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Bus2alps Back to School Sale!

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For Bus2alps, back to school doesn’t mean shopping for fresh pencils and new backpacks, it means sales on travel!

Tuesday, July 29th, starting at 12 noon EST, during our Bus2alps Back to School Sale, all trips will be up to 50% off! The discounts are offered on a first come, first serve basis, so hurry to lock down your travel deals from 25% to 50% off.

There’s no better way to get ready to spend the next three months abroad than by saving money on traveling before you even get there, so don’t miss out on these deals!

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How to Enjoy Everything a City Has to Offer Without Overspending

Weekend travel within Europe is typically pretty simple. You can find cheap flights on sites such as SkyScanner, EasyJet, and Ryanair that will take you pretty much anywhere. Depending on your home base, country-to-country flights are about 2-3 hours. Again. 2-3 hours to go to a different country! Pretty great, right? Right. Well, kind of. The ease and accessibility of getting there is awesome. But once you arrive at your destination, you have to consider hostels, transportation, recreational activities, food, etc.

It’s exciting to be in a new country – you want to take advantage of everything the city has to offer. How do you reconcile a tight budget, only a few days to see an entire city, and wanting to eat every cultural dish in sight?

Plan…plan…plan…and then plan some more

TripAdvisor and Hostelworld are your best friends. Check out these sites to make sure the hostel you stay at:

  1. Is a safe and reputable place to stay for a few nights. You’re a student so you don’t need a 5-star hotel but it should be somewhere where you would show your parents. You don’t want to show up and realize your room has 25 strangers and bed bugs and then pay for another hostel. Keep in mind most places won’t offer refunds.
  2. Is in the city center. Metro passes can be expensive, let alone taxi rides across the city. If you find a hostel in the middle of everything, you may be able to skip public transportation and walk. Walking is a great money-saver because it’s a free activity and you get to wander and explore the city on your own terms.
  3. Offers at least a few amenities. Some hostels will offer free breakfast, dinner, or even drinks! Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner out adds up quickly so welcome the free food! If you plan on showering during the weekend, check out the policy on towels. You don’t want to have to pay 2 euros for a semi-decent shower that will make you feel dirtier than you went in.

One of the best things about European cities is the food. Part of experiencing the culture is eating anything and everything. TripAdvisor will find amazing places for you to eat and you don’t have to use your museum money. Just choose how much $$ you want to spend and it will find the best places in your area to match your budget.

Learn before you go

Planning also means learning about the city beforehand. If you know a little about the culture and the history, it will be easier to decide what is most important to see while you’re there. Tourist sites can be pricey so you’ll want to pick and choose. Sometimes your hostel can get you free walking tours or point you to the best spots. Check with them before you embark on the day!

Use your status as a young person/student to your advantage

It may seem basic but using a student discount can save you big! It never hurts to ask if there’s a discount; the worst they can tell you is “no.” Now here’s your golden ticket: if you look young, capitalize on it! A good number of sites and attractions will offer free admission for those under the age of 16. I got into the Colosseum and a Roman Castle for free by using my preteen face to my advantage. True story.

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Top 5 Hidden Gems of Slovakia

As a small country (with a population of just more than 5 million) and one that is relatively young (it only became independent from Czechoslovakia in 1993), Slovakia — all too often confused with nearby Slovenia — is often overlooked by tourists in favor of other European destinations.

Those who do visit, meanwhile, are likely to have just been to Bratislava, the country’s capital of about 500,000, which is known as a stag doo hub because of its cheap (and tasty) beer, easy RyanAir connections and beautiful women.

But while those things are indeed true (although that city, too, has much more to offer), to get to know the real Slovakia, one has to step outside of Bratislava.

Here are the top five best places to do just that.

1) Slovenský raj (or in English “Slovak paradise”) is called paradise because it is one — especially for hikers and nature lovers with gorges and waterfalls galore. A national park in the east of Slovakia, Slovenský raj offers numerous hiking trails and boasts the largest cave system (with more than 200) in the country (including an ice cave that is also a UNESCO heritage site). Hiking trails often include makeshift ladders that adventurers have to cross to get to the next point, but the breathtaking views make all the physical (and sometimes gruelling) effort worth it. To visit, take a train from Bratislava Hlavná Stanica (main station) to the town Spišská Nová Ves (about five hours) (Photo credit below: Europebycamper.com)

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2) Bojnice, located in the upper Nitra region and with a population of about 5,000,is a town of fairy tales. Its castle is arguably one of the most memorable in Europe and is often compared to the Disney castle (and you may recognize it from a few movies). The picturesque town offers a quiet escape from the larger city life, boasting the oldest zoo in the country and tons of relaxing spas to choose from. To get to Bojnice, take a direct train (the indirect ones are too complicated and time consuming) from Bratislava to Prievidza (about three hours). From Prievidza’s main train station, you can take a city bus and you’ll be in paradise in just 10 minutes.

