a quick trip to the alps

There are not many good things about being sick abroad. Yesterday morning I felt extremely ill and went to the doctor discovering that I had multiple issues that needed to be treated. So, for the last few days I’ve been bed ridden and on meds. Sounds like a great time while abroad in Italy right? I’m sure you can almost hear the sarcasm in my voice in the previous sentence. One thing is for sure, not many people can say they went to the doctor’s office in Florence that has a window overlooking the Duomo right?  On a positive note, being sick has allowed me to catch up on rest and has even given me time to blog, as you can see.  Last weekend (before I became ill) I took on the Swiss Alps and traveled to Switzerland. I stayed at the Pepperdine house in Lausanne, Switzerland for three nights. I traveled to Vevey, Montreux, and hiked the Swiss Alps in Leysin. The weekend was wonderful: visiting a new country and city, and hiking the Swiss Alps, like I have always dreamed of doing since I was a child.

I left the Florence S.M.N. train station by myself on Thursday night and headed towards Milan. From Milan, I took a train straight to Lausanne. My train ride to Milan was quite uneventful but my trip to Lausanne was a little different. I had an assigned seat on my train to Switzerland and sat next to a man, maybe in his early 40s, whom I soon found out was from France. One thing I have learned while studying abroad in Europe is that the social rule in America that says not to talk about religion or politics in public definitely does not exist here in Europe. The Frenchman immediately began talking to me about Obama, politics, religion, philosophy, theology, and world problems, when he learned I was from America. He talked, and talked, and talked. His worldview was quite interesting; I thought our conversations made my trip fascinating. He informed me that he worked for the French government and he told me about his prediction about the downfall of America. It was not a very heavy conversation at all (again, sarcasm). Eventually I began to work on some homework and he then began to read. I then met a few other travelers from Canada and talked with them for a bit. It was quite interesting talking to people around my same age who lead completely different lives than me. The two boys told me about their 12 hour, 7 days per week work shifts they have back in Canada. I was shocked that they literally live to work, here in Italy I’ve adopted the mentality of working to live and enjoying life instead of vice-versa.  The conversation with the two Canadian boys reminded me of how blessed I am to be living and traveling abroad for eight months.

I arrived in Lausanne around 11:00pm and my friend Lacye picked me up from the station and led me to her Pepperdine campus.  The next morning, Friday morning, we set out to Montreux where we explored markets and walked along Lake Geneva to a darling castle, it was a pleasant afternoon. For lunch, I had Indian food, which was a lovely change after all of the pasta and bread here in Italy. After Montreux, we headed to Vevey where we explored the little city, ate local Swiss chocolate, and I saw the “Fork”. The “Fork” is a huge, literal fork in the middle of Lake Geneva; you can see a picture below. We watched the sunset on the lake and enjoyed the cool, crisp air. I was excited I finally got to wear my coat! We took a train back to Lausanne, where we went to a traditional Swiss restaurant and shared fondue. I do not typically eat fondue, but it was fresh, from a local farm, and was a wonderful experience that allowed me to truly experience the Swiss culture. After dinner, Lacye, a few other students and I explored the city and hung out around town. It was a great night.  Friday night I was also notified that I received acceptance into a competitive internship program for this summer in Washington, DC.  It has been a dream/goal of mine to intern in DC and for this entire upcoming summer I will be living and interning in the U.S. Capital, which something I am definitely looking forward to!

Saturday morning we got up quite early and headed back over to the train station where we took a train to Leysin. As we headed up the mountain in the train we headed into an adorable winter wonderland. The adorable mountain villages were glistening with snow, the crisp air felt cooling against my skin, and the refreshing mountain air smelled of newly fallen snow. When we went to a tourist station a man warned us that we were “ill prepared” for hiking through the snow-filled mountains in our simple tennis shoes, but I was not worried. Lacye and I headed up the mountain around 11:30am and the beautiful snow covered mountaintops overtook me with their beauty. The hike was fairly up hill, but was not very difficult. The entire hike was filled with picturesque views that made up for the discomfort of my wet, cold feet as I walked through the calf-high snow.

