So now, to take a proper look at one of the major reasons I (and many people) wanted to come on exchange: travelling.
I had a lot of opportunity to travel around the UK and Europe both during and after my exchange. Because I did the January to May semester at Edinburgh, I ended the exchange at the beginning of the Northern Hemisphere summer, and then had until Auckland restarted in July to explore. That being said, we also had some short mid-term and “study” breaks that us exchange students used to our advantage.
The first bit of travelling I did was down to London for Waitangi Day. I went with two other Kiwis, and there’s a huge pub crawl organised by Kiwis in London, so we got to meet a tonne of nice people with very familiar accents.
The second mini break I took was with some exchange students during a week we had off lectures in February. We went to Brussels and Amsterdam for two nights each. We loved just wandering (and biking) around the cities, enjoying classic food like the Belgian waffles.
During the Easter break, five of us decided to go on a roadtrip around Scotland. We travelled all the way up north into the highlands, visiting some friends who lived in one of the tiny highland towns. We also saw the Isle of Skye, and about ninety-four castles. Scotland is truly beautiful.
And then, quicker than I actually would have liked, my semester was over. I started off my summer with a Topdeck tour. This is a bus tour aimed at young people, where they drive you around continental Europe and you spend one or two nights in each place. It was super full on, but an incredible time. Topdeck isn’t quite as infamous as Contiki for its partying, which to be honest probably worked in its favour. I joined a two-week tour, and went from Rome, to Venice, Pag Island (Croatia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), the Austrian Alps, Prague and ended in Berlin. I had the most fantastic time, and couldn’t recommend it enough – it’s like a tasting board of Europe, so you can decide where to come back to. Fair warning, you will be absolutely exhausted by the end of it, and possibly never want to see a hostel shower again.
After Topdeck I met up with a friend from exchange and we did two weeks travelling around Spain and Portugal. I’d never been to Portugal before and it honestly blew me away. We had a few beach destinations (Palma de Mallorca, Malaga and Lagos) as well as some bigger cities (Seville, Lisbon and Porto). When we arrived in Porto we realised that we happened to be there for the weekend of the Festa de São João do Porto – a street festival for the patron saint of Porto. Everyone is out on the streets the whole day, cooking sardines and banging people on the head with plastic hammers (it’s meant to be a sign of affection). It was an amazing coincidence that we were there for it but if you get the chance, definitely go! It was one of the most fun days of my trip.
After Spain and Portugal, my parents and sister flew over from NZ and I met them in London. We did a two-week roadtrip around the UK, driving from Cambridge all the way up to Edinburgh and back down the other side. It was atrocious weather, but England and Scotland are often overlooked when people choose to travel to Europe. I was glad to get the opportunity to have a look around because the UK actually has some awesome history and buildings that reflect that. That being said, I could have traded the 9-degree temperature and sheets of rain for the sun I’d been getting in Spain.
So at this point my time in Europe was nearly over, but I managed to squeeze in one more weekend in London (for the Wireless festival) and a couple of days in Paris, which was beautiful.
Even though I’ve gone into great self-congratulatory detail on my travels, it’s also true that no matter where you go in Europe you’re going to find something amazing. Different people enjoy different things and different styles of traveling, so find someone who matches you and head off!