Posts about International travel

You Betcha!

Posted by: Maddie Salas Updated: October 25, 2014 - 2:26 PM
Until my travels to Scotland, I never realized how big the USA is. Minnesota is roughly 2.5 times as big as Scotland, and about just as big as the United Kingdom. It's strange to think that a few hours of driving at home gets me to Duluth, but here just 90 minutes gets me from Glasgow to the boarder with England! It's also interesting to me that most people here seem to know where a lot of the states are. If I just say, "Minnesota," when someone asks where I'm from, he/she generally says, "Oh! Okay, cool!" Maybe they're just being nice, or pretending like they know where it is. A few people I met made some kind of comment about Minnesota being close to Canada (surprise, we boarder each other!), but it still means something that they know Minnesota is in the States, because I don't know all of the different sections of every other country. Also, big news for anyone in denial (like my previous self): we have accents. People notice it. I've actually been mistaken for Canadian a couple times, and now some of my friends here call me an "Honorary Canadian." I actually can't complain, because it seems like a lot of citizens here tend to prefer Canadians. These are just a few of my thoughts since moving here. Hopefully I can post more soon! Wifi is hard to come by, and I am traveling with my class to England for the next two weeks. Expect some English tea reviews upon my return!

You Betcha!

Posted by: Maddie Salas Updated: October 25, 2014 - 1:57 PM
Until my travels to Scotland, I never realized how big the USA is. Minnesota is roughly 2.5 times as big as Scotland, and about just as big as the United Kingdom. It's strange to think that a few hours of driving at home gets me to Duluth, but here just 90 minutes gets me from Glasgow to the boarder with England! It's also interesting to me that most people here seem to know where a lot of the states are. If I just say, "Minnesota," when someone asks where I'm from, he/she generally says, "Oh! Okay, cool!" Maybe they're just being nice, or pretending like they know where it is. A few people I met made some kind of comment about Minnesota being close to Canada (surprise, we boarder each other!), but it still means something that they know Minnesota is in the States, because I don't know all of the different sections of every other country. Also, big news for anyone in denial (like my previous self): we have accents. People notice it. I've actually been mistaken for Canadian a couple times, and now some of my friends here call me an "Honorary Canadian." I actually can't complain, because it seems like a lot of citizens here tend to prefer Canadians. These are just a few of my thoughts since moving here. Hopefully I can post more soon! Wifi is hard to come by, and I am traveling with my class to England for the next two weeks. Expect some English tea reviews upon my return!

Always Take the Chance

Posted by: Ben Palmer Updated: October 19, 2014 - 4:38 AM

Last weekend I, along with some friends, took the train to Berchtesgaden, Germany. When the trip was being organized I was not fully committed, thinking I would spend the weekend in Vienna. My friends driving the effort mainly wanted to go to see sites where the show Band of Brothers was filmed, not something I was particularly driven to pursue. However I eventually agreed thinking at the very least I would have a good weekend in a small Bavarian town. 

I do not think I have ever underestimated a trip as much as I did this one. On sunday we visited Königssee, the deepest lake in Germany. A dense morning fog shrouded the lake in mystery, made only more eerie by the music coming from tourist boats plying the misty waters. Advised by a local friend of ours to take the path where there is "danger of life", we hiked along the shore through the fog to a waterfall. The alpine lagoon and water-worn rocks created by the waterfall provided ample fun to climb and stick toes into the frigid water. After a while, wary of the time needed to catch our bus, I dunked myself in the lagoon because I wanted to get all the way in. I had not noticed however, that some of my friends headed down another path to get to the shore of the lake itself. After getting my shoes back on, I ran to catch up, emerging from the forest onto a wonderful rocky beach. The fog had burned off entirely by this point and the lake was bathed in morning sunshine. One friend had jumped in the lake proper (not just the lagoon). Feeling one-upped, and that my hearty Minnesotan blood was threatened, I wanted to jump in too so that I could also claim swimming in the deepest lake in Germany. Unfortunately we had a bus to catch and I recognized that we had a bit of hike to get back. However I was already regretting I did not go in the lake as well, and when my friends were slow to get going down the path, I went for it. I ran straight in and dove into the rapidly deepening water. Not nearly as cold as I had expected it to be, I had an enormous rush of adrenaline and relief that I did not pass up the opportunity at the cost of punctuality. A huge smile on my face and still riding the rush, I got my shoes and jacket on and caught up with the group. 

