07 February 2007

My European Odyssey

With the completion of today's Geography exam all that remains is Spanish, then the semester will reach its end and lie in the past. In the last week or so whenever I wasn’t studying, I spent my time at a number of goodbye parties and dinners for the multitude of foreign students who will not return for the Summer semester. I have plans to see some again before I cross the Atlantic back to America, and with others the promise that if I ever visit their respective home countries, or they mine, a comfortable bed and warm meal await. From this one semester alone I made friends from more than 10 countries; the number probably doubles when you count all of the people with whom I simply spoke once or twice. While the past four months unquestionably justified and satisfied my decision to study abroad, they also exceeded my original expectations. I feel fortunate, no, blessed about the fact that I took that initial blind leap to commit to the full year. Were these the final days of my life in Germany I would question, distantly into the future, why I chose only one semester. My time here since the end of last September endowed me so frequently with one unique memory and virgin experience after another, that I can only barely imagine what the next six months hold in store for me.

Most of the friends about whom I have written or of whom you have seen pictures, will be gone by April 16, the first day of classes for the next semester. The French girls Amelie and Nawell, the first other foreign students I befriended, returned to France over two weeks ago. The Italians will return to their country in the beginning of March. Kristin and Briana will walk on American soil again by next week. Of course, there are many other friends, whom I never had the opportunity to introduce on Fire at Will, who will journey back to their homes. In fact, the only group of remaining foreign friends about whom you have read are the Spanish girls. It goes without saying that my German friends are also staying put.

Yet with sad ending, comes a bright beginning, one over a year in the making. Saturday evening my European Odyssey commences. For the past two years, even when the notion of studying abroad was but only that, a notion, I have patiently and carefully saved my money for an ambitious dream. I earmarked the vast majority of every dollar I received, rather from pay check or birthday card, for a grand adventure. As the puzzle pieces fell into place, the picture became clearer. My grand adventure could in fact be a portion of an even larger one, studying abroad. As I saw it, it was indeed, for lack of a better word, perfect. The semester break in Germany is over two months long. Two months to wander around Europe. Two months to bring my dream into reality. Not to mention living the other eight months also in a dream, and, important to note, continuing toward my college degree at the same time. You see? Perfect.

My plans are as basic as the can be. It is more accurate to say that I have mere destinations in mind; perhaps I will see them all, perhaps I will see more. History shows me that when I rush to meet reservations during a trip, I usually miss out on something. Therefore, except for the hostel at my first destination, I have no reservations for accommodation or travel. My mind will not worry about the future, rather it will remain focused on where should it should be during travel, the present. My plans are also laid back in a such a way that if I fall in love with one destination I will gladly opt to stay a little longer, instead of hurrying off to the next city. I realize that such easy going plans present a bit of risk, but I believe they will benefit more than hinder me.

Now, I ask you to dust off your globe or pull that atlas off the shelf and trace my Odyssey with me. Keep in mind that this is only a ‘perfect’ scenario. As stated I may decide to stay at one place longer than originally thought, and will therefore scratch other destinations off the list. Likewise, a once in a lifetime opportunity may present itself to me and I could journey to an unconsidered locale, again forcing me to rethink my greater route. With that said, let the tracing begin.

Saturday night I board in a train in Munich (look towards southern Germany), and will wake up the next morning in Venice, Italy. Here I will stay for four days, with perfect timing to soak up the Carnevale atmosphere. Then it’s off to Rome, via Pisa. From the home of a great empire I will head to the home of great pizza, Naples. While in Naples I would like to take a day trip to Pompeii. Next I’ll travel to the heel of the boot at Brindisi, on the Adriatic coast. Probably around three weeks into the Odyssey I will board a ferry from Brindisi to Durres, Albania. My stay in Albania will most likely be short, but long enough to experience life in a country reportedly a century or so behind much of the world. Then I will go south to Greece and first take in the sky-high monasteries in Meteora. After that, the birthplace of democracy, Athens. Then to the northeast region of the country and Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. From here I hope to gain admittance to the monasteries of Mount Athos, a semi-autonomous peninsula jutting out into the Aegean Sea where Byzantine monks have lived a simple life since the fall of that empire over 500 years ago. I will then take a train north out of Greece and to Bucharest, Romania. I will explore the city for a few days before heading to Bran, a small town in the heart of Transylvania, another region busy catching up to the 21st century. In Bran I will visit the castle which belonged to Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula (or at least the figure Bram Stroker used for his story’s inspiration). Perhaps along the way I’ll learn a thing or two about vampires. From Bran I will travel to Cluj-Napoca, a college town in western Romania, and then to Budapest, Hungary. When finished in Budapest, I will venture to Kiev, the Ukraine. I suspect this will take place sometime in mid-March. In Kiev I will pause and decide on two possible options based on the amount of my remaining time and money.

