the castle I envision living in, but I can’t deny how amazing it would be to live in one.

These pictures should convince you that France and Germany are places to visit, especially if you’re studying architecture, history, design, etc., or if you’re like me and dream about being royalty!

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (circa 12th century)

Located in the Alsace region of France, this castle sits an impressive 757 meters above the Alsace plain.  Looking out from the castle you can see the surrounding countryside: the Vosges mountains, the Black Forest, and on a clear day, the Alps.  Tours are offered daily, and you can hang out in the castle’s dining rooms, weapons rooms, chapel, and so much more.  Eight centuries of history have been witnessed by this castle, you shouldn’t miss out on this.

View from the castle's keep

Neuschwanstein (circa 1868)

Neuschwanstein Castle is situated near Schwangau and Füssen in the Allgäu (Southeastern Germany near Austria). The path to the castle starts in the village of Hohenschwangau, and this is also your last opportunity to park.  The castle is relatively new, but it is one of the most popular landmarks in Europe (1.3 million visitors each year).  After the death of King Ludwig II in 1886, the castle was opened to the public and now does daily tours.  In this castle, no photography is allowed inside, but the modern architecture outside is still worth your camera’s lens.

View from the path leading up to the castle

As of Monday, I have 8 days until I arrive in Europe.  I am kind of nervous so I sent out an email to my friends who have gone abroad, and this is the general consensus:

  • Dublin: my friend, Jenny, said I had to go because she “loved it there. It’s way more laid back then London, which you will need when you have been there for a bit.”  She also recommended going on the countryside bus ride because “it is so beautiful.” My other friend, Steph, said that Dublin was fun.  She heard Glasgow is cool and not so touristy, but she never got the chance to go.

  • Italy: Steph said, “If you’re going to go anywhere in Italy go to Rome, there is so much to see and do there.”  Sophie also suggested going to Rome, if anywhere in Italy.  She said she really enjoyed the history, and things to see there.

  • Greece: I have heard great things about the islands, but the mainland is “dirty” and “touristy.” Steph said, “Santorini and Mikonos (the Grecian islands)…is a far plane ride but it was the best trip I’ve EVER taken and I know you will love it! My friend, Brooke, says to avoid Greece.  She said that it was just too hard to get to, and you really don’t have enough time to enjoy it.  She said “save it for the honeymoon!”

  • Barcelona: This is the #1 place my friends said to visit.  Three of them said it was one of their favorite places in Europe.  Sophie said, “I’m not sure if I’m biased but my favorite city is Barcelona by far!” Steph said “It’s amazing and if you go, go to CHUPITOS.  It’s a shot bar and its unbelievable!” Read the rest of this entry »

Two of the Schoenstatt sisters read the morning paper in the center's dining room. They are particularly happy because the center was mentioned in the paper!

Most student travelers decide to stay in hostels or with host families when they go abroad. But my friend Leesha a junior at the University of Minnesota, relies on the hospitality of Catholic sisters in different convents around the world.

I asked her why she chose such an unusual travel experience, what the living conditions are like, and whether non-religious people are welcome. Ever the English Major, Leesha took her assignment seriously, describing the two weeks she spent in Australia in 2008:

So what made me want to stay with a bunch of nuns? Well, being Catholic, I knew there were places I could stay internationally that would be clean, safe, and cheap. These places are convents or even monasteries.

The Schoenstatt sisters of Mary are part of laity in Catholicism which means that they minister specifically to the lay people, and are not a cloistered convent, in which the sisters are mostly or entirely removed from secular society. The Schoenstatt (sh-uhn-shtah-tt) shrines are places of pilgrimage.

In Australia, the Schoenstatt sisters had three buildings, plus the shrine itself. The bedrooms usually have two beds, and we were able to do our laundry at the shrine while we were there, a much-needed amenity.

I found out about the Schoenstatt sisters through friends of mine. As for other convents, I have friends who know different orders in the various countries I hope to visit (France and Italy, for example), so I’ve been asking them for the email contacts or phone numbers of these orders.

One of the orders I found out about through some friends are the Little Sisters of the Lamb. They are a mendicant order, which means that they beg for their food daily. In spite of their poverty, the sisters are very hospitable, so my friends assure me.

