Tag Archives: Fall break

Exploring Iceland the student way

Exploring Iceland the student way

Champlain College student Greer Yoder gives Iceland two thumbs up

BY ZACH PAULSEN, PROFESSIONAL WRITING’17, champlain college

Planning Planning planning

Earlier in the month of November was our fall break. In lieu of Thanksgiving Break, students studying with Champlain Abroad Dublin in the fall semester are given a ten day long break during which to explore Europe, and you’d have been-pressed to find anybody who wasn’t. Personally, a group of four friends – fellow students Greer Yoder, Maggie Sergeff, Max Brisben and Reuben Kernan – and I explored Iceland for four days, and in doing so we learned a lot about what it takes to make trips on a larger scale like this work.

This has not been my first European trip. Earlier this year I visited England to see a friend, and before this year I had been to Europe on several occasions, but I cannot stress enough how easy it is to get complacent and assume that trips are all going to be flawless fairy tales that build themselves. This is one instance where I was admittedly caught off guard.

In my heart of hearts, I think I understood that Iceland was an extremely isolated place, and I would have to put in a lot of work, and play it smart, but I let my past three months in Europe get the better of me, and I went in without truly expecting any sort of issues to arise.

Needless to say, things weren’t as easy as I had expected, but we worked through it and in the end I came out with one of the best vacations of my life and a place that is 100% on my must-visit-again list.

Flights, wheels, a place to sleep and food to eat

Champlain Abroad student Max Brisben geared up and ready to go

Champlain Abroad student Max Brisben geared up and ready to go

The trip started out pretty well from the get-go. We arrived with ample time to the Dublin Airport, and spent a good hour before our flight relaxing and mentally preparing for the trip we were about to embark on. However, relaxing as it may have been, this is where we encountered our first issue.

When travelling to Iceland via Wow Air, expect policies to be different. Whereas Irish airlines Ryanair and Aer Lingus, and many American airlines, such as Delta or United are much less stringent when it comes to what constitutes a carry-on and a personal item, Icelandic airline, Wow Air is very strict in enforcing bag sizes. Make sure that even if you know your bags could fit in an overhead compartment or under a seat, they also fit within Wow Air’s measurements, because otherwise you will get hit with a baggage fee.

 

The very first time I set eyes on Iceland

The very first time I set eyes on Iceland

Having put this behind us, we stepped on to our plane and waited the longest two and a half hours of our lives until we touched down in Iceland. From the very beginning it was like we were in a different world. As I like to describe it, it was like a glacial Hawaii. Even with the rainy and cloudy weather, the landscape felt exotic and enticing.

One thing I recommend wholeheartedly comes with two different halves of advice. One: rent a car. If you are 20 you can rent a small sedan (a saloon in European terminology) from the rental company Sixt, and if you are 22 or over you can begin to rent bigger sedans, and 25 and up you can rent vans. It’s all doable. We rented an Opel Corsa to accommodate all five of us, and while it was a tight fit, we were able to make it work, and it allowed us to see so much more than we would have otherwise. In effect, the whole of the southwest coast was open to us and I cannot stress enough how much more amazing our trip was because of this. It is well worth the price, without a doubt.

And two: familiarize yourself with car rental policies, and be prepared to shell out a couple extra euro for various forms of insurance and a navigation system. Almost anywhere in the southwest coast can be reached by paved roads, but anywhere else will be gravel, so gravel insurance is an absolute must.

And the navigation system proved to be invaluable for us. It is solely responsible for our safe arrival to our Airbnb, and unless you have an existing knowledge of the Icelandic language, it is what would get you safely there too.

Our Airbnb cabin on Meðalfellsvatn

Our Airbnb cabin on Meðalfellsvatn

We rented a lakeside cabin as our accommodation, and opted to stay in the more remote – and I mean very remote – lake of Meðalfellsvatn. It’s about 45 minutes outside of the capital, and biggest city, Reykjavik, and is where many Icelanders have their summer homes, so needless to say during the winter season, it got a little bit spooky being the only people around for miles.

The house was incredible, though. And staying outside of Reykjavik is well worth it, as it becomes much more affordable. The house was our hub and the first day was spent going and getting dinner in the city. Tempting as it is, we could not do this often. Eating out in Iceland is outrageously expensive, so we also used this time to go grocery shopping. Cooking your own food is absolutely the way to go when travelling here.

Another warning about Icelandic cuisine: do not eat whale, no matter what people say, as it contributes to illegal and immoral whaling practices that still take place off of Iceland’s shores. The Icelandic government has even devoted a website to steering tourists away from restaurants that serve whale. Shark, too, is a shadier meal to eat. You’re not going to find shark fin soup, but shark dishes are another thing best avoided.

Given the little amount of daylight during the winter months, after this brief excursion we returned to the house for the night. Continue reading

Under the Tuscan Sun

BY julianna pratt, ’16 // early childhood and elementary EDUCATION

Fall Break was magical. During this week-long break I had the opportunity to visit Italy, a place I have been longing to go to since I can remember. My entire family is very Italian and I have always dreamed of going there. It was just as perfect as I could imagine. The architecture was beautiful, as well as the views of the rolling hills of Italy and the wine, the most delicious wine. My seven days in Italy were fabulous, I couldn’t have asked for a better break with three of my closest friends.

The view of the Alps from the air

The view of the Alps from the air

I hopped on the plane in Dublin and flew over to mainland Europe and I got to see the most fantastical scene, the Alps from the air. It was absolutely beautiful. Then as we landed I was so excited because I was finally here. I landed in Italy!  I couldn’t imagine being more excited. I then took a bus from Pisa to Florence and the real adventure began. I walked through all of Florence, heading to my friends’ apartments and I was just stunned. I kept stopping and gazing around; I was awestruck. Everything was brilliant. As I entered Renae and Katelyn’s, my two friends, apartment, I ran straight to their big open air window and glanced at the street below. Everything was just as I’d pictured.

Enjoying aperitivo with my friend Renae

Enjoying aperitivo with my friend Renae

Later that night, I learned of one of the most glorious part of Italian culture. Aperitivo. Aperitivo is a before dinner appetizer and drink. You pay 7€ to 10€ for any drink and you get to eat at the appetizer buffet all night long for free and everything was delicious. Negroni was the best place for aperitivo in all of Florence, all the food was delicious and the staff was friendly. It was a great way to start my adventure in Italy.

The pizza!

The pizza!

The next day we got to experience the Central Market which is filled to the brim with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats as well as having some of the best pastries around. Any food you could imagine was sold there and that was just the first floor. The second floor was filled with restaurants and kitchens for cooking classes. This was where I ate the best pizza, hands down, that I ever had in my life. All the ingredients were fresh including the dough, cheese and vegetables. It was amazing. Outside the central market, the streets were filled with hundreds of vendors each of them selling different things, trying to draw you into their booth. Seeing this market opened my eyes to part of the Italian culture.

Kaitlin and I exploring the Boboli Gardens and the Petti Palace

Kaitlin and I exploring the Boboli Gardens and the Petti Palace.

On Tuesday, I got to experience the Boboli Gardens and Petti Palace. This is probably one of the biggest pieces of land in Florence. This palace used to be owned by the Medici family and still holds many of their collections in what is now a museum. Petti Palace is home to exhibits of art, fashion, dishware, and much more. The history that I learned as I walked through the rooms of the palace was incredible. Also I think one of my favorite places I visited on this trip was the Boboli Gardens. It had panoramic views of all of Florence and was filled with beautiful lawns and fountains. I could have spent hours just wandering through these gardens. Continue reading