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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

My roommate Jory Pestorious, 21, Pharm.D. at the U of M, studied ethnobotany in Hawaii over winter break. The class, Plants in Human Affairs, is a 12 day, 4 credit program and is run through the  Center of Spirituality and Healing.

Jory’s tip for those going abroad:

Don’t go, because you won’t want to come back.

The magical and crazy world of Tim Burton’s newest film, “Alice in Wonderland,” was almost entirely computer-generated. Everything from the giant vegetation to the Red Queen’s castle exists only on top of a green screen. Yet there are a number of very real places that would have functioned well as the backdrop of an imaginary world like Wonderland. I chose a few of the most whimsical buildings that you can visit—without falling down a rabbit hole:

Photo courtesy of the "Works of Antoni Gaudi" sector of the World Heritage Collection

1. Pargue Guell. Any list of fanciful buildings would be incomplete without Antoni Gaudi, who built this site in 1914. A winding wall covered with colorful, recycled mosaic tiles surrounds his public park in Barcelona, Spain. The playful nature of the space is accentuated by the tiled dragon that greets visitors at the entrance of the park, as well as by the caretaker’s lodge, which resembles a gingerbread house.

2. St. Basil’s Cathedral. With its Candyland-inspired “onion domes” and central location in Moscow’s Red Square, this building is as much a symbol of Russia as the Eiffel Tower is of France. Legend has it that after Ivan the Terrible commissioned the Cathedral in the 16th century, he blinded its architect so that another equally beautiful structure could not be built elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of the Hundertwasser Non Profit Foundation

3. The Crooked House. Created by Szotynscy Zalesk in 2003, and inspired by a series of fairytale illustrations, this sagging “house” actually contains a number of restaurants and shops. It is located in Sopot, Poland, and has become the most photographed building in the entire country.

4. The Forest Spiral. This curving apartment complex is located in Darmstadt, Germany and was built by Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 2000. According to the author of the Armchair Travelogue blog, all 105 of the apartment units are accessible by a series of spiraling ramps, instead of stairs or elevators. Its façade is not only made up of eye-catching bands of color, but also features a garden of various trees on its “green roof.”

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Since I’ve already promised you a good time in Buenos Aires, here are just a few pictures of beautiful sites that you may see when you go there!

Click on the pictures to learn more about these fantastic places!

Buenos Aires, Argentina is the hot spot for study-abroaders. I know at least six people who have been there in the past 18 months.  My good friend, Felyn, recently came back from studying in Argentina over winter break for two weeks. Felyn is a 19-year-old accounting major at the U of M who loves to travel, and decided to take a chance on a study abroad business trip.  When she got back, all she could do was talk and talk and talk about Argentina!  So from her to me to you, the following list consists of things to do that could make your trip to Buenos Aires a tad bit more exciting:

  1. Eat at Café Tortoni.  This restaurant, located centrally near the famous Plaza de Mayo, is actually the oldest coffee shop in the area, and it offers authentic Argentinean food at a reasonable American price—8-10 dollars per entré.
  2. Visit La Recoleta Cemetary.  Located in the older neighborhood of Recoleta, it’s a one-of-a-kind memorial to famous Argentineans.  A must see at the historic cemetery is the burial site of Eva Peròn, wife of President Juan Peròn and, as the Argentinean Congress puts it, the Spiritual Leader of the Nation.
  3. Watch street performers.  Some of the best entertainers will be dancing the tango at the Mercado de San Telmo, which is located just minutes south of central Buenos Aires.  This market is only open on Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm and sells purely antiques.
  4. Enjoy the nightlife of Plaza Cerrano.  This cul-de-sac, located near the neighborhood of Palermo, houses all the classiest bars and clubs, which most people enjoy from 10 pm to 6 am.
  5. Check out the Plaza Francia.  Every Saturday in the neighborhood of Recoleta, from 12 pm to 7 pm, you can find the artisan market.  All the artists in Buenos Aires who can’t find a studio to buy their artwork sell it at the plaza instead.