Traveling Doesn’t Make You A Better Person: What Our Generation Gets Completely Wrong About Travel

Really thought provoking.

Thought Catalog

Leo HidalgoLeo Hidalgo

I remember discussing personal growth with a friend one day—someone I respected and admired—and gushing about how important traveling is to finding ourselves, when she told me the most outrageous thing:

“I think people make too much of a fuss over traveling. I mean, I do love traveling. But I don’t think that it is always the best way to grow.”

At that moment, such an unwelcome notion was downright scandalous for me. My friend was an artist with a creative and curious mind—how on earth could she say that? What could be better for personal growth than getting to know other places, cultures, people, other forms of art? I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

Well, it took me a while, but I finally understand what she meant. And I’m glad she gave it some thought before jumping on that attractive but shallow bandwagon. Now, even…

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The Little Things

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged! I have been taking time off from traveling and have stayed in Linz for a few weeks. My body needed a break! My time has been filled with going to class and hanging out with friends here. Unlike the states, where my friends are already on summer break, I will still be in classes till the end of June. I have Thursdays and Fridays off and only a night class on Mondays though so I always have long weekends.

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Linz came alive as soon as the flowers bloomed and the air got warmer. There is a sort of beer garden on the campus of my university that is always packed in the afternoons. The spring carnival began, which is is kind of like the Warrenton fair on steroids but no livestock.

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There isn’t much happening here that is incredibly exciting but I am still making great memories from the little things. Emily and I had a blast just baking a chocolate cake from scratch. We have danced like idiots to Beyonce in my dorm room with no fear of judgement. We go from being super healthy one day to filling our bellies with Mongolian and taking long naps. We’ve found the cheapest places to buy Heinz ketchup and the biggest pizzas.

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We’ve had conversations that make me think about my purpose in live and some conversations that make me laugh so hard that I forget about ever feeling sad. Traveling and seeing new places is amazing, but I think the memories I will carry forever will be the ones I made when things around me weren’t “all that exciting”

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How I Toured Italy on a Budget

Two friends and myself traveled to Venice, Florence, Rome, and Santorini on a spring break that lasted 18 days. With lots of spreadsheets and budgeting skills we managed to have the time of our lives without breaking the bank.

FOOD

Like many people, food is one of my favorite things about traveling. There is no better way to embrace a culture by trying the same food that the locals do. However, most of the time the food can be the biggest thing draining your pocketbook. On our trip, my friends and I went to the grocery store and bought things for dinners and breakfasts. We picked up lunch meats, breads, and LOTS of apples. We made a lot of our meals in the apartments we were renting and splurged on one or two really special meals every few days. Sure, we had about three cones of gelato a day and enjoyed the BEST pizza of our lives (GUSTA PIZZA in Florence) but when you are walking all day and seeing new things, you don’t really think about food until you’re starving. If you do decide to go to a sit down restaurant in Italy, make sure to ask about a cover charge. Most restaurants charge a fee for sitting down and even extra for using the silverware. Unless you are dying to go to this restaurant, I wouldn’t advise paying more than 2 euro just for sitting down. Save that money and get yourself a nice scoop of gelato.

Getting from Place to Place

Figuring out the best ways to get around takes practice. In my opinion, it is more convenient and faster to take trains from city to city. Taking a bus is an option, but with so many places to see in a couple weeks, we didn’t want to waste six hours in a stinky bus. Many railway companies have member cards you can buy for a small price and then use to buy 50% off tickets. Sometimes, you will even get discounts on tickets just because you are a student. Never be afraid to ask!

Taking a night train is a great option when you are going a far distance from one city to another. They are often much cheaper than daytime tickets and you can just sleep the whole time. My favorite train company in Italy is Italo. The prices are very reasonable and the trains are very well kept and fast. They have representatives at every major rail station to help you with anything you need.

