These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
Part of the nature of traveling while studying abroad is that many of my vacations tend to be weekend trips, meaning that I am not normally longer in a foreign city for longer than three or four days—I mean, I have to go to school on occasion… Hence, when I am able to spend any longer amount of time in a city I absolutely love it. I love finding the less touristy restaurants and neighborhoods, I love escaping the massively crowded tourist attractions and finding any place off the beaten path because those are the places I will really remember.
If you’re going to have an extra few weeks to explore a city thoroughly, you just will not find a better place to do so than London. I was lucky enough to be staying with the most wonderful family who was willing to drag an
annoying picture taking tourist me around their home city for a week and a half, showing me some of their favorite places as well as the tourist attractions that I would not be able to find time to see in just a few days! Although I could talk about London for years, here are a few of my absolute favorites from this trip. Obviously you just won’t want to be in London without traveling the almost obligatory route of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, etc. but if you ever have a spare day or two to explore a little further: this list is a good place to begin.
1. The Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A): All of London’s awesome museums are FOR FREE so let’s give a big gold star to London for that, am I right? Your first inclinations will be to hit the British Museum and the National Gallery, but if you are in the least bit interested in anything regarding theatre, art, or design, you just cannot miss the V&A. Located by the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, it is chock full of awesome jewelry, theatre, tapestry, fashion, and literary exhibits that will blow your mind. Make sure to check out the reading room (filled with original Charles Dickens manuscripts) and the cast courts from when the English were in a phase where they copied Roman monuments in plaster—useful? Not particularly, but still awesome.
2. Oxford University: If you are in the mood for a day trip, head up to Oxford for the day to check out a gorgeous, ancient town housing one of the oldest universities in England. Even if you cannot go into any of the colleges, it is still worth a wander around! I was lucky enough to have a see into Exeter College with a friend who is a current student; it is a little glimpse of history and prowess that will inspire you for months to come. The Oxford Tube runs from London straight to Oxford and is a comfortable, cost-efficient way to travel plus the bus has wifi…so…
3. Portobello Market: For an antique and vintage freak like me, Portobello Market in Notting Hill was HEAVEN. Not only is it in the gorgeous West London neighborhood, there are stands and stands filled with antique cameras, vintage jewelry, and cute restaurants. Take note of the Notting Hill bookstore, featured in the popular movie with Hugh Grant and Julia Robert and for a snack, try a crepe or a cupcake from the famous Hummingbird bakery. Some of my other favorite London markets are found in the winding alleys of Camden Town and the delicious fresh and international foods found at the Borough Market (the latter is open on weekends only).
4. Windsor Castle: If you’re all ‘been there, done that’ when you hear the words Buckingham Palace, take a few steps outside the city to see Queen Elizabeth’s weekend home and reportedly favorite residence. The chapel, holding the tombs of King Henry VIII and several of his wives was completely gorgeous and the room containing the elaborate royal doll-houses was also a standout. Make sure to have your ticket stamped at the end of your visit, as you can then come back for free anytime in the next year—not a bad deal!
If you have even more time, do stop by the National Portrait Gallery (just behind the National Gallery) for some really amazing artwork. And for relatively inexpensive and healthy meals, step into one of the numerous Pret a Mangers, marked by their trademark burgundy sign marking practically every block! I can’t wait to go back and explore even more.
Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day this Saturday! I’ll be sending the most Irish of wishes over the sea from Dublin.
A few weeks ago, there was an article written in the Star Tribune about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I was lucky enough to be able to hike the crossing this past weekend, and this is how it went.
On Friday, a group of us rented a car and drove up from school in Palmy to Tongariro National Park. The park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the fifth oldest national park in the world. Within the park are three active(barely) volcanoes: Mt. Ruapehu, a large snow covered mountain with a ski field for snow sports. Mt. Ngauruhoe, a smaller stratovolcano (and the mountain that was set as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings triology), and finally Mt. Tongariro, a longer volcanoe with multiple craters.
We drove up and got supplies in the nearby town of Turangi, a tourist town geared towards fishing on nearby Lake Taupo (a great place for anyone who likes the north woods and all they have to offer). A friend of mine has a Holiday Home (cabin) in a township called Omori on the southern banks of Lake Taupo, and conveniently 30 minutes from the mountains. We settled in, and set our alarms for bright and early.
We got up the next morning and headed for the park. After struggling for about an hour to find the correct car park, we were finally on our way up the crossing. The crossing itself is a 19.4 km (about 12 mile) hike and is estimated to take between 6 and 7 hours.
As we ascended, the terrain quickly changed from flat plains to a slow ascension until we reached the base of the junction between Ngaurahoe and Tongariro. From there it became a twisted steep ascension around hardened lava flows and volcanic rocks. After 2 hours we reached the south crater, which gave us some level ground to walk on, as one of my friends pointed out, if you didn't know better it would've looked like we were on Mars.
