Month: December 2016

My Life

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

366 days. What a year it has been! Dr. Seuss once wrote (and to reuse the quote every valedictorian has used and will ever use): “Oh the places you’ll go! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… Get on your way!” I remember hearing these words as a young adult, in the wake of my eighteenth birthday, as I sat next to my classmates and thinking of what the years ahead would bring. Would I travel? Would I go to college? What would I do for the rest of my life?

I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined what the next few years would bring. Like I said in my welcoming post here on this blog, I realized college wasn’t for me and that it is okay and nothing to be ashamed of. I soon found out that I am capable of making my biggest of dreams come true and this year alone I have done more than I ever thought would be possible.

The classmates, who sat next to me, got their diplomas, went off and did their own amazing things; many of them graduated from college this year. Where was I? Well, I wasn’t finishing college, but I was having the time of my life. I’ve been doing things that I’ve always wanted to do and I had nothing holding me back. I began writing this blog this year and I have loved every minute I’ve gotten to do this.

I say it every year, probably since I feel like my life gets better as I get older, but this year has been my absolute favorite year so far. I turned twenty in the spring, finally leaving my teenage years behind and I began my adult life with my heart full of wonder and the need for adventure. I traveled close and I traveled far. I have cried tears of sadness and tears of joy. I spent time with people who mean the most to me and I also made many new friends. I experienced so many beautiful new things and tried so many different amazing foods.

I am here to tell you that you can do it too. I’m writing this for anyone who’s ever felt lost or misplaced, to help you realize that it’s okay to not have your whole life planned. It’s okay to go after what makes you happy, even if it’s not accepted by the people around you and different from “the norm”. Go after your heart’s biggest desires, whatever that may be. Go off and make yourself as deliriously happy as you can, because no matter how cliché it is to say, life is too short to be unhappy. I’m writing this to inspire the wanderlust soul who wants to go out and see the world, but doesn’t know how. I know you can do it, if only you believe you can.

Here’s to 2016, to the moments that made my heart flutter, ache and reach for more. And here’s to 2017, may this New Year be as exciting as the year before. My hopes for the New Year are to just keep doing what I love and what makes me happy. I’m turning twenty-one, and will soon be moving to a new and exciting place. I have a lot in store and I’m really excited to share it with you all! Thank you to anyone who’s peeked into my life through this blog, to anyone who has commented, and to anyone who has shared my thoughts with others. To all my readers, this one’s for you.

Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year!

Restless Nights on an Endless Train

Travel Stories

Restless Nights on an Endless Train

After an unforgettable two weeks in Cattolica, I was off to live in a new city and meet a new host family but this time was different. Typically, every time I traveled to a new location for work I would leave on a Friday morning and the journey to my new home only lasted about two hours. This time, three people I worked with and myself would all be traveling for a total of fourteen hours. We would go from Italy to Austria on a transcontinental train. I came to find out many backpackers travel by this kind of train, when they go from country to country, and now we were joining the bunch.The company we worked with had taken care of all the tickets so we just had to follow along. We left Cattolica on a small train headed to Bologna around seven in the afternoon after a long day working under a too hot sun. When we arrived to Bologna I parted ways with Michelle, but stayed with the rest of the group to wait for the next large train to arrive and take us away to a new place.

 

Since there was a two-hour gap until our train came, we decided to head to a bar and just relax to prepare ourselves for the long journey ahead. We talked about how different it would be to live in a new country after living in Italy for two months. Right before I went to any new host family, I would always conjure up these nerves, wondering whether the new family would be great and if they’d like me, but this time the nerves had magnified. I was also feeling sad to be leaving a country I loved so much and I had worked so hard to be in. The time I had spent in Italy had flown by and leaving a place where I had made so many memories left me almost in tears. But soon the two hours were up and we boarded our train.