The Swiss Alps were striking. When we made it to the top of the mountain we were surprised to find a huge, glass, rotating building that we later found out was a restaurant. We went inside the restaurant, warmed up and drank hot coco, it was the perfect end to a gorgeous hike. After we headed down the mountain, we took a train back to Lausanne.   We went to the gorgeous cathedral, down to the lakefront, and had falafel for dinner. On returning back to campus, I talked and caught up with various friends and had a great night talking with everyone. My friend McKenna walked me to the train station in the morning where I had a very restful train ride back to Florence. My weekend was wonderful; I know I hardly scratched the surface of such a gorgeous country. I cannot wait to return to Switzerland again someday! This weekend I have a trip to Barcelona planned which should be wonderful. The only issue being if I do not get better soon, I will be unable to go. I will continue to rest up and hopefully make my flight to Barcelona tomorrow night! Until then, to sleep I go.

Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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taking on the dolomites

Moments. Moments of pure, serene freedom, that’s what I live for. In coming to Italy I knew I would trek the Dolomites, that was a must. This weekend that is exactly what I did. And, my trip, my experience was better than I could have ever dreamed. My dear friend Jacqueline and I set out from Florence on Thursday night at 5pm after our classes got out. We arrived in Puente Gardenia around 10pm. One small detail I forgot to mention.. We did not book any place to stay or really have many plans except to bus to Selva di Val Gardenia on Friday morning and hit the trails. We searched the small, empty village of Puente Gardenia for a hostel or albergue with no avail. We saw one open bar, entered and were greeted, not in Italian but in German. German, I learned, is a very common languages here, everything from signs to menus are written in both German and Italian. Most people here are also from Austrian decent and the vibe of this region is not an Italian one because until last century this region was actually apart of Austria. Back to my story, we explained our situation to a man in the bar to the best of our ability and the kind man who spoke Italian explained that there was a village nearby with a few hostels. After we searched for the hostels and returned with no success, he offered to drive us to the nearby village, we happily agreed. He dropped us off at a small building titled “Pizza e Pensione”. We walked in and asked if they had extra rooms and the server who knew English replied they had one room left. We were so excited! She led us to the room. It was adorable, little did we know at the time, we were staying in a ancient castle from 1482. I talked the price of our stay down from 30€ per person to 20€, which was such a blessing. The fact that we stayed in an ancient castle in a small mountain village in northern Italy, was unreal.
We headed out around 7:30am on Friday morning and caught the 8am bus to Selva di Gardenia. The one hour drive was remarkable, absolutely stunning. The dolomite area is one hour from the Austrian boarder, so the geography and architecture there are both Austrian style, not Italian at all. Once in Selva we headed to the tourist office where we got a map and were helped in finding the trail head towards our day one hike. The day was quite cloudy which added a mystical affect as we headed towards the UNESCO world heritage site. The hike was quite intense but I live for the challenge and racing to the top of the mountain was the best feeling In the world. We hiked all over, stopped by a small shop on the top of a mountain, frolicked in a field overlooking gorgeous snow covered mountains, and even stopped to journal on a beautiful mountain top. And, that is just to name a few of the precious moments we had on our first day of our Dolomite trip. Near the end of our hike we came upon a gorgeous clearing where people left messages with rocks, we placed a message there as well. We left a cross and the word “Peace” as our message to the future travelers. We stopped various times during the day and had deep conversations, enjoyed the glorious views, and took in the precious moments and crisp, cool, fresh air. We arrived back to Selva around 5pm and one of the adorable houses had a sign that said “Liberi, Frei” we thought that meant they were offering to house travelers for free yet in reality it means they had beds open. We knocked on the door and waited, nothing. We nocked again and a small figure opened the door, an adorable elderly woman. We asked if we could stay and she let us into her home. She led us upstairs to a double room and asked us to pay 15€ each for the night, which we happily agreed upon, this is when we realized the meaning of the “free” beds sign outside her door! Our host, Caterina was 90 years old and we soon realized had Alzheimer’s disease. She kept checking