Friday, July 8, 2016

Where in the World is (was?) Sophia: A Bookish Recap of my Semester Abroad

I'm hoooooome! And I have been for the past month and a half - settling back into my daily life in Chicago, saying hello to my lovely books (oh, how I've missed you), stroking all of them, and buying new ones since my mother just went with me to IKEA to buy a new shelf for my room (Best Mom Ever, right?). But then I realized that even though I'd written lots about my study abroad adventures on my travel blog, you blogglings here only get the tiny bits I share in my monthly recaps.

So what are we doing today, lovelies? ADVENTURING, THAT'S WHAT.

I am going to take you to each and every country I visited, with the help of my bookshelf. Let's fly!

Something is definitely NOT rotten in the State of Denmark. Copenhagen was my home base for my study abroad travels, and it was absolutely marvelous. I actually visited "Hamlet's Castle" during my last days there - it's called Kronborg castle in the town of Helsingor, and supposedly was the inspiration for Shakespeare's invention of Elsinore castle, home to Hamlet and his messed up family. 

We didn't go inside the castle, because it was expensive and unfurnished, but we did have an excellent day for watching the many fishermen and eating ice cream. 

Hamlet has always been a favorite of mine in the Shakespearean Canon, along with Much Ado About Nothing. It's so twisted and messed up and dramatic and I love it. 
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This (and Germany) was a class trip to visit hospitals, so we didn't do a lot of exploration, but it was still a lot of fun. Poznan is a tiny little town, in my American opinion, but it's something like the third or fourth largest in the country. I loved being in a place where I felt connected to my Slavic roots - though not Ukraine, Poland's a pretty close alternative! I became the main translator of menus and signs for my non-Slavic friends, and together we rejoiced over the cheap prices of everything. (Denmark is EXPENSIVE.)
I have not yet read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but it's definitely on my TBR. It's apparently very intense and set during WWII. (You'll notice that some of the countries get books that I haven't read yet, but now that I've found them, I'm putting them all high up on my list!) 

Uprooted is a fantasy novel, but it's written by a Polish-American, and the fictional country of Polnya is obviously based strongly on Poland. It's a fabulous book and a review for it is coming soon! (If I ever get my act together.) SLAVIC FANTASY FOR THE WIN! WOO!

I really need to return to Berlin, because we only got three hours to explore on our own. THREE HOURS. How are you supposed to do Berlin in THREE HOURS? Also, Berlin is the place where I realized I had left my passport in Poland and had to do some Embassy hopping to get a temporary one. Lovely. So I obviously have to go back to Berlin, and get the full effect. I wanted to go to ALL the historical places and see ALL the museums!

The Book Thief isn't set in Berlin, but it IS set in Germany, and is a fabulous book about WWII that made me cry in public. My mother happened to call me right after I finished the book and freaked out when I cried into the phone. "THIS BOOK!" I gasped, when I could speak again. She gave a giant sigh of relief and annoyance and said, "Oh.You're not dying. It's because of a book." 


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My friend lives in Amsterdam, so I went to visit her for the weekend. (Cuz, you know, going to another country for the weekend is a thing you can do when you live in Europe.) We got a whirlwind tour of the city, and saw the three major museums (Anne Frank House, Rejiksmueum, and the Van Gogh Museum), as well as the Red Light District (ummmm) and a lovely bar that was so much like a tiny house on the canal that we had to take our drinks outside. 

Of course, I had to include The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank here, even though I haven't read it yet. BUT NOW I WANT TO BECAUSE DANG. She was a good little writer, and would probably have become famous for other things beyond her diary had she lived. What potential.
And even thought I gave The Fault in Our Stars three stars, that doesn't mean I don't think that John Green writes extremely beautifully. He was actually quoted in the Anne Frank House museum!


I ADORE BARCELONA. I really, really want to go back. I was there for Easter Week and oh my goodness from Gaudi to the Easter Celebrations to just the tiny side streets of the Gothic Quarter - I AM IN LOVE. PLEASE PLEASE TAKE ME BACK. I also want to see more of Spain in general now.

My book for Barcelona is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I haven't read it yet, but I did see it on the staff-recommended shelf at Barnes and Noble last week, so it's on my TBR! Apparently the writing is just beautiful.


