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Coast to Coast

This past week my parents came to visit me in rome! I was so excited to have something remind me of home considering iv’e been getting a little homesick. But that feeling went away extremely fast because I was so excited for what was ahead of us. After spending three days in rome, we took a train to naples then a private driver to Positano on the coast where we would be staying for 3 days. Positano was absolutely breathtaking, so high up on the side of a cliff, with cute little boutiques and amazing restaurants. We stayed in an amazing bed and breakfast called Casa Buonocore which was 70 stairs high up and we had our own personal terrace to enjoy the view. The second day we took a boat to the Amalfi coast. There we walked around, got some delicious gelato, had lunch by the beach, and explored as much as possible. The third day we took a boat even farther to the isle of Capri. Capri was my favorite place we visited. The first thing we saw on our boat tour was the Blue Grotto. This was a small cave where the water in it was bright blue and you went around in a tiny little boat, it was pretty thrilling! After, we saw many other sights such as a famous lighthouse and other grottos. The rest of the day we laid on the beach, relaxed and enjoyed the sunset. Sunday was the time to go back to rome, and we spent our last night together eating dinner by the Spanish Steps. I was extremely sad to say goodbye, but had such an amazing weekend exploring Italy with people I love!

-Meaghan Sampey

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February in Ireland!

The number one thing we talk about here in Ireland is the weather; compared to the cold and snow back at campus, I was content with the rain and 40 degree temperature. I had a lot of fun in February – my sorority sister and my twin both came to visit at the same time, so I took them to the western coast of Ireland to Connemara, where we had a blast!

The landscape in this region is just breath taking – it’s very close to the Cliffs of Moher – a very popular tourist attraction – but these cliffs above are off the Aran Islands! The islands are three little branches off the Galway Bay where on the biggest island, 800 people live there round year. For the three islands, there is one doctor and one garda (police officer) – it’s insane! The islands are known for their wool products, so if you see a sweater from the Aran Islands – it’s from this area! I got a nice pair of socks there 🙂

We also got to tour around the hills of Connemara on our way to Kylemore Abbey; that’s my twin up there (the ugly one :P)! She’s been studying abroad in France September and came to see me on one of her multiple breaks. She’s always very happy to see me.

Here is the beautiful Kylemore Abbey! It was a tragic story associated with it – a husband built it for his wife, but she ended up dying after a few years 😦 The grounds are sooooo well kept and even though we were there in February, there was still a lot of green present! Nuns own it now and have turned it into a tourist attraction; you can walk inside the abbey and check out the way the house used to look like.

Other than this, I have just been touring around Ireland with my roommates; this country has so much to offer, it’s so hard to cover everything in 4 months! The people here are so sweet and I’ve been loving it a great deal! At this point, I haven’t left the island yet for another country. I was feeling a bit pressed for time since all I had been doing is Ireland, but looking back, I don’t regret it one bit! I went to Kilkenney (directly south of Dublin) and did the Smithwick’s brewery tour, had tea and a scone in a castle, and even hit up a cute charity shop and bought a new dress. 😛

Overall, February was a great month!

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Dane Hasselbring, University College Dublin

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I find myself writing this and thinking how I have almost been in Ireland for three months already. Wow! Time has flown by. It seems like it was a short time ago that I was boarding a plane to get here. So many thoughts were running through my head. This is the first time I’m leaving the country! Am I going to like it in Ireland? Am I going to fit in? Will my classes be difficult? It’s funny to think how I was so concerned about these things only a few short months ago. Now, with little over a month left, I find myself reflecting on what I have experienced so far. I have really enjoyed my experience in Ireland. It’s a great country and everyone has been really nice to this small town kid. I’ve made friends, adjusted to classes, and now Dublin feels like a home to me. After living here for so long, I started to realize the things that I’m going to miss the most. Just the experience of walking down the streets of Dublin at night is one thing that I will miss. The sights and sounds on Grafton Street. The rolling crowd of people walking past Daniel O’Connell’s statue going about their business. Hearing the sounds of laughter from inside a pub while I’m passing by. The taste of a good pint of Guinness at a pub. These are just some of the things that have become part of my everyday life that I’m going to miss. I’ve had a blast while in Dublin, and I am thankful for this opportunity. I never thought that I would be able to study in another country for an entire semester. I grew up in a small town in rural Illinois. Farming and raising cattle was all that I knew. Now I realize that there is a whole world out there! This is because of the opportunities we have in the college of ACES to study abroad.

