This is Africa

I can actually say that I survived roughing it in Africa. Yes I know, anyone who knows me does not believe that statement, but believe it fools! I did it! This girl, right here, Tara Sonnemaker, chose to sign up for a three-day safari in Eastern Senegal at Nikolo-Koba National Park.

Around 7 am, we all stumble onto these rundown, small, dirty, stinky buses, not prepared for the adventure we were about to have. An hour later, we arrive at the Bandia Saly Reserve, a different park. Going to this safari was not originally part of our schedule, but I wasn’t going to complain if it meant seeing more animals. We hopped in these legit safari trucks that fit about 25 people and drove past the gates into “the wild”. After driving around for a bit, the driver suddenly stops and points: a giraffe!! This cute little giraffe stops and stares back at us; perfectly posed for the camera. After getting over that awesome moment, we drove on and saw zebras, monkeys, buffalo, ostriches, and elands. I have the most amazing footage that I will post when I’m back to civilization. I can’t believe that I was so close to zebras and giraffes!! Childhood dream accomplished.

When I say I endured Africa, a lot of you might think I’m referring to the wilderness and climate, but let me tell you, that was the easiest part of my journey. The hard parts were whenever we had an issue with Africa trying to westernize. The buses were so far behind our standards that I think I would’ve rather traveled on a horse and buggy. At least on that we wouldn’t have had flat tires or run out of gas. Okay I’m joking I know that the bus is the better option, but the ride definitely pushed some people over their limits. 11 hours later, after riding in a hot and bumpy bus, we pull up to the entrance of the park in the dark. The headlights of the bus shine on the gate and I laugh that this so-called gate is the only thing keeping lions and rhinos and elephants from terrorizing the villages. Ha! Imagine if the states were like that. Fallou (our amazing tour guide) gets out and talks to the park officers. Usually, the close the gates at 7 pm, but we called ahead of time to keep it open. 30 minutes later, we were told we were just waiting for our hotel manager to drive out of the park and lead us back in. Though it took forever, I was happy to have a guide – wouldn’t want to get lost in the jungle!! Our hotel manager shows up and we start our drive into the park. All of us were thinking it would be a short little drive, maybe 20 minutes, but no. An hour and a half later, we roll up to our camp.

We sit down for dinner at 11 pm. All around us are noises we don’t recognize; the only thing separating us is a 3-foot wall and pure darkness. After we are led to our huts, which are complete separated from the main buildings of the camp. We walk in to find, ah, more darkness. No lights, no air, and no clue what to do; we walk back out and tell the manager the power is out. He kindly apologizes and goes to fix it. A lot of girls (oh did I mention there are no guys on this trip, only 41 girls) were past their limits and freaking out that the power was out. I for one could only think about sleeping in a safe hut away from all my lion friends. The power flicked back on a few minutes later and everyone cranked their AC. Unfortunately, the camp wasn’t ready for 41 sweaty and irritated girls and the generator pooped out for the rest of the night. Lucky for our hut, we were passed out at that point and didn’t realize we were drenching ourselves in sweat as we slept.

The next morning, we crawled to breakfast at 7 am and had the most amazing coffee with jam and bread (no Julie Andrews, not tea). Then, the reason we signed up for this: the safari trucks pull up. Everyone casually SPRINTS to the trucks to claim their spot for the next 3 hours. Again, this place was not meant for any number of people over 30. They brought 4 trucks for 41 people. Next thing I know I’m getting yelled at in some language I couldn’t even attempt to decipher to get inside the truck. The normal people, aka the ones who didn’t run to the trucks, got shoved into the cabs of pick-up trucks, because there was no more room on top. I was pretty bummed, but that feeling only lasted for about 2 minutes. We start bumping along this dirt road with red dust flying into our faces from the truck in front of us. Tree limbs drape down and smack girls in the face as we go flying by. Tall weeds jump along side our trucks make our legs itch constantly. I roll up my window and enjoy the cushioned seat of the cab. Problem solved.