Once you arrive to your destination, one of the first things you should do is find out about their public transportation. Every city is different on their vehicle of choice. In Venice, you travel everywhere by water taxi. In Rome, we used the tram and bus systems. In Santorini, we enjoyed traveling everywhere by four-wheelers that you can rent for 15 euro a day.  When it comes to taxis and trams, look into group tickets and joint day passes. You will spend more paying for a ticket every time you get on the tram rather than buying a three day pass. You can hop on and off as much as you want and will save lots of money.

Besides the conventional forms of transportation, the way we used the most was our own feet. I have never walked as much in my life as I did on that trip. Pack a good pair of walking shoes before you leave! You’ll use them.

Finding a Place to Lay Your Head

Before leaving on our trip, we spent a few weeks comparing prices for places to stay in every city. In Venice, the Generator Hostel was the best option. Hostels in Florence and Rome were much more pricey for us because it was during the Easter holiday. We chose to use the online home rental website called AirBNB. That was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip! It was a much cheaper option and each place had its own kitchen we could use. Santorini was the only place where we booked a room in a hotel, but even then it only cost us eleven euro a night. Just always make sure to compare all your options and only choose places where you know you will be safe.

The Most Beautiful Sights are Free

Personally, my favorite things we saw during the whole trip didn’t cost us a dime. We got lost in the streets of Venice, people watched in Florence, had a picnic in front of the Coliseum, and witnessed the most spectacular sunset in Santorini. Florence was the most expensive of all the cities when it came to popular tourist sites. I didn’t pay 24 euro and wait in a three-hour line to see the David but I saw the replica outside and it was pretty cool. It all depends on your personal preferences.

Put Down the Keychain

I used to be one of those kids that needed a souvenir from every place I visited. They little knickknacks always ended up sitting on a shelf in my room collecting dust though. So instead of collecting useless things, I started collecting pendants from every place I went. They all cost me under 10 euro and each one has sentimental value. We have also started collecting cool small things we randomly find. For example, I found a blue spray painted key in Santorini and a volcano rock from our hike. These small items will always bring back a special memory. They are way better than any keychain or a magnet I could find at every store on the street.

Living a Dream

I haven’t been able to blog about my spring break adventures since I was in Venice! But unfortunately, the two-week trip through Italy and Greece has come to an end. It was a whirlwind of trains, planes, and buses. I met many wonderful people and have three new favorite places I have ever been. My favorites were Venice, Santorini, and Rome. (I’m going to go back to Florence when I have the money to enjoy it more.)

So, here comes a very long post to update you on what I’ve been up to!

Let’s start with Florence:

I’ll be totally honest, Florence wasn’t my favorite place. Looking back, I would have spent a couple more days in Venice instead of the extra days in Florence. It is hard to really see everything in the city without spending large amounts of money and wait hours in line. However, I did have a lot of fun in Florence with Emily and Kailyn! We rented a very nice apartment in a beautiful square in the city. We had our own kitchen so we saved money by cooked meals in the apartment. Really the only things we bought outside of grocery stores were coffees, gelato, and pizza.

There are three things I will suggest to people when they visit Florence:

  1. Climb the 414 steps up Giotto’s Bell Tower next to the Duomo to see the best view of Florence.

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2. Spend a few hours in the Boboli Gardens

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3. Visit Gusta Pizza!!!

This is the BEST pizza in Florence for the CHEAPEST price. We each ate a whole pizza by ourselves…its that good.

Click here to visit the yelp page for Gusta Pizza.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the real David because it cost 24 euro to get in and the line was more than 3 hours long. However, I enjoyed the nice replica very much. Instead of seeing Dave, I went to the church near our apartment and stumbled upon a work by Michelangelo. So there ya go.

I think I would have enjoyed the city more if I had the money to do shopping, go to the expensive restaurants, and visit the galleries. I suppose I will have to go back when I have had a big girl job someday.

The next stop in the trip was Rome:

Rome sure did not disappoint. I didn’t fall in love with an Italian pop star like Lizzie McGuire but I did fall in love with the city.

