Semester in Europe Part Five - Independent Travel

The culmination of our semester was the Independent Travel where we all got 10 days to break into whatever groups we wanted and see as many countries as we wanted. I was of course torn between a group who planned to hit a country a day (they ended up sometimes hitting TWO a heroes...) or the group of 4 other girls I had gotten close to during our semester. I chose the second group and we ended up hitting Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and France.

Our trip started off with a glitch when we arrived in little sleepy Pisa, Italy....and one of the girl’s luggage did not.

We ended up having to stay an extra day to wait on her clothes to catch up and if you’ve never been to Pisa, you probably still know there is a famous Leaning Tower.

That’s about all there is.

So we’re already off schedule and stuck in one of the more boring places on our itinerary –but whatever, it’s an adventure!

Boy was it.

My memory is fuzzy so I can’t be sure where certain events took place now but the whole 10 days is sort of a blur. But certain things stick out:

1. Money exchange. They weren’t so much using the Euro back then so each country still had its own currency. We were quickly in a mathematic haze of wondering “How many dollars to pounds to francs is that? Wait, we’re now using Lira? How many Lira to Koruna? We’re back to pounds now? Did I just pay $200 for an icecream? What year is it?

2. Language. I discovered to my amusement that if I’m in a different country and they do not speak English – I try Spanish. Even if I’m in Prague. It’s like my brain is saying “oh, this one doesn’t work? How about this one then? That’s all the options we have in here, folks. Sorry.”

3. I have a welcoming face – this is a bad thing. I remember one lady tried to get my Coca Cola “for her baby”. My friend Tiff swooped in to rescue my deer-in-headlights self. Another time an Italian man came up to flirt aggressively with me IN A TUNNEL and my friend Jess stepped in front and made it known we were having none of it. Again, while I stood there like the Wimpy Gazelle in the herd...

4. Hostels. I think that was my first encounter staying in a hostel. And they’re all different. One you could be sleeping in a room with a dozen strangers, one you could have just for you and your friends, some had private baths, others had camp-style group bathrooms where you pad down the hallway in your showershoes. Some bedrooms were co-ed – some bathrooms were co-ed. It was really kind of a crap shoot.

One of the 5 girls in our group had what we called the Amazing Hostel Sheet that basically fit like a hooded sleeping bag and she could just lay that down on any bed and be good to go.

Me? I ended up in beds with mysterious brown stains and A USED BANDAID.



But it really makes me laugh at people now who use hand sanitizer because they just LOOK at a public place. I want to be like “let me tell you some of the places *I’VE* been! Then you can slather yourself up with rubbing alcohol!”

5. TRAINS. They will frustrate you all the time. If they aren’t off schedule, they’re on strike. They strike all the time in Europe. We missed an entire city in Italy because of a train strike. And it was Venice! The city I was most excited to see! (thankfully, it gave me an excuse to go back to Italy years later and tour around with a male soldier friend and I gotta say, that way is a little more fun than being with a bunch of girls anyway :) No offense ladies!)

And if the strikes and long random delays weren’t bad enough – we encountered OTHER mishaps as well. We nearly missed our train once and had to RUN down the platform to catch it.

And did you notice we were wearing GIANT BACKPACKS the whole time? Like packs half the size of us?? You really can’t “run” at all in that state. You kind of hurl your body forward while waddling back and forth. But we made it.

Another time, we were riding The Orient Express, I think to Paris...who knows at this point, and during the night at some point I walk back to the bathroom –

And the back half of our train is gone.

Like. Gone. Like, at some point, our train split in half and our half kept going and the back half went – who knows where! Good thing we accidentally got on the half going to where we intended!

Yet another time, we got on a super crowded train and had to split up. And we were so exhausted by this point that I found a table with clearly a group of friends sleeping around it – and I just sat down anyway. Whenever they woke in the morning and stared in surprise at me, I just closed my eyes again. Eh, it's Europe. Deal with it.

But while I was sleeping with strangers, MISSY-

was getting her wallet stolen.

During the night.

While it was UNDER HER HEAD.

The guy ran off and she had to go through the process of cancelling her credit cards and all that fun stuff. And it’s kind of funny because this girl loses her wallet ALL THE TIME. It was like we couldn’t go a few days without her losing SOMETHING (I love her – she’s still this way. I'm kinda that way too, hence why I love her.) So that actually wasn’t even that shocking.

And while the incidents definitely stand out in my head, of course we also had AMAZING times in each country and met the nicest people and even randomly saw other people from our Semester along the way. We’d be walking through Paris and come across a group of other kids from our college – it was great! Like we had literally taken over the world. And what was even better, was hearing THEIR war stories as well. People who didn’t have train tickets and kept having to hide from security, or one group that had a straight-up INTERVENTION with each other basically laying out what things they didn’t like about the other person –

While on a train. Figures.

I could talk for weeks about that semester (like how the semester was the start of 2000 -- when everyone was afraid the world was ending over Y2K, or how I randomly met an opera singer in Spain who gave me a backstage tour and free tickets to see his show that night -- or how we got to Versailles in Paris...the one day of the week it was closed, or how....) but I’ll end here with a few more photos. I’d love to do another backpack trip one day. It’s very liberating to literally have everything you need on your back. And there’s really few better ways to meet random people and have random adventures than just running around other countries with very little pre-planning. I’m so grateful I had a chance to experience all that.

Love you Cambridge Semester 2000!