Flyin’ Solo in Toronto

So it’s been almost 2 months since I’ve added anything into this blog and I can say BOY has a lot changed in my life since my final post in Spain.

 

After touching down in the USA I spent about 3 weeks traveling around before finally heading home. I started in New Jersey to visit my college friend Maria where it feels like I spent most of the time absolutely jet lagged. Next, I went to see my soon-to-be married BFF in Boston and spent most of my time loving on her cute little pug pup. It took about a week for me to stop waking up at 5 am and going to be by 8, I was always so ready to start the day with nothing to do! Then, I met up with two of my festie besties to go to my favorite festival in the entire world, Electric Forest! We ended up camping next to some awesome new friends and spent a weekend full of laughs and memories.

The main reason I ended up in Toronto was because I had a job interview scheduled about 6 days after the festival ended. I had quite a bit of time to waste considering I was in Michigan and it just didn’t make enough sense for me to travel back to Oregon before an interview in Dallas. So I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I booked a trip entirely by myself!

I decided on Toronto because of all the incredible things I’ve heard about the city. The food, the skylines, the friendly Canadian folk and of course the ability to have some sweet Tim Hortons. I booked myself in a hostel which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone wanting to go to Toronto. It’s called the Planet Traveler Hostel and it’s the best place to be as a solo traveler. They had group activities every night and the world cup was on during every game to allow travelers to gather in the common room and cheer on their own countries team.

The best part about traveling alone is you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT. Yep that’s right, you can choose where to eat, what to do or even when to do nothing. The best part about this for me was that I still had some post-festival-jet-lagged-time-zone-switching tiredness so I simply walked to get some poutine and spent the rest of my first day rewatching Friends for the 5th time. After some much needed R&R I planned out the rest of my trip (well kinda). I knew generally the area I wanted to go each day but didn’t make any exact plans as to what I was going to do. I knew however, my goals in Toronto were as follows; see Niagara Falls, walk around downtown by the CN Tower and professional sports arenas and get some GREAT food.

My first big day I spent walking from my hostel (which was near University of Toronto) all the way to the CN Tower. I knew I was going to go up to the top to get some great sky views but I didn’t really expect what I actually decided to do… I walked past a booth for the “Edgewalk” which in 2011 was the Guinness World Record holder for the “Highest External Walk on a Building.” Now I wouldn’t call myself afraid of heights but I’m not exactly a thrill seeker either by ANY  means. This was just one of those oh-screw-it kind of moments where I felt the need to stand 1,168 ft above group only strapped to the wire circle above me.

I cant describe it, you’ll just have to go try it.

After getting back on solid ground I kept walking around the city to see what else Toronto had to offer! It is home to the hockey hall of fame (which my dad would have preferred I do versus climbing buildings) Toronto Blue jays and Toronto Maple Leafs. It is also home to MANY diverse neighborhoods which was pretty cool to see during all the pride for the world cup. In my walk I passed through Little Italy, Little Portugal, Chinatown, and Koreatown. I saw the Toronto sign, the Canada sign and ate at some pretty great local recommendations on the way. (I ate quicker than the photos could have been taken.

The next day I completed something that had been on my bucket list for quite some time. I boarded a random tourist bus that headed for Niagara Falls! Now the best part about speaking a few different languages is the ability to converse with people you might not have normally been able to. I met a couple who one was from Italy and the other was from Argentina. What a surprise! We sat at a table together during our meal and exchanged stories in both English, Spanish and Italian. Que bueno!

Upon arriving at Niagara Falls I saw the beast of a waterfall that was everything I had imagined. I did the Hornblower ride that takes you right into the mist of the falls and mist is a term I should use lightly. They gave us ponchos to cover our clothing but even that wasn’t enough to save us from the downpour of water. The coolest part was seeing the USA on the other side, did you know you can actually walk across the border from Canada to the USA? It was tempting for the story, but I’m sure my group would have left without me.

All I can say is, take the chance to travel by yourself. You’ll really grow as a person and understand the world around you because it is only being seen by your eyes. We spend so much time wondering how everyone else is going to perceive us when we sit at a table alone but truth be told, people are just envious of your courage. Traveling solo taught me, it’s okay to be alone because sometimes… you’ve got to fall in love with yourself first. Eh?

Oh The Places You’ll Go

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Dr. Seuss

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So here it is, the blog post that I’ve long dreaded to write. The blog post that would mean I had returned from Spain and left my year long adventure behind me. I spent 9 months living in the beautiful island of Mallorca and traveling all over Europe. I met friends that quickly turned into family and I fully embraced myself in a culture different to my own.

A year ago, to this exact day I received my placement in the Balearic Islands. I knew very little about these islands but after immense research I fell in love. I started prepping everything possible for my new experience but with all my excitement I felt a tingling sense of anxiety.

As many of you know I struggled immensely in the beginning of 2017. A broken heart, a broken wrist, a car accident and a stolen wallet all led for a recipe of depression and a lack of will to enjoy life. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore and the pain of all these events kept me up at night almost the entire month of March. It wasn’t until I was online and saw a “TEFL” advertisement pop up on my computer that I started thinking. Why did I feel so empty? I knew I wasn’t a sad person but I was constantly irritable, avoiding friends and family and wanting to sit at home and watch TV every moment I clocked out of work.

