A Travellerspoint blog

A Study Abroad Experience in Review

I formally end this blog with a final post about all the valuable life lessons I have learned.

In the blink of an eye, it was over.

The best times in your life always seem like the shortest. This post, though, will be anything but short, unfortunate for those of you who would just like a quick synopsis of the many things I have learned by participating in a semester abroad program. I’m going to attempt to summarize the unsummarizable, truly the greatest experience of my life, and attempt to keep this post somewhat interesting. I’m going to tie some of the things I’ve learned to what I am doing now, and I'm going to offer my broad opinions on some of life’s many treasures. If you want the gist of it, look for the lessons in bold.

I will start with one of the most stereotypical comments about Europe: the public transport really is better over there. It’s just a fact. We Americans have had this vehicle centric lifestyle coded into the fiber of our bodies for our entire lives. Here in Detroit, where I am working at Ford this summer, the entire city is built around the vehicle. I mean, it makes so much sense given that the Motor City has earned its place in history in this fashion. But I have gone from one extreme to the other. In almost every major European city I’ve been, there is incredibly robust transportation infrastructure; huge subways, hundreds of bus lines, even water taxis. You don’t need a car in the city (wait, isn’t that what we are seeing currently with the upwards trend in mobility solutions like Uber?) and if you need to travel, take a luxurious ICE train that will get you there faster. Or, take a 10 euro flight to almost anywhere. While lots of American cities do have great transportation systems (NYC, San Fran, etc.), many of them, like Detroit, simply don’t. There aren’t even sidewalks here; you have huge avenues and medians and one way streets, all arranged in boring square blocks. For the vehicle this makes perfect sense, but as humans transition from needing cars to move to needing merely a way to move, the cities that have these systems in place thrive, as I have seen in Europe.

One of the important things I have learned while traveling a lot is how to navigate a city and adapt quickly. Not just how to look at Google Maps, but actually navigate using the signs, maps, and information at your fingertips. It’s hard to describe how fun it is over the course of a trip to leave knowing you’ve “cracked” the city. Knowing which way of traveling is superior, knowing how to look for information on signs in different languages, knowing that there are always a few different routes to the same place. Taking ownership of your travel experience by figuring out the area and mapping these places in your brain brings a real sense of satisfaction by the end. And, it’s good experience for when you really need to get somewhere. It’s as if you’ve made friends with the city; you know it, and it knows you. Take the time to learn how it all works, and you can go anywhere. Plus, you know the lay of the land when you come back again!

Change is one of those things in life that is inevitable. We all know this, but we all—myself included—don’t necessarily embrace it. It’s hard to change and new things are not easy, but I have learned they are good for you. My study abroad semester has taught me how to better adapt to change, because that’s about all I ever did! I was constantly packing up and flying to wherever, communicating with people of many different cultures, making new and close friends, and learning. Before I went on a trip to Cinque Terra and Venice, I was having a hard time deciding if I should go or not—I would’ve been by myself and needed to study, yet these are places you cannot miss. My dad’s advice? “Just go for it!” These simple words were all it took, yet perfectly describe an important takeaway from this entire experience. You cannot possibly know what changes are ahead for you, but you can approach whatever it is positively and welcome whatever opportunities they might present. I took this attitude to Germany when I started on January 4th, and I honestly believe I got everything I could have out of those short 5 months. I now will approach my summer with Ford and my career in general in the same way.

One of my coworkers and friends that semester told me once, “we are not alone on this planet.” I mean, of course not, there are people all over the world. But have you really seen them? Have you seen where they live, how they live, what they do? No. Traveling is the only way to experience everything in all 5 senses. There is so much value in seeing what lies around you. Traveling is so important to fully see the history of cultures completely unlike your own, and I think it adds perspective to your daily life. To visit Rome and see in one field the ruins of literally thousands of years of civilization, to which we owe many modern ideals, makes you wonder just how impactful the Romans really were. Attending Easter mass at the Vatican with 100,000 people from all over the planet is a perfect example of how humans can be so different, yet come together at the same time and same place, and experience the same thing. We all call Earth home, and we are all in it together. At ZF TRW, I worked closest with a German, an Indian, a Frenchman, and an American. It’s hard enough for 4 people of differing cultures to speak the same language, let alone being able to communicate humor and tone and expression. But in fighting through it all, you learn things from each other, and get to benefit from mutual differences. So through travel or not, we are not alone on this planet, and there are always opportunities to see that.

War sucks. I always knew this, of course, but there was one moment in particular while on a Tauschie trip to Berlin that I remember having this feeling. Thankfully my family hasn’t been directly impacted by any of the violence and war going on around the world, but there was a time where they were. WWII was a tragedy and you wonder why it ever got so bad. My Aunt’s family lived in Berlin during the time when the wall was built and run, and they had relatives who actually escaped from the communist East to the democratic West, and then further to England. The wall itself is awe inspiring in how terrible it was and what it represented, yet there are very few places where you can actually see the entirety of the wall. I always wondered why it was vandalized and not preserved at least in part—from the perspective of a tourist, it’s almost like a monument to all the bad that should never exist again. But after seeing more of the horrors that went along with the wall and the war, the emotions and pain of the millions of people affected, it became so clear to me how ignorant that was. You cannot move forward as a civilization by building walls and starting wars; you have to tear them down and argue peacefully. You have to open up your borders (like the EU does) and allow cultures to mix. Some of these same things are going on now, or might go on in the future, and it’s definitely a scary thought to know that history tends to repeat itself. I hope nothing like that ever happens again, because war sucks.