As it turns out we did not miss the bus, or really come that close. Even if we had, there will always be another bus, train or plane, and when there is not you still figure it out. No matter what unexpected adventures happen, you'll have the story. If that had been "that time we got stranded in Berchtesgaden", then that would have been a memory we could have all shared. It is never worth sacrificing the important moments, like swimming in the Königssee, for your preplanned itinerary. After all, those are the experiences that are the purpose of travel. Not punctuality or a schedule. If you can already feel yourself regretting something, stop what you're doing, go back and fix it right then and there. There will never be an easier time to do so. Always take the chance, always jump in. 

A Weekend Away

Posted by: Gretchen A. Brown Updated: October 13, 2014 - 6:53 AM
Basilica of San Francesco d Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco d Assisi

I’m a self-proclaimed city person, though I’ve never actually lived in one until Rome. Since living here, I’ve realized both that I was right - I love the city feel - and that at the same time, I really miss little things, like fresh air and grass.

While I am absolutely in love with Rome, I really appreciate our weekend excursions as a group to other places (especially those in the countryside). This weekend, our study abroad group visited Assisi, about a 3 hour bus ride north of Rome.

The first thing I noticed about Assisi was the quiet. Seriously. It’s such a tranquil place compared to the hustle and bustle of Rome. It was so nice to not constantly hear car horns blaring, dogs barking, or even just crowds of people talking. And when we walked the streets- gasp- there were no crowds to weave through most of the time. It was refreshing, to say the least.

Assisi is known for being the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare, so the visit was for my theology class. It is a beautiful place, beautiful in a different way than that of Rome. Less ruins, more rolling hills­ ‑ although I was still able to visit ruins, those of a castle, while in Assisi (called Rocca Maggiore).

The highlight of the trip was visiting one of the most beautiful basilicas I have ever been to, Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (and I’ve visited more basilicas than I can count while here, so this is a compliment). This is the place of which St. Francis is buried underneath, so pilgrims from all over the world make the trek here just to see his grave. The basilica was built in the early 1200’s, and onto the side of a hill. Beautiful medieval frescos line the walls and ceilings inside.

I would be lying if I said that Assisi didn’t have a touristy feel- it was definitely there, but only on the main street that led to the Basilica of San Francesco. When I say touristy, I mean English-language menus, little stands selling Italian flags and T-shirts on the side of the street. When you live in Rome for a while, you begin to recognize tourist traps, and know how they can be avoided.

But our experience in Assisi- being shown around by a local, eating authentic Italian carbonara on the rooftop of a restaurant only reached by weaving through uphill alleyways in the old part of the town? That didn’t feel touristy one bit.

I probably could’ve stayed in Assisi all week. But, I have Rome (and several final exams) to welcome me back to reality. I have one last week in Rome - and two months left in Europe - and I intend to soak in the rest of the time I have left in this beautiful city.

Beaches and Rain and Layers, Oh My!

Posted by: Maddie Salas Updated: October 11, 2014 - 9:51 AM
What an adventure it is to live abroad! I came to Scotland three weeks ago, and I am already in love! In the morning I run on the BEACH! Beach like a real salt-water, seashore beach! Not the man-made Elm Creek swimming pond that I had cross country practice on! I can even see the ocean from my window. MY window! It is absolutely gorgeous. Despite the beauty in Scotland, I do miss Minnesota fall! A few leaves turned yellow over the past couple weeks, but I miss the vivid crimson and orange leaves of the trees on my street. I hope the leaves change more once the weather cools down. On the topic of weather, I expected a ton more rain than we receive! The rain mostly held off until this week, with some showers here and there, and only one terrential downpour. The air is usually damp, but the temperature is fairly nice. A lot of days are sunny one moment, drizzling the next, windy and cold afterwards, then back to sunny. It's a little like Minnesota in that way, but the cycle is a bit more compact . The key is dress in layers (lots of layers). The people here are in general very nice! I'm so use to Minnesota nice (dontcha know) that it seems pretty average, but a few of my friends from other parts of the states, or other countries, comment on how friendly people are. We often ask shop workers or people walking by for directions or a good place to eat, and the strangers are conversational and helpful! It is wonderful for people who can't use their smartphone to Google nearby restaurants because data cost about 9,000 dollars/18,000 pounds overseas (but those see rants will be in another post). I am off to weekend adventures (dressed in layers), so this is all I have time for! If you leave this page with only one thing in mind, it needs to be that there are real beaches out there. They are magnificent!  Love & joy, Maddie

Carnival in Rio De Janeiro: What is normal?