The first step was hard. “Get a TEFL” I thought, am I really ready to go abroad with this mindset? Even as sad as I felt my gut told me, be like nike and JUST DO IT. I applied with International TEFL Academy and started looking into countries. I was asking around trying to find anyone else who had done something similar until I hear about the Auxiliares de Conversacion program in Spain. It was April 12th, application was due April 18th. Alright, sure. I ran around and got all the necessary documents and turned them in.

I read more about the program and the ability to live abroad on a visa seemed to be a difficult thing to do with other countries so this seemed like a good choice. Slowly I got admitted, accepted, placed in the islands and finally placed at my schools. Although I was still petrified at the thought of going abroad something just felt so completely right to me. My heart went from feeling so empty to having a glimpse of excitement and happiness return.

With every annoying process (other aux’s I’m sure you know what I mean) my mood kept changing. I was no longer fixating on the problems I had before but now my sole focus was to get myself abroad and save money to do so. I picked up shifts, I avoided eating out, I tried everything I could to spare a dime. I purchased my ticket for September 25th.

I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve been abroad before (and at 16) but I had a host family, orientations and assistance from regional directors if any issues arose. This time I was going in blind, completely alone with only an apartment secured from some other auxilaires I met on facebook.

I’d rewrite exactly how great the year was but luckily that’s what all my other blog posts are for. Now I want to focus on the return. After the travels with my dad we returned to Palma for 2 days before my final goodbyes. I met up with some friends to see Steve Aoki and enjoy time with them.

When it finally came time to board my flight to New York I started to feel the whole year come in the form of tears cascading down my face. The year wasn’t just a way for me to go and travel Europe, the year was for me to reinvent myself. All the travels only helped me really understand who I really was and helped me get back to the person I knew I could be. All the friends I met gave me insight into their lives and helped me learn so much throughout the year. The late night talks, the trips to Magaluf, the brunches/lunches/dinners, the movie nights that turned into mornings and the tears that turned into laughter. I can’t put into words how much each of you affected my life and how grateful I am to finally feel like the person I knew I was. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, the most confident, the most able to stand up for myself and what I believe in, the one willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs one and most importantly completely and totally in love with myself.

Now I’ve returned home and the reverse culture shock sure has set in. I’m waking up at 6:30, saying Hola to uber drivers and giving .25 cent coins thinking their .50 cent coins to confused cashiers. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To say I would love to go back is an understatement but I realized it wasn’t Spain that changed me, it was all the incredible people I met.

I’ve now got a life ahead of me and many options of where I’d like to go. Will it be working in Dallas? Crossing the country and moving to Florida? Trying to go abroad again in Asia? Saving up and paying off all my debts while living at home? I’ve got no idea what lies ahead, but the journey… is always worth it.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

-Anthony Bourdain 

Letters to my friends:

 Kim: We met by complete chance but I’m beginning to think that it was meant to be. You taught me to not care what anyone else thinks and to simply live my life without worries. You were my travel buddy and always willing to do anything at a moments notice. You helped me learn that it’s okay if people don’t like me or disagree with me because I have so many other people that do love me. You encouraged me to put myself out there and forget about my past. You opened up to me even when I know it’s a difficult thing for you to do. You helped me trust again and taught me that NO MAN but a good man deserves to have me. You’re going to do incredible things in Miami, I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished and I know our paths will cross again.

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       Sarah: My spiritual mentor, you understood me when I started rambling on about buddha or other weird things. We always got so deep in conversation that the time just completely flew by. You related to me when I wanted to talk about music festivals and EDM. We stayed up late talking about life and other matters and I knew no matter what you wouldn’t judge me. You were always so willing to help calm me down when I got anxious (even with silly things like a bug bite). You have a spirit to go and continue teaching english and although I’ve never seen you teach I can tell you’re going to impact so many people’s lives. Your charisma and love to help others will always take you so far in life and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. (I don’t know how we don’t have a photo of just to two of us but us playing with this dog summarizes our relationship)

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       Madison: You are one of the most wholesome humans I’ve ever met. You seek out the best in everyone and you always want to make sure that people feel included and loved. Your zest for life will take you around the world and will always keep you humble. Your ability to just live in the moment taught me that I just need to slow down, and that it’s okay to just focus on the here and now. You also taught me to love, because your ability to care for others showed me that we can still be kind to those who might not deserve it. I know whatever you do next in life you will do it with a pure heart. I hope that somehow, someday we will be able to start our Thailand adventures. But like a 14 year old writing in a yearbook “don’t ever change”.

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       Kevin: My first friend from the program I’m surprised with all the people I encountered on facebook our friendship actually stuck. Your extremely positive view on life and yourself made me realize that confidence looks great on everyone. You were an ear when I needed to vent. You kept me sane with your copious amounts of back rubs and time spent just watching movies or getting down on the dance floor. You complimented me when I wasn’t feeling great and always had nothing but supporting things to say. Whether you become a substitute teacher or a ski instructor in the mountains of Colorado, you’re gonna do great.

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… because of all of you my heart is full again.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
(Just because you didn’t get a shout out does not mean you didn’t impact my life. I can only cry through writing so many of these)

 

Final European Travels

As the school year ended (for us lucky auxiliares, not the children) we set our sights on what’s next. A few different trips stood between me and my final return home to the USA and as pumped as I was for all these trips I knew what was coming at the end.

