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Category: Switzerland

Learning to Appreciate Life in Switzerland

Learning to Appreciate Life in Switzerland

The first few months of studying abroad were some of the most fast-paced and hectic of my entire life. I was dealing with all the struggles that come with adjusting to a completely new living situation, while also travelling nearly every single weekend. Time never really slowed down and it seemed like as soon as I finished one task I had to move on to the next one.

Although I had some terrific experiences and made memories that will last forever within those times, it made me forget to stop and appreciate the simple attractions of living in Switzerland. I was constantly thinking about what I had to do or where I had to visit next, instead of recognizing the value of the present moment. However, the last two weeks have been a complete shift from the rest of the semester, as everything has gradually settled and I’ve been able to take in the beauty of life here.

The increased amount of down time lately has made me realize that Switzerland and Winterthur, the town I live in, has a lot more to offer than I may have originally thought. To start, the weather here has been about 80 degrees every day and I haven’t seen a single cloud the entire time. In the past, my friends and I would always try to go to places that had beaches and warm weather to escape the coldness of Switzerland. Now when I check online, Winterthur often has even better weather than the places I went too or considered visiting.

The town is perfect for spending time in the incredible weather, as it is full of parks, forest trails, and nature areas. Whenever I’m feeling stressed out or if I just want to get some sun, I usually go to one of the parks and sit back while listening to a podcast or some music. No matter which park I go too it is always has an uplifting energy to it, as kids are playing, picnics are happening, and many people are just laying out, like myself. If I do decide to be a little more active during the day and still take advantage of the weather, I can always go on a long walk or hike. Along the various pathways I’m always treated to stunning scenes of the woods or of the vast Swiss countryside and I feel comfort and serenity from all the nature around me.

                 The calm countryside

Clearly, I’ve been loving the recent blue and sunny skies, but my growing fondness for Winterthur doesn’t just end there. The lively atmosphere of the main streets never fails to put me in a good mood, especially as the sound of music from street performers surrounds me.  If I’m lucky, there will even be an outdoor food market in the center of town, where I’ll truly engage with the Swiss culture by buying some locally made cheese. To top it all off, the somewhat small town of 100,000 people has more and arguably better cafés than all of Chicago.Each one is fantastic for sipping on a cappuccino while getting some work done, especially with final exams coming up.  My favorite is still Locanda Trivisano, which I wrote about in one of my first blogs, and I know that I’ll miss their coffee the most when I’m back in America.

Marktgasse, the main street of Winterthur

Even though I haven’t been traveling as much to other countries recently, I’ve still been going on day trips to other cities within Switzerland. All Swiss towns are somewhat similar to each other, but each one has its own unique features that make the short train rides well worth it. Last week I went on two of these quick trips with a friend, one to Basel and another to St. Gallen. Basel, the third-biggest city in Switzerland, is a gorgeous town settled on the Rhein river. Winterthur doesn’t have any body of water, so it was a nice change of pace to be able to sit by the river and take in the wonderful view. The Rhein also had one of the more intriguing attractions I’ve ever seen in a city, a small wooden ferry boat that crosses the river and is pulled by a string. The experience of the ferry trip wasn’t anything life-changing like some other of my touristic adventures have been so far, but it was extremely charming and something you won’t see in any other city in the world.

 

The “Reinfahre”, not exactly a speedboat
                Basel along the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I could’ve sat along the Rhein river the whole day and never got tired of it, we made sure to see the historic landmarks that the town is also known for. One of them was an impressive and also special cathedral, called the Basel Minster. From the outside, it was remarkable just like most of the cathedrals that I have seen in Europe, however the inside had something I wasn’t expecting at all. Instead of there only being paintings or statues within the cathedral, there were also tombs and graves of well-known Christian figures of the past.  It was especially fascinating to see a grave memorial for Erasmus there, as he was someone I thoroughly studied in my Theology class last semester.

The Basel Minster

 

The memorial for Erasmus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the cathedral, the city’s old Rathaus, German for town hall, was another one of my favorites. The building stood out from all of the others, as it had distinctive exterior decorations and a strong red color. The courtyard in the town hall was also extraordinary due to the symbolic figures and stories painted on the walls.

The Basel Rathaus
The walls of the Rathaus Courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other trip of the week was to St. Gallen, a smaller town than Basel and one with less touristic appeal. However, the one main attraction that it did have was one of my personal favorites while being abroad. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a beach, a restaurant, or even a museum, instead I was infatuated with the Abbey Library of Saint Gall. This wasn’t just any old library, it is one of the most important monastic libraries in the world and it dates all the way back to the 8th century. The Benedictine Abbey contains one of the most extensive collections of vital writings, with over 150,000 pieces of work stretching over the last 12 centuries. If that wasn’t already enthralling enough, the interior design of the library was mind-blowing. There were exquisite wooden balconies and bookshelves and the ceilings had intricate and dazzling paintings. For the hour that I was in there I felt like I had travelled back in time and I was a monk on a quest for sacred knowledge.

