Study Abroad Misconceptions

It’s hard for me to not mention my experiences abroad every other day.  In fact, if I wasn’t working for CU Abroad 3 days a week with other study abroad students and faculty, I would have gone insane by now. All I want to talk about is traveling, and I’m almost afraid I overwhelm the wary students who come into office hours with my excitement.

"We'll always have Paris..."

Even though it’s been a year since I’ve been abroad, the experiences and the memories have made an everlasting impact and strengthened my character. It has changed the course of my career, the way I think, and most importantly, how I view the world. Suffice to say, being abroad gave me an education that I could not have otherwise learned in a traditional academic setting. Yes, Cornell offers amazing opportunities and resources but trust me when I say, going abroad strengthens those opportunities in a very unique way.

With President Skorton’s recent encouragement for global awareness, the topic of study abroad has been up for much debate and many misconceptions among students have arisen. I’ve found that these misconceptions are often sweeping generalizations of an individual experience, and I would like to take this opportunity to revive my old study abroad blog to address them.

1. “I don’t have the language requirement to go anywhere.”

This is said mainly by A&S students, and it’s completely understandable. A&S has a very strict rule about languages and studying abroad, but none of the other colleges do.  I understand that not many people have the time to fulfill this requirement, especially with everything else going on at Cornell. But that does not mean you can’t go ANYWHERE. Your options are not limited by the language. I am also in A&S, and I applied to Cornell with every intention to study abroad. I studied Chinese for Native Speakers to fulfill my language requirement, yet I never had the intention nor interest to go to China or Taiwan (I go almost every other summer for my family). Instead I made the very impromptu decision (a month before the deadline) to go to Denmark. And while I was there, I took a Danish Language & Culture class. 

2. “Well, academics aren’t as rigorous as Cornell’s, and I’m afraid I’m not getting anything of value…”

Academics may not be as rigorous as Cornell’s at some programs but some are just as demanding, especially with research components. Immersing yourself in the culture also means understanding the differences in education. It all depends on how you maximize your academic opportunities abroad.

When I took “Human Rights in Africa” at the University of Copenhagen, I was completely thrown off by the teaching style. The Danish professors laughed at the American concept of “busy work,” and assigned only one short reading a week. Attendance was mandatory. There weren’t any quizzes or exams, but your entire grade depended on a final independent research paper. We all thought this was easy until we saw that the average grade (7) was the equivalent to a C in the American grading system.

“Wait, so…what does it take to get a 12 (A)?!” said one of my fellow American classmates.

My Danish professor widened his eyes in disbelief and said, “But..a 7 (C) is very good! To get a 12, it would have to publishable in an academic journal, and that is very rare…”

“…Is there a curve?” another student ventured.

“A what?”

Needless to say, my work would not be publishable in any Human Rights journals, but I learned so much more through the discussions I had with my professors and the Danish students than just simply memorizing facts and figures for a prelim. The professor challenged us to think differently and go beyond grades, academics and readings. He emphasized the dialogue we create about human rights could potentially impact and shape the politics and policies of humanitarian aid, which is so much more than what your GPA can do.

3. “I won’t graduate on time.”

Unless you’ve been fooling around every single semester and not planning ahead at all, you WILL graduate on time.  I even had enough credits to graduate a semester early after coming back from abroad, if it were not for my decision to stay and do a thesis. Talk to your college advisors and come to office hours at Caldwell Hall to talk to CU Abroad advisors on how you can plan ahead and work out your schedule.

4. “All my friends who went abroad said all they did was party and drink and travel!”

If we want to get very technical here, your friends do not make up a significant sample size (and besides, what do they do here on the weekends? Stay in Olin library?) I’m not going to deny that there are a lot of opportunities to travel and have fun, but it all depends on what you make of that. While I was in Denmark, I not only took a Danish Language & Culture class, but I also took a European History class (even though I had already had my fair share of AP European History and a few history courses at Cornell). But by taking those two classes, I was able to broaden my knowledge of European history and culture, so when I did get the opportunity to travel, I wasn’t just wandering around like a mindless tourist.

It’s not up to Cornell (or anyone else, for that matter) to assign meaning to your experiences, that’s solely up to you and you alone.

