Tag Archives: Europe

Tips for a great Dublin experience

Spending a semester abroad has been on my to-do-list ever since I started studying, but you know how things can go sometimes. Plans change, things get in the way, and in the end you have to set your priorities. Last term I finally did get my chance to take an Erasmus semester in Dublin and I honestly have to say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. So here are some things you absolutely shouldn’t miss while you’re on the green island.

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Explore the country. Ireland is really not all that big. With the Bus Éireann lines you can get from Dublin to Belfast in a few hours relatively cheaply. Landmarks like Tara, the Giant’s Causeway or the Cliffs of Moher are just a wee bit away. If you’re taking a semester abroad, the international societies like the Erasmus Student Network organise trips regularly as well. Ireland is beautiful. Go see for yourself!

Grab a few friends and visit Temple Bar in Dublin. I don’t think I’ll have to say much about it, but one bit of advice: the famous pubs aredublin2 cool, but, well… famous. My favourite place was a small cafe a bit further down the road. You still had the whole setting, but you could actually talk without having to shout at each other or having to cope with getting elbowed in the back. Keep your eyes open and you’ll find a bunch of places that are not on tourists’ radar.

Check out Grafton Street. There’s always stuff going on in one of Dublin’s busiest shopping streets. Very close to Saint Stephen’s Green (a beautiful park), it leads you straight to Trinity College. On the way you will not only find the Gaiety Theatre, all sorts of shops and restaurant, but also street performers and buskers. You can find some real gems there and occasionally even catch some more famous bands. If you are there around Christmas, prepare yourself for an incredible experience. Choirs, Christmas music and the lights and decorations transform Grafton Street into an absolute winter wonderland. The snow generally gets substituted with cold rain, though.

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One really important tip for all fellow students: you probably won’t be able to get a room at the on-campus residences, at least not until well into the semester. So arrive a week or two earlier, embrace the hostel lifestyle and then use Daft.ie, the local newspapers and the Facebook pages of the international societies (again, ESN helped me a lot here) to find a place to stay. You’ll probably be able to get something that’s significantly cheaper than on-campus accommodation, too.

Other than that, just be open-minded. The Irish are extremely welcoming (and chatty) people and if you approach them with a smile, they’ll pay it back with nothing but kindness. I’ll never forget my time in Dublin and I can’t wait to return to catch up with all the friends I have made there.

Author & Pictures: Andreas Böhm

Up and away

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself” – Danny Kaye

I was bitten by the travel bug the second I first travelled around Europe in a trailer with my family as a small child. I’ve already seen a few corners of the world, but there are still lots of plane tickets for me to buy! Traveling has definitely made me a better person and I’ve heard lots of people say the same thing about themselves. But what exactly is it about traveling that seems to change people for the better? Let’s take a look at some of the positive aspects…

Traveling can make you become…
…more modest
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Going to other countries makes you realize how small we, as humans, are in such a big world and how grateful we should be for being able to experience its beauty – just think of all the breath-taking landscapes that can be found all over the world! Nature is so much more powerful than humanity and it is our duty to do everything we can to protect its beauty because, after all, we’re just temporary guests on this planet.

…more open-minded

You meet so many different people on a journey, with different backgrounds and beliefs that shape who they are and what they think the world should be like. All these people have their own story to tell and if you listen carefully you realize that, even though language, skin colour and religion might differ, in the end, we’re all the same and that all these stories have an impact on you. I’m much more open towards other cultures now – and isn’t open-mindedness and tolerance what our world, which is characterized by fear, prejudice and walls, really lacks these days?

…braver and more independent

20150823_193302I was very homesick when I first started traveling on my own, but I became more independent with every journey and now, I’m braver than ever before. This includes approaching strangers for advice, relying on my intuition in situations where I feel lost and as well taking risks sometimes! While I was freaking out about all the possible dangers awaiting me in an unknown country a few years ago, I realized that things always figure themselves out somehow and I’ve always returned home safely.