We drive along the jungle and fields with no animals in sight. The only animals we saw were planned trips to two different villages: one where they had a caged leopard, and one where they had domesticated warthogs. So that was fun. We drive back to camp and sit down for lunch. They had warned us at breakfast that monkeys like to visit during mealtime, but after a disappointing safari we weren’t expecting anything. As if cued exactly by the bread set down at the table, little monkeys jump down from the trees surrounding us. Here we go; Planet of the Apes part 4. They jump up to the rock wall behind our table. One starts the rally by climbing up on some girl’s chair and onto the table. He reaches for the plate of bread; some brave soul across the table reaches for the same plate. This monkey and this girl literally get into a tug of war with this plate. The monkey finally gets spooked by his far-removed cousins staring at him and grabs a piece of break off the top of the plate and takes off into the bushes. One by one, these monkeys take their turns attacking the table. One runs down the entirety of the table, knocking every glass over on his way. We learned rather quickly that it was a much better option to just give them the bread. When the real food came, the manager took a slingshot and aimed it at them; I was hoping that he wasn’t going to actually hit them. Turns out so were they. Is if trained to, all the monkeys took off towards the trees and did not come back.

After lunch we got back in the trucks for our afternoon safari, this time I was sitting up top. We bumped through the same trails for quite a while then paused to witness two antelope… uh… making love. So that was interesting. This trip was way more fun than the last safari basically due to our awesome driver that made us feel like we were in the Indiana Jones adventure ride at Disneyland. Even though we weren’t seeing animals, we were driving like a rhino was chasing the truck. The sun was setting and so were our hearts on finding animals. We had gone all day and had only seen antelopes getting it on. Finally, this huge group of baboons starts running through the jungle about 20 feet out from us. First we slowed to get a good look, then we kept the same pace (which was fast) as them for a good 5 minutes! They were flying through the shrubs and were letting the world know they were there. I have never heard a hundred baboons screaming at the same time – until this moment. We turn a corner and our driver slams the brakes. They had started crossing our trail to the other side. Casually, we sat inches away from them as they walked across our path. Now that was freaky. I felt like at any moment some angry alpha was going to jump from the jungle and just beat the crap out of us. But our driver didn’t seem too concerned. This street crossing took forever as baboons just kept coming out of the bushes. After a while, they thinned out and we were able to drive past. We raced the sun back to our camp and said goodbye to our invisible elephant friends that we just knew were out there. Our faces were covered in red dirt and our hair was tangled with grass, but we were happy.

After dinner we fought over the showers and couldn’t have been happier to climb into bed. Our wake up call the next morning was at 6 am. The only good thing about getting up that early was that it meant air conditioning on the bus instead of to our hot huts. To save you the long story, just go back and read the first part of this story. Imagine all of the problems we had getting to the park, then put them here: ______. We had a flat tire, our air conditioning broke, we were stuck in traffic, and everyone had to pee every 5 minutes. But, we got back to the ship only an hour and a half past “on-ship time” (aka the entire ship was waiting on 71 people) and we made it in one piece. I have never been more excited to take a shower in my life.

My experience is Africa was authentic. I am so glad I chose to challenge my comfort zones. I had an amazing adventure and came back respecting Senegalese culture and their way of life. But, I also came back with a new wave of gratitude for my life and my culture. The world has so many different perspectives, and not a single one is wrong. I have been bitten by the travel bug and don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with where I’ve been: just where I’m going next. For those who struggle with other cultures and ideas, I challenge you to see the world differently than you do now. Though you might disagree with some aspects, it is not your place to judge. “One sign of maturity is the ability to be comfortable with people who are not like us.” – Virgil A. Kraft

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Moroccan Flavor

Wow! Africa! I can’t believe I can cross out Africa from my bucket list… what a culture shock. I’m not going to lie; sometimes it felt like I was in the Middle East more than Africa. Everyone is Muslim there and they speak Arabic. It was still super cool to experience, but I am glad to be heading to Senegal next, where I can really get a taste of African culture.

