I began this post in Europe and competed the post back in the States.


“Danke.” The man laughs. I just used the word for “thank you” in German… to a guy in Italy. I correct myself with a “grazie”and  head out the door. I have come to truly respect those that know more than one language fluently and can switch between them with ease. I know this sounds weird, although it might be because Spanish is the only other language I somewhat know excluding a few words in other languages to get by. Whenever people speak in something besides English, my brain automatically starts thinking Spanish.

I have actually practiced my Spanish quite a lot so far, despite not visiting Spain yet. I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my adventures in Italy of speaking Spanish while the Italians answer in Italian. When my sister, friend and I went to Krakow, Poland, we went to get food at an independent food stand. After asking the guy if he spoke English, he said no, but actually that he spoke Spanish and Polish. I then played translator for my sister and friend and ordered us food. Never thought I would be using my spanish while in Poland!

Despite having a  Spanish roommate, I never speak it back in our apartment. I am too self conscious to speak to a native speaker, especially when I speak what they call, “new world” Spanish. Even the word “gracias” is pronounced very differently between people from Mexico and Spain. I’ve realized I do much better with my Spanish when my hand is forced and when speaking to someone from Mexico. The other night, two friends and I were hanging out in front of the Parliament building. We met two brothers from Canada while we were hanging out.  They obviously spoke French (from Montreal) and English. One spoke Spanish as well and began speaking to me in Spanish after I told him I knew some but needed practice. I talked to him for a bit in Spanish and tried to swap back to English. He refused to speak to me in English and therefor was forcing my hand. There were frustrating moments. However, by the time we left, I had about a 30 minute conversation in Spanish. That has never happened before. I never thought I could do that.

Now back in the United States, I’m surrounded by English. Never will I have to ask, or will be asked, if I speak English. This is so bazar after spending the past 5 months doing this on a daily basis and responding to any English that I heard–even by strangers on the street. I am determined to become fluent in a second language (preferably Spanish) but as I continue with day-to-day activities back home, I become more aware how much more difficult of a task this in the US. There is no where to practice a second language. There is an astronomically small chance you’ll be asked to only speak another language to someone here compared to Europe. Yes, Americans are ignorant about global affairs. I don’t disagree, especially after my experiences these past few months. However, one of the arguments that “supports” this statement that I’ve occasionally heard, is also flawed. Yes, a majority of Americans only speak English. Yes, I do believe we should put more of an emphasis on this than we do. However, we aren’t globally ignorant because we aren’t bilingual. There isn’t the need (or ability to practice) for this skill here like there is in Europe. So yes, Americans are still ignorant on global issues, but don’t blame it on the lack of bilingual speakers. I would like to see Americans become bilingual but a journey begins with one step at a time. I guess I can take my baby step today.

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Time flies

Wow… I can’t believe that it has been 5 months since I first arrived here in Europe. I have grown so much these past few months. I can remember my first day in Vienna. I had just arrived in a country that I didn’t speak the language– Lisa (the only person I “knew”) had just dropped me off at my apartment to do an errand. I was phoneless and didn’t have Internet. I needed an Ethernet cord but I couldn’t look up where to buy an Ethernet cord. Add in coming off a cross Atlantic flight. I don’t think I have ever been so overwhelmed in my life. I felt like I had hit bottom at that point. My luck began to change when the maintainance man happened to stop in my apartment and I played a game of charades to explain the Internet situation and he let me borrow a cord.  I can’t explain in words the relief feeling of actually being able to get on the Internet and connect to the world. After a skype with my parents while tears of being exhausted and overwhelmed came down, I took a nap and woke up refreshed and then began this incredible journey that I have experienced these past five months. I look through the hundreds of pictures taken, the number of shot glasses bought (one for each country) and it brings a smile to my face of how much I have seen and experienced these past five months. I have grown a lot and met some amazing people along the way. I hope that I could have left somewhat of an impact on them for the impact these people have left on me– no matter how long or short our encounter was. It reminds me of the cliche quote:

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay awhile and leave footprints on our heart and we are never ever the same”.

I have learned something –however big or small– from each person that I have come across these past few months and I hope to take these things with me forever. To all the people I have met along the way, I appreciate our time spent together and hope we are lucky enough that one day our paths will cross again on our journeys through life.

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Trio Spain: Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid

My Spain adventures began in at the Bratislava airport. I had to move out of my apartment in Vienna on the 30th of June. It only made sense to fly out on that day as well. I booked two flights with the budget airline Ryanair. Anyone whom has flown with this airline knows the experience all too well. Cheap flights, running and fighting your way to be first on the plane to get a good seat and of course, the trumpet call at the end for “another on time flight”. Everyone knows they exaggerate the arrival time so they always arrive 10-15 minutes early. Well I shouldn’t say always after Thursday….

It was cloudy– slightly drizzly weather in Bratislava. My flight from Bratislava to Milan was supposed to leave at 6:30. 6:25 comes around and the crowd is still corralled up… Not giving any indications that we would be moving anytime soon. Normally I am pretty flexible with traveling but the problem was I might have booked a “layover” in Milan– but layovers with Ryanair are much different from a normal airline. To Ryanair, despite having multiple flights booked with them, they are unrelated. This means when I was to land in Milan, I would exit the airport, go back to the check in desk, do my visa check, go back through security, to get back to my gate. If you are to miss a flight –even if it were because you were late from another Ryanair flight– you would be s.o.l.

