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.

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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)