tanti auguri di buona pasqua

Easter is a beautiful holiday, I’m sure each of us have memories from this special day.  Memories from Easter bunnies and baskets to sweet treats and good eats, but, I’m sure that most of the special memories we have during holidays are thanks to those we were with.  Family is what makes easter such a treasured day.  This Easter was quite different for me; there weren’t even any Easter baskets or jellybeans.  But, Easter was a special day, because I got to spend it with my dear family in Northern Italy.  This year just so happened to be on the weekend two weeks before finals, meaning the week following my Easter getaway was jam packed with projects, papers, various presentations.  That, however, did not stop me.  I left for Gallarate on the morning of Good Friday and returned to Florence on Tuesday morning just in time for my 10:00am class.  The four days I spent with my family were days smothered in love and tradition, and I cherished every moment I was given. 

Rather than giving a low down of my itinerary, I am going to share with you a few of my favorite, most treasured moments from my final travel weekend with my family.  One thing I really enjoy about the Italian culture, as I have mentioned before, is their emphasis on the importance of a family meal.  How special it is to make and enjoy a meal together, especially around the holidays.  I shared my secret bread recipe with them and made both rolls and monkey bread for my family with the help of Umberto.  It was a special American treat that they certainly enjoyed!  Another highlight was attending mass on Good Friday and Easter with my family.  The priest at the Easter mass spoke about the importance of peace and love, specifically that which can be seen through the eyes of a child. It was such a lovely talk. 

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My family planned three different hikes that we did together. One was a gorgeous hike to beautiful white marble waterfalls and scenic views.  After the waterfall hike I took with my family on Easter Saturday we stopped by a beautiful indoor and outdoor thermal spring spa.  It was relaxing, detoxing, and revitalizing!  It was much cleaner than the springs in Saturnia since it was a spa, but it was absolutely refreshing! 

Beautiful waterfalls Family time Amazed at the sight Rock formations Beautiful waterfall

On Easter, we took a little trip to Switzerland to see and hike around incredible ancient rock formations.  Unfortunately, during our hike in Switzerland sweet little Umberto, my dear cousin, slipped and fell, breaking his arm when we were playing tag in the forest. He was quite excited about breaking his arm and getting a cast, so I did not feel too bad!

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All of the hikes were especially fun, but one of the things that I cherish most about hiking with my family was the fact that every one participated, from 11 year old Umberto to 78 year old Caesare.  Being together in my favorite place (nature) was something I will cherish forever.  And, getting to participate in that tradition of Pasquetta, or Easter Monday, was special too.  It is a cultural tradition for Italians to go outside and hike or embark on a little pilgrimage on the Monday following Easter.  And, we did just that.  The Pilgrimage to San Pietro al Monte Pedale was so gorgeous we even picnicked during our hike!  Afterwards, we stopped by Lake Como afterwards and my dad (through the magic of credit cards) treated all of us to pizza.  It is those moments I cherish most, those moments all around the dinner table, where everything seems simply perfect since we are all together, united with love. 

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What was so special about this trip was the closeness I felt with my family.  On my first two visits with my family, the foundation of our relationship was built but on this trip, my third and final visit with them, our relationship gained depth.  We spoke about philosophy (in Italian), live, meaning, and God.  I shared my dreams, hopes and aspirations with them and they did the same with me.  My family in Italy has stolen apart of my heart and I cannot wait to unite with them again sometime soon.  Until then, I will continue to treasure the moments I have already had with them and I will open my heart up for whatever God has in store for me for the next chapter of my life.  Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.  Peace and Love.  

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a very tuscan road trip

 When you think of the Italian culture, what do you think of?  A society defined by tradition and their significant history?  A collectivistic culture centered around family and the dinner table?  Well, those are all things I thought of prior to my life in Florence.  Though the Florentine culture does not particularly seem to be characterized by any of these ideas, the small villages and more southern regions of Italy certainly are.

The rural and more southern villages of Italy have not only a more corrupt government system than the North, the south also contains more poverty.  However, in contrast to what one would expect, from my observations I noticed that the people in the south seemed to be more family oriented, open, welcoming, and happy.  How did I discover this?  By visiting seven villages throughout the regions of southern Tuscany and Umbria over the course of a two-day road trip!

  

During my time in living in Italy, I had always dreamed of going on a road trip through the Tuscan countryside and traveling from city to city just embracing the Italian culture first had.  Myself and four of my dear friends decided to rent a car and embark on this adventure during one of our last travel weekends in Italy.  We set out on a Friday morning and returned by Saturday evening, but we were able to stop at six cities including the most “perfect” Renaissance city, a city known for her healing waters, a city with my own name, Amelia, and we even stopped by Narnia as well (The Chronicles of Narnia are by far my favorite children’s novels).   

    

The cities we stopped through were Montepulciano, Pienza, Amelia, Narni, Lago di Bolsena (Marta), Saturnia, and finally Pitigliano before we headed back to Florence.  The drive through the Tuscan countryside was a dream, an incredible dream.  And, the farther south we traveled the more smiles and “ciaos” we received and the more warmth and love we felt.  These gorgeous cities were nestled amongst the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria and are stoned, Medieval villages, each with their own unique history.  Montepulciano, the first city we stopped through was actually a city during the filming of Twilight Saga’s New Moon, little did we know.  Walking through the city was incredible, seeing the gorgeous views of the campagna (countryside) and walking through the sweet streets was very special.  