Read the rest of this entry »

A common rumor about Europe is that Europeans hate Americans for, well, being American. But how true is this rumor? I myself have heard it on several occasions, and I’ve witnessed it firsthand during my travels to France. As far as I could tell, after being in France for a week, the French did not particularly like American tourists, at least not the ones that refused to attempt the French language.

My good friend Alasdair, a Natural resources major at the University of Connecticut, filled me in on what he thought.  He spent almost a year studying in Germany, and had some surprising things to say about the rumor. According to him, Europeans that he met were indifferent to the fact that he and his friends were American. He said that he didn’t notice any outright hostility from the citizens of Germany. He mused about the possible reasoning, “I feel that after Obama was elected, most Europeans sort of had a renewed faith in Americans.” His girlfriend Amanda accompanied him on his trip to Germany, and together they had some interesting experiences.

“While Amanda and I were in Brugge, Belgium, we were in a grocery store purchasing provisions when a little old lady overheard us speaking English. We got to talking and we asked her some good local places to see and do in town. She got so excited she invited us back to her house around the corner and was telling everyone in the streets ‘I’m with Americans.’ She was so adorable and excited to be hosting Americans. At her house, she helped us plan the rest of our Valentine’s weekend, treated us to a glass of wine in her finest crystal, and let us meet her adorable dog. She also gave us a teddy bear because it was Valentine’s Day.”

Since I know Alasdair to be very well mannered and educated, I couldn’t imagine that he would encounter a European that disliked him. And after reading his responses, I concluded that any hostility directed toward Americans was due to their actions, and not their nationality. “I came across a few more stereotypical Americans once in a jazz cave. They were pretty drunk and trying to bust their way on to the stage. I guess because it was a pretty loose jam, they thought it was open mic night or something. Everyone there got pretty upset about it and they were obviously American (baseball hats, jeans, etc.).”

Maybe it’s just Germany that contradicts the rumor, but either way, this rumor has a lot less truth to it than it’s given credit for.  When studying abroad, it’s even easier to make a fool of yourself as it is in America.  Be aware of the customs and the culture, and you’ll be just fine.

We’ve all experienced head-smacking moments during our travels. We realize that we forgot to bring enough cab money, or that the person who described December weather in Mexico as “cold” has clearly never been to the Midwest. Despite the plethora of travel guides available, there are some things that only an experienced traveler can tell you.

My friend David, a junior double-majoring in Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Spanish, has been studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, since January. I asked him over email about some of the surprising things he’s discovered about life in Spain over the past few months.

1.  What was the first thing you bought in Spain?

Food, I think, as in groceries.

2. What was the last thing you bought?

A beer.

3. What do you wish you had remembered to pack?

My cord to connect my camera to my computer (luckily my brother brought it when he came to visit).

4. Was something insanely expensive there?

Food in restaurants. I love going to restaurants in the states to try new foods and was expecting to do so here. But unless you want to destroy your wallet, you don’t really go to restaurants.

5. What is surprisingly cheap?

Bread is surprisingly cheap. They eat baguette type bread with everything (you can get it anywhere) and it’s really good. It [costs] as low as 40 euro cents for a loaf of it, which is very filling. That’s less than a dollar.

Read the rest of this entry »

I eat a lot of pasta.  I love Italian food and I prefer having it over anything else, whether I’m eating out or staying in.  I grew up with an Italian step-grandpa and so many family dining experiences were at the local favorite, St. Paul’s Buca di Beppo.  It’s probably not the same as eating in Italy, but it’s the closest I can get while not traveling abroad.  My personal favorite Italian dish is my mom’s spaghetti pie, a tasty spinoff from regular spaghetti.

Ingredients:

¾ lb of ground beef or Italian sausage

¼ cup of chopped onion

1-1/4 cups of spaghetti or marinara sauce

¼ tsp of Italian seasoning

1 egg, well beaten

5 oz of spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp of butter

¾ cup of drained cream styled cottage cheese (optional)

½ cup (2 oz) of shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Brown the meat and the onion in a saucepan.  Add sauce and seasoning, stir together and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Cook spaghetti noodles according to package instructions.  In a mixing bowl, stir together egg, cooked (hot!) spaghetti noodles, Parmesan cheese, and butter.  Press noodle mixture into bottom and up sides of the pie pan (glass dishes work best) as if forming a pie crust.  Spread the drained cottage cheese over the bottom of the noodle crust.  Spread meat and sauce mixture over the cottage cheese.

