It’s Almost Time To Leave

I’m not gonna lie, the weeks right before I left for Ireland are somewhat hazy. I was a camp counselor for eight weeks during the summer, and two weeks before I left, I posted an Instagram photo from camp. That seems like it was so long ago now. Before leaving, I honestly wasn’t worried about it. I had become friends with a student from the University of Limerick when he studied abroad at New Paltz, and the idea that I would know someone when I got there was definitely a relief. I didn’t start packing until the night before I left, and I don’t think it truly felt real until then. Everybody kept telling me how awesome it was and what a cool experience it would be. When you tell people you’re gonna be studying abroad, people get really excited and it seems like it’s universally regarded as being this totally awesome thing. I talked about it a lot before I went, both to my friend from Ireland and my suite mate who had studied abroad there the semester before. It also always seemed to come up in conversation during the summer, with people from camp, with friends and with family. I was looking forward to it, but it also seemed like a far away event, basically until the night before leaving. There were some minor periods where the fact that I was leaving for four months would sink in, but it took a while for that to happen. It didn’t really sink in until a few days before.

Reflecting

It’s been about two months now since I’ve come home, I just turned twenty three days ago. I’m feeling very different. Coming home was hard, I didn’t readjust well to being treated like a kid again. In Prague I was independent and here it seems I can’t be even if I tried. As soon as I entered the country I felt this huge burden of the stupidity of our country. Something as simple as having to pay to get a cart for your luggage, that was free in every other country I went to and now I have to watch some old lady struggle with her luggage, sorry for ranting it’s just incredible how I also had better health care abroad than I do here. I’ve had the chance to taste a better way of living, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my trip to Paris and the bread/cheese I got to get from the markets. I think about my students and sometimes I get to talk to some friends that I made in Prague. If I had the choice to move there now, I would.

Watching the world from inside America again, I notice all the lies we’re fed, how terrible it really is to live inside this country right now. It’s idiotic. I’m not sure how I feel about staying after graduation, I honestly want to go back and take the job at the school that I was offered. Maybe I’ll study at Charles University once again.

Coming home

After the semester ended at Charles University, I stayed an extra three weeks to keep volunteering at the local high school. In those three weeks I felt I had built a life I would have been very happy carrying out and returning home to go to school to want to do what I was already doing at the high school seemed tedious. I knew I obviously had to come back home, but I would miss the students and the teachers I had gotten close to. Not to mention living in Prague was my actual dream come true. Traveling around Europe and seeing all these things I only dreamt of seeing made me feel so good inside despite how alone I was. Coming home gave me the worst anxiety actually; I didn’t feel like I had anything but my family to come home to (granted they’re great). I also don’t look forward to living in a country that is now ran by a dictator who is an obvious racist. I had lost an extreme amount of friends and support in general when I left to Prague. However, now I know I can leave again and that option is possible. I’m a better person in Prague, maybe that doesn’t exist and you are equally as good everywhere but I was happier there. At the end of my stay, I developed all my film and it was so nice to see my time through photos. Some moved me which sounds pretentious, but oh well. I went through so many stages while living abroad, I lived many different lives in that time. I grew up which is why I wanted to study abroad in the first place, I didn’t do it the way I wanted or planned, but I definitely changed.

Breaking stigmas about traveling alone & making friends abroad

Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.

You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.

Backpacking Europe slowly, but surely :-)

Hey there, it’s been a while. This whole experience has been incredible and it’s flying by. I find myself saying, “write a blog post now” but my time abroad is fleeing and I want to take as much of it as I can.

It’s finals week here, well more the middle of finals which is crazy to think about because it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my two week language course thinking, “this never ends” and now it’s ending too soon. Luckily for me, I’ll be staying an extra month to volunteer and I’m so thankful I was able to find a way to stay because once you’re here you don’t want to leave.

But let’s get to my title, one of the best things about studying in Prague is how central in Europe it is. This is a major advantage to traveling across Europe because it’s so easy to get to other countries for a very nice price. So far, I’ve visited:

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Spain
  • (and this very weekend, TOMORROW in fact) Paris, France

it’s been my dream to do this, it’s such an amazing opportunity that I can’t even really believe that I’ve been to all these places that I’ve only ever looked at through photos. I will not say that some places were better than others, everyone has personal opinions, but some put me under this enchantment and I found it hard to leave.

