This is probably one of the last posts that I will have during my travels. I’m sad to say that my five months abroad are quickly coming to an end. I only have about two weeks left in Europe, and I am definitely going to make them the most memorable two weeks I possibly can. Let me update you on where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to lately.
From Morocco, I flew to Nurnberg, Germany where I stayed with some close family friends that I’ve known forever. It was a very relaxing two weeks of recovering from travelling like a maniac and enjoying eating homemade food. My friend Frank-Kevin was my main companion during that time, and he was kind enough to take me pretty much everywhere he went. We went on grand adventures through the old town of Nurnberg, which Hitler chose as his location for Nazi rallies, and we even went boating on a lake that quickly became one of my favorite places in Germany. I was lucky enough to meet some people through Kevin’s Red Cross meetings, where we learned basic first aid and got to ride to Burger King in the back of an ambulance. Everyone was extremely welcoming and it still amazes me that so many Germans know how to speak English. Let me show you some pictures from my adventures.
The last picture is interesting because it’s supposedly a mystery. No one knows how the gold ring was put into the fence because there is no break in either the fence or the ring. Those sneaky German architects….
After my two weeks in Germany, I said my goodbyes and took a bus to Vienna, Austria! It was a seven-hour bus ride, and let me tell you, after hour four my butt started feeling really numb and I got really restless. I couldn’t sleep and my legs started to hurt. It was pretty bad. Our bus passed through Linz on the way over, which made me think of my dad! Hi dad :) But I couldn’t be happier to get off the bus in Vienna and get some feeling back in my body. I grabbed my two gigantic and heavy suitcases, climbed into a taxi driven by a very friendly Turkish taxi driver, and finally arrived at the apartment where my mom and sister were waiting for me! I had a family again! It was an amazing feeling to start telling stories and catching up on everything I had missed during my time away. Our apartment was beautiful, so I had no trouble settling in. But we couldn’t wait to get out of the apartment and start doing some Vienna sightseeing. Pictures of our adventures follow:
Vienna was an absolutely beautiful city. The pictures I posted were taken from Schonbrunn Palace, the Rathaus (city hall), Belvedere Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and Stephansplatz. By the time we left, we had mastered the metro system, and I even took it by myself one night to meet up with some friends that I had met at the Hostel of the Sun in Naples!
My mom, sister, and I even got the opportunity to see an opera at a symphony hall! There were brilliant singers, dancers, and instrumentalists that took my breath away. Definitely felt like a classy night out on the town in Vienna. We also ate plenty of traditional Austrian food which mostly includes schnitzel and potatoes.
The weather was pretty cold - people are continuously telling me that I caught one of the worst winters Europe has experienced in the last few decades. Fabulous. But we braved through the rain, the wind, and the jacket weather and still had a wonderful time.
In total, we stayed in Vienna for about a week, and one of the days we took a bus to Bratislava, Slovakia! The bus ride was only about an hour one-way, so we were able to spend a full day exploring the streets of a country we had never been to. Slovakia is interesting, because the language is very difficult, and many people do not speak any English. Oftentimes even if they do speak English, they refuse to. It’s a mixture of nationalistic pride and expecting tourists to speak Slovak if they are visiting Slovakia. Most people were remarkably friendly, and we were able to conquer most of Bratislava by foot. We did a ridiculous amount of walking, but it was such a beautiful day.
For an interesting fact, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were still united as Czechoslovakia, Prague used to be the capital. However, since the two have divided into their two separate countries, Bratislava became the new capital of Slovakia. It’s only been a world capital since 1993!
That was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. But the bread they brought out on the table as a sort of appetizer was not free. They charged us per slice… Those are the times that I miss the American ideas of free refills and free chips and salsa.
I’m currently in Sannicolau Mare, Romania, and it’s been pretty amazing so far. I’ve been spending time with my family, getting closer to my cousin’s baby David, learning how to drive stick shift, driving to Timisoara (Romania’s second largest city), seeing operas at the Opera House, and playing with snails and frogs on the street. Oh, and I dyed my hair! :) I’ve been meeting new people here as well, and they’re very friendly. The kindness of random strangers never fails to amaze me. I’m one lucky girl. However, I do miss my friends back home. Constantly meeting new people gets so exhausting. We’ll see how I feel once we hit the one-week mark. Here are some pictures of my time in Romania so far :)
I’ll be posting more pictures soon enough! Tomorrow we’re taking off on a road trip through Romania - to Brasov and even Dracula’s Castle! I’m excited but not looking forward to the driving…
Oh dear travel blog, how I have neglected you. Let me catch you up on everything that has happened since my adventure in Greece.
