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By Rachel Blair

Hi guys! I’m super excited to tell you all that I’m writing this blog from Tubingen, Germany! It’s Thursday, and I arrived here this morning and it’s been such an amazing day. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit rough this morning getting here. My friend Camille and I booked these tickets in early September with her cousin who lives in Germany and is the person that we’re staying with. However, Camille and I didn’t actually look at the tickets until Wednesday, discovering that we had to transfer twice and had no idea how to get to the train station we were leaving from. But, we figured it out, and it was only a 30-minute metro ride. The problems started when we hopped on our first train.

Since we bought the tickets with her cousin, we used this German website because she found really good tickets for us. Little did we know that the ticket was in German and that it was telling us for the first train that we had assigned seats. So, we get on the train and find two really good seats. Right after we sat down, this couple came up to us and told us that we were sitting in their seats, mind you there was no one else in that car. We asked them how to find our seats and so they showed us, but not really. When leaving that car, we ran into a guy who worked at the station and he just told us to walk down, it’s on the right, and two. We walked a little bit and I saw a big two on the side of one of the trains, so I was like this must be it. By then, Camille and I had figured out that we weren’t sitting together, I was seat 105 and she was 103, so we were like that’s okay. We found the seats in that car and thought we had finally figured it out. Ha. This guy comes up to Camille and tells her that she was sitting in his seat. Now when that happened, there were only 10 minutes left until the train left and we had no idea what we were doing. We got off the train and just started walking. As each car passed, I was able to figure out the pattern, and got us to the right seats. After that, it was smooth sailing except for the fact that we managed to sit in first class for the last train and got kicked to the back by the conductor and had to do the walk of shame.

All that mattered was that we made it in one piece and found her cousin standing on the platform waiting for us. After that, her cousin made us food, we explored Tubingen for a little and now we’re preparing to go to Octoberfest tomorrow. Sadly, we’re catching a 9:37 train, but it should be lots of fun.

Now about Paris, it is wonderful, and I still can’t get over my spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been exploring Paris a little more each day. I’ve gone to the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens, Versailles, and so many other awesome places. I have also finished the GW marketing class which I really liked. Having the classes broken up this way has really made time fly. It feels weird to be done with one class already. But, I will say that I’ve already had two classes canceled, one was marketing and the other was econ, which was probably the most amount of classes I’ve ever had canceled because GW never cancels classes. Both of those canceled classes made it easier to travel around Paris and find new spots.

One last bit of great news, people keep coming up to me and asking me questions in French, mostly directions, and this one lady apologized after, saying that I look French. I’m blending in! Once you start to get the routine down, and get adjusted to an area, life becomes a lot simpler. I would say the biggest thing about moving to a new city and understanding the metro system. Once you understand the metro system of a city, you know that city.

Paris is amazing, and I am enjoying every bit of it. I wish I didn’t have to take classes, but that’s all a part of the deal. A little sacrifice that has to be made so I can be in this beautiful city, with amazing people, exploring not only Paris, but Europe as well. Next time, I’ll be able to tell you more about Germany, but that’s it for now! Keep exploring!

Above: Here is the inside of only a small portion of the Louvre.
Above: Here was have the one and only Norte Dame.
Above Left: The Luxembourg Gardens
Above: The best class trip that has ever been taken. Here we are in Champagne, France, where they make champagne and we got to try the real stuff. That was a great day.


3 Above: Finally, we have some amazing pictures of Tubingen, Germany. It’s a beautiful place, and I can’t wait to explore even more!

Greetings from Salzburg, Austria! While my program does not end til mid July, for other students this is their final week studying abroad, thus making this my last blog post. To be frank, I am only halfway through my program and have spent majority of my time outside of Freiburg, so I do not have the privilege of looking back on my experience and communicating it to you all, which was essentially what I was chosen to do. So, I will attempt to summarize my time here and give you a little insight into IES Freiburg - Environmental Studies.

For starters, most abroad programs start promptly after Winter Break in mid to late January at the latest. For better or for worse, this particular program starts late February - as in February 27th, which is basically March at that point - and goes til July 7th. This is primarily due to Germany’s semester structure and is similar to the Australia program. As a result, you have around 2 months at home after finishing up fall semester finals at GW before your program and about a month before you start school back in the States in August. I personally love spending time with my family and the extra month was perfect for my timetable, but it is important to note that it took my out of internship season in the summer. On the other hand to play devil’s advocate, spring and summer in Freiburg is the best time to live or travel in the city.

