Marrakech, Morocco & Mohamed

In the words of Ismael, my new Australian hostel buddy, Morocco is “a bit dodgy” (said in an Australian accent). And indeed it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was an incredible experience, but if I’m being completely honest, I’m thankful that I’m writing this in the airport on my way home and not in a ditch somewhere.

Morocco completely took me out of my comfort zone, more than any other country has. Everything about it was so unfamiliar – the culture, the food, everything. So for your entertainment, I’ve decided to share the most bizarre and ridiculous (but sometimes kind of awesome) parts of our trip. Here we go.

First near death experience: I think we’d been in Morocco for about 15 minutes before we had our first near death experience. For the purpose of this story, it’s important to note that in Morocco there’s no such thing as asphalt. Nope, all roads are just dirt. That’s it. And I’m pretty sure there are basically, like, no traffic laws whatsoever. Anyway, we landed in the airport around 11pm and we immediately took a taxi to our hostel. The taxi ended up costing 200 dirham – you can do the conversion online (also, this was before we knew we could bargain prices on just about anything). But because real roads don’t exist, the taxi driver dropped us off in an area that looked identical to the place where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed and continued to give us directions to the hostel that sounded like this: “turn right somewhere up there, then turn left, look for the arch, turn left again and you’ll be there.” Believe it or not, the directions made absolutely no sense, but luckily some nice Moroccan guys offered to show us where our hostel was. How sweet right? Wrong. Once we got to the hostel the two men guarded the front door and wouldn’t let us ring the doorbell until we gave them money.  Excuse me? The five of us – Michelle, Nick, myself, and our two new “friends” – stood there in what felt like 10 minutes of pure silence and fear. I can say with about 99% certainty that if we hadn’t paid, we would have been killed and fed to the Moroccan cats. So another 200 dirham later, we made it safely inside our hostel. Happy Thanksgiving to us, right?

Casa Del Sol Hostel: Our hostel was absolutely amazing. I mean sure, the ground was dirty and the doors didn’t have locks, but the people who worked there were great. Not to mention the mint tea (see next point) and hookah were free – score. Shout out to my new friends from Casa Del Sol: Aziz, Fatima, Mohamed, and Ismael. Thank you for making our Moroccan adventures just a tad less frightening.Image

Mint tea: I read that mint tea was a huge thing in Morocco and for once, Google was correct. You can find mint tea just about anywhere. And you’d be an idiot not to try it. It was, by far, the best tea I’ve ever had. Lucky for us, Mohamed taught us how to make it so if you guys ever want to try it, just holler at me.Image

Henna experience: Everyone who travels to Morocco will leave with a henna tattoo – it doesn’t matter if you want one or not. Women sit in the Jemaa El Fna square and heckle you until you agree to sit down and let them paint your arm. Even if you say no, they’ll grab you against your will, sit you down, and before you know it you’ll have a henna masterpiece on your arm.

Exhibit A:
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Exhibit B: Image

Camel experience: First off, I had no idea that camels were so big. I don’t care how knowledgeable you think you are on the subject of camels, until you see one in person, you know nothing. The three of us ended up getting a private camel excursion for a very good price (mint tea and a detour through a Moroccan village were included too). I would categorize this whole experience as near death – I mean, we weren’t even strapped in at all. What separated us from life or death was how tight we could grip a little metal bar (sorry mom, I know you’re probably in tears already). I can’t decide if camel riding was the stupidest or smartest decision of my life. I guess since I’m still alive and well, I’d have to say it was the smartest. It was truly once in a lifetime. Shout out to my camel – whose name was “Shakira’s Friend” – for not killing me when he had the chance.Image

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Souks: Self-explanatory — here’s a picture!Image

Kittens: Yes, you read that right. There were kittens everywhere. Not cats, actual kittens. I died.ImageImageImage

Ciao Mamma e Papà!

Before I even get in to it, I want to start off by putting my parents on blast. Oh yeah guys, I’m going there – so strap on your seatbelts and prepare for a bumpy (but entertaining) ride. Over the course of four days with my parents all I heard was: “The blow dryers here suck and my hair looks awful, please don’t put any of the pictures we take tonight on your blog” or “my belly looks huge, please don’t post that picture onto your blog.” Well, I hate to point out the obvious, but this is my blog and I’ll post any damn pictures I want (please don’t kill me mom and dad, I still promise to never get a tattoo). But because I love my parents, I’ll add a very important side note.

Side note: Despite any pictures you see in the following blog post that may show otherwise, I want to let it be known that my dad is a hunky silver fox and my mom’s doppelganger is Jackie O – enough said.

