Category Archives: Euro-Dreaming

If Lost in Budapest, the Danube runs North to South

The parliament building in Budapest, Hungary.

The parliament building in Budapest, Hungary.


So you know those movies, where the main characters are somewhere in Europe and decide to just hop on a train and somehow end up having this grand adventure. I know that I have had this grand scheme in my head that one day, somehow I would have this magical trip and it would be magnificent.

Well… I got my wish.

Since I was 15, I had been wanting to go to Budapest. I can’t tell you a particular reason. I knew that Buda and Pest were two places; a city cut by a river, the Danube. I didn’t know what a long history they had, or just how effected a country that existed behind the Iron curtain was. The city for some reason just always called to me. I also happened to have a family friend from Hungary who went to school in Budapest. As an exchange student in high school with one of my best college friends, Adam. He had offered to be our tour guide if we made it to his city.

Up until our last three weeks abroad, any trips to Budapest had either not worked out, or fallen to the side due to previous travel commitments or school work. But finally there was a weekend that was free for me and a friend. A poor lack of planning and time management, it was suddenly the day that we were supposed to leave and we had made no official plans to leave. I had looked up train schedules and that was about it.

Fun travel fact 1: To get to Budapest from Italy via train, take Trenitalia from Florence (or any major city) to Vienna’s Wien Meidling, than train from Vienna to Budapest. If you take the overnight train, you can be there by 11a.m. the next day.

As we sat in our school’s library that afternoon trying to officially go to Budapest, and three of our other friends decided this sounded like a pretty cool idea. So there we were, eight hours until we had to leave and we all decided to jump a train and go to Budapest for the weekend. This is what studying abroad was made for.

 Fun travel fact 2:  If you don’t book your ticket 24 hours or more in advance for the Trenitalia, you have to go to the conductor on the platform when the train arrives at the station and ask if they have room. Thankfully, they did for us. 

We ended up in a Harry Potter-esque train cabin, in shock that what we were doing was actually happening. I had to laugh at the ridiculous impressiveness of our pack a bag and take off sense of adventure. Call it awesome or immature, we even started reenacting scenes and lines from all the years of Hogwarts train rides that we could think of from the movie. We even got something from the trolly man.

Eventually we settled down and the logistics and lack of sleep started catching up to us all.

Fun travel facts 3 & 4: You pay three times on the train when you don’t already have a ticket: Once when you cross over into the Austria, and then another two times at points that I am still unclear about. And when traveling with people, make sure you keep your patience. Everyone is running on a lack of sleep and is uncomfortable, so cut everyone a little slack. 

Catching sleep all through out the night wasn’t easy but it was doable.

And I will never forget waking up to the Austrian countryside streaking across our window. It was bright, luscious , and hilly. The houses that we saw were brightly painted, happy looking homes that you couldn’t help but smile at.

Upon arriving in Wien Meidling, ordering good (by the way, yes in German, is “yah”), buying tickets and finding our platform (thank you kind ticket people), we were off to our final destination.

We had booked a hostel using Hostelworld (great app or website to use as a point of reference). That was one thing that couldn’t really be left to the last minute. After dropping stuff off, freshening up, and heading out for some food, we were in much better spirits and ready to see the city.

My friend Adam took us on a tour.

Travel tip 4: Wear sneakers or flat boots when walking around a new city. You really don’t know what surfaces you will be walking on, or where you will end up…

We ended up on top of Gellért Hill, which was quite the climb, staring at Hungary’s statue of liberty. The sun was just going down and the whole city began to light up. We had seen the view all the way up, but there was something about watching the lights go down, and the lamps start to silhouette the life below that is special.

Budapest at night

Budapest at night


The rest of the evening was passed meeting some of Adam’s friends from college and experiencing some of the Hungarian night life. Something I found out that a person has to try while in Hungary: Pálinka. It is a drink, and it is a local thing. I will leave it at that.

The next morning we had decided to spend exploring the city. We wanted to make it to at least one museum so we found our way to the Hungarian National Museum. It gave us a brief but well rounded overview of the countries history. How it was ruled by the Turks and the Swiss, all the way up to how it was invaded in World War Two. Through out the museum, there were costumes of the times, and pairings of the ruling royals. The country has such a rich and rather sad history. It was constantly under foreign regimes yet they maintained an identity and a culture all their own that only portrayed hints of how the outside jurisdiction influenced them.

We managed to see the museum, the opera house, one of the many castles, and finished up at the parliament building at night, seeing the buttresses and archways lit with a soft yellow glow. The whole city had done nothing but make me fall in love all day. The streets were clean, there were sights that made me laugh, the food was good, and the people were all very kind. I wanted to spend another four days just exploring the city.

But alas, we couldn’t. We had to fly home on Sunday morning. With finals coming, and classes to attend, there were miles ahead that required far too many hours of travel.

But I can at least give you an idea of places that must be seen if you ever get the chance to exit reality and enter my magical land of Budapest.

The parliament building at night.

A bar that is looks to be dug out of an old cavern-a ruin pub. I can only vouch for Simpla Ker.

Make sure to get a good look at all of the bridges.

Take a walk in the park with your drink of choice.

See a castle. It is just as breathtaking as you imagine it to be.