First of all, I finished my semester in Milan and have such bittersweet feelings about it all. I’m happy that I’m done with the madness of finals and packing up my room, but I met so many fantastic people that I am going to miss so much. Unfortunately, they’re spread all across the United States and all around the world, so it will be difficult to keep in touch. But now I just have another excuse to travel more and see new places. :)
Secondly, I finally traveled to my dream destination: Morocco. I can’t explain why, but I have been dying to see Morocco for years. I also viewed it as this transition from Europe into the Middle Eastern world, although it’s located in northern Africa. I’ve always been so interested in Middle Eastern culture and Islam, so encountering them both firsthand was absolutely fascinating. I was a little anxious because Moroccans speak mainly Arabic and French, both of which are completely foreign to me. I was worried that we were going to get stranded and not be able to find our way to the hostel, or that we’d get mugged and left to die in an alley. You know, all of those great things that the first world assumes of third world countries. However, I did feel better because I was travelling in a group of two other girls and two guys. Power in numbers.
My first impression of Morocco was of the sunshine streaming through the airplane windows upon our landing. After months of rain and gloom in Milan, this was such a nice change of pace. Even though we landed outside of Marrakech, there weren’t many big buildings to be seen. We were surrounded by earth-colored single-level buildings. And stepping onto the ground made me realize that I was in Africa - how exotic sounding. It was warm and beautiful, and we couldn’t wait to change our of our sweltering winter clothes. As we were walking into the airport, all of the signs we saw were written in Arabic. So cool and disarming. I can usually understand a few words of the country’s language that I’m in, but I had no clue whatsoever with Arabic.
And the inside of the airport was so stunningly elaborate. It was a jaw-dropper.
We had to change money once we got through passport check because Morocco’s currency is the dirham, 10 of which are equivalent to about 1 euro. We tried to avoid changing money at the airport because the rates are usually worse there, but we had no idea when we’d encounter another currency exchange. And we also had to buy a bus ticket to the center of the city, or Jamaa El Fna square. Getting on the bus and driving through the outskirts of Marrakech was oddly comforting because the landscape reminded me a lot of Phoenix. There were a lot of adobe-style houses, palm trees, and roundabouts in the roads.
We stayed at Waka Waka Hostel, which I mainly chose because it reminded me of Shakira. Not going to hide it at all. However, we had no idea how to get to the hostel itself. Street signs are incredibly difficult to find, and when they are written on the buildings they’re written in Arabic. As soon as we got out of the bus we tried to ask for directions, but there were men that just wanted to walk us there. I had read online previously not to allow anybody to lead us places because they would expect payment, but otherwise I’m not sure we would have found the hostel. One payment that was worthwhile, but the competition between the men for our business was overwhelming.
The hostel was so eccentric and there was no roof over the common room. But there were tapestries hanging on every wall, and hookahs set up on every table. And as soon as we were settled into our room, the owners of the hostel served us traditional Moroccan mint tea, but not out of tea cups like one would expect, but out of large shot glasses. Very interesting. But the tea is absolutely delicious. I need to stock up on mint sprigs once I return home and drink this tea on a daily basis.
After exploring our hostel for a bit, we couldn’t wait to get out in the city and figure out what Marrakech was all about. There was a hustle and bustle like you couldn’t believe. Vendors would run out onto the street and grab you by the arm, physically dragging you into their shops because “looking is free”. But then they would instantly start bargaining with you, trying to sell you as many products as they could for the highest price they could get you to pay. If you didn’t have money or didn’t want to buy anything, all of the vendors had the same infamous phrase - “No money, no honey”. But the shops were all so beautiful. There were intricate lamps hanging from the rafters, all sorts of leather goods ranging from purses to wallets to sandals and suitcases, tea sets, and majestic rugs that would guarantee you a magic carpet ride with Aladdin. In these scenarios, actions speak louder than words:
After perusing the endless aisles of shops through the souks, or outdoor markets, we were talked into eating a rooftop lunch consisting of chicken and couscous. We also got a great birds eye view of Marrakech.
It was absolutely delicious. And it turns out that our waiter knows a guy who works at a cooperative that makes and distributes argan oil. So naturally, he walks us over there to make sure we spend more money. That’s how Morocco works. Everybody is connected and knows each other, and passes the tourists off to one another for the highest possible financial gain. But I must say, the argan oil was incredibly interesting. It’s supposed to heal everything from stretch marks to acne to coarse hair. We saw women actually making the oil, got massages with the oil from some representatives, and then sat through a presentation that described many of the different products they offer.
After buying some products and getting suckered into the consumerism expected from tourists, we left and continued exploring the markets. We were attacked by monkeys, snake charmers, and a variety of other street performers that were part of a grand menagerie on the streets of Marrakech.
And that concluded our adventures for day one. We had signed up for an excursion bright and early the next day, so we decided to head back to the hostel, wash some African dirt off our bodies, and tuck in early. Unfortunately, not all of us had a great night’s sleep. Some of us had bad experiences with bed bugs, and woke up with trails of bug bites on our backs. We were ready to get out of the hostel and start on our excursion outside of Marrakech to the Ourika waterfall.
