Wow time really flies by! It feels like just yesterday that I boarded the plane in Chicago to start my adventure of a lifetime on the Student Exchange Program. I’m actually starting this post after being in Europe for exactly one month, and so far I have been lucky enough to take a few trips outside of the Strasbourg area.
After just a few days in the city, I got a group of friends together to go to Europa Park in Rust, Germany, which was only about 40 minutes away by bus. Europa Park is the 2nd largest theme park on the continent, and each area in the park is themed after a different European country. The park was beautiful and it contained some of Europe’s largest roller coasters, so my trip there was definitely a highlight. Amusement parks are not as common in Europe as in the United States, and I was telling all my new friends in the group about parks that I go to back home: Cedar Point and Kings Island. My European friends were so surprised to hear about how many huge roller coasters that there are in Ohio, and Cedar Point was generally something I mentioned when describing my state in general. Even though I’m used to amusement parks, my day at Europa Park was one of the best of the trip. I got to spend time with a great group of people that I had just met three days ago, and thrill rides have a great way of bringing people from all backgrounds together. On top of that, Europa Park is really fun and we were lucky enough to go on a day when the weather was beautiful and there were hardly any lines for the attractions. The highlights of the day for me were definitely the two biggest rides at the park, Silver Star (reminiscent of Diamondback at Kings Island) and Blue Fire (a unique launched coaster that was Iceland themed), as well as the beautiful theming and landscaping of the park, which differentiated it from amusement parks back home. So overall, this was the first of many fun day trips.
The next weekend I was asked to go on a trip to Switzerland by two friends who had been on the Europa Park trip. There were nine of us in a van that we drove throughout the country, and we basically did the Grand Tour of Switzerland in three days. Along the way we visited the 5 largest Swiss cities (Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern, and Lausanne), the beautiful lakeside town of Lucerne, Switzerland’s iconic Chateau de Chillon, and the breath-taking Berner Oberland region. While I knew that Switzerland was going to be beautiful, the country really exceeded my expectations. Switzerland is packed with beautiful scenery, and it is very different from the other places that I’ve visited so far. All of the Swiss towns and cities that we saw were pretty similar, they were quaint and very clean, they were situated on a lake or river and generally both, they were surrounded by mountains, and they had pretty old town centers. As nice as these cities were, most of them were fine to see for just a couple hours because there were not all that many sights. My favorite part though about Switzerland was all the landscapes that we were surrounded by. We saw dozens of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and villages, and everything really was overwhelmingly beautiful, but a couple of the places really stood out. My favorite town that we passed through was definitely Lucerne, and although we only really had 30 minutes in the city, it was enough to make me want to come back. Lucerne was the quintessential Swiss city, situated on a lake at the mouth of a river, surrounded by the Alps, and the city had the prettiest old town with a fancy old wooden bridge that spanned the river. The most beautiful scenery though, was in the Bernese Oberland, which is in the center of the country and surrounds the town of Interlaken. We stayed in the perfect Swiss village of Iseltwald, and our hostel gave us the most incredible view, and we even got to try the local fondue the next day. Everywhere we went in the Bernese Oberland was beautiful, so much so that in fact we decided to chose the word “époustouflant” (‘breathtaking’ in French) as our “word of the day”. In all we spent three days discovering Switzerland, and it was an awesome way to spend the weekend.
This last weekend I had the opportunity to go on two more short trips, and this time I went to Stuttgart and Freiburg in Germany. Like I said before, Strasbourg is right on the German border, and I only need 10 minutes on the tram and bus to get to Kehl, Germany. Most locals in Strasbourg go to Kehl to buy there groceries, so I’ve actually been to Germany four times this week between the shopping and the day trips.
Last Saturday I went with a group of friends to the big Oktoberfest celebration in Stuttgart. While it isn’t the original festival that is in Munich, it is the second biggest celebration of its kind in the world, and its much cheaper and closer than Munich. A word of advice, when traveling in Germany, you can buy a group pass for each region of the country which gives you 24 hours of unlimited train travel for a low price. For example, since I live right on the border of the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg (which Stuttgart is the capital of), our group bought a 5-person group ticket for 38 euros total, so we could take a bus across the border and then take unlimited train trips while paying only 7.50. Other ways to save money while traveling are by looking into budget airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet), taking bus services (Flixbus!, a German company that serves most of surrounding areas) or looking into discount passes for the train companies. I saw on the French website for SNCF (the national railroad company) that they were having a deal on their Carte Jeune, a discount card that saves around 30% per train, where they were only 25 euros instead of 30, and within two trips I already recovered the 25 that I spent. Surprisingly, though, this deal was not displayed on the English language site, which is a very French thing to do, so look out for better deals on the French language site.
Getting back to my trip, I can say that Oktoberfest was even more fun than I expected it to be, and it felt like a huge state fair on steroids. There were several massive festival tents filled with people who were all dressed up in local costumes to dance, sing, eat and drink together. Every tent had a band that played music for the festival, including a few traditional drinking songs that they repeated every 15-20 minutes. Besides this, there were roller coasters, bumper cars and huge rides everywhere, so I had a really fun day in Stuttgart. After returning back to Strasbourg that night, I came back to Germany the next day with a different group to visit Freiburg, the main city in the Black Forest. The famous Black Forest is a large area of mountains and dark, thick forests that line the German border with France, and the area is filled with interesting old towns. Freiburg is a historic university town, that is reputed to have the best weather in all of Germany. We spent the day exploring the towns famous cathedral, old town center, and hiking the hills that overlooked the city. As expected, I had an awesome day with everyone in Freiburg, and it was great to be able to explore another interesting city.
The biggest highlight so far though, was all the amazing people that I’ve been able to meet at my host university. When I arrived in Strasbourg, I was the only student here from Fisher and I did not know anyone in the whole country. Luckily though, within my first few hours of being here I got to make new friends from all over the world. I have always loved studying about Europe and all its different cultures and peoples, but it was cool to finally have the opportunity to be exposed to this interesting part of the world. I have met French people, Danes, Czechs, Slovaks, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Colombians, Brazilians, and many other nationalities that I would have never had as much contact with in the United States. Everyone here has been so open to meeting new people, and it really feels like freshman year all over again, except that everything is in French and there’s better food. I love being able to meet people from all over the world and everyone who I’ve met here has had different life experiences from myself, but what has stood out, is how much we all have in common. That is why it is so important when you travel abroad to get out of your comfort zone. Everyone here is so eager to meet new people and all you have to do is introduce yourself and embrace the challenge of meeting new people.
These new, exciting experiences are what I live for, and I am so fortunate that my first few weeks in Europe have been this enjoyable. Whether its ordering lunch in a local restaurant, sipping coffee on the café terrace, buying a French phone plan, meeting people from other countries, or even mountain biking in the Vosges mountains with a guide that speaks only French, these are all memorable experiences that studying abroad has afforded me. I hope to update you all soon on my further adventures, and until then I’ll keep travelling and learning in this beautiful corner of the world. Thanks for reading.