Europe: 2017

Alright, here we go, the last Europe: 2017 blog post! As much as I have enjoyed documenting my wonderful trips on this site, my hope moving forward is to blog about day to day experiences and thoughts more than I have been. I think the series I’ve done on here have been fun and I know they will always be a great documentation of my trips, but they can be overwhelming and, as we’ve clearly seen, difficult to stay on top of. I’m excited and a little sad this is my last post. Hopefully I’ll be blessed with another trip soon so I can start the “post and procrastinate” process all over again.

But onto my trip! A little background: after we finished in Nuremberg, the cruise continued its schedule on land by driving to Prague. My family decided to take a different route and fly to Paris to see everything we could possibly see in a day and a half.

France

Day 9: Paris

This morning we got up, had breakfast, and said goodbye to Janos (our self-self-proclamied “food guy” and waiter for the trip. He is the best!). While I was very sad to leave, I was excited to get to Paris. We flew out of the Nuremberg airport and landed in Paris around lunchtime. Flying in we could see the whole city from the sky and it was spectacular. The Eiffel Tower was way bigger than I thought it would be. Everyone told me it’s a monstrosity,  but I was never able to comprehend its size until I saw it towering over everything from the air. On our way to the Hotel Napoleon, we drove through the Arc de Triomphe roundabout and thought we were going to die. It’s probably around 7 or 8 “lanes”, but no one drives in the lanes, so cars are weaving in and out and it’s absolute madness.

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In front of the Arc de Triomphe. August 7, 2017

Our hotel was very old and beautiful and we dropped off our bags and headed to an Italian restaurant my Uncle Jon had been to before and likes. I had a great octopus salad and we all shared a mango tiramisu (weird, but surprisingly good). After lunch Leah, Pat, Grandpa and I all walked over to see the Arc de Triomphe. It was massive and extremely beautiful. I couldn’t believe we were staying so close to such an iconic landmark.

After we went back to the hotel to grab Uncle Jon we walked down the famous shopping Avenue des Champs-Elysees, window shopping and wandering through stores. We headed back to the hotel and Leah and I rushed to get ready for dinner in the Eiffel Tower. Oh ya, did I mention we had dinner inside the Eiffel Tower? We may have rushed to get ready, but man did we look good.

The restaurant, Les Jules Verne, is on the second deck of the tower and we had an amazing six course meal with a breath taking view of Paris. We were even inside for the sparkling light show the tower has at night. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget. Tomorrow we get to tour the city!

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Right before dinner inside the Eiffel Tower. August 7, 2017

France

Day 10: Paris

Today was very on-the-go and we saw so many sites! Jon hired a private tour guide to show us around and it was a great way to see everything in a short amount of time. We had a comfy van and would drive from site to site, stopping at some to get pictures or grab food. Our tour guide Pamela was very sweet and really knew the city (which I guess is her job but still, I was impressed).

Our first stop was Montemarte, the city’s main and oldest art district sitting on a hill overlooking everything. It’s Uncle Jon’s favorite part of Paris and it’s easy to see why. Picture every movie you’ve ever seen about Paris, this section of the city looks exactly like the picture in your head. It’s insane. As I’m sitting in my dorm room bed writing this post, I’m sitting under a small canvas I got in Montemarte of the view of the city. I still can’t get over its beauty and I look at that painting often to remind myself how lucky I am.

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In front of the Eiffel instead of in it. August 8, 2017

After Montemarte we went to the Eiffel again, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, and much, much more. We had lunch at a very French bistro and then drove out to Versailles to tour the palace and its grounds. Its richness and overall grandeur was insane. Every room was either covered in gold or paintings of Greek/Roman gods and goddesses. Or both. The hall of mirrors was like nothing I have ever seen before and the gardens were enormous.

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The hall of mirrors inside Versailles. August 8, 2017

After the palace we went back to Montemarte and bought paintings and wandered around until we ducked into a very old building for dinner. I was feeling very dehydrated at the hotel so Leah and I went downstairs and each got an entire glass bottle of water and went back to the room and chugged them. We want to come back to tour the gardens more and do a few graveyard tours. Uncle Jon believes Jim Morrison is still alive so going to see his grave is a must.