Our bus driver picked us up at 9 in the morning on the second day, and we drove a bit through insane traffic until we pulled over to the side in the middle of nowhere. We had a great view of the Atlas mountains, which is one of the largest mountain ranges in northern Africa.
Our next stop was in a real Berber village, where we were able to have mint tea with the locals and see exactly how they live. While it was an incredible experience, I felt so strange taking pictures of these people in their daily lives like it’s some sort of exhibition for wealthy Westerners on vacation. The children were taught to chase after us and beg us for money, and their parents would even follow us trying to sell various rings and necklaces and gemstones. I felt like the constant intrusion of people on this village had ruined its true reality. I was part of the corruption.
Yes, camels! Ahhhhhhh this leads into one of the best experiences of my life. I have always wanted to ride a camel in Morocco. We’d drive by them in the bus and I’d get more and more excited. I was ready to cross this off my bucket list and take some amazing pictures along the way. It was so scary getting on the camel, because whenever they stand up or sit down it feels like you’re going to fall off and die. Thankfully I survived, although I probably would have been okay with dying in a bizarre camel accident. My saddle was very off-center however, so I kept sliding to one side and dangling dangerously off of precipices. But I was loving life regardless.
Camel kisses! Loved every second of it. During the camel ride, all I could do was look around and try to understand how incredibly blessed I was in that moment. My surroundings looked strangely familiar too because it looked similar to the red rocks of Sedona, with a creek running through the landscape like Slide Rock. I was thousands of miles away from home roaming through Africa on a camel, but I still felt that sensation of home. I still look at these pictures and can’t believe this happened to me.
Our third stop was yet another argan cooperative. It was similar to the one we went to the day before, but we got to see some other products in the making as well.
Our fourth stop was an incredible rickety wooden bridge, where we were attacked by children from a local village.
Our fifth stop was lunch, where we sat at a table that was located in the middle of a river. No joke, we were sitting with our feet in the water while eating more couscous and delicious Moroccan dishes.
There were plenty of restaurants like this along the way, filled with colorful couches and cushions that were floating on rafts alongside the river.
Then finally we made it to the waterfall. We had to go on an intense hike through the mountains, where it would turn into bouldering and rock climbing. It was amazing to see men and women completing the trek in their traditional full-length clothing and sandals while we were struggling in our jeans and tennis shoes.
It was so breathtaking. If anyone you know ever goes to Marrakech, I definitely recommend this trek to Ourika waterfall that only cost 35 euro per person for all of these stops with a guide. By the end of the day when we hopped back on the bus we were all so tired. I had been proposed to by my tour guide who said he would buy me a house in Marrakech, and I had fallen many times while hiking. We were dusty, exhausted, and all passed out on the bus ride home. It was probably one of the best days of my life and I will never forget it.
After our first night with the bed bugs, we decided not to sleep in our room and actually sleep up on couches that they had on the roof of the hostel. It was incredible to sleep out under the African stars with just a blanket to shelter you. And because Morocco is a Muslim country, we heard the call to prayer five times a day, including very early in the morning before the sun had risen. It was eerie sounding in the night time, with the Arabic words flowing together in an alien tongue we couldn’t even pretend to understand.
Our third day we decided to stay in Marrakech and take a look at some of the local sights including mosques, palaces, and other landmarks that were stunning.
We then ventured to some of the tanneries located nearby, where we were shown how authentic leather goods were made. The smell was absolutely atrocious, and there were various parts of animal carcasses laying all about. We were given mint leaves to smell while walking throughout the tannery, but it didn’t help that much. We were told that it was a family business, and families actually lived in the tanneries.
On our way back from the tannery, we got so miserably lost. We couldn’t find our way at all. We were stuck on streets that were filled with chaos. We were wandering amidst traffic, camels, donkeys, children running everywhere, cars and motorcycles swerving past you and not caring who they run over, and people who would tell us the wrong way on purpose. There were kids who were attempting to mislead us, which I’m sure was based off what they have heard about tourists or experienced themselves. It was very frustrating because we were at their mercy. The sounds and sights were very overwhelming and after a few hours of being lost, we found a nice man who was giving us directions and wasn’t expecting any payment in return.
We finally found our way back to the hostel, rested for a few hours, and went back to the main souk in the Jamaa El Fna square at night time. It was amazing. People were playing drums, smoke was rising, food kiosks were all around us selling us orange juice and cheap goods, and vendors were particularly more aggressive.
