Book Adventures, Book Reviews

Semester Abroad: March Reflections

Last month I shared with you my February reflections about my semester studying abroad in London, England. In March, my travel opportunities expanded and I was able to visit continental Europe for the first time in my life. This was an exciting adventure! If February was all about settling in, March was all about expanding horizons. I saw new places, met new people and, of course, read some new books.

Literary Roundup

I always find time to read, of course. Although traveling kept me fairly busy, I managed to read 5 books this month. Some of these books and plays were required readings for class, but others were purely for my own enjoyment. To see what I’m reading live, friend me on Goodreads! Here’s my March roundup :

  • This Is How I Disappear by Mirion Malle, (Review Posted!)
  • Henry V by William Shakespeare
  • Love at First Fight by Mary Jayne Baker (Review Posted!)
  • A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
  • Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

On Backpacking

For a ten day period in early March I embarked on the exciting adventure of backpacking through Europe for 10 days. And when I say backpacking I really mean one backpack. I traded my books and laptop for just a few t-shirts and a sturdy pair of jeans.

Book lovers, I know the concept of choosing one book to carry around for ten days seems impossible.

COVID and Respectful Travel

I recognize that any and all traveling I get to do – especially now, but always still – is an immense privilege. I’ve been saving for quite a while to be able to afford this trip and unfortunately the global pandemic was not something I could have foreseen.

One thing to remember when traveling is to always be respectful to the community you are visiting. Countries may be encouraging tourism, but tourists also bring potential for new COVID cases. To be a respectful traveller, I tested for COVID before leaving for my trip, at the midpoint, and at the end of my trip. I also carried COVID tests on me just in case I started to feel sick.

As always, traveling means going to a place that somebody else calls their home and community. During the pandemic, it is extra important to make sure that you are being respectful of keeping that community and yourself healthy! Always check government health guidelines before travel and be aware of different rules that you may encounter.

The Hills Are Alive in Salzburg

Located in Austria near the Eastern Alps, the city of Salzburg is known well as a place of music, nature, art, and culture. The city’s history of music runs deep, historically for being the birthplace of none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A little secret for all of you is that I actually love classical music quite a lot. And as a musician myself, I knew visiting Mozart’s birthplace was a must-do. The museum at his birthplace had locks of his hair, which I must say was probably the weirdest thing I encountered on this trip. My favorite thing was seeing his tiny violin. You can tell that the city has a lot of pride for being the birthplace of Mozart.

Image: Mozart’s violin, located at the Mozart Birthplace

Another big attraction of Salzburg is the Hohensalzburg Fortress. A little tip for travelers: the walk up to the fortress is a bit hefty if you’ve been out and about all day. Learn from my mistakes and take the cable car.

Intense uphill walk aside, the fortress is rich in history and has some amazing views of the area.

Image: View from the fortress

If you’re going to be in Salzburg for at least 24 hours, I highly recommend purchasing the Salzburg Card. This card gives you access to almost all of the museums and attractions, as well as the cable car and public transportation.

This card gave access to the Untersberg Cable Car, which takes you to a snowy mountain top and lets you hike around in the open air.

Image: View of the mountains from the cable car

I want to write pages and pages about the feeling of standing on the summit of a mountain, but even the memory of it lacks proper description. I remember laughing about trekking to the summit in fashion sneakers, and also pulling out my journal in the cold to just try to give some words to the experience. All I can say is that the opportunity to stand on top of a mountain and look out at the world is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Image: Making my way to the summit
Image: Standing on the mountaintop

The nature and history make Salzburg a unique destination to visit, but it is the famous 1965 musical film about the von Trapp family that brings many tourists to the area.

If you’re like me, hearing Julie Andrews sing about going to the hills when one’s heart is lonely almost feels like a siren call. I’ve been longing The Sound of Music is just one of those films that holds a special place in my heart. I’ve been singing Do-Re-Mi with my mom ever since I was little and used to fantasize about wearing that pink dress that Liesl wears in Sixteen Going on Seventeen.

I embarked on The Original Sound of Music Tour and I would recommend this tour for any fans of the film who make their way to Salzburg. This bus tour brings you to many filming locations in Salzburg and the surrounding area. Not only is it a good way to get to know a little bit more about the film, but the tour also provides a wonderful history of the area as well.

Image: The Sound of Music Bus Tour
Image: Walking along the do-re-mi fountain

Music lovers, do not skip Salzburg, Austria. Visiting this city is a personal highlight of my life.

Beer and Art in Munich

I had only one full day to spend in Munich so I had to make the most of it. On my list of course was a trip to the famous Hofbräuhaus. There was live music, great food, and great beer. What more could a person ask for?

Image: Beer!

Munich has some amazing sites. Two of my favorite were the English Garden, which is one of the biggest urban parks in thee world, and the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, an amazing clocktower in the center of the city.

Image: Rathaus-Glockenspiel

I rounded out my trip with a visit to the world famous art museum Alte Pinakothek. This amazing collection holds Old Master paintings and some amazing impressionist work.

Image: Alte Pinakothek

My visit to Munich felt far too brief. I look forward to returning someday to explore the city further.

Amazing Architecture in Würzburg

I spent a few hours exploring the city of Würzburg on my way through Germany. This was the most warm and sunny day of my entire trip, so I took full advantage of wandering around in the sunshine and getting to know the city.

An amazing highlight of Würzburg is the historic buildings like the Marienberg Fortress.

Image: Marienberg Fortress
Image: Würzburg Residenz

Although my time in Würzburg was brief, I am happy to have seen such a beautiful place!

Biking in Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam around 9pm after a semi-nightmarish travel experience filled my day. This final stop on my trip was particularly exciting because I was visiting a friend from my home campus who is also studying abroad.

I love riding a bike and there’s no doubt that the best way to see the city is riding one. I was lucky enough to have beautiful weather on my trip, so I coasted down bike lanes and through parks to see the best parts of the city.

Image: Dutch Pancakes

Dutch pancakes might just be the greatest thing ever. These are from De Carrousel Pannenkoeken in central Amsterdam.

Image: Van Gogh Museum

Another highlight of Amsterdam is the art, namely the Van Gogh Museum. I am a devout lover of Van Gogh’s sunflower series, and in the museum I got to see another sunflower painting. This marks four different sunflower paintings for me, and hopefully it is not the last one I see!

Living in London

Even with all the great adventures, London still holds my heart. This month began my visits from friends and family and that gave me a renewed sense of excitement for all of the London tourist attractions. I made my way to the top of tower bridge and got to watch it open from above. I also saw Big Ben three times in the same week, which is certainly not part of my usual routine.

My favorite activity in London continues to be settling into a cafe with a good book. I spent many March afternoons at the cafe in Foyles. I’m excited to share all of my April reads and London adventures with you.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing I’ve learned this month is that picking up and going to a new part of the world won’t heal every wound of life. We’re still living through horrible times, and this doesn’t go away by just placing yourself in a new country or city. I made a ton of amazing memories in March but getting to those moments wasn’t easy. COVID is a real, current issue that infuses into every choice I make as a traveller.

Living in London this spring has not been simple. It has been lovely and life changing but also challenging. I’m working on finding the balance between doing what I can and accepting what I individually cannot change.

With the midpoint of my semester abroad passed, I’m focusing on making the most of the time that I have left and exploring everything this city had to offer.

1 thought on “Semester Abroad: March Reflections”

  1. Truly enjoyed reading about your adventures, Julia. Now I can say I know someone who literally back packed through Europe.


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