Ibiza June 2nd-4th 

Words can’t describe how fun this trip was, it was like a girls weekend in Las Vegas only it was one of the biggest party islands off the coast of Spain. We made friends with an aux that lived in Ibiza so he was able to show us most of the ropes of the island. We had been one time before, but it surely didn’t feel like enough. The island reminds me a lot of Mallorca except for all the billboards listing DJs who are playing all summer long. Some of the biggest names went there and it was pretty fun to see people from all over the world. Our first night we went out to Club Swag which was a hip hop/r&b type club and somehow made our way into the VIP booth. It sure is nice being a girl at a club sometimes. After recovering from the first night we all had a family breakfast and prepared for a pool party at Ocean Beach Club. It was quite an experience since I had been to similar things in Las Vegas. After meeting a group of crazy British boys on a stag the night took off. It was definitely a memorable trip

Paris June 5th- June 8th 

My dad flew from Oregon to come help me get situated back home. I do feel truly lucky that both my parents were able to visit me in Europe. Unfortunately from the moment I arrived in Paris I got stuck with a pretty intense fever so all we saw the first day were the ceilings of the hotel room. Luckily by day 2 I was feeling more up and we decided to visit Disneyland. Now I’ve been to 3 Disneyland’s all over the world and I’m preparing for my next trip to the ones in Asia. I was sluggish and tired but having visited Paris before I didn’t feel too bummed out that I wasn’t able to see as much as possible. It was still a great trip, and compared to the one before I actually tried real french food! (and not just an abundance of pizza)

Munich June 8th- 10th 

Considering it wasn’t my first time in Germany I was fairly surprised about the differences between the cities. I had expected Munich to look quite a bit different than what I saw but the beauty still astounded me. Our first day we got to go visit the Glockenspiel which is a famous landmark for the clock that goes off at 11, 12 and 5 pm. It shows little characters dancing around to all the different bells.

The following day we headed to the infamous hofbräuhaus where locals and tourists drink copious amounts of beer and simply relax and enjoy one another’s company. I filled myself up on a beer that I couldn’t even hold in one hand and a pretzel in the other. After our grand time there the next stop (after digesting of course) was to head over to the Augustiner-Keller Biergarten. Little did we know it’s a fully outside serving restaurant and about 10 minutes into sitting down a torrential downpour was passing through. Thankfully we decided to stick it out and had one of the best meals Ive had here in Europe! If you find yourself in Munich I would most certainly stop by!

Rome June 10th- June 14th 

Somewhere I had been looking forward to ever since I left Rome in 2010. I always get excited to use my Italian but this trip was more of a nostalgic trip for me from my previous time spent there. We had 4 days to spend in Rome which made seeing everything rather easy. The first day we simply strolled around visiting the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, sampling gelato and eating a delicious meal. Rome was rather hot so it was very important to take as many breaks as possible! I was also able to return to the last dinner place that I ate with my best friend Adam prior to leaving Italy after our exchange, it was truly a memorable experience.

The next day we went to visit one of my dad’s life long goals, Pompeii. It was just as stunning as I had pictured it to see such an old civilization still very intact. Due to the heat and just pure tiredness of traveling we had a wonderful Italian meal of Mcdonald’s and simply allowed ourselves to relax for the night.

After recharging and resting we were headed to the Vatican! The last time I went there I was 16 years old, and I think we were more focused on messing around with the Swiss guards then we were actually looking at the museums. It was pretty cool to see it again 8 years later and actually have appreciation for the museums! Later on we went and had probably the best dinner of my life! I got lobster pasta and as many appetizers as one could stomach. Knowing that the rest of our trip would be quite packed it was time for more rest after dinner because the next day, we were heading back to Palma!\

 

We returned to Palma on June 14th, but I’m saving all of my final thoughts on leaving for the next blog. 😉

Iceland: Unlike Anywhere I’ve Been

Ever since completing the trip I’ve been giddy and nervous to write this blog post. One the one hand, I’m excited to share all the beauty that is Iceland but on the other, it signifies my final trip outside of Spain before school ends. Before I can get into talking about our trip I need to first give some important details about Iceland.

  1. ICELAND IS EXPENSIVE (The cheapest food we found was hot dogs, one hot dog and one coke equalled 13 euros)
  2. Only around 350,000 people live in Iceland, with a majority of them living in Reykjavik
  3. Iceland is so safe that the police force doesn’t carry guns
  4. Iceland is ranked one of the happiest countries in the world
  5. At a given point in the summer, Iceland has 24 hours of sunlight
  6. In the winter Iceland only has 3 hours of sunlight
  7. Iceland has the most gender equal country in the world
  8. Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989
  9. It would take a little over 15 hours to drive around the island
  10. There are no forests in Iceland

It’s not the easiest to get from Palma to Iceland, but once arriving in Iceland I learned that it is now extremely accessible from many major US cities. The amount of US tourists we saw in Iceland were more than any other country. We flew through Manchester on the way to Iceland and after a 4 hour layover were finally on the flight to Iceland. I was pretty surprised how empty the flight was on the way but happy it allowed me to sit in the window. As we began our final descent I noticed something interesting. Usually when landing in other cities you can see the outskirts of the city or neighboring towns. This time all I saw was dirt, just plain dirt.