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3) Banská Bystrica is located in central Slovakia, and it is home to the country’s largest club, appropriately called the Ministry of Fun. With its massive dance floor and flashy lights, you’ll feel like you’re in a proper Eastern European club. It doesn’t hurt that there are some delicious melt-in-your-mouth food trucks parked outside for those post-disco munchies. Of course, the town itself has much more to offer, including numerous museums, galleries and theaters. A favorite among tourists is the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising. To get here, take a direct train from Bratislava’s main station to Banská Bystrica’s main station in just over three hours.

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4) If it’s skiing you’re after but don’t want to pay the high prices in Austria and Switzerland, Banská Štiavnica, also a UNESCO heritage site, is calling your name. Just under a five-hour train journey from Bratislava, Banská Štiavnica has a population of just more than 10,000 and is a preserved medieval town that became a UNESCO heritage site in 1993. In the summertime, its popular skiing resort doubles down as a hiking hot spot, too, and the town offers some breathtaking views of its own.

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5) For a relaxing spa weekend, do as the Slovaks do and head to the western town of Piešťany just an hour from Bratislava by train. Piešťany, located in the valley of the Váh River, is the largest spa town in Slovakia, and foreigners from near and far are known to frequent its best resorts — whether for medical treatment or just for relaxation.

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Why Ireland? A (Long Winded) Reprise

My personal abroad-blog was titled “Proceed with Caution.” With this post, I give you the same advice. Please proceed with caution if you choose to read. 

Before departing for study abroad, I was continually asked ‘why Ireland?’ To be honest, it was a little frustrating. But for the past month with a similar uncalled for frustration, all I hear is my own voice asking ‘why did I have to leave Ireland?’

As many study abroad stories go, I completely and full-heartedly fell in love with my home abroad. My stomach aches at the memory of the last days and nights; I cried like a little baby because I was just not ready to leave. There was absolutely no ounce of me that was ready to say the goodbyes, no ounce of me that wanted to face the dreaded final walk through the white awning in Dublin airport.

Sure sure, I get the logistics – there’s that whole illegal immigration thing. I have no classes to take and no visa. I understand, I legally could not stay in the country. I would say all good things inevitably come to an end, BUT if my pre-departure plan to marry an Irishman had only been successful I could still be frolicking around those fields….

Kidding. Sort of. (No, I’m definitely maybe kidding.)

Anyway, I’ve already adjusted back into my state-side reality. But of course, it took me a while to be okay with being in Loyalsock and not Limerick; I was really bitter when I came home. It was hysterical because I remember laughing at whatever the hell ‘reverse culture shock’ was. I now know it’s a real, evil, living thing. All the while, I spent a few weeks genuinely appreciating my quiet, home-town; with my incredible 10-person family and my life-long friends by my side. Now I’m moved in, working, and taking classes in my favorite city – Boston. And life is way too wonderful.

These days, friends prompt me with ‘How was Ireland?” When I begin to tell them about my trip, I jump to share all the visuals that flood my head. I talk about staring off the Cliffs of Moher and swaying from the wind; catching foam from the waves at Giant’s Causeway; climbing abandoned ships in Inis Oirr. The incredible weekend in Glendalough paired with the beautiful souls I met; walking toward an incredible sunrise through the streets of Limerick on a rainy night. I share the happy moments where I proudly heard the difference between a Cork and Kilkenny accent, and the inevitable joy of hearing the same (exact) playlist every Friday night from our favorite middle-aged DJ. Sigh.

Amidst my rambling I noticed how that frustration and bitterness within me readily disappeared; my face is covered with a smile and my voice moves a little too fast. I share all these pretty stories with absolute contentment. But on rare occasions, friends have asked ‘what did you learn in Ireland?’

And that is entirely different. That opens the door to share so many of the emotional lessons that overtook my heart. Over these few weeks of debating and reanalyzing my answers, I realized that the answer to what I learned goes hand-in-hand with answering that spiraling internal thought: why did I have to leave Ireland?

