This past week, we all had an incredible opportunity to travel wherever we wanted! I went with a group of three other people to Paris, Athens, and Rome. It was a crazy trip with a time limit of only nine days. We had one full day in Paris, so we hit all the major sights possible. We saw the Arc de Triomph, the Eiffel Tour, Los Pyramids du Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Moulin Rouge. Jon, an engineering major in our group, was even able to go to the Paris car show, which had the newest designs and some of the most expensive cars in the world. Paris also felt really nice with its cooler temperatures and the leaves beginning to change. I was able to meet up with my good friend from Czech Republic and she spent the day with us enjoying the sights.
The very next day, we got on another plane headed to Athens, Greece. We found out right away that it would be a little harder to communicate in Greece, but luckily the second language there was English. After a little bit of difficulty finding our hostel, we were able to rest and meet different people in the building. We also had only one day in Athens, so we filled it up visiting the Acropolis, enjoying the many parks, and hiking a mountain which gave us a wonderful view of the Acropolis at night. While we were there, we were able to see some women in a café doing the traditional Greek circle dance.
The very next day, we were off for Rome. It was very strange having three full days there instead of just one like the other cities. While there, we visited La Fontana de Trevi, Piazza de Popolo, Vatican City, the colosseum, and many other touristy destinations. My favorite part of the trip to Rome was touring the colosseum and eating wonderful Italian food. We found out that the Italian food in the United States is pretty authentic, athough the pronunciations are very different. For example, bruchetta is actually pronounced brusketta.
After our trip we relaxed for a whole day in Sevilla before we met our host families. Although our trip was rater exhausting, we had an amazing time and got extremely lucky with hostel stays and conditions. If anyone wants to visit any of these places, I could recommend a few places to stay, just do yourself a favor and give yourself more than nine days!
-Jon Nagy, Alyssa Weaver, Becca Stoesz, and Ana Jimenez
After our time in Granada, we all went our separate ways for ten days of free travel. I went with Selah and Malea to visit Italy. We planned to visit the three main cities in Italy: Venice, Florence, and Rome. We began our free travel in Barcelona, Spain, where we stayed one night and a day. It was not nearly enough time needed to see all the beauty of Barcelona, but we enjoyed seeing what we could of the city. We even got a chance to see the beach and walk along the shore.
We then flew to Venice, Italy. We arrived in Venice pretty late at night and we ended up walking around for about another hour looking for our hostel due to the fact we did not have a map of the island when we arrived. However, after trying to find our way on our own, we eventually asked for help and managed to find our hostel. Despite the rough start to our time in Venice, we decided that it was our favorite city of the three we visited in Italy. Venice seems so quaint and picturesque with its narrow, winding streets, antique styled buildings with flowers hanging from the windows and balconies, and of course, with the many bridges crossing over the various water canals. I personally enjoyed the lack of motor traffic since there are no motorized vehicles on the island, save for boats, which are considerably more quiet than buses, cars, and motorcycles.
After spending two nights in Venice we took a train to Florence. Florence is also a very beautiful Italian city. We enjoyed walking along the canal and taking pictures of the Ponte Vecchio. Also, visiting the Duomo and going up to the top of the dome was an incredible experience. The journey up was along a narrow passage with pretty steep steps, but the view from the top was breathtaking. It was interesting to walk along the balcony along the interior of the dome and see the paintings so close up.
Our last stop was in Rome where we stayed the remainder of our free travel. Rome has many incredible sights and monuments to see, but it is also very crowded with tourists. The number of people and tourists became slightly overwhelming, especially when we visited the Spanish Steps and the Fontana di Trevi. However, we did really enjoy the opportunity to see all the famous sights in Rome, such as the Colosseum, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. I found it fascinating to see the monuments and paintings that have been around for centuries. If buildings could talk, think of all the stories they could tell of history. I enjoy visiting places that have such a rich and ancient history. It often humbles me to think of all that has happened before my time and all that will happen after my time as well. My life is merely a speck in history.
Our free travel ended well until we missed the bus that was to take us back with our group to Granada. Because our flight was delayed and we had trouble obtaining our checked baggage, we just missed our bus by fifteen minutes. We managed to contact Samuel and get a train straight to Sevilla where we met up with our group the next day. Needless to say, we were all rather exhausted when we finally arrived in Sevilla. However, we could not have been happier to be reunited with our group once again and we learned from the experience and are now stronger people for it.
-Leah Risser, Selah Shenk, Malea Gascho
First we traveled to Barcelona to the Yellow Nest Hostel. This was a fascinating place to stay in a very interesting city, but more on the hostel later. The highlight of our visit there was getting to see their La Liga team play against Mallorca F.C. Barça is arguably the best club soccer team in the world right now. We had to spend a pretty hefty sum of €´s to get to the game, but it was worth it. Lionel Messi, voted the #1 player in the world numerous times, was playing his first game after skipping a few due to injury, and when he scored a goal the stadium exploded. It was quite an experience, just being there at Camp Nou amongst all the rabid Catalan fans. In Barcelona we also met some very interesting people, one being a Dutch tango dancer whose first name we never learned (his last name was Van Dyk) who loved to wax eloquent on topics as wide ranging as European politics, the nature of consciousness, language, etc. He would get into long debates with an Italian named Rudy who worked at the hostel, and they conversed like fiends. It was hardly possible to get a word in edgewise.
The second part of our trip was to Amsterdam, a city which I have to say did not make a great impression on any of us. It’s a beautiful place but it did not seem very warm–in any sense of the word. If you’re looking for a truly cross-cultural experience, go there, though. Our hostel was across the street from two sex shops and a porn cinema, and faced on one side the red-light district. This painted a pretty hellish picture of the city for us. The culture seemed built solely on the permission of everything condemned by most societies–and not much else. It wasn’t all bad, of course–we went to a graffiti/street art exhibition at a DIY gallery which was fascinating.
It’s hard to put any sort of meaning or conclusion to the experience we had on free travel, but it was undoubtedly unforgettable. To see at least a few parts of Europe, away from organized activities and traveling with a group of 20 other Americans, was really important to me. At one point I thought that EMU over-emphasized “cross-cultural learning” but really, we should be learning all the time. Even if it makes us uncomfortable–it’s much more valuable to be uncomfortable than comfortable.
-Ben Nelson, Jesse Weaver, Jordan Shetler, and Pat Fox