From the south crater the path becomes rather intense. As an aside, we were originally told that this hike was of relatively low difficulty and other than bringing something to eat and a rain coat you really had nothing to worry about. Once we past the south crater, we began to seriously question the credability of these sources. The ascent quickly becomes verticle and loose. Gravel, ash and loose rocks make climbing less of a leisurely experience. However, the view can't be beat. We were lucky enough to reach Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing itself before clouds rolled in. We were able to see Mt. Taranaki (another volcano on the western side of the North Island) and most of the North Islands landscape as well. Past Red Crater, the next scenic stop is the Emerald Lakes, craters formed from quick rapid explosions and filled with water that has since leached it's color from the unique minerals found here.
Once we passed the lakes, we crossed the central crater to Blue Lake, again another crater (Tongariro has erupted a lot in its lifetime) filled with water. Once the crater was past there was a quick descent to the final car park. When I say quick descent, I mean we dropped altitude, fast. The actual majority of our hike didn't even begin until this point, and while it was incredibly beautiful and scenic, we had started to feel a little winded. Once we reached the bottom, we celebrated with what little energy we had left and headed back to Omori. Needless to say, we all slept like rocks that night.
If you have happened to stumble upon my posts in the past, you may be experiencing déjà vu: yes, I was in Paris in December as well. I firmly believe, however, that it is just not possible to visit Paris too many times! So I was not about to pass up the chance to visit a dear friend of mine from (from Wayzata High School as well) during her own exciting abroad adventure in Paris. And I am ridiculously glad that I did.
How I Got There: I flew from Dublin into Paris Beauvais on the popular European budget airline, Ryanair. Since it was Ryanair, Paris Beauvais was an airport a little less actually in Paris then the name would lead you to believe…the shuttle from Beauvais to Porte Maillot, a metro stop in Paris, cost thirty euro round trip and took about 1h15. So if you’re willing to make your journey a bit longer, it’s not an awful way to save around a hundred euro that you might have paid to fly into Charles de Gaulle! If you enjoy convenient, easy, and non-stressful travel…Beauvais is a hundred percent not a place you will want to step foot in.
Things to Do, People to See: Luckily on my last Paris trip, I was able to do much of the sightseeing that was my priority so this trip was more to enjoy the city itself. On recommendation from a friend, I visited Laduree on the Champs-Elysees for macaroons and it was absolutely, fantastically, FABULOUS! The restaurant was closed, so we picked up our macaroons and ate them on a bench while people watching (which is hands down one of my favorite hobbies anywhere abroad). I also visited the Louvre for the second time, and found a few new areas I had missed previously- make sure to walk through Napoleon’s apartments. Especially if you won’t have time to visit Versailles, they are a perfect example of luxurious French opulence. Those chandeliers, man….
Chateau Thoiry: ALERT: ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE AHEAD. My friend Maari, currently abroad in Paris, was kind enough to invite me to visit her relatives at their family chateau, Chateau Thoiry (which is about a half-hour train ride from Paris Montparnasse). The chateau has been in their family since it was built in 1559, and currently houses a museum on the first floor and a zoo, opened in 1968, in the backyard. We were able to stay for a night and experience the absolute beauty and splendor of the castle, as well as the kindness of the current occupants! The chateau can only really be explained in photographs, so hopefully the images below will be able to show how absolutely amazing this place is. If you ever have a spare day in France, I absolutely encourage you to take a trip out to a true example of French history; the train ride to Thoiry is also through the rolling French countryside which is not a bad way to spend a half hour! The museum is completely gorgeous, and the zoo is a lovely and natural environment- like, the animals LOOKED HAPPY. It was an unreal experience, and I am so grateful to the family for allowing me to experience it.
Basics: The metro is extremely easy to use, so you won’t really need to worry about cabs or buses during your time there. Since I knew I’d be there for a few days, I bought a carnet of tickets (ten tickets for 6e35), and individual rides are 1e70. Eating out in Paris is EXPENSIVE, like Ireland expensive, but buying food in grocery stores is surprisingly cheap and they have a pretty large selection!
Why to Go: Paris is a beautiful place to be, even if you can only stay for a few days. I distinctly remember the moment when I was walking through the Tuileries, passing French men with long baguette loaves in their messenger bags, being able to see the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and smelling the musty, fresh sod from the gardeners re-planting the lavender flowers. And those are the type of times I will remember about Europe- walking, soaking up culture through every pore, and living in the moment.
