Over the last ten days, I’ve been traveling throughout Germany, part of which was with my grandfather (mom’s dad) who was stationed near Wurzburg for eighteen months.

Thursday, 21 January: After my grandpa’s long flight from Los Angeles earlier that day, neither of us were in any mood to go out the evening of my arrival. However, the next day, we took a drive to the south of Munich, where our first stop was a little town called Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After that, we went on to the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany, where we took a tram to the summit. It was cold (about -15°C/ 5°F) and windy, but the views were breathtaking. Our final stop of the day on the way back was Oberammergau, a small tourist town in the shadow of a grand mountain. That night, we had our best meal of the week, at least in my opinion. We went to a large (I mean, really large, with several different floors and rooms, this place never seemed to end, but even with its vast size it was crowded) Bavarian restaurant where we enjoyed smorgasbord of sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes.

Friday, 22 January: The next day, we took another drive to the south to explore a few castles. First was the Hohenschwangau Castle, a smaller castle  with intricate bedroom designs. Then, we visited the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle supposedly inspired the Disney castle and righteously so, it has a gorgeous exterior and a grand interior. I enjoyed visiting both castles (as the Hohenschwangau Castle gave us some background on the history of the family who lived there, particularly the son that went on to build the Neuschwanstein Castle), but the Neuschwanstein was my favorite of the two castles.

Saturday, 23 January: The next morning, we squeezed in a guided walking tour of Munich. As it turned out, we were the only people on the tour, so we got to ask as many questions as we wanted. After the tour, we drove to Frankfurt and we’re hoping to stop by Rothenburg along the way. Once we arrived, it didn’t look like much. As it turns out, we went to the wrong Rothenburg. We meant to go to Rothenburg ob der Tauber but I misguided us to Rottenburg an der Laaber. However, that was a blessing in disguise because we were both tired and wouldn’t have had the energy to explore the “real” Rothenburg that day anyway.

Sunday, 24 January: We originally planned to just visit Trier this day, but since it’s so close to Luxembourg, we decided to visit the city. We have ourselves a self-guided walking tour of the fascinating city. On our way back, we stopped in Trier. The ancient Roman city has a really interesting history, from its ruins like the Black Gate to the Karl Marx house. We saw all these sights on a tour on what I can best describe as a kiddie train. Regardless, it was a great way to see the highlights of the city in a short amount of time.

Monday, 25 January: To avoid rush hour traffic leaving the city, we took a short walk around what can best be described as Frankfurt’s old town. It’s incredible to see the contrast of historic and modern buildings. On our way to the “real” Rothenburg, we stopped by Wurzburg, the city my mom was born in. Unfortunately, the army hospital was destroyed. We moved on to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which was probably my favorite small village we visited. It, too, is a historic city surrounded by a wall. My favorite parts of the city were the picturesque buildings and castle ruins, the views of the valley from the top of the wall and the massive Christmas shop, which was still impressive in the off season.

Tuesday, 26 January: That morning, my grandpa left and I continued throughout Germany solo. Before I left Frankfurt, I took time to explore some more of the old town. In the afternoon, I got a train to Giessen, where my friend Amy lives. We were online acquaintances for several years and thought this would be a great opportunity to meet up. She showed me around her small town (whose population is mostly university students), we visited with her boyfriend and we ate at a delicious burger restaurant and a waffle place for dessert before having a quiet night in, which was much needed for the both of us.

Wednesday, 27 January: That morning, I left Giessen for a day in Cologne. After dropping my bags off at my centrally located hostel, I went to the Cologne Cathedral, perhaps the city’s most iconic structure. After that, I visited a nearby bridge called the Hohenzollern Bridge. It is know for its ocean of locks on the fence: lovers lock a padlock to the fence and throw the key into the river. This idea is popular throughout Europe (I’ve seen it in Paris, Frankfurt and London), but I’ve never seen it on this scale, every square inch of the fence and then some was covered in locks. Finally, I went to the National Socialism Documentation Center where socialists were held for questioning. The prison is well preserved, revealing the inscriptions on the wall of prison conditions, death and hope. It was really interesting. After that, I had an especially quiet night in being the only occupant of the four bed dorm room at the hostel.

Thursday, 28 January: I arrived at my Berlin hostel from Cologne following day. That evening, I went to the Topography of Terror Museum, a free exhibit that outlined Hitler’s reign. After that, I went out with about five other people from the hostel (in addition to two guides) to a gourmet food street fair. Thankfully, it was actually indoors, but we still got to enjoy a wide range of cuisine, where I got veggie tacos and a waffle for dessert.

