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Gretchen Klank--Grand Tour

 

 
Grand Tour of Europe (2008)
Dean's Scholarship recipient

It can bring me to my knees, when I think of all the beautiful things I did while in Europe; looking up at that beautiful ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, gazing at the brush strokes of Vincent Van Gogh, and being followed by Mona Lisa’s eyes. In addition to visiting the most popular tourist attractions and learning about the Italian Renaissance, Dutch Golden Age, and French Impressionist period, the Grand Tour of Europe at Western Michigan University has much more to offer.

I've learned a thing or two traveling through Europe. First, try to avoid falling into tourist traps. Attempt to see the city as a local as much as possible. My favorite day while in Paris was not spent visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre Museum. It was spent entirely alone, just me and Paris, France. After a long morning in Musée Marmottan-Monet, I took a mid afternoon nap in a serene park. Following a late lunch at a street café in the Latin Quarter, I took a walk along the Seine River until I came across the most ideal tree to situate myself under to finish a book I got at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. To end the day, I bought a bottle of wine to enhance the musical entertainment in the streets. On my way home that night while riding on the Metro, I was asked directions. I was flattered. It was a perfect end to the perfect day in the most perfect of cities.

 

Wherever you think your interests may lie when abroad, try to be open minded to new ideas, food, art, and activities. I was fortunate to travel with a group who were spontaneous and willing to try anything twice. Several climbed mountains in Switzerland and Italy; a few did so wearing flip-flops. A couple attempted to defy gravity and almost jumped out of a plane over Switzerland; unfortunately the weather kept them from taking skydiving. Others found pleasure in the fashion world.

My final suggestion is this: whatever your infatuation might be always go at your own pace with your own style. Don’t be rushed or slowed down by anyone or anything. The museums we visited held the greatest pieces of art in this world. Although museums like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has considerable crowds and lines, wait. Because when you’re face is a foot away from his paint and his brushstrokes, although it is overwhelming and surreal at the time, it is something you will want to experience and memorize. I went into these places and situations not knowing when or if I’ll be returning, so I tried to take advantage of them all. My only regret was not asking more questions. Dr. Larry TenHarmsel is a very knowledgeable man. He has been studying these subjects and visiting these places for many years. Coming back home was the most difficult part of the course. As soon as the plane touches down in America the feeling of despair finds you. You can hear it in the airport— you no longer hear words and conversations as art, now its babble. You can taste it in your first meal back in the states—the grease coats your pallet. You can see it in your ride home on the highways— not a smart car or bicycle to be seen; only SUV’s towing gas-guzzling boats. I miss Europe terribly and I suspect you will soon.