University of Wisconsin–Madison

One Month Already??

It’s been far too long since I’ve written, and seeing that I’ve now been in Germany for exactly one month, I figured an update was long overdue. I’ll start off this blog with a quick correction from my previous post. I had mentioned that you can actually make a profit by buying and recycling plastic bottles here, but it turns out that 0.25 cents you get back is added to your total when you buy it. Can’t say I’m mad about it, just a little disappointed (not really, it’s a totally reasonable process).

Allllllrighty now that I’ve got that out of the way, you’ve probably (maybe not) been wondering what’s new in my life. Well, the four-week orientation course came to an end just over a week ago, which finished with a final exam that is used to help accurately place students in courses for the actual semester. It’s crazy that most universities back in America are coming to a close in just under a month and I have yet to begin my actual university courses here in Bonn! Ok, enough school talk for now, but get ready for a comprehensive review on some real life German classes in the next couple weeks.

Now for the more interesting segment of this program, travel. I did a fair amount of it in the last couple weeks. It started with a 25 hour trip out to Brussels, where I met up with a four of my good friends from home, two of which who are also studying abroad this semester (Spain and France). We had little to no plan (common theme here) on what to do, but found ourselves just walking around and exploring the city. Naturally, we indulged in some waffles, which were immediately followed by a massive amount of French fries, which was followed by feeling absolutely horrible. Now that I think about it, during my time in Brussels I only ate waffles, fries, and chocolate (that’s most of the food groups, right?). Feeling obese, I hopped back on a bus back to Germany, as I had my final three days of my orientation class that week.

City lights of brussels at night

Three of my friends then met me in Bonn for a couple days until my orientation ended, which was the start of a 1.5 week long break before the semester started on April 9th.

We had quite the trip planned; 6 days, 4 countries, many, many cities, and never sleeping in the same place for more than one day. On paper, a fairly well-planned trip. In reality, total opposite. It all began on the first leg of the trip, a bus from Bonn to Frankfurt, where we would fly out to Milan for the first day. We arrived at the bus stop and waited for the bus. We were then greeted with a message from Flixbus, saying the trip was cancelled (10 minutes before it was supposed to leave), and they had rescheduled us for a later trip that day. The only problem was that bus wouldn’t arrive in Frankfurt until after our flight left for Italy. No problem, we thought. Little weird and highly unprofessional to cancel a ride that last minute, but we figured we could just take the train to Frankfurt instead. 92$ ticket. For a 2 hour ride… Unless we wanted to miss our flight, this was the only option, far from ideal. So, we bought the tickets and headed off to the airport. Minor hiccup, truly unavoidable, little frustrating, but hey, that’s life. No trip is flawless, these things are to be expected and we remained optimistic.

Minutes after getting on the train, I got an email from a family member we had planned to stay with the next day. He got sick, and was no longer able to host us. Another blow. Not great. Reserving that problem for a later time, we focused on just making our flight to Italy, which we did. That night we stayed in Bergamo, a small city about an hour outside of Milano. We arrived late, (thank you for the delays RyanAir) so everything was closed. Luckily, we came across a vending machine at a gas station and sampled a series of Italian chips, cookies and candy, another healthy dinner.

The next morning, we headed off to Milano, where we were able to find ourselves a cool, last minute hostel for the night. We once again explored the city, ate the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, and went out for some pasta for dinner.

view inside Milano’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Milano is a really a cool city, the only downside is that in the popular spots of the city people will come up to you and try to tie a little piece of string around your wrist as a “gift”, but then immediately ask for money afterwards. Keeping your hands in your pockets and saying no 10000x to them is a good way to avoid this.

Duomo: a stunning piece of architecture

The next morning, we said goodbye to our hostel and hopped on a train towards the city of Lugano, just inside the border of Switzerland. Amazing city, really beautiful. We walked around the area, got some food and then had planned to take a bus towards the city of Carlazzo in Italy, to visit and stay the night with some of my German family members, who have a summer home there.

Aerial view of Lugano, picturesque setting

We knew which bus we needed to take, but we couldn’t find where the stop was for the life of us. We asked locals, we asked other bus drivers. No one knew. We tried to hitchhike, no luck. During this confusion, it started to rain/hail heavily, which was great (not). After about two hours of running around, we found the stop and were able to get on without problem. I always been impressed by bus driver’s abilities in America, but this bus driver was on another level. He was navigating these tight, winding mountain roads that would be difficult in a normal car, pretty amazing. Anyways, we arrived at my family’s beautiful house tucked in the mountains of Italy, had a lovely dinner and breakfast the following morning before the next leg of the journey, which was to the city of Como in Italy.

The day we visited Como was probably the toughest day of the trip. It was bitter cold, windy, and rained the entire day. We spent most of our time there trying to sort out where we were going to sleep that night, honestly not sure why we didn’t plan for that night, but live and learn I guess? We figured our best bet was to head back towards Milano, where we would leave for our flight to Amsterdam the next day. Long story short, we slept in the airport. I won’t go as far to say that I had a good night sleep, but I certainly slept more than I thought I would. You get a LOT of weird looks from other travelers, but once you get past that and the cold, hard floor it isn’t too bad. Naturally, the day we spent at the airport had the best weather of the entire trip, but we were able to take full advantage by finding a small area of grass in the parking lot to lay out in. That afternoon we headed off to Amsterdam, the final stop of the trip.

Our time in Amsterdam was limited, so we tried to see as much of the city as possible. It rained the whole time we were there (no surprise), but I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. The canals really are quite cool; however, they do make navigating the city a bit more of an adventure. We checked out the site of Anne Frank’s hiding, as well as the historic city center, which was crazy crowded, but nice. The next morning, I parted ways with my friends, who were headed back to Wisconsin, and I took a combination of 4 trains and 1 bus back home to Bonn. Quite the trip.

The heavy downpour added to the nighttime mood in Amsterdam

I then spent the remained of last week trying to retain some sort of routine in my life, before the semester officially started. Today I had my first day of classes, can definitely notice an improvement in my German ability since arriving a month ago. Still haven’t gotten sick of Nutella, despite it being a vital part of my diet every day. Also, really enjoying the sparkling mineral water here, which seems to be the unpopular opinion amongst the other American students here. Very European of me. Ok wow so this was much longer than I anticipated, but if you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading!  Bis später!