Friday, 29 January: In the morning, I took a walking tour that visited the Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the place where Hitler ended his life (it was in a bunker beneath a car park), one of the three portions of the Berlin Wall that remains standing, Checkpoint Charlie, and several squares, including one where the Nazi book burning took place. I was meant to go on another walking tour, but I missed them, thankfully, my hostel offers something similar. On my way back to the hostel for the night, I saw people who appeared to be wearing hockey jerseys heading towards a large arena  in the area. I looked into it and as it turned out, the professional hockey team was playing that night. I thought it would be interesting to experience a hockey game in another country, so I went. As soon as I came into the arena, I was both excited and somewhat frightened to see small fireworks and an arena of thousands of people yelling in German. Unlike any hockey game I’ve ever been to, this team has what I can beat describe as a spirit section: where especially devoted fans sit and chat throughout the duration of the game and wave large banners. Also, in lieu of clapping, card stock sheets are places in each seat and fans fold them accordion style and slap them against their hand. It was a good game, but the home team was losing by a few points, so I left about five minutes before the end of the last period. Despite the fact that I had pretty much no idea what was going on because the whole game was described in German, it was fun.

Saturday, 30 January: That afternoon, I took the alternative walking tour that shows the counter culture of Berlin. We were shown and told the significance of street art and certain artistic quarters of the city, squat houses, a tree house, youth subculture and more. It was really interesting, but I think I preferred the historic tour.

I wish I had more time in Berlin, but I had a great time in Germany. After averaging about seven miles of walking a day, it goes unsaid that I’m exhausted, but looking forward to my next trip already!

My next adventure: Budapest, Hungary!

Photo by Mar Cerdeira.

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While I outlined key differences between the United States and United Kingdom that really stood out to me in my reflection post, now that I’ve experienced a whole semester’s worth of learning abroad (including exams), I thought I would elaborate on it.

ChronologyFor most of the pre-university learning, the academic systems are more or less the same. British students may switch schools at a different age or grade, but even that varies within the United States. At the age of sixteen (equivalent of junior year in high school), British students go to “college,” which I think of as a more specialized version of high school. British students narrow their learning interests down and eventually take a more specialized version of standardized testing (like the S.A.T.) called A-Levels. In the end, most American and British students go to university at the same time (age eighteen). Also, university in the United Kingdom starts around mid-September with first term exams after Christmas and second term starting in February with a month-long revision period before exams in June. In the United States, university starts in mid-August with first term exams before Christmas and second term starting right after the New Year with exams in late April.

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Now that I’ve spent some time abroad and others are just starting their study abroad journey, I’d like to make more frequent posts (once a week or so) about how I manage it all, starting with travel essentials. Plus, I needed a reason to take a break from studying.

At the beginning of the term, I determined what I would need for a typical weekend away and wrote it up so I wouldn’t forget each time I travel. That list has been modified several times since then and this is (more or less) my go-to packing list:

  • Clothes: I will usually bring only one or two pairs of pants and surplus shirts, cardigans, light jackets and an extra pair of shoes so I can mix and match and layer up.
  • Toiletries: These items vary from person to person, so I won’t make a definite list of must-haves, that’s up for you to decide. However, I put the liquids in a separate bag in an easy to access place in my suitcase so I can make it through security with as little hassle as possible. Keep in mind that some airports might consider and some toothpaste, lip balm and make-up products “liquids.” Be sure to include nail clippers, tissues and small amounts of medicine like aspirin and painkillers.
  • Documents, passes, identification: Passport, any documents required by your visa, public transportation pass(es) you need for local transit that gets you to the airport, etc. I know I’m too busy worrying about not forgetting my passport I’ll often nearly forget to pack my railcard.
  • Electronics: Any appropriate chargers, batteries, converters, adapters, etc. you will need to keep you powered up. You also might want to consider a portable charger for on-the-go charging.
  • Seasonal clothes and accessories: A light windbreaker is a must pretty much everywhere I go. It’s easy to pack and it’s practical for a lot of weather conditions. However, consider your destination and pack accordingly. From hats and scarves to swimsuits and sunglasses, make sure you’re well prepared for the weather, nothing ruins a trip like uncomfortable. If you’re running out of space in your suitcase with all those thick winter clothes, wear your coat to the airport. I also find packing a portable umbrella could never hurt, but most times I’ll get to a another country and realize not everywhere is as miserable as England.
  • Hostel necessities: While you don’t need these in conventional hotels, budget travelers staying in hostels might consider a padlock (many hostels provide lockers for safekeeping provided you bring or rent a lock), ear plugs (you’ll undoubtedly encounter at least one snorer, if you don’t, odds are you’re the snorer), and a travel towel and hairdryer (if the hostel doesn’t already provide them).