I will admit– I get anxious on travel days. My sister makes fun of me about it but to my defense, if I have already spent money on an expensive flight, I would prefer not to miss it to add to the headache and would prefer to use money used for re-booking on something else. When our departure time came and went and we were still in the airport– I started getting anxious. 5… 10… 15… 20… 30 minutes after our departure time pass. I am keeping one eye on the Ryanair worker and another on my watch. I only had an hour layover and was terrified I was going to miss my flight. The Ryanair lady tells us it is because of weather, we aren’t boarding (as the planes on either side of ours are arriving and departing in the “bad weather”….) FINALLY (for my sanity) we begin to board. We departed the airport 40 minutes after scheduled.

We arrive in Milan to find buses outside of the plane to take us to the correct entrance. I will admit, when I am on a time limit, I despise this concept. You always have the mother that is taking her time exiting the plane; talks with others, decides she wants to change her child’s outfit (okay… Maybe an exaggeration but she will take her sweet time). The bus must wait for everyone before departing, so it is trying for someone like me. After everyone is loaded up– I kid you not– we drive 20 feet up and the doors open for us to exit. This truly frustrates me and I push through the crowd to begin my airport process again. I am basically running at this point and I make it to my gate just in time…. For the sign to change to “DELAYED”. My flight to Spain was delayed by few hours that we would be departing after our scheduled arrival. As I am standing there, I recognize a guy that had been on my previous flight. I strike up conversation with him and after chatting, we go to find a spot to hang out for our second delayed Ryanair flight of the way. Needless to say, we did not hear the trumpet calls that day.

The guy was from Brazil and studying in Barcelona for the semester. He said he was actually dating a girl named Taylor from Texas, so he didn’t have any difficulty pronouncing my name like some foreigners I meet. We chat waiting for our flight and on the plane.  We arrived at the Barcelona airport after 1 am which was not good news for us. The last bus/train from the airport to Barcelona runs at 1 am. We are trying to be resourceful. He offers to split a cab. Yes… I have seen the movie Taken and that was the immediate thought I had when he suggested that. I then suggest to go ask Information since I figure there has to be another way –they can’t force an entire plane to take taxis. We finally had luck on our side. A night bus came by once an hour. No taxi sharing with random guys at the airport for me 🙂 we take the 40 minute bus ride in and he tells me which stop to get off so I can walk the remaining 20 minutes to my hostel. It is after 2 am at this point. Gotta say, I walked down one of the main streets and the only people out in Barcelona on a Thursday night at 2 am were some pretty sketch men. Didn’t see a single female.

I was meeting my friend Susan on the 2nd in Barcelona so I had a full day to myself. I didn’t want to start sight-seeing since I thought that wouldn’t make much sense, so I headed to the beach with two Aussie girls from my room. I have been to the beaches in Germany before but this was my first time in Spain. My roommate warned me but the sight of so many topless girls still took awhile for me to soak in. I have my tan lines because I couldn’t throw 21 years of teaching out the window but I will say, it was a bit of a culture shock. There were girls from age 4 to women in their 80s topless. I tried to talk to Aussie girls about it. I explained that I think I was more disturbed seeing the younger girls than older. They were confused by this since obviously younger girls haven’t hit puberty yet. I explained that younger girls always are covered back home (whither a culture thing or to protect from perverts, etc) and we try to protect younger children from that exposure. Maybe that is part of the American culture. Maybe it is from growing up in the Bible belt of the South. Either way, I thought younger girls running around topless would have been deemed inappropriate back home.

I got to meet up with Jessica (friend from home that visited me in Vienna). She hadn’t really explored the night life of Barcelona so we decided to go try to find some famous bar that Hemingway drank absinthe at. I am not sure if this place ever has heard of the creation of the a/c. The place looked like it probably looked when Hemingway visited. The place was covered in dust and looked like it could have been an authentic saloon from the Wild West days. That was an experience.

The next I met Susan at the airport. We spent the next few days exploring Barcelona–especially all the Gaudi work. One night we met up with Jessica and two of her classmates for a 10 pm dinner (we were being Spanish 🙂 ). Susan was tired from her flight and one of the classmates headed home as well so Jessica, Sam and I went searching for this legendary night life of Barcelona. No such luck. We went to places recommended by books and online, went down the main streets, and went to a few places locals recommended. Nothing good. We were out at the lively hours and still nothing. I know this is pretty unbelievable but I truly believe Athens, Georgia (especially after a football game) is more lively than the “legendary”  Barcelona. Maybe Athens really does deserve our number one ranking in party schools in the US….

The last day in Barcelona, Susan and I headed to the train station to buy our tickets to San Sebastian. We got there and pulled number 11. I think, “okay. Not that long of a wait” since the station was on 497 and I figured the numbers started over at 500. WRONG! 500 came around and then 501… The numbers would go to a 1,000 before it started over! How are over 1,000 people waiting, trying to buy train tickets?!? In Austria, they had automatic ticket machines and you could walk up and buy one ten minutes before hoping on the train. Even if you wanted to get a person to help you with your purchase, I have NEVER had more than three people in front of me. Efficiency. I go find some automatic ticket machines and 1. They did not have an English option at all 2. The tickets we needed couldn’t be bought on that machine. We find some English speakers and they said they had been there for over three hours waiting for roughly 200 numbers. At this point, it is 2 pm and we figure they aren’t going to run all night so will probably stop seeing people at a certain time. Susan and I begin having a back up plan of if we can’t get tickets to San Sebastian, etc. Well we lucked out. A girl came up and gave us her number that she didn’t need anymore. It was 664 so 164 away but better than essentially being 1011st! We thank her and begin waiting. We waited over two hours more and that is with the ticket being time stamped at 11 am! CRAZY! If you ever want train tickets for Spain, be sure to buy them ahead of time!

