Nothing says dumb and spontaneous more than driving 6 hours round-trip to hit up the Windy City for less than 48 hours...but there we were in the car trying to race traffic in time to make Andrew’s surprise party (who is Caroline’s best friend’s husband).
While Chicago isn’t our favorite city (no offense), we were happy to escape Indy and take a break from binge watching Yummy Mummies. Since our trips to Chicago haven’t always been wonderful experiences, we were determined to leave with happy memories. Shoutout to Lacey for cramming 7 of us into her apartment! We had so much fun celebrating Andrew’s bday, chowing on oreos, getting to know his friends who live in Indy too (yay for new friends!), and sleeping on $7.00 blow-up mattresses :D
As new Chicagoans, Lacey and Andrew took us to the #1 breakfast spot in the city, Kanela Breakfast Club. While munching on some super delicious monkey bread, I learned the greatest baby name of all time: Loki Psychosis Evilsizer. Yes, there’s actually a child out there with this name...he is destined to do great things.
After breakfast, we explored Navy Pier and gawked over how half of the lake was covered in ice while the other half was flowing normally. Nature is weird. At the Pier, we stumbled onto a Chinese New Year Festival. It was awesome! We saw lion dancers, a drum team, martial arts, and hip hop routines. Of course, Caroline and I were geeking out over everything.
After choking down straight alcohol, we decided to play along and be spies-“Bad Bunny” and “Carlos” were on the case. We ended up sleuthing around the bathrooms, going through a laser maze and completing the mission. BUT we didn’t know that the door to leave the restaurant is actually connected to a hotel. We looked like idiots as we came through this secret door of a hotel lobby, completely confused. “Where the hell are we??” Families checking in to the hotel were just as confused as to where we came from-one little boy had his jaw to the floor.
No surprise that we can never leave a city without a super weird encounter/story,
So here is the story of Shoeshine Kelly:
While waiting on the corner for our Uber, this lady starts chatting our ear off about her shoe polishing business. Clearly we look like easy targets, but she was funny, so we listened to her pitch. As Caroline is talking to our Uber on the phone, Shoeshine Kelly yanks her leg up and starts spreading polish all over her boots before Caroline can stop her. Like a good friend, I just stood there laughing as Caroline is trying to balance-still on the phone-while Shoeshine Kelly drags her leg around screaming, “Look at them in the LIGHT! No, in the LIGHT!” Caroline was finally able to break free of Shoeshine Kelly’s grip and jumped into our Uber-but not before she left us with this profound advice: “If your shoes aren’t bright, you’re not getting laid tonight!” Thanks, Shoeshine Kelly.
And on that note, another memorable Chicago trip was in the books.
Pillow, blanket, travel companion...did you know a scarf could be so many things? Well, this is the story of how my scarf became a part of my identity as a traveler, and how I wore it so often, that my friends used it to pick me out of crowds (and made fun of me often).
Growing up, we all have that item that's a kind of security blanket to us. This item usually goes everywhere with us and brings us comfort that doesn't always make sense. As a child, it might have been a stuffed animal, a blanket or maybe even a favorite book. Honestly, I don't really remember having anything that came everywhere with me (although I'm sure my parents could tell some stories), but the same idea can apply when traveling.
On my first trip abroad, I was nervous. I'd never traveled by myself before, and I was heading off with a group of people I barely knew, but who were supposed to become my best friends and adventure buddies over the following couple of months. Well, the trip was amazing, and I did meet my ultimate adventure buddy, Lexa, but it wasn't until the last month of my trip that I found my comfort blanket...or maybe I should say my comfort scarf, and the little guy's been quite the travel partner ever since.
My scarf began coming everywhere with me (if you don't have a blanket scarf, you need to get one ASAP). It's served me as a pillow on airplanes, trains and busses. I made it through the coldest and most miserable night at a hostel in Italy by using it as a blanket. When I don't feel like talking or I want to hide from a photo/video, it shields me. It started popping up in every picture I took, and soon became a part of my identity as a traveler.
My friends could recognize me by my scarf and would ask if I was forgetting something if I left the house without it (I made a tour bus turn around to get it when I left it in a locker in Italy). My sister even made me a book about my travels where my scarf and I made an appearance.