I have come across most of these tips by accident. But in general that is precisely what travel is; a bunch of unpredicted experiences that can stir you in ways you never knew possible, good and bad. Travel can make you rich and is something I would suggest to everyone for I have grown more in the past 5 weeks than one year of my life (except for my first year of life. That was a pretty major one. You know, walking and being born and stuff.) But yes, we are in college and we do not have the largest disposable income despite the fact that you managed to score that debatably sweet parking attendant job where you can surf Facebook for hours. I hear you, and I am here to say: a few minutes of reading between the lines of reviews on hostelworld can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. And sometimes the experiences you are going to treasure happen when you are too engrossed with your first sight of the Collosseum to understand the map and find your way to your apartment or on the bus from the Eindhoven Airport to Amsterdam where you get to take in many sights of Holland that you would have missed with a simple flight and taxi ride to your hotel. So without further adieu, here are a few tips to help you save some loot.
WHERE YOU'LL STAY
Yes, it would be awesome to stay in a 5 star hotel with a breakfast buffet and pool, but honestly do you need it? No. Because all you need is a place to lay your head at night after you've walked 20 miles around a foreign city, which is probably 10 more than you needed to because you got lost. So keep it simple because you're going to pass out whether the pillowcases are silk or scratchy cotton. Therefore:
• Look into hostels. Websites like hostelworld.com and tripadvisor.com are great resources as you can adjust the search to fit your needs. Find hostels with a high rating and more than 2 reviews. In the end all you are going to want is clean sheets and a place to go to the bathroom. You can live without privacy for a few days. Though some hostels do have the option to get a private room with a few friends in which case you can feel free to let it all hang out, if you so please. Generally hostels will have lockers where you can keep your valuables. If you are extremely concerned you can bring your own lock for some peace of mind.
• Research apartments. This is something that is extremely overlooked but definitely a great option! If you are traveling with more than 5 people, you will save a ton of money by getting an apartment together as you will be able to go to a supermarket for enough groceries to last your trip and save yourself from the overpriced restaurants us tourists fall prey to often. (Not that you shouldn't eat out. Definitely treat yourself to the countries native food at least twice.) If you just Google "apartments" in whatever city you will be traveling to a ton of options will come up, and once again you can change up the search to fit your needs. Do keep in mind that you will be splitting the price between however many people are staying there so the price is not as intimidating as the big red numbers you see on the right hand side of the listing.
When it comes to transportation, I tend to just make sure I can get to the country/city and then go from there. When traveling within Europe it is pretty simple to find cheap airfares on ryanair.com and easyjet.com but after some frustrating minutes with your friends where everyone is making the "that's-too-expensive" face you just have to bite the bullet. If you want to go to London and the first weekend in April is your only option then go! Just get there. But of course, there are ways to save once you find yourself starring dumbfounded at Big Ben:
• Walk! Plenty of cities are small enough to walk around. It may take you about 40 minutes to get across all of Edinburgh but then you can get in enough pictures of the sights! I'm learning more and more each day that it is just part of European culture to walk. The streets aren't built for your average SUV, plus traffic in general is crazy. It isn't that difficult, you just need to plan accordingly. Take the bus/metro/tram out to the part of the city where you're going to spend the majority of the day and finish activities there, and then move on to a new area the next day.
• Public transportation. I cannot stress this enough. Taxis are ridiculously overpriced. They do make sense to take if you have a ton of luggage or your heel is bleeding, but try to use them sparingly. Do as the locals do, as it is much cheaper otherwise they wouldn't do it. Cities like Paris and Rome have extremely convenient metro lines that are very easy to use once you figure them out and if you purchase a pass for a few days at a time you'll save in the long run.
• Safety first. Seriously. Even if you aren't a travel novice it is smart to always be aware of yourself and your belongings. Where there are tourists, there are pickpockets. Believe me, I learned the hard way. And I was completely aware of my bag and belongings during the moments leading up to it. That being said, I probably could have thought things through a little more. If you have a credit card be sure to bring a backup and keep it in a different place than your original. That way if you lose the latter you won't be without money for 2 weeks in a foreign country while you wait for your replacement to be shipped across the sea. Also, consider getting a money belt. You might feel silly with a pouch under your shirt but at least you know your belongings are close.
• Always have a map on you. And memorize the address of your hostel or apartment. That way if you do end up getting separated from the group you're traveling with (as I did at a very large Dutch market) you will have a map and thus knowledge on how to meet back up with them. Maps really don't cost that much as plenty of airports, train stations, and souvenir shops have them but if you're really feeling a hole in your pocket I have learned that if you go into a hotel and say you're lost and trying to find a certain landmark, you may end up getting a free map. Of course don't expect to be treated like royalty or even receive one, but it's worth a try.
• Stay positive. Most of your time will be spent mesmerized and in love with the country you're in, but sometimes you'll come across situations that leave you confused or uncomfortable. Don't panic. You're just experiencing another culture, and it is completely normal to feel whatever it is your body decides to. In moments like this though, just stay positive and keep going. It's easy to get homesick or over-analyze the intentions of that street vendor but you don't want those moments to be the ones of your trip you remember. So look up and realize where you are and that this may be your only chance to be standing in that spot.