We finally got our tickets and the next morning, caught our train to San Sebastian. We had one change so had to get off and wait at the train station for an hour. That is when something weird happened. We were siting there and this old man tries to talk to us. He is talking too fast for ne to comprehend and I tell him this. Then these two younger guys –roughly our age– come up, flash us their police badge (while traveling, honestly how would I know if real or fake) and ask for our passports. We comply but they throughly search our passports. Susan had her passport stolen in Greece so just had a temporary one and that seemed to confuse them for a bit. They were going through all our entrance and exit stamps carefully and checking out our visas.  Susan kept asking why they had our passports so long and what was the problem and they would say nothing but still search our passports and talk to each other. I was ready to run after them if it was a scam and they tried to make a run for it. I have had passport checks while on trains and before when I have crossed borders, but NEVER while just sitting somewhere. We weren’t on the train at the time (for all they knew, we could have never planned to be on train and were just waiting for people) and we weren’t crossing borders going from Barcelona to San Sebastian. I still don’t know what was up with that. There were two other Americans there (middle-aged couple) and they didn’t get checked– neither did older man trying to speak to us earlier. He even spoke with the two police guys for bit but didn’t seem like he was with them. I spoke with an Irish lady on my train in Portugal and she said some countries (like France) you must have identification at all times and they can randomly ask for it. She suggested Spain might be the same but who knows. That was really unexpected.

We finally arrived in San Sebastian with our passports and went to check into the hotel. The hotel ran out of the double rooms that we booked so upgraded us to a three bedroom apartment suite. Talk about a NICE perk–especially after staying in hostels. We then went out and explored the city. The city was BEAUTIFUL!!! Very authentic feeling with the lack of tourists. We walked to the beach and then around town. We found a nice tapas bar to eat at and since we didn’t know what to order, just told the waitress to bring us something she recommended. You would never do that in the States! The waitress or waiter would automatically bring the most expensive item on the menu. Europe seems different– especially somewhere like San Sebastian where they are known for food. She seemed to truly want us to enjoy what we were eating. We got our tapas and don’t have a clue what we were eating– but it was amazing. That is a big step for someone who was as picky of an eater as myself as a kid. During the meal, we enjoyed watching the locals play soccer with the kids in the middle of the square. The town just had a great atmosphere.

The following day, the weather was too cold for the beach, but we walked to the funicular to catch a ride up to get a view of the city. The view was UNBELIEVABLE! I just wish the sun was shining to make the pictures that much better. There was this fair thing at the top of the mountain that was a little strange, but I guess it added to the culture. We were sad that our stay in San Sebastian was so short but we had to catch a train to Madrid the next morning so Susan could fly back home and I could fly to Portugal.

I am sad that I only gave Madrid a day. Reading Lonely Planet, there aren’t that many sites besides museums but Clara (roomie) is from there and she could have given me the more local experience. When Susan and I arrived, we went to the famous plaza to grab a late lunch. That lunch might have been the highlight of my day. Our waiter became fascinated with me — being American or what, I don’t know. I figured he would hit on Susan since she is the blonde and there aren’t many blondes in Spain. Apparently I was wrong. He literally came to our table between serving each customer and was really pulling out the cheesy lines. Susan had a good laugh because I had my back to the restaurant and she would tell me how he would glance over at our table four or five times while taking another table’s order. He tried to bring me olives and asked if I liked them, but I politely declined.   I even got some free chips since olives weren’t a success. As Susan said, it was like out of a movie. I have witnessed friends getting hit on or heard some out there lines before, but this guy was almost over the top. He tried to get us to come out that night but we declined. Susan, “your eyes are as deep as the ocean… Don’t you want to love someone who loves you?” Like I said, comical meal.

Susan called it an early night and I met up with my roomie and another friend from Vienna. We apparently met a celebrity during the night. At the end of the night, we asked this guy nearby if he would take our picture and he kind of is taken back. He asks if we want a picture with this particular person in his group and we again say we just want a picture taken of us three girls. Clara explained later that he was taken back because the other person in the guy’s group was a famous person in Spain from a reality show and the guy was so used to getting asked if he would take a photo of someone and his friend and so he was surprised when we just wanted a photo of us. Never realize who you might come across when you are in public!

The following morning, Susan and I made our trek to the airport and parted. Susan’s European adventures had come to a close and I still had one more country to conquer.

(The next post chronically would be the Porto, Portugal post. Apologize for not posting in order.)

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London: The city of red

London had some big shoes to fill after I fell in love with Ireland. I arrived in the afternoon after spending some time at the airport in a mix up. When I arrived, I got directed to the Non-EU line. I felt like I was waiting in customs to get back into the US. I had to fill out a customs claim sheet, etc. I wait for almost an hour in the line and when I am two away from the desk, I see the desk guy turn a lady away and approaches the crowd. He asks if anyone is coming from Ireland. The people in front of me and I raise our hands. He pulls us out of line and tells us to go to the next room. Apparently if you come from Ireland (not just Northern Ireland), despite your nationality, you don’t have to go through UK customs. Wish I knew that at the beginning, but hey, part of traveling is being flexible. All I had to do was turn in my flight ticket and I just walked through. I felt like a VIP skipping the queue.

