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Month: May 2016

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 5

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 5

I’m writing this as I sit in the Budapest airport on my way back from my last overnight trip this semester (if you go abroad to Europe, go there. It’s cheap and beautiful and there are thermal baths. #dreams), almost a week after finishing all of my finals (the last one was May 11, lol @ VC finals week). My studying time for my last two finals was interrupted by my parents visiting and my spending five days in Lago Maggiore, so it was great that these tests were informal and much more relaxed than I thought they would be. When my parents were here we went on a food tour of Bologna, which included visiting the oldest chocolate factory in Italy (or something like that—I was a little distracted eating chocolate, so didn’t listen to our tour guide that much) and eating huge bowls of tortellini, a.k.a. my natural state now. The following weekend I visited my cousin in the north and dragged her to Lago Maggiore, which is one of the three biggest lakes in Italy and very close to the Alps. Even though it was raining the whole weekend, I was still a tourist and visited the three Borromean islands, went to a rooftop bar in Stresa (the most touristy city in the area, which, thank God we didn’t stay in because I literally hate tourists so much even though I am one…this logic isn’t flawed), and bought a ton of souvenirs in the islands and the vintage market in the town we were staying in. Bologna has very little green space in the center so it was quite a welcome change to be surrounded by mountains and the lake.

View of Budapest from the Danube
View of Budapest from the Danube
Isola Superiore de' Pescatori (Fisherman's Island) in Lago Maggiore
Isola Superiore de’ Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island) in Lago Maggiore

Before seeing my family for these weekends, I was a tourist on my own by climbing the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna, going up the Apennines to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, and visiting San Marino for a day. Climbing the tower is rather controversial because there is a curse that says that whoever climbs the tower won’t graduate from the University of Bologna, but apparently going to San Luca cancels this out so I did that first. The tower is basically a thousand years old, so it was probably a miracle that I made it up there without the thing falling over or crumbling with every step I took. The view from the tower looks onto the hills, Bologna’s center, and, on a clear day, the Adriatic Sea. The view from San Luca was quite different, as it is a huge church on a hill looking over the city of Bologna reachable via the longest free-standing portico in the world. When you (finally, maybe, should’ve probably used my inhaler a couple times during that walk) get up there, the view is just of the hills and feels very far away from the city center. Somehow it didn’t make my allergies act up, but I was already pretty out of breath after climbing up a hill while being lapped by old Italian ladies who probably make this trip at least once a week.

View of Piazza Maggiore from the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna
View of Piazza Maggiore from the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna
Santuario della Madonna di San Luca in the Bolognesi hills
Santuario della Madonna di San Luca in the Bolognesi hills

 

San Marino is also another lookout point since it’s really just a mountain (like actually a mountain—no more baby Apennines here), but it’s also an independent nation, so technically this was an international trip even though it sits on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche. Getting to San Marino was quite the process, as we had to take a train to Rimini that was delayed by 30 minutes (I love Trenitalia) and then a bus from Rimini up the mountain to the historic center. It was much more touristy than I thought, but this makes sense given that from pretty much any point looking over the edge of the mountain one can see the rest of the Apennines, the Adriatic Sea, and the entire eastern coast of Italy. There are three towers/forts in San Marino that people usually climb up for these views, but my friend and I stumbled upon yet another panoramic terrace that gave us basically the same view for free.

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La Rocca in San Marino

 

