An Open Letter to People Suddenly Terrified of Traveling

I have some unfortunate news for you: The world we live in is a scary place. There are terrible people out there who do not value human life, and it’s absolutely horrifying. Those people are everywhere. In fact, they’ve always been there. They did not just appear within the last month, but that’s a whole different issue.

Here’s the bright side: The world we live in also happens to be beautiful. It’s full of wonderful surprises, valuable wisdom, and thousands of interesting cultures. You deserve to experience that side of the world. Do not let anyone hold you back from that. Do not let your own fear hold you back from that.

I am 22 years old and I have traveled to 12 different countries in 2015 alone. Prior to 2015, I had never been outside of the United States. I still haven’t visited all fifty of the States. Therefore, before I was infected by the travel bug I was completely inexperienced. I had no idea what to expect. I can’t possibly convey the amount of anxiety I experienced as I planned trip after trip. Hours upon hours of research went into each one, but I was always nervous regardless. Still, I traveled to 12 countries.

Every time my plane took off I was anxious. Every time my plane landed I was anxious. What if something went wrong? What if I bought the wrong ticket? Am I even going to the right airport? Which train platform do I need to go to? Did I print the proper directions to my hostel? Still, I traveled to 12 countries.

Almost every day I saw a daunting news article about terrible things happening left and right. I received a travel warning that stated American tourists were frequently being targeted while I was abroad. A train station I frequently used was put on lockdown when a mysterious object was found (it ended up being nothing). Still, I traveled to 12 countries.

Things are scary and sad right now, but do you truly believe that eliminating travel is going to protect you from any and all harm? Life is weird. Just because you choose not to go to Paris right now doesn’t mean something terrible can’t happen to you at home. I know it seems awful for me to say that, but it’s the truth. Horrible people are everywhere, and there is no way to pinpoint them. You will not escape them by making lifestyle changes. Those people could be in your city, in your neighborhood, in your grocery store! There is no way to be absolutely certain that you are never in danger.

Important figures are trying to take advantage of your high levels of emotion right now, and I urge you not to allow this to continue. You deserve to see the world. You deserve to experience every bit of its beauty in and out of the United States. You deserve to experience different cultures, see incredible architecture, and fully understand what it’s like to be in a completely unfamiliar place. It brings me to tears to even think about how different my life would be if I hadn’t explored outside this country. Let yourself have that experience. Do not let your fear control you – I cannot stress that enough.

Right now our country is filled with arguments. We’re all angry at one another during a time when we should be uniting. I see it in the news, social media, and even in my classes. However, I think we can all agree on one thing: We do not know which day will be our last. Remember that. Think about it when you’re deciding not to get on a plane to see your family over the holidays. Think about it when you have the opportunity to take a business trip overseas. Think about it before you stop believing in the good in this world.

Take chances, because you never know how those chances you take will change your life. I’ve experienced that first hand, and that’s why I would never, ever give up an opportunity to go abroad. When things are bad, there’s plenty of good somewhere, too. You just have to look for it. I can’t be sure that you’ll always be safe, but I can be sure that you have to get out and about to find the good stuff in the first place.

 

 

Being Home

The end of my semester abroad flew by. Every night during my last week, I’d lie down in bed and just stare at the ceiling wondering where on earth the day went. I couldn’t wait to see all of my family and friends, but the idea of leaving such a beautiful place had created a great sense of panic within myself.

Before I knew it, my room was empty, my bags were stuffed, and I was on my way to Schiphol Airport for the last time. I couldn’t fully comprehend what was happening. My brain was used to going to the airport week after week, so I think my body was getting ready for just another weekend trip around Europe. As I waited in the airport, I kept thinking about what was happening, but my emotions were so conflicted. I was excited, nervous, sad, and happy. And in denial.

I got through security and waited for boarding to begin. I still didn’t feel like I was reacting the way I was supposed to. I was quiet and calm even though there were a million different emotions flowing through me. Once my boarding group was called, I stood in line feeling really strange. It was like my brain was so full that I just couldn’t think anymore.

When I walked into the tunnel thing that leads to the plane, that’s when I lost it. I still wasn’t forming coherent thoughts, but tears were forming rapidly. I was breathing fast and walking even faster, as if speeding up the process would make it less painful. I am proud to say that I didn’t let any tears fall, but I was a mess for bit.

Things are different now. I moved to another country and lived there for four months. I started a new life. Then, I came back home and everything was…well, the same. There were random things I didn’t remember, like what color a certain closet door in my house was, or the size and color of the church next to my house, or certain clothes that I had in my closet, or how to get to certain places. It was eerie in a way, walking into my room and seeing Christmas candy and my stocking still on my bed. It was like Christmas happened, I blinked, went to Leiden, blinked again, and I was home.

The first week and a half of being home was a blur. I was really busy and fighting jet lag (which was so rough). I was running all over the place reuniting with family and friends. Most of all, I was just trying to adjust. Being home didn’t feel bad, but it didn’t really feel good either. It felt weird. I spent an incredible four months doing all sorts of incredible things, and then I was expected to come home and just be normal. It didn’t feel like I was on an adventure anymore. I missed Europe already.

I’ve been home for two weeks now, and I’m feeling a little bit better. A couple days ago I was feeling kind of down and I thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll save some money and go on a little weekend trip.” Then, I remembered $70 could maybe, just maybe get me to Kansas City or Chicago. A month ago it got me to London and back. Realizations like that are still hitting me every day, but it’s getting easier to handle. Familiarity is nice, English is nice, Cardinals baseball is nice, and so are all of my wonderful family and friends. I’ll always miss Europe, and I do have to go back. But I’ll also never forget how much I missed all of the wonderful people in my life while I was gone. I always wished I could’ve brought everyone with me.

I think you can expect maybe one more post from this blog. It will be a post full of all of the advice I can give to future study abroad students. Thank you all so much for reading. It means the world.

The Grand Finale – Santorini, Greece

I’m currently sitting in the Vienna, Austria airport for yet another layover. I’m on my tenth hour of layovers, actually, and that’s not counting the layovers I went through on the way to Greece. However, the twenty total hours of layovers to and from Greece are more than worth it. Greece was beautiful, shocking, inspiring, and just perfect in every way.

We landed in Santorini at 6am on Friday. We were absolutely exhausted after spending the night in the Athens airport. The owner of our hostel picked us up from the airport, and he was so very friendly from the start. As he drove through the winding roads and up and down the hills of the island, he pointed different places out to us that we may want to visit. We appreciated this gesture, but we were so tired we could barely keep track of anything he said. My exhaustion wasn’t the only thing distracting me, though. Santorini itself was quite a big distraction.