5. “I can’t afford it…”

Everyone’s financial situation is unique. I don’t want to be a major buzzkill, but right before I went abroad, my family went through a huge financial crisis. Our house in California was foreclosed and our lives took a turn for the worst.

MANY students do not understand that going abroad is no different than staying at Cornell for another semester. Your financial aid adjusts to the program and transfers over, and in addition, there are many grants and scholarships CU Abroad (and its featured study abroad programs) offers. If you do not currently have financial aid, there are programs and university that are actually cheaper than a semester at Cornell.

There is also the issue of other countries being more expensive than the US. Again, I must stress that there are grants and scholarship that may fit your needs. Research and plan ahead to apply before their deadline.

Do your research and see what else is out there (there’s literally a whole world waiting for you)…you never know what new adventures may come of it!

If you have any additional questions or comments about study abroad, feel free to leave a comment below (I always reply), email me at shc78@cornell.edu, or drop by Office Hours at 300 Caldwell Hall everyday from 1:30 – 3:00 PM. I’ll be there Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Setting Sail Again

I’ve sat down time and time again to try to write what my experience abroad had all meant. Coming back to the States created such a huge reverse culture shock that hurdled me through depression, uncertainty, and finally, understanding and growth. I can’t even believe that it’s been a year since I first looked out of my plane window, after traveling over 30 hours from Taiwan to Denmark, and felt an overwhelming mix of emotions pour over me. I was scared and worried, despite how confident and indifferent I appeared to my friends and family. I had always wanted to travel on my own and create my adventure — and there I was, at the beginning of something extraordinary.

I’ve looked through all the pictures over and over again, as if I can’t quite believe it all happened. And when it finally sinks in that all of those beautiful moments were real, it hurts more than anything. And I think that’s why even through all of our tearful goodbyes and heartfelt promises to be in each other’s lives forever, a lot of us have settled back into the routine of once was before Denmark and only look toward what will be in our own separate futures. But every now and then, when a story comes up, we’ll write on Facebook or send a text to let each other know that the fond memories are still there and haven’t faded completely just yet.

The time we accidentally bumped into the Clown Festival and danced with the Italians (Milan, 2011)

A lifetime of friends, memories, and soul-searching later, I find myself in the same position I was a year ago: scared and uncertain of what lies ahead of me. It’s my last semester in college, and the economic downturn is now directly affecting me and thousands of other soon-to-be graduates. A lot of people in the psychology major go on to graduate school, and I intended to do the same. But sometime between going abroad and adjusting back to life in Cornell, I changed my mind.

For all of my life, I’ve been in school, and that is all I’ve ever known. And it suddenly hit me that if I continued down the road, academia would be all that I would ever know. And that scared me more than the current unemployment rate and the dwindling job prospects. Maybe it was something about going abroad, or maybe it had been a part of me all along. If a recruiter just glanced at my resume, they would be able to see that I was the perfect cookie-cutter-shaped candidate for graduate school. It’s not that I don’t value my education, it’s just that I don’t see myself staying in school forever, doing the same thing forever, and knowing nothing else about the outside world. Not right now, at least.

So I am doing what I did one year ago: leaving my comfort zone and taking a huge risk. With unemployment rates going the way it is, who knows what will happen. But I can say for certain that I’d learn much more and live just a little more. The adventure doesn’t have to stop when you come back home.

Undskyld, Nik & Jay, har jeg set dig før, et sted i København?

Nik & Jay performing live in Malmö, Sweden at the Kulturbolaget

Nik & Jay performing live in Malmö, Sweden at the Kulturbolaget.

Remember way back when I wrote about listening to Nik & Jay, when I should have been studying for midterms? Well, who would have guessed then that I would see them performing live in Malmö, Sweden on  May 21.

A month ago, while walking to class from Nørreport station, one of my friends pointed out a poster advertising the first concert of Nik & Jay’s 2011 tour. The moment I saw that it was just a 30 minute train ride away from Copenhagen, I knew I had to be there, which meant I had to convince someone to come with me. After much begging, I finally convinced one of my good friends to come with me, who found my recent obsession pretty amusing.