Another thing I learned from this experience was the value of true friends/family. Not that I didn’t know that; I love my friends and family back home, but having the opportunity to introduce yourself to an entirely different group of people you interact with on a daily basis gives you an interesting look into how you make friends and form friend groups. I formed my friend group on the very first day; I still don’t know how I was so lucky, but I recalled the effort that goes into that kind of thing. remember sitting in a coffee shop with a friend I’d just met, and seeing one of the other two UT guys walk past. I could have let him walk by, but I went out and invited him in. That’s not something I’d usually do, but you need to be open to do whatever, and you need to put yourself out there a bit. And all of a sudden we had gathered 6 or 7 people there, and it was the beginning of our squad. It helped that everyone was so friendly and we were all feeling the same thing, which was that we have no idea what we are getting ourselves into but everything will work out. All it takes is a little effort, but effort in the right places—don’t waste your time trying to be friends with people you don’t click with. If it works, it works.

Finally, although this is something I’ve thought my whole life, I think it was proved to me more times than I can even count over my experiences: there is a tremendous value in learning, and you should make it your goal to learn your entire life. Now that I work at Ford, I think I can plug this Henry Ford quote: “Anyone who stops learning is old. Whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” This is something that resonates so well with me, and I think it’s important to strive for learning in your life. Whether that’s learning through formal education or learning through new experiences, they both do the job. Find out what you’re interested in and do it, regardless of whether or not you know what you’re getting into. I had no idea what I was getting into, dropping my life and starting anew in Germany, but I can tell anyone and everyone with confidence that I learned so much. I learned about myself, about my country, and about this beautiful and amazing place we call Earth. I am forever grateful to my parents (seriously, thank you SO much) and to those who supported me along the way, and I can say now that I have learned about studying abroad.

Thank you for reading.

Posted by jbolt 20:11 Archived in Germany Tagged travel friends family europe abroad exchange final eu lessons study semester learned Comments (1)

Scandinavia: The Cherry on Top of Europe

My (actual) final trip through the best continent during my favorite semester.

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Normally, sitting on a train for 6-8 hours would not be considered vacation. Here in Norway, though, this is what it’s famous for, and thus it’s a perfect opportunity for me to put fingers to keys. I know that last time I wrote, I said that it was my last trip studying abroad. Technically, I’m no longer studying, finals are over, and it’s vacation with my parents…okay, I lied: visiting Scandinavia is my official last trip from my amazing “study” abroad experience.

This past week, my parents and I have been traveling around the great countries of Scandinavia: first to Copenhagen (Denmark), next to Sweden, and finally to Norway. They had prefaced this already packed week with a visit to Salzburg and Munich. Both of these places my parents had never been (in fact, my mom hadn’t ever left the US or UK) and were eager to explore. I gather they had a great time, seeing the infamously beautiful Salzburg on a Sound of Music tour and following my footsteps in Munich and the Neuschwanstein castle. We met at the airport the Saturday morning after my last day of finals—which was a feat in itself—and flew DirtCheapButChargeForEverythingRyanAir to Copenhagen. This city, all but fully reclaimed from the water, was a whole new experience for all of us. Never had I seen a more bike-centric city (even more than Austin!), and one surprisingly void of green areas. Of course, making green where there once was blue is an arduous task, so we will forgive them. Our first night was well-spent at a very popular old port full of outdoor restaurants. The next day we spent biking from site to site and hit nearly everything we wanted to see, including the Little Mermaid and the Crown Jewels, in a long but slow peddle.

Monday morning we rented a silly little hybrid and drove 3 hours up the Swedish west coast to Gothenburg. Although much of the highway wasn’t quite on the sea, you still always felt close to it, and it would jut in every once in a while. In Gothenburg I got my fix of cars at the Volvo Museum, and we were essentially on our lonesome for the whole tour. The remainder of our evening foreshadowed what was to come for the next two days: beautiful sea-side views and tons of peaceful picture taking. The Gothenburg Archipelago was unlike anything I’d ever seen and seemed to go on for miles. The ferries danced in between sharp, jagged rocks and smooth hilly islands, and offered a quick getaway to the next destination. We spent most of the time walking around the idyllic car-less villages and soaking up the perfect weather. And to our dismay upon returning late in the date to our not very good hotel, it seems like someone came in our room and stole some money from my dad’s briefcase. Great.

Early the next morning (I mean early as in 5:30am) we got up to head north again to Oslo, capital of the western most country of Norway. We drove straight to our hotel only to find that its housecleaning staff were on strike, something happening with most of the hotels in the city. Fortunately we weren’t staying there until the next day, so it gave us some time to figure out what we were going to do. Instead we parked our car in the mall and hopped on a cross country train towards the second biggest city of Bergen. This coastal port city is a hub for tourists like us hoping to get the most of the beautiful mountains and fjords that is famous to Scandinavia. And boy did we get a lot out of it. Our cross country train went up and down over the mountains providing some of the most scenic views in the world for around 7 hours. That was literally what we did for most of the day, yet it was still packed. The next morning was by far my favorite, starting with a hugely scenic 5 hours boat cruise through the Sonjafjord. Apparently this is known as the King of Fjords, and the most beautiful and famous in the world. It was much wider and larger than I expected, and the width only got thin at the end. Even so, the huge ship was mostly empty and the views were more than breath-taking. To top it off was “Europe’s most scenic railway” (notice a pattern here) straight up past waterfalls and sharp drops of hundreds of meters. This famous train line took us through tunnels and under waterfalls and led back to the main line from Bergen, which we caught back for a late arrival in Oslo.