…more balanced

While I have some doubts about myself from time to time (like a lot of us, I guess), I’ve experienced plenty of situations abroad that made me realize that others’ perceptions of me totally differ from my own. Meeting new people abroad gives you a chance to break free from the role you’re stuck in at home and this, in return, helps you to grow and develop a better self-image. So, go out into the world, be yourself, touch some people’s lives, so the experiences you have change you forever!

What are you waiting for?
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It might sound like a cliché, but it’s actually true: traveling can help you find yourself and become a better person and, most importantly, world citizen! If you let cultures, places and people abroad affect you, I promise you won’t be the same on your return. So, if you’re lucky enough to get the chance to travel don’t hesitate – pack your bags and be prepared for a life-changing and eye-opening experience!

Author & pictures: Henrike Wilhelm

Airbnb – there’s no better place to stay

Low-budget traveling has been cool for a long time. The most popular way to go on holiday without much money Airbnb1is certainly staying at a hostel in a dormitory with four to fourteen people. But honestly – is this a “holiday“? If you want to hear your roommates snoring or you want to discover more of their bad habits, you should definitely spend your time there!

However, let me tell you about another, for me personally more comfortable, nicer way of going on a journey. In any case, a very well-organized, practical website to book your accommodation, in any case is Airbnb. You may have heard of it yet: it’s an online platform where people from all around the world offer you a place to stay. The community was founded in 2008 in California to give people who have a free bedsit the opportunity to subrent it, as well as providing an alternative to low-cost booking websites such as “couchsurfing“.

Users can either provide a private room or a whole apartment. Using the website is quite easy. Just choose the city you want to go to and the date, and thousands of hits will appear, from expensive to cheap. The offers are very diverse and, of course, reliable. Airbnb guarantees booking security so you can check in advance whether your host has a good rating or not. A further advantage is that you’re able to pay online, so there’s no need to carry lots of cash with you during the trip.

As a Airbnb2passionate traveler I have already visited eight different places with Airbnb, so I’d like to share one experience with you:

Probably the most adventurous, extraordinary place I’ve been to was a wooden bungalow in the middle of the jungle in the southern Thai province of Krabi: imagine…35 degrees and no air conditioning, sharing your daily shower with frogs, lizards and cockroaches, getting bitten by thousands of mosquitos. Even though this doesn’t sound like a relaxing holiday at all, if I look back now, it’s just a really funny, unforgettable memory which only cost €9 per night.

Anyway, Airbnb has simply everything. It‘s a precious opportunity to explore so many different places, and get to know interesting people from everywhere. Simply unmissable!

Author and Pictures: Isabelle Zint

The day after

What is it like to live in a country in which a state of emergency has been declared? How do the people of a country whose capital has just been struck by the hardest massacre since the end of World War II feel? In the middle of a catastrophe, how does a nation find its way back to normality? Many questions and the desperate search for answers…

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The only promising thing about this leaden Monday morning with its grey clouds hanging deep down over the city of Bordeaux is probably the fact that the working week is about to start and the certainty that a lost weekend in November has finally come to an end, although it never really seemed to end. The first day of trying to win back control of everyday life falls on the second day after the state of emergency in France has been declared.

Personally, I was not in the mood to choose the usual way to university today. Instead, I decided for an unexpected encounter with a large crowd of people standing in the forecourt of the Hôtel de la Ville, the city hall in Bordeaux. At midday, the governing mayor invited every citizen to assemble for a minute’s silence at the seat of the ninth biggest town in France. On this 16th November thousands of people are coming together at several places in Bordeaux and all over the country to remember the victims of an incomprehensible tragedy. Three days after a bloody series of terrorist attacks in the French capital killed more than a 120 innocent people.

thedayafter 2On my way to the ceremony, I made a short stop at the Place de la Bourse. Letters of condolence, flowers and colorful banners with various slogans like “Pray for Paris”, “Not afraid” or “Keep calm” have been put down in front of the big fountain on the place. A young man was carefully re-lighting the candles which have been blown out over night. I asked him for the lighter, feeling a bit embarrassed about the little tea light I had in my pocket though. Despite it being the moment of the worst heartache, I want to feel with the country and its people I‘ve come to love in the short time I have been living here. I came to France as a stranger for my Erasmus Semester. During the last three months I have become a child of Bordeaux, studying, enjoying and loving life like everybody else in this beautiful town. I lit the tea light and put it down beside the other candles forming the omnipresent and almost fateful five letters – Paris.

