16 Days Interrailing: Zagreb and Ljubljana

We left Budapest in the around 3pm in the afternoon on a quick 6 hour direct train to Zagreb, Croatia…or so we thought. After settling into our seats, we started talking to our neighbors, two British guys, Richard and Harry, who were also spending their summer Interrailing. Shortly into the journey, a conductor came around to check our tickets. He didn’t speak any english, but was passing around a sheet of paper with the same message written on it in 4 languages–part of the train tracks up ahead were closed due to work on the tracks, so we would have to get off at one station and switch to a bus for a portion of the journey before getting on another train. Everyone on the train was in the same boat, so we followed everyone when it was time to switch to a bus and enjoyed a scenic route through the Hungarian countryside. We had no idea how long we were supposed to be on the bus for and we almost got off at the wrong station, but after 2.5 hours finally arrived at the correct station–right in the middle of a torrential downpour. Huddling with the rest of travelers under cover at a teeny tiny station in the middle of nowhere in Hungary, we waited for our next train. But, the rain had flooded the tracks so it was a good hour before a train could get there.

Once we boarded and found a seat on the new train, we were hungry, tired, and finally on our way to Zagreb. We arrived Zagreb around 11pm, 3 hours later than expected. Luckily one of the other passengers in our train car was Croatian and very kindly showed us where we could find food and an ATM. Our hostel staff was also wonderful–they stayed open late so that we were able to check in when we arrived around 11:30pm. Needless to say, we had a very eventful start to our 36 hours in Croatia.

The next day, we got up early and caught a bus to take us to Plitvice Lake National Park. Plitvice is the largest national park in Croatia and is only a 2 hour drive from Zagreb. We had a blast exploring the park and seeing the gorgeous lakes and waterfalls. Exploring the national park was a change of pace from the other stops on our trip. Words and pictures do not do the beauty of Plitvice justice. But, here are a few images to give you an idea of how amazing it is.

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After getting back from our day in the national park, we briefly visited Accordion Fest in downtown and enjoyed some traditional Croatian food for dinner.

The next day, we were leaving around noon to catch our next train to take us to Ljubljana, Slovenia. We got to the train station early and were waiting on the platform for our train to come. It showed up earlier than we expected but we got on and were putting our bags up when the train started moving and we realized that the train was not early, we were on the wrong train. Whoops. We got off that train at the next stop, just a few miles down the road. There were two couples who were also rushing to catch the same train and, luckily, we all were able to get taxis and make it to the original train station just in time for our train.

Our woes of the day did not end there. After arriving in Ljubljana and finding our hostel, we discovered that it was full of mold and spiders. So, we didn’t stay long and moved to a new hostel down the street that fortunately had available beds.

Once we got settled, we set off to make the most of our few hours in the city. We took the funicular to visit the castle, found delicious ice cream, and wandered around the city streets. While exploring the city, we ran into both of the couples we grabbed the taxis with that morning in Zagreb–what a small world! Our evening ended by listening to wonderful music outside a wine bar. It was the perfect way to end our not so perfect day🙂.

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16 Days Interrailing: Bratislava & Budapest

After arriving in Bratislava and finding our hostel, we set off to explore the city and to make the most of our 24 hours there. We started off right with a delicious traditional Slovakian meal before heading out to take a free walking tour of the city…that we ended up missing by a few minutes. We ended up walking around ourselves to see the old town part of the city and took a little train tour up to the Bratislava castle, where we were greeted with fantastic views.

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Afterwards we wandered around trying to get to the cathedral in the center of town, only to find that it was closing for the day. So, we decided to head back to our hostel to drop off some bags and figure out what we wanted to do that evening. Our wanderings took us right by the Grand Cru Wine Club. We were debating going inside when a Scotsman who was sitting outside started talking to us, convincing us that it was worth the stop. We were definitely not disappointed. The shop only serves local wines and owner, Martin, gave us great recommendation.

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Next, we went back to the hostel to drop off our things and befriended a Brazilian guy who was staying the room next to us. After a delicious pizza dinner, we headed back to Martin’s for another glass of wine, before calling it a night. The following morning, we grabbed breakfast and wandered around a bit more before it was time to catch our next train, destination Budapest.

