Thanks to the Problem-Based Learning system and wonderful friends who share my love for adventure, I had the opportunity to embark on the spring break of a lifetime. Our 12-day journey of hiking, exploration, and fellowship brought us to Zurich, Switzerland; Nice, France; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Rome, Italy.
Maastricht University students take two classes at a time over a period of seven weeks. At the end of the seven-week period, students take their respective final examinations over the course of one week. Following final examinations week, another week allows for re-examinations from the prior period. My finals took place on the Tuesday of finals week. Because I am here for one semester, I did not have any re-examinations, as I was at my home university last period. Therefore, a 12-day window was open until classes began again…marking the beginning of the adventure.
Adventure #1: Zurich, Switzerland
After an overnight Flixbus ride, we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland. Our first day was a relaxed day of city exploration. Zurich is rich in architecture and history surrounded by picturesque mountains. We enjoyed a Lake Zurich boat cruise, scenic overlook from the top of a historic church, and, of course, SWISS CHOCOLATE! Our day concluded early with a lovely glass of wine next to the river; we wanted to be fresh for what was to come the following day.
The following day was, by far, one of the greatest days of my international experience. We woke up early and got on the train to the nearby city of Arth. From Arth, we took a short cable car ride to bring us to the starting point of our adventure: hiking Mount Rigi. Located in the Swiss Alps, the mountain stands at 1,798 meters (5,899 feet) and is nearly completely water-surrounded by Lake Lucerne, Lake Lauerz, and Lake Zug. Though the air at the elevation was a bit challenging for the inhaler-less asthmatic (me!), I have never experienced a more enjoyable hike. The trails were well-maintained, not crowded, and allowed for stops every 15-30 minutes at a small pub or restaurant. We reached the top, and the view brought me to tears; it was unlike anything I have seen in my life. We enjoyed a picnic and admired the views, followed by a local beer at a pub just below the top. Our descent, thanks to the advice of a park ranger, was around the other side to see a beautiful overlook of Lucerne.
I will never forget my time in Switzerland. I will be back for more hiking…ASAP!
Adventure #2: Nice, France
Our next adventure brought us on a quick flight to Nice, France. Located on the French Riviera, the city is a fantastic place to relax and enjoy the beach. Our two days there filled with walks along the boardwalk, picnics next to the pier, a visit to the local market, shopping, and many croissants. Perhaps my favorite part was the 50-minute walk to Villefranche, a lovely little city with a fantastic beach. After months of wearing warm jackets, scarves, boots, and hats, the sunshine and warmer weather had us running for joy!
Adventure #3: Cinque Terre, Italy
On our final morning in Nice, we boarded a Flixbus to Genoa, Italy. The three-hour ride was fully along the coast and offered stunning views. Upon arrival, we boarded a train to Monterosso. Monterosso is one of the five cities part of Cinque Terre. These small, colorful villages nestled in the mountains are situated on the western coast of Italy and offer a fantastic hiking opportunity between each. We spent three days hiking. Our first day, due to a rainstorm, was a single hike from Monterosso to Vernazza followed by fantastic local wine and pasta with pesto. The following day consisted of the three remaining hikes: Vernazza to Corniglia, Corniglia to Manarola, and Manarola to Riomaggiore. Similar to Switzerland, the trails were far less populated by the cities, allowing for a peaceful experience with views of the cities, mountains, vineyards, and sea. I must advise readers interested in visiting Cinque Terre, however, to be prepared for major stair-work; my iPhone indicated our second day of hiking totaled nearly 300 flights of stairs!
Having visited all five cities, we hiked north to Levanto on our final day. The hike was very different from that of Cinque Terre with its small rivers, waterfalls, orange rock, and prairie. I’d highly recommend Cinque Terre for the adventurers. It is one-of-a-kind.
Adventure #4: Rome, Italy
The final destination of our spring break adventure had special meaning to me. My dear Grammie, who recently passed, dreamed of me visiting Rome on my exchange. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to visit in her honor. The weekend included a tour of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, lots of gelato, and an incredible “Vatican Highlights” tour throughout Vatican City. It was hard to believe we were standing on the ground and viewing the architecture filling the pages of our early world history books.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have had such an extraordinary adventure and to have met such wonderful friends to share it with. I will never forget the beautiful sights, delicious food, and many laughs throughout our trip. That being said, this blog’s title is well-deserved: the spring break of a lifetime.