Even though my friends have forced me to buy a new scarf (and wash the old one), my blanket scarf holds a special place in my heart. It may be taking a short break in my closet, but we're both ready and waiting for the next adventure we take together.
One of the best things about traveling is that it’s like a break from real life; you’re just living for yourself and in the moment. But it’s also a dangerous mindset because unless you’re a traveling influencer on Instagram or have boatloads of money, real life is always in the shadows-with bills, social pressures, insecurities, etc. Dark, I know, but it’s the truth.
When I decided to kick off post-college life with a four-month volunteer trip to Europe, I was equal parts excited and relieved. Not only did I have a plan in place that I was genuinely happy about, but I wasn’t stressed about finding a job; that was future Lexa’s problem. While my friends were filling out law school applications, I was flipping through guidebooks. I felt like I had slyly avoided the post-grad pressure of “having my stuff together.” I had MONTHS to figure out my next move.
So, the big question: Was traveling worth the career setback?
For others out there banging their heads into a wall (because job searching sucks), here’s what I learned:
One of the biggest shocks returning from abroad was not being surrounded by new people. Conversations with a completely ordinary person turned into something extraordinary: We were challenged to think differently, connect with someone who didn’t speak our language or laugh with a stranger about our shared travel screwups. These moments don’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re thrown back into the same day-to-day, you miss them.
So long story short, that’s how we became Diversity Ambassadors.
What Are a Few of Our Favorite Memories as Diversity Ambassadors? Some of our favorite moments were as simple as taking a trip to Wal-Mart for the first time and watching our exchange students agonize over 20 different pizza brands. We made memories experiencing new things 10 minutes away from campus, like Latin Nights at the Jazz Kitchen-where we all learned how to salsa dance.
Traveling is never a walk in the park...for us it's more of a trip or stumble. We learned early on when we studied abroad together that for some reason, we attract peculiar situations. Our days never ran smoothly. Either we were sprinting to catch a train, hunting the streets for a McDonald's when we were grumpy or getting lost in translation. But not one day went by where we didn't laugh over our mishaps. Hey, they always make for good stories. Last Fall was no different; so without further ado, please enjoy our top embarrassing moments abroad:
ATTACK OF THE PIGEONS
Nothing screams "watch these girls look like idiots" like having a giant flock of pigeons attack you in the middle of Amsterdam's main square. We spent our entire trip in Europe running from these giant rats with wings. Picture two grown women huddling together screaming/crying/laughing (a truly terrifying combo) as a hoard of our least favorite creature flew at us. What makes this even better is that this was a very public area, so groups of strangers had the pleasure of watching our humiliation.
If you know us, then you know Lexa and I are a bit notorious for barely making all forms of transportation. It doesn't matter if we build mountains of extra time into our schedule. Somehow we always end up sprinting to our train, missing it, or barely making it through the doors. After checking out Snowdonia National Park for the day, we were hanging out in a station cafe while waiting to catch our train out of Wales. Per our usual luck, it arrived early and we weren't paying attention. Suddenly, we noticed the train at our platform and went into straight panic mode, praying it wouldn't pull out of the station without us.
In the process of snatching up our bags, our table toppled over, causing a huge scene. Since I was in little booties, Lexa ran ahead to hold the doors open for me. For some reason, I found it extremely important to grab her box of mints on the floor and to scream, "I HAVE YOUR MINTS!" while running behind her, as if it was the most valuable thing in the world. I jumped through the doors just as they were closing...right on my bag. We pulled and tugged until the doors finally released it. We collapsed in our seats, breathless and completely out of sorts, but also feeling victorious that we didn't miss the thing. Cue the awkward moment when the guy across the aisle just ended up staring at us while we sat - unmoving - for at least five minutes *face palm.*
Booking an AirBnb is always a bit risky. What if it doesn't look the same as online? What if the location isn't right?...Or what if you have naked roommates? A new trend we saw traveling is that now people actually run their AirBnb's like real B&Bs. So it's super common to share a house with a bunch of strangers each renting a room. While hanging out in our room in Cardiff, Caroline went to wash her face before bed.