DSC03386

Jay, getting the crowd to raise their hands up for one of the songs.

Like with every big pop artist, there are people who love them, and others who absolutely cannot stand them. Think of it like those who hate Justin Bieber and those who have crazed Bieber Fever. Since I find it highly amusing to annoy the latter group, I had been asking the Danes who hate them if they were just really jealous of Nik & Jay’s ability to write deep and meaningful lyrics. But honestly, after listening and Google translating their songs, I actually don’t think they’re as bad as some Danes make them out to be.

“I accidentally broke some hearts
Knew a bird or two
They love me like they love
Burger food.”
Crystal, Nik & Jay (One of their new English songs)

Uhhh …. okay, so it’s not Eminem, and yes, they can be a little arrogant in their songs, but which pop artist isn’t? A part of me thinks all this hate stems from the Danish Janteloven (Jante Law), which are ten rules that admonishes against acting like you are better or different from anyone else. A quick glance at any of Nik & Jay’s music videos will show that they’ve broken all ten rules.  Or maybe it’s just that the lyrics can be a little, uh, simple at times. But you have to admit, they are incredibly catchy.

Alright, I'm a little weird, too. Taken outside of Christiania.

Alright, I'll admit, I had one of my moments too. Taken outside of Christiania.

Nonetheless, I was still really excited to see them. I even went out to buy one of their CDs.

“You know, they have a new CD out,” the cashier said with an amused look on his face.

“Yeah, I know, this is just a souvenir for myself,” I said.

The cashier chuckled and shook his head, as he scanned the item.

“Yes, I know you think they’re stupid,” I said, having been in this situation numerous of times.

“Well…”

Kulturbolaget -- the relatively small, but cozy, concert venue.

Kulturbolaget -- the relatively small, but cozy, concert venue.

When May 21 finally rolled around, I ended up taking that CD to the concert, just in case there was an opportunity for autographs. The friend I had convinced to come was a little skeptical about the crowd they were going to attract, but I insisted that we go to the door early to make sure we could get tickets.  Earlier, I had wanted to order tickets online, but my card wouldn’t go through the Swedish website. So of course, I called the Swedish ticket office, and the woman repeatedly assured me that the tickets would not be sold out.

We arrived at the venue a few hours before the show to find about seven girls waiting outside the door.

“See, I’m not that crazy,” I jokingly said to my friend, as we approached the main doors.  “Excuse me, can we buy tickets here for Nik and Jay?” I asked the girls.

They all slowly turned from their absent conversations and glared at us. One of them was wearing a torn t-shirt, revealing marker scribbles of hearts and proclamations of love and devotion for Nik & Jay.

“Are you waiting for tickets?” I said, starting to feel a little intimidated by the daggers that were coming out of their eyes.

“We already have tickets,” one of the girls said shortly. “The doors open at seven.”

My friend and I exchanged incredulous glances — we knew Nik & Jay were popular, but we didn’t really expect crazy, possessive fans. I guess their song, “Endu En” (One More) wasn’t lying about the groupies.  But one of their songs should have put out a warning of the shrill, piercing screams their groupies were capable of emitting. Throughout the concert, girls from left and right and all around were screaming, as if it were actually the end of the world that day.

"NIK!! JAY!! JEG ELSKER DIG!!!!!!!!!!" -one of the many ear-piercing screams from the girls in the crowd

"NIK!! JAY!! JEG ELSKER DIG!!!!!!!!!!" -one of the many ear-piercing screams from the girls in the crowd.

Aside from the banshees, it was actually an incredibly fun concert. Unlike most auto-tuned pop artists in the United States, Nik & Jay sounded great live. The light show they put on, described as modest by a Danish critic, was pretty cool as well. Even if you did hate them, they could have easily made you nod your head to the beat or dance along with the music. Perhaps they’re not geniuses when it comes to lyrics, but they do know how to have fun. And that’s really what concerts are all about — having fun, dancing, and singing with other fans.  Plus, if you’re like me, it’s also a place to reassure yourself that at least you’re not that crazy.