Alexa, Mo, Anna and I (1 brunette and 3 blondes) jump off the boat in Casablanca and exit the port. As soon as we walk out to the street, we are bombarded by dozens of taxi drivers (both legit and not) speaking in 4 different languages. We were warned but definitely not prepared for the lack of personal space this culture offers. They begin to touch our arms and come closer and closer to our faces as they decide what language we speak. After we finally convince them to give up, we wander our way aimlessly towards the tower of the Hassan Mosque: thank God you can see it for miles (I’m so punny). After what seemed like forever, we find ourselves in the plaza of the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world, after Mecca obviously. I’m still amazed by it’s vastness and beauty and honestly still wondering why our churches in America don’t look this cool.

Just dying for a cool pair of Moroccan pants for our camel treks we hunted for a medina. Lucky for us the old medina was minutes from the ship. Unfortunately I think our perceptions of a medina were a little off, at least with this one in Casablanca. Men smiled and tried to pull us in or asked if we were lost. I quickly rounded everyone up and pushed through the crowd, looking for a main street. Finally, we found what seemed like a not-so-sketchy street and were relieved. Of course as soon as we calmed ourselves down, ‘Bam Bam Bam!’ What we thought were gunshots blasted through our eardrums. Detecting where the sound came from, we turned to find these teenage boys lighting sparks and laughing at us. We couldn’t even hide the fact that we were spooked. So, we quickly found our way out. What a great first market experience right!?

Anna and I signed up for this field program that took us to a traditional Moroccan restaurant, belly dancers and all. That was awesome and the food was delicious. We felt so much better being with a group and a guide that knew where we were going. The belly dancers grabbed some of the students and taught them a couple moves. The night was fun and lively and perfect: until I got a text from my roomie telling me that my field lab meeting time changed from 7:30 am the next morning to 5:30 am. Shit.

5 hours later. Good morning!! We all meet and are told our day will consist of a 3-hour bus drive, a tour and lecture from the ministry of agriculture, a tour of a farm and water irrigation system, and a return bus ride. Yay.

5 hours later. Oh don’t worry I’m still on the bus. Yeah, believe it. After a 5-hour bus ride we walk off the bus onto straight dirt with a ditch of water. Literally there was an open pipe carrying water to the fields and a hole in the ground where water was churning around. Our professor was pissed. He had planned this fantastic lab that the field office shut down, so they ended up planning our day. Funny thing was they turned his plan down due to the transportation time (a 1-hour train ride), yet our trip included a sketchy 5-hour one-way bus ride. Logical, I know. On the way to this fantastic ditch in the ground we were stopped by the police 4 different times; all because they saw white faces and wondered why the heck tourists would be in this area. So that was fun… SO fun that our professor cancelled the paper worth 20% of our grade and gave us all full points. Ha.

After those wonderful two days, Anna and I headed off to Marrakesh – hoping it would be better than Casablanca. All of our other friends did camel treks through SAS that left the day before, since we had field labs we were forced to rough it on our own. Two blondes wondering around in Marrakesh – should be adventure right?

Fast forward past the hot train ride – we get to Marrakesh and what do we do? Well find food and Wi-Fi of course! After rejuvenating ourselves, we hop in a cab and show the driver the address of our place. We drive for 10 minutes then get caught in the weirdest kind of traffic I’ve ever been a part of: donkey carts, pedestrians, bikers, motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, and the occasional goat are all fighting their way through the crowded road. A half hour later we break free of the jam and our driver weaves through cars. All the sudden we come across this march of people blocking the road, instead of honking like our driver had been doing nonstop, we just sat there. It was only from driving by that we saw the wooden frame of a bed with a blanket slung over it, carried by six men, that we grasped it was a funeral procession. As freaky as that was, I was super glad that Anna and I got to witness that.

Turning what was supposed to be a 10-minute ride into a 45-minute ride, we were dropped at a square and told this was the address. We were lost. But, thanks to my handy-dandy trip advisor app we turned down some sketchy alleys and found a little door up to our waists. After a few knocks, a women opened the door with a sweet smile. She welcomed us in and asked for the reservation name. We walked into this beautiful courtyard with pillows and tables and candles throughout. Our room was adorable and so were our hosts. Aziz one of our hosts, walked us through the neighborhood and showed us everywhere we told him we were planning to go. The medina was an 8-minute walk and the El Jadida square (the main square/mosque) was only 6 minutes. Anna and I successfully haggled for some Moroccan pants and head to our sunset camel trek!