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The view from Montemarte. August 8, 2017

We had an amazing time and I feel so blessed to have such a wonderful, caring family that is able to take me to see incredible sites and celebrate my accomplishments. God is so good and has filled our world with so much beauty that I would be lucky to explore only a tiny fraction of it in my lifetime.

I cannot express my gratitude for this trip and my love for the people on it and for the people who have always supported me and my dreams. You will never know how much you mean to me.

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Europe: 2017

So far, so good for my New Years resolution to post more often! I’m back at school and had a lot of free time today, so I put “write a blog post” on my to-do list. Here’s hoping this will be the start of a positive habit. Only time will tell though. Keep reading to hear more about the German section of my vacation!

Germany

Day 7: Regensburg

This morning we were able to relax on the boat and take some time to refresh before arriving in Regensburg, Germany. The town only has about 150,000 people, making it half the size of Bratislava. Our tour guide for the day was excellent. She had taken a “peace and conflict” class and was able to provide a lot of information, along with personal comments about the city that she calls home.

Our tour was a city tour and brought us to a wide variety of landmarks. We saw the cathedral (you can’t go to a European town and not see the cathedral), the old city walls and fort that protected the original army and townspeople from native tribes and other invaders, Oskar Schindler’s house, the hat maker’s shop who made Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter hat for Alice in Wonderland, a David and Goliath mural that I found particularly interesting, the oldest sausage house in Germany, and the oldest coffee house in Germany.

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David and Goliath mural in Regensburg. August 5, 2017

A couple of side notes: I did not know much about Oskar Schindler before this trip and made sure to watch Schindler’s List when I got back home. His story is very powerful and extraordinary and looking back, I am very happy we were able to see into a small part of his remarkable life. We also made sure to have coffee and sausages from the famous places and while I was slightly disappointed in the coffee (I thought the coffee in Mondsee, Austria was better), the sausage was the best I have ever had and I wish I had gotten more.

Regensburg was a really great size for me and I really enjoyed the city and our day. That night on the ship was the Captain’s Dinner, so Leah and I dressed up, attempted to dance, and had a grand old time!

Day 8: Nuremberg

Again, we had another relaxing morning on the boat – our last one – before we arrived in Nuremberg. Nuremberg was special to me because it was very close to where my mom and dad lived and met when they lived in Germany. We have never been back to visit as a family, something we really need to do, but it meant a lot to me to see their old stomping grounds.

Uncle Jon, Leah, and I did the World War 2 tour and saw the sites of the Nazi rallies and the Nuremberg Trials. Visiting and learning about these places made me realize how little I learned about them in school, which really upset me. On top of that, to look up at a place where Hitler once stood was disgusting, chilling, shocking, and powerful all at once. I don’t feel like those words really describe the feeling I had, but I don’t know how else to describe it because it was a feeling I had never had before. I want to learn more about these sites moving forward because we have to be educated in order to not repeat the past.

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What remains of the stadium where the Nuremberg Nazi Rallies were held. August 6, 2017

We had some time in the afternoon to wander around the Old Town center of Nuremberg and we stopped to eat some fantastic crepes and look inside of their Catholic Church. That night we had our last dinner on the boat and packed up to get ready to leave for Paris in the morning!

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Europe: 2017

It seems I have fallen back into a bad habit. For some reason, I am unable to post my vacation stories or pictures in a timely manner no matter what the trip is or how good my intentions are to get everything up. I just finished my first semester of college though, so I feel like that’s a somewhat acceptable excuse/explanation to why I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I should. Going into the new year I am going to try a lot harder to put time aside to take a break from my hectic school schedule and write.

Without further ado, let’s continue into the Austrian part of my summer river cruise!

Austria

Day 4: Vienna

Vienna was one of the bigger cities we traveled to and it had gotten mixed reviews from my relatives who had visited before. I knew it had a rich history and was the epicenter of the Habsburg empire that influenced so many of the places we stopped at along the Danube, but I was weary of how touristy and big it was going to be. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Everyone got up early to take a tour of the old city. Leah and I actually had to be woken up five minutes before the tour left because we overslept, so that was a fun start to the day. While Vienna is huge, the old city section makes it feel smaller and I liked it more than I thought I would. We were able to see government buildings, Holocaust memorials, old streets lined with traditional shops, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. At the end of the tour we had some free time before going back to the boat and we found a traditional bakery with amazing Austrian pastries.

