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May 16, 2013

Local Voices From Around the Globe: World traveler calls Euro-Tour experience of a lifetime

By Ashley Bliss
Cooperstown Crier

---- — While I’ve had a great time throughout my entire exchange, I can say hands down that the month of April brought me the best memories of my exchange if not some of the best of my entire life. What kind of wonder would bring me to say this? Simple. Euro-Tour.

Imagine this. One bus, 53 seats, 53 exchange students, 11 days and a big chunk of Europe to discover. While all of those things put together may sound a little intimidating at first, I can tell you from recent experience, that it’s simply amazing.

On April 11, I met up with a big group of fellow exchange students at a train station in Paris to embark on what ended up being the trip of a lifetime. Right off the bat, there was noise, laughter, conversations made up of dozens of different languages, but most of all, excitement as we headed off to our first stop of the trip. Together we visited Strasbourg, France, located in the north of the country. While we only stayed there for a day, we were able to see its beautiful cathedral, architecture and quaint river, winding through the center of the town.

Day two brought us to Nuremberg, Germany, which with the change in language, made us all feel like we were back in the beginning of our exchange again, when we understood nothing. It was funny to discover ourselves wondering if we should speak French or English. It’s a cool feeling to know that you have a choice to choose a language to speak, and that English is not your only option now. In Germany we were able to learn a lot about Nazism and Hitler’s Regime. Many of the places we visited I recognized from pictures from history books in the past. Being able to stand in places where such history was a little eerie.

Prague, Czech Republic was our next stop. This was one of my two favorite places during the whole trip, and I was fortunate enough to be able to stay there for two days. The architecture in this city was simply beautiful. I think it’s safe to say that it’d be impossible to take a bad picture in this city, simply because it’s just that beautiful. There is an enormous bridge in the city covered with street musicians and artists, which gives the entire area a special atmosphere.

From Prague, we traveled to Vienna, Austria, where we rode on an enormous Ferris wheel that had old railroad boxcars as cars to ride in. At the top, we were given a birds-eye-view of another one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

After Austria, we spent a good portion of the next day in the bus traveling to Italy, but it was well worth it. When we checked into our hotel in Italy, we ran up to our rooms and out onto our private balconies, which were just a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean Sea. That night we played in the water and watched the sunset from the beach. The next day we took a short boat ride to the island of Venice, one of my new favorite places in the world. As soon as we reached shore, I automatically felt like I was placed back in another century. As we walked to the main square, every 50 feet or so we crossed little bridges to cross the little channels of water where gondoliers pushed their boats just under our feet. The little back alleyways in this city are something I’d never forget. They’re only four feet wide or so, and there’s even a special courtesy when walking through, in order to prevent little traffic jams between walkers who may happen to cross paths. We went on a 30-minute gondola tour, which is one of the most relaxing and memorable things I’ve ever done.

After two days in Venice, I was sad to leave, but I knew there’d be other great things ahead. Our next stop was Milan, one of the shopping capitals of the world. Having come from Venice, a little city with an old-time feel, stepping foot in this booming, metropolitan city, was a little bit of a shock, but memorable nevertheless.

The final stretch of our trip had its own twist as we headed up into the snow-covered Mont Blanc, the highest peak of the Alps. Coming from Upstate New York, I’m used to snow. The snowy landscapes that I saw during my last few days of my trip though, are something I’ll remember forever. Again, it felt like I was in another world of some kind. I didn’t know anything the size of these mountains could even exist. We took a bright red train made especially for climbing mountains time and time again higher and higher for a view unlike anything else. When we first arrived at what we thought was the top, it was so foggy it was easy to miss the person standing right in front of you. We were all a little disappointed that we’d miss out on the amazing view that we had imagined having, but all of the sudden, the slightest wind came by, pushing all the fog away, and leaving us with a perfect view of yet another enormous peak just in front of us. We were high, but it was even higher.

Traveling has always been something I’ve loved doing. I grew up venturing to great places with my family, and have been able to experience so many great things. This trip, however, really was the trip of a lifetime, and although it may have not been with my real family, it was with my adopted family of 53 fellow exchange students, which is the next best thing.

Ashley Bliss is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student. Follow her adventures on her blog at www.ablissfulbonjour.wordpress.com