HUMP DAYYYYYY! Our camel trek was so cool but I was super glad it was only an hour-long ride. Those camels are crazy! They were adorably scary. Anna and I met these super cool people from Chicago that had actually heard of Semester at Sea and were asking us questions about it the whole time. We rode our camels into the palm frond desert until we reached a traditional Berber home where they served us mint tea and delicious bread. After our little break, we hopped back on our beasts and trekked back through the palm trees.

We headed back to our hotel and crashed until 8 am. We spent our last day wandering the medina for last minute gifts, and let me just say that we were pros at haggling by this point. I have a backpack full of things from Marrakesh and the total money I spent was under 30 dollars! Woohoo! Morocco was a cool place and extremely different. I think a lot of people were nervous about such a different place but I was sure glad to get out of Europe and try something new. Next up – a true African country: SENEGAL.

España

Finally a language I can understand! Kinda. No actually I was rather impressed with myself as well as my friends for how quickly we picked our Spanish skills back up. Of course it was nothing like the Spaniards who were fluent in English, Catalonian, French, Italian, oh and well duh, Spanish! We docked in Valencia and Barcelona during our time in Spain, and unlike Italy I actually spent my time in these two places only.

I didn’t know what to expect in Valencia, just because I didn’t know too much about it. Well, let’s just say that Valencia definitely didn’t disappoint. This city is amazing! It has this crazy divide of new and old, with architecture and clothing and culture. They are very kept up with the times, with Starbucks and apple stores and contemporary buildings, but also rich with history in their skyscraping castles, fountains, churches, and food. Not to mention; Valencia is home to the largest aquarium in Europe, and aquarium is not the right word. It’s like a complete sea world adventure in the middle of Spain, with dolphins, whales, sea stars, sharks, and my personal favorite: walruses! My friend Allie and I turned into straight four year olds in that stinking aquarium (emotion: pure joy).

That night we celebrated Pat’s birthday. All 12 of us went out and stormed the first pub we could find. Fun fact: people party late in Spain; I’m talking 1-5 am ladies and gentlemen. So it’s safe to say that we were the only ones there at 10:30 pm. That was fine with us because we made friends with the bartenders and got stronger Wi-Fi (big commodity between us SASers). We stayed on the ship that night and woke up for a long train ride to Barcelona. We booked this adorable apartment for 10 of us to stay in. It was right on this amazing shopping street, and by amazing I mean extremely out of anyone’s price range: Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci. But still, it was cool to pretend we had money at these stores! We spent the day shopping and driving the boys crazy, (all one in the same).

If I hadn’t studied on Semester at Sea, then I would have chosen Barcelona. This city was incredible and rich and vibrant and full of life. The people there are so nice and friendly. It is a completely different culture than our own, yet I felt like I could have adjusted really well there. There is so much diversity within Spain that I could have never seen it all in 4 days. I wish I could just time lapse La Sagrada Familia for 10 years; just to see how much it changes over time. It was kind of a bummer that when we went it was under construction, but then I learned it is always changing and updating. The details on this architectural feat are unbelievable, not to mention the sheer size.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to write a whole page on food, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t. Tapas are the most genius invention ever and the flavors these people come up with are even better. The entire time I was there I was either eating tapas or thinking about tapas. You can never have enough.

So I have my first near-death experience to share with everyone; okaying I’m exaggerating. But this was the first time I was afraid since I’ve been gone. Let me preface this by saying that I’m fine so that all the moms reading this don’t freak out and call my mom asking questions (she would just love that). Okay here we go…

I signed up for this field program (so a trip organized by semester at sea) to go horseback riding in the hills of Barcelona. When we arrived, they split us into groups of five based on our riding experience. I for sure was not an expert but I used to ride as a kid and then occasionally after that, so I was put into the middle group. Our guide starting placing us with our horses, and it turned out that of my group, I was the most experienced. So, I was placed with the largest freaking horse of the group: Blind Date. Oh don’t even get me started on the irony. One of the professors was in my group and he was put on the next largest: Monster. We brushed them, “bonded” with them, put on their saddles, and then started to walk them around the arena. Our guide started putting us in order from front to back and put me at the back, right behind monster. Everything was going fine. We trotted around the arena, and when everyone got the hang of it we started up the hill to begin our trek. After a bit, our guide asked if everyone would like to try trotting, of course we all said yes.