From the moment we landed I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Aegean Sea, the houses, the rolling hills and mountains were all so beautiful. When we got to our hostel Maya and I went straight to the black sand beach – which was only about a minute a away. We lied there and watched the beautiful sunrise. I’ve never seen a sunrise so beautiful. The water was sooo clear and blue. As the sun rose, we drifted in and out of sleep. I was so comfortable and sleepy listening to the waves crash and feeling the breeze. It was incredible to me that it was 7am and I wasn’t even a little bit cold. The sun felt so wonderful.

Considering our nap on the beach wasn’t exactly enough sleep to compensate for an entire night spent in a very uncomfortable airport, we took it easy the first day. We spent most of it on the amazing black sand beach. The sand was more like teeny tiny rocks, which was pretty great because it didn’t stick to everything like normal sand does. There were pretty little smooth rocks instead of seashells. The drawback was that black sand gets waaaaay hotter than normal sand.

Later that day, we spoiled ourselves and went to a beachside restaurant (and it wasn’t even really spoiling ourselves – we got Greek salad, an entree, and dessert for €12). It was so cool to enjoy a meal and be able to look out at the sea and feel the breeze. The Greek salad was AMAZING. It was so fresh and the feta cheese was pretty much the best part. I could live on that stuff.

Saturday was a much busier day. We traveled to Fira, the capital of Santorini, and we also traveled to Oia, home of the world’s most famous sunset. Being on a bus on those winding roads was kind of crazy. I felt like I was hanging off cliffs the entire time. It definitely put the island in perspective though. I had never been on an island before, and Santorini is so small that once you start climbing the mountains to get a good vantage point, you can see just how surrounded by water you are. It was really, really cool. It was also astonishingly beautiful.

Fira was a really cool place to explore. It was amazing to see how the houses and buildings almost stack on top of each other. We frequently had to walk up or down stairs to get to another “level” of the town. It’s really impressive that everything was built on such mountainous terrain. We could see many smaller islands in the distance, and we almost thought we saw snow on top of the mountains – then we realized we were actually seeing clusters of white buildings. It was amazing. Exploring Fira gave me even more opportunities to see so many incredible views of Santorini’s surroundings. We would walk ten feet, stop to take pictures, then walk ten more feet and stop to take more pictures. Everywhere we looked was a new beautiful view. Every time I took a picture, I kept thinking there was something wrong with my camera. Later on I figured out I was just realizing that pictures have no way of capturing just how shockingly beautiful everything was.

We ate with another magnificent view that day, and we were visited by a hungry kitty. Don’t worry, I resisted the temptation to give her my food 🙂 There were animals everywhere! Cats and dogs (and donkeys) just roam around freely throughout roads, shops, and restaurants. There was a cat that visited our hostel’s pool frequently to get a drink. Most of the animals had collars, so they most likely had owners, but it was interesting to see that animals just got to chill wherever.

After Fira we traveled to Oia to watch the sunset, and I was most definitely not disappointed. It was a little cloudy, but it just made the sunset a little more colorful. It did get pretty chilly because it was VERY windy that day. We were very high up, so we were getting the brute force of the wind. It was all very worth it though. The sunset was absolutely breathtaking, and the view of Oia behind us was equally beautiful. Like I said, every time we changed places, there was a new gorgeous view.

On Sunday, Maya and I rented an ATV for the day. It was seriously the best decision ever. Santorini is a place full of a small, winding roads. There are no traffic lights and there are hardly any signs until you get to a busier area. Watching buses drive around on those tiny roads was both terrifying and impressive. That being said, ATVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, etc, controlled the roads just as much as cars did. There were ATV rental places everywhere, and we knew it would be a great way to explore the island more. We discovered way more than we could have ever expected.

First of all, being on the ATV was just awesome. I really enjoy anything remotely similar to a roller coaster, and zooming around in the beautiful weather on those crazy roads was basically the same thing. I loved it. Our first stop was the red sand beach, which was – you guessed it – absolutely beautiful. Maya and I kept asking ourselves if a place like that could actually be real. It was absolute paradise, and I don’t think I fully understood what paradise was until I went to Santorini.

After more relaxation/tanning time on the beach, we hopped back on the ATV in search of the lighthouse. It was at the very tip of the island, so it was supposed to be yet another great view. As usual, we were completely caught off guard by what we found. I guess I was imagining a beach with a lighthouse standing there and more Aegean Sea. Nope. Wrong. I forgot that Santorini is basically a mountain on its own, and that we would most certainly be very elevated when we got to the lighthouse. It was my favorite view of the entire trip. I almost cried looking at it. There was endless, beautiful, sparkling sapphire water surrounding us. Looking down (hundreds of feet down) I could see the rocks at the bottom. That’s how clear the water was. We could see a couple smaller islands around us that were dusted with white buildings at the top. I can’t effectively describe how amazing it was. It was one of the many times during this semester that I got an idea of just how big this world is.

Then, out of nowhere, it was Monday. I woke up feeling really strange. Where did the weekend go? I did my best to try not to think about that and enjoy my last day in Santorini. We decided we just wanted to relax on the beach for the most part, so that’s what we did for the first half of the day. Monday was by far the hottest day of the trip. We were already pretty burnt from the previous three days, so the sun felt that much more brutal on our sensitive skin. We retired from the beach and found some shade. The rest of the day consisted of us being lazy by the pool or exploring. We looked through some of the souvenir shops, which were actually more like boutiques. The clothes and jewelry were so awesome and pretty! I got myself some new colorful “genie” pants 🙂 We went back to a gyro place we had tried the day before for lunch. It was absolutely delicious. Greek food is amazing.

It seemed that most places in Santorini were family-owned, which makes sense. Like I said, it’s a teeny tiny island. It just made the place so much more adorable though. When the hostel owner first drove us to the hostel, he kept honking and waving at people on the street. When we’d walk around and explore we’d constantly see random exchanges between people who were just passing by each other on the street. Before long, everyone knew us, too! The owner of the place we rented an ATV from waved at us every time we passed, and the owner of the gyro shop greeted us like old friends when we came back. It was so adorable and we felt so welcome. Everyone was so friendly. Eating out wasn’t just a straightforward exchange like it usually has been. The servers/owners wanted to know where we were from, how long we were staying, they wanted to joke and have a conversation with us; it was so great. It also seemed like we were there riiiiight before peak season, so the island wasn’t crowded at all. Most restaurants were close to empty, we got to pick our favorite spot on the beach every day, and the winding roads were not even close to being packed with people.