Okay here we go. Because my parents had already visited Florence once before, I had to be the most original, witty and entertaining tour guide ever – basically I needed to channel my inner Stephanie Taylor (see Fall Break Part 2: Berlin if you have no idea who I’m talking about). Challenge accepted. First on the list? Devouring an authentic Florentine steak. I’ll admit that I had selfish motives for this one, but can you blame me? I’m a broke college students who can only afford bread and pasta.

Our first full day consisted of walking. Everywhere.

We walked the streets of Florence:Image

We walked (and crawled, let’s be real) to the top of the Duomo:Image

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We walked to the Lion’s Fountain for our first official drink together in a bar –not including those times my mom spiked my drinks in Luau Larry’s:Image

We walked to Gusta Pizza:Image

And finally, we walked through the Boboli Gardens (aren’t they so cute?):Image

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Did I mention there was a lot of walking? I was genuinely concerned that my dad was going to suffer a heart attack. Good thing the top of the Duomo acts as the most scenic resting spot ever to exist.

That night my parents, Nick, and I went to the Fiorentina soccer game – what an experience. Let’s just say, we were happy to walk out of there alive. Flares were thrown onto the field and stands were temporarily set on fire. It quickly became clear that Italians don’t mess around when it comes to soccer. Here we are reppin’ our Fiorentina purple:Image

The next day, Halloween, I was able to show off my acquired traveling skills by taking my parents to Pisa and Cinque Terre via the train. Here we are in front of the leaning tower:Image

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With the help of many friendly Italians , we finally made it to Cinque Terre just in time for a raging Halloween party that the hotel front desk woman invited us to. But before I get into detail, first I’d like the thank all of the people who helped my parents and I get to Cinque Terre. Without them, we’d probably be hobos in the Pisa train station by now.

  1. Thank you to the man who assured us that we were on the right train traveling in the right direction
  2. Thank you to the man and woman who went out of their way to help us get on the right train after we missed ours during a 20 second train change (literally, it was 20 seconds)
  3. Thank you to the woman who finally showed us where our hotel was after we practically scaled a mountain with all of our luggage

Okay, back to the party –which actually turned out to be one of the best Halloween parties I’ve ever been to. We got a couple free drinks and free witch hats – multiple free things in one night? I’d say the night was pretty successful.Image

The next day we traveled to 3 of the 5 towns –Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Vernazza. Mom and dad fell in love with Cinque Terre claiming it reminded them of Catalina Island – and yes, they’re responsible for my Catalina obsession.Image

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That night we traveled back to Florence where I had to say goodbye to my parents. I don’t even know how to explain what it felt like to share this experience with them – even if only for a few days. Without them, I’m not sure where I would be. Definitely not traveling the world and living in Italy, that’s for sure. To quote one of my favorite books The Last Lecture, “I won the parent lottery. I was born with the winning ticket.”

I truly did.

Ciao Mamma e Papà! See you in 25 days!

Fall Break Part 4: Paris

Paris – the fourth and final leg of our Fall Break trip. Otherwise known as: the city of love. I had been daydreaming about visiting Paris all week. I imagined my friends and I sharing a baguette and bottle of wine while sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower. I envisioned Nick and I on a romantic date in the city, spooning escargot into each other’s mouths (but not really because that’s disgusting). It might come as a surprise to find out that neither of these things actually happened. In fact, within the first couple hours it was clear that I needed to alter my expectations – and fast. The city of love was anything but. Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Paris. I guess what I’m saying is that we got off on the wrong foot – Paris and I. I mean, it was dirty and smelled weird. Plus, there were rats everywhere – and not the cute kind like that little one from Ratatouille. But don’t you worry because we ended on a high note – read on!

ImageImageThe trek up to Sacré Cœur was well worth it. The church was beautiful and the view? Even better. As for the guys aggressively trying to sell us mini Eiffel Tower figurines that kept referring to us as “Lady Gaga?” Not a huge fan.

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While love lock bridges are popular all over Europe – I think I’ve literally seen one in every country I’ve been to – the one in Paris is particularly well-known. As per usual, a photoshoot was definitely necessary. Special shout out to my girls Michelle and Ashley who made sure Nick and I got every picture, at every moment, at every angle while on the bridge. Love ya both!

ImageImageThe Louvre was awesome – mostly because students get in for free. But also because the lady herself – the Mona Lisa – is housed there. Here she is ladies and gents!