One click of the heel and I was gone: blasting past everyone up the side of this hill. Blind Date and I galloped past the group and our guide. I couldn’t pull hard enough on the reins to stop him, and not to mention I was holding on for dear life. Just then my guide caught up and grabbed the reins as hard as he could. Blind Date crashed into a tree and reared onto two legs. I was able to stay on but the tree banged me up badly. Blind Date stopped freaking out and I was able to breathe again. I hadn’t had that much adrenaline pumping through me in a very long time. I’m just glad my reaction wasn’t to let go but hold on tight. If there hadn’t been a tree there, we very well could have tumbled down the cliff. I looked down at my hand bleeding from every knuckle. My wrist was already bruising with it’s own large gash of blood. My shirt was completely ripped down the side, something I didn’t even know happened until just then. (It wasn’t until later that I noticed the gaping cut across my waist.)

After slowing my pulse down, I told the guide I was okay. He calmed Blind Date down by speaking some soothing words of Catalonian. Turns out, Blind Date didn’t want to be last. He wanted to be leading the pack. So, after we gained that wonderful insight, I led the group the rest of the way. Blind Date tried to gallop ahead a couple other times, when Monster got too close to the front, but I was able to control him better than the first time. So, two hours later we made it back to camp and couldn’t have been happier to get off that horse. Funny thing was there were a couple times in the arena and before the galloping happened where something just seemed off. I would ask the guide if I was doing everything okay or if Blind Date was okay; he’d just shrug and say he’s fine. Ha! I should listen to my gut feeling more often I guess.

At the end of the day I still had a good time. I had a great story to tell, free wine, yummy tapas, and a broken knuckle or two. But I think it was safe to say that was the worst Blind Date I had ever been on.

It’s All Greek to Me

Opa! Man I wish I got to break a plate during my trip to Greece! But I did do some pretty cool things. We spent the first day in Athens; visiting the Acropolis, shopping for that famous evil eye jewelry, and pretending to be Olympic athletes. The acropolis was super awesome, especially when you think about how long ago it was built and the lack of tools these people had. Acropolis (for those non-Greek-geeks) means High City, so you can expect it to be at the highest point of Athens right? Well I didn’t know that until arriving… so guess what: MORE STAIRS!!! Shopping in Greece is a must, whether in Athens or Santorini. All of the beautiful white clothing and jewelry. A traditional jewelry item is the evil eye, a blue and white stone resembling an eye to protect you from harm.

The second day in Greece, I went to a boutique winery with my class. This winery was off the coast of the Ionian Sea, but it was a kilometer above sea level. Tetramythos Winery is one of the most unique wineries in Greece; due to the way they grow their grapes at high altitudes. We spent the whole day learning about the process of wine making, seeing it first hand, and of course: tasting wines! The food and wine was incredible and I couldn’t believe it was for a class….

Later that day I met up with my roommate and my other two friends for dinner. Alexa’s parents came to see her in Greece and they took us all out to dinner. The food was, of course, amazing. Pat and Conrick were ecstatic to be eating anything other than the ship food. Let’s be honest, we all were. Alexa’s parents were super cool and I was so glad I had the chance to meet them.

Super early the next morning the three of us took off for Santorini. The flight was only 45 minutes and actually a decent size plane. Who would have thought that a lot of people would want to go to Santorini right?! The island was beautiful and way more volcanic than I had realized. Without the pure white cliff houses and cities, that island would be red and brown all over. The black sand beaches were hotter than hell, though the freezing water was a nice balance. Pat, Conrick and I booked this cute B&B in the main town of Fira, close to where our other friends were staying. Walking the streets of Fira, we ran into so many cute places to eat, but of course we had to find one with a view! We met up with the rest of our friends and took a short bus to Oia, the highest town on the island.

