Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.
You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.
Hey there, it’s been a while. This whole experience has been incredible and it’s flying by. I find myself saying, “write a blog post now” but my time abroad is fleeing and I want to take as much of it as I can.
It’s finals week here, well more the middle of finals which is crazy to think about because it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my two week language course thinking, “this never ends” and now it’s ending too soon. Luckily for me, I’ll be staying an extra month to volunteer and I’m so thankful I was able to find a way to stay because once you’re here you don’t want to leave.
But let’s get to my title, one of the best things about studying in Prague is how central in Europe it is. This is a major advantage to traveling across Europe because it’s so easy to get to other countries for a very nice price. So far, I’ve visited:
- Budapest, Hungary
- Barcelona, Spain
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Berlin, Spain
- (and this very weekend, TOMORROW in fact) Paris, France
it’s been my dream to do this, it’s such an amazing opportunity that I can’t even really believe that I’ve been to all these places that I’ve only ever looked at through photos. I will not say that some places were better than others, everyone has personal opinions, but some put me under this enchantment and I found it hard to leave.
It’s amazing seeing different cities, the people are the best. You can witness how the culture is in different places not even that far from each other. And even though NYC will be there when I come back, I find myself looking for it in the cities I visit. Berlin especially reminded me of NYC, it felt like home and if I could I would study abroad there next maybe.
It’s hard trying to express the amount of feelings that I’ve experienced. Seeing the Berlin wall, something that brought so much devastation to so many lives; biking around all of Amsterdam and the Van Gogh museum after years of dreaming of seeing it. Or walking through the city that inspired Gaudi and Picasso, I could cry because I spent my whole life learning about these amazing things that some never get to experience for themselves. So passing through historical cities like Dresden where you know how bad things once were, you feel humbled.
I travel alone, partially because I don’t mix well with others and because alone you can do anything you want whenever. I enjoy putting myself into a situation where the only option I have is to step out of my comfort zone, for instance I always try to talk to locals and get a sense of what the cities are really like, not just my tourist-y version of it. That’s what I would say is one of the most important things, get a sense for the true city and not the one made for tourists. Don’t spend your whole time on the phone taking pictures; take pictures of course but make actual memories.
As for traveling within the Czech Republic, this country is overall so charming and special. I’ve gone to Pilsen where the famous beer is made and I was able to get a tour of the brewery which taught a lot about the history behind the beer. I’ve also gone to Kunta Hora earlier in the semester and saw the famous Bone Church, I’ve seen a concentration camp town, and I’ve gone hiking in their Bohemian Paradise (Česky Raj). The hike was the most memorable so far because it’s truly a paradise for hikers and people who love forests. But when I went, it was pouring hard and hailing, so it makes for a funny story.
I should get back to working now, I’m not sure if anyone reads this, but if you’re like me and you’re incredibly anxious you want as much information as possible. I hope I can help.
The semester has been going for about a month now and things are falling into place. Luckily I got into the classes I wanted and I’m thoroughly enjoying the material I’m learning as well. My classes are relatively small and we meet for 3 hours once a week. Because it is so long and full of information we take a small break. We are all foreigners in the classes, but most of the people are American. In New Paltz, there is a comfort that I know what is expected of me and that I can reach it. Here, I feel like I don’t know what the professors expect or want, I’m doing all my work but I’m never sure if it’s any good. I only have class Tuesday and Thursday so it really isn’t bad. For every class, we usually do a part of the day’s work outside in the field which is really nice. I feel like I’m learning the information differently; I supposed that’s possible because of the location. I’ve been going to museums and famous, historical locations. I’ve been learning about the time and history preserved all throughout Prague.
And the cherry on top of it all is the constant view I have from anywhere I turn.
One of the coolest cities I visited in Italy was actually very close to Italy’s French and Swiss border. Bard, Italy is unlike any other place I visited during my travels. Its scenic, winding roads give you the chills as you experience views of quaint villages nestled into the Alps and the aqua blue water of the Dora Baltea River in the Aosta Valley. I don’t think I ever took so many consecutive pictures at once; each time I took a step further, there seemed to be a better photo for me to capture. All I’m saying is make sure your iPhone Camera Roll is cleared out or you have plenty of memory in your camera before you make the journey!