A picture of the also wonderful Abbey Cathedral, since pictures weren’t allowed in the library (look it up online!)

I understand now that Basel and St. Gallen may not have the notoriety of the past cities I’ve been too like Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean that the trips were any less valuable. Discovering a new place is all about what you do to engage with that city, and not about the ratings on Trip Advisor.

 

But for now I’m back in Winterthur, blogging in the corner of a small café as I finish the last sips of another tasty coffee. Simple moments like these don’t seem that spectacular, but I also know that sometime in the future I’ll wish that I could be back here again. So, it’s up to me to appreciate every moment of my life here in Switzerland.

 

Radek

 

Role Reversal

Role Reversal

Since March, I’ve spent nearly every weekend travelling and discovering new places, including Malta, Barcelona, Montenegro, and Vienna. During these trips I’ve made memories that I’ll never forget, but the travels have also started to slowly become overwhelming. Typically, I’ll come back from one destination on Monday or Tuesday, and by Thursday I’m on the plane heading to another new place.  Although I can’t wait to continue exploring Europe throughout the rest of my exchange semester, the last few hectic and travel-filled weeks have made me crave a bit of rest and familiarity. Therefore, this past weekend was a much needed change of pace, as instead of personally doing more travelling, my sister came to Zurich to visit me.

Aside from providing a break from the continuous travelling, seeing my sister also helped to stop the feelings of home sickness that I’ve been having lately. I’m about halfway done with my exchange semester so far, and it feels like each week my phone calls with my parents are becoming longer and longer. However, from the second I gave my sister a big hug in the airport, all of those emotions went away and it almost felt like I was back home again.

In addition to my sister curing my home sickness, having her visit me had a lot of other minor perks, such as all the American snacks she brought and the hotel in Zurich she got us for the weekend. Living in a dorm for so long almost made me forget how amazing it felt to sleep in a normal-sized bed and not have to share a bathroom with 15 other people.

View from the hotel

Now, while I could probably write this entire blog about the hotel or the American snacks, I did actually have to show my sister around Switzerland and act as a guide for the weekend. After being a lost tourist in every place that I’ve been too lately, it was interesting being the one that knew where everything was and how things work. That included everything from buying train tickets to planning out the days. It was satisfying to know that within two months I’ve mastered the basics of living in Switzerland enough to properly navigate someone around, a drastic progression from the twenty minutes I used to take to buy one train ticket.

My sister arrived on Friday, and most of that day was spent relaxing, walking around, and most importantly catching up with each other. I didn’t even really want to do anything that day besides just hang out with her, as I’ve realized that no amount of phone calls or texts can beat actually being with someone in person.  Plus, even though I live only 20 minutes outside of Zurich, I haven’t had that many chances to casually stroll the beautiful city.

We could’ve talked about life for the entire weekend and it still wouldn’t have been enough time, but we did have to do at least a little bit of sightseeing in Switzerland together. Having been to Mount Rigi once already and Luzern multiple times, I knew that it was the perfect choice for a day trip to take with my sister.

The day ended up going better than I could’ve imagined. This was about my third or fourth time in Luzern, but the town looked more picturesque than ever. There was an entirely different atmosphere walking around the town with the sun shining than when it was 20 degrees last time I went. The streets being filled with food markets combined with the people laying out and tanning by the lake made me feel like I was back in Barcelona instead of Switzerland. That environment continued when we went up to the mountain later on in the day, as it was covered in greenery and flowers, instead of the snow that I remembered. I don’t think my sister expected to be wearing shorts and drinking iced drinks on a mountain when she booked the trip to Switzerland a few months ago. To top it all off, we took a boat from Luzern to the base of the mountain, which was a far better experience than the bus I took last time to get there.

                   Spring time Luzern
                          View from Mount Rigi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, there was another, and far more insignificant, reason that my sister came to Switzerland, besides to see me. On Sunday, she had to take care of just some business: running a marathon. Actually, my sister running and finishing a marathon was anything but insignificant. This was about my sister’s fifth marathon and the one with the toughest circumstances so far. She had only flew in two days prior, which meant that she was still dealing with the jet lag from the flight. It was also the hottest day and most humid day of the entire weekend, which even made me sweat just from cheering her on. However, despite these tough factors, my sister completed the marathon and I couldn’t have been any more proud of her.

Monday morning it was time to part ways and for me to go back to my regular study abroad life. However, the weekend was just as enjoyable and far more meaningful than any trip I’ve done so far. Seeing my sister confirmed that there truly is nothing more gratifying in life than the simple activity of spending time with family and loved ones. I wouldn’t want to walk around Zurich or visit a Swiss mountain with anyone else, and inspired is an understatement for how I felt when she crossed the finish line.