This place was BEAUTIFUL. I don’t think I could say I’ve seen a more perfect place! It was clean, bright, lively, and pristine. Oia is known for its amazing sunsets, and everyone knows it. As you walk towards the west, the streets get more and more crowded. Suddenly, you turn the corner to the blazing orange sun and a mosh pit of tourists with cameras. Everyone rushed to claim their spot on a wall or in a restaurant that happened to have a view. We learned rather quickly that you had to be there way earlier than the start of sundown if you wished to have a decent picture. The second sunset of our stay we were pros: getting there an hour before. Next time, (because of course I’ll be going back), I want to take a sailboat cruise into the sunset so I can have the reverse view of the cliffs of Oia overhanging the sea.

Our time was well spent in Santorini: learning how to slow your pulse down and enjoy life a little more. We ate well, drank well, and napped often; something I’d like to suggest to all you crazy Americans back home.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Well if you haven’t been to Croatia, pack your bags now! It is the most amazingly beautiful country that no one seems to talk about. So go while the rest of the world is behind on the times. Not to mention; everything is a whole heck of a lot cheaper! I didn’t think Italy would be possible to beat out as my favorite stop, but Croatia just did. Which I think is a good sign considering I’ve only hit two of my nine countries… let’s just say the bar has been set very high.

We docked in Dubrovnik, one of the southernmost cities of Croatia. For any of you who are avid Game of Thrones fans… ‘nuff said. For everyone else who has no clue what I’m talking about: Game of Thrones is almost entirely filmed in Dubrovnik, more specifically, the “Old City”, where I spent most of my time. This city is literally surrounded with its own (way smaller) version of the Great Wall of China. In no way am I qualified to give a history lesson, but basically the city has been under attack by just about everyone, and the even cooler thing is that the city is considered the most heavily and successfully defended cities of the medieval times. So basically, Croats rock! (Pun intended).

Another fun fact is that Dubrovnik is part of the Dalmatia coast of Croatia; yes, Dalmatians were first bred there, though you won’t find many there now. Croatia’s coastline consists of over 1000 islands, all in the beautiful Adriatic Sea. Have I sold you yet?

So what did I actually do there? Hmm… not a lot. Ha! I loved just being there, immersed in the culture, sitting around, talking to people, enjoying nature and history. But seriously, that’s what I did… the whole time!

My friends and I rented a B&B about an 8 minutes walk from the walls of the Old City. But, when I say 8 minutes you must think “Oh, that’s super easy!” well, not quite. About 7 of those 8 minutes are walking up and down stairs: slippery, steep, big fat stairs. For those who know me know how much I love stairs; so that was fun going up and down a million times in 5 days. (I better have the best looking butt ever when I come back from this trip).

Okay all stairs aside, the Old City was so much fun. Each day we would walk around and try different restaurants and talk to different people. This was a small enough town that SAS just took over, so we’d walk around a corner and see more students milling about. Every time we talked to a local they would ask, “Oh! Are you from that boat with 600 students?” No joke. Happened at least 10 times. So basically every day was full of food, wine, and this thing called GELATO, (I don’t know maybe you’ve heard of it).

Imagine, jumping off the wall of the old city into the Adriatic Sea, then having some bartender hand you a beer. Okay now make that dream a reality. Well, for me it’s still a dream cause I’m a freaking chicken, but a lot of my friends did that. I, on the other hand, just drank my fun! Another day we snorkeled in the amazingly clear water, but to our disappointment there were not many fish; seems to be a global issue now a days. Poor fishies.

Ooh! We went sea kayaking! Our guide took us into this little cove where we could get out and swim. I can now say that I have officially flipped my kayak (I know mom, you are so proud!). Me and my friend Allie were coming into the shore and right when we paddled in, a huge wave capped right on us, turning us sideways and completely over: MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT OF MY LIFE. All of our friends back out in the water waiting their turn were dying laughing. The only good thing that came of it was that now Allie and I have matching scars on our knees from the lovely rocks that met us in the water. After getting over that little stunt, we kayaked the rest of the way to a total of 8 miles! Let me tell ya, prettiest workout I’ve ever had.

So in the end, Croatia is at the top of my list, and I definitely plan on being back! But not before I watch all of the Game of Thrones episodes J Pictures are soon to come! In case you forgot, I kind of don’t have Internet on this ship! So next time you log on to the World Wide Web, enjoy it! Haha I know I know no one can feel bad for me right now….