It’s amazing seeing different cities, the people are the best. You can witness how the culture is in different places not even that far from each other. And even though NYC will be there when I come back, I find myself looking for it in the cities I visit. Berlin especially reminded me of NYC, it felt like home and if I could I would study abroad there next maybe.

It’s hard trying to express the amount of feelings that I’ve experienced. Seeing the Berlin wall, something that brought so much devastation to so many lives; biking around all of Amsterdam and the Van Gogh museum after years of dreaming of seeing it. Or walking through the city that inspired Gaudi and Picasso, I could cry because I spent my whole life learning about these amazing things that some never get to experience for themselves. So passing through historical cities like Dresden where you know how bad things once were, you feel humbled.

I travel alone, partially because I don’t mix well with others and because alone you can do anything you want whenever. I enjoy putting myself into a situation where the only option I have is to step out of my comfort zone, for instance I always try to talk to locals and get a sense of what the cities are really like, not just my tourist-y version of it. That’s what I would say is one of the most important things, get a sense for the true city and not the one made for tourists. Don’t spend your whole time on the phone taking pictures; take pictures of course but make actual memories.

As for traveling within the Czech Republic, this country is overall so charming and special. I’ve gone to Pilsen where the famous beer is made and I was able to get a tour of the brewery which taught a lot about the history behind the beer. I’ve also gone to Kunta Hora earlier in the semester and saw the famous Bone Church, I’ve seen a concentration camp town, and I’ve gone hiking in their Bohemian Paradise (Česky Raj). The hike was the most memorable so far because it’s truly a paradise for hikers and people who love forests. But when I went, it was pouring hard and hailing, so it makes for a funny story.

I should get back to working now, I’m not sure if anyone reads this, but if you’re like me and you’re incredibly anxious you want as much information as possible. I hope I can help.

Study life

The semester has been going for about a month now and things are falling into place. Luckily I got into the classes I wanted and I’m thoroughly enjoying the material I’m learning as well. My classes are relatively small and we meet for 3 hours once a week. Because it is so long and full of information we take a small break. We are all foreigners in the classes, but most of the people are American. In New Paltz, there is a comfort that I know what is expected of me and that I can reach it. Here, I feel like I don’t know what the professors expect or want, I’m doing all my work but I’m never sure if it’s any good. I only have class Tuesday and Thursday so it really isn’t bad. For every class, we usually do a part of the day’s work outside in the field which is really nice. I feel like I’m learning the information differently; I supposed that’s possible because of the location. I’ve been going to museums and famous, historical locations. I’ve been learning about the time and history preserved all throughout Prague.

And the cherry on top of it all is the constant view I have from anywhere I turn.

Bard…Not the Most Italian Name?

One of the coolest cities I visited in Italy was actually very close to Italy’s French and Swiss border. Bard, Italy is unlike any other place I visited during my travels. Its scenic, winding roads give you the chills as you experience views of quaint villages nestled into the Alps and the aqua blue water of the Dora Baltea River in the Aosta Valley. I don’t think I ever took so many consecutive pictures at once; each time I took a step further, there seemed to be a better photo for me to capture. All I’m saying is make sure your iPhone Camera Roll is cleared out or you have plenty of memory in your camera before you make the journey!

Aside from the amazing views, there is also a lot of history behind this Italian city. It is home to Fort Bard (Forte di Bard), which dates back to the 1800s and the Napoleonic era. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a guided tour of the fort. While learning some key facts about Italian history, you will also be graced with a panoramic view that will truly take your breath away. There are several levels that ascend and each consecutive level offers an even more detailed view of the one before it. If you choose to take the tour, you will reach each level via a transparent elevator. This was by far the most scenic part of my trip; I simply could not look away as everything beneath me became smaller and smaller, yet so stunning at the same time.