At one point, Nik & Jay abruptly stopped singing “Lækker,” and the crowd continued singing out the rest of the song. Nik and Jay looked at each other in amazement and feigned bewilderment — but you could tell from the way they tried to contain their smiles that they were incredibly touched by their fans’ devotion.

After the concert, I decided to try my luck on getting an autograph. I noticed some girls in front were waiting by the stage and talking to a man in a Nexus (their record label) t-shirt.

“Hey, I was just wondering if he said anything about possibly getting an autograph?” I asked one of the girls.

Again, I was met by cold glares.

“No.”

Frustrated by how unhelpful and insane some of their fans were, I asked a crew member instead. They told us to wait outside to possibly get an autograph as they were leaving the venue. There were two young girls waiting eagerly with their tickets, hoping to get an autograph as well.

“Yay!” I said, regressing to 12 years old and hoping that at least these little girls would be a little less possessive. “That’d be cool if we got an autograph!”

My friend started laughing at my fan-girl mode, and the two young girls gave me a half-hearted smile. Ten minutes went by, and there was no sign of them coming out anytime soon. Another twenty minutes. The back door opened. A crew member exited.

“Maybe they already left…” my friend said.

The back door opened again. This time, it was the man in the Nexus t-shirt that I had seen earlier. He glanced at me as I meekly said, “Excuse me…”

“What’s up?” he said gruffly.

“I was just wondering if it was possible to get…an autograph?” I said, wilting under his dominating presence.

“Yeah, if you wait out here, they’ll come out,” he said with a shrug.

“Do you know how long?”

“Ten minutes,” he said casually. “Or an hour — they’re not the fastest guys in the world.”

“Oh…” I said with a hint of disappointment.

There was a pause. Then he asked, “Where are you from?”

“The States,” I said. “California.”

“Alright, since you’re from California, follow me,” he said, walking towards the back door we had been staring at for the past half hour. “If anyone asks, you two are my cousins.”

“Wait — really?!” I said in disbelief, as he opened the door and beckoned us up the stairs.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. We followed him down a hallway of dressing rooms until we reached the back lounge, where Nik and Jay were casually sitting with two interviewers. The room was dimly lit and hip-hop was playing in the background. Candles were placed around the room, bringing in the cherished Danish hygge. Jay glanced at us, as we entered the room with the man, and I stared around wide-eyed. There were other people who were casually sitting on the couches, as if they were old friends invited to an apartment party.

The man walked over to Jay and whispered something in his ear. He then dragged a chair over to us and told us to sit.

“They’ll talk to you after the interview,” he said. “So what are you two doing in Denmark?”

We soon learned that his name was James, and he had worked with Nik & Jay for the past eight years.

“When I was asked to work with Nik & Jay eight years ago,” James said, “I hadn’t even heard of them. Back then, they wanted to call themselves Nikker Jay..”

My eyes widened, and I laughed exasperatedly. All of a sudden, I wasn’t so sure that they were the type of people I would want to meet.

“…and I was like, dude, you can’t do that,” he continued. “Because y’all are both white…man, you just can’t do that. But yeah, now they’re my best friends.”

James went on to tell us the story of when he met Michael Jordan in California, how he deals with disappointed fans who want autographs, and how there are actually groupies who follow Nik & Jay throughout the entire tour. We were later introduced to some of the staff, who we made brief conversations with. Then, Burhan G (another famous Danish singer) strolled in. My perpetually wide eyes followed him across the room. He started singing the Danish birthday song to someone.

A few minutes later, Nik got up from the interview to get a bottle of water. James introduced us to him as his friends, and Nik extended his hand to greet us. I got up from my chair and accidentally dropped my camera, which made me look like a total spaz.

“I’ll be with you after this interview,” Nik said, smiling at my clumsiness.

People were walking in and out of the lounge. Some were casually talking to Burhan G, and others were standing around the bar, drinking wine. The experience, to me, felt surreal. And it got even more so when Nik and Jay finished their interview and turned to us.

We shook their hands, and I asked them to sign my CD. They asked us what we were doing in Denmark and other typical questions we had been asked throughout the semester. Why Denmark? How long have you been here? What are you studying? Isn’t it cold? When are you leaving? We’re the happiest country in the world?