Unfortunately, the night time pictures didn’t turn out very well, but it was a sight unlike any other. Morocco itself was the most interesting place I’ve ever had the privilege of traveling to. I know that I want to go back one day and buy the entire souk, which will be easier when I am not on a college student’s budget. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, but with that came such happiness. I was so impressed by how many languages Moroccans know, usually with each person knowing between three and six languages. Many Americans consider the third world to be uneducated and uncivilized, but they are the ones that typically only know English and maybe one other language. Being surrounded by Muslims was an eye-opening experience, and I was so impressed by the dedication they showed to their faith. The most devout Muslim women full on black chadors that only showed their eyes, while their husbands had thick beards and a cap on their heads. I felt inclined to dress conservatively out of respect, and even alcohol was not sold at many restaurants out of respect.
The fourth morning we woke up early, took a taxi to the airport, and traveled back to Milan without any hiccups. However, upon my arrival in my Milan I also had to deal with the fact that it was my last day in Italy before leaving for good. Saying goodbye to my roommates and my friends was incredibly difficult, and leaving with all of my belongings was even more difficult. That apartment had been my home, where I would return to after each trip I went on. And I had to face the fact that I was moving on to the next part of my life.
The next morning I left for Germany, where I would be staying with some family friends. I waited for the metro to open at 6am, thinking I would make it to my 6:25 train to the airport without a problem. However, I underestimated the heaviness of my two luggages and the lack of escalators and elevators in Milan’s public transportation systems. I was running back and forth with one luggage down stairs, then praying no one would steal it while I went to grab my other one. I ended up missing my train by two minutes, having a mini break down at the train station, and eventually realizing that I could catch a bus. By the time I realized this and was able to hop on a bus, I was so dangerously close to missing my flight. Because of this, the lady at the check-in counter for AirBerlin let me get away with not paying for my severely overweight suitcases and running past the long security line just to make it to my gate before it closed. Thankfully I made my flight, but very gracefully fell down the flight of stairs out of the airplane upon our landing in Berlin. I can easily say that was one of the most stressful and horrible days of my life, and I shed enough blood, sweat, and tears to last a lifetime.
I’m not staying in Nurnberg, Germany and greatly enjoying my time here. I’ve had the time to catch up on sleep and feel like I have a family again. I’ve been eating homemade food, doing some sightseeing, and getting some sweet loving from the dogs they have. My next stop is Vienna this Sunday morning by bus, where I will be reunited with my mom and sister for the rest of my time in Europe!
Back in Milan! Greece was an absolute success, and I am so incredibly happy that I spent my four-day weekend in Thessaloniki with such wonderful people.
Our flight left from Milan Bergamo Airport at 6:30 in the morning on Wednesday morning, so between packing and doing last-minute homework assignments I only got about two hours of sleep that night. I was up and on my feet at 3 in the morning so I could gradually begin the process of travelling. I took the metro to Centrale station, caught a bus for a 45-minute ride to Bergamo at around 3:30 in the morning, and finally arrived at the airport at around 4:30. Because we were travelling a budget airline called RyanAir, we had to wait in line for a passport check, and then finally go through security and find our gate. Before we knew it we were in the air, an hour ahead, and in Greek air space. My first impression of Greece was based off the brilliant sunshine that was shining through the airplane windows - not a rain cloud in sight. And it stayed that way the entire time we were there.
We took a bus from the airport to our hotel, which was called Hotel Atlantis. After checking in and getting settled, we traded in our boots and jeans for sandals and tank tops and immediately set off to do some exploring. It was so incredibly difficult to navigate the city because Greek is one language I know absolutely nothing about. I recognized some letters from Greek life back at NAU, but that helped me with nothing. Also, very few Greeks know how to speak English, but they were all extremely friendly.
Thessaloniki is the second biggest city in Greece besides Athens, so we had quite a bit of work to do in regards to sightseeing. It’s a port city, so there were no beaches located right in the city, but there was a beautiful promenade lined with endless bars and restaurants blasting trendy Greek music. My friends and I loved to stroll along the promenade, where we’d sometimes sit on the edge with our feet dangling over the water and the sun warming our skin. Sunscreen was undoubtedly the best investment we made on this trip. Here are some shots from our first day:
View from the White Tower:
Sunset from the pier, so beautiful:
Dinner on the first night consisted of traditional Greek food. It was chicken souvlaki, potatoes, and couscous. So absolutely delicious I could have died happy then and there.
Day two we took the bus to a beach about 45 minutes outside of Thessaloniki and literally just laid out all day. It was a day of great conversations, hula hooping, and chill music.
Day three involved a two-hour bus ride to the city of Kavala, an exquisite town located in prime location alongside the Aegean Sea. We were originally trying to take the ferry to the island of Thasos, but the ferries ran at odd hours that didn’t seem worth it for a day on the island. So instead we mostly tanned and did some swimming in the crystal clear water. The water was fairly warm, and also interesting because instead of having a sand bottom there was a black stone bottom that almost looked like lava! Very interesting. It turned out to be an amazing day regardless of the change in plans, although we were all suffering from sunburns in various places by the end of the day. Who knew that the tops of feet were so susceptible to sunburn?
