LONDON – For those thinking of studying abroad and/or traveling to Europe soon, here are some observations about some places I’ve been so far.
My home for four months hasn’t disappointed. London is an explosion of culture. I am in the minority as a white in my classes and you can get Chinese, Indian and British food all in the same place. Culture is also found in a large selection of plays and musicals and places sites Madame Tassaud’s. The museums are great, numerous and free. England loves their tradition and it is evidenced by great sites like the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament (with Big Ben) and the Cabinet War Rooms. The original college towns of Oxford and Cambridge are less than an hour away, as are Stonehenge, the Roman city of Bath and Windsor Castle. The biggest problem is that London is expensive, very expensive. Public transportation is good, but expect the unexpected, it’ll happen at least once. The beer is good and a pint of Guinness costs less than a bottle of Budweiser. Four months won’t be nearly enough to see all the city has to offer.
More sheep than people, beautiful scenery and smiling faces, got to love it. Everything is printed in English and Gaelic, which is very different language. Can I buy a vowel, Pat?
I went to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and I suggest you do the same if you get the chance. The city isn’t as spectacular as some other capital cities, but that’s not why you come. The Irish are extremely friendly and old people drink and dance with the young at the pubs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and the nearby Wicklow Mountains are beautiful. You can see the whole city from the Gravity Bar at the old Guinness Brewery. While in Dublin I was kissed by a drunken Irishman (on the cheek), flashed by five middle-aged women, interviewed by Dave Attell for Comedy Central’s “Insomniac” and drank my weight in Guinness.
The most romantic city in the world does its best to live up to its reputation. My girlfriend and I went for Valentine’s Day and had a five-course meal that didn’t disappoint. Most of the French are not as rude as rumored, but try to attempt a few words of French, they will appreciate it. The view from the Eiffel Tower is amazing. Versailles Palace is beautiful and you could spend days in the Louvre (art museum) and still not hardly see everything. The metro (subway) is easy in Paris, just get a map. Wine is cheaper than Coke and baguettes and pastries are great.
Naples is not the most spectacular city in Italy, but it is steeped in history, hills and nearby Mt. Vesuvius. The traffic is bad and drivers are crazy, but you will get more of a true Southern Italian experience than you will in Rome. Views of the Mediterranean are spectacular. The ruins of the Roman city Pompeii and the island of Capri are at your doorstep.
If you go to one place in Italy, go to Rome. I don’t think anywhere else in the world hits you with a bigger one-two punch of history and religion than Rome. Even if you’re not a historian or a Catholic, you will be amazed at the detail and beauty at sites that have been around for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. The city is pretty dirty and there are a lot of pickpockets, but if you come accepting that, it will go beyond your expectations. Many sites are close together and the Vatican can be reached by metro, which the city is currently expanding.
Florence (Firenze) is an amazing display of the Renaissance packed into a small city with plenty of outdoor markets. The Doma, a huge red dome on the cathedral of the Santa Maria de Fiori is enormous and a great site. I’m not really that into art, but Florence almost made me want to move there and study it. Everything in Florence is easily walkable, and the food and gelato (ice cream) is excellent, as is the rest of Italy. The beautiful rolling hills and small villages of Tuscany and Pisa’s amazing wide-open Campo de Miracoli (Field of Miracles) that include the Leaning Tower is a short train ride away.
Ah Venice, even better than I imagined it. The canals, magnificent St. Mark’s and its square make it a great place to visit, and it has an interesting history. The water is strikingly light blue and vaporettas (water buses) can take you the same places as gondolas for much cheaper. There are not a large number of sites to see here, so either go to relax or stay for a short time. The main part of the city is easily walkable and there are no cars and few bikes, very nice.
South of France
The rich of the rich flock to the French Rivera to the Grand Casino in Monaco, the film festival in Cannes and the nude beaches in the east of the Cote d’ Azur. However, college students can get by at some less expensive parts of the region. We went to Nice, a strikingly inexpensive resort city with beautiful views of a crystal clear Mediterranean and unbelievable flowers and trees. The reason it’s cheaper is the long beachfront is all small rocks. The weather is great except for the rainstorms, which we experienced one day. The other place we stayed was Arles, a small old walled Roman town. A large Roman amphitheatre still holds bullfights, and Van Gough painted many of his famous paintings there. We caught the tail end of a huge four-day festival they have around Easter every year. There is a mix of French, Spanish and Italian culture depending on where you are in the South of France. Travel is a bit slower here, but this is where you come to relax.
Barcelona is a thriving city with many sites very unique to it. The Sagrada Familia church is still under construction even though it began in 1881, and it has the most original architecture of any church I’ve ever seen. Barcelona also has stunning views from the cliff Parc de Montjuic, where the Olympic Stadium is. It has some sand beaches that were created for the 1992 Olympics, so if you go into the water you will find rocks. There are tons of people up late eating, drinking and enjoying the night; Las Ramblas (main street) is almost always full. The metro is clean and timely here.
Flights in or around Europe are very cheap on certain airlines like Ryan Air and Easy Jet. Eurail passes are a good idea and can be bought in the United States, but you may want to reserve a seat during busy times. There are dozens of tours of all corners of Europe, some better than others.
Vince is a junior Technical Journalism and Political Science double major. He is currently studying abroad at Middlesex University in North London.