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Mohnzelten are traditional Austrian pastries filled with a sweet poppy seed paste. August 2, 2017

In the afternoon I made the last minute decision to visit the Schönbrunn Palace- the Habsburg’s summer palace. Leah and Uncle Jon went shopping while the rest of our party stayed on the boat, so I went alone. I am really happy I made this decision and I am proud of myself for doing what I wanted to do instead of going along with the group. The palace was extremely hot but very beautiful, and it gave me a lot more insight into the history of Vienna and Maria Theresia. I was able to meet other guests from the boat that I wouldn’t have talked to otherwise, and I enjoyed talking with them. Once the tour was over we had time to explore the gardens by ourselves so I wandered around and took pictures until another woman by herself offered to take pictures of me. She spoke very limited English and was not from the boat, but we swapped cameras and got a few nice pictures out of the whole exchange, which I thought was very cool.

 

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The Schönbrunn Palace, home of the Habsburg family. August 2, 2017

After dinner on the boat Pat, my grandpa’s girlfriend, Leah, and I went to a Mozart and Strauss concert in a concert hall in the city. Not only was there beautiful orchestra music, but opera singing and traditional dancing. It was and unforgettable and unique experience.

Day 5: Dürnstein, the Wachau Valley, and Melk

This morning we woke up in Dürnstein, Austria. It’s a village of about 200 people, although that number goes up during tourist season. The town is basically straight from Beauty and the Beast. Set on a hillside with the castle ruins that once held Richard the Lionheart above it, the town only has one main road and is full of adorable shops. It is best known for its monastery with a blue steeple. Leah and I were fascinated by the town cemetery and spent a good amount of time wandering through it.

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The town graveyard in Dürnstein. August 3, 2017

After a tour of the town Leah and I went on an 18 mile bike ride through the Wachau Valley, a valley known for its mountains, small towns, vineyards, and apricot products. It was almost 100 degrees out and the ride was hilly and long, but Leah and I made it through with only a few blisters and we were happy we got to experience the valley in that unique way. We have decided visiting the valley again when we graduate college because staying the the towns along the river sounds like a great trip.

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The blue steeple in Dürnstein gives the town a unique landmark. August 3, 2017

At the end of the ride we arrived in Melk, grabbed something to eat quickly on the boat, and headed back out to tour the Melk Abbey. The abbey sits on a hill above the town and is massive. It is yellow (a common color for Austrian buildings) and features guest rooms, a school, a museum and a church. Maria Theresia stayed there once and many other famous Europeans have visited. The library was my favorite part because it looked exactly like the library from the Beast’s castle or Harry Potter. The abbey also had breathtaking views of the town below it and our beloved Danube.

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A panorama of the view from the Melk Abbey. August 3, 2017

Day 6: Salzburg

Today we took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. We got off the boat in Linz, Austria, where Adolf Hitler was born, early in the morning and boarded and bus for a 2.5 hour ride through Austria’s Lake District, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Our first stop was in Mondsee to visit the church where Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married in The Sound of Music. A large part of our day was centered around scenes from the movie and Leah and I luckily decided to refresh our Sound of Music knowledge by watching the movie the night before.

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Part of the Austrian Lake District

Mondsee was right on a lake at the foot of the mountains and its beauty was a wonderful introduction to the district. Uncle Jon and Leah and I were able to sit down at a cafe and drink the best iced coffee I have ever had, complete with ice cream on top. We then continued on to Salzburg, passing by one lake and small town after another. My pictures won’t do any justice but it was unbelievable how stunning the scenery was. Leah and I have decided that the Lake District is definitely a place we would like to live in for a while.

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The best iced coffee ever! August 4, 2017

Salzburg was bigger than I thought it would be, although it is the 4th largest city in Austria so I’m not sure what I was expecting. When we drove up the first thing we noticed was the massive fortress situated on a mountain above the town. We started our tour at the Mirabelle Gardens, where part of the song “Do Re Mi” was filmed for the movie. There was a wedding party taking pictures while we were there and it was fun to watch. We then spent an hour getting a tour of the old city. Salzburg has a main shopping street full of very interesting shop signs. The oldest sign in the city actually hangs above a McDonald’s, which I found fairly amusing. We also saw the building where Mozart lived and a very traditional market. Next, we made our way to the fountain and square used a few times in The Sound of Music and our guide told us how much uproar the movie caused because it had to hang up Nazi flags for a scene.