Our final full day in Greece was spent back in Thessaloniki, where explored the historic district. The city actually has incredible history dating back to 315 BC, where Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman ruins can be found scattered in the midst of modern apartment buildings and skyscrapers.
We started off by walking around in a residential area in the historic district, where there was pretty cool graffiti and ruins alongside the urban sprawl of the city.
This is the breathtaking view of the city from one of the highest points, where a gigantic castle is located:
We then invaded a small monastery close by, where there was a menagerie of colorful peacocks!
We eventually made our way back down the hill and straight to the seaside, where we went to our favorite pier and just tried to enjoy and absorb our last afternoon in Greece. There were more waves on the water that day, which made for perfect sailing conditions!
We finished our day off by doing some souvenir shopping, in which I bought myself a beautiful red and blue coin purse for only four euro. It will be a great reminder of Greece’s outdoor markets and vibrant culture. We had another fantastic dinner, where I overindulged in one of the first burgers I’ve had since leaving America. It had bacon in it and it was beautiful. We were also offered free dessert, which is very typical in Thessaloniki. Every meal we had there was accompanied by a free course from the restaurant. Also, the meals were cheap and I was able to completely stuff myself with delicious food for under ten euro a meal. That is customer service at its finest.
While Greece is fun and games for tourists, I also had the opportunity to talk to some of the locals about the economic situation plaguing the country. One young man was telling me about how his mother’s wages were cut in half while they were expected to maintain the same standard of living. It was becoming impossible for him to attend university because of the salary cuts, and he was very worried about his academic future.
Another young man who had come to Greece with his family from Afghanistan was worried about employment opportunities. He mentioned that there was very little work to be found in Thessaloniki, which is devastating for Greece since it is considered to be Greece’s economic and industrial center. It was very odd for me to see the bars and the restaurants filled with middle-aged and young people in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. Is it true that there isn’t much work to be found? Or are the rumors about the Greek being “lazy” and “unproductive” true?
Although I didn’t get the opportunity to participate in any political protests or strikes, I really enjoyed Greece. It’s a beautiful country with incredibly friendly people and a vibrant culture. It was one of the few countries I’ve been to that played predominantly Greek music in bars and clubs, rather than English music. They seem to be very nationalistic and proud of their country, regardless of what news coverage they’ve been getting lately. It’s rich in history and has very efficient public transportation, and ultimately I hope that I will one day be able to return and see more of Greece like Athens and Meteora.
And as for my favorite picture of the trip, I dedicate this one to my Italy best friend, miss Haley Holmes. I love her dearly and can’t believe this was our last European adventure together!
I have gotten into a bad habit of alternating between extreme travelling and extreme laziness, so I apologize about the brief hiatus that occurs every time I return from another trip. I usually feel like doing nothing but watching tv shows and eating everything in my refrigerator.
But my latest trip was Amsterdam! This city is notorious for all sorts of unspeakable shenanigans, and I was very curious to see how it would be for myself. I started off the day feeling very excited to head to Holland, but little did I know that there would be a number of obstacles that I’d face before arriving.
My friend Jen and I were the only two on our specific flight, so Thursday afternoon we took the train to the airport. We had gotten there a little earlier so we were just waiting around at our gate, but before long we heard an announcement that our flight would be delayed until further notice because of strong winds in Amsterdam. I figured it wouldn’t be that long of a wait so I just went along with it. Before long, hours were passing and there were more and more delays. We ended up having to check in twice, get on the plane and wait almost another hour, and eventually left three hours behind schedule. It was an extremely frustrating process.
When we landed at Schiphol Airport it was around 11pm, and we needed to take a train to reach the hostel from the airport. Dutch is a very interesting language - similar to German but with more gargling sounds. The street names and train stops are absolutely impossible to pronounce if you’re not Dutch, so whenever we would ask for directions we sounded like complete idiots and couldn’t even take ourselves seriously. Thankfully the majority of the Dutch people we came across spoke amazing English, so that was helpful.
Getting to our hostel was also a hassle, mostly because it involved two girls wandering through the middle of the Red Light District in the middle of the night. Not advisable. When we got to the hostel we were sullenly greeted by the owner who was anything but welcoming. He gave us no information about Amsterdam, didn’t even give us a map, and decided to put us in a room with eight other people, all of which were men. And there was one bathroom that all of us shared. It was definitely nothing that we expected, so ultimately our first night in Amsterdam was somewhat disappointing. We decided to just go to sleep and start the next morning refreshed and in more positive moods.