With the last week that I have in Bologna, I will be going to Florence, climbing up hills to see Napoleon’s villa, going up the tower again, and probably going to the panoramic terrace on the basilica for the fifth time. Most importantly, I will also be eating all the Bologna food that I won’t get in America so that it’s all out of my system and I can go back to being a healthy person who doesn’t only eat tortellini, ragu, and giant plates of meat and cheese. I think I’ll miss being in Italy and the more relaxed schedule here, but it is definitely time to get back to the 617. Mainly for the oysters. I know I won’t miss the extremely obvious racism and sexism or all the lactose nausea from eating cheese that is so tempting and hard to avoid here. However, I will miss the abundance of tortellini and Aperol spritzes, walking under the portici at all times but especially during the rain, people thinking that I’m Italian when I’m not speaking English, buying blood oranges for one euro per kilo and Lambrusco for four euro, and being in a city where having a giant plate of meat and cheese is a socially acceptable meal. I almost think my return home isn’t actually going to happen even though it’s less than a week away, and I feel like it will take me a long time to readjust to life in America. But, of course that’s all going to happen, and besides subconsciously using Italian words when I speak because I can’t remember the English ones or asking for spritzes in a bar and getting a blank stare back from the bartender, it’ll be like I never left. It sounds super cheesy to say this (too much #lactose if ya feel me/Has anyone even understood my jokes this entire semester?) but going abroad really was an unforgettable experience and, despite all the things I’ve missed about home and the things that annoy me about leaving in Italy, I will really miss Bologna. Mostly the tortellini.

Goodbye tortellini!
Goodbye tortellini!

 

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 5

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 5

It is with a heavy but optimistic heart that I write this, my final blog post abroad. Time certainly flies when you’re trying desperately to assimilate into a culture that is not your own, as evidenced by the last five months that are more of a blur than a memory. But that’s not to say that my stretch in Exeter has not lived up to every expectation: I’ve made new friends, learned new things, had new experiences, and explored new places. And while I regret that my period here has come to a rather abrupt end, another part of me is glad. I believe to stay any longer would somehow diminish the gravity of those moments that I do hold dear. Additionally, the seductive call of Senior Year beckons me ever homeward.

Determined, however, to go out with a bang, I had the chance to spend the last ten days traveling across the whole of Ireland. After boarding a small turboprop plane at Exeter International, I made the hour-long flight to Dublin. From there, I and my party rented a car and headed south, following the coast clockwise around the island. Moving from town to town and staying in bed-and-breakfasts along the way, we trekked from one stunning vista to the next. The rolling green hills of the south and the towering, rocky mountains and cliffs of the north were breathtaking at every leg of the journey, and we found ourselves frequently stopping on the side of the road to take yet more pictures of another stunning view.

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In terms of culture, Ireland had a heavier emphasis on tourism than I would have expected, with most towns sporting tchotchke-emporiums and knick-knack factories. But after making a good effort to avoid such pitfalls, we were able to get down to the heart of the small-town vibe and experience the true culture. A country riddled with homey pubs, inns, and more B&B’s than you could shake a stick at, there was a tangible sense of community around every corner. Despite being American, rarely did we feel out of place, and most people welcomed us with open arms. Also engaging was the widespread live music scene that graced most drinking establishments nightly. As a result, I’ve brought home with me (almost against my will) over a dozen traditional Irish folk songs that are as culturally inextricable as apple pie is to America. I will surely have at least one of them playing in my head at all times until I die.

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The facet of our journey that spoke most to my sensibilities was the cuisine. Because we visited almost exclusively port towns and cities, I was able to indulge in the freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten. Fish and chips, seafood pie, and several other fishy creations were all made with love and local ingredients. Paired with locally-brewed ales and the more-than-occasional pint of Guinness, it was enough to make any foodie jealous. And not only were our dinners to die for, but the breakfast half of B&B was never disappointing as well, with our tables being graced by full Irish breakfasts, homemade soda bread, and fresh Irish butter daily: a true gastronomic delight.

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Spending our last day in Dublin itself, we were able to take in the big-city experience, which was much different than our back-road, cow-pasture, sandy-beach wanderings of earlier. We visited Christchurch Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and the campus of Trinity College, all of which were beautiful and imposing, seemingly dropped from the skies amongst the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Greenwich Village-esque city. Poking out over the rows of restaurants and apartment buildings, one could see the high steeples of the cathedrals. Dublin Castle itself seemed to protrude from the surrounding modern architecture. Unlike the American tradition of demolition over preservation, rather than mow down historical sites for the sake of progress, the worn down structures are instead incorporated into the cityscape, resulting in an odd mixture of new and old.