up on us, making sure our key worked, and she really wanted us to be comfortable, she was the sweetest, so dear. Around 7:30pm Jacqueline and I headed out for dinner. The town we realized was quite empty, most hotels and albergos were actually closed. We learned this was because we came when everything was out of season, from September 21 until the beginning of November most restaurants, shops, and hotels are closed. I was very excited to hear we were there in such a time when no tourists were also traveling! We found a great pizzeria where we literally watched our homemade pizzas being made and cooked. That pizza was the best I have had here in Italy! When we returned back to Caterina’s house we found out by Catrina’s daughter that the albergo was actually closed and Caterina had let us stay because she forgot it was closed! Caterina’s daughter did let us remain in the home, which was quite kind of her, it was quite a funny and strange situation!
We headed out on Saturday around 8am towards the mountain Sassolungo. The gorgeous rock-filled trail turned out to be a remarkably stunning but cold hike, filled with mountains, streams, waterfalls, green mossy woods, many evergreen trees and sunshine. We stopped at lunchtime and hammocked for around an hour. I took in these precious moments with such excitement and awe.
I could not and still cannot believe how beautiful and perfect my weekend has been. The Dolomites are definitely the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen and my eyes were so overcome by the powerful beauty that constantly surrounded me. We hiked down to the small, Austrian looking village called Santa Christina di Val Gardenia by around 3pm. Jacqueline and I shared an apple and rhubarb strudel which are famous here. That was probably one of the best foods I have ever had, I’m not sure if it was because I was hungry or because it was really that amazing! After walking through the enchanting, Austrian looking town we took a bus to another more lively town, Ortisei. When we arrived to Ortisei we learned that most hostels were closed since the ski season had not yet begun, just like the other towns! After searching for over 30 minutes we found a tourist stand that had numbers of open hostels. I called a few, yet all were closed. Right as we were about to give up, I called “Villa Emilia” which happened to be open! We got a room for 70€ which was wonderful given the situation! When we arrived we were shocked at how beautiful the quaint little building was. It was so lively many people, older of course, who were also staying in the hotel. When we arrived to our room we could not believe the beauty of our view and the quality of the hotel. The hotel had a terrace, bar, and a restaurant as well. After settling in and marveling at how blessed we were to have made it to such a perfect place, we headed out into the quaint, fairytale like city. Jacqueline and I were both overcome with joy as neither of us had been to such a place before. It did not look like Italy nor did people act or speak Italian, I felt like we were in Austria! We went to the gorgeous church at the center of the town and we also window shopped for a bit. I noticed there were many wood carving shops which we learned were famous in the Dolomites. I purchased a few locally hand-carved pieces for my family there which was exciting.
Walking through Ortisei was a dream, the beautiful bright colored homes with ornate designs, balconies, and windows with unique window shutters reminded me of my visits to Disney World’s Epcot. The difference between the amusement park and this is that this town was actually real, it was fantastic! We went to dinner at a small restaurant a local we had met recommended to us. We had a traditional meal there and had fresh, homemade rosemary crisp bread, it was nothing like I had ever had before. After dinner we headed back to our hotel where and sat in the restaurant area downstairs. A small party is sat near to us and all sang classical German songs and danced, while men dressed in traditional Austrian garb played the accordion for the cheerful party. Jacqueline and I joined in on the fun and danced for a bit as well! It was such a special moment. We then sat down, all bundled up after a very cold day and we drank homemade hot coco and ate perfectly roasted chestnuts.
My trip to the Dolomites was a dream. Every moment exceeded my expectations more than I could have ever imagined. I know that God guided and protected us this weekend and gave me one of the best weekends of my life. So, here’s to unplanned adventures, to meeting new people, to living in the moment, and most of all, here’s to this beautiful journey called life. I challenge each of you to step out of your comfort zone, be spontaneous, and be free. Let the wind guide you and take you where you are meant to be. I have learned that the best adventures in life are those that are unexpected and unplanned. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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assisi