Friday morning we woke up and had breakfast at a great cafe down the street from our hostel. It was absolutely delicious and fairly cheap. I got a pancake with bacon inside of it, and fresh fruit juice. Afterwards we began our wandering. Amsterdam is completely different by day and by night. During the daytime, we were amazed by the unique architecture that we saw everywhere, even the train station. I thought the architecture would be similar to Germany’s, but it was actually quite different. And there were canals everywhere - it was just beautiful. One of the most unique parts of Amsterdam is the overwhelming usage of bicycles. They literally have bicycle highways where there is constant traffic. So efficient and so eco-friendly, loved it.
We wandered down towards some of the main tourist streets, where there are miles and miles of shops selling orange clothing, tulip magnets, wooden shoes, and the paraphernalia that Amsterdam is best known for. I’m not entirely sure what police officers do there considering almost everything is legal…
There were some interesting things to do, but ultimately we were kept from doing them because of exorbitant prices. At first we wanted to go to a 3D Van Gogh museum, but it was 16 euro. Then we wanted to go to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, but it was 22 euro! It’s impossible to do anything in this city as a struggling college student!
Eventually we gave up and went to the one thing that we knew was an absolute must - the Anne Frank museum. For those of you who don’t know, Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl whose family was forced into hiding as World War II started. The museum is the crammed apartment where Anne’s family and one other family hid for two and a half years, without ever being able to go outside or be loud out of fear of being caught. They were eventually betrayed by someone, and all of Anne’s family was sent to various concentration camps, with only her father surviving. Anne died at the age of 15, and her diary was published and is now an international bestseller. It was very humbling and eerie to walk in the same rooms that her family did, and it was unbelievable that they didn’t leave those rooms for two and a half years, where dim oil lamps were the only light they received because of the blackout curtains that covered the windows.
After leaving, I had a whole new appreciation for the sun, which was finally beginning to peek out from behind the clouds. Jen and I just wanted to soak it up, so we sat alongside some canals and just enjoyed it.
After a couple hours of relaxation, we met up with the rest of our group of international students from Milan as well as my Dutch friend Teun! He studied abroad at NAU my first semester of freshman year and we’ve kept touch ever since, so he took us for a tour of the city at night, including some of Amsterdam’s best pubs and the infamous Red Light District. To keep it PG, all I will say is that there were plenty of ladies strutting their stuff in windows surrounded by red lights as well as various massage parlors and nail salons. It was an insane sight to see.
After a fun night with friends, Jen and I hit the sack and woke up very early the next morning to catch our flight back to Milan. Luckily we had just enough time to take a couple pictures with the Amsterdam sign at the airport!
All in all, Amsterdam was an incredibly eccentric and quirky city, and I hate that we had such a rough start to our trip. I am making it a point to return one day so that I can do all of the things that I didn’t have the money to do this time, the Van Gogh museum being at the very top.
Next stop: Thessaloniki, Greece! So excited!!
Today is Amsterdam day!!!
First I have to go to class, give a presentation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drag my luggage around with me all day since I won’t get the chance to come home again before my train leaves for the airport from Cadorna Station, and then finally head on over!
The weather is supposed to be in the high fifties and sunny, so hopefully that stays true throughout the weekend. I’m ready for another great adventure, let’s do this!
Today I cannot keep the smile off my face because of how lovely the weather is! Not only is Milan finally experiencing 70-degree weather and endless sunshine for the ten-day forecast, but I just soaked up some much-needed Vitamin D on the Mediterranean coast in Cinque Terre as well! It felt wonderful to trek across Italy without carrying along a winter coat.
My ladies and I left for Cinque Terre early Friday morning (perks of not having Friday classes), and took the train for about three hours until we reached our destination. “Cinque Terre” directly translates to “five lands”, which reflects the five cities that make up the region. Of the five cities, Monterosso is probably the most touristic. However, we opted for a quieter city that is a bit smaller called Riomaggiore. We had originally booked a single room at a hostel, but upon our check-in the Albanian lady who owns the hostel said that for five extra euro per person she could upgrade us to a beachfront apartment with a terrace. That was a no-brainer, of course we were going to upgrade. So our apartment not only had a terrace, but we could sit on the terrace and get a stunning view of the sea. Too good to be true. Here are some pictures of the view:
After freaking out about our wonderful apartment and settling in, we decided to start exploring the town. Riomaggiore only has a population of about 1,700 people and has one main city called Via Colombo where the majority of the town’s bars,restaurants, and shopping are located. We saw plenty of tourists passing through, mostly students studying in various cities across Italy trying to soak up some sun and brave the hiking trails that Cinque Terre is famous for.
We stopped for a lunch consisting of four panini and some of the local sangria that had strawberries floating around in the drink. Delicious!
After eating, we continued exploring the cobblestone steps of the town. That’s much easier said than done considering the town is located on a hillside. Similar to San Francisco, the streets are very steep so it was a workout just to walk from our apartment to the church or even a restaurant. But it was worth it for more incredible views of the Mediterranean!