Suddenly I heard her stammer, "Oh...sorry" before scurrying back into our room with a wild look on her face. "He was naked," she said. Huh? She proceeded to rehash the unexpected flashing incident. Apparently the bathroom door had been cracked open, so Caroline knocked before entering. Instead of responding like a sane person-covering yourself with a towel, replying "in a minute," or closing the door-the strange guy announced: "I'm coming out. And I'm naked." Poor Caroline was scarred for the rest of our stay, but luckily our eccentric neighbor locked the bathroom door from then on.
ROXANNE: THE DEVIL'S CAR
In the spirit of adventure, we decided to take a road trip through the English countryside. Nothing sounds more peaceful than that, right? Well, it would have been if our car hadn't malfunctioned. Oh, and I hadn't learned how to drive stick shift two weeks before. Out of nowhere, our car started shutting off at stoplights. We almost got hit in the middle of a busy intersection, were cussed out multiple times and had to beg a construction crew to reverse the stupid thing for us. After two days of constant stopping/starting and straight up fear every time we came to a stop light, we decided Roxanne had seen her final days. After getting pushed off the road (for the third time) and being stranded for over two hours, we were calling it quits on this relationship. Only public transportation from now on. There's only so much terror that two girls can laugh off and only so many Mcnuggs that can heal the emotional stress Roxanne put us through.
"I HATE MY LIFE"
When we finally arrived in Madrid-our home away from home-after two years masterminding our great return to Spain, we were excited to experience life in this fantastic country again. Too bad we didn't factor carrying a 50 lb. suitcase, backpacks and two carry-on bags into the equation. Instead of getting a taxi (like normal people) we decided to take the "we're independent, strong women" route...which we regretted instantly. By our fourth metro transfer during rush hour, we were dripping in sweat and literally throwing our bags-which were about as big as we are-down the staircases (because of course none of the metro stations have elevators). A few kind men attempted to help us, but they seemed a bit scared once they encountered a frustrated Caroline yelling "I hate my life!" as she hurdled her suitcase down yet another flight of stairs.
If you know Mai, then you know that most of the time she's either eating or thinking about eating. So, it only makes sense that when showing us around Austria, she included restaurants in the tour. After scrolling through TripAdvisor, we decided on a nice sushi place and set out to find it. When we arrived, it looked nothing like we expected. It was extremely narrow with a to-go window and three tables squished in the corner. We sat scrolling through the online photos again trying to decide how they'd gotten away with lying about so many details. Did we choose the wrong side of the restaurant and there was another, nice side right through a door? It wasn't until we left that we realized there were two Asian restaurants literally right next to each other. Our powers of observation are clearly always on point. Whoops.
Since getting home, I always get asked what my favorite country was. To be honest, I have no idea. Each country brings its own challenges and adventures and comes with its own unique charm. Some countries stand out for their food and wine, while others stand out for the history or scenery.
Walking tours & museums are a great way to learn the history of a city, but sometimes Lexa and I just needed to get out and do something a little off the beaten path. Sometimes it was as simple as trying a new bar or weird attraction, but other times it meant putting on the workout gear and doing something a little more adventurous. Here are a few of our favorite adventures & excursions from our trip:
Since getting home, I always get asked what my favorite country was. To be honest, I have no idea. Each country brings its own challenges and adventures and comes with its own unique charm. Some countries stand out for their food and wine, while others stand out for the history or scenery. It’s hard to pick one favorite country, so when people ask me this question, I usually break my top countries into categories.
Some of my favorite places on our last trip to Europe were the countries that could be traveled cheaply because I got to enjoy life a little more freely there without blowing my budget.
Here’s two of my top picks for cheap and amazing cities that must go on your European Bucket List:
Unfortunately, both of these incredibly cheap, beautiful and fairytale-like cities were only day trips. I probably could have saved quite a bit of money and really enjoyed a few more days in both places, but they made the top of my list for must see, budget-friendly European cities.
Climbing towers, cliffs and hills is pretty doable in your 20s...but in your 50s? Not so easy.
Some people are turned off to the idea of traveling so young: you have no money, are just starting a career and trying to juggle new adult responsibilities, all while planning out the details of your trip. But these are actually the secret weapons as to why traveling in your twenties is so EXCITING.