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Rome is bursting with history, culture, and life. I’ve always known about the major landmarks like the Colosseum and the Roman Forum but when I finally saw them with my own eyes, I was blown away.

On the first full day in Rome, the girls and I went to the supermarket to get sandwich stuff and chips for a picnic at the Colosseum. We could have spent the whole day there people watching and gazing at the monument. It was a perfect day!

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For the rest of the day we walked from monument to monument taking in the history and walking off all the gelato and pasta we had consumed so far. After we saw the coliseum, we walked along the Roman Forum and walked up the steps of the Roman Parliament Building.

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After a lot of searching, we found the Pantheon. The ancient building was packed with people because it was Easter weekend but the monument is so large that there was lots of room to explore the inside.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check an item off my bucket list: Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain. The dang thing was under construction. Ever since Lizzie McGuire met Paolo by the fountain, I have wanted to do it. Ohhhh well. I suppose I will HAVE to go back.

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Our emotion after finding out the Trevi is under construction.

On one of the last days, we made the trek to Vatican City. My teachers from Holy Rosary would be so proud. Vatican City was absolutely spectacular. It is free to enter into St. Peter’s Basilica but you do have to wait in a line for about two hours. We met a large group of Americans waiting in line though so it went by very fast! The basilica was very worth the wait!! When I walked in, I was stopped in my tracks by how massive and beautiful it was. The tombs of all the popes are housed right there in the Vatican and they are massive. On the main level, the tombs are so ornate and detailed in their design. In the catacombs below the basilica, most of the tombs are very simple and modest. The catacombs are also where the body of St. Peter, the first pope, is said to be kept. Pictures were not allowed but you can imagine how breathtaking the tomb/room is.

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After walking through the catacombs, we hopped on an elevator and climbed very steep stairs to the top of the dome. From up top, you can see the beautiful mosaics up close and personal. Rather unexpectedly, we also got to watch a mass from the top of the dome.

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We watched the mass for a little while and then climbed our way through the spiral staircases all the way to the top of the Vatican. There is the best view of Vatican City and Rome in the distance from up there.

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The only thing I regret from the day trip to the Vatican was not getting Grandma Casserly a hat with the face of Pope Francis on it. Totally slipped my mind. Never fear though, I have been searching eBay. There is still hope.

There is so much to see in Rome that it is impossible to do everything even if you are there for 6 days. However, I am very satisfied with everything we saw. So many people only dream of seeing the places I have been to. I am one lucky girl.

The day after we went to the Vatican, we packed our suitcases (strangely better each time we pack them…) and made our way to the airport. After taking the wrong train 40 minutes in the opposite direction (whoops) we arrived just in time to make our flight to Santorini.

Santorini, Greece (AKA HEAVEN ON EARTH)

Santorini is an island six hours from the mainland of Greece and in my opinion, one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. Even though the weather was not particularly ideal the first few days, we had a couple of days of sunshine and blue skies.

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First let me say that the Hotel Villa Manos, where we stayed, at was perfect. It is located just outside of Fira, so in the middle of the island. The family that runs the hotel are the most generous people I have ever met. They were so helpful in every aspect of the visit. The husband picked us up from the airport when we arrived and dropped us off there when we left at 5 am. He woke up at 4:30 am on his Easter morning to take us to the airport. They we wonderful people. When guests leave, they always take a picture with them and post it on their Facebook. They really make you feel like a part of their family!

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The three of us and the owner of the hotel

One of the coolest things about Santorini, besides the great views and cliff sides, are the animal friends I met there! For anyone that knows me well you know my infatuation with dogs. In Santorini, the dogs just go about their day roaming around the island just doing their thing. Most of them all have collars and their owners own shops right around the corner. The dogs just walk right up to you and request  you to pet them. When we went to Oia, there were dogs just sunbathing all over the sidewalks. A couple even picked up rocks for us to throw for them and play. What a life it would be to be a dog on an island in Greece.