I learned way too much about the tin whistle, rugby, beer, and how to get a free beer. More deeply and irrevocably, I gained an entirely new mindset, built by an emotional understanding of honest relationships, embracing simple beauty, and having an unshakeable confidence. I learned how immensely important each of those things are for contentment, and how each of those things really do exist – in all their childish glory – everywhere. Everywhere meaning, yes, everywhere – even beyond Ireland’s coasts.

I had to leave the place that built this mindset because if I had never left, there would be no true test of authenticity to the things that I swore I learned. If I stayed in that fairytale any longer, I would go on naively professing that these things exist only in the magical world of Ireland. What a silly thought.

So here I am. Drinking a really poorly made cup of tea, trying to put sense into what I learned and why I had to leave Ireland. And those few reasons, the few things I learned, are painfully simple.

I learned that trust and gratitude is in the core of all good relationships. And I had to leave Ireland to see that.

Studying abroad forced us to delve into new relationships far more quickly, deeply, and honestly than we naturally feel inclined to. Those very first conversations stemmed by nerves and excitement held the potential to build into the most meaningful  of friendships. These friendships were full of complete risk – but we all chose to trust instead. These friendships were full of stressful plans, missed busses, and sloppy nights – but we all remained entirely grateful that we had someone by our side. As we choose to completely trust someone and we choose to express gratitude daily, good friends and amazing people were so easy to find.

But okay, if you think America is evil and those type of people for those relationships just can’t exist here…get over yourself. Because I promise they do. Throw your pride away and go find them. If you continue mistrusting the world and proclaiming it’s filled with bad people who ‘just don’t understand you/woe is me..’ you’re never going notice that stranger that’s trying to.

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I learned that beauty is not bound by geographic location. And I had to leave Ireland to see that.

All of Ireland is filled with this sense of purity – of untouched beauty and complete simplicity – and it made us all wonder how it’s real. There were moments where nature’s overwhelming beauty made us cry; where I couldn’t bring myself to place my eyes behind a camera to separate myself from the view. I can’t begin to explain how deeply some of these moments moved me. Still sometimes, these moments existed in our apartments, in our lecture halls, or sitting at bus-stops. Some beauty ended just as quickly as it came forth in the most mundane and the cloudiest of scenes. None of those latter memories have anything to do with being abroad.

But in order to notice such beauty back home, our attitude is the thing that needed to be adjusted; not our world. I’m reminding myself of that every day. We all habitually refuse to see beauty and we push it away in our normal lives in hope for something better…which is honestly so wasteful. Because surprise, you don’t need a passport or Eurorail to experience whatever beauty or truth your hipster soul is devoutly pining after. The grass is actually greener in Ireland, yes, but it’s just as soft in Boston. Go outside, walk a little slower, and eliminate your useless complaining. Beauty is flourishing everywhere, even if those beloved accents aren’t.

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I learned a lot about confidence. (Ugh. How cliche.)

I learned that the confidence you build in your heart and mind during study abroad wasn’t just your country or that breathtaking view talking; that was actually you. And, I had to leave Ireland to see that.

While we’re in such a non-judgemental, new environment during study abroad, we got rightfully inspired to talk about grand ideas that were only ever meant for our own mind. We shared ideas of changing lives; of what we fear, of what faith means to us, of who we were, of who we want to be. We were brave enough to share our heart with people we met 3 hours ago and with people we’ll never see again. We were brave enough to unapologetically dance in an empty pub, unapologetically say yes, unapologetically scream no. We were brave enough to do brand new things in a brand new place. What good would it be to forget that confidence we built upon our arrival home? The answer is none; no good at all. So hold onto that, and always forgive yourself in the times you don’t.

Self acceptance and confidence is absolutely not limited to wherever you found it. Just don’t pretend like you left that lively person back in Turkey or The Netherlands or Rome because there’s really no use for them there.

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Arriving in Ireland I was a little scatterbrained, wide-eyed and jetlagged on a rainy day. I departed Ireland feeling completely scatterbrained, teary-eyed, and (shocker) it was was raining. Aside from a few extra pounds on my hips and luggage, the scenes of arriving and departing seem identical; but nothing about it was the same with these endless ideas and memories crowding my brain.

I’ve learned that if I can just work to combine these ideas together and hold them in this new state of mind, my entire world seems a lot like Ireland. There’s a lot more trusting, a lot less cruelty, and there’s a lot of more laughing is to be shared. I fell in love with every part of the world Ireland gave me and I shamelessly fell in love with myself, too.

And now, I fully realize that I had to leave Ireland in order to continue appreciating every ounce of reality wherever it may fall or distort itself…because even amongst many of those literal rainy days, I learned how.