I remember when I was a freshman we were doing our 8 semester plans in ACES 101. That project feels like ages ago. I remember thinking to myself, “Dane, you might as well study abroad. This is the only chance you’re ever going to get to do something like this.” So I made my schedule so I could study abroad spring semester of my junior year. I’m so glad that I did this! This has been a life changing experience for me! Of course I was nervous at first; I had never left the states before. Luckily I knew some of my fellow students that were coming with me, so the transition was easier. It’s going to be stressful the first few weeks you are in a new country. Don’t sweat it though, you get used to your host country in no time! I would tell anyone who is even considering it to go ahead and do it! I doubt anyone will tell you that they regret spending a semester in another country. I remember growing up and hearing about all these places around the world. I would see them on TV or a picture of them in a magazine. I never thought that I would actually see them in person though. It’s hard to describe what’s it’s like to see something that you never thought you would see. I will say though, it’s way better than in the pictures! Just seize this opportunity, you won’t regret it! There are so many places that you can go with ACES!

-Dane Hasselbring

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Griffin’s Study Abroad Experience in Leuven, Post 2

March has been a month full of exciting trips and experiences as I become further acquainted with the European lifestyle. At the start of the month, most of the students in my program decided to venture out to Dublin. However, I will be traveling to Dublin with my family later in the semester, so I decided that weekend would be a good chance to make a solo trip out to Oslo, Norway. This was a bit of an impulsive decision on my part, but after finding a roundtrip flight for 58 euros to one of the most expensive cities in the world, I had to jump on that plane. Now, because this is one of the most expensive cities in the world due to their strong socialistic economy and high taxes, I packed six peanut butter and jelly’s and ate at as many 7/11’s as I could.

The good part about Oslo is that there are many ways to make a weekend there very cheap. I was able to visit the infamous Frogner park, hike and cross-country ski in the Oslomarka, and visit the amazing Oprah house. However, the bars in the city were way out of my price range. One night I decided to walk into a standard pub simply to check out the prices. I was stunned to see that the pub’s cheapest beer on tap, a Budweiser, was $10!! Altogether the city was probably up there in one of the cleanest metro areas I have seen, and the trip was well worth the two hour flight.

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A few days after I returned from Oslo, I left for Prague with seven of the other students in my program. Prague was architecturally the coolest city I have seen in Europe thus far.  The hostel we stayed in was also one of the best yet and it was only 11 euro per night! The nightlife in this city was on point, with the group ending up in a five-story club at the end of a pub crawl one night. During they day, we did a lot of walking around and saw the old town square, astronomical clock, and the Charles Bridge. Unfortunately, we were cursed with rain and clouds for the majority of the trip.

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As April approaches, I am gearing up for my Easter break 19 day backbacking trip. I will be traveling through Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon, and Barcelona. My flight to Venice actually leaves three hours from now at 7am, so I will end this post here. Cheers!

-Griffin Abel

#ACESabroad #ILLINOISabroad

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Blog Post 2, BZ

On to my next journey abroad that takes place in the Netherlands and another city in Belgium. A girl confronted my friend Griffin and me, in our program that goes to UPENN on a Thursday night when we were out for a few beers. We had only met her a couple of days ago, but what better way to get acquainted with someone than travel? The reason I ask this question was because she was asking us if we would be interested in going to Maastricht on Sunday for Carnival. She said that her aunt from Greece was coming to Belgium to visit for the weekend and wanted some other people to join her in the festivities. We also asked our friend Ben to join us on this excursion that we knew nothing about. Being as curious as we were, we could not help, but research a little on what this girl was getting us into.