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We took a bus from Keflavik Airport and it was just continuous amounts of dirt on the way until we finally reached the outskirts of Reykjavik. For a few moments I started to think to myself, “Why do people bother coming here? It’s just dirt!” Boy was my thought soon changed. Having been pretty tired from a 10 hour travel day we decided to grab dinner at the local grocery store and rest in the hostel for our long tour the following day. The prices were OUTRAGEOUS at the grocery store, it was hard to find anything under 10 euros unless it was snack food. This was when I finally believed what everyone warned me about, Iceland is EXPENSIVE. We walked over to Subway after to purchase some sandwiches to take with us on our tour the next day, 15 euros for a footlong later we were ready to head to bed and forget how much money we had already spent.

The next day we had a pre-booked tour to see some local attractions. Unfortunately with our short time in Iceland we were only able to see a small portion of the island. Our tour started out in Þingvellir which is one of Iceland’s many national parks. The park actually sits on 2 tectonic pates which causes it to have a more rift look to it. The only downside to a tour is the time limit, as much as I wanted to keep exploring this park we had to go back to the bus and onto our next stop, Gullfoss Falls. The falls were extraordinary, for a land that had so much dirt, it also had so many different rivers, lakes and waterfalls! I was finally realizing why Iceland is such a geologists dream.

After Gullfoss, our tour took us to Geysir. I’m sure that word looks farmiliar to you because it’s where our English word Geyser came from! It reminded me of the Geyser’s in Yellowstone National Park back in the States. Every 4-7 minutes you would begin to see a small bubble in the center of the Geyser and then BAM! It exploded and left everyone standing around in awe. After watching it erupt a few times it was time for our tour to head to the last place, The Secret Lagoon. It’s a geothermal oasis where Icelanders and tourists alike sit in the warm waters. I’m sure you’re wondering, “Well what about the Blue Lagoon?” I was advised against going by a few Icelandic friends due to it’s overly-pricey tag and immense amount of tourists. I was glad though to have gone to the Secret Lagoon! It was surrounded by so much of Iceland’s beauty and we were even blessed to see the sun.

After our tour completed our goal was to go find some of the highly-talked about Icelandic hot dogs. With our tummies full and our eyes tired we decided it was time to call it a night.

The next day we woke up to a very cold, rainy and windy day. While we were walking around in knit caps, jackets and mittens it seemed like all the locals just had on jeans and a sweatshirt. This was our day to see Reykjavik and get a better idea of what makes all these people so darn happy!

We started out walking with a quest for food and ended up at a great food cart with fish & chips. After devouring some delicious cod you could tell was caught that morning we headed for downtown. With no great plan we just simply wandered around Reykjavik and saw Hallgrimskirkja which is a famous church with incredible architecture. We saw the Harpa Music Hall and wandered through the streets and parks.

While walking around you could feel how safe the town was and everyone we encountered seemed pretty happy. It was an incredible experience that I never thought I would get to have while in Spain. Now that I know it’s easily accessible from the States, I sure do plan on going back!

Portugal: Porto

With just a quick hour and a half flight Portugal is extremely accessible from almost any part in Spain. Although locals say that Portugal resembles nothing to Spain I found the two quite comparable.

We set off on our journey arriving late at night on Saturday. The airport is about an hour from the city by metro and our hostel just 15 minutes from the metro. Upon arriving at our hostel I soon realized this was by far the best hostel I have stayed at in Europe. It had everything a hostel should, a rooftop terrace, a free breakfast, comfy beds, attentive staff and was even centrally located! I would highly recommend Tattva Design Hostel!

After a GREAT sleep in the hostel bed (honestly every hostel should have a full curtain over the bed and a comforter instead of blankets) we went to the free breakfast. When Kim and I travel, we have the ability to plan absolutely nothing so our first activity was to go find wine and sit in a park in a hammock. Knowing that we would soon be embarking on an expensive trip to Iceland we tried to do Portugal under 100 euros. After purchasing some local wine, cheese and cold cuts we walked to the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal. It was a beautiful park with lots of locals sitting around and enjoying the not-too-hot day.

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After having a little too much Portuguese wine we decided it was time to go eat. WORD TO THE WISE* (places in Europe are very commonly closed on Sunday) so it was a little difficult to find authentic Portuguese food the first night. We settled on some pasta instead. Then we went back to the hostel to engage with other tourists traveling in Porto.

The best way to travel is to allow yourself to get completely lost in a place and see what cool things you happen to come upon. In our case, without even realizing we saw the Clerigos Church, the six bridges of Porto, the Duoro River, Cais de Riberia and many local restaurants specializing in Porto wine.

The most difficult thing about Porto was you felt like you were still in Spain. We were advised though that locals are very proud of their Portuguese language so it not usually appropriate to speak in Spanish. Everyone we encountered though was extremely friendly and always happy to help out tourists.

The second day we explored the river and ate some more local cheese and walked around the various little streets. We watched a great performer play on a violin and ate gelato. It was a beautiful 75 degree day so we tried to enjoy the sun as much as we could. We decided into doing a boat cruise through the river to allow us to see what Porto is famous four, their 6 bridges.

Later in the evening we stumbled upon a cute little restaurant in a side street. Our goal was to find some sort of seafood considering we were in a town near the beach. After looking at a few places we found a nice little restaurant (I swear I need to get better at remembering names) and had some great shrimp and a sort of cod/potato/ cheese dish.

Now let me tell you, Porto is essentially built into a mountain because every time you’re walking around you are walking at a 90 degree angle. My apple watch though was quite happy with our step count! I would recommend Porto to any traveler that’s looking to sit back, relax and just enjoy their time walking around!

