Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary | Katie Albert Travelogue

Katie Albert stands on the bank of the Danube River in the Czech Republic.

For the Republic-Times

My name is Katie Albert. I am a Waterloo High School graduate, resident of Waterloo, and full-time student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville majoring in psychology with a minor in studio art. This is the third of a six-part series of articles describing my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy.

Ciao! I have now been living in Florence for almost two months. These last few weeks have been nothing short of incredible and filled with tons of activities!

School is going wonderfully well. My midterms are finished, and I received excellent grades in each of my classes. I have already learned so much, culturally, linguistically, and academically. Art especially is fantastic. I absolutely love my drawing and painting classes, and with the weather (finally!!) getting warmer, we will start going outside to paint/draw from city life. My professor is very impressed with my work and we are discussing adding projects to my workload as he would like to see more of what I have to offer.

Albert stands in front of xxx in Budapest, Hungary.

I have a fairly set schedule Monday through Thursday. Classes start at 9 a.m. and end around 4 p.m., with a three hour lunch break. I generally use the break to study, do homework, or catch up on sleep. Work on my art projects is done mainly in the studio; Italian language assignments and writing for my Food and Cultures paper (a comparison between drinking habits in Italy and America) is done at home. Lunch is usually eaten at home. Weekly, I try to make it to the grocery store, but this past week has been so hectic with studying for midterms I am officially out of groceries! However, I have become accustomed to maneuvering my way successfully around the stores. With my wonderful meal plan, most dinners are eaten out, and I am eating my way through all kinds of pasta in Florence!

Dinners in Italy are an event; it is not just about eating; it is about family and friends, enjoying time together and enjoying the flavors of the food. While my apartment is equipped with a washer, we do not have a dryer. I had a quite interesting experience using a local laundromat in order to dry my clothes. Reading the instructions in Italian proved quite challenging! Despite this, my Italian is slowly getting better, and I can now order my meals in fairly decent Italian. It’s actually gotten to the point that when I leave the country on weekend travels I accidentally try to speak Italian, and the locals have a heck of a time figuring out why because I obviously do not look Italian!

Albert and a friend take a gondola ride in Venice, Italy.

Speaking of travels, this month has been a whirlwind! Weekend trips to Prague, Czech Republic; Salerno, Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy; and Budapest, Hungary and Vienna and Salzburg in Austria. It seems everywhere I go, I take rain and snow with me, but that doesn’t stop me from being out all day and night, exploring all these wonderful cities have to offer.

The archaeological ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were amazing to visit, and, being one of the first truly solo trips I have been on, it was a complete success!! Just walking through such an ancient place, seeing the dynamics of their city life: truly breathtaking. There are no words to describe the powerful haunting beauty of the remains of such devastation.

I have to say, Prague was so much more than I was expecting, and quite possibly my favorite trip so far. I enjoyed a traditional trdelnik (a cinnamon-sugar funnel shaped doughnut cone, layered with chocolate-hazelnut spread and filled with ice cream) and Czech goulash. I had the opportunity to add my name to the famous John Lennon wall, and tour the old Jewish ghetto. The architecture was incredible: a true “lasagna” of buildings from all different time periods: crumbling 1100s buildings, to medieval cathedrals, to Baroque and Neoclassic Renaissance, all the way to glass and steel of the modern era. There are even some of the world’s only Cubist-styled buildings!

Budapest and Vienna were both set up in roughly the same style, as they all began to really boom during the reign of the Ottoman Empire that stretched over the more Eastern side of Europe, yet each has a particular flavor to distinguish them. Hungarian langos (fried dough with your choice of toppings) were delicious. An evening cruise on the Danube River, with a Hungarian buffet and folk music provided a glimpse of traditional Hungarian culture and a beautiful view of the Budapest skyline at night. A walking tour of Vienna hit the highlights of the city, with a lunch of wiener schnitzel and apple strudel! In Salzburg, I participated in the Sound of Music tour that took us all over the town, into the Alps and across the countryside to Mondsee.

Albert gets a little silly in Vienna, Austria.

Driving through the Alps was my favorite part of the trip. With all the snow, it looked like something out of a Hallmark Christmas card! I was informed that the weather around Europe is unseasonably cold for this time of year due to a change in Siberian winds, creating snow in places where it hasn’t snowed in decades, including Florence!

My school schedules numerous optional activities, and I participated in a pizza making class as well as a cooking class where we made ravioli and crepes with caramelized apples from scratch!

School field trips within Italy took me to Venice and Chianti in the Tuscan countryside. The Venice trip consisted of touring the museums, cathedrals, and the beautiful canals. During our free time, I took a gondola ride with a gondolier, of course! At the Castle Verrazzano in Chianti, we learned about grape cultivation, the processes to produce wine and balsamic vinegar, toured the wine cellars and ended our tour with a traditional Tuscan lunch of salami, cheeses, bruschetta, and a tasting of the fine wines produced at the vineyard. A very cool experience!

The next month will be just as busy! The day-to-day routine of school and daily life, submission of my Foods and Culture research paper, beginning preparations for final exams, a school sponsored gelato tasting tour and tickets to the opera to see the Barber of Seville, spring break, school field trips to Siena and Pisa, Italy, and a weekend trip to Split, Croatia, with white water rafting! Until next month, ciao!

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