And here are some things you probably didn’t think about (I know I didn’t):

  • Reusable water bottle: Obviously, you can’t fill it up until after airport security, but it’s practical to bring your own reusable water bottle so you don’t have to spend money on water at the airport or otherwise. Plus, you can solve the space-consuming problem but stuffing smaller items of clothing in the empty water bottle.
  • Plastic bag: Whether it’s for trash or wet or dirty clothes, having a plastic bag or two and even a few Ziploc sandwich bags on your trip is always a good idea.
  • Low quality purse: On travel, your purse may get rained on, accidentally set in dirt, or otherwise beat up. It’s wise to buy a low quality purse to bring on such travels. I really like crossbody tote bags; they’re spacious and easy to walk around with and many have pockets on the inside where you can easily store a phone, camera, etc. Be sure to get one that closes properly to reduce your chances of getting pick-pocketed.

I hope this helps, happy trails!

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A piece of advice that really resonated with me before I left was “explore a lot of your home country.” With that in mind, I made time to do so. Last term, I took time to explore Southampton, Bath, Eastbourne, Kingston, Lewes, Lancaster, Manchester, Glasgow and, of course, London. This term, I got to see Birmingham, Bristol, Newquay and Edinburgh and visit London and Southampton again.

Monday, 4 January: After I gave myself a bit of time to get over jetlag, I took a train to the midlands to spend time with Ben in his hometown outside Great Malvern, a small, hilly town an hour south of Birmingham. We went on the hills, where we got a lovely view of the valley, that is, until it started raining and we headed back to his house.

Tuesday, 5 January: The next day, we headed to Birmingham. We started our day by walking around the Bull Ring, a large shopping center. After that, we saw a movie (The Danish Girl, it was really good!) and went ice skating. To end our day, we went to the top floors of the impressive library to get amazing views of the city.

Sunday, 21 February: I had tickets to see Marina and the Diamonds in London and as it was on a Sunday, Ben and I decided to make a day of it, seeing sites one of both of us had never seen before. Despite living in England his whole life, like a lot of natives, he’s only been to London a handful of times, so this day was new and exciting for both of us. First, we walked to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. After that, we took a walk through Hyde Park to the Science Museum. For lunch, we strolled around Camden Market, which has a wide variety of ethnic foods, but naturally, we settled for burgers. After exploring more of the Camden Market, we headed to Trafalgar Square, but it was blocked off. At first, we were a little disappointed, but then, we realized it was blocked off because they were filming a movie (Wonder Woman, set to release in summer 2017), and we got a great view of the action from the National Gallery steps. We made one last stop before heading back to Camden for drinks and the show: the Cadbury Creme Egg Cafe. This temporary cafe, whose dine-in tickets sold out quickly, serves up a variety of dishes inspired by a chocolate delicacy: the Cadbury Creme Egg. The show was incredible, I saw Marina and the Diamonds in December (you can read about it here), as well, but this time, I was in a general standing area, so I could dance and move around a lot more. This show was the last show on her long tour and everyone got emotional when she expressed her love and appreciation for us. She is an incredible artist and I hope to see her again soon!

Wednesday, 24 February: I returned to London for another concert, this time, it was The Used. I didn’t plan to see any of London this day, but I got great views of the sunset over the Thames from the London Blackfriars train station. I met up with an acquaintance, Dylan, at the gig where we both really enjoyed ourselves. This is The Used’s 15th anniversary tour, where they’re playing their first two albums in full in two different nights. Dylan went to both nights, but I only went to the second night, where they played their album In Love and Death. It was a great show, which my aching body and sore throat confirmed the next morning.

Saturday, 27 February: After buying tickets about eight months ago, I went to north London for one final gig this week at Alexandra Palace: Enter Shikari. I have seen them once before in April with a crowd of about three hundred people. I have never seen a venue so empty, but the energy of the crowd and the band matched an audience of several thousand, which is a conservative estimation of the crowd in London. Ben and I got to the venue just in time to see the first opener, Arcane Roots, who I enjoy a lot. We didn’t care for the other two openers, so we grabbed a drink and met up with Joe, who I haven’t seen since September. Enter Shikari was amazing, putting on quite the show with surround sound, unique intros and remixes, visual displays and more. The crowd was high energy and enthusiastic, which made the experience especially great. Enter Shikari are one of my favorite bands these days and that was one of the best shows of my life.

Friday, 4 March: Occasionally, I go to an event night called District, which plays alternative music rather than typical hits. District takes places at clubs all over the United Kingdom, each with their own special events. This week, District Southampton offered a Shikari Sound System, an electronic side project of Enter Shikari, DJ set. Ben and I met up with Dylan there and danced the night away, quite literally. After the set, I got to meet the lead singer, Rou, and the bassist, Chris. I wish I could talk to them, but the club was really noisy and I image they wanted to get home and rest. The train home wasn’t until quarter past five, we stayed at the club until it closed at about four in the morning. We didn’t get back to halls until about 9:30AM, so needless to say, we were all exhausted.