We returned from our educational field trip to Sicily last Saturday night and I decided to do a day trip to Assisi the very next day. My friend Jacqueline came to Assisi along with me which was great. When we arrived to Assisi by train and had to take a bus to the central area of the city. The bus came an hour late, typical Italian style. This definitely helped us practice our patience. But getting on the bus was quite difficult as all the tourists shoved their way into the bus. We first visited the Basilica where I was overcome by the stained glass and Giotto’s beautiful frescoes of the life of St. Francis. We went to the tomb of St. Francis as well which was actually emotional for me as he is one of my favorite saints. St. Francis had an obvious love for serving others and he loved animals, thus he is one of my role models. We also went to the building where St. Francis grew up where a church, Chiesa Nuova, now stands. We then visited St. Clare’s church where we saw St. Clare’s tomb, locks of her hair, slippers, and even garments. We also saw garments and personal items owned by St. Francis which was amazing. One of my favorite parts of the trip to the city was seeing the original Franciscan cross, it was so beautiful. I have grown up seeing the Franciscan cross in my home and it as amazing seeing the cross that all others are replicated after.
While we walked through the city we met another college aged traveler named Peter who was from Canada . We got lunch with Peter and enjoyed sharing travel stories, he was a kind soul and I cherished the time we got to spend with him.
Walking through the city was so special, definitely my favorite Italian city this far. The surrounding mountains and land were both gorgeous, the light colored stone that filled the city, the joy around, the many Franciscan missions that were sprinkled throughout the city, all combined had a special impact on me. I had never seen so many people from religious orders in a town before. We even visited some of the missions which were wonderful and filled with many people who had beautiful hearts. We ended our day with some refreshing lemon granita and a peaceful train ride back to Florence. I could have easily stayed in Assisi for an entire weekend and I hope to return to the beautiful city again some day. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.

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five days in sicily

Last week, I along with the other students I am studying with headed to an educational field trip in Sicily for five days. This trip consisted of visiting various historical cities in Sicily and having many educational tours. We stopped by various cities including Palermo, Cefalú, Taormina, Castelbuono, and many others as well. We saw The Valley of the Temples, ancient roman theater ruins, catacombs, gorgeous mosaic-filled churches, ate traditional Sicilian food, went to the top of Mount Etna (world’s most active volcano), and swam on the beautiful coast. Our action packed five days were remarkable and the beauty within Sicily is breathtaking; from the kind locals to the gorgeous seaside views, my trip to Sicily was one I’ll never forget. I cannot wait for my future adventures to come! Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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a sardinian adventure