Oslo was a very multicultural city, old mixed with new, and plenty to see. We first stopped by the Nobel Peace Museum, which although extremely peaceful, was rather unimpressive for the price. Then in true Nordic fashion was the Viking Ship museum followed by the Kon-Tiki museum, with several exhibitions of the Norwegian explorer who sailed thousands of miles and 101 days on a log raft tied together with rope. Finally that evening after an extremely expensive dinner we attended a performance by the Oslo Philharmonic of Mozart and Brahms. Our time in Oslo was two much needed travel-less nights and one long day, followed by another day of travel back to my home base.

The final two days of our trip were spent where I was in Germany and gave me the opportunity to show my parents around Vallendar and Koblenz, and show them what I had actually been doing for the past 5 months of my life. It felt empowering to give this little tour to my mom, who hadn’t seen anything of where I was yet, because what I was describing was more than just another quaint city by the Rhine river; it was my home, a place that had become very special to me and had given me tremendous opportunity during my time in Europe. It was hard to walk through the halls and the streets and all the places where memories were made knowing it would be the last time. But this two day “staycation” for me was actually incredibly relaxing, and helped me unwind in a way. Instead of waking up one morning in Vallendar and then Texas the next, I was able to ease out of the semester and add some perspective on this entire experience.

The Rhineland area, if you can imagine this, is like an endless expanse of vast plateaus and flowing valleys carved through the countryside. One minute you can be driving straight up from the bottom of the river, through dense forest and winding roads, and the next be on top of flat plateaus and surrounded by everything and nothing for miles on end. Vallendar sits right at the base of one such valley, as does Koblenz, Neuwied, and all the major cities in the area. So while I was always within a stones throw of several different types of environments, it became clear that I hadn’t spent enough time simply exploring where I was in Vallendar and the Rhineland. In this sense, it was nice to take a break and spend my last weekend in Europe relaxing at a local resort tucked away up above the Rhine. We toured a local fortress (only took me 5 months to do so), walked around old town Koblenz, saw some of the area’s hidden gems, and ate really good food.

Although this post is a week late, my final post is forthcoming. I promise.

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Posted by jbolt 10:00 Archived in Norway Tagged bikes oslo fjords sweden koblenz copenhagen volvo philharmonic sonjafjord Comments (0)

Itali(u), I Don't Want to Leave

In this post, I Tell U about my final trip through the beautiful Cinque Terra and Venice.

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This blog entry comes two weeks late, I'll admit. My two day trip (yes that short) to Italy to see the Cinque Terra and Venice was as last minute a trip as is possible. I had booked 3 flights (no not two, I didn't know which day I had to come back) about a month in advance but, besides that, I had still not made up my mind whether to go or to stay an hour before I had to leave for the airport. I had just barely gotten back from Barcelona, only had the opportunity to study for a few days for finals, and didn't know if I could afford to give up another two days by myself. I quickly figured out, though, that it was not a zero sum game after all: I did not sacrifice studying or doing well on finals for that one last trip. My finals went okay, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go to such a beautiful place for my last trip in Europe.

Going on a trip by oneself does not seem like a fun thing to me, or at least it didn't until then. Who would want to be alone and not be able to enjoy the new experiences together with friends, family, or loved ones? This was one of the reasons I didn't want to go. I wasn't scared, per say; I knew I would be okay. I knew that, even though I was flying by the seat of my pants the entire time, booking one night in advance and finding out the ropes while I'm climbing them, I would survive. I just didn't want to be by myself! But something I realized as I hiked for 8 hours in between the 5 cities of the Cinque Terra is that you're never really alone. In these small, historic, and ultra-touristy cities on the steep western coast of Italy, you may one second be hiking all alone, walled off on one side by the huge wall of blue sea and on the other by a thick unforgiving mountain, and then the other meet 5 people from all over the world doing the same thing that you are. And that right there is why you are never alone. My amazing and memorable experiences were shared among so many other people simply by being there together.

It was a Monday night when I left and flew to Pisa. After taking the obligatory leaning against the Leaning Tower pictures, I headed up the coast on a train towards the Cinque Terra, having booked my Airbnb just 8 hours before. I made myself study on every train ride, to combat the other reason that I wouldn't have gone: I had 4 finals the following week. But hey, you only study abroad once right? The thing to do in the Cinque Terra is hike between the cities and enjoy the quaint fishing village culture and beautiful scenery. I did just that, and I am very thankful that I brought my hiking boots. This was probably the hardest day of hiking I'd ever done: I hiked somewhere in the region of 16 miles, almost always straight up and straight down. Most of the time it was me and my thoughts, drumming to the sounds of ferocious waves and a peaceful stirring breeze. After absorbing every ray of the sunset and watching the violent crash of waves for what felt like an hour, I retired to a small scale fish pasta dinner where I met and talked to a recently married couple from UT. It's a small world, and you're never alone. The next morning I hit the 6 hour train to Venice (read: studied the whole time), which is a city I've wanted to go to probably more than anywhere else in the world. It was idyllic and well-preserved, just how I imagined it. You could easily get lost in the labyrinth of canals and alleys barely wide enough for one. This was in fact just what I did for the whole afternoon, until I had to return to the real world via a delayed (due to the airport workers' strike) Eurowings flight Wednesday night (read again: studied the whole time). One of those realities was paying 75 euro for a taxi since my flight was so late, but oh well.

Both of these beautiful Italian jewels are places you'd typically visit with someone else. But I did them by myself, and I loved it. I was able go my own pace to soak in the scenery and was at peace with everything in my life at that time. If you're on the edge about whether to do something or not do something like I was, "go for it!" This was what my dad told me about this trip, and I'm so thankful. In fact, that's what he told me about a semester abroad as well.