  

The next city we stopped through was Pienza.  Pienza is known as the  “ideal” Medieval city and it is known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The entire neighboring valley is also one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscapes as well.  This city is characterized by the symmetries and architectural idealism of the Renaissance.  The city was actually rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, as was commanded by Pope Pius II in 1459, since he desired his place of birth to be transformed into an ideal Renaissance city.  Pope Pius II was successful in his wish and Pienza is visited by thousands of meager tourists every year.  While visiting this gorgeous city we stopped for lunch at an adorable restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal.
  

After our time in Pienza, we headed towards the beautiful hillside city in Umbria called Amelia.  We were able to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous pink sunset from the top of this city.  While walking through the city that was seemingly empty, we met an incredible local woman whom was friendly and we talked with her for over 20 minutes.  It’s moments like that that really reminded me the true essence and beauty of the Italian culture.  Seeing Amelia was special to me since my father always ranted and raved about the beautiful Italian village that shares my name with me. 

After visiting the sweet city, we slept in our parked car in the parking lot at the bottom of the city.  Sleeping in the car was an adventure and it was convenient, I figured, why not make the car double as a hotel too?                   On Saturday morning we headed to Narni, which is a city about 20 minutes outside of Amelia.  Narni is a magical small Umbrian village, fun fact: in Latin Narnia is the name for Narni, so my childhood dreams did finally come true!  Narni was gorgeous, overlooks snow covered mountains, has a wonderful atmosphere and a gorgeous castle. After rummaging through a sweet open air market in Narni, we headed towards Saturnia to do as the Romans did and bathe in some natural healing waters. 

  

On the way to Saturnia we passed a beautiful lake, which I insisted we stop at, and that we did. While there, I met the sweetest group of older men who were walking along the lake. They were kind, friendly and even hugged me! You can’t find that in Northern Italy! While looking out at the glistening waters, I was reminded that it’s the moments of pure bliss and joyful living that make all the dull, dreary moments bearable and livable. While standing in front of the vivacious lake, I took in the beauty and I embraced that present moment. I became fully present and alive while staring out at that lake. That moment made my past seem unimportant and my future unthinkable. It made me remember what living really feels like. You see, most of the time we just exist, we go through the motions, we press on, all without truly living. It’s the moments of life, it’s the moments where we are actually present. Those seconds, those vivid occurrences make all else seem okay. I have learned to carry those moments with me since they remind me of the peace that can be found within life’s constant beauty.

 

Ever since coming to Florence, I had hoped to travel to Saturnia and visit the thermal baths. One thing that did surprise me, on the way to Saturnia and actually throughout my entire Tuscan road trip, the countryside was filled with natural, thermal springs! On arriving to Saturnia I was pleased to find that the springs were crowded, but not with tourists, instead with locals. It felt like such a cultural experience, bathing in thermal baths with other Italians in this remote village.

  

The water was definitely natural and organic as there were little worms in the water. This didn’t phase me but some of my friends left when they noticed the little worm friends in the water! After the springs, we all definitely smelt of sulfur, but we didn’t let that stop us!  We then headed to Pitigliano. This city was similar to the others we saw, but a bit more artsy. Walking through this city at dusk was epic.  I was surprised to find that many of the shops were adorable vintage and resale stores.  After some window shopping, we found a cute cafe where we sipped on hot chocolate and played cards. It was a wonderful night and a perfect finish to our adventurous weekend.   My last week in Florence was pretty hectic but reminiscing on the peaceful moments from this trip pulled me through until the next weekend of fun.

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

running into papa francesco

Italy is a place of wonders and a country of immeasurable beauty.  On one of my final trips I visited Pompeii, Naples, and Capri and ran into the pope along the way!  My trip began early on a Friday morning as me and various other students headed out to the train station for a Pepperdine sponsored trip to Pompeii.  We trained to Naples then took a bus to the ancient ruined city.  We visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum, two ancient cities that were destroyed by the deadly flow of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.        Walking through these two ancient cities was strange, moving, and also humbling.  To see the thousands of empty homes and to imagine the fear the citizens felt during the eruption of the volcano was overwhelming.  How humbling it was to imaginr the thousands of nameless lives that were lost in these cities, the thousands of unknown faces that once walked through the city, the city that individuals visit out of mere fascination today.  One day we too will be dust, we too will be forgotten, just like the individuals in Pompeii, since all life is fleeting.  But, what we stand for and the good we represent, the love we share, that, even when all is long gone, will still remain.

After Pompeii, myself and four other friends stayed the night in Naples.  We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb that was in a wonderful area of the city.  While walking through the city, we quickly discovered the Pope would be doing a procession on the very next day!  However, we had already planned to ferry to the beautiful island of Capri for that day. So, I did not think I would get to see the Pope while in Naples, but I will address this later. While in Naples,we went to the world famous, family owned pizzeria called Sorbillo, which many locals had suggested to us.  If you are traveling to Pompeii, I would highly suggest a visit.      All day on Saturday we spent on the beautiful Island known for her crystal clear water and sweet lemon cello, Capri.  While there, we took a gorgeous boat tour around the island and visited the green grotto, white grotto, and the coral grotto.  The island was absolutely stunning, though the weather was cold, windy and unfavorable, this did not diminish Capri’s natural beauty.       

