Backpacking to Change

28 Mar

 

John Lennon Wall

I started my third month abroad with my most eventful Spring break yet. In a little over a week, I learned so much about myself and about other parts of Europe. Whether intentional or not, I found myself in positions that I know would have never occurred if I stayed in the states. These personal tests rendered answers that definitely raised self-awareness and self-confidence. Usually, I am so set on itineraries and to-do lists, that developing this deeper sense of flexibility actually shocks me. If I could sum up my trip in one word, it would probably be the following: spontaneous.

My friends and I planned to go to Munich, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; and Amsterdam, Netherlands for Spring break. In this post, I’ll cover the first two destinations. We decided to travel as our own group, backpacking style. The original plan was to leave first thing in the morning, but a member of the group found a night train last-minute. From the moment we arrived back in the apartment, we had two hours and counting until boarding. Two hours… I had several months to prepare for leaving America, and I had two hours to prepare to leave Italy for the first time. Two hours to pack and still finish fixing up my paper. With the clock ticking past the first half hour, I was pretty set on this last-minute decision not working out. After moments of freaking out, doubting myself, and the comforting support of my new friends, it did work out. I admit I did not do the best job of packing efficiently, but the deed was done and I was ready to head out to begin this new adventure.

These changes were all hanging on one factor: whether or not we can get the night train reserved. My best friend from back home was still in town and came to the train station with us just in case we did not get the sleeper car. Either way, I was prepared for both outcomes. Within minutes, I had to say my final goodbye to her and spent the remaining time in the train station’s McDonalds. I decided to finally try a frozen kiwi on a stick that I heard so much about, which was delicious by the way!  After conversing with other study abroad students from Georgetown, I eventually found myself in front of our sleeper car. It was pretty much a cubicle with 6 beds and a ladder. Not very spacious, but it does the job. It was basically a big sleepover between two of my friends and someone I literally had just met about an hour before. One thing we did plan out well in advance was a Eurail Pass. I ordered a 5-day pass that cost me over $300. I highly recommend this for those planning to travel Europe for an extended period of time! Just another tip to go along with that, don’t forget to validate (date stamp) the pass before boarding. My housemates lost a handful of euros because they forgot to include that last-minute information. Some of the trains we took throughout the trip did end up being really nice and probably would have been $300 alone, but I had my handy-dandy pass to rely on. We woke up in Munich and immediately walked into the Starbucks in the train station. We needed the Wifi spot to look up the hostel we wanted to stay at and send out my paper. At least that stress was done with. Surprisingly, I almost forgot I was in another country, sitting in Starbucks and drinking my usual Peppermint Mocha with Soymilk.

Since we didn’t have much time to prepare for all the adjustments, we were unable to book the hostel we wanted. Instead, we walked down the street and ended up satisfied with the random hostel we booked with no prior research. Since we arrived in Munich around 8AM, we took the next available train to the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Füssen. We got lunch at the discount grocery store and made our own budget sandwiches, which totaled up to be about 2-3 euros each for a pretty good meal. The castles were almost 3,000 feet higher than I’m used to back in the states. With this being said, it was no surprise that I had altitude sickness. We spent the rest of our days in Germany exploring Munich. Some street performers saw us approaching and began to play the theme song for Super Mario Bros, which was a pleasant surprise. I also witnessed a child drinking beer from his mother’s stein. I found it interesting that the beer culture of Germany resembles the wine culture of Italy: children grow up with alcohol at the dinner table. I also wasn’t expecting to see so many people to be casually walking or lounging around town in their fancy attire and hats. As if those differences weren’t enough, I also noticed that all their taxis were Mercedes Benz. I can’t forget to mention the best meal of my semester abroad thanks to the Hofbräuhaus brewery. For those of you who are curious, I ordered the pork steak. The food and people were amazing. I wasn’t expecting everyone to be so nice and helpful.

Our next stop was Prague. I did not have the best first impressions due to our first night. We were followed by someone who was trying to rush us to stay at his “hostel” and then ripped off by a taxi driver. This was our first and most unwise transaction with Czech money. We had no choice but to go with the driver due to availability. I wouldn’t describe his driving as…safe plus I was the only one who noticed that this taxi was not a real taxi. There was no meter… It looked as if he just painted the outside. Once we settled into our hostel, we noticed that he actually charged us over $50 for that ride. We had another friend joining us the next day, so at least we warned her about the scams. We tried to overlook that and focus on the bright side: we were in a brand new city with places waiting to be discovered. We stayed in a hostel that was walking distance to the castles. Right outside the castles, we found a cafe to try some Czech Pancakes. They kind of reminded me of donut looking funnel cakes, but very delicious! My friend and I also had an interesting moment waiting outside the castle for our other friends. Two large groups of students seemed to cheer for their homeland. The two of us were caught in the middle of cheers for Spain on our left and Italy on our right. It got so heated that the police actually showed up to make sure they calmed down. On a lighter note, we also saw the John Lennon wall, where I made a public contribution and literally made my mark, haha. One of my favorite moments was watching a violinist play in a candlelit area on the bridge. However, the description does not give him enough credit. It was so beautiful to hear and see his talent with a view of Prague’s reflections on the river. That scenario allowed me to take a moment to stop and recognize where I am and how I got there. I still can’t believe I’m studying abroad in Europe.

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