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Posted by jbolt 03:56 Archived in Italy Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises canals venice hiking italy sun cinque terra Comments (1)

Life is Good in Barcelona

I had my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a (fake) mojito in my hand. Life is good in Barcelona.

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My most recent trip to Barcelona came and went quickly. Just like the entire semester, it came upon me in the midst of so much else (other trips, work, studying) and then all of a sudden it was over. My short two day excursion to the beautiful Catalina was packed with too much fun and too little sleep.

I left on a late night flight Wednesday, and got to the city even later. Because my flight was delayed for an hour, I missed the last train into the city. I had to take a special night bus (which thankfully runs all night) and got to bed around 2:30. My hostel was centrally located, and I spent the extra few euros for a private room that made everything that much more comfortable. I brought my laptop to study, and I wasn't about to get that stolen a week before all my finals. Thursday morning early (not really, 11:30) I met my friend Nicole to explore a famous market called La Boqueria, which I'm sad to say I only got to see that one time. It was full to the brim with the freshest food in the city, from chocolate covered everything to fruit salads to fish that had to have been caught that morning. After begrudgingly doing a couple hours of studying, we started to explore what the city had to offer and headed towards the beach. What started out as a rainy day turned into hours of sun for us in the afternoon, and we happily soaked it up while drinking fake (actually--we got scammed) mojitos in the sand. In a weird mix of rain and sun we next climbed up to the city's World War II bunkers to watch the sunset with a lot of the city's young people. The 360 degree view did not disappoint, and the views from here were my favorite anywhere in the city that I went. These bunkers lie in a huge hill situated so that we were surrounded by city. Beyond this behind us were even higher mountains, and in front was the entire city, complete with the beach and the Mediterranean. It was vast and awe inspiring. I could have stayed up there my entire trip and been happy.

Fortunately there was a lot else to do. The following morning, again very early (12:45), we headed to the famous La Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction for almost 100 years. Still, the inside was worth the overpriced ticket: this famous Gaudi-designed cathedral was definitely unlike any cathedral I'd been in thus far in Europe. Although the church is incredibly monetized, I suppose the detail and intricacy on the inside and outside alike command the steep price--25 euro for the full package audioguide and museum pass. I opted for the budget 13 euro entrance fee. That afternoon, after one of the best authentic seafood meals I've ever had, we saw another of Gaudi's major works, the Parc Guell. This beautiful and hilly park offered yet another spectacular view, but I appreciated the designs and nature in the park more. You could walk through the plants, terraces, trees, and open spaces for hours, and we did just that. If you're lucky you can find a peaceful spot to sit and think while talented musicians serenade you with music to complete what can only be described as bliss to all five senses. After a good sandwich dinner on the go, we were just in time for a performance at the Magic Fountain of Montjuic. This huge fountain, built in 1929, "offers a spectacular performance of water acrobatics and lights which generate over 50 kinds of shades and hues." I had to look this up just now because I was utterly unprepared for how cool this show ended up being. I didn't even know it was a show until we got there and it entertained thousands of people for over an hour. The Barcelona nightlife made the 7:10am flight Saturday morning a bit more painful than necessary, but getting Chipotle in Frankfurt after landing was my prize. Trip complete.

I don't want my travels to end. I can't imagine not being able to wake up and decide to visit Barcelona, or Venice, or Anywhere, but that day is coming soon enough and I must return to the real world. Or maybe I can find a way to take some of this lifestyle, this sense of freedom and purpose, this thirst to explore and learn, back with me, wherever it is I go.

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Posted by jbolt 20:34 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona beach fountain spain gaudi europe montjuic sagrada familia magic catalina Comments (0)

4 Months Later, I Saw My Country

Took me long enough to get to Berlin and Munich, but they were well worth the wait.

semi-overcast 55 °F

It has been far too long since I have written a post. I’ve done a lot since my last one, yet haven’t had the time to sit down and think and write. You’d imagine that while on a study abroad semester I would be trying to find things to do with my time rather than wishing I had more—not so. Traveling, having a job, and oh yeah, school, all take their toll. And in fact I only have a couple weeks left. Somehow this entire experience has come so quickly and almost gone.

This past weekend we ventured to Munich, and the weekend before that to Berlin. I am combing these trips into one post, not because I am lazy (well I guess I’m pretty lazy sometimes) but because I had very similar, exciting, and definitively German experiences with both. Berlin was a trip I’d been looking forward to for quite some time—it was our big Tauschie trip that was planned for some months prior. A group of about 20 of us exchange students (and one chill local student, shoutout to Thi) fluttered in and out of the city, all on our own schedules. This was part of the reason why it was such a good experience—we all had our own groups and wanted to do own our things, and although sometimes we’d split up or go on our own, most of the time everyone had the same agenda. It was a jam-packed three days, and full of some of the best memories so far. It was impossible not to have an amazing time with these people.