  

  

   After visiting Capri we headed back to Naples to catch our train back to Florence.  On the walk to the station, we ran into a large crowd and within minutes the pope came by on the pope mobile!     Seeing the pope was so great but,what was greater was seeing all of the individuals who came to see the pope, a man who stand for so much peace and so much love.  The fact that crowds were drawn to see a man who represents God’s light in this world of darkness, is a miracle. Moreover, it’s a sign that there is hope amongst the brokenness of the world. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.  

morocco, a taste of a new culture 

My fellow bloggers, I am sorry It seems like I have yet again abandoned you.  With the end of the school year, finals and lots of goodbyes, my blog did not make the cut for one of my top priorities. This was since I knew I could catch up on blogging once I returned home but I could not visit the duomo or talk with Italians on the daily when I would return home, so the duomo and the Italians became my priority prior to my departure.  The wait is over though, as I am now home.  I arrived back home about one week ago which I will talk about in future posts. For now, I will talk about my trip to Morocco.  

  

Africa has always been a place I have hoped to travel to.  I know I have said this in almost every post thus far, but this is different.  Growing up in a western culture, I have been sheltered from other cultures, especially cultures that are not influenced by Christianity.  Seeing this new culture was both incredible and shocking.  But, did I love it?  Of course.  I hope to return again someday.   

  

It may sound crazy, but not only did I go to Africa, I went for less than 40 hours.  How did this happen?  Well, due to strange flight schedules since it is not peak tourist season, not many flights go between Florence and Africa.  But, this is besides the point. When you think “Morocco” what comes to mind?  Coming into this trip, I did not really know what to expect with Morocco or with this Islamic country.   But, as you will soon discover, I found Morocco to be a vibrant, interesting city, with many caring individuals.  No I cannot speak Arabic or French, so communication was not easy, but some people did know English which helped substantially.

  

You may also question, is Morocco safe right now?  Well, in researching prior to my trip to this exotic country, I found Morocco to be surprisingly safe.  In North Africa, many countries actually look to Morocco and their safety precautions.  So, of course it was a risk going to Africa, but there is also a risk in walking the streets of Florence, danger is everywhere, but Morocco’s security and police officers that covered Marrakech’s city limits definitely added to my feelings of security.  All in all, though it does not take much to make me feel safe, I did feel safe during most of my time in the beautiful country.  

  

I traveled to Morocco with four other girls Katie, British, Alyssa and Mallory.  We headed to Milan early on Friday morning and arrived in Marrakech around 2pm.  During my flight I met a sweet girl and her father who were both from Morocco yet lived in Italy.  They were so friendly and kind, so the trip had a great start.  After getting through customs we headed to our hotel.  After we checked in, we headed over to the sooks, which are huge markets near a large, very crowded plaza.  The architecture was very different from anything I had ever seen with the grand mosques and bright colors.  The plaza area was crowded with drummers, dancers, flute playing snake charmers, women doing henna temporary tattoos (I got two), food, clothing and trinket vendors and many exotic animals, including monkeys.  Walking through the loud, smoke-filled plaza with various vendors trying to catch your attention, was exciting, it was exactly what I had imagined an African city would have been like.  

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We ate at an adorable restaurant in the plaza where I got vegetable cous cous and mango juice and Morocco’s signature green tea all for under six euro.  The food was simple but my favorite thus far in my travels!  After our lunch we then ventured for a few hours in the sooks.  The sooks were filled with bright blankets, jewelry, gem-covered shoes, painted pottery and various other fun things.  We actually happened to bump into other Pepperdine students (who are studying in Lausanne) while we were walking through the sooks, it was such a special experience!                         

  

On our final day in Morocco, we decided to do a camel tour ride outside of the city.  Before consenting, I researched the companies and I found one that many customers claimed treated the camels well. I was surprised to find the camels were treated well but I still felt a little guilty riding them. It was a really special experience though, going through the palm desert on camels. We even stopped half way through and were given traditional Moroccan toasted bread with honey and mint tea. 

 

 

        

After our camel tour we walked through the sooks one last time, it was increadible. We also visited various museums, a crypt, and even a mosque. Everything was bright and colorful, it was a whirlwind of excitement for me. We were even able to hear the call for prayer one last time as we walked through the city before our flight.

   
   

   
Visiting Morocco was a dream and I cannot wait to return one day. There are so many places to explore in this world and so many cultures to learn about.  I cannot wait to see more and to widen my perspective and worldview. I hope and pray that all of these experiences I have been blessed with will teach me to be more loving and accepting of those around me, especially with my occupation in the future. Until then, I will love with all I have and live in thankfulness for all I have been given. I challenge you to do the same. We don’t have to travel to Africa to learn to love and respect others for their different cultures, we’re all unique being and there are endless opportunities right outside our doorstep, but will we pursue them and open ourselves up to love and acceptence? That is the question. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love. 