Budapest was the city that we had the most time in, giving us time to rest and relax partway through our world wind trip. And rest and relax we did. The first afternoon there, we got a map and headed to the river…and ended up sitting and talking outside the Parlement building for 1.5 hours. Unknowingly to us, they take the flag outside the Parlement down everyday at 6:30pm, which was an interesting event to watch.

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The next day, we thought that we should see a bit more of the city than what’s right by the riverside, so we visited the castle on the island, the Vajdahunyad Castle, that looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. Next up was a free walking tour of the city which helped us learn more about the history of Budapest and how the cities Buda and Pest merged to create the city we know today. A delicious ice cream, dinner, a spilled beer, and a taste of pálinka later, we called our day a success and turned in for the night.

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Our last full day in the city started with a trip to Starbucks and another walking tour, this time one of the Jewish quarter.  A trip to Budapest cannot be complete without visiting the traditional Turkish baths, so we spent an afternoon in the city relaxing in the one of the largest bath houses in the city. We finished off our full day with an evening river cruise along the Danube River, which gave us an new perspective of the city.

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With a few hours to kill in the morning before our “direct” train to Zagreb, we grabbed coffee at The Little Melbourne coffee shop. Our hostel recommended this coffee shop and I have to say, the recommendation was spot on. It was the best coffee I’ve ever had. Coffee was followed by a visit to the Roman Catholic church and another amazing view of the city from the church towers. After stopping for a quick bit to eat, it was time to say goodbye to Budapest and the European Union and make our way to Croatia.

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16 Days Interrailing: Zurich & Vienna

After 2 fun days in Paris, we headed to Zurich to spend 9 hours in Switzerland. It was a very short stop – we got in around lunchtime and were leaving on a night train that evening – but we managed to pack a lot into our time there. We had a great time at exploring the city, eating Swiss chocolate, and taking a boat cruise around Lake Zurich. We were lucky that we had great weather in Zurich – it was nice and sunny and didn’t snow. 

   
 Our first, and only night train of the trip was definitely an interesting experience. The sleeper cars were fully booked so we had normal train seats for the night. So, it wasn’t the best sleep we’ve ever had, but did the trick and we pulled into Vienna the next morning. 

Our hostel in Vienna was a bit outside of the city, but came with an amazing view. After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we set out to see the city. First stop: St. Stephen’s cathedral. After finding 3 euro pizza for lunch, we went to see Mozart’s house. Since all of us are band kids, we had a blast! It was amazing to learn more about his life while walking around his old apartment where he wrote the Marriage of Figaro. 

  
  
Since Vienna was a music capital of the world, it was the home to many great composers. In addition to Mozart, we visited Beethoven’s and Haydn’s homes as well. Beethoven’s house was a bit of a bust because the museum only has 2 small rooms and historians aren’t positive that he ever lived in that particular apartment… But, on our way to see the Danube River from the museum, we stumbled upon a bust of Beethoven and I got to take a selfie with him. However, I throughly enjoyed the Haydn apartment – it’s definitely worth taking the time to go see. 

  
Our second day in Vienna, we were wandering around the city and went into a small church. It was a lucky stop because inside was a hidden treasures – one of the most intricate and beautiful organs that I’ve ever seen. We also stopped by the Sigmund Freud museum and learned more about how he influenced the field of Psychology. 

  
Right by St. Stephen’s cathedral, there are a bunch of people selling tickets to classical music concerts around the city. Our last afternoon there, they got us and we bought tickets to a Mozart and Strauss concert. The concert exceeded my expectations. It took place in a beautiful concert hall in the Imperial Palace in downtown Vienna. The music was wonderful and we all had an amazing time. It was the perfect way to end our time in Vienna. 

  
Up next: Bratislava and Budapest. 

16 Days Interrailing: Itinerary

Before heading back to the states at the end of this month, I am setting off on my last, and most ambitious, European adventure so far this weekend. It’s an Interrail trip, covering 8 countries in 16 days. I have two friends from the states who are making the journey across the Atlantic to travel with me. Our post-graduation Europe trip looks like this:

  • Days 1 & 2: Paris, France
  • Day 3: Zurich, Switzerland
  • Days 4 & 5: Vienna, Austria
  • Day 6: Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Days 7-9: Budapest, Hungary
  • Days 10 & 11: Zagreb, Croatia
  • Day 12: Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Day 13 & 14: Venice, Italy
  • Day 15: Milan, Italy
  • Day 16: Travel day –> Milan, Italy back to Reims, France

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I am so excited for this trip and cannot wait for all of the adventures that happen along the way!