After your tour, reward yourself with a freshly prepared Italian meal. If you don’t feel like wandering, the uppermost level of the fort has a conveniently placed café for you to take a rest and grab a bite to eat. I myself did not eat there, but when does any café in Italy disappoint you? (Hint: never). If you walk away from the river for a few minutes, you will discover a hotel called Hotel Stendhal e Hôsteria “La Pôsa Bertolin.” Within this hotel there is a dining room that serves the most delicious lasagna–you simply cannot go wrong. In addition, this could be your home for the night if you wish to stay overnight and have a little extra time to spend in this historical city!

Unfortunately, I had a limited amount of time during my visit in Bard. If it was slightly closer to my base in Milan, I would have easily made another trip or two before departing my beloved Italy. However, I did travel to Brusson, Italy from there. If you’re feeling adventurous and nature-driven, I highly suggest you find a way to get there. I had the pleasure of taking a group trip there on a double decker bus, which, in hindsight, probably was not the best idea on extremely narrow, winding roads leading up and through the Alps. A word of advice: if you make the trip to Brusson, take a small car that can handle the tight turns and small lanes! Brusson is situated within the mountains and has great trails and waterfalls if you are more into the nature and outdoors-y side of Italy. Once you enter the village, you feel as though you have entered a different world. The inhabitants of this area in Italy are so secluded and truly have the place to themselves. It’s hard to put into words, but if you go you’ll see what I mean.

I wish you luck in your travels! Buon viaggio!

Milan Calling!

Spending a semester in the fashion capital of the world was one of the best decisions I have ever made. If you haven’t been to Milan, it’s time for you to book a trip there. Right now.

Milan is a magical city. The first time I laid eyes on the Duomo, I could not believe my eyes. There is not enough time in the world to study each individual detail of this immaculate cathedral. Taking a walk inside–or to the top, if you’re willing to wait–is even better. You suddenly feel small and overwhelmed as the Duomo swallows you up in all of its Milanese glory. Throughout my three and a half months in Italy, gazing upon the Duomo was just as exciting each time I saw it.

To the left of the Duomo, you will find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is filled with stores that most of us cannot afford, but walking through this mall is simply a treat. If you’re like me, you’ll dress up in your finest clothes and wander through the Prada store imagining you have an endless supply of money to feed into your shopaholic tendencies. But in all seriousness, this gallery is absolutely beautiful for a leisurely walk or window shopping.

Just outside the Galleria you will find my favorite gelateria, Cioccolati Italiani. I honestly could have eaten here every day if I didn’t have a fear of doubling my body weight. Anything you order here will not disappoint you, but I highly recommend getting the hot chocolate. It is nothing like your typical Swiss Miss instant hot cocoa; Italy has surpassed this by a landslide. Instead of a watery cup of hot chocolate, you will be served a steaming cup of thick, creamy chocolate that almost seems as if it were a candy bar before you received it in liquid form. I would do anything to have a cup of it right now, but I’m hoping you will get it in my honor.

If you’re looking for the world’s best cappuccino, I know a place. I’m proud to say I was a regular at  Cremeria Buonarroti. My order was identical each day: “un cappuccio con cacao e un brioche con crema,” or “a cappuccino with cocoa powder and a brioche with cream inside.” Absolute heaven. To this day, I have never had a better cappuccino or better service at any of the cafés in Italy. I happened to walk in one day since it is right in front of the Wagner metro stop, and ever since that first day, the cutest Italian barista would start making my coffee as soon as he saw me walk through the door. I would do anything to go back and sip on a cappuccino while people watching at my usual window seat.

I hope this isn’t news to you, but the food you eat in Italy will be the best food you ever consume in your lifetime. I still fantasize about the many (too many?) meals I enjoyed during my time in Milan. One place in particular is Don Raffaele Trattoria Pizzeria. This may have been my favorite pizza spot in Milan. They have varieties of pizzas that are so fresh and wholesome–nothing like the artificially cheesy and greasy pizza we are so used to eating. The waiters also bring out baskets of fried dough and zucchini just in case you need a few more carbs, which you always do. Be sure to check it out!

So, what are you waiting for? Get moving and book your trip!