I then began making my way to my hostel. Talk about a great location. I know my generation over uses the term literally, but this term is appropriate for this. I was literally across the street from the British Museum. After dropping off my stuff, I had to go since this was one of the things my aunt recommended that was a must. Honestly, best museum I have ever visited. It had the Rosetta Stone, rooms upon rooms of Egyptian and Greek artifacts and was just AMAZING how so many important things could be found under one roof. You could honestly spend almost an entire day there just going over everything the museum has to offer. I was there until closing and still didn’t give it the time it deserves.

I must admit, I am a Harry Potter fan. Therefor, being in London, I had to check out Platform 9 3/4. I went to King’s Cross in search of this platform. I seriously followed the signs to platforms 9 and 10 and couldn’t find it. All I was doing was getting in the way of Londoners trying to get through the turn table and get to their train. I was not defeated. I asked once or twice and got directions away from platforms 9 and 10. I was in the main part of the station and could not find this legendary site. I finally go to information and all I get out of my mouth is, “This is a dumb question but” and the workers just start to point outside. Wow, they must be used to some Harry Potter fans! I go outside to find that the station is doing construction so the normal ‘site’ is out of commission but they put up a (bad) replica. The sheet of plastic that is supposed to represent bricks is a poor excuse for a replica– but hey, it is Platform 9 3/4. I wait in line and –traveling alone– must scout out friendly looking people to ask to take a picture for me. Small world: the girls that I ask saw my UGA croakie and comment on me going to UGA. Apparently one graduated from UGA and other was just from Atlanta. Who would think Harry Potter could bring UGA students together in London?

I have gotten more into photography being in Europe and have learned that the best times for photos are around sunrise and sunset. I decided to end my day exploring, getting my bearings, and take some photos of London. As I was photographing some monuments, I see this blonde traveler setting up the self timer trying to take a photo with her in the picture. She then asks if I will take her picture, she will return the favor. I agree. While traveling alone, one takes a lot of scenery photos. It is always nice to be offered by someone else to have a photo taken than to seem vain and ask for someone to take a picture of you.

The blonde and I begin talking and she is a fellow American from California. She is also traveling alone and we decided to team up to explore the city. My new friend is named Jennifer and she instantly became the older source of knowledge for me. When she was still in undergrad, she studied in Italy. She and I discussed our experiences as Americans studying abroad. She became the older, wiser sister that had knowledge about things to be experienced for me in the next coming years. It was really interesting.

We got some great photos (Picture in red telephone booth. Picture with Big Ben. Check. Check.) and really just enjoyed walking around that night. We decided to call it an early night around midnight since the tube closed–yet apparently– neither of us are as old as we thought because both were not the first asleep in our hostels.

Jennifer and I met up the next day to enjoy the free New Europe Walking tour. There were so many people! They even divided the group into two and we still had close to 40 in each. Our guide for the day could have played Bilbo Baggins’s stunt double in Lord of the Rings. Interesting fellow. Since the tour began near Buckingham Palace, we were right on time to witness the changing of the guards. I am amazed for something that occurs on a daily basis, the throng of people who were in attendance. I mean, people were hanging off the monuments and statues across the street to get a glimpse!

We continued the tour to see the other –less known– palace in London. This is actually the only place left in London tourists can get a photo with the stereotypical (red jacket, black hat) royal guard. (Picture with guard. Check.)

The tour continued on to Westminster Abbey. (Yes, posters of Will and Kate were still up!) I can only imagine the chaos here only two months ago! The guide finished with telling us some history about the Parliament, which had me remembering the fifth of November… Or least the movie, “V for Vendetta”. Interesting stuff. The guide told us about a local pub for drinks and good food, so most of the group followed him there.

I introduced Jennifer to Irish cider and enjoyed some bangers and mash once more (an English or Irish dish– I no longer know). We were there a few hours just talking and enjoying the food and company. We might be becoming slightly Europeanized 🙂

I had to leave Jennifer there because I actually had to go back to the hostel and shower. Before meeting for the tour, I had decided that I wanted to see a Broadway show while in London. I always have wanted to see The Lion King, but Wicked tugged at my heart as well since for years I have heard friends talk about it. I had come across the theatre showing Wicked the previous day– so I knew where to get the ticket. HOWEVER– as I was walking to meet for the walking tour, I happened to pass the theatre for The Lion King and decided it was a sign and chose it. I must say– the costumes were INCREDIBLE! I have only seen Annie and The Producers on broadway, and must say that The Lion King was not a disappointment! Great way to end the night.

I have one last full day in London. I tour the National Gallery, checked out the famous parks, checked out the WWII monuments (who knew I would find a statue of FDR in London?) and discovered a September 11th memorial.

(I never really realized how much that day means to other countries. When I was visiting my German family and we were visiting their friends in Switzerland, that topic came up. All around the table, everyone remembered and talked about what they were doing at the moment the attacks happened. Call it ignorance, but I just thought it was near and dear to the American hearts– didn’t realize how much it impacted the rest of the world as well.)

I spent the remaining part of the day at the Tower of London and London Bridge (and it was not falling down… hardy har har). At the end of the day, I made my way to the airport. I had a 6 am flight the following morning and since I would have to get there at 4 am anyway and the airport was about an hour out (two because of traffic that particular night due to a concert), I decided to save the cash on hotel/hostel and just hang out at the airport for four extra hours to complete my short– but necessary–  trip to London.

