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)

 

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!

 

 

 

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