Up next; GREECE!

Shore #1: Italy

Oh Italy, I did not get enough of you.

To say the very least, my Italian adventures did not last long enough, but they could not have been better. I made it to five cities in six days and I can’t believe it all fit in! My feet have blisters, scratches, and are now a brownish/black color (we’ll get to Italy’s not so clean streets later), but I have memories to last a lifetime.

September 19th – Civitavecchia, Italy

This is where I get to tell everyone that I do have class… kinda. My first day in Italy was spent with my International Management class on a field lab (takin’ it back to those middle school field trip days). We toured the official port of Rome in the city of Civitavecchia, walked through the fruit and forest terminal of the port, and enjoyed a homemade farm fresh lunch with a local olive farmer. Yes remember… this is class. The port was in extreme construction mode to make room for an all-new MADE IN CHINA only terminal…I kid you not. Our tour guide explained how Italy is actually a lot farther behind in globalization than most believe because they are very traditional and not so progressive. But, when half the world’s products are exported from China, tradition needs to take a seat. The fruit and forest terminal was super cool (pun intended). We stood giant freezers all day talking about bananas, the cruise lines expensive and genetically modified foods, and the complications of doing business with those crazy Italians. Then we took a bus to the rolling hills just south of Tuscany (just as beautiful) to an organic olive farm. There, we met with the farmer, toured the farm, and ate a lot of olives. Oh and on a side note: his wife is a freakin’ good cook. There’s just nothing like homemade Italian pasta. So that was class in Italy.

Later that night a bunch of us walked 40 minutes from the ship to get a meal and some WIFI… cause we obviously were going crazy not having it on the ship. We all called, texted, and posted until our eyes were tearing from staring at that stupid little iPhone screen for hours on end. You could say we have not adjusted to the new “tech-free” lifestyle quite yet.

September 20th – Rome, Italy

When in Rome, get a pair of walking shoes (I know, it’s catchy). Alexa and I did all of the sights of Rome in one day, and can I just say how proud I am that I was able to do that. For those of you who don’t know, I HAVE STUPID FEET, and basically they prevent me from enjoying my time standing or walking for hours. I’ve been getting better since I was younger, but I still really can’t walk for too long before the pains start. But, I can now guarantee all of you that if I can walk Rome, then anyone can. Yes grandmas, that means you ladies too. Honestly, I loved Rome, but even more honestly, I’m gonna have to go back. The sad thing about Rome was that every single sight was under construction in some way. My greatest disappointment was that the Trevi Fountain was drained and had a glass wall around it with construction poles everywhere. But, the city is still the city and the Colosseum is still the Colosseum. To all you Assassin Creeders out there: yes I pretended to be Ezio, until the guard got mad at me for climbing the ancient walls of the Colosseum. Definitely worth it.

September 21st & 22nd – Florence, Italy

So I found my new favorite Italian city. Firenze is amazingly beautiful, but how can a rich and vibrant city surrounded by Tuscan hills not be. The food, the architecture, the views, and most definitely the greatest wines on planet earth are all within walking distance from your cute boutique hotel. So now that I’ve made you drool, start booking those flights. From my new friends to running into old ones on the streets, from the two euro gelato to the fifty dollar bottle of wine, from walking the busy crowded streets to witnessing one of greatest sunsets in Piazzale Michelangelo, from the early morning train rides to the late night clubs, my time in Florence was incredible.

September 23rd – Naples, Italy

So this city is not what I’d call beautiful. Ha! Naples was where the ship moved to, so we all had to get back on there. And that’s about all I have to say about that. Haha okay no all kidding aside, I’m sure there are cool places to go and see in Naples, I just wasn’t at those cool parts… the train station and port are not the most safe areas. The bright side is that I got pizza, and it was yummy.