After a super cheap flight on Friday morning, we wasted no time getting to know the city. What better way is there to sightsee than while drinking a beer on a bike? Our “booze bike” held 16 people, all peddling harder and going slower than what it looks like from the outside. We casually enjoyed beer as we cruised up and down the East Side Gallery. This is probably the largest single remnant of the Berlin Wall, and it is covered in beautiful graffiti canvases that I would call more of art. We sung along to music, laughed too much (and got laughed at), saw the artistry along the wall, and had probably the best time a group of 16 people could possibly have. That night I attended my first professional football game at the Berlin Olympic Stadium. Saturday morning we ventured out on foot, seeing everything from the Brandenburg Gate to the Holocaust memorial to the parliament building, the Reichstag. During the afternoon we did a free walking tour (I did not know that was a thing. The lady did an awesome job) and got to explore a bunch of cool, low-key things you would normally not even know about. Before seeing Kygo (one of my all time favorite artists) on Sunday night, I got to spend quality time with my thoughts during the rainy morning as I explored more of the Berlin Wall. I went all the way out to the actual memorial site, where they have reproduced and preserved a section just like it really was in those times. It was truly moving to walk among the ruins and then to see the wall replica exactly how the people of Berlin did until 1989. As ignorant as it may be, until that moment, I had always pictured the wall from the perspective of a tourist. I wondered why so much of the wall had been torn down or vandalized and why it was so difficult to just see the wall as it was, without any obstruction. As I saw more and more of the horrors that went along with the complete division of a city, and really a country, it became clear to me the anger and emotion that the ruins of the wall represent. The people of Germany were divided, and ultimately many of them killed, over that horrible wall and horrible war. If I had not gone alone to the Berlin Wall Memorial, I’m not sure I would have fully understood Berlin as more than just a lively and successful German city. Nor would I have understood how it was to live for almost 30 years with something like that. The weather that morning so adequately reflected the mood: they were dark times, and during dark times you have to fight.

Springfest in München was very memorable. Even though so much went wrong and I spent a lot of the time trying unsuccessfully to find everyone who I had lost in the huge crowds of drunk Bavarians, the trip was well worth it—even if I lost my bag in the train station and wore the same thing all weekend. Saturday morning early I met up with my cousin Justin who had a layover all day on his way to Georgia (the country, everyone). It was truly amazing how this worked out—the one weekend I was going to be in Munich happened to align perfectly with his big trip, and it was a blast. We spent basically the whole day catching up, and then some. I can tell that as our family grows older we will only grow closer. Springfest, however, can only be described as a giant border-line-out-of-control carnival. The beer tents were full of burly women carrying 10 steins at a time to numerous tables of 20 people stuffed elbow to elbow. Thankfully Justin and I found a place that wasn’t in the hot tent, and instead we had a great time just people watching and sipping on weißbier. Sunday was a highlight for me: I rented a car and drove on the driver’s paradise, the autobahn. We took a day trip to Neuschwanstein (Disney) Castle, home of King Ludwig II until he died, and favorite spot for Richard Wagner, a famous German composer that has a special place in my heart. The scenery was beautiful, the company was great, and the 8 hour journey seemed more like a road trip from a movie. My car wouldn’t go faster than 107mph, but honestly it felt like we were going half that speed. It is truly a testament to how to properly build a highway system—force people to drive well and give them good roads, and everything will be okay.

It took me a while to hit these staple German cities, but they were both worth it. I sit here in the airport writing this on my way to Barcelona, so stay tuned for that. Oh yeah, I got my bag back. Thanks DB.

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Posted by jbolt 11:28 Archived in Germany Tagged football beer berlin castle wall brandenburg reichstag munich neuschwanstein cousin münchen springfest Comments (1)

We(talian)

Over the Alps and through the boot, to Italy we go.

sunny

After a friend's birthday weekend trip to Dusseldorf, Germany, we embarked on what I would consider the best trip yet. Of course, I say that about every trip I go on, but Italy is something special. I've always wanted to visit Italy ever since I can remember; I read a book when I was much younger about an orphan who lived in Venice. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to visit Venice this trip, but no worries. I will definitely be making the trip back. It was 5 of us friends and 5 amazing days.

My long Easter weekend through the boot of Europe started with a beautiful early morning flight over the Alps to Milan. If I was a pilot, this would be where I would want to fly all the time. Visiting the Alps in person was breathtaking--seeing them from above was even more stunning. All of a sudden there were these huge snow covered mountains below, almost like a white blanket had been ruffled up. Even though they felt so close that our wing might clip a particularly high one, the behemoths were transformed into a wrinkled sheet no larger than my airplane window. It was awesome to see the mountain range from a different perspective, and I could easily see where these little valley towns like Kitzbuhel, Austria fit into the landscape. Complete with a fly-over of Lake Como before landing, we spent about 5 hours walking around Milan and exploring what it had to offer before heading on to Tuscany. On this high speed train ride I realized just how small the world is--we met and talked to some recently graduated students who knew one of my good high school friends really well.

When arriving in Florence we walked directly to the hostel, only to find out that it didn't seem to exist. There was no huge welcome sign or friendly lighted name; only a number and a plaque, as we found out after calling the hostel owner. Apparently we were lucky not to have our reservation canceled--we had arrived after check-in and he had to come back by scooter to let us in. It ended up being a quaint and cozy small-scale operation which was right in the center of town. The town of Florence, speaking of which, was exactly what you might imagine an Italian city to be: tight streets, bustling crowds, fresh air, gelato. There was so much to do, from shopping in genuine Italian-leather markets, to climbing the duomo (basilica/church), to watching the sunset and riding bikes through the hills. It was perfect. Oh, and you can't forget the free wine for students at dinner.