Aside from the amazing views, there is also a lot of history behind this Italian city. It is home to Fort Bard (Forte di Bard), which dates back to the 1800s and the Napoleonic era. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a guided tour of the fort. While learning some key facts about Italian history, you will also be graced with a panoramic view that will truly take your breath away. There are several levels that ascend and each consecutive level offers an even more detailed view of the one before it. If you choose to take the tour, you will reach each level via a transparent elevator. This was by far the most scenic part of my trip; I simply could not look away as everything beneath me became smaller and smaller, yet so stunning at the same time.
After your tour, reward yourself with a freshly prepared Italian meal. If you don’t feel like wandering, the uppermost level of the fort has a conveniently placed café for you to take a rest and grab a bite to eat. I myself did not eat there, but when does any café in Italy disappoint you? (Hint: never). If you walk away from the river for a few minutes, you will discover a hotel called Hotel Stendhal e Hôsteria “La Pôsa Bertolin.” Within this hotel there is a dining room that serves the most delicious lasagna–you simply cannot go wrong. In addition, this could be your home for the night if you wish to stay overnight and have a little extra time to spend in this historical city!
Unfortunately, I had a limited amount of time during my visit in Bard. If it was slightly closer to my base in Milan, I would have easily made another trip or two before departing my beloved Italy. However, I did travel to Brusson, Italy from there. If you’re feeling adventurous and nature-driven, I highly suggest you find a way to get there. I had the pleasure of taking a group trip there on a double decker bus, which, in hindsight, probably was not the best idea on extremely narrow, winding roads leading up and through the Alps. A word of advice: if you make the trip to Brusson, take a small car that can handle the tight turns and small lanes! Brusson is situated within the mountains and has great trails and waterfalls if you are more into the nature and outdoors-y side of Italy. Once you enter the village, you feel as though you have entered a different world. The inhabitants of this area in Italy are so secluded and truly have the place to themselves. It’s hard to put into words, but if you go you’ll see what I mean.
I wish you luck in your travels! Buon viaggio!
Milan is a magical city. The first time I laid eyes on the Duomo, I could not believe my eyes. There is not enough time in the world to study each individual detail of this immaculate cathedral. Taking a walk inside–or to the top, if you’re willing to wait–is even better. You suddenly feel small and overwhelmed as the Duomo swallows you up in all of its Milanese glory. Throughout my three and a half months in Italy, gazing upon the Duomo was just as exciting each time I saw it.
To the left of the Duomo, you will find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is filled with stores that most of us cannot afford, but walking through this mall is simply a treat. If you’re like me, you’ll dress up in your finest clothes and wander through the Prada store imagining you have an endless supply of money to feed into your shopaholic tendencies. But in all seriousness, this gallery is absolutely beautiful for a leisurely walk or window shopping.
Just outside the Galleria you will find my favorite gelateria, Cioccolati Italiani. I honestly could have eaten here every day if I didn’t have a fear of doubling my body weight. Anything you order here will not disappoint you, but I highly recommend getting the hot chocolate. It is nothing like your typical Swiss Miss instant hot cocoa; Italy has surpassed this by a landslide. Instead of a watery cup of hot chocolate, you will be served a steaming cup of thick, creamy chocolate that almost seems as if it were a candy bar before you received it in liquid form. I would do anything to have a cup of it right now, but I’m hoping you will get it in my honor.
If you’re looking for the world’s best cappuccino, I know a place. I’m proud to say I was a regular at Cremeria Buonarroti. My order was identical each day: “un cappuccio con cacao e un brioche con crema,” or “a cappuccino with cocoa powder and a brioche with cream inside.” Absolute heaven. To this day, I have never had a better cappuccino or better service at any of the cafés in Italy. I happened to walk in one day since it is right in front of the Wagner metro stop, and ever since that first day, the cutest Italian barista would start making my coffee as soon as he saw me walk through the door. I would do anything to go back and sip on a cappuccino while people watching at my usual window seat.
I hope this isn’t news to you, but the food you eat in Italy will be the best food you ever consume in your lifetime. I still fantasize about the many (too many?) meals I enjoyed during my time in Milan. One place in particular is Don Raffaele Trattoria Pizzeria. This may have been my favorite pizza spot in Milan. They have varieties of pizzas that are so fresh and wholesome–nothing like the artificially cheesy and greasy pizza we are so used to eating. The waiters also bring out baskets of fried dough and zucchini just in case you need a few more carbs, which you always do. Be sure to check it out!