With every big city advertising tours, adventures and enough activities to fill up months, it's hard to know where to start when figuring out what tourist attractions are worth the money. In Australia, a place that’s notoriously expensive, it's easy to spend your whole budget way too quickly. After exploring the Australian East Coast for three weeks, here are five tourist attractions that I think are totally worth the money,
Great Ocean Road (throughout Victoria) – This is a famous tourist attraction for a reason – the views are unbeatable. Follow the winding roads along small, beach side towns and through nature reserves for one of the prettiest, most peaceful drives you will ever do. If you’re lucky, you might even see a kangaroo hop across the road. The price just depends on how much it costs to rent a car and fill it up with gas. It will be a bit pricier if you’re under 25 because you have to pay a young driver fee.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (Brisbane) - When I thought about Australia, koalas and kangaroos were two of the first things that came to mind. So I knew that one of my must dos was to hold a koala. I learned through Pinterest that Queensland is the place to go and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is an easy bus ride from Brisbane. You can expect a ticket to the sanctuary along with a photo pass (it comes with a professional photo of you holding a koala and the ability to take photos of all the animals) to cost about $50.
It's also supposed to be one of the most humane sanctuaries - they frequently switch out the koalas being held, make sure you're very cautious with them and place a big emphasis on conservation. It was such a fun break from touring big cities, and I got to hold a koala and feed/pet kangaroos. Australian dream....check.
No real intro needed here; just a snappy list of what we loved and hated through our four months of travels in Europe.
I feel like when many people picture Amsterdam, they think of a more chill Vegas: prostitutes dancing in the windows and everyone smoking weed in the streets. We’ll be honest, we thought the same thing. Most of our predictions were true, but what caught us off guard was how beautiful the city was. Even in late November, the weather was gorgeous and we had a blast going in and out of quirky stores (if anyone doesn’t know this, Caroline is obsessed with cheese! Here’s the picture proof), strolling by the canal, and watching street performers at Dam square.
Except for those DAMN pigeons. While minding our own business, an enormous flock of them swarmed around us. I physically hid myself behind Caroline, fearing that one of them would attack me or take a crap on my head. It was terrifying. I can’t even describe to you what kinds of sounds were coming from our mouths-something between a screech/laugh/cry for help. When the pigeons finally left us in peace, we both had tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard and from embarrassing ourselves, yet again, in a public place. I can guarantee our battle with the pigeons was far more entertaining than the 50-year-old break dancers performing nearby, if only someone had a camera…
Enough about those godawful creatures. Here’s our take on Amsterdam’s infamous amenities and attractions:
The canals-It’s not called the “Venice of the North” for nothing. With over 250 canals, it’s definitely a must-do to take a canal tour. We took one at night, which gave us a totally different perspective on the city with everything lit up. On the tour, you get a headset and listen to the history of the city as you float past ritzy neighborhoods, museums and bridges.
Mama Mai showing off her expert cooking skills
If you know us, then you know that we're usually the first to hop on a plane and head for a new adventure, but the last to step foot in the kitchen. Our senior year consisted of frozen pizzas/microwave meals, and traveling constantly means food on the go or skipping meals altogether. So when Mai's mom asked if we wanted to try a Thai cooking class at their family restaurant, we decided to take a chance on a totally new kind of adventure.
With a glass of Prosecco in hand, we strapped on our aprons and prepared to cook. While we didn't quite become master chefs, we had a lot of laughs and pretended like we knew what was going on-since the class was taught in German. Luckily, we missed all the chopping and prep, so we didn't have to use any big knives and risk injury (to ourselves or other people). Watching Mai's mom toss around ingredients-including their homemade and very spicy chili paste- and explain all the steps that went into each dish was fascinating; soon we were stirring pans full of meat, vegetables and curry.
The best part was definitely getting to try all the dishes we made. We started with a soup, moved on to Thai curry with meat and rice, and finished with a coconut milk rice dessert (Milchreis) which was AMAZING. It's this special sweet and sticky rice topped with fresh mangos. All of the food tasted as good as it looked. Our cooking class sat together and enjoyed each course while everyone tried out their English to make us feel included.
Watching sassy Mama Mai run around the kitchen instructing her students and cracking jokes was really inspirational. This adorable chef had moved to a foreign country, managed to establish her own restaurant and now charmed a room with her cooking knowledge. And to think she used to be insecure that people wouldn't understand her accent.