I also met a few very nice donkeys around the island. Santorini is the island that you see in the movies where donkeys carry people and bags up from the ports to the towns. Now they are more of a tourist attraction. People can buy a donkey ride up from the Old Port in Fira for a small price. There were a few of them in a farm right by our hotel that I happened to meet on a walk one afternoon. I named my favorite one Cleo.

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The best way to get around the island is by renting four-wheelers. They only cost 15 euro for 24 hours and one tank of gas lasts you the full-time and only costs around 10 euro. It was so much cheaper than taking taxis or the bus around the island. The coastal roads in Santorini are breathtaking. There are two routes you can take to get to Oia. You can take the road along the beach or the road along the cliffs. Riding them with my friends is positively one of the happiest times of my life so far. You feel so free and exhilarated.

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My favorite part of Santorini was Oia. This is the part of the island that you always see in the movies with the white cave houses. It is also the best place to watch the sunset.

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It is hard to describe with words how beautiful Santorini is. I think I need to meet a Greek man and move there and never leave. The Greek people are so kind and generous. I never met a single person that wasn’t quick to help us in anything we needed.

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Even though I didn’t once use the TWO swimsuits I brought on spring break, I saw so many places and things I only ever dreamed of seeing. I have wanted to visit Venice since I read a book about it in 5th grade. I wanted to go to Rome when I watched the Lizzie McGuire Movie and I have always wanted to go to Santorini and yell “OPA!!!” just like they did on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

I have already seen so many things, and I am not even half way through my study abroad. Even though I miss friends and family back home, I will never be the same after this experience. I am always going to have this thirst for meeting new people and seeing new things. I guess the next step is to find a big girl job that supports that. We shall see, but meanwhile, I will be living every moment to the fullest while I can.

Ciao Bella!

The girls and I have officially begun our two week trip through Italy and Greece!

Here is the itinerary:

  • March 26th – 29th Venice (✓)
  • March 29th – April 1st Florence
  • April 1st – April 7th Rome
  • April 7th – April 12th Santorini

Our first leg on out journey was my all-time dream destination VENICE! As soon as I was placed in Austria through ISEP, my study abroad program, I checked the distance Linz was to Venice. Then I tweeted about it..

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Since traveling by train is much cheaper then taking flights, we boarded the night train and rode 8 hours to Venice. With the student discount card, the trip to Venice only cost us €28! It was quite a commotion in the beginning of the trip because OBB makes you print off your ticket rather than just using the electronic ticket on our phones. We didn’t know that until we boarded the train and the men weren’t happy. This is where being an American tourist comes in handy…you just have to explain that it was your first time booking the ticket and you had no idea. They wanted to make us pay 132 euro again for the three of us to get there but because I acted dumb they let us stay on. I do not whatsoever condone acting dumb but when you’re in an emergency, being a blonde American college student really comes in handy.

After some persuasion, the cranky OBB men let us off the hook and we settled into our six room compartment. We shared the small living quarters with four other people, one American student, a large old man, and a German guy who reads classics very late in the night. After eight hours of sleeping in the shape of a pretzel (Kailyn) we arrived to Venice.

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It was raining when we stepped off the platform and needed to figure out the water bus schedules. So that was fun. But once we figured out how to purchase tickets and which route to take to get to the hostel, the water bus system was actually very convenient! You are able to buy a three day pass for 30 euro as opposed to a 7 euro ticket for a one-way trip. Considering there are only water roads, the one way ticket is not the most practical choice.

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I expected Venice to be great, but it ended up being more wonderful than I ever imagined. After the first day, the weather was perfect, blue skies and even more blue water. It is easy to get lost in Venice, but that was our goal when going there. Emily, Kailyn and I would take turns going left, right, or straight. That was the best way for us to discover the little shops and restaurants on the way.