Our train arrived late in the night at around eleven and it didn’t surprise me that many people were out and about on this summer night. We were meant to be meeting up with a few other people who we would work with and when we did, it was time to board. Once we hopped onto the train, I lugged my baggage up onto the steps and went with the rest of my group to find where we would be spending the night. The train looked very much like the one in Harry Potter (which obviously excited me), the only difference was that it was packed with all sorts of people, most of whom were spread out and finding places to sleep wherever they could. When we got to our cart, we were immediately disappointed by the fact that it wasn’t a sleeping cart and that the cart meant for six people was packed to its capacity, meaning people were sitting in our seats. We kindly asked if we could sit down, being that we had reserved the seats in our names, and they nicely stood up and apologized.

I then entered the hot and humid cart with my two ginormous bags and tried to figure out a place to fit them. After I found a place to put my stuff, that I’m sure was in everyone’s way, and I finally sat down. As I did, I was consumed by the awful smell of sweaty feet looming in the confined air, the whole room felt as though it had never sensed air conditioning in all of it’s existence. It was like the smell had just lingered there for years, that no one dare bother with and everyone who entered the room was just forced to deal with the still stench. While I was sitting, I realized I had made a horrible mistake in choosing the middle seat. If you ever travel the red eye of trains and you plan on getting some rest, NEVER sit in the middle when given the option. In the already too small cart, I suddenly felt the magnitude of my exhaustion and I had nothing to rest on.

The train began to move into the night as I got drowsier. When I found out I would be traveling through the night, I thought it was going to be so much fun; a night filled with cracking jokes and playing games until the sun came up. I quickly understood that none of that was going to happen. Since sitting for as long as I had been, I realized how much I just wanted to sleep. So I reclined back into the stiff bench and tried to fall asleep.

On the six-hour journey, I don’t think I slept more than thirty minutes at a time and even when I was asleep I was completely aware of how uncomfortable I was. The people sitting next to me weren’t people I was a hundred percent comfortable enough to lean against, so I came up with creative ways to sleep comfortably. If I got in a comfortable position, I my legs or arms would quickly fall asleep, so I would change positions again and this went on for hours.

I remember in the middle of my “rest”, I woke up to find the train in a station in the middle of who knows where and to find the hallway outside our cart packed with young backpackers. They all looked so young, alive and happy to be traveling at two in the morning. I envied their state of alertness and the fact that their day was probably spent meeting a bunch of new people and drinking unlike mine, which had begun at seven in the morning that day and would be a long eight-hour shift in the sun with almost no sleep and I had no one to blame but myself.

After an extensive restless night on an endless train ride, where I felt like I hadn’t slept a wink, we finally arrived in Austria. I remember walking off the train in nearly a state of shock. I was in a country where they spoke German instead of Italian and where they depended on beer instead of wine. The air felt cool and grey instead of hot and spiced. In my head, I said a silent farewell to the country that had treated me so well, that had had me laughing until I was in tears and showed me see views that left me breathless. Although I was fairly sad to say goodbye, even in a state of exhaustion, I saw the new experiences in the night I had just had and I had butterflies in my stomach for the new adventures that awaited me in this new country.

Late Nights in Cattolica

Travel Stories

Late Nights in Cattolica

Cattolica, a town set in the province of Rimini, is a sweet oasis by the sea for many Italians. Before I even knew where I was headed, I had asked the universe that I be placed in a house situated in the middle of a town; that way I could easily wander about and soak in the area during the week. The last two host families I had lived with my host families had been quite young, so I also found myself wanting siblings that were my age, so we could hang out and explore together.

When I arrived to my new family’s house, that would be my home for the next two weeks, I quickly realized I had gotten way more than I had ever dreamed I would on this trip. My host family was a family of eight and four of my host siblings were close to my age. They owned a beautiful, pink, three story house right on the beach. They rented the apartments on the lower level to visitors from all over the world. The backyard had a pool, that was especially glorious on those hot summer days. The house was right in the center of town, walking distance from everything.