When 9pm rolled around on Monday, the hostel owner drove us back to the airport. I couldn’t believe the trip was over. As we drove away from Perissa (the town we stayed in), the hostel owner said, “Bye bye, Perissa!” I about broke down right then and there. I was sad to leave such a wonderful place, but it was also finally hitting me that this was the end of my last trip. In about 6 hours I’ll be back in Leiden, and it will be the beginning of my last few days in my second home (I’ll hardly belong there anymore with this super dark skin I got in Santorini). I’m going to spend those days going to all of my favorite places and spending as much time outside gazing at Leiden as I can. I am so sad to leave, but I am so happy to be so close to seeing everyone at home. Santorini was the perfect end to a perfect semester full of exciting travels, and I am so very thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience.

Praaaaaague

Prague was a dream. It was everything I needed and more.

At the beginning of my study abroad adventure, I thought I was going to be traveling alone for the most part. Luckily, I became very good friends with my roommate Maya. She accompanied me on most of my trips and then we planned others together. However, she was unable to go with me to Prague. So, I embarked on my second to last trip of the semester alone. It felt very strange. I kept thinking back to my solo trip to Brussels back in January. I was only a few weeks into the semester, and as I left for Prague there were only a few weeks left in the semester. It was like I had come full circle in a way, and I spent most of the plane ride thinking about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed in the last four months. But anyway…I’m sure you want to read about Prague 🙂

The Czech Republic’s currency is the Czech Koruna (Crown). It was very similar to Denmark’s currency because 1 Euro was equal to about 26 Crowns. Unlike Denmark, however, things were pretty darn cheap in the Czech Republic compared to most places in Europe. It was a nice change considering I just returned from crazy expensive Geneva.

Everything seemed to take a little bit longer since I was alone. I took a bus to a metro stop and then hopped on the metro. The metro seemed very new compared to any other metros I’ve used. It was clean and kind of cool looking. I wasn’t just surrounded by concrete walls, but by walls with cool modern patterns on them.

By the time I got to my metro stop, I was already kind of exhausted. This past week has been filled with very little sleep thanks to school keeping me busy. I slowly climbed the stairs to exit the underground thinking about how nice a nap would feel. When I got to the top of the stairs I looked up to try and find a street sign, but I was immediately distracted by…well, Prague. The idea of a nap evaporated as I looked ahead of me and saw the Prague Castle across the river. I was mesmerized. Deciding I’d find my hostel later, I walked straight to edge of the river and just stared at the castle and its surroundings. The buildings reminded me of Italy with their burnt orange roofs. The sun was beating down on me and it felt absolutely wonderful considering I’d just left windy Leiden.

I did eventually check into my hostel, but no nap for me! I couldn’t wait to get out and explore Prague, so that’s what I did. My hostel was extremely close to the Old Town Square, which was so much fun. The buildings were absolutely gorgeous. In the end I decided Prague looked like a cross between Florence and Barcelona, which is a really magnificent combination in my opinion. There was so much commotion in the square. It was surrounded by restaurants, cafes, food/beer stands, and of course there were street performers everywhere. Many people sat on the ground and chatted with their friends as the warm sunlight shone on them. It was 70 degrees the entire time I was there, which was sooo wonderful. I know my St. Louis friends and family are pretty much already enjoying those kinds temperatures, but Leiden only gets a day or two a week like that. It’s usually upper 50s here, and only half of the day is sunny. There’s always a portion of the day covered in clouds. It’s still a wonderful improvement compared to winter, though.

After spending some time in the square, I continued to explore. I was already amazed at how wonderful Prague was, but I was in for another surprise. I smelled it before I saw it. It smelled like sweet, hot caramel, and sort of like churros. When I found the source of the smell, I realized I wasn’t toooo far off. They’re called Trdelník, and they’re a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, almonds, and caramel. They were so delicious. I was totally fine with just eating those as my meals for the rest of my trip, and to be honest, that came pretty close to happening.

The next day, I enjoyed a walking tour of Prague. As usual, the guide was great. He was knowledgeable, funny, and very passionate about Prague. He took us through Old Town, New Town, and Jewish Town, where we learned about the impact Hitler and his regime had on Prague. World Wars become even more astounding to learn about when you actually get to learn about them in a number of different countries. In school, I learned about WWII in a very broad way. “This country surrendered, then this country was invaded, then that allied country became involved, and then the Americans…etc.” On these tours, I have learned about every country’s part in WWII and the suffering each country went through. It’s obviously not a very cheerful subject, but it’s incredibly interesting and eye opening.

We stopped for a break at a small place for lunch. Most people just got beer or coffee, but I was pretty hungry, and the prices on the menu were too cheap to pass up. I ordered the goulash that the guide recommended. It was pretty good considering I had no idea what to expect. Later on in the tour, the guide asked me if I liked the goulash and I told him that I liked it even though I had no idea what I was eating. “Oh, you didn’t know what it was before you ordered it?” he asked, and I told him no. He laughed and said I was “quite adventurous,” which was weird and exciting for me to hear. Four months ago I wouldn’t eat a cheeseburger with anything more than meat and cheese on it. Now I go to restaurants and just sort of go for it and order whatever. Even if I’m not a big fan of whatever it is, I finish it because I paid for it.

Our tour ended in a spot that had a lovely view of the Prague Castle. We all rushed to take pictures, and once I was done with mine I just kind of gazed at the gorgeous view. Then, a guy turned to me and said, “Hi, there! Would you mind taking a picture of us?” I recognized them from the tour and I said of course. After I was done taking pictures, I asked where they were from. They said they were studying abroad. One was from Oklahoma, and the other two were from Missouri. So of course I was all excited and said, “Ha! I’m from Missouri, too! I go to Webster University.” Then, the guy and one of the girls looked at each other slowly and said, “We…go to Webster University, too.” It turns out they were all studying at Webster’s London campus and they were on a weekend trip just like I was. It was such a crazy coincidence. We may live in a small world, after all!

I still had a large chunk of the day left, so I crossed the Charles Bridge to explore the other side of the city. The bridge was full of tourists, of course. There were lots of souvenir stands that I knew to steer clear from, and there were also tons of street artists selling their work or offering to sketch a souvenir for people. The bridge offered even more lovely views of Prague, so I took lots of pictures.

