Tomorrow, I return back to the United States after spending eight weeks traveling around Europe, with the last four being spent in Bologna, Italy, studying Latin and classical literature. The experience has been at different times wonderful, overwhelming, miserable, and breathtaking; I have had moments of extreme loneliness, as well as moments when I feel way too crowded by people; I have had these days:
And I have had these days:
I wanted to do a reflection on what I’ve learned and lived through, and this will be the first part: a just for fun characterization of the countries I traveled to, as well as a compilation of the most interesting, helpful, and comical things I’ve picked up over the past two months.
Tomorrow’s second part will focus more on the internal percolations, processing, and growth that has occurred, especially during the 35 days I have spent totally solo.
But now, the first, lighter section:
Instead of just describing with words, I’m going to try to capture my impressions from each of the countries I visited by characterizing them with a Disney Character. That’s how classy modern journalism does things these days; it’s not a question of what politicians are actually doing, but which one matches with what Disney princess.
Paris, France: Megara
France is sexy; it’s got this whole tortured past thing going on. It may have a rough exterior, but once you get deeper, France just wants to sing about all the feels it has about its secret intense vulnerability.
Switzerland: Edna Mode
Switzerland has its life together; it knows what’s important (happy cows) and devotes itself to quality in both material and aesthetic. It feels kinda bad for all the other countries who aren’t as fabulous as it.
Vienna, Austria: Wendy Darling
Austria, you’re proper and pretty and you definitely have that fine arts thing down, but maybe for a second you could let go of that picture perfect image you’re after and just have fun for a little bit?
Budapest, Hungary: O’Malley the Alley Cat (and gang)
Hungary is a people person; not hotsy totsy or pretentious, Hungary just wants to have a great time celebrating life with its gang, while also keeping it smooth, and avoiding sloppy.
Krakow, Poland: The Dodger
Krakow has these awesome moments of unique charm and beautiful resilience, but then also these moments where its friends just wanna shake Krakow and scream, “Get your life together! Look at Switzerland!”
Czech Republic: Shang from Mulan
Czech Republic is proud of its country; it’s loyal, courageous, and has fought hard to secure it’s place. Czech is also super cool, it’s got that sought after devil-may-care confidence, combined with rugged good looks. It’s basically the whole package.
Italy: Flynn Rider
Oh Italy, what a lovable mess. To newbies and strangers, Italy at first puts up its wall, wanting to show only pure confidence and savoir faire, but once you break through its external protections, it has the most generous and loyal heart. Once your accepted into Italy’s inner circle, and it tells you its true name/nature, you are part of the big Italian family.
These are of course, only my own snapshot impressions of these countries, and can only reflect the brief periods I spent in each location. They are mere caricatures of countries that are much more complex and multi dimensional than a single Disney character.
For any about to study abroad or backpack Europe, here are some practical things I’ve learned that no website told me before going.
- T-mobile finally paid off. Yes, usually all my friends have better coverage than me, but T-mobile provides unlimited 2G Data and unlimited texting while abroad! In every country I went to, I had internet access (albeit slow) and the ability to text whenever! This was useful every single day, especially for maps and directions.
- Don’t bring a headlamp. Stupid LonelyPlanet advice…
- Chacos seriously work for everything. Greatest travel investment I made.
- Don’t carry around a water bottle drinking from it constantly, trying to get your 2 gallons a day or whatever; bathrooms are not free, and are not readily available. Drink only as much liquids as you need to remain adequately hydrated.
- Know how to say ‘thank you’ in each country you go to. Otherwise, when you buy anything, you’ll be left mumbling half hearted words to the merchant and scuttling away in the embarassment of being an uncivilized low life.
- If you are in Italy, France, or Hungary, jaywalking is the norm, and people who don’t jaywalk are considered stupid. In Switzerland, Austria, Poland, or Czech Republic, waiting for the green walking guy, even if there are no cars in sight, is the norm and people who jaywalk are lawless hooligans.
- In Vienna, at the Opera, do NOT try to sit on the railing of the standing ticket zone, even if your back is absolutley KILLING you; a woman with pursed lips and a smushed up nose will come and wildly wave her finger at you while speaking angry German.
- Cities like Paris, Budapest, Prague, all have a lively nightlife where walking around at 2 am feels just like 2 pm, and a late night stroll isn’t scary at all. Cities like Vienna are not like this. Do not go out at night in Vienna alone.
- Buy as much food as possible from grocery stores! So much cheaper.
- Get up early! You can get such amazing photos (and even sneak into some places which usually have an entrance charge) just by walking around before 9 am.
- Nut butters aren’t a thing in Europe. Peanut butter seems to have just made an appearance; Justin’s fancy butters do not exist here.
- Take a walking tour during your first day at a place; many of them are free, they’re extremely interesting and full of historical information, and get you well aquainted with the area you’re in.
- Buy a travel towel! This tip is dedicated to Simon Greiner, who always said a towel was one of the most indispensable travel items. I have lived all 35 of my solo days using nothing but my little 40in x 16in one from REI for all my towel needs, and it’s worked perfectly. It’s super absorbent, and fits into a tiny little pouch.
- Always pre buy snacks and water before boarding a bus or train to another country.
- Magnum Ice Cream bars are absolutely amazing.
- Many many people in most European countries will speak some English. Italy is not one of these countries.
- When studying abroad, there will be some really boring, really sucky moments, and all you will want is to be home with the people you love eating normal American food like delicious Chick-fil-A or Siracha sauce, and during these moments the best thing to do is video chat a friend or watch your favorite American sitcom.
- Get outside the cities! Go on daytrips, find a hike, go to a park, just get some green in your life!
- Generally, the further you are from the ‘Old Town’/’City Square’/’Center of Town’ of any city, the cheaper the restaurants will be.
- Use as little metro tickets as possible. If it’s under two miles, you should 100% absolutely walk.
- When traveling from one country to another, always make sure you’re scheduled to get in before 9 pm. Walking around a new foreign city after midnight trying to check into your lodging is not a fun experience.
- Don’t book your flight home three days later just to save $150. After spending months away, those three extra days of waiting before you can flutter home are not fun.
- Visit all the libraries!!
- Don’t grocery shop on Sundays.
- Don’t be like the majority of the young people I spent four nights with in a 36-person room at a hostel, who would stumble back into bed at 9 am, sleep til 4 pm, and then go out and get roaring drunk all over again.
So those are just a few of my thoughts after having come to the end of this crazy experience.
Part 2 will be the less funny sequel featuring how I’ve grown internally from this experience as I channel my inner Parisian and get all emotionally tortured and vulnerable.