Can we live here? Positano was one for the books.
While we didn't hop on the back of a vespa belonging to an Italian popstar like Lizzy Mcguire, our Italy adventures came pretty damn close...with a few minor hiccups. Italy is a country of beautiful colors, charismatic people and of course, a crap ton of carbs. We spent four days exploring the coastline; here's what went down:
Day 2- Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius
For any history buffs, Pompeii is a must do. It was surreal being inside a city that's still surrounded in mystery and talked about in our classes. Our guide Elissa was hilarious and extremely knowledgeable. She took us to see the bathhouse, amphitheater, brothel and main square while explaining their way of life. It was crazy to step back in time and see how advanced Pompeii was way back then-how those people created an intricate water system in 6th Century BC is beyond us. Here are some of our favorite facts:
Aside from taking on the daunting tasks of rooming with strangers, flying on sketchy airlines and planning a trip in one week, we've added teaching kids to the mix. So far, being English Assistants has been really eye-opening. It's only the first week and we've already had intense conversations about the public education system, seen learning differences between Spanish and American kids, experimented with teaching techniques, etc.
Let's be honest: did we feel qualified to teach before we came here? Eh. Did we have any idea what class time even looked like? Nope. But I can honestly say there's no better way to challenge yourself than to stand in front of 30 (rowdy) Spanish students and try to help them be excited about languages like you are.
A little recap about our program: We're CIEE Volunteer Language Assistants-meaning that in exchange for living with a host family (free food, free room), we work 12 hours a week in a public school assisting English teachers with their lessons.
Here's a breakdown of our impressions, surprises and insights as "teachers:"
We can't believe it's already been six weeks of hostel-jumping, flying, learning ( a little bit of crying) and taking in the amazing cultures of 16 cities...what a whirlwind. It's incredible to think that after five months of planning, we somehow made it through the U.K., Ireland, Germany and Croatia without any mental breakdowns or missed flights. Each day seemed like a week; our only focus was to absorb each city and be present in every moment. A five mile sea kayaking trip? Okay! Traveling to the Cliffs of Moher even when you can't breathe (because you've caught the worst cold of your life)? Can't miss that! We pushed ourselves to physical limits that left us mentally drained, but without regrets. Panoramic views and new friendships also come with tired feet, skipped meals and hours of transportation.
During our last semester of college, we spent weeks meticulously planning how we were going to make this backpacking trip a reality. But like anything with traveling, there were things that we couldn't predict that made our trip more memorable (both the good and bad):
Croatia was never on our original bucketlist. But recently, it's become a tourist hot spot and after googling pictures of the Dalmatian coast and Dubrovnik's city walls, it's easy to see why (plus it's out of the Schengen zone, but that's for another blog hehe).
While the scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the Adriatic sea was the clearest water we've ever seen, traveling to Croatia was full of surprises compared to other European destinations:
1. Parking is horseshit-like worse than Butler University parking. It took us over an hour to find a spot on an obscure hill 20 minutes from our Airbnb. FYI there are different parking zones (not clearly marked) that cost different amounts. Some machines don't have card readers, so you have to find a newspaper stand-usually not anywhere near your spot-to buy a ticket. The lady working couldn't speak a lick of English, so our second resort was to pay 60 kuna...in coins. Of course, NOT ONE STORE is willing to exchange your bills for small coins-what a wonderfully effective system. At this point, we ended up buying random items at the grocery store to raise the full amount.
2. English is not commonly spoken. This was by far the toughest country to communicate in. Considering these cities flourish on tourism, it was surprising how few people spoke English and that almost no signs were translated in English either. Lots of hand gestures and translators were used to get around.
3. Customer service = aggressive yelling. Seeing as how customer service is a #1 in most U.S. businesses, it was quite the experience buying food and attraction tickets. Interestingly, we had more issues in Split than Dubrovnik. The most overwhelming experience was picking an island excursion. All along the bay, there are different companies that offer the exact same package deal for the exact same price. There were absolutely no differences, leaving us to ask "Where's the competitive edge? How do they sell to their customers?" Through aggressive yelling, that's how. While we appreciated the brutal honesty, their harsh tones and constant pressure of "What do you want lady? They're all the same," left us intimidated and unsure which company to pick.