And I guess that’s my long winded answer as to why I had to leave Ireland.

I blame – no, I applaud, Ireland for changing my eyes to recognize a sense of truth and humility in my life; to be confident enough to reveal its existence in a world where so many swear it is absent. Respectfully, dear reader (hi, mom/dad), you may replace Ireland with whatever home-away-from-home you’ve had and I am sure it’d fit beautifully as well.

But for me, it will always be Ireland.

Sure, maybe the Irish drink a little more than we do. Maybe I detest their Adidas sweats and Hollister hoodies. Maybe I’m just an excitable, melodramatic, basket-case of a 20-year-old who was optimistically enthralled by their culture.

But all craic aside, the Irish love a lot more; so from here on out, I intend on doing the same.

I would say I’m sorry for the mess I just spewed out –  that this is a little too much like a diary entry, that it’s a little too sappy and a lot too scattered. But if you scroll back to the top…I warned you, ya eejit.

Coffee Beans

A Guide to Italian Coffee

Italians know a thing or two about coffee. If you’re a hardcore coffee drinker, you will relish every moment of living in the land of espresso. But if you can’t fully function without a Venti Nonfat Java Chip Frappucino in your hand, you might be in for a little bit of a culture shock.

In Italy, you won’t come across a syrup-filled coffee concoction very often. Or ever, for that matter. The Italians prefer a no-frills approach to coffee, and they have some very specific etiquette rules for how it should be consumed. But there’s no need to mourn the loss of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. This guide will help you fuel your caffeine addiction while you’re living la dolce vita.

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The Rules:

1. Get the pronunciation down. It’s not uncommon to hear someone calling the powerful liquid in the little white cups “ex-presso.” While this mistake typically offends only the most nitpicky of people in the US, it will make you stand out as an uninformed tourist when you’re trying to speak Italian. Order like a pro and pronounce it “es-presso.”

2. NEVER drink a cappuccino after 10 amFor Americans, this is perhaps the most baffling aspect of Italian coffee etiquette. Though there’s an “anything goes” attitude surrounding coffee consumption in the States, ordering a cappuccino (or any milky form of coffee) outside of the morning hours is a cardinal caffeine sin in Italy. Quirky as it may seem, there is actually a reason behind the strange social convention. Italians believe that drinking hot milk can upset your stomach, particularly after a meal. If you get a dirty look when you order a caffé latte at 3 pm, know that they’re simply concerned about your digestive health.

3. Don’t ask for special customizations. Old habits die hard, and for the Starbucks frequenter this rule can be particularly challenging. Outside of the normal variations (see the list below), very little special ordering is allowed. Italian coffee is consistently delicious, so you can trust that it’s going to be great even if it isn’t heated to precisely 180 degrees.

The Coffee:

Caffé – If you order a basic coffee, you’ll get espresso. Amazing, addictive, life-giving espresso.

Cappuccino – Adhere to proper etiquette and try to only drink this steamed-milk-infused espresso in the morning.

Caffé Americano – This is intended to be American-style coffee, but it’s still going to be stronger than what you’d find in the States. It’s weaker than espresso and served in a big cup.

Caffé Corretto – It’s coffee with a wild side. Add grappa, cognac, or another kind of liquor to make it “corrected.”

Caffé Doppio – Oh, the espresso is too weak for you? Order a double and watch the cup dissolve.

Caffé Latte – This drink made of hot milk and coffee is strictly a breakfast beverage.

Caffé Macchiato – It’s espresso with just a drop of steamed milk, so basically it’s a mini cappuccino.

Caffé Stretto – If you want your espresso to be able to win an arm wrestling match, order it extra strong with less water.

Caffé Hag – Play it safe and enjoy coffee without the post-espresso jitters by going with decaf.

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Treat Yo Self: Exploring National Food Identities

While they may not be consistently nutritious, and more notably low in calories, the food that characterizes many European countries is consistently delicious. So many of the places I visited had a sort of “food identity.” I’m here to tell you what each of those identities is as well as remind you to treat yourself to them if you have the chance because you’ll miss it more than you know when you’re home. Eat whatever you want. Do not count calories. Just treat yourself.

Good old Italia. Also the country in which I studied and which also happens to be a country known for its cuisine. Italy is so big and every region’s food is so different, making it easy to come by good food. Studying in Florence, there’s all the places everyone knows and goes to like Zaza’s, Gusta Pizza, All’Antico Vinaio, Pino’s, Gatto, etc, plus SO MUCH MORE/way too many to name. My favorite panini in Florence was definitely All’Antico Vinaio, could’ve eaten it every single day.