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We did not spend much time in the tourist places on the island because the lines were ridiculously long. We were able to take pictures of the outside of Saint Marks Basilica, San Marco’s Square, and the Bridge of Sighs. We saved a lot of money and precious time skipping the museums and expensive restaurants. For breakfast and lunch, we went to super markets and picked up apples and bananas and really only ate when we were hungry. The only exception of this was gelato and coffee. I had a lot of both of those things while I was there.

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I have discovered that I am scared to barter with street vendors.. Emily bartered with a man on the street selling selfie sticks and got him to drop his price almost 50%. I felt terrible. I almost asked her to give it up and walk away but she got her way and the selfie stick was the best thing that happened to us that whole trip. God bless. We named the selfie stick Phil. Phil the Photographer.

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We spent the whole second day from 8 in the morning till 8:30 pm just in time for Kailyn to get a couple drinks from happy hour at the hostel. We woke up so early because we wanted to see the Cemetery Island and the Island of Murano as well as the rest of Venice. It was a long day!

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The cemetery island was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. It is an island that’s sole purpose is a cemetery. (Hence the name) The island was beautiful with large trees, elaborate tombs, and seagulls everywhere. There are so many Venetians buried there that every 10 years bodies are exhumed to make room for more. It sounds kinda freaky but it was absolutely beautiful and a peaceful escape from the busy tourist traps in the city.

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The next stop after the cemetery was Murano, the island famous for their hand-blown glass. As soon as you step off the water bus, you will see souvenir shops with blown glass. The trick is to avoid the stands and go further into the city where the real glass is made. There were so many different glass blown objects there. They ranged from a simple wine glass to an assortment of glass cookies. (Perfect for dieting for Greece) Instead of stopping at an expensive restaurant for lunch on the island, we headed to the supermarket and got lunch meats and bread. The whole lunch cost us a 7 euro between the three of us. We took our sandwiches, sat on a boat dock, and watched water taxis go up and down the streets.

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After our picnic alongside the canal, we walked around just sight seeing and ran into a group of people just having a ball listening to a band play. We were taking videos of the band and they began to dance with us and twirl us around. It was a blast!! Emily initiated a selfie with just us girls and eventually everyone wanted to get in on it.

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We were always so exhausted after a day of walking that we had no energy to leave the hostel once we got back. We spent our nights hanging out in the room and talking. It seems lame but we had a perfect view of the Grand Canal from our room and we shared the room with Koreans, an Australian, a couple Spaniards (different from Catalonians), and a nice girl from Sao Paulo. It was very nice getting to know them and I really wish I had added them on Facebook because I know they snagged a couple pictures of us.

Venice was the perfect way to kick off our spring break adventure. People kept telling me that two days was too much in Venice and that it is overrated. I couldn’t disagree more. I would have spent the whole spring break there if I hadn’t had exciting plans for the rest of the 15 days. Next on the list is Florence!!

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What are school after too month vacay?!?!

Yes everyone, after an extended Christmas break, I do in fact go to class. The week after I first arrived here in February, I was in an intensive German class. We met every day for three hours and learned very basic German. In March actual classes began! I am enrolled in International Business, Cultural Marketing, German as a Foreign Language, Current Issues in International Management, Culture and Language Policies in the EU, and Work Psychology!

Classes are much different here than in the USA. Most classes are only scheduled once a week. Some, for example work psychology, meet once every other week. Some do not last the entire semester and instead will meet once every week and then end in late May. My semester will last through June 30th.

On the first day of classes, if for some reason you can’t make it to the first day, you will be automatically kicked out of the class. Attendance in class is mandatory. In the US it is normal to skip class if you snoozed your alarm too many times. At JKU, it is a big big deal.

I did not have to spend hundreds of dollars on books this semester like in the United States. Here, you have to buy a “reader” which is just a huge stack of loose leaf paper which is just copied pages of books. I felt like I hit the jackpot because the readers only cost 15 euro. Thats a steal compared to the 250 dollars I paid for my Spanish textbook back at Truman.