4. You'll have anxiety giving someone a 50 bill for just a few pieces of candy. Budget traveling has been such a priority, that handing over such a large number made us cringe. But don't worry, 50 kuna actually translates to about $8.00. It can be tough keeping up with how much your actually spending, so keep a log and download a currency converter.
What's a better place for an international reunion than Oktoberfest? Since the day our friends left, we've been planning a meet-up in Munich to check it off our bucket lists. Here what happened when two Americans, an Austrian, a German and a Finn took on the biggest beer festival in the world:
No surprise here, we did absolutely no research beforehand. Besides booking an Airbnb 6 months in advance, Oktoberfest was a big mystery to us all. Another thing that'll come as no surprise to our family and friends: we had a problem with our apartment right before we arrived in Munich. The original apartment flooded the night before, so our host moved us. Adventure #2: five people trying to sleep, eat, and get ready in a one bedroom apartment with the smallest bathroom you've ever seen. Shoutout to Moritz for putting up with four girls.
Oktoberfest turned out to be more like a massive state fair with more beer than we've ever seen in our lives. There were carnival games, amusement rides (yes, we rode a rollercoaster), and ridiculously large tents that looked like houses - all decked out and themed based on Bavarian breweries. Most of the people stumbling around were Italians, Americans or college students on exchange.
Nothing makes us happier than getting something for free. It's like the high you get when you go to T.J. Maxx and get three pairs of workout pants for the normal price of one. Since we're budget traveling and cutting corners wherever we can (hello hostel that costs 15 euro a night!), free things are our favorite things. So our current travel obsession is free walking tours. Not only do you get to see all of the city's highlights right off the bat, but the tour guides are normally hilarious and informative since they're working for your tips. Here are some of the standout stories:
Exploding corpses: That's right. Our guide Ollie told us that in St. Patrick's Cathedral, bodies used to burst out of the walls. Not really sure why people started burying the dead there, but apparently the gasses released from a decaying corpse-combined with the conditions of the walls-caused bodies to physically explode out. What an interesting church service that would be...
Smoke Alley Theater: This theater used to be extremely violent. Actors were expected to have 80+ plays memorized and then the night of the performance, the audience chose by vote what they wanted to see. If audience members didn't get their way, they would throw things at performers and even stab them-yikes!
Three days with our fiat 500 rental car (which we named Roxanne) was three days too many. She took us on an emotional rollercoaster from hell: one minute we were driving through the English countryside jamming out to the radio and the next minute we were fearing for our lives. Yes, that might sound dramatic, but it’s the truth.
On day one, Caroline had to drive through the entire city of Oxford…with a stickshift…on the opposite side of the road. Like any major European city, the roads are obnoxiously narrow, people jaywalk like it’s their job and trucks are ruthless. I broke out in a nervous sweat as Caroline fearlessly drove Roxanne to the carpark. We were only one turn away when Roxanne just stopped-right in the middle of a busy intersection. Crap, crap, crap. I jumped out of the car and begged a random man on the street to help us while Caroline tried to restart it. Another man also helped us push her to a side street, telling us how he too had car trouble in Greece, “You just gotta learn to laugh at yourself,” he said. Oh, if only he knew.
Not being ones to back down from a challenge, we decided to give Roxanne another shot as we made our way to the small village of Miserden in the Cotswolds. Everything went without a hitch: we passed through small towns, took to the highway and finally got the experience we were looking for-a scenic road trip down the English countryside. Finding our small Airbnb cottage was an adventure of its own. We went through backroads that gave me a heart attack every time we rounded a corner. At one point, we even had to reverse up a steep hill to let a truck pass. But miraculously we made it! To celebrate, we took selfies with Roxanne to prove that the two of us COULD do this. Little did we know what Roxanne had in store for us the next day…
Oxford, you're a sneaky one. You impressed us with your crazy, but very sweet people, made history fun again and made us not hate England anymore. We thought you'd just be another stop on our U.K. tour, but instead left a lasting impression on us-a good one this time. Here's why:
Day 1: In true Caroline & Lexa fashion, trying to get from Crawley-London to Oxford was an adventure of its own. Apparently you need to print bus tickets to get on- online proof wouldn't cut it. So we spent 1.5 hours weaving through a maze of coffee shops and bus terminals to the bowels of the London Victoria bus station to find a printer. Fun fact: Internet Cafe's still exist! From there, our day went without a hitch. We found our hostel easily and spent the rest of the day exploring the city and guessing what each of the buildings were. Even though it was pouring and miserably cold, we felt a connection to Oxford right away.