Everyone in the family was very nice and welcoming, it felt almost like I was in dream. On the day, I arrived my host mom informed me that I would have a roommate named Michelle. It was going to be Michelle from Georgia. A girl bit taller than I was, with long golden hair and bohemian style. We had hung out a couple times during orientation week and I thought she was funny and goofy. During the two weeks in this new home I found out that we were very alike. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate.

Dancing on the Beach

On mine and Michelle’s first day together in the pink house, we headed off to the pool with our fourteen-year-old host sister, Anna*, who would be going to the camp we worked at. The weather was stiflingly hot, but the pool was a perfect escape. For dinner (and for every meal we ate at the house), we ate with the rest of the family on a balcony that overlooked the sea during a late summer sunset. We had three host brothers between the ages of 19 and 25. Luca, the youngest, had his girlfriend staying with him for the week and that Saturday was going to be her last night in town so they were going to go out for the night with our twenty-year-old host brother David*. They asked if we wanted to join them and we gladly agreed.

We ended up going to a bar that was about a two-minute walk from the house, where we all shared a big bucket of mojito and then we headed out to dance. We walked along the beach’s boardwalk that was usually packed with people and vendors selling odd trinkets during the day, but at two in the morning was quiet as could be. At the end of the beach’s boardwalk, there were two different clubs with dance floors covered in sand. We danced to Italian top hits until the early hours of the morning until we grew tired when we walked back along the beach, while the sun started to light up the sky.

Salt Water Happy

The next day was Saturday, we slept in like we were on vacation and woke up around noon to jump in our swimsuits to have some fun in the sun. We headed to the pool and then decided to venture out to the sea with Anna, David and a small paddle boat. I remember the sky was nearly cloudless, the heat was high, but the salty water was cool. We just paddled out until the beach looked tiny behind us and we jumped off our boat into the never-ending sea like we were kids. We just floated in the Baltic Sea under the Italian sun; it was such a fun and relaxing day.

Working in the Heat

When the camp started, I found out that this camp was smaller than my last, yet I found it to be more enjoyable, I think because it was my second camp and I was more confident in what I was doing. Some of the kids at the camp were regular campers with this specific company, so they spoke English well. During the camp’s two weeks, I grew very close to all the kids and looking back I think fondly of the time I spent working. And every day after a long day at camp, Michelle, Anna and I would drink a cup of delicious Italian coffee before heading to the pool.

Finding Wine at Midnight

One night Michelle and I were feeling adventurous, so after a late dinner we decided to go for a walk in town, a town busy with vacationers. We walked along sidewalks and through streets, ate gelato, and took pictures by a fountain. Soon enough the streets that had been busy and loud got quieter, as it got closer to midnight. As it got later, we decided to try to find a bottle of wine for us to share for the next week. In Italy shops, especially in a vacation town like Cattolica, stay open quite late, but at this point there were no food shops open. The only thing open in town were some bars, so I made a bold decision and walked into a bar and asked if they sold wine by the bottle.

The man, who was average in height and looked to be in his mid-twenties, told me they didn’t usually, but said it should be okay and he would ask his boss. His boss, the bartender, was cool and said it was fine. So, they sold it to us at a pretty small price. We laughed and chatted with them for some time, then the bartender said he’d make some shots for us and another guy that was sitting at the bar. As we walked home, I thought about our fun spontaneous adventure we had and smiled.

Rimini Adventures

On the Saturday of the weekend in the middle of the two weeks, our eldest host brother, Thomas* invited us to go to dinner with him and one of his friends. We traveled for about forty-five minutes to the bigger city of Rimini where we got dinner at a seafood restaurant.

The restaurant was big and we sat right next to the dance floor, families were prancing about the dance floor under a tacky disco ball, while old 90s hits echoed through the restaurant. After dinner, we got up and started dancing to some weird Italian house music. We then went to a club that had three floors, each level with a different theme and different music playing. It was nice to hang out with Michelle and our host brother like we would with our friends back home and just have fun.

