As many of you know, Oxford was only the first of the two study abroad programs I am participating in this year. I recently arrived in Barcelona where I will be spending the fall semester. In an effort to keep my readers informed my next few posts will be centered on my journey around the European continent over the last few weeks. I know the masses are probably interested in the many locales that I graced with my presence; however, rather than bore everyone with the minute details of each city, I will discuss my experiences based on what I’ve learned along the way. Let me preface this by saying, these posts are the result of a hodge-podge of random writings and pseudo-journal entries I kept along the way. I did what I could to make the inner workings of my brain understandable to the general population. I will let you all judge whether or not my efforts were successful.
When I made the decision to study abroad in both the summer and the fall, what to do with my time in between programs had not been much of a concern. At the time it had just been how I would ideally like to start my junior year, but then it became reality. Rather than spend a couple grand to go home and sit on the couch for three weeks, I figured that money would be better spent attempting the backpacker thing in Europe. So I did. Albeit without a backpack, I spent those weeks traveling the continent. While I would not necessarily classify myself as high-maintenance (some would beg to differ), my ideal travel accommodations definitely fall on the 5-star side of the scale. With Malta as an exception, it is not actually feasible to travel in such luxury on my college student budget, particularly with the amount of free time I had to fill. So instead, I made my way around Europe by train, staying in 2-star hotels when possible and hostels when it wasn’t, all while in the company of a friend who was also in the same situation. So, over the last three weeks we have visited 10 cities in 7 countries, not including the time we spent in London after the Oxford program ended or my arrival in Barcelona.
Before leaving the US, my friend and I purchased tickets on the Eurostar, the train that travels through the English Channel to continental Europe, to get us from London to Paris after the conclusion of the Oxford program. Neither of us had been before, and we figured that it would be the perfect place to start our journey. From there we would use our rail passes to travel around the continent and make our way back to Spain by the beginning of September. A miscalculation in the date that the validity of our rail passes ended meant we had to spend two extra nights in Paris before using our passes to move on to Nice. No big deal. This gave us more time to create an itinerary that was composed of a little more than just a list of cities we wanted to visit.
Our original plan was to venture to Vienna after Nice, while on our way to Prague. The reservation agent in Paris routed us through Italy on several regional trains. We would leave Nice and head for Ventimiglia to get on a train to Milan, and from there we would take a train to Florence in order to take an overnight train to Vienna. Essentially, he organized the trip as an all day affair, which seemed simple enough, or so I thought.
Here’s what happened instead: Our train to Ventimiglia arrived late, and because the ticket agent scheduled us to take trains that left within 10-15 minutes of each other we were going to miss our connections. That’s right, ALL OF THEM. When we asked the information desk what we should do, we were instructed to get on the train to Italy and the Italian rail agents would figure it out from there. We arrived in Italy and waited in an impossibly long line in 90+ degree heat because Europeans do not believe in the divinity known as air conditioning, only to be told that we needed to go back to France because our problem was a French one. SO not what I needed to hear at that moment; angry and frustrated cannot begin to describe how I felt. Back in Nice, I had to strong arm the ticket agent there into giving us a refund for the reservations we had made for our missed connections and instead get us on an overnight back to Paris. We were unable to get on a train to Vienna with our rail passes, so we had to spend another day in Paris (I am so over France at this point) and take an evening train to Mannheim to catch an overnight train from there to Prague.
I am a planner. I don’t know how to take things as they come or fly by the seat of my pants. I like to be ten steps ahead at all times. When I decided to stay in Europe, I figured this was as good a time as any to try my hand at being spontaneous. What did I have to lose? Oh nothing…aside from my sanity! It was week one, and I was already going crazy.
This was the first of several “snags” on our European adventure, as I’m calling it. Trains were late, some trains were fully booked, and a lack of a unified reservation system often left us unable to book tickets to our next destination more than a day or two in advance (as an OPIM major, I see this as a potential job opening). I do not deal well with uncertainty. Side note: I am also a bit of a control freak. Over the course of the last few weeks, I learned to adapt. I had to, or I risked becoming a royal disaster by the end of it all. After I took a breath and wrote a couple of very strongly-worded emails venting my frustrations to members of my inner circle, I realized that as long as I made it to Spain on time, what happened in between wasn’t a huge concern. Despite a few mishaps, I arrived in Barcelona as scheduled and visited so many wonderful cities along the way. As I learned during my three weeks of travel, things don’t always work out the way we plan them, but eventually they will work out.
Moral of the Story: If you don’t have the ability to change something, it’s best to just accept it and keep moving.