I have always loved islands. As a child I visited Puerto Rico quite often, it was there that I fell in love with the sea. When I decided to travel to Italy for studying abroad,I knew I had to visit Sardinia. I had heard wonderful things about the island and when I arrived in Florence, so I immediately searched for inexpensive tickets to the majestic island. It turned out that Ryanair had great priced tickets to Alghero from October 3-5. So, this weekend my friend Zoë and I traveled to Alghero, Sardinia. I now sit on my flight to Pisa, thinking about the amazing weekend I just had! The short trip began early Friday morning where we left for Pisa around 3:30am! We arrived in Sardinia around 7:15am. We then bused from the airport to the apartment where we would be staying at for the next two nights. Our apartment was great, it even had a kitchen (which we definitely utilized), and the best part, it was right near the beach! The water was amazing, blue yet transparent and still. It reminded me of my time in Finisterre, Spain! The refreshing, chilling, salty water revived me on many levels. I felt so renewed as swam in the aquamarine, Mediterranean Sea. Sardinia was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. After checking in, Zoë wanted to nap, so I headed out to the beach. I swam, read, and took in the islands beautiful sights, smells, sunlight, and the sensation of peace that this beautiful day brought me. After a few hours I headed back and made gnocchi for lunch for the two of us, I got to cook all weekend which I was so thankful for, I have really missed since coming to Italy. We spent the rest of Friday wandering around the gorgeous city, swimming in the glimmering sea, we then ended our day watching a gorgeous sunset, definitely the most beautiful I have seen yet in Italy. The day could not have been more perfect, after I made dinner we went to bed, the end of day one being one of my favorite yet here in Italy. I could have never dreamed about the amazing adventures we would have the very next day! We left the apartment around 10am on Saturday, stopped at a café for a quick cappuccino and then headed towards the boat dock. For 10 euro we were able to go on a beautiful boat trip around the beautiful Sardinian coast and then we were brought to a beautiful cave, Neptune’s cave. I had never been to an ocean cave before so we were quite excited, we got into the cave tour at a very minimal price and I was speechless. I had only heard about such places, seen them in movies or science books, to actually tour one was beyond my dreams. Walking through the cave overwhelmed both Zoë and I with so much joy. I was overtaken by the amazing, ancient cave. After a few hours of adventuring through the cave we headed on the boat for a gorgeous trip back to the dock. I could not believe how blue and transparent the water was. The blueness looked unreal to me, I had never seen such a place and I felt so blessed to have gotten to see such beautiful things. I was in the most beautiful place with such great company. Zoë and I met tons of people on the boat and during our time in Sardinia. Many tourists but many locals as well. Without the help of locals we would have never known which buses to take, where our hotel was, about the boat tour, and we probably wouldn’t have made in on this flight back home. The Sardinian people’s kindness was continuous and their genuine character was evident, it made me feel like I was home. And I was. After the boat trip we found an small, little restaurant where we had fresh, home-made pasta, definitely the best I have eaten this far in Italy. After lunch we wandered through he city, taking in the views, looking at all the various towers and historic cannons that were spread throughout this walled city. Sardinia is famous for its granita, so of course we got the icy dessert, which we ate while staring out into the beautiful sea. The weather was perfect, it felt like a sunny summer day. We then headed to the beach for a few hours where we swam, talked, and people watched. We decided to then go back to the same boat tour company and take their sunset boat ride called “Delfilandia”. That boat tour was probably the best 10 euro I’ve ever spent. The tour, though we did not see dolphins, was unreal. We headed out towards a different
part of the coast, searched for dolphins for a bit, and swam as well. While Zoë and I were walking around the boat we noticed the caption was sitting and steering the boat with his feet, “Only in Italy” I thought with a laugh. He then looked out at us smiling and motioned to us to come in with him. We did and he let us steer/drive the boat, for quite some time actually. I think he wanted a break, but we fully enjoyed the experience! He motioned to us to drive towards a small island, which we did, and he then stopped the boat so we could take a quick swim. It was a little breezy and people were hesitant to jump into the water at first, so I made the first move and jumped in! Shortly, various other people followed. The sun began to set and the sky became fuchsia. I could not believe the life I was living: I was swimming in the Mediterranean off the Sardinian coast during the sunset. It. Was. Unreal. It was amazing to share that special moment with my dear friend Zoë and with other travelers from all around the world. It was a dream, a happy, exciting dream. We met so many kind people on the small boat trip. And the sunset was literally perfect. While out at sea, I gazed at the pink clouds and realized that my heart was overflowing with endless joy. Those are the kinds of moments I live for and I cannot thank God enough for such glorious moments. We ended the night with a deep conversation over a delicious meal that I cooked. This morning we headed to the airport around 6:00am. I didn’t want to leave Sardinia where I felt at home, but I know that I will be back, I just know it. Tonight I am going to my first Fiorentina soccer game which is exciting so I knew that leaving Sardinia was not the end of my adventure. All next week (Tuesday through Saturday) I will be on an educational field trip to Sicily, I could not be more thrilled. So, here’s to adventures, to travel, and to this beautiful, wonderful life. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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