Day two consisted solely of relaxation. We went to the stone beach a ten-minute walk away from our apartment and worked to tan our skin pigmentation by being completely lazy and napping under the sun. It was definitely a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Milan, and I can’t wait to revisit Cinque Terre in the future for some kayaking and paddle boarding!
Next vacation destination: Amsterdam!! I leave Thursday and come back Saturday. I’m so excited to cross another country off of my bucket list!
After the rain and wind that followed me to Romania this past weekend, I am ready to head somewhere warmer on the coast! So this is what I’m doing! Tomorrow morning I am heading south to Cinque Terre with some of my favorite lady friends: Haley, Madison, and Amanda. It’s going to be a fabulous girls getaway where we can hopefully do some hardcore hiking and bonding. Also, here are some google pictures of Cinque Terre that make me so extremely excited for this overnight trip:
Packing commences now!
The past couple of days have been difficult because of some hard times that hit my family, but I’m finally getting around to writing my spring break post! It was a whirlwind tour of Italy with my best friend Haley, and we were lucky enough to make it to Naples, Pompeii, Rome, and the Florence/Tuscany region. I have pictures of the whole extravaganza, so let’s get started.
Out of sheer anticipation, we bought our tickets for Thursday night on the last day of school before spring break was to start. So we began our long journey to Naples - take the metro to the train station, get on the train to the airport, wait for our plane to start boarding, get on board and fly for about an hour and a half, and finally land in noticeably warmer weather. Now, Haley and I knew the general location of our hostel and had a general idea of what buses we needed to take to get there, but Naples is not the most pleasant city to navigate at night as foreign girls. We accidentally got off on the wrong bus stop, which was unfortunately located near to the central train station. It was DIRTY. There was litter everywhere and it was a hazard walking on the sidewalks because of the extensive construction. We were wolf-whistled many times as we attempted to walk to the next bus stop, got lost, gave up, and walked back to the bus stop we got off at.
Thankfully, as soon as were back on the right bus, the bus driver took pity on our souls and drove us directly to our hostel since we were the last people on the bus. I am so thankful for the random kind souls that I have found in all the cities I’ve been to - they are fully responsible for keeping me alive. Our hostel in Naples was absolutely amazing. It’s called Hostel of the Sun, and has the reputation of being one of the best hostels in the whole world. The staff was so laid-back, there was a gigantic common room where you could hang out with the other hostel guests, and a kitchen with endless amounts of tea that sustained me through a bad sore throat. I met so many wonderful people and had the opportunity to be roommates with a beautiful Dutch girl named Noortje and a Korean guy named Sooho. I also met a crowd of French guys, a Belgian, a British Indian, and fellow Americans like myself that needed to get lost in the world.
Here was one of the cool decorating features of the hostel that made me love it even more:
Day one of Naples involved a lot of exploring. Noortje had already been in town for a day, so she knew a lot of cool places to take us. In these scenarios, pictures speak louder than words. There were fountains upon fountains, seaside followed by seaside, and an impressive amount of kiosks selling delicious Neapolitan pizza for only one euro. But my favorite part were the seaside castles that seemed to rise elegantly out of the surf, where you had outstanding views of the coastline and the promenade that runs alongside it.
And here’s the famous pizza that seems to charm the hearts of travelers across the globe. In my personal opinion, it still doesn’t compare to Costco pizza, but don’t let that ruin it for you. I’m just weird:
We went back to the top of a castle for a sunset overlooking the coastline and that was honestly one of the most breathtaking parts of the whole trip:
Day two in Naples involved a trip out to the ruined city of Pompeii, a city that actually still exists in real life on the side of an active volcano called Mount Vesuvius. It was eerie being there, especially since I was thinking about the possible occurrence of the volcano exploding and killing me… However, it was a 45-minute train ride outside of Naples, and went by fairly fast.
Note to future travelers: if you’re going to Pompeii, it’s worth it to pay for either an audio guide or an actual tour guide. I decided to be a cheap skate and take the poor college kid route and ended up getting lost so many times. Yes, it’s apparently possible to get lost at Pompeii. It’s interesting to hear the history so don’t be a cheap skate like me!
After a long and sweaty day of hiking across the ruins of an ancient city, we returned to Naples and ended our second day in Naples at our seaside perch on top of the castle, followed by a fun night on the town with our French friends!
The next morning we hopped on a train to Rome after many difficulties trying to get to the train station. Note to self: don’t try to trick the system and use the same tickets twice. It does not end well. Buy your tickets like a good citizen and all will be well.