Budapest was a surprise, because I only flew there because I wanted to go to Prague, and it was nearby, and a $33 flight there from Copenhagen, so why not? But it totally exceeded my expectations. I and my two travel partners arrived in the airport having done absolutely NO research (which was weird for all of us, but we had just finished midterms), and we didn't even know how to get to the hostel. Luckily, once we got there, the hostel lady took twenty minutes explaining to us all the good things to do in Budapest. We went to so many good photo-taking viewpoints (mountains, church steeples, etc.), and explored the ruin bars (I'm not a bar person but OMG if you're ever in Budapest go to Szimpla it's amazing. Even if you don't drink - just go to check it out. I don't remember there being a cover charge.) Suffice to say, Budapest won me over 100%.

The Door by Magda Szabo is another TBR for me, but again, apparently super awesome. I definitely want to read it soon! Szabo was a Hungarian writer, and the main character of The Door is a writer too! The book tells about the strange relationship of a writer and her housekeeper (a very fascinating woman), and is set in Hungary.

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Ah Prague! I had so many expectations for you, and so little time to truly explore! When you're in a city like Prague with three other girls who all have their own agenda, it's hard to truly experience the city. I definitely felt that Prague was magical, but I'm not sure if that's because it WAS, or because I WANTED it to be. That just means that I have to come back alone to find out!

The Three Golden Keys is a picture book written and illustrated by the amazingly talented Peter Sis. I remember it from my childhood, though we never owned it (we were a library family). A few weeks ago, my mother impulsively looked it up on Amazon and now WE FINALLY OWN A COPY. It is AMAZING and STUNNING and MAGICAL and basically the reason for my high expectations for Prague.
And then of course, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor are partially set in Prague as well. I adore them, and it was so much fun to stand on the Charles Bridge and imagine that this was where the fights went down. Now I want to reread the series, having actually visited the city, and finally understand her references to buildings and bridges.

Norway was my only other Scandinavian country I visited in all those five months, and I found it to be like Denmark, but more.... natur-y. It's farther north, so you get way smaller cities (like Denmark's are that big haha), and way more arctic forest. We went on a boat cruise up one of the largest fjords and that was absolutely fascinating. The mythology is super cool, and the Norwegians really do love their trolls. I really want to write a book set in a fictionalized version of Scandinavia. *starts plotting*

Before I manage to do that (because I've got way too many ideas already without being inspired by my travels), we can satiate our need for the dark and Scandinavian by reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, the first Scandinavian crime fiction novel I read when I arrived in Denmark. It's eerie and violent and amazingly paced, and not the thing to read when it is cold outside and you are alone in the house. Obviously, I highly recommend it.


Our final stop on this whirlwind European adventure was Scotland. Not just Edinburgh (Also the Shetland Islands and Glasgow and Inverness (Loch Ness) and the Isle of Skye), but Edinburgh was my favorite. (Though Skye comes in a close second.) We happened to go to the Elephant Cafe for lunch without realizing why it was famous and were plesantly surprised - it's where JK Rowling wrote a bunch of the first Harry Potter books!

The nice thing about the Elephant Cafe is it hasn't used its famous client for publicity as much as it could, and hasn't turned into a shrine to Harry Potter, like a lot of things associated with that series have. The only shock comes when you step into the bathrooms - their whitewashed walls are COVERED with messages to Rowling and quotes from the books and jokes and references.

Of course, I could have picked Harry Potter as my Scotland books, since JK Rowling lived for a while in Edinburgh, but I'm going to pick Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson instead, since he was a Scotsman through-and-through. We went to his museum too (well, a museum he shares with Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott), and that was really fascinating. I haven't read his books in a while, so I think it's time for a reread!

Sadly, that's the end of our bookish tour of Europe... I hope you enjoyed it! Which of these books have you read - and which of these places have you been? Where do you really want to visit? What's your favorite place you've ever traveled to? Tell me everything about your bookish and travel adventures!


  1. Wow, sounds like you had an amazing study abroad experience!! The Shadow of the Wind is really an excellent book. I have always wanted to spend time in Norway, not least because of the incredible landscapes. I also love the beautiful Nordic languages and would like to learn Norwegian even though people keep telling me it would be "useless since Scandinavians all speak English."