After climbing a hill to get to the castle, I wasn’t liking the 70 degree weather or the sun very much anymore. However, there was a nice breeze at the top of the hill which helped a lot. As I neared the castle, I saw an incredible view of Prague sprawling out below the castle. It was so beautiful, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand why Europe gets to be so gorgeous. When I saw the castle I kind of laughed. It was kind of an “Are you serious?” moment. It was so huge and so gorgeous and it’s so strange to think that people who live in Prague must think it’s just nothing. I keep seeing all of this beautiful stuff that people get to see every day and I don’t understand how I’m going to go home to the arch. And…actually that’s about it.

Every hour, people rush to gather around Prague’s Astronomical Clock, which really is an incredible thing. It’s the oldest, still-functional astronomical clock in existence, and it’s gorgeous. Every hour when it chimes, there’s a little show. It’s kind of like a cuckoo clock, only there are 12 apostles and 4 sins instead of a rooster. They move around like little robots, and that’s about it. The tour guide told us we should see it just to say that we saw it, but that it really was disappointing. It was kind of funny to watch people record the show with their cameras and then look down and say, “Well that was kind of silly.”

My last few hours of daylight in Prague were spent sitting in the Old Town Square and just watching everything happen around me. I watched many entertaining street performers, tried some Czech beer, and ate more Trdelník. It was actually hard to find a person who wasn’t holding a cup of beer. That wasn’t just the case in the square, either. I’d be walking down a busy street and several people would be walking past me with a plastic cup of beer in their hands. The tour guide told us that on average, Czechs get through half a liter of beer per day, per person. That’s if you include children. Without the children in the statistic, Czechs drink 1.5 liters of beer per day, per person. They really, really like their beer.

As I walked back to my hostel, the sun was setting by the Prague Castle. I have way too many pictures of that castle, but I really don’t care. It was so pretty!

Like I said before, Prague was everything I needed. I’ve been in a funk lately, and that’s mostly due to all of my conflicting emotions about going home. Prague, however, was not having that. Prague showed me that I still have two precious weeks left in Europe, and there are still many gorgeous things for me to see and incredible things for me to learn. I got on my plane back to Holland feeling much better.

The next two weeks are going to be a blur, but I am going to enjoy every moment. Today, Maya and I went to the Saturday market for the last time. Next Saturday we’ll be in Greece, and the Saturday after that we’ll be on a plane home (yikes). There’s still the Wednesday market, but the Saturday one is bigger and busier. Tomorrow we’re going on one more Amsterdam shopping trip, and on Monday we’re going back to Amsterdam for King’s Day! I am soooo excited for King’s Day. There’s already a new kind of energy around Leiden this weekend. There’s a carnival, bright orange is everywhere, and everyone is out shopping and buying extra orange to wear on Monday. It’s going to be a day full of crazy fun.

Wednesday Maya and I are going to see Pentatonix (an incredible a capella group) at the Heineken Music Arena! I really wanted to be able to see a concert in Europe, and I love Pentatonix, so it’s a win-win! Then, on Thursday we leave for Greece. We won’t be back until next Tuesday evening, which is crazy to think about. As always, time is flying. But instead of being in my funk about it, I’m just taking each day as it comes. Going home is going to overload me with emotion, but I’ll deal with that when it gets here.

Gorgeous Geneva

Our trip to Geneva involved lots of walking and us saying, “Is this even real?” The fact that people wake up every morning and just live normal lives in a place like Geneva is astounding. It was absolutely beautiful, which is really lucky, because we couldn’t afford much more than walking around.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been to a few countries since I left the US. They’ve varied in many ways, but one very important variance is the cost of living. I look into the cost of living before I go somewhere so I know how much I can expect to spend on things like transportation (when necessary) and food. I have been to some expensive places. London was pricey, Paris was too, and Copenhagen was up there as well. However, none of those places have anything on Geneva. Geneva blew every other place I’ve been to waaaaaay out of the water with its cost of living. To give you the general idea, a meal at McDonalds (burger, fries, and soda) was $13. An entree at a Applebees-level restaurant was anywhere from $18-$30. Nicer places had prices that weren’t even fathomable. So, Maya and I mostly lived on the free breakfast at our hostel (which was not bad at all) and Fruit Loops we got at a convenience store (which cost us $5 a box).

Another thing I’ll say about Geneva in comparison to other cities I’ve been to is that it’s definitely not overpopulated. Places like London and Barcelona were just packed with people, but Geneva definitely wasn’t. There was plenty of room on all of the sidewalks and traffic never seemed too bad. It felt kind of empty, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with how expensive it is to live there. If anything, the lack of overcrowding definitely added to the peacefulness of Geneva.

Geneva also looks expensive. Geneva is the cleanest, perfectly manicured place I’ve ever been to. We could see beautiful mountains from almost anywhere, the lake was breathtaking, and everywhere we looked was a mini botanical garden. I don’t think the people of Geneva believe in just green space. If there was grass, there were also gorgeous, perfect flowers, benches, fountains, anything you could think of. There were even little water fountains (that were constantly running – there was no button to push or anything) everywhere so people could refill their water bottles.

As we walked along the streets, we constantly passed extremely fancy restaurants where classy looking people were drinking wine and laughing. The cars parked on the side of the road were worth more than everything I’ll ever own in my entire life put together. Porsche, Ferrari, Bentley, you name it. And it wasn’t just one fancy car here and there – they were everywhere. Shoes also seemed to be very important to the residents of Geneva. There were so many fabulous high heels and boots. They made our sneakers look very out of place.

Additionally, Geneva is incredibly safe. We saw lots of young kids out roaming by themselves, even on public transportation. That was actually really impressive, because we could barely understand how their transportation system worked. It was very easy to use and all, but there were a million different kinds! There were trams, buses, buses that were also sort of trams…and they weren’t labeled very clearly. The transportation map was pretty much useless, as were any other maps we tried to use. Geneva seems to be good at a lot of things, but making maps is not one of them. On the bright side, all of our transportation was completely free. If you stay in a hotel or hostel in Geneva, you get a free transportation card for the entirety of your stay. We didn’t have to use it too often, though. The weather was beautiful and nothing was really too far away, so we walked a lot (my legs are quite unhappy about it today).