 

Radek

A Weekend of impulse decisions

A Weekend of impulse decisions

The preparation for this past weekend began, as always, with my friends and I sitting around in our dorm’s living room trying to figure out what place we should visit next. None of my friends are American, so it can be difficult to find a destination sometimes as they’ve already been to most of the places in Europe. After a few hours of discussion, the choice was made to go to Montenegro. It was a country that no one had been too before, and one that I probably couldn’t find on a map. We all liked the idea of being able to discover a country that many tourists had never been too before, and the 85-degree weather combined with some beaches was a nice little bonus.

While buying our plane tickets for the trip, one of my friends noticed that there was an option to have a 15- hour layover in Vienna, Austria on the way back from Montenegro. The layover would give us about half a day and a night in Vienna, and we would not come back to Switzerland until Tuesday morning at 8am instead of Monday. It meant that the weekend would consist of me being in a country I knew nothing about for a weekend, then spending a few hours trying to figure out an entire new big city, and finally attempting to make it to my Tuesday class at 9am. On top of that, we were going to have to rent a car in Montenegro because our hotel was decently far away from the closest town, and that town wasn’t very close to any other towns.  With all of those different and somewhat daunting factors considered, I took an extremely long two minutes and said yes to the trip.

Fortunately, that quick, maybe a little too quick, choice ended up being a great one. For the duration of the entire trip, I truly felt and loved the authenticity and natural beauty of Montenegro.

The drive from the airport to our hotel apartment 10 minutes outside of Budva, a small beach town of 14,000 people, was filled with mountains and valleys that gave a glimpse of everything I would soon discover. When we got to our apartment, which was on a dirt road, we were immediately greeted by a local family that ran the building. They let us play with their dog for a while and then gave us all of their recommendations for Montenegro. It was all a far cry from the distant interactions you normally get at any place that you stay at. While the people made me feel comfortable and at home, the view from our room was something that I had never experienced before. Right in front of us was the beautiful Montenegro landscape that I never got tired of over the next few days.

The view from our Apartment

The first day, Friday, we didn’t arrive until about 5pm, so we just spent most of our time venturing around Budva and the nearby area. The old town featured small streets and an interesting history, while the city center was filled with stores. Although both of those were fun to explore, they weren’t anything that we couldn’t find in any other European town. Quickly, we realized that we needed to focus our trip on everything that makes Montenegro unique, instead of what it shares with the rest of Europe and the world.

Therefore, Saturday we went to look at Sveti Stefan, a small island right off the coast in Budva in the Adriatic Sea. The island looks like something from a fairy tale, as it is basically just a tiny and beautiful village in the water. We walked around the area for an hour and constantly looked at the island from every angle possible. When it was time to decide what beach to relax at for the day in Budva, which has about 30 beaches, we chose the one right next to Sveti Stefan. Not only did we get to enjoy the amazing weather and gaze at the island the entire day, there were only two or three other people on the beach the whole time that we were there. It was a stark contrast to the beaches in Barcelona, which were crowded with people and constantly filled with noise. I felt like I had my own private beach and it was a day of complete bliss.

Sveti Stefan angle #1
Sveti Stefan angle #2
Sveti Stefan angle #3

 

I would love to always lay on the beach all day like we did Saturday, but Sunday was our last full day in Montenegro and it was time to do some adventuring and see more of the country. After some complex research (a single Google search), we decided to drive to Kotor for the day. Except for knowing that it’s one of the top places that comes up when you search places to visit in Montenegro, we had zero knowledge of the city. Our plan involved driving over there early in the morning and then seeing what catches our eyes.

While the main attraction for Budva was the beautiful beaches and the island of Sveti Stefan, the highlight for Kotor was the bay that is located on and all the cliffs and mountains it is surrounded by.  About a quarter way up one of the mountains we noticed that there was an old fortress that people could hike up too. Without a second of hesitation, we started our walk up to the fortress. The hike took about an hour to complete and most of the time was spent trying not to slip and fall along the rocky path. It was also about 80 degrees that day, and by the time we got to the fortress all of us were pretty tired and sweaty. Thinking I had finished my exercise for the day, I strolled around the fortress and took in the sights of Kotor. Then, almost out of nowhere, a local man came up to us and asked us where we were from. There weren’t many people at the fortress, and he seemed genuinely curious as to why a group of 20 year olds decided to spend their weekends hiking up to a fortress in Montenegro. He told us all about the history of the fortress and why it is important to the country.

