My Top 5 Travel Experiences

Eeshta Bhatt headshot
Eeshta Bhatt
January 4, 2024
Collage of Places mentioned in the article

Traveling has been a really integral part of my study abroad experience, as my posts have probably revealed. And as I sit on a flight back from Paris Orly, at the conclusion of my last weekend trip, I can’t help but meditate on some of my favorite experiences. I know a more universal approach would suggest I rank places or destinations, but as I’ve come to learn through this semester, my ideal vacations must revolve around some sort of highlight moment. In no particular order, because I simply cannot pick, this is my highlights reel:

Gellert Thermal Baths, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is a cold frigid city but filled with so much character. From the pristine white architectural wonders, steeping sharp towered buildings, and colorful middle eastern roofs; it is an interesting mixture of the Mediterranean and Slavic, probably the impact of the Turkish conquest. I’d also never quite realized the city is so literally split in two by the Danube—the Buda and Pest. And after two days of walking around in freezing temperatures as incessant rain poured around us, I was ecstatic at the mere idea of a thermal bath. With five delightfully hot pools, at a variety of temperatures and an outdoor one where one can truly indulge in the luscious steamy waters, Gellert baths was a delightful experience. Plus, if you need a refresher, there’s a freezing cold plunge pool to try out. If I could have let my aching, worn limbs marinate in the 40° C waters forever, I think I would have, but the three hours we spent just simply soaking were truly restorative, even if tourists, and locals around us chattered at full volume. 

Villa Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy.

On Lake Como, in the commune of Lenno, lies the most gorgeous island villa I have visited. If you’ve watched the "Star Wars" prequels, it’s the place where Anakin and Padme’s wedding was filmed, it’s also featured in "Casino Royale", dividing visitors into firmly three sets of categories—Bond enthusiasts, "Star Wars" fanatics, and the clueless tourist wondering why "people seem to be anxiously comparing views to pictures on their phones or reciting dialogues?" Villa Balbianello is a short 40-minute ferry ride from the main town in Lake Como, and I did go a whole day without food to get there before closing at 5 p.m. Think direct ferry cancellations because of a boats race, a long queue to purchase tickets, a bus ride to the next principality to get on a specially arranged diverted ferry dropping tourists at their island of choice. But it is a must see if you are in Como. Sprawling gardens, a sweeping balcony, and a brilliant view of Lake Como’s sparkling blue waters—it’s definitely apparent why it fit in so perfectly as an otherworldly island in the "Star Wars" franchise, no special effects needed. I did also recreate Anakin and Padme’s famous dialogues on the exact terrace with a friend, much to the amusement of onlookers, but if you’re not going to live the whole experience, then there’s no point in it at all, right?

Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal.

As a die-hard "Harry Potter" fan, once I heard that a bookstore in the quaint city of Porto (a three-hour bus ride from Lisbon, quite a hectic day trip) served as inspiration for the novels, I knew I had to visit. Livraria Lello is the most beautiful bookstore in the world, according to its owners at least, and it definitely lived up to its name. You have to purchase tickets online to visit the store, but the 8 euros goes towards the purchase of a book from the store, so it seems like a fair deal. With a red and gold winding wooden staircase, antique shelves reaching up till a rose gold ornate ceiling, the place does appear bigger than it is, as if it could go on endlessly if books called to it. I could have spent hours perusing the aisles, which held the books with the prettiest illustrations and bindings. 

Calanques in Cassis, Marseilles

Cassis is about an hour’s drive from the Marseilles airport. While Nice and Cote d’Azur enjoy their shine in the spotlight as the glamorous isles on the coast of Southern France, Cassis is breathtaking. Boat tours will take you around the inlets, however they forbid you from disembarking or swimming. Hence, we elected to hike up the Calanques d’en Vau and its neighboring inlets. Were we prepared for a hike, absolutely not, especially dressed in flimsy fashion sneakers with limited waters. In my head, I’d been imagining a nice easy walkway, with well demarcated trails, steps and pointers. What we were confronted with however, were steep rocks, painted symbols indicating directions, and an uphill trek along the gorge, with the path slowly turning into a rockslide, helped along by a strong, gusty wind. As people around us attempted to race down the slopes, to avoid the slipperiness, more times than not, they simply sledded down the gravel instead. The trek to En Vau necessitates a certain degree of balance and fitness. But the view is stunning. And the beach rivals the urban beaches in the more popular tourist areas. It’s also a rocky beach, so you can easily get in and out of swimwear without getting sand in your personal belongings. Plus swimming in the crystal clear sparkling waters, after a long hike, and seeing the people having to drive by in the ferries makes it all the more sweeter. 

Beer Tasting in Brussels (and the comic murals)

Yes, chocolate tasting in Brussels is great, but Belgian beers can rival their German equivalent. And quite a few pubs have specially curated menus, allowing you to sample the most bizarre unique flavors you can think up. We ordered a taster of 10, and it ranged from dry cherry to lime and green apple. Also, Brussels is very much a comic book city, and spotting the hidden murals across the city is a delight (my favorites are "Tintin" and "The Smurfs")

Special Mention to the Ferrari flagship store in Milan!

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Eeshta Bhatt

My name is Eeshta Bhatt and I'm originally from Mumbai, India. An avid reader, writer, and dancer; you are most likely to find me sipping coffee with a fantasy fiction novel, watching a murder mystery or charting out new runnining trails.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Duke University
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