Shortly afterward, I was going past a newspaper stand next to the town hall. The latest issue of the French daily Le Monde was grabbing my attention. Its cover all in black showing two crime scene technicians covering a dead body. One phrase is enough to tell the reader what was going on: „Vendredi 13 novembre, 21 h 20 – La terreur à Paris“(Friday, 13th November 21 h 20 – the terror in Paris). I took the newspaper and put it on the counter. „Deux euros vingt, s’il vous plaît“, said the seller, probably just about to stop his work for the minute’s silence. His eyes were filled with tears. I don’t know if he‘d lost someone in Paris who was near to him or if he knew someone who‘d lost a friend or family member. Nobody knows. It’s all but certain that at least a part of the „bordelais“ (that’s the French name for the people who are from here) are directly affected. Just when these thoughts were crossing my mind, I got a message from a friend telling me that her art teacher from uni was among the victims of the massacre in the Bataclan. Silence.

I began to read the first few lines of an article on the front page of the newspaper. In fact, it’s a report about the night by the journalist Florence Aubenas. Boulevard du Montparnasse, in Paris, people are leaving the cinema, small happy groups. Its almost midnight, they have not been informed yet. On the pavement, the others are turning back to them. Someone says: Shush, to two young girls who are laughing loudly. Suddenly they realize that the crowd around them is touched by a particular gravity. What has happened? We went to the cinema and when we came out, everything has changed

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This reminds me of my personal night on Friday. I also went to the cinema with some friends to watch the new James Bond movie. Obviously a genre which is principally known for a lot of violence, shootings and explosions. Right after the movie had finished, the first people in the cinema found out on their mobile phones about what had happened in Paris. Immediately I thought of two of my best friends from Bordeaux who wanted to spend the weekend in the city of love. A short glance at my mobile phone and I knew that they were safe. A feeling of relief. Nevertheless, I understood that the love must suddenly have disappeared in Paris, replaced overnight by fear, panic and shock. The violent scenes of a fictional movie have just turned into reality in a city which is not more than five hours away from here.

After my friends and I spoke to our loved ones at home, assuring them that we were alright; we decided not to go home racking our brains about the occurrences but to go to a pub and taking a schnapps together. In the pub, some of the people around us were already drunk and probably didn’t notice anything from outside. The work flow behind the bar just carried on, enormous amounts of beer were filled into huge glasses and the music kept on playing. But what should you do in such a situation? Remind everybody of what has happened? Should the bartender have closed the pub, telling everybody to go home?

Two days after, on 15th November, the French government declared a state of emergency for the whole country. Suddenly the wonderful, free city of Bordeaux is affected by the same drastic measures which are in fact all too logical in a situation like this. In the days after the terrorist attack the number of heavily-armed policemen has been increased visibly in the city centre, the tram stations have been provided with the warnings that all passengers should be on their guard while moving freely and the municipal government has advised the citizens not to gather together in bigger crowds of people in public.

Suddenly the three keywords of the French identity „Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité“ are torn apart. Our values which the terrorists hate the most have all changed. It seemed as if the terrorists have achieved their aim, before we, the people, could have responded at all.

