Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go.
October 18, 2010 8:56 AM   Subscribe

What is the one thing you would like to do in Europe if money wasn't an issue?

I want to know the most amazing place you've ever been, the most amazing thing you've ever done, or something you've always wanted to do.

My study abroad program is awarding a $1000 travel scholarship for one student who writes about what they want to do with the money.

My essay is due next week, and I'm still not sure where I want to go-- I haven't seen much of Europe yet, so nowhere is off limits. The scholarship gets dispersed in January.

My only guideline is that it be a place that is relatively safe for a 19-year-old girl to go alone. I may end up going with other people, but for now I am incredibly psyched about the opportunity to set off on my own with a one-way ticket and a roadmap.

Where would you go?

posted by karminai to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What are your interests? Do you like history? Dancing? Hiking? Being a history buff, I'd visit major World War II sites like Anne Frank's house or Auschwitz.
posted by Melismata at 9:04 AM on October 18, 2010

a 3 month walking/bicycle tour of the Compostela pilgrimage over a nice summer
posted by supermedusa at 9:04 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Learn to be a gondolier in Venice.
posted by carmicha at 9:11 AM on October 18, 2010

Does the $1K include travel costs? Where will you be located at the time you would use this money? Both of these can impact or limit the answers you'll get.

Me? I'd blow it all on eating great food, taking personal tours with local guides, and museum entrance fees.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:16 AM on October 18, 2010

Just to clarify:

How long would you be travelling for: weeks, months, a year? $1000 spread over those timespans will buy you very different things.
Does this $1,000 include your flights to Europe? If so, how much will you have left after actually getting here?
Is $1,000 your total budget or do you have more cash of your own to throw at it?

Have you seen successful applications from previous years? Are the successful ones more biased toward academics, personal growth, cultural experiences, etc? (This is very important: My application to a similar scheme was rejected because I stressed the academic part of a project to a committee that was traditionally much more oriented to encouraging new cultural experiences. D'oh. Like any project proposal in later life, make sure you know your audience.)
posted by metaBugs at 9:17 AM on October 18, 2010

Retrace the journey of Odysseus.
posted by googly at 9:17 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I came in to say what supermedusa said. I have my own personal quests in Europe to tackle first, but it was suggested in my Spain question and it sounds amazing. There are other historic journeys across Europe, but that one has lots of other people going with you, increasing the safety and interestingness features.

My stepmom motorcycled aimlessly through France in the 1970s, which also might be fun and edifying.
posted by SMPA at 9:20 AM on October 18, 2010

Pizza college in Rome.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:24 AM on October 18, 2010

Me? I'd try to get into the Dior/McQueen/Chanel shows at Fashion Week in Paris whilst staying at the George V for, uh, one night.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:25 AM on October 18, 2010

Race to hit every European capital by train with a friend.
posted by mkb at 9:26 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Without waiting for your answers, I will suggest something that I dearly want to do. Hire a boat (or book a series of berths) and travel down as much as the Danube as you have the time and budget for. It can carry you through up to ten countries, including several of their capital cities. The tangled histories and fairly diverse range of cultures you'd see in the trip from Western to Eastern Europe would make for a fascinating trip. If you need a project to bring back, a combination of photo essay/recipe book covering the cities you stop off at would be great.

Someday, when I take a career break...
posted by metaBugs at 9:37 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Raise a Moorish army to assault the Vatican?

Oh wait... scholarship... Hmm...

You suggest, but don't specify that it be ONLY Europe. It's been a long time dream of mine to travel the route of Ulysses.
posted by cmoj at 9:47 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd eat at El Bulli before it closed.

If hell froze over I managed to get a table for two, I'd hold a competition to see who would accompany me, based on the most interesting submission.

I'd then write about the meal, the competition and the conversation during the meal.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:49 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, guys-- My excitement has rather eclipsed my common sense!

I'm already in Europe, I'm living in Austria. This trip should take anywhere from 4 days to three weeks.

The prompt says, "Our most fond memories are of taking night trains to all corners of Europe and experiencing all the joy and camaraderie that comes with travel adventures with friends. But due to financial constraints, all of us have one destination (Iceland, Malta, Moscow) or one experience (rafting trip with all the guys, skiing in the Alps, finding the great-great-grandparents house in Ireland) that we regret not being able to do."

I know that they are looking more to bonding-type experiences, but I'm still sort of focused on an individual self-discovery trip. I'm definitely open to suggestions, though.

