PICTURE THIS: fall quarter. You've made it. The people at the Bing Overseas Study Program thought you worthy enough to spend ten weeks in Europe. Oh Bing Overseas Study Program you laugh to yourself, thinking of the shenanigans you will pull.
But uh oh.
Wait a second.
Your mind goes blank.
You're no longer at Stanford, you realize. There's no more AlertSUs to tell you about gas leaks. There's no more AlertSUs to tell you about repaired gas leaks. In fact, it is in this moment you realize…I will never know when there's another gas leak. It's the real world.
But don't panic, really. Sure it's the real world, but you have me! Stanford-in-Paris study abroad alumna, here to share some of my insights and experiences with you!
Disclaimer: I apologize for the narrowness, especially to those studying abroad outside of Europe or not in the fall (with regards to Oktoberfest). I'm sharing my own personal experiences abroad, and am most familiar with the two places I present to you.
Paris is filled with arts and culture. This can be largely attributed to its endless collection of world-renowned museums. Place an uncultured American girl into these museums, and here's what you get:
In the center of the city, straddling the Seine River on one side, is La Musée d'Orsay which houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces in the world. They're mostly located on the fifth floor, so just book it to the top of the museum and have a blast. I'm thinking Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh. I'm thinking pretty colors swirled together on a canvas. I'm thinking…how great it would have been if I was a little bit wine drunk when I went. #studyabroadregrets. For more Impressionist fun, I highly recommend La Musée de l'Orangerie. Just head upstairs to Monet's famous Water Lilies murals. Maybe sip some wine beforehand too.
And straddling La Seine on the other side, you have Le Louvre, famous for, whether we choose to believe it or not, a giant glass pyramid located outside. The pyramid is probably historically significant (most things in Paris are) but I'll bet you most foreigners, like myself, know it only as an entrance and a cool thing to Instagram. I guess there's also the Mona Lisa, which, while a must-see, is…well, kind of underwhelming.Prepare yourself for mountains of tourists crowding a small glass box "protecting" an even smaller painting mounted onto a very, very large wall. To be honest, Le Louvre isn't that popping unless you're into very old paintings and even older sculptures. But hey, if that's your thing, then note that it's a pretty huge museum, so you'll need several days to see the whole thing.
And to finish off, Le Centre Pompidou is located in the trendy Marais district, which is also known (and confirmed by yours truly) for having the best Falafel. Now you may not notice the museum right away, brushing it off as a giant construction site, but oh contraire mes amis, it is in fact a modern art museum. As for its colorful, metal exterior… Modern? Up to interpretation. Ugly? Also up to interpretation. But despite this controversy, I'd have to say I was impressed with the exhibits I visited: Marcel Duchamp, who drew a mustache on Mona Lisa and called a toilet art, and Jeff Koons, who has a collection of pornographic images of him having sex…and giant balloon-looking sculptures. Cool stuff, I'm telling ya.
Of course there's a lot more to do in Paris than just visit museums. The food is great. The sights are great. Go! Go to Paris!
Alright, let's move away from "high brow" Parisian art and into Munich, Germany. I'm going to be frank (ha ha)—nobody goes to Munich. Nobody should ever go to Munich. It's a cold, boring place with little to do. But if you're in Europe during the fall, in the months of September and October, then ignore what I just said and GO TO MUNICH for Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is an annual three day festival, called the "world's largest funfair" on the Internet. Yeah, okay, it's true: there is a Ferris wheel and some rides and some food and lots of children (whose parents I question) so I guess you can call it a "funfair". But if you're a college student studying abroad then it's the world's largest beer fest…with some delicious hot dogs on the side. Yay for European drinking ages!
But what can you expect? You're not in Paris anymore! Tents have replaced your precious buildings! Sausages have replaced your precious paintings! Friendly people have replaced cold, unapproachable Parisians! Have no fear—your uncultured American has conquered Oktoberfest, and I have some tips:
1. There are several beer tents. Some of them are easier to get into. Some of them have crowds of people out front, blocked off by evil security guards that remind you vaguely of actual dictators. Keep in mind you may be waiting over two hours, and you may get squeezed by the people around you so much that breathing gets difficult. Worth it? Debatable.
2. Wear comfortable shoes. Ladies, sure, wear your Dirndls like the other American tourists and gentlemen, sure, wear your lederhosen, but remember the comfortable shoes. You'll be doing a lot of standing (on tables, mostly, but also on the ground I guess). And you'll probably get beer on them so…leave the designer stuff at home.
3. To disclaim the whole "standing on tables" thing though…technically you're not allowed to. And sure, you might be thinking, what better place to belt Sweet Caroline than on top of a table in a beer tent with my friends? But when you get kicked out of a tent for dancing on a table (maybe I did, maybe I didn't) and have no cell service or any means of finding your friends…it gets a bit scary.
4. It gets pretty cold, even with the soothing warmth of beer in your belly. Wear a jacket. Or two.
Unlike in Paris, there's not really much else to do. But trust me, go! Go to Munich!