Rome, too, was as cool as anything. We averaged about 13 miles a day walking, and saw pretty much everything you can see. The first day we knocked out just about the whole city, criss-crossing from famous-cool-old thing to old-cool-famous thing. We arrived around noon, had a small lunch, hit the Coliseum, site of the Circus Maximus, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Altare Della Patria, Spanish Steps (for the sunset, of course), and numerous churches and smaller things. There are literally so many historical things you get accustomed to seeing old buildings and taking them for granted. Day 1 in Rome complete. Day 2 we took a deeper dive into some things. Day 2 happened to be Easter Sunday, and we managed to squeeze into the Vatican City and attend the 10am mass with about 100,000 other people. I was not able to meet the Pope--maybe next time--but it was still an experience of a lifetime. For the afternoon and evening we reserved the Coliseum and Forum ruins, probably with the same 100,000 people. The Coliseum was huge and imposing, but the other ruins I think made a bigger impact on me. They are scattered over the entire city, with the most concentrated around the Forum and one of the 7 hills of the city. Circus Maximus (though only a portion "stands") supposedly held 250,000 people, which absolutely blows my mind. 2,000+ years of history stood before us in this open field of walkable ruin, and was bathed in a warm orange sunset that evening. Even after 2,000 years and being 99% crumbled, what they built is still impressive today. Day 3 was planned on being Pompeii and Naples, but the weather turned German and was rainy and gray all day. After a sub-par bus tour (don't take GLT tours), I appeased my classical roots and rode bikes on the Appian Way, a famous road that was depicted in a scene of Respighi's Pines of Rome (everyone should listen to this piece). It was used back in the Roman times and is still around today.

Wow this post was long, so I should end soon. I will remember this trip forever (just like I will every other trip here) for its beautiful history, pushy but kind people, warm weather, and good company. I learned that world is so much smaller than it seems, yet still so full of beauty.
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Posted by jbolt 12:05 Archived in Italy Tagged bikes the italy florence rome vatican coliseum milan alps forum boot easter Comments (0)

Welcome to Germany

And Paris as well

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Amber and I just spent the week together in Germany and France. She flew in early Saturday morning, at the start of her spring break and the end of mine. Together we did the weekend in Paris and then returned for a couple days to Vallendar.

First thing Saturday morning I packed my bags and took a train to meet her at Frankfurt. Our train to Paris was early afternoon so we got to explore Frankfurt a little bit, though I will say Paris has it beat, hands down. And so, one minute we were cruising at 300 km/hour, and the next we had arrived. There are certainly parts of Paris that are, let's say, "cultured" -- watch your back -- and our hotel was at the edge of one of these areas. While the walk from the train station was less than impressive, my views about Paris only got better from then on. On that first colorful and cool evening we walked the plaza around the Louvre, had a native dinner (only complete with escargot), and checked out the Eiffel tower. Every hour on the hour the entire thing erupts in an explosion of twinkling white lights, which you can see across the whole city. It really is spectacular.

Our next two days of tourism passed quickly: Sunday morning we packed ourselves into the Louvre for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, followed by a small but stylish wine cellar tour, complete with 3 glasses of wine each and 2 bottles to take home. After a quick stop at the great Notre Dame cathedral my hunger for cheap 3 course meals was satisfied in the Latin quarter. The streets were lined with small but surprisingly nice cafes and restaurants, all of whom staffed a front door person who's only job was to get you in their restaurant. We settled on a place that smelled of (stinky) cheese and once again had snails, among other things. Monday was by far my favorite day, progressively seeing more and more of the city as the day went on. We started at the Sacré-Cœur, which had some spectacular views of the sprawling city. After a crepe-filled brunch at the bottom, we proceeded to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which offered an incredible 360 degree view at about twice the height of the first stop. All roads lead to the Arc, which is pretty neat. Finally, to fully complete a trip to Paris, we left the afternoon for the Eiffel Tower. The views were breathtaking and unending, and it was easily the best thing we did, in my opinion--I am a more of a check-out-the-views kind of person than she is. We of course got champagne at the top.

The next two days we spent back in Vallendar, Koblenz, and a couple surrounding cities. She finally saw my school, my city, my friends, and where I live, which means a lot to me. We toured two local castles, lazed around an appropriate amount, and cooked a nice dinner. Then, she left, Thursday morning at 4 am...really Amber, did you have to get such an early flight? Anyway, it was a much needed get together, and I love that it happened--almost as much as I love the girl.

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Posted by jbolt 04:43 Archived in France Tagged tower paris france eiffel wine louvre arc triomphe vallendar Comments (0)

Fresh Wow

Trips through Austrian + Swiss Alps

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I decided against the title "Fresh Pow" because I didn't think it did enough justice to my adventure through both Switzerland and Austria. I've combined both trips because they were literally back to back, on the same mountain range, and I mean, it's basically the same place right?

After staying just one night in my own bed once I got back from the US, we turned right around and took an overnight bus to Kitzbuhel, Austria for a short but intense ski trip. We heard this was one of the most famous places to ski in the Alps, and we weren't disappointed. To get to even the lowest ski area on the mountain you had to take a long gondola trip up; from there, which would generally be the top of the mountain for some US resorts, choices were up or up. This was the best snow I'd ever skied on (but that title didn't last long), with the best views, hands down. It was amazingly clear in every direction, and I felt like I was looking out hundreds of miles. The view at the top was 360 degrees of blissful snowcapped mountains and fluffy white-topped trees, mountain ranges extending in every direction. Our host city for two days and one night was beautiful and luxurious, filled with tons of brand name luxury boutique stores, and our host home was equally as nice, if it weren't for the 30 minute walk up a nearby mountain. After two solid days of shredding, it was back home on another overnight bus--complete with flat reclining chairs.

