Always Take the Chance

Posted by: Ben Palmer under Adventure travel, International travel 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 under Adventure travel, International travel, Minnesota colleges, People, Travel 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 under Adventure travel, International travel, Travel 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

A Month in Austria

Posted by: Ben Palmer Updated: October 9, 2014 - 9:31 AM

Austria

     It has now been a little over a month since I first stepped off my plane in Vienna. I have the perhaps typical notion that it cannot have already been a month while simultaneously it feels like ages ago that I arrived. Vienna is a city so rich with history that even after four weeks there are still many museums and historical sites to explore.

     This past Saturday I returned from a weeklong trip travelling through greater Austria with my program. The first town we visited was Innsbruck, located in western Austria. Innsbruck surprised me the most of the three towns we visited, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Graz. We arrived in the dark with just enough time to grab some dinner before restaurants in this sleepy town closed. However, when I awoke the next morning to begin my exploration I was stunned to see that the town was nestled between the enormous Limestone Alps to the north and Sandstone Alps to the south. While in the morning I was uncertain of my plans for the day, when I discovered that one could take the Nordkettenbahn (a system of two gondolas and a funicular) to ascend Hafelekar, a 2256m peak, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Being from the prairie of Minnesota I have always been impressed by even what others consider insignificant mountains. This being said, imagine my awe at the magnitude of the Alps. The view was absolutely magnificent. I was stunned by the height and starkness of the mountains; they are decidedly different from the gentle peaks of the Appalachians. After a long time at the summit soaking up the 360-degree view, the real adventure began when I decided to hike down instead of taking the gondolas. I quickly succeeded in getting off track, however unperturbed by the longer than planned descent, and assisted by an Austrian couple hiking up the mountain, I had that much more fun. I saw more of Innsbruck than I would have otherwise, and had the opportunity to practice my German to get back on track. When I woke up that morning and noticed the mountains I certainly did not think that within a matter of hours I would be at the top gazing out towards miles and miles of other peaks. This is a valuable lesson; never underestimate what you can achieve in a few hours. If you are open to a fluid itinerary you never know what adventure you will find yourself in.

     My time in Vienna has been filled with several such adventures, and most notably the exploration of many outstanding museums. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here, while simultaneously overwhelmed by all that there is to experience. One month in, with three still to go, I am certain there will be more exploration, lessons and memories to share. 

In Rome, doing as the Romans do

Posted by: Gretchen A. Brown Updated: October 2, 2014 - 11:08 AM

I’ve been in Rome for a little over a month, and haven’t been pickpocketed yet. However, today I had my water bottle stolen by the Swiss Guard.

It’s just one example of the unexpected things that can happen in a foreign country. Before you leave, your parents over-prepare you for the worst. But no matter how prepared you are, events happen that can completely change what you had planned. Nothing goes completely smoothly, but nothing goes completely wrong either. It’s not bad; it’s just part of the experience.

I have the privilege to be spending the first half of this fall semester in Rome, Italy and the second half in Athens, Greece through my university, The College of Saint Benedict. While here, I get to study everything I’m interested in, from Art History to Theology, to History, to the Italian and Greek languages. Our classes are mostly all on-site, in various historical places throughout Rome and Athens.

While this concept is amazing, physically arriving at our classes here is half the battle. Crossing busy streets where the cars don’t stop for you, packed public transportation, and unexpected bus strikes are just a few of the challenges here. Yet, I’ve made it to every one of my classes (no more than twenty minutes late). It’s a roller-coaster, but it’s a fun one. I can’t wait to see how the rest of my semester plays out.

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