Thanks for your help so far!
posted by karminai at 10:09 AM on October 18, 2010

Czech Wrecks!
posted by Biru at 11:46 AM on October 18, 2010

I was going to say, become completely fluent in at least one language of my choice. Sure, you could technically do that anywhere, but nothing beats immersion like that.
posted by bitterkitten at 12:26 PM on October 18, 2010

Use the money to get a visa and a flight to Belarus and couchsurf (a quick search over at Couchsurfing.org brought up over 1000 members in the country!).

Why Belarus? Belarus is easily the most difficult, expensive place to get in Europe for Americans (a single-entry tourist visa for Americans is hundreds of dollars!), there are almost no tourists, and it's "Europe's last dictatorship." It is an "unfree" society according to Freedom House - in fact, it has the same scores of 7 (the lowest possible) for "political rights" and 6 (the second-lowest possible) for "civil rights" as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China.

However, it is also home to one of Europe's last standing areas of primeval forest - with bison!, rolling fields of rye - and Marc Chagall. It bore the brunt of the Chernobyl disaster, lost more people as a percent of its population than any other area in World War II, and didn't even exist as an independent political entity for more than a few years after WWI before being wiped off the map until the Nineties.

I can almost guarantee you that:

a) very few of your fellow students study anything connected to Belarus, at all
b) the people running this scholarship probably don't think much about Belarus, ever
c) the Belarusians you meet will be pretty stoked that you chose to visit
d) things will be cheaper there than almost anywhere else in the EU, or Moscow or St. Petersburg
e) you will have few problems as a tourist - check out the State Department's site on safety in Belarus

If the whole idea of the scholarship thing is to meet other Europeans, understand where you are, and learn more about a place than you'd get at home, then to me, Belarus would be the best place to go.

Everything in the EU will be accessible to you, for a price, at some later date. But Belarus may change next year, or in ten years, or in fifty years, and once democracy and a more free market show up, I doubt things will look much like they do now.
posted by mdonley at 2:44 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nice big comfortable houseboat driving around the Dutch waterways.
posted by tumples at 1:54 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your suggestions, guys. I started looking in to Odysseus's journey and got so inspired. This is how my essay turned out:

"I’ve never been very good at handling change. I’ve lived in the same house my whole life, kept a steady job throughout high school, and worked hard to see that my plans turned out the way I wanted them to.

When I first applied for the Salzburg program, I wasn’t sure that it was right for me. I was still adjusting to life in Portland; I was still paving a path for myself that led exactly where I thought it would. I made friends, I joined Mock Trial, I did well academically. I did everything that I was expected to do. And then I realized that this trip was an opportunity to step off the path and discover something new.

Two months ago, I boarded a plane heading to Salzburg, to an unknown future thousands of miles away from my comfort zone. I spent that morning debating whether to get on the plane at all.

But I did. I got on the plane and I moved into the Center and I talked with die Frauen, and suddenly this foreign place wasn’t quite so foreign anymore. Routines have a funny way of doing that, of falling into place when you aren't paying attention, and when you look around one day, you find that you're home.

There have been roadblocks. There have been misplaced meal cards and missed trains and important details lost in translation. There has been octopus when we meant to order pasta. There has been a night on the street in Memmingen.

But these are the moments that I will remember. Each roadblock has been conquered: the meal card was recovered, the train was rescheduled, the octopus was eaten, the Memmingen people took in refugees. I’m coming to understand that the best plans are the ones that are broken; the best journeys are the ones that are unexpected.

That’s why I want to throw myself into a perilous exploration, one filled with witches and cannibals and Sirens and storms. I want to embark upon an epic adventure, a personal Odyssey to the ends of the earth with a sleep sheet and a one-way ticket.

With the scholarship money, I want to retrace Odysseus’s journey through Greece. I want to explore Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands, scale a mountain in Ithaca, and swim in the waters of Corfu. I want to embrace the unknown, motivated by the ultimate hero and his intrepid journey. I want to follow Odysseus and go boldly, fighting every dragon and Cyclops that comes my way.

This is a enormous step for me, to throw away the map and trust that I’ll find my way. I’ve been incredibly inspired by my last two months in Salzburg. I have learned from Mozart and Hundertwasser and Gustav Klimt. As iron sharpens iron, their creativity has sharpened my own. I feel like I’m on the edge of something big, and I’m ready to jump, leave behind my plans and fall into this whirlwind of adventure.

Homer writes, in the Odyssey, “It is tedious to tell again tales already plainly told.”

In the last two months, I’ve started upon a new path. I don’t know where it leads, but I’m excited to find out. I’m excited to write my own story."

I'll post if I find out anything about the scholarship. Thanks again!
posted by karminai at 11:14 AM on November 8, 2010

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