  

greece my place of peace

So, the time for spring break (more like a long weekend) has come and gone.  Where did I head off to this time? I went somewhere I have always dreamed and hoped to someday travel to.  I went to Greece.  Who came with me on this beautiful adventure?  My two sweet roommates Mallory and Emily.  We began our trip on a tuesday night when we headed to Rome.  After one night in Rome, we flew into Athens on a 6:30am flight.  We arrived in Greece around 8:30am.   We stayed in an Airbnb near the center of the city and the Acropolis was about a 20 minute walk from the apartment, which turned out to be wonderful.  

  

On the day of our arrival, Greece was sunny and warm, the weather was completely glorious!  During our first day we visited the Acropolis, the sweet flea markets, had incredible falafel and met with other traveling Pepperdine students for dinner.    

   

  

  

  

One of the things that I appreciated most about my trip was Greece’s hospitable, family-oriented culture.  I noticed right away that most businesses were family run.  This is especially close to my heart since my family operates a local business as well.  It was incredible to see how caring, loving and generous everyone is in Greece, everyone seemed to give and give, regardless of the fact that the individuals themselves had nothing.  I found Athens to be quite dirty and run down, but knowing the state of Greece’s economy this makes sense.  On our second day in Greece we headed to the wonderful Biblical city, Corinth.  

  

 


Prior to visiting Corinth, I did not know how much it would mean to me to walk through the ruins of the historic city.  We spent a great while wandering through the ruins, which were incredible, possibly my favorite ruins I have seen to this date.  I got to stand on Bema, where Paul actually preached, which was a special moment for me.  As I walked through the ruins of the city, I imagined Paul writing to that very place.  I imagined what lives passed there, many being forgotten, yet the tattered, dirt-stained ruins remain.  

   

  

  

  

 

Corinthians, the Biblical book that contains letters from Paul, has some of the most beautiful verses about love, faith and trust in God.  One of my favorite verses from Corinthians is about love.  Whether one is Christian or not I believe the verse is beautiful and important and reminds us what true, genuine love looks like. 

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

How beautiful are Paul’s words?  We should all strive to lead lives filled with such kind of love.  Love that is pure and true.  Love that is genuine.  If we all began to try to love as Paul has suggested this world will be a better place.  And, right now of all times when violence and injustice are rising, when others kill in the name of hatred, let love conquer that evilness.  Let’s love all those around us for who knows how much longer we will be here and be given the opportunity to love in such a way.  As Paul has said “love endures all things” but where is the love in this world? Love begins with us, with a simple gesture or smile.  It has become hard to see the good in this dangerous world but it exists and when open ourselves up to sharing our love with others, I believe that goodness, that love, will conquer the evilness in the world.  But our time is now.  My favorite part of this beautiful chapter in Corinthians is when Paul claims, that “Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”  Paul then goes to explain his development in thoughts when he claims, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  Finally the chapter ends with my favorite line of all, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).  So, let love win.  Let love abide, for our God reigns and is shown through our love for others in this dark world.  Sometimes it is good when we forget all else and just simply love because as Paul claims, love conquers all.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to visit Corinth, that will definitely be something that I remember and cherish forever.  

 

After visiting the city of ruins, we headed up a cliff nearby towards the Corinth Castle and Aphrodite’s Temple.  The hike was gorgeous and seeing the contrast of the green, living grass and the dark, dead, dismayed ruins was an incredible sight to behold.  Reminding us that life always conquers death.  Though the ruins seemed dreary, the grass and its life seemed to give life to the ancient place.  Staring out on such a sight one cannot help but to marvel and to think about life, how true and humbling is the Bible’s verse “From dust we have come and from dust we shall return”.  As I stood over the ruins, I felt humbled and reminded that life will pass with swiftness, just as many lives before me have come and gone, so will mine.  What ruins will I leave behind?  Will individuals one day look at what I call home and marvel at it’s aged, ruined state? My thoughts flooded in as I walked around the beautiful mountain yet I found so much peace when there.

   

 

   

  

 The next morning we took an Aegean flight to Santorini, Greece. You many have heard of this glorious island filled with pure white homes with bright blue roof tops. You may even have seen Santorini in the second “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movie. When I imagined Greece when I was young or even prior to my trip, I expected something similar to Santorini.

 

 Santorini is said by many to be the most beautiful place in the world with the most glorious sunsets. Knowing all of this, I was ecstatic to travel to such a place! On arriving to Santorini it was rather cold and very windy. When we arrive to our hotel, the hotel owner greeted us with hugs and kisses, she was so appreciative of our service.  The hotel owner then organized for us to rent a manual car, good thing that Mallory knows how to use a manual car! 

  

Our first day in Santorini was glorious, we visited ruins from prehistoric times (thousands of years BC), ate lunch along the coast of the red beaches, visited the famous light house and explored the countryside. We then went to Oia, which is known as the most scenic region of the island, it was incredible. Walking though the sweet homes was a dream. While in Oia we made it just in time to watch the sunset which was stunning. I will never forget the moments I was overlooking the majestic sea, seeing the sharp lines of the pure white homes in contrast to the uneven mountains and watching the sun kiss the sky, sea, and island goodbye.  It is such moments that remind us how precious and glorious life is.  

   

  

 

After the sunset, we met with other students for dinner from the Florence program who were also visiting Santorini. I began to realize at this point just how giving everyone is in Santorini. Their love is so freely given. Every restaurant during my stay in Greece gave us multiple free additions to our meal. At this particular restaurant we were given free appetizers, drinks and dessert as well as being thanked hundreds of time for visiting their restaurant.  You can’t find that kind of service in America!  