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A busy shopping street in the old city. You can see the McDonald’s sign, the oldest sign in the city, on the right hand side. August 4, 2017

After our tour ended we went to lunch at a local restaurant Uncle Jon found in a quieter part of town. It was nice to get away from the crowds. I order the “Austrian Dumpling Mystery” (that was its actual name) and got 6 dumplings, paired off into three different kinds, that were all very good. I also tried Austrian Herbal Lemonade, which was delicious. We wandered around after lunch a little more and then got back on the bus to meet up with the boat in Passau, Germany. There was no border patrol or checkpoints between Austria and Germany because they are both a part of the EU, so we drove right in, which was very weird in comparison to our borders.

Leah and I wandered around Passau for about 30 minutes, quickly finding the town square and cathedral, before we had to be back on the boat for dinner. I wish we had had more time to explore, but that’s why we need to go back!

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Elon: Semester One is Done!

Hi everyone! I just wanted to write a little update now that my first semester of college is done! It’s hard to believe I have the first one under my belt already. This semester has been all about change, transition, and finding out where I fit in on Elon’s beautiful campus. I have learned a lot about myself and I can’t wait to go back in January!

When I moved in back in August, I struggled more than I thought I would. All of my friends had already moved into school, almost all of them are going to school in Ohio, and it was hitting me for the first time just how far away and separated I would be from everything that I was used to. I wouldn’t have my friends or family to bail me out if I needed them. I’m not proud of this, but I actually turned to my mom at one point and said something to the effect of, “This was a mistake, I should have just gone to UC.” Don’t get me wrong, UC is a great school, but I was upset that I was so willing to give up on my dream of going to school outside of Ohio after only a few hours on Elon’s campus. I said that statement out of nervousness and fear of what the future would bring once my parents left.

Luckily that thought was nothing but a distant memory after the first weekend. I quickly realized how great of a fit Elon would be for me and started to enjoy being in such a different environment and have my freedom so far from home. Over this past semester it has made me so happy to think that I have two homes in two wonderful places. North Carolina has been good to me so far and I can’t wait to continue to explore all it has to offer.

Let me start off by saying how awesome my roommate is. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I feel very blessed to have met her. She rocks. She is no-nonesense and puts me in my place when needed, funny and able to make me feel better when I’m experiencing my frequent spells of indecision, caring and good at giving advice and, most importantly, is able to put up with me on a daily basis, which is a feat my family considers nothing short of a miracle. She has made the entire transition to college a lot easier and I love her. She’s from Akron, so I feel like we are a good representation of Ohio for all of the Elon students who “have never thought about Ohio as a place people live before.” (Those were the actual words used by one of my friends who is clearly not from Ohio).

Right now I am an International and Global Studies major with a regional concentration in Latin America. I am also trying to figure out which combination of Communications, Spanish, History, and Latin American Studies will work best for me. I’m a little all over the place but I know I will figure it out eventually! On campus I am a part of the Elon College Fellows Program and I have met some awesome people through the program so far. We are all going to DC for a week in January and I am really excited! I also play club soccer and am a part of InterVarsity, a Christian organization. I have also been trying to consistently volunteer at the Family Abuse Services in our county, which provides different services to women and men looking to escape domestic violence situations. I am planning on starting Air Force ROTC this coming semester and I am anxious but excited to get into it and see what I think. This past semester was very busy and I’m looking forward to having a busy spring when I get back!

The past three months have also provided me with a lot of learning opportunities. I’ve learned not only how to live on my own, but how to compromise with those I live with and realize when the battle just isn’t worth fighting. I’ve also had to learn to deal with my high school friendships changing and understanding that I’m not going to be able to stay friends with everyone. I have always stressed myself out trying to see everyone and keep in touch with everyone and I’ve learned to not be as hard on myself when things don’t work out because communication is a two way street and not everything is my fault. I’m still trying to navigate balancing my life from home with my life at school, but there isn’t a perfect solution and I know it will take more time.

