Being abroad means being versatile at every hour of the day, and these past two weeks have taught me just that. On the weekend of Feb. 19, I traveled to the small town of Landstuhl, Germany, to meet up with some Brandeis friends (shoutout to Joey the Jeopardy god, Julia and Noam)! This is where I first had to prove my ability to be flexible under pressure because, on that day, the entire Dutch national train system was canceled. This was due to a hurricane-like storm that whipped through the nation the night before and had damaged tracks all over. The primary damage was in the north of the country, so private rail companies in the south were still running their trains into Belgium and Germany. I had to rebook my tickets three times due to four of my trains being canceled, but gosh darn it, I made it all the way out to Landstuhl in roughly five hours.
Landstuhl was gorgeous, nestled between two hills and then abutted by the largest U.S. military base in Germany. The town winds up the hills with the train station at the foot of the hill and the crown jewel on top being the castle. The castle was beyond cool to walk through because my childish imagination immediately wondered what happened in those walls 700 years ago. But the honest truth about being in Landstuhl and what made it so much fun was the fact that I got to see familiar faces and relax with them. Being abroad is the best experience, and meeting new people from all over the world is truly exhilarating, but nothing beats having an international adventure with those you are really close to. Walking around the streets of Landstuhl would not have been the same had it not been with my friends.
Fortunately for me, the journey back only had one cancellation, so I could spend most of the ride enjoying the view. The Euro rail train took me along the Rhine River at night and I could see all of the small castles sitting on the top of the mountains with the small towns beneath them glowing yellow with the hue of street lights. The view was splendid but the mood changed when I had to take a cab to make up for my canceled train. My cab driver did not speak much English, and I speak maybe four words of German, but he knew where I needed to go and by what time to make my next train. So, this man gripped the steering wheel like his life depended on it, turned back to look at me as he was merging onto the Autobahn, and said, “We are going to get you there!” He then proceeded to top out at 160 kilometers per hour and never took his foot off of the gas. That had to be by far the most fun thing that happened due to a train cancellation so far.
Once I returned from Landstuhl, the vibe in Maastricht began to change. One of the biggest festivals of the year was coming up, and the whole city was preparing for it—Carnival! This past weekend was the most ridiculous four nights of my life because what is usually the ornately decorated and extremely clean streets and buildings of Maastricht in the square then became a nightclub. It was so fun to see everyone from the city take a weekend off to unwind together and dance to music which I did not know the words to. (Study abroad tip: once you have had enough “mountain dew,” thanks Shaun White, you’ll be confident that you do know the words to every Dutch song played at Carnival).
The interesting thing in the Netherlands is that Carnival is so huge that it shuts down the city for a week and for us students at the University of Maastricht, that means we get one week off to do whatever we want. I decided to use this time to go somewhere warm—Valencia! I arrived on Wednesday morning after one night of being stuck in London due to Kiwi.com (yeah, I am calling you out, you dumb travel website) and Ryanair (I have nothing bad to say about Ryanair, you are buying the bad plane ride you pay for, but hey, 12 euros to go to London is hard to turn down). But no matter how you plan trips or on what airline, there will always be problems. For me, that came when I could not make my connecting flight and had to improvise. Was it painful? Yes. Did it cost money I didn’t want to spend? Yes. But it was all worth it to land in Valencia today to the warm weather and gorgeous beach.
It is only my first day here, but I already love the city. Palm trees line every road, there always is paella within eyesight and I can wear shorts in early March without being judged! The coolest part of the city so far has to be the Ciudad de las Ciencias y Artes. It is a massive section of the city that was developed to host a number of museums and theaters. The architecture of the buildings is modern but clearly designed to amplify the feeling of being on the beach. I am yet to go into their world-famous aquarium but that will be my event for Friday (catch my review in my next article)!
Today was spent walking the city streets, getting ashes for Ash Wednesday and laying on the beach. It was the best way to unwind after the travel mess from yesterday in London. Valencia has only begun, but it has continued to remind me that you have to be flexible and go with the flow when you’re abroad because you’ll never know what may happen while you’re in transit.