Back in the forecourt of the „Hôtel de la Ville“, it‘s almost 12 o’clock. It is the same picture as the last days in town. Several policemen are guarding the entrance of the city hall checking everybody’s clothes and bags. I’m one of the first in the forecourt waiting for the mayor of Bordeaux who will deliver a speech here in a couple of minutes. Little by little, the court fills up with more and more people standing behind me. I turn around and look at partly mourning, partly stressed faces. It is an atmosphere of sorrow, speechlessness and composed silence when the mayor finally walks onto the stage with party members of the municipal parliament. „Hate, hostility and terror; that is the Daesh (IS). Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, these are our values, not only for France, but for the entire western world. Together we will defend our values“, states the Mayor in his speech. „Of course, he’s right“, I think. Another thought contradicts this, though: „If everything were as simple as that,“ or „who actually started the war in the Middle East?“

I talk myself into thinking that these questions don’t belong here, not today, on a day when the calm reflection of a tragedy and the remembrance of its victims has priority. One minute of silence. Then the mayor calls people to sing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. A totally uplifting, goose-bumps-like moment in which I catch myself singing lustily the first few lines until I come unstuck over the following: „To arms citizens – form your battalions – march, march – let impure blood – water our furrows. “This magnificent anthem with its wonderful melody doesn’t hide the fact that it expresses words of violence and war, at a moment you’re praying for peace and harmony in the world, not only here, but in Ankara, Beirut and Sinai. The fact that the French President, Francois Hollande, said only the day before „we are in a state of war“ and that the French army recently started to bomb IS positions in Syria gives the ceremony a bitter aftertaste. Am I the only one here who doesn’t want to admit that we‘re already in a state of war with an unknown, abstract power?

Either way, my eyes fill with tears at the moment when a thousand voices behind me are chanting „Marchons, Marchons!“. I’m back in my right mind  –  I’m sure the anthem must have the same meaning for them as for me. Today I’m a Frenchman, now more than ever.

Text & Pictures: Julius Reuter

A trip to the Aran Islands

Leabharlann – that’s the one Irish word I learned and can remember from my recent trip to Ireland. In one part of the country my group and I went to the Irish language is still spoken by many: the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. You can only reach Inisheer, Inishmaan and the largest island, Innishmore (Inis Mór) by boat or plane. If you take the boat and you’re lucky, the weather will be fine so you can stand on deck and try to spot dolphins. During our boat ride to Innishmore it was raining, but it cleared up almost as soon as we arrived, and the sun shone for the rest of the day. Sadly, there were no dolphins, but we saw a few seals along one part of the coast, so our daily dose of cuteness was filled!

aran islands 5Once on the island, you can rent bikes, or if you’re a bit on the lazy side like we were, you can choose a minibus that comes fully equipped with a driver (in our case, a Que sera, sera-singing driver). If you’re romantically inclined, you might want to go for one of the horse-drawn carriages waiting for business at the quay. In any case, when you’re touring the island, you’ll see many of the typical stone walls, which mostly function as enclosures for cattle and which are astonishingly resilient (the walls and cows, just look at them!). There are some green fields that farmers have had to cultivate with seaweed and sand because the island doesn’t have naturally fertile soil.

Innishmore is home to about 900 residents, who mostly live in villages that, to me, seemed more like loose clusters of a few solitary houses than anything else. You can still find a few of the traditional thatched cottages, too. Many families used to live off fishing, but now tourism has taken on a major role. The island’s past and present have been connected cleverly, though. The knitwear from the Aran Islands is widely renowned. You can buy sweaters, scarves, and many other garments sporting traditional patterns. Every fishing family has developed their own pattern, for a rather gruesome reason: sometimes fishermen went missing at sea and their bodies would be washed ashore days later. They could only be identified from the pattern on their clothes. So a Jennings sweater looks different from an O’Flaherty or a Sheehan sweater!

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Like on the mainland, you can find church ruins and a lot of ancient history on Innishmore. One stone fort, called Dún Aengus, was especially impressive. It dates back to prehistoric times and was built right on a cliff with a 60m drop to the sea below. Lying on your stomach and looking down to where the sea is crashing against the cliff is an amazing feeling!

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But a one-day trip is definitely not enough to explore all there is to see on Innishmore. Like me, you’ll probably want to go back and give your calves a work-out biking across the island in order to discover its many stunning sights! Oh, and btw, Leabharlann means library :).

Text & Pictures: Lena Schwarz