To finish up this post I just want to make a list of all of the things I love about Elon. I made it a goal for myself to slow down and find things about my life and my school to be grateful for this past semester and I feel like I did a fairly good job. Our President, Leo Lambert, did this in his convocation speech to help put our education at Elon into perspective at the beginning of the year and it stuck with me. Here it goes:

  1. The beautiful campus: not a day goes by that I don’t look up at the huge oak trees around campus and the brick buildings and realize how lucky I am.
  2. The people: the majority of Elon students are out of state and this really helped me at the beginning of the year since I knew everyone was in the same position as me. On top of that, everyone is so nice and genuinely loves being at Elon.
  3. The small class sizes: I knew every single one of my professors personally and they all knew my name. I was able to work on multiple group projects and have meaningful lessons and conversations in the presence of passionate, dedicated professionals who not only care about their paychecks or research, but care about the interests and mental wellbeing of Elon students.
  4. The small town: there were nights I wished I was closer to the city, but then there were many more nights were I appreciated the peace and quiet of the town and its family friendly atmosphere. I have always felt safe walking across campus and I know this is a luxury not a lot of college women have. We are also close enough to a lot of wonderful cities to get the best of both worlds.
  5. The weather: Its definitely warmer and I have definitely gotten used to it. We still have had snow already though and had a beautiful fall.
  6. The “Y’alls”: I occasionally catch myself saying this but haven’t converted completely. It just makes everyone sound nicer.

I could list a lot more things but these are just a few of the ones that made my past semester special and enjoyable. I am so happy to be home but I also can’t wait to get back!

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The Lindner College of Arts and Sciences, Elon, North Carolina

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Europe: 2017

Last week I returned home after spending about 12 days in Europe. I’m still not sure how or why I have been blessed with two back-to-back European trips, but I have seen, felt, and experienced so many beautiful places and people over the past year and a half and I am extremely grateful.

My cousin Leah and I graduated high school back in May. We were promised graduation trips by both our grandpa and our uncle, with the only stipulations being we had to agree on a location for the trip (obviously). We discussed the matter very seriously amongst ourselves and decided to do a European river cruise.

The idea was that a river cruise would be able to show us the largest amount of countries in the shortest amount of time, but would operate as our home base every night. Every day we would wake up in a different city, but we wouldn’t have to unpack and repack 15 million times. We ended up picking a Danube River cruise that would take us through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany and then we added Paris onto the end of the trip.

Before I get into the post any farther, I just want to take a minute to thank my grandpa and my uncle for this amazing trip. I realize that not many teenagers get to take a trip like this, and I truly feel lucky and blessed to have a wonderful family that supports me and recognizes my accomplishments. I also feel lucky and blessed to have a family that has the means to make this trip happen.

Hungary

Day 1: Budapest

Today, after flying from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to London, we finally landed in Budapest. A driver took us from the airport to our hotel, which sat right next to the famous Chain Bridge. After unpacking our bags and changing, we headed out into town to get dinner.

Dinner was at a restaurant recommend by one of Uncle Jon’s friends and it was incredible (looking back I think it was the best meal I had on the trip, and that’s saying a lot). Located in a typical European alley, the restaurant had a quaint feel and a wonderful menu. I ordered steak, which is very unusual for me, and loved it. I took pictures of everything we ate that night and will make sure they are posted below. On top of the wonderful food, our waiter was cute and that’s always a plus.

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Leah’s beet risotto with fish and prawns. July 30, 2017

After dinner we went back to the hotel and crashed, hoping to get ahead of the jet lag enough to be ready for the full day ahead of us.

Day 2: Budapest

Today was all about exploring Budapest. We enjoyed a very filling 2 hour breakfast at the hotel, then lugged our suitcases to the dock so they could be put on our ship (we were leaving Budapest that night). We then began our adventure on the hop-on hop-off city tour buses.

While on the bus, we saw a lot of interesting places, but we went by very quickly and only got a few explanations of what everything was. Eventually the sun and heat were too much and we had to get off to stop at a cafe and get water. We then hopped back onto the wrong bus and had to get off and find a cab to take us in the right direction. The cab was tiny and I had to ride on my Grandpa’s lap all the way up the hill to the citadel sitting above the city.