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For this whole experience, I believe myself to have grown as an individual. I’ve been put so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve had to consider dual citizenship. And yet here I am: triumphant, with a slew of once-in-a-lifetime encounters under my belt. Sure, there have been days of doubt—but then again, when are there not? If my time abroad has taught me anything, it’s this: just go for it. While this may not apply to skydiving without a parachute, or robbing a bank with a herring, this trip has shown me that life is too short to be spent watching other people live it. Eat something that looks strange; go talk to that person; hop on a plane going anywhere; and most importantly: don’t forget to take lots of pictures.

Jessica Roden | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 5

Jessica Roden | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 5

I have enjoyed my time here in Copenhagen with DIS because of the structure that allows freedom to travel. Typically after two weeks of classes we have one week of break, and we have every Wednesday off for field trips. This schedule has allowed me to explore Europe and go to many more countries than I would have been able to if DIS were more traditionally structured. I visited some incredible places that will stay with me forever. The one thing I don’t like about DIS is my classes. I am taking five classes, and while most of them sounded quite interesting on paper, it turned out that none of them were. They were all both too easy and too boring. Good thing I was able to learn so much more than what was in my books.

I really enjoyed traveling with my friends, but I also had opportunities to travel by myself, which was much better than I thought it would be. I went to Budapest and Prague for a total of six days, and I took a weekend trip to Norway, both solo. These were all places that I really wanted to visit, but I couldn’t find friends who wanted to go at the same time that I was able to go. So, I went by myself. I was a little anxious about it beforehand, but I was confident in my ability to navigate and stay safe. And I ended up loving it. I appreciated the moments when I could forget about the tourist things I was supposed to be doing and instead sit and read and relax. I enjoyed listening to music and exploring a new place on my own terms. The one thing I didn’t like was eating. I ate most of my meals in outdoor markets, escaping the pressure of restaurant solidarity. But when these weren’t available, and especially for dinner, I kept walking and walking looking for a place where I could find a quick meal without being alone with a swarm of restaurant goers. I wouldn’t have been able to sustain solo traveling for a longer period of time, but I am proud that I was successfully able to do it for six days in Budapest and Prague.
A view of the Parliament building in Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion
A view of the Parliament building in Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion
The Szechenyi thermal baths of Budapest
The Szechenyi thermal baths of Budapest
The scenic streets of Prague
The scenic streets of Prague

In Norway, being by myself was even more appropriate because I was able to hike up a mountain at my own pace and witness some of the most incredible views I have ever seen. I already knew that I was a competent traveler, but going on my own really allowed me to see my own strengths and individuality, and I am proud of the person whom I’ve become.