Their arrogant on-stage persona instantly faded when we were standing face to face. Nik had friendly smile and seemed genuinely interested in who we were. Jay, someone you would expect to exude an air of superiority, talked to us like we were his friends. I couldn’t believe these were the people that were smirking in those music videos as scantily clad Danish girls danced all over them.

“You understand this shit?” Jay asked, holding up the CD after he had signed it.

“I Google translated it,” I admitted.

“Really?” Nik said, surprised that anyone would go through the effort to translate their songs.

“We have English songs on our new CD,” Jay immediately promoted. “You should buy our new CD, Angels and Demons.”

Nik (left) and Jay (second from right) are pretty nice people.

Nik (left) and Jay (second from right) are pretty nice people, despite the impressions you may get from their songs.

On the train ride back to Copenhagen, I was still in a state of disbelief. Just a few days ago, I was going through tearful good-byes and promises to keep in touch with all the friends in the højskole. The semester had come to an end, as well as a significant and beautiful chapter in my life. And I never would have guessed that Nik and Jay, in all of their glorious words, would be writing part of the epilogue of a wonderful story in Denmark.

Speyer by Day and Berlin by Night

Speyer, Germany

Speyer, Germany

My aunt lives in the center of Speyer, a small town next to Heidelberg, Germany. Her neighbors are artists, who sit around in the evenings, drinking red wine and discussing the latest in contemporary art. Her house, and the houses lining the cobblestone streets of Speyer, looks like a doll house — it’s yellow with a sort of mismatch of green shutters.

We were never really close. She knew very little about me, and I knew little about her. All I knew was that she was my dad’s younger sister, and she was a sort of a celebrity in Taiwan. She had appeared on TV, been on talk shows, and maybe even featured in tabloids. She was a singer and a songwriter in the last generation of music. And now she writes books, which one of my mom’s journalist friends described to me, as lovingly as possible, “housewife books.” My uncle described it as books about her own life (which I noted in my head that it was not so different from what I did in blogs, and I wondered if she ever cared to know that). When I told my travel group about this on the train, they were all enamoured — they were meeting a Taiwanese celebrity. But to me, she was just my aunt, who for one reason or another, I was not that close with.

When we arrived at the Speyer train station, after changing what seemed like hundreds of train legs, we were greeted by my stone-faced aunt and my smiling German uncle. I note that he is, in fact, German and not Chinese or Taiwanese because it was a big controversy in the family when they became engaged. At the time, my grandfather did not approve of their marriage, simply because he was not Chinese. In his anger, he didn’t even attend the wedding.  But with persistence and a couple of games of Mah Jong, my uncle eventually won over my grandfather’s adamant approval. That was another story that my travel group could not get over — we were visiting celebrities, who also had a romantic story. It could have only been possible in novels or indie-films.

We were all tired from carrying our backpacks, and we all hadn’t showered in days. My hair, although short, was a tangled and sappy mess. My aunt had prepared our first homecook meal in months, and we were all happy to be there. After staying on strangers’ couches, dirty hostels, and isolated hotels, my aunt’s home felt like a small bit of heaven. It was comfortable and warm, everything we needed after running into the police, walking on the highway for miles, and not showering for days.

“In Sandie’s email, she told me there were four or five of you coming,” she said, as she took a small sip of her wine. “And my husband asked if I should have confirmed the number, but I know, based on my experience backpacking in Europe, that someone always leaves out of anger. Did that happen with you guys?”

We all exchanged sheepish looks. As much as we enjoyed the time seeing all the beautiful and wonderful sights in Europe, there had been tensions among the group. My patience, by the time we reached Speyer, was already worn to the very last thread.

“No,” we lied. “We’ve been fine.”

After dinner, she took us to a nearby beer garden and talked about her experiences in Berlin. We were only staying in Speyer for one night, and we were going to make our way to Berlin. When we went back to her house, my uncle and one of the members of our travel group watched a game of soccer. Exhausted, I had made my way to the guest room, which was conveniently located on the fourth floor. There, I saw certificates for all the writing awards she had won in both Europe and Taiwan.  Before I fell asleep, I wondered where all the time had gone between us.

