Traveling, Traveling, Traveling (And a Little Bit of School)

Unfortunately, things have been hectic lately. So even though there’s so much to talk about, I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about it all – I’ll hit the highlights but won’t be able to go into much detail. I may have mentioned this before, but Maastricht University splits up their semester into two periods. For the first period, I took only one class and passed the final exam. This period, I am taking two classes (2.5 times as much class as before), my research position is picking up, and I have been/plan to travel a lot. Needless to say, this is why it’s been a bit difficult to get around to blogging. Since my last post, I’ve been to Brussels, Munich, Rome, Florence, Dublin, Paris, Budapest, and Vienna.

First off was Brussels with Haley, the other person on exchange at Maastricht University from the University of Florida. This trip was only a day trip, so we left Maastricht early in the morning by train and arrived in Brussels around mid-day. We got something to eat, and I tried a Belgian stew (with fries of course). After our meal, we stumbled across a shopping plaza that consisted of about 80% chocolate shops, which was quite baffling. We then made our way over to the Grand Place of Brussels, which is a square surrounded by very impressive buildings.

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There just happened to be some sort of Japanese festival going on at the time, which was exciting. We then made our way over to the chocolate museum, where we could taste test some Belgian chocolate and see how it’s made. Next, we wandered over to the Royal Palace and gazed upon all its regality.

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Our last stop was Cinquantenaire Park, which held what seemed to be some type of palace as well as a memorial structure. It was such a beautiful day, and the park really blew me away.

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On our way back to the train station, we found ourselves amidst some sort of parade, which was a really nice change of pace. All in all, Belgium was a beautiful city that was perfect for a day trip.

The next trip was Munich, where we went to Oktoberfest through an organization called the Erasmus Student Network. A big portion of the exchange students in Maastricht went on this trip, and it was a great way to get to know people. We all were encouraged to dress up in the traditional clothes worn at Oktoberfest – dirndls for the women and lederhosen for the men.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take too many pictures. Most of our time was spent talking, eating, and drinking in the tents, and that hardly constitutes for a memorable picture.

Next up was Italy, which was birthed very spontaneously, but ended up being one of my favorite places thus far. As I had a social dinner for my internship the night my flight left, it was a very tight journey to get to the airport on the last train. I spent the night in the airport and flew out early Thursday for Rome, where I spent Thursday and Friday. Thursday, I visited the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, as well as the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, and quickly realized how grandeur and beautiful the basilicas in Italy are. After that I got a quick glance of the Colosseum, which was one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever encountered.

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Next, I saw the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as the Monument of Victor Emmanuel. I managed to climb the monument and get a beautiful view of much of Italy just as the sun was setting.

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I was also able to experience the Trevi fountain, and of course, throw some coins in as well.

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The last sight of the day was the Spanish steps, which holds yet another church at the top.

The next morning, my first stop was the Colosseum, where I was able to enter and view from the inside, which was surreal to say the least. Next, I explored Palatine Hill, which has a great view of much of Rome. The ruins contained within the Roman Forum were my next stop, and it was incredible to see that so much was still intact.

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I took a quick detour to a market square where I grabbed a fresh smoothie, and then headed over to the Pantheon. After that, I made my way over to the Vatican, crossing a bridge with a beautiful view on the way. The second half of my day was spent in here, where I took a tour that covered the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, and St. Peters Basilica. The Vatican Museums were so vast that it was impossible to cover it all – I was only able to see a portion. St. Peters Basilica was so magnificent, words will never do it justice.

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I made my way back to the city center, had dinner and called it a night.

The next morning was my flight to Florence. Because I hadn’t had any time to plan out what I wanted to see in Florence, I spontaneously decided to do a tour that hit most of the highlights. The first stop was the Uffizi Gallery, which held a number of famous paintings and sculptures, from artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli. Though I’m not that big into art, being surrounding by so many masterpieces was definitely an experience that anyone could appreciate. We then visited the Church of Santa Croce, which not only was a beautiful church, but held the bodies of a number of famous Italians, such as Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

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We also visited another church – Orsanmichele. After these, we decided to turn it up a notch and see the biggest Cathedral in Florence, the Duomo. It’s an understatement to say that this building blew my mind, and unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to go inside. But the size and design were enough to capture the attention of any passerby.

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Finally, we visited the Accademia, which is the museum that hosts one of the most acclaimed sculptures – the David by Michelangelo. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the sculpture was much larger than I had envisioned, and incredibly impressive.

When the tour ended, I decided to take the advice of my tour guide and visit Piazzale Michelangelo during sunset for a beautiful view of Florence, and I wasn’t disappointed. If I could visit this spot every day just for a few minutes, I would – it was nearly impossible to leave.

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The next day was a day trip to Pisa, where I was able to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the buildings surrounding it as well. It was amazing to see what the structure looks like in person and just how sunk in the right side is.