Day 2: Want to know one of the best things about traveling without an agenda? Stumbling onto random things. While walking the streets that morning, we found a street carnival that stretched on for miles. There were huge rides, games and "candy floss" (cotton candy) for sale. It was literally just sitting in the middle of the city, which we found strange, but pretty cool. I guess a little of the Indiana State Fair decided to follow us across the ocean.
By far the standout was our Footprints FREE Walking Tour. We loved this one because the stories our guide told centered on the city's quirky history:
1) The Radcliffe Camera (A dome-like building that's super well known. Although we had no idea what it was until the tour...maybe we should have done a little more research?) actually spared Oxford from being bombed during WW11. A Nazi architect thought it was too beautiful not to use as government headquarters once the Nazis won..oops.
2) All Souls College is so exclusive that only the top student from each of Oxford's 38 colleges is invited to take the test from hell. Whoever scores the highest becomes a fellow-meaning you're pretty much set for life. Every century, the fellows get together to have a huge party called the Mallard Hunt. They get drunk and go searching for a duck. At around 5:30 a.m., the fellows come out to a cheering crowd with the duck's head on a stake.
3) In 1983, the crown prince of Japan attended Merton College. He was so disgusted by the food, that he made a very generous donation to its kitchen. Today, students get Michelin 5-star dining for every meal.
4) On May 1st, a huge party is thrown to celebrate the coming of Summer. A tradition is that drunk students jump off the top of the Magdalen bridge...fully knowing that it's only two feet deep. Ambulances are on call because 1 out of 3 daredevils end up breaking something.
After 10 hours of flying, an hour train ride and a 30 minute drive, we finally made it to Germany! Honestly, I don't know what we would've done if we couldn't use my grandma's apartment as a home base. Not only do we have a free place to sleep and store our luggage, but we also get to spend time with two of of the coolest people I know: Omi and my cousin Marius.
But before I get into gushing about my family, let's recap the journey over: We've never used Icelandair but were both really happy with the airline's services. They let us check our carry-on dufflebags for free (which would've been a pain to carry) and the plane ride was super smooth. There were a few things that I had to pay for, like food and headphones, but considering that our round-trip ticket cost half of what Delta's is, I could handle a few extra fees. One other thing to keep in mind is that the connections are tight. I don't know if this is for all Icelandair flights, but we only had 50 minutes to catch our plane to Frankfurt. FYI running through a foreign airport and begging people to let you cut in line at passport control is not fun (especially at 1 a.m.).
Since we seem to attract chaos, our train ride to Stuttgart had some notable dramatic moments. First off, we got yelled at by the train assistants for leaving our suitcases on the floor (like what everyone else did) and not putting them above our heads--umm HI, those things weigh 50 lbs. Luckily, everyone on the train was super nice and helped us with our bags. The assistants even picked on an old lady for the same thing, but she was a spitfire and dished it right back to them. We became instant friends after that. Not even 10 minutes later, someone's bag fell from the upper compartment and hit a lady in the head. The Germans rallied together and gave the assistants an earful-exactly what they deserved.
Luckily, the last 48 hours haven't been as dramatic. We slept for 13 hours to get rid of the jet lag, swam at the local pool and took in the beautiful weather by chilling with Omi on her deck while eating chocolate cake. Not a bad way to start off our trip. But the highlight for sure was riding motorcycles with my cousin. No, we did not drive those monsters. Actually, riding passenger is a lot harder than you think.
Ever since getting back from study abroad, I’ve had the constant itch to explore new places and try new things. So instead of traveling away from Indiana this summer, I made it my goal to explore my city and try out a bunch of great activities that it had to offer. To do this, I created a bucketlist of things I’d heard from Hoosiers and college friends. Check out some of the cool experiences I’ve had the past few months:
1) Horseback Riding at K-Trails Equestrian Adventures
As a horse lover, I couldn't resist checking out the new trails facility in Noblesville. I chose the 1.5 hour sunset ride to get the full experience of riding through Strawtown Koteewi Park. As part of the package, we could help untack and hang out with the horses afterward. Our group was small and the horses were extremely calm, which made for a relaxing ride. When it was over, we watched the horses run around their pasture with a pink & orange sky as the backdrop-making for a gorgeous Indiana summer night.