The most different thing about classes here though is that at the end of class once the professor has adjourned, everyone KNOCKS on the desk. I really like it because it shows the professor that you appreciate them. But the first time people did that in my classes I was just taken aback! Like what in the world is happening.

All in all, I very much enjoy my classes so far. I either know everyone in my classes or I have quite a few friends in every one. My professors are so enthusiastic about the subject they are teaching! When you have kind and enthusiastic professors who care about you, it isn’t hard to want to try hard for them. Sounds nerdy but I really like them all so far!

PROOF that I go to class and don’t just drink beer:

On a side note…

JULIA IS FLYING ALL THE WAY FROM FINLAND TO SPEND THE WEEKEND WITH ME!!!!!! I can’t wait to see the Finnish Freak in action. And snuggle.

Very excited to be making more memories with this gem. Goes to show you that when you really love someone, distance doesn’t matter. As soon as you are together again, it is like nothing has changed.

Prague and the Czech Republic

“The ancient splendor and beauty of Prague, a city beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade”

– Richard Wagner

Time is moving so fast abroad. I can’t keep up! A couple of weeks ago, my fellow exchange students and I went to Prague together. It was one of the best weekends so far while in Europe. Prague is a sight to see. Everything is so cheap, the people are very nice, and the sights are breathtaking.

We left very early on a Friday morning at 7:45. We packed the whole group on a bus and the Americans posted up in the back of the bus like the cool kids. Which was honestly the best thing we could have done because we are the loudest and most obnoxious group of people in the whole exchange. At least we were not in the middle of everyone laughing and goofing around.

Our first stop of the trip was at the Budweis Brewery in the Czech Republic. Our tour guide was a very nice elderly man who know the ins and outs of beer. We learned about the complex process of making the perfect beer and the steps from beginning to end. In the middle of the tour, they treated us with a beer tasting where we got a small cup of beer to sip on. However, it was late morning and I didn’t have it in me to drink beer. I heard it was delicious though!

From there we drove a little while further and arrived in Prague in the early afternoon. It sure was an experience being on a large bus navigating through the winding streets of the city. One of Prague that sticks out in my memory are the vivid colors of the city. Exploring the streets of Prague you see buildings of different colors, quaint little restaurants, and souvenir shops on every corner.

The hostel experience was exactly that QUITE an EXPERIENCE. There were four rooms in our large room. In our room of girls we had eight ladies, the boys had ten beds in their room, and there were similar numbers in the other two rooms. So around 30 people all sharing two bathrooms and two showers. Through the bathroom situation was interesting, it was really fun all being together and hanging out every night.

I think you really get to know people the best when you travel with them. Traveling brings the passions in people to the surface. You get to see your friends eyes light up when they see a beautiful photo opportunity. They pull you into all the little family run shops that intrigue them. Traveling is a great way to learn about other people and also yourself. You learn that you are actually totally okay with being away from home. You are realizing that no matter where you are in the world, there are always going to be people in all corners of the planet who care about you.

When I first decided to study abroad for a semester, people questioned me saying “Kate, a semester is going to be a long time. Are you sure you can do that?” I’ll admit, when I first boarded that plane leaving Saint Louis I was so nervous/excited I felt sick. But as soon as I got to Austria and met these people, I felt so at ease. This post has taken a turn from a summary of my trip to Prague to a sentimental post about traveling. But I can’t express it enough how much this trip has done for me ALREADY. I have only been here for a month and a half.

Okay, I am not going to end this post all sappy. So I will end it with something funny I learned today in German class.

The word for “Father” in German is Vater. Which is literally pronounced like “Farter” but with a british accent. What is life if you don’t laugh about a fart joke every once in a while right?

So many places, so little time to blog about them

I haven’t been very good lately at keeping the blog up to date with the exciting things that are happening. Since I blogged last I have been to Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich. The past month has been a whirlwind!