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As many of you know, the term “stoop” is prevalent in my vocabulary. It’s used to describe behavior that is particularly, well, stupid. And I’m about to describe the biggest stoop moment ever. Just to clarify, this is NOT a picture of the Arc de Triomphe – one of the most famous monuments in Paris. Again, THIS IS NOT THE ARC DE TRIOMPHE. It took us about three days to realize this – once we were already back in Florence. I have nothing more to say except this: Stoop.

ImageImageHighlight of the trip: the Eiffel Tower. I’m obsessed with it. It’s huge and beautiful and I just love it. That’s all.

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Although we didn’t enter the Palace of Versailles, we did go into the gardens, which seemed to go on forever. Oh, and here’s a picture of the greatest people I’ve ever met.

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SURPRISE! I was finally reunited with my parents in Paris and I can confidently say that it was one of the best moments of my life. Hi Mom and Dad!

Tune in to my next blog if you care to read about our family adventures in Europe!

Fall Break Part 3: Amsterdam

Whoever said Amsterdam is all about sex and drugs is … absolutely correct. Oh, there’s a prostitute chilling in the window? No big deal. And there’s a guy lighting up a joint outside of a church? Not even weird. I became so desensitized to the quirks of Amsterdam that in a matter of two and a half days I transformed from the girl who walked through the Red Light District too scared to look anywhere but down, to the girl who wanted to go to a peep show. And although a peep show didn’t fit into our itinerary, the fact that I wanted to go signifies my progress, right?

Okay time to change the subject before my Dad has a heart attack reading this. I was surprised and pleased to find out that Amsterdam had much more to offer than prostitutes and cheap weed.  Read on to find out more!

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Canals, leaning houses, and bikes … Oh my! If someone asked me what Amsterdam looked like, these are the three words that would automatically come to mind. And no, the first picture isn’t an optical illusion – the houses are actually leaning like that. And no, it wasn’t an accident. They’re built like that on purpose. If you’re looking for a detailed explanation as to why this is, you’re in the wrong place – ain’t nobody got time for that. Sorry, I’m on a time limit, remember? Oh, and if you’re planning on visiting Amsterdam anytime soon, I’d highly recommend bringing a helmet. According to a very reliable source (Google.com) there are over 600,000 bikes in Amsterdam – crazy right? So even if you’re not planning on riding a bike, the chance that you’ll be run over by one is pretty high, so why not be prepared and protect your noggin?

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Visiting the Anne Frank house has been on my bucket list ever since I read The Diary of Anne Frank. It’s hard to formulate into words what it felt like to walk through The Secret Annex, the place where the Franks and four others hid for over two years. Just thinking about it now has created a lump in my throat. All of the rooms were empty of furniture, although the original bookcase that hid the secret doorway into the annex was present and in tact. The pictures Anne had torn out of magazines to use as decoration still lined the walls of her room and original pages of her diary were on display.  It was an unforgettable experience that I will cherish for the rest of my days.

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The Red Light District takes the term “window shopping” to an entirely new level. And lucky for us, our hostel was located just feet away from the notorious area where women display their almost naked bodies behind windows in hopes that a nice gentleman (or lady, I guess) will pay for her services. It was a strange concept that took some getting used to, but by the end of it, I was a Red Light District professional: red light off means “out of business for the day,” red light on and curtain closed means “currently occupied,” and red light on and curtain open means “open for business.” And the number one rule? No pictures. And quite frankly, I wasn’t complaining. To put it nicely, the day-time prostitutes had bodies similar to Rosie O’Donnell’s – if I had to imagine what she looked like naked (Sorry Roro, still love ya).

[Insert picture of coffee shop here]

It’s a common misconception that drugs, and marijuana in particular, are legal in Amsterdam. In actuality, that is completely false. Why is Amsterdam notorious for it’s drug availability, then? Well, the difference between Amsterdam and everywhere else in the world is the way in which they choose to punish those who break drug laws. The punishment is no punishment. Yep, that’s right. So according to Amsterdam drug laws, a person will not be punished if they are in possession of five grams of weed, five grams of cocaine, five grams of heroin, or five grams of any other hard drug you can think of. With that said, if you’re ever in Amsterdam, don’t expect to walk into a store labeled “Coffee Shop” and find a menu with different types of lattes. Instead, you’ll find an entire menu dedicated solely to marijuana – different forms, strengths, types, etc. Because I didn’t want to look like a stupid tourist, I didn’t take a single picture of any coffee shops – a decision I’m now regretting for my blog’s sake. Sorry to disappoint.

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Cats. Cats everywhere. Strolling the streets. Wandering the shops. Sleeping in window fronts. Just, cats. It’s safe to say, I fell in love with Amsterdam – mostly because of the cats.