    1. I did! It was fantastic. It's true that all Scandinavians speak English, but I found it useful to pick up a teensy bit of Danish simply because it made me feel more at home. And then when I traveled to Norway, I was able to read menus and things (even though my sister promptly pointed out that the English was on the back. oops)

  2. THIS POST WAS INCREDIBLE. I was soooo jealous. Ugh and ugh again! I am most desperate to go to Prague, more than anywhere else in the woooorld nnghhh -- and also to read DoSaB, which I still haven't! Also Amsterdam. Since reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, part of which is set there, I HAVE WANTED AND NEEDED IT. The VaN GOGH MUSEUM, PLEASE.

    Also absolutely DYING to go to Barcelona, because hello, The Shadow of the Wind!!! It is a really great book, I can tell you. I've been to Madrid but only briefly, but I want to go back. (My bro is hopefully moving to Spain in the new year ... visiting potential!!!)

    I had no idea Uprooted was Polish inspired, but it is on my bedside table! Also, I must reread TBT and Anne like, right now ...

    ALSO, I love Hamlet a lot. And I'm going to read Much Ado very soon.

    My only quibble with this post is that you preferred Edinburgh to Glasgow! I live in Glasgow soooo ... WE ARE WAY BETTER. Just sayin'. ;)

    1. YES! I HOPE YOU GET TO TRAVEL EVERYWHERE. AH I'm glad everyone's recommending Shadow of the Wind now! I guess I should read it soon. Oh dang with a brother in Spain you have got no excuse not to visit haha :-P

      Uprooted is so so very Polish (and so so very good, too). AND OMG THE BOOK THIEF YOU HAVENT READ IT? DO IT NOW.

      Awww I'm sorry... I liked Glasgow too, and it was actually better weather when we visited Glasgow - all sunny and gorgeous. (In Edinburgh it was rainy and gross) :P We visited the Willow Tea Rooms which were fabulous! No matter what, I want to return to Scotland, so if you want to give me Glasgow recommendations, please do so!

  3. I am so jealous, but it sounds like you really enjoyed yourself.

    1. I enjoyed myself immensely! I hope you get to travel a lot!

  4. OMG YOU HAVE BEEN TO SO MANY COUNTRIES THIS IS AMAZING. CONGRATS ON THIS AWESOME! I am just sayin' the levels of fabulousness here are awesome. Ahem. XD So I've only ever travelled to China. WELL. I stopped over in Malaysia, but like, 3hrs layover hardly counts, right? It was hot there. All the food was spicy. I died. (This is my ghost typing.) BUT ANYWAY. I dream of seeing Europe someday. Absolutely dream of it. Particularly France!
    I admire you getting anything done in Berlin in 3hrs! That DOES seem like a lot of pressure. XD
    (And omg you only gave TFIOS 3stars?!?! Sophia. YOU BREAK MY HEART.)
    Also I love all your photos!! And I want to read The Snowman now!!

    1. THANK YOUUUUU <3 Ah well see I've only been to one Asian country (Japan, when I was tiny) so you've got me beat there :-P I really want to explore that part of the world lots. (Also Australia? Eventually?)
      But yesss I hope you get to explore Europe a lot some day! If you ever need travel advice (particularly of the cheap-hostel cheap-museum-ticket cheap-hidden-away-concert variety), let me know!
      I'm sorry, I did only give TFIOS 3 stars, because I ADORED the writing but found the plot meh. People say that I must read Looking For Alaska, so I suppose I shall, someday.
      I think you would LOVE the Snowman! It's all eerie and murderous. :-)

  5. This was such a cool way to tell us about your adventures! I love it!!! Also I super loved Uprooted :) And what a whirlwind trip, you visited so many places I hope to go someday! Denmark, Norway, Scotland in particular. Sometimes unplanned adventures are the most fun (even though I'm totally a planner!) so I'm glad Budapest worked out so well!! I've never visited Berlin but I visited Munich for a week and it was amazing. I really loved Germany, I was surprised! Need to go back and visit more castles :) And that is so funny bc I was in Barcelona during Easter in 2007! My friend and I met these 3 American girls in our hostel and they were Catholic so we went to Easter Mass with them at this gorgeous church in Barcelona. It was quite an experience.

    1. I'm glad you liked it!! Oooh Munich - everyone says that Munich is much more "German" than Berlin (whatever that means), so I really want to go there someday! And yes, I didn't see nearly enough castles this trip, major disappointment :-P Oh whoa - that's awesome that you got to experience Barcelona Easter too! I am Catholic and my travel buddy happened to be too, so we looked up all the religious festivities beforehand and yes - it was definitely an experience :-) I hope you get to travel around Scandinavia eventually! It's really gorgeous there


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