Vienna:

A group of friends and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Vienna together for a weekend. We hopped on a train and arrived an hour later. I was nervous when we first booked the hostel because I have never stayed in one before. However, when we arrived there our room turned out being more fancy than some hotel rooms I have stayed in. So, that was definitely not my first “hostel experience.”

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The next day (Valentines Day), we all woke up and made our way into the center of the city to find a bit of breakfast. On our way there we stumbled upon a street market where they were selling various local goods and giving away free donuts (!) for valentines day. People were selling everything you could ever need like homemade wines, cheeses, and local vegetables. But I was content walking around with my free donut and a cup of coffee.

After breakfast, we wandered around Vienna in search for the cathedral to meet up with friends. The problem is, every church in Vienna is massive and beautiful. We had to have stumbled upon five churches that day thinking they were the cathedral. We didn’t find the actual cathedral until later that night. The thing is though, when you are traveling in a new city, you might have a end destination in sight but the thrill and adventure of traveling comes from getting lost and enjoying the journey.

Wandering around, we found the main shopping strip of the city. On one end of the street was the typical college girl stores like H&M and Forever 21 and on the other side was Prada, Dior, Swarovski, etc. There was also, much to my delight, a fancy Starbucks. (Living up to the stereotype of 20 year old college girl)

Our little group kept walking and walking and eventually stepped into the beautiful square. The National Library was on the right. The History Museum was ahead of us and large gardens and statues were directly to our left. We had the pleasure to listen to a man playing the harp right in the middle of the square and I was especially excited to meet dozens of dogs (and their owners).

We were still searching for the Cathedral to meet up with our friends so we just followed our gut and walked toward a nearby steeple. However, the church we found was just a church no matter how magnificent it was. We kept going and walked into a festival with ice skating and food stands serving waffles, crepes, schnitzel, and any other delicious thing you could think of. There is a ride there that takes you high into the sky for a 365 degree view of Vienna for the small price of 7 euro. The views from up there were amazing.

We finally found our friends at a local pub enjoying some tall beers and all together from there we walked toward the city center again where the shopping was. They finally took us to the famous and elusive St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It is even larger than any cathedral I have ever seen. Like holy wow.

(from Wikipedia)

The next day, we hopped on the tram and visited the royal palace. The grounds are expansive and palace is straight out of a fairytale. I can’t wait to go back in the summer so I can see the grounds and gardens in full bloom. The palace is now home to famous art from all over the world. Upstairs was more contemporary art and on the ground level is the paintings from the medieval times when the castle was first built. The whole area was breathtaking. After we explored the castle, we were all exhausted from a weekend of walking and sight seeing. We took the train back home and slept like babies.

Experiencing Mauthausen: A walk through a concentration camp

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Mauthausen, a concentration camp east of Linz, Austria, where I am studying abroad. Refi, the program at my university for exchange students, packed more than eighty exchange students from all over the world into one double decker bus for the 40 minute drive into the countryside. Without knowing that the camp was there, I would have described the area as incredibly scenic. From the top of the hill, you could see countryside for miles to your left and on the right the Danube River. However, when we drove up the winding road to Mauthausen, the only thing I could focus on was the massive stonewalls and barbed wire of the camp.

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Fences surrounding the outside of Mauthausen Memorial. Farms in the distance. “Stairs of Death” in the bottom right corner.

Our tour guide walked us through the grounds first before we entered into the actual camp. He showed us the large field outside where prisoners would stand in all weather while nearby SS guards would play a leisurely game of soccer. The tour guide gave us a lot of insight into the mindsets of the prisoners, guards, and the surrounding farmers witnessing the tragedy. We continued to walk the perimeter of the camp and came upon a lookout point where you could see down into the granite quarry and the “Stairs of Death”.