 

 

 

Sisterhood of the Traveling Backpacks

After graduating from college there’s a certain time period that I knew I would certainly miss. Unfortunately, your job doesn’t consider spring break a holiday anymore so your ability to take a week vacation is gone. Luckily for us spring break was back! A 10-day long trip through 6 countries, multiple cities and loads of new adventures. First stop…

Milan, Italy! 

If traveling has taught me anything, it’s that I hate not knowing the local language. It doesn’t keep me from going though, it just makes me feel terrible every time I need to re-explain myself and expect the other person to understand. This makes traveling to Italy such a joy for me since I have long studied it and truly enjoy practicing every chance I get. I didn’t get a chance to make it to Milan while I studied abroad so this was a long desire of mine. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect though, from everything I’ve heard Milan is the “fashion capital” but that’s about it.

Milan was pretty much what I anticipated, very industrial with a multitude of shops from Gucci to Versace. The Cathedral was pretty but some parts of it were under construction (a theme that continued on the trip). The food of course was excellent but I was surprised with how underwhelming the scenery was. We walked through the city which was easily done in a day and saw some various highlights of Milan. We walked through the Galeria and outside of the Sforza Castle. We searched for a place to try some Italian wines and ended up at Signorvino, probably my favorite part of the trip. We tried different cheeses, wines, snacks and more wines. Our goal was to be as un-american as possible and sit and truly enjoy our time there… which turned out to be a 5 hour stay.

I would recommend visiting Milan but it was possible to do in about a day. Our second day (with thanks to the sun) we simply revisited all the previous monuments so we weren’t constantly searching for shelter from the rain. It was still a great trip though and my anticipation started kicking in for what was to come…

Athens, Greece!

Athens was probably my favorite time spent on this trip. It had nothing to do with all the cool ancient buildings we saw but more about the people and the culture. Everyone was so friendly to us and we had the absolute best airbnb host. Shout out to George! Having studied Western Civilization I arrived in Athens realizing I remembered nothing I had studied about Western Civilization. I knew the Olympics originated there and people used to run track naked and I knew about the old buildings with all the pillars but that was about it. (Sorry to whatever teacher I had during this class)

When you’re young and able you realize just about every city can be done in a day. I think each day we at least clocked in over 10 miles and saw more than people come and see in a week. Since we didn’t know what we were looking at the time our helpful tour guide google gave us small history lessons. We started at the Acropolis which we now know is the center to many ancient buildings such as The Parthenon and The Erechtheum. Like Milan, there were scaffoldings covering some of The Parthenon and ropes that wouldn’t let you get too close. It was a cool sight to see, but didn’t quite meet the “wow factor” I had in mind. What did meet the wow factor was the food. Just about everything I ate while in Athens was delicious. From the Tzatziki sauce to the gyros to the baklava I was amazed with how much I fell in love with Greek food. The weather was absolutely perfect as well which made for such a great time in Athens! It felt like summer until we reached our next location…

Sofia, Bulgaria

Due to our tiredness and the amount of rain in Sofia this seemed to be a quieter part of our trip. We were able to walk around on the first day seeking out all the old churches, cathedrals and mosques that decorated the city. It was a vastly spread out city that reminded me of the images I had in my head of Russia. The cyrillic letters on top of buildings made it feel significantly more foreign than Western Europe. It didn’t appear to be tourist season either as we were also closely approaching orthodox Easter. The food was just as good as Athens and even cheaper which came as a relief to all of us. We went inside many of the churches and realized that unlike Athens many of the buildings were not kept up with. Inside the Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski many of the murals on the wall had turned black.

Sofia, which was plagued by communism and war had seemingly pulled itself completely back from the worst. The people were still friendly although slightly colder than those in Athens, but for good reason. We walked though one main street that led to the National Palace of Culture which was quite impressive. Lined with fountains, hotels and giant advertisements you could see how much rebuilding must have been done. Regardless of our tiredness from 8 days of traveling we were pretty excited for what was next…

Amsterdam, Netherlands 

Known for it’s wild nightlife and legal ability to smoke marijuana Amsterdam is a twenty-somethings dream. Surrounded by canals and people… oh so many people Amsterdam by far is the coolest city I’ve been to. It can feel like you’ve only been walking for a little while and realize you’ve been walking over 10 miles. Even in such a short amount of time we were able to see so much of the city and what it’s famous for. We ventured through the canals in a boat tour, seeing some dancing houses and old factories. We walked past the Ann Frank house and got a taste of history. We went through the red light district which provided quite an interesting experience. It reminded me a lot of Moulin Rouge, one of those places where you go to see it once but don’t intend on going back.

Amsterdam provided everything that a traveler could want, entertainment, historical sites, great food and good beer. It was a privilege to see it through a locals eyes (Thanks Layla!) and get a true feeling of all that Amsterdam has to offer.

Till next trip!

 

Island Hopping: From The Balearics to The Canaries

We hadn’t even been back in Palma for 2 weeks before we were packing up to head out on another adventure. This time though, to a place a little bit warmer than the alps of Switzerland. The beautiful Canary Islands! Specifically the island of Gran Canaria.

This was one of the longer trips to take since the Canaries are a little over 3 hours from Barcelona by plane. One wouldn’t even think of them as Spanish islands since they are 62 miles from Morocco at the closest point. I didn’t know what to really expect or how different they might be from Mallorca but I sure was excited to sit (and eventually burn) in that 70 degree sunshine.