And three days after that, me and Chris were off to Switzerland. This was my biggest trip so far (and most expensive...how do people actually live there?). First to Zurich on an overnight train, which was a striking city. Though a little smaller than I first thought, the beautiful bowl-shaped city overlooking the tip of a crystal clear lake did not get old--mostly because we were off to Lucerne that afternoon. Lucerne, a city about which I've heard so many amazing things, has a very rich history. The famous Castle Bridge across its river is around 800 years old, and its surrounding mountains and lakes are the main attraction. Unfortunately we weren't able to see hardly any of it, as it rained everywhere we went. Our 5 hour boat cruse around Lake Lucerne turned into a 3 hour snowstorm that was both marvelous and blinding. The snow followed us to Andermatt, my second Alpine skiing destination, and it continued to blow my mind. It snowed almost 60 centimeters in one day. Apparently, they hadn't had winter yet. Again we skied two days; the first was spectacular and clear like in Kitzbuhel, yet the snow was so fresh and the mountain so empty that I've never skied better in my life. And then the second day happened. It was snowing too hard to see 10 feet in front of you, and when you could finally see, the snow was so thick it would swallow you up to your knees if you weren't prepared to shred at high speeds. It was quite the skiing experience to say the least. So much fresh pow(der). Oh, and I can't not mention Bellinda, our BnB host for two nights. She picked us up/dropped us off at the train station, made us breakfast each morning, spent hours giving us advice, and could speak 4 languages. Easily the nicest human being in the country.

Finally, after another night and a semi-clear morning in Lucerne, on to Geneva. It's almost an exact replica of Zurich and Lucerne; all three bowl-shaped on crystal clear lakes surrounded by Alpine mountains. However, my main focus was inside a huge warehouse-like expo center: the Geneva Motor Show. There were as many people packed in as there was horsepower in the building. It was so crammed you couldn't do anything but waddle like penguins huddling for warmth. But the cars were something else. They only fueled the excitement inside me for my imminent career in the auto industry. Hopefully I can be there on the other side of the fence, releasing some sexy tech-filled GT. The Jag F-Pace, Maserati Levante, Bugatti Chiron, Mercedes E-class, I could go on. Literally forever. And the cherry on top of the whole trip was seeing a Bugatti Veyron (the just-retired, 1000 horsepower, 12 year old predecessor to the Chiron) live in person, with a host of other mafiaesque badass rides. If it weren't 25 dollars to get a burger and fries I'd have probably retired then and there.

Until next time...which happens to be tomorrow, when Amber and I go to Paris!

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Posted by jbolt 09:56 Archived in Switzerland Tagged skiing cars austria show switzerland geneva zurich lucerne alps motor Comments (1)

Puddle Jumper

A short trip home to Texas

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This post will be short. I was fortunate enough to fly home (on miles, don't worry) for 5 days last week, thanks be to the parents. It was really the perfect weekend, timing wise. My sweet grandmother passed away peacefully, and her memorial was the 3rd Sunday in February. Lots of family members were able to attend, and it was a great gathering of people who loved her very much. My aunt Cindy was able to fly in from Alaska, as well as Uncle Terry and family from Ohio, and of course our family from Dallas and Houston. My grandma's sister from California and lots of other extended relatives came in. In fact, my cousin was going to be in town that weekend anyway for a very important softball game: UT vs UT. Obviously, UT came out on top (hook 'em) but Sam was definitely the best on the field. Good to see everyone.

It was a lot of traveling, landing in Dallas Thursday, driving to Austin Friday, Houston Saturday, Austin Sunday, Dallas Monday, and back to Germany on Tuesday. I love getting to drive my car a lot and, no surprises, she ran beautifully. I got to spend a lot of the weekend with Amber in all three cities as well, which was great. She comes to visit me in two weeks! One thing is for sure, the convenience of being able to get in your car and drive to Canes (or Chipotle, or Chik Fil A, or the bank, or literally anywhere on the planet) is sorely missed. Oh, and the weather! Wish it was 60 and sunny all the time here like it was in Texas.

One day after landing in Germany, my friends and I took a bus to Austria to ski. And one day from now I head to Switzerland, for more skiing, beautiful landscapes, and the Geneva Motor Show.

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Posted by jbolt 11:24 Archived in USA Tagged memorial germany family texas Comments (1)

1st Trip, 1st Month

A look back on the first 30 days and on some nearby cities.

overcast 45 °F

As promised, this entry will include a description of my first trip to Cologne as well as the festival of Karneval, which is an unbelievably exciting spectacle for millions of Germans every year before Lent, as well as some thoughts about the first month of my time here.

Cologne (Köln) is a large city (really it's one of several big cities in a metropolitan area in the western part of the country) that hosts a festival called Karneval annually. Apparently over two million people travel to the city and its surrounding areas every year, excluding the people that actually live there. The best way I can describe the holiday is a week long mix of Halloween and 4th of July--take the parades and confetti and excitement of the latter and mix it with the crazy costumes and antics of the former. I went to the festival for two days this past weekend, the first to a slightly smaller neighbor city called Bonn, and the second to Cologne. Both days were a blast but wipe you out real fast. I mentioned we had already made the trip to Cologne earlier in the month--it was the first weekend after my dad left in early January. While we originally only planned to stay a night, a booking error with the hostel left us with half the rooms and forced us to stay for two nights. The first night we had a room that was only meant for four, so naturally, we fit 10 people. There were two soft box springs under a couple of the mattresses that we turned into a bed each, making the count 6, and the rest of us shared. It was here that I was told I was sleeping like a business man (by laying with my arms crossed), dreaming of my 401k going up. I'm okay with that. The second night was truly a taste of luxury; we were upgraded to a 6 bed room in a completely empty part of the hostel, and only two had to share. Our one full day was filled with shopping, eating, exploring, and a tour of the Lindt Chocolate factory. We found an excellent hole-in-the-wall bar full of older people dressed like sailors, who were some of the nicest Germans we've encountered--we brought playing cards, sat at a big round table, and got several free rounds on the house. It was a memorable weekend indeed.