So, what are you waiting for? Get moving and book your trip!
If there is one thing to know about me, it’s that I absolutely love to eat. I am a picky eater, but in the last year I have become a cook and decided to grow up and try foods that normally I would say no to. Well, to no surprise, Prague has a lot of amazing, quality food. Most of my money probably goes to the food here. If you travel anywhere, I would say that it is a rule to have to signature dish of the country in a local restaurant. The first night here I tried goulash with bread dumplings, a classic Czech dish. It was really good, but extremely heavy. The breakfast here is very different; in America we have a mixture of carbs, sweets, and meats. In Europe, it’s meat, meat, vegetables and yogurt. Breakfast here hasn’t been my favorite since all I tend to have are the pastries, but wow are they good. Other than breakfast, I find the meals here to be amazing and Prague has amazing variety in all honesty. My favorite cafe, U Zavesenyho Kafe (where I am currently writing this) has casted a spell on me. From the sausages, chocolate tarts, and classic pivos, I think about visiting almost every day. The staff gives this charm where you want to become a regular, I hope I do.
Kolej Komenskeho is a great dorm! From the pictures that I saw and the descriptions I read, I wasn’t really excited to live in a communist style building. But when I first arrived, I felt this charm I couldn’t kick. My room is huge, I am in a double bedroom dorm where there are two single rooms with a little outside/kitchen area. It isn’t a full apartment, but for some reason it feels like an apartment that is yours. My windows are huge and fully open to reveal the cutest view. My room mate is sweet and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The staff in the building is also interesting, they are helpful and nice, but if you treat them badly, don’t expect any kindness in return. The weekly breakfast we get in the dorm is different, but it makes it feel more like home. And one, if not the best part about living in this dorm is the dorm mother, Zuzana. This woman is so amazing, influential, so full of spunk that I feel it is impossible to write about her. She goes out of her way every day to make our experience the best it can be. Because of her I have signed up for volunteer work, I’ve gone to the Opera, I have gotten to meet Czech people, discovered amazing places, and learned wisdom that could only come from someone who has lived through enough. The building might not be modern in the slightest, but it does have it’s charm.
The food in Prague can also be bad, in a sense. There are these famous desserts called “trdelnik” and boy is it a CON. A good con at that so my advise is yes have ONE, and don’t pay over 60 crowns for one either. It isn’t Czech in the slightest and it is just a capitalist scheme that someone came up with the idea of and has become rich off of it. If you do any research, you will find that this treat has only become popular within the last couple of years and that it has no ties to Czech culture at all. I tried one because hey it’s food and I’m curious, $2 is worth my curiosity. I personally enjoyed it the first two bites and then it became “too much”; it had way too much of well everything. Try it once, but don’t try it again. Instead try the honey cake, a original Czech dessert that will honestly be 200% better than any trdelink.
One more note, everything in Prague seems CHEAP. And it is to Americans, but ask the Czech questions. When you do, you will begin to realize that truly amazing food can be even cheaper. Czech people live differently than Americans do. Where $5 to Americans is nothing, especially if you are from NYC, it can mean the world to a Czech. This isn’t bad, if you ask around you will find places where you can get a spectacular Czech meal for $3 (like the cafe I am currently in). A great pivo can only cost you a single dollar if you go to the right place. If you stay in the tourist areas and where there aren’t any Czech people, expect to pay A LOT more than you should for anything.
Have the beer, it’s the culture and a given, have the goulash it’s also a given. There are many other Czech traditional dishes like fried cheese and hot wine, but my advice is give everything a try at least once. Coming from a picky, cheap eater; I must say that food is one of the only cultural doors that are always open.
It’s now been three weeks, almost four since I moved to Prague. Researching culture shock and reading all the charts can’t really prepare you for it. Writing this is weird and I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that I’m trying to reflect on things that just happened but feel like a lifetime ago. Getting used to Prague isn’t hard or bad, it’s absolutely beautiful here. The amazement hasn’t really passed either, I continue to be amazed at the history and beauty that I discover every day. The hard part is home: thinking about how it is back home, what your friends are doing without you, what your family is doing, what your significant other might be feeling and not telling you. It has been hard. I try to not to sit in my room because when I do I just scroll on social media waiting for it to update. Thinking about my parents at home working for me to be able to do this makes me sitting in my room even worse. I’m not sure if there is a way to break the shock or not feel it, but whenever I find myself sitting at home sad, I just put my jacket on and walk out the door and go anywhere. Sometimes, i’s better to be alone in public than at home.