KZ Mauthausen, Häftlinge im Steinbruch

Stairs of Death

 

Prisoners were forced to go into the quarry and carry large granite blocks on their backs and back up the steep stairs. On the way up, many were taken aside and beaten. On various occasions, one prisoner would be pushed down the steps, causing a domino effect on the rest of the prisoners. Once they were injured, many were shot on the spot or left to get sick from infection and filth.

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Once we took a moment of silence looking at the memorials outside of the camp, we made our way into the compound. The tour group walked in the footsteps of prisoners when they came to the camp. We were guided to the wall where they stood and were told to strip all their clothes and belongings. SS guards often made the prisoners stand in the same spot all night long in the freezing cold with no food or water. Next, they went to the cellar of the “laundry” building and packed in 100 people into a shower room. They were showered with freezing cold water and given a number badge they had to wear at all times. The process they took coming into camp was in order to demoralize them and make them feel like just a number.

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The wall where the prisoners stood when first arriving at the camp. Today, this is where countries and nationalities from around the world honor their people who died here.

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The showers in the “Laundry Room”

 

IMG_0743        It was hard to imagine the reality of the situation inside the camp because it was so incredibly empty. When the camp was in use, the rooms were packed 150-300 people deep. The beds they slept in were sardined in a small room, with at highest capacity, three people to a bed.

It’s impossible for me to describe to you the heaviness of the Mauthausen prison camp. I had a pit in my stomach the whole time visiting there. However, the place where I felt most moved, and quite frankly very upset, was the basement of the “hospital.” This was where the prisoners were put to their death by breathing in gas or by a bullet in the head. As you descended the stairs into the basement, you walked through a memorial of the entire camp and a timeline of the events that happened there. I wish I had a chance to read everything in the museum. There were artifacts from individuals living there and evidence of the atrocities committed every day.

Photos of men who perished in Mauthausen. Most of them were not yet the age of 30.

Photos of men who perished in Mauthausen. Most of them were not yet the age of 30.

From there you were led into a room of memorials of the individuals that perished in that room. There was a glass case of photographs of men who were murdered in the camp, many of whom did not reach the age of 30. Countries from all over the world left memorials there for citizens of their countries who were murdered. Families wrote stories about their family members who were held there. One of my favorite ones was from a survivor of the camp who went on to move to the Chicago Area. He was forced to dig his own grave three times, starved, and suffered experimental surgery. He was liberated in 1945, lived to have four daughters, and lived to the age of 76.

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After the memorial room was the Room of Names. The names of the people who died there were illuminated in a dark room on the walls and floors. There were also three books full of the names in very small print.  They only know the names of 80,000 people who perished there but there are estimated to be 320,000 people who died there. However the tour guides said that upwards of 800,000 people went through Mauthausen at one point.

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A list of 80,000 known names of those who perished in Mauthausen, only a quarter of the actual number who died in this concentration camp

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The trip to Mauthausen was an experience I will never forget. It wasn’t a happy time whatsoever but it is something that I believe every person needs to see in their lives. In the United States, it is hard to actually sense the tragedy and horror that the people went through in concentration camps because we are so separated from the rest of the world. I hope that the camps will always stay open to visitors to witness in order to prevent such a travesty to ever happen in our world again. The experience also inspired me to look to other places in this world that are going through horrors right now. People are suffering all over the world and I have been living in a bubble. If anything has come out of this trip so far, it is that my eyes have been opened to the world around me.

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My Dwellings

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I promise that the hall isn’t as dreary as it looks in these pictures! I have the perfect set up for me. Single room with my own bathroom and a huge wardrobe.Click here to visit the website for my dorm. The first floor has a community kitchen which is different for some other floors who are suite style with their own kitchen. I enjoy the community style because it is a sort of gathering place for everyone when they are tired of sitting in their rooms blogging (this girl).I have only been here a week and have spent numerous hours in there playing card games with beverages.

Speaking of beverages, the cheapest wine here is only 2 euros which is $2.28. 

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PROST!!