Gradara Castle

Toward the end of my stay in Cattolica, my host parents and Anna took me and Michelle to a Castle nearby to where we had been staying. We arrived in the late afternoon and the castle, apparently, was the inspiration for Dante’s Inferno, which made the whole place feel mystical and mysterious.

During the afternoon, we went to see a renaissance dance performance that had twelve women of all different ages; they looked like they had come straight out of a Shakespeare play. The dance was interesting and funny, mostly because it was so different from dances today. For the next few days, Michelle and I danced like the women in the performance for fun. We also got an Italian tour of the castle, which meant we didn’t understand a word, but we took tons of pictures.

My host parents paid for us to climb some stairs to see the view of the medieval fort. As we climbed up some rickety stairs, that got smaller as we got higher, the sun was on the brink of setting. When we finally reached the top, I saw the most beautiful view I had ever seen in my life.

The sun had finally reached the edge of the ocean and was on its way to say goodnight, but not before casting a perfect purple and pink radiance against the sky, making the clouds look like cotton candy. The view was breathtaking and we all watched the sun go down on that midsummer night. I was so extremely grateful to be there in that moment, it was as if no bad feeling could touch me from there.

In the next few days, I would have to say goodbye to the beautiful oasis I had called home for two weeks, to the wonderful family I had gotten to know so well, and lastly to my two-week roommate who had become a best friend. Michelle and I had met during orientation week, but we didn’t hang out all the time; during these fourteen days, we had been like two peas in a pod and I couldn’t have imagined anyone better to have spent that time with.

Those two weeks were more than perfect and I knew as I looked at the sky that goodbye was inevitable and would come soon, but for that moment I could just look out into the distance, at the Italian hills and the sea and be thankful.

Lost in Washington D.C

Travel Stories

Lost in Washington D.C

Here’s a fun fact not many people know about me; I was born very close to D.C. in the nearby city of Silver Spring. Although D.C. was never my home for a long time, it’s always been a place that I was familiar with, because I visited often.
On my most recent trip I was only in the city for a day, which was plenty of time to see some sights and go back to a place I once called home. My mom, sister and I decided to walk from our hotel to Georgetown which we were informed would only be a thirty-five minute walk that ended up lasting about two hours because we got lost.


We ended up walking forty-five minutes one way to discover by our confusing directions on our map apps that we took a wrong turn. We then walked the way we were meant to, which was literally in the middle of some spooky woods where I swear runners have probably gone missing. But since autumn was at its peak, golden colors surrounded us while cool wind blew as we hiked through hills and creaks in our nice clothes that were not meant for hiking.


Finally, we reached Georgetown. By that time, it was around four in the afternoon. We walked by the orderly brick homes and so did parents wearing expensive clothing with their children who had just gotten out of school. Each street was covered with old, colorful oak trees full of Fall, things felt quite familiar then.


After enjoying some time in Georgetown, we headed off to the most historic part of D.C. This part of the city feels old, important and place built from respect and lessons learnt.

The Washington Monument


Another great spot in the area to go and check out is this classic monument. The monument began construction in 1848 and was halted from 1854 till 1877 for lack of funds but they finally got the money and finished construction in 1888. If you look at the monument now you can see where they halted the process for over twenty years and where they resumed with different marble. This is should most definitely be on your list when you’re in D.C.


The White House


One of the most important homes in the United States is nearly the heart of the historic district of D.C. Although smaller than what a modern mansion might be, this house was the home of many great leaders and a place to respect. Anyone, with the chance, should feel beyond lucky to live and work in such a monumental house.


Lincoln’s Memorial


My favorite spot in Washinton D.C is the stairway up to a ginormous statue of a great man overlooking the reflective pool. As I walked up to view the monument, there were words engraved on the walls that had been said by Abraham Lincoln. As I stared at those words I couldn’t help but wonder what he would think of the country we are living in now. How would he suggest we deal with problems like police brutality and the ruining of a place that many people call home in the Standing Rock. I believe he would be completely for the things people are passionate about today, like the LBGT community, and equal rights for all. And then I thought, of course this great leader would be unhappy with the current status of not just our country but the people in it. He was, after all, the man that once believed slavery was wrong in a time when half of the country believe the opposite. I think he would call for love and compassion in a time like today.