At the end of the conversation, he pointed us towards another hiking path that lead up to the top of an entire mountain. The path was one continuous stone covered zig-zag that looked like it was from the Medieval times. It was only about 11am at that point, and in our typical fashion we thought about it for a few seconds and gave the second hike a try. While the first one was a somewhat hard hour long hike, this one took about 3 hours and was at a steep angle the whole time. In addition, the path was extremely narrow and the rocks felt like they were bruising my feet with each step. It wasn’t the most fun experience going up, but the view from the top was worth every single painful step. Being on top of that mountain with a view of the remarkable bay and town of Kotor was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

View of Kotor from the top of the mountain
The walk up the “Ladder of Kotor”

With zero intention of doing so, we ended up hiking nearly the whole day. We got back down to Kotor around 4pm. We were all extremely tired, so started to drive back to Budva and relax for the rest of day. However, about halfway along our drive we saw a sign for Tivat, another town that popped up on our Google search. The choice was almost instantly made to check out Tivat, even though all of us had just completed the longest walks of our life. When we got to the Tivat, out of nowhere it felt like we had entered a different world. Yachts and fancy designer stores were everywhere and if someone told me I was in Dubai I would believe them. There weren’t any options for adventures, like in Kotor, but it was intriguing to see the drastic contrast from Tivat to the rest of the country.

Slight change from the dirt roads of Budva and Kotor

The next day, Monday, it was time to leave Montenegro and embark on another journey in Vienna. However, after all of the success we had in our time in Montenegro, it was only a matter of time until some things went wrong.

Our flight got delayed a few hours and we didn’t land in Vienna until about 4pm. Then, our hotel for the night was in a completely different part of the city than we thought it was in. When booking the trip we thought we would have a lot of time to explore the city, but in reality we got to the city center at about 7pm. Also, our flight the next day was at 6am, so we had to wake up at 4am the next day to make it on time.

Things weren’t going the way that we planned them too, but from 7pm till about 1am we made sure that we got the most out of being in Vienna. In those 5 or so hours, we walked around almost the whole city and saw every single significant monument, building, or landmark that there was in Vienna. My personal favorite was the St.Stephen’s Cathedral, which was stunning from the outside and even more so inside. We also had the opportunity to go to the top of the Cathedral, where we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the whole city.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Vienna from the top of the Cathedral

 

Along with the Cathedral, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of Austria and Vienna. It hit me from the moment I got on the plane to Vienna, as the Austrian Airlines plays classical music before the plane takes off. From there, every single corner in Vienna has a historical monument, a statue, or an ode to Mozart. Being in Montenegro may have improved my physical fitness, but my IQ probably went up just from being in Vienna for a couple of hours.

In front of one of the many statues in Vienna

Even though I was exhausted from discovering and hiking around Montenegro, seeing as much of Vienna as possible, and only getting 3 hours of sleep Monday night, I still made it on time to my 9am class Tuesday morning. It wasn’t until I woke up from my much needed nap after that class that I realized how amazing the weekend I just had was. I had the chance to see and experience a country that most people haven’t and then see much of Vienna, all while spending time with amazing friends.

Now its time to relax a little bit more in Switzerland and wait to see where my future adventures take me.

till then,

Radek

The Necessary trip to Barcelona

The Necessary trip to Barcelona

Hi!

When I first decided to study abroad, many of my friends who had travelled before told me I absolutely had to go to Barcelona. They described the extraordinary atmosphere of the city and how they wished they had to opportunity to go there again. When I finally made the decision to go there this past weekend, multiple people in Switzerland from the exchange student residence hall that I live in echoed similar sentiments.

All of this was completely new to me, as most people have never been to Switzerland before or had even heard of Malta, which was the first big travel I did two weeks ago. For the first time I wouldn’t be nearly blindly discovering a city and then figuring out if it is a nice place. However, these preconceived notions of Barcelona also created extremely high expectations for the 3-day trip. Thankfully, Barcelona lived up to and even surpassed anything that people told me about it.

Although my friend and I already knew a lot about Barcelona, we made absolutely zero plans for the entire weekend in order to maintain some level of spontaneity. After arriving early Thursday morning, we checked into our hotel and immediately started just walking around without looking at any map or anything. We started the day by our hotel on La Rambla, one of the most famous streets in Barcelona, and by the end of the day we had walked around the entire city for what felt like and probably was multiple times.

               La Rambla

Even though we didn’t even really intend to see anything, we ended up seeing La Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Plaza Espanya, Plaza de Catalunya, the Columbus Monument, and most of the beach all in one day. Along with all the famous places, we ventured along countless small streets that all had their own unique flair. Following the entire day of exploring Barcelona, I looked at my phone and saw that we had walked a total of 37,000 steps, or 14 miles. Normally, it would take a hiking trip or something similar to get even close to that many steps, but Barcelona had so much to offer that I never even noticed how much walking we were actually doing.

La Sagrada Familia, a Church that has been in construction since 1882
       The Columbus Monument
                             Plaza Espanya

 

Despite not feeling the effects of all the walking during the day on Thursday, Friday morning my friend and I both woke up pretty tired and even sore. Luckily, Friday was the sunniest and warmest day of the weekend, so we decided to have a relaxing day on the beach. It also didn’t hurt that we had already seen a majority of the landmarks, which meant we wouldn’t be losing anything by spending a day not visiting anything. Laying out by the beach wasn’t only much needed after an entire day of walking, but also because it has been cold and cloudy in Switzerland almost every day. It was refreshing to have a day to bask in some sun and not worry about anything at all.