Which brings me to my next topic - Freiburg as a city. Freiburg is a university city and is primarily comprised of students, professors, and the elderly. That being said, when school is not in session, there is absolutely no one - and I mean no one - in town. During the first three weeks I was in Freiburg, school was not in session and it was still winter. Needless to say, it was rather depressing and isolating. As time went by and school resumed, the city changed over night and suddenly everyone was outside walking around, laying on the grass, eating at a cafe, and just enjoying the local culture. So if you do go on this program or are considering it, keep this in mind that it gets better. In addition, Freiburg is situated right near the French and Swiss borders, thus making Basel or Frankfurt the closest airport. The airport is only a 3-4 hour bus/train ride away, but it does make traveling more expensive. I pay from 5—70 Euros just to get to the airport (sometimes total, other times one way), thus increasing the cost of my weekend travel. If small towns in the middle of nowhere are your thing, then Freiburg is perfect, but if you are looking for a National airport type situation like DC, you will not find that here. ...continue reading "IES Freiburg – Environmental Studies Summarized"

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland! The past three days I have spent taking in the rolling hills, the blooming flowers of early spring, and riding bikes in Phoenix Park with family and friends. While I could give you recommendations of where to stay and stuff your face, Dublin is a rather small town, so it is best to wander around and find those for yourself. For the next week and a half I will be traveling to Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria - mostly just to travel, but some for class. In case you forgot (I tend to forget I am still a student too), I have class 5 days out of the week, but for this week my Swiss Alps Ecosystem class will be traveling to the Swiss Alps to analyze tree cores, identify both native and invasive trees, and to measure the human impact on the ecosystem for the past century. Did I mention that I will not be in the same country for more than 3 days and still have a final report and exam?

It recently occurred to me that because I plan these outrageously packed weeks, I have developed - and dare I say perfected - a rather comprehensive rule book for packing and basic travel. I thought I would share a few of my more basic rules as I have learned through experience that it is always better to be prepared. So here it is -

  1. Always - I mean ALWAYS - pack a swimsuit and running shoes.

I must admit that I stole this rule from my Aunt as she has forever emphasized the necessity of a swimsuit and running shoes. While it may seem absolutely psychotic to bring a swimsuit to say the Swiss Alps, you truly never know what is available. Most airports have a connecting - or at least nearby - hotel that allow you to use the gym and pool. If your flight is severely delayed or just have a ridiculously long layover and find yourself with 6 hours and nothing to do, you can easily go swim laps or run to pass the time. Even if on the very off chance the hotel does not offer this service, you can buy the cheapest service and I guarantee you both pool and gym access will be included. In addition, you never know what is available at your final destination. What happens if you are in the Alps and stumble upon a traditional sauna or find a group leading a sunrise hike? You’ll wish you had a swimsuit and running shoes. ...continue reading "Snippets from My Travel Rule Book"

By frenezeder

Greetings from Budapest, Hungary! While I am fortunate enough travel to a different country nearly every weekend, most of the time I find myself drawing a blank at what time my flight is, what currency I am in, and what language everyone is speaking. This is most definitely the best issue to have; however, my weeks are always packed to the brim between traveling, doing independent research, going to class, and finding time to meet with friends. I have not had the opportunity to be homesick as oftentimes I don't even know where I am. But as of the moment, I know for a fact I am in Budapest solely because the inflation here is absolutely insane. Whenever I take a taxi, pay for a meal, or do absolutely anything, the price is always in the thousands ( 1 euro = about 300 forint). Always a joy to do quick math while scrambling to grab some cash.

Anywho, here are my recommendations for Budapest

1. Szechenyi Thermal Bath

This is THE mustard yellow outdoor bath you have seen probably a thousand times while looking at your friend's abroad posts and I must say I was not a fan. I should preface this with bachelor/bachelorette weekends are simply not my thing and this was most definitely the place for them. While the yellow bathhouse looks absolutely precious, the scene is most definitely not relaxing. I would recommend going early in the morning to beat the rush of tourists if you are looking for more relaxation. That being said, I do recommend going because it was fun to see it in person and I happen to adore the color yellow - just be prepared.