Posted by: Andrew Morrison Updated: March 12, 2014 - 4:54 PM

BRAZILESOTAN

Andrew Morrison | March 12th 2014 17:49 BT

Two weeks ago, I woke up in Rio De Janeiro to a cacophony of samba music and streets flooded with elaborately costumed belligerent tourists while the residents of Rio went about selling fruit and stocking their shops. It was 7:30 in the morning and my week long Carnival experience was merely beginning. A strike among the waste management staff in Rio had left the streets covered in garbage but people continued to celebrate no matter what they were stepping on. Carnival is like the marriage of Halloween and ancient African traditions to an average tourist but I wondered how actual Cariocas, people from Rio De Janeiro, actually feel about the festivities. To understand the customs of the holiday, I will take you into my experience and offer resources for you to learn more about this remarkable and cultural celebration.

[Traditional dances at Ipanema Beach were just one of the many cultural performances open to the public to participate it - Credit: Andrew Morrison]

Story

Carnival was derived from ancient Roman Catholic traditions and was transplanted to Rio De Janeiro during the 19th century. The mixture of cultures making up the population of Rio and the extravagant samba school parades are what makes Rio one of the most unique Carnival experiences in the world. Last year, Carnival attracted over 2 billion tourists and generated approximately 2.5 billion in revenue. In Rio, Carnival is big business. The celebration differs regionally however, with the greatest popularity occurring in the northeastern and southeastern regions of the country. The large cities in these regions basically shut-down during the week of Carnival which takes place Friday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

[With waste management workers on strike and thousands of tourists flooding the city, garbage began to pile up rapidly during Carnival - Credit: Andrew Morrison]

Mechanics

The extravagant parades are made up of 12 different samba groups competing to be the best school of Rio De Janeiro. Each group represents a different neighborhood of Rio De Janeiro and they must develop a completely original choreographed song with an allotted 80 minutes to perform. These performances are practiced for seven months in a giant warehouse in complete secrecy and when Carnival finally takes place, each group of 5,000 plus performers takes public transportation to the famed Sambadrome and begins their show. The floats are enormous and highly elaborate like moving art galleries pushed by people for the entire 80 minutes. No machines are allowed in the performances. The best six of the 12 samba schools go on to the champion’s parade but only one is the true champion.

[Perhaps the most iconic figure of Carnival is the Queen of the Drums - The woman that leads the entire samba school and must impress judges with her samba choreography - Credit: Ndecam via Flickr CC]

Details

This year the group Unidos Da Tijuca won the competition with their “agility” themed performance. Every performer represented something related to speed like a pack of cheetahs or a swarm of racecars. Another group represented pirates of the Caribbean, complete with twirling sword fights and scallywags being shot out of cannons hundreds of feet above the crowd. The bit that consistently entranced me was the duo flag bearers that lead each group like a prom king and queen. They have the honor of presenting their school’s signature flag and the mission of charming the crowd, judges and cameras. Often, but not surprisingly, a member of the duo is a Brazilian celebrity. The entire Sambadrome experience costs a minimum of $200 for basic admission. Tourists can also pay to participate in the famed parade, even wear the costumes and learn the choreography. 

[The Sambadrome is the epicenter of Carnival in Brazil seating over 72,000 patrons - Credit: Chupacabras via Flickr CC]

The Reality

Some attend the Sambadrome annually and are loyal fans to specific groups but what I learned from my experience in Rio De Janeiro was that most Cariocas would rather participate in one of the hundreds of Blocos de Rua, or block parties. The block parties are where you can learn the dances, meet the samba band members, and actually participate in the new and old Carnival traditions. These Blocos occur across the city, are completely free, and each with a totally different vibe. Some are strictly samba while others might be alternative rock. The event begins with a band, followed by dancing, and finally a parade where everyone participates including children and elderly people in wheelchairs. It is a beautiful sight to see an entire community celebrating together.

[A young boy costumed as Captain America sprays silly string into the air as his mother holds his shield. These are the kind of parades in Rio that I truly appreciated - Credit: Andrew Morrison] 

My 11 days in Rio De Janeiro proved that the city had all of the exotic charms I wanted to discover for myself. Carnival proved to be the most elaborate and extravagant party I have ever attended and not to mention the record-smashing number of men wearing bras. Ultimately, I fell in love with the freedom of the celebration and the inclusiveness for all people no matter where they rank socioeconomically, what age group they are in or what gender pronoun they choose. The workers strike finally ended with the group earning the increased rights and wages they had demanded and the streets of Rio De Janeiro returned to normal. The celebrations of the workers melted into the block parties almost as if there had never been a problem. Despite the major dispute, Carnival remains the week in every year where Brazil opens up their streets to the world and pushes you to ask, “so what is normal?”

My name is Andrew Morrison and I am an environmental science senior from the University of Minnesota completing soil science research in southern Brazil for an entire year. If you have suggestions or ideas please contact me via my site

To learn more about Brazil use these resources:

- The entire Sambadrome parade of 2013

- A free online course about the history of Brazil

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