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I also loved the panini at a little wine bar called ‘ino over by the Uffizi. Their bread is amazing, and all of the panini have three ingredients, and all of them are delicious.

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Rome has similar food, but they’re definitely known for carbonara so make sure to treat yourself to some if you’re there. Truffle ravioli are an essential part of any Italian experience; so make sure to order those as well because they aren’t hard to come by.

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The truffle ravioli at Tony’s in Rome.
Venetian seafood.
Venetian seafood.

Olives, cheese, meat(s), and wine are essentials in Italy, so treat yourself to as much of those as you can because those truly aren’t the same in the US.

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From left to right all the way down: Milan’s Salsamenteria di Parma served their wine in bowls instead of glasses; Cantinetta dei Verrazzano in Florence has some of the best cheese and meat to go along with their family’s famous wine; treats from La Fierucola, the organic market held on the third Sunday of every month in Florence’s Santo Spirito; gorgonzola, pecorino, honey, meats and wine from a market/event in Piazza Santa Maria Novella; olives and cheese from the same market; cool presentation of cheese and meat at La Vivanda in Florence.
From left to right all the way down: Milan’s Salsamenteria di Parma served their wine in bowls instead of glasses; Cantinetta dei Verrazzano in Florence has some of the best cheese and meat to go along with their family’s famous wine; treats from La Fierucola, the organic market held on the third Sunday of every month in Florence’s Santo Spirito; gorgonzola, pecorino, honey, meats and wine from a market/event in Piazza Santa Maria Novella; olives and cheese from the same market; presentation of cheese and meat at La Vivanda in Florence.

Barcelona, aka many people’s heaven on Earth, has anything you’d ever want and more. Treat yourself to brunch at Milk or Brunch & Cake and then later chow down on some patatas bravas at Tapas 24 or tomate. When you wake up on Saturday, maybe stop by Bo de B for a tasty sandwich filled with all fresh ingredients. From what I could tell, tapas are pretty big here so that’s the thing to try if nothing else, besides maybe the eggs Benny on a waffle at Brunch & Cake/the best treat ever.

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GREECE. Greek food is unreal. If you don’t eat moussaka if/when in Greece, you’re missing out. It’s similar to lasagna in that it’s layered, but this bad boy’s got eggplant or potatoes, followed by some meat, followed by a ‘savory custard’ (tastes like cheese). It’s out of this world.

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Prague: the city of treats. If you’re feeling really wild n crazy and want to gain 5 pounds in a weekend (not really but probably) eat how I ate while I was in Prague. Czech people are into meat and beer. Most dishes are served with potatoes of some sort and all the meat is cooked to perfection. I went during a weekend before Easter, so Old Town Square was filled with tents selling food and beer. They had homemade chips literally right out of the fryer, “grilled” cheese, grilled chicken and veggie skewers and so much SAUSAGE. Treats on treats on treats on treats. This was one of my favorite weekends food-wise, plus beer is the equivalent of water in Prague. While calories did play a very large factor here, I still decided to treat myself, and look how happy I was:

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Amsterdam was hands down my favorite city. If Boston and Venice had a baby it would be Amsterdam. Being here made me miss the US while simultaneously wishing I were European. Food-wise, not much to say except for cheese museum and pancakes. Other than that all the food was what you’d find anywhere. If you don’t eat a pancake or treat yourself at the cheese museum while in Amsterdam don’t worry about it, you probably just aren’t as into cheese as you should be. It’s a museum full of free cheese samples, so I don’t know what more you could ask for. The Heineken Experience is also a must.

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In Germany the majority of what I treated myself to consisted of beer, but Springfest has lots of tasty treats. Some Bratwurst, some roasted chicken, pretzels, more meat, some potatoes. Good stuff, but nothing too exciting.

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Cheese and chocolate are Switzerland’s staples…treats all around. I’m pretty indifferent towards chocolate, but I make up for those feelings with my feelings for cheese.

Treating myself to some candlelit fondue at Gasthof Hirschen in Interlaken. I insist that you do this too.
Treating myself to some candlelit fondue at Gasthof Hirschen in Interlaken. I insist that you do this too.

In addition to their cheese, Switzerland dabbles in landscapes, mountain ranges and overall aesthetic appeal.

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I hope that wherever you study and wherever you may travel, you always remember to treat yourself. So much of my experience abroad involved food and I don’t regret it, nor do I regret anything that I ate, because I thoroughly enjoyed it all. If you ever need encouragement or inspiration, just read this post again.

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