After doing this research and watching some YouTube videos, I figured we had made the right decision in joining her on this trip. Somehow we missed seeing them get on the train in Leuven and met up at the Liege train station when we had to make a connection. At this point we realized how difficult it was to make a connection, so off we raced to our next train to Maastricht with about a minute to spare. On our way we had to make a few stops at other stations and we were slowly starting to notice the inexplicable amount of random costumes people were wearing. It reminded me of Halloween in America, but in the middle of the day. When we got off the train we followed the masses and after about two minutes of walking found ourselves extremely puzzled. We saw so many strange costumes, some I would consider borderline scary considering my irrational fear of clowns. This probably was not the best decision I had made in my life, but after a few beers I felt the tensions drift away. As we walked towards the center of the city or at least it seemed like the center, we decided to grab a few beers and grab a table while we still had the chance. After about a half hour we went to walk around a little more to get more of a feel for this city and the Carnival tradition. As we walked around we stopped to watch the parade. One lady next to me was telling us how her son was in the parade and offered me her scarf because she said I looked cold. I was not entirely sure why I looked cold, but it was a cool scarf, she then told Ben and I that we could walk in the parade if we went in the back. After having a few beers this seemed like a great idea, so of course being the obnoxious tourists we decided to hop in for a block. Once the adrenaline wore off we decided to come back and join our group. We all were extremely hungry and of course we had walked by a food truck that smelled great. Griffin and I walked or possibly ran over to this food truck after smelling what they had to offer. It ended up being a fried whitefish sandwich or at least that’s what we were told. It was delicious, so I was not too concerned. This was the end to our day and we had to catch the train back, but I must say it was well worth the hour-long train ride. Now, that we all thought we were experts on the train system we felt a little more confident in finding our way to get back. Fortunately, we once again made our connection, but this was after sprinting to get to the correct platform. Once again, we were back in Leuven, which was an extreme relief.

Now fast forward about a month when my girlfriend came to visit me in Belgium. We decided to take a trip out to one of the cities in Belgium. This city was known for its medieval buildings surrounding the town square and the city. Interesting observation that I have thought about is that every European city I have visited always has a town square. I am sure this may not be the most intelligent comment or thought, but I just wanted to throw it out there because I think it is pretty cool. Its always the coolest place to be in relation to each city and is usually surrounded by the coolest buildings in the city. Back to the city I brought up, some may know this city by the name of Brugge, but can also be referred to as Bruges. This is a common theme in Belgium, everything is pronounced in two ways, which can make it a little confusing for a non-native speaker. For instance, Leuven can Louvain, Brussels can be Bruxelles. I am not entirely sure if it is a Dutch or French translation, but now that I understand it, it’s a lot easier to figure out. When we arrived in Bruges, we went straight to the town center, which was about a mile and a half long walk. It seemed quite similar to Leuven in the sense of how the homes were built on the streets, but it was flooded with tourists relative to Leuven. Tourist shops were on every block on the way to the town center. Now, if I have not mentioned in either this blog or the previous one, Belgium has the best beer in the world. I am sure someone could argue this, but it is renowned for having the best. Regardless, I was one of the last people in our group to go to Bruges and everyone that had already gone were raving about how great this beer was that they had there. This beer is called De Garre. It is a Belgian tripel, but the catch was that you had to find this place. We walked around to look around the city while also thinking we may stumble upon the the De Garre bar. After circling around the center two times we decided that we were actually going to really try looking. When they described how to find this place they said that it was just off the town square, but you had to go down a small alley and the bar is down that alley. After searching for another thirty minutes, we had basically given up on searching and instead went to restaurant to get some wifi. I used Google Maps to get a better idea of where this place was. We walked back towards an alley that we had walk through a couple of times as it was loitered with great smelling food and naturally attracted us to it. Once we got to the alley, my directions were telling me to walk through a waffle shop. Obviously this did not make much, so I turned around thinking maybe we need to go around. Then my girlfriend told me to wait because she had noticed a door sized entrance into an alley, if you can even call it that. We walked through and there it was! Finally, we managed to find it, this may have made the beer that much more satisfying. Now everyone said that this was the best beer ever, I do not know if I can make that claim, but it was very good. On the way back from the train we stopped at a sandwich store, then at a waffle shop because my girlfriend had still not tried one yet. We shared one and of course it was delicious, however there is a better waffle place in Leuven. It was a great day and we had to head back, so we went to the train station and hopped on the next train back. This was the end of a long day and we were physically incapable of doing anything else. I cannot wait to move on to my next blog at the end of April. #ACESAbroad

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Jake Shulman, Leuven Belgium – Blog 2

After my weekend in Brussels, I had planned a trip to Dublin, Ireland for the following weekend. Some other students and I thought it would be a great idea to celebrate Unofficial in Ireland, and I had only heard great things about the country as well!