2. Gellért Baths

Ok, now the Gellért baths are exactly what I imagine when someone says "relaxing, stunning bathhouse in Budapest". If you are on a budget and can only go to one of the two thermal baths, I would definitely recommend this one. The Gellért baths are both indoor and outdoor baths engulfed in stunningly intricate tile - think Ariel's Grotto from the Little Mermaid. It is much more focused on relaxation and giving your body a break. I went on a Sunday morning and was what appeared the only non-local there. I could have spent the whole day there as they had a Finnish sauna, ice bath, lap pool, and several baths heated at different temperatures. Pictures simply cannot do the tile work justice, so you will simply have to go (or google it in high def preferably) and see for yourself. ...continue reading "The Grand Budapest AirBnB"

By frenezeder

One of the difficulties with traveling abroad is the lack of self care. Whether it is finding an affordable gym, picking your indulgences, or just maintaining a health lifestyle, it becomes increasingly more difficult when you are living in a society that does not place nearly as much importance on exercise as the US does. Specifically in Freiburg, it is almost impossible to be a temporary student and have a gym membership. Every gym requires at least a years long commitment and is rather expensive considering you are still trying to plan weekend trips. I have found that my mood is heavily dictated by my physical activity and diet and one of the most important things to do abroad is to take care of yourself. You are in an entirely different country most likely the only student from your university in the program, so to begin with internal tension is already high.

From the second I arrived in Freiburg I felt out of my element and was unable to actively solve the predicament because this city does not have a single workout class. Coming from DC and California where there is nearly a workout studio on every corner to Freiburg where there is not a single studio in 10 km distance is different to say the least. I tried to run outside, but people in Freiburg tend to simply not workout and give you incredibly rude and uncomfortable looks when you do try running outside. This was a complete shock to me and certainly did not put me in the best of scenarios. Luckily, I found a used bike shop in the area that sold relatively inexpensive bikes with free repairs and an option to buy back the bike. My bike now serves as my main mode of transportation and exercise. I bike about 2 miles each way to my classes and find that it is the highlight of my day. It severely improves my mood and has helped me stay active without the binding hassle of a gym.

I cannot quite stress how important it is to make yourself and your wellbeing a priority while abroad. I have found that the more I take care of myself, the more I enjoy being abroad. Whether it is making a meal full of green veggies at home or biking into town rather than taking the tram, I feel much better about being away from home when I feel like my regular self. It is so important to take time for yourself and to check in with your body and see how you are coping with such a drastic change. My first month here has been full of extraordinary experiences, but I was not able to fully enjoy them until I felt like myself through regular self care. You are the only person who can actively change your outlook on life, so you might as well help yourself with self care rather than hinder yourself.

By frenezeder

Greetings to all 4 of my readers! While this post may be a bit delayed, it is only because I have been traveling throughout Italy for the past 2 weeks and have been so immersed in the moment that I simply have had neither the time nor the Wifi to dedicate time to this. The Tuesday prior to the last I departed for my Eat Pray Love trip to Venice, Florence, and Rome and just now returned today - Sunday - to Freiburg. While I would love to give you all a detailed summary of my trip, my itinerary was simply too packed to relay all of my adventures. So - rather than suggesting cafes and activities I am going to address a common revelation that happens when you go abroad - becoming your own best friend.

It may be clear by now that I am a huge fan of blanket statements, so I apologize in advance if this does not apply to you, but I truly believe that when people go abroad they learn how to spend time by themselves and actually learn how to enjoy being alone. While I have always been more of an introvert, I often struggle with being alone and entertaining myself, which I believe is a common struggle amongst college students. Most college students are surrounded by their peers at almost every hour of the day, so spending time by yourself and becoming comfortable with being alone for more than 3 hours with nothing to do is daunting. Italy was the perfect place to just become my own best friend and truly relish the opportunity to get to know myself a bit more. Most of the time I just walked around the streets and window shopped, but others I went to museums alone and I must say that my experience was vastly different than if I had gone with friends. Normally when I go to a museum with other people, I practice common courtesy by trying to give the group enough time but not too much in front of each work of art. I mean going to museums with friends is fun and provides for some interesting conversation, but I went to the Uffizi, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Duomo by myself and was able to spend my time as I wanted without a single concern for others. It really makes the world your oyster and is very liberating. My time in Italy has shown me that my favorite person to hang out with is actually myself as we like to do all the same activities! I even dined alone several times throughout my trip and discovered that it may very well be my favorite thing to do in the world.

