One of the most alluring things about studying abroad, especially in Europe, is the ease of travel. In Europe, it is much easier to go to another country for a weekend than in the US. It’s not uncommon as well to take a weekend trip and spend sometime in a new place with friends.
There are many popular destinations for weekend trips, places like Barcelona or Paris and other western European cities. And that’s fine, it’s good. Take the time while you’re in Europe to travel places you’d love to go. On the other hand though, don’t be afraid of destinations that are a little more off the beaten path. Which is what I did when I joined two of my roommates on a weekend trip to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and the city center, which is where most of the tourist activities and museums are, used to be a Roman Empire city. The city of Serdika was part of the Eastern Holy Roman Empire and there are ruins that can be seen there today. The ruins, and a lot of the history of Sofia, is very visible in the city center and easily accessible. Sofia has really integrated its past with it’s present and future, even reusing materials or restoring ruins to give a better understanding of what the city used to mean.
The history isn’t the only cool part about visiting new countries though. As we found out during out weekend (and from a little research beforehand) Bulgaria is known for its rose oil products, so we made sure to pick up a few as a souvenir! The architecture in Sofia was also gorgeous and getting to explore this city with so much greenery and bright colors was so interesting and made for a great weekend. Sure, it was a little cold and rainy but getting to explore somewhere new was so much fun and you just make the best of the situation.
A few tips though for going someplace new: do your research. Make sure you know how to get from the airport to where you’re staying, what there is to do, what’s the “can’t miss” thing, and what the area is known for. Wandering is fun, but do it with a map and make sure you know the general area so you stay safe. A lot of cities in Europe now have free walking tours - take advantage! You’ll learn a lot about the city but it will also help you get your bearings. Having a general plan of what you want to do that weekend will help make sure you get the most out of a destination.
Traveling is definitely something I suggest while studying abroad. It’s a lot easier to make your way around while you’re here, so take advantage. Don’t count out cities that aren’t as well known, you never know what you’ll find. Have an open mind about where you want to go and explore the area around you. Have fun and explore, see the world and try going someplace new.