Dublin was a great city! It was extremely easy to navigate, and the food was great as well! One of my favorite parts of Dublin were the Ruin Bars. The Ruin Bars were in a lively party of the city which made the experience even more exhilarating. Also, the Guinness Beer was absolutely amazing!

The day after Unofficial, some of my friends and I decided to take a tour of the Guinness Brewery. This was a very similar experience to the tour I took of the Heineken Brewery. The major differences of the Guinness and Heineken Breweries were the beer (obviously) and at the top of the Guinness Brewery was a penthouse like room at the top of the Brewery. From this room, you were able to see all of Ireland in all directions. I thought the view was absolutely magnificent and the nice weather made the view even better.

The following day, I took a tour of the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs were about a three hour bus ride away from Dublin, but the trip was well worth the commute. During the trip we stopped in multiple cities to see famous landmarks and to get food as well. The food I ate during the trip was incredible. The restaurant served us seafood chowder and pasta for a great price. I had never had any type of chowder, and after eating the soup all I want to eat is seafood chowder!

After we ate, we drove another hour to the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs were beautiful, and I felt like I was in paradise. We stayed at the Cliffs for about 45 minutes and then went back to our hostel. The Cliffs of Moher are a must see if you even plan on traveling to Ireland.

The following week, some other UIUC students and I took a trip to Prague, Czech Republic. Prague has been my favorite city thus far! In Prague, my group and I toured the city, ate at the best restaurants in Prague, experienced the five story bar, and went to the highest point in the city.

My two favorite parts of this trip were the five story bar and the highest point in the city. I found the five story bar very appealing because each floor had a different theme, and the best part was the bottom floor. The bottom floor of this bar was an ice bar, and when I say ice bar I literally mean the bar was made out of ice. We were only able to stay in the bar for twenty minutes but it was well worth the experience. On the other hand, the highest point in the city was absolutely amazing. Once you reached the top, you were able to see an incredible view of Prague. This view of the city really made me appreciate the city. My group and I, spent a lot of time at the highest point in the city just taking in the view of the city for what it was. Prague, is a must see city in Europe, and I would definitely suggest it as place to study abroad besides Leuven!

The week after Prague, I decided to stay in Leuven to give myself a rest. However, my friends from U of I came to Leuven for a part of their Spring Break that Friday night, and we had an awesome time. I showed them the city, and we did all of the things any tourist needs to do if they visit Belgium. At night, we ate at one of the best restaurants in Leuven, and went to the Oude Markt later that night.

The next week, flew by fast and before I knew it, I was on a bus to Paris, France. The bus ride was about five hours long, but it went by quickly because the bus had Wi-Fi. Once I arrived in Paris, I met my friend at the bus stop who was studying there for the semester. We took the Metra to get to his dorm, where we met up with my friends visiting from U of I and his two other roommates who are also my good friends from home. 

The first night, we visited the Eiffel Tower. We got to the tower right in time for the light show that goes on at the top of every hour. The light show was amazing, and it went on for about five minutes. Then we decided to take a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which was definitely worth it. The view from the top of the tower was absolutely incredible, and it was probably my favorite part of the trip. After our tour of the Eiffel Tower, we decided to head back to my friend’s dorm.

We woke up early the next morning and headed to the Louvre. Overall, I really enjoyed the Louvre. The artwork inside the Louvre was some of the best artwork I had ever seen, and the glass triangle was a really cool sight to see. Both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are must see attractions if you ever plan on visiting Paris.

My study abroad trip has been getting even better as the weeks go on. There is more to come in my next post!

#ACESabroad

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