The next morning, my aunt prepared a large continental breakfast for us and to my delight, Oolong tea. Classical music played in the background of our breakfast, and I felt like someone was writing us into a script of a movie. I sometimes wondered if that’s how my aunt — author, musician, artist — saw her own life.

Speyer Cathedral

Speyer Cathedral

Before taking us to the train station, she showed us the Speyer Cathedral, where her wedding took place. It was also a cathedral preserved by UNESCO, something I wasn’t aware of until she told me. As she was telling us the history of Speyer, a part of me wished I wasn’t leaving so soon, and I wished I could have made up for lost time.  This was a theme that I found myself bumping into, as time in Europe started slipping away.

~*~*~

Everything Speyer was, Berlin was the extreme opposite. When our train arrived in Berlin, we quickly tried to find the address that guy we met in Figueres provided for us. To our surprise, we actually found what he had described. There was, indeed, boots hanging from the front window of this peculiar building. So, he wasn’t lying to us, after all. I found the picture I took of him on my camera, ready to present it to the friend, Mogli, we were supposed to ask for.

Where Alex's directions led us to...

Where Alex's directions led us to...

The people standing around the building looked at us suspiciously. For their standards, we were overdressed. Most of them had tattoos and piercings all over the place and looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks.  I took a deep breath and approached one of the groups, who were glowering at us.

“We’re looking for a Mogli,” I started uncertainly. “Do you guys happen to know where he is?”

After a pause, they looked up at the building and called his name. A man with the same neon green hair as Alex’s peeked out of one of the windows. German was exchanged, and Mogli appeared in front of us in a couple of minutes.

“Yes?” he asked, eyeing us with suspicion, as if we were part of the police.

I handed him my camera with Alex’s picture on it.

“We met your friend in Figueres, and he said to ask for you…” I said, trying to keep my eyes off the bottle cap that was attached to his hair. “He said we could stay here, if we asked for you…”

A few people next to us hissed that they didn’t have room. And Mogli, in his failed attempt to be nice said, “Well, we’re having a party here tonight with a band, so…we don’t have room.”

He directed us to another, we later learned, squathouse. Apparently, Berlin, bursting with counter culture and rebellion, was filled with these squathouses. I described it to my friends back in Denmark as “a Christiania in the form of apartment buildings.”  He told us to ask for a man named “Z-Mona.”

One of my friends started calling his name in the small courtyard. A few people walked past us, as if we were invisible. They either couldn’t speak English or didn’t care enough to help us find Z Mona, if he was even a real person. Frustrated, we went back to Mogli and asked for a nearby cafe with WiFi. It was the Easter holidays, and we were out of luck finding a hostel, let alone a last-minute CouchSurfer.

As much as I loved CouchSurfing, it did frustrate me to no end when CouchSurfers did not respond to Couch Requests. We each sent out at least ten messages in one city, and no one would respond. And here we were, in the middle of Berlin, with nowhere to stay and the sun quickly setting behind us. We eventually found a hostel on the outskirts of Berlin, where we decided was the “red light district” of Berlin.

right next to our hostel

right next to our hostel

What followed was perhaps the worst hostel I’ve stayed at in my entire life. I forgive hostels for being dirty and not up to par, but this was crossing the line. The A&O Hostel in Berlin was, by far, the most disgusting place I’ve stayed in. The service was awful, everything was dirty, and the pillows … were just sheets filled with cotton balls. In fact, pillows that are filled with cotton balls are probably more comfortable than the pillows they offered at the A&O. The beds were dirty and stained with what looked like a mix between blood and urine.

Just a few hours ago, we were sitting in beautiful, comfortable sun-lit room, listening to classical music and eating fresh bread with honey. And now, night had fallen upon us, and we were wandering around Berlin — hoping to find some semblance of night life.

“Mogli didn’t even invite us to their party,” one of my friends grumbled, still bitter about being turned down for a free place to stay. I was also pretty annoyed that we were staying at such an expensive, yet dirty and disgusting hostel.

We ended up finding an “uppity” night club that was featuring a “Russian Party”. And lo behold, we saw the advertisement for their next themed party, too:

I'm not sure if I should be amused or offended. Mostly amused.