Geneva is famous for its watchmaking, so there were snazzy watch stores like Omega and Rolex all over the place. There was also a Swatch gallery that displayed all of its models since 1983. It was so awesome. The Swatch store also had the biggest selection I have ever seen, but I resisted the temptation to buy one. Regardless, I was in heaven. We also found the famous flower clock, which is exactly what it sounds like – a clock made out of flowers. It was really neat, and I’m glad we planned our trip in the spring because otherwise it would have just been a dirt clock. The Jet D’eau (that giant fountain in most of my pictures) made a really pretty scene even prettier, although it was only on sometimes. We couldn’t quite figure out if it was due to wind or temperature or what that decided whether or not it would be on.

We also got to see the United Nations Headquarters, which was way cooler than I was expecting. It was really neat to be there and think about how many important people have met there to decide about simple things like world peace and whatnot. It was also just beautiful, but I guess I should have been used to that since basically everything in Geneva was beautiful. The broken chair was much bigger than I had anticipated, so that was a fun aspect as well.

As we explored Geneva, Maya and I had to stop often to just gaze at the view. I almost forgot how much I love mountains. It’s very flat here in The Netherlands, and it obviously is at home, too. Luckily, I get to visit Victoria in Colorado this summer, so I won’t have to wait too long to see mountains again!

I have just over two weeks left. I’ve been very anxious lately. School has been getting very busy, I’m traveling all the time, and tons of plans keep popping up. I keep thinking of things that I need to do “before I leave,” which is a really painful phrase to say out loud. Time just goes so quickly now. I am incredibly excited to see everyone at home, but I wish there was a way to take Leiden with me. I can’t believe I only have two trips left! This Thursday I’m traveling to Prague, Czech Republic and I am ecstatic. Next Thursday I will be headed to Santorini, Greece for my last trip! After that, the next time I’ll be on a plane is to fly home. It doesn’t feel real yet, and it probably won’t until I’m halfway through that 10 hour flight 😛

The Clock is Ticking

In about a month, I’ll be back in St. Louis. I am so incredibly conflicted about it. Obviously I am so excited to see my friends and family, but the idea of leaving Leiden breaks my heart. Every morning, I look out my window to see the absolutely beautiful view my roommates and I are so lucky to have. Sometimes it makes me tear up to think I won’t get to wake up and see that anymore. It’s not just about how beautiful this place looks, either. It’s how beautiful this place is, and I’m not sure I’ve done Leiden justice when I talk about it in my blogs. So, to make this post as positive as possible, I’ve decided to talk about some of my favorite things about Leiden (in no particular order).

The Houses 

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I know I’ve posted enough pictures of these for you to know what they look like. The narrow, brick buildings that are squished together are absolutely adorable. They all have giant windows, and many of them overlook a gorgeous canal. I definitely want to live in one someday, even though my knee will hate the steep staircases.

The Canals

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There’s something about the canals that make Leiden even more peaceful. The sun reflects off of them beautifully, and the sound of rain falling into the canals is just…I can’t even describe it. It’s lovely.

Stroopwafels 

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Most of you know how I feel about caramel. I am obsessed. These crisp, caramel-filled treats are my favorite dessert, snack, and sometimes breakfast.

Fries and Mayonnaise 

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Sure, this sounds disgusting. I thought so too before I tried it. Sometimes I would order a certain dish at a restaurant that I didn’t even want just because I knew it came with fries and mayonnaise. I will miss being able to grab fries and mayonnaise in a cone from a million different places on the street.

Coffee

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You know how people always say the coffee is better in Europe? Those people are right, but it’s especially good in Leiden. Trust me, I’ve had coffee in every country I’ve been to (I have a problem).

Hot Chocolate 

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This is more of a Europe thing than it is a Leiden thing, but it needs to be mentioned. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t make hot chocolate this way, but it needs to happen. It tastes like I am just drinking chocolate (rather than drinking chocolate-flavored water).

Alcohol

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The cheap stuff is good here. I feel like that’s all that really needs to be said.

Tulips

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The tulips (and flowers in general) are just so beautiful. I love that when I take the train to Amsterdam I can see the blur of bright and colorful flower fields.

Cheese

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The Dutch are very hardcore about their cheese, and they have every reason to be. At the market (or at any cheese store really), I can choose from dozens upon dozens of kinds of cheese. It’s all incredibly delicious, and Leiden was the first place I’d ever been to where I actually saw wheels of cheese.

The Atmosphere

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This is the hardest part to explain. I am so happy that my mom came here and finally understands what I’ve been trying to convey to everyone about Leiden. Everyone here is just so relaxed (and no, that has nothing to do with pot). It’s completely normal and acceptable to go to any restaurant and just sit down to have a coffee or something. Multiple servers take your order, deliver your food, grab your bill, and whatever else, because they all get paid a normal wage. Tipping is not a thing here. Therefore, they don’t care if you sit at a table for hours because it’s not “their” table. Aside from that, every place has outdoor seating. If it’s chilly out, they usually have space heaters of some kind, and even blankets!

For the most part, I’ve been in denial about the end of my adventure being ever so close. I’ve just constantly been soooo conflicted. Spring is absolutely beautiful here, just as I imagined it would be. I see flowers blooming, I hear real birds chirping (as opposed to the usual seagulls squawking), the boats that have been docked for so long have finally started sailing through the canals, and I’ve been so transfixed by it all. But in the back of my mind, there’s a little voice telling me my time here is almost over.

I have been frantically trying to plan things and get so much done ahead of time so that I can truly enjoy my last month here. I have already completed two final papers that are not due until May 7th. This is absolutely unheard of considering I usually write my papers the night before they’re due. Next Thursday begins the whirlwind that is the rest of my time here: Geneva, Prague, a flower parade, King’s Day, Pentatonix, Santorini, and then…home. It’s going to be a wild, busy month, and I don’t want to worry about homework or errands throughout that time.

I know people who have gone through the “reverse culture shock” after returning from a semester abroad, and I know it’s going to hit me hard. Luckily, I have incredible people waiting for me to get home, and I know they are going to make everything significantly easier. The only thing that makes me confident I’ll get through it is the love and support I know I’ll have from everyone at home. And maybe Cardinals baseball, too 🙂

My mom and I head to London tomorrow, and I am so incredibly lucky to be able to visit that gem of a city once again. When I left, I thought I wouldn’t be back for years. I am soooo happy I was wrong! I’m very excited to show my mom around and to see London during spring!