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Coimbra, Portugal

My original plan was to spend two full days in Lisbon. Plans change. My Lonely Planet book raved about this small town almost halfway between Porto and Lisbon. A few other things I read said the same, so I figured since no one I had spoken with LOVED Lisbon, I would take detour to Coimbra.

Now if you are like me and have never heard of this city until I mentioned it, it is a University town–home to one of oldest universities in Europe. It is also the “birthplace” to the famous Portuguese Fado music.

I arrived in the town in the early afternoon and made my way to the university. Athens, you think we have hills… Come to Portugal. I had my luggage with me and lugging that around up the hills was a lot of fun. Oh well. Worse things in the world. I made it to the university and toured the library, chapel and other famous rooms. I wish I could take pictures. The library was GORGEOUS!!! It might give Harry Potter’s library a run for it’s money. To protect the historic books, the walls are thick and random fact of keeping the books safe from insects: they keep bats in the library! The librarian covers the historic tables each night to protect from droppings and uncovers the tables from the leather tablecloths each morning. Now who would have thought about solving a pest problem that way?

On my way down the hill, I stopped by an hr show of Fado music with a 10 minute Port Wine tasting in the middle. I might be in love. It was this mix of opera/gondola/ Spanish music. Amazing! The men wear black cloaks and the group usually contains a singer, guitar player and another player than plays this special Portuguese guitar-like instrument. You would never see this in the states! One of the things that is a must in traveling: experiencing what the area or people are known for!

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Porto, Portugal

I skipped over London and Spain’s post. Those will come soon!

How weather can make or break a trip. I first arrived in Porto, Portugal on a rainy day. I decided I couldn’t sit inside all day since I am in Europe and decided to battle the rain. Despite the rain coat, one can’t help but get wet when outside for longer period. That is exactly what happened. I ventured into town for little over hour, grabbed lunch and then decided to take my own siesta back at hostel. After nap #1, I ventured out again in the (still raining) city. Same thing again. This time I ende with trip to grocery store and snacked back at hostel. At this point I was so exhausted from roughly 2 hours of sleep the previous night (I had been in Madrid and gone out for drinks with my Spanish roomie and another girl from Vienna + early flight). I have never felt so old in my life. After taking a snooze on plane, nap in the day, I called it a night at 8 pm.

I slept in until about 10 the next morning. Once up, I had to begin sight-seeing. I had already read my Lonely Planet book and circled on the map where I wanted to go. First, Museum of Port Wine. I must say, I am normally very good at directions. I am good at maps. I am good at reading my itouch’s map quest directions. I met my match here in Portugal. The winding streets are way too complicated for map reading. I ended up in local area. How do I know it was local? When I walked down the street, I stood out like a sore thumb as locals stuck their heads out of the second floor windows to look at me in the street. Yeah… When I thought I was close, I came across three tourists around my parents’ age that I am pretty sure I had seen earlier. Call it the blind leading the blind, but I decided to ask the tourists for directions, after all, I had a better chance of them speaking English. I lucked out. Yes tourists. Yes English-speaking. Yes Portuguese speaking. They were from Brazil. They asked a local for me how to get to the museum and she directed us basically a human made mountain of streets and houses. The trio said they would join me and we began the trek.

Once making it to museum, found it was closed for lunch and trio asked If I would be interested in joining them for historic stock exchange that they had originally been searching for. I decided to and we began another long walk. Only one of the trio spoke English but he was a businessman (as I seem to meet here during my travels) and even knew Atlanta, Georgia because he had done some work there years ago.

The palace wasn’t giving tours in Portuguese on the hour, so the trio left me to join the English tour. The building was great! I wish I could have taken pictures inside to show everyone. The Arabic room was the best. Very appropriate since I just was in Turkey. Apparently the writing on the wall said things like “Allah is good” and “Allah loves the Queen”. Irony since the Queen was Catholic? Apparently it only says that since she allowed foe the building of that particular room. So far, the English speakers here in Portugal have been hiding. Even English tours aren’t the majority. My particular tour was ib English and Spanish. I got to practice my Spanish because the tour guide would talk in English and then repeat the information in Spanish. I certainly am out of practice, but it is nice getting to practice more while in Europe.

The tour had a combined combo ticket so after the tour finished, I went back to Museum of Port Wine to catch it while it was open, then headed downtown the port to take my tour of Sandeman’s. So far in Europe, I have taken a brewery tour in Austria of Ottakringer and then in Ireland, I took a Guinness brewery tour. This was my first winery tour. Apparently this port wine is what Porto is KNOWN for.i really enjoyed the Sandeman tour. Sandeman’s has a slightly different approach to making their port wine than rest. They cut the fermentation process short by a few days– making the wine sweeter and stronger. Normal wine is roughly 12%… Sandeman’s is 20%. It isn’t even supposed to be drank with food but rather before a meal or after with dessert. At the end of the tour, they give you some of their less famous white and some of their famous red Tawny. I am not a red wine person, but there is a reason they are more famous for their red than white. Both are an acquired taste, but I have gotten used to €2 Italian wine from grocery store 🙂

After Sandeman’s, I returned to the hostel to shower. I later went out looking for the grocery store to find a large amount of people gathered inside and outside of a mall. I go inside to find out what is going on and see a boxing ring and a live match going on. I have never seen a boxing match, but when in Portugal…. The crowd seemed to really love one guy. I personally thought whole thing looked rehearsed and couldn’t tell who was winner at the end of the rounds, but the crowd was loving it. Gotta love these random moments you come across while traveling!