• Be decisive. It's easy when you're traveling with others to fall victim to the crowd and do the awkward dance that is "I don't know, what do you want to do?" "I don't care. How about you?". If you know you want to see something, don't be afraid to go off by yourself and see it. Just make sure you set a meeting spot. You're not going to please everybody, so sometimes you're just going to have to figure out what it is you want to do and do that.
Traveling can definitely be exhausting mentally and physically, but in such a great way.
Everytime I go home (or back to Italy) from a trip I feel so full of life, and I'm not one who normally attributes such a corny saying to myself. But you can't really help it. I kind of feel like I'm turning into my mom as I Google inspirational travel quotes, but I'm going to leave you with just that: "the world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page".
I have that popular song from the Sound of Music stuck in my head…I also strained every tendon, pulled every muscle, and overextended every joint on my way UP the mountain! This weekend, I climbed my very first mountain. As my Austrian friend would say, in Ireland the land formations are less ‘mountains’, and more ‘large hills’, but it doesn’t sound quite as awesome to tell people I climbed my first large hill this weekend. So we’re sticking with mountain.
If you like to hike or enjoy the outdoors at all (and you happen to be in Ireland), do yourself a favor and head to Killarney National Park to climb Mount Mangerton! Killarney National Park in general is completely gorgeous, full of waterfalls and the neon green wooded landscape that Ireland is famous for. Mt. Mangerton is about a four-five hour hike up and down the mountain, but was still fairly challenging for the average person!
We began at the end of the mountain with blue skies, sunshine, and all-around gorgeous weather. The ground was squishy and boggy (from the melting snow running down the mountain). And you can BET I made sure to get some mud on my hiking boots so that no one could doubt I wasn’t an expert hiker- they were looking a little too clean…So naturally since it’s Ireland, there was no possible way that weather could last! We made it up to the summit with the sun staying through, and stopped for lunch at the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a gorgeous lake in a dip between the hills surrounding it on both sides.
After a lunch of sausage rolls (Weird, right? I made a snap decision at the store and panicked), we headed up the rocky path towards the summit. As we walked up, fog started rolling in, and THICK- soon we couldn’t see anything but the path around us. Next up: my first snowfall in Ireland, as massive snowflakes began hurling themselves on us in full force and the wind tended to pick up around that time as well! It was completely insane- prickly cold stung our cheeks, and our hiking boots were covered in chunky clumps of snow melting their way into our wool socks. We took the obligatory picture up top, then started the slippery-slidey descent.
And back about halfway down the mountain, the sun came out, the snow and rain ceased, and we headed down to gorgeous views of the tiny white Killarney buildings and the lakes and mountains all around. Also we walked directly underneath a rainbow and I found NO GOLD. What a joke!
It was a fantastic hike, I'd recommend it to anyone looking for some beautiful views and fresh airs in Killarney!
Headed to Paris tonight to eat macaroons and look at art, so look for more about that next Tuesday!
For being one of the most stunning places I've ever travelled, New Zealand does not make itself easy to get to. I started my journey leaving Minneapolis at 3:30 pm on Wednesday, February 15th and found myself in Wellington at 8 pm Friday, February 17th. After numerous flight delays, a cancellation and a very long walk to a hostel. I was here.
New Zealanders are known as "the nicest people on earth" and coming from a state that prides itself on its niceness, I was skeptical. I worked my way up the hills in Wellington to my hostel and immeadiately collapsed from exhaustion, thirty six hours of travelling will do that to you. The next day though, I hit the ground running. Wandering aimlessly around a town you've never been to is incredibly relaxing, therapeutic even. About six blocks from the harbor, the road instantly shoots upwards and suddenly you're walking on what feels like a ninty degree incline. However, the views are stunning.
Fun fact about Wellington, the Cook Strait, which separates the north and south islands is the perfect habitat for giant squid. I know this, because during my wanderings, I came across the Te Papa museum, which is a natural history museum centered on New Zealand. There, they have on display a female giant squid caught off the coast of Antartica near the south island. A male has never been sited, and likely never will be as the depths they live at are literally bone crushing.
Once my wanderings had ended, I retired back to my hostel and prepared to leave town the next morning. The bus ride to Palmerston North, which is located in the Manawatu region of the north island, is a beautiful coastal ride, and slightly frightening if you've never driven on the left side of the road before.
Manawatu borrows it's name from the Manawatu river that cuts through the plains here, and Massey University is located just outside of town. Massey actually doubles as a botanical garden because of the vast number of plants the campus houses.
For now, it's orientation after orientation, complete with three different farm trips. While it is exhausting, adrenaline has been fueling me for the last few days, and hopefully soon I'll find some downtime to wander aimlessly here as well.
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