I think I should clarify that I did travel with other people in my program - 6 others to be exact. While I did enjoy my time with them, I wanted to try to travel on own as I have only ever traveled with friends or family and I am completely content with my decision. I would recommend everyone to try to travel on their own or even dine alone just to see how you feel and think about. I will be writing another post on recommendations for Italy soon, so until then!

By frenezeder

For those who did not know, I am absolutely enthralled with Elizabeth Gilbert and her work. This affection towards Gilbert is not only due to her famous post-divorce journey recorded in the book Eat, Pray, Love, but mostly due to her outlook on life and writing style. I never truly planned on making the pilgrimage to Italy, India, and Indonesia, but when I was in Rome I somehow ended up doing a full Eat, Pray, Love journey. While my intention to go to the restaurants and cafes Gilbert frequented during her stay in Rome was purely to experience the food and espresso, I found myself becoming a super fan. For those of you who read my last post, you know that I spent most of my time in Rome alone just marveling at the city and consuming mass amounts of pasta. During that time I unintentionally found myself learning how to enjoy being alone just like Gilbert did during her post-divorce find herself stay in Italy. So during my four days in Italy I found myself EATing insane amounts of carbs and gelato, not PRAYing because that is simply not my thing, and falling in LOVE with my pasta. So here are some of the restaurants and cafes both Gilbert and I frequented during our mini find-ourselves-abroad stay in Rome. ...continue reading "I Ate, I didn’t Pray, and I fell in Love with my pasta"

Greetings from Zurich, Switzerland! While Switzerland is known for its divine chocolate and creamy swiss cheese, I have found that atmosphere in Switzerland can more accurately described through its streetwear and work ethic. When you walk down the perfectly disheveled streets of Zurich, you cannot help but stare at the locals as they are dressed to the nines in magnificent fur coats and perfectly blown out hair. I mean even the men are properly dressed in straight-edged jackets and rather dapper loafers. I even witnessed an older woman dressed head to toe in Chanel waiting to board the bus! I mean is this city even real or is it just a figment of my wildest dreams? As a whole, I would describe the atmosphere on the street as chic and effortless and it is for that reason that I could easily see myself living there in my 40s. I have already began looking at property that I aimlessly hope will be available in my old age to purchase. Walking through the simultaneously busy, yet relaxed streets of Zurich with the sun shining off of the golden restaurant signs just made the perfect Saturday.

Even though I was only able to spend a single day in Zurich, I feel as if I truly experienced the local laid back, yet productive atmosphere that surrounds the city. On the other hand, I must admit that I did not have a single ounce of chocolate or swiss cheese while I was there. I know this may be an international crime and serious mistake, but I feel as if the world is so globalized that if I truly wanted to try it, I could buy it anywhere in the world and it would be the exact same. So alas, I do not believe I made a terrible mistake. I did throughly enjoy the single handed best tomato soup of my life at Cafe Presse Club in the city center. It was perfectly creamy, yet full of flavor and I even got to enjoy it while sitting outside Zurich’s Munster. Overall, a perfectly normal, yet extraordinary moment that I will cherish forever.

...continue reading "In the Land of Chocolate and Cheese"

For everyone who understands the reference in this title I commend you and hope that you will forever remember these lyrics. This upcoming Tuesday the 20th marks the third week I have been able to call myself a resident of Germany’s Green City - Freiburg. While it feels as if I have been living here for nearly ages, each week the city throws me a pleasant surprise and this week it was snow. Part of the reason Freiburg is able to be so eco-friendly is due to its geographical location on the globe as the Baden-Wurtemburg region obtains the most sunshine per year out of every other region in Germany. This allows for an abundance of solar farms and a heavy reliance on solar power. It is due to this fact that the snow seldom sticks to the ground; however, this week the streets were packed to the brim with freshly fallen snow.