Waiting for my fjord tour from Gudvangen to Flåm in Norway
Waiting for a fjord tour from Gudvangen to Flåm in Norway
The top of Jessica's hike in Bergen, Norway
The top of Jessica’s hike in Bergen, Norway
I do like to think that I have learned more about the world and my place in it, both from discussions with friends and in visiting many new places. I have definitely become a lot more critical of probably everything, from American politics to Danish “equality.” One thing in particular that I noticed is that, when traveling somewhere, I wanted to speak in broken English–to pretend that English wasn’t my native language–to hide my embarrassment of English hegemony, of automatically speaking English and assuming everyone will accommodate to my tongue. Everyone I encountered did speak English because I stayed in touristy areas, but I wish that I would have been forced to learn basic Dutch or Hungarian or Czech so I could learn more about the culture and the people. One Swede I met on a tour commented that in his country they speak English so readily that sojourners aren’t pressured into learning the language. It is the same with Denmark, and while I appreciate the ease to which I was able to convey myself to others, I also wish that I would have been more motivated to learn the language.
Now that my semester is almost over, I have come to the realization that I will soon never see any of these great new people, or Denmark, for a long time. I went out to the big worker’s day festival last week on one of the only sunny days this month. It was like Vassar’s Founder’s Day but with way more people, political speeches and open drinking on the grass. Having been shut up in my room to avoid the cold and rain, I appreciated so much more the glimmer of hope that the sun provided me and all the other Danes. It was a wonderful break and a great way to relax before finals, and the end of my adventure here really hit me. I have had such a wonderful time with my roommates and housemates, and I have made memories I will not soon forget. I will miss singing as loudly as possible in our kitchen to old favorite songs until our RA tells us for the fourth time to quiet down. I will miss having large dinner festivities every Thursday in our small kitchen with fifteen people, both other students and Danes, laughing our way into the night. I will miss spending time with my Social Justice LLC and having to create a political poem in twenty minutes or having to put on an impromptu performing arts piece. I will miss my roommates’ cooking, even with all the spice they add. Saying goodbye won’t be easy.
Jessica with her core course class in Berlin
Jessica with her core course class in Berlin
Jessica with her core course class in Berlin
Jessica with her core course class in Berlin
Jessica and friends in Bruges
Jessica and friends in Bruges
A typical Thursday night dinner feast
A typical Thursday night dinner feast
"The best roommates and the best people."
“The best roommates and the best people.”
I haven’t had too much time to reflect on my experiences here because I have been bouncing from place to place and now have final papers to write, but I can already tell that studying abroad in Denmark will be one of the best experiences of my life.

 

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 5

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 5

As I sit down to write this last blog post, I find myself reluctant to get started. As of a few hours ago, I have less than one week left in Paris before I hop on a plane back to the States. I’ve often felt throughout this semester that when I left I would be sad but nevertheless ready to leave, but I underestimated how quickly this semester would fly by. I feel like I just got here, but at the same time that feels so long ago because of how much has changed these past four months. My French language and communication skills have obviously improved a lot, but there are a lot of other changes that have happened that are less tangible/harder to measure. I learned how to be (mostly) self-sufficient for the first time, I encountered city life for the first time, I embraced traveling solo across Europe, and I even found the confidence to make restaurant reservations and argue my phone bill over the phone in French—two things that I would have been reluctant to do even in English before. Overall this semester has taught me how to embrace and enjoy being on my own sometimes—which is something that is difficult to do at a place like Vassar where all your friends are only a five minute or less walk across the Quad. I have a newfound confidence in myself and in my ability to navigate the constant and unexpected twists and turns of everyday life. If I can handle it in French, something tells me that I’ll be okay when everything is back in English again.

I wonder if I’ll end up back here or elsewhere abroad after I graduate. I have no idea if that’s something that I would actually want to do, but what I do know is that I could do it if I decided to. Knowing that in itself is really exciting and empowering. It’s corny to say, but the possibilities that await me in the future are pretty endless; going abroad and living in an entirely new place with a language that is not your own really makes you feel like you can take on all sorts of challenges. Maybe I feel this way because I’m leaving soon and feeling nostalgic, or maybe it’s because the sun has finally decided to make an extended appearance in Paris so there’s suddenly lots of serotonin coursing through my body and making me feel especially positive. When I’m applying for jobs next year I might start feeling differently and less confident in the opportunities that await me (I don’t even want to think about that yet), but for the moment I’m feeling pretty good about whatever my future holds.

Enough sentimental musings! I still have one week left before I need to say goodbye to Paris, and I plan on making the most of every second of it. Since my last post, I went to a rooftop bar on the Seine, frequented several museums including the Musee d’Orsay (post-Impressionism is the best) and the Musee du Quai Branly, climbed to the top of the ruins of an old chateau in Nice (in the south of France), wandered through an ancient Roman amphitheater in Lyon (also in France but not really in the south), met up with an old friend from Vassar in Berlin and went to a techno club there (which was fun but mostly terrifying. Vassar parties have nothing on Berliners, let me tell you), and have wandered through more Parisian parks than I can count now that the sun is finally out.