I feel like the first two weeks, everything felt magical and unreal. I had no actual concerns and then reality set in. I’m surviving in Prague alone. I have to be smart, I can’t spend crazy amounts of money because everything is cheap, it adds up. I can’t be alone nor can I be surrounded by people all the time. I haven’t been able to find a middle ground. I’m constantly thinking about when I get home how life will be so odd and there’s this thought that maybe I don’t have to go back home. Maybe I can find happiness here even though “it’s not a destination”. And as sad as it sounds now, almost all of the times where I have felt so lucky to be here is when learning about the tragic history this country has. Last night I saw the film Anthropoid, it was so moving and it’s hard for me to believe all those events happened where I walk by every day. It really puts things into perspective.
Adjustment is hard, I would be lying to you if I told you I haven’t spent nights lying in bed unhappy and being unhappy because I am unhappy in such a beautiful city. It’s a paradox I hope to break soon.
When you think Italy, what cities come to mind? I already know the answer: Rome, Florence, Venice…the usual go-to cities when your destination is the fabulous Italy. While these are all great cities and are popular for a reason, I was lucky enough to discover a hidden gem of a city that should be at the top of your list when traveling to Italy. Bergamo is by far my favorite city in Italy. If someone told me I could live there, I would have my bags packed in ten minutes (okay, maybe more like three hours, but I have a serious overpacking problem). One of the coolest things to note about this magnificent city is that it has two parts: La Città Alta and La Città Bassa. La Città Bassa, or “low city,” is the part of the city that is at ground level, while La Città Alta, or “tall city,” is that part that is raised above the rest and gives you the most breathtaking views.
So, how exactly do you get from Bassa to Alta? There are buses that take you up, but why do that when you can take the funicolare? The funicolare is an adorable little cable car run by one man throughout the entire day and is honestly one of my favorite parts of Bergamo. As you ascend, the view becomes better and better and if you’re a quick photographer you can snag a few photos on your way up!
Once you reach the top, you can explore this little slice of heaven. If you go on a weekday, preferably in the fall when there are mostly Italians and no tourists, you will find that you never want to leave Bergamo. You could spend hours going up and down the narrow little streets that somehow manage to fit cars, but not without grazing your body as they pass by of course! There is really no right or wrong way to go. I went down as many different streets and paths as I could, though some may have been a little off limits! Anything for the view though, am I right? Some key spots to hit definitely include Caffè del Tasso, Mimi la Casa dei Sapori, and Santa Maria Maggiore. Caffè del Tasso is easily one of my favorite places in Italy. As soon as you walk in, you feel like you’ve gone back in time. I don’t know how else to describe it, so you’ll just have to see for yourself! If you’ve never had European hot chocolate, you’re in for a real treat since it is basically a steaming cup of thick melted chocolate–my mouth is literally watering. If you’re not into that, a simple cappuccino will do. Mimi la Casa dei Sapori is a perfect dinner spot. It’s important to remember Italians like their down time and are firm believers in taking breaks here and there. So when you’re walking around aimlessly wondering why no restaurants are open for dinner until 6:00 p.m. or later, keep this restaurant in mind. This was one of the only places that served dinner a little on the earlier side, but it may have been one of my best meals in Italy. I had the most amazing homemade ravioli with a sage and butter sauce; please order it. Perhaps even order it twice. For one meal.
Santa Maria Maggiore is a gorgeous basilica in Bergamo and is absolutely worth taking a walk around inside. Hopefully you will stumble upon it and be as amazed as I was with the intricate architecture and detailing that is seen in many European countries.
If the pasta doesn’t fill you up, you might notice Bergamo is big on desserts made with polenta, specifically polenta cake. As you pass through the streets and look into store windows, you will see polenta balls of all shapes. They are super tasty so be sure to grab one.
Now for the main attraction: the view. Honestly, my best advice is to just keep walking and exploring until you find a spot with the best view. You’ll know it when you see it. If you are able to go when the sun is setting, I can promise you will not be disappointed with what you see.
The rest is up to you. No matter which stores you stop into or which restaurants you decide to eat at, I can assure you will be glad you put Bergamo on your list of Italian cities to visit.
-Jennifer G. Galvin