So I've been in Germany since the 3rd of January. I've been on a few trips within the country (Marksburg, Cologne, Bonn) and one outside of it (Amsterdam). I've made a ton of friends, and I'm really excited to be doing all of this while at a pretty great school. I am working a part time internship with a prestigious German automotive supplier called ZF TRW, and I think it will set me up nicely for my summer with Ford. Technically I'm learning German, but I still feel like I don't know anything! I also realized a few days ago that I do miss some things from U.S. that I can't find here--my car, my girlfriend, my family and friends, American junk food. Fortunately I'm making a quick jaunt across the ocean next weekend, but more on that later. Being in another country with a different culture and the ability to experience new things all the time is truly an awesome experience, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I can't wait to see what's in store.

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Posted by jbolt 14:19 Archived in Germany Tagged parades cologne abroad study karneval marksburg Comments (0)

Dam, I Love Europe

Weekend in Amsterdam, Netherlands

semi-overcast 40 °F

As promised, here is my second post, about my second journey. This post is titled "Dam, I Love Europe" because it is so incredibly true.

The fun started on the train to Amsterdam. After changing three times in Cologne, Venlo, and Eindhoven and finally aboard the final train into the city, it was pronounced "broken" and wouldn't be taking us all the way to its destination. It would be stopping halfway in a small city where we would be left to find our own way. Fortunately there were quite a lot of people heading to Amsterdam as well, and we were told by a helpful station worker to run towards platform 5 where we would catch a train to the next city, but have to switch again there. This new train was standing room only--there were so many people put out from our old train that we were packed in there like the West Campus bus on a Thursday afternoon. After having gone only two stops (technically only one, the train missed the first stop completely) the new train was pronounced defunct as well. After about 10 minutes of waiting in the train at the station hoping what was being said over the intercom wasn't important, a new train appeared out of nowhere that would take us to the next city. At this point, any movement in a forward direction was progress. This time we did not make the mistake of joining the first car we could. We ran all the way to the back of the train before anyone else got there, and were able to sit down for the first time in an hour. Thankfully this train did not break and we made it to the next city, Utrecht. From there we caught the final leg into the city, and only arrived about an hour and a half later than we were supposed to. All in all, not a huge disaster for being aboard two broken trains and missing one stop. What amazes me is how simple the whole process was: there was no ticket checking, rebooking, chaos, fees, wait time. They even conjured up a new train on command when the second one broke. Efficient mass transport is one reason why I love Europe.

Amsterdam was easily the coolest city I've ever been to. The fact that much of Western Netherlands was reclaimed from the sea with technology that is over 200 years old blows my mind. The city itself is beautiful, historical, and bustling. I've always loved cities where there's been a lot of large scale planning. With Amsterdam, the entire city is built around the still-functioning canals, with 3 prominent rings of waterways surrounding the city center. The Port of Amsterdam was the hub of the Dutch East India Trading Company during the 17th century, and the immense system of canals and locks no doubt built on the historical significance of the port. I definitely recommend taking a boat tour; they're cheap, in any language, and provided a good context for the city that I walked 35,000+ steps in. The Anne Frank house is as awing and eerie as I imagined, and the line was indeed huge. My squad of 10 made the trip together and this time slept in a 6 person bedroom rather than a 4 person--much more space! We toured the Heineken factory, which offered some amazing views (and beer) as one of the highest points in the city, and walked through the Red Light district. I also met up with my friend Mikki (a world-traveler this semester) and had some amazing Dutch Pancakes the size of a pizza. The city left a really good impression on me. It is a charming and historical city full of nice people, and I look forward to visiting again. Another reason why I love Europe.

And that's all I got.

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Posted by jbolt 06:14 Archived in Netherlands Tagged canals beer amsterdam germany city Comments (0)

The Beginning

Where I'm staying, what I'm doing, and where I'm going

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First things first, welcome. This is the first time I've ever written something like this, so if you have any ideas of what a typical blog looks like, it's probably best to throw them out the window. This semester is a whole bunch of "new" for me, and I'm excited to see what happens.

I'm studying at a school in Vallendar, Germany called WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management. It's the most unconventional school experience I've ever been a part of; not because of upside-down classroom models or iPads at each of my fingertips, but because it's so student driven. It's genuinely a good time to go to school here. They have all the necessities--like a gym, excellent classes and professors, and a modern campus--but this school is so much more. You can rent a car from it. Students throw parties in the school's 800 year old cellar (which has beer on tap). International exchange students make up over 10% of the student body. All classes are taught in english. It's probably the most international thinking business school in Europe, and they have some of the best business programs in the world. Point is, I like this school. I'm taking Business Taxation, International Economics, Finance Markets/Derivatives, Software Development for Entrepreneurs, Marketing, and German; these are over two different quarters making up my semester, ending early May.

I also like where I am living. The city of Vallendar is tiny and nestled among the many historic and beautiful cities that run along the Rhine river. The main city of Koblenz is about 15 minutes away and hosts much of the nightlife, and is the famous point where the Rhine and Moselle rivers come together at the Deutsches Eck (German Corner). Around here the land is hilly and scenic, so it's unfortunate that the days seem so short, with only a few hours of daylight when it's not raining or snowing. I live (but don't spend that much time in) a nice flat that's literally one minute away from campus. I've been very fortunate to make a large but close group of friends so quickly, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the short semester with these people.

Now for where I'm going. We've already made a weekend trip to Cologne, a larger city about an hour and some away, but I'll save that post for when we go back in February for Carnival. This weekend the Tauschies (their name for international students) all took a regional tour to Marksburg castle, a local brewery, and a German restaurant. Next weekend? Amsterdam. Stay tuned.

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Posted by jbolt 07:06 Archived in Germany Tagged beer germany friends school europe abroad rhine study Comments (0)

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