2) Concert at Ruoff Music Center
Since I moved to Indy, “Ruoff” (formally Klipsch) has been a staple name. It’s a huge outdoor music center that hosts a lot of big headliners, mostly country singers. Since I barely tolerate country music, it never really sparked my interest until this year. I got tickets to see Florida Georgia Line and they were fantastic live. Not only was the singing on point, but the venue itself was something I’ve never seen before. Around 24,000 people waved their phones around during the ballads and sang along to the songs while sipping extremely expensive alcohol ($15 for a mixed drink). The opening acts Chris Lane and Nelly killed it too. So yes, after living in Indy for four years, I’m now a slight country fan but an official fan of Florida Georgia Line.
Price: around $50.00 for the lawn
3) Monon Mixer at the Monon Community Center
I found out about this event by accident and it’s something that EVERY city needs to do more! The center holds an adult’s-only night once a month in the summer at their water park. I floated through the lazy river, tried (and wiped out on) the flowrider, went down water slides and drank wine while being surrounded by fun adults. The music was great and it felt like a private party because we never had to wait in line for anything. You never realize how awesome water parks are until you’re not surrounded by tons of screaming kids.
As children, we pictured Africa as a place filled with wild animals and dry deserts (no thanks to the Lion King). Never did we imagine that during a semester abroad we would hop on a bus with over 100 other American students (check out DiscoveryExcursions! It’s a great tour group for anyone in college) and take a ferry to Morocco. On our first night bussing through the city, we noticed there were no women on the streets. The few that were out traveled in groups and were covered from head to toe; only men filled the restaurants. It made us feel guilty. Here we were-two young women traveling around Europe with the most freedom we’d ever had.
It was like getting culture shock all over again: a new religion to absorb, customs to adapt to and breathtaking architecture unlike anything we’d seen so far. Cities rich with color and culture, beautiful views of the Atlantic (an adorable stray kitten here and there) and being woken up by the calls to prayer became our reality for the next 48 hours.
The bright blue city of Chefchaouen is rivaled only by the vibrant colors of the many goods and trinkets being sold in every square inch of the city. Walking through the medina of Marrakech, you could hear at least 3-4 languages being spoken. The flow of the market swept us all away as we tried (and failed) to barter for white elephant figurines. Our experience was enriched by our own interactions with the locals and a walking tour led by the cutest and most insightful old Moroccan man. He taught us that “Islam is a lifelong teaching” and described how the color and design of the doors marked the status of the family living inside.
Pumped to be graduates and get to trip planning... can't you tell?
This blog feed will feature our rants, triumphs, tears and more each week as we explore new cities. August can't come soon enough :D To give you a taste of how we travel (and what happens to us when we travel) check out the teaser blogs below on our failed trip to Chicago and unique encounters in London.
There’s nothing like waking up at 4 a.m. to catch a train from Mattoon, Illinois to the Windy City. A little background: We made 11 a.m. appointments with the Spanish Consulate to hopefully get Cultural Assistant visas. To our complete surprise, they denied us. Even after reading tons of blogs warning us that it’s tricky to exceed the 90-day limit, we were optimistic. Apparently because our program only lasts 80 days, they weren’t willing to issue us a visa to do extra traveling; we were crushed. Both of us broke into a calm panic and paced around the bean as we called our parents asking for advice. How could our second home turn us away? We’d hit plenty of speed bumps traveling before, but this looked to be our biggest challenge yet.
After our small breakdowns in Millennium Park, we decided to screw the negativity and enjoy Chicago-hoping a trip to Navy Pier would lift our spirits; nothing changes a sour mood like a strong margarita. To keep the good times rolling, we jumped on the ferris wheel to get a view of Chicago’s iconic skyline. Even though it was stifling hot, the view was beautiful. *Warning: tequila and heights do NOT mix. Dizziness after the ride may occur.* .....
Enjoying Navy Pier before our marathon sprint to Union Station