All of the sun in Nice, France made it easy for Nicole to feel positive, even as her semester comes to a close.
All of the sun in Nice, France made it easy for Nicole to feel positive, even as her semester comes to a close.
Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 4

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 4

Of all the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, polaroid-camera-toting, fanny-pack-strapping experiences I’ve had since being in England, my most touristy encounter thus far has come only recently, when I had the chance to visit the enigmatic Stonehenge. After arriving by train to Salisbury, I waited patiently at the nearby bus stop, the crowd around me growing steadily. In my hand I held my official all-access pass for a tour of Salisbury and the surrounding area, including Stonehenge. I hoped deep down inside that the two-hour train ride would be worth it.

As the gaudily-decaled double-decker tour bus pulled to a halt in front of the eager mass, we filed on faithfully. I found a seat on the top deck, and we zipped away into the city of Salisbury, a bustling center of culture and history. As we snaked our way through the narrow streets, our guide gave to us, via the small speakers dotting the inside of the vehicle, a full rundown of the highlights of the city as we passed them. Grand arches, timeworn taverns, and historical landmarks littered the busy thoroughfares. Above us, casting long shadows the morning sun, towered the mighty steeple of Salisbury Cathedral, the tallest in Britain. Our guide informed us that we would be able to visit the massive spire later on our tour.

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Leaving the city limits behind, we made our way the ten-or-so miles to the town of Amesbury, which is the location of Stonehenge. After being dropped off at the Stonehenge visitor center I boarded another bus which drove another few miles to the actual site. There, situated in a field surrounded by unobtrusive farmland, stood the mighty stones themselves, raised over five thousand years ago. While I had been, admittedly, somewhat skeptical on the outset of my journey as to the importance of what I thought amounted to be nothing more than a few large rocks stacked on one another, I couldn’t help but be affected by the awe-inspiring nature of the monument that had drawn so many before me. Certainly raising more questions than it answered, the lithic fixture was surrounded by an air of mystery.

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Bathed in the sunlight given off by the remarkably clear weather, the stones were sublimely artistic in their simplicity, and there was something utterly cathartic about gazing on such a tangible artifact of a lost time. Poetic, however, in its juxtaposition to the unchanging nature of the stones before me, the fickle English weather had decided to end its period of leniency, and the heavens opened in force. I, and dozens of other now-soaked tourists, rushed back to the bus, and we were deposited back at the visitor center. After a regrettably mandatory stroll through the gift shop, I again boarded the double decker tour bus, and was driven back toward Salisbury.

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After disembarking in the city, I walked toward the cathedral, taking in the sights along the way. In full swing was the weekly hybrid flea/farmers market; produce and knick-knacks were replete. I dutifully restrained myself from succumbing to the siren call of several impulse buys, and after some meandering, eventually found myself at the feet of the massive church. Small steeples dotted the perimeter of the structure, but were ultimately dwarfed by the gargantuan spire stretching over four hundred feet into the air. Equally impressive were the hundreds of gargoyle-like figures carved into every inch of the pale stone exterior, each telling its own unique story. I wandered into the sanctuary, and was awed by the serenity of the scene. Still bedecked with flowers leftover from Easter, a sweet smell filled the air, and streams of dazzlingly colorful light poured through the numerous towering and intricate stained glass windows. The calmness of the scene was broken only by the soft patter of water spilling from the fountain situated near the rear of the room, and by the angelic strains of the choir which was practicing toward the front. The experience as a whole was one of total reverence.

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Leaving the sanctuary, and making my way around the building and into the cloisters, I came to a room housing a precious artifact: one of the four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta, from when it was drafted in 1215. A similar feeling overcame me in the presence of this foundational document as did when I viewed the Exeter Book several weeks ago—one of grandeur emanating from history in its purest form. Although pictures were forbidden for fear of damaging the artifact, my few minutes spent viewing it were enough to ingrain the image in my mind.

As I wrote after my afternoon spent with the Exeter Book, my time abroad has allowed me a unique opportunity: to study, to learn, and to experience culture thousands of years old in a first-hand way. Classes and courses aside, the history inherent to the very stones themselves provides a perspective all its own.