Choose one of two cooking options:

  1. Cover with wax paper and place in microwave for about 9 minutes.
  2. Place in oven uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

After the pie has been cooked, sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Serve pie by the slice, with a side of steamed asparagus.

I love this dish, and I can guarantee you it will taste delicious.  If you’re interested in other homemade Italian dishes, check out my friend Antonietta’s cooking blog, Cipolli, which also has helpful pictures!

After watching Kim (Maggie Grace) get kidnapped on her Parisian vacation by sex-traffickers in the movie Taken, I’ve dumped my plan of traveling Europe alone. The likelihood of something similar happening, however, is probably small. Pickpocketing appears to be the national crime of France, and you’re far more likely to suffer from a vehicle accident than from a crime at the hands of a trafficker. Still, I’ve been unable to find out if kidnapping is a serious problem for Americans in Europe or not; there is an absence of public government stats addressing the question. At any rate, it’s best to be safe. Here are three things every student going abroad should do:

1. Leave an itinerary with someone. If people know where you’re going they’ll know where to look if something goes wrong.  Make it as detailed as possible too!

2. Be alert. Be aware. Check out the U.S. Department of State’s student international safety page before you travel. The site has a nice feature that allows you to check out country specific information, such as crime trends.

3.  Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in the U.S. Yes, Prague is pretty at night, but so is Chicago and New York, and you probably wouldn’t scamper through the residential streets alone at night in those cities. This point also has another meaning—don’t break the law. You could end up in prison facing much harsher penalties than in the U.S. According to the L.A. Times, London, a likely study abroad spot, is the #4 city that Americans are likely to be arrested in.

My friend Aleyse Peterson, a 20-year-old theatre major, returned from Ireland in December of 2009, and she already wants to go back.  I figured it must be a pretty good place if her desire to return there is so great.  I wanted to know more (in case I ever decide to travel to Ireland), so we skyped and here’s what I found out from her:

Desiree: What made you choose Ireland for study abroad?

Aleyse: Well, it is my favorite country. I love the people, the country, the culture…pretty much everything about it.  When I found out I could study theatre in Ireland, I jumped at the chance.

Desiree: What kinds of theatre classes did you take there? What were the courses like?

Aleyse: Well, I took Devising, Movement, Voice, Acting and Irish Drama.  The first four were very physically intense, focusing on the performance side of theatre. Irish Drama was our “academic” class, the only one we actually sat in a classroom setting for.

Desiree: Which was your favorite?

Aleyse: Probably acting–although all of them had their amazing points.

Desiree: So you were fairly busy then? Did you get any time to travel around Ireland?

Aleyse: I was quite busy, but yeah, we had the weekends free.  It was our own responsibility to make travel plans if we wanted to, and we did. Read the rest of this entry »

Jordan Zaffke just returned from Sweden. He is 21 years old and in his third year at the U of M as a double major in international business and accounting. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, so I emailed him to find out about his trip:

Sherry: Why did you choose to go where you did?

Jordan: I chose to go to Sweden because I grew up following Swedish traditions, and I have family over there. I grew up in a Swedish culture, and wanted to experience it first hand. I also decided to go there because it would have been a great experience to learn a different culture and practice the Swedish language.

Sherry: Was it weird being away for so long? From your friends and family?

Jordan: It wasn’t so much weird being away; it was just different. It forced me to make new friends. I still was in contact with friends and family via skype and facebook, but I didn’t see them everyday. In the end, it was for the best, because I met many new friends from around the world, and that is something I am proud of.

Sherry: What was it like there?

Jordan: It was somewhat similar. The weather was similar (rainy, somewhat chilly), and the country has many of the same things we do–H&M, McDonald’s, and the like. However, their grocery stores and and government run businesses were vastly different. In grocery stores, we were forced to buy our own bags everytime; they were not provided to us for free. Also, waiting in queues was big in Sweden. At the bank, you took a number and stood in line. The same goes for the post office, restaurants, and the like. Read the rest of this entry »