While flying over, I kept peering through the window on our three hour journey to see various little islands that seemed too small to be inhabited. Then as the sun began to set a larger island appeared. From above, Gran Canaria looked like the middle was strictly filled with mountains and all the population lived along the coast.

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We stayed at a nice hostel in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. Lucky for us our 8 bed room only had one other person in it during the stay. First time I’ve stayed in a hostel and actually gotten good sleep! Our plans were simple, two days of beach and relaxation and one to either hike or explore another part of the island.

After a well needed rest we ventured for the beach of and some breakfast at a cute little cafe called “The Couple”. It filled us up perfectly to then spend the rest of the day lounging. We were at a beach called “Playa de Las Canteras”. The weather was perfect once the clouds cleared and the beaches were filled with tourists and locals. It was significantly cleaner than Palma beach… probably because the weather was nicer so more people are drawn to the beach. We spent the entire day there and our poor skin paid for it. A sunburn from my head to my waist made me realize I wasn’t as invincible as I thought to the sunny rays. After resting a bit and getting ready to hit the town we soon realized we were one of very few out and about. Maybe we didn’t know where the “hot” spots were or maybe it was just too early but Las Palmas resembled a ghost town. Our second failed attempt at going out at night landed us right back in the hostel, ready for another day of relaxation.

Rather similar to the first day, we started our day again at “The Couple”, even after living abroad for a few months I still can’t give up my stereotypical American breakfast. Unfortunately this day wasn’t as beautiful as the first and clouds blocked the sun intermittently throughout the day. Even with the few moments of cold breezes it was still a beautiful day at the beach. Forgetting how much the sun can take energy from you we went back to the hostel early and with the help of Glovo, didn’t have to leave until the next morning.

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The last day, having spent quite a long time sitting and relaxing we decided to rent a car and drive the island. Our goal was to go all around the coast and into the mountains to a popular hiking spot called “Roque Nublo”. We started at the Las Palmas Airport and made our way to Maspalomas, a widely recommended spot. Little did we know there were the Maspalomas Dunes, which made us feel as if we made a quick journey to Egypt. The beach though, was too far to walk to through all the sand but hey we got some great pics!

Next up was a town called Puerto Rico and no, I’m not talking about the country. It was even more touristy than Las Palmas with populated beaches, hotels on cliffs overlooking the ocean and a large shopping center that resembled Coney Island. We made a quick trip to Subway and an even shorter trip to the ocean.

After, we started to make our way up and BOY was it an interesting drive to get to the top of the mountains. This was my first time driving in Europe and there were no markings on the roads to differentiate between cars coming and going. Add in some expert cyclists to the mix and you’ve knocked quite a few years off of my life due to all the anxiety. The roads were windy but the view was stunning. As we climbed our way up the mountain the temperature began to drop. In Puerto Rico it was around 22 celsius (about 71 degrees) and by the time we got to the top of Roque Nublo it was a mere 7 celsius (44 degrees)! The sunshine turned into dark clouds and heavy fog making my heart race even faster than those cyclists on the road.

We finally began to make our way back down to the coast into a town called Agaete. It’s crazy to think we saw a majority of the island in our 7 hours on the road. We took our final pictures knowing that we had a flight to catch.

The Canaries resembled parts of Mallorca but had it’s own style and unique way of life. It felt quite a bit more touristy than Palma but then again tourist season hasn’t started here yet. Now that I’ve visited one, I surely added the others to my bucket list! Hopefully next time though I won’t forget the sunscreen!

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In just a few more days we will begin our spring break travels. To Milan, Athens, Sofia and Amsterdam we go! Until next time.

 

To Switzerland, France, Italy and Back Again.

Ever since I had studied abroad at 16 I dreamed of going skiing in the Swiss alps. The dream was finally going to come true when we purchased our tickets to fly into Geneva, Switzerland and drive to Zermatt. Unfortunately, Zermatt is not exactly priced for teachers in Spain so we decided to venture into the beautiful town of Aosta, Italy.

Our trip had quite an interesting start to it. We arrived at the airport as we normally do for our 8:30 am flight, only to find out it had been delayed due to weather until 12:30 pm. After a few hours of waiting and way too many trips to the customer service desk our flight was eventually cancelled. We opted to take the hotel and free transportation option from EasyJet even though we are all residents here… Upon arriving at our hotel we found out that not only was it a highly ranked hotel but it was all-inclusive. Our food for the entire day was free and an open bar was simply 15 euros. It turned the whole cancellation ordeal around quite fast.

The next morning, we were able to take our 8:30 am rescheduled flight and after circling the air for quite some time (as the airport was still closed) we landed with a small delay around 12:30pm. We picked up the rental cars, grabbed some snacks and we were well on our way to the beautiful alps. The drive was even more stunning than one could imagine, huge mountains covered with snow and small towns lit up brightly at night. It felt strange to arrive in Switzerland and then drive to France to finally end up in Italy.  The 25 degree temperature was quite different to the 65 degrees that we left in Palma. After our long travel day we were all tired and went right to bed so we could begin our first day of skiing.

(Outside our Airbnb, and our new little pupper friend)

We woke up early and ready to ski/snowboard. I was pretty excited as it had been about a year since the last time I skied. Once we arrived to Pila Ski Resort I quickly saw why so many people adored the alps. With each ski lift we took the view got even more beautiful. We were a group with a mixture of skiers, snowboarders, beginners and intermediate so it was fun to see everyone try a totally new sport.