Barceloneta Beach, only a little different from the Swiss mountains

Saturday was the third and final day in Barcelona, and we couldn’t think of anything better to do than to see the whole city, literally. We took a cable car that took us up to the top of Montjuic, a hill that features a view of all of Barcelona and a castle with an interesting history. The rest of our last day was spent shopping and simply taking in the final sights and sounds of Barcelona.

    The view from Montjuic

The notable sights, beaches, and panoramic views were all more than enough to make the trip better than I could’ve expected, but without a doubt my favorite part of Barcelona was the food. To start, our hotel was also located right by La Boqueria, a well-known food market. Instantly when we walked into it for the first time I knew that I was in food paradise. I was surrounded by fresh fruits, every cut of meat, seafood, bakeries, and everything in between. It may not sound that groundbreaking, but it’s a stark contrast from the Swiss diet of bread and cheese. We went there at least once each day, each time trying out new foods and never leaving unsatisfied.

A little snack from the market
Only one of the many fresh fruit stands

The extent of my love for the food in Barcelona doesn’t end in the market, as everything that I had felt worthy of a 5-star review. The first dish we had at a restaurant was Paella, a Spanish staple and something that everyone that has been to Spain talks about. The combination of rice and seafood was worth all the hype and I wished that the plate for two was only for me. On Friday night we decided to switch things up a bit and go to a Latin American restaurant called FOC, and it was the best decision we made the whole weekend. I had a Brazilian steak called Picanha, which came out on a steaming plate and looked like enough meat to feed all of Barcelona. I truly believe that it was one of the best restaurant meals of my entire life, and we had to go back the next night for dinner again. Somewhat reluctantly I switched my order from the Brazilian steak to Argentinian steak, and fortunately it came close to being as good. The final part of the food journey in Barcelona was mainly deciding what flavor of ice cream I wanted or whether I desired beef or chicken inside my empanada.

          The Picanha
Approximately two seconds later the whole Argentinian steak was gone
        Paella for “two”

 

 

Barcelona was one of the best cities I’ve ever been too because it had a great combination of everything. There were intriguing historical landmarks, fun beaches, impressive views, and delicious food all inside one vibrant and dynamic city. Whereas Zurich feels similar pretty much anywhere in the city, Barcelona reminded me more of Chicago because every part of the city had its own particular and compelling characteristics.

Now, it’s my turn to be the person telling others that they need to go to Barcelona.

 

Radek

 

 

Adventures in a country I never heard of

Adventures in a country I never heard of

Hi!

Since the start of studying abroad, I’ve tried to travel and visit new places as much as possible. Prior to last weekend, I had been to the Luzern area twice and to Konstanz, a German town close to the Swiss border. Despite every single trip being memorable and unique, none of them had been to places far away or much different than the Zurich area. So, last weekend I decided to finally experience a country with an atmosphere and culture distinct from Switzerland.

When planning last weekend’s getaway, my friend and I were looking at various places like Spain, Greece, and the United Kingdom. However, we quickly discovered that all of these places were going to have poor weather the entire weekend. Despite that normally not being the biggest issue, there have only been about two sunny days in Switzerland so far and we needed to escape the cloudy weather. Finally, after considering nearly every country in Europe, we found a great deal to go to Malta. The only problem was that I had no idea what Malta was or where it was. After only about 10 minutes of research, which mainly consisted of looking at beaches, we decided to take a risk and book the trip.

As soon as we got off the plane and felt the warm air and sun, we knew we made the right choice. For the majority of our trip, except for some cold winds Saturday that came from Sahara, we were accompanied by the amazing weather that was missing in Switzerland. I took advantage of that as much as possible by walking around in a tank top and shorts, while also trying to visit as many beautiful beaches and bays as possible in two days. At all of the nature attractions we visited we took in the spectacular views for as long as possible, all while getting a much needed tan.

The Blue Lagoon
Golden Bay in the West part of the country
St Julian’s Bay, a two minute walk from our hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from the warm weather and beaches, Malta also features wonderful cities and a rich history. When we weren’t tanning, we were visiting some of the famous cathedrals in the country or walking around the streets. My favorite city in the country, Valletta, was a place that I never wanted to leave. The atmosphere and streets were similar to what I imagine Italy to have, mixed with influences of Arabic and the traditional Maltese culture.

The funniest part of the entire trip came in Valletta when we went to the most famous cathedral in all of Malta, the St John’s Cathedral. The security in the front wouldn’t let me in because I was wearing a tank top and you can’t have exposed shoulders inside. They did eventually let me go inside, but I had to wear a cape to cover my shoulders. Along with all the looks and laughs I got inside the Cathedral, I got to keep the cape after so it makes for a nice souvenir. It also didn’t hurt that the Cathedral had stunning paintings all over and a captivating history to it. 