The view from the citadel was breathtaking. We could see both Buda and Pest (fun fact: they are technically separate because the river cuts through them) and our ship on the river. On the way back to the ship we sat in the same tiny cab and Leah had to sit on my lap. Two Hungarian men pulled up beside us, laughed when they saw us, and tried to talk to us. None of us knew Hungarian, but our cab driver wouldn’t repeat what they said so it was probably a good thing.

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Our view of the city from the citadel. Our ship is on the left. July 31, 2017

We checked in at the ship and explored our beautiful, mobile home for the next week before going to the chef’s dinner. Everything was delicious and there were a lot of combinations that were unexpected, but surprisingly good. We sailed out of Budapest that night and went to the top deck to see everything along the water lit up. It was gorgeous.

Our time in Budapest was very rushed and we weren’t able to see or learn about the majority of the city, so I would definitely love to go back eventually and take the time to explore everything.

Slovakia

Day 3: Bratislava

This morning we hung out on the boat since we didn’t dock in Bratislava until 3 pm. I ran and worked out and watched as the boat went through the largest lock on the Danube. I don’t quite understand how locks work, but sitting on the boat and watching it go up or down because the water level is changing is pretty interesting.

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, has had many different names throughout history, and was a place I had never heard of before deciding to take this trip. It is now one of my favorite cities. Leah and I went on the castle “hike” (it was more of an uphill walk) after we docked and got to see the church where Maria Theresa was coronated. I quickly realized that Maria Theresa and her daughter Marie Antionette would be focal points of the entire trip, which was fine because girl power, right? We “hiked” up to the castle where Maria Theresa’s favorite daughter (not Marie Antionette) lived and were able to see Slovakia, Hungary and Austria all at the same time from the top.

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Our view from the castle in Bratislava. August 1, 2017

After the castle visit, we walked through Old Town, a charming city center that looks and feels like one would picture Europe to look and feel like. We went to a restaurant our cruise manager Martina recommended for dinner and I had onion soup and a potato pancake filled with meat. Leah and I walked around after dinner and went to a really fun, famous ice cream shop where the servers throw the ice cream around, do tricks, and joke with the customers. The city center was full, but still quiet and relaxed and we felt very safe. It was a very welcoming atmosphere.

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Leah and I in Old Town, Bratislava. August 1, 2017

I really enjoyed Bratislava and can’t wait to visit again. Because it is only 1 hour from Budapest in one direction, and 1 hour from Vienna in the other, it is the perfect place to stay.

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España: Verano 2016

This is my last blog post about Spain! Today is June 27, and tomorrow is the one year anniversary since we left Spain and got back to the states. This trip was the trip of a lifetime and I not only became more confident in myself and my Spanish speaking skills, but I learned so much about a culture so different from mine and made lifelong friends along the way. I will be forever grateful for everything I experienced on this trip and I will always look back on it with love and fond memories.

So here it is, finally, my last post about Spain:

Madrid

Dia Trece: Madrid

Hoy es mi último día en España. We hung out around the house in the morning waiting for Gary to get up (he was trying to sleep off jet lag). Once he woke up we headed downtown to go shopping for traditional Spanish shoes for me and gifts for my friends. We had a great time walking through the stores and browsing. After shopping for a few hours and finding a lot of cute gifts, we headed back to the apartment to watch the Spain vs. Italy game in the Euro Cup. Even though Spain lost we had a lot of fun watching because everyone had so much passion and Perla brought us authentic snacks and Fanta Límon to have during the game (again, she’s a saint).

We had a large dinner because it was Gary’s first dinner in Spain and it was the perfect ending to my trip, as well as the perfect beginning to his. We had gazpacho, smoked salmon and more. After dinner I had to pack and it was a complete nightmare, but I did manage to get everything in. I am going to bed at 1 am and have to get up at 5:30 am to catch the bus to the airport so I’m sure I will be exhausted tomorrow!

Dia Catorce: Madrid to EEUU

Today is the day I left one of my favorite places in the world. I woke up at 5:30 and got ready to go back to the Real Madrid stadium to meet up with the rest of Live N’ Learn and catch the bus to the airport. Saying goodbye to the Lara Rey family was really hard because they have become family to me, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for me. I’m pretty sure I had the best host family out of everyone and I loved getting to know them and being a part of their lives. Hopefully I will see them again soon!