If it’s a go with both, then I will begin venturing north by boarding a plane to Tallin, Estonia, along the Baltic Sea. Before too long I will continue on my way with a ferry in route to Helsinki, Finland. After touring the country’s capital, I will push on even farther north, that is the Arcitc Circle. My base camp will be in the town of Rovaniemi, the cultural capital for the northern Scandinavian region known as Lapland. The region offers such things as wild reindeer and the aurora borealis. Once satisfied with Lapland or too frustrated with the cold, I will travel bound to France, via a ferry to Stockholm, Sweden then a train to Copenhagen, Denmark, and onwards to the country of wine and cheese. While seeing Stockholm and Copenhagen interests me, France does more so; therefore, I intend from the beginning to only pass through those capital cities.

However, if I come to discover that time and that pesky problem of paying for things are not my friends, then I will take a more direct route toward France. From the Ukraine I will go with train to Krakow or Warsaw, Poland. I have heard that Krakow is better for visitors, but I have a friend in Warsaw. It will be a last minute decision. From Poland I will continue on to Prague, the Czech Republic. This city has recently come alive on the radar of European travelers due to its well preserved and beautiful old town. However, it lies only four to five hours away from Eichstaett by train, so if I miss it this time around I would likely visit it in May or June for a weekend getaway. After Prague I will head to France.

In France I will first arrive in Paris, but continue on my way to Angers, in western France and the Loire River Valley. In Angers I will meet up with two of my best friends from America, who arrived in the city several weeks ago to begin their studies for the semester at a local university. After a few days, the plan, as it stands now, is to take the train north to the Normandy coast and Mont-Saint-Michel, a fortress and village which together rest on a rocky outcropping from the sea floor. During high-tide this outcropping becomes an island, and during the other times it rises simply from a dry sandy plain. From here we will go together to the last destination of the Odyssey, Paris. The City of Lights requires no introduction. I would like to stay here for almost a week, before returning to Eichstaett on April 10 at the latest. My European Odyssey will end, and my second semester will begin.

I will attempt to post as often as I can in order to share the Odyssey with you, but possibly much time could pass between entries. If nothing else, check-in after April 10 and I should have a post with my favorite pictures and stories. Naturally, I presume I will return to Eichstaett with too many stories and photos to share them all, but I will surely share my most memorable.

I see Europe in my sights, and my finger eagerly rests on the trigger.

10 comments:

DaddyO said...

Nicholas, Living vicariously through your global trekking and "Lebenslustig"! This European wanderlust will be the foundation for your prolific success in life!! du hast vas ganz tolles in dir drin.

B said...

Hope you have enough memory in your camera.

Anonymous said...

Nicholas, enjoy your new adventure and keep safe. We love you.

Nick O. said...

Dad:

Thanks for the optimism and support. I look forward to telling you about my trip.

B:

I have 3 GB worth of memory for my camera, plus I will try to save photos to the web to save room. Actually, that's my worst fear for the trip, running out of memory to take pictures. I will have to control my photogenic urges.

Anoymous:

Thanks for the love. Perhaps I love you too, but unfortunately I don't know who you are. I assume your family, so thank you and I love you too.

Laura Leigh said...

I am continually impressed with your ability to communicate your experience through skillful verbal description and photographic representation. I am so glad you chose to share your adventures on your blog--know that you are inspiring wanderlust in people you've never even met. Also, I wanted to tell you thanks for letting Austin use your camping gear while you are away. Your brother took me on our own adventure, hiking in the snow last weekend to the highest point in Arkansas. It was beautiful, and incredibly cold at night, so you can imagine how grateful I was to have a borrowed thermarest to sleep on. I hope this comment finds you well, and I wish you lots of fun and excitement on your upcoming travels.

Nick O. said...

Laura:

Thanks for the comment and nice words. I'm glad you enjoy the post, and that your camping went well. It sounds like it was a good time.

natalie said...

Yeah you're going to have an amazing time. Don't worry about that money thing... Money is for miserly non-travelers!

I know your plans aren't set yet but when you know the France dates, let me know. If we have class or something we might only be able to go on a weekend - and we'd probably have to leave you in Paris halfway through. But I think you can handle yourself. :P We'll teach you some key phrases first. ;)

Nick O. said...

Natalie: Of course I'll let you know of the dates. I have Andrew's cell phone number that I can always call when I arrive in France if nothing else. But I'll send you an email to let you know the dates before hand. Expect it towards the end of March.

Whitney said...

Chris is jealous. All he got to see was Italy.

I saw you were pickpocketed. I lost all of my pix from Spain, London, and Paris, so I understand. Have fun in the bowels of Europe and don't get killed!

Much ♥

-Whitters

Nick O. said...

Thanks, I'll try to stay alive.