My mom is here with me for a few more days, and I’m so happy she got to visit. Sharing the beauty of this wonderful place with her feels amazing. Pictures and blog posts will never do Leiden justice. All of you need to add coming to this place on your bucket list right now! Below are some pictures from our visit to Keukenhof Gardens today…yet another reason to visit this place 🙂

Remembering Leiden

I’ve often heard the phrase, “Scars are like tattoos, but they have better stories.” Perhaps that’s true for some, but the stories accompanying the two scars on my knee don’t represent good stories. They represent a rather painful time in my life when I discovered I wasn’t invincible and that the things I love can always be taken away from me. It wasn’t all bad, though. I was eventually forced to realize that I was capable of doing things other than playing soccer. Those injuries, however traumatic and painful they may have been, helped me discover a different side of myself. If that hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t be here in Leiden today.

Leiden is an experience that has changed me in ways I never could have imagined. Again, I discovered that I’m capable of so much more than I have ever realized. My time here has been enlightening, beautiful, and full of adventure. It’s something I never want to forget. Leiden deserves a scar – not a scar with a great story behind it, but a scar with an incredible journey behind it.

Leiden’s coat of arms features two keys crossing over each other. Because of this, Leiden is often referred to as the “Sleutelstad” or “Key City.” The keys can be found everywhere – on churches, buses, tourist centers, fences, even on little shiny coins built into the cobblestone. The keys are Leiden’s symbol, which is why I chose them to be my new “scar.”

I realize getting a tattoo is a big decision, and there’s a great possibility that people reading this find tattoos gaudy, gross, inappropriate, etc. You may think this is considered harming my body in some way. I guess in a way, that’s true. However, the scars I already had were chosen for me. I didn’t get to decide where they went, what they meant, or why I had them. I also had a reaction to the stitches the surgeon used, so the scars turned out to be significantly uglier than he’d planned, but that’s a whole different story. The point is, this was my decision. Instead of looking at my knee and thinking, “Ugh. I hate those things,” I can look down at my ankle, smile, and think, “Leiden.”

Lovely Ireland

My trip to Ireland came out of nowhere. This past week was a blur of getting Evan back to the airport, starting new classes, my school workload multiplying, and trying to readjust to Northern Europe weather. I didn’t pack or prepare at all for this trip until about 8 hours before I had to leave. I was obviously excited to go to Ireland, but I had not yet recovered from all of the running around that was spring break. So, from the very start of this trip, I was exhausted.

Ireland was one of the shortest trips I’ve planned. In order to be able to travel to as many places as possible during my four months abroad, I’ve had to make some trips slightly shorter than I’d prefer. However, I think it’s worth it because I can experience as many cultures as possible this way. Maya and I arrived in Ireland on Thursday morning and left Saturday.

On Thursday we spent the day exploring Dublin. My first impression of Ireland was that it was just such a cheerful place. People were so friendly and actually pretended to care about us! Don’t get me wrong, people in Europe aren’t necessarily mean, they’re just very straightforward. They say hi and ask what you want. In Ireland, I was really confused. They asked, “How are you?” to start the conversation, and I was flustered. I was just ready to order my food, so I had to take a moment and remember how to answer that question.

Dublin was a very clean, safe city. After spring break I got very used to seeing beggars and shady salesmen all over the place. There was little to none of that in Dublin, and it was a very nice change. As we explored, we saw that St. Patrick’s day decorations were still up. There were balloons, banners, and some buildings were lit up with green lights. It was cool to see, and I bet it would be amazing to celebrate there for St. Patrick’s day. The few tourist shops we walked into were playing light, happy Irish music. It made me smile. Guinness and Jameson logos were everywhere, of course.

We went to the Guinness brewery on a whim, and I am so glad we did it! It was really neat – and I got to try my first Guinness for free! The tour was 7 floors high, complete with a really awesome bar at the top that had a gorgeous view of Dublin. Maya and I were sitting, just drinking our Guinness and people-watching when she saw Usher. Yeah, THE Usher. I thought Maya was joking when she said she saw him, but there he was. I couldn’t believe it. We stared at him for a while, took a bunch of sneaky pictures, and I eventually inconspicuously got his autograph. What luck! (You might say we had the luck of the Irish.)

Maya booked this trip after I did, so our itineraries were a little different for the second day. She was also staying in a different hostel, which made coordination between the two of us a little difficult. We struggled slightly with navigation, and I wholeheartedly believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t prepare a thing for this trip until a few hours before. I even used the compass on my phone, and I’m pretty sure that was a first. If there’s one thing I’m excited for when I return home, it’s the full use of my phone. If I get lost in the US, I just use Google maps. I can’t do that here because I didn’t get an international phone plan. Unless I’m connected to WiFi, my phone is basically just a watch (I suppose it’s also a compass). So, I’ve gotten really good at reading maps. Well…I’ve gotten really good at depending on maps. It may not be fair to say I’m good at it just yet.

I passed out Thursday night the moment my head hit the pillow. My travels in Europe have definitely changed how finicky I used to be about sleeping in strange places. I used to lie awake all night during my first night in a hotel or even at a friend’s house. Now, I have zero problems. I suppose after you’ve slept in an airport, you can sleep just about anywhere. Plus, I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I had a very early morning to look forward to the next day. It was for a great reason though – a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher! I’d been looking forward to finally seeing the beautiful Cliffs, and I was really happy to be going on a tour that involved no planning or navigating whatsoever on my part.

The bus tour departed at 6:50am and returned to Dublin at 7pm. The driver/guide was awesome. He was Irish of course, so I got to listen to his awesome accent the entire time. He also turned out to be a decent singer! He sang us a few Irish songs throughout the trip. He started with a really sweet song about sunny days that pretty much put me to sleep. I slept a lot on that bus ride, to be quite honest. In between naps, I got to see Dublin turn into the beautiful countryside, and it was just…well, beautiful! Gosh, Ireland is gorgeous. There were gorgeous rolling green hills, adorable cows and sheep, cute cottages, and really old towers that were built years and years ago. I loved it.

When we got to the Cliffs of Moher, the luck I’d experienced the previous day seemed to have evaporated. We got off the bus and pretty much all we could see was fog. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen fog so dense, and I grew up in a farm town surrounded by a bunch of corn fields which were frequently covered in fog. When we approached the edge of the Cliffs, I heard many sarcastic remarks such as, “Wow, great view!” People were pretty upset. We couldn’t see anything. I could hear the ocean, I could smell it, and I could even feel it…but I could not see it. It was kind of heartbreaking, but I forced myself to be positive. I did what a lot of others did and walked back and forth to different locations, straining my eyes to try and force them to see through the fog. Every now and then the fog would lift a teensy bit and I could just barely see the water, but only for a second.