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I flew back to Amsterdam that evening and made it back to Maastricht the next morning, absolutely exhausted.

My visits to Dublin and Paris occurred at the end of the first half of my semester, after the first period. I only had one final on Tuesday, so after my exam I flew out to Dublin and met up with my parents, who decided to visit Europe and meet up with me. The first day in Dublin, we just explored the city and tried out some tasty food. St. Stephens Green was a park that I really enjoyed, and we were also able to see some very medieval looking cathedrals.

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The next day, we had booked a day tour to Wicklow and Glendalough, where we drove through some mountains (and met some friendly goats) and got to explore the cemetery and ruins of part of Glendalough. The mountains and vast number of colorful trees really captured my heart.

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Ironically, one of my friends from Maastricht happened to be in Dublin at the same time as I was (we even managed to literally pass each other on the street on accident), and so we met up that night to explore Temple Bar, a very vibrant location filled with food, bars and music.

The next afternoon, we flew to Paris, got settled in, and had dinner. I had my first taste of escargot, and I would definitely have it again if I could. We started off the next morning with a tour up the Eiffel Tower and had an amazing view of the city.

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Next, we headed over to the Louvre and did our best to take in the thousands of paintings and sculptures on display, including the Mona Lisa.

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That night, we went on a boat tour on the river and took in the city on the water. The next day was a day trip to Versailles, where we explored the Palace as well as the gardens, which took up a good portion of the day in itself.

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When we returned from Versailles, we headed over to the Arc de Triomphe, where we could climb to the top and get yet another beautiful view of the city.

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After that, we headed over to Notre Dame where we were absolutely blown away by the architecture and the atmosphere. Church was in session when we visited, and it was an incredible experience.

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The next morning, I had to get up early to catch a train in order to attend my first classes of the period.

This past weekend, I traveled to Budapest and Vienna. I arrived in Budapest on Thursday night, where I had dinner at a restaurant centered around books, and was Harry Potter themed when I went. On Friday, I booked an early tour of the Parliament building and learned about some of the history.

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Afterwards, I stopped for breakfast and then headed over to Heroes’ Square that held an incredible monument.

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This was also the entrance to a park that I visited, which held a pond, a castle, and thermal baths. There was a lot to see, and I spent the good portion of the morning just wandering around, trying some of the vendor food, and sitting by the pond.

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Next, I visited St. Stephens Basilica, the biggest in Budapest. I was also able to climb to the bell tower and get a beautiful view of the city.

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I then made my way up to Fisherman’s Bastion, which is basically a terrace filled with white, fairytale-like towers.

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Matthias Church was on this terrace as well, and was quite beautiful on the outside as well as the inside.

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My final stop was the Citadel, which sits atop Gellert Hill and is known for beautiful views.

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Later that night was my bus to Vienna, which was 3 hours. I got into my hostel very late.

The next morning, by the time I woke up, it was only me and one other guy in our 4-person room. We made conversation as we both got ready and then decided to go get breakfast together at the street market right in front of our hostel. That turned into exploring Vienna together for the entire day. We managed to see the opera house, the National Library, Hofburg Palace, St. Stephens Cathedral (and climb to the top for a view of the city), a park, Belvedere Palace, and Kunsthistorisches Museum.

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Opera House

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Hofburg Palace

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

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Belvedere Palace

The next morning, I visited the Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens, which was an incredible event.

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I spent much of the morning there, mostly exploring the gardens. The colors of the trees were stunning, there was a beautiful fountain and a large monument at the top of the hill that overlooks the palace. There was a zoo, restaurants and a number of other things I didn’t even have time to explore. I did, however, get to see some emu’s, which was not only very unexpected but very exciting as well (I don’t know why). My flight back to Amsterdam was pretty early, so that’s all I had time to see.

I’m finally getting my first break from traveling for a while. The beginning of this period has been a hard adjustment for many reasons. I feel like I’ve been playing catch up with my classes, and I’ve also been tasked with programming the experiment for our research project (and I’ve never used this program before). Trying to maintain all of this while still enjoying the experience and traveling is quite difficult. And though my life is in Maastricht right now, I can’t neglect my life back in Florida either, which means keeping in contact with all my friends and family, making my class schedule for next semester, applying for scholarships and internships, and finding a place to live. I have accepted a yearlong internship this summer as an Engineering Associate in Operational Effectiveness at UF Health, I’ve adjusted my class schedule to fit this, and managed to find a place to live. Though I’m enjoying my life here in Maastricht and getting to experience so many new things, I’m excited for what I have waiting back home as well.

As for now though, I’m excited for what’s to come within the next few weeks. Tomorrow, my roommate and I are going out, probably for food and a movie. Next weekend, I’m going to Prague with a lot of the other exchange students. The weekend after that, I’m headed to London. I still want to visit Norway and Switzerland, though I’m running out of time to do so. Who knows what I’ll get up to in the next six weeks.

 

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