Our Airbnb was situated about 15 minutes from the slopes which made it easy to access. The town however, was 30 minutes down the mountain so we spent most of our time skiing, or warming up in the cabin. It was a cute spot with no wifi or reception which made a cell phone free trip. We made small dinners and large breakfast’s to help us stay fueled for our long days on the mountain. We did get to try a small bit of Italian food for lunch which brought me back to 16 eating loads of pasta and other carbs.

Due to the cancellation, half of our group was departing on Monday and the rest on Tuesday. In order to get the first half back to their flight on time we needed to drive them back to the Geneva airport, which allowed us even more time to see the beautiful alps. It also included a brief trip to the UN! Something I wanted to see after knowing we were flying into Geneva. After a late return into Aosta we got ready for a good night’s rest to enjoy our final day of exploring.

Our last day we had planned to go visit Zermatt but we weren’t quite prepared for distance to get there and it was extremely cloudy which wouldn’t allow us to see the Matterhorn. We decided to keep exploring through different towns on our way back to the airport. We stopped in Cervinia, Italy and Charmonix, France before arriving back in Geneva. In Cervinia we got some pretty great Italian pizza (unfortunately no pictures to prove it). In Charmonix it was a cute little French ski town with a million foreigners (again, apparently I got tired of taking photos). We tried taking our time getting back to Geneva knowing that our bed for the night was the oh-so-comfortable airport seats. Through all the travel and disruptions we certainly learned what to do for next time and I’m already wanting to plan another ski trip!

 

To Be or Not To Be (An Auxiliar de Conversacion)

So it’s been more than once now that I’ve gotten a rather quizzical look from someone wondering how is it remotely possible that I’m A) living in Europe legally and B) traveling to so many new countries. I must be some sort of paid blogger or international food critic (oh how I wish)?

Nope, I’m an Auxiliar de Conversacion!

Now you’re probably wondering okay well what’s that??

It’s officially called the Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. Link Here Application period ends April 6th 

It’s a pretty rad program for anyone who is looking to live abroad legally. Most teaching positions in Europe are usually paid under the table which is a nicer way to say you’re living illegally.

Program Requirements:

  1. Hold a US or Canadian Passport
  2. Have either a BA/BS degree or have attended some form of community college
  3. English as a first language
  4. Be in good mental stance
  5. Pass a background check
  6. Between 21-35 (although there’s participants older than that, just can’t be born before 1958)

Program Needs: (According to ME)

  1. Have at LEAST $3,000 in savings- this is extremely important as many regions do not get paid on time. I was lucky this year and never had that issue but be prepared to wait a month or two… or three.
  2. Have at LEAST an elementary/intermediate understanding of the Spanish language. You might be lucky again (like me) and get placed in a very touristy area where many people speak English. You will be amazed however how much people really appreciate when you speak Spanish to them! More than likely you’ve taken it at one point in your life so never a bad time to brush up.
  3. Join EVERY facebook group that has to do with your region and the primary one. This is super helpful because any question you may have or might have will be answered some how on one of these pages.
  4. HAVE AN OPEN MIND: I cannot stress this enough. Sometimes you’re paid late, sometimes you don’t get along with teachers at your school, sometimes you miss the bus because you don’t quite understand where you even are, sometimes you feel like you need more to do. Just keep an open mind, anything can happen in this program so be prepared for all of it.
  5. Consider smaller regions, I’ve heard so many positive things from the northern regions of Spain, don’t just select Madrid because it seems like the go-to. (The Balearic Islands are also extremely overlooked but incredible)
  6. Once you live in your new region start looking for private lessons. They will help you afford WAY more trips and it allows you to meet and become friends with Spanish families! Pass out flyers at your school or look on tusclasesparticulares.com

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Perks of the program:

  1. You live in Spain…
  2. You live in Spain legally!
  3. You get to travel around Europe for rather cheap, so far I have been to Paris, Morocco, Stuttgart, London and Poland. I’m still planning on going to Switzerland, Aosta, Las Palmas, Milan, Athens, Sofia, Amsterdam, Porto, Reykjavik, Valencia, Sevilla and Bologna, THEN I get to go back with my dad to Paris, Stuttgart, Munich and Rome. So yeah, travel is a giant plus.
  4. You get to learn a second language! Bilingual people are proven smarter 🙂
  5. You only work 12 hours a week but make enough to scrape by (without lessons) it is much easier with.

I’m not going to put any negatives about the program on here other than prepare for it to be completely disorganized no matter what region you are in (it’s Spain). The negatives REALLY depend on your mindset and how your school treats you so I can’t comment specifically on what you might encounter. If you do have questions though about my own experience feel free to reach out! 

But what do I have to do? 

Essentially you are a student teacher or “language assistant”. You are working with another English teacher in a classroom ranging from infant to adults. Some work at private schools, others public and few at language schools. Some teachers will have you plan complete lessons for the class either about the USA or different holidays. Other teachers might just have you follow their own lessons and prefer you to speak so students can hear our pronunciation. There are few teachers though, that might not utilize you… but don’t be afraid to stand up and say hey! I’d like to help out.

This program has felt like I’ve been transported back into my freshman year of college (probably helps that I have 5 roommates) but there is always something to do, very little stress on working and SO many new friends to be made. A lot of my confidence has come back since participating in this program. I’ve gained so many small victories, like setting up my bank account totally in Spanish!

