While in Arezzo

My Adventure

As I sit in the B-section of FCO getting ready to start my roughly 40-hour trip home, it’s hard to internalize and digest my time in Europe. I can honestly say that this semester was better than I ever could have imagined. When I arrived, I didn’t think that this experience would change me; four months later, I’m leaving a different person. I’m going to talk about how this semester changed me and why that’s what made this semester great.

Europe is a different ball of wax – everything just moves a little bit differently than in the USA. Especially in Italy, timetables are more relaxed, trains are frequently delayed, and most people are comparatively chill (at least when compared to me). This generally relaxed atmosphere, coupled with walking or taking public transportation everywhere, changed my general demeanor and attitude. I had to relinquish my perceived control, especially when it involved TrenItalia, and role with the punches. This made me more relaxed, less stressed, and generally happier. Hopefully, I can carry this new-found attitude over to driving at home.

When in Europe, you are rarely alone. I lived in a single room (hallelujah!), but when I was not in my room, I was always around other people, whether other OU students or fellow pedestrians/travelers. This constant exposure to people, particularly when traveling on weekends, has made me a more tolerant individual. When there are so many people around and so much to see and do, you just can’t be concerned with what other people are doing, unless they’re walking slowly and in the middle of the lane; literally nothing is more frustrating than that. I learned (imperfectly) to not sweat the small stuff and focus on what aspects of my experience I could control.

As I traveled through Europe, and even when I was just studying in Arezzo, I was constantly struck by how lucky I was. I got to live in Europe for four months – that’s just generally awesome. I’m more grateful than I can express for that opportunity and to the people who made it possible. Without the support (and occasional push) of my parents, I might not have gone to Arezzo for the semester in the first place. And I also have to give a shout out to Kevin Schuetz who gave me a job at Koda CrossFit Norman as a freshman in college. Without that job, there’s no way I would have been able to travel around and see everything I did. The appreciation I have for this experience carries over into everything – I have a greater sense of gratitude for everything I have.

Europe challenged me in a lot of ways. Public transportation was not remotely self-explanatory for me (especially at the beginning); the language barrier was a perpetual challenge; budgeting time to allow for weekend travel while keeping up with school was (and still is) a work in progress. But being there required that I rise to meet those challenges; although I was far from perfect, I certainly tried. And strangely enough, in the midst of all the “vacationing” (as my dad calls my semester), I learned to love working hard – to be challenged and then face those challenges.

More than anything else, going to Europe this semester was an adventure. It was completely different from anything I’d ever done before. I’m not sure I can stress strongly enough how different it was. I was tested, and those tests forced me to grow. That’s why I loved this semester. It wasn’t exclusively about getting to travel around to all the cities I visited. While I was traveling and visiting all those different cities, those places were changing me. Although mine was a rather less dramatic journey, I still feel a bit like Bilbo on his return from the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. His adventure left him changed, and the same is true for me.

The Travels

The Travels Pt. 3

So . . . Prague happened. Having completed my traveling for this semester, Prague is second only to Berlin in my mind. Prague was something else. Within one hour of being in the city I had fallen in love. I knew it was going to be good when I walked into a main square and saw a Christmas tree silhouetted in front of an amazing, Gothic church façade. And it was more than good; it was great. The Christmas markets had great food (especially gnocchi with sauerkraut) and high quality products that made my Christmas shopping pretty easy. Inside the castle complex I discovered my new favorite church in Europe: St. Vitus’ Cathedral. It was a spectacular example of Gothic architecture, and I am a sucker for beautiful Gothic churches. There were great views and tons of cool museums. But more than anything else, Prague had a unique atmosphere.

Prague was the perfect mix of old and new. I’ve been in cities that have felt really old (like Rome) and in cities that are ancient and magnificent (like Siena). I’ve seen cities that have embraced modern society (like Berlin). Prague was the first city that seemed to have bridged the divide between the old and new. Sections of the city, such as the castle complex, had the charm and wonder I would expect from a fairytale. Other areas, such as one near the National Monument, were modern, bustling thoroughfares. But regardless of my location, it was always uniquely Prague. The city had not lost its identity to the modern world, nor was it stuck in the past refusing to adapt to a changing world. I’ll be coming back to Prague.

Now, just to wrap everything together (as it relates to traveling), here are my top three trips of the semester: in first, Berlin; in second, Prague; in third, Bern. The one thing these cities have in common is a great ambiance and unique character. Simply being in these cities was enjoyable – sitting in a café for hours would be awesome in any one of these cities. And of all the cities I’ve visited on this trip, these are the three that I want to go back to more than any others. So, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

The Travels While in Arezzo

Stopping to Smell the Roses

Whenever I’m out on weekend trips, I feel like I’m going 100 mph from the moment I get into the city until I get back to the airport (or train station, depends on where I am). There’s more to see in these cities than can be seen in a weekend, so I try to fit in as much as I can while I have opportunity. I wouldn’t change a thing about it – I want to experience as much as I can while I’m here in Europe. But sometimes, it’s nice to slow down and actually experience the culture; my thanksgiving break in Germany allowed me to do just that.

My thanksgiving break was (fantastically) long. I spent the entire week in Koblenz, Germany with the Köthe family, friends of my family. Having a whole week in a city allowed me to actually experience German culture, something that’s virtually impossible when only visiting for a weekend. I would say that I experienced some of the most important aspects of German culture over thanksgiving break.

First, I was given ample opportunity to eat lots of traditional German food (I was fed very* well while with the Köthe’s house). I had amazing bread every day, a German specialty Spätzle, two types of Würst at a soccer match, and a Bavarian breakfast (traditional Bavarian white sausage with salty Brezels, sweet mustard, and beer, in my case non-alcoholic). Perhaps most astonishingly, while in Germany I also developed a taste for coffee (another beverage done well in Germany).

Second, I was able to see parts of Germany that would ordinarily be impossible since I don’t have a car. I was taken to see the castles Burg Eltz and Marksburg (the first authentic castles I’d ever seen). We also visited the longest hanging bridge in Germany, located about 15 minutes walk outside of a small, rural town in Rheinland-Pfalz. We visited the fortress that overlooks Koblenz and the Rhine (the view from the fortress is pictured below) and spent time walking around downtown Koblenz. It was a great week full of amazing experiences.

Third, and finally, I actually got to speak German to native speakers. Although I can’t say that I can carry conversations too easily, the Köthes were all willing to help me struggle through speaking in German. By the end of the week, I could tell that a lot of what I had forgotten during my time in Italy was actually starting to come back; speaking in German was easier than it had almost ever been before.

Long story short, getting to “stop and smell the roses” in Germany was amazing and added a new dimension to my travels in Europe. I really want to thank the Köthe family for taking me in and making me feel at home for the entire week, for feeding me (not an easy task), and giving me the best the thanksgiving break I think I’ve ever had. Until next time, Germany (and there will be a next time).