 

Fall Break Part 2: Berlin

I’ll be honest, before arriving in Europe I never once said “Oh man, I neeeed to visit Berlin while I’m abroad.” Not that I have anything against Berlin, I just didn’t really have a strong desire to travel there for whatever reason. But, once our Fall Break trip was booked, I accepted the fact that Berlin was on the itinerary (yes, I know I sound like a spoiled brat and should be grateful to have the opportunity to visit any country).

Well, jokes on me because Berlin was totally awesome and I regret ever saying I didn’t want to go there.  It was different from all the other places I’ve visited in that it didn’t have any famous monuments like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. I mean, the Berlin Wall was once there, but didn’t that get knocked down in the 90’s? Wrong. Turns out the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” we all learned about in school wasn’t meant to be taken completely literally – huge portions of the wall are still standing – but I’ll talk more about that later.

Like I said in my last post, short and sweet is the goal, so here are some highlights and photos from my time in Berlin.

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Our first night in Berlin was special. Why? Because it was Ashley’s 21st birthday! After arriving in Berlin in the early evening, we ate a quick dinner and then immediately got ready for a night of birthday celebrations. We started the night at the coolest pub ever. Each table had its own beer tap where you could pour your own beer. Along with the taps, each table had an electronic screen that kept track of how much each person at the table drank. But wait, it gets better. There was a huge flat screen TV at the front of the pub that tallied how much beer each table drank. Basically, it was one big beer-drinking contest – pretty sweet.

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This was our tour guide for our three hour walking tour the next morning. Her name is Stephanie Taylor. I’m just going to come right out and say it – if I were a lesbian, she’d be my type.  She is probably one of the most intelligent, hilarious, and witty people I’ve ever met. She managed to teach me more world history in 15 minutes than I ever learned in a classroom. Plus, she had an Australian accent — swoon!

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 On our walking tour, we visited The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. And yes, it’s actually called that. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged over a sloping field. There is a lot of interesting symbolism and controversy surrounding this memorial that I’ll let you research on your own.

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As mentioned above, much of the Berlin Wall is still standing. Not only that, but the east side of Berlin has actually turned the wall into a piece of art. I’m not exactly sure who the artists are, when they create their masterpieces, or how they manage to keep their artwork on the wall without other artists covering it. Needless to say, I know close to nothing about this place dubbed the East Side Gallery, except that it contains some of the most impressive, unique, and beautiful pieces of graffiti-like artwork I’ve ever seen.

And that concludes part two of my Fall Break trip, Czech back soon for part three! (The “czech” joke will never get old – slash I’m still obsessed with Prague two weeks later – no shame).

Fall Break Part 1: Prague

10 days. 4 countries. 5 travel companions.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, in post-midterms celebration, I booked a trip that traveled to four countries in ten days. Taylor, Michelle, Ashley, Nick & I packed our suitcases (Nick brought a backpack – sometimes I wish I knew how to be low maintenance) and left Florence Thursday night. After the struggle of midterms, sitting on a double-decker bus for 12 hours seemed like a piece of cake. And thanks to the awesome seats we scored, (bottom level with a freaking table) it was. By the end of the trip I discovered something about myself that I never knew before – I can sleep anywhere. Literally anywherebuses, planes, trains, subways, and basically any other form of transportation you can think of. Hence my new nickname “The Sleep Machine.” Anyway, the point is, after 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I woke up in the beautiful city of Prague.

For the purpose of time (mine and yours – mostly mine though), I’m going to try to keep this post short and sweet. There are four parts to my Fall Break and this is only the first – we have a ways to go and I don’t really feel like spending my days inside blogging when beautiful Florence is taunting me through my apartment window.

Here we go. Let me start off by saying that Prague is, by far, the most beautiful city I have traveled to thus far. And I’m not just saying that. I’m aware that the word “beautiful” has become recurrent in my vocabulary since being abroad – but I really don’t know any other way to put it (for all the vocabulary Nazis, here are some alternative options: stunning, gorgeous, and ravishing). I’m not sure if it was the gothic architecture, delicious food or copious amounts of beer – but whatever the reason, Prague stole my heart.

Czech out some highlights and pictures from my time in Prague – see what I did there?

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This was the only hostel we stayed at that where the five of us had a bedroom, bathroom and shower all to ourselves. I never realized how much I appreciated bathroom privacy until a Kielbasa sausage left me with a horrendous case of food poisoning – you can fill in the blanks for that story.

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This is the astronomical clock located in the Old Town Square. I didn’t even know something like this existed in the world and I was completely fascinated by it the whole trip.

