Country Hopping in Europe

Students studying abroad in Europe tend to travel a lot since countries are close to one another and getting around is relatively cheap. I have done my fair share of traveling in the past two months and have really enjoyed exploring the different cities.

I have already written a blog about places I’ve been in the United Kingdom, so I am going to focus this blog on places outside the UK.

These are some of the places I have visited and some of my thoughts.

1. Brussels, Belgium: Brussels was the first city I visited in mainland Europe. We visited a lot of different sites in Brussels such as Grand Place, the Atonium, Mini Europe, and Manneken Pis (the famous sculpture of a boy peeing). Brussels is an important city because it is the de facto capital of the European Union and where the European Parliament meets. Visiting the Parlamentarium provided me with a better understanding of the structure and function of the European Union.  Additionally, I was very impressed with the food here. Most people have heard about how good Belgian waffles and chocolates are, and this is in fact the truth. In addition, moules-frites (mussels and fries) is considered to be the national dish of Belgium. This was my first time having mussels, and I am now a huge fan. Interesting fact: there are two official languages in Brussels, French and Dutch. Overall, this was a great start to my travels around Europe!

View of Grand Place, the main square in Brussels.

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The Atonium, the iconic structure that was originally constructed for Expo ’58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

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2. Dublin, Ireland: This rather small city reminds me of Austin a bit due to its live music and party scene. I explored the city with my friends UZ Zhan and Chandler Nunez. Given the Irish drinking culture, UZ, Chandler, and I made sure to hit up both the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. We also toured Trinity College, which had beautiful architecture and houses the library that was in the Harry Potter movies. The food in Dublin was nothing too spectacular, but we enjoyed the traditional Irish stews and cottage pie. The prison Kilmainham Gaol is definitely a must-visit, as we learned a lot about the history of Ireland and how it became a republic. This historical prison housed many of the leaders of the Irish rebellion. Finally, we definitely enjoyed the nightlife in Dublin, especially in the Temple Bar area. “Wonderwall” by Oasis seems to be the cheesy karaoke song that the Irish love. I heard it at least 5 times during my time in Dublin.  Overall, it was great being able to explore a city with good friends. Can’t imagine how crazy it is in Dublin during St. Patrick’s Day!

Temple Bar area.

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At the Jameson Whiskey Distillery with Chandler and UZ

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3. Munich, Germany: I visited Munich with my parents, so it was definitely nice having family around. Munich is a great little city that has a lot of things to do. Most of the attractions in the city are located around the main square Marienplatz, including the Deutsches Museum and famous beer hall Hofbrauhaus (a must visit!). I also got my fix of German food, including Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle), Wiener Schnitzel (veal), and German sausages, all of which were delicious.  In addition, located right next to the Olympiapark, the BMW Welt/Museum allows visitors and car lovers to see the latest BMW car models as well as learn about the history of BMW, which was very cool. One of the most eye-opening experiences during the trip for me was visiting the Dachau concentration camp, the first such camp in Germany. The dreary weather gave a very fitting solemn mood to the visit. Learning about the history of the Holocaust and seeing firsthand the barracks and the crematorium really allowed me to see the depth of suffering that the prisoners experienced during a terrible period in history. Something I will never forget.

The city center, also known as Marienplatz.

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The Dachau concentration camp.

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4. Paris, France: Paris is no doubt one of the best cities in the world. The Eiffel Tower is one of the most well-known landmarks, and it definitely does not disappoint in real life. There was a long line to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the view of the city, especially at night, was incredible and definitely worth the wait. There is so much to see in Paris, including different museums, churches, and districts. My travel group visited the Lourve Museum, the Pantheon, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg, Centre Pompidou, and the Arc de Triomphe, all of which were great sites. We did a free walking tour (you tip how much you think tour is worth) of the Montmartre district. This area has a cultural and small-town feel to it and is a famous area for artists to visit. Definitely check out this area next time you are in Paris! One of my favorite parts of Paris was the patisseries (French bakeries) which offer delicious baguettes, sandwiches, quiches, and desserts. My stomach was very happy after this trip. Finally, I would definitely agree that Paris definitely has a romantic feel to it, so can’t be the single the next time I visit! Kidding.

View of the Eiffel Tower at night.

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Montmartre area with tons of artists.

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5. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam can be quite the culture shock to some people. The city may be famous for the Red Light District and coffee shops, but there is so much more to see in the city. Bikes seem to be the most popular way to get around the city, so I would recommend doing a bike tour. I also loved the fact that there were so many canals throughout the city as well, so a boat ride is another great way to see Amsterdam. I visited the famous Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh (it’s actually pronounced like “ho”) Museum, and the Rijksmuseum (National Dutch Museum), all of which are must visits. Also, make sure you try the Dutch dessert called Gevulde Koeken, which is an almond cookie. It’s so good! One of my greatest takeaways from visiting this city is understanding the difference between tolerating vs accepting certain practices. While the Dutch may be tolerating of prostitution and drugs, they do not necessarily accept these types of behavior as okay. The general attitude seems to be “as long as you are not hurting or bothering anyone, you are free to do what you want.” Quite a different attitude than we are used to in America!

A view of a canal in Amsterdam.

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The famous I Amsterdam letters outside the Rijksmuseum.

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Tips on traveling within Europe

  • Use skyscanner.com to plan your travels. Skyscanner is a site that compares prices among different airlines for you. You can search flights from Edinburgh to “Anywhere,” which can save you money since certain countries are cheaper during certain weekends.
  • Stay in hostels. They are much cheaper than hotels, and you can meet a lot of people from across the world in them.
  • DOWNLOAD THE  TripAdvisor Offline City Guides APP. It provides you with city guides that will work without data or wifi. Before I go to a country, I always download the guide for that city. The offline guides will show your location as well as list out the top attractions and restaurants in the city that you are in. Such a lifesaver!
  • Walk > Public Transportation. Walking allows you to see the city and discover hidden treasures. Plus, you are young, and it’s good exercise. I would recommend walking anywhere that takes 45 minutes or less.
  • Plan a tentative schedule of things to do in each city before you go. However, you should always be flexible since plans change.

I finished planning my 17-day December trip after my exams are over. This is my itinerary:

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I will be visiting Barcelona, Rome, Budapest, Vienna, and Innsbruck. Should be fun. Looking forward to it!

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