Make sure to get a pictures of yourself from the top of Gellért Hill. Be that tourist for five seconds. You will kick yourself when you get home if you aren’t.

But most of all, take a moment here and there to just stop, take a look around. Take in the atmosphere.

You are in Hungary.

You are in Europe.



Feeling the glory of a new day



“She raced the sun to the top of the piazza knowing full well that she had already lost the race. But the consolation prize was more than enough: a view that no camera could capture, and crisp air that extended the promise of a fresh start that can only come from the breaking of a new day.”

A Spring break of Olympic proportions


I spent my spring break in Cofu and Athens Greece. It was probably one of the most amazing weeks of my life.
While I will care to share more after a good nights rest, I wanted to give a taste of the country.

The food was amazing. The scenery was unbelievable.

But my favorite part were the people.

The Greeks are a proud people. It is easy to tell that even with all the economic turmoil and a raising crime rate that is being partly blamed on the growing number of refugees who have entered the country, a citizen would have no problem shaking your hand and saying he is from Greece. Greece’s national flag were never far from view no matter where a person went. And the graffitied streets were colorful rather than forbidding.


From Paris…. With love


Where else would a studying aboard European newbie spend her Saint Valentines day but in Paris, France.

The day of our arrival, my travel companion and I were greeted with a gray, spitting, overcast sky that was not the most welcoming. Determined not to give in to the cold and fatigue, I hung my spirits on high expectations, and tried to keep warm at the thought of what lay in store for us. We were in the most romantic city in the world on one of the most romantic days of the year.

We made it to the flat that had been arranged for the weekend via a taxi and the french highways that looked remarkable similar to those at home. After hitting a few glitches that can be expected during travel, we were finally settled and ready to hit the city.

Everyone has a picture in their head of what something looks. Whether it is based on what they have seen in the movies or read in magazines and books.

But it is very difficult to FEEL a city and its’ rhythm until you have tapped its streets with your heels, and clattered up the steppes of its iconic monuments.

In the city of romance, I expected to feel aware of the fact that I didn’t have anyone special to buy me flowers on valentines day, or to close a lock and throw a key into the river with.

The city of romance didn’t make me feel a need to find love but instead it brought out the love I already had within me.

The romance of the city was with the centuries of history that I felt there. The enormity of the buildings was like nothing that has been built for decades, even centuries. The amount of work that would be put into these buildings reminded me of an era when time was slower, and projects were works of passion and required committment, just as loving people does.

The cities beauty lay its’ ability to transport a person back to an era that has been romanticized and portrayed in paintings, written works for hundreds of years. Where the unattractive aspects were be covered with fine embroidery, lustrous silks, fans, carriages, and a society that was made almost more beautiful by the restraints of protocols and rules.


On the last night of the stay, as I walked down the streets, the Seine’s voluptuous waves seemed to act as a metronome for the city, and the glittering facades that surrounded me were the silent applause from an audience wanting an encore.

It would have been easy to feel as cold as the river probably was. I was filled with a mixture of being full of love and also sadness that only comes from wishing that your dearest ones were with you. I chose to embrace the warmth of the love I felt. Paris had given me a gift: It reminded me of the importance of loving others and being bless with having anyone at all to miss.


Dreams really do come true

View from Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, Italy

View from Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, Italy

Since I was about 12-years-old, I have had romantic thoughts about what other countries would be like. To walk down streets that had character and history. To meet Big Ben in person, walk the great wall of China, and see where so many Christian’s were put to death in the great collisieum. I wanted to get a taste of what others lives were like.

My first opportunity to make these dreams come true is by studying abroad in Florence, Italy for the semester.

Heaps of paperwork, about a dozen stamps, some frustrated phone calls, and a dash of bravery later, I was checked in to the international terminal (terminal five to be exact) at the O’hare airport in Chicago. I had somehow managed to pack what I hoped to be an adequate amount of clothing for the next four months, said some difficult good byes to loved ones, and was now anxiously waiting to board a flight that would take me to my first foreign destination ever: London.  London is where I would meet up with a majority of the other students in my study abroad program.

For the next two days, we both guided and encouraged to roam about the city, finding our way armed only with old fashioned paper maps, and our travelers instincts. Managing to only get very very lost once, I was pretty happy with the navigation skills that the other girls and I showed.

Trafalgar Square, London, England

Trafalgar Square, London, England

Saturday, bright and early, all the luggage was heaved down the stairs and into trailers that were pulled by charter buses (yes, charter buses were pulling little trailers and it was as funny as it sounds). They were taking us to Heathrow airport where we would finally fly to Italy.

A three hour flight, some standing in line to get passports stamped, more lugging of the luggage, and finally a short rainy walk later, and we were on yet another bus that took us from the airport in Pisa to Florence, our new home.

The stories you hear and the pictures you see of the Tuscan country side are in no way exaggerated. The bright green with pinpricks of golden honey and toast topped with terra cotta that were homes littering the terrain were as I pictured them after seeing so many movies and pictures. The mountains that cut the horizon were something that I did not expect but were a pleasant surprise. Even though it was overcast, and misty, Italy was somehow felt bright and vibrant.

I drank in these views, knowing that the wonderment I was feeling was something that only comes in the form of a first experience.

And I wanted to remember everything about the first time I saw Italy.

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