Saturday, 7 May: My dad arrived on Thursday, 5 May, where that evening we had dinner together and spent the following day in Brighton. On Saturday, we hit all of my favorite attractions in London. Throughout the day, we watched several street performers the first of which were in front of the Eye. After we rode the Eye, we walked through Camden, an up and coming part of London with a unique rock culture and plenty of various food stalls (just thinking about it makes me hungry). Then, we went to Leicester Square, where we saw our favorite street performers of the day: talented break dancers. After that, we went to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden, where we had lunch. We walked around Piccadilly Circus before taking a break in Green Park, which was crowded on such a lovely day. Finally, we walked to Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and lastly, Millennium Bridge. Needless to say, it was an exhausting day, but I’m glad we could do so much together over our long weekend.

Monday, 9 May: After a weekend with my dad, I set off on a trip to the west coast with my friend, Alex. Originally, we wanted to do a roadtrip all around Great Britain, but due to lack of planning, that fell through. Instead, we settled for a weekend at the beach in a small town called Newquay (pronounced “new-key”). I took a train to Southampton where Alex picked me up and drove us to Bristol. Although it was raining (what else is new), we had a good time walking around for a little while and a delicious meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We spent the rest of the evening with Alex’s dad and his family, playing pool, having a few pints and watching a film before setting off to Newquay in the morning.

Tuesday, 10 May: We drove about three hours from Bristol to Newquay. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we took a long walk on the beach. I’ve never experienced such a low tide, it must have gone out for about a quarter of a mile. We also got an amazing view of the beach from our hostel (a good shout on Alex’s part, I usually don’t trust anyone else with that stuff!). Since we were both pretty tired, that night, so we settled for a film and saw Captain America: Civil War.

Wednesday, 11 May: That morning, we went surfing. Although it was really foggy, we still had a good time. We suited up in the early afternoon, carried our boards to the beach (by far, the hardest part of the day), got a quick lesson and then went out on the water. The water was really shallow, but not too cold and the waves were decent for learning on. Both Alex and I had a great time and ended standing up a few times.

Thursday, 12 May: That afternoon, we went coasteering. I’ve never heard of it before, but when we were looking at places to go cliff jumping, we decided it was in our best interest to do a guided tour. Coasteering is basically the exploring of a rocky coastline that involves rock climbing, swimming and cliff jumping. As Alex and I were the only ones on the tour, we got to take our time, ask questions and even do a few jumps several times. It was definitely more intense than I thought it would be (we didn’t have any proper rock climbing gear, we just sort of winged it), but it was still a lot of fun. Our guide did a great job of keeping us safe and making sure we were having a good time.

Friday, 13 May: For our last day, we took a long walk on the coastline. Thankfully, it was really sunny, so we soaked up as much as we could before heading back. The drive from Newquay back to Southampton was about five hours. We stopped outside of town so Alex could pack for his trip to London before dropping me off at the train station, where I had another three hours before I got back to halls. Needless to say, I was exhausted, but nothing could keep me from getting excited for my next trip!

Sunday, 15 May: It was kind of a bummer that the roadtrip with Alex fell through, on the bright side, Newquay was incredible. However, I still really wanted to go to Edinburgh, so I invited my friend Dan and he accepted. We took a coach from London to Edinburgh and made plans for our time there.

Monday, 16 May: That morning, we took a walking tour, where my favorite sites were the Greyfriars Kirkyard and Calton Hill. After that, we walked up to Edinburgh Castle (which was had a lovely view of from our hostel) and walked around, but neither of us were bothered to go in. Then, we went to the National Scottish Museum for its wonderful balcony view. We continued to enjoy the unusually wonderful weather by laying on a hill in front of Edinburgh Castle close to our hostel, where we made a friend: a dog approached us with an empty water bottle and wanted us to play with him.

Tuesday 17 May: We took a train to Glasgow and although walking around was nice for a bit, we both agree Edinburgh is way better and took the rain as a cue to head back. That evening, we met up with my friend Khalid, who I met in Rome. It was great to see him again and be reminded of how small the world is.

Wednesday, 18 May: For our last day, we decided to walk around Edinburgh, particularly The Royal Mile, for a bit before our ghost tour. It was more like a horror story tour, rather. At first, it was interesting, mainly highlighting ghost stories and superstitions, but when our guide told us a true story of a brutal murder right outside that flat where it occurred, pardon my French, but shit got real (if you’re interested, look up Allan Menzies). We headed back the next morning and about twelve hours later we were back in Brighton.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom.

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I realize that some geographical terms I use (Great Britain, England, United Kingdom, etc.) may be confusing for some of you, or you live in ignorant bliss thinking that they’re all the same thing.

However, they are not. Here’s a great video to explain some terms and British geopolitics. Enjoy!

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