  

During our second and final day in Santorini we visited churches, hiked up to yet another ancient ruined city and swam in the sea!  The ruins were especially beautiful since they were right near the sea. This site of ruins had various carvings of animals, people, and nature on the ruined walls which was special to see. 

  

After visiting the ruins, we then swam in the Aegean Sea (we were not going to let the cold weather prevent us from doing that)! We then explored a few cities including Fira and Pygros.  We walked along the sea side then had a wonderful meal in the sweet city, Fira. The entire island is very small it only took a little more than an hour to drive from the very bottom to the very top of Santorini. 

  

  

  

  

  

 

After returning the car and some souvenir shopping, we headed back to the hotel and the hotel owner offered to drive us to our ferry port, which was so kind!  The family that ran the hotel we stayed at were literally angels, I miss their sweet spirits already! We took an overnight ferry from Santorini to Athens. We arrived in Athens at 5:00am. After watching the sunrise and enjoying a great spinach pie (I miss those), we headed to the Temple of Zeus. The Temple of Zeus marks the spot where ancient Olympics games were played. 

  

We then saw the Olympics Stadium which was very interesting. We then souvenir shopped and walked around the markets and headed to the Agora. We were exhausted so we laid a blanket down (in the Agora) and popped open a wine bottle (which we were given by our hotel hosts in Santorini). We then mixed wine and tangerine juice together which we drank as we relaxed and enjoyed the sunny day in Athens. That sweet moment is one I will never forget. Lying amongst ancient ruins, drinking sangria, in the sunlight with two sweet friends, it was a lovely scene.  We then napped for about thirty minutes and were awoken by a guard, telling us we could not lie down or nap in the area of the ruins. The guard actually woke us up at a great time because we had to leave for the metro for the airport!

   

  

  

 

I was sad do say goodbye to Greece but we did have a great, relaxing flight back to Italy. I will always remember Greece as a beautiful country who’s true beauty is not found in its scenic views and interesting history, instead through the love, generosity, hospitality and care of those who live there.  Stay true, live justly and always travel on. Peace and love. 


one lovely day in venice 

Well, I finally made it to the beautiful city (and island) known for its water, canals, carnivals, film festivals, multi-colored houses, sparkling masks, and abundant tourists.  Yes, if you have not yet guessed it, I made a visit to Venice.  Before making my way to the water-filled city, I heard diverse opinions on the place.  I heard from some that it was “beautiful” while others claimed “Venice is too touristy and not worth all the hype.”  Well, nonetheless, I wanted to travel to the city and form my own opinions on the iconic Italian city.  



This trip, I decided would provide me with some alone, me and God time, so I headed towards Venice solo.  My trip to Venice allowed me to recharge, relax and be refreshed.  I only spent one day in Venice, which for me, was the perfect amount of time.  After traveling through various cities throughout Europe this year and attempting to see everything in each one, I have learned to travel in quite a different way.   I have learned that my favorite travel experiences have not been filled with museum or monument visits but instead with relaxing strolls, pretty weather and no pressure.  So, I went into my trip to Venice without many assumptions, plans or expectations.    



I arrived in Venice around 10:30am.  I then purchased an unlimited day-pass for the water taxi boat service (which came in handy).  I first visited the beautiful San Marco church, which was wonderful. 



Afterwards, I got lost wandering through the maze-like side streets and marveling at the sweet, romantic, vine filled, bricked alleyways, bridges and sparkling blue water filled canals. I then headed to two out lying islands near the main Island of Venice.  I first traveled to Murano, which is an island about 40 minutes away from Venice (by boat).  



Murano is a sweet little island that is filled with adorable canals (if you could not have already guessed this), cute houses and is known for their special glass-making trade.



When I arrived at the island, I began to explore and found a small glass factory.  I watched a glass making demonstration which was both fantastic and fascinating and I even bought a cute (Murano made) glass necklace (a gift for a friend).  





I then walked along the canals and enjoyed the blue skied, sunny, and breezy mid 50s weather.   I found a quiet part of the island and then sat along one of the canals where I wrote, thought, and took in my scenic surroundings.  





After window shopping for a bit, I headed back to the water boat taxi stop and headed for Burano.  Burano is less touristy, more quiet, and about twenty minutes from Murano.  Burano is known for their lacemaking trade, multi-colored, bright houses (they reminded me of Cinque Terre) and had sweet charm and beauty. 



What I loved most about Burano were all the sweet little children that ran and played throughout the bright, lively island.  Burano was filled with families and sweet people.  While in Burano I walked around and marveled the adorable, bright houses.  





I felt like I was in Portugal or a different country, it was a surreal and exciting experience.  I followed the canal to a quiet, residential part of the island where I wrote, took in the presentness of the moment, and relaxed.  While walking through the canals lined with yellow, purple, green, blue, and pink homes I felt like I had stepped into the world of Crayola!  







I passed an adorable elementary school and it warmed my soul to see all the sweet children running and playing in an adorable court yard during their recess.  I window shopped for a bit and looked at the quaint lace shops and enjoyed seeing all the adorable residents of Burano walking about.  After Burano, I took a boat back to Venice where I got lost in the old, winding, narrow, stone streets and my mind for about two hours. 