The last, and possibly best, part of Malta was the delicious and cheap food and drinks. The hardest decisions we had to make the whole weekend was where to eat because every single place looked amazing. The first night we chose to go to a traditional Maltese restaurant that our taxi driver suggested. I got a big ribeye steak that would cost four times as much in Switzerland. To make it even better, we got free appetizers and desert to go along with our meals.The next night we went to another Maltese restaurant but this time I got one of the most unique meals in Malta; rabbit. Even though I was a bit scared at first, it ended up tasting amazing and I would have it again. In between those two dinners, I had as many sweets and coffees as possible. Not a single thing I had disappointed and I’m hoping that all the walking we did burned at least some of the calories that were consumed over the weekend.

           Maltese Rabbit

Looking back on the trip now, it’s crazy to me how I can be in a place so different from Switzerland in just a two hour plane ride. Malta was a country unlike any that I’ve ever been too and I’m beyond happy that I made the spontaneous choice to go there.

 

Radek

Escape to the Swiss Mountains

Escape to the Swiss Mountains

Hi Everyone!

 

From the moment that I came to Switzerland about a month ago, there has been almost zero time to relax or sit back. Weekdays are a constant balancing act between figuring out how to live by myself in a foreign country, adjusting to the academic system here, and making new friends. While weekends have been just as busy, as attempting to make the most out of every single minute of traveling isn’t always easy.

Therefore, due to the last few weeks being hectic for myself and everyone else, my group of friends and I chose to find somewhere where we could finally unwind. Luckily for us, finding a place suited for relaxation wasn’t difficult at all because Switzerland is filled with woods, mountains, lakes, and other serene nature attractions.

                           Villa Margharita

After only a little bit of searching, we chose Viznau, a tiny town of 1,000 people that is on a lake and encircled by vast mountains. Just to get there we had to take three different trains and a bus because of how remote the town is. To add to that, our villa for the weekend was a 45 minute walk from the town, which made it completely isolated. That evening and night that we spent at the Villa was exactly what I needed to recoup from the intensity of the prior weeks. All we did was appreciate the view, cook a big meal for all of us, and hang out. The whole time there wasn’t any sound but the one coming from our voices and the music we were playing. All in all, it was one of the most carefree days in my entire life.

The train that we took up to Rigi

I would’ve stayed there for forever if I could, but we had to be a little more productive in our touristic endeavors. Therefore, on Sunday we took a train from Viznau up to Mount Rigi, a popular mountain in the area. The train ride lasted about an hour and had increasingly more spectacular views the higher that we went up.

 

 

 

At the top of the mountain, we were greeted with the most spectacular view of all: a breathtaking panorama of mountains. We took it all in for about an hour, taking as many pictures as possible and trying to comprehend the beauty of what we were looking at.

 

To top off an already extremely relaxing weekend full of remarkable views, we spent the rest of the day in a spa on the top of the mountain. Not only was the spa itself much better than any I have ever been too, there was an outdoor heated pool that overlooked all of the mountains. 

The hard part of having such a calm weekend is going back to the busy life of an exchange student after. However, despite not always having much down time, these last few weeks have been some of the best of my life. Whether its trying to order food at a restaurant when the server doesn’t speak English, catching up on Finance homework, or being in a spa on the top of the mountains, I have loved it all.

 

Radek

First Trip to a Different Country

First Trip to a Different Country

Hallo aus der Schweiz! (Hello from Switzerland!)

 

One of the many perks of studying in Switzerland is its location in Central Europe. There are multiple countries that are only a few hours or less away, which means the possibilities for trips are endless. Last weekend, my friends and I decided to take full advantage of that by going to Konstanz, a small town in Germany and only a hour train ride from where we live.      

 

Unfortunately, Konstanz is right by the Swiss border, which means that it is very similar to what I’ve gotten used to in Switzerland. While studying abroad I hope to experience many different kinds of cultures and people while traveling and Konstanz didn’t provide much of that. There were many of the exact same stores that I see in Switzerland and the people even spoke with a similar Swiss-German dialect.

However, even though  I may not have gotten the full German experience that I craved, the town made up for that in multiple ways and it was more than a worthwhile trip. To start, everything was much cheaper than it is in Switzerland. I had already heard of Swiss people going to Germany just to grocery shop, but I didn’t think that there could be such a drastic change in prices. Luckily, our train ride back to Switzerland was late at night, which meant that we could save money on lunch, coffee, and dinner while in Germany. Not only did everything cost about half as much as it would in Switzerland, it was some of the best food and coffee I’ve had while being abroad so far. For Lunch and then later for coffee, we went to the most popular café in town called Pano. The food drew us in, but the intimate atmosphere of the place gave us no choice but to stay there for a few hours. To top off an  already amazing food day, for dinner we went to the most authentic German restaurant we could find and I had a Weiner Schnitzel. It was satisfying to come back to Switzerland that night without an empty stomach or wallet.