I'm not sure if I should be amused or offended. Mostly amused.

For never was a story of more woe

April 19-20, 2011

The Swiss Alps through a train window

The Swiss Alps through a train window

At this point of the journey, everyday brought a new and unexpected adventure. When S. and I first sat down and planned this trip in the Studenterhuset, we were not expecting to be stuck in Figueres, Spain or Cerebres, France. And we were certainly not expecting to take a 20 hour train ride across eastern France and back down through the Swiss Alps just to get to Verona, Italy.

When I heard people talk about their Euro-trips, they made it seem like the Eurail was convenient and easy.

“You get on the train whenever you want to, and you get off when you feel like it!” they would enthusiastically exclaim.

Oh, if life were only that simple. Hidden in Eurail’s “convenience” are reservations and the fees that add up to a substantial amount of money, especially for international trains. It would have saved more money to fly, but with planes, you don’t get the same scenic routes (plus, it’s greener to take the train). Even if it was unexpected, it was nice to see the Swiss alps — it’s as beautiful and picturesque as you would imagine it to be.

When we finally arrived in Verona, we ran into another unexpected bit of trouble, which was finding where our hostel was. According to HostelBookers, our hostel was a bus ride away from Verona city center, but we soon found out that it was actually a 30 minute bus ride away. When we arrived, we were greeted by a jolly and hearty Italian man. He enthusiastically showed us around the B & B, and we told him that we thought it was very nice.

“Oh, that makes me very happy to hear,” he said with a melodious Italian accent. “If you’re happy then I am happy!”

Before

Before

As friendly as he was, he did not provide breakfast the next morning (or the morning after that). I was under the impression that Bed and Breakfasts include a breakfast — what false advertisement. He should have just called his place a Bed. In any case, we were all starving by the time we arrived at the B & B, so we went to a nearby pizzeria and ate basically everything in sight.

After

After

The next morning, we woke up fairly early to catch all the sights in Verona, since we only had one day to see everything. If you ever need information on a city you are visiting, check out WikiTravel, where like HitchWiki, travelers post information on all the famous sites and tell you where to avoid tourist traps.

Famed for its setting of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of the most romantic places in the world. There are messages of love and heartbreak all over the walls next to Juliet’s balcony, and there is always a line of single hopefuls lining up to take a picture next to Juliet’s statue. Apparently, if you touch her breast, you will get good luck in love. So if you’re a hopeless romantic or need a nice, romantic getaway with your significant other, Verona is definitely the place to be.

Oh la laaa, who is going to be my lucky guy? ;)

Oh la laa -- who is going to be my Romeo? 😉

Verona, from the top of the Lomberti Tower

Verona, from the top of the Lomberti Tower

Verona is a small city, and all the famous and historical sights are within walking distance. There aren’t as many tourists as there are in Venice or Rome, making it a bit more pleasant to walk around and slowly enjoy the sights. We went to the old amphitheater and also climbed to the top of the Lomberti Tower (the highest structure in Verona — it reminded me of the Round Tower in Copenhagen). We ate gelato whenever we could (especially since I claimed it helped me with my allergies). And after a long day of sightseeing, we went to a nice restaurant that overlooked the river. This is also where I tried horse meat, which is a typical Italian dish for the region. As hard as I try to be a vegetarian, I feel that I can never resist trying new food, especially if it has cultural significance. Yes, it’s sad and awful to eat majestic and graceful creatures such as horses, but cows are pretty cute too!

Locks for love from couples who want to be in love forever...and ever.

Locks for love from couples who want to be in love forever...and ever.

Anyway, where ever you travel to, make sure you know the time schedule for public transportation — otherwise, you are going to be paying way too much for a taxi or stuck in city center. The jolly B&B keeper had told us that buses stopped running at 8:30, so we rushed out of dinner as soon as we could … but ended up missing the bus anyway.  For the next several hours, we tried calling a taxi, but they would either never come or misunderstand where we needed to be picked up.  After asking a couple of bartenders to help us call the taxi, we finally got an expensive ride back at 11 PM.

Juliet’s breast did not bring good luck.