I loved seeing the black and white striped shirt men in the gondolas as they quietly glided through the canals, the small houses with flower pots filled window boxes and I was thrilled to find a non-touristy area of the city.  I did not pay 80 euro for a gondola ride, so let’s put this down in the book: a traveler went to Venice without going on one of the famous (though very touristy) gondola rides. 



Despite the touristy aspects, the city is marvelous and a traveler must-see in my book.  During my water taxi ride back to the train station, I met a sweet German woman who was studying Italian (yet knew no english).  She spoke in broken Italian to me and we enjoyed each other’s company, it was so funny that we were both from different countries yet were speaking Italian to each other!  During my train ride back to Florence, I then met a wonderful Italian university student who is currently studying in Venice.  Her name is Carlotta and she studies architecture, we had a great conversation about traveling and studying!  As I have said before, I live to meet people, explore and to seek adventure, so my time in Venice was definitely a memorable experience.  Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.  Peace and love.                           

beautiful barcelona

So, it has been around seven months since I completed my Spanish pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, I bring the Camino, the Way, along with me.  In my mind I will forever be a pilgrim, a traveler, wanderer and a nomad. Due to the life changing experience I had on the Camino, I have left a part of my heart in Spain.  This past weekend I was able to travel back to this country that is so close to my heart, the one that I love ever so much.  Three of my friends and I headed off to the gorgeous city of Barcelona on Friday afternoon.  It was my first time traveling with this group and it was fantastic.  I am so thankful we were able to explore the city together!

The second I stepped off the plane I felt at peace like I was arriving home.  We flew with Ryanair from Pisa to Girona and we then took an hour long bus ride into the city.  We stayed in a small room in a sweet woman’s home which I organized through Airbnb.  The room, I was informed prior to our stay, is typically used by two people and would be a tight fit for the four of us.  It did turn out a bit tight and cozy, but the room only cost us each six euro per night, so I was not complaining! The woman we stayed with was actually originally from Germany and has an adorable, sweet three-year-old son.  She was so inviting and her love for her sweet son was so evident and beautiful.  It was my first time doing a private room with Airbnb, as I usually rent out an entire apartment, but it was such a sweet experience since our host was so welcoming and loving.  (Below is an image from my flight to Barcelona).

I quickly fell in love with Barcelona and I also re-fell in love with Spain.  The first night we explored the nearby area of the city and headed to a tapas bar for dinner. The next morning (Saturday) we headed to a bar for breakfast, oh how I have missed my typical Spanish Camino breakfasts!   After breakfast, we headed to Park Güell which was incredible.  I loved seeing the Gaudi architecture, palm trees, beautiful flowers, and gorgeous views.  It was a bit cloudy, the park looked gorgeous regardless of the weather.  While there, I even bought an adorable stone necklace from a street vendor.  One region of the park requires an eight euro entrance fee, which we opted not to do, but we did enjoy exploring the free areas of the park.  I will definitely go back and do the other regions of the park someday but as a broke college student, I was happy with and enjoyed what I did see of the park!

After quite some time at the park we explored the Gran De Garcia street with Gaudi’s architecture and then we headed to see Sagrada Familia, we did not go inside, but we did admire the exterior of the grand, fantastic, unique church.

Afterward, we headed to the beach area of the city, got paella, and walked along the dock and sea.  The beach and water reminded me of California, it was a great time. We stopped by Santa Maria del Mar as well, the church is grand, beautiful and filled with stained glass, it reminded me of León’s House of Light. After visiting the church, we tried to make it to the Magic Fountain light show, but we missed it, which is another reason to go back to the city someday!

On Sunday morning, I went to the Picasso museum. I got I’m free with my student ID which was a blessing and a surprise! I enjoyed my time at the museum, it is very organized and well done.  Afterward, I headed back to Santa Maria del Mar where I admired the beautiful stained glass while having quiet prayer and reflection time. While there I was taken aback by the church’s glorious beauty and the colorful sunlight that poured through the windows. It just seemed like a holy, heavenly place.

After visiting the church, I wandered through the streets, met a sweet pup, then headed to an adorable, artsy cafe.

I also visited the Arc of Triomf (as pictured below).

Later on, I met with my friends at the apartment and we headed back to the Girona airport via bus.  Our flight went well and we made it back to Florence in a timely manner.  I really enjoyed my time back in Spain and I cannot wait to go back again in the near future.  Until then, I will embrace my time in Florence and get ready for my future travels.  What’s next?  Venice, Greece, Morocco and more!  Until then…Stay true, live justly and always travel on.  Peace and love.

freedom found in ireland

To travel. To live. To experience. To be freed from everyday life, to let go.
I hope and pray each of you know you deserve those liberties.
This life is so short. I long to live every second of it. I am tired of leading a life that is restricted.
I am free. You are free.
This semester I have truly learned the importance of freedom.
In the city I am captive. To society, to the constant restraints that goes along with living out of my element. Despite this I have found my way, my secret places of joy and peace. I have found my nature in a cold, dark city. To me, all cities are dark for they are devoid of the freedom that nature brings. As wonderful as cities can be, eventually they all blend together. At the core all cities are the same. Though I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have had to travel and explore Europe, my home is in the wilderness, where I am free, where I am connected to God, earth, and to myself. The last six days have been my escape, my freedom, my revival, as I have been in the nature filled country of Ireland. Last semester my university group and I had an educational field trip in Sicily which I previously wrote about. This semester, our educational trip was going to be to Turkey. However, by some twist of fate the trip was changed to a visit to Ireland.