Final Thoughts


As I look back on this time, I wonder about my country’s uncertain future under our new leader, who will soon reside in this influential city. Will we be able to survive what the next few years have in store for us?  Will we grow to hate our neighbors or band together with love? I’m left feeling scared, but also with a sense of ease because if we have the courage to stand together with love and compassion, instead of hate, then we can accomplish anything and overcome anyone because #LoveWins, always.

Small Towns near Modena, Italy

Travel Stories

Small Towns near Modena, Italy


I arrived to Modena’s train station on one very early morning about to begin my two week journey all by myself. I said goodbye to Ryan on the train as he ventured off to Milan. Ryan and the rest of my new friends were about to begin working at new camps while I was leaving to be an au pair for two weeks. I remember feeling terrified and nervous, much like I had been at the beginning of this whole journey.My new home, I found out, was about an hour and a half away from the small city of Modena. My new host family had five children; their ages ranging from four to fifteen. My host dad had lived in England for eight years so his English was pretty spot on. My host mom didn’t speak English as well as her husband but she was one of the sweetest ladies I had ever met. The kids were all very shy but with each day I spent with them, I could see they were warming up to me.


I met a real au pair from Barcelona, who was nineteen and being that I wasn’t with any of the friends I had made while working, I was glad to have met her. She lived with a host family about ten minutes away from where I was, so we saw each other often.


While I was in this part of Italy, I went to tons of summer Italian festivals, each one with a different theme and activity going on at night. These festivals, I soon learned, were for Italian friends and families to get together and catch up in a place they wouldn’t normally. A place where they could see the latest Europe Cup game all while they ate the region’s traditional food and drank Prosecco, their region’s traditional wine. I usually went with my Spanish friend and we talked about our different lives while we listen to live music.

I also spent the Fourth of July with my host family. Although it was strange to be out of country for this holiday that no one Italy really cares about, I was lucky enough to have some great host parents that went and bought some firecrackers and festive sparklers. Being that I had been away from home for about two months at this point, it was nice to feel a bit American in the middle of this adventure abroad.

Modena


I visited the main city one day while I was there. I walked and shopped while I passed by one big piazza. The city was very small and I wouldn’t really recommend visiting here for too many days, but it was very charming and filled with all kinds of things to do and see.

Bologna


The city was much bigger than Modena was and for the first time, I ventured off to this city by train all by myself. The train station I arrived to was huge and I was surrounded by languages from all over the world. As I entered the city center, the sun colored buildings and old cobblestoned streets combined together to paint the picture of the city that had seen many centuries pass. There were many shops and restaurants to get lost in and street performers came out to really bring the scene of this city together.

One Spanish band was playing music that was so good there was no way you couldn’t stop and dance along with them. And at one point, a man with his wife appeared and the man began to play his trumpet along with the music and it harmonized so perfectly that at the end, we all shouted and clapped for him with glee.


After two weeks of living in a very small town in one of Italy’s picturesque regions of Emilia-Romagna, I learned so much about real Italian culture. I learned that families will always have dinner together no matter what. I learned all the different creative and funny things kids will do in order to stay cool in Italian summer heat. And I saw many of the beautiful landscapes that some people may never see and that I was privileged enough to drive past every day. This part of Italy is what I’ve always imagined it would be like, with rolling hills and fields of sunflowers under a dream-like sunset.


At the end of my stay, I loved all different kinds of things about the small towns of Castelvetro and Levizzano. I was happy to have had the amazing host family I got, and to meet my new Spanish friend. I thought at the beginning of the two weeks how slow the time would go and surprisingly the time felt like it went by in a flash.