The next day I began with looking in the famous Sé church, and hit up a port cellar called “Taylors” that was rated #1 on Trip Advisor. Same thing as Sandeman’s yet not as good of a tour. I then hiked the 225 steps to the top of the tower to get a great view of the city. I ate dinner by the river and heard my first English speakers this entire time in Portugal. Didn’t realize how many French, Italian, Spanish and German tourists come to Portugal and how few English. ATTENTION ENGLISH SPEAKERS: be prepared to improve your sign language while in Portugal.

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Ireland… I am in love!

I apologize for being a few weeks late with this post.


The second to last week in June, I didn’t have any classes for the week and decided to take the opportunity to travel. All my friends had classes so I had to make the trip solo. It didn’t matter in the end because I met some great people and had an amazing time!

I arrived at the Dublin airport to be picked up by the hostel’s shuttle service.   There was another girl on the shuttle going to the hostel and we started talking. Her name was Kylie and she was a fellow traveler.

Once we made it to the hostel, we dropped off our bags and took to the city to get our bearrings. We found not just one –but TWO– feativals going on. One was called Mayo and was celebrating a town nearby. The other, we found by curiousity. We saw a Waldo (known as Wally in Europe) and then saw another… And another… And another. We asked a group what was going on and they said something about a picture being taken in a few hours. We decided to head over to the area they were talking about. Glad we did.

Apparently we found Ireland’s second largest festival –behind St. Patrick’s Day. There were thousands upon thousands of people dressed like Wally. That is a lot of red and white stripes for one’s eyes! We were behind the crowd as they were being corraled onto one street to take a picture for the Guinness Book of World Records. Despite the throng of people, the festival was such a family atmosphere. It had this village/small town feel which was really neat.

After an amazing Irish meal, we headed back to hostel to shower foe the night. That night we decided to check out the night scene in Temple Bar. I love it! Everywhere had live Irish singers which made it a lot of fun. I was surprised by the older crowd out. I felt like a freshman again being the youngest at the bar. The crowd was definately late 20s and 30s. One place we went had a minimum age of 23. Being a girl, they didn’t question me and we walked in. Never thought I would see a minimum age limit of 23 when 18 is the drinking age there. I didn’t get IDed there but I did get IDed at some places with normal rules. Also never thought I would get IDed in Europe being 21. Marie-Michelle, don’t feel so bad!

We met three local Irish guys and ended up hanging out with them most of the night. They showed us some places that were more local and just had a good time with them. One even walked us back to our hostel at the end of the night. Felt like I was back home meeting a gentleman!

The following day, I did a day trip to Glendalough and Kilkenny. My hostel offered the tour free if you stayed two nights. I met a Canadian named Anna who had been working in Italy as a nanny for a family the past few months and was traveling. Sounded like a pretty neat job. She had to make sure kids did homework in aftenoon and  was there to help them with their English. I ended up hanging out with her during the tour. Glendalough was BEAUTIFUL! After Glendalough, on the way to Kilkenny, we stopped at place they filmed Braveheart and PS I Love You. That was breathtaking!

Continuing onto Kilkenny, Irish weather began. The rain came down. Anna and I were determined to drink a Kilkenny beer in Kilkenny, so found an Irish pub and ate some bangers and mash and I tried Kilkenny for the first time.

Anna and I called it a lazy night that night and got some American fast food (it’s cheap!) Anna was flying to Greece and I was going to do the New Europe walking tour of Dublin. Met for the tour and loved the guide– Mick. He was slightly bigger guy and by the end of the run history run down of Ireland, he was sweating from head to toe because he had gotten so into it! Loved the passion!

We toured the castle, went past Trinity and even learned that the second largest Koran collection (behind Istanbul) is in Dublin in a museum that has free entrance. Who knew? The museum was founded when private collector decided to share his collection of authentic, first edition books. Even had some books from the Bible there. I didn’t have time to stop by when I was there, but it will be a must when I return!

I also learned a lot about the Irish famine –Irish point of view– on the tour. I thought that was actually really interesting. Called it a biased view, but it actually happened to them and it was great getting the story from the source. Made me have a whole new outlook on it and the British during that time.

I made my way to the Guinness Factory after my walking tour. In Dublin… Gotta tour the Guinness. The factory inside is actually in the shape of a pint glass. In the foam, or head, of the pint glass, there is a glass room that you can drink a complentary Guinness and get an amazing view of the city. I really enjoyed it! Don’t worry Nineen, I am talking about the view and the tasting!

That night I went to dinner with two girls that were in my room at the hostel that I had talked to on the walking tour. One was from Canada and the other was from Ireland. They had met traveling years ago and the Canadian was in Ireland for a wedding and they decided to meet up. Really neat story to have kept in contact with someone from years ago and to meet up again! Anyways, we went to another Irish restaurant and after eating, decided the music we heard playing must be live and not a CD and went to find the source. Sure enough, found a band upstairs. We hung out up there for a bit, drank a cider, and just enjoyed the company and atmosphere. A great way to spend my last night in Dublin.