I have always longed to visit Ireland and to see her beautiful untouched green landscapes. I did not, however, know how much this trip would impact me.
From the moment I stepped off of the airplane, I was in love with Ireland.
I became enthralled with the true untouched beauty of the earth in the country.
Though I had quite a busy itinerary, I feel more at peace than I have in months.
Being in the city (Florence) has drained me of life and health in many ways. I have been struggling with various health issues this entire year I have been abroad. Yet, when in nature my spirit is given life and a sunny, peaceful glow. My trip to Ireland has been so special since I have been able to ground myself and allow nature to heal me.

While in Ireland I explored Dublin, Clonmacnoise, the Athlone Castle, the Connemara region, the Kylemore Abbey, the Glenloe Abbey, the Cliffs of Moher (Burren region), and Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. We also visited Trinity College and this morning I took a trip to the Guinness beer factory here in Dublin. I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to have all of these special experiences and I will not take this gift for granted.
My favorite moments in Ireland were the simple ones.
Like climbing a tree and taking the freshness of the wooded region that surrounded the Kylemore Abbey. Or sharing a deep, meaningful conversation with my sweet friend Julia as we hiked around the Cliffs of Moher as a rainbow kissed the beautiful, cool, damp sky. Visiting the cliffs was so special as well. The beauty was overwhelming and fantastic. Everything just seemed right and the earth seemed so happy which gave my soul so much peace. Another memory I will cherish was the stunning hike in Glendalough with Jaqueline and Julia. I am so thankful for my sweet friends, they are so precious to me. I am also thankful for the beautiful drives we took through the countryside, especially through the rocky, untouched Burren region. With green, uneven, rocky lands grazing sheep, costal views and soft sunlight, I was in constant awe as we drove through the majestic land towards the Cliffs of Moher.
The beauty I beheld as I looked out at the countryside as we drove by rolling hills, sweet grazing sheep and small, quaint homes was something I will remember and cherish forever.

There is something about Ireland, something special. It’s not the cities or lights that makes Ireland so special, instead it’s her simplicity.
It’s the sweet countryside, the adorable cobblestone streets of Dublin, the fun, lively pubs, the loving people, the great culture, all of it come together and make the country such a wonderful place. I am determined to return to Ireland someday and live there for a time in my life. For it would be a dream to live in a country that seems so untouched, wild and free.
The beauty of the country does not end at the scenic landscapes but reveals itself in the hearts of the people here as well. The love that is so freely given here is so unique and unlike anything I have ever experienced.
What I love the most about Ireland is that the Irish people are not only kind to other people but also compassionate and loving towards animals. The driver of the coach bus that my group was transported in throughout this trip even spoke to me about his love and respect for animals. He (John) told me about a sweet donkey sanctuary in Cork and he claimed that ‘nearly everyone in Cork is a vegetarian’. This high value for animal life is refreshing and it warms my soul. Who knows maybe someday I will volunteer at the sanctuary with the sweet donkeys. I sure hope I will be given the opportunity to do so at some point in time.
My time in Ireland was a dream. A happy, lovely dream.
Though I didn’t find a leprechaun, I did find my freedom and so much overflowing joy. I hope you too can find the freedom that I feel and I hope that you too can experience the beauty that Ireland has to offer.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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the eternal city

Rome, the Eternal City, the place of the gladiators, the colosseum, catholicism, and abounding history. Yes, after six months in Italy I finally made it to the Eternal City.
I am not sure why I waited so long to visit the beautiful city but that is beside the point.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the historic place. Instead of making my trip a rushed, sightseeing weekend, my friends Andrea, Katie and I decided to see less of the city but to truly experience the beauty of Rome. We stayed in a wonderful airbnb apartment which turned out to be fairly centrally located. The trip consisted of a day of relaxed sightseeing where we saw the colosseum, the Trevi fountain, the capuchin crypt, the spanish steps and other monuments. Sadly, the forum closed very early so we never made it there but that’s just another reason to return. The second day we spent at Vatican City where we visited the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s, and the Sistine Chapel. Seeing such incredible places and in good company, was a dream. Throughout my trip I could not help but imagine I were in “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” it was almost like disneyland all over again.

The colosseum seemed very eerie and the cloudy, rainy weather only added to the mood. Sadly, the Trevi Fountain is currently under construction, but I was still able to imagine what the fountain would have looked like with running water and without scaffolding. I was actually able to throw a coin in the fountain since there was a small area for tourists to throw coins- it would have been a crime to go to Rome without doing so!
I even made sure I ate some homemade spaghetti for dinner, for you know what they say… When in Rome do as the Romans do… and eat pasta!
Seeing Vatican City was very special for me and I was surprised to find that I really did love St. Peter’s Basilica, especially Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Sistine Chapel was incredible as well and I know understand why people claim that pictures could never do the place any justice, one cannot capture such beauty! While in Vatican City I even used their famous postal service and sent a postcard to my loving family whom I miss ever so much.