 

Aside from eating and drinking coffee, my friends and I spent much of the day walking around and trying to see as much of the town as possible. Konstanz was filled with fantastic architecture and streets, and it being situated on a lake didn’t hurt at all either. Half of the fun of traveling comes from just that, exploring the towns you go to and discovering various unique features. The other half of the beauty of traveling comes from being able to connect with the people that you travel with. I may someday forget some of the towns that I see while being abroad, but I’ll never forget all the memories I make. The day trip to Konstanz was filled with carefree moments that I’ll always remember.

 

Konstanz was the first of many possible day trips that I’ll be able to have while studying in Switzerland. However, for the meantime it’s back to school and living in Winterthur. I’m slowly starting to adjust to the Swiss system of academics and I’m thrilled to share my experiences from that standpoint in future blogs.

 

Till next time,

Radek

 

 

 

The Unexpected Trip of a Lifetime

The Unexpected Trip of a Lifetime

Hoi!

After arriving in Winterthur, the town that I’m living in, and quickly getting accustomed to the local area, my new friends and I decided it was time for our first trip. Since we only had the weekend and we hadn’t seen much of Switzerland yet, we chose to go to Luzern. Luzern is a small, scenic town in central Switzerland, and only about a two hour train ride from Winterthur.

Despite Luzern being a somewhat common place for people to visit in Switzerland, I didn’t expect much going into the trip. I’ve already planned many other trips to more popular tourist destinations  throughout Europe, so the quick visit to Luzern felt like more of a warm-up than a trip of a lifetime. However, I couldn’t have been any more wrong as Luzern ended up exceeding any expectations that I had and being a place I’ll always remember.

On Saturday morning, my friends and I arrived in Luzern with absolutely no idea what to do or what to see. Besides for the hotel that night and the train ride back, we hadn’t planned anything in advance.

When we started to walk around the town, I was immediately captivated by all of the views Luzern had to offer. Every single street was fascinating and we walked around the town for hours, only stopping to get sweets and coffee at a Café or to look inside one of the fancy stores that Luzern is filled with.

One thing I’ll need to work on in Switzerland is my dessert picture-taking skills

Besides having dazzling streets and being a shopper’s dream, the town also sits on a lake, with two famous bridges that go across it. We crossed the bridges multiple times without ever getting tired of looking at the incredible place that surrounded us. Most people likely just walk across the bridge once or twice, but the feeling that it gave me was something that I wanted to have over and over.

The bridges and all of the streets in the town were extraordinary and already enough to make the trip worthwhile, but that wasn’t even close to the highlight of the trip. The best part came when we decided to take a risk and venture into the unknown.

From the moment my friends and I got to Luzern, all of us noticed a white palace-like building that overlooked the entire town. The building looked like something straight out of a Disney movie and we took turns coming up with theories of what it could actually be. We eventually found out it was a hotel, but we still had no idea how to get up there or whether it was even possible. In the end, we decided to just figure it out for ourselves.

After trying to get up to the hotel a few different ways, we finally found a small trail that we thought led up to it. Thankfully, at the end of the trail was the hotel, but also the best view that I’ve ever seen in my life. My friends and I stood there for about an hour taking in the panoramic scenes of the entire town.  Not only did we get a view of a lifetime, we also went into the hotel and had coffee and dessert. Being in the hotel made feel like royalty, as it was just as grand and luxurious inside as it appeared to be from the outside. My friends and I sat there for a couple of hours and connected with each other, all while still being able to see the whole town from our table.  

It wasn’t until after the trip  that I looked online at what to do in Luzern. Ironically, I found lists filled with museums and excursions that we didn’t do and not a single mention of the hotel or the views from it. It made me realize that you shouldn’t always do what is advertised the most or what tourists usually do in a particular city or town. Sometimes, you have to take a chance because you never know what you could discover.

Aside from the trip to Luzern, day to day life has been tremendous as well. I’m currently writing this blog while having a Cappuccino in one of my favorite spots in Winterthur, Locanda Trivisano, after just taking a class in Portfolio Theory. The trip was truly memorable, but living here in Winterthur and being an exchange student is something I’ll hopefully never take for granted.

I look forward to writing more about my daily life here in Winterthur in future blogs and showcasing all of the aspects of studying abroad.

Till then,

Radek

 

 

 

First Days in Switzerland

First Days in Switzerland

Hallo Leute! (Hi Guys!)

 

After a long Winter break, I finally arrived in Switzerland on Wednesday to study abroad at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. Although the main campus of the school is in Zurich, the business school and where I’ll be living is in Winterthur, a town of 110,000 people and a 20 minute train ride from Zurich.