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In the background is the Charles Bridge that connects the Old Town Square and Little District. Street performers, jewelry stands and baroque-style statues all line the bridge from start to finish.

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Our travel company helped organize a pub crawl our first night in Prague — it was a good time and I got a free t-shirt (I actually got 2 free t-shirts because they didn’t have anything bigger than a medium for Nick. Not one, but two free t-shirts? My mom would be proud).

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This is the St. Vitus Cathedral – it’s beauty speaks for itself.

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It’s safe to say I was most excited to visit the John Lennon Wall. We picked, what we thought, was the best background for a photo shoot (czech out the cute red heart), only to realize a huge pink spray painted “SLUT” snuck it’s way into every single one of our pictures – greaaaaat.

And with that, I conclude part one of my Fall Break trip. Czech back later for part two (never gets old).

P.S. Shout out to my girl Julie Greenspan – my most loyal blog follower. If my blog ever acquires a cult following, I know you’d be the leader. And I mean that in a good way. Thanks for reading!

Schools out for … Fall Break!

Well guys,  I survived midterms week which only means one thing … it’s time for Fall Break! I’ll be Eurotrippin’ it through Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam & Paris over the next 10 days. Like, for real, what is my life?

If anyone actually cares, here’s my schedule:

10/17 – Travel day
10/18 – Prague
10/19 – Prague
10/20 – Berlin
10/21 – Berlin
10/22 – Amsterdam
10/23 – Amsterdam
10/24 – Paris
10/25 – Paris
10/26 – Paris/Travel day
10/27 – Arrive back in Florence

Don’t worry, I’ll try my best not to get kidnapped like that girl in Taken. But if for any reason something goes wrong and I’m almost sold into sexual slavery, I know my dad has my back. Right, dad?

… Totally kidding.

Wish me safe travels,

Ciao ciao!

Croatia — My European Catalina

“Are you guys, like, dating?”
“Yeah, we are”
“How long have you been together?”
“Like a year and a half”
“Oh …”

This is usually how a conversation typically starts when someone first meets Nick and I. And although they don’t say it outright, I can tell that they think we’re crazy. Some people begin a long-distance relationship while their significant other is abroad, but actually studying abroad together? No way. Never. Well, lucky for me, Nick is half Italian – so that counts for something, right?

I’m going to be completely honest though, if there was ever a time during this study abroad experience that mine and Nick’s relationship would crash and burn, it would have been this past weekend. We booked a trip to Croatia through a company called Bus2Alps. Unfortunately for us, the company name is not deceiving – they literally bus you to different countries throughout Europe. Some bus rides last up to 16 hours! In our case, the bus ride to Croatia was 12 hours – each way. I’m no math wiz, but I’m pretty sure that calculation turns out to be 24 total hours of straight travel. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think I like anyone enough to enjoy sitting next to them on a charter bus for 24 hours. Not even you, Nick. Sorry. And not only would the travel experience be a potential source of heartbreak, but this was the first trip that he and I booked completely on our own – we didn’t have roommates, friends or even acquaintances going to Croatia that weekend. Side note: The expected 24 hours of travel turned into 27 hours when the bus experienced mechanical problems on the way there – I swear we have bad luck with transportation or something.

Lucky for me, a little birdie advised me to bring earplugs and eyeshades to Florence and swore I’d thank her later. Well, here it is: Thank you for the wonderful advice, Sar. With the help of earplugs, eyeshades and a couple of Nyquill tablets, I was passed out for the majority of the ride there.

We checked into our hostel immediately after arriving in Split, Croatia.  Our roommates – one guy and three girls from Rome – went on a white water rafting trip that afternoon, which sounded tempting for about one second until I remembered my scarring rafting experience in Colorado a few summers ago (Sades & Stoop – you guys remember). Nick and I decided it would probably be better if we skipped the rafting.  Instead we explored Split – we relaxed at the beach, shopped at the outdoor market and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

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Also, it’s important to note that in Croatia, I am a millionaire. But actually. One Euro is equivalent to almost eight Croatian Kuna. So basically, we took out 600 Kuna at the beginning of the weekend, which ended up being less than 80 Euros – crazy huh? Not going to lie, it was pretty exciting throwing out hundies all weekend.