The following day I had a plane to catch to London. I was really sad to leave Dublin. Dublin has made it’s way to the top of my favorite places list. Gosh, I love Ireland. I have already gotten a few questions of why I liked Ireland so much, so I will make a list:

TR’s “Why I love Ireland” list:

  • Despite Dublin being the capital, has a small town feel
  • Everyone is SO friendly (if you stop with a map in your hands, multiple people will stop to help you find your way without being asked)
  • The “let’s enjoy the moment” atmosphere
  • The live music scene everywhere
  • The countryside is BEAUTIFUL
  • The history
  • The safe feeling –don’t feel like you are going to get pickpocketed by everyone like in barcelona (warning: doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on guard  at all)
  • And everything ELSE 🙂


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It’s not chicken… not ham… it’s TURKEY

Istanbul turned into being one of my “big trips” for the semester. I spent 6 days, 5 nights in the city. For Erasmus standards, that is a long stay in one city. I never thought I would have found myself in Turkey this semester. Like I admitted in an earlier post, I was naive about the country on safety and native about the location. My Canadian roommate mentioned that she wanted to go during the semester and that is what planted the idea. The idea grew on me and then I made the decision that I had to go. Inception, I know. MM ended up not being able to go, but I did 2 really cool kids to come: Paul from Ireland and my friend Emily from Kentucky.

Lucky for us, Paul convinced another friend to join us: Liliana from Mexico. (Small world story: she goes to other Uni in Vienna than I do. There are 3 of us from UGA at my Uni and 1 at her Uni. She actually went on Easter holiday with guy from UGA that goes to her Uni. She knows a UGA boy that I don’t and it is my school!)

Emily, Paul and I flew out on a Thursday. Liliana joined us the next afternoon. We decided to do the ‘Hop On Hop Off’ open air tour of the city since the city is so spread out. The weather was bad so we decided to stay on the tour bus for another trip through the circle so we could make sure we grasped the information and so we could get pictures of the sites from the other side of the bus. We finally got to the main tourist area and hopped off. We grabbed some lunch and then as we approached the blue mosque, heard the sound to prayer and knew we couldn’t center for the next while. A local guy told us about this free briefing session he was providing for tourists in the nearby school so we joined him there. During the briefing session, he talked about what we were going to see, about the Islamic religion and just an overview of everything. I knew about the ‘great journey’ part of the religion but I didn’t know so much about the prophets. I was also surprised with the similarities to the Christian religion. I always knew in back of mind that the Islamic, Judaism, and Christian beliefs shared close to same beginning beliefs, but it was interesting hearing about the Islamic beliefs from a believer. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe what my Christian religion says and disagreed with some of the differences, but it is interesting to learn how others view the world. After the briefing, we toured the blue mosque (which I was surprised that they didn’t make us cover our heads with the provided scarfs. We went prepared to do so and as we entered, they didn’t give us a scarf). That was the first eye opener for me. Witnessing the women sit in the balcony or in this caged off part of the room as the men went to the front to pray… wow. I have grown up in the generation with ‘equal rights’. Sure there is the glass ceiling as far as the business world goes for women, but we –least I–have taken our everyday equal rights for granted. Sure, it is the culture here, but wow. That was an eye opener for me.

Apparently I look Turkish. Who knew? We got approached by some locals once we exited. They asked us where we were from, etc. Paul said Ireland and I replied with the typical ‘US’ answer. He then asks me again and I reply with the same response. He then clarifies and wanted to know if my heritage was Turkish. Never have gotten that one before. During my travels so far, I have been asked if I was from Pennsylvania (from a guy from Arkansas! I don’t know what he was thinking with my accent!), New York, England, and now Turkey.

Lets see… the rest of our Turkey experience was touring the Palace, making a trip to Asia (and in the process, figuring out that we had a stalker that we had to ditch), noticing the amount of straight Turkish men holding hands in public (Kid you not. It is culture thing. Look up videos on youtube if don’t believe!) and just experiencing the Turkish culture. Besides one minor mishap of Emily missing her flight back to Vienna, the four of us survived Istanbul with our lives and wallets still in our pockets.

I definitely want to go back to Turkey. It has so much history there (didn’t realize that Troy is located there!) 6 days of touring just one city in Turkey was still not enough. Expect to see me in the future, Turkey!

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Ignorance and Freedom

Ignorance and Freedom

“Where is Istanbul? What country is it in? Is it safe for Americans?” I kid you not. I was this ignorant before coming to Europe. I never realized how ignorant we are as a country about global issues. I may be wrong, but I don’t even feel like I am the most ignorant about countries outside of the US for my age and that’s sad. I honestly have met more foreigners over here that know more states and state capitals than Americans. What is our country coming to?

One of my roommates this semester was from Canada. As we were leaving Vienna with our bags packed, I noticed that she had a Canadian flag on her backpack. I made the comment that I see so many Canadians with this on their bag. She informs me of the truth. She and many others do this to distinguish themselves from being mistaken as American. Her boyfriend added that he even knows Americans that will put Canadian flags on backpack to be thought of as Canadians while traveling. I was a little taken back but they explained that they actually have been treated nicer on numerous occasions because of this patch and the fact they weren’t American.

Why this negative attitude? Americans really don’t understand the negative image we put out. I got an idea when I came to Europe three years ago but fully didn’t understand it until actually living here for 5 months. People from other countries can tell me who holds what position in the government in the US, or name state capitals, yet many peope I know can only tell you who our president or VP are. No one that I know can sit down and describe the government structure of Canada or England or Spain. Why are we so far back in knowledge? Why is the sterotype of ignorant American so widespread? Is it the lack of being multilingual? Is it the “reality” shows like Jersery Shore and Real Housewives? Or is it because we are like the spoiled child of the world? The self-centered brat that only thinks that what goes on inside our country matters and what happens in other countries is irrelevant unless it directly affects us? I am not trying to only put down my home. I have just had my eyes opened being away for the past few months to notice the ignorance and outside opinion.