A lot of people headed back to the bus early, but I was not about to give up. I had an hour and half on those cliffs, and I was going to enjoy it one way or another. I’ve seen plenty of gorgeous pictures of the Cliffs of Moher, and sure, I would’ve liked my own pictures, but isn’t the point of being there to actually experience it? So, that’s what I did. I stood there, closed my eyes, and just listened to the ocean. I felt the breeze, heard the waves crashing, and breathed in the smell of the sea.

After a while, I opened my eyes and saw there was a path I hadn’t taken yet. I’m not kidding about this fog, it was so dense I could not see further than about 20 feet. So, navigating the area was kind of tough. That path seemed to be a way to get to the highest point of the Cliffs. I don’t know much about how fog works, but for some reason I could see the ocean significantly clearer from that point. Ignoring a sign telling me not to climb over this little fence that was begging to be climbed over, I got as close as I possibly could. I saw that ocean after all! I know my view of the Cliffs wasn’t as great as it could have been, but I did get to see and experience them. It was amazing.

After the Cliffs of Moher, our bus drove away from the fog and to The Burren, which was incredible. The fog did not follow us there, and we had a clear view of the ocean and the amazing terrain around us. I had never seen anything like it. The ground was just rock; there was hardly any soil to be seen. There were many large “cracks” between them, and it made walking a little tricky. I didn’t care, though. I wish we could have spent more time there so I could have walked all over the park. It was breathtaking.

We took a few more stops on the way back to Dublin, and it was all gorgeous. Ireland took me by surprise, it really did. People have always told me how beautiful it is, but it’s not something you can really comprehend until you see it. Everything about it was gorgeous – the friendliness of the people, how green everything was, the peacefulness, the tiny villages, the animals grazing everywhere, and obviously the amazing geological sights such as the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. There are so many more things I want to see in Ireland, and I know I’ll have to go back.

When I was deciding whether or not to study abroad, people (myself included) kept saying, “You have to do it, you’ll never have an opportunity like this again.” After seeing and doing everything I have, I’ve realized that I absolutely must have opportunities like this again. This isn’t something I can do just once. There is so much in this world that I haven’t seen yet, and I refuse to go home and believe that I won’t be able to come back and see more (and revisit some things). I am so happy I did take advantage of this opportunity, because I got started early. I have years and years to keep exploring the world, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.

I’m home in Leiden now, and I’m still exhausted. I have also had a perpetual headache which recently brought its close friend, sore throat. Sleep is definitely calling my name. Luckily, I have plenty of time to rest and tackle the enormous amount of homework that keeps piling up. My next trip isn’t until the first week of April when my mom comes to visit! I’m taking her to see London. After that, I just have Geneva, Prague, and Santorini. It’s crazy how all of this is flying by. Anytime I’m out and about in Leiden, I find myself walking slower and taking in the sights longer. I have fallen in love with this place, and it’s going to be very hard to leave. Like I said before, I will most definitely have to come back.

Spring Break – Paris, Rome, and Florence!

Spring break was one of the busiest, craziest, happiest weeks of my life. This was not only because of everything I got to see and do, but also because Evan finally came to visit. I am so very thankful that he was able to make it over here and enjoy spring break in Europe with me 🙂 I showed him around Leiden and Amsterdam before we embarked on our international travels.

Paris

There’s a reason I’m able to travel to so many places during my semester in Europe. Well, two reasons. 1. I worked three jobs before coming here. 2. I’m cheap. Reason number 2 is the motivation behind our decision to take a 7 hour bus ride to Paris. Thanks to my many years of traveling for soccer, I am no stranger to long car rides, but that didn’t make the ride any more comfortable. It was worth it, though!

When we arrived in Paris, we couldn’t get off the bus. Everyone was standing up and just waiting. We looked out the window and saw a large group of very intense looking policemen looking around the bus. Eventually, two of those policemen boarded the bus and began looking all over the place – under the seats, on top of the luggage racks, in the bathroom, everywhere. After not finding whatever they were looking for, the police allowed us to begin leaving the bus. It took forever, because each passenger had to present their passport and answer some questions. The police officer asked us how long we would be in France, then requested to search our bags. Looking around, I saw that every passenger had to open their suitcase for a police officer and allow him to search through it.

The police officer asked me a question with a very heavy French accent, so I didn’t understand him the first time. He clarified by asking, “No cannabis? Marijuana?”

Oh. Right. We were on a bus from Amsterdam. Everything suddenly made sense.

After the police finished searching my bag in about five minutes and Evan’s in about fifteen (his Spider-Man playing cards seemed especially dangerous), we finally set off to find our hostel. My first impression of Paris was that even the biggest, best cities have a really gross metro. Once we exited the metro, I saw that Paris above ground was also…well, kind of gross. I did love Paris and all of the things we saw and did, but I feel like people tend to describe it as this gorgeous, pristine, glamorous city…and it’s really not quite at that level in my opinion. Paris is amazing, interesting, and spectacular…just not very clean.

Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower. Wow. Of all the things I’ve seen so far throughout my travels, this sight was definitely the most surreal. It’s such an iconic monument, and you see it all over movies and TV shows, so to actually see it in person was just weird. I had butterflies just looking at it. We were there as the sun was setting, so we got our first sight of the Tower all lit up as we were right underneath it. Then, to many “oohs” and “aahs,” the Tower’s white lights started blink, giving it a gorgeous glittering effect. It was incredible. When we got to the top the sun had completely set, so we could see all the lights of Paris. It was absolutely breathtaking. I think that’s the least Evan talked during the entire trip 😛

The rest of our visit to Paris was very packed, but we managed to do quite a bit in very little time. We saw the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Montmartre, Luxembourg Garden, Notre Dame, and we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (which consisted of stores so luxurious that I feared the products’ value would drop the moment I walked in).

Some smaller, not so Eiffel Tower-level highlights: Every major monument we visited had at least five military guards present. I saw watches that were more expensive than cars. I saw a giant bottle of Chanel perfume that would literally last a lifetime. It was the size of the fifth Harry Potter book and it was 3000 Euro. Upon walking into the Disney store, I heard “Let it Go” in French. Baguettes are a super big deal. I saw someone walking down the street eating a baguette sandwich every few minutes. There were crepe stands all over the place. We got one and it was delicious! We were once confused for Australians. We were also confused for Latinos.