On my final day in Rome (Sunday) I attended a beautiful mass at a church nearby Vatican City. I was able to see two of my childhood summer camp friends (Annie and Sarah) who are currently studying in Rome which was so special. Annie, Sarah and I went to a little cafe then attended the angelus together at noon. Sweet Pope Francis said the angelus, it was so special to see the beautiful, peace oriented pope! After the angelus I was able to see another family friend, John, who is studying to become a priest, which was also incredible!
I did love Rome and despite what others say everyone was kind, caring and the streets were fairly clean. I definitely need to make another trip to the city someday because it is impossible to see all the city has to offer in a lifetime let alone one weekend!
Stay true, live justly and always travel on. Peace and love.

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dreams, magic and disneyland paris

Magic. What a special thing that is. Most need more magic in their lives, it’s something we all crave. Yet, it comes so easily to children. With their willingness and openness to their imagination, their ability to believe in the magic within all of their youthful hearts. Where did the magic go as we all grew up? Why do many of us get lost in the our own lives, often forgetting about the dreams we all once had? Well, I don’t know the answers to any of this. But, I do know that sometimes adopting childlike faith and excitement and retreating back to the world of magic can open up the doors to beautiful things. I opened up those doors yesterday as I walked through the doors of no other place than Disneyland in Paris. I went to disney world as a child and it was of course enchanting, but after years it’s easy to forget the magic of such a place. When I returned to disney world when I was about 17, it was wonderful but due to hardships in my life at the time, my time in the magical place wasn’t all that easy. However, things have changed now. I have tried to adopt a childlike mentality in many ways, especially in how I perceive the world and those around me. This childlike mentality made my time at disneyland both freeing and more magical than I could have ever dreamed.
Lacye and I arrived to disney on January 1st around 1:30pm. We had accidentally slept in but we decided to still head to disney! As we arrived we were blessed in only having to wait for about 10 minutes to enter the enchanting disneyland gates! As we walked into the “happiest place on earth” we heard frozen songs people played and walked through crowds of excited children who were watching a Frozen parade! I of course was excited and singing along as well, letting the child in me come out! The adorable downtown area was lit up with Christmas cheer.
After watching the adorable show we headed to the different areas of Disneyland. We first visited the enchanting castle and visited fantasyland, discoveryland, adventureland, and frontierland. We were able to ride many of the main attractions because the lines were not very long. My favorite was definitely space mountain! During my Disneyland visit I was of course wearing my Micky mouse ears the entire time and I was there. I also enjoyed the “it’s a small world” boat cruise. It was so beautiful and stood for the unity of all peoples. On the short cruise I was brought through various sections that represented the different regions in the world. All the small dolls in each section sang “it’s a small world” along with various other Christmas carols. At the end images showing the unity of all people from different cultures was shown. How beautiful is that? I love that Disney is representing such a meaningful cause as the unity of all, that’s a beautiful message for both adults and children alike. After exploring the park and embracing the beauty of newfound childhood excitement, the park eventually came to a close at 10pm with a special holiday castle light show. Lacye and I did not know what to expect for the light show, but we were excited to see it. I, however, had no clue at how elaborate the show would be. We watched in awe as various Christmas and Disney songs were played while the castle was clothed in beautiful colors! It was pure magic. There were also fireworks- amazing ones, far better than the ones we saw the night prior for New Years in Paris! The colorful fireworks were accompanied by a beautiful water color show. Various shades of colorful water soared through the air in an ever so perfect manor. It was hard not to smile at such a beautiful sight!
My emotions got the best of me as the song “if you just believe” came on. I know the song from the Polar Express and it definitely made me and Lacye both tear up a bit. The song talked about believing, about hope, and about peace. As the song talked about peace the word “peace” was projected on the building in many languages. That was such a special emotional moment. How special is was to stand in a crowd of strangers, seeing and hearing such a beautiful, meaningful universal message of love and peace. The show ended rather extravagantly and it was not finished there. As we walked out of the closing park, beautiful classical Christmas hymns were played, they sounded so angelic, so perfect. I’m not sure how Disney made me, 20 year old college student retreat back to childhood, but I’m thankful for that magical day. If more of us opened up our hearts and minds like children do, this world would be a far better, more love filled place. So, maybe not all of us have the opportunity to go to Disneyland in Paris, but that should not stop us. Everyday we should all strive to be more loving, accepting, peace oriented, and adopt a childlike excitement. For, this world is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people, it’s time we start noticing the beauty and magic within our everyday lives, I know it’s there. I challenge each of you to think back, think back to long ago. Think back to the time in your life where you had dreams. We all have had dreams and many of us have let go of our past aspirations. Why? Why as we grow up does the world seem so difficult and our dreams so unachievable? Well, there are many answers people could give to the previous said statements. Those statements, however, will do nothing and will not change anything. It’s up to us to adopt a more childlike love and outlook in the world. Disneyland invokes such a positive worldview because beauty, innocence and joy are projected everywhere. Let us all focus on the beautiful people in the world, on the positive aspects of our lives, and let us all open up our hearts to the magic within our everyday lives.
Stay true, live justly and always travel on. Peace and love.

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