September 24th – Isle of Capri, Italy

The last day my friends and I took a ferry to Capri, the home of famous (or infamous) limoncello. Now that is what I call island life. I literally can’t think of anything bad to say about Capri. And I need to give a huge shout out to the bus drivers of the island for their insane precision skills climbing to the top of hill on those steep and tiny roads. Also a shout out to the crazy Italian grandma who scratched me and yelled at me in Italian (cause that’s a story to remember) on the bus; still don’t really know why she was yelling… which makes it an even funnier story to tell. It won’t be nearly as fun to read the story than it would be to hear it, so next time you see me, just ask me about it (I’ll never get tired of telling that one). My friends and I had our last caprese salads and gelato before taking off to Croatia. Oh and the views weren’t bad either! (check out facebook)

1232 Nautical Miles Later

The amount of puke on this ship….

Not the greatest way to start my update, but I wanted to be authentic. We left the QEII Southampton terminal three hours early. Our captain got on the PA and said we were departing early to avoid a storm. That was fine with all of us; little did we know we weren’t quite in the clear. As the swells rose, the barf bags opened up. The crew put them all throughout the ship, on every floor and staircase. At first, those feeling the queasy first ran to the bathroom. But after an hour or two, no one cared. People would just walk around throwing up EVERYWHERE! Whether it made into a bag or onto the carpet, that was the least of their worries. Not to mention they did not care about grossing anyone out cause EVERYONE was doing it. That continued for all of orientation day, and by lunch, half the people were back in their beds. Not the greatest first day at sea but we managed. I was one of the few who didn’t get sick, but I’d be lying if I said I was feeling my best. Finally, we’ve started to earn our sea legs.

Now finally we’re finding calmer seas. Today was the first day that we were allowed to go outside! I snuck down to the gym in the morning before they told us we could (yes the gym can only be accessed in nice weather, but don’t ask me why cause I didn’t design the ship)! Everyone is outside soaking the sun in. The water is so blue, and we’re still only in the Atlantic. I can’t wait until we get to the Mediterranean! Supposedly it’s supposed to pretty or something…

Life on the sea is not that bad. During the storm, I’m pretty sure there were people regretting boarding, thinking it was going to be that bad the whole time, but honestly when it’s smooth, being on a ship is magical. Knowing that you (meaning the ship) are completely alone. Knowing that there is a world underneath you, one you can only begin to understand, but yet it lives completely independent from the human world. Knowing that besides the ocean, there are countless of other places to see, and you happen to be in a vessel capable of taking you to those places. I only wish that I could do this for the rest of my life.

You might be wondering how a tech-free life is: I thought I’d be hard to be without a phone, and trust me, at times it is. But honestly you become a better person without your phone. You listen to people, you talk to people, you reflect on things that actually matter. Everyone knows that the only people that can entertain you are right here on this boat, so they go out and develop a real relationship. And as for the teachers: From drinking with your professor to hanging with their families, they become people you want to learn from and people you respect. Who can say that about their educators?

Tonight we crossed through the Strait of Gibraltar, which, for those of you won’t aren’t familiar, is the entrance to the Mediterranean from the west. Everyone was outside on the decks in the sunset looking at southern Spain to our left and Morocco on our right. Just like a dream, dolphins came to greet us to the Med and played in our wake. It was an unforgettable moment.

We still have 1 ½ days at sea before we reach Italy, but with the sea under my feet and the sun in the sky, I’m perfectly content in this moment. I have to give a big shout out to my big bro on his 23rd birthday! Sending my love across the ocean!

And so… the ADVENTURE begins

This is real. It’s happening.

Two years ago, I learned about Semester At Sea. A year ago I applied. Then several months ago I was accepted. Even then it wasn’t a reality; only a distant dream. Nothing could have prepared me for how I’m feeling right now. Anxious, excited, and totally freaked. I am a 20 year old traveling 3 different continents, on a BOAT! It’s just insane. But I guess I’ve always been a little crazy.

I am so beyond lucky to call what I will be doing for the next semester “school”. Not only will I have the opportunity to meet new students and the coolest professors, or take the most unique and travel focused courses, but I get to see 10 different countries over the course of 100 days. Who else gets to say that??

Traveling, in my opinion, holds no value unless you can share it with others. Being with 650 other students just isn’t enough for me, so I thought to start a blog. I want to share it with those back home. Without all of you, I wouldn’t have the courage or ability to take this on. So thank you!

Now sit back, relax, and keep refreshing your browsers. It’s gonna be one hell of a boat ride!