Originally published on TheMiamiStudent.net
You’ll decide, weeks in advance, where you’re going. Munich, Vienna, Paris — somewhere you can reach using your Eurail pass. You book a hostel, figure out which train will be the best and research things to do. On Thursday night, you’ll cram everything you need into your backpack and hope that you didn’t forget socks or deodorant. It amazes you how little you need for a whole weekend in a city you’ve never seen.
Class on Friday morning will drag on and you’ll keep checking the time on your phone, ready to dash for the door at noon on the dot. You’ll fight the other 120 students to meet your small group of friends, then head for the next train into Luxembourg City. You’ll arrive — along with what seems like every other Miami student — at the only station in the city, grab sandwiches for the ride and find the platform with your train on it.
The train ride is two hours, or eight, or even 14. You’ll find four seats together, eat the snacks you’ve shoved in your backpack, and chat with your friends while the train carries you off to another country. You’ll tell yourself you’re finally going to read for that history class. Instead, you listen to music, look out the window, or sleep on and off in uncomfortable positions.
You’ll make your changes at train stations across Germany or France, navigating your way through the hordes of people to find your next train like a pro. At this point, well into the semester, you’re an expert. Eventually, exhausted, you arrive.
Your weekend will be non-stop, crammed with as many things to do as possible, but you won’t plan it completely. Instead, you’ll venture out with a vague list of what you want to do in the back of your mind and a folded map tucked in your pocket or purse to be used only in emergencies.
Each weekend will be a blur, a collection of moments tied together by a single place.
Paris: You discover that the lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkle every hour on the hour, and it feels like your first trip to Disney World; you dash into Chipotle because it’s one of the only branches in Europe and it tastes just like home; at the Louvre, you’re disappointed that the Mona Lisa is so small, but you’re delighted by her passive smile; in the Catacombs, you’re chilled by the eerie silence; at Versailles, you bask in the afternoon sun.
Munich: The rumble of conversation and laughter at Hofbrauhaus; the strong, sweet smell of strawberries at Viktualienmarkt, the market right around the corner from the main square; bright sunrise through the trees when you get up at 6 a.m. to go to Neuschwanstein Castle; breathless wonder as you gaze into a snow-covered valley.
There will always be something unexpected.
Dinner at a restaurant full of locals in Vienna where the waiter practically throws your wiener schnitzel at you. A conversation with a stranger in one of the most famous bookstores in the world that will leave you thinking long after it’s over. The time you ignored the “No Trespassing” signs to hike up snow and ice to Marie’s Bridge for the best view of Neuschwanstein Castle.
At some point, a simple thought will occur to you. You’ll notice that everyone around you is drinking beer before noon and no one is objecting. On a train somewhere, staring out the window, you’ll be struck by just how far from home you really are. Strolling Parisian boulevards will make you realize that in some cities, the way they make you feel is more important than how they look.
Before long, you’ll be boarding a train back to Luxembourg. It’ll take all day, but you have to make it back by 11:50 p.m. Sunday to catch the last train from the city to your host family’s house.
Then you’ll unpack, knowing it’s pointless since you’ll have to do it all over again in four days. You’ll post pictures on Facebook, add a new magnet to your growing pile and hurt your hand trying to journal about everything you just experienced.
It’ll be very late when you finally fall into bed. You’ll wish the weekend had been longer as you set your alarm for far too early in the morning. Your feet might ache from all the walking, but you know it was worth every single step.
The countdown to your next weekend begins.