Since moving in a few days ago, I’ve already made new friends from all over the world and explored Winterthur as much as possible. Winterthur is a cozy European town filled with many friendly people, coffee shops, and places to get delicious Swiss chocolate. I’ve quickly fallen in love with discovering new small side streets that are everywhere in the town and seeing what each has to offer.

Even though I’ll probably never get bored of walking around the town itself, the best part of Winterthur might be the scenery and nature that surrounds it. Twice I’ve gone on long hikes through the beautiful forest trails and taken in all of the sights. Both trails offered picturesque views overlooking the town and I was able to get an idea of how fascinating and vast the Swiss wilderness is. Hiking also provided a great way to connect with the people that I’ve met and make some great memories. 

Along with enjoying Winterthur, my friends and I also took the 20 minute train ride one of the days to visit and walk around Zurich. While Winterthur is more of a peaceful town where only locals live, Zurich is a bigger city full of attractions for tourists. For the most part we walked along Bahnhofstrasse, which is the equivalent of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The street goes through the entire city and ends at Lake Zurich, a gorgeous lake that overlooks the city.

We decided to grab coffee and sweets at Sprüngli, one of Zurich’s most popular cafes. Luckily, we were one of the last groups of people to get a table and as we left there was a long line out the door. Sometimes famous places may be a bit too overhyped, but the coffee exceeded all of the expectations that I had. Even though we were in Zurich for much of the day, there is still a lot more to see and I’m excited to visit the city many more times as I study here.  

Tomorrow I begin the next step of studying abroad as orientation begins. I’m eager to meet even more people that are studying at the school and to begin to get a feel for the school from an academic standpoint. It will be intriguing to see how much things differ from Loyola and how I’ll be able to adjust.

 

Till next time!

Radek

 

 

 

 

Is this the Alps???

Is this the Alps???

Bonjour & Salaam!

Today was our 10th day in Switzerland and in 2 days we will fly back to Amman. So quickly, we switched from conscious showers and laundry days in the 3rd most water stressed country to being steps away from a huge lake where it also rains nearly every other day. We are so lucky to experience two extremely different cultures and landscapes it’s incredible. The only common thing we have experienced in both Amman and Switzerland has been the food. Our stomaches expanded for the frequency of eating in Amman and that did not have to change when we came here! I have never eaten so much ice cream, chocolate, and cheese in my entire life!

It has been such a happy time here for all of us! We all immediately felt excited, safe, and comfortable right when we arrived. We are so lucky because we got to be here during the fall season which has been SO beautiful with so many colors! I’ve gone swimming twice and I got to rent a bike for 4 hours for free!! And I rode it to see the country side! Within the towns we have visited, everything seems so convenient and close — within each town we could walk anywhere we wanted to go. We first stayed in Geneva, then Nyon, and now we are in Montreux. I think we all loved Geneva the most. Everyone here is so beautiful and they all look so effortlessly cool!!! Most people ride their bikes, rollerblades, or scooters. Scooters have been SO common.

We have gotten to visit the United Nations, the Red Cross and their museum, the OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights), WHO (World Health Organization), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). Wow writing that out reminds me how much we have gotten to do in just this short trip! So we had lectures from each of these organizations about what they do, their personal experiences, and challenges they have had. Everyone in our program wants to have some sort of career in humanitarian aid or international relations so this has been a dream to visit these places. It has been so inspiring and helpful to imagine all the different things we are capable of doing with our future!

 

And while visiting all these organizations and meeting such inspiring people, we have also gotten to explore around so much! Today some of us got to take these cool trains up to this beautiful mountain and we got to hike for over 4 hours! It was such an unbelievable experience with so many beautiful colors, such nice people, and the freshest air!!! We hiked up so high that we could see clouds below us even and we also saw so many people paragliding! It’s so hard to share how beautiful it was I wish I could transport whoever is reading this there for just a few seconds!! Anyways, we got to a point where we climbing vertically kind of haha and then we ate our braided bread up there which we bought in a town down below from the happiest woman (:

Tomorrow we are taking a train to Bern which is the capital and then we will go back to Jordan soon after that! Although we all love it here so much I think it was the perfect amount of time and I am happy we are going back to Amman because we all already feel so comfortable here and at times it reminds us of home in some ways. I think the point of study abroad, or at least the program we chose, is to travel outside of our comfort zone and to experience and learn about things we are not so familiar with. It was so refreshing to be here but it is definitely time soon to go back and challenge ourselves again! We will be starting our independent study projects soon when we get back and I am really looking forward to it. My idea right now is to study and document the struggles of refugee women and girls with disabilities because there are no special services or resources for their needs. So I’m interested to document what they are going through and what would best nurture their mental and physical health. I will write more about it when I develop it further!

Au revoir & Ma salamah!