On Saturday, I rushed to the Black Forest to ski and see just what inspired the Grimm brothers to write their fairy tales. If you are particularly interested in skiing or snow-shoeing, I would recommend going to Feldberg Mountain, which is just outside Titisee and about an hour away from Freiburg city center. It is rather easy to commute there as the RVF (Freiburg’s public transportation system) goes straight to Titisee and then you simply have to take the 7300 bus to Feldberg. All in all it is about an hours worth of transport to spend upwards of 7 hours enjoying the ever crisp, clear snow and seemingly endless forests. The ski resort is situated in a rather small town where nearly everyone knows your name. (For example, I made the trek the weekend prior and they still remembered me and gave me a discount). The mountain has a wide range of runs including race courses, which was fascinating to watch local athletes compete. While at Feldberg you cannot help but just admire the sheer beauty and magnificence of the land and its immense power. Every moment spent in the Black Forest during the winter feels like Christmas morning. Pictures simply cannot due it justice, so you will just have to go see for yourself for I cannot include one. Typically you can see the Swiss-Alps from the top of Feldberg at Seebuck, which is 1,450 meters in elevation. Unfortunately it was rather foggy that day, but I have previously seen the Swiss-Alps and they are quite a landscape to awe at.

On Sunday, I woke up to a winter wonderland outside my room and immediately threw on my coat and sprinted to city center to capture the scenery with my camera. Freiburg’s historic and main church The Munster holds services in German every Sunday morning and rings in the hour with the chiming of the bells. I could hear these bells from about 500 meters away and I must say it was a phenomenal way to begin my morning. I then walked around town and grabbed a cup of coffee, which in fact I was able to ask for entirely in German. I was rather impressed with myself and truly just relished the fact that I have the opportunity to live in Germany for even just a short moment in time. This upcoming week marks the end of my introductory German and the beginning of my actual classes, which I am rather excited to start. More updates to come, but for now I shall continue to enjoy the snow!

Hello again from Freiburg! This past Tuesday marks the end to my first week in Freiburg and I must say that each day the city feels more quaint and familiar. I would describe Freiburg as San Francisco in that it is a simultaneously major and minor city that is environmentally focused and progressive. The public transportation system is truly what makes it Germany’s Green City. So far I have a few thoughts: What decent human beings eat pretzels for breakfast? Why is everyone staring at me? Why do they keep asking if I want pasta in my salad? Why does everyone in the entire city eat gelato in the afternoon?

For starters, I would not describe Freiburg as a health conscious society in that they truly love their meat and carbohydrates. I mean they even offer a “meat salad” on most menus (if you want a good laugh/something to look at in horror, I suggest you google it). I baffles me how everyone walks to work eating a pretzel - I mean every day I walk to class and see majority of the population eating a pretzel on their way to work. Truly, I do not understand it and I am letting you know now I will not partake in this. On the other hand, I must commend the city’s farmer’s market that is held every morning every single day during the year. It is full of local vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, oils, flowers, and woodworking. It is rather inexpensive too considering I bought 4 blood oranges for 2 euros. The market is located outside Freiburg’s Munster (basically their main cathedral) in the heart of the city and is a perfect place to support local farmers who live just outside the city. I go to the market almost every two days as it is a great way to pick up some groceries at a relatively inexpensive price.

This week I also started an immersive German class and when I say immersive I mean drop you in the middle of Germany and hope you swim kind of immersive. Prior to this class, I had not taken a single German class, so I did not even bother looking at the placement test. So the first day I walk into a sterile, hospital like classroom to which my professor talked at us in German for 3 hours straight. To say I was confused would be an understatement. I did not know if I was in the right classroom or even in the right building. Turns out my professor takes an alternative approach to learning the language and only speaks in German. At first I was absolutely devastated, but now I feel so much more comfortable talking to locals and ordering in cafes in German than I did a week ago. Just listening to someone speak a foreign language helps you much more than talking about a foreign language in English. Now I really enjoy class and have been able to pronounce almost every German word I see on the street. The first week was a big change and was rather overwhelming, but now I feel much more comfortable and the city seems much more lively and less intimidating.