Escape to Nature

Headshot of Lily Nannini.
Lily Nannini
April 25, 2023

Someone once said to me, everyone has to live in a city at least once in their life and it’s better to do it when you’re young. I’ve always known I’m not a city person and can’t go too long without being in nature. Going to all of these big cities every weekend has been fun, but I’m all for the quaint mountain villages. I love Vienna and all of the places I’ve traveled during my time here and I can’t imagine studying anywhere else, but I miss nature. I miss waking up early for sunrise hikes, coffee, and mountains. I miss having the beach a five minute drive away, watching the sunset with good company and my dog, and getting ice cream after on a summer night. This blog focuses on my escape to nature through some of the places I’ve visited while abroad. 

One of my favorite places I’ve been since being in Europe is Germany. My friend and I took the train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the cutest mountain town. We unfortunately did not make it to Zugspitze or Eibsee, two things the area is known for. We simply wandered and walked alongside rivers and charming German houses. We passed so many adorable dogs, and big ones too, not like the small ones I always see in the city. Golden retrievers and Bernese mountain dogs were among the top. We passed many families and people with their skis and snowboards coming from the mountains. The houses were so lovely, I recommend strolling down Ludwigstraße, as it offers both a beautiful view of the mountains as well as colorful German houses. We sat and ate cake and pretzels at Olympiahaus by the olympic ski jump and this has become one of my favorite memories. The people were also so friendly which definitely added to the experience. My language buddy thought it was funny when I told her about how much I loved Germany and GAP for the mountains and cute villages because everyone thinks Germany is “so boring because it is so rural,” but I loved it. We spent our last morning walking around and got breakfast at Moun10 Bakers. I was genuinely so sad to leave. I’m not usually the type to repeat trips, as I want to experience as much as possible, but I would love to return to Germany and GAP someday–everything was perfect. 

Innsbruck is the capital of Tirol, a province in Austria. This was another weekend trip that I really loved. It felt more like I was in a mountain town than a capital city, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Innsbruck so much. Of course, the main street by the old town is a must to get a photo of the colorful houses with the snow capped mountain backdrop. Another highlight of this weekend was our trip to Swarovski Kristallwelten. My friend and I purchased the Innsbruck card and definitely got our money's worth. We got access to all the grounds with our card, and this was another core memory day. 

Another weekend I really loved was the IES Abroad trip to Styria and Graz. I was worried I wasn’t going to have a good time, especially because I didn’t know who was going, but I was so wrong. I had the best time ever and it was definitely the people that made it so enjoyable. For our first day we went to the Zotter chocolate factory. We got a tour and unlimited chocolate tastings, then walked around the zoo. We saw wallabies, baby goats, emus, alpacas–you name it. We came for the chocolate, but stayed for the animals. On Sunday, we went to Freilichtmuseum Stübing, an Austrian open air museum with rural buildings. We got lunch, then proceeded to explore on our own. We walked through many houses, but the highlight was when we went off the grid. We had reached the end of the map limits, but decided to continue going uphill to see what we might find. We ended up completely off-roading and sliding down the side of a mountain to get back on the main path. Was it necessary? Absolutely not. I picked up so many ticks and got dirt and mud everywhere, but it was so much fun. From there, we walked back toward a grassy field with a building that housed wooden hoops, sticks, and stilts. We easily spent 1.5 hours playing those games. It was pure, wholesome fun filled with genuine laughter–I had the best time. Like all good days should, ours ended with ice cream. What I thought was going to be a boring weekend turned into one of the best times I’ve had abroad. This trip reminded me that with the right people, you can always have a good time because you are the ones who make it good. We literally were entertained by wooden hoops and silly childish games for HOURS. I’m so grateful for this experience and all the memories. 

Also, Hallstatt is a doable day trip from Vienna. I went on a Get Your Guide tour with my mom, and it was so nice to not have to worry about trains and not have to plan my own itinerary for once. I learned that the village was the inspiration for Disney’s Frozen, which I can definitely see. It is so picturesque and situated right on the lake. We went in the middle of April and there weren’t too many tourists, I can only imagine how insane it gets during peak tourist season. We were lucky and got photos of the famous postcard scene without any wait or disturbances. The weather was also perfect. I loved it so much and am going back, by train, for a day on my last weekend abroad. I could easily spend hours strolling and wandering through the streets and around the lake. The view from the skywalk is also worth the trek up by foot or the ticket to ride the funicular. Once again, everything was perfect. 

Moving away from the mountains, these next few places are set on the water. The first trip I took away from the city was to Lisbon, Portugal. I went with one of my friends from German class, and we met up with my friend from school who is studying abroad there. Lisbon was a really cool city with easy access to the water. We also got bread, salami, cheese, and snacks and had sunset picnics on the top of a hill by our airbnb every night. My favorite thing, though, was our day trip to Cascais. We took the train about an hour from Lisbon with no plan and no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We ended up walking along the coast for the whole afternoon and stopped when we reached Boca Inferno, where we sat and got gelato. I was so happy to be by the water, as I hadn’t seen the ocean since January. The weather was also surprisingly nice for the beginning of March. This trip was especially important for me, because my home is on the Atlantic. When we’re on the ocean side and looking toward the horizon, people always say that we’re looking directly at Portugal. I was looking toward home from the other side of the Atlantic, which felt really special. It was also so nice to see a familiar face. I’ve only known the girl we visited since my freshman year of college (I’m a sophomore), but she’s the closest to home I’ve gotten since coming here, I didn’t realize how much I missed familiarity. We decided to take electric scooters back toward the train station, and that in itself unlocked a new core memory. I swear, if Wii Sports Resort were a real place, Cascais would be it. 

Last, but not least, is Italy. I was in Sorrento for part of my spring break and we took a day trip to Positano, a charming cliffside village on the Amalfi Coast. The round-trip bus ride ended up costing only around $5. Positano was so lovely and seeing the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea felt like a dream. The weather was perfect and we spent the day walking down hidden paths and on cobbled streets between the colorful buildings. I loved watching the pastel Vespas drive by and eating Italian food–pasta, gelato, limoncello, everything. We stayed at the Art Hotel Gran Paradiso in Sorrento and it was the perfect retreat. Even better, our room had a balcony overlooking the hotel pool and the Gulf of Naples. We only had two days, but I would love to return to Amalfi and see it from the water next time. 

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to study in Vienna. I also am very happy with my decision to go abroad as a sophomore, because I hope to do another winter semester abroad next year. Being in Europe and traveling every weekend has been a blast, but I’m ready to settle down. I’m not sure how sustainable it is to get up and go away every weekend without a break, but hey, I made it. I’m hoping to go to Australia next year, where I’ll be surrounded by nature and limited to traveling within one country (with a potential spring break trip to New Zealand). I love Europe and know I will be back someday, but I need more time than just a weekend to go everywhere on my list. Until then, fingers crossed for Australia!

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Headshot of Lily Nannini.

Lily Nannini

Hi! I'm Lily and I'm from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I currently attend Washington and Lee University in Virginia. I'm always down for spontaneous adventures, catching sunrise/sunset, and taking pictures of food:) When I graduate college I want to renovate a van and travel the country, visiting every U.S. National Park as I go. Hopefully I'll have a golden retriever with me too. I love meeting new people and gaining new experiences, so I am extremely excited for this term in Vienna!

Home University:
Washington and Lee University
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