That’s All Folks!

I’m done. Done with college and done with the dual degree program. I know that I say this all of the time, but I really cannot believe how fast time has passed. When I started college, I was planning on studying abroad for a semester. 1/8 of my college career. Spending a semester abroad is a long time to be away from family, friends, and Elon. So, when I decided to embark on the dual degree program and study abroad for 2 years, 1/2 of my college career, I had the impression that I was leaving for an extremely long period of time and that these 2 year would go on forever.  But here I am, finished with my studies.

I still haven’t quite processed the fact that I’m completely done with university. I know that it’s true, but the end has been anticlimactic. I turned in my thesis, took (and hopefully passed) by retake exam, defended and validated my thesis, and was then done. After I passed my thesis, I was extremely happy and celebrated, but it felt more like a celebration of the validation of my thesis, than a celebration of finishing college. But as more and more people pass their thesis and leave to go pursue the next chapter of their lives, the fact that I’ve finished is becoming more and more real. And soon enough, it will finally hit me that I’m done and that I’ve accomplished the thing that I’ve been striving for so long to complete.

I would like to give my thanks to everyone who’s supported me throughout my college journey, especially during my years in France. Your support does not go unnoticed and is greatly appreciated. I couldn’t have done it without you.

A special thanks as well to my mom and dad for giving me the tools to excel in this program and for allowing me to make my own decisions and follow my dreams.  Thank you!

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When I decided to embark on this journey and study in the French Dual Degree program, I knew that I wasn’t going to have the typical 4 year college experience. While I have been a student at Elon for the past 4 years, the last classes I took there were during the spring semester of my sophomore year and the last time I was at Elon as a student was for a few days in August, at the beginning of my senior year. I know that I’ve missed out on some of Elon experiences because of my short time there. I never went to a turning 21 dinner, never went fountain hopping, and was never an upperclassman on campus. The campus has changed so much since I moved abroad. There are buildings I’ve never been in, dining halls I’ve never eaten at, and new dorms where I lived freshman year.

But despite all of these things, I have no regrets about doing this program. While there are many things that I didn’t get to experience at Elon, I got to do a lot in my two years there. I went to countless college coffees, joined marching band, volunteered around campus and in the local community, experienced Cram Jam, won prizes at survival bingo, went on numerous late night cookout runs, and made some amazing friends. And while my last two years of college didn’t include all of the typical Elon experiences, I’ve gotten to do so many things that I would have never been able to do if I hadn’t studied in the Dual Degree program. I’ve lived and studied abroad in France for two years, made friends from all over the world, interned in Paris for six months, traveled around Europe, attended a film festival, had afternoon tea in London, played handbells in Paris, ate gelato in Italy, shopped at Strasbourg’s Christmas market, and learned a second language. Even though life abroad has been very challenging at times, I am extremely grateful to have had this amazing opportunity.

Tomorrow, the class of 2015 is graduating from Elon University. CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who will be graduating! Y’all are amazing! And a special thanks to everyone who has helped make my Elon experience so special. Without my SLC, band, and dual degree families, I would not be where I am today. Thanks for your support, encouragement, and laughter these past 4 years. My Elon experience has been so much better because you were in it.

However, instead of walking across the stage and receiving my diploma with the rest of my class tomorrow, I will be 4,000+ miles away in France. I’ve known for a while that I would not be walking with my class at Elon’s graduation. My semester at NEOMA ends later than Elon’s spring semester and I still have a few more days of undergrad left. But, I still wish that could be there under the oaks tomorrow, graduating and celebrating with everyone at Elon. Nevertheless, Anna, Dre, and I don’t want the distance between us and Elon to prevent us from celebrating graduation. We are headed to explore the nearby city of Troyes so that we can celebrate together while making the most of our remaining time in France.

Elon recently asked seniors to describe their Elon experience in 1 word. The word I would use to describe my Elon experience is incredible. The knowledge, memories, and friends I gained during my time at Elon, both on campus and abroad, will stick with me forever. So, congratulations class of 2015! Here’s to all the great opportunities and roads ahead. Long Live Elon!