The Madrid airport was huge, but luckily we found our way pretty easily and had time to relax at the gate. The plane ride to Atlanta was long but exciting because we were all ready to be back on American soil. When we got to Atlanta we were so happy to be around English speakers! We all kept saying “gracias” and “pardon” out of habit but we laughed and bonded even more as a group. We had an eight hour layover so we said goodbye to the Denver kids and headed to TGI Friday’s for “American” food. Our little family dinner was nice and I had a BBQ Chicken Burger which was so good!

After dinner we all rested until our flight (most of us were going on 24 hours of being awake) and waited anxiously to board and head to Cincinnati. Our flight was delayed almost and hour but we finally boarded and got going on our way. We played a loud game of “Go Fish!” in the beginning (to the annoyance of our fellow passengers) and then slept the rest of the way. We got into Cincy around 1 am and it was a relief to see my parents and be back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, but luckily we all live close enough that getting together in the future won’t be hard.

I got home, went to bed, got up the next morning, jumped in the car, and drove all the way to Maine with my family. I didn’t have a lot of time to recuperate in between trips, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s one adventure after another and I can’t wait to see where I go next!

P.S. I’m going to Europe again this summer and I’m planning to blog again, so be on the look out for that and hopefully it won’t take me an entire year to document the trip this time!

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España: Verano 2016

This is my second to last post so let’s get right into it!

Madrid

Dia Once: Madrid to Las Montañas

Today we toured Estadio Santiago Bernabéu before heading to the mountains. The stadium is in downtown Madrid and is where Real Madrid plays. As an American, I don’t see many stadiums dedicated to soccer only, so this was a very special experience for me and one of my favorite things I did on the trip. The stadium was open for self-guided tours that included a panoramic view from the top, a walk through three separate rooms filled with trophies, gear and history, photo opportunities with trophies and photo-shopped-in players (I have a picture with Sergio Ramos!), a walk through the locker rooms, and a walk onto the field to sit on the benches. It was truly an amazing to walk through a stadium that houses one of the best clubs in the world.

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Down on the field at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. June 25, 2016

After the tour Perla, Javier (Carmen’s padre), Javi and Coco picked me and Carmen up and we headed to their abuelo’s house in las montañas. The house was very big with a pool and a large yard. The temperature is on average 7 degrees Celsius lower in the mountains than the city (according to Perla) and this really made the house a nice escape from the heat. Their abuelo was harder to understand because of his strong accent, but he was very kind and sweet. For lunch we had a traditional flan and it was different from what I was expecting, but still very good! We swam in the pool, played cards and watched Portugal beat Croatia in the Euro Cup. For dinner we had gazpacho and A LOT of jamón (their abuelo owns a butcher/meat shop) and the cookies and Betty Crocker cake I brought for them. They loved it!

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Playing cards again (Javi is very focused)! June 25, 2016

After dinner we were able to get a little wifi, and it was nice to lay down and reconnect for a little bit (Carmen and Javi didn’t have service either so we all crashed in one room to share our social media posts and what we missed out on for the half-day we didn’t have wifi). It was a nice vacation away from my vacation!

Dia Doce: Las Montañas to Madrid

Today we slept in and had churros for breakfast (they were awesome). We hung out all morning and I was able to shower, read, write, and listen to music before lunch. Lunch was one of the best meals I had while in Spain. Perla found out that paella was my favorite Spanish meal and decided to make it for me (I’m not kidding when I say she is a saint)! They let me eat almost all of the shrimp and kept feeding it to me, but of course I didn’t mind! It was sooooo good, better than the restaurant. After lunch we hung out more and packed to head back into the city for the fiesta we had with the entire Live N’ Learn group!

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Me, Carmen’s abuelo, and Carmen with the paella Perla made. June 26, 2016

We showed up early and Eduardo met us at the bar, so we played cards again while we waited for everyone else to show up. Once everyone got there we had a great time! Everyone loved Javi and his dance moves (he even got me to dance) and Carmen was able to meet some of the Spanish girls she would be traveling with when she went to America later in the summer. It was so nice to see everyone again before our long trip home.

We had jamón sandwiches for dinner and just relaxed after the fiesta. We all were excited to meet Gary (Javi’s exchange student from Boston) the next day! Today was my last day of being the only American in the house!

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