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If you’re tired of that 9 to 5 job but just not sure how to get out? Considering applying today. You won’t know until you try! 

 

 

Poland: A Beautiful Country With a Harsh Past

Poland had forever been one of those places that I’ve learned about in school. I had studied the nazi takeover and the concentration camps since I was in middle school. We even went on a class field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. When I made the decision to come to Spain I started to look at what countries I would be interested in visiting. Although everything I had studied in school pointed to a deteriorated country I still had the urge to see it for myself.

My roommate Kyra and I decided to spend 3 nights in Poland. Our original plan had changed a few times (thanks Ryanair for an earlier flight!) We ended up settling on spending the first day in Krakow, second day touring the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and finishing our trip in Warsaw.

Krakow:

Probably one of the most impressive European cities I have seen thus far. What I didn’t expect was the incredible amount of influence of American and British brands. I think there was a Costa Coffee/KFC or McDonalds on just about every block! We only had about an hour in Warsaw before catching our train to Krakow so we did get to try the polish McDonalds. Now Im convinced it’s better just about EVERYWHERE but the US.

One we arrived in Krakow we checked into our adorable hostel and were lucky enough to have our own room! Something you really appreciate as a twenty-something  traveler. We asked the receptionist for some dinner recommendations and she sent us to a local polish eatery called Polakowski. Now currently the Zloty is 3.34 to the USD so our dinner costed around 50 zloty. Little did we know this was ONLY $12 total for the two of us in USD for an incredible meal. After we wandered around the Rynek Glowny square we stumbled upon a small bar called “Ukracpra Pub”. Some stairs headed into an underground bar with a big sign that said “KARAOKE” It seemed to be filled with half locals and half traveling brits. Confident singers would step up and could sing in either Polish or English. We had a few drinks ranging from beer to various cocktails, all which maybe costed us $14 for 6 drinks….. I love Poland prices. After getting our nice buzz we decided to head back for a long day ahead.

Our second night in Krakow (after returning from Auschwitz) we went a very popular polish restaurant to get our fix of perogis and apple pie. Mind you all the food you see was a total of $28 (for the two of us so $16 a person) 10/10 WOULD GO HERE AGAIN, everyone go try it it’s called Czarna Kaczka or “The Black Duck”. GO GO GO

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

In September of 1939 Nazi-Germany invaded Poland in the midst of WW2. Over 6 million Polish people perished during the occupation, many who were Jewish. During this occupation millions of Jews from all over Europe were being sent into ghettos, unable to communicate with the outside world. The Nazi’s shortly realized that they could no longer hold the Jews in ghettos due to their inability to “hold their own keep”. This is when “The Final Solution” was then talked about to put an end to all European Jews. Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest camp holding over 1.5 million men, women and children. Some of the most famous writers to come from the holocaust were trapped behind the doors of Auschwitz. Anne Frank, Primo Levi and Ellie Wiesel were just a few that I studied extensively in school. Absolutely no amount of studying or reading about the holocaust prepares you when you walk under the infamous sign that reads “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” which translates to “work sets you free.” A significant portion of Birkenau II had been destroyed due to nazi cover up but much of Auschwitz 1 remained. It’s hard to write down exactly what emotions I felt while walking through the camps. The part that got to me the most was how cold it was inside the blocks. How scary it must have been at night without a single light outside. How we were able to walk in and walk out with no problem, but that wasn’t the case for so many people who didn’t deserve to be victim to such a terribly inhumane action. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how so many people could inflict pain simply by listening and following the ideals of one awful human being.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

-Ellie Wiesel 

Warsaw: 

We booked ourselves on a train back to Warsaw to arrive around 1:30 pm giving us plenty of time to explore the city before our early morning flight. On the train reservation we made there was a note that said our tickets did not come with guaranteed seats. Little did we know that there was no cafe car on the train so these “seats” were basically in the corridor between the reserved seats and the exit of the train. It made for an interesting 3 hour ride. Once finally exiting the train we were right in the middle of a very modern looking Warsaw. It was filled with skyscrapers, malls and boujie restaurants. We had about a 45 minute walk from there to our hostel but a viscous craving for sushi stopped us about midway. We went to this sushi restaurant found on Trip Advisor and although it was a bit pricer than other Polish food it certainly satisfied our craving. After, we continued through Warsaw Old Town which is still filled with Christmas decor and markets. Once arriving to our hostel we needed a quick nap before heading back on the town. We wandered through Warsaw Old Town which is astronomically different than the city center. We stopped to try some mulled wine and I even got a paczki which I found out later is commonly served on Fat Thursday. To continue with our fantastic eats in Poland we ate dinner at a commonly known Polish restaurant called Zapiecek. We both tried traditional kielbasa with onions and sauerkraut. Determined to stay out considering it was only 8 pm we were in search for a local pub. What we found though, was Warsaw Old Town is not the area known for its nightlife. A few beers later and knowledge of an early morning flight had us in bed earlier than I’d like to admit.

Poland was like nothing I had ever expected. It was such an unfamiliar territory to me and something that was always portrayed so poorly that I almost got on that plane with a touch of fear. Little did I know that the book I chose to read on the flight would convey my emotions perfectly…

“That was the irony of travel. The bigger the distance between you and the familiar grew, the smaller and safer and friendlier the world felt.” 
-Kim Dinan