Madeleine Barlow

Where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and done

Madeleine – Exchange to Catholic University of Lille, France

Semester 2, 2016

Bike riding Madeleine BarlowThe beauty of doing an exchange in the fall semester is that I was able to escape the bitter Melbourne winter after exams and head for the sunlit days of the European summer for a month or so before I had to be settled in France for university.

Though the crowds are plenty and the prices are high, the European summer captures the Australian imagination as instead of scorching UV rays that can melt the asphalt off the road, you get to traipse around Roman ruins in a cotton sundress, gelato in hand and around every corner is a sun bleached villa adorned with wisteria that features as the backdrop to your next social media upload. Paying to use public restrooms and tourist trap restaurants notwithstanding, the European summer has certainly become a permanent fixture in most young Australian’s bucket lists.

I was able to spend the month before my exchange in Spain and Italy, and meeting up with my parents in Barcelona allowed for accommodation much more comfortable that what my student budget would have allowed. Thanks mum and dad! Exploring the cities of Barcelona, Venice, Florence and the Tuscany region as well as the famous Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast of Italy are all destinations encapsulating all that is quintessential of summer on the continent. If you can manage it, try and head off early before your semester starts- the food, sunshine, Mediterranean beaches and architecture won’t disappoint.

But travel doesn’t have to stop once you’ve reached your exchange destination!  My exchange city of Lille in France lies 35 minutes from Brussels by Cinque Terra Madeleine Barlowtrain and a quick jaunt across the border gives you the option to fly out of one of Brussels’ airports to anywhere across Europe. So far I’ve had a weekend in Dublin and fly to Norway next week for semester break. Accessing Europe’s far superior rail network has allowed for visits to the lovely Belgian cities of Bruges and Ghent, and I look forward to taking the Eurostar to London in November.

If you save your travel to the end of the semester, you get to enjoy the ever-novel White Christmas, and the perks of travelling in the low season such as more affordable accommodation and relatively quieter cities. Oh, and of course, Christmas Markets!  I have a friend coming to visit from Australia after exams finish in December and we are travelling across Eastern Europe in the Christmas period and then spending a bit of time in the UK after New Years.  So when your exchange semester spans 3 seasons, there are endless possibilities for travel and to experience what Europe has to offer at any given time of year.