Anyway, that night we participated in a pub crawl offered by Bus2Alps. It ended up being one of the best nights I’ve had abroad, accompanied by one of the worst mornings I’ve had abroad. I’ll spare you all the nasty details and just say it was not a pretty sight in room 1843 that afternoon. I think I blame my horrific hangover for the overwhelming homesickness  I felt that whole day. Up until then, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be homesick – I mean sure, I missed people and things from home – but I wouldn’t have categorized myself as sick over it. But that day, all I wanted was to be home. To be with my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, my friends, my cats. I wanted to be home so bad, that just the thought of home made me tear up. It’s as if my emotions were turned up to the highest volume and the dial to turn them back down to normal volume didn’t even exist. Let’s just say, I was an emotional wreck (no shame).

The next morning we visited Krka National Park – about an hour and a half bus ride from Split. We followed a footpath through the Croatian jungle all the way down the most scenic spot that included an up-close view of a beautiful waterfall. We hung out around there for a few hours – spending the rest of our Kuna on souvenirs & devouring the most delicious plate of Spaghetti Bolognese I’ve ever had– until it was time to hop back on the bus and return to Florence. The bus ride home actually wasn’t bad – our awesome Bus2Alps leaders played movies the whole way through which made the time pass faster (Dad – they played Animal House and I instantly thought of you! I finally get that whole “I’m a zit” joke that you used to pull all the time so now you can tell it and I promise I’ll laugh this time).

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We arrived in Florence around 11pm. My hangover and homesickness combined made for an emotionally exhausting, but eventful, weekend. Looking back though, I’m not sure if I would have survived it without Nick – who got to show off his expert boyfriend skills all weekend. Like I said, I was worried our relationship would take a hit after this trip, but instead it did the exact opposite. I don’t really know how to explain in words what it felt like to have Nick by my side, not only this weekend, but throughout this whole experience. I didn’t know it was possible, but I feel more connected and in love with him than I did before. Some people may think we’re crazy for going abroad together, and who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll agree with them. I don’t know what’s going to happen a year from now, or even a month from now. All I know is that, in this moment, I couldn’t be happier with our decision to go on this crazy, once in a lifetime journey together, hand in hand.

Cheesy blog post over.

P.S. Go Dodgers

“This one time, at Oktoberfest (and other places) …”

Well guys, it finally happened.  I’m sick. Yep, that’s right. I guess my body couldn’t handle the copious amounts of Hofbräuhaus I downed at Oktoberfest. But after the craziness of this weekend, I can say with 100% certainty that this deadly cold is totally worth it. And so with a pounding headache, plugged ears and a runny nose I will tell you all about that one time at Oktoberfest (and other places) …

It all started with a really bad case of B.O. Oh yeah, have I mentioned that Italians don’t consider deodorant a necessity? Well, they don’t. Anyway, back to the B.O. Luckily, it was only an hour flight from Pisa to Nuremberg, so I didn’t have to endure the foul smelling man who sat near me on the plane for too long. We – meaning Michelle, Taylor, Nick and I – landed in Nuremberg around 8pm Thursday evening. We immediately took a taxi to our hostel where we were under the impression that we would be staying in a six-person room – our group of four plus two strangers. We made up the majority of the room so it wouldn’t be too bad, right? Wrong. Upon arrival we were told that the hostel made a booking mistake and that we would have to split up – two and two. Nick and I shared a room with a family who seemed to only communicate with loud, obnoxious laughter. Michelle and Taylor shared a room with four middle-aged men who sat around in their underwear playing video games all night. Needless to say, this hostel, City Hostel Nuremberg, received a strongly worded review from us.

Luckily our time at the hostel was short – we woke up at 4am to catch our train to Munich by 5:15am. We arrived in Munich at 6:30am and were at the Oktoberfest fairgrounds by 7am. Oktoberfest looks like one big carnival – that’s the only way I know how to describe it. There were carnival rides, food carts and rows upon rows of beer tents. We were strongly advised to go to a specific beer tent, Hofbräu Festzelt, which was supposed to be the most fun but required waiting in long lines to get in. We all agreed we needed to see what the fuss was about so we hopped in line at the Hofbräu Festzelt tent around 7:15am. Waiting in line for three hours was an experience in itself. At one point, a security guard blew a whistle that was supposed to signal those waiting in line to move forward toward the side of the tent to prepare for entry. Instead of calmly walking forward like normal humans, people began pushing and shoving and I swear, at one point, I was actually lifted off the ground. I was legitimately scared for my life. Here’s a picture of Michelle and I before the whistle was blown:

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And here’s a picture of Michelle, Taylor and I after the whistle was blown:

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At 10am they officially opened the doors to the tent. It was a close call, but luckily I didn’t die like Mufasa (if you don’t get that reference, we can’t be friends anymore). We quickly found a table with four guys who we’d made friends with in line. Here’s a visual reference:

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And here’s what the inside of the tent looked like:

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I can only attempt to describe the events that occurred once we were inside the tent. Massive German ladies walked around with armfuls of beer steins and dropped them on each table. Each stein cost €10 and was the equivalent of almost three cans of beer. Every once in a while, a brave soul would stand on a table and attempt to chug their stein of beer which was followed by roaring cheers from the crowd – if they finished. Employees walked around with endless amounts of food – sandwiches, sausages, gingerbread cookies and soft pretzels bigger than my face. There were people from all over the world there – we met people from Germany, Finland and Australia! The atmosphere inside the tent is indescribable. It was absolute chaos and I enjoyed (practically) every second of it. Here’s some of my favorites:

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ImageI would rather not disclose how many steins I actually drank – mostly because I can’t remember. But here are a couple pictures to give you an idea:

This is Nick and I holding our first stein:

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This is Nick and I after we drank our last stein:

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By the time we reached our new hostel around midnight, we were absolutely exhausted. The next day we planned to visit Dachau Concentration Camp, which is 30 minutes outside of Munich. I know, it can’t get more opposite – Oktoberfest one day and a concentration camp the next. But when would we ever get to visit a concentration camp again? Probably never. After an unanticipated 3-hour commute, we finally arrived at Dachau Concentration Camp around 3:30pm. We only had an hour and a half before closing but we managed to see it all: the perimeter fence, barracks, gas chambers, crematorium and various memorial sites throughout the camp. I’m not sure how to explain the feeling of being in a place where so many horrific acts of violence and prejudice occurred – it was heavy, to say the least. Although the rooms were empty, the memory of the people who suffered there was crystal clear in my mind.  Michelle, Taylor, Nick & I probably didn’t say one word to each other the whole time – the silence was peaceful though. Despite the sadness of the day, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit such an important piece of history.

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ImageIt was pretty late by the time we got back to our hostel in Nuremberg. But before going to bed, we all spent a good hour in the lobby where wifi was free – first world problems, huh? The next morning we realized we hadn’t even taken the time to explore Nuremberg yet. So that’s exactly what we did before going to the airport – and I’m so happy that we did. We wandered around the city and stumbled upon the most wonderful Christmas market. In a matter of 2 hours, we all fell in love with Nuremberg – Nick even said it was the highlight of his time abroad so far!

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ImageBecause the weekend had gone so smoothly thus far, we had nothing but positive thoughts for our travels home. Our mistake. The plane was delayed for four hours and we came home to a rainy/stormy Florence. While on the bus from Pisa Airport to Florence, I stared out the window, looked up at the lightning ridden sky and reminisced about “that one time at Oktoberfest (and other places).” Oh what a wonderful, wonderful time it was.

Switzerland: We came. We saw. (We dorfed). We conquered.

Spotted: A shirtless George Clooney roaming around Lake Como while study abroad students stare on.

Okay not really. But it could’ve potentially happened. How? Because I spent this weekend in Lake Como (a lake that borders Italy & Switzerland) and St. Moritz (in Switzerland). It’s public knowledge that George Clooney owns a villa on the lake and regularly rides his motorcycle to St. Moritz. I’m definitely into the whole silver fox thing, so Clooney is right up my alley. It’s too bad I didn’t actually see him, but let’s just pretend I did, okay? (I really did drive by his villa though).

Anyway, let me start from the beginning. Included in my study abroad program were two complimentary trips provided by Lorenzo de’ Medici. We chose from a list of about ten different locations. I chose Lake Como and Switzerland & Nice, Monte Carlo and the French Riviera.

Early Saturday morning – and I mean 5:30am early – Nick and I hopped on a bus that would first stop at Lake Como. The bus ride was four hours and I wish I could say it went smoothly. Unfortunately, Nick gets severe motion sickness and the winding roads that led to the north of Italy were not sitting well with his stomach. Those who know me well, know about my phobia of vomit. I looked over at Nick and soon realized things were not okay. He was going to lose his stomach all over the bus – and me. As I was having a silent panic attack, I was instantly reminded of this one time in 2nd grade when my best friend threw up her turkey sandwich after lunch and needed to be escorted to the front office so she could call her mom. It made the most sense that her best friend (me) would be the person to escort her, but nope, I couldn’t do it. Some random girl had to take my best friend in the whole world to the office, while I hid my face in shame (shout out to my girl Alli Lumsden). I carried the guilt of that decision with me for over a decade and still partially do. Anyway, back to the point, this was my opportunity to redeem myself. I was going to hold Nick’s imaginary ponytail back as he threw up all over the place. Luckily, the situation resolved itself when Nick moved to the front of the bus, which helped partially settle his stomach. But just so you can get a visual, here’s Nick feeling pretty sick on our rest stop at a gas station:

ImageOur first stop, Lake Como, was absolutely beautiful. Surrounding the lake were villas that only millionaires could afford. Beyond the villas, the Swiss Alps painted the sky. Incredible, huh? We stopped for about three hours and had the opportunity to eat, walk around the lake and/or explore the city center. Nick and I paired up with two other Chapman students, Gianna & Kendahl. We ordered sandwiches at a little food truck and found a scenic spot to enjoy our food and appreciate the beautiful view. Later, we wandered into the city where we found the Duomo of Como. Unfortunately, Nick and I were dressed too proactively according to the standards of the Catholic Church and were not permitted to enter.

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ImageAn hour bus ride later, we were at our next destination – a ferry that would take us across the lake to a little island called Bellagio. We didn’t have much time on the island so Gianna, Kendahl, Nick and I immediately walked toward the Bellagio gardens but turned around when we learned there was an entrance fee. Twenty minutes later we ended up at the furthest point of the island that offered a panoramic view of the majority of the lake and surrounding Alps. Also, on the way, I met the cutest puppy that I named Tiger – I came thiiiiiiis close to stealing him.

ImageAfter Bellagio, we got back on the bus that eventually took us to St. Moritz, Switzerland! On the way to our hotel in St. Moritz, we made one stop to take pictures by a lake (lakes are really common in this area if you couldn’t tell). It was then that I realized I was not dressed appropriately for the weather in Switzerland. The temperature was quickly dropping and I found myself pleading with my body to not catch Pneumonia.

ImageWe arrived at the hotel around 6:30pm. Nick and I went up to our room to wash the grime off our faces that had accumulated throughout the day before going to the hotel restaurant for the free dinner that was included with the trip. My spirits about the weather were instantly lifted when I saw there was free bread and water at each table (in Italy, the word “free” is not a part of the vocabulary. Water and bread, among most other things, are not free). The night only went up from there. Gianna, Kendahl Nick and I devoured a whole basket of bread and jug of water in less than ten minutes. Then the most unbelievable thing happened – the waitress refilled both! From then, we were served four courses: mushroom pasta, tomatoes and balsamic, turkey and french fries, and chocolate pudding. Of course, my favorite were the French fries, especially because the ketchup was free (in Italy it’s € 0.25 for a packet of ketchup).

After dinner, Gianna, Kendahl, Nick and I decided to explore St. Moritz-Dorf – the city center of St. Moritz. We ended up wandering around in 0°C weather for about 45 minutes in search of a pub. Luckily, a friendly local pointed us in the right direction. Soon, we found ourselves at Bobby’s — a local pub. The first thing we learned was that Switzerland doesn’t have a “No Smoking Inside” law. I think every single person had a cigarette in hand except us. Anyway, we were extremely proud of ourselves that we found this gem of a pub that was full of local Swiss-ians. We were the only American students there. We each ordered a drink and enjoyed the music and people watching. A few hours later, reeking of smoke and with newly blackened lungs, we decided to make the freezing trek back to the hotel to rest up for the next day.

The next morning we woke up to -2°C  weather – great. We enjoyed the included breakfast at the hotel restaurant before beginning a three-hour walking tour led by a local guide. The tour took us all around St. Moritz-Bad (“Bad” means lake) & St. Moritz-Dorf (“Dorf” means city). The tour ended at a chocolate factory – not Charlie’s – where I bought an embarrassing amount of chocolate bars and truffles. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day:

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ImageNext, we went to the train station to board the Bernina Express, which is the highest mountain railway in the Alps and closely resembles the Hogwarts Express. The three-hour ride provided once in a lifetime views of the Alps and the surrounding towns and lakes.

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The Bernina/Hogwarts Express

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ImageThe Bernina Express took us to Tirano, Italy where we boarded our original bus that would take us back to Florence. If I’ve learned one thing from my recent travels abroad it’s to assume that something will go wrong – because most likely something will. So when the bus ride that was supposed to be six hours turned into nine hours due to mechanical problems, I was not surprised. I arrived in Florence around 1am and was absolutely exhausted from the weekend’s activities.

At first, I was skeptical of my decision to visit Switzerland. It wasn’t on my list of places I absolutely needed to visit. Also, I’m the epitome of a California girl – meaning I can barely tolerate weather below 70°F. But, I can honestly say that in a matter of 24 hours I fell in love with Switzerland. The combination of beautiful views, good food and even better company, made this weekend truly unforgettable.

Ciao Ciao for now!