Upon our arrival in Rome, I got extremely sick and completely lost my voice. Haley had to do all of the talking for me, which made making friends somewhat difficult at the hostel. I did a lot of soul-searching in one of the grandest cities of Europe. Not the best place to lose your voice. But I had an amazing time anyway. There aren’t words to describe the feeling of walking alongside ancient Roman ruins and grand Catholic cathedrals. I was a little disappointed with the Colosseum, mostly because the construction surrounding it made picture-taking opportunities difficult. I had to try hard to exclude cranes and orange fences from the background. By this time in the trip, we had met up with our wonderful friend Amanda so you may see her pictured below as well!
Here’s a variety of other cool spots around Rome including the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain, all of which I recommend highly for tourists!
Day two in Rome, we decided to venture out to Vatican City. Now I’m nowhere close to being Catholic, but I figured it would be an interesting experience considering that Papa Francesco had just recently become the new pope and it was also Easter week. That did make it an interesting experience, except it also was EXTREMELY busy. There was nobody regulating the influx of people into the Vatican Museum or the area where the Sistine Chapel is located. If I hadn’t paid a little extra money for a guided tour, I would have been completely lost and frustrated. So worth it. St. Peter’s Basilica is a sight unlike any other, and is an elaborate feat of architecture in and of itself. I was very impressed.
Here’s an incognito picture of me attempting to take a picture in the Sistine Chapel, where it’s strictly prohibited to take pictures. Gotta do what you gotta do.
Interesting fact about the Vatican: it’s actually it’s own “country” of sorts. They have their own license plates, post office, telephone lines, etc. Only a certain number of tourists are allowed entrance into the actual city, and the majority of them are clergy. It was an incredible experience but I must say that for such a conservative institution, there sure was a lot of nudity in the museum…
We ended our last day in Rome roaming (hehe) around the Spanish Steps, which are located in one of the main shopping districts in the city. Designer stores all around you, and then BAM you’re right outside American poet John Keats’ apartment.
Our last stop was my personal favorite place in Rome: the Trevi Fountain. I kept waiting for the Lizzie McGuire movie to just become my life, and as soon as I made a wish by throwing a coin into the fountain, my own personal Paolo would just swim up like a merman waiting to woo me and make me a famous pop star. Disney has ruined me.
We ended the night relatively early because two days of nonstop walking and wandering across Rome is absolutely tiring. At this point, we were already content with returning to Milan and sleeping for the rest of the week. But alas, we ambled onward to our next destination: Florence, or as the Italians like to say, Firenze.
The train ride to Florence was majestic, simply because it ran right through the middle of the Tuscan countryside. We passed by plenty of small towns reminiscent of Volterra, made entirely out of stone and encircled by fields of vineyards. Once we made it to Florence and were all settled into our hostel, we set off to do some exploring but the weather kept us from going too far. It was so cold and rainy, and the jackets we had brought were not up to par. So we huddled inside of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served us some of the most delicious food we ever made. I ate gnocchi, and we even splurged and got a bruschetta appetizer and tiramisu/cheesecake dessert. One of the best ideas we’ve ever had. After that, we wandered back to our hostel and ran into a friend we had made at the hostel we stayed at in Rome! His name is Charles and he was from New Zealand, but is currently working in Switzerland. People have such cool lives. But we all went out to a nearby pub to explore the Florentine vibe at night time.
Day two in Florence was far more successful. Haley and I, along with our Kiwi friend, decided to take a bus into the Tuscan countryside and do some wine-tasting in the Chianti region. I’m more of a white wine, Prosecco, kind of wine drinker myself, but the red wine had to be sampled. It was so beautiful to be outside of a big city, and to just relax and see some of the incredible sights of Tuscany.
After a few hours of country living, we returned to Florence and did some proper sightseeing. We didn’t get the chance to see the actual statue of David at the Uffizi Museum, but we did get to see the fake one a couple of streets down. That’s on my bucket list for a future trip. Such a quaint northern city - there’s such a massive difference in culture between northern and southern Italy. Here’s the Duomo:
Shortly after these last few pictures were taken, we made our way back to the hostel, packed up our things, and hopped on our last train back to Milan. We were completely and totally exhausted, our feet hurt, and we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves anymore if we had added any more destinations to our itinerary. I feel like we successfully conquered Italy, and it was such a wonderful experience. I made friends that I still keep in touch with, and I took pictures that I know I will be stalking excessively once I return stateside. I’m such a lucky girl to be living the life I’m living. Nobody wake me up.
Hello family and friends!
Let it be known that I am alive and well and back in Milan after my glorious spring break trip! It was such an unforgettable experience, and I am in the process of editing pictures and organizing my thoughts for a blog post. However, I’ve been sick for the past couple of days so I’ve been focusing most of my energy on sleeping and drinking copious amounts of tea. Don’t worry, a blog post will be up in near future!
Wisdom for Milan - when in doubt, bring an umbrella.
Time to start studying for my last final, while simultaneously attempting to pack. Naples-bound tomorrow!