Despite having our ignorance brought to my attention, I must say that my pride in what America was founded on and appreciation for our freedom has really grown these past few months. When I was in Turkey, it really hit a nerve. When we entered the mosque, the men were in front praying while the women were upstairs in the balcony or behind this caged door in the very back of the room. We were touring one of the palaces — wearing tank top and jeans. Nothing terribly revealing. I then noticed a family in front of us on the tour. The husband stood with his wife and she was holding the hands of her two sons. She was completely covered from head to foot with only her eyes showing. That is when it hit me. Can you imagine how differently our lives are solely based on the cultures and countries we were born into? I was discussing this with a British friend and he pointed out that I shouldn’t assume she was forced into this and might on her own accord choose to dress like this. Still…. She and I are both women. Both went through puberty in the same way, will/would have children in the same way… Our bodies are biologically the “same” yet our lives are so different. Taking the assumption that even if she “chooses” to dress like that– society still plays a large role in this decision. I have taken the freedom of the decision to wear a tank top for granted. I can dream of being the president of the United States one day and you could argue that she could dream the same for Turkey, but let’s be real. I am more likely to make mine a reality. It just really blew my mind and made me start thinking more about the freedoms in the US. Sure, we have our problems.. But nothing is perfect. What is good are the ideas that we were founded on. It is things like this that make me brush off the ignorant American comments. You know what? I am proud to be an American.

Have a great 4th of July weekend! 

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Third time is the charm, right? After my Mom and sister visited me in Vienna–both wanting to make a side trip to Prague– the reality didn’t happen. I finally broke the spell and took a trip there. I had a total of 4 days and 3 nights to spend in Prague.

Charles's Bridge

I took the bus to Prague and made my way to drop off my stuff at the hostel. I then began exploring the city. When I am traveling on my own, I like to get my bearings of a city on the first day. It was pretty much an uneventful day with the exception of my random experience with a local. I noticed this guy in painter attire keeping in step with me as I walked down the street. I decided to stop and he’d stop. I kept changing up things to see if he was following in my footsteps. I finally slowed down enough and went around a car parked on side walk and let him go on the other side of the car. He kept ahead of me for a bit and then later on the street let me pass. I passed him once more because he decided to randomly stop. He passed me once again, and this time started yelling at me in a language I did not recognize. I would assume it was Czech. He looked really mad and he almost made the motion that you see when people try to fight each other– you know what I’m talking about. The “What?!” along with the hand motions that usually signal a challenge. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so confused in my life. I thought back to everything and can’t imagine what I would have done to upset him. After all, he was the one following me. I quickly walked again–attempting to avoid confrontation.

If you refer to previous post, you’ll read the short explantation of how small this world is. If you haven’t read the post, I met two guys from Atlanta as I was walking around Prague. I ended up grabbing dinner with them and hanging out with them for the night.

The following day, I joined the New Europe tour offered in Prague. The concept of this organization is to offer a basic tour of the city for any budget traveler. Therefor, you don’t have to pay to do the tour, but tips are highly recommended, which is fair for 3 hours of the guide’s time. Since you pay a tip on what you think that it was worth, the guides actually try to make it interesting. I’ve done other walking tours but by far has New Europe been the best. I especially liked the Prague guide. When you arrive at the meeting place, the guides give you a number. This makes it easier to divide up the 40+ people who have arrived for the tour. I literally the last one to arrive for this tour so was given the highest number. After the guides introduced themselves, they divided up the gang. I was “assigned” to the girl guide but noticed that A) a majority of the people under the age of 30 were with the boy guide B) The boy guide had a LOT more energy than the girl so I “broke ranks” and joined the younger crowd.  Who would think bending the rules to a free tour would be a big deal?

Did the 3 hour tour. Ended up talking with two Canadian guys most of the tour. The three of us decided to do the Castle Tour as well. That was another roughly 3 hours of touring. At the end of the tour, the guide left us on top of the hill to get a gorgeous view of the city. I went to give him my tip for the tours and he totally called me out for being in the wrong tour. He had impressed me the entire tour with his quick responses to things, but he really took me off guard remembering what number I had been given for the original tour. He was only giving me a hard time, but still impressive that he remembered this.


Overlooking the city

Tower in Prague

I ended up hanging out with the two Canadian guys that night. The next day, I met up with the same guys mid-afternoon to explore Prague even more. We made out way to Charles’s Bridge. We went to the Jewish building that has all the names of all the Jews that were from Prague that were killed in the Holocaust. While we were in the graveyard that was over 9 graves deep– the heavens opened and it began to pour. Kind of appropriate for where we were for it was like the world’s tears on these graves. We bolted through the rain and hung out in a store until we braved going out again and hanging out in a cafe until the rain cleared. We played cards and just enjoyed the afternoon– conversing and learning from each other. Once the rains cleared, we hiked to Prague’s own Eiffel Tower and did more exploring. We even found a playground on top of the mountain and hung around there for a bit.

Charles BridgeI enjoyed Prague. I really did. It just wasn’t what I expected due to how much people talk about the city. I think I went in expecting there to be a “lot there” and in reality, there the average amount or maybe less there than other European cities. I think what makes Prague the “new Paris” is the atmosphere of the city. When the two Canadians and I were sitting by the river enjoying a drink one night, looking at the bridges and lights of the castle– it was definitely beautiful. The beauty takes your breath away. Picture of Prague that I took



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