Rome

Rome was the most rushed part of the entire trip. We anticipated this, but that didn’t make things much easier. We had a lot to see in very little time, and it didn’t help that Rome was the hardest city to navigate. The winding streets changed their names every ten feet, and intersections were really hard to figure out because they had ten different streets sprouting from them at several different angles.

Our first stop was The Vatican, which was a lovely way to witness some of the amazing architecture we were going to see in Rome. It was very beautiful and huge. It was also packed because the Pope had spoken earlier that day. We also saw The Pantheon, The Spanish Steps, and my favorite, The Colosseum. This part was quite the adventure because the Colosseum website did not bother to mention that it would be closing at 5 for a small period of time. We raced to get there before their last entry (which was supposed to be 6:15) and made it just in time…only to find out that it closed at 5. We were really, really upset. However, we were determined to get in to the Colosseum. We found out that it opened at 8:30am, and our train to Florence left at 9:50 the next morning. So, we got up bright and early, made sure we were at the doors before they opened, and we got to go inside the Colosseum. Just being able to make that happen made Rome a huge victory for us. After that, we had to race back to the hostel, check out, and race to the train station. We made it with ten minutes to spare. Woot!

We also saw the Trevi Fountain, but it was missing a pretty important component – the water. The drawback of traveling in the off-season is that you are bound to find out that some of your favorite sights are under construction. Well, the Trevi Fountain was under construction. We still got to see the structure itself, and it was beautiful. We agreed that this was just a reason for us to come back to Rome one day.

Some smaller, not so Colosseum-level highlights: We saw quite a few cats! There were even a couple in the Colosseum while we were there, and I was really excited about it. I had my first Italian Gelato in Rome (I’m pretty sure this is the only reason Evan wanted to go to Italy) and it met every expectation I had. It was amazing. By the end of our visit to Rome, my legs were dying. We were literally running around in Rome, and we were both absolutely exhausted. The metro in Rome was nuts. It only consists of two lines, and they only intersect at one station. So, if you want to get really, really close with the people in Rome, just hop on the metro. Thankfully, we were able to walk to most places we needed to get to.

Florence

This was easily my favorite part of the trip. From the moment our train left the station and the scenery started to change, I could not contain my excitement. The view from the window was beautiful. We passed so many hills with little clusters of Tuscan-colored houses on top. It really felt like what I’d always imagined Italy to be.

Walking around Florence was incredible. In fact, that’s all I really needed to do. I didn’t care what we did or what we saw, I just wanted to walk around and pretend I lived there. The weather was gorgeous, the buildings were gorgeous, the language was gorgeous. I was ecstatic. It was also the most relaxing part of our trip because we weren’t on a tight schedule like we were in Paris and Rome. Everything was close together, there was no such thing as the metro, and I couldn’t possibly have been more thrilled. I was so done with the underground at that point of our trip.

I did do more than just walk around and pretend I lived in Florence, though. There were so many different museums to go to, but we chose the one that featured Michelangelo’s David – Academia Galleria. There are a couple copies that we found throughout Florence, but we wanted to see the original. The museum was really awesome, too. I can only look at paintings for so long, but sculptures are a totally different story. It was amazing to imagine how long it would take someone to actually sculpt the incredible art that we can still see today.

Florence had many notable churches that we were able to see, the biggest (and my favorite) being La Catedral de Santa Maria del Fiore. It’s the fourth largest church in the world, and for me it’s the second most beautiful (La Sagrada de La Familia being the first). When Evan and I were looking for it with our map, we both had a moment where we looked up and saw a huge tower in the distance and said, “Yeah, I’m thinking that’s it.” With Florence being as small and compact as it was, this church just towered over everything. It was definitely impossible to miss. It was really, really pretty. I loved the art on the walls, and it was a totally different kind of beautiful at night.

We also walked along the Arno river, which was lined with all of the gorgeous Tuscan-colored buildings of Florence. We crossed Ponte Vecchio, a very famous bridge that featured TONS of jewelry stores. I had to have seen every stone and every metal there is. It was all beautiful and crazy expensive. After all of the walking, our legs were super sore again. I definitely needed all of the walking though, because Italian food was everything I’d dreamed it would be. I tried gnocchi for the first time and it was the most amazing thing ever. I also had tons of other delicious pasta, pizza, and obviously gelato. It was all so amazing. We ate very well in Italy. The wine was equally wonderful 🙂 We tried limoncello as well, and I think we both could do without trying it again. It was both lemony and citrusy…and really, really strong.

Some smaller, not so La Catedral de Santa Maria del Fiore-level highlights: After lots and lots of climbing, we reached the highest point of Florence (Michelangelo’s Point) and it was so gorgeous. It was also nice and breezy, which was perfect after our exhausting climb. We went to the central market which featured tons of leather! Jackets, shoes, purses, you name it. Also, shopping in Florence was almost as luxurious as it was in Paris. Lots of expensive things that are worth more than I am.

The End

Unfortunately, our spring break adventure did have to come to an end. It went by so fast. It was quite the struggle getting to class today. It was an even bigger struggle to say goodbye to Evan again. I thought it might be easier than when I left in January, but it wasn’t. It was waaaay worse this time. On the bright side, we know we’re perfectly capable of getting through it, and I have many more adventures planned until I see him again 🙂

Bouncing from place to place was incredibly busy and stressful, but it put an even bigger emphasis on how important traveling is for me. At one point during the trip Evan said, “You don’t realize just how many people are in this world until you travel like this.” We explored three different countries and five different cities together, and each place had different defining characteristics. Each time we got off a bus, train, or plane, it was very obvious that we were somewhere new. We experienced different architecture, different languages, different foods, different customs, different attitudes, and even different ways of walking (or shoving).

As usual, coming home to Leiden was an incredible feeling. I was really happy to see that Evan understood just how wonderfully peaceful Leiden is compared to the hustle and bustle of other cities. The traffic in Paris and Rome was just absolutely nuts. There were no lanes, pretty much no one obeys crossing signs, and it was just utter chaos. Coming back to bicyclists that give the right of way to pedestrians was wonderful. We had one more day in Leiden before Evan had to leave, and it was just the relaxation we needed.

Evan’s on his way home now and I’m sitting here recovering from my first day back to class. It’s quite a challenge to stay focused when all I really want to do is pretend I live in Florence again. I leave for Ireland on Thursday. You may be thinking, “Alexia! Why on earth would you plan to go to Ireland right after such a long, busy trip?” The thing is, I didn’t plan on going to Ireland on March 19th. I planned on going to Ireland on February 19th. This girl learned how to double-check what she’s booking before hitting “submit” the hard way.